You might be a TERF if…

By Cristan Williams


I’ve noticed that there seems to be some confusion about what a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF) is so, here’s a quick guide to help you figure out if you’re someone who pushes TERF ideology, which is to say, someone who’s a TERF. Chances are that you’re a TERF if you believe that you’re a feminist when you…

1.) Claim that trans women are cis men, that trans men are cis women and purposefully misgender trans people.

2.) Out trans people to employers.

3.) Tell trans women their surgery is about supporting rape culture.

4.) Assert that lesbian-identified trans women can’t be lesbian.

5.) Claim that a world without trans people is preferable.1

6.) Find that your anti-trans arguments and the anti-trans arguments of far right-wing groups match.2

7.) Assert cis privilege isn’t real; that non-trans people aren’t privileged in a society that’s hostile to trans people.

8.) Assert that gender is abolished through the mandatory social institutionalization of a MAAB/FAAB binary.

9.) Claim that trans surgeries were pioneered by men in service of the patriarchy.3

10.) Lie about rape and death threats you’ve received from trans people.

11.) Fearmonger about the rape/violence threat trans women pose to cis women in the women’s restroom.

12.) Assert that trans people transition to satisfy their sexual urges.

13.) Degrade and dehumanize the genitals of trans people.

14.) Work to overturn trans equality protections.

15.) Work to halt access to trans medical care.

16.) Appeal to the Klan Fallacy.

17.) Compare transition to a disgusting Frankenstein-like process.

18.) Claim that trans people transition due to political or social pressures.4

19.) Claim that when you work to halt the propagation of anti-feminist stereotypes it’s empowerment, but when trans people work to halt the propagation of anti-trans stereotypes it’s censorship .

20.) Assert that trans women transition because they’re actually gay men and that trans men transition because they’re lesbians wanting to escape the patriarchy.

21.) Threaten actual radical feminist organizations with killing its trans members, and then show up at the radfem event armed with guns.

22.) Beat actual radical feminists for protecting trans women from a TERF bashing.

23.) Mob Lesbian Avengers who have a trans kid with them and then threaten the kid with a knife.

24.) Menace a butch Lesbian radical feminist so much that the radfem decides to start their own inclusive Women’s Music Festival.

25.) Threaten a group of trans women with bodily violence so that they have to start something called Camp Trans in protest.

26.) Promote so-called “bathroom bills” because you think it’s “pro-Lesbian.”

27.) Find that Tea Party Republicans start promoting your TERF rhetoric.

28.) Promote right-wing propaganda mill nonsense to substantiate your hate because they’re the only ones who, in your estimation, are your ideological allies.

29.) Find that right-wing pundits and even hate groups like the Westboro Baptist Church defend TERF hate.

30.) Appeal to vaginal odors as being a sexed essence which demarcates an authentic sexed status, so that trans women aren’t actual women because the vaginas of trans women are so smelly that it causes “serious smell issues” while, simultaneously being so non-smelly that a trans woman can never know (as actual women apparently do) what it’s like to have a “big, hairy, smelly vagina.”

Bonus: Pretend that the term “TERF” –popularized, in 2008 by a radical feminist-inclusive feminist community as a way of distinguishing between radical feminists from anti-trans bigots who label themselves “radical feminists”– was actually created by the trans  community in order to slur feminism.

Would you like to read what TERFs, in their own words, say they believe?

Read about #TERFlogic here.


But, What Does Feminism Looks Like?

So now I want to be unequivocal in my words: I believe that transgender people, including those who have transitioned, are living out real, authentic lives. Those lives should be celebrated, not questioned. Their health care decisions should be theirs and theirs alone to make. And what I wrote decades ago does not reflect what we know today as we move away from only the binary boxes of “masculine” or “feminine” and begin to live along the full human continuum of identity and expression.

Gloria Steinem, feminist icon & activist

Work with transsexuals, and studies of formation of gender identity in children provide basic information which challenges the notion that there are two discrete biological sexes. That information threatens to transform the traditional biology of sex difference into the radical biology of sex similarity… Every transsexual is entitled to a sex-change operation, and it should be provided by the community as one of its functions.

Andrea Dworkin, radical feminist pioneer & activist

Male dominant society has defined women as a discrete biological group forever. If this was going to produce liberation, we’d be free.… To me, women is a political group. I never had much occasion to say that, or work with it, until the last few years when there has been a lot of discussion about whether transwomen are women… I always thought I don’t care how someone becomes a woman or a man; it does not matter to me. It is just part of their specificity, their uniqueness, like everyone else’s. Anybody who identifies as a woman, wants to be a woman, is going around being a woman, as far as I’m concerned, is a woman.

Catharine MacKinnon, radical feminist pioneer & activist

The notion that truly revolutionary radical feminism is trans-inclusive is a no brainer. I honestly do not understand how or why a strain of radical feminism has emerged that favors a biology-based/sex-essentialist theory of ‘sex caste’ over the theory of ‘sex class’ as set forth in the work of Witting, Andrea, and MacKinnon. Can radical feminism be ‘reclaimed’ so that its trans-inclusivity—which is inherent—is made apparent? I hope so.

John Stoltenberg, radical feminist & activist

The above is a statement from the iconic radical feminist journal, Lesbian Tide and was published as a direct response to a TERF effort to purge trans women from women’s groups.

Some Definitions

While all TERFs are SETs, not all SETs are TERFs.

TERF: Trans Exclusionary RadFem. A term used to identify those individuals who sympathize with and support a brand of “radical feminism” that is so rooted in sex essentialism and its resulting biologism, it actively campaigns against the existence, equality, and/or inclusion of trans people.  The term appears to have been popularized in 2008 by a cisgender feminist on a blog called FinallyFeminism101. TERFs generally claim that gender identity is the same thing as gender role, that gender is the same thing as sexism, and that sexed ontologies are produced by nature, not culture.

SETs: Sex Essentialist Theorists. Groups ranging from right-wing religious movements to TERFs who use sex essentialism as their central organizing belief, view, moral and/or ethic. SETs will generally reject the notion that while bodies and reproduction are material realities, what we think about those realities is gender. Instead, SETs tend to assert that sexed ontologies are the creation of a God(s) or Nature.

Sex Essentialism: In short, sex essentialism is a tautology that seeks to construct ontology through reductivism. It is the belief that there is a specific essence, that if found to be present, causes an entire body to be either male or female. The appealed to essence can be asserted social habits learned through socialization, spirit energy or emotion, or phenotype or genotype attribute.

Radical Feminism (RadFem): closely tied to 2nd wave feminism, it represents the identity many (though certainly not all) sex essentialist activists utilize when engaging in anti-trans activism. Radical Feminism itself exists to do away with sexism through the abolition of gender roles, stereotypes and hierarchies.1 Numerous Radical Feminist opinion leaders and organizations were staunchly trans-inclusive and faced threats of violence, physical beatings, and attempted murders by TERFs for their trans inclusion.

I assure them I am as a real and as radical a feminist as one can be… feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. – bell hooks2

Sex: A social identifier assigned to babies at birth. It is taken to connote the genotypical aspects/attributes of human development as it relates to the ability to produce size-differentiated gametes. Additionally, sex is taken to connote the oftentimes stereotyped phenotypical aspects of sexed bodies such as primary and secondary sex characteristics.

Gender: is a generic term we use to refer to any/all aspects of: gender orientation, expression, and identity (see image below); gender role, stereotype and hierarchy; and/or, any mental contextualization of the material reality of genotyped and phenotyped sex.

Figure 2: model of gender orientation, identity and expression

Male: one whose genotype, phenotype, and/or legal persona is regarded by society as being typical of the political class “man”.

Man: A political class that is pressured by culture to subjugate women.

Female: One whose genotype, phenotype, and/or legal persona is regarded by society as being typical of the political class “woman”.

Woman: A political class that is pressured by culture to be subordinate to men.



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  1. Anne Koedt. Lesbianism and Feminism. 1971
  2. bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, p viii
Cristan Williams is a trans historian and pioneer in addressing the practical needs of underserved communities. She started the first trans homeless shelter in Texas and co-founded the first federally funded housing-first homeless program, pioneered affordable health care for trans people in the Houston area, won the right for trans people to change their gender on Texas ID prior to surgery, started numerous trans social service programs and founded the Transgender Center as well as the Transgender Archives. She has published short stories, academic chapters and papers, and numerous articles for both print and digital magazines. She received numerous awards for her advocacy and has presented at universities throughout the nation, served on several governmental committees and CBO boards, is the Editor of the TransAdvocate, and is a founding board member of the Transgender Foundation of America and the Bee Busy Wellness Center.