Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”White (Supremacist) Feminism on its home-TERF
Spoken at the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism's conference on Supremacism and Authoritarianism, December 2022
This work contains mention of violence, transphobia, white supremacy, homophobia, oppression and microaggressions. Reader discretion is advised.
Accessibility Statement and Speaker Introduction from December 5th, 2022
Thank you for the introduction—it’s great to be here with all of you. My name is Alisha. I am a Settler Canadian scholar from Tkaronto, the place in the water where the trees are standing. These are the lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, Anishnabeg, Chippewa, Haudenosaunee and Wendat peoples. Today, this place is home to many other Indigenous peoples, such as the Inuit and Métis people.
On Saturday, November 19th, a day before the Transgender Day of Remembrance, Anderson Lee Aldrich entered Q nightclub in Colorado Springs and opened fire. Before I begin, I would like to bring forward the names of those that lost their lives.
Raymond Green Vance.
Kelly Loving. Daniel Aston.
As we move forward with our day and with our work, we keep these names and the names of others who have also experienced or been impacted by violence—in our hearts and on our minds.
I want to start in the United Kingdom—a place often regarded as one of the birthplaces of colonialism, whiteness, and transphobia. In a study by the Home Office, it was recorded that during the years of 2020 and 2021, there were over 2500 hate crimes against transgender people recorded by the police—which was a 16% increase from the previous year. Out of an estimated 100,000 people in the National LGBT survey, 88% of transgender people did not report instances where they had been victimized to the police. 48% of transgender people in the United Kingdom were not satisfied with Police response, even when choosing to report.
In a VICE NEWS article from this past April 2022, several transgender individuals stepped forward to vocalize their decision to leave the United Kingdom, citing that they feel “less save living in this country.”
Although, findings like this do not just appear in the United Kingdom. In the United States, the Human Rights Campaign recorded a total of 44 violent fatal incidents against transgender and gender non-conforming persons in 2020—making this the most violent year on record for the HRC. The most affected within this demographic of transgender and gender non-conforming persons in the United States are those who are Black, houseless and of low income.
Just one day after the midterm elections, lawmakers in Tennessee filed bills to ban gender-affirming health care for children in the next year’s state legislative session. This bill would directly block medical specialists from providing medications and delaying puberty to children who are transgender or gender-non-conforming so that they may explore their identity in more time. This bill would also prohibit gender-affirming hormone treatments and surgery. In 2021, Tennessee also introduced a bill requiring parental notification and opt-outs when schools use LGBT-inclusive curriculum, as well as banning transgender youth from participating in sports beside their peers.
In Canada, it has been reported that there are approximately 1 million people who are LGBTQIAS2+—accounting for 4% of the population. In 2018, Statistics Canada reported that, excluding intimate partner violence, 59% of transgender people in Canada had been physically or sexually assaulted at least once since the age of 15.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of trans-violence have increased. In a Human Rights Campaign study of 2020, it was found that transgender people are more likely to have worked in COVID-affected industries, such as in customer service or education—thus, losing their livelihoods and, in some cases, their lives.
During a report from the Williams Institute at UCLA, researchers recorded that in the United States: “137,600 transgender adults in the U.S. do not have health insurance… Transgender people may also experience discomfort or discrimination in healthcare settings, potentially making them less likely to seek needed care and more likely to receive poor care. We estimate that 483,000 transgender adults feel concerned that if they express their gender identity, they could be denied good medical care, and 77,000 feel unsatisfied with the care that they have received in the past.”
While crucial in painting a contemporary picture, these statistics do little to account for the centuries of violence that transgender communities have faced in the pursuit of living a life that is whole, happy, truthful and equitable—free of violence and of prejudice—a full, human life.
Some of the most vocal abusers of transgender people—specifically transgender women, in particular—have been white women—some of which actually consider themselves to be feminists. In this presentation, I will discuss what is known as trans-exclusionary radical feminism—a form of transphobia enacted and an extension of white supremacy itself.
Transgender individuals across multiple intersectional identities face a barrage of barriers to safe and equitable living in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom—all countries that are arguably, founded on white, British Monarchist, Colonialist, and patriarchal practices. The appearance of trans-exclusionary feminism within these countries is not coincidental. Nor is it a natural consequence—a genuine display of fear from women who are terrified of this so-called “violent” and “dangerous other.”
Trans-exclusionary feminism is, much like white supremacy itself, designed and weaponized to establish a difference between persons—a difference that deliberately places white, cis-hetero persons at the top of the societal pyramid and everyone else on the bottom.
While this presentation, in no way, is intended to provide a full, historically based timeline of the TERF movement or ideology, I think a small crash course is important to understand its severity.
What is known as radical feminism emerged during the feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s as means of addressing the presence of the patriarchy, in the United States, across racial, sexual, and ethnic boundaries.
TERF is an acronym for trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or feminism, that emerged online in 2008 from a cisgender feminist community. The community, at the time, used the term to refer to the sex-essentialist feminists who were flooding into their feminist discussion space with harmful, transphobic comments. During this time, TERFs asserted that womanhood was equitable and connected to the genitalia that one was assigned at birth, and to accept transgender women into the feminist movement, would be to accept men parading as women into women’s spaces and particularly the lesbian feminist movement.
Over the years, the term has been helpful in drawing a difference between TERF movements from actual radically inclusive feminist movements that both acknowledge and actively interrogate the intersections of trans identities with racial and ability identities. Long-standing, famous radical-trans-inclusive feminists are Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, and Dana Densmore, as well as groups such as the Lesbian Tide and the Olivia Collective.
In 2013, trans-exclusionary feminism began to gain traction on social media, as TERF Elizabeth Hungerford began promoting the terminology that she understood as “gender critical.”
Previously, the terminology had actually been understood and referenced as a trans-inclusive, queer feminist analysis of sexism, but Hungerford appropriated the term to be purposely critical of transgender people.
In 2020, a Reddit forum titled “Gender Critical” was removed from the site for spewing endless columns of anti-transgender propaganda and statements inciting violence.
It is my understanding that the TERFS believe the following:
1) Trans women are men who enjoy the so-called power that comes as “masquerading” as a woman.
2) Trans-inclusive feminism is not actually feminism because of its inclusion of men abusing the personhood of “women”
3) Queerness and binary gender can simultaneously exist without the possibility of a gender spectrum.
4) Gender is tied to biology—specifically—one’s organs at birth and should not be altered.
In May of 2020, DEVEX, a global development news and media platform published an article sponsored by the Sanitation and Hygiene Fund. In their article, they call into question many of the gendered inequalities that the COVID-19 pandemic brought, specifically in regard to reproductive health—in this case, menstrual health. In their article, DEVEX reports that “an estimated 1.8 billion girls, women and gender non-binary persons menstruate” accounting for a scope of individuals with menstruative organs beyond just those who identify as women. In this article, DEVEX calls for more funding and programming in developing countries and areas suffering the most from the pandemic to receive menstrual materials and safe access to toilets, soap, water, and private spaces for those who menstruate.
On June 6th, 2020, J.K Rowling, a white feminist author most famous for writing the Harry Potter series, tweeted: “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?’” Rowling’s tweet, of course, was not the first nor the last trans-exclusionary statement that the author made. In 2015, the author published The Silkworm under a pseudonym, where she writes of a trans character through a transphobic lens. In 2018, Rowling tweeted the support of Maya Forstater, a known TERF in the United Kingdom. Following this tweet in 2020, Rowling cemented her transphobic opinions in an essay of over 3500 words on her personal website, entitled “TERF Wars.” In the essay, she declares that trans women, due to not being born as a woman, do not and cannot qualify as women.
It is worth noting that JK Rowling’s statements and opinions are not simply her own. They appear in the words of other influential white feminists, such as Sheila Jeffreys—a scholar and professor at the University of Melbourne, who asserted that gender-affirming surgeries are equivalent to patriarchal-driven mutilations. As well as Kathleen Stock, who stated that merely thinking you identify as a gender, does not mean you are that gender. Margaret Atwood, who reshared and co-opted an article from the Toronto Star about why people cannot say “woman” anymore. And, of course, Caitlyn Jenner, a transgender woman herself, who has been vocal in her desire to exclude transgender girls from competing in girls’ sports.
In response, I would like to offer the words of Jonathan Van Ness. In response to JK Rowling’s transphobic tweets, they write: “The biggest threats of violence against women has always been cis-gender men. Not trans women, unless JK’s constant transphobic cherry-picked vitriol convinces you otherwise. But as trans women are assaulted, deprived of work, killed, and raped, JK is safe in her mansion.”
Van Ness’s words perfectly encapsulate the issue—an issue that extends far beyond trans-exclusionary feminists. Since the suffragette movements in North America, we—humans—have come to unconsciously understand that the needs of white women, white feminists specifically, come before the needs of anybody else.
JK Rowling’s sentiments, in many ways, make me think of the words of suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In 1826, Stanton stood before the American Equal Rights Association and asserted that the white woman’s right to the vote was more essential than the rights of the Black community. That white women, especially in comparison with enslaved people, suffered more. And in giving Black men specifically the status of suffrage, white women would be assaulted and victimized.
Stanton and Rowling have much in common. Both are powerful women with great resources and security. Both utilize their position, their platform, and their words to oppress and subject others to violence. While Stanton specifically asserts that all Black men are violent abusers, Rowling argues that all transgender women are violent men pretending to be women in order to hurt cis-women. Much like Stanton, Rowling seeks to create a sort of fantastical boogeyman in order to establish a difference between herself and transgender persons.
In “Coloniality of White Feminism and Its Transphobia”, scholar Nishant Upadhyay writes: “trans-exclusionary cis-feminist movements… are white and Global North based… As much as race is a product of European colonialism, so are gender and sexuality. Feminist scholars have demonstrated cisheteropatriarchy and binarism were/are central to the colonial project. European notions of gender and sexuality were not only imposed on colonized and racialized peoples but were also used to deny their humanity.”
In denying the humanity of transgender people, Rowling’s words call back to what Resmaa Menakem defines as white body supremacy. In his text, My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, Menakem explains that the white body, for centuries, has been recognized as the default definition of humanity and personhood. Therefore, any being who does not belong to a white body is forced to the margins of society. I go so far as to posit, beyond whiteness as a pigmentation of skin, Menakem’s notion of white body supremacy also extends to cisgender persons—that in actuality, white body supremacy is truly cis-hetero white body supremacy. And that it is this that makes cis-hetero whiteness so normal, and anything outside of that perceived as inhuman.
The idea that in being regarded as nonhuman, as dangerous, as other, transgender people do not deserve to be here safely, equitably, human-ly, if you will, is violent.
In their refusal to recognize transwomen as women, trans-exclusionary feminists reproduce colonial and white supremacist attitudes of dehumanization— attitudes that have also been used on Black, Indigenous, Queer, Asian, Latinx, Disabled, Immigrant and Houseless communities to justify acts of violence.
While perhaps Rowling herself is not responsible for the surge of violence against transgender people as of 2020, her words are representative of that same violent white supremacist legacy.
This is a legacy that we have witnessed time and time again in the attack on Iyanna Dior, the killing of Shawmayne Giselle Marie and Ray Muscat, the killing of Tyianna Alexander, Samuel Edmund Valentin, Bianca Bankz, Fifty Bandz, Jenna Franks, Diamond Kyree Sanders, Iris Santos, Tiffany Thomas, Keri Washington, Whispering Wind Bear Spirit, and Sophie Vasquez.
I wish that I had a conclusion for this presentation, but the truth is that I haven’t learned yet, how to provide a conclusion on something that feels so never-ending.
If you have the time, space or ability, please scan the first QR code to support organizations like The Transgender District, House of GG and Trans Lifeline. As well you can find a short list of further reading surrounding this topic through the second QR code.
Thank you for your time and your attention.