The rise of anti-trans “radical” feminists, explained
September 5, 2019 9:55 AM   Subscribe

Known as TERFs, trans-exclusionary radical feminist groups are working with conservatives to push their anti-trans agenda. Online roots of the term TERF originated in the late 2000s but grew out of 1970s radical feminist circles after it became apparent that there needed to be a term to separate radical feminists who support trans women and those who don’t. Many anti-trans feminists today claim it’s a slur, despite what many see as an accurate description of their beliefs. They now prefer to call themselves “gender critical,” a euphemism akin to white supremacists calling themselves “race realists.” A long form article about the origins and current tactics of TERFs.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (113 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
 
TERF is outdated. The new term is Feminism-Appropriating Reactionary Transphobe, or FART.
posted by SansPoint at 9:58 AM on September 5 [156 favorites]


Something I can’t quite tell from this piece—are the TERFs in the US (where it is less popular) largely older or of the same generation/wave of feminism? It seems like the newer orgs that would fall into the TERF category are really centered on being anti-trans and are just dressing that up in language and framing that looks like feminism, but the “original” TERFs (the so-called feminists who were anti-trans in earlier decades) aren’t having success attracting younger or newer-wave feminists into this ideology. I hope that’s the case, anyway.
posted by sallybrown at 10:22 AM on September 5 [7 favorites]


I'd say so. The folks who are anti-trans in the US "don't identify as feminist", because they either think it's a tainted term, or believe feminism isn't necessary anymore.

There's definitely a few younger TERFs in the US, but enough of the younger feminist discourse is "no TERFs, no SWERFs, keep it intersectional" that the folks who'd maybe be clearly a TERF in the UK instead are driven from using the word "feminist".
posted by explosion at 10:29 AM on September 5 [9 favorites]


the Supreme Court, which took up the case and will hear oral arguments on October 8.

Good timing for a major test case?
posted by sammyo at 10:29 AM on September 5


I hope this isn't a derail, but I do not understand the framing of "feminism-appropriating" and "so-called feminists" in the comments and in the piece itself. Should we believe that these groups are attempting to appear feminist as a deception? Or does it make more sense to say that feminism has always had problems with race, class, queerness, transness? Why is questioning the feminism of the TERFs part of the critique, rather than recognizing that feminism is a tool, a weapon, that can be wielded against vulnerable and marginalized people far more easily than it can be wielded against power?
posted by mittens at 10:32 AM on September 5 [33 favorites]


Something I can’t quite tell from this piece—are the TERFs in the US (where it is less popular) largely older or of the same generation/wave of feminism?
From what I've seen (non-exhaustively, of course), there's definitely the older contingency and the "Very anti-trans, questionably feminist, definitely not radical" larger umbrella; but there's also been a fair amount of effort expended in Tumblr and Tumblr-adjacent spaces to try and repackage older logic/talking points in more modern-friendly context. (See: the current mess ripping through Twitter about "male socialization", which is more complex than I could properly explain)
posted by CrystalDave at 10:33 AM on September 5 [7 favorites]


@mittens

I believe that the reason those qualifiers are used (and they may be a bit overdone) is more a rejection of the implicit argument that "feminism" requires or supports their beliefs. It's not so much that they are practicing deception by claiming to be feminists as much as "defending" feminism from being appropriated in guidance of a belief.

I was reminded of stories about the Westboro Baptist Church, not a single one of which ever left it with a "The Westboro Baptist Church is nondenominational Christian church from Kansas." When its Christian affiliation was mentioned at all (it was more often referred to like a membership club or cult), there was always at least a quote (usually from a Christian anti-protester or leader) and typically lots of explanation given to the parts of their actions that do not align with mainstream Christian beliefs.
posted by thoughtbox at 10:42 AM on September 5 [16 favorites]


I hope this isn't a derail, but I do not understand the framing of "feminism-appropriating" and "so-called feminists" in the comments and in the piece itself. Should we believe that these groups are attempting to appear feminist as a deception?

My reading of the piece was that at least one of the organizations (WoLF and maybe Hands Across the Aisle) was actively trying to use feminism as a costume for anti-trans beliefs—like, it was a strategic game plan, the whole org was created to fight trans rights and chose a TERF ideology as good strategy. A Trojan horse type of deal:
In fact, nearly every blog post on WoLF’s site is anti-trans (posts arguing against trans women in women’s prisons, trans girls in girls sports, trans women in women’s homeless shelters). There is little call to any “feminist” issue that isn’t an attack on trans people at its core.
That doesn’t mean feminism as a movement doesn’t have and hadn’t had extensive problems (the old school TERFs, racism, intersectionality). Those problems are what made it possible for WoLF’s strategy to happen in the first place. And the problems in academia seem more to fall into this category.
posted by sallybrown at 10:43 AM on September 5 [29 favorites]


I thought the article was going to explain why TERFs are...they way they are, but some things are beyond us, I suppose.

Kinda seems like they’re mostly useful idiots who astro-turf for Nazis, in addition to their main gig of terrorizing trans people? I didn’t realize that they’d taken over feminism in the U.K. That is...fuck.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:44 AM on September 5 [5 favorites]


the framing of "feminism-appropriating" and "so-called feminists" in the comments and in the piece itself.

It could be seen as analogous to any loose organization. On the one hand is the "no true Scotsman" fallacy. On the other hand, if someone's calling themselves something, but behaving against one of the core tenets, aren't they hypocritical or appropriating?

We see this a lot with Christianity. People call themselves Christians, but they don't in any way live up to Christ's example. With regard to immigration alone, there are a dozen examples in the Bible of how the immigrant is to be welcomed and treated as equal, but "Christians" are not all united in that stance.

The core tenet of feminism is treating everyone with equality and dignity. To not assume ability or interest in certain toys, clothes, occupations, etc. TERFs do the opposite, and dictate what makes a real woman (or man, but they always seem to ignore the existence of trans men/mascs). They call themselves "feminists," but they're stuck on the 2nd wave at best, and their "feminism" is not intersectional or inclusive.
posted by explosion at 10:46 AM on September 5 [28 favorites]


Ugh. But thanks for posting this, Homo neanderthalensis - I have no idea how much people who haven't encountered TERFs and their ilk personally are aware of such forms of transphobia. A bunch of my newer friends are trans (and some older friends have recently transitioned this year), so I've unfortunately been hearing a lot about TERFs and other "gender critical" transphobes of late.

SCOTUSblog page for the case described in the beginning of the article. Oral arguments are set for Oct. 8.

If You’re LGBTQ+ and Don’t Know About October 8th, Pay Attention (Out Magazine):
The three cases arriving on the Supreme Court’s doorstep this October aim to reverse the Trump administration’s course, establishing that existing federal protections against sex-based discrimination cover discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, as well. Zarda v. Altitude Express concerns a late skydiving instructor who was fired on account of being gay, while Bostock v. Clayton County concerns a municipal worker who experienced anti-gay discrimination while working in city government. The two cases have been consolidated into one single case that aims to determine whether Title VII’s prohibitions around sex-based discrimination cover sexual orientation-based discrimination. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, which concerns a funeral home worker who was terminated for being trans, similarly hopes to decide whether gender identity-based discrimination is a form of sex-based discrimination.
posted by rather be jorting at 10:47 AM on September 5 [13 favorites]


Quislings will always have power and a voice far outstripping their numbers until the exact moment they're no longer useful.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:51 AM on September 5 [21 favorites]


From the article:
According to Heron Greenesmith, who studies the modern gender-critical movement as a senior research associate with the social justice think tank Political Research Associates, gender-critical feminism in the UK grew out of a toxic mix of historical imperialism and the influence of the broader UK skeptical movement in the early aughts — which was hyper-focused on debunking “junk science” and any idea that considered sociological and historical influence and not just biology.
Hmmm. "Evolutionary psychology" aka sociobiology has a lot to answer for, as does capital-S Skepticism. It's not just racist and anti-feminist, it's transphobic as well. Evolutionary psychology is at bottom a reactionary ideology. (And, as a sociology major, a great big middle finger to those who call it "junk science." We'd do well to have more, not less, sociology as mainstream conversation.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:01 AM on September 5 [29 favorites]


Should we believe that these groups are attempting to appear feminist as a deception? Or does it make more sense to say that feminism has always had problems with race, class, queerness, transness?
I think it's both, honestly?
There's definitely much to be said on the latter. There's a long history of trouble there. So "Feminism has troubles with transphobia" is definitely a true statement.

At the same time though, I don't think "Transphobic rhetoric has no place in feminism" isn't as much a definitional argument as much as a normative one.
For example, there's a lot of past examples of issues with sexism/replicating patriarchal norms in anarchist & anti-fascist spaces (nowhere's immune, that way). So by a literal reading, "Patriarchy isn't anti-fascist" isn't true, in that there's counterexamples of such people also working within those spaces.
But a lot of people have trouble ceding that ground; and falling back to "Sure there's sexual predators in anti-fascist spaces, but we can't say they're not one of us" feels like a big loss to a lot of people.

So you get that as a rallying cry/move to define the space, to say "There's no room given to you here". Aspirational, vs. descriptive. None of this is to say "these aren't problems we need to question and excise", but it's rhetoric-as-action vs. rhetoric-as-description.
posted by CrystalDave at 11:03 AM on September 5 [13 favorites]


On the one hand, there are definitely TERF groups and people who are fairly blatantly not feminist in their aims.

On the other hand, there definitely are TERF groups and people who are arguably legitimately feminist, just scum.

On the gripping hand, yes there's a definite aspirational part to intersectional feminism trying to deny that TERFs are feminist.

And on the fourth hand there's no denying that feminism has historically been centered on the interests of cis het white middle class women and there's good arguments to be made by people who aren't cis het white middle class women that mainstream feminism has always viewed them as ancillary to the cause at best.

You're definitely getting into a minefield of doctornal arguments, No True Scotsmaning and other ugly affairs when you get into feminism, TERFs, intersectionality, and so on.

I think there definitely are some people who are inarguably coming from a feminist space, mostly but not exclusively older, who have fallen into TERFdom and are making deals with the patriarchy to try and achieve short term goals for what I think is a long term loss. We see similar schisms back in the 1980's when some feminists made alliances of convenience with fundamentalist Christians in opposition to pornography. Andrea Dworkin was one of the bigger names in feminism who made a lot of people feel betrayed when she allied with notorious anti-feminist Donald Wildmon on the issue of pornography.

I think that's a lot of what makes the argument so vicious, at least when dealing with TERF groups that really are otherwise feminist. It's a civil war and people on both sides know and feel betrayed by people on the other side. There've been two FPP's about the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival and their trans exclusive policies and it's a good (bad?) example of how ugly that sort of infighting can get.

The TERFs who are more obviously just using feminist as a mask are easier to dismiss, if no less harmful.
posted by sotonohito at 11:29 AM on September 5 [32 favorites]


Should we believe that these groups are attempting to appear feminist as a deception? Or does it make more sense to say that feminism has always had problems with race, class, queerness, transness?

Feminism has always been a big tent. It's not solely one belief system. TERFs are kind of an extension of second-wave gender essentialist thought, taken to a biology-focused and unscientific extreme.

This is why people will use the phrase "white feminism" to describe another cross section of feminist thought. It describes a subset of beliefs and behaviours within feminism. White cis women do not have a monopoly on feminism, and these distinctions matter.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 11:47 AM on September 5 [18 favorites]


[Folks, please refresh and don't respond to deleted comments. If someone wants to have a thread about providing sexual assault services to a diverse audience, a) this isn't that thread and b) it is not going to go like the deleted comment seems to be steering towards. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 11:50 AM on September 5 [2 favorites]


Should we believe that these groups are attempting to appear feminist as a deception? Or does it make more sense to say that feminism has always had problems with race, class, queerness, transness?

One possibility doesn’t exclude the other. That’s part of why I referred to useful idiots. Some of these people — likely the visible ones — genuinely believe they’re feminists, despite their singular focus on hurting women. They’re either not very smart, or they’re made dumb by their bigotry.

But they are apparently funded and supported by nazis of various stripes. So it’s both, with the idiocy and the bigotry enabling the nazi astroturfing.
posted by schadenfrau at 12:26 PM on September 5 [12 favorites]


As a feminist, the idea that [the people who are single-mindedly obsessed with me and my loved ones' genitalia to the point where it is an existential threat] belong under my same umbrella... I guess it stings a little.

I guess I hear it a bit like "haha, fuck you for caring about people and fighting for a better world and using an ideology to expand your heart and mind and vision until you eventually understood the truth about yourself and embraced your sexuality, gender, and mental crap and started deconstructing your own learned internalized misogyny and racism and ableism and other isms! Haha. Check it out, these psychotic perverts who hate you and the people you love are feminists too"

Which ok. Maybe that's fair. Just.. damn, that feels really shitty?

Feminism is like.. the reason I became a whole person.( Not 2nd wave feminism, I'm talking intersectional, international, constantly reassessing your stance on everything feminism.) I like to think the movement has evolved, not splintered. The ones who only serve as antagonists just appropriate the term, to the delight of people who secretly hate feminism (and trans people).

FARTs are fascists, allied with fascists in power. They pick on the most marginalized and vulnerable people in society to the exclusion of anything else. They're antithetical to my understanding of the word "feminism" and I'm just not comfortable ceding it to them.
posted by captain afab at 1:45 PM on September 5 [34 favorites]


Just curious: is there an x-swapped version of this?
Like is there some group of Male Identity idiots giving Trans Men similar treatment? Is there such thing as a TERM, where M is for Men-inist or whatever nonsense?
posted by bartleby at 1:59 PM on September 5


I'm fairly sure the MRM people are anti-trans. They're anti a lot of things, though. It's pretty much expected, given that Mens Rights people are as a whole incredibly reactionary.

Unlike feminism, where non-TERF feminism is a very different thing than TERFs. Its hard to even imagine a trans-friendly "mens rights" group, but even if it existed it'd still be a pretty odious thing, since the foundation of MRM is misogyny.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:11 PM on September 5 [5 favorites]


Much as it pains me to say it, TERFism is a child of second-wave feminism, to the point that whenever I think about one of those women seriously, I have to stop and go back to check to see what her record is on the subject. I think it's letting (us) feminists off too easy to just simply disavow them as if they had nothing to do with us or our history, and, importantly, as if they had no positions to which part of our constituency is not predisposed to be vulnerable if not warned off of.
posted by praemunire at 2:45 PM on September 5 [35 favorites]


I guess I hear it a bit like "haha, fuck you for caring about people and fighting for a better world and using an ideology to expand your heart and mind and vision until you eventually understood the truth about yourself and embraced your sexuality, gender, and mental crap and started deconstructing your own learned internalized misogyny and racism and ableism and other isms! Haha. Check it out, these psychotic perverts who hate you and the people you love are feminists too"

while we're talking about ableism, this use of "psychotic perverts" did not feel thoughtful or inclusive to me. 🤷‍♂️

it's real irritating that I can't label myself as part of any tradition, including feminism, without getting lumped in with people who I disagree with, and that includes people who want to push back on owning the problems with the tradition and attempting to improve it.
posted by bagel at 2:55 PM on September 5 [13 favorites]


Just curious: is there an x-swapped version of this? Like is there some group of Male Identity idiots giving Trans Men similar treatment? Is there such thing as a TERM, where M is for Men-inist or whatever nonsense?

my immediate, somewhat rude reaction: haha fuck no, like easily 9/10ths of the trans related unpleasantness I've experienced as a transmasc person was misaimed transmisogyny. one of the shitty things about patriarchy is nobody gives a fuck what dudes do, and this frequently includes trans dudes. like, there is occasionally stuff actually directed at trans men who aren't being read as trans women, masculine* cis women, or feminine* cis men, but it is extremely rare.

transmisogyny is a problem, transmisandry is made-up fake bullshit like reverse racism and at least 99.9% of cryptocurrency.

* I'm using these terms broadly, and to include being read as gay or lesbian by homophobes.
posted by bagel at 3:13 PM on September 5 [21 favorites]


I thought Jay Hulme's full blog post (some of which was quoted in the Vox article re: anti-trans reactions to trans men) was a good read: Transphobes and Trans Men.

Quoting the last portion of it here:
At the heart of all of this is a desire among transphobes to control trans men. They obsess over our surgeries, our ages, and our presentations. The prospect of a trans man exercising his right to bodily autonomy horrifies them. They speak of trans men as “girls” even when we’re well into our twenties, and even beyond, and if they are older than us, or parents, they use age and/or motherhood as a form of rank - “I know better than you” - to silence us, belittle us, and undermine us - even as we speak about our own lives and experiences. Transphobes wish to sensationalise our experiences, to make other trans men too scared to come out, or transition. They speak of “testosterone poisoning” (having normal male levels of testosterone in our bodies and maybe growing facial hair), of “mutilation” of “hacking off healthy body tissue” - they care more about the sexist ideal of the perfect untouched female form, than about the people whose bodies they actually are.

Transphobes desperately want trans men to think they are on our side. But they are not. To transphobes, a well informed, successful, confident trans man is a problem that rocks the very core of their ideology - that all “trans issues” are just entitled overly sexualised creepy men attempting to appropriate womanhood to the detriment of “real women”. Simply by existing, trans men, form a hole in this ideological framework they can never close. This is why they try so hard to convert us. To undermine our voices and experiences. To make us seem silly, childish, brainwashed, or uninformed. We are a problem.

Keep being a problem, fellow trans guys. You’re doing great.
posted by rather be jorting at 3:27 PM on September 5 [31 favorites]


derail: They speak of “testosterone poisoning”
Aw dammit. I had been rather successfully using that term to unlock the concept of toxic masculinity for people who were reflexively denying that such a thing was even possible.
“Right, but like What if Bros...but Too Much? Like an overdose.” “Ohhhh shit!”
I guess I’ll have to switch if that (bullshit) usage hangs around.
posted by bartleby at 3:50 PM on September 5


Which ok. Maybe that's fair. Just.. damn, that feels really shitty?

Yeah, I agree. But I do think it's important to recognize it, no matter how shitty it feels. No movement, ideology, or practice is entirely pure, and there will always be people who are aligned with you in important ways while being diametrically opposed in others.

Just as praemunire says, a significant fraction of the leading thinkers and activists in Second Wave feminism became (or always were) TERFs, but the reality is that feminism wouldn't be where it is today without them. The incredible debt that modern feminism owes them does not excuse their transphobia and hateful speech and actions, but neither does their transphobia erase their history of contributions to the feminist movement. And while I firmly believe that feminism as an essential component of Humanism and the defense of human rights would be better off without TERFism, I don't know how to weigh the progress that (some of) these second-wave leaders made against the later (or simultaneous) harm they've also done with their transphobia.

I remember a few years back, when I was regularly reading Free Thought Blogs, there was an incident with blogger Ophelia Benson who wrote something "gender-critical" in the traditional Second Wave sense, attacking the idea that gender can be anything more than an arbitrary social construction. Some of the other bloggers and commenters responded criticizing her position, pointing out that this doesn't fit with the lived experience of trans people, and she lost her shit, de-camping from the network and apparently going full-on TERF. It was really sad (and also angering) to watch, as I'd always enjoyed her writings' critical feminist perspective. At least to me, it really seemed like she is a person who doesn't really feel an internal sense of her gender all that strongly, found a set of ideas within feminist criticism that really resonated with her lived experience, and then refused to consider even the possibility that others might have a different experience of gender than she does.

I like schadenfrau's phrasing that some of these people are "made dumb by their bigotry." But in at least some cases, maybe like Benson's and some of the TERFs discussed in the FPP, the bigotry itself has roots in an over-commitment to a set of ideas within feminism, which in and of themselves are important ideas: yes, gender is a social construct; yes, femininity is used as a tool of patriarchal oppression. But in prioritizing a simplified, purist ideology over actually listening to and taking seriously the self-reported subjectivity of other people, they lose the ability to really engage with trans folk as equals, and to hear what they and other folks in the LGBTQI+ space can tell us: actually, gender is also biological and psychological, and some people will have an experience of gender that is largely independent or even opposing its socially-imposed construction; actually, femininity can be an essential tool of self-expression. The moment you start prioritizing ideas over people, even ideas conceived in service to people, I think you're in dangerous territory, and bigotry becomes a natural response to any class of people who make you question your own ideology.
posted by biogeo at 3:58 PM on September 5 [37 favorites]


Reading through WoLF's amicus brief, the article seems like a mischaracterisation of their viewpoint on the Aimee Stephens case.

The article says they "side with conservatives arguing for the right to force cisgender women into skirts at work" and that they want "to put cis women in a stricter box and enforce sex-based dress codes".

But the brief makes clear that WoLF do not want that. They positively refer to the earlier case of Ann Hopkins:
In Price Waterhouse this Court ruled that discrim-ination on the basis of sex-stereotyping constitutes dis-crimination on the basis of sex. In that case, the plaintiff was a woman who was denied a workplace promotion because many of her male colleagues strug-gled with the fact that she did not conform to the sex-stereotypes imposed on women. This Court rightly ruled that this constituted discrimination on the basis of sex, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In doing so, this Court stated, “We need not leave our common sense at the doorstep when we interpret a statute.”
The Aimee Stephens case, however, is different - while the scenario is the same (someone being fired for wearing clothes that doesn't match their sex-stereotype), the legal argument being put forward is from a different angle altogether:
Unfortunately, Aimee Stephens did not simply challenge whether a sex-specific dress code for funeral home employees constitutes illegal sex-stereotyping under Price Waterhouse, which would have presented a much simpler issue. Instead, he has bootstrapped that much simpler claim into an attempt to revolution-ize the legal meaning of “male” and “female” by rede-fining the fundamental meaning of the term “sex” under federal civil rights law.
posted by Aethelwulf at 4:01 PM on September 5


Aethelwulf, WoLF isn’t making a coherent legal argument there, just dissembling. Nor is the piece claiming that WoLF’s brief hates on Hopkins, just that the underlying anti-Stephens effort, of which WoLF is a part, is trying to keep Stephens herself in a certain gender role that doesn’t fit her. The Stephens case is using the Hopkins precedent (which btw is a very interesting case in and of itself and worth reading!) the way any legal challenge draws on precedent to bolster its argument. WoLF objecting to extending or relying on Hopkins in Stephens because they don’t like or respect trans people (made very clear by their use of “he” in the brief) isn’t a strong point.
posted by sallybrown at 4:15 PM on September 5 [15 favorites]


The article says they "side with conservatives arguing for the right to force cisgender women into skirts at work"

The article describes how they work with Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative group that believes in gendered dress codes. As you've noted in your comment, WoLF's stated position in the amicus brief contradicts the ADF's position. (Because they are hypocrites.)
posted by yaymukund at 4:51 PM on September 5 [4 favorites]


haha fuck no, like easily 9/10ths of the trans related unpleasantness I've experienced as a transmasc person was misaimed transmisogyny. one of the shitty things about patriarchy is nobody gives a fuck what dudes do, and this frequently includes trans dudes.

As a non-binary trans femme I am so, so glad to see a transmasc person say this. Trans men absolutely do experience transphobia, no question, but there's a whole other level of violence levied against trans femmes. "Bathroom laws" and other gendered space gatekeeping laws are aimed primarily at trans women. On a more violent level, if we take a look at the trans people who have been murdered this year alone (this link, from last May, is tragically already out of date) you can see a very bleak pattern: Black trans women in particular are overwhelmingly the victims.

To be clear: trans men are not to blame for this; patriarchy is. Especially in a social culture where "man" is read as "default person".

And this is before we even touch the whole issue of non-binary-ness, where you manage to piss off everyone for refusing to hew to binary gender roles; for being seen as some kind of "transtrender" seeking attention (a sentiment that gives me flashbacks to the discourse about bisexuals in the 90s being coy attention-seekers who were "playing gay"); and for refusing to participate in passing culture, the stomping grounds of truscum the world over.

All this said: today's young queers give me a lot of hope about the future. There's a lot of young trans kids ready to destroy gender altogether, and support one another whatever their gender identities may be. Like I was really blown away by the trans youth discourse on TikTok, as unlikely a venue as that might seem. These kids bring tears to my eyes, it's so heartwarming and encouraging.

Thanks for letting me riff on this point for a while.

Yeah, I agree. But I do think it's important to recognize it, no matter how shitty it feels. No movement, ideology, or practice is entirely pure, and there will always be people who are aligned with you in important ways while being diametrically opposed in others.

Yes. This is what I was clumsily trying to get at in talking about feminism being a very big tent. There are always going to be horrible people in any given movement, and interestingly enough, they are almost always people who are still clinging to an obsolete, outdated, or even downright reactionary version of said movement. Like as a communist, Stalinists make me cringe. But they are communists. Rather than respond to this fact by saying "they are not real communists", I prefer instead to approach this as "OK, we have a certain faction within our circles who are clearly reactionary—why? And how can we prevent them from hijacking everything?"
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 5:17 PM on September 5 [24 favorites]


the bigotry itself has roots in an over-commitment to a set of ideas within feminism, which in and of themselves are important ideas: yes, gender is a social construct; yes, femininity is used as a tool of patriarchal oppression. But in prioritizing a simplified, purist ideology over actually listening to and taking seriously the self-reported subjectivity of other people

Whenever I see this particular manifestation I always wonder, somewhat sadly, if this is what happens when someone who has used these 2nd wave gender ideas to come to terms with the fact that they themselves don’t feel like what they think a “woman” is supposed to feel like sees those ideas challenged.

I’m not implying or arguing that all TERFs have gender identity issues to work out. But on occasion I’ve encountered someone who seemed to take it so personally that other people might have a different experience of gender — that gender might exist as something more than an socially imposed abstraction — that it seems, well, personal.
posted by schadenfrau at 5:37 PM on September 5 [5 favorites]


I would actually argue that the root of the problem is radical feminism itself, specifically the notion that all oppression eventually finds its root (hence the name radical) in the persecution of women. This mindset is appealing to some, mostly women who are not particularly marginalized along any other axis--hence that strain of feminism's strong critique by disabled feminists, womanists and feminists of color, and other feminists who experience marginalization that is not capable of being boiled down to a lens of misogyny.

Star-anise on Tumblr has been doing some phenomenal de-radicalization and writing on the topic lately. One piece of hers that I am particularly appreciative of is her note that topics like "gender critical" could spawn some really amazing discussions about the ways that pressure and reactions to pressure inform our experience of gender, as well as our concepts of what gender entails and what broad-tent concepts like "male" and "female" really contain.

But that doesn't and can't happen when half the people in the conversation are watching tensely for the surprise! transmisogyny trap to spring, because no one can relax enough to really dig into that nuance. The whole conversation winds up being tainted by cruelty, and it becomes so much harder to pick out the things that are good because many of them have become associated with transmisogyny and read as red flags.
posted by sciatrix at 6:08 PM on September 5 [34 favorites]


I'm not sure whether I find the explanation of TERF in the UK as presented in the The Outline article linked by Vox to be persuasive, but one item of context they mentioned that I had somehow missed from the MF post a year ago was the egregious Editorial by the Guardian on the Gender Recognition Act. Yikes.
posted by chortly at 8:49 PM on September 5


I would actually argue that the root of the problem is radical feminism itself, specifically the notion that all oppression eventually finds its root (hence the name radical) in the persecution of women.

This is not my understanding of the use of "radical" in the term. That is, in my experience, radical feminism (of the non-TE variety) doesn't claim that all oppression is based in gender, just that gender oppression fundamentally structures all of our social institutions. That leaves room for other axes of oppression to be equally fundamental.
posted by eviemath at 9:19 PM on September 5 [6 favorites]


biogeo: it really seemed like she is a person who doesn't really feel an internal sense of her gender all that strongly, found a set of ideas within feminist criticism that really resonated with her lived experience, and then refused to consider even the possibility that others might have a different experience of gender than she does.

schadenfrau: Whenever I see this particular manifestation I always wonder, somewhat sadly, if this is what happens when someone who has used these 2nd wave gender ideas to come to terms with the fact that they themselves don’t feel like what they think a “woman” is supposed to feel like sees those ideas challenged.

This hits uncomfortably close to home. For a long time I myself clung to the idea of gender as purely a social construct. It's one of the few things I've been dogmatic about in my life, and it was weirdly important to me that gender actually be a social construct. I never got into TERFism because I was raised not to be a bigoted asshole, but I always had a hard time reconciling this idea with the existence of trans people, which ... oops, yeah, it turns out I'm one of them. And now I realized that I loved the idea of gender as purely a social construct so much because it helped me feel better about my recurring feelings that I wasn't "really a girl."

Honestly, if you spend any time at all in TERF communities like r/GenderCritical (but, like, don't), you will read a lot of stuff that sounds like gender dysphoria. Stuff like "who wouldn't want a get out of womanhood card?" and "Of course all women hate their bodies" (when talking about AFAB people) and a complete and total distrust of trans women, partly because they can't believe any person would "choose" (as they see it) womanhood. rather be jorting's great link outlines this well.

And just like men who get pulled into incel stuff are sometimes victims of toxic masculinity, I think a lot of TERFs are themselves victims of the limited ways we have of understanding gender. Maybe this is too kind to them, there are a lot of them that just seem like garden-variety bigots, but I think the latter do a lot of radicalization of women who feel uncomfortable with their gender role/identity.
posted by the sockening at 11:11 PM on September 5 [22 favorites]


Oh, and ratherbejorting's link also made my jaw drop at the comparison of how TERFs deal with trans men to conversion therapy. Because ... yeah. Earlier this summer when I was in full-on Gender Freakout mode, I spent some time reading stuff in a detrans community (ie, for people who were detransitioning) and wow, do TERFs act like fucking vultures in those communities. People would come in, saying things like "I want to transition but I'm worried that I'll never be a real man/woman" which is an incredibly understandable fear in our binary society. And the TERFs would just descend on these people with assurances it was "ok to be a butch lesbian," fear-mongering about health issues with transition, and so on.

And the way they talk about the trans community in those spaces is exactly how homophobes talk about the "gay agenda." If you believed them, you'd think that gangs of trans activists were roaming the streets, forcing tomboys to start taking testosterone. When actually, every trans person I've talked to has been really supportive and encouraging, but also told me to take my time in deciding what's right for me. Because ... yeah, it's just a blatantly transphobic talking point.
posted by the sockening at 11:23 PM on September 5 [16 favorites]


the egregious Editorial by the Guardian on the Gender Recognition Act

The Guardian has a shocking number of TERFs writing shocking things for it.

I think the latter do a lot of radicalization of women who feel uncomfortable with their gender role/identity

I often get this incredible whiff of jealousy off TERFs, that they have been judged and have suffered for not doing gender right (I think it's fair to say you don't see a lot of "conventionally attractive, in the way male heterosexuals would define it" TERFs) and yet "have" to watch people "who haven't even been through the suffering involved" sally in and "claim" femininity. (In case it's not obvious from the proliferation of scare quotes, let me emphasize that this is not a position I at all agree with.) It's hard to explain the extreme personal nastiness otherwise (you can be pretty sure that if a TERF could use more moderate language to make her point, she will pass up the opportunity in order to make references to...ugh, everyone knows what I'm talking about, I'd rather not repeat the rhetoric). Maybe that should give me more empathy for them, but it actually has the opposite effect. Jealousy leading to lashing out at the subject is something I have very little patience for.
posted by praemunire at 11:25 PM on September 5 [6 favorites]


I didn’t realize that they’d taken over feminism in the U.K. That is...fuck.

The terf takeover of feminism in the UK is mainly media feminism, all those bitter old leftovers from the eighties and seventies like Germaine Greer with nothing new to add and over taken by people with more modern, inclusive mindsets.

There's always been a streak of reactionary, white middle class cisallohet feminism in the UK, very much concerned with liberating the middle class woman but which immediately pulled up the ladder for everybody else when they got theirs.

It's always been homophobic and lesbophobic -- talking about butch looking lesbians as predators in the same way as they now talk about trans women -- but eager to uses lesbians as a shield for their transphobia and homophobia. Back in the eighties when political lesbianism was a thing -- women should sleep with women, not the enemy -- actual lesbians were again harassed the same way trans women are now.

There's of course also a huge classist and racist streak in it, where any woman, trans or cis, that does not conform to white middle class standards of beauty is obviously a man, so it's unsurprising they have few qualms about allying with the far right. some, like Posie Parker are half nazis already.

HOWEVER!

For all the harm they cause, for all their visibility in "respectable" broadsheets like the Times or the Grauniad, in the end they're a small minority, who have to depend on being useful idiots to get any attention. Trans acceptance in the UK is far higher than their visibility suggests.

Among actual feminists and LGBT communities trans acceptance, not terfism, is the norm.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:30 AM on September 6 [12 favorites]


I probably would have been considered a ‘terf’ previously. I am ashamed enough of this that I’ve created a sockpuppet account to say it. As someone with no strong internal sense of my own gender, I found it baffling that other people spent so much time, energy, and mental bandwidth on their own gender identity, and even sought medical treatment up to and including major surgery to confirm that identity.

One day I realised that the reason I don’t have a strong internal sense of my own gender is because I don’t need to. I am a white middle-class woman with no disabilities, no mental illness aside from some mild and treatable anxiety, no health issues, a good job, passports from two different western countries – basically as privileged as it’s possible to be without also being male in both sex and gender. My sense of gender is so completely affirmed by literally every aspect of the world I live in that I don’t even notice it on a personal level. When I realised this, I started to think about trans issues and identity in the same way I think about the other intersectional axes that I’m not on – race, disability, etc. I stopped trying to understand it from within my own perspective of the world, and instead, started to listen and to really trust what other people say about their own experiences.

It’s literally the easiest thing in the world compared to what the people who live those experiences go through, but it did mean that I had to stop centring myself in other people’s narratives. I think that’s key to understanding why terfs gotta terf. It starts with a pretty remarkable level of narcissism.
posted by shamesock at 2:08 AM on September 6 [39 favorites]


I mean, I think I do comprehend where they're coming from. (I hope it goes without saying that doesn't mean I AGREE with it, but then again, if I thought it did go without saying, then I guess I wouldn't be saying it.)

Growing up in a "girl-shaped" body is legit tough. You get shat on by the male establishment from the moment you're born backwards and in high heels. Every woman can recite you her list of memories of being punished for laughing too loud; being talked over; being told the sexual harassment was her own fault at fifteen, at twelve, at nine; how making him accountable is out of the question because why would you want to ruin a man's life? We've talked before about how Straight White Male is the lowest difficulty setting there is.

But the problem is that they fail to understand and/or accept that not all the people in those "boy-shaped" bodies were actually boys. If there really is some requirement to "pay your dues" by suffering to join the sorority of women, growing up trans ain't exactly a bottomless pit of kittens and Mallomars.

posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:45 AM on September 6 [10 favorites]


FARTism seems to be what feminism becomes if it's anchored in the fascist model of social relations. Fascism holds that the world is an eternal zero-sum struggle for survival/dominance between homogeneous groups united by some essential characteristic (usually ethnicity or race or some sort of blood-and-soil ancestral mythos). FARTism is this, with the characteristic being having two X chromosomes: it's “feminism” as a struggle of XX individuals against non-XX individuals.
posted by acb at 4:49 AM on September 6 [3 favorites]


This is not my understanding of the use of "radical" in the term. That is, in my experience, radical feminism (of the non-TE variety) doesn't claim that all oppression is based in gender, just that gender oppression fundamentally structures all of our social institutions.

This is a relatively new development in the history of radical feminist thought in part because of critiques from intersectional feminism along the lines of "your radical feminism ignores the racism/ableism/etc I see every day." And even in leaving room for other oppressions that fundamentally structure all of our social institutions, this mindset doesn't leave room for ways in which women can oppress men in service of those other marginalizations.

For example, there is simultaneously a terrible injustice with respect to rape of all women being properly investigated and also a racial history within the US of persecuting and killing black men over slights to the sexual honor of white women. The radical feminist reaction to this information tends to be to exclaim that this is a shared oppression of white men, who are marginalizing both white women and black men by using white women as an excuse to kill black men. But there are many cases of specific white women deliberately choosing to invoke patriarchal narratives of white female innocence in order to justify persecution of black people by white people, cases in which white women use these toxic patriarchal constructs in order to justify and shore up racists ones. Sometimes gender-based oppression and race-based oppression meet with a bang, and sometimes there is no clear way to always, without complications, identify who is Really Oppressed. That's the central insight of intersectional feminism, and why it has gained primacy in feminist thought over both liberal and radical feminism.

My point isn't that it's impossible to take radical feminism and attempt to twist it open to allow for intersectionality. My point is that even these softened approaches to radical feminism that appear in reaction to intersectional feminism still betray their, ha, roots. That doesn't mean that second-wave or radical feminisms haven't brought important insights to feminist thought and theory, but I do think it is important to note that radical feminism the ideology stems from feminist traditions that both predate intersectional feminisms and refused point-blank to be absorbed by them. When we talk about modern radical feminists, we have to talk about why you have feminists who refuse to become part of the Third Wave of intersectional feminism and who define themselves in opposition to that wave, and I do think that that has to mean something.
posted by sciatrix at 6:18 AM on September 6 [11 favorites]


(All of this is actually why I don't prefer using FART instead, although I appreciate the joke and think it's perfectly hilarious when TERFs get angry at being identified as TERFs. I think the name change allows feminisms to No True Scotsman their way out of being critiqued as problematic, and I think that the "trans-exclusionary" part isn't actually necessarily the only part of modern radical feminist ideology that I have critiques of.) Within feminist ideology and discussion, it's worth noting that my own feminist tradition is heavily shaped by intersectional approaches, and one of my most formative influences is the old Feminists With Disabilities group. That's an influence I share with star-anise, and I suspect it's one of the reasons that I find her analysis so compelling.

I think it's important to note that feminisms are myriad and that "feminism" contains a wide variety of intellectual traditions. Not all feminisms are equal, and critiquing some does not mean that I have to reject the whole, or even to reject the good things that radical feminism brought to the growth and shape of what we think mainstream feminism (now, at least in theory, explicitly intersectional) is today. But it does mean that I rather side-eye traditions of feminism that choose to cling to the old radical traditions because the primacy of intersectional feminism brought with it something that they find distasteful.
posted by sciatrix at 6:29 AM on September 6 [8 favorites]


I don't comment much in these threads because I'm mostly playing life on easy mode (credit given to that article to the amazing J Scalzi of course). But I just wanted to pop in and say that I get a good bit of insight from lurking in these discussions and reading these articles that I wouldn't otherwise be exposed to. It's made me more aware and alert to how hard it is for people who aren't similarly on easy mode. They've made me a better and far less knee-jerk judgmental-type person in this area.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:42 AM on September 6 [10 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. Re: whether TERFs are Second Wave Boomers or Young Millennials, just as a datapoint and/or useless anecdata, the TERFs I've known were my age (30s), feminist leftist lesbians, who were basically like "THEY ARE GOING TO FORCE ME TO HAVE SEX WITH PENISES. BUT ALSO POST-OP VAGINAS ARE NOT OKAY FOR SOME MYSTERIOUS REASON, they're jUsT dIfFeReNt." It's... frustrating and maddening and tragic to have seen good people in my life succumb to this. I've cut folks out for it and then wonder if that only drives them deeper into it, if the better answer is to patiently and slowly deprogram them. I'm not a super patient or persuasive person, though. But I am cis, so... I should probably work on it.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 7:32 AM on September 6 [1 favorite]


Also, tangential but: there are some folks on Twitter that have noted this, but I've noticed it on my own: this is nowhere near as serious, but I've seen TERF language creep over the years into fandom DiscourseTM on Tumblr. Like, there's no way the term "Steven Universe-critical" (lolllll) would exist without "gender-critical" as a model. Not super serious, but a little disturbing.

Also also: agreed with folks that say that some TERFs may not feel a particularly strong gender identity and may assume everyone else feels that way. I am pro-trans-rights all the way, but as a cis person who doesn't particularly feel a strong connection to their gender (it's just sort of, I have zero dysphoria, society tells me I'm a woman so I am, whatevs), it was really eye-opening to learn that some people really, really felt their gender identity strongly.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 7:54 AM on September 6 [14 favorites]


I often get this incredible whiff of jealousy off TERFs, that they have been judged and have suffered for not doing gender right (I think it's fair to say you don't see a lot of "conventionally attractive, in the way male heterosexuals would define it" TERFs)

You're saying these women you disagree with are just ugly and jealous? I don't care who you're talking about, hold yourself to a higher standard
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:02 AM on September 6 [26 favorites]


I often get this incredible whiff of jealousy off TERFs, that they have been judged and have suffered for not doing gender right (I think it's fair to say you don't see a lot of "conventionally attractive, in the way male heterosexuals would define it" TERFs)

You're saying these women you disagree with are just ugly and jealous? I don't care who you're talking about, hold yourself to a higher standard


Agree, this sort of ridiculously sexist statement shouldn't just be casually dropped in a parenthetical and let slide without comment. Seriously, what the fuck?
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 9:18 AM on September 6 [14 favorites]


there are a lot of them that just seem like garden-variety bigots, but I think the latter do a lot of radicalization of women who feel uncomfortable with their gender role/identity

Yes, thank you for putting this better than I did

Posie Parker

My brain parsed this as Parker Posey and I shouted “NO” alone in my apartment
posted by schadenfrau at 10:54 AM on September 6 [6 favorites]


Ugh, Graun. There's a lot of hedging and "transphobia must be opposed, but" going on in that editorial. I still prefer their news reporting to pretty much every major news outlet in the U.S., but yes, the editorial is egregious, especially in how it ends up regurgitating transphobic talking points under a supposedly open-minded guise of considering multiple perspectives and acknowledging "This is a complex issue that society needs to consider thoughtfully" - without seemingly putting much thought into it.

The follow-up publication of selected feedback, Transgender rights are not a threat to feminism, doesn't cancel out that editorial by any means, but I do want to highlight the response from Zoë Perry:
Your leader of 18 October was couched in a language to appear balanced between the views of transgender activists and radical feminists. But it gave credence to the argument that trans women like me are a threat to “real” and biological women in single sex spaces.

Where is the evidence that trans women transition so we can have access to rape centres or prisons in order to commit crimes against women? Where is the evidence that trans women transition to abuse girl guides? All sectors of society contain a criminal element, and I don’t imagine transgender people are different in that respect. But to suggest that making gender self-recognition easier poses a threat to women is not substantiated anywhere in your editorial.

You made no reference to the vulnerability of the trans community. No reference that among us there is a frighteningly high level of bad mental health, with a dreadfully high incidence of attempted suicide, or that we are subjected to hate crimes in the streets and that many have to deal with ostracisation from our families and friends.

I have received wonderful support from a great number of “real” women, and do not believe the views of the radical feminists are representative of their gender.

I greatly regret that the Guardian appears to think people like me can be a threat to the progress of feminism.
posted by rather be jorting at 11:08 AM on September 6 [11 favorites]


shamesock: As someone with no strong internal sense of my own gender, I found it baffling that other people spent so much time, energy, and mental bandwidth on their own gender identity, and even sought medical treatment up to and including major surgery to confirm that identity.

I've felt that same bafflement, until I figured out that others apparently experience gender differently from the way I experience it. And I decided that I did not need to understand or share other peoples' gender experience in order to accept it as true. All I needed to do was accept it.
People are willing to spend a lot of time, money and effort on getting gender stuff right; that must mean that it's important to them even if it isn't important to me. End of story.

It sounds simple now but it took me a while. Reading about people's life experiences helped a lot. MetaFilter has been one of the best places for me to do that. I'm very appreciative of the people who made that possible. If you're one of them, then thank you!
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:35 AM on September 6 [18 favorites]


From the WoLF amicus:
Legally redefining “female” as anyone who claims to be female results in the erasure of female people as a class. If, as a matter of law, anyone can be a woman, then no one is a woman, and sex-based protections in the law have no meaning whatsoever. The ruling below effectively repeals the sex-based protections in Title VII – a ruling that Congress surely did not intend. "
And yet, anyone could become Christian or Muslim at any time, but nobody is claiming that religious discrimination laws are invalidated by people's ability to change religions. Nobody's arguing in court that "Anyone could claim to Pagan and therefore nobody is Pagan and the rulings that protect Pagans are useless."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:39 AM on September 6 [16 favorites]


The follow-up publication of selected feedback, Transgender rights are not a threat to feminism, doesn't cancel out that editorial by any means

There was also a follow-up editorial by Guardian US journalists, "Why we take issue with the Guardian’s stance on trans rights in the UK" which was interesting as it highlighted that divide between the US and UK
... Guardian journalists in the US had no input in the editorial, which we felt was misplaced and misguided, and nearly all reporters and editors from our New York, Washington DC and California offices wrote to UK editors with our concerns.
The editorial was an attempt to make sense of a growing debate about trans rights in the UK. While focused on the Gender Recognition Act, the editorial and resulting conversations have exposed some of the fundamental divides between American and British feminism and progressive politics – and highlighted for us an alarming intolerance of trans viewpoints in mainstream UK discourse.
posted by bitteschoen at 11:54 AM on September 6 [7 favorites]


Also, for the people wondering if there's an MRA equivalent to TERFs -- Joe Rogan and his legion of fans. From what I can tell it's so normal in conscious masculinity that it doesn't get it's own term. And those dudes are extremely invested in the idea that transmen can never really be or "pass" as cismen, in addition to their transmisogyny and overall transphobia. The existence of trans people threaten their masculinity in many, many ways.

Source: recent conversation with someone who revealed that he listened to "a lot of Rogan," a conversation which, from there, positively careened downhill in impossibly myriad directions
posted by schadenfrau at 12:01 PM on September 6 [11 favorites]


biogeo: "it really seemed like she is a person who doesn't really feel an internal sense of her gender all that strongly, found a set of ideas within feminist criticism that really resonated with her lived experience, and then refused to consider even the possibility that others might have a different experience of gender than she does."

pelvic sorcery: "I am pro-trans-rights all the way, but as a cis person who doesn't particularly feel a strong connection to their gender (it's just sort of, I have zero dysphoria, society tells me I'm a woman so I am, whatevs), it was really eye-opening to learn that some people really, really felt their gender identity strongly."

So, uh, there are non-trans people who are all "Yes! I have a strong internal sense of gender!"?

What's that like?*



* Genuine question.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 6:45 PM on September 6 [5 favorites]


Hard to explain for myself... I feel very much like a woman? Like, if I think about stuff casually on what I do and not just biologically, 'because I'm a girl/woman' tends to figure highly somewhere in the list. But OTOH, the point is I don't have to think about it, unless when ppl identify me as a woman or when I'm being involved as a woman, my self is basically nodding in agreement. There's no friction of, 'well...' which I do experience when I'm being racially profiled for local political purposes (because I'm mixed) or religiously grouped (because I'm not in that typical mainstream political bloc). It's just a, yes, of course I am. Like, when I'm shopping for toiletries, of course I'll bitch about the pink tax but I'm still buying my sanitary products and my shampoo and my skincare and I don't feel a friction between the cultural messaging embedded in the branding and who I am.
posted by cendawanita at 7:17 PM on September 6 [7 favorites]


So, uh, there are non-trans people who are all "Yes! I have a strong internal sense of gender!"?

What's that like?


It’s probably the strongest sense I have of all my different identities. If I tick through the list of all the things I am (race, faith, family, nationality, occupation), being a woman is the first thing I would think of that defines who I am. It is so strong to me that I treasure it even with the load of issues that comes with it. And one of the strongest manifestations of that is how much I identify with other women. Which is why the TERF thing is so repellent to me. There are very few women in this world of whom I would think “I don’t care about you and I don’t want to hear your story.” When trans women say “I just knew I was a girl” I understand that feeling so well. Of course!
posted by sallybrown at 7:44 PM on September 6 [13 favorites]


So, uh, there are non-trans people who are all "Yes! I have a strong internal sense of gender!"

I will nth sallybrown: gender is a tradition of people that I see myself within and feel at home inside, a link to a social category that is mine. I usually roll with butch or gender non conforming, but it's hard to figure out how to describe my position when we're collapsing things.

It's worth noting that I think gender is really a collection of many traditions. While we tend to single out hegemonic upper/middle class white Anglo gender traditions and make them stand in for "male" and "female" in our heads, those aren't the only gender traditions that exist with which to identify. Class, race, culture, and subculture are all intimately entwined with specific gender traditions and what it means to be a particular gender ; Sojurner Truth's famous Ain't I a Woman? speech works because it highlights the disparities in whose experience of womanhood we think of when we reach to describe what the family of gender traditions we lump under "woman" is.

I'm in a slightly weird place with respect to cis and trans. I have a very strong sense of my (non-conforming) gender and feel very distressed when I'm coerced into performing a different one. That happens to me a fair bit with family, and it is horrible and uncomfortable and wretched. But when I'm allowed to perform my gender tradition in a way that feels authentic for me, I have a number of ways to conceptualize that gender that work well for me. In the specific, I know where I live, but if I'm going to lump... do I lump under nonbinary or female? I usually choose female, but it feels like a deliberate choice.

I generally ID as cis because of that choice to lump under female, even when that's female-with -caveats. Recently I had a colleague gleefully tell me about a case of transphobia in our workplace that she noticed, and how she scolded the perpetrator by telling them that there were trans people in the department, and that kind of bullshit made the workplace unsafe for unnamed trans colleagues. I got rather excited and tried to find some kind of tactful way of asking, do you know who - - do I know them - - how can I find them and make friends? And it turned out that she'd been talking about me.

I'm pretty conflicted about whether to even post this, because I feel kind of like being open about it is appropriative. Like saying "I think I, personally, have this choice about how to conceptualize my gender" is somehow judging other people's choices. I don't think that's true, but I also see how that framing snags and catches against the roughness of a long lifetime of people who really are trying to chip away trans folks' ability to perform their genders in the way that feels most comfortable and authentic for them.

Gender is hard, y'all.
posted by sciatrix at 9:04 PM on September 6 [12 favorites]


Metafilter: Gender is hard, y'all.

Sorry couldn't help myself. And I feel you so hard sciatrix on this I really do.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:32 PM on September 6 [1 favorite]


On having an internal sense of gender as a cis person:

I definitely feel male, and my gender presentation is within the normal range for men in our society, so I mostly have the privilege of not having to think about it. But my sense of gender is still something that I feel internally, independently of external societal messages. It's a part of me, like, I don't know, my foot. Mostly I don't think about how I have a foot; it functions seamlessly as a part of me. But if I think about my foot it's there, and it's an important part of me. It's mildly disturbing to imagine my foot not being there.

At the same time, my relationship to gender identity is not entirely uncomplicated. While masculinity is constructed in our society in ways that are much broader than femininity is, there are a number of ways in which my sense of identity simply doesn't fit with the masculine ideal(s) that are defined in our culture. I have, for example, very little sense of competitiveness in the way that is coded masculine, meaning I have been almost entirely unable to cultivate an interest in sports, something that still occasionally puts me in awkward interactions with other men I'm meeting for the first time who expect me to be able to participate in traditionally male-coded small talk around sports.

Overall, as I aged out of my twenties, the ways in which my identity doesn't quite fit within the "proper" range of masculinity has become less noticeable on a regular basis for me. On the one hand I think that culturally-defined male gender roles become more diverse as one ages, so the range of "acceptable" male-nesses expanded to include gender performances that are more compatible with my internal sense of my gender. And on the other hand I've discovered new interests (certain kinds of manual skills) that are relatively strongly coded masculine, at least by more traditionally-minded people.

But when I was a teenager and in my early twenties, I was keenly aware of the mismatch between my sense of identity and the gender performance I was expected to learn and produce. Perhaps ironically, the worst of the gender policing I received as a pre-teen and teenager was not from other boys, but from girls in my classes. Some of these bullies made it very clear that I was not behaving like a proper boy, in that, I think, I was too sincere, too cerebral, insufficiently jokey or athletic, and much too interested in talking and reading, and they made several years of my life absolutely miserable. (As we got older in high school, I actually became friendly with one or two of them, who spontaneously apologized to me for how they'd treated me in middle school. Middle school is a weird time for everyone trying to construct their own identity with the strange distorted templates our culture provides, and I don't really blame them for doing what they thought they had to in order to fit in.)

And yet, despite the fact that there was a clear mismatch between my internal sense of gender identity and the gender performance that was prescribed for me as a teenage boy, I don't think I ever felt like I was not male. Rather, my male-ness was maybe the "wrong kind" of male-ness, something that didn't really fit with the socially constructed masculinity on offer, but also definitely wasn't feminine. I don't think I was really aware of non-binary gender identification at the time, but if I had been I also don't think that would have fit. The societal messages I got telling me that I wasn't exactly a proper boy didn't make me feel not male, they just made me wish society would accept me as the man I was becoming.

Now, in my mid-thirties, that tension is much less, and on the whole I largely just get the rewards of male privilege. No one would describe me as a particularly "manly man," but I no longer routinely feel that my identity as a male is out of step with the range of acceptable male identity performances in our culture.

To be clear, I hope the takeaway from all of the above is not "poor me, it's so hard to be a cis male." Obviously being a cis man in our culture is much, much easier than any other gender identity. Nevertheless, I felt moved to share my experience to illustrate that even for someone largely internally-conforming to their externally-perceived gender, who has an internal sense of my own gender as something (at least partially) distinct from external cultural constructions, gender is hard, y'all. At least sometimes and in some ways. These experiences are what I try to draw from to better understand and empathize with people whose experience of gender is far more complicated than my own.
posted by biogeo at 12:04 AM on September 7 [8 favorites]


I don't have a strong internal sense of gender identity but I DO have a strong sense of being an introvert, and being uncomfortable when having to play the role of an extrovert. Hosting events, selling things, etc. With a nice jacket and chit chat about the weather and a limited supply of pre-selected anecdotes. "This isn't me. This is fake. This is a fake smile. I am playing a role, and it's exhausting."

It's so much better when can put on my stretchy knits and emerge from behind a book with the occasional acerbic observation or fun fact or pointed question.

Anyway I think gender is a performance and a role like "host", but it's very possible for there to be something fundamental within a person which is DEEPLY uncomfortable playing a certain type of role. That's how I relate to trans people as someone who does not have a strong personal sense of gender identity, and a couple of friends have said it seems like an acceptable if imperfect metaphor for their experience.
posted by OnceUponATime at 1:09 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]


Back to the subject of TERFs on the rise... apart from reading about them here on MetaFilter, the first exposure I got to them and their ideas was pretty recent, when I was trying to figure out why the formerly fun and interesting webcomic Sinfest was getting all weird, unfunny and transphobic. I may have been one of the last to get the memo (story of my life...) but the author of this webcomic has apparently embraced a TERF perspective. I tried to get more information on this, maybe an article, but finally found some in places like Reddit and Tumblr (links to relevant posts).

I've stopped reading Sinfest. Good riddance to bad rubbish.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:49 AM on September 7


this is nowhere near as serious, but I've seen TERF language creep over the years into fandom DiscourseTM on Tumblr.

TERFism is rife on Tumblr and dovetails well with the rise of a new puritanism in fandom, largely consisting of young, ignorant wokescolds who are anti anything that isn't fluffy and light. Dr. Sunny Moraine did a long thread about it just the other day.

In short, tumblr skewing young and knowing how well teenagers handle nuance, you have a generation of people being poisoned by terfism as well as the idea that all fiction should be morally beyond reproach, so you can't write about incest or dodgy relationships etc and clearrly that also means trans women are beyond the pale entirely.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:14 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]


I'm not seeing the jump from the issues covered in that thread to trans people being beyond the pale entirely, am I missing something?
posted by ominous_paws at 3:27 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]


Also, is "wokescolds" just a way to say "sjw" without tarring your own politics or what
posted by ominous_paws at 3:30 AM on September 7 [6 favorites]


If any of the people upthread who have never thought about their gender want to start exploring it, Kate Bornstein's My New Gender Workbook is available in its entirety from archive.org. It's fun, makes you think, and has introduced the phrase "wibbly wobbly gendery blendery" into my vocabulary.
posted by Vortisaur at 4:58 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]


Also, is "wokescolds" just a way to say "sjw" without tarring your own politics or what

I do NOT want to derail this excellent post into a whole thing about fanfic antis (that's why I tried to keep my comment brief and stressed its non-importance), but these are kids who say that if you write fanfiction or draw fanart about squicky things -- rape, incest, "pedophilia" (this can refer to people who write or draw Fictional Adult/Fictional Child, which, don't get me wrong, there are all kinds of ways to feel about that, or it can refer to folks writing or drawing Fictional 25-year-old Adult/Fictional 22-year-old Adult), then you're a "crackhead" who's also a "sinner" who needs the "electric chair". I realize a lot of this is white kids imitating what they think is AAVE, but there's no social justice in that language or that attitude. A lot of this is actually just nerds fighting over whose preferred fictional relationship is better, but with a fake political gloss over it.

Anyway! TERFS. This post is good. TERFs are bad. TERFs.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 8:26 AM on September 7 [5 favorites]


not to derail, but "TERFs are bad" is literally a totally fandom anti thing to say: you're shitting on a position somebody else likes and finds affirming. You're not doing it in a nuanced or gentle way, or taking care to separate the concept from its proponents. To be clear, I agree with you, but I feel like you're undercutting yourself with the anti stuff.

Since AIUI being inflexibly, vocally opposed to things makes one an anti, it's an even broader, messier category than "sjw." It has, in my personal experience, been used to write off and shut down trans people and other marginalized groups far more often than it's been used to like, defend anything kinder or more complex or nuanced than TERFs or eugenicists.

I'm also familiar with a whole lot of people confusing "stop creating X" and "don't put X here," including in the thread you linked. You have options besides "put porn in sfw tags or other spots where it's hard to avoid, particularly for minors" and "no grown-up material ever." You have options besides "my right to play with your suffering for the shock factor is a million times more important than your desire for rape and other squick to get content warnings, you sheltered nuance-hating puritanical teen."
posted by bagel at 9:03 AM on September 7 [4 favorites]


This is a relatively new development in the history of radical feminist thought in part because of critiques from intersectional feminism along the lines of "your radical feminism ignores the racism/ableism/etc I see every day."

What counts as relatively new? It's been my understanding of radical feminism (that it doesn't require seeing gender as the only primary axis of oppression; the folks I knew who considered themselves radical feminists valued an intersectional approach, though we didn't know it was called that at the time) since the '80s at least. I'd have to ask my mother about earlier times, but that seems to be her understanding dating back to the 70s, as well?

I would well believe that upper middle class radical feminist circles may have been different, and also not have known about working class radical feminists, or radical feminists of color, etc., though.
posted by eviemath at 9:36 AM on September 7 [3 favorites]


Also, is "wokescolds" just a way to say "sjw" without tarring your own politics or what

Having just seen this term for the first time I immediately recognized it as something I’ve seen in the world, including from TERFs: these are the people who appropriate the language and nominal goals of social justice in service of bullying and abuse. Their main weapon is shame, and they seem to get a thrill out of dominating or abusing others by wielding it, particularly in social media swarms.

You know how little kids, when they first figure out they can make a flock of birds scatter, keep doing it? They just keep running at the birds and then turning around to smile at you, delighted at the discovery that they have the power to affect the world around them. This behavior often seems like that, except remove all the joy and cuteness and replace it with the dopamine rush of abusive power realized.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:17 AM on September 7 [9 favorites]


Hm. I'm talking primarily about academic theoretical radical feminism and the writings I've got access to, and here "relatively recently" dates to, yeah, the late '80s/early '90s (in the context of "radical feminism" as a tradition that started up in the '60s). Of course theoretical writers and boots-on-the-ground activists place very different emphases on different aspects of their philosophical approaches to feminism, too.

It's also possible that I'm being a little lazy with respect to my terminology in a way that is confusing, too, in much the way that this article complains about. I'm writing this out as I'm thinking, so I apologize if this is not as well-thought-out as it might be. One of the paragraphs from that piece that helped me clarify what I'm thinking about and how is here:
The problem is that radical feminists and liberal feminists have completely incompatible understandings of what is at the root of patriarchal/gendered oppression and, consequently, the marginalization of women in the sex industry and people who are gender-nonconforming. [...] Radical feminists believe that what oppresses people who do not conform to gender norms is gender itself, which they define as a set of expectations and stereotypes attached to people based on sex at birth and reinforced through socialization (which is used to subordinate women as a class and ostracize anyone who fails to fit nicely into gendered boxes). Liberal feminists believe that the root of oppression against trans folk is hatred, phobia, bigotry, and the unwillingness to acknowledge the gender identity of people who feel that they were born in bodies that do not align with their true selves (as represented by outward performances of masculinity and femininity).
For me, part of what falls under intersectionality is acknowledging that when people with very different experiences of marginalization meet and come into conflict, there may not actually be a single enemy whose powerful and oppressive beliefs infect all parties and are responsible for that conflict. Part of the way that I conceptualize intersectionality actually involves an explicit belief that the power structures that inform our world are not inherent to the categories of people that currently hold power, and I believe that in part as a consequence of observing other societies both historical and present that have different power structures where power is distributed in different ways. Thinking about power in this way is really central to my understanding of what intersectionality is, because my approach to intersectionality is informed by observations of people who are marginalized in different ways coming together in conflict and trying to understand how and why social power gets distributed in different ways during these conflicts.

Now, it's maybe more helpful, I am finding, to talk about where I have a strong reaction to many radical feminist ideas in the lens of talking about power. It's worth noting that I find radical feminist approaches like consciousness-raising and watching to try to understand the subtler ways that power structures infect our worldviews, approaches, and values to be incredibly valuable. However, the place where radical feminist traditions lose me is the notion that power is inextricably tied to certain groups within social axes, and that the only way to achieve equality is to abolish the distinction between those groups and other groups. (That's the summary given in the link I shared, which is relatively friendly to radical feminist viewpoints while striving, as far as I can tell, to come from a balanced place.)

Here's an essay discussing feminist perspectives on power discussing specifically radical feminist perspectives:
Unlike liberal feminists, who view power as a positive social resource that ought to be fairly distributed, and feminist phenomenologists, who understand domination in terms of a tension between transcendence and immanence, radical feminists tend to understand power in terms of dyadic relations of dominance/subordination, often understood on analogy with the relationship between master and slave.
The article has more discussion of specifics, but it's these lines that really get to the heart of why I don't have a lot of patience with radical feminist perspectives where they conflict with my own understanding of practicing feminism. I fundamentally do not believe that power is inherently dyadic in this way. I do not believe power is an all-or-nothing proposition, and I furthermore do not believe that power is this static. I believe that people who are working under existing hierarchies of social subordination and oppression often learn to use power structures to their own advantage, like learning how to use gravity, paired with a heavy object and a fulcrum, in order to lift a heavier object. I believe that humans are social creatures that observe hierarchies and tend to attempt to manipulate those hierarchies to achieve their goals, and while oppression as a whole hinders marginalized people from competing on the same basis as privileged people, I also think that power has weight and that it can be manipulated to shape social consensuses.

Now, if that attitude to power is also wholly unfamiliar to you, let's talk about what you're thinking of as specifically radical feminism too, and see if we can figure out whether we're talking about the same thing rather than talking past one another? I'm curious to hear what you have to say.
posted by sciatrix at 11:00 AM on September 7 [6 favorites]


Probably it's just male privilege, but I just about never think of myself as a man or think of my identity as being especially tied to being a man. If you asked me to give you a list of things that make me who I am I don't think being a guy would make the list. Again, I'm sure this is because we're in an andronormative society so I can afford not to care.

And I think that privilige of not caring about my gender is worth keeping in mind as I consider what I'd like to see society become. I want everyone to have that ability, to be able to just not really care or think about whether they're men, women, neither, both, or any other option. I get to not care. Trans people and cis women don't have the ability to not care.
posted by sotonohito at 12:06 PM on September 7


I fundamentally do not believe that power is inherently dyadic in this way. I do not believe power is an all-or-nothing proposition, and I furthermore do not believe that power is this static.

Oh god, what I wouldn't give to have enough free time to respond to this point, because my experience of 80s-90s radical feminist theory is so close to what you're describing in the first sentence, but so different from the second!
posted by mittens at 12:29 PM on September 7 [4 favorites]


Would love to hear more on your thoughts on power and the way it flows from both of you.

What's super wild about TERFs is that like... if you're a radical feminist who believes that gender is a construct that oppresses women and must be abolished, I can get how people that feel their gender identity very innately and very strongly could rock your whole belief system to its foundations.

But so many TERFs have gone all in on bullshit notions of biology and gender essentialism. The ones on Twitter put "xx" in their display names! It's just completely incoherent with the political beliefs they claim to adhere to. But I guess that's bigotry for you.

It's so sad to me. Like, here's the third-and-on wave going, "Hey, radical feminism gave us some good tools and concepts. Like rape being about power. Domestic violence being... you know, bad. Women should have sexual pleasure. The state should pay for universal childcare. Abortion is good. Let's take those good parts and build on them." And then a bunch of people were like, "Oh, I see some transphobia, hatred for sex workers and hatred of kink left in the garbage can here, let's make our entire lives about this."
posted by pelvicsorcery at 3:46 PM on September 7 [10 favorites]


Since nobody's mentioned it yet, one of my go-to examples to explain terfs is Sandy Stone. This entire interview is worth a read, but basically: Sandy Stone was a trans woman sound engineer at a (trans-inclusive) radfem radio station collective in 1974. When the station (privately!) gave negative feedback to a terfy book, something strange happened:
Sandy: "All of a sudden came this thing from left field. We were being broadsided by hate mail. The hate mail initially took a form that was so recognizable that Ginny Berson diagrammed it out. We’d get a letter and the letter would attack one of our albums because of the way that it was engineered and mixed. There were very clear ideas of what constituted a 'male' mix and a 'female' mix, which nobody had ever heard of before. What it came down to was that 'male' mixes had drums, which was linked back to 'throbbing male energy.'"
I like this example because it shows the cause-effect very clearly. They are not bigoted because they have certain ideas around gender. They adopt whatever unsound ideas will serve their bigotry. If you call them on their philosophical bullshit, they'll just bullshit differently. Focus on what they do.
posted by yaymukund at 3:18 AM on September 8 [21 favorites]


That interview... God, TERFs are scum.
posted by cendawanita at 7:31 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]


there was an incident with blogger Ophelia Benson who wrote something "gender-critical" in the traditional Second Wave sense, attacking the idea that gender can be anything more than an arbitrary social construction?

Something I have wondered about is whether some conflict happens because of language. We use the same word "gender" to refer to what is (in my mind) two very different phenomena: "gender identity", a psychological phenomenon, and "gender role", which is social. In my head, I always separate them: gender identity appears to be innate, though people experience it at different strengths. Gender roles are socially determined and range widely in different cultures, though there are a couple of universals (association of women with childcare, men with war are the only two I can think of - most of the others change).

For cis or non-binary (but not strongly so) afab people who struggle with the social role that they have been put in, it can seem strange that someone else who was assigned what might be perceived as a "better role" would chose this role that you don't like. Of course, they aren't choosing the role: they are expressing their true gender identity, and doing so is really important for them. But for anyone who lacks a strong gender identity - like myself - "gender role" is really the only "gender" they experience, and "gender identity" is something that's more like colour to a colour-blind person. (I've had people tell me that they experience gender identity (whether cis or trans), and I believe them, of course, but it's something I take on faith rather than experience). So if you've thought your whole life, "I wouldn't be female if I could choose to be otherwise" - but I wouldn't be male, because I'm not and I've been socialized to be female - transition into a female role can seem strange.

Which is, of course, actually an argument for the truth of trans experiences: why would someone choose to lose status, go through a difficult social and physical transition, and end up in a position where they are the people most vulnerable to violence and misogyny, unless the alternative (continuing to live as they were assigned at birth) is worse?

I may not "grok" the trans feminine experience (especially as I lean non-binary/trans masculine), but it's something I deeply respect, because trans women are braver than I would ever be. But I also kind of understand the confusion some afab feminists with gender identity and gender role, especially if they are unhappily cis or struggle within the female gender role, and have fought against the strictures of that role. (Not that male gender roles don't have strictures - in my time & place, amab people have more gender-restrictions placed on them, but people tend to not think of the strictures put on other people).

What's super wild about TERFs is that like... if you're a radical feminist who believes that gender is a construct that oppresses women and must be abolished, I can get how people that feel their gender identity very innately and very strongly could rock your whole belief system to its foundations.

In other words, what pelvicsorcery said, only they said it more clearly.

I don't understand the hatefulness of a Germaine Greer. I don't think it's all a right-wing "false flag" conspiracy (though the right-wing are happy to make use of what ever tools they can to promote their own agenda), but I don't understand where the really hateful TERF ideas come from - unless it's from a misandry that's so strong that it sweeps up amab people all into one group, regardless of realities and who is actually most vulnerable to gender-based discrimination and violence (that is, trans women, not cis women).
posted by jb at 8:34 AM on September 9 [4 favorites]


For cis or non-binary (but not strongly so) afab people who struggle with the social role that they have been put in, it can seem strange that someone else who was assigned what might be perceived as a "better role" would chose this role that you don't like. Of course, they aren't choosing the role: they are expressing their true gender identity, and doing so is really important for them. But for anyone who lacks a strong gender identity - like myself - "gender role" is really the only "gender" they experience, and "gender identity" is something that's more like colour to a colour-blind person.

You know, jb, I have a semi-rhetorical question. I'll use "you", but everything I'm saying applies just as strongly to a hypothetical TERF woman as it does to anyone real in particular, so let's assume that my "you" applies to her.

If you don't have a strong gender identity, and you're looking at all the privileges that being male brings, and you think that being male is just that much a better deal, such that it makes you absolutely furious to see people who were assigned men and who got that great deal giving it up and asking to be let into the category you're in...

...why wouldn't you consider just transitioning to male, yourself? If it doesn't matter at all and there's no real gender identity there, surely it's just a question of access to societal privilege, right? Why not encourage women to socially transition to male en mass? Why are people like Dr. James Barry so rare? Surely he wasn't the only person in his station to decide "I want to be a fucking doctor so bad that I'll risk a bunch of shit to do it." Sisterhood only goes so far--if you don't have any strong identity that attaches to the gender you were born into, why not just trade it in for something that's easier?

I actually do think that cis people have plenty strong identities. I just think most cis people don't necessarily ever seriously consider what it would be like to live day-to-day outside their gender identity, and I think most TERFs avoid interrogating their own gender identity in part by refusing to seriously consider why trans men aren't more common and why more feminists who think gender is purely a social construct that ought to be abolished don't consider simply abandoning the gender of their birth for a gender that [their own theory states] confers extensive social power.

None of this is to say that transmasculine experiences aren't harder in some ways--many ways--than cis female ones, or that trans men aren't really men but are fooling everyone for power, or any number of a whole bunch of nasty readings I can think of that follow from this logic. But I think it's interesting that so much of the focus on TERFs is twisted into a transmisogynistic lens rather than viewing trans men as, say, traitors in a sense, which seems like a logical extension of the theory to me. I think that trans women get so much of the burden of fury in part because focusing the same level of theory onto trans men turns some extremely uncomfortable questions onto the TERF herself about her own actions in the context of gender. It's easier to refuse to consider gender identity if you're not comparing and contrasting the possible decisions you might have made, yourself.
posted by sciatrix at 8:59 AM on September 9 [3 favorites]


I give up
posted by yaymukund at 8:59 AM on September 9


One day I realised that the reason I don’t have a strong internal sense of my own gender is because I don’t need to.

I think the strength of gender-identity is separate from experiences: like your gender identity itself, it seems to be something you're born with. I've met cis people who would equally agree that they are playing "life on the easy mode", but who nonetheless still have a very strong internal sense of their own gender, and who have talked about how difficult it would be for them if they were expected to present/perform/inhabit the other gender role.

I have a friend who sums it up this way: gender identity is a spectrum, but so is the salience of that gender identity. They are someone who is non-binary and they find it very important to be publicly identified as non-binary (thus the "they" pronoun). I am someone who feels non-binary, but also doesn't feel my gender identity strongly (it's more of a lack), and so I don't feel it's important to be publicly non-binary (which maybe is being a bit of a coward, but it's also something personal which I don't always want to share with others - in this sense, Metafilter is a "safe(r) space"), and so present as cis for most people. (Does this make me cis? I don't know. Being monogamous doesn't stop me being bi, even if I weren't really out about it.)

Quoting Underpants Monster from above, since they also said what I was thinking, but said it better:

Growing up in a "girl-shaped" body is legit tough. You get shat on by the male establishment from the moment you're born backwards and in high heels...But the problem is that they fail to understand and/or accept that not all the people in those "boy-shaped" bodies were actually boys. If there really is some requirement to "pay your dues" by suffering to join the sorority of women, growing up trans ain't exactly a bottomless pit of kittens and Mallomars.
posted by jb at 9:03 AM on September 9 [3 favorites]


If you don't have a strong gender identity, and you're looking at all the privileges that being male brings, and you think that being male is just that much a better deal, such that it makes you absolutely furious to see people who were assigned men and who got that great deal giving it up and asking to be let into the category you're in...

...why wouldn't you consider just transitioning to male, yourself?


I can only imagine answers for anyone other than myself:

for some people, it may be that while they hate the female role they have been assigned, they actually do have a female identity. Because it's not at odds with their birth, they may think it was made only by their socialization, but they don't desire to be men.

What they desire is for women to have access to those privileges as women - thus second-wave feminism. What they don't understand is that trans women also wish to have those privileges as women, and also that breaking down gender hierarchies is a shared goal for all people, afab or amab, trans or cis.

For myself: transitioning to male would be taking on a gender identity I don't feel either. It's one thing to accept a gender identity others have given/imposed on you - it's a passive action - and another to go to great trouble (financial, social, personal*) to transition, when it would be no better. For me, the fact that trans people wish to transition is very strong evidence of the truth of their gender experience and the strength of their stated gender identity. No one would transition on a whim or for any other reason but that it was essential for them. I could transition to non-binary, but since my non-binaryness is more of a lack than a positive identity - as opposed to some of my other non-binary friends - it seems again like trying to tell people to change things under false pretenses. I am not upset by being gendered "she" or "he" or "they"; if I could change gender like I changed my shirts depending on my mood, I would.

And that's not to say I haven't fanticized about taking on male roles since I was a small child, and read all the "afab disguised as male" fiction/history I could find.

*transition is not done in isolation from other relationships; some people have bisexual/flexible partners, others don't - and they can't help their sexual orientation anymore than anyone else can change theirs.

posted by jb at 9:19 AM on September 9 [4 favorites]


I don't think that Sandy Stone interview explains TERFs so much as it describes the terror campaign TERFs waged (and wage) against transwomen. And I suppose there's no way to explain them any better than there is a way to explain terrorists, generally. Deradicalization doesn't scale because bigots all arrive at their bigotry for individual reasons, even if they may follow similar paths.

But given the way TERFs talk about men, you sort of wonder...why not actually target cismen? You know, the ones actually doing all the oppressing? Not to say they should, but like...the absence of such action is pretty telling. It's like they've created this entirely fictional strawman whom they can hate and attack and terrorize in relative safety, because transwomen are vulnerable as fuck and do not occupy positions of power. If they tried to terrorize cismen the way they target and terrorize transwomen it would not fly.

Is that a conscious decision, or just a structural reality that enables the ongoing terror campaigns? No idea. But it leaves me sort of speechless to realize that it's just all entirely bullshit. The misandry, rooted in all the terrible things men do to women on a systemic and personal and regular basis, that supposedly underlies and justifies their anger and hatred is just...forgotten? Ignored? Like there is an endlessly growing public list of men who in fact terrorize and oppress women on an ongoing basis at scale, and I have never heard of any of these TERF groups going after any of them at all, never mind the way they go after just regular transwomen trying to live their lives. Like you would think the priority would be going after people who do the most harm, but obviously not, because protecting women or whatever is not really what they're after, even by their own logic. There is something additionally contemptible about this instinct to turn rage and hatred on people less powerful than yourself. Like on top of being bigots and terrorists, they're also bullies.

Anyway. Any organization that exists to harass and terrorize a minority is, you know, a fucking terrorist group. They should be prosecuted as such. Maybe one day they will be.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:00 AM on September 9 [12 favorites]


Why are people like Dr. James Barry so rare? Surely he wasn't the only person in his station to decide "I want to be a fucking doctor so bad that I'll risk a bunch of shit to do it." Sisterhood only goes so far--if you don't have any strong identity that attaches to the gender you were born into, why not just trade it in for something that's easier?

There were women who became doctors - and scientists and playwrights. But James Barry was more than just someone afab who wanted to practice medicine. As far as I can remember, he he identified as male and wished to go to his grave without anyone knowing he was afab. This is in contrast to Anne Lister, from about the same time period, who was clearly gender non-conforming, but never tried to fully transition, which she probably could have (albeit with a move to another place).

I actually do think that cis people have plenty strong identities. I just think most cis people don't necessarily ever seriously consider what it would be like to live day-to-day outside their gender identity

I suppose this depends on how you define "cis": I certainly know cis people with strong identities. But I also know people who live their lives presenting as cis - that is, in public, at work, maybe also among friends and family, they present as the gender they were assigned at birth (with differing levels of conformity). But they still don't have a strong identification with that gender.

A very-definitely cis friend of mine put it this way: if she woke up and was suddenly in a body with a penis and more testoterone and no breasts, etc., her first thought would be how necessary it would be for her to go and medically transition, or suffer distress because her body would be at odds with her gender identity. Whereas other cis-presenting people I know react to this thought-experiment (or vice-versa) with, "Oh, this is cool, I would totally keep this for a while - but I'm not sure if I would want it to be permanent." Are they really cis? They are cis-presenting, but don't have a gender-identity (or have a very weak one) that corresponds to the gender role they were assigned at birth (and also may have experienced dysphora and/or thought rather ENDLESSLY about their own gender identity and what life would be like outside of their assigned role ...)

Without a strong identification with another gender (which would include non-binary identities), transition may not make sense. For some of us, it's fluid; a friend of mine has found great satisfaction in becoming a drag performer, which allows them to move in both gender roles.
posted by jb at 10:02 AM on September 9 [6 favorites]


Here's an article in Them with an interview with Owl Fisher about the TERF harassment and abuse they suffered after being featured in Diva. It echoes the Sandy Stone article in a way that is...I mean, 45 years, and still. Fisher tries to explain TERFs, too, and throws out a lot of the same perspectives we've seen in this thread (altho I think I recognize a "simplify it for the straights" tone, which both makes me sad and makes me laugh a little).

Whoops -- forgot to say that it also details the way TERFs also target nonbinary trans femmes and their relationships (in this case with someone who used to identify as a lesbian and now identifies as nonbinary) and their place in the community.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:22 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


If you don't have a strong gender identity, and you're looking at all the privileges that being male brings, and you think that being male is just that much a better deal, such that it makes you absolutely furious to see people who were assigned men and who got that great deal giving it up and asking to be let into the category you're in...
(I might be confused about why people give that up, but it doesn't make me angry or want to prevent it.)
...why wouldn't you consider just transitioning to male, yourself?

Among various other reasons: Because it's so damn much work. It's a whole bunch of information to learn (there are... neckties? Shoe styles? Hats? Hairstyles? mygods, I'd be expected to cut my hair, wouldn't I? More than once a decade, even?), there's the hassle of finding clothes that match the role (I've looked at getting men's shoes because they're better built; most places don't carry size 5 adult men's shoes), building a whole wardrobe of clothes for different purposes... ugh, binding... Medical hassles? Risky and expensive surgery, complex medications with side effects?

Then there's passing: Most of the privileges of being a man don't come with the announcement or a change in legal paperwork; they come with casual social acceptance.

I've put serious thought into, "could I just... pretend to be a man and avoid the hassles I get for being a woman?" and the answer is, "I'm not sure that switching is less hassle than just coping, especially since I have a lifetime's worth of methods for dealing with discrimination against women." I'd have to go out of my way to Perform Manliness. The rules for Performing Womanliness were pushed onto me from infancy; I don't have to think about them, and if I do them wrong, people look at my height and bust measurement and assume I'm doing some variant form of them.

And because of those thoughts, I'm endlessly annoyed at the people who claim there are "transtrenders" who are not real, not trans, and that nonbinary ID's don't exist, because even a little bit of gender-tinkering is an incredible amount of work and hassle that nobody decides to do if it's not important to them.

Why the hell would anyone go through all that if it weren't absolute essential to their sense of identity and well-being?
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:18 PM on September 9 [15 favorites]


(Multi-threaded discussion, continuing the thread with sciatrix about what radical feminism is:)

Ah, when I read
Unlike liberal feminists, who view power as a positive social resource that ought to be fairly distributed, and feminist phenomenologists, who understand domination in terms of a tension between transcendence and immanence, radical feminists tend to understand power in terms of dyadic relations of dominance/subordination, often understood on analogy with the relationship between master and slave.
I go, "yup, they're talking about kyriarchy". My read of this quote, informed by my experience, is that radical feminists oppose the whole idea of social structures that give one group power over another, not just the fact that, under patriarchy, men as a class have power over women as a class. The radical feminist viewpoint is that society needs to be fundamentally re-structured on a new basis of equality between classes of people - that we can't achieve a feminist society when the fundamental underlying logic of social relations is the idea that some people may or should have unequal power over others.

Now, that gets into what we mean by "power", which can be a little bit vague or slippery if not carefully defined (Hannah Arendt spends a whole chapter of "On Violence" defining her terms, including power, authority, violence, etc. It would likely he helpful if more philosophers did this as well.)

Going back to the other quote, this is saying that radical feminists believe that the problem is societal structures, not (just) individual actions; whereas liberal feminists would say, "oh, if we can just teach everyone not to feel bigotry, everything will be better". Radical feminists would say that's not enough, that oppression can persist even among well-meaning people because our structures (like algorithmic bias) can be oppressive without direct intent by specific individuals, or can maintain a previously oppressive status quo.

Thus is absolutely not a belief that those hierarchies in kyriarchy or patriarchy are static. Rather, it is saying that, yeah, people will try to take power for their own group, potentially just shifting who has power within a fundamentally hierarchically structured society versus who gets shat on; and that society would be no better off or no more feminist if different groups were oppressed, that the problem - the thing that should be done away with - is the whole idea of hierarchies and oppression itself.
posted by eviemath at 4:05 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


On the topic of potential problems that fall well within the category of radical feminism:

There is, or has been, a strain within radical feminism of folks who look at that description (hierarchical power structures within society are inherently problematic and oppressive and need to be done away with) and conclude that the solution is to do away with all classes or categories of people - to make (usually socially in some way, but this gets vague and problematic, particularly when it comes to gender analysis) everybody the same. So this tendency within radical feminism would say that gender is a social construct, and we need to do away with gender altogether. Probably similar for religion; I'm not sure how this strain of thought would deal with race - like, race is also a social construct, but... you'd have to be really, really careful with any argument in this direction! Then there's (dis)ability. Overall, as you can tell, I think this is a really problematic as well as empirically incorrect analysis. In particular, I think the main idea behind radical feminism is not just that there are fundamental problems with societies that are structured around hierarchical domination systems, but that we can change those systems in order to change society and have a better, more feminist society. The tendency I describe here seems to take the (I would argue, quite conservative) view that people by nature will enact hierarchies any time there are differences... and thus to avoid hierarchies you need to avoid difference.

Radical feminism has also been associated with separatist thought. I think this is arguably still within radical feminism, but getting even farther afield. Separatist thought seems to take the view that a fundamentally/radically different social structure is not possible, so folks in an oppressed class need to just create their own society separate from their prior oppressors. (Generalizing - there's also separatism as a shorter-term, tactical idea rather than as an end goal. Eg. giving individual women, racialized groups, etc. the opportunity to form a society together separate from the pressures of the broader oppressive society, so that they can be better prepared to fight oppression when they eventually rejoin the broader society. That's not necessarily radical feminist, or non-radical feminist - just a tactic.)

I argue that TERFs are neither radical nor feminist because they get too far afield. To be trans-exclusionary, one has to accept gender essentialism, which is contrary to radical feminism. TERFs also ignore empirical evidence and engage in hierarchical domination against trans people (especially trans women). That's very much contrary to radical feminism, which wants to tear down hierarchical dominance structures (originally and especially on the axis of sex/gender).
posted by eviemath at 5:59 AM on September 11 [9 favorites]


Thank you for drawing out those points, eviemath!

This section of the thread has been a little hard to follow, and I think that's because I don't have a clear picture in my mind of the differences between second- and third-wave feminism, and how they map out onto radical or non-radical feminism, and when one can be said to have evolved into the other; I've been trying to remember whether the concept of a third wave was around back when I was a student in women's/queer studies, or was it a looser "us-vs-them" kind of approach. (In this case, "them" being the more liberal white feminists who had a discomfort/intolerance around introducing queerness, race, and class into the discussion. Not that our side was without gaps; particularly given the subject matter of this thread, I should say that trans issues were almost totally missed by our side, and I wonder whether I would've put my gender issues sort of on hold for the next twenty years if I'd been exposed to trans thought back then?)

For instance, when we talk about dyadic power relations, they seem to me to be self-evident, so when sciatrix says, "I fundamentally do not believe that power is inherently dyadic in this way," I literally can't understand how...not to believe that? Even if you believed in a distributive model of power, wouldn't you have to say that power aggregates to power, so that given any more equitable starting point, you'll eventually end up with one group having the majority of the power, and that the way power voices itself is through oppression and domination? And even if you do have a dyadic view of power, wouldn't you still be able to look for points of resistance and subversion, and wouldn't you still see damaging collaborations with power?

Eviemath mentions separatism, and I find that separatism such a...dangerous and ugly thing. I mean, once you draw that line, you really have to be clear about who "counts" as a woman, and who gets left out, and suddenly all the prejudices and transphobia are laid bare. Am I wrong about that? Are there trans-inclusive separatist feminists? (I always found discussions of separatism so hostile and painful.)
posted by mittens at 6:45 AM on September 11


Because it's so damn much work. It's a whole bunch of information to learn (there are... neckties? Shoe styles? Hats? Hairstyles? mygods, I'd be expected to cut my hair, wouldn't I? More than once a decade, even?), there's the hassle of finding clothes that match the role (I've looked at getting men's shoes because they're better built; most places don't carry size 5 adult men's shoes), building a whole wardrobe of clothes for different purposes... ugh, binding...Medical hassles? Risky and expensive surgery, complex medications with side effects?

This comment was super-eye-opening for me because all that stuff that you list as being a hassle, that's the fun part for me. I mean, I get it - all of that was a hassle for me when I was trying to be a woman, and is SO MUCH FUN now. Even binding. (Actually, especially binding. Binding makes me feel amazing.) I was a "one haircut a year" person and now I joyfully get my hair cut every single month because I love it to be tight on the sides. Finding the right size in men's clothes and shoes has been a hassle but it's been worth it as part of my process of finding my masculine style. And I have not gotten into any medical transition stuff, but I suddenly have a bunch of friends who are newly (some within the last year, some within the last few months) on HRT and they are pretty much loving every minute of it.

So yeah, that further proves your point! People do this because it meets a strong internal need. If you don't have that strong internal need, it will probably be hard to understand it. Most of my cis friends see my changing style and think I'm having fun with my gender expression which ... is not exactly wrong, but that doesn't get at how deeply affirming it feels, and the sense of dread and visceral recoil I feel at the mere idea of having to go back to presenting the way I used to.

One point about "complex medications with side effects:" you probably don't realize this, but that's a pretty common TERF talking point when they're trying to convince trans people, especially trans boys and men, not to transition. I'm not a doctor, only someone who's done quite a bit of research for my own purposes, but testosterone at least is not really a complex medication, relatively speaking. Most people take it as a shot once a week, and while it does have some side effects for AFAB people in terms of reproductive parts, most of the things considered side effects are things that all cis men deal with, like increased risk of hypertension or male pattern baldness. Just saying this because this particular talking point scared me quite a bit until I started doing my own research.
posted by the sockening at 10:15 AM on September 11 [16 favorites]


Yeah the “side effects” of HRT that TERFs scaremonger about tend to be “physically manifesting a gender identity.”

I just realized they remind me of one of those pregnancy crisis centers. Like TERFs induce a similar flavor of anger. Like...a combination of pregnancy crisis center and the Westboro Baptist Church.

I do not like it.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:36 AM on September 11 [9 favorites]


most of the things considered side effects are things that all cis men deal with, like increased risk of hypertension or male pattern baldness.

Or facial hair. I don't like facial hair. I am jealous of the muscle-building benefits of testosterone that my SO (a cis man) has, but I would hate to have even the thin facial hair that he has to deal with.

Yes, I know - lasers can take that away. But that's also super-expensive, and there are other factors which makes testosterone a no-go for me. Obviously, testosterone is safe - but it's not always the ideal option, depending on your desires.

Anyways: to get back to the original discussion, I think there are many people who have generalized from their own experience of weak-gender-identity to assume that gender is solely a social category. So much of the ideas of feminism were built on the idea that brains were gender-less. But while brains may be "sexless" (in that the past was wrong and afab brains are just as functional as amab), they clearly aren't lacking in gender-identity for many (most?) people, and this is something which feminism needs to square itself with.

(please don't jump all over me, as these are thoughts I am working out):

One thought I have had is that there are what I had thought of as "cis women's issues", which affect cis women as a sub-set of women - like getting your period (whether you like it or not), having breasts you never really wanted (in timing and/or size). And I thought - I want discussions of women's issues to be trans inclusive, but I also don't want to stop talking about some of the problems I feel that I have as an afab person, even though they aren't really shared by trans women.

But then as I'm trying to write about them: maybe these issues I think of as "cis" issues aren't really - they are afab issues that I notice precisely because I don't feel fully comfortable in my afab body.

What I'm trying to say is: is there an appropriate way/place to talk about some of the challenges of being afab and female-presenting, without being trans exclusive? I don't mean instead of talking about shared issues, but as a sideline. Because, just as I am different in my racial experiences from a person of colour, I feel different in my gender experiences than someone who was amab (and similarly, aware that I am in the privileged position, whether I like it or not - but not always a comfortable, simple position.)
posted by jb at 2:39 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


What I'm trying to say is: is there an appropriate way/place to talk about some of the challenges of being afab and female-presenting, without being trans exclusive?

I think you can just say it that way! "As a cis woman, this is how I feel about x." Or "people assigned female at birth often deal with y." I realize it's a bit clunky, but ... I think that's ok. Generally, I think that when you're talking about your own experience, you're ok. But it's best not to assume everyone else in a certain group you belong to shares that experience, or that no one in a different group does.

For instance, in your example above about not wanting a thin covering of facial hair: I mean, that's your experience, and the way you phrased it was fine. But many cis women/AFABs do have a thin covering of facial hair naturally - and not all of them hate it. So you wouldn't want to make statements assuming that women in general don't have or want a bit of facial hair.

Similarly, you wouldn't want to make assumptions about what experiences you do or don't share with trans women. Trans women really do experience (and often have experienced throughout their lives) A LOT of what cis women experience, sometimes even more so (for instance, trans women are policed heavily on beauty standards).

I guess the part of your question I find confusing is where it seems like you're asking if there's a place to talk about cis woman issues ... without trans people? But without being exclusive? And I guess I'd say only .6-3% of the population (depending on the source) is trans, so most women's conversations are going to be mostly with cis women. And like I said, there will be parts of any of those conversations that either (or both) AFAB or AMAB trans people will relate to.
posted by the sockening at 4:18 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


So you wouldn't want to make statements assuming that women in general don't have or want a bit of facial hair.

Of course not! That was explicitly a personal statement. I don't like facial hair on myself (or people I kiss - and by this I mean actually thick facial hair, like a beard. Maybe if I fell in love with a woman who had a beard and loved her beard, maybe I could compromise. But I don't want one - and that's a downside to testosterone for me, personally.)

I guess the part of your question I find confusing is where it seems like you're asking if there's a place to talk about cis woman issues ... without trans people? But without being exclusive? And I guess I'd say only .6-3% of the population (depending on the source) is trans, so most women's conversations are going to be mostly with cis women.

What I was reacting to there was the times when a conversation will be about something - e.g. uterine - where then it turns into "we can't talk about this because not all women have uteruses". Which is totally true and includes some cis women. I personally have tried to become more sensitive to specifying cis (or cis-presenting) women as a subset of women, but I have felt that conversations have been stymied in some spaces that I've been in for talking about some of the afab or uterine-having issues, because having the conversation itself has been deemed to be exclusive. It's like talking about challenges with home-owning, and then someone says, we can't talk about this because not everyone can afford to own a home. Which is totally true, but then it feels like you can't talk about the cost of replacing your leaky roof (which is a totally a privilege to have - unless, maybe, like me, you're not really sure that you want to own a house, but you inherited it and you can't really afford to sell, and you don't think you would prefer an apartment, but maybe a floating city would be awesome, but they don't exist ... and this metaphor is totally played out.)

Yeah, I know, "cis" (or cis-presenting) problems - and no one needs to care. But I care, because it's my life, and I can't stop caring because (like all people), I'm ego-centric and my life looms larger than anyone else's and it's only with great effort that I can pull myself out of my own head and imagine myself in the experiences of others.
posted by jb at 8:51 AM on September 12


Also, of course all women experience issues around beauty standards - Janet Mock has a good essay about how this cuts across trans/cis boundaries, and how she benefits from "pretty-privilege", even as a trans woman.
posted by jb at 8:57 AM on September 12


What I was reacting to there was the times when a conversation will be about something - e.g. uterine - where then it turns into "we can't talk about this because not all women have uteruses".

Ah, OK. I've never actually been in a space where this happened so I'm honestly a bit baffled. I've seen people say we shouldn't talk about uterine things as a universal female (and female-only) experience, but never "don't talk about uteruses."
posted by the sockening at 3:27 PM on September 12 [3 favorites]


I must confess that I am also a bit baffled. Where are these conversations taking place where having or not having a uterus would matter? Online in a semi-public forum? If the conversation takes place in, say, a comment thread on MetaFilter, I'm still confused on what kind of conversation would reach an impasse because of some women having uteruses and some not. Maybe if it's a conversation expressly devoted to sharing personal experiences specific only to having a uterus, and it doesn't make sense for people without those personal experiences to weigh in on what it's like to undergo a procedure or health issue they've never directly experienced? In which case, I don't see how that would be trans-exclusive by default unless there's some other factor involved, such as a commenter making a statement about "all women," I guess.

I'm also just generally confused on the notion of "we can't talk about this because" of any reason. Like, anyone "can" talk about anything, technically, but whether one should depends on a bunch of possible contextual factors. It's taken me a while to parse out the train of thought leading to this point in the thread (well, mainly I've only figured out that I'm confused about how things got here), and I feel like it'd help to get some more specifics to try to clear things up a bit.
posted by rather be jorting at 6:51 PM on September 12


Just off the top of my head, maybe swapping first-period-as-rite-of-passage-"becoming-a-woman" stories?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:31 AM on September 13


How would swapping period stories necessitate defining a conversation's boundaries as trans-exclusive or inclusive though? Say it's an Ask asking for people's stories about getting their first period. Trans men could still share their own menstruation experiences (though it'd be understandable if they don't want to), afab nb people who currently don't identify as either male or female could also share relevant stories, trans women who didn't experience going through a first period during puberty personally might have witnessed someone else go through a particularly memorable first period, and so on, is what I'm thinking. Unless the conversation is expressly defined as limited by additional parameters at the outset, or someone states something about only wanting to hear from a particular category of cis women, I still don't see how such topics are inherently trans-exclusive unless someone in the hypothetical conversation makes a point of saying they are.

(Like, I'm typically discussing periods amongst a small group of close friends who are all afab but not all identifying as cis women nowadays, so I'm not really used to the notion of topics that can only be discussed by cis women to the point where acknowledging that not all women are cis would stop the conversation or prevent further discussion of the topic? Maybe pregnancy experiences where the moms-to-be only want to hear from other moms-to-be about direct experience? Which necessarily excludes a number of other women besides just trans women, so, again, I'm not really following the trains of thought going on with the conversation worries mentioned upthread...)
posted by rather be jorting at 9:23 AM on September 13


The way I think I’ve seen that particular example go (or something analogous to it) in explicitly online conversation hinges a lot on the first menstruation as a “becoming a woman” thing. Someone will jump in to say that that’s not what makes a woman, sometimes in a way that is admonishing or harsh or...I mean I don’t want to use “wokescolding,” but that. And while that’s true, menstruation doesn’t define womanhood, it’s also true that for many people, the first time they menstruated was treated as a “becoming a woman” thing by the people around them, and by themselves, because that’s what they’d been taught, and therefore that particular version of that experience — even, or especially? If it was/is traumatic — is not really separable from their experience of their gender.

And yes there are people on the internet who will be angry about that, and don’t want people to talk about that experience. Of course there are. There are always people who take any reported experience that doesn’t include their own, or that doesn’t mention their own, as an attack, and they’ll attack back. How damaging those attacks are has a lot to do with relative power and all the rest, but that doesn’t change the human impulse to lash out when you think something important to you is threatened.

I mean, I’ve seen examples of this dynamic in like...every community ever? I’m reminded even of previous MF threads where people — people in this thread! — have lash out in disbelief and scorn when someone described a personal experience that didn’t match their own views of the world, or what they wanted the world to be. It’s a human thing to do this.

I’m...sort of surprised by the undertone of disbelief in some of these replies? Like have you really not seen people online do this kind of thing? And do you really think it’s the sort of thing someone will be able to provide citations for, like you’re going to be able to find a random tumblr post or an Instagram post or whatever? This stuff isn’t essays, it’s casual social media. I’m getting the sense that there’s sort of a tension, as though waiting for TERF nonsense to rear it’s head here, too, and I just...

Idk. They’ve poisoned the well pretty thoroughly I guess.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:05 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


Schadenfrau, this is why I tried to phrase my response as mildly as possible, and specifically didn't ask for receipts. It's not that I don't believe it's ever happened, but it's just ... I spend a lot of time in "woke" circles, and I know exactly what you mean about "wokescolding." And while I have seen people ask or tell other people not to talk about uterine things as universally or exclusively female, I truly have not seen any examples of what jb was specifically talking about. So yeah, I was probably a little nervous, but I was also honestly curious.
posted by the sockening at 12:27 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


And yeah, trans people/allies are going to be hyper-alert for the slightest whiff of TERFism because that shit is insidious.
posted by the sockening at 12:28 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


Yes, I really have not seen people online do this sort of thing - hence an earlier comment about my unfamiliarity with the kinds of conversational spaces jb was referring to, and my overall bewilderment with the notions of such spaces. I'm trying to understand the viewpoint of a cis white woman trying to get guidance on how to avoid inadvertently being transphobic online (if I'm interpreting the train of thought that led to this comment correctly).

Here's where I'm coming from: if I'm having conversations about periods and uterine health, they're usually in-person dialogues amongst friends (or medical professionals) where it's not a conversation open to the public or to people outside a small group where the group has been defined by factors other than being cis. If I'm reading about menstruation or gynecological health online, I'm usually reading something long-form that isn't part of a conversation, such as an article or personal essay, which isn't part of a dialogue, as I don't feel the compulsion to communicate something back. The majority of my casual social media use is either amongst people I already know in person or small friend groups, rather than participating in massive online communities where I'm part of a larger community dynamic. (As for past MF threads, I've only been a member for a few months, and my years of lurking weren't on threads regarding cis women's issues.)

Generally, I haven't felt the need to search for online spaces to participate in an active dialogue regarding specifically cis women's experiences, but not because such topics don't interest me - I lived through a bunch of them, I'm interested in reading about other people's experiences with them! - I just haven't really felt the urge to participate in such discussions myself and volunteer my own experiences along those lines.

So, tl/dr; I am genuinely personally unfamiliar with the types of conversational concerns jb has brought up, and this lack of familiarity has me curious about learning more details to comprehend what's going on in her mindset, rather than a demand for receipts. From my POV I'm seeing a conceptual roadblock - without further details, it's hard to comment more usefully on the questions she's presenting.
posted by rather be jorting at 1:30 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


I guess I didn't read carefully enough; I didn't realize we were only talking about online conversations.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:36 PM on September 13


(That is also part of my confusion - lack of details on framing where these conversations are taking place and how the participants are participating.)
posted by rather be jorting at 1:43 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Yeah IME this is the kind of thing that happens online, and I think it’s...I mean, I think there are a LOT of complicating factors with regards to power dynamics etc, but also every single one of them feels like a derail. Like I don’t think the prospect of being wokescolded or whatever is so dire that that should be what takes up oxygen in a TERF thread, except as maybe a way of exploring the damage TERFs have done, because I think this is part of that damage. Like this part of the conversation is happening because TERFs have so thoroughly fucked many feminist spaces, and they’ve done it using the language that we rely on to communicate our own experiences. It’s like they’ve seeded our own territory with trauma triggers.

Anyway. I think it’s fine to talk about your own experience of gender as long as you remember it’s just your experience, and other people’s experiences are valid too.
posted by schadenfrau at 3:02 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


I’m...sort of surprised by the undertone of disbelief in some of these replies? Like have you really not seen people online do this kind of thing? And do you really think it’s the sort of thing someone will be able to provide citations for, like you’re going to be able to find a random tumblr post or an Instagram post or whatever? This stuff isn’t essays, it’s casual social media. I’m getting the sense that there’s sort of a tension, as though waiting for TERF nonsense to rear it’s head here, too, and I just...

On my end, there definitely is that tension, and that exists in part because... well, in part because this stuff is insidious. And very, very prone to gaslighting about whether it's really happening. In the Tumblr and Tumblr-adjacent communities I am often hanging out in online, it's very common to see radfems and TERFs popping up in wlw spaces and discussions, and I have more than once had the incredibly unpleasant realization that a TERF has picked up my writing, liked it, and tried to use it to drive trans women out of a conversation. There's a definite connection in my experience to TERF, ace-exclusionist, and bi-exclusionist undercurrents in conversations among queer women. I've seen the most discussion of those trends on Tumblr, and if folks want links to that digression, I'll go and hunt them down. But it's very much informing my participation here. (I should note that I do not view metafilter as a safe space for me on discussions of WLW and that I don't think metafilter does a great job handling intra-group tensions on this axis, and that I've gone very much back and forth on whether or not I feel comfortable sharing this viewpoint. But my experience is that even people I respect very much on other dimensions will hurt me here, and I can't imagine not feeling tense about watching for these cues and dog whistles. There's a lot here that connects into tensions between queer women and some queer nonbinary folks, and delving further into that feels like it might be a derail.)

Part of the reason I paused and gave the thread some space is because I worried that the conversation was getting too far into the range of "well, why do TERFs think like this?" and, hm, thinkpieces about what level of the ideas that TERFs share and agree with are acceptable, rather than paying attention to the impact of TERFs on trans folks and especially trans women or discussing the dog-whistles that sometimes pop up which people who have run afoul of popular TERFism have learned to be sensitive to. I'm going to pick up a couple of other responses to threads in the conversation, but I wanted to leave this comment here about context first.
posted by sciatrix at 3:02 PM on September 13 [4 favorites]


except as maybe a way of exploring the damage TERFs have done, because I think this is part of that damage. Like this part of the conversation is happening because TERFs have so thoroughly fucked many feminist spaces, and they’ve done it using the language that we rely on to communicate our own experiences. It’s like they’ve seeded our own territory with trauma triggers.

oh ding ding ding ding this is 1000% correct, yes, this, and it is really hard sometimes to figure out how to explain why you're smacking on a trauma trigger when someone else has only encountered something in a 100% positive way and has no idea why you're pausing and bristling. And I think a lot of women who have never wound up running too far afoul of these kinds of toxically feminist beliefs--because they are feminist, even as they are also toxic--get very confused by this.
posted by sciatrix at 3:05 PM on September 13 [4 favorites]


okay. here's my thoughts on language.

I think that what is missing from jb's metaphor about home owners is the overlay of our associations with gender. If we are extending this metaphor, it's as if we have people who are upper-class vs people who are working-class: people who are upper-class are assumed to own houses, people who are working class are assumed to not own houses, and there are a bunch of people who aren't in either group who are neither upper-class nor working-class. There are other things that we associate with people who are upper-class and with people who are lower-class, but we have a definite expectation that home ownership goes along with those categories.

For the purposes of gender, we barely have words for someone who isn't one of those two things. We barely have words for home ownership as a state of being apart from class status, or for any other aspect of being associated with one class or another besides the words themselves. We use a single word or a few words--genderqueer, nonbinary, enby--to refer to the whole spectrum of people who are in neither broad grouping. And the words that we use for home ownership or non-home-ownership are words that still refer back to and are tightly connected to the broader category words, so there is no easy, smooth, or fluid way to refer to certain things without being very specific about what you mean. Worse, it is very hard to refer to the ways in which those things are shaped by expectations about gender at the same time as you are talking very specifically about bodily experiences, even if you are also trying not to imply that any particular bodily experience or treatment of children or anything goes together for all people.

That's because our language about this sucks right now. It will get better if we push at it, but that is going to mean imposing a very deliberate cognitive load, and it is also going to mean some difficulty with language to start. That cognitive load is something that makes communication harder and more fraught. I struggle with this a lot in my capacity as a biologist when I want, say, to talk about the shittiness inherent in the way that biologists study penises and testicles a hell of a lot more than they do vaginas and uteruses; or when I want to talk about breastfeeding and the ways that misogyny impacts breastfeeding in a way that doesn't apply to other bodily functions; or when I want to talk about what's currently called "female sexual dysfunction" even though that whole field of human study has a problem with systematically ignoring trans and intersex people, and even though "female sexual dysfunction" encompasses a whole bunch of systems that don't only affect female people in a way that is very different from the "erectile dysfunction" that we talk about primarily affecting men. (Brains and desire, for one thing. Everyone's got a brain.)

This is hard to do in an inclusive way. I don't want to belie that difficulty, and trying to forcibly have a conversation that there aren't good words or structures to use in English for yet is hard. I've talked before here about why I am deliberately not willing to make this effort for other topics, because I am not capable of taking on that cognitive load and still retain the cognitive capacity to effectively communicate, and I don't think the benefits outweigh the costs for me. On this one, I am willing to do so, in part because I think the benefits (which include proactively signaling "I am not going to hurt you" and also increased clarity in my communication) outweigh the costs of having to consider my words carefully.

So I think this is hard, but I also think it is worth doing and necessary as we come to understand gender as (paradoxically) a more social categorical construct than a natural artifact of bodies. From that perspective I see a certain... hm... I often see a certain frustration from people who find being requested to correct their language on this note very aversive. No one likes corrections, and if you care hard about being inclusive, it is really hard to learn to hit a balance between "oh, fuck, I used the wrong words, I must writhe in agony for a minute because I am Bad" and "I didn't do anything wrong! you are correcting me unfairly!" And I can also see the frustration at being asked to spend the energy and time being inclusive in language like this every time you want to discuss a complex concept where there may not yet be an inclusive way to talk about it, at least without hedging your words with caveats.
posted by sciatrix at 3:43 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


Yeah I think we’ve been on opposite sides of a conflict in a WLW thread before because of similar dynamics, albeit not directly TERF-related. I think in that thread someone dropped a link to a comment I cannot find that said, basically, that in queer spaces, and especially queer wlw and AFAB spaces, we’ve all had so much shit to deal with that the trauma triggers look like the web of laser alarms in a nineties movie about a bank heist. Just fucking everywhere. And that, crucially, sometimes someone just talking about their actual lived life and experiences might be triggering for someone else. And, like, yes! That has happened in MF threads, even. And there is in these communities sometimes a deference to trauma that is unthinking? Or that doesn’t recognize the way that privileging one person’s trigger over another’s ability to share their experiences is also traumatizing, is also oppressing. And like...I get hella bristly if I can’t talk about the ways I’ve been hurt because other people decide I’m lying about my life (which: fuck them), or because my experiences make them feel threatened because of their own experiences.

Sometimes there isn’t a solution. Sometimes all we can do is go, “X is hard for me to hear because my experience was being hurt by the inverse of X” (or whatever) and try to grant each other the benefit of the doubt.

But that is just...never what happens.

and I have more than once had the incredibly unpleasant realization that a TERF has picked up my writing, liked it, and tried to use it to drive trans women out of a conversation

HOOOOOO boy there has got to be a phrase for this particular type of gas lighty manipulation and i wish I knew what it was so I could call it out by name instead of just rage-yelling
posted by schadenfrau at 3:48 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


And there is in these communities sometimes a deference to trauma that is unthinking? Or that doesn’t recognize the way that privileging one person’s trigger over another’s ability to share their experiences is also traumatizing, is also oppressing. And like...I get hella bristly if I can’t talk about the ways I’ve been hurt because other people decide I’m lying about my life (which: fuck them), or because my experiences make them feel threatened because of their own experiences.

Yeah, I think I know what you mean. And on the other side of things, there's also a.... *struggles for words* it's hard to feel safe letting your triggers pass by without challenging them yourself if you don't trust that they're being held in mind by other people. I do a lot of trying to hold other people's trauma here and elsewhere, because I think that's the only way that you can come to a place where people can talk to each other through the trauma instead of just reacting to it: validating feelings, saying "I understand, I hear you, but--", and seeing if I can't build that trust up. But it's fucking hard, and sometimes it's really easy to get overwhelmed yourself and drown in trying to hold someone else's trauma, and trauma will sneak up on you and fuck you up if you aren't careful with it.

(I learned how to do that in asexual communities, where you often have people who have been traumatized in exactly opposite ways, and who often feel like their trauma is being overlooked in favor of making someone else feel welcome. Figuring out how to bring people together instead of watching communities boil over in waves of panicked, exhausted fury that break and return and break and return again was.... a skill that I had ample opportunity to practice.)

Sometimes there isn’t a solution. Sometimes all we can do is go, “X is hard for me to hear because my experience was being hurt by the inverse of X” (or whatever) and try to grant each other the benefit of the doubt.

Yeah. I think that making room for those kinds of emotional responses is a crucial part of trying to heal some of that collective mess of pain, but... yeah, all you can do sometimes is sit with pain and try to have empathy for it and find healing in that empathy. and sometimes all you can do is walk away from it all and try to do something else for a while, because it's not going to go anywhere good from there.

HOOOOOO boy there has got to be a phrase for this particular type of gas lighty manipulation and i wish I knew what it was so I could call it out by name instead of just rage-yelling

god I wish! I always just, yeah, rage-yell when I encounter it, because it's so insidious and it's so filled with contempt. In one incident I'm particularly thinking of, I at least got notified so that I could wheel and snarl at the person doing it to step the fuck off my work. But it's a background radiation thing, and it's really hard to talk about unless you have a chance to really build up a network of trust in communities. That can be incredibly hard to do in public spaces.

On the one hand, I don't always like indulging in that kind of fury, even though I think it's necessary in order to counteract the damage that the first person does to observers. I worry that it ripples. On the other, in an unmoderated space, it's necessary to push back against that kind of bullshit in order to protect other people, and hope that my pushback makes it easier for someone else to deradicalize.

anyway, I gotta clean up my kitchen now; I'll try and sketch out more of what I meant when I was talking about power upthread later.
posted by sciatrix at 4:18 PM on September 13 [4 favorites]


sciatrix, thanks for that link. Your response to the TERF made we want to shout, in a good way. That was a polemic and I loved it.
posted by the sockening at 4:27 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


and okay, here's my thoughts on power.

I fundamentally do not believe that power is inherently dyadic in this way. I do not believe power is an all-or-nothing proposition, and I furthermore do not believe that power is this static.

When I say that power is not dyadic, what I mean is that I do not think of social interactions and power as occurring in a dyadic, two-dimensional contest, or even like the sum of several dyadic, two-dimensional contests. I think of power as flowing from context: not only the social attributes and categories that an individual person inhibits, but also from the audience observing any given conflict and that audience's collective relationship with the two people in that conflict. The make-up of that audience, and whether it can be convinced to give a shit about anything, and all the confluences of who has strong relationships with which audience members and which have the most collective social power: that generally decides an awful lot of human social conflicts. Big conflicts and small ones.

Dynamics of oppression are certainly a great piece of those dynamics of power, but they're not everything. For example, when two perpendicular marginalizations appear in a conflict, the winner of that conflict is very, very unpredictable. Consider here the case of black men accused of sexually harrassing white women. In a current conversation shaped by women en masse demanding public acknowledgement of harassment and true consequences for identified harassers, the public conversation around any given interaction like this takes a different shape than it does in, say, a discussion of lynching and the ways in which white women's claims of rape or sexual insult have been used to police, threaten, and create excuses to murder black men. The politics of observers and the identities that observers feel most strongly aligned with shape the responses that those observers have to that conflict.

Furthermore, within most marginalizations, power doesn't flow in a linear or even clearly consistent hierarchy across all interactions. I wrote out several paragraphs about the way this works among people with different disabilities and in particular Deaf and autistic communities, but ultimately deleted them because it's tangential to the point I'm making here.* The gist is that sometimes, trauma hits people in such a way that other marginalized groups of people look like the walking personification of all of a group's traumas. In other cases, different groups of people are pitted against each other in terms of marginalization by dominant groups, leading to what is sometimes called lateral conflicts.

Because lateral conflicts between people who are both marginalized among the same axis in different ways are so fucking common, I am very dubious about the concept of power being reliably split between one Privileged group and one Marginalized group. In basically every other axis of marginalization aside from feminism, there are many groups of people with different experiences of marginalization and privilege, not just two. And frankly, I would argue that we silo all the cases in which feminism might grapple with additional groups of people marginalized under gender into the topic of queerness and LGBTQ issues, which further propagates the illusion that gender is an axis of marginalization with just two groups of people struggling for power.

And on top of all of that, there are a number of factors that weigh on social contexts that are not easily distilled down to a clear pattern of marginalization but which substantially affect social power that individuals have access to. A friend of mine just described two very similar cases that illustrate my point here, in which tiny factors that affect the ways that community members are integrated into social groups coalesce into big differences in the strength of marginalization, even along the same axis. (This one's about bullying, but the point remains the same.) A single friendship with a powerful person in the community can have really important effects on the eventual social power accessible for any given person, and "power" can mean an awful lot of things depending on any given community. In the aggregate, those chaotic little complicated factors shake out and let us see the bigger patterns of marginalization, but they do exist and complicate the way that we understand power as a function of society.

*If people want to have that conversation, I'm okay with having it.... but in the ongoing disability open thread, not in a general space. I don't think I feel qualified to have that conversation in a space that is dominated by temporarily able-bodied/minded people, for one thing; for another, it's too much pressure for me to get Everything Right.
posted by sciatrix at 8:21 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]


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