All communities have their problems and their conflicts. Sometimes belonging to several communities that don’t always overlap can be a bit of a problem. Natalie Reed experienced this recently when she wanted to write a post titled “God Does Not Love Trans People” addressing the sentiment that god loves everyone and thus religious people who defend transphobic or homophobic ideas based in their religion are wrong.
Just hinting on Twitter that she were about to write it caused immediate negative reactions from the trans community. Natalie does a good job at defending her position, I’ll recommend reading it rather than go into the details of her arguments.
My own views, having been raised in an evangelical community myself, is that as far as Christianity goes, its scripture and traditions are ambiguous enough that several contradictory positions can be argued from them. Paul’s views on homosexuality, and also on women, are quite clear – although not entirely consistent in practice as his views on women goes. But even Paul’s views are not final in the context of scripture. Therefore, first and foremost, arguing acceptance based on religious tradition is a futile endeavour.
Secondly, I find the common defence of religion that it is a force for good and an essential part of society as pretty hollow and indefensible. As the sentiment of the late Christopher Hitchens goes: “Religion Poisons Everything” (see this YouTube video where he makes a defence of this subtitle of his book “God is Not Great”). To an extent I think religion is crippling to society as a whole while it can be empowering for individuals, but only to a point. Fundamentalism is both damaging and emotionally crippling to the individual and to the people they interact with. Faith is not a prerequisite for being good, neither does it necessarily make people good. There is plenty of evil done in the name of gods.
This is not an argument against allowing religion or against respecting people’s personal beliefs, rather it is an encouragement to think critically about why religion is, and what actual net benefit it serves to society. Does the fact that so many fights for freedom and equality have been fought against religious authority not show that religion is more than anything a system of belief that holds back progress? that upholds oppression and bigotry? that resists education, knowledge and understanding? I think so …
But leaving my own views, and getting back to the inter-community conflicts, here is what Greta Christina has to say about being an atheist in the queer community:
I’ve been an out queer, and an active participant in the queer community, for over 20 years now. I’ve felt for years like the LGBT community was my home base. I’ve only identified as an atheist for less than two years. And yet I’m finding that I feel more at home – more welcomed, more valued, more truly understood – as a queer in the atheist community than I do as an atheist in the queer community.
So, as she points out – and elaborates on in her post – being queer in the atheist community is not much of a problem. The atheist community sees homophobia as a product of religion, and thus fighting for acceptance is a common cause. As well as atheists being marginalised and often closeted in parts of the world, especially in parts of the US, at least as far as the West goes.
But Natalie, after her initial fear of the reactions to her above mentioned post – and getting some support from another FTB blogger – experienced more bigotry from the atheist community than hostile reactions from the religious-inclined parts of the trans community.
This conflict now also spills over into feminism, because as Natalie says:
There’s also the vast and disturbing undercurrent of transphobia within feminism, which I’ve talked about before, particularly in radical feminism and cultural feminism, and [...] also the presence in feminism (mostly second wave variants) of not-so-skeptical thinking, alt med, goddess-woo, “female energy”, “women’s ways of knowing”, and so on (which often goes hand in hand with the transphobia, as it happens).
On the flip-side of this, you find a lot of anti-feminism in trans communities and in atheist communities. In the trans community it is a hostility partially rooted in the transphobia of radical feminism and partially internalised misogyny – among trans women in particular. In the atheist community the anti-feminism is mostly your regular misogyny that you find in society as a whole. It has to a large degree been left unaddressed among skeptics and atheists – and lives on. This issue has blown up all over the place in the last year or so as feminism has become very visible in the skeptic and atheist community. A recurring theme is the belittling of women and the issues of misogyny done by prominent men in the community like Richard Dawkins, Ben Radford (more), DJ Grothe and Penn Jillette.
It is hard to navigate the community when you as a feminist is hated for being transgender and atheist, as an atheist and skeptic being treated badly and put down for being female and also for not being cis-gendered, and as trans being hated for being an atheist and looked on with suspicion for being a feminist.
I think I’ll conclude like Natalie does. I will stand by my own opinions and not conform to the views of any single group.
My views are not in conflict: I am a feminist because I am female and a humanist who believe in equal rights for all human beings. I believe in LGBTQ rights because I am transgender; and by virtue of being female identified, also identify as lesbian. I am a skeptic because I am a scientist and critical thinker and because I am a believer in the value of education of the vast amount of scientific knowledge we have accumulated. Finally, I am an atheist because I am a humanist. I believe in humanity, not an abstract and illogical magical entity in the sky. I believe in the ability of humanist philosophy to answer moral and ethical questions and that religion is ill equipped for this task. All we have achieved as a species is firstly through evolution, secondly through hard work; not through divine intervention, not by pre-destination, not because a supposedly benevolent being said we could have it all; but through methodically investigating, understanding and wondering about the world and about each other.
… but that’s just me.