“Why can’t Bailey Jay just have her feelings about RuPaul?” On the trans community and differences of opinion »« Religiosity Still ≠ Mental Illness

Atheist transphobia: Superstition over science

I’m going to Women in Secularism 3 this weekend, and I feel like this is a good time to get into something relevant: my experiences as a woman in the secular community. Particularly, my experiences as a woman whose gender is often considered debatable.

When Dave Silverman went to this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, the secular community raised a lot of questions about some of the statements he made: Why, exactly, would the president of American Atheists suggest that abortion is the one human right that there’s a secular argument against?

But during the much-needed uproar over this, Silverman’s other statements were largely ignored. Yes, he implied that opposing reproductive rights can be a valid difference of opinion within the atheist movement. And that’s really not okay. But he also gave the impression that, unlike abortion, the issue of gay marriage was a settled and “clean cut” question for atheists.

Silverman later defended this on Twitter, saying:

How many anti gay atheists do you know? I can’t name any off top of my head. I know a few anti choice atheists.

He continued:

School prayer, Death with Dignity, LGBT equality are 100% religious. That was my contrast.

There weren’t quite so many secular voices pushing back against the idea that opposition to LGBT equality is “100% religious”. Chris Stedman, a Humanist chaplain at Harvard, was one of the few to respond to this, saying:

I’ve heard from atheists who say that I’m too “effeminate,” that my being gay makes atheists seem “like freaks,” or that my “obvious homosexuality” makes me an ineffectual voice for atheists.

 

What does LGBT equality really mean?

It would be easy to think that support for the LGBT community is nearly universal among atheists. What reason would they have to dislike us, when they’re free of any religious dogma marking us as an abomination?

And polling data would seem to confirm this. A 2012 Gallup poll found that 88% of those with “no religious identity” supported the legality of same-sex marriage. A 2014 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute similarly found that 73% of the “religiously unaffiliated” were in favor of legalizing gay marriage. And the internet-based Secular Census, consisting of a self-selected convenience sample of secular Americans who volunteered to respond, found even higher rates of support: 97.3% of those who participated said that gay couples should be allowed to marry.

It does look pretty open-and-shut: support for marriage equality is apparently the norm among non-religious people, and most of that demographic has indeed settled on this as their answer.

There’s just one little problem. “Marriage equality” and “LGBT equality” are not synonyms. Believe it or not, equality for LGBT people does not begin and end with marriage. And a person’s support for marriage equality tells us nothing about their views on:

  • Employment nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people
  • Housing nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people
  • LGBT inclusion in the armed forces
  • The competence of LGBT people as parents
  • The parental rights of LGBT people
  • The reproductive rights of LGBT people
  • The adoption rights of LGBT people
  • So-called “reparative therapy” for LGBT people
  • Hate crime laws protecting LGBT people
  • Anti-bullying policies protecting LGBT students
  • Public accommodations protections for transgender people
  • The right of trans people to have their identity documents updated without undergoing invasive surgeries
  • The coverage of transition-related procedures under healthcare plans
  • The right of trans students to present and be recognized as their gender in schools
  • The right of trans people to be free from police harassment and profiling
  • The right of trans people to be treated as their gender in homeless and domestic violence shelters
  • The right of trans people to be housed according to their gender in prisons
  • The right of trans people to receive appropriate medical treatment in prisons
  • Or gender norms and gender variance in general.

While there are plenty of polls focusing on marriage equality and the opinions of different demographics on that issue, far less attention is given to these other areas. And that’s a pretty serious gap, because many of these issues are of far more immediate importance to us than marriage. Certainly, marriage does matter – my partner and I are getting married this summer. But living in this society as a trans woman is something I have to deal with every day.

 

100% religious?

One thing I’ve often had to deal with is the opinions of other atheists on just about every aspect of my existence. Chris Stedman is far from the only one who’s faced hostility from atheists for what they perceive as a deviation from gender norms. Long before I came out, before I transitioned – before I ever talked about trans issues at all – just about the only thing I covered was atheism, and atheists comprised most of my audience. But even back then, plenty of people were already under the impression that I was trans. Here’s what some atheists had to say about my earlier work:

  • “Stop lying to yourself and admit you’re a man.”
  • “Why are you dressed like a girl?”
  • “Denying your own gender is called being delusional.”
  • “You’re a transexual? Now you make athiests look bad.”
  • “Zinnia Jones creeps me out too. … Flamers creep me out. A lot. I could never take a guy seriously if he wore makeup and had a girly voice, etc.”
  • “I honestly think he makes an ugly woman.”
  • “This guy is brilliant, and always very well spoken, but I can never use him as reference for helping me make a point.”
  • “This chick has the golden voice of Ted Williams.”
  • “why i can’t say out loud that someone looks like a freak, if he/she really does?”
  • “all he needs is boobs now and I’d hit it… not”

You can clearly see that these atheists have very positive attitudes toward the LGBT community – assuming the T stands for Thunderf00t. Really, what is going on here? From what I’ve been told, atheists should have no reason to treat us this way. And yet, here they are. So, does this mean that their transphobia is due to some failure to let go of religious views on trans people? Is it just a Judeo-Christian cultural value that they’ve absorbed, and haven’t yet overcome?

I don’t think so. 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.

 

“Merely in the mind”

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.

Here’s a really good example of this – from my YouTube comments, naturally:

The odd thing about having a transgender identity is that your mind does not match your biology. If you think you’re a dolphin but you’re not, your belief does not match reality and you’re delusional. If you think you’re a man and you have XY chromosomes, testes, and a penis, then your identity matches reality. How can you have disdain for the religious having no proof of the Divine and yet defend those with no evidence that their gender doesn’t match their genitals?

And another one:

I understand that people can perceive gender and sex to be different. But like an anorexic’s self image vs. her actual body, one is merely in the mind with no empirical evidence to back it up. When your belief crosses the line where you are willing to mutilate yourself because of it, it’s usually called a disease.

And then there’s this person:

THERE ARE TWO SEXES; MALE AND FEMALE. SOMEONE WHO THINKS THEY ARE THE OPPOSITE SEX IS CALLED MENTALLY ILL.

Notice how this is closely related to the tendency to conflate religious belief with “delusion” or “mental illness”. That itself is a problem – do these people not realize that atheists can have mental illnesses too, and that this isn’t anything like being religious? It’s not like I can just pick up a Dawkins book and decide to deconvert from having depression and anxiety. This alone shows that these people don’t have a very good grasp of what mental illness even is.

So it’s not surprising that they’re prepared to dismiss just about anything that they label a “mental illness” – in this case, being trans. But when they go on and on about this, it comes off as more of an expression of a stigmatizing attitude, not an articulation of some uncomfortable truth. They’re not rocking the boat here. They’re not being edgy, they’re not upsetting the status quo. Instead, the sheer redundancy of such a declaration exposes their total unfamiliarity with the medical consensus.

 

So what’s your great idea?

Since 1980, three editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders have included some kind of diagnosis related to being trans, under names like transsexualism, gender identity disorder, or gender dysphoria. “What the hell is the diagnostic manual of whatever?”, my bewildered atheist YouTube commenters might ask. Oh, it’s just a little book by the American Psychiatric Association. It’s generally considered authoritative by doctors, researchers, insurance companies, and other delusional folks like that.

So, let’s say you’ve been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. What happens now that you’ve been diagnosed with this “mental illness”, as my friends in the comments put it? Well, I already know what happens, because I’ve actually been diagnosed with this!

Spoiler alert: I transitioned.

And this wasn’t some original idea of mine that I had to convince anyone to go along with. There are millions of trans people around the world – it’s so common that there’s an established treatment protocol for us. It’s called the Standards of Care, published by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. Here’s what it has to say about our condition:

Some people experience gender dysphoria at such a level that the distress meets criteria for a formal diagnosis that might be classified as a mental disorder. Such a diagnosis is not a license for stigmatization or for the deprivation of civil and human rights. … Thus, transsexual, transgender, and gender-nonconforming individuals are not inherently disordered. Rather, the distress of gender dysphoria, when present, is the concern that might be diagnosable and for which various treatment options are available.

“Stigmatization” – how about that. Maybe it’s not such a good idea to spout off about how we must be “delusional”? I assume that all the decent people out there already understand this, but apparently some of you need it spelled out.

And what about those various treatment options? Let’s take a look at section VIII:

Medical Necessity of Hormone Therapy

Feminizing/masculinizing hormone therapy – the administration of exogenous endocrine agents to induce feminizing or masculinizing changes – is a medically necessary intervention for many transsexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming individuals with gender dysphoria.

And section XI:

Sex Reassignment Surgery Is Effective and Medically Necessary

… While many transsexual, transgender, and gender-nonconforming individuals find comfort with their gender identity, role, and expression without surgery, for many others surgery is essential and medically necessary to alleviate their gender dysphoria. For the latter group, relief from gender dysphoria cannot be achieved without modification of their primary and/or secondary sex characteristics to establish greater congruence with their gender identity. … Follow-up studies have shown an undeniable beneficial effect of sex reassignment surgery on postoperative outcomes such as subjective well-being, cosmesis, and sexual function.

“A medically necessary intervention”. “Effective and medically necessary”. “An undeniable beneficial effect”. And now you know how this particular “mental illness” is treated.

By the way, that’s from version 7 of the Standards of Care. There were six editions that came before it, dating back to 1979. This is not experimental – it’s an everyday medical treatment. So I really don’t know what these people expect from me when they start yelling about how I’m “mentally ill”. I already saw a therapist about this. And then they referred me to a gynecologist. And pretty soon they’ll refer me to some surgeons.

On the one hand, there’s the constellation of medical professionals who are working with me on this little upgrade, and the hundreds more who’ve worked to develop protocols for this over several decades. On the other hand, there’s FluffyFeralMarmot, esteemed YouTube commenter. Tell me again who I should be taking medical advice from?

Transphobes call us mentally ill because they think it’s an easy way to try and shame us for who we are. The problem is that they didn’t give a moment’s thought to what would come after that. They didn’t bother spending five minutes learning about how this is treated, because they were too busy calling us “delusional”. We don’t need medicine to certify who we already know we are, any more than cis people do – but if you’re going to bring science into this, you should make sure the science actually says what you think it does.

 

Anti-science atheists

Again and again, I see this pattern being repeated by atheists who think they’re equipped to debate trans issues. They assume that science and evidence support their position, when actually this most often supports the exact opposite of their position.

I’ve seen atheists argue that trans women shouldn’t be allowed in women’s restrooms, public facilities, or other spaces, because we’re supposedly going to rape everyone. After all, nothing says “rapist” like testosterone blockers, suppressed libido, genital atrophy, and erectile dysfunction. In reality, a majority of trans people have been harassed just for trying to use public restrooms. Have a majority of cis people been harassed by trans people in restrooms? I haven’t seen any studies suggesting that this is the case. Do you know of any? 55% of trans people in homeless shelters or domestic violence shelters have been harassed while residing there. Have 55% of cis people been harassed by trans women in shelters? I’m not sure if there are any studies on that either, but feel free to find them, if you can.

I’ve seen atheists argue that it’s unfair for trans women to be allowed to compete as women in professional sports, or that this gives them a competitive advantage. Actually, the Association of Boxing Commissions, the NCAA, USA Track & Field, the UK Football Association, and the International Olympic Committee all allow trans people to compete as their declared gender after medically transitioning. Obviously the International Olympic Committee has to ensure that no one has an unfair advantage – but have they consulted that dude on Facebook who won’t shut up about trans women’s “bone structure”?

And in the midst of all this, it’s practically a cliché for them to say “it’s 8th grade biology!” whenever they’re enlightening us with yet another tautology about chromosomes. I guess the American Psychiatric Association just needs to go back to middle school, right? You’d think that these science enthusiasts would realize that early education isn’t a core of foundational truths upon which all later knowledge is built. It’s a rough approximation designed to be understandable to grade schoolers, and it becomes progressively more nuanced as students advance. But instead, they’re doing the equivalent of citing “4th grade science” to claim that plasma isn’t real, the sun is a myth, and who are fluorescent bulbs trying to fool, anyway? Personally, I’m glad that the surgeon who’s going to cut my balls off decided to stay in school after junior high.

So, why would people who engage in this transparent nonsense claim that they have science behind them? They don’t exhibit any honest interest in the process of science and its actual findings about reality. They only seem to have a selective interest in the idea of something concrete that would back up their preconceived beliefs. If I didn’t know these people were atheists, I don’t think I would have been able to tell.

What else do you call it when someone knows nothing about science and thinks they can blather on and on about it anyway? What do you call it when someone refuses to change their beliefs when faced with evidence? What do you call it when they try to tell us there’s some nonexistent “controversy” to be debated? What do you call it when they think their own intuition and baseless conjecture are more reliable than any research? And what do you call it when they don’t even care that this lack of acceptance makes life so much worse for trans people? I sure wouldn’t call that a secular value.

How is believing I’m a woman any different from believing in God? Really? Here’s a question: How is believing that transitioning is “mutilation” any different from believing that vaccines cause brain damage? How is believing that trans people have an unfair advantage in sports any different from believing the earth is 6,000 years old? How is believing in an epidemic of transgender rapists any different from believing in “irreducible complexity”? And how is believing that trans people are “deluded” any different from believing that atheists are just angry at God?

Sorry, but you’re not Neil deGrasse Tyson giving a science lesson to middle America. You’re Ken Ham telling an audience of faithfully ignorant sycophants how Adam and Eve rode around on a T. rex. Science and observation and reality should matter to everyone, and I hope they matter to you. But if you’re leaving out the science, the observation, and the reality, you suck at being a skeptic.

Comments

  1. Meggamat says

    Foundational science education is nothing of the sort. They lied. they lied to me and one day, I will extract a tribute of blood from them for those lies.

    • says

      While I can support viciousness in rhetoric, I hope you are being hyperbolic. Literal revenge of this sort independent of larger social actions against them will just fuel a desire for revenge in response. I’m not saying something like violence in self-defense is a problem (I realize others feel differently), but when people speak of cycles of violence they are referring to some pretty real phenomena.

      • Meggamat says

        I was being somewhat hyperbolic, but it angers me that people find it acceptable to lie to the young in an attempt to aid their understanding. People are demeaning to the next generation, then they wonder why the next generation does not share all of their values.

        • That Guy says

          Are you some oblique promotional stunt for the next Shut up and Jam: Gaiden game? Am I going to see your comments here repeated at every save point?

          Simplifications are not lies. If we were to teach all of science, literature, history and art to children as whole cloth then nobody would learn anything- I cannot explain Maxwell’s equations in their entirety to a four year old when they ask how a radio works.

          • That Guy says

            Not to wrestle for the last word here, but- I have, and I’m not the only one who’s tried either.

          • Tigger_the_Wing, Back home =^_^= says

            I wonder if some people equate ‘simplification’ with ‘lies’.

            I used to get criticised by other parents of small children whenever I was overheard teaching them a simplified version of the scientific explanation for phenomena such as thunder & lightning, tides, sunsets, seasons etc. because they thought that children ought to be taught lies, such as God moving furniture around and turning the lights on and off, the sea slopping about like water in a basin, the sun going to bed, the Earth getting nearer to and further from the Sun – but they rationalised those lies-to-children (thanks, Pterry) as being simplified versions and thought that mine were the complicated version; which goes to show how dismal science teaching in schools really is (since it is the only science education almost anyone ever gets).

            I don’t know what the answer is. As long as most people think that fairy tales are ‘simplified’ science, and the simplified science that we get taught in schools is the full, complicated version, we are going to have adults who think they know everything there is to know on a scientific subject and will feel justified in imposing their opinion on others. Especially if they think that being atheist makes them – automatically – rational thinkers in all walks of life.

          • That Guy says

            I dislike this false association of “simplified” with lies, Tigger’s is the first story where I’ve heard objections about “complicated lies” and “simple lies”.

            I’ve heard people railing against talking frankly with kids when they ask “where do babies come from”- because “daddy puts a seed in mummy’s belly” is a fucking disgusting thing to tell a child that will CORRUPT THEM FOREVER and Y WUNT U TINK OV DER CHILLREN. but saying “angels come down from god to deliver babies” is totally okay and not confusing at all.

            Maybe it’s a cultural thing- that people feel that they need to tell these wrong explanations to their kids like a folk tale. Except in these cases, they aren’t given the disclaimer that it’s a fairy or folk tale.

            I donno- maybe full time teachers have a better idea.

          • says

            I wonder if some people equate ‘simplification’ with ‘lies’.

            I think that does happen. But it depends on a couple of things. Not that I am not pointing at people here and am trying to speak in generalities.

            If you are dealing with an authoritarian mindset it’s likely that any simplification that is inconsistent with what they already believe, or a simplification that is difficult to interpret, will be automatically interpreted as a lie (or potentially threatening for the ambiguous one) because authoritarians tend to get what they believe from each other and authority figures (their culture essentially). These are the folks that can’t be easily directed to underlying facts and arguments and treat the unfamiliar with suspicion, and the contradictory as an outright threat (you could say that transphobics are gender authoritarians).

            For people with little problem talking about the underlying facts and arguments a simplification can be equated with a lie (if it is or not) if the simplification again seems inconsistent with their experience, or seem consistent with patterns that suggest worrying patterns. These folks have the potential to work with one another to get at underlying specific concepts though, even if the exchange might be somewhat tense and even hostile.

  2. Sassafras says

    If you think you’re a dolphin but you’re not, your belief does not match reality and you’re delusional.

    I honestly think that a lot of blame for the current popularity of asshole libertarian bullshit can be laid at the feet of South Park. Every time someone mentions a dolphin as their example you know (content warning: extreme transphobia) just where they got their argument.

    • besomyka says

      Yeah. On twitter, if I see that, it’s a block with no more observation. I really have no interest in anything else they have to say — for my own mental well-being. Also, I’m embarrassed for them. Their thinking is just as wrong as what’s-his-name that makes satirical creationist videos (Checkmate Atheists!) only they are serious. It’s embarrassing.

      With regards to the video, here’s what I think: People are bigoted for a variety of reasons, usually all at the same time. We, as human beings, rationalize our beliefs after the fact all the time, and we use whatever other mental hand holds we have to do so. I’m sure I do it too when I stop paying close attention. If you’re religious, your rationalization will use the language of religious. if you’re secular, it’ll be secular ideas.

      You see it all the time in politics too. Somehow the GOP being for insurance mandates is the heights of conservative free-marked health solutions. At the same time, it’s unconstitutional Marxist catastrophe. The change happened in a week, and both arguments were made in the language of conservative values.

      Liberals like me have a bad habit of it too, particularly when it comes to intervening in world affairs or large corporate motives. It’s hard to combat.

      So I guess I don’t blame the ideology behind the arguments, these are just bigots trying to justify their bigotry in the only way they know how so that they can live with themselves. It’s shameful and embarrassing, and I’m done talking with them.

    • Meggamat says

      It isn’t even a good argument. Even if someone did decide to become a dolphin, how would it be anyone else’s problem, and how would it justify ridiculing them?

      • That Guy says

        It’s perhaps not strictly libertarian, but is a position espoused by the kind of well-off know-it-alls who are typically making that rocky transition into adulthood. All the voice but none of the empathy to use it correctly.

        I remember when I was fourteen, I thought I knew everything about everything as well, and I thank luck that most of the painfully ignorant things I used to think I kept to myself until I knew better.

        That being said, I’m sure some of the things I still think now are painfully ignorant, so that major thing I learned was that of all the things, I do not know a vast majority of them.

        • Meggamat says

          That is your prerogative. I myself find it more expedient to proceed upon the assumption that I am correct, and if necessary that everyone else in the world is wrong.

          • That Guy says

            this explains immediately why you manage to balance finely on tragic satire (I hope) or just plain tragedy

          • says

            This is just a comparison of tactics. It’s possible that what you are familiar with doing is more effective with the sorts of people that you are used to dealing with. But I seem to have more success by immediately going to the underlying facts and arguments as soon as I encounter a disagreement.

            I pretend that I am right in emotional tone for rhetorical purposes, but only on issues that I know well enough to say that I can competently argue the issue and know the arguments on both sides. If I do not know an issue well I can still demand that the other person give me the support for their assertions, but I no longer pretend that I am somehow right. (how severe I am depends on the disposition of the other person) A person making an assertion about reality has an obligation to be able to defend their assertions as an advocate. I make no apologies about my belief that opinions are shit when the other person is an authoritarian asshat.

            There is a sense among most people that emotional tone should be proportional (so you can “give as you get” for someone that starts as an asshole) and should start out as reasonable. So a more measured approach can often be a benefit for the audience. Even those that harass and bully on the internet would not want to be cornered and relentlessly pressed themselves.

            Where this gets complicated is when people take disagreement personally (confusing the idea with themselves), or when you are criticizing personal behavior itself. Criticizing behavior is always personal and even triggers a group response, hence the push back FTB has been getting for several years.

        • Meggamat says

          But I see what you mean, if Libertarians are disproportionately young and ambitious and full of hope, and people opposed to certain groups simply because they are different are also likely to be fresh and unsullied by time, then one would encounter several libertarians of that ilk.

          • That Guy says

            if by “young and ambitious and full of hope” you mean, “middle class, arrogant and ignorant of other’s experiences” then I agree wholeheartedly.

  3. resident_alien says

    Sharp, witty and beautifully written. I have enjoyed this.
    Will very likely quote some of the best bits the next time I have to school a transphobe.

  4. RwFoster says

    I think it’s simple: You’re whatever gender you identify as. It’s no one’s business but your own. As long as it harms no one else, do what you have to to be happy. You’re lovely.

  5. says

    Is it unreasonable of me to expect that atheists, atheist organizations, and the leaders of said organizations do better than this, generally? After a prolonged conversation with Dave Muscato in which he repeatedly failed to understand what is anti-rational about JAQing off to the tune of “maybe clothes cause rape”, I am feeling very discouraged on this front.

    I also recall Natalie Reed mentioning some studies that showed that brain structure in transgender people differed from that of cisgender people, suggesting that this brain structure may be part of what creates our internal sense of gender. Are you familiar with those? Are they making the rounds in the psychology journals and whatnot, to your knowledge?

    Thanks for writing this.

    • Meggamat says

      Those studies are interesting, though like a lot of modern neuroscience, only in the very early stages. But yes it is unreasonable to believe that atheists are immune to bigotry, rash judgements or exclusionary behaviour. A belief in a deity or pantheon of deities is only one form of irrational thought, like a belief in faeries, unicorns or homoeopathy. Somebody might be an atheist because they view the world rationally, or simply because their set of unquestioned, blind beliefs does not include any god/goddess or supernatural phenomenon.

    • says

      Seconding Meggamat’s perspective. The best the current data show is that there are structures that are different in people that identify as male or female, that there is some correlations and patterns relative to different groupings (straight male/female, gay male/female, transexual male/female), and you can see similar differences in model organisms. But they can’t say much with any certainty about what the structures do or their precise roles in development and cognition beyond some interesting hypotheses. The hypothalamus in particular is getting interesting.

      We clearly have circuitry that has to do with gender self-referentially and in terms of attraction. But as to the origin, meaning, relatedness to specific structures, impact of biology versus society in the brain during life and development, it’s still very murky. I wish it was not because it turns out that this area of research might be relevant to my own cognitive disorder (Tourette’s Syndrome), but the current research is what it is.

      • says

        Meggamat strawmanned what I was saying. The question is not, Am I unreasonable to expect that atheists are NEVER subject to prejudice, etc.

        The question is, am I unreasonable to expect that atheists can do better than they are currently doing.

        • says

          I probably should have phrased things a bit more carefully. I was only seconding the first sentence with respect to the science on sex and gender issues.

          I’m not quite sure what to make of the rest, but I don’t really have the highest opinion of our species in general theist or non. That sort of comes with the whole Tourette’s experience in general (not trying to change the subject). I keep pushing in ways that I can though.

        • Meggamat says

          It is unreasonable to assume that people who are more rational about some things will be more rational about other things.

    • Jeff Engel says

      It’s utterly reasonable to expect that atheists, individually or collectively, _can_ do better than this. It’s utterly reasonable to hold one another and ourselves to that standard – it’s right and we’re not going to get better with a pass to go wrong.

      As a statistical projection of how people are in fact likely to behave – well, being an atheist only means there’s one mistake someone’s definitely not making and there’s some hope that they’ll avoid some others. Confusing one’s gut with the Authoritative Voice of SCIENCE! will unfortunately crop up here and there.

  6. Tony Plutonyum says

    //They aren’t transphobic in spite of their atheism. They’re transphobic because of their atheism.//

    I’m an atheist and I’m a huge ally. I do not like the insinuation that atheism promotes or encourages transphobia. I believe there is probably a reverse correlation between atheism and transphobia.

    I think that Zinnia is addressing the atheist individuals who harass her, which is appropriate. But I think there are a lot of untrue generalizations being made about atheists as well. I have mixed feelings about the article.

    • says

      I think that it does, but in a more general way.

      These folks are atheists but have a pre-existing prejudice and support atheist activism more generally. But they see the inclusion of politics that they don’t like into atheist politics as a betrayal and feel a sense of contamination of the thing they care about on a personal level. So it can be said that their atheism is is the emotional connection that leads to the expressions of transphobia that we are seeing.

      We can’t ignore the connection, but it does not hurt to clarify it.

      • Tony Plutonyum says

        You seem to be saying that individuals who are coincidentally both atheists and bigots tend to lash out against transgender-ness because they do not like the fact that most atheists are very encouraging toward transgender issues.

        I had a hard time understanding what you are saying, please feel free to correct my misinterpretations, but if that’s it, then yeah. I totally agree with that. Those individuals are not bigots BECAUSE of atheism.

        • says

          They are bigots because of their atheism when the “because” has been properly defined. “Because” is more than one thing here. There is the justification that they use for their bigoted beliefs (bigoted because of belief X), and there is the emotional trigger that causes the expression of the belief. (They are expressing bigotry at a target because of the mixture of something they care about, atheism, being combined with the subject they are bigots with respect to)

          The origin of their bigotry in terms of how they justify their bigotry is not atheism, but they are expressing bigotry because they are atheists who don’t want to see trans issues mixed with atheism. So it is correct for Zinnia to say that they are being transphobic because of their atheism when one can distinguish between what informs the beliefs and what triggers the expression of the behavior. I do not see that Zinnia failed in that distinction, or even that Zinnia has to make the distinction when she does not say that all atheists are transphobic.

          You can not say that most atheists are encouraging towards trans issues. You may believe that because of your experience of atheism. But that is not the experience of every atheist, especially the atheists speaking here.

    • kagekiri says

      “NOT ALL ATHEISTS!!”

      Sigh, really, Tony?

      Atheist transphobes and homophobes and misogynists, along with all those other hateful assholes are still really atheists, and their atheism informs their assholery. There is no “No true Scotsman” defense to fall back on if you want the truth. The past few years of atheist misogyny should have made this clear to everyone.

      Saying Zinnia is being unfair to atheists is just ignoring reality, and an annoying “not all atheists!” complaint is just missing the point horribly. You’ll live. And hopefully you’ll help fight the cancer in atheism instead of trying to shame the messenger.

      • scott says

        I like to flip “not all X” arguments around into “too many X” because that acknowledges the problem in our midst. Of course it’s true that atheism doesn’t necessarily lead to transphobia. But too many atheists are using the tools of skepticism to justify positions they already had- “Science says so!” as a substitute for “Deus vult!”

        Here’s how this should work*- I ask “does ‘male’ bone structure or residual hormones or some kind of XY factor affect athletic performance enough to make competition unfair?” Then I read the studies: no, no, probably not, no, eh maaaaybe, no. There you go, no problem, everybody go have fun.

        * as much as I should be gatekeeping what people I don’t know do when it doesn’t affect me anyway, which is “not at all”.

        • Tony Plutonyum says

          I think you are right that atheists often take skepticism too far and employ it in that manner.

          I myself have experienced being on the “wrong” side of some issues (not this one), because an honest non-emotional evaluation of the best evidence available leads me a way that is not popular. Skepticism is a harsh mistress even when it is applied properly.

      • Tony Plutonyum says

        I acknowledge that many atheists are assholes and I assert that the only characteristic necessary to be an atheist is that you do not believe in a god. I am not making an argument that “true” atheists have any particular ideological behavior beyond that. Thus, this is not a “true scottsman” fallacy.

        I’m an active enthusiast atheist and well educated on atheist matters, and I believe there is a much lower incidence of bigotry in the atheist community than in the population at large. And I therefore find the generalizations being made about atheists in this forum to be incorrect.

        Atheists are a little tired of being branded unethical merely for being atheists. And I find it very strange that in a forum like this one, ripe with people who have suffered from untrue generalizations, that there is so little ability to identify with the phenomenon.

        • kagekiri says

          “Stop generalizing about atheists”, you say.

          So what if it’s not all atheists who believe these hateful things? DUH, we know that, we’re atheists, too. The problem stated remains.

          Yeah, you know those silly accusations that communist China was atheist, and therefore all atheists are baby-murdering Christian killers? That’s dumb, a shitty generalization. But communist China was and is atheistic. Stalin was atheist, regardless of his self-deifying megalomania. Pol Pot was, too. Just because the absolute generalization was wrong doesn’t change the facts that some atheists are terrible.

          And this isn’t even some amazingly uncommon kind of accused terribleness; this isn’t mass-murder. This transphobic bias is our world’s terrible status quo. Even well-known gay activists and feminists have sucked on trans* rights, and you’d think their alignment would be far better a predictor of progressiveness on the subject than simple atheism.

          Average atheists may be better than the average (I doubt we’re much different, really), but they’re still people, and sadly, a LOT of people suck on LGBT rights, and are specifically terrible on trans* rights. We’re not magically immune to confirmation bias or cultural biases as atheists, so atheists end up using atheism and science-based worldviews to try to justify their terrible beliefs.

          This is not hard to believe; entire groups through history exist with this horrible confirmation bias at their core despite science-based worldviews or skeptic values. Eugenicists being racist assholes and thinking science or history backed them up is the obvious example. Christian racists used cherry-picked Bible-verses (not that they had to pick much…it’s pretty racist), atheist racists use cherry-picked history, sociology, and science. Atheist transphobes would obviously do the same.

          To claim exception is silly, to claim demonization is a distraction. Taking the identification of a problem as an attack against your personal atheism is just missing the point badly.

        • Helena Q. says

          So, maybe I was a little vague last time, it’s not fun to type on a smartphone, but you still seem to be missing the fact that everyone else here is also an atheist. This isn’t just another “All X are not Y!” objection on your part, you’re actually erasing transpeople at the same time you complain about generalizations because to make that claim you must not consider us a part of the group.

          Stop that shit. Obviously Zinnia Jones “Queen of Atheism” isn’t saying all atheists or atheism leads to transphobia because that would be an epic level of compartmentalization. In her argument she repeatedly points out qualifiers for what kind of atheist she’s talking about and yet you persist in clouding the issue while being incidentally transphobic. If you’re “an ally” then quit the friendly fire.

        • says

          Tony Plutonyum
          The offense stems from the fact that Zinnia did not say or imply that all atheists do or are anything. Since that did not occur it was never part of the topic in this post or the comments, until you brought it up. Regardless of your intent the objective effect was a distraction from the topic at hand. The only reasonable solution at this point is to stop posting about it, preferably with an apology for reading things into what Zinnia was saying that are not in evidence.

          It’s a common problem and one that I myself had to apologize for recently in another part of the internet. The only thing to do is to note that we have a bad habit and to make an effort to change our habits.

    • Helena Q. says

      Oh totally unfair! Clearly when us atheist transwomen criticise the broader movement there’s a danger that all atheists are tarred by our brush! Except, uh, ourselves I guess…

      • Tony Plutonyum says

        I’m not sure how else to say it. But at least I didn’t start talking about how I have lots of transgender friends.

        • says

          You don’t say I AM ALLY. You just do stuff that supports trans people. Getting het up because a trans person has made a generalization about atheists, based on her experiences of transantagonism from atheists, is not really supporting trans people.

        • says

          It is a bad sign and often serves to distract from a specific subject being criticized. Additionally it should be unnecessary from anyone that can address specific issues or items/people under criticism. Either the criticism is warranted or it is not. Any airing of track records are red herrings at best.

          A person with a good command of an issue, or ability to be supportive of a community will be able to talk about the issue or support the community without having to offer any sort of evidence of track record. If someone thinks you are not being supportive then the subject of the exchange is the behavior in question. Someone with a perfect track record can still make a mistake and that mistake is still a valid subject of conversation.

        • says

          Just for the heck of it, the value of the track record only comes in when an actual wrong has been committed (the criticism has been proven to be valid).

          If someone has a good record then this affects the internal calculations that people individually use to assess how supportive a person really is. If they are generally supportive and can see that they made a mistake and try to do better, the surrounding community will be more likely to forget about it. If they don’t have a good track record the reaction will be more harsh, with a sprinkling of individuals with the emotional strength to deal with individuals in a constructive manner. If they have no track record this person should be very careful. First impressions create reputations that can be very difficult to repair without a lot of work.

  7. Maureen Brian says

    I think the article is great. Thank you, Zinnia.

    And, Tony Plutonyum, do you not think that if people all claiming the same label, all willing to be abusive about the same topics, all producing the same fact-free dogma, keep popping up in the same millieu then it might be a social problem? A failure of the atheist continuing education programme™ or something?

    Why one individual is fixated on controlling the gender identity of a person he barely knows might be an interesting study but social problems we tackle also with a degree of generalisation. We humans look for patterns.

    It’s the only way we can possibly do it.

    • Tony Plutonyum says

      If you keep seeing dead fish floating on the surface of the ocean, it’s wrong to assume that ALL the fish are dead.

      Is it such a common thing in LGBT forums to see harassment from atheists that it seriously gives you the impression that it’s an actual atheist theme? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m completely astonished to see that it’s a thing that happens. I’m a pretty active atheist enthusiast and I have never seen such a trend against LGBT issues.

      • Tony Plutonyum says

        My inner conspiracy theorist wonders if the Discovery Institute has realized they can play the groups they don’t like against each other. They are capable of that kind of subterfuge.

        • says

          My inner conspiracy theorist

          You need to do away with that character, right quick. Wondering if the Discovery Institute has set atheist groups against each other is a very short walk from commanding upset trans activists, or feminists, or anti-racists, or anyone objecting to the status quo, to STFU because “you’re helping the DI.”

        • says

          Since you are having trouble accepting the reasons that others are giving for criticizing you, your mind is looking for alternative explanations. This is dangerous territory. At least you can recognize the risk.

          • says

            You really don’t get to tell an embattled community how seriously they should take things. Look again at the utterly irrational and illogical things that Zinnia has had to put up with. People that decide that they don’t like something can use terrible reasons for things and in the context of the actions against Zinnia they are quite willing to accept these ridiculous justifications.

            Even ones you think are small and unworthy of reaction. The answer is NO.

          • says

            Consider an analogy to dealing with creationists. Whenever you face someone or a group of someones with a bunch of bad arguments, inapplicable arguments, and little face-saving responses, do you let them get away with anything? No. They will likely take whatever was left unchallenged as an emotional justification to continue believing the way that they do.

            This is why these sorts of fights are so exhausting. You have try to to come up with a bunch of correct and easily remembered responses to deal with ALL OF IT so they don’t leave thinking that any of it was worth using. It has to be an emotional and intellectual rout as much as possible if you want to do more than simply endure the experience.

            Additionally you have to consider the audience. It has to look good. Both strategy and correctness are needed for both emotional impact and undermining the fallacious logic that supports the beliefs. This is serious shit.

      • kagekiri says

        Oh, so you are literally making a “not all atheists” claim? Again, duh it’s not all atheists! We’re atheists, too.

        And asking if people get harassed for LGBT reasons, after a post detailing the harassment and how it’s apparently firmly rooted in people’s less-than-skeptical atheist beliefs? That’s a rather insulting dismissal.

        Even if it’s not limited to atheism, it’s a problem in the group. Stop focusing on supposed generalizations.

        Trying to blame the Discovery Institute is just shit skepticism, trying to lay the problem at another group’s feet. Fight that inner conspiracy theorist on this at least.

        Sure, the DI jerks could screw with atheism. Or, given prominent atheists have been less than allies to women, let alone trans* people who are even more marginalized in society as a group? Given very recent, very public evidence, maybe, just maybe, it’s actually our freaking problem, just like the sexism problem.

        In another post, you say you know there are atheist assholes. Why can’t you seem to grasp there might exist transphobic & atheist assholes?

      • says

        No one is making the assumption that all atheists are anything here. What they are doing is describing a pattern that they regularly experience from a number of atheists significant enough that they encounter the pattern on a regular basis.

        There is no implication about all atheists. You are confusing your experience of reality with theirs and experiencing an irrational feeling that something you care about is being criticized because we are criticizing other atheists and characterizing the problem as being a significant problem in the atheist community. Since you don’t personally experience the problem, you are having trouble separating the criticism of the atheist community as a whole from the criticism of a significant number of atheists that are causing problems in the atheist community.

  8. John Pieret says

    I am afraid that there is a myth that simply because you call yourself an “atheist” and reject one set of myths, you are automatically a “skeptic” and reject all myths. Like most myths, it is not true.

  9. xaurreaux says

    Well said, Zinnia! I have been an atheist activist for over 10 years and am just now discovering the bigotry within the atheist community. Thank you for shedding light on other concomitant LGBT issues, as well.

    This year at the 2014 American Atheists Convention in Salt Lake City one of our speakers was Marsha Botzer, founder of Seattle’s Ingersoll Gender Center as well as former co-chair of the Seattle City LBGT Center among her other accomplishments.

  10. AMM says

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned in ~60 years, it’s that thinking that what you do and think is based on totally rational processes is one of the more reliable signs that you’re going off the rails.

    I don’t pretend that my support for LGBT people, women, or other deprecated social groups is based on logic or science (although I do use both to make my support more structurally stable.) It is based on experience — my experiences being on the receiving end of abuse that’s reminiscent of what they endure. It is based on seeing what kind of a world results from endorsing bigotry and the erasure and elimination of people whose existence is inconvenient (no need for thought experiments, just look out your window.)

    And if your [generic 'you'] “logic” or “rationality” tells me I’m wrong, I’ll trot out a term I’m on first-name basis with from my years in math departments: reductio ad absurdum.

  11. Animion says

    I understand and I agree with what I think is all of this but I don’t understand what this means RE: Scientists arguing about things that aren’t science. I know that this isn’t the point of this, it isn’t my desire to take away from the topic, but I’m genuinely confused.
    I’m a bisexual, Atheist -> Muslim convert, vegan, proponent of LGBTQ rights, I’ve been dealing with psychosis for the last 5 years and I’m a Physics undergrad; essentially the point of all that is that every single day I deal with people who tell me that what I think is wrong, what I feel is wrong and what I’m doing is wrong. For the most part these are due to misunderstandings that I can reason with but whenever it comes to my scientific colleagues it has nothing to do with a lack of understanding, it tends to always be some sort of superiority complex with regards to the scientific method – That there’s no purpose in being attracted to the same gender, or no basis for believing in God, or no way of testing that I hear what makes no sound and see what reflects no light.
    This article argues against the lay atheist speaking of science, that since they make these flaws in their reasoning and they lack evidence that their arguments aren’t sound – but these people I deal with day-to-day, the 200-odd people in a lecture theatre and the myriad of professors, are not the lay atheist, these are budding Neil deGrasse Tysons, they know the science of reality, are they justified in their constant ridicule of how my mind does or does not work? Why is it acceptable for them to tell me to be straight, or atheist or /sane/*? Why are they allowed to laugh at me so casually? I’ve loved science all my life, I have no argument against them, all I can do is sit quietly against the torrent of “reason”**.

    * I think there may be some sort of misunderstanding in the statistics given in the article, these people are supporters of my (LGBTQ) rights but only as far as the right to be however they still hold an intrinsic belief against it, as such in a poll they would say that they’re for the right but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not against the idea?

    ** Which, as any vegan knows, starts with “WHY ARE YOU SO PREACHY?” after buying the old vegan favourite: water.

    • That Guy says

      I think the main reason for this is probably that most physics people are bastards. It’s the ‘bro-iest’ of the sciences- and comes with a built-in arrogance (more often than not).

      It’s one of the reasons I hate xkcd so much is the haughty attitude and lack of self-awareness- typical of the physics community.

      As an aside- do people usually associate drinking water with veganism? I’ve never heard of that before- and I drink water almost exclusively. Are most other soft drinks non-vegan? (genuinely curious, not trying to be dismissive of your experiences.)

      • Meggamat says

        That is because it is amongst the most pure, and it makes the fewest assumptions. Logic/mathematics is the truest source of knowledge, and at it’s highest level, physics is little more than the application of those things. The underlying idea of physics, by necessity, is that the mind of the physicist can, by application of the self evident laws of reason, know all that can be knowable (unless one encounters metaphysics, which is often derided as not being a worthy field of study). Arrogance is not in and of itself a vice.

        • That Guy says

          Sounds like a cool story bro, Does this explain your distaste for people who aren’t as enlightenified and unfettered from illogicity as you?

          • Meggamat says

            I said “amongst the most pure”. As a student of computer science, my field is even less bound by that which is extraneous to the realm of logic than physicists. And on that note, Mr Superior, what area of knowledge tickles YOUR fancy, may I ask?

          • Meggamat says

            Yes. And my question still remains, standing in solemn vigil, awaiting the answer of a man too cowardly to state his values, content instead to mock those bold enough to choose a paradigm.

          • That Guy says

            I don’t know what your obsession is with trying to ascertain a) where I’m from, b) what “knowledge field” I cast my “logic spells” in or c) other personal characteristics.

            I’m not interested in engaging in the puerile fedora-whine fest this will inevitably degenerate into, where you claim victory from getting the most use out of your thesaurus and earning the highest scrabble score during your assaults on my nationality and what subject I chose to study when I was sixteen.

          • Meggamat says

            1: You are the only person who has made attacks based on word choice, nationality (although I do live in Scotland, most people who meet me assume I am English. I prefer to use the identifier of “Briton”) or field of interest.

            2: I don’t know who you are quoting when you say “logic spells”, as I never said that to you.

            3: Does fedora mean something different now than it used to?

          • That Guy says

            I’m still undecided whether you’re a real person or a gross parody. Regardless, any conversation with you is like getting sucked down this weird livejournal hole where you use big words but seem to have difficulty understanding metaphor or other rhetorical devices.

            I’m actually now lost as to what the point of this conversation was, other than you telling us how edgy and arrogant and euphoric you are, and how that’s all really okay after all.

          • Meggamat says

            The point of this conversation was that you asserted that physicists possess a form of unwarranted self-importance. I challenged you on this assertion and you began to insult me. Given that you attacked my fields of interest, I thought it only reasonable that you share yours. Instead of complying, you chose to shroud your position in a sable cloak of surreptitiousness, thus perverting and making an unseemly abomination of the once-great Socratic method. Has that jogged your memory good sir?

          • That Guy says

            It has indeed jogged my memory on how poor your reading comprehension is, and your massive victim complex, yes.

    • says

      I’m a little confused. What are the things that are not science? Science is a tool, a process that we use to study the world. In principle nothing is beyond science (though in practical reality we may one day discover insurmountable limitations.)

      You will encounter people that disagree with you all over the place so on one level that is just a fact of life. But that is no excuse for creating a hostile environment and I hope that your situation allows you to use institutional tools to deal with it if you think that things are that bad.

      But on some of the things you mention they are committing a naturalistic fallacy. Even if there is no purpose discovered for things like homosexuality, transexuality, and religion as well, that is utter shit as a reason for even mild distaste. If someone is not materially affected by another person, criticizing their person in that manner is literally dehumanizing as they are criticizing your very being with respect to immutable characteristics and suggesting that you are somehow lesser on a human level*. I don’t see how this can possibly be appropriate in a professional or educational environment if the comments are being made unprompted outside of mutually consenting discussions.

      Being similarly critical of religion in a professional or educational environment is also inappropriate outside of mutually consenting discussions. There is a social context involved that is important and unless you are in a class that is deliberately conflicting with these aspects of your self you should have the right to avoid conflicts related to them if you are not creating them.

      These people are not using reason as much as they are responding to instincts to create a “social sameness” around themselves. If they were using reason they would be channeling those instincts only when confronted by expressions of religion and gender that materially effected them.

      *Naturally there are examples of people doing things that materially affect others because of their religion that can also be disruptive (and probably gender as well these are so rare as to be virtual non-issues), but I am not making that assumption here.

    • says

      I should also mention that I don’t think that religion is an immutable personal characteristic. But I have no problem treating it as an equivalent in this specific situation where employment or education is a primary social goal.

    • K says

      “That there’s no purpose in being attracted to the same gender, or no basis for believing in God, or no way of testing that I hear what makes no sound and see what reflects no light.”

      One of these things is not like the other one.

      No, there is no evidence for a deity of any kind. But there are biological bases for sexual orientation, and if you’ve been definitively diagnosed with a psychosis, then that is a figment of your head (or you presumably have enough knowledge of the world around you to figure out that you’re experiencing a psychosis). You seriously need to read some neuroscience.

      I think you’re reasoning about this the wrong way.

  12. K says

    You know, if those of our fellow atheists who were a bunch of transphobic pinheads would actually pick up some neuroscience reading, they’d find there are some pretty major neurological correlates of not just sexual orientation, but also gender identity.

  13. Kent Hovind says

    What do you expect from atheists. They’re mostly all bigoted scum anyway. Jesus loves all people, even the trans.

  14. Josie Nemo says

    Some Japanese girl just tried to pull this shit on me and I had read this article just yesterday. And in the pass, some creepy skeptic guys made similar claims and linked article written by fringe scientists who framed their work in scientific transphobia, ‘scientists’* who I later found were used as references by TERFs.

    Actually, looking into those claims and continuing to read on the topic made me realize how full of it the ‘scientific’ transphobes are, which as a skeptic, reinforced my comfort with the idea of people being trans, which paved the road for my own self-acceptance.

    *Do ideologues posing as scientists really count as scientists? They’re not actually doing science, they’re performing claims in a way that imitates the processes of science.

  15. Cara Ramsey says

    Zinnia, you might find the following link useful.

    I’ve often discussed actual scientific studies about being trans but people tended to dismiss them as too much scientific jargon. But this link below has an image included. It is a cross sectional stained slide of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTc), a brain area that is essential for sexual behavior.

    And the image is startling. There is the BSTc of an adult male heterosexual and the one of an adult male homosexual – nearly identical. Then there’s the image of the adult female heterosexual. Very different from the preceding two. And finally, there is the BSTc of a male-to-female transsexual, extremely similar to the adult female heterosexual.

    The visual photos often gives people pause. There it is, in black and white, scientific proof that they cannot deny. In a few rare discussions, that photo has actually changed minds. More often, the transphobic retreats to consider other strategies.

    Anyway, I thought you might enjoy the link though you may have seen it previously.

    A Sex Difference in the Human Brain and its Relation to Transsexuality

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