21 November 2022

JK Rowling

Cataloguing resources about her which I originally collected on Twitter.

Opposition to trans liberation Harry Potter worldbuilding

Opposition to trans liberation

Rowling is probably the most prominent individual opposing trans liberation in the Anglophone world

The 2020 “TERF Wars” letter

After several years of trans liberation advocates saying they had seen hints and dogwhistles, in 2020 Rowling wrote a famous open letter, which she linked in a tweet saying simply “TERF Wars”

The letter

Rowling’s essay declaring her position: “I refuse to bow down to a movement that I believe is doing demonstrable harm in seeking to erode ‘woman’ as a political and biological class and offering cover to predators like few before it.”

Andrew James Carter's fisking

Capture of a Twitter thread which was one of the most prominent detailed early responses breaking down the particulars, calling it a “litany of half-truths and transphobic dogwhistles”.

Annotating Rowling

An even closer line-by-line fisking of the letter, published early on, by Cassie LaBelle. The author says: “Rowling wants cis women to see trans women as gross aggressive men who need to be confronted, Me Too style. She talks about being assaulted by a man, and then paints trans women as sneaky men with an abusive agenda.”

The Mermaids Team Open Letter To J. K. Rowling

A response to the overall argument of the letter and its implications: “If you haven’t listened to trans children, don’t speak about them.”

A Reasonable Person’s Guide to the J.K. Rowling Essay

“I could see the countless points in which many reasonable and well-intentioned people likely found themselves nodding along. Not because they are transphobic, but because they don’t have access to the full story.”

Everything Wrong with JK Rowling’s Open Letter

“inaccuracies, omissions, and logical errors”

In dialogue with with her fiction

a single sentence

Capture of a Twitter thread by Q. Pheevr which observes that when Hermione's consciousness magically inhabits Harry's body, Rowling employs the pronoun “she” and considers the implications

JK Rowling's Anti-Transgender Stance And Hogwarts Legacy

"With a brand-new Harry Potter game on the way, now is the time to unpack and try to understand the impact of franchise creator JK Rowling's discriminatory behaviour."

JK Rowling’s latest book is about a murderous cis man who dresses as a woman to kill his victims

On Troubled Blood

The Midnight Society on Troubled Blood

The Midnight Society is a series of funny, spoofy dialogues between fictional authors published on Twitter which often features Rowling. Archiving it here:
JK Rowling: Ssubmitted for the approval of the Midnight Ssociety, I call this The Tale of the Murderer Who Wore a Dresssss
Stephen King: you mean a wizard robe? are you returning to harry potter
Rowling: NO
Rowling: but sssee I'll clearly ssstate up front that the dressss-wearing murderer iss actually ciss
Rowling: so even though it's a clear allegory for my feelingss about the inherent evil of transs people, you can't complain
Thomas Harris: fiendishly clever!
Clive Barker: hm this is a pretty long story JK
Rowling: yess
Barker: been working on it a long time, no doubt
Rowling: yess
Barker: probably started working on it when you started being transphobic
Rowling: yesss
Rowling: where are you going with thisss
Barker: did you become transphobic as advance advertising for this book
Rowling: maybe
Rowling: but it'sss better that it'ss transsphobic just for PR right?
Barker: i kinda think it's worse
King: yeah kinda seems worse to me
Poe: definitely worse
King: this thing is 900 pages long? that's a little much, why did you write a 900 page book?
Barker: i thought you were dead
Barker: twitter said you were dead
Rowling: i'm not dead
Rowling: i was merely engaged in brumation under a rock

The UK context

Opposition to trans liberation has a distictive relationship with media and feminist culture in the UK

J.K. Rowling’s transphobia is a product of British culture

This Vox explainer references a paywalled New York Times article. Here’s the heart of that:

If the idea that transphobic harassment could be “feminist” bewilders you, you are not alone. In the United States, my adoptive home, the most visible contemporary opponents of transgender rights are right-wing evangelicals, who have little good to say about feminism. In Britain, where I used to live, the situation is different.

There, the most vocal trans-exclusionary voices are, ostensibly, “feminist” ones, and anti-trans lobbying is a mainstream activity. Case in point: Ms. Parker told the podcast “Feminist Current” that she’d changed her thinking on trans women after spending time on Mumsnet, a site where parents exchange tips on toilet training and how to get their children to eat vegetables. If such a place sounds benign, consider the words of British writer Edie Miller: “Mumsnet is to British transphobia,” she wrote “what 4Chan is to American fascism.”

The term coined to identify women like Ms. Parker and Dr. Long is TERF, which stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. In Britain, TERFs are a powerful force. If, in the United States, the mainstream media has been alarmingly ready to hear “both sides” on the question of trans people’s right to exist, in Britain, TERFs have effectively succeeded in framing the question of trans rights entirely around their own concerns: that is, how these rights for others could contribute to “female erasure.” Many prominent figures in British journalism and politics have been TERFs; British TV has made a sport of endlessly hosting their lurid rudeness and styling it as courage; British newspapers seemingly never tire of broadsides against the menace of “gender ideology.” (With time, the term TERF has become a catchall for all anti-trans feminists, radical or not.)

The split between the American and British center-left on this issue was thrown into sharp relief last year, when The Guardian published an editorial on potential changes to a law called the Gender Recognition Act, which would allow people in Britain to self-define their gender. The editorial was headlined “Where Rights Collide,” and argued that “women’s concerns about sharing dormitories or changing rooms with ‘male-bodied’ people must be taken seriously.” Some of The Guardian’s United States-based journalists published a disavowal, arguing that the editorial’s points “echo the position of anti-trans legislators who have pushed overtly transphobic bathroom bills.”

A curious facet of the groundswell of TERFism in Britain is that, in fact, the phenomenon was born in the United States. It emerged out the shattered remnants of the 1960s New Left, a paranoid faction of American 1970s radical feminism that the historian Alice Echols termed “cultural feminism” to distinguish it, and its wounded attachment to the suffering-based femaleness it purports to celebrate, from other strands of women’s liberation.

The movement crossed over to Britain in the 1980s, when cultural feminism was among the lesbian-separatist elements of antinuclear protest groups who saw themselves as part of a “feminist resistance” to patriarchal science, taking a stand against nuclear weapons, test-tube babies and male-to-female transsexual surgery alike.

In America, however, TERFism today is a scattered community in its death throes, mourning the loss of its last spaces, like the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which ended in 2015. And so the strangely virulent form that TERFism takes in Britain today, and its influence within the British establishment, requires its own separate, and multipronged, explanation.

Ms. Parker and Ms. Long may not know it, but they’re likely influenced by the legacy of the British “Skepticism” movement of the 1990s and early 2000s, which mobilized against the perceived spread of postmodernism in English universities as well as homeopathy and so-called “junk science.” Hence, the impulse among TERFs to proclaim their “no-nonsense” character; witness the billboard Ms. Parker paid to have put up last fall dryly defining a woman as an “adult human female.” Such a posture positions queer theory and activism as individualistic, narcissistic and thus somehow fundamentally un-British.

It’s also worth noting that the obsession with supposed “biological realities” of people like Ms. Parker is part of a long tradition of British feminism interacting with colonialism and empire. Imperial Britain imposed policies to enforce heterosexuality and the gender binary, while simultaneously constructing the racial “other” as not only fundamentally different, but freighted with sexual menace; from there, it’s not a big leap to see sexual menace in any sort of “other,” and “biological realities” as essential and immutable. (Significantly, many Irish feminists have rejected Britain’s TERFism, citing their experience of colonialism explicitly as part of the reason.)

But perhaps the biggest factor in the rise of TERFism has been the relative dearth of social movements in Britain over the past three decades. It’s telling that Ms. Parker thinks it was the United States that exported “political correctness” and ideas like “gender identity” to Britain; it might even be fair to say that she’s right.

In other parts of the world, including America, mass movements in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s around the effects of globalization and police brutality have produced long overdue dialogue on race, gender and class, and how they all interact. In Britain, however, the space for this sort of dialogue has been much more limited. As a result, middle- and upper-class white feminists have not received the pummeling from black and indigenous feminists that their American counterparts have, and thus, their perspectives retain a credibility and a level of influence in Britain that the Michigan Womyn’s Festival could have only dreamed of.

TERF Wars: Why Transphobia Has no Place in Feminism.

Laurie Penny article contextualizing Rowling’s position in the tendency toward the particular history and forms of opposition to trans liberation in UK feminism and media

Inside the Great British TERF War

Vice Magazine with more on the cultural politics in the UK

A telltale Twitter ♥︎

“JK Rowling just liked a tweet opposing a bill that will criminalise conversion therapy (both sexual orientation and gender identity) at the federal level in Canada. If you were on the fence or thought people were overreacting before, now is the time to take a stand.”

More UK context

Lacking another archive of this Twitter thread from Katherine Cross, I am capturing it here:

British transphobia’s virulence derives from its acceptability among British liberals, full stop. J.K. Rowling doesn't fit American liberals’ idea of an anti-trans bigot (who they prefer to envision as a MAGA-spewing right-winger). Thus, all the softpedalling in press coverage.

They literally don’t know what to do with her. “Wait, I thought you were one of the good ones?" The problem is that now this bigotry risks becoming more acceptable because of who’s spouting it. It breaks the partisan priors held by many cis American liberals.

Their assumption was that transphobia seemed bad because it was a conservative thing. Now J.K. Rowling offers them ideological cover--as long as they don’t look too closely, which they probably won’t. They’ll be inundated with whitewashing headlines and ledes.

Meanwhile, the fact that she’s approvingly quote-tweeting people with open homophobia on their timeline will not be remarked upon in much of the coverage. It’ll instead be framed as “Rowling expresses controversial views on transgender rights."

The thing is, Rowling's liberalism has always been pantomime. It's her brand. Her tweetsona, if you like. But she's never been genuinely progressive--see the thousand and one critiques of anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, etc. in HP.

What grates about her retcons--“Oh Dumbledore was gay, I just never told you" or “Oh Hermoine could've been Black" is that no genuinely decent person would've tried that. They’d have acknowledged they have a lot to learn and strive to do better in the future.

Instead of being honest about her implicit biases and working to correct them in future work, she retcons and doubles down on her ignorance. The retcons reconcile her past with her current liberal persona in the lowest-cost way possible. She was never wrong, oh no.

We all have to learn and grow. But her unwillingness to admit that she was ever mistaken is telling. It’s all about the brand for her.

But her transphobia? Like all Twitter TERFs, she’s got religion on this. This is who she really is and what she actually cares about.

A personal memoir relevant to Rowling’s claims

A Twitter thread by Lina Morgan:

Hi. It’s me. Your friendly neighborhood trans person who detransitioned and has serious health issues. JK Rowling and other TERFs are using people like me as ammunition against other trans people. My sickness is not a result of transition, it is because of the lack of true care.

In my late 20s, after being on hormones and anti-androgens for several years, my body finally started cooperating and I started to look and feel like the person I knew I always was.

Then I got sick.

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. It’s a hereditary thing. My grandmother had ulcerative colitis, she passed the predisposition, genetically, onto me. At the time, I was too poor to handle being full-time sick on my own so I had to lean on support from my disapproving family.

I made the decision to detransition at the time because I was afraid to be on so many medications while I was getting a new disease under control. I had no real support, so all I could do was guess and I was desperate to get the Crohn's under any semblance of control.

In my 30s, I tried to transition again but discovered a stumbling block in the form of bizarre allergic reactions to all estrogen pills and anti-androgens. To this day there is no perfect explanation for my condition.

I tried a lot of different treatments, all had the same result: I couldn't breathe, I would swell up and even break out in hives. My lungs are permanently damaged. I already had asthma but my breathing is much worse now.

The closest I’ve ever gotten to a diagnosis is that the Crohn’s (plus the medication I take for it) has altered my body chemistry creating an extreme reaction to estrogen and anti-androgens (and I'm sure a whole lot of other random things).

Here's what I know -- the lack of medical professionals available to incorporate crohn's treatment with my ongoing transition is what caused me to detransition. And it's what destroyed my health. The actual medical transition is not responsible for any of that.

Gatekeepers to my transition did not help me stay healthy -- they, quite genuinely, ruined my health. And seeing people claim care when I know, first hand, what their “care” really accomplishes infuriates me.

Trans people need doctors and medical scientists to do the research and incorporate medical transition seamlessly into every day life. Trans people will have other health issues because trans people are human. It is not our fault scientists aren’t doing the work.

And it’s not trans people’s fault that cis people who are scared of the big, bad tran get in the way of us getting any care whatsoever. That’s what’s making us unhealthy. That's what’s killing us. So spare me the sanctimonious speeches about protecting kids.

JK Rowling doesn’t care about trans kids. In point of fact, she’s made it very clear that she doesn’t want trans people to exist. Anyone who allies themselves with her and calls it “care” might be fooling themselves, but they’re not fooling me. I hope you won't be fooled either.

More anti-trans commitments

Glamour magazine’s backgrounder

An outline of events starting before the letter, including many tweets and public statements from Rowling.

Laura Kate Dale on later extremist alliances

So, I want to be clear who JK Rowling was having lunch with yesterday, while LGBT rights groups protested for trams rights mere miles away.

Get The L Out are an anti trans hate group who hijacked London Pride to hand out trans women are rapists leaflets under police protection. Get the L Out were featured prominently in the BBC’s “trans women are raping cis lesbians” article. They were behind the 80 person self selected survey which formed the backbone of that bigotted article.

Rowling met them for an excited best friend lunch.

Get the L Out are a group who actively claim trans women are dangerous, and should have their legal rights removed.

Rowling met up for drinks with them, while a united LGBT community begged the government to ban the torture of trans people under the guise of protection.

There are few groups more actively engaged in fighting against trams rights in the UK than Get the L Out.

You don’t have a best friends lunch with them without being vehemently committed to the anti trans rights rabbit hole.

Shit like this is why I’m boycotting Hogwarts Legacy. I cannot support anything connected to someone who is so clearly, unashamedly, best friends with those who see me as a monster to be eradicated. She’s not just “a little bit anti trans”, she’s besties with extremists. Rowling isn’t just innocently following these people on Twitter. She’s going out of her way to celebrate with them as a collective.

J.K. Rowling Denies Pen Name Is Inspired by Anti-LGBTQ+ Conversion Therapist

Offering evidence that this is implausible

My Words to Joanne Rowling Above the Towers of Hogwarts: Performing Transgender Civility

“your apparently blameless movement of frustrated common-sensers, has been infiltrated at every level by the kind of vicious, hostile bigots whose entire business is to defame and degrade the lives of trans women”

On Rowling's sense of her own gender

Kathryn Brightbill says:

I didn't read all of JK Rowling's extremely long essay because I got tired of slogging through bad writing, but the part where she said that if she'd been born later, she might have decided to transition stood out like a blinking neon sign, and yet hardly anybody talks about it.

This isn't a, "bigots secretly are what they hate," scenario speculating about somebody based on no evidence other than the bigotry, this is what Rowling told us about herself to explain why she wants to wall off trans men from

JK Rowling explained her motivations, and spelled out that they're partly rooted in panic about what the ability of trans men to transition means about her own identity and sense of self, and yet hardly anybody wants to talk about it.

This is not to speculate about Rowling's gender, just to say that she full on told us that she doesn't feel sufficiently secure in her own womanhood to not feel threatened by the fact that other people question their gender, conclude they're not women, and do something about it.

Anyway, this tweet is what got me thinking about the topic again — Evan Urquhart says:

Well, I read this, and I must confess to being disappointed that trans men, and Rowling's specific targeting of trans men in her statement weren't mentioned at all. Who Did J. K. Rowling Become?

What is it going to take for people to realize that bathroom predator panic is only half of the transphobe's worldview (and way less than half of Rowling's actual statement)?

The sexist belief that trans men are being tricked into transitioning (because we all know "girls" can't make decisions about their own lives) is a huge part of the transphobic narrative.

We cannot allow it to fly under the radar or be presented as respectable and measured.

I'll go further and say:

You do not understand Rowling and have not adequately profiled her descent into transphobia if you ignore the part of her essay where she says that if she'd been born earlier, she might have transitioned herself.

Shying away from it is cowardly. It'si a core part of where Rowling situates herself in relation to trans people: Rowling feels threatened as much by the possibility of exploring her own gender identity as she does at the possibility of being a victim of abuse.

For anyone who's new to my own work, here's the piece I wrote about Rowling's transphobia towards trans men when her essay first came out: J.K. Rowling and the Echo Chamber of TERFs

You do not understand Rowling and have not adequately profiled her descent into transphobia if you ignore the part of her essay where she says that if she'd been born earlier, she might have transitioned herself.

We're watching a very public freakout from one of the richest women on the planet, all because she's decided she'd rather fight to destroy other people's lives than to see a therapist and work through her own issues, because she's afraid of what she'll find if she does.

And the thing is, if she ever actually dealt with her own gender issues, she might very well conclude that yes, she is a binary cis woman, but she's so terrified about the prospect that she might find otherwise that she's decided she'd rather be a hateful bigot.

As a final note, as someone who grew up in the Christian homeschool subculture where my parents were in the minority for teaching their daughters math and expecting college, I think I know a thing or two about growing up in a misogynistic world.

The idea that experiencing misogyny makes somebody want to change their gender is patently bullshit. I spent too much of my childhood and young adulthood pushing back against the idea that womanhood is a limitation to take the time to stop and question my gender growing up.

And lest somebody decides to pop in here and suggest that as a homeschool kid, I was too sheltered to be aware that some people transition because they're not the gender they were assigned at birth, my mom watched daytime talk shows in the '80s, I knew trans people existed.

Not that the trans representation on 1980s daytime talk shows was exactly great, but ever since elementary school, I've understood the concept that not everyone fits the gender they were assigned at birth, and that if that gender doesn't fit, you can do something about it.

Not that I was aware of the concept of nonbinary genders back then, but it's not like the English language even had terminology back then. Just because there weren't labels doesn't mean nonbinary people didn't exist though.

And contrary to what people think, it's not just Kids These Days who are describing themselves as nonbinary and using pronouns like they/them. People felt that way before, they just didn't have words in English to put a label on it.

I mean, comics legend Grant Morrison, who's in their 60s, recently came out as nonbinary by basically saying that Kids These Days came up with a term that fit how they'd always felt, and that that's why it's good language evolves over time.

All that to say that it's a hell of a lot of projection for JK Rowling to argue that there's some kind of social contagion around gender and base the argument on the idea that she might have transitioned if she'd been born decades later than she was.

I want to reiterate that I have no idea what Rowling's actual deal with her gender is and I'm not speculating. I'm just saying that her own words say that this is something that distresses her personally, and that fact needs to be included in the discussion.

Clare Willet on Rowling supporters

some of the ugliest, nastiest, most vitriolic, "lock your account and log out for the week to cope with the anxiety attacks" harassment i've gotten on here has been for criticizing JKR, which honestly just proves why it's necessary for allies to keep talking about this

remember when the terfs were brigading a thread about my dead mother because they were pissed i said that if we were deplatforming trump for inciting real-world violence with tweets that we should deplatform her too?

good times

and by good i mean i had to call my therapist

transphobes frequently hold up cis queer women as the very victims they are defending ("protect the poor lesbians by keeping men out of women-only spaces!"), only to lash out viciously if you don't uphold their narrative and permit yourself to be used thus, which i loudly do not

and i mean this is the tiniest drop-in-the-bucket example of how their tactics are so violent they hurt even the people they purport to be helping (see also: cis butches getting harassed in public bathrooms!), but JKR really normalized falsely framing this as "feminism"

right-wing transphobia and left-wing transphobia have the same ultimate aim (the erasure of all trans people from society) but they see themselves differently; JKR bears a lot of responsibility for popularizing the notion of a "progressive" case against supporting trans people

and i sincerely mean it when i say she should be deplatformed under the same rules for which twitter removed trump's account: namely that real, bodily harm in the real world, in addition to perpetual daily online harassment, is being purposely, gleefully instigated by your tweets

JK Rowling Holocaust Denialism: Author Pushes Claims That Trans People Were Not A Target

On Twitter JKR quoted someone saying correctly …

The Nazis burnt books on trans healthcare and research, why are you so desperate to uphold their ideology around gender?

… commenting …

I just… how? How did you type this out and press send without thinking ‘I should maybe check my source for this, because it might’ve been a fever dream’?

Rowling is, of course, entirely wrong, and fascist transphobia is a very serious concern in our current moment.

Harry Potter worldbuilding

On closer examination, the setting and storytelling in Harry Potter shows troubling implications

Shaun on Harry Potter

A long video-essay on the cultural politics and politics politics of Harry Potter and what they imply

On house-elves and goblins

Not quite my own read, but illuminating on how JKR’s sloppy worldbuilding gives rise to moral horror in her work:

So I kind of want to go off on a couple Greatest Hits topics in relation to the Wizard Book Lady’s books that aren’t her grotesque transphobia or fatphobia, but often get criticized. (House-elves and goblins, to be specific.)

Should I?

Alright, easymode first: Goblins.

So time to annoy.

Goblins in Harry Potter are antisemitic! They are not, however, a sort of antisemitic which particularly bothers me, compared to a number of more common & popular antisemitic cliches?

(glares at Vampires-as-evil-rich)

Harry Potter’s goblins aren’t even especially particularly Jewish-coded in terms of physical appearance in the books’ overt descriptions, partly bc JK’s descriptions of people are frequently potentially awkward, gawky, or nebulous.

By contrast the films, of course...hoo boy.

Bluntly: if you’re primed to see Goblins in Potter’s text-only as especially Jewish, it’s entirely due to wealth & banking associations - unlike, say, Tolkien’s dwarves, who are obviously Jew-ish analogs in language, culture, and virtues. Potter goblins are all vices, no virtues.

To be clear here I absolutely agree that Potter’s goblins are antisemitic. But as harmful antisemitism goes, in text alone, they were pretty easy to dismiss as relatively inconsequential compared to many quite popular conspiratorial symbols-of-evil-wealth-and-power.

If you’re already looking for the many ways Rowling’s books replicate and praise normative Western & British bigotries, you’ll spot clear parallels between goblins and antisemitic-caricatures-of-Jews.

But they’re too crude and inconsequential to rank among Rowling’s biggest harms.

I can already feel some well-intentioned angry person coming at me with one of the grotesque movie or publication stills of a Potter goblin and its resemblance to the “happy merchant” antisemitic grotesquerie, so please - don’t.

(I have some bad news about pop goblins in general.)

And - until later in the series - Goblins aren’t a particularly significant element of the setting. There’s one noteworthy goblin character & it takes until the last book for him to become impactful - and oh boy the Gringotts heist is Peak Didn’t Think About This Antisemitism

But basically, if we’re talking about normalized antisemitism, Potter is a blip. South Park did infinitely more, and more harmful examples, to popularize it than Potter ever did. Blade and the big 90s-00s “vampires as decadent queer greedy chameleonic ur-white ‘others’” did more.

(The latter, especially, because they are comparatively more primed for acceptance within a fig leaf of socially-conscious coding than Potter goblins, imo; if you recoil at a depiction of a Potter goblin, it just means you hate ugliness, not that you don’t hate Jews.)

Why do I bring this up? Mostly because it’s a good example of something that you see a lot in Gentiles’ criticisms of media antisemitism: the use of charges of antisemitism as a rhetorical condiment to season an already trenchant objection rather than an issue in itself.

Someone who condemns Potter for antisemitic imagery is probably throwing it in bc they see all the other extremely objectionable things in Potter & is just tossing it in to augment the far-more-overtly-damning condemnations of her thoughtless racism, fatphobia or transphobia.

Which...well, it doesn’t do the crusade against antisemitism any favors. It ultimately disparages it as a cause in its own right.

Food for thought, folks.

I will pause for comments before I step on the other land-mine labeled “house-elves and where Rowling fundamentally didn’t think about how to do xenopsychology

Alright. Let’s crack open the fetid sarcophagus of the House Elf Problem.

First: A premise. Speculative fiction is absolutely full of “servant creatures,” and no, they’re not just the non-sapient ones. Every AI or robot created to Do a Job (that is, most of them) qualifies, too.

Folklore, likewise, is full of Servant Creatures, it’s ubiquitous, because servants were ubiquitous parts of the pre-industrial world. People don’t want to be forced to do the shitty jobs themselves. Even gods are expected to have had servants and vassals.

Modern works do it too. Most high-level wizards in D&D can summon bound spirits or create beings to assist them and provide either raw or specialized labor, and folks accept this.

So Rowling is drawing off a tradition that exists. The problem is she is really lazy and bad at it.

Basically the big thing - work with me here, it’s a story and social premise - is that most of these Magical Servants in folklore or mythology or literature are treated, by good people, like idealized human servants. Part of the household, appreciated, included and compensated.

Where Rowling Makes It Weird is introducing a level of malice, subordination & explicit exploitation into the relationship with house-elves.

In folklore you did not own, or abuse, a brownie or a domovoi or other Helpful House Fey. If you did, they possibly took revenge and left.

Rowling’s wizards abuse house-elves. They aren’t treated like members of the household, but beaten and enslaved and nobody comments on this other than Hermione. Who is mocked for it.

“But they don’t want to be free, they like it!”

Oh boy, let’s talk Discworld golems!

See it’s deeply unfair to compare Pratchett’s work to that of someone like Rowling, but Pratchett’s golems are a good counter-example of effectively writing the xenopsychology that Rowling cheaply employs as a defense.

Discworld’s golems like to work. They are literally made for it & will do difficult jobs without complaint as long as they’re given the Sabbath off. Mr. Pump spent who knows how many years in a dark hole turning a pump w/o complaint or resentment because it was useful & necessary.

And once golems who can released from the task they were designed to do arise, they start freeing themselves. They save up money, buy themselves or their fellows, and then hire out their labor. Protagonists treat them with respect and acceptance.

Crucially, free golems still self-identify as tools, but tools that merit respect. We get multiple treatments of golems’ psyches, which are different from those of humans, examining the nuances of their perspective and what labor means to them.

In one heartbreaking example, an eons-old messenger golem was late to its recipient, resulting in a city’s destruction by volcanoes. The golem, a figure of tremendous dignity, still carries the message because golems believe the universe is a cycle and one day he will get to try again.

There is nothing like this with house-elves. They are comical, undignified figures, doing labor the narrative considers unworthy of respect or admiration. Their mannerisms are servile and they lack independent culture or initiative - because Rowling doesn’t respect them.

So when Rowling and the narrative appeals to xenopsychology or different values with house-elves, it’s a very obvious dodge. You can’t say “house-elves think differently & enjoy being dominated, oppressed & forced to do menial labor” as a defense; the statement contradicts itself.

The central conceits that make Discworld golems work is that their psychology and values system are considered valid by the narrative.

Their labor-centric “I am a tool” perspective is alien to us, but it is presented as valid, and not as an excuse to deny them dignity.

House-elves are pathetic figures because the narrative and its author considers their labor not “necessary & useful” but pathetic. The house-elf’s job is not to Do The Work - wizards can do many household tasks relatively effortlessly - but to be an abused underclass made to do it.

Even Dobby, the house-elf who’s actually presented as “happy,” is happy in a decidedly pathetic, servile sort of way; he’s always the butt of the joke, except for his actual death scene.

Because Rowling thinks of servants (typically for modern audiences) as a punching bag.

House-elves don’t get anything from their servitude; even Dobby’s wages are pathetic. They’re made to do it & have basically internalize their abuse as normal. Nor are they considered valuable members of the household or people with voices in their own right.

Now, a more skilled author might have taken a perversion of the household spirit relationship - remember, they are not a servant and will make their displeasure known - and applied it as, say “the Wizarding world has colonized and enslaved fairyland.”

Rowling is not.

Rowling presents this debased and abusive relationship between house-elves and Wizards as the natural order of things!

Which raises *extremely troubling and damning questions* about “where did house-elves come from?” All the answers are horrible!

And there’s no effort to frame house-elves as like, a vital part of either their households or their communities. They have no voice, no dignity, no value.

I don’t know how much of this Rowling *intended*, but the results reflect her fundamentally thoughtless approach.

The best way to put it is that Rowling inserted malice into a stereotypical House Spirit relationship because she wanted to have magical creatures serve as magical labor-saving devices and service... but thinks that abusing servants is part of the privilege of having them.

She doesn’t even include this as a serious source of tension - it’s very obvious when she realized despite herself she’d created a society that relied not on servants but on slaves because she had Dumbledore, her moral compass, emphasize it as a part of the the Wizarding World’s rot.

But by then it was too late, if she even wanted to fix it at all.

(Notably, treating a servant the way that Wizards treat house-elves is not the way one should treat a servant if they don’t want to get killed in their sleep or have the servants piss in their tea.)

Moviebob on Rowling’s worldbuilding

Wait the Harry Potter game had basically cart blanche to make something that could get the brand out from under Rowling’s TERF bullsh-- somehow...

...and they went with “let’s make it all about the other super-offensive thing people were mad at before!“?”

It’s about a conspiracy by that one race of creatures that runs all the banks and looks, uh... not great considering that role

I mean it’s not even “treat” though... the Goblins just are exactly what “The Scheming Jews” are in the worst antisemitic folklore of Olde Europe that split off and became early 20th Century “goblins” in fantasy fiction and “The Zionist Plot” in conspiracy circles 🤷‍♂️

I’m 100% non-joking convinced that all of J.K. Rowling’s problems stem from being a hacky writer who doesn’t realize how much of both her “creativity” and her beliefs about the real world are just absorbed from pre-existing fiction tropes that she never bothered to look into...

...Like you listen to how she frames her views on trans people especially before she was getting “policy papers” to parrot from actual politicians and academics (she’s not actually very... um, smart?) she basically just thinks “Oh, trans = the plot of Dressed To Kill’”

But she probly never watched that movie or the movies it ripped off or that ripped IT off, she’s just another hacky genre-writer who absorbed a lot of tropes and had a talent (and it IS a talent) for reassembling them, and thats also how she functions as a “thinker.”

So in Potter the Goblins are Jewish stereotype caricatures who run the banks and horde gold and are probably secretly evil so you have to keep an eye on theme because thats where the pre-1950s versions of “goblins” in fairytales came from - she just repeated it.

*(post-40s/50s fantasy fiction owes much less problematic image of Goblins as ‘bad elves/fae/humans’ to Tolkien more than anybody - don’t look to hard at the super-hairy short guys who’re obsessed with gold and wander without a homeland in that first book though 😉)

This is part of how we still haven’t reckoned with how the web is going to change our grasp of history: It used to be easier to forget where all our cliches came from and how far back they went. All the stuff comes from somewhere before, often with bad origins, and sometimes that means it turns benign and “settles” but then gets to “turn bad” again like cancer cells rallying back. “Goblins” being a caricature to demonize a minority race/religion turns into this harmless fiction creature over centuries - until suddenly it’s not, again.

A half-flippant observation from Leah Porter

It’s weird that JK is so concerned about trans people in bathrooms when so much of Harry Potter takes place in a girl’s bathroom with two cis boys 🤷🏼‍♀️

Had this thought a few weeks ago and was reminded of it when <@loieplautz> said something pretty similar it reminded me of it. It’s strange that JK also had kids going into an underground lair unsupervised looking for a snake and a bunch of strange men trying to kill magic kids 🤷🏼‍♀️

Oh and getting kids to throw a bunch of hard wooden balls at each other whilst flying through the sky at like 100mph, chasing a special gold magical winged ball 🤷🏼‍♀️


I love Tarkovsky and Kurosawa and Bergman and all that film nerd shit but honestly this scene from X-Men: First Class is my favorite scene in any film I have ever seen. I have watched it a hundred times and I will watch it a hundred more. There should have been ten movies of this:

That said, while I am too Jewish to ever get enough of Erik knifing Nazis with magnetokenesis, we have been blessed with quite a bit of that Magneto on film, so if I were Kevin Feige, I would have the Marvel Cinematic Universe give us a Tutsi Magneto who has some strong feelings about that other Erik.

20 November 2022

The disorientation of men around MeToo

The MeToo moment a few years back spun a lot of stand-up guys into a vertigo which is hard to talk about.

Predatory men find narratives which twist and exaggerate ordinary men’s experiences to try to make themselves seem sympathetic to those men.

“Incels” take the common experience of loneliness, rejection, and sexual frustration that can drive an ordinary bloke a little batty … and twist and exaggerate it to try to make other men sympathetic to their fantasies of coercing women.

Rapists and harassers take the common experience of men being perplexed by mixed signals from women … and twist and exaggerate it to try to make it sound plausible to other men that women commonly exaggerate and misrepresent simple misunderstandings.

“Men’s rights activists” take men’s common, unpleasant experiences of cultural norms of toxic masculinity … and twist and exaggerate them to try to make it sound reasonable that women enjoy rights and liberties beyond those of men.

Abusers take ordinary experiences of feeling misrepresented by one’s opponents in conflicts … and twist and exaggerate them to try to re-cast their victims as the real abusers. This is known as DARVO: “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender”.

We need to approach this in a sophisticated way. If we deny the narratives of predatory men in a way which denies the grain of truth on which they try to build their deceptions, it strengthens them rather than weakens them. Dismissiveness about men’s legitimate frustrations paradoxically makes predators’ lies sound more plausible. (This includes plausibility in predators rationalizing to themselves; I am hopeful that forthrightness about how how toxic masculinity harms men will produce less men who harm women.)

Without hanging a halo on ordinary men, who have our own complicities in sexism and unexamined forms of misogyny, we must recognize how different we are from predatory men. Ordinary men have a hard time conceiving of doing the things predatory men do. It make ordinary men suckers for their lies. And predatory men work hard at those lies, disguising themselves by pretending that they are ordinary men suffering unlucky misfortune.

This includes a lot of ordinary men having good reasons to badly misunderstand the world as policing men far more vigorously than it really does. This makes predators’ lies feel more plausible than they really are. We see this in two different reactions to MeToo:

  • “I thought I knew how bad harassment was out there but good gods I had no idea.”
  • “This has gone too far! It is no longer possible for a man to be careful enough to be safe!”

Register the horrors inherent in what that second group means by “careful”.

On impunity

I have taken the liberty of transcribing a chilling, instructive thread from Dr. Nicole Bedera which I referenced in the course of my own original Twitter thread which turned into this post, about how wrong it is to imagine that predatory men face consequences:

In light of Harvey Weinstein’s life being “ruined,” I have more to say on this rhetoric around rape allegations “ruining lives.” And to do that, I want to use the example of one rapist in my research—we’ll call him Justin.

I interviewed Justin as part of my dissertation. He was formally accused of sexual assault at his university. He, too, claimed that his life was “ruined” by the allegations. But when I asked him to describe exactly what was different for him, he didn’t have much to say.

He had gotten poor grades that semester, but they weren’t any worse than usual. A lot of people knew about the allegations, but he had told most of them himself and nearly everyone took his side. Even two of his victim’s roommates offered to testify on his behalf.

Occasionally, the friends of his victim would warn other women in their immediate circle about Justin when he tried to date them. But they usually dated him anyway. He actually used the “false allegation” as a pickup strategy on first dates.

It went like this:

  1. bring up the allegation as proof of how “honest” and “vulnerable” you are
  2. show a misleading set of texts as evidence that the allegation was false
  3. tell the new date that you totally understand if she is uncomfortable
  4. set second date

Justin talked about how the allegations had “ruined” his life as part of this dating strategy. He bragged that the method worked every time and that he had “a lot of sex” now.

If anything, Justin (and most perpetrators) got a lot of advantages from the administrators from using the “ruined lives” rhetoric. (I interviewed them, too.) For example, Justin’s bad grades? He got them wiped from his record and his tuition reimbursed.

And not just for the semester of the investigation—he got all of his low grades from his entire college career wiped off his transcript. He intended to continue erasing bad grades from his transcript through the rest of his college career.

Justin also had close relationships with high level administrators after the investigation. That worked out to his advantage.

In one case, another victim of Justin’s tried to report a sexual assault. The administrator who heard the report never filed the proper paperwork or notified the right people for the report to move forward. She didn’t want to make Justin’s life any harder.

The same thing happened when a professor tried to report that three other women had disclosed to him that they had been sexually assaulted by Justin.

In general, administrators were more concerned with “ruining lives” than letting a perpetrator re-offend on campus. Stories like Justin’s were common in my field site.

If anything, most administrators thought that the system was rigged against perpetrators. (Even though they rarely held any of them accountable.) They openly admitted to giving perpetrators legal advice and actively helping them build their cases.

They refused to help victims in the same way, saying it would be inappropriate for a “neutral” party to benefit one side. This often meant that victims filed the wrong type of complaint for the abuse they experienced, making it even easier to dismiss cases.

Meanwhile, it was the victims (and I interviewed them, too) who were suffering. I completed the last interview for my dissertation two days ago. The victim I interviewed attempted to take her own life in the middle of the investigation process.

Her assailant was found in violation of the university’s code of sexual misconduct. (In plain speak, everyone agreed he had committed a sexual assault.) But the university had taken so long with the investigation that he had already graduated, so he wasn’t punished.

Actually, he was invited to apply to the university for graduate school once his victim had graduated. That invitation came in the same letter that said he had been found responsible for committing an act of sexual assault.

After our interview ended, I gave the survivor advice about how to drop out. She felt so traumatized by her university that the university’s logo had become a trigger for her. She was set to graduate in the spring, but she couldn’t imagine seeing that emblem for another day.

As part of my dissertation, I set out to gather evidence of whether or not men accused of rape really had their “lives ruined.” I never found any evidence of a ruined life. But I heard a lot of stories from survivors about overwhelming trauma, including a lot of suicide attempts.

Stop perpetuating the myth that rape allegations “ruin lives.” They don’t. But spreading that myth around has real implications for survivors who will be traumatized over and over again by the people who believe that a perpetrator’s “ruined life” is all there is at stake.

Fear and social justice

While I was a college undergraduate, circa 1990, I had a gig working for the university doing math and physics tutoring. As an employee in a position which carried a hint of authority over the students I was tutoring, there was a mandatory training in avoiding sexual harassment.

I walked into the training attentive and interested, thanks to having stumbled into reading a lot of feminist thinkers as a teenager. Indeed, interacting with women as a young straight fella circa 1990 informed by mostly Second Wave feminist writing eventually lead to some women giving me a talking to about how my care with boundaries was so peculiar that they found it confusing. So I am not laying claim to any virtue; I just want to make clear where I was coming from. I had not been told not to read that stuff when I was trying to figure things out. So: attentive and interested.

The training offered good lore and technique.

One thing it stressed was the concept of a “hostile environment”.

In the original Twitter thread which became this essay, I linked some reporting on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s predatory behavior which quoted a senior aide in the Attorney General’s report which offers a horrifying example of that:

I’m disgusted that Andrew Cuomo — a man who understands subtle power dynamics and power plays better than almost anyone in the planet — is giving this loopy excuse of not knowing he made women feel uncomfortable

I point to that because I believed then, and believe now, that we must take very seriously how microaggressions create hostile environments, and that we need institutional interventions against those those patterns.

The trainer told us that our students needed to feel safe. If they did not, they could come to university authorities for redress; I could be subject to various disciplinary sanctions.

The talk about hostile environment and about my students needing to feel safe started to gnaw at me. There was something unsettling in the combination. I needed some support thinking about it. So I asked a question:

“Suppose I say something which I thought at the time was innocent, but on reflection think may have upset a student, so I ask, ‘Hey, I’m worried that I may have misstepped when I said X. If that upset you, then I apologize for my error and will avoid saying something like that again.’ If that student replies to me, ‘No, there’s no problem’, is the policy that they may still come to you and tell you that they answered that way because they did not feel safe telling me the truth, so that I could be in deep trouble?”

“Oh yes,” said the trainer, without hesitation.

“Well I sure do not want to put one of my students in that situation. I would like more guidance, then, about what I can do to be certain that I am supporting my students and complying with the policy.”

The trainer looked at me as if I were stupid … and suspect. She replied, flatly, “Just don’t do anything which makes your students feel unsafe or uncomfortable.” It’s simple, Asshole.

I got a very cold feeling.

I am disgusted by opponents of social justice offering a lot of bullshit grounded in a fantasy about the “silencing power of SJW Thought Police on college campuses”. And yet, there I was in that moment, silenced by dread of zealotry in the name of social justice. I could do my best to avoid stepping wrong, I could actively check in with my students about it, and there was still nothing I could do to be certain that I would not be reprimanded. Asking for policy clarity had obviously been suspicious. So I nodded and smiled and kept my big yap shut for the rest of the training.

I believed then and still believe now that holding me responsible for my students feeling safe was an unreasonable standard.

We need to face responsibility for our behavior, yes. We need to exercise caution about the impacts of our behavior. And we have a greater responsibility for our behavior whenever we hold power.

But one cannot be responsible for other people’s feelings. Further, I consider it dangerous to suggest that we can or should face sanctions not for our actions but for those feelings.

I recognize that I am particularly reactive on this point. I grew up with narcissistic abuse. At a very tender age my parents held me responsible for their inability to manage their own feelings. And this sensitivity born of my own traumas connects to an important part the danger here. Trauma can make people feel disproportionately unsafe in the presence of things which are modest threats … or even not really threats at all.

That trauma responses can be unpredictable and disproportionate shapes the responsibility we do have for our behavior. We still need to take care; we must work hard at it. And we must do that with the understanding no measure of care can entirely prevent the traumatized from feeling unsafe.

We need a better cultural politics of trauma. Social justice advocacy must take the emotional trauma of the marginalized seriously. We must prioritize care for that trauma both as a strategic goal of the better world we create and also as part of the tactical method by which we work toward justice.

And if we take the reactions of traumatized people as the whole truth, we are not helping them heal. Accepting traumatized reactivity as the highest standard of truth enables cycle-of-trauma abuse patterns. Punitive power mounted on that post is a very bad idea. I knew that very personally and directly. Hence my cold feeling in that moment.

If we are to keep the worst people in the world from recruiting moments of dread like I experienced to legitimize their opposition to social justice, we cannot allow them the opening to claim that they are The Only People Brave Enough To Talk About This. We need to frankly recognize that these moments of legitimate dread do happen. We need to offer a thoughtful critique which both sees a real problem with things like what I was told in that moment and which defends the prudent social justice practices from which that moment emerged. If we do, it not only defends against opponents of social justice, it offers directions toward better social justice advocacy.

I count myself lucky that I stumbled into a commitment to feminism before I experienced that moment. I count myself lucky that I did not grow up in the current environment awash in propaganda leveraging such experiences to recruit young men to fascism.

Experiences similar to my moment of dread contributed to weird reactions men have had to the MeToo moment. Hearing critiques of horrific abuse couched in terms which drift toward implying impossible demands that men never misstep at all has led a lot of men to imagine that the world is stringent about preventing sexual harassment when it is in fact the opposite. This makes predators’ rationalizations of “innocent misunderstandings” sound too plausible. To my shame, there have been times when I have been among the men slower to accept what predatory men have been accused of than than we should have been, because we thought we lived in world where no one could possibly get away with the things those predators did.

I want strong, wise, and effective social justice advocacy. We must build a world where everyone is safe. We must build a world where everyone can feel safe. We must do this with a focus on supporting the people who are now least safe. I am certain that this is possible, even though I do not know all of how.

A friend picked up on how my story was, in part, about me asking how to correct my inevitable mistakes:

Yes…and when i read her thread [below], i realize that the very definition of safety for me comes with courage and mistake making. And most institutions, academic and otherwise allow for and reward dehumanization of ourselves and others. So when i read threads like the one you link to, I find them problematic for many reasons.

So that, too: we need a cultural politics which enables us to face mistakes.

The Twitter thread which became this post was inspired by another thread by Jennifer A. Frey, who made an observation which many people circulated:

I am informed by my university DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] office today that every student has a fundamental right to “feel safe.”

The way I would describe doing philosophy is feeling like the ground is moving out from under you. Nobody “feels safe” doing philosophy if they are doing it correctly.

This sort of language is quite generally ill suited to the life of the mind and open inquiry. Nobody opens up Homer, Toni Morrison, or Darwin to “feel safe”. Inquiry requires fortitude and determination & a healthy awareness that truth unsettles and doesn’t flatter/comfort us. All of this talk of a right to feel safe obscures this. I challenge anyone to define this “feeling” in such a way that doesn’t cut against free and open inquiry and the dogged pursuit of truth. I have yet to see anything close to a helpful definition of this “fundamental right”.

One of the beautiful things about the life of the mind is that it requires that we get over ourselves and our need to protect ourselves from reality. It can be shattering, but real liberation is like that. Liberal learning is supposed to liberate, not protect feelings.

Imagine if universities called their students to have the courage and determination to pursue the truth together as a common end? Imagine if they reminded students that this requires mutual respect, civility, and other virtues?

I care a great deal about diversity and our school needs to better reflect our state’s demographics. Students should be respected and have equal access to opportunity to learn. But there is no fundamental right to “feel safe” and making up this right doesn’t help students learn.

We should be honest with students: inquiry is unsettling and that’s not only ok but good. Helping students feel safe should not be a priority for an institution devoted to learning. Civility, respect and justice should be concerns.

Rather than these supposedly neutral terms like health and safety, we should be talking about what respectful, civil pursuit of the truth looks like in practice. We should be open and honest about the challenges and demands of university life.

Finally, as a philosophy professor, what am I to do to protect this fundamental right that my students feel safe? I have no idea. Philosophy terrified me when I first began it—it made me question everything and I felt unmoored. I had various existential crises bc of it.

I am glad for that disruption, though it was difficult for me. So I’m very uncomfortable with all this talk of a fundamental right to feel safe. And btw philosophy is still terrifying—it has never made me feel safe, nor should it.

That thread inspired a very smart comment by Dr. Johnathan Flowers, underlining how engaging with the inherent danger of some things demands vigorously maintaining an environment which makes work & learning as safe as possible:

Okay, so. I think the fundamental problem with this take is that is conflates “feeling safe” and “safe spaces” with a space absent of “dangerous” activities. Further, this take, like many of its ilk, fails to think seriously about the meaning of “safety” in this context.

Allow me to provide an example: When I taught motorcycling, one of the things we reinforced was that riding a motorcycle was an inherently dangerous activity, and that each rider must choose the level of risk they adopt. This is verbatim from our training guides and manuals.

The point of the ridercoaches and the training program was to create a safe space for students to engage in the inherently dangerous activity of riding a motorcycle. We did so through control over the student activities, ensuring students understood directions, and vigilance. To be clear: we created a space for students to engage in an inherently dangerous activity while cultivating student awareness of the risks they took when engaging in the inherently dangerous activity, both on the range and on the street, through controlling the space.

For example, we limited the speeds of the students early on in the course so that they could learn to safely handle the bike. We spent an entire day on the range familiarizing the students with the controls and the “bite” of the engine when easing out the clutch.

We did everything in our power early on to create as save an environment for students to practice this dangerous activity, and this included removing students who were a danger to themselves and others for the sake of the whole class.

The second example, obviously, is from the martial arts. A dojo is a space for people to practice an inherently dangerous activity. It is also a space for learning. In the dojo, the instructor’s responsibility is to not only cultivate technique, but organize the space. By which I mean, the instructor must be sensitive to students’ level of skill, and willingness to engage in the dangerous activity, and adjust the class accordingly.

Further, the instructor must be sensitive to student dynamics: they must intervene when a student is abusive. And by “abusive,” I don’t simply mean in the malicious sense: I mean in the sense where a student may genuinely think they know better, and in so doing, end up demoralizing or otherwise impeding student learning. In essence, they become “that guy” in class who must be dealt with.

Again, the focus is once more on creating a space where students feel safe engaging in the dangerous activity.

This is, unfortunately, what this take and the people dunking on it miss. It is not that philosophy needs to be “safe” and not unsettle people or be “dangerous.”

It’s that philosophy can be dangerous, and if we’re going to teach people philosophies that are dangerous in the broadest sense, we need to do so in a context where they feel safe to explore these dangerous concepts. As they become more comfortable, we remove the guardrails.

However, there is nothing in the instruction of philosophy (or any other subject for that matter) that requires us to make our students fundamentally unsafe. This is a misplaced understanding of what we do when we challenge students and it reflects something shitty in pedagogy.

You can challenge students in an environment where they feel safe. As a shinkendo instructor and a senior student in a variety of martial arts, I did so quite often at the request of my instructors or when I felt the student was ready. When they weren’t, I backed off.

Knowing these limits is part of pedagogy, and knowing how to create a space where students feel safe in their exploration is also part of pedagogy. Unfortunately, it is a part of pedagogy that is lost through appeals to “rigor” and “challenge,” both of which are shit excuses.

So yeah, a whole bunch of people need to re-evaluate their approaches to pedagogy before they kill the discipline with it.

Oh wait.

Related: Dr. Nerdlove on Why Can’t He Stop Worrying About Being A Creeper?, which is smart … though I have to challenge the implication that the bloke asking not have real friendships with women. When I was an awkward young fella, I worried about being a “creeper” because I had friends who trusted me enough to tell me about their encounters with “creeps”.

It’s less that the dominant cultural narrative is that approaching women is bad, it’s how much you’ve heard this or read this in places and how much it conforms to what you already believe.

Yes, when I was that guy my insecurities reïnforced that worry, but I think it is wrong to think that I picked up those warnings because I had the worry.

11 November 2022

Politics of trauma

One of my running Twitter refrains has been:

We need a politics which is supportive of people who been traumatized and recognizes that they will often misread threats as greater than they are and respects that they will often register real threats which others cannot see.

Dreading a Twitterpocalypse, I have captured a Twitter thread about a personal encounter with the implications plus some threads relevant to that refrain by various other people:

Politics, identity, and trauma

There is a long thread by Pete Wolfendale on my page of quotations about ADHD which is also relevant here. A snippet:

It’s worth recalling the ‘trigger warning wars’ that raged from academia, to the internet, to mainstream culture a few years ago. In retrospect, it’s pretty clear both that trigger warnings were useful for those with PTSD and that they got entangled with identitarian trends in unhelpful ways.

To be clear, I mean the ways in which specific sorts of trauma and trauma responses became seen as validators of identity positions, or even sources of insight, encouraging some to imitate and even cultivate heightened sensitivities as a way of authenticating themselves.

It’s easy to see this as a sort of psychic harm. The misapplication of categories meant to improve self-understanding and thereby personal autonomy in a way that actually impedes both.

Tone policing

A thread by Foz Meadows:

here's today’s piping hot take: at some point, the left is going to have to reckon with how the concept of tone policing, which was & is its own necessary issue, has been coopted and weaponised by people who want an excuse to act like raging assholes without being called on it.

like!! my understanding is that tone policing arose specifically as a conversation around how WOC in general and Black women in particular were punished for not sounding gentle when discussing their own oppression, pointing out problis or addressing abuse. and that matters!

but this is very much not the same as approaching every piece of discourse with a combative, You Must Be Perfect Or I Will Destroy You, deeply bad faith mindset that is every bit as toxic as redditor trolls hatespamming strangers, then claiming it's tone policing to object.

just... it feels increasingly apparent that a disconcerting number of people aren't interested in justice, or good faith engagement, or admitting that people don’t tend to learn by being screamed at. they just want to vent and rage and move on. and like.

obviously, we all have bad days. some issues hit closer to home than others. but there's a difference between that and a habitual pattern of assuming the worst of people, screaming at them for it, mocking any attempt at dialogue as wilful complicity, and just being an asshole.

as frustrating as it can be to acknowledge, if you yell at an abuse someone for being wrong, even if you’re 100% right, you’ve just drastically lowered the incentive for the other person to self-reflect and reconsider. but if you're not hoping for self-reflection, why engage?

venting anger can be productive and healthy in specific contexts, but yelling at strangers or semi-strangers on the internet is almost never that. in fact, it tends to create a toxic feedback loop that is overall worse for our mental health, not better.

what makes this worse is poor reading comprehension — sometimes the result of active bad faith, but sometimes not. a single tweet is a finite thing: by definition, it cannot contain a detailed rider explaining tone and ruling out every possible unlikely interpretation -

and yet, every day on this cursed bird app, you'll see people getting mad at someone because they read a thing, thought, “hey, there's some ambiguity in those 280 characters! that must be both deliberate and malicious re: the thing they're saying!” and decide to go full asshole

online, there’s three types of apology for fucking up: sincere (I realise and agree I fucked up), insincere (I’m doing this because I have to, not because I agree) and terrified (I don’t know if I did anything wrong but I’m being yelled at and don’t have the bandwidth to risk it)

that third kind of apology, the terrified apology? overwhelmingly, that’s what you get when you dogpile, harass & abuse as a means of telling someone they did bad. you’re not trying to get them to actually see the issue; you're punishing them for having failed to get it already.

if all it took to convince someone that they did or said the wrong thing, or that their POV was flawed, was saying “hey bud, that's wrong!” followed by instant epiphany, the world would be a real fuckin’ different place than it is, I tell you what. but it’s not like that at all.

is is frustrating that it can take people time to reevaluate a stance or belief? yeah! but that is how people are, and if your entire social justice MO is based on a need for instant apologies after slinging abuse in lieu of dialogue, you’re asking for fear, not change.

I’m just. so, so tired of seeing people act like assholes and then sit around crowing about how cool they were for yelling at anyone who pointed out they were acting like assholes. you can be angry or passionate without being a total fuckmuppet online.

jumping back on this thread to add: not all the time, but sometimes, I genuinely believe people's bad faith interpretations stem from a desire to find an angle from which to analyse or respond to a tweet that everyone else has missed: to be Clever On Main.

this phenomenon isn’t unique to twitter, but the way engagement works here makes it an easy trap to fall into. a person sees a popular tweet and thinks, ‘I want to respond to that, but in a new way, a clever way that nobody else has thought of, so I’ll stand out!’

but this doesn't always lead to insightful analysis. what it more often leads to, I would argue, is people looking for the least obvious takes - which, by definition, are the ones most likely to have been missed up front - and treating them as if they should be obvious. this has the simultaneous effect of:

  1. making that person look clever for having seen the thing that nobody else did
  2. reinvigorating the discourse (& thus the tweet’s & their own metrics) by driving new engagement
  3. driving the conversation further from the original point

I want to stress, again, that looking for new perspectives & original analysis is not, of itself, bad. what I’m specifically talking about is what happens when people go looking for Exciting New Takes at the expense of acknowledging context, nuance and reason.

one of the most common ways this form of bad faith engagement manifests is to offer a snarky critique of something beloved or which is being harmlessly enjoyed, as if to finger-wag at anyone who dared to be happy about it.

are people allowed to have their own opinions? of course! but there’s often a deliberate decision to piggyback a negative opinion on a positive one, via tags and QTs, specifically to appear cleverer or better at analysis than the original, rather than posting in parallel.

another way for bad faith to flourish is to deliberately elide the context in which the original speaker is posting to chide them for failing to consider something outside the original scope of the discussion. this relates back to the issue of tweets being necessarily finite.

you cannot reasonably expect a single tweet or a single thread to reference Everything even tangentially related to that topic, and a glaring omission is not the same as “I chose to focus on this one issue or context specifically.”

it's easy to use one person’s thread as a starting point in a positive way, to say “speaking of this, here’s a related issue” and begin a new discussion. a bad faith take will fault the OP for being specific and present themselves as an authority on the “real” issue.

these are just two examples, but they’re part of a pattern I see a lot, and it gets really fucking exhausting really quickly. just. for how quick they are to mock the concept of edgelords, some people are really kinda committed to being edgelords.

The culture of emergent radical movements

A thread by Gwen Snyder:

It’s vitally important for organizers to understand that mass movement spaces attract

  1. potential new activists but also
  2. lonely/traumatized folks looking for a social home
  3. bored people chasing excitement, and
  4. opportunists looking to steal glow for fame and/or profit

That was one of the aspects of Occupy that made it such a powerful learning space: those dynamics were in place from Day 1. Organizing at Occupy meant negotiating the triggers of the deeply traumatized, trying to outsmart the grifters in real time, sifting through the bored folks to see who actually cared & would do work. 90% of engaging that space was managing the triggered, the greedy, the bored.

I love emergent mass movement. I think it’s dynamic, inspiring, powerful, and full of potential. At the same time, it isn’t actually an organized community when it emerges. It's a chaotic gathering created by people attracted to the idea of organized community and its power.

That attraction doesn't necessarily translate to wanting to be organized. A lot of folks are looking for a space that can heal them, a space that can entertain them, a space they can harvest power and/or money and/or fame from.

Good organizing can help folks locate resources to heal (and does), but it is not by itself a healing art.

Good organizing is organized and accountable, not particularly entertaining.

Good organizing is about building collective power, which does not benefit grifters.

The grifters will undermine good organizing in emergent mass movement to redirect power / attention / $ towards themselves.

The people looking to be entertained will manufacture unnecessary conflict in order to stave off boredom.

There are going to be traumatized people in need of deep healing whose triggers will inevitably be triggered. That almost always means conflict that descends into negotiating those triggers and very often derails organizing.

That doesn’t mean good organizing can’t happen in emergent movement space, but it does mean organizers who attempt that work have to approach with humility and an understanding that the space is not organized and not something we created.

Otherwise we become part of the problem.

If you’ve ever done this sort of organizing, you almost certainly know that, like clockwork, organizers/organizations show up to trendy emergent movements to claim ownership. It never goes well.

It’s been especially hard to watch this dynamic play out with the movement that emerged backing Bernie Sanders. There were a lot of good organizers involved in his campaign, but the movement that backed him was largely emergent, not organized. A lot of folks mistook the emergent Bernie movement for organized movement. That simply wasn’t the case.

Bernie wisely began campaigning back at the end of the Occupy era, & owes a lot of his momentum to his successful bid to capitalize on that very chaotic emergent movement.

That’s not to say plenty of smart organizers didn’t do smart organizing work for Bernie, but anyone who thinks Bernie mania was an organized space or primarily a product of disciplined organizing is not someone who understands the Bernie movement and/or organizing. A lot of people made that mistake, though, including people who really should have known better. A lot of people thought— or, pretended— that the political movement around Bernie was well-organized instead of emergent.

When you pretend a space is organized rather than emergent, your attitude towards everything in that space (even the toxic stuff) becomes, “oh well we meant to do that.” It’s a dynamic that makes grifters absolutely salivate. Once leaders/organizers are pretending that the chaos of emergent space is intentional and organized, it gives folks in that space the ability to do almost whatever the hell they want with relative impunity, as long as they’re still generally towing the party line.

The party line for the emergent Bernie movement didn’t involve any kind of intersectional analysis, which made it easy for grifters to use racism and sexism to enhance their grift.

The grifters made money and careers playing to the bored and the triggered, using the liberation movements of trans folks, women and Black folks, in particular as scapegoats. They made a game out of using oppressed people for target practice, and profited off it.

One of the great shortcomings of the 2016 Bernie campaign was its failure to practice humility and understand that it was riding a wave of emergent movement, not manufacturing that movement by way of their own genius. Staffers really thought they built that shit themselves. They didn't have a plan to manage grifters. They didn’t do anything once the grifters told the traumatized to blame women / trans folks / Black folks / intersectionality for their trauma. They didn't have a plan for grifters turning the bored into a white supremacist troll army.

When we look at the Grayzone zombies and the dregs of the dirtbag left, we need to understand that what we are looking at is the aftermath of political leaders mistaking an emergent populist movement for an organized electoral campaign. We need to understand that although Bernie made a canny and successful play to harness post-Occupy economic populism, the 2016 Bernie campaign was always playing catch-up with its own base, and the 2020 Bernie campaign was ultimately a circus starring toxic grifters.

(And btw, I know a lot of folks who are good organizers and have good politics and worked for Bernie and did good work, so please don't read this as a blanket condemnation of folks who organized on that campaign. Both times the probli was top-level campaign leadership.)

Once you understand that a significant number of people who come to emergent mass movement are seeking entertainment, not liberation, you learn to watch for the people who try to tell the bored that they can have their cake (privilege) and be part of the fun of the circus, too. These “entertainer” grifters show up, do no meaningful work, and try to hijack the movement, turning it into their personal stage. They pull it off by looking for the bored and entitled, playing to their entitlient (by writing off the liberation of others), and convincing them that anti-liberatory violence and harassment are actually acts of virtue.

That’s what Chapo Trap House and Greenwald and Rogan and Blumenthal and all this “left” grifter-entertainers do. They have no meaningful moral compass. They play to their audience's economic anxieties and toxic entitlient in equal measure. They aren’t thought leaders, they’re derivative grifters profiting off a movement they didn’t lift a finger to build. They make money — lots of it — equating white male insecurity with leftism and teaching their followers to feel like “real leftist” politics are reactionary. These “leftist” grifters aren't here to lead on collective action that lifts all boats, they're toxic individualists hoping to profit off the ignorance of lifestyle “leftists” by falsely (but entertainingly) marketing their anti-liberatory self-pity as space communism.

At the end of the day, those of us who care about and practice organizing within liberatory movement need to do a better job of mapping the dynamics of emergent mass movement, naming the predictable dysfunctions early, and acting prophylactically.

Emergent mass movements are spaces of great potential. Our organizing may create space for them, but that doesn't mean we own them or make them ourselves.

Grifters get it. We need to play catch up, or they'll just keep diverting the energy towards their own profit/fame game.

When the US left’s candidates and movement spaces create platforms & audiences for Nazi apologists during a global wave of fascism, for anti-vaxxers during a global pandemic, something has gone very, very wrong. We need to learn from that embarrassing, dangerous reality, fast.

If we don’t, we’re part of the problem.

The end.

Distinguishing abuse from “drama”

A thread by David Forbes:

One of the most insidious dynamics out there is that actual dangerous things (serial abuse, rampant bigotry, open corruption) get dismissed as petty drama while actual petty drama gets treated as a danger.

“I won’t work with that person/ group because they don’t view me as human / actively wish me harm /are repeatedly abusive “ isn’t “carceral” or “divisive” it’s beyond justified.

“I won’t work with someone because we had a minor tactical disagreement / polycule drama 3 years ago” is not.

But the reverse is often what happens. This isn’t an abstract issue. Communities and efforts routinely get shattered because too many indulge an influential abuser, open transmisogyny, or all resources being directed to a small clique/grift (to pick just a few examples).

On the other end, relatively small - or even entirely fabricated - issues get blown up as reasons for sudden exile or demonization (indeed, sometimes this is done by the bigoted, abusive and corrupt).

This is insidious because it’s what seems to do an incredible amount of internal damage but without really any immediate solution at hand. These are deep-seated cultural problis, addressing them is necessary and it’s also incredibly difficult.

Way less deference to influential (and often highly privileged / connected to npic “organizers,” more prioritization of discernment / investigative skills and hard boundaries against abuse are all necessary.

The rot’s also deep. Things ain’t hopeless, but they ain’t good.

Distinguishing harm, violence, and abuse

A thread by Emily D Warfield:

Took me way too many years to realize that the scariest people aren’t the ones who yell when they’re mad but the ones who will repeatedly hurt you while maintaining perfect emotional regulation, so that you’re the crazy one if you show any visible distress

Ftr, I am not saying that screaming at people is the way to go. I’m just saying it’s much easier to recognize as hurtful and, therefore, take appropriate steps to protect yourself emotionally and mentally

diagonally spinning rat comments:

This is one of the reasons I think it’s important to recognize that emotional regulation is a learned skill, not a quasi-moral attribute

100% this. Also, I think, in being able to expand our discussions about harm. We quite rightly spend a lot of time talking about the warning signs of abuse, but this kind of behavior isn’t necessarily abusive. It’s invalidating.

We harm one another in so many ways that aren’t (necessarily) abuse — invalidation, deception, abandonment. What would it take to be able to properly acknowledge and repair this? Quoting myself:

Idk why so many of you are hellbent on redefining every shitty or even outright cruel thing people do-- lying, cheating, ghosting-- as abusive. Is it that you feel your hurt is only legitimate if you were abused? Because that's not true!

I do think that if you live long enough you will eventually hurt someone badly enough to be the villain in their story. Unless you learn how to repair and transform that, and so few of us do. Quoting myself:

The main thing you have to strive for in life is to not wind up as the antagonist in someone else’s memoirs, and unfortunately I speak from experience here

This despite the fact that most of us aren’t abusers and never will be.

I’m not really sure how to conclude this except to say that I hope we all keep trying to figure out how to do better by each other.

the quote above links to this long, related thread:

Idk why so many of you are hellbent on redefining every shitty or even outright cruel thing people do — lying, cheating, ghosting — as abusive. Is it that you feel your hurt is only legitimate if you were abused? Because that's not true!

The worst pain anyone’s every caused me wasn't physical or sexual assault or abuse. It wasn't even emotional abuse. It was a man I trusted completely and rearranged my life for ending my relationship with him and then his daughter I helped raise, with no warning or explanation

That’s shitty, that’s cruel, but that’s not abuse. It is not a pattern of seeking control through violence. It’s not even violence! And yet it has still left me with a profound sense of loss and an inability to trust. My pain can be valid without my ex being a violent abuser.

We need terms like 'gaslight’ (which is not the same thing as authoritarian propaganda, i.e. Donald Trump cannot gaslight you unless you're in an intimate relationship with him) and 'abuse’ because we have to be able to define problis in order to solve them.

I don't think we can solve all of human cruelty, but if we’re going to try we need to be precise about behaviors and motivations and you calling everything abuse is stopping us from doing that.

Harm (e.g. lying, ghosting, cheating), violence (which would include sexual consent violations), and abuse (patterns of violence) all have different meanings. This would be easier if I could draw it out but:

  • We all cause harm.
  • Some harm is violence.
  • Some violence is abuse.

All of these things are bad and should be addressed but need to be addressed differently, because the psychology and power dynamics of someone who causes harm is different from someone who abuses, and that’s why we need to keep the definitions separate.

An example: we very often cause harm unintentionally through misunderstandings that escalate. Mediation can be super useful here because it helps restore mutual understanding and get around communication blocks. Mediation processes will be manipulated by abusers.

Another example: many people in abusive relationships eventually use violence in self-defense against their abusers. They are then often punished by the state, which usually fails to take power dynamics and the psychology of abuse into account, and will treat a woman who shot her abusive husband while he was sleeping because this was the only 'out’ she could find, the same as an abusive husband who shoots his sleeping wife. Even though only the latter is a continued risk to the community.

If you're someone who lies to a woman and emotionally manipulates her to get her to have sex with you, you’re doing something shitty and it needs to be addressed, but it’s going to be addressed differently than someone who uses force, fraud, or coercion to get sex, i.e. a rapist.

And if you were hurt, whether it be through harm, violence, or abuse, your pain, anger, grief are all valid and you deserve the support of your friends, family, community and (if you want!) a therapist in order to find healing. But again, those supports may look different.

Someone may even have trauma from experiencing harm that wasn’t abuse. If a mom gets distracted while driving and gets into an accident with a kid in the backseat, the kid may very well have trauma related to the accident. But how we treat both the kid and mom is going to be different than an accident with the same physical effects caused by Mom choosing to drive drunk (neglect) or Mom deciding to punish the entire family by swerving into a ditch (abuse).

I don’t want to get too far off in the weeds about psychological trauma but the most severe trauma is usually correlated with intentional interpersonal violence (whether that be war or child abuse) rather than extent of injury which tells us that it often has more to do with our sense of trust in others than our sense of physical safety. So intent does matter for healing, but it’s only one of many factors.

Forcing myself to sign off but I’m a women's studies BA in my last year of an MSW taking several classes on violence against women and am also a survivor of multiple forms of gendered harm, violence, and abuse from individuals + the state so follow for more fun trauma takes.

This thread was in response to the below tweet. I can't control where this thread winds up but if I catch anyone on here trying to minimize or invalidate abuse (ง •̀_•́)ง

Heather O'Neill <@lethal_heroine>

If you have sex with someone knowing full well it is going to be a one time thing, but the other person believes they are embarking on a relationship, I don't think you can really consider the sex consensual (Although this opinion gets me into trouble at dinner parties.)

Checked in on replies and quote tweets and a lot of folks are objecting to say that lying, cheating and ghosting can be part of a pattern of abuse and yes, that’s true. Lots of crappy things can be part of a pattern of abuse that are not by themselves abuse. I hope that’s clear.

On being “trauma-informed”

Ms. Petey says:

“Trauma Informed” does not mean “I have trauma, so I can relate.”

“Trauma Informed” does not mean “I’ll be ‘extra nice’ because people have trauma.”

“Trauma Informed” indicates:

I am educated and aware of physiological, social and psychological effects of trauma in general; and, I am interested and intentional about understanding and accommodating your specific needs as they relate to your personal trauma.

I will tell only the truth, with compassion. I will believe you, and give you the benefit of the doubt.

I will recognize that you are not “other” to my own humanity. (Race, gender, sex, orientation, or any socio-economic construct)

I will avoid “wishing” upon you my perception of “healing” and will listen to and accommodate to the best of my ability your needs around safety and support.

I recognize that you cannot safely be authentic and vulnerable unless I am. (Which includes healthy boundaries)

I will welcome and respect your personal boundaries, and I will take responsibility for communicating mine in a safe, constructive manner.

I will always err on the side of not violating anyone’s privacy.

I will not presume any entitlement to information about you that is outside the appropriate level of intimacy of our relationship.

I will never shame you for your painful emotions or suggest that your suffering is a problem that would be solved by altering your perception.(Gaslighting)

I will never prescribe “faith” as a substitute for resourced solutions to practical problems. (Gaslighting)

I will not presume to understand the intricacies of relationships that are not mine. I will not assume that what makes me feel safe will make you feel safe. I will never play the “two to tango” card. (Victim blaming)

I will not assume that emotional “instability” suggests emotional “inaccuracy.”

I will never suggest that you have any duty of “reconciliation” with an abuser from whom you have worked so hard to extract yourself physically, emotionally and socially... no matter who it is.

I will avoid platitudes, obscure metaphors and inspirational dogma that have nothing to do with the practical details of your experience.

I will not make your experience with me about my own self-worth.

I will own my ego and emotional triggers and take responsibility for addressing them appropriately when (not if) I feel unsafe or make you feel unsafe with them.

I will respect the decisions you make about your own healing journey.

I will do my best to refer or recommend other resources rather than venture out of the scope of my own supportive capacity.

I will accept the responsibility of removing myself from a therapeutic relationship if our needs and boundaries are incompatible.

This list is certainly not exhaustive.

If you use the term “Trauma Informed,” please understand what you are saying.

A deadpan joke

for moral convenience we will be breaking down all human behavior into two categories: Privileges and Traumas. Privileges will be bad and Traumas will be good. this will make discourse far more efficient allowing you more time to divest yourself of Privileges and acquire Traumas.
Social justice advocacy is tricky. This tweet from Compulsory Heteropessimism echoes what opponents of social justice dishonestly pretend to believe is the whole of how social justice advocacy works … and the joke would not land at all if there were nothing to the critique.