I know I’ve posted a lot of long pieces about trans-related issues lately, but if you only read one of them then perhaps it should be this one by Laurie Penny: TERF Wars: Why Transphobia Has no Place in Feminism. It’s an attempt to explain why the UK is unusually intolerant of trans people right now, and how perfectly nice people can be, and continue to be, radicalised against trans women.
Britain is the epicenter of a strange, savage, and specific cultural backlash against trans rights. That backlash is doing real harm to people whose lives should not be up for debate. Its proponents have recruited a great many decent, well-intentioned people to their cause through subterfuge and scaremongering — including mainstream media figures and celebrities like Rowling.
In the past half-decade, British transphobes have done everything in their power to convince the public that trans women are a sexual threat to women and girls… After years of relentless campaigning and strategically seeding stories into the press, they have managed to convince a significant chunk of the population that trans people are an active threat to women and children.
How did they do that? As Penny describes it, some progressive people were uncomfortable with the sudden visibility of trans people.
This was new territory, and not everyone who made comments like this was being rude and cruel on purpose, but the internet reacted as the internet is wont to do, particularly the parts of the internet full of angry left-wing queers in their teens and early twenties. In turn, establishment liberals reacted to that as establishment liberals are wont to do when called out by angry young lefties. Instead of listening, they got defensive and doubled down and…. well, you can guess what happened next. What happened is that the whole cycle repeated itself with increasing frenzy for about a decade.
And that was weaponised by people Penny calls “swivel-eyed zealots”.
In the discomfort of media liberals and the fervor of young trans activists, these essentialist feminists saw an opening. They reached out to cis women in the media who were sick of getting called transphobes by trans people online, offering sanctuary. They made in-roads with a number of prominent men who, while they had little interest in women’s rights, were only too happy to leap into the free-speech wars and kick down at some trans women with the smug, sadistic sophistry that is the birthright of a certain sort of centrist intellectual. They also made connections with other “‘gender critical” groups that were growing in number online — women who had no stake in the relentlessly incestuous liberal media drama, but who were panicked by the number of young people they saw coming out as trans and wanted what so many of us seem to want in these febrile times: a safe place to be prejudiced. Transphobic conspiracy theories were seeded among communities deemed most receptive- including mothers of young children, which is how parenting website mumsnet.com briefly became the nation’s most torrid hotbed of anti-trans recruitment.
I’ve spoken to cis women involved in that side of the debate who have lost everything that mattered to them over years of austerity, cuts to services and welfare, who have been ground down by male violence and are now being told by people with an agenda that men in dresses are coming to take the last safe spaces they had. They are hearing, again and again, that trans people are coming to corrupt their children and convert their daughters to deviance — but if they sign up to an ideology that portrays trans women as “poison” (as transphobic feminist Shelia Jeffreys recently declared in the House of Commons), they can fight back.
Please do read the whole thing.