The Operation That Can Ruin Your Life

Sex-change treatment for children is abuse and some transsexuals regret having it

Features Gender Health
A photographic exhibition at the Hammer Museum, University of California Los Angeles, shows a comparative study between teenage girls and adult male-to-female transsexuals

Last year, I was nominated for the Stonewall Journalist of the Year award. This seemed fair enough since I write prolifically about sexuality and sexual identity. But I guessed that Stonewall would not dare give me the prize, because a powerful lobby affiliated with the lesbian and gay communities had been hounding me for five years. Six weeks later I, along with a police escort, walked past a huge demonstration of transsexuals and their supporters, shouting “Bindel the Bigot”. Despite campaigning against gender discrimination, rape, child abuse and domestic violence for 30 years, I have been labelled a bigot because of a column I wrote in 2004 that questioned whether a sex change would make someone a woman or simply a man without a penis. Subsequently, I was “no platformed” by the National Union of Students Women’s Campaign, a privilege previously afforded to fascist groups such as the BNP. As a leading feminist writer, I now find that a number of organisations are too frightened to ask me to speak at public events for fear of protests by transsexual lobbyists. 

The 2004 column was about a Canadian male-to-female transsexual who had taken a rape crisis centre to court over its decision not to invite her to be a counsellor for rape victims. Feminists tend to be critical of traditional gender roles because they benefit men and oppress women. Transsexualism, by its nature, promotes the idea that it is “natural” for boys to play with guns and girls to play with Barbie dolls. The idea that gender roles are biologically determined rather than socially constructed is the antithesis of feminism. 

I wrote: “Those who ‘transition’ seem to become stereotypical in their appearance — f**k-me shoes and birds’ nest hair for the boys; beards, muscles and tattoos for the girls. Think about a world inhabited just by transsexuals. It would look like the set of Grease.”

Gender dysphoria (GD) was invented in the 1950s by reactionary male psychiatrists in an era when men were men and women were doormats. It is a term used to describe someone who feels strongly that they should belong to the opposite sex and that they were born in the wrong body. GD has no proven genetic or physiological basis. 

A review for the Guardian in 2005 of more than 100 international medical studies of post-operative transsexuals by the University of Birmingham’s Aggressive Research Intelligence Facility found no robust scientific evidence that gender reassignment surgery was clinically effective. It warned that the results of many gender reassignment studies were unsound because researchers lost track of more than half of the participants. 

The past decade has seen an increase in the number of people diagnosed as transsexual. There are now 1,500-1,600 new referrals a year to one of the handful of gender identity clinics in Britain. About 1,200 receive treatment on the NHS with the rest going private, Thailand being the main country of choice. The largest clinic, at Charing Cross Hospital in London, saw 780 new referrals last year. The NHS carried out some 150 operations in the last year (up from about  100 in 2005-2006). Apart from Thailand, the country with the highest number of sex-change operations is Iran where, homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death. When sex-change surgery is performed on gay men, they become, in the eyes of the gender defenders, heterosexual women. Transsexual surgery becomes modern-day aversion therapy for gays and lesbians. 

In the West, however, supporting the diagnosis and availability of surgical intervention is seen as a view right-thinking liberals should adopt. But no oppressed group ever insisted its emotional distress was the sole basis for the establishment of a right. Indeed, transsexuals, along with those seeking IVF and cosmetic surgery, are using the NHS for the pursuit of happiness not health. 

Treatment is brutal and the results far from perfect. Male-to-female surgery involves removal of the penis and scrotum and the construction of a “vagina” using the skin from the phallus, breast implants inserted and the trachea shaved. Painful laser treatment to remove hair in the beard area and elsewhere and cosmetic surgery to “feminise” the face is increasingly common. 

For female-to-male surgery, breasts, womb and ovaries are removed. Testosterone injections, usually prescribed shortly after the initial diagnosis, result in the growth of facial hair and deepening of the voice. 

Recent legislation (the Gender Recognition Act, which allows people to change sex and be issued with a new birth certificate) will have a profoundly negative effect on the human rights of women and children. Since 2004, it has been possible for those diagnosed with GD to be assigned the sex of their choice, providing that the person has lived as the opposite sex for two years, has no plans to change back again and can provide evidence of the above. 

It is not necessary to have undergone hormone treatment or surgery. In other words, a pre-operative man could apply for a job in a women — only rape counselling service and, if refused on grounds of his sex, could take the employer to court on the grounds that “he” is legally a “she”. 

A definition of transsexualism used by a number of transsexual rights organisations reads:

Students who are gender non-conforming are those whose gender expression (or outward appearance) does not follow traditional gender roles: “feminine boys,” “masculine girls” and students who are androgynous, for example. It can also include students who look the way boys and girls are expected to look but participate in activities that are gender nonconforming, like a boy who does ballet. The term “transgender youth” can be used as an umbrella term for all students whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth and/or whose gender expression is non-stereotypical. 

According to this definition, a girl who plays football is trans-sexual.

A number of transsexuals are beginning to admit that opting for surgery ruined their lives. “I was a messed-up young gay man,” says Claudia McClean, a male-to-female transsexual who opted for surgery 20 years ago. “If I had been offered an alternative to a sex change, I would have jumped at the chance.” A number of transsexuals I have spoken to tell me how easy it is to be referred for surgery if they trot out a cliche such as, “I felt trapped in the wrong body.”

Transsexualism is becoming so normalised that increasing numbers of children are being referred to clinics by their parents. Recently, an 18-month-old baby in Denmark was diagnosed as suffering from GD. Last summer, a primary school headteacher held an assembly to explain that a nine-year-old boy would return as a girl. 

Ten years ago, there were an average of six child and adolescent referrals per year in Britain, but in 2008 numbers had increased six-fold. Although the minimum age for sex-change surgery is 18, puberty-blocking hormones can be prescribed to those as young as 16, and transsexual rights lobbyists want that age to be reduced to 13. 

James Bellringer is a surgeon at Charing Cross Hospital, which has the largest gender identity clinic in the UK. He believes that children should be allowed to self-diagnose as GD. “It is not the doctors saying, ‘You are a transsexual, let’s get you on hormones,’ it is the children saying, ‘I don’t like my breasts, I feel like a girl’.” 

There is, however, a dispute within the medical profession about whether puberty-blockers should be prescribed. Some doctors say that children need to experience puberty to know whether they are misplaced in their bodies. I would describe preventing puberty as a modern form of child abuse. Two-thirds of those claiming to be, or diagnosed as, transsexual during childhood become lesbian or gay in later life. “I would be happy living now as a gay man, comfortable in the body I was born with,” says McClean. “The prejudice against me for being an effeminate boy who fancied other boys was too much to bear. Changing sex meant I could be normal.”

Medical science cannot turn a biological male into a biological female — it can only alter the appearance of body parts. A trans-sexual “woman” will always be a biological male. A male-to-female transsexual serving a prison sentence for manslaughter and rape won the right to be relocated to a women’s jail. Her lawyers argued that her rights were being violated by being unable to live in her role as a woman in a men’s jail. Large numbers of female prisoners have experienced childhood abuse and rape and will fail to appreciate the reasons behind a biological man living among them, particularly one who still has the penis with which he raped a woman. (Some transsexuals choose to retain their genitals.) 

There is a handful of radicals in the world today who have dared to challenge the diagnosis of transsexualism. Those who do are called “transphobic” and treated with staggering vitriol. There is a form of cultural relativism at play here. Defenders of female genital mutilation or forced marriage often use the argument that such practices can be justified within certain communities (i.e. non-Western cultures), despite the fact that they serve to dehumanise women, because it is the “truth” of that particular community. After I had been shortlisted for the Stonewall award, scores of blogs and message boards filled with a call to arms against me. 

On one, “Genocide and Julie Bindel”, a poster wrote, “What would Stonewall’s reaction have been had a BME [black and minority ethnic] group nominated Ayatollah Khomeini as Politician of the Year? She is an active oppressor of trans people. I hope she dies an agonising and premature death of cancer in the very near future. It would make the world a better place.”

I had some support, some from those who had also experienced a transsexual-led witchhunt. I heard from post-operative trans-sexuals who had been railroaded into surgery and now regretted it. “Do not publish my name,” said one, “but if anyone questions the validity of sex-change treatment you are sent to Coventry by the ‘community’ elders.” 

A police officer who, during the course of his duty, was unfairly accused by transsexuals of “transphobia” was driven to a breakdown by their vicious campaign. An eminent medical ethicist who had dared to defend a fellow professional who had questioned the diagnosis of GD from a scientific point of view almost lost his career and reputation. And several women from feminist organisations have been bullied and vilified for challenging the “right” of male-to-female transsexuals to work in women-only organisations. 

Dr Caillean McMahon, a US-based forensic psychiatrist, defines herself not as a transsexual but as a “woman of operative history. The trans community has an unforgiving global sort of condemnation towards critical outsiders. I have to be suspicious that the insistence of many of those demanding to enter it is not for the purpose of celebrating the spirit and nature of women, but to seek an enforced validation, extracted by force in a legal or political manner.” With the normalisation of transsexual surgery comes an acceptance of other forms of surgery to correct a mental disorder. In 2000, Russell Reid, a psychiatrist who has diagnosed hundreds of people with GD, was involved in controversy over the condition known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), where sufferers can experience a desperate urge to rid themselves of a limb. Reid referred two BDD patients to a surgeon for leg amputations. “When I first heard of people wanting amputations, it seemed bizarre in the extreme,” he said in a TV documentary. “But then I thought, ‘I see transsexuals and they want healthy parts of their body removed in order to adjust to their idealised body image,’ and so I think that was the connection for me. I saw that people wanted to have their limbs off with equally as much degree of obsession and need.”

In a world where equality between men and women was reality, transsexualism would not exist. The diagnosis of GD needs to be questioned and challenged. We live in a society that, on the whole, respects the human rights of others. Accepting a situation where the surgeon’s knife and lifelong hormonal treatment are replacing the acceptance of difference is a scandal. Sex-change surgery is unnecessary mutilation. Using human rights laws to normalise trans-sexualism has resulted in a backward step in the feminist campaign for gender equality. Perhaps we should give up and become men.