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TERFs: Ideologically nonsensical

| Monday, February 27, 2023

The term “TERF” has once again sparked in popularity as one of the many buzzwords in internet discourse following the release of the critically acclaimed yet controversial video game “Hogwarts Legacy,which marks the latest expansion of the “Harry Potter” franchise. Despite its seeming high quality, the game has acquired a noticeable unfavorability amongst some players because of the increasing notoriety the author of the novels, JK Rowling, has obtained as a self-proclaimed TERF. 

A TERF is a “trans-exclusionary radical feminist.” That is to say, an advocate for women’s rights that is simultaneously opposed to the transgender rights movement. One brief glance at the writer’s Twitter page will be enough to notice that her constant advocacy for women’s rights is regularly interrupted by her anti-trans rhetoric and her distribution of fear-mongering articles that attempt to depict the trans movement as another method of abuse orchestrated by conniving men. Naturally, some fans of the “Harry Potter” franchise feel conflicted with monetarily supporting an author that employs her platform in this manner. Nevertheless, whether one can purchase and consume “Hogwarts Legacy” morally is a question for another day. Rather, I would like to focus on the philosophy Rowling proudly associates herself with: the TERF reactionary countermovement. Most importantly, I will point out the fact that, as an ideology, TERFs make absolutely no sense. 

This is primarily due to the willingly ignored fact that one cannot claim to be a feminist while perpetuating the oppression of trans people. Though evidently there are many variants of feminism, the umbrella objective of a feminist is to achieve equity between the sexes. A feminist acknowledges that women have historically been victims of oppression and recognizes its political, social and cultural repercussions whilst attempting to address injustices in a patriarchal society. Ultimately, a feminist believes that no one should face discrimination as a result of the sex one is born to. They understand it is equally ridiculous to discriminate against someone for the color of their skin or their place of birth — it is something a person had no bearing in deciding and does not say anything about the content of their character. The logical conclusion of this set of beliefs is to attempt, to the best of one’s ability, to reduce bias and hatred in a society predisposed to bias and hatred. Yet, how can one defy centuries of social conditioning and constructs that justify sexism? Why, by deconstructing the politicized idea of gender norms and roles that create the foundation for patriarchal thought — to address that one’s sex determines nothing about the identity nor value of an individual. Uncoincidentally, it is this very thing that trans rights advocates aim to achieve. While the trans and feminist movement may have different focuses, they share a methodology and their goals count with the same prerequisite: to challenge the very concept of gender and how it should affect society’s perception of a group. Thus, feminism is not simply compatible with the trans movement, rather, they actively support one another.

Then, how come TERFs exist? How can a person claim to protect women’s interests by striking down a movement that supports and emboldens their cause? Rather than malice, it often boils down to ignorance. People fear what they do not understand and the concept of dissociating sex from gender is harder to grasp than that of dissociating sex from worth. Of course, there are plenty of evil actors that hijack the narrative and push the regressive myth that trans people are actually a threat to women. These highlights of isolated incidents are nothing but smokescreens with the hope of pinning feminists against trans activists. The most prevalent of these is the idea that being inclusive of trans women in restrooms presents a danger to cis women. They portray trans men as either deranged creatures that cannot control their primal desires or scheming sexual assaulters that identify as trans for the exclusive reason to harass cis women in vulnerable situations. Putting aside the fact that such a depiction confirms many biases regarding the “nature” of men and women (defeating the goal of feminism), it has also been demonstrated statistically that the inclusion of trans men in restrooms has not resulted in an increase of sexual assaults. Lacking any proper evidence, opposers to trans rights must recur to myths, horror stories or wildly broadcast specific instances that are clearly not a reflection of the full reality. And if the oppressor can provoke infighting between the oppressed — drowning systematic problems in irrelevant or outright fake culture wars — they are sure to take the opportunity. 

Thus, the TERF ideology is the result of meticulously generating conflict amongst those that could unite for a cause and create tangible change in the status quo. Of course, for those that sit atop the social hierarchy, the idea of societal progress is a nightmare; it is a threat to their power. So, why not create discord? Further smokescreens are established, then, such as the idea that trans women will threaten womanhood — that because of them, a cis woman cannot wear traditionally feminine clothing or engage in conventionally feminine activities anymore. This, too, is nonsensical. The trans movement aims to detach gender and sex, not to burn an abstract idea of femininity or masculinity. If anything, it makes said conventions available to all: the trans movement states that everyone should portray and behave in whichever way they desire. If a cis woman would like to wear long dresses and makeup, no one is stopping her. All the opposite, she is encouraged to exist as herself whichever way she wishes to be. The trans movement does not seek to threaten or harm, it seeks to liberate — just as feminism does. This is the logical end of both movements: freedom, regardless of the sex one is born with. As such, anyone with a critical eye should be able to tell that TERFs are nothing more than ideologically nonsensical.

Carlos A. Basurto is a first-year at Notre Dame ready to delve into his philosophy major with the hopes of adding the burden of a computer science major on top of that. When not busy, you can find him consuming yet another 3+ hour-long analysis video of a show he has yet to watch or masochistically completing every achievement from a variety of video games. Now with the power to channel his least insane ideas, feel free to talk about them via email at [email protected] (he is, tragically, very fond of speaking further about anything at all).

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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