Are hormones a question of choice?

This is in actual fact the first ever thread I did on Twitter of an actual event that I’d attended. I am reposting it now because the tweets were too old to roll out on threadappreader as part of my switchover from Twitter to WordPress. When I first started blogging I followed preferred pronouns, etc, so it’s quite different in tone to later pieces. Whittle was reliably on bonkers form.

Later I will be attending ‘Are Hormones a Question of Choice? Feminist, Transgender and Intersex Perspectives‘ held on 6 June 2018. My BS alert is high as it will be hosted by Transitional States – Hormones at the Crossroads of Art and Science. This will be my pinned tweet and a thread will follow.

Speakers include:

  • Celia Roberts (Lanc Uni), sociologist and Prof of Gender and Science Studies.
  • Valentino Vecchietti, intersex human rights campaigner, independent academic and writer.
  • Stephen Whittle (Man Met Uni, UK), transgender activist and Prof of Equalities Law

First a visit to the exhibition, which was very sparse.

There were some videos, homemade breast binder, contraception pills and this – fake boobies

Whittle and several ‘transmen’ are already in the room.

For an event which was initially fully booked with a wait list the room is curiously empty with two minutes to go. They didn’t even check my ticket.

Ok there are roughly 20 people here, excluding the organisers. I estimate most are TIF or women who identify as NB.

Still waiting for lecture to start. Will be interested to know exactly how synthetic hormones creates art! Some more TIFs have arrived.

Well! That was a wheels-cha-cha of a debate! In the end it was quite well attended with about 40-50 people. Most were women identifying as men, or as NB I suspect. One or two actual men only.

First speaker was Valentino V. They were identified as ‘they’ and they inferred that they were intersex, although this was never clarified. To me I felt this was a woman who had taken T. VV is a campaigner for intersex human rights.

A trigger warning was given that genital mutilation would be discussed, but no images shown, and that people may find it disturbing. Intersex is not an identity but a physical condition. They estimated that somewhere between 1.7 to 2.6 million people are intersex in UK.

Latest estimate of trans population is 650,000. The two populations can intersect. United Nations report of 2013 apparently described surgeries and treatments given to intersex children as meeting definition of ‘torture’.

Since these ‘reparative therapies’ often result in sterilisation without the consent of the child being sought. VV explained that the language around intersex was pathologising with the use of words like ‘syndrome, conditions, diseases, abnormality’ used unfairly.

VV then said that intersex children were the target of abortions despite the fact that the conditions are not massively disabling. VV confirmed that they believed in a woman’s right to choice but that variations around intersex weren’t being explained properly.

Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia is one of the intersex conditions that is screened for. Women are often given dexamethasone during a pregnancy with a female foetus with CAH to ensure that the baby does not end up too masculinised.

VV said that treatment with dexamethasone for CAH in pregnancy is an ‘off-label’ treatment and that it can cause spatial awareness problems later in life, and also difficulties socialising. VV felt that essentially it was an effort to prevent homosexuality whilst in utero.

Since parents were not educated enough about intersex conditions, VV argued they do not give informed consent. Hormones can protect us, esp re bone density, and removal of gonads will require HRT later in life. This is being done to intersex people without their consent.

VV said we need ‘social solutions, not surgical solutions’. Then suddenly VV changed direction 180 degrees and said that trans kids in schools were being supported and that a lot of good work was going on to educate people about differences of trans. Ended talk on that point.

Next up was Celia Robert, a woman so full of intellectual google, I couldn’t be bothered to write much of what she said down. CR started by thanking VV about the trigger warning as hearing people talk about genital surgeries is very upsetting.

CR gave a dictionary explanation of the word ‘transitional’ which means a process of change, implying less stability, or possibly a state of growth. A crossroads can be a point of decision or of flourishing.

The idea that hormones determine who you are, or who restrict who you are is a convential view and that emerging from is the idea they can be flexible and exciting. The word ‘hormone’ comes from the Greek and means ‘to excite, or provoke’.

Negative associations with hormones can be:

  • castration of criminals
  • use in animal farming
  • use on intersex
  • withholding hormones from people

(At this point, for some reason, the professional photographer in attendance, got up and started doing shots all round the room, of the speaker, audience, etc.)

CR gave the example of Premarin, which produces HRT from the urine of pregnant mares. The mares are forced to wear bags which catch the urine. CR said that HRT is used by older women to combat the menopause, and by transwomen.

The thing which struck me most about this point, was that CR refused to condemn this practice. CR went on to say that the baby horses are disposed of, because only the urine is worth money.

I am no animal rights activist, but I have no problem in condemning this as a cruel and unnecessary way to produce synthetic hormones. I am confused why she couldn’t say why she did, or didn’t support it.

CR went on to say that hormones are ‘provocative and exciting’ and can lead to a transitional state, but were they a matter of choice? We come into contact with hormones in the environment, some women have IVF, some teens have puberty blockers, and and as we had heard some babies have things done to them in utero which they didn’t consent to. And then CR’s talk ended.

Last up to talk was Stephen Whittle. Started with question “Would you take a happy pill?” Most people would say yes if such a pill existed. Touched on Genderquake that he was trying to get his daughter ‘safely’ from the studio when some lesbians shouted “Are you happy with what you’ve done?”.

Next up was a slide with a photograph from 1966 of some lesbians alongside some text about “older dykes disappearing”. Some people in the audience giggled about that.

SW said he was ‘not surprised’ that older dykes were disappearing and that normally after every talk he does a dyke will go up to him at the end and say “I’d have done it if I could when I was younger”.

SW cited the photo from 1966 as proof that ‘transmen’ have always existed. Then went onto an anecdote about how tall women would not be able to go out in public, but now they are trans they can.

I didn’t stand next to SW but I don’t think SW is very tall. I got from the anecdote that he thinks he is tall, and it was implied that being tall is a feature of being a ‘transman’.

SW showed a graph from the London Clinic that in 2016 1,500 girls had attended a gender identity disorder clinic, as compared with only 600 boys. Culture plays a role as in Signapore there are still many more TIM than TIF.

The London Clinic findings showed that dysphoria is linked to severe psychopathology, which SW explained is in fact caused by not feeling comfortable in your own body.

SW showed a front cover of The Dyke magazine, 1970, US publication I think. SW said that he never felt butch but was a petite slim blonde. At the time there was talk of a lesbian identity known as ‘stonebutch’ who would only give pleasure, not receive any.

SW knew he could not be a ‘stonebutch’. What is masculinity? What does T have to do with it? SW said that 50-60% of ‘transmen’ have PCOS (ovaries which produce male hormones). SW said a lot of PCOS sufferers really have an intersex condition.

SW showed a photograph of Julie Bindel with a quote regarding how transexualism would not exist if men and women were equal. I have to say there was some murmuring among the women at this point, tantamount to a ‘boo’.

SW poo-pooed this and gave the example of equality between men and women as the Cultural Revolution in China. It was at this point I think SW lost a lot of the room. The Cultural Revolution is as poor as any model of sexual equality I can think of.

SW talked about ‘Forgotten Desire’ and that desire is a much forgotten topic in academia. SW wanted to be a ‘him’, not primarily guided by a sexuality. Then he whipped up a slide called “The benefits of optimal testosterone” but didn’t say hardly anything about it.

I was getting all ready to hear what these ‘optimal benefits’ were, but SW ended the presentation by saying “If only we could have a debate about what hormones can really do?” And thus, like the two before, ended the talk on a completely off and odd note.

OMG this is going on forever. Bet no one reads the whole thing. Hahaha.

Question and Answer session:

SW basically came in for some very polite British roundabout criticism for using the Cultural Revolution as an example of gender neutral society.

SW society won’t become gender neutral because of capitalism.

VV said identities are joyful.

SW directly contradicted something said earlier – that lesbians are not disappearing because lesbians don’t want to be men.

Lots of talk about hormones in water – are we drinking it?

Then a woman in the audience, who identified herself as trans, stated that obviously sexuality and identity had to be separate politically. She said she felt she connected at the edges of a trans identity and that she was overwhelmed by a desire to wear mens underpants.

She stated she hadn’t had any hormone treatment, and was essentially attracted to women, but felt that if she started hormones she intuited that her desire may well shift towards liking men sexually – and this was an exciting possibility or shifting.

VV stated that ‘transwomen’ were pathologised for liking womens’ clothes, but here was a person who had expressed a liking for wearing mens underpants, which we all know aren’t sexually exciting, and ergo no pathology.

VV went onto say that it is heteronormative privilege for women to wear womens’ clothes and feel sexy in them, but if a trans does it, it is labelled a fetish.

Issue of puberty blockers arose. VV acknowledged that young people may change their minds about being trans. They repeated that intersex babies have no choice.

SW tried to tackle the elephant in the room (i.e. the effect of puberty blockers), but only ended up saying they can cause underdevelopment of the penis if given too early, meaning a ‘transwoman’ might end up with a colonic tissue for a neo-vagina.

SW said that puberty blockers are only given anyway under the most strictest guidance and to stop the child harming itself. The moment is more important. Clear contradiction here with the intersex talk.

SW said that all the ‘transmen’ he knows who have taken cross-sex hormones for 30 years are very happy, although admitting there are no long term studies.

A ‘transman’ in the audience talked about the new surgical techniques being pioneered in North America. Previously to hormone treatment sexual attraction was only to women, post-tx they had started liking men, and now had a boyfriend. He had lied about sexuality throughout transition to the clinic because was scared of rejection.

SW stated that he felt he was bisexual, although in a monogamous relationship with a woman, but potential was there. SW stated that he did not find lesbian women attractive.

SW then went into another anecdote about his phalloplasty surgery. Everyone in audience presumably forgot that hearing about genital surgeries were upsetting. Originally SW had a very large penis but his wife only wanted an average size one, but when he got out of the hospital it was far too big, and later he had to have further surgeries (to shave it down presumably). SW kept using a big red hankerchief as a prop, and said that one of his children said when they travelled to see him in hospital they said, “Are we going to see daddy? Has he got his big penis yet?”.

Titter ye not (but unbelievably some in the audience did). Personally was more than ready to leave at this point.

Then an audience member asked about whether intersex should have their own separate sporting competitions. Sadly I think the audience were lead to believe that intersex is a kind of third sex, instead of men and women with a genetic disorder.

Finally SW made the bold statement that endocrinology is a “false science” and that endocrinologists have no idea what testosterone really does. SW said that the scientific literature on the effects of T were very vague.

SW sort of insinuated that he does not take T on a daily basis, but dependent on how he feels. That was the end of the Q&A session.

My conclusion: No one addressed the question of how hormone and art intersects – this was supposed to be the topic of the talk. All three speakers were given a free ride to say what they damn well wanted. Very little evidence was produced, although at least VV tried. [Having come across VV several times after this, I can safely now say that VV didn’t try.]

The main problem was this- the panel and the audience condemned the use of drugs in a setting where a baby was in utero, but they could not and would not debate whether actual children and teenagers should receive medications. There was a complete blind spot.

Correction: topic of the debate was actually ‘Are Hormones a choice?’ But tbf they didn’t answer that question either. On reflection SW’s last slide on the optimal effects of testosterone was the most relevant. It was a cartoon, the left side showing all the benefits, muscle improvement, etc. The right side depicted the negative effects of T. It was honestly up for such a short time I didn’t get the time to look at it properly.

But it serves as a metaphor for the way in which the lecturers, and Whittle in particular, failed to address the serious issue of cross hormone use. In fact, I think the slide was put up to tease and intrigue the mostly pre-T lesbian audience.

‘Transitional States’ are taking their exhibition and debate panel across Europe into universities. Could have quite an impact on LBGT groups in those universities.

#TransitionalStates is the hashtag if you want to see more on it. Here endeth my thread.