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Social Justice and Language
July 8, 2014 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Several recent articles draw attention to the power of demonisation, outrage and weaponised language within contemporary activist culture - and question whether this focus is doing more harm than good. Jack Halberstam, director of the Center for Feminist Research at University of Southern California: When groups that share common cause, utopian dreams and a joined mission find fault with each other instead of tearing down the banks and the bankers, the politicians and the parliaments, the university presidents and the CEOs? Instead of realizing, as Moten and Hearny put it in The Undercommons, that “we owe each other everything,” we enact punishments on one another and stalk away from projects that should unite us, and huddle in small groups feeling erotically bonded through our self-righteousness.

Scott Alexander: the debate is about whether trans women are more privileged than cis women, because they have residual male privilege from the period when they presented as men, or less privileged than cis women, because they are transsexual – plus a more or less symmetrical debate on the trans man side. The important thing to notice is that every group considers it existentially important to prove that they are less privileged than the others, and they do it with arguments like (from last link) “all examples of cis privilege are really male privileges that are not afforded to women, or are instances of resistance to trans politics. I call it patriarchy privilege when something like an unwillingness to redefine one’s own sexuality to include males is seen is labeled as offensive.”

The New York Times:Mobs breed a sense of anonymity, and in the midst of trending Twitter outrage, Professor Martin said, “you may feel anonymous, even if you’re not really.” Such perceived anonymity encourages people — even seemingly sensitive readers of “The Fault in Our Stars” — to say things they likely would not in person.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory (143 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
It'd be nice if--since people seem so desperate to use us in their arguments--trans women could be asked about this stuff occasionally. Y'know, instead of having our words taken out of context and our anger packaged up and displayed as an example of what's wrong with social justice.

If, say, Scott Alexander has asked me, I could have told him exactly why using us as his example was shockingly hamhanded, insensitive, and damaging.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:17 PM on July 8 [56 favorites]


From the second article:

And racist people deserve to lose everything they have and be hated by everyone.

Donald Sterling didn't lose "everything he had", and he wasn't forced out of the NBA for "being a racist." He lost the Clippers and further association with the NBA because he was an asshole that pretty much everyone in the organization hated and they were looking for an excuse to get rid of him.* Donald Sterling still has a very lucrative real estate business. He was fined $2.5 million dollars but is going to make an estimated $1 billion dollars on the sale of the team. I don't know, I'm having a hard time dredging up any sympathy for this alleged "victim" of social justice.

*Let me put this another way: People in the NBA didn't hate Sterling for being a racist. They hated him for being an asshole, and saying racist things about a fellow NBA team owner is one example of his asshole behavior that finally crossed the line into actionable behavior.
posted by muddgirl at 12:20 PM on July 8 [13 favorites]


Meh. A lot of this analysis of the Left is straight out of the Unabomber's manifesto. It's just as untrue now as it was twenty years ago.

You can be united toward a common goal and still have internal disagreements. There's nothing exclusively Leftist about it; it's generally how everything works and always has.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:20 PM on July 8 [14 favorites]


we enact punishments on one another and stalk away from projects that should unite us, and huddle in small groups feeling erotically bonded through our self-righteousness.

It's satisfying to talk to people who are actually willing to listen, sometimes, even when you don't end up agreeing. I don't see it to be as destructive as all that, though it can tear groups apart sometimes.

Welcome back, AoK.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:28 PM on July 8 [5 favorites]


Natalia Cecire's take.
posted by josher71 at 12:32 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


I dont know Scott - but from his work I have read It seems like he has several genderqueer partners/close friends so I dont know if it is fair to say he has not listened to some transwomens perspectives or not.

Also - I dont think there is anyone on the internet I know of who is more willing to engage deeply with anyone who is willing to meet him in good faith than Scott. Look at his post on neoractionaries which engages with a bunch of racist wierdos at absurd length just to tease out if they have any attempts at good ideas at all.

p.s apparently my apostophe key on my keyboard is broken.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 12:33 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]


I dont know Scott - but from his work I have read It seems like he has several genderqueer partners/close friends so I dont know if it is fair to say he has not listened to some transwomens perspectives or not.

... Are we seriously doing the "I have a genderqueer friend" thing?

Also, genderqueer isn't exactly the same as binary trans and it would be nice if you didn't lump those together.
posted by Conspire at 12:38 PM on July 8 [23 favorites]


It makes me laugh that Jack Halberstam is a director of feminist anything - you have only to read his cultural criticism to see what a pass he gives to sexist crap as long as it validates his ideas about trans male identity. (Note, in particular, his essay on Fantastic Mr. Fox, a film I actually showed at a radical movie night, sight unseen, on the strength of that fucking essay...only to be absolutely horrified by what a 1980s-esque misogynist shit-show it is. More fool me, I know, but I had expected a bit better.)

That bullybloggers essay is such a disappointment, too - I've enjoyed so much that they posted in the past. Not least because, if you swapped some of the nouns around, it could pass for Closing of the American Mind-era Bloom.

The older I get - (as some kind of masculine-of-center AFAB person) - the more I think that Old People In The Movement really need to watch ourselves. The kids today are always awful, right? They aren't tough and hard like we had to be, they don't recognize how sweet they have it, they just whine all the time, they are the victims of a victim narrative, etc...I seem to remember something similar being said about my generation back in the day, and I'm far closer to Halberstam's age than "the kids" by now.

And this sort of weird Kronos thing with the kids, like we have to destroy them, subsume their experiences and identities and arguments by illustrating that our experience was real and theirs is whining. When the kids break out all that Oedipal-destroy-the-fathers business, I have some sympathy - they're only young. When someone older and successful tries to reverse the process, I am not enthused.

~~~~

There's interesting questions, yeah, but we'll never get to talk about them if we start off with this whole get-off-my-lawn business.

~~~

I was at a meeting the other day in which someone talked about how she had to work on her responsiveness in conversations - sometimes, you see, she nodded or made "um-hm" sounds as she listened, and she had trouble discerning who found this acceptable and who found it unhelpful, and that was her responsibility - micromanaging her interactions so that she didn't make anyone uncomfortable.

Halberstam is being a bore - the whole "why do people frame themselves as victims" thing is a canard about the movement.

But why do people frame themselves so persistently as so pervasively oppressive? Why is it my colleague's responsibility to discern whether she is hurting someone by nodding as they speak? That's interesting, and it gets us to questions about networked subjects, naming and categorizing, the evacuation of the self (easy to describe the self as a bundle of traits and categories that pretty much take the place of any central or unique identity and suggest that there is no "self", just an almost automated collection of traits.)

I find it helpful, when considering this stuff, not to start from a place of jeremiad - "why are people doing it wrong and how can I get them to stop" - but from a place of "what do we learn about the state of the world from these pervasive changes in the understanding of the self?
posted by Frowner at 12:40 PM on July 8 [26 favorites]


I'm just going to c&p the comment I made the previous time the first link was posted (with one link added). (Funny enough I quoted the same bit that AFPFTNF used in the FPP.)

Strawmen or not, the writer makes an incredibly important point here:
Is this the way the world ends? When groups that share common cause, utopian dreams and a joined mission find fault with each other instead of tearing down the banks and the bankers, the politicians and the parliaments, the university presidents and the CEOs?
The Left really does have an ever-increasing history of eating itself. Part of that is a natural consequence of our focus on the notions of individuality, right to self-determination, identity, etc. But in many cases (and I am not exempting myself from having done this exact thing), that becomes the absurdity that we find in places like the more extreme Tumblr SJW where tiny little groups of people are basically Outraged! By Everything! and turns into, frankly, "fuck you, I'm a dragon."*

And woe betide anyone who doesn't immediately and uncritically give 100% support to whatever the latest nonsense is.

Let’s not fiddle while Rome (or Paris) burns

A surprisingly clever reference there; the writer knows their queer history. At the end of the day, one of the Left's strongest viewpoints (identity politics) has become one of our greatest weaknesses by causing fragmentation instead of unity and collectivism. Internet fighting over oppression Olympics has, for an entire generation it seems, replaced actually going out and doing something.

I dunno. I mean, I tend to use 'queer' more often these days than 'gay' to describe myself, or others who fit somewhere not in the heteronormative spectrum. It's inclusive, where so much of politics on the left has turned into exclusionary zones where if you say the wrong word, or say the right thing in the wrong way, you have failed to say the magic password and you are banned from the club.

Don't get me wrong; I think identity politics do matter. I think the focus on self-determination (of identity, of place, etc) is an incredibly important and valuable thing. Perhaps the writer is making their points clumsily or inartfully, but I think there is also incredible value in questioning whether we are taking certain kinds of politics to an absurd extreme; are we becoming the PC caricatures that the right wing conjured up out of thin air a couple decades ago? It seems like that's a question well worth asking, to me. And has made me start thinking more deeply about how I personally approach identity politics in general.

YMMV, of course.

* Deliberately using that example so as not to single out any one group that actually does face discrimination. The Otherkin kind of folks don't need anything else except therapy and perhaps medication to help them understand that no, dragons and elves have never existed therefore you aren't one.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:41 PM on July 8 [6 favorites]


feckless fecal fear mongering: "The Left really does have an ever-increasing history of eating itself."

When the left stops "eating itself"--or, as I like to call it, critically examining the power structures within its own communities and organisations--it has a tendency to eat trans women.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:43 PM on July 8 [29 favorites]


Frowner: "It makes me laugh that Jack Halberstam is a director of feminist anything"

He's the coolest, though!
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:43 PM on July 8 [5 favorites]


has a tendency to eat trans women.

I dunno, and maybe this is coming from cismale privilege, but I see that as part and parcel of the same problem. We, all of us on the left, need to stop eating each other so we can actually get shit done, is what I'm trying to say.

Also welcome back AoK. Missed your insights.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:45 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


Look at his post on neoractionaries which engages with a bunch of racist wierdos at absurd length just to tease out if they have any attempts at good ideas at all.

Bug, not feature.

Taking neoreactionaries seriously and using Donald Sterling as an example of apparently inappropriate outrage is not exactly warming me to his arguments.
posted by kmz at 12:48 PM on July 8 [6 favorites]


The NBA was literally facing possible rebellion from NBA players over Sterling, that really didn't care what "social justice warriors" thought about the matter. The public at large they cared about a little more, but they could have weathered that storm if they wanted to. Nobody made Riley Cooper quit the NFL, he got a brand new contract in fact.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:58 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]


I dunno, and maybe this is coming from cismale privilege, but I see that as part and parcel of the same problem. We, all of us on the left, need to stop eating each other so we can actually get shit done, is what I'm trying to say.

That's so, but the broader privileged Left won't stop eating trans women and others if, out of a desire for solidarity above all, it tells them to be quiet when they cry out.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:00 PM on July 8 [8 favorites]


feckless fecal fear mongering: "We, all of us on the left, need to stop eating each other so we can actually get shit done, is what I'm trying to say."

That doesn't work for trans women, though, who are the unintentional targets of this spate of childish tantrums masquerading as essays. The left has never willingly given us the time of day.

It's not hot on race or disability, either.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:00 PM on July 8 [21 favorites]


Katherine Cross wrote a thorough and reasoned response to Halberstam's transmisogynist hit piece for Feministing.

A further note on 'tranny', though, since all the trans women raising their voices against it seem to have become such a tempting target. It has nothing to do with triggers, that fashionable bête noire among the professionally resilient, it doesn't matter who has 'the right' to use the term, and it doesn't matter for whom it is an integral part of their 'identity', as far as I'm concerned. The normalisation of a slur (and for evidence that it is absolutely understood as a slur by the people who use it against us, look to the company it keeps; it's the word screamed in the street alongside faggot, alongside dyke, alongside all the racial slurs you certainly do not hear on primetime TV) has meaningful, practical consequences in marking us an acceptable target category, a group unworthy of the very baseline of respect afforded other minorities in a culture where violence against us is appallingly rife. And those consequences fall almost exclusively upon trans women, and among us the poorest, the most vulnerable, the least able to blend in. Visible as 'trannies' at the bank, at the grocery store, in the street, every day. I honestly believe the consequences of 'tranny' being normalised, among the other ways the dominant culture sets us up as targets, have taken friends, sisters away from me. And I do not believe for a second that anyone's bleating about censorship or anyone's edgy radical self-image or anyone's subcultural traditions are more valuable than the lives and the wellbeing of every single trans woman upon whom those real consequences fall.

Meanwhile, Alexander is living in the usual smug little bubble these commentators occupy if he believes trans women argue so vociferously against the claim we experience 'residual male privilege' or are affected by 'male socialisation' out of some petty desire to prove we're the worst off. We do so because a virulent strain of hate for us runs through gay, lesbian and feminist cultures and because these are ways the perpetrators of this hate try to silence us (because we're speaking over real women as privileged men), to label us male (and therefore deny trans women in desperate need access to women's shelters, to lesbian community) and to insinuate we're a rape or assault threat if allowed around cis women (and humiliate and reject us from simple things like bra fittings, as was reported on recently in Texas).

If queer unity has the value we're constantly being told it does, it's long past time for the gay male and lesbian parts of queer culture to make some compromises, because all I see in these cries for an end to divisiveness is a desire for trans women to shut the fuck up and get back in line for a cause which historically has failed us. If unity is so important, make some goddamned compromises. Stand up against TERFs in lesbian communities, stand up against gay men using slurs against us on television, stand up for people who tell you they're being harmed even when you can't see the harm. Stand the fuck up and realise unity must be earned if a unified voice is important to you. But of course elements of 'LGBT' turning on trans women in the most vicious way imaginable doesn't count as real disunity worthy of scolding blog posts from the likes of Halberstam, while trans women defending ourselves and speaking out most certainly does.
posted by emmtee at 1:01 PM on July 8 [40 favorites]


Are we seriously doing the "I have a genderqueer friend" thing?
That is my fault in the wording. I mean my understanding is he has several people who I dont know who he/they have describes as variously genderqueer or non-cis (but I could not say if they have a preferred exact grouping) who he runs this kind of post by beforehand to get their opinions on.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 1:11 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


According to several posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) in this thread, it makes more sense for identity activists to seek allies within the oppressor structure than with other identity groups.
posted by No Robots at 1:11 PM on July 8


I have mixed feelings about this because, on the one hand, I'm seeing an awful lot of identity policing going on around sexual orientation. I don't want be a part of a movement that attacks SFF editor Brit Mandelo for publishing an anthology because "bisexuality is not sexual fluidity." That's not a distinction that makes sense, and giving a book a one-star review on that basis makes even less sense to me.

On the other hand, this article derails badly for connecting that to debates over the t-word, a slur whose elimination from casual utterance is long overdue.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:16 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]


thanks for posting
posted by rebent at 1:21 PM on July 8


the t-word, a slur whose elimination from casual utterance is long overdue.

Lengthy discussion in this thread.
posted by No Robots at 1:23 PM on July 8


It's depressing to witness how the U.S. is turning into a police state and how hopelessly divided we all seem. As a personal mission - be the change you want to see - I've repeatedly tried to see if I could reach across the political divide on a purely one on one individual level. I do have a friend who is deeply conservative and almost tea party territory. The only way we manage to maintain our friendship is that we rarely - and then only briefly - discuss politics.

As part of this reaching out, I figured I really do need to understand the other side's arguments, first and foremost. So I read right wing websites for insight. And once I've done some reading, I usually come back with "fuck it, I can't take it - let it be war and let there be division". It takes me weeks to cool off, and then I make another attempt with more or less the same result. I keep failing, true, but I keep trying.

And that brings me to the subject of the FPP. I am not going to express any opinion about the merits of the case, but I will note this parallel - when I read, f.ex. RedState, I note a tremendous amount of infighting and hostility to any tiny breach of apparent and ever shifting (usually further to the right) orthodoxy. I must admit, it's heartening - ouch, I'm a bad person - to see that infighting over there, how they struggle mightily to make the tent smaller, not bigger, how the social conservatives attack libertarians and anyone who posts even a tiny bit off stark raving right wing nut territory gets !!!BANNED!!! and oh, it's such joy to see them so intent on self-isolating and rejecting potential allies, because you know, it weakens the tea party. I love it... right up until I am again reminded of how uncomfortably that seems to mirror what happens so often on the left, including on metafilter. And then it's just sad, because: humans.

Can we do better? Can we be better at this bigger tent business, or am I just a naive moron and possible traitor?
posted by VikingSword at 1:29 PM on July 8 [8 favorites]


VikingSword: "Can we do better? Can we be better at this bigger tent business"

Yes! It involves the people who are on top shutting up for half a second and listening to the people who are on the bottom. Which is kind of the opposite of what's happening here.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:32 PM on July 8 [32 favorites]


Yeah, AoK has it. I am really not excited to see the argument made over and over that marginalized people need to reach out and find common cause with those that are marginalizing them and mistreating them, just because they're all 'on the left'.

The left is not a monolith that needs to present a united front and the left is not eating itself.
posted by ursus_comiter at 1:40 PM on July 8 [8 favorites]


The thing about "the left eats its own, why can't we focus on [whatever, usually class but sometimes race]" is that it's precisely what has always been trotted out by whoever is on top of the movement heap at the moment.

Communists post-1917? Check! All the women who want birth control after Stalin decides he wants a jump in population, all the queer folks who don't want to view their sexual identity as bourgeois pathology, all the Jews who just aren't into Soviet pogroms - all those people need to shut up and get behind the revolution.

Union movement in the US? Check! Why do those pesky people of color have to demand full inclusion when we can make much greater gains by ignoring racism and making white workers the center of campaigns?

Sixties radicals? Also check! "The only position for women in the movement is prone," right? Those chicks who are too uptight to ball? Or the ones who want abortions? Or the ones who don't want to cook while the dudes write the Port Huron statement or whatever? Traitors to the movement!

Black power? Check and double check! Black women who talk about their concerns as black women are undercutting the men, right?

Et patati et patata.

Now consider how all those things look in retrospect. Perhaps it was legit for the women and the Jews and the people of color and the queers to not want to wait until after the revolution? Perhaps it was reasonable to, oh, distrust the mainstream movement leaders when they said they'd look after your interests...later?

We've heard all this before, and my personal bet is that if in the past, the people on top of the heap were always telling the people on the bottom of the heap to go slow, wait for the revolution, focus on the "important" issues, etc, and it was fucked up then, why I bet that the same thing is true now, and talking about how we shouldn't "eat our own" because it prevents the revolution is just an excuse for the people at the top of the pile to stay there.

And I'm not "our own", actually. I'm mine.
posted by Frowner at 1:41 PM on July 8 [64 favorites]


Two annoying articles.

Halberstam: "[G]roups that share common cause, utopian dreams and a joined mission find fault with each other instead of tearing down the banks and the bankers, the politicians and the parliaments, the university presidents and the CEOs?"

Which is another way of saying that we'll deal with racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia only after the revolution. And all that means is that the revolutionary system, if you ever get one, will be full of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. This isn't just a prediction, it's history.

Plus, why are these pleas to not fight each other almost always extremely fighty? If you don't want to fight over something, we have a process for that: you concede. You let it go and fight the battles you do want to fight.

As for Alexander... is privilege that hard to understand? Peggy McIntosh's 1988 essay is excerpted here. Alexander wants to define it as "interjecting yourself into other people’s conversations and demanding their pain be about you", which is one part of privilege, and this allows him to ignore any other sort of privilege, on the grounds that he's not "interjecting himself into other people's conversations".

And then, on this rickety foundation, he indulges in the most tedious of right-wing attacks on the left— that it just hates white males.

Much of McIntosh's essay is (mostly) about white privilege, not male privilege, which is important because she's demonstrating how to understand privilege when you have it.
posted by zompist at 1:44 PM on July 8 [9 favorites]


It's perhaps worth adding that I have never, ever seen a member of these oh-so-terrible social justice communities actually turn against LGBT causes - start campaigning against gay marriage to hurt gay men, say, or write blogs claiming lesbians can't be trusted to adopt or cis women's reproductive rights should be curtailed. The sole situation I can think of where elements of 'the queer community' regularly, literally argue for the curtailment of another element's rights is when it's against trans women.

Yet somehow, the bringers of dire disunity are the people who continue to actively support every queer cause, but don't do it in quite the right way, and dare criticise other elements when they're causing as much harm as any external oppressor (more, in some cases, since it's easy to speak with what people on the outside see as the authority of a unified 'LGBT' and say really fucking terrible things).
posted by emmtee at 1:51 PM on July 8 [20 favorites]


I have long been angered by this refusal of the Left in the US to focus on class solidarity. With respect to my own group, if only Black people can address issues of race, we'll never overcome racism, there just aren't enough of us. If we shout down anyone in the 'majority' because their privilege makes their commentary invalid, all we do is perpetuate the divisions which we should be attempting to remedy.
As a person who is privileged along some axes and not along others, we need more focus on problems and less on offense. (Someone made a good point about Donald Stirling above, he ended up getting ejected from the club for being offensive, not for being a racist. His racism had caused actual injuries to the tenants in his apartments and to those who were denied housing, but that isn't what outraged people.)
Let's not deny the power of words, but how about we break the sticks and stones first.
posted by Octaviuz at 1:51 PM on July 8 [5 favorites]


When people are screaming in pain, one is morally obligated to listen and stop hurting them. When a transwoman tells me the expression "tranny" hurts her, I don't use it. As a reclaimed-name tranny queer I may have used it on myself previously, but that doesn't manufacture her consent (to borrow an expression) now.

If "the Left" wants to do any work at all, we have to start with listening to other like-minded people, or we'll never be able to work together. For most of my adult lifetime, USleftians haven't been willing to listen. I am guessing a lot of it is due to our own sounds of pain masking the cries of others. I have dismissed people because of my own suffering as much as anyone else.
posted by Dreidl at 1:56 PM on July 8 [9 favorites]


if only Black people can address issues of race, we'll never overcome racism, there just aren't enough of us.

Who has said that only Black people can address issues of race? Or that only people who are transgender can address transgender issues? Trans people are demanding a seat at the LGBT table and the response is that they should sit down and wait their turn. When they complain about that response, they are called whiners, crybabies, overly sensitive, etc. etc. We haven't even started addressing the question of "who can address trans issues?" We seem to still be arguing over whether there even is a "trans issue" in the first place.
posted by muddgirl at 2:02 PM on July 8 [10 favorites]


My problem with this whole dialog is that it's all just dialog. None of it accomplishes anything, not all the tumblr posts or academic articles or tweets denouncing X or Y or saying it's all going too far actually do a damn thing to actually change people's real situations. There is so much obsessing over the shibboleths and terminology and discussion and story-telling that people who have every reason to work together to right actual, physical, material injustices are instead squabbling over the words and expressions and speech.

None of it is about action. I will fight racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, whatever needs fighting, in the streets. I am not the socialist who says "it's not racism it's classism" – I have studied and appreciate the questions of race and gender and sexuality in the US that need to be fixed. But I do not believe that fixing the way we talk will change the world. I won't use slurs or hurtful language, but I am so fucking frustrated that "social justice" has been reduced to this awful war over words and how we talk.
posted by graymouser at 2:10 PM on July 8 [10 favorites]


That's so, but the broader privileged Left won't stop eating trans women and others if, out of a desire for solidarity above all, it tells them to be quiet when they cry out.

That doesn't work for trans women, though, who are the unintentional targets of this spate of childish tantrums masquerading as essays. The left has never willingly given us the time of day.

It's not hot on race or disability, either.

Not disagreeing with you two on any points raised. I see the 'telling them to be quiet' and 'childish tantrums' as a symptom of the Left's divisiveness and cannibalism. What I mean is I think we are saying the same things in different ways. Telling transwomen to be quiet is exactly what I mean about the left eating itself; we're nominally on the same side so we need to start acting our values rather than just paying them lipservice. (By 'we' in this case I mean the people telling trans folks, PoC, etc to shut up in the name of unity. We arrive at unity, I think, by the exact opposite of 'everyone else needs to shut up so we can present a united front.)

Perhaps it was reasonable to, oh, distrust the mainstream movement leaders when they said they'd look after your interests...later?

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh I think I see where the misunderstanding is in what I have said. In no way at all am I saying 'later' to anyone. I'm saying 'right the fuck now' to the left eating itself and that needing to be fixed. I apologize for any confusion my words caused.

Yeah, AoK has it. I am really not excited to see the argument made over and over that marginalized people need to reach out and find common cause with those that are marginalizing them and mistreating them, just because they're all 'on the left'.

Okay... but that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying 'stop the fucking marginalization because we're all in this together.' My city's motto is "Strength through diversity." Again, I apologize if my wording was poor or muddled.

The left is not a monolith that needs to present a united front and the left is not eating itself.

The left kind of needs to become more unified and monolithic, though. That's exactly why both your country and mine are drifting further and further right; they present a relatively cohesive single front, whereas the left, in a large sense, does not. (Cue more Python: "Splitters!")

We've all got to work together if we want a progressive society. Part--probably the single most important part--is for those of us who do have more in our invisible knapsacks than others to be leading the charge to, as someone put it in another thread, level the table. And when it comes to things that those of us with privilege don't necessarily have to worry about (race, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc depending on context) we need to STFU and listen to how we stop marginalizing you and how we all work together to level the table for you.

I really, sincerely apologize if anything I have said came across as marginalizing or diminishing other people; it was not my intent at all, and I am sorry for not being clear enough about my intent.

I apologize further if anything I said came across as saying "No, shush," because again that was absolutely not my intent.

Inclusivity and unity can be the same thing, I think, and the left's problem in general is not realizing that fact. We're all in favour of leveling the playing field, right? What I'm saying is let's stop the infighting and support each other.

Trans people are demanding a seat at the LGBT table and the response is that they should sit down and wait their turn.

Yeah, what I'm saying is we--especially gay cismen who are the worst in terms of transphobia and misogyny--need to cut that the hell out.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:18 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]


or tl;dr version: I'm not saying the marginalized need to reach out to nominal allies for support. I'm saying if we're all on the same side and we're allies it's us who need to change. Maybe that's more clear? I hope so.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:20 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]


Leaving the Left aside for a moment - capitalists everywhere should be demanding to know how people can keep getting paid for writing the same article. I mean, if you need quick cash at the end of the month, it feels like your options are either to go to a pawn shop or knock out a few hundred words on the divisive terror of the Internet outrage machine.

This makes a mockery of the idea of creative destruction. The same article's been doing the same work, largely unchanged, for ages.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:23 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


(Think how much computers have changed since this article was first written!)
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:24 PM on July 8


None of it is about action. I will fight racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, whatever needs fighting, in the streets. I am not the socialist who says "it's not racism it's classism" – I have studied and appreciate the questions of race and gender and sexuality in the US that need to be fixed. But I do not believe that fixing the way we talk will change the world. I won't use slurs or hurtful language, but I am so fucking frustrated that "social justice" has been reduced to this awful war over words and how we talk.

I have to say that this is my position too and part of why I posted these articles because I felt they got some of the way there to expressing what I felt is missing in our current discourse. Give me a concrete, legislatable progressive goal and I will fight for it, but so much activism seems focused on signal not the reality. I am in awe of the shift we have had from gay marriage being unthinkable to an inevitable reality. I dont understand why we are not looking at that as the model for other social movements (whether anything from trans identity to number of rape crisis centers in cities) Lets set a clear target and try to meet it.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 2:25 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


These younger folks, with their gay-straight alliances, their supportive parents and their new right to marry regularly issue calls for “safe space.”

The first article reduces to "get off my lawn!" at its essence.

As to the left identity politics, maybe I'm a bad person but I can see both sides. "Unite!" is awesome when you are the majority; "Respect my needs!" is critical when you are the minority. Birth matter and it's a delicate balancing act that mostly doesn't happen. The right is agonizing over the same thing now, though on different axes.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:27 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]


Graymouser: My problem with this whole dialog is that it's all just dialog.

I think this is a symptom of where we're discussing this: articles, blogs, Tumblrs. These are things stitched together from words.

I have participated in much less abstract activities, in the streets, in the halls of my city and legislature, but I haven't found helpful places to talk about them on the net.

Any suggestions?
posted by Jesse the K at 2:27 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


There is so much obsessing over the shibboleths and terminology and discussion and story-telling that people who have every reason to work together to right actual, physical, material injustices are instead squabbling over the words and expressions and speech.

Except for those of us who have decided to just shut up and give up.
posted by General Tonic at 2:27 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


AAA ARMYOFKITTENS!!!
posted by en forme de poire at 2:27 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


"Unite!" is awesome when you are the majority; "Respect my needs!" is critical when you are the minority.

Put those two things together and that's what I've been trying to say, poorly. (I mean me poorly. Not you.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:29 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


It involves the people who are on top shutting up for half a second and listening to the people who are on the bottom.

Well, this is a perpetual case of "fuck you, I got mine." I'm not sure how you get people to listen...

It's perhaps worth adding that I have never, ever seen a member of these oh-so-terrible social justice communities actually turn against LGBT causes

I agree that LGB tends to throw T under the bus. But, the observation that T doesn't do this isn't saying much. Being a part of the LGBT affords T more social status and community -- while including T makes LGB feel like they are loosing social status and cohesion (note "feel like", not "are", I disagree with this). Ask the letter just to the left of T sometime. :-)

You see the same kind of thing in the not insignificant portion of the trans community that look down on cross-dressers instead of recognizing it as part of the continuum. And, then, even more horribly, how some handle the folks who de-transition. Both of these are running directly against the overly simplistic narrative of what a person who identifies as trans "should" be and do. It is, writ smaller, similar to the public narrative of intrinsic homosexuality when confronted with the full range of human (bi)sexuality. These narratives are politically useful, but are not the full reality, and people will suffer as a result.

Same as it ever was...
posted by smidgen at 2:35 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]


I am really w orking through this and don't have an opinon about all of it, but i have been reading a lot of Eve Sedgwick lately, and the thing that bothers me the most about Halberstrom's essay--is that Sedgwick spent a lot of time listening, working with younger colleuages, and being radically open. She did not advocate resillence as much as a radically open, overly sensitive, profound feelings, and the narratologies of trauma that began that.

if the 70s left was about language, and about feelings, then working out what language and feelings mean is still really important. Words can be polyvalent, they need to be polyvalent, but that can only exist in a queerness that is relaitonal, and that allows for discourse to flow between us--that is one of hte gifts of post modernism, and is the exact opposite of cynicism.

it also means you can't do the kids these days kind of bullshit
posted by PinkMoose at 2:39 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]


Also, considering that Ann Cvechioch has written extensively about feelings and trauma, calling one book AN ARCHIVE OF MY FEELINGS suggests you know that she is willing to engage in the abject self loss that occurs with the problem of emotion, in ways Halberstrom doesnt seem to be.
posted by PinkMoose at 2:41 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


smidgen: "You see the same kind of thing in the not insignificant portion of the trans community that look down on cross-dressers instead of recognizing it as part of the continuum."

Cross-dressers have considerably more social and political capital than trans women do; because they're men! They can take off the wig and go to work on Monday and receive all the benefits of being cis men. And, like, I'm a woman, so how are men who are comfortable being men but fetishistically dress up as women on a continuum with me any more than they are with cis women? Crossdressers in general are less socially and politically affected by their hobby than goths are.

I have nothing against crossdressers, but they're not the same thing as me but with a few sliders pointing in different directions. That's like saying I'm on a gender continuum with gay men because we're all assigned male at birth but don't fuck who we're supposed to fuck.

smidgen: "Being a part of the LGBT affords T more social status and community"

Don't forget that the LG built its social status and community on a platform of rejecting trans women. I know what you're trying to say, but that was kind of an iffy way to say it.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:43 PM on July 8 [7 favorites]


And this sort of weird Kronos thing with the kids, like we have to destroy them, subsume their experiences and identities and arguments by illustrating that our experience was real and theirs is whining.

I like this metaphor very much. I see this sometimes in working with (some! not all!) Boomer-age liberal folks, partly because I'm now middle-aged and so they feel free-er to complain about the young ones to me. Having once been one of the young ones in the Boomer/Greatest Generation crosshairs, I am not the most sympathetic to this complaint.

I read Tumblr a lot, and yeah, some of those kids (pretty sure we talking really young kids, like 14 and 15) go overboard on the "YOU'RE PRIVILEGED! NO YOU ARE! QUIT OPPRESSING ME!" and identifying with rare outgroups, or believing the group they are in is an outgroup, even if it's just a fandom that only 8 people know about.

But I believe they'll grow out of it. I think they act that way because teenagers are oppressed. They have no power, except the very rich ones; no one takes them seriously, except as a threat. Everyone treats you like a fuckup when you're that age. And you kind of are, but it doesn't do much for your self-esteem.

The language of social justice and activism is something they have discovered and delight in. They don't always wield it well, though I have to tell you, some of them write and do things that are mighty impressive and show far more insight than I had at that age.

We have to listen to each other. We don't have to agree, but we have to listen. Saying "shut up and support the people at top" is not a strategy for success if you want to remain progressive.
posted by emjaybee at 2:43 PM on July 8 [17 favorites]


Cross-dressers have considerably more social and political capital than trans women do; because they're men! They can take off the wig and go to work on Monday and receive all the benefits of being cis men.

You aren't totally wrong, but not totally right either. They have much more privilege than transfolks but a lot, lot of men would lose their jobs if they were seen crossdressing beyond something like a costume party. They could be called things like perverts, weirdos, and "sissies."

Are they on the continuum with women, eh I guess it depends on the individual and their reasons and how you define gender.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:48 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


What if an identity group sees that other identity groups do not want to work with it, but there is a good chance of securing benefits for the group by cooperating with the existing power structures?
posted by No Robots at 2:51 PM on July 8


Drinky Die: "You aren't totally wrong, but not totally right either. A lot, lot of men would lose their jobs if they were seen crossdressing beyond something like a costume party. They could be called things like perverts, weirdos, and "sissies.""

I'm totally right! Because that's still better than what happens to trans women. They might get fired for what they wear if they wear it to the office or have their picture circulated online or whatever. Trans women still get killed for who we are.

Drinky Die: "Are they on the continuum with women, eh I guess it depends on the individual and their reasons and how you define gender."

Well, they're not women and we are, so there's that?
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:52 PM on July 8 [7 favorites]


None of it is about action. I will fight racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, whatever needs fighting, in the streets. I am not the socialist who says "it's not racism it's classism" – I have studied and appreciate the questions of race and gender and sexuality in the US that need to be fixed. But I do not believe that fixing the way we talk will change the world. I won't use slurs or hurtful language, but I am so fucking frustrated that "social justice" has been reduced to this awful war over words and how we talk.

1) A lot of us do "real" activism that involves "action" and engage in "dialog," they are not mutually exclusive.

2) I don't understand how trying to get people to stop using hurtful slurs isn't "action." I know it improves my life to not be called a psycho bitch in daily life, and I know I've stopped other cis people from saying insensitive stuff to a trans lady of our mutual acquaintance and it's not like I asked her about it later but I assume it was nicer for her to just show up and play sports with the rest of us than it would have been to show up and get asked private questions about her body and THEN play sports and literally the only reason I knew to do that was from reading useless dialog on the Internet.

3) Some people only have a little bit to give. I've said this before. Some people live in the middle of nowhere or they take care of a sick relative or they work a shit job or they work two shit jobs or they're disabled or they have cancer or they're painfully shy or they're scared to leave the house since the fire or they watch their sister's kids three nights a week or who the fuck knows. Why is it so goddamn bad for those people to just reblog stuff on tumblr and be 15% more conscious in their daily lives? Why are they also responsible for getting ENDA passed? Like...isn't that what the professional movement people are for? Isn't that what someone who runs a program for feminist research at a major university is supposed to be working on? I(honestly)dgi.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:03 PM on July 8 [23 favorites]


Literally everyone is on a gender continuum with gay men; that's what gender continuum means, that there is no hard partitioning among gender expressions, but a continuous space of possibilities connecting them all.
posted by Pyry at 3:06 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]


I'm totally right! Because that's still better than what happens to trans women. They might get fired for what they wear if they wear it to the office or have their picture circulated online or whatever.

You are totally 100% right they have it better and it isn't even remotely close, just taking issue with the implication that crossdressers can just take the wig on or off with no impact to their male privilege. They are pretty often forced to keep that part of themselves deeply in the closet to maintain that privilege. You are right that switching it on and off at all is a privilege, but it's currently one with a lot of negative drawbacks as it currently stands.

Well, they're not women and we are, so there's that?

Well I'm thinking of people who feel themselves a bit outside the gender binary. Is a person who identifies that way still a "crossdresser" or just dressing appropriately to their identity? For themselves, the latter. For society, maybe the former for now. It's tricky, especially when many crossdressers might really be genderqueer but not even have that word in their vocabulary yet.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:10 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]


Pyry: "Literally everyone is on a gender continuum with gay men; that's what gender continuum means, that there are no hard distinctions between gender expressions, but a continuous space of possibilities connecting them all."

In practice there is a very hard line, and it forms a circle around women who were coercively assigned male at birth.

Like, this isn't a particularly useful point to be making? Because a world in which there is genuine equality of gender expression is so far away as to be pointless to think about, whereas lifting the most marginalised and demonised gender--which is Woman, when found in CAMAB people rather than AFAB people--lifts the whole damn continuum.

Drinky Die: "Well I'm thinking of people who feel themselves a bit outside the gender binary."

That isn't where my brain goes when you say crossdresser? All the people I know who are CAMAB and not women or men are either effectively trans women because of transmisogyny (there has been a lot written on this, but it's too much to go into here so please just trust me that it's a Thing), but even if they're not then, again, lifting trans women lifts everyone else.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:14 PM on July 8 [7 favorites]


That isn't where my brain goes when you say crossdresser?

I would argue that a crossdresser is simply someone who crossdresses. I wouldn't assign a default motivation to the behavior. I would really expect someone to specify "straight, cisgendered crossdresser" if that's what they mean.
posted by WCWedin at 3:18 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


Like, this isn't a particularly useful point to be making? Because a world in which there is genuine equality of gender expression is so far away as to be pointless to think about

No, I think it's a very important point. First, there are lots of people in those middle spaces of the continuum, and their experiences shouldn't be discounted just because they're inconvenient to preconceived notions of gender categories. Second, isn't part of the whole 'activist project' to create the language and concepts of equality to support and encourage actual equality? The idea that we should achieve actual equality first and only then adopt the theories and language of equality is precisely backwards.
posted by Pyry at 3:28 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


Give me a concrete, legislatable progressive goal and I will fight for it, but so much activism seems focused on signal not the reality. I am in awe of the shift we have had from gay marriage being unthinkable to an inevitable reality. I dont understand why we are not looking at that as the model for other social movements (whether anything from trans identity to number of rape crisis centers in cities) Lets set a clear target and try to meet it.

Also, while I certainly prefer a world where equality and justice are reliably enshrined in law, let me channel my sixth-grade history teacher and say that it's easy to change laws. It's hard to change people's minds. There are all sorts of anti-discrimination laws on the books, but that didn't make all the racism or sexism or ableism go away overnight. It just meant that those discriminated against could seek a remedy under the law. Sometimes the social change has to precede the legislative change.

And not for nothing but we don't all support turning to the state to legislate our humanity but that's a derailing metatopic if ever there was one.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:35 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


I don't understand how trying to get people to stop using hurtful slurs isn't "action."

Because the social justice oriented left has wound up aggressively targeting symptoms (words and expressions) and missing the causes (economic and social conditions). That's why I don't think that changing words actually changes conditions – words are cheap, meaningful change is not.
posted by graymouser at 3:35 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]


My problem with this whole dialog is that it's all just dialog. None of it accomplishes anything, not all the tumblr posts or academic articles or tweets denouncing X or Y or saying it's all going too far actually do a damn thing to actually change people's real situations.

Ultimately it's not even dialog, though — it's just denunciation, a distraction from actually organizing with other people to do things, a performance for individual ego-gratification rather than an attempt to build a common purpose. The only problem is that it feels political to many people who style themselves activists. These online pseudopolitics of denunciation and offense-taking have gained a surprising hegemony in many online discursive spaces, though: there's a kind of veto power granted to those who can most loudly claim trauma in any given situation. But this naturally splinters movements, as it's more or less designed to do: as the circle of purity narrows and narrows, and the discussion becomes a matter of the competing status of individual traumas, the chance to build coalitions or even engage in actual good-faith debate vanishes. And in fact you can see the purity politics right here in this thread, where Jack Halberstam (of all people!) is described as a "transmisogynist" and a non- or anti-feminist for the ideological crime of suggesting a movement would be better built around queerness and solidarity, rather than fixed identity and individual trauma.

We should be asking ourselves: how could a queer politics, indeed any left politics at all, have any chance if it required us to deem even Jack Halberstam dangerously ideologically impure? But ultimately I think — as Halberstam's piece says, though in a way that people here often seem symptomatically unable even to hear — all the trauma-talk is really about policing the allowable range of political opinions in online discussion back to (neo)liberal individualism. It'd be great if we could actually talk about Halberstam's central point:
instead of recognizing that neoliberalism precisely goes to work by psychologizing political difference, individualizing structural exclusions and mystifying political change, some recent activists seem to have equated social activism with descriptive statements about individual harm and psychic pain.
But I'm not holding my breath; I think, sadly, this just cuts too close for comfort around here, threatens too many core beliefs.
posted by RogerB at 3:36 PM on July 8 [8 favorites]


I read the bullyblogger article before this FPP was posted and I have been trying to get my head around how I feel about it for a couple of days now.

I think my feelings and thoughts crystallized this morning, pondering the bullybloggers article by Jack H as I was riding my bike to work, from the home of yet another person I've met who is being generous enough to let me sleep in their home for a few nights while I get myself lifted off the streets, with everything I can possibly carry in my backpack, trying to figure out if I have enough money on my target giftcard to buy toothpaste, realizing that I am almost out of all my toiletries and how am I going to make it to payday with only 22.50 remaining without starving and smelling, all because I started Hormone Replacement Therapy and my soon-to-be-ex-wife asked me to leave the house and I obliged her request because staying there causes terrible fights and I cannot take the abuse anymore, and the kids sure don't need to see that. But remember, I left, I abandoned my family becuase I chose to seek access to medical care to deal with being born transgender. It was my choice, right? I mean, I'm "choosing to be a woman" and I am just dealing with the consequences of that "decision I made to stop being a man". It's bullshit, but this is really how it is to try to live as an out trans woman.

My thoughts on the articles end with this:

Is is too much to ask to just show some fucking compassion and abandon lazy adjectives that harm people you hardly can be arsed to give a crap about? I mean, what does it cost you really? Because I am paying a pretty hefty goddamn price right now for being a transwoman that very few else of you here willing to help cover, and thank goddesses for the few people who have reached out and helped me through some pretty seriously fucked up circumstances these past couple of months. Against this milliue of my current trans narrative, I'm saying, that no, really, it would be nice for people to stop using the word "tranny". It literally harms no one to give that word up (and hell of a lot of other ones as well).
posted by Annika Cicada at 3:39 PM on July 8 [18 favorites]


what's the old saying about irrelevant fights between Leninists and Trotskyites? yeah, that.
posted by jpe at 3:40 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


Scott Alexander says "As far as I can tell" about trans women and privilege, which strongly implies he didn't run it by his five closest trans* friends. The piece overall also seems kind of painfully ignorant and tone deaf.

He seems to be implying that the confusion of language, and social justice minded people insisting on certain definitions of words as being some kind of weakness - which ignores that white people have a lot to gain if "racism" can be diluted as a concept into "horrible thing you should never say to anyone - and you just reverse racismed me". People have managed to make "welfare" a dirty word, and are rapidly doing the same thing for "social justice," and some of them like to say they're on "your side."

I really think this is putting the cause of the confusion on the wrong people.
posted by Deoridhe at 3:45 PM on July 8 [8 favorites]


This is becoming the AOK show so I'm just going to say this for a while:

The articles picked out trans women for scapegoating for a reason. Trans women are the most marginalised, our voices the most easily erased. Trans women are most easily demonised because we lack the power and access to defend ourselves. Trans women face the most violence. Trans women have the most restricted opportunities. This goes double, triple, quadruple, more, for trans women of colour and disabled trans women. Literally every single oppression visited against the queer and gender variant finds its most violent and abusive expression in trans women. I have statistics on murder, rape, assault, employment, depression, and suicide that bear this out that I really don't want to have to link because that would mean I'd have to search them out and that is an extraordinarily depressing thing to do in itself.

I am well aware that there are many genders! That there are AMAB agender people and AFAB genderqueer people and that the gender spectrum is a wonderful and varied place! But their responsibility is to pull for trans women because they all have social and political capital that we don't. They don't face the violence or discrimination or deprivation we face; the worst oppression they ever suffer is when they're mistaken for us.

(As I said before, there are CAMAB people who are not trans women who find themselves living as trans women because the effect of transmisogyny is to shave off the edges of their gender expression and force them into a binary presentation and they are hit exactly as hard as trans women by all of this. They are my siblings and I am theirs.)

Thing is, other transgender people can and do make progress without us. Trans women have been left behind socially and politically by queers of all stripes. There is a lot of transgender activism that explicitly excludes us and does not help us.

But there is not a damned thing you can do for trans women that doesn't lift everyone else.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:45 PM on July 8 [14 favorites]


I'm totally right! [...] Trans women still get killed for who we are.

No, you are most definitely not. Plenty of cross-dressers get killed -- look it up. This is precisely what I was talking about. It violates the narrative, so it doesn't exist. Perhaps your definition of cross-dresser is someone who never leaves their house in non-normative clothing?

Look, it's pretty evident that all you have to do is violate external gender expectations (and mean it) to risk your life in certain places -- no bigot gives a fuck about your internal state. Why you would even suggest that transgender folks are the only trans folks to be killed? That's really bizarre to me.

Cross-dressers have considerably more social and political capital than trans women do[...]

Is a trans women who is a multi-millionaire or a celebrity, still a trans women? This argument makes no sense. Do transgender folks risk more? Yes, they do. Does that mean someone who naturally will risk less (or is closeted) is not trans? No, it doesn't.

Crossdressers in general are less socially and politically affected by their hobby than goths are.

What are you picturing when you think CD? Because this just seems totally crazy to me. Maybe this is just a case of totally different definitions.

Well, they're not women and we are, so there's that?

So "trans" isn't an inclusive term to you? What do you know of a cross dresser's internal state? Why is the idea of continuum of gender queer seem so damaging to you?
posted by smidgen at 3:46 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


graymouser: "None of it is about action."

Social solutions to social problems. I see this recurring strain of activist traditionalism where if you're not out on the streets waving a placard, you can't possibly be achieving real change. The internet is increasingly where culture happens, and activism where culture happens is most definitely real activism.

There has been an explosion of feminist, queer, trans community-building and thought, largely through the much-maligned twitter and tumblr, and it is making a meaningful, tangible difference every day. It's become unignorable, it's forced into the consciousness of people who would much rather stick their fingers in their ears, and however sneering or aggressive their immediate response, they can't help but be affected by this being the water they, to some extent, have to swim in when they interact in social spaces.

Christ, the number of trans girls on tumblr who see futures for themselves in a way I couldn't have comprehended when I was transitioning at 16 and fetishistic cis dudes or transmisogynistic gay male communities were the only choice I had, who fight the shit they get for being trans so hard because they know they have a community standing behind them. More trans women empowered to stand up and speak by that community means more voices at every level of society - arts, science, politics, sport. It's already happening, and this is the cause.

Being caught saying something racist, homophobic, increasingly something transmisogynistic is so, so utterly toxic and damaging for a celebrity or corporation in an environment where protesters can utterly poison its ability to control what's becoming its primary channel for messaging to customers and fans. That is absolutely driving a change in these people and companies' outward behaviour, which pushes change in the things they normalise and make acceptable with the towering platform their position affords, gradually cuts down casual repetition of hate speech as a mainstream in-group thing and leaves the real bigots isolated and visible. Ditto the drive for broader representation in the media; it's working, and it's altering what's considered 'normal', and there's a good chance that is a necessary step before there are enough people willing to question why someone normal doesn't have the same legal rights they do.
posted by emmtee at 3:49 PM on July 8 [16 favorites]


Who has said that only Black people can address issues of race? Or that only people who are transgender can address transgender issues?

I have been made to feel that I am not at all welcome to comment on Metafilter on trans* issues because I do not identify as trans*. I have found myself avoiding threads with trans* subjects as a result, and even now wonder if this comment will again be attacked.

I don't identify as trans*, I have never claimed to understand what it means to live publicly as a trans* person. That doesn't mean that I haven't struggled with gender identity, haven't given a great deal of thought to gender identity (or lack thereof). Maybe, because I present as a cis* person, my opinions are worthless on any topic touching on gender identity and the relationship of the trans* community to the wider community.
posted by jb at 3:50 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


Because the social justice oriented left has wound up aggressively targeting symptoms (words and expressions) and missing the causes (economic and social conditions). That's why I don't think that changing words actually changes conditions – words are cheap, meaningful change is not.

Like, what, we would have closed Guantanamo and gotten a living wage by now if we would all stop arguing about trigger warnings? I don't buy it. And trans people, and women, and disabled people, and whoever else is killing the movement or delaying the revolution? We show up for that shit. It's just that when we get there, y'all are pissed when we want a content warning for the torture in a fucking movie.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:53 PM on July 8 [17 favorites]


As for the general topic of the thread (social activism and the politics of oppression):

I have recently started working as the social media representative for a local community group. I read articles and tweets regarding the larger community that this group is part of - a community (bi/pansexuals) which has faced a certain amount of discrimination even within the LGBTQ communities. I would see lots of tweets or tumblr posts decrying yet another example of bi-erasure or biphobia - and I made a conscious decision not to pass on the vast majority. Most were minor examples and further advertising them would do nothing but spread anger and hurt. Instead, I try to pass on more positive stories about activism and recognition, and do what I can positively to combat bi-erasure and biphobia.
posted by jb at 3:59 PM on July 8


I don't want be a part of a movement that attacks SFF editor Brit Mandelo for publishing an anthology because "bisexuality is not sexual fluidity."

Except when it is - I know a number of bi/non-monosexual people who identify as "fluid" - and it is the name
of both a bi/pan photography exhibit at World Pride this year, and the local youth group for bi/pan/omni and other kids who don't fit in gay or straight.
posted by jb at 4:02 PM on July 8


Social solutions to social problems. I see this recurring strain of activist traditionalism where if you're not out on the streets waving a placard, you can't possibly be achieving real change. The internet is increasingly where culture happens, and activism where culture happens is most definitely real activism.

I will own that "activist traditionalism." Organizing means getting people in the real world working together to do things. I will not apologize for saying that. Culture is the wrong battlefield, because we are soaking in culture created by the ruling classes for their own benefit. It is in material areas – creating mass movements that can use pressure to achieve their ends – where the effective action is found. This is a strategic question that I think a lot of well-meaning people have very, very badly wrong today.
posted by graymouser at 4:04 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


There is another side to identity politics as well: A transwoman I know recently got involved in an online/IRL debate about the "t-slur". Apparently a local troupe of transwomen performers use the "t-slur" in their title.

My transwoman friend pointed out that while the word is disparaging and stupid, it would be dumb if [our mutual friends] all went and protested this local performing troupe (this was seriously being considered) because in that case, it would be a bunch of transpeople protesting other transpeople, demanding that they police their language more effectively.

The result? My transwoman friend was immediately blasted as a traitor to the movement, her transwoman "credentials" were questioned by other transwomen as well as some cis onlookers, and so forth.

The dark side to identity politics is that eventually, identity can get so wrapped up in a certain political viewpoint that many people (both within and outside the community) feel that to really "belong" to this identity, you must hold position X, Y, Z, etc.

It's actually quite destructive to individual identities and to human freedom.
posted by Avenger at 4:19 PM on July 8 [6 favorites]


As the OP I don't want to threadsit but the idea that the articles I chose "picked out trans women for scapegoating for a reason" is ludicrous. None of the articles really discuss trans women directly except for that a narrow quote which I was using only to illustrate the larger discussion about lanugage in activism. If trans-women are disproportionately targeted(in the US?) we need statistics and clear goals to address that.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 4:21 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]


I sure wish everybody who thinks words don't matter could have been called a puto (hooray, it's both a slur and a rejection of my gender!) as they were walking along the street after returning library books on Saturday by two dudes in a slow rolling car instead of me. But that happened to me, and not them, so why can't all these trans women shut up about words already, right?

I'm so fucking tired of this bullshit blaming trans women for speaking out and telling trans women to shut the fuck up because their existence and voices hurt The Movement. The Movement can go fuck itself if that's all it offers me.
posted by Corinth at 4:22 PM on July 8 [9 favorites]


cross-dressers get killed

Sadly, this is true: all non-gender conforming people are harassed, and (particularly non-conforming AMAB) are in physical danger. A young genderqueer person was set on fire for wearing a skirt on a bus last fall.

This is not to negate the extreme prejudice faced by trans women, of course.
posted by jb at 4:32 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory: "As the OP I don't want to threadsit but the idea that the articles I chose "picked out trans women for scapegoating for a reason" is ludicrous. None of the articles really discuss trans women directly except for that a narrow quote which I was using only to illustrate the larger discussion about lanugage in activism. If trans-women are disproportionately targeted(in the US?) we need statistics and clear goals to address that."

The Halberstam article uses a complete misrepresentation of the T-Shack thing, twisted specifically to attack trans women, as a central example. He is literally scapegoating trans women to support his "point."

And while I'm not coming back in for another big-ass comment, of course it is true that AMAB gender noncomforming people are attacked, and it is an utter tragedy whenever it happens. But when it does happen, it is because of transmisogyny, which finds its ultimate--and by far its most common--target in trans women, particularly trans women of colour and disabled trans women. The death figures are staggering, even more so when you consider the numbers we have are by their nature incomplete: the very same transmisogyny and racism/disablism that kills us also leads to the erasure of our very selves in death.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 4:39 PM on July 8 [10 favorites]


I have been made to feel that I am not at all welcome to comment on Metafilter on trans* issues because I do not identify as trans*. I have found myself avoiding threads with trans* subjects as a result, and even now wonder if this comment will again be attacked.

I don't identify as trans*, as a data point, and don't have that experience.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:40 PM on July 8 [6 favorites]


If, say, Scott Alexander has asked me, I could have told him exactly why using us as his example was shockingly hamhanded, insensitive, and damaging.

Scott Alexander isn't taking a side in the "residual male privilege" argument, so I think that was a bad pull quote as it de-rails the thread into trans issues immediately. He's pointing out that people arguing about privilege on both sides of that issue take it as read that the way to win is to show that the other side has more privilege, and that they seem pretty keen to win. It really matters who has more privilege.

That is, both sides (both of whom accept the privilege framing and are just arguing about who has more) argue as if privilege is a term of moral disapproval and claiming someone has more of it is an attack on them which must be repelled. This is at odds with people who accept the framing but claim that telling someone they have privilege should not be taken as an attack or a moral judgement. If these are the same people, something looks off about that claim.

Here's the pull quote:
The question here: since privilege is just a ho-hum thing about how you shouldn’t interject yourself into other people’s conversations, or something nice about dogs and lizards – but definitely not anything you should be ashamed to have or anything which implies any guilt or burden whatsoever – why are all the minority groups who participate in communities that use the term so frantic to prove they don’t have it?
posted by pw201 at 4:40 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]


Sadly, this is true: all non-gender conforming people are harassed, and (particularly non-conforming AMAB) are in physical danger. A young genderqueer person was set on fire for wearing a skirt on a bus last fall.

This is not to negate the extreme prejudice faced by trans women, of course.


I don't think this is a constructive comment. That kid wasn't a cross dresser, for a start. But you know, minor detail when you're busy trying to dismiss transmisogyny.
posted by hoyland at 4:43 PM on July 8 [5 favorites]


I think privilege is a burden. If I want to be a good person, I feel responsible for working at being aware of it and attacking the unfair structures that grant me it.

I also don't complain about that, because it beats not having privilege.
posted by thug unicorn at 4:49 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


I guess when a word is a stick you've been beat with all your life, it hurts even when your friends use it.
posted by valkane at 4:49 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]


Okay, I'm going to post one more time.

pw201: "He's pointing out that people arguing about privilege on both sides of that issue take it as read that the way to win is to show that the other side has more privilege, and that they seem pretty keen to win. It really matters who has more privilege.

That is, both sides (both of whom accept the privilege framing and are just arguing about who has more) argue as if privilege is a term of moral disapproval and claiming someone has more of it is an attack on them which must be repelled. This is at odds with people who accept the framing but claim that telling someone they have privilege should not be taken as an attack or a moral judgement. If these are the same people, something looks off about that claim.
"

This is precisely wrong, and an example of why Scott Alexander should not be sticking his oar in. Trans women have got caught up in an argument about whether or not we have male privilege because the "fact" that we do has been used to deny us access to vital resources.

We are kept out of feminist spaces because of it. We are kept out of lesbian spaces because of it. We are kept out of survival space because of it: rape crisis centres and homeless shelters turn trans women away because we are perceived as dangerous.

The idea that we are full of male privilege and male violence is at the heart of many of the things that are killing us.

This isn't an ego-stroking debate about trying to prove the other side wrong! This is trying to stop in its tracks a meme--a meme that is virulent, that is tempting to cis people, that feels right to cis people, because if you don't know what it's like to grow up as a trans woman it's very easy to believe that we grow up full of "male entitlement"--that is justifying horrific violence, abuse and abandonment.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 4:49 PM on July 8 [24 favorites]


I guess when a word is a stick you've been beat with all your life, it hurts even when your friends use it.

Yep, that's a great way to put it. And it hurts even more if the friend using it then says "Why are you getting upset about this? We're friends! We should be on the same side here! You need to stop objecting to this — it's just making drama and tearing people apart."
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:52 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]


But when it does happen, it is because of transmisogyny

Agreed.

But I guess I fail to see how excluding those who aren't the complete platonic ideal of a trans woman is somehow undermining that cause. Instead, you seem to be taking the idea that trans women don't get enough representation when talking about trans issues in a LGBT context and flipping it around to mean somehow true trans women should be the only ones considered when talking about trans issues in general.
posted by smidgen at 4:53 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


I agree with AOK. "Not taking sides" in the "argument" between trans women and radical feminists is a really transmisogynist position to take.
posted by thug unicorn at 4:55 PM on July 8 [13 favorites]


smidgen: "Instead, you seem to be taking the idea that trans women don't get enough representation when talking about trans issues in a LGBT context and flipping it around to mean somehow true trans women should be the only ones considered when talking about trans issues in general."

What? I think any trans person can talk on trans issues as long as they consider trans women's concerns! I don't actually have any structural power to exclude non-trans women from these conversations since most of the time they happen without us anyway.

However, when CAFAB trans people, CAMAB trans people who aren't trans women, and queer people in general discuss trans issues they tend to leave us out at best, and usually act in ways that are specifically harmful to us.

Source: fifteen years of paying attention and seeing it happen time and time and time and time and time again.

I really want to leave this thread for a while. Let's avoid guessing at what I'm thinking for, like, an hour.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:04 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]


Smidgen: As someone who isn't the platonic ideal of a trans woman, I try to be acutely aware of how not to undermine that cause. I take my lead from trans women, because I don't want my own acceptance to come at the expense of trans women.
posted by thug unicorn at 5:07 PM on July 8 [8 favorites]


> Culture is the wrong battlefield, because we are soaking in culture created by the ruling classes for their own benefit.

We're all part of culture and we create it. Denying this is denying our own ability to effect change in the culture we're part of, albeit in small ways, and supports the status quo.
posted by nangar at 5:10 PM on July 8


We're all part of culture and we create it. Denying this is denying our own ability to effect change in the culture we're part of, albeit in small ways, and supports the status quo.

There are multibillion dollar cultural machines working on behalf of the status quo 24/7. The efforts of activists to change this tide are minuscule. We need mass movements trying to uproot the whole system, not just individuals working to change the culture through corporate-owned web sites.
posted by graymouser at 5:31 PM on July 8


My problem with this whole dialog is that it's all just dialog. None of it accomplishes anything, not all the tumblr posts or academic articles or tweets denouncing X or Y or saying it's all going too far actually do a damn thing to actually change people's real situations. There is so much obsessing over the shibboleths and terminology and discussion and story-telling that people who have every reason to work together to right actual, physical, material injustices are instead squabbling over the words and expressions and speech.

I agree and disagree here. I disagree in that a friend's attempted suicide made it clear to me that not being inclusive and tacit identity policing does matter. There were other things going on in his life, but that my hot activism didn't quite include him was a bit on me. I think we should reject the t-word on the grounds that the people most harmed are not necessarily the ones who vocally object.

I agree in that a lot of the current generation of identity policing strikes me as very apolitical and ahistorical. I've been physically and emotionally abused specifically because I was out to that person as bisexual. I've been assaulted, harassed, and raped because I was seen as homosexual. Refusing to name those realities as anti-bisexual and anti-gay prejudice because my sexuality can also be described as queer, fluid, pansexual, or omnisexual strikes me as ridiculous. But that's the choice that people have tried to force on me lately.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:40 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


There are multibillion dollar cultural machines working on behalf of the status quo 24/7. The efforts of activists to change this tide are minuscule. We need mass movements trying to uproot the whole system, not just individuals working to change the culture through corporate-owned web sites.

So, the improvements in LGBT and women's rights in the past few decades, which owe a lot more to identity-based activism than to "mass movements trying to uproot the whole system" -- do you think they don't exist, or do you just think they don't matter?
posted by ostro at 6:01 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


I don't think this is a constructive comment. That kid wasn't a cross dresser, for a start. But you know, minor detail when you're busy trying to dismiss transmisogyny.

And comments like this are exactly why I feel unwelcome in trans* threads on metafilter.

I did not dismiss the discrimination against trans women. I reiterated it, unqualified, in my comment. I refuted the idea that only trans women face danger (though - as I will say AGAIN - they face higher levels of violence than most other members of the LGBTQ community).

if I am not welcome in these discussions, please say so. I will leave and not enter another trans* issues thread.
posted by jb at 6:06 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


...such tussles have become a rather predictable and regular part of all kinds of conferences and meetings. Indeed, it is becoming difficult to speak, to perform, to offer up work nowadays without someone, somewhere claiming to feel hurt, or re-traumatized by a cultural event, a painting, a play, a speech, a casual use of slang, a characterization, a caricature and so on...

Almost everyone agrees that words matter, and that there are certain things you shouldn't call people nor say to them. The problem with the relevant bit of the far-ish left is that it seems unable to recognize that such concerns can be taken so far as to become absurd.

The arc of the PC movement of the '90's went, roughly: nobody knew about it except for people who had to put up with it in college; it grew; more people found out about it; it got laughed out of court, culturally speaking--having had rather little lasting impact (some good and a fair bit bad) on universities.

As Halberstam recognizes, this stuff is just that stuff. Again. With slightly different terminology and concerns (e.g.: 'that's problematic' has replaced 'that's offensive' as the battle cry.)

Not all the relevant suggestions are bad...but the advocates lack any sense of proportion, and seem unable to recognize when they're demands have become ridiculous. But the typical response to the ridiculous is, of course ridicule... "Call-out culture" is just a concern with being holier-than-though, secularized. Overall, what's afoot is moral fanaticism. Words matter--but they don't matter that much. When the proponents of a movement cease to recognize that it's even possible for them to go too far, they've left reason behind.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:18 PM on July 8 [5 favorites]


So, the improvements in LGBT and women's rights in the past few decades, which owe a lot more to identity-based activism than to "mass movements trying to uproot the whole system" -- do you think they don't exist, or do you just think they don't matter?

They are the long term impacts of hard-built mass movements, mostly started in the 1970s, that have continued to be important points of activism since then. To a significant extent, the success of these movements has meant critical compromises have been made. For instance, there are women CEOs, but the fundamental problem of un-waged housework and child care has only been severely exacerbated by the current prominence of women into the workplace. Or the "respectability" of lesbian and gay people, particularly in the gay marriage movement, has often meant that LG (and sometimes B) people have embraced monogamy, marriage and the traditional family, and neglected trans people. Or sex/gender reassignment surgery has an expectation that is problematic for trans or genderqueer people who don't fit (or who don't alter their bodies to fit) the gender binary.

At the same time, the form of those victories being limited to certain (nevertheless important) forms of LGBT and women's rights is a direct result of these movements' abandonment of the idea of fundamental systemic change and their focus on culture, which is exactly what I have criticized here. I also think that, as Hobby Lobby shows, these victories are contingent upon the ruling class going along with them and remain in peril.

So the answer is: it's really complicated, but I think the fundamental axis of activism needs to shift. I don't want to undermine the importance of how much things have changed since Stonewall and second wave feminism, since these things do matter, but there are core issues that need a more radical mass movement, focused on action rather than words, to fix them.
posted by graymouser at 6:26 PM on July 8 [5 favorites]


Just treat everybody with good manners, is that so hard?

If people have to consider the feelings of their fellow citizens before and after shooting off at mouth and pontificating, it is a win for civility, and that is good in all ways.
posted by koebelin at 6:32 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]


Not all the relevant suggestions are bad...but the advocates lack any sense of proportion, and seem unable to recognize when they're demands have become ridiculous.

The weird thing about this assertion - which is made pretty regularly - is that it rarely manages to muster a non-imaginary example of these ridiculous demands. Nor does it ever manages to explain what qualifies the speaker to make the judgment. So, ultimately, all we get from it is "a guy thinks that some stuff is OK, but other stuff is just whack".

Which, sure, message received, but I think that was clear from all the other times exactly the same thing was said previously. What's Act 2?
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:42 PM on July 8 [12 favorites]


I refuted the idea that only trans women face danger

Right, but doing so isn't particularly helpful. You know how in threads about women being raped, someone is always compelled to point out that men are also victims of rape? It's true, it's important, but implies the thing we're talking about (here transmisogyny) isn't as big a problem as it is.
posted by hoyland at 7:32 PM on July 8 [7 favorites]


Yeah, the trans woman pushback to the TERF "male privilege" talking point is not about who has more or less privilege, it's about not letting people smuggle "maleness" into their portrayals of trans women because fuck that. I can see how out of context uninvested people might see it as a "both sides do it" or "oppression olympics" thing, but to trans women it's a misgendering dog whistle that we have to object to because otherwise it gains traction.

If you don't yet think that all this is just thinly veiled dumping on trans women, consider this: If Halberstam really hates "political correctness"/"censorship"/etc., wouldn't it be more effective to fight for anti-gay and anti-black slurs, which "the left" has already somewhat successfully marginalized? He'd get more free for his speech to argue in favor of those words, and yet here we are (over and over and over).
posted by Corinth at 7:35 PM on July 8 [11 favorites]


Halberstam's piece is frustrating. I've historically liked him and his work but this is too simplistic, too finger-pointy.

This excellent, excellent piece by (trans woman) Katherine Cross is much more productive and much more awesome.
The wages of rage in our communities, and the often aimless, unchecked anger striking both within and without have created a climate of toxicity and fear that not only undermine our highest ideals, but also corrode the comforts of community for the very people who most need it. One of the most leaden wages of that culture of rage is, indeed, fear. I have been praised for my voice by many in this community and called “brave” by more people than I can name, count, or thank; and yet sitting in my My Documents folder is a number of articles, some finished, others not, that are “on ice.”

When I mention the icebox of unpublished posts and articles to friends and colleagues, I do so with a forced smile, pretending that it’s a heady combination of academic perfectionism and fear of being attacked by bigots that leads me to suppress them. There is more than a grain of truth to this. As many of my friends, loved ones, and sisters in struggle have demonstrated and written about, there is a lot to fear from the 4chan-esque world of angry young men with ample resentment towards those of us they perceive to be purloining some birthright of theirs. My academic work is devoted, in no small measure to explaining their behaviour (more on this in a bit).

But I am lying when I say they are the sole source of my hesitation.

The rest, often as not even the lion’s share, comes from fear of something with the power to cut even deeper– my own community. I fear being cast suddenly as one of the “bad guys” for being insufficiently radical, too nuanced or too forgiving, or for simply writing something whose offensive dimensions would be unknown to me at the time of publication.

....

[I]n addition to the emphasis on individual catharsis, the culture of unchecked rage that sometimes wracks us is also an artefact of patriarchy itself and its lust for competitive, often violent contest. Much ink has been spilled on the masculinism that infects activist discourse, leading to delightfully snarky epithets like “Manarchism,” but we ignore the fact that white cis men are not the only people perpetuating this; it’s a culture, it does not dwell only in those with a perceived “essence.” We often unthinkingly accept and venerate the modalities and methods that patriarchy most favours; rage fuelled, unempathetic, us-versus-them politics is an ideal fit with the political hellscape of modern, neo-liberal patriarchy. It is a world that prizes the atomised particular over the powerful but compromising collective.
I've actually been considering this for an FPP for a while, but I think it is too relevant to this discussion not to post.
posted by wemayfreeze at 7:41 PM on July 8 [9 favorites]


Halberstam's piece is a polemic: entirely "people are being divisive and missing the real point" without anything to back that up, seemingly without compassion for why people do what they do, feel what they feel, say what they say. Which just feels like a salvo from one side to the other, precisely what we* need less of (if ya ask me). Bleh.

* for certain values of 'we'
posted by wemayfreeze at 7:53 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]


Right, but doing so isn't particularly helpful.

Gross. While I understand the emotion behind this, if you wish people to not bring up contrary examples, do not say things which are false.
posted by smidgen at 8:30 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


That was a fpp back in January, wemayfreeze.
posted by clavicle at 8:52 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


Dang I missed it! Catching up now brb
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:09 PM on July 8


I find it hilarious that Halberstam uses the Yorkshiremen sketch to try to shame those whiny bratty kids. That's the only funny thing in the whole damn article, in which he accuses the other side of being humorless.
posted by fleacircus at 1:40 AM on July 9


AOK: The idea that we are full of male privilege and male violence is at the heart of many of the things that are killing us.

Which, I think, means that Alexander is right: saying someone has privilege is sometimes attack which has bad consequences for that person in environments where people who accept the privilege framing have control. This gives the lie to the other, oft-repeated, claim that saying Jones has privilege or telling her to check it should not be taken by Jones as any kind of attack or negative moral judgement. Alexander's beef is with people who make the latter sort of claim while also taking part arguments where it's clear they know that being convicted of privilege will have bad consequences. Alexander is not arguing that transexual women should not defend themselves from accusations of privilege (but he is saying that if any of them are also repeating the "why are you upset when I call you privileged? let me explain what that means..." stuff to other people, they are hypocrites, just as the TERFs would be if they did the same, because sides actually know that being successfully accused of privilege has consequences).

thug kitten: I agree with AOK. "Not taking sides" in the "argument" between trans women and radical feminists is a really transmisogynist position to take.

AOK did not, AFAICT, say this. Alexander is mentioning the arguments of both sides but not using them because the conversation he is trying to have is not about who actually has more privilege. Other people have mentioned what his actual position is likely to be, even though people have then attempted to shoot that down by assuming it's the "my transexual girlfriend means I can't be a transphobe" argument. This shooting down seems uncharitable to me.
posted by pw201 at 1:59 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]


Gross. While I understand the emotion behind this, if you wish people to not bring up contrary examples, do not say things which are false.

What false thing have I said exactly?
posted by hoyland at 3:09 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]


I should also point out (as I did earlier) that the "contrary example" was a non-example!
posted by hoyland at 3:10 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


pw201: "Which, I think, means that Alexander is right: saying someone has privilege is sometimes attack which has bad consequences for that person in environments where people who accept the privilege framing have control."

This is a way of being technically right while also being a heinous false equivalence. I can't think of a single other group for whom "the privilege debate" is so fundamental to our rights and access to resources. Alexander was plainly presenting it as a give-and-take, serving up trans women as just another group embroiled in identity politics.

Do not use us to make a point about privilege dynamics or the politics of privilege arguments. It is in staggeringly poor taste and erases all the complexities and problems that are unique to this case in particular.

pw201: "Alexander is not arguing that transexual women should not defend themselves from accusations of privilege (but he is saying that if any of them are also repeating the "why are you upset when I call you privileged? let me explain what that means..." stuff to other people, they are hypocrites, just as the TERFs would be if they did the same, because sides actually know that being successfully accused of privilege has consequences)."

No no no no no no no no no no no no no.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation here. A trans woman who defends herself against accusations of male privilege and who engages in privilege arguments with others is not a hypocrite, and you do not get it if you think that's the case.

A cis man, for example, who "defends himself" on the subject of privilege on the basis that he is gay or asexual or something, is engaging in something that is closer to what Alexander is talking about here; my opinion on Alexander's position is not particularly important.

A trans woman who defends herself on the subject of "male privilege" is literally defending her right to exist and be recognised and treated as a woman.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 4:18 AM on July 9 [15 favorites]


i present as a cis woman and i feel perfectly welcome in conversations here about trans issues. people flouncing around about feeling unwelcome and making a big show of how they just can't speak because a trans person disagreed with them is really strange to me.
posted by nadawi at 6:29 AM on July 9 [12 favorites]


also, as a pansexual woman i find it really uncomfortable when bi/pan/omni sexual people try to compare our erasure from the lgbt movement to the treatment that trans people, and specifically trans women, experience. the l & g as a whole should be far more welcoming than they are to all the letters to the right, but the disdain leveled at people with fluid sexualities is in no way comparable to out right attacks that trans people receive from within the movement. biphobia is a real thing and it sucks, but it doesn't really compare to, for example, the doxing of trans women by terfs.
posted by nadawi at 6:34 AM on July 9 [6 favorites]


Certainly, many people have suffered terribly as a result of exclusion and othering rendered by members of a majority.

There are also spaces that are likely going to be unsafe for such people at some point-- speaking at a conflict filled city council meeting, organizing a street march in an autonomous zone, or large sections of effectively unbounded social media such as Twitter.

Movements that seek to be politically effective are going to have to operate in those unsafe spaces, and can either 1) make them safe (by force if necessary) or 2) not put vulnerable people in action at those spaces. Is that ableist? You bet it is.

The guy who was beaten by his dad and now can no longer control his anger at authority figures is not the guy to have speaking at a raucous city council meeting that calls for cool heads. Sorry. This applies to many other spaces as well.

What some people need is therapy, whether that be in a formal setting or informally among friends and supportive folks behind closed doors. One of the ugliest things I've seen in activism is people using it as therapy. All they are doing is using other people as means, and not as ends in themselves. Some of the most fucked up things I have seen come from this "left activism as therapy" stuff, including, not accomplishing much at all.

There's also the failure to understand the difference between the discourse of morality and the discourse of power. A lot of left activists have mastered the discourse of morality-- they are expert at shouting down those (nominally) in their circle who have violated some particular moral rule, even if it's a moral rule of which the violator is unaware, because it's a new rule to the community. The fast evolving rules about what can be retweeted and what can't be are an example of this.

Those speaking the discourse of power, on the other hand, don't particularly care about your morality either way-- they're going to smash you in the face.

A really good example of the disconnect between the two is when one activist says "we couldn't take that building because the stupid pigs were there, it's so wrong that they were there, they're fucking evil" and the second says, "yes, but we should have had a plan to overcome them." When the first replies "you're blaming the victim, this is the fault of the cops", he is failing to understand that the second person is speaking the discourse of power, while he's speaking the discourse of morality.

Now, we could say that on a place like twitter or tumblr, the force of a social media swarm, is the discourse of power , since it has forced someone from the conversation. But that's only power wielded within a community of people that share a common (nominally left) set of values. Up against someone else, say, a hardline rightist, that same moral discourse fails utterly.

It also fails when they've got all the guns and the will to use them. But that's a comment for another day.
posted by wuwei at 8:39 AM on July 9 [7 favorites]


nadawi: "biphobia is a real thing and it sucks, but it doesn't really compare to, for example, the doxing of trans women by terfs."

*nod*

People who claim to be feminists recently allied with an anti-gay right-wing hate group to harass a 16 year-old schoolchild because she was a trans girl. They even got major news organisations to run the story with their "facts". This is one recent example out of many.

If you're not a trans woman then you have a lot of ally work to do before you should start complaining about how we respond to our constant oppression and dehumanisation.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 8:53 AM on July 9 [3 favorites]


nadawi: "biphobia is a real thing and it sucks, but it doesn't really compare to, for example, the doxing of trans women by terfs."

I didn't make a direct comparison - Maybe someone else did.

I was referring to the original topic of the post - about the ways people express themselves in social activism - and my own choice not to fixate on minor examples of bi-erasure because it wasn't very helpful to anyone involved.

For example, this morning, a UK activist was being excoriated by bi activists on twitter for what was a silly joke (that most even misunderstood) that he made at London Pride. There were dozens of people getting angry, instead of giving him the benefit of the doubt -- and in the end, the twitter feed that started it came out and apologized, saying that they had misunderstood him.

Did it even need to happen? Maybe if people had been less quick to jump to accusations and more willing to find out what the person had meant, all would have been happier.

And these are the lesson I'm taking away for issues to do with my community: give people the benefit of the doubt on minor misstatements, value allies, try to make my points politely without ad homonyms, and work towards common goals to end discrimination based on gender (as I see that as the root of homophobia/biphobia, transphobia, sexism, etc).
posted by jb at 9:36 AM on July 9


I abhor what TERFs like Julie Bindal have said - and I consider it my place as a feminist to denounce their statements. It's not something I do because I support trans* rights, though I do, but because I fight gender/sex essentialism and discrimination -- it offends me more that when so-called feminist discriminates by biological sex, because she's being prejudiced and hypocritical. If she were just an unreconstructed sexist, it would be at least understandable (if not acceptable).
posted by jb at 9:44 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


pw201, I have hell of privilege. I'm white, able-bodied, posting on MetaFilter, etc. You are welcome to tell me to check my privilege along those axes (or "accuse" me of having it, I guess?), and I will! But when someone says I have male privilege, what I'm pushing back against is not the idea of having privilege in general, but "male" privilege in particular. A trans woman defending herself from accusations of eternal intrinsic maleness is absolutely not comparable to a white person rejecting the idea of white privilege or a TERF rejecting the idea of cis privilege or whatever. We don't get upset when someone makes general "accusations of privilege," we get upset when someone calls us male.

But if you believe that "being convicted of privilege will have bad consequences," maybe you aren't approaching this concept from the right direction to start with?
posted by Corinth at 9:46 AM on July 9 [9 favorites]


To be clear, what I was complaining about is primarily cis people using shibboleths to declare their pro-trans ideals, ironically by classifying trans people as not-men and not-women in the process. But that's all I'll say about that, and anyone who cares to continue the discussion can send me mail.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:54 AM on July 9


I mean, if a bunch of radical feminists were waging a campaign of arguing that gay sex is unnatural and disgusting (compare how TERFs talk about trans people's bodies, for instance) and that gay people should get reparative therapy instead of acting on their desires (also analogous to what TERFs are doing), and on top of that were also harassing and outing gay men in places that are very dangerous for them like I don't know, Jamaica (ibid) and arguing that they should not have access to things like shelters and medical care (ibid), nobody today would be saying "well, really, who cares about who's ultimately right? Both sides are just engaging in a distraction from the real issues, like poverty and race." (Well, I mean, someone probably would, but they'd be full of shit.)

On top of that, what trans women are objecting to is not being told that they have privilege but that they have male privilege, or on preview, what Corinth said. It's not like a gay man being told he has cis privilege, it's like a gay man being told he has straight privilege because gay people don't exist, they're just confused straight people who have been misled by aggro gay activists.

Let's be real, this piece isn't about transcending petty internicene squabbling, it's about minimizing the harm that gender and sexual minorities experience. Direct quote: "not all LGBT youth are suicidal, not all LGBT people are subject to violence and bullying, and indeed class and race remain much more vital factors in accounting for vulnerability to violence, police brutality, social baiting and reduced access to education and career opportunities" -- with that, violence against trans women (or even cis women!) is dismissed to some third-tier distraction of a non-problem while also ignoring the real evidence that trans women are disproportionately targets of violent crime. Fuck this poisonous bullshit.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:11 AM on July 9 [9 favorites]


AOK: Alexander is in a bit of a bind: if he presents his argument (that claims of privilege are treated as attacks by the very same people who object to others treating them as attacks) without giving any examples, someone will claim he has no evidence and ask for that evidence. If he gives specific examples, he's victimising the subjects of those examples or using their pain to make a point.

A trans woman who defends herself against accusations of male privilege and who engages in privilege arguments with others is not a hypocrite

I don't think Alexander (or I) have said that. His objection is specifically to the claim that saying "you have privilege" should never be treated as an attack (and that people who get upset about others saying that about them just don't get it). Someone who treated it as an attack in one case (when they're the defender) and repeated the "it's never an attack" line in another case (when they are the attacker) needs to get rid of the "never" in their claim, at the very least.

Pinning the male privilege thing on transsexual women has worse consequences for them than the straight, cis, white guy who just gets a bit annoyed when "called out" on the Internet. I don't think Alexander has disagreed with that, either.

Corinth says it's the "male" part of "male privilege" that's the problem. I agree calling transwomen "male" is a problem, but I notice that Alexander isn't obviously referring to ontological claims about who's really a woman, he's saying there's an argument about "residual" male privilege which is supposed (though not by him, as far as I can tell) to attach to people who formerly presented as male.

It may be that if you've been around the block a few times, this residual male privilege argument is code for "you're not really a woman". ISTM "privilege" has become so broad (and reified: it's like a mark that nobody wants to get on them) that it's worth taboo-ing it and replacing it with what you actually mean to say in the particular case. The people who claim others have "residual male privilege" would then have to say something closer to what folks suspect they mean, i.e. "you aren't really women". The cis, white male who says that street harassment of women doesn't happen should be asked how they'd know that rather then told to check his privilege. And so on.
posted by pw201 at 10:27 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


It may be that if you've been around the block a few times, this residual male privilege argument is code for "you're not really a woman".

This is correct in my experience: it is part and parcel of the TERF ideology. But I don't agree that just because a small (though vocal) group of people misuse a generally useful term, that we should have to stop using it correctly.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:30 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


I actually think all of the talking and internal dialogue is really useful. One of the reasons I love Tumblr is how I can mix together the serious and the humorous on my own page, how I can combine people disagreeing with each other sometimes one after the other.

As near as I can tell, there hasn't been a single activism that hasn't excluded people it shouldn't. Feminism excluded and marginalized black women, and now strains are trying to exclude trans women. Civil Rights excluded and marginalized black women, and now strains of it try to exclude LGBTQ people. The LGBTQ movement kept trying to push letters off of the end of it, and excludes and marginalizes people of color in general.

This is a systemic problem, across multiple communities, all of I try to assume are acting in good faith - which strongly implies that something else is going on that is more systemic to humanity and how we interact with each other socially.

I don't think there's any way to solve this with the people who want women and people of color and LGBTQ people to shut up. This has to be done in house, by people who are dedicated enough to the idea trying to find a different way to relate to each other which allows us to disagree with each other while not negating or harming each other.
posted by Deoridhe at 10:36 AM on July 9 [5 favorites]


he's saying there's an argument about "residual" male privilege which is supposed (though not by him, as far as I can tell) to attach to people who formerly presented as male.


It doesn't matter how many weasel-word qualifiers like 'residual' you throw in front of 'male' when you're talking about trans women, frankly. When a trans woman objects to having male privilege (residual or not) she is objecting to being called male (or having some degree of residual maleness) not to being accused of having privilege. Being called out on your privilege is not (or should not be) offensive. Calling a trans woman a man is. It's not a counter-example to "it's never offensive to be called privileged" precisely because the offence does not rest in the privilege - it rests in the male.

Also, Alexander may well be sayng that there is an argument about residual male privilege which attaches to people who formerly presented as male, but fuck if that sentiment isn't transmisogynistic as all get out in itself.


Or the "respectability" of lesbian and gay people, particularly in the gay marriage movement, has often meant that LG (and sometimes B) people have embraced monogamy, marriage and the traditional family, and neglected trans people.

'Neglect' is being charitable. In many cases - the way the equal marriage bill constructed with respect to trans people here in the UK recently springing to mind most readily as an example - the LG (and sometimes B) people have actively made things worse for trans people.
posted by Dysk at 2:08 PM on July 9 [7 favorites]


I just want to say how glad I am that AOK is back because she is one of the best voices on this site in general but the way that the trans threads sometimes just end up with a bunch of cis voices and that's super irritating. Not that it's her job to explain all this stuff, and AOK if you're reading this I hope it's after you've had time to go do whatever other stuff you wanted to do today because participating on MetaFilter isn't something that should come before your own needs, for obvious reasons. But when threads become "The (insert user here) show" it's almost always for really awful reasons, as opposed to the user in question actually being really knowledgable and eloquent and generous with her time and personal experience and insight.
posted by NoraReed at 2:10 PM on July 9 [10 favorites]


Also, Alexander may well be sayng that there is an argument about residual male privilege which attaches to people who formerly presented as male, but fuck if that sentiment isn't transmisogynistic as all get out in itself.

Dysk, can you help me understand a little more? How is that sentiment transmisogynistic?

The argument you suggested Alexander might be forwarding seems sound to me — someone who formerly presented as male would have benefited from male privilege during that time and some of those effects might still be a part of that person's life, even after transitioning (a particular job, for instance, or access to a network of connected men).

The term "residual male privilege" doesn't really map to this, though. It suggests that a person still has some lingering bits of male privilege lingering around like yesterday's perfume, instead of more correctly saying that a person once was the recipient of male privilege but now is no longer.

Thoughts?
posted by wemayfreeze at 5:21 PM on July 9


The implication really usually is that trans women experience some sort of 'residual' male privilege, and therefore aren't 'really' women.

There's totally a conversation to be had about how male privilege intersects with trans people's lives in ways different to how it intersects with cis people's lives (both in terms of receiving male privilege or not at various times and in terms of how one experiences male privilege or lack thereof), but it's complicated and messy and, I think, not really a conversation that cis people need to be involved in (and there really aren't many things I'd say that about). Male privilege (or any privilege) isn't binary (pun sort of intended) in the way we often assume of you have it or you don't, so it's simplistic to say that trans women were afforded male privilege pre-transition and trans men gain male privilege and call it good. If you're speaking in really broad strokes, maybe that's an approximation, but for the conversation to not turn into a transphobia fest (that's mostly transmisogyny), we have to realise that trans people are going to experience male privilege and sexism pre-transition differently than cis people sharing the same assigned gender do.
posted by hoyland at 5:45 PM on July 9 [6 favorites]


On preview, what hoyland says.

Transitioners with great jobs and access to networks of connected men aren't representative of trans women as a class, so their example is not going to be very useful for generalizing or theorizing in good faith about trans women as a class.
posted by thug unicorn at 6:40 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]


The argument you suggested Alexander might be forwarding seems sound to me — someone who formerly presented as male would have benefited from male privilege during that time and some of those effects might still be a part of that person's life, even after transitioning (a particular job, for instance, or access to a network of connected men).

This relies on one of two ideas to work. Either 1) trans women were men (odious, transphobic) or 2) male privilege is entirely a factor of how your gender is perceived by others, and is in no way impacted by what your gender actually is (which would be a hilarious assertion if it weren't so depressing). Yes, you might still have a job or something, I guess (though every trans woman I know had an equally shit time or worse of life pre-transition, even in terms of 'practical' things like employment) but the notion that pre-transition trans women are uncomplicatedly recipients of male privilege? Wrong.
posted by Dysk at 9:04 PM on July 9 [4 favorites]


Jack Halberstam, if tearing down the banks and whatnot is so much more important, why aren't you off doing that instead of writing this divisive drivel?
posted by Dysk at 10:18 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]


The implication really usually is that trans women experience some sort of 'residual' male privilege, and therefore aren't 'really' women.

I've seen "masculine energy" used, too, and it's essentially a dog whistle for gender essentialism.

I find this sad because I think that what we think of as "masculine" and what we think of as "feminine" shouldn't be gender coded and should be available to everyone regardless of gender identity, and gender essentialist feminists make this much harder to talk about.

Ultimately, patriarchy is about Rule of Kings (high status men) not rule of (all) men - so men can and are damaged by it and the number of men "on top" is relatively small and tends to exclude men based on race, gender expression, sexual orientation, and relative ability to adapt to the changing characteristics of which "get respect" (and which often demand the rhetoric of violence, if not the act of it).

Trans women, as women, are often targeted by gendered violence from men even before they can be accurately perceived as women because gendered violence to punish men for being "too much like a woman" is a real thing, and trans women are women. There is a reason sports coaches insult their team members by calling them "ladies," and that reason is sexism as it plays out in presumed-male homosocial environments.

All of this is underpinned by sexism, and it results in situations where a woman who people assume is a man will not have the same privileges and treatment she would have if she actually were a man, both in how she is treated and how she reacts to the gender policing men do to people they perceive as men.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:08 AM on July 10 [10 favorites]


I was trained how to be a boy though merciless bullying and physical and verbal abuse starting in 4th grade that lasted all the way until 8th grade. Any privilege that was extended was held in exchange that I not show or reveal any desire to express myself as woman. This was not a covert or subliminal message, it was very direct and made plainly clear to me.

After the physical abuse stopped because the boys realized how terrible it was, the verbal and social reinforcement continued, well, even to this morning, as I am not fully out yet at work but I am also not giving a damn anymore about hiding my womanhood.

Male privilege extended to a trans woman is a "gift" held in exchange for hiding your true identity, and I am constantly reminded how tentative that privilege is being extended based on how men gender police me daily via subtle comments and taunts. This shit is real people, and claims that I am somehow tainted by that privilege, and that somehow due to that taint I harm cisgender women, are really fucking awful to my ears and trigger hard-to-curb suicidal feelings.
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:48 PM on July 10 [10 favorites]


If I had succinctly to describe growing up as a pre-pubescent girl who knew she was a girl but didn't know it was even possible, without the intervention of gods or magic, to go from a position of having a penis and being viewed by most people as a boy to "really" being a girl, and who was repeatedly and cruelly punished for behaviour that was not "gender appropriate," and who was constantly separated from her friends because they were girls, I would choose the words confusing, fatalistic and traumatic.

I couldn't see a future for myself. I had no map to adulthood. And people hurt me when I rejected the map that was handed to me.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:30 PM on July 10 [8 favorites]


I know a (cis) woman who used male-sounding names online for many years. I hope she wasn't poisoned by all that residual male privilege she got for presenting male. BRB got to tell her she's less of a woman.
posted by fleacircus at 3:13 PM on July 10


The point that the really objectionable thing about "residual male privilege" is the "male" rather than the "privilege" seems well made to me. I commented on Scott's blog making that point and suggesting that if there are hundreds of examples, another one would be better.
posted by pw201 at 2:28 AM on July 12


I can't imagine any way in which that could possibly result in thousands of words of rambling complaint about how mean the social justice types are to victimized white men like Donald Sterling.

No, really. That's totally an intervention worth making. There is no way it won't have a positive, productive outcome.

I have to say, from my privileged perspective, the thing that really stands out to me is this:
I don’t know if racism school dot tumblr dot com has a Rosetta Stone with Donald Sterling on the top and somebody taking the Implicit Association Test on the bottom. But I think there is a strain of the social justice movement which is very much about abusing this ability to tar people with extremely dangerous labels that they are not allowed to deny, in order to further their political goals.
I mean, who thinks the Rosetta Stone works like that?
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:57 AM on July 12


I've seen him formally withdraw arguments in response to rebuttals from others. This encourages me to think that he's capable of publicly changing his mind. I did so in this thread, and I expect Scott Alexander to be better at this than me, not worse. It'd be nice if it did result in another blog post as they're usually good (previously).
posted by pw201 at 11:46 AM on July 12


I really love the Implicit Association Tests.

Weirdly, it was the test I truly, obviously, grossly failed which brought home to me how unconscious these associations can be (it was the weight association test - yup, self-hating fat woman here; yay?). I had assumed I "passed" the Black Male Association Test because I had a sense of rhythm (I tend to assume I'm prejudiced as a default - it motivates me to work for change and manage my own defensiveness to critique) but it really was REALLY hard to associate "fat" with "good". As in my finger would stutter, and I'd feel distinct pressure as my body didn't want to do it.

Disturbing, but enlightening.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:27 PM on July 12


I did so in this thread, and I expect Scott Alexander to be better at this than me, not worse.

Out of interest, why? I mean, that was 3000+ words of reckons, apparently based on having seen something on Tumblr, roving from "what I think about trans women" to Donald Sterling. I mean, some reckons need more space than others, but that's a heck of a reckon colony to build on not a huge amount of fertile land.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:17 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]


(And oh God the comments.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:49 PM on July 12


Out of interest, why?

He wrote a lot of good stuff on Less Wrong during the period while it was otherwise devolving into decision theory wanking.

what I think about trans women

Lots of people here seem to think that Scott Alexander said what he thought about trans women in that post. This is a common error.

(And oh God the comments.)

Well, he did ban the worst offender. But yes, the Less Wrong lot really need to find another wacky group whose ideas they can take seriously so as to signal that their rationality is not moved by the unpopularity of such ideas, because the Reactionaries are arseholes to a man, as far as I can tell. I preferred it when Leah Libresco converted and people were looking into Thomism.
posted by pw201 at 10:53 AM on July 13


He said, in a dismissive, patronizing tone, that trans women resisting TERF rhetoric are engaging in petty oppression olympics. His use of this clash as an "example" legitimizes the TERF attack by assuming two rational "sides" and then mischaracterizing and criticizing a justified defense. He portrays TERFs as full participants in the progressive coalition so that he can frame their attacks and our response as some kind of "the left eating its own tail" narrative. The post plays a part in the laundering of hate speech, which in turn makes uninformed readers more receptive to the idea that trans women are overreacting harpies out to police their thoughts or run semantic circles around them.

The post communicates a certain chunk of what the author thinks about trans people.
posted by Corinth at 11:36 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


OK, so you're a fan. But, assuming we are not being swayed by out starry-eyed responses to personality:

He wrote a lot of good stuff on Less Wrong during the period while it was otherwise devolving into decision theory wanking.


Is not actually an answer to the question "Why would you expect better". As near as I can tell, this is a classic UseNet wall-o-text, with very little real-world experience or comprehension being applied. So, if the answer to a question about someone's competence to discourse about trans issues receives the reply "he wrote a lot of good stuff on a message board (totally unrelated to trans issues)", then that is certainly instructive, but it's not really an explanation.


Lots of people here seem to think that Scott Alexander said what he thought about trans women in that post. This is a common error.


To quote:
The important thing to notice is that every group considers it existentially important to prove that they are less privileged than the others, and they do it with arguments like (from last link) “all examples of cis privilege are really male privileges that are not afforded to women, or are instances of resistance to trans politics. I call it patriarchy privilege when something like an unwillingness to redefine one’s own sexuality to include males is seen is labeled as offensive.”
Trans woman very clearly fit into this, and this is very clearly what he thinks. I think possibly "lots of people" have read the actual content, rather than spending that time trying to score logical fallacy points.

If the goal of this entire enterprise is to score logical fallacy points, of course, this is also instructive regarding how trans women are being thought of - not unusually, they are being thought of a set of people whose extistence is valuable only insofar as it serves some (rhetorical or other) purpose for cis people.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:43 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Okay, look. If Alexander wanted to make a point about privilege rhetoric being overwrought and overextended, he did not necessarily need to use trans women as his example.

He could have used something like "popular privilege", but then he'd be forced to acknowledge that he's making shots at alienated and hurt fourteen-somethings on tumblr with no real power, and to boot being extremely intellectually dishonest by propping up the people who least understand the conceptual tools that they're using as a straw man for the entire privilege argument.

He could have explored the fact that privilege can be a very flexible grey area and a relative and situational thing especially when dealing between marginalized populations, but then his argument would lack the bite of "lol look at all of these SJWs infighting amongst each other" since these privilege conversations then become less viable to interpret as "oppression olympics" as opposed to necessary conversations in any marginalized-to-marginalized interaction to determine who needs to cede space for the inclusion of others.

So instead, he chooses to attack trans women, and this is the only way his argument can work - because knowingly or not, he relies on socially encoded expectations of trans women as predatory, illegitimate, and ridiculous to gloss over all of the lazy generalizations he chooses to make. Beyond that, he abuses the lack of awareness around the issues that trans women face - and indeed, the willful denial of these issues - to ignore that the only reason why trans women actively combat myths of "male socialization" is because they are acting in self-defense against TERFs who are abusing narratives of privilege to harm trans women.

In other words, he's pointing at the trans woman who has been shot in the kneecap to claim that all marginalized people in general scream too loudly, roll on the ground too often, and file too many police reports. And it works because everyone goes along with it since they've all been told that trans women were all fake and dangerous, and it must be her fault somehow, right?
posted by Conspire at 1:45 PM on July 13 [7 favorites]


Julia Serano's response to the shitty Halberstam piece, which is better than her last response to shitty things.
posted by Corinth at 3:45 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]


Things which Alexander said (shorter paraphrase): Group A says "group B has more privilege". Group B says "group A has more privilege". (Look! One argument for one side used this barely understandable sentence). This is one of countless similar arguments about who has more privilege. Arguments about privilege really matter to people.

Saying Alexander is arguing that one of group A or group B actually has more privilege is a reading comprehension error akin to the use/mention error. Saying that Alexander ought to have come down on one side and that by his silence he's taking the other side is, I dunno, some kind of offence against charity and/or de-railing (since he's not trying to have that debate). Saying that by mentioning both sides in the same paragraph he makes them out to be equally respectable is reading into it more than is actually there. Alexander doesn't say that these considerations of privilege are petty, in fact, his point is the opposite, that they clearly really matter to people. Arguments about his tone are... well, you know.

Trans woman very clearly fit into this, and this is very clearly what he thinks.

The group "trans women who get into heated online discussions about privilege while also claiming that privilege claims are always bloodless observations about which those who are claimed to have privilege need not get too upset" fits clearly into the scope of his criticism. I don't see that Alexander means to criticise trans women without qualification, or even to criticise trans women who argue heatedly that they don't have residual male privilege. He seems to care about hypocrisy: if someone says "I resent your claim that I have X privilege and I can understand how someone else might resent the claim that they have Y privilege, these sorts of claims can be used as an attack", I think they're in the clear, by his lights.

If the goal of this entire enterprise is to score logical fallacy points, of course, this is also instructive regarding how trans women are being thought of - not unusually, they are being thought of a set of people whose extistence is valuable only insofar as it serves some (rhetorical or other) purpose for cis people.

The goal of Alexander's post doesn't seem to be to score logical fallacy points. (I'm the one who linked to the UME page, and I'm not him). I don't believe he only thinks of trans women as valuable insofar as they further the purposes of cis people, and if I were him, I'd find that claim extremely rude. It's certainly an unwarranted extrapolation from two paragraphs taken from a much longer discussion.

Anyhow, this is now in danger of becoming "pw201 takes on all comers", so I will bow out of the thread here. Y'all know where to find me.
posted by pw201 at 11:13 AM on July 14


The goal of Alexander's post doesn't seem to be to score logical fallacy points. (I'm the one who linked to the UME page, and I'm not him).

Indeed - and it was a culturally inappropriate thing to do.

This connects, I think, to my suggestion that the issue here is a fandom issue. You're committing the classic fandom error of assuming a) that your fandom's cultural norms are universal and b) that everyone is as familiar with the intricacies of your fandom as you are. It's kind of like "Larry", say. Super meaningful to One Direction fan culture, merely a name outside it. And yet within a subset of the fandom everybody knows not only that it describes the love of Louis and Harry, but that this love is true and real, and anyone denying it is either a fool or a shill for the label.

In a similar "isn't it obvious?" vein, Alexander seems to be basing his understanding of arguments about privilege from a perspective that presupposes its conclusions. And - to the point - if someone's interest in trans people (or black people, for that matter, who form the overarching subject of the piece) extends as far as how ker-azy some of the blog posts by and about them them are, and how this can support those presupposed conclusions, then that is indeed treating trans people as a means, rather than as an end - specifically, as a means to score points against some universal concept of social justice.

This, I am sure we all know, is a big Kantian no-no.

This thread would probably, TBH, have been better if it had just had the Halberstam article, which has much to take issue with but also contains a degree of experiential knowledge and at least some rigor along with its rhetorical overreach. Contrariwise, what-ifs about
black people chasing a white kid down the street waving knives and yelling ‘KILL WHITEY'
are not really super useful contributions to a more nuanced discussion in a world where this happens surprisingly rarely.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:20 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]


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