But! That is what happened, and so here we are.
September 7, 2021 6:58 PM   Subscribe

 
Damn it. I read the original version and shared it largely because of that clear and unambiguous "fuck you, TERFs".

I mean, any interview with Judith Butler is a fascinating one, and they have more compassion, strength and integrity than I could ever hope to, but fucking hell, the Guardian. YOU WERE SO CLOSE.
posted by prismatic7 at 7:31 PM on September 7, 2021 [32 favorites]


Is anyone aware of a public source for the whole original article?

The two paragraphs on Autostraddle may be all that was edited or removed, but I certainly wouldn't count on The Grauniad not to have continued fudging things even after the edits were noticed.

(The change was too quick for the Wayback Machine to catch. I checked there, it has three snapshots, but none include 'terf' or 'exclusionary'.)
posted by bcd at 7:41 PM on September 7, 2021 [1 favorite]


It was apparently captured on archive.is, but along with many ppl I'm registering a server error. Here's one tweet that managed a screencap.
posted by cendawanita at 7:47 PM on September 7, 2021 [5 favorites]


Yes, this is the full interview:
https://illwill.com/rethink-the-category-of-woman

This is what the Guardian cut:
It seems that some within feminist movements are becoming sympathetic to these far-right campaigns. This year’s furore around Wi Spa in Los Angeles saw an online outrage by transphobes followed by bloody protests organized by the Proud Boys. Can we expect this alliance to continue?

It is very appalling and sometimes quite frightening to see how trans-exclusionary feminists have allied with rightwing attacks on gender. The anti-gender ideology movement is not opposing a specific account of gender, but seeking to eradicate “gender” as a concept or discourse, a field of study, an approach to social power. Sometimes they claim that “sex” alone has scientific standing, but other times they appeal to divine mandates for masculine domination and difference. They don’t seem to mind contradicting themselves.

The Terfs (trans exclusionary radical feminists) and the so-called gender critical writers have also rejected the important work in feminist philosophy of science showing how culture and nature interact (such as Karen Barad, Donna Haraway, EM Hammonds or Anne Fausto-Sterling) in favor of a regressive and spurious form of biological essentialism. So they will not be part of the coalition that seeks to fight the anti-gender movement. The anti-gender ideology is one of the dominant strains of fascism in our times. So the Terfs will not be part of the contemporary struggle against fascism, one that requires a coalition guided by struggles against racism, nationalism, xenophobia and carceral violence, one that is mindful of the high rates of femicide throughout the world, which include high rates of attacks on trans and genderqueer people.

The anti-gender movement circulates a specter of “gender” as a force of destruction, but they never actually read any works in gender studies. Quick and fearful conclusions take the place of considered judgments. Yes, some work on gender is difficult and not everyone can read it, so we have to do better in reaching a broader public. As important as it is, however, to make complex concepts available to a popular audience, it is equally important to encourage intellectual inquiry as part of public life. Unfortunately, we are living in anti-intellectual times, and neo-fascism is becoming more normalized.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 7:49 PM on September 7, 2021 [87 favorites]


Thank you, both.
posted by bcd at 7:51 PM on September 7, 2021


The Wayback Machine did catch a before-the-edit version from amp.theguardian.com.

A tweet from the interviewer, Jules Gleason; @socialrepo:
Lots of DMs:
Yes, they deleted a paragraph criticising gender critical feminism
Yes this is confusing, and (I'm told) unprecedented
Yes we asked for it reinstated (or as a last resort, republished)
Yes I offered a rewrite to bring it up-to-date
Yes I'm now going to bed
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 8:08 PM on September 7, 2021 [42 favorites]


(Gleeson, sorry; too late for the edit window.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 8:14 PM on September 7, 2021 [1 favorite]


Autostraddle does such good reporting! Disappointing as ever from the Guardian on trans issues.
posted by ellieBOA at 9:59 PM on September 7, 2021 [3 favorites]


The interviewer Jules Joanne Gleeson Comments. I gather the explanation by The Guardian was a concern about the question itself. But per the author, they offered to edit that. Very disappointing. The missing quote is excellent.

The rest of the interview was somehow quite moving and resonant to me too. I love this so much:

Queer was, for me, never an identity, but a way of affiliating with the fight against homophobia. It began as a movement opposed to the policing of identity – opposing the police, in fact.
posted by latkes at 10:48 PM on September 7, 2021 [6 favorites]


(Oops missed that this was already linked)
posted by latkes at 10:50 PM on September 7, 2021


Going down a bit of a Butler rabbit hole now and one thing that makes this edit additionally troubling is that Butler is themself the target of a violent state and religiously sanctioned transphobic and misogynist campaign against gender studies, and has been physically threatened for their work, as detailed toward the end of this interview. Probably can’t separate how much of this is targeting their work and how much them as a queer person or woman or non binary person or however they are being perceived by their attackers, but anyway there is nothing abstract about their analysis here.
posted by latkes at 11:54 PM on September 7, 2021 [12 favorites]


Quick and fearful conclusions take the place of considered judgments.

Yep, sounds about right.
posted by Harald74 at 11:57 PM on September 7, 2021 [3 favorites]


According to multiple accounts, The Guardian's UK editorial department is controlled by the anti-trans/“gender critical” movement, and using the newspaper itself as a weapon to push its agenda. The paper's US and Australian desks have called them out on it, but London has the whip hand.

This incident appears to be the TERF/GC faction putting down an insurrection by more progressive voices.
posted by acb at 1:29 AM on September 8, 2021 [28 favorites]


The Guardian is so weird. Parts of it are really decent, e.g. one of their regular football writers and podcast commentators is a trans woman, and the football section treated her transition very matter-of-factly. Same seems to go for most of its various departments.

But then the head office is like some Eye of Sauron, and if anything vaguely to do with trans people catches its attention, the wraiths of transphobia come riding out to chill the souls of its readers.
posted by Kattullus at 1:56 AM on September 8, 2021 [32 favorites]


Mod note: A couple of comments deleted. Folks, we have a terrible, terrible history of managing to fuck up pretty much every thread on trans issues. Please do not contribute to making that happen yet again. We will be deleting anything that attempts to derail, obfuscate, or disinform, with not necessarily any assumption of good intentions, so please take care here.
posted by taz (staff) at 3:09 AM on September 8, 2021 [80 favorites]


Weird newspaper -- there's now a note saying the piece was edited because of "developments which occurred after the interview took place." Developments meaning ...??
posted by johngoren at 3:33 AM on September 8, 2021 [4 favorites]


Possibly that a TERFy senior editor read the NYE review and was angry at being seen?
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:41 AM on September 8, 2021 [16 favorites]


The Streisand effect is real. The removal of that one bit of the article is all anyone's talking about today, which means many more people have read it than would have done if it had been left alone.

On the one hand, it's shitty that the Guardian continues to be a TERF safe space. On the other hand, it's very funny to watch them shoot themselves in the foot so badly.
posted by fight or flight at 3:48 AM on September 8, 2021 [38 favorites]


As I understand it - and I am not an expert - the Guardian US offices commissioned and sent the Judith Butler piece to the website. The US office published this op-ed in 2018 decrying the Terf-y attitudes of the UK-based head office. There is a pernicious streak of anti-trans thinking in UK left-wing politics. This article seems to be a good overview but other articles are available
posted by The River Ivel at 3:55 AM on September 8, 2021 [20 favorites]


:( Was hoping from their recent Shon Faye book excerpt that the editors' "attitudes were changing" towards something braver than "quite shaky acceptance."
posted by johngoren at 4:12 AM on September 8, 2021


Incidentally, the premise of the question as originally asked is accurate according to the Graun's own News (not Opinion) section reporting on Wi Spa[cw: transphobia, violence]. There was apparently a coordinated letter-writing campaign taking the conspiracy theorist version as fact, and the editors are despicable for not sticking to their guns. Apart from anything else, how many interviews have been edited to remove statements of opposition to TERFs?
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 4:19 AM on September 8, 2021 [7 favorites]


WTF. The passage was intact when I read it yesterday morning.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 4:23 AM on September 8, 2021 [1 favorite]


The biggest conundrum from my POV is that The Guardian is the one progressive mainstream(ish) media voice in Australia, where Murdoch controls 70% of the press and Nine-owned Fairfax now is lining up behind the conservatives. This is somewhat of a Hitler-vs.-Stalin situation.
posted by acb at 4:32 AM on September 8, 2021 [3 favorites]


I'd like to note that the UK Guardian editorial stance, TERFery aside, is also unreliable on a number of other issues. A faction among their columnists were deeply implicated in the Blairite support for Bush's invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. They also mostly fell into line with the internal Labour witch hunt against Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum. Currently they're deeply unreliable on Scottish politics—the knives are out for the SNP and anything that hints of support for Scottish independence.

They're not as institutionally toxic as the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Times, or the Daily Telegraph, but "the least bad of a terrible bunch" is not a recommendation.
posted by cstross at 4:47 AM on September 8, 2021 [57 favorites]


The biggest conundrum from my POV is that The Guardian is the one progressive mainstream(ish) media voice in Australia

SBS? ABC? They're not primarily print-focused, of course.

I acknowledge the problem. I read The Guardian too, and it's dismaying when things like this show how the sausage gets made. At least I can expect the Murdoch-owned vehicles to be malevolent. With The Guardian, it's like finding cat hair in the soup.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:48 AM on September 8, 2021 [7 favorites]


The SBS and ABC are government-funded and under pressure from the tories to be “fair and balanced”, subjected to periodic purges of leftists and political commissars parachuted in from the Murdoch press/mining industry. One cannot rely on them as a structural pillar of progressive values with the government doing its best to undermine them.
posted by acb at 4:57 AM on September 8, 2021 [2 favorites]


Ah, 'developments which occurred,' truly the clear-eyed explanation one expects from incisive journalism. I'm surprised there has been no further statement about what happened. Rather than obsessing over it, Gleeson advises non-media people to visualize a capybara, which may be the wisest, sanest path.

The other day I was reading some fascist thing or other and saw Butler being mentioned as one of the causes of the great crisis in society, and I thought, there is some cultural influence for you. Can you imagine having written a book so influential that even though almost no one does (or can) read it, your enemies are using you as an example of vast evil thirty years later? Having to live, as Butler puts it, "to the side" of their name? Performativity of gender--the recognition of it--is an idea we still haven't digested, even as we watch it steamroll over us; it's one of those Copernican ideas that changes everything once you begin thinking about it. I think that's why the unfairness of this censorship rankles me so much. Here you have this thinker with one of the great pivotal ideas of our era, and you're like, mmm, better not let them comment on current politics. What a waste, what an ugliness.
posted by mittens at 4:57 AM on September 8, 2021 [31 favorites]


If anyone here wants to help a cishet woman learn more, I have been following these discussions for some time now and I have a couple of questions that I haven’t been able to find good resources for. I’ll preface them by saying that I am often able to get additional clarity on an issue by exploring analog situations and seeing how they are different.

Are there similar arguments / vitrol happening with trans-men and ‘what it means to be a man’?

If not, why do you think not?

Are there DIFFERENT arguments / vitrol happening with trans-men?

And if these questions are problematic, or should be tabled for this discussion, please let me know, and hopefully why. I have been sitting here re-reading my own questions for 5 minutes now thinking about how, in some discussions, “whataboutisms” have been used to derail or weaponize debate and that is not my intention and I am sad for all of us at the moment that good faith conversation has become so fraught right now because of so much hate.
posted by Silvery Fish at 5:13 AM on September 8, 2021 [5 favorites]


I'm in no position to answer that, just here to add a thread by Dr Natacha Kennedy :

(Long) THREAD: The big story of today is the @guardian's censorship of Prof Judith Butler. It is a story that UK mainstream media will try to smother. So please use social media

So to start with this is the section that the Guardian removed;

Please share this widely...

1/22

There will probably be no explanation about why this passage has been censored, or there will be an excuse related to legal action related to the fact that the question to which this was the answer was about WiSpa events where fascists collaborated violently with TERFs...

2/22

[...]

No. The *real* reason for the censorship of this piece is because of what it says. This is the 1st time in UK mainstream media that the accusation has been made that TERFs/'gender-critical' transphobes are collaborating with fascists, Nazis, religious fundamentalists...

4/22

[...]
There is now increasing evidence that UK TERF groups, as part of the anti-gender movement in Europe are being funded by rightwing money from the US and Russia.

This is why they are all so cagey about their (considerable) funding.

https://t.co/BFxeo8R5iJ

17/22

posted by cendawanita at 5:28 AM on September 8, 2021 [17 favorites]


Are there similar arguments / vitrol happening with trans-men and ‘what it means to be a man’?

There are, yes, although for the most popular argument, the targeting is different. The argument there is that young girls are being influenced by social media to believe they are trans, and that (depending on who you listen to) there is a conspiracy between liberals and the medical industry to funnel children and teens into HRT and surgery. It's a line of argument generally directed toward parents. It falls in line with earlier moral panics suggesting your children are up to something dangerous that you're unaware of, using a very real and valid fear that something is wrong with social media and its algorithms having sway over us, combining that with an inversion of the actual medical situation (it's pretty difficult to get medical care, but the idea here is that the same system that charges you thousands for insulin and epi-pens will give out buckets of free T) as well as playing up the protective instinct one has that children's bodies should not be harmed with frequent references to mastectomies, etc. All of this is then combined with cancel-culture rhetoric: you cannot even question this strange new trend without someone on twitter with an anime avatar shutting you down!.
posted by mittens at 5:36 AM on September 8, 2021 [21 favorites]


This is incredible and - yes - my partner and I would have missed it had they not attempted to censor JB after JB laid down the law.

This led us to another interesting conversation about how we were unconsciously walking on eggshells about JBs legacy because so. many. of our favorite liberative scholars from the late 20th century are turning into insane assholes a la Zizek. I think many of us were waiting for something like this without realizing it. I'm deeply grateful for the hard work that went into preserving her original statements.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 5:45 AM on September 8, 2021 [14 favorites]


There are, yes, although for the most popular argument, the targeting is different.

mittens, thank you, and —huh—, this leaves me with some many more questions. There is so much policing within cishet male society around ‘ What It Means To Be A Man’ that I would have thought there’d be some terrible vitriol around transmen. I’ve got these poorly-defined threads in my mind now, one linking to the horrific ‘black men are uber dangerous because they’ll assault teh white women’ nonsense and the vaguest of ideas around using discourse around The Feminine as a centuries-long method of societal control and deflection of men actually addressing issues of societal ‘masculine’ and privileged status quo but it is all so hazy right now.
posted by Silvery Fish at 5:50 AM on September 8, 2021


There are a few things that Butler says here that I think are so, so powerful:

First, I think that they get at the meat of it very quickly and clearly by talking about what it means for something to be "performative" - an act that makes something a reality, through performing a protocol - and how gender, often talked about as being from within, also comes from these protocols. Nothing super new here, but I really like how Butler says "Gender then becomes a negotiation, a struggle, a way of dealing with historical constraints and making new realities." (Some big components of this, especially "Pronouns come to me from others," I really appreciate and relate to.)

Given this - the idea of identity being "restless and uprooted" or always under negotiation - Butler makes a strong case for identity being a starting point, not an end point, of movements for justice. I think that's powerful, and I think that often, discourse sort of stalls out at identity and a lot of people are challenged to see more broadly towards wholistic justice movements. Butler is essentially talking about intersectionality of course but I think there's great power in speaking clearly about these concepts without relying on poorly-established shortcuts of vocabulary words.

And then:
Queer was, for me, never an identity, but a way of affiliating with the fight against homophobia. It began as a movement opposed to the policing of identity – opposing the police, in fact.

Put it straight into my veins, please.
posted by entropone at 5:50 AM on September 8, 2021 [36 favorites]


Guardian Pulls Judith Butler's Comments On "Gender-Critical" Anti-Trans Movement
“Within a few hours of the piece being posted, I’d received an email forwarding me a missive from the Guardian’s ‘Reader Complaints’ department,” Gleeson said, adding that “it became very clear very quickly that this meant I was interacting (indirectly) with the British team.”

Through her direct editor, Gleeson found herself in the midst of “something of an editor’s pile on, with a ‘long discussion’ that I didn’t get to see unfolding.”

Due to controversies around the Wi Spa reporting in recent weeks, Guardian editors wanted a change to the content. Gleeson offered to rewrite the question leading to the response, while keeping the response as is, but “the other editors were of the view that the question and answer be instead removed in their entirety.”

“I was quite surprised at this suggestion, and replied that I had seen plenty of people approvingly sharing the piece quoting exactly that passage from Butler,” Gleeson said.

Gleeson presented the editors with a rewrite, but it was too late.

“Unfortunately, the Guardian editors decided to go ahead with their decision to censor Judith Butler,” Gleeson said.

According to sources close to the situation, the company’s UK editors have used the offending section as a “pretext” to pull a Guardian US series focused on trans issues called Gender Now that Butler’s interview was meant to launch.

One Guardian lead opinion writer, Susanna Rustin, called Butler’s comments on gender identity “the ultimate luxury belief.”

“And it unsurprisingly emerged from an elite university in a superpower state,” she added.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 6:00 AM on September 8, 2021 [27 favorites]


Are there DIFFERENT arguments / vitrol happening with trans-men?

There's a moral panic in the UK over prescribing puberty blockers to teens. It is very much a space inhabited by TERFs and (from my admittedly great distance) seems to be highly gendered: there's much more alarm over blockers being administered to delay the development of female characterstics than blockers being administered to delay the development of male characteristics. The same discussion seems to be much more muted in Australia, but we're part of the same world, so.

As a mental exercise I tried translating TERF rhetoric to the opposite gender, but it just doesn't work: "Their light, lissome bodies will be unfair competition in gymnastics, and our boys are terrified of being ogled by the hungry female gaze". If I had to explain this, I'd say it has to do with our construction of female identity as something vulnerable, to be protected from unfair competition in sports, and perversion in changing rooms. In contrast, male identity is hierarchical: people are excluded from male spaces because they're inadequately male, not because they're a threat. Consequently, the opponents of puberty blockers are forced to frame all their arguments around female vulnerability: protecting girls from AMAB children, and protecting AFAB children from harming themselves.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:14 AM on September 8, 2021 [39 favorites]


Disappointing to still see the transphobic rag that is the Guardian being linked in the front page on the regular, like it was done kind of normal newspaper and not a vehicle for TERFs.
posted by Dysk at 6:30 AM on September 8, 2021 [15 favorites]


I'm glad to finally see an article quoting Judith Butler on being nonbinary allowed by the mods. The Guardian is an imperfect vehicle, but I care deeply about what Butler has to say, and I'll take her beautiful words in bad wrapping paper anytime.

I really feel deeply seen when Butler talks about gender not merely being assigned at birth, but in an ongoing fashion. Her discussion of how identity is assigned over and over points to the ability we all have to take agency in our own assignments, and empowers us all to challenge both how we are categorized, and also the categories themselves.
posted by Chrysopoeia at 6:39 AM on September 8, 2021 [14 favorites]


Consequently, the opponents of puberty blockers are forced to frame all their arguments around female vulnerability: protecting girls from AMAB children, and protecting AFAB children from harming themselves.

Can I simply say that this is all flavors of fucked up and makes me want to throw my hands up in the air and walk around in angry circles in the same way that I do when I hear anti-vax arguments and respond, “this is 100% an unexamined emotional response that you are pasting non-facts “facts” on top of because you are unwillingly and cowardly desperate to protect a construct of culture you bought into and manipulated yourself to fit into even though it put YOU at the short end of the stick in so many ways and you backed the wrong horse and you’re protecting this horse at all costs rather than turning around and seeing that the purpose of this horse has been to EAT YOU ALIVE this whole time, ergo your lifelong anger and sense of powerlessness, even tho you did everything your culture told you to think/do, and your best bet is to RUN THE FUCK AWAY from that horse and take on the terrible existential work of building a new personal identity because that is way better than being eaten alive from the inside by this parasitic wasp of a horse.”

I appreciate all of the answers and I am so sorry that any of you have to live daily in this space.

I am going to go quiet again and listen, but will read every response here. I still have a lot more information- and knowledge-gathering to do.
posted by Silvery Fish at 6:55 AM on September 8, 2021 [11 favorites]


Just in case Butler's argument for the transphobe-to-fascist pipeline is for some reason not persuasive enough for you, yesterday also saw the NYT give notorious transphobe Jesse Singal the opportunity to "review" a book written by a TERF who claims that there is a "trans agenda" run by a cabal of shadowy Jews that includes George Soros.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 6:56 AM on September 8, 2021 [25 favorites]


The US and Australian branches of the Guardian really need to secede and form an actually progressive media group, leaving the UK branch to follow its manifest destiny of becoming Hogwarts-house-in-bio Breitbart.
posted by acb at 7:23 AM on September 8, 2021 [18 favorites]


mittens, thank you, and —huh—, this leaves me with some many more questions. There is so much policing within cishet male society around ‘ What It Means To Be A Man’ that I would have thought there’d be some terrible vitriol around transmen. I’ve got these poorly-defined threads in my mind now, one linking to the horrific ‘black men are uber dangerous because they’ll assault teh white women’ nonsense and the vaguest of ideas around using discourse around The Feminine as a centuries-long method of societal control and deflection of men actually addressing issues of societal ‘masculine’ and privileged status quo but it is all so hazy right now.

speaking of Black trans men:
  • Tweet by @Femme_Queer Not enough discussion is had about the way that Black trans men and transmasculine people experience violence. Trans men and transmasc already face hyperinvisibility, but Black trans men and transmascs have the added layer of anti-Blackness on top of anti-trans bigotry.
  • Tweet by @itsjacksonbbz Okay someone said it!!! As a fat Black trans guy infantilization isn't really my story. Yt trans mascs need to stop speaking as if their experience is universal, because the way racialization adds some of the old 'cops might kill me' razzle dazzle to being a trans guy 🙃 ... And let me not speak too loudly about being seen by default as a threat to WW and what that means for my safety
  • Tweet by @that_pettis But black trans men and other trans men/masc folks of color exist and often transition into the perception that they are a threat and their safety is at risk and you can’t just ignore that because it doesn’t fit into a convenient binary of privilege and oppression
  • Advocate op-ed by Ash Stephens: Black Trans Men Face a Constant Threat of Police Violence
  • Them.us article by Devin-Norelle: A Black Trans Man, Tony McDade, Was Killed by Police in Florida
posted by i used to be someone else at 7:58 AM on September 8, 2021 [22 favorites]


For more background on why, exactly, the Guardian is viewed as anti-trans.

The latest example that this thread discusses is merely more brazen compared to past history like this.

I'll say that it's nice the mods made the note above, but given how they've done trans folk here dirty in the past with how they've handled deletions and shit...
posted by i used to be someone else at 8:03 AM on September 8, 2021 [8 favorites]


Well, the good news is that people on the right never practice "cancel culture" and only their speech is ever restricted, so that is clearly not what happened here!

One Guardian lead opinion writer, Susanna Rustin, called Butler’s comments on gender identity “the ultimate luxury belief.”

“And it unsurprisingly emerged from an elite university in a superpower state,” she added.


Rustin is British, so this is kind of hilarious.


I've been very sad about this, and all the other things mentioned, because (among many other reasons) the Guardian does a lot of really good work, alongside its opposite-of-good parts. I hope the attention this ridiculously blatant instance gets is the beginning of the end for at least its anti-trans bullshit, and that some resignations of the people responsible for it follow.
posted by trig at 8:15 AM on September 8, 2021 [6 favorites]


Perhaps, but those who resign for being anti-trans will find welcoming arms in the Times, the Daily Mail, the BBC...
posted by i used to be someone else at 8:19 AM on September 8, 2021 [2 favorites]


[I want the Guardian to be a better newspaper for readers who care about human rights, which isn't the Daily Mail's target market. (The BBC is its own sad story.)]
posted by trig at 8:24 AM on September 8, 2021 [6 favorites]


The problem with getting into bed with fascists to accomplish any kind of goal is that their ideology is an ever shrinking in group. Which is a huge problem because fascists will align themselves with anyone, at least temporarily, if it gets them power.

Sure you might be aligned with them on erasing trans people but after that? Do you think they're going to stop? They'd revoke a woman's right to vote given the first opportunity.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 8:27 AM on September 8, 2021 [18 favorites]


As a writer, my gut instinct is that this is already blowing up internally at The Guardian, and will have large repercussions. Censoring an already published piece for flimsy reasons, after it had gone through an editorial process, is such a clear line to step over.

I imagine that the American side will probably lead the charge, since this was done to a piece published by the US section, but I expect a lot of writers in Britain and elsewhere will join them because all writers can put themselves in Gleeson’s shoes, and it’s legitimately enraging.

I’m pretty worked up about this, and if I were writing for The Guardian, I’d be positively apoplectic.
posted by Kattullus at 8:40 AM on September 8, 2021 [26 favorites]


speaking of Black trans men:

i used to be someone else - thank you for this!

If someone could help me with some of the terminology - this isn’t the space for me to assume anything…

WW — from itsjacksonbbz - I assume means white women?

Yt trans masc - same author - I’m guessing Yt is YouTube?

I’m also not finding anything that helps me understand the difference between ‘trans men’ and ‘transmasculine people.’ Words matter so I’m assuming there is a contextual understanding that I can guess at, but again - not my story; not my lived experience: learn the words. Respect if y’all don’t want to do this work for me. If it feels ok, a link that helps me understand where and why those terms diverge is very much appreciated.
posted by Silvery Fish at 8:52 AM on September 8, 2021


WW... yes white women
Yt is a shortening of white
posted by kokaku at 8:58 AM on September 8, 2021 [4 favorites]


Mod note: Hey Silvery Fish, gentle nudge, at this point it's probably better to go do some reading rather than continuing in here; even well intentioned questions can end up derailing/re-centering a thread. Thread is about this Butler/Guardian situation. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:06 AM on September 8, 2021 [28 favorites]


It really is a dismal time to be trans in the UK. For me one of the worst things about things like this is that it feels like the tip of the iceberg, a tiny glimpse for cis folks into a struggle that's been going on for years. It's no longer acceptable to be outspoken about being pro-trans rights. Look at what's happening to Stonewall and Mermaids. The NHS is failing us, waiting lists are years long and getting longer, the media hounds us from every angle, etc etc.

For one other example of the ways we're being left behind, the NHS currently has no provision to provide phalloplasty and metoidioplasty (bottom surgery) for trans men and non-binary AFAB folks. That means that unless you can afford to go private, there is literally nowhere for you to get that surgery in the UK. Some people have been waiting years for the chance and they're being told they just can't have it -- this includes people who are halfway through the process (some surgeries take place in 2 - 3 stages over a period of months). A week ago a letter was sent to the Health Secretary stating that these failures are unacceptable, but who knows if it will make a difference when the NHS is already struggling.

I wish I had the energy to be angry about an otherwise excellent interview in the Guardian being censored to protect TERFs, but right now it just feels like.. duh. Of course they would. Of course nothing's getting better. Of course.
posted by fight or flight at 9:42 AM on September 8, 2021 [25 favorites]


Hey Silvery Fish, gentle nudge, at this point it's probably better to go do some reading rather than continuing in here; even well intentioned questions can end up derailing/re-centering a thread. Thread is about this Butler/Guardian situation. Thanks.

Gentle nudge appreciated. Thank you. :)
posted by Silvery Fish at 9:48 AM on September 8, 2021 [7 favorites]


It really is a dismal time to be trans in the UK.

OTOH, surveys show that the TERFs are not representative of public opinion; the overwhelming majority in the UK is happy to live and let live, and to accept trans people as who they say they are. Another survey, of Twitter accounts retweeting a transphobic hashtag, found a handful of genuine accounts dwarfed by a multitude of bots.

If Kattullus' instincts about what's likely to be happening at the Guardian are right, this could be, if not the TERFs' last stand, the beginning of the end for them. One can hope.
posted by acb at 9:57 AM on September 8, 2021 [8 favorites]


Had a wonderful fight with my sibling over this yesterday. Amazing what a couple of years in the UK can do to convince you that we're at risk of banning the word "female", apparently. [Cut unnecessary recounting of how exactly TERF her arguments were, right down to being offended at being identified that way]. I blame mumsnet.
posted by bashing rocks together at 10:00 AM on September 8, 2021 [15 favorites]


The problem with getting into bed with fascists to accomplish any kind of goal is that their ideology is an ever shrinking in group. Which is a huge problem because fascists will align themselves with anyone, at least temporarily, if it gets them power.

I mean, the TERFs here almost certainly are telling themselves that the moment they get the power or gains they need, they'll spring into action to betray the other fash in their coalition. It's a matter of who decides to coalesce power and betray the others first. At the end of the day, though, the problem isn't the risk of betrayal. It's the risk of unity and normalization of these ideas in the mean time.

Patting ourselves on the back and going "well, our enemies who are currently acting in unison will destroy each other anyway in the end so we can wait" isn't a good response for a bunch of reasons. It's maybe better to take a close look at how TERFs recruit, how they relate to TIRFs and other strains of radical feminism, and how to cut off the pipeline that radicalizes young queers and feminists to TERFdom in the first place.
posted by sciatrix at 10:04 AM on September 8, 2021 [11 favorites]


OTOH, surveys show that the TERFs are not representative of public opinion; the overwhelming majority in the UK is happy to live and let live, and to accept trans people as who they say they are.

If you read the rest of my comment, you will discover that the core problems are nothing to do with public opinion (in my experience the general public for the most part doesn't care if someone is trans or not, though those who do care in the negative sense often do so violently -- transphobic hate crime has quadrupuled over the last few years with a survey finding four out of five trans people on average experienced a hate crime personally in 2019-2020).

this could be, if not the TERFs' last stand, the beginning of the end for them

It won't be. They're backed by Christian groups and certain powerful figures (some in government positions) with deep pockets. They're not going anywhere. If anything, their views are becoming commonplace.

The Green Party, one of the bigger political parties in the UK and long thought of as one of the more progressive, has a problem with so many TERFs joining the party and trying to influence policy that their leader recently quit because she was so ashamed of the direction things were going in. And this is a party that's long stood against the Tories as a progressive voice. Who are we supposed to vote for? Who has our backs? Who is fighting for us? Nobody.

Also, FWIW, it would be wonderful if, coming in to this thread to give my experience as a trans person in the UK, I would not be met with "it's not that bad". It is that bad. It is, and people refuse to listen, because it's depressing and shit. Well, try and live through it.
posted by fight or flight at 10:22 AM on September 8, 2021 [55 favorites]


I am very glad that non-trans people are supporting good causes to long-term make things right at a societal level, but that doesn't help at all at the individual level. One of the decisions I had to make when I chose to transition was that I was choosing to risk being murdered, while living in a country that has a tendency to commit violent and deadly crime upon people who transition. It's theoretically good to know that much of society isn't out to get me, but it does nothing to ease the burden of knowing that some of society, with the support of religious and political leaders, would kill me if they thought they could plausibly get away with it. It does nothing to ease the burden of having health/medicine professionals ignore my symptoms, lie to my face, and deny my treatment. It is so difficult to survive transitioning that I have no energy or attention left to care about the parts of society that aren't trying to kill me through malice or neglect. While I appreciate those general societal efforts, it is still a terrible experience to be trans.
posted by Callisto Prime at 10:59 AM on September 8, 2021 [18 favorites]


(Sorry, I missed the sentence about it having been less than a month since I saw a known local TERF driving with a known local fascist, because apparently they're married, and it honestly scared me so much to see that I just went home for the day instead of trying to continue my day.)
posted by Callisto Prime at 11:02 AM on September 8, 2021 [6 favorites]


If the question referenced the Wi Spa incident, then the question could have been edited with a note. Instead they chose to remove Butler's entire answer, which did not once reference that incident, but spoke generally about the harms that TERFs are doing.
posted by fight or flight at 11:55 AM on September 8, 2021 [20 favorites]


The mention of the Wi Spa and related claims of "alliances" seem awkward to say the least and the editors did Butler a favor.

given the fact that transphobes and the proud boys were protesting together and explicitly echoing the same rhetoric, i don't see how deleting the answer changes that fact, especially since, as fight or flight points out, butler's answer was far more general.

i mean, a short and incomplete list:
  • transphobes online have cottoned to the "superstraight" trend which was amplified by the alt-right;
  • noted "gender critical" luminaries are seen as regular posters on alt-right sites such as k*w*f*rms
  • right-wing money from the united states and europe is being funneled into anti-trans activism
  • several anti-trans activists are comfortable with working with right-wing groups: kellie-jay keen-minshull (aka posie parker), hands across the aisle, WoLF (again), and even the whole Keira Bell case which savaged Gillick Competency (and with it, gave an opening to anti-abortion activists in the UK) utilized a lawyer who's worked frequently with the ADF
  • self-described leftists like glenn greenwald and matt taibbi have been echoing anti-trans rhetoric similar to that of the right-wing and in some cases are completely comfortable going on right-wing television shows
  • some links between anti-trans activists and the right-wing opposing the Irish #RepealThe8th pro-choice movement
but yeah, no "alliances" at all, none what so ever, no links, no commonality, totally a favor to prevent any "awkwardness" on behalf of butler calling a spade a spade
posted by i used to be someone else at 12:23 PM on September 8, 2021 [30 favorites]


The mention of the Wi Spa and related claims of "alliances" seem awkward to say the least and the editors did Butler a favor.

People have been pointing out the alliances between fascists and transphobes for years now.
posted by Glegrinof the Pig-Man at 12:25 PM on September 8, 2021 [7 favorites]


So wait I missed a step... why does the "protagonist" of the Wi Spa incident having a record mean that the far right and the gender critical weren't collaborating at subsequent protests, and that they haven't been caught doing that repeatedly in the past? Why does it mean the famously TERF-y editorial board of the Guardian isn't a huge problem for human rights in the UK, and a sign of a deeper blindspot among the institutional British left, as they apply to LGBT people?
posted by traveler_ at 12:27 PM on September 8, 2021 [8 favorites]


Guardian USA has less editorial independence than Al Jazeera English.
posted by tigrrrlily at 12:39 PM on September 8, 2021 [1 favorite]


This led us to another interesting conversation about how we were unconsciously walking on eggshells about JBs legacy because so. many. of our favorite liberative scholars from the late 20th century are turning into insane assholes a la Zizek.

I'm curious about this because the only thing I can recall is that both Butler and Zizek unfortunately defended Avital Ronell. Meanwhile as a gay/queer leftist, I've read/listened to both's interviews and articles in the past year, and both Butler and Zizek as public intellectuals have offered great recent insights about society and the pandemic, etc. I'm aware that Zizek has consistently critiqued Butler and American critical theorists, but I think his criticism raises valid philosophical questions for queers and LGBT+ so I don't think he's an asshole specifically for having that intellectual disagreement.
posted by polymodus at 1:32 PM on September 8, 2021 [2 favorites]


Traveler, I can’t figure out what comments led you to those conclusions, but I might have gotten lost in the negations. I don’t see anything above that I interpret in the way you describe and I couldn’t find the quoted word “protagonist”. Maybe this is a good thing, since it supports a “Nope” interpretation?

callisto prime, the particular comment it (as well as flight or fight's, mine, and glegrinof the pig-man's) was in reply to was deleted, and was immediately after your last comment and immediately preceding fight or flight's.

specifically, the user wrote:
The mention of the Wi Spa and related claims of "alliances" seem awkward to say the least and the editors did Butler a favor.
and the rest of the comment could easily be read as attempting to give anti-trans activists and media benefit of doubt when it comes to pushing more anti-trans rhetoric.
posted by i used to be someone else at 1:38 PM on September 8, 2021 [1 favorite]


Thanks, apologies.
posted by Callisto Prime at 1:40 PM on September 8, 2021


i don't know if just saying that žižek has an "intellectual disagreement" really does justice when his arguments suggest that he's not really familiar with the trans experience? (granted, he seems to be somewhat supportive of trans people, but again, he doesn't seem to understand trans people at all.)

especially given how so many people who defend anti-trans rhetoric try to boil it down to exactly that, a difference of opinion, rather than a cruel attempt to delegitimize trans people's existence?

especially given how the guardian has a tendency to platform those anti-trans activists based on the idea that it's just a difference of opinion?
posted by i used to be someone else at 1:57 PM on September 8, 2021 [3 favorites]


Where is the money coming from anyways? In particular, this:

The Green Party...their leader recently quit because she was so ashamed of the direction things were going in.

seems (a la Adam Curtis) a very or Putin or Putin-adjacent development. Though I would not be surprised if it's merely other wealthy fascists seeing the utility of the technique.

(My apologies if this is too tangential; please disregard if so)
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 2:22 PM on September 8, 2021


Anyone know what a certain Scottish YA author is doing with her billions? There's speculation that some of them are funding the UK's particularly lush astroterf.

Of course, it could be small donations from American Dominionists smurfed across the Atlantic, though don't they also have battles closer to home to fight?
posted by acb at 2:25 PM on September 8, 2021 [3 favorites]


Thanks, i used to be someone else. I see you actually provided pertinent info
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 2:27 PM on September 8, 2021


The whole TERF/The Guardian thing is so weird and obviously extremely disappointing and I understand why some are suspicious of everything published by the paper. Censoring an interview with an internationally acknowledged philosopher is beyond the pale for a serious paper, and I agree with Kattullus that there are most likely very serious discussions going on there now.
After this happened, I have realized that I rarely read anything in their opinion section, because I feel all their columnists seem to live in a different universe from the one I'm in.
On the other hand, I have met enough bigoted leftists to know they exist everywhere and are often drivers of populism with their fake arguments about "ordinary folks". And although I agree that the Guardian columnists and perhaps the editors are very much a relic of the whole "New Labour" ideology, that type of populism is alive and well on the far left as well. And a lot of "leftists" are marching with the fascists these days. Not just TERFs, but also anti-vaxxers, some (just a few) environmentalists, some main-stream feminists and gays who are islamophobic. The list is longer than I want it to be. Some of them were friends once.
posted by mumimor at 2:53 PM on September 8, 2021 [9 favorites]


i don't know if just saying that žižek has an "intellectual disagreement" really does justice

There was a passing comment that some public intellectuals were turning into insane assholes a la Zizek, so I really wanted to know about that. I'll be up front and say that Zizek is right in his specific criticisms of American political philosophy, including that of Butler. Firstly, that's why I asked to see if it was anything new, or just the same old dispute between Zizek and the American left intellectuals. Secondly, I can imagine if someone believes that specific intellectual dispute is invalid, then of course Zizek is an asshole because by the very act of putting forth a theoretical critique (specifically since Butler here says we need new categories, Zizek would very likely invoke Hegel's problem) he is damaging the LGBT+ movement.

As a gay Asian American, Zizek has said one or two things where I also initially reacted he is kind of homophobic, or just saying things that help justify and enable oppressors. But over time ultimately what he said got me to rethink my own positionalities in a neoliberalized space of political ideas. And meanwhile oppressors will find new ways to oppress, regardless of what debates we tabooize in order to not cede things to them.
posted by polymodus at 3:24 PM on September 8, 2021 [3 favorites]


I think Žižek went a bit potty after his time in the Yugoslavian gulag.
posted by acb at 3:28 PM on September 8, 2021 [1 favorite]


As a gay Asian American, Zizek has said one or two things where I also initially reacted he is kind of homophobic, or just saying things that help justify and enable oppressors. But over time ultimately what he said got me to rethink my own positionalities in a neoliberalized space of political ideas.

As a cis person, I personally would not feel comfortable telling trans people that they should "rethink [their] own positionalities" when they're taken aback by transphobic arguments. I definitely wouldn't say that while implying that they're only offended because they're trapped in a "neoliberalized space of political ideas".
posted by Anonymous at 4:03 PM on September 8, 2021


The idea that there are closed-door serious discussions happening at the Guardian that somehow are going to change how transphobic it has been doesn't seem to comport to past precedents.

The Guardian, in the UK at least, repeatedly publishes such material, there have been meetings, open letters, and trans workers have resigned from the paper in protest, and nothing has changed, because the power is in the hands of the editors, not the workers or the public.

Nothing will change from this, because the editors will again view it as, at worst, a PR issue, not an ethical or moral failure.
posted by Chrysopoeia at 4:31 PM on September 8, 2021 [15 favorites]


It is thanks to this episode that I at last cancelled my supporter subscription, citing persistent terfery as the reason.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:53 PM on September 8, 2021 [8 favorites]


each of the three links re: žižek argues from a different vantage point and underscores just how he doesn't seem to understand the trans experience at all, but rather projects his understanding of it on us?

i mean, go ahead and dismiss it as you will, but talking about masturbatory philosophy when the topic at hand is guardian being visibly, blatantly, obviously transphobic is certainly something.

the one tenuous link that might connect the topic at hand, žižek, and you, is that there's a lot of not-trans people talking about and over trans people as if our voices don't matter.

so i'll just tap on the sign again and ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ because these threads always go this way.
posted by i used to be someone else at 4:54 PM on September 8, 2021 [25 favorites]


Censoring an interview with an internationally acknowledged philosopher is beyond the pale for a serious paper,

Clearly not.

And remember, you only know about this because it was edited after publication. That anyone felt that was acceptable at the very least raises the question: is this kind of thing routine pre-publishing? We certainly can't say with any conviction that this was definitely the first time something like this has happened. It's the first time they've been caught.
posted by Dysk at 5:43 PM on September 8, 2021 [11 favorites]


Why the Guardian censored Judith Butler on TERFs (Vice, 8th Sept.; covers similar ground to the Motherboard piece)

In solidarity with UK trans folk, I've largely quit reading articles from the Guardian, and 100% quit linking or sharing them.

As a person in the UK performing arts scene, it's difficult to stay current without reading their arts coverage, and I'm still looking for the right combination of media. But back in June, when they ran that godawful editorial headlined "The Observer view on the right to free expression" which was solely 9 paragraphs of "it's OK to be a transphobe", their chief theatre critic Arifa Akbar retweeted it approvingly. So, fuck that.

Trans & nb colleagues in the UK arts: I will be listening to, respecting and supporting you, and denying my support to those who do not. (I'll probably still fuck up at times but we live, we learn)
posted by Pallas Athena at 8:21 PM on September 8, 2021 [11 favorites]


(And trans & nb folks in general, not just in my own professional area, of course.)
posted by Pallas Athena at 8:23 PM on September 8, 2021


I'm struggling with the argument The Guardian used to justify removing the question and answer. Vice printed a response from The Guardian which says that the question
“failed to take account of new facts regarding the incident at Wi Spa, which emerged late last week after the interview took place and the piece was written.”
But the alleged new facts are merely that someone has been charged over the incident which triggered the outrage. It doesn't change the point of Gleeson's question, which was about the “online outrage by transphobes followed by bloody protests organised by the Proud Boys”.

Is The Guardian saying that it's opposed to mentioning the Wi Spa incident now that it has allegedly become more complicated, or is there some way in which the question has genuinely been overtaken by events?

Also, while I'm here, how could Gleeson suggest replacing the original question with another one? Isn't that misleading?
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:17 PM on September 8, 2021


Gleeson has posted the deleted answer by Judith Butler on her Patreon page, along with the original question and her revised question.
posted by Kattullus at 12:53 AM on September 9, 2021 [6 favorites]


Not about the Guardian, but adjacent. (Podcast with Transcript.)
A month ago, Brandy Zadrozny (On the Media) talked with Lois Beckett (The Guardian US) and Julia Serano (writer, speaker, activist) about the TERF / Proudboy nexus around Wi Spa and neatly dismissed the bogus pseudoscience behind the rapid onset gender dysphoria moral panic. The piece gives some good context to share with anyone needs it. Can't wait to see what OTM's coverage of this censorship of Gleeson and Butler will be.
posted by Gotanda at 2:41 AM on September 9, 2021 [5 favorites]


"so i'll just tap on the sign again and ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ because these threads always go this way."

+1 trans person tapping on the sign. please stop
posted by the tulips are too red in the first place at 3:38 AM on September 9, 2021 [12 favorites]


I think Zizek has some bearing on a wider discussion, but it’s pretty off-topic for Butler getting edited by TERFs and risks (as pointed above) decentering and/or erasing trans concerns.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:54 AM on September 9, 2021 [2 favorites]


Mod note: A couple of comments deleted; please lay off the Zizek.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 4:47 AM on September 9, 2021 [6 favorites]


Mod note: And in general - if you're not trans yourself, this is one of those times to step back and recognize that your footprint in a thread can be bigger and clumsier than you intend, that re-centering a thread on this sort of topic can land as hostile not merely as pursuing one subtopic among many. Please take extra care to avoid that; be willing to just listen.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:12 AM on September 9, 2021 [21 favorites]




Eoin Higgins, who’s been covering this story, has a new piece today: The Guardian's Censoring of Judith Butler Part of a Pattern, Current and Former Staffers Say.
posted by Kattullus at 2:31 PM on September 9, 2021 [11 favorites]


Neonazis picketed the @gaymuseum in Berlin on Monday

Here's the original report from the museum itself:
On Monday we received an unsolicited visit from the NPD Berlin. They posed with sexist and homophobic election posters in front of our entrance and then published the photo on their Facebook channel. 🤮 We call on the NPD Berlin to immediately delete the photo from their page. pic.twitter.com/88d526Z5NV— Schwules Museum (@GayMuseum) September 9, 2021
The original Nazis were also obsessed about gender, and notoriously destroyed the famous Institut für Sexualwissenschaft together with its library and museum; an incalculable loss.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:34 PM on September 9, 2021 [5 favorites]


As a sidenote, I don't think the Wi Spa incident is complicated, there's just a moral panic whenever you invoke the words 'sex offender' that it makes way too many so-called liberals forget that maybe 1) the US legal system has been and is still being used to oppress marginalized folks and 2) that the label of 'sex offender' is itself a horrid scarlet lettering that very often means nothing and is so fucking meaningless that even the proponents of the original (still incredibly panoptic, reactionary, and fucked up) law have come out against its modern iteration.

According to the LAPD report, this person is only on that horrid piece of scarlet lettering (that America's own Chuck Schumer was a staunch supporter of) because of past 'indecent exposure' incidents.

Translated, this person has been subjugated by the American legal system for over two decades now for merely trying to exist, making Butler's commentary not just incredibly lucid and thoughtful but also prescient.
posted by paimapi at 8:41 PM on September 9, 2021 [5 favorites]


The thing that I find hardest in all this is that to most people it's all just an abstraction. Even cisgender LGB people seem not to understand how painful it is to be the subject of the endless saga of the "trans debate" (cue eyeroll). None of it is new. This has been going on, with the exact same arguments rolled out over and over again, ever since Sheila Jeffreys' truly awful "Transsexual Empire" book came out in the 1970s. It's relentless. It wears you down. Yesterday it was The Guardian censoring Judith Butler. Today it's Quillette publishing Helen Joyce. Tomorrow it will be something else. Every single day it's something. It doesn't go away when I flip over to the next MeFi post. It doesn't go away Pride month is over and the corporations lose interest. I can't remember the last time I didn't feel frightened. It just never stops
posted by the tulips are too red in the first place at 10:19 PM on September 9, 2021 [13 favorites]


Do we really have to keep using the word TERF? The people pushing this stuff aren't feminists, let alone radical ones.

TERF is an acronym that arose from specific observations of transphobia within established communities of radfem activism, but it's been adopted as a shorthand for anyone who opposes the freedoms of trans people.

The continued use of that acronym plays straight into their hands. When explained in media coverage it lets their claims they are feminists motivated by protecting cis women go uncontested - even when so many of their arguments are also deeply misogynistic.

You can just say "transphobe" and "transphobic" instead of TERF and TERFy.

If you really need a pithy acronym then there's always the much more accurate option of FART: feminism-appropriating reactionary transphobes.
posted by automatronic at 1:23 AM on September 10, 2021 [4 favorites]


Do we really have to keep using the word TERF?

I use the term TERF for a number of reasons:

- because many of these transphobes do consider themselves feminists "fighting for the rights" of women
- to remind ally feminists (especially capital-F Feminists) that these people exist within the movement and need to be called out (which I don't see often enough to stop it, frankly)
- to annoy the people who consider it a "slur"
- because people know what I mean when I say it, as opposed to FART, which, while being more accurate, just makes me sound like I'm a five year old calling someone names ("you're a FART"? Ugh).

When explained in media coverage it lets their claims they are feminists motivated by protecting cis women go uncontested

I don't think that they'd be contested if they weren't called TERFs. I guarantee if they weren't being called TERFs they'd still be pretending to be protecting cis women and they'd still largely be protected by the "but what about free speech" intellectual elite.
posted by fight or flight at 3:05 AM on September 10, 2021 [7 favorites]


For those of you who are forced to engage in discussions with idiots in your life, I heard a good simple argument from a real feminist yesterday on the radio. She said (paraphrased): the declaration of human rights says all humans have equal rights. It's that simple. So why do some people get all agitated when we say all women have equal rights? What is their project? How do they explain that some people should not have equal rights?
In her experience, this got a lot of people thinking. I realize that there are some people you can't change. But a lot of people have made their opinions without any deeper reflection or knowledge. I wish I had thought of this method when I was teaching some very narrow-minded kids about respecting others, because I'm pretty certain it would have worked with them. They weren't fascists, just ignorant.
posted by mumimor at 3:59 AM on September 10, 2021 [3 favorites]


I should probably clarify that I'm not really suggesting we go around calling transphobes FARTs - much as I appreciate the humour I don't think pithy acronyms are actually helpful. I would like to see them just called transphobes.

It frustrates me that TERF seems to have somehow just become the word used for transphobes in general, to the point where it's used even for people who are also openly misogynist. It annoys me that as a result, the struggle for trans rights keeps ending up characterised as some sort of factional infight between TERFs and other feminists, in a way that I think contributes a lot to the erasure of trans men and nonbinary people from the discussion.

I agree that many transphobes would still claim to be fighting for cis women if we didn't call them TERFs, and that there would still be failures to challenge that narrative. But it's hard to challenge that narrative at all when we're still going around calling them radical feminists, for reasons that seem to be largely an etymological accident at this point.
posted by automatronic at 4:18 AM on September 10, 2021 [2 favorites]


Given that TERF includes copious numbers of religious conservatives and Nazi-adjacent traditionalists these days, the F in it is like the D in “Democratic People's Republic of Korea”, and has a distinctly sarcastic tone to it. Of course, there is then the problem that sarcasm doesn't travel well online...
posted by acb at 4:30 AM on September 10, 2021


I'm not here, as a feminist, for No True Scotsman arguments about whether everyone who calls themselves a feminist is actually advocating for all women. Clearly, if you have paid any amount of attention to feminist politics and intersectionality, that is not the case. So instead I define feminism as a school of thought and tradition attempting to understand and deconstruct gendered power dynamics: as with Christianity, if you call yourself a feminist, it is feminists' responsibility to deal with you and engage with you as a member of the feminist community (even if you are a toxic and abhorrent member). Archly defining TERFs out of feminism will not stop them from identifying as feminists and continuing to participate within and poison feminist communities. Come the fuck on.

I will be frank: I use TERF because I hang out on Tumblr a lot, which hosts an enormous pipeline that serves to radicalize queer and feminist youth towards TERFdom. A friend of mine does deradicalization work there, and I spend a lot of time watching her and the people who speak with her. Additionally, asexuality exclusiomism on Tumblr was and remains a powerful recruiting ground on the path to TERF radicalization among this community, and since I've been active in the ace community for nigh on fifteen years... well.

First: the transphobia and bigotry is actually not the only or even the most powerful piece of that radicalization pipeline I see. The path to TERF radicalization is often a stepwise one, and it is radical feminist ideas specifically that form the throughline of that pathway, not transphobic ideas. When I define modern radical feminism, I have to point out that radical feminism self defines by positing misogyny as the root of all inequality (hence the original name) and stands historically opposed to the intersectional third wave, which subsumed it within mainstream feminism about ten to fifteen years ago. I am not talking about historical radical feminism, although I argue that historical radical feminism does contain the seeds of the poison that modern radical feminism has become: it's just that there were historically some useful insights within the school of radical feminism that have now been picked up and carried away by other schools, and what remains now is the reactionary politics and the poison.

Because radical feminism defines gender in terms of hierarchical power relations among the sexes, it is hostile to basically everyone who argues that sexuality and gender can be extricated from the power dynamics it places as central. This doesn't only include trans people: sex workers are also frequent targets. It is not an accident that when we speak of TERFs, we often speak in the same breath of SWERFs.

Like all radicalizing works, however, radical feminism has to reckon with attempting to disrupt mainstream ideas about what people are worthy and fair. As intersectional feminism (the notion that there are multiple kyriarchic axes of oppression that interact in unpredictable ways where they meet) took over popular and mainstream feminism in the early 00s, radical feminists found it very difficult to argue with people who were pointing out that racism, disability, classism, and other oppressive axes continue to exist. They had to find ways to distract from this school of thought and promote their own ideas to stay relevant. The most convenient way to do this is to create an enemy who can be alternately described as pathetic and all powerful as it's convenient to spur social power grabs. That's the role that trans folks have come to play, although they aren't the only targets, and the more powerful radical feminism becomes within feminist circles the more targets will find prominence.

I've seen TERFs bragging about converting others or explaining that they came to TERFdom first through asexual exclusionism discourse or "queer is a slur" discourse. The term queer has been under attack, in fact, specifically because it encourages solidarity without division on gender or orientation grounds.

There's a lot I want to tap into here about the central appeal of radical feminism being rather similar to MRAs in that it allows you to posit that you are part of the most oppressed class in the world and simultaneously incapable of oppressing anyone else, but it's 730 and I've gone on long enough this morning. That said, I think it is absolutely an error to fail to understand that TERFs are feminists and that feminism can in fact be warped by other power dynamics to poison others. By papering this over and pretending that you can define TERFs out of feminism, you recapitulate exactly the errors of feminism that created them in the first fucking place.
posted by sciatrix at 5:36 AM on September 10, 2021 [30 favorites]


I am honestly a little cranky because I typed up a paragraph about how euphoric I feel about Judith Butler's vision of gender, how gleeful I am about Chrysopoiea's comment and how much I love the notion of gender as a constant stream of signals that we are at all times trying to intercept and understand from others and equally control from ourselves. Gender as an exchange of social information is important to me, and I want to talk about it...

...and the constant buzz of transphobia and defensiveness from folks who are quite understandably trying to evaluate whether I am going to leap out and hurt them, because that is such an undercurrent of the society in which we now live, is so fucking stifling and exhausting. It is exhausting to have to think so carefully about what you say in case it be seized by someone as a bludgeon to crush others. It fucking sucks.

posted by sciatrix at 6:14 AM on September 10, 2021 [12 favorites]


Thank you, sciatrix. I see what you're getting at clearly now and I really appreciate your explanation.

I hadn't thought about what I was saying as trying to define TERFs out of feminism, and I see the problem with that, and especially your point about how that approach is what got us this problem in the first place.

I nonetheless find myself wanting to find some nuance between defining TERFs away and rejecting them. I think it can be valuable sometimes for any group or movement, to explicitly disclaim people who claim to support it but do not actually espouse its values. To take your analogy with Christianity: any statement from a Christian group to the effect of "we do not recognise these other people's statements as reflecting Christian values" is a powerful one indeed. I think that it would be valuable for more feminists to take that approach to TERFs: to be more willing to say "we don't recognise what these people are saying as consistent with our values as feminists". The decision to keep using the term TERF to describe all these people, even when they reject that term themselves, feels to me like it does the opposite of that.

But I can't see a clear line to take between rejecting and defining away, and I take your point about defining away, so maybe there is no way to achieve this.

I think there is a question of audience, though. For you, "feminism" is not an automatically positive term. And "radical feminism" refers to a specific branch of thought, that already has negative connotations for you before adding the "trans-exclusionary" prefix. But I worry about how widely understood that view is. I think that to people who are less up to speed on feminist theory, and especially how it has evolved in the last few years, "radical feminists" may well mean little more than the juxtaposition of those two words, suggesting something more like "feminists who are willing to be louder and more direct to secure more ambitious change".

The general level of discourse about feminism in the UK mainstream/social media is certainly no better than that. In that context, it feels like the widespread discussion of TERFs here seems to have led to a lot of people getting the idea that "TERFs hate trans people" which gets conflated to "people who hate trans people are called TERFs", and thus to "transphobes are feminists". Which seems like a big part of how people who don't know any better keep getting to this false dichotomy that trans rights are in conflict with women's rights -- and to the exclusion of trans men and non-binary people from the narrative. And this talk of TERFs has become so pervasive, that we increasingly see it adjectivised too - people talk about ideas as being TERFy, when often what we really mean by that is just transphobic.

So I completely accept your point that TERFs are feminists, in that we have to deal with them as such if they identify that way, and that they are radical feminists, because of how their ideas derive from that worldview and the pipelines associated with it.

But TERFs are not the only transphobic people in the world, and I would still really like it if people could be careful about when they say TERF, and particularly TERFy, if they're not specifically talking about people who are actually trying to assert themselves as feminist.

There's a whole lot of transphobes out there who would be just as offended at being called a feminist as they would be at being called a TERF.
posted by automatronic at 9:12 AM on September 10, 2021 [2 favorites]


I'm talking specifically about manifestations of transphobia in the two paragraphs below, particularly the second one; please keep that in mind if that is a trigger.

Sure, but how many transphobes who are repulsed by the label of "feminist" are there? Certainly at this specific incident at the Guardian, there has been a lot of wailing and insulted crying at the criticism Butler made, because the editors at the UK Guardian edition have been compared to those awful Nazis instead of being allowed to claim their credentials as "feminist leaders." This specific incident is a case of wrangling TERFs. On top of that, the most commonly-used vehicles for expressing transphobia these days are specifically TERF-inflected in nature: hand-wringing about the safety of cisgender girls and women in bathrooms, for example, comes straight out of radical feminist notions about men being inherently dangerous and likely to perpetuate violence in their interactions with women. That they misgender trans women does not mean that this specific strain of rhetoric isn't explicitly driving their bigotry.

Non-TERF transphobia does exist! For example, narratives of trans women "tricking" men into sexual situations and getting icky homosexuality all over them are transphobic without being TERFy. But increased acceptance of (cis) gay people has eroded those manifestations of transphobia in recent years. The current UK climate of transphobia with its pearl-clutching about deluded transmasculine children being lured away from their "true" gender identity by those eeeeeevil trans activists and trans women who are "really" men lurking in all-women spaces to leap out and harm women is very specifically TERF-inflected transphobia which is rooted clearly in toxic radical feminist thought. You can actually see this very clearly in the ways that the transphobia is applied to transmasculine vs transfeminine people, and the ways that non-binary people are forcibly routed to one of these binary categories.

I appreciate calls to talk about transphobia with more accessibility to people who haven't gone digging into the history of feminism or intersectionality more generally! I just think the solution to making these conversations more accessible is to provide more context to people about argument between feminists and to talk about what modern radical feminism actually is, ideally with criticism of TERF ideas and pushback from people who themselves identify as (non-radical or intersectional) feminists.

Which is precisely what Judith Butler did, as someone whose feminist credentials are impeccable, and why it is so absolutely enraging that they were censored by the Guardian in this way.
posted by sciatrix at 10:08 AM on September 10, 2021 [13 favorites]


(i'm going to comment on sciatrix's comment and probably the same warnings should apply. just to situate my position, i will mention again that i am nb/gendervague.)

trans women who are "really" men lurking in all-women spaces to leap out and harm women is very specifically TERF-inflected transphobia which is rooted clearly in toxic radical feminist thought.

While I can't speak for automatronic of course, I think what we see in non-academic (and specifically US, that's the only place I have experience) circles is a decoupling of the above concern from its roots in radical feminism. Because prior to its involvement in trans issues, radical feminism was theorizing about things actually happening, things visible outside the academy, things visible on the ground, as it were. So the people expressing that fear of changing rooms, aren't doing so because they have latched on to a specific radical feminist reading of gender relations, nor because they see themselves in any way as part of that genealogy of feminist thought; rather, they're hearing a story that maps well to their own experience--here is a new way men are dangerous. They already know men are dangerous, they've already seen the dangers, they may not go as far as a radical feminist and see this as the systemic issue it is (and certainly aren't stepping back far enough to look at the entire range of white cisheteropatriarchy)...they have accepted an urban legend, a fairy tale, a heuristic, without the theory behind it.

Personally, I think that's why it's so powerful, and hard to argue against, because it has left its earlier theoretical moorings. Housewives make bad targets for theory-based arguments; they are not getting together at carline at school to talk about whether Butler has made proper use of Althusser. You have to have a story, and here's the story. And I don't think this fear is inauthentic. The people I talk to are actually scared--in that way people have of mixing fear and anger. They've been given to believe there are these villains out there, and surprise, they're like the villains you've been dealing with your entire life. (The fact that some have accepted that story and then aligned with neonazi men just blows my mind.)

I will say, dourly, that I don't see how this improves. As long as gender issues are fair play for culture war, the discourse will remain trash. Every conversation you try to have, someone will be able to pull out an inflammatory tweet and say see! i told you! And as much as I like Public Intellectual Judith Butler (far more than I did Required Reading For Class Judith Butler), I think the argument of a reflexive performative gender, a self-declaratory gendering, is not one that is going to get through to these people. But I guess that's a dissertation for another day.
posted by mittens at 10:35 AM on September 10, 2021 [5 favorites]


In a UK context, however decoupled from their radical feminist roots the concepts are for some of the people involved, TERFs are heavily involved in that community. I don't care whether the nazi-ish dude or housewife making those same points is basing then in radical feminism, because there's an actual literal TERF right there beside them at the protest, at the meeting, and they let the TERF lead, hide behind her feminist credentials and womanhood. It's deliberately and specifically TERFy, whether heartfelt or not.
posted by Dysk at 10:48 AM on September 10, 2021 [12 favorites]


Sure, but how many transphobes who are repulsed by the label of "feminist" are there?

There's a massive 4chan/incel/MRA/alt-right/fascist axis that is both openly misogynist and extremely transphobic, and you will certainly see feminism discussed as a dirty word if you look at the spaces they talk in.

I agree that the problem at the Guardian is more with TERFs than fascists, but the alignment of TERFs with these other prominent transphobes is exactly what Butler was talking about that made the Guardian so uncomfortable.
posted by automatronic at 10:49 AM on September 10, 2021 [2 favorites]


Also a side note though slightly less so: I think that the point that there is a distinction between defining TERFs as non-feminist and rejecting their ideas as inconsistent with feminism is well-taken. May I put a plug in for expanding - or, considering expanding, at least - the application of that principle? Time was that Judith Butler was considered a radical feminist, and the philosophical category of radical feminism viewed the concept of gender more similarly to Butler’s modern descriptions. Perhaps I should take Butler’s point that categories change in response to changing social circumstances to heart and apply it here as well, but I do find it discouraging and disheartening that in the rejection of TERF ideology, many folks seem to be accepting their re-definition of radical feminism and defining away what I had understood to be some of the main points of (which always seemed to me to be neccessarily trans-inclusionary, though I’m not an expert in feminist theory, so that may be an idiosyncratic interpretation based more in my personal experience and possibly I need to learn more about it before making such pronouncements), rather than rejecting transphobic application or connections that have been made from radical feminism.

I think the drive to define TERFs as non-feminist comes in part from the viewpoint that eg. if you have one Nazi and nine people who won’t condemn the Nazi, then you have ten Nazis, which then leads to the question of how do you condemn the one, and in particularly how do you do so sufficiently that your condemnation is clear. I’m sure a discomfort with the idea that some of one’s principles can be taken in a direction that one finds odious is a large part of this - no one likes to think that maybe there is something in their own world view that allows or enables the odious viewpoint. Yet part of being anti-transphobic, anti-racist, anti-fascist, etc. is accepting and grappling with just that, which if I’m understanding correctly is sciatrix’ point.

But also, I think it’s fair for people to be upset when hate groups take over their symbols or terminology in a way that fundamentally redefines them. Boogaloo Boys taking over the term boogaloo, for example (I’d also include Hawaiian shirts, but there were already some issues with colonialist appropriation there), or Proud Boys taking over the “ok” hand gesture or drinking cow’s milk. Or, though it seems to have been temporary, violent anti-mask protesters rallying around haircuts last year. Sometimes I think it is reasonable to say “no, this thing isn’t yours” in some of those cases.

And perhaps I don’t know enough to say whether radical feminism should be in the first category (where we acknowledge that it can be taken in problematic directions, which then necessitates some reexamination, along with rejection of the hateful ideologies) or the latter (where saying “no, you are not one of us” doesn’t entail sidestepping or ignoring some major issues) vis a vis TERFs. Certainly feminism overall is solidly in the first category when it comes to intersectionality and race, or class issues. Part of why there are so many different strains of feminism. But some acknowledgement that there has been an attempt to at least shift or alter (if not outright redefine) the strain of radical feminism by TERFs seems like it would give us a more complete understanding, and would help with rejecting them and diminishing their power, I think.
posted by eviemath at 9:59 AM on September 11, 2021 [3 favorites]


From what I understand, TERFism (as feminism, rather than an umbrella under which are religious fundamentalists and Nazis) is what you get when you derive feminism from first principles, keeping in place the assumptions behind fascism, i.e., that the world is a zero-sum competition for survival/dominance between nations/polities defined by immutable genetic/biological characteristics, only in this case the characteristics being sex rather than race/ancestry. In this context, trans people are as immutably a problem as people of Jewish heritage (regardless of current beliefs or deeds) were to Nazi Germany, and a problem that can only be dealt with through elimination.
posted by acb at 3:35 PM on September 11, 2021 [1 favorite]


I think, given we are having this conversation here and now, we should perhaps base our usage of terms like TERF in the understandings that this community is generally aware of, not restrict it to what is easy to understand for those outside it.
posted by Chrysopoeia at 11:24 PM on September 11, 2021 [5 favorites]


In an effort to make this less of an armchair discussion and more of a map towards action, I think identifying TERFs as separate from other transphobes is useful in that TERFs are still feminists of a sort and may be reached by feminist arguments. TERFism is not inherent in Second Wave Feminism, for example. Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon have both been supporting of trans rights (whatever you might think of their other stances). That might open a space to convince someone aligned with Second Wave politics. Focusing in the injustice done to Caster Semenya might move others. These are not nuanced arguments, and they are problematic and part-way, but they might cause feminists to reexamine their beliefs.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:22 PM on September 12, 2021 [3 favorites]


That’s a good point, GenjiandProust. I have a friend who, during the first lockdown, drifted into reading gender critical articles and talking about them a lot. The only way I found to counter that, was to reframe the gender critical rhetoric in second wave terms to show how absurd the argument was. The friend drifted away again and seems fairly normal again in regards to gender.
posted by Kattullus at 1:47 AM on September 13, 2021 [2 favorites]


The way I think about Radical Feminism in relation to TERFs is this:

On the one hand there's the historical radical feminism movement, defined broadly in opposition to the (also historical) liberal feminism movement. It was hugely important and contributed a lot to our collective understanding of gender and society. It had a complicated and fraught relationship with a lot of different topics, one of which was trans women: some of the worst transphobia of the time came out of it, but that was never the consensus position of radical feminists and many of the leading figures of radical feminism were passively or actively accepting of trans women. This movement was succeeded in the 90s by the third wave, which built on the analyses of the radical feminists while also critiquing and expanding a lot of their assumptions and blind spots. I don't think it's fair to say that the historical radical feminism was by nature trans-inclusionary. Versions of it were, and other versions of it weren't.

On the other hand, you have those feminists whose primary point of identification remains with the radical feminist movement, some 30 years later, whether they are original RadFems or came to it later. These are those women who, for some reason or another, were unable to join in dialog with those feminisms that came from the third wave. Transphobia is a big driver of this, but not the only possible one. Regardless of the reason, the effect is that those in the radical feminist movement who could find a home in more recent movements, did so, and an unfortunate side effect of this was the creation of a consensus around transphobia in those who remained identifying as "radical feminists". Conservative views around sex work or bisexuality are other traits that could lead to someone being left cold by third wave feminisms.

I think we can use the term TERF and recognize the reactionary nature of what modern radical feminism has become without accepting revisionism of what the historical radical feminism was. It doesn't diminish the accomplishments of those women who built radical feminism. TERFs were always a part of radical feminism - the difference is that today that venn diagram is pretty much a circle.

Beyond that, TERF as a label is a bit slippery, because it includes (fairly, in my view) those whose views are formed in dialog or sympathy with modern-day RadFems, even if they don't identify with that label themselves. I think it's also fair to extend it to other reactionary positions associated with the modern day RadFems (for example, calling anti-sex work positions TERFy instead of reaching for the more precise SWERF), although I have seen evidence that this sometimes causes confusion for people who aren't familiar with the history and theory that links the two. Some caution is warranted there, depending on audience.

I do not think, however, that TERF covers all expressions of transphobia. The alt-right aren't TERFs; they're the fascists that the TERFs are forming alliances with. They may be adopting lines of argument from their TERF allies, and it may be useful to recognize those arguments as TERFy, depending on the situation and the needs of the moment.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 6:11 PM on September 14, 2021 [4 favorites]


I wouldn’t reach for third wave feminism as necessarily the natural second home for pro-gender diversity radical feminists. At least mainstream/white third wave feminism overlapped with liberal feminism in its lack of critique of capitalism. Anarchafeminism might be a better fit.
posted by eviemath at 7:00 PM on September 14, 2021 [1 favorite]


I definitely do not get the sense that TERFs in general or the UK editorial board of the Guardian have strong critiques of capitalism either, of course. There’s perhaps some interesting overlap and contrast here between this censoring of the Butler interview and the more recent FPP about The Chinese government’s recent moves to suppress more effeminate (for lack of a better word) expressions of masculinity. A comment in that thread noted that autocracy and repression of gender diversity tend to go in hand, which parallels the censored comments by Butler that the TERF-fascist alliance is somewhat natural and unsurprising.
posted by eviemath at 7:11 PM on September 14, 2021 [1 favorite]




So the people expressing that fear of changing rooms, aren't doing so because they have latched on to a specific radical feminist reading of gender relations, nor because they see themselves in any way as part of that genealogy of feminist thought; rather, they're hearing a story that maps well to their own experience--here is a new way men are dangerous. They already know men are dangerous,.....The people I talk to are actually scared--in that way people have of mixing fear and anger.

This 100% describes the actual conversations I've had. There's no conscious philosophy behind it. The core argument is that if you abandon the easy way to identify and exclude men, then they will immediately take over every space to hurt women (I mean, maybe this is a position identified within feminist philosophy somewhere, but neither of us would know). This is said with more or less regret but 100% consciousness that there will be harm done to that group of people who are trans/nonbinary (e.g Caster Semenya mentioned above), but at least it is restricted to that group and not a risk to all women. It's like....the opposite of intersectionalism?
posted by bashing rocks together at 3:52 PM on September 16, 2021 [2 favorites]


Unless there's some new news, this is a reminder that Caster Semenya is a cis intersex woman, and grouping her with trans and nonbinary people is a tactic TERFs have used to support unjust rulings and attack both her and trans athletes.
posted by polytope subirb enby-of-piano-dice at 7:40 PM on September 16, 2021 [13 favorites]


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