What Is a Blogger to Do?

Okay. This can’t affect the outcome for the individual in question vis a vis the network anymore. Time for some answers. What do you do, as a network-entrenched blogger:

Street scene in black and white with yellow caution sign saying, "Quiet Zone".
“Quiet Zone” by CPG Grey, CC BY 2.0

When you see a colleague react to being told they’ve retweeted people who advocate for the exclusion of trans women from radical feminist spaces and women-oriented services (also known as TERFs) with blocking, hostility to being given this information publicly, and discussions on their Facebook page about how “TERF” is a term used by younger feminists to invalidate older feminists?

When you see them tell someone that some people would look at his gender nonconformity and tell him he is trans, however he identifies?

When you see them repeatedly deride feminine-identified clothing, grooming, and verbal expressions?

When you see them publish a post that ambiguously blames either a trans woman or the magazine telling her story for putting pressure on women to perform femininity, then have them argue to you specifically that trans women bear a responsibility not to do this?

When you see them link and quote from a post that says trans women aren’t women because they don’t have a common girlhood with cis women?

When you see them link to a trans person and say, “See? This is what I was saying. Why would you be upset with me”, when it wasn’t what they were saying at all?

When you see them flat-out deny that the people who call them trans-antagonistic or even a TERF in response to posts like those have any history to base this judgment on (despite having seen some of it yourself)?

When you see them continually paint these people as terrible, dishonest people trying to take your colleague down for referring to that history, then have them tell you to “get the fuck off my wall” when you attempt to explain what that history consists of?

When you see them buy into the myth of the trans cabal shutting down the free speech of feminists in that same discussion?

When you see them say, “These allies need to shut up”?

When you post this note on Facebook in support of principles your colleague has been arguing for as feminist principles for years, only to see it recast as an attack on your colleague?

Ever wonder whether the slime pit has managed to get something right, albeit entirely by accident?

Here I was thinking all this anxiety was over finding a new job at short notice. Nope. I’ve gotten all the things I can reasonably do out of the way and already have a first interview tomorrow for a position that is significantly better than the one I just left. I’ll be fine on the job front.

Still deeply anxious. The medication I’m on for migraines means I can’t have a panic attack, but it doesn’t stop this feeling of dread in the guts. And with job stuff out of the way, it’s become more clear what is causing the anxiety. It’s also become clear that the feeling won’t go away until I deal with the problem.

Over the last week or so, I’ve seen people in my friends list and my broader community say appalling things in defense of a colleague who was criticized. When I say “appalling”, I mean these people would feel a vicarious sense of embarrassment for anyone they saw using these arguments to defend Richard Dawkins from people who point out that things he’s said were sexist.

I’ve seen the equivalent of “‘Misogyny’ means hating women, and Dawkins doesn’t hate women”, “It’s okay to dismiss criticism as coming from a woman because they really are just worse at logic”, “My female friend whom I’ll go ahead and speak for is a fan of Dawkins, so he isn’t sexist”, “You have to understand (and tell the world) that his heart is in the right place, (and ignore the effect of his actions)”, “those people need to keep a civil tongue in their heads”, “By calling Dawkins sexist, you’re dismissing/ignoring all the good work he’s done”, “You’re dividing the community”, “‘Cunt’ isn’t a slur in Britain”, “Those people are just complaining to grab power”, “Calling someone ‘sexist’ is a defamatory slur”, “Maybe you should talk to someone who holds some power over this person”, and I’ll stop there because this is just getting more depressing by the second.

Worst of all, I’ve seen outrage that anyone would DARE categorize the behavior of my colleague as problematic by putting a label on it. Not attempts to understand where the criticism they find inexplicable is coming from or to figure out whether there’s a way to better serve and care for a marginalized population in our midst. Just mortification and anger that anyone would *say* this person had screwed up.

So much for “no heroes”. So much for making safer spaces for marginalized populations to be heard.

I’m making this a friends-only post because I don’t feel like letting the pit make hay of this. I still want to believe that the last few years haven’t been about “just tribalism”. There is tribalism in this community, of course, because it’s another one of those biases that’s incredibly hard to shake. But I want to believe that people will wake up shortly with the equivalent of a bad hangover and ask themselves what the hell happened.

Right now, though, I’m finding that very hard.

When your lines of private communication with your colleague are cut off or go without response?

When you see every attempt to defend the people your colleague is claiming are attacking them by giving voice to that history recast as an attempt to smear your colleague?

When you see your colleague spend weeks saying that speculating on her beliefs is an attack without ever clarifying those beliefs, then dismiss a request for clear communication as a trap and another attack?

When you see this?

Screen capture of a Facebook conversation. Relevant text in the post.

CAM: Yes. Thank you for acknowledging that. These men [trans women] need to be told over and over again that their femininity is NOT womanhood. They are feminized males. Go forth and be such. Do not claim to be a woman. AND DO NOT CLAIM THAT WE HAVE TO PRETEND THAT YOU ARE A WOMAN.
CAM: What exactly is the objection to these males referring to themselves as men, albeit men expressing unorthodox gender behaviors?

Ophelia Benson: Too last week?

When you see people refuse to look at that because they say they already know who your colleague is?

When you see your colleague claim that their “attackers” would have screen shots if they’d really behaved objectionably, then claim they’re being harassed when people seek out and share what they did say?

When you see your trans friends retreat from the discussion because their disappointment is too gutting, because living with being trans is more than enough to deal with, or because the situation has deteriorated to the point where they very rationally fear being outed as trans in dangerous situations?When the retreat of the trans people in the group is used by white cis men to say that objections to how those people have been berated is just white men doing “anything for ally cookies”?

When you see attempts to show trans friends that they’re not alone derided as merely “performative”?

When you see your trans friends and people with trans family members or close friends derided on a blog for saying privately that they find your colleague’s behavior distressing and unsafe?

When you see your colleague claim that another colleague’s statement of trans solidarity is a personal attack against them?

When you see your colleague and their supporters impugn the honesty of another blogger because of course any blog post containing “trans women are women” is a personal attack, just like these from Bitch Magazine, Everyday Feminism, and Shakesville?

When trying to be strategic in where and how you speak so as to keep from making matters worse does nothing to prevent your colleague from making matters worse?

When you see your colleague retweet agree with support from this person against “SJWs”? [Edited, as Ophelia says she did not retweet this. My apologies for the error.]

When you see your colleague say that someone has told them privately that the people they’re retweeting have histories of persecuting trans people and ask the general public, instead of the person who respected their wishes by contacting them privately, what that history could be?

When you see your colleague’s talk of leaving the network because it’s so terrible to have other colleagues say your colleague has done something wrong get turned into spaces to talk about how those other colleagues did something wrong?

When the 800-pound gorilla on your network stands up to give voice to the voiced, because staying out of the argument is only for the lesser lights on the network?

When your own relative silence on the matter is used to paint the people giving voice to trans concerns as just men attacking women instead of as a measure of the risk taken in speaking up at all?

When your own relative silence on the matter means someone sends you a fan letter talking about how another blogger who is giving voice to trans concerns is just going too far?

Seriously, what do you do in that situation? Because the answers I’m hearing are that you just shut up for the sake of harmony at your blog network and watch as trans people are once again erroneously painted as bullies targeting heroic feminists who just have questions about gender, a trope used against them any time they advocate for themselves. And that is not an acceptable answer. That isn’t going to happen.

So, people who want this all to just go away, what else do you propose if you think we shouldn’t argue this out? And what form is it acceptable for these arguments to take, if presenting facts to counter damaging assertions isn’t it? Seriously. What?

Note: Of course I’m talking about Ophelia, but a big part of this problem is that people seem to be reacting to their ideas of who Ophelia is lieu of looking at what she’s done. Thus the general case.

What Is a Blogger to Do?

84 thoughts on “What Is a Blogger to Do?

  1. 1

    It’s been both really depressing to watch post after post after post of defensive responses to very occasional and measured criticism, and also heartening to see those who have taken this as an opportunity to speak up for trans rights and provide a platform for people to educate themselves both here and at skepchick.
    I hope the ftb that comes out the other side is more of the latter.

  2. 5

    People are uncomfortable because watching your family argue ties your gut up in knots. It’s better to drag it out into the light, though, because sunlight does a number on icky things.

    …about how “TERF” is a term used by younger feminists to invalidate older feminists?

    Utter and complete bullshit. I’m 56. I’ve been a feminist since I was old enough to reason. I use TERF to mean someone who thinks they get sole say on who’s invited to the feminist party and who believe they have some sort of dowsing rod that officially sorts out peoples’ genders.

    When you see them link and quote from a post that says trans women aren’t women because they don’t have a common girlhood with cis women?

    This one just pisses me off. WHAT “common girlhood” would that be? Playing princess, dress up and wearing Mom’s high heels? I never did that. Learning how to change the oil, change a tire and re-roof a house? That was my girlhood. Some poor woman that had a clitorectomy? Which of those is our “common girlhood”? Fuck wits.

    Pardon my language, but bloody, fucking hell. If someone tells me their name is “Brent”, I don’t dig in to find out if that’s truly their name, I just accept their word for it. If someone tells me or presents as a woman/man, that’s it. That’s who they are. If they switch back and forth? No problem. Anyone with the average IQ of a turnip, who knows they’re allowed to call their boss “Florence” in private, but “Ms. Bollinger” in public, should be able to keep that straight. If someone doesn’t gender-identify, I do appreciate a heads-up so I don’t say something stupid.

    Mostly, other than having knotted-up guts over the fracas, I’m sorry that someone who’s done a lot of good for both reason and feminism decided to draw this particular line in the sand. It’s makes me angry and sad simultaneously.

  3. 7

    Just a comment moderation note here: If you leave a comment trying to litigate the whole mess over again, and I can find an instance of Ophelia arguing against the trope you’re using to do it, your comment gets tossed.

    So that pending comment about “no right not to be offended” is toast. You want a response to it? Go search her blog.

  4. 8


    This one just pisses me off. WHAT “common girlhood” would that be?

    the “common girlhood” bs reveals TERFism in my opinion as a subset of White Feminism™ The idea that being female is the single most important denominator, as if there were no significant differences between women.

  5. 10

    I was still following Ophelia on a list of FTB bloggers at the time, and I’m pretty sure that’s where I saw the comment. I could be wrong, of course, or Ophelia could have reconsidered the retweet.

  6. 11

    It’s the same story every time someone screws the pooch on a blogging network; everyone is supposed to be nice and quiet and not mention the elephant in the room that is currently trampling on marginalized folks.

    It happened with skepchick when I and others called out ableism there, and when I spoke out about what actually happened I lost my position there. I hope the same doesn’t happen to you for not sitting quietly by while Ophelia acts egregiously transphobic.

    Good for you for speaking out. I mean, you’re technically asking what to do (ANSWER: speak out), but really, you’re already doing that. And others will follow.

    But yeah. Speak out. It’s better to risk repercussions and vitriol than to let people be hurt. Your self-care included in there, of course.

  7. 12

    (Saw your comment before posting this one – OB says she didn’t RT Brennan)

    As to what should “we” do, I’m only proffering my own opinions here… Hungerford and the “gender critical” crew are the ones who have turned Ophelia to the dark side, so to speak. They push a metric tonne of bullshit, from misrepresenting scientific studies, to an incoherent mix of biological essentialism and materialism.

    Hungerford herself has made a concious play for the atheist crowd, she sees scientism and materialism to be on her side. How can what someone “feels” be relevant to the scientific “fact” of their “biology” for example. She’s also misrepresented and mangled peer reviewed papers on trans suicide to paint trans healthcare as having no effect on suicide and happiness. This goes back to Greer who I read and picked up some transphobic ideas from before Xanthe put me right on FTB. So nothing new in their arsenal there, but very vulnerable to some skepticism.

    So I say have at them, TERFs are going to be happy they’ve gained a prominent atheist-skeptic blogger to “gender critical feminism”. I think they should be very unhappy that a whole load more atheist-skeptic bloggers, and commenters, are putting their claims under the microscope. One of the worst things I saw on B&W was a number of commenters not even knowing what a TERF is! More posts like this one, please, let’s inform them …

  8. 15

    I’d like to think that Benson and I and others have had some very solid useful discussions. It was obvious that she was coming from a particular perspective, but trying to build bridges and foster understanding and all that positive work, seemed productive for quite some time.

    Once she started cutting people off who offered her those conversations and became hostile toward critics, that positive work couldn’t happen. Her ridicule of trans woman in spaces she apparently believed were private, destroyed all trust. I mean, the conflict only became heated when she employed open ridicule – joking about trans identities on her blog.

    Her contention that this conflict was about her having her own ideas about gender is simply false.

    So – what do you do in that situation?

    You explain to someone that you’ve made a commitment to create a non-hostile space and that commitment is incompatible with her continued participation in that space. However shitty that is, for those commitments to mean anything, you need to honor them even when it’s painful.

    I said early on that a “kick her off” campaign would be a huge mistake – one reason I said that is because trans women activists I know were worried that they would take the brunt of any political backlash and I did think it was best to allow her to leave on her own terms since that seemed to be where this was heading anyhow.

    However, her staying would be worse. After seeing how she participated in the gender-crit group, there would be reason to believe any apology or acknowledgement from her would be lip service. If she stayed, it would be clear that her feelings and the revenue that she brought in were a higher priority than the feelings of the many individuals she targeted or maintaining an inclusive space.

    I apologize if I’ve injected myself too heavily into this conflict, but trust me, I can see myself being in a similar position as you – and I think there are very few people who are not sympathetic to how difficult it must have been for those very close to it.

  9. 16

    Lurker here with little to say, except support and thanks.
    One upside of this for me is that it’s encouraged me to read more of the smaller names on FTB, and it’s heartening to see that there are several people able to see shitty behaviour for what it is.

  10. 17

    What do *I* do?

    I say, I might disagree with her on some points, but by in large she’s speaking to my experience. A minority experience that you all wish to silence.


    So, what I do upon reading this post is to realize that I’m not welcome here either because my experience and my life is worthless, just because it is different from another minority experience.


    We don’t want to hear about it.

    Shut up.

    Go away.


  11. 18

    bcause, if your experience is that you get to determine whether anyone’s gender other than your own is valid, you are correct. Otherwise, I doubt that very much.

  12. 19

    the “common girlhood” bs reveals TERFism in my opinion as a subset of White Feminism™ The idea that being female is the single most important denominator, as if there were no significant differences between women.

    Thank you for articulating that so precisely, Giliell.

  13. 20

    M. A. Melby, we don’t do that here. We just don’t. That has its minuses, and it requires that more of us speak up when injustice and damage is being done. It also protects those of us who speak up to the big names and keeps that backtalk on the same platform.

  14. 21

    I think what has annoyed me about this whole thing is how it is a bit hypocritical. She was calling out Dawkins for dismissing the Time Hunt mess as a “witch hunt” while basically saying the same things about people criticising her friends/colleges.

    I been seeing more comments like the ones you quoted recently because a couple of my friends came out and I am mostly hanging out with them on tumblr while online. (and we all follow a lot of self proclaimed SJW.) and it disgusts me a lot more when I see it happen and it is from someone I respect/follow rather than people I already knew were problematic.

  15. 22

    Right – and what “bcause” said is what the story is going to be – how this is going to be spun.

    And yet, I doubt any of Benson’s critics implied that personal experience or identity is a fad, considered creating parodies surrounding it, likened that experience to pretending to have a degree or be from a different country – that’s what Benson did on the gender-crit facebook page.

    I know many trans women who view themselves as “male” or “male bodied” others that find that incredibly offensive and inaccurate, people who think of transition as “becoming” a gender that they were not before and others who find that incredibly offensive and inaccurate, ….. there are as many trans experiences as their are trans people and the words that are used for those experience and the lines that are drawn concerning identities are continually a matter of discussion and negotiation. Many trans women prefer “transwoman” and “transsexual” while others find those labels outdated or exclusionary, etc so forth. All you have to do to know this is to bother reading literature written by trans activists and trans historians. Spend some time at Trans Advocate or Zinnia’s blog or any number of others.

    This is about fundamental respect – not whether or not trans should have a * after it or not – ffs.

    Right now I have a friend who is detransitioning and there is no help for her – because all the spaces created for detransition are full of those who are hostile to trans people – full of TERF bullshit as she put it.

    The lie that Hungerford is selling is that HER space is a space where people who don’t conform to the supposed forced orthodoxy of “trans ideology” can meet openly and discuss gender without those constraints – but read that group for yourself and you will notice that’s bullshit. The group is full of ridicule towards trans identities – of which Benson participated – especially those that don’t fit the HBS-approved trans experience. It’s full of pseudo-science. It’s full of cis women making demands on trans women to act deferential to cis women’s demands and to except a hierarchy of authenticity with cis women at the top.

  16. 25

    bcause @17,
    Who is silencing you? Who is stopping you from having your say? If you mean that others might not like what you have to say or they might be hostile to some of your opinions then yeah that’s definitely a possibility but that’s hardly silencing you.

    If you align more closely with Ophelia Benson’s views on this topic then perhaps you would feel more comfortable and less silenced among the gender-crit group that she participates in as opposed to a place that finds those views harmful. Just a thought FWIW.

  17. 26

    It’s just so sad. I just bought and read a book on Transgender History for the last few days, and if anything it made me sadder – exactly that Hungerford and now Ophelia rhetoric has been around since 1973. What can one do in the face of a 40 year old pile of ooey-gooey denial?

  18. 28

    Folks, let’s not get into it with bcause over the issues with Ophelia. Plenty of people have fears that they won’t be accepted in various spaces, and I’m going to assume that’s what’s happening here unless bcause says otherwise. Putting them on the defensive for those fears won’t help anything.

  19. 29

    Joerg @26,
    We can continue to stand up for each other in the face of that ooey gooey denialist bullshit and call it for what it is. We can flat out refuse to put up with bigotry (be it the out in the open variety or the soft ooey gooey variety) and oppose it on all fronts. We can justly marginalize those who would seek to unjustly marginalize us.

    And we can remind ourselves that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.”

  20. 31

    I’ve watched this whole situation come crashing down in a state of disbelief. What on earth happened?

    Ophelia was someone that I admired and respected so much. Her blog (amongst several others) helped me escape from the drift towards MRAdom that I was sliding towards. Despite always seeing myself as a tolerant person, my own personal difficulties with women had led me to blame them for my problems and I had started to spout (and believe) MRA talking points. I dread to imagine the person I might have become if I had continued along that path. But thanks to Ophelia, and others like her, I was saved from that horrible and self destructive path.

    And now to today. I am struggling to come to terms with the whole thing. I think that the worst part is how she started to attack anyone who criticised her for her statements. It was if she saw anyone standing against her on this as her enemy rather than what it really was. That most of the people criticising her were her friends and supporters who wanted her to carry on the excellent work that she had already done, and who were horrified at the path she now seemed to be taking. I still find it hard to believe that it was Ophelia who had made those statements, who had made jokes at the expense of those who had suffered so much, who now seemed to be ignoring everything that she had seemed to stand for. Surely not Ophelia? But it’s true. On this subject at least, it appears that all of the great qualities that Ophelia had always displayed were now gone. This has been hard enough for me to deal with, someone with no personal involvement in trans issues at all. How this must feel to trans women, I can only imagine.

  21. 32

    Thanks for… Just acknowledging all this, really. I’m intricately enough connected to most of the participants in all this on twitter that I’ve seen much of it happen in real time, yet then logged in to FtB of a morning and found posts from certain bloggers flatly denying anything was really going on. I was starting to feel like I was being gaslighted.

  22. 34

    When you see your colleague say that someone has told them privately that the people they’re retweeting have histories of persecuting trans people and ask the general public, instead of the person who respected their wishes by contacting them privately, what that history could be?

    Rather than asking anyone, rather than just taking anyone’s word, they should have remembered that they have the knowledge of the world at their fingertips and fired up teh gugel.

    For months, they… just refused to, but kept on talking anyway. I have no words.

  23. 35

    Thanks for writing this. And I’m really curious if we’ll great a serious attempt to answer your last question. I hope so. Then maybe we can move forward from this.

  24. 36

    I kind of think I know where they’re going with the “common girlhood” thing. One thing that girls have in common, almost any girl with any other, is that she is told throughout her childhood that she is less important than a boy. This statement may be made in subtle ways such as getting less attention from teachers or it may be extremely overt, such as getting less food than her brothers. But it is nearly always there. A trans woman does not have this experience. I know 2 women who were labelled males at birth*. They’re both highly confident people who don’t hesitate to speak out about their needs. And I sometimes feel just a little jealous that they got to bypass the condescending childhood**. So I wonder if some of the trans-exclusion is just flat out jealousy.

    * That have chosen to share that fact with me. Also, only counting people I know IRL for the moment.
    **Yes, I know, being gaslighted about your gender, albeit unintentionally, throughout your childhood is no easy thing either. Not to mention the various dangers and physical and psychological difficulty of going through the change. In short, I know my impulse to think that trans women get off easy because they didn’t have to live through being a girl and experiencing the crap girls go through is stupid, but I also know that it is there, like any other dumb irrational prejudice. And, like any other dumb, irrational prejudice, I try to keep it to myself and NOT make policy with it. Unlike, apparently, the TERFs.

  25. 37

    One thing that girls have in common, almost any girl with any other, is that she is told throughout her childhood that she is less important than a boy. This statement may be made in subtle ways such as getting less attention from teachers or it may be extremely overt, such as getting less food than her brothers. But it is nearly always there. A trans woman does not have this experience.

    I don’t think that’s true usually. I mean, the physiological effects of getting less food, yes, but the social aspects, not so much. you gotta remember that trans women don’t get socialized as boys; they get socialized as girls who are forced to pretend they are boys. So they internalize the devaluation of girls and women as well. I mean, actual guys internalize that devaluation, they just interpret it as increase in their own worth, which a trans girl obviously wouldn’t.

  26. 38

    @37: I agree. It’s not a good argument. I just think it’s where they’re coming from with the bit about the common girlhood thing. Sorry I wasn’t clear.

  27. 39

    In all honesty, I largely left FTB readership quite a while ago – one, because rampant anti-developmental and intellectual disability ableism (many commentariats around here routinely use one of my disabilities as a synonym for “assholish,” or “creepy” as one example, and I got sick of doing the “autism does not mean unable to respect boundaries please quit spreading ableist myths kthnxbai” argument so I just left those blogs – some may have since cleared up, but I haven’t kept tabs because at the time it was quite obvious that I and people like me were unwelcome there), and two, because increasingly transphobic subtext on a few blogs in particular (Ophelia’s being one of them) and three, because increasingly the big names of this blogging network have adopted a circle-the-wagons, shoot-first-ask-questions-later default response to any criticism at all.

    And I get it, slime pit is terrible. And it’s really hard to live in their crosshairs. And they will pounce on any little thing and use it to try to tear you down and destroy you because that’s what gets their rocks off. I was an autistic atheist bi tomboy girl in a rural, religious community – I know what sustained harassment campaigns due to a person.

    But that doesn’t mean that all criticism is by dishonest actors.

    (Skepchick ran into this, too, excemplified best when their ableism crap hit the fan – and I was one of the people who they accused of being part of a Slymepit false flag operation).

    I will say a few things in favor of FTB: 1, your blogging network has never made me feel unwelcome or unsafe as a bi person. That’s pretty amazing, given that bi women in particular are victim to some pretty vile intersectional heterosexism and sexism, and I’ve felt actual physical danger on that front in supposed LGBT safe spaces in the past, and also been subject to assault and sexual harassment because of it, again in LGBT “safe spaces” in the past. So, that’s something. Something big. That I genuinely can’t understate.
    2, Some of your bloggers do in fact listen and change their behavior, and announce a “my bad, I’m changing and here’s why” when they do (Ed Brayton comes to mind, as does Miri and Jason).
    3, You have genuinely made an effort for greater inclusivity. You don’t always succeed on that front, but you’re actually trying, which is also unusual.
    4, I owe a lot to Ian Cromwell and to Zinnia for opening my mind to my racism and my transphobia, respectively, and helping me start working against my social conditioning on those fronts. I would be a worse, less accepting and more close-minded person without those to, and for that I am and will always be grateful to them and to FTB for offering them a platform to spread their ideas.

    So there is good here, and that should be defended.

    But as a network, you need to walk your inclusivity talk, and walk your skepticism talk (on the actually examining your own beliefs critically front) a lot more than you do.

    Not saying this to you, in particular, Stephanie, but more just comment for the network as a whole, and explaining why FTB as a network lost me as a participant and as a regular reader a few years back – in fact, this blog, En Tequila Es Veridad, and Miri’s blogs are the only blogs here I still read on occasion, but I don’t think I’ve actually posted a comment in close to three years. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people have left for similar reasons, quietly, as I did at the time. Only so much microaggressions a person can take on something that’s supposed to be recreational before you just say, “Know what? I have only so much mental resources, and this is not a battle worth picking to me.” and leave.

    I guess what I’m trying to express (poorly, obviously) is that the Ophelia situation is a symptom of a deeper problem with this network, one that drove me away a while back.

  28. 40

    dianne said:

    I know 2 women who were labelled males at birth*. They’re both highly confident people who don’t hesitate to speak out about their needs. And I sometimes feel just a little jealous that they got to bypass the condescending childhood**.

    For those two women, there are countless other trans women who grew up at the bottom rungs of the social hierarchy and were bullied during much of their childhood by peers and family members because they didn’t fit the expected social script. Spending your earliest years fearing the next beating, dreading the next round of your peers circling around you and laughing at you, knowing the teacher almost always chooses to look the other way… this isn’t a recipe for solid emotional stability. (I could write pages on this horror from my own childhood.) It’s most definitely not a recipe for confidence, healthy self esteem, or being able to speak up for one’s needs. It frequently leads to debilitating depression, suicide, drug/alcohol abuse, and soul-crushing self-hatred… in childhood and adulthood. It often leads to trying one’s best to live unnoticed while hoping that you don’t get focused on by violent aggressors. That process continues as an adult when facing the horrible prejudice of a trans misogynistic culture that would like nothing more than seeing your demographic fade into nothingness, preferably in blood and ashes.

    Gender-based oppression comes in many forms and most of it, on a collective level, has highly detrimental effects on the lives of those who live under its scrutiny. Trans people—trans women/girls in particular—have to live under conditions that are designed to destroy a person from the inside out and the outside in… not unlike cis women. No, the experiences aren’t precisely the same but there’s a good bit of analogous overlap. We are all survivors of a social system bent on our destruction, cis women and trans women both. However, it’s easy for people who’ve fallen prey to the illusions embedded in cissesxism to pick and choose living examples which uphold a glitzy image of successful, confident trans women as representing all of us as universally happy, powerful benefactors of male privilege: especially when that’s the current CNN, Hollywood, New York Times image of our lives.

    In reality, it’s rarely that simple. What you don’t see are the countless crushed lives in the background and the pain that underlies them. That doesn’t sell copy as well as fabulous jet-setting celebrities. The media is terrible at relating the reality of the average nobody’s life. It always has. It’s a malformed sword that cuts in many directions.

  29. 41

    And I realize dianne, that a highly selective perspective on trans people’s lives probably isn’t your personal take on the matter but I felt that the actual lived reality of so many trans girls/women’s needed to be stated.

  30. 43

    I didn’t follow the discussion of what was said by whom because it got ugly fast, and because it started while I was away for two weeks. I have no comment on whether Ophelia Benson said anything inappropriate as some claim, and when things cool down I’ll go and read through it, since it does affect me as a transgendered person.

    Maybe I will end up disagreeing with her after reading everything that was said, but I’ll be trying to do it objectively, which some people were definitely not. It stopped being about what OB and other people said and became a mob mentality seeking forced exile. It was intentionally escalated by some to become a personal attack instead of being about the issue at hand.

  31. 44

    Congratulations, left0ver1under, you managed to say you were ignorant of the situation and claim knowledge of people’s internal states–something you can’t possibly know–in the same comment. That takes work.

  32. 45

    @37 That’s probably only true for people who are relatively clear about their own gender from an early age. I readily concede shameful ignorance on the subject, but as I understand it, many trans people do not understand why they feel wrong until they are much older.

    I think dianne’s right about the concept of ‘common girlhood’ referenced above. When used by a cis feminist, it probably refers to the fact that the experience of growing up cis-female is distinct from the childhood experience of many trans people. That seems clear to me, though I expect arguments built on it would go wrong quite quickly, since it’s basically tautological.

    Unfortunately the whole thing blew up into a shitstorm very quickly, and once that happens battle lines get drawn and the conversation degenerates. It might have been possible to explain to Ophelia et al why certain actions and phrases are perceived as transphobic, but only before the hackles were raised. Once that happens any further outreach is treated as an attack.

  33. 46

    Trans people—trans women/girls in particular—have to live under conditions that are designed to destroy a person from the inside out and the outside in… not unlike cis women.

    Pretty much. Which is why I think the distinction is silly. Or, rather, that declaring one woman more a woman than the other to be silly. There are differences in the experience, but both are damaging. Not that all girls’ experiences are the same, whether cis or trans.

  34. 49

    I’m so tired of this narrative that there was never an attempt to gently inform Ophelia of the trans-antagonistic nature of some of the stuff she was saying. I stopped being a regular reader of hers several years ago because of the type of behavior she’s displayed in this situation. She responds with snark and derision to even the most constructive, gentle criticism and then, when finally backed into a corner, picks someone out of her comments who was disagreeing with her and claims that to be obviously what she meant all along and announces that she can’t even fathom how anyone could possibly have interpreted her any other way. This was long before there was any suspicion that she was sympathetic to the whole gender-crit scene. Even without being a regular reader I’ve still managed to personally witness people very gently, very respectfully, try to let her know that she was signal boosting a TERF (might’ve been Hungerford, I’m not sure anymore). She responded with defensiveness and hedging and denied that she had any obligation to know anything about the people she re-blogged, etc. People tried and tried and tried to take her gently by the hand and walk her through their objections but she metaphorically spat in their faces each time.

  35. 50

    Seven of Mine @ 48

    I agree, several commenters gently informed her and she said it was an attack. She asked for proof, was provided proof and then accused people of stalking her. She dodged answering questions and escalated this at every turn. When people became exasperated after months, she used their exasperation to point out how unhinged they were. The parallels to Hunt, Dawkins, Harris et. al defenders is so blatant, I can’t help but think she notices on some level. PZ also used the same tactics which was even more disappointing. I hope at some point she cools down and can calmly reevaluate.
    One positive is I, along with many others watching, have learned a lot more about trans issues and the groups that oppose them.

  36. 51

    When used by a cis feminist, it probably refers to the fact that the experience of growing up cis-female is distinct from the childhood experience of many trans people.

    Of course it is. And in many different directions, as not all trans women really have this deep knowledge about being different from early on.
    And the experiences of growing up white are different from growing up black. There are experiences all white people share, no matter if they’re cis, trans, male, female, straight, gay…
    The experiences of growing up middle class are very different from growing up poor. There are things you folks tell me that I simply cannot relate to. I have zero ideas what it feels like to go hungry because or to eat just rice because the money ran out. That’S something that shaped poor women in important ways, ways different from me, no matter if we’Re now both cis white het middle class women.
    Being AMAB is just another variation in this matrix.

  37. 52

    Also, no matter how much male privilege you got when people still thought you were a guy, as soon as you stop presenting as male you get misogyny, trans misogyny AND transphobia. Who on earth would choose that?
    i also notice that the argument isn’t made about, say, single gay men. Do they have straight privilege as long as they don’t snog another guy in public?

  38. 58

    Seems to me any lecture that describes emotions as “weak points in the brain” is not riding high on the credibility train. Smacks of the whole hyperskeptical ‘Vulcan’ nonsense thing.

  39. 61

    @Seven of Mine #59

    To be glib is to be fluent but insincere and shallow. I didn’t use enough words to be fluent, I do sincerely believe that the phenomenon described by Grey applies in this case, and Grey’s explanation of that problem was not shallow. Additionally, putting forward that underlying mechanism as being in play is not dismissive of anyone: It is possible for someone to have simultaneously good points to make AND be vulnerable to and the victim of bias.

    You have sarcastically accused me of being glib and dismissive. This is demonstrably false. Furthermore, in your criticism, you were glib and dismissive towards me. That’s a little bit like when religious people accuse atheists of being fanatically religious.

    For the record, I think that the phenomenon described by Grey is more applicable to Ophelia in this case than on Stephanie or anyone here. But to have been met with instant hostility and dismissal is a useful reminder that we are all vulnerable to cognitive bias.

    @abbeycadabra #58

    It is not controversial to suggest that cognitive bias can be driven by emotion. The argument of Grey’s video is not that we should be pure-logic Vulcans. The argument is that sometimes our emotions can cause us to be carried away with ourselves, and anger in particular can be a very powerful source for this. So we should therefore check ourselves for emotionally-driven biases, particularly when we are angry. Note also that this is not an argument that anger is always wrong or that argumentation is always bad.

    I had thought that Ophelia was more guilty of the phenomenon in this situation than anyone else. If you look at Matthew Oakley’s original post (the one to which I replied) his general thrust was one of disappointment in and criticism of Ophelia’s reaction to this scenario. So I read his rhetorical question as: “I’ve watched this whole situation come crashing down in a state of disbelief. What on earth happened [to Ophelia]?” and answered accordingly.

  40. 62

    Daniel Schealler @ 61

    I suspect you can guess where I’d like you to stick your smug condescension. You dropped a one-liner link to a video that suggested that some unspecified people were getting carried away by their emotions/bias. It was a pat, over-simplified answer to a complex situation. Glib. And dismissive. If you wanted us to perceive more nuance to your position than that, you should have given it instead of waiting for people to react and then complaining that we didn’t read your mind.

    Furthermore, in your criticism, you were glib and dismissive towards me.

    I know you are but what am I? QED, I guess.

  41. 63

    @Seven of Mine #62

    I’m trying very hard to defend myself from your criticism fairly, directly, and calmly. That is not condescension. That is treating you as an equal.

    There’s no reason why the suggestion that Grey’s anger-meme idea applies in this case should put you on the defensive.

    I’ve done nothing to deserve this level of hostility form you this quickly.

    If you do not like how I am communicating with you, what would you like me to change? Tell me, and I’ll do my best to accommodate you.

  42. AMM

    It is not controversial to suggest that cognitive bias can be driven by emotion.

    It is controversial when you use that assertion to invalidate what someone else is saying. (That is the only way that it could remotely be relevant here.)

    And using the claim that someone is being “emotional” to dismiss what they are saying is a pretty standard tactic used by more privileged people (e.g., male people, such as yourself) to dismiss things less privileged people (e.g., women, such as Ophelia and possibly Seven of Mine) say without engaging what they say.

    You may not in fact be a condescending sexist (and maybe cis-sexist), but, if not, you are doing a very good imitation of one. As such, I think we can dismiss your “arguments” on the grounds that you are not arguing in good faith.

    There’s also the fact that you have not presented a single word that actually speaks to the substance of what anyone has been saying. You’ve simply made innuendos about people’s ability to think. Fail.

    I had thought that Ophelia was more guilty of the phenomenon in this situation than anyone else.

    I’m not a great fan of Ophelia. But I am definitely on her side when it comes to people using sexist tropes to dismiss what she says, even when IMHO what she says is wrong.

  43. 66

    Also, seriously, this post is not about what people think Ophelia should do. There’s at least one comment that will stay in moderation because that’s all it is.

    Nor is it a post about how people should respond to Daniel when he communicates poorly. So, Daniel, you can drop that right now.

    This is a post about what people think bloggers on a network should should do when they see another blogger on that network doing all the things I listed here. To date, no one’s actually tried to answer that.

  44. 68

    No worries, Seven of Mine. I was pointing out the lack of engagement with specifics from people who said we ought to do things differently, not really talking about the commenting that has happened.

  45. AMM

    This is a post about what people think bloggers on a network should should do when they see another blogger on that network doing all the things I listed here. To date, no one’s actually tried to answer that

    Thanks for re-railing the discussion. (Yeah, I’d let the point of the post slip my mind, even though it’s in the bloody title of the post. My bad.)

    To the point of the post:

    I’m not sure what an individual blogger can do. Getting a fellow blogger to straighten themselves out (however much you may think they need it) is usually a lost cause.

    I think PZ’s approach of setting up a single thread to collect what everyone is saying and then closing the thread when it gets repetitive was a good idea. I think it’s unfortunate that he put himself so obviously on one side of the us-vs-them, but at least he let people on all sides comment without censoring them. People can then simply link to the thread or to individual comments rather than rehashing them. (Any resemblance to the old joke about numbering jokes and then telling the joke number rather than the joke itself is “neither intentional nor accidental, but rather unavoidable.”)

    I think it’s a good idea for bloggers to state their view on what’s going on, if they feel strongly about it. Whether they choose to open up comments, with or without auto-moderation, is a judgement call. Moderating every single comment to make sure they’re on-topic and not abusive would make for a better comment thread, but it’s a lot of work (and sets you up for being accused of being biased.) Personally, I wouldn’t get into detailed debates with the other blogger, though. Or respond to personal attacks by the other blogger (since such attacks always make the attacker look worse than the attack-ee anyway.)

    I gather FtB has an executive committee. If things get bad enough that enough FtB bloggers think that one blogger’s behavior is too egregious, I gather the executive committee can boot them. (Cf. Thunderfoot.) Personally, I don’t think Ophelia’s behavior was anywhere near that bad, though.

    BTW, I’m sorry Ophelia decided to leave. I doubt if moving is going to make things easier for her, but who knows?

  46. 70

    I think PZ’s approach of setting up a single thread to collect what everyone is saying and then closing the thread when it gets repetitive was a good idea. I think it’s unfortunate that he put himself so obviously on one side of the us-vs-them, but at least he let people on all sides comment without censoring them.

    I agree with this, on all counts. Beyond that, I think what should be done is pretty much what people did; addressing what they thought was wrong and expressing their own stance on the matter. I’m not sure how to avoid the reaction we saw.

    Again, if any of Ophelia’s defenders have anything productive to offer on this point, I’d be really interested. As far as I’m concerned, the question of whether Ophelia screwed up is not up for discussion, so it’s really just a matter of how that screw-up should have been handled. Was there any other way of expressing the criticism (which doesn’t include shutting up)? Should the whole matter have been kept private, to avoid the appearance of a mob? What would have worked?

  47. 71

    Another angle: In what way should the behavior differ between bloggers and commenters? What is okay for one might not be for another. That’s a reasonable thing to address also, I think.

  48. 72

    @Stephanie Svan #68

    Nor is it a post about how people should respond to Daniel when he communicates poorly. So, Daniel, you can drop that right now.


    I assume that, very probably, no-one here wants to continue that discussion. On the off chance anyone does, I’ve created a separate space of my own here should anyone else want to follow me there.

  49. 73

    Off topic, but seeing your treatment of the topic reaffirms for me why this is one of the blogs I usually open up when I come to FtB. Good luck sorting this out, and I’m glad I’m not in this kind of position myself.

  50. 74

    Addressing the subject of the post in the general: part of the ethical problem here is that harm is being done, and both the quantity and level of harm being done in this case increased as firstly, the number of instances accumulated (your original post included 29 paragraphs starting with the word ‘When’), and secondly, when more people began noticing the response to criticism was not to pause and examine what was happening, but to greatly increase the aggravations, thus contributing to doing further harm. At what point is it ethical to intervene and say, “this is unsupportable” if it will have no effect of stopping harm, but only will redouble the behaviours that are causing harm. There isn’t any really good answer as to “when” to intervene, but it must happen at some point, at the very least to avoid the invidiousness that people might attribute intent to your silence as betokening agreement, or even complicity. The intervention however does good, in letting those who are being harmed know that the situation is not going unnoticed and that they are not without support, even if the intervention is unable to prevent further escalation of the situation, and it allows people to thank those who are trying to help:

    I too regard your colleague as a friend (albeit a distant one, like all of you who are about half a planet away from me) and it would not be a friendly thing to do to remain silent while they excavate a well of misunderstandings around themselves. I feel though (and have felt for some time) that nothing I could say would be helpful, or would even be understood as intended to be helpful – so I’ve basically made little more than small talk on subjects of no importance, or otherwise kept silent, while waiting for the situation to improve. Incidentally I’d like to thank the efforts of people who’ve been trying – you know who you are.

    It is understandable that in such situations people will talk – we are social animals and we deal with social problems like this by socialising. I’ve been a part of many such discussions, in which things have been said such as this:

    That’s true. I’ve had very little to say until recently, for that exact reason – I care about my words having positive effects, and could think of nothing that would not make things worse. And now, of course, things are incredibly horrible. 🙁

    Well, I’m not convinced saying more is helping; I realise that this is a reaction to people hurting, and people wanting to do good because they see others being hurt – but we are so far down the fucking rabbit hole that I am very doubtful that anything being said would help. That depresses me even more .

    Also this is to […] and […] – please dial things back or think about how things could escalate further. You are locked in a cycle of reaction and counter-reaction with someone who is incapable of backing down, currently.

    The last quote points to one issue – speaking out has the potential danger of locking you into a cycle of escalation with the person who is refusing to refrain from contributing to harm. The 800-pound gorilla on the network might have spoken about someone from Ireland in this connection. At all costs, avoid pointless tit-for-tat. Make your point, stand back, and wait for the next opportunity that your calling out of someone won’t appear to be a mere backlash to the latest offence directed back at you, or piling on to a bandwagon.

  51. 75


    Make your point, stand back, and wait for the next opportunity that your calling out of someone won’t appear to be a mere backlash to the latest offence directed back at you, or piling on to a bandwagon.

    I would agree that it’s a good principle, but what do you do if the person in question just continues their bad behavior? I mean, what you describe is pretty much what people did in the previous incidents with Ophelia and that didn’t work.

  52. 76

    How can you stop anyone who is acting entirely legally but unethically, and will not listen or respond to criticism, without compromising your own ethics or acting illegally? You can’t very well go and put a sock in someone’s mouth without committing assault and battery. As for someone who utilises mostly legal means of harassment, and would be capable of protecting herself in the borderline cases (like Voldemort C*thy Br$nn#n), there is not much that can be done except keeping yourself well out of her way and attempting to cover your ass.

    In terms of people spreading poisonous ideas, like for example most of the toxic UK-based clique of feminists whom Alex Gabriel dubbed TEF-LON, while I can’t say I like the tactic, refusing to give those well-connected and popular voices access to your platform (“no platforming”) and choosing other voices who don’t deal in reinforcing other people’s oppression, is a legitimate and ethical approach. It’s notable that the people on the receiving end of a “no platforming” have responded by playing on one of the geek social fallacies (number 1) — that is, people who ostracise someone for bad behaviour, are worse than the person who is ostracised. This casts the oppressive voices as the victims and their critics as the offenders, which is also sometimes referred to as DARVO – deny, attack, and reverse victim and offendor.

    In terms of the status of someone at Freethought Blogs using the network as a platform to test out illiberal and regressive ideas that typically have negative repercussions for an oppressed and marginalised community – even with the quasi-independent status of each blog as its own little fiefdom, I’m reasonably satisfied that the several bloggers who’ve put their heads up to disagree have not tried to ‘do a Nugent’ with dozens of obsessive posts, or have deliberately conspired to ‘pile on’. I can sympathise that someone might feel attacked when five or more fellow bloggers signal their disagreement over the course of a fortnight, but there were some strikingly awful things being said and if I had five friends saying ‘whoa, that’s a problem’ I might reconsider my position. For a blog network that is socially progressive, the low-value trans-antagonistic discussions going on are not good for the site’s reputation. Personally, I’m upset that Ophelia put herself into this position, and the loss of her other blogging talents to the network is a great loss. (More so than say, John W. Loftus, Phil Mason, or Avicenna Lost.)

    Finally: if anyone was curious about the authorship of quotes in 74 – in each instance I quoted myself.

  53. 77

    Thank you for posting this. Having argued with Ophelia before I was sure involving myself would only contribute to harm. I regret my silence now, those she hurt deserved support. Perhaps I could have offered some.

  54. 78

    You don’t get it, do you? Some of us can’t answer if trans women are women because we can’t even answer that for ourselves.

    If the definition is what are people LEGALLY, like when I have to fill out a police report, or when purchasing an airline ticket, the sure, if the trans women we’re talking about have LEGALLY changed their gender.

    But that doesn’t cover all trans women, does it?

    Am I what gender I FEEL like I am? How I identify, when I’m not filling out a LEGAL document?

    Problem with that Identification is that 99.99% of the sighted adult population would IDENTIFY me at the other gender at 100 yards, no matter what I’m wearing.

    Seriously, are you going to tell me that they are right and I am wrong? Or are they right and I am wrong?

    So if the LAW says I’m one gender and I visibly that gender, then I have to BE that gender, right?

    Even though I’ve been wanting a sex change since Renee Richards did it, but I’ve been gifted with an anatomy which would never pass, no matter how much carving or hormones you gave it (unless you brought in a serious bone saw, but that might cripple me).

    So what is it?

    How I FEEL?

    What I WEAR?

    How I LOOK?

    What TSA and the law think I am?

    What the rest of humanity outside of this echo chamber of political correctness thinks?

    And if I think all of those things when I’m faced with the M or F boxes on a webform, where the hell do you get off saying I have to say YES to are trans women real women?

    I. DON’T. KNOW.

    I Question Gender, and I SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO.

  55. 79


    You can’t answer if Trans women are women, because you don’t what you are yourself?

    What a load of bullshit. I can appreciate not identifying with a gender yourself, but that is completely separate from denying others their chosen identity. I also feel sorry for anyone who expresses differently than they feel, especially if the tyranny of biology makes changes difficult or impossible. But physical expression is only one part of identity.

    So feel free to question your own place and identity in the world. And fuck you for trying to dictate how others identify.

  56. 80

    Exactly. Fuck you and the world for trying to tell me how I should identify.

    I question “How do you identify someone’s gender?”, and you tell me it’s all how I feel, or how someone else feels, but the law and the medical community and the population tells me that I AM IDENTIFIED AS SOMETHING ELSE, so I CANNOT BE THE GENDER I FEEL.

    So why does everyone else get to chose?

    OR do they?

    That’s what I question.

    You tell me that I HAVE TO BE ABLE TO ANSWER that trans women are women, full stop, and I can’t even answer that for myself. Full stop.

    Or you.

    Or they guy I like to sleep with who tells me he sometimes thinks he should have been a woman.

    Is it personal identity? Doesn’t work for me.

    Is it genitalia? Doesn’t work for me either.


    What? Tell me what does it mean to be a woman? Give me a definition of woman that fits ALL the criteria, legal, medical, social and psychological, that can be applied consistently across the whole population, without any doubt, then I can answer that question, IF I get to look at each individual in a population and evaluate them against that criteria.

    Until that time I get to question gender, because it doesn’t have a consistent definition.

    And You really don’t get it.

  57. 82

    Saying you get to be crappy to other people because some people are crappy to you is still crappy. That is not a valid argument in any way. And now you’re going into moderation because you’re spouting bullshit that will only blow the thread up and I have a conference to run this weekend. I’ll keep an eye on the thread and let out on-topic comments when I can, but this derailment is done, both from bcause and in replies.

  58. 83

    Some time has passed, but I still don’t know what’s a blogger to do.

    Going by Ophelia’s reactions, there is absolutely nothing you can say to make the situation better and any criticism towards her was completely wrong. So I guess one can only do what their conscience tells them. There is no guarantee anything good will come out of it, so you do your best.
    As you did.

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