This comic explains tone policing and why you shouldn’t do it

I can’t say for certain what their motivation for doing that it (reclaiming it, probably). It’s still not a good idea to use hermaphrodite though.

From the linked wiki article

The distinctions “male pseudohermaphrodite”, “female pseudohermaphrodite” and especially “true hermaphrodite” are vestiges of outdated 19th-century thinking, reflecting histology (microscopic appearance) of the gonads. Medical terminology has shifted not only due to concerns about language, but also a shift to understandings based on genetics.

Maybe pointing out that hermaphrodite (in regards to humans) is an pseudoscientific term would help. It probably won’t though.


If you’re an activist, you have to think, act, and speak strategically. You are going to have to moderate and modulate your emotions and you might as well install a drain under your pillow for all the tears you’re going to spill when you finally get home.

However, I think what a lot of people in the comments right now are missing in this comic is that most individuals aren’t activists. You can’t simply dismiss concerns because someone is upset or angry. Would you do that with a spouse? Would you do it with your boss? Listen to their argument or their concerns, and deal with that. This is the logical way to handle people’s concerns. If I was upset that an asteroid the size of Texas was hurtling towards the earth, and I was crying about it, the appropriate response is to send rockets with gravity tugs towards the asteroid, not to tell me I’m being emotional and refuse to do anything until I calm down. Is it possible for someone to be upset about something and for that person to propose counter-productive solutions? Sure. But you deal with it on a logical level, what do their emotions have to do with anything? You can just as easily be emotional and wrong as you can be emotional and right.

So absolutely advise your activist friends who are having a hard time reaching people while they do activism to tamp their emotions (if that’s the actual problem). But telling the people you encounter in your day-to-day life to “be pragmatic” when they’re just talking to you one person to another? That’s kind of a dick move.


The thing is, yes, the term “hermaphrodite” is indeed a slur to the intersex community, who have had it applied to them for generations. They have had their bodies medically manipulated and mutilated against their will because they did not fall into the accepted gender binary on a biological level, treated as broken and deformed, and were referred to by that term, so they have every legitimate reason to find it abhorrent in (and this is key) in reference to them. Which is something that I support–they have the right to say “this is upsetting to me because of my history with it.” But this is not widely known, and, yes, I am not sure what happy medium can exist where the word is legitimately and deeply offensive when applied to certain people, and yet is also the technical term for many plants and animals in relation to their reproduction. I suppose, as always, consideration, empathy and understanding are key.

My former friend, on the other hand, you quite correctly diagnosed as treating the term as (ironically) a binary thing, where it is either universally acceptable or universally forbidden, with no shading of circumstance, context, nuance or intention. Ergo, it is the term to use in reference to the World Of Darkness group known as the Daksha, who are essentially a mage Legacy (i.e. a “prestige class”) who literally reshape their bodies into a hermaphroditic expression of perfected humanity (according to their ideology; they also have a third-eye in the back of the head…). I have one NPC that is a member of that group, and their child, who is biologically also a hermaphrodite, but didn’t join the Legacy themselves, causing conflict that has drawn in the PCs, and describing this was the context in which the term was used.

I think the key differences here in terms of tone policing, though, is that my former friend was not a member of the aggrieved group, and her attitude presupposed that I was malicious instead of ignorant, or at the very least was not willing to distinguish between the two. Ironically, though, it didn’t backfire; I did my own research, found that it was, in that context, a slur, made a note, integrated that into my knowledge base, educated myself further on the topic, and am willing to speak up on their behalf.

checks before posting And, whoa, did I derail the thread. Dammit.


Sometimes, people’s emotions and therefore tones are the only issue. There are no other real, tangible issues other than perhaps how we became so misinformed. For example, when we have “fears” of things that are trivial, it is very tempting to tell us to just calm down. But even then, when that’s the only thing that is truly required, it fails dismally 99% of the time.

On another note, people who are very emotional with respect to an issue are often (but not always) personally affected by the issue (or at least feel that they are). It may be useful to consider whether those people are actually conflicted and unable to offer rational input to the solution. For example, someone who has just been robbed by a person of some identifiable social/ethnic/“racial” class is perhaps not in the best position to offer good advice on how to best deal with severe inequalities in police attitudes and actions with relation to that category of person.

I’ll also listen to and respect those who stand up and say “this doesn’t affect me personally (they don’t need to say this bit - but it has to be true), but it’s important and it’s wrong, and here’s what I’m going to do about it”, just as I will listen to and respect those directly affected. But I think it may be possible to be too close to an issue to be rational and most effective in addressing it. The “Well, you would say that, wouldn’t you?” counter argument is rendered moot when dealing with someone unaffected by the actual issue.

There are also examples of where emotions are really the only thing to address at all: Is the best solution to the widespread irrational fear of terrorism to try reduce that already trivial risk still further (I dunno, take off our shoes to board an aeroplane, maybe export the brown people?), or to somehow get the irrationally fearful to just calm the fuck down? See also “stranger danger” (that isn’t a thing) and the cotton-wool kid raising (that may not also actually be a thing, of course) that results .


Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good comic, but it’s awfully angry.


A lot of parallels to the grammar snob thread

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On the one hand, most people aren’t badass SJW activist types, and are just trying to get through their day. So, when talking to random people about hot-button issues, explain things as calmly and smoothly as possible, and try not to use jargon and tropes that they won’t understand. Don’t go right for the confrontation, or assume they’re on the other side just because they’re not on your side.

On the other hand, I’m not running for Senate, I’m not on trial, I’m not a CNN host, and probably neither are you. I don’t have to have every conversation with everyone in a manner of coached neutrality. If things get a little heated, or a little snarky, or whatever, so be it, it doesn’t invalidate the argument.

Just my two cents.


Umma go ahead and respond to the method of delivery rather than the content:

Like most social-issue “explainer” comics, this doesn’t belong in the Scott McCloud “Understanding Comics” format. It’s really a text essay, and the only way it uses the particular qualities of the medium is a problematic one: comics are fluid about who, if anyone, is saying the words, which here becomes the lube for a barrage of straw-man arguments.

The strength of comics is their ability to be pithy, self-aware, subjective and ambiguous, but this is wordy, earnest and authoritative. It feels like a serious essay asking to be excused from any serious discussion.

It’s also more than a little patronising, especially as it doesn’t feel like it’s done out of a particular love for the medium. It’s hard not to infer that the author had to do this because anyone who doesn’t already agree with them is on the level of a Sesame Street viewer. (Albeit that this is an understandable reaction to some of the things that some adults need explained to them).

And fwiw, it’s less accessible. Even for sighted people, a short essay would be easier to read in more situations.

(I don’t disagree that “calm down, dear” is a dick move btw. I wouldn’t have much problem with this if it had been a short written piece)

What you say is definitely applicable to mass demonstrations, which are intended to convince outsiders that there’s popular support for a non-mainstream position. It’s frustrating when the violent anarkiddies, the People’s Hero™ cosplayers, the idiots with their generic puppets, the annoying drummers, the Free Mumia and “support Hamas” crowd, the drugged-out hippie wannabes and fauxstafarians, and the other assorted fantasists and chaos addicts with no real investment in the core issue show up to play into the media’s narrative (“sure, it was a lot of people, but look at these weird clowns”) and alienate people. It needlessly undermines serious issues again and again.

With a few exceptions, the organisers of left-wing demos for the past 25 years seem to have abandoned the concepts of march and message discipline in favour of “everyone’s welcome and every voice deserves to be heard, because rage against the machine, ma-a-a-n.” The organisers of demos really do need to learn about tone policing when it comes to their events and those who participate.


You might not agree with the medium, but the content is spot on.

I don’t find the arguments to be straw men, because I’ve encountered literally all of these arguments.


Yet racist white guys can dress in Colonial Era cosplay, and the media totally takes them seriously.


Correct, because venerating the Revolutionary era is part of a patriotic narrative that’s acceptable to the mainstream media. Take the same dude with a spittle-flecked beard ranting and raving on camera, remove the tricorn hat and breeches and put him in a Che Guevara costume and see how he’s presented on TV (the actual rhetoric often being beside the point for the media).

If someone is acting (formally or informally) as a public spokesperson for a cause, self-policing and self-awareness of tone in the context of the medium is very important. Unfortunately, a lot of progressives seem to be totally clueless about that and more interested in indulging and acting out their personal fantasies and psychodramas.

Emotion and logic are often mutually exclusive and until you remove the emotion you can’t even tell if there’s a real issue to be discussed. Many of the people this cartoon are about do not have the tiniest shred of logic and therefore, no case to be made.

Hey, calm down and maybe we can talk about this.


Emotions are valid or not depending on how they match up with truth, not depending on whether they’re displayed. If someone’s emotions are not in balance with the importance of the issue, those emotions are Invalid. If someone’s emotions are contrary to the purpose of them displaying them, they are invalid. If someone’s emotions are unwarranted, they are invalid. All of those things are possible, and they happen. Not all emotions are valid, especially when you’re discussing rational topics. Rationality can account for emotion. Emotion can’t do shit for rationality.

From the BBS FAQ:

  1. Be cool…

  2. Constructive criticism is welcome. Hostile, whining hand-wringers will be eaten.

Is this tone policing, or an attempt at creating an environment for civil discourse?


There are a lot of different types of intersex that aren’t hermaphrodism. It is a technical term and is not biased or prejudiced unless it is used that way intentionally. Clear? Good.

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It depends on the smell test.

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I like this thread better than the post that led to it. Primarily for the reasons that @bobtato listed, admittedly, but also because effective group action usually requires effective communication, and effective communication relies heavily on strategic use of language and tactical use of tone.


Not really. At least, it isn’t on this list.

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