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noun Disparaging.
trans-exclusionary radical feminist: an advocate of radical feminism who believes that a trans woman’s gender identity is not legitimate and who is hostile to the inclusion of trans people and gender-diverse people in the feminist movement.
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Origin of TERF

Coined in 2008 by Viv Smythe, Australian feminist, writer, and blogger, as “a deliberately technically neutral description”
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does TERF mean?

TERF is an acronym for “trans-exclusionary radical feminism” or “trans-exclusionary radical feminist.”

Where did the term TERF come from?

TERF is used to describe cisgender women who self-identify as feminist but who are opposed to including transgender women in spaces they reserve for people who were assigned female at birth. This is because they believe trans women are men and since men cannot coexist with their feminist ideologies, they exclude them from their beliefs and support. In fact, they often believe they should be denied rights and sometimes advocate for harm against trans people.

In use online since at least 2008, TERF has different connotations, depending on who is using it. Those who use it to describe others note that it’s descriptive in nature and not insulting. But, well-known feminists who have been labeled TERF on the internet have come out to call the term a slur, because it is associated with violence and hatred.

In June 2020, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling was notably labeled a TERF after she posted tweets that many saw as anti-trans; Rowling defended herself from criticism, arguing that denying biological sex is misogynistic.

How to use the term TERF

TERF is often used by transgender advocates and has largely replaced usage of the phrase RadFem to describe this particular sector of women.

The phrase punch a TERF is often used on social media, particularly on Twitter. Trans advocates use the term to dismiss TERFs and their unsupportive statements and beliefs about trans people. However, the use of phrases like this has led to actual violence.

More examples of TERF:

“While some people who are called a TERF say the word is derogatory, LGBTQ advocates say those who hold such views deny transgender people their full humanity and go against what the medical community today has accepted as scientific fact around gender and sex.”
—Ryan W. Miller and Hannah Yasharoff, USA Today, June 9, 2020


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.