Judith Butler, the philosopher and gender theorist, was interviewed by The Guardian recently, and they had a lot to say about trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs)—at least until that was edited out.
ICYDK, TERFs are people who use feminist ideology to attack and discount trans folk. Often, like in the case of noted TERF JK Rowling, they do so by suggesting that supporting trans women (the conversation almost always centers around trans women, not trans men) would invariably harm women i.e. cis women and make them vulnerable to violence. They also often use bioessentialist arguments to support this, saying that what gender you’re assigned to at birth is the only basis for your gender.
While some would say that TERFs are a strain of modern feminism, I’d disagree: Any form of ideology that purports itself to be feminist while demonizing a marginalized group of people is not in any way feminist to me. Trans women are women, no amount of academic posturing and weaponing of social justice language is going to change that.
As the person behind the feminist canon “Gender Trouble” and has written extensively about gender being a performance, Butler obviously has a lot to say about that.
When asked a question about TERFs allying themselves with right-wing groups, this is what Butler had to say:
“It is very appalling and sometimes quite frightening to see how trans-exclusionary feminists have allied with right-wing attacks on gender,” they said. They broke down what the anti-gender ideology movement means, saying that it seeks “to eradicate ‘gender’ as a concept or discourse, a field of study, an approach to social power.” They also noted that those who forward this movement are doing so by any means, even if they end up contradicting themselves.
They added that this “anti-gender ideology is one of the dominant strains of fascism in our times,” and since TERFs have allied themselves with fascism, they “will not be part of the contemporary struggle against fascism, one that requires a coalition guided by struggles against racism, nationalism, xenophobia, and carceral violence, one that is mindful of the high rates of femicide throughout the world, which include high rates of attacks on trans and genderqueer people.”
They highlighted as well that feminist science philosophy scholars like Karen Barad, Donna Haraway, EM Hammonds, and Anne Fausto-Sterling have actually shown how important culture and nature are to gender, but that TERFs reject their works in favor of bioessentialism.
As powerful as that statement is, The Guardian has chosen to edit it out after the piece went viral. I myself was able to gain a copy of the quote using the Internet archive. The Guardian explained that it was edited “to reflect developments which occurred after the interview took place.” But honestly, Judith Butler’s words being edited out is reminding me of comedian Hannibal Burress going, “Why are you booing me? I’m right.”
This is not the first time Butler has skewered both TERFs and the idea that a feminism that would exclude trans folk is in any way valid. Last year, in an interview with New Statesman, they were able to swerve the interviewer’s leading questions, which included the interviewer telling Butler that TERF was a slur (it’s not), separating feminists and trans activists, and what they thought about the online abuse JK Rowling received. “I confess to being perplexed by the fact that you point out the abuse leveled against JK Rowling, but you do not cite the abuse against trans people and their allies that happens online and in person,” they said.