I agree with Caroline Criado-Perez, 'cis' is not a neutral term merely meaning "not-trans". Bound up in trans discourse with something called 'cis-privilege', Caroline is right to ask what this "privilege" means in practice for non-trans women. The privilege of being accepted as a woman means taking all the crap women deal with. She notes that some kind of rarefied gender identity is not core to her personal identity as a feeling, thinking human being, but we live in a society where her body emits signs that constitute her as a woman in the eyes of other women and men, and all that that entails. Likewise, me being 'a man' is not central to my sense of self either. Other things are. Yet the difference between Caroline and I is the fact my wiry, gawky frame has been coded male since birth and I am accepted as a man in all of my daily interactions. The fact gender identity doesn't impinge on my personal identity is a consequence of gender privilege, of being a member of the dominant gender. Caroline's contributions on the debate are especially useful because she places the materiality of the lived, social body at the centre of her approach to the relationship between feminism and transpolitics. It's a reminder that gender is not a free-roaming PoMo signifier that slips and slides all over the place.
Yet it's not transwomen who need reminding about the materiality of gender. As Juliet Jacques notes, transitioning and living as a woman is difficult precisely because of the weight hanging on gender. Harassment, violence, discrimination, the struggle to access medical services, these are the risks undertaken when changing gender. It is a fraught, stressful experience. Committing to the change takes guts.
Ultimately, it's this materiality that is the root of the so-called TERF wars. For radical feminists who have a problem with transwomen, allowing them to access women-only feminist spaces risks the dilution of bringing out cis women's experience of gendered oppression. It might make some women who've suffered at the hands of male violence feel uncomfortable. There is also the notion that transwomen are acting as agents of patriarchal social relations. For example, the hegemonic femininity radical feminism kicks against is an object the ideology of passing works towards. Radical feminism contests it. Transitioning valorises it. Far from contesting gender, transwomen confirm it and thereby strengthen the patriarchy. For transwomen, for a section of feminism to join in with all the avalanche of crap, to have ostensibly progressive people question their right to exist - and worse - is intolerable. Hence the violence of online exchanges, of the prevalence of 'TERF scum' as an insult, and its escalation into encompassing mainstream feminists, like Caroline, and Sarah Ditum, who do ask serious questions about gender.
The TERF wars are not about bloody-mindedness. It is a product of material experience, of how two sets of women live, theorise and politicise gender. The issues, however, are not insurmountable.