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Trans Pride, Brighton, 2018. Photo by author.

After more than fifteen years of tireless campaigning and awareness-raising, the British trans rights movement was disappointed in the summer of 2020 to hear the UK Government reject plans for a significant reform of the Gender Recognition Act (2004), which gives trans people limited rights to change their legal gender. They were even more dismayed to hear government ministers justify the decision by referencing the arguments put forward by so-called ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists’.

But what is this controversial brand of feminism, and how did it become so influential in the United Kingdom?

The label ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist’ (TERF) is given to feminists who are opposed to the inclusion of trans people within feminist discourse and spaces, and usually to trans rights in a broader sense. The acronym was coined by an Australian intersectional feminist blogger in 2008,¹ although some exclusionary feminists themselves believe the term to be a slur and prefer alternatives like ‘gender-critical feminists’.² …


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Left: Donald Trump at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference. From Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Right: Rudollah Khomeini in Neauphle-le-Château. From Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Critics of Donald Trump have been scrambling for the last four years to find appropriate historical comparisons that help us make sense of the sheer awfulness, the cataclysmic incompetence, the undisguised racism, and the antidemocratic impulses of the 45th President.

From other terrible US Presidents like Warren G. Harding and James Buchanan, to nationalist strongmen like Benito Mussolini and Vladimir Putin, to Adolf Hitler himself, exhausted commentators have plumbed the depths of available comparisons.¹ Nothing seems to capture the essence of this deplorable, buffoonish man.

However, there is another, less obvious comparison that may help us understand at least one aspect of Trumpism. Given his blowhard denunciations of ‘radical Islam,’ Trump would likely detest any suggestion of political kinship between himself and the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini. …


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The Battle of Poltava (1709) by Pierre Denis-Martin. Public domain, from Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marten%27s_Poltava.jpg.

2021 marks the tricentenary of the collapse of the Swedish Empire, one of the most unusual and unpredictable empires to romp across early-modern Europe. And yet, despite having had all of three centuries to mull it over, historians are still puzzled by Sweden's 'Age of Greatness'.

When it gained independence from Denmark in 1523, the Swedish nation covered a sparsely populated and resource-poor area stretching from the Baltic sea into the Arctic Circle; hardly the foundations on which to build a mighty empire.¹ Over the next two centuries, however, Swedish territory grew at an exponential rate. Much of what is now Estonia and Latvia, the region of Ingria (in which St Petersburg now stands), and a significant portion of both Norway and northern Germany ultimately came under the rule of the Swedish Empire. Colonies were also briefly maintained on the Gold Coast in western Africa,² the Delaware River in America,³ and even, in later years, the Caribbean.⁴ …


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An image shared by Trump on Twitter, 20 August 2020. Posted with the text ‘I promise not to do this to Greenland!’

In August 2019, Donald Trump captured global attention by making an offer for the United States to buy Greenland from Denmark.¹ The Danish and Greenlandic governments both dismissed the idea as absurd, pouring icy water on Trump’s media storm. Vague and short-lived, Trump’s ‘Greenland thing’ seemed a microcosm of the scatter-gun approach that he brought to policy-making — silly, weird, unprecedented, pointless, transient.

In reality, however, it represents one of the most historically significant episodes in the Trump administration’s hectic single term. As climate change continues to transform the Arctic, revealing untapped natural resources and opening up new sea lanes, America’s long-standing interest in acquiring Greenland is set to increase exponentially, even though the inhabitants of the island are currently on the path to full independence. …


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The Transgender Pride Flag flies on the Foreign Office building in London on Transgender Day of Remembrance, 20 November 2017. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Transgender_Pride_Flag_(37827573944).jpg.

Since the passage of same-sex marriage into law in 2013, proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) 2004 have been at the forefront of the British LGBT+ rights movement. The Act provides a very limited process by which trans people can, through the approval of a panel of medical experts and bureaucrats, attain legal recognition for their gender identity in the form of a Gender Recognition Certificate and an altered birth certificate. …


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Hideki Tojo, prime minister of Japan from 1941 to 1944, takes the stand at the Tokyo Tribunals. Public domain, from the US National Archives.

America has been here before. While the attempted insurrection at the Capitol building on 6 January 2021 was shocking in its display of pure, untempered rage, the United States has dealt with more than its fair share of violent fascists and insurrectionists over the centuries. The American Civil War is the most obvious example, but there are other, more recent cases that provide important lessons for post-Trump America.

American occupation forces governed part of West Germany and all of Japan after the defeat of the Axis Powers in the Second World War. In Japan, the occupation government under General MacArthur was given almost unlimited power to remake Japan in a new, democratic fashion. …


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Scientology is for an able guy like you or like me … The insane and so forth, somebody else can have them. They’ve already failed.
- L. Ron Hubbard, 1966.¹

The Church of Scientology is obsessed with the concept of 'ability'. In his only public interview to date, David Miscavige, the current leader of the movement, said that the singular goal of Scientology is to ‘help the able become more able,’² and the Church claims to do just that by proselytising the psycho-therapeutic 'technology' invented by its founder, L. Ron Hubbard.

Casual observers of Scientology might notice the near-total absence of disabled parishioners or disability-inclusive messages in its promotional material. Most religions take pride in exhibiting the mental and physical diversity of their members, but not Scientology. The ideal parishioner is physically mobile, extroverted, and neurotypical. Hubbard wanted to create ‘a civilization without insanity,’³ which in his mind included mental disabilities, so traits like autism, dyslexia, and Down’s Syndrome are highly undesirable to a Scientology public relations officer. …


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The women of the Gateways club in Chelsea, London, early 1950s.

In 1533, during the reign of Henry VIII, an Act of Parliament prohibited ‘the abominable vice of buggery’. This was the first piece of legislation in England specifically relating to what would later be called ‘homosexuality,’ but it was limited to activity between men. Even after a renewed wave of legislation in the nineteenth century defined homosexual acts under the broader term ‘gross indecency,’ intimacy between women was never explicitly covered by the law’s proscriptions.¹

The apparent inconsistency in the state’s approach to regulating sex prompted a few attempts in the 1920s and 1930s to criminalise lesbian liaisons as well. In 1921 the Conservative MP Frederick Macquisten proposed to expand the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 to prohibit ‘gross indecency between female persons,’ believing that the ‘falling away of feminine morality was to a large extent the cause of the destruction of the early Grecian civilisation, and still more the cause of the downfall of the Roman Empire.’² …


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Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

Growing up, I was always led to believe by teachers and fellow pupils alike that my intelligence was well below average. My grades seemed to back this up. I could barely read or write up to the age of 14, and mathematics and science were completely beyond my comprehension. By all accounts, I was a lost cause.

Every hour of every school day I was reminded by other students that I was a ‘retard’. They spat at me, thew stones, beat me up, and tormented me because I couldn’t conform to the mental, social, and behavioural standards that they were raised to regard as ‘normal’. Even when I suddenly began to outperform them in my favourite subjects, it was not enough. …


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The 1990s through to the early 2000s was a frantic time in the development of portable media devices, from CD and cassette players to phones, MP3 players, and video game consoles. Movies, however, were relatively late to the party, limited by large file sizes and the bulkiness of laptops and portable DVD players at the time.

Various attempts were made to bring affordable portable video devices to the market, including the VideoNow unit that played kids TV shows in black-and-white. In 2004 Nintendo entered the market in collaboration with 4Kids Entertainment in the form of GBA Video: cartridges that stored episodes from children’s shows and even a few movies for playback on the Game Boy Advance. The quality of the footage wasn’t great, however, with GBA Video playing in 240x160 resolution at a chugging frame rate. …

About

Rebecca Jane Morgan

Historian of modern Britain, popular culture, and queer identities. PhD student, trans activist, and Quaker from South Wales. She/her pronouns.

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