Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where the abuser intentionally manipulates the physical environment or mental state of the abusee, and then deflects responsibility by provoking the abusee to think that the changes reside in their imagination, thus constituting a weakened perception of reality (Akhtar, 2009; Barton & Whitehead, 1969; Dorpat, 1996; Smith & Sinanan, 1972). By repeatedly and convincingly offering explanations that depict the victim as unstable, the abuser can control the victim’s perception of reality while maintaining a position of truth-holder and authority.
Roberts, Tuesda, and Dorinda J. Carter Andrews. “A Critical Race Analysis of the Gaslighting against African American Teachers.” Contesting the Myth of a” Post Racial Era”: The Continued Significance of Race in US Education, 2013, 69–94.
A small but growing amount of the scientific literature considers gaslighting a form of abuse. It’s also worth knowing about a close cousin of gaslighting known as “DARVO.”
DARVO refers to a reaction perpetrators of wrong doing, particularly sexual offenders, may display in response to being held accountable for their behavior. DARVO stands for “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.” The perpetrator or offender may Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim — or the whistle blower — into an alleged offender. This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of “falsely accused” and attacks the accuser’s credibility and blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation. […]
In a 2017 peer-reviewed open-access research study, Perpetrator Responses to Victim Confrontation: DARVO and Victim Self-Blame, Harsey, Zurbriggen, & Freyd reported that: “(1) DARVO was commonly used by individuals who were confronted; (2) women were more likely to be exposed to DARVO than men during confrontations; (3) the three components of DARVO were positively correlated, supporting the theoretical construction of DARVO; and (4) higher levels of exposure to DARVO during a confrontation were associated with increased perceptions of self-blame among the confronters. These results provide evidence for the existence of DARVO as a perpetrator strategy and establish a relationship between DARVO exposure and feelings of self-blame.
If DARVO seems vaguely familiar, that’s because it’s a popular tactic in the far-Right. Brett Kavanaugh used it during his Congressional hearing, this YouTuber encountered it quite a bit among the Proud Boys, and even RationalWiki’s explanation of it invokes the Christian far-Right. DARVO may be common among sexual abusers, but it’s important to stress that it’s not exclusive to them. It’s best to think of this solely as an abusive tactic to evade scrutiny, without that extra baggage.
[4:41] There’s a small but very loud group which are incessantly distorting my views and calling me transphobic, and there’s nothing I can really do about that within the realm of being respectful. It’s very unfortunate though, because they are hurting the very community that they are claiming to fight for, and that sucks.
That quote was from a Q&A session posted after his transphobic video, but I’ve been getting a DARVO vibe from Rationality Rules since the beginning:
Not only is he pulling out the “my black friend agrees with me” defense, he’s actually saying the transgender people criticizing him do more harm to the transgender community than his misinformation! Like, wow. WOW.
In that earlier video he also claimed to have “defended the LGBT+ community countless times throughout [his] short career,” when in reality he put out a single video about hatred towards gay people by Muslims. That’s already absurd, but his latest video cranks these tactics to incredible heights.
[1:58] [After my first video on transgender athletes], people such as Noel Plum, Thomas Westbrook, Eric Murphy, Matt Dillahunty and Shannon Q reached out to me and explained where I had went wrong, and as a result I unlisted the video, donated the ad revenue, apologised, issued corrections, and then finally, on the 15th of June, I published my new view.
[4:10] Now, given the accusation of me deliberately jumping on the anti-trans bandwagon, I didn’t originally watch the rest of [EoT’s] video – I did as I do with all criticism that’s mired in false accusations – I moved on. Hence, I didn’t recognise the colossal mistakes that I had made until shortly before (and during) my visit to Austin. It wasn’t until people honestly engaged with me, without assuming that I had malicious intent, that I recognised my mistakes.
[6:26] However, because I didn’t completely capitulate to Ethel’s accusations of transphobia, or pretend that it was her, and not others, that changed my mind …
I can’t speak to three of those names, but I know both Matt Dillahunty and Noel Plum are on the record as stating there was nothing transphobic in that original video. RR is blatantly rewriting history to cast his defenders as his critics, in the process erasing all the criticism he received from other quarters. He’s also downplaying his video where he spent some time thanking EssenceOfThought for pointing out mistakes he made.
[7:52] EssenceOfThought: There’s also another trick at play here. By focusing on the typical range of testosterone whilst discussing national and international level sports, you are implicitly claiming that women at such sporting events as the Olympics are representative of the typical woman.
[8:05] Rationality Rules: This is also a fair criticism. I should’ve emphasised that while female athletes have, with very few exceptions, testosterone levels within the typical range for non-athletes, they do tend to sit on the higher part of that range…
Which timeline is more likely: he gets gentle critiques from Matt Dillahunty and Noel Plum after his video is released, nothing public happens for weeks or months, and then RR announces he screwed up and delists the original video. Alternatively, EssenceOfThought published a much-delayed critique, and between that and the ACA statement’s it made RR fear he’d lose his cash flow. Within hours of EoT demanding he delist the video and donate the profits, he did so in order to protect his bank account. The fact that RR’s first on-camera announcement of the demonitization arrives in the middle of a video about EssenceOfThought strongly suggests that they, and not anyone else, prompted the delisting.
Think I’m reading too much into Rationality Rules? He straight-up admits to this fear.
[4:38] … while flying back from the warm hospitality of the ACA, the ACA publicly denounced me, and since receiving a denouncement from such a large and respected organisation can be career ending, I had to put everything aside in order to respond immediately, which, despite being exhausted, is exactly what I did.
This is gaslighting on a scale I’ve rarely seen. And we’re barely started!
[2:17] Another conviction that I have that’s worth emphasizing is that I believe that we need to make substantial changes to most sporting and athletic categories, because 1 – as it stands, many of them are not based on the actual attributes that matter; and 2 – we’re currently telling trans women that they can’t compete in the “women’s category”, and that’s not right. That needs to be fixed.
The same Rationality Rules who said this…
[1:15] In a nutshell, I find the arguments and logic that currently permit transgender women to compete against biological women to be remarkably flawed, and I’m convinced that unless quickly rectified, this will KILL women’s sports.
[14:00] I don’t want to see the day when women’s athletics is dominated by Y chromosomes, but without a change in policy, that is precisely what’s going to happen.
… and twice thumbnailed his videos with images of macho transgender women gloating in front of faded and defeated cisgender women, is still trying to paint himself as an ally of the transgender community. There’s also the slight problem that RR’s “substantial changes” are to segregate sports by natal testosterone level, which would destroy women’s sports to prevent transgender women from competing as women. You know, the very thing he’s claiming he doesn’t want to do!
[3:12] Just like the aforementioned people, Ethel accurately pointed out many of my mistakes… but unlike the previous people, she incessantly assigned to me malice motive – she insisted that I had made the video with the intent of deliberately hurting trans people.
If this feels like deja-vu, that’s because Rationality Rules has already made these accusations, and EssenceOfThought has long since pointed out how RR is quotemining them. And yet, RR repeats the exact same accusations as if EoT said nothing. These are just one of many examples of him misrepresenting and quote-mining his critics. One time could be forgiven as ignorance; multiple times point to malice. Speaking of which:
[7:00] What’s more, because Sarah, a trans woman, didn’t agree with Ethel’s accusations and narrative, Ethel dismissed Sarah a merely a token, and has since called her a “hatespeech apologist”, while others in Ethel’s group have been calling Sarah a transphobe. *sigh* Honestly, the way that Sarah has been treated by these people is quite frankly disgusting. I am sorry, Sarah, that you’re having to deal with this. You deserve so much better, especially from this community.
Behold EssenceOfThought’s savage treatment of Sarah:
[10:51] Now does the fact that a trans person made a video in support of you and various people claiming to be trans commented in support actually mean anything? No. The idea of Tokenism or Uncle Toms is well and truly understood. We’ve all heard the ‘I can’t be racist, I have a black friend’ or ‘I can’t be sexist, I have a mum’ argument. It doesn’t work. It’s also used by the lowest of the low. [clip of Trump asking people to “look at my African-American over here.”]
And I don’t have to rely on comparisons between race and gender. I can also note the fact that during Trump’s election campaign, right up to October of 2018, trans woman Caitlyn Jenner supported the Trump administration. Now are you going to look me in the eye and tell me that Donald Trump and the people he’s filled the Whitehouse with are not anti-LGBT+.
Sarah’s fine. EoT calls her a token because Rationality Rules uses her as a token, not because EoT considers Sarah an object. Through the magic of quote-mining, RR is able to make it look like the latter instead of the former. He then has the cheek to turn around and use two transgender women as tokens, who themselves accuse EssenceOfThought of doing something she’s never done! It’s hard for me to keep a grip on reality here, and I’m an outsider looking in.
But there’s a few missing pieces. Why is Rationality Rules going on the offensive now? EssenceOfThought’s last video about Rationality Rules was two months ago, and even that was a summary. Come to think of it, if Rationality Rules is as concerned about his public image as he hints at, why is he going after EssenceOfThought? They may be his most effective critic, but I’m the one who’s done the most damage to his reputation.
The answer to both questions, I think, lies with Rachel Oates. In one of the comment sections of EoT’s videos, I spotted her name being brought up and a response from EoT saying she’d be blocked and banned for harassment of EoT. In the months after, supporters of Oates have continued to target EssenceOfThought, and EoT hit their limit on September 2nd. They got into a rant with one of the supporters of Oates, and said this:
That’s a demonstrable lie. Steven Woodford is a violent transphobe, and you are all his fucking church. You turn a blind eye, target and abuse the victims of his violence, lie to protect his name. Do the world a favor and exit it.
EoT clarified what they meant within a day …
EDITED “That’s a demonstrable lie. Steven Woodford is a violent transphobe, and you are all his fucking church. You turn a blind eye, target and abuse the victims of his violence, lie to protect his name. Do the world a favor and deconvert.”
Still, the damage had been done. Rachel Oates posted an unlisted YouTube video to her Twitter feed, claimed that she was considering suicide due to harassment from EssenceOfThought. The situation was then made worse by EoT doing the right thing.
Before we continue both admins at EssenceOfThought (Peter/Ethel & Udita) would just like to state that we will not be answering any questions whilst there is an ongoing police investigation into the matter and abusive content will be blocked. […]
Though at first Peter/Ethel didn’t know about the video, once they realised the severity of what had apparently transpired we, the admins of EssenceOfThought, contacted the Metropolitan Police by their overseas contact number to alert them to the existence of an individual in London who is at risk to themselves. We have no knowledge about whether Oates lives alone or where she was currently at, so decided informing the UK police to be the best step in ensuring her safety.
This sets up a perfect ad hominem attack. No-one would dare accuse Oates of lying about self-harm in order to hurt EoT, and since EoT cannot speak freely to defend themselves the narrative is controlled by Oates and her supporters. A number of transphobes have leapt in to exploit Oates’ pain to attack EoT’s reputation. Or, put more explicitly, they’re
- Deny Rationality Rules is a transphobe.
- Attack the credibility of the loudest person accusing Rationality Rules of being transphobic.
- Reversing victim and perpetrator roles, by casting the target of harassment as a harasser and vice-versa.
What’s more despicable is that I’m a middle-aged cis white man. Wait, I can phrase that better. Take two:
I’m a middle-aged cis white male who isn’t financially dependent on this blog. I don’t have any social media that can be swarmed, and I’ve very careful about what I reveal about myself as I’m aware of how it can be leveraged. EoT, in contrast, is a non-binary transgender person who depends on their videos and Patreon to survive. They have public Twitter and YouTube channels that can be swarmed. They have been public about the hardships they’ve faced, including the harassment RR’s followers have dumped on them, and the health issues that dealing with RR has caused.
Rationality Rules and supporters cannot harm me, but they could harm EssenceOfThought by using their larger platforms to trash EoT’s reputation and cut into their revenue stream. Faced with two targets, they chose the weaker and more vulnerable one.
That also explains why Rationality Rules made this video. He can’t win against EoT’s arguments, and his repeated falsehoods and misrepresentations suggest he knows this. But the sooner he joins in the pile-on with his own video, the more emotional and financial damage he can inflict on EssenceOfThought. Hence why he’s gleefully breaking out his sharpest knives.
[9:24] On the 15th of June, I published my updated views, and seven days later Ethel published a response titled “Rationality Rules Proves Himself a Transphobic Hack”, in which, of course, she continued with all the same accusations, and once again declared me not to be an ally (again, as if she speaks for the entire trans community).
[12:00] NOEL PLUM: The truth of the matter is, is that effectively in saying what he’s saying, Essence of Thought has said, to the majority of people who have sided with him, you are transphobes. Your position is, transphobic unless you adopt this position that anyone who identifies as a woman gets to compete in this category, then you are holding a transphobic position. And he’s masterstroke is that it seems to have done the trick, and nobody’s arguing – none of his supporters are arguing with him.
[12:32] RATIONALITY RULES: Indeed, this is a classic cult move, though I think that it’s only really worked because Ethel deletes anyone’s comment which doesn’t fit her narrative, which is why her videos have massive numbers of dislikes, yet no real criticism in the comment; it’s an echo chamber. Ethel treats her subscribers like mushrooms – she keeps them in the dark and feeds them crap.
[14:16] Couple these statements with Ethel’s assertions of me calling for violence – yes, violence – against the trans community, and we have a very serious situation indeed. In her struggle to stay relevant, Ethel has grotesquely manipulated a narrative in order to weaponizing a marginalised community, and honestly, it’s reprehensible. What’s more, by calling me a violent transphobe for my not being convinced that the burden has been met for SOME events, Ethel and her cult are legitimising actual violent transphobes, and that angers me! People are seeing these accusations, and when they realise that it’s nonsense – when the realise that it’s defamatory – they are, understandingly,
assuming that the same is true of the legitimate accusations made against actual transphobes… this, as anyone with eyes can see, is detrimental to the trans community.
That isn’t argument. That isn’t debate. That is targeted abuse that will be amplified by social media and echo for weeks, months, maybe years. And it’s about damn time we listened to the science on this.