‘TERF WARS’ WORKSHOP 10.7.2018
by Janice Williams
Last Tuesday a mate and I, both Radical Feminists who oppose transgenderism (but do not hate anyone at all, especially not trans people) attended a workshop called ‘TERF WARS’ at the ‘Freedom Press Bookshop’, also known as the Anarchist Bookshop in Whitechapel, East London, UK. Friends had warned me to be careful after the transACTIVIST violence done in London to Maria Maclachlan at Speakers Corner in April 2018 and the kettling and bullying of women by transACTIVISTS soon afterwards at the Anarchist Book Fair.
I was urged by a security expert friend to take someone with me, to have an exit plan and not to hesitate to call 999 if I felt in any danger. So I did. First I twice reported the event to Facebook as an example of woman hatred. The blurb was clear that Radical Feminists, who are at least 90% female, were the enemy in this war. The abusive and inaccurate term TERF was being weaponised against women. FB wasn’t interested.
Outside when we arrived there was a burly gent in a hi-vis jacket sporting the label ‘Legal Observer’. No information was given about his role or where he came from. About 14 people attended, rising to 20 with latecomers. All were white except one, most were female. Quite a few had pink or blue hair ie ‘queer’, not sure what that means.
Our plan was to record if possible, if not to take notes and think about what was said. We did not feel safe to contribute. As open-minded people we believe in listening closely to both sides in a debate and using critical thinking and evidence-testing to make our minds up independently. You can imagine my dismay when we were asked to leave phones in a box at the door! This was a complete contrast with events about transgenderism run by ‘We Need to Talk about the GRA’ and ‘A Woman’s Place’ where recordings of the event were not only made, but were made public online, often live streamed.
Listening to the evidence was easy. It was more listening out for evidence. There was no evidence and no debate. The entire event was composed of unevidenced assertions, most of which were ridiculous and are shown verbatim below in quote marks. If I had felt safe to challenge them this is what I would have said:
WHAT THE SPEAKERS SAID – their names were given as Sharon and Ellen – no surnames provided.
1. “‘TERFS’ are like mould, they smell and spread” – this is classic ‘othering’ used to vilify a group when you have no logic or argument to offer. This was how the presentation opened once the housekeeping was done. I felt my friend stiffen at my side. She is a Jew raised in Whitechapel, who lost family members in the Holocaust, whose grandfather helped pull down Moseley’s platform in the 1930s and whose friend attacked Mosely’s mob and had to go to live in Israel to avoid repercussions. I felt sick for her. This is what the Nazis did to the Jews, ‘othering’ them and presenting them as vermin whose spread must be halted.
2. “We need to use the tactics of anti-fascists against TERFs, like no-platforming.” By identifying us with anti-fascists they implicitly identified us as fascists and as the opposition, and cleverly placed themselves with the right side of the argument. No-platforming is only justified in cases where proven lies have been spread as with the famous holocaust-denier David Irving. TransACTIVISTS (NB not trans people) try to prevent debate so society cannot reach a conclusion either way.
3. “TERFS also don’t like ‘’sex workers'” – False. Radical feminists do indeed critique the institution of prostitution as being harmful to women. We do not blame or criticise women selling sex in prostitution, but expose the profit motive of those who exploit and traffic them. Some of us are proud to know long-term survivors of prostitution and hold them in great respect – Fiona Broadfoot, Rachel Moran, Rebecca Mott, and survivors from all over the world in SPACE International. We are proud to read the well-researched and evidenced works of people like Julie Bindel, Janice Raymond, Sheila Jeffreys, Rachel Moran, Simon Haggstrom, Victor Malarek etc. it is a distortion to represent this critique as a dislike for women in prostitution.
4. “The Gender Reform Act is nothing to do with women-only spaces” – a major option in the proposals for the GRA is self-identification which would mean that we could all decide what ‘gender’ we wanted to be. This would mean males who’ identify as female’ working in women’s Domestic Violence Refuges, women’s wards in hospital etc., as well as allowing men with their long-term male musculature and greater strength to compete in women’s and girls’ sport. Of course the GRA is relevant to women-only spaces.
5. “Prisons are irrelevant, if men got into women-only prisons they would get fucked up” – how? They would each have greater body strength than the other prisoners or prison officers. If they are violent, as some men are, they would have plenty of opportunity to harass and hurt women. If the TERF WARS’ statement were true, why are so many formerly male trans people trying to get into women’s spaces?
6. This is a class struggle, TERFS are bourgeois, trans people are working class’. This is such rubbish that I would have laughed if I had not felt scared. My friend and I were both brought up in council flats and were the first in our family to go to university. Many radical feminists come from similar backgrounds, and many extremely wealthy people undertake ‘gender transition’. Originally they were the only ones who could afford it.
7. “Rich people don’t go to prison” – while we know the rich do indeed have better lawyers, Geoffrey Archer? Jonathan Aitken?
8. “This is a struggle against racism” – though 19/20 people in the room were white. This is claiming the moral high ground with no evidence. This is not to say racism against transgender people does not occur, but no facts were cited.
9. “If TERFS really cared about what happens in prison, they would care about trans people murdered in prison, like Jenny Swift and Vicky Thomson.” Yes, we do care about anyone murdered in prison or indeed anywhere. We also care about animal rights, plastic in the ocean, the NH, Brexit, poverty, war etc etc. Everyone chooses what issues they personally get involved with, no one gets to choose for anyone else.
10. “TERFS are not reasonable people” – another false and libelous assertion. Judge for yourself the reasonableness of this piece. Which is reasonable – we who try to discuss facts or those who vilify others, use abusive terminology and present nothing but a series of unevidenced assertions?
11. “TERFS are obsessed with conformity to stereotypes yet the only reason for this is that it is insisted upon by the medical process.” It is true that gender-critical feminists critique the often hyper-‘feminine’ semi-pornographic appearance often adopted in public by trans’women’. This is because being a woman is more to do with coping with your biology and the discrimination you face in society than it is about deciding what hair colour to use or what dress to wear. Many of us choose never to wear make-up, jewelry, skirts or heels and we are still women. If a transperson is not obviously trans, we might not notice them. But the ‘trans’women’ who appear in public do mostly fit the stereotype – Caitlin Jenner, Munroe Bergdorf, Lily Madigan – and talk a lot about stereotyped ‘feminine’ behaviour. Read Caitlin Jenner’s autobiograph. Take a look in Google Images and make up your own mind.
12. “If children change their minds about transitioning then you should carry on supporting them.” Yes but wouldn’t it be better to wait until they were old enough to be really sure about modifying their bodies in the first place? It’s a parent’s job to keep children physically and mentally healthy and teach them decision-making skills, not to let them go off unthinkingly into unnecessary medical treatments which may damage their health.
13. “The effects of puberty blockers given to children are completely reversible, they can change their minds” – this may be true for the outward and visible effects of puberty blockers, but the cumulative inward effects on the internal organs will not be reversible and long-term problems are reported with bone and blood disorders and joint problems.
14. “The waits for treatment can be too long. A man called Truman attempted a DIY ‘boob job’, cutting his nipples off with a Stanley knife and inserting balloons.” To my mind this shows a dangerous mental instability, not necessarily a clinical need for mastectomy. I could not find any reference to this case online – please help us track it down so we can know the true facts.
15. “The transitioning process is over-medicalised, psychiatrists make it difficult” – if you present to a doctor asking for medicine and/or surgery, you have medicalised yourself. We definitely need some fair and consistent process before dishing out expensive and potentially unnecessary treatments on the NHS.
16. ‘It is no-one else’s business if a transitioner regrets the transition or not’ – if treatment is carried out at public expense then it is a matter for the public if a procedure is frequently ‘regretted’. How can we be sure it was really the right thing to do? Regretters and detransitioners do exist and to write them out of the picture is to distort the picture.
17. “TERFS are using the same things against us as they used against the gay people, eg Section 28.” Many gender-critical feminists are themselves lesbian or gay so this seems unlikely – for example the recent lesbian protesters at London Pride. The point was not developed.
18. A nurse (not one of the speakers) stated that she was in touch with fellow professionals in the US who had told her that surgery could be obtained under-age there with parental consent. The speakers did not address this except to say that some such cases had had to go to court, and that things were generally easier under an insurance-based system like the US one. The ethics of transitioning children, and the financial and profit-making aspects of this were not discussed.
19. “Regretters are not the same as detransitioners; detransition is a valid choice”. Clearly there is a difference between regretting and taking the next step to go through detransition. But you wouldn’t detransition unless you first regretted your transition. They are different stages in the same process. The very fact that regretters and detransitioners exist calls into question the fixed and absolute nature of ‘gender dysphoria’ in which we are asked to believe as a prerequisite to accepting the transitioning process. If detransitioning is a valid choice, this must reflect on the validity of transitioning in the first place.
20. “We have to use the arguments from abortion. We must make the link between the woman’s right to choose and the trans person’s right to choose”. At this point my friend indicated that she could not take any more of this and had to leave. We had both had abortions and it is never easy. Abortion can be necessary to save a women’s life or mental health. Having an unwanted child can make a woman unable to work and support herself and the child – for many years. She can lose her home and her career. Rape and forced pregnancy can be used as ways to control women, keep them in the home and keep them powerless because of the emotional blackmail which means that a women usually puts her child’s welfare before her own. It is a quick and cheap one-off medical procedure. The alternative is a life shortened and/or hampered by poverty and dependence, often multiple times with multiple children. The context is worldwide misogyny and the deeply, deeply entrenched disadvantage of women.
By contrast ‘gender’ transitioning is done purely from a feeling (often temporary) of being unhappy with your biological sex. It often accompanies mental health difficulties and identifiable psychological factors. It involves medication and/or surgery on an otherwise perfectly healthy body. It is neither cheap, quick, nor one-off – transitioners take hormones daily for life, surgery is hugely expensive and many different types may be wanted.
The facile ‘right to choose’ comparison between abortion and ‘gender’ transition sounds neat but is entirely inappropriate. Abortion can be a must, transitioning is a want. At this point my friend indicated that she could take no more of this and needed to leave so we missed the rest of the meeting.
These 20 main points were made in the above order in the first hour before we left. I would classify them as follows:
3 examples of Hate speech and ‘Othering’: no. 1, and (by implication,) no. 2, thus ensuring the workshop started by biasing the audience against the other point of view. Also no. 10.
10 examples of Misleading/False Assertions: nos. 3-9, 16, 17, 20
6 examples of Half-Truths Wrongly Interpreted: nos. 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 19
1 example of a Genuine Point made by an audience member and Ignored/Steered Away From: no. 18
Number of Unsubstantiated/Twisted Assertions: 20
Evidence cited: 0
True/accurate points: 0
The speakers were comfortable using TERF, a term of abuse, to ‘other’ and vilify us. They had no interest in debate, argument or evidence, preferring just to score points. They were keen to claim victim status and help others to do the same. They had no regard for the opportunity costs in NHS treatments, sick people who would go untreated because of money was spent on transitioning. They saw no difference between genuine victims of factors beyond their control (people with physical, mental health or learning difficulties, children in care, sick people, refugees, persecuted homosexuals etc), and those like themselves who make a conscious choice (later regretted and reversed by many), to deal with their wish to be the opposite sex by seeking complex medical intervention. The actions they accused radical feminists of were those they themselves were perpetrating.
‘Sharon’ and ‘Ellen’ appeared to be enjoying a good fight, unidentifiable and therefore unworried by the possibility of repercussions for their lies. They said they were going all over the country giving these talks. On the face of it they seemed sad rather than bad or mad, and mad rather than bad. Maybe they are just being used.
Even if they are being used, they are accountable for spreading this rubbish. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to stand by and do nothing.