What Does TERF Stand For?

, Staff Writer
Updated April 22, 2022
TERF Definition With Transgender Flag Strikethrough
    TERF Definition With Transgender Flag Strikethrough
    Background: Tolchik / iStock / Getty Images Plus
    Used under Getty Images license

You may have seen the term “TERF” come up over the past few years. It has most famously been associated with J. K. Rowling, author of the beloved Harry Potter series, but she's hardly the only person given this label. Trans-exclusionary radical feminism (TERF) is on the rise, but the ideologies behind the movement aren’t as radical or feminist as they suggest.

Defining Transgender and Cisgender

A transgender (abbreviated to “trans”) person identifies as a gender that does not correspond with the anatomical sex they were assigned at birth. For example, a trans woman may have been assigned male at birth (AMAB) but now identifies as a woman.

A cisgender (abbreviated to “cis”) person identifies as the same gender they were assigned at birth. For example, a cis woman was assigned female at birth (AFAB) and identifies as a woman.


What Is a TERF?

TERF is an acronym that stands for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist.” It can be pronounced like the word “turf.” Broadly, TERFs comprise a group of people (usually cisgender women) who hold strong anti-trans views.

Radical feminism (also known as radfem) began in the 1960s and was built on ideologies that pushed inclusion and a dismantling of the patriarchy. By the 1970s, a minority group of radical feminists began pulling away from the main ideologies, specifically excluding trans women.

TERFs frequently couch their ideologies in the language of feminism. According to TERFs, trans women are actually men, and men are the ultimate oppressors. Thus, trans women are not to be trusted.

Although the idea of trans-exclusionary feminists had existed since the 1970s, the term TERF wasn’t coined until the late 2000s in a series of blog posts.


TERF Ideologies

While actual theories can vary among individuals, the main ideology of TERFs is that trans women are not women.

Gender Identity

TERFs also believe that “gender identity” is not only false and unscientific but also harmful. Ironically, most of their own ideas are unscientific or, at best, anecdotal.

TERFs believe that trans women pose a threat to cis women. In reality, statistics show that trans folks are over four times more likely to experience violent crimes.

Is TERF a Slur?

According to some, the term “TERF” itself is a slur or misogynistic.

This line of thinking is a means of deflecting. It ignores the actual problems involved with anti-trans bigotry in favor of centering oneself and claiming victimhood.

The damage inflicted by an acronym is miniscule compared to the actual, real life policies that contribute physical, mental, and financial harm to transgender people and communities.


Not on My Turf