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March 14, 2014
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March 16, 2014

TERF: what it means and where it came from

By Cristan Williams
@cristanwilliams

 

Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERF) are quick to make fact assertions about the term, TERF. According to TERFs, the term is a slur and use of the term makes one a misogynist.  

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Others assert that the term is insulting, hyperbolic, misleading, and ultimately defamatory.

Allen actually calls for more people to recognize radical feminists as a hate group and then pointedly adopts the term Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF) to refer to them throughout the article. Make no mistake, this is a slur. TERF is not meant to be explanatory, but insulting. These characterizations are hyperbolic, misleading, and ultimately defamatory. They do nothing but escalate the vitriol and fail to advance the conversation in any way.

– Elizabeth Hungerford (2013), TERF attorney and opinion leader

Within feminist and trans discourse, the term refers to a very specific type of person who wraps anti-trans bigotry in the language of feminism. A hallmark of TERF discourse is that it tends to sound a lot like the anti-trans rhetoric coming out of extreme right-wing groups.

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Gender Identity Watch (GIW) is viewed as a hate group by thousands and has a history of working with a known hate group. Keep the above assertion made by GIW in mind as you read the following interview I did with one of the cisgender feminists who are responsible for popularizing TERF as a feminist concept.

Defining TERF: interviewing the feminist who popularized it

Cristan Williams: From what I can see, yours is the earliest use. The term has become fairly common in trans discourse.

TigTog: Lauredhel and I are pretty sure that we started using trans-exclusionary radfem (TERF) activists as a descriptive term in our own chats a while before I used it in that post.

C: TERFs have made some assertions about your lexical contribution to feminist discourse. For instance: “TERF is not meant to be explanatory, but insulting. These characterizations are hyperbolic, misleading, and ultimately defamatory.”

T: It was not meant to be insulting. It was meant to be a deliberately technically neutral description of an activist grouping. I notice that since TERF has gone out into the wild, many people seem to use trans-exclusive rather than  trans-exclusionary or  trans-excluding, and I think that leads to some exploitable ambiguity. It is possible to interpret trans-exclusive as “exclusively talks about trans* issues” (which could quite rightly be considered a slam on the rest of their feminism), while trans-exclusionary is more specific that their exclusion of trans* voices and bodies from being considered women/feminists is the point.

C: I find it interesting that this term originates in the feminist community and was popularized by a cisgender woman. I think the assumption has been that a trans person had coined the term in the last year or so. Was there a specific incident – or a culmination of incidents – that lead you to advocate for the use of this term?

T: We wanted a way to distinguish TERFs from other radfems with whom we engaged who were trans*-positive/neutral, because we had several years of history of engaging productively/substantively with non-TERF radfems, and then suddenly TERF comments/posts seemed to be erupting in RadFem spaces where they threadjacked dozens of discussions, and there was a great deal of general frustration about that. It is possible that one of us picked it or something similar up from an IRC discussion elsewhere and then we both adopted/adapted it for ourselves, perhaps transforming it from some other initialism into an acronym, because we both appreciate the utility of acronyms in simplifying discourse.

C: You seemed to take personal offense over the colonization of the RadFem identity by an anti-trans group. Was this because you identified as a RadFem and/or have friends that were RadFem who were frustrated by a colonization of their feminist identity – that RadFem became synonymous with being anti-trans?

T: Not so much personally offended as pointedly pedantic, although I certainly sympathised with various RadFems I knew who felt that mAndrea and her fellows did not speak for them and were disrupting other discussions with anti-trans* derails. I was still quite actively writing FAQs for the Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog then, so being pedantic about what various strands of feminism were and were not saying was pretty much second nature at the time.

C: Some TERFs have asserted that others do not have a right to make a distinction between TE RadFems (TERFs) and RadFems.

T: The idea that any group can deny others the right to make distinctions between opinions/positions voiced by different members in that group seems utterly absurd. Obviously, nobody can force anybody who voices what others consider TERF stances to self-adopt the TERF label for themselves, but they can always choose another name for their stance which is not held by all other RadFems. After all, RadFem itself is a label chosen by some feminists to distinguish themselves from other feminists, and those feminists felt insulted that what they were doing was not considered sufficiently radical to fall under the RadFem label, see also the womanist/feminist distinction – distinguishing between different arms of activism is what social activist movements do as they grow and develop and react to change within and without.

C: Others assert that the TERF is a slur. How would you respond to such assertions?

T: It was not originally intended as such. Initially the TERF acronym didn’t seem to gain much traction at all, so I never really kept track. Since it’s become in more common usage, no doubt there are some people that use it as a slur. The same thing happened to “radical feminist” and also to “feminist” – any group-identifying word can and will be used as a slur by those who find that group challenging, but that doesn’t mean that the word is fundamentally/always/only a slur.

C: How do you feel about the impact you’ve had in feminist discourse (re: your lexical contribution)?

T: I don’t really know. The acronym was something Lauredhel and I found useful for some of the discussions we were having at the time (and as mentioned above, we aren’t really sure that we invented it as such anyway rather than adopted/adapted it). We thought it might be useful for some others having similar discussions, so we and our co-bloggers shared it around in some of those discussions. That it did eventually catch on and people still find it useful after five years, and that it’s now a label that TERFs feel the need to push back on? It’s certainly intriguing, but I don’t really feel any strong sense of ownership over the term (language is a collective construct which evolves with variant usages, after all). I wanted to communicate something clearly at the time, and it worked for that. That it’s still working for people engaging in that ongoing trans*-inclusion/exclusion debate is certainly satisfying on several levels, definitely.


Unlike tracking transgender as a term, tracking TERF was easier since the term is quite young and was popularized on the internet. What follows is a record of the term’s early usage and uptake:

8/17/2008, "sfsdffs"

8/17/2008, “implicitly aligning all radfems with the trans-exclusionary radfem (TERF) activists, which I resent”

A few days later, TigTog clarified her position:

Many many radical feminists are trans* accepting and often are active allies. It’s just a small minority who are very vocally trans-exclusionary, particularly online.

Grammatically, the “trans-exclusionary” placed before “radical feminist in the TERF acronym means that it modifies “radical feminist”, describing a subset. Just the way that the term Italian-American doesn’t mean that all Americans are ethnically Italian, it’s just describing a subset of Americans.

TigTog, 8/20/2008

And from there, the term spread to other feminist blogs:

UF

Unapologetically Female (2008)

The following conversation is illuminating:

TigTog:

Thank you for the praise for my post, Tracey. I just wish that this post of yours had a different title and introductory sentence – I’m calling out the trans-exclusionary radfems (TERFs), and I certainly don’t assume that all radfems agree with them. I have a pretty strong radical streak myself after all, and I certainly don’t agree with them.

Tracey:

Point well taken, tigtog. I actually did think twice about that title before I posted this, and I see now that I probably should have followed my instincts. I’ll change it now.

TigTog:

Thanks for the prompt response. I’ve added a clause to my post as well to make this clearer right from the introductory paragraphs.

Thanks too for the link to the post at Womanist Musings – that’s a wonderful post.

Please feel free to adopt and spread the TERF acronym, by the way, if it appeals to you.

TigTog:

Oh, I see you’ve already leapt upon TERF – excellent.

 Tracey:

No problem — thank you for pointing it out that it wasn’t clear that I don’t mean all radical feminists. I didn’t want for it to come off that way or to make it sound like that’s what you were saying.

And I loved “TERF”. I was having a hard time finding a way to make that distinction, but that word works perfectly. Thanks again.

TERF-re

The FinallyFeminism101 blog (2008)

2013

Feministe (2013)


TigTog said, “Since it’s become more common [in] usage, no doubt there are some people that use it as a slur. The same thing happened to ‘radical feminist’ and also to ‘feminist’ – any group-identifying word can and will be used as a slur by those who find that group challenging, but that doesn’t mean that the word is fundamentally/always/only a slur.” This insight seems to be generally lost on TERFs. I am sure some people do use TERF as if it were slur in the same way that some TERFs use trans woman as if it were a slur:

Back in 2008, TigTog talked about the colonization of RadFem discourse by TERFs when she said that TERFs were “implicitly aligning all radfems with the trans-exclusionary radfem (TERF) activists, which I resent.” The feminist community named the problem and  TERF as a term came into common usage.

I can understand why it’s important to TERFs that people to believe that TERF ideology represents feminism instead of its own ideology:

because the fact of the matter is that unlike born-women, who have everything (literally, everything) to lose from rape culture, transwomen have at least something (everything?) to gain. to a transwoman, cutting off her dick and turning it (inside out) into a fuckhole between her legs makes her feel better. from transwomens own mouths, we know that these fake fuckholes alleviate transwomens suffering. turning their dicks into extra-large condoms for other men to penetrate (or not, whevs…thats my hat-tip to the internet “lesbian transwomen”) actually tamps down their anxiety, and feelings of dysphoria. – TERF blog [Strong TW]

TERF  ideology doesn’t speak for women, feminists or RadFems. Now that the feminist community named this specific ideology, it’s more difficult to pass it off as representing anything but itself.

“Transwomen” are not and can never be women or Lesbians – they are simply men, trying to steal our identity and culture… One way to begin to fight their oppressing Lesbians and women is to refuse to give them what they want. At the very least, PLEASE stop calling them “women” in any form, and stop using female pronouns for them… they act like typical men and intimidate and guilt trip – everything is about them. And the hell with any Lesbian who gets in their way. Some have also learned what to say to sound believably female, but if you question a bit further, they revert quickly to male bullying techniques. As for those who do have surgery, men do a lot of bizarre things for sexual gratification, such as strangling themselves to have more exciting orgasms, which has resulted in some unintentional suicides (such as that by David Carradine.)

As Janice Raymond says, “All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating their body for themselves.”  It’s actually reminiscent of the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” – Early TERF leader, author and activist [Strong TW]

When feminists named the movement that spends its time promoting this type of worldview, they acted to stop the colonization of feminism by self-identified RadFems who were fixated on attacking trans people. TigTog said the RadFems she knew felt that TERFs “… did not speak for them and were disrupting other discussions with anti-trans* derails.” TERF isn’t a slur; it’s the feminist community’s response to an unwanted colonization of their feminist space and identity.

To quote the popular feminist group Guerrilla Feminism, “Our feminism is trans inclusive or it is bullshit.”  


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Cristan Williams
Cristan Williams

Cristan Williams is a trans historian and pioneer in addressing the practical needs of the transgender community. She started the first trans homeless shelter in the South and co-founded the first federally funded trans-only homeless program, pioneered affordable healthcare for trans people in the Houston area, won the right for trans people to change their gender on Texas ID prior to surgery, started numerous trans social service programs and founded the Transgender Center as well as the Transgender Archives. Cristan is the editor at the social justice sites TransAdvocate.com and TheTERFs.com, is a long-term member and previous chair of the City of Houston HIV Prevention Planning Group.

  • I claim Dworkin states that exclusion is the trans person’s “primary emergency.” For some reason, you edited out the part where she made that claim.

    Here’s your quote from page 186:

    There is no doubt that in the culture o f male-female
    discreteness, transsexuality is a disaster for the individ­
    ual transsexual. Every transsexual, white, black, man,
    woman, rich, poor, is in a state of primary emergency
    (see p. 185) as a transsexual.

    You failed to go to page 185, as Dworkin instructs. Had you gone to 185, you would read the following:

    Transsexuality

    “How can I really care if we win “the Revolution”? Either way, any way, there will be no place for me. – A transsexual friend, in conversation”

    Let’s not erase Dworkin’s words, okay?

    • tbk92

      >I claim Dworkin states that exclusion is the trans person’s “primary emergency.”

      Exclusion from society? Sure! Exclusion from the definition of “woman” or “female”? Clearly not, as the whole section is about breaking down gender barriers and not considering *anyone* at all as members of the patriarchally constructed “woman” or “female” image. (Using a non-biological definition of “female” there. My thinking that “female” and “male” are useful scientific descriptors outside of culture, as intersexuality is limited to rather uncommon genetic or developmental disorders, might be the one thing where I disagree with Dworkin. She suggests that “hermaphroditism” might come out to be a lot more common than we realize as medical science advances… No such luck since the book was written. Estimates of the prevalence of intersexuality range from 0.018% to a maximum of 1.7% depending on what you consider intersex.)

      Let’s not forget about this sentence, in particular:

      >Three, community built on androgynous identity will mean the end of transsexuality as we know it. Either the transsexual will be able to expand his/her sexuality into a fluid androg­yny, or, as roles disappear, the phenomenon of trans­sexuality will disappear and that energy will be trans­formed into new modes of sexual identity and behavior.

      So nope, nobody’s erasing Dworkin’s words here. Some people just like to interpret her words to hell and back to fit their own worldview. 😉

      • Dworkin cites a conversation she, the iconic radical feminist, had with a trans friend. When Dworkin is communicating about the “revolution,” what does Dworkin say she means when engaged in communication?

        This book is an action, a political action where revolution is the goal. It has no other purpose. It is not cerebral wisdom, or academic horseshit, or ideas carved in granite or destined for immortality. It is part of a process and its context is change. It is part of a planetary movement to restructure community forms and human consciousness so that people have power over their own lives, participate fully in community, live in dignity and freedom.

        The commitment to ending male dominance as the fundamental psychological, political, and cultural reality of earth-lived life is the fundamental revolutionary commitment. It is a commitment to transformation of the self and transformation of the social reality on every level. The core of this book is an analysis of sexism (that
        system of male dominance), what it is, how it operates on us and in us. – Dworkin, p 17

        “The Revolution, as we live it and as we imagine it, means destroying the Immovable Structure to create a world in which we can use our holy human energy to sustain our holy human lives; to create a world without enforcers, doorkeepers, guards, and arbitrary Law; to create a world —a community on this planet— where instead of lying to survive, we can tell the truth and flourish.” – Dworkin, p 203

        When Dworkin is communicating with someone about the “revolution,” what does she say she’s talking about?

        Dworkin writes on page 186:

        Every transsexual, white, black, man, woman, rich, poor, is in a state of primary emergency (see p. 185) as a transsexual.

        On page 185, Dworkin writes:

        “How can I really care if we win “the Revolution”? Either way, any way, there will be no place for me. – A transsexual friend, in conversation”

        When Dworkin is talking to someone about the concept of “revolution,” what does Dworkin say she meas?

        Once we settle on an evidence-based understanding of what is communicated in the quote, I’ll be happy to move on to the other secondary topics you bring up.

        • tbk92

          The revolution to overthrow gender, obviously.
          Trans people are very welcome to contribute, which doesn’t mean trans identified males get to be considered females and colonize female-only spaces.

          • At no point does she state that her goal is “to overthrow gender.” Here’s what she states her goal is:

            The core of this book is an analysis of sexism (that
            system of male dominance), what it is, how it operates on us and in us.

            What is sexsim?

            1: prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially : discrimination against women
            2: behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex
            https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sexism

            Such a radical feminist analysis was completely in line with other opinion leaders of her time, like Anne Koedt. Koedt defined radical feminism in the book, Radical Feminism (1973) as: “the advocacy for the total elimination of sex roles.”

            In fact, Dworkin suggests using gender expression as a weapon against sexism: androgyny. If her goal was the overthrow of things like androgyny, why did she promote it? Why were other radical feminists like Cell 16’s Dana Densmore promoting gender neutral pronouns? It seems clear that the pre-disco radical feminist movement’s goal was the overthrow of sexism.

            Would you dispute that Dworkin said her goal was, “an analysis of sexism (that system of male dominance), what it is, how it operates on us and in us.”

          • tbk92

            Gender *is* sexism. Ask any so-called TERF (witch) today and she will most likely point out that “gender” to her is a short synonym for “sex roles and stereotypes.” Gender is the word used in radical feminist discourse to refer to the system Dworkin called us to overthrow.

            You should read The Root Cause, the last chapter in Our Blood.

            > I have made this distinction between truth and reality in order to enable me to say something very simple: **that while the system of gender polarity is real, it is not true.** [emphasis in original]
            > …
            > In my view, those of us who are women inside this system of reality will never be free until the delusion of sexual polarity is destroyed and until the system of reality based on it is eradi­cated entirely from human society and from human memory. This is the notion of cultural transformation at the heart of feminism. This is the revolutionary possibility inherent in the feminist struggle.

            Androgyny is not an expression of gender. Androgyny is the elimination of gender. The androgynous human encompasses all natural human characteristics, which the system of gender is trying to divide and force onto two halves of humanity based on the genitals they were born with.

            I’m sorry to say, you clearly do not understand Dworkin, nor radical feminism in general. You try to claim it for yourself and convince others that it supports your ideology, because you feel how powerful it is.

          • Are you making the fact assertion that the following aspects of gender = sexism?

            – Gender orientation: the subjective experience of your body’s sexed attributes.
            – Gender expression: your contextualization and expression of gender orientation.
            – Gender identity: the public persona you constructed that references your gender orientation.

            You’re claiming that all of the above = sexism, correct?

            I mean, I totally agree that the following aspects of gender are part of sexism:

            – Gender stereotypes
            – Gender hierarchies
            – Gender roles

            But… do you actually think you can force people to stop having a personal experience of their bodies? Do you think you can stop them from expressing that experience to others?

            I would agree with Dworkin, “that while the system of gender polarity is real, it is not true”

            The “SYSTEM of gender POLARITY is real,” but it “is not true.”

            If all was androgyny, there would be no SYSTEM of gender POLARITY because the POLARITY would be gone. In this sense, androgyny would not be part of that gender POLARITY. It’s clear that the binary system is what she’s talking about; I agree that the gender binary *is* the root of sexism.

          • tbk92

            No, the three things you’ve listed at the top do not equal sexism. They are not the system of gender; they are results of the system of gender.

            If society did not forcibly create an association between sexual anatomy and personal identity, people would not have such significant “subjective experiences” of their sexed bodies that relate to their personal identity.

          • Marja Erwin

            So why do so many gendercrits support systems, like gatekeeping, which enforce sex roles and stereotypes?

          • They think that Zucker-informed “treatments” where gender non-conforming kids go through behavior-modification adjustments so that kids act more stereotypically male or female. Somehow supporting Zucker is “gender-critical.”

          • Dworkinism

            It is unclear to me how medical gatekeeping of people claiming to be transgender relates to sex roles and stereotypes.

          • Marja Erwin

            Well, sometimes gatekeepers insist people go full-time first, with all its risks, and some decide based on physical characteristics, but others decide based on sexual orientation, clothing preferences, childhood play preferences, willingness to wear makeup, etc… All of these can screw people over, the last set definitely enforces sex roles and stereotypes, and the first set can enforce sex roles and stereotypes if gatekeepers decide butch or androgynous presentation doesn’t count as full-time.

  • morejoy68

    Let’s be honest here. The author of this article thinks cis women are stupid. We’re not. The term TERF is just a new form of misogyny. The term TERF is used as an insult to silence & demean cis women in exactly the same way that cis men use similar insults to demean all women.

    Cis women who are transphobic SHOULD be challenged. They should not be subjected to misogynistic insults. I would have hoped that trans women would understand that. This is bad for everyone.

  • Pingback: Transweiblichkeit im Feminismus – eine schwierige Liebesgeschichte - Feminismus im Pott()

  • J.D.

    The reason that the term “TERF” is problematic is that it focuses on the act of exclusion rather than the act of inclusion, which inaccurately reflects the focus of the group that it’s referring to. The focus in having a female-only space isn’t to exclude males, but to include females. This is similar to the Black Lives Matter movement, which has made certain meetings for Black individuals only. In this, they are not excluding non-Blacks, they are including Blacks. It may seem like the focus here is exclusion, so let me give a contrasting example. If the KKK has a meeting, the point of it is exclusion because the focus of the group itself is to exclude certain groups. It is not the focus of a female-only women’s group or a Black Lives Matter meeting to exclude other people. Their groups and spaces are not established for the purpose of hating others, but for focusing on themselves. That is what separates them from hate groups and why the term “TERF” is problematic. For the same reason that transgender individuals should be allowed to have a transgender-only space, females should be allowed to have a female-only space, and Black people deserve to have a Black-only space. One might argue that it’s different because while transgender people are a minority group, females by comparison, are less of a minority. But, regardless of a group’s size, every person feels a sense of personal fulfillment from congregating with individuals like them. It gives people a chance to decompress, to share stories of similar life experiences, and to relate to each other in the way that only they can. Is it appropriate to create homogeneous groups in every context? No. But, this issue often comes up in a social and political sphere, and in that regard, I do think that gathering in a homogeneous group is acceptable. Just think of how much the transgender community would suffer if transgender people couldn’t get together without non-transgender individuals present. Imagine if there were no place where transgender people could all get together and discuss their life experiences, their personal feelings, and to do all that without having to censor their words or worry that a non-transgender person would be offended or fail to understand what they’re saying. That would be a loss to the community. Other groups feel the same way. Just as there is an unspoken understanding between transgender individuals, there is likewise an unspoken understanding between females, between Black people, and other groups. This unspoken understanding gives us all something and it’s not right to take it away from anyone. As a White person, I might feel excluded by a Black-only Black Lives Matter meeting, but when the people you care about say to you: “I need this to feel a sense of connection with other people like me,” you listen and respect that. Because, ultimately, deep down we all have that same feeling in some respect or another, and we would wish them to respect us if we asked for the same thing.

    I hope that this conveys the reason that sometimes a homogenous group is desired. If it does not, I fear that there may be no way for me to explain it to you. I can only hope that you may reflect on your own desire for a homogenous space, and then treat others as you would wish them to treat you.

    • If I had to guess, I think the feminist community came up with “exclusion” because it has been seen in feminist circles as a big issue for trans people for a long time. The radical feminist pioneer, Andrea Dworkin noted in her 1974 book Woman Hating that exclusion was the “primary emergency” facing trans folk.

    • vulcanarchy

      the problem is that you’re differentiating between women and transwomen as if they should not be sharing female-only spaces when transwomen ARE female regardless of their physical bodies. so, no, TERF is not problematic or even necessarily a slur. it’s a means of identifying the shitbags who think transpeople aren’t allowed to claim their own genders or be involved in their fauxminism. i’m not even going to get into all the derailing false equivalences you used as examples. what you’re trying to claim is that cisgender women should be allowed cisgender-only spaces when spaces like those are already widely available to them, and sorry but that’s still trans-exclusionary and still attempts to differentiate transwomen as being somehow Other than cisgender women. a TERF isn’t just someone trying to keep transwomen out of the conversation, they’re jerks who like to harass me to my face on a regular basis, in public, because they think my gender expression/identity entitles them to. a TERF is dangerous to transpeople like me, TERF rhetoric is what keeps people like me excluded from everyday spaces like FUCKING BATHROOMS IN SEVERAL AMERICAN STATES, FOR EXAMPLE.

      stop caping for cisgender people. they aren’t the marginalised group of the two.

      • tbk92

        Transwomen are male.

        • And ontologies are culture.

        • And ontologies are culture.

          • tbk92

            Female/male are not cultural. You won’t be able to milk a bull (male bovine) no matter what culture you were raised in; you will need a cow (female bovine).

            Societal roles, images, stereotypes, values, duties, meanings, etc. projected onto members of the female and male sexes by humans are cultural.
            The sexes themselves, however, are not.

            It’s kind of like saying “feline and canine are just cultural.” Well, no.

          • I’d agree that bodies are material realities; however, I can’t agree that your thoughts about bodies exist outside of your head. You can argue that ontologies aren’t culture all you like but it won’t make you right.

            It never ceases to amaze me how reticent sex essentialists are to admit that their thoughts don’t comprise material reality.

          • tbk92

            Firstly, “sex[sic] essentialism” (the correct term being “gender essentialism”) is the idea that certain personality traits are essential to members of the female and male sexes.

            For instance, to think that female people are essentially feminine (passive, subservient, fearful, wanton, etc.) or that male people are essentially masculine (active, dominant, courageous, dignified, etc.) is what we would call gender essentialism. In other words, it’s the belief that sex-based stereotypes are natural and inevitable. The belief that a feminine male must really be a “woman on the inside” or that a masculine female must really be a “man on the inside” is often based on this gender essentialism.

            To assert that the female and male sexes exist outside of cultural constructs is not called sex essentialism (or gender essentialism). That is a particularly nonsensical abuse of the term that was invented later, I suppose by post-structuralist “scholars” who were enjoying pseudo-intellectual masturbation.

            When I say sex exists outside of culture, that does not mean the abstract concept of sex exists in nature. Abstract concepts are by definition the product of intelligent minds.
            What it means, instead, is that every intelligent mind anywhere on the planet, regardless of the culture they were brought up within, will be able to independently develop the concept of sex categorization, because this conception is a fairly direct mapping of material reality into abstract logic. The intelligent person will observe that: 1. roughly half of all humans have either one broad shape of genital (concave) or another broad shape of genital (convex), 2. that these genital shapes correlate with other anatomic features such as the distribution of height, hip/shoulder proportions, certain facial structures, etc., 3. that the people with concave genitals tend to sometimes bleed out of their genitals and that they have the ability to become pregnant, whereas those with convex genitals eject a white cream-like liquid out of their genitals during sexual climax, and so on and so forth. Based on these objective observations, the intelligent person will conclude that there are two configurations of the human body with regard to all these characteristics. (If the person gets to know a lot of people and pays attention, the person may notice that a small minority of people don’t fit into these rules [intersex], which hopefully the person will see as an interesting variation instead of labeling them “wrong.”)

            On the other hand, beliefs such as gender essentialism are socially constructed. This means: while it’s possible that there’s a natural bimodal distribution of a few personality traits across members of the female and male sexes, variations are far too great to make general statements. The belief that people with female bodies and people with male bodies essentially and necessarily have a certain type of personality is, as feminist analysis reveals, a politically motivated belief which requires a complex set of socially enforced rules to uphold the illusion that the belief is supposedly true. Hence we have restrictive gender norms, which are not observed but enforced. The belief is based on a motivation, rather than objective observation. This is the difference between a natural truth that exists outside of culture, and a social construction that depends on culture.

            I find it amazing how few people understand the terms “gender essentialism” and “socially constructed” after they’ve been thrown around so many times for so long now.

          • “Sex Essentialism” seeks ontology through a reductionist essentialism of bodies.

            “Gender essentialism” seeks ontology through a reductionist essentialism of behavior.

            Both are constructs designed to objectify material reality.

            Bodies, reproduction, & their resulting condition are material realities; your thoughts about them are not. Please drop the POMO “my thoughts create reality” nonsense. Your words won’t make you free.

            Maybe read some radical feminist materialism? Maybe start with Monique Wittig’s The Straight Mind?

          • tbk92

            What is a “reductionist essentialism of bodies” if not high and mighty word salad to make a basic objective categorization of human bodies sound like something bad, when such categorization is of central importance for medical as well as political purposes? If you can’t distinguish between people with functioning legs and people with disabled legs, you can’t talk about the latter group’s need for wheelchairs and wheelchair-friendly architecture. If you can’t distinguish between people with functioning vision and vision-impaired people, you can’t talk about the latter group’s need of blind-friendly pedestrian traffic systems and user interface design. If you can’t distinguish between people who get pregnant and people who don’t, you can’t talk about the former group’s need of maternity leave, abortion access, and other social services. Equitable treatment of all members of society inherently requires their classification.

            Sometimes different classifications have a very high overlap. For instance, people who can get pregnant, people who have periods, people who are born with concave genitalia, and people who develop biologically (not stereotypically) feminine physique during natural puberty (such as 10-12% essential body fat as opposed to just 3-4%, relatively high hip/shoulder width ratio, and noticably protruding breast tissue, among other traits) are categories with a nearly complete overlap. Relatively few people in society belong to some of these groups while not also belonging to all others. Therefore, we talk about an over-arching category that is the union of these, and we call that category “female”. This is relevant not just medically but also politically, as they share many struggles ranging from abortion access, to highened risk of sexual harassment beginning in childhood, to highened risk of intimate partner violence. This is the basic materialist class analysis upon which radical feminism is built.

            All in all, it’s pretty ironic of you to accuse me of post-modernism (POMO) when you use verbiage like that to pretend that such a medically and politically important material categorization is somehow bad.
            Did you perhaps think you’d throw the term POMO into the room before someone notices it’s exactly what you’re doing yourself?

            (As an aside, the correct term is post-structuralism, whereas po-mo more accurately refers to the art movement. And incidentally, Judith Butler is one of the biggest feminist supporters of transgender ideology while also being a fairly notorious post-structuralist. Gender identity ideology mostly only rests on post-structuralism.)

            Thoughts *are* never material reality. Rather, thoughts and language (ideally) *reflect* material reality to aid in communication. Hence, the conception of the sex binary and the words “female” and “male”. Because it is a material reality that approximately 49% of all human bodies belong to one category and approximately another 49% to another category with regard to a large group of coinciding traits such as chromosomes, genital shape, reproductive role, and average anatomic features. (49% + 49% = 98%, leaving a generous 2% for intersex people, which is more than their actual numbers even by the most inclusive criteria.)

          • You wrote, “What is a ‘reductionist essentialism of bodies’…”

            Think of that which you assert is essential to your idea of “sex” and reduce a body to that notion; that’s a “reductionist essentialism of bodies.”

            For instance, it won’t matter to you that I have a female phenotype, and that this phenotype is consequential in the material world in that it defines how I am able to function in this culture. These things are irrelevant to you. My phenotype, in your notion of “sex,” is not a sexed variable, at least for me and my body. I –my entire body– is “male,” because there is some attribute that you will assert to be essential to making the body itself “male.” In your analysis, I have a male phenotype because my body presumably has/had that which you claim to be essentially male and that I must be mistaken/confused/lying/deluded about my day-to-day material condition; by (your) definition, my day-to-day material condition MUST be that of a “man.”

            It doesn’t matter to you if culture places me into the female condition on a day-to-day basis; material reality isn’t what defines “woman” in our culture. Instead, there is some essential body attribute that is appealed to that reduces a body’s asserted condition, regardless of lived experience. This means that while I might claim that my material condition is defined as “woman” on a daily basis, this is essentially a male experience because of X attribute, hence “reductionist essentialism.”

            You wrote: “All in all, it’s pretty ironic of you to accuse me of post-modernism (POMO) when you use verbiage like that…”

            Yours is not a materialist analysis. Material condition is not what defines experience; rather, my body and its condition is defined by whatever you might assert is essential to the “real” label I should be using. You believe that if I just adopt the sexed words you want me to use, you would have engaged in productive change toward your asserted goal of ending gender. It seems quite POMO to think your labels will make you free.

            I’m chiefly concerned with the material condition I and those I see around me sharing.

          • tbk92

            Firstly, you are apparently conflating categorization with reductionism. Categorization is the observation that a set of entities can be divided into groups based on a certain feature or set of features of said entities. For instance, when there are ten balls, and I observe that five are blue and five are red and categorize them as such, I am not saying that being red is all there is to the red balls, or being blue is all there is to the blue balls. I can still distinguish red balls from red cubes, and blue balls from blue cubes, for instance, as a different categorization (e.g. based on shape not color) can be applied to the same set of objects.

            In categorization, a certain feature is put into focus temporarily due to a presumed importance of said feature.

            For instance, we categorize bodies into reproductively female and male because only the female ones can become pregnant and only the male ones can impregnate, which can have deep implications in social situations. According to this categorization, your body is not female. It is male or neuter (depending on whether you can impregnate).

            Another categorization (mostly overlapping with the previous) is people’s social and political experiences within a sexist society based on their perceived sex at birth. According to this categorization, you were put into the male social class, which some would argue cannot be changed as it has permanent implications with regard to personal development.

            Another categorization would be the “phenotype” that you mentioned, i.e. whether the current external anatomy of a person is of feminine or masculine physique. This is not unimportant either, as it strongly influences how a person is treated in day to day situations. Based on this categorization, you individually could perhaps claim to be female (never seen you face to face), although many (most?) transwomen still could not, as their facial structure or other anatomical aspects such as shoulder width or limb size gives them a noticable amount of masculine physique regardless of possible aspects of feminine physique such as breast tissue; they could perhaps claim to be combined male and female, or partially feminized male (esp. taking into consideration the development of their physique over time).

            As I said previously, sometimes several detailed categorizations have a high overlap, such as the ones mentioned above. In such cases, we conceptualize an over-arching categorization that contains all people who e.g. fall in the “female” category on several but not necessarily all of the detailed categorizations. E.g. we don’t exclude an infertile woman just because she falls out of one particular detailed categorization from many. Based on this logic, it could be argued that some early-transitioned passing transwomen should be considered members of the over-arching female category, due to fulfilling one or two female categorizations. (Say, female phenotype, and partial female socialization beginning from teenage years albeit not childhood.) This would only include a small minority of transwomen, and it would still be controversial, as they fulfill less categorizations than most other people we consider female in the over-arching category. Being born and socialized male in childhood, lacking the internal female reproductive system, having male genitalia or only a surgical imitation of female genitalia, and often having visibly masculine physique, puts many if not most transwomen fairly clearly outside of the over-arching female category.

            >Material condition is not what defines experience; rather, my body and
            its condition is defined by whatever you might assert is essential to
            the “real” label I should be using.

            Yes, it is material condition that defines our experiences, and we should choose our labels based on accurate categorizations of material reality. We should not assert that somebody’s experience is a “female” experience just because that person chooses, out of nowhere, to apply the “female” label upon themselves. Whether the label “female” applies to that person should instead be decided by considering whether that person shares most of the material conditions of all the other “female” people. For which, see above: transwomen share few material realities with women, and that mostly only if they pass to some degree.

            >You believe that if I just adopt the sexed words you want me to use, you
            would have engaged in productive change toward your asserted goal of
            ending gender. It seems quite POMO to think your labels will make you
            free.

            Nope, this is a flat-out misrepresentation of what I’ve been saying. It’s important to accurately label people based on which social/political class they belong to under sexism, as otherwise we cannot name the problem and therefore cannot fight against it. If transwomen cannot acknowledge that the transphobia they face (I don’t mean the day to day misogyny faced by a passing transwoman, but the transphobia faced by an out transwoman) is due to the fact that they are a male person who does not conform to the gender rules assigned to male people, then transwomen cannot meaningfully fight against those gender rules that lead to that transphobia. They can try to brainwash society into a strange dogma wherein people chant “trans women are women” or even “trans women are literally female” but ultimately this will lead to more problems than solutions, as firstly it doesn’t adequately describe what the problem really is, and secondly you will unlikely succeed in brainwashing a large enough section of the society permanently; backlash will inevitably ensue not even just from conservatives but (as we’re already seeing) from women.

          • Whether ontology is constructed through reductionist essentialism or some other means, it is still a cultural construct.

            If, by your name, you support Dworkin’s views, you will know that “woman” is defined by her material conditions within a culture that, as Dworkin wrote in RWW, “keeps women women.”

          • Dworkinism

            By your definition, literally everything is a cultural construct.

            I can call a tree a wolf if I so wish, because it fits some strange, contorted definitions I’ve made up for whatever reason, that I found to be more interesting than the typical definitions.

            Yet the tree will still cover me from the heat of the sun, and the wolf will still tear my flesh.

            You can call male people female and vice versa, but it won’t change any of the material facts related to being female or male.

          • As MacKinnon rightly states, noting exists outside of culture.

            You said, “I can call a tree a wolf if I so wish…” So?

            The category “women” is defined by her material conditions within culture that keeps her a “woman.” You pretending that controlling the words I use to describe my material condition will change anything about my material condition or will somehow lead to your liberation is POMO nonsense. What you personally think about my material condition has NO bearing on the reality of my material condition.

            Pretending that my body does not present a female phenotype, that such phenotypes don’t have meaning in Western culture. The man who raped me PIV didn’t first ask for a genetic printout because sex essentialism is not the basis upon which the sex class “woman” is predicated. You calling me a “man” won’t stop the next rapist, will it? You calling me a “man” won’t make it safe for me to walk at night, will it? You calling me a “man” won’t mean I don’t have to be a family caretaker, will it?

          • Dworkinism

            Nobody here is trying to control your words. I don’t have that sort of power over you, and I hope nobody else does either. Indeed we can call your material condition whatever we want, but it won’t change the fact that it’s not equivalent to the material conditions of a person born female. Your material condition is that of a person born male, raised male, who (I presume) started to identify with the stereotypical “girl” and “woman” role and image at an early age, and became transsexual, after which you apparently experienced some of the appalling treatment people born female have to face everywhere on the planet for being born female, regardless of how they identify. It is very unfortunate that you had to suffer such treatment, but you should understand that it’s only one part of the many experiences many female-born people are made to go through in life.

            Further, what would you say about the many male-to-female transsexuals or transgender-identifying males who have a very evidently male appearance? Consider Danielle Muscato or Alex Drummond, who look like any random man, just with a dress, pretty hair, make-up, etc. They don’t even undergo HRT, let alone SRS. Does society treat them as women, or does it treat them as gender non-conforming men? At which point does a person’s experience in life stop being a male experience, and becomes a female experience? I accept that many transsexuals suffer some of the same treatment women have to suffer in life, and I wish more cooperation would happen on that ground. (The same could be said for effeminate/gay men to a lesser degree.) But women still have every right to point out that their childhood socialization, teenage life, reproductive health-related struggles, etc. are very different from that of transsexuals, and that hence they see you as transsexuals and not women. (And the looney ones like Muscato or Drummond as plain old men playing out a ridiculous fantasy of womanhood in their heads.)

          • You wrote: “but it won’t change the fact that it’s not equivalent to the material conditions of a person born female.” This is called gender essentialism. You’re appealing to a cultural role to validate your womanhood.

            Culture places people into sexed classes; not you and not me. That’s the root. Neither of us have any choice about this. As Catherine MacKinnon said: “Simone de Beauvoir said one is not born, one becomes a woman. Now we’re supposed to care how, as if being a woman suddenly became a turf to be defended.”

            You wrote, “Further, what would you say about the many male-to-female transsexuals or transgender-identifying males who have a very evidently male appearance?”

            What have people been saying about genderfuck expressions since the 1970s? Such expressions are, in part, invariably political by virtue of ur culture. Personally, I think that 40 years of political genderfucking made it a lot easier for gender diverse people to live in our culture and I think any activism aimed at trying to put these people into boxes serves the patriarchy.

            Again, neither I nor you get to decide who culture places into the political sex class “woman.” That is something that is done to us.

            I will say that the net result of gender critical activism has been the harassment and sexual assault of FAAB women who are being gender policed in bathrooms. In this way, your moment has advanced the patriarchy in materially devastating ways and sex essentialist activists should take ownership of that harm: http://wncn.com/2017/09/22/woman-says-strangers-forced-her-to-prove-she-was-not-transgender/

        • vulcanarchy

          incorrect, but your comment IS anti-trans violence. so fuck off.

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  • Melanie

    I find it fascinating that TERFs can regard the term “TERF” as derogatory!
    If you are a feminist, do you regard the term “feminist” as derogatory, or is it a label that you wear with pride?
    If you are a radical feminist, do you regard the term “radical feminist” as derogatory, or is it a label that you wear with pride?
    So if you are a trans exclusionary radical feminist, why is that different? Why aren’t you proud to be recognised as someone fighting for what you believe in?
    Could it be that TERFs know, deep down inside, that what they are doing is fundamentally wrong? That the reason they rely on lies is because the facts do not support their case, and that their abuse is based on nothing more than bigotry and unjustifiable hate? And that by joining with the extreme right wing and religious fundamentalists, they are underminingthe credibility of all feminists, and jeopardising everything that has been achieved by feminists in the past century or so?

    • tbk92

      “TERF” is to “radical feminist” what “feminazi” is to “feminist.”

      “TERF” is used almost purely as a slur and is not even an accurate description since so-called “TERFs” generally include trans-identified female people (“trans men”) in their politics. It would be more accurate for starters to call them “MERF” for “Male-Exclusionary Radical Feminist”.

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  • Susan B Journey

    The most amusing thing about this revisionist history is that you are actually hoodwinking some people. LMAO! Gullible kids.

    • The most amusing thing about unsupported fact assertions is that they are generally understood for what they are.

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  • Chelsea Solis

    Feminism has failed me and my sisters and brothers. Considering abandoning it entirely. They are no better than the bullies they claim transpeople and MRAs are.

    • Correctrix

      Unless you are a privileged cisgender woman, feminism was never on your side in the first place.

  • DarlieB

    Some could consider lesbianism a fetish.

    • J.D.

      fetish “the fact of getting sexual pleasure from a particular object”
      (http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/fetish)

      Unless women are objects, lesbianism could not be considered a fetish by this definition.

      Other definitions describe a fetish as:

      fetish “the fact that a person spends too much time doing or thinking about a particular thing or thinks that it is more important than it really is.” (http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/fetish)

      That definition equates a fetish to an obsession, particularly an unhealthy or disproportionate one. This differs from the definition of lesbianism entirely:

      lesbian “(of a woman) sexually attracted to other women; connected with lesbians” (and, for perspective, this same dictionary defines woman as: “an adult female human”)
      (http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/lesbian)

      So, with respect to that, lesbianism meets none of the criteria for a fetish. By definition, it is merely a sexuality of females being attracted to other females. As such, those who consider lesbianism a fetish would, by definition, be wrong.

  • MersennePrimaDonna

    Those quotes from so-called “feminists” were horrible. I’ve read that some early feminists tried to distance themselves and the feminist movement from lesbians, insisting “We don’t represent them! That’s not the kind of woman that we mean when we say ‘women’s rights’!” How do these people not see that they sound exactly like them?

  • christian_transgender

    That’s a very dishonorable history, if accurate. Wow……….I understand moments of anger and losing control to the point of violating human dignity where an apology barely made things whole. If this history is accurate and given how we catch hell from basically everyone, including family I am not surprised. TERF sounds much more insulting and malignant as an acronym than saying the words in their entirety.

    Breaking it down:

    Radical feminists: yeah they exist and apparently they take no issue with gender identity, perhaps from positive personal experiences.

    Trans Exclusive: trans persons (both male and female I presume) stay away!

    So far OK. As trans one of the first things we must accept is that many exclude us: employers, friends, family. Nothing new here. Trans Exclusive Radical Feminists: sounds better than “turf”, at least to me. No insult on its face there, however if “you look nice today” can be construed as insulting, as sexual harassment, then anything can and will be misconstrued (sounds like Miranda).

    So, we are back at intention. How is TERF intended to be used? Well, like any word with dual meanings, context, like size, matters greatly ;). Ooops, how Un-Christian of me but confession is good for the soul I am told. Ok, like most words when used, context will serve to define TERF. If used for example “those who subscribe to TERF ideology”, that is a clearly a reference to the ideology. If used “you are a screwed-up TERF!”, that clearly could be misconstrued as malevolent.

    Our journey is a gauntlet. No matter our personal characteristic (humans), we will not be loved by all, but hated by some. The lust or quest for power is not solely a human pursuit, it is observed in the animal kingdom. I accept as a given that love will elude us equally from males, females, gays and lesbians. For me, a member of the Hispanic race, I am already acclimated to this. As soon as I speak in fluent Ingles and kick ass academically, all pre suppositions about me flee faster than a TERF from a transfemale…just kidding!!!!

    So, we catch hell from basically everyone who has never experienced our gender angst and who could expect anyone to truly understand how testosterone creates male angst in a female brain? Already just stating “female brain” will garner stiff opposition, however again how could they know? We catch hell, especially me with “Christian Transgender” viewed as an oxymoron, from holier-than-thou let-me-cast-the-first-stone fake Christians.

    What comforts me is the level of intelligence found in our community that is more than qualified and blessed with inordinate courage to repel any animus we receive. Those opposed against sex/gender changes stand alone, unsupported by medical fact, whilst it is wind for our sails. Our adversaries, whomever and wherever they may be, have only psychological warfare to support anti-trans equality, and history is replete with examples of such. Fortunately, such is easily exposed and debunked for what it truly is: much, much more than mere disagreement, it is vehement and often verbally combative propaganda based on the perception that a sex change is a threat to [ ].

    What me must do is maintain credibility by maintaining our composure, take lessons from our adversaries on what not to do (foul language, ad hominem, etc.) and be even more fervent ourselves because we know ourselves and our gender angst. Sure, it’s easy to lose our composure and most of us have and will again. Just remember that when there is a conflict, either verbal or physical, and a mediator must respond to solve it, it is the person who remains calm and composed that generally wins out because human instinct tells us that it is the person that loses control that typically is the “violator”.

    • Friesjones

      Guest, in writing, often less is more. Flinging a wall of words at us that sound fancy but parse into generalized platitudes is a waste of everybody’s time.

  • “Many many radical feminists are trans* accepting and often are active allies.” – TigTog

    Some trans folk are radical feminists.

    Or were: “That would be me.”

    R.I.P. Shulamith Firestone, visionary

    Sincerely,
    – bonzie anne

  • Fantastic article!