Understanding the “TERF wars”

There’s a new and important academic work about the current anti-trans moral panic: TERF Wars, The Fight For Transgender Futures.  TERF is an acronym used to describe people who identify as feminists but whose feminism explicitly excludes trans women and non-binary people.

The book exists because:

Analyses of trans-exclusionary rhetoric provide an important contribution to sociology. This is not only because they offer an insight into the production of ideologically ossified, anti-evidential politics (including within academic environments), but also because of what can be learned about power relations. Questions of whose voices are heard, who is found to be convincing, what is considered a ‘reasonable concern’ and by who, and how these discourses impact marginalised groups are key elements of sociological enquiry.

If you have institutional access to SAGE you can read it online for free; if not, the paperback is £10 (and at the time of writing, using the code UK20AUTHOR gets you another £2.50 off).

The introduction is online and free to read here. It provides a good overview of the very significant rise in anti-trans activism in the UK, identifies the key attack lines of those activists and makes their connections to religious evangelism and the far right very clear.

The language of ‘gender ideology’ originates in anti-feminist and anti-trans discourses among right-wing Christians, with the Catholic Church acting as a major nucleating agent (Careaga-Pérez, 2016; Kuhar & Paternotte, 2017). In the last decade the concept has been increasingly adopted by far-right organisations and politicians in numerous American, European and African states. They position gender egalitarianism, sexual liberation and LGBTQ+ rights as an attack on traditional values by ‘global elites’, as represented by multinational corporations and international bodies such as the United Nations (Korolczuk & Graff, 2018).

…Ultimately, the growing social acceptance of trans and non-binary people has challenged immutable, biologically derived conceptualisations of both ‘femaleness’ and ‘womanhood’. ‘Gender critical’ opposition to this can be understood as an emotionally loaded, reactionary response to reassert essentialism, resulting in interventions such as the ‘Declaration of Women’s Sex-Based Rights’ (see Hines, this collection) which effectively echo the demands of far-right, anti-feminist actors.

…a growing number of anti-trans campaigners associated with radical feminist movements have openly aligned themselves with anti-feminist organisations. For instance, from 2017 US group the Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF) have partnered with conservative organisations The Heritage Foundation and Family Policy Alliance, both known for supporting traditional gender roles and opposing abortion rights, comprehensive sex education and same-sex marriage.