Two of my Forbes pieces - Lesbians Want A Church of Their Own and Why Gender-Critical Radical Feminists Might Want A Church And Why IRS Approved - which broke out of the tax ghetto might have had my regular readers a little confused. The over forty year dispute between some radical feminists and transgender activists is not that well known in the mainstream and will surprise some people particularly liberals and progressives who are sympathetic to the LGBTQ community without paying too much attention to its inner workings.
One of my sources who is a strong social justice warrior and is familiar with the issue urged me that only people who are personally involved in the issue should have anything to say on it and encouraged me to stay out of it. Kind of a what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas approach to disputes within LGBTQ world.
I've decided to pretty much take that advice, but am writing this for my regular readers. And then there is the amateur historian in me that is particularly interested in reform movements of all sorts. How they grow and evolve and fracture and rebuild. The way in which extremists often turn out to be considered right in the long run with credit for their ultimate success going to the more moderate implementers. So here is my reading of the gender war and why it is so bitter. First some definitions.
Gender binary - There are two genders - male and female. Not 31 as is suggested by the city of New York. The radfems and many transgender activists seem generally OK with two. (Of course, the radfems don't think gender is anything more than a social construct). That simplifies this discussion.
Sex- Male and female. Males are born with penises. Females are born with vaginas. -A very small number of people are intersex which is sometimes brought up as a kind of side argument to emphasize that things are much more complicated than we think they are.
Gender- Masculine and feminine. A variety of characteristics that are associated with either the male or the female. Even the most conservative people who will have no use for either radfems, transgender activists, liberals or progressives will probably agree with Margaret Fuller who wrote that there are no wholly masculine men nor wholly feminine women and that it is handy for each of the sexes to have just a bit of the opposite gender in its tool-kit for use in the case of emergency.
Radical feminism - This is from radfem Hub
Radical feminism, by definition, seeks to dis-cover and examine the root of women’s global oppression by men, and the sources of male power. In our work, we have discovered that there are several key themes that appear over and over, and which transcend time and place — this is evidence that women’s oppression by men is class-based, that is, that women as a sexual class, around the world, share the experience of being oppressed by men because we are women.Transgender -people who have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex. Transgender people are sometimes called transsexual if they desire medical assistance to transition from one sex to another.
The Most Bitter Part Of The Dispute
"Some women have penises" in one sentence sums up the heart of the dispute. Trans women, regardless of how far they have gone in transition believe strongly that they should have access to spaces that are reserved for women and should be recognized as women for all purposes including being potential sexual partners of lesbians (Google cotton ceiling, if you are wondering about that).
Radfems think women are female persons. Therefore people with penises don't belong in woman only spaces and lesbians should not be expected to accept them as potential romantic partners.
Of course there is a lot more to the dispute than that, but that is probably the easiest thing to understand if you don't want to dive into a lot of literature that can be difficult to follow.
Who Is Winning?
In liberal progressive circles, the transgender activists seem to be sweeping the board. This is likely because they are able to frame their issue as part of the long civil rights march. There's your white privilege, your male privilege and now there is cis privilege. Cis means that you identify with your gender assigned at birth.
Anybody who questions trans orthodoxy is a TERF, trans exclusionary radical feminists subject to being kicked out of academic jobs and not so welcome at many LGBTQ events.
Something that I can't get a handle on is how many people characterized as TERFs are actually radical feminists at all.
Regardless, the best historical analogy I can come up is this one. You have your conservatives who think that gender is important and should mostly align with your sex and that you should be attracted to people of the opposite sex (or maybe pledged to celibacy). They don't understand why when you mention patriarchy, you make it sound like it is a bad thing. . If you are not part of the 95% (more or less) that meets those criteria there is something wrong with you. And then there is abortion, don't get them started. Let's call them the Axis.
There are the liberals and progressives pro-choice, pro gay marriage, LGBTQ - it's all good. They are the Allies.
Radfems and transgender activists might not agree on much, but they agree that they don't like their country occupied by the Axis. They each in different ways might have issues with the Allies, but they want their help.They are resistance groups.
In the current environment it is the transgender activists that are providing the Allies with intelligence. Back at SHAEF they can't figure out the radfems. So they gave the radios to the transgender activists.
The transgender activists sometimes use the radios to call in air strikes on the radfems. C'est le guerre.
But Why This Fight Now?
The fundamental disagreement between transgender activists and radfems is clear if you look into it a little. Transgender people think that gender is very important, more important than sex in terms of your true identity. Radfems seem to believe that gender is mostly a made up thing that males use to oppress females. They oppose transgenderism, but it probably would not make it to the top of their list of concerns.
So why don't transgender activists and radfems focus on beating the conservatives and fight their battle out later? I think part of it is that they are competing in a very small space - the LGBTQ movement and parts of academia. In the current state of the struggle the radfems are in danger of being ideologically homeless. A recent collection of essays was titled Female Erasure.
It is harder to see why radfems are very important to transgender activists now that the transgender agenda has done so well in liberal, progressive circles. Why not let them have their music festival and the occasional conference and rely on aging of professors to convert the womens studies programs into gender queer? Just ignore them. Stopping calling people resisting TERFs, which gives publicity to radical feminism. Blame it all on the religious right.
Anyway, I reached out to a couple of sources and here is what I got.
A Short Answer From A Radfem
Meghan Murphy of Feminist Current recently did a podcast on the Pussy Church. In the intro she linked to one of my pieces. I wrote to her asking about why the struggle is important to radfems. I included my understanding of the radfem view on gender ("Radfems see gender as entirely a social construct that the male bodied use to oppress the female bodied "). Her response was short and to the point
Feminists have been forced into this fight against their will as our rights and spaces are under attack by trans activists... I don't think any of us are glad to have to waste all of our time arguing about nonsense...A Longer Answer From A Transactivist
And yes, re: gender, we see it as a means to naturalize and reinforce sexist stereotypes
I asked Anotonia Elle D'orsay about why it is that transgender activists even bother to consider so-called TERFs who number perhaps in the thousands or maybe tens of thousands when they are being pushed back by millions of conservatives. Why not just ignore them?
For one, because they are the “liberal” or “left” arm of those millions. Brennan’s sites, 4WN, etc are all actively members of a broad based coalition of religious right groups such as ADF, American Family Association chapters, and related orgs.Summary
They coordinate language and elements.
This is not new, either. Paul McHugh worked with and used the work of Janice Raymond to get trans issues blocked in the ADA, and to remove trans coverage from Medicare and Medicaid programs under the false rubric of “experimental”.
In short, they are part of that big enemy, and collectively have caused more harm than the religious right acting alone has in the same span.
This goes back to the origin of lesbian radical feminism and very birth of “gay rights” in the modern sense, with Sylvia being removed from a speakers list in 1972, then again in 1973, but speaking any way, after having been removed from the original gay rights groups the GAA and GLF.
More recently, the HRC was led by a terf who, in 99, actively recruited trans activists from all over to come to Washington, help write the first ENDA, then lobby for it over a week.
Then, the night before the trans contingent was to do their lobbying, struck a deal which stripped all the content from the bill relating to trans people, and never told them.
They found out from the Congress people late that afternoon they had spent the entire day lobbying for a bill they were excluded from.
When she was called out for it, she swore that HRC would never advocate for trans rights.
She went on to represent RIAA and BP, btw.
Not tens of thousands, either, merely thousands. But when they do things like the ROGD paper raising hell right now, we have to engage and show why their actions cause harm and how they are actively opposing our human rights.
To put this all together and make it short, it is because they have historically proven to be the greater threat.
Understand that 90% of all the arguments used against trans people were developed by TERFs.
Most of them in the book that gave me the Empress title — Raymond’s “The Transsexual Empire”.
So now you have an idea of what the fight is about and why it so bitter. I have assembled some other material here. The dispute is tangential to my own ideology which is summed up in the words of Brendan Beehan:
I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.It is a little humorous and metaphorical, but it is pretty much where I am at. The virtue that I think is most worth cultivating is compassion, not that I am all that good at it. It would probably help in the Gender War, but that is true of many things.
Peter J Reilly writes about taxes on Forbes.com.