When the entire J.K. Rowling controversy unraveled in June, I came across this new term TERF. This was something that I wasn't familiar with, so I began reading about it. Turns out that TERF, or terf is an acronym for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. The term was coined by Viv Smythe in 2008 and has now become a part of people’s everyday vocabulary. TERF is used to define the people who refuse to consider trans-women as a part of their feminist narrative. No wonder then that internet instantly linked the term to Rowling, who stirred a huge row after she went on a transphobic rant on Twitter.
Transgender people And Feminism: A Brief History
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the second wave of feminism was at its peak, feminists (especially early radical feminists) began to distance themselves and the name of the movement from issues pertaining to trans people. These feminists, most notably Janice Raymond and Sheila Jeffreys, believed that transgender people and transsexuals upheld and reinforced sexist gender roles and the gender binary. Although it’s worth mentioning that not all early radical feminists opposed trans acceptance. Andrea Dworkin was one such name who viewed surgery as a right for transgender people.
With the forthcoming of the third wave of feminism, there emerged a wider acceptance of transgender rights. There were philosophers such as Judith Butler and Kimberlé Crenshaw who argued for the inclusion of race and queer theory within feminism. Butler in particular questioned gender itself and declared it as a performance. And as this theory gained popularity, so did the idea of inclusion of trans people, whose existence within the feminist movement would promote that sort of questioning. The fourth wave feminists or the modern-day feminists are more trans-inclusive than their previous counterparts. Although there are still feminists who argue that trans women cannot fully be women because they were assigned male at birth and have therefore experienced some degree of male privilege.
Is TERF An Insult? Why Are TERF Views Considered Transphobic?
People who are called a TERF often claim that the word is a slur. “Accusations of TERFery have been sufficient to intimidate many people, institutions and organisations I once admired, who’re cowering before the tactics of the playground. ‘They’ll call us transphobic!’ ‘They’ll say I hate trans people!’”, Rowling wrote sometime back. Two things need to be noted here. Firstly, TERF is a word used to describe a prejudice. And calling someone out on their prejudice is often insulting, at least to the people holding those views. Secondly, according to LGBTQ advocates, those who hold such views do deny transgender people their full humanity. In addition to calling for the exclusion of transgender women from women's spaces, TERFs have also historically advocated against access to gender-affirming care for transgender people. What they say even goes against what the medical community has now accepted as scientific facts around gender and sex.
The fact is that there neither exists a universal experience of womanhood nor is there any essential feminine principle. Homophobia, transphobia, and sexism are all fundamentally connected. Trans women face that same misogyny with an extra helping of transphobia. Just like third-world-feminists from South Asian countries face the same misogyny with extra helpings of caste/racism. They are part of the same structure and logic of oppression. And these structures affect everyone. Hence, there’s no winning this fight if each of us fights alone. It is only by showing inclusivity and the spirit of sisterhood that we stand a chance against beating patriarchy, once and for all.
Dyuti Gupta is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.