UPDATE – Attacks on Thinking

UPDATE: We have had to postpone “Attacks on Thinking in The Age of LBGTQWIIAP+” due to the possibility of disruption at the event – from those who perhaps believed (quite wrongly) that the event would be an attack on their own thinking. The main purpose of the event was to explore this very dynamic. We intend to hold a similar event in the new year, for it is precisely to promote understanding of such societal dynamics that OPUS was founded 40 years ago.

Sandy Henderson, OPUS Director


Led by: Anne-Marie Cummins and Bob Withers

Attacks on thinking: pride and prejudice, inclusivity and intolerance

Evidence that attitudes towards sex and gender binaries within society are finally opening up may be seen by the recent emergence in mainstream culture of new conceptualisations of sexual identity – ones organised around notions of gender fluidity, intersexuality and transsexuality. There are questions to be asked about ‘why now’ and what wider changes in the social have made this possible. And behind this there are also deeper questions – about what this burgeoning of sexual identities may indicate about a broad refusal of ‘hard’ gender differences or about the success of queer theory in destabilizing the taken-for-granted-binaries.

At the same time as things are opening up, there are indications that attitudes may be closing down. The examples cited include that of Rebecca Tuval, the feminist philosopher, who became embroiled in controversy when she noted the common arguments supporting transracialism and trans-sexuality. Her experience parallels that of some academics and psychotherapists who have been criticised and labelled transphobic – apparently for asking questions experienced as unhelpful or unwelcome by members of the transgender community.

Beyond incidents of verbal abuse, some trans-activists appear intent on silencing – through protest, petition and even acts of violence or criminal damage – those who seek to discuss the experience of individual trans-people in terms of difficulty, doubt, ambivalence, dissatisfaction or regret. They seem to reject the possibility – or its disclosure – that a difficult physical transition involving hormonal and surgical intervention might for some be accompanied by a sense of incompleteness that does not go away.

Attacks on thinking are not just directed at forums for discussing transgender issues: a previous attempt to hold this workshop (focused on the wider issue of the challenging of ‘binaries’ by ‘fluidity’) had to be postponed following an online petition and threats of disruption.

What lies behind these phenomena? Are they merely isolated cases of mutual misunderstanding or indicative of a broader social issue? And what are the consequences for society, for thinking and for the individuals concerned? Further, if we take seriously the idea that transpersonal processes are at work in the wider social unconscious, what might be happening in this simultaneous opening up and closing down of opportunities to think?

Our speakers engage with these questions from the academic, psychotherapeutic and transgender community respectively.


Anne-Marie Cummins is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of the West of England and a Trainee Group Analyst. Her research interests include the dynamics of helping relationships, the relationship between social science and psychodynamic models and the application of this to real-world professional dilemmas. She also has a practice-based background including training in counselling and psychoanalytic psychotherapy and has worked as a member of staff, nationally and internationally on Group Relations Conferences.

Bob Withers is an analytical psychotherapist with an interest in the difficulties involved in working psychotherapeutically with people who identify as trans. He qualified from the Society of Analytical Psychology, has lectured both internationally and in the UK on MSc programmes, taught on several counselling and psychotherapy courses and has many years experience as a clinical supervisor. He also compiled, edited and contributed to the book ‘Controversies in Analytical Psychology’. His paper ‘The seventh penis‘ on the difficulties of working psychotherapeutically with pre-surgical trans people was joint winner of the 2015 Michael Fordham prize.

Stephen Whittle is Professor of Equalities Law at Manchester Metropolitan University and a former President of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. He has engaged with the UK’s trans community for over 40 years (since his own transition in 1975), providing both social and legal support. He has until recently been a member of NHS England’s Gender Identity Clinical Services Strategic Commissioning Committee, and was also the specialist advisor to the House of Common’s Women’s and Equalities Committee Transgender Discrimination Inquiry.