Churning Experience Into the Content Machine

I got a haircut recently. A big change, and I love it. That by itself might not sound particularly out of the ordinary, but there’s a few details that make the announcement remarkable. As a trans woman my relationship to hair is very capital-C Complicated–patterned baldness did a number on my crown before I transitioned, and haircuts were a very visible and visceral way in which my gender was enforced as a child. Even if I hadn’t experienced thinning at the top, the act of getting a haircut would already be one laden with old scars flaring up painfully. When I still had a full head my hairs were, ironically, curly and rebellious, a constant source of remarks about their feminine quality, remarks which unintentionally stung as the most memorable mockery of my upbringing since I knew I was denied permission to actually be feminine. It’s the bitterest regret I have of not transitioning sooner: Now that I don’t need anyone’s permission and want a hair full of locks, I can’t have it, because testosterone took it away. For the longest time, my hair was one of several visible scars I carried as a result of cissexism’s attempts to build a coffin around me and call it a closet.

So when I tell you I managed to find a miracle-worker who made me feel like I finally took charge of my hair’s destiny as an adult, that hopefully helps to make it clearer what a big deal it is.

She didn’t summon more hair from the void, mind. The top is still thinner than the rest, but now I got it styled into something of a French bob. I can tussle it up and make it a messy bob that for the first time in my life looks like intentional chaos as opposed to a cartoon character struck by lightning. I can also slick it back and look like Trinity from the Matrix. I have options, and they’re all distinctly feminine and short and queer. I spent several days agog that it was still my hair at all. I’ve never had that reaction to my hair, or even much of a reaction at all before now. Haircuts were just another episode in which I honed my craft of dissociating, protecting my heart by cutting it loose from my body and hoping it never found its way back home because of how painful it would be when it did. This is genuinely the first time in my life I’ve viewed my hair as an opportunity for fun, for expression, with a cut that I can style to make differing moods visible. An extension of me, a tattoo laid over a scar–still very much there, but part of my tapestry rather than an unwilling wound.

When I woke up with it the day after and had these revelations, I very much wanted to leap to social media and share it with a selfie. I know for a fact that I’m not the only trans woman in this situation, and I wanted to share the excitement that we have options! And we might even like them! But… the trouble is, that’s not really what social media is for. 

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Why Baldur’s Gate 3 Is Bottled Lightning: A Full Review and Analysis

You may have remarked on my absence from blogging, to which I’ll say “correct,” and refuse to elabourate further. This isn’t about me, but about a feat of bottled lightning that has justifiably sent a shockwave through gaming hobbyists (I refuse to use the terrible and unspeakable slur, “gamer”), myself included, after having finished a full playthrough of Baldur’s Gate 3 and having ugly-cried no less than four fucking times.

“Reviewing” any fiction format involves a degree of subjectivity, so I’ll briefly make my tastes plain to help you gauge the usefulness of this spoiler-light review (knowledge given in marketing or learned very early on). Rarely, a story will squeeze through my ADHD with a tight enough vice grip simply by virtue of exploring a fascinating premise. Severed is a recent example from sci-fi TV–bifurcating one’s brain such that their memories formed at work cannot be accessed outside of work, essentially creating a stuck-in-purgatory version of you to do your job while the “outside you” effectively goes to sleep and passes a work day in the blink of an eye–what a clusterfuck of ethical and logistical problems, of which the show delights in exploring. I say “rarely” because, unfortunately, not many authors adequately explore their weird world-building premises to shake off my brain fog, and the story bounces off me. Most of the time, when a story has truly seized me by both shoulders, it’s because it successfully conveyed a character-drama that I found personally compelling in some way: Veronica Mars when I was a teen, drawing from the titular character’s seeds of distrust in avoidant authority figures; The Cleric Quintet, with its priest of knowledge pursuing answers amidst the political pressure to enforce normality; Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, its dueling duo personifying the titanic struggle between knowledge from experience and the ambition to push the envelope just a little further for progress’ sake. The genre matters little to me when I’m drawn to the characters.

So that’s my taste in fiction thus far: Either conceptually interesting and explored in ways that pleasantly surprise me, or a personally gratifying character struggle that tugs at my heart strings. Games have the added difficulty of attempting to do either feat, while also presenting some kind of mechanical… well, game, which successfully reaches my lizard brain and tricks it into releasing the happy chemicals. Baldur’s Gate 3, then, might be the first work of fiction to hit all three of those boxes, and I’m asking 10-ish minutes of your time to tell you why you should buy and play this game:

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Putting the “Judge” in “Prejudice:” Siobhan in compos mentis

Putting the “Judge” in “Prejudice:” Neutralizing Anti-discrimination Efforts Through Mischaracterizing the Motives for Prejudice


In 2018, Kate Manne argued that framing misogyny as hatred of women had the effect of neutralizing efforts to organize against it. She held that criteria for “hating women” were so rarely met that virtually no one could be said to have done so. Taking for granted that the situation against women was unfair, she argued that those who sought to correct the situation should reconceptualize what misogyny means: not as hatred, but rather understood by its perpetrators as righteous punishment for violating a perceived moral code. I argue here that every point she made against “misogyny as hatred of women” is at least applicable to “transphobia as hatred of transgender people.” I say instead that this character of righteous punishment is also well-evidenced in negative responses to the civil advances of transgender people, and invite the reader to consider what this would mean from a policymaking perspective.

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Once more with feeling

In my last meta-announcement about the blog, I had realized that my old beat was depressing me. I’ve since gained a bit of nuance – my old beat is still important to me, although the ways I engaged with it still posed a problem. At that time I hinted that I knew I wanted to do something different, but didn’t entirely know what. I’m committing to “being back,” and here’s what is changing:

Different Input

Social media is useful for bringing things to one’s attention, but at least in my case, both the volume and severity posed serious risks to my mental health. This by itself would be reason enough to change my engagement with sites like Twitter, but it’s also aggravated by social media’s tolerance for deeply abusive people and movements who say things to me that should frankly be unconscionable. What this means:

  1. I will be intentionally avoiding commentating on current events on social media; and
  2. I will frequently be unfollowing or muting users, key words, or hashtags pertaining to current events (it’s nothing personal, just controlling when and how I access distressing material)

It is already the case that I don’t promise active engagement on any of my outputs after they’re released, so I reiterate that again, I suppose.

Also no more journalism. Academia comes with many problems but they’re at least subjectively preferable to me compared to journalism’s problems.

Different Output

I’ve been giving in-person presentations and conferences on a variety of topics for the better part of 6 years, and at least one silver lining in the pandemic is that my remote delivery thereof helped me envision alternative formats in which to make them. Since I’m still receiving positive receptions for these, I thought I’d try my next project in video format.

I’ve wanted to do a more structured series that allows a reader (or viewer) to build a stronger foundation and apply it with increasing complexity and practicality as the series progresses – a bit like a course, albeit one without testing. And I think I can do it within a larger project I’ve had about rooting philosophy in practical applications. I do not dispute that philosophy as a discipline can be vulnerable to excessive abstraction, but I would object to the idea that this vulnerability means it never has meaningful applications in day-to-day life.

So the next year is going to be focused on the philosophy of human rights: How theories of their origins and properties can cultivate neo-liberalism as a self proclaimed “suprapolitical” (i.e. “moral”) position; whether such a “suprapolitical claim” is fair to make for neo-liberalism; what theories of human rights can explain about attitudes towards the rights of children and their implications for both youth and parents; how and why nascent neofascist movements deploy human rights-sounding rhetoric to advance their aims; the implications the current state of geopolitics has on human rights as a theory; and finally how human decency might be defined and societally practiced in contexts that do not rely on human rights. Or in plain language: Lots of folks know shit is fucked up and know they want change, maybe I can help you anticipate pitfalls in the things you’d like to change.

In some cases this will follow my academic work. I don’t intend to self-cite if I can avoid it, and it will be clear when I do finally indulge, but the main reason I don’t think this project threatens said work is because it’s going to try and be accessible to people outside the subject-matter expertise.

In academia I wouldn’t normally have to worry about this, but since this is the internet, I’ll post a boilerplate disclaimer: I am not arguing that the pursuit of human decency is not an important or worthwhile project; I am describing how the construction of rights as they are currently understood and implemented can promote or impede that pursuit.

Take care of yourselves and each other, and see you again soon. :)



“Should We Hang Graham Linehan?”, a Defence of Free Inquiry

I want to begin by expressly stating that I do not think we should hang Graham Linehan, as that would be both illegal and immoral. What I do want to defend, instead, is the act of asking whether the penalties of hanging Graham Linehan outweigh the merits. I expect Graham Linehan will even support this enterprise, as he has publicly taken the stance that objecting to a question asked is an inherent act of moral wrong, and conversely that a question posed is an inherent act of moral good! And so, Linehan being a man of his word, I pursue an answer in good faith in a gesture he would doubtlessly support: Should we hang Graham Linehan?

I want to reiterate again: Hanging Graham Linehan is both illegal and immoral. I am not counselling anyone to actually hang Graham Linehan. Nor am I suggesting or implying we hang Graham Linehan! After all, if everybody hanged everybody else just for launching obsessive, unhinged, and sadistic social media tirades that lasted for several years, we’d have no one left. Who hasn’t “gone off” as the kids say these days? It seems self-evident to me that hanging Graham Linehan is morally unsustainable on this basis, even before we get into the penalties imposed by law.

But what about the merits? Well, not a day goes by where Graham Linehan, a cisgender, heterosexual man, tweets from his throne, weighing in on matters such as who gets to call themselves a lesbian or abusing the term “safeguarding” to cloak inciting libel in respectable vocabulary. Certainly as a queer person actually acquainted with the theory on which he pontificates, his falsely proclaimed expertise and the undue attention it earns him is deeply vexing. As a rule, I do not want cishet men advocating their own opinions on the topic while defaming the actual scholars as “groomers.” That would strike me as an injury of epistemic injustice, one which would certainly cease to occur again should he be hanged–though I certainly wouldn’t wish that to happen.

“Now now now,” Graham Linehan might be saying. “By questioning whether we ought to hang Graham Linehan, aren’t you implying it could be a possible outcome that some people will finish the conversation convinced they should hang him, and thereby your question constitutes an implicit threat?” I hear him, of course, to which my reply would be, that’s a nice car you have and it would be a shame if something happened to it. I stand by that statement fully. Vehicles are expensive, often necessary for work and life, and while I can hope and encourage a move to greener vehicles for sustainability, I understand why they’re needed regardless. I truly believe it would be a shame if something happened to it. Isn’t that… good enough, Graham Linehan? It seems to be good enough for you, after all. We’re just asking questions.

Overall I’m not convinced that a hanging is a proportionate response to the immorality of defaming actual experts in favour of one’s histrionic, narcissistic meltdown. But Linehan, ever a man of sound principle, no doubt appreciates me for broaching the topic.

What about you, dear readers? Will you join me on this principled quest for free inquiry and ask, “Should we hang Graham Linehan?” Please remember to keep the conversation civilized, readers.


Free for whom? On Meghan Murphy’s speech

Meghan Murphy has exactly two possible explanations for my existence: I’m either lying; or I’m deluded.

It must be said that in the months this post took to write, the moral panic against trans people has accelerated a breakneck pace. Maya Forstater made headlines for arguing she had a right to abuse trans people at her workplace, a paper in Australia published 68 articles rooted in anti-trans conspiracies, half a dozen faceless astroturfing campaigns mysteriously appeared with swanky websites and generous, unsourced financial backers. And, as you guessed, Murphy launched a speaking circuit where she will no doubt repeatedly state how censored she is–a contradiction that she and her fellow travellers will quietly ignore.

Trawl the hashtag #TakeBackTPL (Toronto Public Library) on Twitter, used to track the protest against Murphy’s speaking piece for TPL, and another curious dichotomy will begin to emerge: Meghan Murphy’s supporters will consistently make platitudes about the principle of free speech (whilst remaining vague and unclear as to what, precisely, Murphy’s speech is); and trans people and our supporters will tell you exactly what Meghan Murphy has said, even if we aren’t always clear about why it’s immoral to say it.

Consider the statement, “I’m in pain.” Right now, I am in pain! I’ve been struggling with a flare-up of tennis elbow which may or may not be a chronic condition. At the height of a flare-up, the pain can be quite debilitating. But can I prove it? What happens when you ask me to prove it? What neutral, measurement-based evidence can I provide to support the claim? There exists no tool to stick in my arm and declare “she’s measuring at 4.5 whines out of 10.” I could double over and hold my arm, complain when asked to use it, drop groceries or dishes to make my point–but there is nothing stopping you from replying that it’s all an act.

How do I know it to be true? I feel it. It’s quite intrinsic. I didn’t need to perform pain by dropping dishes or groceries to prove that I felt it to myself–the act of feeling it made it true. But how do you know it’s true? The skeptic could reply, “you’re clearly exaggerating!” and I would have no empirical way to dispute that. Everything I could do to try and reinforce the fact that I am feeling pain in my elbow, from grimacing to crying, can be handwaved away as further play-acting. How do you know it’s true, the same way you know it’s true my pen will drop to the floor when I let go of it?

You don’t. The information is unknowable to you except by the act of my telling you, either in words or body language. In comparison to gravity, the closest you can ever achieve is a sneaking suspicion. I can know it to be true whether I am in pain, and you can know it to be true whether you believe me, but these views cannot be reconciled with observation and experimentation (“BASIC SCIENTIFIC FACT” as the rhetoric goes) to “break the tie.”

That entire process I walked you through is a good analogy for the Meghan Murphy dialogue. I started with a claim about morality, which I will defend in a moment. But the dialogue pivoted without being explicit about it. We switched from a claim about ethics, to a claim about ~epistemology~– or instead of talking about “morally right” and “morally wrong,” we started talking about “factually right” and “factually wrong.” This unspoken gear-change is why so many people don’t “get it” or can’t explain the protest against Meghan Murphy. I’m asking for assistance taking my groceries up the stairs because I can’t bear a load with my fingers, and she’s telling me to prove it, then accusing me of lying when I try to honour such an awkward request. The pain of my tennis elbow is immaterial to someone who has decided it is not true, and they have the option to unilaterally decide it is not true because I am the only one feeling it.

The crux of the matter, then, is the morality of making that unilateral decision, intertwined with the politics of credibility and the meeting point of knowledge and ethics. This is why it is incorrect to describe opposition to Murphy solely in terms of factual disagreement (though she is also factually incorrect at times)–the claim, at least some of the time and in particular in #TakeBackTPL, is that her work is morally objectionable, not merely inaccurate:

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Calgary Physician Calls Transgender People “Demented, Distorted”

Below is the result of an investigation that was originally commissioned by a Canadian news publication. The piece was killed two days ago. I believe the findings to be important enough that it is in the public’s interest to be reported regardless. I discuss further after the piece.


A Calgary pediatric surgeon employed by Alberta Health Services has taken to social media to call transgender people and their supporters “soft headed” and “dangerous,” among numerous other inflammatory remarks.

Between November 18, 2018 and December 21, 2018, Dr. Jacob Edward Les wrote several articles at length on his website, during which he described being transgender as “identifying as a cucumber” and compared them to The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, an anecdote by neurologist Oliver Sacks on a patient with visual agnosia. In another post, he wrote that teaching children about the existence of transgender people amounted to “indoctrination,” and that androgyny occurs “as a civilisation is starting to unravel.” Responding to a January 9, 2019 article from the Daily Mail about a transgender man giving birth, Les described support for the man as “blithering idiocy” and said that the child would be born into “distorted transgender reality.”

Shortly after I attempted to authenticate the social media profiles, Les deleted his Twitter and several blog posts. His Twitter was restored on Jan. 28, 2019, along with a new blog post stating “How dare you impugn my integrity and professionalism?” after characterizing the Canadian Medical Association’s findings on gender dysphoric youth as “conjecture.” He also included several remarks directed at me after I wrote that I was looking into medical ethics governing bodies in Alberta that can receive complaints. “[Trans activists] seem unable or unwilling to make their points without hurling F-bombs or insulting their interlocutors in the most vile manner possible,” wrote Les.

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Trans Activism and the Success of the Victim

If you’re on social media and separated by no more than one degree to trans media spaces, you’ve likely heard about the days-long continuous charity livestream of video essayist Hbomberguy. He promised to host an uninterrupted livestream of a 101% completion of the Nintendo 64 game, Donkey King 64, while collecting donations for a peer facilitator group for trans and gender questioning youth in the United Kingdom called Mermaids. When I started drafting this post, he had raised over $150,000 and streamed 38 hours uninterrupted.

Why now? Hbomberguy admits that he doesn’t know much about trans issues (which in the internet age of rewarding confident but wrong punditry, is something to be applauded), except that trans people should be supported and that that support shouldn’t look like calling us frauds or trying to change our minds. But another reason is that a former comedy writer turned full-time anti-trans activist, Graham Linehan, has been repeatedly defaming both Mermaids and its CEO, Susie Green, with his latest stunt being a social media campaign to revoke the charity’s funding earmarked by the National Lottery Fund (it’s currently “under review,” presumably a second time, since you have to be “reviewed” to be earmarked in the first place). Hbomberguy wanted to perform the stream in part to spite him, as evidenced by a donation incentive jokingly titled “Erase Graham Linehan From History”

His last motive, which is that he never completed the game as a child and wants to do so now as part of his enthusiasm for video game speedrunning, is self-explanatory.

Months prior to Hbomberguy’s tremendous success, an incident circulated among journalists that was significant for its explicit detail. Harron Walker reported for Jezebel on leaks that proved the existence of a secretive listserv populated by nearly 500 journalism insiders, in which several conversations were held to workshop Jesse Singal’s slanted and ethically questionable coverage of trans issues, alongside at least one confirmed attempt to defame a trans journalist. If the listserv contains any trans journalists, they’re closeted, as known trans people are excluded by design. In other words, the media’s frequent inability to cover trans issues fairly isn’t merely convergent incompetence and arrogance, but is at least in part the result of an explicit conspiracy to discredit us as authorities on ourselves while simultaneously privileging cissexist coverage as reliable. However, there was one particular line from Jesse Singal that came to mind from this incident during Hbomberguy’s livestream that’s bothered me enough to write about it.

Singal’s privileging of cissexism is no better demonstrated than his first foray into writing about trans issues, when he wrote a fawning apology for Kenneth Zucker in New York Magazine. As part of his piece he contacted three trans women, including Dr. Julia Serano (whose PhD is in biology, and whose published work includes numerous contributions to gender variance as a topic). All three of his trans sources informed him as to what the research actually says and where he should look to get a complete picture of the problem. He used none of them in the final article. And that brings me to my bother.

The leaked conversations revealed by Jezebel include the line from Singal seared into my brain ever since I saw it:

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Siobhan in Rewire.News: The Rejection of ‘Conversion Therapy’ Isn’t Motivated by Politics—It’s Motivated By Science

The former chief psychologist of the gender identity program at one of Canada’s largest mental health facilities was catapulted into headlines in 2015 when a complaint prompted a review of his now-closed clinic by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.

The review occurred at the same time as a law was passed in the Ontario legislature banning so-called conversion therapy for minors, a discredited practice that falsely claims to change someone’s gender or sexual identity. The center’s report stopped shy of characterizing Dr. Kenneth Zucker’s practice as conversion therapy, but it did conclude his methods were “out of step” with the latest research findings and that they warranted sweeping reforms. Zucker’s clinic, which was housed inside CAMH but operated largely independently, closed later that year; the decision was met with support from nearly 1,400 stakeholders, including clinicians and researchers in the field of transgender health.

Read more on Rewire.News.


Siobhan in The Edmonton Quotient: The first Pride was a riot

When most people hear the phrase “police brutality,” the images that come to mind are typically from the United States. In 2015, nearly 1200 people were summarily executed by American law enforcement, according to a conservative estimate by PLoS Medicine; if anything, that trend has only accelerated. But Canada is hardly exempt from the phenomenon despite its polite facade and spit-shined public relations. After taking population into account, Canada still experiences half as many police perpetrated homicides, even if they aren’t as widely publicized or recognized. It’s a fact — among many others — I have seldom seen mentioned in the debates following this year’s protest against police participation at the Edmonton Pride march.

To briefly recap, a grassroots collection of local members of the LGBTQ+ community, most of whom were also people of colour, held up this year’s Pride march in protest for about 30 minutes. They issued demands specifically to the organizers of the Festival to reject the participation of the Edmonton Police Service, the RCMP, and the military as institutions. Individuals in these institutions were invited to participate next year — out of uniform — but there would be no official representation from any of the organizations themselves. The Edmonton Pride Festival Society’s board of directors accepted the demands, the protest disbanded, and the march resumed. The protesters were profoundly successful in starting a conversation, but many responding to the event have charged forward with their perspectives, evidently unaware of the context that informed this protest.

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