AP Stylebook decision to turf “TERF” angers many

by Fred Kuhr

The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook has turfed the acronym “TERF,” angering some who see it as a bigoted and anti-trans move.

In June, the AP posted a message on Twitter stating it had updated its style guide regarding words and phrases related to the transgender community. It recommended publications no longer use the term “TERF,” which stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist, as well as the phrase “gender-critical.”

“Avoid the vague and politicized terms trans-exclusionary radical feminist or its acronym, TERF, and gender-critical to describe cisgender women or others who object to the inclusion of transgender women in women’s spaces,” the update reads. “Instead, be specific about a person’s or group’s objections, and paraphrase quotations that use the terms unless needed for a compelling reason.”

“TERF” refers to women who considered themselves feminists, but do not consider trans women to be women and do not support trans rights. Many women who hold this view objected to the term — which was coined by trans activist Viv Smythe in 2008 — calling it a slur. They then adopted the phrase “gender-critical” for themselves.

Freelance journalist Katelyn Burns

Reaction on Twitter was clearly mixed, with some on the right going so far as to demand the AP make the same recommendation for the word “cisgender.” But others accused the AP of trying to appeal to anti-trans readers.

Journalist Katelyn Burns, who is trans, tweeted: “They created the term ‘gender critical’ for themselves to replace ‘TERF’ and now you’re saying that using either is politically incorrect. That’s pathetic. Maybe people find their ideology repulsive and that, not the words, are why people don’t like them.”

Writer and professor Roxane Gay called the AP’s recommendations, “Absolute BS.”

Writing on Jezebel, journalist Laura Bassett wrote, “Considering that trans people are under siege right now and fighting for their literal right to exist, it’s quite a time to decide you should step up and protect the feelings of the cis women who hate them.”

While many LGBTQ publications don’t rely solely on the AP Stylebook, it is used as a basis for their own in-house style guides when it comes to grammar rules and how to spell certain proper nouns. (For example, is the president of Ukraine’s last name spelled “Zelensky” or “Zelenskyy”?) Even though AP style is largely considered progressive on LGBTQ issues — it accepted the singular “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun in 2017 — it is not always in sync with LGBTQ publications and the communities they serve, leading editors and publishers to create their own style guides.

Volume 25
Issue 4

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