What are TERFs?

TERF stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist–feminists who don’t like trans people.


Well, you know how radical feminists have a reputation for being man-hating Nazis?

That’s basically true, except for the Nazi part. Radical feminists don’t like men all that much and don’t want men at their events or in their conversations.

The three abstracts in this post hail from real, peer-reviewed, academic "papers." H/T @RealPeerReview
The three abstracts in this post hail from real, peer-reviewed, academic “papers.” H/T @RealPeerReview

Radfems believe that “gender is a social construct,” by which they mean that the oppressive, patriarchal society made up this idea of “femininity” and then “socialized” young, biologically female people into believing it. (Society also made up the idea of “masculinity” and “socialized” biological males into believing it.) In essence, they think society is gaslighting people into believing that there are personality differences between men and women, with the result that men are taught to be aggressive, rapey assholes, and women are taught to be demure, doormat victims.

I... I am sorry this exists
I… I am sorry this exists

To radfems, “women” have two things in common: their physical bodies and their oppression by men, and their primary focus is on liberating their physical bodies from male control, as manifest in things like abortion restrictions, rape, body shaming, marriage, or any claim that males and females are different in any way besides anatomy.

So what about trans people?

From the TERFs’ POV, most trans people are either oppressive, patriarchal men pretending to be women, or women who think there’s something wrong with being female and so are trying to become patriarchal oppressors. TERFs don’t want men or wannabe men in their spaces. They don’t want to explain, yet again, that you can never understand what it is like to be female because you were not socialized as a child into believing that “femininity” exists and you were never oppressed by society for being female. Male-to-female transsexuals don’t menstruate, can’t get raped, can’t get pregnant, and can’t be denied an abortion. You cannot become “female gendered” because “female gender” is just a thing society made up to oppress women, and buying into it is only going to further oppress women.

The whole idea of being trans doesn’t make sense within a radical feminist framework. There is no reason at all why you can’t just be an “effeminate” person who is biologically male or a “masculine” person who is biologically female–the only reason you think you can’t is because society lied to you and told you that you can’t.

ctosyoiwcacm9dtEven if you are sympathetic to trans people, it remains a fact that women-who-are-biologically-women have different practical concerns than they do. Trans folks have very specific concerns about discrimination, anti-trans violence (especially incarcerated trans people), related medical conditions, and of course hormonal therapies and surgery. (There is of course some overlap–trans people can get raped and some can get pregnant, for example.)

TERFs believe that when trans people enter their spaces, trans issues, instead of women’s issues, begin to dominate the discussion, and the women who originally created these spaces in order to escape male oppression are yet again being oppressed by men. EG: Why we Must Stop Calling Menstruation “A Women’s Issue”:

Ame: People can be more inclusive of trans people who also experience menstruation by talking about the topic in a non-gendered way. Realising that bodies and body parts are not gendered would help to normalise the idea that you do not have to be a woman in order to menstruate, and also that not all women are capable of menstruating. A simple change in language, such as saying “people who menstruate” rather than “women” goes a long way in terms of having inclusive discussions, rather than discussions which isolate certain subgroups of people.

Sapphire: Stop the whole “lady parts” cis feminist discourse.

Teddy: I think better education, and more accessible resources online is going to be the way forward; I think magazines aimed at “men” and “women” should make people aware of health conditions that affect all body types, about health issues in general, and how to deal with them. There would likely be some pushback, but removing strict gendering of health issues is important.

Yes, Men’s Health and Maxim should totally start running articles about male menstruation, and Cosmo can run articles about the importance of getting your prostate checked–I’m sure that’ll send their sales through the roof!

As far as TERFs are concerned, trans people are free to have their own discussions in their own spaces, but they are not having a conversation about how “men menstruate too.”

Note that I have no dog in this fight, as I am neither a radical feminist nor trans. I think radfems are basically wrong–“gender” is primarily a manifestation of genetic differences between men and women–and that most trans folk I’ve met have an actual medical intersex condition. However, I think most trans people would be better off if they believed the radical feminists and declared to themselves that it’s fine to like things culture has traditionally deemed appropriate to the opposite sex instead of going through all the trouble of transition.

13 thoughts on “What are TERFs?

  1. I love your blog. So many different and interesting posts.

    Check out the TERF board on Reddit. It’s pretty funny.

    They don’t want to explain, yet again, that you can never understand what it is like to be female because you were not socialized as a child into believing that “femininity” exists and you were never oppressed by society for being female.

    Look at the many children who have the extreme misfortune to get adopted by either two lesbian or two male homosexuals. They, for the most part, get treated like women and shown that gender is a “social construct”.

    I knew one trans person. He was a man (I refuse to go against biology and call them women or use their ‘new name’). But other than that, I believe transgenderism and autogynephelia correlate strongly and that autogynephelia explains a bulk of the men who become trans at during middle age.


    This was a fun paper to write. I should do more in this format. But yea, environmental factors occur to make these people that way. Don’t even get me started on how it’s targeted and pushed to children. If I’m right, and transgenderism is largely environmental in nature, then we’re screwing up a ton of kids’ heads.


    • Thanks, I’m glad you enjoy it. Thanks for the link, too.

      People seem to really focus on the MTF transsexuals. Most of the trans folks I know started out as female and transitioned soon after reaching adulthood. I don’t know if there are actually more MTFs out there, or if they just freak people out more than FTMs.


  2. This post is really, really simplified. It’s also a strange combination of “stuck in the past” (most of the drastically simplified part) and also “historically revisionist” (or, more likely, you just weren’t there for, and never heard, the non-revised history in the first place).

    So I come bearing additional info/history/context.

    An example of the “unintentionally revisionist” aspect is that this post overlooks the giant–once, it was all-consuming–divide between the Dworkinites (what we might now call gender abolitionists; those are who you’ve simplified) and the Dalyites, who even then were rather pejoratively (at least, we gender abolitionists used it pejoratively) called “essentialists.” (Gender essentialists, but we didn’t feel the need for the specifier.)

    There was a kind of naivete that *everyone* “Western,” not just radfems, had in the ’60s and ’70s; for example, John Derbyshire has written of having had the same naivete about race. (IMO this was an unavoidable result of that society’s recent history: Any society is so good at avoiding certain kinds of mistakes that its members can forget those mistakes even exist, let alone what leads to them. Meanwhile, any society has its flaws.)

    (I’ve said this before but) ISTM radical feminism was the invention of, and tried to advocate on behalf of, people who are both geeky/nerdy and also who fit the category that today is sometimes called “cis by default.” (Especially women, of course, but men too.) Please recall that those categories, “cis by default” and “cis and really values their gender role,” did not exist back then. It’s not just that the words didn’t exist; neither did the ideas. Everyone just assumed however *they* were was how everyone was.

    Hard-core gender abolitionists were nothing more or less than cis-by-default individuals who had grown up in that society with that society’s characteristic naivetes/blind spots. Essentialists OTOH…trans activists attacked and mostly discredited both groups, but it was the essentialists they especially targeted and excised from polite society. (See also the modern reputations of Dworkin vs. Daly. This is the opposite of their reps back in the day, BTW! American culture was of course very essentialist back then.)

    When it comes to *modern* TERFs, it would be more accurate to say we believe that just as different ethnic groups have different rates of any given personality trait and these on-average differences tend to lead to cultural differences, which generally do not consist merely of the personality differences themselves but rather add exaggerations and/or complex social structures on top of them…

    …similarly, *within* each ethnic group there are often cultural differences *between* men and women, and these subcultures have memetically evolved for the same reason and to approximately the same “exaggerated” or “elaborated” extent.

    And just as you can’t fully understand an ethnic culture you were not raised in, neither can you fully understand a gender culture you were not raised in. You can try to assimilate, but assimilation is hard and will never be perfect.

    And just as you can find yourself growing up in an ethnic culture that does not fit your individual personality very well, so can the same happen with a gender culture. (And just as someone growing up in a culture that isn’t a good fit doesn’t necessarily want to pull a Michael Jackson…)

    Back in the ’70s-’90s, trans activists felt it was very important to insist that because they had “always been a $gender inside” that therefore they *were so* enculturated into that gender. Even though other people had not treated them that way. (They have since walked back that position to, “Our experience growing up constantly aware that we did not fit into the gender we were being treated as, is different from the experience of kids who do grow up feeling they fit their gender.” Which still ignores the cis-by-default but I’ll leave that aside for now.) (It’s…annoying…how they walked it back to a more-acceptable-to-us position only *after* making sure to thoroughly shut us out of polite society. Like…why bother to kick us out at all if you were just going to turn around and take our points?)

    (It would have been easier for both sides to compromise if they had had the additional language around the topic that we do today. Back then the discussion was plagued with equivocations/misunderstandings along the lines of “You’re not a ‘real $gender'” (by which the person meant “You’re not fully enculturated into the cultural part”), “Yes I am!” (by which the person meant “I do so have that gender identity”)…etc.)

    The biggest issue was with the “Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival” (shut up), which was specifically for people raised as girls–some who felt that (their ethnic group’s version of) that subculture fit them and some who did not–to discuss their growing-up experiences, as well as to brainstorm about cultural changes they might want to push for. (And listen to music. ;))

    Like…read that Sarah Hoyt link. Such a discussion is clearly extremely likely to tempt “immigrants” to constant “back home we did it this way”s. I can sympathize…but discussing *that* was not the point of the fest.

    (*And* they got violent in response to being barred from the fest. Which…does look like a culturally-based response (at least, for the ones who’d had SRS and were on hormones and still got violent it does). It kind of…confirmed our point that they were incompletely assimilated.)

    Similarly. Alice Dreger:

    To understand the vehemence of the backlash against [the two-type taxonomy of transgender], you have to understand one more thing. There’s a critical difference between autogynephilia and most other sexual orientations; Most other orientations aren’t erotically disrupted simply by being labeled. When you call a typical gay man homosexual, you’re not disturbing his sexual hopes and desires. By contrast, autogynephilia is perhaps best understood as a love that would really rather we didn’t speak its name. The ultimate eroticism of autogynephilia lies in the idea of really becoming or being a woman, not in being a natal male who desires to be a woman. … The erotic fantasy is to really be a woman. Indeed, according to a vision of transsexualism common among those transitioning from lives as privileged straight men to trans women, sex reassignment procedures are restorative rather than transformative… to call someone with armour de soi en femme an autogynephile or even a transgender woman – rather than simply a woman – is at some level to interfere with her core sexual desire. Such naming also risks questioning her core self-identity … That’s what talking openly about autogynephilia necessarily does.

    “or even a transgender woman”–exactly. Radfems were vehemently attacked just for asking for *honesty* over whether a person *had* a history of transition.

    Once the trans movement declared victory over the evil TERFs…well, I took time out from that whole mess, then I come back and all the sudden everyone’s *open and honest* about whether they have a history of transition. Once again…why bother to kick us out if…? “SMH” as the kids say.

    These days. seems that same vehement fury is expressed not at a request for honesty about being trans, but instead only at a request for honesty about being autogynephilic.

    Anyway, I suspect Dreger’s point also explains why, back in the day, the first MTF I knew acted out the part of: a TERF. Yep!

    (And was caught due to the SRS having placed the “created vagina” in front of the prostate, when a “natal vagina” is of course *behind* the g-spot–so gave bad “finding your g-spot” advice. Can’t make this stuff up.)

    This individual seems to have felt that if they had been raised as a girl / were “really a woman” then they would be a TERF. So, to continue the fantasy of “really being a woman”…

    But as I’m sure you can imagine, the TERF community was not very happy to discover that this individual had been getting an erotic thrill out of fooling us. And there’s another aspect to the objection too, which I can best express with an analogy: I don’t think a veteran would consider someone who dressed in a military uniform for sexual roleplay to be a “brother in arms.” And if the person tried to claim that they *were*…I think the veteran might react pretty negatively.

    On another, more generally feminism related note: I felt pretty sad about how my SET bro, Scott Aaronson, misunderstood Dworkin and was severely hurt by it. In the end ISTM it happened because he had very different background assumptions than did she and, I think, her whole generation, about how much a person can change their own sexuality. Her generation assumed that you can change a lot of things, and pretty easily too. His assumed that you can’t change anything, ever. Stuff she wrote with the goal of spurring people (yes, men and women both) to *choose to change their sexuality away from D/s*, Aaronson read as meaning that anyone who found themselves with a D/s sexuality *should just die or at least, neuter themselves*. She never explicitly said, “So choose to change”–within her cultural context, that went without saying. And it never occurred to Aaronson that any other interpretation than “just die” was possible–within his cultural context, none was.

    (Hypothesis: First group thought it was possible because for many, it was. Second group later took over because for many others, it wasn’t possible, and they got sick of trying and created a backlash. These days? IMO the world will not come to an end if you give it a shot *before* deciding you’re one of the about half of humanity for whom it’s not.)

    Probably ought to edit this more but…it’s late and I’m tired. Hope it’s somewhat coherent.


  3. They don’t want men at their events after having not been wanted around by any men for the first 15-20 years of their life.
    Couple this frustration with an high testosterone, and you ought to get a very aggressive response.

    The safest way not to suffer from rejection is to assure yourself it is you who are rejecting them.


  4. Here’s an interesting reddit post “Attraction and Desire – What I learned from taking estrogen and living as a girl” from a Male taking hormones. I read another post a long time ago about a Female transitioning to a male that took Male hormones. She said she was surprised how she began to become so horny and filled with lust. I didn’t save it so don’t have a link to it.


  5. I know I’m nine days late, which is an eternity on the Internet. But what can I say? I’m old-fashioned.

    “…most trans folk I’ve met have an actual medical intersex condition.”

    And isn’t that the saddest thing about the politicization of the whole trans issue? Back when trans people were ‘in the closet’, people with actual real medical conditions could undergo actual real medical treatments or therapies to have a more-or-less-normal life. And now? Not so much. There’s a huge social pressure to radicalize one way or the other.

    (On second thought; no, it’s not the saddest thing. The saddest thing is the use of transexuality as a weapon against traditional families. But it’s still a sad thing.)


  6. […] When conservatives speak of general trends among people, liberals are prone to protesting that “Not all X are like that.” For liberals, the fact that one guy might be an exception to a general trend is important enough to mention in any discussion. Liberals who want to un-gender pregnancy discussion, because “men can get pregnant, too,” are a perfect example of this. (See my previous post about TERFS.) […]


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