One of the sources I follow is a blog written by a professor of evolutionary biology, of some note and fame, having written a book on the incongruity between faith and science, which is how I first learned of him. He was a Vietnam war protester, and a supporter of the original civil rights movements, but seems to have turned into a bit of an old fogey lately, as his blog writings decry the efforts of modern, younger activists as merely over the top, theatrical, disingenuous, and foolishly misguided, even damaging or detrimental to the fabric of society itself. I am guessing he forgets that these exact same claims were made by the fogey's of his youth about his beliefs back then. It seems this is the way with so many humans as they get older – fond appreciation for the exuberance they channeled in their youth into causes that were progressive at the time somehow never gets translated onto youths of today and the targets of their own progressive exuberance. They turn into grumpy oldsters, hollering at those damned kids, “Get off my lawn!”
I have initiated comments twice on his blog. As careful readers of my blog here know (sometimes I wonder if there are any at all!), I am transgender. PC-Cat (as I'll refer to him to avoid naming names, for me this is done to avoid drama but he's free to identify himself if he so chooses but really the names are immaterial) has held the position that, as an expert on science and biology, his claims about transgender people in, say, sports or public bathrooms, are without fault and beyond question. He may claim that I'm overstating this, but his absolutely bitter, defensive, petulant replies to my comments prove the point. At the same time, he is quick to claim that he has never denigrated a trans person on his blog, which may be true (I'm not so sycophantic as to follow every word on his blog, and every comment he makes there). I have seen this type of claim before, and while I cannot and will not say that he is a transphobe (I've never said this but was accused of it – more later), I can say that he constantly posts material that is antithetical towards progress in rights for people like myself. This includes videos of congressional testimony by an author of a book that makes a horror-show case against transgender youths being able to enjoy support and freedom to explore and live their own personal truths. He also posts supposed biting satirical commentary by one Titania McGrath, a pseudonym for some person who is hyper-reactionary to the most extreme fringe beliefs and commentary on many trans-related issues.
If, as I said below in one of my unpublished responses, the politicians claiming over and over again that the election was stolen and convincing people of that through rote loud repetition can be used as evidence that the election was in fact stolen, then I concede the point of PC-Cat. But we know how ridiculous that is, right? By presenting a one-sided set of material, he is without doubt pandering to those on one side. To claim otherwise is just a simple lie, whether told intentionally or under self-deception. Either he is the cold, rational, Spock-like perfect engine of logic he claims or not. If so, then present all the evidence. You can't present one side only and pretend that you're as open, rational, logical, as you'd like to be perceived.
OK, PC-Cat is certainly free to post that material on his own blog, and I'd never attempt to tell him otherwise (again, something of which he has falsely accused me). Since he accepts comments (that he moderates and limits in length and number) I of course comment, but this is not the same as shutting him down or telling him to not post material.
What I wonder is, where is his supposed objective curiosity about the other side? I have never once seen a post or any material in support of, for example, The Equality Act, a bill that as of this writing has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. I guess either he thinks it is ridiculous on its face, it is unimportant, or he's just being passive-aggressive against it. In a comment on his post in regard to the video I mentioned above, I posted a link to a very informative video – it's almost 90 minutes long and has some production values around LGBT and Millennial humor, but as I said in the accompanying comment, it is well worth a watch, as Natalie lays out a very good case why the positions put forth by PC-Cat, Joanne Rowling, and Abigail Shrier are wrong and also hurtful to the trans community. I was immediately questioned by several of PC-Cat's somewhat sycophantic followers, one of whom apparently is in the camp that the T should be removed from LGBT – tell that to Marsha P. Johnson, and to the many drag entertainers who have been the backbone of LGBT progress and safe spaces, many of whom are transgender, and virtually all of whom support the 'T.' This seems like a solid case of “I've got mine, now the hell with everybody else.”
But I digress a little – what I'm getting at is that even though I posted an informative video and implored the readers to spend the time watching it, all comments back indicated that it was just too much trouble, too long, etc. One commentator asked why I didn't just make the case in my original comment – well, a fair treatment is not a sound bite nor a two-paragraph commentary. Golly gee, sometimes it takes at least 90 minutes of listening to an actual trans woman talk about these issues.
What sickens me is that these people, commentators as well as the PC-Cat himself, feel entitled to have a firm opinion on a subject about which they have put zero effort understanding. Or close to zero. As far as I know, I'm the only trans person to comment on his blog, and I openly state that, not as a way to get “brownie points” but to lend perspective and to hopefully get peoples' attention to the fact that even though I disagree wholeheartedly with some of what is said and posted there, I'm paying attention and listening soberly.
Oh, if only the favor were returned.
Everyone is of course entitled to their opinion; however, I'd be surprised if PC-Cat felt that having an opinion is an entitlement that comes without obligation – the obligation to at least form the opinion with some amount of reason and evidence. So here we are – a self-confessed “traditional liberal” professor posting clearly one-sided material, without comment or countervailing material, that promotes a rejection of a law that would expand civil rights to explicitly include transgender individuals under existing laws (it would also explicitly include the rest of the LGBT community as well). He can say what he wants, hide behind what he clearly feels is his own perfect, coldly rational objectivity, but to post the way he does is an endorsement against The Equality Act. Honestly, it seems a bit cowardly to obliquely post one-sided videos and snarky commentary without just saying out loud how he feels. Don't be scared - shout it from the rooftops.
His utter lack of curiosity about the subject is troubling, given that he has a rather large following and subsequently has a loud megaphone, and also that he posts the material he does. His responses to me have been curt, defensive, and riddled with false claims about what I've said. I am very disappointed in this last, since as a professor for many years I would assume his reading comprehension would be superior instead of lacking. For instance, he has claimed that I said he was against transgender people, which I did not. He claimed I accused him personally of nitpicking, which I did not – context clearly indicates my casting that aspersion on society at large and in particular at disingenuous lawmakers. He insinuated that I called him or his commentators “transphobes” but I did nothing of the sort. In his most recent reply, he simply said he rejected my claims, and felt personally 'insulted' when I stated that what he and the others were doing was harming my cause. These next three paragraphs are for the Professor himself:
Gee whiz, I'm sorry you are butt-hurt that a member of the minority in question sincerely thinks you're damaging prospects of people like me to have full and equal rights in this country, I should never presume to question your highness' opinion. How dare I, even if I attempted to do it in the most polite and rational manner. I am indeed ashamed.
Just kidding – fuck you. Your life experience has allowed you to do some great things and enjoy health, decent income, world travel, good food, and education, but it has also unfortunately let you remain unaware that these things are largely or completely out of your own control – as much as you claim to be a hard determinist, it puzzles me that you could simultaneously display such a monumental egotism. How can you compartmentalize your mind that way? Your ego prevents you from even considering a compassionate, empathetic viewpoint or the slight possibility that you may be mistaken, or even the mildest curiosity about the viewpoint of an actual (Gasp!) transgender person. Instead you attack me for a simple comment, in which I attempted to raise valid points. I guess you're so hypersensitive to those kids on your lawn that you react, as I correctly said, viscerally, to anyone disagreeing with you. I find it incredibly sad that while you fondly talk about your youth yet you give zero leeway to the youth of today or the causes they find important. If a preponderance of the curmudgeons of your time had been as stiff, arrogant, and unrelenting as you are today, your causes would have gone nowhere.
Remember all those older folks calling you a “damned hippie” or whatever insult they used? That's you today – congratulations, ya bitter old fuck.
What I've come to realize is twofold. I have a known blind-spot in my personality, where I always assume the best of people. I always think that everyone shares high-minded motives all the time, is kind, caring, and is looking out for others. This is especially true of people with whom I share commonalities, and it has caused me pain and difficulty, so I try to mitigate it but it seems to always sneak up on me. That's the case here. Intellectually I share a lot with PC-Cat. We are both determinists, staunch atheists, believe strongly in science and the scientific method. We both lean left politically. We like a lot of the same authors and share similar philosophies, at least in print. Oh, and we both like cats. But the blind spot again manifested itself in the supreme disappointment that I have just finally come to understand the professor might be just, well, kind of a conceited asshole. This may be borne out of the arrogance which many, many professors share, or it may be something he's had his whole life, I don't know, but it makes him abrasive as hell to those of us who even mildly disagree with him. Seems a common feature in professors so that may be the case.
By the way, this blatant arrogance is what those on the right perceive as the “elitist” mentality of the academics, and they have a point.
It's odd that so many decry the utter polarization in this country, which we imagine as being starkly aligned with right vs left politics, yet when I disagree in a comment thread with someone that I share so much politically and intellectually, I get misrepresented in his hyper-defensive reply. What gives with that? Is he just too busy to really give it much thought? If so, then maybe he shouldn't post material that pushes one narrative or the other while not expecting any kind of response to the negative. It may be that he really doesn't like me, the way I write, or the fact that I'm transgender & somewhat outspoken and educated; I'm sure he'll claim otherwise – I'm just saying I don't know why he is so presumptive that I'm attacking him other than that he reads I'm transgender and immediately puts me in the “loony cancel-culture” bin. Ironic is the fact that this same person decries cancel-culture all the time, he's almost obsessed with it, yet he pulls virtually similar BS on me – overreacting to even the slightest disagreement. He has met the enemy and it is himself.
One of my claims in the comment was that folks like Rowling and Shrier are allowing their visceral reactions to vitiate their reasoning. This is objectively true. Their internal perceptions of personal experiences have changed how they approach subjects of import to many other humans – to wit, transgender humans. They are under the influence of one or more of the many cognitive biases all humans share. How is this even under dispute? Yet PC-Cat disingenuously strikes back at me, saying I am claiming he and they are “irrational.” I try to not put words in other peoples' mouths, as I appreciate Dan Dennett's take on arguing against a position: try to frame the other sides position so well that they say “Darn I wish I had thought to put it that way.” PC-Cat has utterly failed to do that here, and as a number of his commentators also did, he instead sets up a straw man argument by putting a word into my mouth I did not use. I expect better from the professor – he gets a 'D' on that assignment. He goes on to say that my claim that they are harming “my cause” and giving cover to bigots is an insult. I'm very sorry to not be sorry in the least, but it's not an insult if it's true. The completely one-sided coverage given on his blog, and many writings by both Joanne and Abigail, are absolutely hurting the cause of transgender rights (that's exactly why they write what they do, duh) and are undoubtedly being used by bigots and disingenuous politicians. This is all simple fact, but again that escapes the good professor's awareness. He just doesn't like it when an uncomfortable truth is pointed out about him, which is a slap in the face to his claim of hard rationality and impartiality.
Again, he doesn't have to support my side, but to present only the other side and then insinuate he's being objective and perfectly balanced, or that he's not harming the cause, is simply untrue.
He goes on to again misstate my position about nitpicking (it seems almost deliberate at this point, it's not the first time it's happened), and tries to say he's just raising valid points about, among other things, rape counseling, which hasn't been mentioned at all in anything I've read. Again, if he wants to be as rational and well informed as he would like to think he is, he'd take the time to either read my comments carefully, or at least watch the damned video I suggested. And he might actually attempt to address the counterpoints I make in my comments instead of merely attacking straw men and misrepresenting what I stated. I think he just has formed an opinion that aligns with his predilections and is firmly set in that opinion. He doesn't owe me a debate, but at the least he should be straightforward in his responses, not lie or misdirect.
One last point I'll make before adding the actual comment thread is to address what I suspect may be a counter claim that I'm the one who's really butt-hurt here. I will freely admit to that, but to me, it's quite a personal issue; to PC-Cat, it affects him not at all, so he has the luxury of blithely taking a counterpoint out of some illusion of academic distance - it must be nice to debate others' rights from a superior vantage point. What he and folks like him don't appreciate is that they indeed occupy a place of privilege – I'm sure if he's bothered to read this far he'll rail against that in his mind as he's very opposed to any of that type of characterization (white privilege, implicit bias, etc) but as someone who has read a small amount of the scholarship around these issues and also as someone who has a child studying these issues academically, I can say that PC-Cat, again, is letting his visceral reactions get the better of his logic and rationality. Humans without a doubt are the victims of any number of cognitive biases, I'm sure he'd concede that. As a determinist, it's irrational to say that one's cultural upbringing has no bearing on one's states of mind or on the perceptions others hold in their minds about one based on one's outward or social attributes. His bemoaning of these things being brought to the awareness of a wider swath of society is because he cannot empathize with those on the other side – he's likely never been asked for a receipt every single time he walks out of Wal Mart because of his skin color, for example, or had car doors lock as he walks past, been followed in stores by security personnel as he shopped, or been repeatedly pulled over for drummed up traffic violations so that the cops can search his car. These experiences are absolutely real and nearly universal in this country, and they show that our society is complex in a way that, were PC-Cat not viscerally reacting to being an actual human being with affective and connative experiences as well as all the other baggage that comes with a human mind, he would appreciate and understand. I don't understand how someone with such a keen brain can at times discount such a large part of of human experience, simply because he feels it reflects negatively on his self image as a perfect, unbiased, rational difference-engine. Why would anyone want to be like that? He's not in fact always that way, as some of his posts that most affect me emotionally are those having to do with the Holocaust, and I know he is also affected likewise. He just conveniently switches it off when challenged. Again, that's a luxury many simply can't afford, and he is utterly unappreciative of that fact.
My message to PC-Cat is this: Settle down. It's OK to be fully human, to be wrong, and to take your feelings or someone else's into account. These things are important. And this particular subject matter is of immense and immediate importance to quite a lot of your fellow humans, so try not to be a hypersensitive and reactionary dickhead when you reply. Why the hell did you think I took the time to watch the videos you shared and to reply, multiple times? Did you think I'm just trolling you? I guarantee I have much better things to do than to poke a vainglorious professor.
So yes, this is quite a diatribe in response to a simple series of comments on a blog post. My predisposition is to respond fully to things that matter to me, and I was unable to do that in the comments (see below), but I am a believer in dialogue and in making one's case as thoroughly as possible, so that's why I've done this. PC-Cat can write all he wants on his blog; I enjoy and exercise the same privilege here.
So, below is the entire comment thread from the most recent post, beginning with my initial comment – I wrote in response to him posting two videos of Abigail testifying in front of the judiciary committee against The Equality Act. I went back and checked, and the comments “awaiting moderation” were never approved and so are not visible on the blog. As you can see, I tried to respond to the commentators with deliberation and forethought. See if you think PC-Cat's response is, well, a bit whiny and reactionary:
I watched with dismay the testimony by Abigail, and to see the same unfounded tropes and misdirection is depressing. On the point of women being raped in prison, I’d think that the fact that anyone gets raped in prison is a disgrace worthy of note, but this seems like a matter of convenient and selective timing on her part. There is no trans person, and surely no trans activist, who would condone the conditions leading to anyone being raped in any situation, including prison. Surely there are ways of avoiding these situations, and nobody is claiming that any system is perfect and cannot do better – Abigail’s time might be better spent finding ways to improve the prison system and reduce incidences of rape there (and elsewhere) instead of targeting an already vulnerable population with a rhetorical shotgun blast. On the women in sports issue, I’ve said this before, but the evidence to date does not support the claims of those wringing their hands over the mere possibility that some unscrupulous person may claim to be transgender in order to dominate a sport (see NCAA and Olympic sports history in allowing transgender athletes to compete). In fact, here in NC, a biological female recently dominated wrestling in her weight class among boys and girls. The alarmism around this issue is uncalled for; as I’ve also said before, it seems that every single LGBT gain no matter how small, has to be nitpicked and analyzed, and never so by people like me who are actually part of the minority in question. Somehow those opposing this particular bill feel that every jot and tittle has to be perfect, and that every single hypothetical case, no matter how unlikely or unproven, has to be handled up front, or else they will oppose it, even if that means that tens of thousands of young people, already vulnerable targets in so many ways, will continue to suffer discrimination. Others have dealt with the alarmist claims and done so better than I, so I’m linking a youtube video by Natalie Wynn where she talks about Joanne Rowling’s comments, and why they’re both largely untrue and hurtful – many of them are similar or identical to those spoken of by Abigail above. It’s a fairly entertaining video, but she makes some excellent points so please stick with it; I’d hope that those on the other side of this debate would take the time to listen fully. Natalie is both smart and fair-minded in this treatment.
We’re all victims of our own biases, and I don’t know why so many have such a visceral reaction to the thought of transgender people having equal rights (and I’m not claiming that Jerry or anyone here is in that camp). I feel that Abigail’s reactions, and also Joanne Rowling’s, are in that same vein. But I can say that they way they allow those visceral reactions to guide and, I’d argue, vitiate their reasoning is genuinely harmful to people like me. Not in the sense of inciting violence directly, but it impedes progress by giving cover to genuinely bigoted people who have and use power to the detriment of the well-being of folks like myself.