Why I Won’t Call You a Terf

I am a feminist. My feminism is intersectional. It covers women, it covers race, it covers men, it covers people with disabilities, and it covers transgender and non-binary people. My feminism doesn’t always benefit me.

I have witnessed my friends and fellow campaigners being harassed by a minority of women who are labeled or identify as Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs). Before we get into it, I want to make it absolutely crystal clear: I condemn as strongly as possible the words and actions of these women. To dead-name or mis-gender any person who is trans is the cruelest and pettiest thing one could do.

However, I don’t believe in calling names. I understand completely why a trans person would want to and respect their right to but I won’t do it. Firstly, I’m not going to attach the word ‘feminism’ to this hateful behaviour. Secondly, I don’t think that terms like TERF, Incel, etc. have any place in our lexicon. Cruelty doesn’t deserve the validation of a name.

I am a cis-woman. I have always identified as a woman and I’m comfortable in my womanhood. I regularly get called a “handmaiden” for being an ally to my trans friends and colleagues. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a pop-culture reference to Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale which was recently adapted into a popular TV series by Hulu.

Oh wow, where to begin with this one?

Atwood’s creation, as with all her novels, is a female perspective of injustices against women by men, whether subtle or insidious. It is as pertinent now as when it was first published in 1985. I’m staggered by the use of the word ‘handmaiden’ as an insult against women by women. The implication being that women who ally ourselves with trans people are somehow complicit in our own servitude. Just typing that made me swear very badly in my head!

Margaret Atwood has always challenged the notion of being ‘the right’ kind of feminist, and herself is not anti-trans:

“Some feminists have historically been against lipstick and letting transgender women into women’s washrooms. Those are not positions I have agreed with.”

The Guardian, 2018

“I’m not that kind of feminist. And I’m not the kind that thinks that trans women are not women. So you tell me what you mean and I’ll tell you if I am one.”

Irish Times, 2018

I think most women would agree that female representation is sorely needed. So for anti-trans lobbyists to take a women’s work and twist it to fit a narrative that is against the writer’s beliefs seems counterproductive to female empowerment. Just sayin’.

A lot of the narrative to do with anti-trans conversation is focused on male-female transitioning and seems to exclude trans-men completely. if they are mentioned at all they are labelled ‘gender traitors’ The slurs hurled at trans women are usually centred around dead-naming and insults based on genitalia. You know who attributes worth to what’s in a person’s underwear? Misogynists. We women are more than just walking, talking vaginas. I don’t get it. One minute we’re fighting the patriarchal concept of women being little more than baby pushing sex machines, the next we’re using reductive criteria to explain what it means to be a woman.

Some women have genuine concerns around female only spaces and what that means in this modern age, though crisis shelters have been used by trans woman for a long time before we were having these conversations. I don’t believe that these conversations should be taboo and not be had, BUT it is imperative that these conversations are held with trans people and not without them. I don’t believe in de-platforming women because they hold opposing views, however free speech does not mean a free-for-all on unchecked hate speech.

I do believe that legitimate concerns are being used as a front for anti-trans sentiment that paints all trans women, in particular, as a new way of oppressing cis-women. I can only speak for myself when I say that I am not the least bit concerned that people are transitioning and going through the torture of those experiences solely to take away my rights as a woman. Call me a handmaiden, but that seems paranoid!

So, I’ve decided to not play the game of woman vs woman. I will not be calling you names even when you use slurs against me. I will not level aggression at you when you level it at me. I will tell you why I don’t agree with you but I will not try to force you to change your mind. I will not prescribe to this game of tit for tat. If you think I am subservient to the patriarchy, that’s fine. You’re wrong, but it’s fine if you think that.

What I won’t do, however, is remain silent. If you act with cruelty to a trans person, I will call it out. I just won’t resort to name-calling. I have better weapons in my arsenal than that.

Blessed Day, Ladies.

An article written and illustrated by me that has also been published on Huffington Post this week.

2 years ago