Cowardice Calls to Cowardice Everywhere

Back when I was originally TERFened, I shared “If A Person Has A Penis He’s A Man” by Connie Bryson. I did not write those lyrics, and never claimed I did, but outrage compromises reading comprehension, so it’s been incorrectly attributed to me. Including by the man who wrote the letter below, whose identity I have concealed.

On yesterday’s International Gaslight Women Day, I was inspired to courage by JK Rowling to share this story on fecebook, and after the uncountable outraged responses urging me to cowardice, including from the author of the advice below, I decided to finally share it with the world.

If you stand up for anything, ever, expect this type of “support” from friends, family and  loved ones. (Of course this is why few people stand up for anything.)

Nov 7, 2018

Nina–

I saw your post on Facebook this morning regarding whether you should post certain material that might feel risky, especially in light of the trans stuff.  I’m not an artist and therefore I don’t–I can’t–have the same passion for needing to present art that you do.  I can’t relate to that.  But I think I understand something that I think got you to this place.

As an artist, you surely know that once you put your art out there, you can’t control how it is interpreted.  When you wrote the poem with “If a person has a penis, it’s a man,” I don’t think you had any understanding of how it would be received. (Raedacted) and I had the same reaction to it: “What’s the point of this?  Does she not understand that it looks like she is taunting a community of people?  Why is she doing this?”  Whether you were correct or not isn’t the point.  What your intent was isn’t the point.  The point is that the form which you chose in order to make your point made you look like a bully to a lot of people.  It looked like taunting.

Since the poem was posted, you have been mistreated.  I find the way you have been treated to be appalling.  Deplatforming is beyond ugly.  So, what to do?

I’ve asked myself what advice I could give you.  I’ve felt like my advice wouldn’t matter to you.  I thought about that when I was in (Redacted) this summer and I came to the conclusion that you wouldn’t listen to me or tell me I was wrong so I left it alone.  The way you were choosing to express yourself made me feel like all I could do is upset you further.  It may be that this email will indeed upset you further, but now I feel like I really should write given the level of despair you have been expressing publicly.

What I think would have helped after initial complaints about your poem would have been to write a post in every social media outlet you use, including your blog, including Facebok, saying something like:

“I realize that the poem I wrote came across in a very poor way.  I did not mean to write something that offended so many.  I meant to engage in a constructive discussion, but I now understand that it came across as mean-spirited and taunting.  While that was not my intention, I apologize to those who were offended.  It is never my intent to cause pain with my words.” 

Leave it at that.  Explaining yourself further may pour salt in wounds.  An unconditional apology even if you are right is sometimes the best way to ameliorate pain.

A quick analogy… Consider the racist politician who panders by saying, “I have lots of black friends.”  A black person may interpret that as, “We have been insulted and now I am told that we shouldn’t be insulted because that person knows a small number of us?  What kind of person does that?  That person has no idea what I live with.  That person does not understand my world.”

Instead of apologizing for the poem, you doubled down, tripled down, and much more, by insisting that what you wrote wasn’t wrong, implying it shouldn’t offend people.  It may have been made even worse by saying, “I have lots of trans friends.”  I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that there are trans people who feel that you continue to pour salt into their wounds.

It was not your intent.  But you now have a significant perception problem.

I don’t read every one of your blog entries or see every one of your Facebook posts.  Maybe you have apologized for the poem in an unconditional manner.  Maybe you no longer try to justify your poem.  If so, that is probably the best you can do.  It may be that, near-term, you are going to be stuck with the backlash.  Even with an unconditional apology, there will be people who say, “She’s only saying that because we hurt her and she wants her film to do better.”  I wouldn’t expect overnight improvement in perception.  It’s going to take a while.

Again, there is no excuse for how you have been treated.  It’s horrifying.  That said, my advice, which you can discard if you disagree with me, is to stop doubling down on the poem, to issue that sincere apology, and do not tie that apology to any expected behavior by others.  After that be very, very careful about how people may interpret your future words.  It may be best simply not to engage the trans group even if you want to.  Just ask the question, “What’s the upside?”

Love,

(Redacted)

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Heterodorx

Hey TERFs and Trannies! That’s my signature greeting on Heterodorx, the new podcast I’m doing with Corinna Cohn. Our first episode was recorded Friday evening, after I’d biked 30 miles and hiked two, so I wasn’t at my most articulate. We had some technical issues, including my cat, Lola, rubbing her head against my mic, causing loud horrible noises we couldn’t remove due to recording everything on a single track. Our next episode should be better. Still, I like this first foray, and hope you listen.

Heterodorx podcast

Heterodorx web site

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“What is the difference between virtue signaling and actually believing in something and wanting to spread the word about it?”

Last week, on various social media, I shared this brief thought:

I’m starting to find virtue signaling frightening, rather than just annoying, because virtue signalers are the same people who cancel (ie lie, denounce, and attack). Virtue signaling and cancel culture are two sides of the same increasingly troubling coin.

This led someone on fecebook to ask:

“What is the difference between virtue signalling and actually believing in something and wanting to spread the word about it? Asking seriously. I have only seen virtue signalling used as a phrase by Republicans who don’t believe in the cause being promoted.”

To which I replied:

That’s a great question! I am not a Republican, and I actually agree with the messages being used right now to signal tribal loyalty. Like a religious behavior – “praise Jesus!” – one can only ask oneself what one’s motives are.

The signaling happening at the moment has many layers. Yes, the messages are good. It’s also a “safe” time to share them. Suddenly it has become very important for white people to express their concern for black lives, when in fact we’ve been aware of police brutality for years or decades. It would have been much riskier to share these messages 60 years ago, but we weren’t alive then. (Funny, then, that expressing righteousness at that time was quite different, even though we are not inherently superior to our forebears.) It was not risky, say, last year, yet far fewer were doing that then, because there wasn’t a “movement” directing our attention.

It’s pretty clear that there are social rewards for white liberals to share BLM messages at the moment, and, increasingly, social punishments for not (“silence is violence!”), and most of us want to feel safe, so we know what to do. Even asking questions can get you publicly denounced right now. I do not expect people to deeply examine their motives, but I do examine mine, and when even a message I agree with is mixed with so much threat and reward, I pause. All mobs feel righteous. I am extremely wary of mobs and sensitive to mob behavior, and do not want to be part of them.

Another layer is White Guilt, which Shelby Steele wrote very eloquently about 20 years ago. White liberals are hungry to discharge guilt, and ironically use black people, and what should be a black liberation movement for black people, to do it. This isn’t all bad; white people can be useful to this movement, but the white liberal hunger is there, and it’s ruthless, and it causes problems. All we can do is examine our motives.

The social rewards for virtue signaling, and threats for not, come from other white people. White people use black people and a black movement to signal to other white people, and maintain or raise our status in white society. I have some black friends, but most of my social contacts are white. Like any good white liberal, I have anxiety about this. If only I could fix my society’s history of segregation by racially integrating my social life more! Like any good white liberal, I tried harder when I was younger, only to discover that most (healthy) black people don’t particularly like being used by white people this way, and that white hunger to discharge guilt is not a solid base for friendship.

But don’t we want to be “ALLIES”?? The best allies are like that asshole at your dinner party who tries to be “helpful” by getting in your way in the kitchen. (The worst allies are far worse.) I used to be a liberal feminist who thought we needed male “allies” to liberate women. Now I understand that women’s liberation is for and by women, and any man claiming to be a “feminist” is usually a misogynist using women to manage his male guilt. From the outside, it looks to me like a surplus of white “allies” has the same corrosive effect on any movement for black liberation, which should be for and by black people. Like that performative “helpful” dinner guest in your kitchen, like men claiming to be feminists, white liberals who want to help black liberation should just get out of the way.

Any involvement I have in black liberation is only going to come at the request of black people – specifically black women, specifically black radical feminists, whose narratives about current events differ from the mainstream and “alternative” media’s. Unsurprisingly, no one has asked me yet. I’m here if they do, but meanwhile my white guilt is my problem to deal with, not theirs.

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THE AGE OF WHITE GUILT: AND THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE BLACK INDIVIDUAL by Shelby Steele

This is one of my favorite essays ever. I first read it when it was published in Harper’s Magazine, November 30, 1999 2002. I’m sharing the whole thing below because everyone should read it; if I get a copyright cease-and-desist, I’ll remove it. –NP

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Open Letter to the University of Illinois

February 28, 2019

In July of 2018, Arcadia, a cafe in Urbana, announced on Facebook an “Art Salon” at which my new film would be screened. The next day, Professor Mimi Thi Nguyen commented on Arcadia’s event page: “She’s a transphobe. I will never attend your events now.”

My crime was, months earlier, sharing on Facebook the following lyric: “If a person has a penis he’s a man.” At various times I have also shared such contentious views as, “women don’t have penises,” “sex is not gender,” “woman means adult human female,” and “everyone is free to identify however they wish, but not to force me to identify them the same way.” Nonetheless, “If a person has a penis he’s a man” is continually quoted as my greatest hit of so-called ‘hate speech.’ It is also a fact.

When asked by other commenters why my stating biological facts was ‘transphobic’ and grounds for no-platforming, Ms. Nguyen replied “I’m the chair of Gender and Women’s Studies. I know what I’m talking about.” Speaking not merely as an individual, but in her capacity as a UIUC faculty member, Ms. Nguyen threatened a local business and libeled a community member and encouraged others to join in.

Arcadia promptly cancelled the event.

That October, my film, Seder-Masochism, screened to enthusiastic audiences at the Vancouver International Film Festival. In attendance were film scholars Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, frequent speakers at past Ebertfests, who loved the film and emailed Ebertfest director Nate Kohn to recommend it. Kohn replied they already knew about Seder-Masochism, and it was at the top of their list. Which makes sense, since it’s by an Urbana filmmaker (me) whose last film was a star at the festival (Sita Sings the Blues) and contains my late father’s voice, which is known to much of the festival’s audience (Hiram Paley used to be Mayor of Urbana, as well as a math professor at the U of I).

Later that Fall, I turned down an invitation to judge a major film festival in Buenos Aires, because its dates overlapped with Ebertfest. Since Seder-Masochism was “at the top of (their) list,” I didn’t want to miss it. In January, I emailed Nate Kohn and Chaz Ebert to ask if in fact Seder-Masochism would screen. For over a week, they didn’t respond. That same week, I was attacked by a Twitter mob accusing me of ‘hate speech,’ once again for having said “If a person has a penis he’s a man.” Then all trace of my film was removed from the website of a women’s film festival in Belgium, after they were bullied by a Belgian transactivist.

Still awaiting a response, at the end of January I emailed Ebertfest again. They replied: “Sorry, we don’t have room for it.” #ff00ff;">(Update 3-28-2019: Chaz Ebert confirms Ebertfest’s decisions had nothing to do with my no-platforming in Urbana and Beligium, and they were unaware of any controversy. )

I’m not entitled to be at any film festival, and the decisions of Ebertfest – a special event of the University of Illinois College of Media – are made behind closed doors, preventing any hope of accountability. But going from the top of Ebertfest’s list to “sorry there’s no room” in the midst of libel campaigns is consistent with the blacklisting and no-platforming of feminists at universities nationally and internationally. From the banishing of noted feminist speakers like Sheila Jeffreys and Julie Bindel; to the suppression of ‘politically incorrect’ research at Bath Spa University and Brown University; to secret blacklists of female academics uncovered at Goldsmiths University, the speech-suppressing behavior at the University of Illinois is consistent with unsavory developments around the world.

In 2017, the U of I adopted “Guiding Principles” on Freedom of Speech and Civic Engagement. I list some ways they are failing to uphold these principles:

    • “We have a duty to vigorously and even-handedly protect community members against conduct that falls outside the First Amendment – including true threats, pervasive harassment, incitement to imminent lawless action, and libel…” Ms. Nguyen’s accusation, “she is a transphobe,” is libel. I do not fear or hate trans people. Although it shouldn’t be anyone’s business, I have had trans friends and lovers, and stood for the human rights of trans people, since before Ms. Nguyen entered college.
    • “We will create conditions for a safe and robust exchange of viewpoints.” This has not happened at the U of I. While one-sided policies of “preferred pronouns” dominate, no voice is given to those who use English sex-based pronouns over newly imposed “gender identity” rules.
    • “In all matters involving freedom of speech, the University of Illinois system will endeavor to maintain a high level of transparency.” I am confident anti-feminist blacklisting occurs here, as it does on many other campuses. Blacklisting is by its nature non-transparent and unaccountable, but its effects are devastating.
    • “We will not condone shouting down or physically obstructing or threatening a speaker or the speaker’s audience.” Does this include on Social Media? Because Facebook is where Ms. Nguyen did just that, and got my event shut down.
    • “We must always strive to be valued local partners, learning from and collaborating with the communities that are home to our universities and programs.” Bullying a local venue into shutting down a screening by a local artist achieves the opposite of that mission.
  • “We owe our students opportunities for substantive civic engagement so that they graduate not only prepared for personal success but also knowing what is expected of them as productive global citizens.” Certainly the University has already failed its students and faculty by refusing any open discussion of genderist ideology and policies. This failure to foster free speech has spilled beyond campus and into the surrounding cities of Urbana-Champaign, harming the community.

HARMS

Many local residents were looking forward to the event at Arcadia. Due to the bullying by Ms. Nguyen, representing the University of Illinois, and her associates, the event was cancelled. Many more locals hoped Seder-Masochism would screen at Ebertfest this year. Now, they will not see it.

Many in this college town are afraid to voice support for me, or express any gender-critical thought, for fear of being branded “transphobic.” Academics who even question ‘gender identity’ have been disciplined or denounced in open letters; those who express fully gender critical views have lost their jobs. Between that and the imposition of ‘preferred pronouns,’ requiring the speaker to suppress their correct recognition of biological sex in favor of compelled speech – that is, lying – University employees, their spouses, and friends, feel compelled to keep quiet.

So, instead of the “opportunities for substantive civic engagement” promised in the University’s Principles, the University instead fosters a climate of fear and silence in the wider community.

Beyond this harm to our community, I have been harmed personally as well. I can’t calculate the cost this has had on my professional reputation, career, and livelihood. I have certainly suffered psychological harm: being falsely accused and shut down in my hometown, with no accountability for the accusers, evokes a despair I had previously only read about in books like “The Crucible” and histories of witch trials.

REMEDIES

The University needs to protect speech.

I acknowledge the University is in a bind. Recent State interpretations of Title IX have – perhaps unwittingly – redefined ‘sex’ to include ‘gender identity.’ As long as Title IX fails to uphold its original purpose – protections based on sex – and instead protects incoherent, ill-defined, and fundamentally sexist concepts of ‘gender identity,’ it is at odds with the First Amendment – and with itself.

The University’s Student Affairs web page states:

We will continue to protect and treat all students according to their gender identities and gender expressions, honoring chosen names, pronouns, and restroom access, as is current campus policy.”

‘Preferred pronouns’ are compelled speech, forcing the speaker to contradict their own recognition of another’s sex. This compulsion violates the First Amendment. But ‘preferred pronouns’ also violate Title IX itself, insofar as it still protects sex. Although trans activists vehemently deny this, there is ample evidence that some trans-identified males are autogynephiles – that is, fetishists who are sexually aroused by imagining themselves as women. Being forced to call such men “she” is forced participation in sexual activity without consent. That is just one way privileging ‘gender identity’ over sex is institutionalized sexual coercion.

‘Sex’ and ‘gender identity’ are fundamentally mutually exclusive; you cannot protect one without delegitimizing the other. The University considers failure to use ‘preferred pronouns’ harassment against the individual who imposes them. But ‘preferred pronouns’ themselves are harassment, including sexual harassment, against individuals compelled to use them.

My plea to the University is to reaffirm its commitment to Free Speech and acknowledge the untenable and inconsistent demands added to Title IX by the redefinition of sex. It is tragic that the former integrity of Title IX, which has been instrumental in providing sex-based protections and opportunities for women and girls, is now in opposition to the First Amendment. Free Speech is important. Sex-based protections are important. Redefining ‘sex’ to include ‘gender identity’ is an assault on both.

On an immediate and practical level, the University should:

Assure the right of all employees and students to use whatever pronouns they see fit;

Assure the right of all students and employees to question and discuss current “gender identity” politics without fear of libel or punishment, and;

Host meaningful discussion on this subject. Feminist Journalist Meghan Murphy is available to debate anyone on the topic, “Does Trans Activism Negatively Impact Women’s Rights?” The University would do well to host such a debate here.

Finally, having lost two screening opportunities in my hometown because of the University’s negligence, I would like the University to sponsor a screening of my film Seder-Masochism for the community.

Sincerely,

–Nina Paley

Director, Seder-Masochism and Sita Sings the Blues

Urbana, IL

ninapaley.com

Mimi_Nguyen1

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