If you’re a member or ally of the London trans community, no doubt you’ve already heard of the planned “Transgender: Time to Change” conference, hosted by The Royal College of Psychiatrists. Hell, you may have the concurrent protest marked in your diary. Brilliant articles on the suspiciously transphobic nature of this conference have already been written by Jane Fae and Natacha Kennedy – if you haven’t already then rush rush rush to read them. The issue that’s been troubling me the most though, to be totally honest, is not simply the transphobic nature of the event. It’s the fact that, for whatever combination of odious reasons, a transphobic, outmoded op-ed journalist has been invited to speak at a conference that claims to explore “…the most recent academic, clinical and contemporary thinking on transgender issues…”
Oh, Julie Bindel. The first time I came across her was in my late teens, when the sucker-punch of her hateful Guardian article made me feel, yet again, like an easy target for disgust and ridicule. Made me feel, in fact, just as the bullies throughout my schooldays had made me feel. Trying to take on Julie Bindel is, apparently, a right of passage for young trans activists. Frankly, I don’t see the point. There seems little to be gained by trying to engage with someone who has shown, time and again, that their groundless beliefs matter more to them than the wisdom and knowledge upon which any belief system should be based. And who, like a playground bully, replies to critiques of her work with arrogance, vitriol and, finally, cries of victimisation. The brick wall doesn’t care if you batter your head against it. But, I think, it is becoming increasingly necessary to engage with those cis people who hold Bindel up as any kind of expert on trans issues, and to explain just how inappropriate that action is.
I admit that, as a doctoral student in my twenties, my knowledge and experience of academic life is still in its infancy. But I was shocked to see the inclusion of a speaker whose “credentials” include neither clinical experience nor academic research. No training in any of the therapeutic or scientific fields related to the study of the mind: psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, counselling or neuroscience. No studies undertaken. No data analysed. No full literature review. No clinical practice. Nothing but a notoriety achieved through a dismissal of past and current research in favour of self-aggrandisement, juvenile taunts and deliberate misrepresentation.
I fully believe that there is a need for academics to be reminded of the “real-world” nature of their research – that to look up and realise the interconnected nature of our research with others’, and our research with actual lived experience provides an antidote to the idea of research for its own sake, or for the sake of career advancement. Regardless of the necessary paring down that comes with higher intellectual study, I feel that an holistic view and an open mind are necessary to remind ourselves of the purpose behind our work. To that end, it would have been entirely appropriate to invite representatives from the UK trans community to offer some perspective on how current treatment methods are viewed by trans people, what effects they have on our lives, and what criticism has been levelled at them. But to invite a cis journalist, whose hostile opinion of trans people is a sorry relic of some feminist thought of the 1970s and 80s, serves as much purpose as would inviting Richard Littlejohn to speak at an academic conference on improving health services for racial minorities.
So, why would they do it? I can’t think of an answer that doesn’t leave a bad taste in the mouth. Ignorance, perhaps? Inconceivable. Transphobia on the part of one or more of the organisers? Likely, given the presence of Dr Az Hakeem, and the response with which enquiries from trans people have been met. Or perhaps, like so many institutions today, The Royal College of Psychiatrists is more interested in dumbing-down for the sake of attention than the quiet and considered elevation of a subject, and in provoking shit-stirring arguments rather than setting up respectful, valuable debate.
I’ll see you at the protest.