Monday, July 28, 2014


On Radical Feminism vs Letting a Trans Person Be

Michelle Goldberg has a piece in this week's New Yorker about the state of the argument between trans-exclusionary radical feminists and transgenderism writ both large and personal; it reads slightly evasive (lots of "some people say that [insert old offensive idea]" type language; a lingering sense that the advent of trans rights is already "too much") and sort of stunningly gotta-hear-both-sides to this very pro-trans, pro-letting-a-person-be, chillwave-feminist brain over here, but it's a fascinating read.

Some self-described radical feminists [] have found themselves in an acrimonious battle with trans people and their allies. Trans women say that they are women because they feel female—that, as some put it, they have women’s brains in men’s bodies. Radical feminists reject the notion of a “female brain.” They believe that if women think and act differently from men it’s because society forces them to, requiring them to be sexually attractive, nurturing, and deferential. In the words of Lierre Keith, a speaker at Radfems Respond, femininity is “ritualized submission.”

"Radical feminists," writes Goldberg, "now find themselves in a position that few would have imagined when the conflict began: shunned as reactionaries on the wrong side of a sexual-rights issue. It is, to them, a baffling political inversion." God, I'm so glad that I was not in college during the second wave. [New Yorker]

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I was actually in the same women's studies program as one of the activists mentioned in the article, Rachel Ivey, and wow she got reeeeeally trans-antagonistic as time went on. Like, hurt a lot of friendships etc etc

Jia Tolentino

@cruelshy god i just cannot imagine even a moment inside the brain of a TERF. i cannot imagine a moment inside any brain that is actively advocating against the rights of someone else

Plant Fire

@cruelshy Honestly, from my interactions with some radical feminists a lot of the logic that TERFS use sounds like when white people fancy themselves to be 'colorblind' and use that as a reason to treat people of color badly for reminding them about race. Race is a social construct just like gender but it's not a reason to be an asshole to someone who's already part of an extremely marginalized group of people.

I think a lot of it comes from really outdated notions about the gender binary, and when people don't fit squarely into that it makes people uncomfortable and it's easier to lash out at someone who's already heavily discriminated against than at the patriarchy, which, unlike trans people, is actually responsible for these gender roles and stereotypes.


@Jia Tolentino it's because trans women are sex perverts who are turned on by the notion of having lady-parts!!! It's not about female identity, it's about erotic compulsion!!!! (A lot of things in this article made me gag but that one was the WORST.)

Jam Jam

@cruelshy Interesting you say that about the gender binary, as I was thinking that about the transgender folk cited in the article. It comes across as a group that doesn't fit into one category pushing it's way in. Why isn't trans an OK term for people who are trans? Why isn't a separate category a more accurate description than 'woman'? Being born a man and feeling like a woman is different than being born a woman and feeling like a woman. Those are two vastly different experiences, how does it help to have one word for two things? It's simplifying, and that's not fair to either group.


Like, she became so mean. I felt like I was trapped in some sort of weird high school movie?? Like, DGR became its own clique on campus and basically if you had a radical idea of gender (far more radical than what TERFs espouse) you couldn't join.

Plant Fire

@cruelshy I have a friend that's been leaning this way for a few months now and it's so hard to be around her. I don't understand how she can sustain that amount of hate in her head at once. It makes it so hard to be around her because she also has bought into the idea that women are so oppressed that they can't make real choices for themselves (especially choices that she happens to not agree with) and so I have to deal with her judging or pitying me for everything.


hard for sure@k


OK like I know this is terrible but I refuse to read this article because I know enough about these ladies to know it'll just make me mad BUT: how do TERFs reconcile the idea that (a) there's no such thing as a "real" female brain, all gender is a social construct, etc. with the idea that transwomen are "really" men? Like it seems to require that they really believe in gender essentialism and also really don't? I've heard some people claim that you only get to be a woman (or maybe "claim womanhood") if you were at one point a little girl, with all the oppression that entails, which I guess makes a certain amount of sense except is usually leads into some talk about how transwomen are men invading female spaces with their mansplaining and it's a conspiracy to destroy feminism and etc.

Jia Tolentino

@jfruh absolutely no idea over here, obviously, someone tell us

Plant Fire

@jfruh Honestly, in my experience, I think a lot of them don't even bother to reconcile it? That's not even getting into how defining who gets to be a woman by very certain types of oppression is often used by cis women to sort of gloss over how even just among cis women not everyone experiences the same kinds of discrimination because of differences in race, ability, class, etc.

Honestly I think a lot of this is just people being transphobic and trying to justify it with really bad logic.

Plant Fire

@jfruh @Jia Tolentino So basically the way it's been explained to me (mind you, this isn't something I agree with at all) is this: that transwomen were socialized as men, because of that they will always have that socialization and privilege, and that sexism and male privilege is the worst form of oppression so transwomen need to be kept out of 'female' spaces.

However, this doesn't take into account the fact that many trans women internalize messages about women from a young age (because they know they're women even if others don't), the effect that the age of transition has, the fact that out trans women experience all kinds of discrimination now, even if they maybe didn't when they were 5, the fact that upholding sexism as the highest form of oppression negates the experiences of women who also have to deal with other kinds of oppression, sometimes even from other women...

I mean I could go on but the point is the logic doesn't hold up unless you are trying really hard to erase trans womens experiences. For example I've heard TERFs say things like that trans women only experience oppression because they are women which completely erases the fact that trans women are raped, murdered, and commit suicide at much higher rates than cis women. Honestly a lot of it is really fucked up.

In my experience the TERFS that I've personally met tend to have a lot of trouble grasping the privileges that they do have. Particularly in the TERF community (especially on the internet, where the ability to reblog stuff lets things spread really fast and also can allow you to opt out of engaging with real people in real life that may not fit neatly into your ideology) there's this huge culture of fear that gets stirred up. Like I had someone tell me that if you don't wear makeup everyday everyone will think you are trash (I wasn't wearing makeup at the time) and that if you do x y and z thing and step out of line you will be attacked (where x y and z where harmless things I do all the time like not dress well and do various stereotypically male things). There's a lot of weird 'this fear saved me, never leaving my house has kept me from being raped' etc etc kind of stuff..it's a really bizarre and unhealthy community.


@jfruh It also seems like reaaaaaaally mixing up gender identity with gender expression.


I have also heard some convoluted logic from TERFs regarding transmen. When I told a friend that another friend of mine who is a transman stated that whenever he has tried to NOT be trans he has ended up suicidal, she questioned whether he was just trying to access male privilege by transitioning. Whaaa?

barefoot cuntessa

@clevergirl yes, the most logical way to gain access to privilege is by willingly joining an even more marginalized group than you already belong to. Brilliant.


Women should assert their rights, but I don't agree aggressive behavior.


Some of that TERF rhetoric just sounds like comically villainous. Like literally, it sounds like Victoria from Y: the Last Man.

Jr John Smith

Like, she became so mean. I felt like I was trapped in some sort of weird high school movie?? Like, DGR became its own clique on campus and basically if you had a radical idea of gender (far more radical than what TERFs espouse) you couldn't join. Amazon Promotional Codes August 2014

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