Last week I heard Julie Bindel speak at Challenging the Campus Censors. She was charismatic and funny and she's spent decades campaigning against violence towards women. I feel privileged to have heard her speak - it's not an opportunity everyone gets.
Bindel has been no platformed by the NUS due to transgender protest against a 2004 Guardian column in which she suggested a world inhabited by transgenders, with "fuck-me shoes and birds'-nest hair for the boys; beards, muscles and tattoos for the girls... would look like the set of Grease."
Bindel has since apologised but the feminist view of gender as a cultural construct stands.
Feminism, points out Bindel, is, "based on the premise that prescriptive gender roles are a cause of women's oppression." We've made progress in breaking them down, but even now, examples of Everyday Sexism emerge, such as retailers aiming cleaning sets at girls and superhero outfits at boys. Bindel's concern is that gender reassignment to fit in with prescribed roles reinforces stereotypes, rather than challenging them.
Leelah Alcorn the teenager who killed herself in December, wrote in her suicide note that someone should look at the number of transgender suicides, "and say "that's fucked up" and fix it. Fix society. Please."
Society does need to be fixed: we need to accept people as they are, regardless of what they're wearing or who they're sleeping with; eliminating the bullying and ridicule of people who don't fit into prescribed gender norms. To do that, we need to, "rid the world of gender rules and regulations."
Instead, increasing numbers of operations are taking place, to shoehorn people into appearing to conform to culturally constructed gender identities. Claudia MacLean, who transitioned from male to female, was asked in a 45 minute psychiatric chat, if she played with dolls as a child, as if this meant she should have been born a girl. MacLean was fast tracked for surgery. She wishes she hadn't been: "I could have been enabled to live happily as a gay man. Instead I was put in this box... simply because I did not conform to what psychiatrists think a real man should be."
Research from the US and Holland suggests up to a fifth of patients regret changing sex and research from Sweden found "substantially higher rates" of suicide, suicide attempts, and psychiatric hospitalisations in those who had undergone reassignment surgery.
The Trans Mental Health Study of 2012 highlights complications that arise as a result of surgery. "Stage 1 of my phalloplasty went really badly and I freaked out and cut it half way off," said one respondent. Another explained, "Following the surgery, I have abdominal scarring, no clitoral sensation and little sensation in the rest of the genital area." MacLean says she found a, "little ball of hair like a Brillo pad in my vagina." She went to see a surgeon who, "said it would always be there because I hadn't had electrolysis on my scrotum before the sex change made it part of my vagina." Vice adds, "Other complications include the development of a fistula, a hole between the vagina and rectum, which seeps turd all over the place."
Marissa Dainton who transitioned from male to female, then back to male, is currently living as a woman without genitals: "the only way to create a new vagina would be to remove a section of her bowel, which could leave her needing a colostomy bag." Vice explains, "You can also make a vagina out of your colon... but if this goes wrong it can leave you shitting into a bag for the rest of your life."
Given that this is serious surgery with the potential for harrowing complications, surely we should be loud hailing the message that it's not people who should change to fit into society, but society that needs to accept people as they are. Bindel has been accused of transphobia, but in fact, feminism is the best ally of anyone feeling tormented because they don't fit in. Instead of no platforming - and vilifying - feminists like Bindel, who remind us gender is a cultural construct, we need to make her more accessible. We need to hear the feminist voices that say, "Fuck fitting in, you're fine as you are." Fix society. Please.