The land of ambiguity

Ok. It’s too late for this (but then it probably always was), because there are a lot of people just hell-bent on spotting a TERF in the bushes and not changing their view no matter what; the well is thoroughly poisoned and is going to stay that way. The poisoner oolon, who went to Pharyngula to work up the troops against me yesterday, is one such; that dude wants scalps, period.

But there are, I’m told, people who are just plain hurt and upset, especially trans people, and I don’t want to hurt people. Therefore I’ll try to clarify what I meant by refusing to answer yes or no.

(It’s like Bill Clinton and “is” – that was treated as a joke, but there actually is more than one meaning to “is.” Rumsfeld and his unknown unknowns were also treated as a joke, but he too was quite right – it’s only a pity he didn’t take the unknown unknowns a lot more seriously.)

There’s a difference, for instance, between an ontological is and a political is.

The more I think about the ontology of gender, the less I think I understand it. It’s slippery. That makes it impossible to answer yes/no questions about it.

But politically? Do you mean, will I take trans people’s word for it? Will I use their right names and pronouns? Of course I will. Do I want to make them jump through hoops to prove something to me? Of course not.

Do I get that trans people are severely marginalized, and have to jump through kinds of hoops I have no idea of? Hell yes.

I have thoughts and questions about gender, broadly speaking; gender as it affects all of us, and women in particular. I don’t think those thoughts are transphobic.

Jenora Feuer’s new guest post on the subject is illuminating, I think. Read it in tandem with this.

Guest post: We’re not trying to draw bright line boundaries at all

Originally a comment by Jenora Feuer on We’re going to end up putting feminist intellectual history through its own extinction event.

I can’t comprehend what it means to “know that you are male/female,” because I don’t particularly “feel” my gender.

Me either.

There was a comment at We Hunted the Mammoth a few weeks back (I commented on it here before) where someone said that they had found two different groups of people who really didn’t ‘get’ trans issues intuitively. One was the group of people who strongly identified with their gender, assumed everybody else was like that, and therefore that anybody who didn’t identify with their gender was wrong in some way. The other was the group of people who don’t strongly identify with any gender at all, and don’t really understand what it’s like to have a strong identity, particularly one that doesn’t match your physical body. Both of these groups have the same apparent problem on the outside, but completely different ways of getting there, and need different approaches. Especially since the first group is often personally invested in the concept of a gender binary, while the second group will consider the binary to be a default assumption if they haven’t thought about it, but they don’t really care about it to the same extent.

I get the impression most of the original TERF types were in the first group, or at least certainly acting like it: they were being explicit gatekeepers to the concept of ‘being a woman’, drawing boundaries, and in general acting like a mirror image of the problem they were ostensibly fighting against. But a lot of the people here I’ve seen here (including myself) are in the second group; we may make mistakes, but we’re not trying to draw bright line boundaries at all and don’t really intuitively grasp why other people are. Which often puts us on the wrong side of a lot of different lines that other people DO insist on, just because we don’t necessarily see them.

Guest post: We’re going to end up putting feminist intellectual history through its own extinction event

Originally a comment by A surprise to many on The art of the question.

What the hell is so difficult about a yes-and-no answer to the “trans women are women” question? For some, perhaps even most, purposes, yes, absolutely. For other purposes (women’s reproductive health, family policy, FGM), no.

This is no different from any other socially constructed group identity. Is Barack Obama African American? Yes. And no. Is the Nigerian immigrant who runs the pizza place near my job? Yes. And no. Is someone with a Jewish father a Jew? Yes. And no. Are messianic Jews Jewish? Yes. And no.

Am I a woman? Yes. And no. Even though I was identified female at birth and have gestated and lactated, there are ways in which I do not feel particularly comfortable being labeled “woman” and in which some people would classify me as not-a-woman. Being a woman is a social identity grounded in part, but only in part, on physical characteristics. It’s not a you-are-or-you-aren’t category. [Read more…]

In some photos there is a shackle on one of her limbs

Ashley Ford interviewed Nona Faustine for Elle.

Nona Faustine’s photographs are blowing up on Facebook and no one is more surprised than her. Born and raised in Brooklyn, with a distinct city accent, her tone is as light as her work is somber. In the “White Shoes” photo series, Faustine appears in the places where African slaves were bought, sold, and traded in 1620’s New York City. Her expression is solemn, in some photos there is a shackle on one of her limbs, and aside from her shoes, she is completely naked.

Go to the article to see some of the pictures. I saw the first one on Twitter a few days ago; it’s very powerful.

I like to think that every piece of art has an inciting incident, some happening or realization that plants the seed of its own creation. What would you say was the inciting incident for your “White Shoes” series?

I always wanted to make a really powerful piece of work, and there are things you carry with you throughout your life: ideas, incidents, and history. The story of my life is a family impacted by the fact that I had a great-grandmother who was an enslaved African, and my mother grew up with her. She told [my mother] all the stories of her life. Then there was me, being a born and bred New Yorker, discovering the African Burial Ground and realizing there was slavery here in this city. [Read more…]

Comment-liking crime

Ew. Now they’re monitoring what comments I like on Facebook, and blabbing about them on Twitter. It’s exactly like the slimers – they too obsessively monitor every word of mine that they can get access to. It’s creepy and disgusting and loathsome.


Where’s the brain bleach.

Guest post: Back in fundie-land

Originally a comment by A Masked Avenger on The art of the question.

M. A. Melby @11:

As a recovering fundie, I can tell you that there’s only one answer to a question that ends with, “…yes or no?”, and that’s “Fuck you.”

Lawyers get to say “…yes or no?” because you’re compelled by the court to answer. You’ll go to jail for contempt if you don’t. And you’ll face contempt if you answer a yes/no question with a question, or a long answer, or a non-response. [Unfortunately] the lawyer is allowed to make such demands, because they are empowered to compel a response, and to punish you for your refusal. [Read more…]

Guest post: Submission

Originally a comment by Blondin on An overzealous state trooper.

The cop did a u-turn and covered a lot of ground to catch up with Ms Bland. From her point of view I think she did what most people would do if they saw a cop car charging up behind them. Just that aspect of the story looks suspiciously like a despicable tactic. Anyone who gets out of his way but fails to signal gets pulled over, either because he has a quota to fill, because he’s a loathsome bully who gets a kick out of antagonizing the powerless, or maybe a bit of both. [Read more…]

The art of the question

Wikipedia entry: Loaded question.

A loaded question or complex question fallacy is a question which contains a controversial or unjustified assumption (e.g., a presumption of guilt).[1]

Aside from being an informal fallacy depending on usage, such questions may be used as a rhetoricaltool: the question attempts to limit direct replies to be those that serve the questioner’s agenda.[2]

President Bill Clinton, the moderator in a town meeting discussing the topic “Race In America”, in response to a participant argument that the issue was not affirmative action but “racial preferences” asked the participant a loaded question: “Do you favor the United States Army abolishing the affirmative-action program that produced Colin Powell? Yes or no?” [8]

[Read more…]

Did you do your homework?

I got a long condescending mansplaining email from James Billingham today telling me how terrible and telling it is that I refused to answer a question that demanded a yes or no response, and how extremely simple and uncontentious it should be to answer the question with a “yes” end of story.

That claim betrays an unfamiliarity with thinking.

Thinking just doesn’t work like that. If you can answer yes or no, there’s precious little to think about. Yes or no is for simple factual questions, or practical plan-making questions. Is the light on? Did you get milk? Are you ready to go? Did you feed the cat? [Read more…]

Guest post: He’s thinking of leaving policing

Originally a comment by sambarge on An overzealous state trooper.

The mentality isn’t that you can’t back down. It’s that you can’t escalate needlessly. As you mention, you negotiate or talk. You don’t have to be a social worker but you have to be a human being. You don’t demand something of a person that you don’t have a very good reason for demanding. Because officers are armed and empowered to use force on their own judgment, they have to be of the very best judgment. That is not what we have now.

In short, I agree with everything you’ve said.

I was discussing the Bland case with a good police officer (one who believes he serves the public) and he recounted a story of a welfare call on a pregnant woman who had been involved in a dispute. They were checking in to make sure she was okay because she had fallen during the disturbance/dispute and left the scene before they arrived. She wasn’t happy to see them and told them to “f*ck off.” His partner wanted to push past her and search her house. Why? Because she was rude and she swore at them. The good officer (and the senior in this case) pointed out that there was no law that said people had to be polite to police officers. She’s pregnant, she’s just had a shitty day and of course she’s going to be rude. But he could see her the next day on the street and she’d be friendly and smiling. He had to physically restrain his partner from tackling a pregnant woman half his size because she wasn’t nice to him. I mean.

Too few officers have his approach to it though. And, the result is that POC are paying the ultimate price while white folks wonder at what’s going on.

Perhaps not surprisingly, he’s thinking of leaving policing.