This is a very interesting article on the rise of TERF activism in the UK - TERFs being trans-exclusionist radical feminists. I'm familiar with what I find to be their deeply unpleasant ideologies from hanging out on Tumblr, where salvos in a TERF campaign occasionally come over my dash, in the ongoing TERF attempt to persuade (mostly young) feminists that "queer" is a slur and should not be used. (The above usually accompanied by deft rebuttals from the actual blogs I follow, who are more or less uniformly Sensible People). TERFs don't think that trans women are women, they insist on identifying them by their biologically male bodies, and have a series of frankly paranoid outrages about "male" bodies in female bathrooms and prisons, and the "erasure" of women by the inclusion of trans women in feminist debates. TERFs are, in fact, the Mrs Grundies of feminist thinking, and to my mind they personify a narrow-minded outrage that makes them horribly akin to the closed-minded frothings of the religious right.
I am a little blindsided by how angry and nauseous the whole TERF ideology makes me, it seems to prod me with pointy sticks deep in my personal organ of justice. I think TERFs are motivated by a horrible and toxic mix of rage and fear, and while rage and fear in themselves are probably a valid response to the damages enacted by patriarchal culture, what I can't forgive is the way in which TERFs choose to respond to their anger at and fear of male bodies and cultural identity by turning on the most marginal and already vulnerable people they can find who they see as being part of that male identity. They are, in fact, punching down, with considerable malice.
And their rage and fear comes with a side order of power-tripping and desire for artificially simplified discourse; they are punching down in the service of an attempt to render simple and clear-cut debates about identity and culture which are anything but. That's what the whole dog-whistling with "queer" is about: queer identity is necessarily complex, it demands recognition and celebration of identities and identifications which don't fit easily into the male/female/gay/lesbian boxes.
It's ugly and predatory, to identify an already vulnerable target and go after it with single-minded determination, but it's also blindly hypocritical. Because if women/feminists are damaged and victimised by patriarchy, how much more damaged and victimised are those women who are born into biologically male bodies, and into cultural assumptions about male identity, which make them, whether they like it or not, a part of it? If TERFs are rejecting maleness with such frothing hatred, how much stronger and more difficult is the response of a trans woman whose rejection of that "maleness" entails so much more active and instrumental a resistance of cultural labelling? Trans women deny the male body a thousand times more fiercely than any TERF with a bathroom fixation, and they go through seven colours of hell to enact that denial. Quite apart from the costs of physical transition, our culture is getting better at gender identity only very slowly, and it still encodes gender stereotypically in ways which make it difficult and painful to resist.
I like the linked article's comments about British feminism and its comparative privilege, lack of intersectionality, and links with colonialsim; it surmises that Irish and American feminists have in many ways grown beyond this absolutism because they have been forced to accommodate experiences of subject positions based on race or colonial experiences as well as gender. TERF ideology is possibly so maddening to me because it is so obliviously privileged, but that's an insight into its workings, not an excuse; above all, I find it inherently, unforgivably cruel.