Is There a TERF at Your Thanksgiving Gathering?

A trans-exclusionary radical feminist, or TERF, comes in many forms. We'll help you identify one and how to engage.

[Photo: A digital illustration of a person sitting in front of a desktop computer for Thanksgiving dinner. On the computer screen is a video chat happening between multiple people.]
You bear no obligation to sit quietly and politely as someone spews hatred simply because it’s the holidays and you’re supposed to get along like family. Shutterstock

Thanksgiving is going to look different this year. Amid a global pandemic, many of us are choosing to stay safe by avoiding the usual gatherings with family and friends.

But pandemic or no pandemic—the holidays are often fraught. And whether you are already isolating with family or celebrating with them remotely, some of the same trials and tribulations that typically plague obligatory get-togethers are bound to come up.

At Rewire News Group, we hope you’re able to safely enjoy the holiday away from toxic relatives, but we also know that might not be possible. Toxic relatives come in many forms: the Trump supporter, the devil’s advocate, the COVID-19 denier.

There’s also the TERF: the trans-exclusionary radical feminist.

So what can you do if there’s a TERF at your Thanksgiving table (virtual or IRL)?

What is a TERF?

TERFs are transphobes who wrongly believe transgender women are not women, and they think feminists shouldn’t include trans women in their advocacy. But the reality is that trans women are women, and you cannot separate feminism from advocacy for trans rights. Feminism that does not include trans people is just bigotry dressed up to look like something else.

TERFs can be men or women. And like your garden-variety familial bigots, TERFs come in different strains: there are the trans panic TERFs, the scaremongering about gender-affirming care for young people TERFs, the Twitter troll TERFs, the prominent writer TERFs who think being called a transphobe is a violation of the First Amendment—the list goes on.

Sometimes TERFyness is loud and obnoxious in its bigotry, tweeting away about how trans women are dangerous and letting them privately pee in a stall next to a cis women is akin to letting Ted Bundy into a women’s locker room—truly unhinged stuff. You’ll often find TERFs on Twitter yelling about young people’s genitals or some other completely invasive and inappropriate thing that would have them banished from Earth if it was about young cis people. Sometimes, though, TERFs are a little more insidious in their approach, as they scaremonger about women’s rights and children’s safety—cloaking obviously bigoted viewpoints in false concerns about the welfare of women and children.

But make no mistake. A TERF is a TERF is a TERF—whether they’re transparent about their motives and bigotry, or whether they’re stoking fears about violence and discrimination to make their overt hatred for trans people seem well intentioned. It is not.

What you can do

So what can you do if there’s a TERF at your Thanksgiving table? We’ve got some ideas.

Throw the turkey at them. If you do not have the upper-body strength to throw the turkey, you can opt for something slightly easier to lift like a handful of mashed potatoes or some stuffing. A pie also works, and offers an added comedic effect.

If you do not want to turn your Thanksgiving dinner into a food fight, you can consider a more passive (or passive agressive) approach. Ignoring them works; so does repeating everything they say back to them in a mocking tone. Think: What would your most annoying little cousin do?

You need not feel obligated to entertain a bigot with reasoned debate, but if you want to, it helps to have some talking points handy. Like—the gender binary isn’t real. And violent men can actually just walk into women’s bathrooms whenever they want, irrespective of whether we allow trans women to pee in peace there. You can also talk about how gender-affirming care is necessary and lifesaving treatment, and trans people should be entitled to it the same way you’re entitled to your colonoscopy, Aunt Karen. And you can explain to your relatives that whether or not someone has medically transitioned, and regardless of how they look, their gender is still valid.


If you’ve got a TERF in your holiday midst, you have a couple options. You can engage; you can ignore; or you can, as we’ve stated, launch assorted foods across the table until they retreat. What you do not have to do is make yourself feel unsafe or uncomfortable in order to entertain their bigotry. You also bear no obligation to sit quietly and politely as someone spews hatred simply because it’s the holidays and you’re supposed to get along like family—whatever that means.