“This unholy alliance”

Writing for Vox, Katelyn Burns describes how a primarily English anti-trans lobby is fuelling anti-LGBT+ sentiment and anti-women legislation here and in the US. There’s a long MetaFilter thread about it here.

It’s a long read but a worthwhile one.

TERF ideology has become the de facto face of feminism in the UK, helped along by media leadership from Rupert Murdoch and the Times of London. Any vague opposition to gender-critical thought in the UK brings along accusations of “silencing women” and a splashy feature or op-ed in a British national newspaper. Australian radical feminist Sheila Jeffreys went before the UK Parliament in March 2018 and declared that trans women are “parasites,” language that sounds an awful lot like Trump speaking about immigrants.

According to Heron Greenesmith, who studies the modern gender-critical movement as a senior research associate with the social justice think tank Political Research Associates, gender-critical feminism in the UK grew out of a toxic mix of historical imperialism and the influence of the broader UK skeptical movement in the early aughts — which was hyper-focused on debunking “junk science” and any idea that considered sociological and historical influence and not just biology. Those who rose to prominence in the movement did so through a lot of “non-tolerant calling-out and attacking people,” Greenesmith said, much like gender-critical feminism. “Anti-trans feminists think they have science on their side. It is bananas how ascientific their rhetoric is, and yet literally they say, ‘Biology isn’t bigotry.’ In fact, biology has been used as bigotry as long as biology has been a thing.” (See scientific racism, eugenics, and the justification for slavery that black people were intellectually inferior to white people.)

Many of the women in the skeptic movement blogged for Mumsnet, whose feminism discussion board has become a cesspool of anti-trans hatred and whose owners and moderators seem quite happy about that. A former moderator wrote in Huck Magazine, in 2018:

Mumsnet has become a breeding ground for transphobic voices; a space where they can laugh about sabotaging an NHS surveyaimed at LGBTQ+ users and scorn trans participation in sport, or ponder that trans rights are a millennial issue. On Twitter, where transphobia has less of a platform, ‘Gender Critical’ users began to recommend Mumsnet as a safe space for cis women to openly attack the trans community.

Twitter has since become much more of a safe space for transphobes, but even it draws the line sometimes and bans some of the most abusive users. More of that in a moment.

Burns is particularly good on the links between English women building personal brands on the  back of transphobia and the US religious right. She describes the links between the most prominent English transphobes – including some high profile journalists – and US evangelical groups, and notes the way in which the work of transphobic English academics is used by evangelical front groups to advance anti-LGBT+ and anti-women legislation.

One of the key differences between England and the US here is race. In the US, “White Feminism” – feminism that centres on white, often heterosexual, often middle-class women to the exclusion of other women – has largely been shown the door. So when people come along demanding the exclusion of a particular group women, in this case trans women, feminists can see history trying to repeat.

the recent gender-critical wave has largely failed to gain traction in the US outside of the very far-right spheres. “I don’t think American women are buying it,” she said, pointing out that nearly every major US feminist advocacy group is vocally pro-trans rights and inclusion. “It’s because they understand what it means to be marginalized. They understand that any strict rules placed around gender are to the benefit of nobody.”

Self-declared feminists with transphobic views were previously described as TERFs, which is short for trans-exclusionary radical feminists. Some women claim that the term was coined by trans people (it wasn’t; it was coined by feminists), that it’s a slur (it isn’t; it describes a very specific set of views among people who describe themselves as radical feminists) and that the term is misogynist (it isn’t; a significant number of TERFs are straight, cisgender white men with very unfeminist views who nevertheless claim to be feminists so they can be abusive to trans women).

We’re in “the real racism is calling the racists racists” territory here.

People who previously proudly identified as TERFs now describe themselves as “gender critical”. Burns quotes Gillian Branstetter of the National Center for Transgender Equality:

Branstetter compares the deployment of so-called feminists to oppose trans rights to the white nationalist movement rebranding themselves as the “alt-right” to achieve a veneer of respectability.

“It’s portraying it as this divide within the progressive movement or this divide within the LGBTQ community that only serves to benefit people who hate women and the LGBTQ community, including Heritage, the FRC [Family Research Council], and the ADF. Certainly, we should not be shocked that they’re desperate to sort of put up decoys — I just can’t imagine how you can walk through the doors of the Heritage Foundation as a heralded guest and continue to call yourself an advocate for women’s equality.”

The comparison to the alt-right is important, because there are significant links between the anti-trans movement and the far right. Some of the anti-trans activists detailed in the Vox piece are loud supporters of Tommy Robinson and spout anti-immigration rhetoric; others have formed alliances with right-wing politicians or have right-wing publications on speed dial. Some even dig up old tropes of “scientific racism” but aim their pseudoscience at trans people rather than people of colour.

Whether intentionally or accidentally, they’re playing with fire. Across the world, right-wing politicians rail against so-called “gender ideology” which to anti-trans activists means trans rights but to the right, often means feminism and women’s reproductive rights too.

The far right sees anti-trans activists not just as allies, but as potential recruits. Neo-Nazis on message boards (including the boards where “incels” discuss their hatred of women) talk openly of their intention to “redpill” (reeducate) anti-trans women to make them “tradwives”, which the NYT describes as “the housewives of white supremacy”. They believe that these women’s ideologies are already very close to their own.

Over the past few years, dozens of YouTube and social media accounts have sprung up showcasing soft-spoken young white women who extol the virtues of staying at home, submitting to male leadership and bearing lots of children — being “traditional wives.” These accounts pepper their messages with scrapbook-style collections of 1950s advertising images showing glamorous mothers in lipstick and heels with happy families and beautiful, opulent homes. They give their videos titles like “Female Nature and Advice for Young Ladies,” “How I Homeschool” and “You Might be a Millennial Housewife If….”

But running alongside what could be mistaken for a peculiar style of mommy-vlogging is a virulent strain of white nationalism.

As if to illustrate the point, just last month many of the “gender critical” people finally banned from Twitter for sustained abuse and harassment of trans women found a new home.

Gab, the social network for neo-Nazis.