The Inaccuracy of “TERF”

Let’s Update the Acronym to Reflect Reality

I have a problem with the term “TERF” (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist). It’s not a slur — never has been, never will be. It’s an attempt to describe a subset of bigoted women wearing masks of lesbianism to hide their hate filled bitter hearts. This group certainly needs a label, one that draws attention to these slaves of the patriarchy as they work against the best interests of women globally.

My problem: TERF is not an accurate descriptor. Let’s break it down to see why.

Trans Exclusionary

CATA protesters condemning TERF’s and SWERF’s as a declaration against oppression. Used with permission.

The first half of TERF — “Trans Exclusionary” — is correct. The Coalition Against Trans Antagonism (CATA) also lists “excluding, erasing, eradicating, exterminating” as other variants. TERF’s promote discrimination against women, primarily trans women. They also reject any non-binaries and gender queer people who are feminine presenting, use she/her pronouns in whole or part, or who at least partially identify with the inclusive term “woman.”

They push to ban trans women from sportsfrom rape crisis centers, and even bathrooms. They refuse to equate violence against trans women as violence against women. TERF’s were the first to employ physical violence and threats of violence against trans women to prevent them from organizing. They do this even when trans inclusive women outnumber them, such as at Michfest, where surveys found the majority of women in the early 90’s welcomed trans women. “Trans Exclusionary” is a very accurate term for what these monsters do.

The second half is where the acronym fails: “Radical Feminist.” Discriminating against women is neither “radical” nor “feminist,” let alone does it make someone a “radical feminist.”

Not Radicals

Bigotry is the center of all conservative views. Conservatives seek to preserve the existing oppression hierarchies that favor themselves. Since conservatives are run by rich white straight men, they support hierarchies that promote the interests of rich white straight men. For example, conservatives support capitalism because it preserves ongoing wealth inequality overwhelmingly in their favor.

Radicals stand opposed to the preservation of broken definitions and systems. They actively seek to tear down injustice wherever it is found and replace it with newer — and more equitable — systems. A radical will use any means available to fight back, whether that is education, community organizing, or direct action.

Those who backed slavery did so because their view of the inclusive term “humans” did not include African-Americans. They were preserving this discriminatory definition to preserve their own power, thus making them conservatives. Similarly, those who opposed the desegregation of schools because they did not think the inclusive term “students” included black children were seeking to preserve elite access to education for whites only. That made them conservatives. Abolitionists and civil rights supporters were radicals, not the people whose view of terms was deliberately exclusionary.

Posie Parker’s trans phobic billboard was funded by the American Far Right. Source.

And as for TERF’s? They use an outdated definition of woman: “adult human female.” They push this definition so much it’s become a gate symbol emblematic of the group. Samantha Hancox-Li points out the origin of its use goes back to Mumsnet Towers in 2015, a trans phobic Internet den. Right-wing activist Posie Parker made the phrase big in 2018 using money from the Heritage Foundation and American evangelicals. It’s a term created by conservatives and spread by TERF’s because of how it preserves the oppressive hierarchy.

The Heritage Foundation’s definition of women — “adult human female” — fails to recognize the validity of trans women and others. It’s a view of women that reduces them to objects defined by genitals alone — instead of a complex intersection of biology, society, psychology, personal preferences, and identification. This definition favors current power structures that benefit TERF’s, such as “women only spaces” (which exclude women TERF’s don’t like). By arguing that this definition should be preserved and enshrined, they are parroting conservative talking points.

We immediately see that “radical” is the exact opposite of what a TERF is doing and supporting. They are conservatives, preservers, bootlickers. They are fundamentally about opposing the progress that radicalism stands for. CATA states the problem well: “TERF’s are adept at co-opting the language of progressive feminism in order to push an incredibly regressive and hateful agenda.” They are Regressive.

Not Feminists

Consider the “feminist” label in TERF.

One of the big American crusaders against feminism was Phyllis Schafly, who tapped into public fear and resentment of women to shoot down the ERA. She was a traitor to society in the same vein as Margaret Thatcher. But she observed second-wave feminism from the outside and gave a stern warning: that the lesbian take over of the second wave would be its undoing. This turned out to be right, but not in the way she meant it.

Schafly was trying to imply that queer women were somehow inferior to straight women. That their rise to prominence would sabotage the movement as they lacked the merit to run it. There have been a great many amazing lesbian leaders of feminism, so her argument was plainly false.

Unfortunately, what did happen was the rise of a band of women who culturally appropriated the term “lesbian” and turned it into something that meant “women who hate other women.” These faux queers snuck into power under the guise of representation and pushed their regressive patriarchal ideology into the second wave. This also combined with stunning narcissism that often left them unable to think beyond their white privilege, alienating women of color. They divided women and sabotaged feminism for decades.

It wouldn’t be until third wave feminism that the wounds would begin to heal. In the third wave we had a definition of women that didn’t splinter us and allowed all of us to unite under a common banner. The third wave was the start of Intersectional Feminism, an ideology that opposes — rather than bootlicks — the patriarchy.

Logo of the Coalition Against Trans Antagonism, a key organization that opposes TERF lead hate groups.

TERF’s have never been feminists. When we call TERF’s “feminists,” we are ignoring the decades of philosophical harm they rendered to the feminist movement. They have been infiltrators intent on spreading ideas that prevent women from uniting and acting as one. They have always stood as one of the worst enemies of feminism in all its incarnations. As CATA tells us, “They [TERF’s] understand the core ideas of feminism and patriarchy, but turn their efforts toward excluding and harassing trans women instead of making the world safer and more welcoming for all women.”

The discord they sow is one of the many factors behind why Trump won election in 2016. It is their constant demand to divide and push away women from common cause that enables oppression — a fact they know and welcome. TERF’s are an explicit part of the fascist effort to “divide and conquer” the LGBT community so that all of the rights secured so far can be undone. Trump’s supporters openly admit that helping transphobic women drive a wedge between the LGB and the T will make it easier for them to role back anti-discrimination protections for all queers, minorities, and women.

The goal of TERFs is not the realization of feminist ideals, but to hide among women and say whatever is needed to keep us from fighting the common enemy: fascism. The true face of any TERF is that of a goose-stepping thug with delusions of grandeur. CATA observed this with the Vancouver Dyke March, noting that there is a “very real concern rooted in lived experience about TERF/SWERF fascist violence in the march.” They are servants of fascism through-and-through.


Radical feminists rejecting TERF ideology in the 1970’s. Source.

We have now that “Trans Exclusionary” is correct and should be retained. They are not “radicals,” though: they are regressive. They defend oppressive hierarchies to protect the interests of the privileged. They are not “feminists” — they are tools of fascists. Actual radical feminists have condemned TERF’s since the 1970’s, wishing them expelled from their movement. They take money and talking points from the anti-queer evangelical right of America. The same group that gave us Trump’s hellscape America.

This gives us our new term for them: Trans Exclusionary Regressive Fascists.

This has the benefit of still spelling TERF — thus immediately backwards compatible. It identifies those it labels as enemies of the people who groups like ANTIFA and BAMN need to target in their fight to liberate the common man. It makes clear that the adherents of this view are not part of the fight for social justice. They should not be confused for feminists, because they are feminism’s enemies.

They are bigots who are happen to be women. Bigotry — not gender — is their defining trait and it justifies any and all necessary means of opposing their victory. They have chosen to work with the straight white male oppressors of human society and so they must be treated like oppressors.

Published by Laura Izaguirre

I write on topics of social justice and anti-fascism. Queer neurodivergent latinx. She/Her. #Resist

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