The Anatomy of Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism

The TERF perspective is a hateful ideology hidden beneath a handful of nonsensical quasi-progressive platitudes. There is nothing “radical” or “feminist” about it.

May 2, 2020

Meet Julia Beck — self-described feminist, proud-lesbian and until recently, member of Baltimore’s LGBTQ Commission. Beck was ousted after publically vilifying what she deemed to be an affront to womanhood: a Baltimore City Police Department’s policy that made accommodations for residents on the basis of their gender identity instead of on the basis of sex. According to Beck, “How many women and girls must be hurt by men who refuse to call themselves men? … When “gender identity” wins, women and girls lose.”
Julia Beck is a part of a growing number of self-described feminists who engage in a so-called “critical” perspective on gender. Despite their dissaproval of the term, they are known as TERFs — Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists, who perceive transgender identities — specifically transgender females — as a form of betrayal to the female sex. According to Beck, “Women like me, who don’t wear high heels or makeup, do not conform to gendered expectations of femininity … our female sex is the one and only qualifier of womanhood.” Beck is peddling the notion that transgender women reduce womanhood to female stereotypes, including feminine makeup and clothing, as a result of their supposed lack of female biology. This notion is not only incorrect, but it can also easily be weaponized by conservative media as a form of window-dressing in an effort to make bigoted perspectives more palatable to an otherwise left-leaning public.
Beck’s emphasis on the nature of sex demonstrates a misunderstanding of biology, as transwomen can, in fact, have some biologically female features that are similar to that of their cisgender counterparts. According to research by Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, biological sex refers to “genitals, secondary sex characteristics, genes, hormones … [and] reproductive capacity.” Many of these biological characteristics can be shared by both cisgender and transgender women, as transgender women can utilize resources such as Hormone Replacement Therapy and Gender Reassignment Surgery to replicate the hormonal level and anatomy of cisgender women.
Furthermore, using strict features of biological sex to determine womanhood would exclude even many cisgender women, including those who lack estrogen due to illness or pre-disposition, women who are infertile or even women with small breast sizes, as these features lower either the quantities or functionalities of sexual reproductive organs or female hormonal levels. Julia Beck using specific features of biological sex as a gatekeeping system for womanhood would exclude many women that even she herself believes are valid.
But the contempt by TERFs like Julia Beck for transwomen goes deeper than a misunderstanding of biology, it includes the accusation of the appropriation of womanhood. In an interview with the right-wing think tank The Heritage Foundation, Beck noted that gender should not be “based on rigid sex-roles,” implying that transgender women reduce gender to female stereotypes. However, Beck is showing yet another misunderstanding of transgenderism.
Nobody believes that a change of voice, clothes, makeup or overall physical appearance, “makes” someone a woman. Rather, transgender women are using a commonly understood language of conventional femininity to be read as female by the world around them. Physical presentation exists alongside, not instead of, gender identity. Essentially, the manner in which transgender women assimilate into an aesthetically female role may very well be impacted by societal perspectives, but such is the result of living in the current society. That is, a society that will not read transgender women as female without a meticulously feminine appearance. To put it simply, transgender women are not women because of their female appearance. Rather, they are women because of the simple fact that they are women. Clothing and other physical features are just how they communicate this reality to the world.
As of now, I have argued against TERF ideology by highlighting the notion that transgender women do not perpetuate misogynistic gender stereotypes, and that they can, in fact, change their biological reality. However, I would be lying by omission if I were to reduce the TERF perspective to simple misunderstandings. It only requires a quick browse of anonymous TERF social media to represent what hides beneath Julia Beck’s politically correct dogma.
“Do [transwomen] really think that people can't see through their and falsetto? They really think that people can't see through the choker covering their Adam's apple or hair covering more than a third of their angular face. Some women have androgynous features but they're still obviously women.”
“These men get to force themselves into our spaces, steal our words and then if we do not cower to their demands we are labeled Transphobic. Well at this point if standing up for Women is Transphobic, fuck it I'm a Transphobe. Maybe it makes me a bad person but, if a [transgender women] gets hurt … [during intercourse] it's hard to have sympathy. I don't have sympathy for the next pedophile, rapist or murderer who doesn't get free hormones, surgery and a spot where he can abuse more women.”
The arguments laid out in these quotes, though being more openly bigoted, tap into the same narrative peddled by Beck. The incorrect notion that transgender women are simply males attempting to gain access to female spaces by masquerading as women. In this manner, Beck is merely an articulate mouthpiece propped up on conservative platforms like Fox News and The Heritage Foundation and used to peddle anti-transgender sentiment to a new quasi-feminist audience.
TERF ideology is nothing more than a hate-driven movement hidden beneath a handful of nonsensical pseudo-progressive platitudes. There is nothing “radical” or “feminist” about it.
Ari Hawkins is Senior Opinion Editor. You can email him at
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