#TERFweek: Debunking TERF Tropes
August 12, 2014
Debunking TERF Essentialism: Part III of the ‘Sexing the Body is Gender’ Series
August 13, 2014

Mom confronts TERF bigotry aimed at her family

By Debi Jackson

Although I have been part of the LGBT community for the last three years since my daughter transitioned from male to female, I still seem to learn something new every day. Take, for example, my recent discovery of a group that some call TERFs, or Trans-Excluding Radical Feminists.

Within the last few weeks, I’ve become a target of hate from some who watched a video of me giving a speech about my daughter’s transition. Most of that hate came from the religious right, which, having been part of that community for much of my life, I completely expected. Around the time I learned about TERFs from the now infamous New Yorker piece, Gender Identity Watch publicly asserted that I am a child abusing homophobe and privileged themselves in diagnosing me as having Munchausen by Proxy (because they’re doctors, you know). After that, I started researching exactly what the TERF movement is all about. According to TERF ideology, my 3-year-old daughter — sexed male at birth — leveraged her male privilege in order to infiltrate women’s spaces. Isn’t it amazing what 3-year-olds can do?

Actually, it is pretty amazing what 3-year-olds can do. They understand the way they relate to their own bodies and since this is the age when self-actualization occurs, children who have already learned to differentiate between genders can positively assert which one they are.

…the concept of gender constancy develops in the growing child. This refers to the ability of a child to concretely differentiate between the genders, frequently occurring by age 2 years, at which time the first expressions of gender identity are commonly made. …as gender development progresses in children, an acceptance and personal expression of a gender identity occurs. Traditionally, this has been called the core gender identity. Evidence suggests that this expression usually takes place by age 2-3 years. – Medscape

We tried to “correct” her identification for months

TERFs will have problems with this for a few reasons. First, they say genitals are the sole determining factor for a person’s gender identification. See, they don’t differentiate between sex attributes and gender identification in the way that psychiatric and medical associations do. You see, when it comes to gender identity, TERFs are the experts (not the actual experts). Second, they will say that it’s only ever environmental influences that shapes gender identity, or that parents influence a child’s behavior and “make” a child transgender by teaching him or her to be the opposite gender. Third, they’ll say gender doesn’t really exist at all, and that we all only think it does because our misogynistic culture has taught us that we have different  gender identities so that women can be oppressed.

A child’s gender development, meaning maturation of gender identity, clearly begins in the intrauterine stage. MRI studies in human and animal models reveal that the corpus callosum, amygdala, cerebellum, and portions of the preoptic area of the hypothalamus are larger in brains exposed to intrauterine testosterone. Corresponding parts of the brain are smaller in female, or testosterone-deprived, fetuses. Indeed, in the absence of testosterone, the fetus continues its progression in the female state.

The gender identity of a fetus, and later of an infant, is still incomplete by definition. Until a self-conceptualization of such an identity can take place, it remains in flux. At the same time, current research indicates that, because of the expected hormonal exposure secondary to genetic sex, all newborns probably have a certain gender bias toward a particular gender identity. Predicting this based on external anatomy or on other factors is not completely accurate because no specific means exist to verify the presupposition.

Rudimentary gender identity at birth, although incomplete, is an important determinant in gender development. The dimorphism of the brain itself suggests a strong biologic underpinning to eventual gender development in the vast majority of individuals. – Medscape

In layman’s terms [Oops! Sorry TERFs if that seems sexist!] In laypeople’s terms, all babies start out as female, but hormones are sent to the gonads early in development which can change female sex attributes to male sex attributes. Later in the development process, hormones are sent to the brain.

However, any discussion of a biological influence on gender identity formation won’t matter to TERFs because they know – in an absolute sense – that for all people, gender identity is only ever an environmental construct, so a trans child must have been groomed into being the opposite gender. I will use my daughter as an example of how this is patently wrong. My husband and I had two children, both assigned male at birth. I was ecstatic. I wanted sons. I didn’t want a daughter and everyone who knew me (including the sonogram technician who I asked to double-check that the blip she said was a penis wasn’t actually the umbilical cord trying to trick us) was very aware of that.


Calm down, TERFs! I didn’t want sons because I’m so oppressed by the patriarchy that I realized only boys would fare well in this world. I wanted them because I am very aware that many people don’t raise their boys to be good men, and I’m afraid of what girls and women in today’s society face from those bad men. In quite a feminist frame of mind, I wanted to raise boys who would grow up to treat women with respect and work towards a more equitable future for everyone.

We had what we thought were two sons. They were raised in a boy-centric household. My husband works with athletes every day in a very macho environment. He was quite rough and tumble when playing with our kids and wrestled around with them a lot. Growing up, I was a tomboy and had multiple concussions and broken bones from my rough play, too. I worked in the male-dominant world of professional sports. I didn’t own a single pink item of clothing and rarely wore make-up or painted my nails. Our kids attended a daycare where the boy-girl ratio was about 5:1. All of their toys were from the “boy aisle” at the store. They were being encouraged to be tough and rugged. Their world was a very “testosterone-biased” environment. And yet, at the age the experts say gender identity forms, my daughter told us she is a girl.

In fact, at first we thought that maybe she was simply gay, and since we both have gay best friends, we were perfectly fine with that. We tried to “correct” her identification for months and we didn’t allow her to transition until she became suicidal and talked of jumping out into traffic to kill herself. Aside from my personal experience, I know hundreds of other families with transgender kids who have similar stories. One of my favorites is of a self-described “radical lesbian feminist” couple who adopted a daughter and struggled when “she” told them “she” was really a trans boy. They would have been thrilled to simply have a lesbian daughter and tried to persuade him for almost a decade that he was really a lesbian and was simply confused. But he was insistent, consistent, and persistent in declaring his gender identity.

Strangely, TERFs apparently believe that my daughter still retains male privilege. According to TERF ideology, with her ponytail and pink sparkly dress on, she has more power and privilege than the radical feminist lesbian couple’s trans son does even though he looks like all of the other 20-year-old testosterone-laden men in his college dorm. I honestly don’t have any argument against this belief, because it is so ridiculous that 99.9% of the population can see right through the flawed logic. I don’t need to do the work of debunking it when people can do it for themselves with the application of common sense.

I’m a logical, science-loving woman who loves my cis son and trans daughter equally. I support both of them in exploring and growing into their gender identities, whatever those are. I have no rules or restrictions on their gender expression as long as they are happy and healthy. I will continue to trust the actual medical and psychological experts who affirm my daughter’s gender identity.

Too many transgender kids attempt suicide because of bullying, which is exactly what I consider TERFs to do. Denying how a person feels about him or herself tells the person that you have no regard for them as a human being. Many transgender people describe going through puberty as torture and call their hormones “poison” because of how they feel living with their effects. The humane reaction would be to trust that people can and do know who they are inside without calling them names and denying them the approved medical options.

All I need to do each day to know that the TERF ideology is completely misguided is to look at my daughter and see how confident and at peace she is. I pray the TERF hyperbole will be drowned out by understanding voices. Trans women and girls are true women and girls. Feminists should embrace equal rights for all of them.

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  • Renate Richter

    I so understand the mother – because i have myself gone through this desperation with my girlfriend the same way she did with her daughter.

    Your typical worthless bullies, never stopping unless they’re stopped. And like every cowardly bully revelling in torture and suffering feminists are quick to run and invent a scapegoat term, ‘TERFs’, in order to distance themselves from their policies and acts.

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  • grammaticalgender

    “We had what we thought were two sons. They were raised in a boy-centric household. My husband works with athletes every day in a very macho environment. He was quite rough and tumble when playing with our kids and wrestled around with them a lot. Growing up, I was a tomboy and had multiple concussions and broken bones from my rough play, too. I worked in the male-dominant world of professional sports. I didn’t own a single pink item of clothing and rarely wore make-up or painted my nails. Our kids attended a daycare where the boy-girl ratio was about 5:1. All of their toys were from the “boy aisle” at the store. They were being encouraged to be tough and rugged. Their world was a very “testosterone-biased” environment. ”

    THIS is the problem! You were raising your kids into gender-conforming straightjackets, and when one of them rebelled, by saying he was a girl, you took his word for it. A THREE YEAR OLD. I have a three year old. He doesn’t even use “he” and “she” correctly, and tells me he wishes he had three arms. Should I get him an arm-proshtetic?

    • Oh do please shut up.

    • Lisa Harney

      Or you could stop propping up straw men.

      Seriously, though, do you actually care about Debi’s daughter, or are you simply kneejerking response to the idea of a trans child?

      Many trans people know they’re trans from early childhood. My earliest memory of knowing was at four, but my mother remembers me asserting my gender at three. That assertion has remained consistent for over four decades.

      Also: You can’t base a child’s understanding of themselves on how well they use language. Small children are still learning how to use language.

    • JayBirds

      I have a 3-year-old too, and she is figuring out how to use gendered pronouns because she is figuring out what gender is, as I’m sure your child is too. Like all milestones, children develop at their own pace. I assume you mean your child isn’t using he/she consistently- that is, not applying gendered language the way you would.

      I am interested in this, so I have watched my child start to gender others and respond to how others gender her. We have conversations about her identity- right now she sometimes tells me she is a boy, sometimes a girl, and sometimes just a person. She is figuring out her identity and it is marvelous watching it happen. I am currently using “she/her” because that is what she was assigned at birth. Once she has a stronger sense of how she would like to be seen and referred to, I will respect that.

      The author’s daughter has already gone through this process and knows the she is a girl. Like I said, kids grow at different rates.

      And, yeah, sometimes my kid tells me she’s a rabbit or a dragon or Winnie-the-Pooh, but, as her parent and an adult, it isn’t hard for me to distinguish between her active imagination and affinity for playing pretend and when she is telling me a truth about herself. She gave herself a nickname when she was younger. I didn’t correct her- I understood that she was expressing her version of her name and what she would like to be called. Gender is more along those lines than the lines of her pretending to have lady bug wings. Everyone has the right to self-identify. Her gender is her choice.

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  • Debi,

    Thank you for this piece.

    I’m new to this world of parenting a non gender conforming child and recently retweeted something affirming Trans rights and got call a TERF. I had to google the term. What a horrifyingly ignorant and cruel response to people these ‘feminists’ are using.

    I’m here to love, advocate for, encourage, and support my daughter.

    How incredibly sad that there is a sub-group of feminists who would try and deny for feminine identity like this. I call myself a feminist and believe that as such it is my honor and duty to speak up for all women. Period.

    • Renate Richter

      You are a cult member and as such are not entitled to speak for all women any more than i am by virtue of being a female member of NRA. Period.

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  • friday jones

    What a cool lady.

  • Sami

    You’re an amazing person and a great mother, don’t let any bigot ever tell you different. It’s wonderful that your daughter will get the happy childhood so many of us older trans people missed out on.

  • CORRECTION: [1st p/graph] [3rd sentence: strike through “that”]

  • Debi, please accept my love to you, your precious child and your family. You are the mother I never had, and still don’t (complete disapproval). Your video about your daughter was and remains the most moving video I have yet watched that concerning a trans child. It is part of living history and will remain in trans history/gender studies as a critical 1st-person account of parenting a trans child. Knowing the pain that my own mom endures, and how she patently rejects my transition, although nicely, I and others with common sense know that no parent wishes to add complexity to a child’s life when life is complex enough. Those who engage in online bullying and harassment, which will eventually require federal intervention to mitigate due to the interstate/international jurisdictional nature of the internet, have proven to have common disdain, but not common sense.

    Debi, you may not realize it now, but of all the players in this brand-new breaking history that will be studied for decades (just as we study past trans history), you the parent are the absolute most credible, even more than we who transitioned as adults or our allies. As a parent, you are a direct witness to Exhibit A: an infant undergoing maturation through early childhood development and the phases (walking, talking, and early self-actualization). You miss nothing and see everything. Those who engage in online bullying and harassment must be Mensa members, for knowing about child development without being a parent truly requires discernment rarely seen.

    Most of us, self-included, who grew up before the internet library and its access to credible (and incredible) sources, and who just knew that our childhood upbringing wasn’t in gender identity/physical body synergy were just as your child, but lacked parental guidance. Bless your heart for that. We can’t blame our parents, for they knew not. We can’t completely recollect all the details for very early childhood memories are always very difficult to recall, except for our gender anguish. Our parents aren’t much help because they can’t disassociate past images and history with the new son or daughter they didn’t know they really had. This is why I say that the accepting parents of trans children, as you Debi, are the most crucial resource.

    You are the most important player because the home of a trans child is the “lab” so to speak….the parent is the observer and the child is the subject. Again, those without children are quick to accuse us who are parents as projecting identity onto a child, however just as J. Raymond and now S. Jeffries are trans-expert impostors, so too are those who place blame on parents. The TERFs are like Caucasians trying to present themselves as experts on an African-American experience. From the onset there exists no credibility, and yet this is exactly what TERFs and non-trans writers do. Normally, such non-expert experts would be easy to discount, however they subscribe to this: tell a lie and some will believe it. Tell the same lie again and more will believe it. Tell the same lie over and over, and eventually most will believe it.

    In 1980, the lie (that trans females = men) wrapped in academic-speak wrapped in book cover was bought as “truth” by the US government, and trans medical care that was, was no more, until reinstated in 2014. A lie told to one is tiny. A lie told to many is big. A lie told to the world written by a person in trans disguise in the form of a book is a weapon of mass psychological destruction. This history is why we fight, because that book-as-weapon did more than spread fiction; it unleashed demons that were satisfied only with the sacrifice of trans lives. How many trans lives were lost as a result of J. Raymond’s weapon of literary destruction, will forever be lost to history. The only chance to undo a lie is through the impenetrable power of truth. This is why I and others write.

    Love, impartiality, empathy, concern—-all can reside in a human heart and yet still be able to register even loathing contempt and disagreement. Remove all of those traits and we have TERFs. These players, by their own statements, incriminate themselves over and over and over. Their statements reflect no love, for they have none; no impartiality for as militants with an agenda, impartiality is the first to go. Despite bits of “empathy” tossed in, their statements show a lack of empathy and concern. If all of this isn’t bad enough, they engage in cross-hair targeting of trans leaders, trans parents and trans persons. They know that a transition isn’t about violence, because FBI criminal statistics do not reflect that. They know that no “real man” ever wants to “become” a woman—most “real men” become despondent when their virility disappears.

    No, there is something far more sinister and devious going on. The premise “protect female spaces at all costs” loses its validity (except in their warped minds) once a transition is completed. If the authorities are summoned by females to ascertain whether a male is in the female restroom and the person’s ID checks out as F, there is no legal basis for an arrest. Truth be told there would be if the female (perhaps trans with passing difficulties) was in the male restroom if her ID did not show M. Debi, we fight for the children and I fight for the day when “transgender” will fall out of use because none of us are “transgender”…there is no such sex. A transition is about our sex, not gender (which is why the 1964 Civil Rights Act was recently interpreted to cover trans persons). Transgender will not apply because I yearn for the day when ALL children can choose even to grow up into a sex/gender that matches their personality.

    Practically all opposition to trans equality stems from the reality that many/most of us (from effects of puberty) retain masculine traits no matter our best efforts. FFS is far out of reach for most and after a T-fueled puberty, a female voice often remains elusive. Still, we are your precious child. We are those trans children. We always will be, passing or not. Debi, I wish I could hug you for like forever, because what you do for A.J., you do for us. When I watched your video, the pain of my childhood returned and I started to cry. Even now, my eyes are very moist. The pain of a lost childhood lasts forever, as so does the lost childhood. Self-exclusion from others in the playground does not healthy social development make, and I suffer from this to this very day. The TERFs could care less and will continue to care less, however history is replete with examples of despots who dispensed violence on the innocent. Gender despots are cut from the same cloth.

    Every noble and just cause stirs those who have not nobility and seek no justice to anger. This is more of the same. The sacrifices of our lost childhoods will be in vain, unless children like A.J. are able to have the childhood we never had. No girl can develop properly if raised as a boy. Take away all K-12 childhood gender development from any girl, and this would be a recipe for disaster, a disaster I knoweth from where I speaketh of. God bless you for making sure that this disaster is not a part of your precious child’s life.

  • To be honest, they should be renamed ‘ERF’. ERFs do not like anyone who isn’t also an ERF. Anyone who isn’t an ERF is a god damn rape enabling, patriarchal woman hater, alright?

    Any person who actually wants to fight for equality would spend a lot less time spouting angry vitriol at people for being different to them.

  • What awful people – punching down on a three year old girl. It unbalances them even more that their talking points regarding “socialized as a man” is so obviously ridiculous with childhood transitioners. How could one possibly be more essentialist than to project onto a toddler a gender they haven’t lived?

    • As usual, you say much while saying little, a skill I have yet to learn 🙁 . You are spot on with calling them out as bullies they truly are. They are a human train wreck, angry beyond any rage in their paranoia of males (“protect F spaces at all costs!”), and like any train wreck (I’ve seen derailed trains out in the desert) they are oblivious to whom they strike down or collide with. TERFs were doing alright…all was good and hatefully comfortable on the TERF front, but the wonder of life is that justice often drops in gently and softly and slowly restores order.

      This little thing called the Internet dropped in—quietly, slowly, bulletin boards, dial-up, 33 K, 56 K, cable, DSL, FIOS. Parents of trans children, unlike ours, became informed and these non-socialized children were, for the 1st time in known history, able to be socialized according to identified gender. The fuel for TERF “wisdom” began to be depleted, and is slowly running out, thanks to parents like Debi who speak out and affirm what we’ve always been saying: we are females (or males) powerless to stop a puberty foreign to our identity, no matter what others say. The tide didn’t begin to turn against TERFs merely from our advocacy—they too are no less advocate. The tide began to turn when the world said “Oh I see now. Transgender persons are just like those kids but without being able to fix that as kids.” This is when the tide began to turn and there’s no stopping our momentum now. The only option left for TERFs is to stop, turn off their puters, and watch history pass them by. Everything runs its course, and our 40 year exile has also run its course.

      • Natalie_S

        “protect F spaces at all costs!”

        I can almost hear this in Dalek-voice 😀