The Secret Internet of Transphobic Feminists

After TERFs most popular subreddit was banned from Reddit, they formed their own toxic community

Over the past few days, I’ve spent a lot of time digging deep into the internet — and by that I mean I actually went onto the Google search results past page 1 or 2 — to see what had survived of the feminist blogosphere.

I’ve written before about how many feminist websites have closed down for lack of funding. Over the past decade, I have mourned the disappearance of the blogs I grew up with, the ones that gave me a crash course in Gender Studies 101, the ones that told me I had worth beyond my weight and that the sexual violence I encountered wasn’t ok, no matter how widespread it was.

Of course, a few sites survived, but during my surfing over the past few days I couldn’t help but notice that the feminist internet is widely dominated by TERFs, who litter their articles with transphobic remarks that bear no resemblance to the feminism that I know.

The rise of TERF ideology

TERFs, or trans-exclusionary radical feminist, have been on the rise in recent years. Their main argument is that trans women are actually men, and as such, are the ultimate oppressors of women. Trans women living as women is seen as an attempt to infiltrate women’s spaces, and a danger to cis-women. This arguments negates the reality of trans women’s existence: that they are women, and that their identity is a personal matter, not some manipulative choice. Or, to put it simply, that a person’s gender identity is no one’s business but their own.

The term originated in the late 2000s — TERFs as we know them today originated in the age of the internet — although they were fed by ideologies dating back to the 1970s, when it became apparent to radical feminists that there needed to be a term to separate those who support trans women and those who don’t.

Today, many anti-feminist feminists say the word is a slur, which is slightly ironic considering all the words in the acronym are factually accurate and don’t carry a negative connotation (unless, you know, you agree that being a trans-exclusionary feminist is an oxymoron). TERFs prefer to go by the term “gender critical” — which means basically nothing at all. I will say that it is telling when a group prefers to go by a term that masks their ideological beliefs, rather than describing them factually.

In the early 1970s, anti-trans feminists threatened violence against trans women who entered their spaces. Musician Beth Elliott was ridiculed onstage when she performed with her lesbian band at the West Coast Lesbian Feminist Conference in 1973.

The Internet: TERFs new playground

Such incidents of violence continued over the following decades, until the internet gave TERFs a new playground and different modus operandi. As trans people have gained visibility, the online backlash, and harassment of trans people, has been brutal.

So brutal, in fact, that Reddit and Twitter have banned TERF forums and accounts. We all know how far you have to go before social media ban you — you have to actually promote insurrection and the murder of Democrats before they even think about de-platforming you.

And yet Reddit did ban a subreddit called r/GenderCritical, one of the biggest online meeting places for TERFs, last year. In response, a woman named Mary Kate Gain founded a Reddit-inspired platform for TERFs, named Ovarit. Gain told The Atlantic that she discovered the r/Gender Critical subreddit after going through an abusive relationship and volunteering at a shelter for victims of domestic abuse. The experiences convinced her that trans women are men, and continue to be oppressors.

Ovarit adds to several websites dedicated to TERFs, and which are slowly forming their own secret internet. Others include Black Lipstick and Mumsnet — which has gained such a huge following in the UK that it has become a rite of passage for prominent politicians to give interviews to the website. Aside from TERF internet being a disgusting place, there is also a risk of such echo chambers, especially when they carry this much influence.

TERFs do not represent feminism

TERF ideology has, for many people, become the face of feminism, even though they constitute a minority in the actual movement when it comes to activists and associations. The only place where they are dominant is the internet and social media. TERFs are often used to discredit the entire feminist movement, even though they are only “a minority of a minority of feminists,” says Grace Lavery, a UC Berkeley literature professor and writer. They attract a disproportionate amount of attention, partly because they have a huge presence on social media platforms.

The only way to fight back is for us feminists who think trans women are women, and that negating their existence is a violation of human rights, to be just as vocal.

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