You may call me a TERF but I am not transphobic

Disclaimer: I accept that, like every other group on the planet, transwomen have a plurality of theoretical standpoints. I appreciate many are wholly supportive of the movement to liberate women, and I count many amongst my friends who I listen to and learn from daily. This article refers to the dominant viewpoints voiced on Twitter.

How many times a day do I get called a TERF? Too many to count. How many times have I seen ‘You’re a TERF your opinion is irrelevant?’ Too many to count. Let’s not pretend that TERF is an objective description of a theoretical standpoint. It’s an insult. A term of abuse meant to undermine, dismiss and erase radical feminist women’s voices.

TERF is an acronym for ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists’. But what does this mean? The emphasis is meant to be on exclusion – an intentional act – and the implication is that this is based on prejudice or willfull discrimination. A bad thing. But a closer look exposes the flaws in this definition. Excluded from what? Feminism? Womanhood? Radical feminist analysis maintains that feminism is the movement of women to liberate women from oppression, and that female biological reality is a defining aspect of women’s experience of oppression. This does not exclude transwomen on the basis of prejudice or discrimination any more than it does men. TERF also obfusticates the fact that the vast majority of radical feminists believe that ALL people should work together to end the oppression of women and that many believe once transwomen transition they experience much of the same prejudice and discrimination that women born women do.  In reality, TERF is a meaningless term based on the desire to silence radical feminist voices. Ultimately it’s misogynistic.

So, why can’t we all just get along?

1 ) Insults, lies, silencing & demonisation

So, we’ve covered that every time TERF is used it’s meant to insult. We know you know this. Not a good start to productive dialogue, eh? You’d think that trans people who identify as women would be understanding and open to women analysing the oppression they face even if they disagree. Instead we are shut down. A woman only has to be designated ‘RadFem’ for anything she says to be valued as worthless or for her to be told she is unwelcome in conversations. How can this not be interpreted as mirroring the behaviour of patriarchal men who seek to silence us?

Jokingly, many RadFems have started using the term ‘radfemphobia’. In actuality it’s not a joke. RadFems are consistently exposed to true prejudice and bigotry – that is being ignored, excluded or written off just because they are known to be RadFem. Cliques form just to stand against them. Lies are told constantly that are swallowed up by the readily waiting baying crowds. I’m yet to see another group face such hostility from either men or other women.

The demonisation goes so far that the accepted narrative is radical feminist’s purpose/motivation is to attack transwomen. But the clue’s in the title. Radical feminists want to end women’s oppression, this is the ONLY purpose or motivation. We see women’s oppression and work backwards in figuring out the actions needed to take to counteract it or the beliefs that underpin it that need challenging. Again, you might not agree with the analysis but misrepresenting the motivation is both disingenuous and manipulative. Maintaining that the analysis exists to oppress ‘you’ says more about your self-obsession than radical feminism.

 2) Gender

Radical feminists started using ‘gender’ in the 1960’s (before this it was rarely used). The purpose of distinguishing sex and gender was to illustrate ‘that the social condition of being a woman or being a man is not the same thing as, and does not follow ‘naturally’ from, the biological condition of being female or male’ (http://www.trouble.myzen.co.uk/?page_id=37). Note that doesn’t mean that males can become women or vice versa. It means that the social role ‘woman’ is imposed as a result of a person being female, as Simone de Beauvior encapsulated in her ‘one is not born but becomes a woman’ quote. So woman/female and man/male are inseparable, although enlightened and/or empowered individuals may be able to throw off some of the social impositions. But what this really means is that ‘gender’ is a hierarchy telling us how we ‘should’ behave based on our sex and with all things ‘feminine’ devalued it serves as the patriarchy’s greatest tool to keep women subordinate.

Claims of a female brain, essence, feeling or gender identity are essentialist. They appeal to the idea that there is a ‘woman’ beyond her experience of oppression based on her sex and back up age-old patriarchal beliefs of woman as ‘other’. The latter, gender identity, is oft proposed as a subjective experience. In reality, it is the most dangerous proposition because denying it is an affront to the dominant belief in liberal individualism. But an appeal to gender identity strongly relies on a preconception of what it means to feel like/be a woman. What else can this be based on other than cultural influences? This is the result of stereotypes and misogyny.

3) Essentialism

By promoting transition whether operative or not (excluding those experiencing BDD) trans reifys the connections between gender and sex rather than subverting them. Revolutionary would be throwing off the gender shackles and being whoever the fuck you wanted to be regardless of the body you find yourself in.

When transwomen change the way they wear their head hair, remove their body hair, have cosmetic surgery, breast implants or a cavity they name a ‘vagina’ created they are reducing women to their bodies and the social norms imposed on those bodies.

By insisting they are or need to become women, transwomen validate archaic ideas about the female sex. It is true that many women also do this to function within the world but that does not negate the impact. Wanting to end women’s oppression demands an acknowledgement of this, as RadFems do. Many transwomen also seek to find ways to express their experiences that do not negatively impact on women. It can be done.

4) Erasing women

Women have been oppressed for as long as we have recorded history, and at 54% of the population it’s the most widespread oppression of them all.  Our foremothers fought over the last century for all the rights and advances that we have made. So when we’re told that reproductive rights etc. are not women’s issues it hurts. Not just on an individual level but the movement itself. It puts huge (inaccurate) obstacles in a path that still has a long way to go.

In recent days the name of the ‘Vagenda’ blog and talking about periods has been labelled exclusionary and transphobic. Women have fought for centuries to not only have a voice but to be able to talk about issues that affect females openly, without being perceived as unimportant  or taboo.  As someone far more sensible than me said “If 99.9% of the people affected are women it’s pretty safe to call it a woman’s issue.” These are women’s issues. They are issues that the feminist movement *needs* to focus on. Because if feminists don’t then no-one else will. That’s kinda the point of feminism. Silencing women on these issues, which includes excluding them from feminist discourse, is misogyny.

Women are being silenced. The new ‘rallying cry’ of transphobia serves only to push us back, erasing all the progression that has been made. The oppressed, those who are socialised to believe ‘everyone else first, me last’, are being told that again. And many of them are buying it. Worst still women talking about their female experience and analysis of their oppression are targeted for attack whilst the true transphobes are ignored. “All the transphobia I have experienced has been from TERFs”. So are you suggesting radical feminists are the ones who beat, rape and kill transwomen? No, I thought not. Why are a small group of women with little or no influence the target of such a campaign?

So. To be honest I don’t care how you live your life. I don’t care what you want to call yourself or how you dress. I don’t care if some women’s groups or spaces welcome you with open arms. I’m happy to stand next to you to fight for your legal rights, appropriate healthcare and safety, which I believe all human beings are entitled to.

Where I start to have issues is where you shut down discussion when the needs and interests of women and transwomen become complicated. Where you insult me and say that your needs matter above all else. Where your words and beliefs silence women’s voices, erase women’s reality and contribute to women’s oppression. Which in all honesty, whether transwoman or liberal feminist, I would have thought you’d understand.

138 thoughts on “You may call me a TERF but I am not transphobic

  1. Libby

    People used to believe in such thing as a “Negro Brain” too you know, we all accept that as racist now, when will the world see the mysogyny of the exact same thing being posited to oppress women?
    God these commenters you have mis the entire point that gender is not inherent.

    Reply
    1. blackwomanist

      Please please please do not add being black into this. Being black is something you are born with. Its a physical. Put it this way. If a black transgender walked down the street, she will have struggles and stereotypes inflicted upon her for first being black. Second being a woman and third being transgender if a person found out. The struggles are completely different. As a black woman, it infuriates me when the lgbt community compares their struggle to being black. Why? Its it because you believe being black is degrading? Its never compared to any other race or cultural background but black.

      Also, noticing how feminist are towards black woman: you can relate on being woman. However, the second you add that being black and a woman is socially and emotionally oppressive, it is invalidated, because being a woman matters more than being black. For instance , the woman’s feminist movement was purposely started to detract and take black woman away from the civil rights movement. Much like the lgbt movement is today. I’m sorry, f being a woman is oppresive than its fair to say being a black woman is even more. We have to face racism and sexism. Where as our counterparts deal with sexism

      Reply
  2. Libby

    I mean, think about it, if gender were inherent then such people as gender nonconformists (including transgendered) wouldn’t exist to begin with. People actually still believe in 2014 than femininity and masculinity are born traits? WTF

    Reply
  3. Libby

    Transgenderism isn’t a disease which needs to be fixed by surgically altering ones body to match the gendered characteristics a person may display, although if someone differs from their imposed gender to such a degree and have more traits society claim to belong to the other gender and they decide their life would be easier/better if they undergo transitional surgery and hormone treatments I can certainly understand that. Gender oppresses transgendered people aswell. It oppresses homosexual and bisexual people aswell. Gender IS oppressive. Radical feminism – opposing the constructs of gender is not oppressive, is not transphobic, it is Radical liberation.

    Reply
  4. Piper

    So, are you presuming that transgender issues are not real issues as well, or those issues are less important than your issues? Personally, I think anything with the word radical in it basically mean extremism. Like Radical Christians, or Muslim Extremists. I am a transgender woman. I am intersex specifically., but even if I wasn’t intersex, your point of exclusion would still be mandated. More transgender women are killed or commit suicide than any other demographic on this earth, and that is something you have failed to acknowledge, something you will never acknowledge, no matter what you think or say. I fucking hate people that only want to dictate the difference between male and female, whether it is a man doing it, or a woman. I hate it! Love your body because your a woman, because I guarantee, if you were a man, you would want to be a woman too. And if you were transgender, you would want to kill yourself too.

    Reply
    1. Piper

      On another note. Feminism is just as guilty of the sexist bullshit in this world as misogyny is.

      Reply
  5. Asha

    “No. People are most definitely not born ‘trans’. They are born female or male (with a tiny percentage amibiguous intersex).”

    And being gay is a choice. Jesus fucking christ.

    Reply
    1. blackwomanist

      OK. I’m a womanist. We have different views on things naturally. That being said. I think we need to come together and realize that we have a crop of males turning themselves into females. I have serious issue with this. Still, they are men.. “no! They are women! After surgery its hard for a Dr to tell!” They can’t produce children and their breast cannot nurture and raise a healthy intelligent child. I think no matter your race, political stand points or ideologies, this should infuriate us as the beautiful creatures we are born as. Our belly’s and breast create human beings that thus go fourth and create civilizations. Im sorry, I am not sympathetic to the plight of transgender men. Yes, they are men. And its an abomination to all women for these created women to think they are like us, can be more woman than us, and put their rights above ours. One of the reason the murder rates are so high is because transgenders can border on deceitful(male female transgender all humans can be). How would you women feel if your son or husbands, brothers, where dating a woman later to find out it was a man? Its no more wrong to feel staunchly against transgenderism as it is to be supportive. The difference is, if you speak out against it you are quickly labeled a “phobic” or primitive!

      Reply
  6. Susie

    Same old, same old. It’s all about men. Women are supposed to be the accepting, nurturing creatures, men of course can be anything they want. Women are being stripped of their identities, their shared experiences as biological females in your ugly patriarchy. We’ve only been able to vote for less than 100 years, so back off, there is still a long way to go. Funny, I NEVER see transwomen fighting for bio women’s rights, instead they sulk about not being welcomed with open arms. Have just ONE period in your life, then you’ll know the difference between a vagina and a penis turned inside out and shoved into your body.

    Reply
  7. J.

    Thank you for this article.

    A lot of trans* people are unimpressed with the obviously hostile/hateful attitudes demonstrated by self-proclaimed ‘radfems'; I am glad that you have taken a more rational approach. I hope you can continue to do so despite the apparent enmity between the two camps right now.

    I am a trans* individual, and I agree with the following:

    – The concept of a ‘female brain’ is not well-defined and not scientifically useful

    – Medical transition is a choice. This does not imply that trans*-related health care is not ‘medically necessary’, as the choice may be one between death and medical transition.

    – Transitioning can be a ‘coping strategy’ for victims of a patriarchy (whether male- or female-assigned at birth). At least some trans* folks are non-binary, and choose one particular gender because it is the less painful (to them) of the two choices available. At least some trans* folks would choose to not undergo medical transition if they lived in a post-gender society instead of the present, gendered one in which they find themselves.

    – The cause of gender dysphoria is social, not biological. This does not imply that there are no biological consequences (compare to conditions in which the patient’s belief in the presence of some non-existent pathogen results in the manifestation of a physical rash). This also does not imply that one cannot be biologically predisposed for gender dysphoria in some particular social configuration (a biological configuration that predisposes an individual for some condition is not the same as a biological configuration that causes the condition)

    I don’t understand the following:

    – Why are men and/or trans* folks not allowed to attend so many radical feminist events? If the issue being discussed is irrelevant to men and/or trans* people, then restricted access is justified for economic reasons. This, however, is not the case for most events. It is also totally fine for a number of women to create a FAAB-only space, and their freedom of association should be respected, but the FAAB-only space should not claim the radical feminist movement; ‘FAAB-only space with radical feminism as a frequently discussed topic’, perhaps, or ‘FAAB-only group that supports the cause of radical feminism’, but most certainly not ‘FAAB-only group = radical feminism’.

    Reply
  8. Kristine McClain

    I am a transgender woman and very proud to be a female and a feminist. I have been accepted by so many women and they are genuine in there acceptance.

    My view of the TERF controversy is that the two sides do not understand each other. The Radical feminists can never understand the pain and suffering transgender endure to be accepted as female. Transgender women do not understand the fight women have endured to just have equality to men.

    I will discuss issues and support LGBT causes. I also will fight for women’s rights especially when it comes to rampant sexual violence.

    I do not want to limit the rights of women. That would be counterproductive to me. What I will fight against is any group that wants to limit the rights of transgender people. I don’t care if it right wing Christians or radical feminists.

    If we continue this war of words we all fail. I hope we can talk and realize we share more in common that not.

    Reply
  9. oopster74

    That boy that was raised as a girl because his penis was badly damaged during a circumcision is proof if any was needed, that you know you’re own body. He was raised as a girl from 1 year old, socialised as a girl from 1 year old, yet he never felt right as a girl, he knew something wasn’t right. I don’t know the exact spelling but he was called Michael Rheiman (pronounced Rye-man). He ended up committing suicide in his 30’s, but so did his brother afterwards, which to me would suggest a depression that ran in that family.

    Reply
  10. helloanonme

    People are misunderstanding the difference between humanism, equalitism and feminism.

    Humanism has a long history and came about in response to religion. It is thr belief that all human problems can be solved without resorting to theology.

    Equalitism is the belief that all inequalities need addressing amd stand on par in terms of suffering. That no inequality is more urgent than another.

    Feminism is the belief that women deserve equality with men and unless womens isdues are specifically given time, energy and voice to, these issues will be swept to the side in favour of every other group.

    And this, in a nutshell, is the attack feminism is under. Read the comments, the responses and articles in response to EVERY feminist issue and you’ll see, ‘what about men’, ‘what about race’, ‘what about sexual orientation’, ‘what about trans’, ‘what about ableism’, ‘what about age’, ‘ehat about intersex’…

    Germaine Greer warned of this. There were two categories once; male and female. The category male is sacrosanct. None of these issues have impeded male identity. But the category female has been and is being attacked to the point that woman now stands for other. Male and other.

    Reply
  11. Gerry

    It’s interesting how close this argument is to classical reactionary politics (‘I’m being silenced!’, ‘You’re the _real_ bigot’, ‘_____ are not like us’) with some standard binary thinking and political correctness (‘I’m being Otherized by the Patriarchy!) and so on. Essentialism, the intellectual basis for TERFism, is a deeply conservative notion — perhaps the guiding principle of anti-egalitarian thought in the scientific age.

    Reply

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