By David Futrelle
So-called “gender critical feminists” are obsessed with pronouns; they talk about them more often than a 7th grade English teacher, and the discussions often get quite vitriolic.
Despite the profusion of new pronouns in recent years, the pronoun that gets these rebranded TERFs the angriest is one as ancient as language itself: she. At least when it’s applied to women who aren’t cis.
In a notorious (and quickly deleted) Mumsnet post last year (which you can now find archived here), an angry transphobe called Barra Kerr declared that “pronouns are Rohypnol” — at least when the pronoun in question is “she” or “her” applied to a trans woman. As Kerr sees it, calling one of these “men” by a female pronoun is a “cheap but effective psychological trick” that confuses the brain and lowers natural female defenses against predatory males, whether cis men or wily trans lesbians (who in Kerr’s mind aren’t “really” lesbians at all but dudes who pretend to be women so they can pick up lesbians). By this convoluted “logic” the pronoun “she,” when applied to trans women, is the equivalent of a date rape drug.
If Kerr’s is the most radical transphobic attack on the pronouns of trans women, the meanest and most petty take on the subject I’ve seen so far comes in a Gender Critical subreddit posting from a few days ago by someone called vanillaorgtfo — arguing that calling trans women “she” is just a way to make
these ugly men in dresses feel better about the fact that no one is really fooled and everyone can tell they are actually men.
Let’s go through vanillaorgtfo’s, er, argument in detail.
“The fact is,” she begins, “the vast majority of transwomen do not pass.”
Er, maybe the reason you think this is because the other trans women (not “transwomen”) you run across on the regular do pass, meaning that you never notice them. And it’s also possible that some of the women you think are non-passing “transwomen” are in fact cis women with some stereotypically masculine features.
Even the ones I see who try to take a good selfie with all the pretty hair and clothes and makeup and who have gained weight in the face in “feminine” patterns tend to suffer from pretty noticeable “man jaw”, aka the heavy lower jaw and face women rarely get.
There are plenty of cis women with these so-called “man jaws.” And plenty of cis men without them.
That and other body subtleties tend to subconsciously clue a person in to their true sex. But by now most socially adept people can guess from their egregiously girly clothing they want to be called “she/her”.
If you’re going by twenty-year-old stereotypes, I suppose, or confusing trans women with drag queens.
For those who are passing badly or meeting people in a new situation or talking online or on tumblr, whatever, they use the “preferred pronouns”, however, so that people know. It’s a tacit admission that they are failing to adequately convince people of their preferred gender presentation, or that people are regularly pegging them as the correct sex.
Even aside form the fact that many of those who are careful to spell out their preferred pronouns do so because they don’t fit the gender binary, the fact that someone’s gender presentation doesn’t seem “correct” to vanillaorgtfo is less a reflection on them than on the narrowness of her notions of acceptable gender presentation. Some people actually have no desire to “pass.”
In any case, that’s the substance, such as it is, of vanillaorg’s argument, which essentially boils down to “ha ha, ‘transwomen’ are so ugly they have to tell people their pronouns in advance!” Which is not so much an argument as a dubious assertion based on a series of dumb premises.
The real question is why “arguments” like this make so many Gender Crits — generally a fairly indignant bunch — so gleeful. (Vanillaorgtfo’s post fot nearly 70 upvotes and virtually universal agreement from commenters.) I’m going to take a wild guess and say “transmisogyny.”
Indeed, much of what the Gender Crit crowd says about trans women is similar in spirit to what MGTOWs and other manosphere misosgynists regularly say about cis women. Some of the obsessions are not just similar but identical: the last person I recall going on about “man jaws” was alt-Nazi pickup artist Heartiste.
I would say something about “strange bedfellows” here, but it’s not really strange that there are so many parallels between misogynistic manospherans and transmisogynistic Gender Crits. Hate movements gonna hate.
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