TERFs and “Transtrenders”: Gatekeeping in the Queer Community

| November 7, 2017 | 0 Comments

While the LGBT community has made great strides, especially in the last decade, for securing rights and privileges in society and policy, the community is falling apart because of the harmful rhetoric from anti-trans queer people, such as TERFs. It’s painful to watch as people who should be standing together are instead attacking one another, aided by the Internet’s capability for broadcasting information to a wide audience.

Some background information: TERF stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. Most TERFs are (cisgender) women, many of whom are queer themselves. While much of their rhetoric focuses on feminism and empowering women, there is also a nasty side of transphobia. Despite the fact that many are also members of the LGBT community, TERFs routinely harass and attack trans women, claiming that they are men in disguise trying to infiltrate women-only spaces. Many also believe that trans men are just confused butch lesbians with internalized misogyny, who only rejected their femininity because of their own self-hatred.

It’s disheartening to see such a split in the queer community. Part of the message of Pride is acceptance and love for all; after all, the Stonewall riots and many of the first gay pride movements were started by trans women, primarily trans women of color. Transgender people have always had their place in the gay community, as activists, as victims, and as community leaders. Why, then, is a faction of the LGB community rejecting those they should be unified with?

photo credit: Demmer S Do Not Block Gate via photopin (license)

photo credit: Demmer S Do Not Block Gate via photopin (license)

This phenomenon is often described as “gatekeeping”: some members of the community decide that there are certain criteria for queer and trans people to really “count” as part of the community. This pops up in TERF rhetoric (trans people are just lying about their gender to gain certain privileges), in the trans community itself (only trans people with certain types of dysphoria are “valid” and anyone else is a “trender”), and from gay men against women in the community (gay men were the real victims, and lesbians and queer women are just an afterthought). When the community should be working together to increase visibility and campaign for policy changes, it succumbs to infighting and aggressive rhetoric from all sides.

According to TERFs, I suffer from internalized misogyny, and my own hatred of women is what pushed me to identify as male instead of as a butch lesbian. They couldn’t be more wrong. I was a feminist before my transition and I am a feminist now, and my identification as male doesn’t stop me from lifting up the women around me and using the male privilege I am sometimes afforded to allow their voices to shine through. Not to mention I’ve never been a lesbian in my life, as a proud bisexual whose orientation hasn’t changed like my gender identity has.

According to TERFs, I should belong in women-only spaces despite my “deviation”, regardless of whether I feel comfortable in such a situation. And according to TERFs, trans women, especially queer trans women, are foreign invaders in such spaces and are trying to “trick” cisgender lesbians into sleeping with them.

Out of the entire LGBT community, I think trans women have suffered the most. They routinely deal with transmisogyny and the threat of death for daring to keep their identity a secret from their partners, on top of the attacks they face from cis women for their assigned gender at birth.

TERFs, and gatekeepers in general, need to realize that we are stronger together than torn apart by infighting. Gatekeeping is just a step backwards, giving those fighting against the LGBT community a foothold to invalidate and oppress marginalized identities even more than they already do. If we want to accomplish the change we need, we have to stand with our trans sisters and the rest of the community and let society see that we are strong and we deserve the same basic human rights as anyone else.

featured photo credit: tedeytan 2017.06.06 Pride DC People and Places, Washington DC USA 6072 via photopin (license)

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Category: featured, Reflections, Social Activism, The (Sex)es

Charlie Scanlan

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Charlie is a journalism major in the College of Communication.

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