Naming the problem

Content note: This post discusses transphobia, transmisogyny with particular focus on a known perpetrator.

I suppose in the past I’ve avoided, for the most part, discussing specific perpetrators of transphobia and transmisogyny. My reasoning for this has been that this shit is structural: one perpetrator does not a system make, and bringing the fucker down won’t heal anything without deep change. I prefer to discuss things more broadly, as a nod to the systemic nature of these problems.

So let’s talk about the problem named Cathy Brennan. I doubt I need to introduce her to you. The first Google hit for her name gives a precis on what she’s like. For more, it’s really worth looking at the work the trans community has done on collating the abuse she has perpetrated and the heartbreaking personal accounts of what she’s done.

Brennan is one of the most virulent of the TERfs. This is perhaps due to her class privilege: Brennan works as a lawyer for payday lenders and is fucking raking it in. Despite this, she has a hell of a lot of time on her hands. This time, she uses to harass and abuse trans women. She researches their dead names, finds pictures, and then puts them on her websites next to pictures of rapists. If she can, she contacts employers. These are trans women, simply existing as trans women, smeared and outed because Brennan doesn’t think they should exist.

Brennan uses her lesbian feminism as a veil for this behaviour. It is nothing more than that: a veil. Brennan will gladly side with homophobic organisations if they will get her what she wants–that is, making life more dangerous for trans women.

And this is not a petty intellectual difference. What Cathy Brennan does endangers the lives of women. Outing trans women can starve them out of a job, it can socially isolate them, it can put them at risk of acts of violence–the very male violence that Brennan pretends to oppose. Furthermore, her rhetoric trivialises rape and abuse: morally equating the existence of trans women with these horrors does nobody any favours except the bigots.

As feminists, we must stand against this. We must reject Brennan entirely. We need to stand against these repeated incitements to violence, and back up our trans sisters who are victims of her work.

Yet cis feminism does too little. We stay quiet in the face of this, because the perpetrator is a cis woman and the excuse of sisterhood keeps us quiet. Brennan has a small but loyal army of enablers who police any criticism, who cry division and silencing whenever anyone dares to point out that putting women in danger is hardly a feminist act. The whole thing creates a climate wherein it is hard to speak out.

My own reasoning for refraining from writing about Cathy Brennan specifically rings hollow in my ears. On reflection, that’s been rather a double standard on my part: I’ll gladly write reams about perpetrators like Julian Assange. Even I, Attacker Of Women, have perhaps gone somewhat easy on a perpetrator, because even I, Attacker Of Women, have internalised some of the cisterhood bollocks which shuts down and silences these discussions.

It has taken me this long to fully nail my colours to the mast. Fuck Cathy Brennan. I hope that every time she cooks pasta, it comes out slightly overdone or slightly underdone. I hope she steps on upturned plugs every morning. I wish stale biscuits and unripe bananas on her.

Calling out this one person will not fix a broken system, but it is vital that we do so. It is vital that we draw attention to the abuse she perpetrates, and reject her brand of feminism entirely. It is vital that we support her victims. It is vital that we question her enablers. We need to unite against hate and violence within feminism, and Cathy Brennan is one of the best places to start. As cis feminists, she is our mess, and we need to help clean it up.

It is not enough to say that Cathy Brennan isn’t a feminist, because she wears that label. We need to actively challenge her, to make it known that we see what she does and we reject it entirely.

Further reading:
#dearcisfeminism- A very enlightening hashtag, unfortunately marred by a few TERf attempts at detrailing
You Can’t Ignore the Bug (GenderTerror)
Abuse is still abuse (Sam Ambreen)
Transphobia has no place in feminism (me)
Time to pick a side (also me; both of these pieces kind of talked around the issue without naming the problem explicitly)

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24 responses to “Naming the problem

  • Flavia Dzodan (@redlightvoices)

    I agree with everything that you’ve said here. I would just like to add one more point to what you wrote: Sophia Banks has talked frequently about something that is a common tactic for Brennan. Namely, every time she is called out by cis women, she redoubles her violence on trans* women. Which is to say, if you or I expose her, she will not retaliate against us, she will take her vile against her usual victims.

    This mechanism makes it even more difficult to expose her. If we do, we are tangentially contributing to the violence. If we don’t, we are complicit in it. Brennan’s perversity is abominable in the sense that no matter which stance we take, trans women always have to endure the consequences.

    • stavvers

      I feel like this is a really important point. I suppose I need to ask, and perhaps I should have asked this first: trans* friends and followers: what do you need cis allies to do?

      • Thia Jones

        I’m a trans woman. I can’t speak for all trans women, but for me, helping to expose her is exactly what we need our cis allies to be doing!

        When she redoubles her efforts, we should redouble ours. The more attacks she makes, the more she exposes of herself and her vile campaign. Let her bring it on, I say, draw her out into the daylight.

      • alliecat

        Given how if trans* women do it she’ll also retaliate, but direct it all against the individual woman, it’s probably safer for us to have her retaliation be against us as a group rather than individuals. So my feeling as a trans woman (although again, I clearly can’t speak for all trans* women) is that you should continue to expose her

    • M. A. Melby

      It’s very difficult to deal with. I also wrote about this, and worry that it just gives her publicity.

      I suppose the most direct thing we can do is take people specifically to task for enabling her in any way.

    • Sophia Banks (@sophiaphotos)

      I am of the opinion that when Brennan gets called out by cis women and trans women get attacked by Brennan because of this that cis women need to stand with us while that is happening.

      A lot of TERf’s are just troll’s or sock puppets and they can be ignored. Maybe even best to do so as talking to them is like talking to a wall. It’s people like Brennan and Gallus Mag that need to be called out.

      To be honest, I dont even know what to do about Brennan or how to deal with her hate campaign against trans women. She has blogged about me countless times, called me a violent man, rapist, etc… She has me listed on that horrible site of rapists she keeps at least 3 times.

      Personally, I assume TERf’s started blogging about me because I have an internet presence with my business and they were trying to hurt me financially. How to deal with is a whole other problem.

      But to get to my point. When Brennan goes after trans women call it out. Talk about why this is wrong. Transphobia is not just a problem in radical feminism. A lot of women have irrational fears about trans women in washrooms and demonstrating on twitter and with blogs how trans women are way more scared of using a washrooms then cis women are scared of us being there helps.

      Counter Brennan by helping to engage with public education about trans women. The public perception of trans women is still horribly misguided and wrong. Cis women can help us by standing publicly standing in solidarity with us. This would also help inspire a lot of trans women and give many a feeling of security and confidence.

      Trans liberation needs to become a conversation families and friends have at the dinner table. We get there by making it public conversation

      • Jules

        Maybe it’s time for a class action lawsuit against her. Defamation of character at least would hold up in court I would think, and possibly libel. Has anyone tried this?

  • Not On My Watch

    IMO this is just blackmail of the sort that the Nazis (no apologies for invoking Godwin’s Law here) used to use in occupied countries in WW2. It’s intention was to divide populations against each other.

    The fact that she is doing this means that she REALLY doesn’t want cis feminists to do this. Therefore IMHO cis feminists should criticise and expose her as much as possible and as widely as possible.

  • Carol Uren

    Speaking for myself, exactly what you are doing now Stavvers. If every feminist turns against her by pointing out her tactics, then she will be exposed as the hypocrite that she is and she will have nowhere to run and her hate filled rhetoric will fall on deaf ears.
    Thank you for standing with us against this woman.

  • Zoe Ellen Brain

    CB will double down on the hatred anyway, regardless of what is done or not done.

    It’s one thing to write on the net – many of her enablers and fanclub say far worse things than she does, calling for a “Final Solution” etc.

    “Almost 100% of convicted sex offenders have a documented history of transvestism, crossdressing, free-dressing, Autogynephilia, transsexualism – in other words: TRANSGENDER.”

    That’s not from a Religious Right site. That’s from a TERF one. Distinguishing the two is virtually impossible now. The reference in support says no such thing of course – but who bothers checking the lies?

    What sets CB apart is her willingness to engage in lawsuits, her attempts to get trans kids bullied by outing them, and her numerous attempts to get trans employees fired or even denied medical treatment. This goes well beyond Internet Trolling.

  • feministsfightingtransphobia

    We completely agree with you about the vital importance of cis feminists, as well as trans, calling out transphobia. This is a post about the kind of abuse that even cis feminists are likely to receive when they do so:

    http://feministsfightingtransphobia.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/women-speaking-out-against-transphobia/

    Nonetheless, accusations of being handmaidens of the patriarchy and suffering from Stockholm Syndrome generally aren’t quite as severe, in terms of real-world consequences, as what these people like to do to trans women who dare to oppose them.

  • newbee

    Really great information. There is definitely a need to step up and do something about this woman.
    I have, however, one point to make:
    “We stay quiet in the face of this, because the perpetrator is a cis woman and the excuse of sisterhood keeps us quiet.” I identify as a cis feminist and this generalization is simply not true – I didn’t know about Brennan before this so there was nothing I could do about it. Educating people is key as they cannot address what they have no knowledge of. This is why I think your article is helpful. I have been partially educated. But such a generalization, had you lead off with it in this article, would likely have stopped reading because I know, for me, it is wrong and therefore you lost some credibility as an author. Just a thought to keep in mind.

    • newbee

      *excuse me.*
      “But such a generalization, had you lead off with it in this article, would likely have stopped MY reading because…”*

    • Miche

      If the generalisation doesn’t apply to you, then she’s not talking about you as one of the cis women that the “sisterhood” keeps quiet.

      I’m at peace with the idea that not everything is about me; in fact it’s one of the reasons I try to be a good ally to trans* people. That’s also why I won’t stop reading an article because of one generalisation.

  • karaconnor

    I really do wonder what drives her. It would seem logical that trans women, having seen “life in two genders” as it were, are natural allies. For proof of Brennan’s delusional nature one need look no further than her belief that trans women represent any, never mind the largest, threat to women.

  • Blair Falcon

    I hadn’t heard of Cathy Brennaan until recently, but I’m glad that I have so that I can warn my friends against her. To me, talking about issues like this isn’t “giving someone attention” (as I’ve noted some people in the comments seem to think it is)– it’s warning everyone else and bringing an important issue to light.

  • Chris

    How do people like this sleep at night? I’ve never heard of her before and I find her actions appalling! She puts people in physical danger, wish there was a way to charge her with a crime!

  • Miss Sudo (@miss_sudo)

    She wants to not be silent while silencing the rest of us. Her version of us harassing lesbians online is much different than what we consider harassment. She instructed Janice Raymond and the Nicky guy to contact my employer. She coordinated the attack against me there. They even sent email to our police department!!! For what? Here is the what.

    I had a fake Janice Raymond parody account that was labeled as such. I owned theterfs.com which was basically a screenshot repository of their actual hate and abuse online. That was it.

    Her attack on me caused serious mental health issues that I am still trying to recover from.

    She WANTS people to be scared to talk. She WANTS trans women to be afraid to even leave a comment on a trans-related article. She WANTS all trans women and those who support us to be silent and let her do whatever the frack she wants. She threatens lawsuits but I have yet to see her follow through on them. She recently threatened Laurie Penny to silence her.

    I think one of the biggest problems here is that everyone is afraid of her. I was terrified of her for about a year and a half. That is why I used a pseudonym previously. Feminist organizations are afraid to call her out on her abuse. This is a huge problem not only for her victims but for feminism to be shut down by a single bully on the Internet.

    I say if she threatens to sue in order to silence tell her to bring it the frack on and that you will countersue. And I assure you, a gofundme would generate plenty of money to hire the best lawyer.

    This is total fracking bullshit.

  • oopster74

    I only just got round to looking for this quote, although I’m sure I heard it said differently. In response to the question “what do transwomen want their cis allies to do?”, well, we all know what to do, and that’s the right thing, but I was thinking of the below quote at the time:-

    All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
    Edmund Burke
    Irish orator, philosopher, & politician (1729 – 1797)

    (I thought it was something Winston Churchill had said).

  • Ms Mahler

    You may have talked around the issue in the past, but you were still a huge influence in helping me see the problem and realize it exists. I’m glad you are standing up to call Brennan out directly, but please don’t dimish the good work you’ve already done.

  • Sissykrystal Nicole

    In reply to Miss Studio:

    OMG you wrote my exact story to a T, Thank You so very much Hugss

    She wants to not be silent while silencing the rest of us. Her version of us harassing lesbians online is much different than what we consider harassment. She instructed Janice Raymond and the Nicky guy to contact my employer. She coordinated the attack against me there. They even sent email to our police department!!! For what? Here is the what.
    I had a fake Janice Raymond parody account that was labeled as such. I owned theterfs.com which was basically a screenshot repository of their actual hate and abuse online. That was it.
    Her attack on me caused serious mental health issues that I am still trying to recover from.
    She WANTS people to be scared to talk. She WANTS trans women to be afraid to even leave a comment on a trans-related article. She WANTS all trans women and those who support us to be silent and let her do whatever the frack she wants. She threatens lawsuits but I have yet to see her follow through on them. She recently threatened Laurie Penny to silence her.
    I think one of the biggest problems here is that everyone is afraid of her. I was terrified of her for about a year and a half. That is why I used a pseudonym previously. Feminist organizations are afraid to call her out on her abuse. This is a huge problem not only for her victims but for feminism to be shut down by a single bully on the Internet.
    I say if she threatens to sue in order to silence tell her to bring it the frack on and that you will counter sue. And I assure you, a go fund me would generate plenty of money to hire the best lawyer.
    This is total fracking bullshit.

    What gets me is here these freaks of nature out right spend every waking second destroying others lives and know one gives a rats blank, and nicky TURD from the BUG. friends sister’s people please is there any living soul on earth more deserving of a 100 million dollar class action libel – defamation lawsuit seriously is there ?

  • Sissykrystal Nicole

    oopster74 are you kidding me:

    Really? so that’s not you posting all the filthy lies and despicable stories about me all over the internet. Are you sure your not the Bug in sheep’s clothing. God I don’t trust any of these Radfems they all seam to read the same Satanic rule book. OMG honestly how can you people be so damn mean to complete strangers. I never even heard of a Radfem or the Bug until that nightmare 15 months ago when that evil woman attacked me on Tumblr and chose me as her newest kill this person campaign.

    WHY ? please just tell me WHY? by the way I’m not a rapist or a woman hater. Oh and lets see a Gay hater wow that’s rich seeing how I’m gay, a woman hater more rich seeing how ALL! my best friends are women and I live with 2 women for 17 years. and rape the bug eeeww please don’t make me sick.Just so everyone is perfectly clear here this Bug and here many nasty disciples continue to attack me 24/7/365 for 15 non stop months of terrorist cyber stalking, harassment, bullying and lie lie lie.

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