I was very active with both trans activism and feminism on social media for a while. I got to know a lot of great trans* activists and trans and cis feminists during that period. The openness and inclusion I felt from the online feminist community that I encountered meant a lot to me, and still does. I have spent a lot of time since reading up on feminist theory, queer theory and the science of sex difference.
I first encountered the so-called Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) on Twitter. At first it was a bit of a shock to run into these people who were so resistant to any form of rational argument. I have spent a lot of time in the past debating with creationists and other forms of pseudo science, and I soon realised that the term “logical fallacy” and coherent arguments meant as little to these people as the religious fundamentalists that I had encountered in other fora.
The TERFs essentially take the patriarchy to entirely conspiratorial levels where trans women are seen as infiltrators. They will gladly reduce a human being to their genitals or to chromosomes or to whatever they find suits them at the moment. Neither of these are especially reliable biological markers of sex let alone gender. The science of sexual dimorphism is not that simple. The development of gender identity and sexual orientation are still very poorly understood aspects of the human brain.
Aside from the complete lack of understanding of human biology, they also claim to be an authority of what identities people are allowed to have. They conflate gender and sex with a few conveniently chosen aspects of biology, while ignoring those that do not fit their paradigm. Based on this they feel entitled to deny people both their gender identity and their sexual orientation. They will frequently deny cis lesbians who are trans allies the identity of lesbian. Reducing human beings to carefully selected biological properties is a basis of both oppression of women and of racism throughout human history. This is inherently anti-feminist.
Their argument also hinges on a stereotypical representation of trans women. They claim that trans women perpetuate the restrictive feminine gender role. Critique of femininity and the feminine gender role is an aspect of certain parts of feminist debate that I find problematic. Women and men alike should be able to display whatever level of femininity or masculinity they feel comfortable with. When trans women are criticised for their femininity it is important to remember that for most of the time medical transition has been accessible to transsexuals, restrictions have been in place to ensure only those who really differ from the defined norm have access to it. As a result transsexuals have been forced into the outer extremes of gender expressions. Often involuntary. Trans* people exist in as many variations as cis people do when it comes to gender expression. A trans woman should be allowed to be as butch as she wants to without having restrictions put on her access to medical transition. That particular form of criticism from the TERFs is directed at a problem created by normative society, not an intrinsic property of trans* people. It is a straw man argument.
The TERF position is dogmatic
Just as with many forms of pseudo sciences, the arguments the TERF use are not objective nor honest, but intended to defend and justify a predetermined and dogmatic position. Just like presenting human beings in certain ways have been used to justify racism, they use similar methods to defend transphobia and trans* exclusion. Many of their arguments are deeply misogynistic in nature, but they get around this by denying trans* women a female identity (not that misandry is any better). Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism isn’t feminism nor even radical feminism. It is pseudo feminism. Feminism abused as a foundation for bigotry.
The worst of these TERFs is Cathy Brennan. She takes the bigotry to entirely new levels by actively stalking trans women online and posting their personal details to her many websites in order to out them to their schools, employers or local community. This is reckless behaviour as being trans* can be very dangerous many places in the world. In fact there aren’t many places at all where it is completely safe to challenge gender roles whether you are a trans* person, or a gay or lesbian. Several hundred trans* people are murdered every year, and even more are victims of violent hate crimes. Brennan is knowingly exposing trans women to these dangers in her obsessive quest to make us go away. This is a serious human rights issue and it must stop.