I’ve been doing a lot of mental calculations lately, trying to triangulate on my courses of action that result in maximal good for all the people who deserve it the most. I have a lot of competing and mutually exclusive variables in my head, though. I figure if I lay these variables all out, publicly, putting all my cards on the table, someone can help me figure out which ones I can discard and redraw, and maybe point out where I might have a better hand than I think.

I’m going to pay a number of costs for writing this post, but I’m writing it because some people I love and trust have privately told me they think I’ve fucked up. I’m going to do my damnedest to repair that perception, and the only way to do it is publicly, because other avenues have been cut off to me.

Much of this is old business, and I’ve been bottling this up for a bit. Bear with me. Once that’s through, you’ll get to new info.

Over the past two months, a shitstorm has been swirling throughout this network, wherein Ophelia Benson is — to put it as charitably as humanly possible — perceived to have acted trans-antagonistically by some trans folk, who called her on those points, and Ophelia is — again, charitably — perceived to have repeatedly doubled-down, and tried to defend herself from what she saw as ravening hordes who want nothing better than to throw her out of the network on her ear.

During those two months, because I frankly had not had any resources for this fight, I stayed out of it. I could barely bring myself to blog regularly about good things — every time I tried to set digital pen to digital paper, the only fight worth having was the one I had to stay mum on lest I get sucked in.

Eventually, I succumbed. I saw two people I liked once, on Twitter, going at each other’s throats about whether or not Ophelia is a straight-up, no bones about it, Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminist. I tried to turn the conversation toward behaviour — at that point, I had seen Ophelia participating in a TERF-heavy gender-critical Facebook forum, asking for help countering a specific demand that she answer “do you believe trans women are women, yes or no”. Some of the replies were awful, explicitly anti-trans. Some of these awful replies were liked by Ophelia. I pointed out on Twitter that that meant it was reasonable for someone to assume that she agreed with the post in question. Even if it was a like intended as “thank you for answering”, it is not actually irrational for outsiders to assume that someone doing a thing that 99% of the time means you agree, means they agree. So, it meant that trans folk who felt she was holding a position that was directly anti-trans were not actually irrational. But I said all of that in service of the argument of damning her for specific behaviours and not for a perceived position that she’s expressly denied in the past, e.g. that she’s an unrepentant TERF hiding among us.

This, of course, was only part of all of the interactions she had on that forum. And only part of all the future interactions she’s had on the topic. And only part of all the ways she and her defenders have reinterpreted things she’s done, said, and all the ways she’s treated trans folk through this entire escapade.

One of the costs I’ve paid for stepping in and trying to keep an argument to one about behaviours instead of perceived positions was that she pointed to me and painted me as an unmitigated slimepitter-like stalker and attacker.

This post containing a passage outlining what I’d like to happen:

There are honest interlocutors genuinely hurt by things she’s said and done, that they can point to, that are still extant on the internet and not grossly misinterpreted; and these honest interlocutors are demanding a genuine and contrite apology and improvement in behaviour in the future. That is to say, nothing that would cost her a damn thing except a moment’s introspection.

Shortly thereafter, PZ Myers publicly threw me under a bus.

On a Facebook post on Ophelia’s wall, where she first expressed her desire to leave the blog network because of all these snakes in the grass who were out to get her, PZ said that given the choice between supporting her or supporting a person who wants to see her kicked off the network who has only blogged once in the past month (or words to that effect), he supported her.

I did not, ever, once, ask for her to be kicked off this blog network. I had stayed out of it entirely, because, in the past, Ophelia — prickly though she is — usually comes around to understanding the positions of people she’s unfairly hurt, and integrates those positions in her effort to continue learning how to navigate this world. I trusted that it was, at that point, still possible that she — and her “defenders” — could rightly recognize that to the trans folk she had hurt, she was actually in the wrong, and she could fix things by apologizing, learning, and moving on. These trans folk, their allies, and everyone else gravely disappointed with how both Ophelia and now PZ were acting about the whole fight, were by then actively attempting to collate their experiences to determine if this was actually a pattern of behaviour with Ophelia.

And they found a few really hurtful, really questionable “jokes” she’s made, like one comparing trans folk being uncomfortable with drag to Rachel Dolezal being uncomfortable with blackface. Like one in answer to a question as to why trans women couldn’t just call themselves very feminine men: “too last week?” Like one in answer to a trans woman identifying as a woman, that she could then identify as an African American (something else, memory fails) who went to Oxford. These were not just trans-antagonistic, they were outright transphobic jokes. And people’s outrage redoubled; and the demands for an accounting of this pattern of behaviour increased. They wanted her to recognize this was shitty behaviour, apologize, and do better. But neither her nor her defenders heard any of their cries that way.

By this point, I recognized that siege mentality had kicked in so hard that it was literally impossible to get through to her; and that PZ himself, in defending his friend from overreach, felt that this dredging up old (as in within the last few months) stuff was prosecutorial and like a witch hunt.

Given I have done some of this “witch-hunting” of this level before — that is to say, an aggregation of instances that make a person think perhaps a given situation is an actual trend and not just an isolated incident which is a mistake — I found that argument fell flat. It fell as flat as it does in terms of whether or not we were “witch-hunting” Michael Shermer when outraged over “kind of a guy thing”, and held as much weight as the arguments that we were witch-hunting Tim Hunt when chastising him for saying that girls shouldn’t be in labs because they fall in love and cry (no matter how flippantly it was said). And even when it came time to try to show Michael Shermer has a history of harassment and possibly even rape, that still wasn’t a witch-hunt, no matter how far back we were going to dredge up instances to show a pattern of behaviour.

Those were not witch-hunts. This is neither a witch-hunt, by the exact same token.

But I attempted to let it lie again. I had said my piece, once, twice, thrice; and I even clarified that I don’t think Ophelia’s an outright TERF on my blog, even though she’s damn well been repeating a lot of their bullshit from that gender-critical group, and even making up some new bullshit of her own. I further said that I saw her as lashing out at people trying to be fair to her, that I saw her attack those who were obviously trying to offer her a spoon feeding of the actual arguments without any of the vitriol and even those who wanted to discuss the questions that got us into this mess WITHOUT talking about Ophelia’s situation. I also said that she was acting “paranoid” (by which I mean seeing attacks where there are none — I hasten to say that I will not use that word again in case it affects people with clinical paranoia).

I thought that was enough for the moment — and that I would live and let live, because the people doing the aggregating were doing a yeoman’s job at it. Sure, they were being classified as “poisoner”, “the worst”, “fixated”, etc. But without me, they were empirically right, and didn’t need what little support I could actually offer — and I didn’t have the resources to offer any anyway. And, Ophelia, despite her pretensions at leaving, has not left yet. Mostly, I’ll note, because PZ begged her to stay. I thought, maybe, if I left well enough alone, if we ALL left well enough alone for a short time at least, things would calm down, Ophelia would feel less under siege, and she might even have learned something in the endeavour.

Then, after a few days of silence, Ophelia pointed to my comment saying I didn’t think she was a TERF and she called it an indictment of her for thoughtcrimes, meaning she absolutely had to leave because of all the vicious and cruel attacks she was taking from those who were once her colleagues on the blog network. She pointed to me, to my comment about how I saw her as lashing out viciously and repeatedly at the people who were trying to help most, as the only example of someone talking shit about her. This despite my comment — aside from implying she’s attacking those who aren’t attacking her by using a word that might be mistaken for a mental illness diagnosis — was not exactly predicated on any lack of evidence.

I tried my damnedest to plead my case and explain why I’m arguing what I’m arguing. Why I thought that my sticking my nose in, in her own defense even, might actually not cause her to whip around and bite me viciously — like she did. Repeatedly.

I offered, straight off, to leave Freethought Blogs instead. I did so because my blog gets significantly less traffic than hers, and I didn’t think she was irredeemable, and that her presence — numerically, and in terms of the people who might leave in her wake — was more valuable to the network than mine.

(Remind me to post an extended form of my argument that doing wrong does not leave an indelible mark, which I mention now and then on Twitter.)

I tried several times to explain myself to no avail.

I don’t think you’re a bad harmful evil person. I don’t think you’re engaging in thought crime. I think you’re hurt, and feel cornered, and want to blame everyone for all the evil befalling you; as though every person criticizing specific behaviours has it out for you. I understand that; I empathize. But I’m telling you — I’m not attacking. This isn’t an attack. I don’t want us to have bad blood. I wish you could see what I’m saying for what it is.

Trans identity is a separate and distinct axis from gender. “Trans” does not modify “woman”, because we could as easily be talking about trans neutrois, trans agender, trans man, etc. You can talk about trans folk without discussing gender and still have a set of problems and disadvantages unique to them. The fact that your argument says “how could it be unequivocal or not in need of nuance with the word trans there” is part of the problem. The fact that the rest of your argument goes that not all trans folk would consider themselves women is beside the point. If someone asks “do you believe trans women are actually women” they are asking if you think “trans” modifies “woman” in some way that “white” might not modify “woman”.

This is the whole argument, soup to nuts. That’s what you just won’t back down on, despite once-friends and once-colleagues trying to tell you is harmful, and that’s what trans folk (from what I’ve seen) are upset about, notwithstanding everything else they might have gone back to dredge up in order to overreach and call you a TERF.
Saying I’m lying about any of this is a gross misrepresentation — if I missed the nuance of “do you believe”, that’s not a lie, it doesn’t actually modify my argument, and it’s not actually salient to the argument that people are trying to have with you in this comment’s paragraph one which you somehow keep evading by painting the people trying to express it as liars and poisoners and attackers.

And the interactions on that thread, after the original post proper, are part of the substance of why trans folk feel you were looking to TERFs to buttress your counterarguments. Because some of the arguments — from TERFs — were quite gross.

If a single trans person tells me to back down on this, I will, Chris. But to have another cis man tell me I’m doing it wrong when I am underscoring the arguments I’ve seen from trans folk, doing so because I’m placed closely enough that they might get through to Ophelia, that strikes me as blinkered. If you think I’m attacking, obnoxious, harmful to trans folk, that’s certainly not my intent and if anyone better placed within the group that’s upset is willing to tell me to stop, I’ll stop advocating for them. I never want to talk over anyone who otherwise has a marginalized voice.

Mmm-hmm. So your saying “THEY are like slimers” and using four tweets of MINE to illustrate how bad THEY (ostensibly including me) are, doesn’t actually mean you think I am too.

Never mind that up until that moment, I stayed the hell out of it because I hoped that the trans folk who were upset with you would be able to get the actual arguments through to you themselves.

Never mind that I only stepped in because I hoped that my being once considered a colleague might mean you’d recognize my actions as honest — as explaining why people were evidently upset.

Never mind that I didn’t even do it to you directly, I did it to someone who was going overboard saying that the arguments were that you were a TERF because thoughtcrime because associations. I was, in effect, defending you against overreach, and explaining exactly what I thought people had problems with.

Never mind that I did not point the conversation to you out of respect for the fact that you were getting a lot of hell from a lot of dishonest interlocutors stirring the pot, and didn’t want to add to that, and that you sought that conversation out and used it to illustrate how EVIL “THEY” ARE, and now you’re claiming it wasn’t about me, and that my post defending myself (and simultaneously restating the arguments I saw that trans folk were making) was actually an attack on you.

I honestly thought you might see my name and not immediately think “dishonest interlocutor”, “troll” or “slimer”. I honestly thought that, placed as I was as a colleague, that you could take what I was saying at face value. But you whipped around on me and bit, as though you were cornered. And all your commenters think I’m evil too, including a number I once counted as friends. I fucking hate every aspect of this but I don’t see how we can ever reconcile it. That’s why I’m leaving, so everyone can go back to peace and harmony without me, the dishonest attacking slimepitter.

@87: My point… as though I could make it any clearer… is that yes, there has been some dishonest interlocutors, and some people who are perhaps too quick to burn you out of their lives because they need to defend themselves from anti-trans sentiment generally, just like in any conversation about feminism in the skeptical community and all the sides-taking and too-quick-burning-out that happens around them. My point is that some people in amongst all this actually have real grist for their mills in discussing how your actions have hurt them directly. That there are legitimate grievances in amongst all the vitriol. I appreciate your apology to HappiestSadist too, because they’ve been one of the people I’ve been thinking of as people that have been hurt by this fight.

Yes, some people are out for blood. Yes, some chunk of those people are slimepitters stirring the pot, who actually have it out for you because they see you as vulnerable right now. Yes, the people who are out for blood might seem like attackers, even aggressive, even though they’re doing as much distancing as they can and not actually pointing that disagreement at you (like Alex, who did not direct it at you, and you had to either seek it out or have one of their friends send it to you).
But I’m seeing a large number of people — myself included — trying to pick up the points of genuine disagreement and talk about those, and getting treated as trolls, attackers, wrong-headed evildoers.

And I’m further seeing you lumping everyone together as “ugly group demonization”, where my talking about specific behaviours leads you to believe I think you’re a TERF or that I’m stalking you or that I’m part of some groupthink hatemob. And all of this reminds me of your fight with Shermer about “kind of a guy thing” and his immediate response was “feminazis!!!” So, at this point, I’m disappointed in how you’re reacting to the legitimate grievances (though I empathize with why — the under siege part of this does not escape me, I know you’re under attack by hateful and disingenuous assholes). I’m further disappointed that you can repeatedly characterize my actions in criticizing your behaviour as assaults on you as a person, or that I’m no better than the disingenuous assholes who just want you out.

I never once said I wanted you out. I don’t. I don’t want you to leave any more than I want to leave myself. I don’t want to be conflated with the attackers and haters, because I’m not.

And that’s why I’m here, in the comments of your post painting me as the reason you need to leave, defending myself against your attacks on me, because that disagreement — your disagreement with me — needs some dissent. If I can’t disagree with the implication that I’m some evil attacker, then I guess some thoughts are freer than others.

And then, a hundred posts later, Ophelia released Tigger The Wing from moderation WAY early in the thread, where they said:

Jason, here’s a trans person telling you that your characterisation of what Ophelia said is so wrong that it amounts to a lie.

If other trans people are reacting based on the lies about Ophelia then I can’t say I’m surprised, but I am disappointed if they did so without making any attempt to find out what she actually did and said.

So I made good on my promise, though a person reading the thread now would have to get to comment 120-ish to see that that moderation magic happened and thus I looked like I talked over a trans person through the whole thread. Which, I’ll note, is a great rhetorical post-hoc well poisoning, but nothing with any intentionality behind it. Just a fortuitous coincidence for those predisposed to think I’m an asshole.

Which, maybe, I’ll cop to. I like to think I’m an asshole for good causes, though. Maybe I’m wrong about that. I dunno. I’m too close to tell.

Then PZ put up a post about kittens. Here’s the “new stuff” I promised. Well, almost new. I haven’t expressed them in full anywhere yet.

Well, it wasn’t about kittens. On first read, I agreed unequivocally with everything in it — that everyone’s got their hackles up, that people need to try to read one another charitably (and boy howdy, not much of what I’ve said lately has been read charitably!), that it is gross to try to push people from one gender “box” into another, and that Ophelia’s particular box is a spiky one. I also agreed with the sentiment that nobody could tell trans folk that they were wrong to be upset about such things, especially not an old white cis guy like PZ. (Especially also not another middle-aged white cis guy like me, which is why I have been deferring heavily to trans voices about what exactly was wrong with the whole situation.)

I agreed even that some boxes, when people are pushed into them, explode, per the topic of the post. One thing that I didn’t mention in my “agreement”, but certainly should have, is that it’s the people within them that do the exploding, not the boxes. If you try to push a trans woman into the “man” box because she has a penis, it’s not the box “man” that explodes, it’s the trans woman. My not saying that on the post, undercutting the analogy, was me holding my tongue. Because, I was honestly hoping that Ophelia might stay and that she might apologize to the people she’s hurt and learn to do better — to not make the sort of shitty diminishing trans-bashing witticisms she’s made in the past ever again.

I especially agreed that trying to push Ophelia into a box labeled TERF was only going to exacerbate the situation. For instance, it might incline her to wholly adopt the “trans cabal witch hunt” narrative, which would certainly endear her to Brennan and Hungerford, who are already hovering around her and lovebombing her.

There’s another card I didn’t play then, for a few reasons, which I’ll get to. That card is that we presently have no compunction with regard to people who hang out on A Voice for Men in order to laugh at funny jokes about feminists, make funny jokes about feminists, and get help arguing against certain feminist ideals, calling those people MRAs. We likewise have no problem calling people slimepitters those who hang out daily in the slime pit, posting funny memes about Freethought Bloggers, giving us funny names like Oafie and Thimbledick, and generally considering it a fun and free and free-wheeling forum dedicated to TRUE freethought. Nor do we even hesitate to call people slimepitters who revel in these same activities acting as anti-feminist atheists, borrowing memes from the slimepit proper, borrowing tactics from their posters, taking cues from their intended targets and their intended attack methods, sockpuppeting in order to commit false flag operations to exacerbate situations like the one with Ophelia today. We have zero problem calling these people MRAs and slimepitters.

We likewise should be less unwilling to call someone a TERF who has Elizabeth Hungerford as a commenter in good standing on their blog; who accepts thanks and support against those evil skeletons from Cathy Brennan; who was until recently hanging out in that selfsame gender-critical Facebook group started by Hungerford and which was found to be replete with anti-trans sentiment, some of which posted by Ophelia herself.

But pushing her into that category WOULD exacerbate things. So I agreed with the post.

Some people, as I said in the original framing, feel hurt by that thought, that I would 100% unequivocally agree with everything PZ has to say about the fight since the beginning — why would I pivot so hard to Ophelia’s position and to Ophelia’s unequivocal defense, so suddenly?

Well, I didn’t. I didn’t agree with everything PZ has ever said about this. I agreed with the post, as I read it, though I have to clarify something.

In the comments, I quickly came to understand I misunderstood two parts of PZ’s post, and had to clarify my own position a handful of posts later. First, I thought that PZ was pinning the campaign to push Ophelia into the TERF box (as a label) was based on “lies and uncharitable assumptions”, and not that the people outraged at what she’s actually done being based on that. Absolutely, with all the false flag comments I’ve seen trying to exacerbate things, saying extremely TERFy things in Ophelia’s name, or trying to say that she’s intentionally misgendered HappiestSadist (who she has apologized to, and who accepted her apology), there were lies around. Though, I still don’t 100% know if I misunderstood. I was giving PZ the most charitable reading of that passage, which is empirically correct, that there are lies and uncharitable assumptions in the mix. If I DID misunderstand the thrust of this argument — and PZ never clarified — then I disagree strongly. The people who are upset with Ophelia presently are still upset because she has actually said and done things that are trans-antagonistic, and for the most part, the people demanding an accounting of all of that have kept their grievances to the specific and evidenced things that they can prove happened.

Second, I believed PZ was suggesting that Ophelia’s feeling, that she was alone in a den of poisoners on this network, began when Alex wrote his “smoke and fire” post. I would amend that to the first instance that I know about, which was Stephanie demanding better intellectual rigour in Ophelia’s defense. Stephanie’s post was completely understandable and correct, in my mind, given that there were many arguments flying around that were rightly mocked when served in defense of Dawkins or Shermer or any other recalcitrant big-name fighting the scourge of feminism within our communities. It became muddied, though, whether PZ actually meant the WHOLE ARGUMENT around Ophelia started with Alex’s post, as though he singlehandedly wrote a hatchet job ex nihilo and without any priors. At least, I now BELIEVE that to be what PZ means. I could still be wrong.

In response to the charge that the whole fight started when Alex wrote his post, a large number of people started posting a full accounting of all the various grievances they had with Ophelia pertaining to trans-antagonism, and none of them started with Alex’s post, but predated them by up to a year. I didn’t participate in the thread any more because, as I’ve been lamenting elsewhere, a trans person told me I was talking over them, so as promised, I shut up when trans folk were talking. They were airing their case, and my participating then would have made things worse, both for me — in terms of looking like I was out for her head — and in terms of their arguments. I stayed mum because I thought it was the best course of action.

And now people who think of me as an ally, think I abandoned them then. And, yeah. I did. I’m sorry for that.

Meanwhile though, PZ then closed the comments on the post, with this:

You know, I’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of campaign before. You’re all sounding like Michael Nugent, the Mouth of the Slymepit: according to him, I’m a homicidal monster who connived to railroad an innocent young woman who threatened to accuse me of rape, which apparently, according to a mob on twitter, I’m guilty of. If all you do is look over any voluble person’s record on the internet, you can find words and phrases you can twist or take out of context to support any nefarious claim you want. You just have to ignore 99% of what they say!

This is not to say Ophelia hasn’t screwed up or been intemperate (just as I wouldn’t say I’ve never done that, either), but that there’s an obsessive pursuit of every detail of her internet presence explicitly calculated with an intent to reach a predetermined conclusion. I’m also disappointed that, while she’s been reluctant to own her own errors, you all have been rather dishonest in admitting to your own agenda: you’re pissed off, you’re looking to score points, and hoping to drive Ophelia off this network altogether. Every time you claim you aren’t, I just have to roll my eyes.

There is no interest in honestly improving her awareness of trans issues at all — as if she were somehow completely opposed to any kind of social justice concerns at all — and clearly this thread has just become another opportunity to rage away. So it’s closed. It’ll stay that way, since the angry finger-pointing is completely unproductive.

This is absolutely patently an unfair characterization of what was happening on that thread.

Every single person who posted about repercussions wanted an apology, or at most, for her to shut up about trans issues while she went and learned about them herself. I know PZ sees a prosecution, rather than an attempt at convincing him that the history was actually far deeper and far more troubling than that Alex started a shitstorm single-handedly. I know PZ thinks that walking through one’s history for every single problematic thing that a person has ever said about any topic is Nugent-like — but that’s because that’s what Nugent’s done. That’s not remotely like what anyone else has done here, though. The absolute worst that you can say about anyone involved in this fight who’s actually doing any of the comment-dredging, is that they went looking through Ophelia’s history of transphobic comments, and finally, after building a dossier of them, demanding an apology and some self-reflection, and demanding an acknowledgement from him and others that, yes, this was actually problematic behaviour in the first place.

And the icing on the cake is that PZ recognizes that she’s been reluctant to own her errors, suggesting that he thinks these ARE errors. Even while he tries to play judo and call anyone asking for an apology and self-reflection as “having an agenda” of “hoping to drive Ophelia off this network altogether”.

I’ve screwed up bigtime in the past. I’ve talked out of my ass about things that I didn’t really know much about, and hurt people I didn’t mean to hurt, and they’ve brought those cases to me and, though it took me a while (measured in days, mind you), I’ve eventually come around on those issues. It is possible to do bad things, unintentionally, to realize you’ve done bad things, to own them, to apologize contritely, and to work to do better next time. What I didn’t do is dig in for months, then leave the network when more and more people said “no, seriously, you’re fucking up here”.

This is, of course, what I’m doing now with this ever-expanding post, trying to do right by those who think I’ve abandoned them and pivoted on them.

One of the big reasons I held my tongue more than I wanted to, is that first, PZ was actively trying to keep the network together, a goal I agreed with — I’d have preferred, best case scenario, that Ophelia stayed here, figured out that she was being an ass about some stuff (even while she felt under attack), and fixed those problems herself. Then we all stay together, one big, happy, resilient family.

Another is that I had a few extra days’ lead time on knowing that Ed was leaving. Traffic-wise, Ed and Ophelia both are about a third of this network. Without them, it’s now PZ and The Also-Blogs, at about a 90/10 split. We’re taking a big hit traffic-wise, which results in a big hit money-wise. That big hit money-wise means the server we’re paying for is slightly overprovisioned (which means more stable, yay!) but also means a larger slice of the ad revenue and more likely to result in shortfalls (boo). Shortfalls that will probably be paid out of PZ’s pocket. Shortfalls that probably mean if anything goes sour, we’ll have lean months, maybe even where bloggers get $0 revenue, where even now we’re lucky to get double digits.

When I offered to leave the network to keep Ophelia here, I was doing so from the pragmatic standpoint that if the cashflow stops, the network becomes destabilized further, and I am not personally dependent on my blog revenue to stay afloat. Some others of our bloggers are actually, believe it or not, dependent on that meagre revenue flow. The last thing I want to have happen is that the network collapses because of Ed and this coincidental simultaneous shitstorm with Ophelia, resulting in a lot of people without a digital home.

I was prepping for the eventuality that some people might end up homeless, and I was seriously planning a “solo career”, so to speak. This is why I offered to leave — I could probably do it safely. If I had, I planned on offering free berth to anyone who’d come with me. I don’t know how viable I’d be on a tiny Amazon AWS instance alone, but maybe with a few others, we could stay afloat.

But with Ed’s departure coming so soon (I thought I might have a few weeks, maybe a month!), I cannot possibly leave the network responsibly — without my free-tier tech support, the revenue stream becomes significantly tighter.

The fact that Ophelia’s apparently moved out with some finality now, though, means it’s all moot. I don’t have to go anywhere, at least for the moment. I can take a breath.

But, in order to reassert my right to speak freely, I do actually have to speak up, about the things that need to be said about how this all went down, and with some specificity about how the Guy Who Now Holds All The Chips has handled this scenario.

I think PZ is categorically wrong about what people’s intentions were. I think he is categorically wrong about what caused this shitstorm. And I think he’s categorically wrong, now, about prioritizing blog network unity over actually treating people’s concerns about Ophelia’s actions properly — that is to say, not mischaracterizing them as a witch-hunt when they are about accounting for actually shitty things she’s done. Now that she’s gone, I’m not saying “piss on her grave” — I’m saying, be a little more honest about who was demanding what. And I’m saying definitely don’t mischaracterize people, where the people who are blowing up in his kitten scenario are having the temerity to do it all over the thread that looked like it was there for that reason.

I suspect I will pay a lot of costs for this post. I’ll probably pay the cost in any intended mediation between myself and PZ, insofar as I’ve laid it all out publicly, though these grievances are not insurmountable regardless (at least, not on my end). I’ll probably pay costs with regard to my place in this network, and amongst peers who at least once respected me. I’ve already paid the cost of writing it for the past three hours, and will probably pay more cost for posting it with only minimal reread. But, I won’t, at least, leave people I love and trust with the impression that I’ve hung them out to dry through inaction. And at least one of the costs I’m recouping, finally, is that I’m no longer shutting the fuck up “for the good of the network”. The network can stand it, and though I suspect I might not be able to stand the costs personally, maybe I actually can. We’ll see. If not, I still have my backup plan.

I will post my thoughts on Ed separately. Something he said privately to me makes me think that my posting this first, clearing my conscience, is the right thing to do.

(No, I won’t tell you what that was. I said it was private.)

Jesus fucking hell. Sorry about the length.


285 thoughts on “Accounting.

  1. 251

    I’m appalled by how much writing has been spent on criticizing one person. What are you all doing for trans rights. Stop trying to get Ophelia Benson to respond to your criticisms. You can write about how you support trans people without going after one person. When you go after Benson, then everyone has to go through all the threads to figure out who is right or wrong. It is a distraction. It’s like politicians who go after their opponents rather than discuss policy issues.

  2. 252

    Could you perhaps let me know what the appropriate amount of criticism is, exactly, for someone who continues to say and do damaging things for the causes we care about? And, corrolarily, how we managed to perform the right amount of criticism against Dawkins but somehow overshot the mark with Benson despite both continuing the behaviour that is being criticised?

  3. 253

    On the topic of Charlie Hebdo, I am of the opinion that it is an anti-racist org that uses blatantly racist imagery and views as “parody”, in much the same way that Colbert as parody of Republicans was so often indistinguishable from the nasty shit that Republicans said and did. Yes, they’re anti-racist, in theory. But even within the context of French culture, any particular “skewering of racists” worked by repeating the racism in plain language for all to recognize and understand. And it wasn’t without its own problematic splash-damagey bullshit.

    Saying “they’re not racist” or “they’re totally racist” is too binary. The people, myself included, that I saw arguing for Hebdo not being sainted and inviolate did so from the stance I just enumerated. Those that lionized it, in my estimation, did so in defense of them against THOSE EVIL MUSLIMS as a culture, and the whole situation is way more fraught than the polarized individuals (like Ophelia) were evidently willing to give a proper hearing.

  4. 254

    I’m appalled by how much writing has been spent on criticizing one person.

    I’m appalled by how much writing on transgender issues, generally, consists of cisgender people talking over the top of those of us who are trans*, and in the process obliterating any chance we have of being heard, but there seems no chance whatsoever this is going to stop any time soon. Take your number along with your outrage and get to the back of the queue.

    What are you all doing for trans rights.

    Probably a damn sight more than you. And you get to ask this question of everyone else without answering it yourself? How does gambit that work for you?

    Stop trying to get Ophelia Benson to respond to your criticisms.

    Ha. I stopped criticising her directly months ago, but this isn’t just about her, however much of a pest she continues to make of herself on social media. Butterflies and Wheels isn’t hermetically sealed off from the rest of culture or from the progressive elements of movement atheism just because she took her bat and ball and left FTB.

    You can write about how you support trans people without going after one person.

    Plenty of articles do that, but it only seems to be you that has a problem with this particular focus. In this instance, Jason has been supporting trans people, who are part of this community and who’ve been hurt by Ophelia’s actions. It’s an issue that has festered for months and deserved coverage – as another blogger pointed out, she refrained from writing about it while hope was entertained that the situation might improve.

    When you go after Benson, then everyone has to go through all the threads to figure out who is right or wrong. It is a distraction. It’s like politicians who go after their opponents rather than discuss policy issues.

    Then let me make it crystal clear for you: Benson has been eagerly “sprinting over a cliff” for months, and it would have been appalling if her colleagues here at FTB had said nothing at all about what had been going on.

  5. 255

    I’m appalled at the idea that you can make inane and bigoted comments, get called out for it mildly, start throwing a shitfit, get more attention and criticism, become even more hyperbolic and make even more bullshit arguments, get even more attention and criticism, and then turn around and take offense at getting so much criticism. And all the while, you can get a group of people just nodding along in sage agreement the entire time, reassuring you that you are in fact the one being persecuted.

    It is simply horrifying. It shows some really fucked up cognitive and social dynamics. It deserves to be noticed. And it is definitely NOT a service to trans people to throw it all down the memory hole and try to learn nothing from the fact that this large and bitter argument, occurring in a very progressive community, is happening on the topic of trans people. If this issue is so minor as to be ignorable, than all of FTB is simply ignorable. If that is so, why are we even here?

  6. 256

    This thread had been dormant for 4 days until clamboy turned up and asked, while swirling a metaphorical snifter of brandy, “have you considered another perspective?”

    Cuttlefish posts a poem about allyship on the 23rd, and at the bottom there’s a trackback going to guess where? Butterflies and Wheels where Ophelia Benson has assumed this poem (which says nothing that social justice advocates haven’t said a million times) is aimed directly and explictly at her and has written a response. And she’s fisking it like “well that’s a lie I did nothing of the sort”. Maybe if it lines up so poorly with your memory of events, Ophelia, well just maybe it’s NOT FUCKING ABOUT YOU? We’ve gotten to appoint where apparently nobody Ophelia knows exists is allowed to say…seemingly anything at all, without Ophelia assuming it to be a passive aggressive jab at her.

    But sure. We’re the ones who need to find something else to talk about.

  7. 257

    Another example was me livetweeting a panel at Secular Women Work about allyship, and two days later Ophelia replying to one of my tweet as though it was a dig at her.
    Might be a coincidence, but very shortly thereafter, MrHappyPants / Ex Astris went after Kim Rippere about how they’d have to stop supporting Secular Woman (a funder of the conference but certainly not affiliated with it) for how she was acting (without specifying a grievance). My best guess was that they thought Rippere was going after Benson too somehow.

    None of the conference was about Benson. None of it.

  8. 258

    This will hopefully be the last I have to say for a while. I apologize if I am fueling a fire.

    After following Jason’s link and perusing Ophelia’s twitter, I found this comment, replying to Russell Blackford regarding Richard Carrier:

    If you don’t go why this is such a classy fucking joke, just google “never go full” without the quotes and I am sure you will get the jist.

    Beyond that, I am baffled that she is joking around with Russell Blackford at the expense of Carrier.
    (In which Benson decries Blackford’s animosity towards Rebecca Watson)
    (In which Blackford is pissed off that Ron Lindsay apologized for opening a women’s conference with comments complaining about silencing men.)
    (In which Blackford dismisses threats that Benson received)
    (In which Blackford summons a feminist to dismiss the concerns over Matt Taylor’s shirt. Read Ophelia’s comment to that tweet if you want to have a very sorrowful chuckle)

    Didn’t I say something about how eagerly she was throwing people under the bus? I am just honestly surprised she is even still criticizing Dawkins. Maybe once she figures out the hypocrisy of her arguments at this point, or if he tweets something favorable in her direction at some point, maybe that will change. The enemy of her enemy is her friend, and it is looking like FTB is her enemy now. (She is currently even doubting PZ as an ally, because one of his comments on his sole article on the issue a month ago stated that she made “errors”, which she vehemently denied. She is faultless in all of this, dammit!!!)

  9. 260

    Another irony:

    Even after all this time she is still insisting that it is unfair to compare her “gender critical” facebook group to the slyme pit. She got into a fight with SC and others on the subject around the 18th, over a week after Hungerford made an obvious bigot of herself on Benson’s blog. It makes sense that she dismisses this. That way Benson isn’t a hypocrite when she says that anyone who posts on the slyme pit is complicit in their shit, while simultaneously claiming she isn’t complicit in the TERFy shit on that “gender critical” group. Convenient. (“Guilt by association” only applies when she says so, I guess.)

    So where is the actual irony? Her confident and vigorous denial of any comparison between the slyme pit and TERF Group, while simultaneously being all too eager to compare all of her critics to the slyme pit. (She has done so herself on multiple occasions, as well as Guest Posting some of her defenders who also made that claim).

    So what do we have?

    FTB colleagues and regulars expressing genuine concern about apparent transphobic statements/behavior: Slyme Pit.
    Facebook group snarking about how ridiculous it is that trans women want access to women’s spaces: Not Slyme Pit.

    Jesus. Fucking. Wept.

  10. 263


    I’ll cop to that. Back when I first wrote that post, I was convinced that the best approach was to take the high road, to let my blog posts speak for themselves alongside Melby’s, and just wait patiently. Time and future events have made me question the wisdom of that, so I’ve decided to break my vow.

    Thanks for linking to my latest comment! <3

  11. 264

    @ 261 Hj Hornbeck

    *pshaw* Don’t mention it. You’re not the first person with an irrational hatred of a feminists to feel this way! I hear there’s an entire site dedicated to welcoming good folks like yourself. It’s called, um… sludge-bucket or something like that. Let me get back to you. Anyway, don’t you believe what you’ve heard! It’s totally a free speach space for open-minded individuals like yourself. Anti-feminism has nothing to do with it. The fact that you, as a white man, are hating on a feminist is completely irrelevant! You just keep putting those crotchety bitches in their place Hornbeck, and feel good while doing it! “Ignore” Ophelia Benson — fuck that!!! I recommend you start a site dedicated to humiliating her as much as you can! Maybe you can learn some photoshopping. You know what I mean 😉 .

    (I don’t think anyone has registered the domain “cobbwebcunt” yet — don’t miss out, Champ!)

  12. 266

    The fact that you, as a white man, are hating on a feminist is completely irrelevant!

    Seriously, go fuck a duck, Silentbob. Is there a workshop you people go to where you learn how to pack this much bullshit into a single sentence? Ophelia calls herself a feminist therefor any criticism of her is “hating on her”. And of course there are no actual trans people criticizing Ophelia. It’s 100% cishet white dudes. If you can’t defend your position without completely twisting and obsuring the reality of what’s going on, maybe you need to rethink your life choices.

  13. 267

    You know, it’s absolutely fucking fascinating to me that so many people are focusing only on the few men who are actively criticizing Ophelia and ignoring the fact that the vast majority of critics aren’t men (and a healthy chunk of Ophelia’s commenters are). But hey, address the voices that most conveniently fit your narrative.

    And hey, people who are positing this as a situation where men are silencing a feminist in defense of other men? Don’t think your transmisigynist-ass views are fucking invisible. I mean, they well befit the person you’re defending (bonus if you’re a cis man shitting on trans women in defense of Ophelia and pretending that this makes you a good feminist), but I see you. Shitting on women who are (obfuscating language about how Ophelia’s relatively “mild” transmisogyny aside) exponentially more likely to be raped and murdered due to this one factor doesn’t make you Male Feminist of the Fucking Year. It makes you an asshole.

  14. 268

    Honestly, in my opinion, the worst part of Silentbob’s post was the casual dropping of sexist slurs in the name of being a Good Male Feminist, while claiming that HJ is Teh Real Misogynist. What the actual fuck?

    (Oh, but it was all done in the name of a joke, and thinking otherwise is thought policing and censoring heretics in the name of McCarthyistic purity. Just heaven forfend if someone NOT kissing Ophelia’s ass pulled the same shit….)

  15. 270

    Ophelia joins a forum dedicated to transphobia, participates in the conversations and jokes, JAQs off about trans issues, casts aspersions on liberal/choice feminists (rather than the real kind), openly agrees with toxic harassers disparaging “SJWs,” thinks FTB is full of dogmatic McCarthyists for mild criticism from a few bloggers & commenters, and calls her critics slimy stalker horror scalphunters rather than actually responding to any criticism.. But we’re the ones who’d fit in at the Slyme Pit.

  16. 271

    Silentbob #262:

    Rational dislike of oppressors very much is not the same as irrational hatred of feminists.

    As well you know. Way to lower the discourse.

    Everyone else… allow me to remind you this is the eminent thought-leader who declared the trans-people-are-an-academic-exercise Slate article was ‘even-handed’.

  17. 272

    Abbeycadabra: And yet he was also reasonable enough to be the one who actually cared to look at your original comments, let us know when they reappeared, and told Pierce that he was off base when he characterized you as a troll.

    Beyond that, I should also note that, as quoted by oolon early on in this thread, he actually did call out the Dolezal joke as bigoted (even if they later were convinced to retract calling the person who made it “a bigot”).

    Silentbob is actually one of the more reasonable members of the Benson Brigade. Even if just a little bit. Which makes comment 262 that much more depressing.

  18. 273


    I know the feels. No really, I’d been a fan of Benson’s for years before I started hearing rumours of her transphobia. I progressed from dismissing them, to admitting she might be misunderstanding trans* issues, to reluctatly facing the facts.

    Take the case of Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, a TERF blogger that Benson follows. Back in April, Benson quoted this as her favorite passage from Reilly-Cooper’s work:

    20. While it is possible to transition to the role of woman, this cannot be achieved by a simple act of will or performative utterance. The mere fact of “identifying as a woman”, feeling like a woman, believing one is a woman, or declaring “I am a woman”, on their own are insufficient to make one a woman. To be a woman is to occupy a social role and to be viewed by others as occupying that role, and therefore no subjective mental state is sufficient to make one a woman; becoming a woman is not a mere matter of “identifying as a woman”. If you are called Simon and “present as male“, then the mere fact that you identify as a woman, which presumably means simply to have some sort of feeling or belief in your mind, will have no bearing on how anyone views you, and thus you will continue to be treated with the respect and deference that it usually shown to men.

    Benson also “liked” Elizabeth Hungerford’s favorite.

    31. If you do not recognise the material reality of biological sex or its significance as an axis of oppression, your political theory cannot incorporate any analysis of patriarchy. Women’s historic and continued subordination has not arisen because some members of our species choose to identify with an inferior social role (and it would be an act of egregious victim-blaming to suggest that it has). It has emerged as a means by which males can dominate that half of the species that is capable of gestating children, and exploit their sexual and reproductive labour. We cannot make sense of the historical development of patriarchy and the continued existence of sexist discrimination and cultural misogyny, without recognising the reality of female biology, and the existence of a class of biologically female persons.

    Reilly-Cooper is quite clearly a TERF, yet Benson not only continues to support her, she’s eager to introduce her to her readers.

    My transition took a LOT longer than it should have, due to the warm feelings for Benson, but it did happen. I wasn’t happy about it, either, but much of my angst was drawn out and private.

    I’ve got one request of you: take a few days off from this subject. Play with the dog, work on card towers, whatever. When you’ve pretty much forgotten about it, do exactly what Benson wants you to do: read Rebecca Reilly-Cooper’s blog. Check out a few posts, just so you get a feel for the place.

    Then, reevalute. Privately.

  19. 275

    Haha SilentBobs comment is brilliant, way to ape the over wrought accusations that everyone criticising OB must be a pitter! Even better since SB was one of the few to call out OBs joke as obviously transphobic. But for some reason her not seeing that and forcing SB to back down isn’t at all relevant. Josh and SC also worked out her friend Hungerford is a horrible bigot, their words. But OB doesn’t see it, she’s still on her FB group and friends with her.

    I wonder how SB rationalises that? I get the feeling that sludge bucket 101 of GUILT BY ASSOCIATION!!! would be the only defence. Because it absolutely is telling when you have bigoted friends, when you fail to call out their bigotry let alone agree with it and repeat it as a joke…. SB knows this and I can only think the extreme outburst above is symptomatic of holding the conflicting views of OB not slightly transmisogynistic and the fact of her associations simultaneously.

  20. 277

    […] Unfortunately #30 this isn’t manufactured outrage. Some of the people who’ve chosen to remain relatively quiet in all of this were friends of Benson who were placed in a very shitty situation that was genuinely horrid for them. This wasn’t a conflict of their choosing. It was a festering issue that finally came to a head. […]

  21. 278

    And speaking of disheartening, Chris Clarke is among the people behaving as the biggest assholes in Ophelia’s comment threads. Which, considering everything I thought I knew about Chris Clarke, and everything he has said about such online behavior….it is perplexing, to put it kindly.

    As for the latest, part of me finds this reaction from Benson to M.A. Melby humorous.

    Melby you sick fuck you really need to stop obsessing over me. Yes you really are like the pitters that way.

    Nothing creepier than having a “progressive” blogger obsessively raging over you on Twitter. I’m not the worst problem in the world. Really.

    “Stop paying attention to what I say”, says professional blogger, published author, and frequent paid conference speaker. Over and over. Is this one of those “if you don’t like what I write, just don’t read it” kind of things? I swear to god, even if she doesn’t mean it to be, it is functionally identical.

  22. 280

    Trigger Warning: Transphobia.

    The comments over at Ophelia’s…..


    Biology and the gametes we produce won’t change no matter how many people try and chant it’s all a construction. This is used typically to deny women, who are female, the right to define themselves using their shared biology and mean others can simply identify as such without having that biology or lived experience. There are in fact distinct differences in socialisation that females experience – being put in a lower social status, the expectation you will or should have a baby at some point, the simple fear of getting pregnant and so on. These are unique experiences and clearly the OP recognises that this doesn’t exactly align across the board even though some things are shared. Despite that women currently are not really allowed to have spaces of their own to share with others that have had those same experiences without those who are male or male socialised. That’s wrong, women aren’t stopping anyone from creating their own spaces and/or sharing other spaces where it is appropriate and their wishes should be respected to have some specific spaces they have fought for protected as they are not meant for the validation of others, but to give help and support for a specific defined group.

    ” I’m a transwoman, and I’m fine with that.” it could and should be as simple as that. You can have both things, some spaces shared based on similarities and others restricted to nominated groups and that should be OK for anyone and everyone. Instead you have huge campaigns about lesbian music festivals as though that having the intention of being for females is the human rights violation of the century. It’s not, and not a civil right to break through women’s (adult human females) defined boundaries over their protests that they have the right to organise together as other groups do. Interesting, you’ve also seen women’s colleges being protested as well, but not sure if I’ve ever seen a men’s college or space protested in the same way and there are more of those.

    “Make your own spaces, trans people! Also, biological women! Socialized men! What are dog whistles again!!?!”


    Also, your remarks about traumatized women getting over their trauma by being exposed to the source of that trauma in a safe environment? Those are really gross. If you’re a transwoman, and I suspect you are but can’t be arsed Googling you at the moment, be aware that that kind of thinking is one of the reasons we don’t trust you. It’s guy thinking. Ditch it. We do not need you dictating to us when and how we decide to face our fears. That quite frankly is none of your business.

    Transwomen can find safe spaces without butting into women’s spaces. Start some shelters for trans and queer identified people. Bam. Problem solved.

    WE had to start OUR own shelters. Fair is fair.

    Oh. Never mind. Clearly Redwolf knew what dog whistles were. It was Dana that had no clue and had to go and make the transphobia blatant.

    All in response to an article written by someone who also contributes here:

    Read some of that shit if you dare. It is basically all “trans women are men”, and bashing the trans community as misogynist, all the way down.

    This is where we are now. I fear it is also where we are going to be stuck. I really don’t know how to go forward or make things better. Silence will let this all be flushed down the memory hole and people will look back and dimly remember something about a vague kerfuffle about Ophelia Benson and shrug it off as “must have been nothing”. Continue to give a shit and it will be portrayed as an attack, as obsessive (as it has been from day one), and the people that need to hear the message, who need to learn and listen, will continue to plug their ears no matter how gently or how loudly the message is given. I don’t know how to turn this all into a good thing. The only thing people have learned is that there are really truly no heroes, allies can’t be relied on, and Ophelia is pretty much beyond hope.

  23. 282

    […] into the comment section she was shot down by a number of commenters and regulars (but strangely, not by Benson herself). Her commenters were actively opposed to transphobia, and on the rare occasions that it popped up […]

  24. 283

    I see the ever lovable Hornbeck is now reduced to claiming Ophelia is “playing the victim” in order to cash in on her Patreon:

    On Butterflies and Wheels, Benson has the place to herself. Thanks in part to the noisy departure, her Patreon was quite successful; when I last checked, she was earning $630 a month from kicking out blog posts (the latest numbers are here). As I pointed out earlier, it’s in her best interest to keep the controversy alive as it feeds into her persecution narrative and keeps her fans (and herself) angry, unable to sit back and critically examine what the critics are saying.

    (my bolding)

    But that’s nothing like what the slimepit have said about — well, every feminist ever — from Watson to Christina to Sarkeesian. No sir, not at all.

  25. 284

    So, Bob, going to explain how Ophelia hanging out with bigots (according to you, Josh and SC), quoting “jokes” from them and linking to their blog posts is no problem? Or haven’t you finished pretending this is all about HJ yet?

  26. 285

    Ahhh, after my 3 weeks holiday, bigots are still bigots, idiots are still idiots, arseholes are stille arseholes.
    Redwolf says:

    Biology and the gametes we produce won’t change no matter how many people try and chant it’s all a construction.

    If you start your diatribe by stating clearly how much you either don’t understand “social construct” or lie about “social construct”, the rest kind of follows. As if Gender Trouble never happened. You are either dishonest or incompetent. Both things make you a bigot.
    To quote it again: ONe does not simply ignore Judith Butler”.

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