Words to Reject: TERF

Many radical feminists (if you’ll temporarily excuse the phrase) have “reclaimed” this word. But you can’t reclaim a word that was never yours. This word was coined by our opponents and gives too much credit to the entire flawed framework within which it arose (more on that here). The word confuses bystanders. It makes us look fringe. It associates us with rumors of hate and violence, which third parties may not know whether or not to believe. But perhaps most importantly, it’s simply inaccurate.

To see why, let’s look at each part of this acronym (which, as you probably know, stands for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist”).

Trans – The existence of the word “trans” in this acronym gives away our power right out of the gate. We are feminists: people who care about the rights of females. We aren’t defined by our relationship to trans people any more than we are defined by our relationship to sharks.

The word “trans” here also implies that we hold some position or other in relation to all trans people and only trans people. But the contentious position is a position about males. It isn’t a position about trans people as such.

As the oppressed class (females), we have opinions about the oppressor class (males). Our opinions about males (cross-dressed and otherwise) are different from those we hold about females (cross-dressed and otherwise). The “quarrel” (for lack of a better word) that led to the coining of this term is one started by entitled males, not by female-born trans people. So-called “trans-exclusive” events (like Michfest) exclude male people, not trans people.

Exclusionary – The word “exclusionary” implies, by design, that we are guarding the door to something just to be mean. But if the something is womanhood, then it’s not radical feminists who are denying access; it’s biology and reality. And if the something is a women’s festival, then it’s denied to all men (not just the cross-dressing ones) and usually open to all women (including the cross-dressing ones). And most of us don’t run women’s festivals, anyway, so most of us aren’t in the position to exclude anyone from them. Nor do women, on balance, hold the kind of power in business or politics or public life to deny other things to men. So we are not denying anyone access to anything.

The word “exclusionary” itself is additionally problematic, apart from whether or not it can be used to describe us. The word “exclusionary,” as opposed to the more common English word “exclusive,” is associated with the rhetoric of transgender ideology. And we concede too much ground when we play on our opponents’ playing field. “Exclusionary,” by design, has a negative connotation. “Exclusive” has a positive connotation. If I have an exclusive meeting with my friends, no one’s going to fault me for that. But if I have an “exclusionary” one, suddenly I’m being a jerk. It’s illegitimate to imply, via this odd form of a common term, that there’s something nefarious about holding events for specific people with specific interests.

It is not bad or “exclusionary” to hold (for example) a feminist meetup without inviting male people. We don’t say someone’s being “friend-exclusionary” when they go to a family gathering or “family-exclusionary” when they go to a work gathering.

Radical Feminist – “Radical” feminist, as opposed to just feminist, is a marked word. By using it we concede that we’re a weird faction of feminists instead of simply feminists. But feminism is still feminism even if some have bastardized it and marched for opposing causes under its name.

We should not give up the word “feminist” to fake feminists any more than we should give up the word “woman” to fake women.

Additionally, “radical,” though it means “root” in this context, is read by many as “extreme.” That connotation can confuse third parties who’ve heard rumors associating us with hate and violence, which they may legitimately be unsure whether or not to believe. More on why we should reject the phrase “radical feminist” here.

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