Two guest posts in one: Glenn Beck level ass-hattery

First, a comment by themadtapper on The art of the question on July 24:

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.

Next, a comment by themadtapper on Divorce status today:

I said it in another thread, and I’ll say it again here. This is some Glenn Beck style bullshit.

“I’m not saying she’s a TERF, but why’s she following TERFs on Twitter? I’m not saying she’s a TERF, but why won’t she answer the accusations of TERF-dom? I’m not saying she’s a TERF, but why’s she asking TERFs for advice? Ok, maybe she isn’t asking TERFs for advice, but surely you can see how people might think that? I’m not saying she’s a TERF, but but but but but…”

Frankly, at this point I can’t really accept that anyone demanding apologies from Ophelia, or accusing her, or trying to “help” her see the error of ways, is doing so in good faith.

And that goes for you too, Jason. You keep trying to paint a picture of poor, pitiful, helpful you being mistreated by an obstinate, ungrateful Ophelia. You say you’re “disappointed in how [Ophelia’s] reacting to the legitimate grievances” when your “legitimate grievances” include shit like this:

she said particularly impolitic things in particularly impolitic ways,regurgitated damaging arguments handed to her by TERFs that rightly got peoples’ hackles up

And this:

but she’s doing so much lashing out at the genuine, nuanced criticism, and so much cozying up to the TERFs that everyone ELSE recognizes as having it out for trans folk, that it is perfectly reasonable for trans folk to want to steer clear even where people who are not trans might want to continue to engage.

Oh, but woe is you, defending yourself from the big meanie Ophelia who, for some completely irrational reason, thinks that your accusations of her cozying up to TERFs and regurgitating TERF talking points is an attack. Why, you’re just having a friendly disagreement. You’re just trying to help, if only she’d let you. And if only she’d stop acting like a TERF. Not that she is one, of course, but surely we can see why some people might think that…

But you did paint me as an example of toxicity.

That post was toxic. It was bad, and you should feel bad. You don’t, and you won’t, but you should.


  1. Tigger_the_Wing, 1st step taken, now for further equality, please! says

    I admired those when they were comments, and I admire them just as much now that they are put together in a post.


    That is what has been annoying me from the beginning: that Ophelia was asked a “Gotcha!” question that could be taken out of context and so made to look innocent and straight-forward, whilst her refusal to play the game that she couldn’t win was spun to make her lose anyway.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    … Glenn Beck level ass-hattery.

    A mortal insult, at least to those with any modicum of self-esteem.

    Unless themadtapper reports by sundown having been slapped in the face with velvet gloves and challenged to duels at sunrise, we have no choice – no choice at all, I tell you! – but to conclude those called out by this sobriquet constitute nothing but a motley mob of dishonorable blackguards and curs.

  3. John Horstman says

    @Tigger_the_Wing, 1st step taken, now for further equality, please! #1:
    [Note: I am going to generalize out of necessity, and everything here is necessarily my personal interpretation; I’ve been trying to follow this argument and read different perspectives, but it’s taking place on multiple blogs, in comment threads on multiple posts, on Twitter – which I don’t use at all – on Facebook – where I’m not connected to any of you AFAIK – and possibly elsewhere, so I know I’ve missed plenty; I’ve tried to qualify any assertions I make appropriately, and if I missed any, I apologize – in those cases, I’m simply wrong.]
    The context-shifting is bothering me more than anything (though others appear to be much more bothered by other aspects of this ongoing argument, which is, of course, entirely valid/legitimate, not that anyone necessarily needs or wants my validation). From my perspective, a lot of this disagreement (and I don’t mean just this case, I mean every single time I’ve had this same argument over the past ten years) comes down to gender-as-identity versus gender-as-system, and a refusal to differentiate those two framings of gender. And not a failure to do so by Ophelia, in this case: this particular uproar started with her looking at gender as a system – how it only normalizes certain ways of appearing/embodiment and how those were being replicated by Caitlyn Jenner’s magazine cover (which, it should be noted, is a Photoshopped image and not even Jenner’s face-to-face presentation and embodiment). So the context for the ensuing discussion was gender-as-a-system, but the accusations and gotcha-type questions were all framed using gender-as-an-identity, without, to my knowledge, any indication that the framing and thus the entire subject of discussion was changing. Those concepts are definitely interrelated*, but they are still distinct, and the people I routinely see accusing someone of transphobia or transmisogyny on the basis of questioning gender as a system or the normative aspects of that system are people who cannot or will not differentiate that from internalized identity, usually becasue they have essentialized both the identity and the system.

    This is what I was attempting to articulate in my previous highlighted comment, but in thinking more about it and reading some of the other posts, I think the system versus identity framing might be more clear. As far as I’ve seen, people like Ophelia (and me, for that matter) are perfectly willing to consider the ways in which gender is an identity as well as a system, and the political ramifications of both. You know, since she directly, explicitly said that in her clarification post:

    But politically? Do you mean, will I take trans people’s word for it? Will I use their right names and pronouns? Of course I will. Do I want to make them jump through hoops to prove something to me? Of course not.

    Do I get that trans people are severely marginalized, and have to jump through kinds of hoops I have no idea of? Hell yes.

    I have thoughts and questions about gender, broadly speaking; gender as it affects all of us, and women in particular. I don’t think those thoughts are transphobic.

    Her detractors seem unwilling to acknowledge that gender is anything other than an essentialized, internalized identity (while some are perfectly willing to recognize that, but still don’t agree that it’s not being treated that way in particular contexts they then think are transphobic/transmisogynistic; I understand this to be Jason’s position, for example, though perhaps I’m not entirely understanding him, either), which then makes any critique of gender qua system feel like a personal attack on the legitimacy of an identity that is routinely questioned. I can grok that, given the above-noted routine questioning and marginalization, but it still isn’t an entirely-exculpatory reason for refusing to look at the context/framing in use, IMO, and it certainly doesn’t justify outright lying, impersonation, etc.

    I’m not really sure what to do here. “Listen to trans people” doesn’t really cut it, becasue I’ve been doing that for over a decade, and some of us simply disagree; plus under some conceptions of “trans*” – those that position “genderqueer” and “agender” as subsets of the umbrella term “trans*” – I am myself trans (though not a trans man nor trans woman, given the not-binary-identified thing). I can’t really control how people without a background in academic gender studies are going to use or interpret our technical jargon, and I do additionally think there needs to be space for people without such a background to engage in that conversation as well without being metaphorically pilloried, to maybe not use the preferred semantics of the academy nor every single individual on the planet becasue they can’t read minds and people disagree about their preferences anyway. I’m not about to stop questioning our normative gender binary, particularly not as someone routinely harmed by that very system, even as I’m also privileged by certain aspects of it when people decide I’m sufficiently normatively masculine in presentation on a given day in a given context. Up to now my strategy has mostly been to ignore the gender essentialists/identity essentialists and keep on keeping on advocating for a society in which social gender is largely meaningless (while recognizing that we’re not there yet), but given the increased voice and influence of the identity-essentialist crowd as biological essentialism loses more and more mainstream credibility, that is less and less an option.

    *becasue how one internalizes and interprets gender qua identity is very much influenced by those normative systems, and likewise what becomes normalized for gender qua system depends on the sum total of how we individually enact/perform gender, which has something to do with our internalized frameworks, which is basically what the Jenner post was examining, as I understood it

  4. John Horstman says

    Oh, I had forgotten in my bit about the context of the discussion-and-then-row that the Glasgow Free Pride drag-ban was also involved, despite using it as an example previously. Again, this is looking at gender qua system to my mind, though that particular issue rally intersects both system and identity.

  5. Tigger_the_Wing, Double trans person, not a TERF says

    I’ve been glad to see on these various posts that there are several non-cis, non-binary people who have noticed and are just as upset with the context-denial, and definition-jumping as I am.

  6. rrede says

    John, thank you for putting into words what I haven’t had the time or energy to do.

    Ophelia, I’ve been reading all along though didn’t have time or energy to contribute. Yours is the first blog I tend to read at FTB (my three regulars are you, PZ, and Ed’s).

    If you decide to leave, I’ll be signing up to support your work via Patreon as soon as I see it.

  7. John Wasson says

    There can be genuine cognitive dissonance in appreciation the self consciousness of an other. Through intersection you can appreciate another; Ophelia’s blog is often a good platform for this. However, there can also be obnoxious and troubling counterfactual transference.

    “Metaphysically understood, sexuality has nothing to do with our existence as persons, for it views persons as expressions of sexuality, and not sexuality as the expression of persons.” James P. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games

  8. John Morales says

    John Wasson:

    “Metaphysically understood, sexuality has nothing to do with our existence as persons, for it views persons as expressions of sexuality, and not sexuality as the expression of persons.”

    Such confused thinking!

    If A is an expression of B, then A necessarily has something to do with B’s existence.

    Consider a straightforward substitution:
    “Metaphysically understood, sexuality has nothing to do with our existence as persons, for it views persons as expressions of sexuality something which has nothing to do with our existence as persons, and not sexuality something which has nothing to do with our existence as persons as the expression of persons.”

    Cogent, it’s not.

  9. says

    I remember back in the old days you could do or say something that pissed off other people and the end game wasn’t personal destruction of the person accused of the mistake.

    It’s now about purity and group-think while the goal posts get moved or changed often.

    It’s a setup for failure so one subset of people can feel superior or victimized over other people.

    It makes us all look bad because that subset is what gets all the attention.

  10. says

    At least some productive discussion has come out of this whole debacle I guess. I had a long and fruitfful discussion with a couple of my friends about gender constructivism and essentialism over dinner and drinks. I cannot speak for all trans and non-binary people, but for us, it can sometimes be frustrating to see people like Ophelia get shat on like this. I’m not particularly active in the local trans community because I’m not out. My family would metaphorically crucify me if they found out I was agender (or pansexual or polyamorous for that matter) and it’s easy enough to pass off as “normal”. It causes me some pain and stress having to pretend to be something I’m not, but I can only imagine how much worse it would be, being disowned by my family and facing discrimination from people in general.

    I get why people were upset by the quote from OB’s friend, even if there were other ways to interpret it, it’s really easy to read it as saying transwomen shouldn’t be offended by drag because they aren’t really women. But, Ophelia’s made it abundantly clear that she politically and socially supports transperson’s rights and self-identification.

    Regardless, this stuff is complicated. I personally find the concepts of man and woman mostly incoherent messes with a lot of destructive and pointless stereotyping. And yet, there does seem to be some biological basis to gender, or else I would have a hard time explaining why my trangender friends have felt so much better once they started hormone therapy and/or getting sex reassignment surgery.

    Alright, I feel like I may be rambling here. I’ll go back to reading everything now.

  11. John Wasson says

    #8 John Morales
    Thanks for your comments on the quotation from Carse.

    I think the first part of the quotation from Carse, “Metaphysically understood, sexuality has nothing to do with our existence as persons, for it views persons as expressions of sexuality” conceived as a societal or religious norm, is the issue brought up by #3 John Horstman on the normative aspects gender as a system, how it only normalizes certain ways of appearing/embodiment.

    The second part of the quotation “sexuality as the expression of persons” is related to gender as an identity, an identity not within an abstract or metaphysical system but of a self conscious person.

    As #3 John Horstman and #8 John Morale point out those concepts are definitely interrelated. But if you have essentialized both the identity and the normative system then it is difficult to distinguish the normative aspects of that system from internalized identity (#3 John Horstman).

    The more recent topic “Frankly a lot more thought-provoking” notes

    “Over at Butterflies and Wheels, there have been some fascinating threads in which people–trans people (apparently feeling unharmed), cis people, and people who feel neither label applies to them–have discussed their own experiences, thoughts, and feelings about gender. It’s been moving, and frankly a lot more thought-provoking than the didactic but painstakingly inoffensive stuff I gather we’re all supposed to prefer.”

    I think the “metaphysical” part of Carse’s assertion refers to the “didactic but painstakingly inoffensive stuff”, normative aspects which may routinely harm (#3 John Horstman), whereas the second part refers to experiences, thoughts, and feelings about gender unconstrained by the “preferred semantics of the academy” (#3 John Horstman).

  12. John Morales says

    John Wasson, thanks for the translation/interpretation. Still reads to me as if it claims sexuality is one thing rather than another in a metaphysical context.

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