Much of the transphobic (and specifically transmisogynistic) rhetoric which is currently so prevalent, both on Twitter and the wider media, centres around the idea that trans women are inherently violent. It is claimed that trans women, along with cis men – even more so than cis men, some imply –are perpetrators of male violence. It is these claims which are frequently used to deny trans women access to women’s bathrooms and changing rooms, and in fact to womanhood altogether. The task of breaking down this dangerous stereotype becomes that much harder when those who are on our side seem determined to perpetuate it.
Recently, the Esports player SonicFox posted an extract from a Mortal Kombat stream on Twitter, which has since been deleted, with the caption “what I do to terfs”, in which his character stabbed a female character (voiced by wrestler Ronda Rousey, who has made transphobic comments in the past) in the neck whilst calling her a “TERF” -a Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist, an acronym which has gained prominence as a word for a specific type of transphobe.
It’s not unusual for gaming streamers and YouTubers to make comments about fictional characters they kill while playing a game – think of the British gamer NerdCubed throwing Saints Row characters off a cliff, referring to them as “Thatcher”, “Savile” and “someone who liked Cars 2”. However, trans women have nothing to gain from a man delighting in inflicting violence against women, even those who subscribe to a dangerous transphobic ideology. Moreover, many prominent anti-trans Twitter users have seized on his tweet as a chance to attack trans women.
Despite often claiming that they “can always tell” whether or not someone is a trans woman, transphobes are frequently unable – or even unwilling – to make the distinction, and not hold trans women collectively responsible for the actions of other groups. The website ‘terfisaslur.com’, created to document tweets wishing violence against transphobes, contains many which were clearly written by cisgender people or AFAB (Assigned Female At Birth) non-binary people. Outside of the internet, the actions of non-trans women at protests have been gleefully taken up as an opportunity to spread anti-trans bigotry.
Transphobia is a dangerous ideology which leads to trans women – particularly trans women of colour – being the victims of violence. Recently, I tweeted an image of a comment on the Facebook page of a prominent gender-critical activist who had shared a picture of some lanyards bearing the words “woman – adult human female”. The comment read “Are they strong enough to support the weight of your average trans woman” – clearly a reference to hanging a trans woman, a disgusting statement which Facebook somehow ruled did not violate their Community Standards.
It becomes all the more difficult to condemn violent transphobic statements like these, and to draw people’s attention to the true face of transphobia, when those who are otherwise our allies make stupid ‘jokes’ which are so easy for transphobes to latch onto. There is clearly a difference between wishing violence against someone for their ideology, and wanting to harm members of a minority group – for comparison, “I want to punch a gay person” is obviously far worse than “I want to punch a Tory”, even if the latter is still bad (and it is) – but transphobes are unlikely to care about such nuances when engaging in whataboutery to diminish transmisogynistic violence.
Many trans women seem to believe that they are obliged to close ranks and defend SonicFox’s actions, but this is not the case. It is possible to think that the content of the video is bad, whilst also being aware that many of those who are loudly condemning it are transphobes themselves. Transphobes who are willing to ignore or excuse threats of violence against trans women, and whose actions have directly or indirectly led to the world being a less safe place for us.
If people want to be real allies to trans women, they need to bear in mind that hatred of us is often predicated on the misconception that we are violent, and monitor their own actions and words accordingly. If you want to defend us, start by not giving ammunition to those who want to attack us.