Guest post: Gametes don’t prescribe your gender either

A promoted guest post by timberwraith on this comment, reprinted with permission. It was too good to leave in the muck of some of its surrounding nonsense.

I see a variation of the usual cis-centric perspective of, “We just need to get down to brass tacks and accept the reality of male and female!” being trotted out in the comments. This time, it’s all about which gametes a person’s body produces.

If only it were that simple.

Look, if societies treated one’s ability to produce particular gametes in ways as neutral as nose shape, eye color, thyroid function, or hemoglobin levels, then the designation of male or female wouldn’t be much of an issue. No one would care if some felt compelled to employ medical procedures in order to assume secondary sexual characteristics and genital configurations commonly associated with certain modes of gametes production. It would be akin to changing one’s hair color or eye color—a medically intensive process, but still socially trivial.

That is not the world we live in.

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Why are YOU here?

I’ve had this question rattling around in my head for almost a year now: why am I here, in the skeptical and atheist communities? Why do I include the labels “skeptic” and “atheist” in bio blurbs, and why do I cover topics and follow discussions associated with those labels? Why, given how little commonality I have with many of the folks who work full-time in these communities, given that some of the causes I care about the most are derided by vast swathes of the people with whom I’m expected to break bread, should I spend my time and effort on parts of my identity that I don’t find assaulted on a daily basis?

And more importantly, why are others in these communities? What do their reasons for being here say about the makeup of these communities?
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Fake tweet, legit topics of discussion.

Piers Morgan is no stranger to controversy lately, where in his TV show’s dying days, he sought to turn Janet Mock’s life into infotainment, doing immense splash damage to trans folks in the process. It’s no wonder people are taking it upon themselves to shame him in innumerable ways.

Like with this very probably faked tweet, apparently taken as a photograph of a computer monitor with visible pixellation, posted by some rapper obviously looking to make a name for himself by inventing a “beef” as the kids say with a public figure:



The image is ostensibly of Morgan’s Twitter stream, complete with his avatar and Twitter page background, tweeting a link to .

Below the fold, I talk about pornography. Might not be safe for work.
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#FtBCON: Atheism Is Not Enough panel

As proven by the deep rifts that exist within movement atheism, a common acknowledgement that there is no god is often not enough ground on which to build a coherent, lasting community. Social justice movements often encounter tipping points where they either take into account the natural allies that are other movements, or they fail. Debbie Goddard, Desiree Schell, James Croft, Kimberley Veal, Kim Rippere and Yemisi Ilesanmi all joined me to discuss atheism and social justice, and how atheism shouldn’t be the endpoint of a journey into freethought, but the beginning.

This was a two hour panel. It will be a beast to transcribe. I will pitch in when I can, if someone sets up a transcription project for this.

James Croft on what Humanism is

While I largely disagree with James Croft that humanism (small H) is what Humanism (large H) delineates, owing mostly to the confusions brought about by self-identification and the frequent re-use since the Renaissance of the word “humanist” to mean various things, this post is worthwhile if you’re looking to understand what exactly Humanism comprises and what does not, actually, fall under its banner.

Humanism is a philosophy of life which embraces three central values: reason, compassion, and hope. Humanists believe that the best way to figure out how the world works and what is really true is through the exercise of our reason, using disciplines like science and philosophy to better understand our situation. We believe that every person is of equal moral worth and dignity, meaning that no person should be discriminated against or treated poorly based on their race, sex, gender identity, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, class or other identifying characteristics. And we believe that human beings must solve our problems ourselves – that any hope for the future we have comes through our efforts as individuals and groups to improve the human condition.

Humanism is defined in the third Humanist Manifesto* in the following way:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

A short version: a rational mind plus a heart aflame for justice = a Humanist.

It is for that reason that I have defined Atheism Plus as the intersection between social justice advocacy, humanism and atheism. They, and we, are very similar. We are natural allies. We are willing to put the priority on the “atheist” part of the name not only because we want to challenge the stigma it’s accumulated, but because we demand that our positions on humanism and social justice are the consequence of our lack of belief in deities and the supernatural. Since there are no gods, we are the only ones we can turn to.

I believe that Humanists (large H) are very much in the same intersection as Atheism Plusers. We don’t intersect on a few other circles, though; like our predilection toward antitheism, coming from movement atheist stock.

What’s in a name? Quite a lot, actually.

Every time someone writes something relatively controversial, what interests me the most is the pushback. The Atheism+ name, attached to our current third wave of movement atheism as defined by Jen McCreight and her commenters who crowdsourced the name, has invited certain specific lines of pushback that are every bit as interesting as the third-wave idea itself. Since my usual modus is to find and examine the side-concerns that otherwise are being raised but never adequately dissected and deconstructed, this post.

This new Atheism Plus (A+, Atheism+) movement is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. We’ve all actually been thinking and writing about this for a while around these parts, without ever having given it a name. We’ve long known that the greater atheist and skeptic communities have been fighting amongst themselves and have been developing Deep Rifts over whether or not there’s any room to deal with topics other than challenging creationists and theists, and we’ve all fought against the idea that there’s simply no reason to bring social justice causes into the mix when we’re already having trouble combining skepticism and atheism in a meaningful way. And the conclusion I keep coming to, since at least my essay called Mission Creep, is that we need to deepen the rifts between those of us who care about social justice and those of us who think feminism, anti-racism, anti-homophobia and other social justice causes have no place in the atheist movement — oftentimes because these people have a vested interest in those other sentiments and think they’re fouling up our common ground.

A number of others have already tackled whether atheism+ is just humanism, and I think the case has been made adequately that the factions are allied and overlapping but not identical. What I’d like to tackle specifically is the charge that this is merely a rebranding effort, and thus doomed to fail.
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A new atheism

The Rifts are Deepening, it would seem.

Jen McCreight laments that she had no idea exactly how prevalent the misogyny, privilege, irrationality, and Boys Club mentality all are in the atheist and skeptic movements before she got involved. Honestly, me neither.

I was exactly what a Boy’s Club wanted. I was a young, not-hideous woman who passionately supported their cause. I made them look diverse without them having to address their minority-repelling privilege. They liked that I joked about sex and boobs not because it was empowering for me, but because they saw it as a pass to oggle and objectify. But the Boy’s Club rescinds its invitation once they realize you’re a rabble-rousing feminist. I was welcome at TAM when I was talking about a boob joke, but now I’m persona non grata for caring about sexual harassment. I used to receive numerous comments about how hot and attractive I was, but when I politely asked for people to keep the discussion professional, the comments morphed into how I was an ugly cunt. I was once considered an up-and-coming student leader, but now I’m accused of destroying the movement.

So what’s to be done of this?
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Mission Creep

One of the main complaints we’ve seen recently about our ongoing conversation with regard to sexism in the skeptical and atheist communities, is one about mission creep — that we’re a community defined by our common ground, e.g. atheism/skepticism, and we shouldn’t try to hash out other differences about other things.

I couldn’t agree less.
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In Medias Res: how to find the plot if you’re just tuning in

Have you noticed that the people who tend to engender the most by-volume outrage about the feminist topics that have intersected with our skeptical and atheist communities lately aren’t actually the outright trolls or blatantly bigoted jerks? Okay, they get some ire, but are usually silenced in due course, and the rest of my statement is probably true of a lot of arguments. So I’m going to try to make this general, mostly, as a resource for future conversations, but include specific advice for this specific argument in the process.

The people who really seem to create the longest-term whargarbl — the peak burn for internet conflict — are almost always the folks who think they’re reasonable and just want to know what all the fuss is about, and make snap judgments about or unreasonable demands of the folks trying to drive the discussion — demands like “Explain everything that’s happened to lead up to this point in the conversation. And you both should calm down because both sides are being mean. Also, all those weird words that you’ve used up there, they mean something different in my mind and so you’re probably wrong unless you explain right now. ANNNNND GO.

These people can very often be extremely well-placed in the community, and have a lot of fans and cause a lot of blowback and DEEEEEEP RIIIIIIFTS. The higher up the food chain a supporter or detractor is, the more likely they carry with them any number of adjuncts who will complain bitterly that they’re being “forced to choose sides” or otherwise buy into the slurs and mischaracterizations that their heroes proclaim. When someone near the top jumps in without doing the background research, the splash damage can be absolutely enormous.

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