Meet the Free Speech Warriors

The term “social justice warrior” (SJW) is a funny one, isn’t it? Depending on who you ask, it means either anyone who talks about systematic oppression, or just those who refuse to talk to people who disagree with them. According to Urban Dictionary, the latter definition is the right one, although even then it’s easy to throw the SJW label at anyone who doesn’t do respectability politics (I know I have!). Regardless, if the term SJW is meant to differentiate the “good” social justice activists from the “radicals,” then I propose a new term to describe another group of radicals: Free Speech Warriors.

Like the so-called SJWs, Free Speech Warriors (FSWs) are those who take a wonderful thing and totally ruin it for everyone. In this case, the ruined wonderful thing is free speech. I’m not patriotic, but I am glad I live in a country where the government can neither imprison nor execute me just for saying religion is bullshit. I support everyone’s legal right to share their opinions on social media, no matter how shitty. Having said that, though, just because I support one’s legal right to spout bullshit online doesn’t mean I can’t use my legal right to call them out on their bullshit. Also, even though I’m not a legal expert, I’m pretty sure harassment and threats aren’t covered by the First Amendment. As the old saying goes, “Your right to swing ends where my nose begins.”

The FSW, however, says, “Your nose shouldn’t get in the way of my right to swing.” For the FSW, a private individual saying, “That’s racist, don’t say that” is just as bad as the government outlawing racist statements. Also, as we’ve seen from the #FreeMilo hashtag, FSWs apparently think free speech covers harassment as well.

For those that don’t know, two weeks ago Twitter permanently banned gay alt-right blogger Milo Yiannopoulos for his involvement with harassing actress Leslie Jones online. Although Twitter did not specify a particular tweet that broke the camel’s proverbial back, the Washington Post says, “Yiannopoulos was subject to several warnings from the social network over the course of his Twitter career and had lost his blue verification check mark in January for violating Twitter’s rules.” The Post also mentions that conservative pundits Charles Johnson and Robert Stacy McCain have been permanently banned from Twitter for similar reasons.

Of course talk-show host Dave Rubin must have missed the memo that Yiannopoulos was banned for harassment because shortly after the ban, Rubin tweeted his support of Yiannopoulos. According to Rubin:

“#FreeMilo situation is not about 1st Amendment, which is govt. coming for speech. My defense of him is a defense of exchange of ideas. . . .Twitter/Facebook have become the roads we have to partake for exchange of ideas. There should be convo about their responsibilities.”

I don’t know about you, but I like to think stopping online harassment should one of Twitter and Facebook’s biggest responsibilities. In fact, so does Twitter. In a statement released two weeks ago, Twitter says:

People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter. But no one deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others. Over the past 48 hours in particular, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of accounts violating these policies and have taken enforcement actions against these accounts, ranging from warnings that also require the deletion of Tweets violating our policies to permanent suspension. [Emphasis mine.]

And then there’s the brief spat between American Atheist president David Silverman and DJ Grothe about the Reason Rally’s Code of Conduct. After Silverman wrote on his Facebook wall that everyone who was offended by the Code of Conduct should unfriend him, Grothe responded:

Dave, do you honestly believe events that refrain from adopting unenforceable and overreaching policies against “harassment” (including attacking religion, like the Reason Rally’s own “Code of Conduct” does) actually therefore *allow* harassment?

These policies are just for show, and are meant to quell some of the more unhinged parts of the atheist movement. Only in a sense are such policies effective. But in reality, such illiberal policies treat adults like children, and create all sorts of liability issues for organization that adopt them if they actually try to enforce them seriously. They are also inconsistent with the ideals of the event – deliberately offending someone because of his or her beliefs constitutes clear harassment in an HR sense. Attendees of the Reason Rally better be sure not to say anything offensive about religious people and their beliefs. And someone should send Dawkins the memo ASAP. [Emphasis mine]

To which Silverman responded:

These policies set out details for how the illegal activity of harassing people (a far cry from “harassing religion”) is handled, and they definitely work. They are most definitely not for show – I’ve had them at AA conventions for year and yes, they work great, and they provide a more welcoming and safer environment without stifling speech in the slightest. The Reason Rally, as well as the other conventions I’ve run, have theists on stage and attendance. It’s not okay to harass these people. You can say anything you want about their religion, but getting in their faces and badgering AFTER they’ve asked you to stop is harassment and it is not okay, and our policies lay out what happens if you do it. [Emphasis mine]

Silverman hits the nail on the proverbial head. Unfortunately, FSWs believe free speech means freedom to say anything without any consequence whatsoever. It’s a fundamentalist libertarian idea that you should have not only the legal right to yell fire in a crowded movie theater when there is no fire, but also the moral right. Anyone who doesn’t like it, according to FSWs, just needs to stop being offended all the time and grow up.

Which brings me to another defining feature of the FSW: FSWs believe people are way too sensitive these days, yet don’t like it when other people use their free speech to criticize FSWs. As I mentioned a few months ago, YouTube blowhard Sargon of Akkad loves to make fun of the concept of safe spaces, yet once started a petition to have all social justice teachers banned from college. Then there’s the Amazing Atheist’s epic shitfit after Martin Hughes called him out on his racism. Apparently TJ Kirk thinks it’s fine to for him to be a racist, but when people call him a racist, that’s “true racism.” Don’t try to reason that out or else you’ll get a headache.

And then there’s Peter Boghossian, who has a habit of saying provocative things on Twitter and then crying foul when people criticize him. Many remember him tweeting why LGBTQ people would be proud for something they didn’t earn, only to complain about the Regressive Left being offended by everything when people tried to explain why he was wrong. More recently, he predicted on Twitter that “the number of black on black homicides will substantially increase over the next 6 months.” After several people asked him to elaborate, Boghossian sarcastically tweeted, “I want to show my moral community I’m a good person and on their team, so I’ll interpret tweets uncharitably and accuse tweeters of racism.”

To be fair, according to the Pew Research Center, 40% of Millenials polled believe the government should be able to censor things that offend marginalized groups, and that is a problem. As my friend Matthew Facciani wrote a few months ago, “Suggesting that the government should intervene when something is offensive is a clear violation of free speech.” I agree; bigoted assholes should have the legal right to let everyone know they’re bigoted assholes. However, where the FSWs and I disagree is that I believe I should have the legal right to tell bigoted assholes they’re full of shit. For the FSW, calling a racist a racist isn’t “civil dialogue,” and that the worst form of fascism is not giving a platform to fascists. I’m not an expert on John Stuart Mills’ work, but I have a feeling that the FSWs would make him say, “Damn, son!”

I don’t know if the term FSW will catch on like SJW, but there certainly seem to be more FSWs than SJWs out there.

Both Saint and Sinner; Both Oppressed and Oppressor–My Guest Post on No Religion Required

I used to be a Lutheran, and one Lutheran doctrine that always fascinated me was that Christians are both sinners and saints simultaneously. According to Kathryn Kleinhans of Living Lutheran, the saint part isn’t because of the good we do, but because of God’s grace. She writes, “We are called saints not because we change into something different but because our relationship with God changes as a result of God’s grace.” This always cheered me up whenever I would beat myself up over my imperfections.

Of course it wasn’t until after I became an atheist that I realized how constantly reminding myself that I was a wretched sinner who didn’t deserve God’s love really damaged me. As Hemant Mehta once said in a video, “No one should repent for just being human.” However I still believe in this non-dichotomous way of viewing humankind. We think there are only two kinds of people in the world—good people and bad people, smart people and ignorant people—but the truth is people are way too complex to fit into just two boxes. In my few short years in the atheist community, I’ve seen really smart people believe in bullshit ideas, and I’ve seen good people act like jerks. So even from a secular point of view, we’re both saints and sinners simultaneously. Or as my friend Shiri Eisner wrote in her book Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, “We are all oppressors and we are all oppressed—and we must all deal both with our oppression and our privileges” (p. 88).

Anyone involved with social justice activism can tell you this is a hard pill to swallow. I used to think that because I’m bisexual and genderqueer, being an ally to other groups would come naturally to me. However, when you live in a society that says, “All people are equal, but some are more equal than others,” you’re going to internalize a lot of racist, sexist, homophobic, biphobic, transphobic, acephobic, ableist, and classist messages, and eventually those messages will slip out of your mouth. You probably didn’t mean any harm, but intentions don’t negate the fact you fucked up. You have to own up to it, say you’re sorry, and learn from your mistake.

Read the rest here.

Action Alert: Phone Bank for Showing Up for Racial Justice

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This is a new series where I highlight ways people can work for social justice.

In case you didn’t know, the American Humanist Association is an official affiliate of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), an organization which mobilizes white people to fight for racial justice. SURJ is currently looking for 200 volunteers to phone bank for the organization during the month of August. All you need to do is volunteer for one three hour shift for one day. According to SURJ’s website, the purpose of the phone bank is to:

  • Connect with people in SURJ Action’s network about racial justice work

  • Build SURJ Action’s Membership

  • Raise Resources to Support People of Color-Led Organizing

  • Recruit new volunteers to take bold powerful action in local work

  • Build your leadership and fundraising skills, create connections and community across the SURJ network and have fun!

To sign up, just click here.

I’m Back!

Yes, folks, Bi Any Means is back! I don’t want to rehash the incident that led to my three-week hiatus (you can read about it here), but I realized it was time to take a breather and do some serious introspection. Now I feel ready to get back into the game.

With that, here are a few changes to Bi Any Means:

 

  1. All comments must be manually approved by me first. I used to have a laissez-faire approach to my comment section: If you have a bullshit argument, it’s your job to prove me wrong, and if you can’t, the egg is on your face, not mine. However, with the MRAs running amok in the now infamous “toxic” feminists post, I’ve decided it’s best to read all comments first before deciding whether or not I want to give you some platform. And no, it’s not a violation of your free speech rights because, as I previously mentioned, I’m not the government.

 

  1. Abear is forever banned from the comment section. I thought he was just a regular person with some bad ideas that I could hopefully debunk, but I recently found out he’s from the Slymepit, so fuck him!

 

  1. The Bi Any Means podcast is still happening, but I’m not sure about the Biskeptical podcast yet. I want to use podcasting as a way to give a platform to others rather than just tell everybody what I think, so I was thinking about ending the Biskeptical podcast. However, a few friends told me I should keep doing it, so who knows?

 

I had a nice three-week vacation, and now it’s time to get back to work.

An Apology

[CN: Anxiety, Misogyny]

It started back in April. The North Carolina bathroom bill triggered me so badly that I went to two atheist feminist groups on Facebook and asked what to do when you just want to give up activism. Some of the posts were helpful, but others called me out for making everyone in the group use up their spoons to coddle me. In a fit of anger, I left both groups and wrote an angry blog post calling out toxic feminists. Some MRA-types commented on it, but I didn’t pay attention because I felt I was in the right.

Until yesterday when someone called me out on that post on a friend’s Facebook wall. I wrote a blog post apologizing for it, but I got called out again for not taking full responsibility. That’s when I had one of the most intense anxiety attacks I had ever experienced in my life. I was in total fight or flight mode, and I chose flight instead of rationally taking everyone’s comments into consideration. I deleted both the apology post and the toxic feminists post, and I blocked the people calling me out.

After talking to a friend about it this morning, though, I realized what I did was wrong. I let my emotions take over and acted childish, and for that I am sorry.

So here I am coming clean.

I apologize for making others spend extra energy coddling me instead of doing social justice work.

I apologize for not taking full responsibility for my actions, and instead projecting my crap onto others.

I apologize for letting MRAs dominate the comment section and spread their sexist ideology. And I apologize for interacting with them and encouraging them.

I apologize for my original half-assed apology where I only pretended to be sorry.

I apologize for blocking people on Facebook who were trying to explain to me that I wasn’t taking full responsibility for my actions.

I apologize for playing the victim and throwing a pity party on Facebook.

***

For now, I’m going to temporarily step back from doing online activism for a month. Don’t worry; I’m not quitting. I just need some serious introspection while I unpack all my internalized misogyny. I’m not even going to upload a new episode of my podcast until next month.

Being a good activist means sometimes you have to step away and take a good long hard look at yourself. We like to brag about how “woke” we are, but the truth is we’re all still waking. The events of this past weekend definitely proved that to me.

When I come back, I hope to be a better activist, a better ally, and a better human being.

Be Back Later

(Comments disabled in this post)

I wrote a post and deleted it. Two posts, to be exact.

I had a major anxiety attack and felt like I was going to die.

Despite that, I am paying attention to the criticism. I just need to time to process things.

I wish I could handle being called out better.

Won’t Someone Please Think Of The White People?

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[CN: Racism]

I don’t claim to be perfect, but I do try my best to educate myself about social injustice. If someone says a phrase or expression is problematic, I look it up online to see why. On my podcast, I regularly interview people of color, women, disabled people, and all the letters of LGTBQIA, not just the first two. I don’t mean to pat myself on the back, but overall I think I’m fairly “woke.”

And yet, there’s one group of people that, unbeknownst to me, I’m still oppressing. It turns out I keep tossing out a slur that dehumanizes an entire group of people without me even knowing it.

That group of people is white people, and the slur is “privileged.”

At least that’s what Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay, and TJ “The Amazing Atheist” Kirk say.

Back in May, Boghossian and Lindsay wrote an article for Allthink where they compare the concept of privilege to the Christian doctrine of original sin. They write:

For many contemporary left-situated activists, privilege occupies the same role in a religion of contemporary identity politics. There is no greater sin than having been born an able-bodied, straight, white male who identifies as a man but isn’t deeply sorry for this utterly unintentional state of affairs.

Everybody is a sinner; everybody is privileged; and both are the fall of Man. Both are the stain upon everyone who, by virtue of existing, falls short of moral perfection. Both are a kind of disease that threatens society. Neither can be escaped. Both must be abhorred and demand redemption from the guilty. [Emphasis mine]

Which is strange because I’ve yet to hear anyone in my social justice group of friends that say it’s wrong to be either white, male, straight, cisgender, or able-bodied. Maybe a few radical extremist Keyboard Warriors on Tumblr, but they’re radical extremist Keyboard Warriors on Tumblr, so you can’t really take them seriously.

Boghossian and Lindsay continue:

Rather than combat discrimination head-on, many left-leaning activists glorify the challenges associated with the misfortunes of individual identity, particularly those related to immutable accidents of birth like race, gender, and sexual orientation. Where the traditionally religious elevate God, then angels, then the saints, and then the rest of us, these identitarians hold sacred a hierarchical order of intrinsic societal advantages and disadvantages – not as they are, but as they are spelled out in the academic language of critical theories of race and gender. [Emphasis mine]

That’s funny, I don’t remember any of my friends of color being happy about racism. And I don’t know about you, but I damn sure ain’t happy that I’m still fighting for my right to exist as a queer person in 2016!

The only difference between privilege and original sin is that, according to Boghossian and Lindsay, the “love the sinner, hate the sin” rule doesn’t apply when it comes to social justice:

While we can love the sinner but hate the sin, we seem poorly equipped to love the privileged, unless merely as mascots and objects of envy. Sinners have been born into a struggle against a fatal flaw; the privileged are just born flawed – unwholesomely lucky and blithely ungrateful. The sinner is born flawed and thus writes his own undoing. The sinner, then, in being unable to help it, is a wretch, and behind all contempt for him there is pity. Not so with the privileged. The very word privileged almost makes you find its target contemptible. The privileged don’t hinder themselves; they hinder you. A sinner can be redeemed; the privileged must be taken down a notch.

TL;DR: Saying “Check your privilege” is just as bad as saying, “You’re going to Hell.”

Despite the many flaws in Boghossian and Lindsay’s article (lack of citations and examples being the #1 flaw), the article pales in comparison to the steaming piles of shit that are TJ “The Amazing Atheist” Kirk’s latest videos about race. In the first video, where he answers 20 questions black people ask, Kirk basically blames black people for shitty ghettos, praises gentrification, and ultimately says black people need to get over themselves. According to Kirk:

If I hate anything about black culture, it’s that it’s such a victim culture. Almost a victim cult—“Our Lady of Perpetual Victimization.” Every unfairness that exists in your life is the fault of white people or society stacked against you. You might as well tattoo, “It’s because I’m black, isn’t it?” to your fucking forehead.

Naturally Martin Hughes of Barrier Breaker called Kirk out on his bullshit, but apparently Hughes committed an unpardonable sin: He accused a racist of being racist! It’s the only explanation I can think of to explain why Kirk responded to Hughes with a 30-minute rant where he tells Hughes to “suck a big fucking white dick.”

YouMad

Even though I can laugh about Boghossian, Lindsay, and Kirk’s bullshit now, I used to be in their same camp. As strange as it sounds, when I first heard the word “privileged,” my knee-jerk reaction was to defend myself. You don’t know me! You don’t know what I’ve been through! I grew up poor! I got bullied in high school! I worked hard to get where I am now! What do want me to do? Dye my skin? Yeah, it was pretty ugly. Then I learned that privilege doesn’t mean I’ve never struggled in my life; it means I haven’t had to face discrimination based on certain factors of my identity. I’ve never been followed around in a store. I’ve never had to worry about the police killing me for no reason. I’ve never had to worry about being turned down for a job because my name isn’t “white enough.” It’s not about me; it’s about how I’ve received several unfair advantages based on the color of my skin.

Maybe it’s my naiveté, but part of me wonders if the angry knee-jerk reactions to the concept of privilege are due to poor communication. That’s why I try to explore these complex social justice issues in a nuanced way. In fact, I’ve had several Facebook friends thank me for explaining things in a way they can understand. However, part of me knows that no matter how “calmly” and “rationally” I explain these issues, assholes still won’t listen. In that case, they can stay in their little safe space echo chamber with all the other fragile white boys for all I care.

And I’ll make sure to give Kirk plenty of bananas, too.

Bi Any Means Podcast #58: LGBTQ Humanist Alliance with Callie Wright

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Returning to the show today is Callie Wright, co-chair of the LGBTQ Humanist Alliance. According to her bio, Callie is a trans activist, speaker, host of The Gaytheist Manifesto podcast, which explores the intersection of issues facing both the atheist movement and the LGBTQ movement, and founder of The LGBT Secular Alliance. Callie’s mission is to be a voice for the LGBTQ community in the atheist movement, and a voice for atheism/secularism in the LGBTQ community. She firmly believes that the atheist and secular movement, unfettered from the dogma of religion, can and should be leading the charge in the fight for equality for everyone. So today we’re going to talk about the LGBTQ Humanist Alliance and all the stuff they’re doing.

****************************************************

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The Fight Isn’t Over Yet: LGBTQ Pride In The Aftermath Of Marriage Equality And Orlando

pride-flag

[CN: Homophobia, Transphobia, Orlando]

This article was originally written for TheHumanist.com, but it turns out my friend Callie Wright of the Gaytheist Manifesto is writing an article about the same thing. I guess this means she’s not my friend anymore.

Just kidding, Callie! I love you.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote.

***

This past weekend saw the one-year anniversary of the SCOTUS’s landmark decision to make same-sex marriage legal in all fifty states. I remember waking up that morning hearing the news and thinking, “Wait, we won?” Even though my home state of Maryland voted to legalize same-sex marriage in 2012, I still rejoiced with my LGBTQ friends and family that, after years of campaigning, we finally won the battle. And yet I also worried that the mainstream LGBTQ community would soon forget that the war wasn’t over yet.

For starters, many in the transgender community felt that mainstream LGBTQ activists were focusing on marriage equality at the expense of trans rights. After all, in 2014 Human Rights Campaign (HRC) director Chad Griffin told a trans activist that “marriage isn’t a transgender issue.” Griffin later apologized, but to many LGBTQ people, this only solidified how far removed the LGBTQ movement was from its radical roots. In her book Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, Shiri Eisner critiques what she calls the GGGG (gay gay gay gay) movement’s failure to address more pressing issues. She writes:

The struggle for same sex marriage leaves behind almost everyone who isn’t already privileged. People with more urgent needs than marriage are neglected from the resources and activist efforts of the GGGG movement. GGGG organizations spend many millions of dollars on the struggle for marriage, while organizations addressing the issues of queer and trans homelessness youth, HIV positive queers, queers of color, queers in poverty, queer survivors of violence, and many others, suffer from a constant lack of money and resources.

Indeed, The New Civil Rights Movement reported an alarming increase of hate crimes against LGBTQ people only days after the SCOTUS ruling. Also, as we’ve seen in the past couple of months, numerous “bathroom bills” have been proposed that would require transgender people to only use public bathrooms that aligned with their assigned genders at birth. Not to mention the fact that, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), 34 states have introduced over 200 anti-LGBTQ rights bills this year alone.

And then came the early morning of June 12, 2016 when 29 year old Omar Mateen walked into an Orlando, FL gay nightclub called Pulse on Latinx Night and started shooting, killing 49 people and injuring 53 others. If the Orlando shooting wasn’t a wake-up call that the fight against anti-LGBTQ bigotry isn’t over yet, I don’t know what is. Even in 2016, we’re still fighting for our right to live. We still live in a world where toxic masculinity shames gay men and trans women, and where religious leaders tell their congregations that LGBTQ people need to be either shunned or killed.

But we can get through this. I know because the LGBTQ rights movement always fights back. We fought back against the cops during the Stonewall riots of 1969. We fought back against Anita Bryant’s crusade for anti-gay discrimination in the ‘70s. We fought back against the AIDS epidemic in the ‘80s and ‘90s. We continue to fight back against politicians who want to take away our rights, and bigots who want us dead.

It’s not always easy, though. That’s one reason why the LGBTQ Humanist Alliance exists (of which I am part of their Advisory Council). According to our mission statement:

While the death of DOMA has empowered the mainstream LGBTQ movement and its allies, there are various issues related to LGBTQ rights and social justice that demand attention. This includes social issues that disproportionately impact queer communities like health care deprivations, homelessness, violence against queer and trans people, and economic injustice. The LGBTQ Humanist Alliance is dedicated to realizing a more inclusive humanism that confronts these issues through education and direct action.

Despite what critics may say, the LGBTQ Humanist Alliance isn’t meant to be divisive. Our goal is to address issues that specifically affect the LGTBQ community in order to both fight for our own liberation and to teach straight and cis people how to be better allies.

As Pride Month draws to a close, we need to remember where we came from and where we’re going. Progress has been made since Stonewall, but we still have a long way to go. Same-sex marriage may be legal throughout the United States, but we still face discrimination, bigotry, and violence. Let’s forge ahead.

The Biskeptical Podcast #4: Why Pride Month Matters

Today’s episode comes in the aftermath of the shooting in Orlando. Plenty has been said about it already, but being that this happened during LGBTQ Pride Month, it’s time to remind our listeners why the struggle isn’t over yet. We’re gonna discuss news items, blog posts, and stories from listeners, so you don’t want to miss this!

(And I promise to write an actual blog post in the near future. I’ve just been busy right now)

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