The Trouble with the TERFs
by Mila Madison
In this week’s rant I would like to discuss the subject of TERFs. Before we get into it I would like to issue a **trigger warning** for those who are sensitive to this subject.
For those of you who never heard the term TERF it stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. They are feminists who are transphobic and see people who are transgender as only what they were assigned at birth. They feel women are simply defined as having a vagina and “XX” chromosomes. Many of us in the transgender community have experienced a run in with a TERF at one time or another.
The term is known to be coined by a feminist blogger named Tigtog, otherwise known as Viv. Though she herself is not a trans-exclusionist she needed a term to define this sect of the feminist movement in her writing. Most TERF’s look at this term as a slur against their group. I feel it is important to note that most feminists are supportive of the transgender movement and see transgender women as the women they are. They see them as a natural extension of the feminist movement.
So first we need to understand the three waves of feminism:
The First Wave of Feminism
The “First Wave” of feminism began in the late 19th and early 20th Century. It was centered around opening up opportunities for women, especially the right to vote. It was focused on change through achieving political power. It later expanded to issues concerning sexual, reproductive and economic matters. Notable first wave feminists were Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
The Second Wave of Feminism
The “Second Wave” of feminism was from the 1960’s to the 1990’s. It was connected to other social movements occurring at the time, such as the anti-Vietnam protests and the civil rights movement. It also focused on the workplace, sexuality, family and reproductive rights. Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan were prominent members of the second wave.
The Third Wave of Feminism
“Third Wave” feminism, though it includes many of the goals of the first two waves, is characterized by a desire of women to find a voice of their own. It include’s various diverse groups in the fold of feminist thought. It focuses on the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes. Rebecca Walker, who coined the term “Third Wave,” is one of the most prominent figures in this wave of feminism.
Most transphobic feminists are from the second wave. It is important that we understand where they are coming from, even if it horrifies us. You have people like Cathy Brennan who coauthored a letter to the United Nations asking them not to legally recognize and protect those who are transgender. There is Germaine Greer who stated “Trans women are not women because they do not know what it is like to have a “smelly vagina”. She feels all transgender women are really rapists trying to encroach upon private female spaces. These polarizing views took shape as early as 1977 when Gloria Steinem said in reference to those who are transgender, “if the shoe doesn’t fit, must we change the foot?” She also stated that transgender people “surgically mutilate their own bodies” and that “feminists are right to feel uncomfortable about the need for and uses of transsexualism.”
One thing that rattles transphobic feminists is the thought of a male and female brain. They believe there is no truth to this concept and that they are all the same. Well here are the facts. Though you probably couldn’t distinguish a male and female brain by looking at them, they are different. Where the conversation goes off track is that the portions of the brain that affect intelligence are no different. Most of the brain is not different with the exception of some subtle portions of it. Transgender Universe discussed this in their “Origins of the Transgender Condition” article last week. Where the brains are different is the systems in the body they regulate. How the pituitary regulates hormones is entirely different. Hormones are the fuel that drives the body and mind. Think regular gas and diesel. A male’s brain and body runs on testosterone and a woman’s brain and body runs on estrogen. They are indeed different. This hormonal balance is a great part of what gives us all the varieties in gender identity. No one is purely one or the other.
WHAT I CAN SAY IS I AM FEMALE BECAUSE MY BRAIN AND BODY BOTH RUN BETTER ON ESTROGEN.
What we also learned from the “Origins” article is that the brain develops after the genitals and the possibility for a difference to occur does exist. So suppose a “female” brain develops with a male physical body. That brain wants to run on and regulate estrogen except it can’t. This causes all kind of health issues and often results in dysphoria. Just flip it for the male brain in a female body. If you read my rant from last week we talked about identity and how everyone’s opinion of what makes them male or female is different. This is true for both those who are transgender and those that are cisgender. What I can say is I am female because my brain and body both run better on estrogen. This is something we have in common with our transphobic feminist friends. It is just one of the many reasons I am female despite how I was assigned at birth.
So the argument coming from the TERFs is not at all valid. They have no say in what someone else is. No one is allowed to define someone else’s identity. They can either accept the science that is there or continue to deny reality. I suspect they will continue to deny reality.
So what do we do about it?
Nothing. That’s right nothing. The majority of these people are second wave so called feminists. They are a dying breed with archaic views of the universe. They have become so obsessed with their views they have lost sight of their cause. Some of them did a lot of good for the women’s movement and it is sad to see them be out of touch with what goes on today. Unfortunately for them they will be on the wrong side of history. Instead of being remembered for doing any good they will be remembered as bigots. They took the fight against being defined by just a body part to only to finish it by defining people by their body parts. They have become everything they have fought against all these years. Why anyone would deny acceptance to someone who wants to be an ally to their cause is beyond me. I take pity on this group as they just do not understand.
TO BE A FEMINIST IS TO BE FOR WHAT IS FEMININE REGARDLESS OF WHO AND WHERE THAT FEMININITY COMES FROM.
Unfortunately this debate will go on. The TERFs will continue to refer to us as the wrong gender and we will keep telling them to “shut up and sit down”. It is sad as we should all be working together. None of us get to define what is masculine or feminine. It means something different to everyone. To be a feminist is to be for what is feminine regardless of who and where that femininity comes from. It becomes even more complicated in this non-binary world. The good news is that some of them eventually come around once they become educated and get to know a transgender person. Even Gloria Steinem came out and apologized for her statements after she became educated on what transgender is. In 2013 for an article in The Advocate she made the following statement, “So now I want to be unequivocal in my words: I believe that transgender people, including those who have transitioned, are living out real, authentic lives. Those lives should be celebrated, not questioned. Their health care decisions should be theirs and theirs alone to make. And what I wrote decades ago does not reflect what we know today as we move away from only the binary boxes of “masculine” or “feminine” and begin to live along the full human continuum of identity and expression.”
So though you can argue with a TERF as their views will sometimes frustrate us, you can take solace in the fact that as people become more educated many of these binary views will go away. People do evolve. All we need is time. We need to do our part and educate people regarding who and what we are if we want this change to take place sooner. Just remember no one can tell you who you are and you don’t have to be accepted by TERFs to consider yourself a feminist.
Stay safe and keep fighting for all of us!
Love and Peace,