Storify: TERF Warning Flags and Rhetoric

Storify is shutting down in May and has informed users that we have to migrate our content elsewhere if we wish to save it. This is one of my old threads.

[Content Note: Transphobia, Racism, Ableism, Eugenics]

After writing my Storify on an NYT Opinion article ("My Daughter Isn't Transgender"), I was subjected to an online dogpile by TERFs. This is a pretty typical response from the harassers: misgendering and accusations of mental illness.

Ana is insane...not capable of reading, listening or understanding...leave him alone

So I decided to write a thread for followers watching all this happen in my mentions.

People who've been watching the mess in my mentions have been asking me about TERF ideology so here's a mega thread. Some of this is guesswork based on my experiences and possibly wrong, but eh, everything they say about ME is wrong so I'm not worried.

Oh, before we get started: "TERF" means Trans-exclusionary Radical Feminist. It's not a slur; it's a description of behavior. For the most part, I now use "REG" (reactionary exclusionary gatekeeper) because it includes TERFs, SWERFs, and AERFs. "SWERFs" are exclusionary of sex workers; "AERFs" are exclusionary of ace and aro and aspec people. So "REGs" covers a spectrum. But THIS week has been TERFs and there are warning signs when someone pops into your mentions.

So first off, if you think you have a TERF in your mentions, here are some red flags I've gathered over the years and past few days.

1. If they have "XX" or "XY" in their profile or username, they're referencing their chromosomes. They probably haven't been chromosomally tested; there are more options than XX and XY, but they like to assume.

2. If they have "Gender Critical" in their profile/name, that's a flag. You'd think being critical of gender would be a good thing, but what they mean is they reject genders entire and just want to classify everyone by what's between our legs. Which is impossible and gross. My gender as a demigirl is (a) real, (b) is not contingent on my genitals, and (c) not something they get to declare non-existent.

3. A lot of them have "lily" in their username/profile, which I'm informed is a reference to the Yuri (lesbian) genre. Which is interesting, given that:

4. a LOT of them are white women from the UK. I don't know whether to file this under appropriation or not but it's noticeable.

5. If you pop over to their timeline, you'll see a lot of RTs of other TERFs with the same characteristics as above.

Now that you've found a TERF, what if you still want to engage in conversation? Well, ideology comes out and that's where you need a primer.

We've already talked about what they mean by "gender critical": they mean they don't believe gender exists and only genitals do. This doesn't work in practice, of course. People whose genitals are altered in accidents are still their gender. Cis people who are born without various bodily parts (uterus, testicles, etc) are still their gender. And so forth. Gender isn't genitals. So we can't just do away with gender because we don't like it and declare everyone the SAME gender words (man, woman) based on genitals.

Someone asked me last night why TERFs tend to focus on trans women and ignore that trans men exist. I have a theory. A lot of these TERFs are white women from the UK and carry a lot of privilege. Privilege can be uncomfortable for activists to acknowledge, because it means they have to be willing to check theirs and sit down at times. If you don't want to check your privilege, the easiest way to do that is to "flatten" privilege with an Us vs. Them narrative.

We see this with white male liberals in the US who want to construct a "class only" view of privilege. When ONLY class matters, then a white man and a black woman working against capitalism are "equals" and there's no need to check privilege. This is a very pervasive idea among people with privilege, because "flattening" the situation down to a binary (Us vs. Them) is comfortable.

TERFs have done this, but instead of class they are using gender and constructing a Men vs Women situation. You see this attempt to flatten privilege with terms like "shared girlhood" and "females like us" and references to "sisterhood". These concepts are transphobic, but they are also hugely racist and anti-intersectional. White women have NOT been allies to women of color, historically-speaking. Able-bodied women have NOT stood by disabled women. Etc.

It's very appealing to the person with privilege to say "we're all in this together as WOMEN!" and not have to acknowledge their privilege. The Women vs. Men construct was probably not made to be transphobic, but rather to erase white privilege. But trans people mess it up. Because if you think trans people are "changing sides" (which TERFs do), then you have to grapple with what that means to your model.

Trans men are seen by TERFs as quislings and traitors, even "deluded" and "crazy", for wanting to go join the ~dangerous~ men. Trans women are seen by TERFs as men who have realized how wonderful it is to be a Moon Goddess Blessed Womyn, which means they are either to be grudgingly tolerated (if they stay in the back and know their place) or violently ejected as enemies. The WvM model needs ALL men to be enemies because if we talk about black men or disabled men having less privilege than white abled men, then we might have to acknowledge that black women and disabled women have less privilege than white abled women.

We can't have that because that was the whole point of the model: to flatten privilege to a Man/Woman binary so as to erase white privilege. And I'm not the only one who has observed this.

@sapphixy: A cornerstone of TERF rhetoric as it's evolved is that cis women *cannot* have *any* privilege. I've seen this _verbatim_.

So the TERFs have this model that doesn't WORK (much like a model that places earth at the center of the universe). They have to explain trans men as "girls" who are claimed by men for their side in this tug-o-war (cis men being SO accepting of trans men!) They associate butch dress with lesbian sexuality, so we get TERFs telling me I'm "lesbophobic" for respecting a trans boy's identity.

Meanwhile, trans women are "boys" who have latched onto a "stereotypical" version of femininity and "fetishized it". None of this fits reality, but it's a flurry of attempts to try to keep their geocentric model from sinking under the weight of evidence. And this is another excellent point about the white privilege and white-centrism boiled into the TERF model.

@sophiaphotos: I find terfs also very colonialist. Gender diversity exists in every culture. Has for thousands of years

I think it's important to break all this down because the TERF model makes so much more "sense" once you see the white fragility within. Which isn't to say only white women are TERFs; I've had to block POC TERFs and even trans TERFs this week. But the model is whiteness.

@AzaleaCloud: Any explanation as to why this movement's influence is so much more pronounced in the UK?

@sapphixy: I blame Germaine Greer, personally.

I think it has to do with the smaller number of prestigious schools in the UK, and the tighter network for educated feminists there. The US has what we call "Big White Feminism" based in New York which looks very similar, but we ALSO have Flyover Feminism. We have a larger network and there's more chances for disabled, fat, trans, POC voices to speak up and direct discourse. I see the UK problem as one of an "Old Girls' Network" that is hostile to letting others in.

So now you understand the TERF logic, how do you engage? Well, here's some common questions and answers.

A. Should we listen to a child's gender identity? Of course! Transistion for a child is respecting their pronouns. There are heaps of evidence that respecting pronouns will lead to a happier, healthier child than, say, arguing them into the ground. If the child decides in a few months that they aren't that gender, you switch over to what they do want. Easy!

TERFs will bring up sensationalized descriptions of surgery, but childhood transitioning is not surgery. Childhood transitioning is respecting pronouns. It might also include puberty blockers, which many cis children ALSO take. (We recognize that going through puberty at 6 or 7 is not healthy for all children, and we have medicine to help delay that.)

B. TERFs will bring up that genital customization surgery can lead to "sterility". Okay, and? Consenting sterility is a feminist issue. If a man wants a vasectomy at 18 or a woman wants her tubes tied at 18, we respect that because of bodily autonomy and feminism. Cis women who seek sterility at a young age are routinely denied by doctors who believe they will "change their mind" and want children.

Feminism is about recognizing bodily autonomy and reproductive control. The idea that the most important feature of a woman is her ability to bear a man's children is Handmaid Feminism. It is not feminism at all.

C. Various other arguments will be brought forth which are entirely off-topic, but a big one is prison housing. We have a rape problem in prison that we MUST correct as a society. This is a big part of anti-rape activism in feminism. But when we talk about where to house a trans woman with a history of violence against women, recognize cis women aren't questioned on this.

Women's prisons are full of women who have abused other women, including rape and violence. We don't move them to men's prisons. This is cis privilege: cis womens' gender isn't revoked based on what they DO. Their gender is understood to be part of who they ARE. Cis women who rape aren't put in men's prisons. Cis women with a history of violence aren't automatically denied at shelters. If a cis woman breaks the rules in prison or a shelter, there may be consequences for her actions, but she is still considered a woman.

Other snippets of rhetoric worth knowing: Intersex people exist. Some of them are trans and some are not. TERFs fluctuate between not acknowledging intersex people, dismissing them as too small in number to count, or appropriating them. I.e., "Intersex people exist and they're sick of your trans bullshit" was a thing I heard this week from a non-intersex (perisex) person.

TERFs tend to be REALLY SHITTY about mental illness and neuroatypical people.

@Autistic_Ace: An aside: they seem to have discovered that autistic people are disproportionately trans. They predictably use this to show their ableism

Sometimes they will try to use social justice concepts of identity to protest "cis" and "TERF" descriptions. Cisgender is not an identity. It is a description that means a person who is the gender they were assigned at birth. (Lucky!) Calling someone cis is not pushing an identity on them.

"TERF" and "REG" are descriptions of behavior, and again not identities. See also: racist, fascist, bigot, etc. TERFs recognize that it is wrong to deny someone their identity, so try to use that sleight of hand to get out of being called bigots. This is just the TERF version of "you're intolerant of my intolerance" and you are welcome to ignore it.

TERF is not a slur and a slur is not a "hateful word". If that were all a slur is, everything would be a slur. TERFs are not systemically persecuted for being TERFs. To the contrary, they are paid very good money to publish hurtful bigoted bile. "TERF" does not silence a woman any more than calling a woman "racist" silences her. Embarrassment at being a vile person isn't silencing. This is the TERF version of "disagreeing with me is a violation of my free speech". They're free to spew bile; we're free to call it bad.

TERFs will also throw around "lesbophobic" because they pretend that all trans women want to sleep with them. Trans people want folks to respect our identities. We do not expect or even want folks to touch our bodies. There are MANY cis lesbians who are happily relationshiped with trans women, btw, and TERFs exclude THEM from the lesbian identity. Excluding a lesbian from her identity because of her partner's body seems lesbophobic to me, but many TERFs do exactly this.

#D. Lastly, a lot of TERFs will try to define womanhood in a way that excludes trans women, but they can't. Genders are social constructs with fuzzy lines around the edges. We use identity words to communicate with others, but those words do not have innate objective meaning. Texas is a social construct, but I'm still a Texan and it's a huge part of my identity.

Once you start trying to nail down an "objective, scientific definition of woman" (a nonsensical phrase), you find it isn't that simple. And the definition that TERFs reach for--the ability to bear a man's child--is retrogradebadfuck Handmaid Feminism again. Excluding infertile women, disabled women, and elderly women out of womanhood and feminism because of a fertility fetish is GROSS. And no, not all or even most misogyny is predicated on the ability to bear children, with infertile women being collateral damage.

For people who like to appropriate witches so much (HI, I AM ONE), they haven't done their homework re: who was burned and who wasn't. Elderly and infertile women were far more likely to be put to death by communities than the women making babies for powerful men. Reproductive control is crucial to feminism, but it is not the only pillar in our foundation. Not by a long shot. Any attempts to flatten womanhood and feminism to fertility is, again, an attempt to ignore privilege and intersectionality.

In closing, I think that covers the main bases. What has been interesting this week is just how unoriginal these TERFs are. I've been the subject of a dogpile for about 48 hours now, and this isn't my first one, but they all SOUND the same. They even recycle MRA and GamerGate memes, asking if they can have "attack helicopter" as a gender. And, of course, reducing womanhood to fertility and Handmaiden status is a very MRA thing to do in the first place.

This is an object lesson in how groups built around a denial of white privilege have more in common with each other than you'd think. TERFs, SWERFs, AERFs, MRAs, and GGs, shouldn't (on the face of their ideologies) have ANYTHING in common with each other... yet they do. The overlap between these groups is huge, and they use the same arguments verbatim. The root cause is the denial of white privilege, of white colonialism, of any privilege other than a flat binary Us vs. Them.

When your foundation is rejecting intersectionality, you make strange bedfellows in your flailing to constantly deny your own privilege. So let this be a lesson to strive for intersectionality lest you wake up next to an MRA. Metaphorically speaking, I mean.

Thread necromancy for more TERF rhetoric to learn and guard against.

I can't emphasize enough how much they all seem to reach for the "surgery makes kids infertile!" chestnut.

1. Not all transitions include surgery.

2. Not all transition surgery affects fertility.

3. Not everyone WANTS to be "fertile".

4. Feminism includes reproductive freedom, which includes the ability to be sterilized by choice. We are not Handmaidens!

More red flags: TERFs are now using "transing" as a verb, to suggest that trans is something being DONE TO children. "Stop transing kids." This is an attempt to cast trans people and trans allies as predatory and dangerous to children, recycled from old gay-panic narratives. Really, it has been fascinating to watch TERF lesbians recycle gay-panic narratives about changing rooms and "turning" children gay/trans. (To be clear, not all TERFs are lesbians; not all lesbians are TERFs. I'm talking about specific lesbian TERFs doing this in my mentions.)

More red flags: TERFs are now pulling out the "eugenics/genocide" cards to throw on the field, regardless of how inappropriate that is. They're using two bad logical leaps for this.

One: A lot of trans kids are queer. When trans kids are denied treatment and forced into the closet as kids, then come out as queer adults the TERF narrative is that if they'd been allowed to transition as queer kids, they would have been made "straight" by switching genders. This is laughable moon logic, but for the love of god we do not deny children medical care because the Queer Team needs more numbers. (And again, I shouldn't have to remind people of this but Straight Trans People are QUEER. There are straight queer people!)

The second logical leap they use to call transition treatment "eugenics/genocide" comes back to the assumption that trans boys are lesbians. Trans boys are not lesbians and a butch "look" on a child (or, hell, an adult!) doesn't mean anything about their sexual orientation. But since they believe that all trans boys are lesbians, then therefore treatment to "turn them male" (they're already male!) is "eugenics". Because you killed off a lesbian in order to make them into a straight boy. Which is... not how ANY of this works. It's Mad Max Moon Logic.

Which brings me in a round-about way to how the TERFs use "FTM" (female to male), "MTF" (male to female), and "FTT" (female to trans). FTT is a made-up word to hate trans men for being quislings and traitors to the womyn, but FTM and MTF used to be used widely. For the most part, we don't use "FTM" and "MTF" anymore for reasons and I'm going to try to explain why here--and why TERFs DO use them.

Trans people ARE their gender. They don't need to "become" their gender. They are their gender even if they never get surgery or come out. A trans boy is a trans boy, no matter what his mother says, or writes in the paper, or does to deny him transition help. Still a boy. "FTM", or "female to male", suggests that he's in a female body and seeking a male one. Surgery! Infertility! Scary jazz hands! But FTM ~also~ suggests that if they can just KEEP him in that female body, then he'll be a woman. A lesbian! One of us! Woohoo! They just need to trap him in that body until he "snaps out of it" or "grows up" or "escapes indoctrination" and then he'll be a woman.

And that's... not how this works? A trans boy is a BOY. No surgery is needed to legitimize his gender. He may well want surgery if he experiences body dysphoria.(Puberty blockers are a great way to delay that problem while his brain grows up.) But bottom-line is: you can keep him from body modification all you want, but that doesn't make him not a boy. He's not a girl "seeking" to be a boy or "wanting" to be a boy (like that Parenting article was titled); he IS a boy.

I think this is the fundamental divide between trans-inclusion and TERFs, the recognition that trans people ARE their gender. If you accept that a trans boy is a boy, then your goal isn't to put obstacles in his path, but to make him happy and healthy. "How can I help this boy be the person he wants to be?" is supportive and good and kind. If you DON'T accept that a trans boy is a boy, and if you think you can STOP him from being a boy if you just TRY HARD ENOUGH, Then you turn into this weird video game villain. "How can I put as many obstacles as possible until they give in to my will?"

So you think of the situation as "transing" kids--i.e., turning them into a thing--because you don't respect that they already ARE trans. And you view transition as "losing" a girl child because you think transitioning CHANGES a gender rather than being treatment for dysphoria. If you've construed a dystopic Women vs. Men model with no other intersections in play, then you see men as "taking" your lesbians away. All the young lesbians, rounded up to be genocided into trans boys. Meanwhile the trans girls are infiltrating your collective. At which point the trans girls will... shut down the planetary shields? Look, idunno, it's the TERFs' fictional dystopia, not mine.

But they're more than happy to recycle anti-gay-men rhetoric about locker rooms and kid-danger. Those gay-panic narratives can be invoked against gay women, of course, but it's much less of a rhetorical thing in my experience. I'd be tempted to jokingly call all this "misandry", but really the simplistic Women vs. Men model is rooted in racism, as we discussed. The only way to erase white privilege among cis women is to insist that men have all the power and women have none. Men HAVE to be monstrously evil and "transing" our kids (because cis men are SUPER trans-inclusive!) so as to distract from white privilege.

That's how TERFs can, with a straight face, call me a "Nazi" and "fascist" just for BEING trans: they think all men support us trans folk. They believe that when I walked away from womanhood and declared myself nonbinary that the patriarchy sang a thousand hymns for my betrayal.

Facts don't support this, of course, and TERFs even know it: they're happy to use the talking point that men hurt trans people most often. As in the snippy "why are you telling US to be nice to trans women, go tell MEN since they're the ones that hurt you". As though we can't do both, and as though the transphobia in both men and women works together to oppress us from both sides. But even knowing men hurt us (because they're Monsters, because they're Men, pay no attention to the white privilege behind the curtain) the Shadow Council of Men is secretly pro-trans because transness removes lesbians from the collective and inserts spies in their midst.

It is a ridiculous fantasy, but I've heard worse from fundie rapture-ready Christians. Who ALSO think I'm a Nazi fascist for being trans. Anyway, hopefully that clears up some of the "holyfuckshit??" questions in my mentions over the TERFs today.

OH, ONE MORE THING. Be really careful about people who say they "believe in dysphoria" because, well, that doesn't mean squat. Remember those churches who call themselves "gay accepting" as long as you stop fucking being gay you dirty sinner? Well. "I believe in dysphoria, I just think it should be ignored / treated as shameful / treated rarely if at all / electroshocked out of you" is not actually accepting or inclusive or nice or a good person.


Post a Comment