"In this story I think that the helicopter is a closet." July 2, 2021 10:45 AM   Subscribe

"I believe the story’s detractors were hurt by the title or some of the content or the very idea of the story. I believe they truly feel that trans stories should only be written by trans people and that Fall should have had to out herself before publishing. I believe they believe — still — that they did the right thing. They still destroyed a woman’s life." Emily Van Der Werff writes about the helicopter story, and what came after it. I'm going to suggest this thread as a space for gentle, respectful meditation on what caused this tragedy, potentially including the role that Metafilter played in that.

Neil Clarke says that if anyone wants to email (using his address, neil@clarkesworldmagazine.com) apologies to Fall, he will make sure she receives them.

I know that some people feel that this isn't a conversation that should be had here at all. But I think that the role online communities, and especially cis 'allies', played in this, is exactly why it needs to happen here. Most MeFites aren't trans - but, while some of the harm was perpetrated by trans people, both on this site and off, an awful lot was the work of cis people who, as Van Der Werff says, may have meant well, but ended up doing terrible damage.
posted by Acheman to MetaFilter-Related at 10:45 AM (49 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

Reading through the follow-up article, and then going back to the original MeFi thread, it was really striking. I remembered the original thread as fairly contentious (and some of it touching on what the Vox article noted as useful good-faith criticism, i.e. "Fall says she found some of that criticism useful, particularly with regard to the story’s treatment of Barb’s race. (Barb is Korean.)"), but we really had it all going there, didn't we. (even what survived deleting)

Accusations of crypto-TERFery,
"Is her bio having listed her as being born in 1988 a secret dog-whistle because '88'?",
writing to the editor asking to uncover Fall's identity to find out whether she's sufficiently 'out'...

I think the article's framing of Sedgwick's "paranoid readings vs. reparative readings" is a useful one, both generally and for our community here. We're very inclined towards paranoid readings. Famously so. And there's strong arguments to be made for that being useful/necessary in places. Reparative readings, much less so. And I don't know that I have a coherent answer for *why* (perhaps that it's not rewarded so, perhaps it's a mixed enough space that people don't feel safe opening themselves up to do so, etc).

Similarly on the topic, Elizabeth Sandifer's dichotomy of queer literature as "hugboxing vs. scab-picking". (I'm not a huge fan of the former, termwise, but nobody asked me, so.)
The basic divide between hugboxing and scab-picking comes in how they engage with queer oppression. Hugboxing imagines its absence, creating safer, better worlds. Scab-picking probes its wounds in deliberately painful and uncomfortable ways.
[...]
But what I’m really interested in is the way in which the approaches are antagonistic. Scab-pickers tends to (I’m certainly guilty of it) view hugboxing as naive and facile.
This isn’t always fair! @benjanun_s could probably be classified as a hugboxer, in that she depicts futuristic worlds where queerphobia is not an existent bigotry and tends to craft happily ever after romantic endings for her characters, but her work is still spiky and difficult.
[...]
Hugboxers, meanwhile, find scab-picking to reiterate oppression. Especially when scab-picking starts being extreme in its aesthetics and really actively wants to tarry in horror and unpleasantness.
There’s some validity to this. One thing that’s probably important to stress is that scab-picking really has do be done in-community. Scab-picking stories are not things that allies get to write.
[...]
This is at its core what happened with Isabel Fall. She wrote a fucking brilliant scab-picking story about the experience of dysphoria and got attacked for it by people who mistook scab-picking for bigotry.
(There's a lot more than that, it's worth reading the full thread, but pulling out the most pertinent bits)

I think it'll be tricky entirely avoiding this going back to the topic of the story, or the follow-up article; but inasmuch as the topic informed the community responses, which echoed back to what's described in the follow-up, this feels very important to sit with as a community & figure out what we can do to not have that repeat.

“Isabel was somebody I often wanted to be, but not someone I succeeded at being,” she says. “I think the reaction to the story proves that I can’t be her, or shouldn’t be her, or at least won’t ever be her. Everyone knew I was a fraud, right away.”
posted by CrystalDave at 11:14 AM on July 2 [16 favorites]


I’m glad someone reposted about this here, at the least. This whole thing only came to my attention thanks to the linked article, and I avoid public discourse about topics of import online precisely because of how the hostility manifested toward her, and I think the discussions that rise out of this have a good chance to create deep, honest reflection that will serve everyone in the longrun. I’ve spilled enough words over this in other communities, and am frankly out of them, but with a sincere love and kind regard for everyone, the injured and the injurious alike, who all carry wounds and have done bad things at one time or another in their lives, I hope that some peace and reflection can rise out of a meditation on just how something like this could have happened. I’m embarrassed that this has occupied as much of my mind as it has over the last couple days. I’m not trans. But I’m tired of watching people hurt one another. Call it naive, but it’s sincerely meant.

I hope that a gentle and contemplative aftermath can rise out of the damage that’s been done.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 12:01 PM on July 2 [6 favorites]


Thanks for the Meta. I wouldn't have heard of any of this otherwise.
posted by dmh at 12:16 PM on July 2


Thanks for the Meta, as well. Am here to listen and learn.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 12:30 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


I'm a little confused about the framing of this post - it seems like this is just the post that that was deleted from the blue being reposted to the gray instead, with some language about specifically dissecting the prior thread thrown in, and I'm not clear on why we expect the discussion to be less hurtful here?

I think the article is good and thoughtful, and I don't think I should have any say in whether this discussion happens on this site, frankly.

But I hope no one wades into this discussion without reading the piece, and I suspect most of us would do better only reading and thinking about it.
posted by the primroses were over at 1:59 PM on July 2 [9 favorites]


the primroses were over: context starts here in this MetaTalk thread where Acheman talks about this MetaTalk post with mods.

Folks who didn't see it: the primroses were over is referring to this now-deleted front-page post.
posted by brainwane at 2:08 PM on July 2 [7 favorites]


Thanks! I appreciate the further context.
posted by the primroses were over at 2:12 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Thank you for making this post. I was bothered enough by the repeated deletion of it from the front page that I withdrew my monthly donation to the site. I think this conversation needs to happen here, because the original thread here at MetaFilter was very much part of what happened.
posted by jordemort at 2:17 PM on July 2 [11 favorites]


I'm a little confused about the framing of this post - it seems like this is just the post that that was deleted from the blue being reposted to the gray instead, with some language about specifically dissecting the prior thread thrown in, and I'm not clear on why we expect the discussion to be less hurtful here?

Likewise. It feels like Acheman is trying to force us into a conversation which it is hard to believe will be constructive.

because the original thread here at MetaFilter was very much part of what happened.

Is there any evidence of this? Metafilter is not exactly a major part of the zeitgeist.
posted by hoyland at 2:44 PM on July 2 [10 favorites]


If anyone hasn't read Porpentine's Hot Allostatic Load, it is in many ways a perfect description of what happened to Fall - but written in 2015 by another trans woman. Further, what happened to Fall was very much what happened to another trans woman friend of mine in that it was fun and convenient for everyone to read her actions as maliciously as possible.

Prolific tweeter and fantasy/romance author May Peterson has been tweeting a lot about transmisogyny and Isabel Fall. I hesitate to link directly to her twitter because honestly you link directly to someone's twitter and sometimes they end up in a world of hurt, but if you want some stuff that focuses on the transmisogyny of the situation, a quick google will take you to her. She also tweets a lot about the theory of transmisogyny in general.

Peterson feels that there is a tendency to let the conversation about Fall drift a bit from the transmisogyny that she sees as the core. And on reflection I think that's true - like, while there have been plenty of pile-ons about stories and novels, I cannot imagine such a baseless yet effective and destructive pile-on happening to anyone but a trans woman writer, and I cannot imagine the whole "this doesn't sound like it's written by [a member of a particular marginalized group] therefore the author is lying/a troll" thing leveraged against any other identity. Other groups do get insults about authenticity thrown at them but not to the same degree and with the same "I am certain this person is lying" background.

~~
On a slightly different note, I think about the enjoyment to be had in that type of pile-on (and this is where I differ with Peterson and some of the other commenters I've seen). People don't just pile on because they're traumatized or paranoid; they pile on because it is satisfying to beat someone up, particularly someone in a vulnerable position. I mean, they/we may have other motives as well; we may also be hurt or frustrated or upset. But people do horrible cruel things because they get a charge out of it, which is one of the grim aspects of the whole thing.

IME trans women get a lot of this stuff because it's harder for them to hit back, metaphorically speaking - if a trans woman is diffident and responsive to criticism, bullies zero in, but if she's assertive and defends her right to create, TERFy "no real woman stands up for herself" types come out of the woodwork.

~~
It's hilarious to me to think about how godawful, for instance, Cory Doctorow is on gender in a "male ally" way (I particularly think of his one short story where the moral of the story is "if you are a lazy slob of a girl you will be Too Fat, but if you are a peppy heroine who battles evil you will maintain your weight at Chubbily Fuckable, no need to worry about starving yourselves, ladies, you don't need to be skinny to be attractive") And yet, if a Cory Doctorow story was in Clarkesworld, there would be no pile-on and the critics would have no power to get him to pull the story...and no one would view him as a monster who triggers and harms women, even though he has much greater reach and is reiterating a lot of normative left values that demonstrably harm women. No one ever thinks that popular vaguely left cis men authors are monsters grinding their ideological boots in the faces of queer/trans/nb people and no one attributes malice to them the way they do to trans women.
posted by Frowner at 2:51 PM on July 2 [48 favorites]


So why do I think having this conversation is harmful? There's constructive and thoughtful conversation to be had among trans people about this whole saga, but we shouldn't be forced to have it in front of cis people, in cis-dominated spaces. Do I think there's a constructive conversation to be had among cis people claiming to be allies? Honestly, not really. They'll just end up harming trans people.

I had an interesting conversation with a cis person recently about Neil Clarke's role in all of this and how he drastically underestimated the extent to which things could go sideways. I can believe there's an interesting conversation about allyship framed around that question, given that, as far as I can gather, it's an example of a perfectly failing at allyship while not doing anything 'bad' and the belief that allyship is following a prescribed list of rules is the precise failing van der Werff is alluding to (ironically, with a side helping of suggesting that trans people who didn't like the story are being trans wrong).
posted by hoyland at 2:54 PM on July 2 [17 favorites]


Is there any evidence of this? Metafilter is not exactly a major part of the zeitgeist.

I think it's pretty unlikely that a first-time author who published something on the internet would not read a thread about their work. I think it's fair to assume that Isabel read every comment in the original thread (and since it's still up and easily findable, she still has the chance to if she hasn't already); even if she did not, that does not make how that thread went OK in any way. It bothers me that the moderators are content for that to be MetaFilter's last word on the subject.
posted by jordemort at 2:55 PM on July 2 [6 favorites]


I think allies ("allies") need to think about and question their behavior on both "sides": both their behavior in terms of the original article and their behavior in terms of their criticism of the response. In other words, I don't think that your subjective feeling that you were on the right "side" of this should lead you to feel any kind of confidence in your high-quality allyship.

I also want to amplify this comment from hoyland:
So why do I think having this conversation is harmful? There's constructive and thoughtful conversation to be had among trans people about this whole saga, but we shouldn't be forced to have it in front of cis people, in cis-dominated spaces. Do I think there's a constructive conversation to be had among cis people claiming to be allies? Honestly, not really. They'll just end up harming trans people.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:06 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


I missed this whole thing because of a series of family emergencies at the time. I’m really grateful for the article, the context, and the links to surrounding discussions and people. My interests are in that trans sci-fi fiction cross section of the Venn diagram and learning about this has really filled in some now-obvious blanks for me, as I come back to my previous haunts in the slowly calming wake of the tumultuous 2020.

I tend to give writers, especially short story writers, the benefit of the doubt, so I can smugly sit here in the future and declare that I would not have been one of those people who hurt her and others in the splashback. But how can I know that? I can’t.

Twitter is discussed a little in the Vox article, that it has an outsized influence because people who are affected by it bring it into other parts of their lives. I barely have a Twitter but Mefi fills that niche for me, in ways that I’ve wrangled with over the years. Why should things that happen here affect me to the extent that they do? I still cringe about answers I’ve left on AskMe ten years ago. My father found a question I asked because he googled a specific phrase I’d said on the phone to him and it was the first result, because it was me! It wasn’t anything bad but it shook me.

I think that I, and some other people, place more importance on mefi because of its trappings of internet respectability - the text only, the demands for a specific grammar standard, the impression of mods providing some kind of benevolent conversational stewardship (which we all know is not realistic whatsoever, especially in contentious threads.) Skimming that original thread linked in this post, there are folks who are replicating the pattern on Twitter discussed in the Vox article, where they talk about important or notable folks talking about the story elsewhere, and giving those comments weight in the thread, then those folks were argued about in a place they weren’t, and this splashed back on readers who may have taken the words of mefites they consider notable more strongly than intended, and so-on.

I’m not saying that shouldn’t happen, because frankly, that’s what a mefi thread is, and to frown on that kind of evolving discourse is to conversely demand some kind of lifeless obit thread for every post where all the comments are just “thank you for the link, I will enjoy this content”. But it’s important to keep in mind that the pitfalls of social media apply here too. So if I find myself questioning a stated identity, or taking a paranoid position, I will try to check in and see if stuff like my different opinions of who is talking about the subject, and the surrounding context is influencing me in any particular direction that’s making my bad feelings worse, or spurring me or others to be reactionary.
posted by Mizu at 3:07 PM on July 2 [13 favorites]


Re-reading the original thread, I was struck by this comment:
And yes, people had intense emotional reactions to the story. But I don’t think the bad actors and long-term community predators we’re talking about here would have been able to cause such a storm if the progressive twitter community hadn’t internalized the Supreme Court Graham v Connor ruling that instituted the police lethal force “I was in reasonable fear for my life” defense and regurgitated it out as the always nebulous but ever-present “harm was done”....
Is it possible to distinguish between "I didn't like this" or "I disagree with this" or "I was upset by this," and "this harmed me"? The two categories of criticism seem quite different. Harm justifies a much stronger response (condemnation, withdrawal, etc.).

How wide a range of views and opinions should MetaFilter accommodate?

CrystalDave: We're very inclined towards paranoid readings. Famously so.

This seems like a combination that's going to result in poorly calibrated responses: paranoid reading leads to the story being judged as harmful, which leads to harsh condemnation (the "tidal wave of digital bile" effect).

Reading N. K. Jemisin's statement of apology and her original comments on Twitter, she's saying that she was expressing sympathy for Fall, not criticism; but she was so taken aback by the backlash she got that she deleted it before finishing.
posted by russilwvong at 3:34 PM on July 2 [3 favorites]


I noticed the fpp deletions because I was making a fpp myself. (I mentioned it in Mefi-chat hours ago, finally got home and didn't see it on the site.) I disagree with Lobstermitten's reason for deletion. I feel it is (or was) possible for a new post to help more than harm, though I admit I have not read every comment on the older thread. I feel that the linked article goes into depth in covering the controversy to the story, and puts to rest a lot of the uncertainty as to the author's intention in writing it. I'm glad there's at least a Metatalk post here about it. I think the Vox article is worth discussing.
posted by Catblack at 3:48 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


So why do I think having this conversation is harmful? There's constructive and thoughtful conversation to be had among trans people about this whole saga, but we shouldn't be forced to have it in front of cis people, in cis-dominated spaces.

I want to highlight this bit of comment from hoyland but otherwise I'm aiming to stay out of the way in here. This is a core part of the motivation we had as a mod team to not have a post on the blue, and why I'm reluctant about this post even though loup and I discussed it during their shift earlier and agreed to put the post through with fingers crossed for an okay outcome. I know there is lots to talk about in Van Der Werff's article, and I don't think reflecting on that is a bad thing, but I do think that MeFi with a default majority-cis userbase isn't the base place for that to happen because cis people talking about contentious issues within the trans community is almost always at best ehhh and at worst a shitshow. MeFi is working hard to be an accommodating and reasonably welcoming space for trans members as open-discussion web communities go but there are assumptions that can be made in a closed, sub-community-specific space that can't be made here.

I think the good version of this thread would be a good thing and I think we're doing okay so far on that front, but it's still something that gives me a lot of pause because I feel like an abstract entitlement to discussion of An Issue often, on the internet at large and sometimes on MeFi in particular, can lead to basically prioritizing the idea of a discussion over the practical fact of impact on community members and folks in an oppressed groups. So I'm going to reiterate the request that folks think hard about their role as someone who does or does not belong to an affected identity in whether and how much they weigh in on this. It's a whole community issue to an extent, but it's also an issue that overwhelmingly comes down to trans experience and the voices we choose to center matter accordingly.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:58 PM on July 2 [8 favorites]


There are clearly aspects of this situation specific to the trans experience or to marginalised groups more broadly, as CrystalDave and Frowner among others have eloquently pointed out. But pile-ons, uncharitable misreadings etc. are not a trans or trans-ally problem, they're a Metafilter problem. (Obviously they're a problem elsewhere too but this is a MetaTalk thread.)

Of course the problem is that sometimes a pile-on is appropriate. The Rumsfeld thread was a pile-on. Even if we agreed on a rule like 'we don't pile on unless we're 100% sure of guilt', I'm not sure it would actually work when emotions are running high. The desire to snark on today's Twitter Villain is hard to resist.

But Isabel Fall's life was destroyed. And just because there's no evidence that Metafilter shares any direct blame for that, there's equally no reason to think we won't next time it happens.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 4:12 PM on July 2 [20 favorites]


It's kinda weird that the worst of metafilter will forever be more visible in any google search than the acknowledgement of that awfulness because it got hidden away into metatalk.
posted by simmering octagon at 4:21 PM on July 2 [14 favorites]


I am so, so sorry that the first go around on this hurt people here.

The article was a fascinating read and I am sure I will be thinking about for a long time. Does anyone have a copy of the original short story they could memail? I would love to read it.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 4:47 PM on July 2


But pile-ons, uncharitable misreadings etc. are not a trans or trans-ally problem, they're a Metafilter problem.

But surely this is not the only opportunity we have to discuss such things? Can't we find something that's less obviously going to cause people pain?

(There's also a lot to unpack in the assertion Fall's life was "destroyed".)
posted by hoyland at 4:50 PM on July 2 [7 favorites]


Twitter thread from @AlexandraErin:
I think one thing that explains why different trans people experienced the story so differently (something more specific than "we're different people and not a monolith") is if you saw the helicopter "joke" as being "already mostly reclaimed" or not, when you came upon the story.
posted by polytope subirb enby-of-piano-dice at 5:08 PM on July 2 [3 favorites]


No, I’m suggesting that, given the focus on her hospitalization during this debacle that maybe we shouldn’t stigmatize seeking help during what sounds like a mental health crisis by choosing words that suggest there’s no coming back from it. I’m pretty sure Isabel Fall has had a spectacularly shitty year. I’m also willing to bet she is resilient.

presumably fully approved by Isabel

That is not an assumption I would make. Maybe there was trans person to trans person courtesy, but that’s not generally how reporters work.
posted by hoyland at 5:26 PM on July 2 [5 favorites]


I was upset by the original deletion. I understand why, but felt that it was something that should be addressed here and an glad this talk exists.

As someone as non binary (who has not disclose I am non-binary in pretty much any other online spaces) and has had difficulty with access to spaces I feel comfortable in for all sorts of personal reasons, this article is not something I really would have come across otherwise and am sad to hear what happened. That does impact my desire to see it here, and if I used other spaces I'd likely not feel so strongly like that.

Though on the topic itself I have little to say, just quiet personal reflection.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:40 PM on July 2 [7 favorites]


Hoyland, you've been very anti-Isabel Fall on both this thread and past Metatalk discussions. You're making a lot of pretty strong statements that this is not an article that we should be listening to; is there a particular reason?

not trying to be baiting, with the open question, but you do seem to be trying to steer the discussion in away from taking Isabel at her word.
posted by sagc at 6:12 PM on July 2 [12 favorites]


I read Isabel Fall's story when it was first published and it meant a lot to me. I hated that it disappeared -- although I already had a copy -- and though I am glad Fall did what was right for her, the reasons that she needed to pull it are terribly painful.

I read the first Metafilter thread in realtime and my perception then was that voices in support of Fall and/or the story were being cast as transphobic, even when the speakers identified themselves as trans or nonbinary. I've read Emily Van Der Werff's excellent interview and analysis. I have not yet read through all the posts here or Acheman's thread on the other Talk post so will be trailing behind. Probably far behind.

But I wanted to say thank you for putting this on on MetaTalk since it's not allowed on main.

I am not cis.
posted by to wound the autumnal city at 7:39 PM on July 2 [11 favorites]


(ironically, with a side helping of suggesting that trans people who didn't like the story are being trans wrong)

Yeah I think there has been some overreach in the backlash-backlash; on Twitter, in Vox article, and in the thread. It makes me a bit anxious. There's a pattern of minimizing (or vilifying) the trans people who were upset at the story, while maximizing Fall and her harm to a rather grandiose degree, and casting a vast net of complicity that insists some mild comments on MetaFilter are hand in glove with harassment.

It's not balanced, and it's not a good faith healing approach at all IMHO. It's a lot closer to being the exact same runaway righteous anger it is supposedly against. And I think it's gross to bring this into MeFi and point it at the trans community here.
posted by fleacircus at 7:40 PM on July 2 [6 favorites]


And I think it's gross to bring this into MeFi and point it at the trans community here.

Which sounds like it's subtweeting my comment - what do we call subtweets on metafilter? - since my comment is the angry one.

Like, yes, I personally am pretty angry about the way that whole thing went down. I remember the it fairly well, followed a lot of it on social media, etc. I think that there are a bunch of pathologies strengthened by the internet that led to careless at best and bad faith at worst readings of Fall's story and that there's a really bad belief particular to queer and left communities that being upset by one's voluntary interaction with a piece of art is the same as being purposefully injured by someone who should be accountable. That idea is still alive and kicking; it hasn't vanished since January 2020.

I'm seeing a lot of calls for healing on this issue around the internet but I have not been seeing any real growth or change in how trans women's art is treated - if anything, 2021 is worse than 2020 in this regard. What happened to Isabel Fall is about patterns of discrimination and social violence, not just some people having an off day or misreading something by mistake. I think that recognizing and naming those patterns is pretty important rather than rushing to smooth over conflict.

And once again, I haul out the old bona fides - no mere ally, I too am a trans person, although as usual this whole conversation makes me feel like clearly I am not "trans enough", that if I were a better tran I would... or possibly would not... something something something and somehow things would be different.
posted by Frowner at 8:14 PM on July 2 [61 favorites]


Isabel fall states in that article that she is no longer pursuing transition under the name Isabel Fall. She has declined to clarify if this means she has chosen to stop transition altogether. Tell me, how is driving a trans woman back into the closet, possibly so deeply that she will never emerge again, not ruining a life? In what meaningful way other than the literal stoppage of a heart did these people not kill Isabel Fall?

I am using strong language because I am very upset.

I am not trans, but I am not straight. I was a stranger to myself for a long, long time. One of those reasons is that there was always a chorus of voices ready to tell me that what I was, was not what I said I saw - I was lying, doing it wrong, for attention, as an experiment, to invade spaces where I didn't belong.

Isabel Fall reached out with her heart in her hands, and the people she hoped would help her save it ground into the dust. Some of those people were on this website. I know many mefites who were in that thread are also on twitter and other websites, in activist, fandom and sff circles where this happened or that felt the ripples from it. It's disingenuous to pretend we weren't part of the conversation, circulating the toxins through the collective ecosystem.

I don't know if we can reckon with that. I think we should try, but I don't know where to start. All I know is that I am so achingly sorry I was too afraid to speak up and push back and take my ration of shit for it. Isabel Fall deserved better. From all of us.

edit for rethinking some strong language. I am wildly upset by all this and this should probably be my only post. Apologies.
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 9:04 PM on July 2 [41 favorites]


Yeah I think there has been some overreach in the backlash-backlash; on Twitter, in Vox article, and in the thread. It makes me a bit anxious. There's a pattern of minimizing (or vilifying) the trans people who were upset at the story, while maximizing Fall and her harm to a rather grandiose degree, and casting a vast net of complicity that insists some mild comments on MetaFilter are hand in glove with harassment.

Which is deeply ironic, when you think about it, given that the original problem was people deciding to make the most uncharitable ("paranoid") reading of a situation possible, and seeing harm being done, immediately find someone to blame. I do not doubt that some trans readers found the story harmful, that it didn't fit with their conception of gender, and I do not think they are wrong to find it upsetting. I found this discussion helpful, on how judging a work on a scale of harm leads to bad outcomes.

I contacted to mods to seek permission/express disappointment that the original article couldn't be posted, particularly because I think it captures, in a succinct and clear way, What's Wrong With Twitter. MetaFilter doesn't have the same issues as Twitter - context collapse is harder to achieve here - but there are certain similarities in design and culture that I think lead to bad outcomes. I think 'favourites' have become analogous to Twitter likes, bringing all the problems with engagement metrics into a comment thread; I think we have a culture of paranoid readings that I'd guess is an evolution of the late 90s "not liking things means you're discerning" attitude common on the internet. If we wanted to have a productive, future-focused conversation that doesn't recreate the recriminations going around on Twitter, we could perhaps talk about these elements of MetaFilter's culture and design that might need to be rethought.

(For what it is worth, I am cis, but (to steal a phrase) crucially, not in the way that most people are cis. So I am very sympathetic to some of the ideas Isabel expresses in her interview.)
posted by Merus at 9:27 PM on July 2 [6 favorites]


Hoyland, you've been very anti-Isabel Fall on both this thread and past Metatalk discussions. You're making a lot of pretty strong statements that this is not an article that we should be listening to; is there a particular reason?

I have not been anti-Isabel Fall or at least that was not my intent. And honestly resent your statement, given that the premise of this post is that disliking the story means one has behaved abominably towards Fall (and per acheman should be emailing apologies).

I have been and am opposed to the idea of having this article as an FPP and, like I said in the other metatalk thread (to my recollection the only other place I’ve commented on this issue), I flagged one of those FPPs.

I explained above why I don’t think having such an FPP is constructive,and, frankly, feel like you’ve just proved my point, as apparently having done so is expressing an opinion about Fall! Were I to have been asked, I would have suggested changing the title, but that’s honestly about the extent of my opinion on Fall/the story.

I’ll admit to being fighty with Bwitth above and too obscure in the original comment—I was trying to point out the stigmatizing language (that I didn’t pick up on as echoing the article, which I read the other day) while also acknowledging that it’s entirely likely “Isabel Fall”-the-pseudonym can no longer fulfill its intended purpose for Isabel Fall the person and that is a sense of “a woman’s life has been destroyed”.
posted by hoyland at 11:31 PM on July 2 [8 favorites]


"It’s a nice validation to know that some people liked the story [...]. But it’s also dreadful to know that this will just mean reopening the conversation, which will lead to a lot of people being hurt.”

I guess we all feel so bad for Isabel Fall that we want to have the conversation she definitely didn't want us to have.

In my opinion this MeTa should have been locked from the start. The next best time to lock it is now.
posted by death valley compound at 1:41 AM on July 3 [3 favorites]


It's kinda weird that the worst of metafilter will forever be more visible in any google search than the acknowledgement of that awfulness because it got hidden away into metatalk

On the contrary, I think it's very useful: it'll tell potential members exactly what they're in for.

And I think the fact that the discussion of the awfulness is hidden away says more than the mods intended it to.
posted by happyroach at 1:43 AM on July 3 [12 favorites]


It is difficult for me to read VanDerWerff's profile and get that Fall's crisis can be summed as, "oh damn, need a new pseud". I am hopeful that she can find a way to -- I'm sure I'll word this badly -- confirm her own gender regardless of the questioning of others.

Many of us have had moments like this. Perhaps not at such a fragile time, so publicly, around art which was also a gift and a revealing. We take our first steps and maybe we fuck up, maybe those around us do, maybe people are just asshats. Little things become huge because depending on lived experience, on social context, they're not so little.

As a long ago baby nb, when I'd known for years that I was 'out of place' in terms of gender and had unsuccessfully tried to communicate that to many people close to me, I went to the trans org (there was a trans org!) in [big city] and got shot down hard by the woman doing the greeting. And that was just one person in my supposed community telling me I was doing it wrong, that my gender didn't exist, that by claiming it did I was harming the community. The effect was, I guess you'd say, outsized. As in, it took me decades to start the process of coming out again. Other factors in my life contributed but that single event was a heart-deep strike.

Fall wasn't prepared, she didn't see it coming, she was hoping to have her identity confirmed not obliterated. This does not mean those who read the piece and found it hurtful and expressed that are directly responsible for her crisis. Many actions in the world have made us alert to the way language and anonymity are used as very real weapons as well as shields. But we can still believe what, through VanDerWerff, Fall is telling us about the devastation she experienced.

* Fall, who we are now referring to by a kind of deadname, but also with a kind of permission, given the framing in the interview and her now-distance from the person she was. It's unclear, as these things can be.
posted by to wound the autumnal city at 5:56 AM on July 3 [14 favorites]


It is difficult for me to read VanDerWerff's profile and get that Fall's crisis can be summed as, "oh damn, need a new pseud".

I understand this to be an attempt to paraphrase my comment. I'm going to exist this thread at this point as it sure seems like I am either completely failing at communicating or multiple people are making a concerted effort to twist my comments.
posted by hoyland at 7:16 AM on July 3 [8 favorites]


My sense is that this thread exists at least partially because there are trans members of MetaFilter who feel marginalized from the broader (or at least more vocal and more dominant) internet trans community/consensus (such that exists, both within and without Metafilter), and feel a commonality with Isabel's experience.

To a degree, Metafilter still remains a somewhat neutral(-ish) venue to express those feelings, in a way that trans-only spaces have not been, in my experience.
posted by Pryde at 8:22 AM on July 3 [5 favorites]


It feels like there's a certain kind of cis "allyship", especially prominent on social media, that works like this:
  • identify a non-cis person who seems likeable/palatable/relatable enough
  • monitor that non-cis person's expressed opinions for positions that one agrees with and then amplify that position and use it to shout down other positions (cis or otherwise) in the name of "allyship"
I'm genderqueer, still figuring my shit out. I liked the story a lot. I know trans folks who did not, for reasons they explained and I understand and accept. We could have stopped there, really, and everything would be mostly okay. (I mean to say, not with my own personal experience obviously, but we-in-general could have stopped at that level of engagement and differences of opinion but agreement-to-disagree among queer/trans/nb folk.) But my impression is that the situation got a lot worse when cis allies rode in to the rescue, wielding the viewpoints of their chosen trans people as both a backstage pass to join the discussion and as cudgel to be used to beat down other viewpoints, cis and trans alike.

This is admittedly a gross oversimplification and very much my own perspective. There were cis folks whose allyship didn't contribute to the problem, and there were trans folks whose statements surely did. But I'm pretty sure the amplification and weaponization by cis folk of the differing-but-understandable opinions of trans folk is a substantial part of why this became the heartbreaking disaster for Isabel Fall that it was.

With that in mind, I understand completely why folks like hoyland and others did not want to see this play out yet again here on MeFi. I read the article and appreciated it. I considered posting it myself. But there was enough hurt attached to the whole situation that allowing it to play out yet again here, in a mostly-cis space with the kind of ostensibly-well-meaning-but-predictably-fighty allies one often sees here, was inevitably going to cause more hurt.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 8:24 AM on July 3 [23 favorites]


Urgh, definitely not trying to unevenly distribute charitable readings or to twist words. I apologize for misapprehending your statements and clarifications, hoyland.
posted by to wound the autumnal city at 8:34 AM on July 3 [3 favorites]


I remember reading the original thread in my dentist's waiting room, opening the story in a new tab for later. It was gone by the time I got home, and I chose not to look for an archived copy, as I respect the right to be forgotten online when you really want something gone. I read the thread and the comments filled me with shame. I spent much of my 20s and early 30s wondering if enlisting might un-fuck my fuckup of a life by literally beating my shitty habits out of me—and all of these thoughts I held silently while engaged in critical research on military institutions and anti-war activism. It turns out that wasn't the bodily intervention I needed, it turns out I'm trans! I never anticipated that starting hormones would clear my brain and depression up completely and I didn't need to subject myself to violence within a broader violent framework just to make sense of my life and feel less crappy about my own capabilities.

So, yeah. I'm someone who felt an unbelievable amount of resonance from what I knew of the story's themes, but never said a word until now.......
posted by avocet at 8:36 AM on July 3 [8 favorites]


I just read the other Meta for context.

I had the idea that we should have a MetaFishbowl section where these kinds of FPPs, that get deleted because they "don't go well here," can be discussed under the classic educational/consciousness-raising method of the fishbowl session, where most people are listeners as a small group of people who share a stigmatized identity have a discussion in the center of the circle. Awhile ago, there was a MetaTalk where white people were asked not to comment, to let BIPOC on the site have a conversation amongst themselves. That's basically the fishbowl model.

So, in this case, there'd be a MetaFishbowl post about this story and the reactions to it, where trans and nonbinary people could have a conversation about it and cis people would be welcome to listen and learn.

I don't think I'm making a serious suggestion—unless I am. Just brainstorming.

(For what it is worth, I am cis, but (to steal a phrase) crucially, not in the way that most people are cis.)

Merus, thank you for this. It exactly speaks to my condition, which I have been struggling to articulate for a long time. 30-ish years ago, I had lesbian [sic] relationships with at least three butch "women" who later transitioned to live as men. My partner of 28 years transitioned female-to-male 24-ish years ago. We have four children, ages 14 to 26, and three of them identify as trans or nonbinary. Our youngest socially transitioned when he was four years old. Etc. "Ally" as a descriptor is weak sauce when applied to me, so I just loved when I saw this.
posted by Orlop at 9:10 AM on July 3 [11 favorites]


I stayed out of the original thread because, by the time I had read the story and the whole thread (i.e. did my homework), everything I might reasonably have said had already been covered. I think the story is a very good first publication in a genre that I don't particularly care for, with a central theme that I have feelings about, but, as a cis man, I am best off discussing them only with close friends. My ideas about that have very limited value in the wider discourse.

I think it's a little hard to read the original FPP now, as at least one significant voice has been erased (at their request), making some of the arguments hard to parse and eliminating the issues around racism in the story.

I guess I am glad I read the linked article via the FPP and this MeTa, although I wish VanDerWerff hadn't linked referred to Jesse Singal as a "noted pundit." I think "notorious trasphobe" is more to the point.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:02 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]


will forever be more visible

The reverse is also true. So much has been deleted. In historiographical terms, a lot of primary sources are gone: the original story on Clarkesworld; the comment thread there; some of the comments on the MeFi thread; plenty of tweets; the Archive.org copy; potentially more.

Now we rely on secondary sources to learn about the event, if we know of them, if they did a good job of reproducing the originals.
posted by doctornemo at 8:01 AM on July 4 [5 favorites]


How awful. Isabel Fall's hope of being understood through her work is very familiar to me - that mode of communication feels more natural, and safer, than laying claim to identity labels. And after being attacked for not being 'correct', I'd much rather crawl under a rock than open up about my own ('incorrect') subjective experience. Politically, I'm truly not interested in saying anything that bigots could use to further their agendas, or construe as support, which argues in favor of keeping quiet. (My experiences were in other online communities, over a decade ago, but seem relevant enough.)

In this particular case, Fell (IMHO) did not get good advice and preparation for publishing. Participants in the Metafilter thread and other online spaces likely did not feel that they were having a conversation with the author, or were in a community with her. And being new, she likely didn't have connections with other professional authors for support. And the result was terrible. I hope Fall finds health and safety, and I hope that does not silence her.
posted by mersen at 9:35 AM on July 4 [6 favorites]


cis allies rode in to the rescue, wielding the viewpoints of their chosen trans people as both a backstage pass to join the discussion and as cudgel to be used to beat down other viewpoints, cis and trans alike.

I think this is a really important observation. As another commenter pointed out, people can get a real charge out of the pile-on and the positive feedback and praise they can get from participating. The virtual environment of the internet and the relative anonymity worsen these impulses. One way to excuse to oneself one's own indulgence in this cruelty is if it's done under the guise of "allyship". But creating and participating in the pile-on flattens complicated discussions and has the very anti-"ally" effect of actually silencing the voices of some members of marginalized groups and co-opting the voices of others for back-patting and personal gain.

That is why it is really important if you are not a member of a marginalized group you should be (a) careful about when you start or participate in the Internet's latest crusade and (b) reading the voices of a number of its members--even if they are sometimes contradictory. Eliminating the diversity of group experience in the form of assuming an entire group's opinion can be represented by one or two people is a form of dehumanization.
posted by schroedinger at 4:52 AM on July 5 [25 favorites]


I think I managed to read the new article via the Blue in the brief time between post and deletion, so was kinda surprised to find this discussion today. And yet I managed to miss the MeFi discussion the first time around, so apparently I'm too much on the internet, but not enough on the internet to catch it all. :P

All I've got to contribute to this discussion is this: It's really great when people share their stories and experiences, via fiction or non-fiction, in ways that can be heard and (hopefully) understood by anyone. The sharing of experiences builds empathy, both emotional and (per the attribution error article I read today) cognitive: /You/ may or may not share identity traits with the authors, but hearing where they're coming from, what's important to them, what hurts and what doesn't, helps to build bridges between people, and helps us to realize one another as real humans with meaningful and valid perspectives and experiences. Yes, everyone is human, regardless of the sharing of stories and experiences, but we also really really need the bridges to be built and rebuilt constantly, as dehumanization seems to be a really basic part of the human condition, which will creep up if left unchecked.

So, from that viewpoint, the whole thing is real fucking sad. Not only was someone forced back into the closet by the twitterati, but we've lost an interesting storyteller at the same time. Maybe Isabel Fell would have gone on to gain the chops and stature of Butler or le Guin, but now we'll never know. We lose not just the person, but a path to better understand one another.
posted by kaibutsu at 6:42 PM on July 6 [11 favorites]


This is maybe the best thing Emily VanDerWerff has written.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:34 PM on July 7 [2 favorites]


I probably won't be coming out any time soon.

Perhaps not coincidentally, I honestly thought the helicopter story was one of the best stories I've read in the last year or two. (And I've read a lot of stories in that time.)

Admittedly, I say this as someone who has a lot of experience reading science fiction, and is very comfortable with stories having narrators whose decisions about things are not necessarily 100% moral or right. (For this story, 'narrator whose decisions about things are not necessarily 100% moral or right' is a vast understatement.)

When I was a child who didn't want to conform to some people's hurtful ideas of gender norms, it was clear that in the eyes of so many, I had no right to my own feelings and to my own thoughts. I guess maybe that will always be true. No amount of effort on my part to do or be anything humanly decent can change that, really.

I think rather few of the people who criticized Isabel Fell meant to do any real harm. But somehow, as a group, they managed to make her feel that she didn't have a right to exist as a trans woman, and as an artist who wrote her story about a helicopter.

Funny how that works.

A crime against art and against artists is committed, and hardly anyone really meant to do it.

I say this in the same sense that if millions of people take pride in helping to spread covid, and in doing lasting harm to both vast number of individuals and to societies, somewhere in there a crime against humanity has been committed, even if maybe hardly anyone really meant to do it, or fully understood what they were doing.

I can't say I necessarily disagree with the decision to delete any further Blue posts about this topic. I can only hope that someday metafilter will be capable of having a genuinely constructive discussion of stories like this on the Blue.
posted by sneakysock at 5:42 PM on July 11 [11 favorites]


we've lost an interesting storyteller at the same time. Maybe Isabel Fell would have gone on to gain the chops and stature of Butler or le Guin, but now we'll never know.

The tragedy and the point is, instead of having the chops of Butler or le Guin, she would have had the chops of her own self, which would have been different from either of those illustrous writers'. That's why this is such a loss.

(Yes, I know you didn't mean to imply anything opposite to what I am saying here.)
posted by sneakysock at 5:45 PM on July 11


I stand by my comments in the original thread.

Also this should have been an FPP and the people pushed off about the logging are RIGHT to be pissed off about it.
posted by Artw at 3:53 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]


« Older Metafilter Pride   |   174: Knobs and Dials Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments