Linkspam! #2

29Oct10

Because I’ve been involved in a lot of discussion over at this Feminist Critics thread, which I could probably consolidate into some posts; but I’m reluctant to do that until after the discussion is over, in case my analysis missed some obvious points. But I need to post anyway, so, this.

  • Alas! is back up, along with this post by Jeff Fecke arguing that the Tea Party is fascist. I believed this already, to be honest, but this is a good argument for it.
  • Queen Emily on cuts to welfare for people with disabilities in Britain, coinciding with a decision to waive taxes owed by Vodafone that would, if collected, have just about paid for the benefits being cut. As she says, “the fact that austerity measures will most affect vulnerable communities is not a bug, it is a feature.”
  • Andrew Hussie’s Homestuck is a work of genius; I’m not sure I’ve been moved to say that about a webcomic not created by Ryan Armand before. Rather than merely being a good print comic that happens to exist on the Internet, it’s an audience-collaborative effort that uses animation and interactivity — but only when necessary — to tell its story. It starts out a little weird, but give it 100 pages and you’ll be hooked.
  • I’ve heard a lot about Amanda Simpson. But Ari Ne’eman is an appointment that means a lot to me, too.

  • There are many other posts that I wish I were writing right now, but this one has become necessary.

    About six weeks ago, I wrote this post, staking out a contrarian position on the Penny Arcade joke-involving-rape controversy that gave creators Krahulik and Holkins the benefit of the doubt. More recent events PA-wise have pushed the controversy well past the original comic in various ways that I can’t defend. These issues are fairly well covered by Mirai at Devil May Rant and by the great Lisa Harney at Questioning Transphobia. The two major things that happened were:

    1. The use of a Penny Arcade Dickwolves shirt in a comic, and its subsequent sale. Contra Harney, I don’t believe there was any explicit attempt to glorify rape here, or really any motivation deeper than “people will buy this, so we should sell it.” And people will buy it, likely without thinking — I mean, where are you going to go wearing a shirt that says “dickwolves” on it? Would you go out to eat wearing that shirt, or to class, or to anywhere that isn’t PAX, really? 99.9% of people aren’t going to have any idea what the shirt means beyond its obnoxious vulgarity, and many of the people who do get it will still be offended. However, Penny Arcade has a lot of dumb readers.

    2. Krahulik’s satiric “trigger warning” for a D&D game, which I find more objectionable. Granted that the “contempt for Hydra’s bodily autonomy” line has a germ of a point, in that many types of violence can be triggering but are much harder to avoid than depictions of rape, whether you’re on a feminist website or anywhere else — still, this is crass, and there’s no context to it.

    I may think trigger warnings as currently constituted are sometimes inutile and even counterproductive, as I argued previously, but I still do take offense to the attitude that they should merely be mocked and then dispensed with. Survivors face real problems, and trigger warnings are at the least an attempt to help them; that deserves respect. I don’t know whether the joke can fairly be read, as Mirai reads it, as “mocking PTSD” and PTSD survivors; more likely, they just find the concept of a trigger warning baffling, and therefore mock it. But there’s really no reason to be charitable at this point; there are a million spectacularly obvious things that Krahulik and Holkins could have done to demonstrate that they give a shit about people who’ve been raped, and they haven’t done any of them — so doesn’t pretty much everything they say from now on that isn’t one of those things constitute mocking survivors?

    One last thing: in retrospect, my characterization of rape culture theory in the aforementioned previous post was unfair. I continue to think that McEwan’s apparent defense of the rape culture concept is logical nonsense. You can’t just take a bunch of seemingly disparate cultural phenomena (e.g. “treating straight sexuality as the norm,”) slap a collective label on them, and expect this to convince anyone. And many of the other discussions of rape culture I’ve run across have similar issues, or are, at best, simply vague. (I’m apparently not the only person to have this problem; the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology notes that “rape culture is a concept of unknown origin and of uncertain definition; yet it has made its way into everyday vocabulary and is assumed to be commonly understood.”)

    However — in large part thanks to some of Sungold’s posts (here and here, for instance) — I’ve been able to grok the much more simple definition lying at the core of the term. In short, rape culture is just anything in the culture that is responsible for increasing the occurrence of rape. If you begin looking at Western masscult and trying to piece together what that means in practice, there are going to be some things at near consensus level and some things (like many of McEwan’s examples) that are a lot more controversial. Rejecting some of those controversial examples may make sense, but that doesn’t preclude me from looking at aspects of the interrelated fraternity/sorority cultures and saying that they make men raping women more likely*, or looking at prison culture and the way prisoners are viewed and saying that makes men raping men more likely. So, it turns out I don’t have a problem with the notion of rape culture after all, just with some people’s opinions about what’s included. That is an important thing for me to know, and should stop me from flying off the handle whenever someone mentions rape culture.

    *For good examples, see Alexandra Robbins’ Pledged.


    I finished reading Neal Stephenson’s 1995 novel The Diamond Age nearly a month ago, and had always planned to write a review. Three-quarters of the way into the book I thought that review would be fairly easy — tons of praise for the mostly well-limned characters, especially John Hackworth and Miranda, minus a few murmurs about how weird it is that everything seemed to take place in Future 1895 China, and puzzlement about how this could possibly come about. But then the ending — systematically and with malice aforethought — ruined some of my more charitable ideas about the book, forced me to reevaluate the whole thing, and even made me wonder whether Stephenson was just straight out a racist. Having given the book some further thought, I’m inclined to walk that thought back. But I will say that The Diamond Age, while very good as a work of fiction, is at the least racially and culturally problematic. I would blame no one either for loving Stephenson’s book obsessively or for setting it on fire, and personally feel inclined to do both at once.

    Normally quick sketches of the plot might start by naming the protagonist, but it’s about as hard to do this as in Final Fantasy XII. And since most of the book consists of Dickensian efforts to draw these protagonists closer together, I can’t really describe their relationships without largely spoiling the plot. I will do so regardless. There’s a surface protagonist: a Mary Sue archetype, hilariously named “Nell” after the author1, who escapes from domestic abuse thanks to the sacrifice of her brother, which allows her to get her hands on a “magic book” that is actually engineered from phlebotinum, and teaches life lessons via moderately harrowing interactive storytelling. This entity, the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, is named in the subtitle and is almost a protagonist itself; designed by wizardly engineer/”Artifex”2 John Pervical3 Hackworth (who may also be the protagonist) for Elizabeth, the granddaughter of the very rich “Equity Lord” Alexander Chung-Sik4 Finkle-McGraw. Hackworth “steals” a copy of the Primer (which he more or less designed in toto but doesn’t have the rights to) for his own daughter Fiona. That copy is physically stolen and winds up in Nell’s hands, so now Hackworth has to finagle a third copy.

    That’s when things start getting weird. Via a ludicrously complicated series of events flowing from this bizarre dilemma, a shadowy figure in one of several rump Chinese states acquires several hundred thousand additional copies of the primer to educate young girls smuggled onto boats who are supposedly being saved from infanticide. The reader has no way of knowing if this is true, but widespread Chinese female infanticide does fit into the general milieu of the book, in which educating girls in science is still revolutionary, the powerful people are still mostly old white guys, and Japan and white people are fighting over China until menaced by a Boxer Rebellion revival — in the late 21st century. Not to mention the rarity of “synthetic phyles” (groupings not based on traditional nationality, even in a post-national setting) and the centrality of the “Neo-Victorian Revival” to the story (a combination of Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic” and a bizarre concomitant belief that the racism and funny hats didn’t hurt the British Empire either.) By the way, due to Hackworth via the Primer teaching her Victorian manners, Nell gets adopted by the Victorians around this point and starts going to school with them. And, yeah, my hair did stand on end at some of what the Victorians were teaching Nell, well before the ending:

    They studied the most ghastly parts of Dickens, which Miss Bowlware carefully explained was called Victorian literature because it was written during the reign of Victoria I, but was actually about pre-Victorian times, and that the mores of the original Victorians — the ones who built the old British Empire — were actually a reaction against the sort of bad behavior engaged in by their parents and grandparents and so convincingly detailed by Dickens, their most popular novelist.

    The girls actually got to sit at their desks and play a few ractives showing what it was like to live during this time: generally not very nice, even if you selected all the diseases. At this point, Mrs. Disher stepped in to say, if you thought that was scary, look at how poor people lived in the late twentieth century. Indeed, after ractives told them about the life of an inner-city Washington, D.C., child during the 1990s, most students had to agree they’d take a workhouse in pre-Victorian England over that any day.

    I am reluctant even to explain all the error herein, as I don’t think even Stephenson accepts it as the unvarnished truth.5 Rather, I think he has come to value stability in a limited sense. A few pages later, the “good cop” teacher, Miss Matheson, defends this sort of “education” (along with the school system’s attempt to link decorum and morality) because it builds this sort of cultural stability, and everyone’s out to get us so we have to be strong in defense. (Or, in practice, get everyone else first.)6 Nell claims she can’t quite bring herself to believe this, which seems strange, because she believes everything else she’s told throughout the book, and this seems to work out for her. This might be because much of her success — and her escape into the Victorian territory in China in the first place — was due, not to the Primer itself or the Victorians, but to the plebeian (if prim and trained as a Victorian governess) Primer voice actress who essentially serves as Nell’s mother, as various characters ultimately acknowledge.

    This actress, Miranda (whose race, unless I missed something, is unclear) may, in fact, also be the protagonist, at least of the middle part of the novel. She, along with the underdeveloped Hackworth-Fiona subplot, could have served to illustrate the importance of personal relationships and individuality as a counterpoint to the Victorian obsession with testudo-formation ultra-defensive society and the Orientalist ultra-conformist China. In fact, however, she is forced by the plot to join what is essentially a hive-brain, knows as the Drummers, in order to find Nell. Stephenson suggests that individuality is a force that societies have to somehow take advantage of yet remain untouched by. In several places a period of exploration in the world (somewhat similar to the popularized version of Rumspringa) is advocated for certain young people, with the expectation that they will eventually return to the fold. Obviously, not everyone will sign up, and there’s brief attention given to synthetic phyles with voluntary membership, like CryptNet and the Reformed Distributed Republic. These groups are mostly seen from a Victorian perspective as bad and leading to instability, due to the prospect of the Seed which informs the last third of the novel. (These are the groups that I wanted to spend more time with — there should have been more of the dynamic Fiona and less of moderately repellent “heroes” like Hackworth, Carl Hollywood, and to some extent Nell.)

    In The Diamond Age, societies get resources via matter compilers, which are needlessly expensive and produce strictly regulated output, but have yet modestly improved people’s lives. Various individualist groups want to replace matter compilers with Seeds, which basically allow anyone to make anything. In a conversation with Fiona (a CryptNet member), Hackworth explains that his opposition to the Seed lies in the danger that ordinary people would be able to construct the equivalent of nuclear weapons (“nanoweapons”), thus obviating any hope of stability.7 This is a fairly compelling argument, but there are reasonable counterarguments not explicitly given in the book: first, that nuclear weapons have decreased the likelihood of crazy behavior on a macro scale; second, that the Boxers are, by the end of the book, fucking things up with nanoweapons in a highly unstable way; third, that with widespread distribution of the Seed, more people would be interested in countering these weapons than in creating them. Hackworth’s argument reduces to a standard gun control argument, except without the democratic government that makes gun control seem compelling.8

    At the end it comes out that Hackworth — who had helped design the Seed while in captivity with the Drummers due to the Chinese — had somehow subconsciously been in favor of the Seed all along, and had designed the Primer to teach Nell to complete it; as complicated as Hackworth is, this still doesn’t begin to make sense. Also, back on page 179, Hackworth had

    almost without thinking about it and without appreciating the ramifications of what he was doing, devised a trick and slipped it in under the radar of the Judge and Dr. X and all of the other people in the theatre, who were better at noticing tricks than most other people in the world. “While I’m at it, if it pleases the court, I can also,” Hackworth said, most obsequiously, “make changes in the content so that it will be more suitable for the unique cultural requirements of the Han readership. But it will take some time.

    Three hundred pages and eight years later, this aside — I think — winds up meaning that the several hundred thousand Chinese girls mentioned above become the preteen “Mouse Army,” organize their own phyle, defeat the Boxers, and crown Nell as their queen, even though she had done no more, as far as the reader knows, to deserve this honor than any of the girls. Whether this last act was personally orchestrated by Hackworth (who barely knew Nell) or not, it is what it is — a whole bunch of Chinese people voluntarily submitting to rule by a white person they don’t know, and then the book ends.

    That struck me as pretty screwy, so I started thinking about the role of Chinese people in the book (which is, after all, 90% set in geographical China.) The most prominent character goes by Dr. X (because Westerners allegedly can’t pronounce his name) and is really quite inscrutable. There’s the minor character Judge Fang, who is from New York but according to TVTropes is inspired by a Western take on an 18th century novel set in the 7th century — and only white people seem to consider him or his very 7th century court in any way odd. Everyone else is pretty much faceless, including the Boxers, who rape Nell just in case you might be getting sympathetic.

    When I went to search for Neal Stephenson’s ideas about China, I found this article, from 1994, in which he notes that the technology available in 1994 had not fundamentally changed that society. He notes several times that he hadn’t seen any Chinese people playing computer games (again, in 1994), notes how it’s difficult to type in hanzi, then launches into a this full-fledged Orientalist fantasy:

    If you look a decade or two down the road, it’s possible to imagine a future in which non-Westernized Chinese finally have the opportunity to use computers for the highest and best purpose we have ever found for them: goofing off. This is terribly important, because goofing off with computers leads to hackers, which leads to the hacker mentality, which takes us to other interesting places.

    Whether the Chinese are interested in goofing off is another story. I saw a lot of computers in China, but I didn’t see a single computer game. The idea of sitting by yourself in front of a machine doesn’t seem to do much for them; it does not gibe with their concept of having fun. It’s not a culture that encourages idiosyncratic loners.

    There are plenty of historical examples to back up the proposition that we won’t see any Hacker Ethic in China. The country has a long history of coming up with technologies before anyone else and then not doing a lot with them; a culture 5,000 years old prefers to bend new technologies to its own ways.

    It’s easy to laugh at this speculation now that Chinese hackers are famous and young Chinese people are coming up with brilliant strategies for gold-farming (which may be closer to what Stephenson means by the “hacker mentality” than breaking into stuff.) But even the history is wrong. Stephenson argues throughout The Diamond Age that conformity encourages stability, and stability leads to military success.9 But when China had the ability to colonize on a mass scale — after the fall of Rome and, most notably, in the 15th century, when Zheng He was making the rounds collecting tribute in Africa — Chinese expansion was done in by an internal political fight. Chinese society is “stable” to the extent that it hasn’t suffered many outside invaders, which is due largely to geographical luck; but it’s no more internally stable at the top or the bottom than any other society, and has in fact suffered so much internal convulsion and dynastic upheaval that it would likely no longer exist today if not for its geographical advantages. And you can say the same thing about Britain, the US and Japan, for all the play they get in the novel.

    In short, I don’t think Stephenson was a full-on racist when he wrote The Diamond Age, although his culturalism and determinism leads him to some pretty hairy places. And I think it’s an interesting book that, as I’ve tried to point out, is multivocal enough to contain its own deconstruction (although it doesn’t go intentionally as far in this dimension as, say, a Shaw play.) But I do wish Stephenson had gotten to chat with a certain other Diamond, or perhaps seen some sort of advance draft of the latter’s most famous book, before he started typing. And I wish that, in general, he had as much imagination for future history as he does for future tech. But it’s a hell of a book, and worth reading even for its flaws, as such viewpoints are seldom expressed with as much depth as here. 4/5

    1. And/or the Dickensian Nell Trent. Probably and.
    2. Latin: n. artist, actor; craftsman; master of an art; author, maker; mastermind; schemer; adj. skilled, artistic; expert, practiced; cunning, artful; creative, productive. Every last one of these dictionary meanings proves to be important, and I guarantee you Neal Stephenson knew what he was doing.
    3. Here too.
    4. And here, I thought, no way, he’s just reaching for a cool Asian name, but actually some of this is relevant. Even though “EL”AC-SF-M is not, ultimately, that important, and certainly isn’t the protagonist.
    5. I can’t resist noting, though, that race plays a central role in the unfairness of the second paragraph’s comparison. Where were the non-whites living in the late 19th century’s British Empire? Not in England, but in India and increasingly Africa. What is the status of “inner city” neighborhoods in contemporary America, from the perspective of the power structure? Largely as cannon fodder for the military and, conversely, as a place where scary things come from. The vast majority of Neo-Victorians have rollicking Dickensian names, and all but one is clearly white; I had taken “Miss Ramanujan” to be a descendant of a mixed family under the British Raj who sympathized with Britain,but her cameo reveals nothing about her.
    Regardless, somehow Britain has reinvaded America, while the POC who used to live there have all, apparently, joined other, “minor” phyles — which are, judging from the cameos that such phyles make, just as equally racist as the Victorians but less powerful. 100 years in the future, in fact, the list of the “great” phyles reflects, in order, the list of largest economies in the world as of 1995. That ordering has already changed, with China moving past Japan for second place. Neal Stephenson, prognostication genius.
    6. Fans of Snow Crash will be saddened to discover that Miss Matheson hints at having possibly been, in her youth, that book’s Y.T. Please don’t break your keyboard in rage.
    7. The antagonist of Snow Crash is an ordinary person who rides around with a nuclear weapon.
    8. Naturally the Victorians control all weapons. This is a foreign policy issue for them; they don’t so much care about what happens to the rest of the world as fear for their own phyle’s stability.
    9. I presume this is what “not doing a lot with them” is referring to — it’s typical code-speak in the standard Orientalist argument, as, much like the Neo-Victorians, no one wants to come out and say that taking over other people’s stuff is the ultimate goal.


    I’ve seen the 2004 essay “Equality Between Men and Women is Not Achievable: Apples and Oranges” floating around. The thinking in this argument is particularly muddled — perhaps not surprising coming from “Angry Harry,” who, despite being staunchly anti-feminist, has apparently adopted the feminist tactic of preferring anger to logic. But some of his points touch on things I hear referenced in the mainstream, so the essay is worth arguing against.

    Literally the second word of the essay brands the goal of gender equality “politically-correct.” As Kai Ching archly notes (mirror, original site down), the term “is a deliberately imprecise expression [. . .] because its objective isn’t to communicate a substantive idea, but simply to sneer and snivel [. . .] the great “PC” cliché, as commonly deployed in mainstream discourse, is cultural propaganda designed to befuddle and misdirect while defending the current power structure.” It’s a term that’s somehow become mainstream, in ways that similar conservative tropes like “un-American” haven’t. My college professors used the term. Ralph Nader voter Bill Maher called his old show “Politically Incorrect” while defending left-libertarian positions that the coiners of the term would squirm at. It wins Harry points among his readers, but it shouldn’t, because the term really doesn’t even mean anything. It’s just a complaint that some people don’t agree with him.

    It seems that he fundamentally misunderstands what most people mean by gender equality:

    Question: Should ‘women’ have more votes than ‘men’?

    For those who think, Yes, (because there are more women voters than men voters) then it follows that they also believe that those in a minority should have less of a say in what affects them.

    They believe that the largest group (women) should have the greatest power.

    As such, ‘equality’ between ‘men’ and ‘women’ is already lost.

    For those who think, No, (because this would be unfair on ‘men’) then it follows that they also believe that those in the majority should have less of a say in what affects them.

    They believe that the individual vote of a woman should be worth less than that of a man.

    As such, ‘equality’ between ‘men’ and ‘women’ is already lost.

    Well, yes — equality on the group level, if the groups are of unequal size, is strictly incompatible with equality on the individual level. That’s why equality on the individual level, measurable by proportional equality, is the goal. Obviously, women have the right to vote, and do vote in proportional numbers. On the other hand, the fact that female, minority, etc. candidates aren’t getting elected in proportional numbers suggests that politics itself is more constrained. While this might be an argument for apportionment (and might not be), it certainly isn’t an argument for giving South Asians the same total representation as white people, either in the US or in South Asia. That wouldn’t preclude “equality” in representation, as long as the representation was proportional.*

    If men and women are equally happy with whatever is the issue of concern, then, if you like, some version of ‘equality’ has been achieved.

    But the state of people’s happiness actually depends to a very large extent on the propaganda that envelops them.

    If the propaganda tells them that they are badly off then their happiness levels will fall and their aggression levels will rise. If the propaganda tells them that they are doing well then their happiness levels will rise and their aggression levels will fall. [. . .]

    Finally, neither men nor women need to be ‘equal’ to each other in order to be happy with each other.

    I’m certainly not going to come out against happiness. But happiness is difficult to measure, and multidimensional. And people are fairly good at convincing themselves they’re happy enough when they’re not, but don’t realize it until legitimate happiness reminds them. Unequal status doesn’t guarantee happiness, nor vice versa; but someone of unequal status is less likely to have the opportunity to experience a wide variety of circumstances and discover which make him or her happiest. Even if Sisyphus is content to roll the boulder up the hill, he doesn’t have it better than Zeus.

    There follows a scattershot attack at various feminists, real and imagined; unusually, the imagined feminists come out somewhat better. Most of their arguments complicating the pay gap are legitimate, although it seems to be Harry’s own idea that we should therefore all throw up our hands and admit it will persist forever. Hillary Clinton was factually incorrect to call women the primary victims of war, yes — but this has nothing to do with Harry’s propositions that all feminists hate men, or that gender equality is an impossible goal. It’s just evidence that certain feminists are wrong about some unrelated issues.

    And there is no scenario that anyone could come up with that would bring about ‘equality’ between ‘men’ and ‘women’ unless no distinction between ‘men’ and ‘women’ was actually being made.

    Funny, I thought that was the ultimate goal. Of course, the fact that men and women alive today have experienced broadly different stuff has to be taken into account. But the ideal is to be able to treat everyone the same and get proportionally good outcomes. Even affirmative-action programs and the like are working towards this goal in mind, with the idea that spreading more education, etc. into a given community will reduce the need for help in the next generation. And then there are some systems (e.g. criminal justice) where actually treating everyone the same would be a massive improvement over what we have now — that should always be tried first, before any redistribution is considered.

    I don’t think it’s feminist to say that women should have power over men, or should have an an advantage. The core of the disagreement is actually about whether aid programs are compensating for a proportional disadvantage. And that’s something better argued on a case-by-case basis than in generalities.

    *South Asians are actually overrepresented among US governors thanks to Piyush Amrit Jindal; and if Nimrata Randhawa Haley wins the South Carolina governorship, they’ll be 5x overrepresented. Both Haley and are Republican; unsurprisingly, they both had to change their names and assimilate as much as possible.


    Linkspam! #1

    20Sep10

    Because I’m desperately trying to hold onto some of my readers from the Alas! link, but don’t have time to write another real post yet.

    1. This is named after the Anti-Oppression Linkspam Community, so why not link that first? Most of the recent posts are about the Evelyn Evelyn controversy, but if you don’t want to read eight whole posts about that, there’s plenty of other excellent stuff on creative work and how not to fail so hard. I don’t agree with everything in the comm — does anyone? — but I recognize the importance of reading it.
    2. I learned a lot from this timeline of the recent history of circumcision from the International Coalition for Genital Integrity. You might laugh at some of the ridiculous justifications early physicians gave to justify circumcision, but you’ll stop laughing when you realize that people are still making these claims — and that the proportion of men being circumcised in the world is still rising, even as it continues to fall in the US and UK. (And then you’ll start laughing again when you run into some of the all-too-appropriately-named doctors mentioned.)
    3. Andrea writes about her assault in a public train, which was ignored or thought amusing by the passengers — and by most of the police officers she goes to for help — because she’s a trans woman.
    4. Two very well-written Potterverse fanfics about being trans, by trans author Alchemia Dent: Blaise and (with Bugland) Pigfeathers.
    5. Captain Kirk is climbing a mountain. Why is he climbing a mountain?

    Cedar has written some of the most trenchant stuff ever about transphobia — in particular, her Combatting “Combatting Ignorance” series. You should read it. The whole thing. But what I’m drawing from today is part 2, where she says:

    But see, once you’re in the position to not be labeled ignorant, “not knowing” trans things is perfectly innocent. It’s totally optional, because any hurt you inflict in the mean time a)isn’t important, and b)will be washed away by the magic of intent. Except it’s not innocent. I would actually go further than Queen Emily when she says

    The one thing ignorance is not is innocent, it is about having the power not to know and not to care… and we simply can’t afford to be naive enough to think otherwise.

    It’s actually the power to know and not care.

    You may not know the ontology behind our claims to reality, you may not know what the word “ontology” means, you may not know our critique of the sex/gender distinction or of biology. But you know how we see ourselves, you know that implying we’re not really women/men is offensive, and thus that claiming to be more real (in any of the myriad ways that cis people do this) is offensive. At some point, almost all of you made a conscious choice to disrespect us. Misgendering and ungendering transsexual folks has nothing to do with terminology, and everything to do with expressing contempt towards us and superiority over us–no matter how strongly one denies it.

    Trans 101 can effectively refute transphobic and transmisogynistic arguments by invalidating their premises. But frequently transfolk are facing down a kind of malignant, aggressive “ignorance” that shows no interest in abandoning false premises. As Cedar says, everyone knows that transwomen identify as women. Denying our identities is therefore a conscious act of aggression. Transwomen as a class have done no more than assert their rights and demand to be respected — if that — so aggression against them as a class is unprovoked. This sort of transphobic person would only be happy if we went away and hid somewhere. They could demolish their own arguments by themselves with a few Google searches, but they don’t want to, because their objections aren’t rational. If you’re lucky, you can even get transphobes to admit some of this.

    I ran into the Undercover Punk blog via enthusiastic comments left by the author a while back on Sungold’s blog. Somehow I don’t think Sungold is as big a fan of hers. I’m not at all blaming Sungold for not calling her out, because a) she’s busy, and b) at the time UP was commenting, her blog wasn’t 100% transphobia, 100% of the time. (In fact, many of her posts were good.) But it is that way now, and I don’t really know why the shift. Susan Stryker must have run over her dog, or something.

    Let’s take this quickly. Post from August 27, here. Says trans women are socialized male and that this is a reason for rejecting their claim to be women. Has not stopped to think that someone with a female gender identity is going to internalize mass messages meant for girls, and is also going to attempt to socialize herself female until it’s beaten out of her. Has not stopped to consider that, excluding mass messages, girls aren’t all socialized the same way either. Is ignoring what actual trans women say about this, yes, but really wouldn’t even have needed to talk to one to figure this out.

    Post from August 31, here. Denies being transphobic because she isn’t consciously “afraid” of trans women. Would never in a million years accept that argument from a homophobe critiquing her lesbianism in the same way. Claims her own ideas are rational, having suggested in her last post that trans women who think they’re rational are reflecting male socialization! Actually says that a trans woman being read as trans is the same thing as an able-bodied person “passing” as disabled; suggests that we are men pretending to be women, gender-slumming, doing this all for a lark. Is convinced that her theories are more important than our experiences.

    Post from September 6, a guest post by Sonia. (But can be read as if by UP, as she enthusiastically supports everything in the post in her comments.) Claims that trans women’s gender is chosen, and that this “takes the power away from women as a group.” Claims that trans oppression is “freely chosen,” even though we’re in a double bind — we’re either oppressed and denied rights that all cis people enjoy, or we’re driven to meaningless existence and suicide because even though your ideology can erase our gender identity, our ideologies can’t erase ours. Nor can they erase the utter misery of dysphoria, which I cannot describe in any way that a non-trans person can fully understand. Is much more obsessed with surgery than most trans women I know, and seems to think surgery is the main thing making someone trans, which it isn’t. Also, like all of the other posts, ignores the neurological differences between transwomen and cis men.

    This isn’t hard stuff to refute. Took me, like, fifteen minutes. It’s unlikely someone like UP, who’s had a lifetime of immersion in the feminist movement, hasn’t heard everything I’m saying dozens of times. It’s just that she chooses to cover her ears and say “I can’t hear you! I don’t care what your neurology is, what your lived experience is, or how you were actually socialized. No one questions my womanhood, so I have the right to decide who’s a woman. And, guess what, I’m going to use the same criteria the kyriarchy uses, because I’m rational! So — you’re not really a woman! Ha ha!”

    So this post isn’t for her. I doubt she’s listening, anyhow. It’s for anyone who’s thinking about defending or excusing transphobia. Folks, it’s not about ignorance. It’s about willful aggression. If you excuse transphobes, you’re declaring war on me. And I have the right to fight back.


    If I remember right, I initially encountered the subject of this post, Paul Elam’s article The Problem with Gay Rights, in the context of someone in a Feminist Critics thread making the point that men’s rights activists are beginning to police the homophobia within their ranks. That’s necessary context for what I’m about to say. If there are self-identified MRAs out there who fail less hard at this task than Elam does, I’m all ears.

    Fundamentally, this article isn’t actually an attempt to police homophobia. It’s closer to an attempt to excuse it — and the conclusions it draws align the author so much more with homophobes than with gay people, there’s hardly any point. Elam purports:

    On a political level, some of the resentment is understandable. Gay activists have aligned themselves with feminists, and, while marching in misandric lockstep, have draped themselves in victim couture and made their grab for special government considerations. The resultant draconian intrusions and bullying on behalf of gays and other special interest groups is a core issue in the men’s movement, and for good reason.

    I have to confess that I have no clue what Elam is talking about when he mentions “special government considerations” for gay people. It’s not as if there’s governmental affirmative action for homosexuals. ENDA hasn’t even passed, and all that would do is prevent the government from discriminating against gay (trans if we’re lucky) workers because they’re gay. Or against straight/cis workers for being straight/cis, if that ever were to happen. Special considerations for gay people aren’t even widespread outside of government — the first private college in the US to institute affirmative action for gay people, Middlebury College, began doing so the year after I entered college — and I’m only 21. I’m even more baffled by the meaning of “draconian intrusions and bullying on behalf of gays” — where does Elam think this is occurring?

    Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone who has a “For Feminists and Manginas” ghetto on his blog, Elam tips his hand early:

    Gay men have invented new technology, built cities, researched cures for disease, made profound contributions to the arts, literature and philosophy, excelled at athletics and participated wholly in every aspect of the development of civilization as we know it.

    But of course, they did not do these things because they were gay. They did these things because they were men. Solving problems and making advances is what men do, and there is no evidence to suggest that gay men are any less proficient at it than straight men.

    In case you missed the casual sexism: Elam is saying that “solving problems and making advances” is not what women do. Presumably women sit around all day crocheting pictures of Judith Butler. But it’s strange that Elam complains that “holding men to standards and expectations based on sex, while relieving women of their corresponding expectations, has led directly to their systematic, conscripted misuse as human beings” — and yet he clearly has a set of standards and expectations for men.

    Suppose you are, in fact, a sexist gay man who buys into Elam’s male superiority script. Does this preclude the demand for fundamental rights and equality with het men? After all, Elam admits that gay men are Men, and of course Men are going to demand their Rights. Actively, even. But apparently there’s a problem:

    The two current hot spot examples of this are gay marriage and military service. Roughly speaking, the activism that seeks to include gay men in these realms is, in reality, placing them directly in the crosshairs of corrupt family courts, and on the battlefield, where they can join straight men in being used as the cannon fodder of choice for hegemonic corporatism.

    This is certainly an argument for something. For me, it’s an argument that ENDA ought to be prioritized over DADT/DOMA repeal. (Odd that Elam doesn’t talk about ENDA at all!) Discrimination in military service and in marriage rights is wrong, but affects only a subset of gay people who are interested in those rights. Discrimination in employment potentially affects nearly every gay person. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate any effort to stop discriminating against gay people. Indeed, Elam goes on to clearly express that denying gay people “the legal advantages we place on marriage” denies them “rights taken for granted by the rest of the population.” But wait:

    pushing for legal recognition of gay marriage is a de facto endorsement of statist culture; a capitulation to recognizing the state, not the individual, as the ultimate authority over human relationships.

    Granting for the sake of argument that government sanction of human relationships is a bad thing, this is actually an argument against all government-sanctioned marriage. I think many gay men and women would be okay with that reality, but it’s never going to happen — it would involve taking perceived rights away from het people. And they’re not going to vote for that. The expansion of rights to gay people at least has a shot. Gay activists aren’t being Stalinist, they’re being pragmatic.

    What Elam wants gay readers to miss in the shuffle is that he’s still arguing against the expansion of rights for gay people. He’s doing so by suggesting that these rights have pitfalls for straight people, too, which is a defensible position. But straight men’s rights activists have the choice, in today’s United States, to opt out of marriage and the military. Gay people don’t have the choice to opt in. Even if they could win it, het MRAs are never going to mount a serious fight to actually destroy firmly entrenched institutions like marriage and the military. Not while they still have the choices they do.

    Granted, het female feminists may not find themselves at the forefront of that fight either, for exactly the same reasons. But many do, because, unlike Elam, they seem broad-minded enough to try to take the interests of others into account. And feminism as I understand it at least has the basic decency not to tell oppressed people which clear-cut instances of discrimination against them are worth fighting against. Feminism even has a rather useful word for that sort of behavior: entitlement.