Amongst the many possible motives why a man might wish to magically transform himself into a woman, being able to contract the highly painful womb-related disease of endometriosis is not one you may think ranks highly amongst them. Yet this was the initial impression given by medical charity Endometriosis South Coast (ESC), which last week announced the appointment of a transgender woman now known as Steph Richards as its new head.
Alongside a fetching image of Steph in a dress, ESC also posted a short quote: “Isn’t it ridiculous that I’ve got to my 40s, before any medical professionals even mentioned endometriosis?” The natural conclusion most readers may have drawn would be that Steph himself was asking this, and that the answer to his question would in fact be: “No, it’s perfectly logical, as endometriosis is primarily a disease of the female womb, which you don’t have, because you are a man.”
However, it turned out the quote in question was really from an authentically female member of “the endo community” who had previously made use of the charity’s services, not 71-year-old Steph at all. Apologising for the “misunderstanding”, ESC explained Steph had been hired due to his alleged past background in the general field, not “because they [sic] have their own endo journey”. But, according to critics, Richards allegedly has no meaningful medical background, apparently being an ex-hairdresser and beautician. Still, a nice new haircut and some lipstick are all you need to become a woman these days, aren’t they?
Endo the Line?
In response to widespread criticism, ESC released this statement: “Helping those in need has nothing to do with ‘sex’ – proven by the fact there are thousands of cisgender male gynaecologists and midwives based in the U.K. and beyond.” Besides the fatuous use of inverted commas around the word ‘sex’ there – implying such a crude phenomenon no longer even exists – this is not a wholly unreasonable point. As Steph further explained, the CEOs of homeless charities “don’t live in tents”.
That isn’t really the main problem here, though. If you read ESC’s PR material, the charity was willing to call a man like Steph Richards a ‘woman’ (there are some inverted commas of my own), but actual women were merely called ‘people’ by it: it is as if Richards is considered more authentically female by the organisation than, you know, actual females, or something. Indeed, its website specifically carries material saying that using “gendered language” like ‘woman’ in relation to the disease is something “steeped in racialised and heterosexist stereotypes of female passivity”.
Steph Richards called criticism “transmisogyny”, but the true danger is the perplexing mixed messaging being sent out. If Steph had been quietly appointed purely because of his ability to perform an effective job, with no reference made to his transgender status, then it may not have been as much of an issue. However, his self-evident constant campaigning stance could end up overcomplicating actual health messaging, thereby harming the charity’s actual main supposed purpose: to help women suffering with endometriosis.