J.K. Rowling wrote a statement about transgender people in response to being called a 'TERF'
- J.K. Rowling wrote a lengthy statement on Wednesday after Twitter users called her out for her transphobic comments she made over the weekend.
- In particular, Rowling took issue with being labeled a "TERF" - or trans-exclusionary radical feminist.
- TERFs do not consider trans women to be 'real women,' trans men to be 'real men,' or non-binary people to exist at all. They also actively fight to exclude trans women from women's spaces.
- They typically believe that transgender people - trans women, in particular - pose a danger to the rights of 'real women.'
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J.K. Rowling became famous by penning a fantastical world that shaped the childhoods people across the globe. More recently, she's been making headlines for writings about her personal views.
On Wednesday, Rowling tweeted out a statement with the caption "TERF wars." The statement came after Rowling caught heat for tweeting transphobic remarks over the weekend, including mocking the phrase "people who menstruate" and saying that "trans activism" is harming women.
In particular, Rowling took issue with being labeled a TERF, or trans-exclusionary radical feminist.
However, many people who use the term say those who are labeled TERFs make transphobic statements, claim transgender women don't belong in women's spaces, and imply that acknowledging the existence of transgender people harms women's rights.
Here is a brief history of the term and who it describes.
The term TERF originated in 1970s feminist theory
It wasn't until the early 2000s that the term TERF started to gain traction online. But the origins of the acronym are rooted in 1970s feminist philosophy. At the time, radical feminist circles asserted there needed to be a word to separate feminists who supported trans women and those who did not.
Because many feminist groups called for creating separate spaces from men for women to exist and organise in, radical feminist circles debated whether or not to include transgender women.
The feminists who are against the inclusion of transgender women into women's organising spaces called themselves "gender critical feminists," a term that continues to be used today.
These early gender- critical feminists were serious about keeping transgender women and non-binary people assigned male at birth out of these women's spaces and even threatened violence against trans people on multiple occasions.
The echos of these 1970s feminists can be heard in the sentiments of people who share Rowling's belief in the importance of "biological sex." In her blog post, Rowling emphasised the existence of only two "biological sexes," a statement that has been debunked by researchers in the past.
In addition to emphasising the need for biological sex to be recognised, Rowling repeated another gender-critical talking point used in the 1970s: allowing trans women into women's spaces makes cisgender women unsafe.
"I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe," she wrote.
People who follow TERF ideology have advocated against trans people having access to gender-affirming care in the past
In addition to calling for the exclusion of transgender women from women's spaces, TERFs have also historically advocated against access to gender-firming care for transgender people.
Janice Raymond, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, wrote "Transsexual Empire: The Making of the Shemale" in 1979. In it, she said the existence of transgender people should be "morally mandating it out of existence" by cutting off health care.
These sentiments have had a lasting impact on transgender healthcare in the US. Insurance companies refused to cover gender-affirming care for decades and many primary-care physicians were unwilling to provide HRT, a medication also prescribed for menopause, to transgender and nonbinary patients because medical guidelines had not changed to include them. That's changed in recent years, and both insurance companies and Medicaid now cover gender-affirming care.
Until 2017, "gender identity disorder" was categorised as a mental disorder in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. And it wasn't until 2018 that the World Health Organisation removed "transsexualism" the International Classification of Diseases - a move that, the WHO conceded, would allow for better "access to necessary health interventions."
Rowling made similar points as Raymond in her statement. She cited the growing problem of people "detransitioning" after going on HRT as a reason to limit access to gender-affirming care to transgender youth, care which has been proven to lower rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide in transgender teens.
While feminist and queer spaces in the US have become more trans-inclusive in recent years, the same cannot be said for the UK, where Rowling lives, as Slate reported.
TERFs do not consider trans women to be 'real women,' trans men to be 'real men,' or non-binary people to exist at all
The reason many gender critical feminists exclude transgender women from their feminism is the same reason many also make room for transgender men in women's spaces - many gender critical feminists do not view transgender men as real men or transgender women as real women.
Rowling's focus on biological sex extends to her logic for including transgender men in women's spaces.
"Ironically, radical feminists aren't even trans-exclusionary - they include trans men in their feminism, because they were born women," she wrote in her statement.
But to say trans men belong in women's spaces undermines their gender identity and implies they are not "real men."
Saying transgender people were "born" as the gender they were assigned at birth also mistakenly implies trans people need to "transition" - or go through gender-affirming medical procedures - to be the gender they identify as.
Not all transgender people need to take medical steps to be comfortable in their bodies or gender.
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