Biology is always more complicated than you want to believe

I watched a little bit of a kerfuffle today as self-described “science groupie” Gia Milinovich decided to pontificate1 once again on the subject of sex and gender.

I follow a lot of feminists and trans* activists on Twitter, so I see people arguing against transphobic misunderstandings of biology pretty regularly. There are good responses to this line of argument; I always think back to Natalie Reed’s post on bilaterally gynandromorphic chickens and Skepchick Will’s response to the last time Gia pulled this out.

This time I foolishly decided to slip in a couple of remarks. In particular, I responded to this comment:

Which was so wrong it hurt. I pointed out what’s obvious to anyone who’s done ten minutes of reading on complications of gender, or who’s watched fucking “House,” would have:

Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome is a condition where cells don’t respond to androgen hormones, causing 46,XY individuals to present phenotypically as female, down to a (frequently shallow or undeveloped) vagina, breasts, and in rare cases, a fully-developed uterus and other “usual female mammalian reproductive parts.” Swyer syndrome is even more to the point, as those 46,XY individuals, due to undeveloped streak gonads, will develop into women capable even of pregnancy (through fertilized egg implantation) with only an administration of hormones. No “mutilative” surgeries necessary for XY females in either of those cases.

Unless, of course, this argument is circular, and you define female as “people without XY genotypes.” In which case you’d have to do a genetic test before referring to anyone by their gender, because of the sheer number of conditions (chimerism, mosaicism, Turner syndrome, Klinefelter syndrome, Perrault syndrome, Triple X syndrome, etc.) that exist in humans which make it difficult to judge someone’s sex chromosome makeup by looking at their phenotype alone. Which is the point I hinted at in that second tweet.

The appropriately-named “Dirt” replied to that second tweet with a link to their blog o’ transphobia, presumably as a way of rebutting my points. I glanced over it, and two things became apparent:

  1. This has little if anything to do with what I was talking about.
  2. SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET.

So an old-school fisking was in order! Oh, was it ever.

  • No one is born transgendered.

Note the complete lack of any support for this bald assertion. Watch it become a theme.

  • Transition is a medical invention of the 20th century created to “cure” homosexuality
  • Transgenderism can ONLY occur via medical intervention.
  • Lots of things can ONLY occur via medical intervention, such as the normal development of people with Swyer syndrome. So what? Medicine is great!

    Oh, here’s a fun game: any time they talk about “transgenderism” in a medical context, swap in “abortion,” just to see where these talking points are coming from.

  • Hormones used for transition can and do change personality AND sexual attraction. 
  • Hormones used for transition are the same hormones made by gonads. “Used for transition” is an unnecessary phrase here. We’ve all experienced the changes to personality and sexual attraction caused by hormones thanks to something called “puberty.”

  • ALL transition surgeries are UNNECESSARY.
  • Except to the people who need them.

  • ALL transition surgeries are barbaric, permanently mutilating once healthy body parts.
  • So are gauged ears and split tongues and tattoos. If it’s not your body, then why do you care?

  • Havelock Ellis, Magnus Hirschfeld  and Richard von Krafft-Ebing first linked homosexuality with inversion, in the early 20th century.
  • Inverts were males and females who were perceived as being inverted, such as female inverts having a “masculine soul, heaving in the female bosom“. In other words those who didnt subscribe to the Gender Straight Jacket.
  • “Old white male researchers lumped a bunch of superficially-similar groups together as a single pathology.” Not exactly breaking news.

  • It was during this time (1931) that Lili Elbe received and died from the first sex reassignment surgery. Elbe was most likely intersexed, as medical evidence at the time indicated. 
  • Hey, acknowledgement of an intersex condition! Surely this will lead the writer to recognize that sex is more complicated than a binary option completely determined by two chromosomes, right?

    Also, this story of Lili Elbe ignores the earlier case of “Dora R.” and fails to note that Lili Elbe died after her fifth SRS operation likely due to rejecting a transplanted uterus. Hey, doctors in the ’30s couldn’t do something that doctors today still can’t do. Guess there aren’t any trans people.

  • Harry Benjamin who was a friend of and highly influenced by Magnus Hirshfeld, was heavily interested in gay male drag shows where according to HB, “many of the customers appeared in the clothing of the other sex“.
  • Harry Benjamin is the father of transsexualism/transgenderism.
  • Even according to that Wikipedia article, Benjamin’s research on transgender issues largely began when Alfred Kinsey asked him to see/treat a male child who wanted to be female. Kind of pokes some holes in those “no one is born transgendered” and transgender being an invention notions. Moreover, it only takes about five minutes of looking into transgender history to learn about overlaps between the transgender and transvestite communities. When cross-dressing was illegal, it’s no surprise that people with similarly interested in it for different reasons would band together.

  • Viewing psychiatry through a Gender Straight Jacketed lens, Benjamin ignorantly assumed transvestites and gay men to be one and the same. 
  • HB believed gay men to all be effeminate.
  •  Most of Benjamin’s patients were female fetishizers he mistook for homosexuals.
  • No citations are given for these assertions. I like the term “female fetishizers” though, because its attempt to be specific and skewering really make it look like an indictment of objectification and the male gaze.

  • Within the first decade of SRS, female fetishizers created an underground snail mail communication system whereby female fetishizers knew beforehand what to say to HB and later SRS doctors that would enable them to be approved for SRS.
  • Marginalized groups found ways around a system that pathologized and marginalized them. So what?

    Also, try playing the abortion game with that one.

  • The main criteria for early SRS (and today still) is homosexuality or behaviour considered to be homosexual.
  • Our sexist, homophobic society doesn’t exactly spoon-feed people the terms or opportunities to sort out their sexualities and gender identities. There’s a lot of messiness as everyone who doesn’t conform to the socially-accepted standard susses things out, largely on their own. The existence of the Internet has certainly made it easier for people to find resources and vocabularies and support networks, but kids and teens who are uncomfortable with themselves and how their desires and bodies and mental images are changing still need to seek out that information. It’s not surprising that some would try to fit their particular issues into familiar terms or contexts, and the contexts for homosexuality are a lot more prevalent than the ones for transgender.

    Also, what “criteria”? Legal? Medical? “Regulatory organizations are slow to adapt to changing cultural and scientific understanding about marginalized groups” is the breaking news headline right under “White Dudes Oversimplify Minorities.”

  • The majority of transitions remain straight white males who have a twisted cock response to clothing labeled “girls” or “womens“. Males known as Autogynephiles or as I call them, Female Fetishizers. Males who fetishize the patriarchal Male Gaze constructed IDEA “woman/femininity”.
  • Again, no citations. And the sign of a solid scientific paper, “terms I just made up myself.” It’s worth linking to the criticisms section of that article, but it’s also worth looking at Blanchard’s approach as discussed in the opening paragraph. It’s all about sex, and specifically, all about attracting a particular kind of partner or achieving some sexual fantasy. That’s not just insultingly reductive (and characteristic of all manner of other homophobic and misogynist ideas about people–see also: any time a right-winger talks about gay sex or slutty clothes), it erases or eroticizes the experiences of transgender children–you know, like the one that introduced the previous cited researcher to the issue.

    It’d be way easier for Dirt if their cited sources weren’t so contradictory to their attempted points.

  • Female Fetishizers carry out transvestism to the Nth degree in search for greater and greater sexual highs.
  • Sure seems like a lot of money and pain and effort to expend just for pursuit of a sexual fetish. I mean, I know people go to extremes, but really? All transgender people?

    Take furries, for instance. There are those who indulge their fetish mostly online. There are those who dress up in animal suits and get together for sexual purposes. There are those who go out in the fursuits in public, trying to live as furries full-time. There are those who get body modification, altering their faces and tongues, getting tattoos, having eyebrow or horn or whisker implants, and otherwise “mutilating once healthy body parts.” You know what there isn’t? A disproportionately high rate of violence against furries compared to other populations. Or if there is, it’s neither studied nor publicized as far as I can tell. It seems that being a furry is a lot less dangerous than being transgender. Despite that, I think you’ll find a lot smaller percentage of furries trying to live full-time or undergo medical interventions than transgender people. Why is that?

    It gets back to the notion that sexuality is a choice: if it were, who would choose discrimination and violence and marginalization? Similarly, if transgender identity is just about some kind of sexual gratification, how many people are really going to weigh the options and decide that getting some jollies off is worth the cost and the pain and the threats of violence and murder?

  • The medical community didnt invest in sex changes until the Kinsey Reports of (1948) and (1953) which concluded at least 10% of the population was homosexual and 37% of males had had a homosexual experience.
  • It’s totally a coincidence that this is also when transgender individuals (pre-surgery!) were achieving some measure of media coverage and were forming organizations. I’m sure Dirt would point the causal arrow in a different direction than I would; Dirt would also neglect to read anything before that linked section of the article, and would handwave away the 30 years of SRS prior to the ’50s as “not investing.”

  • In the early seventies pro consensual pedophilia doctor John Money (notorious for experimenting on the intersexed) coined the term Gender Identity/Gender Roles.  
  • Gender Identity/Gender Roles are socially constructed via patriarchy, NOT organically created in the womb.
  • Money is (in)famous for being the doctor at the center of the case of David Reimer, who was raised as a girl after a botched circumcision, under Money’s direction. But Reimer’s case would really seem to be a blow to Dirt’s hypotheses here. See, Money believed, as Dirt does, that gender identity was an entirely social construct. It therefore followed that if Reimer were raised female, with an apparently female body and female hormones and the like, that Reimer would form a female gender identity. Money reported for years that the case was a successful validation of his belief in the social construction of gender.

    But it wasn’t. According to sexologist Milton Diamond, who worked with Reimer as an adult, the socialization didn’t take, and Reimer stopped identifying as female somewhere around the ages of 9 to 11, and began living as male at 14. As a teen, he was driven into suicidal depression.

    Hm…suicidal depression because your outward gender presentation doesn’t match your self-identification…where have I heard that kind of thing happening before?

    See, if Dirt and Money were right, Reimer should have grown up female with no real trouble2, since that’s how he was socialized, that’s what hormonal instructions his body was receiving. Unless there’s something more inborn or innate about gender, something distinct from hormones and patriarchy. Either gender is social or it’s biological (or, as is more likely the case, it’s a combination of both), but Dirt’s trying to pretend that there’s a sharp divide while trying to have it both ways. In neither way does the case of David Reimer help Dirt’s case.

  • Just as homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1973, Gender Identity Disorder was slipped in.
  • If you read the abstract Dirt links here, it actually makes the opposite point:

    Another point of controversy is the claim that the diagnosis of GIDC was introduced into the DSM-III in 1980 as a kind of “backdoor maneuver” to replace homosexuality, which was deleted from the DSM-II in 1973. In this article, we challenge this historical interpretation and provide an alternative account of how the GIDC diagnosis (and transsexualism) became part of psychiatric nosology in the DSM-III. We argue that GIDC was included as a psychiatric diagnosis because it met the generally accepted criteria used by the framers of DSM-III for inclusion (for example, clinical utility, acceptability to clinicians of various theoretical persuasions, and an empirical database to propose explicit diagnostic criteria that could be tested for reliability and validity).

    What is it with pseudoscientists and the inability to read?

  • The Trans Politic was created by straight white males-female fetishizers-using politics to further their pornographic urgers, not so dissimilar to NAMBLA’s political pedophilia via the Gay and Lesbian platform. 
  • Wow, ad hominem much?

  • Transition DOES NOT and CANNOT EVER change a person’s sex.
  • Define “change” and “sex.”

  • Transition is purely a cosmetic and legal “sex change“.
  • Even if it were, so what?

  • Gay males who transition do so out of internalized homophobia, usually within a hyper masculine minority culture amid the larger white culture.
  • Yes, because if there’s one thing we know about the larger homophobic white culture, it’s how non-misogynist and trans-friendly it is.

  • Since gay white male popularity and large media visibility, gay white male transitions have drastically decreased to near nonexistence. 
  • Citation please. Seriously, I spent some time looking for even just a breakdown of transgender prevalence by race, and couldn’t find it. The best I found was an overall summary of LGBT population and an estimate by Los Angeles county of their transgender stats. If these statistics exist, I’d love to see them.

  • In quantity, lesbian transition was largely unheard of until the backlash against feminism rode its Trojan horse-Queer Theory-into academia and then the Lesbian community.
  • Yeah, we’ll ignore the women who lived as men and married women dating back to the early 19th century.

  • A huge phase of feminist backlash is hyper-femininity.
  •  Not until hyper-femininity began reaching new undreamed of heights did dykes begin transitioning in numbers. 
  • As hyper femininity began being hammered upon younger and younger women/girls, Trans Trending among lesbian youth took off.
  • I do not see the thread. Wasn’t there hyper-femininity before feminism? Why isn’t this also due to internalized homophobia?

  • Transitioning children has been rare due to the lack of legal medical grounds to do so.
  • Since the recent publication of the DSM5 which includes transitioning children, the trans kid phenomena has skyrocketed. 
  • “Now that doctors think this treatment might be acceptable, more people are doing it!” What a newspaper this person runs.

  • Trans kids are considered children who do not sport the Gender Straight Jacket.
  • You strung some words together there but it’s a real shame they don’t actually make sense in that arrangement.

  • Trans kids if left alone will grow up in most cases to be healthy gay and lesbian adults.
  • Oh I see, the point of that previous point was to define “trans kids” broadly enough so it encompasses all gender-nonconforming individuals, from homosexual all the way out to trans and genderqueer and whatnot. That way, you can bootstrap this claim, since you’ve already defined “trans kids” to include “kids who never actually identify as trans and are actually gay or bi, but have a non-gender-conforming interest in musicals or softball.”

    Also, note “in most cases.”

  • Homophobic parents are transitioning their children rather than have a gay son or lesbian daughter.
  • Because homophobes are so much more accepting of transgender people. And hormones and surgeries are way less expensive than kicking the kid out or shoving them in the closet.

  • Transitioning children IS an overt attempt to eradicate gays and lesbians in their youth.
  • It’s not doing a very good job.

  • Hormone blockers used to “treat” GI-gender in-congruence in children are dangerous and life threatening.
  • Can I just note the hilarity of that link? It links to another post on Dirt’s blog. Can’t bother to even link an independent article about the drugs. From a cursory look, Lupron’s side effects don’t seem very sinister, and pages for trans youth make the counterpoint that they reduce the need for future surgery and reduce the depression and anxiety associated with gender dysphoria. Of course, that requires you to view transgender people as actual people who can make their own decisions and honestly report their experiences and intentions and motivations, and not as men driven by lust to mutilate their bodies for sexual purposes.

    Ugh, I just realized how that rooted that attitude is in seeing women only as objects of sexual pleasure and not as people.

  • Transition is the ONLY treatment for modern MENTAL illness that barbarically removes or rearranges healthy body parts for its cure.
  • I’d like to see the citation for this one.

  • The GID/GI diagnoses requires the patient be suffering from dysphoria (severe uncomfortableness with the body or how the body is viewed by society).
  • Female fetishizers who make up most transitions NEVER suffer from dysphoria.
  • Well, that omits most of the trans* people I follow online then, because I see them discussing feelings of dysphoria fairly frequently.

  • ALL females suffer from varying degrees of dysphoria.
  • Oh, I see. You’ve broadly redefined “dysphoria” too–or, more accurately, equivocated between “dysphoria” (the opposite of euphoria) and “gender dysphoria,” which is the component of GID diagnosis. Note that Dirt doesn’t link to the Wikipedia page on gender dysphoria, despite liberally linking to Wikipedia in other points. This may be because the opening paragraph states:

    Evidence suggests that people who identify with a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth may do so not just due to psychological or behavioral causes, but also biological ones related to their genetics, the makeup of their brains, or prenatal exposure to hormones.

    Complete with a little superscripted link to an actual peer-reviewed medical journal article on the subject. Curse that evidence, always getting in the way of bigotry and pseudoscience.

  • Yet lesbians remain the prime females receiving transition as a cure for their dysphoria.
  • Children do not suffer from dysphoria, yet those suspected of being gay or lesbian are being labeled trans and transitioned.
  • We’ll ignore all those children cited in your links who experienced gender dysphoria. Also, this.

  • Transition has NEVER cured anyone of their dysphoria.
  • Dysphoria relief from transition is temporary.
  • Dysphoria increases over time post transition.
  • These seem like testable hypotheses. Perhaps it would be good to find and link to studies which evaluated them.

  • Outside of transition, no therapy has been used to ease dysphoria or attempt to cure it.
  • From that Wikipedia article on Gender Identity Disorder again: “Until the 1970s, psychotherapy was the primary treatment for GID. Psychotherapy is any therapeutic interaction that aims to treat a psychological problem. Though some clinicians still use only psychotherapy to treat GID, it is now typically used in addition to biological interventions as treatment for GID.”

    Man, if only Dirt had read that article, they wouldn’t have looked quite so silly.

  • Transition drugs have no serious long term studies and have caused cancer and other complications in trans persons.
  • Considering that “transition drugs” are basically the same hormones prescribed for other types of hormone therapy, this claim is flat-out ludicrous. Yes, there are links between certain hormones and certain kinds of cancer, but not just in trans people (for instance, breast cancer in postmenopausal women undergoing HRT). Some links of note: 1, 2.

  • Once the trans person passes as the opposite sex, there is a perpetual mental fear and stress of being found out.
  • All the troubles that lead the trans person to transition do not magically go away post transition, in fact many more new troubles arise.
  • Certainly none of that is impacted by people believing that transition is done purely for sexual gratification and that trans* organizations are just like NAMBLA.

  • Cis is an organic chemistry term trans persons use misogynistically to attack primarily feminist and separate themselves from non transitioners.
  • “Cis” is a term from chemistry, meaning the opposite of trans (similar to “straight” as the opposite of “queer”). How it’s “misogynistic” is an exercise best left for the reader to decide.

  • Because the trans identity is self created, i.e weak, trans persons cannot fathom critical analysis of any kind.
  • Maybe because the critical analysis is all transphobic pseudoscientific bullshit like what you’ve spewed?

  • No one labeling themselves trans is a feminist.
  • Define “feminist.”

  • The foundation for transition is misogyny, and misogyny is the foundation for homophobia.
  • There’s some truth to the last half of that. But there’s a lot more misogyny in boiling women down to objects of sex and a pair of chromosomes or a particular anatomy than there is in transitioning.

  • Transphobia does not exist.
  • Maybe if you repeat that enough times, it’ll come true.

  • Trans persons attacked or murdered are done so because of homophobia and the foundation of homophobia-misogyny. 
  • I suspect there’s a lot of truth to that, too. But here you are, attacking trans people. Which are you, a homophobe or a misogynist?

  • Transition flourished because female fetishizers for decades have used the gay and lesbian political platform to advance their fetishes and inline with the leaders of the straight white homophobic medical community, hampered and out right destroyed gay and lesbian advancement and lives.
  • Now might be a good time to note the central roles that transwomen like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha Johnson played in the Stonewall Riots and otherwise agitating for LGBT rights. Yep, those “female fetishizers” right there, holding back the gay community.

  • Transition never ends, high dosing of hormones must continue the life of the trans person.
  • This is also true of many non-trans people. Again, talk to a postmenopausal woman or man with low testosterone sometime.

    To feminist reading this, if there is something you feel needs to be added, email or comment me.

    You really ought to add some facts, and remove all the rank bullshit.


    1. Even if we ignore all the complications of biological sex, this leaves a lot of women out of Gia’s category of women: the childless, the infertile, the prepubescent, the post-menopausal, women who have had hysterectomies or infibulations or oophorectomies, or whose sex organs incompletely developed. Gia’s womanhood is an exclusive , essentialist womanhood even before you discuss intersex or trans* conditions.

    2. Of course, given Reimer’s allegations about Money’s abusive treatments, he was probably going to develop complexes regardless. It’s just interesting to watch Dirt try to smear the trans community with Money’s unethical practices when his opinion of gender is the same as Dirt’s. If anyone’s smeared, it’s the “just a social construct” folks.

    Perspective

    Dear Muslimo

    Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you get stopped and harassed and interrogated and strip searched every time you try to travel . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you’re constantly judged based on superficial similarities to bad people, and you can’t live where you please without enduring rude questions and harassment from rubes who think you’re a terrorist or infiltrator, and the government is allowed to detain you indefinitely without trial if you behave suspiciously, and you’ll never be able to take a piloting class or run a marathon or buy fertilizer without ending up on a dozen watch lists. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor British brothers have to put up with.

    Only this week I heard of one, he calls himself “Richard Dawkins,” and do you know what happened to him? A TSA security agent took away his jar of honey. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He took his jar of honey. Of course he protested, and of course he knew the preexisting security rules, but even so . . .

    And you, Muslimo, think you have inconvenience, intrusion, and harassment to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

    Tom

    (Relevant History)

    The Moral High Ground

    I promise, I’ll be done with Atheismpluscrap after this, but they’re just such a bottomless pit of ignorance and cognitive dissonance that it’s hard to resist the urge to document it for posterity.

    Anyway, while I think most folks who sling around gendered slurs like they’re the height of discourse has already ceded the moral high ground, it’s not often that I get to see such a stunning display of blatant hypocrisy (or possibly incompetence; Atheismpluscrap is a bit like an ELIZA bot built to demonstrate the Dunning-Kruger Effect) in action. To whit:

    @atheismplusdogma: @Doubting_Tom it's duplicitous to call this movement atheism+

    (Screencap)

    I disagreed, but the point is that Atheismplusdogma appears to recognize that duplicity is bad. Later, I said this, in a candid moment:

    @Doubting_Tom: @atheismpluscrap I'm not particularly interested in atheism anymore, I can't speak for the movement. I barely participate.

    It’s true. I have an account on the Atheism+ forums, but I haven’t visited in quite some time, and got bored and disinterested pretty quickly after it started. I think it’s important to promote secular community and dismantle religious privilege, but “no gods exist” is one small, relatively insignificant, completely impractical thing I’ve learned about our vast universe. It has little more bearing on my life than the fact that unicorns and leprechauns don’t exist. I’ve grown far more concerned with the people and systems that do exist, and how we can make them better.

    Not to mention I’m tired of dealing with the puffed-up pseudointellectual bigot dudebros who have rallied around the term “atheist” and think that adopting it confers magical reason-powers on everything they do or say. People who think “gods don’t exist” is somehow the pinnacle of human knowledge are people who I have no interest in or respect for.

    Anyway, somehow that tweet got twisted by Atheismpluscrap into this:

    (Screencap)

    @atheismpluscrap: #AtheismPlus insider admits “they’re not interested in atheism”

    Now, Atheismpluscrap has had some difficulty understanding symbols and words, so maybe they just didn’t know that when you use those double quotation marks, especially after saying “X says,” you’re supposed to be quoting what another person has said verbatim. Deviating from that means you’re falsifying the quotation, and omitting relevant context is quote-mining. You know, of the sort that religious creationists do.

    It wasn’t the only time Atheismpluscrap used that tactic:

    @Doubting_Tom: Yep, one tweet is really all you need. "Gods don't exist" – and that takes care of atheism. What next?

    @atheismpluscrap: @Doubting_Tom all human beings should be treated equally. What next?

    @Doubting_Tom: @atheismpluscrap Well, next we determine the source of inequalities, and how to correct them. What are the logical conclusions of atheism?

    @atheismpluscrap: @Doubting_Tom if you're not a deceptive liar, explain why A+ tweet about feminism, based on your "what next" logic. Tripped up.

    @Doubting_Tom: @atheismpluscrap A+ tweet about feminism to draw attention to ways in which people (in this case, women) aren't treated equally. See, "all people should be treated equally" is prescriptive & suggests action. "Gods don't exist" is a conclusion. And as we say all the time to theists, you can't get from "gods don't exist" to any other action without other premises.

    Became…

    (Screencap)

    @atheismpluscrap: #AtheismPlus insider admits “it’s all about feminism, we tell theists there’s no god, end of”

    It’s silly, because Atheismpluscrap is a thoroughly unpleasant twit, but it’s enlightening to see such stark proof of the uselessness of “atheism.” As I said a couple of posts ago, there’s nothing about atheism that requires its adherents to be reasonable or consistent people, and here we have proof: a Twitterer who assigns phrenological meanings to Tweet/follower/following ratios, shifts goalposts with all the skill of a creationist, and openly flouts his hypocrisy:

    @Doubting_Tom: @atheismpluscrap Yes, I'm the one ho [sic] should be embarrassed, because you make accusations of duplicity then make up quotations.

    @atheismpluscrap: @Doubting_Tom that's what #AtheismPlus cunts are doing every day. Your cults tactics. Do you want the last word? Is it di important.

    There was a time when I thought being an atheist meant that someone had applied skepticism and good reasoning skills to the question of god’s existence. There was a time when I thought being an atheist meant rejecting the unreasonable, fallacious tactics of religion, and the reprehensible moral systems they promoted.

    I know better now.

    The Shocking Truth SHE Doesn’t Want You To Know About!!!1!

    Yesterday, I introduced you to the kinds of laughable conspiracy theories that can result when, like Twitterer Atheismpluscrap, you choose comforting delusions over unpleasant realities.

    But man, if you’re going to believe ridiculous things, you might as well go all-in, right? “Atheism plus is a covert religious group trying to discredit atheism by promoting fascist feminism” barely registers on the conspiracy theory wackyometer. Chart of conspiracy theories where craziness is on the x-axis going from less to more crazy as you go left to right, and where importance is on the y-axis, going from less to more important from bottom to top.It’s on the very bottom of this chart, and only slightly toward the right-hand side. So let’s help Atheismpluscrap out a bit by punching up their conspiracy.

    It all starts in Atlantis, a perfect society built on MRA principles, where the social recognition of women as inferior emotional sperm-vampires led to the development of a technologically-advanced continent the likes of which have not been seen since. When men are not distracted by the needs of and endless competition for women, there is no need for war or hierarchy. There was no need for stifling government in Atlantis, for the perfect free market directed all things, unsullied by feminine influence.

    This is not to say that women were mistreated in Atlantis; quite the contrary. They were well provided-for, never needing to work beyond mating. The lack of a system of marriage or paternity ensured that children would be raised by he community as a whole, without distracting men with the unnatural demands of monogamy and the so-called “nuclear family”–nuclear because it’s radioactive, causing a slow wasting-away death of both individual and society.

    Of course this hyper-rational, enlightened culture was atheistic. The concept of gods never even occurred to a society without the feminine invention of “faith,” or knowledge derived from womanly “feelings” and “intuition.”

    But then there were the Amazons, a warlike, man-hating, petty matriarchy living on the mainland. The influence of the Amazons on other cultures was what led to the development of most violence and disease in the Mediterranean and Middle East, and they pillaged technological advances from the men of those lands. They spread their philosophies of religion and feminism to indoctrinate women and enslave men to a system of faith-based “tradition,” installing an unachievable male ideal as the head of a system of gods which emphasized the notion that males and females could be equals.

    Atlantis had the oceans and its technology to protect it from the toxic influence of fascist feminism, but eventually those barriers were breached, the Amazons wearing away at their defenses until they could no longer stand the assault. Once the women of Atlantis began to believe the comforting myths of the Amazons, they rose up and demanded male enslavement, or male extermination. Some enlightened men escaped, but the knowledge and technology of Atlantis was scattered to the winds, and the island itself was lost forever.

    The Amazonian system of religion spread, changing here and there, but always holding men in an emasculating position subordinate to some greater man. This, along with the inventions of sex competition and marriage and paternity, created competition and hierarchy between men, and led to all wars and conflicts, all class stratification and government.

    There have been men who stood up to this system, but the system endures, striking them down whenever possible. Abraham Lincoln was a strong red-pill man, who recognized that all men were equal, superior to women, and so the feminazi woman supremacists had him killed by an effeminate thespian. John F. Kennedy was a virile red-pill man, openly flaunting the oppression of marriage and selecting multiple mates as any alpha deserves, so the gynotalitarian femifascists had him killed by a simpering beta who bought into the feminine collectivist lie of Communism. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were fearless red-pill men who openly spoke about putting women in their rightful places, so with the help of manginas like George Harrison and Eric Clapton, they emasculated John with a forced feminazi marriage and killed and replaced Paul with a beta-male double. When John still wouldn’t cooperate, openly promoting the rational standards of world peace and atheism, compelling people to throw off the government shackles and make a new society, they had him killed by a beta who was infatuated with a book about a frustrated, emasculated mangina.

    Whenever men have banded together to fight hysteroppresion, women have subverted their organizations. The Illuminati began as an enlightened male attempt to get back to the roots of rationalist male primacy, but was subverted from within by false doctrines about gender equality. Now, it’s another arm of the gynocracy, secretly manipulating subservient beta-males (e.g., Obama) into positions of world power, and opposing the alphas who make it there through sheer force of manliness (e.g., Putin, Clinton). Freemasonry was much the same, beginning as a masculine attempt to exalt manly physical labor and building things, but subverted by female-controlled betas into being obsessed with girly secrets and fashion accessories and hierarchies.

    And now atheism has risen up to battle the evils of feminist religion, and it’s strengthened through alliances with Men’s Rights Advocates and libertarianism. Each of the three groups has a pillar of Atlantean social perfection, which is why feminists are so afraid of them. If they aren’t stopped, then Atlantis may rise again, and this time thanks to globalization and the Internet, the whole world would be part of the glorious Atlantean perfection.

    With the control of the FemIlluminati, it’s easy to marginalize libertarians, because the few red-pill elected men like Ron Paul can’t get a foothold in the woman-defined system. With the power of Pussy Control over emasculated beta-men, it’s easy to marginalize MRAs as “misognynist” and “sexist” and creep shame them. But atheism isn’t so easy to marginalize, because it’s so obviously correct with its foundations in masculine science and reason. The enlightened red-pill men who reject feminine religion are too rational and intellectual to fall for the other lies of the hegematriachy. So feminists must resort to other methods to strangle the nascent Atlantean perfection before it leaves its crib.

    And that method is Atheism Plus, atheism tainted with the lies of feminism and run by subservient lickspittle beta-males like P.Z. Mayers who are controlled by female supremacists and their fanatic religious adherence to feminist dogma. By insinuating themselves into atheism, they plan to subvert it just like 18th-century radfems subverted the Illuminati, by diverting its efforts and energy to hopeless, unrelated causes, and causing internecine strife by imposing a hysterical hierarchy and forcing inter-male competition for atheist female mates. If they succeed, the rational power of atheism will be scuttled, and the resources that remain will be redirected toward supporting the gynocratic rule of the shadow matriarchy, setting back the rebirth of the perfect Atlantean system, perhaps beyond reclamation.

    This is why the alliance between atheists, MRAs, and libertarians is so vital, and why the feminarchist powers are so keen to silence liberated red-pill alpha-males like Michael Shermer and Richard Dawkins and Penn Jillette and The Amazing Atheist. Their natural male power and charisma can’t help but convince people, even semi-rational women, and drive them toward the natural state of humanity, which is the restoration of the Atlantean standard. We need only protect, amplify, and follow these voices, and we can defeat hysteriarchical gynofascist tittytalitarianism forever!

    There we go. That’s a ludicrous conspiracy theory. If you’re going to be so unrealistic and unreasonable as to believe in a comforting conspiracy theory, that’s a respectable theory to buy into. Anything else just makes it look like you’re sacrificing reason and evidence and skepticism for nothing.

    On Our Team

    I knew someone calling themselves “atheismpluscrap” wasn’t likely to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but some of their stuff got retweeted into my timeline today, and it presented me with amusement, fodder for the “skeptics being profoundly unskeptical” tag, and an opportunity for a teachable moment. So, what the hell, here’s a blog post.

    My involvement began when I saw these gems, in response to this tweet by Helenarth (hooray for clever puns!):
    atheismpluscrap1
    The relevant quotations:

    @Helenarth: @atheismpluscrap How can someone be a “fake” atheist? / @ool0n

    @atheismpluscrap: @Helenarth they join #AtheismPlus and say they’re atheists in order to discredit atheism. In actual fact they are religious @ool0n

    @atheismpluscrap: @ool0n <- proven to be deceitful 40,000 followers for his bot almost overnight. Check how many twts about atheism. He's a theist @Helenarth

    @Helenarth: @atheismpluscrap Wait, so not tweeting about atheism = theist? @ool0n

    @atheismpluscrap: @Helenarth in a faction called Atheism+ but doesn't tweet about atheism. Has a block list of atheists. Argues with atheists, never theists

    That’s where I came in. See, Atheismpluscrap seems to have a misunderstanding about the definition of “atheism,” which is the lack of belief in gods. You’ll notice that nowhere in that definition is there anything about block lists of atheists, arguing with atheists, or arguing with theists. The sole qualification for being an atheist is lacking belief in gods, just as the sole qualification for being a theist is believing in at least one god. This is particularly funny since, in my looking for those tweets to screencap, I found Atheismpluscrap chiding another Twitterer for “hav[ing] trouble with simple word definitions” ([link] [screencap]).

    So anyway, I pointed out this little definition problem:

    @Doubting_Tom: @atheismpluscrap @helenarth And strangely, none of those traits are necessary to be a theist. In fact, only one trait is.

    I’ll admit here that I hadn’t seen the conspiratorial second tweet up there; I was just amused by an atheist trying to prove that they could determine a person’s beliefs through a No True Scotsman argument. So I was a little surprised to see the conspiracy theory come raging forth:

    @atheismpluscrap: @Doubting_Tom if he's discrediting atheism by pretending to be an atheist he won't wear a cross, dumb ass

    Not entirely sure how you discredit atheism, since it’s just a lack of belief in gods. I suppose you could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that gods exist, but that’s about it.

    But what Atheismpluscrap is doing here is something we’ve seen quite a bit of in the atheoskeptisphere, with different variations. The “X isn’t a real atheist, but is a theist trying to make us look bad” argument gets pulled out from time to time. S.E. Cupp is a common target, but really any conservative or religion-friendly atheist is going to get it at some point, and probably some of the bigger assholes too. Basically any atheist that any other atheist might be embarrassed by.

    Another common variant is “X is a secret atheist,” which got trotted out about Barack Obama a lot in the early years of his presidency, and got bandied about regarding Mother Teresa when letters about her crisis of faith surfaced. The historical spin on this is “If X were around today, they’d be an atheist,” which we see about most of the Founding Fathers at one point or another.

    And in every case, it’s about wishful thinking. It’s all about seeing atheism/skepticism as a team, and wanting to have the right people on your team. We like to think that because we’ve adopted a label and started slinging around the word “community,” that it means we have more in common than just a lack of belief in gods. We like to think that we arrived at the right conclusion for the right reasons, and that the people who agree with us did as well. We like to think that being an atheist is a sign of being super-rational, and like to imagine that other atheists are similarly super-rational. And I suspect a lot of that is because the surge in atheism and the building of an atheist community, over the last several years, comes on the backs of books and campaigns by scientists and philosophers who came to their atheism from positions of scientific skepticism. There’s a lot of overlap between the atheist and skeptic communities, and that overlap creates a lot of impressions which aren’t necessarily true.

    And chief among them is the notion that anyone who values reason, logic, science, or skepticism is necessarily an atheist, and vice versa. When we encounter unreasonable atheists, we feel like they’re giving us a bad name and want to make it clear that they don’t represent us, that they’re not on our team. And when we encounter reasonable people who don’t profess atheism, we like to imagine that they’re just keeping it a secret, but they actually are on our team. We like to believe this because it’s comforting and validating.

    Unfortunately, like many comforting and validating beliefs, it’s also false.

    There are many paths to rejecting the belief in gods, and skepticism is only one of them. Being skeptical about some things doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re skeptical about everything, or that you’re exercising skepticism properly and not dipping into denialism. Being a scientist or science enthusiast doesn’t necessarily mean that you understand things beyond your expertise, or that you’re applying skepticism. And none of those suggest that you’re a worthwhile person to be around.

    And anyone who’s paid any attention should be able to rattle off a dozen examples off the top of their head. Bill Maher is an atheist who’s an alt-med proponent and science denialist. Penn & Teller are skeptical atheists who used their show to promote global warming denialism. Linus Pauling was a two-time Nobel laureate who blundered his way into promoting vitamin megadosing pseudoscience. And in terms of assholery, you’ve got the racism and Islamophobia of guys like Dawkins and Harris and Pat Condell, the disgusting misogyny of guys like the Amazing Atheist and Thunderf00t, and plenty of patronizing, smarmy douchebags.

    It’s tempting to think that they’re not really atheists, but what reason do we have to doubt that? There’s nothing about being an atheist that keeps you from believing all manner of ridiculous things, just ask the Raelians. We have to come to grips that not everyone who agrees with us on one thing will agree on other things, and that not everyone comes to beliefs through reason and logic. The scary thing is that it suggests that maybe we’re not as reasonable as we think we are.

    Rather than face that discomfort, however, folks like Atheismpluscrap follow the train of logic that results from it: if they’re not really atheists, they must be theists. If they’re actually theists, why do they call themselves atheists? It must be to make atheists look bad.

    Because apparently that’s something that theists are worried about, despite the fact that many of them seem to think atheists are all just amoral hedonists. And the way they choose to make atheists look bad is by…setting up a block bot to serve a particular subset of atheists, and arguing with some atheists on Twitter. So no, that block bot can’t be for a subset of atheists. In fact, all of Atheism Plus must be some kind of religion trying to infiltrate atheism and bring it down from the inside. And they’ll do that by promoting feminism and social justice issues. Because…profit?

    Like any conspiracy theory, it falls apart when you consider motivations and scope and Occam’s Razor. The most parsimonious explanation is that these are simply other people who lack belief in god but disagree with you on other points. I don’t deny that The Amazing Atheist probably is, in fact, an atheist. I think he’s also a giant frothing asshole and the only amazing thing about him is his bigotry and ego. There’s not really a contradiction there, much though one might wish there were.

    I flippantly pointed this out to Atheismpluscrap:

    @Doubting_Tom: @atheismpluscrap @Helenarth "Discrediting atheism"? That's some conspiracy theory you've got there, chief. Ever hear of Occam's Razor?

    Atheismpluscrap responded by asking “ru in a+ ?” as if it had any bearing on whether or not his conspiracy theory had any validity. They liked my next tweet, which lampooned the conversation:

    @Doubting_Tom: So-called atheist throwing out No True Scotsman arguments is worried about fakers discrediting atheism. Almost ironic.

    I wished in that moment that they’d had the word “skeptic” in their ‘nym, since it would have made the irony less Morissettian. But Atheismpluscrap apparently lacked the reading comprehension to get that I was making fun of them:
    Atheismpluscrap4

    @atheismpluscrap: @Doubting_Tom I agree with you. I’m glad you too have rumbled A+. Welcome aboard

    It’s the same cognitive error there: Atheismpluscrap agreed with what I said, so they assumed I must also be against Atheism Plus and on-board with their conspiracy ravings. I suspect at that point was when they bothered to have a look at my timeline, because their next tweet was this:
    Atheismpluscrap5

    @atheismpluscrap: @Doubting_Tom 21721 tweets 399 followers. Mmmmm. Maybe social interaction isn’t for you? #Boring #incoherent #AtheismPlus

    As arguments go, it’s a swing and a miss. How many tweets I’ve written and how many followers I have has no real bearing on whether or not Atheismpluscrap’s conspiracy theories are reasonable, nor does it have any bearing on the truth of any of my comments. It’s a bog-standard argument from popularity fallacy, and the sort of thing that, as a skeptic and atheist, I’m embarrassed to see from another atheist.

    But I don’t doubt that Atheismpluscrap is an atheist–even though by their standards, I should. After all, Atheismpluscrap argues with atheists, tweets obsessively about atheism plus, and even compliments theists! By their own reasoning, we should assume that Atheismpluscrap is a mole out to make atheists look bad by slinging around words like “fascism” and “cunt” in order to make atheists look hateful and stupid.

    But Atheismpluscrap is not good at reasoning, which is why we don’t come to that conclusion. Instead, we use the principle of parsimony to accept their word regarding religious belief, and recognize that there’s nothing preventing an atheist from being that kind of hateful twit. Atheismpluscrap is on Team Atheist, embarrassing though that may be, and that’s something everyone else on Team Atheist has to deal with.

    Why, it’s almost enough for a group of team members to split off and form their own team.

    The Tendency to See Only What We Want to See

    I’m white, straight, male, able-bodied and cisgendered. While I’ve been in debt (still am, and probably always will be), I’ve never been poor. I have a college education and an underpaying but still middle-class, professional-level job. I live in the United States. I have never known oppression or poverty. I have never been subjected to discrimination on the basis of my race or gender or sexual orientation. The closest I’ve come is a couple of times when I was a teenager, where I was followed around a store by an employee, and in one instance, forced to talk to a manager because of a baseless accusation of vaguely-defined wrongdoing.

    The fact that I was a white teenager meant that such treatment was rare enough that I still remember both instances; the fact that I was a white teenager means that such treatment stopped when I grew older.

    Being a part of the majority means that I can turn it off. All the injustice and discrimination, all the mistreatment and institutionalized bigotry, I can tune it out. It never affects me, at least, not directly. I’m insulated–so insulated that even now, when I try to force myself to see it all, I can only get glimpses and best guesses.

    We talk about imagining what it’s like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. It’s a neat metaphor, and one of the most memorable bits of one of my favorite novels, but it’s still just a metaphor. I can try on someone else’s shoes and walk around for a bit, but they’ll never fit me right, and I have the luxury of taking them off and wearing something more comfortable. For minorities? I imagine it’s a bit like having Barbie feet:

    barbie_feet2

    Destined only for heels and wedges.

    Or, perhaps more accurately, bound feet.

    There is only one axis I know of where I fall out of the majority, and that’s religion. I’m an atheist, and I have been for some time now. And since I’ve adopted that label and outlook, I’ve noticed all the little things. All the times I’ve had to bite my tongue at work or at family gatherings or at my own wedding. I’ve panicked about people finding out, and wondered what effects that would have on my life. I’ve noticed all the little ways that my culture legitimizes and benefits religious ideas and people. I’ve seen the assumptions that people blithely make about the religious and nonreligious, the stereotypes and myths they repeat and spread–“you don’t have the right to push your atheism into government and schools” or “if I were an atheist, I’d just rape and murder people” or “aren’t you sad that your life has no meaning” or “what’s the big deal about the Pledge of Allegiance? It’s just tradition.” And I’ve let those slide rather than potentially ending up in arguments or revealing too much about myself. Mostly I’ve seen how blind most people are to all of it, never considering that the Pledge of Allegiance or tax-free churches or “teach the controversy” might be a problem.

    I couldn’t turn that off. It affected me, even if it was mostly because of minor annoyances stacking up over time. And noticing that, noticing that society was structured in ways that inherently privileged religions and the religious, was what got me to start noticing that other groups are privileged in similar ways. And that I belonged to most of those groups. And just as I know how hard it is to get religious people to consider things from my perspective when they’ve absorbed all manner of misinformation from society, I can see how hard it would be for a person of color or woman or trans* person or disabled person or non-heterosexual person to explain to me what it’s like and how it sucks for those little annoyances and injustices to stack up on each other. I know they hear the same kinds of myths and questions–“Black History Month? How come there’s no white history month?” or “what if I go into the girls’ bathroom or locker room and just say I felt trans* for the moment?” or “if I were on welfare, I’d just sit around and have kids too–who wants to work?” or “how can you change the definition of marriage? It’s tradition!”–and I know that those come along with a lot more discrimination and disenfranchisement and danger than I’ve ever felt for being a nonbeliever.

    Which is one of many reasons why it’s so weird to be accused of seeing only what I want to see. Because as a straight, white, able-bodied, cisgendered, educated middle-class man, I have the luxury of being able to do just that, if I want. I can tune out the bigotry and the discrimination and believe that the world is a just place. I can believe that equality under the law means that social equality has been achieved, that minorities are just looking for extra rights above and beyond equal treatment, and that the worst injustice one might face now is a single-gender gym or hearing a prayer at a high school football game. I can go about my life assuming that I got where I am because of my own skills and talents, and that affirmative action and social safety nets are just ways of lowering the bar for the inferior and promoting generations of lazy drains on society and criminals. I can trust in the powers that be, secure in my knowledge that even the smallest crime which victimizes me will be treated seriously by the police, and that regulations are burdens on businesses that force them to do things which aren’t popular or profitable–because if they were, the businesses would do them already. I can watch TV and movies and never worry that I’ll be unable to identify with the characters, never worry that every straight white guy on TV will fall into the same stereotypical mold. I can walk home alone at night, or go out drinking and know that the worst consequences I’ll face are a hangover and maybe some crude drawings in Sharpie on my face, and that I’d hardly be blamed for either one happening. If I tuned out all the stuff I’ve begun noticing and reading about over the last several years, the oversimplified, black-and-white, “just world” that in some ways I’m programmed to see.

    But that’s not the world that actually exists. And as a skeptic, I’d rather face a harsh reality than a comforting truth. I don’t want to see people I admired doing terrible things. I don’t want to see people in power abusing that power at the expense of the less powerful. I don’t want to see my bookshelf increasingly clogged with tomes by people I no longer respect. I don’t want to see the ways that I’ve contributed to and benefited from a system that harms people who aren’t like me. I see those those things not out of some perverse wishful thinking, but because they’re real.

    And I wonder about the people who reject complex, ugly reality for facile faith in an oversimplified perception of a just social order, who still call themselves “skeptics.”

    Meme Debunking #4: The Faceless Troll Horde

    A group of multicolored troll toys. In my last post, Tim Farley seemed preoccupied with the notion of “anonymous trolls” to the point where he seemed incredulous that non-anonymous non-trolls could both have stellar credentials and also, even if just on occasion, be bullies, harassers, and assholes on Twitter.

    It seems like a symptom of this larger notion that Amanda Marcotte dissects at length in this Raw Story post that everyone else but me has read already. Here’s the relevant section (but read the whole thing):

    But as awful as trolls are, they do serve a major purpose, if people are willing to accept that these are actual people expressing actual opinions, instead of imagining them, as too many people do, as almost a force of nature that the internet willed into existence and not people at all. That purpose is revealing that misogyny exists and it is widespread.
    […]
    That’s why it’s uncomfortable to have so many people insist that there’s an easy fix for troll targets, the “ignore the bullies and they’ll go away” fix, usually spouted by people who haven’t considered for a moment that the trolls may very well be actual people who are trying to protect and perpetuate sexism.

    We have this tendency to see “trolls” as an anonymous, faceless other, the Vashta Nerada of the Internet, existing in the shadows, omnipresent, and without intent beyond “lulz” or identity beyond stereotypes about neckbeards and basements. It’s a compelling notion, because it allows us to engage in that “it can’t happen to me” kind of wishful thinking. Trolls aren’t people you know, they’re other people. Abusers and harassers can’t be speakers and comedians, they’re other people. People who are apparently just trolls, just anonymous, because we have a very hard time thinking in complex terms about people in general. If a person does good in one arena, it makes us think they must do good in all arenas. It’s hard to believe that your favorite director molested an underage girl, that your college buddy is a date rapist, that the prominent figure in your movement whose books you own has some unexamined sexist beliefs and doesn’t take criticism well. People tend to respond in three ways to these kinds of revelations: denial, defense, and denunciation.

    The first allows one to sidestep the cognitive dissonance entirely, and maintain that simplistic worldview that heroes are heroes and only do hero things, villains are villains and only do villain things, and there’s no in-between. Great for cartoons, not so much for real life.

    The second relies on the very shaky notion that there’s some virtue in having one’s scales balanced between harmful and helpful actions, or even having a surplus of helpful to balance out the harm. “Yes, Ted beat his wife, but what about all that time he’s put in at the soup kitchen?” It’s a desperate position, and I think largely an untenable one.

    The third is more difficult to accomplish, I think, and not a perfect response either. You go from support to opposition in a single turn, and simply change which black-and-white category you’re slotting the person into.

    Much harder is recognizing the cognitive and social biases involved in our relationships with people, and recognizing that people can both help and harm, and that one doesn’t necessarily excuse the other. Trolls are people, and some of them are probably people you know. Statistically, you probably know a rapist and almost certainly know multiple rape victims, just as surely as you know divorced people and southpaws. We get nowhere by thinking of trolling (and other forms of bullying and harassment) as some inevitable thing perpetrated by a faceless, unknown force. Only by recognizing reality in all its discomforting complexity, can we actually address the problems.