TERF Wars: Why Transphobia Has no Place in Feminism.

Laurie Penny
26 min readJun 16, 2020

What happened to sisterhood?

image by Charles Hutchins via Creative Commons

Last week, beloved children’s author J.K. Rowling briefly became the world’s most famous transphobe. After the Harry Potter writer spent days defending transphobia on Twitter and in her blog, writing that she was “worried about the new trans activism,” millions of distraught fans and confused bystanders were left wondering what the hell was going on.

But Rowling’s public spasm of self-delusion isn’t unusual. It’s part of a larger, weirder pattern of prejudice. Whenever I’m sharing war stories with American progressives, one of the first things they tend to ask is why there are so many prominent British transphobes, and why respectable left-wing publications like the Guardian publish their writing on the subject so often. They ask me why the only Western leaders speaking the same language on trans rights as these British liberals are right-wing despots.

Well, buckle up, because this is why.

Britain is the epicenter of a strange, savage, and specific cultural backlash against trans rights. That backlash is doing real harm to people whose lives should not be up for debate. Its proponents have recruited a great many decent, well-intentioned people to their cause through subterfuge and scaremongering — including mainstream media figures and celebrities like Rowling.

In the past half-decade, British transphobes have done everything in their power to convince the public that trans women are a sexual threat to women and girls and ought to be banned from women’s changing rooms, public bathrooms, and prisons. They have threatened and harassed trans teenagers and bullied trans speakers off stage. They even picketed Amnesty international for daring to invite a trans comedian to a women’s event. Their zeal is grounded in a totally false conception of what it means to be trans. They accuse trans women of trading in stereotypes and implying that womanhood is, in Rowling’s words, a “costume,” all about makeup, manicures, ‘pink brains’ and “a liking for Jimmy Choos.” Ironically, some of these transphobes are happy to use the tactics of patriarchy against trans women, who find themselves subject to sexual shaming and taunts about their appearance by people who call themselves feminists.

Laurie Penny

Based on a true story. Author, journalist, screenwriter, social justice bard.