A misogynist by any other name would smell just as putrid

On August 10 earlier this year, I concluded that the weakly supported theory of autogynephilia (AGP) remains popular among a certain subset of sexologists because of its utility for dismissing trans women. A careful look at the methodology that produced the theory quickly demonstrates its fatal flaws, and yet the theory is, to this day, occasionally cited as a reason to dismiss a trans woman’s opinion as unreliable. In brief review, the theory posits that there are two (and only two) etiologies by which gender dysphoria is produced in trans women: The first, the bizarre and easily falsified notion that it is easier to be a trans woman than an effeminate gay man; the second, sexual arousal at the thought of oneself as possessing culturally female attributes. The former are confusingly named “homosexual,” (as in women attracted to men), the latter “heterosexual” (as in women attracted to women). Science!

Ray Blanchard was only able to propose this conclusion by ignoring vast portions of his data and framing his subjects as liars, thus rendering his theory unfalsifiable when tested with his own methodology. The theory, naturally, doesn’t pan out when investigated by Blanchard’s peers.

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AFAB trans women and the bog of eternal linguistic nihilism

Pizza is just a kind of very large cheese biscuit. An adequately large cheese biscuit is a pizza.

If you want to waste someone’s time in a debate, one of the best ways to do it is to hurl the balloon full of sticky goo we call linguistic nihilism at them. In terms of the value of the technique, I think my colleague Marcus characterizes it best: like “sneaking off the battlefield under cover of darkness.” Other suitable metaphors include “stepping into quicksand” or “navigating a quagmire.” If we imagine a debate to be a duel of swords, linguistic nihilism is not a technique of parrying or striking, but rather manoeuvring the opponent into knee-deep mud.

One iconic example of linguistic nihilism is captured in a low-stakes joke: “Hot pockets are a kind of sandwich.” The crux of the argument, not (typically) made with any seriousness, is that we can define a “sandwich” to possess certain attributes (e.g. a pair of bread slices with fillings in-between), and then label all things with those attributes “sandwiches.” Hot pockets, being quite literal bread products with cheese and meat stuffed in between, could arguably “be sandwiches.” But the vast majority of people reading the word “sandwich” probably don’t picture hot pockets. We can chase our tails all day as to whether or not we could argue that hot pockets are sandwiches, but it won’t change the fact that enough people, when polled, will picture distinct and different things when asked to imagine a hot pocket and a sandwich in their mind. The attributes of any given hot pocket and any given sandwich could all be described, but what those attributes mean is a linguistic and philosophical dispute, not an empirical one. There is no “essence of sandwich” one can detect in hot pockets to measure their sandwichness. What we call sandwiches is a negotiated, social process, meaning if it is suitable to all parties involved, we can decisively say one way or the other whether hot pockets are sandwiches, and then proceed with our discourse.

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Spelling it out for Jesse Singal

On October 9, 2017, the CEO of a UK charity called Mermaids released a statement regarding her support of gender variant youth, reproduced below. Just a day later none other than Jesse Singal chimed in claiming that this supportive charity was not being roasted for saying the same thing he said. Now Jesse Singal is one of the regular subjects on this blog due to the combination of his wide reach and his stunning incompetence when it comes to covering trans issues. That he continues to be paid to write on them is certainly a detriment to my health.

The particularly annoying thing about Jesse Singal’s type of wrong is that there are layers to it. I could just throw up my arms and say “no” but he makes an illustrative example of the overlapping assumptions most people carry with them while they are uninitiated on trans topics. So I’m feeling generous. Despite the fact that Jesse Singal is extremely unlikely to ever encounter these words or engage with them seriously on account of my “trans hysteria,” I’m going to spell it out for him.

Let’s start with the trans support charity called Mermaids. This is their October 9 statement, and we’re interested in the first paragraph. I’ve added the bold emphasis:

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Siobhan in The Establishment: How the Media’s Bullshit ‘Both Sides’ Punditry Harms Trans People

On May 15, 2017, a Medium user published an article to her personal handle arguing — among many other things — that the presence of trans women in women’s spaces constituted an act of aggression, and that the vocabulary proposed by trans men to describe themselves “erased” cis women.

Despite the rather extreme premises assumed in the piece, a feminist publication by the name of Athena Talks decided to pick it up shortly after it was posted, resulting in a second round of sharing among feminist outlets.

I am, unfortunately, rather used to having my mere presence likened to violence. Calling myself a feminist as a trans woman has meant that I’ve had to share spaces with people who argue, in all seriousness, that my health care is a conspiracy theory to eradicate gay people.

What I haven’t acclimatized to is the practice of abandoning any commitment to discovery or knowledge, something that seems distressingly widespread in media practices today. Because what Athena Talks did next also follows a well-established pattern: They published another article that was critical of the first piece, without any acknowledgement that the arguments previously presented were both based on inaccuracies and illogically constructed.


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Social constructionism in sex

My inestimable colleague Crip Dyke reminded me that I’ve never justified the vocabulary I use in my writings on trans issues. In her post, “Every Other Trans Person is Wrong,” she explains that consensus is seldom achieved among minority communities, and yet this does not excuse inaction in the face of oppression on the part of majorities. It’s true–I couldn’t possibly hope to wrangle in the entirety of all trans people on the planet, but she is correct when she writes elsewhere that my word choices on trans issues are deliberate and calculated to achieve specific ends, despite the lack of universal agreement among those for whom the terms may apply. So today I’d like to show my work and demonstrate that calculation. I can’t form The Official Consensus of Teh Trans, but if you understand why I use the words that I do, you’ll be better equipped to respond to differences of opinion within the trans community, and thus the lack of apparent consensus may be less intimidating in your wish to materialize your good will towards trans folk into substantive action. (This post obviously assumes you have that good will. If you don’t, that’s a tirade for another day.)

Content Notice: I am going to invoke cissexism and endosex supremacy specifically as a means to discuss it. In addition there is a sex ed component where I show variations in genitalia in a non-sexualized fashion, but in our sadly unenlightened society that is nonetheless NSFW.

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Autogynephilia: A method of character assassination, not a scientific theory

Content Notice: Trans-antagonistic nonsense of many varieties.

Miranda Yardley has, much to my despair, started clogging the “transgender” tag on Medium, which is one of many ways I try to track what is being discussed about gender variance. For those of you who don’t know her–congratulations, count yourself lucky–she’s a self-described “transsexual male” who has politically aligned herself with a group of people who gleefully argue for her own subordination. She gallivants about the United Kingdom, coasting in on the benefits hard won for her by trans activism, all while arguing how harmful trans activism is. It’s the sort of hypocritical blinkered nonsense you typically see from the forced-birther movement, who often access the very services they protest. She is, basically, a British Blaire White, carving out a niche in profiting from telling the trans-suspicious what they want to hear while being simultaneously trans. This includes her latest invocation of one of the anti-trans types’ favourite cudgel: Autogynephilia, an idea (calling it a “theory” would be an insult to science) promoted by Dr. Ray “transsexuals will sort themselves out later” Blanchard.

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Who needs enemies with “allies” like these?

Imagine a world where the virulently misogynist words of Phyllis Schlafly were held up by feminists as representative of the opinions of all women. Imagine a world where the discrimination-denialist positions of Christina Hoff Sommers were held up as the pinnacle of women’s advocacy by feminists. Imagine a world where hundreds of feminists surfaced from the crevices of the internet to hail me as some kind of valiant free speech defender after campaigning for women to be banned from public life because one time, this woman threw hot coffee at me and no, I don’t have an independent link for you to verify that but I promise I’m trustworthy *pinky swear* smiley-face emoji :)

I don’t live in this world because it is, sadly, limited to cis feminists. A feminist publication called Athena Talks, whose mission is “to help young women mature, [to help] budding professionals become leaders and [to help] leaders become advocates for equality,” decided that all of the above absurdities were suddenly worthy of their editorial attention, strictly because it was re-purposed for animus against trans women.

To be clear, I don’t consider it a bad thing that my feminist works are usually held up to a higher standard. If I were to deploy the venom-spitting baffelgab passing for “reasonable dialogue” in the start of this post, I would be rightly shredded as a derivative thinker and deemed an asshole with an axe to grind. Instead I want to draw attention to cis feminism’s problem with shoddy double standards: If the topic is trans women, y’all start giving the “deer in headlights” look as if you’ve never encountered a logical fallacy before. (#NotAllCisFeminists, of course, but enough of you).

So, without further ado, let’s dive into the latest candy-glossed hate piece to make waves in feminist discourse: “I am not a ‘cis’ Woman, I am a Woman and that Matters.

Content Notice for trans-antagonism, in case it wasn’t already obvious from the title.

The author opens thusly:

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How to poison the trans well in five easy steps

Cis women occupy a unique position within the discourse between sex essentialist/trans-exclusionary radical feminists and trans feminists. As we’re about to see below, TERFs sometimes employ a subtle technique of rhetorical manipulation that disarms any trans critics long before we’ve even spoken. Since cis women in these sex essentialist constructs lack the various boogeymen and spectres that TERFs raise as evidence of trans women’s “male essence,” they’re able to more directly interface with the material without having to first waste time on specious accusations of “aggression” or “violence.” This is why I made a post eons ago briefly thanking M. A. Melby for her work–she not only acknowledges this unique position but actively uses it to expose the intellectual fraud of sex essentialist feminists.

Here I document a specific strain of rhetoric which has the intention to demonize the transgender critic regardless of their actual behaviour. My hope is that cis women step up to the plate when they see it deployed, because they undermine its fundamental strategy simply by voicing a criticism while being neither transgender or a man. We’re looking at a recent piece by Julian Vigo, but the rhetoric used here is likely to make an appearance again.

All emphasis seen in the quotations are added by me unless marked otherwise. Typos are from the original material. Lastly, I use “trans feminist” to refer to a specific tradition of trans-inclusive feminism, not as “a feminist who is also transgender,” though they often overlap.

Content Notice for trans-antagonism and sexual assault.

1. Frame your critics as oppressors.

 

It’s not exactly difficult for those who experience misogyny to paint that experience as rather harrowing. There are countless disparities between men and women in virtually every metric you can think of from violent victimization to wage earnings to health outcomes. If one is invested in evidence as their basis for beliefs, it is virtually inescapable to conclude anything except that women as a demographic are treated unfairly in a myriad of ways (not that people don’t try). Despite the ceaseless statistical evidence, Vigo opts to use a personal narrative instead:

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Anything but trans

Given that trans-antagonism still possesses enough social capital to be routinely published in mainstream media outlets, we ought to consider its influence on those questioning their gender identity. There is an entire sub-genre within the topic of “questioning” prompted by notably not-trans people that I’m calling the “anything but trans” narratives.

Questioning your gender? Take a shot of Pimozide. Results supporting this idea may be based on a single case study and not an actual sample, but anything to not be trans, right? (This is entering not even wrong territory–the WPATH recommends psychosis be “managed” before transitioning but no longer considers it an automatic exclusion from gender dysphoria).

Questioning your gender? Hey, this anonymous Tumblr survey circulated by TERFs says 20% of “detransitioners” actually had Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder instead, they just fixated on gender. What a relief you’re not trans!

Questioning your gender? Hey, this “expert” says autistic people are disproportionately represented among gender dysphoric youth. You’re “just autistic,” and not trans. Whew!

Just Autism. Just OCD. Just a perception disorder. Just mommy issues. Just a sexual fetish. Just a phase. Just personal preference. Just PTSD. Just just just. On and on it goes, a never-ending refusal to actually listen to trans people in a desperate bid to find a cis explanation for a not-cis phenomenon.

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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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