The Cult of the Male Expert
by Rebecca Weaver
Hello, dear reader. My name is Rebecca Weaver. I’m a trans woman, meaning I’m a woman who was born with a so-called “male” body. I’m also a political radical, an anarchist, and a feminist. I’m personally not that into identity politics—I want total liberation for all human beings. But I like to think my identity and my politics have a bit to do with each other. Trans women, after all, are some of the people most harmed by this sexist society. Like so many trans women, I’ve been sexually assaulted. I’ve been discriminated against while looking for a job, and I’ve been evicted from a house—both for being a trans woman. I’ve been harassed in bars, on the bus, and on the sidewalk—sometimes people just being rude and asking stupid questions, sometimes people screaming at me, calling me a “tranny” or a “faggot.” And at times it’s even escalated to me getting punched in the face. But what’s probably hurt me most of all, is when I’ve been betrayed by people in my own progressive/radical community, by people who I thought were my friends, by people who I thought I could trust.
So I like to think my identity and my politics have something to do with each other. Being who I am, I haven’t really had the luxury of buying into the system. I’ve learned to think for myself. I’ve learned to feel for the underdog. Like so many trans women throughout history—from Sylvia Rivera to Chelsea Manning—when I’ve seen injustices, even injustices where I’m not the main target, I haven’t been able to stay silent. And this is why I can’t stay silent about the injustices dished out by Kristian Williams and those like him.
For those not aware, Kristian Williams is an anarchist author and an anti-police activist in Portland, Oregon. He is someone who in many ways I am very similar to politically. Unfortunately, he is also someone who hates women and pursues an anti-feminist form of politics.
Kristian Williams and those like him hold themselves up as rational “male experts” above criticism from those who are not similarly logical or qualified. The people who aren’t allowed to criticize them are generally folks who aren’t cis, white men—folks like me, for instance. Like me, the male experts’ politics are influenced by their identity. Unlike me, their identity causes them to be gullible and swallow mainstream lies, particularly misogynistic stereotypes. The male experts push an extreme form of identity politics, based around their identities as cis, white men, without ever admitting to it publicly or even perhaps being fully aware that this is what they are doing. They confuse their lack of understanding or caring about other people’s experiences for objectivity. They confuse their ignorance for expertise.
I didn’t always see things this way. And I am new to this conflict surrounding Kristian Williams. I’ve only lived in Portland as an adult for the past two years. Neither Kristian Williams nor his fellow anti-feminist bros Peter Little or Paul Messersmith-Glavin have ever done anything to me personally, but ever since an event in Portland last year called Patriarchy in the Movement, I’ve been hearing about what these dudes are doing. Multiple women, women who are amazing activists and radical political organizers, have shared their eyewitness accounts with me. And I’ve been shocked by what I’ve heard.
I should start from the beginning. All this business started a long time ago with one woman who was violently abused by her boyfriend. She broke up with the guy and wanted him to go to see a counselor and drop out of political scene. That’s it. She wasn’t asking for jail time; she wasn’t asking for money; she was only asking for those two simple things. She thought he should drop out of politics because during an intense protest, a protest where people might get arrested or worse, she didn’t want to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with somebody who used to beat her ass. And who can blame her? Would you want to keep seeing your abuser over and over again? Would you want to place your trust again in your abuser, to trust that he would have your back in such a sensitive situation? I sure as hell wouldn’t want that. I don’t think many people would want that.
This is where Peter Little, Paul Messersmith-Glavin, and Kristian Williams come in. No one has said that they themselves have abused women. What we are saying is that they are supporters of dudes who abuse women. What we are saying is that they’ve used their credibility as male “experts”—the fact that people who know nothing about a situation will immediately believe them before they believe a woman or trans person, simply because of who they are—to spread misinformation, sexist lies, and anti-feminist political analysis. The original woman’s ex-boyfriend was a charismatic white male who was a graduate of a women’s studies program. Despite being an abuser! He was a male expert, too—an expert on women, no less! And many people didn’t want to see him leave the struggle. So for the next handful of years, Peter, Paul, and Kristian–let’s call them the Patriarchy Defense Squad for short–swooped into action to do everything they could to discredit the original woman and anyone who stood with her. They said she was a crazy psycho. They said she was plotting violence against a child. They said she and her supporters were COINTELPRO agents. They said she and her supporters were “authoritarian” and “totalitarian” for daring to criticize what they were saying and doing.
So this was something I had been hearing about for almost a year, but I had been standing on the sidelines. I thought it was awful, and what those dudes were doing made me sick. But I had my own problems, you know? Just keeping my head above water has often been a daily struggle. So for a long time, I thought it was better that I not get involved in this as it didn’t seem to directly impact me. Also, there was a lot I thought I didn’t know. I wasn’t an “expert” on the situation.
Then I saw that Kristian Williams was going to be speaking at radical political conference here in Portland called the Law & Disorder Conference, and I saw that feminists were planning a protest. I saw how much backlash these feminists were getting for their intended protest, and well, things finally started to click for me. They had a legit critique of this dude, and all they were saying is that he shouldn’t be given a platform to speak at a big event in the community when so many people had such huge, huge political problems with him, with what’s he’s written, with what he’s done. But that was unacceptable to many. Kristian was a male expert—the ultimate one, in fact, for being such a well-respected male anarchist author. You couldn’t simply deny someone of this caliber his platform. So to punish these feminists, folks were attacking them, comparing them to Mao Tse Tung and the prosecutors at the Salem Witch Trials. Paul Messersmith-Glavin made jokes about how the feminists wanted to burn the books of anarchists. And I was like, really? These feminists are engaging in a principled, nonviolent protest, and you are making all these ridiculous, overstated attacks on them? That’s when I realized something.
It’s actually the male experts of the Patriarchy Defense Squad who have the totalitarian vision. They believe in all-patriarchy-all-the-time. They believe they should be able to purge whichever woman or trans person they want to out of the movement, without getting criticized, and if others have a problem with it. . .well, those people have to get purged, too. Most of the things written in Kristian Williams’ article The Politics of Denunciation are psychological projections. The true narrow, fanatical clique, the true authoritarians–why, they are Kristian Williams and his fellow male experts! They are the ones who are violating security culture, comparing anyone who disagrees with them to a COINTELPRO agent. They are the ones who launch sexist, personal attacks on women, saying we are crazy and irrational, saying things like we want to violently harm children. Everything they say, everything they do, is part of a finely-tuned, masterful program of political repression against women, feminists, and survivors. This is their true field of expertise.
And so I realized this movement would never be a real home for me so long as dudes’ like these were able to operate in a manner like this without challenge. I’m a trans woman with radical views who stands up for herself. It’s gotten me in trouble with my “comrades” before. And so I realized that a movement where powerful white male experts like these call the shots around who can stay in the movement and who can’t will never be a safe movement for me. And so it turned out that on a basic level my struggle was actually the same struggle as those who were protesting Kristian Williams, even though Kristian Williams himself had never done anything to me. So I decided to join the feminist protesters of Kristian Williams.