When Inclusionary Language is Seen as Exclusionary
Gender critical feminists now find inclusionary words like ‘people’ offensive
After the recent tweets from JK Rowling, I engaged in a discussion online regarding the use of the phrase people who menstruate. What struck me was how some people were offended by that phrase. They claimed that by using the term, women were being excluded or even erased.
Using the term people does not exclude women
Let me first preface this by explaining the intention behind the phrase people who menstruate. The phrase is meant to include all people who menstruate, not only cisgender women. While most of those people are cisgender women, by only using the term women, it excludes transgender men, transmasculine non-binary people, and intersex people who also menstruate.
Some people want to argue that if you menstruate, you are a woman. This is exclusionary of both transgender women, who do not menstruate, and of transgender men who do. It also excludes non-binary and intersex people. We may be a small percentage of the population, but there are millions of transgender, non-binary, and intersex people in the world. We want and need to be included in conversations. We exist. Deliberately excluding us will not make us go away.
The very use of the term people is inclusive of everyone, including women. By defining them as people who menstruate, you narrow that down to the percentage of the population who do experience menstruation. It does exclude people who don’t menstruate, such as cisgender men, transgender women, and depending on the context even cisgender women who are menopausal or have had a hysterectomy.
The one thing that using the word people does not do is exclude women.
How did we get here?
A summary of the history of the subset of radical feminists who have been in opposition of transgender people, transgender women in particular, is needed to put this into context. Starting in the 1970s, radical feminists began to be at odds with transgender women (known at the time as transsexual women). A divide grew as some radical feminists embraced transsexual women into their community, while others sought to exclude them.
Lesbian groups in North America were expelling or denying access to transsexual women, most notably when the 1973 West Coast Lesbian Conference split on whether to allow transsexual folk singer Beth Elliot to perform. Then in 1979, Janice Raymond published The Transsexual Empire, in which she argued that transsexualism was perpetuating sexual stereotypes in society. This is an argument that gender critical feminists still vehemently use to exclude transgender women today.
Sexual Stereotypes are not “Trans Ideology”
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In 2008, Viv Smythe coined the term TERF (Transgender Exclusionary Radical Feminist) to differentiate between radical feminists who were supportive of transgender women and those who were not. The term TERF is now largely seen as a slur by those who now refer to themselves as gender critical feminists.
Gender critical feminists also mostly ignore transgender men, whom they view as misguided women who are merely attempting to escape our misogynistic society by becoming the very thing they hate. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
It’s easier for them to ignore us than it is to acknowledge our existence and the uncomfortable truth that we expose — that being transgender isn’t merely a fetish or a means for men to insinuate themselves into female-only spaces.
How can we close the divide?
The divide between gender critical feminists and the transgender community is wide. The only way to bring the two sides together is to for both sides to start listening to each other’s concerns. The biggest concern on the gender critical side is having safe, private spaces for women. Transgender women need to be welcomed and included in these spaces, but it’s difficult when gender critical feminists don’t view them as women.
Much of this is due to the rhetoric that transgender women are merely men with a sexual fetish, also known as autogynephilia, first described by Ray Blanchard. While this sexual paraphilia does exist, the hypothesis that all transgender women suffer from autogynephilia has been widely criticized.
As for transgender men, while we don’t seek to be accepted into female-only spaces, we do seek to be accepted and viewed as men. We also want gender critical feminists to understand that we haven’t betrayed our biological sex by transitioning. We didn’t transition to escape our misogynistic surroundings, nor are we failed lesbians.
As more scientific studies reveal the true nature of why people are born transgender, we can slowly dispel the myths around who we are and why we’ve needed to transition. More research is critical to help bridge the gap, so the rest of the world finally understands what we ourselves already know: the way we view ourselves — our very identity — doesn’t align with our biological sex. The only way to solve this dissonance is for us to transition.
While the scientific and medical communities work on studying and better understanding why people are born transgender, one thing that everyone can do is educate themselves. There are many works out there, written by both transgender people and medical professionals, that give insight into the transgender community. They cover everything from our own internal struggles to the struggles we face in society. Reading and understanding what our community faces can help give you a more complete perspective on transgender people.
As a starting point, here are some resources to read that can help you better understand the transgender community.
- Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) has a list of suggested reading to better understand the history and struggles of transgender people.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine has compiled a list of books focused on transgender issues.
- Pink News also released a list of new books in 2019 focused on the transgender and non-binary communities.
When inclusive language is used, it shows that we are being accepted, even if not everyone fully understands us, or the journey we’ve been on to get to where we are. Including us is all we really are asking for. Including transgender people doesn’t exclude anyone.