Sapphic social app HER chose to celebrate Lesbian Visibility Day with a message designed to make sure “that all lesbians are seen, celebrated, and embraced”—specifically by telling TERFS and transphobes to get off their app.
This message was presented to users and fans of the app in three ways. A lengthy, articulate, and historically grounded manifesto on the HER blog about reclaiming the word lesbian from TERFS, a TikTok from the company’s CEO extolling exactly how unacceptable transphobia is in both the lesbian community at large and on the HER app in particular, and finally in a push notification telling transphobes to delete the app. “A Message for Transphobes: Time to delete HER,” it reads. “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
A second push notification came out the day after for those who didn’t get the message the first time: “Day 2 of ‘GTFO Transphobes: keep our name out of your mouth.’”
Though it’s usually referred to as a lesbian dating app, HER also serves bisexual women, asexuals, and other trans and non-binary people. Not just a dating app but a whole social network, HER was created to provide “queer women and gender diverse people“—specifically FLINTA (women/frauen, lesbians, intersex, non-binary, trans, ace)—with a space where they can “unapologetically be themselves and build meaningful connections”.
In the words of founder Robyn Exton:
“I created HER because I wanted a dating app made for queer people, by queer people. From day one, our mission has been to establish a secure, inclusive, and intersectional haven where queer women, nonbinary and trans folks can flourish.”
The harassment trans women and non-binary people face just for existing on lesbian dating apps and in other wlw (women loving women) social spaces obviously runs counter to the trans-positive ethos that’s been behind HER from the very beginning. As Exton told Pink News:
“HER has always been a platform that is for trans women, for non-binary people and anyone who identifies as a woman. So it’s kind of absurd that we’re now getting this like vitriol coming back, saying that we’re a lesbian app that is now ‘promoting’ inclusion of trans women. It has always been since day one.”
This explicitly pro-trans environment has singled HER and its users out for harassment by so-called “gender critical feminists” since day one. It’s likely the reason why, of all the lesbian and wlw dating sites out there, disgraced former comedy writer turned full-time transphobe Graham Lineham chose HER for his 2021 stunt, where he posed as a trans woman in order to “expose” (read: harass) actual lesbian trans women using the app as intended. Though Lineham was caught and tossed off the app relatively quickly, he still managed to screenshot several trans women’s profiles first, sharing them on his Twitter account to expose them to harassment and mockery in the name of “saving lesbians” from “predatory men.” The irony of this was lost on Linehan and his fellow bigots, despite being visible from space for anyone who hasn’t given in to the transphobic brainrot.
The lie that they’re just “protecting lesbians” and the bizarre narrative that cis lesbians are being forced into relationships with trans women in the name of political correctness (which, to be clear, is absolutely not happening), has been part of the gender crit playbook for some time now. It’s an attempt to recruit cis lesbians, robbing trans people of a group who should be their natural allies, while making their hate movement sound more reasonable to well-meaning cis people who do actually support LGBT+ rights. (“We don’t hate trans people, we just want to protect women and children” is a common and completely bad-faith rallying cry.)
This false narrative ignores the fact that the vast majority (96%!) of lesbians actually support trans women, recognize their womanhood, and welcome them into both women’s and lesbian spaces as people who have a natural right to be there. However, ignoring the things that actual lesbians are saying until it becomes convenient—often taking them out of context in the process—is another classic gender crit move, as can be seen in the frankly unhinged Twitter response to the HER CEO’s Tiktok.
Hordes of “gender criticals”, including a lot of straight cisgender men playing ally, have come out to scold HER and its founder for being “homophobic” and allegedly losing sight of their core audience. The fact that HER’s founder is literally just reiterating what has always been the company’s policy in increasingly blunt terms has apparently been lost on them.
But then their inability to notice that the things they’re saying map on almost exactly to the openly homophobic and misogynistic responses from people who don’t pretend to care about lesbians, or women as a whole, also seems to be going over their heads. Either that or they just don’t care, because those commenters are just saying the quiet part out loud for them.
All of this “criticism” is a big part of the point being made by Exton and her team in the blog post that accompanied the TikTok video and push notifications. Emphasizing that there would be no gay liberation or LGBTQ+ rights movement with trans people, specifically trans women, and the work that they’ve done on our behalf since Stonewall and before, Exton went on to lay out exactly how this divide and conquer TERF campaign is a danger to the entire LGBTQ+ community. Our survival depends on every community within the acronym standing together against bigotry, even when that bigotry doesn’t affect us personally. The handful of transphobic lesbians who’ve sided with our oppressors can’t be allowed to co-opt the lesbian identity or speak over the rest of the community who don’t want to be used as a tool to harm their trans siblings.
But lesbians are not being erased by trans people. And nobody with any common sense or love in their heart believes them when TERFs cry wolf. In fact tearing down the community rather than building up its intersections is the single greatest risk to the lesbian identity right now.
HER is drawing a line in the sand. TERFs and other transphobes can get out—from the app and the lesbian community as a whole. They’re taking back lesbian from the bigots who co-opted it to try and divide the community, and invite the rest of that community to do it with them.
By working together to reclaim lesbians and uplifting the voices and experiences of trans and gender non-conforming lesbians, we can and will remove the transphobic connotation that the word has held and turn it into something empowering.
(featured image: Delmaine Donson/Getty Images)
Have a tip we should know? [emailprotected]