[Update: After Jessica Wakeman of The Frisky covered my piece and tweeted her coverage tagging in STFU Parents, Blair Koenig aka STFU Parents clarified what was meant (and not meant) by the tweet. We conversed via Twitter (see the conversation). Basically, Koenig says that she considers herself pro-LGBT and pro-trans* and intended the RT to reflect on social media trends, not to imply that the trans* opinions contained in the compilation were absurd. In other words, she did not tweet with malicious intent although she found some elements of the compilation “amusing.”

While the intentions were not malicious, I do not personally believe that intention is what matters here. Therefore, on my end, the conversation has not changed my initial assessment that the posting of the compilation is problematic. Whatever the personal intentions of its founder, STFU Parents is a blog dedicated to mocking people’s social media entries. In light of that, an account called the exact same thing re-tweeting a compilation of people’s social media entries feels dismissive regardless of personal intention. This is especially true when the compilation lumps together trans* people’s pain with Monty Python jokes. YMMV, naturally.]

All the plebes are talking about it while all the cool kids are talking about not knowing, caring, or talking about it. I’m talking, of course, about the bonny new baby born to the British royal family.

Popularly gossipped-about news items are often used as opportunities for people to converse about topics that are of interest of them. While this can be considered in poor taste in the case of tragic events, this one certainly was no such downer of a story.

I'm so cool that I don't even know what this picture is supposed to be.

I’m so cool that I don’t even know what this picture is supposed to be.

I noticed that many news outlets used the word “gender” in place of the word “sex” to describe the baby being assigned male at birth. Now, I am far more a descriptivist than a prescriptivist. I understand that people use the word “gender” in the place of the word “sex” for various reasons ranging from squeamishness (ew, teh sex) to ambiguity (i.e. the fact that “sex” can refer to genitals). The latter, however, reveals exactly the point: what we know is that the doctors in question examined the baby’s genitalia and determined that they think that the little one is a boy.

This is not a judgmental or political statement, it states the facts — unless you consider CNN to be a bastion of gender radicalism:

Using the information gathered from these tests, your doctor may suggest an appropriate gender for the baby. The suggestion will be based on the genetic sex, anatomy, and future reproductive and sexual potential. Usually, a family can make a decision within a few days after the birth. Parents should be aware that as the child grows up, he or she may make a different decision about gender identification.

CNN might have been talking specifically about babies whose genitalia don’t readily conform to what is considered definitely male or female by social and/or medical standards. Ultimately, however, this is what is done to all babies, just with less examination and consideration in the case of babies whose genitals aren’t considered “ambiguous” (and those babies aren’t exactly uncommon).

In this case, descriptivism and practicality are somewhat at odds. It’s useful to be able to talk about the concepts encapsulated within each of the terms “sex” and “gender” when those words are distinct rather than interchangeable.

Based on that reasoning, I tweeted…

…to the great amusement, apparently, of someone whose followers await his RTs of silly post-modern liberals in the hopes of pouncing on us. According to a friend who mods r/LGBT, someone parodied the tweet in such a way that the offender was banned from that particular subreddit. In responding to my tweet, people took the most issue with my use of all-caps (fair), my alleged attribution of malice to the doctors in question (citation needed), and my daring dictionary-thumping attitude towards the words “sex” and “gender.”

The assholes of the Internet didn’t stop their fun with a dictionary-thumping, capslock-using cis girl, though, and that’s where it gets really ugly.

[TW for transphobia in the replies to this tweet]

All of the people in that tweet compilation aren’t necessarily parents. More importantly, some of them are trans* and spoke up and out about their pain and struggles. This, apparently, renders them just plain hilarious in the eyes of STFU Parents and its readers. The last time I checked STFU Parents, it was filled with people complaining about TMI status updates from parents regarding the bowel movements produced by their precious bundle of joy, not a bastion of transphobia. Another formerly adored humor page bites the dust.

Though it might annoy some, it’s not reprehensible to take a popular gossip item and use it to talk about serious issues that affect you and/or other human beings (though it might be to use all-caps). Using people’s disclosures of the pain of their lived experiences to mock and deride them, on the other hand?

STFU, STFU Parents.

Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy [hee-na dad-uh-boy] spent her childhood as a practicing Muslim who never in her right mind would have believed that she would grow up to be an atheist feminist secular humanist, or, in other words, a Skepchick. She has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County, CA since 2007. She is currently writing A Skeptic's Guide to Islam. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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15 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Elyse
    July 25, 2013 at 12:49 pm —

    Thanks, Heina. This really angered me. And it seems to have gone almost completely unnoticed otherwise.

    Shitty shitty shitty.

  2. Profile photo of Otoki
    July 25, 2013 at 3:02 pm —

    Sorry, I may be missing something, but how is STFU Parents being transphobic?

      • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
        July 25, 2013 at 3:37 pm —

        Yeah, basically they’re making fun of trans people for talking about sex vs. gender, the problem with assuming gender, and such.

        • Profile photo of Otoki
          July 26, 2013 at 12:54 am —

          Huh. I guess I’m just not seeing the tweets picking on trans people? I mean, if they’re saying caring about the difference between sex and gender is stupid, then I agree its dismissive and poopy. But I’m not seeing specifically transphobic shit. I could just be missing specific tweets.

          • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
            July 26, 2013 at 2:14 am

            The tweets in the compilation aren’t transphobic. The attitude towards them, i.e. dismissive, is. I’ve circled the specific tweets in the compilation that are by trans women: http://i.imgur.com/bH9WJaO.jpg

            The people tweeting the compilation are basically like “LOL look how silly this is.” You can also see my clarification at the top of both STFU Parents and my positions for more details.

          • Profile photo of Vene
            July 26, 2013 at 8:27 pm

            It’s trans erasure. They’re denying that it could be possible for a child to not fit with their assigned sex. It’s not specifically attacking trans people, but it doesn’t have to be in order to be transphobic.

          • Profile photo of Otoki
            July 27, 2013 at 3:05 pm

            OK, the trans erasure as transphobia makes sense. That’s the context I was missing. I though you were saying STFUParents was bashing trans people.

          • Profile photo of Heina Dadabhoy
            July 27, 2013 at 3:20 pm

            I actually think it was very bashing to lump in trans* people’s pain with silly joke quotes. YMMV.

  3. Profile photo of jadehawk
    July 25, 2013 at 5:44 pm —

    and of course one of the tweets had to be of the “Americans are st00pid, we’re over such silly things here in Europe” variety. *sigh*

  4. Profile photo of PrimevilKneivel
    July 25, 2013 at 7:44 pm —

    And bonus points for getting me to read something about the royal baby.

  5. Profile photo of Mankoi
    July 26, 2013 at 9:03 pm —

    The length of this comment should probably indicate why I don’t like to talk about anything remotely important on Twitter.

    To start off with, of course, your tweet is entirely correct, of course. I don’t know the gender of the royal baby, and, frankly, the gender of the royal baby is pretty much no one’s business except said baby anyway. And I deeply regret the fact that you had to deal with a cluster of clueless cyberclots for stating a fact. I don’t like the all caps shouting either, but I somehow doubt I’d see so many assholes coming out of the woodwork for similar tweets about water being wet, and coffee being made of water pressed through dried ground beans.

    But since the topic is here, I suppose I’ll mention a few points. First: I hate the term “assigned” as a blanket term for a determination of sex. It makes it sound like babies come out smooth down there, and then a doctor rolls a die to determine what genitalia are to be assigned to it. In my case, for example, I was in no way assigned a sex. It’s possible a doctor could have looked me over and assigned me to the female sex, but I still would have been male sexed. He’d have just been wrong. Sure, in many cases you can’t say with absolute certainty if a baby is male or female. In which case, assigning a sex seems even sillier. It implies a binary that doesn’t really exist. Much like the CNN article mentions, you can certainly look at bloodwork and other indicators to try and decide the best outcomes for reproductive ability, and how the baby is likely to develop, but I don’t think that should be treated like an assignment as much as… well just what it is. Even the article calls it a suggestion.

    Or, to put it more simply, a doctor could assign a baby to the sex ooloi if they felt like it, and then if you say the sex of the baby was assigned ooloi… well you’re correct. That was what was assigned. It just doesn’t tell you much.

    Regarding the point about hostility to doctors… I can kind of understand where they were coming from. I mean, I’m not perfect, I’ve nitpicked about tiny issues in phrasing because I had no rational argument against something. I’m not proud of it, and I hope to be able to just admit to myself when I don’t have a leg to stand on in future, and re-examine my attitudes instead of latching on to something petty and pretending that’s what I’m really irritated about.

    But there is… sort of something petty there to latch onto. The fact that you had to specify “by doctors” is a little odd. What does that mean? We should take the assignment with a grain of salt because it was those ivory tower, degree wielding, out of touch with reality, holier-than-thou doctors who said it? I mean, the fuck do they know, really? Buncha quacks.

    That’s pretty obviously reading too much into the inclusion of two words, and I’m fairly confident that you don’t feel that way. But I see that sort of attitude so often, I’m a bit sensitive to it. I actually did notice it when I first saw the tweet, I just didn’t mention it, because it was rather beside the point and unintentional. I can see how someone could have sensed some hostility there, especially if they were looking for something to be pissy about.

  6. Profile photo of greyoak
    July 26, 2013 at 9:11 pm —

    “people took the most issue with my use of all-caps (fair),”
    Yeah, it was rather shouty…

    “my alleged attribution of malice to the doctors in question (citation needed)”
    Ah. Yes, I had this reaction too. You know why? The all-caps. Shouty.
    Imagine you shouting what you tweeted at someone. Would you interpret that as malice?

    That said, I do agree with what you tweeted. :)

  7. Profile photo of latsot
    July 27, 2013 at 9:48 am —

    Yeah, it was rather shouty…

    There are two things wrong with shouting. First, a person might be shouting down someone else, intimidating them into silence. That’s very bad. Second, it’s annoying: people don’t necessarily want to hear whatever it is you’re so excited about and they can’t not hear when they’re near someone shouting.

    Caps can sometimes be used to shout someone down, but that wasn’t happening here. Caps *can’t* be used to inflict opinions on you, because you just don’t have to read the message. Using caps doesn’t compel anyone to read a tweet.

    Shouting has its uses. Sometimes you need to shout to make yourself heard. Sometimes you need to shout to show that you really mean it or that the subject is important when others think it isn’t. Shouting is a perfectly legitimate and sometimes useful tool.

    I see nothing wrong with using all caps in this instance. It’s something to shout about.

    • Profile photo of Buzz Parsec
      July 27, 2013 at 11:29 am —

      But don’t you see, when you shout in real life, you drown out other people taking quietly. Your voice is louder than the other voices, so you use up all the bandwidth. Same on the Internet. A normal tweet of 140 characters takes 8 bits per character, or 1,120 bits, whereas a 140 character message in ALL CAPS takes 8 whole bits per character, or 1,120 bi… Oh uh, wait a minute, I’ll get back to you….

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