Transgenderism – Bindel condemns, Tatchell defends

London – 3 August 2007


Gender reassignment (sex-change) surgery is unnecessary and a form of body mutilation, according to Guardian columnist, radical feminist and lesbian campaigner Julie Bindel.

In the BBC Radio 4 debate series, Hecklers, and in her Guardian column on 1 August, she argues that the desire to change sex through surgery and hormones is a “psychological problem” that does not require a “surgical solution.”

To Bindel, transgenderism is a false consciousness that colludes with gender stereotypes and with traditional male and female roles. She sees it as inherently sexist and homophobic; condemning transsexualism as an implicit acceptance of orthodox notions of masculinity and femininity.

Ms Bindel is challenged in the BBC programme by a four-person panel: human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell; Professor Stephen Whittle, a world expert on transgenderism and the law who had reassignment surgery nearly 30 years ago; clinician Kevan Whylie, a consultant in sexual medicine and gender dysphoria specialist; and psychotherapist and trans Michelle Bridgman of the Gender Trust.

Click here to listen to the programme (scroll down and click on Hecklers):

The debate was recorded at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, and broadcast on 1 August, with a repeat broadcast this coming Saturday night at 10.15pm on BBC Radio 4.

Ms Bindel proposes that transgenderism is a condition “created by reactionary psychiatrists in the 1950s” who promoted the false idea that it is possible to be born “trapped in the wrong body.” She asks: “is it right to apply a surgical solution to what I believe is a psychological problem?”

She argues that people are often needlessly pressured and fast-tracked into having sex change operations and that many of them live to regret having had surgery.

She also claims there is inadequate medical research into the effectiveness of gender reassignment surgery and the satisfaction (or lack of it) experienced by people who undergo it.

Peter Tatchell defends trans people and gender reassignment surgery as an issue of “choice, self-determination and human rights.”

He endorses Ms Bindel’s criticism of “traditional male and female roles and the social pressure to conform to cultural expectations of how men and women are supposed to behave,” describing these as “often profoundly oppressive.” But he goes on to criticise Julie for “putting gender theory and ideology before the happiness of individual human beings who feel out of place and unhappy in their birth sex.”

Mr Tatchell also condemns Ms Bindel for “premising much of her case against transgenderism on the very small number of cases of professional misconduct by gender dysphoria doctors, and on a handful of reported instances where patients have subsequently regretted having surgery. She ignores the vast majority of cases where patients feel fulfilled and happy for the first time in their lives.”

He concludes by suggesting that “Julie’s arguments against sex change surgery unwittingly reinforce the reactionary, anti-feminist theory that ‘biology is destiny.’ This theory presupposes that once a man always a man; that humans are incapable of challenging and transforming our biological inheritance and of modifying the interface between the physical and psychological aspects of our being.”

This edition of Hecklers first aired on Radio 4 at 8pm on 1 August, and will be repeated at 10.15pm this Saturday, 4 August.

The programme is now archived on the BBC website and can be listened to on demand.
Click here to listen to the programme (scroll down and click on Hecklers):

To read Julie Bindel’s Guardian article on the programme and the issues it threw up, click here: