I fully accept that this will be too little, too late for some, and too much, too soon for others.
I will begin this with a doubled, modernized set of secular Serenity invocations: Noodly Lord grant me the serenity to accept that there are people I cannot change, the courage to change the people I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Noodly Lord grant me also the serenity to accept that bad-faith actors exist, the humility to recognize my good-faith critics, and the help I need to discern the difference.
Both of these, but especially the latter, directly reflect my Accountability Pledge, which I wrote a while back. I keep thinking about it as matter after matter arises within skepto-atheist circles.
I haven’t kept up with every specific thing that has gone on with regard to the recent particular matter of my colleague Ophelia Benson. I don’t want to misspeak or misstep; furthermore, others on every side of this have direct evidence of what was said and done by the many involved, whereas I do not.
To make my own stance on the matter at hand clear, since I have been asked what my stances are in light of conversations around the matter:
- Trans women are women. Period.
- It is antithetical to basic logic to take my last stance to mean that I think that cis women aren’t women, or that cis women’s status as women is at all in question. Where A = trans women, B = women, and C = cis women, “All C are not B” does not necessarily or obligatorily follow “All A are B”.
- The fact that cis women are women is not disputed by anyone, not trans women nor non-binary trans folk nor men nor trans men. Even on the very fringes of radical non-cis thought, spaces where I often find myself, I’ve yet to see anyone questioning the legitimacy of cis women’s status as women. On the other hand, some people, including some women, think that trans women’s status as women is up for debate.
- The mere existence of women who think that trans women’s status as women is up for debate is damaging and harmful to trans women. That the illegitimate debate about trans women’s status of women often goes beyond “debate” makes it all the worse and deadly. There is no valid defense for self-described “radical feminists” who are more accurately described as TERFs.
- Violating anyone’s privacy is wrong, no matter what wrong they have done. Violating a trans woman’s privacy is even worse because they live under the real and brutal dangers associated with transmisogyny in addition to those associated with overall misogyny.
Please refer to Ophelia’s own blog for her stances. None of the above should be taken as me doing anything but unequivocally stating my own personal stances in light of them being questioned.
What strikes me about the situation is a sad fact that becomes more and more evident to me as the years pass. The well-poisoning wrought by the actual trolls and hate-mongerers often renders their targets understandably defensive and cautious, to the point where they might be unable to discern who is who and what is what. It’s how anti-ableism can be perceived as a 4chan false flag operation, even when it comes from someone who belonged to and wrote for your own blog network and others who are known fans and defenders of you. It’s how someone goes from being a blog network colleague to someone whose behavior you compare to that of a member of a dedicated hate forum — a forum that targets them just as much as you.
Such effects of said well-poisoning is hardly limited to the targets themselves. Those who witness what has happened to said targets might start assuming that any and all criticism of or disagreement with the targets must be illegitimate and in bad faith. That is how at least one fan of Ophelia Benson suggested that those taking her to task must be fans of Richard Dawkins striking back at her for perceived offenses done to him.
That I am saying all this hardly means I think I am precluded from the effects of well-poisoning. I have not been targeted to the extent that my aforementioned colleagues have, not nearly as much. If I ever am, I don’t necessarily know if I will react much differently. All I can do is hope that my first reaction will be to do what I have pledged to do: Treat people based on who they are rather than how I feel about what they said in this particular instance.
Side Note: In looking it up for this piece, I have discovered that the original Serenity Prayer’s author, Reinhold Niebuhr, was quite the interesting figure and far less of a platitudinous pillar of piety than I had expected.
Update 7/28: Added an explicit disclaimer.