Saturday, 8 November 2008

Freak Power!

Thursday's event was the largest trans demonstration in British history. One hundred and fifty transsexual, transgender, transvestite, intersex, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queerfolk and allies gathered in front of the Stonewall awards, yelling 'Stonewall: hyp-o-crites!' as wonks in spangly dinner jackets made their way up the steps. A fantastic evening, although I did feel a little sorry for the tiny 'Julie Bindel fanclub' that gathered on the other side of the steps, a thunderous twelve chilly people at maximum who left early (although we did try to invite them along to the pub). Early press reports seem to be firmly on the side of the protest, with even Stonewall award-winners lamenting the exclusion of the trans community. We did good.

We screamed, we shouted, we complimented each other's dress sense, we stamped our feet in the glowing London winter air, we had fun, we were fabulous, and we made our point in song format: We are the trans nation, and we won't take crap no more! Summerskill can hear us shout outside his door!.

Bindel was not, in the end, named 'Journalist of the Year' by Stonewall - the honour went to Dr Miriam Stoppard of the Mirror. But will someone please take Julie's pen away before she pokes her eye out with it? Today, in the Guardian, in a piece which contains not one scrap of research but a great deal of bile, she's having a little tantrum, telling the whole queer spectrum to go 'way and just leave normal people like her alone:

'It is all a bit of an unholy alliance. We have been put in a room together and told to play nicely. But I for one do not wish to be lumped in with an ever-increasing list of folk defined by "odd" sexual habits or characteristics. Shall we just start with A and work our way through the alphabet? A, androgynous, b, bisexual, c, cat-fancying d, devil worshipping. Where will it ever end?'

Spouting such paranoid filth in a national newspaper and then demanding not to be held accountable for 'hate-speech' would be funny if it didn't make me want to eviscerate the nearest Guardian editor. It is clear that Ms Bindel does not want to be associated with anyone apart from other lesbians, literally or figuratively. If this hadn't been made plain already, her prudish, achingly unfunny little 'alphabet', where she links 'androgynous' and 'bisexual' people to 'devil-worshippers', spells it out. She resents the expansion of the Queer nation beyond the tidy little enclaves of 'gay'and 'lesbian', and seems to pine for 'the 1970s and 80s' when 'lesbians were left to our own devices, and mainly organised and socialised separately from gay men.'

And that's alright. That sort of rampant bigotry is what we have come to expect from Bindel and Rod Liddle's ilk of biscuit-eating armchair prudes, sneering at the young, the freakish and the brave. What's not okay is that organisations like Stonewall and the Guardian newspaper continue to give people like Bindel a platform for her horribly right-wing views. Please believe me: the only difference, now between Bindel and any fun-hating Daily Mail hack is that Julie likes cunt. But being gay, by itself, does not make you a liberal or excuse gender fascism.

Sarah, a young transperson and organiser of Thursday's demo, commented: 'I do genuinely feel sorry for her. I think she so wanted to be a big crusading journalist, who uncovered some great big medical plot to turn gay and lesbian people straight through surgery. But all she's succeeded in doing is managing to unite most of the trans community in annoyance at the organisations who are so keen on ignoring their own communities in order to cosy up to her, and make herself look increasingly stupid in print.
To the people behind her nomination for "Journalist of the Year", I think you should be ashamed of yourselves for the way you've treated trans people by proxy, and you should also be ashamed of yourself for nominating someone who produces articles like today's, because lots of people can recognise quality journalism, and that's not it.'

Bindel and her supporters have abandoned any notion of solidarity within the women's rights movement or within the queer rights movement. It's up to us to stand up for our generation of freaks and rule-breakers and say: we will not permit you to pull up the ladder of progress behind you. We are not ashamed. We're coming to rattle your complacent little cages: sexual deviants, transfolk and gender magicians, bisexuals, pansexuals, pagans and atheists, angels and demons, black, white, Asian, mixed-race, boys and girls, men and women and everyone in between. We will not ghetto ourselves any longer. We will not be denied again. In fact, you know what? We're here. And we're queer.

Get used to it.


  1. Bravo, Penny!

    My take on the ongoing japes you helped unleash is here:

    This affair has been great fun, although perhaps I'd not say the same were I in a minority group excluded from Stonewall representation.

  2. Just one minor quibble I have - I mentioned it in a post linking to you, so I should also tell you in person. You say that freaks and deviants will no longer ghetto themselves, but surely the 'freak' and 'deviant' identities rely on the existence of their opposite, you have to deviate from something, so that automatically ghettoises them. In other words, your terminology implies that you rely on the likes of Ms Bindel being shitheads about this sort of thing for a crucial part of your identity.

    Also, I'm not sure anyone who routinely gets treated as a freak would really identify as a freak. I know a lot of transwomen prefer people not to know because as far as they're concerned, they're women. As far as I can tell - sorry to get personal - you're about as 'freakish' as I am, actually less so because you have a degree from Oxford and you're a moderately influential young journalist, at the age of, what, 22? - i.e. you can get Julie Bindel to pay attention, something I certainly never managed in over a year of being quite rude about Guardian journalists and belonging to a fairly well-known feminist organisation. From your photo (which may no longer be representative) we have very similar gender presentations, and from what you've written, similar sexualities. And, personally, I've far more often been shouted at by self-identified freaks than been considered one of the freaks, on one occasion along with other low-paid office workers commuting to their call-centre jobs.

    Do you really think it's fair for you to stand next to trans people and say 'we're the freaks', when you have to actually identify that way, whereas they're still considered disturbing and horrifying by a hell of a lot of people and subjected to daily abuse? I've actually noticed this kind of 'we're the freaks' identity with a lot of very privileged young activists. While your enthusiasm and solidarity are probably appreciated, and your work seems to be of a high standard, you don't need to try and identify your experience with that of more oppressed people in order to have the necessary empathy to be useful as an activist.

    In fact, if it comes across that you're equating having short hair with gender dysphoria, that could be a bit of a hindrance. Accept that they're two completely different experiences - otherwise you're coming across like Liz Taylor telling a homeless person "oh, I had to go without servants once, how terrible, I feel your pain!".

  3. Ah, Zenobia...well, I completely take your point, although my response is dictated partly by blogging anonymity...

    The photo isn't recent, but it may as well be - because, for the purposes of developing a career in journalism, I've spent the last year presenting as progressively more 'normal' - I've grown my hair, a bit, and started toning down the strange clothes and attitude when I go to work. But I like to think I'm a lot more freakish than I look. I have a history of gender dysphoria, which led to serious mental illness in my teens; I own a binder and boy-clothes which I'm normally too chicken to wear out of the house. My emotions on that score are still very much unresolved. But yes - for better or worse, I very much feel as if I can claim these issues politically, whilst acknowledging that I have the privilege of presenting as cisgendered if I so choose.

    I find it sad to think that I have to wear this sober feminine disguse - I consider it a disguise - to get on in life, especially when justly reminded, as you've done just now, that it's a conscious choice I've made. I think all I can do now, though, is try to win a platform to shout about it, to add a voice to the many yelling for gender revolution so that it doesn't have to be this way forever.

    Does that make more sense?


  4. Good for you Laurie. Nice to see that you won't give in to preserve some mythical unity.

  5. Did you know Julie Bindel will be speaking at a certain Oxford college in the next few weeks?

  6. I did indeed, and it's my old college too. Oh gawd, I might even have to miss it, what a crying shame.

    Finn Mackay is also speaking. I've shared a pint and a platform with her before, and there's a lot we don't agree on, and that's fine, but personally I'm not willing to travel to another city and see it, especially when I might run into people whose tutorials I slept through.

    (Finn was one of the 7 Julie-fans, so we can tell where this is going right from the start).

  7. I find it sad to think that I have to wear this sober feminine disguse - I consider it a disguise - to get on in life, especially when justly reminded, as you've done just now, that it's a conscious choice I've made. I think all I can do now, though, is try to win a platform to shout about it, to add a voice to the many yelling for gender revolution so that it doesn't have to be this way forever.

    Does that make more sense?

    That does make sense. I just think we need to be careful with terminology like 'freak', because so many of the people you demonstrated with - and you yourself, from what you've said here - will be used to having that word used against them in a negative way. I guess different people deal with it differently. You choose to reclaim the term, a lot of people won't, and a lot won't even be able to. It's not so much your privilege at being able to go 'in drag', so to speak, that I'm calling you out on. Most people have to do just that, a lot of women who work in retail or as receptionists will tell you the same. It's more the privilege of being able to claim the word 'freak', or leave it behind if you choose, when a lot of people have it applied to them forcibly, and would quite like to blend in a little more. So it's probably not fair to stand next to them and go 'we're freaks!'.

    Still, I'm sorry I made assumptions about your gender identity, it was a bit presumptuous of me.

  8. Penny Red: I see what you're saying to Zenobia, but there are friends of mine who were on that protest who would be really offended by your appearing to call them freaks, were I to link them to this post.

  9. I think (and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) that Penny was using the word "freak" in the same way that LGBTQQI members began using the word "queer", which had previously been used as an insult, to define themselves. By taking command of the term you rob it of its value as a derogatory description.


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