TERF is a silencing tool

Feminism is for women by Helen Saxby

“The inequalities based on biology are still very much in force, despite the fact that culturally, socially, politically and intellectually we have moved a long way from our biologically-determined origins. Women’s bodies are still the focus of much of the unequal treatment women suffer, whether it’s through the sex trade, rape culture, abortion rights, childcare or even the tax on tampons. Much of the structure put in place to keep women under the control of men, such as the system of law, marriage, unequal pay and unequal opportunities, are still here to a greater or lesser extent, and therefore disadvantage women, whose needs they were not designed to meet. Especially not their different biological needs: the needs that differ the most from male needs.

I have hugely skimmed over the details but you get the picture: it is important to have an idea of how big a part biological reality plays in feminism. Feminist theory cannot help but be concerned with women’s biological, lived reality.

And that, essentially, is why some feminists are currently on a collision course with trans activists.

I would like to be a trans ally. From the point of view of discrimination, equal opportunities, mental health problems, domestic and male violence, trans people suffer many of the same problems as women, as well as the other groups within the LGBT community. Trans people have the right to live their lives without fear of violence or discrimination. Feminists should be natural allies, and indeed many feminists are, and see no conflict between their support for trans people and their feminism. That would be fine except for the fact that feminists who are gender critical and therefore believe that a transwoman is different from a woman, are now in big trouble. No matter that this does not equate to a lack of support for transwomen, or a wish to hurt them; just to have a critical analysis of gender is enough for the more extreme and vocal trans activists to label you as a TERF (Trans-exclusive Radical Feminist), a transphobe, or cis scum.

The problems arise when the needs of trans people conflict with the needs of women, and the stumbling block is biology. To be a *true* trans ally it is necessary to pretend biology doesn’t exist: a penis can be female for example, and it’s not only *women* who bear children! Traditionally, the penis has been a symbol of male power (witness all those phallic buildings and sculptures raised as monuments to this power). It also of course has  power quite apart from the symbolic level (witness the gendered crime of rape). The penis is biologically and symbolically male and it therefore  has a gendered meaning. For women who have been sexually abused the penis is a weapon. As a feminist, the biological reality of the penis, and its role in the oppression of women, both historically and in modern times, makes it impossible to see it as ‘female’, even if it is attached to a trans woman. It is hugely insulting as a woman to be told to give up what you know and experience to be the truth lest you get labelled a transphobe. It is a particularly intractable problem for lesbians, for obvious reasons, and so they bear the brunt of the name-calling.

As a feminist, however much I agree with trans rights, when those rights are in direct conflict with women’s rights, I will choose the women every time. That’s because I’m a feminist, not because I’m a transphobe.

I am embarrassed to watch so-called trans allies lying and lying and lying again to appease the most voiciferous and extreme trans women. I think it’s patronising and stupid and dangerous to say ‘yes, a penis can be female’, or ‘trans women are women’ just to save someone’s feelings: it reminds me of how people talk to children: ‘yes dear, you really are a flower fairy…’ It helps nobody. It makes trans people look stupid, it makes feminists look mean, and it erases women’s history. To be ‘trans-inclusive’ it is not possible to talk about biology anymore: to talk about periods, pregnancy, childbirth, rape – all ‘trans-exclusionary’ because it’s stuff that only affects women. Even talking about FGM is ‘cissexist’ because it contains the word ‘female’, which leaves out trans people. (And in the words of the song: If FGM is cissexist I don’t wanna be cis…). Why do so many trans women want to be part of feminist groups when almost everything feminists talk about contains some reference to biological reality and is therefore offensive? And why are all the attacks on feminists rather than, say, the homophobic heterosexual men who are their worst enemies?

There are many gender-critical trans people on social media who I consider to be friends and feminist allies: they are not afraid to tell the truth and they know that a trans woman is different from a woman. I have respect for them and they have respect for women, and feminist theory. We can be supportive of eachother and co-exist with understanding and to mutual benefit. I wouldn’t dream of insulting their intelligence by pretending they are what they are not. I accept them as they are! We have different, but parallel oppressions: we don’t need to invade eachother’s territory for validation. This is how it should be: we can come together but we can  separate when we need to. There is loads of stuff that trans women would want to discuss that is not relevant to other women, and they should be able to organise as they see fit. So should women. This is not transphobic, it is respecting boundaries.” Helen Saxby – Read full post HERE

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