What is a TERF? Meaning of the term explained, where did it come from – and is JK Rowling one?


A protester holding a sign reading ‘TERF don’t speak for me’ (Photo: Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

Human language is an ever-changing language, and it can be easy to be unsure of the meaning of new words and terms that make their way into common vocabulary, such as “wake up”, “gas lighting” and “cancel culture”.

One of these terms which has become widespread is that of “TERF”, in particular following Harry Potter author JK Rowling’s comments on transgender people in 2020 which saw the writer mention the topic of TERFs.

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If you’re not sure what that means or where it came from, then that’s absolutely all you need to know.

What does the term “TERF” mean?

TERF is actually an acronym that stands for: Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist.

It refers to someone who considers themselves a feminist, but does not include the rights of transgender women in their advocacy for women’s rights. Simply put, TERFs are basically anti-trans activists.

TERFs do not consider trans women as “real women” or trans men as “real men”. They generally believe that the rights of transgender people – especially trans women – are actually a danger to the rights of cisgender women.

For context, cisgender refers to a person who identifies with their sex assigned at birth.

A protester holding a sign reading ‘Trans Liberation Now’ (Photo: Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

TERFs claim that the inclusion of trans women in female-only spaces (e.g. bathrooms) poses a threat to cisgender women, often categorizing trans women as men seeking to abuse the system and harm people. women.

Many TERFs also promote their ideology under the guise of protecting lesbians and lesbian rights as well. This can be found in small but vocal groups like Get the L Out, a lesbian activism group that says it “witnesses how transactivism erases lesbians, and silences and demonizes lesbians who dare speak out”.

The Get the L Out website also states that “lesbians are attracted to the same sex”, “lesbians don’t have penises”, and “lesbians don’t want to have sex with men who identify as trans women”.

These beliefs are held despite dozens of research studies by psychologists, medical professionals and academics proving these ideas wrong.

Research has repeatedly shown that transgender people are at a much higher risk of crime than cisgender people.

A sign calling for hate speech (Photo: Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

In 2020, data from the Office for National Statistics revealed that transgender people in England and Wales were twice as likely to be victims of crime as their cisgender counterparts.

In 2021, the Williams Institute UCLA School of Law also found that “transgender people are more than four times more likely than cisgender people to experience violence, including rape, sexual assault, and aggravated or common assault.”

In 2017, the famous scientist Bill Nye addressed the subject of gender in his Netflix series Bill Nye save the world.

In it, Nye says, “Woman or man. Gay or straight. Pink or blue. We are taught to think of them as binary. Now we realize it looks more like a kaleidoscope.

He adds: “Make love. We used to think it was pretty simple. X and one Y chromosome for males, two Xs for females. But we see more combinations than that in real life. And even for people who only have two sex chromosomes, the hormones can vary wildly. Anatomy too.

He says “we need to listen to science” and that “science says we are all on a spectrum”.

Is TERF an insult?

While some proudly align themselves with the label, you may have heard others refer to the term as an insult.

Andrea Long Chu, an American writer and critic, responded to those who claim the term is an insult in an issue of N Plus One Reviewin which she wrote: “They also dislike the name TERF very much, which they take for an insult – a grievance that would be contemptible if it were not so true, in the sense that all synonyms for fanatics are intended to be defamatory”.

During the 2019 London Pride Parade, a participant holds up a sign that reads ‘The patriarchy thrives when you hate our trans sisters’ (Photo: NIKLAS HALLE’N/AFP via Getty Images)

People who would typically be called a TERF have been trying to rebrand themselves and the movement as “gender-critical” feminism, which is a term you’ll often hear in discussions of TERFs and transgender issues.

Where is he from?

An Australian writer called Viv Smythe has been fairly widely credited with coining the word, although by her own admission in an opinion piece for the Guardiansaid she suspected she was “just the first person to write it on a website that still exists”.

In the play, she says, “I wonder how many Elizabethans were already using words now attributed to Shakespeare long before he (or the Jacobean actors whose annotated transcriptions of the Folio are the earliest extant versions) incorporated them into a play. ?”

A 2008 article on his blog, Feminism 101 FAQsappears to be the earliest instance of the word Terf being used online.

Protesters hold signs during the No Ban Without Trans demonstration opposite Downing Street on April 10, 2022 in London, England. LGBTQ+ groups and supporters took to the streets to protest the UK government’s decision not to ban trans conversion therapy (Photo: Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

He arises in a message in which Smythe apologizes for posting about an event called Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which excluded trans women as festival attendees. She promises not to promote trans-exclusive feminist events in the future.

She wrote: “I am aware that this decision is likely to confront some trans-exclusive radical feminists (TERFs), but it must be said: marginalizing trans women at real risk of abuse / violence regularly documented in favor of the protection of hypothetical cis women from purely hypothetical abuse/violence by trans women in female-only safe spaces strikes me as horribly unethical and repugnant.

Is JK Rowling a TERF?

Harry Potter Author JK Rowling has been called a TERF because of her stances on transgender people which she has spoken about extensively.

She was first described as a TERF in 2019 after tweeting her support for Maya Forstater, a woman whose contract at the Center for Global Development was not renewed following tweets she made about transgender people, writing things like “men can’t turn into women”. and “it is unfair and dangerous for trans women to compete in women’s sports.”

At the time, Rowling tweeted, “Dress however you like. Call yourself what you want. Sleep with any consenting adult who has you. Live your best life in peace and security. But forcing women out of their jobs for saying sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill.

Although it caused a stir at the time, it wasn’t until a few months later that Rowling really doubled down on the subject.

Stars of the Harry Potter franchise have spoken out against JK Rowling’s comments about transgender people (Photo: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)

In June 2020, Rowling took issue with an article that used the phrase “menstruating people.”

She tweeted the article and wrote, “‘People who menstruate’. I’m sure there was a word for these people. Someone help me. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

In response to her tweet, many pointed out that menstruation is not something that is exclusively experienced by cisgender women. Twitter users have pointed out that transgender men menstruate, transgender women (and some cisgender people) do not, and other gender identities across the spectrum can also menstruate.

Clue, an app designed to track menstrual cycles, also responded to her tweet, writing, “Hi @jk_rowling, using gender neutral language is about moving beyond the idea that woman=womb. Feminists once scoffed at wanting to change sexist language, but now it’s common to say firefighter instead of fireman.

“It seems awkward right now to say ‘people who menstruate’, but that’s like changing another biased language. Menstruation is a biological function; not a ‘woman thing’. It doesn’t have to be determine the sex of body parts and this can restrict access to health care for those who need it.

His comments also prompted organizations like Clue to speak out (Photo: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Over the next few weeks and months, Rowling published a lengthy personal essay titled JK Rowling writes about her reasons for speaking out on sex and gender issues. She tweeted about the trial with the caption “TERF wars”.

In the essay, Rowling wrote, “I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I don’t want to make native girls and women less secure.

“When you open the doors to bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels like a woman – and, as I said, sex confirmation certificates can now be issued without the need to resorting to surgery or hormones – then you open the door to all men who wish to enter.

A number of studies, however, have shown that implementing non-discrimination laws, which allow transgender people to use toilets appropriate to their gender identity, has not resulted in any increase in activity. criminal.

The transgender flag is blue, pink and white (Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

The study added: “This study provides evidence that fears of an increase in security and privacy breaches due to non-discrimination laws are not empirically founded.”

Media questions also reported in 2015 that after confirming with experts and officials in 12 states and 17 school districts in the United States, there was no increase in sex crimes or inappropriate behavior after the implementation. implementation of non-discrimination laws.

His online comments drew backlash from fans, as well as other celebrities such as Harry Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, and others including Jonathan Van Ness, fellow author Margaret Atwood, Pete Davidson and more.


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