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Let’s talk about TERFs: Transphobia with a free pass

“Transphobia dressed up with radical feminism”: The Sun Herald’s sickening new op-ed is a reminder of the transphobic dialogue that often goes unchecked in society.

On Sunday, The Sun-Herald published an anonymous, TERF-centred opinion piece that hurt many within the trans and gender diverse community. Titled My child is transitioning gender, but I feel the system makes it too easy, the article was reportedly written by the mother of a trans child, who was concerned for their safety. What was published, however, was a slew of damaging, baseless, and utterly transphobic declarations.

The anonymous author argued that it is ‘too easy’ for children to medically transition, repeatedly used the derogatory and dehumanising term ‘transgenderism’, and claimed that gender diversity (and queerness) is a form of generational rebellion and a revolt against one’s own body.

While the author and The Sun Herald’s editors have received fierce backlash, the article’s existence is a horrifying reminder of the often covert transphobia that still operates within our society.

Black Trans Lives Matter Protest
Photo: GQ.com via Fashion Industry Broadcast

Since publication, The Sun Herald have received nationwide criticism for the countless degrading and unsubstantiated claims made by the author. Firstly, the piece repeatedly misgendered the author’s child, referring to them as “my daughter.”

We don’t hear the child’s voice or perspective. Instead, the reader is given a one-sided view of the writer’s experience, who believes that healthcare officials “assume that all patients are genuinely transgender and the only path for them is to physically transition.”

This reasoning, combined with the argument that trans identities are an act of generational rebellion (e.g. tattoos, drugs, leather jackets, etc.) and the author’s suspicions “that nowadays a conflicted young girl can reject her vulnerability by rejecting her femaleness,” aligns with a particularly insidious form of transphobia. Most likely, this author identifies as a ‘gender critical’ feminist – which is the soft-focus word for TERF.

For those who don’t know, a TERF is a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. Natalie Wynn, a video essayist and philosopher (known as Contrapoints on YouTube), describes the term in her Gender Critical video as: “A pejorative for a person who dresses up transphobia with radical feminism, but it’s not a slur.”

Notable examples include J.K Rowling’s recent Twitter tirades about biological ‘sex’, and Germaine Greer referring to a trans woman as ‘it’ in a 1989 article for The Independent.

While transphobia exists openly and aggressively in our society, think Mark Latham’s Education Amendment Bill, TERFs exist in a much more insidious vacuum for trans people. The existence of this article is living proof.

While news sources have combed through and fact-checked the original article, highlighting the sheer extent of misinformation that was published, many on social media have been left with one question: “How did this thing get through in the first place?”

Despite the inaccuracies, the lack of cited or verified information regarding bodily autonomy, and the outdated (and tired) use of ‘it’s just a phase’, Michael Koziol, Deputy Editor of The Sun-Herald, genuinely believed that the piece provided ‘perspective’. Or at least, that’s what he wrote on Twitter.

Why? Well, for one, the article preys upon proto-feminist platitudes with a TERF-twist, connecting vulnerability with femininity in a male-dominated world.

“When a woman’s body starts to develop in puberty, she moves from the relatively safe position of childhood into a world where she will be the object of male sexual attention, including sexual harassment, and may include sexual violence (sadly, this can also be fatal violence),” the article reads.

“This can be overwhelming for teenage girls. While some will be confident and secure, and look forward to sex, relationships and potentially motherhood, others can be frightened and feel unprepared.”

This reasoning falls directly in line with many TERF sentiments towards trans men. It is argued that a patriarchal society ‘deludes’ trans men into thinking they can escape female oppression by identifying outside of it.

Hands Across the Aisle, an organisation that connects radical feminists with anti-LGBTQ groups to campaign against trans rights, warned about the proclaimed ‘dangers’ of ignoring bodily sex in a harrowing statement to Vox.

“We watched as doctors enabled irreversible damage to our daughters’ bodies, we sat stunned as boys took away our sisters’ sports opportunities, and we wept as our lesbian friends poisoned their bodies with testosterone in an attempt to appear male,” the organisation said. Sound familiar?

A dangerous belief exists in these circles that trans men are, in fact, lesbians attempting to identify out of womanhood. As a result, many TERFs see gender affirmation therapies and surgeries as ‘conversion therapy’ or even ‘mutilation’. The author of The Sun-Herald’s article borrows from this narrative, replacing the notion of ‘lesbian’ with ‘teenage girls’.

As trans author Jay Hulme described in a blog post from 2019, this attitude is patronising and removed of any feminist ideology, as it attempts to convert trans men “back to womanhood.”

“They think I have been brainwashed and fooled into ‘thinking I’m a man,’ what could I possibly know? What value could my words or experience possibly have? … This is, again, anti-feminist — the idea that trans men are just foolish women whose words cannot have any value is deeply troubling, and mirrors patriarchal behaviours towards ‘silly girls,’ no matter how old or how accomplished the women in question actually are,” he wrote.

To the trained eyes of the trans and gender diverse community, this narrative is a dog whistle of transphobic sentiments. And, dog whistles are designed to go unheard (and unseen) by many.

This brings us to the next issue underlying TERF discourse: the belief that supporting trans children will create an uncontrollable epidemic of ‘detransitioners’.

In reality, it is standard for children to be placed on hormone blockers before any transitional procedure is undertaken. As per guidelines written by The Royal Children’s Hospital of Melbourne, gender-affirming hormones will usually be offered after a significant time on blockers and to a teenager around 16 years of age.

Furthermore, in Australia, a broad assessment with experts must be undertaken before any medical transition is made, requiring a psychiatric evaluation over multiple sessions. All of this information can be found through a simple Google search, but calling into question the health and safety of trans children is a fantastic fear-mongering tactic.

Remember The Australian’s Gender Page in 2019, which boasted headlines such as Regretful ‘detransitioners’ on the rise?

Detransitioning is a common boogeyman that’s been waved around by TERFs and transphobes for years. However, as Kirren Medcalf from Stonewall notes, “detransitioning does happen, but most people who transition do so without any regrets.”

Research from the UK reports that of the 3,398 transgender patients who visited the NHS Gender Identity Service between 2016 and 2017, less than one per cent had experienced transitioned-related regret or had detransitioned.

But, more importantly, detransitioning doesn’t make the experiences and existence of trans people any less valid or real. Likewise, detransitioning does not necessarily mean regret, but can instead be seen as a journey to discovering the gender that truly suits them.

It’s also worth noting that some statistics focus on whether a person regrets a specific surgery as opposed to the transition itself, which is a big difference.

The result is the same TERFist hypocrisy that claims to fight an unproven epidemic of detransitioning, all while perpetuating toxic transphobic discourse that, according to Medcalf, could actually encourage it.

Again, to the trained eyes of the trans and gender diverse community, these arguments are bogus. But, to others, the fear of creating this epidemic could far outweigh the risk of self-harm and suicide that comes from the repression of someone’s identity.

Several people have questioned the integrity of The Sun-Herald’s op-ed due to these reasons and many others, with its content reading like a calculated memoir from an anti-trans lobbyist.

In fact, The Age newspaper in Melbourne removed the same piece from their site after it was criticised for being “ill-timed” and “lacking credibility.” At the time of publication, the city’s LGBTQI community had banded together over the 11 days to search for missing woman Bridget Flack. Her body was found early on Friday evening.

The Age’s editor, Gay Alcorn, eventually issued an apology, saying that the opinion piece had been initially commissioned by The Sydney Morning Herald: The Sun-Herald’s weekday publication.

Regardless of the intention behind the piece, the Herald has published factually incorrect, TERF-driven sentiments that present young trans people as hysterical children who are hooked in a ‘queer phase’.

While these viewpoints may hide beneath a veneer of wokeness, TERFist sentiments are inherently toxic: just look to the Gender Critical subreddit scandal. It begs the question, would the Herald platform the voices of anti-vaxxers or ‘race realists’? If the answer is no, then this anonymous opinion piece has got to go.

 

If you or anyone you know needs help, Lifeline (13 11 14) and the Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) offer 24-hour support. For further information about youth mental health, both Headspace and Reach Out can provide guidance.