TERF/TWERF. n. (neologism/initialism) TWERF

Denotation: An acronym for for the term “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist”, or sometimes “Trans Women Exclusionary Radical Feminist”. Used to describe a sub-group of self-identifying feminists who claim that transgender people are “not really” the gender that they identify as. While not technically a pejorative term, those who use it are generally critical by the trans-exclusionary component of these individuals’ concept of feminism and womanhood.

Etymology: A term created by the transgender community to identify a subset of feminist individuals who do not recognize the identities and struggles of transgender individuals. Actual date of creation unknown. First UrbanDictionary entry for “TERF” is from 2011. No entry yet exists for “TWERF”, but both usages are common on social media websites, generally in Social Justice-centric communities.

According to one source, the term’s first usage in writing was in a 2008 article by Viv Smythe, though it was apparently coined prior to its usage in the article. The concept of trans-exclusionary feminism, however, is much older.

Transgender” (adj. and n.) Formed within English by derivation. Prefix Trans with base Gender. Of, relating to, or designating a person whose gender identity is not the same as the gender they were assigned at birth.

  • (1974) There is a tendency among trans-gender people to encourage each other. This precludes the very carefull self-analysis which must take place in everyone who is proposing to undergo this therapy. D. Cordell
  • (1990) ‘Gender Dysphoria’ ..is a blanket term covering the range of transgender phenomena. Rouge
  • (2000) I assume people know I’m transgender. Ralph

Woman” (n.) Formed within English by compounding wife and man. An adult female human being. Counterpart of ‘man’.

  • (eOE) Minutia hatte an wifmon þe on heora wisan sceolde nunne beon [L. Minucia uirgo Vestalis].tr. Orosius Hist.
  • (1589) Was there euer any so abused, so slaundered, so railed vpon, or so wickedly handeled vndeseruedly, as are we womenJ. Anger
  • (1888) He was unmarried, and a misogynist to boot. No woman willingly went near him. Mrs. H. Ward

Exclusionary” (adj.) Formed with Latin exclusiōn-em, and the suffix -ary (also derived from Latin). Of or pertaining to exclusion; characterized by exclusion.

  • (1817) Note well the persons to whom, in this instance, the exclusionary force is in an immediate way applied. J. Bentham
  • (2004) The in-group/out-group distinction is an important part of the explanation of exclusionary behavior, but so is xenophobia. Bradley A. Thayer
  • (2010) There’s little doubt that Vaughan is tapping into a popular interest that’s a world away from the exclusionary, highbrow stereotype of the art snob. The Age

Radical” (adj. and n.) A borrowing from Latin radicalis. (Original form denotes a change or action: going to the root or origin; touching upon or affecting what is essential and fundamental). Later definitions mean advocating thorough or far-reaching social and political reform.

Examples of earlier meaning:

  • (1751) Desirous to fit men to his purpose by complete and radical corruption. Johnson
  • (1976) The system needs a radical overhaul. Glasgow Herald

More contemporary usage (arguably that invoked by TERF):

  • (1820) Kings and laurelled Emperors, Radical butchers. Shelley
  • (1912) While one element is growing more radical another is growing more conservative and the breach between the Independents and the other Labourites is widening. W. E. Walling
  • (2007) I want to explore in some detail this radicalagenda..by exploring the trouble that radical sexual politics can cause. J. Weeksterf-venn-diagram

Feminist” (adj. and n.) A borrowing from Latin femina combined with the suffix -ist. Of, relating to, or advocating the rights and equality of women. An advocate or supporter of the rights of women.

  • (1897) If all husbands were sent to gaol for trivial assaults on their wives, there would not be enough prisons to contain them. Yet this is exactly what our Feminists are aiming at. Social-Democrat
  • (1976) Men (when not being intimidated by puritanical feminists) are at worst only ‘insensitive to women’s rights’. Mother Jones
  • (2008) We still call ourselves feminists and insist—vehemently, even—that we’re independent and self-sufficient. Atlantic Monthly

Sociolectical Information: This term is used primarily by online social justice communities, generally those pertaining to feminist and/or LGBT issues. It is almost always used by those critical of the ideology denoted by the term. Little to no people (that this blogger has seen) actually self-identify as TWERFs or TERFs.

TERFs/TWERFs can be identified by their attitude towards transgender individuals, in that they do not acknowledge trans people’s gender identities and often try to exclude them from feminist spaces. The “W” denoting women in “TWERF” is there in acknowledgement of the fact that it is almost always transgender women who receive the majority of criticism from these people.

Transgender women are commonly accused of being men trying to invade the safe spaces of (cisgender) women, and are often deliberately misgendered. transphobia

The erasure of transgender issues is a common phenomenon, especially those of transgender women (who face both misogyny and transphobia) from feminist spaces. Transgender men are often dismissed as “butch lesbians”, especially if they have relationships with women.

Penis = Men and Vagina = Women is also a commonly touted phrase by TERFs, though it should be noted that it is usually done deliberately, and with some knowledge of transgender people. (This dichotomy is also often used by people less familiar with transgender issues, and is usually not used with any real intent to harm).

Survival Predictions: I think that this term will last for a while, though with the progression of feminist discourse it may fade away in time. It definitely has current relevance – while transgender issues are among the most prominent in today’s social discourse, many people lack a clear understanding of what being transgender is, and may find it easy to justify the exclusion of transgender people from feminist spaces.

Also, the fairly prominent association between womanhood and vaginas (from what can arguably called the second-wave of U.S. feminism from the sixties onward) is retained in some of the older members of the contemporary feminist movement and may contribute to TERF ideology among older feminists. (Though it should be clarified that this is certainly not a homogenous ideology and has more to do with the generational divide between various feminist issues than out of deliberate transphobia).

Hopefully, as people become more aware and understanding of transgender issues, the stigma surrounding them will lessen, and we will no longer need a term for something that no longer exists. That being said, every feminist movement has been extremely diverse in ideology, and it is unlikely that this will change – opinions and visions of feminism will never be uniform, and no one can be certain of which ideas will rise or fall.  transmisogyny


I think this is a fairly useful and relevant term, especially in the context of feminist discourse. It acknowledges the discrimination that transgender people – transgender women in particular – face in what should be a safe and nurturing community. It can also serve as a warning for trans people to avoid certain blogs or individuals that might potentially misgender or verbally abuse them.

This in mind, I think that this term is a sign that better education on transgender identities is needed. I think a lot of transphobia and transmisogyny is propogated by people who do not understand the issues surrounding cis and transgender identities – especially by young teenagers, who are just discovering feminist spaces and are only just begun learning about LGBT issues. “Dragging” (the act of calling someone out on social media; can range from making online, public accusations to revealing personal information) a person who makes an unwittingly ignorant comment is a common phenomenon, and often occurs to children who genuinely did not know better. Education can prevent ignorance and exclusion.

Academic Consultation: Professor Bettina Judd, of both the Africana and the Gender & Women’s Studies departments at William & Mary, was consulted about her thoughts about this term and its relevance in today’s society. Quotations may not be perfect, as they are extracted from notes taken during this interview.

Question 1: Have you heard of this term?

Yes – specifically in reference of a certain subset of feminists. People were originally only using “radical feminist” to refer to [TERFs], which was a misnomer. The creation of this term was likely necessary in order to disconnect radical feminism from trans exclusion.

Question 2: Do you consider this term to be relevant and/or necessary in today’s feminist circles?

Yes. There are still group of feminists who consider themselves “radical” but are trans-exclusionary from “non-radical” concepts of gender. There is a role that the legacy of lesbian separatism plays in the ideology targeted by this term (mainly in there being an essential idea of what it means to be a woman). Also, as mentioned before, trans-exclusionary feminism equating to radical feminism is absolutely false. Differentiating between the two is important.

Question 3: Do you think that this term will last?

This term is used mainly in social justice contexts, primarily those in online spaces. At this juncture, it’s difficult to defend ideologies of trans-exclusionary groups, because in academic feminist settings (while there is space for critiquing our concepts of gender) there is no intellectual feminist way to exclude transgender women. As concepts of gender change, terms like this (as well as terms like DMAB and DFAB) will likely become obsolete – though they are important terms to have for today’s current exploration of gender and identities.

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