This Reason Rally sign is not funny

Buzzfeed has a list of the 36 best signs at the Reason Rally. I smiled when I saw mine while scrolling down the list. I frowned when I saw this:

I’m going to keep this short an sweet: This is transphobic. It’s obviously meant as an insult and thus is a slur against trans women. We need to cut this shit out. Stop saying Shirley Phelps has a penis, stop saying Ann Coulter is secretly a dude – just stop it. Criticize people based on their ridiculous arguments, not this.

(Hat tip to Elizabeth)


  1. Joshua Bennett says

    *Anne Coulter

    I wasn’t even aware transphobia was a thing until I started reading Natalie Reed’s blog. Having had my eyes opened, I’m amazed at how crazily transphobic I was. It’s probably ignorance that births signs like these. Freethinkers need to make a strong, public stand on trans rights; that’ll go a long way towards curbing this sort of thing.

  2. ash says

    “Criticize people based on their ridiculous arguments, not this.”

    no shit. It’s not like we’re gonna run out of bad arguments any time soon…

  3. says

    For srs! The colors of the rainbow represent the diverse spectrum of genders and sexualities and an attitude of inclusion toward the same.

  4. says

    This is way more than transphobic, it’s misogynistic. There are a million reasons to be legitimately upset with the Phelpses. What they look like or whether a female member of the family looks “feminine” enough are not among them.

  5. Mattir says

    I noticed that one too, and spoke with several people about it. Not the sign holder, though, which I regret.

  6. says

    Because nothing says I don’t judge people based on superficial things like evaluating their intelligence on based on looks…

    I agree that this sign is pretty shitty, but I am going to go with they look pretty young and are probably just ignorant of why what they are saying isn’t funny.

    “Hey guys, that sign is pretty offensive for trans people because you are using that as an insult.” is probably a hell of a lot more likely to show them the problem and encourage them to change than “Well, they look like they are idiots.”

  7. peter says

    How is attacking Palin by implying she is as evil as Voldemort any better? It is not poking fun at her arguments, it is just name calling. I think the fancy word for that is ad hominem.

  8. Epistaxis says

    This is no different from a sign that says “Fred Phelps loves cock.” Sure, that might be a witty insult among insecure male high-schoolers, and maybe it’s ironic to call him the thing he doesn’t like, but to grown-ups it raises disturbing questions about what exactly you’re saying about LGBT people.

  9. KirikaSena says

    Wow. Fuck that guy.

    Although this isn’t the same issue, it reminds me of something I overheard a few minutes before the Atheist Nexus party started. A few guys were eating together and discussing the rally, when one said (paraphrased, can’t remember exactly) that he could barely understand Cristina Rad (which means he clearly has hearing issues). He then said “She’s really hot, but she actually has some good points.”
    Sadly, I didn’t confront him about his comments, but that’s because I was pissed enough that I wanted to punch a kitten in the face, so it probably wouldn’t have gone well.

  10. says

    There is also one (#14) pointing to Shirley Phelps-Roper in her USA/LGBT-flag-clownsuit with her Tweety Bird handbag that calls her a bitch:


    These three signs do not reflect well on atheists at all.

  11. James C. says

    Well, Palin herself was a ludicrous running mate, so her own running mate would have to make her look reasonable by comparison. Her beliefs aren’t entirely benign, either, so the only crime is hyperbole.

    Also, the sign only insults Palin, not more than half the planet. I think there’s a qualitative difference between misogyny+transphobia and not being rhetorically rigorous on a sign.

  12. Annabelle says

    Ugh. Thanks for calling out this sort of behavior. It’s misogynistic, transphobic, ignorant, and counter-productive. It really sucks having to defend people like Ann Coulter even a little just to counter our own side’s bigotry. :(

  13. baal says

    Palin/Voldemort may be an ad Khomeini (hrm, spellchecker, that’s not quite it) hominem (there we go) but she’s a major political figure and it’s also political speech to suggest she in league with evil. Public figures generally are not legally (and rhetorically) quite the same as the average private citizen for a reason.

  14. says

    Given how often the most homophobic people get caught up in sex scandals I think the sign may be vulgar, but I don’t think it is saying anything about LGBT people.

    Using trans status as an insult is wildly different than suggesting an outspoken homophobic individual is in the closet. One is “person X is bad because they are trans” and the other is “person X is bad because they are a hypocrite”.

  15. treefrog says

    I had the same reaction to the “pick up chicks” sign, but I was trying hard to pretend he meant it to be ironic rather than simply dragging out age-old lame gender stereotypes.

    Which reminds me, I loved what I could hear of Jamie Kilstein, who addressed sexism among atheists.

  16. treefrog says

    Maybe I’m being obtuse, but I have a hard time seeing the humor in “Fred Phelps has super AIDS” in photo #1

  17. says

    It doesn’t matter if these guys are idiots or trolls or whatever. The point remains they’ve got a transphobic sign. People use the “they’re just idiots” excuse to legitimize vile conduct. This is the same argument that went out when that article on the nasty homophobic Tweets (“If my unborn child becomes gay I’ll kill them.)

    Do not offer “they’re idiots” as a way to legitimize vile conduct. Call it out, because they may not be idiots. For every troll and moron out there espousing some nasty viewpoint, there’s a person who believes the words that they are saying.

  18. Kels says

    Like other comments, I have the same trouble with this that I did with the “Mann Coulter” jokes that were going around a while back, or the speculation that Condoleeza Rice had an Adams’ Apple.

    Sadly, we live in a largely transphobic society (mostly phobic towards MtFs, but FtM’s get the business too) although it’s better than it was. Freethinkers and skeptics are part of that society, and like it or not carry a lot of those unconscious prejudices and it comes out in crap like this because it’s not examined often enough or publicly enough.

    Not that I’m expecting much, I’ve seen atheists defending transphobic jokes about Coulter, and the whole embarrassing Elevatorgate business tells me all I need to know about how hard it is to get people to examine their attitudes or change their behaviour.

  19. Besomyka says

    I would love to see some sort of verification of that, because if he did kudos to him! It’s remarkably easy to forgive when people are honestly regretful.

  20. treefrog says

    Excellent point.

    And it’s just plain boorish. It’s more like “I’m so clever, I don’t even show it.” “I’m so post-sexism, I’m sexist.”

  21. ImaginaryFriend says

    First let me clarify that I do not condone trans-phobia. However, in my opinion, freedom of speech trumps over insults, ad hominem, opinions, signs, likes or dislikes, etc we do not share. They do not enjoy special exemption when it comes to free speech. It was not wise to have a sign that annoyed some people but they have the right to have it just like we have the right to dislike it but not suppress it. We live in a “democratic” country with a president not in a dictatorship. Once we start allowing only speech we like then the opposition has the same right to silence us. I do not care who tells me they hate me because I do not believe in an imaginary friend but I know they are legally entitled to say so. Let’s not lose sight of that. When people/groups come out in the open with their beliefs we can work on educating them. Keeping opinion, speeches, etc. hidden for fear of being “offensive,” narrow mindlessness rule.

  22. says

    “However, in my opinion, freedom of speech trumps over insults, ad hominem, opinions, signs, likes or dislikes, etc we do not share.”
    And we have the freedom to point out bigotry wherever it occurs.

  23. says

    Bullshit. You don’t condone transphobia? Do you know what condone means? It means you overlook something, to regard it with tolerance, to accept something illegal or offensive with tacit approval.

    You fucking just wrote that you condone transphobia. Damned be the collateral damage. If the sign is adequate enough to show we don’t accept WBC’s methods, fuck your feelings, trans-persons.

    Fuck you, fuck you and everyone like you who thinks its okay to hurt people to call into question someone’s actions.

  24. Dalillama says

    Further, there’s nothing gendered, mysogistic or otherwise bigoted about Palin/Voldemort; it’s just an old fashioned attack on her politics (one that’s been made about just about every Republican candidate/potential candidate since those books came out, IIRC. The one above is just straight out disgusting.

  25. treefrog says

    Once we start allowing only speech we like then the opposition has the same right to silence us.

    Jen doesn’t have the power of censorship in the real world, but she does have the power of the soapbox to argue for substantive arguments over hateful rhetoric.

    The only way to fight bigotry is to call it out when you see it.

  26. Annabelle says

    Yes, they have the right to put up that poster. Jen is not disputing that and – so far as I can tell – neither are any other commenters. But freedom of speech does not mean freedom from criticism. Just as bigots are free to spout hate, the rest of us are free to call them out on it.

    I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it. And then I’ll offer my rebuttal.

  27. says

    I would guess that it’s implying he’s gay. Which, as noted in other comments in this thread, has a lot of problems of its own – the only new problem of note is that AIDS implies gay. They might not have even intended that, though; that’s just me trying to guess at what the humor might be.

  28. says

    AIDS does not imply gay! It’s a disease. The Phelpses have signs that say all gays have AIDS, which is quite simply false. This is just putting it back in their faces.

  29. says

    “Wildly different” or not, I for one have never appreciated accusations against homophobes of being gay in order to make some argument about fictional hypocrisy.

    Bi/ace/trans people get similar accusations, even though no hypocrisy, fictional or otherwise, could possibly be involved.

  30. Matt says

    Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not legitimising their conduct at all, I think it is reprehensible. Being an idiot is often a choice, which should be criticised. I was an idiot myself when I was around the same age of those guys in that photo, saying ignorant rubbish about gay people for instance. I only changed after people started to question me, and I met different kinds of people, which led me to form a more open and tolerant mindset.

  31. tesseraktik says

    “This is transphobic. It’s obviously meant as an insult and thus is a slur against trans women.”

    I disagree; while transpersons may take offense at it, I wouldn’t call it transphobic unless its makers were inspired by negative feelings towards transpersons, and I highly doubt that’s the case. More likely, they’re saying this about Phelps because SHE dislikes transpeople, and they want to insult/mock HER.

    It’s certainly not an “argument” based in reason, though, and it may very well be insensitive.

  32. says

    I see more and more of these kids flooding the atheist movement. I like to give them the benefit of the doubt. A lot of us came from a different world, and we’re all learning as we go, but it’s important to point that shit out when it happens, too, so people see it and knock it off.

    If you really don’t have a problem with fat people, trans people, gay people, etc. then there’s no reason you should be using those adjectives as a perjurative against someone you don’t like.

  33. ewan says

    Firstly, it’s completely different because it’s an attack on Palin for her expressed beliefs, not an aspect of her identity. It may not be nuanced, finely argued, or even, depending on your politics, accurate, but it’s fair comment.

    Secondly, attacking someone is not an ad hominem per se, if I say that you’re evil that’s a criticism, or even an insult. If I say that your point isn’t worth consideration because you’re a dumb blonde, that would be an ad hom. (I don’t know whether you’re blonde or not, but of course it doesn’t matter, that rather being the point).

  34. says

    No no no no no no. This is a transphobic sign, whether their intent was to hurt Shirley or whether their intent was to make her cringe at the thought of trans persons. Intent is not FUCKING MAGIC. You can’t wave their intent around as if it calms all the ills or cleans this vile sign of its transphobic qualities.

    The very fact that trans persons will take offense at it is proof positive it’s transphobic.

  35. Ewan Compton says

    I recall seeing the sign at the rally and finding it distasteful. Unfortunately, in a rally of 20,000 people, it’s unrealistic to expect there to be zero dumb signs.

  36. Ella says

    Before I say “what a dick” I’d really like to know what his reponse to someone simply explaining to him why his sign is offensive might be. If he deliberately made it knowing it was offensive, then he’s a dick. If he continues to back it up knowing it’s offensive and harmful, then he’s a dick. But if he didn’t fully understand, and changes his behaviour afterwards? Then he was just ignorant. I’ll take ignorance over hate every time.

    I’d like to second the mention earlier up that the sign is more than transphobic – it’s misogynistic. Because it is. I’ve had enough of female politicians being maligned for the way they look instead of what they do. Hate their policies. Don’t ridicule their appearance.

  37. says

    A lot of us grew up in environments where accusing someone of being transgendered was acceptable humor. Since atheism doesn’t address this particular issue, there’s still a lot of baggage left over from our lives as believers.

  38. says

    As I mentioned earlier, I seem to recall someone writing (possibly in a Facebook update) that they approached him and he seemed legitimately apologetic over the transphobic message on the sign. I would look for it, but I’m at work right now.

  39. says

    What the hell are you talking about? No one here has advocated “silencing” anyone. All Jen did was to point out that the sign is transphobic, hurtful, and extremely stupid. Which it is.

    Criticizing someone is not the same thing as censoring them, and freedom of speech does not mean immunity from criticism. Yes, the people in the picture have the right to put up a stupid and offensive sign; and the rest of us have the right to criticize them for it. Just as the WBC has the right to spew its homophobic bile, and the rest of us have the right to criticize them for it.

    I really get fed up with the people who think “freedom of speech” means we cannot criticize people for doing and saying offensive things. It does not. Freedom of speech means that the state may not use force to silence the peaceful expression of opinions. It does not mean that people should be immune from criticism for what they say or write.

  40. says

    I disagree; while transpersons may take offense at it, I wouldn’t call it transphobic unless its makers were inspired by negative feelings towards transpersons, and I highly doubt that’s the case.

    It’s objectively transphobic, whether it was intended as such or not. Transphobia, like racism, sexism and other forms of injustice, is created and sustained not only by deliberate acts of cruelty, but by the unthinking perpetuation of prejudice. Here, the author of the sign is saying that we can insult and mock Shirley Phelps by alleging that she is trans, and, by implication, that being trans is a bad thing. That’s anti-trans prejudice. And this kind of casual denigration of trans people is exactly what creates and sustains a transphobic culture.

    Seriously, stop making excuses for this person. This is a transphobic sign, and we have a responsibility to call it what it is. All the more so if the sign’s creator didn’t understand or realize that xe was being transphobic; that’s why it’s important to point it out, so that other people don’t do the same thing in future.

  41. says

    I’m trans [FtQ], and even I didn’t realize that “so-and-so has a penis” was transphobic until someone told me so. It was really flipping obvious once it was pointed out, but the fact remains that if nobody had taken the time to say “hey, ‘Anne Coulter is a man’ jokes hurt trans people”, I wouldn’t have heard the message. So yes, it does actually do good to point out how these “jokes” harm real people, no matter what their intent.

  42. Kes says

    I saw them both and didn’t like either. It didn’t occur to me to say something to them tho.

  43. tesseraktik says

    I strongly disagree. Intent may not be magic, but neither is offense; something isn’t X-phobic just because some portion of X take offense at it.
    A Christian conservative may take offense at my friend’s decision to have an abortion, but that doesn’t make her action conservaphobic.
    A Jew may take offense at my eating pork in public, but that doesn’t make it anti-semitic.
    A Muslim may take offense at my including a picture of Mohammed in my illustrated history of the Arabian Peninsula, but that doesn’t make it anti-Islamic.
    …and what about all those Americans who took offense at the building of the “Ground Zero Mosque”? Does that make building it Americaphobic?

    I do agree that lack of malicious intent doesn’t necessarily make something non-phobic, however. Allow me to illustrate with two examples, one of which I feel is misogynistic and the second of which I don’t:

    Case one:
    There is a man. He harbors no ill will against women; he thinks women are amazing. However, he doesn’t think they should be allowed to drive, because he genuinely they’d be a danger on the road, both to others and to themselves.
    I feel this opinion of his is misogynistic, because while he may have no desire for women to feel bad, his opinion is based on a misconception that women are less capable than men where driving is concerned. This misconception is by its very nature misogynistic, whether he realizes it or not.

    Case two:
    There is a man, A. He knows another guy, B. A doesn’t like B. B doesn’t like being called a little girl. A calls B a little girl for the sole reason of getting on B’s nerves.
    This I don’t feel is misogynistic, because the properties of women don’t come into A’s mind at all.

    I leave you with this very homophobic message from George Takei:

  44. tesseraktik says

    I’m not making excuses for this person, I’m just saying I don’t “transphobic” is a good way to describe it.

    …and I DO think it’s good to point out when you find something offensive; I’m just pointing out that I don’t think that people taking offense at something automatically makes it them-phobic.

  45. gworroll says

    Do people have the legal right to make transphobic statements in the United States?

    Of course.

    The rest of us also have a right to call the people doing so assholes.

    If the anti sign arguments upthread were saying “we should ban that sign and he should go to jail for having it”, I’d be with you, but that wasn’t the argument.

  46. says

    I talked to this guy at the rally about exactly this. While he threw out a few (shitty) excuses like “I’m not trying to offend anyone other than her” or “I have friends who are trans”, there was one moment where he seemed to express that the only reason he continued to hold up the sign after he had been challenged on it was because he had already put in the effort to make it. Still a terrible excuse, but at least a possible sign of some regret.

    Unfortunately even while I was talking with him, a bunch of people came up and commented on how awesome his sign was or asking to take pictures of it. But I can only hope enough people challenged him on it too to make him rethink making a sign like this in the future.

  47. gworroll says

    Lack of transphobic intent does not automatically mean there is a lack of transphobic effect.

  48. Kels says

    That right there is the best reason in the world for blog posts like this, and getting the word out that this sh*t ain’t cool, yo.

  49. Ella says

    Ah, thank you! I tried to read most of the comments before I posted, but I must have missed your one.

  50. Kels says

    Damn formatting…

    But I can only hope enough people challenged him on it too to make him rethink making a sign like this in the future.

    That right there is the best reason in the world for blog posts like this, and getting the word out that this sh*t ain’t cool, yo.

  51. Kels says

    I gotta agree with that, actually. I remember seeing transphobic jokes against Coulter justified with “well, she hates trans people, so this is an effective insult” without examining the fact that they themselves are making a transphobic comment.

    Making “the target hates gays” the justification for essentially the same jokes doesn’t really make it any better.

  52. says

    AIDS != gay, but gay men have traditionally been at high risk acquiring HIV, and many people associate the syndrome with male homosexuality. Therefore, it’s an implied homophobic slur.

    I realize I’m in the position here of potentially telling a gay man what he should or shouldn’t be offended at. I don’t want to do that. However, since I’ve heard other gay men say they don’t want their sexuality used as an accusation or a punchline, that sign is not one I would choose to hold up.

  53. Bleeder says

    I thought that sign was unfunny, unsophisticated, and unoriginal (reminiscent of junior high school-level insults).

    However, the reaction to it raises more questions for me than the sign itself.

    Is there a line, and if so where is it, that one shall not cross when it comes to using people’s idiotic bigotry against themselves to attempt to create cognitive dissonance? Can I go to a Klan rally with a sign that says “Grand Dragon Whomever is an African-American” (a la “we are all african apes”)? Or is that sign racist?

    Who gets to set the definition of “objectively transphobic” and thereby decide what is and what is not?

    Is the sign holder responsible for the effect of the sign regardless of how unreasonable the reactions of the sign viewers?

  54. Muse says

    Kat hon – you didn’t read that. I told you that cause I’m one of the people who spoke to him.

  55. Muse says

    Verified. I spoke to him. He said I wasn’t the first. I explained the issue and he apologized, turned the sign toward himself and looked somewhat abashed.

  56. Muse says

    I spoke to him. He was apologetic, turned the sign around and seemed sincere in his apology.

  57. tesseraktik says

    “If you’re not the one potentially affected by it, you don’t get to make that call.”

    I’ve never attempted to “make the call”; I’ve stated disagreement.

    Furthermore, if it’s a conversation about what words are being used in the public discourse, I feel everyone should feel entitled to chip in.

    “Check your privilege instead of cis-splaining to all the trans people here how they should react to it.”

    I feel I’ve made it quite clear that I’m not saying people are free to take offense at this.

    Also, how is a) assuming that I’m cis [which I’m not even certain of myself] and b) referring to my opinions as “cis-splaining” gonna help anybody?

  58. Crimbly says

    I don’t find the sign brilliant either, but I’m glad the person who made/held it has apologised.

    What I find a little odd is number 30 – is humility not a virtue in secular circles? To paraphrase, “I do all these amazing things and I’m atheist” is – I guess – supposed to show that you can be “good without god”, but it struck me as a tad vain initially.

    Still, there are bigger fires to put out. :)

    Having read the comments on the site, I want to point out the guy in the background of #12 too. Hilarious!

  59. says

    Isn’t that just always the way it is? It’s amazing how blase you can get about these things when it’s not you at risk.

  60. tesseraktik says

    Alright, I’ve now read both of them, and I think we’re misunderstanding one another (and I should probably apologize for being unclear).

    I don’t think I’d be doing you a terrible disservice by summarizing your two posts thusly:

    Your language and actions can be offensive and even harmful to people whether you intend it or not.
    Furthermore, lack of harmful intent does not free you from taking responsibility for the consequences that your words and actions have.

    I totally agree with you. I absolutely see how this sign can offend some people, and I can see how it can be seen as part of a larger trend that is harmful to transpeople, and I think people have every right to complain about it.

    However, I’m still not convinced that the word “transphobic” is an accurate description, and – though I didn’t mention it up front (but probably should have) – I do feel that this is quite important, both because 1) the word is very potent and can thus be harmful if misused, and 2) misusing the word can detract from its potency, which I feel is undesirable.

    I’ll admit, I’m not very experienced in this field, so perhaps there is some widely accepted definition of transphobia that I’m simply not aware of. However, lacking knowledge of any such definition, I’m left to 1) breaking down the word (trans + phobia ≈ fear/loathing of trans) and 2) looking up on Wikipedia.
    Having done this, I feel that an action/statement should not be labeled as “transphobic” unless it reflects negative opinions towards transpeople, and I’m really not convinced that’s the case here.
    [I’m sure the person in question isn’t 100% perfect in this regard, either, considering very few people probably are (I’m certainly not), but I don’t think it’s clear that that was a major contributing factor here.]

    To take your “standing on my foot” analogy:

    Just because I don’t realize I’m standing on your foot, doesn’t mean your toes don’t hurt.
    It also doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take my foot away and apologize when I do realize what I’m doing.
    However, it doesn’t mean that I dislike you.

    Also, to re-iterate: One can be unintentionally transphobic if transphobic thoughts subconsciously influence one’s actions.
    Perhaps that was the case here, but I don’t think that’s blatantly obvious.

    To summarize: I’d call this sign transoffensive, or transdestructive, or harmful to transpeople, or offensive to transpeople. I just don’t think that “transphobic” is the right word for it.

  61. says

    Who gets to set the definition of “objectively transphobic” and thereby decide what is and what is not?

    Trans people do. Of course.

  62. tort says

    There’s also the underlying sexism of those comments, the objectification of women, judging their value based on physical appearance. Though I suppose there is a big overlap between feminism and trans-advocacy.

  63. tort says

    You’ve admitted that they are using transexuality as an insult and yet you are still claiming that doing so is not transphobic. We should not have to justify such a patently false argument with a response.

  64. tesseraktik says

    Comment on my previous post:

    I indicated I wasn’t sure I was cis. This was based on my misunderstanding that cis meant strictly “non-trans heterosexual”, rather than just “non-trans”.
    Sorry about that! I still stand by the rest of what I wrote, however.

  65. tesseraktik says

    I suspect that we’re defining “transphobic” differently. Have you read my follow-up comments? Most pertinently, my response to Katherine beginning with “Alright, I’ve now read both of them,”? There I try to clarify what I mean by “transphobic”, and why I dkn’t think it applies, and why I think it matters.

  66. says

    Is there a line, and if so where is it, that one shall not cross when it comes to using people’s idiotic bigotry against themselves to attempt to create cognitive dissonance? Can I go to a Klan rally with a sign that says “Grand Dragon Whomever is an African-American” (a la “we are all african apes”)? Or is that sign racist?

    Other people’s oppression: not your rhetorical toy.

    Who gets to set the definition of “objectively transphobic” and thereby decide what is and what is not?

    The people who are subjected to x form of bigotry get to decide whether a certain action or term is bigoted or not.

    Is the sign holder responsible for the effect of the sign regardless of how unreasonable the reactions of the sign viewers?

    Read the damn thread. There are numerous comments and links about how intent does not negate effect.

  67. says

    What the hell kind of dumbass argument is this? If you have a track record of doing evil things, such as, say, making rape victims pay for their own rape kits, or cuddling up to preachers who persecute GLBT people, you ARE evil and you deserve to be called the term. Worlds away from being called names pertaining to traits you can’t control and shouldn’t have to.

  68. julian says

    However, it doesn’t mean that I dislike you.

    Similarly if I’d called her a closet darkie it wouldn’t be at all racist or motivated by feelings of contempt towards blacks. It would just mean I feel this is a good way to demean/insult her.

  69. ewan says

    Of course it’s ‘ironic’, or at the very least an attempt of some sort to be funny. If someone actually had gone with the sole intention of ‘picking up chicks’ then last thing they’re going to do is hold up a sign saying so.

  70. says

    @Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

    it’s an implied homophobic slur.

    That Fred Phelps has Super AIDS? While I find it a stupid message (because Fred Phelps probably doesn’t have Super AIDS), it doesn’t have the ring of homophobia to it that it would need to establish that it is a homophobic slur.

    that sign is not one I would choose to hold up.

    Nor would I. The person holding it gets a “B” for execution (nice setup, could have been more colorful to properly mimic the Westboro Baptists) and an “F” for content (it isn’t funny unless you think having AIDS is funny, but then you should probably be protesting with the Phelpses, not against them).

  71. says

    Yes! Let’s oppose the vile homophobes with vile transphobia!


    Everyone in this thread who says “it’s no different than comparing Palin to Voldemort” or “it’s no different than saying Fred Phelps sucks cock” need to check your privilege. It IS different. Context matters. Comparing someone to an archetypical villain is VERY different than comparing someone to trans people who are assumed and implied within that dynamic to be equally loathsome to a character written to be blatantly loathsome. Come on. Implying that’s an equally problematic statement is HORRIBLE. And making a homophobic attack against Phelps may indeed be homophobic, and not something I condone, but Phelps career is marked by his homophobia, and such an insult would be about implied hypocrisy not an implied “HAW HAW! Trannies are ridiculous, ugly and gross!!!” drawing us in as a decontextualized pejorative. And how homophobia and heterosexism plays out in our culture isn’t nearly as ubiquitously tolerated, legally and institutionally empowered, or backed up by overt violence in the same manner that transphobia and cissexism are.

    So step the hell back with your “no different”.

  72. says

    “Do we have a second on the Right Hon. Katherine Lorraine’s ‘fuck you, fuck you and everyone like you who thinks its okay to hurt people to call into question someone’s actions’ motion?”


    “Motion seconded. All in favour?”

  73. says

    I’ve seen this problem described (recently but I can’t remember where) as a failed attempt at empathy. Instead of a person empathising with the victims (Shirley Phelps=ew, trans people=not me), they see themselves in the role of perpetrator, and then try to rationalise away how they could ever do such a Bad Thing. Oh, it’s ignorance not malice, oh, too young to understand, poor babies looking like bigots QUITE by accident, it could happen to anyone… (anyone like me, cis, male, het, whatevs the axis is in the specific case.)

    And in so doing they basically repeat the insult. Only the poor sad well-meaning perpetrator gets the empathy. The abuser, poor hard done by thing; the abused, nowhere, invisible. FAIL!

  74. inverstone says

    Just curious (am not trying to attack here), but I noticed you said:

    “Before I say “what a dick” I’d really like to know what his reponse to someone simply explaining to him why his sign is offensive might be. If he deliberately made it knowing it was offensive, then he’s a dick”

    And then you said:

    “I’d like to second the mention earlier up that the sign is more than transphobic – it’s misogynistic. Because it is.”

    I just find it interesting that you point out how mysogynistic his sign is (which it is) but you also refer to him as a ‘dick’, which is also misogynistic.

    I’m pretty sure if it was a female holding the sign you wouldn’t have referred to her as “What a twat”, or some such.

  75. says

    Wow, Daisy, normally I would be lurking along in these kind of discussions, being a boring old straight white guy I tend to cheerleader from the sidelines in these spats. And normally I’m cheering for your side, I think you are in the right. But this guy appears to almost completely agree with you on almost every angle, save some quibbling about terminology. But yknow, if calling him an asshole makes you feel better then fine, just know he’s not the only one I see here.

  76. says

    I apologize for the above (Jen can delete it if she wishes). The Hellions have me cranky as hell and I’m not thinking with all my brain cells. Daisy is absolutely right that the affected minority is the final arbiter of acceptable language directed their way, as well as the correct terminology to use.

  77. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    Calling a guy a dick is definitely not misogynistic. Check your dictionary.

    It’s a gendered slur, and should therefore be avoided, but don’t overreach in your condemnation; it also isn’t any of the other -isms that you probably want to reach for.

  78. says

    My take on it is that when you say that about someone like Fred Phelps, you’re calling them a closet case, not saying that being gay is bad. Admittedly, most people who say things like that understand that context (i.e. the one where raging homophobes get caught having gay sex), but it’s amazing how many wingnut concern trolls don’t understand that. I’m not sure where that leaves the general class of insult.

  79. says

    There are several things that have always bothered me about the “Mann Coulter” comments.

    One, she’s actually reasonably attractive. A horrible person, but an attractive one. Therefore the transphobic implications don’t even make sense. (Ignore the fact that there are quite a few very attractive mtfs. We’re talking about transphobia; they don’t really fit that.)

    Two, it seems to blunt the impact of Coulter’s particular brand of hypocritical anti-feminism. I’m not even sure that’s intentional from most of the people who say it, but the best reason to mock Coulter is that she makes a big show of taking advantage of the benefits of feminism while attacking them. She makes your average Serena Joy type look reasonable.

    Attack Coulter because she’s a freeloader on feminism. Attack her because she’s thoroughly full of shit. Attack her because she’s what you get when a spoiled brat never gets unspoiled well into her 40s. But come on — tranny jokes just because she’s tall and gangly? Bullshit.

  80. life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ says

    The insult is identical in form to one that is made by homophobic straight men who play homophobic games to demonstrate how straight they are, in that they’re just the right amount of homophobic and not so overtly homophobic that someone would suspect them of being secretly queer based on bad pop psychology.

    What I know is that when a straight person tries to insult a homophobe like that, I can’t trust either one of them to be my ally.

  81. Bleeder says

    “Other people’s oppression: not your rhetorical toy…..

    The people who are subjected to x form of bigotry get to decide whether a certain action or term is bigoted or not….

    Read the damn thread. There are numerous comments and links about how intent does not negate effect….”

    By these rationale, an american should not participate in draw mohammed day. And yet so many did. I guess you think they all erred.

  82. Sas says

    However, the reaction to it raises more questions for me than the sign itself. (…) Who gets to set the definition of “objectively transphobic” and thereby decide what is and what is not?

    This isn’t some big mysterious ambiguous situation where you have to find yourself fretting over where to draw the line. The sign insinuates Phelps is a non-op trans woman as an insult. It uses trans status as an insult, it treats being trans as something to be ridiculed. That’s not subtle, or ambiguous, or confusing. Using trans status as an insult is about the most obvious and blatant transphobia outside of simply saying “I hate trans people”. Hemming and hawwing over it is unnecessary and does nothing but divert attention from the issue of blatant bigotry.

  83. Den Pat says

    Why is the correct interpretation that the sign is meant as an insult on the grounds that she is a non-op trans? Why isn’t the sign meant as an insult on the grounds that she is a hypocrite? Certainly at the reason rally such a charge would be more damning. Good thing all you sign police are here to get to the bottom of things for the rest of us.

  84. jg29a says


    I don’t think wishing for someone to get fucked is a good disincentive, though. Not for me, at least. ;-)

  85. says


    It is an impossible task not insulting at least some of those who see messages displayed at big gatherings. The key is to remember that at such gatherings, there will be none who speak for the whole gathering. Each one speaks for himself, and not all speak equally well.

    Your own sign was singled out, together with a number of other signs. Some were quite funny, some made a very good point, some were overtly aggressive, some – like the one you pointed out – were counterproductive, and some fell into other groups, depending on the reader’s perception, of course.

    Which group do you think your own sign falls into? How do you think your sign was perceived?

    If you do not think insults is the way forward, maybe you should consider re-wording your own sign the next time. Yours was certainly not respectful, because you did not merely demand that your life should not be influenced by religion (as some other signs did), you insisted that all others must live as atheists too.

    To paraphrase Phil Plait, do you really think anyone would be turned from religion by reading your sign?

  86. says

    Tesseraktik, that’s an extraordinarily length of writing to make almost no point whatsoever–that you don’t like the use of the word “transphobic” to describe actions that hurt trans people–for almost no reason whatsoever.

  87. says

    It may seem easier to reason with your head way up there in the clouds of abstraction, but there is an actual problem of transphobia here on the ground. One person made and held up the sign; another celebrated it as the “best”. Perhaps your mental faculties would benefit from the exercise of learning about and thinking through the implications of its content.

    This has nothing to do with Jen’s sign, which by the way, was excellent, did not insult anyone, poked fun at a few attitudes and took an actual position.

  88. Cyranothe2nd says

    It seems fairly self evident that there is a difference between insulting someone’s religious beliefs (choices) and someone’s gender, sexual orientation or race/ethnicity (things they don’t choose).

  89. Cyranothe2nd says

    That doesn’t even make sense. How would S. Phelps having a penis make her a hypocrite? [I guess maybe, in this fanciful scenario you’ve concocted, it would make her gay…yeah, still quite a stretch.] The transphobic interpretation of the sign is more logical.

  90. Cyranothe2nd says

    Oh FFS. It’s not about insults or lack of respect, you utter idiot. It’s about buying in to systems of systemic oppression. There is a world of difference between Jen’s sign and this one. If you can’t see that, maybe you need to check yourself and read up on cis-privilege.

  91. says

    hall-of-rage, Cyranothe2nd,

    I do believe I described the sign as being counterproductive. I agree with Jen that it is insulting (read her blog entry, where she describes it as such), and that it serves nothing else than to alienate those we wish to reach.

  92. tesseraktik says

    I believe Den Pat’s operating under the assumption that the WBC and Phelps-Roper are against transgender, as well.
    I’m sorry to say I made the same assumption, and it’s good that you point this out; it’s an unwarranted assumption, even if a quick search would seem to verify it.

    [It’s not clear to me if Phelps-Roper’s hate of transgender itself stems from the idea that sexuality can be deduced from gender identity, but here comments about transpeople are quite vile, notwithstanding.]

  93. tesseraktik says

    I’m sorry you think that, hall-of-rage. I’ll try to summarize my reasons more concisely:

    I interpret the ending “transphobic” as implying that a person or action is motivated by fear/loathing.
    I feel that this is a separate charge from doing something that is offensive/harmful to transpeople. You can harm a person without fearing/loathng them, and I suspect one can also fear/loathe a person without harming them.

    I feel that the charge “transphobic” is a very serious one, and furthermore:
    I feel that it SHOULD be a serious one, and that it’s therefore important that it’s not overused (this is somewhat similar to the rationale for Godwin’s Law).

    For the record, I’m not arguing that an action not being transphobic automatically makes it harmless or excusable.

    Hope that’s a better formulation.

  94. tesseraktik says

    Asshole, if you’re not transgender, your “definition” of the term doesn’t mean shit.

    I absolutely feel that each person is the ultimate judge on what they do and do not find offensive.
    By extension, if there is a consensus within a group on what’s offensive to them, even one outside the group can say with some confidence that “That’s offensive to these people.”

    However, I do not feel that the offended are the only ones who can have valid viewpoints on how the offenders should be labeled. This I feel is relevant to anybody taking part in the conversation (including those who stand accused, and those who risk being accused depending on the definition).

    As far as I can tell (though I do not know for sure), the blog entry is one cis telling another that he’s transphobic. If that’s the case, how is the manner in which the word “transphobic” is used not relevant to somebody just because they’re cis?

    You wrote above that I can’t explain “to all the trans people here how they should react to it”.
    That’s absolutely true; how they react is up to them. I can’t – shouldn’t – control how they feel, or how they express themselves.
    What I can do, however, is have an opinion, and if I feel it’s worth stating, I can do so.
    That’s what I’ve done, and if what I’ve said offends you, then I am sorry. I don’t take it back, however.

    That being said, I will soon be retiring from this discussion, since it seems my contributions accomplish little but upsetting people. I’ll stick around for a while if people have any last thoughts they’d like me to take with me.

  95. says

    I’m not really sure of the point of that sign. Is he denigrating her because he thinks she has a penis? So is it the penis that is the problem? Is he thus denigrating anyone with a penis? Like himself? Is he secretly a feminist? I really don’t understand the point he was trying to get across.

    I have to admit that attacking any form of trans-gender didn’t quickly spring to my mind, but that’s a result of where I live and who I interact with – there just isn’t anyone (that I’m aware of) who is trans-gendered, so it’s not on my radar.

  96. says

    The penis sign annoyed me too, as did other parts of the Rally, unfortunately including some of the speeches. But on the whole I think it was a positive enjoyable event — and while I don’t condone either of these other signs, anyone of any gender can be called ‘bitch’ and I’m pretty sure the ‘pick up chicks’ guy actually is gay.

    Though the real reason I’m posting for this first time is to thank Jen for the link, since #12 is someone from my local group who I think will be tickled that she made this list, going to go let her know right now. :)

  97. Sean says

    Alright, collective Internets. I’m close friends with the guy holding the sign (and actually, I’m in the picture too — On the right.. I attended the Rally with him), and I wanted to clear a few things up. First of all, there was no ill intent whatsoever. I know this doesn’t excuse the sign, but it needed to be said. His girlfriend and a few of his other friends (who happen to be gay, actually) were trying to think of something that’d infuriate Shirley Phelps. He didn’t even create the sign with transgender people in mind. It was in no way an attack on the transgender community, though I can certainly see how it could be construed as such. His main goal at the rally was to troll the Phelps family, and I’m sure anyone that was doing the same at the time we were there could tell you that he did just that. As for the sign — He received multiple comments along the same lines as your criticism, and after a while he dumped it in the trash. He apologized profusely to everyone that came up to him regarding the sign, and it’s destroyed now. I’m certain he won’t make this mistake again.

  98. This was my sign says

    Welp, I’m the jerk in the picture with the sign. It’s not very fun to find yourself online just to have a bunch of people upset at you. My thought process at the time was “what would make her the most angry.” In no way was my intent to offend anyone except for her. I realize now that it was poorly thought out. Once I found out I was truly offending others, I destroyed it.

    To anyone I offended, I really am sorry. A have always been about equality for all, please excuse my ignorance. Lesson learned.

  99. Muse says

    You took it pretty well when I came and talked to you. (Short fat chick with shoulder length brown hair and glasses) I’m pretty sure you’re not likely to stand up and do it again. You screwed up, you took your responses well. I think you’re okay.

  100. bryan elliott says

    Not saying that you’re wrong – it’s a transphobic sign and should be condemned. But I find it ironic that you’d be condemning that sign while praising your own – one that can – and was – easily interpreted as religiophobic.

    You could argue that the misinterpretation is not your fault, but that of the reader – but I don’t think that’s valid; the reason rally was meant to get media coverage, and so the audience is not just us secularists, but the wider nation. You know they’re prone to misinterpretation, and you had to have recognized the potential for ambiguity in your sign.

    I’m not saying your sign was so much wrong as stupid – but hey, other people’s signs were dumber, so awesome, right?

  101. HS says

    Hi person whose sign it was,

    Thanks for that. I know I shouldn’t be surprised that someone from the Reason Rally would be so, well, reasonable… but I am pleasantly surprised to see that anyway. And on the internet, even! Rock on.

  102. Gen Fury, Still Desolate and Deviant #1 says

    But I find it ironic that you’d be condemning that sign while praising your own – one that can – and was – easily interpreted as religiophobic.

    I refuse to believe *anyone* can be so stupid as to think “religiophobia” is a social justice issue.

  103. Gen Fury, Still Desolate and Deviant #1 says

    Dear Sir,

    Your response to this is an example to us all and has caused a bright spot in a day where I was cogitating about the possible merits of relinquishing this planet to the insectoid aliens or whatever.

    We all tread in dog shit at times, and the important thing is to not become all defensive and whatever when said dog shit is pointed out to us but to calmly address the situation and fix what needs to be fixed, as you have done.

    Please receive a free internet included herewhithin with my compliments.

    That Hairy-Legged Radfem over There.

  104. says

    Thanks for listening to everyone and responding sympathetically. It’s good to see that some people in the atheist community who screw up like that still have a heart and aren’t all just “Me, me, me!”

    And a FYI, you don’t need this bit in your apology:

    To anyone I offended,

    It is unnecessary and makes it look like a not-pology. Even if no one had been offended, the sign would still have been transphobic and a bad move on your part, which I hope you now understand.

  105. says

    @Bill Haines

    while I don’t condone either of these other signs, anyone of any gender can be called ‘bitch’

    What’s your point in saying that?

    and I’m pretty sure the ‘pick up chicks’ guy actually is gay.

    What makes you pretty sure? On the Village Voice blog Runnin’ Scared, a commenter named “Biscuitz” says this about the guy holding that particular sign:

    That was me with my friend in that picture. You are very quick to make generalizations about his intent with the sign. Do you have a sense of humor? We are both recently out-of-the-closet atheists who had many, many reasons for attending today. (I drove down from NYC just for this) he was simply having a bit of fun, and just about everyone enjoyed it. We were having fun, remember fun?

  106. Jake says

    There joking…I don’t think there transphobic, I think there making fun of Shirley Phelps. By saying the lady who hates gays has a penis is condescending that devil woman’s own beliefs. Now if they were holding a sign saying “I Hate Transgendered People” then we got something to talk about.

  107. Bleeder says

    Sure there is a difference, but enough similarity exists for the example to make a point.

    And this “religion is a choice” business, so often seen, is rather glib and dismissive of the efficacy of religious indoctrination of children in closed and homogenous communities. For such people, their religion is every bit a part of their identity as the color of their skin or their gender.

  108. julian says

    but enough similarity exists for the example to make a point.

    These similarities are superficial.

    While identifying as a liberal may be a strong part of my identity it is not unchangeable. It is, regardless of how strongly I may feel towards a topic, malleable. Like religious beliefs, political beliefs change and evolve with time as new experiences and texts lead us to reevaluate our positions. Sometimes this occurs without us even realizing it.

    Heritage, on the other hand, is immutable. It is constant throughout our lives. I will always be the son of Dominican immigrants. Barack Obama will always be the son of an African father and white mother. I may, and do, feel being Dominican is not really a part of who I am, but that’s irrelevant. I am the child of two Dominican parents and that will never change whatever experience I have in life.

    That difference right there puts our racial and political identities in entirely different spheres.

    Furthermore, ideas, beliefs and views are squarely in the domain of public debate. It is imperative to those who share this public space with others to evaluate ideas and beliefs that will impact it. For example, the belief that a fetus is a human baby or that men are naturally poor parents. The same cannot be said of race, gender or sexuality.

  109. julian says

    You have no idea how validated I feel right now seeing one of you things finally admit just how narrow your view of what qualifies as bigoted speak when it’s spoken by an atheist.

  110. julian says

    I have no issues being a religiophobe.

    I want to end it, make it something mocked in every corner of the planet and destroy whatever respect it’s viewed with. I am very religophobic.

  111. Randy says

    Idiots with an s?

    I only see two hands on that sign, and both appear to be attached to the same person, who may be male, or not.

  112. MurOllavan says

    It makes me happy to see the community take responsibility like this.

    Off topic but the ‘So many Christians so few lions’ sign was a very poor idea as well. wtf

  113. treefrog says

    MurOllavan says:

    Off topic but the ‘So many Christians so few lions’ sign was a very poor idea as well.

    Thank you for reminding me of this one. I was thinking the same thing.

    I mean, if someone had simply cracked that comment in private, I’d have snickered, but as a sign it was a bit lame and seemed counter-productive to me. I’m sure it only fed their persecution complex.

    I thought the best way to handle the counter-protesters, the best way to hurt them, was to ignore them. All they wanted was attention. I preferred to bask in the warmth of the atheist community for once in my life!

  114. Lindsay says

    Way to derail, Matt, considering their comment is actually pretty damn dead-on accurate. Americans in general will give bigots and abusers their sympathies and the benefit of the doubt, while rarely extending the same to actual victims.

    Quite frankly, I’ll say that I don’t care if you were young and stupid–there’s zero excuse for you being that way, and there’s zero excuse for these guys (assuming anyone wants to pull that defense). We’re all responsible for the bigotry we bring to the table, regardless of the reason. All of us.

  115. Forbidden Snowflake says

    I don’t really get the “no, it’s accusing her of hypocrisy” defense. Yes, being anti-trans (which I am assuming she is, because really now) and also trans* would make her a hypocrite. However, she probably isn’t trans* and her hypocrisy, in this case, is fictional. In the mean time, you’re (the generic “you”) supposedly combating transphobia in others… by making transphobic remarks about them.
    Her hypocrisy is hypothetical; yours is real.

  116. says

    This isn’t about revenge, punishment, or the justice system–or at least, punishment falls a distant second after awareness and prevention. The goal of using the word “transphobia” is to point out the problem, for future reference in the hope that people will stop doing this.

    Your point is a dead horse that has been beaten many many times with many many people who have privilege in basically every category. I’m surprised I can’t find it on “Derailing for Dummies”. I hope that at some point you will learn better.

  117. says

    Thank you for that. The example isn’t going to go away (notice all the derailers above), but it’s always good to see that people can learn.

  118. says

    Glad you’re engaging. While you’re here, please, seriously: don’t conflate “gay” with “trans*” or imagine that a gay person understands anything about trans people–indeed, if your friends had such understanding, this probably wouldn’t have happened.

    It’s possible gay cis people are less likely to be transphobic than straight cis people, but even if that’s true, it’s not saying much. (I’m saying this as a cis gay person btw so I may be unduly bitter.)

  119. tesseraktik says

    I get what you’re saying (assuming I’m reading you correctly) about wanting a good word to describe a wide range of anti-trans activity/opinion, and transphobia certainly has some good qualities in that regard; it’s easily recognizable, it gets your attention and it sounds very negative.

    It’s still not what I’d recommend, and personally, if I had been the one holding the sign, I think you’d have a lot more luck getting me to stop by telling me it’s offensive to transpeople (because I really can’t argue against that) than that it’s transphobic (in which case you’d get, well, pretty much this comment thread).

    However, it’s certainly true that I’m incredibly new to this discussion, and it’s quite possible that I’m beating a dead horse.
    I hope you’ll at least believe me when I say that I am trying to be constructive, and I am very sorry that I seem to be failing at it, and I, too, hope that I will learn better.

    To that end: Any recommended reading for me before I try to delve into these discussions? Is there any form of transadvocacy / anti-transphobia manifesto or the like that’s widely accepted?

  120. MurOllavan says

    I really should have stopped and asked if they wanted to kill my sister who I was staying with for the weekend but I’m so shy. I didn’t like reading the Christian news focusing on that sign either.

    Alonzo Fyfe made it even more obvious to me when he said why not ‘So many Jews so few gas chambers’.

  121. George W Thrush says

    Firstly, I bet transsexuals were miles from this guy’s mind. It read to me as a humorous (to guys that age) way to outrage the hideous religious woman (HRW).

    Having said that…

    I don’t see why one particular subset of body modification (sex-change operations) should be protected from the mockery we can apply to others.

    If HRW made her rants all about hating fat people, we would see posters claiming “HRW’s secret: gastric bands and intestinal worms”. If HRW were ranting about the evils of earrings, we would see signs saying “HRW loves her clitoral piercing”.

    “HRW has a penis”? Meh. Nothing to do with transphobia, just young men mocking a HRW who hates everybody else.

  122. says

    You might have missed it (your ignorance is showing), but the guy who is holding the sign in the photo already apologized for it–on this thread!–and seems to understand that it was bad and why. You should probably read what has been said about it next time before commenting if it is a topic like this that you know so little about and have horribly uninformed opinions about.

  123. The Mad Dreamer says

    Implying that transpeople are inherently unstable…

    Yeah, you’ll go far here, Former Fetus.

  124. says

    For us moderns, the word ‘aversion’ has evolved, and as such, aversion should no longer be associated with phobia, whatsoever.

    There is a big difference when one responds based on horror, or fear, because one feels physically threatened versus someone who responds via a strong dislike, or disinclination.

    One flees because of fright. Another turns away because of disgust. Revulsion. Two, entirely different dispositions.

  125. says

    I found out who the idiot holding this sign up is: The Religious Antagonist. Not surprisingly, his gimmick is to troll people at atheist events. He’s getting a lot of mentions on Twitter for a video he made trolling some of the speakers at a recent atheist convention.

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