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Why We Fight The TERF War | Theory And Analysis

This article is a call to action to protect and defend the trans community.

There is no space for neutrality.

We strongly suggest you listen to G.L.O.S.S. when reading this article.

[This article is lifted directly from the original zine format which you can download below.]

WHAT ARE TERFS?
TERFs
, otherwise known as Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, are people who refuse to accept transgender identities, and who violently oppress trans people, especially trans women.

Many TERFs will claim they believe in trans rights and that trans people should be protected from violence. However, they incorrectly believe that people’s biology (e.g. genitals and chromosomes) determine their gender and whether they experience sexism and gender -based violence. Their ideology results in them refusing to accept trans women as women and discriminating against them by excluding them from spaces cis women can go to.

Anyone who supports or promotes these ideas – whether it’s attending events in person, sharing online, or any number of other questionable methods – is, in our view, a TERF.

TERMS
Transphobia: hatred of trans people (although in this zine we try to use more precise words e.g. trans hostile, or trans derogatory).
Trans misogyny: form of sexism aimed particularly at trans women and trans feminine people.
Dead naming :referring to someone by a former name they no longer use.
Mis-gendering: using the wrong pronouns.
Cis: people who aren’t trans/ are assigned the appropriate gender at birth.

MEET THE TERFS
TERFs
come in many shapes and sizes. Here are a few groups on the scene at the moment.

A Women’s Place
They Say:
“violence against women & sex discrimination still exist. Women need reserved places, separate spaces and distinct services”
But:
Deny that trans women are women, question trans existence, and encourage trans misogyny.


Transgender Trend
They Say: “We are a group of parents based in the UK, who are concerned about the current trend to diagnose “gender non-conforming children” as transgender.”
But: Encourage parents to disbelieve and dismiss their trans children’s identities; intensifying gender dysphoria.


Feminist Current
They Say: “We provide a unique perspective on male violence against women”
But: Intentionally mis-gender and dead name trans women and deny the existence of trans people.


We Need To Talk About Sex
They Say: “We discuss the Gender Recognition Act and its impact on the rights of women and children”
But: Target and harass trans women, deny that trans women are women and, mis-gender and dead trans women on purpose.

Mayday for Women
They Say: “Mayday are a collective of women who have come together to: Oppose the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004, Stand up for women’s rights and defend women’s freedom of speech”
But: Campaign against self-identification from trans people, promote ideas that being transgender is idealogical brainwashing and intentionally mis-gender trans women.


Fair Play for Women and Girls
They Say: “We are a group of ordinary women who are concerned that in the rush to reform transgender laws that women’s voices will not be listed to”
But: Promote lies about the trans community, campaign for trans women to go to male prisons and erase trans identities.


Lesbian Rights Alliance
They Say: “[We] defend lesbian rights to have same sex relationships and defend lesbian and women only space and stop the erasure of lesbians”
But: Intentionally mis-gender trans women, promote ideas that trans men are “sick”, and blame trans people for the oppression of lesbians.


THE DANGER OF TERFS
TERFs may be a fringe group, but they tap into the trans-hostile and trans misogynistic views held by many, across the political spectrum. They are not the first hate group to hide under the guise of left wing struggle. We’ve seen it with right wing nationalists and racists working their way into the animal rights movement. Like Gays Against Sharia, TERFs weaponize victim status to demonize and encourage hatred. These are not views that can be “discussed” or “debated”. They even attend anarchist events to campaign for more repressive state laws (can anybody see the irony there?)

They rely on a mixture of clever wording and a hope that the majority don’t really understand what they are talking about. They are hiding under a thin disguise what is nothing more than hate speech. They aim to isolate and exclude trans people. They erase trans identities and fuel already high levels of violence against trans women.

This violence is predominantly targeted at trans women from working class backgrounds because TERFs campaign to exclude trans women from women’s prisons and refuges which disproportionately affects trans women on the bread line. We all know prisons aren’t full of rich people, and the rich rarely find themselves without a roof over their head. And given the institutional racism that both lands disproportionate numbers of people of colour in prison and excludes them from accessing services, it’s safe to assume that trans women of colour are particularly affected by the words and actions of TERFs.

For these reasons and more, we don’t see the struggle against TERFs as a struggle soley for trans women, or even the trans community as a whole. It’s also a part of the class struggle, the feminist struggle, the anti-racist struggle, the prison abolitionist struggle and a struggle for anyone who doesn’t want their group to be co-opted by right wing hate dweebs.

DEALING WITH TERFS
We must no platform and resist TERFs. This can be done in many ways, such as:

Organize demos when TERFs arrange to speak: sometimes their events are held in secret, and it may be necessary to buy a ticket. There are pros and cons to this; but if you decide to, use a fake name and email. Remember to cover your face at demos like this – TERFs will try to film you and then target you. Try to get Legal Observers on hand too, for when the pesky cops show up.

Proactive myth busting: hold events, talk to people, share stuff written by trans writers on social media, or whatever works for you!

Calling Out TERFs: when you hear TERFy stuff, or see it on social media. If people won’t engage, exclude them from your groups.

Support Trans prisoners: show solidarity with trans people incarcerated by the state by writing to people inside (check out Bent Bars project) or raising money to support their legal cases and other needs (Empty Cages Collective can give you pointers there).

It is most important to offer one another support as we organize. TERFs try to pick out individuals, they try to isolate us from one another. But this will not succeed if we prioritize caring for one another.

SHALL WE TALK ABOUT VIOLENCE?
When talking about this situation, we feel it is crucial to consider the levels of violence and oppression the TERFs are campaigning to be inflicted by the state and other elements of society on trans women.

They are campaigning for a world where trans women are refused appropriate refuge from abusive partners and dangerous situations, knowing full well the disproportionate levels of violence aimed at trans women. They seek to maintain a system in which women are sent to male prisons -a place we have lost far too many trans sisters in thelast 2 years alone. And this is just what they are openly campaigning for, without mentioning the obvious trans-hostile undertones and side agendas that they are less public about.

When opposing TERFs, protestors have experienced intense levels of trans-derogatory verbal abuse and physical violence. Whilst we are in no way telling people they should be violent, nor that it is the only effective tactic, we think it would be counter-productive and insensitive to condemn violence used in the fight against trans-hate given the real life dangers trans people face. For some this is an ideological, philosophical or academic fight but for people like us it’s a fight to exist -so don’t be so quick to judge the methods used by some of our allies and comrades.

MYTH BUSTING
“But SCIENCE!!!!” TERFs say that chromosomes are an absolute indicator of gender and that science thus “proves” that trans people can’t exist. BUT the reality of biology is much more complicated, “Biologists have never been under the illusion that genes and chromosomes are all there is to the biology of sex.” (Sarah Richardson, Sex Itself)

Trans as a new/ modern idea.”TERFs claim that being trans was “invented” in the early 20thcentury by a patriarchal medical system. BUT in fact trans people have been known in many different cultures around the world and throughout history.

Trans women are socialized as men.”TERFs say trans women are raised as male making them violent, patriarchal aggressors BUT many undergo social transition as young as 5, and/or have lived as women longer than they have as men. Even those who do come out later don’t experience growing up in the same way as cis men and are usually more critical of the way they were raised.

Trans people are obsessed with conforming to gender stereotypes,”according to TERFs. BUT its not realistic for trans people to dress how they would ideally like –some elements of gender conforming are necessary for safety and well being. Despite the risks many trans people still resist gender stereotypes and thus aren’t recognized as trans, making it easier for TERFs to gloss over this fact.

You’ll grow out of it/regret it.” Saying these sorts of things does not have the effect of saving people from surgery, it just delays or even stops trans people from accessing the services they need. Whats more, there are many different ways of being trans not all of which involve the same amount of surgery, or necessarily any surgery at all. (SPOILER ALERT: if you’re ever tempted to ask a trans person whether they’ve thought about this –YES THEY HAVE).

Changing the gender recognition act will harm cis women.”TERFs have been rallying around the claim that changes to the Gender Recognition Act will put women at risk as it will allow men to enter women-only spaces. This is false. Several countries, including Ireland, Norway and Denmark, have already passed laws to allow trans people to determine their own legal gender with great success.

In any case, trans women are already using women’s toilets in the UK. They are also already accessing services via women’s refuges. This is because the Equalities Act 2010 recognises “gender reassignment”as a protected characteristic, and protects against trans people from being discriminated against when using facilities appropriate to their gender identity. Changes to the Gender Recognition Act will make no difference. ■

This zine/article was written by Sister Not Cister UK, An organisation who are angry with the recent rise of anti-trans feminism and organise workshops and media to help educate people on the issues around transphobia.

You can visit their Facebook account by
clicking here.
You can visit their website by
clicking here.

You can download the zine in print format below:-

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57 hours of Donkey Kong! (or Why the left should care more about gaming)

Last month, bisexual gamer and leftist YouTuber Hbomberguy finished a gruelling 57-hour streaming session of the notoriously frustrating videogame Donkey Kong 64, raising over $340,000 for UK trans charity Mermaids. The mammoth effort was in response to anti-trans activist Graham Lineham and his briefly successful social media campaign to jeopardise Mermaids funding from the UK government.

With support at first in the gay and trans communities, the stream eventually went viral over left-wing social media and spread into the wider geek and videogame subcultures, with nerd celebrities like the designer of the Doom and Quake games John Romero, Donkey Kong 64 composer Grant Kirkhope and absurdist queer sci-fi erotica writer Chuck Tingle appearing publicly throughout the stream alongside a variety of left and left-leaning figures such as whistleblower and outspoken socialist Chelsea Manning, internet philosopher ContraPoints and even US democratic congress member Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

The stream served as a powerful counterpoint to the culture of toxicity and right-wing politics that often dominate the gaming world, showing passionate support for an oppressed community while connecting up our struggle with the wider left. It also shined a light on the existence of the leftist nerd: a common type of nerd (especially in trans communities) whose presence is continually overshadowed by the louder voices of reactionary gamers and pseudo-rationalist centrists claiming to be apolitical, even as they enthusiastically support the status quo. When even basic nods towards progressive politics in games are often controversial – such as when the 2016 Baldur’s Gate expansion Siege of Dragonspear included a transgender character and the developers were review-bombed and harassed for it –­ reactionary politics are often employed as a marketing mechanic, pandering to the delusion that the ‘social justice warriors’ are out to get gamers.

This phenomenon is not unique to gaming but it does appear to be more common among fans than in other mediums. The idea of gamers as an embattled minority, beset by what they perceive as the lying, hating left on one side, and the censorship of the religious right on the other, has actually become a meme in certain circles. Never mind the aforementioned right-wing biases in gaming or the sometimes fascinating history of Christian games.

Gatekeeping in reaction to a previously maligned hobby becoming popular and hence accessible to everyone – even those who lack the skill of more adept gamers – plays a part in this as well. There is for instance a trend to lament the rise in context- and content-driven (as opposed to purely gameplay-driven) reviews,  especially when journalists are seen to ‘suck’ at games.

Hbomberguy’s stream gave the lie to all of these assumptions. Firstly, by absolutely dominating at the game and, secondly, by showing just how many leftists genuinely love the medium.

It isn’t just that almost everybody finds gaming enjoyable. It’s also that many games are built on highly detailed alternative worlds. I have discussed before how this can help to educate players by making them compare the game’s world with the one in which they live. What must also be observed is that this process is intrinsic to gaming, and that the wider left can take advantage of it.

As a democratic, modern entertainment medium, games are openly created so that players can have fun. Simple games like Candy Crush will usually do nothing else. But with more elaborate games like, say, Yakuza 0, the gameplay and the narrative necessitate drawing connections to the outside world. These connections create a dialogue between the game and player, asking questions that the player is obliged to answer. By drawing their attention to them, leftists can help gamers see the nature of the world we really live in and help them feel empowered to change it.

This is an example of what Paulo Freire calls dialogic education. As he writes in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968):

Because dialogue is an encounter among women and men who name the world, it must not be a situation where some name on behalf of others. It is an act of creation; it must not serve as a crafty instrument for the domination of one person by another. The domination implicit in dialogue is that of the world by the dialoguers; it is conquest of the world for the liberation of humankind.

Yakuza 0 is an anime-inspired action game about a pair of Japanese criminals who get drawn into a complicated war between the Yakuza and a real estate company over an absurdly valuable plot of empty land. The game is often sexist and the role the martial arts play in it is very silly, but the action builds upon a simulation of a pre-financial bust Japan that offers a robust commentary on capitalist greed and the way that gentrification destroys communities. It even has a side-quest featuring a conversation about tax law with a city politician that starts with you having to fight off a group of businessmen exclaiming that taxation is theft, and then answer questions from the politician on the purpose of taxation and how a tax becomes both workable and fair. The tax that the player ends up creating is real – it was introduced by former Japanese Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita around the time when the game is set.

This sort of teaching is a core feature of the medium. You can see it in Battletech, a robot-themed strategy game that includes an innovative trans-inclusive character creator showing players just how diverse human gender really is. You can see it in Spinnortality, a game about ‘soft power’, and in Wolfenstein 2’s Nazi-smashing dieselpunk alt-history, which uses satire to show how present-day America has come to be ruled over by avowed white supremacists. You can even see it in games that try to be ‘just’ simulations seemingly devoid of politics; socialist YouTuber donoteat01’s videos on Cities Skylines show how the innovative use of building mods combined with a players own experience can reveal the ways in which building cities are political acts.

Games like Civilization VI, which present social and historical phenomena in more simplistic fashion, or those that make an effort to avoid the real-world politics of the places and scenarios that they’re discussing – such as Farcry 5tend to suffer for these omissions.

While the barriers for entry can be high, gaming has become a mainstream art form, and it’s easier to get into than it’s ever been before. There are a lot of options, too, with everything from modern versions of traditional platformers to full-blown space operas that can serve equally well as introductions to the medium.

The power of videogames to influence our society towards progressive (or reactionary) ends through dialogic education, team building, and simulations of the world makes familiarity not just with gaming culture but with the games themselves a vital tool to shape and understand reality. Through criticism, narration, or simple engagement with the games and their communities, leftists can raise both awareness and money for the causes we are passionate about, and fight against the wider political drift towards the right that we are experiencing throughout the world.


Maddison Stoff is a non-binary autistic writer and musician from Melbourne, whose essays have appeared in Overland, Flood Media, and New Matilda. Her debut book, For We Are Young and Free, a compilation of interlinking meta-fictional Australian cyberpunk, is out now on UK indie publisher Dostoyevsky Wannabe. You can follow her on Twitter, @thedescenters

This article fire appeared at Overland.org.au

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Transphobia is a Class Issue

[Content warning: In addition to transphobia in the abstract, this piece discusses harassment, violence and abuse. Some sources linked to for reference purposes feature transphobic abuse and slurs.]

Transphobia is a class issue. By this I mean that in a class society that is also deeply transphobic, it is impossible to talk about transphobia in a meaningful way without also talking about class. Trans people are more likely, all other things being equal, than our cis peers to fall into the most exploited and oppressed sections of the working class and the extent to which transphobia will negatively affect any given trans person’s life will be mediated by their economic class. This article is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of every aspect of this issue, but to contribute to an ongoing conversation around it and illustrate a class struggle perspective on transgender issues.

By transphobia I mean two related phenomena:

  1. Overt, intentional hostility to or disregard towards the wellbeing of trans people and;
  2. Social structures and systems which put trans people at a relative disadvantage to cis people within society.

These two types of transphobia are not strictly distinct and one often creates or reinforces the other.

Often when discussing transphobia popular discourse focuses on overt, interpersonal hostility and street level violent hate crime. While these are indeed real and very serious issues, this focus on the interpersonal and the overt often leads to a failure to recognise the measurable economic effects of transphobia on trans lives. This constitutes a form of hidden, endemic, systematic violence against working class trans people.

A 2015 EU report[1] found that trans people in the EU were more likely than their cis peers to be in the bottom 25% of earners and that around a third of trans people reported experiencing workplace discrimination in the year leading up to the survey and a similar proportion had experienced discrimination while looking for housing. Unsurprisingly, given high levels of workplace discrimination and general social stigma, trans people are disproportionately more likely to experience unemployment. Emma Rundall carried out a survey of trans people as part of her 2010 PhD thesis[2] and found that 14% of respondents were unemployed, around two and a half times the then national unemployment rate (pp 139 of thesis), this is consistent with a general trend in the literature for higher rates of unemployment amongst trans people.

Housing discrimination and high rates of family rejection and abuse also lead to higher rates of homelessness for LGBTQ people as a whole and particularly LGBTQ youth. A 2015 report by the Albert Kennedy Trust [3] found that LGBTQ youth were “grossly over-represented within youth homeless populations”, stating that one in four young homeless people were LGBTQ, the report also found that a majority of young LGBTQ homeless people reported rejection or abuse at home as a major factor in their homelessness, with an overwhelming majority of housing providers failing to recognise the unique and specific needs of this marginalised community for housing support. Specific figures for trans people alone in the UK are difficult to find, however in Canada, a culturally similar developed nation, the research and community organisation Trans Pulse carried out a study of health outcomes in 123 trans people aged 16-24[4], with a view to measuring the effect of parental support. All respondents reporting “strongly supportive” parents reported being adequately housed, however, almost half of the two thirds of respondents who did not have strongly supportive parents were “inadequately housed” (homeless or in a precarious housing situation), around one third of the total sample.

As well as the economic effects of transphobia itself, we can also consider the intersections of transphobia and class, i.e. the ways in which class and transphobia interact and magnify each others’ effects; the greater financial resilience of the middle and boss classes, the ability of wealthier trans people to buy their way out of some forms of transphobia, the classed nature of the bureaucracies that trans people are often forced to navigate and the elevation of privileged voices within the broader trans community as the authentic voices of all trans people.

A core component of transphobia at present is medical gatekeeping, the process by which trans people are forced to jump through semi-arbitrary hoops in order to access certain kinds of trans specific healthcare. In Sex Educations: Gendering and Regendering Women[5] Lisa Milbank discusses real life experience (RLE), a period of time in which trans people are expected to present “full time” as their gender in order to access certain kinds of healthcare, as a form of socially enforced “breaking” in which trans women are subjected to “an experience of public freakhood, composed of constant stares, transphobic harassment and potentially violence, without access to much of the (intensely double-edged) training given to cissexual women on how to survive this”, while Milbank focuses on the experience of transsexual women in particular, this also applies to some extent to the experience of other trans people. One’s ability to pass as cis (to be read by most people as a cis person of one’s appropriate gender) will heavily influence the extent to which RLE is a dangerous and potentially traumatic experience. Since passing as cis takes the form, in part, of being able to perform conventional cis norms, which are themselves heavily classed (and racialised), a trans person’s ability to do so will be mediated by their class status. I.e. the wealthier a person is, the more likely they are to be able to afford to take additional, elective steps (extensive hair removal, specialised clothing to hide or accentuate particular gendered body traits, etc.) to increase their chance of passing as cis. In this way, middle class and boss class trans people are more easily able to navigate gatekeeping in order to access healthcare and sidestep the harmful effects of RLE in a transphobic society. Similarly, since transphobia often takes the form of institutional and economic discrimination and/or family and community rejection, an individual trans person’s financial security becomes their ability to cope with isolation financially and to remove themselves from harmful situations (e.g. a neighbourhood in which they are frequently harassed or a family home in which they are rejected or abused) is key to their ability to survive and thrive in a transphobic society. While all trans people experience and are harmed by transphobia, the extent of that harm will inevitably be strongly classed.

To live as a trans person in today’s society is to frequently find ourselves bumping against the various bureaucracies that serve as its basis, from things as theoretically simple as changing one’s legal name to navigating the complaints procedures of government departments or companies in order to secure some kind of accountability for another instance of transphobia. While this is, in theory, something anybody can learn to do, these bureaucratic institutions are complex and exclusionary by design and often function to favour middle class people. In this way, yet again working class trans people suffer an additional burden from transphobia.

So given that trans people are disproportionately more likely to live in poverty and transphobia’s worst effects are experienced most by working class people, why is this not a part of the media discourse on trans people? Why are some of the most prominent media trans voices wealthy, right wing figures like Caitlyn Jenner? Part of this is precisely because transphobia is strongly classed; as discussed above the wealthiest people will find it easiest to “pass” and meet the standards of conformity to cis-heteronormative standards expected of professional voices in the media. Equally it is the case that middle class and rich trans people are simply more likely to have the necessary connections to be a major media presence. Where it includes trans voices at all, mainstream discourse on trans issues is dominated by an unrepresentative minority of wealthy, white, middle class, trans women. It would be remiss of me not to note an obvious irony here since, while I am far from wealthy and never have been, as a white postgrad student I am myself far from representative of the majority of trans people and, in my defence, I do not claim to be.

A common means of dismissing trans people’s attempts to raise issues that affect us or criticise institutions or public figures that have harmed us as a group is to dismiss us as privileged. Trans people are a bunch of middle class kids or a load of wealthy university students who are just looking for something to complain about. For example, after the well-established journalist Suzanne Moore went on a bizarre, transphobic tirade on Twitter[6] in response to criticism over the wording in one of her articles, fellow career journalist Julie Burchill wrote a piece, initially published in the Observer but eventually withdrawn and then republished by Spiked[7], which while largely consisting of a series of transphobic slurs also perfectly illustrated this ideological tendency. After claiming that she and other transphobic journalists are “part of the tiny minority of women of working-class origin to make it in what used to be called Fleet Street”, Burchill goes on to depict trans people as academics with “big swinging PhDs”, attempting to silence working class cis women by arguing about “semantics” (the semantics in this case being Moore’s use of “Brazilian transsexuals”, a group plagued by particularly high levels of poverty and violence[8], as a throwaway pejorative). While trans academics certainly exist, we are far from the majority of trans people or even trans activists, nor are we necessarily as highly privileged as Burchill would like to suggest. By engaging in this erasure of working class trans people, transphobes are able to both trivialise the serious, material effects of transphobia as discussed above and rhetorically exclude trans people from the working class.

In her excellent 2008 essay ‘Liberal Multiculturalism is the Hegemony – Its an Empirical Fact’ – A response to Slavoj Žižek[9], Sara Ahmed points out that racism is often projected onto the white working class, with liberal prohibitions on overt bigotry serving merely as a means to locate bigotry in some marginalised other. We see a similar process with transphobia, bigotry against trans people is positioned as definitively working class, and thus the existence of working class trans people can be ignored as impossible by definition. A well paid Observer journalist can mock trans people en masse as middle class kids, obsessed with identity politics, because everybody knows that real working class people are white, cishet and hostile to anybody who is not white or cishet. The reality, of course, is that this image of an “ordinary” working class as the default is a fantasy, the working class is a weird, wonderful and diverse class and only a politics that recognises the many and varied ways in which we experience exploitation and oppression can allow us to build a movement to end oppression, end exploitation and ultimately abolish class itself. ■

Citations;

  1. European Union Agency For Fundamental Rights. Being Trans in the European Union: Comparative analysis of EU LGBT survey data (2014).
  2. Rundall, E. C. (2010). ‘Transsexual’ people in UK workplaces: An analysis of transsexual men’s and transsexual women’s experiences. PhD Thesis. Oxford Brookes University.
  3. The Albert Kennedy Trust. LGBT youth homelessness: A UK national scoping of cause, prevalence, response, and outcome.(2015).
  4. Trans Pulse.. Impacts of Strong Parental Support for Trans Youth (2012).
  5. Milbank, L. www.radtransfem.wordpress.com. Sex Educations: Gendering and Regendering Women (2012) – Retrieved March 2018.
  6. Archive.today. Suzanne Moore: timeline of trans-misogynistic twitter rant. Available at www. archive.is/cZGpC – Retrieved March 2018.
  7. Burchill, J. Hey Trannies cut it out (2013). SPIKED. Available at www.archive.is/XVrUP – Retrieved March 2018.
  8. Beresford, Meka. One LGBT person is killed every 25 hours in Brazil (2017). PINK NEWS. Available athttps://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/01/28/one-lgbt-person-is-killed-every-25-hours-in-brazil/ – Retrieved March 2018.
  9. Ahmed, S. ‘Liberal Multiculturalism is the Hegemony – Its an Empirical Fact’ – A response to Slavoj Žižek (2008) Dark Matter. Available at http://www.darkmatter101.org/site/2008/02/19/%E2%80%98liberal-multiculturalism-is-the-hegemony-%E2%80%93-its-an-empirical-fact%E2%80%99-a-response-to-slavoj-zizek/ – Retrieved March 2018.