You’re not quite sure when it started. It was a creeping hysteria, progressing inch by inch, breaking down the boundaries word by word and phrase by phrase.
When the ground is being pulled from under you, you try to make the best of it. You think “well, how much space do I need anyhow?” You shuffle your feet, stand on tip-toe, say “no, it’s fine, I can live with this”. You are, you tell yourself, being practical and considerate. It might militate against what you believe yourself to be, and the space to which you feel you are entitled, but you’ve been used to this since the day you were born. You are, after all, a woman, or so you used to allow yourself to think.
When you were told that gender was an identity and womanhood a performance, part of you rebelled. The hierarchy that has kept you down and made you afraid cannot be denied out of existence while the material oppressions remain. You know this. You really, really know this, and yet you daren’t say. People will call you a bigot. They will say you are scared of transgression, so you don’t transgress. You pretend that silence makes sense. After all, there must be things that you, cis woman, simply don’t understand.
But then it became gender is a spectrum. Really? Outright denial of inequality – of the means by which females are oppressed, of the justifications and processes that lead to an education denied, a clitoris butchered, a backstreet abortion, a so-called crime of passion – seems a high price to pay to allow bored, middle-class white boys permission to grow their hair, declare themselves non-binary and rave at any feminist who crosses their path. You don’t care about their presentation or their pronouns; just an on-going recognition of what misogyny is and what it does would be enough. But that is now out of bounds. You are asked to repaint the walls of your cell in a gender-neutral colour and if you refuse, you will be accused of having built your own cell and that of everyone else, you bigot. You TERF.
You have experienced aggressive social conditioning, harassment and assault due to the body you occupy, pregnancy, abortion, miscarriage, childbirth, post-natal depression, female infertility, the shame of being deemed “barren”, then menopause. This is, you are told, of no relevance to your oppression. None whatsoever. After all, couldn’t you choose to identify as a man and still experience these things? You know this is senseless. You cannot identify your way out of what is done to you. Deny yourself the words with which to articulate your oppression and do you make it go away? You do not. You do, however, manage to dodge anything more. Queering yourself – twisting the words – is a self-defence mechanism. If the dominant half of the human race hates breeders, it transpires that they really, really hate breeders who cling on to the dignity of meaningful descriptors.
Towards the end it starts to escalate. Die, TERF. Cis scum. Pictures of knives and axes and grinning faces. You are told you do not have the right to select sexual partners on the basis of maleness or femaleness. You object and are told to be quiet. The messages become confusing. No one is ordering you to do that. That’s just something you invented as a vicious, transphobic slur because you are a bigot. So you ask, what am I being ordered to do? Oh, that. But not in the way you think, cis woman. Stupid cis woman, why don’t you just shut up? The worse it gets, the more you are held responsible. Evidence of your abuse is propaganda. You must have asked for it. You watch women taking a step back, frightened, scared to be associated with you. It is so strangely disorientating – to experience abuse so obvious yet so loudly and so vehemently denied – that you suspect a mixture of fear and denial on the part of those who might have supported you. You start to wish you had never objected. That small piece of ground allotted to acquiescent women is getting smaller and smaller but at least it was something. Now any attempt to speak results in conversations that tie your mind in knots.
No one is saying you can’t say “penis is male”, you lying TERF.
Okay, penis is male.
That’s hate speech, you bigot. Die!
I just want to be able to define myself on my own terms.
That’s just what trans and non-binary people want.
Fine, so I don’t have to be cis?
No, you do. How dare you not be! Bigot. Die. I hope you burn.
You think “well, eventually everyone will see this is wrong. They will see it is misogyny and patriarchy and rampant individualism and then it will all stop”. You picture people looking back on this as “that time when feminism became misogyny – how odd!” You imagine them saying “never again”. In the back of your mind, however, you know it is just the same as always.
The route to what little power you can have is through denial and self-effacement. It’s just been made more visible. It has got worse, in terms of the words you can use, but is there a reason for it ever to get better?
The Earth is flat. Rich is poor. The powerful are the oppressed and the oppressed are the powerful.
You might as well lie back and take it. That or stand with all women, even the dehumanized, demonized women. Even those called TERFs. We are all human so I choose to stand with them.