Yesterday’s Guardian featured a long piece, trailed on the front page, about transgender people, and how some people have, apparently, been pushed into having medical transition operations against their will. A bad, bad thing, of course—people should never be pushed or persuaded into any sort of serious medical treatment.
There’s a good reason to be a bit wary about the article, though. It’s written by feminist activist Julie Bindel, who has a long history of writing anti-transsexuality articles for the Guardian. I assume from this interview that she follows Sheila Jeffreys’ position that gender reassignment is merely a type of cosmetic surgery, and therefore automatically an Evil Thing; and she has a rather nasty authoritarian streak. She knows what is best for all of us, and anyone who thinks otherwise has been diverted from the true path by the male-driven establishment. Or something along those lines, at any rate.
It’s interesting that it comes just the day before the inauguration of Britain’s first trans mayor, Jenny Bailey of Cambridge. My paranoid side wondered at first if Bindel had known that was coming when she wrote her article; I doubt it, to be honest. The only downside to Bailey’s position, though, is the fact that it’s a news story at all. In an ideal world, there’s no reason for “Trans person does X”, or Homosexual does Y” to be a news story at all, in the same way that “Woman does A” and “Minority Person does B” are disappearing from the news. Maybe one day, people really will all be treated just as people—well, I can hope, can’t I?
In which real people, are, shock horror, not like fictional people
Political campaigner Julie Bindel has been writing in The Guardian again, this time about changing lesbian stereotypes on the telly. Ostensibly her line is: lesbians on the telly now might be shown as happy, sex-loving people, but that’s still a stereotype. Her main concern, though, seems to be: there aren’t enough people like her, or her friends, on the screen:
Finn Mackay, a lesbian feminist in her 20s, is not enamoured by all the “designer” lesbians who have
sprung up on TV. “They don’t represent me,” says MacKay, “because they are never political and look
straight. They never look like any lesbians I know.”
Or, in other words, “all of the lesbians I know are politically active and could never be mistaken for straight people.”
Finn Mackay’s view of sexuality is just as narrow-minded, in its own way, as your average unreconstructed homophobe who can’t understand how two women can have sex together. I’m not objecting to people who want to support their sexuality politically,* but to suggest that you have an obligation to be political is a very exclusive and restrictive view. As is, indeed, the suggestion that if you’re gay you have to look gay. Coincidentally enough, I’ve just come back from a weekend away visiting a lesbian couple I know; and they don’t look particularly gay, or particularly straight. They just look like people. In fact, I don’t think any of the gay women I know are obviously gay at immediate sight.**
But then again, we’re talking about the telly here. None of the straight people I know could be mistaken for characters from a TV show either. To say: “the telly is stereotyping my own pet subgroup! None of them look real!” is slightly misleading. It’s not real. Nobody on the telly looks like me, either, strangely enough, and we all know*** that any sort of sex on screen is never like the real thing.
* it’s a very good thing indeed, and particularly important for other sexual subcultures such as BDSM, nowadays in a much more shaky legal situation than vanilla gay couples.
** unless they happen to be snogging their partner at the time, of course.
*** assuming we’re old enough
I often don’t agree with the writing of Julie Bindel, the left-wing feminist who apparently believes that everyone should have full control over their own body, unless they were born male, or want to prostitute themselves. Today, though, I thought she was along the right lines when she wrote about diet and classism: it’s easy to criticise poor people for being unhealthy, when they don’t have the time or the money to eat well.*
She falls down, though, by jumping on something that’s a common Scottish stereotype. The Deep-Fried Mars Bar.
Having lived in Scotland, I can assure you that hardly anybody actually eats these things. They do exist, usually in about one chip shop per city. I’ve had one myself, from Pasquale’s in Edinburgh.** I’ve had one. That’s my point – nearly everybody who has had one, has only had one, just to try.
Everyone in England thinks the Scots survive on the things, but hardly anyone down here has heard of something that’s almost unhealthy, but far more common. The deep-fried pizza. Hard, greasy, fat-soaked, they sound just as horrible but they do exist. They’re real. People eat them regularly. People live on them. People get fat on them; they’re more than just part of a national stereotype.
* And this isn’t a new problem, of course: the British government originally brought in compulsary school PE lessons because they were worried about the poor health of Army recruits. That was during the Boer War.
** I’m not sure if Pasquale’s is still there – it was on Clerk St, near the old Odeon, and opposite the greengrocer’s that’s now a vintage clothing shop.