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Riley Dennis is an American feminist, transgender activist and YouTuber. She is a non-binary woman and a lesbian who maintains an active YouTube channel which has about 98,000 subscribers and 11.6 million views as of August 2020.
From 2015 to 2017, Dennis made many videos for the website Everyday Feminism, covering 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.
In 2018, Dennis moved to Australia. The focus of her channel has now shifted toward topics such as media critique, as well as documenting her relationship and her travels with her partner Fiona.
Trans-exclusionary dating preference debate
“”I’m not going to tell you that you have to be attracted to this fat person, or that trans person, or that disabled person. But the more you work at unlearning your own prejudices, the more you’ll be able to see people from these groups as people rather than tired stereotypes.
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 possibly 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 latent 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, but to categorically rule out question of whether and to what extent societal conditioning might play a role in genital preferences seems premature.
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.
On biological sex
“”For example, if someone was assigned male at birth, but took puberty blockers and hormones and had a vaginoplasty, they would have “female” hormones, secondary sex characters, and genitals. So, three of their five ways of determining sex would be “female”... That means three-fifths of the sex criteria point to female, and only one-fifth points to male – and if you believe that sex is an unchanging biological fact, that couldn’t be possible. But it is.
In a 2017 video called "No, Trans Women Are NOT ‘Biologically Male’", Dennis broke down the concept of biological sex and referred to it as a social construct, albeit in a different way from gender. She asserted that what we call "biological sex" is not a clear dichotomy and simply represents a combination of numerous biological markers — secondary sex characteristics, gonads, chromosomes, genitals and hormones — several of which can be changed medically as a result of transitioning. This similarly caused controversy; among her critics on this issue was biologist Jerry Coyne. Dennis' basic argument, however, has been supported by more recent research in the Scientific American, alongside a conceptualization of biological sex as a continuum rather than a binary.
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.
- Dennis, Riley J. Your Rape Joke Isn't Funny (And Your First Amendment Right Isn't Being Attacked) – Here’s Exactly Why. Everyday Feminism, June 22, 2015.
- Dennis, Riley J. Unpacking What 'Fat' Really Means (And Why How We Use It Is F*cked Up). Everyday Feminism, August 11, 2015.
- Dennis, Riley J. Here Are 5 Ways You Might Still Be Perpetuating Homophobia, Even If You’re Not a Homophobe. Everyday Feminism, July 23, 2015.
- Dennis, Riley J. Yes, the Concept of 'Friend Zoning' Is Harmful – And Here’s Why. Everyday Feminism, August 31, 2015.
- Dennis, Riley J. Sex-Shaming Is Ridiculous and Harmful – Here's Why. Everyday Feminism, November 3, 2015.
- Dennis, Riley J. Why You Should Stop Asking 'Aren't There More Important Issues to Care About?'. Everyday Feminism, August 23, 2016.
- Dennis, Riley J. Why Would a Queer Person Support Muslims?. Everyday Feminism, March 17, 2017.
- Dennis, Riley J. 3 Simple Steps to Recognizing the Existence of Non-Binary People. Everyday Feminism, November 11, 2016.
- Dennis, Riley J. Science Doesn’t Support the Sex Binary (Pssst: Not Everyone Is Male or Female). Everyday Feminism, June 5, 2016.
- Dennis, Riley J. 6 Misleading Myths That Make It Hard to Recognize Child Abuse. Everyday Feminism, September 13, 2016.
- Riley J. Dennis. I moved to Sydney, Australia!!! | Riley J. Dennis. YouTube
- Riley J. Dennis - YouTube.
- Dennis, Riley J. Your Dating Preferences May Be Discriminatory. Everyday Feminism, December 9, 2016.
- Curlew, Abigail. What’s Wrong With the ‘No Trans’ Dating Preference Debate. Vice, February 24, 2018.
- Dennis, Riley J. Can Having Genital Preferences for Dating Mean You're Anti-Trans?. Everyday Feminism, April 21, 2017.
- "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."
- Cursed E. The Cotton Ceiling. Medium, July 17, 2018.
- Finkelman, Byrgen. The Pride Center needs an intervention (a guest post by Teela Jewel Wild). July 26, 2017.
- Dennis, Riley J. No, Trans Women Are NOT ‘Biologically Male'. EverydayFeminism, February 10, 2017.
- Coyne, Jerry. Is sex a social construct like gender? Nope. February 13, 2017.
- Mamone, Trav. Is Biological Sex a Social Construct? It's Complicated. July 21, 2017.
- Sun, Simón(e) D. Stop Using Phony Science to Justify Transphobia. Scientific American, June 13, 2019.
- Montañez, Amanda. Visualizing Sex as a Spectrum. Scientific American, August 29, 2017.
- Riley Dennis on Tumblr.