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TERF War

Photo credit:  Brooklyn Fowler

By Brooklyn Fowler, MA Student

February 07, 2019

In December of 2018 Twitter updated its Terms of Service.  The update included protections for the very first time for Trans users who have had to accept constant threats and dehumanization as an inextricable part of the Twitter experience.  Under the updated TOS, users are now able to report conduct including deliberately using incorrect names and gender pronouns as forms of targeted harassment.  In the short time since its implementation, it has already provided a welcome reduction in the daily onslaught of hate experienced by Two-Spirit, Trans, and Non-Binary users.

At the same time, this meant a radical change in the ability of professional anti-Trans activists’ to continue to use Twitter as a platform for turning a profit from harassing Trans people.  In this post I will deliberately not make use of the names of any of these bigots for the sake of re-focusing Trans discourse away from those who think we ought not to exist.  The discourse is far better served by turning our focus instead to the multiplicity of local Trans activists, healers, academics, writers, creators, etc.

Of these anti-Trans profiteer’s, one local  twitter account had been so narrow in its focus as to be permanently removed from Twitter for excessive TOS violations.  While its operator’s business account remains active, nearly all of its historical content has been removed for directing targeted hate and harassment at Trans people.  This gave lie to the assertion that the account served as a voice for Canadian feminists.  If virtually all content had to be scrubbed in order to be in compliance with Canadian law and Twitter’s TOS, clearly its mandate was predominantly unconcerned with feminist struggles, opting instead to harass women including Trans women.  

What has become a standard script of outrage predictably ensued including cries of censorship despite the reality that the account’s operator’s rights to speak her hateful opinions hadn’t been impinged in the slightest, only her ability to harass individuals and groups and to profit from that via Twitter.

In the subsequent fallout, the account’s former operator chose to host a public forum to regain her position of power over our communities (leaving aside the flashes to classic abuser mentalities implicit in that thought process).  She booked the main event space at the Vancouver Public Library’s Central Branch for an event she called “Gender Identity Ideology and Women’s Rights.” 

The event, and particularly the Vancouver Public Library’s decision to host it, has evoked a great deal of community grief and reflection.   As an academic, I have been caught up in my own reflections on the innate fallacy of the event’s title, and the hateful ideology of its creator.  I am grateful for this forum to share those reflections.

The intended meaning of “gender identity ideology” to the event’s organizer is to nod to what she sees as essentially a pathology in those who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.  The deep irony of this is, of course, that Trans people were by no means the group who decided that, of all physiological human traits, that genital formation ought to be a key way in which we differentiate one group of humans from another.  This categorization of humans into two allegedly dimorphic sexes has allowed for millennia of arbitrary ascription of supposedly innate characteristics, qualities, and capabilities onto each category, ultimately leading the hierarchical ranking of these categories which is the foundation of patriarchy.  This is the very root of women’s historical oppression; the erroneous belief that possessing a body classified as female has any correlation to our agency.

Yet one sect of self-identified feminists has embraced with fervor this patriarchal system of hierarchical binaristic classification.  With their many necessary logical contortions and misnomers, they often describe their ideology as “gender critical,” while simultaneously defining the term as meaning ‘the wholesale, uncritical acceptance of the gender binary system which exists to allow for patriarchy.’  In reality, to be gender critical means to critique the classical fundamentals of gendered ideology and its patriarchal roots in the binary sex classification system.  Which is the essence of what Transness is. 

At its core, Transness and gender transgression refuse ideologies which ascribe characteristics and agency based on body parts, thus destabilizing the supposed naturalness and infallibility of the hierarchical gender binary.  It is therefore, rarely surprising when those on the extreme right wing of the political spectrum assail Two-Spirit, Trans, and Non-Binary folks, given the threat our existence poses to the flimsy foundations of patriarchal ideology.  It is however, consistently shocking when those who insist on self-identifying as feminists fight to such extremes to maintain the hierarchical stratification of groups of people at the expense of women’s safety.


In the weeks since the “Gender Identity Ideology and Women’s Rights” event was held at the Vancouver Public Library, there has been much to reflect on about the safety and inclusion of Trans people in the Vancouver area, and particularly at our local library.  Colleagues working in local human rights organizations have reported a spike in serious mental health concerns and increased feelings of isolation from Two-Spirit, Trans, and Non-Binary clients.  2STGV patrons are in many cases having to find alternatives to our former library safe havens.  Meanwhile, the VPL has yet to offer Trans patrons anything that resembles clarity on our safety and inclusion at our local libraries.

 

**To follow Brooklyn’s writing on this and other topics, please follow their blog at www.hopeandanecterine.com