On Being Wrong

Getting the right answers is often less important than asking the right questions.

On Being Wrong
I'll take "The Penis Mightier"

I was nervous about publishing that Andrea Dworkin piece. I’ve been under a decent amount of Internet pile-ons in my day — enough that I now compulsively scan everything I write for potential bad-faith readings and misinterpretations — and Dworkin seemed likely to start one. I don’t think I went easy on her, but (especially among queer people) there’s the sense that reading her work critically is not enough. One just should not be reading her, at all, ever.

Well: There was no pile-on, just one or two people who told me politely that they felt Andrea Dworkin was too flawed to be worth considering. That’s fine by me — there are a lot of books to read before you die, and there’s no point in putting yourself through something you hate, or something that hates you. Here’s why I don’t feel too bad about reading her, though: At the tail end of that essay, I cited a guy named Patrick Califia. He was a sex-positive feminist, a frequent Dworkin adversary, and one of the first visible trans men in America. I've cited him a few different times, on a few different platforms, and absolutely no-one has ever criticized me – publicly or privately – for doing so.

One more thing about Patrick Califia: He was a NAMBLA supporter. 

It’s not an exaggeration. It’s not a secret. Patrick Califia spent the first part of his career insisting, loudly, frequently, publicly, in NAMBLA publications and out of them, that children could consent to sex with adults, that child sexual abuse materials should not be criminalized, that age of consent laws should be repealed, that the existence of statutory rape was “dubious,” and that anyone who disagreed with these positions was a right-wing puritan. His descriptions of what he insistently called “cross-generational sex” were stunningly callous. In the above-linked essay, he dismisses the existence of a trafficking ring because “of the sixty-three boys involved, most were fourteen years of age or older.” 

First of all: Fourteen?!?

Second of all, and this is a big one: Most???????!!!??

Califia recanted these stances when his own kid was born. Even the withdrawal was pretty tepid: “I supported NAMBLA for a really long time, in part because they got so much harassment from the FBI and the cops, and I found that really scary,” he told an interviewer. “It's my feeling that we do have a First Amendment in this country, and even though their positions are very unpopular, simply discussing an issue should not be a criminal activity.” 

I’m not trying to shame Califia, necessarily. (If going on the record to say “people are being too mean to NAMBLA” doesn’t shame you, there’s probably nothing I can do to move the needle.) I hesitated to bring it up – trans people are a small community, and mentioning something like this risks making us look bad when we're already under attack for "endangering" children – but it's pretty directly relevant in this instance. It would be easy to see all of gender theory as a battle of Bad Radical Feminists and Good Radical Queers, but it doesn’t actually work that way. If you read back through the archives of any movement, you will find any number of prominent advocates and trailblazing figures being just wrong as shit

This post is for paying subscribers only

Already have an account? Sign in.