Thunderf00t admits to sending my private emails to Michael Payton of CFI Canada

For those who rightfully wanted further confirmation of Thunderf00t’s intrusion into the FTB private mailing list (details here), Thunderf00t himself has now helpfully provided that:

So a week or so ago a guy called Michael Payton who works for CFI Canada (Center for Inquiry) put up a tweet about finding FTB unreadable. Now it turns out ironically Michael is on FTBs side on the issue of harassment policies at conferences (well mostly), however that didn’t matter if he was going to speak ill of freethoughtblogs and this precipitated an angry torrent of twitters from at least one FTBer and another to write an entire blog post about it (promoted by PZ Myers of course), and as with all such posts on FTB he (Payton) was repeatedly branded in the comments section with pejorative terms such as misogynist and MRA (the irony being that he posted an article on skepchick ‘speaking out against hate against women‘ FACEPALM). Indeed it turned out that merely hours after this tweet, CFI Canada had been contacted with calls for his dismissal. Yes his real life job was being threatened because of one tweet about FTBs!

That was a pretty disturbing turn of events having someones job targeted so quickly after a single tweet about FTBs, and after a brief chat with Michael, and knowing that FTB were going ballistic about this on their secret backchannel with some THIRTY messages being circulated on the backchannel about his single tweet, let him know what they were saying about him (naturally no personal details were passed on). Michael did not want to know, he did not need to know that personal info.

This is some of the chatter I passed on to Michael.

Nowhere does he even attempt to justify breaking into the mailing list immediately after he was officially removed – something he did a whole month before any of us said anything about Michael Payton. At the time he did that, there were no remarks about Michael Payton for him to take umbrage at. It was just something he did for whatever inscrutable reasons he needed to convince himself that this was acceptable behavior.

Also, that “chatter” on the mailing list was my email:

Just an early warning, I’m strongly leaning towards publicly making a minor deal of this – not focusing on Payton exclusively, but just as an example of the general attitude of dismissing all of FTB despite not being familiar with hardly any of us – *unless* there’s either an actual apology to us or some kind of sufficient reason for why it would be a bad idea to draw attention to his remarks at this time, such as a relevant illness. I’m usually not one to get involved in internal disputes in the movement, but if a national leader of the SCA or American Atheists had been so openly dismissive of FTB as a whole, I imagine we wouldn’t just let that pass unnoticed. So I’d just like to know if there’s any good reason why I shouldn’t do this, even if I can’t necessarily be privy to the details of it.

Yes, I said that. And so what? I’d say it again – I did say it again – and nothing about it excuses Thunderf00t’s actions. The fact that I said such a thing is not grounds for breaching the privacy of the mailing list or forwarding this email to outside parties, because what I said was not of such a nature that the act of saying it meant immediately abandoning any expectation of privacy. Michael Payton, national executive director of CFI Canada, was making absurd overgeneralizations about Freethought Blogs on Twitter. I drew attention to this and commented on it. And before I did, I asked others if there might be more to the situation that I wasn’t aware of, in case there was any reason why posting about this would be inadvisable.

Nothing about this is even remotely out of line. But for the crime of publicly disagreeing with someone’s public statements, and talking about this with others, Thunderf00t decided that I deserved to have my private email passed along to Michael Payton himself.

So, Thunderf00t, just how far does this line of reasoning extend? Do you plan to break into everyone’s private email, just in case they might eventually plan on writing something critical about someone and you need to show this to the world? Will this then retroactively justify your unauthorized access of their information, too? Is everyone else entitled to intrude upon your privacy for the same reasons, or are you the only one who’s entitled to decide whether other people are allowed to discuss things in confidence?

At the end of the day, you committed an unambiguous and inexcusable ethical violation, and the sole defense you’ve managed to muster is that Zinnia Jones was going to say something critical of Michael Payton’s remarks. Heaven forbid. Do you know what that tells me?

It tells me you’re a pathetic, petty, flailing little whiner.

The day my entire body of work became unreadable: A Freethought Blogs story

When I first joined Freethought Blogs a couple months ago, little did I know this would be the cue for assholes of all stripes to make me a target of their bizarre personal grudges that actually have little if anything to do with me. Much like being trans, or “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day”, being on FTB has served as a magnificent jerk filter: it induces people to stand up and be counted as unreasonable fools. People like one of my followers on Facebook who isn’t a fan of PZ:

…and, um, the national executive director of CFI Canada:

I was ready to let this pass without remark simply because I’ve become used to such blatant cognitive errors after spending the past four years on YouTube. But here we have the director of a national skeptic organization casually insulting the entirety of one of the most prominent networks of atheist writers. Imagine if David Silverman, Edwina Rogers, or Dan Barker had done this, without even an attempt at justifying their wholesale dismissal of over 30 distinct blogs and their authors, or their vacuous accusation of “groupthink” toward people who have committed the cardinal sin of sometimes agreeing about things.

What makes his comments personal is how impersonal they are. In the weeks since I moved to FTB, did Payton scour my whole two-year archive of posts and four-year archive of video transcripts, before declaring that not a single one was “even remotely readable”?  If he has indeed read my blog at any point, I’d happily accept his opinion as just a difference in taste. As is, he’s making a blanket statement about the countless hundreds of thousands of words on the entire network, all of which are apparently impenetrable and useless. Was my work somehow any more lucid when it was located at my old domain, or would he have said the same thing about it if he had read it before I moved here? Does FTB just possess some kind of Aura of Crap such that only the most incompetent writers would be selected to join?

I suspect none of this actually matters to those who have decided that my own work can’t be taken seriously or even read at all because of something someone else did. In their rush to align themselves against the idea that we should take the concerns of women seriously, or some distortion of this which involves hating Rebecca Watson, reason and the spirit of free inquiry have apparently gone out the window. Now that we’re no longer judging people on their individual merits, I wonder if they’ll stop reading Hemant’s blog just because he’s on the same network as Mark Regnerus.

Here’s hoping for greater diligence from CFI Ontario on trans issues

Yesterday, multiple people alerted me to an event announcement by the Centre for Inquiry’s Ontario branch about their participation in Toronto’s Annual Pride Parade. The announcement originally read:

This year we’re going to have a bit of fun- and show our support for the trans community BY DRESSING IN DRAG. Transphobia is an insidious and often overlooked problem which effects thousands of Canadians. Step out of your comfort zone for a few hours and into a pair of pumps- or sport a handsome handlebar mustache!

Note: You don’t HAVE to dress in drag or be gay to march in the parade- you just need to be awesome :)

Some hours later, it was revised to remove all mention of trans people or transphobia, reading:

This year we’re going to have a bit of fun BY DRESSING IN DRAG. Step out of your comfort zone for a few hours and into a pair of pumps- or sport a handsome handlebar mustache!

CFI Ontario executive director Jaimy Warner later issued a semi-apology/explanation on Facebook, reading in part:

I’d like to note that the intention of this event theme was never to mock. CFI has been working tirelessly with the LGBT community and the Ontario GSA Coalition over the past several months to get Bill 13 passed, we have a long track record of supporting LGBT rights and we’re very sensitive to in supporting issues of sexual/gender orientation. I admit that I could have worded the content better-it was not my intention to suggest drag and trans are the same (although ‘trans’ as in the transgender community does include drag performers and cross dressers) but to express that we don’t feel there is anything shameful or abnormal about cross dressing or playing with cultural gender norms. I can see how the juxtaposition of ‘drag’ and ‘trans’ could have easily been interpreted as offensive, and I have since removed that particular content from this event, the website and our newsletter.

That being said: we’ve marched in the parade for many years and I felt that it was time for CFI to really get into the spirit of things. Pride is fun, playful and expressive. We’re not donning a ‘gay costume’ we’re adopting a beloved aspect of LGBT culture as a visible sign of appreciation and acceptance (I completely agree that drag is an art). In another environment I can certainly see how ‘dressing in drag’ could quickly degrade into mockery- but this is not a frat house kegger nor are we a collection of close minded bigots. We’re a science educational charity marching in a Gay Pride Parade (with a professional drag queen helping us prepare, I should add) demonstrating we’re open minded and accepting.

A more substantial apology from Warner followed:

Please let me being by apologizing.

You’re right. My initial response was not an apology but a selfish attempt to explain the stance of my organization and our perspective. At the start of the planning phase for this event I spoke to a number of people in the LGBT community who thought this was a good idea-I thought it was a good idea- so it was easy for me to disregard the first negative responses I received here today. I fell victim to confirmation bias and ignored evidence that this may be a bad idea- this behaviour goes against the grain of what I stand for and I regret this truly. This event and my response to genuine concern has hurt, enraged and polarized people. This was a bad idea and I’m sorry so many people were hurt and made to feel excluded before I realized this.

CFI will not dress in drag.

I get the impression that CFI Ontario and its leadership still don’t quite understand what was wrong with this particular approach to showing solidarity with trans people. Really, I’m confused and taken aback that this could even happen in the first place without anyone at CFI Ontario or their contacts explaining why this is, to put it mildly, a bad idea. It seems some clarification may be in order.

Drag performers and trans people have a complex and sometimes openly hostile relationship, arising from their similarities, differences, and how mainstream society has (mis)categorized and regarded them. The definitions themselves are still unclear at times, and not always agreed upon. Warner states that the “transgender community” also includes drag performers and cross-dressers, but this is just one definition that many people don’t share or endorse. Yes, some people have advanced a “transgender umbrella” model that encompasses drag performers, cross-dressers, transvestites, genderqueer and non-binary people, transsexual people, and anyone whose identity or expression diverges from conventional gender roles. Others have pointed out that such a concept potentially includes any man or woman who doesn’t adhere to strictly masculine or feminine roles, presentations and behaviors, making the definition of “transgender” much broader than what was originally intended.

But regardless of how one defines what it means to be transgender, the mere fact that both drag performers and transsexual people have at times been considered “transgender” does not mean that performing drag is a meaningful, appropriate, or sensitive way to express solidarity with trans people. They may have been grouped together due to certain (extremely broad) similarities, but there are still a great many differences – including differences that are substantial enough to preclude the use of drag as a viable means of fighting transphobia.

Many people don’t constrain their understanding of “drag” to a certain established style of exaggerated performance, and instead use it to refer to any instance of what they perceive as cross-dressing – no matter how the person doing it identifies, whether they intended it as any sort of performance or recreational practice, or whether they even consider themselves to be cross-dressing. This last point is crucial: it’s extremely easy for people with little understanding of trans issues or gender identity to conflate trans people with cis (non-trans) drag performers or cross-dressers. In reality, they’re almost nothing alike.

Again, drag is a performance – a costume, an event, a temporary engagement for the purposes of entertainment. Being trans is none of these things. A trans person who dresses in accordance with their gender identity is simply wearing clothes that their culture has coded as representing the gender that they are, much like any cis person who does the same. A cis woman who wears clothing conventionally associated with women isn’t cross-dressing or doing drag. And neither is a trans woman. Trans people are not dressing “cross” to their gender, they are dressing as their gender. They are not wearing their clothes as some kind of costume, or to entertain anyone, or to put on a show. They are wearing the clothes they wear for the same mundane reasons that cis people wear the clothes they wear. Dressing in a way that reflects their gender is just as much of an everyday, non-noteworthy thing for trans people as it is for cis people.

Most trans people look nothing whatsoever like drag performers, a fact that’s rarely noticed and taken into account because trans people simply don’t stand out. Since people generally don’t have the opportunity to take note of all the trans people they don’t see as trans, those who have no (known) experience with trans people tend to derive their perception of us from people they do see and mistakenly identify as trans – like drag performers. Many trans people have come to resent drag itself for being a major source of harmful misconceptions about who we are and what we’re like. Some drag performers have only exacerbated this by frequently and unapologetically using anti-trans slurs despite not being transsexual themselves, or participating in advertisements with blatantly transphobic overtones and refusing to acknowledge that there’s anything wrong with this.

Whether drag in general is inherently problematic is a separate issue to be resolved, but there’s one thing I want to make very clear: Dressing in drag to “support” trans people is not acceptable, ever. It is perhaps one of the most unacceptable things I can imagine. It is so unacceptable that I struggle to find a suitably analogous situation to compare it to. If a cis man decided to don women’s clothing for the stated purpose of showing that he supports me as a trans woman, I would be deeply insulted by the near-total lack of comprehension and the implication that there is anything remotely similar about myself and that.

Drag queens are men in women’s clothes. Trans women are women in whatever they may be wearing. Linking drag to being trans, as CFI Ontario did, implies that we are somehow comparable to drag performers. By any relevant metric, we are not, but thoughtless ideas like this only reinforce what is perhaps the most common articulation of transphobia: that trans women, too, are just men in women’s clothes. While CFI Ontario probably didn’t mean to say that, they’ve certainly encouraged it. Such a denial of our identities is just as insulting as it would be to presume that a cis person’s gender is inauthentic and that you know their gender better than they do. It’s even more deeply wounding because of the price we pay for living in a way that’s consistent with who we are, a price measured in violence, discrimination, open ridicule, and the risk and indignity of being seen as less than human in our daily interactions with the rest of the world.

This is not something that happens because we’re in costume. It’s because we refuse to go through life wearing a costume that hides our true selves. Someone who performs in drag at a club or dresses up for Pride will have no understanding whatsoever of the unbearable pressure of ceaseless marginalization and constant fear, and for them to parallel themselves with us, even implicitly, only trivializes that brutal reality. It cannot possibly be a show of support, because all it shows is that they know nothing of our lives.

That’s what makes it so shocking for a CFI branch to propose something like this. I expect that as a skeptical and freethought group, they would comprehend what drag actually is before suggesting that their members dress in drag. I expect that they would understand who trans people really are before deciding how best to support us. I expect that they would do their research and recognize why the interaction of drag and trans issues in this context makes their idea utterly, shamefully inappropriate. Basically, I expect them to know what they’re talking about, before they talk about it. In this case, that did not happen. Given their claims of extensive collaboration with LGBT groups, it becomes even more incomprehensible that something like this could slip through the cracks.

While I’m glad to see that they eventually acknowledged that this was a mistake and eliminated the drag aspect of their event, it would have been better if this had never happened in the first place, and I’d like to know what CFI Ontario plans to do in order to prevent any similar errors in the future. Their desire to support us is admirable, but its implementation was badly mishandled here. If you really want to show your support, please do what we strive to do every day: Simply be yourself.