Zen and the art of internet trolling

March 29, 2010

A near perfect textbook example of internet trolling appeared last night in the comments to my cross-post of this article at The F-Word.

Butterflywings, the troll in question, has routinely left comments comprising short paragraphs of hate speech on my posts for some time now, and I wish she could apply herself to learning (about the intersectionalities of trans and feminist issues; about the ways in which cis people marginalise and oppress trans people with such casual brutality, and so on) with the same fervour she shows in her hate speech.

Be that as it may, her comment followed her predictable scattergun approach and, in a sense, doesn’t merit further consideration; on the other hand, a brief analysis of it might provide a useful trans 101 on a few of the more popular misconceptions about my community.

The full comment was as follows:

yeah, surprise surprise you bring this round to trannies issues as you do everything. IT’S ABOUT WOMEN idiot not men in drag and er if as you insist you ARE a woman, WEALLY cos you totes feew like one, then you will not have a problem as you’ll pass, huh? Not to mention that not everyone is actually out to get trans people, except in your self-obsessed imagination.

Taking it apart line by line, we can start with:

yeah, surprise surprise you bring this round to trannies issues as you do everything.

There are two points to consider here: the recentring of an issue, and the use of pejorative language.

The first point, the accusation that I was recentring the subject, is actually quite amusing in its own little way, as recentring is precisely what she was attempting to do with her comment. This is a classic trolling tactic, to try and put the blogger on to the defensive, as a precursor to a full-blown derailing and consequent shutting down of discussion of any topic to which the troll objects.

Recommended reading: Derailing For Dummies (Google cache reconstruction)

The second point concerns the use of offensive slurs against a marginalised minority. The word “trannies” has a long and complex history, originating within the porn industry. In that context it’s used to highlight how trans women are not “really women” (of which, more in a minute). It’s perhaps one of the most trans-misogynistic hate words in use today, and no more so than when a cis woman attempts to use it as a weapon against a trans woman.

Recommended reading: Is ‘Tranny’ Offensive?

Her next sentence opened with:

IT’S ABOUT WOMEN idiot not men in drag

This is one of the most hackneyed and unimaginative attacks made on trans people, yet it remains as popular today as it ever was. In it, trans people are told that we are always and forever the gender we were assigned at birth – usually one of the stereotypical binary categories (in the process erasing many intersex people as well as anyone who isn’t binary identified). It’s an attempt to deny our identities and it’s cissexist. I’m always puzzled how some cis women feminists can promote this essentialism and in the next breath assert that gender is a construct.

Recommended reading: Transphobic Tropes #1 – “Really” A Man/Woman

She then segued into this:

if as you insist you ARE a woman, WEALLY cos you totes feew like one, then you will not have a problem as you’ll pass, huh?

The first part is a continuation of the ideologically threadbare “biology is destiny” theme discussed above; the second part, regarding “passing” at least introduces a new theme to relieve the monotony. “Passing” is a form of privilege accorded by society in exchange for complying with cultural stereotypes about how a woman is supposed to look and act, etc. But it carries a subtext of deception, as though one is pretending to be something one isn’t. So we see how patriarchal society delegates the policing of the borders of binary identity to, in this case, an internet troll.

Recommended reading: Early transition: The concept of “Passing”

Not to mention that not everyone is actually out to get trans people, except in your self-obsessed imagination.

This is such a naive and foolish assertion it almost beggars belief. Tell it to Angie Zapata or Gwen Araujo. Tell it to Destiny Lauren, Andrea Waddell or Kellie Telesford.

Recommended reading: Trans Murder Monitoring Project

So there we are. This post is a good example of why it’s ultimately pointless to try and engage with trolls: the effort required to deconstruct their words is rarely worth it, but I hope that this one-off post at least offers some pointers to more in-depth discussions elsewhere around some of the common misconceptions about trans people.


Related post:


7 Responses to “Zen and the art of internet trolling”

  1. Lisa Harney Says:

    Butterflywings loves to do some driveby trolling at Questioning Transphobia as well. So far I’ve only ever allowed two of her comments through (and redacted them when I connected them back to her).

    She’s not just a terrible bigot, she’s a really terrible troll. She also, from the language she used in her last trolling attempt on QT, is hanging around an incredibly unimaginative, hateful crowd. Apparently the most feminist thing to do in the world is hang out in a tiny clique and engage in hate speech. Who knew?

  2. HarpyMarx Says:

    You are absolutely correct Helen, there is no point in engaging with trolls. They aren’t interested in ideas or debate just attacking and baiting. And if they were serious in their desire to debate then they wouldn’t resort to insults, be nasty and personalise (which that comment is). It doesn’t inspire any constructive criticism as it is offensive and nasty. I have discovered the wonders of the delete button. Why debate trolls when they are not interested in discussion or ideas? They aren’t interested, they just want to attack and mischief make by causing upset and offence. Don’t give them the time of a response ‘cos they aren’t worth it. And trolling in cyberspace is so easy for them cos they are usually anonymous hiding behind a screen taking no responsibility in their behaviour rather wreaking as much offense as possible.

    Don’t let them get you down, easier said than done as they get me down…. Solidarity Helen!! :)

  3. msruthmoss Says:

    Not much point dealing with trolls in that they themselves won’t ever change, but I think sometimes it can be useful to other people reading to intelligently take down what they’ve said as you’ve done so bloody brilliantly here.

  4. Youngsook Says:

    What a lovely intervention of ‘Recommended Reading’ :-) However, I feel quite doubtful that this kind of people have a capacity to catch up your smart feed. Hope you just Ha instead of getting hurt by the worthless. X.

  5. depresso Says:

    Would it be unfeminist to point and laugh at Butterflywings? Seeing as I’d be laughing at her, and I assume that she is a cis woman… It would actually be feminist, right?

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