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Pride Month is here, and Teespring has a lot of explaining to do to its transgender customers. A transgender designer on the custom apparel site claims her designs were removed for an anti-transphobic sentiment, which Teespring appears to have called “hate speech.”
Elle Clayton, a transgender woman who sells products on Teespring, put together a design that reads “FUCK TERFS” and began selling it on the site through shirts, tank tops, stickers, and tote bags. “TERF” (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist) references transphobic feminists who reject transgender women and try to discredit their gender, remove them from feminist spaces, and sexually harass them both publicly and privately.
On Tuesday, Clayton posted a screengrab of an email from Teespring on Facebook, in which the Teespring team said her designs were removed for violating “our acceptable use policy with the wording ‘TERFS.'” In particular, Teespring argued the use of “TERFS” “violates our Hate Speech section of our acceptable use policy” and that the design “will not be put back up,” the screengrab from Clayton shows.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Clayton wrote in her Facebook post. “Teespring is aligning itself with TERFs. Only TERFs think ‘TERF’ is a slur or hate speech.”
In an interview with the Daily Dot, Clayton explained that life has “been pretty rough” since she first started transitioning, and that she chose Teespring as an avenue for her designs to “make things a little easier while also giving folks a great message to take to Pride.” But Clayton didn’t expect Teespring to get in the way of her work.
“My campaign was up for about a day, if I recall correctly. I sold about five items and made $30ish,” Clayton told the Daily Dot. “A friend of mine shared it and a TERF page on Facebook picked it up.”
Clayton said the TERF Facebook page “organized to report all of my Teespring campaigns” or designs. Teespring initially claimed that Clayton was “using third-party content,” she told the Daily Dot, so she changed the design to read “TERFS ARE TRASH.” But Clayton said the TERFs reporting her designs “succeed in getting every one of my campaigns terminated” and led to her being “locked out” of her Teespring account.
Clayton suspects Teespring initially didn’t realize what was going on and took down her campaigns without realizing what TERFs represent. But now, she argues the company is doubling-down and hoping the controversy will simply disappear.
“Either way, they had to have learned something about TERFs throughout all of this, and whatever they’ve learned has convinced them to side with TERFs over trans women,” Clayton told the Daily Dot. “At this point, it’s clear that they just want it to go away, and have no interest in listening to us whatsoever.”
You have got to be kidding me.Please help me get as much visibility on this as possible. Teespring is aligning itself with TERFs. Only TERFs think "TERF" is a slur or hate speech.Posted by Elle Clayton on Tuesday, June 5, 2018
Here's the original design. Another one that said "TERFs are trash" was also removed. The context is, a broke trans girl tried to make a bit of stamp money, but transphobes decided we can't have that.#BoycottTeespring pic.twitter.com/U4htrWc4Mm— TS Hailey Heartless (@SadistHailey) June 6, 2018
Clayton’s post quickly went viral as transgender women and their allies alike pointed out that Teespring’s policy is dangerous. The word “TERF” is a critical, yet accurate, term used to describe exclusionary feminism, but many TERFs argue that the word itself is a “slur” in an attempt to discredit transgender women who criticize their transphobic beliefs. So by saying that “TERF” constitutes hate speech, many feel Teespring is aligning with those transphobic beliefs.
Twitter users are particularly upset over Teespring’s pro-LGBTQ posts on Facebook and Twitter, while the controversy continues. For many, it’s a sign that Teespring is looking to profit off the LGBTQ community while throwing transgender women under the bus.
The Daily Dot reached out to Teespring regarding its policy and awaits a response.
Hey, @teespring? If you're going to peddle this horseshit, stop trying to bank off of pride, which you're currently doing. No more hiding? Your empowering of TERFs who wish us expelled from society and demonized to the highest degree says the complete opposite. #teespringpride pic.twitter.com/WLHx5LwKs1— Astrid Johnson (@jaffameister) June 5, 2018
A lot of people seem poised to Boycott @teespring over their decision to side with TERFs who harass trans women.— Anna Moone (@annamoonesyou) June 6, 2018
You don't get to claim to support the LGBT community and then actively harass trans people.
You should probably be honest and just say you’re looking for LGB designers, and have a policy of aligning with transphobes. https://t.co/uZvRAwIU3R— Crystal Frasier (@AmazonChique) June 5, 2018
The only reason you'd think the word TERF is hate speech is if you're either run by transphobes, or you got your info on the word from transphobes.— @[email protected] (@TransSalamander) June 5, 2018
Welcome to #PrideMonth, Teespring. Looks like we have a new cause to rally around: Namely making sure no one buys from you again. https://t.co/hum5NKubeq
TERF cannot be a slur, because it doesn't refer to a group based on gender, race, orientation, etc. TERF refers to an *ideology* - it stands for "trans exclusionary radical feminism"— Kelly Ellis (@justkelly_ok) June 5, 2018
As Clayton posited, even if Teespring was possibly confused to TERF’s meaning and the politics surrounding the word if and when it was flagged, the company has since reiterated on its policy on “TERF.” Teespring argued in a series of tweets on Tuesday that the company is “not in a position to debate our policies or discuss this issue further” and that “designs that promote or glorify hatred towards people based upon age, race, gender/gender identity, and sexual orientation are prohibited.” That claim is particularly ironic, given Teespring’s lengthy white supremacist, transphobic, homophobic, and racist designs available for sale.
We apologize if you disagree with our decision and for any inconvenience this matter has caused. Please understand that we are not in a position to debate our policies or discuss this issue further. Your feedback has been noted and will remain under consideration.— Teespring (@teespring) June 5, 2018
To maintain a safe & respectful platform, designs that promote or glorify hatred towards people based upon age, race, gender/gender identity & sexual orientation are prohibited. This includes individuals, organizations, or symbols dedicated to hatred against these groups.— Teespring (@teespring) June 5, 2018
I'm sure pic.twitter.com/XzJw0lfsiq— @[email protected] (@PixlSheep) June 6, 2018
Thought I’d just point out that the policy you cited doesn’t actually protect TERFs at all: it’s not an “age, race, gender/gender identity”, nor a “sexual orientation”. Trans people, however, ARE protected under “gender identity” pic.twitter.com/RrRROvkAYh— John Stuart Chill (@AlexPleskach1) June 6, 2018
A little education for @teespring 1488 is a nazi slogan. It refers to the "14 words" and 88 = HH or "heil hitler"— Me (@VultureChow) June 6, 2018
TERF on the other hand means Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. pic.twitter.com/pa2emLYU24
- What it means to be transgender
- The pride and pitfalls in LGBTQ labels
- The dirty, complex, empowering history of the word ‘queer’
Teespring’s controversy comes just weeks after a queer Latinx artist claimed that Target stole his painting and culturally appropriated its message for an LGBTQ-themed T-shirt. Teespring is just the latest example of a much larger problem the queer community continues to grapple with in 2018: Companies that appear pro-LGBTQ but actually have sinister intentions that leave queer shoppers feeling unwelcome.
Ana Valens is a reporter specializing in online queer communities, marginalized identities, and adult content creation. She is Daily Dot's Trans/Sex columnist. Her work has appeared at Vice, Vox, Truthout, Bitch Media, Kill Screen, Rolling Stone, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and spends her free time developing queer adult games.