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Are TERFs Fascists? Part 2: Conspiracy and Patriarchy

By J. S. Gupta


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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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’[4] 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.’[5] Rowling’s now notorious transphobic essay (for which the BBC state media organisation awarded a prize in 2020)[6], 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.[7] 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.[8] 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.


[Continued in Part 3]



[1] [2] [3] 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. [4] A term they always use with an infliction that makes anyone who supports trans rights seem ominous. [5] [6] [7] The mystification of bourgeois allocishet news and journalism is very a useful tool for the TERF movement. [8]


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