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02 July 2011

Rachael Webb (1940 - 2009) lorry driver, housing officer, councillor, activist.

Tim knew from age six that he wanted to be a girl. He had little formal education but was self-educated by reading Marx and the 1950s existentialists. He was a beatnik, and an activist in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and spent time in the existential and gay scene in Soho. He did drugs to suppress the idea that he might be transsexual.

In 1967 he consulted with the Maudsley Hospital in London and started taking female hormones. However he married a woman, they had two children and he stopped taking the hormones. By 1972 he had broken up with his wife and restarted on hormones. However he then married again, qualified for a Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) license, became a long-distance lorry driver, and had two more children.

When this marriage finished in 1978, he was prescribed hormones by his family doctor in King’s Lynn, and saw Dr Randall at Charing Cross Hospital and started transition as Rachael. Female long-distance lorry drivers were not permitted at that date. Rachael became an active feminist, and was a member of the Militant Tendency in the Labour Party. She moved to London and worked as a housing officer with the Borough of Southwark. She was in the Self Help Association for Transsexuals (SHAFT) for a while but did not get on with Judy Cousins who ran it.  Rachael was expelled for being too radical.
From Bodyshock

Rachael became notorious in the press in 1983 when she used a £2,000 loan, available to all council employees, to pay for her operation (others used it as a deposit for a mortgage). The same year she was part of the campaign to elect Peter Tatchell in Bermondsey which encountered homophobia from left, right and centre. Rachael was left with a feeling of ‘personal inauthenticity’ and for a while was a patient of existentialist psychiatrist R.D. Laing. In 1986 she was elected as a Labour member of the London borough council of Lambeth.

Rachael’s personal collection of material was one of the first donations towards Richard Ekins’ Trans-Gender Archives. She was featured in Hodgkinson’s Bodyshock, Jane Jackson’s film and wrote a paper for Ekins and King’s Blending Genders. In the first she is quoted:
“We transsexuals have nothing to gain from our attempts to gain legitimacy and respectability from the medical profession. We confuse ourselves and other people by trying to adopt a false identity, and pretending that we are real women (1987: 108)”.
In the third she emphasises that she is a Radical Feminist, a constructed woman, and endorses the views of Janice Raymond:
“My position is rooted in a basic acceptance of feminist arguments concerning the misogynist nature of society and in the belief that male transsexuals perpetuate misogyny when they indulge in a manipulative game of getting others to collude in their fantasy that they are women. ...
I never cease to wonder at the number of men who express some sort of dissatisfaction with their identities and roles as men. I believe this is always connected with envy of women, particularly an envy of their ability to procreate. I think it is imperative that such feelings are brought out into the open and recognised for what they are, so that we can deal with them in a constructive rather than destructive way. For this reason we must create an environment in which we can admit to our feelings, even if this leads us to reject sex reassignment procedures. ...
Without claiming to be the most convincing transsexual there is, I am able to say that those who do not know my history do assume that I am a woman, born as such. I still believe that there is a problem with this however. To what extent am I, and others like me, causing harm by indulging in my fantasy?”.
After eight years as a councillor, Rachael returned to continental lorry driving, and became an activist in the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU). She was a delegate to the lorry drivers regional trade group, a member of the regional women’s committee, the regional LGBT working party, delegate to the two Labour Party conferences and the union’s delegate conference. She fought for equal wages and conditions for truck drivers across the EU. She was the TGWU delegate to the ITF conference for women transport workers in London in September 2005.

At age 66 she semi-retired and merely worked part-time.

Rachael died at a time of her own choosing at age 69.
  • Liz Hodgkinson. Bodyshock: the truth about changing sex. London: Columbus, 1987:102-8.
  • Jane Jackson (dir). Sex Change - Shock! Horror! Probe. Scr: Kristiene Clarke, with Rachael Webb and others. UK TV Channel 4 50 mins 1989.
  • Terri Webb. “Autobiographical Fragments From a Transsexual Activist”. In Richard Ekins & Dave King (eds). Blending Genders: Social Aspects of Cross-Dressing and Sex-Changing. London & New York: Routledge 1996.
  • Richard Ekins. Male femaling: a grounded theory approach to cross-dressing and sex-changing. London & New York: Routledge. 1997: 45,97.
  • Rachael Webb. “Working life”. Transport International Online, 26 Jan 2007. www.itfglobal.org/transport-international/ti26-workinglife.cfm
  • Fiona Fox. “Tribute to Rachael Webb...”. Fiona Fox’s Tales, 4 Feb 2009. http://foxstales.blogspot.com/2009/02/tribute-to-rachael-webb.html.
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The two Ekins references refer to Terri Webb, formerly Rachael.  Presumably she changed her mind and went back to Rachael.

Maggie Fiona Fox published an email from Rachael on her blog, which is valuable.  However Maggie then published a rant in February this year on TS-SI, attempting to posthumously convert Rachael into an HBS/CT activist.  It should be apparent from her life and writings that she was nothing of that sort.

    5 comments:

    Dev said...

    A true campaigner who served the TU movement well and an inspiration to those of us who are LGBT activists within the TU movement now.

    However, I disagree with her conclusions re our legitimacy as women.

    Liz said...

    I don't see how a trans* woman could make a statement like that. It's very confusing to try to understand her position.

    Zagria said...

    Which of the two statements? I selected what I thought was a representative quote from each of Bodyshock and Blending Genders. Perhaps you should read her full statement in the two books.

    Apart from her endorsement of Raymond, I agree with much that Rachael said. It is of course not what is we are told to think today, but she was writing in the 1980s and early 1990s. The discussion today is poorer in that the issues that I quote from Rachael have been surrendered to transphobic feminism and are not being discussed by trans women. Both the trans movement and feminism are poorer for this.

    Liz said...

    Statements like:

    "...male transsexuals perpetuate misogyny when they indulge in a manipulative game of getting others to collude in their fantasy that they are women."

    or

    "To what extent am I, and others like me, causing harm by indulging in my fantasy?."

    I appreciate her considering the interaction of trans*women with feminism but it sounds like she is, in essence, denying who she is and discouraging other transgender people by calling their gender identity issues to be "a fantasy".

    Zagria said...

    Heterosexuality, religion, politics, art - they are all fantasies. Why is transsexuality different?

    Your intolerance of the opinions of a successful trans women says more about you, than about Rachael. Her opinions were integrated with a sucessful transition and life. Can you say the same about yourself?