(NOTE FROM PAM: Autumn wanted to respond to the many emails and comments from the transgender community in response a couple of diaries that generated contentious, often angry and uncivil exchanges between commenters and how moderation was handled. This comment thread is completely for your open feedback; she and I will let you speak.)
Somewhere between communicating effectively — so that people will listen to my peers and me about trans civil rights issues — and communicating only anger and hate, I feel lost. I don’t want to give into “the tone argument” — the argument that oppressors get to define what words the oppressed get to use, and get to say “I’d pay attention to you if your tone was better” — but somewhere between civility and “the tone argument” there must be a balance…there must be a middle ground.
As we’ve called for civility between blenders here at Pam’s House Blend — well, today I asked my kat Bon-Bon about where that balance and middle ground is. As usual, she silently turned from looking out her perch at the front window — the window that that looks out on the street — and silently stared back at me.
[Below the fold -- trans-feminist terminology that's currently spoiled at The Blend, feeling like I'm fruitlessly railing against incivility atThe Blend, and discussion of how I have "an angry inch."]
Excerpt (from below the fold): Frankly, my transgender peers, this is where I began seeing the terms cisgender and cissexual as weapons in the Pam’s House Blend threads. When, in my opinion, these terms should be used to teach — as Julia Serrano and others use the term — it was used to express anger and hate.
…In my opinion, this blender began this recent Pam’s House Blend a discussion of cis- terminology with a can of gasoline and a match, and then has responded with anger as I tried to put out the fires.The balance issue began with me over the terms cissexual and cisgender. I’ve always liked the words cissexual (for not transsexual; for non-transsexual) and cisgender (for not transgender; for non-transgender). I liked that these terms took the negative prefixes away from my transgender and transsexual identities when describing people who aren’t trans.
The term cisgender was, as far as the research I can find, was first used by a trans man named Carl Buijs (in the mid-nineties), and cisgender and cissexual were then popularized by Julia Serrano in her book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. From a feminist and privilege perspective, these two cis- terms have been used in helping to define for non-transgender and non-transsexual people the kinds of oppression trans people experience. And even though the cis- terms were popularized in a feminist work, the concepts of cissexualism and cisgenderism apply as equally to trans men, trans women, genderqueers, and other types of trans people.
I believe, in reading Serrano’s book and her essays, that she meant the terms in a neutral way to describe a certain kind of privilege — in the same vein of the concepts of white privilege, male privilege and straight privilege. These privileges exist in more than just theory, but those who are experiencing these privileges are often unaware of their privileges, and sometimes folk (rightfully) take offense when these terms and privileges are pointed out to them.
Frankly, I didn’t used to understand the concept of white privilege because I never experienced straight privilege. That is, until about my mid-forties, when I started “passing” as a white female. Even as a morbidly obese woman, my feminine movements, speech, and style of dress no longer identified me as being someone the the other f-word described.
When first confronted with my then newly experienced white privilege as a white woman, and was told I was communicating with others from a place of white privilege, I took offense. The very idea that I had it any better than any other human being sounded ludicrous to me, because my experience of being sexually harassed in the military told me I never had any privilege of any sort to operate from.
In time, though, it slowly dawned on me that I now did have white privilege, and I noticed it because I also gained that mainstream straight privilege — my feminine movements, speech, and style of dress now were considered “normal” behavior for a woman, when those same behaviors identified me as gay when I presented as a white male.
And then, when I lost 125 pounds after my gastric bypass — well, then I really noticed what being perceived as a white, attractive woman (for my age, anyway) in American society. Realizing that part of my “strength” at being a publicly transgender comes from how I can “pass” as female in society, and am out of the closet by choice instead of my appearance giving me away as trans…my white, female, privilege shocked me to my core. But being aware of it as I am now, I try to use it to better other trans people’s lot in life — especially for transyouth.
Let’s be honest — no one likes to be confronted with the privileges they experience, especially when one has one or more privileges to operate from (such as being white and male), but at the same time operate from a position of not having privilege (such as being gay). I had white privilege even when I didn’t have straight privilege, but I didn’t know I had any privilege in society whatsoever.
Uh, hey, some of us were there when Aravosis publicly made the case that we [transgender people] don’t belong in his cisgender gay-rights movement.
It’s not ancient history for us. It’s the way Aravosis treats trans people. We’ve borne the scars; we’re the ones who had our comments deleted or edited, earned our bans from his site.
And you wonder why we hate the guy? …
In that comment, the term cisgender wasn’t used to explain privilege to people who didn’t understand it, but instead used to angrily — accusatorily — pointing a finger at John Aravosis for being a gay white male who doesn’t care about the civil rights of transgender people. It was that weaponized use of that cis- term that began the current Pam’s House Blend debate over cisgender and cissexual terminology here at The Blend. When I’ve mentioned repeatedly that the two cis- terms have been weaponized at The Blend, this is the is starting point as to where I feel the term was weaponized against gay white men.
Frankly, my transgender peers, this is where I began seeing the terms cisgender and cissexual as weapons in the Pam’s House Blend threads. When, in my opinion, these terms should be used to teach — as Julia Serrano and others use the term — I saw the term cisgender used to express anger and hate.
The writer of that comment has now written her own blog about how I’ve shut down discussion of the cis- terms here at The Blend. She’s also commenting that I shut down discussion — many comments to that effect in her twitter feed. In my opinion, this blender began this recent Pam’s House Blend a discussion of cis- terminology with a can of gasoline and a match, and then has responded with anger as I tried to put out the fires.
Here is main point for Aravosis and all other cisgendered, transbigoted privileged assholes
The fight for GLB rights and the fight for Transgender rights are the same fight, because, at the most basic, they are rooted in the fight for people other than cisgendered, straight (white, wealthy) men to have a sexuality and a gender identity and not be punished or shamed for it.
Not to mention it’s just the right goddam thing to do.
Go forth and converse.
To my transgender peers, let me say this: use the terms cisgender and cissexual. However, I recommend using the terms not as pointed weapons, but as the teaching tools about privilege that these terms are meant to be. As for me now though, I’ve personally lost the ability to use cisgender and cissexual as educational words for quite awhile. What originally started out as moderation and civility issue at The Blend over the weaponizing of the terms cissexual and cisgender by a small minority of trans people turned into the viral perception that we’re shutting down discussion of cis- terminology at The Blend.
That was the effect of what I did to try and keep civility at The Blend, but it was never the reason for why I did in shutting down the discussion of threads where those terms were being discussed.
Basically, it doesn’t take more than one or two people to broadly sour a discussion in our threads. I perceive that some of my trans peers weaponized the cis terms to paint gay white men (GWM) with a broad brush — they poisoned the well for me, and poisoned the reasonable, neutral use of those terms in our blog for quite awhile, I feel. So trans people, keep the two cis- terms, but know that a few of our trans peers have poisoned their use as neutral terms at The Blend, and you’re likely going to get no where for awhile with many lesbian, gay, and bisexual people here at The Blend if you use those terms because the words have taken on added meaning as pointed weapons. Again, it only takes one or two voices to poison the well in a discussion, and that’s happened here.
And, let’s not let some GWM blenders off the hook. They responded to an article I wrote about a John Aravosis with a “tone argument” in response to trans folk. I don’t think that “the tone argument” is a GWM-as-a-group problem, just as I don’t think the weaponizing of cissexual and cisgender are a transgender community problem — again, it doesn’t take more than one or two people to sour a discussion in our threads.
But folks, this is why broad-brush attacks on communities and subcommunities are so damaging — this is why personal attacks and cross-identity community attacks are so damaging within the coalition of subcommunities of the broader lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
The frustrating thing is I went on a trip to meet Allyson Robinson for lunch on that last Friday of Pride Month — after posting my Aravosis diary — and came back to The Blend to see what I perceived was the morphing of those neutral cis- words into weapons, and “the tone argument” being used with what I perceived without reasonable challenge. I used a second post, entitled Enough Already to try and make the point that we’re supposed to be friends around the coffee table here at Pam’s House Blend, but then the thread was hijacked to again bring up how a blenderbelieved the terms cisgender and cissexual are neutral.
So, let me back up here, for a moment, and tell you about behind the scenes stuff that I usually wouldn’t share with y’all. The individual who kept that cissexual and cisgender discussion in the Enough Already thread has been sent a warning e-letter three days earlier for a personal attack on another within The Blend‘s thread, where the commenter I perceived as trying to hijack my Enough Already thread said this:
Now now, Brandi
I’m sill cuter than you are, and I’m putting the lie to everything you just said, simply by existing.
Care to explain that one?
War is what they call it. I call it living.
Please read that comment above in light of the civility link we have had at the top of our blog for over a week:
This Blog is not a haven for trolls, threats, or people wishing to spam or harass…We have the right to edit, remove or deny access to content that is determined to be, in our sole discretion, unacceptable. Please respect the rights of others to be heard and to be respected. We welcome all viewpoints, but we do not welcome personal attacks on our users, in any form. The moderators of The Blog retain the right to ban any user from posting at The Blog for behavior deemed inappropriate.
And from a recent post about calming our baser instincts at The Blend, this comment on hijacking threads:
We baristas and Pam have been noticing a coarsening within the discussion threads of late. Frankly, when we see within discussion threads Ann Coulter again start being referred to as a tranny and as Mann Coulter, when we see in different threads where the acknowledged gender identities of trans people aren’t respected, when in still another thread we see the term bitch used in a derogatory fashion, and when we see people hijack threads for flame wars, it’s time again to remind people about what the character of this blog is supposed to be.
Off-topic discussions in our threads sometimes don’t happen in a vacuum — and it didn’t happen in a vacuum here. Discussing the terms cissexual and cisgender in a thread on civility — the Enough Already diary’s thread — was a big red flag for me. I saw the terms that a small number of trans people weaponized in the previous Aravosis thread being brought over for discussion to the new thread — the new thread on civility — by someone I just warned about a TOS violation related to civility not three days earlier.
Frankly, that’s when I lost it. I wasn’t in a calm place to start with, and I saw a thread on civility being hijacked in a way that just infuriated me — In my mind, I saw the way that the discussion was about to turn.
Well, I slammed that blender publicly for discussing those cis- terms in the Enough Already thread — I turned a moderation issue about trying to keep discussions civil among friends into a cis- terminology issue. Yes, the cis- terms were at the moderation issue’s core, but it was less about the cis- terms directly than it was — well, what I perceived as hijacking a thread about civility into one where recently contentious subject matter (and that subject matter included cis- terminology) was discussed. I should have made the public issue about hijacking a thread to discuss a recently contentious use of terminology rather than making it about terminology that had recently been used contentiously. I take full responsibility for the wrong way I shut down discussion in that thread; I also own that I still feel that the Enough Already civility thread was absolutely the wrong thread to have another cis- terminology discussion.
Of course, a flame war wouldn’t be complete without more flaming. I banned the blender in question after she left a public message on my Facebook page regarding my comments in the Aravosis thread. Most of y’all didn’t see that comment on my Facebook page because most of you never look at my Facebook page. It felt pretty searing though; I definitely feel that she just kept upping the ante.
And here, let me interject a reminder of what we aim to be at Pam’s House Blend. We aim to be a virtual coffee house were friends gather to discuss issues, just like friends in a brick and mortar coffee house. If one of your brick an mortar coffee house friends went and sh*t on the front doorstep of one of the baristas at your brick and mortar coffee house in anger, that coffee house friend would likely not be welcome back at that brick and mortar coffee house. If you’re looking for the analogy as to why the blender who appeared to be reasonably defending the use of the terms cisgender and cissexual at The Blend was banned from your virtual coffee shop — well, there was much more to the story than what most of you saw occurring. What I perceived as the virtual sh*tting on my virtual front porch was just last straw that broke this camel’s back.
So now, to retain civility to my lesbian, gay, and bisexual peers, I’ve lost my ability to use these two cis- terms as these were meant to be used to create awareness about privilege that visibly trans people don’t have. The odd thing is that I lost my ability to use these words during the 40th anniversary weekend of the Stonewall Uprising, where I believed I saw the trans contribution to the Stonewall Uprising being neglected or overlooked.
Instead of being able to comment on that perceived erasure; instead of being able to comment on the lunch I had with Allyson Robinson this past Friday; I was busy on the Stonewall Uprising 40th anniversary weekend reading through hundreds comments and sending warning letters to blenders for incivility, inappropriate language (which included one blender tossing the term “whore” at another blender), and community/subcommunity attacks.
But back to the cis- terms, does my anger and dropping from my vocabulary the two cis terms mean others can’t use the terms in the neutral way to explain trans oppression as these were intended to be used? I hope not — these should be good terms to describe privilege into the future.
But at least in the short term, I know I can’t effectively use the terms here at The Blend, and I’d strongly recommend trans people stay away from those terms here at The Blend for awhile. Frankly, the cis- words are just too emotionally charged here at The Blend right now for neutral use of the terms here in our diaries, or here in our threads. I take a portion, but not all, of the responsibility for how those terms have become emotionally charged here at Pam’s House Blend.
However, I’m rightfully accused of shutting down the use of those terms is in a thread that I thought was aptly titled Enough Already, and in a follow on thread entitled Jumping Into The Deep End Of The Language Pool. I don’t believe I was wrong to shut down the discussion of those terms in that thread, but I was wrong in how I did it.
Basically, I felt one of our blenders was hijacking a thread on civility to again contentiously discuss the use of those two cis- terms. I wanted to shut down that discussion in that thread as a moderation issue, and ended up overreaching in my response. I’m not sorry at all about shutting down that discussion in that thread, but I’m incredibly sorry for the way I did it.
My approach to how I moderated that thread mirrored “the tone argument.” And of course, “the tone argument” of shutting down the discussion on that thread was wrongheaded. I took a moderation issue and mishandled it — I made it seem like a terminology issue.
In the past months, I’ve seen many of our threads at Pam’s House Blend involving trans people or issues have seemed to turn into uncivil discussions — discussions on trans people and issues devolving into personal attacks and community/subcommunity attacks. And this week on top of that, we’re been bombed with comments by trans people creating new profiles — using unrelated threads to say that we at Pam’s House Blend have shut down trans voices. I deserve those bombs, but Pam and my fellow baristas don’t.
I’m the one who made that moderation mistake; it wasn’t Pam’s fault, it was completely mine.
And, the sad thing I see in all this is that no one with any viewpoint on trans issues is really being heard because on trans issues because no one is really listening to anything anyone else says. All — including me — have just seemed to give in to burning anger, and seem now to be talking past each other.
I asked Bon-Bon what to do about all of this mess too, and again she just silently stared back at me from her window perch.
Y’know, Bon-Bon looked at me as she often does…in that where she appears to be hanging onto every word I say. But as we all know, she’s a kat, and she really doesn’t understand a single word I say. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere, I’m sure.
My peer baristas and I have found that I haven’t been able to effectively moderate the discussion at The Blend — to navigate that narrow path between being civil and giving in to “the tone argument” — that we strive for here at the Pam’s House Blend virtual coffee house. Pam and I have asked people on both sides to calm down, and it seems that many of you blenders won’t moderate yourselves. And at least on the discussion of the cis- terms, my approach to dealing with the issue has been way too heavy handed.
I feel that on this side of the myriad of gender and community divides, I gave into my “angry inch.”
For those of you who’ve never seen the movie (or play) Hedwig And The Angry Inch, it’s a story about a gay man on the “wrong” side of the Berlin Wall living with extreme anger — he gave up his penis and became a woman in a botched sex change operation specifically to flee oppression, only to see the Berlin Wall fall less than a year later.
For me, I’m not a gay man, and I’m not angry for the same reasons Hedwig was angry. But that said, Hedwig faced the same frustrations of not fitting well into sexually dichotomous world, and facing the same hate of the other f-word. And too, Hedwig was being oppressed for somehow being visibly transgender, but always living openly as transgender even when her appearance wasn’t giving her away as trans.
What little sexuality and “length” I ever had…well, I lost whatever I had in taking Estrodial and Spironolactone. This week, my genitalia are not now much more than the metaphor of “the angry inch.” But just as Hedwig looked and saw no benefit to the anger in the video above, I sometimes share the anger about a lot in life that leaves me discriminated against, hated, and oppressed. But, that anger doesn’t get me respect or the equality that I want when I yell, scream, and rail at those who don’t want to extend respect or equality to me.
Because I’m open about being trans, by many I’m seen as a gay man; by many other as a “third gender” person; by still others as “Autumn” Sandeen, the fake woman; and by still others as capricious, angry, transgender activist who rose to prominence in the “blood lust” of covering the Angie Zapata Hate Crime Murder trial, I don’t fully get to define myself. I chose to define myself as a transgender, transsexual, real woman — but I know I’m defined in other terms by others.
And this week, I’m defined by appearing to close all discussions at The Blend that involve the terms cisgender and cissexual because those terms are being discussed. I know I’ve shut down discussions because of moderation issues, but when Lisa Harney of Questioning Transphobia essentially believes I was shutting down discussions related to the terms cissexual and cisgender as a “tone argument” — I know I flubbed things horribly. The myriad of phone calls, IM chats, and emails from a number of transgender activists that Pam and I have both fielded since my visible flubbing on what she and I agreed were incivility and moderation issues…well, I know my flubbing of moderation issues went viral.
Today, when I’m feeling all of my “angry inch” in perceiving those particular gay white men and gay white lesbians who have used the “tone argument” at The Blend, as well feeling that “angry inch” against those particular trans peers for screeching with anger, hijacking threads, and being uncivil to many of us who are trans and non-trans alike — I find myself at a loss.
Bon-Bon, of course, has no answer for me but her blank stare. Twice today already she’s nudged my elbow why I’ve sat writing this at the computer, demanding my attention– demanding scratches on her crown. So many blenders and others have been demanding my attention of late, and I just don’t have the energy to answer all the commentary and demands. There is no fixing this problem.
So, I’ve been slow to respond because I’ve taking a few days off to cool my anger, and to recharge. I’ve had a mani and a pedi; I’m going to take a long walk on a sandy beach; I’m going to go fishing in the woods that are just an hour away from my little apartment; and I’m going to spend some more quality time with Bon-Bon — my ever quiet, but loving friend. I’m going to continue a very needed break.
Before my frustration and anger turns to hate, I want to again truly embrace what Martin Luther King Jr. stated:
I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you…. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.
Frankly, I’m not there this week.
I’ve shed some tears within my frustration and anger this past week — and said some words publicly and privately that I find I deeply regret. I’m well aware that apologies aren’t going to be enough for the damage I’ve personally inflicted; I’m well aware I lost my own sense of self and my own civility in the frustration of repeatedly and fruitlessly asking that blenders treat each other civilly.
All of these things are going to be a hard for me to bear.
So, while I’m gone and recharging, please remember to that civility matters…
Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.
So true…it seems to have eaten me alive this past week.
(NOTE FROM AUTUMN: Wow. I went to the post at Questioning Transphobia, and as of this moment, there are 287 comments on the thread. Having stepped away from Pam’s House Blend for two days in an attempt to recharge, I discovered that 1.) one of our blenders posted a comment comparig trans people to Nazis, and 2.) I’m a pretty hated trans person by other trans people at the moment.
In the small picture, to the now former blender who made the Nazi comparison — Wow. Really? Wow. Exactly how much power do you thing trans people have in America? Do you think trans people have the power — or the desire — to kill millions of people? If you do — Wow. In any case, that was such an unnecessary and over-the-top comment.
And in the bigger picture, take a read over at Questioning Transphobia, and you can see for yourself how hated and tainted a trans person I’ve become within my community. It’s been quite a humiliating to be so chastized — so raked over the coals, for sure. Especially true for the comment where I was compared to a house negro – which would of course make Pam my “massah.”
It’s been so difficult for me to “get” that this all started from me criticizing a gay man for not first apologizing to trans people for saying that T people should not be part of his gay community — when he used trans people to make a point about LGBT issues. I can see the process of how I became a pariah within the last five days within the trans community, but the bitterness and anger I’ve seen is something I’m having a hard time grappling with.
To those peers that might want to come to my defense — please don’t. My angry peers need to have their voices heard, and they need to be unfilted, and unchallenged.
Honestly, I don’t know whether anyone here at this blog will want me to respond to the comments for this diary or not. Frankly, I was planning to go fishing today because I need some time off, but I think I need to stay home instead and pay attention to what my peers say here today. My taking the past two days off from the blog and try to recharge has apparently turned out to be a particularly bad plan, considering what has transpired within the aforementioned Questioning Transphobia thread, as well as here in our Enough Already thread.
If you want me to respond to your particular comment in this diary’s thread, then please let me know within the thread — I’ll get to as many of the comments requesting reply as I can, and answer as honestly as I can. If you don’t ask for a response, I’ll assume you don’t want a response.
Frankly, I fully expect to be pummelled.)
NOTE FROM PAM: It’s not hard to see how far beyond the pale all of this has gone in these specific trans-related threads, but quite a few diary threads in general. Obviously if we’ve called for a civility day, there’s a problem. Some of the responsibility of this has to be bourne by the readers, after all, that’s ultimately why we are here now.
To remind readers, and inform newbies:
1) I don’t read every thread.
2) I don’t monitor comments very often at this point; I have a more-than-full-time offline job, and an actual life, plus I have to write the content you read.
3) Reader diaries that are promoted or written by baristas do not necessarily reflect my views; sometimes they are counter to my view and presented for open discussion and debate.
I should note that no one monitors Daily Kos or Pandagon at the level it has been done on the Blend; on Pandagon it’s usually just for blatant right-wing troll removal and even then the bar is high. I don’t even think it exists on DKos. The original goal was to make the Blend a safe space, not a 100% PC zone, but at this point it’s a balance between being able to write content or sitting there trying to stop people who cannot tell the difference between honest debate and screaming epithets at one another at a personal level. We have over 8,300 registered users; just a couple of months ago we had 5,000.
Some of you may use this thread to respond to Autumn; I would like to hear from people who want to problem-solve the issue of moderation, since that is the overarching issue. We’ve obviously reached a tipping point in being able to moderate effectively (or fairly to some users).
So, here are some questions that you, the readers and the commenters, need to answer for me about this community space, and let’s start with basics:
* Do you want comments? I personally like the interaction they provide, but it’s an option to turn them off.
* If you want them on; do you want the Blend moderated or not? We can certainly let it be open like many blogs, completely free of editorial intervention.
* What about ratings? Should the feature remain or be turned off?
* Does the community want to fund baristas to sit in front of a computer 24/7 to be a hall monitor/bouncer? On a community blog, that would mean also monitoring the comments of the non-front-page blogs as well. This is madness; I can’t imagine anyone voting for this option.
Assuming that one is off the table, then…
* If you want the Blend moderated, what is a realistic expectation of moderation?
* Do the ground rules for “offensive language” change — get relaxed, since there’s so much content?
* What is a reasonable turnaround time for a barista to address an offensive comment?
* How should an offensive comment reported? Via comment or email to the tips line? I personally think doing so in the comments is obviously proving ineffective; on the other hand my inbox is already full of emails I can’t get to right away.
* How many warnings does one receive before receiving a suspension or trapdoor?
* How many reports on one comment constitute auto trapdoor/suspension?
* Are banned users ever allowed to return?
I’d prefer to talk it through and hear your suggestions than make a unilateral decisions without any input, but my-way-or-the-highway decision making is obviously an option. Thank you in advance for those who want to roll up your sleeves and work on this problem.