Drinking from the well of poisoned waters

This popped into my head while reading a ThinkProgress post on Michigan’s trans affirmation policy. My idea is a bit dramatic, and click-baity, and campy, and I love it nonetheless. While reading a comment we will discuss in a moment, it came to me in some kind of mock interview where I’m asked what it’s like to be a trans feminist, and I reply:

“It’s like drinking from the well of poisoned waters, only everybody’s throwing different poison in.”

What I’m getting at is that the opposition to much of my work exhibits unconscionable degrees of rhetorical nastiness–rhetorical used in the Aristotelian sense of “persuasive.” Note that persuasive does not mean correct, and certainly attacking gender variance in a society that considers the very concept to be perverse or dangerous is something of a low hanging fruit. Even without the rhetorical guttersniping we’re about to examine, it would be a difficult prospect to be the opponent in this scenario.

I present Exhibit A by a “Penny White,” a wonderful demonstration of the multi-faceted and fractal wrongness that informs some of the more virulent strains of transphobia. So I’ll put a hypothesis to the test over the next few months: Refuting transphobic statements takes a 15:1 word ratio.

Content notice, transphobic nastiness:

Any guidelines approved to protect female students from sexual harassment? Any guidelines to protect teenage lesbians from being pressured to date “girls” with penises? No. Of course not. Transgender Ideology is regressive, pushes the most sexist gender stereotypes, and promotes rape culture by denying girls the right to set boundaries with males. This is the same old misogyny dressed up with a rainbow ribbon. The L has been betrayed by the male dominated G & T.

Truly dizzying, like slamming back a goblet of arsenic. As far as rhetoric goes, it’s effective, if simple. Again–not that it’s difficult to advocate for transphobia. That’s the default, and correspondingly the rhetoric doesn’t have to be sophisticated or clever or even correct to be persuasive.

Any guidelines approved to protect female students from sexual harassment?

We begin by setting the topic of the comment as “sexual harassment.” This is the equivalent of a strategic withdrawal to high ground, as rather than contesting the policy on the soundness of the evidence, we are changing the subject to sexual harassment–which means any pro-trans advocate now has to waste page space explaining how they’re not pro-sexual harassment. See: This post you’re reading right now.

Effective? Certainly. Crass? I would say so. But stepping over this trap is actually quite difficult for the uninitiated, since the leap from male -> dangerous is a predominant cultural trope–even among so-called MRAs, who argue at length about how women should navigate around their “natural” predatory tendencies that they totes can’t control.

Because we know this person is about to defend the status quo, we can trust that “female” is a deliberate word choice to exclude students who are trans girls, who are in the default gender construct understood to be “male,” regardless of what biology tells us. Combined with the above male = dangerous trope, the logic implicit is as follows:

“Males” are dangerous

Trans women are “male”

Therefore trans women are dangerous.

Were I engaging in an actual debate, I would recognise the tactic used here and simply dismiss it. It is a literal uphill battle in the sense that my argument has to backtrack to establish the sociopolitical influences behind the term “male” and “female,” which is exactly what I did with my two citations above.

I can trust, however, that my critics are unlikely to consult said citations.

Any guidelines to protect teenage lesbians from being pressured to date “girls” with penises?

The intention here is to arrive to the already-believed conclusion that trans women are dangerous, so they simply build off that conclusion by straight up fabricating accusations that trans women are pressuring cis lesbians into having sex with them–because pressuring people into sex is something “males” do(GIANT ASTERISK), this is therefore “evidence” that trans women are really just men.

Jesus christ, that hurt my head just to type that. Ugh. I’ll wager that most of you don’t actually know what the hell I’m talking about, and honestly, you probably have more brain cells for it.

It was a conversation started by queer trans women about identity, which was hijacked by feverish conspiracy theorists to smear us as rapists. I’m not even exaggerating. This wasn’t an actual, concrete event that somehow represented trans queer women as a whole; it’s a fiction, a lie that has spun out of control. One of FtB’s own former bloggers, Natalie Reed, explains:

The trouble, though, is that in the painfully typical manner that cis people will consistently view trans issues primarily or only in relation to themselves, they see this notion that how trans women are sexualized (or more accurately, desexualized) within their community is somehow all about us trying to force our way into their pants, to trick our way past their “natural” disinclination to sleeping with our “naturally” less attractive selves. The conversation was quickly twisted into being about how “nobody needs to be obliged to sleep with someone we don’t regard as attractive! It doesn’t make me a transphobe just because I’m not interested in sleeping with trans women!”

Wellllll… here’s the thing. First of all, it is definitely, most emphatically, NOT about you. And frankly, the assumption transphobes so frequently make that our top priority is sleeping with transphobes is pretty silly (and pathetic). Listen, transphobes, seriously: we have no interest in fucking you. We don’t find you attractive. This is not about individual situations, nor is it about trying to deny or compromise anyone their right to choose when, where, with whom, and under what circumstances they consent to sex. It’s about how the category is represented, the patterns, the shared attitudes of a community, not what occurs between individuals in individual sexual scenarios. It’s also about the problems with extrapolating individual sexual needs, desires, hang-ups, baggage or whatever into blanket, “empirical facts” of who is or isn’t desirable. It’s about how those conceptions of an entire class of human beings as objectively (rather than just to your own close-minded sensibilities) undesirable lead to dehumanization, and to being treated as less valid, less deserving of respect.

Yes, that’s right–a conversation started by queer trans women to talk about the absurdity of occupying both hypersexualization and desexualization turned into some kind of rape conspiracy because obviously every time trans people talk about trans people they’re really talking about cis people. I had to replace my desk after the head desking the first time this shit hit the fan.

How’s that saying go? The one about “the amount of effort it takes to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude greater than it takes to create it”?

Just a reminder, we were examining the flaming deuce that was this line from the original comment:

Any guidelines to protect teenage lesbians from being pressured to date “girls” with penises?

The aforementioned pressure likely has occurred, on an individual scale. And I’ll be the last to say that coercion is acceptable when it comes to consent. But I’ll also happily point out that was coerced into activities against my consent by a cis woman–somehow I haven’t walked away from that event waving “kill all cis” banners. That is because while any given problem can occur on an individual scale, it is worth discussing demographic patterns if we’re going to start policies that affect all of us. And when you zoom out, this pressuring of cis lesbians by trans lesbians is scarcely observable beyond third hand friend-of-a-friend stories with no names named posted on obscure corners of the internet. You know, unlike the pandemic of violence against trans folk, which a number of NGOs have quantified in the past few years, which exhibits patterns that demonstrate a rate of victimization far exceeding cis women by proportion?

The solution you’re looking for, of course, is gender neutral language in an existing sexual harassment policy, not to eradicate trans protections.

Back to Penny…

Transgender Ideology

Which we’ve established is some kind of conspiracy to rape cis lesbians. I might have some spare tinfoil in the back.

It’s also “the” Transgender Ideology. I can go rooting through Reed’s archives to find something that we disagree with. That’s because there is no single trans ideology, nor is gender variance even a unified subject of study. This notion that trans women are a monolith serves to dehumanize us, adding to the already believed conclusion that we are dangerous. After all, if you humanize us, you recognize that we have a diversity of opinions, which makes your brush a bit narrower.

In other words, there’s no trans church you can be excommunicated from that reasonably suggests unity of thought. C’est n’importe quoi.

is regressive, pushes the most sexist gender stereotypes,

Protip: Trans folks often endeavour to pass by fulfilling gender stereotypes because cis folk can’t stop harassing, raping, and killing those of us who don’t pass. Maybe stop doing that, and we’ll feel freer to be visibly nonconforming?

I’ll grant that there are a few trans women who advocate that there exists such a thing as a “wrong” way to woman, but unfortunately for Penny we cannot be reliably reduced to that opinion. After all, you’re reading a trans woman who vehemently opposes such arguments… like the one Penny’s making, right now.

Mmmmm loving me some cyanide water.

promotes rape culture by denying girls the right to set boundaries with males

Problem: The sorts of boundaries you claim to have the right to set include things like telling us to “stop existing,” which, sorry not sorry, is not a reasonable boundary. We have the criminology stats to understand that both cis men and cis women are far more likely to victimize trans women than the reverse. We know the worst of the violence is committed by men, even if folks like Penny cheer them on. Asking us to share spaces with cis men (the term noticeably absent from Penny’s word vomit) has been shown to be many, many orders of magnitude more dangerous to trans women than whatever dangers Penny imagines trans women pose to cis women. Unlike the stats of violent crime perpetrated by cis men, there is just nothing to indicate that trans women as a demographic exhibit the same behaviour–unless, of course, you simply erase the distinction between trans women and cis men in order to obfuscate the observations that damage your opinion.

As a rape victim, I promise you I can tell you what perpetuates rape culture. Ironically, the trope that women are hypersexual predators is high up that list, since it paints us as “acceptable” victims when something happens to us, which leads serial abusers to target us because they know we’ve got little or no social capital.

Also–hey! I was right when I read the first sentence and figured we were being categorically excluded from femaleness. It’s almost like transphobic arguments are terribly predictable or something.

Should you expect to be able to change without being gawked at? Sure. Odd, then, that Penny White has not argued for the banning of lesbians from her changerooms. Odd, then, that Penny is nowhere to be found when cis girls choose to body shame as a form of locker room bullying–which is positively epidemic in comparison to trans girls engaging in sexualised violence–and also ironically what she is doing when she insists on calling us male.

Her issue must lie somewhere else, then, if it’s not actually about locker room safety.

This is the same old misogyny dressed up with a rainbow ribbon.

I’ll file “misogyny” under “I don’t think that means what you think it means.”

Again, I’ll grant that you can dig around and find a trans woman who has expressed internalized misogyny. But if that’s a reason to consider us dangerous, then I ought to be fucking terrified of cis women given Phyllis Schafly. It is also, ironically, a word given to arguments that advocate for “right ways to woman”… which is also what Penny is doing.

The L has been betrayed by the male dominated G & T.

Again with the confusion. “Male dominated” T? See, I would understand that to be a reference to trans men, but no, Penny is engaging in the biological reductionist nonsense that informs the notion of binary sex determination, and then bludgeoning trans women with it. Also apparent is the inherently contradictory notion of including G in this betrayal–as if she views trans women as gay men.

But, at least, when it comes to divisions within the Alphabet Soup, we agree they exist, to the point where I am increasingly reluctant to accept an umbrella term at all. Common ground at last!

So, final tally: 1,500 words to discuss less than 100 words of bullshit.

I… uh, love my job?

If you really want to induce an existential crisis, go read any ThinkProgress article on trans issues, and behold the comments section. Even with less than a dozen responses, Every. Single. One. is filled with the arguments employed here.