We Need to Talk About Transgender: A Response | Natacha Kennedy

I am very grateful to Student Voices for allowing me the right to respond to the article written by Belinda Brown entitled “We Need to Talk about the Transgender Movement.

Trans people are a very small minority, probably only around 1% of the population, and less than 13% of people have knowingly met one of us.  So what is said about us in the media is important because it can colour the impressions and opinions of the other 87%.

On reading the article, my initial reaction was that people like Belinda Brown, need to visit a small temple in Kyoto. I know that sounds odd but please bear with me…

However, initially, I have to take issue with the way Brown regards us as the “Transgender Movement”. We are “Transgender People”. What may appear a “Movement” to her suggests she regards the emergence of trans people as little more than recent a fad. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pilot Officer Roberta Cowell, a D-Day veteran who transitioned in the 1950s. The Cheveliere D’Eon was a French aristocrat who transitioned in London in 1777, Charley Parkhurst, Ray Leonard, Joseph Lobdell… I could go on, there are many documented examples of trans people from history.  A recent archaeological excavation in Prague revealed a 5,000 year old trans woman, and trans people have existed in other societies, such as in Samoa, India, pre-Columbian North and Central America, Indonesia, Polynesia and Hawaii for centuries at least, probably millennia. This history also suggests that her assertion that the “categories of male and female are being eroded” are baseless. At least last time I visited the Czech Republic there was absolutely no sign of these categories being eroded since that trans woman lived.

Bizarrely Brown starts her article arguing that there is a 100% overlap between biological sex, gender identity and gender expression”

Leaving aside the implications of her apparent erasure of trans people such as myself (and indeed other people like tomboys and butch lesbians) for at least 5,000 years of human history, it would appear that she is in effect arguing that there is something biological that makes boys like blue and girls like pink. She then complains about trans people “choosing their own pronouns” and using the appropriate loos. The implication being that she gets to decide other people’s genders regardless of their identities; an esprit fasciste which seems to privilege her worldview over things such as human rights, freedom, self determination, respect and common human decency. 

She continues… “We are taught that a group of people is oppressed and suffering, and because our bodies are so damnably male and female their suffering is largely our fault.”

As far as I know her body is not oppressing anyone. However, cultural attitudes, like those expressed in her article are. Attitudes are the problem not embodiment, presentation or gender identity. After dismissing the idea that trans people might have a point when we say depression is caused by social exclusion resulting from such attitudes, she mentions trans people’s “issues”.

Most trans people don’t have any “issues” about being trans per se. What does cause 'issues' are other people’s attitudes, social exclusion, transphobia, misrepresentation of us in the media and the idea that our experiences make us less important or worthy of consideration than others. In fact trans people’s 'issues' are overwhelmingly, if not entirely, caused by others. My gender isn’t a problem.  Her beliefs are.

There seems to be little factual content in her article, but that which is presented as factual does not take account of any actual facts:

“I would like to question whether encouraging a non-binary identity does any favour to the individual male or female. For many children, gender confusion is a condition which resolves. And for those who go so far as to opt for surgery the outcomes are surprisingly poor.”

Untangling these non-sequiturs, if someone identifies as non-binary then not acknowledging that is harmful, and furthermore non-binary people are not 'male' or 'female' they are non-binary. This suggests that it is Brown who is confused not anyone else, especially trans children. In fact a study by Olson et al (2015) demonstrated that trans kids are not at all confused about their gender. And the satisfaction rate for gender confirmation surgery is in excess of 98%, and possibly higher than 99%. If Brown thinks trans surgical outcomes are “surprisingly poor” she should compare them to other forms of surgery, some of which have satisfaction rates close to 50%. Indeed the highest satisfaction rate I could find for any other type of surgery was laser eye surgery which is described as having a “very high” satisfaction rate of 96%.

For Brown, facts seem to be secondary to some kind of imaginary state of affairs:

“While a tiny minority of children and an even tinier minority of adults may not feel at home with the sex of their body we should not deny what is of fundamental importance to everyone else.”

Trans people are not denying what Brown argues is of “fundamental importance” to others, we are merely describing what is of fundamental importance to us.

So although this would appear to be an article about trans people there is nothing, as far as I can see, that anyone can learn about trans people from it. There is however a great deal to learn about Belinda Brown from it, and it is fascinating reading;

“As a young woman I experienced the full gamut of sexual harassment which apparently sends my feminist sisters into safe little corners. Yet my self-esteem and self-identity remained alarmingly in-tact.”

This gets to the nub of the problem. By regarding other people’s situations only from her own position people like Brown reveal an inability to go beyond their own egocentric interpretation of the world. This is why I recommend that such individuals visit the peaceful temple of Ryoanji in Kyoto. The beautiful Zen Buddhist garden there, probably dating back to the Muromachi Period, is designed to convey the message that you can never understand the whole world if you look at it from only one point of view.


Olson, K.R., Key, A. C., & Eaton, N. R. (2015). Gender cognition in transgender children. Psychological Science, 26, 467-474.

By Natacha Kennedy
Goldsmiths College and University College London

Header photo: Tom Maday via Christian Today
We Need to Talk About Transgender: A Response | Natacha Kennedy We Need to Talk About Transgender: A Response | Natacha Kennedy Reviewed by Student Voices on 20:03 Rating: 5

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