Why TERFs love “we should all use they/them”

CW: misgendering
TERF ideology is a spectrum. With a bit of superficial rebranding, a lot of TERFism is still prevalent in radical queer spaces. We need to be able to recognize TERFism not just in the form of using the Wrong words, but using the Right words to craft sentences and paragraphs that ultimately say the same Wrong things.

This article argues that “The universal singular they is inclusive of people who identify as male, female or nonbinary (e.g., “Drew is in my class; they are a great student”). It avoids the problem of misgendering by not using pronouns to gender people in the first place.”

But it doesn’t really “avoid the problem of misgendering”, it merely avoids the “problem” of transmisogyny-exempt queers being called out for deliberately misgendering trans women. The authors pay lip service to trans womens’ existence, but claim that using ‘she/her’ “may also worsen gender inequality” and then quote someone who is not a trans woman on the “hidden cost to others”:

Announcing pronouns or having to choose an honorific among gendered options may also worsen gender inequality by making women more aware of their own gender identity […]
[universal singular they] reduces the salience of gender in everyday interactions, which is likely to be a good thing for women (regardless of whether or not their assigned sex at birth was female). […]
To be sure, for people who have experienced the pain of being denied gender recognition in the past, announcing pronouns can lead to meaningful moments of affirmation. But this may come at a hidden cost to others. Some people feel that announcing gender, writes historian Jen Manion, of Amherst College, “requires them to make a declaration, whether they are ready, or want to.”

Yes – referring to women as she/her puts emphasis on our gender identities. It makes gender salient in everyday interactions. For people who know we could use “they” and choose to use “she/her” anyway, that is the whole point. In fact, it’s the same point that Jen Manion was making in her article being quoted.

This is what Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism looks like (as opposed to Feminist-Appropriating Radical Transphobes): It uses all the Right language. It’s academic. It’s self-consciously feminist; you might even call it radically so. And, it excludes trans women. Trans and gender-nonconforming people who were assigned female at birth, are precisely the people TERFs think they are fighting for – and that’s why we need to be scouring our own beliefs to ensure that we know why TERF ideology is wrong, and how what we believe is meaningfully different.

See also: Liberal feminism isn’t your ally either.

TL;DR: Use “they/them” by default (but do it for everyone, not just for people who “look trans”). When you know that someone uses “she/her”, continuing to use “they/them” is just as much a deliberate misgendering as “he/him” would be.

Originally posted on Facebook

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