Trans activism is excusing & advocating violence against women, and it’s time to speak up

Threats of violence against women branded as “TERFs” are increasing — will liberals and progressives speak out before it’s too late?


In January, a woman was photographed holding a sign at the Vancouver Women’s March that included the words, “Trans ideology is misogyny.” This might be viewed as a hyperbolic message for those who consider themselves good, liberal people and who care about a group they have been informed are in extreme danger, and particularly marginalized. And perhaps, if you were unfamiliar with the way women and feminists are addressed by trans activists, you might wonder what statements like this are rooted in. A few years ago, I might have questioned this as well, thinking, “well that’s a bit much, isn’t it.” But as trans activism has gained ground and as I myself — as well as many other women — have begun questioning and speaking out about the aims, ideology, and policies supported in the name of “trans rights,” it has become impossible to deny what is being supported through trans activism: violence against women.

Last week, photographs of an exhibit currently on display at the San Fransisco Public Library emerged online, depicting bloody shirts with the words, “I punch TERFs,” alongside baseball bats and axes, painted pink and blue to reference the gender ideology being touted, some covered in barbed wire, in order to amplify the grotesqueness of the threatened beating. The exhibit was set up by “Scout Tran,” a trans-identified male and founding member of the Degenderettes, a group that now has chapters throughout the United States. The group attends queer and feminist events, including the Dyke March, the Pride parade, and the Women’s March, carrying these weapons, which they claim as defensible activism, but is undeniably a visible threat and incitement to violence against women.

Mya Byrne wearing a bloody shirt like those on display at the San Fransisco Public Library at last year’s Pride parade in San Fransisco.

The threats attached to slogans like “I punch TERFs” are not theoretical. Earlier this month, a trans-identified male who goes by the name “Tara Wolf” was convicted of assault after beating 60-year-old Maria MacLauchlan, who had gathered with other women in Hyde Park to attend a meeting discussing gender identity ideology and legislation. Wolf had posted on Facebook about his desire to attend this gathering in order to “fuck up some TERFs.” In what other circumstance would anyone — self-identified progressives, in particular — defend viable threats of violence against women? Sadly, lots.

Liberals and the left have broadly defended violence against women as “art” or “sex,” though perhaps in a less overt way than they have outright threats of violence to feminists who wish to question or discuss the notion of gender identity. Pornography, for example, is one area where violence and abuse is consistently defended on account of it being “sex,” “fantasy,” or “free speech.” The ability of men and their allies to avoid viewing a woman being choked, hit, or gang-raped as “real violence” because it is connected to men’s desire and masturbation is without bounds. Similarly, the notion that a man offering a women financial compensation in exchange for permission to abuse her is framed time and time again as “consent,” regardless of the impact on that woman and the broader message this practice sends to all men and women, everywhere.

What is unique about the approach we’ve seen in the trans movement is that it doesn’t attempt to disguise the incitements to violence against women with rhetoric around “consent” and “empowerment.” The claim is not that this is not “literal” violence, because women like it, or because they consented to it, or because it’s “just fantasy.” Rather the violence advocated for by trans activists is said to be justified on account of opinions, associations, language, or the sharing of articles or links determined to be “wrong” — all of which is dishonestly framed as “violence” (ironic considering where the literal threats and violence are evidenced to be coming from).

The threats of violence against women, on account of having been branded “TERFs,” are frightening not only because we must fear for our physical safety or because of the way these threats act as a silencing mechanism, but because this violence is not being condemned, by and large, by most. Being forced to defend ourselves, alone, with few resources, media platforms, or influential public allies, due to the blacklisting that has occurred en masse in relation to this debate, is challenging, because our voices, interests, and well-being have already been dismissed as we are the baddies who deserve to die.

And indeed, this is where the connection between liberals’ and the left’s treatment of pornography, prostitution, and trans activism coalesce. The way that “TERF” has served to dehumanize women (Bad Women — women who speak unsayable truths and ask questions one is not meant to ask) in order to justify the gruesome violence they are threatened with operates in the same way women are dehumanized in pornography in order to pretend as though they aren’t truly being hurt or abused and, of course, in the same way women were branded witches in order to claim their torture was deserved, on account of their being wicked and dangerous.

Disagreement is not violence. This should not have to be said, yet apparently we must. Violence is violence. And when a group of people are actively advocating for and defending violence against another group of people — particularly an oppressed group of people, like women — there is no defense. At this point, those who accommodate this movement, as it is currently operating, are culpable of something very dangerous indeed.

While the San Fransisco Public Library removed the bloody shirt, they did not remove the exhibit entirely, nor do we know why anyone imagined such a display would be appropriate in the first place. One wonders if they would display bloody shirts with the words, “Kill bitches” or “I beat Muslims” next to a display of baseball bats and axes.

Will liberals and progressives stand up before this gets worse? I fear not.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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