"I would not have expected to agree with a radical lesbian feminist."
May 9, 2019 2:51 PM   Subscribe

At Jezebel, Esther Wang reports on the close ties forged between conservatives and trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) along with the transphobic legislation they have been able to push through together.
posted by Ouverture (64 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
You know, I think we need a better term than "trans-exclusionary radical feminist", for one simple reason.

They aren't fucking feminists.

Its time that they were excised and called what they truly are - bigots.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:04 PM on May 9 [82 favorites]


no swerfs no terfs no fascists
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 3:08 PM on May 9 [39 favorites]


I like Feminist-Appearing Radical Transphobes, myself. As a term; I dislike them as people.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:14 PM on May 9 [105 favorites]


“We are not, and should not be seen as, the property of any male-led movement,” the group wrote in April 2017.

You are awfully willing to carry their water for them, though....
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:26 PM on May 9 [32 favorites]


Barry Deutsch posted some comics that are on point to this today, and someone else posted an even better one in reply.
posted by bile and syntax at 3:51 PM on May 9 [14 favorites]


Hi-Phi Nation's latest episode is on this topic. It struck me that the TERFs sounded just like the White Moderates that MLK Jr. wrote about in The Letter from a Birmingham Jail. To wit, "you may only seek certain freedoms, at the time and place we determine. Only that would be the true freedom."
posted by Horkus at 3:58 PM on May 9 [16 favorites]


“Founded in 2014, the [Women’s Liberation Front] in its own words, fights for “the total liberation of women” and “to end male violence, regain reproductive sovereignty, and ultimately dismantle the gender-caste system.”

Separate-but-equal is not the way to achieve that goal.
posted by Leeway at 4:18 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


Whats funny about people is that what is self evident to one person is totally bonkers to another but despite all the evidence of that people insist that whatever they believe is self evident. Like the song says "some humans ain't human."
posted by Pembquist at 4:34 PM on May 9


I really can't imagine being a feminist and also having this be a major issue I work on. Like, I can imagine being a liberal and having a conflicted relationship to certain abortion or immigration issues that I feel super strongly about. I can imagine being conservative and having a conflicted relationship with global-warming or civil rights issues that I feel super strongly about. I can't imagine being a feminist with this as my wedge issue.
posted by es_de_bah at 4:40 PM on May 9 [14 favorites]


TERFs

Small grammar error here; pretty sure the plural is "terves," as in the Tolkienian epithet "Glinner Half-Terven"
posted by Greg Nog at 4:57 PM on May 9 [9 favorites]


Funny how ideologies driven primarily by disgust can find common ground.
posted by Reyturner at 5:08 PM on May 9 [43 favorites]


I think there's some kind of personal anxiety underlying TERF activism. It's just so vicious and so personal. The tone is genuinely distinct from that of regular old cis transphobes, at least when they're speaking generally, though obviously nothing is preventing them from entering into an alliance of evil, as here. There's a uniquely intimate nastiness to it, a fixation on mutilation and deformity.

Looking at the American TERFs I'm aware of, I have my theories about what that anxiety might be, but not sure I want to step into that controversy.
posted by praemunire at 5:35 PM on May 9 [21 favorites]


Also a fixation on rigid and immutable gender based on poor scientific understanding of biology which, hey, common ground!
posted by Scattercat at 6:22 PM on May 9 [6 favorites]


If any of you arent familiar with Contrapoints, she has a great episode on TERFs and lots of other topics around gender.
posted by ananci at 6:59 PM on May 9 [23 favorites]


I like Feminist-Appearing Radical Transphobes, myself.

It's Feminism-Appropriating Reactionary Trransphobes. Nothing radical about them.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 7:11 PM on May 9 [33 favorites]


Oh, and if any of you are wondering what 'postmodernism' is, see this Contrapoints video (skip to 11:45 for the main discussion)
posted by ananci at 7:15 PM on May 9 [4 favorites]


We've had our own TERF outbreak here in New Zealand in recent times. This is a great analysis of how retrograde their "biological" gender essentialism is. (disclaimer: author and publication editor are friends of mine).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:19 PM on May 9 [10 favorites]


I thought I'd driven all the jerks away when I transitioned, so I was recently startled by a distant friend posting some terf nonsense about how us "men" will never have real women's experiences like foo and bar and blah and etc, and one of the Uniquely Female experiences listed was "grieving to discover you're infertile." And like. I knew they were divorced from reality. But man, if you do not think a trans woman has ever grieved to learn she won't carry a child in her womb, you have not been paying attention.

I dunno. It's just. I've been watching this stuff for a while, and even I was startled by the insularity of that one, the sheer "this would only fly in a total echo chamber." It's not a talking point for someone who's neutral on the issue and needs to be pushed into slight transphobia, it's one for someone who is already willing to believe we're totally heartless and is just looking for more things to cackle over.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:05 PM on May 9 [36 favorites]


Funny how ideologies driven primarily by disgust can find common ground.

I was just thinking about this the other day.

There are a lot of terfs on Tumblr, as well as people who have a constellation of other exclusionary views. One thing they have in common is a tendency to use emotionally charged and exaggerated language that seems designed to provoke fear, disgust, and a sense of victimhood. There is also a big self-congratulatory component, as they will compliment each other for standing up to the morally degenerate enemy.

It reminds me so much of of extreme homophobic rhetoric. It's a different group, but seems driven by a lot of the same emotion.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:24 PM on May 9 [26 favorites]


I've also heard FART decoded as Feminism-Appropriating Radical Transphobes.

I've been keeping an eye on them for a long while. I agree that they are clearly allying with conservative, Puritan organizations.

It's a shame. I grew up with and into 2nd wave feminism. Even got a Women's studies minor with my BS in the 90s (that was mostly 3rd wave). Feminism was always taught to me as inclusive and supportive.

I have an old friend, won in old battles. One of the strongest and most incisive women I know. For a long while we had feminism in common. But then I became more open about my trans identity and she was coopted by FART bloggers on social media. And we haven't been able to talk about sex/gender politics since. It's amazing to me the weird shit she believes about me and my trans community and accused me of years ago when her indoctrination started.
posted by kalessin at 9:26 PM on May 9 [16 favorites]


And, completing the circle, the TERF to tradwife pipeline is usually the final destination.
posted by ShawnStruck at 1:35 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]


It's Feminism-Appropriating Reactionary Trransphobes. Nothing radical about them.

“Radical,” in these constructions, means “root” or maybe “core.” A radical Feminist believes that Feminism uncovers the root problems of society and provides the toolset to solve them; everything else follows. FARTs have, in the core of their ideology, hatred for trans people. As we see in this story, they will sacrifice any progress women have made to hurt trans people. “Feminism-Appropriating” probably is more in the mark. When you are making common cause with people who elevate sexual assaulters to high office, your Feminism is a mask, if that deep.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:51 AM on May 10 [9 favorites]


Grieving to discover that you’re infertile is a uniquely female experience? Do they know that male infertility is a thing? I would be surprised if no men grieve about wanting kids but being unable to have them.
posted by Anne Neville at 4:18 AM on May 10 [6 favorites]


So, before I get into this: Analysis is not advocacy. I'm going to present what I understand to be the theoretical framework of the women over at /r/GenderCritical. I don't agree with how they see the world.

First there's the ideological framework. Radical feminism, as I understand it, is Marxism applied to sex and gender roles: Men are oppressors; the patriarchy is the system of oppression men (#yesallmen) have set up for themselves; gender roles are an artificial creation of the patriarchy that are a main, or even the primary, instrumentality of oppression. If you believe all of the above, the transphobic part is a fairly direct consequence.

First, you've divided the world into two classes of people: Men, who are the hated oppressors, and women who are the virtuous oppressed. Whenever you are deeply invested in categorizing human beings like that, anyone who doesn't fit or tries to cross categories is a problem for you.

Second, transitioning usually involves taking on parts of a different gender role. Transpeople often talk about their experience pre-transition in gender non-conforming clothes or activities. The stated goal of radical feminism is to dismantle the system of oppression above, which ultimately means abolishing gender roles. If you believe that gender roles are a tool of oppression that need to be abolished, then what transpeople are doing, and activists are advocating for, is re-enforcing gender roles.

Walking through an example step by step: Caitlyn Jenner used to present as a man. She took on a female gender role. Glamour magazine named her woman of the year. In the framework I'm describing, this is one group who's job is enforcing patriarchal gender roles seeking to promote a man who embodied the gender role they are trying to enforce on women.

I'm four paragraphs in and feeling like I'm smoking in the gunpodwer magazine, so will repeat, I'm not trying to present it as fact or argue in favor of it.

As for how they make common cause with conservatives, well, conservatives talk to them. People on the left regularly try to make sure they get de-platformed. Personally, I can say that I will work someone I disagree with on most things who will talk to me, if only because that's actually possible, over someone I agree with on most things who will not talk to me.
posted by Grimgrin at 5:52 AM on May 10 [14 favorites]


As for how they make common cause with conservatives, well, conservatives talk to them. People on the left regularly try to make sure they get de-platformed.

I dunno; giving support to groups who share one of your values while strongly opposing most of the others has tended to work out poorly historically. Simultaneously, it’s impossible to include them in more leftward projects without throwing trans people under the bus. I’m not sure you can have a conversation with them unless you are willing to accept their odious views.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:01 AM on May 10 [14 favorites]


I can imagine having a personal conversation with a FART, but my goal would be fundamentally to challenge their views rather than to find common ground or build community with them. Understanding their worldview is an intellectual, not political, exercise.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:24 AM on May 10 [3 favorites]


I’m not sure you can have a conversation with them unless you are willing to accept their odious views.

I've personally long since stopped debating people who think I'm not a real person. This is the kind of thing allies need to step in and do, because they're already "real people".
posted by bile and syntax at 6:29 AM on May 10 [16 favorites]


I'm going to present what I understand to be the theoretical framework of the women over at /r/GenderCritical.

Uh...why? What led you to believe that any folks in this conversation just don't adequately understand what TERFs believe?

Anyway, the ContraPoints video posted above already clearly lays out the positions of trans-exclusionists, including the gender essentialism argument and what they think of Caitlyn Jenner (and why it's so problematic that this conversation so often focuses on her one example to the exclusion of any other possible lived experience as a trans* person).
posted by solotoro at 7:16 AM on May 10 [17 favorites]


These people infuriate me. What gives them the right to decide who is female and who is not? Because that's what they want. It isn't just that being assigned male at birth means you cannot be female, according to TERFs. They recently celebrated the ruling that Caster Semenya must take medication to suppress her natural levels of testosterone if she wishes to compete. "Despite much of so-called “gender critical” ideology being communicated as 'women have vaginas, men have penises' there are now TERFs claiming that Semenya is not a real woman because of her testosterone levels. For many trans women and their feminist allies, the TERF response to this ruling reveals both the hypocrisy and the misogyny at the heart of TERF ideology, which poses increasingly narrow definitions of womanhood."

Gah, I get so angry with these sorry excuses for people, I can't even think straight.
posted by ceejaytee at 7:38 AM on May 10 [15 favorites]


Molotov, meet Ribbentrop
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 7:56 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]


one of the Uniquely Female experiences listed was "grieving to discover you're infertile." And like. I knew they were divorced from reality. But man, if you do not think a trans woman has ever grieved to learn she won't carry a child in her womb, you have not been paying attention.

you don't even have to pay attention that closely. i'm happy that my friends are having babies and i'm happy that i'll be an auntie but good lord do i have to deal with the knowledge that my closest friends are going some place i never will be able to and process it with my therapist (i mean, yes, i get that i went some place they will never understand too with the transition, but), and while i know that not being able to have children doesn't make me less of a woman, it's not like knowing that makes the illogical, unreasonable feeling go away, this feeling of ersatz, second-class womanhood.

---

So, before I get into this: Analysis is not advocacy. I'm going to present what I understand to be the theoretical framework of the women over at /r/GenderCritical.

as far as understanding those at /r/gendercritical and mumsnet, was that explanation for trans folk, or for everyone else? because i'm pretty sure we're quite aware of the underpinnings of everything they say, which uses the gloss of leftist and social justice language in a cargo cult fashion to cover up an incoherent, inconsistent 'ideology' based on hate.

from this trend of calling being a trans woman an act of "womanface", to using the term "genderfree" and using the checkered flag to somehow prove that they can win awards as queer people, to suggesting that all sexist discrimination is based on exclusively biological traits like the presence of a uterus, to erasing trans men by claiming them as confused lesbians both historically and in the present, to now policing what "real" women are in the case of caster semenya based on levels of testosterone and whether she looks womanly enough, to "political lesbians" like julie bindel decrying self-identification... if you actually look and interrogate their ideology, it quickly falls apart, regardless of how manichean or marxist the framework seems.

like. the mumsnet and kiwifarms are crosspollinating, and you think we're not aware of that? if you're cis, are you? there's no "marxist" framework there, it's all for the frozen peaches and lulz for the latter and for the former including everyone, including hate speech, so that the marginalized get marginalized and leave.

if you're on twitter you can see trans women being suspended and banned for simply using the the word 'terf' regardless of context because of the mass-reporting and gaming of the algorithms that the anti-trans activists + conservatives do. there's no framework there, just leveraging the dumbness of computing and the obliviousness of the cis to silence the marginalized.

People on the left regularly try to make sure they get de-platformed. Personally, I can say that I will work someone I disagree with on most things who will talk to me, if only because that's actually possible, over someone I agree with on most things who will not talk to me.

are you suggesting that de-platforming is bad? because i assure you, with how transphobes have manipulated the system, you certainly hear about the few they deplatform, and nothing about the trans folk they've driven away. they're the ones with the megaphones, not us. they're the ones who tend to get slaps on the wrist and only get removed when it becomes too egregious, not us. we're the ones who are silenced with nobody with comparable platforms to speak for us, we're the ones who disappear because nobody wants to take up the banner for us.

and if you want to talk to the transphobes, go right ahead, but don't put the blame on their rightward, toxic shift on those of us who can't talk to them. my very existence is doubted by those people, and without a fundamental common ground, one that they deny me, no dialogue can be started.

and who has the time, on our end? we're still trying to get anti-discrimination protections, which might well turn to ash in the us because of the courts. our healthcare isn't often covered as part of insurance; our social networks are frail and distributed because of how we're often viewed by family. when you're trying to steal bread to eat, are you really going to try and find common ground with the transphobes who want to erase you to have a formal debate?

i'm in a good spot and i don't have the time to do so because i'm just trying to shore up the sandcastle i have and lift the few i can. why would i converse with bigots?
posted by anem0ne at 8:02 AM on May 10 [30 favorites]


I'm going to present what I understand to be the theoretical framework of the women over at /r/GenderCritical.
Uh...why? What led you to believe that any folks in this conversation just don't adequately understand what TERFs believe?


While I haven't been part of this conversation, I'm trying to follow along, and that explanation was very helpful context for me.
posted by M-x shell at 8:10 AM on May 10 [14 favorites]


Oh, god. Terfs. They're so stupid and irritating. As if their existence wasn't terrible enough, they've also created the easy get-out-of-transphobia-free card, where all people have to do is say "fuck terfs" in sparkly fonts and they thing they're trans allies. Most cis people don't want to do the work of unpacking gender assumptions, so now we've got a whole horde of people who are completely incompetent on the subject, and all that matters is that you're "not a terf". But what does terf mean? They have no clue. Clarity of language is important to me, and I'm constantly advocating for using transmisogyny, transphobia, and terf separately rather than interchangably. I brought this up in response to someone calling Vladimir Putin a terf. Their response was to call me a terf.

How the fuck are we going to move forward on these issues, unpack problems, discern points of oppression when words don't have meanings anymore? I hate the word TERF because, well, 1)they're not feminists, for 2) nor are they radical, and 3)having TERFism dominate the trans discussion gets us no where. I am a radical feminist, but I dont find that to be in direct opposition to trans rights and freedoms.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:13 AM on May 10 [15 favorites]


On the history and background surrounding this topic I have profited from Talia Bettcher's "Feminist Perspectives on Trans Issues."
posted by octobersurprise at 8:20 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]


I ended a friendship over that friend going TERF. It fucking sucks. I wonder if, being cis, the smarter choice/better use of my privilege would have been for me to bring them back to the side of light instead of leaving them to get further isolated and indoctrinated.

The gender essentialism is wild to me. I initially assumed that since TERFs were coming out of radical second wave feminism, that what was underpinning their intense bigoted freakout (in addition to just plain old transphobia) was "gender itself must be abolished; if trans people feel their true identity this strongly than that rattles my belief that gender is entirely socially constructed therefore i must defeat these people so my view of the world stays Correct."

But that's not it at all! Like their beliefs, drilled down, are barely distinguishable from the right-wing Christians they're cynically allying with. It's pure (scientifically inaccurate) biological gender essentialism and "the Others are slavering rapist hordes."
posted by pelvicsorcery at 8:40 AM on May 10 [12 favorites]


Second, transitioning usually involves taking on parts of a different gender role. Transpeople often talk about their experience pre-transition in gender non-conforming clothes or activities. The stated goal of radical feminism is to dismantle the system of oppression above, which ultimately means abolishing gender roles. If you believe that gender roles are a tool of oppression that need to be abolished, then what transpeople are doing, and activists are advocating for, is re-enforcing gender roles.

yes, and no. because of how limited the platform is for trans folk, one thing you quickly find out as a trans person is that those stories you heard about other trans people before you admitted you were one are really, really limited. yes, many trans people, pre-transition, wore non-conforming clothes and participated in non-conforming activities--but just as many don't.

because those stories are the ones that get privileged (by the cis who control the platforms and then give lots of awards to movies like Lucas Dhont's Girl, regardless of what trans people say), well, when that's not you, you start wondering if you're trans enough.

when those stories have a tabloid luridness (Jerry Springer) or shock horror (Silence of the Lambs) or cruel humor (Ace Ventura) about them and you don't see yourself in them, well, you start wondering if you're trans at all.

And of course, when those are the only stories anyone else ever hears, it's easy for people to think that being transgender is about reifying gender roles and playing dress-up, when it's really not.

if you think it is about playing dress-up, it's easier to talk about it as a mental disorder, or a delusion, or something that you'll humor if the trans folk provide proper obeisance to you/are a credit to their kind; it's easier to dismiss non-binary or genderfluid or agender folk as "transtrenders". if you think it's just about the gender roles, it's easier to use a misogynist cudgel to hate on the "men become women" as lesser, as diseased, as incorrect; it's easier to twist trans people's behaviors as not being appropriately female (see all the "when trans-identified men* get angry it's actually male aggression!" and "trans-identified men were not raised as girls and so retain male privilege" arguments).

which, of course, is internally inconsistent but it's not like it matters when the framework isn't "marxist", it's hate.

---

*"trans-identified men" is how some transphobes will refer to trans women as another means to deny our existence.
posted by anem0ne at 8:44 AM on May 10 [24 favorites]


I only know a couple of TERFs/FARTs personally, and I generally try not to discuss any sort of gender or politics-related issues with them, but one thing I've noticed is that, on average, they and their fellow travelers (on Facebook anyway) seem to skew older.

It made me wonder if this is one of those things where they were genuinely radical at one point in time—probably when they were in college in the 60s/70s, judging by the people I know—and just... never updated or continued to evolve their views.

I don't mean to trivialize the damage that they have done or may be doing to ongoing battles, but I think perhaps there is a "there but for..." warning; if you let yourself identify strongly with a political ideology, no matter how radical that ideology may seem at the time, and then never engage in any self-reflection or update your beliefs as the world shifts, you too could end up being a real asshole in your dotage. It's something I try to keep in mind, anyway.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:55 AM on May 10 [5 favorites]


I feel like it is more mainstream thought among a certain generation, but the presence of a Gender Critical subreddit is a sign for me that it's not purely the domain of older women.
posted by Selena777 at 9:01 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]


So, if you are a radical gender essentialist, you are very very invested in the idea that men and women are completely discrete, binary, and immutable categories that are obvious and discernible. The problem with that is, of course, it doesn’t match reality — depending on how you define gender, there are a lot of edge cases that have to be hand waved away for your nice essentialist model to hold. And the thing is, all of those “edge cases” are people, and pushing them out of your model is cruel, because it gives them literally nowhere to live. Conform or die is the inherent message of the FART.

Look at the story ceejaytee linked to — “Feminists” applauding that a woman is hounded, shamed, and forced into unnecessary medical treatment because, if they accept her, their precious essentialist Carr castle begins to collapse. FARTS hate trans women so much that they don’t care what collateral damage occurs.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:17 AM on May 10 [7 favorites]


one of the Uniquely Female experiences listed was "grieving to discover you're infertile."

This is such a weird example to me. I was friends with a cis guy in high school who had found out when he was little that he couldn't give birth and had cried for a week. I've also known many, many men through the course of my work for whom being able to have children is absolutely everything and the possibility of losing that was too much to bear, to the point of living with chronic pain rather than losing that opportunity. I also know a bunch of trans men who have given birth. For me getting my uterus out and being free of the ongoing body horror that had been menstruation and even just the idea of being fertile has been amazing.

This is not uniquely female, if there even is such a thing.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:38 AM on May 10 [8 favorites]


I feel like it is more mainstream thought among a certain generation, but the presence of a Gender Critical subreddit is a sign for me that it's not purely the domain of older women.

The vast majority of online terfs are probably around 30, with some younger ones being roped in via tumblr and such(and it's surprisingly popular on there for being what's mostly viewed as young, progressive, ~queer inclusive~ platform). There's a real baton-pass happening from the older millennial/young gen-x crowd to the young millennial and gen z for sure.

There's a definitely split between the "i'll ally with republicans, sure" group which seems small to me, and the "i'm a leftist progressive but this is UwU logged on internet silly pronouns gender bullshit and it's setting us back/has gone too far" which seems to be a LOT of younger peoples gateway into actual terf shit.

I have a lot of resentment for multiple events in the past 10 years or so of online discourse that left things ripe to be preyed on and manipulated by this newer, more online culture adept generation of terfs but... that would be a very very long post.

But yea, don't make the mistake of thinking this is an older people thing. There's a whole new generation of terf and terf adjacent people out there. Honestly what i'm more worried about is diluted versions of those ideas about "gender roles" and "appropriating femininity" and shit trickling down into Normal Progressive Discourse which i've already seen a LOT of.
posted by emptythought at 11:16 AM on May 10 [10 favorites]


Like their beliefs, drilled down, are barely distinguishable from the right-wing Christians they're cynically allying with.

I mean, both Janice Raymond and Mary Daly came out of a tradition of devout Catholicism; Raymond is an ex-Sister Of Mercy (not those Sisters) and Daly's doctorates were in theology and religion and a commitment to a notion of sex-role/gender identity almost-as-a-personified-soul is central to their work, not to mention a yearing for authenticity, wholeness, and transcendence, that, both, often seems deeply religious and, also, oddly reminisicent of the yearnings of the likes of Jordan Peterson and his ilk. This core belief in "the authentic body" seems to be a notion shared across the divides by certain kinds of feminists, right-wingers, and left-wingers.

All of that, tho, is just a club to swing for the harassers and terrorists of twitter and mumsnet, kiwifarms, and the chans. For that lot, it's strictly gamergate tactics in the service of a fascist ideology—or even no ideology at all, just brutality.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:34 AM on May 10 [7 favorites]


"if you let yourself identify strongly with a political ideology, no matter how radical that ideology may seem at the time, and then never engage in any self-reflection or update your beliefs as the world shifts, you too could end up being a real asshole in your dotage. It's something I try to keep in mind, anyway."

For example, if your father was a Klan member, but you yourself are not, but instead just practice casual non-organized racism, you might think of yourself as not-at-all racist. And you might be super-upset when people call you racist. But your still racist, Mr Trump.
posted by el io at 12:08 PM on May 10


I also see a bunch of teenage and extremely-early-20s terfs online who make me think they're just playing the feminist version of "I'm more hardcore than you."

Any young subculture gets a certain fraction of people who want to be harder and fiercer and more real than everyone else. For people who want to compete on that, willingness to hurt people and do other dangerous shit is a pretty common way of keeping score.

For a 15-year-old who can't go do most kinds of direct action, anti-trans feminism is one of the fiercer, angrier, more dangerous kinds of feminism she has access to. It might be the only one that encourages her to cause active, direct harm to her enemies. I think that's appealing to some young people who might not even have any larger political commitments.

(I see something similar with transmedicalism — the view that genderqueer people, and trans people who don't have the "right" symptoms and the "right" formal diagnosis, need to be driven out of the community. Some people are transmedicalists because they have a thorough [incorrect] analysis of gender and mental health, or a bigger commitment to medical institutions. But a lot, especially the young ones, are just pissed-off teenagers with a tiny bit of online turf to defend who want to feel brave and fuck someone up.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:25 PM on May 10 [12 favorites]


First there's the ideological framework. Radical feminism, as I understand it, is Marxism applied to sex and gender roles: Men are oppressors; the patriarchy is the system of oppression men (#yesallmen) have set up for themselves; gender roles are an artificial creation of the patriarchy that are a main, or even the primary, instrumentality of oppression.

If you think Marxism can just be boiled down to "there are oppressors and a system of oppression and instrumentalities of oppression," you are...not qualified to be discussing ideology.
posted by praemunire at 4:50 PM on May 10 [8 favorites]


Can I just say I love you all? Like, I'm just an award-winning reclusive novelist on the internet and not someone who ultimately matters to your lives, but wow thank you for sharing your stories.

also, shawnstruck, thank you for coining the phrase "TERF to tradwife pipeline," because those four words caused a lot of stuff to snap into place in my mind. It's an interpretive frame I had never thought of before, but also — of course that makes sense.

also:

> Any young subculture gets a certain fraction of people who want to be harder and fiercer and more real than everyone else. For people who want to compete on that, willingness to hurt people and do other dangerous shit is a pretty common way of keeping score.

TANKIES. Oh my god, TERFs are tankies. transpose tankie to the key of feminist and you get a TERF, transpose TERF to the key of Marxist and you get a tankie.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:30 AM on May 11 [10 favorites]


Yes! Or maybe: some terfs are feminist tankies* and some are feminist ex-hippie-free-speech-absolutists.**

* Either young and aggro and not thinking clearly about the consequences of what they're calling for, or knowledgeable enough to know better but scared about what's happening and convinced desperate measures are necessary.

** "Well in my day we didn't have this political correctness stuff..." "We're just saying what other people are afraid to..." "I fought for the right to call myself X instead of Y and to speak openly about Z and W, and if I lose the right to use this slur then those are next!"
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:16 AM on May 11 [3 favorites]


" The stated goal of radical feminism is to dismantle the system of oppression above, which ultimately means abolishing gender roles. "

Which I could get behind, but I feel like there are 99 things that cis people do that would be higher priority. Trans people aren't particularly privileged within that system. It would be like fighting capitalism by not tipping the waitstaff.
posted by RobotHero at 10:37 AM on May 11 [4 favorites]


It seems to me that much of what is being described in the original article — and much of what is going on in the comment thread — bears profound similarities to religious disputes. One interesting fact about religious disputes is that they are not typically resolved by empirical evidence. Indeed, it is fair to say that many religious disputes are never conclusively resolved at all.

I think what is objectionable to the article author — and to many commenters here — is the belief that gender is “really” determined by biological sex characteristics. People who have this belief would endorse the notion, for instance, that if you’re born with (external) boy sex parts, you’re “really” a male for all of your life — regardless of your (internal and subjective and psychological) views and ideas, and regardless of your (external) gender performance. (If I am using technical terms incorrectly, I apologize.)

But the reason I put quotation marks around “really” is that this view strikes me as operating in the same way as a religious view about Ultimate Reality — and it is very hard to resolve religious views about Ultimate Reality when we have more than one person with different religious views.

It is also worth highlighting in this context that other views about what gender “really” is are theological in just the same way. Differences of opinion about this stuff are not moral so much as metaphysical.

I think very few people would care if we had differing quasi-religious views about what it means to be “really” left-handed or right-handed. The reason that a lot of people care about what it means to be “really” male or female is that we accord or assign a galaxy of rights and privileges to people based on their sex/gender status. Maybe the answer is to stop according all these rights and privileges on the basis of sex/gender, but I think that will be difficult. There are fairly profound reasons that a lot of people are sympathetic to, for example, segregation by sex in certain contexts like correctional facilities and some educational institutions.

I will say that I am pretty sure that, when we are dealing with theological controversies, some degree of mutual tolerance has had more preferable outcomes historically than physical violence and verbal ridicule.
posted by Mr. Justice at 10:49 AM on May 11


who do you think is enacting physical violence on whom? whom do you think it is being verbally ridiculed?

why do you think you can speak for the author of the article and about the commenters here about what is "objectionable"?

and what makes you think "mutual" tolerance is possible when transphobes frequently do not want trans people to exist? what makes you think "mutual" tolerance is possible when transphobes continually try to enact rules and laws that make existence as a trans person more difficult?

why are you conflating sex and gender?
posted by anem0ne at 11:50 AM on May 11 [11 favorites]


Oh, Mr. Justice, I’ll extend you the courtesy of assuming you’ve come here with good intent, but you kind of seem to have wandered into amine field without a map. Your comment comes across as “this is pretty abstract” and ends with “let’s all get along.” That is going to raise some hackles.

My apologies for assuming, but I’m guessing you are a cis man who doesn’t have any out trans acquaintances. Then this argument may seem pretty theoretical and hair-splitting. Unfortunately, for trans people, it is instead a matter of (often) literal life and death. Trans is not protected status in many places, and trans people face extreme discrimination. When you add in race and poverty issues, being trans is paints an enormous target on you. So trans people are understandably touchy about theoretical discussions of whether they have any right to exist or not. And the FARTs, fr all I loathe them and their ideas, see trans women as an existential threat. So assuming that this can be easily puzzled out is a very fraught position to take.

Following from this, a vague plea of “can’t we all get along?” doesn’t sit well when the FARTs basic argument is — trans (women) don’t exist, and every social and legal tool should be applied to force them into nonexistence. If the 20th C taught us anything, when there is a group of people saying “we want to erase you from existence,” it is best to believe them, and resist with everything in your power.

If you are really interested, the good news is that it’s not terribly hard to educate yourself a bit about the issues. While both of the sources have some issues, I’d recommend Julie Serano’s Whipping Girl, which is a quick read, and maybe check out some of the ContraPoint videos; “Gender Critical” addresses many of the points of this thread, but you may have to go and do more reading to make sense of it.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:21 PM on May 11 [14 favorites]


I think very few people would care if we had differing quasi-religious views about what it means to be “really” left-handed or right-handed.

Yeaaaahhhhhhh that's not something a left-handed or ambidextrous person would say, so nope.
posted by bile and syntax at 12:31 PM on May 11 [10 favorites]


I think very few people would care if we had differing quasi-religious views about what it means to be “really” left-handed or right-handed.

> Yeaaaahhhhhhh that's not something a left-handed or ambidextrous person would say, so nope.


Indeed. I spent all of ten seconds on the topic and dug out this. From the link:
In the early-twentieth-century United States many educators and physicians believed that left-handers more often exhibited mental and cognitive disabilities. To reduce this risk they advocated “retraining” left-handers to become right-handed. The methods employed were often tortuous, including corporal punishment, tying a child’s left hand to immobilize it, and humiliation of children resisters.
When people are advocating dehumanizing behavior, it doesn't really matter why. I don't care if it's religious. I don't care if it's predicated on dismal fucking pseudoscience. We don't need to get along with them, we need to stop them.
posted by mordax at 3:33 PM on May 11 [13 favorites]


[Mr. Justice, having abstract philosophical discussions about other people's lived experiences, particularly when those lived experiences involve discrimination, oppression, and violence based on their identities, isn't going to work in this discussion. When one side of the "debate" is being literally murdered for who they are and what they believe about themselves, accusing them of being too invested in a mere "theological controversy" is super missing the point.]

[Everyone else, reload and see what was deleted.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 5:22 PM on May 11 [13 favorites]


If you really need an example of terfs in their own words, fair enough, here's one explaining how they see the world and how they define gender. That's the most neutral and humane phrasing I've ever heard one use - they're usually much more caustic - and it's still ...I'm not quoting it. Now we all have a baseline.


anyway i think the tankie metaphor is a good one.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 7:28 PM on May 11 [3 favorites]


Something that doesn't get talked about a whole lot, but I think shouldn't be too controversial is that in addition to variation in *what* your gender is, different people have genders that vary in *intensity*. A lot of TERF writing, including that link, reads like people who have a pretty weak gender identity and have universalized that. You get some pretty bad analysis if that's your starting point.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 9:50 AM on May 12 [4 favorites]


One thing I've learned in the last few years is that anytime you see the phrase "biological reality" used, and it's not in some academic paper about the epistemology of the discipline of biology (and maybe even then), it's probably time to start doing the Skeptical Squint at whoever is speaking. Because like 90+% of the time what's about to follow is either oldschool 19th century racism or hardcore gender essentialism.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:59 PM on May 12 [8 favorites]


Jumping back in to second what emptythought said: my TERF ex-friend is 30something and definitely fits the "I'm a progressive leftist but this uwu tumblr shit is too much" profile.

I'd like to see the post on that topic, sometime, btw.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 11:35 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


different people have genders that vary in *intensity*. A lot of TERF writing, including that link, reads like people who have a pretty weak gender identity and have universalized that.

oh, wow. I never thought about this. I myself have a pretty weak gender identity. (Obvs I am not a TERF, though.) wow, that makes a lot of sense.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 11:42 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]


Actually I think a more important (but related) concept that's missing is that rad fems/terfs seem to define gender only as a category we're placed into. And often with a materialist slant. i am borderline justifying terf ideology here but I actually think it's important, sorry

Their model/critique of gender seems to be that infants are tracked into different categories and treated wildly differently, either privileged or oppressed, based on what genitals the infants have; and this difference in treatment and raising will create differentiation along gender lines that is unnatural and unnecessary; And, this is taken for given as a premise, they assume that there are very few inherent (natural) distinctions between male and female infants and probably all gendered differentiation is artificial and downstream of socialization.

From there different people take it in a lot of different directions; some historical, some biological; some more rigorous than others. Anyway, given this model, most of the TERF concepts make sense. Like the key concept that "male socialization" inherently and unavoidably creates "male" people. Or the critique of "gender identity" as a concept; because they define gender purely as a relation of privilege and oppression, so "identifying" with the privileged class is therefore obviously self-serving and "identifying" with the oppressed class just breaks the model entirely.

Furthermore, defining gender as being inherently and unavoidably downstream from genitals also makes sense, because our parents place us in this class system based on genitals, with no consent or input from us. Everything in this model is downstream from the moment when the doctor takes a gander and yells out "It's a girl!"

It's a logically consistent model, and IMO there's a kernel of truth in it. When someone in China or India murders a girl child, they're not asking the child about their gender identity. So many decisions - even as simple as our name - are made for us before we're even capable of expressing a gender identity, and those material conditions shape who we are.

What's missing from this model is that people have inherent and natural differences and lots of people go through the same gendered socialization, the same environment, the same culture, the same parents, and they still all come out kinda different. Like different rocks going through the same grinder. We all live in the same world and we all experience it differently. It's not crazy to say, it seems certain, that there's a part of our self-image and our identity that we relate to gender but is NOT congruous with the blah blah social privilege oppression class relation etc. But we use the same words for both of those things.

Speaking as a trans person, I am who I am, no matter how people see me. Whether anyone even knows me or not. I just am who I am. But the way people see me and treat me is still an important part of my life and my material experience. Like, when my sexist high school teacher didn't let me speak in debate club, and the ultrafeminist teacher kept being mega nice to me. I don't think I have had male privilege, then or now, even though I currently see myself as male.

so I have (in my head) been calling these external and internal gender. I think they're both important. I think the materialist understanding is important, and often ill-defined, which is why I laid it out. sorry if that was long. And i think the biological reality is underrated as well, because every bit of reality is mediated through the body one way or another, but that's another blog post.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 2:20 PM on May 18 [2 favorites]


I still don't see TERF ideology as logically consistent or making much sense, given that:

a) they seem to be super happy about what's happening to Caster Semenya
b) given that they view gender as a relation of privilege and oppression, they seem to be very happy to be working with those who want to reify both male privilege and female oppression further
c) it makes absolutely no room for externalized views of people; dudes suddenly feeling comfortable putting their hands on the small of my back to move me out of the way, or talking over me, or suggesting that perhaps I'm wrong about passport requirements, or asking increasingly personal questions and/or light therapy in an Uber ride, doesn't stem from them knowing what's in my pants, but how they view me.
d) it posits everything as static and immutable, that sex cannot be changed, that gender and sex are more or less synonymous, and thus gender cannot be changed
e) the focus on "male socialization" of trans women as children easily lets them dismiss the anger of trans women as "male aggression"
f) as you point out, gendered socialization affects everyone differently, and TERF ideology supposes that trans women don't also internalize what they witness of "female socialization"
g) because sex and gender cannot be changed, and gendered socialization is so influential, it suggests that entire populations are already lost--men fundamentally cannot become better, because they are already so poisoned by gendered socialization, and women will always be oppressed, because they are trained to be victims by the same gendered socialization
h) because sex and gender cannot be changed, the notion then is that trans women (or, in TERF parlance, trans-identified men) will still always be men, and thus should be considered just a new way of being a man, a new style of masculinity
i) it completely ignores intersectionality--how race, class, orientation, or other factors can and do play a part in how men, women, and everyone in between and elsewhere are read and how their gender is viewed and applied by others

This idea that everything follows solely from the moment a doctor decides whether they see an innie or outie is incredibly toxic because then it suggests that even if I do conform and perform whatever behaviors and expectations there are of womanhood, it means that I am, at my core, a boy with delusions of femininity. It means that if I don't conform and perform those behaviors, it means that I am, at my core, a boy with delusions femininity. It means that if there are no behaviors and expectations of womanhood at all and gender is destroyed, it means that I am, at my core, a boy with delusions.

TERF ideology's self-consistency relies on the denial of biological, psychological, and sociological realities more advanced and nuanced than "this kid has a vulva and so she gets pink dolls, this kid has a dick and so he gets blue laser guns". It requires the denial of the lived experience of the people they talk about, that their understanding of the world is both more correct and valued than mine.

I guess you can say there's a kernel of truth in it, but in comparison I can say there's a kernel of truth in the Timecube theory because it too talks about Earth existing.
posted by anem0ne at 11:38 AM on May 21 [3 favorites]


You're right, that's a much better and more thorough description of terfiness. I'm sorry for how I approached what I wrote. I think it's like I described only the parts of terfiness that I can explain and so I skipped the parts that are nonsense and the parts that are vicious and made it sound way more humane than it works out to be in reality. and it was overall a mistake.

My kernel of truth, though, is that it does feel like every bit of my social existence cascaded out as a consequence of being categorized as a girl. And I think that's not even a particularly controversial thing to say. "I was treated like a [gender] as a child because of my genitals" is definitely something I have read on trans person blog posts. followed by "and it was wrong and harmful and I want to change it."

The TERF followup is instead "therefore [gender] is what you are," which ignores a lot of reality, as you and I laid out. Biological and social realities are obviously and clearly mutable. But:

Being treated like a girl did not make me one, but it did decide a whole lot of my material reality and it's hard for me to ignore that. That's my kernel of truth. Food given and withheld; teachers that were harsh or forgiving; skills that I was taught, or not taught; books given, or not given; friendships made or not made; scholarships, letters of rec, job interviews, job schedules, performance reviews, I can go on. "I was treated like a girl" means something concrete - and something that is not mutable. I will always have a past where I was treated like a girl. It didn't make me a woman, but it did make me who I am.

I feel a little out of my depth, and I want to apologize again for the impact my words will have. I don't get the chance to talk about this stuff very much at all.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 7:21 PM on May 21 [4 favorites]


Rainbo, I hope it didn't seem like I was denying the reality of what happened to you; I'm not arguing against that gendered socialization/gendered patterns of how children are raised don't exist. My childhood was atypical in many aspects, which possibly insulated me from some, but the background radiation privileging male children in most societies still had its effects.

It's quite true that in many ways I did benefit from male privilege pre-transition, and there are aspects of that male socialization (perhaps being more strident and forceful in discussions) that I know took hold--and it's something that I often have to sort of check myself on, because I most certainly never want to talk over any other trans folks' experiences, particularly from less-often-heard trans men and non-binary people.

Terf ideology is enormously toxic, I think, because so much of it, at least at first glance, has the mirage of being somewhat simple and respectable. It's easy to claim to be concerned for children who imagine themselves as princesses, dinosaurs, astronauts, and dolphins, and might just be a tomboy or a femme boy; but then when they attack those very children, deny them medical care, spread whisper campaigns against their parents, does that really show a concern for the kids? They claim to worry about the effects of puberty blockers on the children's health, which sounds reasonable, but then go ignore scientific research which suggests that there's much less harm than the mental health effects that crop up, that are far harder to treat and repair, and sometimes lead to irrevocable results like suicide.

And then to cap it off, after trying to prevent trans children from growing into who they are for so long, when these trans children become trans adults, they tell us that gendered socialization has forever marked us as the gender they deem us to be...

On face, their concerns are so banal, so virtuous, and in their results, so vile, so poisonous.
posted by anem0ne at 11:54 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


i mean, it's no wonder they fit so well with the right, who are so used to clothing their vile policies in anodyne terms.
posted by anem0ne at 12:04 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


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