I remember the first time I heard the term TERF. I learned the term as I sat at the bedside of a friend at an ER after she was beaten. My friend is a transgender woman. The incident of her assault came at the hands of a TERF’s male partner.
The year was 2016 and my friend attended a gathering of survivors of rape and sexual assault in my area. As a transgender women, she not only faces a large statistical probability of being a victim of rape and sexual assault, she has been a victim. She saw an opportunity to share her story with other women. To share in each other’s pain and perhaps find some solace and healing.
While telling her story she was interrupted and asked if she was a man. She said she was a woman. A transgender woman. She was then asked if she still had a penis. She said that was no one’s business. Then she was told that this event was for women only and even if she did not have a penis any longer, she was still not like them.
She left the room in tears. She did not make it to her car before one of the partners of the women in attendance called her a freak, shoved her and then punched her a few times. She ended up in the ER with multiple contusions and further victim shaming by a nurse who misgendered her and police officers who did not understand.
Her pain that night was something that I cannot describe, nor can I understand. My love and appreciation for her as a friend led to anger for all the injustices she met that night. Over the years I have heard the stories of other trans women of all ages who have been affected, hurt, and threatened by TERFs (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists).
Ever since then I have hated TERFs. A real TERF is dangerous to not only the civil rights of all trans people, but the very safety of transgender women.
Because of that, this is a very emotional topic for me and a trigger. One of my most read entries in TransParent Expedition was when I expressed frustration over harmful statements made by youtuber Laci Green.
There is a time and a place to state that a feminist is being transphobic. There is a time and a place to state that a transgender person is being racist. A black man can say something sexist. The ideas of hate and ignorance do not only come from the right wing evangelical Trump supporter. Sometimes they come from the oppressed and allies.
Author Julia Serano is someone who truly cares about making the feminist movements and LGBTIA movements more inclusive. She has an amazing blog on Medium titled, “Thoughts about transphobia, TERFs, and TUMFs”. In this article she coins a new term. TUMFs: Trans-Unaware Mainstream Feminists. She believes the term “more accurately describes many women who make trans-exclusive comments.” It is her belief that most feminist who make trans exclusionary comments do so out of fear and ignorance rather than hate. She feels that with education they can be swayed. Julia and I also agree that those who warrant the term TERF do not get to be dismissive and claim “TERF is a slur”. At times, it is completely warranted in the same way it is warranted to call someone a racist or a sexist or a white supremacist. It accurately describes their stance, praxis, and danger.
There are also times where we are quick to pull triggers and label others.
Tap dancing in Rose McGowan’s Minefield
Actress Rose McGowan ended the publicity tour of her book “Brave” quite abruptly. Last Wednesday there was an incident at one of her appearances between her and a trans woman regarding some ignorant comments Rose made about trans women on Rupaul’s podcast. In that podcast, many feel that Rose McGowan was dismissive about trans women claiming they do not know what it is like to be a woman. Many feel she expressed offense that trans women don’t ask her about what it’s like to be a woman. I’ve listened to the podcast and I agree with the criticism.
I also know that Rose McGowan has had a rough life. She was raised in a cult only to enter Hollywood and be sexualized and sexually assaulted. Her first experience with this happened when she was 15. She is also one of the early voices to come out and speak against Harvey Weinstein. Her contribution to #metoo has been significant and inspiring to many.
I look at the incendiary things she has said in many instances through the lense of her life experiences and traumas. I am not a therapist, but I do not know how you live her life and not come out with emotional scars and triggers that may manifest themselves in outbursts. Frankly, in cases of sexual molestation and abuse, many victims are driven to the emotional edge by their predators and then painted as “nuts” and unstable. These accusations are made often by the very people who pushed them over the edge.
I am not defending anything she said. I am not dismissing the hurt transgender women have had in the wake of her comments. What she said in the interview and some of the things she said in her argument last Wednesday were wrong. But I do not think she is a TERF. I think she is likely a TUMF.
Advocates of Different Causes Fighting is Not New
Many believe that Susan B. Anthony was a racist and Frederick Douglass was a sexist. My understanding is that they used to be friends. They collaborated. Douglas has many quotes attributed to him regarding the need for women to be equal. Anthony has the same regarding abolition and the need for slaves to be free. Then came the 15th amendment. For him, it was a start and an important step for all to be equal. For her, it was not enough and he should have supported both happening at the same time. Their disagreement on this came to a head at an American Equal Rights Association meeting in 1869.
In their defense of their own positions while feeling attacked by the other they said things that are likely racist and sexist. I am not sure either of them was truly a racist or a sexist, but both lived in different levels of privilege while also being oppressed. Nuance is complicated and messy.I add in a cowardly disclaimer that I am a cisgender hetrosexual white male. I do not know what it is like to be black or woman or gay or trans or any other such thing. So my lense in all of this comes through my worldview. This is an opinion based on what I know and my life experiences change my reactions and also affect my understanding of nuance.
When and Who and How to Call Out
The short answer is I do not know. I know the frustrations of hearing someone I respect for their advocacy work when they say something disparaging about another group I care about. Transgender issues and rape issues are important to me because they have affected the two people in my life that I love most.
For the most part, I do well in my interactions with my trans and gender non conforming friends. I do well in my interactions with my friends who are POC. My female friends who are leaders in domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking are an area I do well on. Now, when I say do well in, here is what I mean.
When I say something that is incorrect, they know that not only was I speaking from a position of ignorance (often brought on from my perspective seeped in privilege), but they know that I meant no harm. They will correct me and I will listen. I also understand that they are not my informational resource for all things their demographic. They know I am a grown adult who can take what they told me and research the matter without needing them to spoon feed me or answer to my initial defensive reactions (which I suppress because it is usually defense without justification).
I did not use the word ally about myself until someone in a given community gives me the term. When I am told I am an ally and a good one, I take great pride in that and also humility. To know that I have listened and am contributing the betterment makes me glad.
The areas that I have struggle in? Feminists. There is a two edged sword. On one edge are the feminists who are trans unaware or unaware of their white privilege when matters of women of color come up. That is my frustration. On the other side is a more humbling section. I sometimes say triggering things. I am still learning. That said, I am still facing my demons in that area.
In prior columns I have touched on how my fiancee’ has been a teacher in challenging my thoughts on expectations regarding sex and “round the bases” thinking. That alone was a peeled onion with many layers. Our relationship is so much better because of facing that. I also learned that expectations go far beyond just the sexual and enter into so many other arenas. Facing this has also made me a better father, a better friend, and a better ally.
None of Us Get it Right Because We Don’t Know
As a parent of a trans teen, I do a great job. But even three years into this my son will correct me about something I said that was hurtful or incorrect. Pushing two years with my fiancee’ and I will sometimes stumble into a trigger from her abusive past or in some manner reduce her or hurt her feelings. There is only one course of action I can take in that situation. I listen. I own it. Then, I change.
Most of the time they are kind and patient in the delivery of the news to me. The same is true of most of my trans friends, gay friends, black friends, and so forth. However, if I touch a nerve, the delivery of news is not polite or kind. There is only one course of action I can take in that situation. I listen. I own it. Then, I change.
Here is the simple truth. I do not know what it is like to be a black. No clue what it is like to be transgender. I’ve never gone to a party or on a date and feared being raped or had a co worker look down my shirt. I also do not always know when my lack of knowing has me pontificating on something in a harmful manner.
Intersectionality of causes is hard. It is hard because we do not know what the other experiences. The women’s march is trying for that and there are some very tough pain points. Some people are listening and others are not. Some people are expressing their hurt and frustration well and others are not. Nuance is messy. It is painful. It takes work and patience.
I don’t have answers. If there is something said that is hurtful, it needs to be addressed. I also feel that if someone is a racist or a sexist or a TERF or transphobic it needs to be called out. People have a right to their anger and their hurt. I just wish we did not assume the worst in every circumstance and make every criticism laced with an accusation.
I have a dear friend I have known since 2010. Adele has been a leader and an advocate as a queer person for longer than I have known her. Her track record is true and clear. She participated in the last Women’s March. She had been looking forward to this for months. Her joy turned to a sour taste in her mouth that had her wanting to pull away from the movement.
She has been a vocal opponent to TERFs, transphobes, and other hateful people. She did not know that many TERFs had co opted the pink knit “pussy” hat for their own purposes of hate and exclusion this year. Adele wore one and was insulted, yelled at, and accused of being something she is not. Something she specifically stands against. It hurt her deeply.
Like me, Adele has sometimes said incorrect things. I once had the uncomfortable distinction of correcting her on a matter. She thanked me as I have thanked her.
We are bound in love. I wish more people were.
SJW should be a badge of honor, but it has become a painful reality of crossfire when we could work together.
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