Five lies TERFs tell about the trans community – debunked

A partially pixelated transgender Pride flag edited into a graphic of trans identities.

Sadly, there is still too much misinformation that targets trans and non-binary people in service of an anti-trans agenda.

Many of the arguments made to justify transphobia stem from either a misguided gut feeling about how humans are supposed to function, or conspiracy theories spawned from discredited studies or reports.

However they come about, no lie is bigger than the claim that trans people either don’t exist or aren’t valid.

We’ve debunked just a few of the myths that transphobes and TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) rely on when attempting to explain away the existence of trans and non-binary folks.

1. Autogynephilia

Through the 1980s and 1990s, controversial American-Canadian sexologist Ray Blanchard published a series of psychological papers on the typology of transsexualism that, to this day, is used by trans-exclusionary groups to define trans women as men.

In his research, Blanchard claimed that transgender women could be categorised as either “homosexual transexuals” – individuals who he claimed are attracted to men while presenting feminine – and “non-homosexual transsexuals” or “autogynephiles” – individuals who Blanchard claimed are sexually attracted to the idea of wearing feminine clothes.

Despite the research being widely dismissed – including by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) – as the flawed findings of a researcher who would later go on to tell VICE that he believed trans people should be defined by their biological sex alone, the terminology is still used by so-called ‘gender-critical’ groups across the world.

The false notion that social transition is a byproduct of sexual orientation or fantasies has been debunked multiple times, including by prominent biologist and activist Julia Serano who said the theory promotes “male-centric presumptions” about women and LGBTQ+ people.

In a report from July 2020, Serano noted that Blanchard never took cisgender women into account when conducting his research. Later studies would find that 93 per cent of cisgender female subjects had experienced fantasies consistent with Blanchard’s theory of autogynephilia.

“Given that sexualisation is a tried-and-true tactic to dehumanise and socially exclude marginalised groups, it is unsurprising that social and religious conservatives – who routinely condemn women and LGBTQ+ people for their failure to conform to gender and sexual norms – increasingly invoke autogynephilia in their attempts to disparage transgender people,” Serano said.

2. Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD)

The Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD) conspiracy theory was first introduced in 2016 after physician Lisa Littman hypothesized a “potential new subcategory” of gender dysphoria which arises through a nebulously defined ‘social contagion’.

The theory and the research it stemmed from were so discredited upon publication that Littman herself was forced to issue a corrective statement effectively admitting that ROGD should not be used as a formal mental health diagnosis.

Despite this, many gender-critical publications and groups use ROGD as justification for disregarding the needs of trans youth.

One of the biggest glaring issues with the research was that Littman had not interviewed any trans youth for a study about trans youth.

The research was purely built on the observations of parents who had been found through biased websites that suggest gender dysphoria or gender identity could be “socially contagious”.

Transgender academic and activist Florence Ashley has criticised and disregarded the findings, saying they came from parents who were “already encourage to view their children’s identities as false beliefs”.

“[The] biggest problem with the study is that Littman fails to consider alternative, more plausible explanations for her obervations,” Ashley wrote.

“One of the main findings of the study is that children’s mental health and parent-child relationships deteriorate after coming out. Littman interprets this as evidence of a new subgroup of trans adolescents for whom social and medican transition may not be indicated.

“However, parental acceptance of gender identity is a well-know predictor of mental wellbeing for transgender people and children who are not supported in their identities are unlikely to want to maintain a good relationship with their parents.”

3. ‘There are only two genders’

Anti-LGBTQ+ bigots who use this argument usually do so under the guise of ‘basic biology’. They claim trans and non-binary people can’t possibly exist because even the most simplistic biology textbooks either say there are only two genders, or being transgender is never mentioned.

Proprioception is also rarely mentioned in school-grade biology textbooks about human senses, but it is a valid and true sense regardless.

People who use this argument tend to confuse the term gender – which is a social construct and always has been – with biological sex, which they believe is scientifically immutable.

But even this isn’t true. Not only do intersex people exist in nature, but species across the animal kingdom have shown signs of either changing between sexes or consisting of multiple sex distinctions. For some, it is even an innate part of their reproductive cycle!

One example of this is gynandromorphic stag beetles, which have both male and female sex characteristics. Since stag beetles have noticeable sexually dimorphic traits – the scale of different characteristics between two sexes – this can be abundantly clear when seeing one.

Humans, on the other hand, display relatively limited sexual dimorphism compared to other species, meaning that the distinction between male and female sex characteristics – characteristics, not gender – is significantly less pronounced.

Sexual dimorphism is also far more complicated than simply comparing characteristics between sexes, since, again, intersex people exist. It turns out biology might go a bit further than the school-grade biology textbooks anti-trans bigots constantly urge people to read.

4. Being trans is a phase

Detransitioning is a tricky topic because of the reputation it has received for being used as a way to discriminate against trans people. Regardless of what anyone says, detransitioners are still valid, so long as they respect that being transgender is a real, legitimate thing.

That being said, detransitioners constitute such a small portion of those who apply for gender affirming care that, regardless of the validity of detransitioning, it should not be used to outright reject trans and non-binary people.

In the UK alone, a survey of more than 3,000 gender identity clinic applicants found that 0.47 per cent experienced transition-related regret and even fewer actually went on to detransition.

Statistics are less clear in the US, with anywhere from 2-8 per cent of respondents to a 2015 survey of 28,000 people saying they had detransitioned in some capacity.

What is clear, however, is that a whopping 62 per cent of respondents to that survey detransitioned not because their identity was a phase, but because of the maliciousness of transphobia.

Additionally, the idea that being trans is a phase often leans on the ‘social contagion’ conspiracy theory.

Anti-trans naysayers argue that children often pretend to be superheroes, but parents wouldn’t fuel the so-called ‘delusion’ that it was true. This, in itself, is a red flag since it is built on the idea that being trans is all just make-believe.

Trans youth care gender specialist Darlene Tando said in 2020 that much of the disbelief about the validity of being trans is because “cisgender people can’t really envision living life as a different gender”.

“They think if they tried they would ‘change their mind’ because it would not be authentic,” Tando said, “which is ironic if you think about the fact that all transgender people are really trying to do is be authentic.”

5. Trans people aren’t valid

Yes, they are.

Trans women are women, trans men are men, and non-binary people are valid.