Big Tech, Media, and "Moral Panics"
On Substack, Nazis, and the Bad Faith of Transphobes
Welp, I’m pretty sure everyone is tired of the fight about Substack’s unwillingness to ban Nazis at this point. I know I sure didn’t want to write anything more about it.
But as the discourse drags on (in large part because Substack’s leadership responded to the initial criticism by Jonathan Katz, Marisa Kabas, and the Substackers against Nazis collective so badly), I feel vaguely compelled to weigh in again. And not least because a certain prominent transphobic “just asking questions” troll, whose work has done much to help fuel America’s contemporary anti-trans madness, has dismissed “this whole thing” as “little more than a moral panic.”
The Bugbear Dispatch exists thanks to the financial support of readers like you. If you like what you read and can afford it, please consider becoming a paid subscriber!
As regular readers will recall, moral panic is a both major theme of and defining context for The Bugbear Dispatch, which frequently addresses the anatomy and impact of the Christian Right’s fear-based ideology. Hence the name:
As a transgender woman, I belong to one of the Right’s most reviled demographics. I am, therefore, a modern American bugbear.
We are certainly dealing with widespread moral panic in the United States these days, where book banning, book burnings, and right-wing attacks on diversity and education are all too commonplace. I should know, as a member of one of the main demographics targeted for harassment, violence, and direct persecution via state law. As of this writing, over 200 anti-trans bills have been filed in state legislatures in the US in 2024—a rate that far exceeds last January’s. Anti-trans legislative initiatives have been escalating year over year for nearly a decade now, and each recent year has seen new and more draconian forms of persecution actually get passed into law.
Seeing this happen is hard on us trans folks—even those of us who live in states where we remain safe (for now at least). I often say that I avoid writing too frequently about trans issues because I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a trans writer who can only say things about trans things. And that much is true; I have expertise in other areas, and I want to contribute to those areas and to represent trans folks there in my professional capacity.
But there’s also another reason I don’t write about trans issues all the time: it’s too damn bad for my mental health, and dwelling on what’s happening exacerbates my depression. I don’t know how advocates like Alejandra Caraballo and Erin Reed manage to track the blow-by-blow of anti-trans legislation day in and day out, but I am deeply grateful for the service they do for the rest of us.
That being said, I do have to catch up on where trans rights stand in American regularly, and the current picture is grim. Here’s some of what’s happening right now, and it goes far beyond bans on school sports participation and gender-affirming care for youth (though those are bad enough).
West Virginia is considering forcing trans people under the age of 21 to undergo conversion therapy, while Florida—a state that has already taken transgender adults’ healthcare away—is deciding whether to strip trans folks of drivers’ licenses with the correct gender. Ohio has also moved to deprive trans adults of access to their healthcare.
Meanwhile, we live in an America where raving right-wing mobs show up to school board meetings to support anti-trans policies and bans on books that represent queerness or America’s actual history of systemic racism; where the same sort of mob, led by a Proud Boys member, harasses a pastor outside his house because he runs a support group for LGBTQ youth; and where police might even show up to a middle school classroom to “investigate” a complaint about an “obscene” book that, spoiler alert, was not obscene, but was an age-appropriate book about being genderqueer.
Now that, fellow bugbears, is what a moral panic looks like.