The TERF Industrial Complex: Transphobia, Feminism and Race
The figure of the “TERF” (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) has emerged as one of the more puzzling flashpoints in recent culture wars on campus and in the media. Why have trans lives and identities become a politically potent rallying cry for people who seem not to care very much for trans people? In this conversation, we explore the outsize influence TERFs wield in the media, what their influence means for feminism, and why their position occupies a unique and troubling place in the current discourse around free speech and “cancel culture.”"
About the Speakers
Marquis Bey, Assistant Professor, Northwestern
Marquis Bey's work focuses on Blackness and fugitivity, transness, and Black feminism. He is particularly concerned with modes of subjectivity that index otherwise ways of being, utilizing Blackness and transness—as fugitive, extra-ontological postures—as names for such otherwise subjectivities. His first book, Them Goon Rules: Fugitive Essays on Radical Black Feminism, is a collection of creative nonfiction essays weaving together the personal, the vernacular, and the scholarly. The various essays put forth a meditation on Blackness and Black feminism that departs from general identitarian understandings and moves toward conceptions of fugitive being. Fashioning fugitive Blackness and feminism around a line from Lil’ Wayne’s “A Milli,” Them Goon Rules is a work of “auto-theory” that insists on radical modes of thought and being as glimpsed through Blackness and nonnormative genders.
His second book, Anarcho-Blackness: Notes Toward a Black Anarchism, is a brief, pamphlet-like text theorizing what might be considered Black anarchism. He uses the prefixal "anarcho-" as the crux for articulating the spirit, as it were, of anarchism throughout aspects of the Black Radical Tradition.
Bey is currently at work on a book manuscript on Black trans feminism.
Grace Lavery, Associate Professor, UC Berkeley
I specialize in Victorian literature and culture, trans feminist studies, and contemporary popular culture. My research across these three distinct fields of inquiry is linked by a concern with historical claims about aesthetic efficacy: the idea that certain aesthetic effects might simply work, and that though that efficacy might be deeply responsive to context, it is possessed of its own hypothetical logic. Such claims, whose “subjective universal” condition is definitively theorized in Kant’s Critique of Judgment and often implicit within psychoanalytic accounts of the clinical scene, are notoriously dubious in a philosophical sense, but I am more generally concerned with their causes and effects. For example, in Quaint, Exquisite, I argue that a distinctive and influential account of aesthetic universality developed in the UK partly as a reaction formation designed to protect against the disorienting effects of Japanese modernity. My work in trans feminist studies is likewise focused on the belief that transition works; that it is truly possible to change sex. This belief may be as embarrassing to those who hold it as it is anathema to much of the scholarship on sex and gender, which tends to valorize interminability and indeterminacy, and treats binary thinking skeptically as a matter of course. But it is nonetheless both a motivating factor and a social fact for many trans women who embark upon medical and social transition, and so make a serious psychic investment in the transformative possibility of aesthetic technique. My research seeks to understand both the historical and political conditions of possibility for such motivations, and their logical properties as structures of thought, without reducing either to mere ideology or amorphous affect.
I publish a newsletter several times a week, for which I write a mixture of literary criticism, psychoanalytic theory, trans feminist argument, fiction, memoir, and comic prose. It is called THE STAGE MIRROR and it is archived at grace.substack.com.
Jules Gill-Peterson, Assistant Professor, English and Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies, at the University of Pittsburgh. In 2018-19, they are an ACLS Fellow.
Jules is the author of Histories of the Transgender Child (University of Minnesota Press, 2018), the first book to shatter the widespread myth that transgender children are a brand new generation in the twenty-first century. Uncovering a surprising archive dating from the 1920s through 1970s, Histories of the Transgender Child shows how the concept of gender relies on the medicalization of children's presumed racial plasticity, challenging the very terms of how we talk about today's medical model.
Jules is currently at work on a book project entitled Gender Underground: A History of Trans DIY, which reframes the trans twentieth century not through institutional medicine, but the myriad do-it-yourself practices of trans people that forged parallel medical and social worlds of transition.