Two cents on pansexuality

For about ten years, I’ve been hearing about this dispute between pansexuality vs bisexuality. In its most basic form, the contention is that the “bi” in “bisexuality” refers to two genders, which seems to entirely forget about nonbinary people. Some people propose using “pansexual” instead. Other people defend “bisexual”, or admit that it has problems but still prefer it as the more recognizable term.

I am neither bisexual nor pansexual nor nonbinary, so I’m just weighing in from the perspective of someone who has been hearing about it for a long time.

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On trans athletes

Lately people have been talking about the downturn of the Austin Community of Atheists (see video explaining timeline, or transcript). But the point of me leaving the atheist movement was so I didn’t have to concern myself with all the bullshit that goes on in atheist groups, so I’m not going to talk about it. Instead I’ll address an issue that came up in relation to the drama: the right of trans athletes to compete in athletic events. HJ Hornbeck has been talking about it for literally months, and this is my independent take.

I’ll admit upfront that I don’t care about athletics. The only sports I personally care about are video game speed running and competitive Dominion. I only care about athletics to the extent that I have empathy for things that other people care about.

So a good place to start is with someone else who cares more, and has more expertise. I present Dr. Rachel McKinnon, who is not only a trans athlete, but also a philosophy professor who teaches courses about sports ethics!

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Natalie Reed’s “Trans 101”

Who was Natalie Reed? She was a writer for Skepchick in late 2011, one of the earliest writers to introduce people in the skeptical/atheist blogosphere to trans thought. She also led Skepchick’s sister blog, Queereka (no longer online), and then blogged on FreethoughtBlogs until early 2013. She disavowed the atheist/skeptical community around that time–she was years ahead of the rest of us. Natalie Reed is in fact still active on Twitter, although I understand that she has some major tensions with her earlier writing.

I was a big fan of Natalie Reed for most of her brief, but prolific blogging career. It’s no secret that The Asexual Agenda, a group blog I launched in 2012, was inspired and modeled after Queereka. But I have to admit that I did not read a lot of Natalie’s later blogging, not because of any real disagreement, but simply because it was too long. I feel hypocritical making that complaint considering the length of my writing. And it’s unfortunate because “early” Natalie and “late” Natalie are somewhat at odds with each other, and I mostly just saw one side of that.

So I’d like to reflect on some “late” Natalie. Specifically, this is about the very last article she ever wrote for FreethoughtBlogs, titled “Trans 101“, dated March 2013.

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My responses to TERF concerns

Recently, ContraPoints released a video responding to Gender Critical Feminists (i.e. TERFs).

I’d like to offer my own responses to the same TERF concerns, not really because I think TERF concerns deserve to be addressed at length, but because I believe in participatory learning.  I also like to think that I’m adding a few useful points.

1. Gender metaphysics

Asking trans people “What even is gender?” is kind of like asking theft victims, “What even is property?” That is to say, it’s a really tough question that deserves a serious answer, and therefore should be asked in a different context where it’s not a transparent troll. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when you get reductive slogans like “man trapped in a woman’s body”.

IMHO, a lot of gender, as it is commonly understood, seems to come down to snap judgments that we make about other people. Those snap judgments are based on appearance and voice, cross-referenced to the gendered customs of your culture. But snap judgments can also be “wrong”, suggesting that gender does not refer to appearance itself, but refers to an essence indicated by appearance. But the nature of the essence itself is unclear.

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Reason is a powerful aesthetic

I feel like we’re living in a golden age of YouTube vlogging. Every month my link roundup seems to include Lindsay Ellis, Contrapoints, or the like, because they make powerful arguments, and they’re very entertaining. This past month, ContraPoints posted a video called “The Aesthetic”, which I felt was worthy of a longer comment.

The video asks, “What matters more—the way things are or the way things look?”

Justine: I’m not against reason. Reason is a very powerful aesthetic. If you’re a man.
Tabby: What if you’re a woman?
Justine: Oh, don’t be a woman. That’s not a good idea.

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Why TERFs are (sadly) feminists

I recently wrapped a little research project that involved reading about some early radical feminists from the 60s and 70s. I felt inspired by these people who were instrumental in putting reproductive rights and sexual violence on the map, expanding feminism beyond, e.g., taxes and employment.  But in the course of my research, I also discovered that some of them have endorsed TERF positions in recent times. This is all very disappointing, and any desire I had to admire these people fizzled out rather quickly.

And that reminded me of a little thing that bothers me, when people say that TERFs are not real feminists, or are pretending to be feminists.  I’ll grant that they are “bad” feminists.  But to say TERFs aren’t feminist is to sweep problems under the rug.

In general, I am wary of defining political identities in a way that restricts them only to “good” people. For example, if we define a “Christian” as someone who is morally righteous, compassionate and loving, then what happens when we find a Christian who isn’t? To say, “They weren’t a true Christian,” is to dodge all responsibility. Rather than addressing the fact that some Christians behave badly, it ignores it, denies the very possibility of a problem, and therefore denies the possibility of a solution.

To give another example, it is a common belief that all BDSM practice is a form of sexual abuse. In response, sometimes people define BDSM specifically in contrast to abuse–something that Coyote has written about. This definition goes too far, because it denies or minimizes the possibility of any abuse among kinky people. Declaring abusive doms to not be “true” doms makes it difficult to address abuse within kink communities.

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Being vs Identifying as

This article is being cross-posted to The Asexual Agenda.

In modern philosophy, there is a thing called a performative speech act. That’s when you do things by saying things. For example if I say, “I apologize,” it is not merely a statement of fact, but is itself an act of apology. Likewise, if I say “I identify as queer,” it is not merely a statement of fact, but is itself an act of identification. It makes no difference whether I say “I identify as queer” or “I am queer” because both of them are acts of identification.

Nonetheless, if we put on our descriptivist hats, it sure seems like people are making a distinction between identifying as a thing, and being the thing. Instead of dismissing the distinction out of hand, we should try to understand it. I will propose two basic interpretations.

In the first interpretation, “I am” is an act of identification, right now in the present moment. “I identify as” is a statement about how you identify in a more general set of contexts, not necessarily limited to the present moment. For example, the following is a true statement that I could make:

Sometimes I identify as asexual, but I’m not asexual.

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