Looking back at horror, to look forward with hope
2018. What a year. One that saw the rise of a vocal, UK-based TERF voice, both on social media and in the mainstream press.
For those who aren’t aware, TERF stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. Despite what bearers of that moniker would have you think, TERF isn’t a slur, and certainly isn’t homophobic, as most TERFS are not wlw (women who love women).
It is however, something of a misnomer. TERFs are not, under any understanding of the word, radical and as their actions have shown, certainly aren’t feminist. Indeed, it is notable that many second-wave Radical Feminists have publicly distanced themselves from the TERF movement, wanting nothing to do with that ideology.
So how did we get where we are in the UK where TERFs, although a very tiny minority of the population have, out of nowhere, suddenly gained such a prominent voice in the UK especially within the mainstream mainstream print media.
That requires us to look back a quarter of a century and across the pond to the United States. The middle and end of the 90s saw a slow, but increasing acceptance, of lesbian and gay people by the American public. The US fundamentalist Evangelical movement, horrified by this, frightened of losing their power to freely discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community, and dismayed by the legislation enacted by some individual US States to allow same-sex marriage, worked directly with Republicans to bring in Federal level restrictions, executive orders, and laws that not only stripped the LGBTQ+ community of discrimination protections they had only just started to benefit from, but also stripped away access to healthcare and related information, as well as putting into place the Defence of Marriage Act that made it illegal for any part of the Federal Government recognise the validity of same-sex marriages.
Although it took time, and a great deal of work across the board by activists, this Federal-sanctioned and officially endorsed policies of homophobia eventually fell, the key moment being when the Defence of Marriage Act was ruled to be unconstitutional and then, a few years later, the ruling in the Obergefell case determined that same sex partners in the United States had a constitutional right to marry.
Stripped of their signature piece of legislation, stymied of the ability to bar same-sex couples from marrying, and reeling from an ever increasing acceptance in society of lesbian and gay people, the fundamentalist evangelical organisations decided to focus their efforts on a wedge strategy, focusing on the trans community with the idea that if they could splinter that part of the community away from the rest this would result in the fatal fracturing of the LGBTQ+ community and the removal of the ability of its activists to enact real, positive, change.
But the fundamentalist evangelical movement in the United States faced problems with enacting their plan. Years of staggering reversals had resulted in a reduction in the number of donations these organisations were receiving, but also these organisations found they had been left with considerably less reach and Influence than at any point in their history.
So they looked around for allies and stumbled across the US TERF movement. There was only one problem for the fundamentalist evangelical organisations. Their contempt for women was, and is, such that such that they are only willing to work with women subservient to them.
Which is when one of their leaders hit upon the idea of co-opting TERFs and getting them to work for the fundamentalist evangelical movement. And this involved setting up a fake “feminist” organisation dedicated to rolling back trans people’s rights and then eradicating their acceptance and visibility from society. And US TERFs, almost unanimously, fell for it, publicly backing this new organisation and ostracising members of their own community who recognised just how anti-woman this new organisation really was and refused to have anything to do with it.
But this fake feminist beard wasn’t enough. Despite the money and effort put in by religious zealots to target trans people with “bathroom law”, first in North Carolina and then in Texas and elsewhere, and despite the public backing of the now co-opted TERFs, the bathroom laws fell, this time to public pressure and censure.
Yet again the religious zealots foaming at the mouth to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people failed, suffering a humiliating reversal as the depth of public support for trans people in the US was revealed. And this time their failure also brought down the TERFs they had gulled into bearding for them, especially when it became publicly revealed that the TERFs who had fronted for the religious zealots knew full well that they were actively working to advance the agenda of a anti-women, anti-abortion, religious movement
And that should have been that really. The US fundamentalist evangelical movement found it now had no influence outside the right wing and extreme elements of the Republican party.
So in desperation that US fundamentalist Christian organisations reached out to the UK. They had already had success working with a fundamentalist Christian groups in Australia where such organisation still have a great deal of influence of power, but no such compatible Christian organisations with that kind of leverage exists within the UK.
Which is when these fundamentalist religious zealots decided to reach out to the TERF movement movement in the UK, this time deciding to ditch the beard project that had failed them and instead decided to provide a supply and support arrangement; a helping Hands across the Aisle is it were.
And their influence became immediately apparent. UK TERFs started deploying the same tactics that their new religious extremist friends had been using against the US LGBTQ+ community for years.
Claims that trans/LGBTQ+ people aren’t “normal” or “natural”?
Claims that trans/LGBTQ+ people are “deviants” who “choose” to “rebel against natural law”?
Claims that trans/LGBTQ+ people are “unstable” and “just mentally ill and delusional”?
Claims that trans/LGBTQ+ people are a “danger to society”? Check.
Claims that trans/LGBTQ+ can’t have children of their own and so must “recruit” children to be trans/gay?
Claims that trans/LGBTQ+ people use television / media / social media to “indoctrinate” people into thinking that it’s ok to be trans/gay?
Claims that children are being indoctrinated into a trans/LGBTQ+ “lifestyle choice” by being educated about it at school and so schools must be banned from teaching about these issues?
Claims that supporting children who are trans/LGBTQ+ is child abuse?
Claims that trans/LGBTQ+ people are more violent than cis/het people?
Claims that it’s perfectly reasonable to torture trans/LGBTQ+ people, including children, with conversion therapy to make them “cure them”?
Claims that trans/LGBTQ+ people have the same rights as “normal” people by claiming, for instance, “any gay man can marry a woman in the same way that any het man can marry a woman”, or, “a trans woman can marry another woman in the same way as any other opposite sex couple can marry”?
Claims that trans/LGBTQ+ people are “paedophiles” coming after your children?
Claims that trans/LGBTQ+ people should be sterilised so they can’t “breed”?
But here’s the thing. These tactics have been used over decades, both in the US, and here in the UK, and these tactics have failed overtime as society has moved on and become more accepting and more tolerant of the LGBTQ+ community. So it’s no surprise that these tactics have failed again this year as TERFs desperately deploy them, growing ever more frantic as their refusal to admit that neither society or reality agrees with them blinds them to their own folly. Each of the claims made by UK TERFs has been met with laughter, or disgust, or torn to shreds. The best campaign TERFs managed to come up with was met by a wall of puzzled silence by the general public who promptly went back to ignoring them.
TERFs complained of lesbians being erased, only for the vast majority of the lesbian community to call them out on their lies, in no uncertain terms telling TERFs to sit down and shut up because they don’t speak for the wider lesbian community.
TERFs tried to hijack pride, only for the LGBTQ+ community to come together to block them out from other Pride marches, and to repudiate the TERF message by marching under banners that affirmed the support that the vast majority of the LGBTQ+ community has for its trans siblings.
TERFs tried to claim that trans women with more violent than, well, just about anyone, only to have their own figures used to show the trans women commit series and violence offences at a rate lower than cisgender women.
TERFs tried to publish a “study” claiming that social media was responsible for making children “trans” only for support to be withdrawn from the paper as nearly everybody who read it pointed out the serious methodological flaws, as well as the bias, cherry-picking, and utterly unreliability of the evidence used in the paper.. It certainly didn’t help when the TERFs who published the paper then went on to “claim” that they believed that the evidence had been polluted by outside sources before they wrote the paper but they still decided to use them anyway. The final death knell for the paper probably came when their favourite psychologist started claiming that being “trans” was actually caused by demonic possession, or anime. Quite possibly he’s now claiming it’s caused by goats. It certainly wouldn’t be any more bizarre than his other claims.
TERFs tried to claim that trans women have turned fish trans, only to be met with howls of laughter and explanations that no, that’s not how hormones work.
They’ve become more desperate now that the religious zealots that had been backing them have now started pulling their support away, deciding that the repeated failures of UK TERFs makes them a busted flush.
Which is why we’re now seeing TERFs resort to the worst excesses of bigotry, the kind that makes yet even the most seasoned fundamentalist evangelical organisations back away from the people making those claims. Because TERFs have turned to Holocaust denial in their attempt to erase trans people and delegitimise our existence. That’s the problem when a dying, venomous creature like the toxic serpent that is TERF ideology, gets backed into a corner with nowhere left to go. There is no level of viciousness that the adherents to that ideology won’t back away from in an attempt to stave off the inevitable.
I cannot claim to see what 2019 will bring, but I find comfort in the fact that TERFs have been driven to such extremes because, hard as it is to bear, it also means that they are losing their argument, and they are losing in their attempts to stigmatise, delegitimise, and drive trans people back into hiding.
2018 might have seen TERFs become very public with their hatred for trans people, but it’s also the year that saw a very strong, cohesive, and much larger group of LGBTQ+ people and allies stand up to TERF rhetoric and say, “You don’t speak for me, and there is no place for your lies and hatred”.