Former TERFs and SWERFs are Fleeing The “Cult” Movements Known For Being Terrible and Wrong

When I saw Amy Dyess’ avatar pop up as the accompanying image to a link shared on our office Slack channel, I steadied myself for whatever insidiously trans misogynistic post had recently attracted our writers’ attention. The story I clicked on, however, was not the story I expected.

The piece wasn’t by her. It was about her. Speaking to PinkNews, Dyess, who wrote a viral medium post in 2018 explaining why “TERF is a slur used to sexually harass, threaten and silence lesbians” and was formerly a regular contributor to a website that rhymes with Crafter Felon, revealed that she’s left the “Gender Critical” movement she once embraced. “Looking back on her time in the “gender critical” feminist movement,” writes PinkNews’ Vic Parsons, “[Amy] is unequivocal: it’s a cult.”

The Pink News feature offers an unprecedented — but definitely not surprising — look behind the curtain of this truly unfortunate group of human beings who all need hobbies. The core beliefs of “Gender Critical” lesbians include that “lesbian” means “an assigned female at birth woman who is attracted exclusively to AFAB people with vaginas”; that trans women with penises are not only interested in having sex with cis lesbians, but are calling them transphobic for not being attracted to them; that trans people are hijacking the gay rights movement; that trans men are just butch lesbians with internalized misogyny; that trans people run the media and that gender non-conforming children are forced into physical transition by the “trans cult.”

In the piece, Dyess details how she got wrapped up in the “international network of powerful lesbians” while in a mentally “vulnerable state,” having just lost her job and made to live in her car. “They wanted you to be unstable. That’s something I noticed,” she told PinkNews. “The more stabilised I got, the less they could control me. And they try to control you.”

In a piece on medium that came out shortly after the publication of Dyess’ interview, another former member of an overlapping activist group, writing as Kelly Lawrence, posted about her experience in the SWERF movement as a former sex worker. After reading Dyess’s piece, she writes, it “hit home to me how similar my own experience was, and how insidious the tactics of these people really are.” These groups are often one and the same or overlapping — generally trans-exclusionary radical feminists are also vehemently opposed to sex work as well as BDSM and kink. Like Dyess, she felt her trauma was exploited and her stories were manipulated to fit into a pre-conceived agenda and, eventually, to psychologically control and gaslight her.

Our website generally and our trans women writers specifically have been subject to extensive harassment from this group, as have other publications and journalists who dared to acknowledge that trans women are women and a part of our community. Every few days we get another rush of twitter users calling us homophobic for publishing an article about how to have lesbian sex with a trans woman two years ago. They sometimes object to its actual content, but more often they’ll lie about what the piece actually says and then proceed to argue against an argument nobody ever made. Or they’ll re-circulate the same handful of genuinely troubling tweets from trans-inclusive social media users for years as representative of an entire movement. It’s frustrating not just because we have different ethics, but because their arguments are so profoundly incorrect and so easily deconstructed.

On that tip, Dyess also addresses the blatant hypocrisy that is central to their ideology, specifically as it related to her experiences of sexual and emotional abuse within lesbian relationships, which were shut down because they didn’t fit with the agenda. “They cover for abusive women, right and left, no matter what it is.” Dyess recounts. “When I talked about [abuse] to any GC feminist they would downplay it and say ‘Well, it’s not as bad as with men’ or ‘We want to focus on men’… It’s like women can do no wrong.”

In addition to taking up excessive space in LGBTQ and feminist communities with their demands, both Lawrence and Dyess express reservations about these groups aligning themselves with some aspects of far-right groups and agendas, which includes ideas born out of the tradition of “colonialism and empire.” The interchange between far-right groups and TERFs/SWERFs has been a consistent issue since the anti-pornography movement of the ’80s and continues aplenty today. Dyess recalls seeing the woman who’d brought her into the movement in 2018 “shift progressively more right, politically.” Lawrence: “It is widely accepted that the support of the religious right — often made up of cult-like movements itself — is necessary to achieve the ultimate aim of abolishing the sex industry.”

As predicted by both women and typical of cults, the movement’s response to their departure has been vilification and harassment.

It’s been terrifying to watch this movement gain followers in recent years. Mainstream media, often ignorant or dismissive of LGBTQ issues, has given them platforms as a sub-group of our community rather than as the extremists they truly are.  Brands and celebrities have continued associating themselves with publications who deliver their hateful rhetoric. Although I can’t speak to what these former TERF/SWERF writers owe the communities they once passionately vilified, it’s promising to see these accounts published. Having witnessed the unhinged, illogical and anti-intellectual vitriol of this group for so long, I can only hope that this is just the beginning of a mass reckoning and exodus.

Riese is the 38-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2843 articles for us.

34 Comments

  1. I’ve seen screen caps on tumblr where a few Terfs have become members of the white power movement because feminism failed to protect them as bisexual women. I’ve also seen pro-life lesbians reblogging posts from the Christian right, & harassing butches for how they look at trans men for being too butch. Hell, I was once a profile of a trans dude who also said he was a proud Terf. I these terfs realize they are also hurting themselves too.

    • Back before I left the other site which shall not be named, I got into a big argument with a self described “masculine of center, gender queer, lesbian” who told me my girlfriend was damaging lesbians everywhere by having the audacity to have sex with a penis and still call herself a lesbian. The fact my girlfriend is asexual didn’t seem to change anything.

  2. I keep on begging people who are famous that still follow After Ellen to unfollow that vile site. Some have but other’s either don’t see my tweets or don’t care. It’s so disheartening. Thanks for this article.

  3. There is definitely some lessons here. Cultish behavior does not require religion (though I confess that makes it easier) only an enemy and people willing to put hatred first. You see it with escaped white supremacists too.

    And putting hatred first seems to go all directions. Lesbians willingly identifying with right wing groups to stamp out LGBTQ+ education because it benefits their hated targets even as it hurts them. That’s what this does to people. And anti-women groups side with lesbians, though granted they get everything they want.

    Fight the real enemy. See bigots for what they are, not what identity they cloak themselves in.

  4. the TERF movement is really prominent in Britain and it is exhausting to see major newspapers spreading their transphobic bs

    I wish I could feel vindicated by this article calling them a cult but people have been saying this for years and I’m so tired of fighting them

  5. One of the reasons I’m proud to financially support Autostraddle is it’s trans-inclusive content, politics and perspective. Thank you for this article and for all you’re doing to expose this very destructive group of people who ally themselves with the worst anti-queer forces.

  6. Every time I come across a new feminist, specifically lesbian, or more general LGBTQ website, I always lurk for a while until I see where they stand on transgender rights as a defense mechanism. I did this with Autostraddle when I first found the site years ago. I’m glad this is one of the sites where I’ve been able to stay. :)

  7. As someone who recently turned her back on the GC camp I absolutely agree.

    I feel stupid now for saying this, but there was a time when I actually bought into the whole story that gnc kids were being pressured into transitioning. I guess it doesn’t help that so many mainstream media articles on trans children start their stories with “child soandso never liked *insert toys/colours/clothes associated with their assigned gender*…”. The message I took from this was “people think that being gnc really means a child has to be trans”, so I got the impression that “the trans movement” was really just cementing gender stereotypes. Add to this reading about “the cottong ceiling” and screenshots of horrible posts on terfisaslur.com and bingo, you had the mix that caused me to gravitate towards the GC growd. They seemed more reasonable to me than radfems. “Here I’ll find people open for debate and discussions and thorough analysis free from ideology” I thought.

    Well, I was wrong.

    And, after a while, two things happened:

    1. I started reading more and more stuff by actual trans people and realized that, although there’s also some disagreement among trans people on various issues, a lot of the things I thought were just plain wrong.

    (On the whole “cottong ceiling issue”: Apparently there are some trans people who will attack you for having personal boundaries when it comes to certain body aspects(which I think is absolutely not okay) but most seem to agree that people should just have sex with people they feel physically comfortable with.)

    2. I started to realize that GC people really aren’t much different from radfems. Everything is only black and white, if you disagree you’ve bought into “trans ideology”, trans women are all predators…. It’s just horrible.

    So yeah, that was that for me.

    Basically, all I wanna do now is support trans and non-binary people as good as I can and keep learning. While there’s still some stuff I can’t really get my head around (the whole “a penis is a female genital” thing for instance just doesn’t make sense to me yet logically) I don’t let it bother me too much. I think it’s possible to maybe disagree on some things but agree on the one big thing, which is: Everyone should have the freedom to be 100% themselves, be respected for who they are, to thrive and live their best possible life. And I’ll do whatever I can to make this world a good world for trans people.

    • I get that is a nuanced issue. When talking about sex I think any conversation should start with: Never have sex when you’re not comfortable with the idea of having sex with that person. Regardless of reason. Your reasons are your own. As a trans woman who is a lesbian, I had a penis for most of my life and yeah that was a burden for me that I hated, but I think it is important for me (for any person really) to acknowledge that some people might not be comfortable with having sex with a penis. That’s just life. Not considering all people in the gender (or genders) you’re attracted as potential sex partners is important. We shouldn’t pressure people. Not everyone is attracted to you. Would anyone even want that? That everyone was? That would be super uncomfortable.

      Anyways what bothered me wasn’t when people said I could never sleep with someone who had a penis, that felt like a natural part of sexuality. What bothered me was when someone said they could never date a trans woman (even though they were attracted to women). Because to me that has to be the result of stereotyping trans women as being all a certain way. We’re incredibly different. Some of us have penises, some don’t. Some look super femme and some very butch and many like me fall somewhere in the middle.

      As for this stereotype that gnc people are pressured to transition it always bothered me. If I were a cis girl I would’ve been a tomboy for sure, liking sports, playing with “boys'” toys etc. But not one single person would’ve suggested transitioning because that wasn’t even on people’s radar in a small town in sweden during the 90s and early 00s. Today my interests have evolved to be some kind of mesh of what people think is male and female (even though they’re not really). I dress extremely androgynous with no make up and tank tops and jeans being my most used outfit. That’s another stereotype btw that trans women are all hyperfeminine that preserves gender roles. One of the single most important things they pressed to me when I sought medical help for wanting to transition was to separate gender identity from the way we dress, from our sexuality, from what hobbies we have. We have to do that to know that transition isn’t just about dressing differently or wanting different interests. Back in the early 00s when I was around 10, an older trans woman transitioned and she told me that in order to transition she’d have to be very feminine and be attracted to men. I told her in turn when I started transition back in 2015 I told them right away that I was attracted to women, not men, and they were like okay. No big deal. So times are changing.

      • I totally get what you mean. And I want to add that I make a very clear distinction between having personal boundaries concerning other people’s bodies that would make sex for you uncomfortable and dismissing all trans women or all trans men as potential partners by making blanket statements. And, for the record, I also think that sexual attraction can be a very complex thing and that, maybe, there’s some grey area where people might be able to enjoy a greater variety of things than what they think. But, in the end, if something makes a person uncomfortable it’s a boundary that needs to be respected, period.

        I really hope that mainstream media will start presenting a wider range of what trans people look like, how they dress etc. I keep reading stories about people “who finally felt like themselves dressing like a woman” and I can’t help rolling my eyes at that. What does a woman dress like? I just want better representation of all genders, regardless whether they are cis or trans. There are feminine cis women and there are masculine/tomboy/butch cis women. And there are feminine trans women and masculine/tomboy/butch trans women and it doesn’t make them any less of a woman. Same thing goes for men, cis and trans, and femininity.

        But yeah, like you said, times are changing :)

        • Yeah I agree with you. One should explore such things on one’s terms and people shouldn’t pressure people regarding sex, no matter the subject. I wouldn’t be comfortable have sex with someone who I thought was uncomfortable, no matter the reason. That takes precedent over anything. Sex is all about consent and that’s what matter the most.

          Yeah, I mean there are so many different kinds of trans experiences just now coming to light, so it’s exciting, but also scary because visibility increases tolerance and understanding but also hate and violence. I live in Sweden so my country is pretty progressive, but I also get harassed for being visibly trans. I usually call myself lazy femme but more accurately something like futch. So many trans women I know are lesbians and aren’t really femme.

  8. I’m glad these people are escaping a cultish movement but this leaves me with more questions than answers.

    Who is this international network of powerful lesbians? Where do they get their money? Am I wrong for wanting these people to do a little more to expose their former bigoted comrades with names and receipts?

    • I, too, would like to know more about this Lesbian Illuminati, specifically so I can date them, have hate-sex with them, marry and then divorce them, taking half their money with me and donating it to trans-affirming organizations. (I am a Scorpio so none of this is really far-fetched.)

      • Dyess has said elsewhere that the “powerful network” was Pink News using a bit of colorful language, but, specifically, it was Julie Bindel who was the major player in trying to get Dyess to the UK.

  9. I was watching this video yesterday on “how to radicalize a normie”, showing a way that people get more and more sucked in this alt-right/neo-nazi online community. They used the term “autogynephylia”, which I was not familiar with but I did some google snooping and found the disturbing roots of that word.

    It’s so crazy to me that lesbian women want to allign themselves with a man that thinks homosexuality should be classified as a mental disorder again! How does this work? How much mental gymnastics does it take to ignore that the people you work with hate a key part of who you are?

    (It’s almost as weird as seeing the alt-right using the “red pill” analogy from The Matrix, films made by two trans women.)

    Anyway: I’m happy people are escaping the hate. I’m all for second chances, for people who want to change.

    Here’s the video btw: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P55t6eryY3g.

    • Honestly, I have given up on trying to understand or reason with TERFs. I’ve called them out on regurgitating MRA bullshit and their response was basically “what about it?”. TERFS have been getting cosy with the reactionary right and MRA for a while, while hailing Glinner as their god and saviour. I can only hope their hate and obsession against trans people collapses in on itself.

      • I just googled that guy Glinner and omg what a fucking idiot! Didn’t know him by name. Reminded me once again why I avoid twitter.

        The whole MRA/TERF/ alt-right thing is a mess and I second you in hoping it will collaps.

        I’m just happy I searched for him in incognito mode because yesterday I found some suspicious (right wing?) recs on YT. Just from one search! i definitely do not want more from this guy on my screen.

  10. I appreciate this article very much. My only issue is that I had to google all the acronyms. When I include an acronym, i also include its definition. Other than that, Bravo!

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