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TERFs in the Stacks: A Critical Weeding Inquiry

This guide was created by two graduate assistants, Easton Brundage and Josh van Biema, to address the presence of trans-exclusionary materials in the Barnard Library circulating collection.

TERFs in the Stacks

About the project:

  • This project was the result of the Library's Spring 2024 Critical LIS Practice Assistantship to address Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF) materials in Barnard's circulating collections.
  • Through conversations with Barnard librarians as well as WGSS librarians at other institutions, we decided to shift our focus away from traditional weeding approaches towards creative interventions.
  • Our hope for this LibGuide is to advance the Library's mission of creating an inclusive community while also protecting the freedom of students to engage critically with the ongoing lineages of TERFism and trans-led resistance to it.

About the researchers:

  • Easton (he/they) earned his Master of Science in Library and Information Sciences at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Spring 2024. His research interest centers on student success and improving accessibility and inclusion in library spaces. 
  • Josh (he/him) is a current Master of Library Science student CUNY Queens College.

Intro to TERFs

“TERF” stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism (or Feminist) and it is a specific type of transphobia.

  • It can be difficult to identify TERFs because they don’t always call themselves TERFs. Many call themselves “gender critical” or their ideology “sex-based feminist"

TERF Arguments

TERF arguments tend to fall under the following themes:

  • Trans Femininity as an invasion of Women’s Spaces

    • Trans women (often perceived as heterosexual men) having access to women’s spaces—such as changing rooms, bathrooms, domestic violence and abuse shelters, prisons, and sports—poses a threat to cis women’s safety and well-being

  • Trans Femininity as an invasion of Women’s Bodies

    • Trans women's gender expression, particularly gender-affirming surgery but also through clothes and makeup, is an appropriation of cis womanhood

  • Trans Masculinity as Self-Hatred

    • Trans men (often perceived as lesbians) internalize misogyny (often called sex-based discrimination), which causes them to reject womanhood and pursue transition

In other words, “The core characteristics of TERFs are a conservative, binary, essentialist conception of sex as the be-all-end-all, and a deep hatred for trans women, couched in the language of feminism and feminist theory” (Eyre-Morgan, 2022). 

Spotting TERFs

This list was developed by Cambridge to help people recognize TERF bias for web sources. It is a useful criteria for searching for TERF materials and understanding some of the trends in their organizing. These will not be true for every source, but they can help you get started on some common themes.

Signs of a Terf infographic with the bullet points: TERFs often self-refer as “gender critical” or “adult human female.” They refer to believing in “sex-based rights”, “LGB rights”, and “protecting women and girls.” They refer to trans people as “TRAs” (Trans Rights Activists), “the trans lobby”, “the trans debate”, and to trans women as “TIMs” (Trans Identified Males). They typically dislike the term cis(gender), and may say “I don’t have a gender identity” or “I don’t have pronouns.” TERFs will refer to issue of trans people in bathrooms or changing rooms as being about “predators” and co-opt the language of sexual violence to refer to trans people existing in public spaces. Their narratives represent transmasculine people as confused, redeemable, and often as children and teenagers “corrupted” by the “trans lobby”, and transfeminine people as predatory, aggressive, and the ones doing the corrupting.

Source: How to spot TERF ideology, Milo Eyre-Morgan, 2022, Cambridge SU, pg 3,