Clarification of language:
DFAB/DMAB = Designated female/male at birth.
Trans femme = DMAB trans people with a feminine gender expression.
Trans masculine = DFAB trans people with a masculine gender expression.
TERF = Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist
I’m positive that by now you’ve seen the article written by Tina Vasquez, “It’s Time to End the Long History of Feminism Failing Transgender Women.” I really, really wanted to like the article, and at first, I really did, with some minor gripes about language and such. Vasquez really detailed manifestations of violence against trans women. It needs to be named right away that Tina Vasquez is cis. She does not experience cissexism, transmisogyny, or transphobia. In the case of this piece, it’s important to specify that she does not experience transmisogyny, and so her writing about TERFdom and what it does to trans women/femme people will naturally be incomplete. I get that, and I’m not saying cis people can never, ever, ever write about trans people. I despise the “all or nothing” approach to activism. She did, however, incorporate trans women’s voices in the creation of the article, which is important to acknowledge. That’s a good thing to do.
But then I began to think about how Vasquez is making money off of this article–making money off the literal deaths and murders of trans women/femme people. Let me remind you again that she is not a trans woman/femme person. I started noticing how although she was naming violence against trans women specifically, she… didn’t call it transmisogyny. Not once in the entire article did she even say the word transmisogyny. I even did that ctrl + f thing. Given that fact, and after a couple more read-overs, I felt very unsettled when I thought of this article in its larger context.
Not naming anti-trans woman/anti trans-femme violence is an enormous issue in the trans community, and it is, in itself, a form of violence against those on the trans femme spectrum. The article replaces ‘transmisogyny’ with the word ‘transphobia’ at every single turn. Not only do ignorant cis folk do this (and honestly, every trans woman/femme person just expects that to happen), but this is something trans men and trans masculine people do as well, and it is often employed to decenter the violence done against trans women/femme people.
But trans women were included in this article, so how in the hell did this happen? How was transmisogyny not named even once in the article? This was really disconcerting to me, and luckily my friend voz was already on some people’s case about this. You can read the full conversation here. For now, I will paraphrase. Andi Zeisler is the co-founder and editorial/creative director for Bitch Magazine. When confronted about why the article degendered the issue by using ‘transphobia’ instead of ‘transmisogyny,’ she said that it made the article “legally watertight.” When asked to clarify how the word ‘transmisogyny’ would generate a lawsuit, Zeisler said it was because the “The subject of the piece has a history of bringing defamation-of-character suits [...] based on single words or phrases, like ‘transmisogynist’ and ‘transphobic.‘
The person Zeisler is referring to is The TERF, and if you read the article, you know that this woman holds a whole lot of power, not someone you would want to get into a legal battle with. I understand this, because people’s jobs are also on the line. If Bitch Magazine lost the lawsuit, or if it dragged out long enough, they might well go bankrupt. Zeisler said that those who worked on this piece trust in people’s ability to infer meaning… but wait, something’s not lining up here. If single words or phrases like ‘transmisogynist’ and ‘transphobic’ can bring on defamation-of-character suits, then why was the word ‘transphobia’ used in the article?
I understand that you could argue that saying ‘transphobia’ is not the same as saying ‘transphobic,’ and I would agree with you. In fact, I would then pose to you that ‘transmisogyny’ is not the same as ‘transmisogynist.’ And since they are not the same, ‘transphobia’ could easily be replaced with ‘transmisogyny’ every single time in the article put out by Bitch Magazine. Not only this, but I would say that using the word transmisogyny would be far more accurate of what is going on. TERF’s target trans women and trans femme people. In all the sites linked in the article (Name The Problem, Gender Identity Watch, etc) you would be hard-pressed to find one trans man or DFAB trans masculine person mentioned (read: attacked).
Trans women/femme people in the trans community, especially if they’re people of color, experience a degree of lethality that is not experienced by trans men/masc people. Not only this, but trans women/femme people have the least amount of access to shelters, the least amount of access to victim services, and the least amount of access to social support. Basically, whatever is bad for the trans community as a whole is especially bad for trans women/femme people, especially if they’re folks of color.
And ignoring that all starts with misnaming our issues as ‘transphobia,’ categorizing our specific issues as an umbrella issue. This is not transphobia. This is transmisogyny. This is violence against trans women/femme people. TERF’s do not evenly spread their violence against the trans community. They grind their axes on the spines of trans women/femme people. Calling this ‘transphobia’ is being reductive, and so Bitch Magazine is being complicit in erasure. Name gendered violence as gendered violence, do not only call it violence. Specificity is extremely important in this case. Not naming transmisogyny as is, is a form of gendered violence, and I, as a trans woman, am sick and tired of having my experiences of transmisogyny reduced to transphobia. Trans men/masc people do not experience this form of violence, so it cannot be classified as transphobia.
The damage has already been done, so how will Bitch Magazine address the harm caused by this article? I firstly demand an apology for the reduction of trans women’s/femme people’s issues. Secondly, I demand that the article either correct its word choice, or an additional article be written that does not degender the issue.