Two Turned Tables

Two reversals, one concerning illness, one gender, and ending up with a plate of baked beans.

1. The Liverpool ME/CFS service: an apology

First item concerns one of the highly disturbing job adverts for the new UK CFS/ME centres I included excerpts from halfway down this entry.

Many ME/CFS sufferers will know that a recent job description for trainee CFS therapists in Liverpool has caused distress and offence to patients. It contained information stating that therapists might be exposed to verbal aggression from ‘some clients with CFS’. As the Clinical Lead ultimately responsible for the job description I apologise unreservedly for this statement (though I was not aware of the wording until after the document had been released). Although incidents of this nature are very rare in any patient group, some might think it fair to mention their possibility to trainees joining
a therapy service for the first time. Nevertheless, the explicit reference to verbal aggression in the context of ME/CFS was bound to be seen by the patient community as an assault on their integrity. The suggestion that there might be at any stage a breakdown in trust within the client-therapist relationship was deeply destructive and in no way reflects the true ethos of the ME/CFS service either locally or nationally. If there were any point in raising the issue of inter-personal difficulties, it would be to ensure that trainee therapists have insight into their own limitations and can recognise and ameliorate any signs of overwhelming distress in their clients. The job description has been withdrawn, and in due course will be re-written with advice from patient representatives, emphasising the collaborative nature of the patient-therapist relationship. If this relationship can be further strengthened and developed, then perhaps some good will come from this unhappy episode.

The Liverpool ME/CFS team are passionate about their role in assisting patients recover from this destructive and neglected disease. Our main concern is that patients who might otherwise find our service helpful will now feel reluctant to use it. May we reassure all our clients, present and future, that we will continue to strive for the highest standards of care, and for the best possible relationships between staff and patients.

Dr. Fred Nye.
Clinical Champion, Liverpool ME/CFS Clinical Network Co-ordinating Centre


What I see in the apology above is a mealy-mouthed damage limitation exercise by someone trying to distance themselves from a PR mistake, rather than actually saying what was said in the job descriptions was wrong: it was “badly put”. The use of the adjective “distress” immediately puts us on a back foot as the meek, over-sensitive and tender ill, and why is he addressing us as patients? If you live in Liverpool, “potential patients” might just work; or “potentially less likely patients”. The “althoughs” and back-coverings in the mail are enough to convince me this is just PR. One can imagine what will be said behind closed doors to the interviewees about “the fuss” with the original job description, and how it just confirms the diagnosis of somatic disorder. I might sound a bit angry, bitter or sarcastic, for which I apologise, but really, this wind of change we’re catching sight of in the UK is simply terrifying.

I’d concur strongly with the opinions expressed in this mail to CO-CURE:

Could any “explanation” from Dr Nye be considered acceptable? No, of course not, because it is patently obvious what the mind set of Pauline Powell’s clinic is and that what is required are not “apologies” or “explanations” but a radical shift in attitude, and nothing less than a full investigation
into the model of care which has been adopted for this service and is in the process of being implemented – but not just in this clinic and in Epsom and St Helier, but throughout the rest of the country.

2. Julie Burchill vs. Germaine Greer

This one’s much more fickle and childish on my part. Germaine Greer and Julie Burchill have separately contributed in various ways to consistently encourage transphobia, try to place us in positions of public ridicule, and generally be plain nasty just to carve out their own careers.

A few examples. Julie first:

… And, yes, I know that they’re not the same, but may I say that I feel even less patience with transsexuals. Male to female transsexuals are Michael Jackson to the transvestites Ali G; not content even to dress up temporarily as the Other, they presume that its authenticity can be theirs through a few cosmetic adjustments.

… Transsexualism is, basically, just another, more drastic twist on the male menopause, which in turn is just another excuse for men to do as they please.

Queue up Germaine to join in the kicking:

… I should have said ‘You’re a man. The Female Eunuch has done less than nothing for you. Piss off.’ The transvestite (sic) held me in a rapist’s grip…. Knee-jerk etiquette demanded that I humour this gross parody of my sex by accepting him as female, even to the point of allowing him to come to the lavatory with me.


She goes on in her book “The Whole Woman” (chapter: “Pantomime Dames”) to mock AIS intersex women as being “failed males”, saying that they should go be males instead of living as women. Further, she asks why no one asked ‘real’ women whether they accept trans-women as ‘one of them’, handing the keys to gender prison to those she deems fit.

Both miss entirely the irony that they, as feminists, are demanding of others a level of physical appearance in order to conform to their own stereotype of “woman”, which is what I’m sure they felt they were fighting against all the time; seem blissfully unaware that 50% of transpeople are male-bodied; and fall into classic essentialism by arguing that there is an “essential” woman’s experience, and policing it.

Julie Burchill is sometimes funny in a tabloid way when she’s not mocking minorities in danger of imminent physical threat.
Greer’s contributions a few decades ago to feminism seem to have wound down to snipey pieces on late night BBC2 and stomping out of reality TV shows saying she didn’t approve of them anyway (having taken the cheque). All’s the more pity because of their contributions in the 70s and 80s, to snappy punky journalism, and feminism in that order. Their fire went out, long-distance sight dimmed as it does with age, and they ended up joining the mob, I guess. One does wonder what their reactions would be to an article claiming some black people “weren’t really black”, using them for a bit of humour, and then suggesting that “real” black people should be asked permission for those concerned to identify as such.

Anyway the point of this is really just to be snippy. It’s nice to see Julie Burchill turning on Germaine Greer: “My feminist hero has become a rancid bore”; in which she accuses Germaine of being “offensive” amongst other things, which is a bit rich as it’s her own raison d’ĂȘtre.

If you want a quick dip into some intelligent dissection of Germaine’s flopsy philosophy on this, you might want to take a look at a short discussion on the livejournal transacademic group; for some more in-depth discussion, see: Gender Basics & Transgenderism (a third of the way down) by Lynn Conway, and some of the links above.

For a even more ridiculous position look no further than the Guardian yet again, to an article by Julie Bindel, trying rather desperately to fill Other Julie’s shoes in more ways than one. One wonders why The Guardian of all papers seem to be ploughing this furrow of transphobia with such determination. For commentary on this piece of nonsense, you could take a look at this discussion on Barbelith, and Charlotte Cooper’s article Oh Julie!, which is a more succinct summary than I could manage, drawing much the same conclusions I’d draw about Burchill and Greer’s flailing of wings:

But times are changing. I was a fledgling queer in the 80s when women like Bindel were lionised for their “uncompromising” tranny and bi-baiting dogma. Now, in 2004, it must be quite a shock to find out that they are no longer at the top of the lesbian food chain. They’re finding it out the hard way.

To top it off, the excellent Ms Cooper ends up trying to resolve the situation by challenging Ms Bindel to:

a public wrestling match. With me. In bikinis. In a gigantic tub of baked beans. You know I’ll win because I’m bigger and stronger than you and I can wrestle like a motherfucker.

Yay Charlotte!


6 thoughts on “Two Turned Tables”

  1. The irony is, of course, that the psychiatrists who devise and set up ME clinics have as a underlying philosophy that people with ME have given up on getting well, when it is the medical profession in the UK who have given up on finding a cause and cure.

    I’d like more Things to be added to the Today’s Things section..

  2. Hello, I just stumbled onto your page while looking up the dangers of manganese in showers!??? Anyway its very interesting and eloquent. May start watching it.

    It’s certainly very surprising that feminists can be so needlessly offensive to an oppressed group. However I can’t say I find the basic argument that maleness and femaleness should be defined by biology, rather than personal identity, to be objectionable. To use your own comparison of race, do you think being black is about identity rather than biology/race? Is a person black if she or he believes herself or himself to be black? I don’t want to offend you but I do think sex/gender is defined by biology, in exactly the same way that I think being black is about race.

    I just think that in an ideal world then people would not make a thousand and one assumptions because of a person’s gender. If being male or female was no more fundamental to a person’s identity than having a wide face or a thin face, or having a good sense of balance or a poor sense of balance, or having blood type A+ or A-. I’d love it if we had a gender-neutral pronoun to replace his and her. I think that ideally, gender would be just a physical variation which isn’t crucial for defining one’s sense of self.

  3. Superfreak, firstly it’s a nice surprise to get a thoughtful comment on an old article – thanks! You’ll have gathered if you read newer articles that my physical health is in a mess just now so I’ve kind of ground to a halt here – but will try and pick up the trail soon. Your comment encourages me to do so, and I may even repost it as a new entry to try and restart my weblog – I hope you don’t mind. I don’t know if you’ll be back to read this, but anyway…

    No, your comments don’t offend me in anyway. Any thoughtful comments, including those I disagreed with, couldn’t ever be offensive. How could they be? It’s a pleasure to get a response. But in fact I couldn’t agree with you more: I too believe sex and gender are determined by biology, indeed as you say, being black in terms of skin colour is about race (see catch below). The key here, is that they are determined at different stages in the biological process, as recent research is showing. Briefly and probably inaccurately (I’m not a biologist!): sex (if I can use that to mean body-parts, vaguely, in fact confusingly what biologists call “gender”) is determined by the foetus’s response to floods of hormones early on – all foetuses starting with a female shape – with the ones that react to androgen (because of XY chromosomes) turning male, forming testes, which continues the masculinising process, etc. Google for AIS to see what happens when a male foetus doesn’t react to androgen. Gender, in the way society/sociologists/the transgendered community use it, is about who you are – in your brain/mind. Again, there’s mounting evidence that this part (whether you feel like a boy or a girl) is formed by the effect of chemicals in the womb at a later (separate) stage of foetal development. The key here is that I’m agreeing fully with you: I think we’ll find gender identity is highly defined in the womb, but the gap between your slash in “sex/gender” is important. It makes it conceivable that people like me exist (and lots of us do) who can have one physical sex and the other internal gender identity – which really means a female brain in a male body, or vice versa.

    Sorry this reply is so long. I hope you or someone reads it and finds it explanatory of at least my position, and many others, and I hope some of the rest of my weblog explains this a little too, rambling as lots of it is. As to your last paragraph, I agree strongly too. Gender role is a very separate thing from identity, an (understandable) invention of society, and it’s terrible when people are forced to act in a role they may be uncomfortable with, because of how their bodies look. Transgendered people feel this more keenly than anyone: it really hurts, and has for all of my life, and in our gender-inflexible society can kill. I’d also reflect this back to your comments on being black: like being “inuit”, or “gay”, or countless other things, these indicate strong biologically-determined identities: but can also quite separately refer to what I would see as analogies to gender role: they define who I feel I identify with, where my “home” is. And very important social roles can exist without biological pre-determining factors too of course: being “rastafarian”, or “pentecostal”.

    You say in your last sentence:

    I think that ideally, gender would be just a physical variation which isn’t crucial for defining one’s sense of self.

    I’m not actual sure what my response is to this: I’ve often thought I’d like the world to consist of gender and sex-neutral blobs, when at my lowest and most pessimistic with regard to my own position. But I also often think sex and gender are wonderful things: giving us a sense of me-ness, of gentle polarity and definition which I’d rather have than blobness. And people don’t invent things on a whim: horrified as I am by modern (largely western) society’s christian and post-christian resistance to gender variation, unlike many other society’s acceptance of people like me as being natural variants rather than being wrong, bad or mad, gender roles seem to have evolved in every society we know of. There must be a reason for this, and, being so pervasive, it’s probably good for us in general, although of course good things can be used for bad so so often. This is however the least strongly emphasised paragraph I’m writing here, as I’m not sure what I think: certainly, the ubiquitous evolution of some social trait in all societies is no evidence of its moral worth.

    It occurs to me in retrospect that resistance to gender role prison is what this weblog was supposed to be about from the start: saying I’m sick to death of acting out a male gender role when my gender identity is so clearly female. But I’m aware many others non-transgendered (cisgendered) people fight a similar fight with societal expectations. That’s why it’s so disappointing when those others who reacted against the same policing, referred to in the original article, deny us the same freedoms.

    Finally on gender-neutral pronouns! There have been a zillion attempts at this, but as a (very!) amateur linguist I’d say it’s very hard to force new terms into language – its progress is too organic. Memes sometimes catch, for very interesting reasons, but you can’t just invent a new one and hope that it catches on (see my whimsical attempts at doing this with terms like jeebo/beejo!). For some interesting history of attempts at creating gender-neutral pronouns, see an FAQ here. Lots of people do persist in trying to use terms like “hir“, but for me, the good old “they” works well enough. Prescriptive linguists of 50 years ago thought it improper to use plural terms about singular objects (“a person walked into my shop today: they wanted some flowers”), but linguists of today generally tend to be more descriptive, and say it’s perfectly acceptable and a good example of the flexibility of language. Jane Austen used it..!

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