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.
#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)