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Genspect and AGPgate
A brilliant gathering of minds overshadowed by a perfectly boring tweet
Clinic whistleblower Jamie Reed was on fire, proclaiming that care for the vulnerable and skepticism of authority are liberal values. Journalist Christina Buttons revealed that over half of gender questioning youth hear the lie that “sex is a spectrum” from their providers, calling into question their ability to give truly “informed consent.” Wilfred Reilly used available statistics to predict an explosion of detransitioners in the near future. Michael Shellenberger diverted his focus from addiction and climate change toward a medical scandal he can no longer ignore, with plans to release a full report on the misdeeds of WPATH.
These and many other cool things happened at the Genspect conference in Denver this past weekend. But Twitter seems to be focused on the attendance of a self-proclaimed “autogynephile” (though he prefers the term “autoheterosexual”).
Twitter’s endless denouncement of a cross-dressed Phil Illy, the woman who stood near him for a photo, Genspect itself as an organization, and everyone nearby who failed to take up a pitchfork, was—in a word—exhausting.
Such debates make me despair not for those on the right side of some gender question, nor on the wrong side of some gender question, nor for the state of the gender-concerned world. They make me despair for the myopia social media fosters in in-groups, and particularly, its paralyzing effect on effective activism.
And as much as anything: how terrible people are at debating. How little they understand strawmen and logical fallacies, how much they project their biases—on zero evidence—onto those they perceive as their opponents. How un-self-aware it is to take up a fight one isn't equipped to fight. And how, in the end, these embarrassing attempts cast the debaters' own allies in a bad light, hindering their efforts instead of helping them.
I got pulled into AGPgate for two reasons. First, Genspect retweeted my thread of highlights of the conference, suggesting these were more important than “who wore what.” Second, a number of commenters found it expedient to suggest that Illy's clothing choices victimized “trans widows,” at times referring to me directly. But I am not your victim and I will not support the suggestion that I wither and die in the presence of a man wearing cheap velvet—whatever his motivations.
A suggestion for women: victimhood is not only a bad look, but it's bad for your personal development, your self care and your healing. Fragility is also the primary weapon of the identitarians and standpoint theorists whom you oppose.
Because understanding nuance isn't much of a thing anymore, it seems I must clarify a couple of points. I am not here to “defend” autogynephiles, I haven't christened some of them “the good ones,” and I've no special interest in fetishists, individually or as a group. If you’re at all unclear on this point, please stop now and read “Your Kink is Not Interesting.”
Nonetheless, the vast majority of people publicly complaining about autogynephiles quite frankly do not know what they are talking about. I'm going to write a whole article on autogynephilia someday [Edit: here it is]—it's been in the queue for a while—but very briefly, “fetish” is not a strictly accurate synonym for it (though clothing fetishists do exist). Further, the talk of autogynephiles “drawing” people into their paraphilia is, as far as I can tell, a whole-cloth fabrication invented by insular radical feminist circles.
If you want to converse intelligently about this phenomenon, I recommend reading Anne Lawrence's Becoming What We Love and Autogynephilia and the Typology of Male-to-Female Transsexualism.
Again, this is not about defending Illy or anyone else—this is for your own good. Steelmanning isn't a thing you do because "just be nice" or "give up some of your ground." It's for you. You can't properly rebut something you don't understand. Angrily spouting what you've heard, but haven't researched, only shows you're not a serious contender.
By the way, anyone could be having a creepy thought about anyone at any time, regardless of how he's dressed.
With those preliminaries out of the way, let's talk about why I don't seem properly enraged at the existence of Phil Illy.
I think my friend Corinna said it well: It's going to take “people on the left and the right who are pluralistic, liberal, and brave” to “move us out of the status quo.”
There are those who are interested in creating a movement that is large and effective, and those interested in staying small, fragmented, and ideologically pure. The former is good strategy. The latter results in tiny, ineffective cliques, lacking the checks and balances for error correction, and too distracted by fine points of difference to contain the chaos in an email distribution list (not a hypothetical), much less organize a conference. The pluralist approach represents service to the vulnerable, in my opinion. The purist approach represents ego and individualism.
I'm interested in moving the needle. Genspect's new “Gender Framework” is a slick collaboration authored by a diverse group of psychotherapists, clinicians, biologists, lawyers, and researchers that recommends alternatives to medicalization while also acknowledging various uncomfortable and objectionable realities with which we currently live. A normie educator, nurse or judge just might consult this document and act accordingly. She's less likely to consult a manifesto on a poorly-designed feminist website.
It bears noting that Illy was an attendee at the conference, not a speaker or organizer, even if Genspect made the supposed error of including him in a series of tweets featuring recognizable folks who were “spotted” there. Is the hope that Genspect will screen and reject would-be attendees? Or that it will approve their attire at the door?
But let's go back a step, to the question of gender nonconformity itself.
I support gender nonconformity. It was my ex-husband's lies and delusions that rendered our marriage unsalvageable, not his batwing blouse. Any serious critique of “gender,” which is to say, sex stereotypes, acknowledges that clothing is arbitrary and people, not least gays and lesbians, are harmed when clothing norms are strictly enforced.
J.K. Rowling supports gender nonconformity, too: “Dress however you please,” she says in that now famous tweet. And this is the supposed position of radical feminists. As my friend Nina Paley notes, Illy “knows he's a man, looks like a man, [and] makes no pretensions to not be a man.” Thus, he “exemplifies what [gender criticals] insisted was OK 5 years ago.”
Matt Walsh, on the other hand, doesn't support gender nonconformity, even if he filmed a potentially helpful exposé. He objects to Dylan Mulvaney's former gay presentation as much as his trans identity. Many who participated in the Genspect kerfuffle don't seem to support gender nonconformity, either. They object when the nonconformist, as in this case, is deemed sexually deviant. But also when he's insufficiently fashionable, it seems: one tweeter complained “you're no David Bowie.” Some also condemn drag performed by homosexual men. I think there's a beauty and glamour in that kind of drag, though that's very much irrelevant to questions of policy. Clothing rules based on suspicions of thoughtcrime or someone's personal sense of disgust are as misguided as they are unenforceable.
The folllowing is Genspect's goal, as I understand it: providing non-medical alternatives to gender-questioning people, especially children and youth. This is a goal I support. It necessarily involves figuring out what to do with gender-questioning people, some of whom wear clothing designed for the other sex—for reasons we may or may not understand or approve of. If some of us support the Matt Walsh approach—telling such people to put on the right clothes—it's frankly unsurprising when the “gender-affirming” contingent calls everyone in our orbit “anti-trans.”
One of the tweeters most invested in AGPgate, a trans widow herself, repeatedly informed me, as well as the woman in the photo, that we just “couldn't see” the behavior creeping her out, perhaps because we were insufficiently aware of our surroundings or versed in the relevant feminist theory.
I once had an ex-boyfriend who employed the same tactic. Whenever I disagreed with something he said, he repeated his argument ad nauseam. If I still disagreed, he'd say “You just don't see my point.”
I see your point, Tom. And I disagree with it. I'm like, a whole other human being with the right to her opinion. It isn't your place to “correct” it. It's even possible that your opinion is the one that needs correcting.
In addition to having logical and coherent reasons for my position on the photo scandal, which I hope I've successfully articulated, I'm also a fairly strong, easygoing, unflappable person who can't be arsed (to borrow a useful phrase from the British) to worry about some dude's inner world or style of dress. I suspect the woman in the photo is similarly oriented. Neither of us need to be “corrected” for our analysis or our tendency to live and let live.
We get why you're creeped out, by the way. We really do. We just think emotions are a bad basis for public policy.
A final point, in closing, because it's the least important and I don't want it to be overvalued.
Autogynephiles exist. They seem to have a very hard time managing their condition, not least because they pretend they don't have it. Knowledge is preferable to denial in every domain, not least in psychology. Those who understand their own motivations are better positioned to cure themselves, if that's at all in the cards. Barring that, self-knowledge allows them to tame their demons, and to channel them in the most constructive, least damaging way. It was a self-aware autogynephile—Anne Lawrence—who helped me understand what was happening to my now ex-husband.
Having heard Illy's spiel, I don't find it adds much to Lawrence's work. But others do—and who knows, it might contribute to the insight clinicians need to solve this particular riddle. Some adults have autogynephilia. Some kids have it—our discomfort with our childrens' sexuality notwithstanding. We don't know how to treat it. But the more we talk about it, the closer we get. The perspective of someone who knows he has it is a valuable part of the conversation. Pluralism, y'all.
Finally, trans widows losing their minds over Illy's admitted autogynephilic orientation should take comfort in the fact that he's making himself impossible to accidentally marry. I, for one, would have appreciated the chance to dodge that bullet.