Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism: A Progressive Form of Feminism?
Throughout history, a misogynistic approach has been adopted by a majority of societies, and to present day many women have experienced some form of oppression on the basis of gender. Although the modern west has seen some success in the establishment of gender equality, through things such as equal voting rights, equal pay, and equal rights within marriage, there is still underlying misogyny in modern society. 2017 UK government statistics found a UK gender pay gap of over 9 percent, and it is reported that closing the gender pay gap within the UK would see a £90 billion increase in women’s collective wages in the space of just one year. Worldwide, two-thirds of the illiterate population are female. Modern day feminism campaigns to tackle the oppression women face in present day, but within this pursuit for gender equality there are various perspectives of how best to achieve progress in the fight for women’s rights.
Trans-exclusionary radical feminism is a subgroup of radical and gender critical feminist ideology often referred to as “TERFism”. TERFs are recognised for their intentional exclusion of transgenderism and have been criticised for contributing to and spreading hate and abuse towards the transgender community. Some trans-exclusionary radical feminists consider transgender people harmful to the feminist pursuit and believe that it reinforces the gender binary in society and strengthens the categorisation of genders and the differentiating expectations of men and women. Whereas, other feminists have a more intersectional approach to the pursuit of true gender equality and consider transgenderism a fit challenge to repressive gender norms. Furthermore, some transgender individuals have adopted their own subgroup of feminism, namely transfeminism; a complete contradiction to TERF ideology. Similar to Marxist theory of class oppression - proletariat versus bourgeoisie - feminists commonly adopt a view of gender oppression, men being the oppressors and women being the oppressed. This popular feminist thought often leads to disputes between transgender and intersectional feminists and other radical feminists.
It is commonly argued by feminists that gender is not an identity but a societal caste position, and some TERF ideology argues that a transgender woman has made the conscious decision to adhere to a socially subordinate position and can never truly understand the oppression women face. Some TERFs also assert the opinion that a man transitioning into a woman is the man exercising a form of male entitlement. Most TERFs possess the view that one cannot change their sex and one’s sex is permanently confirmed at birth; they regard transgender women as men and therefore see transgender women as the oppressor. TERFs ultimately deem trans-women as a naturally privileged faction of society, and therefore separate them from naturally born females, who they believe have experienced oppression transgender individuals could never experience.
Nonetheless, the transgender community dispute such claims, and argue that women are in a significantly more advantageous position. Indications of this include a transgender ban from the US military and one’s legal capacity to fire someone in the United States for being transgender – both are illegal to implement on a woman based on her sex. Additionally, attempted suicide rates of transgender individuals (40% in the US) are comparably much higher than those of women (5.8% in the US) – an indication of higher levels of oppression towards the transgender community in comparison to females. Furthermore, a US transgender survey found that transgender people are twice as likely to be living in poverty and three times more likely to be unemployed. Aforementioned TERF arguments could suggest that TERFism is a form of transgender discrimination – the oppressed ultimately being the oppressors.
It could be argued that a progressive anti-trans reasoning based on the attainment of true gender equality would be a rejection of transgenderism on the grounds of it being an obstruction to the attainment of a true equal, gender non-binary society. In theory, if true feminism was achieved, society would not primarily label people based on their gender and would instead see a human as a human. The gender non-binary society would rid the categorising of a person based on their sex and would remove the masculine and feminine spectrum, creating gender horizontality.
Gender is a hierarchical system of oppression emerging from differences of sex, and with the removal of gender norms, society would become ultimately gender fluid – this would deem one’s femininity and/or masculinity irrelevant and would ultimately achieve true gender egalitarianism. It is arguable that transgenderism is in existence because society is binary meaning that men and women are put into two separate categories. Transgender people typically alter their bodies to conform to a certain gender type, for example undergoing hormonal and surgical sex changes, and wearing clothing assigned to one’s preferred gender. This could be seen as an advancement of the implementation of gender roles in society – the very thing radical feminists reject.
Although the rejection of the binary is an arguably feasible argument for anti-transgenderism, it is important that anti-transgenderism is met with an equal rejection of heteronormativity. Heteronormativity is the explicit belief that one is either a male or female from birth, and that an individual has natural gender qualities. Present day society is very heteronormative, and is promoted in TV shows, clothing shops, children’s books etc… If TERFs reject heteronormativity as much as they reject transgenderism they could put forward a more legitimate argument and dismiss claims of transphobia.