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Franziska Neumeister/Flickr (CC-BY)
A recent ‘Guardian’ column tries to make trans rights a matter of misogyny—and this kind of manipulation needs to stop.
The Guardian had a brilliant idea for Trans Day of Visibility: Instead of honoring trans men, trans women, and non-binary people living out and openly, the publication ran a piece on Saturday by “feminist” columnist Hadley Freeman called “Don’t you just love it when a man explains to you what it means to be a woman?”
Except the column, disguised as an anti-mansplaining manifesto, suggests trans women don’t face as much discrimination as cis women. Which, according to numerous discrimination and violence studies, is simply not true.
Freeman’s column opened up by discussing the Gender Recognition Act, a U.K. law from 2004 that grants British citizens the ability to change their legal gender by requiring trans citizens to have lived openly in their gender for two years and receive a gender dysphoria diagnosis before undergoing a legal gender marker change. However, a new initiative from Prime Minister Theresa May would strip the legal need for a medical diagnosis.
Freeman doesn’t agree with this, though. She fears the new reforms would let “predatory men… come into female-only spaces unchallenged,” and she uses that argument, like many anti-trans activists and conservative lawmakers do, as an opening to criticize contemporary trans rights. She attacks Labour women’s officer Lily Madigan, a 19-year-old trans woman who has faced both online harassment and derogatory coverage from the U.K. media for her gender identity. She claims trans women are acting “patriarchal” when they criticize the Women’s March’s pussyhats. She even implies cis women face more discrimination than trans women because of the latter’s “male-born body.”
“Gender is a feeling and biology is a physical fact, and the reason women-only spaces exist is not to protect some special inner feminine essence, but because there are significant physical differences between male-born bodies and female-born ones, and the latter have long been at a disadvantage,” Freeman writes in her piece.
Today’s column: Mmm I love the smell of socially validated misogyny in the morning https://t.co/BrA7vkbd3P— Hadley Freeman (@HadleyFreeman) March 31, 2018
Freeman acknowledges that she may be on the wrong side of history, yet she doesn’t care. She even doubles down on her rhetoric, claiming trans women must be put into gender-segregated spaces that mirror the “separate, but equal” rhetoric passed along by the Trump administration.
“There is no simple solution to accommodating both the rights of self-identified trans women and other women,” Freeman concludes. “In some cases, they’ll share spaces, in some they won’t, and sometimes a third option will have to be found.”
If Freeman’s opinion sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same faux-feminist take pitting cis women against trans women that has been used again and again by transgender-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), such as Feminist Current founder Meghan Murphy, who repeatedly depicts TERFs as “leftists” being “silenced” by trans women. Or Athena Talks’ Olivia Broustra, who claims cis women “have a right to natal born woman spaces.” Even former Jezebel writer Natasha Vargas-Cooper believes trans women objectify femininity and are really men that “want to be women.”
Where Freeman really tries to convince feminists of her TERF beliefs, though, is when she claims trans women’s rights are regularly mobilized against women by men—a tactic to likely confuse readers into thinking that when trans people ask to be treated equally, the patriarchy is behind it. However, more often than not, it’s men who join in on attacking trans women.
For example, Jacobin’s Connor Kilpatrick praised an incredibly sympathetic piece on controversial sexologist Dr. Kenneth Zucker, whose beliefs on trans children have been equated to “conversion therapy.” That feature’s own writer, Jesse Singal, went on to suggest progressives “quietly agree” with Vargas-Cooper’s article.
In the meantime, it seems Freeman’s transphobic gaslighting worked on some, as her Guardian column was passed around among Twitter feminists, with New Statesman’s Victoria Smith, the Women’s Equality Party’s Sophie Walker, and the Independent’s Sarah Ditum all treating the piece as a feminist response to trans women.
Cis feminists, whether they realize it or not, will often accept a cis woman speaking authoritatively about gender transitioning. But cis women are blinded by privilege, and when a “feminist” writer like Freeman has an agenda against trans women, they’ll manipulate unsuspecting readers for their own ends, and that’s how dangerous information is spread.
In reality, a true feminist take would never attack trans women because trans women are women, and attacking women for being women is fundamentally misogynistic. Furthermore, asking trans-critical feminists for their views on trans women is like interviewing a white racist about being Black in America: It’s bullshit.
It's very tiring to see the trans debate painted as a fight between earnest feminists versus men telling women what to do. I'm a cis woman, I staunchly support trans women in their fight for acceptance, I'd appreciate it if women like me stopped getting erased.— Marie Le Conte (@youngvulgarian) March 31, 2018
This is a strange article. The interpretation of @MunroeBergdorf’s words as ‘telling women not to talk about their vaginas’ is one of the many examples of ‘knights move thinking’ the writer demonstrates. Also Mumsnet described as ‘hotbed of feminism’ 😂 https://t.co/yDtpntS2yx— Natasha Devon MBE (@_NatashaDevon) March 31, 2018
Hadley Freeman confirmed for TERF.— Katelyn Burns (@transscribe) March 31, 2018
Vile transphobia from The Guardian on Trans Day of Visibility. Shameful. pic.twitter.com/fXDvvOAX1f
Has anyone checked the jobs database over at the Guardian to see if "must be a TERF" is a requirement for editorial positions, and if it was included through a merge error?— Emma needs ☕️. (@triagegirl) April 2, 2018
Why do you hate trans women? Freeman could have put just the tiniest amount of effort into researching this in order to realise how inaccurate and misleading her article is. But the Guardian just keeps publishing nonsense like this.— Ruth Pearce (@NotRightRuth) April 1, 2018
anti-trans feminists are always saying some dumb shit about trans women performing masculinity prior to transition when in reality all i ever did was pretend to understand the appeal of wes anderson— J. Jennifer Espinoza (@sadqueer4life) March 29, 2018
It’s true that accepting trans women means challenging how we’ve long defined womanhood and expanding that definition. But this isn’t anything new; this is how progress works. Queer theory has long challenged straight people to see sexuality beyond treating straightness as the “default,” and trans theory challenges cis people to see gender beyond treating cis people as “normal.”
If feminists really want to be radical, then they should be turning inward and asking why it’s so hard to accept trans women for who they are: women. Anything less than that is just cis writers talking over trans women.
Ana Valens is a reporter specializing in online queer communities, marginalized identities, and adult content creation. She is Daily Dot's Trans/Sex columnist. Her work has appeared at Vice, Vox, Truthout, Bitch Media, Kill Screen, Rolling Stone, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and spends her free time developing queer adult games.