I want to say, from the get-go, we’re all on our journeys. I’ve said some problematic shit I wish I could take back, like the time, a few years ago, I wished my trans-dad BFF a “Happy Mother’s Day,” because I thought he deserved to celebrate Mother’s Day too, after birthing, chestfeeding and single-parenting his kids. I still think he deserves all the celebration in the world for what a badass parent (and friend, and human) he is, but I get now how fucked up it was to say that. Let’s all keep trying to listen to each other and to do better.
Our language matters.
So when one of my Facebook friends started posting daily about trans folk, purposely misgendering them, I got freaked out and curious.
This friend, who I’ll call Michelle, is an acquaintance I met through my local vegan families group. I don’t know her well, but I’ve been to a party at her house, and she’s got a kid around the same age as mine. I had an expectation that families in the group would be radical, in a good way, because veganism, to me, means doing good, even when it’s hard and seen by society as weird. And other families in the group have exceeded my expectations in terms of empathy and inclusivity.
Anyway, Michelle does seem well-intentioned, wanting to do good, even when it’s hard and seen by society as weird, but some of her ideas of good are dangerous.
That’s because I know that trans people exist, and they’re not a threat to me, or my kid, or my feminism; Michelle, on the other hand, is a TERF.
TERF stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist. TERFs often say TERF is a slur; they also sometimes choose to reclaim the word for themselves. They also call themselves radfems (radical feminists) or use the euphemism gender-critical.
I’m sure it stings to be called out on your bigotry, but I don’t agree TERF is a slur. Similarly, I find it laughable/sad when Conservatives lament the “War on Christmas.” In both cases, a group is used to being in control of the narrative about what is “normal,” and they act victimized by the mere existence of others who don’t fit into their expectations.
TERFs, unlike anti-trans Conservatives, identify as feminists, and say their anti-transness is there to protect women. But like many Conservatives, TERFs use language to delegitimize the very existence of trans people and are against basic legal protections for trans people.
With the Right/Left split, these protections are already tenuous, so discovering the vast online TERF presence is terrifying.
Recently, we learned that the Trump administration is planning to take civil rights protections away from millions of Americans by defining sex as immutable (and provable by genetic testing), and ignoring that gender and even sex are spectrums.
Meanwhile, TERFs congregate around stories on the website Feminist Current, which intentionally misgenders trans women, calling them “trans-identified males.”
Michelle’s Facebook wall is full of their articles, and paints a picture that trans women are (almost) all rapists trying to gender-sneak their way into female prisons, or professional athletes competing against women and sending them to the hospital because of brute male strength.
(This Radiolab piece explores how the athletic world is currently dealing with questions surrounding trans athletes. Unlike how TERFs spin it, no, trans athletes are not a bunch of men calling themselves women to get easier competition.)
She also likes to bring up the occasional trans person who agrees with her, one of the good ones. Yes, and Trump has some women in his cabinet; it doesn’t make him a feminist.
I don’t know if she feeds on so many of these stories that she honestly believes they are representative of trans people, or if tactically, she just sees these outlier stories as the best way to convert others to her anti-trans ideology.
When she rails on the idea of “the cotton ceiling,” does she seriously believe most trans folk think they are entitled to sex? We know, in actuality, half of transgender people will experience sexual violence. Rather than being likely sexual predators, they are disproportionately likely to be sexually victimized.
My husband’s tired of hearing how, “She posted another one!” wondering why I haven’t unfriended her yet.
Partly, I have a strange fascination with fucked up things on the internet.
But also, I keep thinking maintaining some sort of friendship will be a way for me to at some point speak up, to be a trans-ally in a way that actually changes either her mind or someone else’s mind who’s reading her posts.
And there are a lot of posts. In just a few months, I estimate she’s posted 50 times that trans people are dangerous to women.
The thing is, we have common ground. She was one of the first to clap for this essay I wrote on Medium about society imposing gender roles on my kid. So I think we agree that societal gender roles are stifling, that there is not one way to be a boy or a girl or a human. That the world would be better if we all felt free to just be ourselves. That the patriarchy suuuuuucks.
BUT, to me, that includes the fact that there are trans people just being themselves, that they know themselves better than she does, that it’s not up to her to determine what gender they are.
On a daily basis, her Facebook page is broadcasting the idea that the existence of trans folk is a direct threat to women as a whole. That women are in danger and the main threat is trans women. That men are the threat, but trans women are men who have broken into our womanly homes by pretending to be women.
Yeah, it’s hard to be a woman, but, seriously, you want to pick trans folk as the reason?
Most of Michelle’s fear-mongering focuses on trans women, but she also has animosity toward the existence of trans men. Her message here is that trans men are actually self-hating butch women, and they got the message from society that they had to transition to be accepted. She posts essays from parents “heroically” refusing to accept that their kids were trans, which to me sound just like parents who send their kids to gay conversion therapy.
First off, nope: society is not telling anyone that they will find societal acceptance by transitioning. People transition to find inner peace, not because it’s societally accepted (clearly, it’s not).
Also, 41% of transgender people attempt suicide at least once. Parents, not listening to your kid is not heroic. Telling them you love them no matter what is heroic. Actually loving them no matter what is. Talking, listening, believing.
We expect this shit from conservatives. But it has really shook me, seeing just how many self-described leftists (I mean, they call themselves radical feminists!) are spewing this sort of hate. They are getting more adept at messaging, and we need to make it clear that feminism must include support for trans folk.
Just as we must reject brands of feminism that only benefit white women, let’s widen our feminist umbrella to everyone patriarchy hurts. And, honestly, isn’t that everyone?