Atheism, Social Justice, and Dictionaries

10464169_10201853698937124_3923966816234564280_nOver the years, the atheist movement has split asunder over the issue of whether social justice activism has a place within the atheist movement. Recently, a post on The Daily Banter caused a stir of conversation about it the likes of which I haven’t seen since Atheism+ started happening. (Though this one was markedly less impressive.)

The piece, written by Michael Luciano and entitled “Atheists Don’t Owe Your Social Justice Agenda a Damn Thing,” basically argues that social justice is something you do with your liberal hat on and not your atheist hat. He points out that all the word “atheist” means is that you don’t believe in gods and not necessarily that you support “liberal politics.”

It seems apparent to me, first of all, that atheism is a social justice issue. Heina points out in their post “Top Five Arguments the Atheist Agenda Doesn’t Have the Right to Use” that many things the atheist movement tries to fight for are social issues. A lot of atheist activism focuses on equal representation in and by the government and normalizing atheism, the goals of which are to eliminate the ways atheists are harmed as a minority. Seems pretty social justicey to moi. [Read more…]

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.

I’ll be at Women in Secularism 3. Will you?

Women in Secularism 3 is coming up fast, running from May 16-18 in Alexandria, VA. Among the speakers are Ophelia Benson, Barbara Ehrenreich, Melody Hensley, Susan Jacoby, and many other spectacular secularists you won’t want to miss. Also, I’ll be appearing on the following panels on Friday, May 16:

  • 1:15 pm – 2:45 pm
    Online Activism
    Moderator: Lindsay Beyerstein, Panel: Soraya Chemaly, Amy Davis Roth, Zinnia Jones, Miri Mogilevsky
  • 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm
    Intersectionality and Humanism
    Moderator: Soraya Chemaly, Panel: Miri Mogilevsky, Heina Dadabhoy, Zinnia Jones, Debbie Goddard

This is going to be really awesome and you should totally be there. Register early for discounted rates!

A Secular Argument for Transphobia

trinity-150Guest post by Trinity Pixie

Trigger warnings: Abuse, isolation, transphobia, homophobia, racism.

My previous post, Green, which I presented without comment, was actually a piece of creative nonfiction. It was about my family’s response to my transition: taking advantage of my disability to isolate me.

I lived in a place somewhere between rural and suburban. Many houses, few businesses, no public transit. There was a convenience store about a mile and a half away, a grocery store about ten, and in between were a number of people who would likely recognize me from pre-transition – many of whom were happy to attack me previous to transition, without the excuse of queerness thrown in.

I was explicitly not invited to family functions, and forbidden from telling anyone, even my siblings, of my trans status. I had access to medication and health care used as a bargaining chip, was told that I was faking the severity of my disability. I had my own father threaten me with physical harm and make me fear for my life, all the while being told I was the one harming the family.

My parents are atheists. They have used labels like secular humanist to define themselves. They don’t believe in a god, a savior, or a holy book. The reasons, the arguments they would use to defend what they did, how they treated me, are secular. They are also just as valid as any secular arguments against abortion, so why is it that a leader of the secular movement will acknowledge those arguments, but not acknowledge my parents? Aren’t these the type of people you’re trying to attract to the movement?

Why are you comfortable with violations of the rights of cis women, but not with people like my parents? My parents, who vote Republican, choose to give their money to companies like Chick-fil-A, and likely (I’ve admittedly never discussed it with them) are anti-abortion. Who believe slavery should have been a state-by-state issue, and have a secular argument for that. You need to ask yourself: why are you comfortable drawing the line there?


Trinity Pixie is a member of the Secular Woman advisory board.

There Is Also a Secular Argument For Infanticide

1522095_10152076191576077_222205893_n (1)American Atheists president David Silverman recently attended this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) with the intention of reaching out to non-religious conservatives. CPAC, if you aren’t familiar with it, has featured such illustrious moments as:

All of that, by the way, happened within the past week alone. So, how did Silverman go about sharing the word of atheism at this most respectable of political conferences? Roy Edroso of Raw Story reports on his strategy:

“I came with the message that Christianity and conservatism are not inextricably linked,” he told me, “and that social conservatives are holding down the real conservatives — social conservatism isn’t real conservatism, it’s actually big government, it’s theocracy. I’m talking about gay rights, right to die, abortion rights –”

A simple enough idea: conservatives can continue to uphold (some of) their political values without any need for religious faith. Silverman, understandably, didn’t seem very interested in legitimizing homophobia or the deprivation of terminal patients’ medical autonomy. Anyway, where was he going with that last part?

Hold on, I said, I think the Right to Life guys who have a booth here, and have had every year since CPAC started, would disagree that they’re not real conservatives.

“I will admit there is a secular argument against abortion,” said Silverman. “You can’t deny that it’s there, and it’s maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage.”

Oh. Okay.

Taken literally, the statement that secular arguments against abortion do exist isn’t a very controversial one. Yes, there are anti-abortion arguments that do not rely on supernatural or theological claims. These arguments can instead rely on concepts like “rights”, “human life”, “personhood”, and so on, without introducing any explicitly religious elements.

Of course, the mere existence of such arguments says nothing about their soundness. Silverman himself stated that he was simply recognizing these arguments even as he disagrees with them:

and please understand this is not support. I’m vehemently pro choice. Just acknowledging they exist. They do.

But whether such arguments exist, and whether they have any merit, is beside the point. What really stands out as notable here is Silverman’s more open-minded approach to this particular issue, even as he dismisses other issues outright.

Silverman is not interested in reaching out to conservative CPAC attendees who oppose marriage equality, oppose end-of-life decisionmaking, or support prayer in schools. However, when it comes to conservatives who oppose the right to abortion, he takes a rather more tolerant stance. While he sees homophobic conservatives as having no place in organized atheism, he’s more willing to recruit anti-abortion conservatives to the secularist cause.

Whether he would actually agree with this or not, that’s how his special exception for abortion opposition comes across. To him, homophobes don’t have a place in our movement – but abortion opponents do?

Is this necessarily a demographic worth reaching out to? JT Eberhard argues:

We must be willing to work with people with whom we disagree on some subjects. …So if you acknowledge that someone need not be right on all subjects for them to be right on the one you’re working on together, this can’t be a reason for you to be upset with Dave Silverman.

But this does nothing to explain why abortion rights should be a subject on which disagreement is acceptable, while LGBT rights, for example, should not. Drawing a line at that particular point seems arbitrary. JT continues:

I don’t think it’s fair to expect someone to avoid telling the truth (that a secular argument exists for being anti-choice, lousy though it is) in order to not give a hat tip to the people Silverman has said multiple times he opposes on that subject. That seems a bit like getting exacerbated at scientists whenever they acknowledge the existence of complexity in the universe because they’ve given a “tip of the hat” to creationists. … If you acknowledge as atheists we shouldn’t shy away from stating facts even though we know there are people out there who will twist them toward an inaccurate or unethical position, then you can’t really be upset with Dave Silverman.

Here is another truth that we, as atheists, need not shy away from stating: there is a secular argument for the elective infanticide of healthy newborn humans. It is not even a very complicated argument, and it is one that is perhaps especially well-suited to atheistic naturalism, scientific empiricism, and the rejection of mainstream Christianity.

Suppose that we abandon the idea that the human species occupies a uniquely privileged or “sacred” place among all organisms. Our ethical considerations in how we treat human life – from blastocyst to infant to elder – should not lean on an assumption that humans are special simply for the mere fact that they are humans. Ethical questions should take into account actual substance rather than just a name: the features that actually constitute an individual human. These features can include the extent to which they can experience pain and pleasure, their level of awareness of the world around them, their ability to possess distinct desires and goals, and their level of awareness of themselves as a sentient being.

When we recognize that questions of ethical treatment should consider such features, two conclusions emerge: First, humans are not the only organisms that merit our ethical concern – various animals are also capable of suffering pain, having desires, and possessing different degrees of awareness and self-awareness. And second, not all humans are identical by these metrics; depending on their degree of development, some may be more or less aware, more or less capable of experiencing pain, and so on.

Therefore, instead of a model wherein all humans occupy a special ethical category meriting unique concern, we can conceive of a spectrum of ethical concern along which all organisms fall – humans and other animals alike. One potentially uncomfortable fact is that some animals may be more well-developed than some humans in their capacity for self-awareness, desires, and so on. As Kate Wong notes in Scientific American:

Human babies enter the world utterly dependent on caregivers to tend to their every need. Although newborns of other primate species rely on caregivers, too, human infants are especially helpless because their brains are comparatively underdeveloped. Indeed, by one estimation a human fetus would have to undergo a gestation period of 18 to 21 months instead of the usual nine to be born at a neurological and cognitive development stage comparable to that of a chimpanzee newborn.

Similarly, MRI scans of dogs suggest that they are capable of experiencing emotions on a level similar to human children:

Do these findings prove that dogs love us? Not quite. But many of the same things that activate the human caudate, which are associated with positive emotions, also activate the dog caudate. Neuroscientists call this a functional homology, and it may be an indication of canine emotions.

The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child.

Dogs may also possess mental capabilities on par with those of 2-year-old humans:

According to several behavioral measures, Coren says dogs’ mental abilities are close to a human child age 2 to 2.5 years. … As for language, the average dog can learn 165 words, including signals, and the “super dogs” (those in the top 20 percent of dog intelligence) can learn 250 words, Coren says. “The upper limit of dogs’ ability to learn language is partly based on a study of a border collie named Rico who showed knowledge of 200 spoken words and demonstrated ‘fast-track learning,’ which scientists believed to be found only in humans and language learning apes,” Coren said. … Dogs can also count up to four or five, said Coren. And they have a basic understanding of arithmetic and will notice errors in simple computations, such as 1+1=1 or 1+1=3. …

Through observation, Coren said, dogs can learn the location of valued items (treats), better routes in the environment (the fastest way to a favorite chair), how to operate mechanisms (such as latches and simple machines) and the meaning of words and symbolic concepts (sometimes by simply listening to people speak and watching their actions). … During play, dogs are capable of deliberately trying to deceive other dogs and people in order to get rewards, said Coren.

So: Humans are not the only organisms capable of emotion or developing accurate mental models of the world, and we’re certainly not the only organisms capable of experiencing pain or a desire to continue to live. Indeed, some animals possess these capabilities to a greater degree than newborn humans.

And yet, despite their possession of these capabilities, there exists a widespread disinterest in recognizing a “right to life” of animals. Instead, people commonly consider it acceptable to kill animals if we simply decide it is necessary. Cows “exhibit behavioral expressions of excitement when they solve a problem”, but all that’s needed to justify killing a cow is our mere preference that it should become several delicious steaks rather than continue existing as a feeling, thinking organism. Dogs exhibit intelligence and emotions similar to toddlers, but people leave healthy dogs to be euthanized at shelters every day.

In a society that accepts such treatment of animals as a norm – and accepts even the most trivial of human desires as a justification for such treatment – it should be similarly acceptable for the custodians of any newborn human to have that infant killed, for no reason other than their simple desire that this baby no longer be alive. Newborns have lesser abilities of thinking, modeling, perceiving, feeling and wanting than animals, and probably an equal capacity to experience pain. Yet the presence of even greater capacities in many of these areas has largely failed to convince us to recognize a “right to life” of animals. So why should the life of a human embryo, fetus, or infant be seen as always worth preserving and protecting?

Scientific findings support the facts underlying this argument for infanticide rights. This argument also has strengths which other common pro-choice arguments lack. For instance, one such argument contends that whatever right to life an unborn fetus may have, it is always outweighed by a person’s right to bodily autonomy – their right not to be compelled to provide sustenance, in the form of their own bodily resources, to another organism.

However, this “competing rights” argument opens the door to debate over just how important these respective rights are, and whether a fetus’s right to life really is small enough to be overridden. It implicitly agrees with abortion opponents in recognizing that a fetus actually does have, to some degree, a right to exist. And it requires proponents of a pro-choice position to maintain that a person’s right to bodily autonomy is, in all circumstances, the more important right in this situation. Abortion opponents, like Kristine Kruszelnicki of Pro-Life Humanists, may in turn contend that the fetus’s rights carry overriding weight.

In contrast, the pro-infanticide argument presented here does not have this vulnerability. It does not recognize an embryo, fetus, or even a newborn human as possessing a “right to life” to any degree whatsoever. And so it is not even necessary to argue that a person has a right to bodily autonomy which overrides a fetus’s supposed rights.

Clearly, there is a secular argument for infanticide. One does not have to support it or agree with it, and one may feel that it is far from decisive or clear-cut, but it does indeed exist. Others might twist this argument to make atheists look bad, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid recognizing this truth.

I’ve met David Silverman before, and he was a really nice guy – I hope we get to meet again. I don’t have any problem with believing that he certainly meant well with his outreach efforts at CPAC, as idiosyncratic as his views on acceptable political differences may be. And a few isolated quotes expressing a nuanced position – albeit a potentially disagreeable one – aren’t necessarily cause to dismiss and ignore a person entirely.

What I would ask is this: What is American Atheists doing to reach out to pro-infanticide atheists and bring them into the cause of organized secularism? Is our conception of the parameters of a “right to life” any less worthy of being courted than that of abortion opponents? If we’re really seeking to expand the tent of atheist activism, why extend it only in their direction, and not ours? I’d contend that if anything, those of us who are pro-infanticide can bring much more of value to the atheist movement than anti-choice conservatives would, such as our evidence-based approach to secular ethics. And if you think it would be distasteful to reach out to us, ask yourself: is it really more distasteful than inviting people who would legally force a person to give birth against their will?

I don’t want to be “one of the good ones”

A long-awaited companion piece for Heina.

If you’ve ever favorably contrasted me against other trans people or atheists or queer folks or anyone else like me, just because I’ve been quiet when they’ve been outspoken in the face of wrongdoing, or I was overly patient and indulgent of ignorance when they’ve been rightfully terse: fuck you.

Stop it. I don’t want your support or approval. I am not on your side. I am not one of you. I want to be like them – not like you. I don’t want to be one of your “good ones”.

I’ll define this type of situation by way of example. A few months back, I was mentioned on Anton A. Hill’s blog in a list of several people with whom he’d recently had productive conversations on issues like feminism and trans stuff. In my case, this was because I happened to be in a friendly mood when he asked me a question that involved the phrase “born w/ a peepee”.

This was just one instance of a pattern that was repeated throughout the post: his surprise that his criticism of Freethought Blogs as a whole was handled calmly by NonStampCollector, or that a member of Secular Woman “respected” his “right to disagree with her” on issues of feminism (as if how people regard a man’s opinion of feminism is in any way connected to individual rights and freedoms), or that Marisa Gallego “maintained politeness” when he “downright called her on her shit” in their discussion of trans matters.

I’ll ask you to take a moment and think about which of these people you expect I’d be more inclined to align myself with – him, or the people who graciously “maintained politeness” when addressing his “born w/ a peepee”-level views on these issues.

Reading this post made me rather suspicious of what he was aiming to convey. As I found out by the end, it was nothing good: he capped it all off with vague criticism of fellow FTBer Ophelia Benson, and how his experiences with her had led him to suspect that all our conversations would descend into a “vicious, name-calling flame war”. We were the good ones… so who were the bad ones? In his estimation, she was.

I don’t agree with this at all. I don’t want to be used as a plank of someone’s argument in their ongoing grudge against FTB or Ophelia or Jen or Greta or Stephanie or Rebecca or Amy or any of the other women in the community who’ve continually stood up against harassment and threats. I don’t want to be an example cited by someone who thinks silence, or meek civility, is a norm we should all aspire to when faced with this. No – I would want such a person to know that I am not on their side here. I am not going to agree with them. I am not going to be complicit in being set apart from admirable and resilient people who have faced down this kind of abuse.

Does anyone really, honestly expect that my views come anywhere near “yeah, screw Ophelia for not suffering fools gladly! I’m with ya, buddy!”?

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This happened again after I was recently on TV to discuss the Chelsea Manning case, trans people in the US military, and access to transition care for trans inmates. Another blogger, Nelson Garcia, said I was “doing a stellar job explaining why it’s important for that person formerly known as Bradley to receive hormone therapy while she serves out her time.”

Much-appreciated praise – were it not surrounded by use of the word “tranny” (which he believes is a measured response to use of “the cis word”). Also, the claim that trans women “are just men who’ve deluded themselves and others into believing they’re women”. And the use of “he” in reference to a well-known trans woman activist. And – yes, he actually did this – nitpicking about the particular kind of surgeries she’s had, and calling this a “con” to have her identity documents updated. Oh, and then he called her a “media whore”.

I mean, holy shit.

Do you think I ever, at any point, would want a person like this to tell me I’m “doing a stellar job”? Does their judgment seem to be of such quality that I should even want to be on their good side?

Nothing I’ve ever done makes me any better than the other trans women he’s insulted and personally attacked in ways that are egregious and invasive even by the usual transphobe standards. And nothing I’ve done makes me better than, say, women on Twitter who just plain don’t feel like educating people from scratch on things like trans stuff and sexism. That’s their prerogative and it’s perfectly valid – it doesn’t make them any worse than me. Not everyone is always, or ever, inclined to get into it with people who are potentially hostile to the very foundations of their equality as human beings. We’re not all equipped to confront that every day, or any day. We shouldn’t have to be, and we shouldn’t be seen as any worse for not wanting to do so.

When what I say is used to fuel some expectation that we should all be unfailingly kind and patient in the face of nonsense, I don’t feel good about that. It’s not something I want my words to be used for at all, and such approval is not something I seek. When they try to separate us into “good ones” and “bad ones” based on how agreeable they find us, it’s often my friends who are considered the “bad ones”. And I know who I’d rather be with.

A podcast of unparalleled awesomeness

This week, The Thinking Atheist hosted a podcast on how religious beliefs and cultures influence sexuality, featuring our own Greta Christina, Jen Peeples of The Atheist Experience, and Dr. Darrel Ray of Recovering From Religion. Oh, and I was there too! It was a lot of fun, and I hope you’ll give it a listen.

The Christian’s Thanksgiving mistake

John MacArthur of the Washington Times has a real stumper for all of us atheists: if there is no God, then why do we feel gratitude?

Ingratitude is dishonorable by anyone’s reckoning, but to be willfully ungrateful toward the Creator is to deny an essential aspect of our own humanity. The shame of such ingratitude is inscribed on the human conscience, and even the most dogmatic atheists are not immune from the knowledge that they ought to give thanks to God. Try as they might to suppress or deny the impulse, “what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them,” according to Romans 1:19.

Indeed. How can we possibly account for the urge to be thankful, without recognizing the crucial role of this specific deity of this specific faith with this specific mythology? Because, of course, the fact that people feel gratitude has everything to do with the story of the Christian God, its creation of the world and its interactions with humans, as relayed by one particular religious text which is completely reliable. People feel stuff, and that means God. How could this ever be explained otherwise?

MacArthur continues:

One atheist has practically made a hobby of writing articles to explain why atheists feel the need to be thankful and to answer the question of whom they might thank. His best answer? He says atheists can be grateful to farmers for the food we eat, to doctors for the health we enjoy, to engineers for the advantages of modern technology, to city workers for keeping our environment clean and orderly — and so on.

Here’s the problem with that: Tipping the waitress or tipping one’s hat to sanitation workers doesn’t even come close to resolving the problem of whom Mr. Dawkins should thank when he looks at the stars, stands at the edge of the Grand Canyon, or studies the world of countless wonders his microscope reveals in a single drop of pond water.

Clearly, whether something is spiritually satisfying is unambiguous evidence of the truth of a particular religious claim. Atheism must be invalid if it can’t explain people’s feelings of awe and undirected thankfulness, because this is obviously a problem of theology and metaphysics – not one of human psychology. I’m surprised MacArthur didn’t get into more of the weak points of atheism, such as its failure to provide emotionally fulfilling answers to human wonder at childbirth, dogs, fire, and magnets. Such feelings must point to a God, because it says so in the Bible. And we know the Bible is true, because there’s obviously a God as indicated by Richard Dawkins’ feelings about canyons and Shaggy 2 Dope’s awe at rainbows.

Check and mate.

On giving my first speech

We just got back from the Florida Secular Rally in Tallahassee, and there’s only one way I can describe it:

Rebecca Watson, Jessica Ahlquist, and me

Awesome.

This was actually my first time attending any atheist event, and in was fantastic in so many ways. While there wasn’t a massive turnout – Aron noted a distinct lack of P.Z. – this also had the advantage of being cozy and comfortable, with a friendly atmosphere all around. Everybody knew everybody, and I got to spend all day hanging out with some of my personal atheist role models.

Dave Silverman, Greydon Square, and me

Just having a place where the values of secularism, tolerance and equality are shared by everyone present was a new experience for me, and that counts for a whole hell of a lot. My family and I were able to feel safe and respected, a rarity anywhere else in Florida.

Aron Ra, Heather, and me

Everyone was incredibly supportive, and it was fun, relaxing, and a perfect setting for another first: my first public speaking engagement.

I hadn’t done any public speaking since I was 12, when my freshman English teacher gave us the simple assignment of memorizing a poem to recite in front of the class. Naturally, I completely forgot it and cried a lot in front of everyone when it was my turn (this sort of thing happened surprisingly often at that age). Since then, public speaking hasn’t really been one of my more significant interests.

But when Mark Palmer of the Humanists of Florida Association invited me to speak at the rally – and I’m beyond grateful to him for giving a first-timer a chance – I figured it was long past time to get over it. This was a big opportunity, and I couldn’t let it pass by just because of a little fear. For better or worse, I committed myself to it and said yes.

I let various ideas for the speech drift around for a couple months until they started to coalesce, and I didn’t actually finish writing it until about a week before the big day. I had little idea of what the event would be like – where I’d be standing, how many people would be in the audience, whether I’d know anybody, how it would generally feel to be there – so I just had to imagine I was addressing a crowd of thousands that I needed to impress accordingly.

I visualized this while standing at the kitchen counter, lecturing our Halloween pumpkins. I only practiced it about 3 or 4 times, when no one else was home but our toddler, who was usually more interested in Sesame Street. Heather didn’t even get to hear it before the real thing, which made her a bit nervous about how I would do. I just figured I wouldn’t know how it would all turn out until I actually did it – but I could still do my best to prepare.

Yet after looking up various recordings of major speeches from all sorts of events, I realized that I just needed to find my own voice and let it come out. There was no big secret, no key to blowing everyone away. Everyone had their own style, and it worked for them. What they had in common was exactly what I expected: to be that good, I’d have to try to connect with the audience, speak from the heart to each and every one of them, be relaxed and natural, yet confident and controlled, but also lively… while not being overly rehearsed. And though it seemed like a tall order to pull all of that off at the same time, I recognized that it would all ultimately come down to one thing: just fucking do it.

So that’s what I did. It was nice that plenty of other speakers went before me, so that I could take it all in and get a sense of the general tone of the event and of other people’s on-stage styles. And by the time it was my turn, I didn’t have to use that trick of imagining myself as a confident and prepared person anymore – because I already was.

As I stood on the stage, the loudspeakers echoing throughout the park, I imagined myself speaking to the entire world. And it felt amazing. The crowd was wonderful, and after I was done, the other speakers assured me that I did a great job. I had done it. Public speaking may have seemed intimidating before, but once I had finished, it wasn’t anymore. It was fun!

While this is supposedly a common source of anxiety, I can say that it really wasn’t all that hard. If someone ever invites you to speak somewhere, and you’re not sure whether you should: go for it! Give it a try, and you might find out it’s actually not too bad.

I’d like to thank all of the organizers, speakers and attendees who helped to make this one of the best days ever, and a pretty life-changing experience too. All of you were great, it was wonderful to meet everyone, and I’m definitely looking forward to doing it again.