Sunday, 17 January 2016

Gender Hurts, by Sheila Jeffreys

Gender Hurts builds on the work of Janice Raymond in The Transsexual Empire and offers a more up to date critique of Transgenderism from a Radical Feminist perspective. Since Raymond's book, a powerful movement of Transgender activists have emerged which has attempted to silence any criticism of their practices and has made increasingly vocal demands to be granted privileges. Those who oppose such privileges are invariably accused of being 'transphobic.' She also brings in discussion of the emergence of the strange phenomena of Transableism, by which able-bodied persons identify themselves as disabled and seek surgery such as amputation of limbs to realise this identification.

Jeffreys echoes the claim of other feminists that gender is not an absolute concept, but is simply another word for the sex-role stereotypes that enforce inequalities between men and women. In claiming identities based on gender, Transgenderism is in the author's view a reactionary force that will undermine gains by the Womens' Movement. She sees the political movement of Lesbian Feminism subsumed by the more individualistic LGBT movement, which sees sexuality as an apolitical matter of personal expression.

Literature on Transgenderism tends to celebrate the individuals who transition, treating them either as heroic survivors. However, it is the goal of our author to demonstrate that there are many harms caused by transgenderism which have not received much discussion. The first of these harms that she discusses are the detrimental effects of medical interventions used to enable sex transition, such as surgery and the use of hormones. While it is argued that the drastic medical interventions involved improve the quality if life of transgenders, Jeffreys points out evidence that after reassignment surgery, transgenders were at no less risk of psychiatric morbidity, such as suicidal behaviour. There is a strong co-relation between transgenderism and mental health problems. However, there is an unwillingness, according to our author, of medical professionals to identify the desire to transition as a symptom of mental illness. The associated mental healthy symptoms, such as self-harm, are explained away as 'Minority Stress' and blamed in persecution within society. This approach shuts down any debate as to the origin and nature of the transgender condition. The rise of hormone treatment among male-bodied transgenders is related, Jeffreys claims to the pharmaceutical industry's surplus of hormones following the discrediting of Hormone-Replacement Therapy. The selling of hormones to transgenders is enormously profitable to the industry, as the customers will need to remain on them for life in order to maintain the appearance of being female. She points out that it remains uncertain what side-effects this long-term use may involve, but what is available suggests that they are detrimental. Jeffrey's descriptions of some of the unpleasant aspects of reassignment surgery is very uncomfortable reading.

It is not unknown for those who have transitioned to regret the irreversible surgical procedures they have undergone. These incidents of regret are ignored by the medical profession, as they would undermine the credibility of their practice. Jeffreys points out that they have been ignored by lawmakers too, as the provision of gender recognition certificates is premised on the assumption that transgenders will not change their minds. Jeffreys describes the emergence of a survivor's movement of former transgenders who have regrets about their transition. Some of these individuals have received abuse an threats from transgender activists.

The second harm she discusses is the harm to the female partners of men who transition. Jeffreys argues that the wives, partners and mothers of male-bodied transgenders frequently suffer a sense of grief, loss and social exclusion and provides detailed evidence of how these harms manifest. While their partners are regarded by others as being on an heroic quest, they are expected to give them unqualified support. Their needs are seen by the medical profession and by the transgender movement as being of little concern. She argues that they are often the victim of the self-centredness of the quest which puts the transition above a else. She describes the shock they often suffer when their husbands unexpectedly dressed up in their clothes. Many felt a betrayal that they had married somebody who had never disclosed his cross-dressing. Often they were victims of psychological violence and bullying. Often they were expected to take on the role of counselor and mentor in teaching their husbands how to put on make-up and act feminine. Wives were also often expected to contribute financially to the cost of their husbands' hormones and surgery. If their relationship with the husband broke down, it tended to be the transgender husband who received the support and sympathy of friends, with resulting social exclusion and isolation for the wife. The transgender person was always the one who was regarded as the victim. In general, Jeffreys finds that the wives of transgenders seldom accepted that a real change of sex had taken place. She finds that a resistance movement is emerging of wives and partners who do not want to be guilt-tripped by cross-dressing and transgender husbands. Our author also looks at the hurt of mothers whose sons transition, finding they suffer considerable sense of loss and bereavement.

In a separate, but similar themed chapter, Jeffreys examines women who transition to male and their female partners. She looks at their issues separately, as female-bodied transgenderism seems to be a somewhat different phenomena to male-bodied transgenderism. She points out that while male-bodied transgenders are mostly heterosexuals, female-bodied transgenders are almost universally lesbians. This female transgenderism seems to be related to the Butch-Femme scene in lesbianism that was opposed by the androgynous feminist lesbianism of the Seventies. Jeffreys says that while the masculinity of Butch's is celebrated in lesbianism, the Femmes are often accorded a lower status and are often not seen as 'proper lesbians.' She argues that similarly to the wives of male-bodied transgenders, the female partners of female-bodied transgenders are expected to subordinate their own needs and desires to those of their transitioning partner. They are often subjected to emotional blackmail and sometimes physical violence.

In the next chapter, Jeffreys looks at the worrying practice of diagnosing children as transgender and the use of medical interventions to delay puberty in preparation for their receiving surgery as adults. She makes a fascinating comparison between this phenomena and eugenics, which like transgenderism today, was supported by progressive forces such as feminists and socialists.

Next she brings up the inevitable clashes of rights raised by transgender issues. This manifests itself most clearly in the demand by male-bodied transgenders that they be able to access spaces set aside for women. This is most troubling, because not all transgenders have received surgery and may be capable of raping and impregnating women. Toilets are one safe space in question. Our author points out the importance that female toilets played in enabling women to participate in public spaces. She explains how the entrance of men into female toilets puts women at risk. The prison system is an even more troubling area of contention. It is not unusual for men with a history of sexual violence against women to identify as transgender. The entry of male-bodied transgenders into women's prison puts female inmates at considerable risk.

Jeffreys goes on to talk about those safe spaces that have been created by the women's movement- female festivals and support groups, as well as vital services like rape crisis centres, domestic abuse counselling and women's refuges. The existence of these sources of support for women are threatened when they can be accessed by biological males. She finds that literature advocating and advising on the inclusion of male-bodied transgenders in these services are grossly insensitive to the needs of women who may not want to be counselled by a biological male or share a room with a transgender who has a penis.

Jeffreys concludes that gender identity really does hurt. It hurts women in general by reinforcing sex roles. It hurts in the physical suffering of transgenders who receive mutilating and painful surgeries. It hurts the lives of partners of transgenders. It hurts society by raising insurmountable problems to women's safe spaces and services.

This is a fascinating book that provides avenues of argument that have not been sufficiently debated in the public discussion of Trans-rights.

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