Only stupid hurtful memes about trans people are allowed

I recommended that short story by Isabel Fell, “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” to you all because I liked it. I liked it a lot, actually; it made me think. I didn’t see it as an attack on transgender people at all, but instead as a pointed repurposing of a right-wing meme to create a better perspective on the complexity of sex and gender, and it was effective at that, and that was also the intent of the author.

You can’t read it now, because the story was pulled by the editor to protect the author.

Yesterday, I removed the story “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” by Isabel Fall from the current issue of Clarkesworld Magazine. The recent barrage of attacks on Isabel have taken a toll and I ask that even if you disagree with the decision, that you respect it. This is not censorship. She needed this to be done for her own personal safety and health. It does not rule out the possibility that the story will be restored (changed or unchanged) at some future point, but that’s not our priority right now.

There’s a lot of explanation at that link, but this one jumped out at me.

Isabel’s bio is intentionally short and internet presence negligible. I understand that to be a common practice for trans people who are wary of attacks from anti-trans campaigners. Unfortunately, the same shield used against them opened her up to an unexpected attack from others. Furthermore, Isabel was not out as trans when this story was published. Various claims being made against her pressured Isabel into publicly outing herself as a defense against the attacks. That should never be the case and is very disturbing to me.

Yeah, disturbing to me, too. Apparently there was a lot of foofaraw in comments there that were accusing the author of being anti-trans or some such nonsense (the comments are gone now, too) by, I presume, people who didn’t actually read the story and leapt to conclusions from the title. This is ghastly and unforgivable.

The retraction of the story has also been written up in The Guardian.

Have you noticed how some shitty male comedian can make unfunny, superficial jokes about trans people, and they get rewarded with a Netflix special or an HBO series, while a trans woman can make a serious exploration of the real issues behind the joke, and they get outed and their story erased? That’s the real cliche here.


  1. says

    I just thought the story was kind of silly, actually.

    To be honest, I don’t know what Ms. Fell could have been thinking. Assuming the critics who claimed trans identities did so honestly, I can sympathize a bit for their overreaction. Trans representation in the media has never been very good, especially in the ’70s and ’80s where it ranged from casual displays of utter contempt at worst to patronizing and grossly ill-informed support (with the sole possible exception of an episode of ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’) at best. I don’t think that justifies any hostility, but I think that Ms. Fell ought to have anticipated that some of us are very mindful about negative media portrayals.

    I also kind of worry about the people who didn’t get that the joke was on them.

  2. says

    I didn’t read the story when you recommended it (don’t have time to read all these things) but I felt like the excerpt was pretty confusing and I had no idea what it was trying to say. I still do not. Sorry to hear that the author was harassed. I don’t think that was warranted regardless of the merits of the short story.

  3. Allison says

    To be honest, I just found the conceit confusing.

    But part of that is that I find the whole “I identify as …” trope confusing. Mostly because the way “man” or “woman” (or “male” or “female”) are used, they can mean all sorts of unrelated things. Mostly, though, it always seemed like “you’re a boy” was just some mishegoss that society tried to brainwash me with to get me to do stuff I didn’t want to do or to stop doing stuff I wanted to do. (And apparently there are some trans people who want to tell me “you’e a woman” and then use that as an excuse to tell me what to do and not do.) I’ve never had that inner conviction that “I am a woman” or “I am a man,” but I have to recognize that a lot of people do. (And a lot of people — cis and trans — don’t.) For a long time, I thought it meant I couldn’t be trans.

    The bottom line is that when someone says “I identify as a girl” or “I identify as a boy,” I’m never quite sure what they mean by that. So if someone were to seriously say “I identify as a helicopter,” I’d want to know what the heck they mean by that.

    The only thing I was able to make of what the author was saying was that, for the narrator, being someone who operated an attack helicopter defined who she was more deeply than the words “man” or “woman” could. I kind of get that: “I am a techie” and “I am a feminist” and my connection to music describe the core of who I am far more than “male” or “female.”

    But the gender analysis stuff she talked about made no sense to me at all.

  4. says

    I can’t recommend it enough, but there’s a webcomic called “Skin Horse”.
    The entire comic is based around the idea that people who are “different” deserve respect and acceptance. One of the main characters is literally an attack helicopter. He’s a gamer who had his brain scooped out and transferred to his attack helicopter body. He’s also a pacifist. Now he helps the rest of the Skin Horse team defend the rights of “non human sapients”. I like to think “non human sentients” is a metaphor for weirdos like me.

  5. Aoife_b says

    I’m trans and I liked it. I found it to be an interesting transhumanist concept, but I just like that kinda stuff in general

  6. A Sloth named Sparkles says

    “…. and they get rewarded with a Netflix special”

    Ugh, please don’t put Ricky Gervais on another crucified pose again.

  7. says

    Isabel’s bio is intentionally short and internet presence negligible.

    Although my legal name is mentioned in various places around the internet (usually associated with publications), I have literally zero presence on the internet under that name. I’ve even published some professional things under a pseudonym, so there’s no guarantee that even if you were looking for my professional work you could find it using my legal name. That’s how much I’ve avoided putting my name on the internet.

    This has been true since before social media even existed, and relates back to a telephoned credible threat I received that someone would send a package bomb to my address. The next time they called, they rattled off what they thought was my address. It was the address I had just moved from a couple months before, and that still had mail forwarding for a couple months yet.

    I had told my partner (with whom I was living) about the initial threat, but downplayed it. I told a couple more about the threat when they had my most recent address. I would have ignored it, but they (rhetorically) slapped me silly. After that conversation I started fixating on the fact that if such a bomb were ever to be sent, it might not be opened by me. I started having dreams about my partner blowing up before my eyes, unable to stop it.

    The dreams didn’t last very long, and I had PTSD from the violence and post-breakup stalking from a violent relationship of mine long before this happened. But the people around me extracted a promise that I would avoid putting things about myself on the internet and that if I couldn’t do it for myself, I would do it for others. I’ve kept that promise for 20 years and more. In fact, it still often constrains how much I’m willing to say about my personal life here (though I’m not all that careful anymore and think that if someone were determined they could probably figure out how to connect “crip dyke” to a legal name).

    But, yeah. How much do I lose not having social media? Having those easy connections with people? How much has that hindered my public speaking career? My writing career? I’ll never know, because I’ve never experienced it. Threats took that away. But yeah, when I see people shamelessly self-promoting, I can be happy for them, but every once in a while I just wish I could do that.

    Who knows, maybe when there’s no one around me that I care about anymore, I won’t have to worry about how trans* activists are targeted. I won’t worry about how being forced to move would force people I love to move. But maybe I’ll keep on exactly as I have been, because I made a promise, and I take those seriously, and because acting as if being seen on the internet makes me target is just habit at this point.

    I mean, probably things aren’t as bad now. Most of the murders of trans* folk in Canada can’t be traced back to activism. Most of the murders are of trans* women of color, and I’m white. There’s also basic demographics: with more trans* people to attack, I’m less likely to be the target of any one violent fanatic.

    And, sure, I’m out as fuck in my off-line life. But I never let the two meet. Partly because I made a promise, partly … just in case.

  8. says

    “This is not censorship. She needed this to be done for her own personal safety and health.”
    Harassing an author so intensely that they withdraw their story from publication for the sake of their very safety is the most powerful definition of censorship I could imagine.

  9. says

    @Martin Wagner:

    While I agree with you, and even thought the same thing briefly myself, I didn’t comment about it because I thought it was clear that what they were saying was that Clarkesword’s action was not censorship: it was undertaken at the request of the author. I think what they’re trying to say is, “Don’t blame us!”

    And they’re right. The people at Clarkesworld aren’t to blame. As you have pointed out, it’s the people “harassing an author so intensely that they withdraw their story from publication for the sake of their very safety” that are to blame.

  10. says

    @11 WMDKitty

    Like in the original topic of this thread what makes me sad in the ContraPoints situation is that the trans community (of which I am a member) seems to spend more time tearing each other down than they do our external antagonists. So many people refuse to give a charitable reading of the explanations or even believe flat out denials that this is what they meant or believe. I have seen trans bloggers. video makers, and just people who made an unfortunate tweet or Facebook post torn down brutally. We as a community seem to do a really good job of wiping out any of our own who begin having an audience. Could we not give people the benefit of the doubt and try building each other up?

  11. says

    @12 anna
    My experience with a lot of these things, ContraPoints specifically and some others here on Freethought Blogs, is that there’s plenty of benefit of the doubt given. The first few times. But many people don’t see the “drama” until it’s been several times. That straw that breaks the camel’s back; it doesn’t look like a big deal on its own, but it’s just the latest example and people have run out of doubt to give the benefit of. Usually because it’s not just a repeated string of mistakes, or “mistakes”, but also poor reactions to the criticism that drains that pool of doubt quite rapidly.

    Though relatedly marginalized groups criticizing someone publicly generally don’t get any benefit of the doubt, even by people insisting there’s doubt about their friend/hero that they deserve the benefit of. Even people who have been on the other side with other issues.

  12. says

    @13 John-Henry Beck
    I think both the people leveling criticism and those being criticized in marginalized communities deserve the benefit of the doubt. What I find unacceptable is the level of relentless criticism being leveled. I don’t even like ContraPoints but I think the dozen or so videos I have seen on the Buck Angel incident and the hundreds of tweets and Facebook posts more than a little excessive. I don’t see this kind of sustained effort at people outside the community and I think that is an unhealthy instinct. The fact that it elevates into threats and attempts to isolate people from their own community even worse. There is a point with marginalized people that even if they are a bit shitty on a subject they are still marginalized and you should just back off and ignore them. If they are a lawmaker or such that is different. Otherwise they are probably already face enough hate for who they are.

  13. says

    “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

    @14 Would you care to think about why I might consider the above quote as being relevant to the current discussion?

  14. chrislawson says

    Allison: ‘(And apparently there are some trans people who want to tell me “you’e a woman” and then use that as an excuse to tell me what to do and not do.)’

    Any examples come to mind?

  15. says

    @14 anna
    How do you back off and ignore someone who has a big platform and keeps doing more harm?
    Yeah, Contra is getting a lot of hate and some of it is vicious and bad faith. So, by the way, are the non-binary good-faith critics, from Contra stans and various bad faith actors jumping on the opportunity. They’re just less visible so you don’t hear about it as easily.
    So, anyway, all that stuff about backing off and leaving people alone applies to Contra and her stans as much as her critics.

    As far as the volume of responses…that’s a factor of the size of her platform. When you fuck up in front of a lot of people, several people are going to have something to say. You end up with the volume looking like harassment perhaps, but that’s hard to avoid when doing that on a large platform. Relatedly, there’s also the issue that Contra keeps fanning the flames, another feature of this sort of thing I’ve seen plenty of times.

  16. says

    From what I’ve seen, Buck Angel is pretty clearly a bigot and a fuckhead, and I find it easy to stand up against the things he’s said that have been brought to my attention …

    …with one exception. Buck Angel has been criticized for one particular tweet that says nothing except what his own experience and journey have been, using “I statements”.

    If Hitler says, “I am not a Jew,” even if he says, “I don’t celebrate Passover, I don’t go to temple, and I wasn’t born to a Jewish mother, so I will never consider myself a Jew,” I don’t think the right thing to do is attack him for that. Even if in the context of his genocidal anti-semitism it’s easy to conclude that the statement carries an offensive connotation, the right to say true things about ourselves is so absolute I can’t imagine any exceptions. Moreover, if we don’t allow people to say true things about themselves if someone else is hurt by those statements, then I would never be able to say that I’m trans or a woman or an atheist or even a fucking liberal because there are people around the world offended by those things, who feel hurt and threatened by those things.

    Buck Angel is a bigot and Contrapoints shouldn’t have promoted him, but I really wish the people doing the good work of opposing Angel and criticizing Contrapoints wouldn’t use that one argument based on that one tweet.

  17. says

    @18 John-Henry Buck
    I absolutely believe the backing off should apply to Contrapoints and people supporting them as well. I certainly don’t think Contrapoints is right. I just think we should maybe look at why we have bigger fights in group than out group. I mostly stayed quiet up to this point even though I saw pretty much the whole dust up. It seems to me that both ‘sides’ (since there is more nuance than just sides) have had there say over and over for months now but the attacking keeps continuing. It also seems the majority of the attacks have shifted from issues to attacks on the persons involved.

  18. says

    @16 Susan Montgomery

    I never said anything about the absence of tension or criticism. I was specifically talking about excessive criticism. My first two lines should have made that clear.

  19. says

    @23 WMDKitty

    She should be called on her words. I totally agree with that. I think it is clear some people are being extremely hostile. The comments on videos and twitter can be very nasty and have frequently moved from you should not have used Buck Angel because he is problematic to you hate NB people.I really wonder what it is she needs to do to make it stop since she has clearly stated she doesn’t really want to be part of this dialogue anymore. I would be afraid in her position in the internet age as a trans person considering how hostility can escalate. Some of her fans are attacking back and that needs to stop as well

    Also, I wonder what it is you wanted addressed in your first post on this subject? What do you want people who are not ContraPoints to say and do on this issue? Why do other people need to comment at all? I saw calls for other video creators to condemn her but that seems like an attempt to distance her from her own community. She answers for her positions not everyone who knows her. This is the stuff I have a problem with. I think many of the first calls for her to address the problem of Buck Angel were excellent but now they seem to be calls for everyone to abandon her. This is a pattern I see where trans people are criticized disproportionately to those who are deliberately attack our community.

  20. logicalcat says

    To paraphrase Contrapoints “the harrassment from my own community hurt more than any harrassment from transphobic nazis.”

    The twitter woke community is starting to remind me of the skeptic community during elevatorgate where it became clear that people joined not because they care but because it was an outlet to look down on others and feel superior. With the skeptics it was intellectual superiority through their superior “logic”. With twitter is how perfect and pure your “wokeness” is.

  21. logicalcat says


    Because they dont actualy care. They want to tear people down. Nothing short of omiscience would have been enough to avoid the conflict. And yes there are legitimate points against Natalie Wynn ppl can make but at the end of the day the woman who has made several videos legitimizing nonbinary ppl changing the minds of many who would have seen them as transtrenders, is one of the good guys. I mean for jebus sake they harrassed her friends just for being associated with her while everyone is bothsiding this whole thing and not see4ong it for what it is. You can even see it in the previous thread about this with people straight up lieing about contrapoints only caring ablut her feelings and no one elses. Twostong what she says in the same vein toxic gamers used to do with Anita Sarkesian.

  22. says

    The twitter woke community is starting to remind me of the skeptic community during elevatorgate where it became clear that people joined not because they care but because it was an outlet to look down on others and feel superior. With the skeptics it was intellectual superiority through their superior “logic”. With twitter is how perfect and pure your “wokeness” is.

    I really, really don’t think that this is it.

    I saw the same things in the 90s and 00s around the DSM wars. As you said:
    To paraphrase Contrapoints “the harrassment from my own community hurt more than any harrassment from transphobic nazis.”

    It’s one thing to get shit from outside your community, because 1) you expect it from them, and 2) you always have safe community into which to retreat and recharge.

    When shit (or perceived shit) comes from inside the community it both hurts more because your defenses are down, and it’s much scarier because where will you find safety now? This leads some to lash out more (because it hurt more) and some people to panic.

    This is terrible for community building, but it’s actually a natural human response. Asserting that people are doing it for some sadistic “wokeness” competition is both certainly wrong for the vast majority of people engaged in lashing out/panicky behavior and also compounding the problem.

    It’s okay criticize people – both Natalie /her supporters and the people criticizing Natalie. But if our criticisms are both wrong and harsh, it sure as fuck won’t help us out of the crisis we’re in.