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. 201

    FYI HJ: Darlene is not herself trans, but has a 20yo trans daughter. And I’m not one to squelch a mother’s protective nature. I absolutely think her outrage is justified — Ophelia is engaging in the sort of microaggressions against trans folk that normalizes an antagonistic view of them societally. That is damaging, and I know she knows that’s exactly how microaggressions work. Her pretensions that she can’t possibly affect trans folk generally are predicated on the idea that either she is personally murdering trans people, or she’s doing them no harm at all — an awfully binary position for someone complaining so strenuously against binary questions.

  2. 202

    @199, HJ

    I have a daughter that moved in this April that we filed adoption paperwork on this month. She’s 20 and she moved halfway across the country because her parents kicked her onto the streets for being trans. Because when they were asked “Is a transwoman a woman?” they answered “Hell NO!”. She moved in here and so she won’t be one of the ones who end up on the street as a sex worker. She will get all the support she needs to transition as far as she wants. She is MY daughter now.

    Believe me when I say I protect my own. We had met on Facebook and become friends and when I discovered her situation I offered her a place and between then and now I’ve researched every doctor in 500 miles and every piece of literature that can help her. I know every law we need to hurdle and every enemy we need to face. She went from being alone to having her own security detail 🙂

    And I will be damned if the likes of Ophelia “Too last week?” Benson thinks her little acts of hate and discontent will go under the radar. My job is to stand in front of the vulnerable and take the hits and fight the fights so they don’t need to use their spoons.

  3. 203

    [forehead smack] Ack, sorry about that, I’d confused the two of you. And to make sure things are crystal clear: I do think your outrage is perfectly justified, and I’m right with you on this one.

    My job is to stand in front of the vulnerable and take the hits and fight the fights so they don’t need to use their spoons.

    I may be a latecomer to Benson’s transphobia, but I’m keen to help out the people who’ve been dealing with that bullshit for months or years longer.

  4. 204

    Darlene Pineda
    I’m wonderful and I-äm glad your daughter has you

    I am constantly annoyed? amazed? baffled? by the repeated proclamations of “how can anything I write on my blog have any effect on people and society”?
    Seriously? That’s like the GG dudes declaring that there’s no connection between misogynistic games and misogyny in society. or the HUnt supporters that HUnt’s “jokes” have no effect on the climate in science.

  5. 206

    Darlene Pineda,

    For this, for the life of my daughter and for her friends and for the children of the parents I talk with I have infinite spoons.

    My job is to stand in front of the vulnerable and take the hits and fight the fights so they don’t need to use their spoons.

    So very well said! Standing up together shoulder to shoulder is the only way we will ever defeat the ignorance and the bigotry in the long run. Your daughter is very lucky to have you and we are proud to join you in opposing bigotry on all fronts.

  6. 208

    Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy @204,

    Especially when it’s a concept the people in question understand just fine with regard to other issues.

    Exactly. This is not actually a difficult concept and Ophelia has never seemed to have trouble understanding it in the context of, say, religion or sexism or racism or perpetuation of rape culture. Nobody is suggesting that Ophelia is personally doing direct physical harm to trans people and it’s another ridiculous strawman of her’s to paint it that way. But her words and actions certainly do effect the general climate or the culture in which we all exist.

    By way of analogy… Moderate religious people don’t go around trying to inject creationism into science classrooms (for example) but they do give cover to the more extreme fundamentalists who do try to push creationism. A sexist remark or joke by the Tim Hunts of the world are not in and of themselves responsible for keeping women out of STEM fields but they do add to the general climate of hostility that does keep women out. Casual bigotry and racial microaggressions may not rise to the level of outright discrimination but they do lead to a culture in which open bigotry and more serious discrimination do happen more frequently. Rape jokes are certainly not the same as rape itself, but they do serve to perpetuate rape culture which does end up leading to more women being raped.

    In exactly the same way, Ophelia Benson’s trans antagonistic jokes, flippant remarks and obnoxious parodies may not be doing direct physical harm or they may not rise to the level of outright discrimination. But they most certainly add to the general climate and culture in which trans bigotry is manifest, in which rates of depression and suicide do skyrocket, and in which trans people are murdered because of their identity. Ophelia’s letting Elizabeth Hungerford provoke her readers and giving her a megaphone with which to amplify her bigoted views may not lead directly to mistreatment or violence against trans people, but it most certainly is one link in the causal chain that eventually leads to explicit mistreatment and violence.

    Make no mistake Ophelia Benson may not be openly advocating for mistreatment of trans people (yet) but she has chosen to make a stand on the same side of this issue as those who do. What she is doing is vile.

  7. 209

    I’m leaving one comment to set the record straight. I won’t be returning.

    “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.”


    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.”

    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.”

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

    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.”

    This leaves a completely misleading impression: that Ophelia gave Hungerford a platform for bigotry without allowing for real argument. That is not what happened. She didn’t delete a single one of my comments, including those explicitly referring to (or laying out the case for) Hungerford’s bigotry and the one including “I lack words to express my contempt for this attitude,” and even those posted after Hungerford had left or been blocked. She didn’t delete any of the comments mocking Hungerford’s exclusionary bathroom idea.

    “Pierce, have you seen the end of the “effective silencer” thread? SC, Josh, everyone has finally worked out that Hungerford is a nasty bigot.

    I can’t speak for Josh (well, I probably can in this instance), but I hadn’t “finally worked out” anything. As probably most people on this thread (and several bloggers on this network) can attest, I’m an arguer. I argue with everyone, friends and enemies alike and everyone in between. I’ve argued at length with bigots of all stripes. That I argued with someone tells you nothing of my prior knowledge or opinion of their views.

    Bigots, on subjects related to their bigotry, make bad arguments. I challenge those arguments because they’re bad, bad and harmful arguments make me angry, and there’s always a possibility that the person with these attitudes will rethink their views, and a far better possibility that at least a few people taken in by some of the arguments but not fully committed will start to question them. Often I don’t have the time or patience for it, but sometimes I do. (Of course, I wasn’t the only one arguing with her.)

    Both the weakness of Hungerford’s arguments and the prejudice underlying them were made evident on that thread. I wish I could say it was due to my rhetorical genius, that I set a trap and she fell into it, but that’s not how I approach things and it isn’t what happened. But I think the outcome was positive. To many people, especially trans people, her bigotry and bad arguments were well known; to others, perhaps not.

    Some people, it appears, are wedded to a narrative of the nefarious Ophelia and her ignorant, deluded “defenders.” Whatever doesn’t fit with that narrative can’t be acknowledged or has to be misrepresented to fit it. Ophelia finally stepped in to put an end to Hungerford’s ongoing, unimpeded “rampage.” Josh and I “finally worked out” that Hungerford was a nasty bigot (because there’s no evidence of my having said anything similar in response to TERF arguments in the past). And you’re playing host to it, Jason. Something to consider: Being an asshole for a good cause is still being an asshole. Rather than trying to justify your assholishness by pointing to your intent, maybe you could try to find a way to advocate for good causes without being an asshole.

    (Incidentally, I was the one making the argument about so-called mental disorders. To support and inform about my position, I linked twice on that thread to a list of readings, several of which, again, are available online.)

  8. 210

    I seriously have my doubts that I’ve been an asshole at all, though Ophelia and her supporters have certainly claimed so. Others have said that I did the best job anyone could have in a bad situation — are they also assholes supporting the asshole in their assholishness?

    Perhaps. Again, I’m too close to tell. But I think so are you, SC.

  9. 211

    She didn’t delete any of the comments mocking Hungerford’s exclusionary bathroom idea.

    Mine was (see my post at 23 in this thread). I’m at a loss as to why. I didn’t screen cap it (I didn’t expect it would be deleted), but the fact that I posted in the “Horribly effective silencer” thread after Holms is at least captured on Google search:

    (I do want to say thanks to you and others for arguing against Hungerford though.)

  10. 212

    I must have dreamed PIerce R. Butler’S nonsense about the blue and pink ghetto, or people thanking OB and EH for finally saying those things. Or how John Horstman completely missrepresented Judith Butler and how that bullshit got elevated to a “guest post” even after it had been pointed out that it was bullshit…

  11. 214

    Salty Current @208,

    Some people, it appears, are wedded to a narrative of the nefarious Ophelia and her ignorant, deluded “defenders.”</blockquote?
    No more so than Ophelia and you seem to be wedded to a narrative of the nefarious Ophelia critics and our unfair "moral panic."

    (Incidentally, I was the one making the argument about so-called mental disorders. To support and inform about my position, I linked twice on that thread to a list of readings, several of which, again, are available online.)

    Yes, and we were the ones who refuted your denialist claims with a counter list of readings, all of which are also available online. We posted a just tiny sampling, just from the first page of search results, including several studies that prove you are lying or grossly misinformed on this point.

    First biological marker for major depression could enable better diagnosis and treatment
    New biomarker identified in women with mental illness
    Endophenotypes and biological markers of schizophrenia: from biological signs of illness to novel treatment targets
    Biological Evidence of Bipolar Disorder

    Salty Current’s reply to this list was less than impressive. But, but, but these are just single studies. Yeah as we said it’s just a sampling from the first page of search results and there are plenty more besides. It’s not an exhaustive list. Go take a gander for yourself Salty Current. But, but, but some of these studies even say it was the “first biomarker.” True enough but even that refutes SC’s whole point which is that zero biomarkers have ever been found. Given that you made declarative statements about no biomarkers being found for any mental illness at, all it takes is one single counter example to prove you wrong. But, but, but, some of these studies are very recent. Yeah and? If they found a single biomarker 10 seconds ago, that alone would be sufficient to prove you wrong.

    Ophelia deleted our second reply and then banned us entirely.

  12. 215

    “Some people, it appears, are wedded to a narrative of the nefarious Ophelia and her ignorant, deluded “defenders.”

    It waddles, it quacks, it pecks at me…now sure, it may be a confused chicken or an eagle with a limp but thinking, “Hey, it’s a duck” is really not eloping with a narrative now.

    And far from being wedded I desperately, quite desperately, wish that I had never heard of her. had never once followed her blog. Had never needed to spend hours of my life in frustrated anger and sorrow mourning how once again the “atheist/skeptic” community was the most unsafe place I could run to and how it closed ranks around one of its own and pecked angrily and quite duck-like at anyone who dared to question the integrity of the impeachable.

    I would have been fucked overjoyed had Ophelia said, “Oh shit, I am so sorry. I’m doing something terribly wrong here — the exact same wrong thing I’ve in fact raised hell over when Dawkins and Hunt and others have done it. And in doing so I have left many hurt and damaged people in the wake of my ego. And I am so sorry. How can I fix this?”

    It is so disingenuous to claim that we are wedded to a narrative when Ophelia Benson wrote the whole thing out herself. Over and over and over again. She didn’t double down, she freaking split and tripled and did flips and flying back axels to make sure her point was so very clear.

    And to claim her defenders are ignorant and deluded is really giving them an out they don’t deserve. I’m tired of bigotry hiding behind sad sorry-arsed excused like, “Oh, they didn’t know better.” In the age of information ignorance is a choice. Her defenders defend because they are defending their own positions of bigotry.


  13. 216


    Some people, it appears, are wedded to a narrative of the nefarious Ophelia and her ignorant, deluded “defenders.” Whatever doesn’t fit with that narrative can’t be acknowledged or has to be misrepresented to fit it.

    So much irony packed so densely. In a complaint about people being wedded to a narrative and misrepresenting the facts to fit it, we see once more the notion that Ophelia’s critics think she is “nefarious” or “evil” or whatever the hyperbole du jour happens to be. I’d be curious how many of Ophelia’s critics have actually said anything of the sort; I’ve not seen any actual quotes to demonstrate that it has any basis in reality. I mean, I know Ophelia’s called people slimy, creepy, “poisoner[s]” and “horror[s],” but I haven’t actually seen any of her critics call her evil, nefarious, a witch, a communist, etc.

    The worst I have seen is people calling her a bigot, a transphobe, a TERF. There are legitimate arguments to be had over those terms, based in part on how strictly we define them, and based in part on the derailing that occurs (and has occurred in this conversation) when the “what you are” conversation supplants the “what you did/said” conversation.

    At best, her critics think she’s made mistakes, mistakes that are not actually hard to make, mistakes that are not actually uncommon. We live in a bigoted, transphobic society, and nobody springs fully-formed from the head of Social Justice Zeus, free from prejudice and armed with knowledge and information and a vocabulary to discuss complex issues. We all, as a result of privilege along one axis or another, say and do things that are bigoted, or promote people who hold bigoted views. That, in and of itself, doesn’t say much about our character. How we respond when called out on it, however, does. “Oh, damn, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize/didn’t think about it that way/removed the [content]/will look into this some more. Thanks for the heads up” is a decent response, one I imagine everyone who’s spent more than a few hours in a social justice circle has had to give. It’s a response that says you’re still learning, still working on becoming a better, more informed person, and that you listen to and value the opinions of marginalized groups or people with more information than you have on a topic.

    When you respond with indignance, when you attack the person calling you out for their tone or phrasing, when you get defensive, when you say ‘well, just because you said [person/comment] was bigoted doesn’t mean they are, I don’t [know/think] that they’re bigoted, and you saying so isn’t going to make me [reconsider/look to see if you’re correct],’ it starts to look like you don’t actually care about the perspectives of marginalized people. It looks like you don’t care about engaging in microaggressions or participating in oppressive systems. Eventually it starts to look like you’re invested in maintaining either willful ignorance or plausible deniability.

    Which brings us back to the worst of the comments. The “what you are” conversation is rarely a productive one, because it just devolves into “well I know [person] is not a bigot, because they say they’re not a bigot/have [marginalized group] friends/are a good person/aren’t as bad as [more extreme group of bigots]/aren’t a bigot at heart.” Yet we feel comfortable applying those terms when people repeatedly engage in bigoted behavior without putting forth more than a token effort to acknowledge and correct their bigotry. I’m comfortable calling Scott Walker a misogynist, because he repeatedly and unrepentantly says misogynistic things. I’m comfortable calling Rick Santorum a homophobe, because he repeatedly and unrepentantly says homophobic things. I’m comfortable calling Donald Trump a racist, because he repeatedly and unrepentantly says racist things.

    So when someone repeatedly and unrepentantly says transphobic things, it’s not hard to see why people would reach for the appropriate noun.

  14. 217

    SC (Salty Current),

    I really do appreciate you, Josh, and other regulars pushing back against Hungerford. I had more than one person request myself or Melby pop into that thread and push back, but I didn’t feel a need to. All of you did an excellent job, bringing up points that I hadn’t even considered myself.

    But while you were busy with that, I think you missed the bigger picture. Here’s a filtered timeline of that thread.

    August 5th, 11:07: Benson suggests she’s read Hungerford’s letter, by declaring she thinks most of it is bullshit.
    August 6th, 7:27: Hungerford comments.
    6th, 10:42: Hungerford comments.
    6th, 12:37: Hungerford comments.
    7th, 8:19: Benson weighs in with this:

    Please no more on the psychiatry issue on this thread. It’s a derail.

    7th, 8:35: Hungerford comments.
    7th, 8:48: Benson posts a short comment on your derail.
    7th, 9:18: Hungerford comments.
    7th, 9:50: Hungerford comments.
    7th, 10:18: Benson pops in, about someone pursuing the derail and allowing their comment to be deleted:

    Well, I would, but you put a lot of work into it, so…I didn’t. I did delete a shorter one by someone else (the more easily because the someone – “Plethora” – has been trashing me elsewhere on the network).

    7th, 11:40: Hungerford comments.
    7th, 13:52: Hungerford comments.
    7th, 18:08: Benson finally comments:

    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.

    7th, 18:26: When asked why she thought Hungerford had been provoking her, Benson replies “She’s annoyed at me.”

    Now, you were in that thread; was Hungerford saying anything new on the 7th, that made it more obvious she was a bigot than back on the 6th? I can’t see anything. Benson claims to have read Hungerford’s letter back on the 5th, and she was paying attention to the comment thread on the 6th, so she couldn’t have been unaware of the bigotry. Benson appears to have had the same means, motive, and opportunity to ban Hungerford on the 6th, or even the morning of the 7th, as she did on the evening of the 7th.

    Why didn’t she?

    Second point: multiple people on that thread, including you, were happy to call Hungerford a bigot to trans* people. All of you brought evidence and argument to back that claim up, quite successfully in my opinion. Benson has been accused of being a bigot towards trans* people. It would have been the perfect time to join in with the rest of her friends, and help dispell those accusations. Heck, we even know Benson disagrees with Hungerford.

    So why didn’t Benson declare Hungerford to be a bigot, despite having a strong motive to do so?

    Third, Benson knew Hungerford was annoyed with her. That could only happen if the two were in communication. But that communication must have happened after most in that thread (including you) had declared her to be a bigot via evidence and argument.

    So why was Benson remaining in contact with a bigot she disagreed with, rather than also banning her on Facebook as well?

    I don’t expect a reply, let alone an answer, to any of these questions, SC. I simply want you to think them over, and come to your own conclusions.

  15. 218

    Since I was visibly defending Ophelia I feel that I have an obligation to explain how and why my mind changed about what I am doing now. I’m still a supporter of Ophelia (and I accept all the complications that brings from both sides), but on the matter of this specific conflict with trans women I am no longer on her side. I want her to see the mistakes that she is making, and I want to see her become a better person on this issue.

    Ophelia is acting exclusionary and hurtful with respect to trans women, independently of any abuse she is receiving. Exacerbating this is that many of her defenses pretend that human behavior is something that it is not, though on this issue many people standing in opposition to her are similar. I’m not claiming that what I see is the right way to see it because a lot of this stuff is still part of social debates. But this might be one area where people outside the conflict might see some patterns that are useful.

    My mind was changed because of politics and because of a very common misunderstanding of what politics is and how we should deal with politics we do not like. Politics at it’s very core is about manipulating one another individually and groups in order to convince people to believe, think and do things. Politics is morally and ethically neutral as a category. It’s about affecting people in a way that creates an effect that you want. It IS massively abused because gaslighting and even logical fallacies are politics, but shaming xenophobic behavior and criticism is politics too. Most social interaction has known rituals that make manipulations obvious and “above board”, but so much of it does not.

    Paying attention to social interaction and understanding their meaning.
    There is a very good reason there is so much parsing of words, because it matters. How many times have we paid attention to interactions and connections between the religious, politicians, celebrities with awful characteristics and more? People interact for interpersonal reasons and personal reasons on a wide spectrum of things. People interact with supporters and opponents, they make positive and negative communications about things and they offer information that tells us explicit and implicit things about people. What matters is honesty (to yourself and them), lack of deception (intentional and deliberate), and a legitimate social exchange where you try to act like your point and their point matters (or people only talk past one another). Once the need for the information is seen to be reasonable (and I’m satisfied in this situation) what matters is things like why you want to know, how you try to find out about it, what you intend to do with it and why. Gaslighting is dishonest and deceptive and does not involve a social exchange with the other person. Social interaction IS manipulation and a lot of communication is simply a bunch of collectively agreed upon manipulations.

    Simply wondering about the meaning of “liking” things on Facebook or who is following who on Twitter is as neutral as wondering about a friend “liking” something insensitive about female people or a family member following someone supporting gamergate. It’s OK to want to know what it means. It’s OK to try to find out why the social interaction exists (people should interact with TERFs for many reasons).

    If someone thinks that a manipulation (a request for you to give information) is dishonest or deceptive there is a way to deal with that, and address the reasonable reasons for wanting the information. You treat the questioners content request fairly so you look fair, AND you prepare for potential dishonesty and deceptiveness that might be present. The questioned gets to have their questions asked too. It’s also just a fact that if that information is related to a sociopolitical conflict it might get used. It’s ok to prepare for that too. Especially if you are a person used to experiencing conflict related political manipulation. It means that you need two systems of analysis and response, one for the content and being fair to reasonable questions (even in a conflict context), and one for the reasons, risk and implications. It’s sucks but I have not known a human that did not act politically.

    The situation is similar for interactions in Facebook groups. Our interactions with one another have implications to what we know and experience. It’s perfectly normal to wonder what an interaction you see might mean to you (or someone you care about) in a public or private context (the morals and ethics change though). It’s perfectly normal and appropriate to take conflict related factors and potential dishonesty and deceptiveness, and even conflict strategy into account (it should be done honestly though). But reasonable questions in a political context will look reasonable even if someone does not like them. Especially questions relating to how one person might be harming another.

    Jokes are more complex matter but the same principles apply. Jokes are always serious business so I will not be putting quotes around it because it’s important that someone finds the joke funny, and I won’t pretend the humor is not there even if I don’t share it (that’s how you show the multiple effects of humor). I’m getting close to believing that all jokes are implicitly related to negative emotions. The reactions to having a joke criticized are even more serious than other criticism because you are also trying to take a social tool and weapon away from someone.

    Jokes are transformative by their very nature and that transformation are very often simultaneously a means to make a person feel positive about something they feel negatively about, AND do so by means that harm others. They are a tool and a weapon. It should always be considered reasonable to deconstruct a joke and see what the transformation does (although becoming good at this can make comedies more depressing) because a joke always works via indirect knowledge and implicit connections.

    Here is how I deconstruct a joke. (I hope this makes sense because it took three drafts for me to explain how I see jokes).
    1)Identify* the context of the transformation is taking place (“This is like…” = equivalence). Emotions can be changed from negative to positive, positive to negative, and the intensity can be changed.
    *It is very useful (very very useful)) to turn everything into either technical or casual terminology as needed as long as you are being accurate. You will see that some of these parts of the joke have to be unpacked twice to get at what they mean.
    2) Identify what is being transformed (“This…” = “Trans/Non Binary Caucus objecting to drag performances”).
    3) Identify how the transformation is taking place via objects and subjects that modify what is being transformed (blackface, Rachel Dolezal objecting to blackface). Identifying the literal and non-literal elements can be very important here.
    4)Identify the relevant emotions being transformed, the people the emotions are coming from and the objects and subjects to which they are attached and transformed, and how the emotional connections to the objects and subjects are being transformed. Note that everything is technically an object and a big part of the problem is treating people like objects alone (empathy/sympathy is when you rule certain objects as being like you).
    5) Optional but I think this is important to visualize the elements (especially for allies). Set up the transformation in an equation form (because equations are transformations and you can see the symmetries) and give a non-funny summary of the joke. (This reveals in part why jokes get “ruined” because we are resistant to experiencing and analyzing the negative that we want to be relieved from).

    The joke. In context it makes sense to think that she agrees with the content of the joke because she was negative towards the decision of the Free Pride Glasgow’s decision, and she presented it neutrally from a friend.

    A friend of mine remarked yesterday that “This is like objecting to blackface on the grounds that it makes Rachel Dolezal feel uncomfortable.”

    1) The context is an equivalence being drawn between [Rachael Dolezal objecting to white people performing blackface because it makes her feel uncomfortable], and [the Glasgow Trans/Non Binary Caucus objecting to male people performing drag performances because it makes them feel uncomfortable].

    2a) The [Trans/Non Binary Caucus] is being transformed by [Rachael Dolezal].
    2b) [male people performing drag performances] is being transformed by [white people performing blackface].

    3) There will be arguments about charity here. I am being charitable, feel free to ask me how.
    3a) Personal examples for concepts used in emotional transformation. [Rachael Dolezal] is a person who appropriated black culture for her own use and it would be hypocritical for her to object to blackface. The transformation is a suggestion that the [Trans/Non Binary Caucus] are appropriating woman culture for their own use and it would be hypocritical for them to complain about drag performances.
    3b) Concepts used for emotional transformation. [white people performing blackface] are people who appropriated black culture for their own use. The transformation is a suggestion that [male people performing drag performances] are appropriating woman culture for their own use.

    4) The least biased way of identifying emotions is to: identify the joke teller and social receivers, then look for positive/negative emotional connections, then try to see if you can make a specific identification.
    4a) The joke teller views both drag performances and trans women as appropriating culture. It is safe to assume that they view both black face and Rachael Dolezal in negative terms since the connection between them was one of hypocricy, normally considered a negative.
    4b) The socially compatible receivers of the humor would be people who would have similar social views of drag performances and trans women with respect to woman and racial cultural appropriation. The humor serves to twist the negative emotion associated with this into positive emotions when they see the equivalence to white people performing blackface.

    5)A good non-funny version would be “It makes me uncomfortable that the Trans/Non Binary Caucus and drag performers are appropriating woman culture”. Here is the equivalence,

    [Trans/Non Binary Caucus]
    [uncomfortable for reasons of gender]
    [male people engaging in drag performances]
    [Rachael Dolezal]
    [uncomfortable for reasons of race]
    [white people engaging in blackface]

    There are STILL problems in there I did not mention but this comment is too long as it is.

  16. 219

    #207, Plethora, says: “Make no mistake Ophelia Benson may not be openly advocating for mistreatment of trans people (yet) but…”

    But actually she has. Because trans women sex workers exist. Not everyone has someone like Darlene Pineda to step up and help. Benson has blatantly and actively advocated for policies re sex work that result in trans women being harmed. She has signed onto support for the policies that some of the most notorious long term TERFs have created. She is in lockstep on that issue not only with TERFs, but also conservative religious organizations that are set up to “help” sex workers. Do people think those ‘rescue and restoration’ orgs are actually going to be respecting the identities of trans women? Do people actually think trans women will even be accepted into those programs instead of going straight to jail (and usually a men’s jail) on all the other charges police like to file against trans women? Do people actually think that this stuff somehow doesn’t count as mistreating trans women, or as putting them in harms way?

  17. 221

    No, one does not simply skim Butler
    That’S what I find really frustrating as well.
    I admit, I spent most of the last year studying gender and gender construction. I wrote my final thesis applying those concepts. So, yeah, to me lots of the oh so sciency TERF discussions sound like “why are there still monkeys?”.
    Seriously, you don’t have to agree with Butler on performativity and the naturalisation of sex, but at least show that you have critically engaged with the concepts.

  18. 223

    #218 “But actually she has. Because trans women sex workers exist.”

    Defaulting to police and authorities is never a good idea when dealing with vulnerable people. Of course she doesn’t think consent is enough to make sex between adults acceptable I dunno what argument would work.

    Coming back and reading her posts on sex work and that nightmare of a thread on transwomen it’s kinda making me eye my copy of “Why Truth Matters.”

    #208 “I won’t be returning.”

    Have a good one?

  19. 224

    @ abbeycadabra

    Curiously, it seems your deleted comments have been restored. They certainly seem far more tactful and less confrontational than they have been portrayed. I see nothing vaguely trollish. I think the hostility directed toward you has been completely unfair.

  20. 227

    How unexpected. Well, that’s definitely them. Those are my words, barring the couple Ophelia clipped off of an early one (and marked where she had done so) because she thinks saying ‘TERF’ is ‘calling someone names’.

    So… I don’t know what’s going on here, but it’s nice that for the time being at least, people can see that I was not being a troll, or Out To Get Ophelia. (Thank you, Silentbob at #233)

    These are the comments that were decried as McCarthyist and trolling and all the other things OB’s hardcore defenders said. This is therefore why I think most of them lost the plot and went… slyme? I couldn’t say. Blindly defensive.

    Except John Morales, of course. You can see he was throwing wrenches into any attempt to support trans women’s agency to self-identify right from the beginning.

  21. 228

    I came across those comments because I was testing Pierce R. Butler’s claim @ 129:

    Those who ask slanted questions get called on it, yup. But I did not try to say why abbeycadabra did that, and since a search for that name at B&W now produces no results, I would have very little to go on if I tried to speculate.

    It’s rubbish. I find tons of comments going back to at least 2012, like this one with Ophelia replying. More evidence of “not a troll”.

    @ 224 Giliell

    … an attempt to make herself look like she didn’t ban the trans woman for asking a question?

    To be fair, Ophelia made no secret of her displeasure at the question, or of deleting the comments. (And abbeycadabra appears in the comments of that post, so hadn’t been banned yet.)

  22. 229

    Since there seems to be some confusion, allow me to clarify exactly how WordPress works.

    There is no “banning” of users. You can put a word / email / IP address into one of two filters: Moderation and Spam. If the string shows up anywhere in the comment (user, email, IP, or body of comment), the action happens.

    Moderation sends all comments into moderation queue, even if you’ve let some out previously by that user. (This is what I do with all my perma-modded commenters.) Any comments made by these people generate an email notification (or at least an icon for the blogger on the top of their blog, if emails are disabled or not working).

    Spam puts the comment directly into Spam, as good as being “banned” as you can get. The blogger gets no notification and thus unless they regularly read the spam bucket, they are oblivious to the comment attempt unless you notify them directly.

    However, taking an individual comment and clicking the Mark As Spam button also tells Akismet (the third party service run on’s site) that the words in that comment (including IP, email) are probably spam and thus trains Akismet that that user is probably spam. Future comments by the user will appear, to that user, to be instantly deleted without ever showing up on the site as being pending-moderation. This also affects every other blog that uses Akismet — once it thinks you’re spam, you could be silenced effectively across all sites without the bloggers ever knowing you tried to comment. If you try to comment on a WordPress site and it never even shows up as pending moderation, this is probably what’s happening. The only way to fix that state is for people to mark you NOT as spam, thus retraining Akismet that you’re not really a spammer.

    I have some evidence that some of the people in this conversation with Ophelia were marked as spam by her, manually, causing them to end up being spammed elsewhere until I fished them out of my own spam queue, telling Akismet that the specific user is probably not actually spam.

    Bloggers can also delete comments outright, which puts them in Trash without also telling Akismet that it’s spam. This is an entirely manual process — there are no filters that send to Trash.

    I also know that this Spam bucket self-purges all comments older than two weeks. Since the blog posts in question (ETA: on which abbeycadabra’s comments were deleted) are more than two weeks old, one can deduce that the comments were manually deleted to Trash (which does NOT self-empty), and then removed from Trash at a later date.

    That is not to say that I didn’t see it in trash also, but I’d prefer using the logical argument to the personal testimony. Since certain actors think I’m a “bad guy” here, and thus inclined to dishonesty. (Which I’m patently not. I’m honest to a goddamn fault, to my own detriment, as evidenced by… *sweeps arms* all of this.)

  23. 230

    @ 228 Jason Thibeault

    Oh, I see. With my deerstalker hat on, I notice from clues that the comment numbers have changed in the last thread to which I linked. There was originally one less comment than appears now, so I presume abbeycadabra’s comments were trashed, and the trash (how rude!) subsequently restored.

  24. 231

    abbeycadabra @226:

    Those are my words, barring the couple Ophelia clipped off of an early one (and marked where she had done so) because she thinks saying ‘TERF’ is ‘calling someone names’.

    Funny you should mention that. As originally intended by Tigtog, TERF was supposed to be value-neutral and purely descriptive, a mere modifier.

    Many many radical feminists are trans* accepting and often are active allies. It’s just a small minority who are very vocally trans-exclusionary, particularly online.

    Grammatically, the “trans-exclusionary” placed before “radical feminist in the TERF acronym means that it modifies “radical feminist”, describing a subset. Just the way that the term Italian-American doesn’t mean that all Americans are ethnically Italian, it’s just describing a subset of Americans.

    Some people do take it as a slur, though, and argue that’s kind of the point. For instance, the label “homophobic” carries a bad moral character because “being afraid of gays/lesbians” is an immoral thing to do. Likewise, “TERF” has a negative connotation because trans-exclusion is a bad thing. This group of people have no problems using a slur, as to them it’s an accurate label.

    There’s only one group of people I’m aware of who consider TERF to be a slur and object to its use: TERFs, or people who buy into their arguments. For instance, here’s Elizabeth Hungerford:

    Allen actually calls for more people to recognize radical feminists as a hate group and then pointedly adopts the term Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF) to refer to them throughout the article. Make no mistake, this is a slur. TERF is not meant to be explanatory, but insulting. These characterizations are hyperbolic, misleading, and ultimately defamatory. They do nothing but escalate the vitriol and fail to advance the conversation in any way.

    Which makes this a small but interesting bit of evidence.

  25. 232

    That whole thread is a huge clusterfuck of how not to have a discussion. Everybody who is critical gets slapped down quickly, except for Liz, who complains that it’s only now that trans non-binary people complain that the “draggies” are removed and who clearly does not think that trans women (“those born male”) are women, because they are in power, but “women” are not.

  26. 234

    That Slate article could have been worse but it’s far from good.

    It portrays the whole thing as trans people objecting to Ophelia attempting to talk about her own experience of her own gender. It speaks of inviolable rules of engagement and words and phrases that are off limits. It mentions people not being given room to make mistakes. At one point it sort of nods in the general direction of the actual problem: “Her detractors, however, believe that Benson’s writing betrays an emerging pattern of hostility to trans people, particularly trans women…”….and then it trips over its own feet: “and that it is their duty to speak out against her.”

    It avoids the ludicrous and vile hyperbole that Ophelia and many of her defenders have employed but “evenhanded” is not a descriptor I would choose for it.

  27. 235

    @209. Jason Thibeault :

    I seriously have my doubts that I’ve been an asshole at all, though Ophelia and her supporters have certainly claimed so. Others have said that I did the best job anyone could have in a bad situation — are they also assholes supporting the asshole in their assholishness? Perhaps. Again, I’m too close to tell. ..

    Assholishness, like beauty, I think lies in the eye of the beholders – subjective, personal and different folks are always gonna see things and others differently.

    FWIW Personally, I don’t see either you or Ophelia Benson as being arseholes here. Good people who got really angry at each other maybe.

    But I don’t really know. As noted before, I like and respect you and her and folks on both sides of this and it just saddens me that its all turned out so badly. I think its more misunderstanding and clash of personalities / perspectives with subsequent refusal to listen to each others actual arguments and viewpoints on both sides than substance but, again, well, see first few words in this paragraph.

  28. 236

    Just putting in a request for my previous comments in this thread to be removed, if that’s ok (I want to move on and I think it’s for the best if they’re gone). Thanks. 🙂

  29. 237

    I’m not particularly comfortable with deleting those comments, with the many links they contain and the conversations that would unravel, but I will anonymize them.

  30. 239

    This is just fucking absurd:

    Apparently, when she asked “So I can identify as an African-American born in Brazil and educated at Oxford?”, that wasn’t supposed to be sarcasm. That wasn’t her being a joke or attempting to be witty by mocking the very idea of a transperson identifying as a certain gender. That was, in fact, a serious question. According to her.

    That was a real question. I don’t know what it means to say being a woman has everything to do with how you identify. I don’t “identify” as a woman, yet as far as I know I am one, like it or not.

    Such obvious fucking bullshit. What the fuck is wrong with her? How the fuck do her sycophants actually believe this shit? How are we ignoring her post all about how It Was All A Joke now? And all of the people eating this shit up have seen this shit before. They are all good and intelligent people. They should all know better. They just choose not to.

    There are very high and spiky fences around trans issues right now. The justification given is that asking questions like the one I asked equals transantagonism if not transphobia, and that transantagonism and transphobia get trans people killed, and so asking questions like the one I asked gets trans people killed.

    I say my question was not transantagonistic, and has no chance of getting trans people killed.

    Ophelia says it, I believe it, that settles it.
    (Also, I love the dismissing the idea that her words might get people killed, therefore everything is okay. Dropping the n-word, fear-mongering regarding gay adoption, or suggesting women as a class are shitty at math will probably not get anyone killed either. It still doesn’t mean it is harmless, and it still doesn’t mean it shouldn’t at least be called out for bigotry.)

    My question was skeptical of the whole idea of “identifying as” something, and the jargon that goes with it – but the idea and the jargon are widespread and far from exclusive to trans people.

    “Skeptical of” is apparently now the same as outright mocking. And though “identifying as” is not exclusive to trans people, she did explicitly offer up her “question” in response to an article about a trans person’s gender identity. Jesus Christ.

    I’ve always talked about that kind of thing on my blog, and when I joined FTB in September 2011 I thought that kind of thing would be right at home there. For four years, it was…and then something changed. Or else for four years it wasn’t, but nobody ever told me that. (But then why did they let me join in the first place?)

    The short answer is I think Freethought Blogs the network has taken a hard turn to anti-intellectualism for the sake of absolutist political commitment. I think political commitments need to be accompanied by thinking.

    As a Pitter on PZ’s blog noticed, this is basically her agreeing with the Pit’s assessment of FTB. Political correctness, Thought Police, waa waa waaa. I also love how she imagines that FTB is anti-intellectual entirely because people were rubbed the wrong way by her bullshitting. It’s in the title of the post too. She imagines she has the role of intellectual, the sole person Thinking, when she is JAQing off and glibly dismissing the very idea of “gender identity”, and throwing out mutually contradictory excuses to explain why she is totally definitely not transphobic.

    I think political commitments need to be accompanied by thinking as well. I do not think Ophelia has been thinking very hard or very well on this subject. Rationalizing is not good thinking. And the fact that she just throws the entirety of FTB under the bus really just illustrates what kind of person Ophelia is and why this all went down the way it did.

  31. 241

    anteprepro @239:

    How are we ignoring her post all about how It Was All A Joke now?

    Can’t speak for others, but for myself it’s because Benson is following her typical arc.

    After Charlie Hebdo’s offices were attacked, and a number of their staff murdered, a fair number of people condemned the attack but claimed the cartoons were racist or at least problematic. Benson didn’t agree with the latter part, but her response was to spend months churning out posts that lionized Hebdo. That cost her a lot of friends.

    This is just history repeating. She’ll probably spend years grinding on this topic, if she can, and drive away even more people. But there’s a critical difference: Hebdo was famous enough to generate a steady stream of fresh material for her. But Benson’s transphobia is pretty much set and done, there isn’t much new evidence coming in and what we have now is pretty convincing to most. Silence starves her of fresh coals to stoke the fire, and if she keeps blogging defenses it’ll just underline how hollow they are.

    Meanwhile, it’s not like anything her critics have written has gone away. I know the information is still being read by fresh eyes. And I’d rather have people reading my older posts arguing Benson’s indistinguishable from a TERF than having fresh ones about her lame excuses pop up higher in the search results. I want to focus on the more important issue, here.

    So I’m content to ignore her and move on.

  32. 242

    Hj Hornbeck – assume I am a person coming to all this without information. I read your paragraph regarding the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, and your characterization of Ms. Benson’s blog activity following that horror. You say, “…a fair number of people condemned the attack but claimed the cartoons were racist or at least problematic. Benson didn’t agree with the latter part…” Okay, then, I go do some investigating, and find out that those who “claimed the cartoons were racist or at least problematic” (and I gotta say, “at least problematic” is one of the sine qua nons of weasel phrases) were at the very least misinformed, misunderstanding of context, or band-wagoners who couldn’t be bothered. I find out that the largest anti-racist organization in France declared Charlie Hebdo to have always been, and now is, anti-racist. You claim that Ms. Benson’s posts concerning this terrible incident “cost her a lot of friends” (no citation provided). I say, “Hmmm.”

    Can you understand how the above might color my perception as I move on to your next paragraphs? You claim that “Benson’s transphobia is pretty much set and done, there isn’t much new evidence coming in and what we have now is pretty convincing to most.” And you go on to claim that “…Benson’s indistinguishable from a TERF…”. Knowing what I know from investigating that previous paragraph, these come across as dubious at best. When I do my own investigating, will I find your definitive claims substantiated? Will there be subtleties, contexts, more than the one judgement of an inquisitor to be considered?

    I understand that you are set in your opinions, and that there is no flexibility in this discussion for you. Okay, but I’m suggesting, *merely suggesting*, that there might be another perspective.

  33. 244

    @ Seven on Mine, Front 242 –
    I seriously considered omitting that parenthetical statement, for the reason that you said, but left it in because, well, I mean what I said in that context. Perhaps I should have been clearer: when someone says something is “racist or at least problematic,” I would say that leaves the person saying those words an ultimate out: even when, as it appeared, Charlie Hebdo’s anti-racist bona fides were pretty well established, “at least problematic” leaves one with the ability never to admit fault.

    But how about this: I accept, by leaving in that parenthetical statement, I poisoned my own well, and should not have included it. Now, any thoughts on what I said otherwise, or are we left solely with wormwood?

  34. 245

    @ Seven of Mine: Actually, it seems improper of me, at this late date, to ask for anything. I found Hj Hornbeck’s post at 240 to be highly problematic, indeed wrong, and still do, which is why I posted what I did, but I withdraw my request for any reaction to my post. Thank you for your original reply.

  35. 246


    Dieudonné is heavily anti-racist and pro free speech, campaigning for years in favor of immigrant rights. He’s gone to Palestine in support of Hezbollah, and even tried to get elected by running under the far-Left “Euro-Palistine” party in 2007. Verlan is working-class humour. He’s repeatedly said he’s not anti-semitic, merely anti-authoritarian and thus opposed to Big Jew.

    …[I]f Charlie Hebdo is satirizing Dieudonné, they’re not left-wing, pro-immigrant, and anti-authoritarian.

  36. 247


    I’m not familiar with the specifics of the Hebdo cartoon though I’m aware of there having been a controversy both in terms of the cartoon itself and the things Ophelia Benson said about it. I don’t care much if some anti-racist organizatioin declared Charlie Hebdo to be anti-racist. Having a strong track record of opposing racism doesn’t mean you can’t screw up. It says nothing whatsoever about the content of that specific cartoon. The fact that you accept this declaraction by fiat that Hebdo is not nor has ever been racist tells me you’re at the very least terribly misinformed about how racism works. Which tells me you’re probably not in a position to interrogate this specific situation with any precision.

  37. 248

    @ Seven of Mine – Thank you for your reply at 246. I should have been more clear: I was aware of Charlie Hebdo as a publication, and some of the commentary surrounding it, prior to the terrorist attacks at its offices. Afterwards, I spent months researching Charlie Hebdo, the criticisms laid against it, etc., in order to come to what I consider, based on the evidence, to be a proper picture of the magazine: an anti-racist, anti-clerical, anti-fascist organ of the French left. I can’t reply to you, because you admit your ignorance of the entire Charlie Hebdo affair (“the Hebdo cartoon”? “that specific cartoon”?), yet dismiss my words out of hand and thus determine I am completely out of line in addressing Hj Hornbeck’s post at 240. Okay.

  38. 249

    clamboy @ 247

    I can’t reply to you, because you admit your ignorance of the entire Charlie Hebdo affair (“the Hebdo cartoon”? “that specific cartoon”?), yet dismiss my words out of hand and thus determine I am completely out of line in addressing Hj Hornbeck’s post at 240. Okay.

    You cited a single sweeping statement by a single organization that Hebdo isn’t and never has been racist. My response was that a track record of anti-racism (and this organizations willingness to attest to that track record) doesn’t speak to whether any specific content they published has racist implications. You now say you looked at much more than that one statement but you still seem to be under the impression that this general, anti-racist theme means that they can’t possibly have published something with racist implications.

    That tells me your understanding of racism and bigotry in general is flawed. We all have our unconscious biases. We’re all part of a bigoted culture and none of us is immune to it. However much we oppose bigotry in principle, we’re all going to screw up and say something bigoted here and there. Based on the information available to me, you appear to be coming at this question from a position of incorrect premises (that being opposed to bigotry means you don’t ever say bigoted things). I don’t need the specifics of who said what to whom to infer that your understanding is flawed. I don’t have an opinion on whether anything published by Charlie Hebdo has racist implications. I don’t value your apparent conclusion that it doesn’t because you seem to have arrived at that conclusion via a false premise. If you’re right, you’re right by accident; not because you’ve reasoned correctly about it. If you’re reasoning incorrectly about Hebdo’s alleged racism, I have no reason to think you’d reason any differently about Ophelia Benson’s transphobia or lack thereof.

    TL;DR I’m not dismissing you out of hand. I’m dismissing because your argumentation is flawed.

  39. 250

    clamboy @241:

    I understand that you are set in your opinions, and that there is no flexibility in this discussion for you.

    What?! I’m sorry, but your misunderstanding was so profound that I had to jump back in.

    If a number of trans* people and advocates tell you something is transphobic, it probably is. Unfortunately, this is an argument from authority: the degree to which it’s convincing is proportional to the amount of trust you have, and the lack of evidence makes such arguments weak and tough to objectively evaluate. Hence I decided to lead with my chin and write two blog posts which laid out the evidence and argument as clearly as possible, making said arguments much easier to evaluate and refute.

    In other words, I went to all that trouble because I wanted people to change my opinion. Instead, they seem happier to argue my understanding of French politics reflects my understanding of the issues facing trans* people, or to repeat “Hornbeck’s an obsessive hater” over and over without reference to anything I’ve actually said or done.

    Their call, I suppose, but it seems like a wasted opportunity.

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