The Unexamined Hypocrisy of Fake Allies

Over on Pharyngula, PZ posted about white people posing as Indigenous, often in cringy ways. Naturally, one of the last remaining commenters who regularly argues against fully accepting trans people showed up to declare that she couldn’t tell us apart from this.

She’s one of those people who is obsessed with “civility” and responds to criticism mostly with tone policing. Wishy-washy right-leaning centrist style behavior, though she claims to be a longtime queer rights activist and hard leftist. She says a lot of TERF-flavored things that she claims to be unaware are, or claims they are not, TERF-flavored things. But, one thing she did that is very different from TERFs proper, notably including the late lamented one of this network, is she was willing to state outright that trans women are women, trans men are men, and nonbinary people are valid. Except… only in the interest of adding a self-righteous challenge to it:

Abbey, without using those precise words, I’ve already said, multiple times, that trans women are women, trans men are men, and nonbinary people are valid. I’ve now said it again. So cut the crap that I’m a TERF. This goes back to something I said earlier, which is that the bar for being called a transphobe has been set so ridiculously low that basically any disagreement on anything at all is enough to be called a transphobe. So now your turn: Can you give me an example of any issue at all on which it is possible to diverge from trans orthodoxy without being considered a transphobe? Anything at all? I’d love to be proven wrong, but I suspect you won’t be able to come up with anything.

This is a pretty good example of her to-date nonsense. This challenge does not actually make any sense unless you implicitly agree that there is such a thing as “trans orthodoxy”. There isn’t, not beyond the very thing she said here and claims to believe in the first sentence. Because, consider all the “reasonable disagreements” these people want to have, what are the questions being debated?

  • “Is it safe to allow trans women in women’s bathrooms?”
  • “Is it safe to allow trans women in women’s prisons?”
  • “Is it fair to allow trans women in women’s sports?”
  • “Is it appropriate to provide medical transition to trans youth?”

… and what happens to them if you really believe trans people are real?

  • “Is it safe to allow trans women in women’s bathrooms?”
    • It must be, because trans women are women, therefore they are in the group intended to be in that environment.
  • “Is it safe to allow trans women in women’s prisons?”
    • It must be, because trans women are women, therefore they are in the group intended to be in that environment.
  • “Is it fair to allow trans women in women’s sports?”
    • It must be, because trans women are women, therefore they are in the group intended to be in that environment. Are you detecting a pattern?
  • “Is it appropriate to provide medical transition care to trans youth?”
    • It must be, because trans girls are girls who without it will suffer masculinization as the result of a birth defect, and trans boys are boys who without it will suffer feminization as the result of a birth defect.

Barring the one about youth medical care, which is still addressed by this but not in the simplistic pattern, every single thing the transphobes complain about, and the un-self-aware transphobes imagine they are “asking reasonable questions” about, takes the form of “Is it safe/fair to allow trans women in women’s X?” or more rarely (since they know who they like to paint as a threat) “Is it safe/fair to allow trans men in men’s X?”. These questions make absolutely no sense to ask if you really accept that trans women are women and trans men are men. (They basically never think to ask questions about nonbinary people, for a variety of not particularly respectful reasons.)

There are trans people who are bad actors. Of course. A few outright predators, no doubt. But that’s true of every single broad demographic, and pointing out the existence of those bad actors in an attempt to imply that all of the demographic is like them, or conversely that they are somehow worse because of being members of a particular demographic, are bigotry. I’m prepared to believe, for example, that there might be a few specific trans women who probably shouldn’t be loose in a women’s prison population. But that’s damn well true of some specific cis women too, and I’d lay good odds a solid hundred times more of them. It doesn’t say anything useful about the broad category.

Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Nonbinary people are valid and real. There is no “trans orthodoxy” beyond that, and if you really believe this, you don’t have those questions to “just ask”.

UPDATE: I’m going to highlight the latest part of that exchange. The commenter made a reply that certainly shows what she’s struggling with and it’s a legitimate, serious, awful thing…

In addition to being a lesbian, I am also a rape victim. I never want to see male genitalia. Ever. And I shouldn’t have to explain why. So if we’re talking about clothing-optional female spaces, I think I’m entitled to a safe space where I’m not going to be triggered. It’s not that the trans woman changing clothes next to me isn’t a real woman; of course she’s a real woman. It’s the presence of male genitalia, regardless of the gender of the person it’s attached to, that’s the issue. And, so you see me as a vile transphobe, while I, on the other hand, am positively appalled at the lack of empathy for rape victims and others who’ve suffered sexual abuse that frankly borders on misogyny when it doesn’t actually cross the line.

I also understand that trans women have needs too. The problem is, though, that anytime someone tries to work out a compromise that allows her access to a changing area without causing me emotional pain, that person gets shouted down as a vile transphobe and I get told to just suck it up. This has happened with schools that have offered to provide trans-only changing areas, and women’s bath houses that have offered either trans nights or trans-only changing areas.

And here’s how it appears to me: There are two extremist positions. You’ve got actual transphobes on the one hand who think that trans people are simply delusional and society should not promote their delusions. You’ve got the other extremist view that ignores the needs of women like me who need lives that don’t include male genitalia. And in between, you’ve got people like me who are generally trans supportive but who recognize that cis women have needs as well.

But, this is a privileged, bigoted thing to say. In a way that, yes, I can easily see that someone with PTSD from something this horrible could not realize is a bigoted thing to want. But it is. (Most of) my reply in that thread:

Here’s the harsh fact: nobody in the world, under any circumstances is ENTITLED to freedom from the simple presence of a demographic they find distasteful. What happened to you was awful, but it does not in any way entitle you to disenfranchise a marginalized group.

I’ll cite the usual example, which remains quite apt for all of its usual-ness. Suppose some unfortunate white woman had been assaulted by a Black man. She could legitimately suffer the same ‘that’s a threat’ involuntary trigger by the presence of any Black man, or any Black person. Would she be therefore entitled to any public-facing space guaranteed to be free of Black people so she would not be triggered into a panic attack by their presence?

Obviously not. This is a situation where she will ahve to protect herself as best she can, and should be granted all the inviolate private space she needs, but demanding a publicly-accessible space where a demographic cannot be present for her comfort – to avoid her quite legitimate extreme discomfort – would be obviously wrong and a palpably racist thing to demand.

Note that I have said nothing about this hypothetical person being generally racist or bigoted. This could be someone who marches with Black Lives Matter, donates to the NAACP, anything. But trying to carve out a piece of the public square excluding someone for her comfort remains wrong.

What she must do in this situation is work on her issues. That’s a long hard horrible road, and I should know. But, it’s the only thing she could reasonably do because it is not the fault of the people she is excluding that she is suffering.

The same applies to you, and I note there might be an extra piece of you managing to somehow view a trans woman as a woman “except that male piece right there”. I presume as well you have never been in this situation, because it doesn’t take long into transition for a trans woman’s genitals to not much resemble a cis man’s.

You come off as a transphobe when you are trying to “work out a compromise”, because you are putting your comfort over the rights of a whole class of people. That is a bigotry. You’re acting like you expect that any trans woman in your space is going to intently involve you with their genitals, which is a hard thing to believe if you really view them as women.

There are two extremist positions. You’ve got actual transphobes on the one hand who think that trans people are simply delusional and society should not promote their delusions. You’ve got the other extremist view that ignores the needs of women like me who need lives that don’t include male genitalia.

Here we have you asserting that, for your comfort, there are ways that trans women should not be fully treated as women. Not many ways, but still, ways… and you call that an “extremist” position. Meanwhile, the position you are asking for here is the exact one that gets trans women chased out of bathrooms and changing rooms all over the place by people screaming for the police that there’s a man in there.

You have approached this as though your requirement is Obviously Resonable and anything arguing with it is extremist. This is not so. It’s time for you to examine just what demands you feel entitled to make of entire populations of people.


  1. says

    With respect to the question of trans women in sporting competitions, I have my oft-repeated, never-answered challenge: ***If*** trans women do, indeed, have an innate athletic advantage over cis women, ***then*** trans women should be hauling in a disproportionately large percentage of top honors (1st thru 3rd place) in *all* venues which allow trans women to compete against cis women. So… *is that actually happening?*

    *Do* trans women have a disproportionately large percentage of top honors in those venues?

    It would seem that the question of “trans women superiority” is one that would be directly amenable to being settled with the hard data of athletic records. Curiously, *none* of the people who make noise about “trans women superiority” actually *do* bring the hard data that one might expect would settle the question.

    ‘Tis a mystery…

  2. says

    @1 cubist

    According to the actual professional sporting organizations, no, they don’t. The thing the TERFs like to talk about is not happening. They like to point at any trans woman winning any competition as automatically proof of unfairness. It’s nonsense. We lose more than we win… like anyone!

  3. says

    I actually started a response to kathleenzielinski’s #38 before you posted yours, but it sat in an open window because it took literally a couple hours to write, and it took longer than that to post since those 2 hours of work were spread out around various interruptions.

    You might want to read what I wrote there. We hit on at least a couple of the same themes, but I think what said is still different enough that you might get some use out of it.

  4. says

    <sez abbeycadabra@2:

    …TERFs… like to point at any trans woman winning any competition as automatically proof of unfairness.

    ROFL! A while back, one transphobe did exactly and precisely that in response to my challenge—cited a small number of trans women (like, count them on the fingers of one hand!) who apparently just kick royal ass and have, as a result, collected a seriously disproportionate share of top honors… as “support” for the premise that all trans women are just nacherly soooooperyor to cis women.

    Again: ‘Tis a mystery…

  5. invivoMark says

    Trauma sucks. And I’m sure that having a trauma associated with a particular body characteristic is tough to deal with.

    But it’s also problematic. Having trauma doesn’t entitle you to behaving with hostility toward people with that body characteristic. And it certainly doesn’t mean we need to change the rules specifically for people with that body characteristic.

    Working through trauma is difficult, but we shouldn’t change the rules for a whole class of people just so someone doesn’t have to.

    Very well-written arguments, both Abbey and Crip Dyke.

  6. invivoMark says


    Even if trans women had a genuine advantage in a particular competitive athletic sport… so what? TERFS can never articulate why that’s inherently an awful thing and means that trans women should be banned from competing.

  7. says

    The same issue about athletics came up in our local Nextdoor politics group a few months back; I did my best to respond in detail. (It’s here, for any other masochists out there with Nextdoor accounts.) Also, I’ve been collecting popular myths about transgenderness and rebutting them here, as time permits. I do need to do a write-up on the “athetics” issue and also the “womanface” argument, which I’ve run into before.

  8. dianne says

    I will just say that I don’t think it’s safe to have trans or cis women in women’s prisons, mostly because prison involves the guards having unchecked power and that is never safe.

  9. says

    First, people of a certain gender and age-group all have different body-types anyway, before we include trans people; and those differences affect their relative abilities to compete in this or that sport. So do trans folk really add that much extra difference to the range already present? Are there no unusually tall or muscular cis women?

    And second, we hear a lot about the alleged unfair advantages of transwomen in women’s athletics; but not so much about the alleged unfair DISadvantages of transmen in men’s athletics. Have either of those alleged problems been solidly documented anywhere?

  10. Silent Service says

    The problem is, as always, that people refuse to accept that they just might have a prejudice. Nobody wants to be thought of as racist. Nobody wants to be thought of as sexist. Nobody wants to be thought of as a homophobe. This is, of course, because society in various numbers looks at such prejudices as a form of evil. Nobody thinks of themselves as evil, so of course our detractor here doesn’t wants to be thought of as TERF. Pointing out that somebody is bigoted in any way automatically evokes the classic reaction typified by the silliest of racist statements, “I can’t be a racist. I let (insert racial identifier) use my bathroom.” Which makes this all the more hilariously sad to me, since the activity in question by our TERF in denial is blocking trans people from being in a bathroom with her.

    Compound that with our generally narcissistic mentality that anyplace we go is our proper place in the world and it is no wonder she can’t grasp the idea that she shouldn’t be protected from seeing somebody’s private parts in a public changing room at a gym.

    What I really want to know is; is she really checking everybody out closely enough to see everybody’s genitals in the changing room? I’ve been in a lot of changing rooms at a gym, and went through boot camp where everybody lives in an open bay dorm with gang showers, and I can’t for the life of me remember examining anybody’s equipment in that kind of setting.

  11. Bruce Fuentes says

    As I stated on Pharyngula, the posts and comments on Freethoughtblogs are the best on the internet. I follow all of Freethought because I know there will be posts and comments that make me think and question my own ideas and values. Instead of destroying those ideas and values it causes me to defend them or alter them. Sometimes my views and values adjust. That is a good thing.
    As a white, middle class cismale, I will defer to the experts on issues like this and all issues involving minority and marginalized people. Being of Puerto Rican heritage I have some awareness, but my whiteness gave me a lot of privilege. I have family and friends that live the ethnic and racial minority life everyday. I also have family and friends that live the LQBQT+ life everyday. They and my wife, whose medical practice is inclusive to all people, help guide me in understanding issues I do not fully understand. This is no different than how I handle any other subject I may be ignorant or uninformed about.
    It really should be that easy, but hate and the need to have a societal pecking order get in the way.

  12. Pierce R. Butler says

    “Is it safe to allow trans women in women’s prisons?”

    It must be, because trans women are women, therefore they are in the group intended to be in that environment.

    Bzzz! BingBingBing! Prison environments, regardless of gender, are not designed or managed for safety, and do not have it.

    (With possible rumored exceptions in parts of Scandinavia.)

  13. says

    InvivoMark@7: The whole “trans women superiority” deal is not founded upon fact. It is, in fact, a pile of bullshit. So I see no reason why anybody should humor any “trans women superiority” argument.

  14. invivoMark says

    @cubist #14, I agree, there’s no factual basis for the argument, and there should be no reason to go further.

    But appeals to facts aren’t always as convincing as they should be. And besides, sports changes over time and there may some day be some sport played competitively somewhere in the world where trans women are statistically superior than cis women at competing (p < 0.05). Heck, that could happen by chance – there can only be a few top competitors in any sport, so the demographics of the top competitors are subject to strong statistical variance.

    And if that happens, so what? It wouldn't change the fact that women are winning in a women's sport. It wouldn't make it impossible or unfair for cis women to compete. And it would have essentially no effect at any level but the very top level of competition.

    Statistically, Kenyans run faster than most of the rest of the world. Do we disallow Kenyans from competitive running to make things fair for non-Kenyans?

  15. says

    As a survivor of some truly heinous abuse, I’m fucking ANGRY that TERFleen has the audacity to use traumatized people as a weapon against a truly oppressed minority that has done absolutely nothing to deserve this abuse.
    Always remember: TERFs are abusers, and abusers lie. Constantly. Take everything out of their mouths with a whole-ass salt mine. Even when you want to believe it. Especially if it’s something designed to elicit sympathy from others, like Kathleen’s convenient “disclosure” of being a rape victim. I’ve dealt with enough abusers to know exactly what she’s doing here — “But I’m not abusive because I was abused, too! I’m the real victim here!”
    I don’t trust Kathleen as far as I can throw her, and will not give her the BOTD on anything.

  16. says

    Silent Service “What I really want to know is; is she really checking everybody out closely enough to see everybody’s genitals in the changing room? I’ve been in a lot of changing rooms at a gym, and went through boot camp where everybody lives in an open bay dorm with gang showers, and I can’t for the life of me remember examining anybody’s equipment in that kind of setting.”

    THIS! NOBODY pays that much attention to other people’s junk in the locker room! If she is, well, she’s the creep!

  17. says

    @13 Pierce R. Butler

    I’ll ask for a little more care with that sort of thing, please. With the kind of garbage discourse we have to wade through all the time, this read mroe than a little as though you were opening with claiming the TERFs were right. You weren’t, of course, but it is such an incredibly sensitive point that the reaction is awfully hard to shake once it’s been triggered.

    That said, I agree with your greater points. The civil rights of prisoners, what the imprisoning state owes to those whose freedoms it removes, is way way underserved… I was going to cite a country or collection of them, but really, everywhere. I’m no fan of the carceral state, and while I haven’t quite been swayed all the way to full prison abolition, I’m not far off it.

    @everyone else

    Thank you! I appreciate the input, and these are good comments.

    I’ll say this: Kathleen is not a dyed-in-the-wool TERF by any means. She has taken several positions, made several concessions, that full-on TERFs don’t. She is, however, someone who is leaning to their thinking, because deep down she can’t quite believe that trans people are real. I have the impression that despite her doubling-down, she is trying to be a good person. She just can’t get over the last thing.

    The difference is, deep down, TERFs think trans women are outright sexual predators out to force people into their fetish; Chappelle thinks trans woman are bougie drag queens who aren’t themselves a problem per se but definitely a worthy target he imagines are privileged; and Kathleen thinks trans women are poor dears who have no choice but to live as they do, but, when it comes RIGHT down to it, still men who should therefore understand that the need to accomodate ‘real’ women is greater.

    None of them think anything about other kinds of trans people, barring TERFs usually thinking trans men are lesbian victims of trans women.

  18. Aoife_b says

    You cannot bend the world to all of your traumas, as much as we may want otherwise.

    And note that once again, trans women bear the responsibility for what a cis man did according to her argument

  19. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    Yeah, it was a super, *super* bad look that someone turned up to one forum about one kind of bad ally to showcase in prime fashion how to be another kind.

    What was really telling was that her reaction to being asked to say the absolute minimum was then to say “What can I deviate on without being called a transphobe?” I dunno, but not literally the core basis of the bigotry? It’s like someone using a racial slur, admitting in the abstract that using racial slurs is wrong without apologizing, and then asking what one can do to not be called a racist. Try clearing the elementary level first!

    It’s also telling that people like her are engaging in some pretty obvious cognitive biases. When you aren’t willing to actually dismiss bigoted arguments as being beneath consideration, then the arguments of non-bigots can seem like orthodoxy. But that’s sheer cognitive bias, nothing more. There are countless issues trans activists and their allies disagree about, from tactics and tone to specifics about identity onward. Her asking indicates two things:

    1) She isn’t aware that there is such disagreement (which is fine and remediable disagreement)
    2) She wasn’t intellectually curious enough to check or empathetic enough to realize that maybe other human beings might have disagreements they find important, such that it was so transparently obvious that there is some orthodoxy rather than broad agreement on the fact that trans people are valid (this is the not-so-good-part)

    @6/7: It gets worse. Her specific trauma has to do with male genitalia, but there are plenty of people, male and female, who have been victims of female sexual abusers. She would almost certainly not take kindly to the idea that her body should be policed as a result. So she was almost certainly asking a lot of other people, both cis and trans men, to be policed for the sake of her *feeling* better. Not actually being truly safer, but simply feeling safer. Yes, feelings matter, and yes, accommodations should be made especially in cases of psychological harm, but it is simply not possible for everyone to have all of their emotional needs gratified by society all of the time. And this isn’t a subtle point: We all know that.

    (Incidentally, *that’s* a good example of areas where people of good faith disagree: What should our distribution of labor be between society and the individual for managing emotional labor and self-work? What accommodations are reasonable to ask for and what ones aren’t? The accommodation she was asking for was so far over the line, *if* you assume trans people should be treated as stakeholders, that it’s not a good test case, but there’s a broad truth there).

    @9/13: But that’s a separate discussion. Our prisons suck beyond what the law should and actually does (given the proper application of human rights rules) allow. But the law shouldn’t exempt trans people as a result of that. It should fix prisons. However, it *should* take special care to protect trans people, who are obviously at a great risk of abuse.

    @16/17: I am very careful when alleging bad faith when it comes to complaints around abuse. They do exist, and are in fact quite frequent, but the risk of a false positive or negative is just so catastrophic. It is wholly possible that she sincerely felt everything she said… which would just be a case of someone who has been victimized making an unreasonable request. That’s going to happen. The circumstances that generate the request deserve sympathy, but we let such people down if we let them lose their integrity by even considering the request. Luckily, it doesn’t matter.

  20. sonofrojblake says

    Wow, that is a tricky argument.

    What it comes down to, I think, is this claim:

    I think I’m entitled to a safe space where I’m not going to be triggered

    You are. It’s called your home. Or your friends’ homes, maybe. Anywhere public realistically presents a risk you’re not going to be able to control, at least in part because the people creating those spaces can’t be expected to know your triggers in advance. Any clothing optional space comes with the implied trigger warning “NAKED PEOPLE AHEAD”, and it being 2021 that means you could see ANYTHING. And you simply have to take that into account. And, y’know, don’t check out people’s junk. /shrug/

    Feels icky saying that shit to a rape survivor though.

  21. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @21: It feels icky, but getting over that feeling is critical. Nothing about being a victim of sexual assault means that a person should be spoken to or interacted with like they’re not a morally autonomous person. In fact, not treating them that way is a form of secondary victimization. The tone and approach and timing may change (though in this case Kathleen came into a very public space then made arguments without disclosing her status and then finally disclosed her status in a context where she had already made others angry, so she was basically starting to get bounced from a space which is exactly what one would do), but the fundamental points won’t. No one can promise anyone absolute safety *anywhere*, let alone in public, and the demand for it is in fact the demand that everyone else be a lot less safe and secure. That’s a universal point; the issue of trans folks in bathrooms is just a special case of it.

    And Kathleen knows it, because what Kathleen asks for today can be used against her tomorrow. I pointed to the case of a male abuse survivor whose abuser was male. Why should he have to be surrounded by genitalia? Shouldn’t he be changing in a different environment? Or a female victim of abuse by lesbian women: Should she be able to insist that women not change around her? Kathleen doesn’t want to see a penis, and that’s totally fine and understandable, but then a bunch of men are interacting with someone who is presenting as a woman, and that is going to be awkward for many and triggering for a very few. There is no perfect compromise here. And if Kathleen would want to make an argument based off of who is a minority, well, she’s a lesbian rape victim. She’s a minority.

    No society can function if those who have been harmed are granted unlimited latitude. That’s the attitude of the “tough on crime” right. Our rights did not disappear because Kathleen’s were violated. That would remain true *even if* what Kathleen was doing, saying and demanding were not going to be deeply harmful to other PTSD survivors.

    Kathleen’s disingenuity makes fairly clear that she has some other actual reason she’s concerned and all of her appearances are just pretense, but the point doesn’t change. CD pointed out that the move that would best accommodate everyone is to insure that there are always changing spaces that have sufficient privacy (stalls or separate rooms) that are usable by anyone for any reason, no questions asked. The fact that Kathleen didn’t immediately propose that, and realize that that would protect everyone (including trans women who are lesbians and trans women who are straight), says something, and the most likely thing is that, no matter her ability to publicly say that trans people are valid, she doesn’t actually really believe they are.

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