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When is a Call for an Apology a Demand for Capitulation?
Or a need for validation?
Over the past week, the gender critical “community” (for lack of a better word) has been tearing itself up over Phil Illy, a self-professed autogynephile (though he prefers the term autoheterosexual) who showed up at the Genspect conference wearing a dress. One side is shocked that so many gender critical people seem to have such a problem with a man in a dress. The other is countering that the issue isn’t “a man in a dress” but a man in clothing he admits he finds arousing.
I understand both perspectives and I am trying to be fair in my overview of the situation though, full disclosure, I think the reaction from those critical of his presence has been overblown.
(If anyone is actually interested in my thoughts on Phil, I took part in a multi-part reaction video to his interview with Benjamin Boyce with three other wonderful ladies quite a while ago. Of the four of us, I’d say I was the most sympathetic towards him, though I had many critiques as well. And I have more since learning about more of the contents of his book.)
Anyway, while I do feel the reaction to Phil’s presence was overblown, I can understand it. I can understand why people (mostly women, but quite a few men) have the strong reaction they do to AGPs. I have a strong reaction myself. I can understand why people were upset that Genspect’s post on X promoted Phil’s book and why they were upset that it was listed as a resource on its website.
I have no problem with them voicing their opinions about all of this, either, though I understand how those on the receiving end feel like they are being “mobbed.” Social media is tricky. If a lot of people have the same opinion and are eager to voice it, they might not feel like they are part of a “mob,” they just want to say their piece like everyone else. But the person on the receiving end of hundreds of messages has a totally different experience, especially when no small part of those messages are genuinely mean-spirited.
Still, people are entitled to say their piece and even to request that an organization they support and that they feel is important to the movement shows it has heard and understood them. Many who have critiques of Phil are upset that their concerns are being misrepresented as hatred of gender non-conforming men. I think Heather Heying wrote a great summary of what the issue actually is for a lot of those speaking out.
Where I draw the line, however, is at demands for an apology.
Demanding an apology from Genspect is asking for an admission that some variation of allowing Phil to attend, posting about his book, or suggesting it on its website was fundamentally wrong and objectively a mistake. But not everyone even agrees on these points. For example, though I disagree in many ways with Phil’s framing of AGP, I still feel that more men who have it would be better off understanding themselves through his lens rather than believing that they are really women.
Many of the people involved in this movement have very different ideas about the topics of gender identity and sexuality. The books we’ve all read from various authors probably have various framings of these issues. It’s okay to critique them and it’s also okay to accept that, at the end of the day, we are just going to end up with different opinions about things.
In light of that, I was really happy to see this interview that Leslie Elliott did with Phil Illy and Shannon Thrace, a trans widow who was also at the Genspect conference. Leslie and Shannon raised a lot of the critiques, questions, and concerns that I had about Phil and his book and that I have seen raised online.
Watching that interview was refreshing because a lot of the calls for an apology I have seen felt much more like a demand for capitulation and a need for people to have their very strong emotions about this situation validated. But just because you feel strongly about something doesn’t mean you are objectively right or that those who disagree with you also know you are right but are choosing to act immorally instead.
At the end of the day, it was an amazing conference with amazing speakers and attendees. For all I care, Genspect could have invited an AGP trans activist who makes my blood boil (Morgane Oger, for example) to give a talk out of a spirit of open dialogue and I would still praise the conference as a whole.
We are moving forward. To openly disagree with one another is crucial for building a strong movement. To attack each other and demand apologies and capitulation for differences of opinion, even vast ones, will only cause splintering. And if it does, so be it. It takes all kinds, even the ones with a very narrow focus. But it also takes those tolerant enough to build strong and large coalitions.
I'm fine letting those who want to splinter off and draw very strict boundaries around their activism do their own thing, and I wouldn't call their morals and characters into question over their desire to do so.
But I do lean more towards trying to practice tolerance for very different viewpoints and very different people within this broad coalition, and I'm no stranger to accusations of betrayal because of it. I'm sensitive to demands for apologies because it is very much within the realm of possibility that, one day, one may be demanded of me when the wrong person notices I've stepped the wrong toe out of line. Maybe even for writing this.
And I'm just a person with an X account and a Substack and too many thoughts. Those, like Genspect, who put on game-changing events and really push the conversation forward, are watched like hawks by so many more eyes. And they should be! But they will never be able to appease everyone, and capitulating to a demand for an apology from one camp will just upset another.
And that's what really gets me about the demand for an apology in this situation: the built-in assumption that those demanding it should get to control the narrative of this movement. But no one should. Gender ideology is everywhere, and it's part of the much larger woke apparatus. One viewpoint alone will never be enough to defeat it.
I may not always like how everyone fighting is going to go about it, but I'm going to focus more on being happy that they are choosing to do it.
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