The Rise of Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist Groups (TERFs)
Tue, April 20, 2021

The Rise of Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist Groups (TERFs)

Last month, hundreds of protesters gathered outside a branch of the Toronto Public Library. This was after the Canadian library refused to cancel an event hosting a feminist with controversial views on transgender rights, Meghan Murphy / Photo by: Michael Stephens via Wikimedia Commons

 

Last month, hundreds of protesters gathered outside a branch of the Toronto Public Library. This was after the Canadian library refused to cancel an event hosting a feminist with controversial views on transgender rights, Meghan Murphy.

Murphy, a Canadian writer and founder of Feminist Current, a radical feminist website and podcast, believes that the transgender activist movement is "regressive and sexist" and ignores women and girls. She expressed her disagreement on the bill that amended Canada's rights act to prohibit discrimination based on gender expression and identity, emphasizing that the safety of women in places like changing rooms should be ensured. 

"Under current trans activist doctrine we're not allowed to exclude a man from a woman's space if he says that he's female and I find that quite dangerous and troubling," Murphy said. 

The Danger of Being Trans

In an era where trans people are being denied of their rights, ridiculed, harmed, and even killed, such views like Murphy’s can endanger their lives more. Recent Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) research conducted by the Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide (TvT) team showed that 331 trans and gender diverse people have been killed this year. Forbes, a global media company focusing on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, and lifestyle, reported that since the project started 11 years ago, they have recorded 3314 deaths. 

The majority of the deaths occurred in Brazil with a total of 130, followed by Mexico, which had 63, and the US, with 30. The report, which is released every year to mark the Transgender Day of Remembrance, shows stories with gruesome details of the homicides, hangings, and even lynchings of trans and gender diverse people across the world.

“Stigma and discrimination against trans and gender-diverse people are real and profound around the world,” the authors said. 

The trans community has been fighting for their rights for a long time now with the help of the feminist movement. After all, feminism aims for equality for all genders. However, even feminists themselves are worsening the stigma against the trans community.

In an era where trans people are being denied of their rights, ridiculed, harmed, and even killed, such views like Murphy’s can endanger their lives more / Photo by: Ted Eytan via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Anti-Trans Agenda

Feminism has many forms, from eco-feminism, intersectional feminism to radical feminism and more. All of these, while they each have unique goals to forward, aim for one thing: gender equality. However, recently, the term TERFs or “trans-exclusionary radical feminist” have made the rounds across different social media platforms. 

These feminists spread the idea that “trans women are a threat because they are men, attempting to gain access to women’s spaces such as bathrooms and trick lesbians into having sex with them” under the guise of protecting women. While the online roots of this term originated only in the late 2000s, TERF grew out of the 1970s radical feminist circles. This is after the movement realized that there should be a term to separate radical feminists who support trans women and those who don’t. A lot of anti-trans feminists prefer to call themselves “gender critical,” which is just the same as white supremacists calling themselves “race realists.” 

According to Discover Society, an online site published by Social Research Publications, a not-for-profit collaboration between sociology and social policy academics and publishers, the main problem is generally attributed to radical feminism’s long history and radical feminists themselves. These are a huge population of feminists who were not yet born in or old enough to comprehend the early years of the ‘second wave’ of women’s liberation, which is a critical phase when the ideological fractures in feminism took root.

The knowledge gap has resulted in two major implications. First, the anti-trans ideology materialized, founded by real, embodied, complex lived experiences of doing women’s liberation. Second, most radical feminists believe that trans-positive feminists have not comprehended herstory, history viewed from a female or specifically feminist perspective since they ‘weren’t there’ when the relevant ideologies took shape. 

Feminism has many forms, from eco-feminism, intersectional feminism to radical feminism and more. All of these, while they each have unique goals to forward, aim for one thing: gender equality / Photo by: StockSnap via Needpix

 

The anti-trans agenda has resulted in more stigma within the feminist circle. For instance, radical feminist Janice Raymond, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, wrote the book “Transsexual Empire: The Making of the Shemale” in 1979 which argues that “transsexualism” should be “morally mandating it out of existence” mainly by restricting access to transition care. Over the next two decades, the dispute between trans people and anti-trans feminists worsened. 

Now, TERFs have found a new space online that has resulted in growing cultural backlash against the trans community. According to Vox, an American news and opinion website owned by Vox Media, some extremist “feminists” have decided that trans rights have gone too far. Heron Greenesmith, who studies modern gender-critical movement as a senior research associate with the social justice think tank Political Research Associates, explained that the influence of the broader UK skeptical movement and historical imperialism is the reason behind the growing toxic gender-critical feminism.

“Anti-trans feminists think they have science on their side. It is bananas how ascientific their rhetoric is, and yet literally they say, ‘Biology isn’t bigotry.’ In fact, biology has been used as bigotry as long as biology has been a thing,” Greenesmith said. 

These self-proclaimed feminists have learned to harass and mock trans people and their allies on various social media platforms, posing a great danger to the trans community. This debate among the feminist circle shows that a lot of feminists have a massive intersectionality problem. Until they learn that feminism should work for all, the ongoing harassment and oppression against the trans community will continue.