TW: Violent imagery
The last few weeks have been incredibly distressing.
When Joanne Rowling released her essay there was a moment of collective, tearful hope. A woman with enough power had spoken our truth, with all the precise eloquence at her disposal, and, for one suspended second, I think we thought that they would have to hear.
It now seems evident, watching the boot come down, the steady stream of disavowal and dismissal and outright demonising denigration, that a woman’s words about her truth, no matter how eloquent or precise, cannot, still, be given any credit. Our pain, etched into our bodies, mimed over centuries, and finally wrested into speech, will never be taken as intended. As evidence of our humanity, and an explanation of how that humanity is harmed by what is done to us. We are still, only ever, an object and repository, a resource for the needs and wants of others whose humanity matters more. Our pain, like our speech, like our politics, could never be for or about ourselves, because it has never registered – and this moment is nothing but the concatenation of this denial – that we actually, in our own right, exist.
This argument is not, therefore, an appeal for empathy with the damage done to us by male power and projection, by the immemorial and immovable demand that we efface ourselves before the needs of more important others. We know our pain doesn’t count in your economy, that it only registers on your balance books as a sly deceptive weapon or a vicious wilful harm to the interests of the only kind of people given credit. That you’re so certain of the justness of your accounting, you never seem to notice, that this one obvious fact, gives the lie to the ‘validity’ of your catechism. If you really thought that they were women, their pain would be a nought to you as well.
The purpose of this exercise is for myself, and us all, I hope. The last few weeks have been more painful than I remember. After the torrent of cocks, and the exhortations to choke, and the parade of denunciations, and the trolling kids with porn, and the media spin complicity, and the ‘you’re weaponizing your trauma,’ all polished off with tech-bro corporate might coming down on us like a ten-ton digital brick, it was the implacable, imperious requisition of Allison Bailey’s words that finally broke me. Or rather, it was the attempt to justify that requisition by claiming that speaking the violent, often sexual, threats against us, was, in and of itself, an act of ‘severe’ discrimination against the people threatening us. On a quiet Wednesday afternoon, at my desk, something happened I haven’t felt for years. The back of my brain went metallic. I managed a few, incandescent tweets and then fell, quickly, into inarticulate rage. By Friday, on the phone, my ‘discourse’ consisted mostly of a series of guttural, groaning sounds. I stuck needles* in my body, and the vice receded long enough to write and speak a poem, before tightening again. Rage passed into anger passed into despair passed into heavy, body-crushing sadness. Eventually the tears pooled in the centre of my heart and the bottom of my back so strongly I could cry them out. And then I started to see, and needed to try and speak, what was happening.
What is happening is a violently enforced, three-tiered denial of our words, our right to name the reality of our experience, and the reality of the violence perpetrated against us, because of our sex. Two tiers of this denial have long been evident. Now, in this battle between our discourse and their silencing, because we have fought so fucking long and hard for our words, our speech is, finally, beginning to be heard by some, the third tier is becoming ever more obvious. It was this that tipped me off the edge and, for a couple of weeks, stole most my words. It looks, as my friend said last night when I explained it on the phone, like a near-perfect, circular, stitch up. It looks like this:
We know this one well. This is the stealing of our language enacted by the core of trans ideology. The redefinition of the word ‘woman’ as an amorphous meaningless gender class against our consent. The removal of all words that link the word ‘woman’ to the concept of ‘female.’ The imperious imposition of the essentialist bullshit label ‘cis’ (‘IT’S LATIN!’). The dehumanising conversion of female people into fragmented body parts and functions. The command to call conspicuously male people ‘women’ even when engaged in conspicuously male behaviour, like, say, downloading child pornography or getting out their cocks at work. This all amounts, we’ve said repeatedly, to the political erasure of sex. We have said, perhaps too abstractly, we object to ‘the erasure of the axis of our oppression.’ What we mean is this: We object to male entitlement – to our bodies, to our time, to our attention, to our care, to our service, and now, above all, to our existence and the words that name it. We need to name the reality of sex, for yes, medical reasons, and sporting reasons, and because women are oppressed by conversion into sexual-reproductive resource and your idealist gender-bullshit can’t explain patriarchy in the slightest. But we need to name it most of all, because – as you never seem to grasp – gender is the system of entitlement that runs along the lines of sex. And the system that enforces that entitlement by means of threat or force. We need to name sex because we need to speak the violence males commit against us. Because our ability to speak at all depends on it. Which brings us to….
In response to your demands, for our existence and its words, all we’ve said is ‘no.’ We haven’t threatened, or intimidated, or besieged, or tried to cancel. We’ve explained, millions of times, why we’re saying no, why we won’t let you take our words, because we need them. But the economy of entitlement that belies all your claims to gender non-conformity, will not respect our boundary. The boundaries here are literal, around our spaces, around the de-lineation of our words, but they are, above all, figurative. They arise from the expression of our own subjectivity. The naming of our needs and interests. They arise when we say ‘no,’ and ‘I don’t want,’ and ‘you can’t have.’ In an ethical economy it should be understood that the demand ‘I want to take’ never, between adults, has right of force over ‘I don’t want to give.’ You do not take from others what is not given freely, you don’t coerce them into giving things they do not want to give. Doing so is an act of narcissistic domination. It subordinates an-other’s needs and interests entirely to your own, and in so doing, annihilates their subjectivity. In its core, this is the logic, and the deep traumatic injury, of rape.
The narcissistic rage trans activists have unleashed on women, to try and force us to be silent and comply, is an exact exhibition of this logic. That so much of this coercive rage is sexualised, from the phallic pink and blue bats to the desire to choke us on their cocks, is far from accidental. That people have been so easily convinced that gender lives inside a tube of eyeliner, while the sexual economy of entitlement is enacted in plain sight, apparently invisible to many, is evidence of how far feminism has left to go. The women using argument and evidence to defend their ‘no’ are clearly monsters. A ‘swarm’ of uptight, cruel, castrating cunts who heartlessly refuse to meet a need so small it costs them nothing but their own existence. And everyone agrees. The litany of slurs and threats are warranted by the provocation of a ‘no.’ Just stop being such bitches. Just shut your fucking mouths and give us what we want you witches. Our desire or your existence. No contest cunts. ‘Be Kind.’
It is only inside this economy of entitlement that the indictment of ‘weaponising trauma’ makes sense. Trauma is our explanation of why we need our words and the boundaries that they draw. (Although, let’s be clear, people shouldn’t have to give reasons to justify their boundaries, and the fact we feel the need to reveal our trauma to do just that shows how fucked this situation is already.) The claim that our trauma is a weapon, is then, at base, a claim that our boundary is an act of aggression. And this claim, relies, in turn, on the belief that the needs of, and harm done to, those who seek to transgress that boundary far outweighs the needs of, and the harm done to, those who will be violated. (This is precisely how the acronym that became the slur exerts its vilifying power – what distinguishes, we might ask, ‘inclusion’ from ‘violation’ other than consent?) The people pressing, and supporting, this claim, will ground it by appeal to the specific, and extreme, vulnerability of trans people. And while that appeal is not without foundation, the willingness to uncritically accept, and endlessly disseminate, empirically sketchy and appropriative statistics – to accept then, in its fundament, the claim that the oppression of trans people neatly and completely overrides the oppression of women – is, in itself, a product of the economy of entitlement. The readiness of people, both male and female, to identify with and elevate the pain of males not being given what they say they need or want, over against the females who tell them ‘no,’ is the psychic substance that greases the wheels and gears of the whole patriarchal shitshow. And it is the psychic substance that serves to justify, exculpate, and explain away, any violence used to press male claims.
There is no logic, no quantity of need or pain, that justifies male people violating women’s boundaries, that isn’t rapey. What got to me about the response to Joanne Rowling’s words – and by extension, the words of all of us who would defend our boundary – is how audaciously and easily left-wing journalists and politicians lined up to collude with rape-logic, so immersed inside an economy of male entitlement and its narcissistic rage they likely have no fucking clue that that is what they’re doing. Women’s boundaries are not an act of aggression. Painting them as such is part of the economy of entitlement used to justify taking what has not been given freely, and to justify both the violence that is that taking, and the violence often used to enforce that taking. (This is the difference between rape and aggravated rape. Rape is violence, rape is sometimes violence enforced by violence. One of the key feminist fights was the effort to make clear that it was not the enforcing violence alone that constituted the violation). The indictment that we are ‘weaponising trauma’ is hence, both, a contestation and delegitimization of the boundary that we have re-drawn in response to the primary, trans activist requisition of our words and the spaces they inscribe (Tier 1), but is also then, a justification of any force or threat of force brought to bear to press the claim against that boundary (Tier 2). Here, the ‘weaponising trauma’ claim reveals itself as just another, subtler variation of the endless exculpations and woman-blaming bullshit used to justify the violences against us. ‘She had it coming.’ ‘She made me do it.’ ‘She was asking for it.’
It is here too that the contours of Tier 3 emerge. It consists of the effort to justify and/or dismiss both the violence that is the violation of our boundaries (Tier 1), and, in particular, the violence used to press the claim against, or enforce the violation of, our boundaries (Tier 2). This thought has always, in fact, been around. It often inheres in the classic patriarchal reversal underpinned by the economy of entitlement. That is, because female people having boundaries is an act of intolerable exclusion (and by extension then ‘oppression,’ or, in its current usage, ‘anything that stops me getting what I want’), then any violence used to press the claim against the boundary is, actually, just self-defence. It also turned up in another form just last night on Twitter, the wilfully circular ‘the boundaries of bigots do not need to be respected,’ which fails, of course, to recognise that ‘bigot’ in trans activist discourse means nothing but ‘a woman whose boundaries stop me getting what I want,’ viz, in fact, ‘women’s boundaries are bigotry.’ Such is the power of the economy of entitlement that someone can seriously type ‘I do not need to respect the boundaries of someone whose boundaries stop me getting what I want’ and think that it will fly.
Of course, the defenders of the faith won’t accept a word of this. And to return to where we started, at Tier 1, they won’t accept it because its blasphemy against the catechistic sanctity of the Trinity (‘Trans women are women, Trans men are men, Non-binary is valid, Amen’), and its disavowal of the structuring of power along the lines of sex. (Remember, always, anyone who can actually defend their faith need not be so dogged with ex-communicating heretics). Indeed, everything I have said here, because it relies on the sexual economy of entitlement, would be deemed to be hateful – although, as I’ve underlined, the transparent operation of that economy in this whole affair belies the truth of its own dogma. It is here that the denigration and dismissal of Jo Rowling’s testimony, slips into the almost non sequitur of Owen Jones’ reply. Jones’ response here depends, entirely, on ostensibly reversing the balance of power between males and females, by denying that Jo Rowling speaks as a female, and as a member of a class oppressed as female (this is the work of so much Tumblrised intersectional discourse about ‘cis’ women, ‘rich’ women, ‘white’ women, ‘cishet’ women), and denying that the vulnerability of trans people as trans, does not magically negate the fact that the ones dictating that our boundaries are bigotry and can be rightfully overridden are still male. The epithets ‘abusive,’ ‘silencing,’ ‘aggressive’ and ‘violent,’ when applied by females, to the behaviour of males trying to coerce their boundaries, is not the sneaky gambit of a ‘powerful’ majority jealously hording their piles of privilege. It is how female people name, explain, and process the violence they experience because they’re female, in a society governed by a sexual economy of entitlement.
Because OJ catechistically believes that trans-ness negates maleness, he can, effectively make a claim which, without such catechistic cover, is something no self-respecting progressive would ever say, because its incel-MRA-speak. That is, that women should not name male violence, and that in doing so, they are demonising and discriminating against males. This is, as Owen is fond of reminding us, a trope picked up from the gay rights movement, and leveraged in a way that was, in truth, wrong. It is true that the association of gay men with paedophilia as an excuse to refuse them rights was reprehensible (and just to underline, the general analogy with gay rights fails because gay rights did not involve violating the boundaries of another oppressed class). It is not true, however, that no gay men are paedophiles, and that suspecting a gay man of being a paedophile is a priori an act of bigotry, if you have reason for your suspicion beyond them being gay. (Just as it’s not de facto homophobia to think there might be a safeguarding issue if a gay man dresses in fetish gear and wanks in the toilet of the national children’s charity and then puts it on the internet). Jones’ claim in that case, effectively, was that gayness negates maleness (which it does not), and similarly here, that trans-ness should provide a negating shield of perfect immunity around males who identify as women, or non-binary, or maverique, or whatever, from any indictment of conspicuous male-pattern violence. (Cue Family Guy cartoon). A society that took the sexual abuse of women and children remotely seriously would understand, off the bat, that creating a sub-class of males who are a priori immune from being suspected or indicted of male-pattern violence is a safeguarding risk the size of a fucking planet.
It is this – the ‘you’re demonising us as predators’ stitch-up gambit – that leads directly to the moment where Allison’s Bailey’s description of the contents of terfisaslur is summarily requisitioned as an act of ‘severe’ discrimination against trans people as a whole. (This is MRA logic again, where ‘NotAllMen’ becomes ‘NotAllTransWomen’ and of course, yes, but a not negligible some). There is no way a decent person of progressive persuasion can look at the contents of terfisaslur, or the memes of gun-toting anime characters emblazoned with ‘Shut The Fuck Up TERF,’ or the gratuitous phallic threats aimed at Jo Rowling, and conclude that these are not ‘abusive,’ ‘silencing,’ ‘aggressive’ and ‘violent.’ It is an epic gaslighting piss-take to tell us to choke on cocks, threaten us with rape, make T-shirts soaked with our fake blood, emblazon signs with death threats, erect guillotines with our names on, draw sketches of our hanging bodies, and openly, gleefully, fantasise about the many other ways you want to kill us, and then turn around and say by describing this violence as what it is, we are invalidating and demonising you with prejudicial malice.
The fact that much of this violence is enacted by males who are trans, does not transubstantiate it into ‘not violence’ and it doesn’t mean that people coercing female people’s boundaries with the kind of baseball-bat wielding rapey bullshit always used to coerce female boundaries are somehow, alchemically, ‘not doing male-pattern violence.’ And your catechism-that-we-don’t-believe is no defence, not a get-out clause, not some kind of whizz-bang-magic immunising shield that will stop us naming what we see right before of our eyes. We’ve often noted, sometimes caustically, sometimes ruefully, that if people wanted to convince us that they were women, and not a threat, telling us to choke on cocks and hammering down the door with bats was probably not the way to go. We will keep our words, the boundaries that they draw, and the naming of the violence they allow, because the survival of our subjectivities and the possibility of our healing depends on it. And though we may be silenced sometimes, by your animation of our trauma, and your refusal of our power to name, all you will achieve, with your catechistic dictates, in the end, is demonstrating why we wouldn’t let you take our words from the beginning.
We say again:
No means no.
 I hope she’s okay with this, but I’d like to ditch the JK. The occlusion of her sex is a symptom of – not a remedy for – male power.
* It has been pointed out to me for people who don’t know me, the needles in question are acupuncture ones, not the ones attached to hypodermic syringes. This shit is hardwork, but I’m not doing heroin, well, yet. (We can thank Lorelei’s boyfriend for the need for this clarification 😂).
We at TRADFEM would be honoured to translate thi essay into French, pro bono and with hyperlink to your original.
Yes please, that would be great. Thank you 🙂
Thank you so much for this. It was especially helpful to read about your feelings of inarticulate rage (before your incredibly articulate expression of the source of that rage). I have been feeling very alone in my constant despair and visceral anger at the way things have been playing out since “Wimpund”.
I live in a small city where the TRA faith has taken over the women’s movement, the arts community and the municipal council. I have so much disgust and alienation to process. Must go reread “The Annals of the TERF-Wars” now. It always gives me a lift.
Thank you for everything you do.
While it remains disgusting in its violent misogyny, I’ll never get over what a ridiculous self-own the ‘STFU, t*rf’ image is since it is obviously a man’s hand holding a gun. As an image, it really encapsulates so much: hiding behind an anime avatar, the threat of violence, and the fact it is obviously a man’s hand.
I absolutely love your thinking and the eloquence with which you distill ideas and information.
You write with such precision and clarity and it’s always an inspirational experience to read.
Wow. This brought tears to my eyes, in part because it echoes so much–sometimes even in the same words!–that I’ve been writing in my journal over the past several months, and I hope there are more of us who’ve reached this point than I’ve realized. It seems as if many men view us as domestic appliances and so are as shocked and outraged when we say no as they would be if their machines rose up against them. That’s also why we’re not allowed anything that might be seen as a weapon, not even self-respect or empathy for our own pain.
As a woman from a working class background, I also tend to see the trans rights movement as part of a larger attempt by privileged groups to hold on to the advantages they get from material exploitation of the oppressed by blurring the line between oppression and marginalization. A gay or trans white man from an upper class background may be marginalized–if less so now in western countries–but not oppressed, because no group is profiting from his marginalization, and he does still benefit from the exploitation of other groups.
So young, white, straight people from privileged backgrounds can now dye their hair funny colors and call themselves genderflakes of some variety to try to disguise their privilege, then present that potential marginalization on account of weirdness as oppression by actual oppressed groups, such as women and the poor/working class. Here in the States, they don’t yet dare claim black people are oppressing them, but they exploit their oppression in the continual recitation of “trans women of color,” which is clearly an attempt to associate the marginalization of trans people with the oppression of black people and see them as equivalent, opposite to the way “middle class white women” is used to erase the oppression of women by linking being female with class and color privilege.
Reading your essay has made for a great beginning to my day. Thank you!
All of this. The blurring of the distinction between the three axes of material oppression – sex, race and class – and discrimination/marginalisation is key to this
Sometimes, as I sit in my room alone and silently scream and think about all the brave women that came before me but my mind hyper-focuses on Emily Wilding Davison and how nice it would be if there were galloping horses nearby to throw myself under to end this misery, I think I might be overreacting. It is good to know the blinding, teeth-numbing, tetanus-inducing rage is shared. Thank you. Thank you very much for your words.
No means no. Women DO NOT consent.
Lefty men: mmmm let’s debate whether that kind of transphobia should be allowed to stand despite its disgusting hatefulness.
This says it all! May I copy to send to others please?
Something that’s been on my mind is that the TRAs haven’t figured out the nature of women’s kindness. We’ll be kind to our children, family and friends, yes, but that kindness doesn’t extend to everyone. If boundaries are pushed or overstepped, then women can and will react like a protective lioness and tear the trespasser to shreds. It also occurs to me that a woman’s anger burns slowly and doesn’t go out. We will remember and we will wait and when the opportunity presents itself, we will unleash our fury.
I’ll be kind to everyone if they treat me with respect. I feel no obligation to be kind to people who are treating me with contempt.
Thanks. I — that is, we — needed this.
Thank you for your honesty and the clarity of your story told with such well-chosen words. I too have been reduced to inarticulate fury by some of the stories I’ve read, the comments I’ve seen since I first encountered transactivism in January (I don’t get out much). Fundamentally ‘nice’ women friends who named me TERF the first time I asked in all innocence how a man, raised as a man, knows what it is to be female. Foolish me, I assumed academics would be rigorously scientific. If I share this as it deserves I might lose work and I’m not quite at that point. Yet. But it’s close.
Ha! And now I see you wrote ‘The Annals of the TERF-Wars’! I owe you yet more thanks for that. It made me LOL (bitterly) at a time when I really, really needed any kind of laugh at all. I shared it and my woke US half-friends called me TERF yet again.
How dare a woman even speak? Men and transgender will speak before women or else. We will verbally and abuse you and than as our history old bastion of male privilege, threaten to rape and kill you. This is what the extreme left supports.
I am sorry. I am listening. I am trying to speak out, but I am trying more to listen. No one needs another male voice. But please know that some males are listening.
Thanks for this. As a left-leaning male I’ve been getting really uncomfortable with the reactions of people that I would normally agree with, ie Owen Jones and Billy Bragg to name two examples. I also have any number of people on the left in my social circles who have jumped upon this issue in support of trans men without seemingly a single thought for all their female allies on the left who are being played out as the villains in all this, and it’s clearly fucking WRONG. I’ve seen women jumped upon for pointing this out and to be honest I’ve held back because I need to read up as much as I can in order to be able to argue back and be sure of getting it right. Not because I’m scared of being called a TERF by any number of men or getting empty threats from them, every one of which is as hollow as their logic, but because I want to be able to defeat their arguments with informed knowledge. This article has given me so many weapons to use now. Thanks again.
Thank you so much Clare! It gave me strength to go on. My activism is online dealing with idiots and question and reading. I think if there was a march I would go. I hope I would. I don’t know what I’d do if I found a trans woman in a washroom I use. I hate the term cis. I hate that we can’t discuss FGM, menstruation, ovarian cancer, cervical cancer without being clubbed with the use inclusive language gaslight. I hate that my government is redefining woman and that trans women are being includes as women in crime statistics and all other statistics. I’m so new to this but I take my hat off to those of you who have been fighting for so long and so well. I hope I will be able to help this moemtn.
Thanks for this. ❤
Thanks. Beautifully written with great clarity.