doing the patriarchy’s work and calling it feminism: the TERF

there’s been a whole bunch of publicity and hate flung around about the Federal court decision last week that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts must pay for genital reconstruction surgery for Michelle Kosilek. if you haven’t read the actual ruling, i strongly suggest you do before commenting on the appropriateness of GRS for Ms. Kosilek (the ruling, in PDF format). see, Ms. Kosilek was sentenced to life without parole, as she was duly found guilty of first-degree murder back in 1993 and that’s the sentence murder one carries in Massachusetts; as a result, she ends up in the position of being a person whose medical care is the responsibility of the Commonwealth, and Massachusetts must thus provide proper medical care for her.

you have four choices here, folks:

1) don’t provide for medical care for prisoners. this is barbaric and cruel and leaves skid marks on both the Commonwealth and US Constitutions, so it’s not an option.
2) don’t provide care for transwhatever prisoners. this isolates us as a class and codifies discrimination. no thanks!
3) abolish prisons altogether, which saves taxpayers a mess of money. whether or not you’re comfortable with this depends on if you think the penal system works.
4) go along with the reality that this is medical care that Ms. Kosilek needs, which it kind of is, and, well, we as society locked her up, we as society must accept the consequences. that’s how the Eighth Amendment works, dawg.

don’t get me wrong: Michelle Kosilek is a loathsome, awful person. i don’t like her one bit, the evidence was overwhelming, and oh yeah, she killed her wife apparently mostly because she wanted a divorce. most of the articles about the murder, the trial itself, etc. are lost to the sands of time and the paywall, but i remember the case vividly because every damn day the Hartford Courant covered the case in lurid detail and i realized what people thought and portrayed transsexuals as. my little Ericaish heart really hurt to read it.  anyways, some trans women are going to be awful people: i’m sure most of you know Anne Lawrence is on the record as having committed sexual assault and all…listen, trans women, like all people, will come in good and bad. some of us will be murderers, some of us will be singers, some of us will be software engineers, and some of us will be bus drivers. that’s how it works: our common thread is that we’re women and that we are identified as trans for one of a number of reasons. i mean, after all, there are cis women who do all these things, too.

the TERF, the trans-exclusionary radical feminist, seizes upon any example of “bad” trans woman they can find, and while i won’t do them the pleasure of being recognized here, the commentary has been flying so hot and heavy that it feels like there’s a rain of flaming oxen falling from the TERFworld about Ms. Kosilek. they have a “bad” trans woman to seize upon and they’re seizing like a Honda Civic on the freeway with no oil in the engine. the TERF talks about things like “peak trans”, a collection of discussion about awful trans women they’ve dealt with. and listen, i’m really sorry you had to deal with being treated like shit by someone, regardless of their gender identity. but this isn’t really what “peak trans” is about, and humiliating trans women based on the behavior of one trans woman is obviously a form of confirmation bias…the TERF attempts to look neutral and “pushed too far” nevertheless. the thing about the TERF is that the TERF is actually a cog in the machine of the patriarchy and the TERF knows damn well this is true.  because of this, i think it’s time to talk about the reality of the TERF: the TERF is actually a plant within feminism who acts in a manner that upholds the kyriarchy, and as a result the patriarchy, at all costs.  the TERF is the plant Janice Raymond warned you about, she just got the mechanics all wrong. women are ripping apart feminism from within, but they’re not trans women. women are quietly working to discredit and destroy feminism, but they’re claiming the high ground to feminism generally.

you heard me right: Cathy Brennan, et al…they’re patriarchal shills. they granulate and divide women and tell us our feminisms aren’t sufficient. they don’t bother with attacking the scourge of anti-feminism and they don’t really bother with important things to feminism like, you know, equal pay for equal work. go ahead and Google the following search: “Cathy Brennan”  “Lilly Ledbetter” (together, both in quotes) and you’ll get nothing from Ms. Brennan on the matter, a fact i find interesting. or how about a law codifying funding for programs to stop violence against women? again, Google “Cathy Brennan” VAWA and you’ll see what i’m talking about…nothin’ doin there, especially given how contentious VAWA’s reauthorization was in 2012 and the ongoing concerted attacks from the far-right against VAWA which have continued apace since US v. Morrison. despite Ms. Brennan’s squallings to the contrary, i’m a woman and things like equal pay matter to me; i have my criticisms of VAWA but that’s probably something for another time. 

so apparently Ms. Brennan is absent when it comes to caring about Federal law designed to protect women. and guess what? if you believed the law doesn’t do anything to protect people and abstained from caring about the doings of law because of this, you might have a pretty good case for your absence from such matters. trouble is, Ms. Brennan doesn’t have such a belief toward the law at all, instead choosing to venerate it uncritically in working for Hudson Cook,  a law firm with really savory clients like payday lenders (that’s what “CashNET CSO of Maryland” is) …or Ocwen Financial, a notorious foreclosure fraud perpetrator. so don’t you think that someone like Ms. Brennan would probably choose to direct her passion toward something besides upholding one of the most patriarchal elements of the American landscape, financial institutions run by old white guys in suits? apparently not, and that’s a huge part of the discord: a TERF like Brennan probably would have at least some statement of criticism of the system they work in to identify their political discord.  Ms. Brennan has made no such statement, and frankly once you’ve made partner i suspect that you’re not exactly working inside the system to destroy it.

i find these two things most queer, but the queerest thing of all is that many TERFs (Ms. Brennan included, and that’s the last of her i’m mentioning) identify as something called a political lesbian. this faction reduces being a dyke to a lifestyle choice…i’m not even kidding here…and that to do so means standing against patriarchy. okay, on the last part, any relationship between women inherently disempowers the patriarchy (and i swear i never used that as a pickup line in college other than, like, ten times) and that’s a good thing to disempower the patriarchy, but i think a woman being true to her sexuality and not claiming it’s a politically-based choice destroys the patriarchy, too. you know, female empowerment and all that stuff we get mocked for talking about over here on Team Feminist. the very essence of political lesbianism is that your sexual orientation doesn’t matter to them because if you’re straight, you’re a product of compulsory heterosexuality, and if you’re not, well…it’s a choice? it’s the same logic used by people who operate “reparative therapy” facilities that prey on queer youth, and as someone who made it through reparative therapy (yep, STILL GAY) i can tell you it sucked and it is not something i’d wish on my worst enemy. the “you must be straight” shit that i deal with from society every damn day was boiled down into its most concentrated, hateful form, and it’s really hateful and insulting to see someone claiming that who i sleep with is automatically  a choice when that’s not the reality a lot of us who are queer have. yes, in some cases, it’s a choice for some people, and that’s cool! it’s the idea that sexual orientation is inherently a choice for women which seems to be aimed squarely at discrediting the very lesbians many TERFs claim to be “protecting.” it’s actually, hilariously, a total parrot of what transfundamentalists say when encouraging mandatory heterosexuality…i’m sure that’s a coincidence. i’ve never had a choice; i’ve tried to will, drink, cut, and therapy myself straight, and you know what? it’s a whole hell of a lot easier to just be who you are. it took me a very, very long time to accept that it was okay to be a lesbian; some days i think i’m still working on it.

i posit that the TERF is indeed an agent, knowingly so, of the patriarchy. they are ridiculing lesbians by denying our agency in our sexual orientation, they seize upon limited examples to claim the evil of trans women yet ignore critical feminist issues, and they persist using a number of divisive tactics to try to split feminism from forward progress. one of these is the insult they bandy about, “funfem”, to claim that feminists who don’t follow their brand of feminism aren’t feminists and are instead obsessed with….uh, whatever they’re getting at with “funfem” but denigrating the idea that a sexually active heterosexual woman can be a feminist. i think Ellie Smeal probably would have something to say about that, and the TERF mindset loudly attacked her for having the gall to be running NOW and married to a man.

the TERF is obsessed with dividing feminism at all costs and commenting negatively on women’s sexuality. sex-shaming is a historical patriarchal tool to remind those of us who are women of the position the patriarchy wants us to hold: inferior.  the TERF is loud about sex work being evil, ignoring that for many trans people and for many people of color, sex work is the only work there is. sex-shaming is the final nail in the coffin because it shows the TERF is supported entirely by the skeleton of patriarchy even if its skin is that of feminism…the TERF claims that only some women can be feminists, and then goes on to divide those “some women” even further; this is actually something Raymond suggests in The Transsexual Empire that “transsexuals” will engage in to attempt to preclude cis women from women’s space. in other words, Dr. Raymond nailed it that someone would try to fragment and break feminism, but it wasn’t those of us who are trans women…the TERF is the real threat to feminism. to paraphrase Dr. Raymond, the TERF is the spy for the patriarchy, the TERF is the patriarchy’s tool in female form. when all you do is anoint the kyriarchy, you become indistiguishable from the kyriarchy. 

32 responses to “doing the patriarchy’s work and calling it feminism: the TERF”

  1. Very good point. I have always found something… off about the way some lesbians equated their sexuality to a political one, but I think you articulate it far better than I do at this point. Believe me, I am like you, in that I have also at times tried to “not be a lesbian”. It’s probably why I felt so “uncomfortable” with some radical feminists equating being a “lesbian” to a movement. Unfortunately, I don’t have control over that. When I see a queer community that can and is sometimes hostile to trans women it re-awakens that feeling.

    But I must disagree with you about one point. I don’t think (TERFs) are doing it on purpose, or even knowingly. I feel that like anyone, we can be subject to flaws in critical thought which can cause us to contradict ourselves and thus create cognitive dissonance. This assertion is fueled further by the context of our culture when it comes to how we see human logic and reason. It is riddled throughout all of our thoughts about everything, from television, to law. What is it? It’s the idea that humans are rational creatures. But we aren’t, not even the most concrete or logical thinker. In fact, according to scientific research we are “Predictably Irrational” ( Which means that law, paradigms, and constructs that act in accordance with the idea that we “are rational” will incorrectly judge us as people. To assume rationality when in fact people are irrational can create all kinds of issues. The only way we can know about what makes us work is by testing it.

    Radical Feminism, like the brand of Cathy Brennan et al., comes about because of rational failure to see that sexism, the patriarchy, and the oppression of women by them is caused by “sex” itself (not literal anatomy), but by the letters on one’s birth certificate. It is the very categorical process of assigning sex where the problem begins. Monica on Transactivisty talks a little about it, though I don’t agree with all of her points. There is sound and reproducible means by which to create a better and inclusive diagnostic criteria, but outside of biological health concerns, reproductive rights, and reproductive health the point is rather moot. Also, considering that the next 50 – 100 years medicine completely will transform that, it’s especially moot to require “gender assignments” on legal documents, or as any sort of social contract. In my opinion, I consider the only times one’s sex should be pertinent is in the hospital and between consenting sexual partners. I hope I am not over-simplifying there.

    However, I do agree, they are doing the work of the patriarchy/kyriarchy, they are undermining feminism, and they are reinforcing sexism which is the fundamental force oppressing women in a sex segregated society. I also feel sex segregation is also a problem. A gender equal world will not segregate by sex because it will have realized from the lessons of history “separate but equal” doesn’t work.

  2. Yes. I’ve had this thought for years: the radfem (terf) has done so much to discredit feminism and make it appear so unpalatable to the majority of people that feminism is now the current joke it is. It is something people disavow as a matter of course, because of everything you’ve posted here.

    • Summary: Cathy Brennan is totes unable to respond to nuanced feminist criticism of how much she is a patriarchal shill and instead degenders someone because that’s how the partriarchy works.

    • Summary: Catherine Brennan is a hateful failure of a “feminist” who can’t focus any of her efforts on combatting the kyriarchy. Outs trans* people, defends foreclosing banks that fuck over poor/Black people, accuses Latina and Asian women of liking racism. If she ever touches a book by bell hooks or Audre Lorde, she’ll spontaneously combust.

      But no, no, she’s the victim here //_>

    • Wait, where did they call you a “Christian” as you allege on your blog, Cathy? I mean, I’m trans-critical too, but I’m not seeing it. You might want to bother to refute what this person is saying since they accused you of being patriarchal, but patriarchy doesn’t equal Christianity.

    • Well actually, yeah. She just conspired to murder one person.

      You on the other hand are trying to take away a medically necessary cure for dysphoria from millions. Your “collateral damage” if you succeeded would dwarf hers.

      • Except that’s false.
        (Erica: Except *what* is false, Cathy? Your attempts at pithy brief humorous comments are failing at pithy and humorous, but they sure are brief. Please be clear what you’re referring to when referring to something; treating me and other commenters here like human beings is the same basic respect you insist on, so quid pro quo, Ms. Brennan.)

        And wow. Just wow.

      • THIS IS FALSE: You on the other hand are trying to take away a medically necessary cure for dysphoria from millions. Your “collateral damage” if you succeeded would dwarf hers.

        ad hominem attack removed, please cease using ad hominems if you intend to engage in discourse here, Ms. Brennan.

    • How do you respond to the fact that you work directly to support the patriarchy in your profession? I have never seen this addressed. You support them in expressing their power over women– so how can you speak as a feminist when you directly work against women, every day?

    • Did we even read the same post? Does the concept of medical rights for prisoners really have no more nuance to it than “bad people don’t deserve medical treatment”?

      • Having read a fair amount of the number of Internet posts on the subject:

        No. No, it really doesn’t. People want prison to be a medieval gaol, complete with random torture when the wardens get bored.

  3. They say character–integrity–is who you are in the dark. Well, I have been in the dark for a long time. Many of us have. And we have discovered, in the end, not our weakness, not our vileness, not our artificial dishonest infection-on-the-world failure to be real people, but the quality of our character. And we have made choices since then. Some of us are cruel and dangerous people who take from others and reproduce pain. Some of us are paragons of kindness and hope. Most of us, like me, are somewhere in the middle, some of the same mix of choices and mistakes and wicked joy as anyone else on the street, scattered and various as the birds of the air. But all of us, mean and glorious, made that choice, once, that choice of radical integrity, that choice to love the truth and commit to it, dark or bright, hell or high water. That cannot be taken from us. Any of us, the killers and healers and thieves and parents alike. It is more than our losses and more than our gains. It is more than the families we do or don’t have, the ideas we espouse, the places we stand. Somewhere, deep inside, we will always know that one day we chose the truth knowing that that truth might not be kind to us, and we held tight to that truth while it burned on and on.

    I believe in trans people. I believe in us because we have been honest, at least once, in a way few people on earth have been asked to be. I believe that is what makes us so frightening. That integrity is written all over us. You can see it in the dark. There is no avoiding seeing in us that choice to hold onto the truth even if no-one else would stand with us and do the same. That is enormously threatening. It is no wonder that so many people and communities claim that admitting us among their number might destroy the foundations of everything they know.

    from a post on Questioning Transphobia, written last year.

  4. Thanks for this insightful piece Erica ❤

    One comment I have around the discussion about "political lesbianism." Yeah, you've got it right that this is a terrible idea, and I think I get your point that it reduces lesbianism to some kind of "lifestyle choice" and sort of incidentally buys into a lot of patriarchal thinking around women's sexuality (cause apparently if women didn't make this "choice," then of course we would all be straight… wtf??), but I have to admit I have always thought about this in a way that seems more simple to my mind:

    Compulsory heterosexuality is a terrible idea because it places social pressure on women (and others) to conform to a sexuality that may not feel natural for them or with which they may not be comfortable.

    Likewise, political lesbianism is a terrible idea because it places social pressure on women to conform to a sexuality that may not feel natural for them or with which they may not be comfortable. (e.g. "You're with a man? You're sleeping with the enemy!", "True feminists are lesbians," etc.)

    To me this second argument feels more intuitive, and speaks to the basic point: feminism should work to eliminate *all* social coercion around sexuality from human society.

  5. Well, I’m a little late to the party, but I couldn’t not comment on how much I agree with everything you said. Also, to me, “political lesbianism” is also very problematic because:


    a) it contributes to bisexual invisibility, bisexual-shaming and the “ex-lesbian” myth. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see anything wrong with a woman who’s atracted to more than one gender to decide that she only wants relationships with women. But, when I see women claiming the label “lesbian” because they think that’s a “stronger” word to define them politically, then me, as a bi woman, feel that my identity is less valid and has less political strenght. It’s like these women are saying they couldn’t possibily express their love for women, or their commitment to women’s rights, by using words like “bi”, “pan” or “fluid”, buying into the notion that bi/pan/fluid/non-labeled women are just in it for the “fun” (being read as non-straight is so much fun, you guys!) and couldn’t possibly be “real” feminists/good activists. Also, when a woman who has sexual/romantic relationships with men identifies as “lesbian”, and then enters a long-term relationship with a man, she’s seen for a lot of people as an “ex-lesbian”, contributing to the myth that there is no such thing as lesbians, all those women need is to find a man who “treats them right”. Thus hurting a lot of lesbian women out there.

    b) it’s used by radscum as a tool for victim-blaming of women who are victims of domestic violence perpetrated by male partners. I remember reading a thread on a radscum site that started with a woman patting herself on the back for her courage in being a lesbian, and it was a long list of people calling “het” cis women “sold-outs” and one woman went as far as saying that, when she heard a woman talk abt being abused by her male partner, she thought “Well, what did you expect?” See, cause compulsory heterosexuality is so strong that EVERY woman who thinks she’s atracted to men is just a poor deluded soul who’s fallen prey to the patriarchy. But that, in no way, it’s an excuse to care abt women whose male partners abuse them because those stupid sell-outs should know this is just how men treat women, right? Except when that man is partnered with a bi/pan/fluid woman, cause then she’s just seeking the easy way of the world of Straight Privilege and its streets covered with gold, the daily “money rain” and all the candy you can eat.

    PS: Please, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there isn’t such a thing as Being-Read-as-Straight-Privilege. I live it every day. I’m just pointing out how sometimes radscum paints it as this super-duper world where everything’s wonderful and nothing hurts (not even the biphobia we see and experience every day, cause apparently when you’re read as straight, you just don’t give a fuck abt that) and other times they paint being partnered with a man as the worst possible experience ever, cause every man is a Mysoginist Monster who can never, ever, see a woman as a human being.

  6. […] people she disagrees with, for stalking and harassing trans people , particularly trans women, and for working for a law firm that defends predatory payday lenders and financial firms that are known … This is a person who has no feminist activism to her name that isn’t centered around attacking […]

  7. Cathy Brennan is vile, egotistical SCUM. Rather than uniting with her feminist allies to get REAL progress done for women (and equality in general), she further DIVIDES feminism and women based on this extreme paranoia about how “Transgender people (specifically transwomen, not so much transmen, in her view) are trying to invade women’s spaces” and all kinds of other idiotic propaganda, like the idea that transwomen have some kind of “woman fetish” and don’t ACTUALLY have gender dysphoria or identify *as such*. Part of me feels like, to some extent, she is doing all this subconsciously to *stay relevant*. She cites a handful of examples of crossdressing men and “transwomen” who HAVE, in fact, preyed on women in traditionally women’s-only spaces to claim, “Aha! Look at that. They’re still man-like deep-down and could be a threat.”

    And, of course… Does she give 2 SHITS about all the TRANSGENDER PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN MURDERED? not really… except to overpoliticize their deaths to BITCH ABOUT ALL MEN and pretend like, “Men are all evil, violent people, and us women are perfect, little angels” or some shit, rather than the ACTUAL complexities of human existence.

    In short, Brennan is paranoid, vile and scum. I always find it a bit comical when she says she’s “against gender/gender roles” but then COMPLAINS ABOUT GENDER-DYSPHORIC, TRANSGENDER MEN WHO WANT TO BE WOMEN. Uh… what? THESE ARE THE VERY PEOPLE WHO ARE DOING THAT! Hell, I’m pretty sure Brennan has even criticized GENDERFLUID people, as well. So it seems this rhetoric of hers rings hollow, simply as a way to promote HER OWN, narrow agenda.

    Also, if she’s so “against gender”, WHY does she constantly cite and discuss it in such a divisive fashion? For example, whenever someone talks about yet another transgender person’s murder, she’ll snarkily say, “MEN are doing this!” She specifically *points out* that a male likely committed the act. As for the “political lesbianism”, get real. If you’re straight, BE STRAIGHT. If you’re gay or bi or trans, FEEL FREE TO BE THAT WAY, TOO! I’m all for acceptance and tolerance, but lying to yourself and about your orientation or “real self” simply for some silly political FAD simply will not do. No, being a gay woman does not “take it to the patriarchy.” No one else CARES whether you “choose to be with women” if you’re *not actually attracted to them*! The only people who DO CARE are other “political lesbians.” Rather, it makes you seem like a demagogue who makes a mockery of stuff like sexual orientation and preference. WHY should a woman who’s into men romantically/sexually “go for women”? If she’s not attracted TO women, what’s the POINT? I mean, to reduce sexual orientation to some “constant political statement” seems so frivolous and DEMEANS the nature of human sexuality!

    It’s some over-radicalized, counterproductive BS. Brennan is so paradoxical in her mindset that it’s a wonder *her brain hasn’t fallen out*! I’m glad that, though, MOST feminists and women don’t take a demagogue like her seriously. She’s kind of like the 2015 “Andrea Dworkin”, in a sense. Hell, the notion of being a “political lesbian” INHERENTLY IMPLIES that “gender matters”, much to the “chagrin” of Cathy. After all, the basic definition of “lesbian” practically ASSUMES that both members are women (be it cis or trans), and a cisgendered male (perhaps a transman as well) *cannot* be a lesbian. That’s simply how the concept works. Right there, Cathy has shot herself in the foot verbally but pretends to be trying to, “smash the notion of gender in society forever.”

  8. Funny enough, Cathy Brennan, for all her talk of “nuance”, esp. with regard to gender, and “freeing women”, fails to see how STRUCTURED AND RIGID her *own ideology and activism* really is!

  9. Her name “bug”Brennan sure is apt, though. That’s all she is- a “bug” (virus) within feminism.

  10. […] Unfortunately, cissexism and transmisogyny are nothing new within allegedly “feminist” circles. Many of the most renowned feminist scholars are TERFs—Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists. TERFs define womanhood solely in terms of vaginas, wombs, periods, and pregnancy. And, in doing so, they enforce the gender binary, perpetuate structural violence against the transgender community, and essentially “do the patriarchy’s work while calling it feminism.” […]

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