Kerfuffles on social media

September 28, 2022 • 11:00 am

I’m still exhausted after just three hours of sleep last night, so here’s a short followup on two social-media fights related to things I’ve posted about.

On September 19 I posted about a pretty dire article in The Atlantic by Maggie Mertens called “Separating sports by sex doesn’t make sense.” (Her topic was “youth” sports up to and through high schools.) In my view, it was a shoddy article loaded with misguided claims (e.g., men don’t have average biological advantages over women in athletic performance), confusion (Mertens conflates “sex and gender”), and a conclusion—create mixed-sex teams composed of players having equal ability—that seems unworkable.

The Atlantic article was criticized by people other than I: below by Jesse Singal and tennis great Martina Navratilova. Navatilova is a lesbian, but has been critical of trans women competing in women’s sports. (At the same time, she favors some way to accommodate trans athletes into elite sports.) For this she has, of course, been called a transphobe.

After reading The Atlantic piece by Mertens, Navratilova was critical, expressing her view on Twitter in a comment after Jesse Singal’s own critique:

And another:

Navratilova has also been critical of the ACLU’s policy, promoted by trans advocate Chase Strangio, of allowing anybody who identifies as a women, with or without surgery or hormone treatment, to compete in women’s sports.  Particularly for trans women who are biological men who have had no treatment but simply identify as women, I find the ACLU’s view insupportable. But it is their policy, and seems to be that of the Biden Administration as well.  After Navratilova was blocked on Twitter by an ACLU “communications strategist,” she struck out at the ACLU policy of allowing biological men with “no mitigation” (hormone treatment or surgery) to compete in women’s sports:

One could think of Navratilova, with her fame, as the athletic equivalent of J. K. Rowling, except that Navratilova is both gay and world famous for her achievements in tennis. It is odd to smear someone like that with the label “transphobe”, especially when they are in favor of accommodating trans athletes in sports, though Navratilova hasn’t, to my knowledge, come up with concrete proposals. But of course that is a difficult balancing act.


I haven’t seen the controversial movie “The UnRedacted” yet (I don’t know how to find it), but Jesse Singal has. I called attention to how  NYT article describing the “cancellation” of director Meg Smaker on the grounds that her Sundance-shown documentary was both Islamophobic and the product of “white saviorism”.  According to the NYT piece, of the 230 filmmakers who wrote a letter denouncing “The UnRedacted,” most hadn’t seen the movie.

In a series of nine tweets—and I hope he expands this into a full Substack post—Singal is outraged at what he calls “straight-up lying” by journalists critical of Smaker and her film. Click on the first tweet below to see Singal taking apart the criticism of the movie:

. . . he finishes like this:

Well, I hope I wasn’t at “peak outrage” in my post, but I was outraged at the treatment of the filmmaker, not at the film.  At any rate, I don’t think I lied or distorted what was in the NYT article about the movie. When I actually see the movie, I’ll have a better take.

32 thoughts on “Kerfuffles on social media

  1. Well, I hope I wasn’t at “peak outrage” in my post, but I was outraged at the treatment of the filmmaker, not at the film. At any rate, I don’t think I lied or distorted what was in the NYT article about the movie. When I actually see the movie, I’ll have a better take.
    I don’t think your piece would fall foul of Singal’s criticism – you freely admitted that you hadn’t seen the film and were discussing the treatment of Meg Smaker.

  2. I have searched for a GoFundMe on behalf of filmmaker Smaker but have not found one. Anyone aware of such a funding attempt? I’m more than motivated to throw a few bucks her way.

      1. Jerry, if your are interested in watching “The UnRedacted”, using the link to YouTube Linguist posted, do it soon. It’s very likely that the video will be removed soon. It was just uploaded yesterday (on a channel that has only two uploads, both from yesterday).

      2. Jerry, I don’t know if you’ve mentioned it, but please seek medical help for your insomnia if you’re comfortable with doing so. It took me a VERY long time to admit to myself that I needed medical intervention, but the relief when I finally got it was indescribable, and I’ve never had a problem since all those years ago. We just want you to be healthy, posts or no posts!

  3. I should think Martina has some extra credibility on this issue given that the first transexual athlete to compete on the professional women’s tennis tour, Renée Richards, once her own playing days were over, served for a couple years as Ms. Navratilova’s coach.

    It’s also worth noting that Ms. Richards herself has recently expressed doubts about allowing transwomen to compete on the women’s professional tour, saying that if she had transitioned in her early 20s, rather than in her early 40s, she would’ve likely dominated the women’s tour rather than being the middling player she turned out to be.

    1. Oh, Richards expressed more than doubts. She said she would have absolutely smashed the women. The fact that she reached a ranking of 21 (going off memory here) after she transitioned in her 40s shows just how badly she would have beat the breaks off the women. Look at Federer at 40; the man can’t even play anymore, and it breaks my damn heart (I’ve always said that watching Federer is like ballet, Nadal is like watching an action movie, and Djokovic is like watching a rock star). She would’ve crushed the competition.

      It always comes back to the 41-year-old Karsten Braasch and what he did to the Williams sisters playing at “half-power” to make it “fun,” after drinking 2 shandies, having nearly a pack of smokes, and playing half a round of golf. He was ranked 204 at the time — and no wonder with his, er, “training” regimen. He might have been a legit champion if he ever took tennis seriously. I know he got as high as the 30s at one point in his career, but you have to be dedicated in every respect to be among the absolute best, and he certainly wasn’t. Then again, if he had suddenly “transitioned” and was playing against the women, I’m confident he would have been winning slams left and right, because that’s just the difference in physicality between the sexes, even if you’re a male in your 40s and in relatively terrible health.

      1. Side note: when I typed “the difference in physicality between the sexes…” my phone tried to correct “sexes” to “semesters.” I had to teach it that, yes, “sexes” is a legitimate word. Even our phones are rebelling ideologically!

      2. Karsten Braasch was actually 31 years old, not 41, when he played against the Williams sisters (this info per his Wikipedia article).
        Incidentally, that was not the only time a female tennis player played against a male player. See this:
        FOUR TIMES that Men and Women Faced Off in Tennis. 10 mins
        Though this is true as well: we have never seen a top female tennis player play a game against a top male tennis player, both in the prime of their careers.
        Serena Williams told us why in her appearance on David Letterman’s late night talk show in 2013:
        “Men’s tennis and women’s tennis are completely almost two separate sports. If I were to play Andy Murray, I would lose, 6-0, 6-0, in five to six minutes, maybe 10 minutes. No, it’s true, it’s true. It’s a completely different sport. The men are a lot faster, they serve harder, they hit harder. It’s just a different game. I love to play women’s tennis and I only want to play girls because I don’t want to be embarrassed.”
        Full clip of the Letterman’s interview:

        1. Serena also said at the time, “I hit shots that would have been winners on the women’s Tour and he got to them easily.” Also, I’ve always found this hilarious: “Apparently, after the game, Serena and Venus immediately told the press they wanted to challenge a male player again,” Braasch said. “This time they revised the ranking of the man they wanted to face, to 350 in the world. I informed the journalist who told me this that in the next week I was set to lose a lot of ATP points and drop down to 350 in the rankings. I told him that if Venus and Serena waited just one week they could challenge me all over again!”

          Braasch was known for smoking cigarettes during changeovers!!!changeover!!!! Can you imagine that today? It’s remarkable he made it as far as he did, but he seems to have had a great sense of humor about it. Some people want to be the best; others have the tools to be the best, but just want to have fun…

          1. Venus and Serena Williams were aged 18 and 17 when they played Brash in 1998. When Serena appeared on Letterman she was 33 years old – older and wiser.
            This is also relevant here:
            Tennis Legend John McEnroe Triggers Panel Over Gender Differences. 2017, 6 mins
            [McEnroe had said in a radio interview that though Serena Williams is the greatest female tennis player ever, she would be ranked about 700 if she played the men’s circuit]

            1. Even 700 might be a strong ask, though there’s no way of knowing. She’d lose to every top 250 juniors man regardless of age, probably the top 500 juniors.

              In the end, the point is really this: we should be able to discuss these things openly and honestly, rather than fearing for our reputations and livelihoods, and/or having obviously and intentionally wrong-headed and ideologically-driven drivel funneled down our throats (as with that Atlantic piece).

        2. I don’t know why, but a thought about this thread just popped into my head: people often look at serve speeds and marvel at Serena and a few other big female servers. And they should! There’s remarkable athletic talent there. What they don’t see is the (relative lack of) spin on the ball in those serves. Those 120 mph flat serves are significantly easier to hit than a 103 mph super top spin serve or wicked slice out to the side of the court, and they also don’t fly by men unnoticed the way they often do with women. There are so many *tiny* things men can do that add up, like a flick of the wrist that women just can’t seem to replicate, or just the form of their serve. David Schwartzman can’t serve as fast as Serena (give the man a break, he’s only a 5’6 Jewish guy!), but he’d still destroy her in minutes if they played a match. The man puts so much spin on his balls. I think of how Nadal generates such incredible power by just flicking his wrist, completely outstretched on the run, to hit a winner up the line. It’s a marvel to behold…

  4. “Particularly for trans women who are biological men who have had no treatment but simply identify as women, I find the ACLU’s view insupportable.”

    When a trans woman competes in a women’s swimming race, what kind of swimsuit must she wear? Without surgery or hormones, I presume she can wear either a traditionally women’s suit or a men’s Speedo and be on the right side of public decency, but this doesn’t apply to an ordinary woman. In the highest caliber of sport, there must be rules against women being topless. What does it say that this rule might not apply in the same way to the trans woman?

    1. Reminds of me of a Gary Delaney one liner, if I can get it right: “I was hanging out at the swim baths the other day, until somebody pointed it out to me and I tucked it back in.”

    2. In the highest caliber of sport, there must be rules against women being topless.

      Must be?

      I admit I find this ‘nudity fear’ ingrained in various cultures really strange.

    3. The swimsuits provide sex-appropriate streamlining by preventing cavitation behind protruding body parts. Or as a great Canadian ballerina said—I won’t cite her in case I misquote her—the difficulty with dancing in the nude is that not all the body parts stop moving when the music does.

      Some modern fabrics are so slippery in the water that competitors are restricted in how much of their skin can be covered, as with aerodynamic fairings in bicycle racing.

      Lia Thomas wore a women’s maillot simply to fit in and keep the illusion alive that he was a woman. He was so much faster that he didn’t need the extra slippage.

  5. Jerry, regarding your insomnia: have you mentioned before the reasons for your insomnia?

    If that’s an intrusive question, please ignore it.

    Sleep has never been totally easy for me (in contrast, my wife comes from a family who can drop off to deep sleep in the wink of an eye, which I envy so much). Fortunately my bouts of truly bad insomnia have been fairly rare, but when it happens wow is it ever distressing, the way an anxiety about sleep becomes this horrible feedback mechanism.

    My battle to sleep has been exacerbated since having (mild) Covid, and I wonder also if there is a connection for you as well? (Of course, there are so many reasons people can have trouble sleeping).

    1. My insomnia was bad for so long that I had to go on Valium long-term. If it gets to a point where it’s seriously interfering with your life, medical intervention is recommended, if not required. At my worst, my sleep disorder had me staying up for 72 hours straight and then sleeping for 72 hours straight. After that, it was just insomnia. Now I sleep like a baby and have for years, with pharmacological help, of course 🙂

  6. Regarding The UnRedacted:

    Journalism today makes me so furious. All my parents do all day is watch MSNBC and read NYT and WaPo articles. I’ve watched it slowly poison their minds. They forward me stories that have zero attribution, but they believe them because they think they’re reputable. When I visit them, I hear MSNBC, and every single segment is a host making a statement to a guest and then basically saying, “I’m right, right?!? I mean, how right am I?” To which the guest responds with about five minutes of how right the host is. No research and no facts, but just gossip and shit-talking. They literally cackle and shout about how disgusting their political opponents are, and their guests play along because the guest’s role is to simply agree with and amplify the energy of the host.

    All of this is to say that journalism has become activism. There is almost nobody in the large institutions anymore whose remit is to tell the truth. The bailiwick of nearly every journalist is now to push a narrative, regardless of reality. Didn’t see the movie? Who cares! You can still write a piece about how racist it was because you already have the template in your head from the hundreds of other similar articles you’ve churned out. Not truthful? So what! How many people are going to see the corrections made by people like Jesse Singal?

    People like my parents — 99% of people — would need to and want to actively seek out the truth behind what they consume. They don’t want the truth. They want to be told how correct they are in what they already think. That is the real death of truth.

    1. The situation with your parents sounds like a Mirror Universe version of the people obsessed with Fox News and other right-wing media. Do your parents also tell you that Hillary Clinton should be retroactively instated as President due to fraud against her in the 2016 election? Have they attempted to get you interested in “Qnym”, the conspiracy theory that a cabal of elite Mammon-worshipping cannibals is about to be exposed? Have you heard them muttering “Where we go all, we go one”?

      Truth is very hard to market. That has disturbing implications.

  7. ”Navatilova is a lesbian, but has been critical of trans women competing in women’s sports.”

    One could almost say “ Navatilova is a lesbian, and so of course has been critical of trans women competing in women’s sports.”

  8. “anybody who identifies as a woman, with or without surgery or hormone treatment, [allowed] to compete in women’s sports.”

    If all I have to do is say I identify as a woman, could I do this part time? Identify as a man during the week, but a woman at week-ends just so I could compete in sport?

    I know this sounds like crude sarcasm [which it is], but there’s also a serious point here. Just where are the limits to this crazy “mere thinking makes it so”? It seems to be in the same category as someone being able to declassify documents just by thinking about it.

    1. That reminds me of a tangent in a post-cyberpunk comedy (Matt Ruff’s _Sewer Gas & Electric_, IIRC), where Oregon, to protest different abortion laws across the US, decided to ban abortion on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays, but provide socialized abortions on Tuesdays and Thursdays – just to piss everyone off.

    2. In all seriousness this begs an important question. Will it also be considered offensive to ask some one to in any way substantiate that they identify as a woman? If that is off the table and thus we have to let completely biological males into women’s sports won’t we also have to allow them into women’s bathrooms, locker rooms, domestic shelters, and prisons? We’ve already had a few bad outcomes from this line of thinking, but this will really open the flood gates.

  9. An aside: Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti has become the first European woman commander of the International Space Statio, taking over for Oleg Artemyev. 🚀 at least in low earth orbit, Italy (and Russia) is still respectable.

  10. Interesting how in the intersectional hierarchy women, especially white women, really are on the lowest rung. They can always be trotted out for sexual harassment cases when they can bring down a problematic man, but a lot of transgender activism really does seem to have the effect of erasing women’s personal identity. That any man can become a woman with a little surgery. It’s little wonder a lot of the radical feminists are up in arms. this goes against everything they have been saying about women’s identities for decades.

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