Field guide

Ellen Pasternack at The Critic tells us of a terf-spotting guide for the imperiled students at Cambridge.

… just last week, Cambridge University Student Union (CUSU) published a guide to identifying something called “TERF ideology”, featuring section headings such as Spotting TERFS in the Field and Signs Of A TERF. We learn from this guide that “the language of TERFS is ever changing” and that “the unique danger of TERF rhetoric is that it is styled to sound like feminism”.

Nah it’s not styled to sound like feminism, it is feminism. That’s what the F is for. It’s also not rhetoric, it’s critical thinking.

This eight page guide, intended for incoming students at the Freshers’ Fair, is an expansion of an earlier version published in 2019. It sits on the student union website alongside guides to exams, careers and student finance. There are no guides to spotting racist, sexist, or homophobic ideology: detecting TERFs is apparently a matter of unparalleled urgency.

Why? Why are trans people The Most while everyone else is barely on the radar?

Let’s have a look.

Trans liberation is part of feminism. Fighting for autonomy and freedom must be a fight for everyone, and there should be no room for transphobia or TERFs in feminist organising.

That’s stupid. Trans “liberation” isn’t part of feminism at all, and is in fact intensely hostile to it. Feminism has its own work to do, and helping men pretend to be women is not part of that work. The absurd idea that it is is yet another reason we need feminism.

The core characteristics of TERFs are a conservative, binary, essentialist conception of sex as the be-all-end-all, and a deep hatred for trans women, couched in the language of feminism and feminist theory.

No, stupid, not “the be-all-end-all,” just the reality. Women are women: they have women’s bodies. It’s not a religion, it’s just what the word means. If trans people take it we’ll just have to replace it with one that means the same thing.

The first thing is to try and figure out where they got it from. Did they hear it from a friend, or read a news article? If they’ve read something. and it’s the first thing they’ve heard about trans people or the first time they’ve taken an interest, it may be relatively easy to inform them about where they’re going wrong, and why what they’re backing is harmful. If they’ve heard it from someone they trust and care about, consider how you frame the argument to avoid it becoming about personal relationships, which may make them defensive.

Don’t look them in the eye, that makes them very aggressive. Move calmly and slowly. Always carry treats in your pocket, you may be able to coax them to listen to your lecture if you toss them a few olives or pistachios.

Seriously though, is there anything like the conceit of kids age 20 who think they invented the world?

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