A woman is a woman. Black or white, straight or gay, tall or short, a feminist should recognize them all. This includes trans women, who should be able to enjoy the fruits of feminism just like everyone else. However a dangerous movement refuses to acknowledge this, espousing transmisogyny from its very core.
I’m talking about trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs for short. According to trans activist and writer Kelsie Brynn Jones, a TERF’s goal is “to deny trans women basic access to health care, women’s groups, restroom facilities, and anywhere that may be considered women’s space.” In short, they want trans women to suffer simply for being trans.
The source of transphobia in radical feminism can be traced back to the 1970s, during a time when the feminist movement was deciding who had a stake in womanhood. Figures such as Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon argued that trans women weren’t lesser than their cisgender counterparts. In the words of MacKinnon, “Anybody who identifies as a woman, wants to be a woman, is going around being a woman, as far as I’m concerned, is a woman.”
Others such as Sheila Jeffreys, a polarizing academic in gender studies, view trans women as outsiders. In fact, Jeffreys has gone so far as to say that undergoing surgery in the process of transitioning is akin to mutilation. Her new book, Gender Hurts, is more or less a deluge of hate speech against trans people.
The reasons underlying this hostility toward trans women are various. Some radical feminists argue that since cis women are born with female genitalia, only they can truly understand misogyny. This ignores the fact that trans women face not only transphobia but misogyny too (i.e. transmisogyny). Another argument is that one can’t “choose” to be a woman, but that operates under the false assumption that gender is a choice. Just like someone can’t opt for a sexual orientation, the feeling of being a man, woman or genderfluid is innate.
Speaking of which, TERFs often reject the notion that trans women have a “female brain,” accusing them of simply following the social norms set by our culture. This implies that trans women only dress and act a certain way in order to fit into female stereotypes. Again, this is a falsity. Sure, one day I might dress in a pink dress and the next I might wear pants, but that doesn’t determine my gender. Likewise, not all trans women follow the rigid structure of femininity, but that doesn’t make them any less of a woman. Anyway, sometimes embracing feminine roles is a safety mechanism, since if a trans woman wears masculine clothing she might be misgendered. Of course society has a problem with compulsory femininity, but putting the blame on trans women would be erroneous.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t even end there. A particularly ridiculous theory posits that the reason why sex-reassignment surgery happens is due to “a man’s paraphilic tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman.” The fallacy here is that gender identification is much more complex than just sexual desire. Furthermore, it’s extremely offensive to reduce trans women to their private parts, as if they aren’t whole, functioning human beings. An extension of this reasoning says that trans women are somehow appropriating the female body. As if cis women have a monopoly on femaleness!
I want every TERF to close their eyes and repeat after me: trans women are women. Protecting and supporting cis women doesn’t mean you have to attack those who are trans. They are not our enemies, hoisting up the patriarchy on their shoulders. No, they’re our sisters and need to be treated as such. The solution to misogyny is solidarity, not transmisogyny.