Happy Pride. Don’t Be a TERF.
It feels like every day there’s a new attack on trans people—whether it’s a ban on medical care for trans youth or legislation making drag shows illegal. Anti-trans rhetoric is currently taking center stage in the news and online, and unfortunately, some of these transphobic talking points are being repeated by well-meaning but misinformed people.
Many people have been exposed to—or even use—this harmful ideology disguised as feminism without even knowing it. Whether you know what a TERF is or not, you should know that they’re using every trick in their book to get you on their side. To save you from that fate, we’re breaking down how we got to this moment and why you can’t support women and be a TERF at the same time.
What Is a TERF?
The technical definition of a TERF is a trans-exclusionary radical feminist. Most TERFs came to their ideology via second-wave feminism that radicalized into the lie that trans people are a threat to women.
Some language to look out for: TERFs often self-identify as “gender critical” or as an “adult human female.” They believe in “sex-based rights,” “LGB rights,” and “protecting women and girls;” they call trans people “trans rights activists,” “the trans lobby,” “the trans debate,” and call trans women “TIMs” (Trans Identified Males).
TERFs have deployed dangerous and extreme online tactics like hate campaigns against trans youth, doxxing of trans activists, and even creating their own online forums when they are kicked out of other online spaces. Often the online abuse has made its way into the real world; TERFs are some of the people we’re seeing trying to ban trans athletes and writing inflammatory op-eds for The New York Times.
This Is Why You May Be Seeing More TERFs Lately
*cough* J.K. Rowling *cough*
But seriously, many people’s introduction to TERFs is from the Harry Potter author’s viral anti-trans tweets. But like most things, the ideology is much deeper (and sinister) than just Rowling.
Just like bigots are co-opting “parental choice” to ban books and whitewash history classes, TERFs have taken so-called feminism and twisted it into transphobia. Which is on purpose! More explicit extremist movements often appeal to people on the fringes, the most dedicated to their mission of harm. Where TERFs draw their power from is by disguising themselves as feminists, and who wouldn’t want more of those? They know that on the surface, they appear to be fighting for women, but in actuality, they’re fighting against us.
Here’s Why the TERF Ideology Is So Dangerous—Especially Right Now
With the proliferation of draconian laws targeting trans people—from bathroom bans to student athlete bans to bans on gender-affirming care and every other ban in between—the TERF ideology contributes to real, tangible harm. Trans people are over four times as likely to suffer violent victimization than their cis peers, and murders of trans people in the U.S. have nearly doubled between 2017 and 2021. It’s a dangerous time to be trans in America, and TERFs add fuel to the fire every day.
The real-world impacts of TERF ideology manifest in a myriad of ways. Cis women are being harassed in bathrooms because people perceive them to be trans; cis Black women have been banned from the Olympics for their natural testosterone levels. Trying to control people’s bodies ends up with all of us being policed if we don’t conform to stereotypical gender roles. There’s no middle ground or acceptable level—we have to stop all of it.
It Bears Repeating: Trans Women Are Women
Like most extremist groups, TERFs do not share opinions with the majority of our country. Support for trans people and the fight for trans rights remains steadily on the rise—but that doesn’t make the TERF movement any less dangerous. The obsession with legislating, tracking, and surveilling trans bodies is the same playbook being used to ban abortion and strip away bodily autonomy for people with the capacity for pregnancy. The goal is always control. They can call it “radical feminism” or being “gender critical,” but it doesn’t change the truth. And if history has taught us anything, an attack on one of us is an attack on us all.