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Amateur Hour, or, Feminism Against TERFism

I have heard proclamations of feminism’s death many times over the years. Nevertheless, it came as a genuine surprise when I encountered it this past July, in an essay on “Sidecar,” the New Left Review blog, by NLR editor Caitlín Doherty. “A decade ago,” Doherty writes of feminism, “a generation of women—now in our late twenties and early thirties—claimed it as a primary political identity, but no longer.” Since then, Doherty argues, feminism has become not a politics so much as a style thanks in part to the “current second-wave revival,” exemplified in the essay by renewed interest in Andrea Dworkin and a new collection of Susan Sontag’s essays on women. Worse yet, it’s a “deeply boring” style—all anachronistic lamentations about women’s endless suffering, no mobilizing articulations of shared problems and goals that speak to our current moment.

Contra Doherty, I tend to agree with writer and scholar Sophie Lewis that feminism is in “a golden era”—thankfully and necessarily so given the monstrous scale of contemporary attacks on women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, especially trans rights. Calling attention to the absence of any mention of transfeminism in particular in both Doherty’s essay and a response to it by Becca Rothfield, Lewis observes, “The paroxysm of misogyny (including feminist misogyny) currently attempting to stamp out transfemininity—and juvenile transmasculinity—in Britain and the US today is self-evidently one of feminism’s central political antagonists.” Like Lewis, I take it as a given that the oppression of transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people is a problem for feminism, particularly when that oppression is perpetuated and reinforced by other feminists.[1]

Even more specifically, it’s a problem for feminists in modernist studies, by which I mean two things. Above all, anti-trans feminism—i.e. “gender-critical” or trans exclusionary feminism (TERFism)—is part of the broader sociopolitical context of feminism’s contemporary resurgence in the field of modernist studies and a painful reminder that feminism is always multiple, a site of conflict and contestation rather than an intrinsically “good” thing. Secondly, it seems to me that a certain version of modernism is already implicated in anti-trans feminism. TERFism reads to me as one of a number of contemporary feminist returns to modernism, albeit an aggressively amateur return to a modernism I hardly recognize—one that makes the long history of work on gender in the field all the more important.

Painted signs reading "Trans Rights, because fuck you"
Fig. 1. "Trans Rights Because Fuck You" (2023), prints and photo by Adam Ahlgrim, All Grim Prints.

Gender-Critical Feminism and the Mainstreaming of Anti-Trans Extremism

Most immediately, it bears stepping back to sketch what the authors of a recent Trans Studies Syllabus fittingly call our “Bullshit Times.” In the United States today, the obscenely powerful, ultraconservative Supreme Court, draconian lawmakers, demagogic political leaders, right-wing and mainstream media, and so-called parents’ rights groups are not only propagating reactionary gender norms and anti-LGBTQ+ panic but also institutionalizing fascistic systems of control, dispossession, and discrimination—often in the spurious name of protecting children.[2] In the last few years, the torrent of legislation endangering if not eradicating basic rights, access to resources, possibilities for self-determination, and lives on the basis of gender and sexuality has been staggering: abortion bans and higher pregnancy-related mortality rates, particularly among Native American and Black people; bans on evidence-based, medically approved gender-affirming care for minors and criminalization of their supportive parents and providers; bans on trans youth, especially trans girls, participating in sports consistent with their gender identity; bathroom bans that serve to further exclude trans people from public spaces and daily life, bans on books and teaching and talking about gender and sexuality. As of December 13, the ACLU reported tracking an astonishing 508 anti-LBGTQ bills during the 2023 legislative session, many of them attacking trans youth.

What concerns me here is what concerned Judith Butler in a 2021 Guardian piece: that self-identified feminists are “ally[ing] with reactionary powers in targeting trans, non-binary, and genderqueer people.” An Anglophone movement with roots in the 1970s, trans exclusionary feminism (TERFism) has grown significantly in recent years. In their introduction to a 2022 special issue of Trans Studies Quarterly on gender-critical movements and “post-fascist” feminisms, including TERFism, Serena Bassi and Greta LaFleur explain how “highly visible TERFs like the theorist Sheila Jeffreys, the journalist Julie Bindel, and the popular writer J. K. Rowling articulate the movement’s brand of transphobia by claiming that trans womanhood is a patriarchal invention aimed at infiltrating women’s spaces and undermining feminist movement building from within.”[3] In Britain, TERFism has become alarmingly mainstream, particularly following proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act that would have allowed people to self-identify rather than obtain medical assessment for the purposes of legal gender recognition. As Lewis explained in a 2019 NYT op-ed, TERFs “have effectively succeeded in framing the question of trans rights entirely around their own concerns: that is, how these rights for others could contribute to ‘female erasure.’”

In the US, by contrast, the gender-critical (or anti-gender) movement is largely a conservative beast. Later in 2019, Katelyn Burns reported in Vox that, while unholy alliances had formed between radical feminist groups such as the Women’s Liberation Front and far-right conservatives to oppose trans rights, gender-critical feminism hadn’t had the same traction. Four years later, this remains true. A 2023 poll showed that the vast majority of self-identified feminists in the US support trans rights, with 81% opposing laws preventing trans youth from receiving care and 89% favoring discussion of transgender people in K–12 education.

I was pleasantly surprised to encounter these numbers—probably because I spend too much time on Twitter where they’re quick to swarm. No doubt I’ve also rage-read too many NYT op-eds by Pamela Paul, previously the editor of the NYT Book Review and now a regular Opinion columnist. Lest anyone forget—as if anyone could—Paul published a defense of J. K. Rowling a mere day after the Times received two open letters critiquing the paper’s coverage of trans issues—one from contributors that was also signed by 34,000 media workers and NYT readers and subscribers, including me; and another hand-delivered by GLAAD and signed by over 100 LGBTQ advocates and organizations. Did Paul file her piece earlier? For sure. But it was typical, borderline farcical, transphobic Paul fare. In July 2022, Paul fearmongered about how groups at both extremes of the political spectrum are “working . . . to deny women their humanity”—the far right by “stripping women of fundamental rights”; the so-called far left (“academics, uber-progressives, transgender activists, civil liberties organizations and medical organizations”) by acknowledging that cis women are not the only ones who experience pregnancy and childbirth. Paul isn’t the first cis woman in the US media to worry about women being “shove[d] to the side” by trans inclusion.[4] Yet, as Melissa Gira Grant pointed out in The New Republic, Paul has a bigger, broader audience. In using her platform to cast trans inclusion as an extremist view and spout gender-critical talking points to liberal readers, she “is laying the groundwork for a mainstream case for trans exclusion.”[5]

So what exactly is gender-critical thinking critical of? Bassi and LaFleur sum it up thus: “In all its multiple manifestations, gender-critical discourse ostensibly takes issue with the feminist theoretical notion that sex and gender are social and cultural inventions” (313). “Ostensibly” because, in maintaining that binary sex is real, immutable, and biological, while gender is unreal, ideological, and so on, gender-critical discourse participates in a long history of inventing sex and gender.

The same goes for gender-critical feminism, which Sara Ahmed describes as a “gender conservative movement.” One way this movement operates is by elevating terms such as “sex” and “gender” into catchphrases, “as if they embody truths”—e.g. sex is real; sex not gender. Such slogans get treated as common sense, facts everyone just knows. As Butler reminds us in the Guardian, however, the point of gender studies was never to “deny sex.” No one is, as Rowling proclaimed in a mindbogglingly timed June 2020 tweet, “erasing the concept of sex.” The point has only ever been that it’s just that—a concept. Concepts being things all people use, as Rowling herself says some women use the concept of sex, “to meaningfully discuss their lives.”[6] And yet this admission of its being a concept is precisely what gets negated by TERFs claiming, again and again, sex is real! Sex is binary! Sex is biology!

Not actual biology, which has long contested the notion of binary sex. Nor is there a gender-critical consensus about which biological trait nominally determines and guarantees one’s status as a “real” man or woman. In her blistering review of three recent gender-critical trade books by Bindel, Helen Joyce, and Kathleen Stock, Grace Lavery observes with welcome, characteristic humor, “genitals, chromosomes, and gametes all have a claim to be the holy gender-critical grail.”

Whatever its supposed biological foundation, cis/“true” womanhood is nothing if not under siege according to TERFs, “hence the consistent recourse to the language of vulnerability and extinction—‘butch genocide,’ cis women’s vulnerability in bathrooms, the end of women’s sports, the list could go on forever” (Bassi and LaFleur, 327). Recently, the panic about trans women in cis women’s spaces has extended to chess tournaments—the implication being that women are, fundamentally and immutably, not only physically inferior but also mentally inferior to men. Ultimately, then, for all the freedom to express one’s womanhood in various ways that freedom from gender is supposed to allow, gender-critical feminism reifies “an essentialist story of womanhood as always already under threat: in danger, at risk, and in need of protection” (312). Women, this story goes, are weak, powerless, prone to suffering—and they better show it! How else are others to know, for example, who belongs in a women’s bathroom or locker room? Indeed, how could girls and women not show it, according to this (il)logic? Sex, after all, is real. Its truth will out.

The catch is that the nominally self-evident existence of two immutable sexes requires endless state and civilian policing of boundaries and bodies to maintain—of all bodies, as Lydia Polgreen reminds us. Following Florida’s trans bathroom ban in May 2023, Polgreen wrote about her own experience of being misgendered in a bathroom years earlier, warning that such bills are “a step along the path to rigid enforcement of gender norms, roles and presentation.” They also egregiously elide the fact that trans people, far from posing a threat to cis girls and women, are four times more likely than cis to experience violent crime. Trans women and especially Black trans women are disproportionately impacted. According to a 2022 Human Rights Campaign report, Black trans women represented 63% of all known cases of fatal violence against transgender and gender nonconforming people.[7] And yet, rather than derive from this data a source of solidarity and collective power, gender-critical feminism doubles down on trans exclusion in the name of recentering “real,” i.e. cis—and white—womanhood.[8]

Making Trans/Misogyny New

All of this is a problem for feminists in modernist studies. How?

Let’s start with what’s most important. TERFism and transphobia more broadly are primarily a problem for modernist studies as they’re a problem for all scholarly fields: they dehumanize and pose a threat to people in them. I want to be careful not to lose sight of this central fact. It is people with whom I am most concerned—scholars, students, my fellow publishers. As both AAUP and scholar-activists such as Lavery and Ahmed have made clear, anti-trans speech acts such as intentional misgendering and deadnaming are forms of harassment. They undermine and hence render all the more necessary efforts to ensure that our shared workspaces are hospitable to all minoritized scholars.[9] Crucially, to this end, the 2023 Modernist Studies Association conference program included a statement on gender inclusion affirming the “rights and dignity of our transgender and gender non-binary members” and the importance of “using individuals’ correct name and pronoun reference.” In this essay, too, the rights, dignity, and existence of trans people are not up for debate.

Rather, I want to propose that gender-critical feminism constitutes a vitriolic form of what Melanie Micir and Aarthi Vadde call “amateur criticism.”[10] Readers of this site will hardly need reminding that Vadde and Micir juxtapose Kate Zambreno’s Heroines (2012) and Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas (1936)—two “hybrid work[s] of cultural criticism and feminist memoir”—to argue that both writers “turn to low-prestige genres and use unapologetically emotional voices” to offer a “feminist alternative to the disciplinary fashioning of criticism” (519). This alternative is not only stylistic but also substantive. Vadde and Micir acknowledge that Zambreno’s recovery of women writers “marginalized by what she calls ‘the modernist memory project’” may feel “dated to professional scholars . . . who have either witnessed or worked to bring about feminist, minority, and non-European revisions of the modernist canon” (519, 544 n. 9). I confess, that was my response upon picking up Heroines—haven’t we done this? Haven’t we already remembered modernism differently?

This is the orbit (Vadde and Micir’s term) in which I want to situate TERFism—not because it shares a politics with Woolf or Zambreno but because it shares elements of this amateur playbook. Just as Bassi and LaFleur caution against presuming that feminism is an “incontrovertible political good,” I am interested in the uses and abuses of amateurism to very different feminist ends (320).

Perhaps nowhere has an amateur feminist return to modernism been more prominently displayed of late than in It’s Pablo-matic: Picasso According to Hannah Gadsby, a recent exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum co-curated by the Australian comedian. Gadsby—who uses they/them pronouns and signed the GLAAD letter to the New York Times—studied art history in college but isn’t formally credentialled beyond that. The show builds on their criticism of Picasso for his misogyny in their 2018 Netflix special, Nanette. It was also brutally panned in the New York Times precisely for its amateurism—for abandoning difficulty, foregrounding viewers’ feelings above all, and ignoring “[a]ll the feminist scholarship of the last 50 years.”

In some respects, this is also Doherty’s critique of the current second-wave feminist revival—that it pretends the last fifty years didn’t happen in “substituting fifty-year-old theses for an effort to analyse present conditions” and marketing them as “timely” and “urgent.” Foremost among these theses is a definition of womanhood in terms of “not just the experience of suffering but . . . the constant verbalisation of pain.” What’s born of such a notion of womanhood is a “negative feminism: participation credentialled on the basis of suffering.”

Though Doherty doesn’t discuss gender-critical feminism, it, too, effectively reads as second-wave revival that disavows decades of feminist work in favor of constantly verbalizing feelings of pain. In a 2018 blog post, UK-based scholar Natalia Cecire calls attention to the proprietary and generational structure of “the transphobic cis ‘feminist’ claim to true and sole ownership of misogyny and injury.” This claim, Cecire writes, is “a claim to expertise and the respect that expertise is due, a claim made by way of ‘personal experience,’ since in fact transmisogynists can only hold their position if they ignore the vast body of scholarship on sexuality and gender.” They must also invalidate the experience of trans women, clinging to the wildly solipsistic notion that (as Ahmed puts it) “trans women cannot be women because they were socialised as men and benefited from male privilege.” Trans women can never get credentialed on the basis of their suffering.

This proprietary TERF claim on suffering can further take the form of a reclamation, of a return to a perpetually recent past. A common gender-critical refrain is that certain notions of sex and gender, transgender people, and/or trans healthcare are new. Consider, for example, this first sentence of a March 2023 essay by a senior editor of the self-described “radical American journal,” Compact: “Until the past few years, it wasn’t controversial to know or to say that there are two sexes, which are immutable; indeed, it was, and is, part of the background of our collective reality.”[11] One might assume that those of us who don’t see our experiences, expertise, or ethics reflected in this “collective reality” are the ones with “controversial” ideas—but no. The moral authority of both the underdog and the universal has been claimed, leaving the rest of us not outside or marginalized so much as nowhere, while also supposedly wielding some newly seized power to silence and censor what nevertheless remains real and immutable.

Not only are certain notions of gender supposedly new but they are also cast as a product of postmodernism, with the implication that the pre-gender past to which TERFism hearkens is a modernist one. In her review essay, Lavery memorably reflects, “The commitment to novelty, to asserting the uniquely ‘postmodern’ dimension of a question that long precedes modernism stands out as perhaps the most ruthlessly incompetent dimension of this work.” Other familiar foes appear in gender-critical writing: poststructuralism, deconstruction, Judith Butler (“gender-critical enemy number one,” as Lavery notes). I follow Lavery, however, in homing in on “postmodernism” amid this morass of empty signifiers. If “reality” matters most to gender-critical feminism, its reliance on tired clichés about post/modernism matters to me. Having lived through the first round of culture-war freakouts about postmodernism, I cannot help but think, haven’t we done this already? How are we still doing this?[12]

Gender-critical feminism’s anti-postmodernism reads as a holdover of what political theorist Wendy Brown characterized as a “modernist reaction to postmodernism” nearly thirty years ago in her now classic 1995 book, States of Injury.[13] There, Brown argued that, while anti-postmodern feminism claimed to be political, it “betray[ed] a preference for extrapolitical terms and practices: for Truth (unchanging, incontestable) over politics (flux, contest, instability)” (37). For TERFs today, this Truth is the Truth of Two Sexes, according to which (to quote Lavery) “roughly half of all people simply are male and the rest are female.” In Brown’s well-known analysis, the dominant mode of modernist/anti-postmodern feminism—and of late twentieth-century identity politics and liberal politics more generally—was Nietzschean ressentiment, a “wounded attachment” to hurt that vengefully seeks out and “produces a culprit” to blame and hurt in turn (68). As we’ve already begun to see, TERFism manifests such ressentiment in its scapegoating of trans people for the ills of patriarchal oppression and what Lewis, echoing Brown, describes as its “wounded attachment to the suffering-based femaleness it purports to celebrate.”

Brown’s suggestion that such wounded attachments—to Truth, to a stable “I” to authorize experience, to a uniquely female experience of suffering—are characteristically modernist has always stuck with me, making me bristle and feel oddly protective, defensive of this thing called modernism. I initially read States of Injury in college, shortly after it was published. “That’s not the modernism I know,” I thought. Now, thirty years later, the past TERFs idealize still isn’t one I readily recognize.

Who Buried Feminism?

As an Xennial undergrad in the late 1990s, I double majored in English and women’s studies. I knew the work of Virginia Woolf heading into college. Reading H.D., Jean Rhys, Gertrude Stein, Nella Larsen, and Stevie Smith further initiated me into what I half-jokingly call “girl modernism.” The latter wasn’t limited to “women writers.” Baudelaire and Freud featured prominently. Above all, the modernism on which I was reared was messy and capacious, always already bound up with issues of corporeality, desire, subjectivity, identification, social norms, and the creative, constitutive power of language. Gender was, as Lavery puts it, a question, a source of reflection and a site of struggle, even if the term “gender” wasn’t always at writers’ fingertips. As Lynne Stahl notes in the Washington Post: “it’s the terms that are novel, not the ways of being they describe.” But as she also suggests, some ways of being might be, if not entirely new, then more readily accessible, conceivable now. And if some are new . . . so what? Things change. People change. Genders and, yes, even sexes change.

So has modernism. From its origins in various manifestos and movements, modernism has been made and remade. So, too, in modernist studies, what’s old has often made new again, sometimes as if for the first time. Scholarly trends—including feminism—come and go and come back again. This is what scholars do: we make and remake our objects and fields, especially under the pressures of a scholarly market that endlessly calls for novelty, but also in response to issues both “in” and “outside” of the academy—problems such as cis/sexism and trans/misogyny that may not change as much as we might like.

Susan Stanford Friedman, who passed away earlier this year, described our continual efforts to frame and reframe our objects of study as “definitional excursions.”[14] We all take them in ways that are informed by our institutional and disciplinary contexts. Brown’s “modernism” closely corresponds to Enlightenment modernity and bears the mark of her grounding in the social sciences. Mine bears the mark of my grounding in feminist literary studies, including the work of Friedman. While I wasn’t able to attend her memorial at the MSA conference in October, I will say here: it’s impossible to overestimate the influence of Friedman’s work on my education in both modernism and feminism. I wrote my undergrad thesis on H.D.’s prose following the height of its recovery by Friedman and others. Over winter break my senior year, I visited H.D.’s archives at Yale University’s Beinecke Library and pored over the letters she wrote during her analysis with Freud in the 1930s. “Book means penis evidently,” she had written to Bryher and I scribbled in my notes, unaware that all those letters would be published just a couple years later in a volume edited by Friedman.[15]

In her classic 1975 essay, “Who Buried H.D.?,” on which my section title riffs, Friedman critiqued H.D.’s male critics for reading her poems as “a product of her unresolved penis envy,” symptoms of her supposed feelings of inferiority that were found lacking in turn.[16] Friedman, however, argued that the phallus was a faulty measuring rod for H.D.’s creativity, showing how the poet “used myth to confront the most contemporary and timeless problems in women’s lives” (808). In Friedman’s reading, the women in H.D.’s work suffer by dint of their sex in a sexist world. Yet, Trilogy and Helen in Egypt also “attempt to transcend the divisions into male and female as they reach for a vision of individual identity, society, and religion based on an androgynous union of the strongest and most creative aspects of the traditionally ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’” (811).

In the fifty years since, further work in gender, queer, and trans studies has established new vocabularies and frameworks for conceptualizing such modernist attempts at transcendence—and transition. Susan McCabe’s 2021 joint biography of H.D. and Bryher identifies the couple as “genderqueer,” exploring how they “claimed a nonbinary view of their bodies, history, and the cosmos.”[17] Meanwhile, Lavery, in her latest book, Pleasure and Efficacy, as well as feminist theorist Mari Ruti, who also passed away this past year, have claimed a nonbinary view of psychoanalysis, developing trans affirming readings of penis envy as a universal condition.[18]

I offer these examples not to redeem a “good” modernism, magically free of misogyny and bad binaries, but rather to join other scholars in affirming that our current moment has a long history—both for better and for worse. Not only is the question of gender not new but the gender-critical claim that it is new is not new. In The New Woman, Emma Heaney traces the transmisogynist “framing of trans women as new . . . and impossible to understand” back to the late nineteenth century, showing how it has continually occluded the fact and variety of trans feminine existence.[19] Lewis and Asa Seresin have identified antecedents of contemporary TERFism in earlier forms of “fascist feminism,” decades before the 1970s cultural feminism in which it’s rooted.[20] Scholars in early modern (#EMoTrans) and premodern studies are doing invaluable work in yet earlier periods, charting histories of both trans life and gender diversity, on the one hand, and of cisnormativity and its links to white supremacy and colonialism, on the other.[21]

To some degree, my aim here is simply to insist on how much this scholarly work of documenting and exploring trans life matters, if with the painful awareness of how little it matters to gender-critical feminists. Ezra Horbury and Xine Yao note that, in UK academia, “the legitimacy and authority to speak on trans studies is justified via deliberate ignorance of trans studies.”[22] In Material Girls, for example, Stock, a philosopher by training, brandishes the novelty of her “recent professional turn to sex and gender,” presenting herself as an anti-elitist everywoman whose “outsider status” in the fields of gender and trans studies only better equips her to diagnose their failures.[23]

I’m mindful of my own outsider status. For all my relevant scholarly and professional credentials, including my work as an acquisitions editor in gender and sexuality studies, I would be the first to acknowledge that I am not an expert in trans studies. I say this not as a point of pride, to excuse my deficiencies, or to suggest, as Woolf also does in Three Guineas, that it gives me a privileged vantage point. In the face of a flood of anti-trans activism, legislation, and publications—including, disappointingly, by the same university press that published my monograph—I have been doing a lot of what Cecire calls “emergency education”: informal, on the fly, in real time. I write this essay as an amateur of sorts, not self-authorizing so much as self-questioning, self-doubting. More than anything, though, I’m angry, horrified by the anti-trans bigotry being spread by feminists when the truth is that patriarchy will bury us all, cis and trans. There is no liberation for women without trans liberation. Of that I am certain.



[1] For a short overview of transfeminisms (and the relationship between trans and feminism), see Susan Stryker and Talia M. Bettcher, “Introduction: Trans/Feminisms,” TSQ 3.1–2 (2016). doi.org/10.1215/23289252-3334127.

[2] On the image of the child in the current panic over trans people, see Max Fox, “The Traffic in Children,” Parapraxis 1 (Dec 2022): parapraxismagazine.com/articles/the-traffic-in-children. See also Jules Gill-Peterson’s Histories of the Transgender Child (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2018), which begins thus: “A libel placed on the very existence, a vicious question mark snaked around being, is what passes for a rational object of ‘debate’ among adults every day in the media, online, in schools and clinics, and in the social milieu in which trans children must find a way, despite all odds, to survive, to grow, and to endure” (vii).

[3] Serena Bassi and Greta LaFleur, “Introduction: TERFs, Gender-Critical Movements, and Postfascist Feminisms,” TSQ 9.3 (2022): 313, doi.org/10.1215/23289252-9836008. While the acronym TERF stands for trans exclusionary radical feminist, I follow LaFleur and Bassi and others in using TERF and TERFism descriptively to name trans exclusionary feminism more broadly.

[4] Cameron Awkward-Rich has argued that, despite TERFism’s frequent focus on trans women, it’s transmasculinities that “become a problem for imagining trans-inclusive feminisms” and get perceived as posing a threat of annihilation to cis women. He notes how, in 2014, Michelle Goldberg, now Paul’s colleague, admitted on a podcast to feeling troubled by the “shift in language” in reproductive justice activism after publishing a New Yorker article about the “dispute between radical feminism and transgenderism.” See Awkward-Rich, “Trans, Feminism: Or, Reading like a Depressed Transsexual,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 42.4 (2017): 819–41.  Katha Pollitt also fretted about “erasing women from the fight for reproductive rights” in The Nation in 2015.

[5] See also Jules Gill-Peterson in The New Inquiry about how an “intensely-avowed emotional attachment to liberalism” becomes a means of laundering anti-trans extremism.

[6] For a screenshot, see Jordan Moreau, “Rowling Gets Backlash Over Anti-Trans Tweets,” in Variety, June 6, 2020.

[7] The atrocious misrepresentation of trans women as likely perpetrators also conveniently disregards and distracts from the actual common threat to cis girls and women. Historian and former competitive swimmer Johanna Mellis points out in the Guardian that, “historically and currently, the common perpetrators of sexual assault, abuse and harassment in sport are cisgender men.”

[8] Bassi and LaFleur write, “the gender-critical politicization of a true womanhood under threat by trans politics is not only genealogically coherent with multiple conservative moral panics and resilient fascist tropes but also with the longue durée of liberal, bourgeois, white feminist exclusions perpetrated along racial and class lines” (317).

[9] See Lavery,  “Grad School as Conversion Therapy,” and “The Gender Critical Movement Is Undermining Academic Freedom,” given as a talk at UCL in May 2022 and subsequently made available on her website. See Sara Ahmed, “You Are Oppressing Us!”(on her blog) and “Against Students”(on The New Inquiry), for analysis of how free speech and academic freedom get weaponized to obscure power dynamics and justify harassment.

[10] Melanie Micir and Aarthi Vaddde, “Obliterature: Toward an Amateur Criticism,” Modernism/modernity 25.3 (Sept 2018): 517–49.

[11] Nina Power, “Welcome to TERF Island,” Compact, March 22, 2023.

[12] Samuel Catlin has argued that, in the US, “theory” has long been the “favorite target” of the right (and the left, to a degree), whether it goes by the name “deconstruction,” “critical race theory,” or “gender theory.” Catlin’s argument absolutely applies here, too. Across national contexts, gender-critical feminism sows panic about not only gender—whether called gender theory, gender ideology, gender identity, or gender studies—but also abstraction, about how gender “abstracts from things in themselves” (Catlin). Hence, Bindel’s subtitle promises to show us “The Real Route to Liberation,” Stock’s to explain “Why Reality Matters,” and Joyce’s to shed light on what happens “When Ideology Meets Reality.” See Samuel Catlin, “Who’s Afraid of a Little Theory?” Gawker, June 14, 2022. Though the Gawker archives are, unfortunately, no longer available online, a PDF of the essay is available via Catlin’s Academia.edu page.

[13] Wendy Brown, States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 37.

[14] Susan Stanford Friedman, "Definitional Excursions: The Meanings of Modern/Modernity/Modernism," Modernism/modernity 8.3 (2001): 493–513.

[15] “H.D. to Bryher,” in Analyzing Freud: Letters of H.D., Bryher, and Their Circle, ed. Susan Stanford Friedman (New York: New Directions, 2002), 280.

[16] Susan Friedman, “Who Buried H.D.? A Poet, Her Critics, and Her Place in ‘The Literary Tradition,’” College English 36.7 (1975): 805.

[17] Susan McCabe, “Writing H.D. and Bryher in double dimensions’ – an invitation to H.D. & Bryher: An Untold Modernist Love Story,” Feminist Modernist Studies 4.1 (2021): 24. doi.org/10.1080/24692921.2021.1892284.

[18] Grace Lavery, Pleasure and Efficacy: Of Pen Names, Cover Versions, and Other Trans Techniques (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2023) and Mari Ruti, Penis Envy and Other Bad Feelings: The Emotional Costs of Everyday Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018).

[19] Emma Heaney, The New Woman: Literary Modernism, Queer Theory, and the Trans Feminine Allegory (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2017, xvii. The full text is available open access.

[20] Sophie Lewis and Asa Seresin, “Fascist Feminism: A Dialogue,” TSQ 9.3 (2022): 463–479, doi.org/10.1215/23289252-9836120.

[21] See the resources gathered under “Trans Archives Against Authoritarian Histories” on the aforementioned Trans Studies Syllabus for Bullshit Times. The syllabus was written by Toby Beauchamp, Sawyer K. Kemp, Ava L.J. Kim, Damian Vergara Bracamontes, and Mimi Thi Nguyen is hosted on “The Abusable Past,” a digital venue associated with the Radical History Review.

[22] Ezra Horbury and Christine “Xine” Yao, “Empire and Eugenics: Trans Studies in the United Kingdom,” TSQ 7.3 (2020): 445–454, doi.org/10.1215/23289252-8553104. A preprint of the article is available online, in the UCL repository; the passage I’ve quoted is on page 1.

[23] Kathleen Stock, Introduction, Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism (London: Fleet, 2021), n.p.