Is the Gender Critical Movement Still a Cult?

When sitting down to type up this post, I thought I’d do a little follow-up on an old story. I was surprised when I ran across this:

PinkNews and Julie Bindel are pleased to confirm that they have settled the case over the article PinkNews published on 17 May 2020, which chronicled a young American’s account of their recruitment to and time involved with a ‘gender critical cult’. The article made a number of serious allegations of misconduct and PinkNews accepts that if the allegations were understood to refer to Julie, they would be wholly untrue.

“Julie Bindel accepts that PinkNews published the article without intending to make any such reference to her. PinkNews is sorry for the distress the article caused. It has taken down the article and will not be republishing it. PinkNews has revised its editorial processes.”

What?! Beau Dyess had quite a few screenshots in their corner, so how could the story turn on a dime like that?

The next day, I read the article. It referred to high-profile lesbian journalists and was based on an interview with an American woman called Amy Dyess (now known as Beau Dyess), with whom I had briefly spoken a few months earlier when she was planning to come over to the UK to speak at the same event as me. I had cut off all contact with Dyess after I grew tired of her constant slating of a number of feminists I respected — I had heard she was not pleased at being rejected. […]

Over the years, I have swallowed so many accusations of transphobia by PinkNews. But this was on a different level. It was devastating for me to be, as I saw it, implicated in being part of a cult that did all the things I have spent more than four decades fighting against. It seemed to me that the clear aim of the piece was to smear an entire group of feminists as abusers and cultists. If PinkNews felt able to make allegations of sexual abuse and coercive control against me, what and who would be next? I had no choice but to sue. […]

As it turned out, the interviewee, Dyess, had no proof to back up any of her serious allegations, and was soon to publicly denounce PinkNews on Twitter, claiming to have been harassed by a PinkNews staffer and their lawyer over the story, and later for “misgendering”. Dyess soon changed their name to Beau and began to identify as non-binary. In my view, Dyess was used by PinkNews, and, once they realised I really meant business and would pursue the case until the bitter end, seemed to suggest that her allegations were so ludicrous that no-one would take them seriously.

That was written by Julie Bindel, in her recounting of the story. Dyess has not commented, as far as I know, and I’d be shocked if PinkNews said anything beyond their statement above, so it’s the best I’ve got. And it’s rather full of holes; if Dyess’ accusations were “so ludicrous,” why did PinkNews fight Bindel in court for 18 months, according to Bindel? The PinkNews article may be gone, but this piece by Dyess is still up:

That, apparently, isn’t worthy of a lawsuit. Dyess certainly isn’t backing down on her claims of Bindel being abusive, nor is she erasing evidence she’s already posted. Bindel’s attempts to cast Dyess as an unreliable witness are unconvincing, as well.

It was also implied that she was not a reliable source. For example, in one letter from PinkNews’s lawyers to mine, they state:

“…the reference to the GCM as a “cult” would plainly not be taken literally and there is plenty of context to show that this use of the term ‘cult’ was Ms Dyess’s opinion and/or merely dramatic licence by her. The Article also could not be clearer that Ms Dyess’ account of her experiences roves widely and consists of an attack on multiple (largely unidentified) women she claims were part of a so-called ‘international lesbian’ network.”

Was all this legal fuss over implying Bindel was a cult leader? That could explain a lot: while Dyess’s Medium articles do imply the gender critical movement is a cult, there’s nothing there to tie in Bindel. Read the original article carefully, and the strongest cult-related accusations come from the article’s author paraphrasing Dyess rather than Dyess herself. My leading theory is that Bindel zeroed in on the cult angle, PinkNews thought they had a stronger case than they did, but after a bit of courtroom drama British libel law reared its ugly head and a settlement seemed the wiser course. With the loudest voice silenced and victory in hand, Bindel had a potent tool to discredit Dyess’ narrative. Or, alternatively, Dyess is a rotten unstable liar and manufactured every screenshot and at least one of Bindel’s tweets. Whatever the case, the key takeaway seems to be that merely implying certain gender critical feminists are part of a cult is a great way to be sued.

But that wasn’t the post I wanted to write. Instead, I wanted to take a second crack at this topic: is the gender critical movement a cult? Caelan Conrad went undercover in a number of gender critical Facebook groups.

[20:50] … Once I was in it took less than a day to realize I had been handed exactly what I was looking for on a rose gold platter. Several big-name anti-trans icons were in the group created for Carol [Marinara, Conrad’s pseudonym] and apparently they felt like this was a small enough, safe enough place to vent their other assorted bigotries. I was now in over 10 groups scattered throughout the transphobia spectrum, from casual n00b to hardcore turf, and what I saw across the board on average was worse than even the worst thing I saw on the subreddits.

As I’m typing this, Conrad’s released three videos with promises of a fourth, as well as a website containing citations and screenshots of what they encountered during their months-long investigation. Heads up, some of the screenshots are quite horrific and contain quite a bit of abuse aimed at other people. There’s a lot of content there, and after watching all the videos I can recommend them, but there’s one thing that still bugs me: for a series entitled “Inside a Cult,” it spends little time on what a cult is!

Admittedly, defining “cult” is quite hard. Conrad gets around this in the second video, by letting a popular gender critical book define the term for them.

[31:54] [Maria Keffler] actually manages to succeed in proving that, by her standards, she herself is a leader of a cult. Let’s look at an example of this. Maria says that one thing that determines whether a group is a cult [is that] “those inside the cult are the right, holy, and altruistic community, while those outside are dangerous immoral and hateful.” So she’s saying that cults make you divide up your worldview into good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains, protagonists and antagonists …

[32:59] So someone, please, tell me why she goes through all the trouble to explain that – that cults make you separate your world into protagonists and antagonists – and then, on the literal next page, tells you that you should sit down and make a list and sort everyone in your life into a list of, and I quote, “protagonist and antagonists!”

It’s a neat trick, but Keffler’s definition of a cult isn’t all that good.

Cults are fanatical groups that coalesce around a certain belief or set of beliefs. One dictionary entry aptly captures the gender-ideology manifestation:

Cult: a quasi-religious organization using devious psychological techniques to gain and control adherents.

What’s a “quasi-religious organization?” Q-anon believes the world is controlled by satan-worshipping pedophiles, which certainly counts as quasi-religious but fails the “organization” checkbox. The fundamental problem is that even if the gender critical movement is a cult by their own definition, their definition isn’t my definition let alone what someone with more expertise would use. It’s better to make an honest attempt at defining a cult and turn that on the gender critical movement. The best attempt I’ve seen is still my own:

… a religion is a social structure predicated on rituals and behaviours that depend on at least one false or unproveable assertion about the world, which uses mechanisms of social control to benefit its members. A cult is a religion that extensively uses abusive tactics to recruit and maintain members.

If we ignore all the contributions of Dyess, despite having no good reason to do so, then that takes away the “abusive tactics” portion I presented two years ago. Conrad, thankfully, provides me with a path to an alternative. Isolation is a key part of cults, as that removes forms of support that could help people resist controlling tactics or even recognize they are abusive. Keffler proposes isolating your child so they only experience reality through a gender critical lens.

[38:02] She says that “some families have packed up and moved to get out of a school district or community that promoted gender theory to the extent that the parents felt they could not shield their child from it. Families have taken away internet access and/or electronic devices.” She recommends cutting trans children off from family members who support the child as they say they are. …

[39:34] A lot of the suggestions in the book involve outright lying and manipulation to isolate the trans child from the rest of society and non-cult members – aka. “antagonists” – suggestions like breaking or pretending to break your lawnmower so your kid won’t be able to work after school, as he usually does for the neighbors who respect the child’s identity. She says that “if you can find a way to make the undesirable relationship more difficult for your child to sustain, without actually throwing down a command or ultimatum, your child will have less ammunition for calling you a hateful, bigoted dictator.” Having less evidence you were lying to them doesn’t make it less true, though. Your child being in the dark because you manipulated and gaslit them only serves to benefit the parent. She doesn’t even deny that those actions are the actions of a hateful bigot, but she only suggests ways to conceal that fact so as to more effectively control children.

But there are multiple paths to isolation and control.

GRAHAM LINEHAN: They took everything from me, you know.

STEPHEN NOLAN: Like what, what do you mean?

LINEHAN: They took my- they took my family, you know? [composes himself] Before this, all I was doing was writing comedy, and playing board games, and being silly on the internet. And then I just said, no, hang on a sec – stop calling these women TERFs, stop sending them abuse, let them speak – and for that they just destroyed me.

Full disclosure: when I first heard that clip, I howled with laughter at Linehan’s genuine pain. He was such a bigot that his family effectively disowned him, and yet he blames transgender people for the consequences of his own actions?! He is so wildly disconnected from reality that the only sane response was laughter.

But think about this from his perspective: he’s just lost contact with family members who could have given him emotional support and a contrary point of view to what he’s hearing from the gender critical crowd. We normally think of isolation tactics as being carried out by one person towards another, but you can deliberately self-isolate yourself by convincing yourself the “antagonists” are unworthy of interacting with. Alternatively, you can cut yourself off from “antagonists” if they push back on your bigoted views, or have them cut you off due to your own bigotry. The tendency of gender critical feminists to shut themselves away in private (or semi-private) Facebook groups to form their own echo chambers, free of critique, can be a form of second-hand social control. The method is quite different from the abusive tactics advocated by Keffler, but the end goal is still isolation and control.

Even if we go to the extreme of dismissing all of Dyess’ evidence, the gender critical movement can still tick every box in my definition of a cult.

Oh, and if you’re worried about Bindel suing me, don’t be.

But I have never — and would never — call myself gender critical. I don’t believe in gender in the way it is used and defined by trans activists, ie that it is innate and overrides biological sex. Therefore, for me to be “critical” of gender in this context would be the same as saying I was critical of god when I am a non-believer. There are some women, both feminists and not feminists, who refer to themselves as “gender critical”, and who came to prominence by railing against trans ideology. Many have never campaigned on any other issue relating to women’s liberation, and so I have little, if anything, in common with them.

Despite agreeing with everything the gender critical movement believes in, to the point that she is often labeled by other authors as gender critical, and being “firm friends” with gender critical feminists, she is not a gender critical feminist and has “little … in common with them.” Ergo, she cannot be a cult leader within the gender critical movement. If you thought to the contrary, you need to get your memory checked.