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.