Resignation Statement — Humanist Students President-Elect
In light of recent events, I have taken the difficult decision to resign from the position of President-Elect of Humanist Students.
These events involved a retweet of mine saying ‘RT if women don’t have penises’, and certain other criticisms of the transgender movement, as well as suggestions to improve the movement’s actions. Sadly, these views were taken to be ‘transphobic’ by individuals who cannot tolerate any criticism, either of their movement or their ideas, and are unable to engage in a civilized conversation on issues they disagree on. These are individuals who think they hold the absolute right to determine which ideas can be discussed and what language can be used in a public forum.
Admittedly, there is a certain risk taken when one is involved in an organization driven by a particular ideology, and that is not being able to divert from the official stance of the organization. And that’s not necessarily bad, that’s how things are in the corporate world — especially when one acts as the representative of an organization. But activism is not a corporate matter — it is not simply about the reputation of an organization; it is much more than that. It is concerning when there are certain no-go zones in an organization which prides itself on being tolerant of different views, and when one is deprived of her freedom to express herself because some feel that she had made ‘divisive’, ‘non-inclusive’, and ‘x-phobic’ comments, and it is more concerning that the individual is deprived of her opportunity to form and express her opinion as she wishes, for fear that it might offend others. It is extremely sad that we have reached an era in which feelings determine the nature of debates — not arguments, not facts. It is also concerning that emotional reactions to arguments matter more than the arguments themselves.
I was surprised by the lack of willingness to engage in a discussion upon the issue by current and former members of the organization — members that otherwise promote freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and an environment in which ideas and opinions can be debated and challenged. Living in a free society and being present and active in a public forum means that one often witnesses comments that she may judge as offensive, divisive, or derogatory. Living in a democracy means that one will often offend and get offended. That’s the price one pays for being a member of a democracy and not existing into her own bubble.
Simply silencing opinions and views different than your own (even ones you see as racist, discriminatory, and x-phobic) does no good, for you lose the opportunity to present your arguments, and you do not convince the ‘wrongdoer’ of your position’s truth, but you simply marginalize and ostracize them, creating an even bigger schism between the two sides, engaging into tribalism.
Even if one makes statements which are wrong beyond doubt (e.g. ‘Homosexuals shouldn’t have the right to marry’, ‘Nazis did nothing bad’, ‘Slavery is moral’, ‘Women are inferior to men’), one needs to have a conversation with that individual and explain why they are (obviously) wrong. Engaging in a debate does not mean that you give equal status to your opponent. On the contrary, it is an opportunity to make your case clear to her, and to the audience, as to why she is clearly wrong. Something that I hoped fellow humanists would do on this occasion, especially Christopher Ward, who brought this issue to light.
I may be wrong and women might indeed have penises, although I don’t believe that to be the case, but the backlash that took place after my comments, particularly within the organization, convinced me that, unfortunately and surprisingly, there are certain issues within the humanist movement which are undebatable — no effort was made, beyond name-calling, derogatory comments, and ad hominem statements, to convince me of the truth of the other side’s position.
I am a humanist, I remain a proud member of Humanist Students, and I will continue to support Humanists UK in their outstanding efforts to promote rational thinking and logic in society, challenge religious privilege, fight for human rights, achieve freedom from religion, and establish a secular state. However, as an individual, I am not willing to give up my right to form my own opinion on controversial issues just because this might conflict with an organization’s position or offend some of its members, nor ask whether my position coincides with the organization’s before expressing myself. I believe that it is the individual who shapes an organization, not the other way round.
I do respect all transgender people, support their struggle to gain the rights they deserve and be of equal status to all other human beings — it is a real shame that people question the status of transgender individuals as human beings, and that the suicide rate for transgender individuals is alarmingly high. However, I have the right to disagree with certain actions of the transgender movement and express certain criticisms of the societal implications of sex and gender, and criticize how an individual can legitimately ‘be whatever they say they are’ i.e. how an individual chooses to identify herself.
One can be supportive and critical of an idea at the same time, and that, I believe, is the beauty of striving to be a skeptic and rational individual. The fact that you have the absolute right to identify yourself as you wish does not make you immune from criticism. Christopher and others have been too quick to judge my position on transgender issues — my position is an attack on ‘gender’ as a concept, and an attempt to point out some flaws in the logic behind the transgender movement followed by suggestions on how the movement can improve itself to be able to better reach its aims. If you are unaware of the other side of the debate (i.e. those criticizing your decision), this is not because it does not exist, but because you have silenced it.
It was absolutely fantastic working with you Hari Parekh and Hannah Timson on board of Humanist Students. I hope that we will have the opportunity to work together in the future again as we have a lot that unites us. Also, an immense thank you to all those who have sent messages of support in the last few days; I hope we belonged in an environment in which we were able to speak up without the fear of being fiercely attacked and silenced. Good luck to Hannah in her role as President-Emeritus and to those taking up the roles of President-elect and President. Best wishes.