Feminism does not have to be trans-exclusionary

Annette Pryce discusses the use of a well known phrase.

(cw:quoted hate speech)

There is not a writer from The Queerness who would disagree on how wrong it is to make threats of violence, to use violent words and violent actions. We do not condone those on the Twittersphere who participate in violent words or actions aimed at anyone, and particularly women, who are often the target.

We don’t however believe that the acronym ‘T.E.R.F’ in itself is a violent term. We believe it’s an acronym, one that was created by feminists themsleves. ‘TigTog’, a blogger coined the term during discussions on a blog post, which if you think about it, really isn’t outside the realm of possibility, how do new words get created anyway? In the world of the internet, are we surprised?

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.” (Transadvocate)

It was ‘popularised by a cis-gender woman’, and as for whether the simple use of the term is a ‘slur’, as contested by so many feminists, Tigtog goes onto say:

“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.” (Transadvocate)

She’s right, any group identifying word can and will be used against that group as a slur. For example: ‘queers’, ‘gays’, ‘lesbos’, ‘dykes’, we’ve all heard them, we all know what they sound like. And perhaps a little comparison is needed. Lets take this example from twitter from a couple of years ago.


Imagine if Katlyn had said “I continue to hate these fucking lesbians what else is new”, or Antonio saying “kill every fucking queer”. It’s not new is it, we hear this all the time. I’ve been subject to a few death threats, and we can see, absolutely, how it can be upsetting.

Without getting into an academic discussion about how violent words are used to silence women and how this is misogyny, lets remember that men aren’t the only perpetrators of this. In my time as a trans ally I’ve been subject to horrific abuse from cis-het women on twitter, even some cis-lesbians laid into me for standing up for my trans friend’s appearance in Diva Magazine.  I’m a cis-lesbian and I’ve been called a ‘misogynist’ and a ‘homophobe’.

We at the Queerness firmly distance ourselves from this type of violent language, and we have no time for trolls like this on the internet. Yet it’s those like this that make it harder for those who are trans positive to defend their trans friends and colleagues, and end up getting lumped in with this group of trolls, because they use one acronym in a more appropriate way than these trolls, and as Tigtog suggests there is utility in using acronyms to make discourse easier, perhaps maybe it’s just that laziness of language that is so annoying.

So let’s discuss trans exclusionary radical feminists without using the term itself. From writers such as Rebecca Reily-Cooper who states the definition of radical feminism as:

“an approach to analysing the oppression and exploitation of the class of female people by the class of male people. It seeks to uncover and challenge the root causes and origins of that system of oppression, which it labels patriarchy.” RRC’s blog

That’s fine, I can get on board with that.

She states that the term ‘T.E.R.F’ is ‘not a meaningful description of feminist politics’. But different people clearly have a different view of feminist politics. There were several cis-het radical feminists who sent a flurry of abuse at one of my trans members this year. And there were plenty of LGBTQ+ and cis-het allies who, having read the screen shots from that discourse, would NOT have described those comments and views as ‘feminism‘. They’d have described them as ‘hate speech’. So are both sides as bad as each other ? Or can we simply not ever agree ?

When you appear on a website that lists your twitter handle and allows a single user to block all 800+ of those names simultaneously to avoid abuse, it suggests you belong to a ‘hate group’. If you purposefully and deliberately target trans activists and question the validity of trans people’s existence, it suggests you have some prejudice.

If you imply that somehow trans women are predators; that there is some hypothetical risk to cis-women from trans women, or simply that you can’t accept them as they are because you: ‘just can’t agree’, and when you dress it up as ‘gender critical’, rather than transphobia,  then you probably are trans exclusionary.

If you simply ask polite questions this is different. But lets be clear, the questions: “why do I have to accept them in my bathrooms ?”, and “Are they are taking something away from my definition of womenhood?”, are not very polite, and are entirely dehumanising.

Trans women have been at the centre of the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement from the beginning, even the LGBTQ+ community needs to recognise that, and feminism is a good thing as long as it doesn’t trample on human beings on its’ way. I know feminists both radical and non, gay, straight and bisexual, we all want what’s best for women, but trans women are right there with you in that fight. Don’t shut them out because of a word, or an acronym.

When people feel marginalised they fight back, they get angry, if you knew trans people personally, you’d get it. You’d realise that tilting at windmills in this debate is allowing those cis-gender men who are the real culprits, off the hook. They are your husbands, your brothers, your sons. Why not educate them to be better men, because predatory cis-gender men don’t need a change in the law to enter a woman only space.

Follow Annette on twitter (@LGBTEXEC)

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