Don’t Be a TERF

In light of Donald Trump's recent efforts to legalize the erasure of trans identities and trans rights, Columnist Cheyenne Porcher takes a look at what she and other cis women of color can do to bolster support for transgender activism and rights.

Cheyenne Porcher, Columnist

Rest in power to Vicki Lee Jones, Maurice Stallard, Irving Younger, Melvin Wax, Rose Mallinger, Sylvan Simon, Bernice Simon, Jerry Rabinowitz, Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Daniel Stein, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal and other victims of hate both in and by the United States.

On Oct. 21, 2018, numerous people throughout the country woke up to an attack on their humanity. Each and every day we witness inhumane acts doled out by the Trump administration, either directly or indirectly. This one in particular, however, had no half-hearted reasoning. There was no guise of safety or financial prosperity —  just hatred. According to The New York Times, the Trump administration has plans to legally define sex under Title IX as “either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with.” Not only is this potential declaration factually incorrect, as it conflates sex and gender, but it’s also a blatant attempt to erase an entire segment of our country. Simply put, it’s disgusting and something we cannot and should not accept.

Now, as we approach Trans Week of Awareness, I knew that this was something I wanted to highlight. As a cisgender woman, navigating how to spotlight these issues without contributing to the erasure of trans people has been tricky. Given my platform, a column, and therefore a place for opinion pieces, I don’t think it is my place to have opinions on, say, the love lives of trans women, especially when the whole point is to allow people to share their own stories. At the same time, I understand my privilege in having a spot in a major university newspaper, and I want to leverage this privilege to elevate the narratives of the oppressed. It’s a dilemma I still don’t feel like I have the solution to. But I know that silence isn’t the answer.  

Rather than try to give advice or guidance to a group that probably doesn’t need my two cents and has experienced things I’ve never even had to consider, I think it would be most productive to turn my attention to cis women of color, and assess how we need to do better.

While the decisions in Congress are being made by a bunch of soggy white men, cis women of color are often complicit in transphobia because our dual-compounded marginalized-identities can give us a sort of tunnel vision when it comes to oppression. Facing hardship on the basis of both race and gender is overwhelming, and it can feel like we are being marginalized in every scenario. But we need to understand that there is a difference between being attacked for being a woman and having your womanhood attacked. Both can have awful ramifications, but the latter literally puts one’s identity up for debate. Here a few steps we can take to stand in solidarity:

1) Don’t be a TERF, or trans-exclusionary radical feminist. The term in and of itself is low-key a paradox, as one could argue that a TERF is a feminist that doesn’t believe in the rights of all women, and is therefore not a feminist at all. This could, unfortunately, be applied to some of the most well-known gender “equality” scholars. While there are plenty of specific missteps we need to avoid, the overarching message is to not be stupid. Maybe that was blunt, but I say this because it is genuinely easy to avoid dehumanizing other human beings.

2) Along with the previous point, take transphobic phrases and imagery out of your activism. No, drawing chalk vulvas in Washington Square Park is not revolutionary, and your intentions are unclear, considering that there aren’t many misogynists claiming that vaginas don’t exist (and I don’t think someone not being able to find your clitoris is the most looming threat to women). What you did just do, however, is reduce womanhood to a single physical trait, which is harmful for a number of reasons. This goes for you, too, pink pu$$y hat wearers. 

3) Don’t act like someone wanting to take a piss in peace is an infringement upon your civil liberties, or your safety. Those of us with cis privilege probably can’t imagine how difficult it is to have our identity questioned or safety put at risk when doing something as simple and necessary as going to the bathroom. I feel like this one is self-explanatory.

4)  If you have the means, support businesses run by trans people (and the reverse, stop supporting businesses that contribute to their erasure). In a country in which the majority of states make it legal to fire people for being transgender, it’s not a surprise that trans people are twice as likely to be unemployed than cis people. As a black woman, I’ve seen how hard our community can rally to support black-owned businesses, and it’s a beautiful thing. We need to do the same for trans-owned businesses. 

5) Educate the people in your life. As we brace ourselves for the post-Thanksgiving “you will not believe the racist things my Trump-supporting Uncle Fred said at the dinner table but I still love him because he’s my uncle” conversations, we have to be willing to dedicate the time and effort to defend the rights of people that could really use our support. It’s uncomfortable, and you might piss off Cousin Joe and Aunty Dionne, but it’s important.

6) Do the work. Yourself. In planning to write this piece, I had an early idea to reach out and interview trans women about what cis women need to do better. Then I realized, especially considering the recent events, no one needs me in their face asking them things that have been written 10 times over and I can access on my own. You could even argue that a lot of this is common sense, anyway. In the same way, I wouldn’t appreciate some white dude coming up to me and asking how not to fetishize the black women he dates (it happened), I shouldn’t be coming up to trans people and asking them how I can not belittle their existence. 

This is not an exhaustive list, and there are so many other steps we can and must take, and the conversation doesn’t end here. To all of my trans readers, you are loved, you are supported and I stand in solidarity with you.

Identity of Love is a column devoted to exploring the ups and downs of navigating love, sex and relationships for those whose narratives have historically been pushed to the margins. Identity of Love runs alternate Tuesdays.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them. 

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 5 print edition.

Cheyenne Porcher is a sophomore in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study. Email Cheyenne at [email protected]

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