What You Need to Know About TERFs

Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists.

A term first popularized in 2008 by feminist blogger Viv Smythe, "TERF" refers to "feminists" who, generally, believe that transgender women are men. There are varying attitudes about what TERFs believe these people's intentions are, (some believe trans women are simply confused, while others believe they are men who have disguised themselves to infiltrate female spaces and/or assault cisgender women, etc.) but all are united under one attribute: they are wrong.

"TERFs don't like being called TERFs," Natalie Wynn, transgender YouTuber known for her videos on controversial topics, said. "They think it's a term of disparagement. Which, it is. They call themselves radical feminists, RadFems, or lately, 'gender critical.'"

The problem with the term "gender critical" is that it is a euphemism used to give legitimacy to the trans-exclusionary movement, similar to the way some racist movements use the term "race realist." Therefore, I will not refer to them by that term. Many TERFs argue that "'TERF' is a slur," but it is only a slur in the same way that calling someone a misogynist or a racist is a slur.

So, what should you know about TERFs?

  • They do not believe transgender women are legitimate (and they behave disrespectfully towards them)

    • TERFs, by definition, do not accept (or, in many cases, try to understand,) trans women's transition and reintegration into society from men into women. They call transgender women "trans-identified men" (and trans men get the same treatment with "trans-identified woman) in a thinly-veiled attempt to verbally attack them, and many have been known to refer to trans women as "it" in the place of a pronoun. Furthermore, they refer to any kind of gender-confirmation surgery as "mutilation," to invalidate the process and steps many transgender women take to transition and be accepted by society as female.
  • They essentially forget trans men exist

    • All this talk about policing trans women's gender presentation and identities, but TERFs have conveniently left transgender men out of the conversation. They consider them deeply-confused lesbians, and most TERF talking points and arguments sort of apply to trans men, but on the whole, radical feminists like to sweep them under the rug.
  • They cite biology as the be-all/end-all determinate of womanhood

    • The idea that gendered pronouns refer to chromosomal sex is ridiculous and easily refuted by the fact that the X/Y chromosomes were discovered in 1905, while the pronouns "he" and "she" have been around for millennia. They cite the fact that trans women cannot give birth, do not menstruate, and do not produce the same amounts of estrogen as cisgender women as proof of their invalidity. But to chalk up womanhood to whether or not you can/will have biological children, have a period, or what levels of what hormones you have in your body is not only offensive to trans women, it erases the experiences of every cisgender woman that cannot (or chooses not to) reproduce or whose body just happens to have less estrogen, like the Olympian athlete Caster Semenya, who now has to take medication to reduce the amount of naturally-occurring testosterone in her body in order to compete in certain women's sports events. (But cisgender male athletes like Michael Phelps are praised for their "natural abilities" at their sport. Hmm.)
      • Another thing TERFs like to do is use the oppression cis women have faced since birth as a way to keep trans women from entering feminine spaces. "You don't know what it's like to grow up as a young girl, to deal with being catcalled from a young age!" etc. But to do this equates the experience of womanhood to an experience of pain. To once again quote Wynn, "When Shania Twain was singing 'Man! I Feel Like A Woman,' she wasn't talking about having a coat-hanger abortion in the bathroom of a Greyhound station in Chattanooga."

Remember these arguments next time you encounter a TERF online or in person.

Feminism without trans people is not feminism.

Image credit