First off, you should read this post at Sincerely, Natalie Reed: Disgusting. It’s an account of a typically random bit of hostile bigotry that trans people suffer from anonymous cowards who know they can get away with their vile behaviour.
Next, in the comments thread there was (as usual) an obtuse commenter called kbonn. His first comment appears as comment #38, and there is a long sub-thread derailment (on my computer, it goes on for over twenty screens deep; it is extremely tiresome). All but one of his comments appear under there; the exception is comment #67. I was going to post the following there, but a two thousand five hundred word comment is a bit rude. I posted a précis (only just over one screen deep!) with a hyperlink from there to here, where I’m leaving the bulk of my response.
Update 1: I’ve noted a few (very minor) issues with my comment below, which I’ve deliberately left plain-formatted in the default sans serif font in order to set it off distinctly from the normal look-and-feel of my blog posts and comments. I’m not going to fix them for the moment – if kbonn decides to respond here rather than on Natalie’s blog I reserve the right to make some corrections which will be indicated by use of the normal Goudy serif font or a different text colour.
Update 2: kbonn, the subject of this post, has been good enough to leave an opening reply to my long form response below, in the comments. If you were part of the discussion over at SNR, feel free to engage with him, but also bear in mind I have since added a new post laying down a few ground rules which you should respect.
Having read all of your comments in this thread, I’m going to start by going a bit off-track at first to tell you what they remind me of, and then return to deal with them.
Natalie has given us a long personal reflection in the form of relating an anecdote, involving a rude anonymous man who made her feel uncomfortable, and we only have her side of the story to go on – though it is hardly unbelievable, if you were to ask almost any other trans person here. I recall another woman last year who related a similar anecdote, but she offered hers without much attempt at speculative analysis as to why the man had done what he had done: she labeled it as sexualisation and described why she was made to feel uncomfortable.
That led to all sorts of people to attempt to minimise what the guy had done. A thousand comments asserted possible reasons that went against the woman’s narrative:
No, he wasn’t being rude. He wasn’t being sexist. He wasn’t acting in an entitled fashion. He wasn’t being predatory or creepy. He had a legitimate question to ask. He wasn’t sexualising her. His words can’t possibly be interpreted that way. He was probably shy, or naïve about the effect of his words, or he had social anxiety, or he had Aspergers. His choice of venue to ask his question was not coercive.
A different category of questioners decided to attack the woman, rather than defend the man:
Are we sure this person even exists? Could she have made up the whole story? Is there any proof to back up what she says? She’s probably lying. She’s a feminist so she’s probably exaggerating her account to make the guy look bad. She’s done things in the past which justify treating her this way. It couldn’t possibly have been as bad as she makes out. I’m a woman, and that sort of thing wouldn’t bother me. So we have to coddle every woman in the world now? Shit happens, she needs to grow up and get a thicker skin. She’s just making drama as usual, over nothing at all. She’s hysterical. Why are we even bothering with this? Zero bad.
The common thing linking these sorts of comments is DENIAL. The writers of those comments couldn’t accept the story related – and not a terribly unbelievable story either – on face value. They had to ask questions, they had to minimise the woman’s experience, they had to rewrite every aspect of the entire encounter to exonerate the man, and they derailed the discourse by taking up all the oxygen in the discussion. PZ’s recent new rules for Pharyngula calls this last technique being a motormouth: when it happens I’ve seen a 500 comment thread be dominated by a single poster commenting over 100 of the comments, which is no longer a polite discussion: it’s someone trying to shout down everyone one else by using a megaphone and blaring away.
Now, to your comments, noting en passant that there’s more of them in the thread than any other contributor to the discussion – including the blog owner! – which is partly excusable by having an adversarial point of view that has led to back and forth discussion. Even so, you do seem to be thread hogging.
Your first sally in the comments (#38), as Natalie Reed pointed out, was to ask questions that not only had been answered by her in the original post: they were even tangentially addressed and answered by Erista (aka Eris) at comment #20 and the commenters who amplified the ideas in her comment in the sub-thread directly below in response to it. Yes, it’s okay to offer a contrary opinion but you need to actually engage with the objections to it raised by Natalie and the others, and your comment doesn’t do that: instead it minimises what the guy did and blames Natalie for not having a thicker skin. It’s a version of the zero bad argument, except the number isn’t zero. Even if it’s close to zero, if you stack up enough of them cumulatively you get to a level of bad that even you might not be prepared to tolerate – the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ argument Erista raised which you blithely ignored.
Your next reply (38.1.1) basically is a nihilistic ‘shit happens, shit is always going to happen’ therefore there is no point trying to deal with it, but ignore it as though it didn’t happen. What a great solution. Except, it did happen, and it had an effect. And as Natalie points out this is not an isolated happening, it is a pervasive pattern of random hostility towards people like us have to deal with more or less continually. Imagine it this way. For you, perhaps, it’s like you have the equivalent of a Geiger counter that occasionally goes off at a random shitty encounter: does it go off once a month for you? Because if I happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time mine will go off several times a minute.
Your 184.108.40.206.1 could have been summed up simply by stopping after your first question – the rest of it is really telling us things we already know. In common parlance, that’s telling Natalie and the rest of her readers to go suck eggs. Next time think of doing the tl;dr thing? And it’s also besides the point (as Natalie said).
Your 38.2.1 candidly says that although the questions you were asking had actually been answered by Natalie in the OP, “just because she has an answer to the questions i asked doesn’t mean I think they are good answers or even legitimate ones”. Nice. And then you go on to do one of the classic things I pointed out at the start, questioning the narrative: “(Quick question Natalie, did he spit on you or at the ground towards you?)” She’s already told you – read the OP – “We were passing on the sidewalk, and you presumably read me for trans. You sneered, spat at me in contempt” – my bold for emphasis as Natalie’s told you she was spat at. Does it really matter if the spittle reached her, or fell short of its target and fell to the sidewalk? Well obviously it does to you, because presumably if it hadn’t hit Natalie in the face or something, then it might perhaps have been less rude than if it had. If you don’t mind me saying, I’d call that level of hair-splitting and presumption a pretty fucked up attempt at minimising or exonerating unacceptably rude behaviour, and I really hope that was not your intention in asking it. And you then went on to point out that because the guy could have been ruder than he actually was (bullying Natalie by following her and continuing to abuse her) you are content to write him off in the exact manner I highlighted: “As I said before, this is more a lack of manners and tact.” Manners and tact? So, not spitting at people is tact?
In 220.127.116.11.1 you give us a useful piece of information that you are not transgender, and “I am not claiming to have equivalent experiences to yours.” Damn right. So why don’t you actually listen to the people who do have those experiences of being transgender, for fuck’s sake. You go on to say, “So for all the understanding you are claiming to want from others, please do not make snap judgments about me, who I am, and what I am capable of understanding.” On the basis of your failure to engage with the issues from your very post onwards, I have to say: you’re not proving to be very capable at understanding this topic. Try harder.
18.104.22.168.1 states your lack of understanding as to why Natalie wrote this thread. Simple, bigotry has to be exposed and recognised for what it is to be rebutted, and Natalie’s post analyses why it was not simply rudeness at work here, it was almost certainly* bigotry. (* Of course we can’t know that for certain, but it seems a good working theory with plenty of evidence from attitudes in the rest of society.) And your plaint that you are “not condoning at all what he did” sounds very insincere coming after the previous comments which more or less did attempt to partially excuse it.
22.214.171.124.1 sympathises with a queer woman and relates your anecdote that the “many gay and lesbian individuals” of your acquaintance “have never felt threatened in the way you have and certainly not in the constant manner you describe”. Perhaps we should ask where you live? Or perhaps we should consider another possibility, which is that your gay and lesbian friends don’t bother telling you about the occasions when they have been threatened because you’re perhaps not very good at listening to these sorts of anecdotes and offering appropriate responses?
126.96.36.199.1 is more theorising to get the guy off the hook. “It might have freaked him out and he reacted with a gut reaction.” Read more about the “gay panic” reaction (in this case it’s “trans panic”). “It is regrettable that he acted the way he did.” No. That’s really fucked up right there.
188.8.131.52.1 is offering an apology to Erista (aka Eris) who has ostensibly been angered by the things you’d said up to this point – and I really can’t blame her for such a reaction.
184.108.40.206.1 is you denying that you’ve been JAQing off in the thread (you should re-read your comment 38.2.1), denying that you’ve blamed Natalie for her part (you should re-read your comment 38), and attempt to employ the excuse that “I was merely making suggestions, attempting to have a discussion. In any case, I was trying to be helpful, not confrontational.”
220.127.116.11.1 is a response to a post by a trans woman who provided you with five equivalent anecdotes to Natalie’s. And then you gave the same bullshit response as 38.1.1, except with an attempt at a solution, unlike the earlier post. Again, it reads like an attempt to ask a person with way more experience in the topic at hand to suck eggs, because as Natalie immediately says, “do you really think this is some unique insight that hasn’t occurred to those of us dealing with this kind of thing?”
38.3.1 presents an interesting defence: you whine that because you are not transgender “I didn’t realize that meant my opinion is less valid.” On this topic, which is a transgender topic: your opinion is not less valid, but it IS far less RELEVANT because you have neither the life experiences nor the expertise that would better inform you on the subject. In other words, you are the amateur here, we are the experts. Assuming for a moment that you’re not an evolutionary biologist, would you go over to Pharyngula and dare to lecture to PZ Myers about your understanding of biology? So don’t come here and lecture to transgender people about transgender issues that they know inside and out, when you are not transgender yourself. How fucking difficult is that?
(I will concede that you do confess your relative ignorance in the second paragraph of the comment… followed by a final sentence which again is a case of telling someone who knows the subject intimately that there are lots of solutions. Well, d’err, herp a derp. Doesn’t mean these ‘solutions’ actually help all the issues: how could they?)
18.104.22.168.1 again asserts what you think is a productive response. Natalie disagrees. She’s the person who’s actually affected by things like this, so I think your disagreement, once stated, is pretty much the end of it. Unless you want to dictate how every other person prioritises the things they want to fix, and criticise them for having their priorities out of whack. (#firstworldproblems)
That’s almost the entire extent of your attempt to derail the thread with JAQing off, but you then added comment 67. You confess you’re a newbie to the blog. From an old hand here – I was on board SNR from Day 1, though of late I’ve been rather slack in commenting, entirely my fault – if you’re new to a place and unfamiliar with the culture, you will get a much better response by lurking for a while and listening to what people talk about before jumping in.
You complained that ‘I also refuse to accept that the color of my skin, my gender, my sexual orientation, or any other individual detail about me makes my opinion or experiences in this world less valid than anyone else’s.’ True. Except, none of those facts are actually relevant to the case at hand, which is the distinction I thoroughly took apart in my criticism of your 38.3.1 above. You have not been disrespected on the basis of your skin color, gender or sexual orientation. Your opinion is not viewed as less valid (you’re entitled to offer it, no problem), however it is viewed as far less relevant because you lack the particular experiences of the type that are germane to the discussion, and which are commonplace experiences for transgender people (like Natalie and others) and often not for cisgender people (like you).
When you don’t listen to the people with the relevant experience and speak dismissively from a demonstrated position of comparative ignorance, it is therefore both understandable and natural that there is a reaction of hostility towards you. If you think you have been mistreated in this thread, I really suggest you don’t frequent Pharyngula. By comparison with what your comments perhaps might deserve had you attempted to offer them at a far less friendly blog than this one, you’ve not been very badly treated at all when compared with the obvious offence that you’ve given to the trans* commenters here, and given very little in return by way of apology.
I am not desirous of you replying to my comment. On adversarial blogs it is common to have a back and forth dialogue, so that if X writes a 500 word criticism of Y’s points, then Y feels they need to rebutt X with 750 words. I’ve given you 2,000 words of minutely pointed criticism of your points. You could respond to every word I’ve said and every argument I’ve asserted. I think that would take another 5,000 words. Feel free to do it on my blog. But I’d really rather you didn’t. The basic reason for this is, nothing you have added here has helped the discourse. Commenters other than you were having a mature discussion at the graduate level. Your contributions demonstrated that you hadn’t even turned up to enough of the pre-Trans 101 lectures to be able to pass the entrance exam.
You are fucking up the discourse. Don’t do that. Shut up, listen, and learn.