Trans feminism and the Toronto murders

A murderer drove a van down the street in Toronto. The van killed ten people and injured fifteen. Just before, it appears there was a post on the suspect’s facebook page, praising a murderer who had carried out a mass shooting in Isla Vista, saying the Incel rebellion has already begun. We will overthrow all the Chads and the Stacys. It appears he identified as an “involuntary celibate”, whom I wrote of before.

Men on 4Chan and elsewhere identify as incels, unable to find a partner, creating ridiculous misogynist fantasies about why, and praising murderers like that Isla Vista murderer. Emer O’Toole in the Guardian Opinion section gave a feminist response. The Toronto murderer appears to have been motivated by hatred of women, out of a feeling of entitlement to sex. O’Toole reasonably calls this “violent misogyny”. She complains that others use mental health or childhood trauma to explain away such murders, and so it is necessary for feminists to keep feminist analysis central to the conversation.

Well, the Guardian reported that facebook post in its News section. The NYT used a male journalist to explain what an “incel” is. O’Toole argues that we should not name the Isla Vista murderer, because that gives him the fame he craves, but the NYT article uses a bizarre photo of him in a car so that his face is in sunlight and the background in shade, as if he had a halo.  Who are incels? Incels are misogynists who are deeply suspicious and disparaging of women, whom they blame for denying them their right to sexual intercourse… at their most extreme, incels have advocated rape. With O’Toole, I would mark them down for the photograph, but I would give them a pass mark overall. The takeaway from the article is that misogyny is the likely cause for the murder. The NYT also did an article on how the police officer who arrested the suspect de-escalated the situation, where an American police officer may just have shot him. Their main Opinion piece talked of how Toronto is so peaceful, generally, and how the murderer’s motives are not yet determined, but it was published on 24 April.

The Telegraph, though often offensively right-wing, began its article The Toronto van attack suspect praised [Isla Vista murderer] and referenced a misogynistic online community of angry celibate men in a facebook message. Then it speculated on his mental health- “a social or mental disability”. He was a “loner” said someone who knew him. These are the kinds of things such people always say, and are always quoted. He was a murderer. The feminist point is that he is at one end of a spectrum of violent misogyny, egged on by men who might be too weak to be so violent, even though they were chaotic enough to desire to be.

The link to misogyny is clear, here. Should Emer O’Toole be satisfied? No. For her, the murders are the extreme edge of the Patriarchy, different from cat-calling, slut-shaming and everyday sexism in degree but not in kind. So the Telegraph article, with those commonplaces about the murderer being a “loner”, would not get a pass mark: it makes him a freak, rather than one end of a spectrum.

I see the feminist anger, I see the justification for it, I am on side. I started writing wanting to give an answer, but I am left with a question: what do you think the trans feminist’s response should be? Please comment. Possibly he did have mental health problems, but ascribing the murders to that might be seen by gender critical feminists as evidence we were on the side of Patriarchy, rather than against it. In a cis woman, that would be evidence she needed her consciousness raised; in a trans woman it might be another reason to reject us. So, I can hardly answer, I cannot work out an answer separate from how people might see me. Is patriarchy really all-pervasive? Are the women who say, well, he could hardly be entirely sane and balanced, of course mental health and even being a loner is relevant, wrong? If someone thinks patriarchy is all pervasive, do they think me part of it?

Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them, said Margaret Atwood. If not kill, then rape, or strike, or disrespect, or merely see through the distorting lens of patriarchy and act accordingly- always with the threat of escalation even as far as murder if she persists. And my fear of men is different, as I am read as trans- that I will be assaulted or disrespected- or killed- as a weirdo pervert rather than as a sex object.

I feel my position, as a trans feminist contemplating these misogynist murders, is as an ally rather than as one of those affected. As I identify as a woman, it is my fight alongside my sisters’; but not as someone under the same threat. Then I let go of what people will think of me.

6 thoughts on “Trans feminism and the Toronto murders

  1. Trans women can also be afraid of being laughed at, but not because we are men; we’re often not seen as being women. Yes, we have all the concerns that every woman does, and then some.


  2. “Incel”? I’d not heard that one. I was never the most popular guy, but I was popular enough. There were always a few. I would have thought that “incels” would be ashamed to admit publicly their involuntary celibacy. Oh, by the way, the “loner” meme meant to imply possible, even definitive, dangerous psychopathology is extremely unfair to some of us loners. My mathematical genius friend and I share “loner” stories.


  3. I’m curious re the etymology of this (to me) novel word ‘incel’ – it is derived from ‘celibate’, obviously. ‘Incensed at (enforced) celibacy’, perhaps? ‘Involuntary celibate’ doesn’t really cover what’s involved. Deadly anger, indeed, stemming from a basic inability to form any kind of respectful, loving heterosexual relationship, not based on male domination. The violence stems from an acute sense of inferiority, it seems to me, from over-compensating for a sense of inadequacy. I don’t believe there is any contradiction involved between asserting, on the one hand, that the Toronto mass murderer (who was also a soi-disant ‘suicide by cop’, but thanks to the police officer involved, failed to get his way) is a mentally unstable ‘loner’ and, on the other, that he is a violent misogynist. And were his victims all women? No – he couldn’t even get that right – some ‘phallocrat’ he, betraying his own sex! How much, I wonder, is all of this – and all of patriarchy, generally – the fault of the masculine God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam? I doubt there would be any ‘incel warriors’ or ‘revolutionaries’ without Him (capital ‘H’ deliberate). Maybe we should bring back Robert Graves’s ‘White Goddess’!

    As for the cis/trans feminist issue – I feel, as a gay male who got flamed on Twitter by an army of TERFs when he sought to defend trans people, that the matter is one of straightforward, simple principle. The queer community either accepts trans people as equal, or it doesn’t; society as a whole accepts trans people as equal, or it doesn’t. But neither one has ANY right to talk, or boast, about ‘equality’, if it doesn’t. As for the idea that ‘ALL’ men are some sort of threat to ‘women’, as biologically defined by their X chromosomes, I can only say that I find that notion offensive and absurd. Induction, as both Karl Popper, and David Hume before him, demonstrated, does not work. You cannot generalise from the particular. Some men are rapists – it does not follow that all men are!


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