Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism: What Exactly Is It, And Why Does It Hurt?


By Kelsie Brynn Jones

TERFSTrans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism, or TERF, is a loosely-organized collective with a message of hate and exclusion against transgender women in particular, and transgender people as a whole. They have attached themselves to radical feminism as a means to attempt to deny trans women basic access to health care, women’s groups, restroom facilities, and anywhere that may be considered women’s space.

Long time feminist and advocate, Gloria Steinem, used to hold an exclusionary opinion, but has since said that she fully supports the inclusion of trans women in the feminist movement, However, not all radical feminists agree. Janice Raymond, author of The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male authored a paper in the early 1980s that the Health and Human Services branch of the U.S. Government used to deny trans men and women trans-related medical care, for example.

Since then, they have continued to use anti-transgender rhetoric, using the banner of feminism in the same way that Westboro Baptist Church uses Christianity. They consistently use rhetoric suggesting that trans women are would-be rapists, that we are “men invading women’s spaces” — (Cathy Brennan, head of Gender Identity Watch) and are “forcing penises on lesbians” — (Justin Norwood, Gender Identity Watch), intimating that “penis” is a threat, with the assumption that trans women are nothing more than whatever genitals they may have been born with. The statistics, however, consistently show disproportional sexual aggression against transgender women, and to a lesser degree transgender men, when compared with the cisgender (simply a term meaning those who’s gender identity matches their assigned sex at birth) population.

When speaking out against the TERF movement, one is at risk of being “outed” on social media. In one instance, the group Gender Identity Watch worked with the right-wing anti-gay group, Pacific Justice Institute, to help prevent a Colorado teen from being able to use the women’s restroom. The leader, Cathy Brennan, outed the teen, who was already being bullied, and she was subsequently put on suicide watch. Their actions often incite others to denigrate or discriminate a minority — which is the definition of a hate group.

The verbiage often used by the TERF groups are problematic for the transgender community. Not because of the way in which they deliberately seek to dehumanize and denigrate trans women, but because of the reliance of tropes that medical science have for many years proven wrong, that feed into misunderstandings people may have regarding what being transgender truly means. In their words. a transgender woman is a nothing but a “self loathing gay man” and they claim that trans women are gay men who, rather than stand up and come out as gay, would rather “hide” by being transgender, as if it makes things more palatable for friends, family and co-workers. The reverse is unfortunately the truth.

We are often portrayed as fetishists by hate groups such as Gender Identity Watch — the “Man in a Dress” trope is widely applied to us, and that transgender men are still women. TERFs hold the belief that if someone is born with a penis, they are male for life, and a vagina, female for life. The quandary to those who believe the misinformation spread by the TERF movement is that if someone was born with a functional vagina and clitoromegaly, for example, and the doctors decided to assign the baby as a male because they believed that the child would have a better normalization experience (the term that the medical profession use for butchering infants genitals that don’t match Cathy Brennan’s narrow definitions) — then is that child a male, or a female? Nature has many variations of physical gender that occur naturally, in fauna and flora. Quite simply then, logic dictates that Cathy Brennan’s definition of gender does not stand up to basic real-world scrutiny.

As a transgender woman, I can assure the readers that I have not met one trans person who would deliberately choose to stand out among their peers to be singled out for abuse, assault, for rape, or to be murdered in the horrific way that transgender women are being killed around the world. In the U.S., when a cisgender woman is murdered, the violence against the murdered woman is eclipsed by the way that trans women are more often than not mutilated, dismembered, or set on fire in an orgy of hate. Being transgender is not a choice, it is a scientific medical reality. It would be far easier for someone who is gay than transgender. Simply put, gay people generally look the same as everyone else. This does not mean that our brothers and sisters within the LGBT do not have their own struggles, many of which are part of the shared experience within the LGBT. However while we have many commonalities and shared goals, there are significant differences, such as access to healthcare and a significantly higher murder rate.

Another tactic of the TERF movement is using the widely discredited trope that being transgender is a mental health issue. It’s true that because of societies reaction towards transgender people, particularly trans women and trans women of color, many trans people suffer from depression and bodily dysphoria. However, this is not the cause of someone being transgender, but the symptom of abuse that those such as the TERF groups like to perpetrate against them daily. No one is mentally ill for being transgender — medical science has already proven this, and transgender is no longer listed in the DSM-V as a result, but this does not stop the TERFs from claiming that something must be “wrong” with a transgender person for “mutilating” themselves through surgery, according to Cathy Brennan.

Whenever a trans individual such as myself is critical of TERF ideology, we are labelled “misogynists” or “Men’s Rights Activists”, which is an interesting tactic and one that seems to actually make people question the TERF ethos more than swing the undecided towards their viewpoint. Merely by taking a stand against them, I and others like myself have been subjected to threats against our personal safety, been bombarded with spam, pornography, and signed up to various mailing lists in an attempt to silence our voices. Yet many transgender individuals are brave enough to continue pointing out where TERFs are wrong, in the hope that, at least for the transgender community, we can be treated as the men and women we truly are.

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally written by Kelsie Brynn Jones on 08-02-14 for the Huffington Post and is republished here with her gracious permission.

Follow Kelsie on Twitter @kelsiedarko

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  1. This actually should be easy to cut down every time they raise their heads. 😉
    1. AIS: There are a LOT of women running around that the TERFs would embrace – who are genetically male, and are NOT TS. They just don’t respond to androgens, meaning: they were born and declared “female,” raised female, think female, act female, and in all visible ways, ARE female – but they have Y-chromosomes.
    Are they then not women?
    2. What of the intersexed? Are they male, female, neither, or both? And if “both,” how can TERFs deny their womanhood? If “neither,” why?
    3. If the transgendered are NOT female (or male; meaning, contra-genetic sexual markers, or gender identity as opposite sex would identify; sorry if that’s unclear): Well, then they are refuting established science, which is that transgendered individuals more closely match the brain structures of their identified target sex (using sex instead of gender in an attempt to be clear. Might work…)

    Probably the best solution for such people is to refute them when possible, and engage (FIGHT) only if necessary and as a last resort. Educate others, they’ll eventually go the way of the dinosaurs. (If you have to help that trend for self-defense, it’s OK from my POV. Just don’t start it…)

    I wonder: Do they have the same issue with Lesbians? After all, wouldn’t lesbians be just as “predatory” as those “transsexual rapists” they fantasize about – save that lesbians can’t be identified by a simple chromosome test, whereas Transgendered could potentially be found out…

    As an aside: Sane, normal, decent people tend to be able to discuss things. They can deal with opposing views, even put bluntly. But Radical goes in, Anywhere? They lose their mind at the slightest provocation (and TERFs have been captured on video doing such.)
    Maybe we can’t apply the rules of sane and rational discourse when dealing with psychopaths? I think we should apply this across the board. (E.G., Dem or Rep –> Terminate with extreme prejudice. TERF or Westboro –> Terminate with extreme prejudice. Etc. ) [I use Dem and Rep as two sides of the same coin: They both want power and wealth at your expense, and only present the illusion of choice. But I’m probably “radical” that way…]
    enemies who cannot co-exist, are enemies – and will respect no peace, nor will they leave you alone. So you need to be ready to raise the black flag (Jolly Roger), and deal with the problem on its own terms… And then revert to being a civilized human, and hope that aspect of you is never needed again. 🙂

    Thoughts? Please message or email me!

    • 1) TERFs consider those with any kind of androgen insensitivity disorder to be men.

      2) They consider the intersex to be intersex. And a part of patriarchy that they’d conform to any gender binary. They do not consider trans to be an intersex condition.

      They don’t have the same issues with lesbians. They believe transwomen are men with male entitlement, male aggression, and male thinking. They cite examples like Zoey Tur threatening Ben Shapiro as examples of this intact masculinity and male socialization.

      I’m just telling you what they believe. Don’t shoot the messenger.

  2. Use of the word “whore” will not be tolerated. We are supposed to represent ourselves in a better fashion than our detractors. I edited it out and will trash any similar posts. We need to conduct ourselves even when our opposition doesn’t.

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