Dealing With TERFs (And Other Jerks)


#1

this thread is gonna be a huge bummer

Usually, I like to make my thread starting posts nice little introductory paragraphs on a topic, and open it up for a really broad range of discussion on topics. I’m probably not going to be able to do that here, though, because this is the kind of problem that doesn’t really… work that way, I guess.

There are times, usually late at night when I’m in a bad mood, that I end up falling down rabbit holes. These usually tend to be ideological: I’ll research different kinds of political philosophies, ones I find agreeable, and ones I don’t. But for some reason, frequently, I keep ending up reading TERF blogs… which is pretty unhealthy. I am pretty capable of listening to, analyzing, and trying to understand and argue against ideologies I find abhorrent or simply disagree with. I actually do hold some pride in being willing and able to address these ideologies. But this becomes increasingly difficult when these ideologies challenge my right to exist.

“TERF”, for those unaware, refers to “Transgender Exclusionary Radical Feminist”. The label is often considered pejorative, but it does refer to a concrete ideology: the belief that gender is a construct and therefore no one can actually be transgender.

The result of these beliefs (which shouldn’t be a necessary result) is usually a lot of transmisogyny and the erasure of many people’s queer identities. There’s a wide range of these feminists. There are the more centrist folk (the only one I can think of is Destiny Diamante, a blogger who does not, in fact, identify as a radfem), and then the truly virulent and cruel people (see: Janice Raymond.)

A lot of radical feminists have problematic viewpoints I also think are worth talking about here, though. SWERF (Sex Worker Exclusive), anti-kink and aphobia are also common and I find that pretty frustrating. I’m focusing on TERFs because that is something that both more directly affects me, and is something more on my mind.

I guess my main questions (since I still have a desire to write the original post as somewhat of a springboard) are as follows:

What arguments do you find effective when talking to a TERF?
Have you ever been able to change their mind?
How do you just ignore them?

I will probably get into more particular thoughts in the discussion, but hhhhhhhhHHHHHHHHH


#2

I’m going to go for the “and other jerks” part of this because this doesn’t have to do with TERFs specifically, but it does involve transphobia and misogyny. Just going to recount something that happened a couple weeks back that I was a little blindsided by.

So a couple people I hung out with in High School just randomly showed up at my door, completely unannounced (I understand that this is a thing people did during their childhood, but I never did and it weirded me out, especially as a adult. I digress). I would only consider myself friends with one of these guys, but they asked if I wanted to go get lunch, so I said yes, we got some takeout, and then went back to my place to eat.

Apropos of nothing (actually: we were talking about The Last Jedi, so maybe he’s one of those dudes that thinks it’s for SJWs and that sparked something in him) the dude I’m not friends with starts talking about how pissed he would be if a trans woman slept with him without disclosing her transness beforehand, and how he would feel “tricked” and therefore justified in his anger.

I didn’t really know what to say. I’ve been lucky enough to run in pretty progressive circles since I started College and the last time I’d experienced this kind of casual transphobia was in High School. I found myself wholly unequipped to deal with it. I tried getting into a brief history of rhetoric that villainizes trans women as deceptive and manipulative, and went for the tact of “it’s not anyones responsibility to disclose their gender identity before sex” He interrupted, with a dismissive “oh c’mon”, as if to say I was being too lenient. I looked at the other person here and he just looked back, saying nothing. No support, no call out. Just totally ignoring what had just taken place.

The pair of them just continued to talk about Star Wars as if nothing happened.

Later on they started talking about their most recent Dungeons and Dragons campaign, which revolves around a villainous woman running away from her husband for her female lover and fucking up her family, and subsequently the Kingdom her ex-husband rules. I held my tongue on this one, knowing they’d be leaving soon.

They asked if I wanted to join the campaign, I politely declined and sent them on their way.

My personal solution in this case is just to hope to never have to interact with that dude ever again (which isn’t hard, I don’t work with him or go to school with him anymore), but this is a very specific case and solutions like that are rarely applicable.

I don’t think I ever could have convinced this dude of anything but I would like to not be caught so unaware by something like this. I suppose the solution there is to get read on various perspectives, formulate good, cohesive arguments, and pick my battles when deploying those arguments, but really this encounter was a sort of lesson in reality for me. People just expect to be able to drop shit like that and be supported when they’re in specific company, and being surprised by that was a rude awakening I think I kind of needed.


#3

Have you tried the block button


#4

This is quite a difficult one…

I have been in a gaming FB group that shall remain nameless for over a year, where I have actually seen people move from reactionary positions (on race and gender mostly) to being much more open to progressive ideas and dialogue, and sometimes outright change their opinions. But it took me, and others, a lot of time and effort, effort that was nicely phrased and extremely courteous in the face of some quite stunning statements and sometimes attacks.

The key, for me personally, is that there are people who are willing to discuss various issues even if their original positions are… problematic. It is usually easy to tell who these people are - these are the people you should be communicating with, if your goal is to actually change someone’s opinion or at least open them up a bit. Having said that - what is the worth of a one-off encounter on Twitter for instance? It could be impactful, but repeated conversations are much more likely to be successful - i.e. best bet is to focus on existing communities.

Then, there are the “let me make a hack joke about this, at the expense of this marginalised group, and then act all surprised when I get an equally inflammatory response, that I will then tone police” people. Those people don’t usually want to get into any dialogue and there is no point in engaging with them.

Then, there are the ideologues, who thought through their positions (however briefly) and deploy whatever basic AF arguments justify twisted beliefs. TERFs are one example of this group. Personally, I don’t really see how these people can change their minds, unless it comes from a long-term re-evaluation of their selves. Could a convo online with a stranger kick that process off? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Personally, I get angry about oppression and marginalisation and it pains me to see these discourses repeated in public forums that I participate in. My reaction is to usually approach it in a calm manner and deploy some arguments/calls for empathy, which I did repeatedly in that group even if others would attack me personally or others who couldn’t remain calm.

This is the most important thing - I am straight CIS white dude (living outside of the US), where my privilege is such that despite my immigrant status, I live a life that is for the most part free of oppression. I can afford to appear calm online because as much as I am “plugged into” these issues, they do not affect my life in the same direct way they affect those who are oppressed and marginalised.

Seeing these people constantly get tone policed finally was the last straw and I peaced out. Maybe I will come back later to try and participate in making that environment safer for marginalised people. That is probably a good way of going about this - rather than looking for specific individuals or creating arguments in spaces where they will not lead to anything, focus on making existing communities safer for marginalised people and create new communities. I don’t know… that’s just my thoughts. Others who actually experience this first hand should take the lead on any actionable advice.


#5

So firstly, block and move on. Full-time misogynists (MRAs, haters of trans women, sex worker eradicationalists) may individually slowly change (so no one is a “lost cause”) but they’re a small community of extremists who are terrorists without cause (they are not reacting to oppression but rather to the perceived loss of privilege - that’s why they often slot in so well with reactionary Christian evangelical political activism). Not only does that make them dangerous (in exactly the same way neo-Nazis are - their ideology is of violence against the marginalised based on a history of enacting precisely the violence they preach to murder people) but also means you’re trying to reach someone who lives in a cult-style bubble of reality. Engaging in small scale discussion is part of the virus that spreads their indoctrination and reinforces their group identity (as the only people who can “save” the world, surrounded by heretics) - deprogramming is extremely hard/a specialist skill (and with things like capitalism we can see how sometimes cults can consume most of the world) so trying to do it as an amateur may have the opposite results of what is desired.

But outside of individuals, it’s important to stand against misogynists, racists, neo-Nazis etc. It’s important that people can’t think that it’s just normal, that everyone thinks it. As talked about in some of the other politics threads here, nodding along is how this stuff festers inside society. Reject these cults and don’t give an inch.

Do you agree with TERFs about human trafficking? You think that it’s a great excuse for racist policing, for policing women’s autonomy, removing privacy, for attacking migrants or deporting them (but don’t worry, anyone who disagrees is just part of some massive Jewish conspiracy)? That actually sexual harassment in the workplace doesn’t really matter and can be exploited to push a pro-capitalist (debt-bondage) agenda to incarcerate sex workers (through loss of harm reduction options or even exposing them to actual trafficking) or push them into sweatshops?

I suspect you don’t actually agree with their beliefs (and would distance yourself from the same ideas when espoused by a far-Right Pizzagate conspiracy believer), but maybe you’ve heard some of their PR that has been crafted in exactly the same way that alt-Right messages are (to appeal beyond the cult). It’s police propaganda (look at any recent “anti-trafficking” legislation - the actual money it talks about goes to police) and it’s just as misogynistic as the rest of their belief system.


#6

Oh wow, yeah No, no I don’t agree with any of that at all. That’s pretty deplorable stuff. No thank you.

What I was referring specifically to was some assertions that trans women don’t experience some risks that cis women do. That’s all I meant. I edited that bit out; it was a vague and unnecessary aside


#7

As an all-round privileged cis dude, I don’t feel I have much of a place saying what people should do with TERFs. However, from what I’ve seen, most TERFs are hard to distinguish from full-fleged fascists and their opinions and attitudes towards trans people are such that trying to change their minds is not worth your time. There are more “moderate” transphobes out there like Jesse Singal, who dress up their transphobia as concern for trans children and such nonsense, but those might be more hopeless than the out-and-out hateful ones.

This is not to say you shouldn’t stand up to TERFs. But, from my experience with bigots - which, living where I do, I have plenty - pick your battles and keep in mind that it’s more about keeping them in check than winning them over.

And above all - sorry you have to deal with this.

EDIT: Also extremely agree with @Shivoa on trafficking - I’d recommend following EDW on twitter, who regularly writes and retweets about how SWERFs misuse this issue to attack sex workers:

https://twitter.com/EmilyDWarfield


#8

I would encourage you to really ask yourself whether it’s worth the cost (both in terms of your time and emotional well-being) to interact with TERFs.

It’s one thing if the bad actor is someone you know in real life - people are much more likely to engage in good faith discussions in person, and especially if the person is someone you can’t easily extricate from your social circle/life, maybe there’s a tangible benefit to you in getting them to abandon their reprehensible beliefs. But arguing on the internet is a famously ineffective means of changing people’s minds, and if the TERF not someone you would otherwise value interacting with, what would you, personally, really get out of convincing them to be less shitty?

You’re under no obligation to save the TERFs from their terrible ideas, and trying to do so sounds really exhausting! Even if you feel compelled to push back against their ideology within the public discourse, you’d probably do more good by blocking those people and then interacting with more reasonable individuals who haven’t already declared themselves members of a hate group.

Disclaimer that I’m cis and not speaking from personal experience with this issue. But I have spent a lot of time trying to convince internet strangers and Facebook acquaintances to stop espousing awful positions that hurt people, and have found it a fairly unproductive endeavor.


#9

I refuse to call them SW/TERFs. Not because it offends some of them, but because it includes the word feminist.
Which they aren’t.

Bigot. Sexist. Misogynist. There are already plenty of terms for people who hold these views.
They wish to tell women what they can or cannot do/be, what they can/can’t do, where they can/can’t be. Telling women they don’t count, aren’t real/valid. No. That’s not feminism. Not by any definition worth using.


I deleted, then un-deleted this post, because… it’s… a messy jumble of various internal rants, but I’m fine with having that out there.
“Dismissively” is how I deal with these people, as it turns out.


#10

as a trans woman? big mood

This pretty much encapsulates it for me, I just don’t have the emotional resources/capacity to engage even silently and in my head reading their posts and trying to pose counter-arguments (much less actually engaging them in debate), which I know from experience…way too much experience. At this point I only “interact” in the form of clicking block. Every once in a while, you see an ex-TERF make a long post on tumblr about how older TERF women intentionally target and groom impressionable young kids, and post screenshot #receipts of some truly ugly and manipulative backroom planning for stuff like that, as well as some pretty violent fantasies about us, that wound up being the reason that particular ex-TERF was driven out. There seemed to be a lot more of those in 2012-2014 compared to now, but when I see those I’ll reblog them to spread awareness so hopefully any TERF hate-following me might chance to see the ugly underbelly of those communities…but I generally don’t attach any commentary anymore, I’m just willing to amplify voices who have things to say that might actually speak to women who claim to care about women and girls not being exploited and manipulated and otherwise just stay right out of it.


#12

Never talk to a TERF, always talk to the people TERFs are talking to. At least in my opinion, someone who’s a TERF (or a nazi, or any kind of shithead bigot) is never going to come to the table looking for a chat. They’re only there to harass and hurl abuse at their targets. If you got the emotional resources, it’s going to be much more worth your time talking to people who maybe don’t know what a TERF is but have been hearing a lot of trans-misogyny.

If someone has gone so far as to define their politics such that it specifically excules a group of people, they are never going to be worth talking to.


#13

This pretty much sums up my thoughts, and I thinks it’s especially relevant to cis people trying to engage TERFs in calm debate. I imagine most people here probably understand why things like quote tweets and youtube debates are bad (don’t give them an audience!!), but even less visible forms of this always provide some legitimacy to their ideas.

One alternative (although its generally more useful for people who aren’t the target of whatever bigotry is being dealt with) is to provide consequences for bigotry. The idea behind this is that it is more important to make spaces safe from TERFs etc than it is to change their mind, and if TERFs aren’t comfortable expressing themselves around you, then the spaces you frequent will become safer for the trans people there.

Practically this can take a lot of forms, depending on what social position you have in a space and what safety concerns there are (both for yourself and others). At its simplest, just refusing to talk to TERFs is good! On your own and in a space where you have little influence, the effect won’t be huge, but the discomfort of being excluded from even a tiny number of conversations still matters. In a smaller more tightly knit space like a family gathering (when you’re cis and have a close family), this can even make them feel unwelcome talking at or even attending similar events in the future. Other times more extreme consequences like shouting down or punching are useful, but be extremely aware of who else is around you and make sure you’re not putting them or yourself in danger by doing this.

(I can’t find a specific twitter thread, but I know my ideas on this have been heavily influenced by Gene Demby on twitter)

As far as dealing with bigotry that affects me directly, I’ve found that being rude works reasonably often. Dismissing TERFs for their ideas about trans people always seems to end with them trying debate trans people (or worse), which is extremely never what I want, but if I figure out someone’s a TERF or regular transphobe early enough I just act really rude toward them for no apparent reason so they avoid me, which works surprisingly well for me. Unfortunately it probably won’t work in person for people that don’t pass, but it may still be helpful online

On the heavier side: TERFs and other fascist/fascist adjacent groups are dangerous. It seems pretty widely accepted in leftist circles that punching and other forms of physical violence can be necessary to keep yourself and the spaces you exist in safe, but these methods aren’t available to everyone and may put you in significant danger. On the other hand social and typically feminine coded violence can have just as great an effect as physical violence with less risk, but seems to still have significant stigma attached to it. If you feel that violence is necessary to stay safe, don’t be afraid to spread lies about someone just because punching them would be more respectable.


#14

Like some other folks have said, I don’t really feel 100% about speaking on this because I’m a cis male, but because its the internet and I like all kinds of shit, I often end up in spaces with no other queer people where my lonely bi ass is stuck as the only person who is going to check somebody’s bullshit. It is exhausting as shit sometimes, but what really helps me keep my head is to make myself answer one question: am I trying to reach the person saying the harmful bullshit, or am I putting on a show for the people watching this argument?

A great example of this unrelated to TERFs but with similar concepts relates to a game I play that has a lot of younger kids in the community. It also has a lot of Nazis. I argue with them a fair bit, but I have long given up on the idea that I’m going to convince them of anything. However, if I’m trying to convince somebody else who is spectating the encounter (like these young kids), it really opens up a lot of opportunities because my goal is no longer to reach the trolls and hardcore ideologues (who are almost acting in bad faith) but to steer the conversation any which way I can in order to make the impression I want on anybody else who is watching. Example: rather than trying to refute some bad science horseshit a Nazi says like I would if I were in a good faith debate with an actual human, I’d rather find a way to tell a story that appeals to somebody’s humanity. Not their humanity, because theirs is definitely busted, but the humanity of anybody who is watching and potentially absorbing this exchange.

Usually it works out that the TERF/Nazi/racist is doing something to try and sneak their shit ideology onto somebody (an alt-righter may be memeing, which young teens love, while a TERF may couch their shit in a lot of “pro-woman” femininity stuff, a men’s rights activist may try to be empowering in some way, all of which is designed to hook somebody and make the delivery of the nasty ideology easier to swallow rather than just stating it outright from the get go) and so some of the spectators may find that appealing. However, by challenging them as me, with my own reputation in the community, I can make an impression of my own on the silent spectators. While you’re almost certainly going to be ineffective in silencing the bigot, you can definitely be successful in presenting an alternative and better idea to anybody who might be listening.

Another key is to separate the bad faith instigators from the good faith people who are just hung up on something and need to be talked through it. Feel free to talk past and ignore the instigators while putting on a show and presenting a better ideology to the silent spectators. The most important part of combating bigotry is to prevent its spread from the extreme to the mainstream, and so its important to remember that the most salient mission of anybody combating these ideas should be to prevent spectators and the “undecided” from taking the bigot seriously, not trying to redeem the bigot. Redeeming the bigot is a bonus, but usually not worth the effort.

Always remember what Sartre had to say about anti-Semites.

“Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.”

In my experience, it’s best when I’m not worried about trying to score points on somebody who moves the goalposts constantly, but when I’m attempting to present a compelling counter-narrative to the people who the bigots are trying to sway. Pick your battles and take care of yourself so that you don’t get so infuriated and riled up that you sink loads of time into trying to “own” the bigot or get them to admit they are wrong. Hopefully the TERF will give up the ghost eventually, but whatever warped them to be so upset about other people living their best lives is not something you’re going to reason them out of, no matter how sound your facts are.


#15

Maybe this is the wrong place but I needed to share this and ask what should be done.

Im angry, theres no union to protect me if I reply and he doesn’t like it, he is the CEO after all


#16

Yeesh, he even realizes that this should have been run by HR and yet still decided to send the email out before consulting them. That’s some next level incompetence right there.

My recommendation if you are worried about blowback is to leave an anonymous note on your HR rep’s desk about how this initiative makes you uncomfortable. If from there HR does nothing, then the decision is either to escalate it as a formal complaint, or if you think that will result in making your work life harder, stay silent and start sending out your resume. Hope that helps!


#17

Yeah, I’ve began looking for jobs already. Whilst the initiative doesn’t offend me, it’s the fact he knows full well he is going to offend someone but continued to send the email. I wanted to respond with statistics on Trans suicide rates but I’m sure i’d be let go just for standing up for myself.

Worst thing about it, I work in a solicitors, he knows the law


#18

Sometimes corporate life just feels like a balancing act of picking your battles, and dying a little inside when you aren’t in a position to counter assholes. I’ve definitely been there. Sending good vibes that you end up in a better situation!


#19

Nice one mate, I’ll see if HR does anything at all


#20

Citations Needed just dropped a podcast on what to do in this very scenario:

In the wake of the 2016 election, many conservatives, liberals, and - unfortunately - even some on the left pointed to Democrats’ reliance on so-called “identity politics” to explain Donald Trump’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton.

One of the most popular manifestations of this sentiment was the controversy surrounding bathrooms and transgender rights. The general theory was that some unspecified cohort of voters, outraged by the oppressive nature of trans politics, responded by voting for a reactionary bigot they otherwise wouldn’t have supported. “Identity politics” – and its close cousin “political correctness” – had gone too far, we heard, and Trump’s election was the blowback.

Commentaries in corporate media pushed this narrative, while missing the essential point: The alleged “identity issues” of trans people are not a matter of self-esteem or feeling good about themselves or about some academic notion of “being recognized.” In many concrete ways, they’re quite literally a matter of life and death. Yet conveying this notion to the broader, cis public has been almost impossible as media narratives surrounding trans issues – when they’re not outright hostile or glib – have disproportionately focused on surface-level improvements among the wealthy and within spaces that even help advance U.S. militarism.

How do we breakthrough the corrosive narratives of either contempt on the one hand, or imperialist inclusion on the other? And how can we elevate narratives that affect the vast majority of trans people, like housing, police terror, legal status, healthcare and basic human dignity, while pushing back against liberal and left holdouts who dismiss trans issues as simply another “distraction.”

We are joined on today’s episode by Dean Spade, associate professor at Seattle University School of Law.


#21

This might be my favorite citations needed episode yet, I highly recommend everyone give it a listen if they’ve got the time