Distinguishing between unaware, suspicious, and antagonistic

One of the ways Julia Serano and I diverge, apparently, is our positions on linguistics. I’m an extreme descriptivist, which means I acknowledge that individual words will take on different meanings for different people. This is what facilitates miscommunication, and my position is to always abandon the loaded terminology and say what we mean every time. Although I disagree with the conclusion of this article (that we should police our application of the label “TERF”), there was one piece in it I wanted to share that I thought had merit:

Upon considering this, as I was writing the essay Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation: A Guide for Understanding Transgender Children Debates, I used three different terms to differentiate between underlying sentiments or motives that often drive expressions of transphobia. I have found them useful on subsequent occasions, so I recently added these terms to my online trans, gender, sexuality, & activism glossary. That new entry reads as follows:

Trans-antagonistic, Trans-suspicious, Trans-unaware: terms I have increasingly used since the mid-’10s (e.g., see here) to make distinctions between various types of anti-transgender attitudes or positions. Some expressions of transphobia stem from people simply being “trans-unaware” — i.e., uninformed (or under-informed) about transgender people and experiences. Other individuals may be downright “trans-antagonistic,” in that they are fundamentally opposed to transgender people for specific moral, political, and/or theoretical reasons. From an activist standpoint, this distinction is quite pertinent: Trans-unaware individuals tend to be “passively transphobic” (e.g., only expressing such attitudes when they come across a trans person, or when the subject is raised), and may be open to relinquishing those attitudes upon learning more about transgender lives and issues. In contrast, trans-antagonistic individuals often actively promote anti-trans agendas (e.g., policies, laws, misinformation campaigns) and are highly unlikely to be moved by outreach or education (unless, of course, they undergo a more comprehensive philosophical transformation). The “trans-suspicious” position acknowledges that transgender people exist and should be tolerated (to some degree), but routinely questions (and sometimes actively works to undermine) transgender perspectives and politics. For example, a trans-suspicious individual might treat me respectfully and refrain from misgendering me, yet simultaneously express doubt about whether certain other people are “really trans” or should be allowed to transition. While they often consider themselves to be “pro-trans” (on the basis that they tolerate us to some degree), their strong cisnormative and cissexist biases lead them to spread much of the same misinformation, and push for many of the same anti-trans policies, as their trans-antagonistic counterparts (e.g., see here). In a world where trans-antagonistic and trans-unaware attitudes are pervasive, trans-suspicious arguments tend to strike the average cisgender person as relatively “objective” or “reasonable” by comparison (although trans people readily see through this veneer).

The distinction between the trans-antagonistic and trans-suspicious positions was central to my “Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation” essay, as I was attempting to articulate (to a largely trans-unaware audience) why trans-suspicious views from the likes of Jesse Singal and Alice Dreger (both discussed in that essay) are so invalidating from a trans perspective. While these writers tolerate trans people to some extent (e.g., they are not calling for us to be entirely excluded from society), they clearly value cisgender identities, bodies, and perspectives over transgender ones, and they are inherently suspicious of anything transgender people say about our own lives (unless, of course, it aligns with their cisnormative presumptions). Hence, they push for many of the same policies (e.g., pro-gender-reparative therapies and anti-gender-affirming approaches to healthcare) and spread much of the same misinformation (e.g., psychological theories that have been rejected by most trans health professionals) as their trans-antagonistic counterparts, despite the fact that they seem relatively benign to outsiders.

You can read the rest here.


Paranoid fantasies

If you’ve ever had a sense of deja vu reading anti-trans feminist rhetoric, it’s for a good reason: It’s all pages from the same playbook.

The way sexuality is used to demarcate the difference of the other and to marginalize the other is a widespread phenomenon with deep historical roots. In terms of the recent rally against transgender children, the language of these anti-trans activists is incredibly stock. They depict trans school children as pedophiles, as likely to engage in bestiality, as likely to participate in group sex. It’s the overblown moral panic language of, “it’s not only this, but it’s that”. It’s the argument that one thing leads to the other that sexual or gender variance is a slippery slope. For these anti-trans people, it’s not only that trans children are bad, it’s that they’re going to try to have sex with your children; it’s not only that, but then they’re going to molest your barnyard animals and domestic pets and, not only will they engage in these solo acts of sexual perversion, then they’ll engage in group sex!

As I said, they’re shifting the conversation away from the inequality trans school children face. Instead, they’re rendering any recognition of this inequality as a sexual threat to cis children. These are paranoid fantasies. It’s that somehow these children will invade the intimate spaces cis people inhabit; it’s the argument that these intimate spaces will be invaded if other groups –in this case, trans school children– are dignified.

The basic message is that the existence of trans school children represents a general lack of morality. The bestiality language has been part of anti-gay discourse for decades and the pedophilia rhetoric dates back at least to the 1920s and 1930s for gay men, if not earlier. These are long-standing anti-gay tropes. Now, the really strange thing going on in the quotes from that rally is that there is the assumption that because the child is trans –that is, the child is aware of their gender dysphoria– that awareness somehow sexualizes them for these anti-trans activists. I find that to be a really strange and interesting leap they’re making. While, in actuality, a child having an awareness of their gender dysphoria isn’t about sexuality, for these anti-trans children activists, there’s somehow a coupling of gender identity and sexual desire so that, if a child is aware of their gender identity, they must somehow be hypersexualized and therefore dangerous.

The logical leaps that these anti-trans activists are making within the political spear are so long and convoluted, it’s worth noting. For them, a desire to be honest about one’s gender identity is to mark oneself as being over-sexualized. They believe these children are wolves in sheep’s clothing. It’s quite strange when you parse out the twisted way they’re viewing trans children.

That’s from an interview by Cristan Williams with Gillian Frank, a researcher exploring reactionary rhetoric. Read more here.


“In practice, cis people are never satisfied by the sacrifice of trans people’s dignity”

The UK’s current system of acquiring a legal gender change is needlessly onerous, and absurd in its implied assumption that a council of disinterested bureaucrats can determine the “truth” of an applicant’s gender. However, after the proposal to make the process less difficult, TERFs and the media have responded by grossly exaggerating what these updates to the Gender Recognition Act entail. Heather explains:

In fact, none of the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act pose any risk to any of the cis women in the UK. The changes serve only to benefit transgender men and women who, for whatever reason, would be unable to prove they meet the current criteria to the satisfaction of their local council. While it certainly is a lot easier to access a counselor or other medical services in the UK than it is in the USA, there’s never a guarantee that said professional would be willing to diagnose a transgender person properly and there is no demonstrable need for this barrier in any case. Exactly zero overly impulsive cis people have been stopped from making silly mistakes. The hurdles in place serve only to satisfy the anxieties of cisgender people. In practice, transphobic cisgender people are not satisfied anyway and the sacrifice of transgender citizens’ dignity and agency so far has been in vain.

Since threats to cisgender women have already been addressed and in changes to these protections aren’t actually a part of the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, the clown car vomiting op-eds and TERF concerns can and should be easily ignored by members of government reviewing the proposed changes. It cannot be ignored by transgender people in UK and anywhere else they might be subjected to the dialogue. It is neither necessary nor acceptable for the conversation on transgender rights to be dominated by noise about crimes that cisgender men might commit as though transgender people are enabling them. Law abiding transgender people are never to blame for the crimes of cisgender men.

Read more about the UK media’s fever pitch here, and why it’s baseless scaremongering.


“The powerful transgender lobby” is a catapult installed in my livingroom

Lately I’ve stopped deriving any particular joy from pointing out hypocrisy in reactionary movements. Ensuring the premises informing a position are rooted in reality has never been important to them; in the more severe examples, even logical structure is not necessary. Instead I’ve started to notice that contradictions are often indicative of a linchpin that holds the wrongness together, which explains the ability to reconcile the conflicting ideas–it’s too important to ever abandon short of a psychological upheaval. A common example in North American contexts is the simultaneously held notion that immigrants are “lazy” but also “taking our jobs;” or how a millionaire who spends a couple hours each week (if that) managing his portfolio is somehow more hard working than the single mom juggling three jobs.

TERFism is no exception. Trans people are simultaneously skilled, hard-hitting lobbyists that bully powerless politicians into giving us money, but also, we’re not meaningful enough to legislate rights for. J. E. Cook captures the linchpin holding it together: “The powerful transgender lobby.” (emphasis added)

These two views appear to present contradictory claims, unless one truly buys into the conspiracy theory that trans people represent both a statistical minority and also a powerful minority elite that has gathered disproportionate socioeconomic power and influence. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve seen people who believe that conspiracy theory. Yet the tenor of much of the transphobic discourse we’re seeing never goes so far as to actually present this idea outright. Instead, the reconciliation of this cognitive dissonance lies in the power of suggestion, and I would argue that we need to pay attention to the way staying vague and relying on the buzzword-esque “trans lobby” enables people to hold these contradictory views without questioning their logical inconsistencies.

Nobody ever defines who or what the trans lobby is. That makes it easy for the word to shift meanings even across individual articles or essays. Let’s create a template for how this can work. You start off an article with the implication trans people are here, loud and organized in pursuit of a single goal, and you end with the implication the trans lobby is some tiny group of people asking for way more than their statistical insignificance justifies, justifying society ignoring them by suggesting we are too small for them being overlooked to truly matter. And since a hypothetical cisgender reader is unlikely to have any particular definition in mind- because every previous article using the term has shifted its meaning around too– there isn’t a point where they can explicitly go “but that’s not right, that’s not what it means”, which might lead to the cognitive dissonance coming to the forefront of their mind.

Read more here.



Meghan TERFy licks a frozen pole

Alternatively: Bites off more than she can chew, etc. Meghan Murphy, the intellectual bankrupt fountain of bile running Feminist Current, recently took a swipe at trans historian Cristan Williams. Williams is no stranger to trans exclusionary feminist bullshit, however, and published a comprehensive fact-check of Murphy’s nonsense:

I began encountering the “TERF is a slur” slogan in 2013, around a year after the political Right experienced a measure of success with its 2012 “homophobe is a slur” campaign.

The case was made that when discussing anti-queer hate in the news and anti-bullying efforts in schools, the term “homophobia” should not be used to describe the very specific type of anti-queer hate and oppression faced by LGBTQIA people because the term was an offensive slur.

By the end of 2012, the Associate Press banned the term “homophobe” from its news coverage and right-wing religious groups were working to ban the term in anti-bullying school materials because, they claimed, “homophobe” was a “made-up” term that promotes “hate and contempt for Christians.”

Without terms like “homophobe” and “homophobia,” the queer community’s ability to communicate and reference a specific anti-gay culture is hobbled, caged inside of rhetorical parameters defined by those who work to empower anti-gay culture. After “homophobe” and “homophobia” were deemed by a heteronormative culture to be too toxic to use, the queer community’s languaging of the hate it faced each day disappeared from most mainstream media use.

Around this time, TERFs began pushing the false history that “TERF” was coined by trans people as a slur. Note how this rhetoric closely mimics the 2012 right-wing rhetoric that “homophobe” was a “made-up” term that promotes “hate and contempt for Christians.”

Makes ya think.

Read more here.



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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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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A root of TERFism

I’ve been contemplating writing a review of Sheila Jeffreys’ published conspiracy theory, Gender Hurts, in order to educate on the roots of some academic/feminist trans-antagonism. I hadn’t entirely recovered from the migraine since the first time I read it, so it was a project I was not looking forward to. Thankfully, I’ve discovered that somebody else has done this work for me. Roz Kaveney writes at Glamourous Rags:

Language is, for Jeffreys, something to be used carefully to deny the existence of choices of which she disapproves. For example, she uses ‘prostitute’ only as a passive transitive verb, because she is of the opinion that no sex worker has any autonomy. She refers to ‘transgenderism’ as if it were an ideology rather than a complex of needs and choices, and has turned ‘transgender’ into a verb. She prides herself on always using the pronouns she regards as correct rather than those trans people have chosen for themselves; she explains at length that this is a matter of principle, rather than mere childish rudeness. At the same time, she regards the adoption of the value-free term cis to denote anyone not trans as a vile and insulting piece of abuse.

Jeffreys is very keen to deny personal animus, though her grasp of strict truth is often lacking. She talks of a conference she was to speak at being banned from the C onway Hall, rather than of its organizers having been reminded that they needed to observe the hall’s regulations about hate speech and declined to do so. She cites this occasion as evidence of a ‘McCarthyite’ conspiracy to silence her, as she does the existence of a number of mildly successful trans journalists – all of whom mostly write on other matters. (Sheila Jeffreys remains, of course, a tenured academic in spite of this cabal.) She also denies that she is guilty of hate speech in spite of a passage in which she claims that the genitals of trans women who have had surgery stink.

This passage is worth commenting on because she relies on a Dutch study of the bacterial flora of those private parts (Weyers 2000), but both distorts its results and fails to criticize its protocols. Tge Weyers study notes occasional unpleasant discharges in a fifth of its population – because it relies on literature for its comparison of flora, the study is mute on the frequency of such discharges in cis women. The protocol also asked its subjects not to wash their genitals for three days and did not consider the effect of this on the degree to which faecal bacteria were present – nor does Jeffreys. The study does, however notice that lesbian trans women had a flora closer to the cis norm – Jeffreys does not mention this correlation, for whatever reason.

Read more of Roz’s review here.


The same “freeze peach” crowd uses libel accusations to silence? Say it ain’t so

Dr. Brooke Magnanti is a researcher who used to do sex work to get her through school. She was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to turn her written experiences of said work into published materials, which soon earned her a bestselling author status. Of course, to the rabid anti-sex-work lobby, this would not do, and they managed to damage Magnanti’s prospects by harassing her both online and through frivolous libel lawsuits.

I remembered seeing a tweet from @Popehat from a few years ago. Someone had maliciously bought the account thousands of followers; this is something people do so they can report the account for the fakes, and try to get them kicked off Twitter. I DM’d a couple of people with experience of both being the target of online harassment and of communicating with Twitter. The response was unanimous: someone is trying to get you banned. Lock your account and start deleting the fake followers.

With a book set to come out on the 25th, I was between a rock and a hard place. Publishers increasingly expect authors to use social media presence to publicise their work to readers. My publisher likes that social media is embedded in my writing and that I engage with a lot of people online – without the Internet, I would never have become a writer at all. Should I lock the account and be unable to promote the book widely, or unlock it and risk a ban? I decided to go quiet, and see what happened. The day of my book release came and went.

By Friday night the Twitter follower count was touching 40k with no sign of slowing. I didn’t have much choice anymore. I locked the account and started blocking the bots and declining the hundreds of follow requests from fakes coming in. This is an ongoing effort. If you have recently followed me and find yourself blocked, I apologise — there are going to be some false positives in this process.

I don’t know when it will stop. I hope it tops out at 5k, which is soon. A bit of Googling shows anyone can buy 5,000 followers for anyone else and for as little as $10. I hope someone isn’t spending much more than that, and that they have better things to spend their money on. Books maybe.

The timing of this bothers me. I would be tempted to think it was a coincidence, someone winding me up for no particular reason. But considering that feminist charity Eaves For Women slapped my book The Sex Myth with a libel threat on the day it was released, getting it pulled from shelves nationwide, it is sometimes hard to believe in coincidences.

Read more here.

(By the way, the same women harassing Magnanti are also the same TERFs trying to harass me from the UK)


Oh, I have not self-flagellated sufficiently for The Cis, what monster am I

Back in the good old days of 2011 when Nazis were indisputably punchable and the President of the United States did not issue orders via Twitter, a fellow by the name of Paul Elam launched a website called “Register Her.” It was a domain dedicated to publishing the photographs, home addresses, phone numbers, routes to work and/or any other personal information folks could acquire–a practice commonly called “doxxing”–of women who have caused “significant harm to innocent individuals.” Alongside convicted female sex offenders and murderers were… women whose sexual assault allegations were defeated in court. Most feminists would recognize the problems immediately: How there exists a gap between morality and legality; how courts must convict with evidence that proves the defendant performed the deed “beyond all reasonable doubt;” how an acquittal doesn’t necessarily mean the action had not occurred. And that’s without taking into account the evidence that most law systems perform poorly when attempting to prosecute sexualized violence. The final, perhaps most critical detail, is that he wasn’t the sole contributor. His followers can and did propose their own profiles for the women who had, in their view, wronged them, and doxxing soon became a mainstay of online “men’s rights activism.” It became an assumption that if you were being filmed by MRAs, your face could end up on the darknet, and your details shortly thereafter.

Most people would agree, given this context, that if Paul Elam walks up to you with a video camera and you’re a woman, he’s engaging in an act of intimidation, because we know what he does with those images. Now the courts might say “it’s legal to film someone in public,” but, again, recalling our morality/legality gap, courts have also said upskirt photographs are legal too. Again, it’s not a particularly difficult analysis to perform–the law is behind most people’s conceptions for morality, so the argument “it’s legal” should be understood to be irrelevant when the actual discussion is ethics. It is, in essence, surrendering the argument altogether, though to those of an authoritarian bend it is convincing.

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