TERF is an acronym that stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. The acronym is used as a noun, pronounced like “turf.”
While that acronym might make it sound like it describes a technical and complex thing, it’s actually pretty simple.
TERFs are characterized by the transphobic belief that transgender women are not really women. They tend to view transgender women as a threat to women, instead of seeing them as a demographic of women that deserve support and inclusion. They often advocate to label transgender women as “men,” and to exclude them from women’s spaces and activities. This often leaves trans women with nowhere to belong, because men’s spaces are for men, and they’re simply not men.
Needless to say, these views are very hurtful to the well-being of trans women.
These beliefs come out of fear and misunderstanding of transgender people. Most folks who hold TERF beliefs don’t know any transgender women, or at the very least, if they do know any, they don’t recognize them as women or treat them with dignity.
There are many valid fears that can mislead people into TERF beliefs, which is what makes dealing with them so tricky. Many women have been assaulted and abused by men—and just about all women know a woman who was assaulted or abused by a man. Cisgender women who don’t understand trans people sometimes have a knee-jerk reaction to trans women because of their own traumas and fears about anyone they think is a man. Instead of seeing who transgender women really are—women—they spread fear that transgender women are men who are trying to invade women’s spaces and make them less safe for women.
But truly, trans women are an extremely vulnerable group of women who deserve protection and care, and who deserve to get to live as the women they are. This requires the support of other women to recognize and include them, not to ostracize them, like TERF beliefs would require.
Similarly to the label “truscum,” TERF isn’t a slur. While many people who hold TERF beliefs don’t realize there’s a label for those beliefs, it’s not uncommon for people with TERF beliefs to self-identify with that label.
The bottom line of all this is to remember that transgender women are women, just as much as cisgender women are women. And all women deserve to be loved and included.
I think it’s pretty hard to argue with that.