Suzanne Harrington: Don’t be a TERF, let’s build bridges, not walls

Suzanne Harrington: Don’t be a TERF, let’s build bridges, not walls

My sister gets exasperated by identity politics: “The world is on fire and we’re arguing over pronouns?” She has a massive point – there are bigger things to worry about. But then my sister and I, as cis women, have never had to fight for our identity. We were born this way.

Not everyone is. Yet it seems a few feathers were ruffled by my support on this page last week for the idea that trans women be included within feminism – being called misogynist was a novel experience. Really? Am I?

By supporting the inclusion of the tiny minority of trans women (0.3% of the EU population, according to Amnesty International) under the feminist umbrella? Crikey. So does that make feminist icon Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – who thinks trans women should be “part of feminism” - a misogynist too? Someone better tell her. Bags not.

Oh, but penises in female public loos. Cocks in frocks. Predatory trans women in prisons. How about we look at the numbers - between 2010 and 2018, trans women perpetrated 7 out of 124 sex attacks in UK female jails.

Compare this with the violence perpetrated against trans women: a 2015 US study of 27,715 individuals reported how 47% of trans women had experienced sexual assault, 54% intimate partner violence, 46% verbal abuse from strangers, and 9% attacked in the street. “Respondents reported high levels of mistreatment, harassment, and violence in every aspect of life,” said the Violence Against Women report.

Tell that to the TERFs. Not that the term TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) began life as a derogatory term, but as a literal description from a 1979 book, The Transsexual Empire: The Making Of The She-Male, by Janice Raymond. In it, she writes, "All transsexuals rape women's bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves .... Transsexuals merely cut off the most obvious means of invading women, so that they seem non-invasive.” You can see how ‘TERF’ might be construed as a bit, you know, hatey these days, as our attitudes towards gender-as-spectrum evolve.

Obviously prominent trans women like Caitlin Jenner, in her preposterous tower of privilege, and prone to spouting such bollocks as “The hardest part of being a woman is figuring out what to wear”, are not representative. Just as the 7 trans women sexual assaulters in UK prisons are not either. How about the trans women in between? The ‘ordinary’ ones?

“When a cis woman complains that trans women haven’t had the same experiences as ‘real’ women-born-women, then, what she’s really saying is, ‘Trans women haven’t had the same experiences as women like me,’” wrote Professor Carol Hay, author of Quite Contrary: A Feminist Survival Guide, in the New York Times. “If 30-plus years of intersectional feminism has taught us anything, it’s that this is precisely the move that feminists need to stop making.”

So don’t be a TERF, be a TIFF – a Trans Inclusive Friendly Feminist. Bridges, not walls.

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