One of the most persistently frustrating things in my experience of YouTube has been the repeated claim that I’ve somehow refused or neglected to engage with opposing arguments. This is mystifying to me because the entire history of my coverage of gender topics has focused on directly addressing and refuting the positions and beliefs of those who are incorrect on a given point. On dozens of occasions, I’ve considered the claims of those participating in discussion and debate of transgender issues, whether it’s an argument in the public conversation at the current cultural moment, or a more ongoing and in-depth academic dispute. In no particular order, I’ve argued about:
- Historical medical gatekeeping of trans people based on traditional gender stereotypes
- Science myths about transition outcomes promoted by Paul McHugh
- Walt Heyer’s pervasive misrepresentation of regret and detransition
- Anti-trans “bathroom bills” proposed or passed in several states over the past two years
- Concepts and definitions involving sex chromosomes and aspects of “biological sex”
- The current medical consensus on the use of puberty blockers for trans adolescents
- Unproven and coercive conversion therapies used on trans and gender-nonconforming children
- Misrepresentations of the relationships between autism and transness
- The impact of outdated sexological theories on trans women in society
- Myths about transness as “trendy” and the supposed category of “trans-trenders”
- Harassment campaigns against transgender children and their families
- Dangerous hoaxes about using antipsychotic drugs to “treat” trans people
- A provably staged video opposing trans women using women’s bathrooms
And I give each of these topics the serious attention that it deserves. I’ve generally held jobs as a researcher, writer, and editor, often in a quality assurance role such as proofreading or fact-checking. I previously worked at a medical research startup backed by Peter Thiel, and then for a content marketing agency. The work that I do here also reflects my professional skillset.
I have written nearly 60,000 words on just those topics, and I’m currently in the process of actually writing the book on this. So when I’m told that I need to be more willing to argue with people who disagree, that’s baffling to me. I am the most argumentative person I know. This entire series could be called “Gender Analysis: Zinnia Argues With People”.
If my approach to all of this isn’t satisfactory to you, then nothing I do to engage with serious criticism will be satisfactory to you. But the truth is that most of the pushback I receive isn’t really criticism at all. Here are some things that are not criticism:
- Ignoring facts
- Rejecting science
- Not listening to things I already said
- Pulling some patriarchal crap like calling me both too emotional and too dry, telling me how to dress, dismissing what I’m talking about by labeling me ugly, or preferring to make discourse all about which women are prettier
- Attacking me for not spending every day in one-on-one arguments when I have 44,000 subscribers
- Expecting that I don’t have anything better to do than be a free Google concierge, perpetually trying to spoon-feed people who hate me
And that’s really the worst thing that I face from these individuals: the deliberate choice to turn away from knowledge. It is profoundly demoralizing to realize how many people would rather feed their desire to maintain a fixed belief than pursue more accurate beliefs. For how much longer am I supposed to try patiently to reach people who consciously prefer bias, misinformation, and hoaxes? If you decide that you want to follow a prevaricating hustler of ignorance, there is nothing I can offer you.
Of course, it’s likely the case that such people are so ill-equipped to evaluate the merits of competing claims, they don’t see much of a difference between them at all and consider this as more of a matter of simple preference and taste, coming down to some kind of value choice like vegetarianism or a group alignment like supporting a football team.
Heather and I once termed this phenomenon the “Meyer limit”, after the author of the Twilight series. It’s akin to the Dunning–Kruger effect, which observes that individuals who are lacking in a certain skill will also be unable to gauge their level of ability accurately. The Meyer limit means that you can’t accurately create a character who is more intelligent and profound than you are – to do so, you would have to be just as capable yourself. As a result of the Meyer limit, a person will also have a reduced ability to discern between the arguments of individuals who are operating above that person’s threshold of understanding – and on trans issues, that threshold is often rather low.
Nowhere is this deficiency more glaring than in the frequent comments comparing me with our living avatar of the False, Blaire White. There is a very real problem of how to communicate facts persuasively to people who don’t yet have the knowledge base to judge whether they’re being offered an accurate representation and understanding. This is why that shortcoming is typically addressed by a baseline agreement that we’re all expected to argue honestly and good faith, without willfully trying to deceive. Blaire White flouts that principle with open defiance, and this is what makes her dangerous – she steps outside this presumed agreement and instead chooses to manipulate an unsuspecting audience, with very real consequences to public discourse.
This is one instance where I have, without a doubt, directly engaged with personal criticism at length (which is not a barometer of quality by any means – Blaire White is definitely not the pinnacle of my work). Was this forthright approach met with recognition and approval? No, it was met with a barrage of decoy arguments that reflect her entire approach to reality – the discursive equivalent of chaff released from a jet to fuzz the radar of debate.
One comment I received said, “Blaire White is just smarter than you, get over it.” I don’t think I can get over the fact that someone could believe this. That inability to distinguish between what she and I are bringing to the table leads to absurdities such as these:
- “I like Blaire White because she uses research, facts, and logic.” If you can’t tell my facts apart from her lies, you’re not equipped to judge whether someone is presenting accurate information and sound arguments at all. These are the words of a person who will be persuaded by a conjured fabrication if it’s asserted vigorously enough. Being able to pull rhetorical sleights-of-hand on people who don’t know how to think is not impressive – it’s just sad.
- “She reaches a conservative audience that you never could as a feminist.” As if that’s inherently a public good? A racist, xenophobic, misogynist Trump voter who watches Blaire White and allegedly “supports” trans people is still a racist, xenophobic, misogynist Trump voter. These people may have come in contact with the superficial trappings of support, but nothing has necessarily been done to change the underlying cultural and personal factors that gave rise to their transphobic attitudes in the first place. To be an ally means to be in alliance with someone – am I supposed to be okay with being in alliance with a racist, xenophobic, misogynist Trump voter? When I criticize Blaire White, I’m specifically pointing out how she’s wrong on trans-related topics. Being the Miss Teen South Carolina of trans issues, everywhere like such as, is not harmless. If an audience is just now learning about transness (wrongly) from Blaire White, then where are they going to learn to be better than her?
- “Blaire White is prettier than you.” Here’s the thing: I’m better than her at everything else. Where she chooses ignorance, I fill this in with information. Where she wrongly lays claim to facts and logic, I take a closer look and reconstruct these into an argument that actually holds up. Where she opts for petty hostility, I bring constructive criticism. Where she avoids engaging with substantive critique, I address her claims directly. So can we please grow up here? You don’t get to treat me like a woman scientist in a 1950s laboratory, glossing over my research and incessantly talking about my looks, and then demand that I “engage with opposing arguments”.
You want to have a meaningful debate? If this is your standard of behavior, you have a much greater gap to close here than I do. Here’s where to start: Get up to speed with the published literature on transgender medicine, public health, and sociology. Take a real interest in the research that you presently only fetishize, and recognize that evidence can be much more nuanced than your oversimplified generalizations. Learn how to structure a defensible argument based on a useful understanding of reality. And stop being a science poser. ■