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Social justice mob bullies writer into pulling transgender story. Turns out the writer is trans — just not authentically trans enough.

'It feels like "Isabel Fall" is a straight cis person … Probably a white dude'

Photo by Camilo Freedman/APHOTOGRAFIA/Getty Images

A transgender writer who recently published a short story about her own transgender experience for a monthly magazine decided to take it down shortly after facing a "barrage of attacks" from the social justice mob online.

What are the details?

The story, titled, "I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter," was published in Clarkesworld, a monthly science fiction and fantasy magazine, and aimed to repurpose a viral meme from 2014 that mocked the evolving spectrum of transgender identities.

Isabel Fall, the story's author, intended to subvert the meme's critique and reclaim the phrase for gender exploration.

"I decided that I was done with womanhood, over what womanhood could do for me; I wanted to be something furiously new," Fall wrote in the story. "To the people who say a woman would've refused to do what I do, I say — isn't that the point?"

But shortly after its publication, internet critics descended on the story, taking to Twitter to lambaste the story as insensitive, transphobic, and a hoax.

In a lengthy statement last week, the magazine's editor, Neil Clarke, announced that he had pulled the story at Fall's request, saying the "attacks on Isabel have taken a toll and I ask that even if you disagree with the decision, that you respect it."

"This was not a hoax," Clarke continued. "Isabel honestly and very personally wanted to take away some of the power of that very hurtful meme."

According to Clarke, the story had been through a number of "sensitivity readings," which is a manuscript evaluation prior to publication to discern whether a story's characters are portrayed with authenticity, respect, and sensitivity. But that did not stop the social justice mob from eviscerating the story.

The only information provided about Fall at the time of the story's publication was the year of her birth, 1988. This, Clarke said, was to shield her against attacks from anti-transgender campaigners, "unfortunately, the same shield used against them opened her up to an unexpected attack from others," he admitted.

In the statement, he directly confronted critics who evidently accused her of symbolically using the 88 in 1988 to signify allegiance to Hitler: "Isabel was born in 1988. That does not make one a neo-Nazi. I'm honestly surprised and disappointed that I have to say that."

Fall was not officially out as transgender when the story was published, but came out during the attacks to defend herself.

"Various claims being made against her pressured [her] into publicly outing herself as a defense against the attacks," Clarke acknowledged in the statement, adding, "That should never be the case and is very disturbing to me."

Scathing critique

In its report on the news, The Atlantic recalled the scathing critique from Arinn Dembo, acting president of Canada's National Association for Speculative Fiction Professionals.

In a series of tweets, Dembo blasted that the story "did not feel like it was written by a queer trans author" and "feels flat and fake."

"It feels like 'Isabel Fall' is a straight cis person … Probably a white dude," she said in another tweet. "Because honestly, this story is just dripping with all the lies that straight men tell themselves about both cis and trans women."

Even if the story was authentic, she mused, it still "just sucks" because "no amount of beautiful writing can dispel the toxicity, the oily taste of garbage" of its title.

When The Atlantic reached out to Dembo to ask if she stood by her original critique after learning that Fall is transgender, she replied in the affirmative.

"It was my take when I first read the story. No information on the author or her intentions was provided, and I gave my first impressions and opinion," she argued.

Instead of apologizing for any insensitivity, Dembo blamed Fall for not outing herself and Clarkesword for not providing helpful context along with the story.

"All I can say at this point is that a lot of people might have been spared a lot of mental anguish if that story had simply been accompanied by a sentence or two of context — an artist's statement of the author's identity and her intention for the work," she said. "I don't think every story needs a content warning or a statement of author's intent before you read it, but this one clearly did."

In light of the backlash against "Attack Helicopter," The Atlantic conceded that we should "pity the fiction writers trying to make art in the era of social-media mobs."

One last thing…
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