Arielle Scarcella with an image of Trump holding the LGBTQ+ rainbow flag

The Platform of a TERF: How Arielle Scarcella creates a trans exclusionary discourse on YouTube

12 minutes to read
Article
Elise Stegmann
07/09/2021

Arielle Scarcella is one of many content creators on YouTube, particularly an LGBTQ+ creator. What started out as a comedy channel about lesbians, has evolved into an outlet of transphobic, trans-exclusionary discourse. She is now well known for being a gatekeeper to the LGBTQ+ community, which means she attempts to control and limit access to the community (Oxford Dictionary, 2020). This is done by invalidating people’s identity or making supposedly truthful videos about what it is like being a lesbian.

One such an example is a video in which she talks about how lesbians have sex. She speaks as if she talks for every homosexual women, and that these few items she mentions are the only ways to have sex (Arielle Scarcella, 2020d). While her current content is occasionally in that same style of somewhat funny videos about lesbian things (e.g. trying spanking, showing sex toys to straight women) it is mainly content about trans and other non-cisgender people. Scarcella has commented on how these people should not be a part of the LGB community, excluding all gender identities from this community, as they do not stand for the same morals as those who fall under the LGB identities. How has Arielle Scarcella created an anti-trans discourse within the LGBTQ+ using her YouTube platform?

How Scarcella Constructs Trans and Queer people as Outsiders

Scarcella frequently produces videos in which she responds to other YouTubers, in particular trans YouTubers such as Jamie Raines  (Jammidodger) and Noah Adams, also known as Noahfinnce. These videos usually concern trans related topics. On October 31st, 2019 she uploaded a video, titled LGB Drops The T - Lesbian Responds To Trans Ideology (LGB Alliance). In this video she reacts to Raines as he talks about the LGB alliance. This is an alliance that split off from the Stonewall, a UK based charity focused on LGBTQ+ rights, with the belief that since the inclusion of trans rights in 2015, LGB rights have been pushed aside.

Raines responded to the LGB alliance and how they talked about the trans agenda, and their personal ideals. He questioned what this agenda was supposed to entail, saying "... [Stonewall] was now promoting the 'trans agenda' - whatever that is - at the expense of LGB rights." (Jammidodger, 2019).

Scarcella then reacted to this portion and explained to Raines what the trans agenda means to ‘them’, explaining: "I think when people are talking about the trans agenda, what they mean is: the trans activist community coming up with it that have no way of working in the real world." (Arielle Scarcella, 2019). By 'them' she meant she and others that are against, as she puts it, trans activism or the inclusion of transgender in LGBT rights. She addresses those who are against trans activism as ‘we/our’ and calls trans individuals, or trans activists ‘they/them’. She creates a narrative that paints one party as the opponent, as the deviant (Arielle Scarcella, 2019).

The discursive construction of the 'deviant', and defining the us and them creates social groups. They define who is an insider or outsider. The deviant is someone who acts outside of the rules, defies the rules of a certain group (Becker, 1966).

Scarcella attempts to estabilsh new rules and norms by splitting up the LGBTQ+ 'us'. She splits off trans and gender queer people as the other, or outsider who is a deviant from the norms in the LGBTQ+ community. Scarcella, as well as the LGB alliance, says that trans activists and transgender people are breaking the rules of the LGBTQ+ community because they are prioritising their own rights over LGB rights and therefore they are the deviant in the LGBTQ+ community.

Scarcella's Coding of Discourse

Scarcella reasons that the inclusion of transgender rights in the LGBT rights movement at charities such as StoneWall, has caused LGB rights to become less central. As the inclusion of transgender rights has risen in prominent charities, gay and lesbian rights have gone largely ignored. Thus, she argues that transgender people, and their rights, should be seen separately from LGB rights, separating the 'them' from 'our rights' (Arielle Scarcella, 2019).

When looking at the way in which Scarcella codes her discourse, specifically to fit her ideology, the video titled Thousands Of "Trans" Teens Want To DETRANSITION... (Women, Lesbians, Homophobia) has specific cases of this. In this video, where she talks about gender dysphoria being over-diagnosed and wrongfully diagnosed. At one point she reads out a research report, which states that there has been a significant increase of people who think they are transgender, only when she reads it out she specifically replaces the word ‘transgender’ with the words ‘gender dysphoria’ (Arielle Scarcella, 2020a).

By quoting a research report she harps on the connotation between science and truth. Science is overall believed to be about producing facts and truths. By quoting a research report she claims to speak the language of science, thus naming truth. In doing this, she paints herself as a reliable source of the information being shared.

 

Although the words 'transgender' and 'gender dysphoria' are related, they are not interchangeable. Transgender is when one’s assigned sex does not align with their gender identity (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), 2007). Gender dysphoria is a mental condition, where psychological distress is caused by the discrepancy between the sex assigned at birth and gender identity (American Psychiatric Association, 2020). Scarcella uses the words ‘transgender’ and ‘gender dysphoria’ interchangeably during the course of the video, to fit the established transphobic narrative that see transgenders as people with mental problems. We thus see how she recodes the research report to fit her transphobic discourse (Goodwin, 1994. p608).

Another discourse strategy she uses to construct the idea that trans people have a mental illness is highlighting. Highlighting is done to make parts of a text stand out, and consequently become the sole focus of the discourse (Goodwin, 1994. p610). Scarcella lays the focus of the issues with gender diagnosis on the fact that it is a mental condition. This labels all that experience gender dysphoria as people with mental problems. According to Becker, those with mental conditions are the ultimate outsider (Becker, 1966).

She repeatedly highlights how children and in particular females are being misdiagnosed increasingly. She emphasises on the possible reasons for this happening. Scarcella mentions her personal experience with her sexuality, how she too would have thought she was a boy at a young age, because that was the only way to like girls. She reiterates her stance on ‘trans issues’ by saying:

“…yes, like actual transgender people are real. There are plenty of people out there that identify as the sex opposite of which they were born at. But, I also think that more people think that they’re trans than actually are.” (Arielle Scarcella, 2020a. 2:27-2:39)

She proceeds to state that the children and teens that might identify as transgender right now, are actually suffering from body dysmorphia. Scarcella distinctly only uses teens and children when talking about gender dysphoria and misdiagnosis, and transgender only in the case of adults. This is to make the information relevant to her discourse abundantly clear. The parts about children being forced or pressured to start medical transition stand out because Scarcella words them so that it seems that the statistics and stories she quotes, are all about children. Highlighting parts of the discourse make those parts stand out in the text and are then often focused on solely (Goodwin, 1994. p610).

She phrases the statements and statistics in such a way that it implies that children are forced to undergo medical transition and that gender dysphoria diagnosis is forced upon children. This manner of phrasing makes the statements very agreeable, as no-one would want to force anything upon anyone, especially upon a child that cannot consent to it. However, this is incorrect. In the UK, and most other western countries where gender realignment treatment is available (e.g. hormone treatments and surgery), this cannot be done until the individual is of legal age, and after extensive conversation with medical and psychological professionals (NHS, 2020).

Scarcella as a Citizen Journalist

Scarcella often interviews people during videos, where she asks them questions about the topic of the video. These interviews are often kept brief, and the clips are only added in to agree with what Scarcella is saying. When she reads out pieces of literature to emphasise a point, for example that children are over-diagnosed with gender dysphoria (Arielle Scarcella, 2020a), she rarely mentions the source she is reading from, and does not include any sort of way to retrieve the source, in the form of a link or name or otherwise. In an attempt to locate a source, the entire phrase that is being read out needs to be Googled. Scarcella also uses terms without defining or sourcing them. Because her sources remain unnamed, there is no way to dispute the argumentation, nor to validate the information she is disclosing. The use of a scientific (sounding) piece makes the argument more powerful as it seems to come with scientific authority.

Digital media such as YouTube have created spaces where new voices can enter the public sphere, largely going unchecked, and share information. Citizen journalism is a concept that has come into existence along with the rise of smartphones. When everyone is able to carry around a camera and can film anything, as well as post this, everyone becomes a journalist in a sense. They report on events in their own manner. Citizen journalists are not journalists by profession, who experience certain (extraordinary) events and report on them on social media. They do limited research, or no research at all, before speaking on a topic that is not within their professional training (Greer & McLaughlin, 2010. p1045).

In that same video about the overdiagnosis of gender dysphoria Scarcella mentions the term ‘Rapid onset gender dysphoria’. Gender dysphoria has been established as an official diagnosable mental condition. However, ‘rapid onset gender dysphoria’ is a term which was defined based on research done by Lisa Littman. Littman surveyed the experience of parents whose children identified as transgender, or otherwise gender-nonconforming. This research has been heavily criticised as it initially claimed to have discovered rapid onset gender dysphoria (ROGD), and because it had heavy implications about transgender people that connected back to heavy stigmatisation of the transgender community. The paper was later reviewed and republished, corrected on those matters. ROGD had no longer been discovered, instead it was now presented as preliminary research about it (Jussim, 2019).

The problem with Scarcella’s use of the term, was not just the lack of definition, but also the source material itself. Both the source on ROGD and a source she reads out earlier in that video are not officially recognised sources for psychological research. Scarcella uses these terms and statistics in her videos as if they are completely confirmed facts. Furthermore, Scarcella has no traceable professional background or training on these subjects. She reports on news items and publications from the position of a citizen journalist, with an influence similar to that of an average ‘traditional’ news source, such as local news channels.

Homonationalism through Scarcella's Eyes

Scarcella constructs trans individuals as outsiders in the LGBTQ+ community, and also attempts to construct them as politcal 'deviants'. She has recently started making videos on ‘leaving the left’ and supporting Donald Trump. In a two-minute video she made early 2020, she explained her reasons for leaving the ‘INSANE “Progressive” Left’ (as per the title of the video). She says that the LGBTQ+ community has tortured, cancelled, tormented and harassed her and her beliefs, more so than anywhere else, for her political beliefs. She no longer wants to be a part of the “Woke cult” that is the left (Arielle Scarcella, 2020b). After publishing this video, she made several videos on her views and how she was accepted by the right-wing conservatives.

Homonationalism is using LGB(TQ+) rights as justification and instrument for radical nationalism. This often goes together with discrimination. For example, if a country promotes its progressive laws to show how good a country it is compared to others, this is a form of homonationalism (Puar, 2007. xxiv). This idea of homonationalism is part of the postcolonial concept neo-racism. Neo-racism was a concept coined by Balibar to describe a new racism without race. During colonial times racism was based on biological race and background, but in the modern era this racism is no longer based on biology. Instead, it is focused on cultural differences (Balibar, 2011). Scarcella's phobia comes with a homo-nationalism that is virulently anti-Islam and anti-left/anti-liberal. Islam is described as virulently homophobic (Scarcella, ). This explains her move into Trumpism.

In the video ‘Where do I stand politically?: Conservative vs Liberal’ she talks about how she has opened up her mind to how Americans should look at their politics, that it is not all that black and white, that you do not have to support one party entirely. Her narrative throughout this video is that her political opinion should not have to align with all members of the LGBTQ+ community (Arielle Scarcella, 2020c). If you are part of a minority, you are expected to be hive-minded, she said.

Scarcella is using her status of minority, as a lesbian, to justify and promote her nationalistic beliefs, as well as to exlude not only trans and queer people but the left and liberals in general. She made a video talking about how Trump is not anti-LGBTQ+, using several conservative sources and statements made by Trump in the past. She mentions that Trump was the first president to ever enter the office as pro-LGBT. She points out statements Trump has made in the past, where he said openly LGBTQ+ people serving in the military would not bother him (Arielle Scarcella, 2020e). However, what she fails to mention is that in 2019 the Supreme court in the USA passed Trump’s military ban for transgender people. This ban was an undoing of a law passed by the Obama administration in 2016, that allowed transgender military to have access to medical and psychological support while serving (Jackson & Kube, 2019).

In a timeline created by the Human Rights Campaign, all the steps taken to fight progress in LGBTQ+ rights since Trump became president were recorded. This includes, among others, the Trump-Pence administration's opposition to the Equality act. This act protects LGBTQ+ people from discrimination in work, housing, health care, education and several other significant areas of life (Human Rights Campaign, n.d.). This timeline directly contradicts what Scarcella said about Trump entering office as pro-LGBTQ+, as it shows his actions from the moment he was inaugurated.

The way Scarcella talks about the change in her political beliefs and her views on LGB rights is her personal testimony of change, which is a classic genre among far-right influencers. She uses her minority position to convince other members of her community to move away from the Democratic party and support Trump.

What This All Means

Arielle Scarcella has developed a substantial platform on YouTube. Her views on transgender rights and progressive politics are echoed by many of her followers. Her intentional misuse of words creates an easy to agree with statement that is often not entirely correct. Her focus on gender dysphoria among children, and how it should not be forced upon children sounds entirely logical and completely agreeable. Combined with her use of unconfirmed sources and her position as a citizen journalist, Scarcella has created a platform for a type of discourse than can be detrimental to the progress of LGBTQ+ rights. It is a worrying insight into how people talk about others within their own social groups, and disrespect communities. What started as a small portion of an already marginalised community is rapidly growing, as anti-trans LGB people have the platforms and space to express their opinion and find those who agree with them. The LGBTQ+ community has never been so diverse yet so divided. Scarcella is one of the many examples of people who use their position as a marginalised community to their advantage when supporting conservative and discriminatory ideologies. Let us all hope that this discourse will be short-lived and, as it is now, remain on the outskirts of the LGBTQ+ community.

The updated pride flag, inclusive towards trans and POC people

References:

American Psychiatric Association. (2020, November). What Is Gender Dysphoria?.

Arielle Scarcella. (2019, October 31). LGB Drops The T - Lesbian Responds To Trans Ideology (LGB Alliance) [Video]. YouTube.

Arielle Scarcella. (2020a, January 5). Thousands Of “Trans” Teens Want To DETRANSITION... (Women, Lesbians, Homophobia) [Video]. YouTube.

Arielle Scarcella. (2020b, February 21). I’m A Lesbian Woman & I’m Leaving The INSANE “Progressive” Left [Video]. YouTube.

Arielle Scarcella. (2020c, March 26). Where Do I Stand Politically? : Conservative vs Liberal [Video]. YouTube.

Arielle Scarcella. (2020d, April 8). All The Ways Lesbians ACTUALLY Have Sex... It’s Not What You Think [Video]. YouTube. 

Arielle Scarcella. (2020e, May 2). Queer Activists Are Lying To Us : Trump Hates Gays & Trans Murder Rate (Ft RoseOfDawn) [Video]. YouTube

Arielle Scarcella, (2020d, Aprial 14).

Islam IS Homophobic. Stop Pretending It’s Not

 

 

Balibar, E. (2011). Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities (Radical Thinkers) (Second Edition). Verso. https://doi.org/10.2307/591833

Becker, H. S. (1966). Outsiders, Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. (reprint edition). The Free Press.

Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). (2019, December 7). GLAAD Media Reference Guide - Transgender. GLAAD.

Goodwin, C. (1994). Professional Vision. American Anthropologist, 96(3), 606–633. https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.1994.96.3.02a00100.

Greer, C., & McLaughlin, E. (2010). We Predict a Riot?: Public Order Policing, New Media Environments and the Rise of the Citizen Journalist. British Journal of Criminology, 50(6), 1041–1059. https://doi.org/10.1093/bjc/azq039.

Human Rights Campaign. (n.d.). Trump’s Timeline of Hate. HRC. Retrieved January 18, 2021.

Jackson, H., & Kube, C. (2019, April 12). Trump’s controversial transgender military policy goes into effect. NBC News.

Jammidodger (Jamie Raines). (2019, October 27). LGB Without The T: Trans Guy Reacts to LGB Alliance [Video]. YouTube.

Jussim, L. (2019, March 20). Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria. Psychology Today.

NHS website. (2020, August 5). Gender Dysphoria Treatment. Nhs.Uk.

Oxford University Press (OUP). (2020). Gatekeeping. In Lexico.

Puar, J. K. (2007). Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times: 1st (First) Edition (1st ed.). Duke University Press.