By Daniel J. McLaughlin
You may have heard the phrase "TERF" bandied around the internet, and wondered what it stands for. Simply, it is an acronym for "trans-exclusionary radical feminist". But like many things with LGBTQ issues, an acronym does not tell the full story. The RF in TERF is not necessarily a bad thing; the TE, however, is where it gets ugly.
Collins Dictionary defines a TERF as "a radical feminist who believes transsexual and transgender people do not have the right to consider themselves female". Macmillan also adds that TERFs believe that transgender women are "not true women because they cannot have had the same experiences as people who were born as women".
Trans-exclusionary essentially means being anti-trans. Whatever you call it, it is discrimination. As Pink News argues, a trans-exclusionary radical feminist is, in other words, a "transphobic bigot". This dehumanisation is all too familiar within the queer community, similar to the persecution that other minorities such as LGB people have faced in the past.
"Trans-exclusionary Radical Feminism is a collective with a simple message of hate," they argue. "It denies trans women basic rights such as access to health care, women’s support groups and bathroom facilities on the basis that it should be reserved for “real women”."
Writing for the Huffington Post, Phoebe Kirk explains why she refuses to call anyone a TERF. Firstly, she does not want to attach "feminism" to the hateful behaviour shown by TERFs. And secondly, she doesn't believe that terms such as TERF or Incel deserve a place in our lexicon. "Cruelty doesn’t deserve the validation of a name," she adds.
Is TERF used as a slur? According to the linguist Deborah Cameron, it "does not meet all the criteria that have been proposed for defining a word as a slur, but it does meet most of them at least partially”. It does, however, have similarities with hate speech directed at other groups when it is used to make threats of violence, included with other slurs, and used as a metaphor of pollution.
It is all about the context of the remarks. TERF is an acronym used to describe so-called radical feminists who are anti-trans, but it becomes hate speech when the intention to cause harm through violence or the incitement of hatred is added alongside it.
TERF is clearly not a flattering term to be called. To be a trans-exclusionary radical feminist is to be someone who discriminates against a group of people for simply being who they are. There is nothing wrong with radical feminism, but it has no place when it comes to trans exclusion.