Staff Sergeant Mildly Annoyed, reporting for duty in the Outrage Brigade

“Don’t feed the tone trolls.”

One of my first experiences with in-person transphobia was actually a feminist context, rather than an atheist one. One of the other participants had made a classic bungle in trans-antagonism: conflating gender identity and gender role. This isn’t a terribly uncommon mistake. In the admittedly esoteric field of trans feminism they are terms of art, generally heading in the direction of consistent meaning within the discourse; the mistake is analogous to using chromosomes and genes interchangeably, or conflating quarks with protons. It’s a sign the person is unfamiliar with what trans scholars have actually written about ourselves, and although this conflation is a foundational premise in many trans-antagonistic strains of feminism, I try to assume it is simply a matter of ignorance.

It was eventually my turn to speak. I introduced myself as well as my area of interest, and explained that many definitions within trans discourse often use the term “gender identity” in relation to an experience of the body (comfort, apathy, distress) and use the term “gender role” to describe external expectations thrust upon you specifically because of your assumed sex assigned at birth. [ex: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5] In this way many feminist observations are easily reconciled with trans liberation: All people are in part oppressed by these rigid and unrealistic expectations, in different ways and to different degrees, and we should unlearn them. All will benefit–cis, trans, man, woman, both, neither, sometimes either, all or none of the above. This is not to say that gender roles account for all people’s oppression, just a part of it. From this perspective the alleged “spat” between trans folk (chiefly trans women) and feminism is utterly nonsensical. There need be no disagreement.

And yet. And yet…

I was accused of being “angry”–by someone, and I kid you not, red in the cheeks and raising her voice–even though I was flatly stating what trans discourse actually says. I hadn’t even accused the speaker of malice (again, I assume ignorance first). All I meant by my comment was that the basic idea motivating the other participant’s bizarre animus against trans folk wasn’t rooted in any material I was aware of–material I continue to be unaware of, as the people using this premise seldom cite sources, or when they do, cite each other saying the other said this in a fashion that would have had me laughed out of my undergrad.

One would hope that as the self-styled paragons of debate and rationalism and/or empiricism, atheists would recognize a straw-stuffing exercise when they see it, and applaud someone for speaking up in the name of rigorous debate.

And yet, and yet

Here we are: Staff Sergeant Mildly Annoyed, reporting for duty in the Outrage Brigade. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, because I’m so numb to people’s ignorance on trans issues that “anger” is actually a relatively rare emotion I experience anymore. In fact I am pleasantly surprised whenever someone manages to speak on the issue without unknowingly spewing bile on their audience. So at this point, expect y’all to be, at best, clueless. My bar is so low for atheist dudebros that they gain a point of approval just for figuring out that “transgender” is an adjective.

Nothing you say ever really surprises me anymore. Maybe it stings your ego that you are not the Paragon of Perfect Thought in every subject, that you sound like a child when you wander into areas beyond your expertise. That’s not writing you off or putting all your work in a trash bin. It is, in fact, a demonstration of the precious debate that many of you claim to admire. Sometimes y’all are really fucking wrong, but somehow when we discuss that, we’re “dividing the movement.”

If I could be assured I were inoculated against the consequences of asinine men, I would consider it immensely amusing that many of atheism’s much-vaunted leaders say, with no hint of irony, that those of us concerned with fairness and justice are being divisive, after tweeting third-rate shit like this:

I’m not outraged. I’m no more outraged than when a toddler throws a tantrum. It’s the sort of immature, emotional outburst you simply expect from them, and while it certainly may be annoying, we would not say that a parent trying to coax their toddler back down to Earth is “outraged.”

Some toddlers continue to express anger nonetheless. At least in their case it’s sometimes because they can’t articulate between degrees of necessity and desire because they lack awareness of abstract concepts.

I wonder, then, what your excuse is.

Staff Sergeant Mildly Annoyed signing off. Ten four.



  1. says

    Hypocritical islamophilia? Pointing out bigotry against Muslim people deserves anger? Yes, I love it when we don’t treat immigrants from Muslim countries as if they are all terrorists.
    Someone’s feeling a bit critisized I see. Good. It’s supposed to feel bad. If Dawkins get to say things that make other people feel bad they get to do the same too. Perfect social symmetry.

    Safe spaces? A social space with rules that emphasize the voices of specific people who face bigotry is hypocritical and worthy of anger?
    The anger at safes paces looks like the outraged howling of frustrated predators to me. I don’t see them reflect the substance of their critics.

    Deplatforming is hypocritical and worthy of anger? When attempts are made to deal with bigotry at a group level choosing to rescind invitations is a social tool. Again, it’s supposed to feel bad.

    I wish I had the energy for Twitter.