[Note : If you have views on reading this about the Tamsin Wilton award
then please direct them, as instructed to the conference and award
organisers at email@example.com (with a cc to Sam@lgf.org.uk)]
Row Erupts Over LGBT Health
Summit Community Awards
By Christine Burns with
Analysis by Stephen Whittle
Readers of PFC-News will recall that on Sunday I posted, in good faith,
an announcement from the LGBT Health Summit Steering Committee,
announcing a new series of annual awards for outstanding contributions
towards community advancement.
" The National LGBT Health Summit will honour and recognise individuals
who have contributed to the promotion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender health in the fields of research, employment, awareness and
the community organisation which has shown innovation in developing new
services and approaches to reducing health inequalities amongst LGBT
The awards created are:
- The Tamsin Wilton Award
- The Kinsey Award
- The James Miranda Barry Award
- The Community Service Award
What I didn't realise at the time of posting was that there is a body of
academic opinion that regards Tamsin Wilton, an academic sociologist, as
having been the author of a considerable amount of transphobic opinion,
singling out trans women especially.
Tamsin Wilton died suddenly from an Aneurism, in May 2006 -- so it's
always sensitive to deal in matters where the subject cannot explain or
qualify their actions. Prior to her sudden death at the age of 54, she
was Reader in the Sociology of Sex and Sexualities at the School of
Health Sciences, University of the West of England, Bristol. She was
also instrumental in developing the first National LGBT Health Summit --
so it is understandable that she should be very much in the frame to be
remembered permanently through the naming of an award in her honour.
However, shortly after my posting of the awards notice on Sunday I was
contacted by PFC's own Dr Lewis Turner, himself an experienced
sociologist, to query whether Tamsin might be an inappropriate figure
for an award which trans people could qualify to receive.
To quote again from the award descriptions,
" The Tamsin Wilton Award is awarded each year by the National LGBT
Health Summit to an individual who is felt to have contributed the most
to championing and promoting the awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual or
transgender health issues at a national level. "
As a precautionary measure I promptly drew the possible controversy to
the attention to associates with a connection to the Health Summit. I
also decided to personally delay considering any nominations I might
make for community figures in the awards -- and also made a hard
personal decision to decline the offer a nominations myself, until the
facts of Tamsin's life work and publications had been investigated
I'm sad to say that my discreet raising of concerns behind the scenes
was not greeted at all constructively. I'm also sad to say that a report
yesterday by Stephen Whittle, examining Tamsin's actual publication
record bears out the original concerns too.
Stephen last night published his originally private analysis on the LGBT
Health Forum last night, but has since been admonished by the list admin
there, declaring the whole topic of Tamsin's publication history off
Apparently, representations about the suitability of Tamsin Wilton as
the figurehead for an award concerned with LGBT Health can only be made
to the steering group -- not debated in that forum.
I wasn't previously going to put this matter into the public domain --
hoping it COULD be handled discreetly and intelligently in private.
However in the circumstances I feel that the best way in which trans
people's interests can be served is to publish this background and
Stephen's analysis in full.
Please make your own minds up and communicate your thoughts to :
firstname.lastname@example.org (with a cc to Sam@lgf.org.uk)
- Christine Burns
Stephen Whittle's analysis:
From: LGBTHealthUK@yahoogroups.com [mailto:LGBTHealthUK@yahoogroups.com]
On Behalf Of Stephen Whittle
Sent: 13 July 2007 00:28
Subject: [LGBTHealthUK] Wilton - was she transphobic?
long but worthy of attention (IMHO)
In a recent email interchange Christine Burns made the claim that Tamsin
Wilton seemed to have been transphobic in her academic work. An unnamed
gay man's response was that,
"The role of the academic is to question and contemplate and explore,
many academics say things deliberately to provoke. As the debate on the
list-server after the Jule Bindell article showed there is not a unified
voice in the Trans community on many of these issues, and what one
individual views as a parlour game, others will view as an academic
dissection and discussion which leads to a better understanding of the
context of gender and identity."
It may seem inappropriate to discuss this 'on list' but I am certain
that it is the continued views of both feminists and lesbians, as well
as patriarchal heteronormative people, in relation to trans women in
particular, that legitimate and perpetrate the views that trans people
are reactionary, stereotypical, have terrible dress sense, and have a
major mental health problem (after all they could not possibly be what
they say they are - women). Unfortunately it is views like that that
damage the health care access and treatments that trans people get.
Hence I would say it is very relevant to this list serve.
I am an academic and a transsexual man, and I would like to add support
to the claim that, at least, in her academic career Wilton was
transphobic. I have known thousands of trans people, and I am very aware
of the human frailty of trans people. But even so, despite their faults
they are too viciously attacked both metaphorically as well as
Wilton , it would seem, has now been deified through the LGBT health
summit's proposal to name a major award after her. This was the problem
highlighted in Christine Burn's email; how can an award named in honour
of Wilton ever be accepted by a trans person?
No matter what we might 'do' as individuals, I think that it is clear
that those of us who are Academics have a duty to remember that our
responsibilities are to the whole of society. As such, as academics, we
must be very careful before making assumptions about any individual or
groups that lead us to make any form of statement, or publish any thing
that is belittling or disparaging or critical, without a firm
evidential basis on which to make it. It is not appropriate for
academics to "say things deliberately to provoke" unless that is for
very good reason. Undermining the gender status of thousands of people
who have had very hard lives does not seem to me to be good reason.
I don't know how many trans people Tamsin Wilton knew, and I did not
know her in anything other than an academic capacity and even then from
a distance. Just as an interesting and maybe important sideline, it
still astonishes me that in our modern world, the 4 main sites of queer
study in the UK; Lancaster, Keele, Kent and Essex have never had any
trans people on their academic staff. We are not in that short a
But back to Wilton; It seems it is an imperative in this discussion to
look at what Wilton did write, academically, about trans people.
Let's take a couple of examples. I have deliberately set out not to make
these rarefied but rather ordinary in terms of Wilton's writing, and
anyone doing a similar sort of exercise will find several other similar
examples to consider.
Firstly referring to Wilton's article Out/Performing Our Selves: Sex,
Gender and Cartesian Dualism (Sexualities, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 237-254,
May 2000) - (the comments in italics are all mine).
In her 2nd paragraph she says,
"I stress that this article is not 'about' transsexual people" (she says
she is not talking about real transsexual people)
then she proceeds on her 2nd page (p 238) to say the following about
MTF accounts (i.e. the things trans women have said or written), while
deeply personal, are nevertheless inevitably political. (I would agree
but in a different way than she does)
The MTF claim (ie. The things that trans women make claims about) to be
in the wrong body speaks from a position which depends on a
master-discourse of gender and the erotic -heteropolarity - for its
coherence (Wilton, 1996). (note, she cites herself in support of this
claim, she does not refer to anything that trans women have actually
said or claimed)
the implications of MTF discourse (again the things trans women have
said) should trouble (feminists and queers) on three key levels.....
First, the discursive package which makes credible the contention that
one can 'be' a woman, despite a corporeality that 'is' a man, operates
in the interests of hegemonic regimes of gender. (i.e. the things that
trans women say include saying that a man can be a woman supports the
patriarchy - I must say that most trans people I know are obliged to
make a variety of different claims to different audiences, depending
upon the audience member's sophistication, but most also know that they
may have pretended to be men, but they were never 'real men').
Second, there is a strong tendency for MTF discourses to police gendered
performativity in a remarkably rigid way, reinscribing conservative
markers of masculinity and femininity into lexica of 'manning' and
'womanning' (Ekins, 1997) in ways that stand in opposition to the
liberatory potential of constructionist accounts. (she claims that Ekins
supports her view that the majority of trans women state they want
gender markers and roles to continue in a reactionary as opposed to
liberationist way, and to be heteronormatively stereotypical)
Finally, MTF discourse participates in constructs of the sexed body
which are themselves sexist, and which contribute to a female
corporeality which is, as I hope to demonstrate, complicit in the
invalidation of queers and women. (she claims that trans women say and
do things that are sexist and which support a view of women's bodies and
their biological limitations, and this results in invalidating the
voices of women, and lesbian and gay people - n.b. Wilton's other work
takes the view that only lesbians are truly queer)
I would ask anyone to look at those words carefully, and ask whether her
claim that she is not talking about trans women as real people can hold
up to any critical viewpoint.
Ironically the only 2 trans women she attempts to engage with are Kate
Bornstein and Claudine Griggs, but of whom are really gender
transgressive, and Wilton attempts to engage with them in order to
support her own thesis; that all the other trans women who exist are not
transgressive. Interestingly there is not another trans woman whose
gender views she quotes. I suspect because she had not bothered to read
the huge variety of accounts that exists because they would have
undermined her monotheistic view.
As such, Wilton could not possibly have claimed that she is 'not '
putting words into the mouths of trans women because she does, and in
the most inventive of ways ; by pretending she knows what they say in
private. She could not possibly have claimed and that those words are
not implying a derogation of these women because she actually sets out
to say trans woman are men.
She certainly does not know the modern trans community I know of.
Perhaps Wilton's view could be a semi-accurate reflection of Cannary
Conn's 1956 autobiography or Jan Morris's 1973 autobiography, but they
were written in a different time and a different place, and in very
different circumstances (I was around the scene in 1974 and I know that
we were nothing more than pieces of shit to be wiped off other people's
shows and, that we would make any claim we could in order to protect
ourselves from the slings and arrows, fire bombings, physical attacks
Perhaps if we look at one particular sentence we can see where Wilton
was coming from:
"The MTF transsexual experiences pain because of his inability to ensure
that his body is not 'read' in ways dissonant with his 'self'."
To Wilton, the academic, a trans woman is always him, his, he. There is
not even the grace to use the infamous quotation marks of Janice
Raymond, that is to write "her', 'her's' and 'she'. Without even a by
your leave, Wilton writes off all trans women as men.
My 2nd example refers to what Wilton says in her online article in the
glbtq online encyclopedia about Del LaGrace Volcano (see
http://www.glbtq.com/arts/grace_d.html ), who is a personal friend I
have known well for over 14 years.
Wilton says of Volcano (who lives his day to day life as a man, in which
situation he does not face physical assault on too regular a basis)
"she has never bothered to engage thoughtfully with criticisms that her
work degrades women. Critics, especially feminists or lesbians, are met
with insults or posturing. "Some French lesbians seem to be deeply
resentful of anything that throws them off their precarious
pseudo-feminist perch," she remarked, and added: "BOLLOCKS to that, I
say! I'm a Gender Terrorist, a walking, talking bomb in The Boys' Club."
Grace's gender politics are deeply felt, but they are highly subjective
and do not hold up well against the challenges of her more articulate
and politically informed critics."
Firstly, again Wilton wrote off the lives of all trans or intersex men,
by repeatedly referring to Volcano in the feminine. Secondly Del is not
an academic at Wilton's level, he is a photographer and he engages with
culture through his photographs, and cannot possibly be expected to
engage with his critics through the written word. However, he is does
aspire to the academic in his performance pieces and Wilton is
referring to the stance he takes to perform gender terrorism i.e. to
critically and effectively undermine the stances of those people,
including some lesbians and feminists, and to say that their normative
view of gendered lives is in itself reactionary. He is equally highly
critical of some men's heteronormative and patriarchal world views.
In the same article, Wilton said of Volcano:
"her portfolio of drag kings ensures that transgender culture is no
longer so dominated by the stories of queens, fairies, and
In as such, Wilton condemns the culture of all trans people to being
sexist and stereotypical.
So yes, I have no doubts that Wilton was not publicly supportive of
trans people. Wilton used us as fodder for her academic career, and I
have no reason, other than Justin's assertions, to believe that she
ever took the time out to care for us, to listen to us and to understand
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