Historiography Saturday: Julie Bindel

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Julie Bindel is an English columnist whose work on gender and feminism is frequently featured in The Guardian and several other prominent publications. Sex trafficking and prostitution are among her specific areas of interest and subjects of original research. She identifies as a political lesbian and has written a book on generational changes in the gay community where she argues that heterosexuality is enforced by societal pressure. In addition to the controversy over the origins of homosexuality, Bindel has received criticism for her views on transsexuality.

While this blog takes no stance on the origins of same-sex attraction and gender variance, its existence does presuppose the importance of those categories as identities with consistent meanings. The tag “lesbian” usually indicates a woman who is primarily or exclusively attracted to other women; however, according to the political lesbian text Love Your Enemy?, lesbianism is defined not by the presence of an attraction to women but by the absence of sexual conduct with men. While political lesbianism is a relatively fringe viewpoint, other definitional debates exist in the queer community (e.g. what degree of attraction to which gender qualifies someone as bisexual, or if there is a difference between transgender and transsexual), creating a challenge for anyone whose work requires drawing boundaries between the categories.

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Aaron Devor

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Aaron Devor, the author of the groundbreaking book of interviews FTM: Female-to-Male Transsexuals in Society, is a Canadian sexologist and sociologist. Although his biographical page is not up to date (he has since transitioned to male), the general narrative arc is there: Devor started as an gender activist before becoming an academic, with his Master’s thesis on what he called “gender blending” serving as the bridge. The thesis, which featured interviews with masculine women, was later developed into a full book, and Devor adopted a similarly ethnographic style for his mammoth FTM.

Outside of his theoretical gender work, Devor runs a website about the Erickson Educational Foundation, and has conducted his own biographical research on the life of its namesake, Reed Erickson, an American trans man who helped fund mid-20th century gender clinics. He was also a member of the World Professional Organization of Transgender Health committee that wrote the sixth edition of its standards of care.

 

Magnus Hirschfeld

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German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld was lucky enough to begin his work shortly before the Weimar Republic years, but unlucky enough to see much of it destroyed in a Nazi conflagration. His motto, “Per Scientiam ad Justitiam” (“through science to justice”), drove him to approach queer activism from a researcher’s perspective, with the hope that education – including a film he co-wrote and acted in – would help end homophobia. He postulated that there were numerous varieties of sexual intermediacy, categorized by what would now be called sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity; for a time, he classified homosexuals as a “third sex”. Hirschfeld himself was a private person, but later biographies suggest he was gay or bisexual, and certainly had at least two male lovers.

Hirschfeld was a pop culture figure in life who inspired everything from caricatures, to Ireland’s first LGBT center, to a decades-long hunt for his personal belongings. Germany issued funding in the early 2000s to establish the Bundesstiftung Magnus Hirschfeld (Magnus Hirschfeld National Foundation)

 

Sandy Stone

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Allucquére Rosanne “Sandy” Stone, the woman acknowledged as the founder of academic transgender studies, started out her career as a lab researcher and traveling “feral filmmaker” who talked professors into allowing her to audit their classes. After finally earning a graduate degree she settled into work as a recording engineer, working with artists like Jimi Hendrix and dressing in a long black cape. Her participation in a feminist recording collective where she lived for four years was personally called out by Janice Raymond in her book The Transsexual Empire, sparking the salvo that would inspire Stone’s own essay, The Empire Strikes Back, considered the seminal transgender studies text.

Stone now teaches and studies media, theorizing on – among other things – technology and the shifting role of academia. A video of her speaking at the European Graduate School where she now teaches (along with several other universities) is available here. She also writes and creates gallery installations to illustrate her theories.

Jean Wyllys

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Politician, journalism professor, and winning contestant on Brazil’s Big Brother, Jean Wyllys is an unlikely champion for LGBT rights. An academic to the core, Wyllys had entered the competition to conduct an ethnographic study, but came out publicly during filming, making him the show’s first openly queer contestant. He moved into the political realm and joined up with the Socialism and Freedom Party, then won his Parliamentary election, becoming the country’s first openly gay MP. At the time of this posting he is focusing on social reforms like combatting homophobia from Brazilian religious factions and improving the legal status of prostitutes.

His Facebook account can be found here; his Twitter, here. Both are in Portuguese.