• MakeMoreNoise

TERF is hate speech. Here's why...

We first met Click Off founder and feminist campaigner Jo Bartosch when she spoke at our event Feminism: The Elephant in the Room.

After she heard about our latest event - Hate Speech, The Elephant in the Room, which is being held in Manchester on the 8th of February, she allowed us to publish her submission to the the All-Parliamentary Parliamentary Group on Hate Crime which asked them to classify the slur TERF as hate speech against women and girls.


Status Quo – What is the situation today?

What is the extent of hate crime and speech that is experienced by individuals or communities and what form does it take?

There is an epidemic of online hate directed against women online, and in particular lesbians. This takes the form of rape and death threats, as well as the ‘outing’ of unpopular but sincerely held beliefs to employers and funders. Much of this abuse is from those who identify as transgender.

Targets are women who are singled out because they do not believe in gender identity. This group of feminists understand gender as a socially constructed set of sexist stereotypes; they reject the notion that gender identity is innate. Across social and traditional media, this group are popularly characterised as ‘TERFs’ (which stands for ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists’).

This group simply do not share the belief that it is possible to change biological sex by surgery, hormones or changing pronouns. The ‘Terf is a Slur’ website documents some of the abuse that this group routinely receive.

Those deemed ‘TERFs’ reject the notion that one can be ‘born into the wrong body’ as presupposes that there are distinct male and female brains. The most up-to-date research suggests that broadly brains are not sexed. ‘TERFs’ further do not agree that gender identity is innate, as this would suggest that gendered norms are biological not social.

A 2015 submission to the Government Transgender Inquiry from the Gender Identity Information Research & Education Society (GIRES) suggested around five percent of transgender people have sought medical advice and only around twenty percent intend to do so in the future. Most of those who identify as transgender do not have a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) and will never undergo full legal, social or medical transition.

According to leading LGBT charity Stonewall ‘trans’ is “an umbrella term to describe people whose gender identity is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth.” Included in the Stonewall definition are people who identify as:

“Gender-queer (GQ), gender-fluid, non-binary, gender-variant, crossdresser, genderless, agender, nongender, third gender, two-spirit, bi-gender, trans man, trans woman, trans masculine, trans feminine and neutrois.’

There is no medical basis for considering oneself as any of the identities as listed above.

Effectively those who do not share an individual’s subjective view of themselves are deemed to be transphobic, smeared as ‘TERFs’ and consequently attract hate in person and online. In practice these are hate crimes based upon sex, belief (or lack of) and sexual orientation, three strands that are covered in the Equality Act.

Large organisations are complicit in this, with Stonewall appointing people such as the self-declared lesbian transwoman Alex Drummond to their Trans Advisory Board. Alex Drummond sports a full beard and boasts of not having taken hormones or having surgery. His body and appearance is that of a man’s and yet failing to refer to Alex as a ‘female’ is deemed transphobic.

Some of those who have been harassed online are feminist campaigners who seek to draw attention to sex-based discrimination and persecution such as female genital mutilation.

Others who have been targeted are women like me, who fight for the rights of lesbians to assert their own boundaries and not be pushed into sexual relationships with male-bodied people who identify both as women and as lesbian. This is not hatred, and yet women like me face daily threats and abuse, often with employers and funders contacted (this U.S. website has some examples, I have witnessed similar behaviour in the UK). We are demonised as ‘TERFs’ in mainstream media and social media and this seems to legitimate a tide of often misogynist abuse both online and in person.

Like many other women in my situation, I have had to inform my employers of my feminist activism as my day job is in the charitable sector and I am concerned that attempts will be made to report me to the trustees. This has happened to my fellow lesbian and bisexual feminist campaigners. The situation for academics is quite shocking, with lecturers such as lesbian Prof Kathleen Stock having to push past protests to enter workplaces.

There are eight recognised stages of genocide, and it is clear to me that in referring to those who do not share the belief that it is possible to change sex as ‘terfs’ is dehumanising.

Firstly those who do not share the belief in gender identity are classified, we are then given the label ‘terf’ which is arguably the symbolisation stage, we are then dehumanised with hashtags such as ‘punch a terf’ and organised attempts and demonstrations are arranged to stop us from meeting or talking.

Some online activists complain of the ‘cotton ceiling’ which takes its name from the underwear of lesbian and bisexual women. The implicit suggestion is that, like the glass ceiling, same-sex attracted women’s barriers must be overcome in order for transwomen to be achieve sexual equality. This is routinely used to harass lesbians who do not want sex or relationships with those who have male bodies, regardless of their identity. Women like me have nowhere to turn as organisations like Stonewall are mindful of their funding requirements to seem inclusive of transgender people; as such they refuse to point out that some of those who claim to be transgender and lesbian but have male bodies might in fact be opportunist abusers.

Considerable focus is given to transgender people who report hate crime, but little attention is focused on those who suffer abuse because of their sex (female) and sexual orientation (lesbian or bisexual women) at the hands of transgender people because of their lack of belief in gender identity.

In the public imagination transgender people are widely presented as victims, and the recognition that some are guilty of inciting hatred is not to suggest that all transgender people engage in this nor that some are not persecuted because of their perceived gender reassignment status. Nonetheless, it is an unassailable fact there is a virulent and misogynist strain of transgender activism that seeks to shame, silence and attack women who question statements such as ‘some lesbians have penises.’

There is a schism within the LGBT community that is largely overlooked by the organisations that purport to represent all these strands, in part because their funding depends upon being seen to include the ‘T.’ The #gettheLout campaign attests to this as does #waronwomen and #waronlesbians

Taken to the logical conclusion, if some women have penises, as most transgender advocates argue, that means some lesbians have penises. This means that same-sex attraction and opposite sex attraction can be characterized as exclusionary. In practice gay men rarely come under pressure to accept transmen (with female bodies) as sexual partners. Lesbians however, are increasingly facing harassment for rejecting male-bodied transwomen who identify as lesbian and this is having a devastating affect on the community. No services exist exclusively for female-bodied lesbians as all of these services now include transwomen.

I am not a lesbian, I am bisexual woman in a same sex relationship. Nonetheless I have been told that my orientation is invalid because there are ‘more than two genders’ and that I should ‘suck a girl dick’ and to ‘choke’ on ‘womanly cock.’ I have watched in horror as lesbian friends have been bullied off-line and indeed from community organising by transgender activists who insist that their orientation is exclusionary.

There is nothing to suggest that all of those online claiming transgender status actually belong under the ‘gender reassignment’ protected characteristic, there is no way to tell.


How does experiencing hate crime and hate speech impact on individuals, communities and their values?

At present, groups of women are being prevented from meeting by militant transactivists. Employers of those women who do not believe that it is possible to change sex are regularly contacted. I can produce evidence for every statement made here and testimonials directly from women affected. I know of women who have had photos of their children shared online, their addresses publicised and of others who have been forced out of jobs and lost contracts simply because they do not believe in gender identity.


How does online hate speech and hate crime impact on community cohesion? Is there a link?

Many women are now scared to meet to discuss this, and in addition to regular protests which are organised online, there have been two reports of bomb threats against women who have tried to meet to discuss the impact of ‘gender identity’ on women’s rights.

The political push to make ‘women-only’ events and spaces open to all of those who ‘identify as women’ means that it is now nearly impossible to meet without the presence of transwomen.

Those with a shared belief, or in this case a lack of belief in gender, are effectively prevented from meeting. Communities of women, and in particular lesbians, no longer have the space or even the language to talk about issues that impact on their safety and wellbeing. The impact is devastating as women are now being prevented from talking about the barriers, violence and discrimination we face at the hands of men because of our female bodies.


How does hate crime and hate speech contribute to extremism, including intra-community sectarianism?

The debate around transgender identities is toxic, and it would be disingenuous to suggest that abusive behaviour is only one way. Nonetheless, the demonization of women with unfashionable opinions as ‘TERFs’ has empowered a considerable number of non-trans people to be hateful towards women (and in particular lesbians) who do not believe in gender identity. Activists who mobilise on and offline against ‘terfs’ often consider themselves to be waging a just war and as such have little thought for their actions. I recently saw graffiti that read ‘hang terfs’ and as was widely reported in the press last year, a transgender woman was convicted for assaulting a woman at Speaker’s Corner.

There have been escalating threats and real-life attacks, sometimes stoked by transgender people online before events.

In the US a well-known lesbian ‘TERF’ couple were murdered by a transgender woman. I fear it is a matter of time before this happens in the UK. We must challenge the notion that transwomen are all vulnerable victims and accept that it is possible to respectfully not share an individual’s sense of self.


How does hate speech and bullying impact children and young people in schools and educational institutions?

There is compelling evidence to suggest that some lesbians and gay boys are being pressured to adopt transgender identities. The website www.transgendertrend.com offers an interesting insight into this. Some organisations that offer ‘educational’ sessions on gender identity in schools are contributing to the ostracization of children who are beginning to understand their same sex attraction, as they are told that same sex attraction is exclusionary and that they should be open to ‘all genders.’


How does hate speech impact on the emotional and mental-health of individuals who are targeted at a street and online level?

I know women who have been pushed to mental illness, who have lost jobs and who have been cast-out of LGBT groups for simply not believing in gender identity. Many have to remain anonymous online and live in fear of being ‘outed’ to their employers.

I am unable to get involved with any community organising around events such as the local Pride march in my city, as I know my not believing in gender identity would make me a target of hate. Women like me, and in particular those of us in same sex relationships, no longer have any services to turn to for support at either a local or national level.


Recommendations – What can we do to build community cohesion?

Best practice: What schemes, initiatives and projects exist to build community cohesion in the face of rising hate crime and hate speech?

It is imperative that a nuanced approach is adopted with misogyny taken seriously. Professionals must stop seeing transgender people as one homogenous block, and recognise that a vicious and vocal minority of transgender activists incite hatred against women who do not believe in gender identity.

We need the single-sex exemptions allowed in the Equality Act (2010) to be strengthened. We also need services and advocacy groups specifically for those who are lesbian, gay and bisexual that are separate from transgender people, as the needs of each of these groups are different.


What can national and local government do to increase community cohesion in the face of rising hate crime and hate speech?

Even in this consultation the protected characteristics have not been properly noted – ‘gender reassignment’ is protected as is ‘sex’, ‘gender’ is not. It is imperative that we uphold the protected characteristics and empower people to use the sex specific exemptions in the Equality Act so that women can meet without needing to be inclusive of transgender women who have different experiences. Conversely, transgender women should be able to meet free from women. Everybody must be free to express their belief in gender identity, or lack thereof, without fearing for their safety, mental health or employment.


What role do police forces play in increasing community cohesion in the face of rising hate crime and hate speech? Are there practical examples of their work, say after major terrorist attacks when cohesion may be affected?

Police must take women seriously and must ensure that they adhere to best practice, i.e. by ensuring that they respect the Equality Act themselves, to build confidence and trust.

At present the political stance taken by some police forces, such as West Yorkshire, is eroding the confidence of women to report when they have experienced harassment from transgender activists. West Yorkshire at present has an officer who identifies as non-binary. While they should be free to express themselves as they like, it is imperative that the rights of those who will see this particular officer as ‘male’ or ‘female’ are upheld and that this is not seen as hateful. It is crucial that duties such as the bodily searches that police conduct, or taking reports of sexual violence, are still allocated on the basis of one’s material sex, not gender identity.

The police could play a vital part in stopping the harassment of women who don’t believe in gender identity, but sadly at present none have either the understanding nor the political will to do this. This must change because attacks on and offline are escalating, and soon I fear that this climate of online hate against women will lead to a real life murder being committed by a transgender activist in the UK. This has already happened in the US and Australia.


What role can community organisations, charities and others play to increase community cohesion in the face of rising hate crime and hate speech?

Funding for charities often depends upon them seeming inclusive. In practice this means that those who believe in gender identity are included, and those who don’t are excluded. We need representation by the third sector of those who do not subscribe to the doctrine of gender identity. These groups tend to be run by women in their spare time without funding and as such cannot afford the time nor expense of a seat at the consultation table. Commissioners and funding administrators need training to ensure that women are not discriminated against for not believing in gender identity.


Are there projects that help individuals to support their emotional, mental health and practical needs when they are targeted online and offline?

There is no support for those who are targeted because they do not believe in gender identity. The reasons for this are outlined elsewhere in this document.


By Jo Bartosch

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