Why I keep records of my transition
August 8, 2013
So, I hear trans people recently invented this whole cis/trans thing…
August 12, 2013

Unpacking Transphobia in Feminism

NOTE:  Radical Women wanted to share this article on the TransAdvocate so that people understand that not all radical feminist women are TERFs. Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism (TERF) is a relatively small – but extremely dedicated – hate group which passes itself off as feminism to create, support and promulgate negative opinions about trans people.

Formed in 1967, Radical Women is a socialist feminist grassroots activist organization that provides a radical voice within the feminist movement, a feminist voice within the Left, and trains women to be leaders in the movements for social and economic justice. It has branches in numerous United States cities as well as in Melbourne, Australia.

TERF opinion leader sending a message to trans people

TERF opinion leader

By Emma Allen of Radical Women

The majority of feminists are accepting of transpeople. But entrenched bigotry crops up even within the movement for women’s rights. Transphobia and other forms of discrimination alienate feminists from their natural allies in the fight for liberation. It is important to be aware of and speak out against these poisonous prejudices.

Transphobia in the feminist community

In January 2013, the New Statesman published an article by the British journalist and feminist writer Susan Moore that received criticism for gratuitously using the word transgender in a derogatory way. In “Seeing Red: The Power of Female Anger,” Moore wrote, “[Women] are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape — that of a Brazilian transsexual.” Instead of apologizing, Moore chose to lash out with a hate-filled defense on Twitter, stating, “People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them.” She went on to say, “I use the word transsexual. I use a lot of ‘offensive’ words. If you want to be offended it’s your prerogative.” The following the day she tweeted, “I am not going to apologise. Get it?” To other critics she wrote, “Read my essay. It is NOT about trans anything. Are you utterly thick? Don’t bother answering that.”

A day later her friend and feminist writer, Julie Burchill, wrote an article in Moore’s defense for the British Observer titled “Transsexuals should cut it out.” The article was soon removed for being too offensive and riddled with misconceptions. She heaps on even more hate speech with such statements as: “To have your cock cut off and then plead special privileges as women — above natural-born women, who don’t know the meaning of suffering, apparently…” She manufactures a contrived class analysis against transgender people who supposedly have “many lovely big swinging PhDs” and states:

[Moore] and I are part of the minority of women of working-class origin to make it in what used to be called Fleet Street and I think this partly contributes to the stand off with the tranni…We know that everything we have, we got for ourselves. We have no family money, no safety net. And we are damned if we are going to be accused of being privileged by a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs.

The accusation of upper-class privilege is at odds with the reality that transgender people experience unemployment at twice the rate of the general population. Burchill’s false assumption is that transgender people don’t know the suffering of biologically born women ignores the fact that transpeople are especially vulnerable to violence including sexual violence.

Transphobia in the feminist community isn’t new and continues to be promoted by radical feminists such as Sheila Jeffreys, Germaine Greer, and Julie Bindel who pathologize transgenderism for a variety of reasons. They characterize being transgender in various ways: as an extremely kinky sexual practice or a mental illness such as body dysmorphic disorder. Sometimes the criticism is paternalistic in claiming that transgender people are merely exploited victims of the medical industry’s drive to make money with various surgical and hormonal procedures. The 1994 book Transexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male by Janice Raymond describes being transsexual as a medical invention manufactured to create profit. Another criticism is that transgender people reinforce gender roles or expression. For example, Germaine Greer once referred to transwomen as “ghastly parodies of women” with “too much eye-shadow.” Sometimes the attacks on transgender people reach conspiracy levels by those who see the phenomenon as an effort by men to turn themselves into women in order to infiltrate “women”-only spaces.

Radical feminists Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen blend transphobia with “anti-civilization” environmentalism in Deep Green Resistance (DGR). Julie Labrouste, a contact of Radical Women, was repudiated by DGR, which had been urging her to join until she mentioned she was trans-female. She shared the following email message that she received from the group:

There has been a great deal of controversy around DGR’s stance on gender — we are a radical feminist organization and as such the women in our group have requested that their women’s spaces be women-only (women born women/female persons). Additionally, we believe that in general, trans*, transgenderism, and queer theory have been detrimental to the movement for women’s liberation. This is fundamental to the DGR movement and informs our work against patriarchy and civilization. This is not something we are interested in debating or changing, so DGR is likely not the best fit for you.

Julie Bindel, another prominent radical feminist, promotes misconceptions by stating that “transsexualism, by its nature, promotes the idea that it is ‘natural’ for boys to play with guns and girls to play with Barbie dol…the idea that gender roles are biologically determined rather than socially constructed is the antithesis of feminism.” She blames transgender people for promoting sexual stereotypes because male-to-female transgenders are supposedly driven to achieve an ultra-feminine ideal. She overlooks the fact that being transgender is about self-identification and that what someone actually does to transition is up to them and doesn’t necessarily include hormones or surgery.

All people who identify as female must deal with scrutiny if they don’t look like a size zero Victoria’s Secret model. Impossible beauty standards are not a burden that transgender people invented.

Radical feminism and the anti-trans analysis

At the heart of the attacks on transgender people is the traditional radical feminist notion of biological determinism, which interprets humans and human life from a strictly biological point of view — holding that biology is destiny. Their view that women’s inferiority is based on their biology and that men are the enemy, is a reverse image of patriarchal hatred of women. The basis of radical feminism is to see men as the problem, painting women as the natural victims of men. If women are oppressed specifically because of the reproductive organs they are born with, rather than a deeper social-economic source of gender inequality, then transwomen can’t be part of the club. Accepting the sisterhood of non-biological females challenges the very basis of radical feminism.

Radical feminists view women’s oppression as the most important factor, expecting women of color to choose between their gender and their race. This has led to some outrageous incidents of racism.

Although radical feminists have traditionally been gender essentialists, some radical feminists have recently flipped the script to make it appear that they are the ones countering gender essentialism and that trans people are the ones reinforcing it. But while Bindel argues that transpeople reinforce biological determinism, she avoids the question that if gender is a social construct, why can’t it be changed? She is merely singing the same song to a different tune in order to obscure good old-fashioned radical feminist essentialism.

Radical feminists claim that gender oppression can only be abolished by getting rid of the whole concept of gender and they view transgender people as a threat to that ideal. They contradict their desire to abolish gender when they claim that transwomen can’t be true “women” because they don’t know what it means to be oppressed as biological women. In reality, transwomen experience the pressures of sexism and frequently point out the stark contrast of how they are treated when the world perceives them as women.

Radical feminists mostly ignore transmen or claim, as Sheila Jeffreys does, that female-to-male transpeople are only trying to buy into male privilege. In her article “FTM Transsexualism and Grief,” Jeffrey mourns that “FTM transsexualism destroys the lesbianism not just of the woman who ‘transitions’ but that of her female partner too.” In Unpacking Queer Politics, Jeffreys asserts that all feminists should be lesbians or should adopt “political lesbianism” because women shouldn’t sleep with their oppressors.

Socialist feminism’s analysis of transgender oppression

In contrast to radical feminists, socialist feminists view the private property system as the historical and economic foundation for patriarchy and the subordination of women and sexual and gender outlaws.

It wasn’t until the private property system evolved that gender roles were used against women. The Radical Women Manifesto refers to Frederick Engels and his work The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State:

Engels does not ascribe the battle between the sexes to any inherent evil in one gender, but rather to the inexorable development of technology (the forces of production) and the corresponding upheavals in culture and family formations. This method of analysis is called “historical materialism.”

The Manifesto states, “The source of women’s power was in the original gender-based division of labor. But when surpluses first developed through the introduction of domestic herds of cattle it was the division of labor that gave rise to conflict and the subjugation of the female sex.” Ultimately, “Women’s role in society stems from social production not biology.”

The role capitalist society has assigned to women is directly challenged by the existence of transgender, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, intersex and queer people – which is a good thing!

The Manifesto outlines Radical Women’s support for the total liberation of sexual minorities and puts forward demands for outlawing discrimination, ending police harassment and violence against LGBTQ people, reversing discriminatory immigration laws, and ending vicious media portrayals.

Radical Women has fought for transpeople from the 1973 First West Coast Lesbian Conference to participating in the 2007 United ENDA movement that pushed for inclusion of transpeople in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Radical Women welcomes transwomen as members and defends transpeople’s right to respect within the queer movement as in society at large.

For decades being gay or lesbian or an uppity female was considered a mental illness, yet some feminists think it’s ok to apply that pathology to transgender people. It really doesn’t matter whether being gay, lesbian, or transgender is a choice or inborn. It should be up to the individual to determine their sexual identity or gender. These self-definitions should not be assigned or institutionalized by the capitalistic patriarchal system and certainly not by so-called feminists.

Feminism = human liberation

It seems that radical feminists have their priorities out of whack. They seem to see the biggest threat coming from transpeople and allies rather than attacks on abortion, economic exploitation or domestic violence. Online debates focus on not allowing transwomen in “women’s” bathrooms as though there needs to be some sort of bathroom police on duty. These ridiculous debates detract from much more productive conversations on how to organize against sexism.

Anti-trans views ultimately come from a flawed, female-chauvinist analysis that sees sexism as the paramount issue and only weakly, if at all, takes into account how women’s oppression intersects with racism, class, ableism, homophobia and of course transphobia. The solidarity that is needed to win liberation is only possible by understanding that different forms of oppression have a common basis in the private property system and that we have a common need to replace capitalism with a system of socialist equality. Under a socialist system, people will have the freedom to express their gender and sexuality in any way they choose. This is the society Radical Women is fighting for.

Transphobia comes from a minority of women in the feminist community but unfortunately it’s a rather noisy minority. Their hatred does not have any place in our struggle. Feminism is supposed to be an ideology of transcending gender oppression and eliminating the strict binary definition of gender, not reinforcing it. Feminists should be against hatred and bigotry in all forms and respect everyone’s right to biological autonomy.

*The title of this article plays on the title of Sheila Jeffreys’ 2003 book, Unpacking Queer Politics. In this book, she claims that being transgender is a self harm disorder and reinforces binary gender models.

This article is part of an ongoing series exploring trans issues with feminist opinion leaders:
  • Catharine A. MacKinnon: Iconic radical feminist/legal theorist.
  • Judith Butler: Iconic queer feminist/gender theorist.
  • Frances “Poppy” Northcutt: Early trans-inclusive leader in the Southern feminist movement, president of Texas NOW.
  • Janis Walworth: Radical Lesbian who organized the movement that became Camp Trans.
  • Sandy Stone: After surviving an attempted murder by TERFs, wrote a foundational document for trans feminism: The Empire Strikes Back: A Post-Transsexual Manefesto.
  • Robin Tyler: Iconic radical feminist activist, pioneered trans-inclusive Women's Fests, was beaten by TERFs for protecting a trans woman from thier bashing.

  • Radical Women: Conversation with an early trans-inclusive 2nd wave feminist group formed in 1967.
  • Libertarian Feminism: Interview with a trans-inclusive libertarian feminist organization formed in 1973.


  • Pingback: Unpacking Transphobia In Feminism | PETRIE'S DISH()

  • Elle Mischa Fields

    Really wish those that are anti-trans would see us as allies to their caused. For 40 years I was deep I undercover behind the enemy lines working to promote and shelter the few women that were in my industry; that bei g power sports. As A tech I always trained the few female new hires fresh out of schools like MMI with respect and never talked down to them instead did as any mentor should. I taught them and provided them with confidence of being better than their male counterparts.

    I sheltered them from some of the masotgy and douchbaggery they would get but more importantly. showed them how to shut it down. just simply say ” so you hate me because I’m a woman working one bikes or do you hate me because I’m better than you and look good while doing it. the wasg out rate of female tech’s from the industry are unbelievable high and I armed my recrutes with knowledge and the ability to stand up for them selves and stand out from the rest of their co-workers. I have a foto of the queen of England working on military vehicles during WW2 that is on tje cover of my toolbox. I would tell all my trainees that there is no such thing as a boys job or girls job… there are only jobs and the most qualified should always be the one hired for it.

    We aren’t the enemy we are not less than if anything we are the best of both worlds. I benefited from being male and white I just wish now that I have transitioned all my sisters would see me for my potential and not my former birth gender. if they can’t do that then at least treat me as male… I’d rather be misgendered then treated as less than human.

  • Pingback: Critical Review & Analysis: “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry”()

  • With all due respect. Feminism, is a scam
    theory. I do not advise, any serious
    minded person. To take this theory
    serious. It is just as valueless. As trying to
    get a job. With a nursery school
    certificate. It is also like trying, to use a
    forged I.D card. Any good theory, should
    be. An internationally, recognized theory.
    Most people, who practice feminism. Do
    it just because, they are copying others.
    And they don’t even know, that feminism
    exists. Neither do they know. That it is
    even, on Wikipedia. I’ve seen a “feminist
    company”, that employs men to cook
    food. That has the boldness, to ask a
    male employee. Why he has, long hair (or
    female hairstyles). I’ve also seen a
    “feminist company”, asking a female
    employee. Why she is wearing trouser. All
    this, is doublethink

    • “Feminism” is a movement to eradicate sexism. That’s all. If you think sexism is bad and work against it, you’re a feminist. Every movement has its assholes to be sure; try to not fall of the fallacy of composition.

      • anonymous23

        not the same guy that posted first feminism wasn’t always cancer but with people like you you believe in the feminism that hates men why do you think that feminism numbers are dropping

        • Arekushieru

          I disagree with the article’s author that oppression of women didn’t occur until the invention of the private property system evolved, essentially because misogyny takes many forms, of the fact that pregnancy taking up a lot of resources and time would necessarily lead to a division of labor with the more menial tasks likely assigned to women and this is usually an attempt to whitewash ancient history, but not only does that NOT ignore the impact that the invention of a private property system would have had on an already oppressive regime (in fact I rather think it BOLSTERS it) it also demonstrates how LAUGHABLE your assumption about feminism is. You see you’re only complaining about how feminism is about man hating because you’re ‘concerned’ about how men’s traditional toys (read: privileges) are disappearing. Ktbn.

    • Arekushieru

      All of what you mentioned is exactly what feminism is used to COMBAT. There are women who are sexist precisely BECAUSE of misogyny. And being privileged does not equate to a get out of jail free pass. After all it wouldn’t BE misogyny if men WEREN’T expected to NOT ACT LIKE WOMEN. It would behoove you to actually inform your opinions before commenting next time so that it is not made painfully clear to your audience that you have not one idea of what you are talking about. Kt.

  • Pingback: Feminism ≠ Trans Hate! Nope, Not Ever! | SACHA's Blog()

  • Pingback: Why Some Women Don't Like Feminism, but Should()

  • Pingback: The Australian Sex Party, Reactionary Trotskyists, and Bullying Women Out of the Left: The Real ‘Third Wave’ | The Screaming Female()

  • Pingback: #TERF: il femminismo radicale trans-escludente – Al di là del Buco()

  • Pingback: Gender Performance: The TransAdvocate interviews Judith Butler | The TransAdvocate()

  • Pingback: NOW state rep talks with the TransAdvocate about TERFs, trans-inclusion and civil rights | The TransAdvocate()

  • Pingback: The Third Wave Fund: empowering communities to fight for gender, racial, and economic justice | The TransAdvocate()

  • I’ll be sure to let Radical Women, a feminist organization with almost half a century of activism behind them, know that you think they’re not *real* feminists like you.

  • Pingback: Poisoning the well: In which men’s rights activists make everything worse | The MFT()

  • Pingback: Top TransAdvocate Stories of 2013 | The Transadvocate()

  • Pingback: You might be a TERF if…()

  • Pingback: You might be a TERF if… | Ehipassiko()

  • Pingback: Unpacking Transphobia – Death Ray()

  • The issue has already been transferred to “our” community. At least i can say I’ve faced it and have been accused for not being a real “trans” because i did not agree with an opinion. There were a few sisters who considered me an outsider and felt they had control over my transition. One suggested she could tell my wife about a deep dark secret i had. My point being bad behavior is universal and i believe we should focus when ever possible on your original point; ‘we are mostly supported.” However, i’m not suggesting this article was cavalier in subject. I learned a few things that raised some red flags and explained some behavior i have experienced from other women. There something we can at least learn from the Feminist movement. We really need to work on managing our own tendency to become religo-political before it becomes a problem. With respect to Valerie and please understand i mean no offence. I just want to point out a tendency i likewise can have on occasion. We can descend into a religious fundamentalism where we are more concerned about our own adhering to the ‘One True Faith.’ We can spend more time correcting each other than actually seeing an important issue raised. I mean no offence and want to say again i have done this.

  • Pingback: Unpacking Transphobia In Feminism | Random Stuff From Thorin and Jason()

  • Is the author cis or is there another reason she’s using a boatload of implicitly degendering terminology that’s decades out of date?

  • Pingback: Unpacking Transphobia in Feminism | The Transadvocate | womanintears()

  • Pingback: “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism (TERF) is a Relatively Small – But Extremely Dedicated – Hate Group Which Passes Itself Off as Feminism to Create, Support and Promulgate Negative Opinions About Trans People” | ENDABlog 2.0()