By Ann E Menasche
This opinion is solely that of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Feminists in Struggle.
On September 15 to 17, 2023, I attended the WDI USA national conference. “Accelerating the Women’s Liberation Movement” along with 100 of my sisters (including several FIST members). I stayed an extra day to participate in a non-violent direct action in front of San Francisco’s City Hall. I was one among twenty women dressed in white participating in the action that had as its focus the rights of lesbians.
The conference was inspiring, the women speakers and attendees a fascinating, thoughtful bunch.
But my experiences with the Trans Rights Activist protesters were deeply surreal and even frightening. Outside the conference and at Monday’s demonstration, masked men, some in drag, others with black masks and “antifa” garb, repeatedly hurled ear-splitting yells at us, called us “fascists” and threatened us with death for the “crime” of our feminism. Signs read, “Millions of dead TERFs”, and “I eat TERFS for breakfast” while the crowd chanted “no TERFs, no KKK, no fascist USA”, “no TERFs on our turf.” and of course the ubiquitous “F*** TERFS!”
In the midst of this mayhem, there were calls for “Revolution”, and there was one sign at the Hotel supporting abortion rights (there was no disagreement between the two sides here). A few TRA protesters near the hotel ended up scaling a locked gate separating the Hilton from a Chinatown Park, punching a hotel manager in the face, defacing the sign in front of the Hilton with various obscenities and chasing down Meagan Murphy and de-transitioner K Yang, who were lucky to escape unharmed. Later, the TRAs sprayed graffiti in front of the entrance to a building hosting a feminist art show featuring the art of de-transitioning women that many of us had attended earlier that evening.
At Monday’s demonstration at City Hall, the TRA counterdemonstration drowned us out so we couldn’t hear the speakers, even though the organizers of our event had obtained rally and sound permits ahead of time. As time went on, TRAs got more and more riled up and police had to set down a second barricade next to the first. Meanwhile, we women remained completely peaceful and orderly as we had been trained to do. When we called our rally to a close, we all escaped quickly into two rented U-Haul’s as we had planned, to ensure that we would get safely back to the hotel. We did not want to risk assault while waiting to order Ubers or catch the BART. Though we laughed about it in the van as the TRAs wondered how we had managed to disappear so quickly, part of it wasn’t funny at all. The TRAs had reduced us to the status of a bunch of criminals escaping a crime scene, though we were guilty of nothing more than exercising our rights of freedom of speech.
I’m not crazy about police. San Francisco cops have a sordid history of rioting, and beating up patrons at gay bars, and Black citizens for minor or non-existence infractions. ￼ I doubt it’s all better now, especially regarding the treatment of the disproportionately Black unhoused population. But if it wasn’t for the police and hotel security guards providing basic protections, on top of our own detailed planning, and sheer luck, some of us could have been seriously injured or even killed.
All this in the very heart of San Francisco. What happened to the City I had lived in, organized in, and loved for so many decades? The same City that was a cultural hub of the lesbian community, dotted with women’s coffeehouses, bookstores and bars, the City where 5,000 women marched at the head of Lesbian and Gay Pride in 1977, the City that year after year held International Women’s Day protests in Golden Gate Park called Day in the Park for Women’s Rights? The same City, the same location where I had marched along with 30,000 women and male supporters for abortion rights during the March for Women’s Lives in the 1980’s and joined with Holly Near and Judy Fjell who led feminist songs from the stage? The same City where I had founded a lesbian feminist organization, Lesbian Uprising, that lasted into the 1990’s, and worked in coalition with Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and others? The same City where hundreds of thousands of folks on the Left, when “Left” meant something, marched together up Market Street to the Civic Center to protest imperialist war, whether in Vietnam, Nicaragua, or Iraq?
And what happened to that Left? For all the faults or contradictions of our male comrades, once the Second Wave had kicked in for a few years, blatant misogyny was no longer fashionable among either men or women in this milieu, until now. Virtually everyone who was a progressive, socialist, anti-war activist and/or involved in organized labor understood that the struggle for women’s rights/women’s liberation, was on OUR side/the workers’ side of the picket-line. The Labor movement helped fund women’s rights protests just so they would have an opportunity to express their solidarity with the feminist movement. They considered it an honor.
Not so for the TRAs in the U.S. and elsewhere. Nor for much of the current labor movement for that matter, which in Canada opposes parents who don’t want their (mostly female, mostly lesbian) teenagers sterilized and mutilated. Feminists. along with parents having legitimate concerns of child safety, have somehow, in the minds of the TRAS, metamorphosized into the “enemy.”
The TRAs’ delusions thus go far beyond thinking men can be women, some women have penises, and men can be lesbians. They also are deluded into thinking that they are being “progressive,” even revolutionary, by gathering a group of men together, yelling obscenities at women and threatening them with violence for peacefully protesting or attending a conference together. And worse, they think that women rallying for women’s rights as a sex (always the subject of feminism from the time of the First Wave) and talking about the rights of lesbians as a sexual orientation, are “fascists.”
This is the most dangerous of delusions, as the truth is just the opposite. In every place that fascism has come to power, it has restored the rule of the father, and destroyed feminism. Feminist organizations were dissolved during the period between the two world wars in fascist Italy, Germany, Spain, and Portugal and their members forced into hiding or exile. European Feminisms in the Face of Fascisms | EHNE In Nazi Germany, “[w]omen experienced the rapid erosion of their rights in every sphere…Women were told to give up their jobs for men…Independent women were ruthlessly attacked and driven out of the public domain. Many feminists were jailed and some paid with their lives.” Feminism-under-Fascism
So please, boys, open up your history books before hurling epithets whose meaning you know nothing about. I’m not sure what you were taught in school besides pronouns, but better late than never.
The next time you are tempted to call a group of independent minded feminists who refuse to defer to you, “fascists” a little soul searching first would be in order. Threatening women in an attempt to silence us is not progressive.