Why I De-Transitioned Part 4: Who Pays for Gender? “Just the women”

 

I truly believe with my heart and soul that we will never have an equal society whilst patriarchy is our sole governor. Society guided and influenced by half the population and its dominant interests is not society at all, but merely a large subsection of it

We form our earliest ideas about gender and patriarchy in childhood. Let me push the envelope a little further. We are indoctrinated with ideas about gender and patriarchy in childhood, the majority of them destructive and non-beneficial for individuals or social cohesion.

Two such examples revolve around the children’s characters My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and the merchandise which accompanies the television series and figures.

Michael Morones, an 11-year-old boy from Chicago was beaten and left unconscious over his love of this television show My Little Pony. What  does it say about our society, our world, and culture? when a particular character is seen as gay or somebody’s likes and dislikes are policed by patriarchy to such an extent that suicide is attempted? A piece of coloured plastic is just that. Then it is fashioned into a toy, an innocent toy for children to play with. Yet no gender is imbued within it. It is society that imbues these horrible social constructions into toys. The question is not who told Michael Morones he could play with Pinkie from My Little Pony. This is perfectly fine and perfectly okay. Children should be able to play with whatever toys they want irrespective of gendered marketing ploys.

But the more pertinent question to ask is who told these boys that My Little Pony was gay? That is the more disturbing revelation from this sorry incident.A toy is a toy, and to give out a message that some toys are gayer than others is fundamentally wrong. But under patriarchy gay or lesbian is seen as inferior or lesser. And if anything what happened to Michael shows how pernicious and dangerous it is.

But the confirmation bias emanating from gender is dangerous also. As part of the series, What Would You Do?” a segment was filmed that showed a mother and son arguing about whether to buy a boy a Belle costume, and later a girl a Spiderman costume for Halloween.

Parental resistance in both cases is due to the inculcation of gender stereotypes into boys and girls. Blue is for boys, and pink is for girls.

This stereotype and red line within gender is very rarely questioned and even more rarely transgressed. Even if a girl wants to dress up as Spiderman, or a boy wants to dress up as Princess Belle, they are still your child, and it does not make them abnormal, nor automatically gay. All it means is that they can think for themselves and have their own mind and this should be celebrated and not discouraged.

How does this relate to gender transition? Well, for me personally I break gender stereotypes. I am not a macho, unempathetic man. I like helping people, I like caring. I’m very gentle. I have seen the effect of the reverse upon my own life. It appalled and damaged me so much that I did not want to be a man. I thought that being a man was a singular rather than a pluralistic experience. You know, the most comforting thing is masculinity and femininity are social constructs. They don’t really exist. So we can ignore them altogether, smash them and try to diminish their influence upon our lives.

Women are not naturally nurturing, and men are not naturally uncaring. We have just been indoctrinated with these ideas, and if we believe a lie long enough we can try to live up to it.

Well in that respect I failed. I was a crap man under hegemonic masculinity. I failed the man box test, even though it does not exist Under the definition of masculinity I’m not a man, I must be a woman. Masculinity and its dominant models thereof have nothing to offer me. I’ll just do things my way. I have suffered under patriarchy. However I’m done with that suffering. There is also a group of people suffering far more under patriarchy, that group of people is women.

Returning to trans activism, in amongst the discourse about trans excluding radical feminists, I failed to notice for a long time whilst invested in the idea of gender that there were two sides to every story. By originating a dialogue with radical feminists I hoped and wanted to atone for that, and apologise for being a dick in the past.

Returning to things chronologically, I had now been talking to radical feminists for quite some time, enough time to know details of their lives their pasts and some of their futures.

By this time personally, I was also beginning to really like the people I talk to. No longer was I just hearing one side of the story but a rounded narrative. My opinions were changing and my belief in gender as identity was slowly crumbling.

The content of this blog was changing also. Rather than being trans centric I was now branching out into other areas. Areas which to be fair I had neglected. Discussions happened around disability issues, feminism and mental health stigma. These are all lifelong passions of mine but I had put them on the back burner in relentless pursuit of womanhood.

Around this time also, I was forging a professional writing career, something I had longed to do since I was a schoolchild. My main abilities academically were creative ones, and I had a real passion for English. At degree level I managed to create the perfect fusion cookery, studying it alongside Sociology. I loved arguing, I loved theoretical propositions I love criticism and I love thought.

My body is not active due to quadriplegia, so I think my brain overcompensates by thinking religiously. This is borne out by the fact I have trouble sleeping at night. Writing was the perfect antidote.

Two hashtags proliferated on Twitter last year #fuckcispeople and #sharedgirlhood.

It seemed to me that the first was a huge firestorm visited upon the non-trans community. That’s what cis is you see – non-trans. It even comes with accompanying privilege which is about as real as the Loch Ness Monster for women.

So, I wrote about this hashtag for So So Gay Magazine along with the #diecisscum which it originated at the same time.

There is an opinion piece above mine in the link in favour of the hashtag, but I must stress that this was not written by me.  I was quite happy to be credited for my half, but editorially I suspect it was more convenient to leave both pieces uncredited.

The binary between trans and cis is a false dichotomy. Cis people are not scum. There are individuals who are nasty in society but I have to say I find this binary disgusting and alien to me.

Primarily I find it to be so because the majority of the people who supported me through my transition were not trans. Furthermore I find it sad when jokes are made about lesbians and gay men because I have been part of the gay community since I was 18. Many people who supported me through transition are gay and lesbian. I find the attitude expressed by such hashtags prehistoric, disgusting, alienating and as bad as any homophobia I have borne witness to.  I saw a picture of three radical feminists, deriding their non stereotypical appearance in the publication Transadvocate.

This would be fine except I have friends who look like the women pictured and they have been beaten up and been told they look like boys. This is what cis privilege is.

Women live in a rape culture, this is what cis privilege is.

And oh I nearly forgot. Many trans activists found the hashtag shared girlhood to be trans phobic. Women should be able to talk about the experiences unique to their biology in a world which they inhabit. Women are part of that world, and they should not be censored to spare the blushes of a few activists. The facts are these, women menstruate and women give birth. This is not biological essentialism these are facts and it affects women in unique ways. Trans women of course do not go through these processes. I haven’t.

I mentioned earlier that I have always been the Girl’s Best Friend. Therefore in my teenage years and college years I was subjected to a lot of talk about periods, boyfriends, girlfriends and general female discourse. Far from complaining about it I embraced it. I felt glad that girls could talk about these things with me and share their lives with me. I would far rather that than they suffer in silence. So when I saw trans activists complaining about these things denouncing women as trans phobic for discussing their own oppression it seemed nonsensical to me. If you want to be a woman at least show some solidarity, not flick the cognitive dissonance switch when things get difficult.

Women and some gay men hurt themselves under patriarchy. They suffer eating disorders, they cut themselves in order to measure up to patriarchy’s impossible standards which we will never meet. I am not saying that trans people do not suffer with these problems too. I just find it utterly totally wrong that you would mock people and say fuck them just because they are not trans.

They cannot help the manner of their birth, and being born cis is not akin to life on a silver platter. To perpetuate the sort of woman hating misogyny I have seen whilst you hope to be or think you are a member of an oppressed class is frankly barmy.

My scepticism increased when I attended the Women’s Aid Conference on digital stalking and online harassment. I came away from that a different person, seeing the world through different eyes. I spent the day listening to speeches and talks from women articulating their oppression they had suffered at the hands of the Internet.

I realised that the way women was suffering was completely unique to any kind of suffering I had seen before. I now knew what patriarchy was outside of the classroom, in a real-world context. I now knew the consequence of masculinity and male dominated power pyramids.

I now knew the consequence of unadulterated male power. Every kind of abuse, degradation, manifestation of violence and humiliation of women you could imagine. What a fucking legacy to be proud of, eh patriarchy, masculinity?  It is uncanny to me how you are oddly silent at times like that when it comes to being confronted with the actual reality of women’s oppression.

But mercifully, radical feminists are still fighting the good fight. That is what happens when you have a class analysis at the heart of your activism. They fight for women because who else does – apart from their allies?

You see, class is like a Jenga tower. If one brick falls from the tower, then all the remaining bricks are affected.

Radical feminists stand in solidarity with one another under patriarchy. It is not a matter of bigotry or nastiness but one of survival against the impossible conditions which patriarchy creates. I have been reading Germaine Greer’s seminal tract The Female Eunuch. In the prelude to the chapter The Stereotype there is a quote from Mary Wollstonecraft from her work A Vindication of the Rights of Women first published in 1792. Yes patriarchy is depressingly immortal! I quote;

“Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison”

Germaine Greer naturally elaborates on this.

Her essential quality is castratedness. She absolutely must be young, her body hairless, her flesh buoyant and she must not have a sexual organ. No musculature must distort the smoothness of the lines of her body, although she may be painfully slender or warmly cuddly.”

What Greer is therefore saying is that women under patriarchy are conditioned to be anything but real. This is the reality of the prison which Wollstonecraft prophetically foretold in 1792.

Wollstonecraft has further depressing news as well.

She was created to be the toy of man, his rattle and it must jingle in his ears whenever, dismissing reason he chooses to be amused.”

Under patriarchy women are not human, women are not toys, women are subhuman chattels for the amusement of men.  A rattle does not have a brain. Nor is it capable of independent thought, it merely acts as an echo chamber for the amusement of men when they click their fingers. This is how patriarchy views women, disgustingly.

You know following the digital harassment and stalking conference, a radical feminist told me that once you see patriarchy you cannot unsee it.

She was totally right. That is the point at which radical feminism got me if you like. That is also the point when gender lost me. I realised that I could not be happy in transition my sisters was suffering. If my friends, my rocks, my carer and my mother are not happy I’ not happy either.

Another feminist told me that radical feminism has a knack of creeping into your mind; she is definitely right about that too.

Following this though, I did not come to the decision to de-transition quickly. Every time I saw a radical feminist being attacked, I would say well I’m not like that. But by being trans, personally speaking whilst being also gender critical is a difficult position to maintain. It leaves you open to accusations of hypocrisy and double standards. It’s a bit like being vegetarian but still enjoying the occasional beef burger.

But for better or for worse I have never been exposed to much masculinity. All the influences that I count as worth anything in my life have come from women, and my mother brought me up well I think.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m a pretty blank canvas. I am open to most ideas, not influenced by the social constructions of my sex. By now I knew that gender was hurting women. In terms of the chronology of these blog pieces we are in very recent times.

There was finally a straw which broke the camel’s back. It was this piece from the journalist Paris Lees. Lees has a weekly column in VICE magazine in which the raison d’être across the publication seems to be controversy at all costs,  regardless of who gets trampled on in the process.

I mean, this article was not even journalism at all. It was a piece of personal indulgence on the part of the author, much like this one. I learned two things from that piece. Paris enjoys being objectified. Furthermore, to support her argument she enlists the help of other people who also enjoy catcalls who are to quote Paris “fucking hot.” Again the visual aesthetic privileged above everything.

One of the most offensive things for me about this scattergun piece was that they said they enjoyed  being objectified like a piece of meat. I can think of many people however who would not enjoy this objectification such as rape victims, and shock horror, people with disabilities. You see women are not bodies, and disabled people are not bodies. We are people with feelings. Viewing women as objects and viewing disabled people as objects both set dangerous precedents and increase the potential for abuse. I was disgusted with the self gratifying tone of this piece, the total narcissism of it and the total disregard for how it might look to the outside world. You see I have been objectified all my life, treated like a piece of meat and the like. Funnily enough, I’ve never been eye-fucked in the street.

You see, women are treated very often as subhuman in society. People with disabilities are also treated as subhuman in society. The difference for me is though, instead of being sexually objectified, I am de-sexed, and robbed of any sexuality at all by populist socially constructed misogynistic bullshit discourse. Somebody even said to me once that I get chucked around like a piece of meat.

I reacted to the VICE piece with an alternating mixture of sadness and anger. I was told that there are some forms of objectification that people may welcome. Can somebody let me know where this parallel universe is? I don’t fancy going for a summer holiday??

Objectification is never welcome, at best it is tolerated. But that was the point when I thought enough was enough. Both as a disabled person and as someone with integrity who cares and loves women. In fact I probably love women more that I love myself, for it is women who have befriended me throughout the life course. It is women who care for me. It is women who have nursed me. Most of all it is women who give a shit about me.

Interestingly, when trans women have insulted me in the past, it is my appearance and my disability they have used to attack me. This saddens me.

A world built on patriarchy is not a world I want to be part of. A world built on visual aesthetic alone is not a world I want to be part of. A world where half the population are routinely, daily and often hourly, subject to misogyny, sexism cruelty and all forms of abuse as a matter of course is not a world I want to be part of.

. So what do we do? We change it. We change the status quo. We smash it to smithereens. You see I don’t believe personally that women are inferior to me whatever the class I belong to thinks. I believe that I am a better person because of women, because of my lesbian and gay friends, and because of my radical feminist friends.

I don’t need to transition to wear the clothes I want to wear, to think how I want to think and believe what I want to believe.

Of course I do have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. I have been taking hormones. But none of those things will alter my heart or my soul. I am the same person as I was before I transitioned as I am de-transitioning. I am someone who cares, someone who is compassionate and firmly believes in the rights of women. I am someone who hates patriarchy, who hates women suffering, being objectified and dehumanised under this dastardly patriarchy.

Yes, perhaps I do feel trapped in the wrong body. Perhaps I do have a degree of dysphoria around my body. But I am disabled, who is disabled and doesn’t? But women suffer far more from gender dysphoria than I ever will. Gender hurts women. Masculinity and femininity are essentialisms that need to be destroyed piece by piece.

On a personal note, I have to say that disability and trans are a particularly toxic mixture. Trans and being trans made me hate myself as much as being a man ever had. It made me feel inferior, ugly, non-fuckable and thoroughly unlovable. I was constantly comparing myself to other trans women who were thinner, more glamorous, prettier than me. That is what patriarchy encourages us to do. Compare, contrast and hate; not only ourselves but each other.

Now I can see although it has been a painful realisation why radical feminists want to smash it so much.

Among radical feminists I am never judged for my appearance, because there is no one singular suitable appearance. There are as many possible permutations of appearance as there are people, and no singular appearance, mode of dress, mode of speech or mode of being is privileged over another.

The psychiatrist when you go for your first assessment for gender dysphoria will ask “how long have you felt like a woman?”

There is no such thing as feeling like a woman, because women are not a monolith, any more than men are, because if we were all monolithic there would be no hope for me.

All there is is humanity, and forms of spirituality or religion if they are to your liking. But masculinity and femininity, they are boxes of bullshit. I was abused because I wasn’t man enough. I was abused because I wasn’t tough enough. I was abused because I was a sissy. I was abused because I don’t need masculinity to feel secure and my stepfather did. I now realise I don’t need gender, or to change myself.

Society needs to change for me, but most of all for women because gender, yes gender hurts.

If anybody says you should change, that you should be more feminine, more masculine, tougher, less emotional, more of a man fuck them ignore them! The best thing you can do is to be yourself. That is what I’ll be doing.

Thank you for reading. Thank you to all the radical feminists and others who have supported me. It is no exaggeration to say that without you this entry would never have been written. It has been emotional, and has been one of the hardest things to write I have ever written. I suspect when I read it back it will look like my own personal therapy session. There may be more than a grain of truth in that.

Much love,

Sam xxx

Why I de transitioned Part 3: A Conflict

 

I was growing restless being part of the trans community alone. I wanted to find out something more about these so-called TERF’s. These apparently misguided evil individuals who were responsible for the problems of every trans person.

To be honest, I don’t know what I expected at the outset. I made the decision to engage with radical feminists. I’ve always prided myself on independent thought. I don’t tend to follow the crowd  unless there is a good reason to. For example the campaign to end female genital mutilation is a good example of this.

I was told I should not engage with radical feminism. But being told what to do and what not to is a common theme in any disabled person’s life. So the more somebody cautions me against doing something, the more likely I am to want to do it anyway out of sheer bloody-minded curiosity.

I can’t remember the exact chronology of who I talked to, who first added me to Twitter and when we started talking and what about. It was getting to the stage where I had built up a reasonable number of radical feminist followers.

Now originally, being honest I never expected to stick around with them that long. Being a relative outsider, and being trans I expected the novelty to wear for them in a few weeks.

The more time I spent with them though, the more I found their arguments compelling. I was already familiar with them in the context of lectures and textbooks, but this was the first time I had really been exposed to what it meant to live your daily life as a radical feminist outside of the parameters and limitations of the Academy.

For those of us who share a radical feminist analysis, gender is a form of subjugation and subordination under patriarchy. Acknowledgement that we are living under a patriarchy is one of the central tenets of radical feminism. The London Feminist Network defines patriarchy thus.

“Patriarchy is a term used to describe the society in which we live today, characterised by current and historical unequal power relations between women and men whereby women are systematically disadvantaged and oppressed.”

But I have not always shared this understanding of patriarchy. I went through university with it. I was fortunate enough to be taught during my A-level and degree years by very good feminists with a very good feminist analysis and politic. However gender really pickled with this. This is where trans ideology and and radical feminist ideology part company in quite a dramatic way. I hope you will forgive me from here or name if I jump around from past to present for a little bit as I seek to explain what led me to endorse the radical feminist analysis of gender. You will see I have emboldened the word systematically. I have done so because I wanted to make it clear exactly what gender does. A car engine is also a system. It relies on certain components working together to make the car start in the first place. If the engine breaks, then the car is rendered unusable. It is much the same with gender. If people start to resist the patriarchy then its engine breaks down. But this system is firmly embedded into our culture.

However at the time I transitioned I indulged in essentialism. I wanted to escape patriarchy desperately. I have referred to the behaviour of my stepfather in earlier parts of the story. What I was most terrified of looking back was ending up like him. He had also bullied me mercilessly for not fitting in with his definition of manhood, for not fitting in with the patriarchy. He had decimated my own self belief and any vestiges of confidence which I had. Confidence is hard to maintain when you have a disability anyway.

But by talking to radical feminists, I found a different kind of analysis. One thing about trans culture speaking for myself is I find it extremely judgemental and competitive. It appears that nothing less than perfection will do.

Jumping backwards again in my life at school I was always the girl’s best friend. We would share advice about problems, successes and just general chitchat. And so I thought when I transitioned it would be more of the same. I never expected, being a very caring empathic man, that there would be any difference between me and other trans women. That is to say that I thought that trans women and women would be on the same side. I thought that trans women would care about women’s issues too. I thought that they would fight misogyny, rape culture, and victim blaming to name a few examples alongside other women. This is what I thought when I first embarked on my transition, because I only had my own standards to go on. It never felt like there was much of an emotional transition to make. I didn’t go from being a macho man to being an effeminate girly girl in one week. However hold that thought. I will return to it later.

From all my conversations with radical feminists though, it struck me that gender was not the panacea for them that it was for trans women. By extension, at the time it must have been a panacea for me too because if I had seen no merit in gender I would surely not have embarked on transition.

Many radical feminists felt ignored by liberal feminist discourse, and they felt that their voice wasn’t being heard it seemed to me. The inclusion of trans women within radical feminist spaces seemed to be a step too far for many of them. On reflection, I can understand why. The acronym TERF is a very popular acronym amongst trans women as by virtue it implies that trans women are excluded purely out of vindictiveness or spite.

But the fact is this and it is simple but hard to admit. I know that I was born differently to other women. I know that I was socialised differently to other women. But again my own social experience was different due to my disability. I had very little contact with the outside world in my early years, my interactive input mainly came from my mother and my grandparents. I was never really encouraged to be competitive and to better myself against others. Perhaps disability gives you a greater resistance to patriarchy – I don’t know.

But another thing when talking to radical feminists, I knew they wanted abolition of gender, because as women they are aware empirically from their own socialisation and their own experience the gender hurts them.

This is where I think the greatest conflict between radical feminist and trans discourse lies. For the thing that tells men they can be whatever they want and whoever they want is the same thing that keeps women in the kitchen, that leaves them open to abuse and rape, that leaves them open to continuous harassment and sexism in wider society. That thing, that culprit is gender. This is why radical feminists say gender hurts. I believe they are right fundamentally so. I have identified the reason why trans activists are so scared of this is because it questions their very identity and need for transition in the first place.

We live in a patriarchal system, where underlying all social structures within that system is a hegemonic view of masculinity and femininity. And if you fall outside of the paradigms of that hegemony, in the politest and most scientific terms you are fucked, but not quite. We are not passive bystanders in this hegemony. We have brains. We are intelligent by design. We can interrogate facts and feelings and make judgements for ourselves. In all my conversations with radical feminists what I was interested to do was to find out what had driven them towards radical feminism in the first place as opposed to the more populist liberal feminism. For them, the main motivator it seems is their shared oppression as a class. I can relate to this I know about oppression, I have been disabled since birth. Although we are not oppressed on the same axis, that is to say I am not directly oppressed for being a man, my insight into my own oppression provides further insight into other discourses.

I can see from looking around me that women are often devalued, women are harassed and women are sexually objectified and subject to derogatory slurs. And the enabling agent in all of this is firmly and unflinchingly masculinity and femininity.

These things are not preordained or predestined but a cultural product of our own socialisation. I understand what it’s like to be objectified. I am often treated like a chair instead of a person and I find this humiliating and and degrading.

Therefore I can understand women’s anger at being treated this way. I can understand women’s anger at being treated as a less valuable citizen, even as an inferior one I have been angry about this too. Women are routinely maligned slandered and degraded in the media everyday in a way that men just aren’t. Men are seen as strong capable and sensible.

What I realised after many conversations with radical feminists, is that they were not so different to the women I already knew in society. They were not some alien species separate from the rest of the world, but merely women concerned that their identity was being cherry picked and romanticised, whilst their pain and lived experience was roundly ignored by trans women. Now I must say, I know there are trans women who will support this post. But unfortunately the community is full of gender. They can no longer as a collective see it objectively if there were ever able to.

I was heavily invested in gender myself. But everything has a flip side. And the cost of gender is firmly placed as a burden on the shoulders of women and children and anyone who does not fit neatly into its boxes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Detransitioned: Part Two: Transition and “being a woman”

At the time I have set this post at I was 25, I had just graduated and in terms of an anticlimax, this one couldn’t be much bigger in my mind anyway. With lack of housing in Oxford, I was due to move back to Hampshire where my mother lived as she was my local connection. It was always my ambition to return to Oxford at a later date and I was on the housing waiting list there.

At the time I left Oxford I was in a state of grief, not to mention tailspin and shock. Having established a strong friendship group within the gay community I was bereft. What would I do now? I was also leading a double life at the time. I was attending one of the most homophobic churches in Oxford trying to convince myself, foolishly that I could do both. I never felt more of a traitor that on the day somebody came to speak and share their homophobic views. My friends were an array of colour, dressed up as Wizard of Oz characters. I tried my hardest not to smile at them but I wished I was sitting on the other side too, and that will be something  I will always regret. Was I the cowardly lion? This was a fair characterisation.

So anyway I was moving from Oxford to Eastleigh. Some of you may know it as the council where the UK Independence Party won some council seats. They are not known for their liberated nuanced views of homosexuality, much less women. Godfrey Bloom anyone? Mind your fridge girls!

I turned up in a feather boa. Okay I know it’s what people wear every day, and it is always inevitably teamed with a pink T-shirt isn’t it? Oh! Nobody told me!

But it was definitely a change in environment for me. Gone were the days of my partying with gay abandon to be replaced by bingo on Tuesdays.

Something I think was key to my decision to transition was the gender make up of this environment. People there (the inmates as we called ourselves) were mostly men. When I say men, I mean men. Not men who are more at home amongst the girls. I am talking about the sort of men my stepfather would have loved me to be. football crazy, women objectifying, non-show tune loving men. In fact I was so far divorced and still am so far divorced from this type of man, that I managed to outdo my flatmate’s boyfriend in the present stakes, quite unintentionally. I got three things he got a box of chocolates.

Interestingly at school as I’ve said before I always hung around with girls. My friend Lucy who I have got back in touch with very recently said she always thought of me as her gay friend, and this is flattering in one sense as I’d rather be gay than a misogynist prick. More on this later..

However, I made the decision to transition. I had counselling, I started dressing ‘as a woman’, ‘living as a woman’ and everything was hunky-dory for a while. My favourite thing I did and it will always be my favourite thing I did, was to go to a friends hen night. I was really happy for her, she was getting married and I felt really at home, drinking, chatting and laughing with everyone. I even got the chance to wear my feather boa again, complete with L plate. Those who know me will argue that I should be wearing the L plate everyday but that’s another story.

I also had three appointments at the Gender Identity Clinic in London, plus a local psychiatric assessment beforehand. I was then prescribed hormones, and sent to a surgeon, who refused to allow me to progress any further due to disability and weight.

At the time I took this very badly. I got very angry with myself and with those around me. I never wanted at the time to de-transition though. I was very committed to the process and was ardently sure that I could “be a woman”

Later on in terms of gender things became much easier when I moved out of the hostel. I could choose how I wanted to spend my time. I could choose who I wanted to spend it with and eventually my current carer came into my life.

I want to say a bit about blogging now. Up until this point my blogging had been a very intrinsic rather than extrinsic process. It had been very private and not disseminated among a wide audience apart from a few select friends at John Darling Mall, the hostel where I had been living. I did not know at the time that it was perfectly normal for blogs to be disseminated amongst a much wider audience. Being a fairly private person I had only opted to start an Internet blog for practical reasons. I struggle with writing so an Internet blog dictated via software is a more convenient option.

But in the end, my blog was found by prominent activists within the trans community. They complimented me on my writing. They were interested in my story, particularly the interplay between trans and disability. I had seen these names on Facebook and there were fairly prominent in the trans community. Being trans myself I thought it would be fortuitous to get to know them.

One of the things I was immediately told about upon entry to the trans community was the difficult relationship between the trans community and radical feminists. Many radical feminists are advocates of women only space, and class trans women as men. They attribute to radical feminists the slur TERF. This acronym stands for trans excluding radical feminist. Clearly describing people by acronyms is a real recipe for fostering goodwill and love between the two groups.

I wrote articles condemning supposed transphobes without much interrogation of the facts on my part. I was congratulated by the trans community as though I had written a sequel to the Bible. What I had actually written was not writing I could put my name, my values or my conscience to but instead what I have been told by other people, colloquially known as Chinese whispers.

I had some great experiences whilst trans, and some not so great ones. I had great nights out in Portsmouth and Southampton with the cast of the Channel 4 series My Transsexual Summer, and I also had a great time at Paris Lees birthday party

I also had a not a great experience in London. I went to a trans club, and felt like a fish out of water. People were smartly dressed, as if going to an awards ceremony and here was me in my usual clothes I wear to The  Edge. As an aside, I have always enjoyed the support of gay and lesbian friends, whilst transitioned and now whilst de transitioning.

So after the experience of being ignored in the trans club my confidence took a knock. I went home early after taking the train all the way from Hampshire. I just longed to be back in the safety of my usual haunt with my friends.

I guess the moral of that is that the grass sometimes looks greener on the other side but very often isn’t.

So chronologically, we are now somewhere between 2012 and 2013. I had just written a post entitled ‘A Year With Gender’

This piece was not a piece extolling the virtues of gender. In fact I would go so far as to say that it probably represented the first few green shoots of a gender critical perspective emerging.

After writing ‘A Year With Gender’ I felt like a very bad sociologist. I felt like there must be more to the radical feminism and reasons for defining yourself via a radical perspective than just simplistically being branded a TERF. At this point I was beginning to question the value of gender in isolation as a concept and I wanted to talk to radical feminists themselves to find out more. Being honest I had studied radical feminism at University and via the vehicle of my disability I understood oppression and structural inequality, as well as power structures. So in short, I wanted not to find out about radical feminism from second-hand or thirdhand sources I wanted to find out about it for myself.

Why I Detransitioned Part 1: Dysphoria Blues

This is my first blog in a long time. My head has been very full with a lot of difficult and challenging stuff. I apologise to anybody reading whom I may have hurt whilst I negotiated my way through this stuff.

The upshot of those negotiations is that I have decided to de-transition to live as a gender nonconforming man. In this blog I will seek to explain why I made that decision how I made it and what it means for my future. I will also discuss the role that radical feminism and my understanding of it played in that decision-making. Also, sometimes it is difficult to address the present without paying homage to the past. I will endeavour to do this too.

I transitioned. 9 years ago However I am slightly lacking in the numeracy department due to my cerebral palsy. I hope therefore you will forgive me if I do not cite an exact date and time.

I think transition for me was a reaction to past emotional abuse in childhood. I was never a conventional boy. By conventional I mean I did not identify with the constructs of masculinity and manliness. Now as we get older we gain knowledge maturity and understanding. I will say this though, I loved cars, not for the idea of driving one because this is impossible for me, but for the colours and for the sheer cleanliness of them.

However growing up, boys never really took me on into their friendship groups and into their minds. Instead, I was taken on by girls, as they played doctors and nurses, and in the Wendy house. It would be remiss of me not to point out at this juncture that these pastimes are also stereotypical social constructs emanating from gender, but more on that later. So therefore, I was socialised mainly alongside women and there was a lack of male socialisation in my life. I must say I never feel that I have suffered as a result of that. It has enriched me and made me a better person.

My mother is my bedrock, and has always been the one constant dependable omnipotent presence in my life. She cared for me since I was a child, and owing to my disability those caring responsibilities finished about 20 years later again, owing to cerebral palsy. Tangentially I think there is some truth in the thought that having a disabled child disables the family too. So, at the outset of my piece I would like to pay tribute to my mother who I love dearly with all my heart, who is responsible for my achievements and progress in the education system, and for the kind, gentle and compassionate person I have become. She has shown me the kindest and best way to be human. I only hope I live up to it now, and long into the future. Thanks Mum!

My father has been absent from my life since the age of four until now. He has never paid a financial contribution towards my life either since the age of four or now. I have no wish to trace him, find him or know him. Between my mother and my caregiver, I have the best people at the centre of my life.

I was also abused emotionally by my stepfather. I will not repeat this, because it is documented elsewhere in the blog. But what I want to say is I think he was a factor in my transition. I’m not blaming him. I have my own agency and my own choices..

Generally though, his behaviour repulsed me. The way he treated myself and my mother was horrible and I cannot deny that when you see such behaviour day in day out it has an effect on you.

At first I thought when the seeds of transition began to grow in my mind, from an early age that this is what all men were like. I saw manhood as a prison it was impossible to escape from. Masculinity is a dominant cultural force at present, even though its ideology, if you can call it that is flimsy and gelatinous.

At this point I was embarrassed to be a man, because I associated being a man with being him. My fear was that I would really turn into him and be exactly like him. By creating me, I felt like I was some kind of Frankenstein’s monster. He was abusive he was rude he was unhelpful, misogynistic and really really lazy. I knew I did not want to turn out like this man. The same man who allowed my mother to shower me after a surgical procedure with an open wound. The same man who thought it was okay to call me a sissy for reading Fast Forward magazine enjoying musicals and playing the piano.

So you could say I was already  a gender nonconforming child. I did not enjoy doing the things boys did traditionally. It is not particularly the case that I enjoyed the activities girls did. I just preferred the company, the chance to socialise with them and be around them. But one thing I never did in the face of my stepfather was capitulate. I’m glad about that even now. To capitulate is to comply, to allow your own thoughts, desires and wants to be secondary to those who have power over you. Now this man did have power over me, so I was playing quite a dangerous game of Russian roulette. It took me a long time to no longer be scared of him, to realise that he was a nasty bully and a coward. It is by no means a coincidence that his biological son had a very similar upbringing to me.  Coldhearted bastard was his description of choice for this coldhearted man.

So, it is painfully obvious to me that I was abused because of gender. So why then I would lean towards more gender?

University, like my A-levels was a highly liberating experience for me. It was the first time in my life when I had real choices, real decisions I could make for myself. I was studying English, and Sociology, both subjects I loved and was passionate about. In my Sociology lectures I was in a minority. There were very few males in the class. But this didn’t bother me. I loved and to be honest still love the subject.

In Sociology you practice class analysis. That is to say you look at the micro (individual) and the macro. You not only look at yourself but you also look at how situations affect you and the wider grouping around you.

So, men are a class, and women are a class. Of all the things I studied in Sociology it was feminism that most inspired me.

These women had fought against the ruling class of men to ensure their voices were heard. This was made problematic by the system of patriarchy, whereby women’s voices and women themselves are seen as subordinate to men, of less value and of less worth to men, and that is fucking wrong.

Women like Germaine Greer, Andrea Dworkin and Catherine Mackinnon were central to second wave feminism. It is these brave revolutionaries not reformists who many women are in debt to today. When I said feminism inspired me it was because these women and more besides them not only wanted change and improvement, but instead they wanted to rip up the script challenge the status quo and start again. Much like the current disability rights movement is doing in the UK. It is about saying no! Enough is enough! Resist do not comply!

Whilst at University, I made a good job of not complying. One of my first acts as well as enjoy my academic study was to change my wardrobe, helped by my carers at the time Janet and Ellen. I didn’t know it at the time, half due to my own naivety and indifference but the wardrobe, or rather the choice of clothing was pretty gay, lots of numbers, lots of colour and just well gayness really. I just thought I was walking around in the height of what was fashionable at the time. I reckon Janet and Ellen knew something I was yet to discover however.

In fact the following year I came out as gay, over Bolognese actually, my favourite meal. Then I joined the LGBT Society. I suddenly found my life becoming a lot more fun, infested with cheesy pop and I invited a man round for lasagne.

I was also experiencing a cultural clash with evangelicalism which I have alluded to before in this blog but in the end the gay won. I went to see Mary Poppins for my 21st birthday and life couldn’t get any gayer.

But there was one problem. I was still happier in the company of women. Sex was not and has never been a it was residents primary driver for me I would rather meet friends, get to know people and chat with them. I also lived with women in halls of residence throughout my time at University.

I even wore some feminine accessories and the odd bit of make-up latterly.

So then the question is this. What made me flip from nonconformity, to the conformity of gender and back again?

For me, the real row on Channel 5 was not about benefits at all. It was in my own head.

 

So anyone tuning in to Channel 5 last night at 9.00 pm  and expecting some form of high calibre debate of the kind offered by Question Time on the BBC or The Agenda on ITV1 would have felt short changed, I expect.

A show entitled The Big Benefits Row is instructive in itself. Rows imply conflict, not a cup of tea and a cosy chat. Substitute the word row for conversation and you may end up with a more productive debate useful to everyone, audience and participants alike.

For me the first paragraph of this piece from the social commentator Laurie Penny is very telling and typifies the end result the programme makers wanted from last night’s debate. Laurie says, almost prophetically;

“The producer knocked her fists together in the dark backstage. “We want you to, you know…” She made the motion again, smiling sweetly, as my hired nemesis and I were strapped into radio microphones for a five minute debate on the evening news. It was clear what she meant. She wanted us to scrap. She didn’t want us to talk sensibly and work out our differences. She wanted blood on the floor.”

In part, this is understandable as all television wants to be noticed. It wants to create those so-called watercooler moments and talkability. Not talkability that lasts for a day or a week. More like a year. Programme makers want to create a programme in current affairs that makes you pick a side. You’re either Team Hopkins or Team Currie, for the bad cops, or indeed you may be Team Jones or Team Monroe for the good cops. As a viewer and a participant you are left in no doubt that you must pick a side. For the duration of that program you must pledge allegiance to either team. Indecisiveness or dissonance is not available to you. It is survival of the fittest: dog eat dog and we must buy into it for current affairs debates to work.

Now for me I was originally a refusenik. I had planned purposely not to watch the debate. Anything to me which gives Katie Hopkins airtime is not a productive use of a platform that many people would relish not least me.

What prompted my renewed interest in the debate, was the fact that Sue Marsh the renowned, ardent and brilliant disability campaigner had been dropped from the panel at the last minute.

Given that a sizeable number of those with disabilities depend on benefits to exist I was disgusted that they were left without representation on this debate. I still am. In fact I am seething. I have read through the commentariat’s responses today to the programme and only two have picked up on Sue Marsh’s bumping from it.

You see the thing is I know roughly what Owen Jones will say about benefits. I know roughly what Jack Monroe will say about benefits. The latter put in a sterling performance last night taking on Edwina Currie over her barbs towards her family and may have dropped an F bomb on Channel 5. Meanwhile Owen Jones compared the possibility of debating with Katie Hopkins to having a cheese grater rubbed in your face. I should confess at this point I do have a love for cheese and I want to be able to eat a cheese roll again without thinking of her.

But I find myself thinking as a person with a disability who eviscerated Katie Hopkins spectacularly in this blog for disgraceful comments she made about the former Paralympian Lady Grey-Thompson, I would welcome the chance to debate with her. I wouldn’t want to be placated and told I did not have to on the grounds of my own foibles. I would instead relish the chance and grab it with both hands. I don’t want this post to turn into a Hopkins themed diatribe.

I am always amazed by the paucity of diversity within the media. There is nothing the media relishes more than talking to itself about itself.

I am concerned about is there is a huge swathe of the population that is being excluded from this debate. That is those with disabilities. It is telling that the producers saw fit to drop Sue Marsh from the debate, allegedly because space needed to be made for other contributors. I put this question to you though. Which contributor could be more important than many of those who depend on benefits to live? I make no secret of the fact I would like a media platform across all media, television and radio and online. Why?  I have the qualities, I have the confidence and currently, somewhat regrettably I do not see myself represented.

The comedienne Ava Vidal was also ignored, despite pointedly shouting Matthew Wright’s name for at least enough time to induce laryngitis (maybe!)

When I switch the television on I see  nobody like me is telling my story. It is nothing short of a scandal that a programme about disability benefits had limits on the numbers of people it could take in wheelchairs.

I don’t want this piece either to be too hyper focused on one debate, because there is a wider debate to be had too.

You see I am also transgendered. But, in an affectionate nod to the words of the Natalie Imbruglia song I often find I’m torn.

Trans representation on screen is increasing. Paris Lees has been on Question Time, which commands huge audiences and is the premier political programme. So the trans community is understandably very happy about this.

But I feel conflicted. For disabled people are virtually invisible on-screen and I think this is wrong. I found it hard to celebrate when the trans community  were extra happy about Paris Lees  appearing on Question Time.

Essentially I feel torn between two minorities. Extensive progress on one hand and zero progress on the other. But I don’t intend to give in. I think it would be fantastic if for example a person with a disability was giving their viewpoint as an invited guest on Question Time or on the newspaper reviews on Sky News. I keep across the news agenda every day. I am a newshound if you like. I am also news hungry.

Radio is slightly more progressive in this regard. With the use of telephone communication, ISDN lines, and Skype of course, there is less need for people to appear directly in a studio environment. But on the other hand, why shouldn’t we appear “in quality?” Why shouldn’t that be an aspiration for radio producers?

I have no doubt that the commentariat as it currently stands make many well-meaning contributions and interventions in the disability debate. But in terms of people like Sue Marsh, it is not the same and cannot be equivalent to hearing it from the horse’s mouth ever. It is not good enough and the boat needs rocking.

I am perfectly capable of writing articles. Therefore I am perfectly capable of translating those articles and opinions into articulate speech. I should stress that I recognise fully that this is a privilege that not all of my disabled colleagues have. Therefore I feel it is incumbent on those of us who do have that privilege to use it for maximum effect and benefit.

I have to say too, I have enjoyed the few media appearances I have done. For LBC as a caller, and another for BBC Radio 5 Live for the Eastleigh by-election debate.

But just as some of the media has a race problem I think it also has a disability problem. I would applaud the efforts of Samantha Asamadu for her consciousness raising initiative Writers of Colour which gives people of colour the opportunity to write and have their work seen by thousands and embedded into people’s consciousness. Sam was inspired to start this campaign after noticing that there was a trend for all front pages to be white, as in stories related to white people.

But also, I wouldn’t just want to be pigeonholed into a disability slot. I have views and opinions like the rest of the commentariat, I wouldn’t just want to talk about disability. Indeed panel shows require versatility and people have to be well read and briefed on a number of subjects.

But by excluding one of the most important groups from a panel about benefits last night, Channel 5 failed as a broadcaster. Of course, the terminology specially invited audience implies some level of segregation from the outset.

People like Owen Jones, Katie Hopkins and Jack Monroe are panel show veterans. Media appearances are something they do regularly and often. I’m not asking that the able-bodied commentariat is and zapped and rendered invisible from our television screens by Team Disabled. What I would like to see is parity. I would like to see disabled people welcomed into the media sphere and their views sought. Not just on disability but on the multiplicity of issues a globalised world presents.

I would like the media to cast its net wider than the usual contacts book. Current affairs could learn a lot from the soap world in this regard.Coronation Street has the character of  Izzy Armstrong, played with aplomb by the actress Cherrylee Houston. Her disability is incidental compared to the rest of her character. The scriptwriters do not dwell on a disability, but rather they integrate it into her overall character.

Inevitably there would be initial shock at perhaps seeing the sofa in a different position on Sky News to let the paper reviewer in. But that would dissipate over time.

I knew what Katie Hopkins would say. However I did not know what Sue Marsh would say and I feel somewhat cheated because of that.

I am fed up of turning on the television and never seeing myself on it. Perhaps 2014 can be the year that changes. For my perspective is just as valuable as Owen Jones or Paris Lees. Sue Marsh’s perspective is just as valuable too, but programme makers will not realise this until they take a risk particularly producers.

Equally, we need more with disabilities involved in television, radio and journalism. Otherwise, programmes will never be shaped by us either. The input and who crafts it has a dramatic influence on the output. People with disabilities need to be a part of this at both ends of the spectrum, and I certainly want to be.

Also, I saw many friendly photos on Twitter last night after the debate. I was saddened not to see a disabled person in a single one. Producers, widen the scope of your guests on television and radio, and widen the range represented in your specially invited audiences. That will make for a much higher quality, less segregated debate. It is great for those like Paris, who are achieving greater representation for themselves. However, I still feel invisible. Five, four, three, two, one, run titles, and now it really is time for action. Yes producers, I fancied a drink in the pub after the debate as well. Mine’s a Malibu and Lemonade.

Whether people are still scrapping today or not, disabled people were underepresented. Maybe the media as a collective should think about that.

LINKS

  1. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/benefits-row-live-jack-monroe-3111253#.UvE_LGLudfR
  2. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/owen-jones-on-the-big-benefits-row-the-hopkinsisation-of-political-discourse-9106227.html
  3. http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/the-big-benefits-row.html

I am not your totem, Tim Montgomerie, and you are not my able-bodied saviour. Listen!

 

The debate around abortion, foetal abnormality, and disability was re-ignited by a piece written by   Tim Montgomerie (£) in The Times.

At the outset of my own argument, I would like to commend to you this latest post from Glosswitch. It outlines many of the arguments around pro-choice and reproductive rights.

I fully support women’s bodily autonomy and their own choices. However I felt strongly that there had been an important omission from this debate. The voices of disabled people themselves. That alone is my rationale for this piece.

When I was born, I was born at 28 weeks gestation, that is to say three months premature. I was born on the  17th January. I was due on 30th March.

Doctors told my mother explicitly that my chance of survival was 50-50. It could have gone either way. But also, given my level of disability, and the impending challenges that would bring to my mother’s life, she could have easily chosen to end her pregnancy and that would be a decision which is utterly understandable.

However, she chose not to and here I am. But a conversation around the dinner table this Christmas made me realise how premature my birth actually was. It scared me. I was so small she could pick me up in the palm of her hand. My organs were not fully developed.  I had trouble breathing and contracted pseudomonas on my chest.

I do have to give utmost credit to my mother because she brought me up single-handedly with no help from my father. We were pretty isolated in a small flat with little outside assistance.

Tim Montgomerie stated that many people are simply too “frightened to raise a disabled child.”

My mother wasn’t. But that does not mean women who are should be vilified, condemned and made to feel ashamed of their choice. I am fully aware that my disability came at a cost to my mother. She missed out on a social life, holidays and employment.

There is also nothing simple about it. That is why it is equivalent to a full time career. That is why we employ care workers to ease that burden on relatives.

Therefore, it is entirely proper that women should be able to meaningfully reflect upon any residual impact on their own lives without feeling like The Worst Woman. Furthermore, it is entirely proper they receive whatever emotional support is necessary to enable them to understand the implications of giving birth to a disabled child.

I would far rather a mother had an abortion than for her to carry a child to full term out of guilt.

Having a disability myself, you may be surprised to hear me say that. But you know who would suffer as a net result of such a decision, don’t you? The baby, who then morphs into the child, and lastly they will morph into a damaged adult.

I cannot support a two dimensional framing of this debate, whereby women who choose to keep their disabled child are hailed as the best of modern parenting, and those who choose to abort are an evil heartless abomination

It angers me viscerally to be a pawn in this game of Heroes and Villians. Tim Montgomerie later said that he could not support laws which made disabled babies second-class citizens. This would be the bit where I tell Tim how happy I am and say “Thanks Tim. Thanks for standing up for me. I’m so grateful.” Love you Tim! How sycophantic and saccharin. But no!

I do not need a saviour. I need someone who is prepared to listen to the sheer complexity around these issues.

I am not your totem, Tim. Nor do I want to be used as a vehicle to facilitate the poisoning of the pro-life standpoint. Nor will I be manipulated.

Women are the ultimate arbiters of their own individual bodies and minds.  That process of arbitration should be respected without “saviours” like Tim Montgomerie playing the totemic violin.  It is utterly insulting to women, their autonomy, and the intelligence of disabled people themselves. The work of caring for a disabled child is not glamorous, and by the time we reach adulthood is fraught with frustration and setbacks..

Either caring for a disabled child, or having an abortion due to foetal abnormality, are both scenarios filled with cost to parents, emotional, physical and psychological. That is why all women need our love and support, free of invective.

A disabled child is for life, not just for Christmas.

The Congo Stigmata: A Response to the Cultural Appropriation of Eve Ensler

 

Eve Ensler is a writer whose best-known contribution to the world of literature is The Vagina Monologues. At the time of publication it caused controversy, for its frankness and openness about the vagina. The vagina has an air of mystique about it and it is something we very rarely talk about in public space.

In this book excerpt however Ensler talks about her experience in the Democratic Republic of Congo with raped women. The excerpt though is highly problematic. I will not be drawn into a line by line analysis of the piece because it would be very long and boring for you to read.

However, I will point out the main problem areas and the folly in Ensler’s approach to this issue.

Dealing first with the title, The Congo Stigmata I believe it is highly offensive. Firstly, stigmata have their origins in the Christian faith. Stigmata describe bodily marks or pain sensations in the same locations of the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ. The phenomena of stigmata is primarily associated with the Roman Catholic faith and notable figures with stigmata include St Francis of Assisi and the apostle Paul.

However what Eve Ensler does is not only offensive it is inappropriate. She brands the whole Democratic Republic of Congo as suffering from stigma, which affects her vicariously as much as the women of the Congo. She aligns herself with them, as one of them, rather than looking in from the outside and respecting their own trauma. To brand a whole country as having  stigmata is grossly offensive.

The subject matter of the article is of course rape. Whilst there are commonalities of experience amongst rape victims, the individuality of everyone’s experiences must be respected.

Eve Ensler though appropriates the experiences of other victims though, and claims them as her own in a highly narcissistic and selfish way. She had a cancerous tumour inside herself between the vagina and the bowel which had in turn fistulated the rectum.

This meant that for her she had to have the same surgical intervention as many rape victims in the Congo.

By this point in the article though, my alarm bells were ringing. In a macabre way, she almost seems to delight in it, as though she is happy about it, or under some illusion that having the same surgery means they have a strong bond between them.

Cancer though is physiological, rape is not. The point is those Congolese women would not need the surgery had they not been raped, yet Ensler exhibits almost a kind of euphoria about the whole thing. It reminds me of somebody being happy about having their legs amputated so they can adopt the physical appearance of an amputee.

She also seems worryingly obsessed by the possibility of supernatural intervention in what happened to her. Doctors come across all sorts of things in careers, some familiar and some not but I think it is very unwise to frame the fistula in a spiritual context. This leads to it being viewed as some kind of spiritual gift which for the many rape victims who have also been through the pain of fistulas I am sure it is not.

She is so cold and clinical about the symptoms arising from fistulas too. There is no sense of empathy from the writer not even when it comes to the indignity of urine or faeces flowing through the resulting hole. No sense of embarrassment or contrition. Instead, I am left with the impression that the writer is completely indifferent to the trauma suffered by these women, and is instead more interested in the biology of fistulae.

Ensler then  described how she needed to see a fistula. Most of us want to see a famous landmark, or meet an idol, or to see a beautiful sunset. But no Eve Ensler wanted to see a fistula. By this point the article feels highly abnormal and disturbs me as I read. Not only is she being insensitive, and culturally appropriative, but also highly voyeuristic. Doctors of course need to be present in operating theatres as part of medical training, and those who have had surgical procedures can now in the Internet age perhaps look them up on YouTube. But there is no reason for Ensler to see somebody else’s operation. This feels intrusive, wrong and highly unethical. The ethics of it disturb me the most. Did the woman give consent to Ensler watching her operation? Was she aware that Ensler was watching the operation, and intending to recount it in a book?

For us on the sidelines, these are rhetorical questions, but I find them disturbing nonetheless highly so. When I wrote about FGM in a recent blog entry I did so with the utmost sensitivity. If you have your writing chops that is what you do. It is common sense.

But instead Ensler chooses to write about the operation in highly flowery dramatic prose. It is highly appropriate if you are writing a work of fiction and want to keep your readers on the edge of their seats. However it is not appropriate to transform a traumatic operation into dramatic exaggerated prose for your own selfish benefit.

She de-centres the person having the surgery completely, and bearing the hallmarks of a true narcissist, she appropriates the experience that this woman on the operating table has had and makes it all about herself, compelling her readers to shift their focus away from her subject on the operating table and back  on to her. I hope however that most readers worth their salt would be to see through this and feel sympathy for the woman anyway.

Semantically, just look at how many I and me sentences there are, given that is supposed to be an extract about raped women in the Congo. I could feel myself falling, except that what happened to the woman on the operating table was not Ensler’s fall to have. I can appreciate that witnessing the operation may have reawakened personal memories for Ensler. However I think it is wrong and disrespectful to conflate the two together for the sole purpose of literary exaggeration and dramaturgy.

The whole way through this piece I felt like I was reading a novel, rather than a realistic account of rape in the Congo. Eve Ensler is a writer. She is not Congolese. Therefore she should not be appropriating Congolese female experience for her own writerly gain. Yes, she may have had the same surgery due to a horrid diagnosis, and I am sorry for that. But that is where my sympathy for Eve Ensler ends.

I have never read many pieces which are as offensive as this, so appropriative, so disrespectful of the experience of these Congolese women, using their lives as a crude plot device. I hope I never do again. Eve Ensler has certainly not contributed to ending the stigma of rape by writing this.