There are some people in this topsy-turvy world who reduce patriarchy to biology and link it to the locker rooms, and therefrom formulate a toxic rape-fear, and in so doing, legitimate disavowing people’s identities, and call all this feminism.

Last summer the TERF affair came to the fore following the discussions pertaining to hormone use. When women and children of all ages use birth control pills due to a variety of reasons nobody makes a fuss about this medical matter, but whence it comes to trans people, gender affirming surgery, or menopause, all of sudden using hormones becomes a taboo subject, or speaking through their hat, some people conclude the discussions on hormone use exclaiming that “scientific research deems it very dangerous.” This discussion has been an educative one for those of us who are open to learning. Currently, a similar dispute is taking place along the axis of various discussions on legal status such as workplace anti-discrimination bills in the US, prohibition of female genital mutilation, and the Gender Recognition Act in England.

As it was the case last summer, the discussions revolving around these issues in other countries echo here in different ways. Many things can be said about this topic and there are various perspectives from which persistent transphobia can be criticized and countered. Here, I will try my best to express the ways in which being a proponent of the claim “trans women are not women” (as well as espousing this claim under the guise of stating the opposite), reducing sovereignty to biology, associating sexual violence with sexuality, nudity or gender, treating trans politics as a Trojan horse created by men in order to infiltrate the ranks of women and endorsing, in turn, a kind of defensive discourse of threat/danger which incites people to panic is problematic in terms of feminism. Neither the topic, nor writing about it is simple. Nonetheless, it is necessary to face the reality that as long as things remain unwritten only a specific type of feminism will be represented, and some people will insist on speaking in the name of feminism.

Let’s begin with what has happened in recent years. In 2015, implementation of the statutory self-declaration system as the basis of legal recognition of gender and removal of the bureaucratic hardships such as medical-psychological evaluation processes and the requirement to live in the self-identified gender for two years in Ireland ignited discussions all around Britain. With this vital change Ireland reformed the Gender Recognition Act which had been in effect in England, Scotland, and Ireland since 2004, and thus became the fourth country (alongside Norway, Argentine, Malta) to recognize the self-identified gender by a statutory document of self-declaration. (During the past five years since 2015, there are no records of any cis man trying to deceive the legal system and obtain a gender document just for infiltrating women’s bathrooms or prisons.) Discussions pertaining to the law enabling trans people to self-identify by statutory self-declaration instead of medicalizing and treating being trans as a mental illness as well as the disputes regarding the expansion of this law to include the non-binary people have come to the fore in Scotland and England after the success of the implementation in Ireland. Coming a long way, Scotland brought the draft legislation before the parliament; however, this legislation was temporarily put aside with all the others when Covid-19 pandemic broke out. Albeit putting it aside for the moment, Scotland repeatedly expressed its commitment to realize this reform once the pandemic is over. Feminist organizations in Ireland and Scotland in general stood in solidarity with trans rights activists in this matter. As a matter of fact, the rape crisis centers in Scotland have become trans inclusive.

The case of England, on the other hand, is rather complicated. A number of women’s organizations which call themselves as feminist, taking a stance against the trans organizations, organized campaigns opposing such legal changes. The discourses they propagate are as manipulative as those of the divorced fathers’ platforms which are against alimony in Turkey. By contriving unrealistic fears, and then using these fears to bend reality and create an incredible environment of disinformation through their lies disguised under the clothing of truth (“womanhood is being lost”, “anyone who argues that sex is a reality loses their jobs”, “this is a witch-hunt directed against women who fight for their rights” -I will return shortly to these utterances) they seem to be blocking this law. The government, who put this issue on its agenda in 2017, has not amended the forenamed law as of yet. Thereby, these arguments have caused concrete harm to the rights of trans and non-binary people to be who they are and to live equally without their identities being disavowed. So, as it is always the case, words are not just words, they have concrete effects in the lives of those who are oppressed; and these concrete effects are, most often than not, doomed to remain invisible under the victimhood discourse of those who dominate. This TERF dispute was important not only in terms of identifying who says what, but also because it was detrimental to the trans people’s legal struggle. Even though those people who say “I have been pointed as a target in social media” act as if they are the ones who are negatively affected by this dispute, in reality, those who have been negatively affected by all these developments are the trans people who would benefit immensely from the change in the law, who would no longer be obliged to present their identities to the medical boards governed by the state and would be freed from the fear of being rejected, who would be able to exercise their right to self-declaration. For now, the struggle is going on. However, as it is always the case, we were not able to (could not) talk about it, and instead, we were forced to focus on what J. K. Rowling and her counterparts in Turkey had to go through.

While these discussion went on in England, the employment contract of someone called Maya Forstater, who has been posting tweets about trans women –disavowing their identities, insisting on using the pronoun “he” when referring to trans women, arguing that men cannot be women– was terminated based on the content of the tweets.  Worldwide famous J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, posted a tweet with #IStandWith Maya to support Maya Forstater.[1] In this post, Rowling was stating that “nobody’s employment contract should be terminated just because they say that there is something called sex”. This is an example to the truth-bending I have mentioned about: Claiming to be wronged by pretending to have said something much more “harmless” than that which is actually said. In so doing, these people not only close their ranks, but also meticulously veil the fact that it is the trans and non-binary people who pay the price of these words –made public just in the middle of legal amendment discussions– with their psychological health and life. However, Maya Forstater, just like anyone who discriminates, filed a discrimination lawsuit at the employment tribunal and having lost the case, named this decision as a witch-hunt against freedom of expression. There might be those who think that people should pay for their sexist, misogynist, transphobic, homophobic, racist remarks/behaviors as well as for protecting harassers, but not lose their jobs on account of such remarks and behaviors. Nonetheless, even if we follow this line of argument, it is still necessary to be consistent (we cannot stand with one person, and then ask for others to be fired) and to accept that what Forstater did was not simply a case of “come on, Forstater is entitled to her ideas” but outright transphobia and an act of discrimination. We are already pretty much familiar with how in the name of freedom of expression a series of discriminatory rhetoric are disseminated in our country: when Directorate of Religious Affairs pointed at the LGBTI+ people as the cause of the pandemic, it was freedom of expression; when Vedat Muti threatened Başak Demirtaş with rape, it was freedom of expression.[2] All the while, those who were raising their voices against these expressions were accused of being a mob of lynchers who are restricting people’s right to freedom of expression.

Not satisfied, J. K. Rowling, cherry-picking the expression “people who menstruate” from the title of an article on Covid-19, posted the following tweet which is sarcastic in her own way: “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” The article she referred to was specifically about menstrual health, having periods during Covid-19 pandemic and access to hygiene. It was concerning not only the women who menstruate but also people who are not women and menstruate. Rowling, acting as if it is only women who menstruate, denying the existence of women who never or no longer menstruate, and suggesting that trans activists claim that “it is time for us to no longer say women but use the expression ‘people who menstruate'”, manipulated the situation. She did not stop at that and posted a tweet saying that “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. […] I know and love trans people but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. […]”. Following this tweet, people without even checking for themselves what those who criticized Rowling say, clambered on #StandWithJKRowling saying “oh my god, are they denying the concept of sex, are we going to say ‘people who menstruate’ instead of women from now on, this is not acceptable”. The transphobic camp, who accuse the people opposing them as incapable of understanding what they are actually saying, did not question even for once its own incompetence in listening to what others actually say as well as its capability to misrepresent the opposing arguments. Why should they, right? They are the most victimized ones. In the meantime, Rowling was bombarded with sexist profanity, her ex-husband who treated her violently was brought to the cover page of a newspaper as if he is a hero, etc. There should be a difference between being angry towards a woman for the oppressive stance she occupies and humiliating her on account of her womanness. However, for Rowling and those who defend her, as these sexist curses immediately become an excuse to avoid facing one’s own transphobia and to proclaim one’s own righteousness (see, they are…), I choose not to further delve into this issue.

The dispute in Turkey has been carried on by the same people who were involved in the discussions of last summer and resonated with the issues discussed in other contexts. During the approval process of the legislation to outlaw female genital mutilation (FGM) in Wyoming in the US, an article, which is problematic in terms of trans rights, was added to the legislation draft. According to the article, gender affirming surgery was listed as one of the exceptions to the prohibition under the provision that the person who wants to have the surgery must be over 18. In Wyoming, a state where female genital mutilation is not considered a common practice on account of low immigration rates, this article was added in the context of conservative Republican’s anti-LGBTI+ politics. Trans rights activists did not say that there is no need for such a legislation. Rather, arguing that in other states the legislation has passed without this article, they said that there is no need for this specific article. However, this development was shared as if trans people are against the legislation which will outlaw female genital mutilation. Subsequently, when the TERF discussion flared-up once again, those who were nominated to the “Tomatoes on Steroids Awards” dared to say that “feminists were pointed as targets” or claimed that “their doors were being marked with crosses”. These kinds of muddy discourses which mix the truths (for instance, male domination cannot be addressed without taking masculinity into consideration) with what is erroneous (such as the assumption that this domination is founded on biology or chromosomes) are utterly dangerous. The same applies to the issue of being targeted. We live in a world where people are pointed as targets for real; people who had been targeted and whose doors had been marked with crosses have been actually killed in this country. However, I think there is no greater lie than acting as if the LGBTI+ circles, trans activists or those who are thinking along the same lines as them have such an intention or for that matter power to do so, and distorting the reality that it is actually these circles who are almost always the primary targets when it comes to burning or killing people. When the two are merged the result is toxic.

Fascism has a way of taking root in societies, and I think this happens fundamentally by ruining the ways in which cause-effect relations and causal links are constituted. Thus, people end up keeping alive and supporting the systems that oppress them, impoverish them and render them unequal with their own hands. For instance, let’s say that the effect is poverty. People assess their own situation and saying that they cannot even afford a slice of bread, come to the conclusion that they are being impoverished. The cause here is the capitalist system that exploits them, the governments that profit out of this situation, the capital that is being nourished, the relatives that are being favored. But when one asks these people what they think is the cause of their impoverishment, they reply saying “Syrians”. In fact, those Syrians are much more impoverished than these people, but still, they are very much convinced that it is the Syrians who are responsible for their poverty. It is surely much easier and faster to bill the Syrians for impoverishment than holding the state policies and global economic system responsible; they constitute a more manageable enemy. If they did not believe in this, if our capacity to form sound cause and effect relations were not damaged to such an extent, then fascism would not be able to sustain itself (that is, if fascism was not able to liken to itself even those who are utterly opposed to it). Phobias are also serviceable to this end since why certain groups of people are feared or what this fear does is never coincidental. J. K. Rowling wrote a long article in her own blog to express her point of view more clearly.[3] What she recounted in this text also includes the violent experiences she suffered in the past. Rowling shares how she had been exposed to violence and sexual violence in her first marriage and somehow links these experiences to the necessity of sex-segregated toilets, locker rooms, prisons and rape-crisis centers claiming that doing otherwise might be trauma-triggering. In a similar fashion to the above-mentioned example, at first sight it seems like Rowling’s argument has been based on a cause and effect relationship, however, when slightly scrutinized it fails to provide a sound causal link between its premises: “We are impoverished because of the Syrians”, “I need toilets to which trans women cannot access because I have been exposed to violence by my ex-husband.” What is shared by these kinds of arguments is that it is very hard to open them to discussion. Once you question the link between the violent behavior of the ex-husband and the danger of sharing the toilets with trans women, the other party might react as if you are disregarding or opening to discussion the truth of the violence they have experienced. However, what we want to open to discussion is the cause-and-effect relationship that is constructed straightaway, the attitude which links sexual violence not to patriarchy or oppression but to the existence of a penis or to being naked in the same place, the unquestionability of the male domination which not only strengthens the binary gender system but also rallies supporters with its language of fear.

Just as it is the case in other countries, the locker-room argument also finds supporters here in some circles. I wonder if those who see no problem in openly voicing their odd delusions (those who do not confront their own transphobia) and saying “oh my god, if gender is legally determined through statutory self-declaration, then those with penises will start entering the locker rooms and toilets, girls will be exposed to danger and sexual violence” ever stop and think: When did the locker rooms and public toilets replaced the HOMES as the most dangerous places where women, girls, and LGBTI+ people are exposed to all sorts of violence including sexual violence? When did the “stranger in the locker room” replaced the RELATIVES or ACQUAINTANCES of women as the perpetrators of violence? What happened to the claim that says nudity is in no way related to sexual violence? Wasn’t it the feminists who struggled too hard and for too long to make this point? How come as soon as fear cannot find alibis for its own argument these gains are forgotten all of a sudden? There are also those who say, “but I do not want to see a penis”. Well, I guess nobody asks them why in the locker rooms they stare at the person undressing next to them. Isn’t that stare precisely what we named as harassment?

Phobia is all about not giving a thought to how deceptive and deceived these perceptions about threat and danger are, how these kinds of “fear” function, in what ways these discourses are put to use to invade many continents and massacre indigenous peoples and to legitimate the murder of numerous black people by the cops. In the end, fear is also political; it is not a feeling that is given but constructed, it is ideological. You fear the black man, the black man fears your fear of him because your fear sticks on the black man and might cost his life. Their transphobia is not one bit different from this fear: the “fear” which you are trying to disseminate about that woman’s penis, the “fear” to which you think you are entitled, is more dangerous than the penis of that woman. Indeed, it is deadly!

When feminists say that women are the subjects of this politics so that men should learn to stand aside, they do not ask for this out of fear, but on account of a struggle for political representation. They are trying to say to those men, who are incapable of filling a cup of tea for themselves, “without confronting your own masculinity you cannot be freed from it simply by walking next to us (or by  trying/attempting to lead us).” They are trying to say to those men “you cannot dominate us.” They are trying to say to those men “you cannot write a book on #metoo after making academic life unbearable for women through harassing them.” They are trying to say to those men “feminism is not going to be one of the stars on your epaulettes.” They are giving a name to the perpetrator. There are some people in this topsy-turvy world who reduce patriarchy to biology and link it to the locker rooms, and therefrom formulate a toxic rape-fear[4], and in so doing, legitimate disavowing people’s identities, and call all this feminism. The way they discuss things renders speaking on patriarchy even more difficult. It would be great if they could simply remain silent. But perhaps they cannot remain silent because if they do, then they would feel obliged to listen to voices other than their own.

As I have said above, fascism’s or any hegemonic form’s most noteworthy success lies in its ability to make even those whom it oppresses defend it. When women who call themselves feminist all of a sudden start saying “we have sex-based rights” or “it is not gender that has a material reality but biological sex”, they do not fight patriarchy or binary gender system, they end up rendering absolute the system that subordinates them. Thus, they undermine feminism by stripping male domination from its sociality and naturalizing it. If we dismiss the fact that gender does not have a material reality, then we would be devoid of a perspective to explain why it is mostly women who do the dishes? Really, what are our “sex-based rights? I think it over and over again, but nothing pops up in my mind. Women’s prison, maybe? Or the sports competitions where women engage in fair competition (to which those who are found to be less of a woman on account of their hormone levels cannot participate -on the other hand, someone like Usain Bolt[5] is never accused of unfair competition)? Locker-rooms, perhaps? For me, any sentence starting with “sex-based” ends with either oppression or discrimination not with rights. I cannot imagine a cis man changing his status to woman just for the sake of benefitting from the already non-existing woman’s quota in elections. However, trans people, whose rights to live their self-identified genders are taken from them on account of the probability of such an imaginary cis man, are real. While I was following what had been said and written, I read countless sentences echoing the following: “women’s oppression by men of course has its roots in physicality and it would be a mistake to dismiss biology when articulating inequality based on sex”. Admitting this means that as long as that physical root remains intact (and for the TERFs it is absolute, eternal, everlasting) we can never get rid of this oppression. It amounts to being convinced that it is our bodies that constitute a problem rather than the meanings and value systems that society ascribes and attributes to them. Well then, why have we even become feminists in the first place?

One of the major claims of this group who call their transphobia feminism is that they are defenders of women. However, what they actually do is nothing but making the oppression of cis women on account of being a woman unspeakable; what they do serves nothing but rendering a political discussion impossible. This is because they had diverted the discussions to such a path that anyone who does not claim that “binary sex system is the only unchanging truth” is accused of saying “there is no such thing as a hegemonic binary sex system, there is no such thing as hegemonies this system produces, there is no such thing as male domination”. There is a very manipulative skip there. If they think that acting this way, they are doing good to all the cis woman whom they claim to defend, they are utterly mistaken. Of course, when dismantling the binary gender system, it is necessary to simultaneously render visible the hegemony it produces – and it is not always easy to engage politics on this limit. Given that there is something called male domination, which is still very powerful, we should be able to discuss our reservations about erasing and not addressing the ways in which masculinity –which benefits from this system in terms of interests, power and status– is reproduced. It is always possible that the well-known patriarchal dynamics might be strengthened through so-called desexualization but without actually dismantling the system even an inch. We are familiar to this kind of rhetoric from the liberal-conservative remarks such as “there is no women or men, there are only humans”, “I do not say women’s rights because those are also human rights”, “Let’s not call it violence against women or male violence since violence can be directed to anyone. Let’s call this domestic violence.” These kinds of discourses usually serve to screen or grey the perpetrator, they function to equate the women who has to kill a man who is violent to her in order to survive and the man who kills a woman simply because he thought that she was texting someone else or because she wanted to have a divorce. There is a direct link between this and the sexless language of legislation no. 6284 –the most important mechanism to which women can have refer at the face of violence– which do not take into account the domination/power relations. As a result, men, who often have more and easy access to law and lawyers and who have advantages such as money, literacy, and going out, can quickly act before a woman who has been exposed to violence and sue out a restraining order against her using the same law. Thus, an article of a law created to protect women in the face of very real violence can be used to expel women from their homes because the perpetrator is desexed. But this has nothing to do with the trans or non-binary people, locker rooms, sports competitions, gender recognition documents, biology or science. This is a separate political discussion and it is our responsibility to learn to engage in this discussion without reproducing transphobia or clinging to an arrogant righteousness.

Besides, in countries where statutory self-declaration is in effect, the statutory document of self-declaration I have mentioned before counts as a legal document. So, for a cis man, this is not like making fun of trans and queer struggles by saying with a brazen grin “haha, yes I identify as woman” just to be able to participate in a women’s demonstration or party. There is nothing acceptable about arguing in the name of feminism that trans people do not have the right to this legal document and defending a position which almost claims that trans rights are harmful to women. In our world where conservatism gains ground in the governments, the oppositions, and reigns even under the guise of feminism, at the least, recently the US Supreme Court has ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace is to be considered in the scope of prohibition of gender-based discrimination. That is to say, they are the ones who have to change in the end.

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için

Translator: İpek Tabur

Proof-reader: Müge Karahan

[1] Anyone who is interested in this Twitter post and the content shared under this hashtag can check these tweets for themselves as they are open to the public. I do not want to contribute to the dissemination of this content by sharing the links here.

[2] On Twitter, from the account of someone called Vedat Muti, an aggressive/threatful tweet with sexual connotations addressing Başak Demirtaş –the spouse of Selahattin Demirtaş who is the co chair of People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and who has been kept in jail for four years– was posted. When Muti, who posted the tweet, was taken into custody, some people have evaluated this move as an obstruction to freedom of expression. (Editor’s note)

[3] For the open letter that Mermaids UK, a charity organization that supports trans children and youth, published about J. K. Rowling’s blog article, see:

[4]*This endnote is added post facto: I observe that some of the discussions revolving around this text in social media is fixated on the expression “toxic rape-fear”. Although I think that the problem is cherry picking this expression instead of evaluating it within the context of this text and spawning the perception that I am arguing that rape-fear does not have a very rightful basis in this world, I opt for my inability in expressing what I take to be the issue here as clearly as possible. When read together with the previous paragraph, what I am trying to argue is not that the fear I am talking is fake or unwarranted, but the state of sticking that fear not to the perpetrator but to another person who is oppressed. I am not the first person in this world to come up with this analysis. For instance, during the invasion of the American continent when the indigenous people were being massacred a new painting tradition emerged. This is a leitmotif we see in 18-19th centuries American painting, literature, etc.: The white women dressed in white clothes and representing purity is portrayed in a pitch-black dangerous forest and she encircled, abducted or under the threat of defilement by the “savage Indians”. This representation was serviced to the stigmatization of Native Americans as “rapists”; the historical truth or foundations of this representation remained unimportant. It worked for the legitimation of the massacres of Native Americans since a “a threat against the women” was being eliminated. The issue here was of course not the protection of women, but the invasion politics of the white man – women were being used as an excuse when necessary, and then they were exposed to the violence of the same white man. However, during this period, numerous Native American women were being raped by the white man, but nobody painted or depicted this. There are no representations of the very real rape-fear of the Native American women at the face of white man because this fear has no functionality for the (male dominated) power. The dynamic of mixing the truth (the threat and danger of sexual violence which is very real for women) with falsity (who is the perpetrator of this threat) is again at work here. It is not the trans people who are the subjects of the very real and unfortunately vital (who can disavow this) fear of rape which women (cis, trans) experience in this world. On the contrary, it is more probable for them to be exposed to sexual violence. For this reason, the effects of sticking that fear to trans people or recalling people to actively exclude trans people from specified places or to disavow their identities are toxic, yes. There is nothing I can do for those who did not read the text but got fixated on a specific expression; however, I hope this time I made things clear for those who were patient enough to read till the end.

[5] Usain Bolt is a world record holder sprinter who runs 100m and 200m. It is almost impossible to miss the link between his leg size which is way longer and his height which is way taller than his competitors and the fact that he was almost invincible during his prime years. Whereas it takes Bolt 41 steps to run 100, other runners have to take between 43-48 steps. However, while Bolt’s success, albeit his superior physical qualities was regarded as fair game, this was not the case for women’s 800 meters Olympic medal winner Caster Semenya whose “testosterone levels turned out to be over the limit”.


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