Tamsin Wilton as I knew her.
I knew Tamsin over a period of about three years. She was my external PhD supervisor until she died. I only came to know Tamsin after the two pieces cited would have been written (2002) and published. I can vouch, as a person with trans and intersex experience and academic, that I had no personal impression of any transphobia on her part. She was always courteous and warm, having me stay in her home at our last meeting, not once did she use an inappropriately gendered pronoun in talking to me.
I strongly object to the allegations against her from within the trans community, after her death, at the suggestion an award be established in her name; these attacks are made at a time when she is not in a position to be able to defend herself. There was nothing in her behaviour or discussion that gave me any indication of prejudice against trans people. Isolated passages from her writings may give some a different perspective – but that should be addressed at the level of a critique of her writing through academic publication. Not every writer who has differing views from the trans community and their advocates is transphobic. I found her very empathetic to the situation of transsexuals. This was because she herself had been on the receiving end of rejection by a certain style of lesbian feminism (which discounted lesbians who had been married to men and had families before they came out as in some way ‘not genuine’); she was very clear that a similar process had been carried out for transsexuals.
She was a Professor of Human Sexuality, so she had written on a broad range of subjects concerning human sexuality and gender, primarily covering sexuality and its relation to health care. In her writing on health and sexuality, she had not covered transsexuality, but somebody who works in her area could hardly ignore transsexuality. This was an area she was still extending her knowledge about when I came to know her. An academic may have views on transsexuality that differ from others (and people who come from within that community), but this does not make them transphobic.
In my discussions with her, she gave no impression that she subscribed to the views of writers such as Sheila Jeffreys or Janice Raymond, and lamented some of the expressions of exclusion directed towards her because of her path into lesbianism via heterosexual marriage and family. The trend of rebutting as transphobic what an academic writes on trans matters when it does not conform to the world-view of a group of transsexuals is problematic, as it is effectively a form of intellectual censorship (or revisionism). It also becomes self-defeating, “crying wolf” is not a completely appropriate metaphor, because in some situations previously this may have been justified, but now it is beginning to look like a “witch-hunt”. In a situation like the Bailey affair, bad practice is a reasonable cause – but to criticize a dead academic when an award is put in their name seems underhanded, especially when they have made such a huge contribution to lesbian and gay matters. I would suggest that in working to prevent such an award, rather than helping bring diverse groups closer together, it will open further rifts within the LGBT community. Tamsin was admired and liked by many who knew her.
I am unclear how, having publicised what is effectively an irrefutable allegation, this misrepresentation of Tamsin can be closed constructively. If the award is not placed in her name, her contribution to LGBT health will be overshadowed by this accusation as if it were true, despite being based on a particular reading of a small part of her contribution. If the award in her name is not accommodated by those bringing an allegation she is unable to refute herself, then this produces a tension between the trans and other parts of the LGBT axis.
I know that Tamsin had planned to do more work in the area of transgender, having been preparing to write on FtM transsexuality, and was planning to put together a book which she had asked me to contribute a chapter to. Neither of these were completed. I know through our discussions that Tamsin was very aware that the general problems faced by lesbian and gay people in dealing with medical people and the health service also often applied to trans and intersex people as well, and she saw us all as being affected by a similar set of problems.
Tamsin never treated me as anything other than a woman in our dealings with each other, and she was aware of my background. Nothing she said or did gave me any impression of transphobia towards me or anybody else. She invited me to stay in her home for supervision, and I had an enjoyable time working with her, and visiting the area where she lived.
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