Since the 1970s, certain branches of feminism have decried the existence of trans people and painted trans women specifically as infiltrators working on behalf of the patriarchy to destroy women’s spaces. (“TERF” stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist.) These views treat trans women as less than “real” women and rely on an oddly essentialist understanding of gender (contrary to many other strands of feminism) that holds that gender assignment at birth dictates the “truth” of gender. Self-described radical feminists like Cathy Brennan have dedicated considerable amounts of time and energy to attacking and outing trans women, describing some as “pretendbians” (that is, pretend lesbians) and publicizing their old names and identities in a deliberate attempt to disrupt and endanger their lives. Brennan once went so far as to write to the UN to argue that legal protections for gender identity and gender expression would directly harm cisgender women.
[HOW DARE I WRITE A LETTER????????????????]
Feminists like Brennan represent a very real danger to transgender people everywhere, and to trans women specifically. They are actively contributing to a culture of violent transphobia and cisssexism in which trans people’s identities are subject to scrutiny, contested, and ultimately rendered unreal. In other words, they are fighting to sustain a world in which transgender people, especially transgender women of colour, are routinely harassed, beaten, made homeless, murdered, and imprisoned in gender inappropriate facilities.
But even as I loathe Brennan and others for their part in maintaining these oppressive structures, I believe that their influence is shrinking. Feminism is changing, and while transphobia is still rampant, the models of gender that Brennan and her ilk promote are losing traction. Simultaneously, trans people are increasingly building our own spaces and creating our own communities, rather than only looking to access existing ones. I see the rage with which transphobic feminists attack us as a response to these developments — I think it’s inversely proportional to the amount of power and territory they’re left defending. Even as we recognize and fight back against the former, I think we need to realize that the latter is dwindling.
You can play TERF War here