On Being A Feminist, A Trans/Queer-Rights Advocate And An Atheist/Skeptic At The Same Time, Or: How To Be Hated By All Your Friends & Allies


On Friday, Russell over at The Atheist Experience, aware of how nervous I was about the potential backlash my God Does Not Love Trans People post could receive (due to the hostile reaction I received on Twitter just for mentioning the possibility of writing it), put up a little post asking his readers to help support me in the event that I did get trolled or attacked by religious believers or apologists.

That’s not quite what happened.

Apart from a very few counter-arguments by religious people who were reacting defensively rather than acting offensively, there wasn’t really much of a problem in the comment thread at my post. In the comment thread for Russell’s post, however, there were several extremely offensive remarks made by atheists with hang-ups about gender and sexuality. Initially, the two main remarks were that homosexuality and transgenderism are “disgusting”, some straw-feminist pounding, and someone defending the “disgusting” remark by saying he can understand being creeped out by “men who play hide the salami with other men, and men who don’t want to BE men”. In response to the various statements of outrage, and “that’s not okay” stuff, the -phobes in question doubled down, engaged in some amazingly offensive trivialization of queer identities, experiences and the discrimination we face, and started playing the “you’re all just people to me!” / “reverse discrimination!” / “stop making such a big deal out of nothing!” / “acting like this is important is only making your oppression worse” / “well, now you’re just alienating your allies” tactics. Plenty of “shut up, that’s why“, too.  And one even decided to call Pride Parades an act of “trolling” his delicate straight/cis sensibilities.

It was appalling. And depressing. But worst of all? I realized that comparatively, the transphobic/homophobic/sexist atheists were proving themselves much more hostile, intolerant, ignorant, bigoted and quick to bludgeon others with their ill-informed, irrational opinions and preconceptions than were the queer theists. What’s more, I realized this isn’t new. This is what I’ve been seeing all along.

I ended up needing people from my blog to come support me in the thread on the post asking people to come support me on my blog.

And if atheists routinely treat me worse than my allies in the other movements I belong to, including the ones who disagree with me, if I continuously find being an atheist, and other atheists, so much more frustrating than being a trans-rights advocate, or a feminist, why am I prioritizing it? Why am I putting the most of my energy into a community that rewards me with the most bigotry, hostility and mistreatment? Maybe I only notice it in atheism because I spend more time there, and prioritize it. Maybe. But still… this kind of thing does lead to reappraising one’s priorities.

The really depressing part was realizing how much hostility I inevitably face in each of the activist movements I identity myself with. It’s not just having to deal with things like sexism, misogyny, anti-feminism and transphobia in atheism and skepticism. There’s also the vast and disturbing undercurrent of transphobia within feminism, which I’ve talked about before, particularly in radical feminism and cultural feminism, and of which you can find a pretty disturbing example in this comment thread at Jezebel I noticed via pingback (when someone starts citing Butler in terms of why they “don’t get” transgenderism, watch out!) but also the presence in feminism (mostly second wave variants) of not-so-skeptical thinking, alt med, goddess-woo, “female energy”, “women’s ways of knowing”, and so on (which often goes hand in hand with the transphobia, as it happens).

And within the trans community I end up having to deal with a lot of hate for those-other-things-I-also-am once again. Many trans women have surprisingly anti-feminist attitudes. I find this really, really hard to wrap my head around, because I honestly can’t quite understand how someone can transition from living and being treated as male to living and being treated as female and not notice the enormous loss of social privilege that accompanies that, and how limited (and limiting) socio-cultural concepts of womanhood and femininity are. But nonetheless… yep, lots of negative feelings towards feminism amongst trans women. Partly motivated by fear and resentment due to feminist attacks against trans women, partly motivated by lingering resentment towards cis women from pre-transition (“I want what they have so badly. How can they be complaining about it?!”), partly motivated by just the plain old biases and assumptions and sexist attitudes woven into our culture And how when most people think “feminism” they immediately think of angry, misandrist, bra-burning straw-feminism. Amongst trans men you don’t tend to get as much anti-feminist attitudes, but you can find plenty of misogyny, sexism, and outdated binary and essentialist attitudes towards gender (take Chaz Bono, for instance). Suffice it to say, I’ve gotten a lot of hate in the trans community for my vocal support of feminism, and it’s gotten me into more fights with more trans folk than any other single issue. And does it really need saying that there’s an anti-atheist sentiment there as well? Even amongst the radical and feminist trans folk, you”ll find the attitude that religion should not be questioned, and that critiqueing it is disrespectful of other cultural vantage points, as I discussed on Friday.

So where does this leave me? If there are trends within feminism that hate trans women and atheists, and trends within the trans community that hate atheists and feminists, and trends within the atheist community that hate feminists and trans women? No matter where I’m locating myself at a given moment, I have to push uphill against some kind of problematic set of biases and viewpoints or another.

I can’t win.

It reminds me of the problem of intersectionality; how difficult it becomes when an individual is being persecuted along multiple axes of discrimination, and how social justice movements will typically allow the narrative of a given group to be dominated by individuals who are normative in all other senses. Feminism, for instance, initially being dominated by white, middle-class, straight, cisgender women. The black civil rights movement being dominated by straight, cisgender men. The LGBTQ community being overwhelmingly represented and embodied in the image of middle-class white gay men with normative bodies and ambitions. Unless you’ve been lucky enough to only be disadvantaged in one particular way, in any given community, one aspect of who you are may be permitted a voice, but you will be erased in another capacity.  You don’t get much chances to be all of you. To take someone like Monica Roberts, for instance, when she’s not being discriminated against on the basis of her gender, she will be discriminated against on the basis of her race (when people think “trans woman” they tend to only initially think of people who look like me, talk like me, have my kind of binary gender, my kind of transition narrative, and my kind of sexual orientation), and when she is not being discriminated against on the basis of her race, she will be discriminated against on the basis of her gender.

To pull this back around to whining about my own little problems, in all three of those primary movements I described belonging to (feminism, trans/queer-rights, and atheism/skepticism), I’ve encountered considerable privilege and entitlement, and attitudes of scorn, dehumanization, trivialization, and contempt in regards to issues of addiction (and poverty). I have yet to locate a single place in my life in which this particular aspect of my experiences and who I am are not subject to ignorance and intolerance. Yesterday, at a trans forum, in a discussion on the issue of the California state legislature trying to cut off medical coverage to prisoners for SRS, someone stated, to paraphrase: “Shouldn’t SRS only be offered to people who are mentally stable anyway? I can’t imagine any therapist giving a letter of recommendation to a murderer, rapist or druggie.”

*ahem*

Hello, there!

It’s sad that it seems we’re unable to be able to treat human rights, dignity and understanding as a universal value, and in most situations only seem to extend it conditionally, for those who share our immediate interests or some kind of easily identified commonality. A friend of mine once made the grim but terribly accurate observation (in the context of talking about trans women who dismiss the rights or genders of other trans women who are, say, non-op or lesbian) that people only tend to be exactly as tolerant as it takes to accept themselves, and maybe their immediate friends and family, but have a whole lot of trouble extending that principle beyond that circle, to people who they don’t understand, with whom they don’t share the same experiences or identities or priorities.

For me, I’ve been thinking it over, and it’s starting to seem like the solution, in terms of not letting this kind of thing depress me to the point of paralysis or wanting to just give up the fight, is to just cut my identification with movements entirely. Not be a feminist, trans-rights advocate or atheist at all, just a human being with particular values, from which extend particular views and goals. And really, that’s sort of true. I didn’t individually pick and choose to be a feminist, a supporter of queer rights, an atheist, or a skeptic. Each of these is simply derived from a basic position of trying to think things through, to understand others, to understand the world around me, to extend extend empathy and compassion as much as I’m able, to allow my perspectives to shift and grow, to try to be a decent person, live a decent life, and stand up for my rights and the rights of others.

I can have my own values, goals and views. And I can engage with others, and work together with them, absolutely. But as conditional alliances based on mutual values, not as a binding, shared, absolute identity. For the sake of survival, those identifications need to be fluid:

When the fight takes me to defending the rights of women, I will first be a feminist. When the fight takes me to defending the rights of trans people, I will first be a trans-rights advocate. When the fight takes me to opposing dogma and faith and religious power or privilege, I will be an atheist. When the fight takes me to encouraging questioning and critical thought and challenging assumptions, I will be a skeptic.

So when I find myself in a thread on an atheist blog where an atheist is being a transphobic asshole? In that moment, we don’t share a movement, we aren’t on the same team, I don’t need to be ashamed of your actions, I don’t need to give you special deference as an ally, and I don’t need to feel like giving up on it. In that moment, I am a trans woman. And I am pissed off.

Comments

  1. Anders says

    Remember that I suggested this as a motto for your blog: “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” (Winston Churchill)

    I think you are making the right decision. Define your own group of allies, from all walks of life and take comfort in them. Friends can come from practically anywhere, and you have a solid bunch of them here at least.

    Your post makes me worry about the skeptic movement, though (because that’s the one I involved with). I think we must either deal with these issues (gender, race, LGBTA rights, etc.) or become irrelevant. And I also think that the longer we wait the greater the risk that when the confrontation comes, it will tear the movement apart. Can we bring you in as a consultant from time to time? You’ll get paid in puppies and rainbows. :)

    Please, read through the AE thread again and focus on the people who were on the side of good. Then have a cup of tea. Maybe things will feel a little better after that. *hugs*

  2. Sour Tomato Sand says

    There are times when the atheist movement makes me want to scream, as well. Post on the richarddawkins.net forums (“A clear-thinking oasis,” ha) for a while and you’ll get the impression that the entirety of the atheist movement is racists congratulating each other over how much they hate Muslims. Then of course there are the Penn Jilette-style atheists, who came to atheism via Bullshit!. I don’t think I need to say anything else about those people. There are the evolutionary psychology atheists, and the men’s-rights activist atheists, and the libertarian atheists.

    It’s a big tent filled with at least as much stupid shit as good stuff. But it does seem like there is incremental progress. FtB is now a big part of the internet atheist movement, it seems, and it is certainly more level-headed and liberal than any other atheist dwelling I’ve come across. So hang in there! We need you, and others like you who are willing and able to challenge the privileged, anti-human bullshit that pops up in our movement.

    And if you need to take a break from that, that’s okay too. There are plenty of people (like me) who really enjoy shouting down douchebags, and arguing with ignorant folks, and calling out stupidity.

    • thepint says

      Ditto. As I was telling another friend dealing with feeling horribly beat down lately, it’s OK to not be the toughing it out through everything person all the time. You are certainly entitled to take a break to refresh yourself. Being frustrated and angry and wanting to walk away for awhile is a perfectly natural reaction to all the shit you’ve been weathering lately.

      In the meantime, know there are many of us who support what you do and are happy to carry on the fight. You’re not in it alone.

    • Victoria says

      How are atheist like you that constantly scream “racism” at virtually any criticism of Islam any better? Your antics hamper free discussion of an important topic. You even announce your intellectual dishonesty in the manner in which you immediately frame the issue as about “Muslims” not their religion. I doubt you do the same with criticism of Catholicism, for example.

      Atheism is not just about the comfort-zone of white Christians in the West. If you want to address misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, you have to be willing to openly criticise non-white cultures and religions. The clowns like you who parrot “racism” just aid those prejudices in the end.

  3. Mike says

    Hi. I don’t usually comment or read comments and I haven’t ever gone to conventions, but I was blown away by your posts at skepchick, followed you over here and continue to find your articles interesting and informative.

  4. Keith says

    As a new reader to your blog here on Freethought I just wanted to say I am glad you’re here. The whole atheist skeptic movement needs way more people like you than people like me. I just wanted to say I’m glad you’re here and I want you to keep pushing forward because I think you are right. You bring up stuff that I have never had to think about before or think about thing in a new and/or different light. If the only thing I can do is patch a wound or two before the next round I’ll carry that med-kit for you :)

    • John Horstman says

      The whole atheist skeptic movement needs way more people like you than people like me.

      By this (and your handle), I’m guessing you mean (at least) cisgendered male (also possibly White, hetero, and other privileged social categories). While I very much agree with the sentiment, I think it’s also true that the skeptic movement could use more cisgendered men who AREN’T (in fact, I think good skepticism inevitably leads one to be not) egoistic privilege-loving asshats. Not ONLY do we need more diversity/inclusivity (we do, very much), we need the community members who are ascribed social privilege to be comfortable (or at least more-comfortable) with that diversity and inclusivity (to the point of being okay with having assumptions and long-held beliefs based on a single privileged perspective challenged). Possibly as a prerequisite, ideally concurrent with, and, sadly, in the case of many of our members ascribed a great deal of privilege, most likely only as a result of being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century by community members who are unapologetically Other and those who unapologetically support them.

      • says

        Shorter John: this movement needs more reasonable people. From all walks. From all genders. From all ages. From all abilities. From all colors. From all fucking hairstyles. (Except mullets of course. Those are just wrong.;))

    • says

      The whole atheist skeptic movement needs way more people like you than people like me.

      Hey, the whole atheist skeptic movement needs way more people like you, too – people of understanding who are prepared to be good allies, who aren’t going to kick minorities to the curb and give no thought to recognising the value and challenges of addressing diversity.

      • says

        Agreed!

        The atheist/skeptic movements needs LOTS of us. Lots of different backgrounds, different identities, different perspectives, different approaches, different specializations. We need breadth. 100,000 Natalies would be as pointless and inept a movement as 100,000 John Lofti.

        • Dalillama says

          It might not make the movement better, but I think that 100,000 Natalies would make the world an exponentially cooler place. :D

          • says

            After reading “Loftus Unleashed”, a sea of 100,000 Lofti would look like a deluge of strait jackets topped by waves of absurd looking hats… :O

  5. says

    “Each of these is simply derived from a basic position of trying to think things through, to understand others, to understand the world around me”

    Great post Natalie. Unfortunately, we will all get labeled. And there’s the rub. We think of ourselves as just decent people first then part of some group or community, but we are viewed first as our labels and only our best friends get to know what kind of people we are. I enjoyed being a white, hetero male Christian for a few years and it was pretty great, until I realized the Christian part was antithetical to my decent person part.

    I can’t explain why people aren’t consistent but I’ve realized I have to accept it as part of human nature. If it weren’t so, there would be no point in learning. That doesn’t mean accepting behaviors that I think are wrong, but it means accepting a person might be decent even if we disagree on some things. So, good luck with this solution of yours. Keep us posted.

  6. slc1 says

    I have to take exception to Ms. Reed referring to homosexuals as “queers”. The term “queers” is a derogatory term for homosexuals, mostly used in Great Britain (in the US, the analogous terms are “faggot” and “dyke”). All of these terms are no different and no more acceptable then the various ethnic slurs (e.g. ni*ger, k*ke, w*p, etc.).

    • says

      I’m not using it for homosexual people. It’s a reclaimed umbrella term referring to everyone whose sexual orientation or gender varies from cultural norms, including bisexual, pansexual and transgender people. The term, while having a history of being used as a derogatory slur, has been pretty thoroughly reclaimed as a term of proud self-identification by the queer community. Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do with the terms that refer to MY identity.

      • Anders says

        As always, I’m insecure here… can I use the term as long as I don’t use it in a degrading way? Because I understand completely if you want to restrict it to the people who actually own it.

          • Dalillama says

            I tend to use it in place of the LGBT* acronyms, simply because there are so many different variants and it’s easy to inadvertently leave someone out.

        • says

          You can use it–just use “queer” as an adjective rather than a noun. I think using “queers” as a noun is something we queers can do :P, though I also try not to do that too much.

      • slc1 says

        I have a flash for Ms. Reed, in the British Isles, the term “queer” is still used as a derogatory term for homosexuals and I suspect many of those folks will take offense at being referred to as a “queer”.

        • says

          Well, do you speak for the British queer community? Because it sure sounds like you’re referring to them as a party apart from yourself, which gives you no right to be policing what words I use for my own community. I happen to know a lot of folk in Britain who are gay or trans who have never, ever taken objection to my use of the term, and have proudly used it themselves. I’ll wait until specific objections come in, and THEN I’ll consider their relative merit.

          And here’s a “flash” for you: it’s not only in Britain and Ireland that that term is sometimes derogatory. It is over in North America too. It’s a reclamation.

        • John Horstman says

          “Queer” is still used in a derogatory sense here in the states, too. However, it’s also largely been re-appropriated and is actually a formal academic term (Queer Studies, Queer Theory, Queer Pedagogy, Queer Epistemologies) in which it serves as an oppositional categorization to “normative” (not just non-normative, but closer to anti-normative). If one might take offense to the term, I hope that person will understand from the context that the term is being used in a way not intended to be marginalizing (and hopefully not functioning in a marginalizing fashion either).

        • says

          I have a flash for slc1, queer is derogatory where I live too. Why should I let other people define a word I personally identify with as a slur?

          I’ve used that word to describe myself for the last, oh, twenty-odd years. I think it’s a damn fine word. I’m proud of owning it.

          I’m here, I’m queer, fuck’n deal with it or get out.

          • Anders says

            In Sweden we didn’t have the term ‘queer’ as an all-encompassing term for LGBTA people or for use as a scientific term. So we had to borrow it from the English. We have, of course, a rich flora of derogatory terms for queer people, but I think all languages have that. :(

        • Happiestsadist says

          Also, I take serious fuckin’ offense at being called a homosexual by someone who sounds pretty damn straight.

          • says

            And who moreover, can only refer to the word by putting scare quotes around it.

            Who’s afraid of the big bad queer?

        • Catherine says

          Being a Trans woman, a lesbian, and British I have to say that queer is a term hat the community does use, it certainly doesn’t have the negative connotations of faggot or tranny anymore…

        • embertine says

          British and queer here too. Some of my straight friends still twitch a bit when I use the word but none of my queer friends do. Please don’t speak for the group if you’re not a member of the group.

          • Anders says

            This discussion makes me wonder to what extent there is a ‘community view’ on this. How united is the queer movement on questions like these?

        • says

          FFS, at *least* say something about your own identity when you go around making statements like this. Do you even know the first thing about real live queer people, or are you just a gay person who can’t stand other queer people?

          (RAGE RAGE RAGE)

    • says

      You know, I’ve been told that before, and I’ve also been told that it’s the term some people prefer.

      I have one friend who said she identifies as queer, sexually, simply because she’s attracted to people, and gender doesn’t matter very much to her, and “bisexual” implies a dichotomy that doesn’t exist.

      I respect that for you and others it IS offensive (or you wouldn’t bring it up), but I do know that for a great many folk, it’s not – it’s a useful term for describing their orientation/identity when more specific terms don’t apply.

      Still, I’ll try to be careful how I use it.

  7. marie-pierboisvert says

    Nathalie, I really hope you won’t give up any of these identities of yours because in the seemingly-real-world, they don’t mesh. Or at least, people don’t mesh them. I’m whole-heartedly asking you to continue being a representative of all these identities because I know, as a person who believes very strongly in all these causes, that it can be harsh, confusing, and most of all, make you want to scream your lungs out.

    But we need you, -I- need you, to talk and write some more, because my voice is not strong enough, and without people like you, I would just shrivel up in a corner and cry because (most) people are too damn hard-headed to LISTEN.

  8. sisu says

    Please, read through the AE thread again and focus on the people who were on the side of good.

    This! I read that thread yesterday and I saw two people being assholes, getting called out repeatedly and in no uncertain language by many, many more commenters.

    No matter what you say, there are going to be otherwise reasonable people who disagree with you. Try not to let it get you so discouraged.

  9. Robert B. says

    Damn, I’m sorry I missed that thread. I read your post, then I read Russel’s post, so I came back over here and read the comments to your post, and seeing basically good stuff I shrugged and wandered off and missed the fight. Never occurred to me to read the comments over there.

    I’m too optimistic about people and I tend to spend too much time assuming they must have meant something else. But when it finally gets through my head that there’s bigots about (and boy was it obvious there. Fuck you, pickle guy.) I’m happy to roll up my sleeves.

    I like your values, and I like your idea for keeping yourself going. Movements are just a mental shortcut for a bunch of people who (supposedly) have the same ideas, anyway.

    • Emily says

      Damn, I’m sorry I missed that thread. I read your post, then I read Russel’s post, so I came back over here and read the comments to your post, and seeing basically good stuff I shrugged and wandered off and missed the fight. Never occurred to me to read the comments over there.

      Don’t feel too bad. I did the same thing. There were no comments over at the AE thread at the time, and things seemed handled over here, so I read a few comments over here and wandered off.

  10. Sebor says

    The last two paragraphs had me in tears. I’ve been listening to a lot of songs from the Spanish Civil War era lately and the spirit felt somehow familiar.
    I feel tempted to quote at length, but what I think is most important is the idea “Whereever there’s oppression to be fought I will make my home” and the last part of your post reminded me of that.

  11. Astrid_H says

    I’m also a new reader and heard of you first on the Godless Bitches podcast. You’ve since become one of my favourite writers here on FTB and one or two of your posts have been truly thought provoking and eye-opening for me.

    All of this is just to say that I really hope you keep up the excellent work and don’t let yourself be discouraged.

  12. says

    That guy wasn’t prejudiced. He supports your disgusting lifestyle of poutine and lady parts.

    It seems like there are a good number of atheists whose activism seems limited to thinking religion is retarded and doesn’t want them to have sex. Sex and gender issues are only important insofar as they enable sex they personally are interested in.

    • Dave, the Kwisatz Haderach says

      Call it prejudice if you want, but there are some issues that can’t be compromised. They are just too squicky to be allowed.

      Seriously, cheese curds and gravy on fries is just way too many kinds of wrong. Yuck!

      • marie-pierboisvert says

        Hey, I’m from Quebec, and poutine is like a national treasure here. No poutine-bashing, please! :-)

        • Anders says

          What does it taste like anyway? I have a feeling my arteries will clog up just by smelling it, but it sounds tempting…

          • Happiestsadist says

            It tastes like happiness.

            Well, the fries are crispy and the gravy is, well, gravy-ish, and the cheese curds are slightly melty and where they haven’t melted, slightly squeaky. It’s the most perfect combination of salty-fatty you can get, though yeah, definitely a sometimes food.

            Also, anyone who claims it’s made with grated cheese needs to be soundly mocked.

          • says

            It is absolutely CRUCIAL that it be eaten before the fries get soggy from the gravy. And if the fries aren’t crispy in the first place, it’s not a proper poutine. Also: yeah, mock the HELL out of anyone who says it’s made with grated cheese. Cheese curds, or it’s not poutine.

            Personally, though, my favourite greasy Canadian delicacies are the Haligonian Donair, and The Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich.

            Also:

            Dill pickle chips
            Coffee Crisp bars
            Vancouver dim-sum

        • Dave, the Kwisatz Haderach says

          Hey, I’m from Ontario and Quebec bashing is kinda a sport around here. Also, you are not now, nor will you ever be, a sovereign nation, so it can be a “provincial treasure”, but not a “national” one.

          Kinda kidding about the Quebec bashing, a little. I do work for a Quebecer (who’s last name is Boisvert, coincidentally). And he gives me as much of a hard time as I give him.

          Also, I am indebted to Quebec for having a lower drinking age than us. Like most Ontarians, I slipped over the border on my 18th and got knackered. So, thanks for that.

          Don’t do it Anders. Each serving cuts at least a year off your life expectancy.

  13. Anders says

    Personally I’m sooo looking forward to Thursday and what will hit the blog then. I expect nothing but the best posts from you!

  14. ashleybone says

    I feel progress is being made, at least within atheist communities (less so in more strictly skeptical groups). Maybe I’m naive, but for the last month I’ve been busy fighting against state-sponsored vaginal ultrasound rape laws in my home state (Virginia) along with a personhood bill, a bill to make HPV vaccines optional, along with other national atrocities like Limbaugh. In every case the atheist communities I’m engaged with seem to be overwhelmingly on the side of good. I don’t know that would have been the case fifteen years ago.

    None of that is intended to discount your experience. Many atheists seem to me to be completely blind to sexism, transphobia and other social woo.

  15. embertine says

    Please don’t be discouraged by one or two assholes. I have learnt masses from your blog and hope to learn more in the future. Think instead of the legion of allies who piled in to try to explain why the assholes were wrong, and to defend you. You are making a difference, although I can understand that you might get exhausted by it sometimes.

    And on a different, and hopefully not-too-creepy, note, if you really are a female version of David Tennant then you, madam, are the perfect woman. Converse and brown coat optional.

  16. The Ys says

    I’ve never understood how people who pride themselves on their scepticism and rationality can be so irrational when it comes to admitting that they’re biased about something – or who flatly reject evaluating their opinions based on the fact that they read someone else’s book so that makes them experts on a given subject. I also don’t understand how they can summarily reject the experiences of others based on the fact that they’ve never experienced the same thing…all the while claiming that subjective evidence is useless. Derp.

    Thank you for writing this post. I occasionally find myself cheering for the asteroid, and this is one of those times.

    • Fox says

      Thirded! It frequently seems like the same people making the “why should religion get a pass, nothing is sacred!” speeches are the ones who later say “Hey, don’t make me question my privileges and prejudices!” So. Frustrating. If you ever find yourself degrading another human being due to your own ignorance, I have three words for you.. Worst. Skeptic. Ever. (Also, you suck as a person, but I find a lot more people proudly call themselves skeptics than humanists in this movement…)

      • karmakin says

        My personal opinion on that, not to defend this type of behavior, is that there’s a very real “squick” factor going on. Not towards the actual gender/sexuality issues that we’re talking about, but towards the moralizing that by necessity surrounds them.

        There’s a very real defensiveness against and hostility towards moralizing. Mostly because of course, that’s what religion does, and as such it’s seen to be a negative thing. And because we’re fighting back the perception of blanket immorality, people don’t take claims of people being immoral very well, especially from within the movement.

        Now this is something that by and large people need to “get over”. But I do think that’s generally what we’re dealing with here.

  17. Zengaze says

    I am hugely grateful to heisenbug/george and company for contributing to the axp thread, although the route they took the thread was not the intention of the author, they presented themselves as the necessary thought fodder for the broader reading audience.

    I hope they learnt from the debate, but am happy in the knowledge that the thread will have shifted mindsets within the silent gallery. The Axp thread was another victory in the war for a better humanity. Well done Nat.

    • says

      It’s a problem for sure, but I’m far from pessimistic enough to think that it’s not an issue we can’t work through.

      Racism doesn’t crop up much. Could be that all atheists aren’t racist (it’s possible!), but it also could be that it’s just understood to be bad and embarrassing to be racist, and so it doesn’t rear it’s ugly head.

      We just have a ways to go on the topic of gender issues, so posts here on AXP are just the process of scrubbing.

      My mind keeps wanting to turn it into a liberal/conservative political debate, but I’m trying to keep my focus on the idea that it isn’t a liberal versus conservative conversation, but rather a right versus wrong one.

  18. Kazim says

    So Natalie, first of all I’m very sorry. I’m embarrassed for my fellow atheists right now. You have experienced something that I also run into over and over again on our own blog. Any time I say anything about feminism, social graces, or other sex and gender issues, I’m always wary that the thread will get thoroughly derailed by people who are dying to have the opportunity to soapbox anti-feminism. I swear, the most common phrase I hear is, “I hate Rebecca Watson, but…” As if anybody even asked for their irrelevant personal preference.

    I do want to point out that it’s a clear minority that does this. You’ve just observed what will typically happen in that very thread. Generally I’ll get a dozen or so “I agree”s, then out of nowhere somebody posts something like “I think Amazing Atheist was over the line in this case, although I do think feminists go too far” or “I’m supportive even though my personal feeling is that trans people are disgusting.” Then most people react negatively, the people who were initially showing only slight bigotry decide to double down, and… well, you see the results. I hate it as much as you do.

    I will say this, though. If you decide that the solution is to stop identifying as a member of a group, they win. Slandering the name of a group you identify with — whether it’s atheist, feminist, liberal, union member, freethinker — it’s the oldest trick in the book. Religious leaders would love it if atheists remained as disorganized as they already mostly are. Antifeminists want people to just shut up about women’s rights or privilege or what have you, and then they’ll have no problem. I don’t think you will teach them a lesson by simply backing off from that kind of identification.

    In the end, it’s not that atheists are especially hostile towards trans people or feminists, and it’s not that other minorities are particularly hostile to atheists. It’s just that unexamined bigotry is the easiest path in most cases, and often when a person identifies with one oppressed group, it’s easier to attack others and be on the popular side. You’re incredible value in your capacity of cross-platform identification, and it would be a shame if a vocal minority of jerks on your blog or mine could make you back off.

  19. Fortuna Veritas says

    Why would a queer theist be anti-queer?

    It seems, definitionally, that if they were anti-queer, they’d just be a closeted queer bigot.

    From that it only stands to reason that a broader group such as “atheist” would be more likely to have anti-queer or queer-negative thinking than one that, by definition, should be predisposed to either being queer-positive or queer-neutral.

    I’ve long had a hunch that people more need a reason to like one another than they need to not have a reason to hate one another, because without some push towards friendliness, a reason for hate is something that humans can readily obtain. This, unfortunately, seems to confirm it.

  20. says

    Please keep blogging, we need you. Or well, we have a lot to learn from you. For example, I thought I had come to identify as a trans/queer feminist, and an atheist, by coincidence. At the time of coming to be a trans ally and trying to tell people to be more skeptical of theories about gender, I was also recovering from the idea that if I gave up religion I would be less good at moral judgments. It actually took posts of yours to convince me that I am a skeptic, and these things are related, and I can maybe tell people on each side about the other sides and link to you. So your voice and values fill a great niche for me, but because you’re also a great blogger, you’ve taught me other new things.

    I don’t think I would have found your blog if it weren’t for someone linking to you at Skepchick, and then I might have had trouble again but Greta Christina’s welcome post helped the Google bots. I know you wouldn’t cut ties with people like her, but I am a little concerned because I imagine being in the atheist movement gives you that kind of publicity, and legitimacy for me to say “hey, check out this interesting article by an atheist on Freethought…” And, I guess, nominate you for awards and stuff. Your decision obviously, I mean some of the people (the assholes or the people who didn’t know the assholes were that bad) at Russell’s blog must’ve learned something, but it’s a lot to ask of you to teach them. And like you said it’s all about the values.

    If comments of ours are support you want, great, and maybe I’ll remember to look for threads talking about you. By the way, am I missing an obvious “donate” link? Will look again, want to donate when I can.

    • Anders says

      I tentatively advanced the idea of buying her estrogen jewelry (http://www.madewithmolecules.com/estrogennecklace.html) for her birthday (April 5th) and pay for it with a Kickstarter, but the only thing I got was a deafening silence… :(

      She also tweeted that she wants to go to Trans Camp, which will cost hundreds of dollars. That’s another area where a Kickstarter campaign may be useful. I’m sure people can come up with more ideas.

      • says

        I’m torn between how much I love presents and jewelry, and that design in particular, and that my lack of a credit card means I never get to order anything online, and that my birthday is only four weeks away… and also needing to maintain boundaries and everything.

        I guess I wouldn’t object to gifts or tokens of appreciation from readers, but I can’t really encourage them either, and need to make sure that personal boundaries remain clear regardless. Like, sure, if people want to send me stuff, that’s fine, as long as it’s a gesture of appreciation for my work and nothing more?

        *shrug*

        • Anders says

          Thing is, I LOVE giving presents. The most fun with Christmas for me is finding the exact match between gift and recipient. So, yeah, if I give you something (or start a project to give you something) it’s because I admire you and your work and also because I might have found that hand-in-glove match that’s so satisfying.

          But I appreciate your need to have boundaries.

    • says

      I’ve been trying to think of a way to set up a tip jar, to help cover some travel expenses coming up (Imagine No Religion 2 in May, CONvergence in July, Camp Trans in August, my brother’s wedding in September, Geek Girl Con in October, etc.), but I can’t use Paypal (at least not for the time being), and haven’t been able to find any alternative services. But I’ll try to figure something out. In the mean time, though, simply reading and commenting and spreading the word around is plenty of support, and very much appreciated! :)

  21. Ilumi says

    I think the reason why bigoted atheists are (or at least seem to be) more hostile than bigoted theists might be because the latter doesn’t have to rationalize it beyond “my deity of choice says gays/transpeople/people with moles on their faces are disgusting”. Atheists, on the other hand, are forced to take full accountability for their hatred. Thus, they start coming up with these convoluted reasons for why it’s OK to find group X disgusting and why it’s totally THEIR fault.

    I’ve noticed this very anti-everything-that-isn’t-a-white-straight-cis-male thing going on in the atheist community. Maybe it’s just that those people are the most vocal about it, since they lack the social graces required to shut up.

    As a person who struggles with gender identity sometimes, I found the two jerks absolutely appalling. Natalie, please don’t give up on the atheist community. Most of us aren’t that bad.

    • Kara says

      Yes, and then you have the curious situation where atheists often think of themselves as impeccable paragons of rational thought, which can lead to as much close-mindedness as the religions that they attack. There’s an arrogant, overconfident, “I’ve thought this all through already, and I’m backed by SCIENCE and REASON!” attitude that some bigoted atheists develop. Having reasoned through to their conclusions more explicitly than (let’s suppose) most theists have, they assure themselves that they won’t need to reexamine those chains of thought or the premises based thereupon.

      A little humility is not to be undervalued in the realm of skepticism and critical thinking.

      The Ys posed something similar to this elsewhere in the thread, which I agree with:

      I’ve never understood how people who pride themselves on their scepticism and rationality can be so irrational when it comes to admitting that they’re biased about something.

  22. palaeodave says

    Keep at it, Natalie. There must be far more people who appreciate and value your writing than the few assholes encountered at that other thread.

  23. Eric says

    I would like to point out one of the most important parts of this post (to me):

    “In that moment, we don’t share a movement, we aren’t on the same team, I don’t need to be ashamed of your actions, I don’t need to give you special deference as an ally, and I don’t need to feel like giving up on it.”

    The attitude of forgiving members of the in-group seems to be pretty entrenched in human behavior, but ultimately, it’s something we should actively work to get rid of. If my ally is supporting something that is wrong, in that moment they are not my ally. They may not be my *enemy* (though they could be), but they certainly aren’t my friend.

    Natalie, as always, your work is a pleasure to read and gets me thinking!

  24. MasqueofRed says

    I’ve unfortunately realized that someone being an atheist is in no way a guarantee or even indication that they are open minded… It’s a shame.

    But you do have support, Natalie! We’re here for you! :P All I can do everyday is try to help people get past their prejudiced viewpoints as much as possible.

  25. Phledge says

    Standing ovation. I was just thinking yesterday that, no matter what our identity and privilege, we should ALL be fighting uphill. The person with male privilege should be working just as hard to eliminate misogyny as the woman who works to stop misogyny on her own behalf; the white person should be wielding hir privilege to stop racism as enthusiastically as the person of color fights for equality for hirself; and so on. As a cis person, I can only promise that I will work to obtain justice for all trans* people. I am sad that, in fact, your intersectional oppression affords you no truly safe place, and I hope that all of us can endeavor to change that here at FTB. Thank you for your courage and presence here.

  26. says

    You know the definition of a pioneer, right? The person lying on the path up ahead with the arrows in her back? Yeah. That.

    For what it’s worth, I think you’re voice is strong and necessary. When the bullshit is washing around your knees, remember that there are people who are rooting for you to succeed, too.

  27. Nicole says

    THANK YOU for posting this!! I was at Greta Christina’s talk in Charlottesville last week and posed the question of how in the heck to ally with the LGBTQ and Feminist movements. How after years of working more within those movements I had gravitated more towards the Secular movement since I see even more social injustice due to religion and want to fix it from this angle.

    Please keep up the fight. There have to be more of us who have the background in Feminism/LGBTQ who feel passionately that the an important of social change is to get religion out of our government and off our bodies.

  28. says

    I can’t find a link, but I think it was Dale McGowan who talked about seeking out opinions that are not agreeable to you. He said if you’re not doing that, you’re not stretching yourself, not challenging your own thoughts. Your thoughts will then solidify into a belief system. Of course it’s a balance and no one can tell you how much time to spend doing the seeking, but you get the idea.

  29. Alexis says

    I don’t comment often, because I have little to add to your excellent posts. Just imagine how many of us might be out here, supporting you, but simply don’t know what to add to what you’ve already said. If the inter web thingy were a meta physical link, you would be feeling many warm fuzzies right now.

    • Fox says

      This! I’m another newish reader and an incorrigible lurker, but I want to thank you and say I’m sorry for all the horrible people in the world and join in on the warm fuzzies as well!

  30. Dalillama says

    As others have said, it’s easy to default to ingroup loyalty if you haven’t thought something through. It’s really unpleasant when it happens to you from people who you consider yourself to belong to the same group as them. I would like to specifically applaud you for adding unexamined assumptions to faith on the list of things that are generally negative and need to be guarded against. I’d also like to add my voice to the plaudits that you have been awarded in this thread, and I hope you keep blogging.

  31. John Horstman says

    But worst of all? I realized that comparatively, the transphobic/homophobic/sexist atheists were proving themselves much more hostile, intolerant, ignorant, bigoted and quick to bludgeon others with their ill-informed, irrational opinions and preconceptions than were the queer theists. What’s more, I realized this isn’t new. This is what I’ve been seeing all along.

    This may have to do with the extent to which the people in question are accustomed to privilege. While atheism is certainly discriminated against, it’s easy to not be out about it, and there are many (desirable) workplaces and communities where atheism is either not seen as bad or is seen as an active good. It’s more difficult to not be out about gender transition, especially if one transitions without moving/changing jobs/etc., and it’s more difficult to find supportive communities that aren’t expressly geared toward trans individuals, so it may well be that trans people, on average, are more comfortable with disparate opinions and less comfortable with claiming/asserting/demanding privilege at all (don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of trans activists who revel in their own privilege or insist on it; anyone proclaiming hir own trans narrative as THE correct one/archetype or insisting that any discussion of trans issues, gender issues, or anything tangentially related that doesn’t include the issues SIE finds most important or most pressing is doing this, and sadly, these are often the loudest activists).

    There’s also the vast and disturbing undercurrent of transphobia within feminism, which I’ve talked about before, particularly in radical feminism and cultural feminism, and of which you can find a pretty disturbing example in this comment thread at Jezebel I noticed via pingback (when someone starts citing Butler in terms of why they “don’t get” transgenderism, watch out!)…

    In my experience, this has a lot to do with confusion over the simultaneous re-essentialization of social gender identity as the body (biological gender identity) is de-essentialized. In order to legitimize transgendered identities in a cultural context where essentialism still drives the way most people understand and experience the world (I *think* this is the primary motivating factor, though I could be totally wrong in any, most, or even all cases), a lot of (possibly only the more vocal) trans activists adopt a narrative the essentializes the social gender identity as a ‘justification’ for bodily interventions (though really, a justification beyond “I want to do X to my own body” shouldn’t be necessary). This is problematic for many branches of feminism that sought to de-essentialize gender roles/performativity (and have pretty conclusively shown that gender is indeed socialized). As far as I can tell, the hostility isn’t PRIMARILY directed against trans people in actuality (it may be, though; feminists can be bigots too), it’s directed at a specific trans narrative that is seen as problematic from feminist theoretical perspectives, that is then unfairly generalized to ALL trans people (it does remain a dominant trans narrative, as far as I can tell, though it’s far from universal). I say this as someone who used to “not get” gender transition in a similar fashion (so I could well just be projecting): it seemed to me to be a rejection of reality (I believe I’m not male, despite the story that my body tells) that trans individuals sought to address by changing reality instead of their ‘incorrect’ view of it, in the same way that one could theoretically treat a paranoid schizophrenic convinced the CIA was tracking him by actually having the CIA track him, reifying his delusions to address the disconnect. After reading Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw, I came to understand gender transition in the context of self-conscious role performativity (for whatever reason, I am most comfortable embodying the female performative role, so I’m going to behave as is necessary for me to express it most completely, including bodily interventions that will make the role’s performance the most ‘legitimate’ in my present cultural-historical context), which is a way to make sense of (both essentializing and non-essentializing) trans narratives without necessitating the essentialization of a part of identity that is most certainly socially constructed.

    There’s a problem that arises, though. Because what I’m essentially charging is that essentializing gender identity reflects an incomplete (or incorrect) conceptualization of how gender identities form and operate, and because that kind of essentialized identity is held dear by many of the trans individuals who claim it, that position is often interpreted (stripped of its theoretical depth and nuance) as ‘an attack on trans individuals’ or transphobic (because it’s not validating/legitimizing an understanding of identity held by person X, even if one has good reasons to disagree with the way person X is theorizing and practicing identity). Ultimately, it’s my experience that very few ‘feminists’ take issue with people living/claiming a particular gender identity or engaging in body modification of any sort (perhaps more in Second Wave group), it’s more that said ‘feminists’ take issue with the conceptualizations of gender asserted by some trans persons and unfairly universalize them, or that they don’t unfairly universalize them but other trans persons unfairly cast the disagreement as being universalized to all trans people, even if it was a narrow disagreement with a particular way of theorizing/understanding gender. There’s too much projection and too little listening. Of course, I’m also only privy to the slices of feminist and transgender activism to which I’m privy, so maybe I’m not representing the general community trends well at all. (The above relates to the bits on hatred for ‘feminism’ in transgender circles as well – also, I’m putting feminism in single quotes to indicate that it’s directed at something called “feminism” that may or may not be an fair reflection of what one might consider to be feminist i.e. straw feminisms).

    It reminds me of the problem of intersectionality; how difficult it becomes when an individual is being persecuted along multiple axes of discrimination, and how social justice movements will typically allow the narrative of a given group to be dominated by individuals who are normative in all other senses.

    Yep. It sucks. Fighting for social justice is hard – that’s kinda sorta exactly how norms work, why they have power – and doing so on multiple fronts while marginalized or oppressed along multiple vectors is even harder. I’m really sorry that you have to be in this position – I’m afforded more of a buffer due to the many privileged categories ascribed to me (though, in the wrong settings, I can also be subject to extremely invasive/violent/marginalizing attempts to coerce my support for the established normative hierarchies).

    I can have my own values, goals and views. And I can engage with others, and work together with them, absolutely. But as conditional alliances based on mutual values, not as a binding, shared, absolute identity.

    So when I find myself in a thread on an atheist blog where an atheist is being a transphobic asshole? In that moment, we don’t share a movement, we aren’t on the same team, I don’t need to be ashamed of your actions, I don’t need to give you special deference as an ally, and I don’t need to feel like giving up on it. In that moment, I am a trans woman. And I am pissed off.

    Yeah! I think that makes perfect sense; in fact, I’m not a big fan of identity labels at all, in part because they suggest a uniformity that does not accurately describe any identity group or community (we did a lot with contestations of concepts of community and identity in my Queer Theory courses). The boundaries of communities are always contested, and I think actively and self-consciously contesting them is entirely a good thing. Also, I’ve never felt any need to extend special deference to someone because sie is an ‘ally’ in a particular ‘movement’ or other; in fact, I find it necessary to be more critical of groups or movements with which I’m identified, because a) oppositional groups/movements will attack any perceived internal inconsistency, bigotry, or bias as a failing of the entire group/movement, whether it’s fair or not and whether it’s hypocritical of the opposition group to be doing it or not (consider neo-Confederates decrying Planned Parenthood for aborting Black babies in that asinine billboard campaign), and b) social justice activists should already fucking know better than to ONLY fight one very narrow class of marginalizations/oppressions. That second issue, which you note, is particularly infuriating to me. You know what’s even harder than getting people to acknowledge that addicts are people, and should therefore not be denied equal rights, protection under the law, etc.? Getting them to acknowledge that non-adults are people – the extent to which otherwise radically-liberal people will go to justify parental control over offspring and state denial of rights and legal protections to children is absurd (doubly goofy is the way that ‘traditional values’ Conservatives want to declare embryos to be people whose interests can override those of the woman inside of which the embryo is and of whose body it is part while simultaneously asserting that actual born children should be completely under the control of their parents, to the point that beating them to death as punishment is okay). Systems of privilege are all interconnected and mutually reinforcing; while individual issues and battles can be tactically selected, social justice requires a dedication to fighting ALL vectors of marginalization and oppression.
    I’m glad you’re kicking ass and taking names in all of the various fora in which you do so, Natalie, and the fact that your doing so in spite of push-back in all of them is even more impressive. It’s not fair or right that it should have to be so much harder for you. I wish there was something I could do other than try to be an ally, but, sadly, I don’t think it’s really going to get better until we can purge in-group/out-group biased thinking from humanity, which might be impossible (and at the very least will take hundreds of years more).

    • says

      Well… I’ll post a more thought-through response later, but for now I’d advise, as always, not mixing up social gender EXPRESSION (which is socially and culturally mediated) and gender IDENTITY (which can legitimately be essentialized). We do not transition because we are feminine “therefore female”, we transition because we are female.

      • John Horstman says

        Ah, okay, so we’re hitting what is possibly a theoretical impasse (and hence the Butler that is often perceived, perhaps legitimately, as being used to back anti-trans arguments): my theoretical position (drawn heavily from Butler, though also others) is that “identity” can’t ‘legitimately’ be essentialized because it’s a self-concept of how one imagines oneself fitting into (externally constructed, though one’s own behaviors serve to re-construct the identity categories one claims or is ascribed) performative social categories. It’s entirely dependent upon socially-constructed categories for both its understanding and practice, and thus can in no way be claimed to be essential. For example, a ‘gay identity’ didn’t exist until the last century in the US or UK. “Gay” had to first be theorized as a social categorization before it was possible to internalize it as an identity. Before then, there was just buggery/sodomy, which referred to specific (illegal) acts, but many of the people who engaged in ‘same’-‘sex’ sexual acts didn’t conceive of themselves as different from their neighbors on an ‘identity’ level.

        We do not transition because we are feminine “therefore female”, we transition because we are female.

        I’m asserting that “female” is a performative social categorization – in fact, gender transition itself provides one of the strongest cases for this perspective, since someone with none of the genetic or biological factors that typically precipitate ascribed femaleness can still legitimately claim the identity “female”. If what we’re going to mean by the categorization “female” is “self-identifies as female”, then the entire category is meaningless for the overwhelming majority of situations to which it is applied, because anyone and everyone could do so. I could do so, without changing my behavior or self-conceptualization at all, except to switch a label from “male” to “female”, and I would think people were perfectly correct to dismiss my claim as absurd because I’m not read or treated as female.

        The problem I have with asserting, “we transition because we are female,” is that “female” is a socially-constructed category, not a personal invention created in a vacuum by every single female person. And depending on the definition of “female” in play (for example: XX chromosome 23 karyotype), it may be untrue. Now one may question whether that definition of “female” is at all useful, especially if we’re discussing anything not directly related to the functioning of those chromosomes, and I think that’s totally reasonable, but I object to any conceptualization that posits gender (biological or social) as essential. Your statement implicitly does so by asserting that femaleness exists prior to the performativity (of primarily physical characteristics, though some behaviors as well) by which we define femaleness, and I am asserting that that is a way of conceptualizing gender that does not reflect the reality of how gender is defined or functions.
        There’s a passage in Bornstein’s book where she says something along the lines of (not a direct quote), “I wanted to transition because I felt female, but looking back I realize that I have no idea what it means to ‘feel female’, nor can anyone else, because the entire concept of what it means to be female is informed by how ‘female’ is constructed within a given cultural context.” Unless one wants to start talking ‘souls’ or some similar woo, “female” cannot possibly preexist the construction of the categorization, which means it cannot be essential, a fact that is most clearly demonstrated by trans women (the categorization “female” is out there and has been for a while, transwomen adopt a “female” identity following from that; this is most striking in trans narratives like that of Dalillama’s husband – #7 on the When Trans-Inclusivity Goes Wrong thread – who didn’t even know transitioning was possible for some period of their lives and could not possibly have self-conceptualized as transgender until they knew such a thing existed).

        • says

          I disagree with quite a few of your assertions.

          I believe that gender identity, the sense of self as female or male, which is separate from social constructions of “femininity”, “masculinity” or what exactly it MEANS to be female or male, can indeed predate social construction. They are innate, pre-existing neurological constructs. How we articulate being female or being male may be dependent on our socio-cultural context, but that inner sense of self exists a priori. I think the hard-line Butlerian social-constructivist stance simply is not supported by the evidence, and erases trans experiences in order to prop up a model of gender that is convenient for a certain type of feminist position. The separation of gender expression and gender identity is crucial to understanding gender in a way that takes into account the full diverse range of ways human beings experience it. Furthermore, maintaining that distinction allows a conceptual harmony between feminist critique of social constructs of “feminine”, “masculine” and what male/female are “supposed” to be and mean, while also allowing room for people’s sense of self AS male or female to not be invalidated.

          For more, see my 13 Myths And Misconceptions posts:

          http://skepchick.org/2012/01/13-myths-and-misconceptions-about-trans-women-part-one/

          http://queereka.com/2012/01/02/13-myths-and-misconceptions-about-trans-women-part-two/

          • says

            I’m slightly new to this debate and definitely new to this forum, so if I say something that seems offensive, I assure you I didn’t mean it. But this discussion comes along at a fortuitous time, as I’ve just finished reading Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, and the intersection of that book with this thread raised a bunch of questions.

            I saw the thread at Jezebel, and yes, it was pretty awful. However, when you referred to it in your post and said:

            “when someone starts citing Butler in terms of why they “don’t get” transgenderism, watch out!”

            You lost me. The only references to Butler I saw in the conversation were addressed to the people denying that trans women were women, and I thought the idea was that the people who “don’t get transgender” should read Butler.

            “I believe that gender identity, the sense of self as female or male, which is separate from social constructions of “femininity”, “masculinity” or what exactly it MEANS to be female or male, can indeed predate social construction. They are innate, pre-existing neurological constructs.”

            That’s a really hardcore essentialist position. The way I read it, you’re asserting that every single human being is, from birth to death, neurologically wired to be one of either male or female. Since you said the Butlerian constructivist position doesn’t stand up to the evidence, at this point I have to ask: what evidence? And what evidence supports your assertion? And is it in fact impossible to transcend that “innate gender identity”?

            “I think the hard-line Butlerian social-constructivist stance simply is not supported by the evidence, and erases trans experiences in order to prop up a model of gender that is convenient for a certain type of feminist position.”

            How does it erase trans experience? In itself, I can’t find anything that’s explicitly hostile to transgender in Butler’s starting position in Gender Trouble.

            On the contrary, at first glance such an extreme essentialist position as the one you seem to be taking would, in my mind, cement the idea of a gender binary and totally deny any “third gender” or post-gender identities. If someone identifies as neither a man or a woman, from your position of pre-existing gender identity, you’d say they’re wrong? Also, if gender identity is fixed before birth, there’s no possibility of your gender identity changing during your life, because you’re either in tune with your “birth gender” or not?

            At first glance, your position here sounds exactly like heteronormativity, only one that allows a switch. I’m really uncomfortable with this idea of a fixed, “real” gender, if only because from such a position, one could pass judgment on other people’s choice of gender and sexuality. I find it’s incredibly offensive that the Jezebel thread kicks off with a commenter saying that they don’t accept trans women are real women. But doesn’t taking a hardcore essentialist stance like this basically legitimize a critique of that nature, i.e. a division of gendered existences into the legitimate and the illegitimate? In my mind, that kind of division is exactly what the notion of gender as performance does away with. To assert that the gender binary is innate seems to me to deny a whole range of self-expression as illegitimate.

          • Dalillama says

            @Michael Halela
            I know the thread is long, but you could at least read the part that surrounds your post before you make a fool of yourself. I gave an outline of the neurological processes below, and here is a paper that covers some of that in more detail.

        • Dalillama says

          For example, a ‘gay identity’ didn’t exist until the last century in the US or UK. “Gay” had to first be theorized as a social categorization before it was possible to internalize it as an identity. …people who engaged in ‘same’-‘sex’ sexual acts didn’t conceive of themselves as different from their neighbors on an ‘identity’ level.

          This remains true today. There are many people who engage in same-sex encounters and do not consider themselves gay, specifically because they are in communities in which ‘gay’ is a stigmatized other group, and identifying oneself as such would lead to both strong internal dissonance between one’s actual needs and the social conditioning that such needs are a sign of utter moral degeneracy. Since most people prefer to perceive themselves as being moral individuals, gay people in these communities deliberately remove their sexuality from their conception of their identity, commonly resulting in depression and other forms of psychological scarring from internal dissonance. Put more briefly, there were homosexual people in Britain in the 19th century, who had sexual and romantic desires aimed primarily or entirely at members of their own sex.

          If what we’re going to mean by the categorization “female” is “self-identifies as female”, then the entire category is meaningless for the overwhelming majority of situations to which it is applied, because anyone and everyone could do so. I could do so, without changing my behavior or self-conceptualization at all, except to switch a label from “male” to “female”, and I would think people were perfectly correct to dismiss my claim as absurd because I’m not read or treated as female.

          In practice, however, anyone and everyone doesn’t. Pretty much the only people who do so on a consistent basis are people who identify as transgender. If you were to do so, without changing your behavior at all, we would correctly think that you were doing it to be an ass. Pulling arbitrary hypotheticals out of your ass does not constitute an argument.

          I object to any conceptualization that posits gender (biological or social) as essential.

          That’s nice. Do you have any evidence to back that objection up? Does your conceptualization accurately model observed behaviours and accurately predict future behaviours?

          Unless one wants to start talking ‘souls’ or some similar woo, “female” cannot possibly preexist the construction of the categorization, which means it cannot be essential, a fact that is most clearly demonstrated by trans women (the categorization “female” is out there and has been for a while, transwomen adopt a “female” identity following from that;

          Sexual dimorphism occurs in the brain as well as in other, outwardly visible parts of the body. Certain neural circuits define the brain’s perception of sex and gender, and these circuits are determined at a different point in development than the determination of outward sexual characteristics. Most often, the circuits activated in the brain are congruent with the visible sexual characteristics, but sometimes they aren’t. Similarly, sometimes the male and female brain and/or genital and secondary sex characteristics can be partially activated, as in the case of intersex and non binary-identified trans* people. See? No woo involved, and all falsifiable claims subject to empirical testing.

          his is most striking in trans narratives like that of Dalillama’s husband – #7 on the When Trans-Inclusivity Goes Wrong thread – who didn’t even know transitioning was possible for some period of their lives and could not possibly have self-conceptualized as transgender until they knew such a thing existed).

          And this is the problem with spinning airy-fairy theories out of moonbeams rather than paying attention to lived experience. When did you see me say that he did not identify as male? He didn’t identify as trans because he’d never heard the term; he knew that his body should look and act differently to the way that it was doing, and the ways in which it was wrong were the ways in which it was female.

          • says

            Okay… Thanks for the link, Dalillama, but what’s with the attitude? I did read your post, thank you very much, and what I found was you being rude to the previous poster for no apparent reason. Then you simply tell me that I’m “making a fool of myself” for asking what I thought were reasonable questions, along with a link that’s certainly useful and relevant, but doesn’t address nearly everything I mentioned.

            So, you know, what did I do?

          • Dalillama says

            The attitude is because if you were as interested in the facts as you claim to be, you too could have spent 30 seconds on Google Scholar and gotten the same information I did, instead of repeating the same crap that Horstman brought to the table. If you are interested in the neurological bases of gender, you should read neurology, not philosophy. So far as I can determine, Butler has done no original research, read none of the relevant scientific literature, and is not herself trans. Thus, she has no real basis to talk about the nature of gender generally, or transgenderism particularly. She’s basically just deciding how she’d like the world to be and then making shit up to support it. Thus it’s really annoying that you two are coming in here treating her as the final authority on gender, and especially you coming in and basically ignoring the responses to Horstman in order to reiterate what he said in slightly different words.

          • says

            As for evidence on how a strict essentialist approach is untenable, I would point you to the work of Anne Fausto-Sterling, who discusses the problematics of sexing the brain (specifically the corpus callosum), and Cordelia Fine, who also addresses issues of research on brain dimorphism in Delusions of Gender (including methodological issues, such as using a sample size of six in the article you link to). I would also point you to this article by Dr. Anne Lawrence that critiques the article you linked to.

            I think the overall point (and something that Natalie herself wrote on recently) is that strictly essentialist and strictly constructivist approaches are both flawed and only tell us part of the story. I’m not sure I agree with the separation of gender into expression and identity, especially if it’s purpose is to find a way to reduce gender (or identity, something that is in no way purely individual) to biology.

          • says

            I think your reaction to John Horstman and Michael Halila is uncalled for. They both bring up valid critiques of the classic sexology division between gender expression and gender identity. Do you think that science is some practice that is outside of theory? Do you think that the only valid knowledge is based on laboratory science? Gender expression and gender identity are theoretical positions, not empirical facts.

            You most certainly are free to disagree with Judith Butler all you want. But her work is foundational to queer theory and gender studies, so to say that she has “nothing to say about gender” is quite off the mark. Further, you insist that they bring evidence to the table, and yet the only thing you’ve said counter to their reasoned arguments amounts to NUH-UH!! “Spinning airy-fairy theories out of moonbeams”? Really? That’s your retort to Judith Butler? Do you have any reasoned arguments as to how Judith Butler is incorrect in her theory of gender performativity? Or do you prefer to just dismiss it out of hand? And have you actually read any of her work? Anne Fausto-Sterling–a biologist–manages to find Butler’s work extremely relevant and applicable to her research on sex. I don’t necessarily agree with Butler on everything, but I think she has provided some amazing heuristic devices unlike anything previously done in gender studies.

          • Dalillama says

            I may have been a bit harsh in my phrasing, but my criticisms remain valid.
            The “Airy fairy theory” to which I referred in my reply to Mr. Moskowitz was his statement, apparently derived from Butler, which directly contradicted the actual reality on the ground, as lived by the person in question. Theoretical constructs and heuristics of any sort are useful only to the extent that they accurately model reality, and those of Butler’s presented here fail to adequately model the lived experience of transgendered people. i.e. reality. Therefore, whatever use they may have elsewhere, they are not adequate to model transgender issues, and are therefore largely meaningless in a discussion of same. The fact that they fail so badly in this area leads me to suspect that their modeling of other gender issues is incomplete and/or inaccurate as well, but I haven’t checked. Furthermore, the neurological versus cultural aspects of transgenderism are fact claims. The proper way to confirm fact claims about neurological structures is to examine the brain. This is a question to ask neurologists, in other words, who have the tools and expertise to so so. Your criticisms of the study which I presented also do not help your argument; even if that study were wrong, it would not lend any extra credence to Butler’s theories, as it is possible that both of us are wrong. As it stands, there is other evidence available if you care to look, and in disputes regarding fact claims, quantifiable evidence trumps a lack of same, which latter is what the defenders of Butler have provided.

          • says

            You say Butler’s theories fail to model the lived experiences of trans people, but are you sure that’s the case? How do you know? Of course there are trans people who don’t agree with Butler, but what of trans people who like Butler and find her theories useful? Are you saying there is a singular trans experience? There’s plenty of valid criticism about her work, but there’s also plenty that she gets right (here’s a good article on that topic). I think it’s a bit narrow to dismiss her completely because she’s not a scientist.

            I was not pointing out the problems with the study you linked in an attempt to lend credence to Butler, but to point out that it’s not as simple as you’re making it out to be. The “facts” that you claim are disputed. And, as the authors I mentioned discuss, much of that work is wrapped up in politics and cultural bias. I’ve examined much of the evidence on the neurological basis of sex, and I remain unconvinced that brain size, shape, structure, etc. are adequate explanations for sex, gender, or sexuality. Those things are much more complicated than that and they are all a mixture of biological and cultural factors.

          • Dalillama says

            Bluntly, they fail to model the trans experiences described in this thread. The neurological gender hypothesis allows for a variety of outcomes, and adequately models all trans narratives of which I’m aware. Inconclusive evidence is positive evidence nonetheless, and in disputes of fact, when one side has positive evidence and the other has none, it is reasonable to assume that the side presenting evidence has a better model than that which is not. While it is certainly true that both gender roles and presentations of femininity/masculinity are primarily or entirely culturally mediated, that is not the same thing as gender identity. The brain is complex, it is true, but nevertheless, the correct way to determine how the brain works is to study the brain, not to make assumptions based on culturally mediated outcomes. I suspect that there is nothing to be gained by continuing this discussion further, but if some type of quantifiable evidence in favor of the Butlerian position as described in this thread were presented, I might change my mind.

          • says

            I see. So you DO believe there is a singular trans narrative that is based on biological essentialism. Got it.

            Inconclusive evidence is not positive evidence, it’s inconclusive! Would you be saying that “inconclusive evidence of the efficacy of acupuncture is positive evidence of acupuncture nonetheless”? Doubt it.

            Anyway, I’m not sure you quite understand what I’ve said here. I have not claimed that there is no biological basis for gender. I’ve said that you cannot essentialize it to biology, just as you cannot reduce it to culture. The best explanations are biocultural because they take into account both biological and social factors. Fausto-Sterling goes into this in some detail in her work.

            Again, though, the reason some have brought up Butler is because they disagree with the sexological approach to gender being separated into expression and identity that is used in many studies involving trans folks. You’ve yet to say how that separation is valid or supported by the data–ALL you’ve done is say the research you prefer (quantitative) provides inconclusive evidence of that separation.

            Sorry you don’t feel like you can further engage in this discussion. It could probably be a really great discussion, but I feel like you’ve made up your mind and you really don’t want to take any of this into consideration based on your hostility and egress.

          • says

            Okay, okay, could everybody chill out a bit here? As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not too keen on trans people being caught in the middle when essentialists and socio-constructivists (usually cis, as I believe dallilama, john, michael and will all are) start butting heads. I think we can all agree, at the VERY LEAST, that strict essentialist models and strict “gender is just a social construct / performance / whatever” theories are not very good at respectfully accounting for trans narratives, and the present versions of those theories aren’t very adequate. K?

            There IS plenty of very solid scientific evidence supporting an underlying neurological origin of gender identity. I can dig it up a little later if y’all are really going to insist that it doesn’t exist. But I’d rather you not push people into that corner. Although it is pretty self-evident that gender expression, and the manner in which gender is enacted, is socially mediated and adapts to cultural context, at present the science does not support the position that gender identity is purely socially constructed and instead strongly suggests there is some kind of partly physiological causal basis. Those theories also make considerably more sense than the “blank slate” theory. Nothing is conclusively proven yet, but I see no reason to shrug off the increasingly strong evidence of a neurologically innate (though variable) gender identity (as distinct from gender expression) just because it might be inconvenient for certain theoretical frameworks that have proven politically useful in the past.

          • Dalillama says

            I’m sorry, Natalie. I did get carried away and was a bit intemperate. I will endeavor to cool down in future, and to leave off my arguing a bit earlier.

          • says

            It was kind of all of you guys getting a bit intemperate and snippy with one another, not any individual in particular. So don’t worry, I don’t think anyone needs to be singled out or feel guilty or anything.

  32. heisenbug says

    I imagine that you are not interested in the slightest to have a discussion with me. Any comment of mine will just be considered as some sort of trolling… But still, I wish you luck in your endeavor on the quest for equality.

  33. Musical Atheist says

    I haven’t felt driven to comment on your posts before, because I’m hesitant to advance opinions on matters outside my experience, but I started reading your work when you were writing for Queereka, and was delighted when you moved to Freethought. I just want to say (as a cis, white, bisexual, feminist woman) that I’m very glad you’re here and I always learn a great deal from your posts, and try to improve and correct my opinions accordingly where necessary. The world can never have too many strong inspiring women telling it like it is and speaking up on any and all matters that concern them. An atheist movement dominated by privilege and prejudice is not one I want to part of: I want to be part of a movement driven by brave intelligent women like you.

  34. says

    On the bright side, I think people who are part of multiple movements have some of the best opportunities to educate. You are “on their side”, letting them know about problems they are perpetrating on people within their own group.

    On the down side, these “educational opportunities” will often be forced upon you, whether you like it or not.

    • Anders says

      The problem is that, as I read it, she has nowhere to go where her whole identity is unquestioned. She must always keep a guard up in case someone attacks her. People need a place to relax and just be themselves.

      • carlie says

        And it’s that much worse when a person finds a place that they think is welcoming, let their guard down, and then find out the hard way that it’s not.

    • says

      I don’t know that I’d consider being exhausted by constant Othering with no “safe space” to be much of an opportunity.

      sure, some people are gifted with immense energy-reserves, but I still don’t know that I’d consider that which depletes them so much to be an opportunity. At least not unequivocally so.

  35. says

    BTW, if you ever intend to cover the topic of “disgust” for trans/queer people, there’s something you should know… Some asexuals, but not all, consider themselves “repulsed” by sex. The way I think of it, they have no reason to get over this repulsion, because it’s not like they would want sex anyway. Many repulsed asexuals feel like they have to hide this fact, because it’s one of those things people use to delegitimize their identities.

    I have no desire to come to Heisenbug’s defense, but the very topic puts me on guard. Tread carefully!

    • says

      Hey miller,

      I get what you’re saying, and ace people often get a very raw deal of these kinds of topics. I’m sure it would benefit from a thread where there wasn’t such an inherent risk of derailing the discussion, based on how that AXP thread went.

      I made the point there that heisenbug had mentioned his “foot fetish” and yet no one had found it necessary to tell the universe at large how “disgusting” foot fetishism is, so I additionally suggested if it’s not harming anyone else, then it’s not my concern, and hope he enjoys it: that’s what non-bigotry is supposed to look like.

      All the same, what’s off-topic here, was off-topic there as well; and heisenbug wandered into that minefield of his own volition and started setting off explosions, and he certainly doesn’t need any help getting out of it… those who wandered in to say things like “yes this is problematic but I understood what he meant” lacked the sensitivity to avoid giving offense in other ways.

      Do you know what’s the best way of avoiding setting off mines in a minefield? Don’t get into one in the first place. (Hopefully that’s an end to these horrible minefield metaphor as well.)

    • says

      If you don’t mind, I would rather not get any more responses re:asexuals, as I have no desire to derail. I agree with Xanthe that this deserves a separate thread, unconnected to the AXP thread.

      • says

        I’ve been thinking for awhile about doing a post about the subject in and of itself, because I feel it’s an issue about which people (even LGBTQ folk) are surprisingly ignorant and intolerant. Would you be willing to maybe help me out a bit with that, when I get to it (maybe next week)? You know, keep me from saying anything stupid or off-the-mark?

        • says

          Sure, you can send me an e-mail. (Keeping in mind I’m not repulsed myself, and whatever authority I have comes from seeing countless asexual discussions of same topic.)

    • says

      BTW, if you ever intend to cover the topic of “disgust” for trans/queer people, there’s something you should know… Some asexuals, but not all, consider themselves “repulsed” by sex

      what does sexual attraction (or the lack thereof) have to do with trans issues? sexuality and gender identity are orthogonal issues. There are even asexual transsexual people, you know

          • says

            you said “if you ever intend to cover the topic of “disgust” for trans/queer people, there’s something you should know… Some asexuals, but not all, consider themselves “repulsed” by sex”. how is that not relating transsexuality with sexual attraction, as if disgust with one had anything to do with repulsion by the other?

            that entire comment makes no sense :-(

          • says

            It’s possible to talk about sexual orientation in a transphobic way even if they have nothing to do with each other. It is possible to talk about transphobia in a ace-phobic way even if they have nothing to do with each other. Sorry, I don’t feel like elaborating further at this time. I did not want an extended thread.

  36. says

    If it helps at all, wherever this journey leads you you’ll find me. I’m also an MtF egalitarian skeptic and atheist; you’re not alone even at all those intersections.

  37. Vene says

    Natalie, I just wanted to comment that your responses over at AXP are fucking awesome. I absolutely hate it when bigots act like they’re allies while calling others “disgusting.” I hate it even more when said bigots are not took to task for their actions.

  38. says

    This comment may become lost in the tons of praise that is rightfully heaped upon you Natalie but here I go.

    I have been an atheist for a long time. Prior to becoming one (part of the reason that led me to that conclusion) I saw the hatred expressed against entire groups of people based on an aspect of themselves that was unchangeable. It never made sense to me. I couldn’t hate like god and his followers seemed to hate. It made the transition easier knowing that there was no god telling me that hatred is a requirement on the other end. (This is not to say that I do not hate. Just not entire groups of people at once)

    That being said, I could ignore. I found it rather easy to ignore a lot of issues. I could blame a lot of things, time constraints, budget concerns, whatever, but the reality is that I was being lazy. When I fought for gay rights, I ignored trans rights. When I fought one the side of fellow women, I never stood up and said this includes trans women. It isn’t that I somehow considered trans women or trans men any less deserving of my voice, I was just uninformed and unmotivated to become more informed. I couldn’t be bothered. In some ways I think that makes me worse than the bigots. At least they joined the fight even if it was the wrong side.

    Then you came to FtB. From day one I was hooked.

    I loved your writing. I loved that I was learning something new. I loved the changes your blog were making inside me. I became more aware. My voice became more solid in defense of others. My thoughts more inclusive. My actions more reflective.

    Since coming to FtB, I know you have received criticism from many angles. Please don’t let that criticism distract you from what you have the power to do. You have the power to change people. I am one of those people, and I am thankful.

    At the risk of sounding stalkerish…you can’t leave…you just can’t.

  39. Damn says

    *Clears throat*
    I am a bisexual (prefers girls) mildly girly non-transitioning trans man, who doesn’t even mind their own boobs (and doesn’t care what you call him ;) ).
    I am a skeptic atheist who has had a bit of mild schizophrenia (or something related, it’s never been diagnosed).
    I am a nerdy autistic with bad dyslexia and even more trouble with language in general.
    I’m also a poor white with a hispanic last name who doesn’t know spanish.
    …and a college drop-out (Hey! At least I made it there!).
    I just want you to remember in those times when it seems like everyone is against you, and hates you, that you don’t have it nearly as bad as me. XD

    Keep going, darling.

  40. says

    Forty-two! I think Natalie it’s in your interests to carve a niche and a safe space in your blog here, and through the FtB back channel you can make your fellow bloggers aware of the particular pressures that arise from time to time. Eight or so months ago we had the Rebeccapocalypse, and that showed up the non-intersection of feminist and atheist thought within scepticism – and if we want to add queer and transgender to some monster Venn diagram, we’ll find any of those groups to be rather all over the shop. As far as I can tell, the main troll on the AXP thread who had the gaucheness to post at #33 upthread only fits into the atheist circle; he made clear that he is not supportive of queer/transgender identities (or he wouldn’t keep trolling); is not a feminist; and is certainly not sceptical about inquiry into topics he is ignorant of!

  41. says

    It was appalling. And depressing. But worst of all? I realized that comparatively, the transphobic/homophobic/sexist atheists were proving themselves much more hostile, intolerant, ignorant, bigoted and quick to bludgeon others with their ill-informed, irrational opinions and preconceptions than were the queer theists. What’s more, I realized this isn’t new. This is what I’ve been seeing all along.

    ayup. I had a similar moment during the Elevatorgate fiasco.

    and I have to admit that since then, I’ve… well, the best way to put it is that I’ve sort of gotten bored with the perspectives of most white males on many issues. It’s a bit like watching reruns or shitty remakes when what I’m hungry for are ideas and issues and perspectives I’ve not encountered yet (and that made me viscerally understand why women of color are bored of white female perspectives, etc.)

  42. Happiestsadist says

    Natalie, just wanted to say that you and your writing are amazing. And that I know what you mean about socially-conflicting identities.

    But mostly about how you rock, and that I got your back, at least on this series of tubes.

  43. says

    the -phobes in question doubled down, engaged in some amazingly offensive trivialization of queer identities, experiences and the discrimination we face, and started playing the “you’re all just people to me!” / “reverse discrimination!” / “stop making such a big deal out of nothing!” / “acting like this is important is only making your oppression worse” / “well, now you’re just alienating your allies” tactics. Plenty of “shut up, that’s why“, too. And one even decided to call Pride Parades an act of “trolling” his delicate straight/cis sensibilities.

    I understand why all those things are offensive. All but one.

    I genuinely just see people as people. My first reaction to people is, “heeey, humans!” (Sometimes it’s, “Crap. Humans! There goes the planet…”) It’s all irrelevant to me because shit like skin color, gender identity, sexual orientation, (lack of) religion, what-have-you, those don’t determine whether or not you’re good people — your actions do.

    So… ummm… how is it offensive to just see people as people?

    Or, um, is it the way it was said?

    (I apologize if this has already been addressed — I needed to get my thoughts out before losing them. Feel free to steer me in the right direction!)

    • says

      The problem is using “I just see people!” as a reason to trivialize the importance that other people’s identities have for them, or to ignore the differences in experiences that result from differences in identity. The experiences a trans woman has in this society are very different from that of a cis person, so yeah, there IS a difference there, and ignoring it is not helpful.

      • says

        I get that identity is important to the individual, and part of one’s identity is tied up in labels (self-affixed or otherwise). I just… I’m not comfortable assigning people to categories. I’d prefer to simply let people use the labels and categories they’d like to use for themselves. It’s more out of respect than anything else — I don’t want to minimize or dismiss individual experiences, or anything like that. I just want to give people the “space” to define themselves for themselves.

        That said, I do see how it can be used to push people away, how it can be heard/read as, “so fucking what, you’re just another cog in the machine, now sit down, shut up, and conform to THIS arbitrary set of standards.” (And that goes against every last bit of my being!)

        I wonder if there’s a way to express the idea that you “just see people as people” without, uh, without discarding the events, influences and experiences that shape us all into individuals. Is there a way to convey this idea of respectfully allowing others to determine, for themselves, which labels they would like to use, without either sounding like Giles, or ending up chewing on my foot-paws?

        • says

          How about this: simultaneously,

          1. recognize self-definition for identity (as you say).

          2. recognize that being placed in different boxes by most of society, causes people to have vastly different life experiences.

          3. Keep the likely difference of experience in mind if you find yourself judging someone negatively, and use knowledge or educated guesses about their experiences to help you be more fair.

          That way, I figure, you’re not blindly holding everyone to the “same” expectations, but you’re not oppressing anyone either.

  44. says

    For me, I’ve been thinking it over, and it’s starting to seem like the solution, in terms of not letting this kind of thing depress me to the point of paralysis or wanting to just give up the fight, is to just cut my identification with movements entirely.

    The reasonable person adapts their views to fit the world. The unreasonable person adapts the world to fit their views. Therefore, all change in the world depends on the unreasonable person. (I forget the original source of this, and I’ve modified the original quote to make it gender-neutral.)

    It may be better for your own sanity to cut ties with groups that don’t share all your values, but it’s similar to being openly trans. There are a lot of personal advantages to passing as cis, but when every trans person does it (or tries to do it), the societal attitudes that allow this to happen go unchallenged. Things will only change if a few people are willing to openly be who they are.

    If you stay in all these movements, you have a chance to effect change for the better, but at the expense of being hated by swaths of your “allies” on occasion. It’s up to you in the end, of course. I just wanted to present my perspective here and weigh in.

  45. Chimera says

    …people only tend to be exactly as tolerant as it takes to accept themselves, and maybe their immediate friends and family, but have a whole lot of trouble extending that principle beyond that circle, to people who they don’t understand, with whom they don’t share the same experiences or identities or priorities.

    Guh. So true and tragic. But YOU’RE not like that, Natalie. :)

      • Anders says

        That’s depressing. Can everyone who goes there mark it as transphobic and get Facebook to remove it?

        • says

          Yes, but such strategies are unlikely to work (Streisand Effect). The same sort of transphobia is found on various radfem blogs, websites, and forums, if you’re of a mind to do some research.

          • Anders says

            No thank you. I got quite enough of it there.

            *sigh*

            Well, if we can’t do everything that’s needed we’ll stick to doing everything that we can do. I’d say it’s useless for me to complain because they won’t listen to a man anyway, but it sounds to me like they won’t listen to anyone. They’re as much fanatics as the WBC, only less media-savvy.

            (I wonder if, in 50 years, we’ll see radical feminists picketing the funerals of famous trans people?)

      • says

        Not just standard radfem transphobia, though they are unusually preoccupied with that. I also see standard hating of women who aren’t feminist the right way (third wavers are just a backlash against real feminism) and men (all men are sociopaths). I can see why Anders suspected poe.

  46. Smarter that the average Blair says

    Natalie,

    I am not moved to post often, but I just wanted to let you know that I enjoy reading your posts and as a white male raised in a conservative, wealthy, cloistered town and sent to an almost all white christian prep school privilege factory from k-12, I do depend on blogging like yours to help me dislodge my head from my ass. Keep up the good work. You are a great addition both here at FTB and at skepchick.

  47. Stevarious says

    in all three of those primary movements I described belonging to (feminism, trans/queer-rights, and atheism/skepticism), I’ve encountered considerable privilege and entitlement, and attitudes of scorn, dehumanization, trivialization, and contempt in regards to issues of addiction (and poverty). I have yet to locate a single place in my life in which this particular aspect of my experiences and who I am are not subject to ignorance and intolerance.

    I’m sorry Natalie. For what it’s worth, coming from a white cis-male, I’ve got your back on all three. I didn’t use to (because I used to be an asshole).

    I found atheism all by myself, but it took seeing other assholes like myself being ground up by the razor sharp jaws of reason on Pharyngula and other places to realize that it wasn’t enough to fight against the things that oppress myself and that intolerance everywhere should be fought against tooth and nail.

  48. says

    This seems like a good moment to mention that I LOVE your blog. you have interesting things to say, and you sat them extremely well. Please keep on educating me, and please do organise a tip jar if you can.

  49. daenyx says

    Feh. I’ve been hating the internet and much of the world lately for exactly what you’ve described here, and I have less of it to deal with than you do.

    I have a particularly hard time with the ‘stop getting so angry, I’m on your side’ crowd, perhaps because when I was younger, I cultivated the internalized-misogynistic persona of The Cool Woman Who Thinks and Plays Videogames With The Men, and made a lot of connections during that time of my life that I would not make now, and it’s hard to just cut off what amounts to a good 70% of my social circle. But I sometimes feel like I should, for sanity’s sake, even though all of them have plenty of redeeming value as friends otherwise.

    The way you ended this post made me smile, though – the earlier tone had me thinking you were leading up to a ‘and I don’t know if I have the energy to fight anymore’ and I was getting preemptively sad about that. I like the way you actually concluded much better, and I’ll try to remember it in my own day-to-day.

  50. Anders says

    I wonder if minority groups aren’t sometimes falling victims to Geek fallacy #1: All ostracizers are evil. (www.plausiblydeniable.com/opinion/gsf.html)

    This is from an outsider perspective – I am not a member of a persecuted minority – but the way it would run is something like this: We form a minority organization because we are all ostracized for the same reason. We may not have much in common other than this, but this we share. It is then difficult for us to start ostracizing people that belong to our organization because they have other unpleasant characteristics – like misogyny, racism, transphobia, homophobia, etc., etc. Because that makes us like the people who ostracize us.

    Perhaps the minority groups need to get better at branding prejudice as unacceptable and expel the prejudiced, or at least those who wear the prejudice proudly on their sleeves.

    Think there’s something there?

    • says

      Well there definitely is that attitude within geek communities where people will tend to think of themselves as brave non-conformist rebels who are only ever ostracized or challenged because they spoke the truth, and that your credibility is directly proportional to how much of an asshole you are and how angry people get…

      • Anders says

        That’s not exactly what I meant. Geeks share one thing with various oppressed minorities – we’re outcasts (and I don’t mean to say that a geek suffers the same level of prejudice as a trans person). We know what it’s like to be alone and unloved, so when we form communities we build in strong safeguards against ostracism. And sometimes these safeguards may become too strong.

        So if a group of gays in the local LGBTA community exhibit transphobia they can be excused because “they’re gays, they have a right to be here; it’s for all LGBTA”. Well, maybe it shouldn’t be. Maybe the community should only be open to people who show a minimum amount of civility towards other members.

        I’m on shaky ground here, because I come to this as a privileged outsider, so I would like your opinion. And please don’t bite my head off.

  51. Naomi says

    Natalie, you are awesome! Though I’m not very involved with online communities, I always read your blog whenever I have the time (aaand even when I don’t have the time) and love your writing, find it moving and encouraging, and hope that you know there are many people like me out here who are excited to read your stuff. When my girlfriend and I heard you were here on FTB we got excited like it was our birthday :)

    I hope that I can encourage you and support you in your efforts to continue being the awesome writer you are.

  52. Mac says

    Personally as a gay man and a 4th generation atheist , two groups I have come to loath are atheist and feminist ,because neither understand what a civil rights movement is. Gay people lack 1700 state and federal rights and are the most beaten and killed minority anin Ameirca and feminist and fellow atheist are nothing more that a public awarness capaign.

      • Mac says

        According to The Southern Poverty Law Center LGBT’s are the number one minority to be killed, beaten, and discriminated in the United state. I should know I work for the leading LGBT law firm

        • says

          Specifically trans women of color. And I hope you DIDN’T just cite “1700 rights” as all connected to marriage because trans women, especially trans women of color, have a LOT more pressing problems. You are not one, you don’t face those risks. How dare you use trans women of color as your political bargaining chip.

          If you work for an LGBT law firm then you better learn trans allyship 101 and actually read the stuff Natalie’s written here. Read this entire blog. Talk to the Transgender Law Center at a bare minimum and stop acting so fucking superior you asshole. Uggh.

          • Mac says

            The name calling is not called for, I was stabbed eleven times and beaten in to a coma and lost one eye and was in ICU for 4 days and had to learn to walk and talk all over again and did I not say LGBT ? As for the rewason Black Transgender women are beaten and killed often in because of the black culture having the higet crime rate area’s etc.

          • says

            It’s terrible that that happened to you. It doesn’t excuse your refusal to listen, and it certainly doesn’t make the world revolve around you when one talks of systemic violence.

            I love the irony here, your first comment is about civil rights movements and now you are making ignorant claims about black culture. What gives, dude?

          • says

            Blaming it on black culture being more hateful or violent?

            Yeah. If this guy works for a Southern Poverty Law, they are a far more useless and inept organization than I ever imagined. So, for the sake of my own sanity, I’m just going to assume he’s a liar. His horrible written communication skills help.

            I’m also going to ban him for being an ignorant, racist, trans-erasing moron.

          • says

            I’m going to ignore for a moment that you just gave a standard racist trope for blaming black crime victims for their predicament. Are black trans women any more likely to live in these high-crime black neighborhoods that any other black person? Clearly, there’s more going on here.

          • Mac says

            Stating facts that black communities have a much larger crime rate than , lets say asin or jewish communities is a statistical fact and Many trans black women do live in these area’s and also its not all about you either, as you would have me read up on Transgender people, and pull that ” Oh no You DIDNT” Card. It seems to me you may have some anger issues that you need to deal with.

        • says

          LGBT is not the same thing as “gay”, big fella. Trans women, despite being a tiny fraction of the LGBT community, comprise over 40% of the victims of violent hate crimes in the LGBT community, being more likely to be assaulted than gay men by several orders of magnitude. More specifically, trans women of colour are the most likely victims of such attacks. If you’re telling the truth about working for SPLC, I find it extremely disturbing that you wouldn’t know this, or wouldn’t consider it relevant.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Thanks to Natalie for prompting me to finally write the rant that’s been on my mind for the last several days. Share this: Posted in Difference, Politics « Utah Getting More Regressive on Sex Education You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. //GA_googleFillSlot("Science_Embed1_300"); adsonar_placementId=1533106;adsonar_pid=2444769;adsonar_ps=0;adsonar_zw=540;adsonar_zh=225;adsonar_jv='ads.adsonar.com'; […]

  2. […] One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot this week is the difficulty of having a set of values, beliefs or personal identifications that don’t always comfortably intersect, and that finding a safe space for one aspect of who you are or what you believe will often leave you vulnerable to having other aspects attacked or demonized. Like feminists who dislike trans women and skeptics, trans women who dislike feminists and atheists,…. […]

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