Q & A with Julie Bindel

Katie Price or Margaret Thatcher?

Katie Price, she hasn’t decimated an entire community of working class people or an entire union system.

Soho or Shoreditch?

Soho

Doc Martins or Crocs?

Crocs

Vegan sausage or spotted dick?

Spotted Dick, definitely.

Facelift or laser hair removal?

Laser hair removal

Mini skirt or High heels?

Mini skirt

You’ve notoriously described lesbianism as a choice. Many people I’ve spoken to are very unhappy when they first realize their sexual orientation is gay or lesbian, what would you say to them?

I would ask if they also thought that there is such a thing as a bisexual gene, a criminal gene, an I love yellow more than pink gene….

When I say it’s a choice I don’t mean it’s a choice like which washing powder you use, it’s a difficult choice, for some women in particular it’s an impossible choice.

You have in the past said that all feminists should be lesbians, why is that?

Radical feminism was premised on a critique of masculinity of men as a social class, it doesn’t say, and never has said that men are inherently bad and that women are inherently good. That would be the antithesis to feminism because it would be saying that men can’t change and that women are not responsible for anything. If you’re a radical feminist and you don’t even think about lesbianism as an alternative possibility then I think you’re not particularly using your imagination.

You say oppose transgender surgery because as a feminist you believe that gender is socially and not biologically constructed, how then can you describe yourself as a lesbian, which is a gender based sexual orientation?

The reason why I oppose the diagnosis of transexualism is that there is no such thing as an essential man or an essential woman. The idea that you can actually use surgery to make you become something that is a social construct is ridiculous. For example there are white people who feel they have a black identity or gentiles who feel they have a Jewish identity. If they then affected the stereotypical appearance and behavior of a black person or Jewish person and went along to a social grouping fighting their oppression they wouldn’t be accepted. They would be told they hadn’t had the life experience of being black or being Jewish under racism or anti-Semitism. No one who is political and fighting against racism would accept that white person blacking themself up and saying ‘this is me I am really black I was born in the wrong skin’. Race is a social construct too, its all a social construct, in that case how can there be a male brain and a female brain? How can you be born predisposed to liking pink and Barbie dolls when what feminists say is that is imposed upon us? The last thing that we want therefore is people born male turning that completely on its head and saying ‘oh yes there is something inherent about being female where we like pink and we like Barbie dolls and we want to teeter around on high heels’. It flies in the face of feminist notion that feminized behavior and masculinized behavior is a social construct.

You’ve been accused of perpetuating negative stereotypes of lesbians as man hating & militant, do you agree with that?

I think any radical movement is accused of, I don’t know, hating white people, hating men, or being militant. People on the left are accused of being too stroppy. It’s the price you pay for being radical. I don’t believe in a kind of watered down feminism that appeases men and implicates everyone. For a radical movement to work you’ve got to upset a few people, not on purpose but just because you’re challenging them. The oppressor never ever gives up their power; you have to take it from them. I don’t mean it by force, I mean just by shaking them and saying ‘you are the problem, you and your group of allies are the problem’ I don’t want to appease you and I don’t want to metaphorically suck your dick, I just want to tell you that you’re the problem.

Are you, in any way, a gender essentialist?

Gender essentialism is saying that there is such a thing as a male brain and a female brain and that your born liking girly things or male things, gender essentialism is the enemy to me, because what that would mean is that I am forever stuck in a feminized role as a woman. My entire life’s work has been about dismantling gender, I want to see an end to gender not a reinforcement of it. That’s what I think surgeons and psychiatrists who profit from the transgender industry are doing. My argument has never been with individual transgender people. I have exactly the same understanding of the oppression of difference in terms of how transgender people face it as I do lesbians, gay men, people of colour. But the industry is pissing on feminism. The normalization of transexuality and surgical solutions is silencing those many people who have gone to a psychiatrist with problems that they want to solve, in the way that many of us want our distress to be solved; we want to be ourselves freely. To be put under the surgeon’s knife, for some of those people, has been a total disaster, and they’re silenced, it’s a very vocal and at times very, very aggressive lobby that allows one view and no dissent from that.

Do you know anyone who is a successfully changed their gender?

I know people who have had gender reassignment surgery who are perfectly happy with the results of it. What some will say is that it hasn’t ever made them feel like a woman or a man. Its maybe corrected something that they dislike about their bodies. Now if you think about women in general and many men, very few of us are happy with our bodies. If you think about the surgery that women have, if you think about the rise in cosmetic surgery, quite radical cosmetic surgery, is the surgeon’s knife really a solution to what’s a social problem? If so then you can extend the argument to those that say they are body dysmorphic, that they wish to have a limb removed because they’ve never felt that their left leg belongs to them. The choice is ours, we can either have a surgical solution to these issues or we can actually look at why we insist upon real men and real women, when I would dispute the notion of either.

Frances Reed

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40 Responses to "Q & A with Julie Bindel"

  1. ifelicious  28/11/2011 at 12:23

    interesting read. i’m not sure i agree with everything that Julie Bindel says, but i can appreciate her perspective and some of her arguments on gender identity are worth considering. great interview!

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  2. Sebastienne  28/11/2011 at 12:29

    “The choice is ours, we can either have a surgical solution to these issues or we can actually look at why we insist upon real men and real women, when I would dispute the notion of either.”

    1. No, the choice is not yours. It belongs to trans men and women, who you continue to speak for without understanding.

    2. The existence of trans people, and the aims of radical feminism, are not the enemies you insist on painting them as. Admittedly the spaces I move in make this self-selecting, but most of the trans people I know are radical feminists, seeking to deconstruct and problematise gender essentialist ideas just as much as you.

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  3. Sebastienne  28/11/2011 at 12:34

    Not to mention that trans men and trans women are at two ends of a spectrum of trans experience. Have you ever met anyone who identifies as genderqueer or neutrois, and talked to them about gender essentialism?

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  4. Ellided  28/11/2011 at 13:53

    Why is Julie so against the existence of trans people? Trans people, particularly trans women, are vastly disproportionately victims of both acquaintance and in-relationship violence and murder; the anti-surgery activism of Julie and others means that many trans women enter sex work to pay for surgery (and thus are at higher risk of violence). Still, trans women are, by and large, excluded from the feminist movement and from access to support to deal with rape and domestic violence. It might seem that it is Julie who is pissing on feminism.

    Julie would then argue that she is not, because trans women are not women. She is also not an essentialist. The mind boggles.

    What counts as a “woman”, Julie? Ovaries, certain “universal” gender experiences or socialisation? What about a trans woman who transitions at 20, 17, 14? What about intersex people, genderqueer people, neutrois people?

    I really wish she’d issue a list of who is and isn’t a woman so we can all be as anti-essentialist as her.

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  5. Jennie Kermode  28/11/2011 at 14:34

    Fortunately when disputes arise over who is telling the truth and who is being silenced we can turn to science, to academic study and to statistics endorsed by the academic community. In the case of satisfaction re gender reassignment surgery, we have the NHS’ own statistics, which show a satisfaction rate of 97 to 98% – one of the highest satisfaction rates for any treatment the NHS provides. It should be noted that those who report dissatisfaction do not necessarily regret having had the surgery; it simply hasn’t met with their expectations. This data is a matter of public record.

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  6. Romola Des Loups  28/11/2011 at 15:05

    I love the way she sees Trans people, particularly trans women, as kind of wanting a share of women’s oppression. Does she think that being oppressed is essential to femaleness? It kind of reads like that. Se wants to exclude Trans women from identifying as ‘true’ women’ because they haven’t encountered sexism. I reckon they more than pay their dues, if she wants to play the old oppression olympics game. And Trans men – reading this Q & A, they are mainly motivated by wanting to ‘stick it in’ to people. Right. Like all men, eh, the bastards? Is Julie too thick to see how crass and essentialist her own views are? Liking pink and Barbies indeed.

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  7. Gabby Newton  28/11/2011 at 16:44

    what a very convoluted and backward view of gender, Julie Bindel
    seems to have.
    but then she is entitled to her views, and be respected for them however much i feel she is WRONG.
    maybe she should sit back and re-think her views
    after she has fully educated and informed herself of course…….
    Rab C Nesbitt would probably have provided a more logical interview !

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  8. Pingback: Transphobia has no place in feminism « Another angry woman

  9. Gail Bartlett  28/11/2011 at 17:29

    A softly-softly interview with somebody who deserves a much more challenging interviewer. Julie Bindel seems to want to have gender both ways – As an immutable truth, and as a social construct. Also, she seems to imagine only binary-identified transsexual people exist.

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  10. Morgan  28/11/2011 at 17:31

    “The last thing that we want therefore is people born male turning that completely on its head and saying ‘oh yes there is something inherent about being female where we like pink and we like Barbie dolls and we want to teeter around on high heels’.”

    WELL ISN’T IT A GOOD THING NO-ONE EFFING WELL DOES THAT THEN.

    Honest to god, has this woman ever met an actual trans person?

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  11. Jay  28/11/2011 at 18:23

    Julie, you keep using this word ‘gender’, I do not think you know what it means…

    How can you say that assuming all women like pink and barbies is ridiculous, and then go on to claim that all trans women do? Makes no sense.

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  12. Hannah Smith  28/11/2011 at 18:34

    ‎”If you’re a radical feminist and you don’t even think about lesbianism as an alternative possibility then I think you’re not particularly using your imagination.”
    Followed by – “gender essentialism is the enemy to me, because what that would mean is that I am forever stuck in a feminized role as a woman”

    So am I to understand that being a feminist means you should therefore “choose” to be lesbian – displaying imagination, supposedly, but traditional feminine stereotypes are terrible things? Am I wrong in seeing a contradiction there?

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  13. Elle  28/11/2011 at 18:37

    “I have exactly the same understanding of the oppression of difference in terms of how transgender people face it as I do lesbians, gay men, people of colour”

    Julie, you are not trans, a gay man, or a person of colour, so how can you understand these as well as you understand the discrimination faced by being a lesbian? That is not the way privilege works.

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  14. Hannah Smith  28/11/2011 at 18:43

    ‎”The reason why I oppose the diagnosis of transexualism is that there is no such thing as an essential man or an essential woman. The idea that you can actually use surgery to make you become something that is a social construct is ridiculous.”
    This statement would be badly written but passable if she meant that transpeople should not feel pressured to medically transition if they didn’t want to, or to make a point about trans* being a non-binary spectrum.
    But then later she compares it to purely cosmetic surgery for the social construct of beauty – luckily it’s not up to her to decide if I wanted Botox or a nose job, equally it’s not up to anyone but the person involved if they want gender reassignment surgery. I’m not going to start judging people I meet who’ve had lipo because they ‘haven’t had enough experience surgery-free’

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  15. Sally  28/11/2011 at 19:01

    I hope that no person reading this interview will go away assuming that all radical feminism is like the cissexist variety espoused by Julie Bindel.

    For anyone interested in radical feminist viewpoints free from the kind of bigoted assumptions Bindel makes about trans experiences, I suggest the writings of Twisty Faster at “I Blame The Patriarchy” (blog.iblamethepatriarchy.com). Or you can always try some Dworkin :)

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  16. Alexandra  28/11/2011 at 19:22

    @Sally Dworkin says worse things about trans people (especially trans women) than Bindel does, really radical feminism is very toxic to trans women it isn’t just a fringe few like Bindel.

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  17. Sally  28/11/2011 at 19:39

    @ Alexandra – that’s interesting; I haven’t noticed anything to compare with Bindel’s cissexism in Dworkin’s writing, but I’ll be pleased to examine any references you can provide.

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  18. Alexandra  28/11/2011 at 19:42

    @Sally http://transfeminism.tumblr.com/post/12371381560/andrea-dworkin-wasnt-a-friend-to-trans-people sums it up.

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  19. Marina Brown  28/11/2011 at 19:48

    I have been spending time at #occupydc and i realized something there. I really don’t even notice much about gender and sexual identities much any more. One man there wanted to tweak people so he chose a purple velvet dress to wear. All i noticed was pretty purple velvet. I have been taking people at surface value of what they present for a quite a while. Even if people strongly disagree with me it is ok if they do not cross the line of peace and civility.

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  20. Sally  28/11/2011 at 20:05

    @ Alexandra – thank you for the link; it certainly makes for interesting reading. With the caveat you provide, I’d still be inclined to recommend the main body of Dworkin’s work to anyone who wants to read some radical feminist thought without quite such a substantial risk of being triggered by cissexism. But either way, there’s always Twisty to turn to :)

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  21. Gail Bartlett  28/11/2011 at 20:39

    @Sally Greer has a very poor history with regard to trans people, also. On the whole, the radical feminist movement, to my reading, has an appalling history of transphobia.

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  22. Gail Bartlett  28/11/2011 at 20:49

    Also Janice Raymond (“Transsexual Empire”); Robin Morgan, (“you’re not a man just because you’re had your breasts cut off and had a penis made out of your beer belly”); and Sheila Jefferies.

    The radfem movement does NOT have a good history in its treatment of trans people.

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  23. Sally  28/11/2011 at 20:49

    @ Gail – oh yes, I know about Greer’s attitudes. My point is that I do not believe that cissexism constitutes a fundamental aspect of radical feminism. It is appalling that so many radfems have shown bigotry towards trans people, but there do exist some trans-friendly thinkers within the wider radical feminist movement.

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  24. Gail Bartlett  28/11/2011 at 20:51

    Oh! And Mary Daly! (Equate mtf transitioning with rape in Gyn/Ecology)

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  25. Lyman Gamberton  28/11/2011 at 20:55

    @Sally – surely, though, the concentration and level of hostility towards trans women in radical feminist thought cannot be dismissed as any kind of coincidence. There probably are non-transphobic cis female radfems, but the dominant names in radfem circles (Morgan, Jeffries, Raymond, Greer, Tepper, Daly ad nauseam) *are* transphobic and virulently so. I can’t, off the top of my head, think of a single non-transphobic radfem thinker with the same popular cachet as the above (apart from – possibly – Twisty Faster, with whom I have issues).

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  26. Sally  28/11/2011 at 21:05

    @ Gail and Lyman – I do agree that this is a problem that needs to be addressed within the movement as a whole. However, I feel that it is possible to untangle radical feminist ideology from the frequent cissexist inclinations of many self-identfied radfems. Apart from anything else, it is important to emphasise that cissexism is cissexism, nothing more, and there can be no ideological justification for it within any branch of feminism.

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  27. Sebastienne  28/11/2011 at 21:05

    I suppose I’d want to draw a distinction here between radical feminism and Radical Feminism.

    As in, anyone who recognises the damage done by patriachy, and doesn’t think that legislation is going to solve all our social problems, is probably a bit of a radical feminist.. but that’s different from the second-wave Radical Feminist movement, which contains all the transphobic names listed above.

    Or am I completely wrong? It’s been a long day…

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  28. Thyge  28/11/2011 at 22:01

    My god, so much cissexism in one post?

    As she likes comparing trans* people to people of colour, let me try this. People will laugh in your face if you start a sentence by saying, “I’m not racist, but…” and yet her interview is a prime example of essentially saying, “I’m not cissexist, but…”

    “My argument has never been with individual transgender people” she says, while oppressing up. Cheers!

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  29. liz  29/11/2011 at 12:59

    This is the most unintelligent, self-absorbed thing, I have ever read. I would like my 3 minute’s back please. She does not know anything of what she is talking about.

    ” I have exactly the same understanding of the oppression of difference in terms of how transgender people face it as I do lesbians, gay men, people of colour.”

    Um, no you don’t, you were talking about materialistic things. She has no understanding of what the real fact’s are. She’s making thing’s up as she goes.

    Such an unintelligent person, my eyes and brain are burning.

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  30. GeaVox  30/11/2011 at 13:18

    WHO the buck is Julie Bindell? and why does anybody care what this protofascist thinks?

    1) Transwomen are women, whether they are pre- post- or no-op.

    2) Lesbianism is not a choice, it is an instinctive, physical and psycho-emotional attraction to people who are women by people who are women.

    Endof!

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  31. Ian Townson  02/12/2011 at 15:27

    It’s strange. I agree with her codemnation of Thatcher for destroying working class communities and the trade unions. I also agree with her questioning the gay gene and essentialism. Then come the contradictions. If she is against essentialism i.e. that gender identity and sexual orientation are fixed at birth as unalterable parts of human nature then surely she should support trans people who are challenging that very notion of fixity. Trans people do indeed make a choice and not a trivial one at that. The choice is of fundamental importance and to glibly liken this choice to whites blacking up and pretending to be of a different race or gentiles insisting upon their Jewishness, both in stereotypical ways (whatever they are), is taking disingenuousness to extremes. Trans people do not have to act in stereotypical ways. They have a choice as to how they want to look and act because that is how they wish to be. If this means looking like a conventional, stereotypical woman (whatever that means) or not then so be it. This isn’t just about caving in to femininity to please men or more radical notions of being trans. challenging this. It is an existential choice without which no challenge can be made to the enforced gender role being escaped from.

    As a radical lesbian feminist it isn’t surprising that Bindel should exhort other feminists to ‘use their imagintion’ and become lesbians. This is a softer version of the accusation that straight women are colluding in their own oppression by relating to men. After all men are in charge of the patriarchal system of ‘male power’ that oppresses women and therefore ‘sleeping with the enemy’ is not an option. This callous logic is really the remnants of an argument for the kind of separatism of the 1970s that followed on from black separatism and heavily influenced LB liberation groups (trans and bi not allowed). The stupidity of this kind of isolationism became clear when it proved impossible to form alliances with other groups. It set women against men, gays against straights, lesbians against heterosexual women, black women against black men, women against trans people, the dominance of women against the subjugation of men, and an end to any notion of anti-capitalist class politics or a fight against the wider exploitation or oppression of men and women. Capitalism was just seen as a consequence of Patriarchy. The bright spark in all of this was the fact that there were socialist feminists who challenged this heated and calculating divisiveness and did attempt to form alliances with other struggling groups. They clearly did not compromise on the question of women’s oppression.

    Bindel makes the charge that trans people (m/f, f/m) do not have the life experience of either women or men therefore they can’t claim to be authentically either. Well, surely when someone transitions that is precisely when they find out according to how they are received by others. Also there is nothing to stop trans people challenging ‘feminised’ or ‘masculinised’ roles either though that may well entail having a radical political consciousness.

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  32. Ian Townson  02/12/2011 at 17:04

    Bindel insultingly likens medical intervention for trans people to cosmetic surgery or having a left leg removed as though they are women caught in the trap of playing up to social expectations of what they should look and act like. The fashion model/anorexia/man pleasing syndrome. This completely ignores their subjective experience which is about self-realisation. More nastily and a contradiction she states that many trans people (how many?) have gone to psychiatrists to have their distress/problem solved to be ‘ourselves freely’. It’s ambiguous as to what she means by this. Does she mean that trans people wanted to be cured of their needs, wants and desires? Perhaps aversion therapy is necessary for that? She also accuses surgeons and psychiatrists of ‘pissing on feminism’ by their actions through the normalisation of transsexuality and surgical solutions. I suggest the only ‘pissing’ that is being done is the attack on trans people by the very aggressive radical feminist lobby and wider social oppression. Both have to go.

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  36. C.D  26/04/2012 at 19:42

    What an absolutely misinformed transphobic shit bag.

    Fuck you.

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  37. Pingback: RadFem Conference Controversy: Modern Radical feminism vs the Third Wave with an Exploration of the Fourth « Femficātiō (fem-fa-ka-ti-o)

  38. Lauren  15/10/2012 at 00:03

    It’s all too easy to say “transpeople shouldn’t have surgery because they should fight against social constructs blah blah blah” but it’s a completely different world when you know you’re at the wrong end of the spectrum.

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  39. Theterriergirl  12/02/2013 at 21:25

    Bindel clearly doesn’t have a clue about feminism, trans or sexuality. It’s about time she did a good gender studies course if she insists on shooting her mouth off. She’s an embarrassment, why do people keeping giving her air and web time – get her off!!

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  40. Pingback: Transgenderism, radical feminism and Julie Bindel | iamadrainonsociety

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