The art of the question

Wikipedia entry: Loaded question.

A loaded question or complex question fallacy is a question which contains a controversial or unjustified assumption (e.g., a presumption of guilt).[1]

Aside from being an informal fallacy depending on usage, such questions may be used as a rhetoricaltool: the question attempts to limit direct replies to be those that serve the questioner’s agenda.[2]

President Bill Clinton, the moderator in a town meeting discussing the topic “Race In America”, in response to a participant argument that the issue was not affirmative action but “racial preferences” asked the participant a loaded question: “Do you favor the United States Army abolishing the affirmative-action program that produced Colin Powell? Yes or no?” [8]

Complex question:

By a complex question, in the broadest meaning of that term, is meant one that suggests its own answer. Any question, for instance, that forces us to select, and assert in our answer to it, one of the elements of the question itself, while some other possibility is really open, is complex in the sense in which that term is here employed. If, for example, one were to ask whether you were going to New York or London, or if your favourite colour were red or blue, or if you had given up a particular bad habit, he would be guilty of the fallacy of the complex question, if, in each case, the alternatives, as a matter of fact, were more numerous than, or were in any way different from, those stated in the question. Any leading question which complicates an issue by over simplification is fallacious for the same reason.

Suggestive question:

Yes/no or forced choice questions like “is this yellow or green?” force people to choose between two choices when the answer could be neither of the choices or needs more explanation. This generates more “interviewer-talks” moments, where the interviewer is talking and controlling most of the interview.[7] This type of question is also known as a false dilemma.

Professionals at risk for using suggestive questions

Interrogators and police

Unethical or unskilled police officers can use suggestive questioning in interrogation rooms. Such interrogators use different kinds of techniques and questions in order to get people to confess. They use response framing when getting people to falsely confess. This is when they purposely limit certain answers and suggest others.

Did you follow all that? Yes or no.




  1. John Morales says

    MrFancyPants @2, no, because I can’t stop what I’ve never started doing.


    (Your “yes or no” condition has been met)

  2. chrislawson says

    I’m all in favour of improving the logic used in political rhetoric, but that quote from Bill Clinton seems a bad choice for illustrating the dangers of the loaded question. The only assumptions forced into the question are (1) that Colin Powell was a good general and that (2) he would not have made it to 4-star general without affirmative action.

    Now, I am not a Powell fan because of his role in Bush II’s administration, but in the US he seems to be regarded very highly by both Democrats and Republicans — so it’s not exactly a stretch to make the assumption that the audience would think he had been a good general. And as for the affirmative action, well obviously nobody can say for sure that he wouldn’t have risen to 4-star general rank without a little assistance, but we can say that there have been very few African-American generals in US history and almost all of them came by their rank in the post-Vietnam era so it’s naïve to assume that everyone makes it to general purely on the basis of merit.

    And besides that, this was a town hall meeting — blodd forbid we expect politicians to win over the crowd with formal descriptions of their lemmas and consequent deductions.

    To me, the distinction between reasonable but logically informal rhetoric and unreasonable rhetorical manipulation is: does the rhetoric mislead or confuse?, and I really can’t read Clinton’s question as being either. Did anyone here read it as fallacious reasoning?

  3. John Morales says


    The only assumptions forced into the question are […]
    Did anyone here read it as fallacious reasoning?

    Leaving aside that any reasoning within a question is only implicit, I note that such reasoning can be impeccable yet reach a false conclusion if the premises are unsound.

    (You seriously have no problem with forced assumptions as premises?)

  4. StevoR says

    Did you follow all that? Yes or no.

    Maybe, kinda? Wait .. can you put that another way and elaborate please?

  5. chrislawson says

    John Morales@7:

    (You seriously have no problem with forced assumptions as premises?)

    I think it depends enormously in the assumptions imbedded in the question and the circumstances. If the assumptions are untenable or shaky then I think loaded questions are misleading, but if not, I think rigorously setting out the logical/evidentiary basis of every statement one makes is good for philosophical and scientific discourse, but it’s a great way to lose an audience.

    And we don’t know what was said in the rest of Bill Clinton’s speech. He may already have addressed the pros and cons of affirmative action at length, in which case the question rested on assumptions already argued.

  6. StevoR says

    Ah, now having read a few more entries further down the page I see what this is about.

    Context always makes a difference.

  7. says

    Yes – I think I’m following you. I mean, this is the third blog post you’ve written explaining why you refused to answer a question because of how it was phrased.

    I empathize because a question like that – especially with the “yes or no” ultimatum smacks of some sort of ideological purity test – that if you answer with anything less than an emphatic “yes” that you’ve somehow failed the examination.

    However, let me advance an alternate way of interpreting this. The phrase “Trans women are women” is a phrase that positively asserts that trans women will be respected. Part of that respect is using their correct name, the correct pronouns, and not questioning the authenticity of their identity. It’s a phrase used by trans inclusive feminists to positively denote that trans women are accepted as fellow women, because if that intention is not positively asserted it’s a good bet that trans women will face antagonism and othering or even abuse due to the perception of some (unfortunately very loud) feminists that trans women are mutilated men, perverts, rapists, gender-fetishists and whatever-else-the-hell-have you.

    That’s the context here.

    And if you think that the context is actually those BIG BAD AFTA and their thought police minions are freeze-peaching the universe by no-platforming and block botting anyone who says “vagina” – well – fuck it cause I don’t have enough time or energy to sift though that pile of bullshit.

    However, I can tell you that some of the articles you’ve recently shared lately about the supposed conflict between feminism and trans activism are exaggerated, patronizing, and frankly asinine.

    I can tell you that “trans women are women” doesn’t mean that “trans women and cis women are identical in every way” (as one of those article suggested) because nobody believes that and the very idea that trans women (especially those unable to transition until later in life) aren’t intimately aware of those differences is akin to calling trans women delusional.

    I try to be careful when speaking about lived experience other than my own – but I’m pretty sure if you went up to a trans woman and asked, “Hey are you aware that society treated you as a boy for the better part of your childhood and I was treated as a girl? Do you realize that our reproductive systems are built slightly differently?” They might just write three blog posts about how sometimes questions are shitty.

    “Women” are not Borg – you do not need to be identical in every way to other women to be accepted as a woman. If you want to get all wiggly woggly about “What does it mean to be a woman if it doesn’t refer to your WOMB?” or inexplicably insist that inclusiveness will require you to find-replace too many terms in your favorite class analysis or whatever your particularly favorite unpacking of “womanhood” might be — whatever. We can talk about that until we’re blue in the face – but it’s all academic.

    In the practical sense, as feminists “trans women are women” means solidarity, respect and shared purpose.

    And someone asking if you’re on board with that or not – may not be very comfortable especially if you feel under fire – but it’s not the same as asking you if you still beat your wife or asking if you’re a Communist during the Red Scare, k?

    So, could you please cut the crap?

  8. chrislawson says


    I went and checked the original sources and it seems to me that the Clinton quote is more of a mistake than a loaded question. That is, both Clinton and his questioner seemed to be under the impression that Powell had benefited from affirmative action when he hadn’t. A much better example is #3 on the Wikipedia entry:

    For another example, the New Zealand corporal punishment referendum, 2009 asked: “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?” Murray Edridge, of Barnardos New Zealand, criticized the question as “loaded and ambiguous” and claimed “the question presupposes that smacking is a part of good parental correction”.

    That’s a better example because (i) you can see exactly where the question is assuming what is actually the matter in dispute, and (ii) it was a politicised referendum question and therefore carefully planned to achieve its forcing.

  9. A Masked Avenger says

    M. A. Melby @11:

    As a recovering fundie, I can tell you that there’s only one answer to a question that ends with, “…yes or no?”, and that’s “Fuck you.”

    Lawyers get to say “…yes or no?” because you’re compelled by the court to answer. You’ll go to jail for contempt if you don’t. And you’ll face contempt if you answer a yes/no question with a question, or a long answer, or a non-response. [Unfortunately] the lawyer is allowed to make such demands, because they are empowered to compel a response, and to punish you for your refusal.

    Inquisitors get to say “…yes or no?” for the same reason: an inquisitor is a prosecutor, generally in a religious court, and can have you tortured or executed not only for giving the wrong answer, but for refusing to answer.

    Back in fundie-land, I’ve been asked [and, to my shame, I’ve asked] these “…yes or no?” questions. The asker does it because they think they’re an inquisitor. Their intention is to either force compliance with some norm, or to identify you as an outsider as a prelude to punishing or expelling you from the community. They have the power to do that. Sometimes because they’re actual gatekeepers, like church rulers. More often because the social group stigmatizes the wrong answer to such an extent that it doesn’t matter how an answer is extracted from you; once you fail to say “shibboleth” correctly, you’re a heathen, infidel, outsider, unperson.

    I find it hilarious–but in a sad way–to see “rational” or “freethinking” people set themselves up as inquisitors. It’s a healthy reminder that religion is just a well-adapted vehicle for delivering the toxin, and human nature is its source. The need to cement our “we” status by inflicting “they” status on someone else. I.e., self-righteousness. The inability to care for “us” without simultaneously hating “them.” Etc, etc.

    “Yes or no?” Fuck you is my answer. Even if I agree with you, still fuck you.

  10. A Masked Avenger says

    Note: I still get “…yes or no?” questions from members of my old religious community, which I still have ties to through family and whatnot. My responses generally confuse the living hell out of them.

    * “Why do you feel empowered to demand answers like that?” – they never get this from anyone, because everyone they know plays the game. They all dread these questions. They all use them as weapons. And they all feel compelled to answer them when asked.

    * “Are you interested in understanding me better, or are you just testing my orthodoxy?” – Understanding you better? What the fuck is that, and why the fuck would I want to do it? We’re playing the religious conformity game; we’re not two humans trying to connect on any sort of a human level.

    Other replies are mostly useless. Don’t ask “why?” for example. You’re just begging for the retort, “Can’t answer, huh? Afraid to state your convictions clearly, huh? This shouldn’t be a hard question…” See “inquisitor” above. Refusing to answer is confessing heresy. There is no fifth amendment in fundie-court. Including the court of freethinking atheists with fundie tendencies.

  11. CuriousOnLooker says

    One could very easily have chosen to answer the question without sticking to the yes/no answer. If yes/no is too simplistic then ignore it and just type out what your actual answer to the question is, using whatever words you feel are appropriate. That you have chosen not to do that, and instead written multiple blog posts about how unfair or illformed the question is… Well that does say something about where your priorities are, if nothing else.

    It seems that you are far more concerned with what you see as unfair treatment of yourself (e.g., questioning who you follow and why, asking and expecting you to answer questions, etc.) than you are with ensuring that trans people are not further marginalized even inadvertently by mixed messages. The reason it seems clear is because you’ve now chosen to write multiple blog posts about the former, but not bothered to write even a single sentence or single Tweet clarifying your views on the latter.

    At this point, why not to just spell out your views on trans people and just clear up any confusion once and for all? Why not just forget the yes/no paradigm and just use whatever words you want to use to explain your view here and be done with it?

  12. says

    The amounts of hoops you jump to not answer the simple question if you believe that transwomen are women is horrifying. Also, it was not loaded, it was just the polite way of asking if you are a transmisogynist, which has now to everyone been obviously answered with “Yes”. I think you should resign from freethoughtblogs, you don’t fit here anymore. Sad.

  13. Hj Hornbeck says

    Oi, are we still stuck on this question?

    Look, I delved into the matter a little while ago, and came away even more convinced sex is friggin’ complicated; every sharp division you could think of to hang the definition of sex on falls apart when you delve into the details. Try coming up with something that effortlessly handles mosaicism, amputation, genetic variation, complete androgen insensitivity, micropenises, aphallia, and clitoromegaly, I dare ya.

    And even then, you have to deal with the fact that we have no problems sexing one another in complete ignorance of genes, hormones, or chromosomes. Have you ever had your karyotype or genes checked? No? Yet is there any ambiguity over your womanhood? That’s because “woman” is a fuzzy definition based on a mix of behaviour and appearance. It is statistical, not absolute.

    So if someone is willing to change the way they act and dress permanently, to risk the side-effects of hormone treatment or surgery to change their appearance, to risk a massive uptick in violence perpetrated against them, to risk their financial security, all in the name of getting you and everyone else to call them a woman, are you going to dismiss it all? Is calling these people “women” going to threaten your womanhood in some way?

    Trans women are women. Full stop.

  14. says

    I’m quite happy to say trans women are women, too, really no problem at all, reasons Hj gave a sufficient expansion, thanks so much…

    … But then, I wasn’t asked with inquisitorial suspicion and obnoxious authoritarian presumption demanding a response and penalizing noncompliance on Twitter, either. Makes it a very, very different context, I’d expect…

    … and tell me, dears, Ophelia making such a statement would satisfy you for how long? Would there be regular ‘re-examinations’ for potential backsliding, the very next time she as much as came near any subject anyone deemed suspect? Let’s exact a pledge of loyalty and demand she tell us again, let the implication hang that we feel she shouldn’t have gone there… Oh, I bet she is anyway, never mind what she said… Has we made her say it recently!?

    … perhaps we could make it a button she punched regularly, make this less trouble. Click ‘Nope. Still not a TERF’, thank you. And oh, what a useful exercise this is, checking this box, and not at all like being compelled by my entire community to recite the pledge of allegiance or the Nicene creed, or sing the anthem, really… Yes, I have repeated it yet again, this week, on schedule… Moving on, then…

    I don’t expect I’ll be back much here myself if you leave, though, Ophelia. Not just solidarity, as I have that with others I expect will still be around, which would make it complicated. Just about costs and benefits, I guess.

    I don’t blame you at all, though, for what it’s worth.

  15. says

    Yes – we’re in a group full of “skeptics” and “rationalists” who apparently are super cool with using emotionally charged false equivalencies as “arguments”. I’m looking at you @13.

    But you’re not wrong – I acknowledged how the framing of yes-or-no questions can be inquisitory. And truly, I would likely not phrase a question quite like that personally. One of the reasons I would tend to avoid such phrasing is precisely because it may make someone feel cornered and more likely to become defensive instead of have a conversation.

    However, those questions are not just spoken to people *without power* by those *with power* in order to exact some sort of compliance. We also tend to ask those types of questions to people like public officials or candidates for office; or people who are our peers. It is a common way to attempt to cut through bullshit frankly.

    This is something some people really want to know. I suspect they want to know because interacting with someone who disrespects their status as “woman” this way means certain common ground will not be reached and that they will be treated (in overt and subtle ways) as “the other”, as inauthentic, and as an imposition instead of a peer and colleague. That appears to be what this means in a practical sense for many people.

    It’s similar (but not equivalent obviously) to me wanting to know if a queer space accepts my identity as a bisexual woman as authentic; or if they want to take “B” out of LG, think that bisexuality doesn’t exist, think that most bisexuals are just straight and identifying as bi to get attention or because they are over-sexed? Cause YES – that’s a thing. And NO – asking if I’m going to be disrespected in that way is not the fucking Spanish Inquisition.

    And sorry if it’s obvious that the context is driving this intense discussion about how questions ought to be asked, cause if other such “yes or no” questions were asked this would not be happening in this way.

    And unfortunately, Ophelia decided to ask for assistance in answering the question, not just from friends and colleagues who have been considering these questions or who are stake-holders concerning the issue – but to a notorious “gender critical” TERF (completely open but members are vetted) facebook group that several trans activists monitor because it’s run by Elizabeth Hungerford, who once worked closely with Cathy Brennan, and whose bread-and-butter is repeatedly misrepresenting (badly) a Swedish study on trans suicide rates post-transition to argue against the availability of transition care. (Because Hungerford is not just a wee bit bigoted, but also apparently doesn’t understand what a goddamn control group is.)

    And yeah – if anyone wants to judge people for pointing that out – you may want to look back and see if you’ve ever criticized people for hanging out at the Slyme Pit or A Voice for Men. And no, that’s not a false equivalence, it’s just a analogy that might help you understand why some people are flabbergasted and upset.

    One such supposedly insightful article posted in response to Ophelia’s request in helping answer the question about whether or not trans women are women forwarded the answer book-ended with a story about a masculine trans woman who was rude to her once. Yeah sorry if I’ve listened to enough crap about how I’m a likely sexual predator because some lesbian or bisexual woman I don’t know was sexual aggressive with a straight woman – to not see that type of bullshit for what it is. It’s using one example to paint a picture of a much larger diverse group – and that’s bigotry. K? Pure and simple. I’ve also been around the TERF crew enough to be told a dozen times (when they assume I’m a trans woman) that my male socialization was unmistakable (even more obvious than James!).

    I’m just sick of this shit frankly. However, I’m absolutely willing to have long winded discussions about matters of substance, but that involves calling it as I see it. I see people trying to vague-post about stuff, or go into avoidance mode, as if that helps avoid hurt feelings. I think that ship has unfortunately already sailed.

  16. says

    M. A. Melby @ 21

    cause if other such “yes or no” questions were asked this would not be happening in this way.

    That’s wrong. You don’t know that, and it isn’t true. My interest in issues of that kind long predates your acquaintance with me, long predates my move to FTB.

  17. A Masked Avenger says


    Also, it was not loaded, it was just the polite way of asking if you are a transmisogynist…

    Oh, that’s rich. I have a question for you, which is in no way loaded: in the politest way possible, can you clear up for me whether you’re a fucking asshole? Yes or no?

    * Yes, I realize one normally shouldn’t ask questions to which the answer is perfectly obvious.

  18. CuriousOnLooker says

    MaskedAvenger @30,
    Your question wasn’t addressed to me but I’ll answer it anyway because what’s the big deal? No, I’m not an asshole, but thanks for asking.

    How fucking hard was that?

    JFC the lengths some people are going to in order to justify not answering a question, it’s astounding.

  19. CuriousOnLooker says

    HJ Hornbeck,
    I agree with you entirely that trans women are women. Full stop.

    Perhaps if anyone else agrees with you they might say so explicitly on their own. Or perhaps other people don’t agree with you. Or perhaps they do agree but don’t think it’s necessary to say so, or they do agree but they would phrase it differently.

  20. A Masked Avenger says

    It seems that you are far more concerned with what you see as unfair treatment of yourself… than you are with ensuring that trans people are not further marginalized…

    Yep, I remember you well from my fundie days. Think hard about what assumptions lead you to believe that you have any business interrogating people in this fashion. If you were actually interested in the conversation, you would have a conversation. Conversations don’t use question the way you are using them. Normal conversation, the question is a simple interrogatory for further information. It is not an examination. The way you are using question is appropriate to an interrogation or an inquisition.

    The above-quoted IS bullying: it accuses Ophelia of self-absorption with a tentative accusation of trans-misogyny, with the intent to shame her into answering the original question–which was itself intended for the inquisitorial purpose of deciding whether she is or is not a bigot, as if it’s your job to make such determinations.

    Inquisition is a game, like tic-tac-toe or global thermonuclear war: the only way to win is not to play.

    The only proper answer to would be inquisitors is, “Fuck you.”

  21. A Masked Avenger says

    Perhaps if anyone else agrees with you they might say so explicitly on their own…

    Aaaaaand… you double down. This is also a standard rhetorical trick of fundamentalists. You should be very embarrassed by now. Proclaiming your orthodoxy, and daring others to echo your affirmation, as a means of rooting out the heretics by their failure to shout the party line as loud as you.

    Leaving religion behind involves more than sleeping in on Sundays.

  22. says

    My interest in issues of that kind? In issues of whether or not yes or no questions are reasonable? o.O

    Do you believe women are intellectually inferior to men? Yes or no? If you say “no, but” that’s shit.
    Do you believe black people are the inferior race? Yes or no? If you say “no, but” that’s shit.
    Do you believe that a husband has a legal right to have sex with his wife? If you say “no, but” that’s shit.

    Those are all yes or no questions related to “ideological purity” that I suspect would not be responded to the same way. Of course, I have no idea if you’d spend three blog posts talking about how the questions were phrased without answering it – or you know – essentially going to StormFront to help with answering that second one but I could be wrong. Maybe you would do that.

    You’re right – I don’t know for sure. How could I?

  23. says

    A Masked Avenger @ 34 – Even more remarkable, CuriousOnLooker tried to ask that stupid question four times before managing to come up with a version that was slightly less bullying than the ones before.

  24. TransPerson says

    This is fucking rich. People who are steadfastly refusing to admit that I am a women are accusing me of bullying for asking them to clarify if they believe I am actually a women.

    Fucking amazing.

    If you are so upset/offended by these questions, how the fuck do you think us trans people feel when people like you refuse to acknowledge and respect our fucking identities? If you think asking a question is bullying, then refusing to respect a person’s gender identity is straight fucking harassment.

  25. says

    What? What are you talking about? Who is refusing to admit that you are a woman? This is your first comment here, so how could anyone have been saying anything about you?

    Or are you – gasp – CuriousOnLooker using a different address?

    But even if you are the same question applies – CuriousOnLooker is also a new commenter, so no one could have known anything about CuriousOnLooker.

    If you are CuriousOnLooker you are sockpuppeting, which is not ok.

    Also, I’m not harassing you. I think the reasons for that claim are too obvious to need spelling out.

  26. The Other Chris says

    The inquisition will never end. It can be couched in the nicest possible terms or in the demands to toe the line or else. Calling women names and claiming that they have overstepped is nothing new — it’s all around us, all the time. What’s different here is that people who consider themselves “skeptics” and “freethinkers” and capable of making high-level rational arguments for their opinion get into lockstep over a concept that is nothing but circular reasoning (and hence, must frequently be followed by “get over it” and “end of” and “period”, and in this very thread, “Full Stop.” You can see the fallacy of it when religious believers use that kind of argumentation style; can you see it when you use it?

    Can you refute the following with something other than appeals to faith and emotion or by using circular reasoning?
    “The maxim ‘trans women are women’ is a false equivalency that means at least three things.

    “First, it means that being raised as girl from birth is not an important or relevant aspect of being a “woman” because one can be a woman without these formative experiences.

    “Second, it means that having a female body is not an important or relevant aspect of being a “woman” because one can be a woman without being female bodied.

    “And third, it means that to be a “woman” simply reflects an individual’s desired relation to the social category “woman;” rather than serving as shorthand for the physical and cumulative experiential realities specific to female-born (and certain intersex) people around the globe.” [Elizabeth Hungerford]

    None of that says that trans women should not have their full human rights. It doesn’t say that trans women shouldn’t be free to have the lives they want. It doesn’t incite violence. It doesn’t invite scorn. It doesn’t involve ridicule. It is simply a statement of fact about women’s (and girls’) lives. And it is a rational appeal to stop conflating two different lived experiences with each other — because that conflation hurts both women and trans women.

    Further, the phrase “trans women are women” implies that there is something wrong with being a trans woman or that it must be elided in some way. There are many trans women who identify as trans women; this is not a an issue that a handful of people can wave away with true believer dogma.

  27. sambarge says

    Um. Have I missed something or do we all have the right to demand bloggers on FtBs answer our questions at our convenience? Because if we can, PZ Myers has some ‘splaining to do.*

    In any case, whatever Ophelia’s position is on transgendered issues, it’s no one’s business except her own unless she chooses to make it your business or she’s in a position to actually limit the rights or adversely impact the lives of transgendered people. If Ophelia held office, I’d want to know. But she doesn’t; she’s a blogger, a writer and otherwise a private citizen.

    Who exactly died and made you guys the Grand Inquisitors?

    *Not really. Richard Carrier on the other hand…

  28. Z says

    In any case, whatever Ophelia’s position is on transgendered issues, it’s no one’s business except her own unless she chooses to make it your business or she’s in a position to actually limit the rights or adversely impact the lives of transgendered people. If Ophelia held office, I’d want to know. But she doesn’t; she’s a blogger, a writer and otherwise a private citizen.

    I hope it won’t be controversial to note that the usual form is “transgender”, not “transgendered”.

  29. themadtapper says

    This is some Glenn Beck level ass-hattery. “I’m just asking questions! Why won’t Ophelia Benson confirm she’s not a transphobe?”

    I love how Joe says “it was just the polite way of asking if you are a transmisogynist”. As if anyone, even an actual transmisogynist, would ever answer anything but ‘no’ to that question. No, what Joe was doing was fishing for something to accuse her over. When challenged on the claim that Ditum and Lewis were “obvious bigots” and the assumption that following on Twitter amounted to an endorsement, Joe promptly blocked Ophelia and then lied about her reply. And in true Beck style he took every refusal to play his game as an admission of guilt to an accusation that anyone with a cursory knowledge of Ophelia’s posting history would know is false. And sadly, just like Beck, he gets what he wants even if you don’t give him what he wants. In come a parade of people to make posts about how hard Ophelia is trying to avoid the question. “Why, she MUST have something to hide after all, since she won’t answer the question!” Or, you know, she knows perfectly well that no answer will satisfy anyway. Because an answer is not what’s wanted. Any answer denying guilt will be met with further interrogation and insinuation, and the refusal to play (whether immediate or after fatigue and frustration set in) will be declared an admission of guilt.

    Honestly, if Ophelia right now made a post that consisted of only the words “Yes I think transwomen are women. No I am not a transphobe/transmisogynist,” how long do you think it would be for someone to pop up in here saying “but why did you wait so long to say that, and only under increasing pressure?” No answer will satisfy, because the ones asking have already decided. They could have already gotten their answer by perusing the past posts of this blog. They’re not interested in an answer. They’re interested in spreading innuendo, insinuations, and doubt. The question was never intended to seek information, but to spread disinformation.

  30. kevinkirkpatrick says

    The Other Chris @43

    None of that says that trans women should not have their full human rights. It doesn’t say that trans women shouldn’t be free to have the lives they want. It doesn’t incite violence. It doesn’t invite scorn. It doesn’t involve ridicule. It is simply a statement of fact about women’s (and girls’) lives. And it is a rational appeal to stop conflating two different lived experiences with each other — because that conflation hurts both women and trans women.

    I will state this once. Anyone who tells my (transgender) son that he is – in any way – “not really a boy” (or endorses that sentiment more broadly) is actively making the world an unwelcoming place for him. Not “unwelcoming” in some fuzzy, intangible way. Unwelcoming in a way that drives many transgender people to clinical depression. Unwelcoming in a way that has already caused many transgender people to choose death over a life of continued denial of their identified gender.

    Feel free to claim that “true womanhood” is a right-of-passage that comes only with a vagina at birth; or that men born without a penis are not “true men.” Feel free to do so while wrapping yourself snuggly into whatever blanket of pseudo-intellectual bullshit you find most comforting. But don’t for a second think that you are not, with life-or-death stakes, doing real harm to trans men, women, and children who’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve it and have absolutely no way to avoid it.

    Don’t, for one second, think that I’m not reading your words and wondering, “How the hell am I supposed to protect my son from people like this?”

  31. says

    “I think you should resign from freethoughtblogs, you don’t fit here anymore. Sad.”

    After Hugo Schwyzer, you’d think men would suffer a pang of self-awareness when they tried to oust women from online spaces in the name of feminism as they see it ought to be. Apparently cloaked misogyny is alive and well.

  32. Z says

    AFAIK, Joerg was banned/put into moderation, so engaging with them would be pointless.

  33. Holms says

    It seems likely to me that CuriousOnLooker / TransPerson is a shit-stirrer from slymepit, and it would not surprise me if this entire thing is ginned up by various stealth accounts / fresh accounts of theirs. The bugle has sounded, much cackling is being had over there.

  34. says

    This is a mess and I would hate to see anyone leave for what looks like understandable reactions that I hope can be worked through.

    Ophelia Benson is used to people trying to police her by as a woman willing to speak in authoritative ways, and as an FTB blogger. So I find her suspicion and defensiveness with respect to wondering about why she follows certain people and (now that I have read experiences about them) sensitivity to “yes or no” questions understandable.

    I can believe that transpeople might see that Facebook group as something equivalent to Stormfront. I think that the social situation might be a bit more complex than that though. Stormfront does not have to worry about a more dominant social group in the same way that a feminist Facebook group does. While there is room to persuade a person that a group contains some toxic beliefs, ideas and behavior, I have not seen a reason to think that Ophelia’s opinions are like those. Even PZ is still friendly with Dawkins in many contexts and I have not seen him get sort of flack.

    But now the power relationship changes. Transwomen have a different place in this situation relative to cis woman. It’s not perfect but there are certainly elements more like the relationship between cis woman and men broadly in terms of power structures.

    Transwomen are used to people recoiling from a willingness to use the word woman with respect to them, or they are used to people using the word in lots of atypical ways that those people would not if they were not transwomen. The way we use language is very important. I can understand a transwoman or ally wanting to know if another person was fine saying that a transwoman was a woman without feeling like they had to qualify it. Is it reasonable to steer a person away from saying why the answer was what it was? I can think of at least four groups of people that would have very different experiences of the relationship between woman and female as it has been applied to them and it seems to me that we would want those experiences to be more common knowledge. How can answers be expanded on without them looking like qualifications, and without them being used as potential ammunition?

  35. sambarge says

    Z @45

    I hope it won’t be controversial to note that the usual form is “transgender”, not “transgendered”.

    I can’t imagine how it could be controversial. Thank you for the correction.

  36. says

    What the hell is so difficult about a yes-and-no answer to the “trans women are women” question? For some, perhaps even most, purposes, yes, absolutely. For other purposes (women’s reproductive health, family policy, FGM), no.

    This is no different from any other socially constructed group identity. Is Barack Obama African American? Yes. And no. Is the Nigerian immigrant who runs the pizza place near my job? Yes. And no. Is someone with a Jewish father a Jew? Yes. And no. Are messianic Jews Jewish? Yes. And no.

    Am I a woman? Yes. And no. Even though I was identified female at birth and have gestated and lactated, there are ways in which I do not feel particularly comfortable being labeled “woman” and in which some people would classify me as not-a-woman. Being a woman is a social identity grounded in part, but only in part, on physical characteristics. It’s not a you-are-or-you-aren’t category.

    (Disclosure: I too am am member of the frightening gender discussion group. Anyone who’s spent more than 5 minutes reading the group will note that there are many different opinions on gender and trans gender issues held by members of the group. I’ve learned a lot and been challenged to think of better arguments as a result of participating in the group. I’ve found myself agreeing and arguing with Hungerford in different threads on different topics. Gender is not an easy thing to define or analyze, and if we’re going to discard every single writer or forum with whom we don’t completely agree, we’re going to end up putting feminist intellectual history through its own extinction event.)

  37. Z says

    It seems likely to me that CuriousOnLooker / TransPerson is a shit-stirrer from slymepit, and it would not surprise me if this entire thing is ginned up by various stealth accounts / fresh accounts of theirs.

    While it’s true that the conflict will be exploited by the Slymepit – they do love division among the “enemy” – suggesting that the discontent originated with them is a bit too much. I’m pretty sure that M.A. Melby for example is not a Slymepitter.

  38. says

    That’s not the suggestion. “Ginned up”=exacerbated. I think that’s almost certainly the case. I’m getting very slime-esque comments from new accounts.

  39. anat says

    To ‘The Other Chris’ (@43):

    Why should anyone refute your 1 or 2? Neither being raised a particular way nor having a particular type of body, whether one’s entire life or part of it, are necessary to being a woman or a man, though a majority of women share some physical attributes (I’m less clear on how many share an upbringing, as this varies with culture and subculture).

    I’m not sure I fully understand your #3. Being a woman or a man is a matter of identity that is persistent. If anyone has a persistent sense that they are a man or a woman and seek to be recognized as such by society in a persistent manner then they are. (Some people lack such a persistent sense, or have a persistent identity that is neither 100% of a man or a woman. They usually identify as one of the various non-gender-binary identities.)

  40. Silentbob says

    @ 57 Z

    I’m pretty sure that M.A. Melby for example is not a Slymepitter.

    For those that don’t recognize the name, that was sarcastic understatement.

  41. The Other Chris says

    To Anat @60 — You are merely restating what the quote I put up already said and by way of that, providing more circular reasoning and sidestepping the request to give us something other than that. No, I’m not going to take your word for it.

    Either being born and raised female, and living in a female body in a world-wide culture of patriarchy matters or it doesn’t. Feminism has been saying it’s important for decades now. Being female influences whether she will be killed in the womb, whether she will be starved immediately after birth, whether she will be able to go to school, whether she will be sold into marriage while still a child, whether she will have acid thrown in her face, whether she will undergo genital mutilation, whether she will get the constant message that she is an object to be used as a sex tool, whether she will be sexually harassed, whether she will make less money than a male in the same job, whether she will be discouraged from the career she wants to pursue, whether she will have to adapt in some way for her entire life for expectations of her sex and gender, whether she will have a fear of becoming pregnant, whether she will experience abortion and all that means, whether she will have a higher likelihood of being raped, and of being killed by her partner, whether she will birth and nurture children, whether she will be seen only through the lens of whether she’s fuckable. And many other things. The claim that females do not have common experiences is easy to prove false.

    If those things don’t matter to you, or you’re going to tell me that males experience those things too, you still haven’t made a case for why “trans women are women.”

    As to the “persistence” argument — this positions females who are treated as (and recognize themselves as) girls and women as having CHOSEN to be in that position, rather than just being born and raised into it (because in the vast, vast majority of this world, right now and through history, females are raised and live their lives as girls and women.) This false framing of “persistence” only exists because of the trend to transition children, which is an entirely different subject.

  42. John Morales says

    The Other Chris:

    If those things don’t matter to you, or you’re going to tell me that males experience those things too, you still haven’t made a case for why “trans women are women.”

    Nor have you made a case for why they aren’t.

    What you’ve made clear is that you personally don’t think someone who has not been gestated and raised female can be a woman.

    Me, I don’t require that criterion to consider someone a woman, so I find your objection irrelevant.

  43. says

    *damn browser cut me off.

    I personally think that trans women are women and trans men are men and trans non-binary people are people. (Why are the latter two not the question, btw?). And I basically agree with Anat that it’s more a case of personal identification than any other guideline. If your definition of woman is an adult human female, then you’re screwed at defining the “female” part of the question. There is no 100% defining characteristic for being male or female; it’s a spectrum with a bimodal distribution. So since there isn’t one, pick the one that makes people happy.

    I think that the thing about trans identity as a recognition of an innate gender is a legitimizing tactic, very much like the “born that way” approach to gay rights. It makes mainstream culture more accepting: those people have a legitimate difference from the regular cis/het folks, and it’s not catching so they’re safe. And it’s not critical; they want to be just like everyone else. But that’s a double-edged sword. What if you DID have a choice? Does that make it somehow illegitimate? Is it *really* only ok to be gay/trans if you have no other choice?

  44. chrislawson says

    The Other Chris@43:

    Nice of you to bring us back to the topic of fallacious reasoning. There are 3 clear fallacies in your comment and your quote from Elizabeth Hungerford:

    1. Strawman — nobody claimed that growing up in a female body is “not important” to gender; the argument is that the genitalia you are born with is not the sole determinant of gender.

    2. False dichotomy — Hungerford’s argument rests on the idea that growing up in a female body makes you female, and a male body makes you male. As has been known for a long time now, bodies do not neatly fit into a male/female divide. In this very thread people have discussed numerous anatomical and physiological variations that do not fit the standard model.

    3. False inference from motivation-based reasoning —

    Further, the phrase “trans women are women” implies that there is something wrong with being a trans woman or that it must be elided in some way.

    How <adjective> women implies something is wrong with <adjective> or that some sort of shameful elision is going on is simply beyond me. You’re just inventing a reason to maintain your position.

  45. StevoR says

    I guess you’ve probably seen it already? I find this very bullying and disgusting behaviour and I hope you stay Ophelia Benson.

  46. StevoR says

    ^ That’s hope you stay on FTB, Ophelia Benson I mean!

    I don’t know whether or not it would help to point to any articles Ophelia Benson has written on transwomen and her empathising with and supporting them and arguing for their rights and elaborating on her thoughts about them? Don’t know if its worth directly engaging there or quite what really.

    I can’t comment on Pharyngula myself because I was unfortunately banned from there some years ago. (Mea culpa I guess, I’ve changed and modified my views over the intervening years and things there just went very bad – another long & irrelevant story here anyhow.)

    I don’t know whether that will make some people reconsider entrenched and polarised views or quite what would make them rethink, just a thought.

    I’d certainly miss Butterflies and Wheels being on FTB if that happened, hope it doesn’t.

    PS. It would be nice if PZ Myers came out and slapped down Alexander Z for that bullying demand as well as pointing out (again) that he doesn’t actually run FTB and that FTB was always supposed to contain a diverse range of opinions and blogs or so I gather. I hope he has been backing you up on this Ophelia.

  47. elephantasy says

    Ophelia, count me as one who really likes your blog, including your efforts at having reasonable discussions on various issues about gender identity, and who thinks FTB would be greatly diminished if you left. I would follow your blog wherever you choose to write.

  48. StevoR says

    @ ^ Ophelia Benson : I’m sorry to hear that. I hope you reconsider although I can certainly understand why you would go given your treatment here. You deserve far better and I probably need not say this but you are certainly not a bigot or bad person. Most of us here know that, I think and hope. Don’t let the douchebags get you down.

  49. tonyinbatavia says

    I, for one, would love to see you stay. Then again, if you leave I will just swap out my FTB bookmark with your new bookmark, whatever that will be. It will barely be a minor inconvenience to continue to read your blog.

  50. karmacat says

    I sense there is a lot of anxiety in the discussions about trans women. Transgender people are rightfully concerned about how they are seen. They have been stuck in box that they can’t fit. For trans women it may mean appearing especially feminine which reminds me of how Caitlyn Jenner was photographed in Vanity Fair. She was photographed in lingerie and in a sexy way. For Caitlyn Jenner this is how she wanted to portray herself. For feminist women it just reminds them of the box they are trying to escape. They are trying to escape the box that a woman has to look a certain way.

    A few women resent Caitlyn Jenner because she was able to advance as further as an athlete and get more recognition because she was a man then (or identified by others as a man.) But those advantages don’t necessarily compensate for the suffering of Caitlyn Jenner, feeling that she is stuck in the wrong box.

    There are so many ways of being a woman (or a man) and probably means something different for each person. In a way, People who are homosexual have had to identify strongly with being gay to move their community forward towards acceptance. But of course they are more than their sexuality. They are people who happen to prefer same sex partners. I think it is the same with transgender people. They are more than just a gender but it is issue for them to gain acceptance in society and subsequently safety of being themselves.

  51. The Other Chris says

    chrislawson @66 — using the words for logical fallacies doesn’t mean that you’ve proven that those statements ARE logical fallacies. I’m not impressed with merely restating your opinions as proof of something. I’ve provided proof and description that being born female has objectively measurable effects in the world. If you want to wave those away, I will see you as not only a mansplainer, but an anti-humanist and misogynist as well.

    “the argument is that the genitalia you are born with is not the sole determinant of gender.”
    Yes, I know that’s the “argument” — an opinion-based argument that no one ever explains. If gender doesn’t come primarily from genitals, why is our culture completely obsessed with genitals and whether someone is “all boy” or a “pretty little girl” from the moment the sex of the child is known, all over the world, across virtually all cultures. Yes, that’s a rhetorical question because I know the answer.

    “the idea that growing up in a female body makes you female, and a male body makes you male. As has been known for a long time now, bodies do not neatly fit into a male/female divide”
    This “false dichotomy” argument on a website that purports to be about “reason” based in science is very disturbing and one of the reasons I felt I must finally comment on this issue here after many years of being just a reader. Yes, there is actually something biologically stable and knowable about female and male bodies, across a vast array of animals. There are exceptions, which we call intersex conditions. People are also born without legs, but we do not say that humans are not bipedal. The vast majority of human beings are accurately sexed female or male. And the vast majority of females experience harms based on the gender that is pressed on them from birth by culture because of their genitals. Attempting to dismiss this so you can argue for the rights of trans people does nothing in the long run for trans people, because they too are deeply harmed by the exact same mechanisms you are arguing don’t exist.

    You don’t still have an argument for why “trans women are women” — your word on it is not enough. Try to apply some reasoning to that problem and explain why “woman” includes males and females and retains any usefulness as a word that people use all over the world to mean certain things.

  52. anat says

    The Other Çhris:

    Many of the things our culture does wrt gender is wrong. It is wrong in many different ways. One wrong thing our culture does is to give more power to the male category compared with the female category. Another wrong thing is to insist that appearance of genitals at time of birth is the way people are going to be classified as male or female. (This is wrong for many reasons, including cases of incorrect observation, ambiguous appearance, non-standard physical development, non-standard psychological development, and possibly other reasons I am not aware of or which I may have forgotten to mention). Yet another thing our culture does wrong is to insist that male and female are the only available options.

    We need to address each and every one of these wrongs. That to you the first wrong is the more salient is not a reason for other people to not work on the other wrongs. People are being hurt by all these wrongs. This is not a matter of oppression olympics, it is a matter of different people being in different situations and being hurt in different ways. Yes, it is wrong that there is discrimination against women. The way to correct that should not in any way involve mistreating trans folk.

    The way I imagine gender-utopia is something along the following lines: Adults accept that the gender assigned to children is tentative. It is a hypothesis based on information available. (It is possible that in the future the information available will go beyond observation of genitals – genome sequencing will be much cheaper, we might be able to identify all the relevant variants involved in the development of genital sex, maybe even brain sex, who knows. Not sure if everyone will want to know, though.) Adults accept that children explore many modes of behavior, many forms of play, work, styles of dress and what not. Some children will consistently identify as a certain gender, some will shift around, some will identify as members of a non-standard gender. Adults accept all these identities and adapt the pronouns they use for the child in question. Around puberty or maybe a bit later the vast majority of children settle on the gender they will be in adulthood, though like with everything in life, some people are late bloomers (perhaps as a result of other developmental differences) and it is not the end of the world if someone feels the need to change their gender identity in adulthood. And yes, all these genders are treated as being of equal value, and being one gender or another is not a good predictor of educational attainment, income, or political influence. Also, while some styles of dress and areas of interest cluster with a particular gender more than random, there are enough instances of combinations that go against this trend to make gender a very poor predictor of these and vice versa.

    BTW: When transwomen transition to the point that random strangers are more likely to perceive them as women than as men, they lose whatever male privilege they had pre-transition (and this privilege is often less than that enjoyed by cis-men, due to bullying and gender-policing). They become subject to the same gender discrimination that cis-women experience. Why not embrace them as sisters? (Also consider that not all cis-women are subject to exactly the same discrimination, definitely not to the same extent, because some of us have other privileges, be that class privilege, western culture privilege or other circumstances.)

  53. Pierce R. Butler says

    Ophelia Benson @ # 71: … I don’t think I’ll stay.

    Add me to the chorus hoping you’ll reconsider.

    Not feeling in the mood for a flamewar, I’ve stayed out of the runaway self-righteousness on that Pharyngula thread – but the narrow-mindedness and kneejerk tribalism popping up there has already made me lose respect for certain individuals I’d previously thought clear thinkers.

    And yes, folks, “is” has more than one meaning. I strongly recommend – as an exercise, not necessarily a permanent way of life – learning and using E-Prime [English, except without any form of “to be”] as a way of avoiding the linguistic trap laid by the hostile question which started all this.

    Meanwhile, Ophelia Benson – please don’t let the online shivaree faze you – both for your sake, and for the overall culture at FtB!

  54. Pierce R. Butler says

    Ftr: PZ Myers has come out swinging in defense of our esteemed host:

    Ophelia is not a TERF. Not even close. Sorry, #346, that link is not evidence that Ophelia denies personhood to trans individuals: it’s evidence that Ophelia really, really detests being pushed around by leading questions. But it is a really good example of how people are translating one uncharitable reading of a comment about one thing into a whole string of ugly inferences about something else. And now a whole bunch of you are utterly convinced that it has been unambiguously demonstrated that Ophelia is a TERF.

    Nope. Double nope. Triple nope.

  55. says

    Yes. Jason Thibeault is now repeating discredited lies (“Ophelia misgendered someone intentionally!”) as if they were statements of fact, even admitting that he doesn’t know and the “information” is second-hand. I ham-fisted my response to him because as I get older I find myself increasingly unable to tolerate shitty writing, or to be frank about the fact that the writing is anything other than shitty, because I’m turning into an old crank. But seriously, what fucking unskeptical bullshit. “Someone said this thing about Ophelia and I think that it’s plausible.” Oh FUCK YOU.

  56. Silentbob says

    @ 78 Pierce R. Butler

    I was rude enough to quote that on Alex Gabriel’s blog earlier today. Bloody whippersnappers. (Kidding, Alex, kidding. No need to look forward to my death.*)

    * It’s an in-joke. Ophelia will get it.


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