Pride, prejudice – and attacks on thinking?

Venue: the offices of Herbert Smith Freehills LLP, Exchange House, Primrose St, London EC21 2EG

Date: 13 January 2018

Time: 1.30-5.30pm (Registration from 1 pm)

Led by: Anne-Marie Cummins, Stephen Whittle and Bob Withers


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 gendered and non-gendered identities 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 unconscious have made this possible. And behind these there are deeper questions: about what this burgeoning of sexual identities and gender 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 some academics and psychotherapists have been criticized for being transphobic by some members of the transgender community. A few trans-activists, using petitions and protest, appear to have sought to silence debate about trans in terms of difficulty, doubt, ambivalence, dissatisfaction or regret. At the same time some feminists experience the advancement of trans rights as infringements of their own liberty. Thinking can all too easily become the first casualty of the ensuing battles.

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 trans personal 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 perspectives 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.

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 Cttee, and was also the specialist advisor to the House of Common’s Women’s and Equalities Cttee Transgender Discrimination Inquiry.

Robert Withers is an analytical psychotherapist with an interest in the difficulties involved in working psychotherapeutically with people who identify as trans. His 2015 paper on this subject ‘The seventh penis’ was joint winner of the Michael Fordham prize. He is a member of the Society of Analytical Psychology, has lectured on MSc programmes and is visiting senior lecturer in mind-body medicine at Inter-university College Graz. He has taught on several counselling and psychotherapy courses and is a clinical supervisor. He is also a contributor to the new book ‘Born in your own body; transgender children and young people’.