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Are TERFs Running the Trans Activist Show?

How else to explain the increasing levels of self-sabotage in contemporary trans activism?

Kathleen Lowrey
Kathleen Lowrey

Radical feminists began raising the alarm about the threat to women’s rights posed by gender identity ideology more than forty years ago. Janice Raymond’s 1979 book The Transsexual Empire simultaneously summarized and advanced these concerns.

Nevertheless, during the 1980s, 1990s, and first decade of the 2000s, gender identity ideology made an enormously successful long march through the institutions of academia and policy-making. A few dissenting radical feminist voices continued to express concerns.

Two of the most important were those of lesbian academic Sheila Jeffreys, through the medium of books, and lesbian activist Gallus Mag, via a website called GenderTrender.

Jeffreys endured steady attacks and Gallus Mag’s website was repeatedly taken down. Overall, the status quo was of radical feminism in a state of beleaguered retreat and gender identity ideology moving from triumph to triumph.

Academia, medicine, and international policy-making were all on the side of trans activist goals and radical feminist protests registered as but a faint, distant squeaking. Traditional means of reasoned argument about the reality of biological sex and the sexed roots of women’s oppression could find no purchase.

“A robust covert operations strategy will have multiple campaigns simultaneously underway.”


Just as the victory of gender identity ideology seemed total, there came a burgeoning series of missteps on the trans activist side. Any one alone could be a mere coincidence, but taken together, they suggest a pattern. The list offered here is only partial and exemplary. Behind every instance presented lay many others like it. Together they create an almost inescapable impression of a hidden presence of radical feminist roaders or TERF wreckers maliciously mining trans activism from deep within.

Consider Canadian Jonathan Yaniv. Does it not beggar belief that a man would go around seeking out bikini waxes from working class immigrant women of color, only to extort them when they refused to wax his external genitalia upon learning he was a man with a penis? How exactly did such a man find a way to get the BC Human Rights Commission to send these reluctant women threatening letters on his behalf?  

As if that were not suspect enough, it also emerged that the fellow had a history of sexually pestering young teenage girls and fantasizing about teaching ten year old girls to use tampons in public restrooms. Finally – and one would have to be naïve to believe this detail wasn’t carefully crafted to reach maximum destructive impact – in appearance Yaniv bears a marked resemblance to Mr. Toad, of Toad Hall. Any one of these elements might arise on its own. But all together? Even the TERFs must have realized that this particular plant went a few implausible steps too far and that going forward with more subtlety would be required if they weren’t to be instantly rumbled.

Another likely such operation, carried out along more decorous lines, is Berkeley English professor Grace Lavery. Lavery takes the form of a faculty bad boy of an old-fashioned sort: thrice-married, proud enough of the physical harm he dishes out to his current wife to publicly post photos of it (a neat though necessarily uncredited nod to Norman Mailer’s intellectual tough guy shtick, updated with a soupçon of Jian Ghomeshi) while also having a mistress who – in a detail that does graze the bounds of hoary cliche – is berthed at an institution much less prestigious than his own.

“What’s more plausible? A secret network of TERF saboteurs? Or a trans activist movement so devoid of sense, decency, consideration for the rights of women and girls, and even of basic self-regard that it produces under its own auspices this panoply of sinister figures and disgusting displays?”


Lavery has urged the firing of an outspoken and successful academic woman. Defending it as a bit of harmless intellectual cheek, he posted an image of an anime figure holding a gun and labeled “SHUT THE FUCK UP TERF” the same week a new issue of the academic journal he edits was published featuring armed trans activists on its cover. This last fillip was admittedly a bit flashy, but overall, Operation Gracie refrains from the gonzo approach that characterized the Yaniv campaign. This restraint is likely intended to cultivate doubt and discomfort with gender ideology amongst intellectuals: professors and think tankers who cut their teeth on feminist analysis and who have encountered their fair share of self-promoting academic misogynists on the make. If the analysis presented here is correct, Agent Lavery is to be particularly felicitated.

Not every sally works as planned, of course. In what would have been an incredible coup, TERF frogwomen apparently managed to attach Alok Vaid-Menon to the hull of protests by trans activists of Netflix’s airing of a comedy special by Dave Chappelle. Chappelle had pointed out that many women find the performances of femininity by men identifying as women insulting, and noted that white male trans activists figuring themselves as oppressed in a manner analogous to the way black women and black men are oppressed in white-dominated society is ridiculous, entitled, and infuriating. In the aftermath, trans activist (and double agent?) Alok Vaid-Menon was invited to lead an internal seminar at Netflix. Alok Vaid-Menon (almost indubitably a TERF operative under deep cover) has waxed (pardon the callback) lyrical about the “kinkiness” of little girls. Detonating him at the centre of a situation receiving wide public attention would have been the Argo of 21st century terfery. But it was not to be:  Alok has reportedly withdrawn, citing threats. His cover evidently blown, one does not expect Vaid-Menon to be used in future undertakings.

A robust covert operations strategy will have multiple campaigns simultaneously underway. Just as one fails, another may succeed spectacularly. Is the entire Loudon County School Board composed of sleeper agents, or is it only Loudon County School Superintendent Scott Ziegler? He (perhaps alone, perhaps with the adroit help of the Board) has managed single-handedly to blow much of the high flying K-12 education policy apparatus of gender identity ideology right out of the sky. His emphatic (and video recorded) statement that “the predator transgender person or student does not exist,” issued just before news emerged of two girls being sexually assaulted at school by a male student who sometimes wears skirts, was audacious on its own. Combined with having the father of one of those two girls dragged out of a school board meeting for bringing up his daughter’s assault, filmed clips of which scene now circulate all over the internet: well, come on. Cui bono?

What’s more plausible? A secret network of TERF saboteurs? Or a trans activist movement so devoid of sense, decency, consideration for the rights of women and girls, and even of basic self-regard that it produces under its own auspices this panoply of sinister figures and disgusting displays? It has to be the former, right? Right?


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