People Are Calling Bette Midler a TERF — Here's What Really Happened

Jamie Lerner - Author

Jul. 7 2022, Published 10:28 a.m. ET

Bette Midler

Existing in today’s world is challenging for everyone for different reasons, but one thing we should all be able to agree on is that trans women are women, trans men are men, and everyone has the right to validity in their own identity.

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However, some celebrities, such as movie musical favorite Bette Midler and singer Macy Gray, have publicly shared their opinions about inclusive terminology, sparking a rage-fueled internet to label them TERFs.

With the recent Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, many people are outraged on social media and have called for less policing on the bodies of “people with uteruses” or “menstruators.” This terminology is used to include trans men who may still have female reproductive systems who are also affected by the recent court ruling. Well, what did Bette Midler have to say? Is she actually a TERF?

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Actors Judith Light, Ben Platt, actress/singer Bette Midler and actress Beanie Feldstein attend Bette Midler's 2019 Hulaween
Source: Getty Images

The language used by Bette Midler and Macy Gray is reminiscent of TERF rhetoric.

While “TERF” may sound like a dirty word, it actually stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist. It comes from a feminist movement that intentionally excludes trans people in order to keep a standard definition of women. In recent history, J.K. Rowling has been under fire for her TERF-like comments, criticism to which she responded with a self-written essay that makes it clear that her feminism does exclude trans people.

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Bette Midler recently came under fire after a tweet she posted responding to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The post in question could be easily interpreted as TERF rhetoric.

“Women of the world! We are being stripped of our rights over our bodies, our lives, and even of our name!” Bette tweeted. “They don’t call us ‘women’ anymore; they call us ‘birthing people’ or ‘menstruators,’ and even ‘people with vaginas!’ Don’t let them erase you! Every human on Earth owes you!”

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One of the reasons TERFs exist is not because women hate trans people, but because many women feel they were forced into being a woman and living with the discrimination that comes with being born a woman. This is the sort of rhetoric Macy Gray uses in her interview with Piers Morgan:

“If you want me to call you a her, I will, because that's what you want," she states. "But that doesn't make you a woman." She went on to explain her “unique experience” as a little girl that shaped her womanhood.

Macy Gray performs at LOVE ROCKS
Source: Getty Images
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However, this perspective — which touts feminism — ignores the fact that trans women have grown up with their own unique hardships that come with being trans. For example, trans teens have the highest rate of suicide among young people.

The best way forward for feminists and trans allies is to use gender-inclusive language.

Naturally, this led to plenty of backlash from the trans community and their allies. Bette’s tweet is in reference to the idea that trans-inclusionary language is erasing women. However, doctors, scientists, and activists all agree that the best way forward for feminists and the LGBTQ community is to acknowledge that biological sex and gender are two different things.

The more language differentiates biological sex in laws and science, the better we can move forward as a society in which gender is truly a construct.

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J.K. Rowling
Source: Getty Images

Professor Dr. Cristy Clark responded to Bette’s tweet: “Please don’t do this. Sex and gender have never, ever been binary and enforcing an arbitrary binary harms everyone — especially intersex, trans, and nonbinary folk. Patriarchy benefits from a rigid binary, not women.”

This entire discourse is especially upsetting, considering how much of an icon Bette Midler has become in the LGBTQ community. To see her using trans-exclusionary language is akin to J.K. Rowling’s missteps in the movement for trans rights.

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Bette Midler and Macy Gray have since responded to the allegations.

Since she came under fire for her controversial tweet, Bette wrote, "People of the world! My tweet about women was a response to this fascinating and well-written piece in the NYT on July 3rd. There was no intention of anything exclusionary or transphobic in what I said; it wasn’t about that."

Her tweets in defense of herself continued, ending with, "Democracy is slipping through our fingers! I’m all in on trying to save Democracy for all people. We must unite, because, in case you haven’t been paying attention, divided we will definitely fall."

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However, this response doesn't take into account the harm caused by her initial tweet, nor does it show any learning on her part about the use of trans-inclusionary language. As far as Macy Gray goes, she made a statement to Entertainment Tonight, "My statement on Piers Morgan was grossly misunderstood. I don't hate anyone. I respect everyone's right to feel comfortable in their bodies and live their own truth."

Once again, she's shirking off responsibility for the harm caused by her statement. Macy Gray then posted a picture on Twitter, seemingly in response to all the fans disappointed in her: "All of you coming on my page, threatening me, and calling me names — just becuz [sic] I said something you don't agree with — be whatever you wana [sic] be and f--k off." Fans have responded by asking why she feels the need to comment, and at the end of the day, that's the question most of us have.

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The ironic part of all of this is the fact that women, trans women, non-binary people, and many more are fighting for the same thing. We all want bodily autonomy and a right to privacy. Who cares what sexual organs someone has? That doesn’t define who they are! Who cares if someone wants or needs a specific medical procedure? That doesn’t define their morals and values.

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