Hello Cathy Brennan.
I was late to the party, but for the last several months I’ve been giving an inordinate amount of time and attention to finding out about the infamous Cathy Brennan. After “Name the Problem” dug up the former name and pre-transition picture of a twitter-friend of mine, linked it to her current online presence, and posted it up in a list of rapists and murders and child pornographers; I tried to figure out what I could do to help. The feminist organization I am a part of was supportive of the effort. We reached out to trans advocates who were currently working to expose trans exclusionary radical feminism. After taking direction from them, I wrote a petition asking the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to list Gender Identity Watch as a hate group.
Both “Name the Problem” and “Gender Identity Watch” are listed as “Cathy Brennan’s Blogs” are her website.
I was primed for a political fight. Brennan’s name appeared on the petition. That’s the first direct contact I remember having with her.
I realized that she would attempt to keep up the appearance that she was defending herself against the “angry trans activists”. She would likely attempt to gain sympathy by painting her opponents as products of male-socialization and entitlement; and those (like myself) who were assigned female at birth would likely be labeled as hand-maidens of the patriarchy. I knew that the people who signed the petition would get featured on her site (our pictures, names and links to our Facebook pages were published on the Gender Identity Watch website) and she would try to discredit us. I preemptively contacted Human Resources at my work to warn them that it was possible someone might contact them and accuse me of various things because I know Cathy Brennan has done this before. (She has not, as of the time I am writing this, done this to me.) We asked a lawyer to look through the petition to guard against legal challenges. (There are none to date.)
I felt I was ready.
What I wasn’t quite prepare for was Cathy Brennan’s bizarre political ineptitude. Her strategy, as far as I can tell at this point, is to act so strangely that we’re constantly distracted and confused. While the SPLC was deliberating as to whether or not Gender Identity Watch should be listed as a hate group, Brennan posted documentation of donations to the SPLC on her public Facebook page.
The Gender Identity Watch twitter account claimed that Brennan has been giving money to the SPLC for years.
I’m really not sure how making that public was politically useful. It was also a very small sum of money as far as the SPLC budget is concerned. If anything, it just made the SPLC look bad for accepting her money and made it seem as though she was attempting to buy their inaction (or, you know, fund a low-paid intern’s stipend for a month so they don’t have to make their own coffee).
Knowing that being “a group” was the main sticking point for not listing Gender Identity Watch as a hate group, she vowed to prove that Gender Identity Watch is a group and not just her alone.
And here we were worried that she might attempt to present Gender Identity Watch as the work of a single person to avoid it being listed as a hate group – silly us! Perhaps she actually did want her group to be listed? I mean, she did sign the petition!
Then, there’s the frivolous DMCA she filed against me.
The Name the Problem twitter account claimed that a blogger that I know was a rapist, based on his story of a girl spreading rumors about him when he was 16.
The only other group to be crass enough to use this against him was A Voice for Men (AVfM). However, when A Voice for Men did it – they were careful to not actually make a claim that he was a rapist, because they knew the claim was false and libelous – so instead they used a straw-feminist argument (that feminists supposedly believe all claims of rape regardless of the evidence) to argue that he was a rapist by his own criteria. So, essentially, Gender Identity Watch played the role of a straw-feminist in a morality play written by A Voice for Men. (And all the feminists who have ever had to deal with zealous Men’s Right’s Activists such as AVfM *face palmed* simultaneously.)
This not only made Gender Identity Watch look cruel and ridiculous but, since a false claim of fact was actually made, it opened the group up to possibly legal action. At least when she accused me of something I did not do, she was good enough to say that I “appeared” to be involved in order to cover her legal rear end.
Of course, this is just a very small example of her strange and self-defeating behavior related to personal attacks. Cathy Brennan also reportedly contacted Dana Lane Taylor’s medical doctor. The e-mail claimed that Cathy Brennan found the doctor’s contact information by doing an image google-search on a picture Taylor tweeted. This is after Taylor repeatedly told Brennan to have no contact with her.
Apparently, Brennan has a vested interest in making sure that the Bar complaint being filed concerning her had enough pages. Perhaps her strategy is to do so many inappropriate things that the people reviewing the complaint would dismiss it as “tl:dr” and go have coffee (made by low paid interns that she has perhaps subsidized somehow).
All of this, however perplexing, did not seem too out-of-line from what I had been told I might expect. The last few days though, have truly challenged my assumptions.
The SPLC published their new list of hate groups, and Gender Identity Watch was not on it. Cathy Brennan, however, does not seem happy with the list. Why? Because it lists anti-gay religious organizations as hate groups. She explains her rationale on her site and provides a lengthy quote from the Christian Post that discusses a paper by George Yancey accusing the SPLC of a liberal bias.
Just to put a cherry on the top of that heap: She accuses the SPLC of being bias due to liberals giving them money. For example, radical feminists sending them $1,000 checks? Perhaps?
Not too long ago, Cathy Brennan was vehemently denying an association with the Pacific Justice Institute (which was one of the new groups listed by the SPLC as a hate group), presumably due to their extreme anti-gay stance. Now, there is a post on the Gender Identity Watch website actively arguing against anti-gay religious groups being scrutinized by the SPLC. I’m not sure she could make her feelings more obvious if she wore a T-shirt that said, “I hate trans women more than I love gay rights. Sorry fellow lesbians!”
This is ironic since the Gender Identity Watch twitter is fond of calling feminists and anti-misogynists who disagree with them “homophobes“.
Apparently they aren’t religious enough about their supposed homophobia to get a pass?
Then this happened.
When I was made aware of that comment, I had difficulty believing it. I was given a screen shot of the IP address, e-mail address, and WordPress account which corresponded to the information on the DMCA that was sent to me. Though it is possible to edit comments on WordPress, it did appear to be from Brennan’s account.
I thought that Cathy Brennan was trying very desperately to float the narrative that she is “gender critical” not “anti-trans” or some other sort of sophistry. So, this was a bit of a shock.
The Gender Identity Watch twitter claimed that the comment was a forgery and not a hack of Cathy Brennan’s account.
Instead of providing any defense, the Gender Identity Watch twitter threatened that Cathy Brennan was going to make a phone call to the bloggers father, misgendered her (after previously publishing a pre-transition picture), used her former name and made a cheap pot-shot about the blogger’s personal living arrangements.
Because contacting someone’s family about a dispute on twitter is respectful of personal boundaries and isn’t creepy at all. Certainly, all of us agree to these terms of engagement?
Oddly, instead of contacting the family members of people involved, I attempted to gather stronger evidence. I contacted the blogger of Name the TERFs, Meryl Fortney, and asked for the comment approval notification e-mail that is auto-generated from WordPress. Since an e-mail is sent directly from WordPress to the blogger’s account once a comment is submitted, the blogger has no means of editing the comment content contained within that e-mail.
This is what she sent me.
Brennan’s supporters on twitter suggested that the screen shot of the e-mail was photo-shopped, and I appreciate their incredulity, but I doubt any level of evidence or introspection would convince many of them to doubt Brennan.
I am getting the distinct impression that Cathy Brennan enjoys pushing the boundaries of what outlandish things she can do and still be supported by her handful of enablers. Considering the shear volume of hateful and bizarre rhetoric regularly spewed by multiple social media accounts and blogs associated with Brennan, the heals are dug in very very deep.
If it weren’t for the fact that Brennan’s antics have harmed many people acutely, it would almost be a laugh. Her professional and political self-destruction seems inevitable, but it’s painfully slow and ugly.
The sad truth is, one of the reasons she gets away with being a bully is because of the sexist notion that she is too weak to harm others and couldn’t possibly be the aggressor. She is also able to leverage societal-level transmisogyny and rape culture to terrorize her targets by simply outing them. She benefits from the fact that the group she targets is widely misunderstood, mistrusted and marginalized.
There is no denying that.
Things simply can’t continue as they have. Political and legal remedies are in the works, and fewer and fewer people view trans women as fair game. She’s alienated several of her once strong allies. She is the fringe of the fringe of feminism.
Ms. Brennan, you were a wonderfully toxic teachable moment. You have exquisitely articulated the bigotry and hatred that others are too savvy or smart to blurt out loud or illustrate with interpretive paper puppet theater. You have expressed yourself so clearly as to become virtually transparent.
I now know what we’re up against, and we have more work to do.
Good bye, Brennan.
[This post has been significantly edited from it's original version to include more information and for clarity.]
[Update: More on how Gender Identity Watch has responded.]
Gender Identity Watch has made a post about the comment on their website. Within the blog post, Gender Identity Watch posts a pre-transition picture of Fortney, publishes her full former name, and provides a link to another one of the sites associated with Cathy Brennan “Name the Problem” that includes personal contact information (such as her residential address, e-mail address and phone number) presumably lifted from a website registration. Brennan is well known for this sort of doxxing.
The post claims that the original comment made by Brennan was “I am not cis. Stop misgendering me.” I’m not quite sure how to interpret that. There has been some conjecture (based on some of her writings) that Brennan has a male gender orientation she has yet to come to terms with and that is one of the reasons she is so obsessed with attacking the concept of trans gender identity and trans folks. However, I suspect that it has more to do with the erroneous contention that “cis” is a slur and “trans” is a gender.
Then, Gender Identity Watch blatantly lies.
The comment supposedly by Fortney is a fabrication that was created, presumably, to show the ease with which screen shots can be photo-shopped. However, this image is presented with no context what-so-ever. So, anyone who does not bother to travel to the Name the Terf’s website may be deceived because they won’t see this:
The anti-misogyny group End Misogyny Online picked up on the situation, but instead of calling Gender Identity Watch out on their blatant lie, they linked to the Gender Identity Watch version of events described in this post (linked under the word “comments”) and implied that Fortney was a misogynist.
Yes, Misogyny Online, Brennan’s behavior also extends to doctoring blog comments in order to spread defamation. How good of you to notice.
[Update: End Misogyny Online has since changed the link. Thank you.]