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What Dr. Seuss Can Teach Us About TERFs vs. Trans

October 25, 2013

With the dust-up over articles in Bustle earlier this week (1, 2, 3), which discussed the strains between transgender women and transgender-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), my Twitter feed seems a lot angrier these days (and rightfully so). I’m not trying to tell anyone else what to do, but I figured that I’d add my voice in my own way: think of the Sneetches

“The Sneetches” is a story from the 1961 Dr. Seuss anthology, The Sneetches and Other Stories. The sneetches are creatures, divided into two groups: the star-bellied sneetches and the plain-bellied sneetches. The star-bellied sneetches didn’t want to associate with the plain-bellied sneetches, excluding them from their activities. Eventually, the plain-bellied sneetches figure out a way to become star-bellied sneetches (which, in turn, drives the star-bellied sneetches to remove their stars as a way to know who the real original star-bellied sneetches are). The groups go back and forth, adding and removing stars until it’s no longer possible to tell who is who. In the end, the sneetches come to realize that they’re all real sneetches, and their efforts to remain separate from one another were wastes of time and energy.

How does this relate to the tension between trans women and TERFs? Both groups are made up of people, of women. Like the star-bellied sneetches, generally, TERFs don’t want much to do with trans women, claiming that we’re not real women. In response, trans women shout back, which leads to the TERFs shouting back even louder. Back and forth, spending energy, but for what? So much effort is put into what could be a simple issue, where no one feels oppressed by the other.

I believe it’s possible for this to work out, for us all to fit under the word “women,” for us all to find peace with one another. I hope the two groups come to the conclusion that we’re more similar than we are different, and that the word “woman” is big enough to hold all of us.

“The Sneetches”
by Dr. Seuss

Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches
Had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches
Had none upon thars.

Those stars weren’t so big.  They were really so small
You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.

But, because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches
Would brag, “We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the Beaches.”
With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they’d snort
“We’ll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!”
And whenever they met some, when they were out walking,
They’d hike right on past them without even talking.

Then ONE day, it seems… while the Plain-Belly Sneetches
Were moping and doping alone on the beaches,
Just sitting there wishing their bellies had stars…
A stranger zipped up in the strangest of cars!

“My friends,” he announced in a voice clear and keen,
“My name is Sylvester McMonkey McBean.
And I’ve heard of your troubles.  I’ve heard you’re unhappy.
But I can fix that.  I’m the Fix-it-Up Chappie.
I’ve come here to help you.  I have what you need.
And my prices are low.  And I work at great speed.
And my work is one hundred percent guaranteed!”

Then, quickly Sylvester McMonkey McBean
Put together a very peculiar machine.
And he said, “You want stars like a Star-Belly Sneetch… ?
My friends, you can have them for three dollars each!”

“Just pay me your money and hop right aboard!”
So they clambered inside.  Then the big machine roared
And it klonked.  And it bonked.  And it jerked.  And it berked.
And it bopped them about. But the thing really worked!
When the Plain-Belly Sneetches popped out, they had stars!
They actually did.  They had stars upon thars!

Then they yelled at the ones who had stars at the start,
“We’re exactly like you! You can’t tell us apart.
We’re all just the same, now, you snooty old smarties!
And now we can go to your frankfurter parties.”

“Good grief!” groaned the ones who had stars at the first.
“We’re still the best Sneetches and they are the worst.
But, now, how in the world will we know,” they all frowned,
“If which kind is what, or the other way round?”

Then up came McBean with a very sly wink
And he said, “Things are not quite as bad as you think.
So you don’t know who’s who. That is perfectly true.
But come with me, friends.  Do you know what I’ll do?
I’ll make you, again, the best Sneetches on the beaches
And all it will cost you is ten dollars eaches.”

“Belly stars are no longer in style,” said McBean.
“What you need is a trip through my Star-Off Machine.
This wondrous contraption will take off your stars
So you won’t look like Sneetches who have them on thars.”
And that handy machine
Working very precisely
Removed all the stars from their tummies quite nicely.

Then, with snoots in the air, they paraded about
And they opened their beaks and they let out a shout,
“We know who is who! Now there isn’t a doubt.
The best kind of Sneetches are Sneetches without!”

Then, of course, those with stars got frightfully mad.
To be wearing a star now was frightfully bad.
Then, of course, old Sylvester McMonkey McBean
Invited them into his Star-Off Machine.

Then, of course from THEN on, as you probably guess,
Things really got into a horrible mess.

All the rest of that day, on those wild screaming beaches,
The Fix-it-Up Chappie kept fixing up Sneetches.
Off again!  On again!
In again! Out again!
Through the machines they raced round and about again,
Changing their stars every minute or two.
They kept paying money.  They kept running through
Until neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew
Whether this one was that one… or that one was this one
Or which one was what one… of what one was who.

Then, when every last cent
Of their money was spent,
The Fix-it-Up Chappie packed up
And he went.

And he laughed as he drove
In his car up the beach,
“They never will learn.
No. You can’t teach a Sneetch!”

But McBean was quite wrong.  I’m quite happy to say
That the Sneetches got really quite smart on that day,
The day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches
And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.
That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars
And whether they had one, or not, upon thars.

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One Response to “What Dr. Seuss Can Teach Us About TERFs vs. Trans”

  1. Juli-Ann Says:

    That was a perfect analogy to use.,


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