Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Wikipedia Goes All-In on Transphobia

(Previous post on this topic)

10/23: Update with recent developments added to the end of the post.

11/6: I have been banned from Wikipedia for the contents of this post. More information here.

We’ll start with the good news. After a second move discussion, Wikipedia has decided to move the article on Chelsea Manning back to her actual name instead of misgendering and misnaming her. This brings us to the bad news, which is essentially everything else, and in particular everything surrounding the arbitration committee case.   This case has led to the declaration that calling out transphobia on Wikipedia is unacceptable, that trans activists are disqualified from working on articles involving trans subjects, and that it's more acceptable for people employed by the US military to covertly edit the Chelsea Manning article than it is for trans advocates to do so openly.

To recap, immediately after Chelsea Manning publicly came out and and announced her new name, Wikipedia updated and retitled its article on her. This set off a wave of controversy, resulting in the article being moved back to where it misnamed Manning and being locked there for thirty days. Those thirty days have now passed, and a second discussion over the topic resulted in overwhelming consensus to move the article back to its correct title.

A consequence of this, however, was that a request was filed with the arbitration committee - an elected body allowed to pass broad sanctions to settle disputes on Wikipedia, including banning editors. That process has also now concluded, and has concluded disastrously.

In order to understand the arbitration commitee’s decision, it is important to understand the culture of Wikipedia. In its determination to avoid creating any top-down editorial structure, Wikipedia has instead repeatedly embraced a system of rules designed to eliminate thought from the decision making process as much as possible. Hence the policy that all information must be sourced to reliable secondary sources, with little concern for the biases that this demand introduces (what sources get published is, after all, heavily impacted by degree to which publication can prove profitable, a wholly distinct concept from what is accurate or important) or to the number of fields like the humanities in which secondary sources are not dispassionate attempts to synthesize materials but attempts to advance partisan and novel takes on existing material.

The fantasy has always been that with the right set of rules the encyclopedia would write itself, with optimal versions of articles just coming to exist naturally as a consequence of the self-evident rules about citation and secondary sources. The reality has always been that instead of actually thinking critically about content decisions people just think critically about how to manipulate and play with the rules.

Since this is, most days of the week, a geek blog, I assume the analogy to tabletop role-playing games and the type of player known as a rules lawyer will make sense. If not, allow a brief digression. A rules lawyer is a type of player whose pleasure comes not from any accomplishment within the game, but instead from the manipulation and contortion of the rules. For them the point of the game is pedantic obsession with rules and finding ways to game the system. And for people of this mindset, Wikipedia is a godsend.

Certainly this is the mindset that applied to the original naming discussion. On one side you had the observation that misnaming trans people is tremendously hurtful and that it hurts people well beyond the specific person being misnamed. On the other you had some petty transphobes who quickly learned to back up their argument by citing a minor policy that dictates that articles should use the most common name for their subject. This is literally what the debate looked like. One side pointed out that misnaming Chelsea Manning amounted to the sixth largest website in the world taking action that delegitimized transgender identities, and that this was profoundly harmful. The other side said “yeah, but there’s a rule that says articles should be at the most common name.” And the latter side won, at least initially. (Eventually the fact that every mainstream news organization that doesn’t have an overt partisan agenda, and several of those that do had, in fact, gone over to Chelsea Manning won the day. But not until Wikipedia spent thirty days to the right of The Daily Mail.)

Which brings us to the arbitration committee, who looked at both sides of this debate and made the unequivocal decision that, in a debate between people trying to think seriously about the ethical considerations involved in being one of the largest websites in the world and a bunch of techno-libertarians playing WikiRules, the real problem was all the uppity trans activists. David Gerard, an administrator who locked the page at Chelsea Manning temporarily on the grounds that the alternative was a serious violation of Wikipedia’s policy on articles about living people, was sanctioned on the supposed basis that he did not adequately explain his reasoning, and that he was “overly involved.” This latter claim, based seemingly on no evidence beyond that David knows some trans people and doesn’t hate them, was used to forbid him from using his administrative powers on transgender articles at all.

This idea - that knowing trans people or being in favor of trans rights is an excessive level of personal involvement that ought preclude editing in that area - is all the more appalling given that the arbitration committee did not make any observations regarding Cla68, a user who advocated for punishing Morwen, the user who initially moved the article, for seeking publicity for her actions and for having a conflict of interest. The fact that Morwen and David Gerard know each other socially was, in Cla68’s eyes, evidence of a vast conspiracy to use Wikipedia as a platform for advocacy. The fact that David Gerard is further supportive of Chelsea Manning’s legal battle and has publicly supported the idea that she be pardoned was further cited as evidence of his excessive personal involvement in this case.

This is all extraordinary given that Cla68 is in real live Charles Ainsworth, an employee of the US Military working in Japan. This is a fact he has studiously attempted to hide, all the while accusing others of being unduly involved in the Chelsea Manning case. To be clear, then, the standard of involvement that the arbitration committee used to sanction people is that being openly supportive of trans rights and of Chelsea Manning’s status as a whistleblower constitutes undue involvement, while trying to hide the fact that you're employed by her jailer is perfectly fine.

Beyond that, findings were issued declaring that people arguing that misnaming and misgendering were transphobic were behaving unacceptably. One such editor received an indefinite topic ban from editing or discussing trans-related subjects on Wikipedia. Another (me, actually) came within one vote of a similar ban.

For anyone playing along at home, then, here’s a quick guide to what can and can’t be said on Wikipedia with regards to transgender topics. First off, the things that are allowed. To be clear, these are all things that the arbitration committee specifically looked at and voted by a majority to declare were acceptable and not worthy of sanction. So, it’s OK to say that a trans woman “is a woman only in his own (sick) head.”  It’s fine to compare being trans to declaring that you’re an animal of some sort. It’s perfectly acceptable to refer to a trans woman coming out of the closet as “a one-day circus freak show.” Similarly, it’s perfectly acceptable to say that “Manning can say that he wants to be a girl all he wants, but the fact remains that he’s not.”

This is not to say that the arbitration committee drew no lines. It turns out that talking about a trans person’s genitals, and particularly saying things like “only when his testicles are ripped out of his scrotum will I call Manning a ‘she’” is unacceptable. Likewise, while saying that “This guy is ‘Bradley Manning,” a man and a male, both sex and gender. Period. Putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t make a heifer become Marilyn Monroe y’know,” was initially deemed acceptable, the user who said it was eventually sanctioned for admitting that he was just trolling to make a point. But these are isolated instances of sanction amidst a much larger sea of sickening transphobia.

Meanwhile, the following statements were cited as evidence of problematic “battleground mentalities,” some of which require indefinite bans from talking about transgender topics on Wikipedia. Lest anyone think I’m cherry picking the acceptable bits of comments and leaving out the bad ones, I’ve included links to the full comments (some of which, again, are my own).

“It's hard to see any other explanation for someone insisting on calling an individual who self-identifies as female by using their former name with which they no longer identifies, than virulent hatred of transgendered people.” (link)

“All arguments for using "Bradley Manning" are transphobic for the simple reason that they are arguments for an inherently transphobic act, which is to publicly misname a trans person on the sixth largest website in the world.” (link)

“We don't move articles because some people hate transgendered people, it's that simple.” (link)

“I hope you never have to experience anything as awful as what you have done in denying Chelsea Manning her basic self-identity on one of the largest websites in the world. I have never before seen Wikipedia used in such an actively hurtful and harmful way as what you have just done.” (link)

“It is libel, gross sexual harrassment, a BLP violation, a violation of MOS:IDENTITY, a violation of human decency, and obvously motivated by transphobic hate, to refer to someone who self-identifies as a woman, by insisting on using their former name with which they no longer identifies.” (link)

“I want to be perfectly clear here. Referring to a transgender person by their birth name is hate speech. This close embraced hate speech. This is not an issue of consensus. This is an issue of Wikipedia actively embracing hate speech. It is shameful and horrifying in exactly the same way that a decision to refer to racial minorities with derogatory slurs would be.” (link)

The message here is clear. Bigotry and transphobia? Possibly annoying, but really nothing to worry about. Calling out bigotry, however? That’s a major disruption that needs to be stopped. The real problem with the discussion wasn’t all the people declaring that transgender people are mentally ill and denying them their basic identity. It was that anyone got at all upset about it.

The underlying policy that justifies this is usually abbreviated as WP:BATTLE, and is a subsection of a page titled “What Wikipedia is not.” The policy states that “Wikipedia is not a place to hold grudges, import personal conflicts, carry on ideological battles, or nurture prejudice, hatred, or fear.” How, exactly, attempts to actively combat prejudice, hatred, and fear are thus in violation of this policy is one of many things one might reasonably want to ask the arbitration committee.

But even uglier than the blinkered reading of this policy is the idea that it is a key policy at all. In the end the policy, particularly as applied in this case, is little more than an attempt to codify the idea that Wikipedia is somehow immune to consequences. It’s the same logic that leads to the suggestion that there’s not any moral issue with misgendering trans people on Wikipedia. It is, in many ways, a techno-libertarian fantasy. It pretends that Wikipedia somehow exists in a truly neutral space where it can simply, as the mantra goes, report what reliable sources say in an unbiased way.

Which is tosh. It’s the sixth largest website in the world. nobody is under any illusions that it’s not a standard reference tool for journalists. Wikipedia has tremendous power in the world. The idea that it can be reactive and outside of any real world conflicts is little more than a fig leaf to cover overt sociopathy.

This is not, obviously, to suggest that Wikipedia must therefore uncritically open the floodgates to advocacy. The idea that the options are either some fantasy in which Wikipedia can completely ignore the political and ethical implications of its own existence or some uncontrollable mess in which people advocating political positions derail all efforts to write an encyclopedia is needlessly reductive. Indeed, this simple black and white worldview is another charade hiding the destructive truth: Wikipedia does not and cannot exist in a magic bubble in which politics and ethics have no basis.

This is the real content of the arbitration committee’s decision, and, indeed, of the argument for misnaming Chelsea Manning: that the game of WikiRules is more important than ethical considerations, and, more to the point, that the game of WikiRules needs to be carefully insulated from any ethical challenge. Certainly this is the argument that inherently lies behind any suggestion that the “common names” rule under which the misnaming of Chelsea Manning was justified ought trump the myriad of real ethical and political concerns involved in publicly embracing the misnaming of trans people. What matters isn’t the consequences - it’s the rules themselves.

The chilling effects of this go far beyond trans issues. The ruling in effect guts the entire Biographies of Living Persons policy, which provided a crucial bulwark against this sort of thinking by demanding that “the possibility of harm to living subjects must always be considered when exercising editorial judgment” - one of the few statements in Wikipedia policy to suggest that ethical considerations do in some cases need to trump rules-lawyering.

Enforcement of this policy has always relied upon erring on the side of caution, and on giving administrators a wide berth to take action first and discuss later. But by sanctioning David Gerard, who locked the article in its correct title so as to prevent the material harm that misnaming trans people causes, while not even bothering to mention the administrators who, contrary to policy, reverted him the arbitration committee has obliterated all sense that administrators who act in good faith to remove harmful content might have any protection. This does massive and permanent damage to the prospect of Wikipedia acting with any sense of responsibility, as opposed to according to the designs of its rules lawyers.

But all of this has a particularly bitter ring to it for the trans community. It is, after all, another instance of the most innocent seeming and yet destructive trick in the transphobic arsenal - the manufactured debate about time and place. The trans community sat through years of this at the hands of the larger GLBT community, as trans issues served mainly as the first thing that would be offered as a concession in any political negotiation. Trans issues were actively treated as the thing to deal with after marriage equality. But there’s a larger trick involved. Trans issues aren’t appropriate for federal non-discrimination laws because they’d imperil passage of laws to protect sexual orientation. They aren’t appropriate for Wikipedia, because they have to win victories elsewhere first. The process of telling trans people that their concerns were inappropriate for a given venue goes back as far as 1969, when Jim Fouratt cut trans people out of the formation of the Gay Liberation Front immediately after the Stonewall riots.

It is only in light of this that Wikipedia’s obvious hatred of activists can be understood. The word “privilege” is instructive here, because it highlights the most important aspect of it, which is that it is an unchallenged, socially accepted form of power. Privilege works because of its invisibility. And as a result, nothing tips the privileged into bilious rage quite like having their privilege questioned or called out.

Often, of course, the harmful effects of this are coupled with talk about how this isn’t some slight against trans people. It’s just the rules, as those arguing for transphobia kept saying during the naming debate. Or you get the behavior of the Wikimedia Foundation itself. People like Sue Gardner, the Executive Director, and Jimbo Wales, the founder of Wikipedia are quick to wring their hands over how badly the Chelsea Manning issue was handled. And yet hand-wringing is all they’re seemingly prepared to do.

Wales, who has the power to overturn arbitration committee decisions, could have cut all of this off by making clear to the arbitration committee what he would or would not accept. He did not, nor has he made any move to overturn the ruling. The Foundation in general could declare that the English language Wikipedia has gone against its policies and enforce change. To date, it hasn’t. Perhaps most tellingly, whenever the Wikimedia Foundation attempts a fundraiser, it points to the success and reach of the project, most of which is the English language Wikipedia. And yet for all its supposed sympathy, it refuses to take responsibility for the egregious behavior of that project. At this point, it is difficult to imagine why any trans activist or ally would support the Foundation, nor, indeed, any organization that counts trans-inclusiveness as one of its principles. The sad fact is that supporting the Wikimedia Foundation, as it stands, means supporting an environment in which transphobia is consciously and deliberately allowed, but where support of trans inclusiveness and calling out bigotry is forbidden.

Because this is the situation Wikipedia has given us. Vehemently and hatefully denouncing the validity of trans identities? OK so long as you don’t reference their genitals. Arguing passionately in favor of misnaming Chelsea Manning while covering up the fact that you work for her jailer? Not even worth mentioning. But knowing trans people? Means you’re too involved to take administrative actions regarding trans people. Being willing to call out transphobia and hate speech for what they are? Means you can’t even edit on trans topics.

Because that is how these people work. It’s not that they hate trans people consciously or actively. They just hate the thought that they might have to change some aspect of their lives, however trivial, for them. That’s what systemic transphobia really is. It’s not the hatred or fear of actual trans people. It’s just thinking that avoiding using the sixth largest website in the world as a platform for rejecting their basic identities is less important than the ability to use that website to play a petty little game of rules manipulation. It’s not that trans people are subhuman animals or anything. They’re just less important than getting to treat the world as a glorified Dungeons and Dragons sourcebook.

UPDATE 10/23: So, I woke up to find this in my e-mail box:

Please contact the Arbitration Committee to explain why you have posted personal, non-public information about another contributor on your personal blog. This blog post has direct ramifications on the project, and may put you in gross violation of the project's norms and policies.
For the Arbitration Committee,
Anthony (AGK)
This would presumably be a reference to my revealing above that the user Cla68, who spent the arbitration case complaining that being trans or knowing trans people was excessive involvement, is in fact Charles Ainsworth, who is employed by the US Military. And that the arbitration committee took no action over this, apparently deeming being employed by Chelsea Manning's jailers a less significant conflict of interest than knowing trans people.

The reason why I did this should be straightforward and obvious: it's in the public interest to know that employees of the US Military are attempting to covertly influence the tone and direction of Wikipedia's coverage of Chelsea Manning. I am not attempting to assert some sort of conspiracy - I'm sure that Ainsworth was acting on his own initiative, and that it's merely that his values align with those of his employer. However this does not change the fact that he is employed by the institution currently imprisoning Chelsea Manning and denying her medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria, and that he is hypocritically trying to influence Wikipedia's coverage of this from behind a pseudonym while decrying other people for their conflicts of interest.

I am, of course, thoroughly unsurprised to discover that the esteemed and venerable arbitration committee considers this a "gross violation of the project's norms and policies."

But I would dispute, politely, that this information is non-public. I was tipped off to it by two separate individuals, both of whom included numerous links, and would not have posted it if it was not possible to independently verify the information. It was, largely because Ainsworth has outed himself.

Ainsworth has posted about his employer several times in the past, including mentioning on two separate occasions his work at the Pentagon and at his current place of employment, making the issue of his employer straightforward. He's also made numerous contributions to talk pages while logged out, then changed the signature to his name. These IP addresses further confirm his employer, as they resolve to the US DoD network.

As for his name, he certainly seemed willing enough to reveal it in this edit, in which he was willing to take responsibility for a quote he'd offered the media (used in stories like this one). Here's a Register story in which he gave a different quote, and where the Register linked directly to his userpage. Here's Ainsworth giving quotes to the Register again. (That he's been giving quotes to the media while accusing Morwen of publicity hunting for talking to the media about the Chelsea Manning article is, of course, a further amusing detail.)

It's only recently, presumably because he realizes that he's behaved atrociously and is desperate to not get publicly ensnared in his hypocrisy, that he has become in the least bit concerned with having his real name publicly revealed. Unfortunately, this mostly consists of making furtive glances at a recently closed barn door in the hopes that nobody notices that there are no longer any horses in it.

So to recap, Charles Ainsworth, an employee of the US Military, has been using the username Cla68 to covertly try to influence Wikipedia's coverage of Chelsea Manning while accusing others of a conflict of interest. And, obviously, doing a rather rubbish job of it, since it's trivial to trace his real-life identity.

One final observation: the subject of all of this is Chelsea Manning, who is famous (and in prison) for leaking documents that revealed the sordid details of what the US Military was actually up to. Now the arbitration committee seems to be considering sanction for publicly revealing information about the sordid details of what a member of that same organization has been doing on Wikipedia to further smear Chelsea Manning.

And they say irony is dead.

89 comments:

  1. You're bang on the nail here. The refusal to identify transgender people with the pronouns which they wish to be identified with and misnaming them is one of the most common forms of subtle transphobia that exists within contemporary society. It's one of the things which I have to deal with on goodness knows how many occasions and there's absolutely nothing I seem to be able to do about it.

    This pops up in all corners of life and particularly from the mouths of members of staff in all kinds of different organisations (members of authority also). Whether I'm on the phone to someone, paying a taxi driver, or purchasing an item in a shop; people will simply refer to me as “sir” or “he”, regardless of the fact that I identify as female (not always, might I add. A fair number of people are genuinely respectful). When it comes to flagging up this issue, people will either go “well, they probably just didn't realize what they were saying”, or, as you mentioned in your article, they will begin to debate that seeing as I was born biologically male and don't possess female genitalia (how on earth they know this is beyond me), then technically they are right in misnaming me (the whole "lipstick on a pig" line has popped up far more frequently than I care to remember).

    And you are absolutely right. The refusal to identify trans people with the pronouns and names which they have chosen to live with has huge implications on our well-being and state of mind; implications which many people may not appreciate. It can make us feel as though we are playing some kind of make believe role, trapped between a gender that we wish to express as opposed to one which others choose to see us as and can even at times push us into reverting back to living as our birth assigned gender.

    When people think of transphobia, an image of some thug beating up a helpless trans woman may often come to mind. The more silent and invisible forms of abuse which circulate among society are often overlooked, or in most cases, simply not noticed. And as you so rightly stated, just because someone may know and get on with transgender individuals does not mean they are exempt from (or failing to notice) transphobic attitudes.

    I've always held the internet in high esteem for trans people. The world wide web gives many minorities a voice which can be used to educate and change the thought processes of many. Blogs, such as this one, can be used as a voice to bring peoples attention to issues which they may never have initially realized. A tool such as the internet has huge potential for the sort of change which can help to enrich the lives of many people who have fallen victim to subtle prejudice. Which is why it is so sad to see Wikipedia turning a blind eye when it comes to identifying Chelsea Manning and the larger existence of transphobia in general. I always saw Wikipedia as a place where the progression of how people think and understand others could shine. I guess this is not currently the case.

    But change is still possible. I appreciate that it's incredibly difficult to alter the way that many think and understand concepts that might have initially been alien to them. So many people in a position of privilege have never had to question the man/woman binary and the entanglement of gender identity over biological development that they were brought up to believe, so it can be very hard for them to understand transgender identities. But this is not a justification of invisible prejudice, it's just a hopeful and optimistic way of looking at society and its potential to change and grow.

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    1. I used to edit Wikipedia, years ago. I can't speak to its current state, but when I was active I would have described it as a place where "the progression of how people think and understand others could shine." It had its positive traits, don't get me wrong, but it largely reflected the techno-libertarian subculture that emerged with the popularization of the Internet. My opinions towards that group could fill a book, but it's ultimately distinguished by its blind spot towards the entrenched prejudice and privilege, and its "bilious rage" (as Philip aptly puts it) towards any attack on that privilege.

      Based on my experiences, I'm inclined to think it's the rule-mindedness of Wikipedia that keeps its editors in check. Again, it's my personal experience and things may have changed since then, but if it was a left to a judgment call of Wikipedia's most respected and influential admins, I have trouble imagining getting even as far as getting Manning's article moved to the right name.

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    2. My apologies. I hope it's clear from the context, but that first sentence should read "I would not have described it as a place where 'the progression of how people think and understand others could shine.'"

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    4. My apologies, I accidentally deleted my initial response to this message.

      I guess I got a little confused toward the end of my previous comment; tangling my optimism toward the internet as a whole with Wikipedia itself. This often happens when reading up on a subject which one is passionate about.

      As you mentioned in your comment below; Wikipedia strives to be passively reflective of society. It's not necessarily a space where change can or will take place, as it simply provides the information provided by its users.

      I guess the problem can run both ways. The sources and content in Chelsea Manning's Wikipedia profile were offensive and disrespectful and based on my own personal experience, I naturally think that societies' overall attitude toward how they treat trans people should be challenged. But then Wikipedia is not a site which should become politically active and take sides. That can have drastic consequences. But it would be interesting, however, to see how their editors would handle offensive material which sprang up within the profiles of other individuals/events related to other minority groups; an example being ethnic minorities.

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    5. See, the tricky thing here is that when you come to things like the right to be treated with basic human respect and decency, "not taking sides" actually is taking a side -- this may not be a solvable problem, but it is one. Saying "I take no stand on whether or not trans people have the basic human right to have their gender identity acknowledged rather than being forcibly assigned to a gender against their will" is saying "Unlike for cisgendered people, for whom the right to be correctly identified by gender is inalienable, the right of trans people to their own gender is debatable."

      I mean, at some level, all equality struggles are about society trying to decide whether or not group X counts as "fully human". When that's what's at stake, the "neutral position" is that the answer to "are X fully human?" is "Maybe." Which isn't a neutral position at all, because if you're fully human, one of the things that means is that your humanity is not subject to challenge.

      (Further, it's always "Maybe; we'll reserve judgment and not take a stand" rather than "Maybe. Best to assume 'yes' so that we don't find out later that we've been trampling over a human's rights." The latter at least would appreciate what's at stake here; the former treats the matter as entirely academic, which, again, just is taking the position of "Well, whatever group X is, they're not so human that it's wrong to treat them as a kind of scientific curiosity to be analyzed without regard for the possibility that we're un-personing them")

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    6. On the other hand, what happens when we force people who are ignorant and ambivalent into a conversation they are not prepared for? They get their backs up, get defensive and settle in with the opposition. That's just how it works. As you say Ross, this may not be a solvable problem.

      The best solution to my mind is to properly educate, so that societal views change over time. This is not a short term solution, and does very little for people facing discrimination in the now. On the other hand we do know that inclusive and thorough education works. Here in Canada, we now have a health unit in the first/second grade on alternative family structure. How some people have two Moms, Two Dads, One of Each, One Parent, no parents but with caregivers ect. And it's worked.

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    7. Of course, "the best solution" here means "The solution that involves the least pain for the privileged, at the cost of greater pain for the oppressed." -- It's all well and good to say that you want to win hearts and minds and that things will be better this way "In the end", but it's dicier when it's people's rights your talking about. Do you really want to say "Look, it's for the greater good for YOU to live your life hated and oppressed, because by taking a more gradual approach, your children's children will live in a somewhat more equal world"?

      As far as I know, all the actually successful attempts to broaden the rights of the oppressed have involved dragging the people who "aren't ready" along kicking and screaming. Change is slow, but not because it's accomplished by pushing gently. It's slow because it's a small number of people pushing as hard as they can.

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    8. Winning in the long run might be the only win we can get here. Yes it's dicier, but (especially in the United States) you have a situation where things could get worse for many oppressed groups. Women continue to loose reproductive rights and access to abortion and family planning skills. I don't WANT to say it's for the greater good. I WANT to wake up in a world where gender, race and religion don't matter. But I must be a realist: That world will not happen tomorrow. Like it or not, the majority is not informed about Trans issues, do not care about Trans issues, and if we yell and scream they will not listen to people who are educated and care. If we try and force it in the wrong way, people will push back HARD against progress.

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    9. Hence the long list of social justice causes successfully addressed through polite silence and not risking upsetting anybody.

      ...

      Oh wait.

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    10. I didn't say that. But there is such a thing as knowing when and where to take a stand. There was no way that LGBT service members were going to get to serve openly in 1993. You got "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". Which got replaced in 2010 with a far more progressive and acceptable policy. Blacks in America did not get a full suite of rights in 1861 after the civil war. It took a century to get rid of segregated schooling. Change over time WORKS. Change immediately does not. We live in a climate that is hostile to social justice, where liberties and resources ARE being taken away from people.

      I never said be polite or silent. What I said was fight the battles you can win. When a loss means you might see less funding, less legislative support and strengthening the opposition then you damned well better be sure you have it locked down.

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    11. First, LGB*T* service members still can't serve openly. The military categorizes being transgender as a mental illness and it is considered a disqualifier for serving, at least ostensibly.

      More broadly... you talk about needing to play the long game, but then you talk about the detrimental effect of short term losses. "Choose your battles" has been the warcry of the Gay Rights movement for decades, and it is why they keep throwing trans issues under the bus. It is, arguably, a large part of *why* the public still isn't educated about trans issues. Incremental progress doesn't work; all it means is that the least oppressed achieve their goals and then abandon everyone else to scrape together a new rights movement.

      Fighting for equality isn't the kind of war you win by careful surgical strikes. You win by relentlessly chipping away at an enormous army of ignorance and apathy and open hatred, until (if I may jump to a different metaphor) you've been loud enough for long enough that you can finally be heard.

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    12. I'm not sure I fully grasp the distinction between "surgical strikes" and "chipping away," actually. Both seem to be getting at the same idea of incremental (as opposed to abrupt) change, and making a difference where it's possible to do so.

      That being said, you're right about how, once the "least oppressed" achieve their goals there's a clear tendency to abandon their former cause and those who haven't yet achieved theirs. But I'm not sure I see a way out of that conundrum (well, other than exhorting people to be more sensitive to others). The "least oppressed" are almost inevitably going to overcome their oppression first, because they have less to overcome in the first place. Once they do, the challenge of keeping them involved enough to help their former compatriots is fundamentally the same regardless of how they got to that point, isn't it?

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    13. It's about the strategy you take to get there. I think that just completely ignoring some issues for the sake of others (or because you're trying to avoid backlash along the way, which I suspect is impossible anyway) is less effective than throwing as much weight as you can behind as many issues as need attention. Certainly, prioritization is important, but the fractal nature of privilege almost guarantees that priorities will always end up wrong. And, well, "don't voice any support for this issue because it is likely to cause political backlash" is *exactly* throwing some issues under the bus to make your other issues look more palatable.

      The reason I bring up the "least oppressed" point is that "we need to choose our battles" is *exactly* what the GLB rights movement has said to the trans community for decades. If the GLB community had not spent so much time minimizing trans issues (and distancing themselves from trans people to make their own community look more normative), while making empty promises to the trans community, or alternately if the trans community hadn't listened to those promises and had started organizing separately a lot sooner, trans rights and the general level of education and acceptance of trans people could be a lot further along than it is.

      But instead, exactly what Theonlyspiral is advocating happened. The GLB community didn't take a stand for their trans allies. They repeatedly promised we were an important part of their movement, then sacrificed issues important to us as soon as their own goals were threatened.

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    14. Oh, I'm quite familiar with how trans issues were marginalized within the larger gay rights movement. It's part of a long and unfortunate tradition of double-marginalized groups (see also the situation of African American women in the civil rights movement).

      But an honest reading of "choose your battles" is, to me, what you're describing as prioritization. The GLB movement might have described their actions with regard to the trans community as "choosing their battles," but what it actually revealed was an almost total indifference to their plight.

      Which is to say, change over time is one thing, but eventually that change needs to come. The difference is knowing when you're dealing with prioritization and when you're just being fed empty promises.

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    15. Sean, that's fair as far as a reading of "choose your battles" - in practice I am fairly calculating about when and where I engage on issues (I have a mental list of acceptable scenarios in which to engage, how much to engage for a given goal, also factoring in the forum and audience and... anyway).

      But it sounded like Theonlyspiral was actively suggesting something more akin to the GLB's tactics, of not *taking a stand* at all, of not even voicing support if you're afraid of any amount of political backlash. What I was ultimately trying to get at with my argument was that avoiding backlash is generally *not* the right thing to prioritize around. We *do* have to force people into conversations they aren't ready for - that's how they end up ready for them in the future. It is a key component in the process of raising awareness.

      As someone who is *actively* affected by society's reaction to trans people, I'm not just fighting for trans rights from an intellectual or ethical standpoint - I'm literally fighting for my own rights. And when it comes to making moves that may create backlash... that is ultimately our call, because we are the ones who have to *endure* the backlash. My judgment is that this sort of backlash is symptomatic of progress - it's part of the purgative process of pulling bigotry from the margins into the light, where it can be attacked directly.

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    16. Admittance: I did not know the BT people could not serve openly. My bad for giving more credit than is due.

      To clarify my position: I do not think that not taking a stand at all is appropriate. I think that there is a difference between yelling and screaming at people who are just going to become alienated and doing actual good. The fight to desegregate schools in the 60’s was not an easy fight but it was one that was winnable. That could not have happened even ten years prior. Honestly the way I see choosing my battles is exactly as you describe prioritization. You have a list of issues you feel it necessary to engage on Anna. I can understand that the LGB community has thrown Trans people and issues under the bus, and if I made myself sound like that it was not my intention. I’m not saying I know better what issues need to fought, or that the community and it’s allies should roll over and wait to be given rights. I am saying that when we stand up, make noise and make something change, it should be a battle we win.

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    17. "I did not know the BT people could not serve openly."

      I'm not sure what you mean by BT. As far as I know bisexuality does not disqualify you from military service.

      As to the rest: but (correct me if I'm wrong) the fight to desegregate schools didn't *start* in the 60s. Desegregation generally was a long, hard fight that spanned several decades. And it was won *because* of that persistence. If you think arguing persistently and unwaveringly is "yelling and screaming" and doesn't do any good, well... since you brought up the civil rights movement, go re-read Letter from a Birmingham Jail and get back to me.

      When we stand up and make noise to make something change, it should be a battle we are prepared to keep fighting UNTIL we win.

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    18. @Anna: Yeah. Whenever someone starts talking "long game", there's this one particular passage in the Letter that comes to mind:

      We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never."

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    19. @Ross: oh yeah wow. I had forgotten about that quote. I was thinking of:

      I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.

      Particularly the last clause ('injustice must be rooted out...')

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    21. Adam I thought your comment was completely reasonable. Your position seems very sensible.

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    23. An oppressed minority demanding change will never get everything they ask for. Regardless of what they ask for. To limit one's demands or mute one's outrage in the hopes of prettying one's self up for the sake of one's oppressors is self-sabotage of the highest order.

      Put another way, this post cannot possibly go over as badly as publicly misnaming a prominent trans person for a month did. Because that actually harmed people. This just hurts people's feelings; generally speaking because it calls them out for actually bad things that they actually did.

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    24. I think the English Nerd meant that their comment would go over badly not the entry.

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    25. Oh no! I definitely meant that it was MY post might go over badly. I wrote it emotionally, and it appears I was very unclear. For that I completely apologize. I would never knowingly say anything that sounds like I might endorse hate speech. I completely agree that misnaming a trans person is monstrous, and I simply cannot apologize enough for that. I've deleted the offending post. I don't think I can properly explain what I meant to say in a clear enough manner, but please know it wasn't that.

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    26. Just to be doubly clear (for now I am worried about that) nothing I said was meant to be about the original post.

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    27. No worries. Sorry I misunderstood.

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  2. "This is not, obviously, to suggest that Wikipedia must therefore uncritically open the floodgates to advocacy."

    I'm hesitant to wade into this, because I respect the hell out of you, Philip, and I broadly agree with your position. But the problem I'm having here is that I don't see a way forward from your stated position. Wikipedia's obsession with its rules is far from an unequivocal good, and it can lead to startling instances of insensitivity like this. But I'm not sure there's a better alternative available. You may not mean to suggest that Wikipedia should "uncritically open the floodgates to advocacy," but I'm not convinced that there's any way to prevent that from happening.

    The ultimate purpose of Wikipedia's rules-mindedness is, I think, to counteract the inherent tendency of a democratic (if not anarchic) forum like Wikipedia to devolve to mob mentality. And as problematic as ArbCom's results were in this instance, I've dealt enough with Wikipedia editors that I don't believe for one second that a deliberately politically-conscious decision on this matter would have yielded a better result. I strongly suspect (though I'd love to be convinced otherwise) that the ultimate position, in such a case, would have been substantially more transphobic. That, to be clear, is not to excuse anything or anyone: that something is not as bad as it could have been does not mean it is any good.

    Wikipedia isn't immune to consequences, political or otherwise. Whether or not that's the intention of its system of rules is up for debate, but the actual results of that system in practice are pretty clear. Wikipedia strives to be passively reflective of society because to do otherwise would make it impossible to prevent it from turning into a political platform one way or the other (and one that would, more likely than not, reflect the techno-libertarianism of its founder and most active editors). That's a pipe dream, obviously: the sixth largest website in the world has influence whether it wants it or not. But I'm not sure I like where the most likely alternatives would take it.

    All of which, written out, is even colder comfort for the people impacted by social and political issues played out on Wikipedia than I figured it would be. And I'm basically left arguing the position that, yes, Wikipedia is privilege incarnate, acknowledging just how horrible that is, with no answer for it. Even at my most accepting and optimistic, I can't pretend that this is a good outcome.

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    1. When I was younger, I believed that it was good to have this kind of bureaucratic rule-mongering, for exactly the reasons you give here. I'm basically the one reasonable person in the world who was pro "zero tolerance" policies in schools (On the assumption that a clear-cut system of rules that took teacher discretion out of the equasion was a damned sight lot better than the system I grew up in, where charismatic psychopaths could do pretty much whatever they wanted because the teacher was free to shrug and say that surely nice young Bruiser McGee didn't really MEAN to give you that black eye).

      But as I've grown older, it's become increasingly clear that insisting on rigorous systems of rules that can be objectively codified is almost always a trick to give someone license to hurt someone else and assuage any feelings of guilt with a "Look, I feel for them, I really do, but rules is rules."

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    2. The difference, to me, is that having an established system of rules doesn't excuse anyone from doing the right thing, and shouldn't serve to provide shelter for wrongdoing except at the most superficial of levels. If the rules are wrong, or misapplied, or have unanticipated side effects, they should be addressed immediately. No system of rules are ever complete, and a rule book that cannot be amended or revised as needed is no better than a tyranny.

      Done right, though, rules inhibit the ability for good people to change the system for the better, yes. But that's the trade-off needed to prevent bad people from changing it for the worse. That said, though, I'm acutely aware of the fact that I'm arguing largely from a position of privilege (albeit, I'd like to think, an informed one). I can comfortably take a longer view of things, and argue that a slower rate of change leads to a more complete and effective transformation, when all is said and done. But I don't have to live with the here-and-now repercussions of that approach in the same way that a transgendered person does. As such, my opinions on the matter should be weighted accordingly.

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    3. Except the problem is Sean, that you are basically saying that the fact that Wikipedia could suffer political repercussions means that it shouldn't get involved. You say that a system of rules doesn't excuse anyone from doing the right thing. But one is a direct response to the other. Wikipedia does not get involved thanks to tedious little rules and as a result people are excused from doing the right thing. It seems like that's a pretty big flaw with your "broad agreement" with Doctor Sandifer's point.

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    4. Except that I'm not saying that. What I said is that Wikipedia is not immune to political consequences, as a statement of fact. Striving towards impartiality (as if impartiality itself isn't a political position) doesn't mean Wikipedia exists in a vacuum.

      The rules only excuse people from doing the right thing at the most superficial of levels. When a wrong is committed in the name of the rules, the proper response is to deal with the problematic rule. Wikipedia has done this before and actually has a pretty good system in place for dealing with such situations. That no such response will happen here is a problem with Wikipedia's participants.

      And that's where my personal opinion comes in, and where I differ with Dr. Sandifer. Any rhetorical cover provided to bigots by their rules-lawyering was both transparent and unnecessary. The majority of those bigots would have been perfectly willing to argue solely from their own ignorance and intolerance. Even if the rulebook excused people from doing the right thing, there's no excuse for not addressing the problems with the rules immediately after the fact.

      In a pragmatic sense, the problem is that Wikipedia is a community (as Dr. Sandifier points out) deeply invested in the status quo and in its own privilege. The rules do more to limit the community's tendency to indulge in that privilege than they do to enable it. Is that enough? Certainly not. But the problem isn't with Wikipedia's rules-based model, or even necessarily with the rules themselves. It's with Wikipedia's editors, and that would be fundamentally the same even the rulebook was chucked out the window.

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    5. "Wikipedia... has a pretty good system in place for dealing with such situations"

      Then where was that system here? It seems to be wholly absent, or else it is too dependent on the community you deride to function correctly, and so isn't actually a good system.


      "The rules do more to limit the community's tendency to indulge in that privilege than they do to enable it."

      {{citation needed}}

      I have to doubt this claim. Because privilege tends to subvert rules to its own benefit. As you say, no such response will happen here. Which suggests the rules are not being consistently enforced. And my pattern recognition skills suggest that, just like *every other time* rule enforcement is inconsistent, it is inconsistent in favor of privileged groups.

      And it isn't like Wikipedia has a great track record on trans issues (or on any of a number of other issues). Hard data is difficult to collect in this case; can you point to examples of this system working in favor of a marginalized group?

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    6. The system for amending and adjusting the rules works fine, but it only has a chance to work if the community has the will to undertake it. It doesn't, and that's precisely my point. The Wikipedia community doesn't particularly care about LGBT issues. They don't care with the current rules in place, and removing those rules wouldn't suddenly change their attitude.

      I don't think I'm being clear, though: I'm certainly not trying to mount a defense of the Wikipedia's community attitudes towards trans or any other marginalized groups. I speak only out of my own experience dealing with respected and influential Wikipedia editors and administrators, but the opinion I was left with was that many, if not the majority, of them would have no problem arguing from personal opinion, absent a system of rules. It was, in part, that inherent conservatism of the Wikipedia community that chased me away from actively editing years ago.

      Absent the existing structure of rules, it is my belief that the edit war that eventually led to ArbCom's involvement would have ultimately come down whichever side could argue loudest, longest, and most tenaciously. Which is, ultimately, a numbers game: my experience is that a sizable majority of editors and administrators either don't care about the issue, or would actively push a transphobic agenda, and would easily outlast and shout down their opposition. That the page move to "Chelsea Manning" was upheld is not something I would have expected had it not been a part of Wikipedia's rules concerning public figures.

      But, to be sure, that's my personal experience and impressions, which I can't easily quantify (and I'd be hesitant to do anyway, given the personal nature of some of my interactions), and may well be out of date. Treat it with all the respect (or lack thereof) that a personal opinion deserves.

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    7. The only good reason for a rules structure is to limit the damage of people who can't or won't exercise empathy -- that is, of sociopaths. When that rules structure becomes compromised to preserve privilege (power) instead -- not if, but when -- then it becomes an instrument of oppression.

      So what's the appropriate amount of empathy to exercise towards those who have no empathy? It's almost recursive -- to have empathy for those lacking empathy is to employ a conceptual framework without empathy.

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    8. I'm not convinced: a rules structure also serves to provide a framework for decision making when dealing with ambiguous or uncertain situations (though I'm not claiming that applies here). But even if it were true, I don't think it changes much of anything. "Lack of empathy" is not a soluble problem, and everyone exhibits it at some time or on some subject or another. That is no excuse for the behavior, of course, but it is what it is. Any tools to limit the damage is desirable.

      The only problem, as I think you're getting at, is that the same mechanisms by which a rules structure limits the damage caused by the non-empathetic can facilitate oppression. As a tool, a rulebook has no more inherent morality than a screwdriver. Likewise, it is merely a means to an end. Without Wikipedia's system of rules, the only functional way to resolve disputes is mob action. And, as I've said, I don't trust that the community on Wikipedia is forward-thinking enough to have dealt with the situation any better than ArbCom, with their rules, did.

      If the Wikipedia community was, on the balance, empathetic enough to have avoided this mess, it would be another matter. But, then again, if the Wikipedia community was inclined to do that, they would have recognized the shortcomings of the existing rules and would be in the process of correcting them. So, as an issue central to the Chelsea Manning case, the rules are effectively canceled out (IMO). The best case scenario without those rules is the same result we have now, while the worst case scenario is worse (the article gets moved back to the original Bradley Manning page).

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  3. Phil, I think it's really difficult for you to be dispassionate about this, as it's something you deeply believe in. And without sounding horribly patronising, we need people like you who speak out and agitate on things they believe in. Myself, I occupy what you might call the vaguely liberal ground. I detest the Daily Mail and most of its works, but am a long way from any activist position. I support the right of a transgendered person to adopt a new name, just as I support anyone's right to change their name. I know - at a distance, I admit - one person who would identify as transgendered. So, right, my wishywashy credentials are established.

    But I can't find it in my heart to be so passionate about connecting the "primary name" in a dictionary with an act of outright hatred towards transgendered people or Chelsea Manning in particular. (I am assuming that Chelsea Manning redirects to Bradley Manning as a minimum)

    Insults are hate speech. I just can't make the dispassionate leap that says that "mis-naming" is automatically hatred. Yes, I can see that mis-naming can be a tool to encourage hatred (cf. the subtle comparison of "He's a Jew" vs. "He's Jewish"). I can't make the logical leap to automatic transphobia for some reason.

    You need to know the enemy and their goals. I suspect that by and large the hatred for Manning is because of Manning's actions and their perceived impact on the USA, and by implication disloyalty to the Armed forces and the state. They perceive the transgendering as a sideshow, or perhaps a way of "getting off" with a reduced sentence. I do not share those views but I bet many people do. Therefore their battle is villification of Manning in and of itself. it will be easier for such people to emotionally distance themselves by saying "He's just a queer" or whatever.

    Coverage of this story in the UK, has tended to either ignore the transgendering or treat it as a footnote. or perhaps it's just me.

    Some of the comments you quote above smack of petito principii: "All arguments for using "Bradley Manning" are transphobic for the simple reason that they are arguments for an inherently transphobic act, which is to publicly misname a trans person on the sixth largest website in the world" is very close to "It's transphobic because it's transphobic". As a coldly logical statement, it's not susceptible to proof.

    I don't wish to offend, and I am genuinely interested to hear what others think.

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    1. You need to know the enemy and their goals.

      Because I am way less dead if the person with the gun mistook me for a burglar.

      Whenever privilege is challenged, the response from the privileged revolves around conflating harm with culpability.

      It does not matter why any of the people arguing for misgendering are arguing it. They are arguing for misgendering a trans person. Misgendering someone does real harm to the person they are misgendering, and it does real harm to other trans people by continuing to normalize misgendering.

      If a person argues for misgendering someone without knowing this, they are still causing harm. Yes, it's an accident, but that doesn't magically make it non-harmful. (Though really, it only takes a few seconds of thinking about it to sort it out on your own, so not realizing this smacks of negligence)

      And once someone has been told that they're causing harm by doing this, if they persist in doing it, there are only two possibilities:

      1. They don't believe the person who told them they're causing harm
      2. They don't care that they're causing harm.

      Neither of these are especially flattering for the people doing it.

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    3. To call someone prejudice if they were unaware of the offense that they may have caused would be hugely unfair

      Here's the crux of my problem with what you're saying. You're implying that "calling someone prejudiced who maybe doesn't quite deserve it" is as bad or worse than denying someone's gender identity.

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    4. Oh, and just to add, when I said "If the person begins to argue and deny the other individual the right to be identified and addressed as the gender they are living as/expressing, then it can become a hateful act" I meant to say that this is when it "does" become a hateful act. I thought I'd clear that up, as this is where the lack of caring about another comes into action; regardless of any previous misunderstandings/knowledge gaps.

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    5. Oh no, sorry, I wasn't implying that accusing someone as prejudice is as bad as being prejudice itself. Nor did I mean that it isn't a form of prejudice. I just meant that if someone made a mistake, then I would allow them the space to address what they had said. It is offensive, and is something which I have been victim to on numerous occasions. Apologies if I made it sound as though I was providing pity on ignorance. That is not what I meant by my statement.

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    6. @Ross, I have some difficulty following the general thrust of your argument. I was speculating that the Phil's opponents (for want of a better word) are supremely uninterested in his arguments about transphobia, or your interesting comments about conflation of harm and culpability. They don't care about those arguments. Hence, my comments about know your enemy, who in this case are off to fight another war entirely.

      I still think I'm missing something here.

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    7. @prandeamus: not Ross, but my thoughts are that if people are sufficient bastards that they set aside whether or not something is transphobic as long as it'll hurt someone they dislike, there is value in calling out said bastardry. Their not caring about the transphobia is the problem here.

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    8. I feel as though it is best for me to delete the comment which I posted toward the top of this response thread; as my choice in wording comes across as considerably poor. I wouldn't want people to read into my words and presume that I believe some forms of prejudice are justifiable; as the rationalization of such acts is something I'm strongly against. Plus I think Ross's initial response is far more explanatory and gets to the core at the problems being discussed.

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    9. There are some forms of Prejudice that are justifiable. There are some issues on which there is right and wrong, and there is no controversy. These are simple facts that we have forgotten. There is no other side worth covering in this debate. There are no counter points worth hearing.

      It is wrong to misgender people.

      It is a hateful thing to do. We can assume ignorance on the otherside and attempt to instruct and get people to a more enlightened place. But at the end of the day logical proofs and people's feelings aren't what's important. Whether or not people see that as the issue or as the thing needing correcting is not important. Ross hits the nail on the head "Again".

      Ross: You need to stop being correct all the time or I'm not going to have anything to comment about.

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    10. @prandeamus: I'm not really sure I'm following your argument either. The fact Phil's opponents are uninterested in his arguments seems to have been conclusively proved, and whether it's because they're firmly comitted to an opposing position or because they don't really care either way as long as they hurt Manning (or, as Phil himself suggests, because they don't really care what effect they have on Manning as long as The Rules are on their side) doesn't seem to be relevant.

      For whatever reason, they are being transphobic, and the correct response is to say "This is not acceptable". Does it matter if the guy shouting abuse at Ian Wright is actually racist or is angry because he supports the other team?.

      And to explain why the name thing is so important: as I understand it, when you refer to a transgendered person (or anyone with a similarly significant chosen name) by another name, what you're saying is "We do not consider you to be the person you think of yourself as. We consider you to be the person we think you should be."

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    11. "I just can't make the dispassionate leap that says that 'mis-naming' is automatically hatred."

      I personally don't care whether something "qualifies as hatred or hate speech" necessarily. It doesn't matter whether it is 'hatred', that's a semantic quibble. What matters is that it is *harmful*. And, after having that pointed out a whole lot, the culture at Wikipedia decided to keep doing it.

      Now, whether or not it is transphobic - that may be a semantic clash between your operating definition of transphobia and that of, well, most of the other people commenting. Lots of things that aren't rooted in hatred can be transphobic. People *unthinkingly* do transphobic things all the time. I highly doubt that most trans-related health care professionals actively hate trans people - they go out of their way to work with us. But in my experience, 66% of them are transphobic in ways that I can point to and cite as examples. (n=6, but I think my point is somewhat valid nevertheless)

      Hell, chasers commit some of the most virulent transphobic acts out there, and they claim to *love* us.

      So, yes. Misnaming and misgendering are transphobic acts. They cause harm to trans people on both a personal and a systemic level.

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    12. Exactly what Anna Wiggins says.

      As an aside, I actually try to avoid using "-phobic" to describe people for this reason. It's not that it doesn't apply, per se, it's that the practical focus should be on the action and its outcome, and not the reasoning behind it. If I shoot someone, that person is equally injured regardless of whether I fired the gun in anger or by accident. No matter how much a person might deserve to be described as transphobic, or homophobic, or whatever, it has a tendency to derail any discussion. It just gives the accused an opportunity to avoid talking about whatever s/he might have done in favor of talking about intangible, and largely irrelevant, personal characteristics. Ultimately, I don't care if a person is transphobic as much as whether his or her actions are.

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    13. Independent of the whole wikipedia thing, transphobia is the one *-phobia where the term seems genuinely appropriate. What I see time and again is people reacting less with obvious hatred, but SO OFTEN with very clear fear. The people who rulemonger about misgendering trans folk always seem to have this undertone that presumes that if they were to "accidentally" use a trans person's proper gender, there would be some kind of repercussion -- actual horror at the prospect that they might get "caught" being "wrong" about someone's gender. It's possible for someone to experience an unreasoning visceral disgust without fear factoring into it, but with transphobia, it seems like it's always horror at the prospect of someone bringing a penis into the ladies' room, or horror at being sexually interested in someone only to discover they've got an unexpected genital configuration.

      If I didn't think evolutionary psychology was total bunk, I'd suspect it was some kind of evolved response to things which defy some part of the pattern matching software in our brains.

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    14. I suspect the fear is largely the result of unfamiliarity. A lot of older accounts of homophobia seem to exhibit the same kind of fear-based reactions, which gradually faded as gay rights issues became better known and more prominent. In that absence, the hatred became more prominent, and has been slower to fade.

      As others have mentioned elsewhere in this thread, trans issues are still unfamiliar to most people, and so the reaction is still in its initial, fear-centric stages. As it's more difficult to fear that with which you're familiar, I would expect that to diminish over time.

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  5. Thanks for this article. I have shared it and encourage others to read it and come to grips with the awful implications of the action taken here. It's simply through the looking glass to me to sanctify actions taken which have the unmistakeable effect of hurting people, directly against BLP. Not NPOV, not AGF. Just harmful. I'm very very sad about this. Good on David F. Gerard for what he did.

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  6. The big news here is all in the second half: the death of BLP. This is actually a huge fucking deal.

    Theoretically, the Foundation could step in. Practically, they can't unless there's a clear casus belli. That is, we have to wait until BLP breaks really badly, messily and publicly. You know, like the time that caused the rule to be put into place originally.

    (I have a special fondness for BLP, having written half the policy in question. Evidently the clear meaning of words has changed in the intervening time.)

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  7. Thanks for putting all of this together. I don't have the ability to respond to it right now, but knowing these things is important.

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  8. "The fantasy has always been that with the right set of rules the encyclopedia would write itself, with optimal versions of articles just coming to exist naturally as a consequence of the self-evident rules about citation and secondary sources. The reality has always been that instead of actually thinking critically about content decisions people just think critically about how to manipulate and play with the rules."

    Ah yes, the "invisible hand of the free market" fantasy. Not surprising how much of a Randroid douchebag Jimbo Wales is.

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  9. Not much to add beyond a general bafflement that how somebody using a psuedonym has much weight in an important discussion such as this.and how rules allow institutionalised sociopathy to fester and grow.

    I'm aware I myself use a psuedonym but use a filter of trying not to be a **** when posting anything online.

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  10. Sorry to see that you've quit, Phil. This whole farrago has been a disgrace to the project. Good luck with your future endeavors.

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  11. (Not sure if this is going to tag the post with "Tarc" or not, but it is the real me)

    Phil, yes, I did "troll" Arbcom with the intent to show that they will allow discriminatory speech to stand in the Wikipedia as long as it is delivered civilly. I'm fully aware that a lot of feathered were ruffled; even some on the transgender-support side of things (which I personally fully agree with, it's not anyone's business to tell Ms. Manning that she cannot be called "Chelsea"), and for that I do apologize . Particularly to you, as you were one of the ones who were solidly in the right on this issue from Day 1.

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  13. Phil, you are a self-righteousness, chest-thumping whiner, more interested in hearing the sound of your own voice than creating durable content. You are intolerant of others' views on this matter, and in a different age would have made the perfect Fire and Brimstone Preacher.

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    1. As was addressed in the comments: There is no other side to this. The views of the other side are without worth. There is no debate here. Wikipedia has gone all in on Transphobia and has no interest in the rights of people to determine their identity. Seems pretty straightforward.

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    2. What's self-righteous about being opposed to hurting other people? What's intolerant about refusing to sanction bigotry or assist persecution (to paraphrase George Washington)?

      Also, every time you whip out "Oh yeah, well you're intolerant of my intolerance!" you lose the argument instantly and are a terrible person

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    3. Ross, I have never stated an opinion on Manning's name and, in fact, I have no opinion on it. I simply have no interest or think about it. My commentary is on Wikipedia dysfunctional culture of chaotic warfare. In order to brand me 'intolerant' you needed to make an unfair assumption for which there is no evidence. Shame on you.

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    4. You accused Phil of intolerance and self-righteousness for calling out transphobes. As far as I'm concerned, your personal fee-fees don't matter; you are deliberately taking actions to increase transphobia and hurt trans people. Therefore you are transphobic. That's how bigotry works.

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    5. My, what a well-fed troll you have here.

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  14. I'm rather amused by the idea that "in a different age" Phil would have made a perfect Fire and Brimstone Preacher, as if a) such preachers no longer exist and b) they aren't on the opposite side of any position to a lefty social justice crusader. Almost amused as I am by the idea that a post with 63 comments is Phil howling into a wind tunnel.

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    1. Daibhid, I made no comment at all about 'howling into a wind tunnel'. Indeed, this is much more like a resonating chamber where you all get together and reinforce each other.

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    1. "Don't feed the trolls" is a lot like "Just ignore the bully."

      My experience is that if you ignore the bully, he goes and gets a baseball bat and dares you to ignore it when he hits you in the junk with it.

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    2. I find that happens if you don't ignore the bully too.

      In any case, if any comments section ever deteriorates to that point, I'll deal with it.

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  16. Congratulations, you've been cribbed! http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/oct/24/chelsea-manning-name-row-wikipedia-editors-banned-from-trans-pages Here's hoping this has legs.

    When I do media, the most frequent question after the microphones go off is "About my article, it's terrible ..." I used to be able to reassure them (relatively famous media people with GREAT BIG PUBLIC PLATFORMS) that we took BLP complaints seriously and would act without delay; I can't say that truthfully any more.

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  17. Bit late to this one. I sympathise with where Phil is coming from - I was among those arguing for 'Chelsea Manning' from the beginning - but I just can't agree with his overall message here. In particular, I don't agree with his view of ArbCom.

    This blog says ArbCom take the view 'that the game of WikiRules is more important than ethical considerations, and, more to the point, that the game of WikiRules needs to be carefully insulated from any ethical challenge.' To which I can only respond: that's how ArbCom is supposed to work!

    ArbCom should be utterly neutral and amoral (as far as that is possible) and concerned only with Wikipedia's rules, not a wider social context. They are basically a court, and should concern themselves with the law and nothing else. It would have been wrong for them to have taken a position on whether 'Bradley' or 'Chelsea' is the correct title, because that's outside their scope; rightly, they left that to the community. Issues of ethics are best left to the community, because ArbCom is not fit to determine them. Wikipedia may not be a bureaucracy, but ArbCom is.

    In this case, it's true, ArbCom couldn't avoid making political/ethical judgements to some extent. I haven't followed the case closely, so can't really comment on specific points; but your excerpts above suggest they may have got some of those judgements wrong, and been excessively harsh on those criticising transphobic arguments, and excessively lenient on those making them. Nonetheless, it is clear that both sides in this argument were engaged in battleground behaviour - the right side as well as the wrong one - and ArbCom rightly punished them both. ArbCom tried to enforce the rules fairly on this one, sticking to the letter rather than going by which side they agreed with, and they shouldn't be criticised for that.

    (That said, the allegations you make about Cla68 are serious and should be taken seriously. But even if he did have a bias on this one, the rest of ArbCom shouldn't be tarred by association.)

    I've read the article linked by David Gerard above, and I think it depicts this matter (and Wikipedia as a whole) in a deliberately harsh and unfair light. It's also ironic, for what it's worth, that you criticise Cla68 for offering quotes to the media for articles critical of Wikipedia, while you and others on your side are doing exactly the same thing.

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    1. The point was that Cla68 was the first in the debate to raise the issue of "offering quotes to the media". He claimed that this was something Morwen should be censured for. Phil's pointing out Cla68's hypocrisy, not joining in it.

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    2. When Risker writes that knowing black or gay people in real life constitutes being too closely involved for admin actions on articles about black or gay people, and that this should be obvious beforehand, then I'll credit that "ArbCom tried to enforce the rules fairly on this one, sticking to the letter rather than going by which side they agreed with".

      Until then, their decision is gibberingly obviously transphobia to any observer who isn't hard of thinking.

      Delete
    3. Ainsworth is a twat. He's beena twat for a long time, he has acted in the most dickish way possible, and about 9/10 of it seems to be resentment at not being one of the "in" crowd. His perspective is arguably balanced in that he has chips on both shoulders...

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    4. Charles Ainsworth is a hypocrite to the highest degree. He frequently outs people on Wikipedia and participates in outing on Wikipediocracy. He then plays the system to get Phil banned. He loves to mouth nonsense on Wikipedia that advocates shouldn't be allowed to edit Wikipedia, like a LGBT can't edit anything at all related to LGBT. The only reason he rails against advocates in the frist place is because anyone he doesn't like on Wikipedia he can believe is an advocate. He is the advocate. The advocate of hate. Phil is correct that is insignificant but it is his kind of advocacy that needs to be eliminated from our society.

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  18. Hilarity: Carcharoth from the arbcom asks me for PR advice.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:David_Gerard#Wikipedia:Arbitration.2FRequests.2FClarification_and_Amendment

    I noted that the fundamental problem is that they did something that's actually fucking vile.

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  19. I'm beginning to wonder what would happen if your Wikipedia page was edited to include your criticism of the site's endemic cissexism.

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  20. Same happened when Jokestress and others were hauled up for pushing back against bigotry. Wikipedia never used to be like this, what went wrong?

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  21. Phil Sandifer, it's obvious that Ainsworth has a grudge against you. Can you explain the background of this feud?

    They're trying to delete the article about you on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phillip_Sandifer

    Here is a lesson on the Barbra Streisand Effect: http://charlesainsworthiscla68.blogspot.com/2013/11/charles-ainsworth-is-cla68-on-wikipedia.html

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    1. I have no recollection of past feuds with Ainsworth.

      As for the article, erm... oh dear. I do hope they realize that I'm not Phillip Sandifer, the Christian folk singer, but Philip Sandifer, the leftist Doctor Who blogger. That would be awkward if they were confusing that.

      Delete
    2. (That said, I think it's just coincidence that my doppelganger is getting deleted the same day. I seem to still not have an article, which is probably still as it should be, if I'm being honest.)

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  22. Too much of a coincidence!

    I don't understand why Ainsworth would go after you like this, since his identity was widely known, if he has no preexisting grudge. Is he sick?

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  23. Be sure the Guardian knows that you were banned from Wikipedia in retaliation for your comments in the article. Be sure they know about Ainsworth's role in your banning and his role in the Manning affair. They should do another article.

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  24. Charles Ainsworth is embittered with Wikipedia administration for some reason. Some potential reasons might be that he failed a "Request for Administer" years ago on Wikipedia. Ainsworth is very active on Wikipedocracy. Many Wikipediocracy contributors seem to spend much of their life energy hating Wikipedia adminstration. He seems to soak in any praise given him on Wikipediocracy. I've seen him go after total strangers just because some banned Wikipedia editor complains on Wikipediocracy. Does that make him sick? It is difficult to tell.

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  25. I completely agree with this article except for two minor details that trouble me. As a disabled activist organizing for disability justice, I am always troubled by the pervasive use of ableism for rhetorical purposes (especially as metaphor) or the disavowal of disability among other marginalized communities.

    In one sentence, you stated that "The idea that it can be reactive and outside of any real world conflicts is little more than a fig leaf to cover overt sociopathy." Either literally or metaphorically, this statement uses the rhetoric of disability to suggest that the behavior of the arbitration committee is pathological.

    Yet in another instance, you noted that the arbitration committee decided that it was acceptable to refer to trans people as mentally ill in this statement: "The real problem with the discussion wasn’t all the people declaring that transgender people are mentally ill and denying them their basic identity. It was that anyone got at all upset about it."

    There has been a long history of ableism used by the right to justify other forms of oppression -- as you note, by claiming that transgender people are mentally ill (and also, of course, that anyone queer or a sexual minority of any kind, are mentally ill). Yet this violence against both trans* people and queer people is also rooted in and predicated on ableism and inherent, assumed ideas about disability (e.g., disability, including mental illness, is necessarily a bad or undesirable thing; it is acceptable to objectify disabled people as the group to which no one wishes to be compared or included; etc.)

    Unfortunately and rather paradoxically, there has also been a long history of ableism used by many marginalized communities and by the political left to oppose various forms of oppression as well. To illustrate with example, people espousing systemic oppression frequently use ableist rhetoric (e.g. "The liberals are severely insane if they somehow think that a society can function by throwing notions of gender out the window") about as frequently as activists and advocates fighting systemic oppression (e.g. "The proponents of 'homosexual conversion therapy' suffer themselves from sick delusions that they claim constitute 'science.'") Using disability to insult or denigrate ultimately reveals deeply-seated, socially-embedded, systemic ableism -- after all, if there weren't something *wrong* with being disabled, disability could not be used to de-legitimize, invalidate, or degrade. (Similarly, to use the term "gay" as an insult is predicated on the presumption that of course it would be bad to be "gay.")

    Myself and many of my friends and colleagues in the disability community who also identify as queer, sexual minorities, and or as trans* are further hurt by the constant disavowals of disability (a category which does include mental illness/psychiatric disability/mental health condition) in our other communities.

    Again, I do not dispute at all the body or substance of your post, and am completely in agreement with your position in standing against rampant and systemic transphobia. You are absolutely correct in calling out the arbitration committee for its complicity in the oppression of trans people. I simply think that it is crucial for those concerned with justice and liberation to be particularly mindful of how even liberal, progressive, leftist, and radical movements have utilized ableism while simultaneously condemning other forms of oppression. I am writing not as an attack or condemnation of you, but rather as a challenge to critically re-examine the ways in which you (and just about everyone else under the sun!) simultaneously rhetoricize and disavow disability.

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