The word “TERF” will get women killed

NOTE: In this article, I have sometimes referred to trans people and sometimes to trans women. This is because the article is mainly about trans women, but the available statistics on violence cover all trans people. 

Let’s consider violence against cis women. According to Safe Lives, a UK charity fighting domestic abuse: “Seven women a month are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales.”[1] This equates to over eighty women a year.

How about violence against trans women? Trans Respect lists 8 trans people killed in the UK since 2008.[2]

Does this mean that it’s safer to be a trans woman than a cis woman? Not necessarily, as there are fewer trans women than cis women: trans women definitely suffer significant levels of violence. A Stonewall report found: “More than a quarter of trans people (28 percent) in a relationship in the last year have experienced domestic abuse from a partner.”[3]

However, the exact same mathematics leads to another unsettling conclusion. Since there are so many more cis women, a measure that makes trans women safer but makes cis women less safe could easily cost more lives than it saves. Let’s round the numbers above and assume that currently one trans person and 80 cis women are murdered each year. Then a measure which saves 100% of the trans people but increases violence against cis women by just 5% would save one life and cost 4 lives.

How do we resolve this dilemma? It is not acceptable that more cis women are killed, nor that we leave trans women unprotected. Anyone who tries to justify either of these positions is not someone I am willing to listen to.

The only way to the right outcome is to hear from both cis women and trans women on proposals to reduce violence. Solutions are not acceptable unless they are acceptable to both communities. Trans women know where they are in danger; cis women know where they are. Unless we hear from both groups, we will choose the wrong outcomes.

This is why it worries me to see the misogyny amongst trans activists and transphobia amongst feminist activists when these subjects are discussed. On the one hand, some of the best-known trans activists treat any feminist objections to specific proposals as transphobia and refuse to believe that feminists might have genuine concerns that some changes could increase violence against women. On the other hand, some well-known feminists routinely precede their objections by using “he”/”his” to describe trans women.

We urgently need both sides to start listening.

Trans activists need to accept that when feminists say “Don’t make this change this way, it will get us killed”, that this cannot be met with an eye roll and a yell of “TERF”; and that memes like “Punch a TERF” are not acceptable in the context of the very large problem of violence against cis women that still exists. Feminist activists need to accept that violence against trans people is a real and urgent problem and that we need to help to find ways to protect trans women; and that calling a trans women “he” fatally undermines cooperation.

I’d like to end this on a positive, optimistic note, but I can’t think of one. Neither side wishes to hear what the other has to say. Currently, the trans movement seems to be winning the argument for gender self-identification – without addressing any feminist concerns about cis women’s safety. Unless there is a drastic shift, I think the word “TERF” will get women killed before anything improves.



Footnotes: all links accessed on 1 June 2018.




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