Trans-exclusionary radical feminism
|“||In the 1980s, TERFs successfully brought an end to trans health care access. One TERF operative wrote the government report which led the the revocation of trans medical care under government programs and soon thereafter, private insurers followed suit.||”|
Trans-exclusionary radical feminism (or TERF) is a subgroup of radical feminism characterized by transphobia, especially transmisogyny, and hostility to the third wave of feminism. The phrase and acronym were coined by tigtog in 2008 in order to delineate the parts of radical feminism that she thought were ideologically transphobic.
The term "TERF" is not usually used by those in the group, who consider it a slur, and think of themselves as radical feminists (and, indeed, the only thing that should be called "feminism"). Notwithstanding, some radical feminists, second wave feminists, and lesbian feminists/political lesbians (groups known to contain TERFs) have spoken out against transphobia and transmisogyny within their ranks.
TERFs (and SWERFs) are a tiny subset of feminism, but an unduly influential one: legislators seeking feminist input will often get an academic TERF, who will then get transphobia into law. Their doxxing, trolling, picketing, and generally abusive behaviour has earned them the title of "Westboro Baptist Church of feminism"; because they are to feminism what the WBC is to Christianity. They are, in short, a hate group that by no means represents mainstream feminism.
TERF dog whistles
- Trans Identified Man (TIM): What TERFs call a trans woman.
- Trans Identified Woman (TIW): What TERFs call a trans man.
- Trans Rights Activist (TRA): What TERFs call a trans person (often one who partakes in activism).
- Gender Critical: What TERFs call themselves.
TERFs and gender
|“||doing the patriarchy’s work and calling it feminism: the TERF||”|
Transphobic radfems seem to almost universally reject the concept of cisgender privilege, and even the term "cisgender" itself, as somehow demeaning to "women born women" (another controversial term in LGBTQ+ circles that is usually understood as a transphobic shibboleth). In other words, TERFs go so far as to reject gender being anything other than a synonym for biological organs or chromosomes. Thus (re)defining their own movement as that "of women to liberate women from oppression, and that female biological reality is a defining aspect of women's experience of oppression."
Academic radical feminism is premised upon the idea that gender is entirely a social construct (and further, that it must be destroyed). Some transgender people maintain, on the other hand, that gender is to some extent intrinsic (that is, even though they were raised as one binary gender, they have always identified as the other, and further, they often, but not always, want bodies to match). As frequently happens when ideology runs up against someone else's lived experiences, ideologues respond by trying to hammer the problem flat until it fits with what they already believe. As such, there has been, and continues to be, a rich current of anti-trans bigotry underlying much radical feminist thought on the issue of gender and transgender people in general.
While not all radical feminists would agree, those that critique — "I'm not transphobic, I'm trans critical!" — transgender people's existence maintain (generally contrary to both what trans people themselves have said about their own identities, and the medical consensus on gender dysphoria) that trans women are nothing more than "effeminate men" who have been relegated by the patriarchal gender binary to the status of women (whereas trans men, when they bother to mention them at all, are just women trying to claim 'male privilege' for themselves). Thus they slam transgender people in general for "reifying the gender binary." Considering the transgender population is about 1 in 30,000, accusing the transgender community of reifying nearly any oppressive construct is patently absurd and this is obvious to anyone with the most basic understanding of math and group dynamics. There is no out, however, for transgender people who do not embody the stereotypes of their adopted genders either; lesbian trans women, for example, are dismissed as men who only transitioned in order to infiltrate women's-only spaces.
|transgender woman are in fact men using an artificialy constructed feminine apperance to exert patriarchy from the inside of feminism and believe it or not, to gain access to womans bathrooms in order to rape them.|
Because no logical argument can be made that maintains their beliefs, they instead make memes. All of this is highly ironic, since by doing all this they are objectifying women's bodies and saying men are not to blame for their actions because "instincts". Never mind the actual numbers, of course, which show that trans women are one of the groups most likely to be abused and raped.
Against the third wave
TERFs loathe the third wave of feminism. For a number of reasons, partly their authoritarianism, partly their demographic myopia, and partly because they represent a partial embodiment of every stereotype thrown at feminists over the last century and a half, this particular group of radfems have been roundly rejected by nearly every demographic they claim to represent, including, but not limited to, women of color, sex workers, kinksters, most male allies, and, at long last, most every feminist who's come after them. This is in part due to their inability or unwillingness to understand intersectionality.
They also seem to deeply resent that the third-wavers have taken their best ideas — understanding and fighting patriarchal structures and rape culture, the fight for reproductive rights and women's health care — and carried them forward, while leaving the dogmatism and one-size-fits-all theorizing behind, rendering the majority of them irrelevant.
For sex workers, the reason for rejecting that form of feminism is, in large part, because although many sex workers are exploited (especially in developing countries and anywhere with a strong culture of machismo), not all are, and some even enjoy their work and find the conflation of sex work and slavery to be insulting. Sex educators generally agree and in addition feel that such attitudes deny the agency of people to seek their own pleasure, hiding an underlying puritanism behind concepts like false consciousness.
Back in the 1980s, TERF ideas were at the absolute pinnacle of the tree of ideological soundness and political correctness (early enough that that term was only used approvingly by those supporting it); they can't quite understand how the same ideas — let alone their actions — in the 2010s are considered odious bigotry.
TERFs and conservative Christianity
TERFs have been known to collaborate with the Religious Right. Notable instances include Cathy Brennan's collaboration with the Pacific Justice Institute in order to harass a trans woman via death threats, and generally acting as their mouthpiece; and when Sheila Jeffreys said she aligned with the "radical right" regarding transgender legislation.
Their particular transphobic rhetoric also owes a lot to wingnut homophobia in its structure, showcasing the same homosexuality-as-a-choice; when Jeffreys noticed RadFem2012 was cancelled and labelled a hate group, she said: (emphasis added)
|Criticism of the practice of transgenderism is being censored as a result of a campaign of vilification by transgender activists of anyone who does not accept the new orthodoxy on this issue.|
The bolded part is eerily similar to what the radical right have said about homosexuality; specifically, it resembles a quote about such by neo-Nazi Paul Fromm: gender identity as choice instead of something a person is, as well as a massive persecution complex.
TERFs have advocated reparative therapy for transgender people, e.g. Janice Raymond, in her paper Technology on the Social and Ethical Aspects of Transsexual Surgery:
|Nonsexist counseling is another direction for change that should be explored. The kind of counseling to “pass” successfully as masculine or feminine that now reigns in gender identity clinics only reinforces the problem of transsexualism. It does nothing to develop critical awareness, and makes transsexuals dependent upon medical-technical solutions. What I am advocating is a counseling that explores the social origins of the transsexual problem and the consequences of the medicaltechnical solution.|
Sex worker exclusionary radical feminism
Sex worker exclusionary radical feminism (also known as SWERF) is another tiny sliver of feminism that promotes socially conservative attitudes toward sex and sexuality. The term was coined to match that of TERF, as their memberships overlap. Their ideology also overlaps as both subgroups follow a prescriptive, normative, approach to feminism, i.e., telling women what to do — TERFs with their gender, and SWERFs with their private parts.
There is nothing "radical" about SWERF puritan attitudes toward sex and sexuality — they are positively reactionary. Of course, not having an interest in certain sexual acts or types of sex is fine in most feminisms, and usually part of the third wave. But SWERFs take their perspective a step further. They dictate what sexual acts are OK for others. This attitude causes a dilemma for SWERFs, who promote conservative values toward sex, but nonetheless call themselves radical.
The main objection SWERFs have to sex work appears to be the sexual objectification and violence that occurs toward women in the sex work and pronography industries. But predictably, they go overboard and are abusive towards sex workers who choose their profession freely, as opposed to because of human trafficking. This kind of bullying and oppression is known as whorephobia.
Trans-exclusionary radical feminists argue that trans women are socialized as males, which they use as an excuse to forbid trans women from their women-only spaces, to claim they have "male energy", and so on. Outside of active or direct socialisation, passive or indirect socialisation plays a large role. For example, every cis man knows what the normative gender roles for women are. Such a father can still coerce his assigned female at birth child into normative female gender roles, regardless of what gender his child really is, because he knows how to police gender.
Binarism, cissexism, and dyadism are insidious and rub off on every member of society regardless of their gender and genitals. Furthermore, trans-exclusionary radical feminists arguing that trans women are socialized into "being men" is not only a misunderstanding how socialisation works but abusive: gaslighting, misgendering, and part of the erasure of trans women's voices within feminism. Moreover, attempting to exclude trans women because they have not been "socialized like" cis women, or other assigned female at birth people, is patently absurd and does not provide the conclusion TERFs (claim to) want. This argument inevitably devolves into TERFs arguing that there is some sort of "innate femininity" and gender essentialism.
While it might seem strange that such people would be given mainstream media coverage, it is a common occurrence. Recent examples include, Caroline Criado-Perez[wp] and Sheila Jeffreys[wp] both of whom have been given air- and screen-time by the BBC. The former for her excellent work getting Jane Austen on a British banknote. Nonetheless she has also put forward harmful views, e.g., completely misunderstanding the word "cis", and being actively transmisogynystic. The latter, Jeffreys, has been featured on the feminist show on BBC Radio 4: Woman's hour.
Members of staff at the U.S. House of Representatives, at IP address 22.214.171.124, have made a number of transmisogynistic edits to various trans women's pages on Wikipedia. They vandalised articles by, for example, mis-gendering Laverne Cox on the Orange Is the New Black page, editing the article on "tranny", claiming transphobia is natural, undermining gender identity disorder, and so on. This has caused Wikipedia admins to ban the IP address, which in turn caused the troll to reply, thus revealing their TERF ideology:
|Blocked because I disagreed with the trans-lobby? These days, If I complain about a man using the womyn’s restroom then I’m cosidered transphobic and get called a TERF. This has been happening a lot lately here in the halls of Congerss. If feeling uncomfortable about some creeper coming into the same bathroom as me is considered transphobic, then why is transphobia considered a bad thing? I wouldn’t be surprised if the Admin who banned this IP is trans. If she is a real woman, then she should should be following real Feminists like Julie Bindel, not sellouts to the trans lobby like Anita Sarkeesian. People need to understand that transgenderism is being promoted by the Patriarchy to diminish the experiences of real womyn.|
They also claimed that the Wikipedia article on transphobia[wp] is not neutral (especially make note of the part where emphasis has been added):
|This article is too pro-trans. When I attempted to add an alternative point of view regarding this topic (to achieve WP:BALANCE[wp]) it was reverted right away. The statement was cited with an article by someone notable enough that there is a Wikipedia article about them, so it satisfies WP:N.[wp] It's not like I added anecdotal evidence about these individuals calling me a TERF (which is a slur used by these people towards real women); the statement I added was cited and fully compliant with Wikipedia policies.
I don't see how disagreeing with the concept that transphobia is a negative thing is considered "hate speech". The whole concept of "transphobia" is being promoted to trivialize the experiences of real women (or "womyn-born-womyn" as some people call us).
What is your obsession with the users from this shared IP address? I don't know what part of my statements would make you think that I am a man. There's nothing illegal about editing Wikipedia to promote official business that has been explicitly authourized by the Representative. When you have other Representatives trying to push for laws such as ENDA, or when you have the EU using neocolonialist methods to impose transgenderism on the nation of Georgia through a visa agreement, it's all the more important.
- Trans-exclusionary radical feminism on RationalWiki, where this article was created.
- Name the TERFs
- Bully Bloggers Are Neither Radical Nor Feminist: Transphobia is a form of Feminist Self Loathing, by Rachel Papper
- Outside: An Exodus From Patriarchy on the Backs of Women, by Katherine Cross
- You might be a TERF if... by Cristan Williams
- The TERFs — lots of resources, from a history of transphobia to a list of websites TERFs run
- Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism ideology – one massive logical fail, by Rayne
- A Field Guide to the Common Tactics of Radical Feminists, by zeroambit
- The TERFs
- Trans Exclusionary Radical "Feminists", by Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls
- TERFs specifically act against trans women by, e.g., targeting their employers and doctors. Check out: A Review of Transmisogyny Embodied: Cathy Brennan
- Carnivalia, transgenderism and the gender binary
- An apology and a promise
- TERF: what it means and where it came from
- They notably completely fail to acknowledge XY women with androgen insensitivity syndrome,[wp] people who are born intersex, genderqueer people, or people with various non-XX, non-XY chromosomes (e.g., X0,[wp] XYY,[wp] XXY,[wp] etc.). When pressed on the point, they will deny intersex is an issue, forcing them to choose a gender from the binary.
- TERF: Where the term comes from
- RadFem Speak Out Against TERFs!
- Unpacking Transphobia in Feminism
- See graph here for an idea.
- TERFs & Trans Healthcare gives an account of the legal and medical barriers enacted to stop trans people receiving appropriate care in the USA.
- #GenderWeek: “TERF-war”, online bullying & the dark art of doxing
- TERF Battle: A New Book Reignites the War Between Radical Lesbian Feminists and Trans Women
- TERFs picketing and abusively calling Sarah Brown a "man".
- SWerfs/Terfs, the Westboro Baptist Church of feminism.
- TERFs attempt to sabotage the long standing Glasgow Feminist Network
- The hate group masquerading as feminists
- doing the patriarchy’s work and calling it feminism: the TERF
- You may call me a TERF but I am not transphobic... No, we will call you a TERF exactly because you are transphobic!
- This, of course, excludes people who identify as being outside the gender binary, e.g., genderqueer, but includes people who identify as being transsexual.
- Janice Raymond, The Transsexual Empire: the Making of the She-Male, 1979, ISBN 0807762725
- "Germaine Greer Paints a Portrait of Transphobic Feminism," Feministe, 2009 August 22, Germaine Greer Paints a Portrait of Transphobic Feminism, by Cara
- Gender benders beware, Julie Bindel, The Guardian, 2004 January 30
- Trans criticism is not transphobia... oh, wait, no! It bloody is!
- Cathy Brennan defends herself as 7K call her out for hate speech
- Examples: Memes that imply a trans woman is dangerous to cis women, that trans women are lying to the world or to themselves.
- Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey
- Reports from 1998 to the present on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-Affected Hate Violence, NCAVP
- TERF blog: Stop Taking Crazy Pills. They Only Have One Look.
- Such An Easy Mistake To Make, by Barry Deutsch
- "Despite being a Catholic, Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty of Ontario forced even Catholic schools to promote the homosexual agenda in the schools and have Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs, even though the practice of homosexuality violates Catholic teaching. (So much for religious freedom!)" - Paul Fromm
- Technology on the Social and Ethical Aspects of Transsexual Surgery, Janice G. Raymond, 1980
- "Unfortunately, the promotion of “sex change” operations has decreased investigation into prevention and therapy for those suffering from gender dysphoria. For example, in one case a Catholic, married man who had several children wanted to become female. In his therapeutic treatment, he came to understand the origins of his inability identify with his masculinity. In working with a spiritual director, he slowly came to experience God as loving father who could protect him, and to develop a relationship with St. Joseph as a role model of male love." - Richard P. Fitzgibbons, NARTH
- Harlotry: On Arguing With SWERFs (Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists)
- Trans Exclusionary ‘Radical’ Feminists Aren’t That Radical
- Warning: SWERF and TERF BS
- Et tu, Caroline Criado-Perez?, by M. A. Melby
- Sheila Jeffreys on BBC Woman’s Hour (Transcript)
- 'Orange is the New Black' fight sparks new House Wikipedia ban, by Julian Hattem
- Anti-trans trolling spree forces Wikipedia to ban U.S. House staffers for third time
- Orange Is the New Black: Difference between revisions
- Transphobia: Difference between revisions
- Gender identity disorder: Difference between revisions
- Their full contributions can be seen here.
- Transphobia talk page on Wikipedia