Accounting.

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.

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285 thoughts on “Accounting.

  1. 51

    I also note you have no real objection of substance aside from misrepresenting one (one!) of the issues at hand, mostly by credulously regurgitating Ophelia’s take on it all as if it were absolute fact, and pretending it is the only matter we are all concerned over.

    Seriously, what the fuck?

  2. 52

    You have gone above and beyond, and have handled yourself with grace even when people were lobbing shitballs of spite and nastiness at you and basically putting their fingers in their ears and screaming “LALALALALA YOU ARE JUST A MEANIE FOR TELLING ME I’M WRONG LALALALALALALA”

    Here’s the thing: when you take a stance you KNOW is one that most people won’t agree with and you have no intention of changing your mind you have to avoid engagement because then the reality of your position becomes clear. Know how all the “Heritage not hate” people avoid any reality or serious engagement? Know how “I’m just proud of being white” people don’t want to actually have a discussion, just stick to their talking points? Well it happens with TERFs — sorry — “gender critical feminists”, too.

    Just so you know, OB has been on TERF — sorry, “gender critical feminist” — monitoring sites for almost a year before this happened. When I mentioned the name to friends and to my daughter THAT is where they knew her from — not her blog, but from warnings to avoid her. That she was not trans-friendly. Danger — KEEP OUT. So while this recent dustup laid her bare here, in the world outside FtB she was well known for one thing.

    And sadly, that one thing will likely be what she is most remembered for.

  3. 53

    “Some troll demanded that Benson answer a challenge to the effect that “a trans woman is a woman – Yes or No!”

    That’s a question that deserves an answer of “yes,” without pause.

  4. 54

    The question I can understand her not answering, but it was in response to her not explaining why she thought it ok to recount a very transphobic “joke”. As described by her friend and ally, SilentBob, not a troll I assume?

    @ 15 Ophelia Benson
    Yeah, sorry to be blunt; your friend’s a bigot. They are implying trans people don’t exist, that trans women are men in drag. That’s offensive, like calling homosexuality a disorder, or a debauched “lifestyle”.

    Weird that a “trans ally” would have bigoted friends, feel it’s fine to recount their transphobic “Jokes”, then not apologise or explain. Actually not that weird given the blatant transphobia exhibited by her on her friends “gender critical” page, which she thought was private …

  5. 55

    There are still some active conversations happening in the comments at Ophelia’s A horribly effective silencer post.

    Elizabeth Hungerford is holding court on gender and trans issues and someone else is claiming that mental illnesses don’t really exist because researchers haven’t found any biomarkers for any of them ever.

    Can’t respond to the mental illness stuff as Ophelia has declared it a derail.

    But really hoping someone with some real expertise steps up and provides a more robust response to Hungerford’s comments. We tried but don’t feel qualified to do so ourselves. The important thing is that harmful ideas should not be left unchallenged. If not on Ophelia’s blog then elsewhere.

  6. 56

    No, Pierce, no. See my comment above as just one of many. The trans* cluster of my atheoskeptisphere have been hearing dogwhistles for long months – that’s why the yes/no question was ultimately asked of her, to try and pin down her exact stance on the issue, after lots of red flags all over anywhere I bumped social media feeds with hers. We were looking at each other uneasily in the background, murmuring, ‘Did she really just say that? Nah, she can’t have meant that, it’s Ophelia, come on…oh, no, wait, she’s done it again…’ Watching with a lot of pain, and then anger when her pushback started; when she labelled known friends, helpers, teachers, and peers as attackers. As pitters. Come on.
    .
    Jadehawk, thanks for all your hard work collating that folder; I know it was difficult, but the truth is important.
    .

  7. 58

    @ Tony 25, Oolon 27:

    Sorry, I should have just cited Oolon as the person I was talking about with “PZ’s banning people for disagreeing”. I think I overstated my case, sorry if I made it sound like mass bans were happening.

    Still, I’ve been following you (oolon) on Twitter, and all I saw was you attempting amplification of trans voices regarding OB, which made PZ’s silent ban on you pretty fucking galling.

    Saying “trans people are hurting and here they are, saying why” is exactly what we needed in the conversation, but PZ instead wants to pretend it’s 100% about getting OB off the network via unjustified harassment.

    Instead of, I don’t know, asking Zinnia or an actual trans person to talk (he could have even found one that agreed with him before amplifying them), he basically asks Ophelia if she’s a monster to her face, and is satisfied by the obvious “of course I’m not a racist” answer to that. Now anyone that disagrees with her actions must be slandering her, because she stated agreement with his values. Somehow, intent IS now magic, and actions don’t mean anything.

    Funny, I would have told anyone who asked that I loved gay people, back when I was a homophobe voting against gay rights. Funny, I would have said I based all my beliefs on science and evidence and skepticism, back when I was creationist throwing arguments against evolution. Funny, I would have described myself as loving women and thinking of them as equals, even when I was a Bill Gothard style fundy out to legislate out women’s rights and stuff each gender squarely in immutable roles of respective dominance and submission.

    Funny how my outwardly stated beliefs had little correspondence to my actions and associations.

    In a similar vein to oolon’s ban, he totally ignored everyone’s posts on that last post of his, and just said everyone was screaming for blood, so all the actual measured arguments, demands, and evidence were ignored.

    His intent, and OB’s intent, are magic, everyone else is lying about THEIR intent.

    Again, what the fuck.

  8. 59

    *calm, long-lasting applause*

    StevoR in comment 43:

    @ ^ carlie : Pretty sure Tigger was a semi-regular (?) on Pharyngula for quite awhile at least when I was there some years ago and before. Could be mistaken of course.

    You are not mistaken.

    AMM in 44:

    I notice that they’re all women, make of it what you will.

    Heina is not. 🙂

  9. 61

    Jason, I apologize for the following language. I have TRIED to be civil so far, but…

    #48:
    Fuck you sideways with a curare-tipped wrought iron fencepost, Pierce.

    I am NOT a troll. I am someone who saw a lot of increasingly transphobic bullshit coming out of Ophelia, and asked her whether she thinks trans women are women in response to a hardcore transphobic ‘joke’ about Rachel Dolezal.

    I was HOPING she would say ‘yes’. Or say ‘yes’ and get indignant. Or say ‘yes’ and get mad at me – whatever, the point was to get her to clarify her position once and for all. I really really wanted one of my favorite bloggers to turn out to be kind of tone-deaf but generally okay, and to maybe learn not to be suck a jerk to trans people.

    What happened INSTEAD was a category-five shitstorm in which Ophelia did everything we’ve seen for years when a prominent blogger (Dawkins, Harris, Nugent, whoever) has been caught in very bad behavior they do not want to admit – wriggling around, screaming about witch hunts, trying to redefine all the terms involved so they don’t apply, the whole playbook. Way way more evidence of her transphobic and in fact specifically TERF views surfaced than I had expected, enough to overwhelm her wishy washy “Well okay if I MUST” posts claiming to affirm trans women’s womanhood. She screamed about people reading her Facebook posts (in a *public* group that, it turns out, she had felt safe expressing these things in because she did not realize it was public), screencapping comments and posts (because she challenged them to, and had been Deleting Fucking Everything), and generally doing what’s going to happen to anyone who is caught in a lie and doubles down publicly.

    Her bad behavior, and the whipping of her commentariat into a Gamergate-esque froth was… unexpected, deeply disturbing, and NOT SOMETHING I WAS EVEN PRESENT FOR, so fuck you again for calling me a troll. And when the dust settled, Ophelia has *quit the network* rather than admit any possible fault or ever apologize, and the collateral damage includes a large chunk of PZ Myers’ credibility, since he engaged in a lot of tribalistic anti-skeptical behavior when presented with evidence of a friend’s wrongdoing.

    You think I wanted any of this to happen? Pharyngula and B&W were the blogs I mostly read here for a long time. I mostly lurked, because there was usually not much to add. I respected these people, and I wanted to continue respecting them. That’s gone now. Whether I’ll have any reason to return to what *was* one of my favorite skeptosphere sites when the aftermath of this debacle is over, I have no idea. I’m going to seriously miss what I thought I had here.

    Totally a troll.

    Fuck you.

  10. 62

    Delurking to say thank you, and I am so, so, sorry that everything has gone this way, in spite of your (and many other’s) best efforts. I don’t often comment on this network because usually others express what I want to say so much more succinctly and eloquently than I could. But I am here just about every day, reading and learning.

    I lurked through this whole mess mostly because I am not a known entity here, and I’d heard that bad faith actors had been trolling this hard to try to make it worse… and I so much wanted it to get better.

    I had liked B&W before this, even if I didn’t agree with everything posted there I thought it often hosted good discussions. I am truly sorry that Ophelia Benson has been attacked, slandered, libeled, and impersonated by those bad faith actors (and maybe even by a few good faith actors, I don’t know) – I don’t wish any harm on her. That said, it also seems very clear to me that most of the criticism directed her way on this network was coming from a place of genuinely being hurt (or trying to be a good ally to someone who was hurt) and wanting to help her understand how she was doing damage in the hope that she would stop it. And learn and grow.

    I am even more sorry for the trans people and their allies who have been trying to engage and were instead repeatedly ignored, misunderstood (charitable reading), banned, or attacked by O.B. and her defenders. As many have pointed out here, this should be Social Justice 101… we are supposed to check our defensiveness and listen to the voices of the marginalized group members who are frankly, doing us the favor of investing their time and emotion to educate us.

    The fact that the damage is being inflicted by one oppressed group onto another oppressed group is actually not a new thing in the world, sadly. It is also no reason to expect an exemption from this SJ 101 concept, or an exemption from criticism when one doubles and triples down. Being a member of the in-group also should not mean that one gets a free pass.

    You, and everyone else who has been trying to apply the same standards to the in-group that we routinely hold the out-group to, have my full support – and my deep sorrow that this situation has gone completely to shit.

  11. 63

    I’m trying to think about how to say this without offending anyone. First of all, it is always important to support people who are transgender. That being said, I’m disappointed in all the conflict. The bloggers (and ex-bloggers) at FTB all have similar values that I was hoping everyone could see they are allies rather than enemies.
    I’m going to put on my psychoanalyst hat on now: Part of this conflict may be a reaction to Ed Brayton leaving. It is not the cause but likely fueled more emotion. One can understand why he needed to leave but can also feel angry with him. Because it is not acceptable to express anger with Brayton, it gets displaced onto others.
    Now I’m going to put on my supportive therapist hat on: I would suggest everyone take a breather. People have good reasons to feel hurt and angry but those emotions can also make communication difficult. Sometimes it is better to put aside these emotions when you try to convince someone of your point of view.
    Now I will shut up. People who give advice are really annoying.
    I would cross post this on Ophelia Benson’s blog but she is not here. I may do so at her new blog. Hopefully you all can see each other as allies eventually.

  12. 66

    #62

    Or maybe that’s COMPLETELY irrelevant because none of OB’s critics OTHER than fellow FtB bloggers were aware of that until the official announcement, and this has been going on longer than Ed has been getting ready to leave.

  13. 67

    @62 “The bloggers (and ex-bloggers) at FTB all have similar values that I was hoping everyone could see they are allies rather than enemies.”

    No, they obviously OBVIOUSLY DO NOT because anyone who denies womanhood to a transwoman can go fuck themselves sideways with a rusty tuba, and anyone defending them can join them for the ride. That is NOT A VALUE I WILL ALLY WITH.

    In point of fact, that value is one which is an immediate deal breaker for me. As in — get out of my house now. Do not ever speak to me again. The same way I would treat a racist or a rapist. GTFO, now.

    There is no more communication after that.

  14. 68

    Ugh. Sorry I keep messing up everyone’s @-replies by letting others out of moderation. :/

    abbeycadabra: swear away. MOST of the people involved in this know that your “trolling” was in direct response to the transphobic joke, and totally justified, and that the answer — at the specific resolution you needed — was an unequivocal yes. That Pierce, who has historically been able to grok microaggressions, is so bloody blind as to what’s happened here is disappointing, but we all have clay feet somehow.

    Darlene: I have a personal revulsion against cartoony invitations for people to fuck themselves with the rhetorical flourish of “with a”. I never liked the “dead porcupine” meme, which to their credit, the Pharyngula commentators expurgated from their vocabularies of their own accord. I’d like to avoid seeing that kind of thing here — you can tell someone to go fuck themselves all you like, but add extra touches that make the act violent, and I get squicked. (Everything else you say in this comment is unimpeachable and absolutely correct. You have every right to set boundaries against anti-trans behaviour, and you’re morally justified in doing so.)

  15. 70

    karmacat: if anyone’s sublimating anger at Ed, they’re not leaving any clues of such.

    I recognize his departure as a blow to the network, but one he needs for self-care reasons. His blog proper is his stress relief; the rest of the network work that he had to do (every single time some legal threat came in or some asshole tried to take the network down or tried to tear it apart from the inside, *coughthunderfoot*) was becoming a major stressor and his autoimmune disorders contraindicated stressors. His reasons for leaving are perfectly valid and I support him 100% — and I still think he’s a mensch and plan on getting him a drink of his choice as soon as humanly possible. That the network’s hits go down as a result of his departure is a reality of the situation, not anything we can blame on him as though he’s obligated to maintain his position here.

    Just because you’ve done a lot of work to build a thing does not mean you are obligated to stay with that thing for all time. If moving on is the right choice, in your career or activism or personal life, then move on. And if anyone is upset about that, they can go fuck themselves.

  16. 71

    #69:

    She is. And that thread now consists almost entirely of a platform for Elizabeth Hungerford to present SERIOUS anti-trans TERF ideology as the science it isn’t, with OB silencing all but the the weakest disagreement.

    If there could ever have been doubt that OB is a genuine TERF before, this alone eliminates it.

  17. 74

    Part of this conflict may be a reaction to Ed Brayton leaving.

    this makes no fucking sense. how can a conflict that’s been building for months be about something most people involved didn’t know about until it was announced a couple days ago.

    It also makes no sense because what does Ed leaving have to do with Ophelia repeatedly acting towards trans readers of her blog in away that was perceived hurtful and trans-antagonistic by those readers.

  18. 76

    @ karmacat

    This has been going on for over a year. People have tried and tried and tried and tried and tried and tried and tried and tried…etc. to be “nice” about this. Ophelia has responded with a degree of defensiveness, dismissiveness, ridicule and ludicrous hyperbole that would put Richard Dawkins to shame. Asking people to be nice? Pretending that Ed Brayton leaving precipitated all this? Just…what?

  19. 79

    karmacat,
    Please go read for yourself Hungerford’s comments at Butterflies and Wheels (link posted @69) and then come back and tell us all how nice we should be in the face of that shit.

    Please also tell us if you see a problem with deleting comments and banning people for daring to ask if she believes trans women are women, but then letting Hungerford lay bigoted ignorant turds all over the place without the slightest of pushback from Ophelia herself.

    Most importantly before you ever again suggest that anyone else’s anger or hurt or reaction is the result of misplaced or misdirected anger (at Ed’s departure of all things), please please remind yourself that gaslighting is very hurtful and its always based on a lie. And that’s what you did just in case you weren’t aware.

  20. 80

    anteprepro @ # 49: … the only thing slanted here is your representation of events.

    Nothing which might tend to exculpate OB gets through on a level playing field, eh?

    anteprepro @ # 50: … you have no real objection of substance … credulously regurgitating Ophelia’s take … and pretending it is the only matter we are all concerned over.

    C’mon, take a deep breath, re-read. What I cited is not “of substance” just because Benson said it too. And bringing up how Thibeault did not make any attempt to present one of Benson’s main self-defenses constitutes pretending that (to borrow a phrase) you lot had only one complaint. WTF? indeed.

    Andrew T @ # 52: That’s a question that deserves an answer of “yes,” without pause.

    Yeah, gender is totally binary, and we all spend all our lives in either the pink pigeonhole or the blue one, and nobody who moves from one to the other (quantumly, without ever crossing the space in between) carries even a fleck of their previous color with them. And pausing to consider anything is WRONG!

    Emrysmyrddin @ # 55 – thanks for the most lucid and thoughtful reply here so far. Nonetheless: The trans* cluster of my atheoskeptisphere have been hearing dogwhistles for long months –that’s why the yes/no question was ultimately asked of her, to try and pin down her exact stance …

    Putting the question as it was put does not come across as a way to elicit an honest answer. Have you stopped raping your methamphetamine buyers yet? Maybe you can show some evidence that “your atheoskeptisphere” was sincerely concerned and not just a clique building up to a shivaree, but from here it looks like an attempt to compile a smear dossier much more than it looks like unbiased analysis.

    abbeycadabra @ # 61: Aw, you write like a classic Pharyngula horde minion. *nostalgic reverie*

    A question phrased the way you put it is not a question, it’s an ultimatum: recite my side’s slogans or be condemned as an unpardonable heretic. I have to call anybody who replies to that kind of verbal shakedown with anything other than a raised finger a wimp (or a helpless victim of abduction). Whatever you had in mind, it did not involve any sort of intention to elicit honest dialog. That our esteemed host calls it “totally justified” @ # 68 indicates a serious failure of judgment on his part, whether of incomprehension of the original or in taking the word of an angry virtual mob without following the posted trail of evidence.

    I will also say, just for that much-abused sake of “balance”, that Benson did not handle the situation as well as she might have, particularly in the last few days. By my reading, the accumulated stress of having so many attacks and attackers, from those she had thought friends as well as the never-stopping assholeries from the greater metropolitan Slymepit, put her in a distraught condition where she started arbitrarily deleting and banning comments & commenters and even misrepresenting certain facts (such as disregarding support from PZM as if she stood totally alone).

    At that point, those who claim to have supported Benson and to have wanted her to Say the Right Thing could have stood forward, urged their comrades to hold fire for a day or two, tried to find common ground. But that would have required an element of sympathy and a willingness to break step with the we’re-RIGHT-she’s-WRONG posse, who as a whole smelled blood and bayed their self-righteousness even louder. If anyone in that crew did display any compassion or understanding, I missed it.

  21. 81

    @Kagekiri, glad I appear to be attempting to amplify trans voices on Twitter. I am, but being an opinionated cishet white guy often gets in the way of the intentions. I wouldn’t worry about PZ banning me on Pharyngula, we have a very on-off relationship, from being banned before, to moderated, to followed on Twitter and allowed back on Pharyngula. Now full circle back to square one again after that Drum thread. I’m already the first banned person allowed back (?), going for the deuce!

    Anyway @anteprepro and others did a brilliant job on that kittens thread. If PZ had seen me there it probably would have been closed before his abject lack of any sort of argument past, “screw you guys, I’m going home!”, was exposed.

  22. 82

    Does Pierce R Butler really think it is all about the Question and that this has played out in the last few weeks? OB has been blocking and unfriending friends and colleagues for *months*. Trans people have been unfollowing and unfriending her for over a *year*. Rather undermines the idea that this all came out of nowhere, based on a single rude question. Probably why this reality is being ignored.

    I’d also like to know if PRB thinks the things OB has said and done in the group she thought was private are transphobic? Because if they are then the trans people spotting microagressions over the last year were right, her private views are considerably less trans friendly than her supposed public ones.

  23. 84

    That question deserves an answer of “yes,” without pause.

    Yeah, gender is totally binary, and we all spend all our lives in either the pink pigeonhole or the blue one, and nobody who moves from one to the other (quantumly, without ever crossing the space in between) carries even a fleck of their previous color with them. And pausing to consider anything is WRONG!

    Acknowledging that self identified trans women are women, is in no way saying that gender is totally binary. That’s completely ridiculous, seriously.

  24. 85

    You talk about feeling the need to clear the air, and I want to thank you for doing exactly that. Having caught a lot of this whole thing in real time on Twitter side channels, and then seeing PZ’s denial and otherwise general silence on FtB’s main channels, I was getting a serious sense of gaslighting.

  25. 86

    You are way better than the strawmanning you’re pulling here, Pierce. Jesus.

    What “self defense” do I have to present of Ophelia’s to balance out the fact that she refused a point-blank and plainly easy question (at the understood resolution), asked only because a trans person was fed up with her transphobic joke? Is it the “do you believe” thing that John Morales keeps flogging? Because… well, if she doesn’t believe trans women are women, that’s a totally different prospect than believing that woman is a fuzzy-edged label. The first makes it hard to say “yes”, the second makes it exceedingly easy. It’s not sloganeering, it’s actually an epistemological difference underlying the question that leads to it being so very difficult for some to simply answer “yes”.

    And thinking that any of the original post’s events could have happened with any more charitability on anyone’s part here reeks of DARVO.

  26. 87

    Andrew T @ # 52: That’s a question that deserves an answer of “yes,” without pause.

    Yeah, gender is totally binary, and we all spend all our lives in either the pink pigeonhole or the blue one, and nobody who moves from one to the other (quantumly, without ever crossing the space in between) carries even a fleck of their previous color with them.

    well, that was a pile of nonsense. trans women being women has precisely fuck all to do with binarism; the existence of NB and genderfluid individuals has no bearing on whether trans WOMEN are women. Furthermore, most trans women don’t transition from being men into being women; they are women who transition out of the closet; they have never been men.

  27. 88

    he accumulated stress of having so many attacks and attackers, from those she had thought friends as well as the never-stopping assholeries from the greater metropolitan Slymepit, put her in a distraught condition where she started arbitrarily deleting and banning comments & commenters

    this is nice except for the part where she has been deleting critical comments by trans readers for months now; AND then taunted them for not having screenshots. this is NOT a recent development.

  28. 89

    Jason, thank you for this post. You handled this conflict well, and I hope that you post more on your blog, if it’s as thoughtful as this (even though it’s sad, that this had to happen).

  29. 90

    @Pierce R. Butler:

    Note that much of this reached critical mass when some troll demanded that Benson answer a challenge to the effect that “a trans woman is a woman – Yes or No! And saying No means you confess to rampant sexism and existential nastiness all the way down!”

    It’s cute that you complain about misrepresenting things when this is how you characterize the situation. You know, in order to reach critical mass, there has to be an accumulation of radioactive material first.

    Putting the question as it was put does not come across as a way to elicit an honest answer. Have you stopped raping your methamphetamine buyers yet?

    The thing about loaded questions like the ones you pose here is that they’re phrased in such a way that any answer you give reflects badly on you. “Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?” “Have you ever been caught masturbating in the closet?” and so forth. “Do you believe trans women are women, yes or no?” is a loaded question only if you do not believe trans women are women and do not want other people to know that you don’t believe trans women are women. I’m sure plenty of people on that Gender Critical Facebook group would have no more problem answering that question than Ophelia’s critics do.

    Ophelia thinks trans identities are laughable. She thinks the idea of someone assigned male at birth later identifying as a woman is as ridiculous as a white woman identifying as black, or otherkin identifying as animals, or her identifying as an African-American Brazilian Oxfordian with magic force field powers. It’s transphobic as fuck, but there are lots of transphobic people out there. The substance of her jokes is no different from Mike Huckabee’s “coach, I feel like a girl today” comments. The problem, the reason she’d give a waffling answer, is that she didn’t want to accept the consequences for holding that view in public. Mike Huckabee doesn’t give a shit if people think he’s a transphobe; he’s playing to a base of transphobes. But Ophelia’s a blogger on a network with a progressive social-justice bent, not a GOP presidential candidate. Hence the indignant waffling, hence her feeling free to make those jokes on a group she thought was closed and on her Facebook page. She wanted to be able to make transphobic jokes without the public thinking she’s transphobic.

    There are questions where, given a current social or political climate, a waffling answer is as good as a negative one. If I ask “do you believe same-sex couples should have the right to get married?” and you start talking about abolishing marriage or the issues with government recognizing marriages in the first place, then you might as well be saying “no.” Your waffling answer gives credence to the idea that these basic rights are up for legitimate debate, and that does harm.

    If I ask “do you believe black lives matter?” and you start talking about “all lives matter” and “black-on-black crime” and saying people should just comply with the police, you might as well be saying “no.” Your waffling answer gives credence to the idea that black activists are blowing things out of proportion and that the victims may share the blame for their deaths, and that does harm.

    If I ask “do you believe trans women are women?” and you start off on a treatise about the nature of gender and womanhood and how adjectives work, you might as well be saying “no.” Your waffling answer gives credence to those who claim that trans women are fake women, mutilated men in drag who just want to invade women’s spaces, and that does harm.

    The convenient thing about pretending this all started with a (not actually) loaded question is that it allows Ophelia’s supporters to handwave away a history of problematic jokes (really the same joke in several different iterations) going back at least to April, and pretend like any problems are the result of dogmatic trolls with an ultimatum and Ophelia responding intemperately to them. Nobody made Ophelia join the Gender Critical group. Nobody forced her to opine on whether or not TERF was a slur. Nobody forced her to make transphobic comments and jokes there. Nobody forced her to become pals with Elizabeth Hungerford et al. You can ignore the reasons that drove abbeycadabra to ask her point-blank, to put her on the spot, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there. There was an accumulation of radioactive material before it went critical mass.

  30. 91

    Furthermore, most trans women don’t transition from being men into being women; they are women who transition out of the closet; they have never been men.

    Precisely. Just like, say, gay men were not straight before they came out of the closet. Trust me when I say this: we play the role society expects from us before we come out. It’s a big act. To quote Edward Sagarin aka Donald Webster Cory: “Society has handed me a mask to wear… Everywhere I go, at all times and before all sections of society, I pretend.”

    ***

    This whole debate over the status of trans people is exactly why so many of us are so reluctant to get involved with spaces dominated by heteronormative perspectives and feminists with little or no intersectional perspective (aka white feminism). We’ve seen it all before, and probably will again.

    I am a skeptic and an atheist, but I shy away from skeptic and atheist spaces because I have been burned far to many times over the five or so years I’ve engaged with this community. I have also gotten to know a lot of good people though, which keeps me around.

    I wrote my post on Skepchick as a response to a lot of half-assed arguments thrown around in various comments related to Ophelia’s posts. I may write more, but mostly I have tried to stay away from this whole debate because having a lot of people make dismissive arguments about the reality of your own lived experience, like pigeons playing chess, is just exhausting. Especially when some of the worst online bigots known to the trans* community joins in with their strawman arguments and misrepresentation of science.

    In any case, I am very glad you wrote this post Jason, and I am also glad Stephanie Zvan wrote hers. Thank you for that. It makes me feel more optimistic.

  31. 92

    [Jason please delete this if you feel it’s not helpful and accept our apologies in advance for venting, but it’s not healthy to keep hurt and anger bottled up and we need to say this]

    Well Ophelia has finally stepped in and put a stop to Hungerford’s rampage. Finally.

    This hasn’t gone well. Sorry, I was elsewhere much of the day. Elizabeth won’t be back. I suspect she’s been provoking us on purpose.

    Yeah it’s great that she finally stops the deliberately provocative bigotry but let’s all be real that’s the absolute bear minimum anyone should do when someone is mistreating others in a space that you control. That’s the absolute least anyone should do. One might even say ’bout effing time’ or maybe ‘better late than never’ but that’s about a low as the bar goes.

    Also if Ophelia was “elsewhere much of the day” then it’s not really fair of her to say that Hungerford was provoking “us” now is it? More like Hungerford was provoking everyone else who actually had the fucking guts to stand up to her. While Ophelia was busy banning trans people and our allies or “elsewhere much of the day” Hungerford was busy provoking everyone else there. In other words Ophelia allowed this bigot to provoke her commenters and readers. That is what happened regardless of how Ophelia tries to spin it.

    Also the excuse about being “elsewhere” doesn’t fly. In fact it’s utter bullshit, IOO. This is Ophelia’s house after all. She had no problem deleting comments and moderating or even banning those speaking up for trans people. All of our comments were moderated despite that we have commented there before and elsewhere on FtB going back months. She deleted the last one and then banned us entirely earlier today so clearly she was at the helm for that.

    But Elizabeth Fucking Hungerford is allowed to run amok all day? With no such moderation!? While Ophelia is “elsewhere” no less? Yeah. Thanks. Got it.

    She’s annoyed at me.

    Oh well that makes everything all right then doesn’t it? Let’s all go back to what we were doing, Ophelia Benson managed to annoy one TERF and eventually stop her from deliberately provoking people and spewing ignorant TERF talking points. Surely that proves that she’s not one of them, right?
    / Ophelia apologist logic

  32. 93

    On a slightly brighter note, having checked the “Horribly effective silencer” post again, it seems Ophelia has at least now decided that Elizabeth Hungerford won’t be back. I guess that’s a good sign?

  33. 94

    Oh, beaten to the punch.
    Yeah, I have to admit that I’m still disappointed that posts pointing out Elizabeth’s history of transphobia were deleted beforehand.

  34. 95

    oolon @ # 2: Does Pierce R Butler really think it is all about the Question …

    I think “the Question” marks a major turning point in this story, and I deplore that Thibeault appears not to have even noticed it.

    OB has been blocking and unfriending friends and colleagues for *months*.

    OB has been under siege by ‘pitters et alia for years. Maybe you haven’t read her posts closely enough to notice that the strain of that has showed?

    I’d also like to know if PRB thinks the things OB has said and done in the group she thought was private are transphobic?

    One example of that was linked at Pharyngula: I followed it, and did not find anything egregious there, nor a basis for any of the other accusations flung at Benson in that same thread. I do not have the time or inclination to pursue every last thing she may have posted on that wretched user-hostile site; nor, by now, do I feel any confidence in whatever cherry-picked alleged quotes the Opheliaphobia gang proffers.

    abbeycadabra @ # 83: … you sound like a gamergater.

    And this sort of comment is supposed to increase my, or anyone else’s, confidence in your judgment???

    bundleofstix @ # 84: Acknowledging that self identified trans women are women, is in no way saying that gender is totally binary. That’s completely ridiculous, seriously.

    Haven’t read Benson’s post about Y/N questions, have you?

  35. 96

    Jason Thibeault @ # 86: … the strawmanning you’re pulling here…

    Cite me a specific example, please. Compare & contrast with the hyperbole above (e.g., # 61) you’ve let slide.

    … she refused a point-blank and plainly easy question …

    “Did you ever reconsider your habit of shitting on the heads of little babies? YES or NO!!!”

    Is it the “do you believe” thing that John Morales keeps flogging?

    Now you expect me to go scouring FtB for whatever Morales said? Gimme a link, I’ll go look.

    … it’s actually an epistemological difference underlying the question that leads to it being so very difficult for some to simply answer “yes”.

    Did you miss the post in which Benson did give her answer?

    …thinking that any of the original post’s events could have happened with any more charitability on anyone’s part here reeks of DARVO.

    You must have mistaken me for one of the kewl kids. I couldn’t even find “darvo” at urbandictionary.com. And, judging by the comments from the Opheliaphobes at B&W, “any more charitability” would mean “any at all”. (A pity she deleted so many – she’s erased much of her own best defense evidence.)

    Jadehawk @ # 87: …trans women being women has precisely fuck all to do with binarism…

    No more than demanding yes/no to loaded questions, sure. Keep going, I bet you can disassociate 0 and 1 from binary logic too.

    Furthermore, most trans women …

    Emphasis added. Can you figure out why?

    … she has been deleting critical comments by trans readers for months now…

    She’s been deleting comments by *hostile* readers (of various or unknown modalities) for months now. Did you read the part above where I said her combined stresses had became evident?

    Tom Foss @ # 90: … you complain about misrepresenting things when this is how you characterize the situation. You know, in order to reach critical mass, there has to be an accumulation of radioactive material first.

    Pls try to make sense. Have I not consistently insisted Benson has faced an accumulating load of toxicity?

    “Do you believe trans women are women, yes or no?” is a loaded question only if you do not believe trans women are women …

    And if you take a completely simplistic approach to the words “believe”, “trans”, “women”, and “are.” See the link in the last line of my # 95.

    Ophelia thinks trans identities are laughable. … The substance of her jokes is no different from Mike Huckabee’s “coach, I feel like a girl today” comments.

    I wonder if Jason T will consider that a strawman.

    If I ask “do you believe same-sex couples should have the right to get married?” …

    Epistemology 101 – “Is” and “Ought” questions are categorically different. Some questions fit better into dichotomies than others.

    … pretending this all started with a (not actually) loaded question …

    Unfortunately, Benson seems to have deleted the verbatim version of this question from what remains of the B&W archive here. Perhaps somebody can find it and post it here; not me, not after midnight in this location. However, I’d like to know how you manage to reconcile the accusation that I’ve “pretended it all started with” what even oolon calls “the Question” with my saying things like “reached a critical mass”. Or do you just enjoy flinging sneers without any regard for consistency?

    You can ignore the reasons that drove abbeycadabra to ask her point-blank, to put her on the spot, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there.

    I won’t speculate on what motivated(/s) abbeycadabra, but so far the idea that it came from any honest attempt at dialog fails the smell test at hazmat levels.

  36. 97

    In a conversation about Ophelia repeatedly making self-described “obnoxious parody” jokes about trans identities, you’ve characterized people criticizing her as “Opheliaphobes”, and for that, you’re binned Pierce. Moderation, one million years. To be let out when *I* have time to deal with you.

    With that out of the way, a good example of a strawman is your “gender is totally binary” interpretation of the claims that many of us have made that “are trans women actually women” is in fact a super-easy question. Gender does not need to be binary in order for the “woman” box on the gender spectrum to have fuzzy enough and permeable enough boundaries that people who wish to identify as woman have no true barriers from doing so except for recalcitrant gender-prescriptivist asses trying to gatekeep the label.

    A very bad example of a strawman — though you’re plainly trying to stretch to find a reason for this to be true — is that Ophelia thinks trans identities are laughable, or that the substance of her jokes about trans identities are not much different from Huckabee’s “feel like a girl today” nonsense. It’s a bad example of a strawman because a) Ophelia makes several jokes about trans identity, one of which she self-identified as “obnoxious parody”, and b) one generally makes jokes or parodies about things if they find them laughable. You don’t ridicule things you agree with, on the whole.

    I gave lots of examples of Is questions that were of equivalent structure: “are blue candies actually candies?” Or more proximately, “are white women actually women?” Those should pass your “is/ought” problem easily.

    But I’ve had it with restating the premise and countering the exact, identical arguments over and over.

    I kid-gloved all my interactions with her and I’ve been called all manner of names from her, and her supporters, as a result. The worst she’s gotten in return is accurate descriptions of the impact of her arguments about trans folk. I’m comfortable with where I stand on those issues. Are you?

    I ask this rhetorically, because I know you are. And I know if you’re comfortable with arguing as you do, alienating trans folk in the process, then you’re not at all the intersectionality-minded individual I once thought you to be.

  37. 99

    @Pierce R. Butler:

    OB has been under siege by ‘pitters et alia for years. Maybe you haven’t read her posts closely enough to notice that the strain of that has showed?

    Dawkins received hate mail from fundies for years. Doesn’t excuse his comments about women or his hyperbolic reactions to criticism.

    I do not have the time or inclination to pursue every last thing she may have posted on that wretched user-hostile site; nor, by now, do I feel any confidence in whatever cherry-picked alleged quotes the Opheliaphobia gang proffers.

    That’s fucking rich. You complain about people being misrepresented, then refuse to actually look at the evidence. But you’re okay with poisoning the well with respect to it. They’re “cherry-picked alleged” quotes.

    I know Ophelia set the bar with her claim that she similarly didn’t have time to vet her TERF sources, but it wasn’t actually a valid excuse then, and it isn’t now.

    Have I not consistently insisted Benson has faced an accumulating load of toxicity?

    You’ve also consistently ignored the toxicity that she was the source of.

    I wonder if Jason T will consider that a strawman.

    Why would he? Ophelia’s on-record with at least four jokes making light of trans identities, all of the same “i could just identify as [ridiculous thing] on a whim” form as Huckabee’s comments. You can bluster and deny all you like, but refusal to acknowledge the facts doesn’t make them go away.

    Epistemology 101 – “Is” and “Ought” questions are categorically different. Some questions fit better into dichotomies than others.

    here’s a tip from the advanced class: there’s not a clean binary between “is” and “ought” questions, especially in a real-world context. Saying “I do not believe trans women are women,” for instance, means that you do not believe trans women ought to be able to determine their own gender identities’ or, at best, that we ought not take their word for it when they tell us their gender identities.

    However, I’d like to know how you manage to reconcile the accusation that I’ve “pretended it all started with” what even oolon calls “the Question” with my saying things like “reached a critical mass”. Or do you just enjoy flinging sneers without any regard for consistency?

    You haven’t acknowledged, and continue to refuse to acknowledge, any of the statements or actions that led up to “the Question.” Unless I’ve missed it, that’s the only event of the whole timeline you’ve acknowledged in the thread, dismissing it as an ultimatum from a troll, as opposed to, say,an attempt to clarify something that had been becoming increasingly clear over the course of months. You act as though Ophelia did nothing wrong or questionable until a troll provoked her into reacting badly to a loaded question designed to force her into a lockstep orthodoxy, which is totally understandable because Slymepit. And you refuse to look for any other evidence because boo Facebook. What you’ve seen hasn’t been bad because you’re definitely in a position to arbitrate what is or isn’t transphobic nevermind what those trans Opheliaphobes have to say, and you’ve already given yourself an out for any evidence that does happen to make it past your filter, since it’s only alleged quotes and they’re cherry-picked.

    I won’t speculate on what motivated(/s) abbeycadabra,

    Except you did. When you called abbeycadabra a troll and ‘quoted’ the question with all its perceived implications. What was that about consistency?

  38. 100

    Pierce R. Butler @95,

    OB has been under siege by ‘pitters et alia for years. Maybe you haven’t read her posts closely enough to notice that the strain of that has showed?

    Define “under siege” as you mean it. And regardless of how you define it how does that justify or excuse trans antagonism, bigotry and gaslighting? In any way? And if being under siege does justify shitty behavior then surely you and Ophelia ought to have far more basic respect and empathy for trans people who tend to under siege in general to the point of increased risks of depression, suicide, etc. Yet here you are gaslighting and strawmanning and beating the “Ophelia is under attack” drum. You aren’t granting us anything at all for being under siege are you?

    One example of that was linked at Pharyngula: I followed it, and did not find anything egregious there, nor a basis for any of the other accusations flung at Benson in that same thread. I do not have the time or inclination to pursue every last thing she may have posted on that wretched user-hostile site; nor, by now, do I feel any confidence in whatever cherry-picked alleged quotes the Opheliaphobia gang proffers.

    “One example?” You followed “it?” And you “did not find anything egregious?” And you think that settles it then? You think because you checked “one example” and “did not find anything egregious” that means you got the whole picture and that you have the right to gaslight others and accuse others of cherry picking? Others who have been intimately involved with this for months? Are you fucking kidding with this shit or what?

    And speaking of cherry picking holy shit are you projecting. It’s unreal actually how much you are projecting. Let’s start with this. Who the fuck picked the “one example” (out of the many many examples that were provided) that you found the “time or inclination” to check? That was you, right? You picked which “one example” to check out of the many that were provided, right?

    Right. And what’s the definition of cherry picking again? From wikipedia:

    Cherry picking, suppressing evidence, or the fallacy of incomplete evidence is the act of pointing to individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.

    The “act of pointing to individual cases.” You checked “one example.” That “seem to confirm a particular position.” The “one example” you checked seemed to confirm your position (not coincidentally). “While ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data.” You ignored all the other examples because you didn’t have the “time or inclination.”

    You are the only one who cherry picked here. Other people provided multiple examples that you couldn’t muster the “time or inclination” to check and that’s not fucking cherry picking. However selecting just one of those examples that seems to confirm your position and ignoring the rest? Yeah that pretty much fits thee definition to a fucking tee.

    And yet you have the unmitigated gall to show up here and claim that it’s “Opheliaphobia gang profilers” who are doing the cherry picking? Again are you kidding with this shit or what? If you are serious there must be some Orwellian level shit going on in your head right now. You are gaslighting, strawmanning, and demonstrating epic levels of projection. What you are doing is gross.

    And this sort of comment is supposed to increase my, or anyone else’s, confidence in your judgment???

    Given the shit you are pulling right now what makes you think that anyone else should give a wet fart about how much confidence you have in their judgement?

    Haven’t read Benson’s post about Y/N questions, have you

    That’s rich. You trying to get a dig in at someone else for supposedly not reading something after you admitted not having the “time or inclination” to check more than “one example” yourself.

    You are not going Ophelia Benson any favors trying to defend her with these shitty tactics and abysmal display of motivated reasoning, gaslighting, strawmanning and projection.

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