TERF stands for “trans-exclusionary radical feminists” and refers to a very small fringe movement of feminism — women who argue that no one who is assigned male at birth can be a woman.
They consider trans women to be men who try to invade “women’s spaces”, and they spend a lot of time aggressively policing and invalidating trans people, both online and in the physical world.
As the trans activist Cristan Williams puts it:
Within feminist and trans discourse, the term refers to a very specific type of person who wraps anti-trans bigotry in the language of feminism. A hallmark of TERF discourse is that it tends to sound a lot like the anti-trans rhetoric coming out of extreme right-wing groups.
They also argue that FTM trans men are impostors, but are willing to let them into women’s spaces as they consider them women.
They make use of two lines of arguments to underpin their persecution. One is the idea that gender is nothing but a social construct, and that the only people who can identify as women, are persons who have been raised as a girls. All persons who have been raised as boys have male privilege and are therefore men and oppressors.
Often, however, they fall back on some kind of simplistic biological ideas that only people born with female genitalia or two X chromosomes are “real” women. Because of this their arguments often seem to mirror the ones of sexist men, the main difference being that what the patriarchy considers signs of honor (the penis, for instance), the TERFs consider signs of violence.
This deeply conservative slant is probably also why they find it meaningful to make use of the theories of old, bearded, sexist men to invalidate trans women.
Terms like “transvestic fetishists” and “autogynephiliacs” are often used, even if these are quasi-medical terms developed by men in order to stigmatize trans women and scare male bodied persons from away from non-masculine gender identities and gender expressions.
One typical TERF meme is that trans women are rapist who want to get access to women’s rest rooms in order to threaten them. The fact is, of course, that if there is anyone who has something to fear rest room wise, it is trans women who are forced to use the men’s room.
TERFs have also been working actively to stop trans women from getting health care and the legal recognition they deserve.
Make no mistake about it: TERFism is destructive and bigoted sexism masquerading as feminism. No real feminists — radical or otherwise — want to be associated with this transphobic ideology.
More on TERFs here: