Petitioning 4 Morpeth Mansions, Morpeth Terrace, London, SW1P 1ER OPUS : Organisation for Promoting Understanding of Society

OPUS, cease support & promotion of Transphobic speech in academia

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We ask that OPUS cease support and promotion for the event “Attacks on Thinking in the Age of LGBTQWIIAP+” on the 23rd September 2017. We believe that the dishonest and exclusionary approach put forward in the event is, rather than being an expression of free speech, stifling the very possibility of a productive conversation about the issues the event is purporting to raise. Furthermore, this approach signals a dangerous refusal either to engage honestly with current knowledge regarding transgender issues, or to seek to move beyond a political frame informed by cisgender privilege.

The promotional material for this event argues that increasing mainstream acceptance of notions of “gender fluidity, intersexuality [and] transsexuality” constitutes a threat to the impartiality of researchers and academics. The example provided is Rebecca Tuvel’s article “In Defence of Transracialism,” for which the journal Hypatia subsequently issued an apology. We believe that this example constitutes a misrepresentation both of the content of the article itself and the controversy created by it. Firstly, to claim that Tuvel suggests “similarities between transracialism and trans-sexuality” implies an investigation of these concepts which is absent from her article, the object of which is (as the title suggests) a political defence of transracialism. Secondly, even a cursory examination of the criticisms directed towards the article, such as the open letter to Hypatia, the public apology by Cressida Heyes or the many commentaries by scholars working in the field of critical race theory and transgender studies will reveal far more substance to these criticisms than a challenge to the “legitimacy” of questions she may or may not have raised. Rather, they refer to serious and potentially damaging theoretical and ethical failures. In particular, it was argued that the dehistoricization of the categories of gender and race and the reduction of these categories to interchangeable axes of oppression is harmful because it seeks to conceal and thus legitimate the particular history of conceptual and literal violence which accompanies these categories and which is not, as the article alleges, confined to the past but continues to this day in the form of racist and transphobic discrimination. Again, we can only assume that the decision to characterize these arguments as “attacks on thought” is, in and of itself, an attempt to delegitimize forms of political critique which are, in fact, highly relevant to the issues this event proposes to cover.

Again, we wish to stress that this is not an attempt to shut down much needed examination and critique, both in the field of psychotherapy and in academia more broadly, of therapeutic approaches to treating transgender people. However, we believe that this process must be attentive to and engaged with the consequences which transgender people may face as a result, and should where possible seek to include transgender perspectives and to invite dialogue. We do not believe that framing critique of the political implications of knowledge as “attacks on thought”, or denying the legitimacy of transgender perspectives by presenting those who hold them as bullying activists or passive victims who are “shepherded into hormonal and surgical treatment” meets this standard. Similarly, we question the necessity or relevance of a conversation about transgender identities which resists critique, refuses engagement beyond disciplinary lines and which treats transgender people themselves as problems, rather than as the potential beneficiaries of such a conversation.

Above all, we find it deeply alarming that OPUS is facilitating a public event featuring a speaker with a history of outspoken transphobic and unsupported social media statements, such as comparing sex reassignment surgery to genital mutilation or voluntary amputation and equating gender with the possession of chromosomes. That this event utilizes misleading information to present a narrative in which the diversity of gender expression is presented as a threat to researchers and academics is particularly disturbing.

The past century has provided many examples of psychoanalysis and analytical psychology being wielded against LGBTQ+ persons. Whether it was Jung’s claims of ‘curing homosexuality’, or more recently, Nicolosi, who in his CV “would revive this now-abandoned body of case studies and psychoanalytic literature written by the founding fathers and mothers of his profession” to found NARTH, one of the largest 'gay conversion therapy' movements in the USA, the delegitimation and removal of agency from LGBTQ+ persons is dangerous. Particularly when medical accessibility is already difficult for transgender individuals.

We suggest, conversely, that the practice of psychotherapy entails a degree of influence and the ability to play a role in shaping the future treatment of transgender individuals, who are at widespread and demonstrable risk of attacks to the legitimacy of their gendered identities, attacks on their inclusion within the rights and privileges accorded to human beings and ultimately attacks on their physical person. To this end, we hope you will agree that this event does not meet your stated organizational aims of promoting understanding of social processes, or of encouraging responsible citizenship.

Thomas Sparrow, Doctoral Candidate in Gender Studies.
Shehzad Raj, Doctoral Candidate in Psychoanalysis.

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  • 4 Morpeth Mansions, Morpeth Terrace, London, SW1P 1ER
    OPUS : Organisation for Promoting Understanding of Society


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