Interview With An Ex-Radfem
exradfem is an anonymous Tumblr user who identifies as transmasculine, and previously spent time in radical feminist communities. They have offered their insight into those communities using their own experiences and memories as a firsthand resource.
I was raised in an incredibly fundamentalist religion, and so was predisposed to falling for cult rhetoric. Naturally, I was kicked out for being a lesbian. I was taken in by the queer community, particularly the trans community, and I got back on my feet- somehow. I had a large group of queer friends, and loved it. I fully went in on being the Best Trans Ally Possible, and constantly tried to be a part of activism and discourse.
Unfortunately, I was undersocialized, undereducated, and overenthusiastic. I didn't fully understand queer or gender theory. In my world, when my parents told me my sexuality was a choice and I wasn't born that way, they were absolutely being homophobic. I understood that no one should care if it's a choice or not, but it was still incredibly, vitally important to me that I was born that way.
On top of that, I already had an intense distrust of men bred by a lot of trauma. That distrust bred a lot of gender essentialism that I couldn't pull out of the gender binary. I felt like it was fundamentally true that men were the problem, and that women were inherently more trustworthy. And I really didn't know where nonbinary people fit in.
Then I got sucked down the ace exclusionist pipeline; the way the arguments were framed made sense to my really surface-level, liberal view of politics. This had me primed to exclude people –– to feel like only those that had been oppressed exactly like me were my community.
Then I realized I was attracted to my nonbinary friend. I immediately felt super guilty that I was seeing them as a woman. I started doing some googling (helped along by ace exclusionists on Tumblr) and found the lesfem community, which is basically radfem “lite”: lesbians who are "only same sex attracted". This made sense to me, and it made me feel so much less guilty for being attracted to my friend; it was packaged as "this is just our inherent, biological desire that is completely uncontrollable". It didn't challenge my status quo, it made me feel less guilty about being a lesbian, and it allowed me to have a "biological" reason for rejecting men.
I don't know how much dysphoria was playing into this, and it's something I will probably never know; all of this is just piecing together jumbled memories and trying to connect dots. I know at the time I couldn't connect to this trans narrative of "feeling like a woman". I couldn't understand what trans women were feeling. This briefly made me question whether I was nonbinary, but radfem ideas had already started seeping into my head and I'm sure I was using them to repress that dysphoria. That's all I can remember.
The lesfem community seeded gender critical ideas and larger radfem princples, including gender socialization, gender as completely meaningless, oppression as based on sex, and lesbian separatism. It made so much innate sense to me, and I didn't realize that was because I was conditioned by the far right from the moment of my birth. Of course women were just a biological class obligated to raise children: that is how I always saw myself, and I always wanted to escape it.
I tried to stay in the realms of TIRF (Trans-Inclusive Radical Feminist) and "gender critical" spaces, because I couldn't take the vitriol on so many TERF blogs. It took so long for me to get to the point where I began seeing open and unveiled transphobia, and I had already read so much and bought into so much of it that I thought that I could just ignore those parts.
In that sense, it was absolutely a pipeline for me. I thought I could find a "middle ground", where I could "center women" without being transphobic.
Slowly, I realized that the transphobia was just more and more disgustingly pervasive. Some of the trans men and butch women I looked up to left the groups, and it was mostly just a bunch of nasty people left. So I left.
After two years offline, I started to recognize I was never going to be a healthy person without dealing with my dysphoria, and I made my way back onto Tumblr over the pandemic. I have realized I'm trans, and so much of this makes so much more sense now. I now see how I was basically using gender essentialism to repress my identity and keep myself in the closet, how it was genuinely weaponized by TERFs to keep me there, and how the ace exclusionist movement primed me into accepting lesbian separatism- and, finally, radical feminism.
You mentioned the lesfem community, gender criticals, and TIRFs, which I haven't heard about before- would you mind elaborating on what those are, and what kinds of beliefs they hold?
I think the lesfem community is recruitment for lesbians into the TERF community. Everything is very sanitized and "reasonable", and there's an effort not to say anything bad about trans women. The main focus was that lesbian = homosexual female, and you can't be attracted to gender, because you can't know someone's gender before knowing them; only their sex.
It seemed logical at the time, thinking about sex as something impermeable and gender as internal identity. The most talk about trans women I saw initially was just in reference to the cotton ceiling, how sexual orientation is a permanent and unchangeable reality. Otherwise, the focus was homophobia. This appealed to me, as I was really clinging to the "born this way" narrative.
This ended up being a gateway to two split camps - TIRFs and gender crits.
I definitely liked to read TIRF stuff, mostly because I didn't like the idea of radical feminism having to be transphobic. But TIRFs think that misogyny is all down to hatred of femininity, and they use that as a basis to be able to say trans women are "just as" oppressed.
Gender criticals really fought out against this, and pushed the idea that gender is fake, and misogyny is just sex-based oppression based on reproductive issues. They believe that the source of misogyny is the "male need to control the source of reproduction"- which is what finally made me think I had found the "source" of my confusion. That's why I ended up in gender critical circles instead of TIRF circles.
I'm glad, honestly, because the mask-off transphobia is what made me finally see the light. I wouldn't have seen that in TIRF communities.
I believed this in-between idea, that misogyny was "sex-based oppression" and that transphobia was also real and horrible, but only based on transition, and therefore a completely different thing. I felt that this was the "nuanced" position to take.
The lesfem community also used the fact that a lot of lesbians have partners who transition, still stay with their lesbian partners, and see themselves as lesbian- and that a lot of trans men still see themselves as lesbians. That idea is very taboo and talked down in liberal queer spaces, and I had some vague feelings about it that made me angry, too. I really appreciated the frank talk of what I felt were my own taboo experiences.
I think gender critical ideology also really exploited my own dysphoria. There was a lot of talk about how "almost all butches have dysphoria and just don't talk about it", and that made me feel so much less alone and was, genuinely, a big relief to me that I "didn't have to be trans".
Lesfeminism is essentially lesbian separatism dressed up as sex education. Lesfems believe that genitals exist in two separate categories, and that not being attracted to penises is what defines lesbians. This is used to tell cis lesbians, "dont feel bad as a lesbian if you're attracted to trans men", and that they shouldn’t feel "guilty" for not being attracted to trans women. They believe that lesbianism is not defined as being attracted to women, it is defined as not being attracted to men; which is a root idea in lesbian separatism as well.
Lesfems also believe that attraction to anything other than explicit genitals is a fetish: if you're attracted to flat chests, facial hair, low voices, etc., but don't care if that person has a penis or not, you're bisexual with a fetish for masculine attributes. Essentially, they believe the “-sexual” suffix refers to the “sex” that you are assigned at birth, rather than your attraction: “homosexual” refers to two people of the same sex, etc. This was part of their pushback to the ace community, too.
I think they exploited the issues of trans men and actively ignored trans women intentionally, as a way of avoiding the “TERF” label. Pronouns were respected, and they espoused a constant stream of "trans women are women, trans men are men (but biology still exists and dictates sexual orientation)" to maintain face.
They would only be openly transmisogynistic in more private, radfem-only spaces.
For a while, I didn’t think that TERFs were real. I had read and agreed with the ideology of these "reasonable" people who others labeled as TERFs, so I felt like maybe it really was a strawman that didn't exist. I think that really helped suck me in.
It sounds from what you said like radical feminism works as a kind of funnel system, with "lesfem" being one gateway leading in, and "TIRF" and "gender crit" being branches that lesfem specifically funnels into- with TERFs at the end of the funnel. Does that sound accurate?
I think that's a great description actually!
When I was growing up, I had to go to meetings to learn how to "best spread the word of god". It was brainwashing 101: start off by building a relationship, find a common ground. Do not tell them what you really believe. Use confusing language and cute innuendos to "draw them in". Prey on their emotions by having long exhausting sermons, using music and peer pressure to manipulate them into making a commitment to the church, then BAM- hit them with the weird shit.
Obviously I am paraphrasing, but this was framed as a necessary evil to not "freak out" the outsiders.
I started to see that same talk in gender critical circles: I remember seeing something to the effect of, "lesfem and gender crit spaces exist to cleanse you of the gender ideology so you can later understand the 'real' danger of it", which really freaked me out; I realized I was in a cult again.
I definitely think it's intentional. I think they got these ideas from evangelical Christianity, and they actively use it to spread it online and target young lesbians and transmascs. And I think gender critical butch spaces are there to draw in young transmascs who hate everything about femininity and womanhood, and lesfem spaces are there to spread the idea that trans women exist as a threat to lesbianism.
Do you know if they view TIRFs a similar way- as essentially prepping people for TERF indoctrination?
Yes and no.
I've seen lots of in-fighting about TIRFs; most TERFs see them as a detriment, worse than the "TRAs" themselves. I've also definitely seen it posed as "baby's first radfeminism". A lot of TIRFs are trans women, at least from what I've seen on Tumblr, and therefore are not accepted or liked by radfems. To be completely honest, I don't think they're liked by anyone. They just hate men.
TIRFs are almost another breed altogether; I don't know if they have ties to lesfems at all, but I do think they might've spearheaded the online ace exclusionist discourse. I think a lot of them also swallowed radfem ideology without knowing what it was, and parrot it without thinking too hard about how it contradicts with other ideas they have.
The difference is TIRFs exist. They're real people with a bizarre, contradictory ideology. The lesfem community, on the other hand, is a completely manufactured "community" of crypto-terfs designed specifically to indoctrinate people into TERF ideology.
Part of my interest in TIRFs here is that they seem to have a heavy hand in the way transmascs are treated by the trans community, and if you're right that they were a big part of ace exclusionism too they've had a huge impact on queer discourse as a whole for some time. It seems likely that Baeddels came out of that movement too.
Yes, there’s a lot of overlap. The more digging I did, the more I found that it's a smaller circle running the show than it seems. TIRFs really do a lot of legwork in peddling the ideology to outer queer community, who tend to see it as generic feminism.
TERFs joke a lot about how non-radfems will repost or reblog from TERFs, adding "op is a TERF”. They're very gleeful when people accept their ideology with the mask on. They think it means these people are close to fully learning the "truth", and they see it as further evidence they have the truth the world is hiding. I think it's important to speak out against radical feminism in general, because they’re right; their ideology does seep out into the queer community.
Do you think there's any "good" radical feminism?
No. It sees women as the ultimate victim, rather than seeing gender as a tool to oppress different people differently. Radical feminism will always see men as the problem, and it is always going to do harm to men of color, gay men, trans men, disabled men, etc.
Women aren't a coherent class, and radfems are very panicked about that fact; they think it's going to be the end of us all. But what's wrong with that? That's like freaking out that white isn't a coherent group. It reveals more about you.
It's kind of the root of all exclusionism, the more I think about it, isn't it? Just freaking out that some group isn't going to be exclusive anymore.
Radical feminists believe that women are inherently better than men.
For TIRFs, it's gender essentialism. For TERFs, its bio essentialism. Both systems are fundamentally broken, and will always hurt the groups most at risk. Centering women and misogyny above all else erases the root causes of bigotry and oppression, and it erases the intersections of race and class. The idea that women are always fundamentally less threatening is very white and privileged.
It also ignores how cis women benefit from gender norms just as cis men do, and how cis men suffer from gender roles as well. It’s a system of control where gender non-conformity is a punishable offense.
722 notes · View notes
hi, id like to ask a completely genuine question, i cant find anyone whos really talked about this in-depth and im just looking for answers, and this is coming from a trans afab person. is there a way to talk about how afab and amab people are raised differently? how do we address these societal issues while also keeping trans people involved in the conversation? the experiences ive had being afab are still carried with me into my transness and who i am as a person to this day. theyre not the same experiences an amab person has, but i find it hard to talk about it without feeling like im pushing trans women and amab nonbinary people out of the conversation if that makes sense? thank you for your time if you choose to answer, i really really appreciate it
This is a line of thinking that can spiral into radical feminism really quickly, I’m not accusing you of being one - in fact I’m glad you’ve asked this question, even though it’s something that has caused a lot of discourse among the trans community and will undeniably end up with people getting upset. I suggest turning off your anons if they’re on for a little while, because this will ruffle someone’s feathers.
There is no such thing as the “AFAB” or “AMAB” experience. This is something that a lot of folks, mostly white and mostly binary, have trouble understanding. So let’s talk about race and ethnicity here real quick - because like all gender-essentialist views this one is racist and seeped in colonization. Lets consider a cis Latina and a cis white woman, they are both AFAB, they are both raised as girls, they have the same skin tone, they are both heterosexual, and live in the suburbs - in fact, let’s say they’re neighbors. The way that the Latina and the white girl are raised through the gender lens is different, because the way that gender is viewed through a racial lens changes the process of being raised as a specific gender. They experience being raised as “AFAB” in different ways - is there some overlap? Of course! But there is plenty of overlap that they have with their cis male counterparts too.
So if we define AFAB as an experience we will inevitably declare women of color to be less “female” then their white counterparts, this is something very common in TERF groups - Women of color are often treated as lesser women because they’re female identity counteracts with that of white women, both from a social standpoint and a “biological” standing - because if we are using the biological sex binary, then that means we are defining sex as something both innate and measurable through chromosomes, hormones, height, facial features, body hair, and a 100 other things that can be used to attack Black and Brown women. One of the most common examples of this is the way that Black women are considered “manly” in white society due to this collection of issues surrounding the concept of biological sex. See this article about Caster Semenya. (x)
This is also the source of the concept of “AMAB Privilege” a term used by crypto-TERFs and transmisogynistic trans people (typically Truscum FtMs and AFAB non-binary women that share some of their views) who think that trans women are “less oppressed” then they are on the bias of their assigned gender at birth. Which couldn’t be less then true. Besides the attempt at the oppression Olympics, it erases the experiences of trans feminine people and disregards their voices.
Being raised under the assumption that you are a man is not a privilege, in-fact people who are raised as men experience a lot of trauma due to their assigned sex and presumed gender. Both cis men and trans feminine people are abused and then have that abuse ignored under the idea that “Men can’t be abused,”. There have been a lot of social studies among both trans women and cis men and the trauma they face.
Of course, being raised under the assumption that you are a woman is also traumatizing. There have also been several studies that talk about this both from the experiences of trans men and cis women.
A lot of it overlaps. Like, a lot. We have very similar experiences, you swap some words around and it’s the same story. We’re forcibly gendered, made to preform roles that we’re not comfortable with. Our hobbies, clothing, and the way we walk, talk, and look is policed. It’s not a matter of AFAB vs AMAB, its a matter of assigned gender and the abuse that it causes among all children.
You can discuss how being raised as someone presumed to be a woman effects your life, gender, sexuality, or views — but declaring those to be a biological fact, stating that it’s worse then the ‘opposite’ side, and/or assuming that AFAB or AMAB are binary experiences is a slippery slope into white supremacy, transmisogyny, and radical feminism. I don’t recommend it.
And of curse, I encourage trans fems, intersex folk, and amab nonbinary folk to reply to this with their thoughts on and the way that being raised presumed male effects them in similar ways to being raised presumed female. We are more alike then we are different. It's important to talk about the ways that enforced gender harms all people, not just AFAB people.
776 notes · View notes