Sitting in taxis over the years, far too often I have heard some terrible prejudice prefaced with the words “I’m not racist, but …. ” – and then the deluge begins. Offensive and revealing far more about the Neanderthal brains of the drivers than one cares to learn. Sadly, such depressing outrages are not confined to London cabs. Donald Trump came close during his presidential campaign with his pathetic ‘some of my best friends are Muslims.’
An article about transgender girls published a few weeks ago in The Sunday Times, began with the denial “I’m not transphobic or anti-trans …. ” – and so we knew what was likely to follow. The writer, Dame Jenni Murray of the BBC’s Woman’s Hour, even added her own Trumpism when she spoke almost fondly of individual transgender girls as if they were her closest friends. Of course she is not as acerbic as Germaine Greer. But then, who is? Jenni Murray in her article embraces those transgender girls who confess that they may not be real women and is more than a touch contemptuous of those transgender girls whose thinking is not focused upon a feminist agenda.
Now Jenni Murray is a clever lady. I met her once in circumstances which I shall not bore you with. She struck me as being concerned only with those who she regarded as ‘important’ – or fodder for her journalistic appetites. At the time I was neither, so I was dismissed with barely a flutter of her eyelashes – no mascara evident of course in her unforgiving feminist world. And certainly no realization that she was speaking to one of many transgender girls. Not being Eddie Izzard or Grayson Perry can be a distinct disadvantage!
The article returns several times to variations on the obvious – truisms. A person born with a penis and testicles is genetically male. Someone who has lived as a man in what remains a predominantly masculine world will not have experienced personally the negative prejudices against women which pretty much every woman faces on a daily basis. And men do not comprehend the nuanced exchanges developed over the years within and across female society. These may be truisms, but they reveal little of the truth about transgender girls.
She fails fully to comprehend the essential truths of the world of transgender girls. The realization that one is different comes not in middle age but much, much earlier – typically just before or during adolescence. She does acknowledge that some boys feel out of place in their bodies – possessing the mind of one sex, and the body of another, but she denies that such feelings are backed by any credible scientific evidence. So that is that then: end of story. In an area with little or no genuine scientific research, it is easy to pontificate. But there is still a desperate need to explain.
Bruce Jenner was in a very important sense Caitlyn a long, long time before she made her irrevocable decision to turn her back on masculinity once and for all. Jenni Murray provides examples of the more mature transgender, berating them for thinking more about clothes than castigating themselves for the privileges they enjoyed as men, or praising them for their ‘ honesty’ when they say “Of course, I am not a real woman.”
She gives barely a column inch of her lengthy article to the confused, secretive crossdressers – transgender girls in their teens and twenties, so often plagued with doubts and misgivings, whilst trying desperately to be something they are not, trying to be what others regard as ‘normal’ – and failing.
Jenni Murray makes a schoolgirl error in failing to stress the fact that men too suffer from prejudice in their everyday lives – even though she does mention the unacceptability of the bullying and violence suffered by members of the LGBT community. Although pretty much all transgender girls may not have experienced the daily put-downs suffered by so many women, they will have been subject to all sorts of other nasty-minded prejudices aimed at transgender girls. Because they are different, they find it hard to hide that difference. So no matter how they hard they try to be ‘normal’, it is more than likely that they will suffer insults or put-downs of one kind or another – and they do suffer for their femininity as one of many transgender girls.
She was quite rightly taken to task for her views by her employers at the BBC as well as by many media commentators. But so many of these criticisms missed the point. Jenni Murray’s mistake was not in rehearsing truisms about gender and thereby causing offence, but – perhaps through her confusion of transsexual with transgender and definitely through her highly selective and narrow evidence base, in failing to appreciate the sheer variety of transgender girls of all ages.
Five minutes with JJ might open her eyes not to truisms but to the truth about transgender girls. Now that is one interview on Woman’s Hour that I would like to hear.
By Miss Kitty Noble