TERF stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist–feminists who don’t like trans people.
Well, you know how radical feminists have a reputation for being man-hating Nazis?
That’s basically true, except for the Nazi part. Radical feminists don’t like men all that much and don’t want men at their events or in their conversations.
Radfems believe that “gender is a social construct,” by which they mean that the oppressive, patriarchal society made up this idea of “femininity” and then “socialized” young, biologically female people into believing it. (Society also made up the idea of “masculinity” and “socialized” biological males into believing it.) In essence, they think society is gaslighting people into believing that there are personality differences between men and women, with the result that men are taught to be aggressive, rapey assholes, and women are taught to be demure, doormat victims.
To radfems, “women” have two things in common: their physical bodies and their oppression by men, and their primary focus is on liberating their physical bodies from male control, as manifest in things like abortion restrictions, rape, body shaming, marriage, or any claim that males and females are different in any way besides anatomy.
So what about trans people?
From the TERFs’ POV, most trans people are either oppressive, patriarchal men pretending to be women, or women who think there’s something wrong with being female and so are trying to become patriarchal oppressors. TERFs don’t want men or wannabe men in their spaces. They don’t want to explain, yet again, that you can never understand what it is like to be female because you were not socialized as a child into believing that “femininity” exists and you were never oppressed by society for being female. Male-to-female transsexuals don’t menstruate, can’t get raped, can’t get pregnant, and can’t be denied an abortion. You cannot become “female gendered” because “female gender” is just a thing society made up to oppress women, and buying into it is only going to further oppress women.
The whole idea of being trans doesn’t make sense within a radical feminist framework. There is no reason at all why you can’t just be an “effeminate” person who is biologically male or a “masculine” person who is biologically female–the only reason you think you can’t is because society lied to you and told you that you can’t.
Even if you are sympathetic to trans people, it remains a fact that women-who-are-biologically-women have different practical concerns than they do. Trans folks have very specific concerns about discrimination, anti-trans violence (especially incarcerated trans people), related medical conditions, and of course hormonal therapies and surgery. (There is of course some overlap–trans people can get raped and some can get pregnant, for example.)
TERFs believe that when trans people enter their spaces, trans issues, instead of women’s issues, begin to dominate the discussion, and the women who originally created these spaces in order to escape male oppression are yet again being oppressed by men. EG: Why we Must Stop Calling Menstruation “A Women’s Issue”:
Ame: People can be more inclusive of trans people who also experience menstruation by talking about the topic in a non-gendered way. Realising that bodies and body parts are not gendered would help to normalise the idea that you do not have to be a woman in order to menstruate, and also that not all women are capable of menstruating. A simple change in language, such as saying “people who menstruate” rather than “women” goes a long way in terms of having inclusive discussions, rather than discussions which isolate certain subgroups of people.
Sapphire: Stop the whole “lady parts” cis feminist discourse.
Teddy: I think better education, and more accessible resources online is going to be the way forward; I think magazines aimed at “men” and “women” should make people aware of health conditions that affect all body types, about health issues in general, and how to deal with them. There would likely be some pushback, but removing strict gendering of health issues is important.
Yes, Men’s Health and Maxim should totally start running articles about male menstruation, and Cosmo can run articles about the importance of getting your prostate checked–I’m sure that’ll send their sales through the roof!
As far as TERFs are concerned, trans people are free to have their own discussions in their own spaces, but they are not having a conversation about how “men menstruate too.”
Note that I have no dog in this fight, as I am neither a radical feminist nor trans. I think radfems are basically wrong–“gender” is primarily a manifestation of genetic differences between men and women–and that most trans folk I’ve met have an actual medical intersex condition. However, I think most trans people would be better off if they believed the radical feminists and declared to themselves that it’s fine to like things culture has traditionally deemed appropriate to the opposite sex instead of going through all the trouble of transition.