Tag Archives: Nottingham Women’s Conference

Nottingham Women’s Conference – Update

I decided to write an update as my other blog about the conference has started to be shared in the run-up to the event. I sincerely hope it has the desired effect of deterring people from becoming invested in a “fight” against what is happening there. It’s clear to me now from last year’s events that good feminists can be easily duped by insider/outsider dynamics – the people shouting at the door will always be perceived as the real threat, and those “inside” will rally together – even if in peace-time they would not have agreed with each other. The cracks that are beginning to show in the discourse then get papered over.

I honestly believe we should stand back and patiently wait for the cracks to reveal themselves. The influence of transcritical feminism over the conference is not sustainable because the ideas do not hold water, they are currently propped up by the sense of a perceived “outsider threat” that motivates people to pull together and not engage their critical thinking skills.

On the Conference’s Facebook page there is now the statement “The conference organisers are upset and concerned that rumours/lies are being spread about this year’s conference not being open to Trans women. The FACT is the conference is open to all women and we hope that you will support us in sharing this fact with anyone you hear saying otherwise.” Later in the thread, they refer to “forces at work” and “facing a lot of adversity” – all of this supports my assertion that an attempt is being made to make members of the feminist community feel threatened and under attack. Whether consciously intentional or not, this approach could have two outcomes:

  • It could encourage those connected to or attending the conference to listen less to the outsider voices of trans people, who are being painted as the wolves at the door (rather than the beggars at the door we actually are).
  • Those involved might instinctively rally around somebody who is perceived as sufficiently powerful to repel the “invaders”. We make different choices of leader in war time than in peace time, so fabricating a war provides opportunities for a certain type of leader.

I have not personally seen or heard of any rumours or lies about the conference, although certainly people are talking about it, and its loose connections with Femifest’s particular brand of trans-antagonistic radical feminism. It would be so easy for mischief-makers to fabricate a story in order to further the perception of a “trans threat”. I think I would have seen and quashed any rumour that the conference is trans exclusionary, had there been one going around.

Although I’m sure whoever posted the comments above on the NWC page was sincere in believing them, there’s a possibility they have been manipulated. And whatever the truth about someone somewhere having either a) “lied” or b) more likely, made an honest mistake about the conference’s policy, I have a problem with how it’s reported. Using the NWC facebook page to stir up a sense of threat from the trans community, would seem to me a small abuse of power by those within the institution towards those outside of it. It is a particularly sensitive issue because of how quick and willing to think badly of trans people many non-trans people still are. There is a positive eagerness in some circles to hear the latest scare story and I have seen wholly apocryphal tales about trans people spread like wildfire many times during my years involved with women only spaces.

If you go onto the NWC facebook page, there are other hints that the politics of the conference are trans-ignorant if not transcritical. I picked up on their use of Sheila Jefferey’s favourite term “transgenderism” (My response – the word “deliberately insinuates that being transgender is a political movement, ideology or practice rather than something you fundamentally are”). I also had a discussion with them about “women’s health” as a subject for the conference’s women only space. Many of us know that transcritical activists use the idea of “women’s health” to try and and show that trans women are not “real women”. Of course in doing this they also marginalise trans men and genderqueer folks who sometimes have the same gynaecological needs as cis women but don’t identify as women.

I still cannot work out whether I was hearing a genuine intention to do better in the response to my query, or merely being pacified, but I will for now assume the former and let everyone know there is hope, even if we have a long way to go. I will keep people posted if anyone from the conference gets back to me or makes an effort to be positively involved with the “trans safe feminism” project and upcoming meeting. What I would like to hear from the conference is “we got a lot of things wrong this year, and acknowledge our need to learn from the trans community”.

We have a long way to go before trans people in all our diversity will be comfortable to attend the appropriate feminist spaces, and meanwhile the trans community will continue to be the beggars at the door, and continue to be painted as a “menace” to give those inside an excuse not to consider us.

Update – I have not edited the above since being banned from the NWC page for trying to challenge what I see as further provocation on the page. In my comment I requested that the NWC committee commit to further training around trans issues. I am left wondering why there were so few transgender voices on the page, other than the voices of that rare breed of trans person who aligns with transcritical feminism. I long for a day when we can engage in a balanced, empowered discussion where we are all insiders and nobody is left shouting (or in my case, weeping) at the door.

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Why we should ignore Julie Bindel’s presence at Nottingham Women’s Conference 2014

The take-home message from last year’s Nottingham Women’s Conference was surely that, if the event were to be repeated, much more effort needed to be made to consult different groups and be open-minded, inclusive and balanced from early on in the planning.

The uncomfortable drama of last year’s conference was triggered by current sex workers not being given a voice in the content related to sex work – this long but excellent blog from local feminist Uncharted Worlds explains further.

When I saw that they had booked Julie Bindel as a speaker for this year’s conference, I realised if lessons had been learned, they were the wrong lessons. I am not qualified to discuss sex work, but I suggest that choosing a speaker with a history of a similar kind of problematic commentary around sex work is rather provocative after the events of last year.

In addition, the booking of Bindel speaks to a systemic issue with the conference that marginalises other groups as well. Bindel has historically been called out for problematic comments about transgender people and bisexuals, and my personal reaction towards hearing her name associated with the conference was, “I will not be safe there”. I know I am not the only person having this reaction. This, of course, is the easiest way to exclude people – not to actually say “you’re not included” but to make the space uncomfortable, a little like making sure the chairs only fit cisgender bottoms.

Transgender people are likely to feel unwelcome because Bindel is “transcritical” – she feels entitled to speak for and about transgender lives, rights and surgery in a disparaging and dismissive manner. To be clear, Bindel apologised for the worst of her comments about transgender people, made in 2004, but to this day she continues to speak against us being given access to medical treatment. This is comparable to a man speaking on the subject of a woman’s right to abortion.

Bindel, as a Guardian columnist, has a strong platform for her views and her “brand”. Intersectional feminism would hold that it is simply unacceptable to use your power to undermine the rights and the voice of one of society’s most vulnerable minorities. It would say that it is for transgender people themselves to work out where they fit in relation to feminism, how to integrate theories about gender inequality and social construction within their lived experience of being transgender, and how to negotiate the power structures of the medical profession and “Big Pharma”.

Trans feminists are aware of all these concerns and are having a vibrant, radical discussion – it is not for others to impose their views from a position of superiority (and often surprising ignorance), nor to ensure that their negative opinions are heard above those of transitioning people themselves.

Bindel, in an interview with Paris Lees in 2013, identifies herself as fitting the description of a transgender person, presumably as a means of avoiding the accusation of cis privilege. However, cis and trans are not binaries but a continuum; just as South American people may experience racism but should not speak for African people, gender non-conforming people who are comfortable with their birth sex assignment do not have the same experiences as many other transgender people and cannot speak for them.

Bindel will talk at the conference of her experience of being “no platformed”. Although we have been assured she will not speak about trans people, calls for her to not be given a platform at certain events were connected to her transcritical views. It is hard to see how Bindel will not seek to convince listeners, as she does in the above interview, that she is being “silenced” by transgender people – that is, that she is the victim and they are the threat. The perception of transgender people as a threat could, of course, lead to further oppression and marginalisation. It is an easy way to hold back a civil rights movement; to constantly highlight the worst behaviour of some activists.

It is important to highlight the economic, institutional and academic power of folks like Julie Bindel, Sheila Jeffreys, Germaine Greer, Janice Raymond, Julie Birchill and other transcritical feminists. Whilst women’s rights have a very long way to go, we should not be blind to the fact these individuals are now inside the system (or cis-tem, if you like) and have a certain amount of institutional power. As such, I think it is for these individuals to reflect more on how they silence other voices than on how they are silenced.

There will inevitably be a twitter storm over this. A lot of frustrated, marginalised people are likely to get angry and some may say things they regret. Somebody, somewhere may well say “f*** off and die” or something similarly unhelpful in a heated moment and then it will go down in cistory that transgender people (all of us) make credible, violent death threats and cannot be trusted.

All this drama is so predictable it’s almost as if it is being orchestrated. It looks like shock doctrine; a way of stirring people up and manipulating them in order to gain power and control. The controversy will no doubt sell plenty of tickets, but please remember that it is as fabricated as the “War on Terror”.

Meanwhile, folks like myself are genuinely triggered into a trauma response, because every time stuff like this happens, trans people get more marginalised within feminism, and our social support, the thing that is intimately connected to our mental wellbeing, lessens. I personally would rather devote my time and energy into dismantling patriarchy than feel sick with worry about whether it’s ever going to be safe for people like me in feminist spaces in Nottingham.

I need to be allowed to speak up and say I don’t feel safe in any space that allows a platform for transcriticism or notorious transcritics. I have stated my reasons for this previously. These imperious and damaging ideas have enough of a platform – I cannot go online without stumbling into them. Ignoring and sidelining the views of powerful people with Guardian columns is not “silencing” anyone, it is redressing a massive power imbalance.

That being said I am not going to engage in campaigning against Bindel’s invitation. Partly because it is too traumatising, but also because it would appear to be exactly what is being invited, and I do not want to serve an agenda that seeks to marginalise trans people even further.

I urge the intersectional feminist community and all elements within it to ignore this provocation – a lot to ask, I know, but please don’t feed this monster.

What I am interested in doing is getting together with other (non-transcritical) feminists in Nottingham and discussing how we can make Nottingham’s feminist spaces safer for transgender people. A meeting, led by Nottingham’s Intersectional Feminism group, will be happening in October. Contact me if you’re interested (go to the “about” section of this blog), and let’s build a more collaborative future built on consciousness raising and self-reflection. There’s work to be done here, but it isn’t going to happen on Twitter.