Nearly twenty years ago, when I was a sixteen year old wide-eyed innocent who believed the human race is generally good, I was victimized by someone’s lies. I told the story on this blog in hopes of achieving some measure of catharsis for myself, and providing real support to others for whom the same sort of lie had damaged their lives. However, I recognized later that the reason I got off so easy actually meant many people who were really hurt would never see justice, and that this was a problem with society that I would have traded more personal pain to see righted.
Today, someone who ostensibly agrees with me on the existence of the overarching problem with society threw those lies back in my face, attacking me because I disagreed with her that transgender folks should be protected from her attacks, in an effort to poison my Google search results for my name. That someone is Cathy Brennan. And she’s in totally appropriate company in the attempt at poisoning my search results — the same slander is also posted on A Voice For Men.
To catch everyone up a little less obliquely: when I was 16, my girlfriend accused me of rape. No, “accused” is too strong — she started a rumour that I’d raped her. This caused me considerable emotional distress that lingers to this day, but helped to inform me about the actuality of rape. Years and years later, I’m a blogger on the internet, and I am willing to fight the rape culture that I see around me — one where people can rape with impunity, and nobody seems to take rape accusations seriously at all.
Then the skeptical community undergoes something of a sea change where people who otherwise are skeptical of religion, of pseudoscience, and of shoddy economics, suddenly realizes it has a gigantic blind spot when it comes to treatment of women, uncritical acceptance of societally-enforced gender roles, and other aspects of life that to this point they have not examined. A culture wherein Good Old Boys in the so-called “upper echelons” of skeptical society turns out to have had whisper-nets built up warning others about their misdeeds for a very long time; wherein it turns out some have been likely treating the community as a sexual smorgasbord. Specific allegations are brought forth against specific “top men”, and the community — long simmering with rage over the merest possibility that “guys, don’t do that” is an acceptable thing for a woman to say about cold-propositioning drunk women in elevators in the wee hours of the morning in foreign countries — is rent asunder by the possibility that a series of multiply-corroborated accounts of sexual assault might actually have happened, despite the lack of evidence sufficient to put the person responsible in jail.
I back up the people bringing forth these accusations, explaining that I have sufficient reason to believe nobody involved is lying, especially considering how much social cost bringing forward an accusation of rape actually has. I explain the social cost — the thing that saved me when I was accused was a long-standing erosion of trust and an unfortunate aspect of the story that was easily disproven. The social costs for me had been to that point enormous, but the social costs to her were returned tenfold in that moment.
I further recognized that in my escaping more dire repercussions like, say, actually encountering law enforcement at any point, meant that actual rape was going unpunished. The lies that victimized me meant real victims were being doubly victimized! Stories recounted by victims on the internet, like EEB’s story of her being brutally assaulted by a stranger but being disbelieved by the police, crystallized me on the point that I benefited from rape culture directly, and strengthened my resolve to combat it and right some serious injustices that were being perpetrated in trade for my own comfort. For every one case like mine, there were potentially hundreds of rape cases where the rapists walked.
So I continued blogging about it, supporting rape survivors and questioning rape culture, to the point where I attracted the attention of the Manosphere, and A Voice For Men took it upon themselves to begin the destruction of my reputation via claiming that because I was accused of rape, I must be a rapist “by feminism’s own logic”, since in their mind, feminism claims that anyone accused of rape must be a rapist. They splashed my name across the front page of their site as being an admitted rapist.
Never mind, of course, that I know damn well that false rape accusations happen, and that the problem is rape isn’t generally even investigated. The “Men’s Rights Movement”, Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) who were once mistreated by a woman in perhaps a manner similar to my own, or who once played fast-and-loose with consent and got accused of rape as a result (but obviously nothing happened to their lives since they’re ever present on the internet to complain about their raw deal!) but grabbed that same cover story to protect themselves, have been polarized to fight against rape accusations where rational people might instead fight rape or rape apologetics. They do this as though rape accusations — the only injustice they’ve ever encountered in their hyper-privileged lives — are literally the only actual problems facing society today. They rally together to fight the Great Feminist Cabals that, in their minds’ eye, just want to throw all men in jail for looking at them funny, and they turn feminism into this huge straw dummy fascist state.
They attack me because I fight to have rape taken seriously, despite — no, in fact, because of — my own experience almost two decades ago. And so these MRAs sought to destroy my reputation by Google-bombing my name, associating it directly and inextricably with rape, knowing that someone might look me up, see my name and “rapist” on a website, and assume it absolutely must be true or else it wouldn’t have been published on the internet. And this sort of Google-bombing isn’t even a new tactic for MRAs.
Some months later, I post a petition asking that a judge be recalled after making the absolutely hideous decision to demand a retrial in a case where the physical evidence proved a man raped a Down syndrome woman because she “didn’t act like a victim”.
In my advocacy for social justice causes, I have encountered no single group of people more uniformly demonized than transgender folks. No matter how bad you think you have it, trans folk are scarce enough or closeted enough that it’s nearly impossible to find them — and when they found one another on the internet, some people decided that they had become at that point a threat that needed to be stopped.
One of that particular group of people’s most vocal opponents is the section of movement feminism that believes that trans folk are actually attacking, and attempting to co-opt, feminist spaces. These so-called feminists are helpfully labelled “trans-exclusionary” (per their self-selected name, “trans-exclusionary radical feminists”, or “TERFs”), and they hang out at a place called Rad Fem Hub, where feminists who’ve lost the plot of social justice gather to find new ways to victimize trans folks. They also talk there about legitimate feminist concerns, and even often perpetrate real, legitimate cases of that fabled unicorn of hate, “misandry”, so it’s not entirely an anti-trans site — but it sure looks that way to a trans person. Needless to say, they are the flip side of the MRA coin.
My posting of the petition — which I wholeheartedly support, obviously, seeing as the post is still up and my signature still valid — was slightly unfortunate, insofar as the person who created and was promoting the petition has had a history of attacking trans folks. I know of at least one other instance where the queen of the TERfs, payday loan lawyer Cathy Brennan of Gender Identity Watch and Name The Problem among other hate sites, had used a petition to discover the real identity of a trans person and then out that identity on her GIW site (a practice known in hacker circles as “doxxing”, as in “dropping dox”, as in “providing documentation of a person’s meatspace identity”). I further know that the TERFs at GIW, RadFemHub and elsewhere have a long history of digging up dirt on people who disagree with them and doing what they can to hurt them — contacting real-life friends, associates, or in at least one case the medical professionals charged with taking care of these trans folks. So, I was left with no choice but to post a warning on my post linking to that petition. I urged trans folk to use their own discretion before signing, knowing that other trans folk had been compromised in much the same way.
After putting up that post, I questioned @SisterTrinity on Twitter, the TERF who’d created the petition, asking if she was indeed anti-trans as reports (and links, and her twitter feed) suggested. She evaded and attacked and misconstrued the point of the question as some sort of unprompted attack, or as my withdrawing support for the petition, or of my targeting feminists explicitly. The situation escalated as I held my ground that while I supported the petition, I could not in good conscience ask my trans friends to sign, knowing they would risk having their identities compromised. I simply couldn’t live with myself if such a thing happened as a direct result of my actions. So my warning stayed up.
And Cathy Brennan herself got into the mix, calling me an MRA.
In TERF parlance, they mean that I’m advocating for the rights of men to impinge upon womens’ spaces, by advocating that trans folk be treated with basic human dignity. Because in a TERF’s mind, trans folk are comprised exclusively of trans women, and because in a TERF’s mind a trans woman is a deranged man attempting to pretend to be a woman to steal an assigned-female-at-birth’s feminine birthright (at this point in the narrative I can’t help but think “THEY TOOK OUR JORBS!”). So, anyone standing up for trans folk to not be demonized and attacked and outed, must naturally be a MEN’S rights activist. See the rhetorical switcharoo they played there?
But Cathy Brennan then did something strange, and rather interesting (if I can say that dispassionately). She did something that only one other group had done. She accused me of rape on the front page of her site, suggesting that because I’d been accused, I must be a rapist. On the same site, she attacks other pro-trans feminists, she attacks trans folk, she attacks cis women as supposedly being trans women, inextricably tying trans folks’ “dead names” to their current ones and horrible accusations of crime to people who merely want to protect others from undue harm.
In attacking the same person, in the same way, because that person did something that undercut their views, Cathy Brennan and her TERFs, and Dean Esmay and his MRAs, became inextricably linked. They are two sides of the same coin. Some of you already knew that, but this is just blatant enough that it can be used as a teaching moment.
TERFs to the left of me, MRAs to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.
I’ll draw their fire while I can. They can’t even really hurt me that badly — I stand by my history, by my words, by my extensive backlog of advocacy on these topics, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I have every privilege working to my advantage. MRAs try to strip rape laws of their feeble teeth, TERFs will attack trans folk and give feminism a bad name, and while I have their attention I’ll draw their fire as much as possible so that they cannot continue to attack everything I hold dear. Every minute they’re on me, they’re not on you, and that, to me, is worth the trouble.
But the place they’re hitting is an emotionally raw one for me, even where they can’t hurt me otherwise. I can only tank for so long and soak so much damage though. While they’re distracted with me, go for the knockout.