By Rachel Wagner (January 15, 2019)
In one of my groups, there’s a discussion going on about whether or not it’s “exclusionary” to ban TERF and SWERF views (presumed “feminist” views that exclude trans-women and women who engage in sex work). Those “radical feminists” who wish to exclude trans women and sex workers from feminist spaces are upset that they’ve been told their exclusionary views aren’t welcome. And in response, they confuse the rejection of their exclusionary opinions with their being unwelcome as people. That is, they claim they aren’t welcome as human beings when in fact, it’s their exclusive views that aren’t welcome.
We (inclusive folks) defend trans-women and women who engage in sex work in feminist spaces *because* they are people and deserve to be treated respectfully. We exclude those *views* that reject them as people, as women, as feminists. It occurs to me, watching the conversation unfold, that there are some unfortunate parallels with alt-right stuff going on. That is, people with exclusionary views say “Don’t exclude me! I should be included and while I’m here, I will say something exclusionary.”
This is a sleight of hand, and it’s meant to give carte blanche for bigotry. The authentic inclusive approach is about inclusion of humans, about inclusion of trans-women and women who engage in sex work. The bigoted view is about inclusion of nasty exclusionary views but masked as “feminism.” The tip-off is the angry insistence by some women on a cordoned-off space where some people belong and others don’t, and these self-designated women are the gatekeepers. Another tip-off is the presumption by TERF and SWERF supporters that they have the right to define *other* women in terms of singular characteristics: “That one had a penis before” or “that one was paid for sex,” when the women themselves would hardly define themselves or their womanhood that way!
This sidestepping happens in the alt-right too. Those who would spout racist, sexist, misogynist, transphobic, etc. views claim that to leave them out is discriminatory. They say it is their personhood that is being rejected, when that is not true–it’s their hate. They say “if you really want to be inclusive, you will let me act in terrible ways.” They intentionally conflate inclusion of their nasty views with inclusion of humans, which is hardly the same thing. This is much more likely to happen in social media spaces, where we unthinkingly and sometimes fully identify typed opinions with people. For those with ill intent, the trick consists in saying that to include opinions is the same as to include people and therefore an “inclusive” space is one where anything goes. “Freedom of speech” becomes freedom to hate.
This equivocation is one of the biggest wedges between “right” and “left,” and I think awareness about it is worth fighting for. Inclusion isn’t a free-for-all for bigotry. It’s about protecting fundamental human dignity. Spot the ones who aren’t protecting people, but who are protecting opinions instead. Look out for those who would leave others out, who think some people aren’t worth protecting and who prioritize themselves. Real love doesn’t set some humans above others in worth, and those who practice real love don’t put themselves in privileged positions. Watch out for the gatekeepers.