There’s a few ideas that continue to haunt me that I’m not quite sure I can develop into research questions that I might take to a PhD program or if they’re just cosmic questions that are meant to weigh on my chest during my early twenties. Where does the boundary exist on the soapbox? When do I use my power and privilege to speak out on behalf of the disenfranchised, and when do I silence my voice in order to amplify those who haven’t yet spoken? And, as always, how does this affect my ability to be creative? My ability to teach?
Over the summer, I took a deep dive into the YouTube channel ContraPoints where host Natalie Wynn discusses the public philosophies that fuel common social discourse such as transgender identities, white nationalism, and western ideology. As she discusses these topics, her main rhetorical device to win over her audience of liberal hippies like me and left-leaning centrists like 4chan users is humor. Wynn is a philosophy PhD dropout, so her videos come with a certain level of authenticity that plays into the world of academia and verifies her comedic position as both authoritative and trustworthy.
You get the sense that when you’re watching her videos, you’re talking trash to other academics at a post-conference dinner. She’s got the brains behind the ideas but no need for any academic cadence other than comedy. She talks about this rhetorical balance in Paper Magazine. When asked “What’s the most stressful thing about being you?” she responds, “I produce content about complex social issues, and my audience expects me to be thorough, nuanced, well-read, persuasive to outsiders, and deferential to insiders while somehow at the same time being irreverently funny. I’m very stressed right now.”
I have to tell you, blog-reader. I eat this up. In an interview, she produced a complex answer that fulfilled my expectation of nuanced persuasion while still being funny in that level of self-humility that works to persuasive to outsiders. She’s achieved the balance, and it seems so stressful to maintain it.
Despite her love from stans like me, people hate her guts. Especially trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) on r/GenderCritical. Ever since I was a child stealing free Wi-Fi from my neighbors, I’ve always kept an eye on online forums where people disagree with me. My interest in these spaces fueled me to pursue English higher-ed because public writing spaces that aren’t dictated by a university are hard to come by and are, therefore, like finding a golden ticket in a sea of mass produced academic jargon chocolate bars. Monitoring these spaces is something that Wynn and I share but is especially something that Wynn has used to the benefit of her content creation. Her video “Gender Critical” addresses issues TERFs have both in public and academic discourse.
Her video is long, informative, funny, and too worthy of my paraphrasing. But, a central idea Wynn presents is that the individuals who seek to exclude trans women from the label of womanhood in order to maintain womanhood as a space free of the poison of patriarchy are leveraging an ideology of womanhood against transwomen that they do not uphold of cisgender women. If the problem for TERFs is that transwomen uphold a false sense of womanhood with their “stereotypical femme gender performance” that TERFs don’t adhere to themselves, the problem arises when transwomen become the focus of the debate rather than an addition to it. An example Wynn uses is TERFs specifically will attack a transwoman for her gender performance on these online spaces but will not maintain the same violent language when commenting on a ciswoman’s femme gender performance, if commenting at all.
As a cisman who already agreed with Wynn, I thought this point was fabulous. She pairs the point with another example of refusing immigrants entry into the country on the foundation of “abolish borders.” Wynn claims, “You’re targeting the people who are the most vulnerable under the present system and then leveraging that system against them under the pretense of abolishing it.”
This takes me back to my earlier questions but adds Where does this blog post fit in? Who gate am I trying to keep open and who am I letting in? I don’t really have much to add on Wynn discussion of gender critical feminists, I agree with her that these people will wake up one day and realize that they have spent their time and energy fighting for the wrong side of history. But does my need to write about it and let people know Wynn’s ideas exist in the world in a pretty accessible format come with a social clearance sticker that says cis-audience approved? Or, am I placing Wynn’s ideas on a mannequin in the window? Currently, I think both. I think making everyone I know watch all of her videos is good, no matter my motives. But my place in the conversation is not without its haunting self-awareness. Who am I to speak up here? What’s going on rhetorically when I do?