How British Feminism Became Anti-Trans

From The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/07/opinion/terf-trans-women-britain.html

A surprisingly mainstream movement of feminists known as TERFs oppose transgender rights as a symptom of “female erasure.”

Sophie Lewis
Dr. Lewis is a feminist theorist and geographer.
Feb. 7, 2019

Last week, two British women stormed onto Capitol Hill in Washington for the purposes of ambushing Sarah McBride, the national press secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.

Ms. McBride, a trans woman, had just been part of a meeting between the Parents for Transgender Equality National Council and members of Congress when the Britons — Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, who goes by the name Posie Parker, and Julia Long — barged in. Heckling and misgendering Ms. McBride, the two inveighed against her supposed “hatred of lesbians” and accused her of championing “the rights of men to access women in women’s prison.”

Ms. Parker, who live-streamed footage of the harassment on Facebook, contended that she had come to Washington because “this ideology” — by which she presumably meant simply being trans — “has been imported into the U.K. by America, so, to stem the flow of female erasure, we have to come to its source.”

If the idea that transphobic harassment could be “feminist” bewilders you, you are not alone. In the United States, my adoptive home, the most visible contemporary opponents of transgender rights are right-wing evangelicals, who have little good to say about feminism. In Britain, where I used to live, the situation is different.

There, the most vocal trans-exclusionary voices are, ostensibly, “feminist” ones, and anti-trans lobbying is a mainstream activity. Case in point: Ms. Parker told the podcast “Feminist Current” that she’d changed her thinking on trans women after spending time on Mumsnet, a site where parents exchange tips on toilet training and how to get their children to eat vegetables. If such a place sounds benign, consider the words of British writer Edie Miller: “Mumsnet is to British transphobia,” she wrote “what 4Chan is to American fascism.”

The term coined to identify women like Ms. Parker and Dr. Long is TERF, which stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. In Britain, TERFs are a powerful force. If, in the United States, the mainstream media has been alarmingly ready to hear “both sides” on the question of trans people’s right to exist, in Britain, TERFs have effectively succeeded in framing the question of trans rights entirely around their own concerns: that is, how these rights for others could contribute to “female erasure.” Many prominent figures in British journalism and politics have been TERFs; British TV has made a sport of endlessly hosting their lurid rudeness and styling it as courage; British newspapers seemingly never tire of broadsides against the menace of “gender ideology.” (With time, the term TERF has become a catchall for all anti-trans feminists, radical or not.)

The split between the American and British center-left on this issue was thrown into sharp relief last year, when The Guardian published an editorial on potential changes to a law called the Gender Recognition Act, which would allow people in Britain to self-define their gender. The editorial was headlined “Where Rights Collide,” and argued that “women’s concerns about sharing dormitories or changing rooms with ‘male-bodied’ people must be taken seriously.” Some of The Guardian’s United States-based journalists published a disavowal, arguing that the editorial’s points “echo the position of anti-trans legislators who have pushed overtly transphobic bathroom bills.”

A curious facet of the groundswell of TERFism in Britain is that, in fact, the phenomenon was born in the United States. It emerged out the shattered remnants of the 1960s New Left, a paranoid faction of American 1970s radical feminism that the historian Alice Echols termed “cultural feminism” to distinguish it, and its wounded attachment to the suffering-based femaleness it purports to celebrate, from other strands of women’s liberation.

The movement crossed over to Britain in the 1980s, when cultural feminism was among the lesbian-separatist elements of antinuclear protest groups who saw themselves as part of a “feminist resistance” to patriarchal science, taking a stand against nuclear weapons, test-tube babies and male-to-female transsexual surgery alike.

Continue reading at:  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/07/opinion/terf-trans-women-britain.html

It is revealing, however, where Ms. Parker feels she still has friends: On her same trip to Washington, the woman claiming to be a feminist, standing up for the rights of lesbians everywhere, made sure to drop by the right-wing Heritage Foundation.

 

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