QotD: “The piece, which was written by science reporter Jesse Singal, was thorough, nuanced, impeccably researched and fact-checked, and it caused an immediate firestorm”
I generally try to stay out of Twitter drama, which leaves me feeling like high school didn’t end, it just moved online, but yesterday I made an exception. It started early in the morning, after the Atlantic published its July/August cover story on trans kids, detransition, and the conflict some parents have when their kids come out to them as trans. The piece, which was written by science reporter Jesse Singal, was thorough, nuanced, impeccably researched and fact-checked, and it caused an immediate firestorm. On Twitter, Roxane Gay said it was a travesty. Lena Dunham called it dangerous. Nicole Cliffe, a woman who has literally never spoken to the author in her life, said that Singal is “obsessed” with trans women. She also called him creepy.
“Mad” doesn’t quite capture my response to these tweets. I was enraged, particularly at Cliffe, a writer who should know better than to smear someone she’d never met to her 81,000 followers. Unlike Cliffe, I’ve actually met Singal, and he is not “obsessed” with trans women. He reports on social science, including the science (or lack thereof) of gender. He was, quite literally, doing his job, and, if you follow Singal on Twitter, you’ll quickly find that if he’s obsessed about anything, it’s basketball, not trans women. The irresponsibility of Cliffe’s tweet, which has more than 4,000 likes and 1,000 retweets, was astounding—but it shouldn’t have been. This is how Twitter works: You repeat something, no one bothers to fact check, and all of a sudden, it’s treated as fact. Jesse Singal is obsessed with trans women. I read it on Twitter, therefore it’s true.
Of course, I wasn’t only enraged at the treatment of Singal because I like him and think he’s a good reporter. I was also enraged because the dog-piling of Jesse Singal echoed my own dog-piling, which happened almost exactly one year ago and for exactly the same reason: Like Singal, I also wrote an article about detransition. From the response to my piece, you would think that I’d written that trans people don’t exist or shouldn’t have access to medical care or deserve to be beaten in the streets. I wrote none of those things—and, in fact, went out of my way to include the voices of happy trans people and affirm trans identities and the need for trans health care—but it didn’t matter. I was quickly pegged as transphobic, not because of the content of my piece but because I, a cis woman, had the audacity to write it.
This, apparently, was many people’s problem with Singal, and they took to Twitter to argue that this article should have been written by a trans person instead. It’s the same argument that came up, over and over, when people were yelling at me and burning stacks of The Stranger last year, and it’s no less ludicrous now than it was then.
The idea that you must be a part of a demographic to write about it is contrary to the very nature of reporting: The job of the reporter is to listen to and relay other people’s stories, but it’s also to look for evidence, to dig into claims, to get at the truth. If you want all your stories to come directly from the source’s mouth, enjoy getting all of your news from social media. Besides, if people only wrote about populations they fit in, that would mean that I’m only allowed to write about 35-year-old lesbians from North Carolina and Jesse is only allowed to write about Boston Jews who love the Celtics and, sorry trans writers, but no more cis stories for you. Hope you don’t want to cover politics. According to this logic, the White House press corps would have to be made up of 70-year-old men with giant egos and tiny brains. Anyone writing about immigrant children separated from their families in Texas would have to be an immigrant child separated from their family in Texas. If that’s what people want, okay, but good luck effecting any sort of political change in a media ecosystem like that. You can’t argue for visibility and then claim that no one is allowed to write your stories but you.
This argument makes even less sense considering Singal’s piece wasn’t about trans people. It was about detrans people—detrans people who were willing to tell their stories to Singal, just as last year, they were willing to tell their stories to me. But for telling those stories, I was called, and I’m not kidding here, a “murderer.” And I still am today.
Singal knew this was coming. He’s written on trans issues for years, and the response is always the same. We talked about this last week at the Open Minds Conference in New York, which we both attended. The conference was the first of its kind sponsored by the Heterodox Academy, an organization for university faculty that advocates for ideological diversity. It’s not an innately controversial concept: Hearing other people’s views, whether on a college campus or on the news, is essential for both avoiding confirmation bias and for understanding critiques of one’s own views. But perhaps predictably, it was pegged by some people (who were not there) as some kind of white supremacist, alt-right meet-up. This was patently ridiculous. Honorees at the event included Cornel West and a number of other people of color, and I highly doubt there was a single Trump voter in attendance (which, for the sake of viewpoint diversity, is a problem). But that did not stop people from tweeting to my employer that I was at a secret KKK rally because they saw my name in the program.
Still, there were no protesters in attendance and the conference itself was interesting, with sessions about, among other things, the role of administrators and professors in creating an environment in which people are free to express their opinions. But, more than the sessions, what I really got out of it was talking to people about how they’d ended up there in the first place. Everyone had a story, from a (queer, Latina) professor in Oregon whose classes were boycotted, to a professor in Virginia who was nearly pushed out of his school for criticizing a black woman’s scholarly work, to writers like Emily Yoffe, Jon Ronson, Jesse Singal, and myself, all of whom have been targeted for writing about inconvenient truths… but truths, nonetheless.
Meeting these people, I was reminded that while becoming the target of an online mob can be painful, it’s also hugely enlightening. I’m a queer women whose politics align pretty closely with Leon Trotsky, but when the left came for me last year, I began to see how orthodoxy on my own side stifles not just speech and expression, but ideas. Before, I judged arguments based on who was making them. If a conservative said something, I automatically dismissed it. Now I engage with the ideas themselves. I’ve left my echo chamber, which has given me a fundamental understanding of the world that I didn’t have before. In fact, I’m glad I found myself at the bottom of a dog-pile, and I think the best thing for society would be for everyone to go through the same. Luckily, the bar to end up trending on Twitter is so low these days that with one mis-tweet or culturally appropriated prom dress, you’ll end up there eventually, too.
Still furious about this. Who the fuck thinks “ah, person with a cervix, it me”? Women will miss screening because of this language. It’s not about reaching transmen – you could just *say* “women & transmen”. It’s about not saying “women” in a context that excludes transwomen.
Sarah Ditum is spot on with her analysis here, all this ‘inclusive’ language (‘pregnant person’, ‘chest feeding’, etc) has nothing to do with helping trans men, and everything to do with pandering to trans women.
QotD: If you’re still claiming “TERF” is just a descriptive word for an oppressive group, it may be worth asking why racists, misogynists, transphobes, homophobes etc. are merely told they’re “not included” at events such as this, whereas “TERFs will be hung by their necks”
If you’re still claiming “TERF” is just a descriptive word for an oppressive group, it may be worth asking why racists, misogynists, transphobes, homophobes etc. are merely told they’re “not included” at events such as this, whereas “TERFs will be hung by their necks”
Glosswitch on twitter, responding to this social media post which has been circulating (annotations not mine):
Please note that the above is advertised as a Pride event. This all seems to be very much par for the course at the moment; see also ‘Non binary Queers’ Gay-Bash Lesbian Outside St. Louis Gay Bar, Brag About It On Twitter over at Gender Trender, and the random bunch of stuff below I pulled off tumblr, and remember, any lesbian who refuses to have sex with a male bodied person gets called a ‘terf’.
We are a group of parents based in the UK, who are concerned about the current trend to diagnose ‘gender non-conforming’ children as transgender. We reject current conservative, reactionary, religious-fundamentalist views about sexuality and we have no political affiliation. We are also concerned about legislation which places transgender rights above the right to safety for girls and young women in public bathrooms and changing rooms.
We come from diverse backgrounds, some with expertise in child development and psychology, some who were themselves extreme gender non-conforming children and adolescents, some whose own children have self-diagnosed as ‘trans’ and some who know supportive trans adults who are also questioning recent theories of ‘transgenderism.’
Our work is voluntary, non-profit and unpaid, so we rely on personal donations to keep going. Our work includes research, travel to events, letter-writing (to government ministers, health professional bodies, the NHS, the BBC etc), media interviews, press releases, speaking and activism.
A lot of our work goes on ‘in the background’ in the form of private meetings, networking and consultancy. None of this is paid.
Transgender Trend Schools Resource Pack
We have developed comprehensive guidance for schools, in consultation with teachers, child protection and welfare professionals and lawyers. Our aim is to arm schools with all the relevant facts so that teachers feel more informed and confident in creating a safe school for all pupils, including non-conforming children and those who identify as ‘transgender.’ Our resource pack covers advice for school leaders, tips on how to create a school culture of acceptance of gender non-conformity without denying biological sex, communication, primary schools and secondary schools, existing safeguarding policies and guidance, the legal situation for schools, and a glossary of terms. We also include factual information about the social and medical transition of children, testimonies from young people who have desisted or detransitioned, and a statement from a teacher who has witnessed the increase in the number of young people identifying as ‘trans’ in their school. We have included a statement from the Lesbian Rights Alliance in recognition of the fact that the number of teenage lesbians who are choosing to identify as ‘trans men’ has recently grown so significantly.
Previously only available in downloadable format, we are now seeking funds to print hard copies of the pack, as these have been regularly requested by many teachers.
Additional funds will be used to cover exhibition materials, leaflets, attendance at conferences/events, ongoing website costs and legal fees.
Thank you so much for your support!
Peter Stringfellow exploited women’s objectified bodies for profit, as though they were cuts of meat hanging in a butcher’s shop, and while it would be unseemly to rejoice in his death I do not mourn him, either. He was a pimp. The feminist writer Julie Bindel recalled that she called him a pimp to his face during a radio debate and that he went “berserk” and “demanded she apologise”. I find the prissiness of this astonishing: that this unsavoury sleaze could demean and degrade women so openly for so many years and then be upset to be called on it.
But that’s the thing: the “calling out”, as it’s called today, is considered rude. For some people, alerting them to their prejudices and/or exploitative practices is somehow seen as bad manners. I have no doubt that I will be in for a whole world of internet abuse for writing this piece. If I don’t get at least one rape threat it will be a miracle. There is a certain kind of man who loathes feminists who refuse to silently and passively accept a culture in which young women are paid to take their clothes off for male entertainment. When Suzanne Moore called Hugh Hefner a pimp, he threatened to sue. And yet somehow we’re the snowflakes.
Like Hefner and Paul Raymond, Stringfellow normalised sleaze. He took a sexually repressed society and began to turn it into a pornified one. I grew up in the “post-feminist” 1990s, the peak of laddism, when the corporate sex industry was such a standard part of capitalist consumption that if you challenged it, you were immediately dismissed as a hairy bra-burner with no sense of humour. Women were expected to laugh along when men boasted about getting wrecked and ending up in Stringfellows or Spearmint Rhino. There the foulness was packaged in hard, glossy surroundings; the sleaze was wrapped in shiny. But visit the kind of joint where all you had to do was pop a quid in a pint glass and you would see the industry for what it was.
It all paved the way for the dominance of pornography, for the conduct described by so many women as part of #MeToo and “grabbing them by the pussy”. The objectification rife in strip clubs bled into lads’ mags, a more contemporary version of the old man on the bus pretending to juggle teenage girls’ breasts. It made itself known in the boys at university who thought a grope was a greeting. The idea of consent workshops was mocked, but the lines had become so blurred they were necessary. Feminism was decades old but we were still being treated like meat. Even in this age of #MeToo, it’s still rarely heard just quite how disgusting young women find being drooled over by pervy older men, which happens to us from puberty onwards.
And as Moore wrote last year, part of Hefner’s Playboy mythology was “the idea that women do this sort of thing willingly”. But we all know that for the majority of women in the sex industry, it’s not so much a choice as a way of surviving. A stripper I spoke to once told me that the entire time that she was dancing for male gratification, she would repeat the mantra “fuck you, fuck you, fuck you” in her head. It was her way of coping. And yet, we continue to be told how innocent it all was, how liberating for women. As with Hefner’s death, the accolades and the RIPs come in from men, the pally anecdotes about his “sense of humour”. We hear the eulogising on the Today programme and by ex-lad male journalists who don’t realise how it makes them sound. So for the avoidance of all doubt, before I log off social media for a week: I see you, we see you. You’re disgusting, too. And that stripper’s mantra? She’s not the only one making use of it.
Sex robots are coming, but the argument that they could bring health benefits, including offering paedophiles a “safe” outlet for their sexual desires, is not based on evidence, say researchers.
The market for anthropomorphic dolls with a range of orifices for sexual pleasure – the majority of which are female in form, and often boast large breasts, tiny waists and sultry looks – is on the rise, with such dummies selling for thousands of pounds a piece.
While some are simple sex dolls, others are sexbots that can move and talk, some with a choice of nipples and dishwasher-proof labia. Indeed the industry is churning out ever more realistic mannequins featuring artificial intelligence, lubrication systems and even vaginas that can mimic an orgasm.
“Our conclusion is that there are a lot of health claims with no evidence” said Susan Bewley, professor of women’s health at Kings College London and co-author of the new research.
Some have suggested that such claims might be more about normalising the use of such dolls than providing actual health benefits.
“In a way [this research] is a sort of academic plea [not to] make false claims, and if there is something genuine in this beyond the creation and marketing of a new device, then let’s study it properly,” said Bewley.
While some argue sexbots are simply the next step in a booming $30bn sex tech industry, others say they are a world apart from the humble vibrator and have serious social implications.
The latest study is not the first to look at sexbots: last year a report by the Foundation for Responsible Robotics also raised questions about the potential benefits and harms of such devices, noting there are already sex-doll brothels in Asia.
Writing in the journal BMJ Sexual and Reproductive Health, Bewley and co-author Dr Chantal Cox-George searched databases of scientific papers but found none that studied the health impacts of sex robots.
However the hunt, together with discussions with experts in the field, revealed that the anthropomorphic dolls are being hailed as providing a host of benefits including, offering sexual companionship to lonely or marginalised individuals, and potentially helping to treat sex offenders and paedophiles.
Looking into the debates around such topics, the authors highlight a number of issues, including who is legally responsible for injuries and infections from sexbots, and that rather than protecting sex workers, the dolls might fuel exploitation of humans.
And while Bewley notes robots are being explored for use in health and social care, she and Cox-George say its unclear if robots could help in the bedroom, for example aiding people with sexual dysfunction or who are lonely, noting such robots might cause a rift with human partners or even that robots’ lack of emotion might cause distress. “While a human may genuinely desire a sexbot, reciprocation can only be artificially mimicked,” they write.
As for the idea that sexbots could help to treat paedophiles and protect real children – one company already produces childlike dolls – the team say there is no evidence for the claims, noting that it might normalise such acts and even increase the risk of sexual assault and rape for children and adults. “It is a powerful idea. It might be true, it might be untrue – but the fact that someone who is selling these dolls is saying this, [means] you have to take [it] with a big pinch of salt,” said Bewley.
Last year a childlike sex doll intercepted by UK border police led to the arrest of the man who ordered it after the force discovered he had child abuse images on his computer.
The team note there are further questions, including whether sexbots, with their exaggerated forms based in fantasy, could influence what is deemed attractive in actual women – while there are also concerns that some sexbots come with a non-consensual mode, potentially allowing users the opportunity to act out rape.
Prof Oliver Bendel, an expert in machine ethics from the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland, who was not involved in the study, said he is not in favour of banning the development of sexbots or “love dolls” and that the technology will remain niche, with most people preferring sex with other humans.
But Bendel agreed research is needed. That said, there is a problem. “Most universities in Europe don’t want anything to do with this topic. Most scientists find the subject repulsive,” he said, adding that researchers might find it hard to recruit study participants.
“It’s an old human dream to have artificial love partners. Pygmalion created a female sculpture and laid down with her. Aphrodite brought the sculpture to life,” he said. “It is interesting for science and business to create artificial people. But we must not leave the people alone with the machines.”