'Genderquake: The Debate' - What I Thought

                      Alex Lorien

Being the organiser of a LGBTQ+ group brings with it some obligations … it seems.


To paraphrase Spidey’s uncle; “To have barely any power, influence or standing, brings great responsibility”, because I have been asked make an “official statement on Arcadia’s views on the episode ‘Genderquake: The Debate’” to “add to the voice of LGBTQAIP+ organisations, groups, and services across the country”.


‘Genderquake’ is a TV show on Channel 4 that is airing, and describes thusly: “In 21st century Britain, what it means to be a man or a woman is changing. Eleven strangers of different gender identities and sexualities spend a week together - with explosive results.”


It is a forerunner to the issue of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which is the legislation that determines whether or not you can have the sex on your birth certificate changed, and the process you have to go through in order to get a ‘yes’.


At the moment, if you want to have the sex changed on your birth certificate, you have to meet strict requirements:

  • You have to be 18 or over,

  • You need to live as your preferred gender for at least two years,

  • You need an official diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria (the medical term for feeling uncomfortable with the sex you were born with),

  • You need to persuade a panel of experts that you want to change your gender,

  • The whole process costs at minimum £140.


That’s a lot of hoops to jump through (and some of these people have to do it heels!).


The Act is up for deliberation by Parliament soon. I have, in fact, petitioned Doncaster Central’s MP Rosie Winterton to ask her to support a change in the Act that would make it easier for a person wanting to make that change. She replied that she would, I’ll post the letter she sent shortly.


As to my response?


I said ‘no.


The reason I said no, is that, although we most certainly are a part of the LGBTQAIP+ “voice” (and yeah, I had to look up those other letters too. They stand for: Asexual/Allies, Intersex, Pansexual, with the + standing for other marginalized orientations), there is no way of me interviewing each and every one of Arcadia’s members, smushing them together, and making a coherent statement. Well, maybe I could have interviewed everybody, but I know for a fact that, having spoken to a few of my members, they don’t all hold the same, or even similar, views.


They were, however, relentless. They “understood” my position and “respected” my reasons, then proceeded to ask me “as a leader of an LGBTQAIP+ group, would you personally be willing to make a statement?”.

I sighed. I deliberated. I agreed.


Why? Well, why not? This is a contentious issue which affects members of my group and my friends. You might argue that, since this is a primarily ‘trans-issue’ that I should keep my claptrap shut. Well … you might be right. But if Germaine Greer can have public opinion on the matter, then why not me?


On with the show.


Who is who?


Before I watched the show, I decided to see who was on it, and learn a bit about them. This way, I would have some understand of their position when they expressed their views. Get me!

So who do we have? (By the way, thank you Wikipedia).


Munroe Bergdorf: “...is a British model, activist and former club owner. Bergdorf was the first transgender model in the UK for L'Oréal although after a racial row she was dropped by L'Oréal. Bergdorf is currently employed by Illamasqua.” - this lady is one of the two transwomen on the panel … I guess they had two as to avoid tokenism, but it’s a good thing; I ain’t dissing that.

Anywho, her merits for being on this panel are that she is a transwoman. I say this without disdain, because who better to discuss gender, than a person who stands outside societal norms when it comes to the very issue.


Now, Berdorf has had some controversy in the past. As mentioned my quote, she was dropped L'Oréal following a “racial row” (in brief, she made comments which included the claim that all white people were guilty of "racial violence" and that the white race was "the most violent and oppressive force of nature on Earth". The defence was that the comments were “edited out of context”), but this is a debate on gender, and she is very active on social media on trans-rights, and has some well-thought, well-put points on gender. After reading some of her tweets and comments, I’m happy she’s on the panel.


Next we have Caitlyn Jenner, who probably needs the least amount of introducing than any of the others, but you know, let’s copy/paste anyway: “Caitlyn Marie Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner, is an American television personality and retired Olympic gold medal-winning decathlete. Previously identifying publicly as male, Jenner revealed her identity as a transwoman in April 2015 … Her name and gender change became official on September 25, 2015. She has been called the most famous openly transgender woman in the world.” This transwoman is included, I suppose, because her transition was very public (in fact, it was made into a reality TV show … your thoughts in the comments, please). So she has been invited from Across The Pond to debate on our screens the issue of gender identity. Fair enough.


Coming in third (in the C4 listing) is Germaine Greer: “Germaine Greer is an Australian writer and public intellectual, regarded as one of the major voices of the second-wave feminist movement in the latter half of the 20th century. Greer's ideas have created controversy ever since her first book, The Female Eunuch (1970), made her a household name. An international bestseller and a watershed text in the feminist movement, the book offered a systematic deconstruction of ideas such as womanhood and femininity, arguing that women are forced to assume submissive roles in society to fulfill male fantasies of what being a woman entails.”


Now, it’s probably a toss-up (and yes, I can see how that particular phrase might not fit here) between Germaine and Caitlyn as to just which is the most controversial character here.


Caitlyn Jenner is a Republican (sort of like an American ‘Tory’, but with guns and hate), who has, in the past opposed same-sex marriage.


Germaine Greer made a statement that “transwomen are not real women.”


Now, both women have apparently back-pedaled on those stances, and … well … to be honest, after searching the internet for ages (read: 10 minutes), I’m still not sure where they stand on big gender issues. Maybe we’ll find out on the show.


Lastly is Sarah Ditum, who, inconveniently for me, has no wikipedia entry (poor Sarah), so I’ll just have a look …. and now can say that: “Sarah Ditum is a regular writer for the New Statesman about feminism, politics, and culture. She and her husband, Nathan, have a podcast called "The Mispronounced Item.” on which they talk about any and every topic they would with no apparent agenda.” I have read some of her tweets and … this should be interesting. She seems to have the most complex views on trans issues. I’ll quote one she put, seemingly regarding the episode:

“Amazing that that debate happened at all, so wheels not spinning off till halfway is an achievement.

- Trans activists don't want to talk about men who'll abuse self-ID

- "They'll rape you anyway" is a bad argument

- & trans activists are stunningly chill about sterilising kids” @saraditum


By this point in my “statement” (which I bet they didn’t know was gonna be this long, hahaha), I think it’s time I STFU and watched the darn thing.


*Grabs coffee, e-cig, notepad, and phone (in case things get boring)*


Here goes:


Hold up!! I got 1 minute 14 seconds into the show before I had to stop it. It seems those four weren’t the whole panel. Included were Kenny Jones, a transgender male model who has appeared in quite a few LGBT publications to talk about his experiences, including his job and topics such as menstruation; then Ash Sarkar, a senior editor at Novara Media, and lectures in political theory at Anglia Ruskin and the Sandberg Instituut and, from what I could see, very much vocal on issues such as racism and feminism. Again, lastly, Jen Powell: BOi Box founder and drag king performer, whose alter ego is Adam All.


I also found out that “some people who were asked did not want to take part  because they believed that debating this, questioned their very right to exist.” Which is an important note; some trans-activists believe it is insulting to debate the topics, which included (but were not limited to) questions such as:

“Can you be a woman if you have a penis?”

“Can men have periods?”

“Should we say pregnant ‘women’ or pregnant ‘people’?”

“What does it mean to be a ‘woman’, ‘man’ or ‘none of the above’?


*Gets more coffee, unpauses*

What Went On?


The show followed a pretty good format. The presenter asked interesting questions. She began by asking each of the panelists what pronouns they use to self-identify (so Sarkar said “she/her” and actually identified with as a “cis-gendered woman”, Jones as “he/him”, while Powell said “they/them”). Sarah Ditum did not answer the question, pointing out that that’s “not how pronouns work” and she thought, as she would continue to point out throughout the episode, you can’t just choose whatever pronoun you want and expect the world to use it … really, Sarah? We’ll see.


I found out some facts during the show such as:

  • Facebook recognises 71 genders [Whaaaaat? I thought we had a lot of letters in our acronym, but I’m not sure what we’d do with 71 letters! That would make for a very intense letterhead]

  • Bergdorf pointed out that the life expectancy for a transwoman is 35 years old. [though she didn’t say it, I assumed (and then checked and found my assumptions to be correct) that this is an international statistic. I couldn’t find one for the UK; I assume it would be slightly better, but without evidence, I can’t really make any claims.]

  • According to Stonewall; half of trans people in the UK have attempted suicide.

  • Over the last 7 years, the number of children identfying as ‘trans’ in one form or another, has increased by over two thousand percent.

  • And the number of children who were assigned female at birth and who wanted to transition to male rose by three and a half thousand percent. Blimey!


And all this within the first five minutes of the show.


As they went round the table, my first impressions were that Caitlyn Jenner seemed out of her depth. She said a lot, without actually saying anything. It was all very soft and placating and, probably due to her star status, she didn’t get talked over during her (sometimes rambling) speeches. She did get stronger as the show progressed, though, bringing up points such as what her children now call her (which is, incidentally, ‘dad’, but they also use ‘she’ as well. I found that to be very heart-warming).


Greer …. Germaine Greer. Writer; intellectual, major voice in the feminist movement since the 1970’s, and author of the universally acclaimed and much-quoted The Female Eunuch (1970). She brought up a point that I, personally, find interesting. She “resented” the phase “cis-gendered woman”, and though she didn’t really go into detail as to why she felt that way, I would chime in here and say I … kinda agree with her. Nowadays, a lot of our community use ‘cis-gendered’ as a term equating with ‘oppressor’, like not being on the many lettered LGBTQ+etc. spectrum makes you like the ‘Patriarchy’ of today’s society.


But to each their own. I call myself ‘queer’, not ‘gay’, which some people disagree with, saying it makes it ‘okay for straight people to call us it’, but I disagree. Just as black people reclaimed the N-word, so too I believe we should take the word ‘queer’ and make it out own. But that’s for a different conversation.


The show … well Sarah Ditum brings up a case of a man, who identified as a woman, was convicted of sexually aggravated burglary (she would break into women’s homes, put on their underwear, and take pictures), who I think went on to do something bad when she was transferred into a women's prison. The reason I don’t know the full story is that Bergdorf and Sarkar put her down hard, and rightly so, in my opinion (remember; this is just my opinion … little, inconsequential ‘me’). This was the same tactic gay men had to face when fighting for their rights. We were consistently compared to and lumped in with paedophiles. Ditum was trying to do the same with trans-people and sexual predators.


The other panelists made it quite clear that was only one known case; Sarah failed to bring out any other evidence, and promptly shut up. This pleased me. I hope she does that more.


Other things of note:


Germaine Greer was called out by the presenter for remarks she had made in the past, and asked Greer if what she said was transphobic. The comment she was referring to was when Greer has said “Just because a man lops of his dick and wears a dress, does not make him a fucking woman”. Greer firstly tries to deny she ever said it, then the presenter tells her where and when she said it, so Greer get’s a but flushed now, and I think she realises she’s in the shit. She tries to argue a few times, but to no avail. When the presenter asks again: “Is that comment ‘transphobic’?”, Greer says they are “unpleasant”. Yes, Germaine, they are. You know what they are, in addition to being “unpleasant”? TRANSPHOBIC. Damn!


Munroe Bergdorf points out that she doesn’t see why we should take into account the opinions of a woman who doesn’t even know what she said. This provokes a response from the audience, and not a very nice one, either.


Now, I am just gonna take a moment to say something about this: Munroe was heckled a few times by one woman in particular. The woman would shout “but, you’re a man” or “you have a penis”. In fact, Bergdorf even requested that the woman be removed, as she felt very attacked, and abused. Indeed, Offcom subsequently received over 100 complaints about the program. The woman wasn’t removed, which is a shame, because that was an incident of on the nose, transphobic abuse. That woman, the most vocal heckler on the night, was identified as Olivia Palmer, who stood as a candidate for the Green Party in the 2015 and 2017 General Elections.

Following complaints made by the LGBTIQA+ Greens and others, Palmer has now been suspended (hahaha).


LGBTIQA+ Greens addressed the incident in a statement:


“We would like to reiterate for everyone that there is no place in the Green Party for transphobia, and we are glad that the Party has been able to demonstrate its commitment to our policy - 'The Green Party recognises that transmen are men, transwomen are women, and that non-binary identities exist and are valid' - through its actions.

We would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to report this issue, and encourage people to continue calling out instances of transphobia when they see them.”


Despite her suspension Palmer remains unapologetic, even referring to Bergdorf as a man on Twitter. According to her Twitter feed, Palmer was also involved in distributing anti-trans leaflets at the women's FA Cup final on 5 May.


It’s annoying I had to take up so much space on such a horrid woman, but I felt we needed a little naming and shaming.


Ash Sarkar very quickly becomes my favourite person on the show. Her points are well made and valid, and she shuts down the heckler neatly before moving on. She raises the question of ‘solidarity’; why are women, both trans and biologically born, not all in this together, sticking up for each other? Good question, and one that isn’t answered by the … well … opposition? I’m not sure if that’s the word, but Greer and Ditum say nothing.


Then the conversation turns to children.


As I stated in the facts I learned earlier, the number of children going through a gender-change journey is growing by percentages in their thousands.


Now, if a child says they feel they are in the wrong body, they are sometimes given a ‘blocker’, which will halt the production of testosterone or oestrogen that would get fired out when puberty comes around. This would supposedly give the child time to consider what they really want, and, if they decide they want to stay as they are, they stop taking the blockers and nature takes its (hairy, spotty, greasy, disgusting) course.


Sarah Ditum was the most vocal here about this; she argues that it’s not that simple, and that being on blockers for a long time can cause significant developmental problems, including permanent sterilisation. She is shocked at the rather liberal way that doctors are willing to give out these blockers, without much thought of the ramifications.


She has a point. Doesn’t she? I think she does. I mean, I don’t want to agree with her, but are young children emotionally developed enough to make that kind of decision? Children aren’t usually given the right to self-consent; that lies with the parents.


Greer chimes in and points out that; how can a person ‘know’ they are actually of the opposite sex when they have never experience being one of the opposite sex. Touche, Greer; touche …


I’m not trans, so I don’t know. But every trans person I have ever met (bar none), have told me they felt they were trapped inside the wrong body; that something was wrong; that what they had ‘down there’ was not right for them.


Ditum goes on to make one really bad point and one really good one.


  • The bad (and it’s really bad): She says that females who want to become males, are only doing so because “being female is hard”. She states that it is because of sexual abuse, misogyny, rape and general prejudice, that means girls want to become boys to escape this … are you fucking kidding me? Does she think that these young people are going to have it easier when they start living as the sex they were not born in to? Really? They are going to face a ton of prejudice and discrimination if they decide to make that change. Stupid point.


  • The good: She states that research done in Russia shows that the young people who start this process, of them 50-80% of them never finish, and go on to live “happily as non-binary people”. She certainly has me there. I’m certainly not going to dismiss young people as ‘not knowing what they want’, but will accept that adolescence can be a confusing time, full of questions about identity, sexuality, and so much more.


But isn’t that what the blockers are for? Hmm. But then, if they do cause sterilisation in some people, should they be prescribed so easily? That’s a question I can’t answer, because I don’t know. Do you?


Finally, they pan to a couple of people in the audience who, it turns out, were actually in the show: Genderquake. Now, I haven’t seen the actual show. That comes next (and I promise the ‘What I Thought’ won’t be so long and rambling … probably). Because of this, I’m not going to say much, other than that the general consensus is that they did not feel it was a good, healthy debate. One of them pointed out a “lack of respect for the panelist” and I agreed with her.


What I Thought


Should I call it a ‘Verdict’? Sounds a bit aggressive and decisive … maybe conclusion? Nah; that seems too … well, academic. Sod it, let’s go with ‘What I Thought’ because that’s all this really is. My feelings and thoughts on what I saw, and I’m not going to make out like I speak for anybody but me.


Well, the show was … a bit of a mess.


Powell and Jones were largely ignored, which is a shame as they represent parts of our community that don’t often get a voice (in this case, a transman and a non-specific, non binary person). Rather the floor was given mostly to Jenner and Munroe, with the presenter hopping over to Greer and Ditum, almost fishing for counterpoints and arguments.


Sarkar was excellent; I want her to be my friend. She should have had more time, really, as she made some excellent points that made me stop and think about the issue, rather than spending my time wondering who I like/dislike more among the panelists.


Do I think the debate was necessary? Yes! Do I think it was a success? No!


Why? Because it wasn’t long enough (some could argue it might never have been long enough, no matter how much time was given to it); the people who should have shared more of their experience (Jen Powell and Kenny Jones) were not given any time at all, and the whole thing seemed biased towards trans-people.


Now … that may sound like I think I don’t agree with the ‘trans-side’ of the argument, because I did. But the presenter was obviously on the side of the trans-people in her aggressive questioning of Sarah Ditum and Germaine Greer. I dislike them both, but fair should be fair. And I think, because of this imbalance, it prompted people in the audience to chime in, as if they had to in order to keep some sort of equilibrium.


I hope this is just one of many to come, because I think the debate was pretty much a waste of time. At best it was mildly informative (77 genders!) and at worst it was a circus of petty comparisons and rude comments.


Watch it, if you like. It has its place. But I really wish I had never.


That’s it from me, folks. Be sure to check out more of my nonsensical ramblings under ‘Our Thoughts’


Alex Lorien