Sheila Jeffreys on BBC Woman’s Hour (Transcript)

“People changed lots of other personal things all the time. They dyed their hair and dieted themselves to near death. They took steroids to build muscles and got breast implants and nose jobs so they’d resemble their favorite movie stars. They changed names and majors and jobs and husbands and wives. They changed religions and political parties. They moved across the country or the world — even changed nationalities. Why was gender the one sacred thing we weren’t supposed to change? Who made that rule?” - Ellen Wittlinger

My Twitter feed was near-exploding with this TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist) segment from BBC Woman’s Hour.

This is one of the many instances seriously, seriously misinformed cis people are given the time of day to opine about trans people, for the sake of ~debate~ and ~balance~.

I’ve transcribed 9:00 to 20:00 to the best of my abilities.

Jenni Murray (presenter): There have long been arguments about what it means to be a man who decides to live life as a woman. Should they be allowed to join clubs set up for women?

Now the debate is going a step further. In 2004, the Gender Recognition Act made it possible for transgender people to register for a passport, birth certificate, and a national insurance number with their chosen, rather than their original sex.

But Sheila Jeffreys, professor of feminist politics at the University of Melbourne, has raised the debate yet again. Her book is called “Gender Hurts: A Feminist Analysis of the Politics of Transgenderism”.

I’m joined by Zowie Davy, a senior lecturer in community health at the University of Lincoln. She was born male but became female when she was 16; and from Melbourne, Sheila Jeffreys.

Sheila what do you mean by the title “Gender Hurts”?

SJ: I mean that the phenomenon of transgenderism which is a social construction of the 2nd half of the 20th century and which has become particularly common in the last couple of decades, is harmful to many groups of persons. It is based on stereotypes of how the different sexes should behave. It’s very harmful to the feminist project of getting rid of those stereotypes. And indeed it can’t exist without them.

It harms, as I say in the book, the persons who transgender themselves, because the drugs are harmful to their bodies, surgeries are harmful, and they have to usually be on hormone for the rest of their lives. This is a grand experiment - we don’t know, we know what HRT does, as you mentioned in the last segment, but what doses of these hormones your whole life means, we don’t know.

Transgenderism is harmful to wives, because some therapists say they are suffering from PTSD when their husbands transgender and suddenly say “you’ve got to call me Allison or call me by a female name”, and they start wearing their wives clothes and telling their wives they’re really lesbians, and this causes and enormous amount of distress.

It’s very much a problem for children because we now have the problem of the transgendering of children by the medical profession at the behest of all the transgenders who say it’s important to transgender the children young. So in Britain, as early as 9-years-old, children can be put on puberty delaying drugs, up until the age of 16 which can be very harmful to bone mass, which sterilise them if they then go on to sex hormones at the age of 16 because their organs do not develop and then they can be put on cross sex hormones and so on. And all this can happen to them just because they disobey the rules of gender.

JM: Let me put those points to Davy. Davy, it’s a grand experiment that hurts a whole range of people.

ZD: I completely disagree. I think the hurt comes from people judging gender stereotypes and the hierarchy that gender stereotypes are given in our society…The book hurts trans people by suggesting that transitioning technologies are harmful. The studies don’t suggest that in any way. Yes there are a few people who regret transitioning, without a doubt. But there’s a few people who regret cosmetic surgery, who regret all manners of things in their lives.

JM: Sheila you have faced considerable opposition from the trans community. And Zowie says you’re hurting trans people with the book - are you?

SJ: No of course not, because it’s a political critique. Transgenderism as an ideology is harmful to the future of women and feminism because it promotes these sex stereotypes. Actually I have friends who have now detransitioned, so the book is not harmful to them, and they’re actually very grateful that it exists. But when -

ZD: But I’m not sure what these stereotypical gender attributes are. You never portray them in the book except once, when you talk about knitting, and I’m sure people do knit, but why is that a patriarchally enforced past-time?

SJ: For instance, in Australia the law was changed last year to get transgender into sex discrimination legislation, and the definition of transgenderism includes mannerisms. Now that’s extraordinary, whether mannerisms can tell you whether a person is masculine or feminine. Two of the wives who are interviewed in my book do say that their husbands, at the time they decided they were girls, not only decided that they were barbie-doll type teenage girls, but started hair flicking. So my suggestion is that hair flicking is one of those mannerisms.

There are many many forms of behavior that are actually very stereotyped. I, for example, don’t have a gender, I don’t choose to have one, I don’t like femininity or masculinity. But what happens is that a transgender activist who disagrees with my book, a man who is transgendered called Dallas Denny says that I look just like a man, and I’m four shots of testosterone away from being one. He certainly has sex stereotypes in his mind and I don’t meet his stereotypes cause I’m a feminist who will not do femininity and he’s excited by femininity -

JM: Zoey you can’t deny that there have been some men who have become women who are -very- feminine. Long nails, very painted, long hair, flicked, beautifully made-up. Why is there often an apparent need to become a stereotype of a very feminine woman or a very masculine man? Stereotypes that are often rejected by those of us who don’t want to change ourselves?

ZD: But that assumes that femininity is somehow bad. Yeah? The assumption behind that is that femininity is bad - which I do not agree with. And I interview many, many diverse trans people - unlike in the book - I interviewed punks, goth, middle-aged business transwomen; I interviewed transmen who worked in caring environments which seemed to fly in the face of stereotypes. Yeah? Different forms of masculinity and femininity were presented to me.

What I will admit to is that the gender clinics that Sheila Jeffreys mentions do want people to perform a certain masculinity or femininity in order to get their transitioning technologies - and people do this, to become the gender they want to become - without a doubt this is a strategic point, not something intrinsic to their everyday lives.

JM: Sheila one of the points you make in the book - when you say “are endangered by men who transgender as women, who are allowed into female spaces such as toilets, changing rooms, or prisons” - why did you make that point?

SJ: I make that point because of changes in the law that recognise these men as women and allow them into female spaces. (These men) don’t change sex and they have grown up as male - they have the character traits and behaviours as male - one of which, unfortunately, is sexual violence against women.

We are now discovering that there are many arrests, for instance, in America, of men wearing dresses, or female clothing, who go into toilets and engage in photographing and recording women urinating and other forms of very sexually abusive behavior, for their sexual satisfaction.

We have also had, this year, a case of Jessica Hambrook in Toronto, who is a man, who went into women’s shelters saying he was a woman, and he was accused of raping two women and he admitted that…and more and more cases are emerging of women having to face indecent exposure or erections in changing rooms and men coming up to them saying things like “Do you come here often?” (something something penises)

JM: Let me put that point to Zowie. Zowie, as someone raised up to the age of 16 as a boy, as a man, now a woman - to what extent do you have to (I think the accepted term is) check your privilege, in such circumstances that you have to look at these things carefully?

ZD: Of course this debate needs to be - I have just helped set up a rape crisis centre in Lincolnshire. We went through this debate rigorously. And of course there needs to be safe spaces for women. But you’re scapegoating a whole raft of trans people as being sexually deviant, or automatically sexually deviant, prior to those crimes that have taken place. Just because you’re transgender doesn’t automatically mean that you’re a sexual fetishist.

SJ: Yeah we don’t assume all men are sexual fetishists but we still exclude men from women’s spaces. And transgenders are men, so why should we say that this particular group of men are going to be okay, and not involved and violent? (…)

JM: Zoey that one point that men who transgender to women are men, what do you say to that?

ZD: Well I say that if they are legally women, they have to be legally accepted as women, and vice versa.


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