Dog whistle terminology

Just as dog whistles make sounds that are audible to dogs but are too high for human ears to detect, a dog whistle term or phrase is one that uses coded language to convey an ideological message to those “in the know” while sounding reasonable or unexceptional to everyone else. As with any hate-based movements, TERFs often use dog whistles to cloak their hatred of trans people in language designed to make their concerns sound reasonable.

  • Gender critical: a term preferred by many TERFs. However, their own definition of the gender critical movement as one “opposed to the ideology put forth by modern trans activists, especially the theory of gender identity or the medical affirmation model of treating gender dysphoria” shows that their only agenda is hatred of trans people.
  • Natal woman / biological woman / the sexed body: TERFs refuse to use the term cisgender, because they believe they are normal and trans people are abnormal.
  • Sex is real / the importance of biological sex / woman as a biological class: arguments that inaccurately represent the science of human biology to argue for the exclusion of trans women.
  • Trans-identified / you can identify as anything you like: phrases designed to sound welcoming while referencing their belief that trans gender identity is a dangerous delusion.
  • Protect (women’s spaces / single-sex spaces / single-gender spaces): appeals to the common practice of establishing safe spaces for marginalized groups while also referencing the belief that trans women are violent sexual predators.
  • Woman is not a costume: cloaks transphobia in the language of social justice by echoing the “culture is not a costume” campaign against racist Halloween costumes.
  • Rapid onset gender dysphoria: gives a medical-sounding name to the idea that trans people are harming children by indoctrinating them with “trans ideology” online.
  • LGB or GLB / Same-sex attracted: Uses slight variations on familiar terminology to sound 2SLGBTQ+ inclusive while tacitly referencing their rejection of trans and non-binary people.
  • Trans activists / trans lobby: a way to describe any trans person who objects to advocacy against the rights of trans people as a radical or extremist.
  • Pro-Lesbian / Pro-woman: a way to describe dedication to campaigning against the human rights of trans people as a positive form of activism.
  • Queer is a slur: an appeal to the violent origin of the term queer that ignores its reclamation as a way to silence non-binary people and people whose orientations can’t be described using other existing language. This phrase is used to police people who self-describe as queer when they talk about their lived experience of gender and sexuality.