TERF – Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist
Big, scary term, innit?
I’ve spent most of my life scared of people who I saw fit to this label.
Well here’s the thing, transfolks and allies.
Although there are certainly people who are fit to the label, TERF is often cast as an aspersion. It is a false, misleading accusation that serves only to avoid difficult discourse in bad faith.
The continued overuse of this term in our discourse disparages the genuine concerns of women who, at the end of the day, just plain don’t understand us and need to be shown that we aren’t a #transcult injecting the world with #peaktrans ideologues with a #cottonceiling we demand women break through in #totalitarian fashion.
We are not #bogeyMEN.
And neither are all the people you perceive as TERFs.
Applying this term to those who think in ways which defy our own demonizes them and causes us to pre-conceive bias against them and it leads to destructive, rather than constructive conversation.
They are humans with real human concerns over real human conditions, just like we are.
They need to be shown our Humanity if they are ever going to accept it.
But how to we do that?
My friend Rya shared with me an amazing concept for beginning the building of bridges with people like those who are infected with transphobia:
1. Demonstration of understanding
2. Nurturing of understanding
That begins a process of growth. From there, you can bridge the rest of the gap with apology and capitulation wherever necessary.
This has been my moral guide throughout this entire, often times terrible, bridge-building process. And it has begun to work. I’ve seen the potential for growth it has and have experienced first hand its uplifting of the human condition.
It has required apology and capitulation on my part. I’ve apologized for being certainly overly-liberal in application of the term TERF and for, in my fear of those who I saw as TERFs, brushing the valid concerns of women under the rug.
If you’ve paid any attention in your life to the world around you, you’ll likely have noticed that most every theology, narrative, poem, etc has a figure alluding to this sort of path. These sorts of signifiers can be found everywhere, woven into in culture.
Maybe, just maybe that’s because a lot of people have learned that it is an invaluable lesson in humanity.
Haven’t you heard? It’s a battle of words.
There is no good or bad. Only thinking makes it so.
Words, words words!
Slanders, sir. For the satirical rogue says here that old men have gray beards, that their faces are wrinkled, their eyes purging thick amber and plum-tree gum, and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams—all which, sir, though I most powerfully and potently believe, yet I hold it not honesty to have it thus set down; for yourself, sir, should be old as I am, if like a crab you could go backward.
Words without thoughts, never to Heaven go.
The path to insanity is fraught with many flawed ideas.
Let’s not succumb to them.
Let’s build bridges.
Let’s overcome the obstacles that separate Us & Them and find our common ground.
The truest problem we can all face together, right here, right now, in egalitarian fashion is to volunteer our voices and time to shelters as well as donate anything we can to them. In exercising our voices, let us not use them to bicker on social media and instead use that energy to set out into the world and help shelters!
I’ve taken concerns over sharing shelter spaces very seriously and have capitulated to certain concerns over them.
Women who are traumatized at the hands of a man can internalize this experience in such a way that the experience of men by any stretch of the imagination triggers pain in them. They can’t come to accept who I am because they quite simply can’t complete the mental process. This means, that in the eyes of a survivor, a trans woman can take on the appearance of a threat. By and large, we are of course, not any sort of threat and do have every right to shelter when we need it.
Both sides have perfectly valid concerns over survivors in this argument. This, above all else, is why we need to take an egalitarian approach to this problem.
Women’s shelters, which have been built and designed specifically for women and/or children have not been made with trans people in mind and we must be sensitive to the concerns of those who run such shelters. Transwomen shouldn’t impose themselves on these spaces. Women have earned them through years of blood, sweat, and empathy. We must put forth the same effort if we there will ever be enough shelter space available for all types of people in need.
When I say “all types of people” I mean ALL types. This problem of spacial accommodation to trans people, over shelters especially, is FAR bigger than the trans/transphobe dichotomy.
If a black woman is beaten to within an inch of her life by a group of white women, where can she go?
Do we have shelters for her?
If not, we damn well should.
Equipping shelters to handle all types of people in a myriad of circumstances is no easy task, but it is a necessary one.
I have been working together with my local shelter to acknowledge and address these sorts of concerns. Here is the most relevant response I have received so far:
“Operating a shelter is a challenge and there’s no one right answer for any question when talking about shelter issues. I’ll answer your question to the best of my abilities. We work on a case by case basis with every client that comes to our shelter, because everybody has a unique story and individual needs. With that being said, we do have basic rules that everyone who comes to shelter must follow. Resident advocates do everything we can to ensure the safety of residents staying in shelter, and we have a zero tolerance policy for any violent behavior in shelter. We also have a nondiscrimination policy that everyone must agree to when they come into shelter. That includes not discriminating on the basis of age, race, creed, gender, ethnicity, color, size, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, different abilities, religion, or gender identity. That being said, we do realize that things will sometimes happen in shelter that we cannot control or that residents may break the rules. We hold all residents accountable for their behavior. We work to ensure everyone who calls us for shelter know that we serve all genders.
We train everyone in our program not to assume gender, but we know that people bring in their own biases and personal history. On our intake form we ask for gender just as we do other demographic information. If a person identifies as female and they do not have children, we have them share a room with up to three other women. If a person identifies as male without children, then we have another room for them that they may have to share if another male identifying person comes into shelter. If people complain about a person who appears to be male, we remind them that we serve all genders, and that they agreed to stay in shelter knowing that. We have clients who come to shelter who have suffered trauma from various types of relationships. Some of those relationships are same or opposite gender so they may be uncomfortable with people of their own gender. We make sure to tell everyone that they don’t have to be friends with the people that they room with, but that they must be respectful towards everyone.
We still do have basic criteria for entering shelter. The person needing shelter must be fleeing domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking. We have a six county service area and we give preference to those meeting the criteria within our service area. People can only bring children that they have custody of, but people don’t have to have children to stay at Middle Way House.”
Let’s stop bickering and get off social media to face and end this problem together, hand in hand, fighting the tide that disparages and oppresses women everywhere while pushing to provide shelter and a safe and secure pathway to healing to everyone who needs it.
Here are some resources to help you find shelters in need:
Volunteer your time to them and donate to them for the betterment of all humanity.