So I’ve been poring over the numerous responses that I’ve received on this article. Many were from people who enjoyed the piece — glad you appreciated it and thanks for letting me know! Others were from people who described what they felt were shortcomings in the piece, so I would like to address some of those issues here.
Multiple people complained that I didn’t address what they see as activists going too far in certain cases, or how quickly people are to call-out, pile on, protest, and “no platform” others. Those issues were not addressed directly here, as this piece was a rebuttal to a series of one-sided “hit pieces” (what I described as the “flip-side of the Internet outrage machine”), and my goal was too highlight the superficiality and gaping blindspots in those pieces. But I have written *extensively* about such issues elsewhere.
For starters, I mentioned my book, which discusses (what I feel are) the root causes that lead activists to forward one-size-fits-all ideologies and tactics that sometimes unfairly invalidates or marginalizes other people. The last chapter of that book (“Balancing Acts”) talks about the many problems with “call-out culture” and some of my suggestions for remedying it. If you don’t want to go out and buy my book, just click the “entire book” link in the article above, and it will take you to a Noah Berlatsky interview of me talking about these very problems.
In my opinion, the real question is: How do we decide what activist tactics and “call outs” are useful and productive, and which ones are counterproductive or cross the line? While we may not agree on the answer to that, I have written several pieces that walk through all the arguments and try to shine a light on where and why we might disagree. For instance, here is a piece on appropriation. Here is one about activist attempts to ban, or curb, or police who can use certain potential slurs. Many of the more unyielding activist stances result from them being rooted in a “reverse discourse” — I compare and contrast that with other activist approaches in the linked piece.
If you click on the links to any of those pieces, you will find that they are rather long. That is because these are super-complex issues. This is why I so fiercely resent all the “flip-side of the Internet outrage machine” articles, because they ignore this complexity. As far as I’m concerned, they are merely “hot takes.”
Some people have asked me why I posted this on Medium. The answer is, because I can. Frankly, I would *love* it if a mainstream (albeit left-leaning) media/news outlet, like The Nation or The Atlantic, invited me to write an article for them about these matters. (I’d even promise to make it less snarky and remove the cuss words!) [Note added 11–13–15: actually Salon just picked up the article today, imagine that!] But it probably won’t happen (any time soon at least) because 1) these are complex issues that take time (and words) to spell out, and frankly “hot takes” get more click-throughs (this is a business for them after all), and 2) they (i.e., the editors making these decisions) probably feel hounded every day by the “Internet outrage machine.” I am sure that they (and their writers) are inundated with comments, tweets, emails, etc., complaining about how “fill-in-the-blank” article is “fill-in-the-blank”-ist! Some of these complaints may be off-base. In any case, they see this as the problem.
And I totally get it, because I am a public writer, and I get those too. I learn from some of those remarks, while others seem unfair or off-base to me. But to me, those complaints are far outweighed by the significantly more frequent comments, tweets, emails, etc., that I receive that spew vitriol at me because I am a public trans person.
Which leads me to another response: Someone suggested that I am oblivious to the fact that the winds may shift some day, and that it will be me who is “no platformed.” Well, as I linked to in the piece, I actually have been “no platformed” before, specifically for being a transgender person speaking about trans identities, which some people protested because they felt that this (in and of itself) was beyond the pale. And frankly, the way that the phrase “no platform” is often tossed around is really naive. It often is used to refer to when people have already been invited to speak, but protesters try to put pressure on the institution in question to disinvite them. This ignores the countless conversations that go on behind the scenes, where people decide who might be “appropriate” or “inappropriate” to invite in the first place! And I’m sure that 95-ish or 75-ish percent of people behind the scenes, right off the bat, wouldn’t even consider inviting a transgender person to speak, or would find it (or assume that audiences would find it) inappropriate.
So to answer that question, I worry more about being “no platformed” for being a transgender person than I worry about saying something inappropriate or unsavory or problematic that leads people to try to “no platform” me. I tried to convey that in the piece. And I think this is a crucial (under-discussed) factor in these debates we are having. From my perspective, it seems that the people promoting the “PC run amok” meme are more afraid of being protested/“no platformed” for things they say, whereas the people agreeing with me are more concerned about being protested/“no platformed” because of their identity/body/sexuality/person (or they are allies who are aware of, and concerned with, this possibility).
Finally, I was asked about my personal opinion on attempts to “no platform” Germaine Greer at that University. As you may (hopefully by now) recognize, I have complex feelings about this. For one thing, let me state that I would be opposed to “no platforming” Greer if she was someone who made one off-hand anti-trans remark, or said something that she didn’t mean to be anti-trans but was interpreted that way, or if she apologized for any of said remarks. But that is not the case. She is someone who has a long history of going out of her way to make the case that trans people are beyond the pale, and that our identities and concerns should not be tolerated. She even went out of her way to try to have a transgender colleague fired once. Because they were transgender. Talk about being “no platformed”!
Second, organizing protests is not really what I do these days— I am a writer, and I mostly express my thoughts and feelings through that medium. I myself (at this point in my life) probably wouldn’t actively try to prevent Greer from speaking — I’m more the type that would print out leaflets with all the god-awful things Greer has said about transgender people, and pass them out at the event. But this is easy for me to say, because I am far removed from these events. If I was a younger trans student at that University, and this celebrated famous person who thinks that I am beyond the pale, and that no one should accept or tolerate my identity, was suddenly invited to speak on my campus where — not quite 95-ish these days, but let’s say 75-ish, or 55-ish, or 35-ish — percent of people already think that it’s okay hate on me and dismiss my identity, if that were the case…?
Well, I’d probably feel very differently. I might even try to “no platform” her if this was happening on my campus, in my workplace, at the school that I attend, in my home.
How would you feel if that was your predicament? If you were that person? I am not sure. But what I do know is that these sorts of conversations and debates and “hot takes” are all bullshit unless/until we seriously consider what it would be like to be that person, in that situation.