Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Wait, what's going on at FTB?

Content note: arcane atheist blog politics

Some dark clouds are currently looming over Freethought Blogs.  Whatever it is, it's gloomier than your typical blog kerfuffle because it's friends against friends, and many people clearly have mixed feelings about it.  It's all rather low profile so far, despite apparently having been bubbling in the background for months, as if many people don't want to talk about it.

Freethought blogger Ophelia Benson is being accused of being a TERF, or maybe just transphobic, or maybe just a little too sympathetic to "gender-critical" feminism.  As Alex Gabriel describes, she's favorably linked to a lot of articles which have made people suspicious.  Recently, someone finally asked her in a blog comment whether trans women are women, and she couldn't bring herself to answer that.  Instead, she wrote several posts talking about how much she hated yes or no questions (more posts where that came from).  In a recent clarification, she says she accepts the genders of trans people but that she doesn't understand the ontology of gender.

I only read a handful of Freethought Blogs, Ophelia Benson's not among them, and hardly any comments.  So I only heard about this when some of the bloggers started talking about it, including Heather McNamara, Heina Dadhaboy, and Jason Thibeault.  I think they're all very kind, but they absolutely disagree with OB's waffly answer.  You can find less kind reactions in Pharyngula's infinite thread.  Incidentally the infinite thread was recently closed for good.

Right now, OB is doing another round of responses.  Ugh... doesn't look good.  This is probably not the end of it.


My perspective is fundamentally different from the those above, because OB is not my colleague, I don't read her blog, and do not interact with her ever.  I don't particularly care whether she's transphobic or not any more than I care about whether some Patheos blogger is transphobic or not.

But I do care about what happens to the online atheist community.  I've been around since 2007, so I know it's not the same thing over and over, stuff actually changes, it really does.  I didn't realize it at the time, but post-2011 dramas were some of the best things ever for the community.  We actually got some widespread trans-positive feminism, at least within our own sphere.  Wow!  The best!  We can never go back!

And I'm not just saying that as a purely altruistic cis guy.  In my experience, the number one indicator for the ace-friendliness of a group is, how well do they deal with trans issues?  FTB, along with the online atheist social justice community in general, has been in accordance with this trend.

What I'm worried about is not whatever OB says.  I'm worried that this will develop into a larger issue, with people taking sides.  I don't want it to be a community-wide debate whether you can make waffly deniable statements about trans people. If a few people make waffly statements, fine, but what I fear more is that many people will simultaneously start to defend it.

And I feel sure that the other issue that will pulled in is the issue of ideological purity and call-outs.

Incidentally, at the moment I'm working on a big summary of all the things social justice bloggers have written in critique of call-out culture.  But none of that nuanced discussion comes from atheist social justice.  Frankly I think the atheist community is rather naive about the issue.  I would love for atheists to start talking about it, but not this way, not when it will be associated with this particular incident.  I don't want it to be Defenders of Transphobia vs the Defenders of Call-out Culture.

Anyway, here's hoping that nothing significant will happen, and all of this will look like arcane nonsense in a month.