Tuesday, 20 November 2018

TRANSCRIPT of Prof. Sheila Jeffreys talk,

‘The social and political construction of transgenderism’

(some words/phrases inaudible, guessed-at and put in square brackets)

Professor Sheila Jeffrys

‘The social and political construction of transgenderism’

Delivered at Conway Hall, London, September 2016

“This is a very historic occasion because it’s the first conference of its kind. I don’t think there’s been anything like it, where critical feminist [accounts?] of transgenderism have been publicly expressed for a whole day in this way.

Some of you who read the Guardian will be aware that in the middle of this last week there were three pages of the Guardian  devoted to the huge increase in the demand for transgender treatments at gender identity clinics in the UK. For instance, several of the fourteen clinics have had increases in recent years of several hundred percent. The Tavistock Institute for Children has had referrals in the past year of 100% increase.

Now quite apart from the strain that the creation of this invented problem creates for the NHS – and I’m sure quite a lot of you in this room will be very aware of the strains on the NHS at the moment – quite apart from that difficulty, there is no criticism, really. Either that […?} the Guardian articles had no critical commentary at all. There was no sociological perspective, no political perspective, no mention that any feminists disagreed with what was happening, absolutely nothing.

So that is not a responsible approach by the media, but it is the general response by the media. There is absolutely no criticism out there.

There’s no suggestion, for instance, that transgenderism could be a social contagion, produced through the internet, through the sending of educators into schools to teach transgenderism and to make children transgender, and so on. There is no suggestion of any social influences on what is happening here.

Now I will suggest now, today, that transgenderism is indeed an invention, that it is socially and politically constructed, and that there is a contagion is a result of forces of power in  hetero-patriarchal society, rather than related in any way to an innate and trans-historical condition. For instance, those who believe that there has always been transgenders or transsexuals in history, or say there will always be transgender children historically – actually, I don’t think so; there have not; but there are supposedly now.

Now, as transgenderism grows as a social contagion, the many social harms associated with it - from conflict with women’s rights to conversion of young lesbian and gay men, to surgically constructed hetero-sexuality, to serious health problems created by the treatment, and many others - all of these increase, as we shall see, through the other contributions at this conference.

Now, the ideology of transgenderism is, most importantly, that persons who transgender are essentially endowed with mental and behavioural characteristics more suitable to someone of the opposite sex; that men are seen, for instance, as having ‘women’s brains’ in biologically male bodies, and to possess a ‘feminine essence’; they don’t like the critical analysis of where transgenderism comes from – the idea that it is constructed and we can look at that – because it undermines the essentialism of their condition; and the legislative and policy gains they have made – which endanger women’s rights and threaten to dis-appear women as biological female persons – they are all based upon this ideology of essentials, so it’s important {…?] the things that people are going to say today cannot be heard.

In support of the ideology it’s argued that there have always been transgenders [sic] in history, and definitely reject social constuctivism.

Now the concept of transgenderism was, the anthropologist in the US David Valentine says, institutionalised in the 1990s. Before that the term was not really used, no-one was really aware of it,  and the term of course needs to be really out there in order for people to be able to identify with it, if it doesn’t exist then it’s not really possible really to have transgenders.

Valentine is an anthropologist who did research on communities in New York in the mid-1990s that were identified to him as ‘transgender’ by the eight outreach organisations he worked for, and he was surprised to discover that none of those in these supposedly ‘transgender communities’  identified themselves as transgender, or had any idea about the term. So the social services and NGOs got it first, they {…} that ideology and they were going onto the street and promote it and try to identify their clients; that’s how things get institutionalised.

He found that the men on the strolls he was directed to, to define the transgender communities, were gay men involved in prostitution; they adopted attire more normally associated with women, but they were happy to identify as men, and as gay, and they wanted to keep their penises and were very fond of them, and so on; so they were unaware of the concept of transgenderism. They wouldn’t be now. 

They’ve not caught up with the new language and they’ve not caught up with the new categorisation; there’s a time lag between the voices of authority that constructed transgenderism and its reaching its targets, right? which is really fascinating.

Now, I’ll just say this very briefly, of course, to make sure you really know this, the difference between sex and gender; transgender activists believe, or pretend to believe, for tactical purposes, that ‘gender’ exists as an essence in human beings, and they determinedly confuse gender with biological sex, but actually biological sex is an inconvenient truth because it can’t be altered.

Transgenders can only ‘trans’ the superficial behavioural traits and norms that they identify as belonging to one biological sex or another.

Now the terms ‘transsexual’, ‘transgender’ –

The term ‘transsexual’ was coined in the 1950s to describe those persons who wished to change their ‘sex’ as it was understood, really, at the time, and the terms was popularised by the endocrinologist Harry Benjamin in his book ‘The Transsexual Phenomenon’ (1966). It’s important he’s an endocrinologist; many of those involved in the construction of transgenderism are from the drugs industry because, of course, the persons identified as transsexual or transgender have to take these drugs for the rest of their lives; and I’m sure you are aware lots of women came off HRT when they discovered how harmful it was; it was necessary to have replacements -  big drug companies have to have replacements as the dangers and the harms of the drugs they are currently peddling become obvious, okay?

So putting huge numbers of children and adults on these drugs for the rest of their lives is a very important source of profit and indeed the drug industry companies fund the so-called transgender health organisation, internationally ‘W-path’ – if you go onto that site you will see the huge amounts of money coming from all the major drug companies into it – it’s a massive source of profit for them.

So, at that time in the 1960s, there was this distinction made between cross-dressers and 

transvestites, who were men who were sexually excited by wearing clothing they associated with women and engaging in masochistic fantasies about themselves as the subordinate sex, and men who actually impersonated the opposite sex and required social recognition of themselves as women, so transvestites were seen as separate from transsexuals, and indeed the Beaumont Society in Britain was for transvestites and they didn’t want transsexuals in there, and so on. There was all sorts of boundary keeping; that’s all fallen away now, of course.

The term ‘transgender’ was coined by hetero-sexual cross-dresser called Virginia Prince in the 1960s, and he sought to distinguish himself from transsexuals and thought men who wanted to cut their penises off were sadly mistaken, so he lived as a woman all of his life and he never actually thought he was one, and he didn’t have his penis removed – He lived all his life as a woman after his two marriages.

He started a magazine in the US for cross-dressers in 1960 called ‘Trans-vestial’- so we have to remember the role of the social movement of cross-dressers as one of the social and political forces that has constructed transgenderism.

He worked to create a more acceptable face for cross-dressing, a practice previously understood as paraphilia, a form of sexual fetishism, so Virginia Prince tried to normalise that  through this movement and his magazine and so on, and when you look at these magazines, and I have, from the 1960s, it’s extremely similar to what you see, in terms of the stories of cross-dressers and transgenders [sic] online now, there’s virtually not a whisper of difference between the way that this is put across, it’s very fascinating.

Now his adoption of the term is part of what I will call here the move to gender, in which both cross-dressing and transvestitism came to be understood as an expression of an internal or essential gender, rather than simply as being hobbies carried out for sexual excitement.

The term ‘transgender’ was then normalised to be a politics of the 1990s, when it was adopted to convey a wide meaning  covering all those seen as engaging in behaviour that is usually allotted to the opposite sex, so it came to include butch lesbians, cross-dressers, gay men, prostituted men, and so on.

Presently the term ‘transgender’ is used in common parlance to refer to those who have once been called ‘transsexual’ most commonly, but the distinctions have really broken down.

Now in history, transgenderism in history – because remember the ideology is that there have always been transgenders in history because it is an essential condition – what transgender activists seek to do is to appropriate persons in history who might have worn the clothing of the opposite sex and say that they were really transgenders. The problem with that is that they are mostly lesbians and gay men who have an honoured part in lesbian and gay history because a lot of lesbian and gay men have historically tended to wear items of clothing of the opposite sex, so a bit of a turf war there, with transgender activists seeking to appropriate lesbians and gays from lesbian and gay history.


In fact women cross-dressed historically because they didn’t want to be made into a prostitute, they wanted to be able to be pirates, to enter the military  {…} they sometimes cross-dressed because they wanted to be able to have relationships with women without social opprobrium, so there were many reasons for cross-dressing which would not include thinking that they were transgender, a concept which did not really exist.

So transgenderism does not have some essential process in history, until, transgenderism – the main force in creating transgender as a category - is sexology, the science of sex.

Now in the late nineteenth century, faith in God as the arbiter of all things sexual was declining, there were all these children in London in the mid-nineteenth century who didn’t even know who Jesus was, which of course was a concern to some ([laughter], and so therefore there needed to be a new regulatory authority for sexual practice, and so people didn’t have to be taken to the church courts or whatever, and the regulatory authority was sexology or the scientists of sex. They were medical men who expanded their remit to become pundits on correct sexual behaviour; they were traditional men who believed that men should be men and women should be women, for instance they sought to explain homosexuality through a notion that it was a biological condition in which by some mysterious fashion the brain of a woman had  occupied the body of a man, and vice versa. This will be sounding familiar, probably, in terms of transgenderism, and indeed this is the first manifestation of this kind of ideology from an authoritative medical source, so that’s in the late-nineteenth early-twentieth century. They didn’t clearly distinguish homosexuality  from what would be later understood as transvestitism, transsexualism or transgenderism at that time; they did understand these persons, these homosexual persons as biologically constructed, they had congenital abnormality and so on, for instance the sexologist Havelock Ellis did say that lesbians are able to whistle and gay [sic] men unable to whistle because this is biological [laughter] and I think it was that lesbians like the colour purple and gay men the colour green – biological, and also handwriting – he was very keen on handwriting – you could tell from the handwriting whether the person had a brain of the wrong sex, in the wrong body and so on, and they described it as being about germs, sexual germs, and so on, they didn’t know about hormones or chromosomes or genes, or of those things at the time. But they thought that in the homosexual, something goes wrong with the process and ends up with a person who is more fitted for the ‘inverted’ than for the normal sexual impulse.

Now these sexologists had no way at that time of making the sexual ‘inverts’ as they called them into members of the opposite sex at that time, physically - they didn’t have the hormones, they didn’t have the surgeons at that time – that wasn’t until the 1920s, they began to be developed, and you will know the case of Imar Wegener [?], also known as ‘the Danish Girl’, there was a movie about him, I think he was a cross-dresser who was then subjected to these treatments, and he was killed by a uterus transplant in 1931, the surgeries were a little bit primitive at that time, so he was one of the early casualties. He has now been claimed as a hero of the transgender movement, except he was the unfortunate victim of gruesome medical experiments to create surgically constructed hetero-sexuality.

So I’m going to argue that the category of ‘transgender’ is indeed constructed by forces of male power.

Let’s look more closely at medicine in the construction of transgenderism, this only became thinkable, the idea of transgender as we understand it, as a result of the development of medicine in the 20th century. Endocrinology was crucial, because it enabled the creation of artificial hormones. It started off with things like planting goats testicles into people, all sorts of experiments going on in the [19]20s, and then they discovered the possibility of using artificial hormones; [Louise …?] had a wonderful book on this looking at how public dissemination of scientific knowledge of the human endocrine system in a certain human subject, to ‘understand themselves’ as members of the other sex- so they couldn’t understand themselves as members of the other sex until the possibilities of the category

Had actually been created so they could then identify with it and seek to enter into it – and so endocrinology created artificial hormones and then another very important thing is plastic surgery, which enabled [them] actually to do the operations, and anaesthesia, which made those operations […] – so there are three medical specialisms which are crucial to the construction of what we have now.

Now the development of these medical specialisms was so important to the construction of transgenderism that the historian of sexuality, Verne Bullock [?] comments that he once presented a paper in 1973 suggesting that trans-sexualism might be iatrogenic, that is, a health problem created by medicine itself.


Now the idea of trans-sexualism as a condition requiring treatment by hormones and surgery was not well-accepted in the early years, in fact when the first famous transsexual in the US Christine Jorgensen went public with his experience in the 1950s there was a turf war in the medical profession about the correct treatment, a turf war between those who dealt with the mind – who considered that the fantasy of being a woman would be best treated by psychotherapy which they [the subject] should pay for - and those who were  endocrinologists and surgeons who considered the best treatment was physical, i.e. altering the body, even though the problem was actually in the mind.

Now the male demanders of transgender treatment had been very important as a social and political force, once the category was there and the possibilities were there, demand was developed and created a movement that demanded this treatment, the men fell into two categories: homosexual men who felt unable to love men while remaining in a male body, and then there were overwhelmingly hetero-sexual for whom transgender would be  a climax to their interest in cross-dressing. Christine Jorgensen was in the first category, was a gay man, but persuaded by his doctors in the 1950s he was really a woman. Homosexual men are a minority of those who transgender, men who transgender today, the other majority category of demanders derives from men, ostensibly hetero-sexual cross-dressers, and though cross-dressing is a fairly common pursuit of hetero-sexual men - probably quite a few of us in this room have had boyfriends or men they knew who liked dressing up in bits of women’s clothing – we will talk about that later [laughter] – so it’s actually quite common – it’s from this constituency that the term ‘transgender’ arose for cross-dressers.

The cross-dressers’ movement itself – as I mentioned Virginia Price was involved in creating a movement – [cross-dressers’ movements] were created all over the States and in the UK, and [although] these movements didn’t have access to the internet, they campaigned for acceptance through newspapers and magazines. Now they have the internet it’s a whole different scale of demand and social movement.

Now I will move to gender.

The construction of the idea of gender was necessary in order to justify and explain sex change treatment. Now some of you will probably be very aware that feminists have used  the term ‘gender – not me – but socialist feminists in particular would, back in the late 1970s, particularly in the women and self-development movement, have used the term gender and said it meant it could represent the fact that there was inequality, that there was a struggle between men and women, it was about political struggle; unfortunately that understanding has fallen away and I would advise you to drop the term ‘gender’, we need to eliminate it from our vocabulary as feminists [applause] [25:20]

We need to talk about ‘sex caste’ or ‘sex class’, choose your terms, but ‘gender’ is completely meaningless; it’s now understood to be biological, and in the way it’s being used presently, against us, it’s a very serious problem.

The sex-change surgery was predicated on the notion of ‘gender’ as created by the sexologists, for which it was a about the idea of an identity prior to and within the body, that theoretically should dictate the physical appearance of the subject, that’s how [Hausmann?] describes it

So it was developed by John Runyon [?] and other sexologists in the 1960s and 70s. Hausmann calls the doctors the ‘gender managers’,  and she says that opposition to homosexuality fuelled their work. So hatred of homosexuality has been fundamental to the medical construction of transgenderism from the 1960s onwards; I think it’s very strongly still there, and many are prepared to call transgenderism a form of commercial therapy when it is applied to children today.


I need to say a bit more about what underlies the interest of the majority of men who are heterosexual who become demanders of trans-sexual treatment. There is a grouping of sexologists today who argue that the majority should be understood as […] something called ‘autogynephilia’: love of woman in yourself. They say it’s a sexual interest or paraphilia, as transvestitism has always been understood to be; their characterisation of the practice offers insight into the importance attached by some men who transgender or cross-dress to appear in public, to women in toilets for instance, and seeking a reaction from them [women?]. This is a common aspect of autogynephilia, for instance the sexologists [B… and Trier?] argue, [27:15] and they describe it as the erotic fantasy of being admired in the female persona by another person, preferably by a woman in fact (if they are going into the women’s toilets).

[…? Sexologist?] Blanchard explains that a signal difference between autogynephiles and homosexuals, to whom they are often compared, is that homosexuals do not seek a reaction from passers-by for their sexual [gratification?] - in fact they [homosexuals] are probably going to do whatever they want to do somewhere private; whereas in fact hetero-sexual men who progress from cross-dressing to transgenderism act as if they are [in?] a potential movie into which other persons, such as wives, are inducted – however un-willingly – into playing the part of the audience; so that audience is crucial to the practice and the sexual satisfactions of the practice. [There is also?] a number of sexologists saying that cross-dressing and autogynephile transsexualism are based on sexual orientation, i.e. paraphilia, rather than mis-placed gender, they [don’t?] explain what the exactly what the sexual excitement is based upon, but the sexologists – and, I would [also] – argue that the sexual interest is a form of masochism; and there is one fascinating statistic, they say, [that] of men who die practising the dangerous masochistic activity of auto-erotic asphyxia, approximately twenty-four percent are cross-dressed. Fascinating.

So why – what is the excitement? The excitement is that woman are in the subordinate class and wearing the clothing of the subordinate class has the sexual excitement of masochism. As we shall see this afternoon when I am talking about the pornography of transgenderism, it’s that status-reduction that is crucially an element of that sexual excitement.

Now, Branchild [sexologist?] and his supporters argue that there is plenty of evidence for the existence of autogynephilia whereas there is none for feminine essence; and it lies – the evidence lies – in the narratives that Branchild [?] and the transgender psychologist Anne Lawrence [?] have collected – Branchild offers some examples from Lawrence’s collection to show how it manifests itself; one narrative describes the author’s sexual excitement at being taken for a woman:

               [Quoting from the narrative, speaking with a slightly higher-pitched voice]

In the early days I would become aroused whenever anyone – a sales clerk, a casual stranger – would address me as ‘her’, or perform some courtesy such as holding a door open for me.

Just like any other woman’s experience! [Laughter]

Another explains that both before and after sex-reassignment surgery he liked to pretend to menstruate. [Laughter].

[Again quoting the narrative, but in her normal voice]

It was and still is sexually exciting for me to have female bodily functions. Before my SRS I would pretend to menstruate by urinating in sanitary pads. I particularly enjoyed wearing the old-fashioned belted pad with long tabs.


Now, the motivations of ostensibly hetero-sexual men who transgender are fairly well explained by these sexologists; as I say, it is emerging from a form of masochism as sexual excitement.

Now another force in the construction of transgenderism today is the way in which the development of the internet has enabled groups of mainly men to create online communities around their sexual proclivities, and this happened in relation to cross-dressing and transgenderism [30:20], but also in relation to another practice, which has some close connections with transgenderism, trans-ableism.

The example of trans-ableism shows how identity can be built online, but it also shows the problems of this kind of identity politics, in which categories of persons who suffer disadvantage, in the case of trans-ableism persons with disabilities,  can be the subject of appropriation and imitation for sexual excitement using the justification that an identity for the [?] should be respected.

In this practice, which was originally called apotemnophilia, is now more usually called body integrity identity disorder, [affected persons?] seek amputation of one or more limbs, but there are actually varieties of this practice in which men seek to be completely disabled - some of them have said they would like to have their backs broken, and so on - and the [aspects of the?] online creating identities, the main sexologist who is supporting all of this is Michael [Furst?], editor of the US Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, he has been advocating for this practice, ‘BIID’, to be added to the DSM, the psychologist’s bible, so that those who seek the amputation of legs can get treatment […?], he argues that [trans- ?] in general be placed be placed in the Manual under the heading identity disorder, which includes – there are only two categories: gender identity disorder and BIID; he also points out, in his research, that very often there are men who have expressed both of these things, and one of these is of course, Chloe Jennings-White, there was a feature – he [sic] was featured in an episode [sic] of National Geographic’s ‘Taboo’ series. Jennings-White is a man who has transgendered and he chooses to live as a paraplegic in a wheelchair; he doesn’t have a disability, but he does get respectful attention, and no-one is rude to say that not only does he not have a disability, but he is also not a woman but a man, nobody says that last bit, [they?] accept that he is a woman with a disability.

There are also online communities which adhere to stranger identities than these, including trans-species-ists, who identify as wild animals, most particularly wolves, as wolves are seen as – you know [clenching her fists] a bit butch I think [laughter] – they don’t want to be […?] because they’re [sly?] [laughter].

There are also trans-species-ists – er, trans-ethnicists – who see themselves as different ethnicities, for example there’s a woman who sees herself as a […?] cat, and that’s got both of those fantasies in there.

But these are not getting serious attention in the way that transgenderism is, because gender is seen somehow as real and  significant, whereas the desire for fur or horns is not, right – that’s something quite separate, although sometimes I think we should try and work out why gender is seen as this thing you can just fantasise about and adopt, while […?] is not.

Now I know I have to go fairly quickly so, another force in the construction of transgenderism is queer politics in the 1990s. Queer politics said that gender is something that you could transmute or cross-over, or do anything you like with – you could play with gender and so on and so on – very different to early feminism of the 1960s and 70s that did not say that, for instance Robin Morgan in 1973 said:


We know what’s at work when whites wear black faces; the same thing is at work when men wear drag.”

So feminists like Robin Morgan were really clear.

In the 1990s, all of this became very vague. Queer politics imposed […?] in queering [query-ing] the impossibility of even being a woman, dis-appearing the importance of biology and so on, have a big part to play in the construction of transgenderism.

Men who transgender are now seeking to actually construct feminism in their image, men like Julia Serano, who wrote the book ‘Whipping Girl’, he doesn’t say he was born transgender, he says at the age of eleven he was attracted to curtains [laughter]. He says:


It wasn’t until the age of eleven that I consciously recognised that sub-consciously there was an urge inside to be female. I ound myself to be compelled to […?] to remove a set of curtains from the window and wrap them around my body like a dress

Women here have probably had that sort of experience. [Laughter]. My mother would have been furious with me if I’d done that! [Laughter]

Now since he is turned on [?] by the accoutrements of femininity, he’s very angry that feminists are critical of him. He says that feminists mis-understand femininity; even many feminists buy-in to traditional sexists notions about femininity, which is femininity is a problem, that it’s a sexist notion, that it is artificially contrived and frivolous (yes!). He says it is not true that femininity is [opposite to?] to masculine, it’s not artificial, it’s not performance, so aspects of femininity, as well as masculinity, are natural and precede socialisation, supersede biological sex, and the job of feminism, according to him, is to empower femininity, right? He does it, he’s got it, feminism is about empowering him to represent it.

[Quoting – presume from Julia Serano?]

No form of gender equality can ever truly be achieved unless we first work to empower femininity.

and so on.

I can see there are a lot of women in this room who are not involved in that! {Laughter]

Shame on you! [Laughter]

I think I do need to stop now.

Transgender activists such as Julia Serano have developed [?] a new vocabulary, which you will all be very aware of, to advance their political agenda, and turn feminism upside-down. One of these new terms is ‘cis-‘ which they apply to […?]

It turns out to be that women, who feminists see as oppressed by men, are now actually men’s oppressors, so it’s been completely turned around, since women oppress men and the men represent feminism and they are fighting for femininity; it’s the most extraordinary - as Mary Daly [?] would say – patriarchal reversal; so women, probably […?], have ‘cis-privilege’ over, and engage in ‘cis-sexism’ towards, men who transgender; statements or behaviours that offend men who transgender, such as political criticism or lack of enthusiasm on the part of lesbians for relationships with [men who transgender] are labelled ‘transphobia’ or ‘trans-misogyny’.

A historical analysis is crucial to an understanding of where transgenderism came from.

It is not a trans-historical or unchanging [?] condition.

Though cross-dressing has existed historically amongst lesbians and gay men, hetero-sexual men, cross-dressers and some women who dressed as men so they could […] , go to sea, get in the military, the idea of an essential condition in which a person could be possessed of the brain of one sex in the body of another is a recent invention, historically.

For me, the ideas of sexologists like Havelock Ellis, and the development of medical specialisms which enabled the body to change, such as endocrinology, plastic surgery and anaesthesia,  transgenderism is invention that supports male domination and maintains the rigid sex stereotypes that provide the scaffolding of male power. It was constructed and it continues to be supported by male-dominated medical advances for [an?] industry devoted to maintaining the hetero-sexual and correctly-gendered status-quo against the in-roads of feminism.”

[END  --  38:27]

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