The third-wave fight: TERFs vs trans women

A battle has been brewing across the ages – a fight of feminist ideology! A brawl between the likes of Sheila Jeffreys, Janice Raymond & Mary Daly against Laverne Cox, Janet Mock & Sylvia Rae Rivera. A battle – of TERF vs trans woman.

For those not in the know with the latest queer lingo, a TERF is a Trans Exterminationist Radical Feminist. A lot of people seem to think the term refers to Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists – but TERFs themselves changed this definition because it made them seem “too mean”. Of course, nothing is really too mean when you are trying to “morally mandate trans people out of existence”, but I digress. TERFs have been a part of western feminism and western feminist discourse for approximately 50 years now, and their attitudes haven’t really changed much over the years. They first sprung up in the second-wave, when feminists started making real headway into claiming legal rights to become more empowered in society.

At the time, there were large groups of lesbian feminists who really started to mobilize and campaign on rights of sex and sexuality. Some of these feminists advocated platforms of “political lesbianism” – that is, that sexuality is a choice, and advocates that women identify as lesbians instead of heterosexuals. This group of feminists eventually split off from other radical feminists in 1973, after they refused to allow a performance by a transsexual [an old term for someone who is transgender – considered antiquated and offensive by many] woman. This group of feminists believed that because trans women had chosen to be women, that they were incapable of understanding what being a woman is really like.

This, of course, is utter hogwash. Trans women don’t “choose” to be female, because to “choose” otherwise results in mental illness, self-harm and potentially suicide. 42% of trans women have attempted suicide, with over 60%+ of trans women currently alive having attempted suicide at least once. Sheila Jeffreys, one of these so-called feminists, believes that transness is akin to blackface performers in the 1920’s. This was then slammed by Indigenous trans people, among other trans women of colour. A lot of trans women also experience heightened levels of assault, rape & murder as a result of being trans. Trans women have a 8.75% chance of being murdered, and a 33.33% chance of being raped – but when you are a trans woman of colour has a 12.25% murder rate and a 50% chance of being raped.

But it isn’t always so bad – despite what the statistics say. Trans women can have some really good experiences in queer and women’s spaces – but these are often few and far between. TERFs tend to sink their claws into queer & women’s spaces [especially those who advocate “political lesbianism”] and rip them to shreds for any trans women who want to get involved. Cathy Brennan [or Transgender Political Enemy #1] is another woman who launches constant attacks on the queer community. Following in the footsteps of her ideological mother, Janice Raymond, Cathy & Elizabeth Hungerford [another transphobic lawyer] wrote a letter to the U.N. that basically said “trans women shouldn’t use bathrooms because they are men”.

Bathroom bill rhetoric has been something that has been constantly used to attack trans women – by assuming that trans women are men, TERFs argue that bathrooms should be sex-segregated between “penis-bearers” [apparently all men] and “vagina-bearers” [apparently all women]. I feel that it is important to note that making trans women and cis men use the same bathroom is even more dangerous to trans women. The argument against trans women, you know, using women’s bathrooms, is that they are uncontrollable creatures who rape all cis women they see. Personally, I don’t do that, and neither do any trans women – there is not a single report of trans women attacking cis women in bathrooms. Alternatively, cis women like Cathy & Elizabeth attack and demean trans women – they have even written articles about me and outed me online.

TERFs fight trans women because they perceive us to be male, but trans women are female – a woman’s body is a female body. The idea that trans women are going to assault cis women in bathrooms, or that we are “subverting and destroying feminism from the inside” is ridiculous & insipid – besides completely ignoring the work that trans feminists like Laverne Cox & Janet Mock have done. Unfortunately, this creed of transphobia is unlikely to die out anytime soon – and so the war wages on. Trans women are constantly gaining ground, however, and will soon be able to claim victory and assert ourselves on history’s page.

This article was published in the Pelican, Edition 6, Volume 85 – “War/Peace”. The Pelican is the publication of the UWA Student Guild.