Incels, incel ascension, incel chasers.
An interview with the host of INCEL, Naama Kates.
A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed the brilliant Naama Kates, host of INCEL, a podcast about incels. Unfortunately, my home is very echo-y right now, and the audio didn’t capture as neatly as I would have hoped. I’ve transcribed our interview below. We discuss everything from gatekeeping women out of incel culture to glowies to femcels to incel chasers to dating apps, and a lot more in-between.
It was a very long interview with a lot of great stuff. I hope you enjoy it.
Katherine: I am excited to welcome Naama Kates from the podcast INCEL. Today we're going to be talking about, well, as the title suggests, incels. What sparked your interest in them?
Naama Kates: This is a question that I get asked a lot and I have no neat story for an answer yet, though maybe I will at some point. I think it was just kind of something that came onto my radar at around the same time that I started getting really into podcasts and I was listening to a lot of true crime ones; I kind of like that genre.
I remember doing like a little bit of a search and finding out that there wasn't really a lot written about them. And the more I looked at it, the more interesting I found it.
I had a happenstance encounter with an incel, and it was just like a social media interaction, someone kind of hit me up I didn't really know why, and maybe because I was so aware of them at the time, I manifested one. But I started recording our conversations and finding them really interesting to listen back to.
Katherine: One thing that surprises me is how willing a lot of these guys are to talk to you. From a distance, at least, it feels like a lot of them have walls up. I don't know this is actually a recent change in incel culture, but it seems there's a heightened awareness of female infiltrators. Is that something you've observed?
Naama Kates: I think I've kind of been aware of that the whole time, not necessarily specifically female infiltrators, but there's always been a paranoia about infiltrators of some kind and that the people who run whatever websites they go on are, as they call them, glowies, cooperating with the feds.
And then I think maybe my show has made the whole idea of a female infiltrator a little bit more of a thing unfortunately.
But yeah, the paranoia, it's kind of always been there with a lot of communities like this.
Katherine: Do you think it's justified?
Naama Kates: No.
I wouldn't say it's justified, but it’s based on a grain of truth.
A lot of people right now that want include them in a broader focus for security arms of various governments. That leads to a lot of researchers, a lot of people sort of looking to collect data, and these people are scraping their forums and stuff. I'm not saying any of that is done in a sinister way that leads to unjustified persecution, but it does happen to that degree, yeah.
Katherine: It’s interesting, I've noticed also like a lot of incels theorize that people like Elliot Rodger was a fed, or maybe that some of these like higher profile attacks were either somehow false flags.
Naama Kates: That's something that you'll see in the extreme far right groups too.
There's a satirical far right newspaper called The Babylon Bee that recently had a story about how the FBI actually orchestrated every domestic terrorist event from like the '60s on. That kind of thinking is not unique to incels, but rather with extremist groups in general.
They do think that everything's a false flag to kind of make the group look worse. I don't agree, obviously, with any of that when it comes to attacks.
I do think though that sometimes the association with incels is a little bit lazy or easy and doesn't really play into the case as much as maybe it's presented to initially because it's like a good headline. So there's some validity to it.
Katherine: I myself have mixed feelings about them. On the one hand, it feels like it's a community that's obviously underpinned by a lot of very real pain and the way they're portrayed in the media or even portrayed in so-called “normie” conversations seems, a bit like you said, lazy.
But if you spend any time on the forums, or that part of Twitter, or even reading incel “adjacent” personalities… The things the say about women, even when there’s a kernel of truth…Even when it’s totally true… It’s just so hostile.
I think maybe part of it is the hostility probably to gatekeep women out. But for me I really struggle—do I look away? Should I be empathetic? Should they be on my radar at all?
Naama Kates: That’s a question that I say is completely up to the individual.
I don't think that any individual has to, even if they think it's warranted or not, to devote their empathy or to go out of their way to be empathetic to someone who is just maligning an entire gender and group of people saying some of the really despicable things that they say, being as combative as they are.
I don't think that I want to bestow that duty upon anyone if they don't want to. It's kind of an unusual thing to do. You wouldn't really come across this group of people necessarily in your life in anyway.
I think, in my role, I just come to look at other extremist groups, and violent extremism in general, and to kind of distinguish between what I think is really just reprehensible and negative and can have negative impacts on culture, or on people psychologically, versus what actually causes people to become violent.
And I think that that line is an important one to draw if you're starting to bring a group into matters of like national security and things like that.
If you're just a person, civilian going about your life, then I could totally understand why you wouldn't feel much empathy toward this group as a group. People are very different individually than they are in groups, so that applies both to the incels, as women or anyone else really might view them, they'd be very different if you talk to them one on one.
And also, to the way they actually view women. One-on-one and outside of their group, they don't really act like that, which doesn't make it better but it makes it easier to deal with them for me.
Katherine: Do you think that there is a percentage of incels who are waiting for a woman to break down their walls?
Naama Kates: I don't think that they are necessarily waiting for that or expecting it to happen.
Katherine: As I say this I think… that’s a flawed question. Even to take a step back, defining incels actually might be a more complicated question than it seems to be at its face.
Because when you talk about incels, it's like who do you focus on? Do you focus on the super blackpilled misogynist incels or the ones who are looks-maxing, who are trying to change their situation? It feels like maybe it's not even just one group it's maybe several groups under a much larger umbrella.
Yeah, I tried making a topology, or disaggregating them once and I didn't get that far with it but yeah, I would say that the ones that are ever going to support any kind of violence or even really violent speech is a pretty small percentage compared to what people think.
As with most things, those who bark the loudest end up making the most noise and are seemingly overrepresented.
But most of them, and maybe even up to like a third or so, from my limited sampling, aren't even blackpilled, and don't even go on the forums, really, and don't really identify with any of that stuff.
They are more in the camp of, "Yeah, I'm incel technically as in I never had a relationship, I don't have relationships, sexual relationships, and I want them, in that sense I'm an incel, but everything else about them is cringe, so it's like hard for me to identify with them."
I try to have a good mix on my show, at this point, you know 50-something episodes, and I've had lots of different categories.
But I think even if those aren't that common, there's a lot that are the middle ground and then there's a lot that are just shitposting or lot that are really young, the mean age kind of on a lot of the sites is very young 20s, where maybe they're just going through a phase or they're just kind of angry and sort of searching out an identity for themselves here and then they move on. I think that's the majority of them.
It runs the gamut in terms of how extreme they are or how hateful they are.
Katherine: I think you might be the only person who isn't sort of in the weeds of like the right wing or right wing adjacent online space who's really carefully considering who these people are.
One thing that I also wonder about is, I get the impression that incel sort of talking points are maybe also more common or becoming more common as people feel increasingly alienated in the dating landscape.
Naama Kates: Yeah, I've heard “blackpilled” in the wild. I hear “normies” a lot. Chad and Stacy. A lot of others.
Their lexicon is very catchy.
I think that this whole sort of phenomenon of inceldom or the incelosphere is very much a product of this changing technological landscape and online dating and just online culture.
Katherine: It feels like we're sort of reaching this weird point where everyone, incels or not, feels disenfranchised by the way things are.
Naama Kates: I think so too. I think there was also a big lawsuit at the time of Match Group that owns Match and Hinge, Plenty of Fish, all these other apps that they were sending false matches to get people to pay for their subscriptions and stuff. So yeah, I hope it changes at least.
Katherine: Have you looked into femcels at all? That's something else that I feel like has been simmering in the background for a minute, and now I'm starting to see zoomers both ironically and with complete sincerity identifying with the label.
Naama Kates: That's an interesting group.
I tried a couple times to schedule an interview with a femcel but it didn't work out both times for whatever reason. Maybe they thought that they would get hate from my listeners? I don't think that would have happened, none of my guests have really gotten that too badly. But I would understand if that's what they thought.
I think it's something that is I see a little bit on the rise, or just people talking about more. The community's still very small and it seems to get a slightly different demographic. There's a lot of incels that also don't believe that femcels are a real thing, or can exist, but that's just more gatekeeping.
Katherine: Yeah, I see that a lot and I've gotten into arguments with incels online about it a few times. I finally was like, "Sure, you're right." Because at some point, I didn't know how much of what I was saying I believed anymore. Maybe they are right, maybe it’s similar but not quite the same thing.
I began to wonder—maybe they do have a point— that no woman is truly sexually invisible in the same respect that a man can be sexually invisible. This is one piece of incel wisdom that I certainly would struggle to express in any mainstream context, but is beginning to feel more and more intuitively true. It doesn't mean that it's any less painful for women who feel alienated by the dating marketplace but the texture just isn’t the same.
Naama Kates: I think that's exactly right.
I mean that's something that I tell them a lot and have on my show before, that I think that like you said, that for a woman to feel unseen in the way that they do, sexually, it's not really the same, it doesn't really happen as much for better or worse.
I know plenty of women that would like to be able to feel a little bit more unseen, a little bit less seen sexually a lot of the time, and I think that women struggle with that from the other end of it, are sexualized too much or objectified too much mores than they are unseen, or just feel they don't measure up a lot more physically.
I think they have that pressure more than men do typically, and I think that maybe to a very small degree this problem incels and young men feeling unseen is kind of a sign that things are almost like balancing a little bit more. Because they're also not just talking about feeling unseen and that's a very, very big part of it, they're also talking about feeling like they're not allowed to express their feelings about that, and they're always told to kind of just buck up.
And so, in a way, it's like the ultimate rebellion against traditional gender roles, even though they certainly don't see it that way.
Katherine: I totally agree with that read, there's something kind of like, you hear a lot that conservatives are the new punks and I kind of have a problem with that, but I do think that you can make a good case for why incels, insofar as they are a cohesive movement, are kind of like the closest thing we have to punks.
I mean, especially the more blackpilled ones, it's a complete rejection of everything.
Naama Kates: Exactly, they're the misfits today. I see parallels with goths, with punks, emo kids, and this is a very different presentation of it, but sometimes I feel like with some of them, there's a little bit of an almost romantic sense of being marginalized, or not fitting in, or being misunderstood.
That is a part of the identity too.
Katherine: I think there's something sort of deeply tragic and again, I'm very conscious about not minimizing their pain, but there is something tragically beautiful about the lamentation about never being able to experience that pure unfettered adolescent love. That also seems to be a recurring theme. There's a famous that 4chan green text about it that gets circulated every so often in these spaces.
Naama Kates: There is something that is kind of poetic about it all, too, for so many of them to talk about a oneitis, or ones that are a little bit older and do lament their wasted youth. It is almost like a 19th century French poet's writing at points, and I don't wish to romanticize it myself, but if you steep yourself in some topic you have to see the beauty in it.
I think that behind all of that really disgusting, shocking rhetoric, like you said, there’s pain.
It's writing about pain, and it's wanting to connect to people on some level, any level.
People are surprised by how many of them are willing to speak to me, but for me, it's not surprising at this point. I realized how many of them really just wants to talk to someone and just wants to tell their story, and just want for someone else to kind of feel their pain, and say that what you're going through now, it's worth something.
So I think that's a feeling that's typical for a lot of young people, and this is just maybe a little bit of an extreme and sometimes extended one of it.
Katherine: Have you encountered many older incels or is it mostly in that early 20s range?
Naama Kates: I've encountered plenty of older ones.
The percentage is obviously much smaller, but I don't know how many, I think it's really difficult to give any kind of estimate on the total numbers of any group, but there have been like surveys of that community incels.co do—under 20% that are in their 30s or older.
I have them on my show frequently. They’re not interested in trying to blackpill me or kind of repeat the same talking points over and over, they have a deeper and fuller picture of themselves and their situation. They're not as angry usually.
Katherine: You've probably had multiple episodes like this, where you talk to someone who identifies as an incel and it seems like all they want to do is convert you somehow. It seems like, I'm always curious, what do they want a woman to say? Do they want the woman to say, "No that's not true, there's a third path," or do they want the woman to validate the blackpill?
Naama Kates: That depends. I would say that most of them don't want you to argue with them.
Maybe that on a deeper level they do, and I think that they do, I would say that. But if you do actually argue with them, they will just try to tell you why you're wrong, so I don't usually do that.
I think another thing that some of them want or hope for in the interaction is to literally find a girlfriend as a result of it. So coming on the show, I've had a few that have had girls slide into their DMs or something and would tell me about it so sometimes it's as direct as that.
Katherine: That's really interesting. I wonder how those relationships shake out? I wonder sometimes if some of the people blackpilled people are stable enough to sustain relationships, maybe that’s condescending or patronizing of me. But it feels like there are so many warnings that fly around about “beta bucks, alpha fucks,” and all of that.
I wonder if there's an increased fear of infidelity or if that stuff just becomes secondary once they have an intimate life.
Naama Kates: I used to be concerned about that a lot too.
Now I'm leaning more towards the latter. Because I have seen it happen enough at this point that I know that if anytime any girl or woman shows interest, they're usually pretty willing to drop the whole thing for that.
I've had a couple that have “ascended,” as they would say, during the time that I knew them and right afterwards, they would tell me about it, they'd say, "Well, I'm still blackpilled," and all that, it was just this, this and that, it'll never happen again, that type of thing.
Very quickly that just falls to the wayside and I don't hear from them anymore. I take that as a good sign. I think where I see it being something that can be more of a concern is that anytime that something doesn't work out for whatever reason, especially if they've had a lot of hopes for it, they really take it as further confirmation that the blackpill is right and get very discouraged by that.
I mean, they get pretty discouraged pretty easily, I would say in general, they have very negative self-perception, most of them.
Katherine: Low self-esteem that is, maybe coincidentally in some cases, reaffirmed by negative social situations tends to be very common with incels, which is sad, especially if you’re predisposed to disliking yourself. I think the phrase I’m looking for here is confirmation bias.
Naama Kates: It’s really sad in some cases, especially when I talk to someone who I feel like was making progress and then they kind of backslide. It's frustrating.
Katherine: We talked a little bit about female infiltrators—I would characterize that as women who are looking for attention, but not necessarily willing to give anything romantically.
But have you observed—or do you think there are incel chasers? And by that I mean, women who are turned on by their incel-status, who want to “help” them ascend. The same idea as any kind of chaser, I guess.
Naama Kates: [With respect to female infiltrators] on Twitter, there are just more general explanations or just statements made about women.
“They live for male attention,” and “never trust the foid,” and all that. They'll talk about Onlyfans content creators, but it's more just like a warning that, "She didn't really like you, she only wants Chad, don't pay her attention." I do see that around.
When it comes to specific examples, I mean, there's one that comes to mind. I don't know that I would agree with that characterization of this person, but it was another female content creator that talked to a lot of incels and I think some of them kind of reasonably felt that she was leading them on a little bit to get attention, and I think it was a little misguided. There are some examples like that.
There are a lot of girls on incel Discord servers, though. This was surprising to me at first—their forums and their websites are pretty much men only, but the Discord servers are different. They've got women on them, so I always found that interesting. They don't seem to have a problem with those ones.
Again, the ones that are chatting with are down with the group and with the culture and the language, they like those.
Katherine: Who are these women? Why are they there? Are they commiserating?
Naama Kates: Maybe a little bit of both, definitely commiserating. They're young women like 18, 19, 20 at the most. A lot of them talk about they're neurodivergent or they have anxiety or social anxiety and they're introverts and stuff. They find camaraderie in that group.
Katherine: I'm really surprised to hear that they're willing to have conversations with these women or at least, the women who feel empowered to say that they're women.
Naama Kates: I don't know where it really starts but there's a few. I used to think of them as kind of like incel groupies or incel sympathizer women, some of them are quite funny too, they have Twitter bios like incelosexual. But yeah they hang out in the chats and they're also usually gamers, they have a lot of things in common in that way so it's kind of cute.
Katherine: That is cute. I've never heard that that side of the story before, it seems like there's so much there. I’m very curious about what kind of friendships come out of this…if any relationships come out of it?
Naama Kates: I don't see any talk of that happening. I think that a lot of these people, from what I've seen, don't necessarily live that close to each other or even if they do they're not particularly independent maybe, and so they don't really take the initiative to do things like that.
But I also know that if they were to talk about it wouldn't be around the group because that would definitely bother some people in there, so maybe I'm just not hearing those stories.
Katherine: Yeah, I would imagine that would evoke a lot of ire for people to hear about pairings. I can also imagine being happy for your bro, it’s hard to say. The simp/boyfriend line is thin.
Naama Kates: Stranger things have happened than falling in love an incel Discord server.
Katherine: Yeah, I mean it doesn't sound that unbelievable. People fall in love all over the place online so why not incel forums and servers?
Naama Kates: Yeah, exactly. I mean, I was even surprised to get some fan mail for some of my guests when I first started, from young women who were like, "Oh, I just found this person really interesting and I don't know if maybe he'd want to chat a little bit and you could pass my email along." So I was like, "Okay, this is interesting."
Katherine: Do you think it's like a similar mechanism—and I want to disclaim this with I certainly don't think, I'd say probably none of your guests that I've heard seem like evil or malicious in any sort of way, even if they are very skeptical of women—but do you think it's maybe like a similar mechanism as people who develop crushes on school shooters or these other kind of weirdo figures who are famous for unusual and sometimes… not-so-great reasons?
Naama Kates: A little bit. And it's interesting that you make that comparison because that's actually something that incels talk about all the time when they want to dispute the idea that women are actually interested in men with good personalities or good character.
Put more accurately, when they want to dispute that women are interested in men with good moral character may point out the groupies of Ted Bundy, and people like that. It's funny that you bring that comparison out because they always put themselves in such opposition to that.
I do think it's actually kind of a similar mechanism or similar impulse that there.
Katherine: If you're helping someone ascend, there must be a huge ego boost. Of course, there are people who sort of farm these guys for attention, but those who actually take it to the finish line, I can't imagine that there isn't some kind of fetishistic impulse there.
Naama Kates: Or some kind of savior complex situation that a lot of people have and I think a lot of women have, when incels kind of correctly talk about women who are drawn to the bad boy because they want to be the one to change them or to be the exception or something.
I think that a similar motivation could inspire women to seek out incels to help them ascend in that video game terminology that they use.
It would impart some great significance upon the woman doing it, or it could. And so much about... I mean, I think so much of this in any kind of extreme identity is about seeking meaning and significance in one's own life that seems very insignificant.
Katherine: I definitely agree with that, especially if you feel so uniformly disenfranchised. The incel mindset provides a lot of structure and obviously provides a lot of community as well. It's not hard to imagine why someone would be drawn to it.
Naama Kates: Yeah, exactly. I mean, it provides structures, it provides tiers of value, it provides answers, hard and fast answers and explanations for why things go wrong when they do. Part of the frustration is not understanding why, so here's your answer.
And then, yeah, kind of, again romantic, more meaningful, overarching narrative to one's life. I think that's dogma in a nutshell.
Katherine: I'm surprised that the way incels are written in the media seems to miss all of the... Some of these points seem very fundamental and obvious on its face, but you really can't talk about them without being accused of being some kind of weird misogyny apologist or something.
Naama Kates: Yeah, I know.
I find that really frustrating and I think it's really dangerous, too, because I think that whatever one thinks of incels, and what they have to stay in their community, it's always a response to a need, right?
If you're actually concerned about problems that may arise as a result of this community then you should be interested in how to help the situation, how to prevent people from being drawn to it or do some kind of harm reduction for people that are in it already and leaving out all of the nuance of the discussion or any acknowledgement that some of their grievances may be somewhat legitimate, even if they're gross exaggerations or whatever they are, I think being unwilling to do those things is definitely not going to help.
In some cases, that requires denying things that I think are—like you said—obviously really intuitive. Like one of the big issues is that people are lookist; that people judge or are prejudicial based on how someone looks.
They take that very far, and I think that there are many exceptions to it, but that on the aggregate, it's a true thing that, we do judge based on appearance, and we might recognize that that's not a good way to judge, that we shouldn't do that so we can educate ourselves or open our minds and not do so, but it is kind of something that people do intuitively also.
So to deny that that exists is just going to make anything else you say sound very disingenuous and then it becomes something about, "Well, if you can't tell me the truth about that one thing, and maybe you're not telling the truth about anything," and, "Oh, this perspective is telling you the truth about that thing, maybe I'll believe everything they say, even the most dehumanizing horrible things."
Katherine: I've noticed that too.
It's like they're looking for cracks any comforting stories. On the one hand, it feels like there's no nuance in the mainstream conversation about this. On the other hand, I don’t know what incel harm reduction looks like or means.
I couldn't even imagine what that would look like. I'm reminded of that one Marilyn Manson clip, in I think Bowling for Columbine, about the importance of talking to men who are, no boys rather, who feel like they don't have anyone. The flip side of that is, what if they don't want to be spoken to? What if they don’t want your comfort?
Naama Kates: I think most people do want to heal. I certainly know that most incels, if not, well pretty much damn near all, don't want to be incels.
I think it's different from other kind of extremist groups or fringe groups in that way. Even though I think that the motivators are initially very similar, I think that this is a club that nobody really wants to be a part of, and they make no real effort to dispute that or to say that we want to stay incels.
Some of them will say things like that, but it's generally not.
That’s the difference—a white supremacist group is a white supremacist group. They think they’re the best.
Researchers try to use this term “male supremacist,” to refer to misogynistic groups like incels, but when you're talking about men versus women… like 50% of the population that really needs each other for so many things, it’s not supremacy. You can’t use that label, it’s not the same.
Katherine: And also what strikes me as there's a difference between male supremacist, if such a thing exists and incels.
I’m recalling one tweet I saw recently, something about how women should be only “used” for breeding and something about putting them in barns, I don't remember the verbiage. To me, that is male supremacy, whereas accusing women of the most brutal forms of lookism is just not the same thing.
Naama Kates: It’s so obviously coming from a place of pain. I know a lot of people wouldn't agree with me on this—but I've never had as much of a hard time talking to these misogynists as I would someone still actively involved in a racist group or something like that, because it just seems like such a charade to even try to present this as something that they proudly believe in.
Katherine: This is where I disagree a bit. i I actually think in a way, it's easier to talk to someone who is straightforwardly…let's say like a neo-Nazi, because the boundary is there.
I'm a Jewish woman and I know that this guy doesn't like me because of that and that they see me as subhuman, and the boundary is really, really clear.
Whereas like if I'm talking to someone who is anywhere on the incel spectrum, they might like me, they might be tenuously giving me a chance, they might think I'm whore or a hole or whatever.
You don't have a clear like... What I’m trying to say is that I know where I stand with the Nazi, I kind of don't know where to stand with any individual incel. That can be scary.
Naama Kates: I see what you're saying. It's easier to talk to an incel or a neo-Nazi, if I'm going to try and feel empathy. It's easier to feel empathy for someone that I don't believe sees me as completely subhuman.
Katherine: Yeah, that completely makes sense. I mean, I do not blame you for that one bit, and I am definitely in agreement with that.
To close out… What do you think it is about incels that gets missed a lot?
Naama Kates: I think that a lot more of them are actually looking for someone to guide them, even if it's been one interaction, one comment ever, that they might not even accept that much initially, but that sits somewhere. I think that they are really looking for some kind of inclusion in the broader society, I really do.
Katherine: I feel like it's too bad that it seems like there's no way to communicate to people how to do that or who even to reach out to other than the very cliché line, “be kind to everyone because you don't know what they're going through.”
I feel like that's the only form of like universal harm reduction here.
Naama Kates: Yeah, that's a good one.
Katherine: Yeah, it's in my Twitter username default_friend, I believe in it quite a bit.
Naama Kates: I love that name, by the way.
Katherine: Thank you. Well, it's been great to talk to you. I really like your show and you have a lot of really interesting insight—I'm glad that I get to include some of it on mine.