Wherefore Art Thou SkeptiXX?

6 Dec

Unlike many—I might even guess the majority—of those who work in the skeptical movement, I got here not through my love of science but through my love for the English language. I started out at the Center for Inquiry in May of 2006 as an intern in CFI’s Editorial Department. This placement was a bit of a fluke itself. On the shuttle ride from Lego Land to North Campus one day, one of my classmates at UB asked me what I was planning on doing with my BA once I graduated. I immediately broke out into song. Once the muppets dispersed, I told her that I really liked the idea of getting into editing but that I had no idea how to get my foot in the door. She then began to regale me of the wonder that was her internship the previous summer at a magazine that writes about UFOs, ghosts, etc. If she mentioned the skeptical bent, I missed it completely. When I e-mailed the member of the editorial department who handled the internship, I was under the impression that the magazine was PRO-paranormal! (I really wish I still had a copy of that e-mail. All I remember for sure is that I mentioned Art Bell’s Coast to Coast AM Radio Show. Lucky for me, even that faux pas didn’t keep me from getting the gig.)

So even though I really like science, did okay in math in high school, and consider myself a logical person–I have memories of my mother telling three-year-old me, “You’re so logical! Just like your father” (something she still tells me from time to time to this day)–it is in the written word, that infinite playground of symbolism and imagery, that I feel most comfortable. And maybe this colors the way I see the world. When I see fluffy white clouds from an airplane window I know that they are made of water vapor and other gases and would not support mine or anyone else’s weight, but I can’t help yearning to jump out there and bounce from cloud to cloud as if on a giant trampoline. Clouds are not even remotely light–to the tune of over 2 billion pounds—and everyone knows that the phrase “light as a cloud” is not literal. It is true that an English major can find meaning and symbolism in just about everything–from Holden’s dream as the Cather in the Rye to Rose of Sharon’s breastfeeding of a dying man at the end of Grapes of Wrath. It’s of course true that there’s no way that all of the symbolism found in classic literature was actually put there and meant by the author. But we English majors cannot turn off that part of our brains that has been trained to think that symbolism is everywhere and a paramount part of life. I think the use of  symbolism is very important for conveying big ideas in small packages.

Whether or not it’s perfect symbolism–and yeah, I’d vote for “not” too–XX chromosomes are symbolic of womanhood in much the same way that Venus’s astronomical symbol is. And I would argue—seeing how XX chromosomes representing femalehood is at least based in the natural sciences rather than something like Roman mythology—that it is a truer symbol of womanhood than the latter.

I am truly sorry if there are members of the skeptics community who feel excluded by my blog because of its title; please know the title of the blog is meant to be a pithy, immediately recognizable, symbolic name that conveys the ideas of “female” and “skepticism,” and is in no way meant to suggest that one must have two X chromosomes to be considered female or that all people with XX chromosomes must be considered female. Nor is meant to actually define anything. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But sometimes it’s symbolic of other things.

As I have said in replies to some of the comments on this issue, I would love to have a member of the transgender/intersex community contribute to this blog. My goal is to have as wide a variety of contributors as possible. So if you are a transgender or intersex skeptic and would like a forum to discuss this issue, please e-mail me at WeAreSkeptiXX@gmail.com.


23 Responses to “Wherefore Art Thou SkeptiXX?”

  1. César Dimitrio (@hernanderson) December 6, 2011 at 2:47 am #

    wow. only four posts and this is already one of my favorite skeptic blogs. i know yours is going to be a worthy and enjoyable contribution. thank you so much!

  2. Paul Wiklund December 6, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    As a Caucasian straight male atheist, your blog title does not offend me in the least. I feel that if you are offended by a blog title, then go to another blog. If you are interested in the message and the people giving the message then the title will not matter. Your blog is an interesting and relatively easy read, allowing it to be pushed out to the masses for consumption.

    I enjoy reading the few entries that you have and think that you are worrying about the title WAY too much. Though, I, too would be interested in hearing from intersex/trans-gender authors as well.

    If you go to PZ Meyer’s blog, he posted today from a transsexual author Michael Baizley. And though I am not encouraging you to poach authors from him, you might contact either one of them to ask about adding another member to your writing staff.

    • Natalie December 6, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

      I think generally people weren’t bothered by the title so much as by casual use of the term “XX Chromosomer” as synonymous with “women”. But I’m happy that the comments that have been made were taken into consideration and responded to.

      • Veronica December 7, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

        I’m still glad she made this comment though. I don’t get easily offended, but I was a bit unsure what to make of the XX-thingy as someone with XY chromosomes.

    • Brian G December 9, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

      Paul, I don’t think the point was that it could offend a straight white male. It seems this blog doesn’t want to be dismissive of transpeople, such as women who don’t have XX chromosomes. As should be the case, this blog is welcoming to transpeople, as should the greater skeptical movement as a whole. It would be a misstep to feel free to alienate transpeople (with false but ubiquitous assumptions that biological sex equals gender) and tell them to go elsewhere.

      • Paul Wiklund December 9, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

        Brian: This is perhaps neither here nor there (or I am wrong on several assumptions), but I felt that people were worried over the XX as well. My comment about being a straight white male was that this blog felt inclusive regardless of who you were (in my case, a straight white male). Often when I write, I tend to add inflections and stresses and emphases in my head that don’t translate into print very well. If I was unclear, then I apologize.

        I think that there is a serious problem, though when we have to make something welcoming to anyone. Bear with me here. By making something intentionally exceptionally welcoming what we are doing is acknowledging that other things are excluding. The fix is not, I think to make this blog more welcoming, but to get out there and make every other blog less exclusive. Perhaps we as readers could spend just as much time and effort on our own and other blogs to ensure that transpeople are known to be welcome. If we spread the message everywhere there would be no need for a single blog to carry this message, as all blogs would be carrying this message, and equality would be truly achieved without regard to race, creed, color, gender, sex or chromosome. I love this blog (so far), but wish that there was no need to express the message that it feels it has to. I wish that the message were already spread.

        No one for instance feels the need to write a male specific atheist blog, or a home make specific atheist blog, as these are labels and definitions that we have accepted as normal. Perhaps if we accepted transpeople as “normal” (whatever that really means), then this wouldn’t even need to be a message.

        Hopefully I have explained my feelings a little clearer, though I doubt it. My father attempted to become a woman in the last few decades of his life and I didn’t handle it too well, as I was conflicted internally. It took me a long time to get to a point of acceptance with anything that wasn’t straight, so if I offended, then I apologize, but I certainly only want to spread a message of inclusion.

  3. Brian Engler December 6, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    I doubt that you’ll ever please every individual, so letting the (catchy) title be what it is and inviting wide participation is the way to go. I think you’re on the right track and will continue to follow and support SkeptiXX of all stripes here and on the many other blogs i follow.

  4. StarsEnd42 December 6, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    Thank you for this site! I found you via PZ’s site. Being surrounded by the rabid religious all day at work, I seek respite (and sanity) in the evening via PZ’s blog. I have now book marked you as well. Help keep me from losing my sh%t at my mentally lazy co-workers!! 🙂

    • Michael Kingsford Gray December 8, 2011 at 4:19 am #

      Sanity? In PZ’s blog??
      You have actually read the comments from the rantingly lunatic and reactionary posters there, who’s immediate FIRST reaction to dissent against their orthodoxy is a COMMAND to shove a rabid festering porcupine up one’s rectum?
      And then upon encountering any form of actual skepticism is to rip into one’s percieved targets of self-esteem, using nothing more than straw-men and outright lies?

      You find this a respite from your day-job?
      Who are you: Torquemada?

      I am gob-smacked.

      • julian December 8, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

        Cool story, bro.

  5. John Greg December 7, 2011 at 11:11 pm #

    What’s with the pink dotted background? I thought the activist feminist community thought pink was gender traitor behaviour made flesh.

    Seriously, Skepchick throws a good system-flushing rant-n-rage at least every couple of months about the known evils of pink. I am surprised no one from that place, or even more so Pharyngula where they rage on the evils of pink dressed bunnies and pink speech balloons, has dropped by to accuse you of sexism, gender traitorism, and catering to Big Patriarchy.

    And this post, by the way, is not really meant sarcastically or sardonically. But it might, perhaps, be taken with a twist of irony, which I know is never flavour of the month amongst the Gender Feminist crowd … but, there you go; can’t please all the people all the time.

    To the framers of We Are Skeptixx, I wish you luck. Honest, open-minded feminist discourse that avails itself of critical thinking, freedom of thought, and calm wisdom is not an easy commodity to find anywhere these days.

    • Julia Lavarnway December 8, 2011 at 9:31 am #

      It’s actually purple.

      • Paul Wiklund December 8, 2011 at 9:54 am #

        Purple it may be, but it is washed out against the background, and honestly looks pink 🙂

      • julian December 8, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

        I didn’t even see the dots.

        …pretty purple meshed with pink… ❤

        Soft on the eyes and a nice contrast to most of the blogs I visit.

      • Veronica December 8, 2011 at 4:40 pm #

        Yup, and there’s nothing wrong with purple!

    • Veronica December 8, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

      I think you’ve been missing the point. Pink is not in itself the problem, the stereotyping is.

      • julian December 9, 2011 at 5:28 am #

        I think of several shades of pink that are definitely a problem …>_>

    • Natalie December 8, 2011 at 11:20 pm #


      Pink is not, and never has been, a problem. Nor is femininity. And femmephobia and internalised misogyny are problems. It’s rigidly enforced stereotypes that are problems.

      • Julia Lavarnway December 8, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

        Loved Lauren’s post. Thanks for sharing!

  6. PZ Myers December 8, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    Yippee. There is not enough ideological skepticism in this world.

  7. z January 4, 2012 at 5:05 am #

    It’s a bit … glib, to say effectively “oh, we’ve based our blog name on this pithy XX thing, we don’t really mean to exclude other women with different chromosomal makeup, sorry if you’re offended, we don’t mean it?

    You saying that the XX symbology being “based in the natural sciences rather than something like Roman mythology” doesn’t really help when you say that it’s “no way meant to suggest that one must have two X chromosomes to be considered female or that all people with XX chromosomes must be considered female”.

    But I’ll take Paul’s advice and go somewhere else; if this “apology” of sorts here is an indicator of the logical consistency, tolerance, and outreach in the rest of the blog, I don’t think I’m going to find much of value.


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