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Riley Dennis is a feminist, transgender activist and YouTuber. She identifies as a non-binary woman, and a lesbian, and has been making videos for the website Everyday Feminism since 2015, and maintains an active YouTube channel which has about 66,000 subscribers as of December 2018.
She has covered a range of subjects in depth, including rape culture, fat acceptance, homophobia, the friendzone, sex-shaming of women, whataboutism, Islamophobia, non-binary gender and child abuse.
Trans-exclusionary dating preference debate
In November 2016, Dennis posted a video entitled "Your Dating Preferences May Be Discriminatory", in which she opined that trans-exclusionary sexual preferences may be socially conditioned and could be unlearned, kicking off an explosion of online conversations, as well as a large amount of negative attention: this and other videos from Dennis have been inundated with many thousands of downvotes and abusive transphobic comments (often of the misgendering kind), partly instigated by campaigns and partly by negative video responses from popular YouTubers with many times larger subscriber bases than she has. Dennis later doubled down on her position with another video, "Can Having Genital Preferences for Dating Mean You're Anti-Trans?"
Some of these responses have arguably misrepresented Dennis' argument,[note 1] in which she is essentially calling for her audience to reflect on whether the categorical exclusion of transgender people from one's dating pool may be partly influenced by transphobia and not just sexual orientation - or in other words, to avoid conflating innate sexuality with socially conditioned prejudice, in a manner vaguely comparable to sexual racism. It is admittedly quite impressive to be able to achieve that level of self-reflection.
To be clear, Dennis is arguing that it is discriminatory to categorically say "I would never even consider dating a trans person" (based solely on their trans status), especially when publicly making a big deal about holding such a stance. She is not saying that it is discriminatory to decide not to date any given individual transgender person one encounters (based on simply not being attracted to this individual regardless of their trans status). This is an important distinction that is often misunderstood.
However, Dennis does perhaps go too far in downplaying the role of primary sexual characteristics (i.e. genitals) in attraction, and it is this that has given the critics cause to interpret her argument as an outright attack on gay and lesbian identity and liken it to conversion therapy. Admittedly, the question of whether and to what extent societal conditioning plays a role in genital preferences has not yet been conclusively answered.
In a 2017 video called "No, Trans Women Are NOT ‘Biologically Male’", she broke down the concept of biological sex and asserted that it is a social construct, albeit in a different way from gender, and at the very least not a clear dichotomy. This similarly caused controversy; among her critics on this issue was biologist Jerry Coyne.
Dennis was also critical of Laci Green "reaching out" to her political adversaries in May 2017, saying "…she seems more interested in pandering to anti-feminists, complimenting them, and making them feel good than she does protecting the people who are at the receiving end of anti-feminist harassment campaigns."
- Riley J. Dennis, Author at Everyday Feminism
- Riley Dennis on YouTube
- Your Rape Joke Isn't Funny (And Your First Amendment Right Isn't Being Attacked) – Here’s Exactly Why
- Unpacking What 'Fat' Really Means (And Why How We Use It Is F*cked Up)
- Here Are 5 Ways You Might Still Be Perpetuating Homophobia, Even If You’re Not a Homophobe
- Yes, the Concept of 'Friend Zoning' Is Harmful – And Here’s Why
- Sex-Shaming Is Ridiculous and Harmful – Here's Why
- Why You Should Stop Asking 'Aren't There More Important Issues to Care About?'
- Why Would a Queer Person Support Muslims?
- 3 Simple Steps to Recognizing the Existence of Non-Binary People
- Science Doesn’t Support the Sex Binary (Pssst: Not Everyone Is Male or Female)
- 6 Misleading Myths That Make It Hard to Recognize Child Abuse
- Your Dating Preferences May Be Discriminatory
- Abigail Curlew (February 24, 2018). What’s Wrong With the ‘No Trans’ Dating Preference Debate. Vice.
- Can Having Genital Preferences for Dating Mean You're Anti-Trans?
- "There's also the fact that a preference is different than saying you would never do something - like having a preference for tall girls is fine, but refusing to date anyone under 5'7" is ridiculous."
- Finkelman, Byrgen. The Pride Center needs an intervention (a guest post by Teela Jewel Wild)
- Yardley, Miranda. Transgender, Transtrender, Identity and Validity
- No, Trans Women Are NOT ‘Biologically Male'
- Coyne, Jerry. Is sex a social construct like gender? Nope.
- Mamone, Trav. Is Biological Sex a Social Construct? It's Complicated
- Riley Dennis' Tumblr