Punching Back: The Story Behind TERF Wars

Jun 16, 2021 | 2021 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Dharma Kelleher

I’d been noodling the idea of doing a story like TERF Wars for a while. But there was always another story that I found more exciting to write.

As one of a handful of openly transgender authors in crime fiction, I love writing crime thrillers with a trans woman as the hero. But I prefer writing stories that focus less on my protagonist’s identity and more on her using her wits and other skills to apprehend bad guys.

Dharma Kelleher

However, when J.K. Rowling began espousing transphobic rhetoric on social media and subsequently publishing a book that reinforced hateful, transphobic tropes, I realized the time to write this book had come.

Murders of trans women remain at an all-time high. Suicide rate for trans teens is also several times higher than their cisgender (non-trans) counterparts. We face discrimination in housing, healthcare, and employment, as well as on the street. And many states in the U.S. are now passing cruel laws targeted at transgender people.

I was tired of bigots like Rowling punching down on my community, while so many of us faced violence and harassment. It was time to punch back. Thus was born TERF Wars.

The word TERF is an acronym meaning transgender-exclusive radical feminist. It’s a term that goes back decades in the radical feminist community to differentiate between trans-inclusive rad fems (who accept that trans women are women) and TERFS (who consider trans women to be delusional men in dresses and a potential threat to cisgender women).

The term TERF isn’t a slur so much as a descriptor, not unlike terms such as racist, homophobe, or fascist. Sure, no one likes to be called any of these. But if the Birkenstock fits…

Despite claiming to be radical feminists, TERFs (who sometimes refer to themselves as gender critical) tend to be obsessively focused only on one issue—oppressing trans people by harassing them online and spreading transphobic misinformation. It is not uncommon for them to align themselves with far-right fascist organizations that oppose women’s equality and reproductive rights.

The challenge for me was to explore the issue in a gripping crime thriller featuring my protagonist Jinx Ballou, a professional bounty hunter who happens to be transgender, and do so in a way that is as entertaining as it is informative. Most people hate to be lectured, but we love being told a fun story. And if we learn something along the way, all the better.

The story opens with Jinx gearing up for a fun weekend in Las Vegas for her bachelorette party. But she is hired to apprehend a woman charged with murder. Jinx initially balks, but when she learns the victim was a transgender woman, she agrees to take the case.

She soon learns that her fugitive, whose bail was revoked after she threatened a witness, is the head of a powerful transphobic hate group with a powerful media presence. Jinx finds herself in the middle of a war of media manipulation, disinformation, and deep-faked videos designed to further harm an already vulnerable community.

TERF Wars takes readers on an action-packed thrill ride that dives deep into the issues of identity and intersectionality, oppression and accountability.

Regardless of whether you are transgender or cisgender, if you are a fan of exciting, hard-to-put-down crime thrillers, then you will enjoy TERF Wars.

Watch for KRL’s review of TERF Wars the end of this month, and you can check out a Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast episode featuring Dharma’s other series right now!

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Be sure to check out our new mystery podcast too with mystery short stories, and first chapters read by local actors. A new episode went up this week.

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Dharma Kelleher writes action-driven thrillers that explore the complexities of social and criminal justice in a world that favors the privileged. She is one of the only openly transgender authors in the crime fiction genre. Dharma lives in Arizona with her wife and a black cat named Mouse. ??You can learn more on her website.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


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