Monday, January 9, 2012

Sexism, transphobia, and uncertainty

As you likely know, there is an ongoing discussion about how women can be made to feel uncomfortable in the atheist and skeptical communities.  A post on Friendly Atheist explains how the problem is not with single incidents of men flirting with the women:
Being propositioned ... or flirted with at a conference will not make most women feel devalued. Being propositioned several times, or feeling like most men only approach you for the purpose of getting in your pants, can.
This reminds me of an anecdote, which may seem only tangentially related.  I have a friend who one time told me about her experiences looking for women.  She said that she had been rejected many times because she is trans.  This is not too surprising, because plenty of lesbians and bisexuals are transphobic.  And even among people who are not openly transphobic, many of them still feel uncomfortable actually dating transgender people.

And I, ever the skeptical thinker, commented that in any particular case (excluding cases where people were being openly transphobic), there was no way of knowing that people were rejecting her because she was trans.  People could just be disinterested for whatever reason, and it doesn't even necessarily reflect on her.

But she explained to me, individual cases may be uncertain, but if you look at the whole series of rejections, it's reasonable to claim that some of them were caused by transphobia, though we may not know which ones.

I had been thinking of it superficially, looking at an individual case, weighing the evidence for and against transphobia, and I concluded it was uncertain.  But I should have thought about the deeper implications.  What do you actually do with this uncertainty?  Will you just sit back and take it?  Hope that everyone involved has good intentions, rather than concealing bad ones?

The uncertainty just makes it worse.  When every case is uncertain, you have no one in particular to blame.  You can't complain about any particular case without people dismissing the case as uncertain.  You can't complain about rejection, because by itself there is absolutely nothing wrong with rejecting a trans person.  The problem is in the pattern.

Similarly, by itself there is absolutely nothing wrong with hitting on a woman.  There are more or less awkward ways to hit on people, but if it were just a one-time thing, I think most women could tolerate being hit on in even the most awkward situation.  The problem is in the pattern.

And yet, every time the internet blows up over sexism, the focus is on a single case study.  What's up with that?

21 comments:

SlightlyMetaphysical said...

Brilliant post. And, thinking about it, it's not an SJ thing, with commenters in the atheosphere, saying 'Well, was elevatorgate man REALLY that bad? There are so many unknowns. Let me speculate...'.
It's also a problem I have with how the media/politics machine handles things. When, for example, social workers mess up (picking the example closest to the top of my head), they don't say 'Lets look at the patterns. Social workers mess up in _% of cases, this is what could solve a lot of that', they pick one case and say 'This is OUTRAGEOUS! How does the government propose to stop this one case happening again?!' and then all the journalists and politicians massively overanalyse the precise facts of that one case for weeks. And I think a lot of people really don't realise that these sorts of things aren't stand-alone stories. Take that onto the internet, where over-analysis and anecdata reign supreme, and you've got a pretty painful experience.

some trans guy said...

There would be ways to know she was rejected for being trans; for instance, maybe she was rejected shortly after disclosing her trans status, or perhaps the person rejecting her actively told her that they couldn't be with a trans person. Which would suck, but it has happened. Of course knowing nothing about the details of your friend's rejections, I have no idea if this is even remotely applicable.

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

And even among people who are not openly transphobic, many of them still feel uncomfortable actually dating transgender people.

Even if it were absolutely true, why should this be a problem? Sexual affinity is very deeply personal; I don't see it as any kind of right that anyone ought to be attracted to anyone else for any reason.

miller said...

Some trans guy,
It was indeed applicable to some of her experiences, but not all of them.

Larry,
That's true, but a lot of the time people aren't interested in trans people because of beliefs that happen to be false. For instance, a person may be attracted to a trans individual, but refuse to act on it because of the trans status (one person had said exactly that). This isn't always the case though, and that's where the uncertainty comes in.

The solution, of course, is not for people to express interest when they have none, but for people to not be transphobic in the first place and then follow their own will.

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

A lot of the time people aren't interested in trans people because of beliefs that happen to be false. For instance, a person may be attracted to a trans individual, but refuse to act on it because of the trans status.

I don't see how that's an example of a false belief. If I'm otherwise attracted to a person, but not attracted because they are trans, and they really are trans, where's the false belief?

There are, for example, some smart, kind, good-looking people who are religious; I might well be otherwise attracted to a person until I find out she is religious. Would I then be laboring under a false belief?

I don't like religion, I find it very unattractive, but I don't think I'm "bigoted" per se against religious people: I don't think they are inherently or ineluctably inferior, and I believe they warrant all ordinary civil rights.

miller said...

Oh, I didn't mean that as an example of a specific false belief, just an example where false beliefs may play a role. Examples of false beliefs would be along the lines of "transwomen are really men", and so forth.

I'm trying not to say too much more than this, because I'm not really an expert on trans issues.

northernTNT said...

Disclosing? one need not "disclose". I have known a dozen MtT trying to pass as 'women', I've shared living quarters with some, none of those needed to disclose, it was all too obvious for anyone with biological knowledge of morphological sexual dimorphism.
Now trans folks on TV are a whole different matter when it comes to passing... massive cosmetic surgery all other the body, not just STS, massive makeup, ridiculous fetish costumes. Passing in real life has no relationship to those trick TV shows where they ask "unsuspecting audiences" to say M or F. rollseyes.

northernTNT said...

Finally a reasonable word!
As if not dating blonds make me blondephobic, or not dating morbidly obese people made me obesephobic. Hell I probably wouldn't even date myself... I'm a little obese, broken teeth, shaggy hair, argumentative, I guess I'm autophobic. :)

northernTNT said...

When black people were rising up from segregation and racism (ongoing), of course the ratio of 'interracial' dating (WTF is race anyway!!!!) was a little lower, because white folks owned blacks. One does normally does not have a relationship with one's beast of labour. But as soon as slavery ended and blacks were considered people not beasts, white folks took to being attracted to them more often than before.
But trans are not beasts of labour in a slave field, they are fellow citizens who have belief systems that contradict scientific knowledge, and I simply cannot date a religious person.

northernTNT said...

MtT trying to pass as 'women' are biologically male, there is nothing false belief there. There is science, and there is falsity. Remember religious discussions... the burden of the proof lays upon the one making the exceptional claim. Trans, god... same thing.

trivialknot said...

Relevant: the toupee fallacy. http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/2010/01/toupees-and-stereotypes.html

trivialknot said...

I think you're gross, and that therefore you are not real. SCIENCE

northernTNT said...

I've been a strong athletic tomboy atheist bi all my life, and a biologist in my adult life, and before I fattened up around age 34, I was often mistaken for a guy, cuz my parents never taught me religion or sexist stereotypes, I was always free to chose my activities, my clothing, my hair choices. According to trans theory, I should be requesting a "sex change" because I'm obviously in the "wrong body" not my words... theirs.. But humans are not Shania Twain songs (I feel like woman) because I never "felt" like a woman and dislike all sexist stereotypes so I've stayed away from those all my life. Ièm a Homo sapiens with a female reproductive system.
And you know what, it is perfectly OK for you to find me gross and not want to have sex with me. Cuz if every one on the planet was equally sexually attractive to you, that would make you quite exceptional !

northernTNT said...

There are some fallacies that have no usefulness outside of debate clubs. If someone is wearing a true hair wig/toupee, then indeed, there is no biological REAL-world indicator that it's a fake. However when it comes to synthetic hair (and that goes for distinguishing faux-fur from fur), anyone with any biological understand and experience CAN distinguish them.
Same goes for biological sex. Dick and balls are not the only indicators of biological males, there is V-shape, muscle-fat distribution, limb ratio, bone size/length/density, pilosity, voice. Those are biological facts, not just based on individual perception.
The exception to the clarity rule are intersex people. Now to be sure, trans people try very hard at co-opting intersex issues into their activism, but they are really on diametrically opposed political paths.
Intersex babies later complain about surgeries and hormonal treatments during infancy as child abuse, whereas trans folks are demanding the right to impose it upon youth (since youth can't consent, as they don't have legal authority over their body, it is akin to statutory rape. it doesn't matter that the 12 y/o raped girl said yes, she did not have the authority to say yes).
So indeed, a useless fallacy. And we could even say that this fallacy has a straw man built-in!

trivialknot said...

I think you might have missed the point of the toupee fallacy. It's actually about selective bias. You think that all toupees are easily recognizable, but then you are unlikely to be aware of the toupees that are not easily recognizable.

You can reject the applicability of the fallacy if you like, but rejecting the fallacy (while clearly not understanding it) just makes me think you're an ideologue.

trivialknot said...

random internet commenters, god... same thing

northernTNT said...

Like I said, but I'll be more concise... the fallacy can apply to situations where there is no biological distinction. But it fails at criticising situations where there true biological distinctions. If you tell me you can't distinguish between plastic plants, silk plants, and real plants, I'd know you don't have the knowledge to make the distinction. But any biologist or horticulturist will have no trouble making the distinction, because it is obvious to anyone with that field of scientific knowledge. You're placing your own dogma of against a simple biological fact.
Fallacies are not always useful in discussions about reality.

northernTNT said...

er, no gods, and not exactly "random" since you blogged about it... you either expect full compliance with your dogma of PC for all self-identifiers, or you are willing to discuss the scientific fundamentals.
Diagnostics need to be consistent in order to be valid. There are tons of people like me who've been practising non-gender-conformity who are not claiming to be trans.
Anyway, I won't harass you any longer, I attempted to bring science here but you prefer dogma. Not too sceptical in my eyes... Anyway, enjoy your life.

trivialknot said...

So the toupee fallacy doesn't apply to... toupees? You're not really convincing me that you have a clue.

trivialknot said...

It should be fairly obvious that I'm trolling you. You're here on a years old post, posting lengthy substanceless rants that are barely related to what I wrote. Sorry, you don't sound interesting enough to bother with.

What I don't understand, is if you want to share opinions, why don't you just start your own blog? I'm sure you could get more readers than by leaving comments on blog archives. Although this is more fun for me.

miller said...

One should never be called transphobic for placing biology over identitary religions.
I don't have other-sex-sex or same-sex-sex with anyone with fake body parts. Fake breasts are gross on any sex, inverted peni are gross, and are not vaginas, they are inverted peni, heavy makeup is gross, even more gross smeared over stubble.
A penis is a male sexual appendage, not a female one.
Science first. Please.