A Paper Presented to the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association (HBIGDA) Conference Galveston, Texas, October 2001 by Dr Tracie O’Keefe DCH
NB Due to the war in Afghanistan, Dr O’Keefe was unable to attend the above conference.
This paper looks at six cases of people within academia who have had attempts made against them to ruin or sabotage their careers after it was discovered or made known that they were sex and gender variant. Before such times they were working successfully in their chosen disciplines, even to the extent of being singled out as exemplary employees and scholars.
Many sex and gender variant people, particularly transsexuals and intersexed people through the past 50 years, have lived their lives in secrecy, not publicly acknowledging their original sex or gender status. This has often been encouraged or insisted upon by clinicians treating them for fear they may suffer discrimination if their secrets were known. In many cases this has proved disastrous because the prejudice that people encounter from those who know little of sex or gender expression is perpetuated by this organisation. HBIGDA is largely dealing with what it deems a ‘problem’, and choosing to ignore the fact that the solution can be a positive identity.
As organisations develop they often change their name to reflect changing social, academic and media perceptions concerning their involvement in particular fields. Such examples are the British Association of Counselling and the Australian Psychological Society. Language is a living representation of learning and development and needs to reflect how certain client groups identify and are represented.
The description of Sex and Gender Dysphoria, and Body Dysmorphic Disorder are concomitant with what many of the client group are experiencing. But many others in the client group are not experiencing those conditions, so having gender dysphoria as the main focus of the association’s title is now inappropriate, and it now needs to embrace a description such as Sex and Gender Variance.
Six Cases of Transphobia within Academia
Some of the following people have disguised identities to protect their right to privacy; others have published or had published about them public information that has already identified them and their experiences in the public arena.
Dr Rachel Padman was a tutor at a Newnham College, an all-girls establishment where she had taught for many years quite satisfactorily in her female identity. In 1997 the college appointed her as a fellow. Shortly after this, she was outed in a national newspaper as being a transsexual woman by feminist academic Germaine Greer, also a fellow of the college, who wished to make a political point about the statutes of the college which say that all fellows must be female. Greer, whose transphobic views are publicly known, was quoted as saying she and other senior academics had ‘been made monkeys of’ because Dr Padman’s transsexual status had not been made known to them before this time. According to UK law, a person remains legally the sex entered on their birth certificate.
Dr Padman’s right to privacy had been violated and she had been undermined in her teaching profession. Greer believed she had a right to publicly make known Dr Padman’s original biological status in order to make her political point and had little regard for the wellbeing of Dr Padman, her students or the college.
Marcel approached me after I had given a talk at a provincial French university in 1999 on gender and language. He only declared himself to me, by e-mail, as a post-transition man after I had left the country and there was no danger of him being seen talking to me. Although he had attended my well publicised talk he was not out as a trans or gay man.
He maintained absolute secrecy about his former identity because he feared castigation, discrimination, and physical attack. There had been recent incidents of attacks upon gay men in the town where he studied and the only thing that the students knew about transpeople were that some of them were prostitutes working by night on the road to the docks.
Marcel feared for his academic integrity because although there were some out gay members of staff on campus he knew that some members of staff found gay lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GBLT) matters abhorrent, perverted and considered them a sign of mentally deranged behaviour. He felt it was too dangerous for him to go public in that provincial city. Out of fear he eventually changed universities and moved to Paris where he continued his studies as an openly gay transman.
Donna began to transition in a technical college in the London area in 1997. She had lived as a male computer technician who had gone largely unnoticed on campus for several years until the time when she began her sex and gender transition.
The head of the college was known for his right-wing homophobic views so Donna actually delayed the commencement of her transition for some months until the head retired for fear that he would be instrumental in terminating her contract. She knew she would need to fund her transition so she wanted to be sure to hold on to her job in order to pay for her continuing treatment.
One member of staff refused to call her Donna and insisted on constantly publicly referring to her using her old male name, despite her pointing this out to him many times. She also suffered many derogatory comments from the students who believed they had a right to make derogatory personal comments about her identity within her hearing.
Eventually the pressure and transphobia she experienced at work became so oppressive that she was forced to leave her position and seek employment out of the academic environment. The law in England at this time protected her from being fired from her job on the grounds of her being a transsexual but she felt to take on a legal battle at that most delicate time of her life was more than she could handle. The further problem was that the transphobia was so engrained amongst certain groups of students that it would have been impossible to prove on such a wide scale.
Eric was a well known British academic who had applied on more than one occasion for promotion up the academic ladder. Although he was an outstanding and well-respected tutor he was passed over, more than likely, he believed, because of his publicly open transsexual status.
There is a double standard operating, he commented, in that during the teaching and researching of his subject he was expected to espouse equality for all, but in reality, by doing that he was seen as being too risky a candidate for promotion. Although he was suffering no overt discrimination, and would not have stood for such, he was suffering covert discrimination by not being selected for promotion above those who were less qualified than him.
Deirdre McCloskey (2000) in her autobiography tells the reader, how, upon announcing her intention to transition from a Harvard professor of economics to living as a transsexual woman, her sister, a professor of psychology, had her sectioned to a mental institution, to be held against her will. The sister believed that Deirdre’s wish to live as a female was a profound form of mental illness.
Deirdre also tells us how some academics snubbed her and chose not to be associated with her or invite her to do return lectures. As she toured, giving lectures, it became apparent to her that the most prestigious universities gave her the least warm welcome. In the heart of conservative American academia, not only were academics’ lack of knowledge about transsexualism responsible for the discrimination, but also transphobia driven by conservatism and religiosity.
When I Tracie O’Keefe came out in public in England as a transsexual woman in 1997, during the publicity for my book Trans-X-U-All, I did not expect to experience transphobia within my profession as a psychotherapist. I had, after all, transitioned some 26 years previously as a teenager and was well established as a female therapist. Although I was out as a lesbian, and had experienced some homophobia, my transsexual status was not publicly known within my profession prior to that time.
Immediately on publication I experienced other therapists and academics falsifying records about my academic performance in order to keep me out of the United Kingdom Council of Psychotherapists (UKCP), which was the central body for registration of psychotherapists within the UK. Some therapist academics made purposeful attempts to bar me from practising and letters were written between academics in order to devise ways to discredit me within my profession.
I sued my professional association and won, being awarded 140,000 pounds, the highest amount awarded to a transsexual for sex discrimination at that time. Whilst I won my major case, several other people who discriminated against me were able to avoid prosecution. Of the therapists and academics involved, some were at the very top of their profession.
Although I won my case I lost the battle; my partner and I lost our home, I have not to date been paid the majority of the award, many of the colleagues who used to recommend clients to me no longer answered my calls and many professionals would not work with me because I became known as a therapist who sues. My career in England was destroyed by bringing the case and I now live in Australia where I have had to begin my life and my career again, virtually from scratch.
Why HBIGDA Should Change its Name
If we look at the historical development of sexology as a speciality, and also the academic understanding of sex and gender identity, we can see that the medicalisation of people’s identities has robbed them of true variance within nature and society. Pathologisation of sex and gender dysphoria and identity, based around the allopathic medical system, medical psychology, and psychiatry coming out the roots of Krafft-Ebing (1959), Ellis (1936), Freud (1901), Jung (1977), Hirschfeld (1910), Cauldwell (1950), Kinsey (1949 & 1953), Benjamin (1966), Money (1986), Gooren (1990), and others must no longer be considered the whole picture but a contextual learning curve of the development of our knowledge about sex and gender. What we have learned from anthropologists, sociologists and historians such as Ramet (1996), Roscoe (1998), Devor (1997), Stryker, Van Buskirk & Maupin (1996) and Young (2000), teaches us that sex and gender identity is fluid and cannot be pushed into a straight-jacketed male/female or dysfunctional identity.
The language the members of HBIGDA use are tools by which we communicate our meaning to the caring professions, academia and the general public. This association has focused for far too long on what it believes is wrong with sex and gender variant people and how the members can fix those problems.
What we have now learnt from the transcommunity, Bornstein (1994), Feinberg (1996), Wilchins (1997), Nataf (O’Keefe (1999), Elan-Cane, (1999), La Grace Volcano (1999) is that we are no longer dealing with a bipolar male/female model of sex and gender but a whole kaleidoscope of many manifesting identities. The idea of either male/female or dysfunctional has now been burnt at the stake on the cusp of the millennium, and anyone who desperately tries to hold on to that model is likely to suffer the same fate.
People who transitioned many years ago are still being labelled with the dysfunctional classification of gender dysphoria, causing others to see them as suffering from some permanent disfigurement and derangement. Academia is largely the birthplace of any healthy society’s thinking and the cauldron from which flow the future recipies for social humanitarianism. We at the HBIGDA must teach society how to use language accurately in describing our client group.
We must keep the diagnosis of gender dysphoria, which is a genuine condition of distress for many people and add to it the diagnosis of sex dysphoria, which more accurately reflects a person’s unhappiness with their body as opposed to their social role. These diagnoses are the key cornerstones of gaining funding for clients who need to undergo seriously life-saving therapeutic and medical procedures. The phrase Gender Identity Disorder, however, needs to be dropped as it is suggestive of mental illness and there is no evidence to support the point of view.
Let us also recognise that some people transition through choice and not necessarily because they are going to kill themselves or could not live life any other way. Although such a move flies in the face of many moralistic, religious and theoretical philosophies, we at HBIGDA must not join in the victimisation of that client group, but support the individual’s rights to have free choice.
Gender Dysphoria is a label that follows post-transition individuals around like a bad smell which leads others to believe that there is something lifelong wrong with transpeople. The HBIGDA now needs to make a leap into the future by taking the phrase Gender Dysphoria out of the title and replacing it with a phrase such Sex and Gender Diversity or Variance, which more clearly reflects the people we have come to help and serve. Perhaps our title could be:
Harry Benjamin International Sex and Gender Diversity/Variance Association
By changing our linguistic approach to the diversity of sex and gender in nature and society we will help the association retain its scientific and humanitarianistic integrity. What hopefully transcends above all our collected scientific data is the understanding that we must be educators, first and foremost, responsible for helping sex and gender diverse people to claim their rightful place in the world.
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