TERF is a slur just as breeder is a slur

(TW for transphobia, references to violence)

It’s becoming painfully obvious that the introduction that most people will have to the acronym TERF is by white media feminists decrying it as a slur.

TERF – literally ‘Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist’ – has been in use for some time now in social justice spaces, especially online, where acronyms come easy. It is used to acknowledge that there are many individuals who identify as radical feminists and may have been involved in the movement for a long time, but who are also fully inclusive of trans people (specifically trans women) in their feminism. It is important to make this distinction, because there are also radical feminists – with significant platforms and influence – who argue, or have argued, that (medical) transition is a form of self-harm and is akin to reparative therapy for homosexuality; that trans women should be denied access to women’s bathrooms and support services; that transition itself is buying into patriarchal notions of gender and therefore is inherently harmful.

So, the term TERF is now commonly used to identify these people, and others with sympathetic viewpoints, who have the potential to cause ACTUAL GENUINE HARM to trans people (both in attempting to remove much-needed healthcare and also in contributing to society’s already shitty attitudes to trans people that result in violence and discrimination).

It is probably not surprising then, that when the term is used, it is often in a distinctly negative context. To the extent that some people (remember – people who are actively harmed by TERFs) might even use it in anger. I went looking for examples here but honestly there aren’t any currently on twitter. This is the current search result: (I deleted IDs because some accounts are protected, but feel free to check the search now)

Search results for "TERF" on twitter on 07/07/14

Search results for “TERF” on twitter on 07/07/14

But of course, this is just twitter, and most of the people using the term in this image do not have mainstream media platforms. And I worry that unless you pay close attention to intersectional feminist discourse, the likelihood is that you may only come across the term when a prominent feminist, who has had the term used to describe her, claims that it is a slur. And I’ve been pondering what it would actually mean if it was.

In the interests of accuracy, I checked the dictionary definition and the most relevant would be “An insinuation or allegation about someone that is likely to insult them or damage their reputation”. So in this sense, TERF could be a slur if you were, say, in a position to give advice or draft policy relating to LGBT people (which, sadly, is the case for some TERFs, but certainly not all that consider the term a slur).

But really I think what people are getting at is the idea that it might be a slur in the way that n****r or t****y or r****d is a slur. That the word itself causes harm by being used as an insult. And I just don’t buy it. In the same way that reverse-racism and reverse-sexism do not exist, discrimination against cis people is not a thing, and therefore you cannot cause harm by insulting someone for being cis. Specifically, trans people can call cis people whatever they like and it will never be harmful in the way that t****y is harmful to trans people.

Extract from p.46 of Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education (Ozlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo) that reads: "STOP: There is no such thing as reverse racism or reverse sexism (or the reverse of any form of oppression). While women can be just as prejudiced as men, women cannot be "just as sexist as men" because they do not hold political, economic and institutional power. "

Extract from p.46 of Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education (Ozlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo) that reads: “STOP: There is no such thing as reverse racism or reverse sexism (or the reverse of any form of oppression). While women can be just as prejudiced as men, women cannot be “just as sexist as men” because they do not hold political, economic and institutional power. “

And I thought about similar terms that are used in vaguely insulting ways against people in positions of power, like cracker for white people, or any number of penis-based insults for men. I couldn’t actually think of one for cis people, I don’t think any exist, but I perhaps I only hang out with nice people. And then I landed on one that has been used in LGBT circles before, particularly when it wasn’t possible for homosexual people to access adoption or reproductive services; when heterosexual people were disparagingly referred to as “breeders”. I personally haven’t heard it used this millennium, but it’s probably floating around out there among some small groups. And I think it satisfies the criteria of being 1) literally true (in that straight people are the ones who breed the most); 2) often used in a generally negative light by people who are oppressed along a certain axis; and 3) completely fucking irrelevant when it comes to discussing harm.

So while I fundamentally disagree that TERF is a slur, since it is used to accurately describe people who hold negative and harmful views about trans people, I also would argue that even if it was, it simply doesn’t matter. Because the term TERF has never and will never be levelled at someone while they are having their head kicked in, or their housing revoked, or their healthcare denied.

ETA: it was pointed out to me that, of course, “breeder” has also been used against bisexuals, and the biphobia of the wider LGBT movement is very harmful indeed. I intentionally left us bi folk out of this one for brevity. Alas no analogy is perfect.


Cis Privilege


A link appeared in my twitter timeline earlier to a site that was called something like “cis privilege” (no I won’t give it extra traffic). The entries I saw were all examples of violence against women, none that I could see having anything to do with anyone being cis or trans. The point of the site appeared to be to deny the concept of cis privilege by emphasising the global status of women as inferior to men, and the violence that they suffer because of it. What it did not appear to do in any way, was actually address cis privilege.

As a cis person who lives with a trans person, I am regularly reminded of my privilege, so with thanks to Peggy McIntosh, who wrote this amazing essay back in 1988 that popularised the concept in relation to race, I have written a list of cis privileges. As you will see, many of these examples do affect women in relation to men, but not cis women in relation to trans women. I really wish the two issues would not be conflated.

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of cis people most of the time.
2. I have never had to sit politely during an amusing anecdote that mocked cis people (but I recently held my partners hand as we listened to one mocking a trans person).
3. I have never seen a popular TV programme mock cis people.
4. If I should need to move house, I can be pretty sure I won’t face discrimination on the basis of my gender.
5. I can be pretty sure that my neighbours in a new location will be fine with my gender, and will be neutral or pleasant to me.
6. I have never had someone yell “cis!” at me in the street.
7. I have never been sexually assaulted for being cis[1].
8. I have never been beaten up for being cis.
9. I am unlikely to be murdered for being cis.
10. I can turn on the television or open a newspaper and most of the content I see will be written by cis people, sympathetic to cis people.
11. When I learn about national or global history, I read about cis people.
12. I have never had to explain to a doctor what my gender is.
13. I have never been asked to show a doctor my genitals as part of a routine medical appointment.
14. I have never been asked “but what’s your REAL name?”
15. I am never asked my “preferred” pronouns.
16. I am never misgendered[2].
17. I can wear whatever I like and never have my gender challenged.
18. I will never need to seek my spouse’s permission to have my gender legally recognised[3].
19. If I seek medical support for mental health difficulties, I can be confident that my gender will not be considered a symptom or a cause.
20. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my gender.
21. I can choose to ignore the latest media storm, or legal difficulty, facing trans people.
22. If I am found guilty of a crime, I will be placed in prison with people of my gender.
23. I can worry about transphobia without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
24. I have never experienced dysphoria.
25. I do not have to repeatedly convince new doctors that I have a legitimate need for a hormone prescription.
26. At work, I can dress in a way that reflects my gender, without concern over how I will be treated.
27. I will never have to run the gauntlet that is medical gender reassignment.
28. When I travel to other countries I do not have to worry about whether my gender will be recognised.
29. I am never asked what genitals I have.
30. I have never been rejected for a job because of my gender.

I am a feminist. I am under no illusions about the atrocious treatment of women across much of the world. But I’m also aware of my privilege to be a cis woman, as I am aware of my privilege to be white, English, able-bodied and middle-class. My feminism loses nothing by acknowledging these things.

The discrimination facing trans people is horrendous, and it breaks my heart to see it denied, or belittled, especially by women who are the public face of feminism. We are stronger together.



[1] Yes, women are assaulted for being women. Cis does not mean the same as woman. Cisgender men are also cis. Violence against women is everything to do with misogyny and being perceived as female, and nothing to do with being cis. Trans women are at huge risk of violence, and trans women of colour even more so. This is intersectionality in action.
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[2] Actually once, when I was about 7. It pissed me off for days and it was one guy’s mistake. Cannot IMAGINE getting it daily from everyone.
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[3] Go England and Wales!
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Women’s Sports are Boring

I am three lessons into the “sinners to winners” beginners course with Preston Roller Girls. I already agree with all of this!

If I had 50c for every time I heard someone say that men’s sports are just more interesting that women’s? I’d have the world’s fanciest pair of custom skates, a wall of wheels for every occasion, and a whole new wardrobe full of that fancy workout gear made of space-age fabrics with go-faster stripes. And maybe even a pony.

Women’s sports aren’t interesting? Y’know, whenever I hear someone say that a sport is less interesting to watch when women play it, I mentally file them away as someone who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about athleticism, skill, teamwork or dedication and who’s just into sports as a way to… damn, now I’m trying to think of a non-ciscentric way to say “wave their dicks around” and I’ve got nothin. (Anyone wanna help me out there?)

Sports are interesting or they’re not, and different types of bodies playing the same sport…

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Don’t be a Dick cross-stitch

Made this for the raffle at Transpose Hallowe’en, and just thought I’d pop it here for posterity. Sadly I couldn’t get to the event but it sounds like a fab time was had by all, and they raised €385 for TENI, which is a pretty good show.

If you’ve not been to a Transpose event before (Go! Do it!), Don’t be a dick is the overarching ground rule for how people are expected to behave towards each other. If only all of society could agree to something so apparently basic.


Cross-stitch with the main slogan "Don't be a Dick", a smaller type showing "Transpose Halloween Edition 2013" and some chintzy flowers

Cross-stitch with the main slogan “Don’t be a Dick”, a smaller type showing “Transpose Halloween Edition 2013” and some chintzy flowers

As above but with a bad camera flash!

As above but with a bad camera flash!

Me & T Speech at Equality Network

Just sharing the speech that my co-facilitator gave at the Annual Reception hosted by Equality Network at the start of November. Really important to point out that we were not asked about the inclusion of a spousal veto, and it’s just really fucking inhumane (I’m glad to report that Amanda chose better words than that though!)

One of the challenges of running Me & T has actually been finding the people who might benefit from the support of the group. Ever since I met my partner, almost 11 years ago, I’ve been looking for people in similar situations. And we’re hard to track down. Because we’re a diverse group of people. We don’t all belong to the LGBT community, we belong to many different communities. Sometimes all we have in common is that we have a partner who is trans.

But I think it’s important to keep trying to reach out to people. Because we do need each others’ support. We also need the support of our family, friends and of the wider community. We need access to information about what to expect when someone we love transitions. And we need good communication with our trans partners.

But we do not need the power to deny our partners the right to have their gender legally recognised.

We weren’t asked if we wanted this power. I wasn’t asked. None of the partners I’ve spoken to were asked – and after nearly 11 years I have found a few. In fact when I did ask partners about this, I couldn’t find anyone who supported it. Some weren’t even aware of it. Helen Belcher of Trans Media Watch surveyed spouses of trans people and asked them if they felt they should have this veto. Everyone she asked said no.

Maeve Regan, who runs Me & T with me, told me ‘I don’t want – and absolutely disagree with the very concept that I should have – any say in whether another human, much less someone I love, is able to obtain the rights they are entitled to or the life they want. It’s putting one person’s humanity below the feelings of another.’

We also weren’t asked when the government decided to force couples to divorce in order for a transitioning partner to obtain gender recognition. This is an opportunity to go some way to fixing that mistake. To separate out the legal recognition of a relationship from the legal recognition of someone’s gender. Because they should be separate. That’s the equality we’re looking for.

And I wonder, where does it come from, this idea that being in a same sex relationship is something that people need to be protected from? That feels like homophobia to me. And I actually find it quite offensive that someone sat down and thought to themselves, ‘what would be the most difficult thing about being in a relationship with a trans person?’ And they decided the answer to that was to find yourself in a legally recognised same sex marriage. Because you know what, there are difficult things about being in a relationship with a trans person. And one of those is that as people see your partner changing, it changes how they see you. They start to assume things about your identity and your sexuality. And that can be difficult. But a piece of paper doesn’t change that.

Equal marriage should be about putting an end to the perception that same sex relationships are somehow wrong. But the spousal veto contradicts that. So get rid of it. It’s not wanted and it’s not needed.

via Speech at Equality Network’s Annual Reception.

Bank of England second FOI request

In June I made a request to the BOE for breakdowns of staff within different salary bands by age, gender, ethnicity etc. One of the frustrating aspects of their response was that they grouped together salary bands, giving a single figure for people earning between £17k and £46k. They explained that the reason for this was to allow data from the Prudential Regulation Authority to be combined with BOE. I don’t have salary amounts for PRA, but have done a quick graph of numbers of male and female staff at the end of this post.

For staff employed directly by the Bank of England, I now have numbers of staff in each salary band by gender. The bands are given in a public document on the BOE website, and I have taken the reference point, or the mid-point of each band, to ease comparison.

Salary Band  Median salary or reference point Female Male
Band1+ Head of Division,  £             123,623 10 46
Band2 Senior Manager,
Senior Economist,
Technical Specialist.
 £               94,562 31 98
Band3  £               73,645 78 166
Band4   Analysts,
Section Managers.
 £               57,794 95 197
Band4T  £               37,845 36 69
Band5 Senior Clerical Staff,
Research Assistants,
Support Staff.
 £               37,137 138 159
Band6  £               28,948 273 193
Band7  £               20,885 48 57
Total  709  985

From a quick glance, it is clear that there are many more male staff at the top of the organisation, as we already knew; and that there are proportionally more women in the lower bands.  It is easier to get a sense of this visually:

Bar chart of numbers of male and female staff in each salary band at BOE: men dominate every band except the second-lowest salary group

Bar chart of numbers of male and female staff in each salary band at BOE: men dominate every band except the second-lowest salary group

Suddenly it is very clear that there is only one band with more female staff – Band 6, and there is almost parity between men and women for the two bands either side. These are the bands with examples given such as “Senior Clerical Staff, Research Assistants, Support Staff”.

At the top end, there are vastly more men in bands 1 – 4. Here are those numbers by proportion in each band:

Proportion of men and women in each salary band at BOE: female staff make up just 18% of Band 1+, 24% of Band 2, 33% of Bands 3-5. There is rough parity in the lowest salary bands, with more women only in Band 6 (59%)

Proportion of men and women in each salary band at BOE: female staff make up just 18% of Band 1+, 24% of Band 2, 33% of Bands 3-5. There is rough parity in the lowest salary bands, with more women only in Band 6 (59%)

We already knew that more than 80% of the staff in Band 1 are male, but it is particularly interesting to see the pattern like this – very clearly the proportion of men steadily increases as you move up to the highest salaries.

Given that there are vastly more men earning the highest salaries, I did some very crude calculations to see roughly how much is earned by men and women at the bank. Assuming (a very big assumption, of course) that everyone is earning the median or reference point for their band, the following graph gives an impression of how much income is held by each gender and band. As the columns show, there is significantly more money held by the large proportion of men in the top three or four salary bands. Due to the significantly higher salaries, the small number of staff at the top of the organisation hold vastly more money; in the lower bands, there are many more staff, but overall earnings are much lower (shown visually as the bars being lower than the lines only towards the right hand side).

Bar chart showing total earnings across each gender and salary band (number of staff x median salary in band) overlaid with lines showing number of staff in each band.

Bar chart showing total earnings across each gender and salary band (number of staff x median salary in band) overlaid with lines showing number of staff in each band.

I’ve presented this same data differently, using stacked columns below:

Stacked bar charts showing total earnings for women and men at BOE.

Stacked bar charts showing total earnings for women and men at BOE.

Overall, there is variation but rough parity between genders up to band 4T, or £38k, but then earnings among men shoot up as they have significantly more staff earning at the higher bands. With 276 more people (985 men and 709 women), the men working at the BOE earn £23 million more than the women.

All of this really serves to confirm what we suspected all along – that the BOE is dominated in management and authority roles by men. What we can’t answer of course is why, but research elsewhere tells us time and again that structural inequalities have an effect on women at every level of organisations like this.

We also knew that until recently, the board of BOE was entirely male, although there are now (since July 2013) two whole women listed among the Governers and Executive Directors. I hope that, in future, with at least those two voices having some influence at the top of the Bank, we won’t end up in another situation where we’re faced with having no women represented on our banknotes.

Finally, the Prudential Regulation Authority staff numbers, showing the same pattern of more women in the lowest salary bands and more men in the highest.


Being bisexual and dating a trans person

A while ago, I was on a panel attempting to answer questions from cis people about trans issues. As the partner of a trans activist, and someone who runs a community group for allies, I was trying to be the voice of someone who will never know how it feels to be trans, but has spent a lot of time thinking about trans issues.

One of the questions was about whether it undermines a trans man’s identity for a woman to say “I am into butch women and trans men”. I didn’t comment on the panel as that is not the situation I am in, although I couldn’t resist popping into the comments as the discussion was varied and interesting. But what I’ve been thinking about since then is possibly more controversial:

I am bisexual[1], and I think that has made it easier for me to date a trans person.

I fully expect that there will be many trans people who find that statement offensive, and as undermining their gender, but I honestly don’t believe that it does. Allow me to explain.

As someone who identifies as bisexual, I have, when considering sexual and romantic relationships, actively thought about different genders. Before I was aware of the gender binary (and thus people who identify outside of it) I considered relationships with men and women. Through this, I avoided fixating on specific roles, or body parts, or sex acts, which I am certain that my monosexual friends have been attached to. Yes, I fantasised about strong arms wrapped around me, but I also fantasised about my strong arms wrapped around another person. I imagined different bodies and varied sex acts that those bodies would engage in (gawd, I hope my mother isn’t reading this).

Until recent years, when I became more informed about the variety of sex that is available to us, especially to people who are outside of the hetero-cis-sexual mainstream, I used to have a weird dissonance with how I defined sex. With the weight of our cultural fixation on the importance of virginity as the act of a penis penetrating a vagina, I took that – as most of society still does – to be THE sex act of any importance. But as I was also interested in women, without examining this assumption, I instead simply had a different definition of sex depending on whether I was talking about being with a woman or a man. What I considered to be sex with a woman was simply classified as foreplay with a man. This seems absurd to me now, but I had no framework or vocabulary to describe my experience as a bisexual person[2], and so I defaulted to what popular culture told me, which was that PIV[3] sex counts, and nothing else is really worth noting[4].

But despite my inability to describe my experiences and what I imagined, these issues highlight that I was at least thinking and trying to talk about different sex acts and different bodies. As it turned out, the major relationships in my life until my current one – and thus the vast majority of my sexual experience – have been with cis men. When I met my current partner I had never been intimate with a trans person, and I had never discussed sex with anyone who could speak to the experience.

I was nervous the first time I saw my partner naked (as was he!). Twenty seven years of being told there are only two basic ways for bodies to be weighed heavily and I was genuinely worried about what my internal response would be to seeing a body which I knew was going to be unlike any I’d ever seen before. A few years later, having immersed myself in trans and queer culture and writing, I am far less hung up on such trivial things as what configuration of genitals someone has. But at that time, it was a monumental moment for us both. And I genuinely think that it was easier for me (and thus, us as a couple), because I was already familiar with different bodies.

I think the very fact of being attracted to more than one gender makes it easier to be open to the possibility of being attracted to someone who has a differently configured body than the mainstream would tell us is available. That is not to say that monosexual (gay/straight) people don’t have relationships with trans people, who may have had varying amounts of medical intervention (or none). But I can’t help thinking that it must be more difficult to do that if you have spent your entire life being conditioned to wanting someone who is either big, strong, hairy, masculine, and has a penis, or small, dainty, gentle, feminine and has a vulva. However much we may personally reject gender stereotypes, they are everywhere we look, and virtually impossible to escape. The stereotypes of how our bodies should be are so fundamental and insidious as to be invisible unless you have reason to look.

But then, even the staunchest monosexual person (a Kinsey 1 or 7), must have some gender markers that they don’t care about in a partner? You might be attracted to men/masculine people but not care about hairiness, or tallness, or a deep voice. But there’s a line somewhere. At what point does someone’s gender stop falling within the boundaries of what you find attractive? I’d love to have some answers to this because as someone who isn’t monosexual, I can’t really imagine what it must be like to be utterly tied to my partner having a certain look, smell or arrangement of genitalia.

I’d like to end by adding that this is resolutely NOT the same as certain small, vocal groups of people who seek to create new categories for trans people in order to exclude them from their sexuality (e.g. ‘lesbian’ and ‘trans-lesbian’). While I recognise that my life history probably makes it easier for me to adapt to different body types than people who have never considered dating someone who isn’t cis, I do not believe that it is ever acceptable to police somebody’s genitalia and body on the basis of whether they fit into a certain, socially-acceptable mould (which applies to sex with everyone really, not just trans people!)

And finally, I found this poem when I first started dating my partner, and it articulated things which I couldn’t have: How to make love to a trans person

[1]Which I define as: I am attracted to people with the same gender as me, and different gender to me. No binary implied.
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[2] At the same time, I had so internalised the biphobia around me, that I absolutely refused to wear “bisexual” as a label. I would literally identify as straight one week, and gay the next. So thanks, culture, for that. (Hence being so bloody vocal about it now, too!)
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[3] Penis-in-vagina. Does what it says on the tin.
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[4] Indeed, there was no age of consent for same-sex sexual acts between women until 2001 in the UK, by which time I was 17.
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