TERFs, like all bullies, always claim to be the victim

Sadly, Sam Hope is right when they argue that the TERF woman taking a trans person in a headlock will be remembered as the victim, not the aggressor:

“Granny beaten up by trans activist” was the story that went around, and let’s be clear, that’s the story that will be believed, because those with more power always get to dictate which version of events becomes cannon. “Humanist minister gets vulnerable young person in headlock” has quite another ring to it.

Bullies pick their targets carefully. They choose targets that are safe to attack, often because of structural inequalities, but have some trait that makes them appear to have a power they don’t. So the autistic kid will be bullied for being a “swot” because they are hiding in books, the working class kid will be labelled “thug” to legitimise piling in, the trans woman is targeted for some mythical “maleness” that is entirely unquantifiable. By denying trans women’s identities and more importantly their vulnerability, transphobes enact and incite relentless violence that particularly falls on trans women.

As for why TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) are TERFs, this may help explain it, but is not in itself sufficient:

I have often wondered if they feel this way because sexism is the only oppression they experience. Their expectations in life have for certain been curtailed by being women, because sexism is real. But they are not the sort to reflect on the complex ways in which we all can be simultaneously both oppressor and oppressed. Particularly absent in this narrative are issues of the social status that goes with middle age and class. Let alone any recognition of how being transgender marginalises people and makes them vulnerable.

I would also argue that their version of feminism is by design exclusionary. The patriarchy as the root of all evil, ignoring class and race based oppression & inequality: it’s not much different from those socialists who argue that class trumps race or gender. That binary mindset of men as oppressor, women as oppressed does not deal well with the complexity of trans and non binary experience. Furthermore, the TERF leadership is largely isolated from the realities of modern inequality, their activism decades old at this point, morphed into a comfortable media career, their only experience with oppression the occassional sharp comment in the Grauniad.

So I would argue that embracing TERFism isn’t a failure of empathy, but a deliberate choice, a way to continue claiming a victim role for people who refuse to see their own privilege. I’m also cynical enough to wonder if the Bindels, Ditums & Greers of this world haven’t embraced being anti-trans as the only way in which they can remain even partially relevant, as their brand of feminism hasn’t aged well.

Being gay is not rated R

The New Yorker talks to the (gay) developer who made it possible to have LGB romances in The Sims. They also talk about a competing Nintendo product where it was explicitly disallowed and the attitude revealed is very American:

While Barrett opposes Nintendo’s decision—a form of wounding social commentary regardless of whether the company perceives it as such or not—he understands how the situation arose. “On one hand, Nintendo is a family-friendly company with a wholesome image that they have maintained for decades,” he told me. “On the other, their products are popular with gay people.

It’s the attitude that hetero kisses are okay, but gay or lesbian ones are always unsuitable for children to see or hear about. It’s a deeply reactionary, homophobic attitude but one that’s still widespread in the States, grudgingly shuffling to at least full legal equality between straight and gay people but still rather uncomfortable with the idea of two men kissing, regardless of context. True equality can’t be reached until this idea is gone.

Identity politics

I’m a straight cis white male but it’s only relatively recently that I’ve begun to think about myself using these labels. One of the surest signs of privilege is not having to think about your identity, to be sure you’re an individual and judged like that by those around you, not having to have to construct labels to explain yourself to others.

Which is why something like “cis”, a seemingly innocent counterpart to “trans” in the context of gender identities, similar to how it’s used in frex biological chemistry or when talking about cisalpine and transalpine Gaul, has been greeted with so much venom and outrage even in supposedly liberal environments. It rubs the noses of everybody who thinks of themselves as normal and trans people as the outliers in the fact that their gender identity is just one possibily, not as matter of fact as they’d want to.

In leftwing circles there’s long been a tendency to bewail this sort of identity politics, the endless parsing of possible gender or sexual identities, the splintering of groups into finer and finer subgroups, but I more and more think this is as much a good thing as a bad. First of course, for any oppressed or invisible group getting that identity established is a way to become visible, but second, it also shows up the unnaturalness of the default assumptions about people’s identities. The more we all realise you can be homosexual, bisexual, asexual, etc, the less “normal” being heterosexual becomes.

“The Fanciest Genderqueer You’ll Ever Meet”

H. Kapp-Klote writes about their coming out as genderqueer to themself and talks about the hostility to genderqueer in LGBT circles and some of its potential causes:

This is part of a narrative of queerness as linked exclusively to oppression. The popular narrative of both sexual and gender nonconformity is based on norms of rigid, compulsive sacrifice: “born this way,” “I can’t change,” or “trapped in the closet.” Even as we celebrate gender and sexual diversity, we demand proof that deviation is compulsive, uncontrollable, and that one has suffered innumerable tribulations as consequence. The monolith of gay culture creates an understanding of gender identity as linked to personal pain. You can’t use weird pronouns unless you’ve shown how you’ve suffered for them (our Puritan roots are showing.) Without that conditional of coercive queerness, genderqueer people don’t have a right to take up space.