Refusing to give a voice to trolls is not the same as “censorship”

Several trans women who are well-known trolls of radfem blogs have complained about being banned from commenting at the New Narratives blog. They have said (in comments that I left in the spam folder) that they were being censored, that the authors of New Narratives are hypocrites, and that we are lying when we say we want an open and honest debate.

Every woman knows that online trolling is a real problem, because women are overwhelmingly the victims of online trolling. Women are told to get raped, that they’re ugly and unfuckable, that they should kill themselves, that they should get murdered, and combinations of all of these things. Most of this trolling is (obviously) done by men, though a good bit of it is also done by trans women. When their hateful language is pointed out, the trolls say they’re “just joking”, or complain that they’re being censored or silenced.

If you think it’s funny to make jokes about raping and murdering women, you are not a friend to women. It’s that simple! And I will not support you in making those jokes by publishing them on a blog I run, unless I’m publishing them specifically to critique them. Why would I signal boost someone who hates women? My politics are informed by feminism, which means I believe in the liberation of females from male violence and oppression!

The internet has given us unprecedented access to information, which most people think is good. However, the dark side is that there is also more misinformation available than ever. Say what you want about the biases of traditional news media and publishing outlets, but at least they generally did some amount of fact checking. In the age of twitter and tumblr, an opinion written in thirty seconds by someone with no knowledge of what they’re pontificating about is considered equivalent “proof” to a book that an academic took ten years to research and write. Frankly, this kind of anti-intellectual populism is a deeply disturbing trend which does not bode well for the future of civilized society!

Curating blog comments, to eliminate ones which deliberately spread lies and misinformation, and likewise choosing not to publish comments which represent opinions as fact, is clearly a public good. If you want to keep opining that “penis is female because I say so”, go start a tumblr. But on this blog, I’m sorry but it’s going right into the spam folder.

However, there are a lot of discussions about sex and gender that we welcome on this blog, and look forward to having in Portland. By all means, talk about the problems you have with your birth sex, talk about the frustration you feel that society forces arbitrary roles onto us all based on our birth sex, talk about how slugs are your spirit animal and how human society would probably be more egalitarian if all humans could get pregnant and give birth. Talk about what it means to be born male, but be perceived as female by most people you meet. Talk about the weird things that happened to your body at puberty that made you feel like an outsider from the sex binary. But cut the crap with “sex is socially constructed” and “female penis” arguments. If you didn’t learn what sex is in first grade, you should probably ask a first grade teacher (or your mom) to go over how babies are made with you. We don’t need to waste everyone’s time with your fantasy view of the world on this blog.

Likewise, it is not “censorship” to enforce a zero-tolerance policy for comments which say violence and threats of violence against women are ok. I refuse to support hate speech! If you hate women, go post on a men’s rights forum. There will be plenty of males who agree with you over there, whether or not you’re a trans woman. And by the way, when women say “men are awful, they rape and murder women all the time”, that’s not hate speech – it’s just accepting reality.

On the other hand, if you would like to debate the priorities that we have set out for New Narratives, or suggest alternate priorities that you feel are more important, we would love to hear your feedback. We have already heard from a number of readers, both in the comments and by email, that they would like New Narratives to focus more on some of the specific issues which are causing the current crisis in the trans community. How do we reduce violence against trans women of color, especially trans women of color who do sex work? How can we support trans women and trans teens who are homeless? How do we improve access to and the quality of trans health care? All three of the organizers agree that these are important topics, and we look forward to talking them out with you, and trying to find solutions.

But we will still insist upon the ground rule that solutions to the problems of trans women cannot come at the expense of the rights of women born female.

We look forward to further thoughtful discussion, both on this blog and in Portland.

Why is New Narratives 2014 a trans woman-only event?

We have been asked several times why New Narratives 2014 is only open to trans women, and why we have not invited women born female, trans men and other trans people born female, or nontrans males. We would like to address this explicitly.

First, we reiterate that New Narratives 2014 is open to all trans women – current, former, and future. In addition, we welcome males who seriously considered transition, but have decided against it for the time being, and we welcome intersex people who were raised as boys, and have since transitioned or are considering transition.

The concept for this workshop came out of a conversation about attending Radfems Respond, which takes place in Portland the same weekend as our event. We plan to attend the Saturday portion of Radfems Respond, which is open to everyone. The Sunday portion of Radfems Respond is for women born female only. The thought simultaneously occurred to all three of us: we’ll be in Portland anyway, so shouldn’t we use Sunday to have some tough conversations among ourselves, as trans women?

And so New Narratives is meant to send the explicit message that we respect female-only spaces. It is definitely not meant in the spirit of protest a la Camp Trans, nor as a way to co-opt and mock the reasons why female-only space is necessary. Rather, it is meant to communicate our understanding that trans women as a community are directly impacted by some issues affecting females (and that it makes sense for the two communities to work together on these), but that there are also many issues unique to each group. It’s important for us to recognize these facts in a mature way. New Narratives is our attempt to put this idea into practice in the real world: sometimes we work together, and sometimes we work separately.

The framework for New Narratives owes a heavy debt to second-wave feminism, which we happily acknowledge. Consciousness-raising – focused, small-group discussion of particular issues that are both personal and political – was essential to the spread of second-wave feminist thinking. We are hopeful that we can re-purpose this tool to help us deconstruct some of the harmful aspects of modern trans theory and activism from the inside. After all, as Audre Lorde so famously said, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. And we want to emphasize that New Narratives is focused on using the tools of feminist thinking to do a critical analysis of trans theory and activism. This is emphatically not the appropriation of feminist language as a tool to attack women, as we see in the construction of “transmisogyny” as an excuse for corrective rape talk, or the relentless attacks on female-only space being framed as a social justice issue. Clearly, any “feminism” which is incompatible with the rights of people born female is bullshit!

Regarding trans men, we fully support them as our brothers and fellow trans folk! However, while we share with them our discomfort with our birth sex, there are many issues which impact our communities in profoundly different ways. We prefer to support trans men by letting them speak for themselves, and signal boosting when appropriate. If some trans men want to organize their own workshop to take place on the same day as New Narratives, we would be delighted to assist them however we can. We also look forward to organizing similar conversations which include both trans men and trans women in the future.

But the biggest motivation for making New Narratives trans women only, is to try and deal directly with the problems in our own community. The trans community has recently been finding itself in the spotlight more and more, and we haven’t even cleaned our own house yet – rather, the loudest trans activists are the same ones talking corrective rape and making death threats! There is much difficult, possibly painful internal work we must do, for the sake of other trans women, as well as for the sake of the other people in our lives – since we don’t transition or live in a vacuum. By restricting registration to trans women, we mean to convey that it is not the obligation of trans men, women born female, or nontrans males for that matter, to fix what’s broken in trans woman activism. This is solely the responsibility of trans women and we need to do this work ourselves.

We welcome all current, former, and future trans women

New Narratives 2014 is a space for all trans women – because there is no one type of trans woman, and certainly no such thing as a “true” transsexual. So we welcome all trans women, wherever they are at in their process – trans women who are currently transitioning, former trans women who have retransitioned to living as men, trans women who are assimilated as women, and future trans women who are considering or planning to transition.

New Narratives 2014 is just as much for trans women who don’t pass, and trans women who don’t want to pass, as it is for trans women who aim to pass, or further to assimilate. We welcome butch-identified trans women alongside femme-identified trans women. We welcome equally trans women who partner with females, with each other, with men, or with no one, and we welcome trans women who are autogynephilic.

We welcome trans women of color, and we welcome trans women from minority religious and cultural backgrounds. We welcome drag queens, fem queens, traps, baeddels, transsexuals, non-ops, part-timers, gender queers, bigenders, agenders, women of transsexual experience – you name it, you can come. If you are ready to have an open and honest conversation about where trans activism is at, and where you are at, we want you!

Contrary to the accusations of elitism and separatism frequently aimed at gender-critical trans women, New Narratives was specifically conceived as a radically inclusive conversation, for all people born male* who have taken, or have considered taking, steps to modify the sexed characteristics of their bodies. We eschew hierarchies, and instead focus on the commonalities we share – that we were all born male, but we have eschewed our male sex, and have rebelled against society’s attempts to gender us as boys and men.

The ground rules for the conversation are simple, and few:

  • accept that humans are sexually dimorphic
  • accept that we are male
  • accept that sex-based socialization begins at birth
  • accept that while our lives may overlap with those of women born female, they are also different in key ways
  • affirm that death and rape threats directed at lesbians and feminists are never acceptable under any circumstances

In addition, we will have the safe space policies of using people’s preferred pronouns during the workshop, and no cameras or recording devices. Pseudonyms and nicknames are totally acceptable – we respect your right to privacy! Please respect ours!

We will not agree with each other on everything – and that’s ok! We were all dealt different hands in the world. Our physicality, our upbringing, our social networks, and our life goals will all influence the decisions we make relating to transition. Likewise, our priorities for activism may be different. That’s also ok! This is a first step in trying to re-direct this conversation in a way where we can still find ways to live comfortably in the world, but at the same time lessen the harm that trans activism is doing to women born female, and to ourselves as trans women.

So again, we are calling all trans women – current, former, and future – to join us in Portland, and help move this conversation forward! Email us at newnarratives2014 at hotmail to register, or to send us a message.


*Note: we also welcome intersex individuals who were raised as boys and/or lived as men, but are considering transition or actively transitioning to living as women. However, we have a strict no-COINing policy (co-opting intersex narratives). That means, if you are a trans woman who “suspects” or wishes you were intersex, but have not been diagnosed, please either see a doctor or cut it with the appropriation.

The Spiral of Silence in Trans Activism

As trans women, what are we to make of a movement that claims to speak for us, when it claims a penis is a female organ with a straight face? A movement that bombards even the slightest disagreement with a barrage of hateful threats of violence, rape, and death?  A movement that calls for the suppression of speech, even from it’s own elders? How did we get here?  That will take more than one post to answer, I’m afraid.

To open this discussion, we need to discuss the ‘spiral of silence‘ and its effect on trans discourse within the trans sub culture. (Thanks go to blogger terfisaslur for identifying this pattern in online discourse)

Quotes taken from wikipedia:

Spiral of silence theory describes the process by which one opinion becomes dominant as those who perceive their opinion to be in the minority do not speak up because society threatens individuals with fear of isolation. The assessment of one’s social environment may not always correlate with reality.

Threat and Fear of Isolation

I have participated in online discourse in trans spaces for probably 10 years now, and I’ve witnessed a growing and worrying pattern of suppressing any dissent or probing questioning.  This no doubt feeds the spiral of silence.  Topics devolve quickly into heated flame wars.  Eventually, people learn to just not mention these topics.  Sometimes people are out-right banned from online communities for discussing them.

Spiral of silence begins with the threat of isolation. In order to maintain structure in society, a “collective cohesion of its members must be constantly ensured by a sufficient level of agreement on values and goals.” Thus, in order to guarantee agreement and maintain social order, society threatens isolation for those individuals who violate the consensus. People also remain silent for fear of rejection by peers and unwanted publicity the media can bring upon them.


Speech that is silenced in trans communities

  • Acknowledging male privilege, male socialization, and it’s effect on behavior. Verboten. Evidence of self-hate.  It is interesting to note that on the recent 350+ signatories of the Zinnia petition,  approximately 120 out of 390, or 31%, listed a STEM occupation. And yet we are to ignore the forces of sex-based oppression that keep females disproportionately absent from STEM fields, and privileges males.
  • Siding with females on safe space issues?
    Treason of the highest order. Evidence of self hate.
  • The realities of passing, and challenging self-identification as proof of gender? Elitism, dismissed as appealing to society as one of the ‘good ones’.
  • Calling for rational engagement and an end to online violent and bullying behavior?
    “Stop tone policing me! I’m just venting!”
  • Identifying and expressing concern over the fetishization of female objectification and submission prevalent in trans behavior?
    This is actually frequently discussed as a source of shame. Rarely, however, is fetishization and autogynephilic behavior discussed as arising out of misogyny and male socialization. Instead, it is ‘normalized’ as a symptom of being trans (“you do that too? what a relief!”), and is not unpacked and unlearned.

Overcoming the silence

The theory explains a vocal minority (the complement of the silent majority) by stating that people who are highly educated, or who have greater affluence, and the few other cavalier individuals who do not fear isolation, are likely to speak out regardless of public opinion.[10] It further states that this minority is a necessary factor of change while the compliant majority is a necessary factor of stability, with both being a product of evolution. There is a vocal minority, which remains at the top of the spiral in defiance of threats of isolation. This theory calls these vocal minorities the hardcore nonconformist or the avant-garde. Hardcore nonconformists are “people who have already been rejected for their beliefs and have nothing to lose by speaking out.”[4] While the avant-garde are “the intellectuals, artists, and reformers in the isolated minority who speak out because they are convinced they are ahead of the times.” 

It is time that trans women speak up about these issues in our communities.  Remaining silent will enable these maladaptive behaviors to continue growing unchecked.  These behaviors do not stand up to scrutiny outside the trans queer bubble.  They harm innocent bystanders, and ultimately harm us as trans women, especially the new trans women coming up into their own.