Category Archives: Language

On becoming a TERF

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. Continue reading On becoming a TERF

Non-binary people: A helpful guide for TERFs and non-TERFs alike

  1. How do I know if an individual is non-binary?

A common mistake is to think it’s okay simply to ask. Please don’t do this; it’s rude and individuals could find it triggering. Fortunately there are easy ways to tell. Is this individual a human being? If the answer is yes, then this person is inherently non-binary (NB one can be human regardless of whether one is male or female).

Gender is, after all, a hierarchical system of oppression arising from sex difference. People express and identify themselves in ways which overlap with presumed manifestations of sex-based oppression and/or dominance. Why they do so depends on many factors: social conditioning, class, fear of violence, caring responsibilities, economic advantage, innate personality traits. They ought to have every right to do so, but no one can claim to be more “non-binary” than the next.  No one naturally identifies with being oppressed and no one is simply born to be considered inferior.

  1. Hang on, I thought only me, my mates and a few famous arty types, most of whom are male, were allowed to be non-binary?

Then I am guessing you are young-ish, quite possibly a student or a writer, certainly not a post-menopausal woman (urgh! cis!), and your beliefs are based partly on a very sensible critique of gender and partly on a fuckload of privilege.

Listen: you are not the literal embodiment of shitty, restrictive gender stereotypes but nor is anyone else. They’re really not. So you were assigned female at birth but don’t “feel” like a woman? Guess what? Most females don’t! That’s because “being a woman” is aligned with “being a bit shit” in a patriarchal society and not because some women “naturally” align themselves with having long hair and talking in squeaky voices. You have no idea why other women make the compromises they do or fail to be as different as you. You don’t know their inner lives or what they’ve been through. You don’t know their needs. You have no right to co-opt them into a system which positions them as inferior, all the while insisting that they must be privileged to present as so woman-y. Who made you the gender police? You cannot claim an identity which relies on others being dehumanised and excluded. We’re all non-binary, all of us better than this hateful hierarchy.

  1. So if everyone is non-binary, how should I respond to them?

As though they are real flesh-and-blood humans with real fears and real needs. This can be hard if you’re not used to it. If you’ve been very immersed in reinforcing the binary-ness of others, you need to take your time and set yourself easy targets, Why not, say, go at least one hour without stalking women you don’t like on twitter, searching for an opportunity to call them vile, bigot, scum, TERF etc. on the discredited basis that you’re magically non-binary and they’re not? Once that works, set yourself a slightly longer target. You can do it!

It might be more difficult with loved ones. How does one cope, for instance, with the knowledge that one’s own mother isn’t just some off-the-shelf middle-aged cis woman? Does it mean she might stop doing your laundry, cooking your dinner and listening to you whine on about how hard it is when you’re the one being to subjected to all these rigid cis norms? Probably not. That’s gender oppression for you. That’s why half the world is underpaid or not paid at all, at severe risk of violence from the other half and without a voice in countless political systems. It’s not because we love it, silly! We weren’t born thinking we couldn’t be open, rich, complete, non-binary human beings. We get resigned, you see. You could help in small ways, though. If you’re male, for instance, taking a break from twitter activism to do some lowly “women’s work” is a brilliant way to challenge those nasty cis norms. Go on, scrub those dishes for the sake of your non-binary brothers and sisters!

  1. What other ways can I help non-binary people?

There are plenty of simple ways for the blinkered to help the other non-binary people they’ve been shitting on for months on end. Yay! Here are just a few:

  • Educate yourself about intersectionality. Funnily enough, it isn’t about treating women like crap on some flimsy in-your-head basis that has fuck all to do with structural oppression and contextualised solutions. But anyhow, it’s not my job to educate you. Have a goddam read.
  • Listen and learn from older feminists. Yeah, I know: you think older feminists are all useless “cis” bigots who haven’t had enough cock to make them human. Believe it or not, they’re as complex and non-binary as you. Now stop being such a misogynist bigot and try and engage in some actual dialogue (“die, TERF” doesn’t count).
  • Read up a bit on human reproduction and have a long, hard think about how this might tie in with gender as a system of oppression. Sex is not gender; those of us born female are not destined to be categorised in the way that “woman” is categorised now. But it’s a massive fucking coincidence that we are and it’s about time this abusive system stopped being reinforced by those who consider it valid as long as they can grant themselves permission to rise above it. We all have that right so don’t claim an identity which relies on some of us remaining the shitty foil against which you define your own glitteringly complex self.
  • Stop co-opting random people – Morrissey, Eddie Izzard, whoever – into your “yeah, I’ll let them be non-binary” system. You’re worse than my nan. She wouldn’t let me watch Bod on the basis that “you can’t tell if it’s a boy or a girl”. Now you’re sitting there, deciding who’s allowed to be one of you on the basis that he, she or [insert pronoun] “looks a bit funny”. What kind of a conservative bigot are you?
  • Spend time with a diverse range of people (middle-class wannabe journalists in their twenties who live in London and all have self-pitying twitter bios does not count as diverse)
  1. What’s the best thing I can do?

Stop being a total prat. Please. Women’s liberation – and their lives – depend on it.

Pregnant women, pregnant people

This is a piece about whether or not feminists should use the terms “pregnant women” or “pregnant people” when discussing reproductive rights. I know that, for many, it will seem an odd thing to be discussing at all. Either you believe only women can get pregnant (therefore it’s “pregnant women”) or you include trans men and those who identify as genderqueer (in which case it’s “pregnant people”). Moreover, if you accept this premise, it could be fair to say that anyone who uses “pregnant women” is denying the existence of pregnant non-women (and therefore might reasonably be accused of transphobia). I think this is all very straightforward and neat. Unfortunately I also don’t think that, on a practical level, it works.
There are many of us who feel that retaining the word “woman” in all discussions of reproductive rights matters a great deal, even if such rights belong to everyone. I am one such person. When we talk about abortion it’s vital that we keep talking about women.
This is not about blindly adhering to a binary concept of gender that ultimately harms us all. It’s about naming the problem and avoiding the double discrimination that comes with having the language that defines oppression taken from you. Reproductive rights are fundamentally defined by misogynist concepts of “womanhood”. If this is not acknowledged in the terms we use — if we speak as though those who don’t regard women as complete human beings with complete control over their bodies share the same fluid readings of gender that we do — then we’re denying all those affected by rights restrictions the very space upon which to argue their cause. We’re saying that it’s all a matter of whether or not you can conceive when this clearly isn’t the case.
To frame abortion, breastfeeding, birth choices etc. as “people’s issues” rather than “women’s issues” is straightforwardly dishonest. The discrimination faced by all those who identify as women — regardless of whether or not they could become pregnant — is shaped by a reading of sex and gender that sees “breeders” as lesser beings (and all those who are in some way identified with “the feminine” — and this ends up being everyone apart from cis men — are affected by this). The question “if cis men got pregnant, would abortion still be an issue?” remains a pertinent one because abortion restrictions are based not on how we view the fetus, but on the status of the gravida. This is why, for instance, no one is forced to give blood or donate bone marrow. Forced physical self-sacrifice in order to perpetuate the lives of others isn’t seen as a “people’s” issue — if it was, those who could get pregnant would enjoy far more freedom than they currently do.
Debates on reproductive rights are frequently derailed by sniping over who is “allowed” to speak. It’s my belief that no one should have a say on any abortion other than the individual whose body it affects (this is not to say consultation with others is inherently a bad thing — so many factors go into whether or not carrying a pregnancy to term is possible that in most cases such consultation is vital — but the final word should belong to one person only). The gender identity of the person choosing whether or not to have an abortion is an utter irrelevancy. It’s their body, their choice (I despair of the way in which this phrase, so fundamental, is cast as glib or trivial). However — and this is, to some, a massive however — it needs also to be understood that the status of all women (trans or cis, fertile or not) is affected by what we do and do not permit fertile people with wombs to do. To restrict the broader abortion debate to “cis women, trans men and those who identify as genderqueer” isn’t fair. It’s about how women are perceived. It’s about what the term women even means.
I for one am not willing to debate abortion with men using language that suggests we’re on the same footing (which is what substituting “people” for “women” ultimately does). I’m not prepared to suggest the global impact of abortion restriction applies to everyone equally. It doesn’t. Cis women face the impact of abortion restriction more than anyone else insofar as they’re the only ones who are shoved into both the material and the hypothetical categories — ”may need an abortion” and “woman therefore breeder by default” — at the same time. This is not to say the restriction is “worse” for them or that there is no such thing as cis privilege, but that cis women are at the front line of this particular battle. Winning it depends on a transformation in how they are seen by all those who are not cis women (and by that I don’t just mean cis men).
A failure to take the experience of pregnancy seriously isn’t just to do with how we see pregnancy. It’s to do with how seriously we take women’s experience — so often seen as trivial and unimportant — overall. An unwanted pregnancy is only seen as a non-event, a minor inconvenience, because it is seen in the context of unimportant (female) life. It’s not just about bodies, but about the lived experience of being a woman (cis or trans). Standing up for abortion rights goes hand in hand with standing up for women’s rights. Failing to acknowledge this isn’t being inclusive; it’s refusing to challenge the very prejudices that hold all of us back.