*UPDATE 12/23/15: It appears there is some confusion about whether or not I’m accusing Sam Harris of being a transphobic bigot. No, I’m not. I’ve never met the guy, so I can’t know “what’s in his heart.” All I’m saying in this article is I don’t like the way he and Douglas Murray seemed to be so flippant about transgender issues. This article is meant to be criticism, not a judge of character.
[CN: Transphobia, Murder]
One reason why I haven’t written anything for Queereka in a long time (besides juggling school and looking for a job at the same time) is that I’m sick of preaching all the time. Through writing for TheHumanist.com, I realized I write better when I explore a question rather than stand on my soapbox. Don’t get me wrong; there are definitely times to stand on my soapbox. However, I was doing it so much that I kind of looked like an asshole. As Hank Green would say, I was addicted to outrage. I was just as dogmatic as all the assholes online I didn’t like, and I hated what I was becoming. I had to step back and breathe for my own mental health.
Fortunately today, I’ve got some legitimate raging to do!
I first heard about Sam Harris’ latest fuckery when I called in on my friend Callie’s podcast The Gaytheist Manifesto. It was a special live Friendsgiving episode, and at some point I mentioned Sam Harris. Callie told me she heard from a friend Harris recently had some transphobic fuckery on his podcast, but I didn’t want to be the Angry SJW so I just let it go. The other day, however, my friend Sincere Kirabo blogged about how Harris and neoconservative writer Douglas Murray laughed at the whole notion of transgender rights on a November 22 episode of Harris’ Waking Up podcast. I knew I had to listen to it for myself.
Yep, plenty of transphobic fuckery all around!
Around the 30:10 mark, right after Murray rants about safe spaces on campus, he says:
This whole thing of the weirdo, sexual obsession, transgender, trans-poly-gender, identify cis, “I’ve got a penis but I can still win Glamour Women of the Year award. Not only do you have to respect me as a woman, if you say I’m not an entire woman despite the fact I’ve got a penis still, you’re a bigot.’”
He then goes on to talk about Jack Monroe, a journalist who recently came out as non-binary. Not only did Murray laugh about Monroe’s preferred “they/them” pronouns, but also said this is all part of the “breakdown of society.”
Meanwhile, Harris laughs throughout Murray’s barrage and caps it off with, “That’s hilarious.”
Head, meet desk, repeat.
Now I know what some of you might be thinking: “Jesus, Trav, can’t you just take a joke? Why do you have to be offended by everything all the time? Stop being so sensitive!” I’m sorry, but when someone as prominent in the atheist community as Harris gives a platform to someone who says my identity is a joke, I kinda take that personally, y’know? Here I am trying to educate my cisgender atheist friends about what it’s like to be a nonbinary trans person in a cisheteronormative binarist world (and doing a pretty good job of it so far, according to my cis atheist friends), and here comes Harris giving a transphobic neocon a platform. I know Harris doesn’t represent the entire atheist community (and if I wasn’t an atheist, I’d thank God for that), but it’s so disappointing that someone who is revered as an intellectual in the atheist community would agree with so many logical fallacies.
For starters, there’s gender essentialism. For those that don’t know, gender essentialism “is the idea that men and women act differently and have different options in life because of intrinsic or essential differences between the genders.” This ranges from “men shop like this, while women shop like this” to “genitals equals gender.” I guess Harris and Murray forgot that recent scientific study that suggests there’s no such thing as either a male brain or a female brain. Or the study from earlier this year that explains how brain patterns—not genitals—help form gender identity. Or that the American Atheists’ former public relations manager Danielle Muscato is a transgender woman who doesn’t have the means to transition right now. Must have slipped their minds.
Second, there’s the moral equivalency fallacy. This is a classic logical fallacy where one tries to compare and contrast things morally and failing horribly. It ranges from “a black person calling a white person ‘honkey’ is just as bad as a white person calling a black person ‘n*gger’” to “stop complaining about sexual harassment when women are being stoned to death in the Middle East.” In the case of Murray and Harris, saying that we’ll be too busy arguing about gender and pronouns when ISIS attacks basically says, “Who cares about affirming trans people’s identities when we’ve got terrorists trying to kills us, am I right?”
Meanwhile Harris chuckles because it’s so hilarious that 23 trans women (that we know of) were murdered in the US in 2015. It’s so hilarious that “[o]ne in five transgender people in the United States has been discriminated when seeking a home, and more than one in ten have been evicted from their homes, because of their gender identity.” Hardy har har!
Lest anyone thinks I’m going to say, “I’m done with the atheist community” because one prominent atheist said a thing, that’s not the case. Many of my cis atheist friends have shared Kirabo’s post and commented, “Dude, that’s fucked up!” Although personal anecdotes do not automatically equal evidence, I have no doubt in my mind that most cisgender atheists are starting to understand transgender issues thanks to Callie, Danielle, Stephanie Guttormson, and (hopefully) me.
And maybe Harris isn’t a flat out transphobe. If that’s the case, though, he’s not doing a good job giving an asshole like Murray a platform. In fact, Harris gets an F from me.