This is NOT the video that I intended to record today, but something has come up and I really want to address it while it’s fresh.

I woke up this morning at 6:00am in Clear Springs Maryland en route to Fairfax, Virginia. Amid hotel breakfast and packing suitcases, one thing remained constant to my usual routine: I checked Twitter to discover I’d been tagged in a ‘call out’ post looking for me to ‘condemn’ someone else’s behaviour.

This is something I encounter a lot and it plays out like this: Someone doesn’t like the behaviour of someone or something. Let’s call them Person A. Instead of responding to Person A with their thoughts, they take it to someone else—Person B—who they perceive as an ally or supporter of Person A, and ‘call them out’ by demanding condemnation of Person A’s behaviour.

I get this a lot because It’s well known that I have built relationships across both sides of this divide. Some people find my relationships with individuals whom they find unpalatable to be highly problematic, and they frequently point their grievances towards me to ‘condemn’.

Note what’s going on here: These complainants are not objecting to my behaviour, they are objecting to my choice of engaging with people whose behaviour they find objectionable. My ‘crime’ in their eyes is not something I did or said per say, it’s simply that they believe me to be aligned with someone who did or said something. I think they believe this puts me in a catch 22 because for themselves they establish superiority by ‘cancelling’ those whose beliefs they find objectionable.

Now in this morning’s incident, the individual’s I was asked to condemn are not even people in my circle. I’ve never spoken to them in my life. Regardless, I’m not going to do it because, on principle, I do not respond to requests for condemnation of others, even if situationally I might find their behaviour unacceptable. That is because I refuse to engage in what has come to be known as Moral Outrage Porn.

Moral Outrage Porn is a term I first saw used by Philospher C. Thi Nguyen and I think it speaks volumes to what we experience on Social Media. It describes the trend of engaging in moral outrage for personal pleasure (ie: porn) rather than to achieve utility and action.

You see—moral outrage is a natural and important human response. It occurs to spur action and bring about positive change. You witness something immoral—it outrages you, and that outrage is supposed to motivate you to improve things.

It becomes moral outrage ‘porn’ however when this response towards outrage is highjacked for the purpose of bestowing righteousness or superiority and no longer materializes in taking actual steps to address the source of the outrage.

Do you see the connection to the term ‘porn’?

As Tim Kreider said in the New York Times in 2009 when speaking about Moral Outrage Porn: “It sometimes seems as if most of the news is selected specifically to pander to our impulses to judge and punish and get us all riled up with righteous indignation”. In 2023 I think we’d agree that this is a fair assessment of MOST of what we indulge on social media.

For myself, when I get morally outraged, I try my best to truly direct this towards real world improvement.

And let’s be honest—if we truly want to bring about change, this isn’t going to happen through public Twitter. Hearts don’t shift by being shamed. A call-out online is only really experienced by the callee’s existing base who already agrees with them. It causes more division, more outrage, promotes filter bubbles, and leads to absolutely no real-world improvement. 

Do you know what I do instead of Twitter condemnation? I invite people to coffee chats and look for opportunities to build relationships. I look for the areas where we agree and where we can work together. I look for common ground. I do this because a relationship is required before gaining someone’s respect and trust, which are both essential prerequisites if I ever hope to have their ear.

Even if I did call someone out on Twitter, why would they listen to me if a trusting relationship doesn’t first exist? If I haven’t yet gained their respect then I won’t have gained the authority in their eyes for my opinion to mean anything to them at all. I am simply creating noise and filling feeds with an ever-larger pile of outrage porn for others to use to establish their own righteous indignation. I’m posturing to morally elevate myself above others.

Example of how this plays out: If someone posts that all transgender women are opinionated, angry narcissists whose objective is to erase biological women, I’m unlikely to argue with them on that claim. Instead, I’ll prove it wrong by demonstrating that this isn’t true, or at least not universally true.

It would be easy to just yell at them on Twitter—which by the way in their eyes will likely just prove the point that transgender women are loud angry narcissists.

What’s far more rewarding is to spend time to build an authentic relationship where those assumptions—over time—can be challenged. And the beauty is that when you do this you rarely need to challenge someone’s assumptions in words because the relationship, once formed, implicitly does the heavy lifting. I get the benefit of a new friend, and my friend gets the benefit of an expanded and refined worldview. This is reciprocal, and I’ll almost certainly expand my worldview as I come to understand them better as well.

What I find truly ironic is that it’s this very thing I’ve just described—taking the conversations out of the public eye and building authentic relationships—that is what these individuals on Twitter are going after me for. To them—as this afternoon’s Twitter chain made clear, I am ‘engaging with Nazis’. As already mentioned, I’ve never met or spoken with the individuals in question here but that’s immaterial because if I was in relationship with this individual and felt that they need to be called out, I would do so privately. That’s how I do life. And I get that it’s foreign to those unfortunate souls who dedicated a shocking portion of their time to being righteously indignant on Twitter.

One more thing. It was pointed out this afternoon that I have on occasion retweeted others whom I disagree with. This could be perceived as a form of a ‘call out’. It’s not ‘asking someone else to condemn another individual’ as I’ve highlighted here, but I totally take your point.

What I will say is that when I’ve done this my intention has been to temper strong language and division by highlighting an alternative posture. In the example from last night, an individual, whom by the way has declined six invitations from me for a coffee chat, had characterized all supporters of a major political party in explicit terms as abusers, homophobes, racists and ‘people to hate and hurt others with smiles on their faces’.

Since relationships are mutual and this individual has made it clear that they are not interested in forming one with me, I elected to use their divisive language to highlight how we can better get along across political divisions by avoiding this behaviour. I retweeted and commented that this creates more derision. The comments on my tweet highlighted the understanding I was hoping to convey: that unity and tempered interactions are so much better than charged rhetoric.

I am nonetheless reflecting on my choice to retweet though because I see how what I shared may have also caused additional division. Today, the individual I retweeted labelled me a homophobic white supremacist which is an escalation from what I’ve personally received from this individual. I not going to pretend that I have an answer and I appreciate being held accountable for my own action on this. I’m going to reflect on this further.

So, to summarize, I decline your invitation to condemn other’s activity. If you choose to interpret this as acceptance of their position then you do so in bad faith because I’ve clarified that my refusal to respond to your demands to call out others will always be declined regardless of the issue at hand.

And for the record: If I do encounter a literal Nazi, which hasn’t happened yet, I’d be happy to go out to coffee with them. Perhaps I’d be the first transgender individual whose given them the chance to have an authentic engagement, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could have a positive impact?

Julia Malott

Julia Malott is a Canadian based transgender individual who advocates for bridging the gap between diverse viewpoints on gender identity and ideology. Julia is the host of Alotta Thoughts Podcast which features bi-weekly long form discussions exploring the complexity of sex and gender.

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Julia Malott

Julia Malott is a Canadian based transgender individual who advocates for bridging the gap between diverse viewpoints on gender identity and ideology. Julia is the host of Alotta Thoughts Podcast which features bi-weekly long form discussions exploring the complexity of sex and gender.