Psychiatrists plan transphobic conference

The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Gay and Lesbian Special Interest Group (an organisation clearly well-qualified to meddle in trans affairs) are planning a delightful meeting in London next month.

Described as an “extremely stimulating meeting exploring the most recent academic, clinical and contemporary thinking on transgender issues, for all people interested in this field, Transgender: Time to Change will include contributions from a number of disturbingly transphobic speakers.

Let’s have a look at the programme for the day, shall we?

A meeting organised by the
Royal College of Psychiatrists’
Gay and Lesbian Special Interest Group
Friday 20th May, 2011
15 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8PG

9.30am Registration

10.00am Morning session: Chair: Professor Michael King

10.10am Dr Domenico Di Ceglie: From Disorder to Diversity: Current views and controversies in the management of Gender Identity Disorder in Young People

10.45am Ms Julie Bindel There is no such a thing as a real woman (or a real man, for what matters). A feminist perspective on Gender Identity Disorder

11.20am Ms Christina Richards: Trans: What the empirical literature tells us

11.55am Discussion

12.30pm Lunch

13.15pm Afternoon session: Chair: Shawn Mitchell

13.20pm Dr James Barrett: Disorders of Gender Identity – what works

14.00pm Dr Az Hakeem: Deconstructing Gender and Parallel Processes: Features specific to a Specialist Transgender Psychotherapy Service

14.40pm Panel discussion – all speakers

15.15pm Finish

15.30 – 16.15pm GLBSIG AGM – all welcome

My, what a line-up. Where to begin?

The most obviously questionable speaker is Julie Bindel, a woman with a long history of transphobia. Bindel makes it her mission to subject trans people in general – and trans women in particular – to the very same treatment that she (rightly) decries as sexism when it is aimed at cis women. She has consistently argued against the provision of medical treatment for transsexed individuals. She has threatened to sue trans individuals and feminist organisations that dare condemn her damaging actions. What the hell gives her the right to comment on the psychiatric treatment of trans people?

However, Natacha Kennedy rightly points out that Dr Az Hakeem is considerably more dangerous. He runs a “specialist psychotherapy service for patients with transgender and other gender identity disorders” (source) at the Portman Clinic, meaning that he has a great deal of power over trans patients. Let’s have a look at what he has to say about us:

“The experience of many psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and psychotherapists working with transsexual patients is that they are individuals who, for complex reasons, need to escape from an intolerable psychological reality into a more comfortable fantasy. By attempting to live as a member of the opposite sex, they try to avoid internal conflict, which may otherwise prove to be too distressing.”

Regarding Hakeem’s approach to trans research, Kennedy points out:

There is so much wrong with Hakeem’s 2010 paper in which he claims to be able to ‘cure’ trans people it is hard to know where to begin. These kind of claims have been repeated throughout the chequered history of psychiatric engagement with trans people. His kind of treatment “talking therapies” as Julie Bindel calls them, “reparative therapy” being one of the many euphemisms employed by the “treatment has also been tried on gays and lesbians and been shown to fail, causing only feelings of trauma, guilt and suicidal tendencies.

His paper makes assertions for which he provides no evidence and his methods, selection of research participants and the nature of their participation in the study appear to be opaque in extreme. In addition there is no mention of research ethics which are particularly important when one is publishing research about individuals with whom one has a professional-client relationship.

Gosh. I’m sure glad this man is going to be sharing a platform with Bindel.

Who else do we have? Ah yes, Dr Domenico Di Ceglie. The conference blurb points out that he works for the Tavistock Clinic, a service that offers approximately sod all a very limited “service” for trans children and adolescents. Contacts of mine who have attended this clinic explain that therapists have patronised them, steered the conversation away from any real discussion of gender, and refused to offer treatment. Realistically, hormones are banned until you’re 18 for the vast majority of trans teens in the UK. Looks like you’re doing a sterling job, doctor!

James Barrett is a controversial fellow, to say the least. He’s deeply unpopular with some of his patients at Charing Cross, whilst others like him. He’s provided a great deal of help to many, but is a bit obsessed with the idea that people need to be in employment or education in order to earn treatment. He has been known to block treatment for individuals who have disabilities that prevent them from working.

Finally, we have Christina Richards, another Charing Cross psych. Shockingly, Christina brings the number of trans people speaking at this conference up to a grand total of one.

As a community, we shouldn’t simply let this pass. Most of these speakers aren’t just dodgy, they’re downright dangerous. We need to be asking the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Gay and Lesbian Special Interest Group what the heck they think they’re doing, raising awareness of this travesty in the LGBT media, and if necessary picketing the meeting. If we let this go without a fuss then the vile propaganda of individuals such as Hakeem and Bindel will only spread unchecked.

Getting down with The Guardian

The Guardian has suddenly started to cover trans issues on a regular basis. A quick peek at their archives shows a massive increase in articles which profile trans people or explore trans issues: we’re talking about an article every few days as opposed to one every month or two or – before 2009 – one or two per year.

It does make me wonder what’s sparked this. It can’t be a coincidence: there must have been some decision amongst editors to commission more pieces on trans issues and report trans news stories more often. It seems likely that this trend has been deliberately planned to tie in with Juliet Jacques’ excellent series of articles about transition, but that itself wouldn’t be a root cause. Maybe it’s a response to the growing contributions of openly trans people within the Guardian’s comment threads (such as Natacha Kennedy, who has had the opportunity to write a number of fine articles herself). Maybe it’s a deliberate move away from offering a platform to transphobic voices from within the feminist movement, although I’m sure we’ll see another horrific article from Julie Bindel again at some point.

Still, I’m happy to see this spate of trans-friendly articles, regardless of how it happened to come about. The Guardian is well-known for its centre-left approach but hasn’t always portrayed trans issues in the most positive light (see: aforementioned voices from within the feminist movement!). The newspaper’s website is widely-read, so it’s a great way to reach out to people who otherwise might not come across decent articles about trans people.

The problem is…well, the problems are basically many of those I outlined in my previous entry. Where’s the diversity? What we’ve got is a series of excellent articles by and about white trans women (except this one by none other than…Stephen Whittle, who seems to unintentionally vie with Thomas Beatie for the crown of the One Trans Man In The World). Where are the trans men, the non-white trans people, the cross-dressers, the genderqueers, the androgynes? I’m not asking for diversity for the sake of diversity: it’s just that this current level of homogeneity really is somewhat bizarre.

To be fair to The Guardian, it hasn’t been actively erasing the accounts of those it offers a platform to, so kudos to them for going against the trend and allowing individuals such as lesbian goth comedian Bethany Black to tell her story. Moreover, Juliet Jacques has been doing an impressive job of slipping in references to non-binary identities, referencing trans feminism and rubbishing the typical idea that trans people aim to “deceive” others by trying to pass. Still, this particular piece has been coupled with the picture of a woman applying make-up, and there are articles appearing in which terms like “sex change” are thrown about and transsexed people’s old names are mentioned as a matter of course.

What we’re seeing then is a strange mixture of some genuinely progressive pieces alongside the same old transphobic tropes. It seems likely that comments and complaints from trans readers have got us this far…who knows where we might end up if we keep pushing and they keep listening?