Defending Your TERF

It hurts when someone you loved, or at least thought you knew, turns out to be more awful than you ever dreamed possible.

Eric Peterson
4 min readOct 24, 2023

Back in 2020, my heart was breaking. And no, not because a virulent racist, serial rapist, unrepentant liar, and overall creep had been residing in the Oval Office for nearly a full term. As awful as Donald Trump was and is, I never expected him to be anything more. Therefore, his endless offenses, bullying, and “alternative facts” (i.e., lies) were maddening, but not shocking.

No, heartbreak happens when someone you loved, or at least thought you knew, turns out to be more awful than you ever dreamed possible. And in 2020, I loved J.K. Rowling. I was older than your typical Potterhead, but I’d read all seven books and owned all eight of the films. I loved the world that Rowling had created, for reasons both simple and profound. First and most obviously, she told a cracking good story. But as a writer, I admired the way her narrative voice grew and matured as her protagonist grew and matured. As a practitioner of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, I loved the way her story blended elements of fantasy and adventure with a nuanced treatise on humanism versus fascism. Indeed, even though the last of the Harry Potter series was published in 2007, I marveled at the way Rowling seemed to have predicted the Trump era, from the lies to the narcissism to the fixation on “pure” bloodstreams. I’d never met her, but I believed her to be kind and wise and good.

The Hateful Greats: JK Rowling (L) and Martina Navritalova (R)

Then, she became a TERF. For those unfamiliar with the term, TERF stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist, but unlike the feminists I know and love, TERFs don’t really stand against the patriarchy. Indeed, they help prop it up. The defining characteristic of a TERF is gatekeeping. They decide who are women and who are not women, and trans women are explicitly excluded from that categorization. TERFs believe that having compassion for trans women, or simply accepting a trans woman as — well, a woman — is akin to denying the existence of biological sex and making the world less safe for women (or, at least, “real” women as defined by the TERFs). They depict trans women as potential rapists who deceptively gain entrance into women’s spaces like wolves in sheep’s clothing — even though the defining characteristic of a rapist is a deep and violent misogyny that would surely preclude wearing feminine clothing as a disguise. If it seems nonsensical, it might be because it makes no sense.

In 2020, Rowling had already been flirting with transphobia, “liking” problematic tweets here and there. But that year, she went all in, publishing a long manifesto, accusing trans activists who want to live lives free of discrimination and violence of providing “cover to predators” and suggesting that trans-identified teens were only transitioning to go viral on social media. In 2020, I could no longer make excuses for Rowling. She wasn’t “misinformed” or “ignorant,” she was a wealthy woman with critical thinking skills who should have been able to discern credible information from debunked studies. She was acting with malice and attacking one of the most vulnerable communities on earth.

The one upside to the whole mess were the swift reactions to her diatribe, particularly from Daniel Radcliffe, an actor who surely owed his worldwide fame to Rowling after playing her hero Harry Potter in eight blockbuster films. Faster than you could say “Alohamora,” Radcliffe, who is also an activist for LGBTQ teen suicide prevention, released a statement, that began, “Transgender women are women,” and urged people to listen to health care professionals on topics they don’t fully comprehend.

I was reminded about all of this earlier this month, when Martina Navritalova, lesbian icon and legend of the tennis court, found this statement of three years ago, and responded with a statement of her own.

“Be quiet, Daniel,” she tweeted (or X’d, or whatever). “Just be quiet.”

Her comment took many people off guard. If you don’t follow Navritalova very closely, you might not be aware that she’s aligned herself with TERFs fairly frequently in the past few years, most notably floating the theory that lots of men would soon pretend to transition, win a bunch of titles playing women’s sports, then immediately detransition and “go back to making babies if he so desires” (note the pronoun usage).

The main argument against this theory is that it’s never happened, not in the roughly five decades since transgender tennis player Renee Richards competed as a woman in the US Open. Another argument is one of fairness: transgender athletes shouldn’t have to choose between competing and living an authentic life. But ultimately, the conceit is, on its face, ridiculous. Nobody who feels that their gender is aligned with their biological sex is going to sign up for the bigotry and ostracization (not to mention the physical and financial costs) that come with a gender transition, not for all the cups and giant gold platters in the world. To do that would be as painful as … well, as a trans person forced to remain in a body that isn’t authentically theirs.

Martina Navritalova was a hero, and rightly so, to many of us. And if you’re inclined to defend her now, I get it. It hurts when our heroes disappoint us. But she, like JK Rowling before her, is on the wrong side of history. She’s not the first heartbreak, and I fear she won’t be the last.



Eric Peterson

(he/him) I’m a funny, serious, outgoing, introspective, #diversity & #inclusion practitioner. Finished my first novel.