My feud with Cathy Brennan

I sent an influential anti-trans blogger a heartfelt letter. It didn’t go well.

If you’re one of my regular readers (either of them) you might have noticed that I haven’t written in a while. Why? Because I’d become too obsessed with hateful people, to the extent that I was feeling hateful myself. I needed to detox.

The people, if you’re new to my blog, are a strange subgroup of radical feminists known by their critics as Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, or TERFs. TERFS believe transgender people are just cross-dressing fetishists who threaten women’s physical safety and support the patriarchy. One of the most notorious TERFs, a Baltimore lawyer named Cathy Brennan, has a reputation for outing and endangering transgender youth, advocating against legal protections for the transgender community and generally being nasty online.

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Brennan

It took an interaction with Brennan for me to realize my obsession with TERFs had become unhealthy.

The last thing the world needs is yet another article about Brennan. But I’d like to process my interaction with her, because it’s been bugging me – and because it says something about the difficult task of remaining a good person online.

Brennan hates and is hated. That isn’t criticism – it’s a description of her media strategy. She’s a social media junky, sending over 80 Twitter messages in an average day, many of them hostile. A website that assesses Twitter users’ personalities based on the content of their tweets rates Brennan as “very high” on the anger scale. A typical massage: “You’re still a man. Sorry about your dick. And I laugh because you will never be happy.” She said that to an 18-year-old transgender woman.

Of course, Brennan doesn’t start all of these exchanges. People go out of their way to send her unsolicited, hateful messages. For some people – especially transgender youth – standing up to Brennan might be a way of proving they can handle transmisogyny. But by sending aggressive messages they wind up giving Brennan justification for her own hateful rhetoric.

A typical cycle begins when someone sends Brennan an angry message. Brennan replies, and a hostile exchange ensues. Brennan posts the other person’s comments  (and sometimes their personal identifying information) as evidence that transgender people and trans advocates are out to get her. Then somebody else, outraged that Brennan would post someone’s information in this way, sends her an angry message. Wash, rinse, repeat – Brennan has turned herself into a perpetual-hatred machine.

I’ve given in to the temptation. My first interaction with Brennan began when I sent a tweet insulting insultingly comparing her to the principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. This led to a brief, hostile exchange that I’m not proud of.

A couple of weeks ago I had an insane idea: What if there was a way to break this cycle of hate? It started when I was reading Brennan’s blog (hate-reading TERF blogs had become a hobby of mine) and came across a post about a young woman who was raped and murdered by men. Reading the post made me feel angry, sick and powerless. Then it occurred to me – Brennan and I probably had similar feelings about this atrocity.

Did she know there are men who feel that way? Did she know there are men who hate rape and male violence? I decided to find out. I decided to send Brennan a letter.

I put careful thought into the letter. I didn’t want to mention the woman from the article by name but I wrote about how her death made me feel – sick, angry, impotent. I wrote about women I knew who had been raped by men. “Please remember that all men have mothers,” I wrote. “If most women have been affected by sexual assault then most men have been affected by sexual assault too – and we’re not OK with it the way you think we are.”

Why the hell would I share all this? I admit there was part of me that wanted to shock Brennan with kindness. I thought, “This TERF thinks men are awful? Let’s see what she makes of this!” But I also thought there was an outside chance she’d recognize my experiences and feelings as being vaguely similar to her own. And then what? Embrace transgender people? Lighten up a bit? I don’t really know what I expected.

I sent the email anonymously from my SocialWorked account (socialworkedmail@gmail.com), not really expecting a response. But Brennan did reply – and she went all out. She looked up my Twitter account and sent me a message: “Do not ever contact me @Social_Worked. I am not interested in communicating with you. There is something wrong w you.” She also posted a screencap of the letter on my Facebook page, accompanied by a similar comment.

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Bizarrely, Brennan was able to track down my real name and personal Facebook account, even though I contacted her anonymously. I’ve since Googled my real name together with my SocialWorked email address and nothing came up. Maybe she pays for online background checks?

True to reputation, Brennan doxed me by posting the letter (which was meant to be private) alongside my personal Facebook information, including my real name and photo. That sucks for me because I’ve been using this blog and associated social media accounts to share deeply personal feelings and experiences under the cover of anonymity. Thanks to Brennan I need to be more careful.

I can understand Brennan being put off by the letter – it was an unsolicited email sent to her work address. It would have been understandable if she ignored it or asked me not to write again. But her reaction seemed disproportionate. Did the kind tone of my letter threaten her hate-based worldview?

Whatever the reason for her hostility, the whole interaction left me with a bad taste in my mouth. What was I doing, obsessing over TERFs and getting into Twitter feuds with people like Brennan?

That’s what I’ve been thinking about for the last couple of weeks. I have some thoughts.

The most noble explanation for my TERF obsession is that I wanted to defend transgender people. I think there’s some truth to that. But if that’s the case why wasn’t I getting into it with other kinds of transphobes, like religious fundamentalists? Clearly my reasons weren’t all noble.

I’m ashamed to admit that much of my beef with TERFs, and with Brennan, stems from my sense of white male fragility. Despite my privileged place in society, I felt threatened when TERFs demonized men. After all, as a social worker I’m eager to be part of the solution – radical feminists don’t seem to give men that opportunity.

I’m going through some hard times, and part of my baggage is the aftermath of some toxic romantic relationships. I’ve been hit by a woman I was with. So when radical feminists seem to insist that men hit women but never the other way around – and the idea that all men are violent towards women seems to be part of their orthodoxy – it felt like they were denying my experience.

Does that mean I was wrong? Certainly not about transgender equality. I have as much right to an opinion on this issue as a cis  man as TERFs do as cis women. Unfortunately, I think I used transgender people as pawns in the service of my ego – I owe transgender people an apology.

I think I owe women an apology, too. Even radical feminists. We live in a patriarchal society where women are routinely victimized, and I benefit from that. What right do I have to naysay a philosophy that helps women deal?

If I was going to say something to TERFs, it would be this: I don’t feel powerful enough to be oppressive. I’m scared too. I hurt too. I’m too tired to fight.

I think that explains some of my hangups. I’ve learned that despite having literally all the privilege I can be pretty sensitive. If there’s a lesson for others in this I’d say it’s know thyself – get to the root of why you respond to things the way you do. Especially if, like me, you’ve found yourself sending nasty messages.

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So much for my hangups. I can’t really explain Brennan’s, except to note that hate seems to be working well for her – she’s often referred to as a women’s “advocate” (what does she advocate for?) and speaks at radical feminist conferences. But I wonder if she’s happy. After looking at her social media timeliness, her late-night message board flame wars, I don’t have the sense she is. I know this: I tried hate and it became too toxic for me. Maybe it’s one of those things where you have to fully commit or give it up entirely.

I know this too: I’m done talking to her and writing about her. I’d suggest everyone else ignore her too. She’d stop being an “advocate” if she ran out of people to hate. Deprived of enemies, she’d be revealed as being what she’s been all along: an adult woman who gets into social media feuds with children. And that makes her fundamentally sad.

Why MRAs, radical feminists and Christian fundamentalists agree with each other about transgender rights

All three groups hate transgender people for the same reason – and that has important implications for trans activists .

Note: This article uses gender-appropriate language, so a transgender person who’s born male and identifies as a woman is referred to with “her” and “she.” A cis person is anybody who identifies with their sex at birth (the vast majority of people).

Take the Quiz: Can you tell the difference between a Radical Feminist, a Conservative Christian and a Men’s Rights Advocate?

I was both pleased and disappointed to read a recent article in State’s Outward section describing fundamentalist Christian opposition to transgender rights. Pleased because unpacking the motives of transphobes is necessary, if distasteful, work. Disappointed because the article overlooked some key players in the anti-trans backlash and, as a result, didn’t get to the root cause of transphobia.

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Conservative Christians have become the go-to bogeyman for LGBTQ activists, and for good reason. There’s no doubt that in churches and “conversion clinics” across the country religious doctrine is used to justify transphobia. But let’s be clear: religion never made anyone do anything. From the Crusades to 9/11, zealots have done whatever they wanted – looted, killed, lashed out in fear – and used religion as an excuse, not an inspiration. God doesn’t tell Christians to hate transgender people any more than Allah told bin Laden to destroy the Twin Towers. There are transphobic atheists and trans-inclusive Christians.

What really drives conservative Christian opposition to transgender rights? The answer becomes clear once you realize what Christian fundamentalists, radical feminists and sexist men have in common.

By rejecting the gender that society assigns to them at birth, transgender people are also rejecting the social norms that oppress women.

So-called Men’s Rights Activists, abetted by the Internet and driven by the ever-burning engine of male insecurity, have become known for their hatred of feminism; but they also tend to be antipathical to transgender people. When Facebook started allowing users to identify themselves as transgender, genderqueer and other non-binary genders, MRAs pitched a fit, surmising that the “retards” at Facebook had caved to feminist and transgender pressure.

Writer Stephen Marche has done a fantastic job of showing that MRA antipathy towards women and feminists is rooted in fear and insecurity. Now with Facebook’s change they fretted about which of the new gender categories “are safe to approach” (note to MRAs: none of them bite). They lashed out with the frustration of boys who didn’t know the answers to a test they thought they were prepared for. “Have we been invaded by aliens trying to confused the fuck out of us?” [sic] one wondered.

In their confusion and anger MRAs, ironically, joined a longstanding and odd subgroup of radical feminists, known by their critics as TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists). TERFs have opposed trans rights ever since transgender women started trying to join the feminist movement, cloaking their hatred in the language of gender theory but essentially saying, “Ew gross, get away from me.” Soon after transgender women began trying to join events for “womyn-born-womyn only,” such as Michfest, founded in 1976, radical feminist Janice Raymond wrote 1979’s The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male. Today notable TERFs include Cathy Brennan, founder of a group called Gender Identity Watch, who has outed transgender people online, including at least one adolescent.

TERFs assert that transgender women are “men in dresses” who suffer from “autogynephelia,” a discredited, made-up disorder in which men derive sexual pleasure from viewing themselves as women. They believe these “men in dresses” are attempting to insert themselves into everything feminine – including the feminist movement and feminists themselves – and to make women’s issues “all about men.” When TERFs see a transgender woman complaining about abuse they see an entitled man playing the victim card, pretending he’s endured something that only happens to cis women.

As with MRAs, a strong subcurrent of fear runs through TERF writings – TERFs believe cis men support the trans agenda because, by blurring the line between women and men, the existence of transgender people hides the facts that cis men oppress and abuse cis women. They don’t explain why the cis men who oppose transgender rights tend to be the same guys who deny sexism exists and seek to roll back women’s rights, whereas cis men who support trans rights are more likely to condemn sexism.

Like MRAs, TERFs have come to view transgender people themselves as threats. With the ongoing debate about transgender people’s access to public bathrooms TERFs have circulated horror stories about “men in dresses” assaulting cis women in bathrooms. Google “cotton ceiling” and you’ll see TERFs believe transgender women are hell-bent on sleeping with lesbian women, using force or trickery when needed. One TERF describes her understanding of transgender people’s motives in this way:

Dammit you cis-sexist lesbians, if you are going to sleep with twanzmenz, then you had better sleep with cismenz too. Oh, and because you now have to sleep with cismenz, I have a cock too, so how about sleeping with twanzwomenz while you are at it?!… Dammit you stoopid lesbians, I will get you to like cock one way or another!” [Emphasis added]

I would have thought that men who want to get laid would have easier ways of doing it than permanently joining the most reviled and attacked gender minority on the planet.

The great irony is that TERFs and MRAs are not only obsessed with each other but blame each other for the trans rights movement. TERFs believe “all this cis-business” is “men’s rights rhetoric packaged up in a pretty pink bow.” MRAs feel that “this [transgender] shit is all very feministic.”

Transgender people – unlike other oppressed groups such as women and people of color – challenge the social structure simply by saying who they are.

This is where religion comes back in. Question: What do Christian fundamentalists, Men’s Rights Activists and radical feminists all have in common?

Answer: They all have a vested interest in existing gender roles –  roles they fear transgender people are undermining.

MRAs like to view themselves as “macho” men skilled in picking up women. An MRA discussion is as likely to center around tips for getting a date as the supposed feminist conspiracy. Ever since The Crying Game they’ve been afraid of the female sexual conquest who’s secretly a “man.”

Conservative Christians also tend to believe that “men should be men” and “women should be women,” a tradition that goes back to church founder and noted misogynist St. Paul, who wrote, “I suffer not a woman to teach, or have authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12) – a passage often used to justify sexism.

And radical feminists base their entire worldview on gender, which they see as being more relevant to a person’s success in the world than their race, sexual preference or country of birth. They claim to be opposed to gender roles; but the truth is that if gender disappeared overnight they’d lose their entire map of the world, as well as the moral high ground and their go-to excuse for their personal failures and shortcomings. The world would simply stop making sense.

Some caveats to all this: I enjoy the luxury of analyzing this debate from a position of power – I agree with radical feminists on that. I’m a white man. I identify as bi but I prefer women. I suppose I could be genderqueer but the truth is I’m pretty comfortable with my male identity.

The other caveat is that in order to depict the views I’m discussing clearly I plumbed subreddits and barely-read Tumblr blogs for quotes – hardly traditional sources. But I believe these slimy pearls from the depths of the Internet represent ideas that have filtered into the collective unconscious. Just as Christians can be sexist without citing Paul, I believe men like researcher Ray Blanchard parroted MRA views when describing “autogynephelia” as much as feminist leaders like Germaine Greere voiced TERF views when she said a transgender man undergoing sex reassignment surgery is “horrid” being who “inflicts a horrific act of violence on himself.”

From my privileged, white man’s perch I have to say radical feminists like Greere seem more deluded than other parties in this debate. MRAs have an obvious incentive to defend gender roles – they’re men and they want power over women. The picture is less clear with Christians, since there are Christian women (and even feminists!), but the pattern of Christian men enjoying dominance over women is as clear as Joseph Smith’s fondness for polygamy.

But women don’t get any benefits from gender roles, except for the privileges granted to the oppressed – a common enemy and the moral high ground. It seems like a bad deal for them. And most women agree – despite TERF claims women are more likely than men to support transgender people’s right to use the bathroom of their choice, and NOW has stated that it advocates for “equality for all women,” including transgender women.

I hope radical feminists come to recognize transgender people as allies in the struggle against oppressive gender roles, instead of as threats. In fact, by rejecting the gender that society assigns to them at birth, transgender people are also rejecting the social norms that oppress women.

And that gets to the heart of why cis people hate transgender people. By rejecting their birth sex transgender people – unlike other oppressed groups such as women and people of color – challenge the social structure simply by saying who they are. In America minorities and women are tolerated as long as they “know their place.” Gay people become combatants in the culture wars when they have sex or get married. But transgender people become combatants simply by existing, by putting on pants or a skirt in the morning.

It took America decades to accept gay marriage, a relatively small change in the social fabric. For a person who’s genderqueer it will be even harder.

Ze’s going to need all the allies ze can find.

Update: I’ve given up on finding a common language

Update: April 2, 2016

I no longer stand by the below entry. Soft, euphemistic terms like “trans critical feminism” whitewash the hatred I’ve seen Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) use. Also, I’ve asked several people who fit that title what term they prefer without getting a response – it seems they would rather complain about being “slurred” as TERFs than collaborate on finding a more helpful, mutually-understood language. Most importantly, from what I’ve seen, they’re not critical – they’re hateful. I can’t parlay with people preaching hate.

I’ll revisit this position if I encounter a radical feminist who a). is open to a conversation about language and b). can articulate a reason for being “critical” of transgender people that still recognizes their rights, humanity and decency.

Original Post

In previous posts I’ve used the term TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) despite being fully aware the people this term describes consider it a slur. I did this because I didn’t know what the alternative is. (A “TERF” might say she’s a “radical feminist,” however, there are radical feminists who embrace transgender people.) Still, I’ve been feeling badly about this, especially since I complain about these feminists misgendering transgender people.

I know some transgender people and trans allies wouldn’t see this as a problem. They might even accuse me of letting these feminists off the hook, not calling a spade. I understand that, but I also want this type of feminist to read my posts and engage with them without being turned off by the first paragraph. Truthfully, I question why this type of feminist objects to being called a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist – it seems perfectly descriptive of their views. I think nasty things they’ve done – arguing against health coverage for transgender people, etc – might be a factor here. On the other hand, any term can become “tainted” (it was once perfectly acceptable to call a black person “negro,” but that word become more offensive the more racists used it); if a person feels others keep screening “TERF!” at them derisively it’s understandable they’d grow to hate it.

Unfortunately, this means that, for my purposes, I need to invent a new term for these feminists. I’m not so egotistical that I expect it to catch on (certainly not with the people it describes), but I do need it for my own usage.

So the term: I actually considered “Feminist Against Transgender Inclusion” – but calling people FATIs is probably not conducive to productive debate.

For now let me go with Transgender Critical Feminist (TCF). If you object to this or know a better term (that isn’t “radical feminist,” see above) please let me know. I know TCFs might object to being labeled by a man; again, though, this is the best I can do and I don’t expect you to take the term on for yourself.

I might occasionally use “TERF” in headlines, tweets about posts, etc -situations where I want to reach people who wouldn’t know what TCF means. This is partially so that TCFs themselves know the piece involves them. I ask TCFs to indulge me.

I’ll continue to use terms like “cis” and gender transgender people appropriately (e.g. calling a MTF “her”) because that’s a matter of social justice for me; using different terms would feel like ceding and throwing the trans community under the bus.

6 arguments for bathroom equality

The question of whether transgender people should be allowed to pee here instead of there is becoming increasingly heated, because America.

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It’s actually understandable that some women would have concerns. However, it’s pretty clear that the facts support transgender equality. For example:

1. No assaults have been linked to bathroom equality

At least 15 states and numerous municipalities allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice and, despite concerted efforts to find horror stories, there has not been a single reported case where a transgender person exploited a permissive bathroom law to attack a woman.

Unfortunately, opponents of transgender equality – including lawmakers arguing for restrictive bathroom bills and conservative media outlets – keep digging up cases that have nothing to do with bathroom laws. These include cases where women were groomed and abused for years by men who wear women’s clothing (it isn’t always clear if these people are actually transgender) and cases that we’re aware of because the perpetrator was arrested – in other words, where the perpetrator was clearly willing to break a law, including any law against non-cis women in the women’s room.

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Do you recognize this person? This is a screen grab from a notorious YouTube video that made the rounds warning women about predatory “men in women’s clothing.” The person in this shot? Canadian. And arrested.

Restricting bathroom access hasn’t saved a single women, but it’s literally killing teenagers – and most women don’t even say they want it.

2. Women still have to pee with men

Cis women opposed to bathroom equality focus so much on transgender women (women born men) that they seem to forget all about their counterparts – transgender men (men born women).

This awesome dude sent a tongue in cheek wakeup call to lawmakers that all women should pay attention to:

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How important is this? Well, research shows that transgender men actually, on average, become more violent and criminal as they go from being women to men. (This doesn’t mean transgender people are dangerous, of course; transgender men simply become as violent and criminal as cis men.)

Meanwhile, transgender women (born male) actually become less violent – they become more like women. Who would have guessed?

3. The linguistic argument

Quick: When you get up to relieve yourself at a restaurant, do you head for the males’ and females’ room or the men’s and women’s room?

You go to the men’s and women’s room, and that’s because bathrooms have historically been separated by gender, not sex.

There are varying definitions that can get political, but basically sex has to do with people’s biology and male or female sex organs. It’s what we’re born with. Gender is more abstract – different people define it as “brain sex,” people’s felt sense of who they are or who people are culturally conditioned to be (is a young person given Barbies or GI Joes?).

Transgender people are born with a male or female sex and decide that sex isn’t right. So a transgender person born a girl would be boy would be born into the male sex; he would then transition into being a man. Likewise, a person born a boy would transition from being a male to a woman.

Man and woman = Men’s Room and Women’s Room. Linguistically and culturally, transgender people should be able to choose the bathroom matching their assumed genders.

4. Women don’t want transgender people banned as much as you think

To hear some talk about it, anybody who supports bathroom equality hates women and wants them to get hurt. However, women are more supportive of men when it comes to letting transgender people choose their bathroom. Only 35% of women oppose allowing transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their chosen gender compared with 41% of men (25% of people are unsure about this, so there’s lots of room for education). Older people of all genders are more likely to oppose bathroom equality with younger people being more likely to support it.

In this way the numbers are reminiscent of polling numbers about support for gay marriage; they suggest demographics make it inevitable bathroom equality will happen.

The opponents of bathroom equality are very, very noisy though. They include fake medical groups in an unholy alliance with social conservatives and a particular subgroup of feminist known by their critics as Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs). To most feminists TERFs are like that one aunt you’re obligated to invite for Thanksgiving; they’re too loud to ignore but too mean to sit next to at the table.

So the next time you’re talking to someone who opposes bathroom equality, try to get a sense of whether there’s any ideology behind their position.

5. “Separate but equal” has already been done

Some people are suggesting a seemingly reasonable compromise of building separate bathrooms for transgender people. I wouldn’t compare that idea to segregated bathrooms in the Jim Crow South, but I’d say it raises some of the same concerns. (OK, so I am comparing them.)

The “separate but equal” bathrooms created for black people were, of course, anything but equal. Given the current social climate, it’s obvious that there would be states, municipalities, companies and facilities that would create unsanitary, unsafe and inaccessible bathrooms for transgender people.

Of course, separate but equal bathrooms also send a powerful message: your own people are willing to spend millions of dollars specifically to exclude you. I think a narrative from a black woman who survived segregation hints at what some of the psychological impact might be:

As we grew, we noticed the separate drinking fountains, restrooms and waiting areas. The white ones were always cleaner and nicer than the colored… My aunt, who was white, begged the white clerk to allow her to take the little girl to the bathroom, but he refused, and she wet her pants. My face was hardened against racism from that moment, and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., came like a hero to us all, black and white…
-Anonymous, from Austin, TX, as told to American Radio Works

Enough said, maybe.

6. Transgender people need this more than we do

At this point I hope most of us are familiar with the shocking rates of violence, exclusion, unemployment, suicidal ideation and shame endured by transgender people. They need people telling them what bathroom to use like… well, like my favorite restaurant needs a third bathroom.

For transgender people, using the bathroom of their birth sex, which they don’t identify with, can mean getting mocked or beaten. By telling transgender people they’re not allowed to choose the right bathroom we’re not only telling them we think they’re dangerous predators – we’re also, as a society, collectively rejecting the identity that they’ve endured so much pain to establish.

Small wonder that bathroom inequality has been linked to increased suicide rates among transgender teenagers. A majority of tansgender people of all ages report they’ve experienced problems because they weren’t comfortable using a bathroom – consequences ranging from dehydration to job loss.

Restricting bathroom access hasn’t saved a single women, but it’s literally killing teenagers – and most women don’t even say they want it.

If we can’t get this policy decision right we’re screwed on the tough ones.

An anti-trans group cites a source

A miracle has happened: Youth Trans Critical Professionals, a sham organization opposed to trans rights, has cited a source! Let the clowds part and the angels sing; Hallelujah!

Oh, except that “source” is a tweet:

Children taught in schools to either adhere to strict gender stereotypes or view themselves as the opposite sex’ @cwknews

Still, progress? It’s better than making page after page of untrue statements like the following without anything to back them up:

Even though there is no evidence that gender identity is innate, in the UK wherever we look, politicians, policy makes and practitioners are indoctrinating the public with this view.

No evidence? Indoctrination is happening? Back it up.

If this sounds harsh, consider this: YTCP claims to be a collection of doctors, social workers and other professionals; yet they refuse to share the name or identity of a single member. And they directly address parents of transgender children in their posts – they’re lying to scared, confused parents, with the stated goal of helping parents opposed to “the trans cult” trust that decision instead of their child or medical professionals.

YTCP claims they “are keen to extend [their] contact with other youth trans critical professionals,” yet they don’t provide instructions for professionals who wish to make contact. Keen, indeed – I’m calling bull.

This group is being cited as a medical authority online: please keep an eye out and call bull when you see it.

See my earlier story, ACP Isn’t the Only Anti-Trans Front Group , for more.

If you have feedback – especially if you’re part of YTCP or have interacted with them – let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to include your feedback in a future post.

In search of a common language

In previous posts I’ve used the term TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) despite being fully aware the people this term describes consider it a slur. I did this because I didn’t know what the alternative is. (A “TERF” might say she’s a “radical feminist,” however, there are radical feminists who embrace transgender people.) Still, I’ve been feeling badly about this, especially since I complain about these feminists misgendering transgender people.

I know some transgender people and trans allies wouldn’t see this as a problem. They might even accuse me of letting these feminists off the hook, not calling a spade. I understand that, but I also want this type of feminist to read my posts and engage with them without being turned off by the first paragraph. Truthfully, I question why this type of feminist objects to being called a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist – it seems perfectly descriptive of their views. I think nasty things they’ve done – arguing against health coverage for transgender people, etc – might be a factor here. On the other hand, any term can become “tainted” (it was once perfectly acceptable to call a black person “negro,” but that word become more offensive the more racists used it); if a person feels others keep screening “TERF!” at them derisively it’s understandable they’d grow to hate it.

Unfortunately, this means that, for my purposes, I need to invent a new term for these feminists. I’m not so egotistical that I expect it to catch on (certainly not with the people it describes), but I do need it for my own usage.

So the term: I actually considered “Feminist Against Transgender Inclusion” – but calling people FATIs is probably not conducive to productive debate.

For now let me go with Transgender Critical Feminist (TCF). If you object to this or know a better term (that isn’t “radical feminist,” see above) please let me know. I know TCFs might object to being labeled by a man; again, though, this is the best I can do and I don’t expect you to take the term on for yourself.

I might occasionally use “TERF” in headlines, tweets about posts, etc -situations where I want to reach people who wouldn’t know what TCF means. This is partially so that TCFs themselves know the piece involves them. I ask TCFs to indulge me.

I’ll continue to use terms like “cis” and gender transgender people appropriately (e.g. calling a MTF “her”) because that’s a matter of social justice for me; using different terms would feel like ceding and throwing the trans community under the bus.

Why transgender people and radical feminists are both wrong (*I think)

A big thanks to Amy Lane and misshellbedlam@gmail.com! Your feedback on my last article inspired this post.

For anyone interested, here’s my current (but rapidly evolving) view of sex vs gender.

Both sex and gender exist on a spectrum. Intersex people prove this; an intersex person is one born with a mix of both male and female organs and/or chromosomes.

Such a person might be born with male chromosomes but genitalia that looks like a vagina; this person might be declared female at birth and spend childhood engaged in traditionally female activities while suffering from sexism; then realize at adolescence that he’s a male and go on to engage in traditionally male activities while benefiting from and perpetuating sexism.

So whether you define a male or female by their chromosomes, genitalia, internal sense of self or experiences, there are people who aren’t 100% male or female. Therefore, the binaries supported by both feminists opposed to transgender inclusion (elsewhere called TERFs) and transgender people are false. (Link to information about intersex people at the bottom of this post.)

Radical Feminists don’t have standing to grant or revoke access to “womanhood”; that would be like nurse’s aides being in charge of who gets to be a doctor.

Sex is whether you’re born with male or female genitalia AND male or female chromosomes, with most people being 100% “sex-male” or “sex-female” but some people inhabiting the spectrum between those extremes.

Gender is the sum total of a person’s experiences of being male/female/both/neither. So gender would include sex, because (for example) having a penis is part of a “gender-male’s” understanding of being gender-male; he knows he can use his penis to rape, assert dominance, give pleasure, etc; he knows he can be kicked in the balls as well.

Intersex people prove that gender-male and gender-female are also extremes on a spectrum, as a person with both male and female sex characteristics at birth can have both gender-male and gender-female experiences (raping or being raped, buying flowers or receiving them, going to a football game or a taping of Ellen).

However, all gender-men will inevitably have some gender-female experiences and vice-versa; a man might like Ellen or hate football (guilty!) while a woman might hate Ellen or love football. So nobody is 100% gender-male or gender-female (possible exception: Tom Selleck?).

Most people are at one extreme or the other on the sex spectrum; nobody is at either extreme on the gender spectrum.

Therefore, a transgender woman (MTF) can easily be a gender-woman, which doesn’t have a concrete threshold, but it’s hard for her to become a  sex-woman. She can go through reassignment and get female genitalia, so she can become a sex-woman, but not as much of a sex-woman as a woman born with all female chromosomes AND genitalia. But how does she compare to an intersex person?- another spectrum!

So really there’s two kinds of sex (chromosome-sex and genitalia-sex) and one kind of gender. Gender can include a person’s sense of being male or female (as a transgender person might believe), but that’s not all of gender, it’s just internal sense of self (without, say, the physical sensation of pulling on leggings). Gender can include the effects of living in a sexist society, as a radical feminist might believe, but that’s just one specific type of experience; for example, it doesn’t include the taste of white wine (a traditionally female experience that has little to do with sexism). Gender is a catchall; it’s everything about male or female except the plumbing and the chromosomes. In other words:

Sex = genitalia + chromosomes
Most are at an extreme; intersex people and transgender people who have undergone sexual reassignment are on the spectrum

Gender = sex + (external experience except for sex) + (internal felt sense of gender except sex)
All of this on a spectrum that includes everybody, including transgender people

And:

External experience = effects of sexism + all other experience as it relates to gender (radical feminists might say all of these experiences are effects of sexism; however, I think a girl can play with a doll without perpetuating sexism- room for debate)

Internal felt sense = thoughts + emotions + sensations as they relate to gender

I’m 100% sex-male (as far as I know) but maybe 70% gender male, as I have many gender-female qualities, such as not being interested in sports. There’s a cost to this: I miss opportunities for small talk about sports and networking opportunities at games, a type of exclusion traditionally suffered by gender-women as well; in other words, I suffer from more sexism in correlation to how gender-female I am.

Implications: transgender people are not fully correct in demanding recognition as men or women because they can never be fully male nor female, because there’s no such thing as pure male or female. However, they may be correct if judged by use of the terms “man” or “woman” as they’re used in day-to-day conversation.

Anti-transgender feminists are wrong to exclude transgender women from being women; the feminists themselves aren’t 100% female- so who are they to judge? They don’t have standing to grant or revoke access to “womanhood”; that would be like nurse’s aides being in charge of who gets to be a doctor.

The only people who are truly correct are those identifying as either both male and female or neither male nor female ( e.g. many genderqueer people); saying either amounts to the same thing.

Gender-men can have some gender-female traits or experiences that are of concern to radical feminists; e.g. a gender-male like myself can be raped, can be subordinate to a given gender-woman, etc; similarly, gender-women can rape, talk over a gender-male and give him instructions, etc. By putting everything on a spectrum it might become easier to discuss some controversial issues. For example, women sometimes rape men- a radical feminist would have to deny, minimize or explain this; in my framework it’s inevitable that gender-women would occasionally do gender-male things (the rape) to gender men.

This does not change the fact that gender-males enjoy most of the advantages in America and in all sexist societies; nor should it hide the fact that they’re responsible for the majority of sexual violence. None of this should be taken as a get out of jail free card for gender-men.

Lastly, “sexism” is probably an incorrect term, as oppression of women (and transgender people) can be about more than penises and vaginas, even if the oppression ultimately relates to genitalia. If I choose not to hire a female accountant because I believe all women are bad at math I’m not thinking about her vagina itself when I make this decision; if confronted about my discrimination I might say that I don’t hire women because I think schools fail to teach them math effectively; thus shifting the blame (speciously and indefensibly) to society. Nonetheless, it would never fully escape my mind that the person I’m oppressing has a vagina. So a better term for this kind of oppression might gender-sexual discrimination.

We’re all genderqueer! Welcome and Ubuntu, all!

Did I just blow your mind? Am I a long-winded idiot? Let me know in the comments section and I’ll do my best to include your feedback in a future post! (Tell me how you’d like to be identified if you have a preference.)

Info on intersex people: http://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/intersex.aspx