Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Comment of the Week: Stricter Enforcement of TOS Policy

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | June 27, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Site News
Tags: civil discourse, TOS

Comment of the WeekThis week's Comment of the Week comes later than its usual Sunday eve spot, due to the amazing NY weekend of marriage equality and the frenetic excitement of the NYC Pride Parade yesterday. Yay! Gosh, I'm tired! But it's good tired.

Here are our two comments of the week, each by a different commenter, and an announcement about stricter enforcement of the TOS policy. On my The New Republic Cover Story On Trans Rights:

Brandi Parker, a woman who believes that transgender women are deluding themselves, said:

Deena I don't have and attitude but I don't much care for people who would call themselves women but they want to keep and use their dicks for other then pissing. IMO they're just diluted and living in a fantasy world. This is the "REAL" world and theres men who have penis and women whop have vagina's thats it sweetie now look down your pants or skirt or whatever and as the bear say see what you can see.

Deena, a transgender woman who believes that transsexual separatists are funny, said:

Tina you are funny. Brandi is funny. Both pretend to be women. Sorry if that is somehow insulting but its simply the truth. Just to clarify, I do not have a penis. Now tell me when your last period ended. You see, I am tired of your charades. Are you XX or XY or something else? Stake your claim loud and clear to superiority over others.

Lovely, isn't it? Doesn't it make you want to come to Bilerico and engage in conversation about our community's issues? Not only did these comments get TOSed, but four or five IP addresses that had multiple TOS violations recently have been banned from commenting.

Here's our TOS policy:

While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising.

We've been quite lenient about this, but as Bil pointed out recently in his post, I Often Feel The Same, we have a lot of people who comment and complain about everything or try to start daily flame wars. It's not the majority of Projectors by any means, but that vocal minority has really turned people off to our comments section. It's the most common negative people mention about the site. There were 80 comments on that post.

After careful consideration, we have decided to more strictly enforce our comments policy, and to ban those who receive multiple TOS violations. Studies show that the only deterrents that work are those that are swift, certain and severe, and that is how our TOS policy will work. Bil has asked me to be the final arbiter if there are questions about how to enforce the policy. Lucky me, eh?

Here's the dividing line that I will enforce. There is a difference between saying that someone's idea is garbage, and saying that another commenter is garbage. (This suddenly reminded me of an old Star Trek episode where a Klingon starts a fight by telling Scotty "I didn't mean to say the Enterprise should be hauling garbage. I meant to say the Enterprise should be hauled away as garbage." A melee ensued.) No threadjacking, no calling names.

Of course we all get heated at times when discussing things that so personally affect our lives, and I have much compassion for that. But please keep your hands to yourself.

As Bil says, Bilerico is our home, and unruly guests will be shown the door.

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We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.


Thank you for this. I've long said that the right to free speech doesn't include freedom from consequences if that right is abused. This is not censorship. A healthy debate of ideas does not include rights to verbal abuse or harassment etc. Thanks to you, Bil and everyone for your commitment to making Bilerico a safe space for good discussion!



So Jillian... is this another milquetoast warning or are you, in fact, banning Brandi from posting? Deena has made a number of transphobic comments in past which, because they weren't supposed "personal attacks" were let go... is she finally going to be called on this?

Posts like this mean nothing unless you're going to actually ban people who regularly derail every thread they're on or make persistent phobic comments about others. I love strong discussions but I like them to be about the particulars of the OP and not nasty identity politics.

It's about time, but I really appreciate that you did it. :)

Dr. Jillian, historically I have supported the more lenient enforcement of the TOS -- but if unpleasant comments are causing people to move to other blogs, then Bilerico has to tighten things up. It is only prudent that if people don't stay and enjoy themselves here, then we need a re-modeling job, maybe some new furniture -- and some air freshener.

Just a few minutes ago, I took the liberty to reprimand someone [=here=] who, pretty much out of the blue, volunteered to insult people of the Jewish faith, and more generally all theists. I assure all of you that I have thorough respect for people who, after careful thought, arrive conscientiously at an atheistic view of our existence (and I have copious atheistic thoughts of my own, from time to time) -- but I do not feel that I need to put up with their gratuitous insults.

So I think I understand the type of thing that you are seeking to tighten up on. In addition to avoiding obvious insults and personal attacks, I believe we are saying that commenters are expected to be civilized, courteous, and gracious -- and that is possible in any disagreement as long as the person is not holding a loaded gun to your forehead. (For example, I might find it difficult to be agreeable with someone promoting some form of genocide -- some issues really do pierce right into your gut -- but I hope that such a remark would get TOS'd anyway.)

So ... in a word, I heartily support what you are implementing here.

Thank you. I stopped coming to Bilerico because of this issue. I even told other trans people not to come here. You have very few of your trans contributors who will post here, you being the most prolific. I only came back in the last couple of weeks or so, hoping things had calmed down. It hadn't.

However, this news is encouraging. Many of the people you probably banned had been recently banned on Pam's, for all the same reasons. I'm not much help, because they get under my skin too easily. I guess it's the "take-no-prisoners" attitude I got in the Navy. I've been the brunt of many of their attacks, long before Bilerico was a glimmer in Bil's eye. It's because I want everyone to identify they way they wish, and no one has the right to say different. If I see a mark difference, I will encourage other trans people to come back.

My two Monica's -- Monica Helms in Atlanta and Monica Roberts in Louisville -- I have noticed your absence and I miss you both. You both have brilliant and level heads on your shoulders, and I enjoy seeing your comments here.

Monica since you say that you support the wish of everyone to identify as they want does that mean you'd be willing to go to bat with me in getting the VA to recognize those who don't wish to be labeled Transgender? I'm not saying to remove Transgender from their new directive but to amend it to state that the word Transgender only applies to those comfortable with either being labeled it or considered a member of the LGBT.

Seems a fair request for clarification, Monica.

Okay, Lisa. Since I am just one of the board members of TAVA, I cannot make a decision without a vote. Here's what you are going to have to do if you want me to push this. You need to write up a proposal on the need to make adjustments to the directive. You need to stick to the FACTS. Any deviation into non-proven facts that is something we have heard here on many occasions and the board will see right through it. They are sharp people.

Also, the insistence of changing the VA's description of SRS/GRS as being "cosmetic," and proposal won't fly. As I stated before, it is not something we knew of and would have fought it if we had a heads up. It is the term they used in the 1993 law against surgery, back in the days when no one but us called it different. Unless the law gets changed, the term will stay. Removing that restriction is one of our missions that still remains. We decided that bitching about that one word over all the good things the directive has is like throwing out the baby with the bath water.

After you get your proposal written, you will also have to present it to Mara Keisling and NCTE for their approval. They were our partners in this win and were very important in getting this. They need to also sign off on this. I won't go behind their back.

This is not a one-person project. It took hundreds of us and 10 years of work to get this directive. Don't expect anything less to make the changes you ask for. Are you ready?

Lisa, OATC, Monica: Thank you for bringing up the topic of how to be more supportive of each other in the Bilerico comments. The part of the discussion about how to work with the VA is off-topic and should be taken elsewhere.

My apologies for going off topic the conversation ends here. :)

Lisa, I'm at tava1@earthlink.net.

Quite right, Dr Weiss, but on the the topic of the article, Monica was only asked to clarify if, having just said "...I want everyone to identify they way they wish, and no one has the right to say different", she would "...be willing to go to bat with me in getting the VA to recognize those who don't wish to be labeled Transgender?", and, whilst she has written a detailed response, she seems not to have actually answered the one, key, on topic question asked.

Not to labour the point, but for those who depend upon the VA for their healthcare, including the eligible families, including transsexual children, the terms and definitions used and related issues are of potentially life-threatening importance, and very triggering. With medicine, these terms get wrtten on medical notes and determine treatment, which can enable, or ruin lives, even hasten death or cause suicide. It is an exact point where misused terms can move from concepts to killers.

When terms that impinge on identity get people heated here, it is their usage at the level and with such issues as Monica is working that is really pumping fuel into the burners.

So when Monica volunteered the above statement, she very much brought that issue here, and should answer. No doubt a simple "yes" would be welcomed with huge relief.

oatc, Lisa and I will be discussing this off line.

It would be appreciated if you, Monica, would report back the result. In the meanwhile, as that is awaited, as you no doubt realise, your statement hangs looking as if it might have been rather insincere, I'm afraid.

Whatever Lisa and I discuss will remain confidential, unless we both decide what information to release, if any. So, I cannot promise you anything, and I'm sure Lisa cannot either. Just guessing, Lisa.

Monica, you wrote above "...I want everyone to identify they way they wish", then emphasised it, and challenged by saying "and no one has the right to say different." Do you support people identifying as transsexual (or even just as women, or men, for that matter) but not transgender? Not only in respect of TAVA, but here, and everywhere. Nothing confidential about the answer to that. You made a public statement. Did you mean what you said, only mean it for some identities, or not mean it? If you meant it then I cannot see what on earth is causing any hesitation whatsoever.

I do appreciate that Lisa's question was more far reaching and complex, but what I just posted is the root of it.

I understand. You have my E-mail address. You can ask a more detailed question there.

The problem, as I see it, is less of people being unnecessarily rude to each other, but more of the fact that it's the same culprits over and over again who have nothing substantial to add to any reasonable debate over trans issues.

All they do is keep pushing the same buttons over and over again, without regard to the actual topic at hand. It has gotten so bad here that those of us who are trying to find reasonable solutions to the problem of equal protection of the rights of trans people are being drowned out by the wave of irrelevancy continually generated by this irrational minority.

We simply have to stop treating these people as if their groundless opinions deserve serious consideration, or have any merit to them at all as a basis for discussion. I don't know how much more we can point out that distinctions about who is, and who is not, a "real" man or "real" woman are entirely beside the point when it comes to the actual legal issues involved.

It's very clear to me that despite all the work that we have done to show that there are trans people who truly understand these issues, the view of a large portion of the rest of the LGBT community is that there is no consensus whatsoever among trans people about who we are, what we want, and how best to achieve those goals. Nothing could be further from the truth.

You are not being specific about which beliefs you consider groundless, but might I suggest that matters of the most intimate personal identity are only going to be resolved by forgetting whether you believe them or not, and instead being punctilious about specific, meaningful, and repeated acknowledgement of the diversity of those affected by matters of sexual orientation and gender identity and presentation?

This, mature, respectful, and intelligent approach, I would suggest, will only assist in efforts with outside bodies, since most will be more than familiar with the same being the case in other areas of human rights, such as ethnicity and disability.

Leigh Anne | June 28, 2011 1:46 PM

Odd that I can get from one end of this post to the other without knowing whether I am among the ignorant, irrelevant culprits or the reasonable, whose ideas deserve serious consideration.

Are all the "actual" issues legal? Which camp truly understands these issues? Do the vast majority agree with the author? About what?

Some posts do not violate the TOS, yet contribute nothing to the discussion. I would hope that at least some of the "culprits" with strong feelings on issues of import remain here, even if they don't know the complete history of words like gender and transgender. Some buttons invite a little push.

"Here's the dividing line that I will enforce. There is a difference between saying that someone's idea is garbage, and saying that another commenter is garbage."

Except the problem here is that it gives advantages to bigots. Certain people feel free to say hateful things about certain groups, and their comments get the green light as long as they don't name names. What this ignores is that they're often hurting more people than an attack on a specific person would. What makes it worse is that there is a segment in the reporting form for LGBT-phobic comments but it seems like hateful statements about pre-ops, non-ops, or anyone that adopts the transgender label are given a pass. Why should people who openly state that they do not want to be a part of the LGBT community and revile a certain segment of it get such gentle treatment on an LGBT site?

Sas, people are free to say they think transgender and transsexual people should be in one group, or not in one group, or that one is co-opting the other one, or that you're wrong for thinking so. That's robust debate. When they start calling others "deluded," or telling another commenter they're not really a woman (or an man, as the case may be) is when there is a problem. People who openly state that they do not want to be a part of the LGBT community are allowed here, just as straight people are allowed here. Reviling, however, is not allowed.

Jillian, what about when someone avoids the personal "you are not a man/woman" and instead says "people who _____ are not men/women"? I mean, on the face of it, it's not personal, but it feels very personal to anyone who can be described by that fill-in-the-blank. And it goes to what SAS is saying about statements that impact a group of people and in many ways cause more hurt than if they were directed at an individual.

Which is to say that being a moderator is hard. And you can't just have hard-and-fast zero-tolerance rules, there needs to be some judgement shown - which means the occasional screw-up.

That's the nature of being a mod. Human, fallible, doing their best.

On my blog, I tend to be laissez-faire. Politeness towards other commenters is mandatory, I get to say what that is, but politeness towards me is not required, anything goes.

Having an incredibly small comments window probably helps limit the feedback too.

You're right, Zoe...it's damn hard, and of course, I speak from experience here. Since my earliest days involved with this community, back in the days when the term "blog" had yet to be coined and personal online journals required that one be able to code a page of HTML just to be able to post an entry, there's been conflict within the online trans community.

The flame wars of the Yahoo lists in those days were downright legendary,and much of what we fight about now is about the same stuff, the targets are just different. The thing is, where there's little or moderation sooner or later a discussion group just goes to hell with itself and the point of the group existing in the first place gets lost amongst all the acrimony.

The truth is really that that level of discussion and debate is probably needed, but the place for it isn't the comments section of The Bilerico Project, unless we're talking about something relevant.

The reality is that things have been out of hand here, particularly when it concerns discussions relevant to trans folks. It was like this when I was an editor and wading into those debates, and it's only become more frequent and more heated since I stepped down.

Will this kind of thing go away? No, not completely, not ever. But it can and should be subject to rules of decorum and it can and should be one of many trans-relevant discussion topics, not the one which seems to take over any conversation that even seems trans-relevant, no matter what it is.

There are places where no moderation makes sense. My Internet radio show is one of those. I kept a woman I used to work with who called in to the show bash me for being trans on the air with me live for about half an hour. It was one my most memorable moments behind a mic because those who were listening got a very raw and unvarnished look at what some of the people we work with really think of us and the way we live our lives.

Bilerico is not one of those places. It's the place people come to find out where those things are or to find out what others think about them. Hijacking conversation threads is, on occasion, appropriate if the conversation calls for it, but in the vast majority of cases it's really just self-serving. That kind of thing can and often does win points elsewhere, but not with an online discussion community that's been around as long as this one. It's seen through in micro-seconds and the guilty party is regarded accordingly.

My suggestion would be that anyone who feels strongly enough about any issue that they feel the need to hijack threads on other topics in order to get it on the table for discussion should at least as motivated to write up their argument for submission to this and other quality online publications and get it out there.

Marja Erwin | June 27, 2011 2:17 PM

Except that the vast majority of the insults, personal attacks, ungendering, and disruption have come from the same side - the hard-line WBTers and HBSers. Day after day, thread after thread, they attack those who disagree with them.

One of my friends got banned for saying something back.

The hard-line WBTers and HBSers have used bullying tactics to drive other people from this blog, and it's not right, and not fair, to ban their targets as well as the bullies.

There are babies, and there is bathwater. There are some very useful and (I believe) scientifically supportible aspects to the concepts of referring to trans people as being (women/men)-born-trans (WBT/MBT), and to the related idea that being trans is a matter of a genetic and developmental difference from the initially and erroneous sex assigned to the individual at borth on the basis of external genital development.

Then again, I know what you're talking about. Understanding a difference in definition of terms is critical to being able to discuss the concepts intelligently - and unfortunately the idea of identities gets conflated with more objective analysis using the same or similar terminology. Keeping track of the muddle and deciding who gets bounced for what is exceedingly difficult. Often enough ardent advocates of more than one "side" of a discussion end up in a time-out.

Not that I have a brief to speak for anyone but myself, here, but can you not possible conceive that they might feel constantly under attack in the very real world, all the time, by the way their beliefs about themselves, their identities are being over-ridden at every level at which those they complain of are active - from the highest levels of government to the smallest blog? And could you not further conceive that, in the cases of those who have been bullied, harassed, suffered huge losses, or otherwise harmed due to their identities, every further affront, in those susceptible to PTSD, might trigger extreme distress?

Personally I wonder what on earth those who decided to corral people who had made immense sacrifices because of the strength of their identity, unwillingly, under another identity that was different from theirs in crucial respects, thought they were going to achieve. Was it done in starry-eyed ignorance? Did they really think identity didn't really matter? The way they have persisted, and constantly try to undermine or silence those affronted encourages suspicions of worse motivation. And this is the legacy they have created.

I can only see a massive back-track, and specific and repeated acknowledgement of the diversity of those affected by matters of sexual orientation and gender identity and presentation, as the way to heal, and move forward.

I support the move to end personal attacks and support the idea of robust debates.I am glad to see that it isn't going to be a one sided banning there has been plenty of mud slinging from both sides.

Honestly, you can't even keep snide transphobic comments from the editor from appearing in comments. Why bother with every day comments?

This comment has been deleted for violation of the Terms of Service.

While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.
The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising.

The Evelyn Poor cartoons were far more offensive than anything I wrote. So were a very high percentage of the comments that were written to the post that finally triggered this new policy. I have to say that on my behalf because what I wrote is up to everyone's imagination and what I wrote will be measured against things that have been written which are genuinely offensive but I understand. You will lose very little traffic by banning what I have to say. C'est la vie. I am very opposed to a lot of what is being promoted here. Being agreeable won't make any of it correct.

I noticed the link in the now-deleted post, and I visited the site with all the cartoons. I didn't thing either the cartoons, or your deleted post, were offensive. When it coms to any site's TOS, though, the interpretation of the moderators is what counts. I just hope that strict enforcement does not stifle the conversation.

Well Joann, what I wrote did go against the grain. I don't feel as though I can discuss anything anymore. I can't go into whether the cartoons were offensive or not offensive but absurd in light of certain contexts and offensive in others, depending on each cartoon that I referred to. I will say there are more than just two or three dissenting voices regarding the zeitgeist at Bilerico. How much agreement there is among all of those dissenting voices is another question. I have noticed most of them are never heard here. It's definitely a minority. Definitely the bully pulpit is occupied by a coterie composed of the "trans" advocates at Bilerico, some other blogs and a handful of legal rights organizations whose focus is on GLB rights and gender expression most of whom are dependent on concepts many find frustrating and offensive such as "gender variance" and "gender nonconformity". The pre-discursive premises involved make it impossible for anyone who disagrees with the dominant viewpoints among the coterie, which seems to have been established in the late nineties, so that arguments can be made where consensus will be reached with those who object to the majority viewpoint. We'll see if this message gets through the censors. I'm going to copy and paste it elsewhere, just for the record.

Don't worry, Jillian. She can contact me at tava1@earthlink.net.

Thanks, Jillian, for keeping this a safe place to read and comment. I also really enjoy the Star Trek quote!

Whatever we do, I hope we do something. I have been posting less frequently because the comments are so nasty -- and unnecessarily so, often responding just to the headline without even reading the piece. I just can't stand the nastiness anymore.