This was first posted on Facebook on 21st January 2021, with support from my Ko-Fi network.
In conversation with a friend on the phone the other night, I noted that even though 70 million Americans voted for Trump, this doesn’t mean he has 70 million supporters. (It’s still a dreadful number, but, even so.)
Donald Trump left the White House just after dawn yesterday for a big military send-off as he and Melanie boarded the plane for Florida (Palm Beach is likely to issue an eviction notice next month reminding the former President no one is allowed to live at his golf club – guests can stay there for a maximum of 21 days a year).
Thus the US tradition of the previous President attending the new President’s inauguration ceremony was broken. The only two Republican representatives of previous administrations to attend were Mike Pence and George W. Bush. (Barack & Michelle Obama, Bill & Hillary Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, all attended Trump’s tiny inauguration in 2016). This is the first time since 1869 a US President has refused to attend his successor’s inauguration: Andrew Johnson, who opposed giving civil rights to former slaves, stayed in the White House during Ulysses S. Grant’s inauguration ceremony (Grant was the Commanding General of the US Army 1864–1869).
Even Mitch McConnell is no longer a Trump supporter: he admitted yesterday on the Senate floor that he knew Trump had provoked the 6th January riot, and has told Republican Senators it’s up to their own conscience if they vote to convict.
In many instances, these are the same people: the Christian Right in the US only moved on to anti-abortion campaigning when segregation/racism began to lose popular appeal in the 1980s, and only moved on to homophobic campaigning when it became clear that many Republican woman voters didn’t find it all that appealling to have a man proclaiming she and her sisters and daughters and granddaughters had no right to decide how many children to have or to terminate a pregnancy that was damaging their health: and only moved on from homophobic campaigning when the Supreme Court declared marriage inequality unconstitutional and many Republican voters realised how many of their fellow citizens were ordinary people who just wanted to get married: but transphobic campaigning, the Christian Right feels, should be good to go for a while, everyone has contempt for trans people, right? Right?
Obviously, the Christian Right is still happy to support racism, anti-choicers, and homophobia: they haven’t lost interest in hating on black people, feminists, gays, lesbians, bisexuals. But what they always look for is a big national campaign they can get EVERYONE on board with, all of the decent people at least.
And for the last few years, that’s been hating on trans people.
Trans-exclusive radical feminists are a relatively small group among feminists – though the acronym TERF has come to be used for “any transphobe”, it does in fact have a specific meaning. A radical feminist believes that patriarchy divides societal rights, privileges, and power primarily along the lines of sex, and as a result, oppresses women and privileges men. Acting on this belief, there have been instances where radical feminist groups have refused to allow any woman with a son to use the childcare at a radical feminist event, because a little baby man is still an agent of the patriarchy. TERFs believe that even though a trans woman experiences sexist discrimination and misogynistic abuse, she is still “male bodied” and thus she (though a TERF would likely insist on “he”) is still supported by the patriarchy, still has male
privilege, still oppresses women.
The reason we need TERF as an identifier, is because not all radical feminists are this silly. Really.
I describe myself sometimes as a lesbian-feminist, sometimes as a socialist feminist – I found the clean stark arguments of radical feminism attractive when I was a teenager but not well-grounded. Yes, men are dicks. (If you’re tempted to comment “Not all men!” please bear in mind that if you’re not a dick, you’re not the problem.) Yes, to a certain extent, in any situation where a man and a woman are in dispute, I’ll always tend to be on the woman’s side on general principles – but not always on specific facts. And I do not agree that women’s bodies are the source of our oppression, nor that men’s bodies are the source of their privilege.
To be clear, while I can point you to two events within months of each other on either side of the Atlantic (Value Voters Summit, October 2017, & Radical Book Fair, June 2018) that I see as the beginning of this new wave of anti-trans activism, I do think it possible that the two waves – the trans-exclusive radical feminists of the UK, the Christian Right in the US – just hit each other and turned into a maelstrom. Funding is likely flowing from groups like Alliance Defending Freedom into anti-trans coffers in the UK – it would be extremely out of character for the Christian Right not to offer money to groups doing their work overseas – and the political activism seems to be running neatly in parallel.
Susan Dalgety, a Scottish anti-trans feminist, wrote a column in the Scotsman wresting the topic of Mother-and-Baby homes in Ireland to the subject of having trans Scots tick the box for their gender, not the sex assigned at birth. (What did the Magdalen Homes have to do with anti-trans activism? Well, the unwed teenage mothers in the Homes were being opporessed by their female bodies, says Dalgety – ignoring the patriarchal forces of Church, State, and Family forcing the pregnant young women into these dreadful Homes.)
You will find more about this anti-trans campaign to make trans people tick the box for the sex assigned at birth, on what British website? The Christian Institute.
Over four years, Donald Trump wrote several executive orders rolling back LGBT rights in the US as far as he could: the one that anti-trans activists, TERFs, in the UK particularly liked, was one that banned trans women from homeless shelters for women, and urged the staff of those shelters to identify a trans woman by personal appearance.
Yesterday, Joe Biden wrote a comprehensive executive order, one of many undoing Trump’s legacy of hate and discrimination: “on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation“.
The policy section is:
“Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love. Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports. Adults should be able to earn a living and pursue a vocation knowing that they will not be fired, demoted, or mistreated because of whom they go home to or because how they dress does not conform to sex-based stereotypes. People should be able to access healthcare and secure a roof over their heads without being subjected to sex discrimination. All persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.”
I am not well enough versed in US procedure to know how effective this executive order will be against local resistance by bigots – but this is the right thing to say: this is the right language to use: this is a statement of policy I am happy to hear.
Who is unhappy about it?
Anti-trans activists. TERFs.
A radical feminist account (bio: Unapologetically a radical feminist, women-only organization: we are biological females who survived. Dedicated to the total liberation of women) called WomensLibFront, RT’d the EO link from The White House:
“The text of Biden’s “Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation” is out. We’ll have a full legal analysis & action soon. In short, this is a disaster for women and girls in the US.”
The argument is that if cisgender women and girls are required to accept transgender women and girls this is a “disaster” because, radical feminism argues, a trans woman or girl is “male-bodied” and as male bodies are tools of the patriarchy and oppress women, it follows that trans women oppress cis women.
M. K. Fain (bio: Feminist tech for a more free and open future. Founder of spinster_xyz (A women-first social media platform. We don’t ban feminists) and 4WPub (A publication for the next generation of feminist writing)) picked up on this American tweet, about quarter past three this morning, and QT’d it:
“Biden just passed all the worst parts of the Equality Act without going through any legislation at all. Women and girls in the US just lost single-sex spaces, sports, all of it…”
The “worst parts of the Equality Act” are those that, the Christian Right and TERFs agree, ban discrimination against trans people.
The only two references in sport in Biden’s executive order were in the section on policy, where he explicitly mentions that children at school should not have to worry about being excluded from sport, and in the paragraph following, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Title IX “gives women athletes the right to equal opportunity in sports in educational institutions that receive federal funds, from elementary schools to colleges and universities.”
What this will in practice mean for a trans girl who wants to join the netball team or a trans boy who wants to be a wrestler, is impossible to predict: but the faux-horror of anti-trans activists at having trans athletes at school or at college being able to argue for equality, is down to two factors: first, the sexist belief that men are always going to excel over women in sport, so that if a man wants to take part in a sport with women (and they argue that trans women are men) this means the man will always beat the women.
This is genuinely an issue that competitive sports governing bodies find very complicated to deal with, based firmly on a smidgeon of actual real world differences, and a large scoop of their own generally sexist ideas about what women should be capable of versus what men should be capable of. (See Caster Semenya, who faced a ton of discrimination for being a woman who can run very, very fast.)
If sport/athletics at school is about staying active and healthy and fit and having fun, which is certainly feels like it should be, then the idea of excluding a trans girl from girls sports or a trans boy from boys’ sports is just discrimination. Howling that girls won’t want to undress in front of a BOY in the CHANGING ROOM is pretty nearly pure bigotry: under a certain age girls and boys genuinely don’t care, and once they get to a certain age girls (I can’t speak for boys) don’t want to undress in front of ANYBODY, and honestly, just do cubicles.
Sorry, I’m running on.
Abigail Shrier, the author of a book published last year Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters tweeted
“On day 1, Biden unilaterally eviscerates women’s sports. Any educational institution that receives federal funding must admit biologically-male athletes to women’s teams, women’s scholarships, etc. A new glass ceiling was just placed over girls.”
Abigail Shrier believes that most trans kids aren’t really trans. She associates being transgender with autism (no idea why and don’t want to read her book to find out) and claims that the proper thing to do if your child tells you they’re trans, is withhold “gender-affirming care” – that is, if your child says “I want you to call me Heather, use she and her about me”, instead insist on calling your child Colin and using he and him, and so on. (This is the principle of conversion therapy, and psychologists who have bought into the idea that conversion therapy can make a trans kid cisgender have done and advocated far worse things to children.)
Nonetheless, Abigail Shrier asserts today, if a trans girl is going to school as a girl, supported by her parents and the school, that girl ought to be banned from school sports, because that would be unfair to the cis girls. Since obviously, thinks Shrier, that trans girl, being a really boy, will be better than all the girls at sportsing.
Hadley Freeman, Guardian columnist, obviously WANTED to be happy that Trump was gone, but she too retweeted Abigail Shrier’s tweet, crying “this is terrible”.
All over the UK, anti-trans activists are joining white supremacists and the Christian Right in lamenting that Joe Biden is President now, and has swept away all those good things Donald Trump did “for women” by actively discriminating against trans people.
Bizarre? Disconcerting? Yes. But let’s at least be clear they’re showing us who they are.