Criticism is not force. Over on @tblizzy’s Tiktok, she has been doing a lot of amazing accomplice work with transfolk. She has been standing up for them against an onslaught of straight men who got extremely fragile and angry in her comments. They claimed she was “forcing” them to date trans women. Because she was pointing out that, parts aside* refusing to date trans women even if there is no external evidence they are trans is transphobia. @tblizzy may have singlehandedly inspired the “super straight” pseudo-identity. (More on that later).
*(you can make a case that a preference for certain parts is simply human nature).
Criticism is an Ego Threat
Let’s break down this discussion. It has several parts. First, there’s this idea that criticizing a person’s behavior for being harmful is somehow capable of “forcing” that person to do something they don’t want to do. There’s another word for criticism here. That word is “accountability”. Constructive criticism from someone whose opinion you value causes several things to happen. You will feel that in some way you have disappointed that person. You will probably examine the behavior they’re criticizing to try to see what they are talking about.
At the same time, your internal threat system is likely to flip the “on” switch. You did or said the thing that harmed someone because you wanted to gain something or avoid something. Your sympathetic nervous system will prepare for action. You might have a more rapid heart rate, and your breathing might be heavier. Depending on whether you feel angry at the threat or afraid of it, your jaw could literally get stronger, or your legs could. All of these body effects can be pretty unpleasant or at least unsettling.
You’re likely to kick into fight, flight, freeze, or fawn mode. Our outdated threat system can’t tell the difference between a tiger in the room and someone saying you’re not living up to their expectations, and that makes your body get in the way of your mind. And yet while criticism is an ego threat, criticism is not force.
Influence is not Force
If you feel that the person who is criticizing you is credible and knowledgeable, you are likely to examine what they said. You might come to agree with them, or you might not. In either case, their opinion of you will likely influence you. You may dive into a fierce defense of your ego, searching for ways to justify your actions and “prove” the person who criticized you wrong. You may instead decide to change the behavior they criticized because their credibility and knowledge was enough to convince you that you were wrong. In neither of these cases were you forced to change. You were influenced. And you chose the change that worked for you in that moment.
“Super Straight” is Thinly Veiled Transphobia
And if you want, you can add misogyny to that. The idea is that “super straight” men (as far as I know, there are no “super straight” women) reject the idea of romantic or sexual attraction to trans women under all circumstances. They have a variety of easily countered arguments including ability to procreate and “biological sex” ready to do battle with. However, the “thought experiment” that started this eliminates any other cause for their refusal to date a trans woman other than the fact that at one time, presumably, she had a penis, even though they can’t tell.
So no, they simply can’t know whether or not they have been or might be attracted to trans women. Attraction has a basis in physical appearance, pheromones, and courtship behaviors. It is entirely likely that most or all “super straight” men who are straight-identifying have felt sexual arousal at looking at, talking to, or interacting with a trans woman. Or a picture of video of one.
Attraction is an Automatic Process
What they are describing is an unwillingness to date or have a relationship with a trans woman, not a lack of attraction to trans women. And that is a bias. I have an admitted bias toward short white-passing men, due to an unfortunate coincidence early in life involving a short, white-passing man that left me with trauma stuff. If I say “I refuse to date short, white-passing men”, it’s not because I’m incapable of being attracted to them.
I could name several short, white-passing male celebrities I find attractive. Daniel Radcliffe. Toby McGuire. Tom Holland. Would I date them? In this thought experience I’m not twice their age or happily and monogamously married. The answer to all three is “yes, but…” The “but” being that I would probably have to deal with more trauma reactions than I would with another category of people I find sexually attractive.
Whether you “like” someone or not has nothing to do with whether you’re attracted to them. I don’t like Tom Cruise’s public persona, for example. And yet, objectively, he is an attractive cis man. I would never date him, but I might very well feel arousal if I were to meet him (NOT an invitation. At all).
Arousal just is. You don’t have to act on it, and the person you’re aroused by doesn’t have to satisfy it. We have whole social structures to deal with that issue.
“Preference” and “Dating Pool” are Different
Sometimes you might refuse to date a person because of their baggage. That baggage might be rooted in culture, and some of those roots might rest in things like race or gender identity. And that might or might not be a bias, based on the circumstances. Let’s return to “criticism is not force”. The person criticizing you might very well hurt your feelings. No one likes being called out on prejudice, and words for bias weigh a lot. It hurts your pride to be called “racist” or “sexist” or “homophobic”. No one wants to be the bad guy. And most of us tend toward binary thinking. We’re bad, or we’re good. No in-between.
But real life doesn’t work that way. There are levels of bias, from mild to extreme, and even those who work hardest to eliminate their biases still have some.
So when someone calls out our bias, “hit dogs holler”, as they say in the Ozarks. That means that when someone defines you by a word that means you have a bias that hurts people in a real way, you are likely to react.
Criticism is Not Force (Again)
Is that “forcing” you to pretend to be something you’re not in order to deny your bias? No.
Is that “forcing” you to examine your bias and see if maybe you can be better at not acting hurtfully because of it? No.
Is that “forcing” you to block someone on all social media and cut all ties?
You have several choices when you’re the hit dog that hollered. Criticism is not force. It is, however, an invitation to see where you might be a better fellow human to others. It’s an opportunity to challenge yourself to do something new. Or, of course, you could double down on what you were criticized about and create an entirely new pseudo- identity in order to deflect criticism as much as possible while refusing to examine the root of why you chose cruelty to others over acceptance and fellowship with them.
@Tblizzy is fighting the good fight, y’all. If you’ve a mind, go help her out.
P.S. This entire analysis can be applied to any situation where someone whose opinion you value (or know you “should” value) criticizes you for something harmful. Pick your action and own it. Deal with the consequences, live your life, and become a better person. Or not.