Gender/Politics Language Discussion

It’s news to me that “TERF” is considered a pejorative these days. I always felt it was a fairly neutral and accurate acronym.

Wikipedia to the rescue!

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I’m sorry but I can’t see how it’s in any way a neutral term in the slightest. And I say that with respect to anyone aiding in trans-rights.

It’s used whenever folk just happen to disagree with whoever uses it at the time, and some people are labelled as a terf by one trans activist and not by another.

It’s a horrid term in my opinion, has no real definition but has a very sharp social jab to it at the same time. Once labelled it can be quite troublesome for someone and they may have no idea why it would be the case.

Sure there are very obvious transphobic people, and there is a term for that - transphobic. But most people labelled a terf that I have witnessed are mostly neutral on the matter and might have said one thing that one trans activist disagreed with.

Heck at the recent trans-pride parade in London one group had banners saying if you weren’t with them 100% you’re 100% a terf. It’s dangerous territory to me and doesn’t aid the trans rights movement in any way.


As the Wikipedia page Simon quotes says, that’s how it was coined (I checked the sources too, and also double-checked by doing a Google search of my own that).

I suspect that, like me, Simon may have been around and involved in discussions when those with what are now described as ‘gender critical’ views were not only accepting, but proudly using the label.

It was only later down the line, when those who were criticised for their views realised that they could pivot to victimhood by disavowing the label and recasting it as a slur, and accusing those using it of being bullies.

On one level, it’s a powerful demonstration on how the meaning of a word can shift dramatically at the drop of a hat (or rather, because a large group has got behind driving this shift). On another level, it’s a disappointing development because taking what was a neutral word and making it negative has decreased the space available for neutral discussion.

You say:

But guess what? The same people who call ‘TERF’ a slur also call the ‘transphobic’ label a slur.

There are probably three cases describing the use of the TERF label from the position of the person using it:

(1) when it is used in the original meaning, towards a radical feminist who has expressed trans-exclusionary views.
(2) when it is used towards a person who has expressed trans-exclusionary views, regardless of if they are (identifiably) a radical feminist or not
(3) as a slur

It’s not always immediately obvious which group any particular use might fall into. A knee-jerk straight to ‘TERF’ might seem to indicate 3, but there may be history and past discussion between the parties involved which would reveal it actually comes from 1 or 2.

It’s frustrating, I have to say one again, to have a neutral term twisted, and I have increasingly tried to be careful about using it myself as a result. I never want to seem to use it as 3, I want to try and avoid 2, and aim to as much as possible only use it as 1; that it, where someone is presenting themselves as feminist and yet consistently expressing anti-trans views. Key word highlighted there.

Pride is protest, and protest will have inflammatory slogans. In many cases, the intent is to make people think more about their actions by pushing the envelope to extremes. Do I agree with this particular banner as the level of the wording? No. Do I agree with the sentiment behind it? I can understand it. Do I agree with their right to have used such banners. Absolutely.

See also: ACAB; All Cops Are Bastards. It’s both an aggressive phrase, but also not always meant to be taken literally as it is intended as an attack on the system, not on individual cops.

Ultimately 99% of the trans rights movement is simply people who want to live their own authentic lives in peace, and they’re not going out to attack people but defending themselves from people whose starting position is “You should not be allowed to exist in this world.” The former is a positive movement, the latter negative.


Appreciate your views, but I am going to bow out on this discussion. It’s too easy to get wrapped up in semantics and it has too much of a toxic air of debate for me. There’s no clear definitions and I’ve been burned before, won’t be making that mistake again.

I don’t think my opinion on ‘terf’ as a term has changed, so it’s up there for all to see. I don’t like it, and find it not useful in promotion of trans-rights, of which I believe in.


Likewise. And as you’ve said your piece and I’ve said mine, I understand the bowing out - not every discussion needs to be a drawn-out back-and-forth, after all.

Absolutely understand your stance here; I was less setting out to change your views and more simply presenting a counterpoint.


I also appreciate the discussion. My confusion was certainly around having been aware through friends many years ago of radical feminists who did indeed use the term to describe their own views. Obviously at that time they surely were not slurring themselves!

It certainly seems that perhaps through a combination of allies using it a bit too broadly, and the idea of it being deemed abusive becoming useful to the anti-trans folks, the meaning has shifted.

The culture wars are definitely exhausting - I have huge empathy for trans folk who have to deal with it everyday, when the vast majority are simply trying to live their lives in peace.

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Did they? Normally the radical feminists describe themselves as gender critical rather than trans exclusionary. At any rate, its major social use now has dropped the ‘radical feminist’ part altogether. Calling someone a terf just seems to mean ‘transphobic’

I actually really hate the looseness of language around it. The fact it doesn’t mean anything specific at all means it can be thrown around easily and clearly once thrown isn’t meant to be thought about, challenged or discussed. The overall aim of using ‘terf’ is not to accurately define someone’s views, but to label them as ‘someone on the other side of the divide who we don’t agree with’.


To be clear, we are talking over a decade ago! But that is my recollection as I hadn’t even heard the term before that back then.


Absolutely, and in the same vein as ‘woke’.

Incidentally, ‘woke’ was being used as long ago as the 1930s. An old blues number about the dangers of black people travelling through southern US states advised them to “stay woke” at all times.


Yes. The term was coined back in 2008, and the ‘gender critical’ label came later after it had been decided that ‘TERF’ was a slur and an alternative was needed. So both statements are true: many years ago, the term was used neutrally including as a self-identifier; now the term is not used as a self-identifier and seen as a slur.

I may be coming at things at a slightly different angle from you, but I do agree with this. It reminds me of how ‘literally’ used to mean ‘literally’ but then after years of shows like the X-Factor where people were ‘literally dying right now’ it now also means ‘metaphorically’, which means it has literally lost all meaning. :sob:


I hate this one, because even now I’m used to it, and know what it’s used for, it takes me a few extra seconds to process it and I have to really think about it. And of course having been around people for so long using it, you start to pick it up yourself to fit in.

It tends to be an exaggeration or emphasis word I’ve noticed, and so that’s how I’ve adapted it too. Doesn’t come naturally to me though, so when I use it in that way it’s an intentional choice rather than subconscious.

It’s strange how language works in that sense, because it’s all just a human invented construct that we assign meaning to. So I don’t understand why I struggle with them. But it is what it is.

As for terf, it’s still a relatively new term to me (I’ve seen it many times over the years, but only recently learned what it is), and based on how I’ve seen it used, I largely agree with the others above in that it’s used as your #3. Woke is probably a good comparison. For me, it more resembles how [a word that is not allowed to be used on here] was thrown towards those who were suspected to be gay back in my youth. My only direct experience with terf’s use is some random person on Xbox calling me it for playing Hogwarts Legacy.


This one really gets me. The fact it’s now been updated so it’s correct to use it to say things such as “I’m literally dying” etc.

Being old school, I always use it in its original context and when others don’t I have to process whether they are using it as I do or in the new way.

Damn English language evolving over time…

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:wave: Hey all, just creating a new thread for this discussion (previously in Monzo the media)

As always, please keep things civil and in line with our Code of Conduct. We know this is a particularly sensitive issue, and while we allow conversations about these topics, we’ll step in if we see the rules being broken.


I wasn’t going to reply to this as it was off topic but now that @cookywook has kindly split the topic off I will!

That’s not exactly how language is I feel. On a very philosophical level. Language is meaning. You can’t think in logical patterns without language. Whether language is definable as a construct - I could write about 15 more paragraphs on that but I’d conclude it isn’t, only because you need language in the first place to think about or define what a construct is.


Thanks for doing this, I think this could be an interesting thread. Hopefully some good discourse while remaining civil.

It’s not something I know an awful lot about, but that’s how language feels to me inherently. I get your point though, and you’re probably right too.

Honestly, if you have the time, and you want to, I’d very interested in reading some of those other 15 paragraphs! :sweat_smile:

It’s always been something I’ve wanted to grasp a better understanding, if only to better figure how my own brain seems to work.

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In general, I think people have become really bad at listening and understanding opinions and viewpoints that aren’t 100% identical to their own. I’m at uni and I’ve seen it so many times where someone disagrees slightly about something and is called a terf, or transphobe, or whatever you want to call it.

People have concerns and questions about the impact that things like self-ID would have on everyone else. Some concerns are fair, some aren’t. Either way, dismissing and ignoring their concerns by calling them a terf and not discussing anything isn’t how society can progress. We need discussions to understand stuff better. People aren’t going to understand what transgender people go through if no one is willing to discuss anything, which means progression isn’t going to happen.

It isn’t just to do with this either. Saw it with the riots in America after George Floyds’ death and destroying the statues here. If you aren’t 100% for it, then you must be a racist. It seems everyone is obsessed with creating a false dichotomy where if you aren’t 100% agreeing with someone, then you must be 100% against them, when this simply isn’t the case.


Maybe one day! Although I would caveat I’m proposing a specific and somewhat contentious philosophical position.

My favourite book on something similar is ‘kripke’s Wittgenstein’s skeptic’. It doesn’t really need any prior philosophy knowledge to read and it will make your head spin somewhat, but it’s a very interesting analysis of a specific skeptical position on language that has somewhat worrying implications :joy:

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In general I’m OK with language evolving, it always has and always will, but in this instance we’ve no other word which means ‘literally.’ The closest I can think of is verbatim.


This use (or misuse) of ‘literally’ has been going on for literally centuries. This article has some examples: