I’ve been thinking about that proverb, “A lie goes halfway around the world while the truth is still getting its shoes on.” I’m still recovering from attending the San Francisco Dyke March, where a group of old lesbians were projected as the Enemy. Hate was beamed at us as the designated Other, the rightful targets of rage. My body has been feeling the aftershocks, a residue of stress and fear from being blasted by a mob. Meanwhile, I’ve had to counter a firestorm of false accusations that streaked across social media, and libelous accounts published by the SF Dyke March, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Bay Area Reporter.
I was one of ten lesbians who met at BART to attend the San Francisco Dyke March. We were not a “group,” but an ad hoc conglomeration of lesbians from the East Bay who came to walk peacefully in the march. We did not come to confront. We did not all know each other. We were old and middle-aged lesbian feminists, but other than that a rather mixed bunch, lefties, pagans, and feminists of various stripes. One queer had worked for years at the Hormel Center in SF; another had been a Women and Gender Studies professor. I’m an independent scholar of global women’s history, and came wearing my “Sisters in Solidarity” shirt from International Women’s Day in Richmond. A couple other women wore Dyke March t-shirts—“Dykes resist”—from previous years. (I’m not describing everyone because being TERFed has serious life consequences, and it is not my call to expose anyone else to that.)
I wanted to see how it would be to walk in this march, as an old Amazon lesbian feminist. I claim that proudly, along with the cost I’ve paid for being a butch gender-resister over the course of my life. I was at the first Dyke March, which lesbian feminists organized because Gay Pride was so male-dominated, and attended many others. I know some of the women who have worked on Dyke March over the years. But this march had stopped looking like a welcoming or safe space for lesbians. Last year, a queer woman wore a bloody shirt reading “I Punch TERFs” to the march (and a trans woman, more famously, wore it to GLBTQ Pride). No one seems to have objected to this misogynist threat being worn at a Dyke march. Next to that, the signs that caused such an uproar this year look tame. In fact, “You will not silence us with violence” is the polar opposite of that boast.
Four women carried signs, including Proud to Be Lesbian / Lesbian Visibility / Lesbian Not Queer. We had had a discussion about signs in emails exchanged between the dykes invited to attend the march. I had warned against bringing provocative or confrontational signs (knowing the climate in SF) and thought we had agreement on that. But these women didn’t get the message, and we all paid the price for it. The radioactive point was a sign protesting using puberty blockers with harmful side effects on kids — most of whom will turn out to be lesbian or gay. This subject of medicalizing gender is literally unspeakable now. Anyone who questions the institutionalization of puberty blockers on kids gets accused of “transphobia.” However, some de-transitioned women have compared it to “conversion therapy” for lesbian and gay youth. Those women wanted to speak out for at-risk lesbian youth, and for any teen, who could suffer serious side-effects from drugs like Lupron. (1) I knew it was dangerous to carry such a sign in San Francisco, and had tried to prevent that from happening. (The women knew it too; they kept the signs wrapped in garbage bags on BART.) But I was bone-tired, for unrelated reasons, and could not bring myself to police lesbian speech at the Dyke March, of all places.
All of the old lesbians in our group were quickly surrounded, subjected to chants of “TERFs go home!” and blasted with hatefulness for the entire course of the march. Young queers berated, hounded, and crowded in on us. Most of them refused to speak with us, only glaring, chanting, and screaming. At times a person with a megaphone deliberately pointed it at our ears. Worse, assailants threw two lesbians carrying signs to the ground—one of them three times, the other, walking with a cane, once. Attackers pushed them, tripped them, and deliberately stepped on their heels, repeatedly. (They later claimed that the lesbians had tripped over their own feet.) Those women did not lift a hand against anyone; they did no more than defend themselves against people swarming and striking out at them.
I was walking behind these sign-carriers, trying to prevent people from pushing deep into their personal space, knocking them down, shouting at them —“transphobia’s got to go!”— at all of us, about whom they did not know one thing. They tarred us all with the same brush of TERF, and they would have feathered us too. I’ve been to many marches, including dangerous ones, but this was the most vicious episode I have ever experienced, ever in my life. Young queer marchers directed their concentrated hostility at old lesbian marchers over nearly the entire course of the parade. One woman said that she was more scared then, with this baying mob surrounding us, than she had been being chased by police with machine guns in her home country.
But I’m not gonna let any lesbian get stomped, least of all at a Dyke March which is supposed to be a safe place. That’s not who we are in lesbian culture, not how we deal with our differences, which are many. I did my best to prevent those women from being aggressed upon, and literally had their back. Many people ignored what was going on, and only one person in the crowd came to their defense: a butch in an NCLR cap who stepped in from the sidelines and cleared space around the women being assaulted. None of us knew her. She later told me that she was for fair play and free speech, and when she saw lesbians being mobbed and pushed down, she didn’t hesitate to intervene.
At first I thought Ms. NCLR cap, who was wearing black, was with march security. But the security staff was missing in action through most of the violence. They came after the first assault, but after that they stayed away and let it all happen. Apparently they weren’t about to protect any lesbians they deemed TERFs. And this itself was an erasure, a demonizing projection upon an entire group of old lesbians, based on guilt by association and the TERF stereotype. Whether you agree with them or not, those women were brave, and they carried their ripped-up signs through the entire march.
At the end, about 40-50 people had gathered in a semi circle facing us, chanting their hate. Their faces were closed and hostile, believing they were right to act like this toward lesbians they did not know, whose politics they did not know. We became the Enemy Other. That’s the USA today, and it’s not just from the right wing. It’s been happening in queerdom, on the left, in academia and many other supposedly “progressive” spaces, for some time. People keep pretending TERF is a neutral descriptive term, even as it is being used in verbal abuse, classic sexist insults, and increasingly in physical attacks against women. “TERF cunt” has also been hurled against gender-critical transsexual women, instead of the more usual slur of “truscum.”
Before the march ended, we exited to the sidewalk and tried to figure out how to avoid being followed and jumped once we were away from the crowd. Some of us knew what had happened to a lesbian in St. Louis the month before. Her antagonists got her kicked out of a bar in St Louis as a TERF, and then ambushed her, three against one, and beat her up badly. The perps bragged about it on Twitter, lol-ing about how “tonight was fucking wild,” and gloating that they had messed up the lesbian’s face. (2) http://www.afterellen.com/general-news/559907-queer-identified-women-jump-lesbian-outside-of-a-drag-show#xF7SCoHpihsY4ARq.01]
No one has been arrested for this beating. As KT tweeted, “So at [what] point is anyone other than lesbians going to give a shit about this and understand that “TERF” is the easiest way to justify violence against women? When is this gonna matter?” [@sugaredpeas May 31, 2018]
After the SF Dyke March, accusations and smears were launched against all of us. Lies about what happened proliferated on social media, followed by libel in the queer press. Trump-style, the attackers posed as the true victims, turning truth upside down. The assaulted lesbians were now accused of being the violent ones, and of actually initiating the physical attacks committed against them. As the designated Enemy, they must be guilty of the violence committed against them. They had no right to defend themselves, and their non-violence mattered not a bit, because it was denied. All of the women, not just the sign-carriers, got doxxed and our profile pictures posted on social media. One tweet was titled “Know Your Terfs.”
The SF Dyke March statement vaunts its supposed inclusion of all dykes (even if they do put lesbians in the sixth rank of those named as dykes), but they pointedly kicked all the lesbians in our cohort to the curb after the June 23 march. They posted a libelous account on their Facebook page, as did the National Center for Lesbian Rights. The Dyke March committee, the NCLR, and the queer press all assumed that our group were to blame for the menacing and assaults we suffered. They presumed that we deserved all the hate being thrown our way, by people who knew nothing about us, our years of activism, or our political positions. They treated old lesbians, most of whom were not carrying any signs, as a hostile alien force that had to be denounced, rejected and expelled.
Because that is the McCarthyist power of TERFing. Once a woman is branded with the epithet TERF, she loses all credibility. No one will listen to a word she says after that; she has no right to speak. She becomes a target who must be cast out and publicly excoriated. Those who sympathize with her fall silent, horrified, bewildered, because they cannot find a way to break the frenzy without being accused and reviled themselves.
This is witch hunt behavior. It is the opposite of the “inclusion” proclaimed in the Dyke March promo: “It does not stand by erasure. By displacement. By appropriation. By hate.” In the event, that is what it did stand for, and Security was not in evidence after the first assault, although the aggression continued for virtually the entire march. We walked it the whole way anyway. We had every right to be there, free of harassment or menace, and we did not bow down to the bigotry unleashed upon us.
But queer orgs repeated the lies about what happened, and the distortions grew, like a game of telephone. On Twitter, the bunny-headed cane carried by a lesbian with a mobility issue became “a dangerous weapon,” and its resin handle a brass club “that could inflict serious damage.” She must have brought the cane with the intention of assaulting trans women! but in reality it was the lesbian with the bum knee who got knocked to the ground. When Ms. NCLR cap rushed in, took the cane, and swung it around to clear attackers away from her, they distorted that into an assault. Some claimed that the disabled woman had herself “attacked” people. But it was only a walking aid, not like the bats and axes the Degenderettes parade around with.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights (!) jumped on the bandwagon: “We recently learned that at Saturday’s San Francisco Dyke March, a small group of approximately 12 people chanted transphobic slogans and violently harassed and threatened other marchers…” I wrote a correction on the NCLR Facebook page: “You could not be more wrong about what happened here. I was there and tried to protect two women carrying signs from getting stomped. They kept saying We’re not violent, over and over; one woman retorted, ‘We WILL BE, bitch’.”
But I’m an old working class butch, and I told that woman, and a few of the others chanting at me at various points, “I’ve survived worse than you.” What makes them think that they are justified in making me into a target? Looking at them, I doubt that any of them has been misgendered, as I have been, or attacked on the streets for being gender non-conforming. I also doubt that on the occasions that men tried to assault me, or other butches / GNC lesbians I know, that the attackers gave a damn whether we identified as butch or trans men. So much of the aggression is about how the world sees you, not “how you identify.” These women don’t understand that they are targeting the targeted, women who have faced opprobrium all our lives.
Happy Hyder, a past member of the SF Dyke March committee (2007-2012) sent a letter of protest to the current committee: “Considering the concern we always had for the safety of Dykes in the streets, the lack of safety for these marchers and the lack of security stepping in to stop the physical and verbal abuse toward them is criminal. The Dyke March began with the purpose of Dyke Visibility, aka Lesbian Visibility. It was a claiming of power in the word Dyke in an age when it was still used as a derogatory term. And last time I checked, even as we are fast losing many of our rights, free speech is alive and well.”
It is chilling that both the Dyke March brass and NCLR bought the lies being spread about what happened here, and ignored violent assaults on lesbians in the SF march. This is part of a larger pattern. The Dyke Marches in Seattle and Vancouver BC explicitly stated that “TERFS” are not welcome, and later Boston followed suit. In Baltimore, a GLBTQ event stated on Facebook that “TERFs will be hung.” (This declaration was later modified, but not by much.) On a Bay Area listserv, all of the lesbians (including Jews) who walked with us got compared to Nazis, the Westboro Baptist Church, and to a “lesbian alt-right.” By people who were not there!
These are ritualized performances of exclusion in the name of “inclusivity.” Why do so few people, on the left and in queerlandia, acknowledge that the term “TERF” has been used as a misogynist slur for years now — often in combination with death and rape threats, and other incitements to violence. Things like “Kill TERFs”; “Burn TERFs”; “Shoot all TERFs”; “I want them to die slow agonizing deaths,” along with an array of classic sexual insults directed at “cunts.” Lovely stuff like this: “i will jerk my ladymeat right in front of you and cum in your eyes.” And: “Would you kindly suck on my womanly dick? Preferably choke on it.” Women I know have suffered death threats, rape threats, no-platformings. At some point the sexism of all this has to register on the radar of the queer community, which continues to be in denial about it — or, in the case of many lesbians, afraid to ever bring it up.
Of course! not all trans women. The point here is “community” tolerance for sexist bullying and hating on lesbians. Many (or even most) of the aggressors were not trans, but queer and “cis” identified people whose idea of being “trans allies” is to harass and assault lesbians. There is a huge body of hate out there on Twitter and Facebook, dealing out old-fashioned misogynist abuse against socalled “TERFs.” The bullying goes on and on, and yet no one says a word against those hurling this epithet. Why?
The name-calling is part of a menacing climate in which women’s speech is attacked through threats, intimidation, doxxing, DDoS attacks, and no-platforming. Be very clear: the targets are female, lesbian, feminist, often old and/or butch. This beat-down is about silencing women. (Most men do not even know that any of this is going on, or have only recently become aware of it.) It’s totalitarian and persecutory, like the Two-Minute Hate — only it lasted much longer.
I saw the vicious expression in the eyes of those young people who surrounded us, who fervently believe in their doctrine. They cannot understand what is at stake for women in deleting all references to oppression on the basis of sex, or in insisting that lesbianism is a “gender preference,” not a sexual orientation. Those queer women refused to talk to us but just kept chanting like zombies. They presumed that old lesbians were automatically the enemy, that it was right to attack us. Their perception is so distorted that they will lie about who attacked who— and believe that lie.
This is destructive. We cannot afford this, especially in these times. I believe we need coalitions and cooperation, and I’ve been trying to mediate on this issue for years. But who is listening? In the current lockstep, open discussion or difference of opinion is considered intolerable. Things are hurtling in a very repressive direction. As if basic respect for every person was too much to ask. As if female speech about patriarchal oppression, or analysis of our own experience, is once again a dangerous thought-crime.
The SF Public Library took down the I Punch TERFs shirt from its Degenderettes exhibit only after a public outcry forced its removal, and later they covered over part of a shield that read “Die Cis Scum.” But the pink-and-aqua striped axes and bats wrapped with barbed wire are still on display. (3)
I’ve spent weeks trying to correct the lies about what happened, the TERFing of lesbians attending the march, and the projections that followed after, especially on social media. The task became overwhelming, which is why it has taken so long for me to finally complete this account correcting the defamations. Then, last week, that same libel caused me to be de-platformed from the Witches Confluence, which had invited me to present in October. These false accusations lost me a paid speaking engagement, which is an attack not only on my speech but on my livelihood.
Accusations of terf-craft are siccing people who think they are being “progressive” on the same women who have always been sociopolitical targets in patriarchy: the women who speak out against it. Lesbians must be blamed for male violence against trans women, and for their suicides. This is McCarthyism; but don’t forget its much older persecutory model, the European witch-hunts. Women are condemned in the public square for magically causing harm from a remote distance, and therefore deserve to be vilified, shunned, and attacked in public.
What’s next, “scoring aboon the breath”, a Scottish phrase for punching or stabbing accused witches in the face, drawing their blood in order to break the “spell”? Or are we already there, as the bloody “I Punch Terfs” shirt suggests, and as the number of attacks on lesbians and feminists grows? When, at long last, will misogyny and sexist insults be taken seriously? When will the demonization and erasure of lesbians abate? It’s past time that good-hearted peope recognize the bigoted epithet TERF for the misogynist hate speech that it is and stop using it.
The SF Dyke March and National Center for Lesbian Rights ought to publish a retraction of their libel of the lesbians who were assaulted at the June 23 march. Both organizations failed in their responsibility to ensure safety to all lesbians and violated their own mission statements. They owe us an apology as well. The Bay Area Reporter (and any other queer media who picked up their “report”) broke the most basic principles of journalism. They simply reported the lies of the assailants as fact, instead of investigating and doing real reporting. The SF Public Library also bears some responsibility for fostering a climate that is hostile toward lesbians, in hosting the Degenderettes exhibit in all its toxic misogyny. The woman-hating is in full view, and it is unacceptable. It’s time to stop it.
(1) Lupron is a chemotherapy drug used first in prostate cancer, then for endometriosis and uterine fibroids. It has come into wide off-label use on children as a puberty blocker. Among the side effects are severe bone and joint pain, swelling and other inflammatory responses, headaches, depression, memory loss, anxiety, hypertension, sweating, nausea, vaginal bleeding or discharge, pain in breasts, testicles, chest, stomach and abdomen, and abnormalities in liver, vision, and thyroid, among many others. See https://www.rxlist.com/lupron-side-effects-drug-center.htm Another study of Lupron’s effects on adult women (who unlike preteens had already completed their neurological development and bone growth): https://www.nwhn.org/lupron-what-does-it-do-to-womens-health/
(2) Letter from Joan Annsfire to the SF Dyke march (with permission): “Not everyone even had the same politics. I was wearing an uprooting racism shirt from the dyke march in 2004. The young woman pushing at me and screaming with a microphone wouldn’t listen to my suggestion that she was mirroring the atmosphere of hate instigated by our fascist political administration. In spite of the fact that she was young enough to be my granddaughter, her hatred spilled like battery acid out of every pore. When I present my body in protest and a hate fest like “The Battle of Berkeley” I know what I am going to face. Whether its TERF or PERVERT or JEW it’s all the same to me, emotionally. But since this is the community that saved my sanity, my life, so many years ago, It is much, much sadder.”
In a July 5 letter to the San Francisco Public Library, Annsfire also protested the hateful exhibit of the Degenderettes, hosted by the Hormel Center. She wrote, “I am a retired librarian who worked at SFPL at the James Hormel Center from its founding in 1996 under Jim Van Buskirk until the year of my retirement in 2012, under Karen Sundheim. I was one of the lesbian activists who was attacked at the Dyke March by rabid, ageist, anti-lesbian thugs presumably inspired by hate groups like the Degenderettes. As a queer, leftist activist, I’d never experienced that level of pure, unadulterated hatred from folks supposedly on the same side of the LGBT struggle. It was brought to my attention that a hateful “artwork” advocating violence is on display at SFPL. From the photos I’ve seen the advocating of violence against lesbians is astounding. As a former Hormel Center employee and queer, leftist activist, I am revolted and disgusted.”
An outcry from women forced the library to remove the infamous I Punch TERFs shirt splotched with fake blood. Later on, they covered up part of a shield which read, “Die Cis Scum.” Still remaining in the exhibit is Mya Berne’s claim that “it is possible that more trans deaths have occurred as a result of TERF harassment than by cis men homicides.”