Transmisogyny is still misogyny

I think most feminists would do a double-take if they had received the endorsement of evangelicals, but not Meghan Murphy. Undeterred by the fact that the Conservatives have selected her to share the limelight alongside evangelical pastor Paul Dirks, Murphy has the privilege of taking her transmisogyny to a national stage as a “witness” for the Senate’s third reading of Bill C-16.

The sad part is that there are legitimate critiques of Bill C-16. Advocates pointed out (and I’ll admit I was a bit late to the party on this one) that trans women are already disproportionately targeted by police and are therefore more likely to be represented in prison–the same prisons that would house hate crime offenders for longer periods of time thanks to Bill C-16’s hate crime provisions. But that’s not the argument Conservatives or Murphy are making.

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The significance of “Papers, Please” in xenophobic America

Just following orders? Ethicists don’t generally buy that. Nonetheless it’s a testament to video games as a medium that you can be confronted with that reality through Papers, Please.

Papers, Please is an honest examination of the practical limits of resistance for anyone working in immigration and a demonstration of how oppressive states use bureaucracy to obscure their abuses. The increasingly complex rules for who you admit to Arstotzka don’t just exist to arbitrarily increase the game’s difficulty.

It’s a bureaucracy suffocating you under an avalanche of regulations, guidelines, and checklists so you don’t have time to think about the “why” of what you’re doing. The legalistic framework surrounding every aspect of your life and job serves to separate you from your own morality, replacing it with a series of rules and regulations. You may have been assigned a job without consent, you may have to screen refugees and immigrants according to nonsense criteria, and your family can be forcibly relocated at any time… but it’s all legal. And if you have a moral problem with any of those laws, confronting them makes you a criminal.

A state that requires self-immolation in the act of genuine resistance is a state designed to enforce compliance. Part of Papers, Please‘s power is that it doesn’t offer you a heroic path out of your dilemma. There are no good options: you’re either enforcing these rules and therefore you become part of the problem, or you are doing what you can to subvert those rules, and in doing so, you put your life and the life of your family at risk. All for seemingly meaningless results, since you have so little agency as an inspector that any commonplace acts of defiance seem futile.

The bureaucratic grind of your border inspector’s life is compounded by how devastatingly poor you are. If you aren’t fast on the first day of the job (where the rules about who to admit are their most simplistic), you’re liable to be dangerously low on money very quickly. Papers, Please has 20 separate endings, and only one of them involves your inspector managing to more or less successfully complete their mission. The majority of playthroughs will find you in an impossible position.

The severe poverty of Arstotzka and Papers, Please‘s intentionally oversized portrayal of despotic overreach can strike many Western players as a profoundly alien experience, but many of the structural hurdles your border agent faces are written into the marrow of Western democracies as well.

Even before Donald Trump, American immigration policy was a labyrinthine horror show of red tape. ICE as a tool for targeting the most vulnerable immigrants en masse predates Trump as well. We’re only seeing it utilized now as a larger scale vehicle of state terror. The key difference between your inspector in Papers, Please and the federal agent staffing an airport checkpoint is that your inspector never signed-up for any of this. You were forced to become a cog in this machine.

Read more about it here.


Public Accommodations for Bigots: A Modest Proposal

On June 28th, 2016, Trav Mamone, a colleague of mine on FreeThoughtBlogs rather humbly suggested to that the solution to all the trans bathroom brouhaha was to ban the actual offenders of public violence–cis men–from public accommodations. We just couldn’t take the risk, they argued, since the vast majority of sexual violence is carried about by cis men. I thought at the time that it was a capital idea, but I see now that it is an unfair and incomplete solution, and so I am compelled to voice my disagreement with them.

Us women are so busy being protected by men, see, that we seldom have time to really think about our circumstances. In the name of “saving us,” these conservative men have previously stripped us of our healthcare, blamed us for crimes committed against us, imprisoned us for having miscarriages, and supplied us with poisoned drinking water. Clearly, they have a track record we can trust, right? We can’t ban them from public spaces!

“But Siobhan,” my intrepid readers ask, “surely you are writing this because you have discovered something to the contrary?”

Quite so. I was thinking that there surely must exist some form of circumstance where all freedom-loving Americans can publicly and loudly void their bowels without being subject to invasions of privacy from the opposite sex. I mean, we already have solid stalls between ourselves and another stranger, but do those stalls do anything to stop those insidious infiltrators of the opposite sex, from hearing, and later remembering in nightmarish fever dreams, the grunts and tribulations of our digestive system? Why it would be positively indecent for men to learn that women poop, sometimes vigorously so!

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Oh, the slightest criticism, obviously equivalent to being burned alive

You know whose breathless histrionics I haven’t enjoyed in a while? Jesse Singal’s.

I’ll share a little bit about Singal’s background here, because there’s a lot to unpack in Singal’s latest masterwank, “This is What a Modern Day Witch Hunt Looks Like” (a decidedly not burned cis white woman, apparently).

Back when Singal first started cluelessly meandering into trans issues, virtually every trans feminist academic I read approached him with kiddie gloves. Julia Serano gave an interview with him to help orient his slant on a Ken Zucker piece in relation to empirical evidence–he declined to use any of the information she provided. Same thing with Parker Molloy, who goes to great lengths to avoid calling Singal transphobic despite his omission of Molloy’s attempt to introduce the evidence to him. A blogger by the pseudonym of Cerberus has meticulously documented Singal’s foray into trans issues, and spends several years trying to patiently explain the sheer amount of denialism necessary to maintain the opinions Singal defends. Kelley Winters has tried to inform Singal (multiple times). Cristan Williams has tried to inform Singal. Zinnia Jones has tried to inform Singal. Casey Plett has tried to inform Singal. I’ve tried to inform Singal.

So I want to make it abundantly clear that Jesse Singal has had ample opportunity for respectful dialogue with trans feminists and gender psychiatrists, multiple offers of delicate hand-holding from advocates across multiple platforms of media, and dozens of attempts to offer clearer information for the purposes of his journalism.

It’s only under this context that I am now certain in saying Jesse Singal has exhausted any claim to good-faith argumentation. Singal is lying. More importantly, he knows he’s lying.

That brings us to Singal’s “witch hunt,” notably absent of any fires and show-trials constructed through Catch-22s and loaded misogyny. Rebecca Tuvel managed to get a dubiously sourced-and-argued article published in Hypatia comparing Rachel Dolezal’s bastardization of “transracialism” to gender variance (“transgenderism,” as the cis insist on calling it). Tuvel has, not without reason, taken some flack for it. Trans academics–you know, the people that actually study and live this stuff–still struggle to have our work taken seriously, especially in academic contexts, but hey, if you’re cis and have the right stamp on your certificate, you can coast straight through the uncritical editorial vision of (also cis) feminist editors. But Jesse Singal thinks our objections to Hypatia‘s publishing of Tuvel’s piece to be a witch hunt.

Cue my esteemed colleague, Crip Dyke, emphasis added by me:

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3,600 life sentences for preaching “don’t be a dick”

Fethullah Gulen was a controversial figure long before the attempted coup in Turkey–he’s an Islamic scholar who interprets the Qu’ran emphasizing altruism and public service (which, believe it or not, was not well received). While I will always be somewhat uneasy with any theology simply by virtue of its epistemological weaknesses, I can at least acknowledge that Gulen’s theology is “more” compatible with my own morality than most theologians. Basically, it boils down to “don’t be a dick,” Gulen’s blind spot for Kurds notwithstanding.

Nonetheless, he’s been living in self-imposed exile in the United States, and his movement of altruistic public servants is being scapegoated as the perpetrators of the attempted coup. Politicians sympathetic to Kurds have been jailed, over 200 journalists who’ve criticized the government are facing a variety of treason charges, academics can’t publish anything remotely critical of their government without getting visits from the secret police, and over 150,000 people have been arrested on evidence as wafer-thin as “used an encrypted messaging app,” with around 50,000 put in pre-trial detention–Oh, and massive portions of the judiciary are in said pre-trial detention, so there’s no infrastructure to actually try the accused. Some have been waiting for their trial since last July.

The hobbled judiciary has announced that it seeks 3,623 “aggravated life sentences” for Fethullah Gulen’s supposed role in the attempted coup, an accusation disputed by British and German intelligence. One wonders how long it’s going to take to try the other 50,000 accused, almost all of whom were not likely involved in the coup at all given that they’re a smattering of public servants, academics, or even just people who Tweeted something mean about Supreme Snowflake Erdogan. Really, that should always be the first barrier to legitimately believing in a conspiracy–you’d have to believe that many people can organize competently.

What I find especially disturbing is that the Supreme Snowflake’s supporters are fine with all of this. They’re fine with Turkey’s ascension to the EU being utterly torpedoed. They’re fine with what few democratic institutions they had being knocked down. They’re fine surrendering the right to a speedy trial. They’re fine with laws structure with absurdly low standards of evidence such that an accusation is functionally equivalent to a conviction. They’re fine with the relatives of accused being arrested and charged and prosecuted to give leverage for forced confessions. They’re fine seeking government approval for speech.

I’d say it’s unreal, but I believe it. I don’t want to, but I do. Until the infrastructure of Erdogan’s dictatorship comes down on them, they’ll be just fine with it. That’s intensely frustrating. It doesn’t occur to them to question whether it is right to seek 3,623 life sentences for a preacher whose message boils down to “help your community,” because the person saying Gulen deserves it is wearing a fancy uniform.


A familiar story

I have asked at multiple points in my time here on FTB whether those taking various anti-trans positions have bothered to read the material they claim to be criticizing. The answer, at this point, is most often “no,” but sadly ignorant cisgender editors of otherwise respectable media outlets continue to publish these dog awful jokes.

So how do they get away with it? Zinnia Jones explores that. Her answer–“through denialism.

This exercise, of searching outward from a given state of the world in order to map the many tendrils of its implications, can be a very efficient way of detecting errors, distortions, or outright nonsense. If you have an idea, does that idea imply anything about reality, or concretely connect to the world in any way? At which points does it come in contact with reality? Does it make testable predictions? Can it be disproven, and what would disprove it? What elements of the world changing would affect the validity of this idea?

The facts of the world generally don’t support transphobic arguments, and transphobes don’t really have the option of making robust arguments based on an honest assessment of the current state of our knowledge. They know this – they make use of this same technique of pondering counterfactuals. The difference is that they work backwards to fabricate an entirely new counter-reality, tailored to support their positions and vast enough that it can substitute for reality itself in a person’s mind. It’s called denialism: an entire ideological support system made to preserve a desired belief by rejecting the overwhelming evidence that would threaten this belief.

Denialism is wrongness with an infrastructure – ignorance with an armored shell, a whole fake world weaponized against the real world. Denialism can be observed in the various forms of “scientific” creationism, where facts of evolutionary biology and earth science contradicting certain readings of the Bible are targeted for incompetent rebuttal by non-experts working for various conservative Christian “institutes” of “creation research”, which is not a real field. It can be seen in climate change denialism, where the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming is discarded in favor of fringe nitpicking, oversimplified misunderstandings of the science, and so very many conspiracy theories.

Some forms of transphobia have grown so well-organized that they, too, now constitute an instance of denialism. Diethelm and McKee (2009) describe five core themes of the phenomenon of denialism:

Jones outlines the following themes of denialism, and just to help support her point, I’ll link to some of the works I’ve examined to corroborate them.

  1. Allegations of conspiracy are used as grounds to dismiss a well-established and consistent body of science.
  2. Fake experts are presented to lend apparent authority to denialist claims.
  3. Denialists will be extremely selective when it comes to the evidence and facts that they accept as valid.
  4. Standards for scientific findings are shifted in order to be practically impossible to meet.
  5. Shoddy arguments, fallacies, and deliberate misrepresentations are deployed to mislead the public.

As Jones concludes, if the factual arguments for transphobia existed, transphobes would just use them. Instead a heavy reliance on lies fiction gets them where they want to be.


Signal boosting: The limits of free speech and who gets thrown under the bus

FTB (or, PZ for the most part) periodically wanders into free speech debates that I find intensely frustrating, given that I am a member of several commonly targeted demographics for hate speech. It doesn’t help that avowed ‘pitters are stirring the pot, but even setting aside abusive troglodytes there is the matter of otherwise-liberal people defending the right of someone to incite violence against people like me under the auspice of “free speech.” Part of the problem is that these free speech defenders fail to actually consider speech to be a set of actions, and that Milo has used his speech to publicly call for the sexualized violence against at least one transgender student. Instead of recognizing this, they always fall back to generalizations.

Julia Serano takes it away from there: (emphasis added)

Rather, there is speech that we (as individuals, or as a society) are willing to tolerate, and speech that we deem to be beyond the pale. Every single one of us has a hard limit — a point at which we will exclaim, “I simply cannot tolerate that!” For certain Breitbart employees, the American Conservative Union, Simon & Schuster, and journalist Kurt Eichenwald (whose tweet initially inspired this post), that hard limit is apparently advocating (or seeming to advocate) adult-teen relationships.

I have no problems with any of these groups refusing to tolerate Yiannopoulos’s [pederasty] comment. And I have no qualms with their decisions to “no platform” him over this issue. But I do want to point out that, by drawing the line there, the American Conservative Union, Simon & Schuster, Kurt Eichenwald, and others, are implicitly saying that EVERYTHING ELSE that Yiannopoulos has done up until this point — his long history of blatant racism, misogyny, and transphobia, and his penchant for doxxing, harassing, and intimidating marginalized individuals online and during his talks — all of that is a-okay. Absolutely tolerable. Within the boundaries of normal discourse, in their eyes.

Read more of her here.