What It Means To Be An 'Incel'

Why thousands of angry young men identify as "involuntarily celibate."

incel surrounded by women M-SUR / shutterstock

If you don't yet know the definition of an "incel," you were probably far from alone — until Alek Minassian allegedly drove a rental van into a crowd of people in Toronto back in 2018, killing 10 and injuring at least 14 others.

His victims were primarily women, a fact that, given his self-declared status as an Incel, should not be at all surprising.

Just prior to the Toronto attack, Minassian posted this seemingly cryptic message on Facebook:


“Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161. The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”

Alek Minassian Facebook post

That message is only mysterious, however, if you are not yet educated about incels.


What is an incel?

Incels are an underground online community of men who identify themselves as "involuntarily celibate": involuntary because, from their perspective, the only reason they are celibate is that no woman in the world ever is willing to have sex with them.

RELATED: What Is A 'Stacy'? How Incels Use Slang To Describe Certain Women

Incels are men who refer to themselves as being involuntarily celibate — i.e., unable to attract romantic and/or sexual partners due to a lack of either wealth or genetically inherited good looks.


From their perspective, all men can be categorized into one of two groups — "incels" or "Chads."Chads, they explain, are "what incels are not: Charismatic, tall, good-looking, confident, muscular. [They] can be perceived as good or bad. It's a meme mostly."

In addition to these two foundational labels, incels have created their own insider language of sorts, and while the exact terms used vary to an extent between subgroups on different websites and apps, they have developed a wealth of established glossaries and cheat sheets to help newcomers to their clan become acclimated to life as an incel.

According to the "Rules, Terminology and FAQs" section on Incels.co, the forum they moved to after various bans:

"The following definitions avoid subjective terms (physical appearance for example) to separate users neatly.


Incel (Allowed): Person who is not in a relationship nor has had sex in a significant amount of time, despite numerous attempts.

Truecel (Allowed): Type of incel who hasn't ever had sex or been in a relationship, despite numerous attempts.

Mentalcel (Allowed): Type of incel whose reason for failure in relationships/sex is related to mental illness or major insecurities. [1]

Volcel (Allowed): Person who, for various reasons, is abstinent and does not engage in sex. [1]

Blackpilled (Conditional): Person who is none of the above but has a blackpilled mentality. [1]

Female (Not Allowed): Banned on sight, no exceptions.

Fakecel (Not Allowed): Person who claims to be incel but has recently had sex or been in a relationship.


[1] Bragging of any sort, including humble-bragging, will constitute a heavy warning or ban. Keep your successful romantic and sexual experiences to yourself, even if they happened a long time ago."

Origin of the Term 'Incel'

The term "incel" wasn't created for hate, but was created out of love.

The term was first used on a website created by a university student living in Toronto named Alana. "Alana's Involuntary Celibacy Project" was where she could go to discuss her sexual inactivity, and how it made her feel, with others who felt the same way and to provide support.

Then in 1997, Alana began a mailing list on her website that used the abbreviation INVCEL, which was later shortened to "incel," for "anybody of any gender who was lonely, had never had sex, or who hadn't had a relationship in a long time."


She later sold her website to a stranger in 2000 after she stopped visiting it.

In an interview with BBC News in 2018, Alana said of her project, "It definitely wasn't a bunch of guys blaming women for their problems. That's a pretty sad version of this phenomenon that's happening today. Things have changed in the last 20 years."

The darkest aspects of this community are rooted in the "black pill" ideology.

Many Incels hold firmly to the so-called "black pill" ideology, essentially a more extreme version of the "red pill" ideology, which suggests women are attracted to men who are considered "genetically superior."

As explained on Incels.co:

"The Redpill is an ideology based on trying to win the game that is seduction and interactions in general, implying there are a set of rules and methods that one can use to maximize their odds, almost methodically with enough practice.


The Blackpill is the ideology that the game is rigged from the start, that being attractive is far more important than personality or techniques. It can be extended to the idea that there is little to no benefit in playing at all if you were dealt a bad hand in terms of appearence [sic].

The Bluepill is what the red and black aren't; the ideology that 'what's inside' is what counts, and that being yourself is the best way to conduct yourself in life."

People who adhere to the black pill school of thought believe they have seen the true nature of reality, and that in doing so they've learned that life is simply stacked against them.


They believe they have no chance of ever attracting a woman because women are designed by nature to reject them, and because there is no fighting any of this, they must accept the "truth" that they will never have the experience of enjoying a loving, long-term relationship.

RELATED: Disturbing Details About The Incel Community And Their Warped View Of The World

Incels first surfaced on Reddit via the now-banned subreddit r/Incels sometime around 2014.

Despite that ban, which took effect in 2017, the incel presence online is far from having been eradicated. And it isn't one any of us should ignore or dismiss.

As we're all too aware, the Internet provides a home for anyone and everyone.


It doesn't matter what you look like. It doesn't matter what your interests are. It doesn't matter what you believe. If you are a human being in search of a community full of like-minded individuals to call your own, you can find one online.

This is one reason the Internet is so rich and wonderful, and, of course, it's also part of the reason the Internet remains a truly frightening place.

Because for every community of jolly film lovers out there, there's sure to be a counter-community bent on inciting anger, hate speech, and far, far worse.

And you may be surprised to know that when Reddit, a site known for priding itself on connecting people with any and all communities they seek, did shut down r/Incels, which by then had become one of their most popular subreddits. The reason had nothing to do with the collective's frequent and unabashed threats of violence against women.


If the subreddit was so popular, provided a community for people who need one, and their talk of raping and murdering women didn't seem to bother the Reddit powers that be, why was it closed?


What happened to the original subreddit r/Incels?

The r/Incels subreddit began at some point around 2014 as an off-shoot of another subreddit, r/foreveralone. Though it has since been shut down by Reddit, for approximately five years this forum provided a safe space where incels could share their most painful stories about romantic rejection by women.

The subreddit became increasingly well known for presenting views of women many found offensive at best, misogynistic, and disturbing at worst. Posts with titles like, "reasons why women are the embodiment of true evil" and “proof that girls are nothing but trash that use men” began making the rounds, and were brought to the attention of the folks behind the scenes at Reddit.

In 2017, a petition calling for r/incels to be banned for inciting violence against women began to circulate, citing increasingly violent posts about women — or as incels call them, "femoids" and "Stacies" — including threads advocating for rape.


The last straw for Reddit, however, actually had nothing to do with violence against women. To the contrary, r/Incels was shut down for good following the creation of a post titled, "My roommate is suicide fuel," in which the original male poster complained about his male roommate, who had a girlfriend and of whom he said, "He is a better human being than me in every way."

The advice he received from his fellow incels? Why, castrate the man, of course!

r/incels post

Now, rape threats are one thing, but to threaten another male with castration? That Reddit could not and would not stand for.


Away they went.

reddit incel ban

RELATED: The Unexpectedly Horrifying Meaning Behind "Pepe The Frog"

Incels remain active on Reddit regardless of the ban.

While the original r/Incels group was banned, several other subreddits have become a home for the approximately 40,000 men who were displaced in the process. Some are obvious and easy to find, while others are not.


One of the less obvious subreddit homes to these men is called r/truerateme. This purports to be a forum where men and women can get an honest rating of their looks, but many suspect it to be an incel-led project.

What's worse, one redditor shared the following on r/IncelTears:

"Truerateme have another public social platform chatroom Discord where they do not hold back and attack people's appearances. On there, people (INCLUDING the truerateme mods) participate in extreme bullying that involves encouraging suicide, racism, doxxing and posting insecure females.


Every single person who has posted on truerateme (especially females) gets brought up on the chat and targeted on there. More specifically, females get targeted and humiliated. Even those who haven't ever publicly posted their own pics get doxxed too.

One of many examples: morphing people's photos, posting instagram links, trolling. Over 10+ different females have personally told me that r/truerateme have stolen their photos from their Facebook or Instagram and posted on that sub or Discord posing as them."

Additionally, subreddits like r/Braincels cropped up "to be a fresh, creative environment for involuntary celibates to hang out and partake in fulfilling conversation." And while that subreddit has also been banned, it's hard to imagine others won't appear over time as well.

Incels found what they believed to be a safe haven in places like 4chan, 8chan and Discord, as well as on their own forum.

Men dedicated to the incel cause insist that they will not be deterred from telling their story.


In addition to Reddit and Incels.co, groups of incels pop up like wild mushrooms on the infamous home of everything dregs-of-the-Earth, i.e., 4chan, as well as on the increasingly popular app Discord, originally designed for gamers, but quickly running neck-and-neck against 4chan in the race to collect all of the worst people ever born.

As stated by a YouTuber known as Glink:

"The incel community has been ostracized by the internet, they are a collection of involuntarily celibate men who are often frustrated with life, women, and the lack of companionship. This video chronicles their various communities, websites, well known figures, and weird occurrences within them."

As of April 24 2018, the group had been removed from Discord and was quickly scrambling to find a new, more secure home, possibly on the controversial message board, 8chan.


As they are banned from one site, they simply move to another, making them harder to track and more firmly entrenched in their ideological beliefs.

Examples of Incel-Related Violence

Aside from praising the rape and killing of "Stacies" and "Chads," incels have taken part in acts of violence and terrorism for years.

Chris Harper-Mercer killed 10 people, including himself, in the Umpqua Community College shooting on October 1, 2015 — the deadliest mass shooting in Oregon to date. Harper-Mercer shot an assistant professor and eight students in a classroom, as well as injured eight others.

Jake Davison murdered 5 people, including his own mother and a three-year-old child in August 2021, the deadliest attack in England since 2010. Before the shootings, Davison had uploaded videos to YouTube that echoed incel ideology. “Let’s say I get with a woman my age... She’s had a million relationships. Likely been destroyed and broken and torn apart by a f***ing chad," he said in one video.


Perhaps the most "well known" incel is Elliot Rodger. In 2014, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger (the man to whom Minassian gave praise) shot and killed 6 people and injured 14 others at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) in Isla Vista, CA, before shooting himself dead in his car. Rodger's crime made national news, and when it was learned that he identified as an incel, attention on the group intensified.

RELATED: I Joined A Popular Incel Forum — What They Really Think Of Women

Rebecca Jane Stokes is a freelance writer and the former Senior Editor of Pop Culture at Newsweek with a passion for lifestyle, geek news, and true crime.