The New Yorker’s Skewed History of Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism Ignores Actual Trans Women

Media coverage of transgender issues has increased rapidly in the last few years as trans people have made larger and louder pushes for relatively basic rights and recognition. Unfortunately, as ground is gained in the fight for trans acceptance, the opposition to that progress only grows more louder and more aggressive. This is visible in Michelle Goldberg’s latest piece for The New Yorker, which investigates the conflict between trans-exclusionary radical feminists and the transgender population. Sadly, what she presents is a disturbingly one-sided view of the situation that relies on heavily anecdotal evidence, uncited claims and debunked theories, and ignores the extended campaign of harassment and attack that the the trans community has endured at the hands of radical feminists.

Let’s start with the numbers. In the piece, Goldberg mentions the names of 14 radical feminist activists (frequently providing physical descriptions), and provides quotes from nine of them — including two from books penned by radfems. In contrast, she mentions and quotes a total of four trans women (zero from books), and two of them are quoted to supporting the radical feminist position. The problem isn’t necessarily that Goldberg appears to side with the radical feminist viewpoint; that’s perfectly within her rights, and perfectly within The New Yorker’s right to print it. The real issue is that Ms Goldberg gives the impression that she’s covering the conflict between the trans rights movement and radical feminism — after all, the piece is subtitled “The dispute between radical feminism and transgenderism” — but gives only passing lip service to the transgender community’s side of this situation. In failing to provide a semblance of balance to the voices in the piece, this account becomes hopelessly skewed, and becomes little more than a radical feminist propaganda piece.

Early on in her essay, Goldberg presents an extremely simplified and stereotyped view of trans women’s identities. She writes: “Trans women say that they are women because they feel female — that, as some put it, they have women’s brains in men’s bodies.” First, considering that the length of the article discusses trans people (and focuses heavily on trans women), to reduce the explanation of their complex experiences to three words — “they feel female” — is offensively reductionist. While such a passing nod to trans experiences might be not be out of place in a more LGBTQ-geared publication, in a more general consumption magazine, like The New Yorker, a few more lines could have been devoted to fleshing out this explanation for the benefit of readers not familiar with trans issues. In contrast, Ms Goldberg spends the rest of that paragraph and half of the next explaining the radical feminist view on being transgender. She explains “They believe that if women think and act differently from men it’s because society forces them to, requiring them to be sexually attractive, nurturing, and deferential. In the words of Lierre Keith, a speaker at Radfems Respond, femininity is ‘ritualized submission.’ In this view, gender is less an identity than a caste position.” She also borrows heavily from the radical feminist playbook and conflates the sociological concept of gender with the concept of gender identity, quoting and reinforcing the tired trope that identifying as a trans woman is about embracing stereotypical femininity. Of course, the radical feminist position that masculinity is natural and healthy, and femininity artificial and harmful, is also inherently sexist, a topic to which trans writer Julia Serano devotes an entire book. We’ll get back to Julia in a minute.

Ms. Goldberg spends the bulk of the piece describing how trans activists and trans allies have interfered with the ability of radical feminists to meet. The tone of Goldberg’s writing gives the impression that the trans activists are simply bullies, trying their best to interfere with people who want nothing more than to discuss their views. She cements this view by giving anecdotal examples of unnamed individuals on the internet making violent threats. She writes: “Abusive posts proliferated on Twitter and, especially, Tumblr. One read, ‘/kill/terfs 2K14.’ Another suggested, ‘how about ‘slowly and horrendously murder terfs in saw-like torture machines and contraptions’ 2K14.’ A young blogger holding a knife posted a selfie with the caption ‘Fetch me a terf.’ Such threats have become so common that radical-feminist Web sites have taken to cataloguing them.” While trying to explain this outpouring of aggression, she quotes radfem Lierre Keith: “It’s aggrieved entitlement,” Lierre Keith told me. “They are so angry that we will not see them as women.” What’s entirely missing from Ms Goldberg’s analysis is any mention of the great lengths that radical feminists have gone to in order to deny the rights of trans people and harass trans activists.

As Cristan Williams explains in this 2013 piece, the uproar from radical feminists was instrumental in the major setbacks for trans healthcare in the 1980s. Cristan explains:

“[Janice] Raymond asserted that trans medical care was a new and unethical phenomenon, and that legislation should block trans medical care and instead institute a national program of reparative therapy. It was only after the NCHCT pushed Raymond’s bigotry in 1980 that the government reversed course in 1981 and took up Raymond’s views and rhetoric. Raymond’s bigotry became the government’s stance. This official anti-trans policy soon spread to private insurers, and the American trans population soon found itself without access to medically necessary health care.”

More recently, radical feminists Cathy Brennan and Elizabeth Hungerford penned a letter to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women in 2011, addressing what they held were new US laws that endangered women’s safety — laws protecting trans people from discrimination. The letter goes on at great length about how adopting policies protecting trans women “present the potential for a human rights violation against all females.” The submission was made at the last moment of the comment period, denying trans advocates any opportunity to respond.



Beyond their work to influence policy in a manner that harms the trans community, trans-exclusionary radical feminists have engaged (and still do) in numerous campaigns of personal harassment against trans women, particularly vocal trans activists. The previously mentioned Cathy Brennan is thought to be connected to some of the ugliest of the harassment. They also engage in systematic harassment of trans women and trans allies on twitter, most by repeating their same tired rhetoric: “trans women are men” and “penis is male”. They also engaged in an extended harassment campaign targeting Against Me! singer and trans woman Laura Jane Grace. Earlier this year, Tina Vasquez penned a lengthy piece on for Bitch Magazine running down dozens of examples of harassment perpetrated by radical feminists against both trans activists and trans allies, including herself.


In a moment reminiscent of conservatives parading around of “ex-gays,” Goldberg then presents a single “de-transitioned” person, Heath Atom Russell — a woman who had previously lived as a trans man, and had returned to living as woman. Ms Russell says that she was swayed by the writings of radical feminist Sheila Jeffreys to return to living as a woman: “At first, the book infuriated Russell, but she couldn’t let go of the questions that it raised about her own identity. She had been having heart palpitations, which made her uneasy about the hormones she was taking. Nor did she ever fully believe herself to be male.” This single individual, along with an example of transition “regret,” are supposed to undermine the entire concept of being trans. Goldberg quotes Jeffreys: “The phenomenon of regret undermines the idea that there exists a particular kind of person who is genuinely and essentially transgender and can be identified accurately by psychiatrists. It is radically destabilising to the transgender project.” What’s missing here is the actual medical literature that categorically rejects this assertions. Well-designed, peer-reviewed medical studies have demonstrated significant increases in wellbeing for trans people undergoing transition, and very low levels of regret. I discussed this some length in a recent response to transphobic psychiatrist Dr Paul McHugh. Trotting out anecdotal transitioners, particularly without as much as nod to the high number of transitioned trans people living happy, healthy lives, points to a very serious agenda in Goldberg’s writing.

Continuing the theme of bad science, Goldberg presents the misogynist “autogynephilia” theory of Drs Ray Blanchard and J. Michael Bailey as an explanation for why trans women choose to transition. The theory primarily holds that trans women (particularly queer trans women), desire to transition because they sexually fetishize the image of themselves as women. What Ms Goldberg fails to mention is that this theory has largely been debunked. In fact, a 2009 study demonstrated that, when cisgender women were examined for autogynephilia using similar questionnaires, the responses were remarkably similar to trans women. The autogynephilia theory unnecessarily and damagingly pathologizes the sex lives of queer trans woman by deeming them “fetishists” for simply having sexual interests after transition that do not conform to heterosexual preferences. The only recognition Goldberg appears to give to this fact is that she refers to the theory as “highly controversial.” However, a two-word nod against two paragraphs of description of theory skews the discussion in favor of this bunk science, and further damages the reputation of trans women.

Perhaps the most unsettling portion of the piece comes when Goldberg shares a portion of a discussion she had with Julia Serano. Goldberg seeks Serano’s comment on a quote from Lisa Vogel, organizer of trans-woman-excluding music festival Michfest, claiming that Michfest excludes trans women so festival-goers can feel “safe.” Though Julia is quoted accurately, and her impressive science, writing, and speaking credentials are listed, Ms Goldberg adds an upsetting and unnecessary parenthetical comment after: “Sheila Jeffreys attacks her in “Gender Hurts,” using autobiographical details from Serano’s first book, ‘Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity’ (2007), to paint her as an autogynephile who seeks to ‘reinvent ‘feminism’ to fit his erotic interests.” This additional comment adds absolutely nothing to the conversation regarding the Michfest situation; it’s absolutely irrelevant. It serves only to undermine Julia’s credibility by connecting her to discussion of trans-women-as-fetishists earlier in the piece. Serano responded briefly to the article earlier today via her blog, and shared emails she had sent to Goldberg while the piece was in the works. When it became apparent that the autogynephilia reference would be included, Serano wrote: “You initially asked to interview me about the ‘tensions between trans activists and some radical feminists’ (which I provided my thoughts on over the course of the interview process). I honestly don’t understand how sexual thoughts that I had over twenty years ago (as a young trans person trying to sort out my identity) has any bearing on these tensions, other than the fact that Jeffreys stoops to the transgender equivalent of slut-shaming in her book.” Considering how little of the essay Ms Goldberg devoted to the words of trans activists, undermining the credibility of one of the few she does quote with unnecessary references to her sexual history is disgusting and unprofessional.

Serano’s emails also reveal that Goldberg’s omissions of any discussion of the the harassment and abuse endured by the trans community at the hands of Cathy Brennan and her ilk was not an oversight or due to lack of awareness. Julia explains that she discussed those issues at length during her interview with Goldberg:

When Goldberg interviewed me for the piece, I talked extensively about TERF attacks on trans people: About the hatefull speech I (and other trans women) regularly receive from TERFs on my Twitter feed, blog comments, etc., and how much of it is of a sexualizing nature. I talked at great length about Cathy Brennan who is notorious for her personal attacks and outing of trans people, her various websites where she engages in smear campaigns against trans women (once again, usually of a sexualizing nature). I mentioned how, after my appearance at a SF Dyke March forum on AGE DIVERSITY AND GENDER FLUIDITY – which was designed to build bridges between trans-positive queer women and those (often of older generations) who are trans unaware, and which resulted in respectful and constructive dialogue on all sides – several TERFs crashed the Facebook page and spewed so much hateful speech that they had to shut the whole thread down. None of this made it into the story, which will likely lead uninformed readers to presume that trans people are simply mean and out of control, rather than reacting to the transphobia/trans-misogyny/sexualizing comments we constantly face from TERFs.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that trans activists are so fervent and vocal in their fight for their rights and recognition when we see mainstream publications like The New Yorker giving page space to arguing about whether we even exist. While our situation is improving slowly, every single bit of progress is fought bitterly for; with few protections in place for us, trans people are still engaged in a fight for survival. By virtue of the First Amendment, radical feminists are able to continue to spew their vile hate speech, to harass us when we’re bold enough to speak up, to dead-name us when we criticize them, and to petition Congress to ignore our rights and concerns. However, the fact that they struggle to find places to meet, and are met with resistance with every time they speak should not be taken as bullying, but rather a firm, clear rejection of their abusive tactics and backwards, oppressive agenda — not just by trans people, but by cis feminists, and increasingly, society at large.

As for Michelle Goldberg’s essay, if what she pitched to the staff of the The New Yorker was an investigation of both sides of the trans activists and radical feminist conflict, I think it’s fair to say that she failed miserably. In any case, the editorial staff of The New Yorker should be ashamed for allowing it print.

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Mari Brighe

Mari is a queer lady scientist and educator from Detroit, who skillfully avoids working on her genetics dissertation by writing about queer and trans life, nerd culture, feminism, and science. You can frequently find her running around at science-fiction conventions giving panels on consent culture and LGBT topics or DJing at fantastically strange parties. She is a contributing writer for TransAdvocate, maintains a personal blog at TransNerdFeminist, and can frequently be found stirring up trouble (and posting selfies) on Twitter.

Mari has written 36 articles for us.


  1. Thank you! The title of the article was ominous enough (no mention of Trans Exclusionary flavor of radical feminism), but content left me just shaking my head.

    Here’s another deconstruction of the article, btw – .

  2. This really upsets me. I met Michelle Goldberg when our student pro-choice group invited her to speak at our university when I was in undergrad, and I’ve really enjoyed a lot of her writing on reproductive rights. It’s a shame to see her so blatantly misrepresent trans people and their struggle against TERFs.

    One other thing about the Tumblr “kill terfs” stuff that isn’t mentioned here is that a lot of people saying this on Tumblr are really really young. The person in the “fetch me a terf” screencap, based on what I saw from it being posted on the Tumblr.txt Twitter account, can’t be older than 18 or so. I find a lot of the vitriol from the Tumblr social justice community toward “oppressors” excessive and disturbing, but it’s really hard to get that outraged about it when these are generally young people who are coming from a very wounded place. And it’s not like these people are actually going to do that. They’re KIDS, making shows of bravado on the Internet in response to grown-ups who want to do them harm.

    And meanwhile, what do these oh-so-victimized adult radfems do? Cathy Brennan outed a 17-year-old trans man TO HIS SCHOOL in response to him arguing with her on Tumblr. Her entire M.O. amounts to little more than trolling and personal attacks (I even got some from her, on my bisexuality, in the comments of an article here I wrote that was supportive of trans prisoners rights). She’s a grown-up and she manages to respond to kids being excessive and inappropriate by ONE-UPPING them in violent rhetoric and action. She’s gross.

  3. Yes, I agree the New Yorker editorial staff should be ashamed of themselves. This isn’t that long after the entire Grantland fiasco and they should have had the sense to realize that maybe their limited (or even stilted) understanding of the issues doesn’t qualify them to identify whether or not Ms. Goldberg wrote a hatchet-job (which she totally did). I have little doubt we’ll see people defending this article, Goldberg and the editors by mentioning how their intention was to a piece of ‘serious journalism,’ (intentions are magic… wheee) parading Goldberg’s progressive credentials as if progressives haven’t also engaged in transphobia and how the trans community is being their negative selves again. It also points out how professional journalists, when discussing complex community issues (including race, class, and gender issues) allow their job title to delude them into thinking they understand what they’re writing about and aren’t just dumping a whole lot of their preconceptions into the mix. It’s an unfortunate arrogance built into the profession used to deflect any form of media activism.

  4. “…if you’re identifying with women, shouldn’t you be empathizing with women?”

    This quote from the article sums up how I’ve always sort of felt about this issue. I realized a long time ago that this platform isn’t going to take an objective look at the situation so I’m happy for the New Yorker article if only because it paints a picture you wont find in queer media circles. We have to agree here. I’m glad somebody took the time to unpack why.

    • Lanie, trans women aren’t women only because they’re “identifying as women” and empathy doesn’t extend itself to excusing nastiness and bigotry. I have empathy for white women growing up in male-dominated, racist societies. That doesn’t mean I’m going to, therefore, excuse the behavior of someone like Marine Le Pen.

      • This reminds me a lot of tone-policing. Which I was just talking about last night when a bunch of misogynistic dudes tried to use that on a friend of mine when she got mad at them for being gross to her. She put it well on her Twitter: “When polite, wormtongue-y people espouse wormy destructive sentiments, you *need* to give it no quarter and no politeness.”

        No, really, people don’t have to be nice to people who oppress us and treat us like shit. So often oppressors’ idea of “empathy” means the people they oppress aren’t allowed to raise their voices at all. That’s BS.

    • What entitles your fringe group to speak for all women? speak for yourself, as radical feminists, and see how many care. Thank you, not me.

      “…if you’re identifying with women, shouldn’t you be empathizing with women?”

      firstly trans women i know don’t ‘identify with’ anything, and secondly, false syllogistics. Specifically, bait and switch sophistry. Without that the sentence would be:
      “…if [you’re a] woman, shouldn’t you be empathizing with women radical feminists?” Yes. Definitely. Why not? And with women thieves. And women serial murderers. And women corrupt politicians.

    • objective? come on… that article is about as objective as msm coverage of israel’s occupation of palestine…

      also, “identifying as” isn’t the same as “identifying with”, though, you know this. everyone identifies as something (even if that something is nothing). every time someone says “i am woman” or “i am female”, they’re identifying themselves as such. to claim otherwise is to deliberately misconstrue the meaning of words.

    • “…if you’re identifying with women, shouldn’t you be empathizing with women?”

      Yes, what a great question! It really goes to the heart of my confusion over why TERFs vilify and attack trans women when they should be welcoming them. Caring about women should mean caring about ALL women, definitely.

      Oh, that’s…not what you meant? Er.

      Also, as a scientist, when “an objective look” is code for “let’s ignore the pain and suffering of real humans,” I shake my head and sigh.

    • I’ve felt similarly honestly. As a kid I was a little amazon. I lucked out by being in all female environments to the point that all my behavior was pegged as my personality rather than something “masculine” or “feminine”. To me and honestly to this day I conflate sex with pronouns if only because outside of the reproductive capacity of each sex there is no point to it.

      I have quite a few mtf and ftm friends and they insist enough on being called certain pronouns so I stick with them but I honestly do not understand what people are getting at when they are talking about gender. Do people want to be presented to society a certain way? Are certain behaviors that taboo for a member of one gender or something? I actually notice this in one of my ftm friends who is extremely similar to me except was relatively popular, co-ed school and comes from a really conservative background. Sometimes I get the impression that the main motivation for the transition was to be accepted by both parents as a man and not just be mom’s daughter is secretly a lesbian (which has worked out but mom is slightly less accepting than dad so not all daisys and buttercups). I’m not stupid enough to think this defines everyone’s desire to transition but I do wonder to what extent some transpeople feel extreme pressure to conform to a sexist or homophobic standard.

      There is also this weird lack of discussion and debate and more policing about things. To muddy this up even more, apparently brain scans are a very shoddy science, as in over corrects to read a salmon brain as having activity shoddy. This ends up meaning that it’s impossible to get any kind of physical proof of brain based identity and you have to rely on a person’s perception. Knowing the toxicity of sexism in today’s society, I’m not 100% sure I trust everyone’s perception. I’m also not going to argue with someone about how they feel because that is just plain old stupid. You feel how you feel but why and what you feel are not always or absolutely correct (ex: battered woman loves abusive husband due to abuse)

      There’s also a weirdness to the logic.
      In a sense identifying as a woman in a male body implies that the identity of a woman is not uniquely woman so the physical basis of the idea of woman is uprooted and then woman describes something very mysterious and amorphous that people align themselves against. I’m always left wondering where the dudes are who should have been non-conforming and wearing dresses? Have they had dress = female bashed into their heads for so long that it becomes unthinkable or something? Are they really that awful to “sissy” boys (I’m banking on this one)?

      @ginapdx Stop the car, EMERGENCY BRAKE holy cake muffins. Okay all done, so wait, trans women aren’t women only because they’re identifying as such…. So then uhhh why? No seriously I cannot get a straight (well I’m not straight so maybe that’s why lol!) answer from anybody, why? Is there some desired trait? Is it more about presentation?

      • Note, when talking about the brain scans I forgot the word dead, dead salmon’s brains are apparently active according to these machines.

  5. I read the New Yorker piece this morning, and, after I finished, I just had to pause and sit there like “did I just read a puff piece on TERFS in the New Yorker???”

  6. I didn’t know who Cathy Brennan was before this article, and I liked living in that world.

    Cathy Brennan is a terrible person.

    • There a few sites dedicated to all the stuff her and her TERF crew have said. The scary part is, she has some connections(not sure how strong) in D.C., which is kind of scary. Elizabeth Hungerford on the other hand is a new name, and another one to look out for.

  7. Mari, that’s two well-done pieces for Autostraddle this week. Thank you. I was waiting for the “right” response to be able to send people to that would capture the problems I had with Goldberg’s piece, and this hits every point without being over the top or hyperbolic. Thank you for this.

  8. In the comments section of Julia’s post regarding this, there is a comment from a person saying they are the ex-friend of de-transitioner Heath Atom. The person is claiming Heath left all her friends essentially and became buddy-buddy with Cathy and now claiming the hate she had experienced in the past(before her beef with the trans* community rose) is now the fault of trans* people.

    I still find it interesting that trans men, some which who have had bottom surgery are still allowed to be at MichFest, because they have female energy, but trans woman is still a man with male energy. I am not sure how some of the trans men who go to such event allow such thing to occur, and not call Lisa Vogel out for the bigot she is.

    • Just saying: an 〜all women〜 event attended by trans men who are assumed to be Able To Do No Misogynistic Wrong sounds absolutely terrifying.

      • It sort of is, seeing as they out trans women and just label trans men as women now. Julia Serrano writes about the event in her in her work. She mentioned MichFest at one point was even excluding masculine of center women, but slowly changes as some women only date such women. And what do butch and masculine of center women bring sometimes? Adult toys.

        She also mentioned there is a trans* woman inclusive event near by at the same time as like a protest.

  9. Naive question: do TERFS use the term ‘the transgender project’ the way Fox talks about ‘the gay agenda’? It’s ridiculous and ripe for reappropriation.

  10. I’ll read the article later when I’m in a better mood. But when I talk to smart younger queer folk, they are so far beyond this silly fighting. I am what I am because I say it is so and if anyone from a radical feminist to an evangelical ‘Christian’ wants to hate me for that fact, or my reasons for feeling that way it’s their torture they create, not mine. Yes, gender is a complex mixture of influences, so is class, age, race. BFD. I fight every single day for queer and women’s rights. I make no apologies.

    • Exactly. Other than a few among the TERF community on Tumblr, young people are moving away from this shit as more and more scientific evidence comes out that trans identities are, in fact, completely real and distinguishable from butch women/femme men, and the LGBT community embraces the trans rights cause. I think that’s why people like Cathy Brennan are as full of venom as they are. As Natalie Reed said on her blog:

      “I don’t fear Cathy Brennan. She doesn’t even anger me anymore. I find her funny. The reason for that is because she no longer feels like much of a threat. She failed in her UN petition. In the short-term, yes, she has the capacity to hurt people, and cause real, actual damage to the lives of real trans people. And she won’t hesitate to cause that harm. She’s definitely a vicious, ruthless, dangerous monster of a person. But…
      In the long-term, she’s losing. And in all her increasing venom, what I see is not a threat, but instead the sad, desperate awareness of that fact burgeoning within her. She’s losing, and bit by bit, she’s realizing it. Almost NOTHING is as dangerous as a cornered bigot when they know they’re losing. But the danger doesn’t last.
      Some day, Cathy Brennan is going to be consigned to the dustbin of history, along with all the other hateful bigots who opposed the progress of human rights. Meanwhile, those of us who fought (perhaps especially in this crucial moment, here and now) on behalf of trans rights, on behalf of an inclusive feminism, on behalf of the rights and dignity and validity of all iterations of human identity, we’re going to be remembered with gratitude, respect and love. Every single new generation of gender variant people (and there will ALWAYS be new generations of us, because we are an irrepressible FACT of humanity) whose lives are rendered easier, gentler, richer and kinder by the actions we take here and now are going to remember us and what we did, and sacrificed, on their behalf.
      Brennan? At best, if she’s remembered at all, it will be as that vicious, petty transphobe who tried and failed to stop the UN from advancing human rights.
      We win slowly, and at the cost of a lot of pain, with lives lost along the way. But we win.”

  11. I shall be passing this along to everyone in my family who religiously reads the New Yorker. Thank you!!!

  12. Thanks for writing this (and for reading that article, I came nowhere close to finishing it).

    My mom reads the New Yorker and linked me to it just generally wanting to know more about the situation.

    It was really nice to have this to link to in response.

  13. What infuriates me the most about TERF-ness (and about articles like Goldberg’s) is its reliance on anecdote rather than, um, evidence. (As “they” say, “the plural of anecdote is not data.”)

    I have no real idea what the full details of Heath Atom Russell’s experience are, and wouldn’t want to discount that experience. But the logical leap it takes to get from “here’s this one person who de-transitioned” to “de-transitioning and trans-regret are common thing and that’s evidence to support my trans-exclusive agenda” is a leap of breathtaking audacity.

  14. TERFs suffer from severe delusions about who women are and constitute a very small minority within the feminist movement.
    It seems the conservative religious far right is providing space for them to preserve the patriarchy/oppressive order.

    For more on scientific aspects of transsexuality do see: and (I wrote this)

    Also see Diamond. M.’s survey paper, in which it is shown that political considerations influenced the old view that “gender is all about nurture”.

    • HOW is it delusional that “terfs” (itself a hateful term) point out that women are oppressed on the basis of our biology? As terms like “cis” are forced upon us, women silence ourselves more and more. I think it is possible to have reasonable exchanges regarding these things, I just wish such conversations were happening on autostraddle.

  15. Can I decry violence and discrimination against trans* individuals and still see merit in wondering if maybe it is just society that puts ideas in our heads about what it even means to be women and men in the first place?

    I guess my big question is… can the mind have a gender? How do we know? Society tells us that if you have testicles and higher amounts of testosterone than estrogen you must be a certain way even in your mind, and vice versa. But what if they are wrong? I wish while we fight for trans rights and equality we also fight to free people from seeing gender as something so rigid and predetermined.

    Personally I feel like a guy more than I feel like a girl, and I would prefer to look like one too (except the hair) but I don’t think I have the mind of a “man” and I’m trapped in a woman’s body. Like what does that even mean? I am what I am, its people outside who put a label on it, I don’t care either way as long as they treat me like a human being.

    I feel like I still fit under the label trans but I don’t care if I’m not allowed to call myself a man. I still also Identify with being a woman, and a lesbian because the experiences I’ve had in my life so far I experienced them as both. Its taken me a while to accept myself but now that I do, I don’t care if I’m allowed under the umbrella of man or woman or gay or straight. I feel as though I have my own special umbrella, and its big enough for everyone.

    Sorry for the rant, this has been weighing on me for a loong time.

    • Well, goody for you. I’m just SO glad you can be a man and a woman and straight and lesbian and whatever else you need to be to give yourself the highest amount of privilege for whatever situation you’re in at the moment. You, being the special snowflake that you are, have your “own umbrella” big enough for EVERYONE, and that solves all the problems of trans women being outed and fired and murdered in the streets.

      People are different, M. What works for you doesn’t work for everyone, and your one-size-fits-all narrative is frankly offending.

      • Wenda, I’m sorry but I don’t think you get what I’m tryin to say.

        Firstly, I think it’s offensive that would presume I’m taking up labels willy nilly to suit my convenience, which is totally not how it works. I’m saying I don’t fit in anywhere. And that is really scary, and depressing and something that many people no matter what their “label” is feel from time to time.
        Being little bits of all these identities (and I am not straight I never said that) is not conveineint.

        I think you are also falsely assuming that I have never faced any violence or threats or negativity when in fact I have. I actually SYMPATHIZE w trans people, I constantly carry fear around with me almost everywhere I go. Espetially in bathrooms and overly-gendered situations.

        I’m not saying I can solve any problems so don’t nasty towards me. I’m just sharing my take on gender, hoping for an insightful dialogue but I guess that’s asking too much…

    • M,

      Studies on gender have progressed a lot. Nature vs nurture debates belong to the past. Julia Serano’s latest book explains the issues in many words.

      It is important to understand differences between gender expression, societal gender norms (gender identity) and gender identity.

      It is proven that there is a biological component of gender (= brain sex). So we see gender as a plural concept that has many dimensions.

      You can have any gender expression that does not tally with society’s recommendations relative your assigned sex. That does not automatically make you trans – you need to decide on your gender identity by yourself. Transgender is a useless umbrella term – go for something specific. Apparently you seem to fit under “queer woman”, but there are so many other labels for you to choose from. See too for related stuff.

      • Ok I get that you are very well versed in all matters gender theory, and I also recognize that there are individuals that feel like in their “mind” they are a certain gender. And those idividuals are typically labelled transgender. I accept that exists, but I don’t understand it, does that make sense? You say it’s been proven and I believe you, but when I think about it, it doesn’t add up. Maybe this is vestiges of my catholic upbringing talking here, but I feel like the mind is like a soul, it’s a nonphysical manifestation of self awareness. What about that requires a gender? If I was the only person left on earth, gender would not exist. Because it’s a social construct. Without society it is irrelevant. It’s another way we position ourselves in relation to others around us.

        I’m not trying to “diagnose” myself and find an appropriate label to sum up my whole gender experience. It just makes me uncomfortable that people are so obsessed with labels, I feel suffocated a little bit. They are great when they empower us with community and support and that saved me during my coming out process. They are a double edged sword though because I also feel like label can become limiting. Even in ways we are not overtly aware of. People are like diamonds, full of tiny flaws yet beautiful, strong, and most importantly multifaceted. (Sorry I know that’s cheesy but I really feel that way. For the record, I love everybody in all their differnt shapes and sizes and personalities so it makes me really sad and pissed off to hear about all the shit trans* people deal w on top of everything. I think it would truly help trans and gender queer people, and everybody in the world if we had a movement of sexual and gender freedom, that would truly be revolutionary to me)

    • can the mind have a gender? How do we know?

      It certainly has a sex it expects the body it’s housed in to be, and doesn’t like it when said body doesn’t match up with its expectations. For the science behind transsexualism, I’d recommend reading the many white papers linked to by Zoë Brain and watching an insightful talk by Veronica Drantz.

      The sex your expect your body to be is predetermined, but that doesn’t mean you should mindlessly fulfil gender roles. Indeed, transsex people don’t do this any more than cissex people do.

      If your brain isn’t expecting your body to be male, you’re not transsex, but you can still be as masculine or feminine or neither as you like, as can everyone else. No one can take that away from you.

      • Double check some of the studies because it is widely accepted that hormones cause the development of certain “sexed” parts of the brain. Receiving estrogen after puberty may also cause “feminization” in the brain. The studies I read through seem to have dissected mtf people at time of death. At this point it is extremely probable that all of them were taking estrogen. The only way to 100% verify the idea of gender identity in brains and its matching with body would be to get the brains of children who had yet to undergo any kind of transition but wanted to transition, you would also have to find children who didn’t want to transition and children with different sexualities to create control groups. The problem is that all these children would need to be dead to look at these structures. I prefer them all alive.

  16. Mari, unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to read this all the way through for a couple days, but now that I have I just wanted to say this was brilliant and thank you for writing it.

  17. “the radical feminist position that masculinity is natural and healthy, and femininity artificial and harmful”

    Except that isn’t the radical feminist position at all. Radical feminist assert that men aren’t raised to believe that their bodies and minds are inherently flawed and thus need to be “improved” with restrictive clothing, makeup, etc. whereas women are. Femininity is the performance ritual that women are expected to go through to signify their status as second class citizens, as inferior to men. Where in that definition does it say that masculinity is healthy and natural? Are gender nonconforming women inherently “masculine” to you? If so, isn’t that misogynistic?

    Can you not conceive of a body that isn’t masculine nor feminine?

    If the New Yorker piece is radfem propaganda then this piece is queer propaganda against radical feminism. No one is using facts.

  18. Please approve at least one of my comments OR make it known that Autostraddle refuses to approve my comment as you have done with Titanium Dragon’s comment, above.

    For goodness sake, you’d think a publication this large would at least allow those named in the article the right of reply HERE on thread.

    • Not if your comments come at the expense of our members here. Sorry, but your opinion doesn’t outweigh someone’s safety.

      • You don’t even know what my comment said. I run a Gender Discussion Facebook group with close to 1,000 members and one of my co-moderators is a transwoman. I’m not a threat to anyone’s “safety” and speaking of trans people like they are breakable dolls who can’t be exposed to gender critical ideas is pretty patronizing.

        • i have absolutely no interest in even hearing what your people (radical feminists not women, no attempts to pass one for the other, please) have to say – you ARE a threat to my girlfiend and that’s all i need to know and i will do everything, literally everything if needs be, to keep her safe from the likes of you. Also i would favour your pet to be taken from you and rehabilitated.

        • Please do go to her page, see just how “Gender critical” it is. I’ll warn you now though it is literally like reading a bigotted comments section.

        • I agree. We could all benefit from being critical of gender. I’d prefer to trust that we’re all up to that challenge.

    • Elizabeth, radical feminists have for many years discussed how to deal with the trans “problem” at their meetings and conferences, which of course we are generally banned from even attending. And while I have usually found it easier to hold a reasonable conversation with you about some of these things, I note that even you went along with the paranoid and untrue sexual predator accusations against Colleen Francis, based on nothing more than her presence in a facility that you disapprove of her using. You damage your credibility badly in going along with such things, and I suspect that you will increasingly find yourself left out of the conversation going forward as you maintain such positions.

  19. This, from the above article, is false:

    “the radical feminist position that masculinity is natural and healthy, and femininity artificial and harmful”

    That is not the radical feminist position. The radical feminist position is that, as femininity is ritualised submission, masculinity is ritualised domination. The critique of rape culture, reproductive coercion and encultured female subjugation are at the heart of radical feminism, and it is transparently clear that none of those things are judged “natural and healthy” by feminists.

    It’s all very well to complain about being misrepresented (although a lot of the objections seem to be that the New Yorker didn’t run unconfirmed accusations about the behaviour of named individuals, which is hardly something one would expect the New Yorker to do), but please try to do justice to the position you’ve set yourself against.

    • “although a lot of the objections seem to be that the New Yorker didn’t run unconfirmed accusations about the behaviour of named individuals, which is hardly something one would expect the New Yorker to do”

      Sarah, a simple glance across the web reveals that radical feminists have numerous blogs set up that are primarily dedicated to little more than publishing private details of trans women’s lives, defaming them and attempting to degrade employability status and the like. The motivations behind the radical feminist obsession with trans women and trans women’s personal lives may not be easy to decipher (really I have no idea you people follow us around online), but it is well-documented and further the radical feminists who engage in such behavior do very little to hide it.

      If Michelle Goldberg can dig up the idiotic “fetch me a TERF” nonsense, GenderTrender and GIDWatch are both much more prominent websites, and much more prominently promoted among radical feminists than any of the stuff she actually cited is promoted among the trans community.

    • Aren’t you the person who slammed abused teenage trans girl Leelah Acorn for killing herself and lauded her abusive parents? You have ZERO place to be lecturing anyone about feminism and LESS THAN ZERO place to be on this site.

  20. While I appreciate Autostraddle covering the New Yorker Article, I’m a bit surprised and disappointed to see that the first half of the second paragraph of this article is directly plagiarized from Julia Serano’s Op-Ed in the New Yorker. Otherwise decent article, but if you’re going to use what someone said verbatim, please credit them. It’s just good journalism.

    • And, I’m an idiot, as I went and re-read Serano’s piece, and you are actually quoted in hers. I apologize.

  21. Savannah:

    “you people follow us around online”

    And that, everyone, is exactly the kind of defamatory statement (I don’t “follow anyone around online”) the New Yorker probably went out of its way to avoid publishing.

    • Maybe you don’t do it Sarah, but your radical feminist colleagues absolutely do follow us around on the internet, and they do NOTHING to hide it. My “invitation” into this conflict wasn’t a thoughtful critique of something I wrote, it was the day I found my picture and personal information spread out over CB’s blogs. Before that I was only even peripherally aware of this debate, and probably had no interest in participating in it.

      Maybe if the more mainstream radical feminists like yourself would speak out against the endless personal attacks and defamation campaigns– some of which have targeted trans children!!– maybe that would serve to de-escalate some of the tensions over this.

      For my part, I have constantly spoken out against the “die cis scum” nonsense and the like (although I note that these kinds of verbal attacks from the trans side are usually at the rhetorical level and rarely target individuals), but what’s the use when no one on the radical feminist side shows any interest in reigning in the personal defamation attacks (which DO target individuals)?? Those blogs are full of false accusations against trans women, calling us rapists and the like (a recent post on GIDWatch accuses me and several of my friends of being rapists– how’s that for defamation??).

      As another example, GIDWatch targeted one of my friends a few months ago because she was one of the organizers of the bi-annual Femme Conference in the U.S. that was recently cancelled. Nobody at GIDWatch cares about anything with the word “Femme” in it in the first place, and they didn’t say anything about the cis women, cis men or trans men involved in the failed organizing, it was just an excuse to target a trans woman over something they never had any interest in otherwise. It’s an attempt to drive trans women out of the public sphere.

      And for you to accuse me of defamation over a factual statement about radical feminist behavior, especially when defamation is the primary radical feminist tactic against trans women, is just absurd Sarah.

  22. I am kind of new to these politics, and I am a little confused about something. The article says that conflating gender identity with gender roles is a mistake. I want to know how a person identifies with a gender outside of the spectrum between the extremes of masculine and feminine gender roles? I tried to google but couldn’t find much info that tackled the question. Thank you.

  23. Brilliant article! Everything you wrote comes across as thoughtful, fair, and intelligent. I have always loved the New Yorker, but I think it totally missed the boat on the piece by Goldberg (which I now want/don’t want to read). Thank you for your great article.

  24. “Of course, the radical feminist position that masculinity is natural and healthy, and femininity artificial and harmful”

    Someone could only come to this conclusion if they had never read a book about feminism in their life. How embarrassing.

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