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Germaine Greer and the Transgender Community: An Interview with Transgender Activist Sophie Cook

Germaine Greer’s recent award from Oldie magazine as Iconoclast of the Year has been met with some speculation, especially from that of the transgender community after her award was won because of her comments against them. To be an iconoclast is to be a person who attacks or criticises cherished institutions or beliefs; and this is something that many transgender people suffer against every day. Greer had suggested among other comments that trans people who undergo sex change surgery are “inflicting an extraordinary act of violence” on themselves.

At news of her award, many activists spoke up, including transgender-activist Sophie Cook. Sophie argues that “gender dysphoria is not something that we choose, it is an intrinsic part of our very souls and to deny it led me and many other trans women to a lifetime battling self harm and suicidal feelings.”

Statistics suggest that suicide rates are eight times higher among transgender young people than among all 18 to 24 year olds, and that crimes against transgender people are on the increase.

Sophie’s comments follow a tirade of opinions by Germaine Greer about the transgender community dating as far back as 1999, when her book ‘The Whole Woman’ denounced transgender women as “men who believe they are women and have had themselves castrated” within the chapter ‘pantomime dames’. Germaine continues within this chapter with, “the insistence that man-made women be accepted as women is the institutional expression of the mistaken conviction that women are defective males.” Greer was glitter bombed in protest at these views at a book signing in 2012.

2016-Sophie Cook-Brighton College
Sophie Cook at Brighton College ~ 2016

Her seemingly old-fashioned views continue into her BBC Newsnight interview last year, in which she is questioned over her comments about the transgender community. Greer continues to argue her beliefs that women who are born men cannot be called women. “A lot of women don’t think that post-operative transgender women, sound, speak or look like women, but they daren’t say so”. She also hits back at comments made against her claiming reports of her being abusive towards transgender people is not true. However, her disbelief that men who feel uncomfortable as men and want to be able to change that, should not be recognised as a woman. When asked about Caitlyn Jenner, formally Bruce Jenner, winning the Glamour magazine’s Woman of the Year award, Greer concludes that this is all down to misogyny, claiming it is a classic case of “a man who goes more lengths to be a better woman than someone who is just born a woman”. She continues, “He/she wanted the limelight that the other female members of the (Kardashian) family were enjoying and has conquered it just like that”.

Sophie Cook continues her outrage at this explaining that, “’As well as being deeply hurtful and dismissive of transgender people’s very real pain, Greer’s bigotry attempts to lend a factual sheen to transphobia and this award is an obscene validation of dangerous hate speech disguised as intellectual thought.’” Greer’s remarks have also lost her an honouree doctorate at her former college, Cambridge University College, in which she was met with petitions to stop her talking at a lecture after her comments about the transgender community went viral.

Greer, when asked in an interview following BBC Newsnight about her thoughts on the matter claimed, “You can hold a knife to my throat, I won’t recognise trans people.” She follows with her views that she doesn’t believe people should not be allowed to go through with the procedure (that makes them a woman) but it does not MAKE them a woman.”

Accepting her award at the event, Greer commented “The most fuss and bother wasn’t for anything I said and did recently, rather it’s to do with what I wrote years ago. It was important to me that women understood femininity as a pose, a posture, a cultural artefact. I was talking about this fraud of femininity that women are persuaded to accept. I never actually bought into the fight. I was co-opted into the fight.”

Transgender activist Sophie Cook is Patron of the LGB&T Dorset Equality Network, a Healthwatch Dorset Champion, and a member of the Pan-Dorset LGBT Health Advisory Group. She talks about her life as a transgender woman, and how she grew up facing many difficulties eventually getting to, and becoming the person that she is today.

Information on Sophie Cook’s shows can be found here.

by Ciara Snowball

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