From the Washington Post “Pop Culture” section (i.e., not Opinion, but not exactly News either):
By Anne Branigin
July 6, 2022 at 4:25 p.m. EDT
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision last month to overturn the fundamental right to an abortion, many celebrities have spoken out about what they see as a loss of reproductive rights and bodily autonomy.
Then came Bette Midler.
The entertainer, in a tweet posted Monday, wrote that women around the world “are being stripped of our rights over our bodies, our lives and even of our name!”
“They don’t call us ‘women’ anymore; they call us ‘birthing people’ or ‘menstruators,’ and even ‘people with vaginas’! Don’t let them erase you! Every human on earth owes you!” she added.
The same day, an interview between media personality Piers Morgan and singer Macy Gray aired in which Morgan brought up the controversy over trans athletes competing in women’s sports.
“I will say this, and everyone’s going to hate me, but as a woman, just because you go change your [body] parts, [it] doesn’t make you a woman. Sorry,” Gray said.
Macy Gray is a 1990s black singer. Her music reminds me of Sly and the Family Stone, which is rather high praise. (By the way, and this is getting totally off track, but it strikes me that Sly Stone was the black Brian Wilson: a popular music genius whom drugs lifted into the stratosphere for a few years and then cast down.)
Both entertainers were trending on social media this week as transgender advocates and allies called out what they saw as transphobic remarks. …
Some on social media referred to the celebrities as “TERFs,” an acronym for “trans-exclusionary radical feminists” — and drew comparisons to author J.K. Rowling, who has come under criticism from trans advocates in the past. (On Tuesday, Rowling seemed to support Gray’s comments, tweeting, “Today feels like a good day to ensure I’ve bought Macy Gray’s entire back catalogue.”)
There are a lot of subjects upon which I would not defer to the judgment of J.K. Rowling, Bette Midler, or Macy Gray. But not on the question of: What and who is a woman?
Midler and Gray, who have long been seen as allies to the LGBTQ community, responded to the criticisms Tuesday. In a tweet, Midler said her statement was in response to a “fascinating and well written” opinion piece that ran in the New York Times over the weekend, which argued that “women” was becoming a forbidden word, edged out by gender-neutral terms such as “pregnant people.”
“There was no intention of anything exclusionary or transphobic in what I said; it wasn’t about that,” Midler wrote.
In a statement shared with The Washington Post, Gray said: “I have nothing but love for the LGBTQ+ and transgender community and have been a supporter since day one. My statement on Piers Morgan was grossly misunderstood. I don’t hate anyone. I respect everyone’s right to feel comfortable in their bodies and live their own truth.”
In other words, the ex-men are the Seal Team Six of cancel culture and they are backed by a vast army of not very bright females who Don’t Get the Joke, so please don’t cancel us.
Many trans advocates and allies saw in Midler and Gray’s comments the kind of talking points typically associated with anti-trans feminists, who are also known as “gender critical” feminists.
These anti-trans feminists have recently found common ground — and increasing visibility and power — with conservative evangelical Christians, a group that has been largely credited with mobilizing, politically and socially, to curtail abortion and other reproductive rights.
Midler and Gray’s remarks are also coming at a significant time for both trans people and cisgender women, experts note: Both groups are widely seen as the most invested in — and vulnerable to — a recent rollback of reproductive rights and bodily autonomy.
After all, who is more likely to need an abortion than Caitlyn Jenner?
Given the political moment, it’s no wonder the two celebrities touched off a conversation about transphobic language, defining womanhood and more. We asked advocates and experts to contextualize what’s at play.
Who are TERFs?
In the past decade, TERF has become increasingly common as a shorthand way of identifying a person who self-identifies as a feminist but is unwilling to include transgender women and girls in their advocacy — and more frequently, have actively sought to exclude trans women from women’s spaces.
As I mentioned in my 1994 article “Why Lesbians Aren’t Gay,” the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival took a stand in favor of letting lesbians sit in folding camp chairs and listen to the Indigo Girls without being hit on by men in dresses who had declared themselves lesbians.
Is that really too much to ask?
As it turned out, during the Great Awokening, yes, it is too much to ask that lesbians could have their own weekend in rural Michigan without being pestered by ex-men pretending to be lesbians. Lesbians, who’d been pushing around more feminine women for decades, got steamrollered in turn by the ex-men. From Wikipedia:
From 1991, the festival excluded trans women, claiming a “womyn-born womyn” policy, which drew increasing criticism. The festival was picketed by Camp Trans starting in the 1990’s for its exclusionary policy. LGBT advocacy group Equality Michigan boycotted the event in 2014. Michfest drew criticism from the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National LGBTQ Task Force, among others. The festival held its final event in August 2015.
Back to the Washington Post:
They were considered a fringe offshoot of the women’s right movement of the 1970s and are still a relatively small group, according to Heron Greenesmith, a senior research analyst for LGBTQ justice at Political Research Associates, a left-leaning social justice research and strategy organization. In recent years, Greenesmith has been monitoring and studying anti-trans feminists.
What interests Greenesmith about this group is how it adopts feminist principles “while actually undermining bodily autonomy … one of those foundational principles of feminism,” they said.
… The fact that Midler and Gray, who both consider themselves allies of the LGBTQ community, could knowingly or unknowingly spout anti-trans rhetoric is a sign of how much that messaging has proliferated in the mainstream, experts say.
And what does Bathhouse Betty (accompanied by her pianist Barry Manilow) know about men who say they are women compared to EXPERTS? Does Bette Midler have a doctorate in gender studies? Is Barry Manilow a Ph.D. so how could he possibly advise Bette on such questions?
According to Jules Gill-Peterson, an associate professor of history at Johns Hopkins University, Midler’s tweet — and the New York Times opinion piece that inspired it — are rooted in a panic over language. …
In recent years, many U.S. medical and governmental institutions, advocacy groups and media organizations, including The Washington Post, have moved to adopt more gender-neutral language — part of a larger, worldwide trend of making gendered language more inclusive of transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people. The fight over abortion rights has magnified this effort — as well as criticism of it.
While LGBTQ advocates and allies have noted that trans men and nonbinary people also seek abortions — and often encounter systemic barriers and discrimination along the way — these same individuals and organizations have often reiterated the importance of recognizing cis women in these conversations….
Gill-Peterson sees the furor over language such as “birthing people” as a “sort of attempt to drive a wedge” between groups that are actually aligned in their goal of protecting bodily autonomy and self-determination: “Sometimes these language games are actually a way of further delegitimizing everyone involved.”
‘Different ways to be women’
On the other hand, Gray’s comments, which focused on how one cannot change their body parts and be considered a “woman,” appear to tie back to the larger issue of “gender essentialism,” or the idea that the only genders are male and female and are defined by certain physical characteristics, said Greenesmith.
While the urge to define what womanhood is has been around for some time, the question of how one defines a woman has been a recurring fixation among conservatives this year.
“I’m not a biologist.”
Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was asked how she would define a woman during her confirmation hearings, for example.
“I’m not a biologist.”
Speaking with Morgan, Gray said: “Being a little girl is a whole epic book, you know? And you can’t have that just because you want to be a woman.”
It’s almost as if women singers who appeal to millions like Macy Gray have a more profound sense of womanhood than autistic ex-men.