“Gender critical feminism” is ideological war

Trigger warning for transphobia, suicide, violence, bigotry.

Today I was accused – in a comment, on a blog – of the “appropriation of women’s lived experiences”.

It’s a very small thing. Another mean comment from a mean person, in a vast Internet of bigots and bullies.

But it’s also a very big thing. It’s another microaggression in a larger struggle, a wider war. I don’t use the metaphor of “war” lightly: this is serious.

Some social historians might refer to this struggle as a front in the “sex wars”. Many radical feminists refer to this as a struggle against the language of “gender identity”. Medical practitioners regard us as one set of lobbies amongst many.

I call this struggle the war of trans liberation.

People are wounded, damaged.

I am damaged. My friends are damaged.

People die.

My friends have died.

There are many ways to die in this war.

This is an ideological war. It is fought in the media, where conservative commentators, radical feminists and uninspired columnists alike dehumanise us by lying about our lives, joking about our appearances, questioning the idea that we should have civil rights or even receive respect from others.

This is an ideological war. It is fought in the home, where many of us are not welcome. Where trans people are frequently rejected by parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles who believe the lies in the media. Where trans people are cut off from family events, or otherwise told to deny themselves.

This is an ideological war, but sometimes it is fought with fists in the streets and in schools and in public spaces, by those who do not regard us as human because they believe the lies told in the media and by our families. A disproportionate number of trans people are verbally assaulted, physically assaulted, sexually assaulted and raped.

This is an ideological war, but it is also fought in our heads, by those of us who come to believe the lies told in the media and by our families and by those who wish to visit violence upon us in the streets and in schools and in public spaces. We grow up responding to those who would dehumanise us by dehumanising ourselves. We learn to hate ourselves. It is no coincidence that at least one in three trans people have attempted suicide.

I have received an incredible amount of support and warmth from my own family and my friends. I have learned to love myself, and love the things that I stand for. I have built a fulfilling life for myself, a life of joy and creativity.

But I will never be free of this struggle as long as it continues.

And I will always resist.

For my own self-preservation and sanity, I mostly stay out of scuffles between trans activists and radical feminists on social media. Sometimes I disagree with particular trans activists: with the language they use, with the way in which they understand gender, with their perspective on feminism. This is not a disagreement based on fear of real harm.

But when I am accused of the “appropriation of women’s lived experiences”? Ah, now this goes to the core of our struggle.

Quite frankly: how dare they? How dare they accuse me of appropriation for the way in which I move through the world?

My lived experience is my own. I live as a woman. I go to work as a woman. I enjoy my hobbies as a woman. And what I mean by this is that I am perceived by others as a woman. It takes many to  construct this social reality of “womanhood”, which is real to me because I interact with many others on an everyday basis.

I receive sexist comments from men in the street for existing as a woman. I am aware of how being a woman limits my opportunities, and places me at risk of gendered violence.

This is my life experience. The experience I have had my entire adult life.

By conflating trans struggles with “appropriation”, (or worse, “rape”) and trans agendas with the agendas of the medical profession, so called “gender critical feminists” visit a symbolic violence upon trans people that ignores and perpetuates real, everyday threats and experiences of violence.

This is why trans women find themselves being denied a space in feminism. This is why trans women are kicked out of women’s shelters and rape crisis centres. This is why trans people learn to hate themselves. This is why trans people kill themselves, or are killed violently by others, or die in the streets.

I can empathise with “gender critical” feminists, and I have written in the past from a place of attempted understanding. And I’m always happy to be critical of gender.

But I have no interest in a truce.

This is an ideological battle fought over my life and my body.

I intend to win.

9 thoughts on ““Gender critical feminism” is ideological war

  1. Pingback: Reflecting on “​My message to those who would attend Radfem 2012″ | Writings of a Trans Activist

  2. This ideological war we find ourselves in the middle of is very real and very dangerous.. to us. Many of the more outspoken feminists chew their days away spinning yards about what might be, even as my friends are laid waste by their hate and the lies we’re forced to contend with on a daily basis. We literally fight for the very right to exist in our own lives.

  3. I am the same why but people does not look st it our why just one why and i think we can pick want we want to do with our life not by other people

  4. So eloquent.

    As a cis spouse of a trans person, watching them process trauma past as they grew up in a hostile world, holding them as they fight all their demons to become who they believe themselves to be, my heart breaks for them every day with all this hateful ‘debate’.

    As words rage I wonder ‘is this the day my OH gives in?, the day I lose them?’.

    I wonder why so many ‘gender critical’ expect empathy from everyone else but are unable to feel it for anyone else?

    Of course it isn’t about truce – how can you have a truce over the right to existance? I wish I could say something more meaningful, supportive, helpful. Very moved by what you wrote.

  5. Okay but get this : women aren’t hated for being feminine, femininity is forced on us because we are hated. we don’t naturally apply make up, wear constricting clothing, shave our natural body hair and stay quiet even when we are upset with something. we are conditioned to do this because women are supposed to take up as little space as possible and erase traces of our growth both physically and mentally. women who refuse to perform femininity demand their space and they demand to be heard. they cannot be neutral in a highly gendered society; they are punished for not conforming.
    Source: maimvkill

  6. As an archaeological anthropologist-in-training, it never ceases to amuse me how genderists constantly talk about hijras, two-spirited people, the fact that makeup and wigs were pretty much a big deal for everybody who could afford them in Ancient Egypt, and pretty much any other past or present non-Western, (gotta make sure the cultural appropriation still continues obviously) idea about gender….
    they make it really clear and obvious that gendered roles AREN’T biological or otherwise innate, but are instead influenced by the cultures people are raised in and change over time and place….
    and yet somehow, after a ten thousand year journey all around the world, the genderists arrive in modern Western culture, where gender suddenly becomes an identity in your head that only you can truly define or know.
    Gender is a social construct; and like all social constructs, it can be changed or eliminated.
    Gender harms women. It should be eliminated.

  7. As a trans activist, I totally agree with the abolition of compulsory and coercive gender – coupled with continued monitoring of sex discrimination as our society continues to struggle with the long shadow of patriarchy. Here’s an example of how recent trans activism might contribute to the abolition of gender in legal terms: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/02/call-to-remove-gender-from-uk-passports-and-driving-licences

    Trans activism and radical feminism are not necessarily at odds. Neither trans activism nor radical feminism are monolithic, with a plurality of views found within each. Just because some trans people have essentialist views of gender, doesn’t mean all do. Referring to us as “genderists” or assuming that we don’t think about the active operation of sexism is inaccurate and unfair.

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