There is a very limiting and very human tendency to focus on one issue at a time, and think, once that issue is dealt with, that all the problems have been fixed. We elect Obama, we have a black president, racism must be over. The Supreme Court affirmed a woman’s right to an abortion in Roe v. Wade, therefore reproductive autonomy for all women has been achieved. We had a cold winter, therefore global warming is a myth. Many Muslim women are oppressed to a greater degree than American women, so America has achieved perfect sexual equality. We are short-sighted and self-centered and eager to see any signs of progress as an ultimate triumph.
One of the sobering things about Zinnia Jones’ latest video is that she reminds us that we have a thousand problems, not just one, and that you haven’t fixed transphobia by legalizing gay marriage. We have very far to go and we shouldn’t confuse taking a first step with reaching the destination.
Another myth: by freeing yourself of one superstition, god, you’ve freed yourself of them all. Zinnia has a special message for atheists, because she has long identified with that group and has seen it all, with proudly self-proclaimed atheists joining in the denigration of transgender people. And worst of all, they use “science” to justify their bigotry.
When you look at what these atheists are actually saying, their claims have nothing to do with religion. If you’re wondering how they can be transphobic despite being atheists, you’re asking precisely the wrong question. They aren’t transphobic in spite of their atheism. They’re transphobic because of their atheism.
And I don’t mean that their atheism has made them merely indifferent. No – it’s actively made their transphobia worse. As unlikely as that might sound, it’s pretty obvious from the way they structure their arguments. It’s not an appeal to faith – far from it. They appeal to the values of science, observation, and reality, because they feel that these values support their transphobia. In many cases, they actually compare being trans to believing in God. They’re not speaking the language of religion, they’re speaking the language of secularism.
This is not my atheism. There are many atheisms out there — one of the side-effects of believing in freethought — and some of them are narrow, elitist rationalizations for maintaining the status quo and preserving the privileges of those lucky enough to be economically secure, blessed with an education and a healthy body, marked with the right color of skin and the correct kind of genitalia and the proper sexual orientation. It is a kind of self-satisfied country club atheism. These are atheisms that look at all the human beings in the world and says to most of them, “You can not be one of us,” instead of, “You could be one of us,” or better yet, “We can be free together.”
Good atheism, like good science, is disruptive — it says tradition and dogma are not sufficient, that we have to look critically at reality to determine the best answer, and often we’ll get answers that contradict what you want to be true. By their very nature, they must necessarily identify and criticize the dysfunctional elements of society and provoke change to improve them. And if you’re one of those atheists who thinks your job is to hector people different from yourself into conforming, then you’re one of those dysfunctional elements.
Zinnia is going to be speaking at Women in Secularism 3 today — I wish I could have gone this year. I think it’s one of the best examples of atheism being true to its nature and demanding better of all human beings.