All posts by Jenny List

Finding A Way Out Of An Internet Attack

It’s been a very stressful few weeks for us at Trans Rescue, as alongside our normal work with our passengers we’ve had to contend with a concerted attack from some vicious online trolls. It started when someone took offence at being blocked by our Twitter maintainer, and escalated into a bizarre and disturbing array of allegations against our organisation and its directors that were they true would be an existential threat. Closer to home we’ve received credible reports of concerted attempts to report us to the local authorities where we are based, moving the whole episode from the merely annoying into the distinctly concerning. We can and have refuted and debunked the allegations, but since that simply generates a fresh set we’ve taken the sensible course of non-engagement. We don’t talk to people who have demonstrated themselves to be bad actors, that’s it. Perhaps it’s time to look at this from another perspective when attempting to make sense of it all, to examine the motives and costs for each party.

It’s All About Motives And Costs

For us, the cost of all this could be existential. It represents a threat to our fundraising, our ability to support our passengers, and their personal safety, as well as to our reputations, both personal and as an organization. Our motive is to clear our names and defend our work. Our desired outcome is for the allegations to be proved wrong and the attack go away so that our stress capacity can be used on our mission.

But what about the people behind all this? We think that while their behaviour has been just as threatening, they aren’t in it for the same reasons as more traditional trolls from sites such as 4chan or Kiwifarms. It may have started as a fit of pique at being blocked, but for them it’s moved on into something of an obsessive quest for an imagined truth in which they have more in common with a conspiracy theorist. People who have convinced themselves that the Moon landing was faked will willfully ignore all the compelling evidence to the contrary, and so it is for them. Their motive is to be seen as the Seekers of Truth who demolished the Big Lie, and like the Moon landing theorists they simply dismiss anything which doesn’t fit with their pre-ordained conclusion. Their desired outcome is our complete destruction and their rightful recognition as crusaders for justice, without any room for retreat.

If that’s their motive, how about the costs? In this case the costs are just as high for them as they are for us. The loss of face in coming to terms with having tried to bring down a small non-profit working with in-danger trans people in a developing country using fake evidence fed to them by a scamming chaser would be immense. It would destroy their personal reputations, with the fallout being visible for anyone prepared to search the Internet for years to come. These are people who style themselves as transgender activists, indeed in another world we might be working with them rather than regarding them as toxic, so any “are we the baddies?” moment of realisation for them is too painful to contemplate.

Finding A Way Forward Through Independent Scrutiny

In reconciling these two positions, it’s difficult to see a way out without the unthinkable happening for one party. Either we are forced to shut down, or they end up with so much loss of face as to erode their credibility for good. If there’s to be a way forward then, it has to involve a lessening of one of those costs. We aren’t going to stop what we do, so the cost has to be reduced for them instead. Doing that is easy to say, but given the obsessive nature of their continued campaign  it’s difficult to see how they might be talked down.

As we have tried resolving this we have continued to be open about what we do and to keep on with our work. We continue to refuse to engage with the trolls no matter how much they demand it, so for example we haven’t rushed to show pictures of the Eden House chicken coop that they’ve been obsessing about. For those interested in seeing our work for real we’ve put the word out to professional independent journalists, and will be the subject of their writing in due course. They will write what they find, and we trust that they will find us to be exactly as we say we are. The true spotlight of scrutiny comes from impartial professionals rather than obsessive conspiracy theorist trolls. If you have been watching this saga then we urge you to read what they have to say rather than rely on the trolls, or indeed even on us. 

Header image: Keith Evans (CC-BY-SA 2.0).

Responding To Our Attackers

It’s an unfortunate side effect of running a trans organisation, that sometimes you will attract the wrong kind of attention. It’s happened to us, we’ve been the subject of a sustained online harassment campaign for clout from somebody within the trans community who became upset with us when we blocked her on Twitter.

As you might expect, to be at the centre of such an attack has inflicted damage on our organisation. It has cost us a huge amount of time and stress, it has had an impact on our fundraising, and it has inflicted reputational damage both immediate and lingering. This will affect our relationship with corporate donors in particular, which will have an immediate effect on our passengers. Further to that it’s damaged our relations with other trans activists and groups, something which is particularly important for a small non-profit..

Finally and most importantly, it has endangered the lives of our passengers and our volunteers. The obsessive looking for so-called “facts” about us has come uncomfortably close to people in danger who operate in dangerous parts of the world, and who may be on the run from hostile family members or state actors. To the people mounting the attacks it’s a witch-hunt for the lolz and a bit of online clout, for the people on the ground it truly is a matter of life and death. People will die violently if this continues, it’s as simple as that.

Thus it’s been really unpleasant and mentally exhausting for us to deal with, but we have to address it somehow because to let it slide is to let it stand. So here we are, let’s go through some of the points one by one. Be warned, some of them stretch credibility.

  • You blocked someone on Twitter for posting about racism.

We’re a trauma aware organisation, and we have all been through very difficult experiences that have left us traumatised. If someone is consistently retweeting triggery stuff, it is not unreasonable to block them. Someone blocked you on the Internet, get over it.

  • You’re grifters, taking money and using it for yourselves

We have published interim accounts and we will be submitting all our yearly accounts as required by Dutch law. It should be clear from those that we are spending any money we receive wisely and in accordance with our aim. Meanwhile we’re as we put it “in our ramen phase”, putting a lot of time into getting Trans Rescue off the ground that we could be spending working, and thus living pretty frugally.

  • But you moved a cis person! That’s not in accordance with your aim!

As part of our incorporation we defined our aim as moving trans and other people. This was because we’re aware that sometimes we’ll move a loved one who is cis. We currently have passengers in our system who fit that description. Our director moved a cis person with her own money, before Trans Rescue was even incorporated. His name is Maeen Aldahbali, and he’s a Yemeni human rights defender on the run from the factions because he campaigned against child soldier recruitment. If you have a problem with our director helping him, then we suggest you take a long and hard look at your priorities.

  • You say you have a trans haven in Kenya, but it’s all a lie

Our trans haven in Kenya is called Eden House. The name was chosen by our first passengers who moved in, all of them Kenyans. We hope that the many pictures we and they who live there have posted about it should be enough to prove its existence. We will not reveal where it is in Kenya, to protect its security.

  • We’ve found some Kenyans who say you’re bad

Earlier on in our work in Kenya we had a Kenyan volunteer working for us, a cis man. He became our agent there for a while, before revealing himself to be a chaser, sexually propositioning one of our passengers, and scamming us. Since then he’s waged a low level harassment campaign against us. We think you’ve found him (or more likely he’s found you), and you’re talking to a bunch of his sockpuppets. He’s done it before.

  • The brickwork or some other aspect of Eden House doesn’t look very Kenyan to us

Don’t be stupid. You’ll be saying that all Kenyan buildings should be mud huts next.

  • You spent five grand on the Eden House chicken coop

Don’t be stupid. Setting up a trans haven from scratch, for a group of passengers who have absolutely nothing, costs money. We’ve had to equip an empty house with the normal things required for up to eight people to live with dignity, and we’ve had to ensure that it has proper security. Why yes, that also included setting up a chicken coop, which for some reason you’ve become obsessed with. It’s not a five grand chicken coop though, we’re not British Conservative MPs.

  • Your passengers in Kenya are fake

That’s right, dismiss the existence and credibility of marginalised people of colour in a developing country. Wow, such activism!

  • The Eden House manager is a scammer

See the paragraph above: “We’ve found some Kenyans who say you’re bad”. Did this accusation come from the source we mentioned there? Attacking the Trans Rescue directors is unpleasant enough, but attacking our manager, one of our Kenyan passengers who has come through some very bad experiences and who we are employing as the capable and efficient manager she is, is extremely shitty behaviour.

  • You’re forcing trans people of colour to work for you!

Don’t be stupid. Eden House is a rented property that had been empty for a long time when we moved in. Our director worked with the first residents to make their home comfortable, just as anyone would when they move into a new house.

  • But you’re making them work for you to stay in the house!

Eden House is a trans haven in which we are trying to establish a sustainable communal living space. Its residents are people who have been thrown to the edges of society because they are trans, are you seriously suggesting that it’s wrong for them to have jobs or small businesses of their own or to participate equally in a commune? The only person working for us at Eden House is our manager, she’s a Kenyan lady who’s been one of our passengers, and we have made certain that we pay her a proper wage. Imagining that all Africans should be charity dependent is simply racist.

  • Kenya is a dangerous country!

These attacks follow a colonial-era and racist view of Africa that still holds sway in the developed world; namely that Africa is a continent of hell-hole countries in which nobody is safe. The reality is very different indeed. While it remains sadly true that some African countries may be experiencing instability and some may be less safe than others, the continent is home to a great many countries that are going places. One of them is Kenya, a democratic country with a vibrant economy and a rule of law.

  • Kenya is dangerous for trans people, they have anti-LGBT laws on their books!

It is a valid criticism to level at Kenya, that it has anti-LGBT laws on its books, and that there are places in Kenya where it is dangerous to be trans. Our Kenyan passengers know this, they come from those places. So let us address this in terms accessible to people from the developed world.

If we were to describe a large country with anti-LGBT laws on its books in which it is safer to be trans in some parts than others, then most of you would recognise pretty quickly that we are talking about the USA. We think it’s safe to say that a trans person would be safer in New York than they would be in rural Oklahoma, don’t you agree? So if we said that we would move an in-danger trans person from Oklahoma to New York, we don’t think that anyone would raise any objections. Thus moving back to Kenya, it’s a large country with anti-LGBT laws on its books, and in regions such as the north and along the coast it can be extremely dangerous to be trans. But just as with the USA, there are plenty of places in the rest of the country where trans people are safer, and just as with the USA, it makes sense to move them to one of those places if we can. 

  • You want to move everyone to Kenya

We operate a trans haven in Kenya. Unsurprisingly, it is full of Kenyans. We are not expecting Americans to move to Kenya, how would it possibly be appropriate to move them to a culture they know almost nothing about and in which there is no community to receive them?

The international air transport system is hugely racist, meaning that people from places like Kenya can be difficult to get visas for and difficult to get on a plane when they have a visa. Should we not try to help them because we can’t get them on a plane out of Kenya? Of course not! So we’ve set up our first trans haven somewhere they can get to, in Kenya. It’s likely that Eden House will at times play host to non-Kenyans for the same reasons as it hosts Kenyans, that we can’t get them on a flight to another country safer than where they are. Would you expect us to turn a Ugandan away? We hope not.

  • You’re white supremacists because you want to move American trans people of colour to Kenya

No we’re not, don’t be stupid. Throwing around accusations of racism as a tactic to smear people you don’t like is shitty behaviour, stop it.

  • You suggested Germany as a destination. This makes you Nazis

How to say you’ve never been to Germany without saying you’ve never been to Germany. It’s not 1937 any more, don’t be stupid.

  • You’re trying to work with the Canadian government to move people into towns with no jobs

Wow. This one shows how far over the edge you’ve descended into fantasy. We wish we could work with governments, it would make our job much easier. But as you might expect, they’re not great fans of people who help asylum seekers get into their countries.

For the record, we don’t work in Canada. We never have. We mentioned it in our piece on how to get out of the USA as it slides into fascism, because it will be the easiest destination for Americans to run to should the far-right succeed in their coup. Given the choice between running to Canada or being gunned down by some fascist militia, we think most people would take Canada.

That you’ve tried to turn our advice for such an emergency into an opportunity to smear us shows how desperate you are to take us down, and what kind of people you are.

  • But we’ve done our research!

We’re sure you have, but we’d like to respectfully suggest that you’re not very good researchers. Read the Wikipedia entry on confirmation bias. Better still, just stop it. And no, we wont engage with you, you’ve established yourself as the bad actors in all this. This has become personal for you, and at each stage when you come up with another implausible conspiracy theory and we debunk it, you get ever more desperate and come up with more. The reality that you’re the kind of people who get off on trying to take out a non-profit working to help trans people in developing countries doesn’t put you in a good light. When are you going to have your “Are we the baddies” moment?

  • We’re compiling a report of all your wrongdoings, then you’ll be sorry!

Good luck with that. It’ll contain a load of outright lies, some half-truths twisted from things you’ve read on this website, and your star witnesses will be the guy who scammed us and a load of his online sockpuppets.

So there it is.

Those are the accusations levelled against us and there’s the truth behind them, so make up your own mind. This all began as a personal gripe from one person with a history of attacking for clout, and we’re sure it will peter out over time.