#GenderWeek: Truce! When radical feminists and trans feminists empathise

By Finn Mackay and Ruth Pearce

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

We wanted to explore the ground between the polarised, entrenched positions in the so-called “TERF-war”. Radical feminists on one pole, trans-inclusionary feminists and trans activists on the other. The disputed territory being women-only space, language and the ever changing legal framework surrounding gender.

Entrenchment leads to stalemate. Stalemate is no friend to progress.

We want to know how feminism can progress when it comes to these gender debates. Can we stop hurling abuse and start listening? What would happen if people in these polarised positions began to empathise with each other? Is it possible to find common ground and start building towards a shared vision of the future? Fighting common enemies?

We asked Finn Mackay, a radical feminist, and Ruth Pearce, a trans feminist, if they would help us explore the place between the poles, this no (wo)man’s land, with some radical empathy.

Finn Mackay:

The disagreements between some feminist theory and the growing movement for trans rights and recognition perhaps began most publically with Janice Raymond’s 1980 book The Transexual Empire and Sandy Stone’s famous riposte in The Empire Strikes Back. The main two critiques were that Raymond denied a history for trans people and stated that trans people are not ‘real’ men or women.

It’s not difficult to see why the latter would cause offence, and indeed Raymond does suggest this in her book. Mainly she is concerned with critiquing the medical industry and its pathologisation of gender in the clinics of the 1970s, which she sees as charm schools for gender stereotyping.

Raymond does not deny a transgender history; she is not naïve to the fact that gender rules are different around the world and are often flouted. However, Raymond argues that it wasn’t until legal and medical advancements that it became possible to talk about the identity of transexual.

This highlights an important distinction between gender and sex. I am not an essentialist; I believe gender is a social construct – by which I mean masculinity, femininity, camp, butch, high femme or androgynous, for example. Sex describes the biological features of our bodies, such as genitalia, reproductive capacity and hormones. In patriarchy of course, sex equals rank and gender roles are used, promoted and policed so that sex rank is obvious and unequivocal.

I don’t believe gender is natural, fixed or innate, but made and not born. It is made by all the stereotypes around us about how men and women are supposed to look, act and dress. Everyone works hard at their gender, it does not come naturally. Men and women work to live up to narrow and impossible gender ideals; they diet and spend vast amounts on cosmetics and plastic surgery. In that way we are all performing gender, and it is difficult to say if anyone is a ‘real’ man or woman.

Therefore, I don’t believe that trans people are any less ‘real’ men and women than anyone else, and I don’t believe trans women are ‘men’. I respect self-definition and use the pronouns individuals identify as; I would never refer to trans women as ‘he’ or to trans men as ‘she’. I agree that women-only spaces should be open to all women, including trans women. However, I also respect the right of all oppressed groups to self-organise. For example, recently a mixed feminist conference in Manchester held a workshop on girlhood sexual abuse which was open only to women assigned female at birth. I do not think it was right that the conference was attacked as a result.

I do not agree with the term ‘cis’ and do not use it. It suggests that all non-trans people are gender normative Stepford wives, which is far from the case. I do not get read as a woman in many daily interactions and experience harassment and violence as a result. I do not have the privilege of not being questioned about my sex and gender in the street, in passport control or in interactions with health services. I also do not believe that being categorised as female in a patriarchal world can ever be seen as a privilege, and the facts of sexual violence, marginalisation and poverty bear that out.


Ruth Pearce:

In you, I see the girls who spat in my face as I walked home from school.
In me, you see every man who has ever treated you like a lesser being.
In you, I see the boys who always wanted to pick a fight.
In me, you see someone who just won’t listen.
In you, I see my father, a man I’ve always considered to be wise and thoughtful, telling me that I’ll be outed by the press and kicked out of university for using the women’s toilets.
In me, you see a forceful male penetration of women’s spaces.
In you, I see a thousand tabloid headlines screaming “tranny”.
In me, you see a blind adherence to the oppressive system of binary gender.
In you, I see the doctor who tells me what I can and can’t do with my body.
In me, you see the stooge of a patriarchal medical system.
In you, I see how friends who have been beaten or raped were told that they brought it on themselves.
In me, you see a systematic desire to control and define womanhood.
In you, I see a systematic desire to control and define womanhood.

My truth and your truth are both derived from a fierce feminism, but somehow remain diametrically opposed.  Why is it that we disagree so much over the meaning of my body, over the meaning of your lived experience, over the existence of feminist events that exclude trans women?

I would tell you that my subconscious sex, the mental matrix that somehow marks the flesh I expect to see and feel when I behold myself, maps snugly onto the body I have inhabited since undergoing hormone therapy and genital reconstruction. I would tell you that for the last six years I have been happy and at ease with myself in a way I could never have been before.

I would tell you that yes, I agree that gender is a social construct which ascribes hegemonic power to the masculine. I would tell you that I, like you, am forced to negotiate a society where we cannot simply reject gender because we are constantly gendered by others. The body I inhabit, the things I enjoy, the manner in which I communicate, the clothes I prefer to wear all fit better into the artificial category of “woman” than the artificial category of “man”.

I would tell you that I too am subject to sexism and misogyny in many of their vile forms. My transness does not spare me. I would further tell you that I have experienced worse for being trans than for being a woman, although such unpleasant experiences have been limited by the privileges that come with my class background and the colour of my skin.

I would tell you that I believe in the importance of women’s spaces. I would argue that no group of women should be rejected from such a space.

I would tell you that I am a woman because I identify as a woman and because I move through the world as a woman. That I reject outdated ideals of “appropriate” female behaviour. That I rage against sexism and misogyny, and fight alongside my sisters for equality, for liberation, for choice.

I would tell you that this is my truth, and that there is no universal trans truth. I would ask you to acknowledge the diversity and complexity of trans truths.

And you would tell me your truth. You would tell me of the pain that comes from growing up as a girl and then living as a woman in a patriarchal world. You would tell me that I can never know what this is like, that I will always be male, that my chromosomes and life experience cannot be erased. You would tell me that you have a right to organise without me. That I should just leave you alone.

And our argument could roll on for a long time. I might draw upon the wisdom of black feminist thinkers to argue that there is no universal experience of womanhood. And you might respond that I, nevertheless, will always have with me the privileges that come with being raised as a boy. And I would say yes, I accept that, but seek to acknowledge and check this in the same way I seek to acknowledge and check my other privileges, and moreover this intersects complexly with the oppression I experienced growing up as a trans girl, learning to hate myself and unable to access hegemonic forms of masculinity.

Where does this leave us?

At the end of the day, we have to draw a line in the sand. So you read and write and share your critiques of my existence, and attend your conferences from which I am explicitly excluded. But I necessarily object to writings and events that actively oppose or undermine my liberation: articles that turn me into a joke or demean my struggle for survival, activists who out vulnerable children, keynote speakers who say that we are all rapists and call for the abolition of gender clinics.

I am left with no choice but to actively oppose the public manifestation of opinions that will do harm to myself, to my friends, to my trans sisters, to my trans brothers, to my queer and/or non-gender-specific trans siblings.

I oppose you not because I hate you, and certainly not because I oppose feminism. I oppose you because you would cause me harm.

And in doing so, you believe that I cause you harm.

And so the dance goes on.

Ruth’s piece is adapted from her 2012 blog post, which you can read here.

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25 thoughts on “#GenderWeek: Truce! When radical feminists and trans feminists empathise

  1. Dana Taylor

    Finn, you might want to do a little more research on gender being innate or not. Please check the link in my sig. David Reimer knew he was male but was forced to live as a female due to a botched surgery on his genitals. He committed suicide, btw. There is also a very interesting talk about two twins. I highly suggest watching the entire video.

    Also, why is cis bad? Is hetero bad? I don’t understand.

    1. Ruth Pearce

      Hi Dana,

      I think that a lot of radical feminists and trans people actually end up talking at cross-purposes over the idea of gender being “innate”, and this is at the root of many of our disagreements.

      I would draw upon radical feminist (and queer!) ideas to argue that gender is *not* innate. For example, there is nothing natural about particular items of clothing being regarded as “feminine”, or about individuals who move through the world as female being expected to behave “feminine” ways.

      Many of the supposedly “natural” differences between boys and girls are socially constructed from a very early age – for instance, through boys frequently being encouraged to engage in more creative, active behaviours whilst girls of the same age are more likely to be encouraged to be “pretty” and have considerably more passive role models in popular culture.

      So, on this front I agree that gender is *not* innate. But this does not account for the deep-seated sense of *physical* dissonance experienced by many trans people (and many intersex people, and individuals such as David Reimer), nor does it account for the *social* dissonance experienced by many trans and cis people.

      This is why I draw upon Julia Serano’s use of “subconscious sex” – it describes the *physical* feeling of sexed embodiment that is “wrong” for many (not all!) trans people. This explains the massive sense of relief that many trans people feel when undertaking hormone therapy – often it’s not even about physical changes so much as the biochemical change we experience. There is something here about the mapping of the body by the brain – something that is not yet fully understood. But I feel we need to be careful about the claims we make, as it has been all-too-easy for people to draw upon embodied transsexed experiences to (wrongly) claim that the *social* experience of gender is “natural”.

      Regarding social dissonance: it’s pretty much impossible to know the extent to which our desires and interests are “innate” or constructed through “nurture”. I personally believe that our tastes can’t be *entirely* socially constructed – how then could gender outlaws (be they trans, queer, radical feminist or whatever) exist? Maybe it is that some people are “naturally” more inclined to have certain desires or interests.

      *But* there is nothing about these desires or interests that is “naturally” female or male – these are two artificial ways to categories the grand diversity of human existance. There is nothing innate about dresses or skirts that is more “female” than male. It’s just material arranged into a shape. We then project all of this powerful “female” symbolism onto the clothing: passivity, sexualisation, artifice. This is ridiculous. Why can’t a skirt (a circle of material!) be active, powerful: “masculine”? Of course it can. It’s whatever we project onto it. Which shows how utterly artificial masculinity and femininity are.

      Given all of this, however, I feel it’s useful still to have the terminology of “cis” – it allows us to talk about individuals who experience a *particular* kind of physical and/or social dissonance, people who have a particular life experience with particular challenges – and then also talk about people who *don’t* have that experience and *don’t* have those challenges in a way that acknowledges the first group as “real”, much in the same way that “straight” makes “gay” more real. This isn’t to say that cis people don’t experience social discomfort or dissonance – it’s just different. And if we’re sensible about the trans/cis divide, we’ll recognise it as one of these binary distinctions which is helpful for gaining understanding, but perhaps not a summary of the whole truth. After all, straight and gay aren’t the only sexualities available. But it’s important that we understand what straight privilege is, and how it works.

    2. Woman

      Yes, a little more research will be helpful on the case of David Reimer. To assert that his suicide was because of his innate gender is either ignorant or intentionally misleading. Reimer was treated as a guinea pig and sexually abused for years by John Money, who incidentally is regarded as a hero by many in the transgender movement. See But thanks, Dana, for the opportunity to clear things up.

      [Ed: Trigger Warning]
      From Wikipedia:
      Reimer said that Dr. Money forced the twins to rehearse sexual acts involving “thrusting movements”, with David playing the bottom role.[4] Reimer said that, as a child, he had to get “down on all fours” with his brother, Brian Reimer, “up behind his butt” with “his crotch against” his “buttocks”.[4] Reimer said that Dr. Money forced David, in another sexual position, to have his “legs spread” with Brian on top.[4] Reimer said that Dr. Money also forced the children to take their “clothes off” and engage in “genital inspections”.[4] On at “least one occasion”, Reimer said that Dr. Money took a photograph of the two children doing these activities.[4] Dr. Money’s rationale for these various treatments was his belief that “childhood ‘sexual rehearsal play'” was important for a “healthy adult gender identity”.[4]

      1. Ruth Pearce

        Speaking as a trans person, I – like pretty much everyone else I’ve met who knows *anything* about him – think that John Money is a twisted, terrible human being.

      2. Dana Taylor

        What do you think led up to all of that? That they raised him as a girl. Otherwise none of the other things would have happened. He would have simply been a boy without a penis.

  2. Sarah Brown

    Mackay is making a classic mischaracterisation here: that gender dysphoria is some sort of need to fit in with gender norms. It is not, and that is trivially disproven by the (widespread) existence of butch trans women and femme trans men. In fact, almost none of the trans women of my acquaintance are gender conformist as women.

    Similarly, cis does not imply a desire to be gender normative. It simply means “not trans”. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Until radical feminist analysis expands to recognise and incorporate this point, “gender critical” rad fems will forever (deliberately or otherwise) miss the point when they talk about trans people.

    1. Sarah

      Sarah, I agree to a great degree, but also the construction of that cis/trans binary for me is always complicated, like all binaries, by those who fall between the cracks. I think part of the problem is that when compiling lists of cis privilege and the sort, the same mischaracterisation of gender dysphoria = fitting gender roles is used to attempt to show the kinds of privileges cis people enjoy within society. Like everything regarding gender, the reality is so much more complex.

  3. Elizabeth Hungerford

    Sarah Brown, Finn has not made a mischaracterization. If sex dysphoria is not related to gender norms, than social transition would NEVER be necessary. Trans people generally do not complete physical transition and simultaneously reject any corresponding gender-related social transition. I’ve only known the opposite: full social transition with no physical transition. If sex dysphoria is strictly about dissatisfaction with the *body,* then muddying the waters with the rhetoric of “gender identity” was a catastrophic mistake… because now the entire discussion is bound up in the terminology of female oppression.

    DLT, “cis” is objectionable because it situates non-trans males and non-trans females as equals on the axis of gender, with subjectively identifying trans people below all “cis”-defined people. This framing misrepresents the mechanics of oppression (one is not targeted for oppression/discrimination by her subjective identity, but by material conditions). A cis versus trans framework of gender social dynamics erases women’s oppression (in relation to men) on the axis of gender. Further, it presumes that all non-trans females have effortlessly assimilated to feminine norms of appearance of behavior. This is a gross misrepresentation of reality.

    I also take issue with Ruth Pearce’s misrepresentation of Janice Raymond’s work (scheduled keynote speaker at Femifest 2014). Raymond used the term “rape” in a METAPHORICAL WAY. This is clearly explained in the (con)text of the book itself. To neglect mention that this is a METAPHOR is not an act of good faith, but instead, belies the author’s intent to discredit and malign the historical foundations of gender criticism–I assume so that she doesn’t have to confront the substantive arguments about appropriation of women’s lived experiences and pathologizing sex-role non-conformity. Pearce gives no further argument for why we must accept that something called a “subconscious sex” persists in the absence of gender stereotypes. I’m not sure how this is considered a truce, it reads more like a dismissal without good cause.

    1. Ruth Pearce


      Some people transition. Some people don’t. And different people transition to different degrees.

      Your comment appears to imply that a transition is “complete” only if an individual fits comfortable into a normative “female” or “male” body type. This idea only reinforces binary gender and patriarchal ideas of the “appropriate” sexed body. But human biology has always been more complicated than that; there is no such thing as a “typical” female or male body. If a trans person needs to change one part of themself but wishes to maintain another, where is the problem?

      So why do we tie up “gender” with “sex”? Well, the problem is that it is so hard to disassociate them in everyday life. Sex is gendered. Gender is sexed. The average trans person doesn’t have access to advanced feminist discourse when they’re coming out. This is why I feel distinctions between subconscious sex, gender identity, gendered presentation and suchlike are helpful for a more nuanced discussion of what it “means” to be trans, and why/how we build alliances around gender/sex differences. There are hundreds of blogs and many books out there exploring this in a thoughtful way. Unfortunately, I suspect that much of this discussion is stifled by the fear that religious conservatives and radical feminists will leap out of the digital woodwork to declare “YOU’RE REALLY A [MAN/WOMAN]”. How are we meant to have public discussions about the complexity of gender and sex under patriarchy if this keeps happening? You only need to see the response to CN’s piece for Feminist Times to see this in action.

      Also, there *are* plenty of us who transition physically. Thousands in the UK alone. And many thousands more who wish to transition physically but are unable to – for medical reasons, family reasons, religious reasons, financial reasons, you name it. In this instance, social transition is the next best thing, because at least people aren’t looking at you and assuming the worst about your body.

      Regarding “cis” – no, this does not prevent us from discussing the power relations between women and men. “Cis” is intended to allow us to discuss the power relations between trans people and cis people. Stating that trans people are oppressed does not mean that women are magically not oppressed. Stating that cis women have privilege in relation to trans women does not mean that women have privilege in relation to men. Power relations are not straightforward, and terms such as “trans”, “cis”, “gay”, “bisexual”, “black”, “white”, “abled”, “disabled”, “middle class”, “working class” etc can (when used strategically, avoiding essentialism) help us make sense of this.

      Intersectionality can help us understand how individuals can be privileged *and* oppressed at the same time, meaning we can have meaningful conversations about how (for instance) a cis woman and a trans man might be privileged *and* oppressed in regards to one another, as the woman in this scenario is likely to have cis privilege (all the advantages of moving through the world without being perceived as trans) and the trans man is likely to have male privilege (all the advantages of moving through the world without being perceived as a woman).

      Of course, the more nuanced this discussion, the more productive. I like how most of the comments on this article actually take care to be thoughtful about what “cis” might mean. Whilst I disagree with Finn (very strongly!) about the utility of the term “cis”, I feel she raises an important point about how many women who aren’t trans might *not* experience cis privilege in a straightforward manner, particularly if they are read as non-gender normative by others. I would like to have a productive discussion about this without having to defend my right to exist.

      Which leads me nicely onto…

      Regarding Janice Raymond – I link to a Wikipedia article that quotes her directly, so it’s not like I’m trying to pretend that she isn’t talking in symbolic terms. I have read The Transsexual Empire.

      I would suggest that Raymond frequently uses “rape” more as a simile than a metaphor, e.g. “All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves”. This is a statement about power. Rape is so horrific in part because it is an assault upon personhood and autonomy. Raymond is accusing trans women of exactly this, on a grand social level. In stating that I ignore “substantive arguments about appropriation of women’s lived experiences” you effectively back this argument.

      Quite frankly: how dare you? How dare you accuse me of appropriating “women’s lived experiences”? My lived experience is my own. I live as a woman. I go to work as a woman. I enjoy my hobbies as a woman. And what I mean by this is that I perceive myself as a woman (i.e. someone who happens to fit into a contingent social category) I am perceived by others as a woman (who construct this social reality of “womanhood”). I receive sexist comments from men in the street for existing as a woman and I am aware my limited opportunities and the fact that I am at particular risk of male violence. This is experience is my own. It is the experience I have had my entire adult life.

      By conflating trans struggles with “rape” and trans agendas with the agendas of medical practitioners, so called “gender critical feminists” visit a symbolic violence upon trans women that ignore and perpetuate the real, everyday threats (and experiences) of violence we experience, as trans people and as women. You are the reason that trans women are denied a space in feminism. You are the reason that trans women are kicked out of women’s shelters and rape crisis centres. You are the reason that trans women learn to hate themselves. You are the reason that trans women kill themselves, or die in the streets.

      I can emphasise with you Elizabeth, and my piece was written from a place of empathy and attempted understanding. But I have no interest in a “truce”. This is an ideological battle fought over my life and my body. I intend to win.

      1. genderslayer

        “I can emphasise with you Elizabeth, and my piece was written from a place of empathy and attempted understanding. But I have no interest in a “truce”. This is an ideological battle fought over my life and my body. I intend to win.”

        Isn’t it nice, Pearce has NO interest in a “truce”. Not sure why they were allowed to write on this topic then. That’s pretty misleading and frankly, a COMPLETE WASTE of readers’ and the RF author’s time.

        1. intemperatevulgarity

          Can you blame her? For her, winning means being given the simple respect of having her identity recognised and respected, i.e. being able to get on with her life and feminism without constantly having to defend her right to exist / being excluded.

          For Elizabeth and people like her, winning appears to mean transwomen not being recognised as women.

          I.e. For Ruth the stakes are about her very right to exist. For Elizabeth and people like her the stakes are about ensuring other people aren’t recognised as existing.

        2. Bailey Summers

          And what we’re to just let people run rampant over our lives just because we’re transgender? We argue, we fight because we’re now able to do much more than before. And we’re not going away. Transgender people existed before radfem and we’ll survive this too no matter how much you hate the fact.

    2. friday jones

      Just because you don;t personally know any butch post-op trans women doesn’t mean that we don’t exist. I’ve been one since 1985, for example. And I know plenty more. Maybe you’ve just been letting your prejudice against us prevent you from meeting us by consciously cutting trans * people from your social and activist circles.

      You know, when Archie Bunker met the Jeffersons, he lost a bit of his prejudice against their kind. Had they never moved in next door to him (which his chosen neighborhood used to actively prevent from happening), he never would have grown as a person and learned that his prejudices were unfounded. He would have lived out the rest of his life with a straw man caricature of black people in his head, and with a lack of understanding of their shared humanity.

  4. MarinaS (@marstrina)

    “Similarly, cis does not imply a desire to be gender normative. It simply means “not trans”. Nothing more, nothing less.”

    If that is truly the case, then we should, at the very least, reject it on the basis that it is redundant and complicates the discourse by adding terminology without increasing meaning.

    Since on the contrary, people seem to be keen to vehemently defend it, then I think we need to look for a more honest account of what the word truly means and how it functions in discourse.

    1. friday jones

      Then why not also get rid of “hetero” and just call people who aren’t gay or lesbian “not homo.” Oh wait, that’s just what homophobic people do proudly say, except for when they call themselves “normal” instead.

  5. Natacha Kennedy

    I think Finn’s piece is worth using as a starting point for some sort of rapprochement. I agree with Ruth’s response here below the line also. I am very much a social constructivist which means that IMO trans and non-binary identities are just as valid, legitimate and real as cisgender ones.

    I would like to add that I can understand the idea behind the exclusion of trans women from the part of the conference about childhood abuse, as a former primary school teacher I have had to deal with it’s harrowing consequences at first hand many times, and I would absent myself from any such discussion if people asked me to. However shouldn’t it be framed that anyone should be asked to leave if the speaker feels they can’t speak about something in front of them, not just trans women? Also, the rationale for this is that most trans women did not experience early life being treated as girls. However this is increasingly not going to be the case, more and more trans children are socially transitioning at very young ages like five.

    However I think Finn’s brave and eminently reasonable article shows that there is much common ground and we should use this as a starting point for dialogue, a dialogue I would be very keen to see take place.

    I would like to find out more about the reasons for so many people disliking the word ‘cisgender’ however. If we have ‘transgender’ then having, as the only alternative ‘non-trans’ feels like othering. It also means that academics like Gavi Ansara and myself can’t explore things like cisgenderism. After all one of the antecedent words “cisalpine” merely describes which side of the Alps one is on, not how nice it is there or how much one likes being there.

    1. Glosswitch

      “Also, the rationale for this is that most trans women did not experience early life being treated as girls. However this is increasingly not going to be the case, more and more trans children are socially transitioning at very young ages like five.”
      My children are four and six. They have some very unrealistic, conservative ideas about what girls and boys are “allowed” to be and do. They also have very little understanding of structural oppression, the function of gender and the broader social impact of positioning qualities which are human as gender-specific. Certainly, children like simple ideas: “I do not feel like a boy therefore gender is an inherent quality and I identify with another gender” is simple enough for a child. As adults we should be able to see that this is not a logical statement. Moreover, we owe it to our children to offer a more open critique of the sheer meaninglessness of contemporary definitions of “boy” and “girl”. They’re not helping anyone.
      I find it notable that Ruth’s piece involves a lot of conjecture about how non-trans women feel, whereas Finn’s lacks that presumption. I believe there is an assumption that non-trans women, with their “blind spot” regarding “subconscious sex”, lack self-knowledge and must have their inner selves explained to them by others, whereas trans women, having a more intense engagement with gender, can only speak for themselves. I think that is something that really needs examining since it’s neither a helpful nor a respectful dynamic.

      1. Ruth

        My piece is based upon people I have talked to and and personal accounts I have read. Of course, the “radical feminist” position in my piece is not universal, in the same way that the “trans” position isn’t.

        As for “subconscious sex” – if you don’t experience that disjuncture, you can’t know what it’s like.

  6. Elizabeth Hungerford

    Ruth Pearce, I think you wrote more to me than you did in the article!

    I’m not going to address everything, especially the ad hominems: “You are the reason that trans women kill themselves, or die in the streets.” <<SERIOUSLY?? Me?? I'm the reason?? Get some perspective, please! That kind of accusation shouldn't even be allowed during #genderweek! Unfortunately, I've grown accustomed to personal attacks and hyperbole, so I will rise above. As usual. Same shit, different day.

    RE: CIS
    The concept of a cis/trans binary effectively REVERSES the power dynamics between males and females on the axis of gender. It suggests that a male person’s subjective self-identification as a “woman” can nullify his experiences of membership in the class of people who are privileged at women’s expense. This is NOT how privilege OR oppression operates. And further, you suggest that subjective self-identification can actually render him (now her) MORE oppressed than the “other” women in the class he alleges to have joined! Again, this is NOT how privilege OR oppression operates.

    I wrote “A feminist critique of ‘cisgender'” in 2012; it is still relevant (you can google the article):

    Identifying with something is an internal, subjective experience. Self-assessments of gender do not equal self-awareness, nor do they provide insight as to how gendered oppression operates in the broader, external social sphere.”


    “The cis/trans binary does not, and cannot, account for the experiences of people with complicated, blended, or changing “gender identities;” nor does it address people with hostile relationships to gender in general. As a woman-born-woman who rejects femininity as females’ destiny, I surely do not identify with my assigned gender in the way that “cis” describes. Indeed, no one holding radical feminist/anti-essentialist views about gender could be considered “cis” because, by definition of these views, we reject gender as a natural social category that every person identifies with. Feminists do not believe that everyone has a “gender identity,” or that we all possess some kind of internal compass directing our identification with “gender.””

    And finally, you said: “So why do we tie up “gender” with “sex”? Well, the problem is that it is so hard to disassociate them in everyday life.” In other words, it’s too hard? That is not a satisfactory response when naturalizing the link between sex and gender (ie, the sex-based social roles “woman” or “man” (never both!)) has been the DIRECT CAUSE of women’s oppression. If we want to deconstruct oppression, we need to deconstruct the idea that gender is natural and inevitable. There is simply no way around this. You can call yourself whatever you want, labels are just words. But when you demand that others accept your unsupported assertion that the social role “woman” is an innate or essential human characteristic that is rightly “matched” with humans living in female bodies, well, that’s where you also match up with patriarchal ideology. I fight that ideology every day. And I will continue to do so. Because the ideology of gender essentialism is the reason for countless deaths of female humans simply *because* they are female.

    1. Ruth Pearce


      The original article was longer – it was edited down somewhat for publication here. If I’d had the time, I would have written a direct response to Finn (some context on that decision here, in a piece I have no doubt you will object to:

      “You” is the argument you are presenting. This argument is part of the problem

      The reason you believe that a trans/cis distinction “REVERSES the power dynamics between males and females”, is because you believe I am a man.

      At this point, there isn’t any point in continuing the discussion with you. The very foundation of your arguments places you at odds with me. This is only made worse when you don’t listen to people like me, and start wrongly claiming (for instance) that we believe that “the social role ‘woman’ is an innate or essential human characteristic”.

      1. Elizabeth Hungerford

        Ruth, you can decide not to participate in this conversation, but you can’t make that decision for me. I usually find that people bow out out of discussion at the point where they have no logical argument which which to refute my points.

        First, you allege that you didn’t intend to target me as a person (“You are the reason that trans women kill themselves, or die in the streets.”), but you did. And you didn’t even apologize. In doing so, you sidestep the exact SAME claim that I am making about *your* argument in favor of gender essentialism: it harms ALL women.

        Second of all, I did not say you are a man. But you surely are not female bodied, nor do you have the lived experience of being female bodied from birth. There is a difference. You are responsible for acknowledging this difference, especially if you want to explore the concept of “cis.” If you cannot or will not acknowledge this difference, then surely you will agree there was no need for you to physically transition in the first place since “woman” is merely an internal identity that refers to subconscious sex– a kind of “sex” that is non physical by definition.

  7. Zoe Brain

    All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, and appropriating this body for themselves.

    Janice Raymond

    Today the Frankenstein phenomenon is omnipresent not only in religious myth, but in its offspring, phallocratic technology. The insane desire for power, the madness of boundary violation, is the mark of necrophiliacs who sense the lack of soul/spirit/life-loving principle with themselves and therefore try to invade and kill off all spirit, substituting conglomerates of corpses. This necrophilic invasion/elimination takes a variety of forms. Transsexualism is an example..

    Mary Daly “Gun/Ecology”

    Every trans abomination is a misogynistic slur. You lot rape women just by existing.


    Trans is rape culture.

    Cathy Brennan

    I don’t see how anyone holding the view that Trans women are rapists merely by existing could want a truce with what (to them) are rapists by definition. It’s unfair to ask that of them.

    They Trans women) expect we’ll be shocked to see statistics about them being killed, and don’t realize, some of us wish they would ALL be dead.

    Bev Jo

    There are no words to describe them. There are tiny parasitic wasps who paralyze small animals (spiders, caterpillars, etc.) and lay their eggs on them, so the animal is alive while being slowing eaten by the growing baby. But the wasps aren’t deliberately cruel. These men remind me of a deliberately female-hating version of that. They’ve prove what I’ve been saying for decades — they are more female-hating than even many het men. The character in Silence of the Lambs who skinned women to wear really seems more accurate all the time.

    Bev Jo again.

    I contend that the problem with transsexualism would best be served by morally mandating it out of existence.

    Janice Raymond “The Transsexual Empire”

    I hope to see the very concept of Jewry completely obliterated.

    Heinrich Himmler, Memo March 23 1941.

    It’s not just Trans women they wish exterminated. It’s half the human race.

    The male-born are biologically incomplete mutants, useless and obsolete; walking viruses on two legs and a cancer, spreading disease, death and destruction wherever they go. They are the walking-dead and the antithesis to life. Gyn-energy sucking vampires who have to plug into women and feed on them in order to survive. No different than a parasite who sucks the life and energy out of its host.


    If we’re going that road, why not just cull boy babies for awhile? Re-establish a sane balance. Then we can start selective breeding programs for donor males…


    Females don’t have to kill baby boys. Just not nurture them. Females are forced to *birth* baby boys, but beyond that a female’s physical actions are her own.

    Mary Sunshine:

    Just as it would be unfair to TERFs to request they have a “truce with rapists” as they see it, until such time those words are disavowed by the TERF movement, it’s unfair for anyone even marginally sane to consider a “truce” with openly genocidal maniacs.

  8. Straight, female and fed up

    Why is it so radical to expect the Feminist Times or the feminist movement to reflect the majority of the female population and focus on their issues instead of giving so much voice to the trans crowd?

    Just how many people calling themselves women, as a percentage or a whole number out of the whole group, were not born female? If the answer is less than 5%, why is so much of the debate over gender and gender issues given over to this minority? Just how many of the wider female population are lesbian or bisexual? Quite a few more, so I could understand some coverage, but still…

    This is precisely the problem that caused the Age Of Embarrassment that closed down the last big feminist movement in the 1980’s. The vast majority were excluded from their own organisations and media which focused on the few, leaving the straight female with the distinct impression that it was too normal, too boring, to be worthy of any discussion. Oh, right, that’s it, she was “conspiring” with men by sleeping with them and letting the side down, so she was out of the picture!

    Needless to say, I’m looking out for a real feminist paper, one that actually focuses on actual women, and doesn’t follow the same silly path that killed off feminism 30 years ago. For me, the trans and non-straight crowds have plenty of other media outlets, papers, magazines, websites, etc to cover their issues amply. Would they really give over quite so much space to the straight voice? I highly doubt it!

    1. Sarah Graham Post author

      Currently Feminist Times has less than dozen articles on trans issues, out of 407 articles published since we launched in October 2013 (less than 3%). Trans rights and voices are represented, and will continue to be represented, because many trans women are also part of the feminist community and we aim to represent the whole diversity of feminisms – including lesbian, bisexual, trans, and other ‘minority’ groups of women within feminism. Needless to say, the fact that Feminist Times has a broad readership means not every article will appeal to every reader, but there are hundreds more to choose from if you’re not interested in reading about issues outside of your own interests. We firmly believe that feminism is not, and should not be, just for white, straight, cis, middle-class women, so our content will continue to reflect that belief.


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