A Wish for the New Year—Ending the Trans-TERF Wars

I want to wish us all a better year than the last. In order to make that happen, though, we first need to repair the breaches in our communities and oust the politicians who gain power by fomenting enmity among us. This post is about one such breach.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the rise in hate crimes in this country, spiking after Trump took office. Since then the situation has gotten worse. I’ll be writing more about the conflict between Orthodox Jews and African-Americans in the New York area, though today I want to discuss the conflict between transgender people and radical feminists. (In case you’ve been living in a hermitage during the last few years and aren’t familiar with the acronym, TERF stands for “trans exclusive radical feminist.” Calling someone a TERF means she’s a bigot and worthy of scorn—or threats of physical violence.)

Here are a couple of incidents to consider back to back:

Two summers ago, during the dyke march in San Francisco, a small group of elderly lesbians carried signs objecting to the practice of giving pre-adolescent children hormone blockers. Some transwomen activists closed in, menacing but not actually assaulting this group. A well-known feminist scholar, and personal friend of mine, was marching not far behind that contingent. Although she was not part of the group and had no connection to them, these transwomen activists assumed she was part of it, labeled her a TERF, attacked her on her own Facebook page, and began a campaign to de-platform her and cut off her sources of income. Other women I know of have been similarly attacked, de-platformed, and even fired from their jobs.

Anti-trans feminists have posted multiple articles labeling transwomen as predators. One recent news story was about a transwoman sexually molesting a child. This did happen to a 10-year-old girl, but in the family home, not in a public bathroom, and it seems to be a singular incident. Nevertheless, we have seen article after article encouraging us to worry about male rapists who might put on a wig and dress, invade women’s bathrooms, and attack female occupants—something that, as far as I know, has not happened.

What has happened? According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey of 2010, the overwhelming majority of child molesters (86%) and rapists (90+ %) are heterosexual men. Not transwomen.

I notice that we don’t hear any concern about the problem of transmen in men’s bathrooms. A transman uses the women’s locker room at our gym. While I haven’t asked him about it, I’m sure he does so because he might be risking his life using the men’s locker room.

Statistics regarding violence against transpeople are limited, at least in part because the police often describe the victims as either male or female but not trans. And as is the case with members of other vulnerable minorities, transpeople are leery of law enforcement. However, according to a story in the Independent (a U.K. newspaper), one-third of transpeople in the U.K. state that they’ve been victims of hate crimes.

Looking only at what has been documented, from 2010-2016 in the U.S. there were 68 murders of transwomen and 1 of a transman. 65 of the victims were either Black or Hispanic. Most were young, and many were sex workers. Per an ABC news story, about half the transgender homicides during the past few years have been carried out by partners or dates and the other half by strangers. Although I haven’t found any studies identifying the sex of the perpetrators, I’d bet the farm that, again, the overwhelming majority of them are heterosexual men—not radical feminists.

Hate crimes against women, whether feminist or otherwise, are as shockingly underreported and misclassified. We swim in a sea of misogyny: from cat calling to sexual harassment to rape and murder. In my blog post of February 10, I cited the FBI tally of 24 hate crimes against women in 2017. As I noted then, if every rape and assault against a woman were properly classified, instead of an absurdly low 24, the numbers would likely run into the millions.

It seems to me that we have two marginalized communities attacking each other when our energy should be focused on the real sources of our suffering, including (but not limited to)

  • a patriarchal culture that glorifies male violence
  • politicians who make a career of setting people at each other’s throats
  • a nation of 330 million people and 393 million guns
  • clergy who want to install a theocracy, with themselves in charge

For more discussion, I suggest that you check out this article, which discusses many of the complex issues on both sides. Whether you agree or disagree with the author, in whole or in part, the points she makes are of interest.

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