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.