What Is A TERF & Why Are They Dangerous to the Transgender Community?

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J.K. Rowling, the beloved author of the Harry Potter series, has been accused of being transphobic for years. However, she has been purposefully quiet about her views and has either ignored or denied claims by activists that she isn’t an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community. Recently Rowling’s Twitter feed has stirred up new, confirming information about her stance on transgender people. Many people, including Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, called her out on her harmful comments, specifically against transgender women. Rowling’s essay defending her tweets was an inexcusable match to the gasoline she has already poured on the hearts of the transgender community. Folks were shocked there is a word that specifically describes her harmful opinions. I, and other LGTBQIA+ activists, know Rowling’s opinions are those of a TERF.

A TERF is a trans-exclusionary radical feminist; they are people with feminist and transphobic views. One would think those two are mutually exclusive. Yet, TERFs are dangerous to the transgender and nonbinary community because they believe sex determines gender which in itself denies the fact that transgender people exist. Science has told us sex and gender are not the same, but the crux of a TERF’s argument is that gender is binary (it’s not) and the label given at birth based on your biological sex will always solidify who you are biologically, and thus determine your “true” identity.

One of the most frustrating elements about being transgender is my need to convince people I am the gender I say I am, which is nonbinary. I was assigned female at first because I was born with a vagina, but that gender assignment wasn’t accurate. This is true for other folks; whether we like our parts or not, we don’t like the gender labels associated with them and society’s expectations of us based on the social construct of gender. This bleeds into a TERF’s belief about how one should identify on the sexuality scale. They view a woman dating a transgender man as a lesbian because they believe both people are biologically women. I don’t know how said woman would identify, but it’s not up to a TERF to decide.

Because a TERF doesn’t see a transgender person as their true gender, they fear and resist letting a transgender woman into “female” only spaces because they see them as men who are a threat to “women” instead of as the women they are. Rather than recognizing that transgender women are at high risk for sexual and physical assault, TERFs claim only women with vaginas can truly understand what it’s like to be a victim of misogyny, rape, and assault.

TERFs, usually cisgender women, claim transgender people—specifically transgender women—take away their female experience simply because they were not born biologically female. If menstruation and childbirth are not possible, then womanhood isn’t either according to people like Rowling. They also believe gender inclusive language to describe menstruation instead of language that implies all women and only women bleed, invalidates and erases a cisgender woman’s experience and rights as a woman.

TERFs also question a transgender youth’s decision to transition, as if body dysphoria is a phase and is something that will just get better over time and after puberty. I agree that most people experience some level of discomfort when puberty strikes; a transgender youth is crippled by their discomfort. Changing one’s pronouns, names, hair, and clothes allows a person to be seen as their true self. The use of hormone blockers to avoid puberty and then hormone treatments that allow a transgender person to physically develop into the body they want are both affirming and necessary pieces of some folks’ transition. There isn’t one way to transition, though, nor are there a set of prerequisites for calling oneself transgender.

The scariest and most confusing element about TERFs like Rowling is that say they are for the safety and rights of transgender women, but really they are only looking out for their cisgender selves. TERFs are not allies to women or the transgender community because transgender women are women. TERFs’ beliefs need to be denounced and ignored.

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