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Not on My TERF, a Cautionary Tale About Discrimination

Lisa Marie Gabriel is a poet, composer and multi-genre author who lives and works in Lincolnshire and is not Anne Rice.

Glenda in Flouncy Attire


Not on My TERF

Not on My TERF is a tragi-comic tale about an elderly woman who falls victim to transphobia. At one point I had no idea what a TERF was, although I had seen some people describe themselves in this way in their Twitter profiles. So, what is a TERF? The word means Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist and that kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? A TERF is a radical feminist, usually a woman I would guess, who does not include transwomen as real women. Being a TERF means not accepting things like transwomen using a Ladies’ Bathroom or language that does not appertain just to genetic females, such as “people who menstruate”. I gather it is about reclaiming the word “woman” for women who are genetically female. It is probably politically incorrect of course but many people don’t like being told what they can and cannot say or believe so the consequence has been the mainstreaming of some forms of discrimination. The bathroom issue is one that causes continual controversy. Mature women who might quite happily accept a male lavatory attendant or cleaner (with due warning) will sometimes cringe at the idea of a transwoman using the facility. Two conflicting ideas dominate here:

  1. The transwoman might be in danger using a male bathroom facility.
  2. The transwoman might be a predator, stalking women for some evil purpose.

There is more to it than that, however; in reality, gender recognition is a strangely elusive thing. Quite apart from accidents of mitosis giving rise to XXY, XYY, XXX or YYY, there are hormonal issues that are ruled by heredity too. Judging people by their appearance can lead to all sorts of ill judgements and hurtful comments or behaviour. This story was written to illustrate that very point.

The Title? What does that mean?

The title is a pun really. There is a saying in the UK, “on my turf” which means in my neighbourhood or territory. Poor Glenda appeared to be in the wrong toilet, the Ladies at the bus station, or on the wrong turf in other words. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t actually in the wrong place or that she was not a transexual. It was all about misgendering and aggressive attitude on the part of a genuine victim of serious abuse by a man. The incident was precipitated by hysteria from a TERF, hence “Not on My TERF”.

What is misgendering?

Misgendering is a term often used by people in the trans community to describe treatment from unsympathetic or ignorant individuals who can't accept their new gender identity. I believe that misgendering is actually far more prevalent in society than that. It is born out of a refusal to accept what is not considered the "norm" of male or female identity. It is not as simple as saying a person is not male or female just because they think they are; rather it is a question of saying a person is not male or female because I don't think they look right.

She reached the stop just as the bus pulled up and, slightly flushed and out of breath because of her near run in high heels, Glenda mounted the step unsteadily. She fumbled in her crocheted coin purse for the fare. Then she looked up and realised the driver was staring savagely at her. His lip curled up in a sneer for some reason best known to himself.

“Return to the bus station,” she managed in muted tones.

“Four pounds twenty, sir,” he demanded and virtually threw the ticket at her.

Her mouth opened wide in shock. She looked down, ashamed for a moment, and hesitated before moving towards a seat. Despite it being the nearest available, she was nearly thrown to the ground by the driver’s haste to get the bus going and turn the sharp corner at speed.

It was hurtful. Misgendering often caused her embarrassment and it was at its worst when she took such pains to put feminine clothes on. Her plain trousers and t-shirts never seemed to garner this strangely aggressive reaction. She flopped sadly into the aisle seat and the elderly woman occupying the window seat edged defensively into the side of the bus. What on earth was wrong with them?

We follow Glenda in her shopping trip and experience the range of emotions and experiences in her day as a happy shopping trip, minus her husband, turns into a disaster.

Is Misgendering a Hate Crime?

The characters - Glenda

Glenda is an elderly woman with a large and well-muscled build. For that reason, she is frequently misgendered. She also has the misfortune of having excess facial hair. This is something many elderly women experience as oestrogen levels drop in menopause and it is also a problem for younger women who suffer from PCOS, a condition in which the ovaries produce excess testosterone. So poor Glenda has two strikes against her before she even starts, and despite her XX genetic make-up, she appears masculine. In her everyday life, simply because they are more comfortable, she often wears floppy clothes, pants, t-shirts and sweaters. In this guise she becomes virtually invisible to those who do not know her. She has learned to accept the mild irritation of being called “Sir” but on her day out, she dresses in a flouncy Gothic dress and suddenly the misgendering takes a much more sinister tone.

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She loved her collection of Gothic clothes because they were soft, billowy and feminine in a timeless way and were all cut very generously in that one-size fits nobody fashion. Well, what is a girl supposed to do if she has broad shoulders, long arms and big boobs?

Glenda - a Woman Mistaken for a Man...


Characters - Robert

Glenda’s husband, Robert, is a little self-absorbed. As an elderly gentleman with prostate trouble he does not enjoy shopping expeditions, but he is generally kind and supportive to his wife, he is totally devastated by what happens to her.

She was a natural girl, not a glamour puss; she was too big to be one anyway. Built like a horse she shrugged and heaved a little sigh. It would have to do. Now, about her chin… An urgent knock shook the door.

“Have you finished in there?” Robert asked anxiously. His prostate was more than usually trouble-some and she was taking too much time for comfort.

“Just a minute, just putting my makeup away,” she mumbled, forgetting all about the unwanted facial hair.

Her husband bustled in through the door uninvited, fumbling with the zipper on his trousers as he rushed to the toilet.

Characters - Susan

Susan is a victim of serious domestic abuse. She takes her children with her into a refuge when her life is endangered. We learn about the abuse she has suffered and the effects on her children. It is a difficult situation for her, especially as her son has been affected by the domestic violence and finds it hard to cope with the move.

Her husband had always impressed ideals of manliness and male privilege on the boy. Now Darren was out of the picture permanently, Susan found she was faced with a disobedient and angry child who threw constant and violent tantrums. Will could see no need for them leaving home and staying in a cramped refuge full of silly, frightened women. Sadly, for all concerned, he had really bought in to the toxic idea that his father was perfectly correct in expecting constant obedience from his mother. If he knocked her about a bit, so what? He was a man. That was the way of things. Men were in charge.

It is in that challenging context that she learns from a friend about a story involving a serial killer who dresses up as a woman to choose and stalk victims to kill. That is a situation bound to cause both trouble and distress.

“Oh Susan, hopefully you got out in time. God, I hate men!”

“All of them? Surely not!”

“I have never met a good one yet, not one I could really trust, and believe me I have tried,” Maureen chuckled, and Susan smiled back at her shyly.

“I never had anyone other than Darren. It was a fairy tale romance,” she answered, shaking her head in disbelief.

“You know what really pisses me off, Susan? It is how they take over everywhere, how they try to invade our safe spaces. Even here.”

“What do you mean?”

“Men. We had one try to get in here last week. A transexual, would you believe? It claimed to be a victim of domestic abuse of course. We refused. Transwomen, my arse, it is just a game they play so we have nowhere to go. Most of them don’t even like women. They undermine everything.”

“Why would they do that?”

“I’ve been reading this book by Robert Galbraith. It’s about a serial killer who pretends to be a woman so he can stalk his victims.”

Characters - The Teenagers

The teenagers are just kids looking for thrills, but when alcohol loosens all their inhibitions, they are all too willing to behave violently when presented with an opportunity. So, the scene is set…

Michelle bounced up and down in excitement, skipped backwards without any thought of looking where she was going and nearly knocked a passer-by off her feet.

“Excuse me, dear, can’t you please watch where you’re going?”

The elderly woman looked alarmed and was slightly winded from bumping into the clumsy girl.

“Shut up, you fat old slag!” Michelle retorted as the woman tottered away towards Boots.

“Silly old fart,” Emma shouted after her. “You need to watch where you’re going too.”

“Look at the way she’s wobbling about in those stupid heels,” Sharon giggled.

“She’s probably pissed up,” Michelle shouted at her.

“Just had a little too much gin in the morning I expect, Shaz,” Emma said quietly. Then she blushed a little, thinking of her own mother’s alcohol problem.

The girls roared with laughter as Michelle tottered about on the pavement, mocking the old woman’s gait. The crone stopped, turned around and flipped the bird at Michelle, then hurried away again. The trio all stopped laughing for a moment, grinned at one another and shook their heads in momentary disbelief.

“She gave us the finger!” They shrieked and giggled.

Not on My TERF is available here

What do we learn from Glenda's Fate

I resonate with this story for a reason. As a child, I was a competitive swimmer and quite tall for my age. The net result of the training and competition was to emphasise a narrow hipped and broad-shouldered figure that is perceived to be “male” in the public imagination. Like Glenda, I have been called “Sir” when wearing a dress. I have also had women give me angry and suspicious looks when I was minding my own business in public toilets.

Fortunately, I have never been attacked but I live in a very quiet region of rural England, not a big city full of angry people. This whole thing resonated with me as a biological female who has also been deliberately misgendered on occasion. I think we live in a very dangerous world where people, women in particular, are judged almost entirely on their appearance. I sympathise with anyone who is the victim of transphobia or homophobia and I think it is about time we all learned compassion and consideration over judgment. As in this story, men are not the only ones who can be dangerous and violent. Violence is not gender specific. I invite you to read this.

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