Abigail Shrier Goes to Washington to Fantasize About Sex Crimes with Children

It's time to call out TERF and transphobes' unchecked sexual violence.

Imagine a room in which sit five United States senators, three House representatives, and a score of other aides and journalists. There is only one trans person here, a young girl, sixteen years old. This young girl speaks bravely to the assembled committee, telling them that it is nothing less than “the honor of my lifetime to be here,” all alone, representing countless thousands of other kids like her.

This young girl tells the committee a little about her life, her interests in high school, extra curriculars, and politics. She tells them about an organization she started that aims to give young trans people like her a platform for speaking about what they know, what they experience, and what they want. She closes by saying this to the assembled committee:

“you’ve just spent some time with me. You’ve learned about my dreams. My values. My dedication to hard work, to respecting others, even those who don’t believe I should have the same rights as all young people.”

Then steps a much older woman up to the microphone. She is not trans. She is not an expert on trans issues. She is an author, or a journalist to be exact, who wrote a book whose cover cuts a literal hole out of the stomach of a young, angelic white girl. This, according to the book’s author, is a fair metaphor for how trans youth are dangerous to “females,” a curious way to perform surgery on the category of women and girls.

This woman, Abigail Shrier, who has no credentials other than having written this book, changes something in the atmosphere of the room. She never speaks of trans youth, or trans girls like the sixteen year old who spoke before her. She instead launches immediate into a dramatic and dire story using the term “biological males” over and over.

Here are the scenarios she asks the commitee to imagine:

·      “if your daughter or granddaughter was the top high school tennis player in her state, and then five biological boys suddenly decided, at the age of 17, to identify as female—should she drop overnight to number 6?”

·      “If a woman in your state commits a crime, should she be put in a correctional facility with biological males, some of whom are sex offenders? Some of whom may have only begun identifying as female weeks earlier? ALL of whom could easily overpower her.” 

·      “If a preschool has a policy that only female teachers may accompany little girls to the bathroom, and your daughter’s male teacher suddenly identifies as female, ought that teacher have a legal entitlement to accompany her?” 

·      “Should a female abuse survivor at a domestic violence shelter be forced to sleep and undress next to a biological male?” 

Abigail Shrier has come to Washington to imagine out loud heinous sex crimes involving children. The strange thing is, these crimes are entirely her fantasy: no such outbreak of crimes are occurring and, worse, they are a denial of a real set of crimes that do happen, not committed by trans girls like the one who spoke before Shrier, but to them. In fact, Abigail Shrier is helping commit these crimes to the extent that she denies it and claims to be doing the opposite: saving females.

I have a simple question for Abigail: why must you fantasize about sexual harm to children? And why do you groom other adults to do the same? The obvious and horrifying qualities of your public fantasies about children’s bodies, sex, and criminality, deserve accountability. 

I am singling out Abigail because she is paying her mortgage by peddling moral panics about trans kids, but also directly advancing their abuse. Flanked on both sides by terfs and MAGA neofascists, she is already known for her affiliation with white supremacy (the cover of her book shows us how much she sees it as her great mission to maintain the sexual reproductivity of white girls over and above any of their hopes, dreams, or assertions). She is also part of a growing rank of anti-trans women who openly lie in saying that gender protections under the law are somehow based in “biological sex,” as if that were what Ruth Bader Ginsburg had in mind (Shrier would no doubt be saddened to learn that Ginsburg’s legal architecture relied substantially on Pauli Murray, a Black trans person). In reality the phrase “biological sex” did not exist in US law until 2016, when North Carolina introduced its notoriously transphobic bathroom bill, HB2.

Those critiques of misinformation are important, but to them we must add another. I have had enough of people like Shrier peddling child abuse and covering it up by accusing trans people of the very same.

It’s time to own up to what you say and do, Abigail.

Let’s talk about projection.

It’s not a very complex concept, we’ve seen plenty of discussion of it in politics over the past five years. For Freud, who first developed the term over a century ago, projection is a defense mechanism. It involves the ego splitting off an idea, thought, or set of feelings that cause it substantial distress and imagining that it in fact belongs to and originates in another person instead. As Joseph Sandler puts it, glossing the psychoanalytic view: projection is part of “the tendency to search for an outside cause rather than an inside one” (2). Freud saw projection as central to paranoia, jealousy, and phobias.

The psychoanalyst Melanie Klein paid attention to the potentially disturbing uses of projection, where false accusations can be a way of justifying something otherwise repugnant or shameful by claiming it is the other person who is doing or saying it. Sandler summarizes this Kleinian understanding of the concept this way: “the process whereby the ego expelled (projected) its own sadistic impulses into the external world” (4, emphasis added).

I have said before that I rarely find it useful to psychologize TERFs, as it takes them rather too seriously to wonder about their motives when their actions are so blatant. In the case of trans youth, the unholy alliance of neo fascists, white supremacists, Evangelicals, MAGA partisans, and respectable white women like Shrier supporting anti-trans legislation at the state level and opposing the Equality Act makes her motives generally irrelevant. These people are all, in the outcome, playing out the fantasy that they might eradicate all trans people by preventing their growth out of childhood. The rest of their rhetoric is a deflection from that point.

Yet I am outraged at the pass these public figures, who also make money from their crusade against children, are given to brazenly employ violent, abusive and sexualizing language about young children and not get called out for it. In fact, in true form to projection, they instead accuse trans people of the very thing that they are explicitly doing. I wake up nearly every morning to rambling scrawls in my inbox or replies online from trolls accusing me of “grooming,” “child abuse,” “psychosis,” “psychopathy,” and “pedophilia.” 

This practice is downright disgusting and I’m done being called these things by people who are trying to deny how much they are troubled by their own prurient and violent ideas and feelings about young children. It is they who need to account for their fantasies, not me, who has never advocated for anything sexual or controlling about children, but simply dares to imagine a world where young people are not the property of abusive adults.

The imperiled girls and women Shrier fantasizes about in her Senate testimony, in this way, are cover for her own sadism. Her hypothetical scenarios are a form of fantasy, a sexual fantasy about young children that she passes off as innocent. But as we have long known from feminist critiques of 1980s and 1990s anti-porn and anti-sex feminists, the very medium of the prosecution of sexual violence, the salacious description and moral panic, is itself the vehicle of such sexualizing danger. 

If Shrier had her way, young girls like the one who testified before her at the Senate would be legally forced into the exact scenario she describes: to be left alone with boys, forced into intimate and highly charged spaces like restrooms and locker rooms where sexual violence and harassment could very easily happen.

So how is it that Shrier gets to fantasize about one sex crime that doesn’t happen, in order to ensure that real sex crimes do happen to trans youth?

The sexualization of girls and women is an effective mode of transphobia because it can substitute the sexual for gender and thereby convert being a trans feminine person into an a priori state of aggression, criminality, and predation. People like Shrier can get away with this because our vernacular distinction between gender and sexuality—one that is actually derived from sexology, though rarely attributed—is haunted by its own incapacity to describe reality. The line between what is gender identity and what is sexuality doesn’t function as easily as “gender is in my brain, sexuality is in my pants.” The sexological discourse that birthed the distinction just as often mixes them, especially if you look historically, where gay, lesbian, and trans people were all labeled as sex offenders per se for a very long time. Because of this pathologizing, criminalizing, and torturous legacy, TERFs can simply ignore trans people’s genders and use sexually harassing language like “biological males” to treat them as sexual objects rather than gendered people.

Weaponized in this way, sexualizing trans girls and women’s gender becomes nothing less than sadism. The sexualization of trans girls allows their real vulnerability to coercion and violence to be converted into a fantasy of danger for the person who is doing that violence, so that the white woman savior like Shrier can justify striking first to satisfy her fantasy.

I know how dangerous sexualizing children can be in the hands of moral panic crusaders because it happened to me. Almost nothing sickens me more than watching TERFs and extremist bigots accuse trans people of child abuse for, if you check your notes, quite literally nothing. When I tweeted recently that I thought trans children should be allowed to see doctors and access healthcare without parental consent, I was not conjuring any sexual scenario, or an abusive scenario, if by abuse we mean controlling and forcing children to do things against their wishes. I was imagining the literal opposite: freedom and bodily autonomy. Qualities that help young people protect themselves from abuse and advocate for themselves if adults prey on them.

I went to a high school where there was no recognition or protection of trans kids, the way Shrier wants it. When a boy in my homeroom began sexual harassing and, quickly, escalated to sexual abuse and assault, not a single adult in the school did anything for five years. They watched this go on in plain sight, right before their eyes, but saw nothing because to them a trans feminine person could not be sexually assaulted. It was just business as usual.

I have spent countless nights crying myself to sleep, wondering how if I had been recognized and seen as a girl, things might have turned out differently. That is, apparently, so difficult a thought for TERFs to bear that they would prefer to subject women like me to more sexualizing violence, over and over, to satisfy their fantasies about women, children, and violence.

There are no “biological males” except in your head, Abigail. In reality, there are young children and women made vulnerable by misogyny, a culture of masculinist violence, and transphobia. And behind your fantasy that they could do a hypothetical woman harm is the real abuse that you want to ensure only gets worse, until it becomes impossible for trans people to survive.

It’s shameful and cowardly to hide behind women’s rights to endanger trans women and children.

I invite you to join me in standing against the extreme sexual harassment, pedophilic fantasies, and torturous sadism of TERF and anti-trans rhetoric peddled by people like Shrier, backed up by an army of internet trolls and well-funded cultural tastemakers getting rich off pretending they are humiliated and canceled.

Why have trans-affirming activists and public figures not called these people out for what they are: fantasy child abusers? Fantasy pedophiles? And fantasy sadists? 

Enough is enough.