If you’ve had your ear to the ground in 2017 and stayed abreast of the exponential developments in identity politics, then it won’t have escaped you that there have been clashes, all-out-wars and vehement disagreements, with some factions absolutely set in opposition to others. And in some cases, these wars have moved from the online world into the physical realm. No example is more incendiary than the war between the TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) and their sworn enemies the Trans-activists. It’s something you may have heard about during chatter at gay massage appointments. Alternatively, this may be the first time you’ve learned anything about it. So what are these two groups and why is it that they’re at war? Well, the problem centres on a crucial disagreement about gender. For the TERFs, gender is something made up. They believe that the qualities dubbed ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are an oppressive and wholly unnatural system, designed to keep women down by forcing them to act in subservient, gentle, caring and nurturing ways while wearing soft, pink, frilly clothing – ie ‘feminine’. Meanwhile, men are expected to be ‘masculine’ – tough, unfeeling, strong, aggressive, and wearing traditional clothing like trousers and jackets. The TERFs also believe that sex is dimorphic, that, apart from the few care of intersex children, we are either born men or women. The trans-actavists, however, believe that sex is a fluid state and that quite frequently we are assigned a sex at birth that is, in fact, the wrong one.
The rumblings of war between these two parties broke out into physical form earlier this autumn at Speakers’ Corner near Marble Arch in London. A group of trans-actavists and TERFs came to blows, leading to articles in The Times, The Guardian and other outlets. Some of it was captured on video and, depending on who you believe, either side could potentially have launched the first blows, although it seems that on this occasion, it was the trans-actavists who launched the attack. One of the reasons that passions become so inflamed is the belief on the part of trans-actavists that what the TERFs do, by mis-gendering and ‘dead-naming’ people, is to contribute to a culture of violence against transgender people around the world. It’s, of course, impossible to quantify the degree to which TERF rhetoric leads to violence against transgender people. For example, it seems unlikely that the people who attack trans women (mainly straight men) actually read people like Germaine Greer in the first place. But whatever the case, this is one war that shows no signs of ending. Let us hope that there can be a period of peace over the festive season, giving both sides a chance to determine whether it might be better to have a calm, frank, peaceful talk in 2018 and see if differences can be resolved. Perhaps a spell of gay massage will bring calm to the situation.