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Are TERFs Fascists?

By J. S. Gupta

Index




 

Part 1: TERFs, Fascism and Queerphobia


What is a TERF?


A ‘TERF’ is a ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist’. It is a controversial label used to denote proponents of a specific strain of transphobia, one which appropriates feminist aesthetics for the purposes of disparaging and demeaning the trans movement. Many in the trans rights movement dispute the use of the word ‘feminist’ as an adequate descriptive term for these people. And while TERF-ism as an ideology isn’t reflective of more contemporary currents of feminism (i.e. fourth-wave feminism), which are centred on concepts of intersectionality, TERFism certainly reflects a very reactionary, very conservative conception of the feminist movement, one drawn from earlier currents. The term ‘TERF’ is also useful for distinguishing TERFism from general transphobia as it has a very specific and unique character that we must analyse. Furthermore, it is a far better term than the one the TERFs themselves prefer to use in describing themselves and their movement – ‘Gender Critical’, which is more of a lie than ‘TERF’ is. Moreover, the term TERF is one which truly upsets and infuriates said TERFs and thus, quite frankly, it should be used for this reason, if no other. This article will therefore be using the term ‘TERF’ to describe this form of transphobia.


TERF-ism is an ideology, one that has seen significant growth in organisation and prominence in recent years. The basis of TERF ideology is simple, it is a form of social ‘gatekeeping’, one that seeks to jealously guard ‘femininity’ and ‘femaleness’ for cisgender women, and deny access to either, by anyone who was not assigned ‘female’ at birth. Their reasoning for this is based in a reactionary fearmongering, accusing trans female and other transfeminine people of having some sort of inherent maleness which would allegedly cause them using a female identity to somehow endanger or else disadvantage cisgender women. In addition, they deny the self-determined identity of trans male and other transmasculine individuals, who themselves were also assigned female at birth. They accuse the trans movement of somehow tricking or bewitching women into becoming men, refusing to acknowledge the autonomy of transmasculine people in their assertion of their own gender identity. In short, TERFism is an ideology of hate targeted at transgender and gender nonconforming people. It is hatred they feel is justified by conspiracy theories they’ve concocted surrounding trans people, medical professionals and any who dare advocate for trans rights.


The roots of TERFism go back decades, at least as far back as the 1970s, where cisgender women were, even then, working to exclude trans women from female spaces.[1] TERFs have begun to have influence within many of the bourgeois parties among the Western powers. Transphobic politicians have been signal-boosting many of their ideas, pairing them with their own traditionalist justifications for maintaining or furthering the marginalisation of trans people. TERFs have also found allies in mainstream media with dominant news organisations such as the BBC platforming this hate movement and their talking points.[2] Moreover, notable celebrities have sought to regenerate their fledgeling careers by committing themselves to the TERFist cause, further increasing the mainstream presence of the movement and its hate speech. TERFs have been repeatedly called fascistic by left-wing advocates for trans rights. With the term ‘fascist’ too often misused, it is imperative we look at this objectively, attempt to see if TERFism as a movement and as an ideology, truly fits the fascist mould.



What is Fascism?


So, how do we actually define fascism? First and foremost, it is a product of post-industrial historical conditions, an ideology manifesting in the contradictions following the First World War. Fascism is primarily a reaction to ‘modernity’ and social reformism supposedly going ‘too far’, as well as a reaction to the rise of left-wing radicalism, to create a sort of inverted radicalism – a ‘radical conservatism’. Simply put, fascism is reaction in its most extreme form. Reaction, in this sense, referring to political and social aversion to positive and ‘progressive’ developments in society, wishing to ‘roll back the wheel of history’ to before these developments took shape. Such developments typically being better rights for workers, women, ethnic minorities and, of course, queer people. Like conservatives, fascists typically worship at the altar of ‘traditional values’ and idealise the past but lack the pragmatism of the more mainstream conservatives, having a far more extreme outlook. They do not simply show disdain for marginalised social groups, but open and dogmatic hatred for them. They encourage the application of random acts of violence against them by pushing twisted conspiracy theories.


The social dimension of fascism is also important to note. They are drawn, generally from privileged groups and classes. In particular, they are drawn from those who fear they have lost their privilege or may lose it in the future, especially with the rise of left-wing radicalism and the social justice movements that are part-and-parcel of the left. Historically, fascist groups have been established by, or else supported by, the aristocracy and landed gentry, who feared their increasingly waning power as they entered the 20th Century. They also see a lot of support by the bourgeoise – capitalist industrialists – who fear the international labour movement either reducing their profit margins or worse, collectivising their capital. Fascists have been seen as saviours to these classes due to their more violent policies towards trade unionists and socialists. At present, the fascists also gain a lot of support from people of middle-income and upper middle-income who, during times of economic turmoil, also see their privilege wane as their real income falls. Some may rightly blame the ruling bourgeois class for this reduction in their economic conditions, but many others will blame a scapegoat such as the working class, socialists, ethnic minorities or some other already stigmatised social group, stating that they are the reason why they’ve lost their privilege. The fascists’ extreme policies regarding these groups are what leads to them gaining the support of the ‘middle class’. Ultimately, fascism is an ideology supported by those seeking to regain or maintain their privilege.


Fascism is a broad grouping. We use it here heuristically, though few fascist groups are honest enough to openly call themselves fascists. Terms such as ‘far-right’, ‘alt-right’, ultra-nationalist’ etc., are euphemisms for the same broad ideological grouping that is fascism. If we are to consider TERFism a form of fascism than it is certainly a specialised form of fascism, a sort of ‘single-issue’ fascism focused on one social group – trans people. We have seen other specialised forms of fascism develop considerably in recent years. For instance, internet-based misogyny-centric fascism with ‘men’s rights activists’, ‘red-pillers’ and so on. In the UK and in much of Europe, fascists have been organising with a particular focus on pushing Islamophobia. TERFism would seem to fit in with these other fascist trends. While the more prominent fascist groups have a wider outlook in their policies, TERFs have one single, ultimate goal - eliminating trans people as a visible social group.



The Social Composition of TERFism


We can draw many clear parallels between TERFism and various forms of fascism that seem to indicate that TERFism is indeed a form of fascism itself, but there is a key distinction that must be examined. The majority of fascisms are dominated by a male membership base. Historically, and at present, there has been some female representation in these movements, even at prominent levels, Leni Riefenstahl and Rotha Lintorn-Orman from fascism’s early days, for example. Today there are figures such as Marine Le Penn, Tomi Lahren and Giorgia Meloni. All of these women have been very critical of feminism and the feminist movement. This further distinguishes the TERFs from other female fascists as they embrace the terms ‘feminist’ and ‘feminism’ when describing themselves and their movement. Materially speaking, this presents us with a concern, in that women are victims of patriarchy. Women are not an inherently privileged group. They can, however, gain privilege from their race and economic class. Because of the way society is stratified, particularly in the West, class and race, as well as gender, all have an effect on one’s material conditions.


On the social ‘totem-pole’, a bourgeois woman is placed below a bourgeois man because of her gender in a society that values maleness over femaleness. A given bourgeois male will tend to have better access to the means of subsistence (basic human needs), as well as the means of production and the reins of government. However, a bourgeois woman will always have better access to these material conditions over a working-class man. Similarly, a white woman will always have better access to material conditions than a black man, and especially better access than a black woman.


TERFs, typically, appear to be white and of middle-income or ‘upper-middle income’ background. These are women with more inherent privilege in society than most other women. But of course, TERFs are not a monolith. There are working class and non-white women who uphold TERFist ideology. However, most of the major organisations, their most prominent leaders and the women who typically attend TERFist meetings, are women of privilege, women of means. What is interesting, when we begin to consider this about TERFs, is that both a woman’s whiteness and her economic access to the means of production are directly related to conceptions of femaleness and femininity, their femininity often seen as the default mode of femininity or idealised femaleness. Working class women and non-white women (especially black women) are often demeaned by women of privilege as having more ‘masculine’ qualities. This is a direct product of an enforced social hierarchy, manifested by a social order that organises individuals into categories of exploiter and exploited. What this indicates is that the TERF movement is in large part comprised of women with an inherent material privilege over other women in society.


It is in the interest of these women, due to their material conditions to maintain this hierarchy, to assert their privilege over, and to guard it jealously against, women who are deemed their ‘social lessers’. This is where we reach what TERFism truly is at its core, and where it aligns with fascism as a broader movement – TERFism is a form of specialised, veiled and extreme queerphobia.



TERFism as Queerphobia


Queer women, as a social group, have long been deemed as ‘lesser’ than allosexual/alloromantic, cisgender and heterosexual women (allo-cis-het women). Queer women are all women who exist outside of those narrow categories, including trans women. Queer men, including trans men, are also subject to being deemed as ‘lesser’ to allocishet women. The queer population, of course, also includes all people who are gender non-binary. TERFs typically hold, not only a privileged class background and racial background, but all also hold the privilege of being cisgender. These are women who do not question or challenge the gender they were assigned at birth, a process which would ostracise them in cisnormative society, as all trans people know well. They are women who conform to cisgenderism and thus have better access to the means of subsistence and better material conditions overall. Their designation as cisgender grants them privilege in society. They therefore see it as being in their material interests to work against social justice for trans people as well as to uphold the ideal of cisgenderism, in order to maintain their own privilege.[3]


For this reason of social privilege, to the average allocishet, the presence or mere existence of queer people may make them uncomfortable. Some may be more tolerant of their existence if they ‘know their place’. Queer people seeking equal rights, seeking representation and visibility, seeking acceptance and respect, are demonised and vilified, especially by the political ‘right’. Queer people seeking these things are also the target of fascists who see queer people as some sort of detriment to society, to their ideal of civilisation or, when they’re being honest, to the privilege enjoyed by said fascists. It is here we see how TERFism is a form of fascism, this extreme reaction to the growing visibility and legal protections for trans people and their belief in how this will somehow affect cis women. It is a queerphobia in the literal form – a fear of ‘trans-ness’ and the fear of growing rejection of cisgenderism.

Though of course, there are some elements within the TERF movement that may be considered ‘queer’ in their own right. Some cisgender lesbians (and some cisgender female bisexuals/pansexuals) have found their way into this hate movement, rejecting intersectionality with trans people. The most notable example of this in the UK is the LGB Alliance group which openly excludes trans people from their more gentrified form of queer liberation, one approved by the UK’s Conservative Party.[4] The reasoning for some cis lesbians to align themselves with TERFs is, again, privilege. While lesbians still face homophobia in present society, it is arguable that there have been massive gains in legal rights, protections and visibility, for them, within recent years. There is a notion among some cis WLW and MLM,[5] that trans people are simply ‘too queer’ and prevent the cisgender members of the LGBTQ+ movement achieving social acceptability, with trans people seemingly having replaced gay people as the target of most right-wing pundits. Therefore, in order to appeal to the allocishetists, these lesbians have abandoned trans people in order to elevate their own social prestige. And again, this is not the case with all cis lesbians, just as not all cis women are TERFs. Some cis lesbians are just more reactionary than others and possess an internalised queerphobia, hence their alliance with the allocishet TERFs.

 

Part 2: Conspiracy and Patriarchy


TERFism’s Queerphobic Conspiracy Theories


Most queerphobic propaganda centres around framing queer people as dangerous, or the fear of some sort of forced queer assimilation of allocishets. TERFist propaganda is no exception. The TERF conspiracy theories morph and mutate depending on the TERF in question and their particular brand of rhetoric. Typically, non-binary people are erased from TERFist propaganda, and their focus is on two groups: trans women and trans men. In both cases, the conspiracy theories first deny their self-determined gender identities. In both cases they also push the idea of ‘mental-illness’ in a highly malicious display of gaslighting and ableism. However, the conspiracy theories for both typically differ in framing. Trans women are framed by TERFs as ‘predatory males’, while trans men are framed as ‘female victims’. But what remains the same is the narrative that wider social acceptance of trans people, and those advocating for trans rights are threats to cisgender women.


The most famous conspiracy, one that is unfortunately widely believed by many, is the belief that the existence of trans women is a conspiracy, by men, to sexually assault cisgender women. The focus of this rhetoric is often the use of a women’s bathroom by a trans woman. Some TERFs may suggest that they don’t hate trans women, they are simply concerned about men pretending to be trans in order to assault women. And this ‘concern’ supposedly justifies all at attacks, by TERFs, on attempts to make medical transition more accessible or trans women more legally visible. Other TERFs go further, suggesting all trans women should be barred from women’s bathrooms and other women’s spaces, for the comfort of transphobic cisgender women. The logical fallacy of this supposed ploy has been explained by many, but it is worth quickly restating here: men who wish to rape women would not go to so much trouble in order to do so. Arguably it is a product of much wider mistrust of all queer peoples in society, the result of a culture that has typically portrayed them as ‘sexual deviants’. This conspiracy theory surrounding trans women reduces their existence into something inherently sexual. Many TERFs insist that trans women are all just men with a ‘fetish’, some suggesting that they are ‘violating womanhood’ by ‘fetishising’ it, but it is, in truth, the TERFs who are fetishising trans women.


There are off-shoots of this conspiracy as well. There are the typical baseless accusations of paedophilia that plague all queer peoples, for instance. Another that has grown in recent years is the accusation that trans women are bullying cisgender lesbians into sleeping with them. The claims of this happening should not be dismissed out of hand, nor should they be used to condemn all trans lesbians. Many trans lesbians have anxiety about approaching cis lesbians and typically only date other trans lesbians. This is either not known or not acknowledged by TERFs. Many cis lesbians have condemned their use as props in this hateful rhetoric, but their protests have gone ignored. This conspiracy theory of trans women as predators, as ‘pretenders’, as dangerous victimisers of cisgender women is a useful narrative, one which helps embolden male transphobes, encouraging them to ‘take action’ against trans women through legislative means and often violent means.


The reports of assaults by trans women upon cisgender women are incredibly low, though there are some cases given focus by TERFs to justify their conspiracy theory. For instance, the prominent case of a trans woman assaulting a cis woman in a women’s prison in the UK.[6] Obviously this crime is condemnable, and it should not be belittled. Prison rape is a very serious issue, and it is committed by people of all genders. Sexual assault knows no gender. TERFs seem to believe that any case of a trans woman committing an act of rape is proof that they all commit rape. TERF logic therefore concludes that if trans women are rapists, they are ‘actually men’. While the highest reported cases are male against female, it does not make it a uniquely male crime. In fact, one prominent TERF, actor Lily Cade, who has gone on many vitriolic rants online about trans women as predators, has herself been accused of sexual assault by many of her colleagues.[7] This hypocrisy is worth pointing to as evidence of the TERFs’ insincerity. These are not activists seeking social justice for women, these are reactionaries who take issue with trans women purely due to them being transgender and not cisgender. Such conspiracy theories allow TERFs to obscure their queerphobia through the exploitation of the anti-rape movement. They exploit the genuine hardships many people, trans and cis, have faced in a patriarchal world that largely ignores sexual assault. And much like other reactionary forces, the TERFs only really seem to care about sexual assault when they can use it as a political tool against a group they detest.


Conversely, trans men are often ignored or overlooked by many TERFs, but those that do call attention to them frame trans men, not as dangerous predators, but as victims of a ‘transgender ideology’. The basis of the TERF conspiracy theory surrounding trans men, is also one of victimhood against cisgender women, however, with the belief that through some dark magic, girls are being manipulated or else brainwashed into becoming trans men. There is a special kind of malice behind this conspiracy theory, as previously discussed, as it is a form of gaslighting.

It is tied into other accusations made of trans people, this notion that they are faking their transness. They are accused of lying for attention, or else chasing a trend, or simply being ‘confused’. The latter was also a popular way of dismissing the sexualities of gay, lesbian, bi and pan people in the past.[8] Ironically, it has been suggested that trans people are just ‘confused gay men and women’. Such an attitude is especially harmful as there are many trans people who often struggle with a form of imposter syndrome, questioning whether they are truly trans or just ‘pretending’, this itself a part of the larger issue of gender dysphoria faced by trans people. In a society that continues to be hostile to trans people and feeds into this imposter syndrome, it can have negative repercussions on a trans person’s mental health.


TERFs employ this typical form of transphobic attack but take it a step further, crafting a conspiracy theory that suggests that, not only are trans people not really trans, they are being manipulated into thinking they are by ‘Trans Rights Activists’[9] and the healthcare professionals who support trans people through their transition. The latter aspect of this conspiracy theory links directly with other popular fascist conspiracy theories that encourage distrust of doctors, mental health specialists and science in general.


TERFist rhetoric creates a narrative of ‘confused lesbians’ being forced into surgery at the behest of doctors influenced by ‘gender ideology’. It now seems a certainty, that when a trans man comes out to the world, or decides to proudly display their top surgery scars on Twitter or elsewhere, a TERF will feel the need to comment about ‘losing another lesbian’. TERFs twist a positive moment into something ugly in service of their political agenda. This also, of course, erases the many bi and gay trans men that exist in the world.


And if the ‘confused lesbians’ narrative doesn’t hold, they spin other stories about ‘women’ seeking to escape misogyny by ‘becoming’ trans men, or neurodivergent ‘women’ being ‘tricked’ into ‘becoming’ trans men. They insultingly deny the agency and competence of these men, deny their ability to make conscious decisions for themselves. The TERF attempts to turn trans men into pawns for their movement, the victims of a ‘gender ideology’ that they can use to frame their hate movement as a righteous one. There is an ironic reliance on patriarchal ideologies, stressing the need for predominately male governments to protect these people they deem women, encouraging these governments to pass transphobic legislation.


Notable TERF, children’s author JK Rowling, is one such person to have pushed this conspiracy theory. In her latest work of fantasy fiction, she attempts to instil fear into her audience by suggesting that she herself, as a neurodivergent child, may have become subject to ‘gender ideology’ if she were a child today, stating that ‘I believe I could have been persuaded to turn myself into the son my father had openly said he’d have preferred.’[10] Rowling’s now notorious transphobic essay (for which the BBC state media organisation awarded a prize in 2020)[11], points the finger at psychotherapy and, the classic scapegoat of the ignorant reactionary: the internet, as the reasons for why autistic men, who were assigned female at birth, are ‘becoming trans’. This section in her essay would appear to be a sly call to action to further censor trans spaces online, spaces which serve as a great comfort for millions of people, especially young people, in a world that is hostile to transgender individuals. Rowling makes these assertions against healthcare, neurodivergent people and the online trans community, apparently, due to an imagined trauma of being forced to become a trans man.


TERFs like Rowling will insist they do care for trans people and their rights, but will also write lengthy rants that encourage parents to fear the prospect of their children being transgender. Much of her language indicates that she believes that to be a trans person is highly undesirable and something that can be forced upon the god-fearing cisgenders like herself and her intended audience. Rowling, who has also prominently promoted the bathroom conspiracy, is therefore complicit in promoting the notion that trans people are a people to be feared by cis society and therefore should be alienated and marginalised. And in this regard, such conspiracy theories are no different from 'Jewish banker’ conspiracy theories promoted by numerous antisemitic groups throughout history, most notably of course, the German Nazi Party.


These conspiracy theories surrounding trans people centre around a specific theme, something which has been utilised in the vitriol of fascistic groups for millennia. It is simple narrative that the great ‘other’ is coming for ‘our’ women and children. The fact that TERFs employ this classically patriarchal rhetoric is a clear indication of what TERF feminism is worth to the women’s liberation movement. It is a clear indication that these women are not on the side of true radicals, but on the side of conservatives and other reactionaries, the groups to whom such rhetoric appeals to the most. Moreover, trans people being framed either as predators or as victims, preyed upon by other trans people, can be viewed as nothing else but a clear attempt to demonise trans people as well as to encourage violence against them.



TERFist Normativity and Patriarchy


What these TERFs are ultimately encouraging is the maintenance of a socio-cultural normativity that they feel best serves their interests. And this TERFist normativity, is foundationally a highly patriarchal one. This is the inherent reaction of the TERFist movement. Their ideology is grounded in a very conservative idealism and conception of reality.


Thus far there has been very limited discussion of TERFism in relation to those who are gender non-binary. As already stated, this is due to the abject erasure of non-binary people by TERFs. But the reason for this erasure appears to be very simple: TERFist rhetoric is simply incompatible with any obfuscation of the gender binary. The TERFist narrative is heavily reliant on the notion of a sharp, absolute divide between ‘male’ and ‘female’, the entirety of their argument centred on the supposed dichotomy of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ and the supposedly natural antagonism between these two categorisations. Anything outside of these two constructed conceptions of gender and sex would defeat the majority of their arguments, as well as the incorrect perception of reality on which their ideas rest upon. It is why TERF rhetoric is guaranteed to ignore both non-binary people and intersex people.


The dichotomy they are pushing is an archaic one. It is a mindset that feminists have been agitating against for over a hundred years. However, these ‘feminists’, the TERFs, seem determined to undo the work of the women that have come before them. Through their rhetoric, they maintain a culture that stigmatises femaleness and a social hierarchy that oppresses women. We see this in the aforementioned bathroom conspiracy theory. TERFs draw a line between cis women and trans women because they are queerphobic and wish to push a narrative that trans women are men. And as a result, their instinct is to label these women as predators as they view predatory, sexually domineering behaviour as a masculine trait. Similarly, they wish to dismiss the idea that a trans man could exist. As a result, they concoct a conspiracy theory in which trans men are painted as victims, as they seemingly view victimhood as a feminine trait. It should not require too much analysis to explain why it is damaging to reinforce the patriarchal notions that women are naturally weak and submissive or inherently victims. Men being natural aggressors may take some explanation, however, as under a patriarchal (and capitalistic) society, aggression and dominance are often viewed as desirable traits. But what should be clear is that they underlying ideology of TERFism, is a patriarchal one, rooted in notions of male supremacism.


We also see this mindset in the world of sport. Attempts by TERFs to exclude trans women from competing with other women has been widely publicised, the TERFist talking points often supported and signal-boosted by cisgender news outlets, giving them a sense of legitimacy and validation.[12] The supposed athletic advantage of trans women can easily be disproven by the limited successes of trans athletes, as well as their physical characteristics not greatly diverging from those of cis athletes. However, also grounded in their narrative that trans women are men, TERFs will assert that trans women are more athletically gifted and stronger. In other words. In the eyes of the TERFs, trans women are not weak enough to be ‘real women’. TERFs equate femininity with weakness.


This outlook is also apparent when we view TERFist reactions to how trans women express themselves and their gender. TERFs express great disdain and contempt for trans women’s choice in fashion, especially those who dress in very ‘feminine’ attire – bright colours, dresses, bold styles, expressive clothing. They ridiculously describe such choice of clothing as ‘stereotypical’ and ‘appropriative’. They claim trans women are making a mockery of ‘womanhood’, their expression of their gender a ‘parody’ of femininity. One wonders if it is just trans women that they despise, or whether these TERFs also have a deep disdain for femininity in general. It is arguable that TERFs treat femininity the same way patriarchal cis men do, as something inherently lesser than ‘masculinity’, something embarrassing. Though, simultaneously, they see it as something that belongs exclusively to cis women, but something cis women should hide away. Similarly notable, is the TERF attitude to sexuality. Trans women who openly express their sexuality are seen as ‘evidence’, by TERFs, of trans women simply being men with a ‘fetish’ for dressing as women. One must question whether TERFs feel sexuality is an inherently male phenomenon, an old patriarchal notion, one which was used to erase female sexuality.


We see this attitude go further when TERFs attempt to define ‘womanhood’. TERFs repeatedly resorting to a pseudo-scientific approach, their supposed ‘biological proofs’ of trans women not being ‘real woman’. Their definition of the ‘real woman’ often centres around the menstrual cycle and the ability to become pregnant, essentially reducing femaleness to a reproductive role, reducing a woman to her ‘reproductive’ organs. This line of argumentation is therefore highly questionable as it reinforces a long-standing patriarchal attitude whereby cis women have often been valued purely on the basis of their utility as incubators for the offspring of their male partners, their personhood denied. All of this in an attempt to deny the womanhood of trans woman, as if being a woman is purely defined by a person’s ability to become pregnant. TERFs also reinforce this attitude when they feign outrage at the use of terms such as ‘people who menstruate’ or ‘pregnant people’, in order to be inclusive to non-binary people and trans men, the former also inclusive of women who don’t menstruate. TERFs attack trans people and the ‘trans agenda’ for this change in the use of language, claiming it is somehow an ‘erasure of women’ and not simply a shift to more accurate terminology. TERFs wish to ‘gatekeep’ menstruation and pregnancy, to prevent all but cis women from being identified as experiencing these biological processes. In effect, this is not only a further erasure of trans men and non-binary people, but a defining of ‘correct’ and ‘true’ femaleness around the reproductive role.


The biological gatekeeping goes further. TERFs will strictly define what physical traits are to be considered ‘masculine’ and what traits are to be considered ‘feminine’. This is in an attempt to ‘prove’ that trans women are not ‘real women’, as well an attempt to shame and humiliate trans women for not conforming to set physical standards. Broad shoulders, narrow hips, large jaws, facial hair, thinning hair - all physical traits that can, and are, possessed by cis women, but are traits that TERFs prescribe upon trans women in an effort to paint all trans women as the transphobic caricature of a ‘man in a dress’. In effect, TERFs ultimately shame and alienate cis women who have supposedly ‘masculine’ physical traits of their own. Many cis women have been on the receiving end of transphobia, being purposefully misgendered or treated with contempt. There have even been instances of cis women being confronted in bathrooms as they have been ‘clocked’ as transgender.[13] The TERFs are obsessed with trans women’s ability to ‘pass’ as ‘real women’, insisting they don’t ‘pass’ and will never ‘pass’ and claiming they can ‘clock’ a woman as transgender very easily. TERFs and other transphobes have made a sort of game out of this. In reality, this ‘clocking’ merely results in the harassment and oppression of all women.


One is reminded of scientific racism and, more specifically, the racist propaganda of the Nazi Party. The Nazis insisted that a person could determine a person’s ‘Jewishness’ from their physical characteristics, stereotypical physical features often used in caricatures of Jewish people. And in contrast to the Jewish ‘other’, they crafted the image of the ‘Aryan Übermensch’, a fantasy to be upheld as the pinnacle of pure German-ness. These conceptions served to further alienate Jewish people from other Germans and Europeans. TERFs similarly craft this idealised notion of the woman and her physical characteristics. They draw a narrow circle around what a woman looks like, what her physical traits should be, and state that everything outside of that circle is masculine. This is a mindset that can only harm all women. Under the patriarchal world order, women (transgender and cisgender) already face discrimination for not adhering to certain beauty standards or other benchmarks of femaleness, as determined by the male gaze. TERFist rhetoric merely furthers misogyny by attempting to define womanhood to a more exclusive degree. These ‘feminists’ aren’t just trans exclusionary; they are excluding a significant number of other women as well.


This is a clear indication of the joke that is the supposed ‘radicalism’ of these ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists’. These women are not radical in the classical sense, they do not seek any great upheaval of social or cultural norms. The entirety of their ideology revolves around enforcing these norms. First and foremost, they do this, as we have explored, through the demonisation of queer people. Their language and the narrative they push are also part of this. The fact that their rhetoric revolves around and reinforces the notion of a rigid gender/sex binary is evidence of TERFism’s reinforcement of archaic categorisations that have only ever served the enforcement of a gender hierarchy as well as strictly defined gender roles. And thus, it becomes very clear that TERFs are very much a force of reaction, not just against trans people but against cis women and even cis men as well. Where the queer movement has fought to increase the possibilities of gender and therefore increase the possibilities of individual expression, the TERFists seek to ensure society conforms to two narrow social identities.


TERFs are ‘radical’ in the same sense that other fascists are considered ‘radical’, or in the same way the movement often called ‘radical Islam’ is considered ‘radical’. They are ‘radical’ in the sense that they are reactionary extremists. Not only do TERFs prop up cisnormativity and conservative notions of sex and gender, they go further in rigidly defining femaleness along far narrower parameters than any previous cultural epoch as well as maintaining an antagonistic relationship between genders rather than seeking to reconcile it. True radical feminists, figures such as Angela Davis, Judith Butler and Kimberlé Crenshaw, are vocal proponents of trans rights and trans liberation. The TERFs are purveyors of the patriarchal status quo to a degree that supersedes many male conservatives.


And so, the fascistic nature of the TERFist movement becomes very apparent. Much like other forms of fascism, most notably the early forms of the ideology that emerged in Germany and Italy, there is a ‘radical conservative’ element to the TERF ideology. It holds a very regressive view on the role of women, especially in relation to men. And it seeks to exclude women who do not fit their image of ‘true femaleness’, to jealously withhold femininity from these women. Moreover, theirs is an attempt to further marginalise and possibly erase the complication of queer people in society, as it does not fit into their antiquated and sterile conception of society. This is the normativity that TERFs aspire towards. It indicates contradictions in their logic when they claim to be a force for female liberation, yet use the language and ideology of the oppressors of women.

 

Part 3: Threat and Aktion


TERFism as a threat


Here we come to the crux of the issue, the core of this extended piece of writing. From what we have explored, we can see that, undoubtedly, there is a kinship between TERFism and fascism, to the extent that, one could argue, they are one in the same. The TERF movement is a fascist movement. It is a movement that is inherently reactionary. It is a movement comprised by very privileged women with a hatred of women who are less privileged. It is a movement that seeks to entrench a very regressivist conception of gender, to the extent that they spit upon the victories of the feminist movement they’ve appropriated for their own, queerphobic ends. And as with all forms of fascism, TERFism is a threat.


This is made evident through the conspiracy theories we have explored. Again, comparisons with the German Nazi Party feel more than apt. The demonisation of trans people by TERFs being not too dissimilar to the demonisation of Jewish people by the Nazis. The Nazis codified every anti-semitic lie told in Europe about the Jewish community, transforming centuries of hate speech into a dogmatic political doctrine, one that framed the ‘Jewish race’ as the ‘racial enemies’ of the ‘German race’. The Nazis pushed propaganda upon the German population framing Jewish people as literal monsters. The end result of the Holocaust was the mass-murder of Jewish people and other ‘racial enemies’ through gas-chambers, forced marches, forced labour, scientific experiments and many other horrific acts of violence; but the Holocaust, as a state-led initiative began with the implementation of laws which eliminated the civil rights and legal protections of those the Nazis deemed ‘lesser’. The implementation of any such laws against any social group in the present-day immediately makes people fear history repeating itself. The TERFs are cheerleaders for such laws in present society.


In the supposedly ‘developed’ and ‘civilised’ West, we are seeing the implementation of legislation that restricts trans people’s access to healthcare, access to homeless shelters, access to bathrooms, and access to jobs. In the United States, the parents of trans children are being threatened for acknowledging their child’s self-determined gender identity. Educators are being threatened for teaching about the mere existence of trans people in their schools. In the United Kingdom, the Conservative Party determined it would sooner create a constitutional crisis than allow trans people to have rights in Scotland. All of this has been encouraged by the TERF movement, either directly or through their very vocal hate speech emboldening other transphobes, to push-through such legislation. TERFs have sympathisers in both government and opposition parties. Trans people already face a disproportionate amount of violence. We, who reside in the ‘civilised’ West, cannot rule out the possibility of TERFist lobbying leading to state-led anti-trans and anti-queer violence in the future.


A big difference between the Nazis and the TERFs is that we have a historical record of what Nazis do when they hold political office and absolute power. We are yet to see what happens when TERFs wield the same level of authority. Before 1933, the probable extremes of the Nazi party, before it gained power, were considered purely speculative by their liberal enablers, despite the rhetoric contained in key texts such as Mein Kampf. With TERFs, attention by the media is given over more to the ‘reasonable’ faction of the movement, those who speak more softly and ‘concern troll’ by claiming they care about trans people. This is typical of present-day fascism. There are a lot of white supremacists, for instance, who dress smartly, speak eloquently and use dog-whistles within their rhetoric to hide their abject hatred for non-white people. They claim they are simply ‘just asking questions’ or are ‘simply concerned about the wellbeing of white people’. They don’t call for violence, but they suggest that white people are being attacked, putting the idea of violence into the head of their target audience. This is how fascists gain mainstream acceptability and a platform within liberal/bourgeois media. This group instead prefers to play the victim, claiming they’ve been attacked, silenced, or threatened and insisting that they’ve done nothing wrong (except promote hate speech of course).


This is exactly the method utilised by many TERFs, the most notable of which is the previously discussed J.K. Rowling. The author has, on multiple occasions feigned surprise and outrage at protests made against her hateful, transphobic rhetoric. She has claimed to have received death threats and her supporters have holding this against trans people and any cis allies, denying that she has said anything remotely transphobic out of wilful ignorance. Figures like Rowling are very dangerous for this reason.


In contrast to Rowling is Lily Cade. In 2021, she submitted five blog posts to her now defunct webpage, all of which contained Adolf-esque vitriol and several of which contained direct calls for violence against trans people.[14] The posts were an amalgamation of the various conspiracy theories we have discussed in this piece, explicitly portraying trans people as a threat and thus explicitly linking TERF rhetoric to transphobic violence. In the fourth blog post, which gained wide-spread attention, Cade called openly for the lynching of several notable trans figures, and stated that “[trans] ideology” be given “No mercy. No quarter”.[15] All off this was mixed in with misogyny and homophobia, as well as jingoistic references to the United States and ‘western civilisation’. Cade’s ramblings are representations of TERF ideology in a raw, unrefined, unprocessed form. When we see a TERF being open and honest about their feelings and their intent, when we witness a TERF speaking frankly without inhibitions, it becomes very clear who these people are behind the masks that ‘respectable’ TERFs such as Rowling wear.


Cade is not alone in her calls for violence. Another notable example has been Posie Parker advocating for “men who carry” to “protect women”.[16] Parker has made a career out of TERFist rhetoric and is one of the key figures in the British TERF movement. The video in which she makes her calls for violence, she directly addresses men in the US, appealing to those who consider themselves “protectors of women” and attempting to take advantage of the pervasive ‘trigger-happy’ culture that the United States is notorious for. She specifically tasks gun-carrying men with using women’s bathrooms as a means of “combatting self-ID”, i.e. combatting trans women. Cade made similar references to the Second Amendment of the US Constitution (the provision that guarantees the ‘right to bare arms’) in her final blog post, an implicit call for people to use firearms against trans people.[17] TERFs are not just angry cisgender women, they’re not just ‘keyboard warriors’, these are hate-filled people shrewdly exploiting a deeply entrenched queerphobic culture to incite violence against women they don’t deem feminine enough, trans men and non-binary people also being caught in the crossfire.


This is another factor that makes TERFism a unique form of fascism: TERFs themselves are never the direct perpetrators of violence, or at least organised violence.[18] As of yet, the TERFs have not organised their own ‘blackshirts’. Their tactics are, instead, to employ cisgender men, unconnected to themselves and their organisations, to commit violence against trans people. Again, we see another instance of TERFs reinforcing patriarchy and misogynistic stereotypes. TERFs will utilise patriarchal conceptions of ‘femaleness’, typically framing themselves as meek and vulnerable, to serve as both a shield and an argument against trans rights. TERFs, will always deflect criticism by asserting that they are victims of male violence, but have no qualms about directing male violence towards other women who don’t fit their arbitrary standards of womanhood. And despite the animosity they supposedly have towards men, trauma they say they’ve suffered at the hands of cis men, and thus the reason why they feel their hatred of trans women is valid, they seemingly have no issue including cis men as part of their movement. They have no qualms allying with cisgender men if it means someone else does their dirty work.


In recent months we have also been given the proof we need that these are not simply idle threats. Drag performances are becoming a growing target of transphobic slander. TERFs and other queerphobes conflate trans people with drag artists. Though many drag artists are indeed transgender, many others are not. The conflation of performance art and exaggerated personas with the lived reality of trans people is incredibly damaging. TERFs and others will never escape their wilful ignorance on the subject, however, as they have no reason to comprehend the nuances within the queer community and queer culture. And this conflation has seen combination with the baseless accusations of paedophilia, which are often lobbied against trans people. The ‘groomer’ myth has become a very popular source of rhetoric among queerphobes of all stripes, including TERFs. This in turn had led to the fabrication of a conspiracy theory surrounding drag performers and drag shows, queerphobes suggesting that they are a plot by trans people to “indoctrinate children”. And, as a result of this, drag shows, in the US and elsewhere, are currently being threatened with violence.


Armed protests have become common place outside drag shows, and as have threats of violence and acts of violence. At the time of writing, GLAAD has recorded 166 such incidents across the United States since October 2022.[19] Such incidents have included several firebombings as well as a shooting in Colorado. This shooting left five people dead and twenty-six people injured. This growing trend of violence towards drag shows should not be described as anything but terrorism. And it is the direct result of TERFs joining their voices to the queerphobic cause. The perpetrators of this violence have all been cisgender men, many of them members of fascist organisations such as The Proud Boys or else having a history in neo-Nazism. These are the allies of the TERFs. This is the vanguard of the anti-trans movement. It is a fascist operation. And it is a movement that has directly led to the deaths of trans people. The TERFs cannot be absolved of their links to this violence, and it is doubtful that they would wish to be absolved.


TERFs are guilty of a psychological projection of sorts. They condemn trans people and those who show them support and solidarity as ‘dangerous’, yet there is no epidemic of transgender on cisgender violence. And it is the TERFs who are the greatest ringleaders of anti-trans violence.



TERFism is Fascism


These articles have determined that yes, TERFism is very much a form of fascism. But what does that mean? Why is knowing this useful to us? Too often the term ‘fascist’ is used as a term of mere derision. A meaningless insult to be hurled at a political opponent. It is rarely used as an analytical term, as a way of describing a political movement for the benefit of understanding it. TERFs are bad and their ideology is bad, we already knew this. But acknowledging TERFism as fascism is not simply making TERFs appear ‘more bad’. It allows us to better comprehend what TERFs are, why they exist, what their social role is and how to fight them.


TERFism is the ideology of socially privileged, queerphobic women. It is an ideology that seeks to eradicate trans and queer people from society. TERFs work towards this goal through rhetoric and vitriol, often taking the form of increasingly ridiculous conspiracy theories, all of which present trans people and ‘gender ideology’ as a threat to cisgender people. This hate speech appeals to reactionary cisgender men by design, encouraging them to use both legal and non-legal methods to ‘handle’ this ‘threat’. And so TERFist ideology is manifested in practice through both anti-trans legislation and acts of direct anti-trans violence. This is no longer hypothetical. This is our present reality and the situation can yet worsen.


The beliefs underlying these actions are rooted in conservative and reactionary beliefs pertaining to gender and sex. TERFs deny the reality that these concepts are socially constructed. They instead wish to more narrowly define the concept of the ‘female’ gender/sex to be more exclusive than at any point in history. Moreover, the TERFs wish to maintain archaic, patriarchal, classist and white-supremacist notions of ‘femaleness’, a definition of femaleness that serves their particular social conditions. And they wish to enforce these perceptions of gender through the utilisation of violence. As a result of this, all peoples of the world who do not conform to such rigid conceptions of ‘maleness’ and ‘femaleness’ should be very wary of the TERFs and those who are susceptible to their nonsense. The TERFs serve the allocishet status quo. They serve patriarchy. They serve the ruling elite. They stand against the interests of the majority of humanity.


TERFism is fascism. And as with all forms of fascism, the cure for TERFism is anti-fascism. We define anti-fascism not simply mere stated opposition to fascism, but as a principled and direct approach with the aim of frustrating fascists wherever possible. Anti-fascism is a methodology serves as an antithesis to fascism, a counterforce which attempts to negate fascist action. Anti-fascists prevent fascist mobilisation, prevent fascist violence and prevent the spread of fascist rhetoric, through whatever means available to them. And as TERFism is a specific variety of fascism, it requires a specific form of anti-fascism to combat it – Anti-TERFism.

Anti-fascists recognise that you cannot debate a fascist or reason with a fascist. To attempt to do so is to legitimise the fascist, to enable the fascist. There are no merits to their ideology, there is no purpose in placating them, in allowing their voices to be heard, except to allow them to spread their ideology to the previously identified class groups to whom their rhetoric appeals.


Yes, we are suggesting that TERFs should be ‘silenced’, just as so many TERFs fear. There is an old saying: “No investigation, no right to speak.” If the TERFs really were simply just voicing ‘opinions’, there would be no issue. But they present their ignorant statements with a façade of authority. They attempt to pass a childlike understanding of biology, psychology and sociology as objective truth. And they are enabled by the bourgeois media who present their assertions as legitimate, informed assessments. TERFs have no understanding of the trans experience, they have no academic expertise in fields relevant to gender theory or queer theory. They have no business speaking authoritatively on trans issues, especially when their aim is to incite violence against trans people. They should not be allowed to speak on these matters, they should not be allowed to organise. Even if the liberal state permits it, the anti-TERF should not.


Liberals, with their ideal of ‘pluralism’, are one of the largest culprits of enabling fascism. And there are, of course the large section of liberals who will wilfully align with fascists to combat the radical left. We see TERFs in the present day being placated for both reasons – by the liberals who believe TERFs should have a right to speak and the liberals who believe that TERFs are a bulwark against the queer radicals seeking to upend the allocishet social order. Liberal idealism is a danger to trans and queer people. They would sooner compromise with TERFs than protect queer lives. Liberal methodology, to simply debate the TERFs in the ‘market place of free ideas’, must be rejected if we wish to eradicate the TERF movement before they eradicate us. No more talking, just action.


This is not a demand for violence, but a call for using all available, necessary methods to frustrate the TERFist movement wherever possible. We must prevent them from committing or inciting acts of violence and prevent them from spreading their rhetoric. And as the TERFs are a leading faction among the much wider anti-trans horde, encouraging other fascists to commit violence against trans people, it is prudent to recognise all anti-trans actions as having a foundation in TERF instigation.


‘De-platforming’ has become the significant method of struggle against the TERFs. It is a method with a proven success rate. Preventing the TERF from reaching the pulpit by blocking the venue where they were supposed to speak, pressuring them to leave social media and exposing them to discourage people from associating with them; these are ways in which the anti-TERFist has helped prevent the spread of TERFist rhetoric. The TERFs have condemned these methods, which is proof of their effectiveness.


Still, however, the TERF speaks. Many TERFs are much harder to de-platform. Frustration is the key. Frustration and agitation. A direct approach. No success will come from playing by liberal rules. When the TERF tries to speak, the anti-TERF speaks louder. Where the TERF tries to enter, the anti-TERF blocks the entrance. When the TERF tries to march, the anti-TERF obstructs the road. Should the TERF wave their flag, the anti-TERF tears it down and flies their own. Where the TERF tries to inhabit, the anti-TERF will occupy. When the TERF tries to cry, the anti-TERF laughs and ridicules. Should the TERF be content, the anti-TERF makes them miserable. And if the TERF tries to throw a punch, the anti-TERF blocks and punches back harder.


Like all fascists, the TERF is a coward. Confront them directly, frustrate them at every turn, make them feel powerless and they will retreat. They will flee.


But remember, numbers are crucial. There’s safety in numbers. Never do an action alone. Establish anti-TERF groups and associations. Create anti-TERF sections of unions and political parties. The TERFs are organised, the anti-TERFs should be better organised. Such organisations must also stand against all forms of transphobia, including and especially transphobic violence. Anti-fascists have already organised armed defences of drag shows in response to the aforementioned attacks against performers and venues. It is important that anti-TERFs are aware of where anti-trans violence can occur and ensure that they assemble there, to protect and defend.

The aim of anti-TERFism to reduce TERF activity to nil. TERFism is fascism and like all forms of fascism, it can be defeated and has been defeated. But only through vigilance and diligence will they be defeated and remain defeated.

 

[1] https://www.transadvocate.com/how-terf-violence-inspired-camp-trans_n_14413.htm [2] Caroline Lowbridge, “The lesbians who feel pressured to have sex and relationships with trans women”, 26 October 2021, BBC News, https://archive.ph/Nc78S [3] Of course, not all cis women are transphobes but those who place high value upon their privilege of cisgender-ness certainly are. [4] https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2022/10/03/lgb-alliance-conservative-party-conference-backlash/ [5] Women loving women, Men loving men [6] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/oct/11/transgender-prisoner-who-sexually-assaulted-inmates-jailed-for-life [7]https://lesbianchemicalplant.tumblr.com/post/666311405537034240/multiple-women-have-named-lily-cade-as-their [8] This is still likely the case in certain places and communities, though the ‘confusion’ dismissal is now more popularly used to target trans people in the English-speaking world. [9] A term they always use with an infliction that makes anyone who supports trans rights seem ominous. [10] https://www.jkrowling.com/opinions/j-k-rowling-writes-about-her-reasons-for-speaking-out-on-sex-and-gender-issues/ [11] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-55350905 [12] The mystification of bourgeois allocishet news and journalism is very a useful tool for the TERF movement. [13] https://www.vox.com/2016/5/18/11690234/women-bathrooms-harassment [14] https://web.archive.org/web/20211102173138/https://www.lilycade.com/blog/ [15] https://web.archive.org/web/20211102153734/https://www.lilycade.com/where-the-fuck-are-these-childrens-mothers/ [16] https://twitter.com/mimmymum/status/1355525072400875527?lang=en [17] https://web.archive.org/web/20211102173218/https://www.lilycade.com/dead-whores-tell-no-lies/ [18] There have been several recorded incidents of TERFs physically assaulting trans people, but these to be the efforts of individual actors. They’re proof of a general trend of transphobic violence but not proof of any organised violence by TERFs [19] https://archive.ph/P2t1Z

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