What is a TERF/SWERF?

*note this is a working document and is posted here for the purposes of community awareness and education

Up to Date on Hate: Trans antagonism & TERFs

A primer for hate-group education in Vancouver, BC

** This document contains a strong trigger warning for discussions of trans antagonism and visual examples of TERF attacks **

Table of Contents

  1. Who is At Risk?
  2. Glossary of Terms
  3. About TERFS
  4. TERF Language, Phrases & Slang
  5. How to Spot a TERF
  6. What are Their Tactics?
  7. What Have They Done?
  8. We Have TERFs in Vancouver
  9. How to Deal With TERFs
  10. If You Suspect Your Child is Falling in Line with TERFs

1. Who is At Risk?

This guide is intended to help adults working with young people, caregivers, and parents navigate the political sphere of trans antagonism, and those who harbour hatred of trans people. In this situation, we are looking at two target demographics.

Trans youth within the school system

It should be obvious that our number one priority be the safety and inclusion of trans youth in the schooling system and in our city as a whole. Protecting trans youth from the underhanded tactics of TERFs means being aware of the history and the methods that TERFs use to get their work done.

Potential TERF converts

Just like neonazis, white supremacists, Islamophobes and incels, TERFs are a group that are actively recruiting. They seek out young, confused, frustrated youth with the promise of inclusion and power, not unlike gang recruitment. TERF ideology is a fringe group of extremists that should be treated like any other dangerous and effective hate group. They are not always at the forefront of the news cycle, but they have existed in our city and they are growing in numbers and influence.

TERFs will try to recruit

  • Young cisgender girls, as young as 13, though there really is no age limit to indoctrination
  • Cis girls who identify as feminists, but feel like transgender people have “taken the spotlight” from cisgender women and their struggles under patriarchy
  • Cis girls who are struggling with masculine, tomboy or butch identity, but do not identify as trans
  • Cisgender lesbians who struggle with the idea of being attracted to a trans woman, or who fear that her attraction may make her “less lesbian” or “secretly straight”
  • Any young, angry, disempowered and vulnerable cisgender girl who is searching for community and acceptance.

2. Glossary of Terms

(don’t worry, you’ll see a lot of these later in context)

One of the difficulties of making a document like this is just how fast the internet changes. Words and slang terms come in and out of fashion faster than ever these days. This is a non-academic attempt to provide informal information that is as up-to-date as possible.

MAAB / AMAB / DMAB – Male Assigned At Birth / Assigned Male At Birth / Designated Male At Birth – the gender that doctors / parents give their child when born

FAAB / AFAB / DFAB – Female Assigned At Birth / Assigned Female At Birth / Designated Female At Birth – the gender that doctors / parents give their child when born

Trans / Being transgender / A trans person / TG – A person who does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. TG is short for TransGender and is used for brevity in places like Twitter with limited characters.

Note: trans is an adjective, like “happy” or “brunette”. It is not a verb or noun. It is incorrect to say “she is transgendered” or “those transgenders”.

The verb form is “transition” as in, “She began her transition last year”.

Dysphoria – The feeling of being out of alignment with one’s assigned gender. This can range from mild discomfort to daily pain and trauma.

Cis / Cisgender / A cis person – “cis” is a Latin word meaning “on the same side as”. A cis person is someone who identifies as, and is comfortable with the gender identity they were assigned at birth. Someone who is not transgender.

Cisnormative / Cisnormativity – The societal idea that cisgender people are “normal” and that transgender people are outliers. Our society enforces cisnormativity and oppresses transgender people under transphobia.

Non-binary / A non-binary person / NB or “Enby” – A person who identifies as neither male nor female, no matter which gender they were assigned at birth. Some people seek medical transition such as hormones or surgery, but some do not, instead choosing to express being non-binary through social choices like clothing and haircuts. Nonbinary people often prefer neutral pronouns (they/them) though sometimes they are ok with gendered pronouns.

Bi-gender (BG) / Genderfluid (GF) / Genderqueer (GQ) / Gender Non-conforming (GNC) / Agender (AG) – All have slightly different specific meanings, but fall under a general umbrella. Someone who identifies as having aspects of more than one gender, experiences gender fluidly, or not at all. They express gender outside the singular binary of cis male and cis female. Some may seek surgery or hormones to transition to a body they feel comfortable with, but some do not and express themselves socially, such as with clothing or haircuts.

Two-Spirit / 2 Spirit / 2S – This is a label for first nations people, recognising original cultural values and practices distinct from the western colonial model of gender and sexuality.

Trans antagonism / Transphobe / Transphobia – A person who is hateful, hostile to, or discriminatory towards transgender people. The word “phobe” implies fear, but it it well known that transphobes operate on the basis of hate and prejudice. (Using phobia is ableist as it minimizes people who experience actual phobia.)

Deadnaming – Referring to a trans person by the name they were assigned at birth and no longer use.

Misgendering – Using the wrong pronouns and addresses for a trans person. Accidental misgendering is not usually a huge faux-pas if the person who is corrected quickly changes to the correct pronouns. However, TERFs will go out of their way to deliberately deadname and misgender a trans person in order to cause social and emotional damage.

T.E.R.F. – This is an acronym that stands for Trans (Exclusionary, Excluding Erasing, Eradicating, Exterminating) Radical Feminist. It can also stand for Trans Excluding Reactionary Feminist, reflective of the fact that not all TERFs are necessarily radical feminists, but they are conservative reactionaries trying to push back social progress.

S.W.E.R.F. – An acronym that stands for Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist.

Radical Feminist / Radfem – While not every single radical feminist is a TERF, many of them are, and TERF beliefs stem from the core ideas of radical feminism. Radical feminists believe that gender is not “real” and therefore gender identity is not real. It stems from this logic that someone cannot be transgender because according to radical feminism, the sex you were assigned at birth determines your gender and cannot be changed.

3. About TERFs

A Long History Made Very Short

During the 60s and 70s, we had both the sexual revolution and the second wave feminist movement. During these times, two things happened:

  • The formation of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual communities to push for political and social acceptance
  • Feminists started discussing ideas of gender and patriarchy, and how women are oppressed in our society

Out of both of these movements, radical feminism formed. It was the idea that gender is not inherent when a child is born, but rather is taught through a lifetime. Women are taught to be passive, submissive and emotional because of the society they are raised in. Radical feminism was the idea that we should aim for a society without gender or gender norms.


Another view of radical feminism is that gender is a social construction, is not real, and that biological sex is the only thing that is “real”. This is the root issue in regard to why most radical feminists are also trans exclusionary: they think the sex you were assigned at birth determines your gender. So for radical feminists you are a woman if and only if you are an “adult human female” i.e. someone who, under normal developmental circumstances, would have ovaries capable of producing large gametes aka eggs. And vice versa for men being males who produced sperm.

From this foundation, everything else springs. Because radical feminists don’t believe gender is “really” real, they don’t believe gender identity is real either. All that exists is sex and gender is simply a cultural construction built upon the foundation of biological sex. And so they don’t think trans people are even capable of existing. A trans woman is really just a very feminine man. And a trans man is really just a very masculine woman. And nonbinary people are just confused people following social trends. That’s their taxonomy in a nutshell.

These are people, mostly cisgender women (though some cis men participate in the ideology and attacks), who have adopted the view that the only definition of a woman is a strictly biological one, essentially tied to chromosomes and the genitals one is born with.

  • TERFs believe that trans women are predatory men who are trying to invade women’s spaces like bathrooms, changerooms, women’s talk groups, etc.
  • TERFs believe that trans women are sexually predatory men who are trying to deceive and rape cisgender lesbians
  • TERFs believe that transgender men are actually confused women / lesbians who are suffering from self-hatred and internalized misogyny.
  • Much like religious homophobes, TERFs believe that “innocent children” will be harmed by accepting or interacting with regular trans people going about their lives.
  • TERFs believe that cisgender people are not privileged by cisnormativity / transgender people are not oppressed by transphobia and that transphobia does not exist

TERFs are adept at co-opting the language of progressive feminism in order to push an incredibly regressive and hateful agenda. They understand the core ideas of feminism and patriarchy, but turn their efforts toward excluding and harassing trans women instead of making the world safer and more welcoming for all women.

4. TERF Language, Phrases & Slang

While someone who uses one of these terms may not necessarily be a TERF, these are pretty good litmus tests to see if they are used multiple times in a person’s language.

Gender-Critical” – This is a slang term that TERFs have adopted in order to fly under the radar. TERFs know that the acronym has a negative connotation in popular culture, and therefore do not like being labelled as such. They will often use dog-whistle language in order to spread their beliefs, even if they refuse to use the TERF label for themselves.

Womyn” / “Womben” / “Womxxn” – Radical Feminist slang for cis women, specifically designed to exclude trans women. (note how in womyn, the “e” has been removed because “women aren’t men”)

LGB” “Old school lesbo” – Trying to reframe the LGBTQ+ community without the “T”

Goldstar” / “Gold star lesbian” – A cis woman who has never had sex with someone who has a penis. (it does not matter if that person identifies as male, or as a trans woman)


XX” or “XX woman” – framing identity around chromosomes

Biological woman” – similar to above, erasing gender and focusing around chromosomes and sex

TIM” – Short for “Trans Identified Male” an offensive and incorrect way TERFs refer to trans women.

TRA” / “TRAs” Short for “Trans Rights Activist”. Basically, a trans person who is speaking up for their right to exist. This acronym is used derisively by TERFs to equate Mens Rights Activists (MRAs) with trans people.

Using “female” more than “women” – this is often done to make their arguments sound more scientific than they actually are, and an attempt to further exclude trans women from dialogue.

Peak Trans” – The idea in TERF circles that society has gone too far in trying to be accepting of trans and gender non-conforming people. TERFs usually call things “peak trans” or share social media posts about regular trans people going about their lives or speaking up for their fundamental rights.

5. How to Spot a TERF


being gay is not a choice

TERF actions / memes

women only sticker

This is a fake sticker made by TERFs in scotland and posted on the door of bathrooms in the train station. It is not government sanctioned, but instead designed to confuse and deter trans people from feeling safe using the washrooms of their choice.


grumpy old dykes

A group photo of TERFs from Vancouver, Victoria & elsewhere right before disrupting the 2018 Vancouver Dyke March.

6. What Are Their Tactics?

Fishing / Trawling / Baiting – A TERF will go on the search for transgender people on social media, and try to drop small hints of engagement in order to drag trans people into arguments. If a trans person responds, they will record their conversations in screenshots and share within TERF circles. This is done under the guise of “debate” while being bad-faith attacks on trans people’s existence.

Doxxing – TERFS will sSearch the internet deeply for someone’s real-life personal information online, such as their real name, home address, phone number, employer, family members, etc and publishing it in order to draw unwanted attention and harassment to their target.

Dogpiling / Brigading / Swarming – When a TERF gathers others and they all gang up on a person online. This can be through various social media outlets like twitter, facebook, tumblr or youtube.TERFs rarely act alone. It is crucial to TERF effectiveness that they find as many allies and converts as possible. A TERF targeted attack will make sure they have the numerical advantage before they target a trans individual or organization.


Sockpuppeting – If there are not enough gang allies present to effectively deliver an attack, the same people can use multiple fake “sockpuppet” accounts all operated by the same person in order to make it seem like there are more participants than there actually are.

sock puppeting.jpg

This is a fake sockpuppet account created by a troll in order to make queer and trans people  seem less credible. Note the extreme number of unique and complex labels that are designed to make bigots look like the “reasonable” side.

Flip the Script – When accused of being hateful or exclusionary, TERFs will fight back, accusing their target of being homophobic or misogynist. They will try to make the discussion about how you are making the feminist or LGB community harmful to “real” (cis) women, instead of them being hateful to trans women.

False Flagging – TERFs will often abuse content flagging systems online and report anything posted by a trans person or in support of trans people as “harassing” or “sexually explicit content” in the hopes of getting the content demonetized from advertisements, removed, or have the user banned.

Sea Lioning – This term comes from a Wondermark comic: http://wondermark.com/1k62/
It refers to someone who “plays dumb” and constantly demands academic explanations, definitions, sources and references, all for the sake of “debate” or “discussion”. The purpose of this tactic is not to have a fair discussion, but instead to demand the energy and resources of the opponent in bad faith, such that they become exhausted by the efforts of trying to “prove” their own existence or human rights.

sea lioning

Boiling a Frog – This comes from the saying “If you place a frog into a pot of hot water, it will jump out. But if you place a frog into cold water, and then slowly raise the temperature, it will boil to death trying to adjust”.

When in recruitment mode, TERFs, like white supremacists and misogynists, can come across as friendly, charismatic and funny. They post memes and jokes, and “edgy” humour in order to desensitize young readers to the language and content they are trying to share. They will not start out with the most extreme and vile hatred, but once they feel like they have a convert, they will ramp up the extremity slowly and carefully so as not to make their targets aware that they are being indoctrinated into hatred.

boiling a frog

The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend – If a TERF cannot find enough allies or support, they will team up with other bigoted people to get their deeds done. TERFs will ally with the religious right-wing, white supremacists, Men’s Rights Advocates (Misogynists) in order to attack trans people.

dr rad fem

Venice “Dr. Radfem” Allan aka Magdalen Berns BFF, an ex-labour party member, supporting David Davies, a homophobic conservative politician.

7. What Have They Done?

TERF activity can range from merely being rude towards trans people, to extreme physical and verbal harassment and violence. TERFs have been the direct and indirect cause of many deaths in the trans community. All TERF actions of transphobia, no matter how small or insignificant, should be seen as actions of hate.

  • Will deliberately misgender trans people at any opportunity
  • Will out transgender people to family or employers
  • Have organized and pushed for anti-transgender legislation on local, provincial and federal levels
  • Seek to weaken or remove existing protections for trans people and gender identity as a whole
  • Have created fake documents or signage in order to confuse the public as to what real laws regarding trans protections are
  • Work to prevent trans people having access to healthcare and transition
  • Trying to frame the terms “Cis” and “TERF” as hate speech
  • See minors who are transitioning as child abuse
  • Harass and doxx trans people online

For more information: https://www.transadvocate.com/you-might-be-a-terf-if_n_10226.htm

8. We Have TERFs in Vancouver

  1. Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution
  2. Grumpy Old Dykes, Lesbian Collective of Vancouver, West Coast Womyn (Victoria-based)
  3. Vancouver Rape Relief
  4. Feminist Current
  5. Vancouver Women’s Library (now defunct)

9. How to Deal with TERFs

Talking about TERFs

OP is a TERF” – The person who Originally Posted the message (blog post or tweet) is a terf. This is a call to delete the post, even if it seems innocuous or politically correct, and to block the person you are re-posting it from. It is important to delete and block even innocuous and non-political tweets and posts from TERFs, because this is often how they try to get their name and message out into the public sphere. By denying them a voice and platform, we reduce the harm they can achieve.

Receipts” – Shorthand, meaning proof of someone’s online actions.

“Is that person a TERF? Show me the receipts” meaning that someone is asking for proof, via blog posts, screenshots or tweets that someone else has said or done something transphobic.

Blocklist” – A list of usernames of people to block en masse. If enough people block a TERF from social media, their message does not reach as far.


Online: Block, block, block! On all social media platforms, immediately block known TERFs and do not give them a platform to speak. If your child runs a blog and finds that a TERF is following them in order to try to gain their trust, instruct your child to block them without contacting them.

Do not engage with TERFs and Radfems. It is incredibly draining to your energy, and you will not change their mind. Many of the strategies of TERFs are to play dumb and endlessly ask for more and more citations and statistics to “prove” that the suffering teh trans people experience is real. This is a disingenuous tactic designed to wear an opponent out until they are too exhausted to keep going. Then the TERF goes straight back to hate mongering.

The best way to stop a TERF is to block a TERF.

Report: If the website you are on has administration that understand hate groups and hate speech, you can try to have the TERF removed from the platform. This is not always possible, as many social media sites are too large to actively monitor their content, and administrators are not always adept at understanding social justice issues. But it is still a possible option.

In Person: This is much more difficult, especially if the person is someone you must interact with, like a co-worker.

Stone Cold – Interact as minimally as possible. Let them know through your body language that you are not their ally, and you will not put up with their hate.

Allyship – If there are trans people that you work with, let them know that you stand in solidarity with them, and that there is a known TERF in your midst. Form social bonds that show the TERF that they are in the minority and are unwelcome.

Education: Allies cannot be formed, and action cannot be taken if we don’t recognise hate where it exists. TERFs go to great lengths to hide their hatred from the average person because they know they can get away with it when working from the shadows. Spread knowledge of what a TERF is to those who wish to be accepting of transgender people.

TERF is not feminism. TERF is not lesbianism. TERF is hatred and bigotry.

10. If You Suspect Your Child is Falling in Line with TERFs

It’s important to be involved in your child’s life, and understand why they would get swept up in hate groups. In a difficult world where it often seems like everyone is against you, hate groups can offer the illusion of comfort, solidarity and belonging to insecure teens.

We already live in a society that tries to pit minority groups against one another under the false pretense that there are simply not enough resources to go around (there are) and that we must stamp each other down in order to raise ourselves up (we don’t). It is important to stand alongside one another

Do not invade your child’s privacy! (reading their blog, demanding to see their phone) This will only drive them to more secrecy, and push them right into the hands of their more “trusted” hate group peers.

Instead, try asking your child about their political views. Ask how they feel about transgender people in Vancouver and at their school. Chances are, they’re willing to be pretty honest with you already. If they use any of the coded language you see above, chances are they might be targeted by TERFs.

If your child admits to hateful beliefs and interacting with the community online, it may be time for a temporary vacation from internet connectivity. Most TERFs connect online, and without access to the community, your child can de-escalate from indoctrination.

There are many resources for LGBTQ+ youth here in Vancouver, and it may benefit your child to attend an in-person support group so that they feel involved in a connected community and do not need to lean on hate in order to feel accepted and loved for who they are.

Did my actions drive my child to this hate group?

While it is important for parents and adults working around children to monitor their own behaviour and assess whether you are giving off signals that hate of any kind is permissible, in many cases, children can get sucked into the world of hate group ideology quite accidentally. We live in an era of fake news and Russian manipulation of the facts. Sites like Youtube and Tumblr have automated content recommendation algorithms that will promote hate speech and extremist ideology without ever having to search for it.

You can do nothing, and the hate will still come for you.

The painful truth is, you cannot monitor your child 100% on the internet, nor should you. Children deserve the freedom and privacy to explore and develop themselves in new ways and discover who they are.

What’s best is to guide your child to developing empathy for those not like them, and giving them the tools to detect hate and refuse it when it comes knocking on your door.

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