Reality Check: What the Natalie Reed Controversy Says About Cis Male Privilege in the Atheist Community

by: Andrew Tripp

Yesterday, Natalie Reed brought to an issue that needs to make every single person, in the atheist movement or otherwise, take a massive fucking reality check.

She related that, following the expulsion of the blogger Thunderf00t from Freethought Blogs after he used the platform to slander the organization and generally make a gigantic, heaving, shit-spewing ass out of himself, that after being removed from the system, he hacked back into the private channels and  managed to acquire incredibly private details about her, including the name she goes by in real life, that if released would damage her life in irreparable ways. That name, were it to get out, would put her in very real danger and probably destroy her life, which isn’t, by her account, fairies and butterflies in the first place.

Go back and read her post. All of it. I cannot even imagine how she managed to write it. But she did, and it is a brilliant, brilliant essay.

I have tried, over this summer, to bring into light, directly to the atheist community through talks at the Center for Inquiry, the Secular Student Alliance, and on Dispatches for the Culture Wars that we cannot keep talking about just hard science and skepticism, that if we are to be taken seriously as a movement, we have to engage with social justice issues, and political issues deeper than the usual 24/7 news cycle bullshit. I don’t necessarily know if I convinced anyone in any of those places; most of the comments I have received, at least those that aren’t positives from people I know personally, are pedants who got pissed off that I quoted one snarky comment about Pharyngula’s commenters, or apologists for colorblind racism, and while the former is just petty, the latter is an active, serious concern of mine.

However, regardless of what you personally think of me, my views, or how I presented them in the public sphere, you need to sit down and understand what exactly has happened here. Thunderfoot, a blogger with a well-documented streak of immaturity and resulting vengeful feelings, has the capability to ruin a woman’s life. In a private conversation on Facebook, this was related:

Even if this entire situation was completely reversed. If Natalie had been arguing against harassment policies and writing stupid fucking blogs with bad grammar, this would be unacceptable. This isn’t just the damn internet anymore. This is the rest of her life.

Were the context above realized, even then, the situation would be, in my mind, barely comparable. Were Thunderfoot the target of such a happening, the difference is that in no way, as a white male living in America would he be in any danger of having his life end with the release of his real name.

Natalie Reed does not have that privilege. She is a trans woman living in the circumstances of lower class environments, a recovering heroin addict, a multiple rape survivor, and someone who has been operating under the presumption of anonymity. She occupies a place in our society that is ripe for demonization and violence from all sides. Having her “real name” connected by a wider populace to her pseudonym would be a guarantor that her physical safety would be in severe threat. In addition to physical violence, having her transition status known is grounds to be barred access to housing and employment nearly everywhere, and trans women face an appalling rate of violence and rape, far in excess proportionally to the rest of the queer population.

In short, this is not a fucking laughing matter. Differently to most bigots I call out in my daily life, Thunderfoot doesn’t seem to be an out-and-out transphobe. He does seem to be an out-and-out misogynist, as noted by his frequent attacks on the members of Skepchick, Surly Amy in particular, and Greta Christina. However, there’s no indication he’s doing in a radfem and actively seeking to out Natalie; he seems to be doing all of the information-stealing because he thinks it’s funny, or out of some grand, nine-year-old-boy caliber tantrum against PZ Myers.

The thing is, which he is clearly too arrogant or ignorant (or both) to realize, is that this is not anything that any decent or rational person, the latter of which he probably identifies as being, would do for a giggle. Rational people do not put others at risk for the sake of their personal vendettas, especially those taking place on the fucking internet. He has crossed the line in an exorbitant, unforgivable way.

So, to Thunderfoot, I say to you: crawl back into whatever toxic fucking waste dump you crawled out of. And take it from a 21 year old, act your goddamned age. Because I know six year olds who handle themselves with more dignity and respect than you. You are a poison, a cancer on the name atheist, and no rational thinker in the world would side with you now.

And I direct myself to those of you who I know who have defended Thunderfoot to me, citing his creationism videos and whatnot: I. Don’t. Care. You no longer have a leg to stand on in this matter. This isn’t Richard Dawkins showering a comments section with his privilege; this is a toddler in grownups’ clothing acting out so he’ll get a fucking lollipop, and putting people at serious risk in the process. It is inexcusable, and you cannot rationally argue against that.

To Natalie: though I do understand, little as I am able to, I am very sorry to hear you won’t be blogging so directly about issues relating to atheism anymore, but I am so, so very happy to know you’ll be carrying on with your work on trans-feminism and other issues. You are the blogger I look forward to reading most of any at FTB, and everything you write makes me think in ways I haven’t before. I don’t think I can pay any higher compliment than that. I will read you until the day you decide to stop, and then reread your pieces over and over again afterwards. Your writing means a lot to many, many people out there, and I just want to reiterate that.

To the rest of you: I, along with Kate, Cassy, Miriam, Chana, Brendan, Terry, Ben, and doubtlessly many more atheists around the globe, want to challenge you to live up to be the kind of activists that Natalie described towards the end of her piece:

If you believe in this movement, if you believe it’s worth fighting for, if you believe it can be fixed, if you believe I’m wrong…good. You really do have all my support. If this is what you care about and you think it can be done and is worth the fight, by all means, don’t let a single thing I’ve said get in the way of that. I hope you win. And I hope you make things better for people along the way.

We can be those people. We can stand up to others who want to drag this movement into the dirt in the name of their deranged, regressive agendas. We can be the kind of people who are looked to as powerful, staunch allies in the worldwide fight against oppressions of all sorts, to let our natural allies know that the godless have their backs, that we are not going to stand for thugs like Thunderfoot in our ranks.

Do not sit back right now, shake your head ruefully, and mutter what a shame it is that Thunderfoots exist. Raise your voices and fight back. That’s the only way we are going to make the world a place we want to live in.

Andrew Tripp is the President of the DePaul Alliance for Free Thought, a Secular Student Alliance and Center for Inquiry On Campus affiliate, at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, where he studies philosophy and causes lots of fun, secular, activisty trouble. Find him on Twitter @ahtripp and at his blog, Considered Exclamations.

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One response to “Reality Check: What the Natalie Reed Controversy Says About Cis Male Privilege in the Atheist Community

  1. Um, a rather large assumption here. Any evidence whatsoever that Thunderfoot has outed Reed’s personal information, or has threatened to, or has any intention to? Or that in the “break-in” he somehow gained personal information on Reed that he wouldn’t have had as a member of the list during his brief stint at FTB?

    Sorry, but Reed’s complaint strikes me as just a lengthy bout of malingering – “You were able to access compromising information on me, and *I just know* you’re going to use it in the most damaging way possible.”

    Reed’s whole argument is based on a fundamental confusion of treating what he *could* do with what he *did* do.

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