It’s probably highly ironic for me to write this article- half my life is spent posting hot takes and arguing with people. But this needs to be said and set down somewhere, and I’d hope it detoxifies some of the online arena: Debating bigots is not a useful way to invest your time. Speak your truth to the internet at large, reply to those pushing bigotry- but don’t think sitting down for a chat will help, or change the minds of those drunk on moral panic.
If someone proved me wrong on a point I was fearsomely defensive about, I worry that I’d be an asshole, but I try (as I think we all should) to be contrite- in fact, this very weekend a black gay man called me out on my ignorance around the POC gay dating culture and I agreed and asked for help from people for resources which I really need to follow up on. I don’t want to ever be ignorant of POC issues because I really want to be an ally, but we all need to remember that we’re insulated from these issues as people who aren’t POC and need to think about them. I failed here but I have to work to rectify it.
I’m not perfect and I know that my ignorance can walk close to bigotry, because ignorance is bigotry acknowledged and embraced. So I try really hard to fight against that. Sinking into the warm, comforting pool of being sure you’re right without questioning that is too easy- it’s too simple to imagine that because you feel a certain way on a topic, you’re right. And there will always- no matter how hideous your take- be a wealth of people on the internet or even in real life- be people willing to take your side. Your take being popular does NOT mean it’s correct.
When it comes to debate, it’s a useful tool when used correctly. Both sides follow the rules and present their arguments and counter arguments- no interrupting, shouting, sniping etc.
That’s not what online debate does.
There’s a clutch of smart, enterprising left wing people on apps like tiktok who make a wonderful show of debating – if it can be called that -with right wing commentarians who think their FeElInGs on a matter will concrete the issue. And don’t get me wrong, as always I’m trying to look at it uncritically but am biased as a honking great lefty.
And to those people, I’d like you to know I admire you for trying and I’m certainly not saying stop. I can’t stay civil with people I know are talking in ignorance and doing so willingly.
The issue comes here: if I’m proved to be wrong, I’m more than happy to admit it, to do the work behind the scenes to become better. Society seems to think that shifting positions on issues is flip flopping, or weak- but if you’re wrong about them and admit that, and explain why you’re wrong- can people really hold that against you? I see growth in contrition. If you see weakness in backing a well debunked point- be it the existence of a secret cabal of spies like Q-anon or more- then you’re backing being a loudmouth… Which is enough for some but not for me.
When it comes down to debate, both sides have to take it in good faith- and a lot of the right wing debaters don’t do this- from making points up on the spot, making up figures, wilfully misinterpreting the data to prove a flawed point, and more- again, I’m looking at this from a flawed and biased perspective but I see this REGULARLY online. These debaters don’t WANT to debate- they want to rant, to stir up other people in the tornado of their feelings and suck up the oxygen. Debating with them is pointless. They know they’re lying, or spinning falsehoods, they know they’re doing what they shouldn’t. You can’t, and you won’t improve the situation by sharing your platform with them, even if you do feel that you “won” the debate. They still got to whip up the people who agree with them.
Lets take one of my favourite examples of this: transphobia.
This weekend I was piled on on twitter, because an abuse prevention charity listed a partner not respecting your pronouns and personal identity as abuse- and I saw a tweet vehemently disagreeing, and claiming that they had experienced REAL abuse.
Bearing in mind I’m a cis man but a gay man I’ve been misgendered a fair amount in my life. “Girly boy, girl, girly, little bitch, wo-man, woman” over and over and over- do you realise how demeaning it is? I’ve never once struggled with my gender identity, but being constantly referred to as a girl, a woman, a female when I’m not was bullying and it got me very upset more than once. Is that not real abuse? Was it not real abuse when, when I was nine, two boys cornered me in a garden near my grandma’s house and pushed me on the floor and made me feel them against my will while telling me I was a girl, a gay, puff, faggot, queer, bum boy. That was the tip of the iceberg and the physical things they did then and after were awful. But all of it sticks with me, not just the physical abuse but the excitement in their voices as they called me a little girl and used their fully grown, adult, cis, male bodies to hold me down. The way they enjoyed hearing me panic and deny their insults. You don’t get to decide what is and isn’t abuse because you aren’t affected by it or haven’t gone through it. These experiences are the reason it took me a long time to become OK with the casual lingo that come from shows like RuPaul’s drag race- my friend once said “hey girl” when he walked into my living room and I actually snapped at him because it reminded me of that.
On to the main reason for this article – I’ve used an app a while ago called TERFblocker, which automatically blocked thousands of anti trans accounts. I’m glad of it- the dogpile that was just a flirting annoyance this weekend threatened to be a hundred times worse. The instigator kept copying my tweets to his followers- hundreds of them openly complained that I’d blocked them when we’d never interacted, calling me a snowflake and a weirdo whilst knowing nothing about me except that they were blocked- blocked because they were on the terfblocker list. The idea that I owed these people my attention, that I should leave my profile open for them to attack me because someone they like doesn’t like me, that I should allow them the space to comment bile at me, is ridiculous… If you don’t like me, block me. I can assure you I won’t lose one second of sleep. The reason I use that app cheerfully was a huge dog pile I was in last year. I even argued with the heinous anti trans speaker that is Maya Forstater who was, as always, waxing philosophical about bathrooms. Hundreds- HUNDREDS of people talking about how supporting trans people is condoning rape- which, in case it’s not clear, I’ve been through more than once – I’m “supporting people in their delusions” and on and on and on… it was exhausting and I used the terfblocker to drown them out because I had nothing but the accusations the terfs throw at we “TRAs” thrown at me- suicide jokes, insults, rape condoning, questions about my gender, sex, penis size, sexual proclivities… One woman told me I was bisexual because I’d date a trans man- I don’t know about you but I don’t spend my life imagining someone’s penis in their trousers when I flirt with them. If you do then so be it- I just see life in a fundamentally different way than transphobes. We’re all billions of neurones, electricity flying from connection to connection. What the body became because of phenotypes and all of that is superfluous to who you are in your head- your body is just there, an extension of who you are, and of course nature doesn’t reconcile birth sex with your gender sometimes- it’s horrendously complex, as is whatever makes us have our sexuality, as is whatever makes us have brown or blue eyes, as is whatever makes our height what it is. Genitals aren’t completely unimportant to me, but if the man I love has a vagina am I going to let that stop me from being with him, any more than I would if he had a small, or huge penis, or erection problems, or one testicle…? Fuck no. And if being a woman is an experience it’s clearly not linked to your sex or to your gender- and therefore anyone can experience it and therefore become a woman if they experience it- and if it is purely biological then has every single person who calls themselves a woman been through this laundry list of obstacles to claim the title?
Ultimately, it was that rude awakening of thousands of people calling me a beard, making fun of my appearance, telling me I was a rape enabler and a misogynist, that made me realise these people don’t WANT to debate. They don’t WANT their minds changed, or to be given new information that might make them think differently, that might make them believe that perhaps what they’re so invested in pushing is a false flag event. It’s about rage, about moral panics, about pushing the agenda that the people you don’t like are perverts, and monsters and paedophiles who will snatch and corrupt your children, will stop you living your life with liberty, take away your rights and freedoms… sound familiar? See the blowback from the civil rights movement, see trying to end apartheid, the anti jewish sentiment during world war two- this moral panic against a group is not new, but it is frightening every single time.
If transphobia evaporated overnight- not transphobes, I hasten to say, but the ideology (I don’t wish harm to transphobes, I just want them to wake up), trans folk and cis folk could unite against harmful ideologies still perpetuated by a patriarchal society that fails ALL women, regardless of cis identity or not.
The idea that women are still chattel, property, need to be controlled, disciplined, mocked, sexualised- exists ALL AROUND our society. How do I know? The same way I know trans people are just normal humans. I exist around it all.
I wish transphobes could hear the shit men come out with when they aren’t around. The disgusting shit I’ve heard in changing rooms (yes sometimes I’ve called it out even in my fear, no not always, I am not that brave and I’m curious as to who would condone it if I didn’t speak out). Trans women- or trans men- are not threats to cis women. Cis men though… that is a different thing.
I’m certainly not saying it’s all cis men of course, and I’m sure i’ll need to put this disclaimer- ironically to placate the very men it IS about, but no it isn’t all cis men. But it’s far too many.
I veer wildly away sometimes from saying what I want to say. That women should be celebrated for how amazing they are, venerated for fighting their place in a world that proclaims their value whilst debating their reproductive rights, right to show emotion, right to wear what they want, wear makeup, have the audacity to have periods, or to not have periods, or shave, or not shave, be loud, be silent, marry, not marry, have kids, not have kids, adopt, not adopt- and this is irrespective of intersectionality with things like skin colour or sexuality – black trans women (I met a lovely black trans woman at trans day of remembrance recently- her speech was badass!) have the rawest deal of all, and that’s without including the ostracization by white trans folk AND cis women. The reason I veer from it is not because I don’t feel it’s the case that women should be uplifted and celebrated for who they are but because I feel like it’s patronising for me to suggest it- I’m a cis man and it seems performative. But women are amazing, regardless of gender identity- purely for keeping up the fight in the face of a world that barely hides the face of grudging tolerance to the “quiet ones”.
Equally, applying a label to all trans people is also foolish. Many gender critical people claim that “all/ most trans people are predators and perverts just wanting access to women’s spaces”. How farcical is this statement when you swap the minority- which has been done before! “All gay men want access to men’s bathrooms for nefarious sexual purposes”. No. We don’t. Some? Sure. Should we all be denigrated for the perversions of a minority in a minority?
I don’t know what makes a woman, or a man, or a genderless person. Do you? Because if you fall to any biological processes there will ALWAYS be outliers. People born without ovaries, wombs, women born with testicles, women born without breasts, men born with ovaries, men (like me!) who grow temporary breasts at puberty, women who grow beards… biology is far too complex to rely on as a hard and fast rule of “a man or a woman is x” because there will always be a man or a woman who is y.
Lets also look at the gender binary again – the idea that people can deny that gender is a spectrum is laughable when explained thus.
If a binary is either 0 or 1, yes or no, x or y that is an absolute- and again, if you vary even slightly then there is NOT a 0 or 1 option. If a man is tall, dark and handsome and I’m short, blonde and ugly then man isn’t binary.
Please don’t think that I’m claiming to be an expert on sex and gender- I don’t want to be tarred with the same brush as those who revel in their ignorance like Stock et al., but I fail to see how these points can be in dispute.
As an ally, I’m tired of the endless rowing. And that’s what I’ve realised- it is ENDLESS. You can have the “trans women shouldn’t be allowed to go into women’s toilets” row every single day for a month on twitter, and debunk every bogus claim, and fight back on every talking point, and discuss every statistic- and it never changes because these people flatly DO NOT WANT to debate. It’s not about debate. They have assigned their woes to trans people as the arbiters of their misery- it’s trans women who cause their tribulations in life and nothing else can change that mindset, even proof to the contrary.
Back to the main topic- debate.
If it were pointful to debate right wing folk I’d be interested in partaking in it, but I’ve seen too many examples of the right wing folk being proven wrong or their arguments being picked apart and the instant reversion to insults. Every time I’ve tried to unpick an anti gay/anti trans argument recently, the IMMEDIATE reaction from the injured party has been to make a “hard drives need checked” comment.
The irony of this isn’t lost on me- most anti gay and anti trans arguments are recycled from the panic of the 70s and 80s where it was insinuated that we were all perverted. But considering the side making these accusations also regularly listens to folk like Allison Bailey who talks about young healthy breasts never knowing a lover’s caress, I cant help but feel aggrieved that this is overlooked and my simple observation that gay men are allowed to be gay means I’m sent homophobic memes.
When it comes to debating people who sink instantly to these tactics, it’s pointless. There is no interest in learning or hearing the other side, and you can’t argue against people’s conviction that they’re right in the fact of scant evidence: much like arguing against flat lies, arguing against right wing opinions is pointlessly like screaming into a pillow.
The truth is a stubborn little rock that is only what it is. But a lie, or an opinion, can be elastic, and fit whatever you want it to. You don’t need to read the facts that there haven’t been trans attackers bombarding women’s bathrooms, and any problems have been caused by cisgendered men when you’re absolutely convinced that all trans women are lurking quietly, waiting for their chance and you’re just so lucky to have avoided it.
I wish I knew how to make positive steps forward and to stop this endless deluge of trans exclusion, hatred and misinformation that is being thrown around the internet, but I’m not that smart, or patient. But something has to change. Trans people cant wait.
As I always say, I have empirical experience of being around all sorts of trans people- asexual trans women, bisexual trans men, gay trans men, lesbian trans women… every one of them is, frankly, a hair’s breadth from being almost boringly normal. Their medical file is – there’s no other way to say this- fuck all to do with me. I don’t often stare at the genitals of my friends or strangers (not unless I want to and we all consent), so perhaps we can extend this bare minimum standardised treatment of cis people to trans folk too- and maybe we can stop believing people who talk endlessly about debate.