#TERFWeek: Why Must Feminism Always Include Trans Women?
It’s #TERFWeek, which at first made me cringe, until I realized that the week is about educating the broader feminist community about the harmfulness of TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists). This is a group of people, mostly women, many lesbians or queer-identified, who claim to be feminist, yet exclude trans women, one of the most marginalized and oppressed groups of women, from their communities. They’re usually the ones arguing that trans women in the women’s room or in lesbian groups or at MichFest are dangerous, often have weird convoluted mental requirements around transition-related surgeries to recognize trans women as women, and can be found outing trans women on the Internet (including previous names, arrest records, employer info, and home addresses) and generally making lives miserable.
Here’s the thing about TERFs: they’re not feminists.
Now, you could make the argument that a feminist is anyone who says they are one, but I don’t think that really jives with the definition. At the very least, TERFs are extremely hypocritical feminists opposed to the actual tenets of feminism, a movement that is about oppression to patriarchy (which includes, you guessed it, rigid gender norms and a hierarchical binary gender system!)
In this post, I’d like to focus specifically on why feminism must include trans women. I also believe that it must include trans people generally, but if you subscribe to the narrow definition of feminism being about male/female equality or equity, then trans women would be the focus here. It’s also important that feminism focuses on issues such as violence against women and lack of access to employment–areas where trans women are some of the most targeted and affected.
Trans women, even more than cis women, are poorly served by a system that is built on gender-based oppression. Trans women are often seen as “fake,” as either not female enough or as “too feminine.” The societal expectations around fairly rigid gender roles mean that anyone perceived as a trans woman is likely to experience violence at incredibly high rates, have difficulty accessing employment or housing, and deal with daily microaggressions that can mean serious health problems and even suicide down the line. The numbers are striking, but for some reason TERFs aren’t convinced. It’s no surprise, either, that the same women trying to push trans women out of their communities often derail conversations around race, when women of color and especially trans women of color experience discrimination and violence at a much higher rate than white women. TERFs are quite often white cis women who focus on the axes of oppression that affect them personally while talking out the other side of their mouths oppressing trans women.
This has to stop.
Feminists must recognize the hateful, poisonous nature of TERF attacks and come together around the importance of rallying for those most vulnerable in our communities. The needs and rights of trans women are central to any feminism that practices what is preaches, just as are the needs of women of color, poor women, women with disabilities, and others in heavily marginalized groups. The fact is that misogyny, sexism, and patriarchy do not hit all women equally. While some TERFs certainly may be in groups that are targeted (such as lesbians), their blinders around the lived experiences of trans women make them toxic to feminist communities and set the entire movement back.