I run a blogger community on Twitter with 20,000 members. I share their posts, I also re-tweet jokes, memes, news, tools and tips for writers, and anything I feel is relevant to the mostly female group – articles about pregnancy, parenting, Brexit, sexual health, mental health, disability, female oppression and LGBT issues. I’ve been running this account for almost four years now and no one has commented on the non-blogging stuff I’ve re-tweeted until last weekend. I shared an article from The Spectator about tensions between trans activists and feminist groups, which was actually quite nuanced and highlighted the damage being done to trans women who are being silenced by aggressive trans activists. However, being a newspaper it had a clickbait title about women with penises. Instead of reading the article a popular blogger tweeted me furiously demanding to know why I was sharing a transphobic tweet. To be fair, I had also tweeted a follow up ‘joke’ to the article from someone saying women having a penis would have sounded like a trick multiple choice question in a school exam ten years ago, but wouldn’t now. Looking back, I could see that out of context it looked like the second tweet is making fun of women with a penis for no reason. However, the first re-tweet just needed a quick read through. Nope, huffy blogger was ripping in to me. I said this needed discussion and I am not transphobic. WHAT DISCUSSION she spat back, ‘there’s no discussion, you’ve shown yourself to be transphobic’. Then she told her followers to unfollow me, and some left abuse on the way out. Not only was this astounding as this particular blogger I’ve been nothing but kind and supportive to for years, but she also then said she was heading off of Twitter to go out for pizza, leaving me to have a miserable Sunday of fielding disgusted tweets from bloggers who I had also been nothing but kind and supportive to. One blogger whose posts and Etsy business links I have re-tweeted every single day for years just unfollowed me without a single question put to me. If you’ve ever read Jon Ronson’s brilliant book ‘So, You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’ you’ll know how quickly it can happen to someone, mostly because online we’re set to attack and not engage.
I’m relatively new to the discussion, but boy (or girl) have I read a lot on it in recent months (including hundreds of tweets), and I’m still learning. I’ve talked with several journalists and academics, and one of the problems is believed to be people equating transphobia with homophobia – so any gender critical thinking gets labelled as being phobic. Gender identity is different to sexuality which is innate. Gender identity is connected to feelings and socially constructed stereotypes (we learn about femininity and masculinity as we grow up, and it’s all performative) and before joining in the debate on any level from name-calling to critical thinking, that firstly needs to be understood. The term transphobic is used alarmingly quickly and widely, and almost always in the wrong way. As far better writers than I have said in the press, it’s been used more than anything to silence both natal women and trans women.
If I’m not explaining this well, please start by watching this video from a trans woman that explains everything so calmly and perfectly https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sowoe71lB6A
When women say they stand by their trans sisters, they need to listen to them first. Several trans women have suffered abuse from trans activists when they’ve spoken up about the very real issues they face. THEY get called transphobic. Can you imagine going through years of suffering, both physical and psychological to be told you’re not welcome in the trans community because you do not side with trans activists? When academics speak up, activists contact their university of employment to try and have them fired for being ‘transphobic’, when celebrities on Twitter try and create fair debate they get sent abuse every day. What is clear is that trans activists are not interested in fair, open discussion about trans rights and issues, they just want their way. Many of the activists are not transgender, they are misogynistic men using this as an excuse to abuse women whilst getting a pat on the back from other women who think it’s all in the name of transphobia. TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminist) is a slur made up by a trans activist, people who use it might as well just use the c-word and be done with it the way it gets spat at women online. I was disappointed to see a blogger I know re-tweeting this (below), there’s just no need for it. Aren’t we all above telling women to shut up if they have an opinion, and can’t people see intimidation drowns out any sensible debate?
Whilst I don’t agree with some radical feminists who think no trans woman with a penis can be a woman (some trans women may be denied bottom surgery for medical reasons, or be on a waiting list for surgery), I understand the hurt they feel. What we’ve seen recently is language used to erase women, and this is something else I re-tweeted on the blogger community account that smug-pizza-stuffing-blogger was accusing me with. Diva Cup tweeted about their product ‘for menstruaters’, not using the word women. This is supposed to be inclusive language so that trans men who still menstruate won’t feel left out, and indeed it’s also been seen in several adverts and articles from political parties, charities and brands – Cancer Research called women ‘people with a cervix’. However, none of these groups changes the word men. Cancer Research tweeted about testicular cancer, urging men to check themselves. Why didn’t you say ‘people with testicles’ came the feminist outcry. The Green Party called women ‘non-male’ but men are still men. It points to language not being inclusive, but misogynistic, erasing the word ‘women’ to appease trans activists. One feminist called this erasure through language one of the cruelest things men have done to women.
Issues like this ARE open to discussion, despite what my ex-blogging pal says. We live in a civilised society, we do not need to go round shutting down any woman who wants to talk about language erasure with ‘TRANSPHOBIC – BLOCKED’. Women should not be silenced for demanding their rights and their visibility. The issue with self ID is also particularly pressing for feminists, and frankly should be for any girl or woman (I’ve included a link below about how it will affect you legally). At the moment trans women need to jump through hoops to get a gender recognition certificate, including a lengthy period of living ‘as a woman’ and going through psychotherapy. Proposals to allow anyone to be able to ‘self ID’ are currently being discussed by MPs, meaning any man could say he’s a woman and have his birth certificate changed. This would enable men to access spaces that are segregated for women such as public toilets and changing rooms, prisons, rehab centres, rape crisis centres, women’s shelters, and also have access to funding, grants, literary prizes, and jobs set aside for women.
At the moment, trans women whose gender has been officially recognised are legally entitled to access these spaces. There are many trans women prisoners in female prisons in the UK, for example. The LGBTQ umbrella also includes non-binary people who may choose to keep the body they are born in but feel they are another gender, e.g. a male-bodied woman, and self ID would allow non-binary people to select their gender. Some non-binary people see gender as being ‘fluid’ and welcome self ID as a way to be able to be recognised as any gender and change this as they wish. I can empathise with the pure frustration trans women must feel whenever stories come out in the press about trans women and non-binary trans women who have displayed behaviour that women find objectionable and offensive. Recently a male-bodied trans woman prisoner at a UK prison was moved to a male prison after she sexually assaulted four women. Jess Bradley, who identifies as a non-binary trans woman was suspended from her job at Manchester University’s student’s union after sharing photos of her flashing her erect penis in public, and even at her work desk. Recently in Canada a woman spoke to the press about being forced to share a small bedroom with a male bodied trans woman at a drug rehabilitation centre even though she told them it was triggering for her, as her addiction stemmed from male violence. She was told she was being transphobic and that her only option would be to put up with this or leave (she left, and her recovery has suffered). She said the trans woman had facial hair and chest hair, male clothing and spoke about the types of women she had a sexual preference for in a ‘sleazy way’. There have been many cases cited in the UK and US of men committing violent crimes, including violent sexual crimes involving women and children, who have declared themselves to be women and the crime has been reported by police and the press as being committed by a woman.
Self ID will have a huge impact upon not only crime figures, but on women’s safety, privacy and dignity, in their every day lives and in situations where they are vulnerable. Whilst self ID will be a blessing for many trans women and men who want to speed up the process and make it less intrusive, some trans people say that it erases them by not recognising transgenderism as a medical condition anymore. Some trans activists are saying women’s problem is that they don’t see trans women as women, but women and trans women have been allies for a long time, the issue for many feminists is that womanhood is not a concept that a gender fluid or gender non-conforming person can appropriate whilst simultaneously having the societal privileges of being a man. Trans activists will jump on tweets like this exchange between Father Ted writer Graham Linehan and a radical feminist, and say they are being transphobic, when it is not about recognised trans women at all.
And of course there will be men who will take advantage of this, we are already seeing numerous examples of cis men claiming to be trans women to benefit from access to female spaces. Trans activists have said this is being over-exaggerated to scare MPs, but even if ONE girl or woman is attacked in a single sex space because of self ID this is too much. This is weakening the rights of one marginalised group to promote the needs of another marginalised group. It needs to be discussed, any woman or man who is an ally of women, needs to debate this. To sit back in fear of being called transphobic is ridiculous, especially as many trans women have spoken out about how self ID puts them in danger too by allowing men in to spaces where they should also feel safe. In this Twitter exchange Chris is claiming that feminists don’t want any trans women in their single sex spaces, the other person is saying that’s not true at all – women know they already share spaces with trans women and have no problem with that, it’s the men who will be able to claim to be women that both women and trans women have a problem with, in terms of safety and the way it belittles the real struggles of trans women, and the oppression of women.
Trans activism is erasing the rights trans women have fought hard for over the years (see this excellent article). When women and trans women try to discuss these issues they get shot down and harassed by trans activists, and read this to see how they’ve been physically assaulted. Many trans activists wear masks and have anonymous avatars online. Why, as a woman, or any decent human, would you enable these people by shutting down fair discussion with the word transphobic as a silencing tool?
One blogger angrily told me that my feminism is not intersectional (despite me saying I’m not transphobic and running a whole community for bloggers at EVERY intersection), and then used an article I’d given her to try and explain the trans activist debate against me by picking things out of context and trying to further shame me as transphobic. The author of this post waded in, mostly as she’d likened his fair and reasonable debate to Nazism, and so did many angry radical feminists. (By the way, I’ve linked this article below and both the co-founder of Stonewall, the leading campaigners for LGBT rights in the UK, and the co-founder of UK Pride Network say it’s a must-read). I didn’t ask for this support but was really glad for it, as heated as it was.
These women are angry, because women are being made to fight with each other whilst men stir it up and watch, and they’re angry about women’s rights being attacked, and female language being erased. They get attacked for being ‘crazy women’ (there will probably never be a time in history where this isn’t what feminists are charged with), but as someone pointed out (and this was actually a man) these women (respected academics, leading journalists, card-carrying marching feminists) haven’t been sitting around waiting for a social media shitstorm to get involved in. There’s no bigotry here but lifelong fighting for women – women of colour, lesbian and bi women, disabled women, poor women, all women –
If you see yourself as an intersectional feminist you need to know how harmful trans activism is to all women. Particularly under attack have been lesbians and intersex people. This would be a whole other post, but the gist of it is trans activists saying genitals do not matter, so it’s ‘transphobic’ for lesbians to say they would not have sex with a woman with a penis. Many lesbians (and gay men) have said this is conversion, and that telling non-heterosexual people that their sexuality is meaningless is offensive and homophobic.
I feel it’s a shame I’ve done so much to support women (including trans women) in the blogging community, not just by re-tweeting things but running free workshops with brands and connecting bloggers with brands (all without making any profit like some bloggers do when helping other bloggers), and someone decides to shame and ghost me without letting me being heard. I hope that in reading this women will understand that it’s perfectly possible to be both a feminist and a trans ally. True allies work together, they don’t obscure each other’s rights and tell each other to shut the fuck up. As a liberal feminist I want equality for all women, but I respect radical feminists who want to put a rocket up the arse of the press and politicians for being so slow in encouraging wider debate whilst in-fighting and abuse continues. Debates on gender need to be fair, open, and non-violent. There are women who campaign for girls and women in relation to sexual health, female genital mutilation (FGM), domestic violence, consent and rape, and they are being harassed online for being trans exclusionary as they use words that describe female anatomy. This is where we’re at. Below is Karen Ingala Smith who runs Count Dead Women, a frightening compendium of women killed at the hands of men to make people stop noting domestic violence and female murder as isolated incidents (TRAs means trans activists, TL means timeline on Twitter).
How can we truly progress when people are scared to share their opinions and experiences for fear of being publicly labelled transphobic and abused? Gender is nuanced, it is complicated, it affects everyone in society, and we need to work together. I agree with Graham Linehan (below) that most people using the word ‘transphobic’ as a silencing tool are not doing so with malice.
When I first saw someone on Twitter saying something negative about trans women I was surprised, and admittedly my mind went straight to ‘this is transphobic’. I thought that with Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox and Paris Lees trans women had become more visible and accepted than ever. On digging deeper I found that feminists are not transphobic, they are allies with trans women, it’s a group of militant, aggressive people trying to redefine what being a woman means that some feminists (and some gay people and intersex people) have a problem with. If you see someone trying to talk about this online, or sharing an article on transgenderism, try reading the article first, or at the very least ask that person for their take. If they are telling you they are not transphobic and you still shut them down and invite others to do the same, you’re not only silencing and shaming them, you’re piling on abuse to an already intense debate that’s leaving women and trans women in fear.
Further reading –
This video from a trans woman explains what’s happened and how the trans community view trans activism https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sowoe71lB6A
A call for open debate from feminist academics (and more on what self ID legally means for women)
Why the BBC buried a story they uncovered on trans women in prisons, and the culture of fear in the media
When did men think it was acceptable to start telling feminists how to be feminists? How men are positioning themselves as allies of trans activists, and women are being told that biological sex is a construct and it’s transphobic to say otherwise.
Article about the Green Party calling women ‘non-male’ and how that makes men the central thing that women and everyone else are sub-sections of.
A blog post from a radical feminist explaining their point of view about how trans activists are not trans women, but representatives of the patriarchy. I feel I fit in more with her definition of a liberal feminist.
How The Labour Party making a 19 year old trans woman a women’s officer has caused controversy. Warning: this has a controversial tone I don’t endorse, but it’s useful to understand why politicians and the press are reluctant to wade in to the current debate.
A fair and balanced piece on how taunts of transphobia silence discussion from a gay male perspective The author has also spoken on Twitter about he’s had only two abusive tweets since he shared this. So different to the way trans activists target women who speak out, a strong indicator that more men need to add their voices to this debate. This is the co-founder of Stonewall advising people to read this –