Trans-exclusionary radical feminism

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doing the patriarchy’s work and calling it feminism: the TERF
—erica, ascendant[1]
They are not women's rights activists, they are transphobes.
—German Green politician Sven Lehmann on TERFs[2]

Trans-exclusionary radical feminism (TERF; also Trans Women Exclusionary Feminism or TWEF[note 1]; and also Feminist Appropriating Reactionary Transphobe or FART) is a fringe movement within radical feminism characterized by extreme transphobia, especially transmisogyny,[note 2] denialism, and hostility to the third wave of feminism. The more biologically essentialist currents assert that the only real women™ are those born with a vagina and XX chromosomes, and that anyone born with such an arrangement is always a woman.[note 3][note 4] Those currents which are more oriented towards theories of social development tend to couch their opposition to trans individuals in the notion that a lifetime lived as someone who socially codes as a woman is intrinsic to the definition of 'womanhood,' and thus that male-to-female trans individuals are 'interlopers' who cannot know nor represent the feminine experience. While the lifetime of experiences many women have accumulated in being treated as women are undoubtedly important, how and why this should translate into opposition for trans rights is unclear at best, and quite often stoked by blatant appeals to transphobia and transmisogyny.[note 5] Regardless of explanative framework, TERFs/TWEFs in general often push their views in the name of destroying the gender binary, but in reality seek strict enforcement of a gender binary that is directly predicated on gender essentialism.

That denying the right of a targeted minority to exist in society is essentially the dictionary definition of the term genocidalism ... does not appear to disturb TERFs in the least.

The term was likely invented by Hoyden About Town writer Viv Smythe (aka TigTog) in 2008.[4][5] TERFs very rarely use the term to describe themselves, and many of them claim that TERF is a "misogynistic slur."[6] TERFs insist on being referred to by the euphemism "gender critical", and many may claim they aren't transphobic, but instead "trans-critical".[note 6]This is not new behavior; white supremacists claim that "anti-racist is a code word for anti-white" and often insist on being called "race realists", and tankies will often try to rebrand Stalin apologetics as "anti-revisionism."

In the United States, sub-branches of feminist thought known to house individual TERFs, including second wave feminists and political lesbians, have spoken out against this exact transphobia and transmisogyny within their own ranks, further demonstrating the distance between TERFs and mainstream feminism.[7][8] Note that this is not the case in countries such as the UK, where mainstream feminism consists of a large amount of TERFs.

Their doxxing,[9] trolling,[10] picketing,[note 7] and generally abusive behaviour has led some to compare them to the Westboro Baptist Church.[11][12] They are, in short, a hate group that by no means represents mainstream feminism.[13] In fact, the TERF movement is overtly anti-feminist.[note 8] TERFs have increasingly aligned themselves with the far right in their anti-trans bigotry and opposition to trans rights, and they have adopted far-right terminology such as the "gender ideology" conspiracy theory.[14]


Young people – millennials and younger – are unlikely to support TERF ideology. For example, in 2020 the polling company Ipsos found that 56% of Generation Z in the United Kingdom supported increased trans rights, as opposed to only 20% of the baby boomer generation.[15] This is significant considering that the U.K. is generally a hotbed of transphobia in relative terms. Support for trans rights, especially among young people, is even greater in other countries like the United States.[citation needed]

TERFism versus feminism[edit]

Broadly speaking, there are two major points on which TERFs and feminists vehemently disagree — the question of gender, and the nature of the third wave of feminism.

Towards binary gender[edit]

Transphobic radfems seem to almost universally reject the concept of cisgender privilege, and even the term "cisgender" itself, as somehow demeaning to "women born women" (another controversial term in LGBTQ+ circles that is usually understood as a transphobic shibboleth). In other words, TERFs go so far as to reject any terminology models (for words such as "woman" or "man") that are not based on biological organs, gametes, or chromosomes.[note 3] Thus (re)defining their own movement as that "of women to liberate women from oppression, and that female biological reality is a defining aspect of women's experience of oppression."[note 9]

Unlike run-of-the-mill conservative transphobes, TERFs generally accept a distinction between gender and sex, at least in theory. However, they believe that gender ought to become completely irrelevant and that sex is crucial when it comes to how we classify people. They defend the act of misgendering by claiming that they are simply referring to biological sex, and while theoretically opposed to gender roles, some TERF bloggers speak of the completely different concept of "sex roles".[citation needed] When they don't have any biological evidence for a particular point, they turn to socialization based on sex instead. The fact that GC holds sex as a be-all-and-end-all system just brings them right back to the gender binary and essentialism.

Academic radical feminism is premised upon the idea that gender, as the assignment of bundles of default personality stereotypes to genital shapes, is entirely a social construct that must be destroyed. Presumably, in this sort of post-gender world, everybody would be encouraged to identify nonbinary and present fluid, leaving genitals for the bedroom.[16] Some transgender people maintain, on the other hand, that gender is to some extent intrinsic: even though they were raised as one binary gender, they have always identified as the other,[note 10] and further, trans people often, but not always, want bodies to match. As frequently happens when ideology runs up against someone else's lived experiences, ideologues respond by trying to hammer the problem flat until it fits with what they already believe. As such, there has been,[17] and continues to be,[18][19] a rich current of anti-trans bigotry underlying TERF ideology on the issue of gender and transgender people in general. The obvious conflict between the notion that "gender is entirely a social construct" and the slogan "women born women" seems to escape them, except perhaps in the context of gynecological health care.

TERFs dismiss both what trans people themselves have said about their own identities and the medical consensus on gender dysphoria with a variety of ad hoc claims and conspiracy theories, which they claim to be part of the "trans agenda". It is claimed that transgender people who do conform to the stereotypes of their identified gender are just gender non-conforming people who have been "forced" to transition. In extremely rare instances where TERFs actually remember that not all trans people are trans women, they may also dismiss trans men as butch girls who want male privilege and other AFAB trans people as trying to identify that way out of being oppressed. Thus, they slam transgender people in general for "reifying the gender binary". Considering the transgender population is about 1 in 300,[20] accusing the transgender community of reifying nearly any oppressive construct is patently absurd, which is obvious to anyone with a basic understanding of math and group dynamics. TERFs, however, have ways of explaining away the existence of gender non-conforming trans people.

TERFs are most hateful towards gender non-conforming trans women (such as lesbian trans women), who are often dismissed as sexually predatorial men transitioning to enter women's spaces and then harass or rape cis women.[citation needed] Other popular claims are that trans women desire to silence women's issues by promoting trans-inclusive language, and also desire to erase the identity of lesbians by having sex with cis lesbians and then labeling themselves as lesbians, and that a large portion of trans women have a fetish for being viewed as women. The aforementioned categories can also sometimes be applied by TERFs in reference to all trans women or any trans woman.

Cathy Brennan, for example, literally believes not only that trans women are men, but that they are therefore de facto animals who cannot control themselves (all typos in original):[21]

transgender woman are in fact men using an artificialy constructed feminine apperance to exert patriarchy from the inside of feminism and believe it or not, to gain access to womans bathrooms in order to rape them.

For more information, see: Transphobia and public restrooms

To back up their beliefs, as there is no evidence for any of it, they instead rely on ad hominem attacks, and memes. For example, in the case of the bathrooms argument: [note 11] All of this is highly ironic, since by doing all this they are objectifying women's bodies and saying men are not to blame for their actions because "instincts". Never mind the actual numbers, of course, which show that trans women are one of the groups most likely to be abused and raped.[22][23]

Against the Third Wave[edit]

TERFs loathe the third wave of feminism. For a number of reasons, partly their own authoritarianism, partly their own demographic myopia, and partly because they themselves represent a partial embodiment of every stereotype thrown at feminists over the last century and a half, this particular group of radfems have been roundly rejected by nearly every demographic they claim to represent, including, but not limited to, women of color, sex workers, kinksters, virtually all male allies (with the exception of a few masochists who spend their time shitting on their gender and downplaying genuine men's issues), and, at long last, most every feminist who has come after them. This is in part due to their inability or unwillingness to understand intersectionality.[24]

Radical or revolutionary feminism arose in the 70s as an extreme, no-compromise version of feminism that was driven by a discovery of the prevalence of rape and sexual abuse. But it focused on the freedom of young, middle-class, educated women (through events such as "reclaim the night" marches, and practices like "consciousness raising" which involved spending lots of time in closed groups discussing your experiences with similar women) and rejected consideration of other social forces like class or racism. In the 1980s, many of the leading radical feminists moved into the middle-class, getting well-paid jobs as tenured academics, and becoming increasingly divorced from the life struggles of the vast majority of women – Margaretta Jolly gives the example of recipe for salad Nicoise "best accompanied by a glass of dry champagne" submitted by a British feminist academic to a feminist cookbook while the wives of striking miners were dependent on food donations.[25]

Margaretta Jolly wrote, "The ongoing appeal of radical feminism is that it addresses primal fears of sexual violence, alongside equally primal pleasures in women's community, desire and love."[25] The result for well-insulated middle-class radical feminists was a deep-rooted mindset closed to the experiences of those different to themselves. Radical feminists seem to deeply resent that the third-wavers have taken moral and intellectual leadership; Turner wonders if there is an element of guilt over the privileges TERF academics now enjoy.[25] Meanwhile, while TERFs enjoy the comfortable lifestyles that feminism gave them, third wavers have taken radical feminism's best ideas — understanding and fighting patriarchal structures and rape culture, the fight for reproductive rights and women's health care — and carried them forward, while leaving the dogmatism and one-size-fits-all theorizing behind, rendering the majority of them irrelevant.

For sex workers, the reason for rejecting that form of feminism is, in large part, because although all sex workers around the world can be said to be exploited (especially in developing countries and anywhere with a strong culture of machismo) and some are indeed held in the industry forcibly against their will (as opposed to economically, in the same vein as minimum wage workers), they nevertheless find the conflation of sex work and slavery to be insulting both to themselves and historical victims of slavery, not to mention counterproductive for helping actual victims of sex slavery (who often, upon freeing themselves, resort to sex work in absence of other opportunities).[citation needed] Sex educators generally agree and in addition feel that such attitudes deny the agency of people to seek their own pleasure, hiding an underlying puritanism behind concepts like false consciousness.[citation needed]

TERFs and wingnuts[edit]

TERF ideology is increasingly aligned with the far right and other conspiracist and hateful ideas, including anti-semitism. Philosopher Christa Peterson notes that anti-trans ideology has "solidified over time" into embracing other and more explicit conspiracy theories and that "today, this rhetoric provides an entry point into far-right politics."[26]

Similarities to wingnuts[edit]

In the 1980s, TERFs successfully brought an end to trans health care access. One TERF operative wrote the government report which led the the revocation of trans medical care under government programs and soon thereafter, private insurers followed suit.

The behavior, rhetoric, and tactics of TERFs are often eerily similar to that of wingnut homophobes. When Sheila Jeffreys noticed RadFem2012 was cancelled and labelled a hate group, she said:

Criticism of the practice of transgenderism is being censored as a result of a campaign of vilification by transgender activists of anyone who does not accept the new orthodoxy on this issue.[28] (emphasis added)

The bolded part is eerily similar to what the radical right have said about homosexuality. Specifically, it resembles the following quote about such by neo-Nazi Paul Fromm in its framing of gender identity as choice instead of something a person is, as well as its massive persecution complex; additionally, the language downplays the bigotry, insinuating that people's existences can be merely "criticized":

Despite being a Catholic, Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty of Ontario forced even Catholic schools to promote the homosexual agenda in the schools and have Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs, even though the practice of homosexuality violates Catholic teaching. (So much for religious freedom!)[29] (emphasis added)

TERFs have advocated reparative therapy for transgender people. For example, Janice Raymond, in her paper Technology on the Social and Ethical Aspects of Transsexual Surgery, stated:

Nonsexist counseling is another direction for change that should be explored. The kind of counseling to “pass” successfully as masculine or feminine that now reigns in gender identity clinics only reinforces the problem of transsexualism. It does nothing to develop critical awareness, and makes transsexuals dependent upon medical-technical solutions. What I am advocating is a counseling that explores the social origins of the transsexual problem and the consequences of the medicaltechnical solution.[30]

This is exactly the same rhetoric used by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH),[note 12] an anti-LGBT group dedicated to lobbying reparative therapy.[31]

TERF communities have also been accused of racism. TERFs will oftentimes repeat Islamophobic comments and oftentimes engage in racist behavior, frequently stereotyping certain ethnicities of men as more sexist than others.[32] TERFs are 'overwhelmingly white and economically privileged, evidenced by the fact the entire editorial staff at TERF-central Feminist Current is white with the exception of one Latina.[33] Many men, even male TERFs, have noted the movement's complete inability to address the very gendered aspects of racism that oftentimes disproportionately affect men and to which TERF rhetoric oftentimes implicitly contributes.[citation needed] Angela Davis and Bell Hooks, two black third-wave feminists, famously called out Susan Brownmiller's treatment of Emmett Till's lynching in her book Against Our Will as bordering on tacit approval, as she suggested Till's wolf-whistling was tantamount to the greatest possible humiliation.[34] This was claimed to have been due to Brownmiller's subliminal racism.[35]

Finally, TERFs' incessant use of euphemisms to conceal their transphobia is comparable to the alt-right's heavy use of fascist dog whistles.[36]

Collaborations with the far-right[edit]

TERFs and far-right transphobes often collaborate and treat each other as allies, despite the fact that little often unites them outside of their views on trans rights. In fact, in online spaces the two are often indistinguishable. Notable instances include Cathy Brennan's collaboration with the right-wing Pacific Justice Institute in order to harass a trans woman via death threats, and generally acting as their mouthpiece,[37] Janice Raymond working with conservative leader Jesse Helms to deny health coverage to trans people,[38] and Sheila Jeffreys stating that she aligned with the "radical right" on the issue of transgender legislation:

Now one of the things I find puzzling about it is that, when I look at the House of Lords debate on this legislation, those I agree with most are the radical right. Particularly the person I find that I agree with most, in here, and I’m not sure he will be pleased to find this, is Norman Tebbit.[39][40]

Julia Beck, a self-proclaimed "lesbian radical-feminist" became a darling to right-wing media (even appearing on Tucker Carlson's show!) in 2018 after she was invited to speak out against trans protections in the Equality Act.[41][42]

Many anti-feminists, including Milo Yiannopoulos, have praised TERFs, with Milo going as far as calling Julie Bindel, who has called for putting men into reeducation camps, as being his favorite feminist alongside faux-feminist Christina Hoff Sommers.[43] Prominent TERF Posie Parker did an 80-minute video with French-Canadian white nationalist Jean-François Gariépy in 2019.[44] She was also ejected from TERF organisation 'A Woman's Place' due to her views on Muslims, which were deemed racist.[45]

The Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked an explicit plan by far right groups and activists such as Meg Kilgannon[46] to use feminist rhetoric to undermine the LGBT movement. She states "If we separate the T from the alphabet soup we’ll have more success.”[47] Kilgannon also suggested specific tactics to "divide and conquer":

Explain that gender identity rights only come at the expense of others: women, sexual assault survivors, female athletes forced to compete against men and boys, ethnic minorities who culturally value modesty, economically challenged children who face many barriers to educational success and don’t need another level of chaos in their lives, children with anxiety disorders and the list goes on and on and on.

There is an argument that TERFism is in itself a far right position as it attempts to enforce colonialist policies that banned different sexual orientations and genders; indeed Irish feminists rejected a planned TERF event explicitly due to their experiences with colonialism.[48] It is telling that after receiving this criticism, supposed feminist Venice Allan / Dr Radfem (who was evicted from a Christmas party for stalking a trans teenager and suspended from the Labour party for transphobia)[49] dismissed the pro-choice campaigners by saying that abortion was only there to "make sex easier for men".[50]

Cartoonist Barry M Deutsch ably lampooned the similarities between the two groups.[51]

Similarities to and Links with the Far Right[edit]

Despite the fact that many in and outside of the TERF movement try to portray it as a benign, feminist, wholesome movement that constitutes a ‘difference of opinion’, there are many TERFs with frightening and extreme points of view.

Janice Raymond said that “the problem of transsexualism would best be served by morally mandating it out of existence”[52]. She justifies this Naziesque quote on her website by saying that she doesn’t want to eradicate transgender people - she just wants to prevent them from transitioning, something many trans people say is akin to a death sentence.

Bev Jo von Dohre has stated that she wishes all trans people were dead.[53]

Posie Parker, AKA Kellie Jay Jean Minshull, (who popularised the dog whistle slogan Adult Human Female) was ejected from a TERF group due to her racism,[54] has appeared on a neo Nazi YouTube channel,[55] flew to America to harass a human rights activist,[56] and has posed for a selfie with an Islamophobic Holocaust denier.[57]

TERF homophobia[edit]

The small minority of TERFs who are willing to call out other TERFs for collaborating with the far-right usually face extreme backlash, such as Julie Bindel and (former TERF) Amy Dyess (both working class butch lesbians) who have criticized other TERFs for collaborating with homophobic hate groups like the Heritage Foundation. TERFs have decried the rainbow flag, and rainbow lanyards, as ‘symbols of oppression of women’ that ‘make them nervous’.[citation needed] Despite their much vaunted support for gender non-conforming men, several TERFs in the now defunct ‘gender critical’ subreddit were ‘uncomfortable’ with Jonathon Van Ness, who previously identified as a GNC male and now identifies as non-binary.

Founder of anti-trans group Transgender Trend (a group that targets children) Stephanie Davies-Arai has also expressed 'concerns' about Drag Queen Story Time, alongside groups like One Million Moms and Warriors for Christ. The group has also sent harmful information packs to schools (with content that has been likened to 'ex-gay' literature[58]) and has released an anti-trans book aimed at children.[59]

Posie Parker is against gay men engaging in surrogacy, pride parades, and children being taught LGBT tolerance.[60]

Baroness Nicholson described same-sex marriage as a threat against women and children.[61]

TERFs can be quick to whip up homophobic and biphobic rhetoric against queer men, especially if said men are public allies to trans people.

Alignment with the anti-gender movement[edit]

Since the mid 2010s TERFs are increasingly aligned with the broader anti-gender movement, that otherwise consists of far-right politicians and ultra-conservative Catholics in countries like Poland. TERFs have widely adopted "anti-gender" terminology from the far right, including the conspiracy theory of the "gender ideology".

The language of ‘gender ideology’ originates in anti-feminist and anti-trans discourses among right-wing Christians, with the Catholic Church acting as a major nucleating agent (...). In the last decade the concept has been increasingly adopted by far-right organisations and politicians in numerous American, European and African states. They position gender egalitarianism, sexual liberation and LGBTQ+ rights as an attack on traditional values by ‘global elites’, as represented by multinational corporations and international bodies such as the United Nations (...) Mallory Moore (2019) traces the first appearance of ‘gender ideology’ in a ‘gender critical’ context: a comment responding to a 2016 blog post on trans-exclusionary feminist website 4thWaveNow, which shared material from conservative advocacy group the American College of Pediatricians (not to be confused with professional body the American Academy of Pediatrics). From this time the concept saw increasing circulation in trans-exclusionary feminist discourse, especially following its use by ‘gender critical’ activist Stephanie Davies-Arai (who has been interviewed and profiled on 4thWaveNow), at a London conference attended by anti-trans campaigners (Singleton, 2016).
—Pearce et al.[14]

"Super Straight" meme[edit]

I'm a #superbi #superfeminist and I'm here for all my #superstraight and #Superlesbian sisters!
—Self-described TERF[62]

In 2021 the "Super Straight" meme became popular among TERF activists on social media. It was described as a troll campaign emanating from neo-Nazi agitators on 4chan to invalidate trans people's gender identities and justify blatant transphobia.[63] TERF activists also adopted a particular TERF variant of the meme in which they claimed to be "Superfeminists" and implied that only TERF is real feminism. Also variants including the word "super" like "Superlesbian" occurred. In TERF circles the word "super" has become shorthand for this transphobic meme.

Sex worker-exclusionary radical feminism[edit]

Sex worker-exclusionary radical feminism (also known as SWERF or "sex-negative feminism") is yet another offshoot of feminism, one that opposes women's participation in pornography and prostitution. The term was coined to match that of TERF, as their memberships overlap.[64] Their ideology also overlaps as both subgroups follow a prescriptive, normative approach to feminism; i.e., telling women what to do — TERFs with their gender, and SWERFs with their sexuality.

SWERFs criticize the objectification and exploitation of women within pornography and the sex industry, as well as the violence and abuse that sex workers frequently suffer.[65] If this was all they did, that wouldn't be a problem. This is also a position held by other feminists, not exclusive to SWERFs.

In practice however, unlike other feminists, SWERFs typically go completely overboard and dump on sex-workers who chose their profession freely, even in places where it is completely legal and safe, claiming that the sex workers are nothing more than deluded victims (and co-perpetrators) of human trafficking. Much like white supremacists might insist that adoption agencies helping children from the third world find parents in the west are nothing more than deluded extinctionists. This dogmatic hostility to voluntary sex work is known as whorephobia.[11]

TERFs and misandry[edit]

There is an undercurrent of man-hating to TERFism as a whole. Their criticisms of men go above and beyond what is necessary (or even acceptable). They regularly engage in hasty generalizations of male behavior that oftentimes eerily resemble the crass misogyny of the manosphere, albeit in reverse.[citation needed] For instance, after Tara Wolf's assault on Maria Maclachlan in Hyde Park, Maclachlan and her supporters repeatedly and intentionally misgendered Wolf to paint her as a stereotypical male thug and portray her actions as male violence.[66]

TERF as a slur[edit]

"Terf is a slur" is just their version of "Anti-racist is code for anti-white".
—Elise Tay[67]
I am not aware that terf is used as a slur. I wonder what name self-declared feminists who wish to exclude trans women from women's spaces would be called? If they do favour exclusion, why not call them exclusionary? If they understand themselves as belonging to that strain of radical feminism that opposes gender reassignment, why not call them radical feminists?
Judith Butler[68]

Many TERFs spuriously claim that "TERF" is a slur — indeed, the website is aimed at claiming solely that.[69] FeministWiki argue that the term TERF is "usually understood to be an anti-feminist, sexist and misogynist slur"[70] an assertion rejected by many feminists and women. As Tassia Agatowski says "It’s like suggesting that ‘homophobe’ or ‘racist’ are both slurs when they’re clear, dictionary-definition words to describe someone’s discriminatory views."[71]

In Feminist Current, Meghan Murphy wrote that "'TERF' isn’t just a slur, it’s hate speech. The term 'TERF' is not just used to smear and deride, but to incite violence."[72] Similarly, in New Statesman, Sarah Ditum suggested that the TERF label encouraged pro-trans feminists to "think it is OK — more than OK, laudable — to hit a 60-year-old woman if she thinks the wrong thing, because thinking the wrong thing is understood to be an act of aggression in itself."[73] The 60-year-old woman in question was Maria Maclachlan. At Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park, while she was waiting and filming to hear about the venue for a meeting to discuss proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act,[74][75] she was struck by a trans activist who tried knocking off her camera, and it eventually escalated to a fight involving three activists including Tara Wolf, where Maclachlan held Tara Wolf's girlfriend while being struck on the back and the shoulder and eventually hitting the ground.[76] Tara Wolf was convicted later in court and was ordered to pay a £150 fine, a £30 surcharge and £250 toward costs, though the court also refused to compensate for Maclachlan because according to the judge, Maclachlan was continuing filming despite being told to stop and that she inappropriately tweeted a close-up of Tara Wolf with the caption "Hiya, got any hair restorer while I'm in hiding? Love Tara."

TERF is a label intended to describe someone as an anti-trans feminist (rather than a full reactionary). It is particularly ironic that TERFs — who dedicate their efforts to proving that trans women aren't women — react so harshly to being mis-labelled themselves. Moreover, some TERFs are seen labelling themselves as "AFAB transwomen", in an apparent attempt to create confusion.[77]

Marina Watanabe, the biracial, bisexual senior social media editor for feminist publication Bitch Media,[78] wrote an excellent primer on what constitutes a slur, pointing out that it necessarily involves power dynamics. As there is no dominant ideology or social system that privileges trans people, suggesting that 'TERF' is being used as a mechanism to silence cis people - the powerful majority - is nonsensical.

many movements centering bigoted ideas will take social justice ideas that are rooted in history/sociology and haphazardly apply them to fit their narrative.

Tassia Agatowski tore the idea to pieces in a Medium article, pointing out:[79]

Punching someone and breaking your hand doesn’t make you the victim.

Moreover, no term is a slur while there is no non-offensive term to denote the same referent. In Value and Implicature [80], Stephen Finlay notes a number of slurs in comparison to their non-offensive counterparts, and concludes that the reason the slurs are pejorative is because they have non-offensive counterparts.

This choice of terminology is explained by the intention to express contempt towards a group. Were these pejoratives the only efficient means we had in our language to denote their referents, they would no longer be conventionally pejorative.

This raises the question: If 'TERF' is a slur, what other term denotes the same referent without being a slur? Is it, as suggested above, "gender critical"? It is quite uncontroversial to say that, for example, Judith Butler is critical of gender, and yet is definitely not a TERF. Even more trivial is it to show that terms like 'feminist' or simply 'woman' include people who are not TERFs, and therefore do not denote the same referent (despite TERF attempts to claim to speak for those groups).

It is a requirement of any serious objection to a slur that an alternative term is proposed (at least in cases where the slur does denote the referent; using, for example, 'gay' as a slur is different because it's only a slur when directed at people who are not, in fact, gay, and therefore there is no need for an alternative term). Thus far, TERFs have failed to satisfy this requirement.

TERF lingo, symbols and culture[edit]

Trans women are males. They do not bear children, breastfeed, hail from a divine feminine, house a sacred passage, sacrifice blood, sync w phases, flow in flux w universe. They just want the superficial benefits of a social construct but don’t bear the stripes.
—A rather extreme example of Poe's law from Wahidizm[81][note 13]
For more information, see: TERF terms

TERFs have a number of euphemisms for transgender people. For a while, they used "MTT" and "FTT" (Male/Female to Trans) as substitutes for "MTF" and "FTM" respectively. They have referred to trans women as "SCAMs" (surgically and chemically altered males)[82] and compared them to Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs. Nowadays, TERFs use "TIM" and "TIF" (Trans-identified male/female).[83] They claim to prefer the terms because they mock the trans identity and emphasize that being trans isn't real; some also like them because they sound like nicknames for Timothy and Tiffany.

On the surface, sentences like "Men shouldn't be in women-only spaces" and "Men shouldn't appropriate lesbianism" sound progressive and reasonable, but TERFs use "men" as a dog-whistle for trans women. When TERFs are upset at a trans woman, they may accuse her of "hating women" or "hating feminists", as if TERFs speak for all cis women or feminists. In short, TERFs tend to view trans women as invasive men, and use feminist language as an excuse to be transphobic. They even call trans activists "TRAs", a subtle comparison to MRAs.

The latest TERF attack is on the rainbow flag, which they are attempting to frame as a hate symbol against women.[84]

TERFs also like to call cis women who support trans women "handmaidens".[85] Should you reply by pointing out that Margaret Atwood has specifically said that she is not a TERF,[86][note 14] they will say they were referring to the Bible and not The Handmaid's Tale. This has nevertheless led to discussions in TERF circles about whether Atwood herself is a "handmaiden".[87]

Of course, some TERFs might "tone down" their transphobia with "compromises", which trans YouTuber Riley Dennis has referred to as "Terfism 2.0".[88] For example, instead of saying "trans women are men", they might say "trans women are trans women", "trans women are women, but they're male", or "trans women are men, but I'll respect your name and pronouns if I like you". The same goes for saying that someone is a "biological man" or "biological woman" as a workaround way to misgender someone.

They also like to claim they are being censored, bullied or silenced, often in national newspapers, when in fact people have heard what they want to say and simply disagree.[89]

Terms for themselves[edit]

The latest neologism that TERFs insist on being called is gender critical, another word for anti-trans activism,[90] ominously similar to how white supremacists insist on being called race realists.

Sometimes, TERFs refer to the catchphrase "adult human females" as the definition of a woman, to somehow imply that trans women are not women.[91][92] It's a curious choice of phrase, since a number of women object to being referred to as "females",[93] a term that is more than reminiscent of the manosphere's misogynistic jargon.

TERFs have also referred to themselves as 'gender free', a Mumsnet originating 'joke' based on a heterosexual cisgender woman pretending to be 'genderfree' to win an LGBT award at her workplace.[94] Heterosexual women appropriating minority awards is apparently a tremendous wheeze to TERFs, one of whom said she was 'laughing her socks off'.[95]

TERFs use the phrase #peaktrans to refer to experiences that 'made' them transphobic. In essence, it's their term for things that make them think trans people / rights have 'gone too far'.[96] Give them time and they'll be trying to use this to justify genocide.

Blaming a group, or individuals, for the hate you have or the violence you inflict on them is absolutely nothing new. - Hailey Heartless

TERF Library Controversy[edit]

TERF groups, usually including Meghan Murphy have been booking rooms at libraries, taking advantage of free speech laws after being refused rooms at other venues. There has been justified criticism for this 'reason', as, for example, Toronto Public Library allows for denying a booking to a group “promoting discrimination, contempt or hatred for any group or person on the basis of […] sex, gender identity, gender expression”.[97] Their deliberate choice not to invoke this clause implies strongly that TPL tacitly approves of transphobia.

  • Vancouver Public Library held a talk by TERF Meghan Murphy. This talk was widely protested by the local LGBT community, and led to VPL being banned from future Pride events.[98]
  • Toronto Public Library, proclaiming that they were fully in support of LGBT rights and inclusiveness, supported a talk by TERF Meghan Murphy saying that it was acceptable to them under free speech laws,[99] despite that they also stated they would prevent talks that would ‘promote discrimination’ - apparently, Toronto Public Library believes discrimination against trans people does not count. They emphasised that they’d already hosted a Neo Nazi group, because apparently two wrongs make a right.[100] Despite TPL’s performative speeches about free speech and apparent grassroots support, FOI requests have revealed that Bowles agreed to host Murphy in less than ten minutes, and used her connections to obtain a supportive article from Ryerson’s Centre for Free Expression.[101] Because nothing says free speech like a government official using her connections to promote prejudice against a minority.
  • Seattle Public Library is holding a talk in February 2020 by WOLF, a TERF, anti-LGBT organisation with links to evangelical Christians. So far, Seattle Library have also invoked the ‘free speech’ defence.[102] Meghan Murphy has come under fire from other TERFs for collaborating with WOLF. Julie Bindel also criticised Posie Parker for taking WOLF's money. She was roundly criticised by her 'gender critical' followers for labelling Parker a bad feminist, even though Parker is associating with a group that sponsors anti-abortion groups.

United Kingdom[edit]

TERFs are a minority in American feminist discourse, concentrated primarily among older second-wave feminists who came of age amidst the women's liberation movement of the 1970s and '80s. In the US, the anti-transgender movement, like the anti-gay movement, is mostly driven by religious conservatives and often comes bundled with anti-feminism; younger third-wave feminists take a more intersectional approach that, among other things, embraces transgender rights and a looser conceptual understanding of gender.

It is a very different story, however, in the United Kingdom.[103] TERFs hold a mainstream position within the British feminist movement, and serve as the main face of British anti-trans activism as opposed to religious conservatives, to the point that there has been friction between American and British feminists over the issue. In 2018, Sam Levin, Mona Chalabi, and Sabrina Siddiqui, three American journalists writing for The Guardian, publicly disavowed an anti-trans editorial published in the paper,[104] citing its similarity to the rhetoric of American religious conservatives and the Trump administration. In the other direction, Posie Parker and Julia Long, two anti-trans British feminists, traveled in 2019 to Washington to ambush Sarah McBride, a trans woman and the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, live-streaming footage of themselves hurling anti-trans invective at McBride. They said that they came to Washington because they saw the United States as the global heartland for transgender rights activism and "political correctness" in general, and wanted to challenge it on its "home turf".

The prominence of trans-exclusionary radical feminism in the UK results from variety of historical reasons. To start, while the cultural feminist tendencies that bred transphobia were born in the US in the '70s, they attained a far more commanding position in the UK; lesbian separatists were heavily involved in the anti-nuclear movement in the '80s, seeing the nuclear standoff of the era as a symbol of the patriarchy's worst excesses. Furthermore, without an organized Religious Right in Britain hostile to both feminism and transgender rights, the intersectional alliances between activists in both movements and others never emerged the way they did in the US. As such, post-Thatcher Britain saw relatively few of the broad, popular left-wing social movements that characterized the American left at the time. The movements against racism, police brutality, environmental degradation, and sexual harassment and assault were largely American-led affairs within the Anglosphere, to the point where some Brits came to see such movements as fundamentally rooted in American concerns that were of less relevance beyond American shores. The blind spots of the British skeptical movement in the '90s and 2000s, and the positions many figures therefrom would later attain in British media, also played an unfortunate role. Pushback against postmodernism and alternative medicine often took the form of a fetishization of the "hard" sciences to the point of biological determinism, and a dismissal of the humanities and social sciences as corrupted by nonsense pushed by people with an axe to grind and rooted mainly in ideology. This made queer theory a target of ridicule, seen as postmodern junk undermining a "biological" understanding of gender. Finally, the parenting forum Mumsnet played a major role during the '00s and '10s. Mumsnet is a major online social space for young mothers in the UK, a demographic that is often quite feminist-leaning but also receptive to "think of the children" arguments, and they proved to be an easy market for rhetoric couched in feminist language calling trans people and rights a threat to their kids.[105]

Forstater Case[edit]

JK Rowling revealed herself to be a TERF after multiple indirect "slip-ups" in the year beforehand[note 15], by defending Maya Forstater after the latter lost an employment tribunal against the European subsidiary of Washington-DC based think-tank Center for Global Development (CGD). The Forstater case has become somewhat of a rallying point for TERFs in the UK, with the claim by TERFs, and repeated verbatim by Rowling, being that the tax expert Forstater had been forced out of a job for saying that ‘sex was real’. However a reading of the legal documents that Forstater herself posted online,[106] which were ably broken down by Dr. Pimenta,[107] reveals that she was a contractor, and her employer simply declined to rehire her, based on her anti-trans comments made on the company / charity Slack channel, and the fact that her Twitter comments, made publicly under her own name, had made full-time staff uncomfortable.

The employment tribunal was held 13-21 November 2019; Forstater's case and the judgment by Mr J Tayler solely concerned Forstater's expression of her beliefs, and in particular if her dismissal involved unlawful discrimination against a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act, and did not consider whether she was employed by CGD or any other reasons for her (alleged) dismissal.[108][109] It did not dwell on the handling of complaints by her co-workers who were concerned by the transphobic nature of her tweets (¶29). Hence it was based on analysis of Forstater's written statements, including tweets as well as remarks on the company's Slack chat network and in letters/emails, and Forstater's own submission. Evidence included:

  1. A series of Tweets from September 2018 about "Pips/Philip Bunce", a senior director at Credit Suisse and listed in a Top 100 Women in Business list, who self-identifies as gender fluid, in which Forstater objects to Bunce's right of self-identification. (¶25)
  2. A conversation on Slack in which she said "I think there are also a group of misogynist people, and others who want to undermine protections for women and children that have become entryists to the Trans Rights Activists movement that are not natural allies to women: gamergaters, incels, narcissists, extreme porn advocates. ... (I am not saying all trans people - -I know this sounds like 'moral panic' and I know most people just want a quiet life, but there is a dark side to some of the people making a political career out of arguing that males should be allowed into women's spaces. ...)" (¶27)
  3. A letter to the MP Anne Main on 30 Sept 2018 objecting to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) saying "Please stand up for the truth that it is not possible for someone who is male to become female. Transwomen are men, and should be respected and protected as men." (¶28)
  4. From July and August 2019 messages relating to an argument with the non-binary person Gregor Murray over her refusal to use their preferred pronouns. She wrote: "In reality Murray is a man. It is Murray’s right to believe that Murray is not a man, but Murray cannot compel others to believe this. Women and children in particular should not be forced to lie or obfuscate about someone’s sex. I reserve the right to use the pronouns 'he' and 'him' to refer to male people. While I may choose to use alternative pronouns as a courtesy, no one has the right to compel others to make statements they do not believe. I think it is important that people are able to refer to the sex of other people accurately and without hesitation, shame or censure." (¶35) This contradicted earlier tweets and messages in which she said she would use others preferred pronouns out of politeness.
  5. In June 2019 on Twitter she described preferred pronouns as "Rohypnol", designed to "numb" and "confuse" opponents of trans rights. (¶34.2)
  6. In a tweet from June 2019 she appeared to suggest using company records at Companies House as a way of sidestepping bans on deadnaming. (¶34.3)

The judgment set out to consider whether Forstater's beliefs were protected and whether they should be considered separately from the expression of her beliefs. The judge noted it might be hard to differentiate beliefs from actions, but: "It is important to note that if a person is guilty unlawful harassment of others that conduct is likely to be the reason for any action taken against them, rather than the holding of a philosophical belief. Having protected characteristics, including philosophical beliefs, does not prevent people from having to take care not to harass others. That being said, full regard must also be given to the qualified convention right of freedom of expression." (¶75) The judge also considered some of the more abusive tweets and found that "I do not consider that those specific tweets represent the core of the Claimant's belief." (¶76) The judgment states that it is possible to object to the GRA and to put forth arguments about safe spaces "without insisting on calling trans women men". (¶86) This contradicts the claims of some TERFs that all objection is condemned as hate speech, and shows that Forstater was going beyond acceptable debate on important public issues.

Nonetheless, while the judge found that certain of Forstater's more extreme statements weren't sincere expressions of her beliefs, even when reduced to their core values her beliefs were not protected. "I conclude from this, and the totality of the evidence, that the Claimant is absolutist in her view of sex and it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. The approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society." (¶83) And: "I consider that the Claimant's view, in its absolutist nature, is incompatible with human dignity and fundamental rights of others." (¶84)

Forstater became very excited that Posie Parker was supporting her and Rowling.[110]

Despite her claims to be an ordinary woman with ‘concerns’ about GRA, Forstater was revealed to be running the 2010Equality Twitter account, dedicated to spreading misinformation about the ECHR legislation.[111] She also has 'media representatives' and has stated that period poverty is "not a real issue" despite being told otherwise by several women who have actually experienced poverty.[112] She has also said that the tampon tax is 'not misogynistic', an extremely odd position for a so-called feminist to take, and that "£20 per year is not a material amount to anyone's welfare," which suggests she doesn't understand poverty or money.[113]

Forstater appealed her original case in April 2021.[114] The CGD's barrister told the appeal, "Maya is not being required to express a belief she does not hold. She is simply being required not to harass others."[114] The judgment found in favour of Forstater, that her beliefs were protected under employment law. The judge conceded that beliefs "akin to Nazism or totalitarianism" would not be protected, but found that Forstater's denying existence of trans and non-binary people somehow did not "did not seek to destroy the rights of trans persons". He interpreted Forstater's beliefs as not including the hostile or offensive elements the original judge had condemned, and justified her beliefs as commonly-held, partly on the grounds that the law only admits binary gender and therefore she was within her rights to believe non-binary gender wasn't real.[115]

In his judgment on the appeal, the Hon Justice Choudhury was keen to emphasise that employers must protect trans people's rights, ensure correct gendering, and provide a safe working space, and that the judgment did not affect the rights of trans people against discrimination, which suggests other grounds for upholding Forstater's non-employment; he also stated that some of Forstater's comments were "within the lower category of hate speech ... which includes 'serious, severely hurtful and prejudicial' comments that can justifiably be restricted by the State".[115] Hence, there was little to suggest that Forstater would be an acceptable employee, and that without a court considering her employment status it wasn't even clear that she was dismissed, let alone unfairly dismissed. But on the other hand, denying the reality of trans and non-binary people is apparently legitimate in law.

More sensible viewpoints[edit]

Despite being utterly horrible to trans people, many TERFs are remarkably level-headed when it comes to other issues.

Some of their work, when it doesn't have to do with transgender people, is actually quite good. Kajsa Ekis Ekman is known for her on-point criticisms of capitalism, prostitution and surrogacy. Julie Bindel was one of the first domestic violence and sexual assault campaigners in the UK. Meghan Murphy was also a major figure on the Canadian left, opposing anything from pipeline projects to free-trade agreements.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. TERF has a more general anti-trans connotation, while TWEF implies a specific anti-MTF (male-to-female) connotation. In reality, the two are indistinguishable, because TERF/TWEFs do not acknowledge the fact that trans men exist, or otherwise dismiss their existence.
  2. TERFs specifically act against trans women, women assigned male at birth, by, e.g., targeting their employers and doctors. Check out: A Review of Transmisogyny Embodied: Cathy Brennan
  3. 3.0 3.1 Sex is far more complicated than "boys have a penis and XY chromosomes, girls have a vagina and XX chromosomes.". TERFs notably completely fail to acknowledge XY women with androgen insensitivity syndrome,Wikipedia people who are born intersex, genderqueer people, or people with various non-XX, non-XY chromosomes (e.g., X0,Wikipedia XYY,Wikipedia XXY,Wikipedia etc.) Approximately 0% of chromosome obsessives have actually had their own karyotype tested. Even then, sex is determined by more than just genitals and chromosomes. When transphobes are reminded of the existence of intersex people, they often simply deny intersex is an issue, forcing them to choose a gender from the binary. This alone, not to mention that there are proven biological reasons for why people have gender dysphoria, show it is highly ironic that TERFs (and transphobes in general) claim that transgender people (and their allies) are biology deniers. Transphobes don't give a shit about science unless they feel as though they can use it to support their views.
  4. Also, any cis woman who enjoys doing feminine things or supports trans rights is less of a woman.
  5. A notable result of all this No True Scotsmaning on the subject of womanhood is a tendency towards denying the lived experiences of trans people altogether - othering trans struggles so thoroughly as to simply ignore them rather than making any attempt at reconciling the theoretical framework at hand with the existence/general testimonies of trans people.[3]
  6. Trans criticism is not transphobia... Oh, wait, no! It bloody is!
  7. For example, in 2014, TERFs picketed the appointment of transgender activist keynote speaker in London and abusively referred to her as a "man".
  8. See our article on antifeminism.
  9. You may call me a TERF but I am not transphobic... No, we will call you a TERF exactly because you are transphobic!
  10. This, in theory, excludes people who identify as being outside the gender binary, e.g., genderqueer, but includes people who identify as being transgender. In practice, they are rarely, if ever, viewed as mutually exclusive, with some genderqueer people saying similar things of their own identities.
  11. Examples: Memes that imply a trans woman is dangerous to cis women, that trans women are lying to the world or to themselves.
  12. "Unfortunately, the promotion of “sex change” operations has decreased investigation into prevention and therapy for those suffering from gender dysphoria. For example, in one case a Catholic, married man who had several children wanted to become female. In his therapeutic treatment, he came to understand the origins of his inability identify with his masculinity. In working with a spiritual director, he slowly came to experience God as loving father who could protect him, and to develop a relationship with St. Joseph as a role model of male love." - Richard P. Fitzgibbons, NARTH
  13. The YouTuber Natalie Wynn has since mocked the expression "sacred passage" in a few episodes on her channel ContraPoints.
  14. And indeed, The Handmaid's Tale contains the implication that anti-porn feminists, the ideological fellows of modern TERFs, had a hand in helping the Religious Right to set up the oppressive Republic of Gilead.
  15. Usually by liking tweets, most of which were eventually unliked after backlash.


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  101. FOI requests
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  109. When do beliefs attract legal protection at work?, Employment Law Watch, Oct 2019
  110. Posie Parker with a message for @jk_rowling. Stand firm (I think she is! 😊) And for everyone with a voice and a platform: Use it, because there are many who cant. Your speaking up helps others to find a voice. If not now, when? #ThisIsNotADrill, Maya Forstater (@MForstater) on Twitter, 12:37 PM · Dec 23, 2019
  111. Helen (mimmymum) on Twitter. 2:16 PM · Dec 31, 2019
  112. I'm not all that hopeful. Here are some clues..... "Period poverty" is a made up non-issue in the UK, it is feminist activism for show, to no real end., Maya Forstater (@MForstater) on Twitter, 12:16 PM, Jan 3, 2020
  113. If the tampon tax had stayed at 20% it would have cost us each on average £3.50 each per year, making our total average tampon bill £20 per year £20 per year is not a material amount to anyone's welfare. £3.50 a year even less so. 88p? Why are we still talking about this? Maya Forstater (@MForstater) on Twitter, 11:46 AM, Jan 5, 2020
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