On Being Explicitly Named in a Violent “Gender Critical” Manifesto
Content warning for extreme transmisogyny, graphic language, sexual violence, and violence against marginalized groups.
A few months ago, I penned Transgender People, Bathrooms, and Sexual Predators: What the Data Say. It was the culmination of months of research (partly for my forthcoming book) chronicling the long history of various minority groups (including lesbians — this becomes important later) being saddled with groundless accusations that they are supposedly “perverts,” “predators,” and “pedophiles.” I paired this history with contemporary examples of such charges being frivolously levied against transgender people, and empirical evidence (in the form of peer-reviewed research studies) showing not only that trans women and trans-inclusion policies pose no threat to cis women and children, but also that trans people are far more likely to be the victims of harassment and sexual violence at the hands of cis people than the other way around.
In other words, we all need to oppose acts of sexual violence. But we must also recognize that *individuals* commit these offenses, not minority groups. And when bigots and bad actors attempt to shift the focus away from in-real-life sexual violence, and toward smearing a marginalized group en masse as imagined “sexual predators,” well, that itself is an act of violence that we must also oppose.
Which brings us to last week, when I was explicitly named in a violent “gender critical” manifesto.
Long backstory short: On October 26, the relentlessly transphobic UK press (in this particular case, BBC News) published yet another “trans women = sexual predators” story entitled “We’re being pressured into sex by some trans women.” The article was bereft of actual evidence that trans women are coercing people into having sex; it relied almost entirely on gender-critical lesbians’ vague impressions that this is what trans women are up to, especially if we more generally critique cisnormative standards of beauty and bodies. In other words, “trans women = sexual predators” in their eyes, no matter what we actually say or do.
One of the gender-critical lesbians interviewed for the piece was Lily Cade, who notably was not pressured by any trans women into having sex. As a porn actor, Cade was invited to do a film with another porn actor, but upon learning that said porn actor was a trans woman, Cade said no. And accordingly, no sex took place. Yet somehow, this was presented as “evidence” that “trans women are pressuring cis lesbians into having sex.”
Shortly after the BBC News story came out, evidence surfaced that Cade is an admitted repeat perpetrator of sexual assault, and that some of these assaults apparently took place in women’s restrooms. (A little too on the nose given gender-critical activists’ unrelenting “bathroom panic” campaigns against trans women.)
A few days later (October 29 — November 2), Cade penned five graphic blog posts calling for violence against trans women in a general sense, with a few individual trans women being mentioned by name. I won’t be linking to them directly here, but they were archived before the website was taken down.
When I first read some of these posts, I described them as “Unabomber-style rants” due to their long, rambling, and often incoherent nature. Other people have (more aptly, I believe) compared them to Elliot Rodgers’s manifesto given the extreme hatred and violence they espoused. Here’s how Pink News summarized Cade’s manifesto:
In more than one post, [Cade] explicitly called for execution of trans women. “If you left it up to me, I’d execute every last one of them personally,” she wrote. “Cancel the ever-living f**k out of this. Cancel this so hard that no man dare walk the path of the trans woman in public ever again! Enough is enough. Lynch Kaitlyn! Lynch the ‘Sisters’ Wachowski! Lynch Laurel Hubbard! Lynch Fallon Fox!” She added: “They can’t take down Lily Cade. She’s already dead. I’m the bullet, bitch. I’m a f**king soldier. You ready? I’m ready.” In another post, she compared the existence of trans people to the racist “great replacement” conspiracy theory, and added: “If the Arabs did three per cent of what the trans women have done to your people, you would bomb them into the stone age.”
This summary only scratches the surface. There is a passage in which Cade says, in reference to Jazz Jennings’s mother, “Hang this bitch, gangrape this bitch.” There is also a lot of racist shit in Cade’s manifesto (e.g., “[George] Floyd was summarily executed for being an annoying piece of shit.”), along with a lot of batshit shit (e.g., “Trans women control the Internet, such as anyone controls it. They rule by fear. They rule with all the tactics of the monstrous shadow children that they are.”).
I am not about to analyze or review the entire manifesto (as it is 16,000+ words). Instead, I want to share my personal reaction as one of the trans women who is explicitly named in it.
I didn’t even realize this at first. When news broke about these posts last Tuesday, I saw some of the more horrific passages via screenshots online, and then skimmed through a couple of the posts. I was honestly shaken up quite a bit just from that. How could I not be? Take this passage for instance:
“Trans women are men. Trans women are evil. Trans women are rapists. Trans women are predators. . . Trans women are evil pedophiles.” (Note: this is from the same post in which Cade later says, “If you left it up to me, I’d execute every last one of them personally.”)
I’m sure that most people reading this are not transgender themselves — if this is the case for you, then I entreat you to imagine how it might feel if, rather than targeting trans women, this passage referred to a distinguishing characteristic that you possess, or a “type” of person that you are. How might you react if you (and everyone else who shares that quality) were called “evil,” “rapists,” “predators,” “pedophiles,” followed by a call to execute you? I encourage you to sit with that feeling for a moment. Perhaps it approximates what I felt. Or perhaps it falls short, especially if that aspect of your person is not routinely singled out for derision.
Anyway, I already felt attacked by Cade’s manifesto by virtue of me being a trans woman, but it was especially jarring to later learn that I am mentioned by name in the last of the five posts she penned.
In a subsequent statement to The Guardian, Cade has claimed that “she had only attacked ‘personas’, not people.” But the thing is, I’m not a fucking “persona” — I’m an actual human being. I am a real person who regularly faces anti-trans harassment and abuse, which Cade’s posts both exacerbate and contribute to. And I sure as hell can tell the difference between critiques of my work, writings, and beliefs (which are fair game, even if I disagree with said critiques), and slanderous attempts to smear me, and trans women more generally, as “sexual predators” in tandem with calls to “lynch” and “execute” us.
On Twitter, I’ve seen people share gender-critical reactions to the Cade manifesto. While there seem to be a few touting her as the next Valerie Solanas, or making excuses for her behavior (e.g., claiming that she was driven to do this as a result of the abuse she’s imagined to have received at the hands of trans women and/or the porn industry), most gender-critical activists are apparently denouncing Cade’s manifesto. As they should.
But that doesn’t go nearly far enough.
Gender-critical activists cannot readily distance themselves from a manifesto that is steeped in boilerplate gender-critical “trans women = sexual predators” talking points. I searched Cade’s five posts for common gender-critical accusations, and found the following: Variations of “pedophile” or “pedo” appeared 78 times. There were 8 references to “grooming.” The words “rape” or “rapist” appeared 26 times (although a few of these seemed to be in reference to Cade herself). “Buffalo Bill” (the trans serial killer from the movie The Silence of the Lambs) is mentioned 5 times. There were also 6 mentions of the word “fetish,” 4 of “predator,” 2 of “pervert,” and 1 of “molester.”
All of the aforementioned words (with the exception of “Buffalo Bill”) appear prominently in my Transgender People, Bathrooms, and Sexual Predators: What the Data Say essay as charges that gender-critical activists routinely levy in their attempts to smear trans women as “sexual predators.”
So allow me to speak directly to gender-critical activists: Lily Cade was using your language. The difference between what she said and what you routinely say is more a matter of degree than kind. And even if you object “in theory” to the violent rhetoric espoused in Cade’s manifesto, how could you not have seen this coming? History has repeatedly shown that, if you relentlessly (and groundlessly) reduce an entire marginalized group to the status of “perverts,” “predators,” and “pedophiles,” it’s only a matter of time before somebody violently acts upon those accusations.
Emmett Till wasn’t killed by “a few bad apples” — his lynching was the direct result of a longstanding relentless racist smear campaign intended to conflate Black men with “sexual predators.”
Matthew Shepard wasn’t killed by “a few bad apples” — his murder was the direct result of a longstanding relentless homophobic smear campaign intended to conflate homosexuals (including lesbians) with “sexual predators.”
If you brand a marginalized group en masse as “sexual predators,” eventually someone (or many people) will violently act upon that. It’s only a matter of time.
Lily Cade’s posts read like a terrorist’s manifesto. But plenty of other superficially-less-violent gender-critical screeds (including the BBC News “trans women = sexual predators” article that prominently featured Cade) display all the hallmarks of stochastic terrorism: “the public demonization of a person or group resulting in the incitement of a violent act, which is statistically probable but whose specifics cannot be predicted.”
Earlier I addressed gender-critical activists directly, but I did not pen this essay for them. By and large, they live in a conspiracy-laden Bizarro World where up is down; where imagined transgender bathroom predators are viewed as far more of a threat to women and children than the countless in-real-life cisgender rapists; where gender-critical cis women constantly proclaim that they are being “erased” and “silenced,” when in reality the UK media routinely gives them huge platforms to spout their anti-trans propaganda while suppressing the perspectives of trans people.
These days, many gender-critical activists are swept up in an all-encompassing moral panic — for some, anti-trans outrage represents the lion’s share of their social media feeds and posts. And no amount of rational arguments, empirical data, or historical comparisons is sufficient to talk them down.
Rather than attempt to convince them, I wrote this piece for the majority of cis people — the ones who aren’t constantly preoccupied with trans people, and who aren’t personally invested in misrepresenting everything that we say or do as supposed signs of sexual “predation” or “perversion.”
I wrote this piece to express how fucking scary it is to be a trans person right now. Especially in the UK. But also here in the US, where Fox News and GOP state legislatures similarly obsess over us, depicting us as an existential “threat” to their existence.
I have been a trans activist for about twenty years now. Throughout that time, I have endured plenty of insults, ridicule, ignorant claims, bad faith arguments, and so on. But I have never before experienced such violent rhetoric on a regular basis. Trans people — and especially trans women of color — have long experienced disproportionately high levels of sexual and physical violence, and there have always been sporadic accusations that we “sexually deceive” other people. But what’s happening right now is different. What we’re dealing with now is a highly organized political and media campaign to collectively smear us as “sexual predators.” And I honestly don’t know how to effectively counter that.
The only thing that I know for sure is that trans people are way outnumbered, so it’s going to take a critical mass of cis people to call bullshit on all these “trans women = sexual predators” campaigns and pseudo-news stories. Everybody needs to recognize these campaigns for what they are: stochastic terrorism.
Last week, I was mentioned by name in a violent anti-trans manifesto. It sounds surreal to say that out loud, even now, several days out. Part of me is still in shock, while another part of me is not especially surprised. Part of me wants to laugh it off, while another part of me wants to cry. I’m still trying to sort out my own jumbled personal feelings regarding this awful event. But one thing that I know for certain is that every single anti-trans activist who has pushed “trans women = sexual predators” talking points over the last few years had a hand in this, even if they are reticent to admit it.
Individuals commit acts of sexual violence, not entire marginalized groups. To claim otherwise is an act of violence in and of itself.
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