“Real” Women

“Real” Women

Gender Critical Feminism and The Need for Trans Inclusivity
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In the words of feminist writer and activist bell hooks, “feminism is for everyone.” However, there is a sect of feminists that seem to believe feminism is only for “women born women.”

Within feminist discussion forums and the blogosphere, these feminists are mainly referred to as Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, or TERFs. Yet, some feminists who aren’t as welcoming to transgender individuals find the term “TERF” offensive and prefer to be called “gender critical.”

“In mainstream feminism, trans people are often excluded and erased because cis women are misled by respectability politics and think that by presenting their feminism in a more ‘palatable’ way, they will be granted rights and privileges more quickly,” says Kaleb Fischbach, a 19-year-old transman from Louisville, Kentucky. “They [gender critical feminists] fail to see the interconnectedness of the struggles for individual rights.”

“Much of the transgender agenda is harmful to women and works against the interests of women and feminism,” says Diane Walsh Fortune, a 41-year-old gender critical feminist from Southern California. “I seek to abolish gender as a concept, since it is an oppressive framework that exists for the whole purpose of oppressing women. Transadvocates embrace, support, and deify the gender concept. They exist to reinforce a way of thinking that is designed to oppress women,” she continues.

“When transgender individuals claim to ‘feel’ like the opposite sex, the description of their feelings match stereotypes of opposite sex behavior,” Fortune believes.

“I feel TERFs are very miseducated on the subject of gender identity,” says Jessica Robin Durling, a 19-year-old transwoman and human rights advocate from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. “The miseducation comes from the false, and very dangerous, belief that gender identity is the same thing as gender expression or gender norms.”

Durling explains that gender expression is how one chooses to present themselves in terms of gender stereotypes, such as men wearing pants or women wearing skirts. Durling believes that these stereotypes are negative and limiting. Gender identity, she says, is when someone describes themselves as male, female, or non-binary.

“Gender identity is best thought of as the ‘sex of the brain,’” Durling says. “Gender expression doesn't make someone transgender. Gender expression is a choice, gender identity is not.”

Additionally, there are many trans people who don’t fit the stereotypes of what a man or woman should be. For instance, there are butch trans women and femme trans men. “I’m a soft butch trans girl,” Durling says. “I don’t like skirts, I find them inconvenient and I find things like makeup far too much work to put on every day.”

According to a 2015 study by the Medical University of Vienna, it has been scientifically shown that there is a distinction between gender identity and biological sex. “While the biological gender is usually manifested in the physical appearance, the individual gender identity is not immediately discernible and primarily established in the psyche of a human being,” the report states.

Gender essentialism, which is the idea that men and women have unique characteristics that qualify them to be separate genders, isn’t necessarily reinforced by trans people. Many trans people are looking to become their “true selves” as opposed to striving to become the opposite sex. The former implies that these people are seeking ways to better express their realities, while the latter implies that they aren’t content until their bodies are changed. In fact, there are many trans people who are happy with their bodies and don’t undergo surgery.

“Every trans persons level of [gender] dysphoria is different. Just because they feel they don't need a specific level medical treatment doesn't make them any less trans,” Durling states.


While feminism’s purpose is to abolish to the patriarchal system, it could be argued that focusing so much on one’s privates when it comes to defining gender actually reinforces patriarchy by continuing to make the focal point of our discussions the female genitailia. “I feel that TERFs are so obsessed with genitals defining who can be a feminist or who can be welcome in women’s/feminist spaces or not that they are missing the whole point of feminism,” says Gabriel H., a 29-year-old transman from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “The idea that something can only be done by ‘people with vaginas’ or ‘people with penises’ is ridiculous and wrong. Feminism is about equality, at least to me it is. Therefore it shouldn’t matter what is in your pants as long as you are striving for the same goals together.”

Though some gender critical feminists deny inclusion of trans women into their women’s-only spaces, they will accept trans men, as those individuals were deemed female at birth. “Not only is it misgendering, it completely discounts the male privilege and male social position I now have,” Fischbach says. “TERFs who would welcome me into women's spaces are allowing a man into their space while excluding trans women, who are actually women, and face misogyny, specifically transmisogyny, in everyday life.”

Many gender-critical feminists have been accused of being transmisogynistic. One example is Catherine “Cathy” Brennan, a lawyer from Maryland and a well-known gender critical feminist. She has done some controversial things, such as outing high school-aged queer people to their schools and posting Tweets such as this one:

Durling has personally had a negative experience with Brennan. In fact, it was an article Brennan wrote that first introduced Durling to the gender critical feminist movement. The article was published on Christmas Day and attacked Durling’s work as an activist.

“This is a woman I have never met in my life, and I was shocked that they would spend Christmas Day to attack an 18 year old,” Durling recalls.

However, not every gender critical feminist agrees with Brennan’s tactics. Joyce Hackett, a gender critical feminist and novelist from Massachusetts, believes strategies such as outing stealth queer kids or similar privacy intrusions to be a “violation.” “There's a group that seems to feel all trans women at any stage are women, if they declare they are. Then there's Brennan, who says they never ever are. Both are extremist, unworkable positions. If we're going to work together, we're going to have to negotiate,” she says.

While some gender critical feminists, like Brennan, act hostile towards those who identify as transgender, others believe that there still may be room for trans people within feminism. “I do think that anyone can be a feminist, so I have no objection to transgender individuals participating in feminist discussions,” Fortune says. “I am hopeful that some transgender individuals will see that there is room for supportive gender nonconforming and transgender people to work with women to abolish patriarchy.”

“I think that there is always a chance that everyone can work together to abolish patriarchy,” Gabriel H. says. He recognizes that not every gender critical feminist is as militant as the ones he’s come across, and believes “that with some education and time they may open their minds and realize that we are all striving for the same goal.”

Fischbach concurs with Gabriel H., also believing the compromise has to come from the gender critical side of the movement. “Trans people are already part of intersectional feminism. Trans people need not make any compromises to appease those who demean and exclude them,” he says.

Cover Image Credit: NewStatesman

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No, I Don't Have To Tell You I'm Trans Before Dating You

Demanding trans people come out to potential partners is transphobic.
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In 2014, Jennifer Laude, a 26-year-old Filipina woman, was brutally murdered after having sex with a U.S. marine. The marine in question, Joseph Scott Pemberton, strangled her until she was unconscious and then proceeded to drown her in a toilet bowl.

Understandably, this crime triggered a lot of outrage. But while some were outraged over the horrific nature of the crime, many others were outraged by a different detail in the story. That was because Jennifer Laude had done the unspeakable. She was a trans woman and had not disclosed that information before having sex with Pemberton. So in the minds of many cis people, her death was the price she paid for not disclosing her trans status. Here are some of the comments on CNN's Facebook page when the story broke.

As a trans person, I run into this attitude all the time. I constantly hear cis people raging about how a trans person is "lying" if they don't come out to a potential partner before dating them. Pemberton himself claimed that he felt like he was "raped" because Laude did not come out to him. Even cis people that fashion themselves as "allies" tend to feel similar.

Their argument is that they aren't not attracted to trans people, so they should have a right to know if a potential partner is trans before dating them. These people view transness as a mere physical quality that they just aren't attracted to.

The issue with this logic is that the person in question is obviously attracted to trans people, or else they wouldn't be worried about accidentally going out with one. So these people aren't attracted to trans people because of some physical quality, they aren't attracted to trans people because they are disgusted by the very idea of transness.

Disgust towards trans people is ingrained in all of us from a very early age. The gender binary forms the basis of European societies. It establishes that there are men and there are women, and each has a specific role. For the gender binary to have power, it has to be rigid and inflexible. Thus, from the day we are born, we are taught to believe in a very static and strict form of gender. We learn that if you have a penis, you are a man, and if you have a vagina, you are a woman. Trans people are walking refutations of this concept of gender. Our very existence threatens to undermine the gender binary itself. And for that, we are constantly demonized. For example, trans people, mainly women of color, continue to be slaughtered in droves for being trans.

The justification of transphobic oppression is often that transness is inherently disgusting. For example, the "trans panic" defense still exists to this day. This defense involves the defendant asking for a lesser sentence after killing a trans person because they contend that when they found out the victim was trans, they freaked out and couldn't control themselves. This defense is still legal in every state but California.

And our culture constantly reinforces the notion that transness is undesirable. For example, there is the common trope in fictional media in which a male protagonist is "tricked" into sleeping with a trans woman. The character's disgust after finding out is often used as a punchline.

Thus, not being attracted to trans people is deeply transphobic. The entire notion that someone isn't attracted to a group of very physically diverse group of people because they are trans is built on fear and disgust of trans people. None of this means it is transphobic to not be attracted to individual trans people. Nor is it transphobic to not be attracted to specific genitals. But it is transphobic to claim to not be attracted to all trans, people. For example, there is a difference between saying you won't go out with someone for having a penis and saying you won't go out with someone because they're trans.

So when a cis person argues that a trans person has an obligation to come out to someone before dating them, they are saying trans people have an obligation to accommodate their transphobia. Plus, claiming that trans people are obligated to come out reinforces the idea that not being attracted to trans people is reasonable. But as I've pointed out, not being attracted to trans people supports the idea that transness is disgusting which is the basis for transphobic oppression.

The one scenario in which I would say a trans person should disclose their trans status is if they are going to have sex with someone and are unsure if their partner is attracted to whatever genitals they may have. In that case, I think it's courteous for a trans person to come out to avoid any awkwardness during sex. But even then, a trans person isn't "lying" if they don't come out and their partner is certainly not being "raped."

It is easy to look at the story of Jennifer Laude and claim that her death was due to the actions of one bigot. But it's more complicated than that. Pemberton was the product of a society that told him that disgust towards trans people was reasonable and natural. So when he found out that he accidentally slept with a trans woman, he killed her.

Every single cis person that says that trans people have to come out because they aren't attracted to trans people feeds into the system that caused Jennifer Laude's death. And until those cis people acknowledge their complicity in that system, there will only be more like Jennifer Laude.

SEE ALSO: Yes, You Absolutely Need To Tell Someone You're Trans Before Dating

Cover Image Credit: Nats Getty / Instagram

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An Open Letter To The Person Who Opened My Eyes, And Stole My Heart

Everybody has a person.

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Everybody has a person, you may not have one yet, or they might already be gone but everybody has a person that changes their life in irreversible ways. Some people have more than one, some people don't need more than one and some people take a long time to find one but when they do, a piece of their heart will forever be stolen by that person.

To my person, thank you.

Thank you for helping me see myself for who I really am, instead of who I thought I was.

Before I met you, I had this version of myself made up in my mind. That version was made up of all my insecurities, my doubts, and the problems I had with myself. It was the reason I constantly tried to hide myself because if all of me was hidden, nobody would pay attention to the parts of me I didn't like.

It was the reason I stayed quiet because I feared speaking up and looking like an idiot. That version in my head was the reason I never smiled all the way, because my teeth were crooked, didn't like wearing my hair up because it showed off my ears (which I thought were too big), and didn't like wearing shorts because my legs looked "fat" when I sat down.

Until you, I didn't see past those things. I didn't understand that people should pay attention to me because insecurities or not, I mattered. I didn't understand that my thoughts and opinions were just as important as somebody else's, so I shouldn't have to stay quiet. I didn't see that literally nobody else noticed (or cared about) all the issues I had with the way I looked except me. It wasn't that you were the one who made me see those things, its that you pushed me to see that I could.

You reminded me that the problems I had with myself were only obvious to me because I fixated on them. You reminded me that I had amazing qualities too, not just bad ones. You made sure I knew that you thought I was intelligent and important, and beautiful, not just in appearance but in personality and in my mind too.

I knew that I had these incredible traits, but when so many bad things weigh down on your mind, they bury all that good stuff until its blurred and forgotten. You helped me learn to take the things I love about myself and the things I don't and make them into something productive and positive.

Thank you for pushing me outside of my comfort zones and toward my goals.

The person you met that first day was shy, quiet, and extremely introverted. I can still be all of those things but you've helped me to push myself past what I'm comfortable with and experience things I would never have gotten the chance to experience had I stayed in the comforts of my box.

You encourage me to try something new every day and it makes my life the greatest adventure. Without somebody to show me the ropes, I never would've left what I knew. I would've stayed where things were familiar and I never would've been able to grow so wholly as a person. You taught me to jump in feet first and hit the ground running and I haven't stopped since I started.

I've always known where I wanted to go, I was just too scared of the unknown to go all in. You helped me discover the confidence I had in myself that I needed to start setting my dreams in motion. You let me find what I wanted and were right there if I needed somebody to lean on every step of the way. There really aren't enough words to thank you for that.

Thank you for helping me overcome so many fears and insecurities, and being there to help me sort out the rest.

When we met, I was afraid of a lot of things, I was even a little afraid of you but instead of taking advantage of those things, you helped me work on those fears and you helped me move past them. You've become a safe place for me, a place where insecurities don't matter and there isn't anything to be scared of and I can only hope you've found in me too.

Thank you for encouraging me to pursue things that I want instead of things that are expected of me.

I was always the type of person that did what was expected of me before I even thought about what I wanted for myself. Eventually, some of those expectations from others became my own expectations for myself, but I hadn't really thought about pursuing a career that I wanted instead of something that was traditionally reliable and expected, until you. You opened my eyes to the many possibilities of potential careers that I could pursue. You helped me understand that doing what I was expected to do instead of what I wanted to do wouldn't leave me feeling anything but stuck. Thank you for that.

Thank you for being there.

Thank you for walking into my life at the exact moment that you did. There is no way I would be the person I am today without you in my life. Thank you for staying after that first day. I didn't know it then, but you became a permanent fixture in my everyday from then on out. I wasn't expecting it and it kinda blindsided me but I can't thing of a single other event that has changed me in such a way.

Thank you for growing with me instead of trying to preserve the same person you met in the beginning. A lot of relationships fall apart because people chance and sometimes their partner can't understand it. Especially meeting when we did, we still had (and have) and insane amount of growing to do but you didn't let that get in our way. We grew (and are growing) separately and together and we've found a way to adjust every step of the way. Thank you for understanding that people change and choosing to change with me.

Thank you for being there through every second of every day. Thank you for being right where I need you to and giving me all the space I need to work through things but also letting me know you're there for when I need you. Every bump in the road, I've had you to lean on and every perfect moment, I've had the perfect person to spend it with. Thank you for being that perfect person.

Thank you for staying positive when I simply cannot and pushing me through the frustrations.

Your ability to stay positive in even the worst situations will never cease to amaze me. It will also never not be something I'm thankful for. I'm easily (and frequently) frustrated and you are one of the only people that is able to talk me down in less than 10 minutes. I hope that someday you teach me your wizardous ways but for now, thank you for keeping my head in a positive place as best as you can, and for making me see reason when all I want to see is red.

Thank you for all your support and patience.

You're my number one fan, you're one of my biggest supporters and there hasn't been a single time that you haven't had my back. The sheer amount of confidence that knowing I always have your support gives me is unreal. We're a hell of a team, you and me. I wouldn't want anybody else by my side to do life with.

The amount of patience it's taken for you to understand the way my head works is crazy to me. I know I'm extremely particular and kinda picky and I honestly don't know how you took on such a daunting task so willingly. But I'm really glad you did. I love you for your spontaneous spirit, but I love you more for the unending amount of patience you have for things (especially me and my weird antics).

Thank you for really listening to me, and taking me seriously.

Relationships don't work without communication, and a huge part of communication is actually actively listening to your partner, so thank you for listening to me. Thank you for asking me questions and actually caring about my answer. Thank you for listening when I speak and making me feel important.

I appreciate you and I appreciate the concentrated look that comes over your face when I'm talking about something even if it's not important. Thank you for valuing my opinion and taking the time to understand my point of view. Thank you for treating me the way I should be treated and putting in the effort it really takes to make things work the way we do.

Thank you for helping me find my place in the world.

Thank you for showing me that my place can be wherever I want it to be and letting me figure out that I want it to be right next to you.

Thank you for showing me what it means to be happy.

I knew happy before I met you, but the joy that you've brought into my life is something I would have missed for the rest of my life. You've shown me a freedom to just be and it's one of the most amazing feelings I've ever felt.

Thank you for being you.

Thank you for being the same person who stole my heart but also so much more. Thank you for having such a kind heart and such a beautiful soul. You're one of the most wholly giving person I've ever had the opportunity to meet and I am truly honored that you picked me to be your person.

You're the most genuinely caring person I've ever met and I love that you haven't let a world full of darkness stomp out the light you seem to spread. Anybody who meets you is lucky to have met you and I am extremely grateful to be one of the lucky ones.

Thank you for being my person.

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