Thoughts on the Hypatia affair

by Holly Lawford-Smith on May 6, 2017

[Note by CB: This is a guest post by Holly Lawford-Smith, a political philosopher at the University of Melbourne. Internet discussion on this topic has been very heated so we intend to enforce quite a restrictive comments policy. All comments that are not written in a minimally respectful tone, vis a vis all parties, will not be approved. No raising of voices. No insults.]

Something bad happened recently. Here’s what I thought it was: a member of a marginalized group within our profession (a pre-tenure woman) published a paper; a group of philosophers were angry about the paper; those same philosophers signed an open letter to Hypatia calling for retraction of the paper; Hypatia issued an apology for publishing the paper; another group of philosophers rallied in defence of paper’s author, against both the journal and the group of philosophers who were angry about the paper in the first place. This would be bad, because the way we deal with disagreement in our profession―both about form and about substance―is not to demand retractions but to write replies. Also, we generally try to encourage and support junior and marginalized scholars, not pile on in attacking them when they make mistakes.

Here’s what actually happened: a member of a marginalized group within our profession, but of a privileged group relative to much of the population (being both white and university-employed) published a paper; a few philosophers together with a great many more non-philosophers from marginalized groups within society at large were angry about the paper and expressed this in online venues; Hypatia’s initial response was dismissive; as a result of Hypatia’s unsatisfactory response an open letter to Hypatia was written, calling for retraction of the paper, and attracting more than 500 signatures; finally Hypatia issued an apology for publishing the paper; and then many philosophers rallied in defence of the paper’s author. (A lot depends on the differences between these two cases, because protecting the vulnerable means different things in each of them.) Let me note that I am taking others’ words for it on the demographics of those initially angry and the open letter’s signatories. But assuming they are correct, then this is not really the latest in a long line of scandals in the profession, and there is no particular need to rally in defence of our professional norms (i.e., to debate whether retractions could ever be warranted in response to a paper’s causing offence).


I want to make three points here. The first is about Hypatia’s unique commitments. The second is about ‘dangerous ideas’. The last is about inclusiveness in the profession. (I’m not going to address the specific complaints made in the open letter, because this has been done elsewhere.)


(1) Hypatia is a journal of feminist philosophy explicitly committed to both ‘interdisciplinarity’ and ‘diversity’, positioned as both ‘accessible’ and a resource for ‘the wider women’s studies community’ (see their website). It’s true that some of the anger was directed at Tuvel, but much more was directed at Hypatia for not catching many of the offensive aspects of the paper during the review process (or, some think, for not outright rejecting the paper). The open letter was addressed to Hypatia, not to Tuvel. Journals that are explicitly interdisciplinary are bound by the norms of all of the disciplines they include, so whether a retraction of the paper is warranted is not settled by the fact that it wouldn’t be warranted in Philosophy. More importantly, Hypatia does something that no other journal in Philosophy does, with its commitment to diversity. Hypatia is like your male best friend, who calls himself a feminist and an ally, and who suddenly does something horribly misogynistic. You’re not surprised that there are misogynists in the world, you just feel betrayed because you didn’t think your best friend was one of them.


(2) Many philosophers tend to draw a distinction between the theoretical and the political. If we insist upon this distinction, then it looks like Tuvel has articulated a ‘dangerous idea’, and the thought-police have stepped in to silence her. It’s the thought-police who are making a mistake; Philosophy is an intellectual ‘safe space’, where we should not be afraid to speak for fear of being wrong or causing offence, and where we should be graceful in accepting criticism and changing our minds if we are proven wrong. In fact we can take this even further: if we’re uncomfortable with Tuvel’s conclusion that considerations in favour of accepting transgender identities support accepting so-called ‘transracial’ identities, because we think we have good reason to accept the former but reject the latter, then surely what we need is more people working on this rather than less, to figure it all out. So any moves to shutting down discussion and scaring people off working on the topic are mistakes, and harmful in their own right. But let’s take seriously the idea that there is no such distinction, that everything is at least potentially political. What are the risks of a ‘dangerous idea’ like Tuvel’s?


First of all, trans people and activists for trans rights might worry that the structural analogy Tuvel draws between race and gender will undermine claims to the social acceptance of trans identities. That is to say, that although Tuvel herself thinks we have good reasons to accept transgender identities, and that those same reasons support accepting ‘transracial’ identities, others may take the parallel as a reductio ad absurdum. Many people find ‘transracial’ claims absurd, so drawing a parallel between the two might have the effect of weakening the former rather than strengthening the latter. Second of all, black people might worry that Tuvel’s conclusion will legitimize more Dolezal-type cases, which they find problematic for a whole host of reasons. (And notice that not all risks are negative: white supremacists might worry that their ability to promote racist ideas will be undermined by increased fluidity in racial categories). The former are serious risks, and as with all risks the way to approach them is to think both about their probability, and how bad it would be for those most affected if they materialized.


This is where I think the case falls down, at least as a general worry about philosophical ideas. I’ve heard a version of this criticism made many times by philosophers with activist commitments: we shouldn’t argue for such and so, even if it’s true, because of the possible political consequences of arguing for such and so. I’ve always found these kinds of worries to be exaggerated, because of the extremely low public readership of papers in Philosophy (not to mention that Hypatia papers, in the specific case at issue here, are not open access). So we have to figure out the probability of anyone with political influence actually bothering to read Tuvel’s paper, and the probability of this changing their mind about anything enough to change the actual political situation, either for black people or for trans people. Somewhat ironically, the probabilities were incredibly low before all of this blew up online. They’re probably a lot higher now. Perhaps it’s too quick to suggest that the correct response to an offensive paper is to ignore it, rather than to draw attention to it.


(3) One concern that has come up multiple times in response to Tuvel’s paper is about insufficient engagement with people who belong to the groups about which she is theorizing. If this paper had been published in Ethics rather than Hypatia, then it would seem reasonable to think that the obligations of engagement are limited to contributions both on the topic and in the field of philosophy. Some commentators have seemed to assume that because Tuvel’s thesis concerns a structural parallel between the social acceptance of trans identities and the social acceptance of ‘transracial’ identities, she owes an engagement with critical race theory, transgender theory, and the perspectives of trans black people. In my reading, her thesis does not depend on facts about any of these things, and if the paper had been published in Ethics, such a broad reading would seem to me to be far too much to ask.


However, there are several points to be made in response to this. The first relates back to (1). Hypatia is interdisciplinary, so it may insist that contributions, even by philosophers, engage with the full interdisciplinary spectrum of work. That is for the journal to negotiate with its authors. The second relates to the state of our discipline. Even if the paper had been published in Ethics, Philosophy’s problem of being dominated at all levels by cisgender white men entails that many members of marginalized groups (including trans black people) will be located outside the discipline, and so, conversely, work done outside the discipline may in fact be philosopy. In that case, the problem of whose work must be read and engaged with becomes a lot more difficult. At the very least, it should include those who identify as philosophers, wherever they work. (Except Žižek, who we should all ignore). If they’re publishing in philosophy journals, then this doesn’t change anything for our practice (because their papers will show up in PhilPapers searches). But if they face departmental pressures to publish in non-philosophy journals, as at least some plausibly do, then we’ve got a disciplinary challenge to figure out in identifying and including them. That is to say, it’s too quick to say that in the standard case, we only have to engage with other philosophers working in philosophy, even if it’s obviously not right to say that we have to read and engage with everything everywhere. The third is to say that even if there was no one working outside philosophy but doing philosphical work, there still might be a reason to seek out the voices of members of groups about whom we theorize. Doing so may help to overcome the epistemic limitations imposed by privilege; it might throw up considerations not readily accessible from the armchair. Tuvel offered four ‘ethical arguments against transracialism’. Perhaps if she’d done more to hear the opinions of black people opposed to Dolezal’s claimed ‘transracial’ identification, the content of the four arguments would have been different, and more importantly, better.


Websites


http://hypatiaphilosophy.org/#


http://dailynous.com/2017/05/01/philosophers-article-transracialism-sparks-controversy/


https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1efp9C0MHch_6Kfgtlm0PZ76nirWtcEsqWHcvgidl2mU/viewform?ts=59066d20&edit_requested=true accessed 4th May 2017.

{ 331 comments }

1

Russell Arben Fox 05.06.17 at 12:45 pm

Thank you for this thoughtful perspective, Dr. Lawford-Smith. If you’re reading the comments, could you possibly point me to any further philosophical engagements with the specifics of Tuvel’s ethical considerations that you would recommend? As one who has, I freely admit, struggled to make good theoretical sense of many (I think sometimes weak) arguments regarding trans identity in the wake of the Dolezal affair, I want to educate myself further in this regard.

2

Andree 05.06.17 at 12:45 pm

I was impressed by the distinction between the two accounts of the case laid out in the opening paragraphs, and how it lays bare the issue that, stipulating we have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable, we must determine who the most vulnerable are.

But one point is elided here; if we accept Tuvel’s argument, then we have a new group of vulnerables to protect, namely, the transracial people whose existence as a type is unacknowledged – even bitterly denied – by Tuvel’s detractors. If they exist, they are most vulnerable of all, and – I’ll assert – most in need of protection, which at the least would seem to require that their defenders need to be given a respectful hearing, even if those defenders are relatively privileged.

All of which is to say, I’m grateful for the two accounts, but the first one seems more persuasive.

3

Michael 05.06.17 at 1:58 pm

Excellent piece, thank you. This is in fact the first time I’ve seen an explicit explanation of the hostility to the substance of Tuvel’s argument; typically, objections focus on her ostensible failure to discuss work in critical race theory and transgender studies.

I find the notion that the parallel between *types of argument* advanced on behalf of social acceptance of transgender people and those that might be advanced on behalf of accepting transracialism can count as a reductio ad absurdum puzzling, to say the least. Nowhere does Tuvel suggest that the four major approaches are the only or the best ones. Nowhere does she imply that other considerations might not trump the ones she discusses. She could have taken up such considerations, but demanding that she do so (or that Hypatia insist on it) is demanding that she write a completely different sort of article. But the one she opted to write (no doubt for the sorts of pragmatic reasons tenure-track faculty must consider) will not be rendered invalid by the inclusion of the “missing” material.

More to the point, if arguments on behalf of transgender rights and dignity are vulnerable to non-fallacious reductio ad absurdum, *we need more and stronger arguments.* In this regard, Tuvel’s “failure” must count a rousing success, prompting much-needed reflection on the part of those who are attacking her and Hypatia. Similarly, if the parallel with arguments about transracialism holds water, we need different and better ways of distinguishing the two cases. And isn’t sharpening distinctions and improving arguments the whole point of philosophical inquiry?

4

Kiwanda 05.06.17 at 2:18 pm

Jesse Singal’s article on this points out that the four enumerated falsifiable criticisms in the letter to Hypatia are either plainly false, or at best, misleading. Why did more than five hundred philosophers feel it necessary to endorse such a dubious condemnation?

Also relevant: a condemnation from someone (Lisa Guenther) on Tuvel’s thesis committee: Tuvel’s article “toys around…with no evidence in the article of an awareness of the context, power dynamics, or stakes of these issues for trans people and people of color”. The open letter was therefore “…a critique of white feminist ideal theory as transphobic and anti-black ideology.”

Hypatia may be the nominal target, but in their apology for the article, they characterized the attacks on Tuvel as “heated critique that was both predictable and justifiable”. Tuvel writes about the attacks: “I have received hate mail. I have been denounced a horrible person by people who have never met me. I have been warned that this is a project I should not have started and can only have questionable motivations for writing. Many people are now strongly urging me and the journal to retract the article and issue an apology. They have cautioned me that not doing so would be devastating for me personally, professionally, and morally.”

5

Ronan(rf) 05.06.17 at 2:18 pm

” could you possibly point me to any further philosophical engagements with the specifics of Tuvel’s ethical considerations that you would recommend? “

I’m not the author or 100% sure Im reading the question correctly, but Rogers Brubaker has written a similar article on the topic (and a book i havent read)

http://dabamirror.sci-hub.cc/2d5bc7cd640d65d4e322a5805a1b51d8/brubaker2015.pdf

6

bianca steele 05.06.17 at 2:34 pm

Thanks for this. I had read about the controversy but hadn’t considered the significance of the article’s being published in Hypatia. They’re a journal of scholarship, not activism (and I have been out of university libraries for a while so my information may be dated), but still I’d expect them to support the communities whose lives are the reason for being (arguably) of gender studies and related subjects. I’d be shocked if they’d published something explaining, in the voice, of reason, why the culture taken broadly considers women to be less-than or (as I think Singal quotes) “disgusting.”

That said, I’m not a philosopher and I do worry that the farther the discussion gets from the philosophical community, the more it will look like an Internet mob shaming. You give reasons why the extension of the discussion was appropriate here, but those reasons don’t really apply to me.

7

David Owen 05.06.17 at 3:59 pm

Excellent exercise in understanding both sides that has been largely missing from the social media commentary. In particular it is important to stress the particularity of Hypatia as the site of publication and the sense of betrayal (justified or not) felt – thanks for this.

8

Manta 05.06.17 at 4:32 pm

Is it really normal to argue “we shouldn’t argue for such and so, even if it’s true, because of the possible political consequences of arguing for such and so”?
Or better, is it *possible* to argue such a thing, and to be a scholar (instead of a hack?).

Moreover, is it Hypatia a scholarly journal (and as such the above argument should be disqualifying for a critic)?

9

alkali 05.06.17 at 4:38 pm

By and large, I agree with Prof. Lawford-Smith’s comments. That said, she understates the damage this controversy has done. It is surely conceivable that a published piece could be judged so meritless and/or hurtful that a retraction is warranted. But resort to that “nuclear option” in connection with a paper by a junior scholar who was not acting out of any evident malice has done considerable damage to academic freedom and brings the discipline into disrepute — most particularly, with respect to the concerns of marginalized groups, for whose ostensible benefit that nuclear option was exercised. It’s tragic. It sounds trite to say that the cure for bad speech is more speech, but in this case how much better would it have been for all involved if Hypatia had addressed the concerns by publishing a series of responses?

10

Jimmy Lenman 05.06.17 at 5:23 pm

So let me see if I understand.

I write a paper which a journal’s editor, editorial board and referees agree is of the high quality to merit publication there, so they publish it. Some people then write to the journal’s editor to say my paper is offensive and incompetent. The journal’s editor is now wondering what to do. Does she rubbish my moral and professional reputation by making a public apology, endorsing the complaint? (And of course it is my reputation first and foremost that suffers here. It may have been the journal and not myself at whom the anger was targeted – “directed” – but it is me that gets the bullet as everyone concerned could very readily anticipate.) Or does she stand by me and my paper and tell the complainants to get lost?

Some will say the former. Some the latter. But here is a third view. What she needs to do is write back to the complainants and seek further information. What, she must ask, are your, er, demographics? Are you male, female, black, white, cis, trans, gay, straight, able-bodied, disabled, employed as philosophers, not so employed, whatever? Only when I have correctly put you and all others concerned in the right identity politics boxes will I be clear what would be a right or wrong course of action here. Give me one answer and hanging Lenman out to dry would be a shocking wrong and an affront to the basic norms of our profession. Given me another and doing so would really be no big deal and there would be nothing much here to make a big fuss about, “no particular need to rally in defence of our professional norms”. Because it’s really not such a big deal to kick someone in the teeth so long as you have, or the person or persons urging you on has, a special pass saying ‘marginalized group’ and they don’t.

No. Surely, that can’t be it. Can it?

(On the importance of ignoring Žižek, I am in agreement with Holly.)

11

Agapios Aaltink 05.06.17 at 5:28 pm

“Hypatia is like your male best friend, who calls himself a feminist and an ally, and who suddenly does something horribly misogynistic. You’re not surprised that there are misogynists in the world, you just feel betrayed because you didn’t think your best friend was one of them.”

If your male best friend does something horribly misogynistic, then presumably it is obvious to everyone but the most oblivious that they have done so. Can Hypatia really be said to have done something equivalent, i.e. something horribly transphobic and/or racist that is obvious to everyone, just in virtue of publishing Tuvel’s article? That doesn’t seem plausible to me, not least because many of Hypatia’s own readers (who are presumably not oblivious to these issues) deny that there is anything wrong with the article at all.

If there is contestation among informed readers, then we seem to be in the realm of reasonable dispute, which would imply the need for further discussion (perhaps within the pages of Hypatia, which the editors originally suggested!), rather than the realm of accusation, apology and retraction.

12

RobinM 05.06.17 at 5:41 pm

13

Chevalier de la Barre 05.06.17 at 5:41 pm

It is surely conceivable that a published piece could be judged so meritless and/or hurtful that a retraction is warranted.

Why? Am really I wrong to expect a publisher to stand by their decision when I grant them the right to print my research? So what if it’s meritless and hurtful? Publishers are absolutely entitled to retract papers if they are mislead in their publishing decision: plagarism, fraud, ethical misconduct in research, etc. But it’s a total betrayal that they should do it after the editorial decision merely because they’ve changed their minds about their own standards; that behaviour simply robs authors of the opportunity to publish their papers in a decent journal which has no intention of stabbing them in the back. I note my “obligations of engagement” and “professional norms” don’t allow me to change my mind about a publication venue once a paper is printed and to republish again in a different journal, that would be misconduct.

14

Sebastian H 05.06.17 at 7:12 pm

It may have been wrong, or foolish, but it couldn’t have been transphobic could it? That would be like saying that a trans rights push was homophobic because it might have weakened the case for gay rights.

15

another outsider 05.06.17 at 7:39 pm

I’ve seen very few signs that the humanists participating in this scrum are aware of Brubaker’s 2016 book (“Trans: Gender and Race in an Era of Unsettled Identities”; Princeton University Press), or his 2015 paper, which explicitly made the Dolezal-Jenner comparison. Tuvel didn’t engage his argument, nor did the open letter criticizing her and Hypatia. Which is kind of ironic, given one of the core complaints in the letter is that Tuvel didn’t cite the right people. Intellectual insularity comes in many flavors.

16

Anon PhD 05.06.17 at 8:07 pm

1. The defense begins with the cant that is now typical of so much (il)liberal discourse, namely, establishing just where the relevant party stands in the hierarchy of marginalized groups. (pre-tenure woman in philosophy: good!; but pre-tenure white woman in the world at large: bad!). No real reason is given for this exercise, other than “protecting the vulnerable means different things” in different circumstances. As if defenders of Tuvel are suggesting otherwise.

2. According to Lawford-Smith black people might worry that Tuvel’s conclusion will legitimize more Dolezal-type cases, which “they” find problematic “for a whole host of reasons.” She doesn’t give us any numbers here; she says she’s “taking others’ words for it on the demographics of those initially angry and the open letter’s signatories.”

The black folks who signed the letter, regardless of their number, obviously do not represent the views of all black folks. LK McPherson, at Daily Nous, a black individual who has written much on the philosophy of race, suggests that Tuvel has done nothing wrong in her paper. Black individuals I’ve spoken with privately have also criticized the reaction to Tuvel.

Obviously the question is: if black folks (and other individuals) find Tuvel’s arguments “problematic,” do they have sound reasons for doing so? Maybe, but maybe not. Finding out would require the presentation of such reasons, perhaps in a forum like Hypatia; but this has been effectively thwarted by the mob outcry.

Let me also note that Lawford-Smith is not herself black and is every bit as privileged as Tuvel. This is also typical of contemporary (il)liberal discourse. Somehow the privileged “allies” find a way to take up all the air in the room in their expression of concern for the marginalized, even though the marginalized themselves often disagree as to whether or not this concern is warranted. As a trans person of color writes at Daily Nous: “we are not babies who need to be protected from the harms of disagreement.” How unfortunate that Lawford-Smith silences these voices.

3. Another argument Lawford-Smith presents, as noted above, is that the transracial case might, to some, constitute a reductio of the transgender case. She writes: “Many people find ‘transracial’ claims absurd, so drawing a parallel between the two might have the effect of weakening the former rather than strengthening the latter.”

Any philosopher any moral common sense can see that discriminating against an individual on the basis of their trans identity is morally impermissible. The question, as Tuvel raised, is whether or not these same reasons apply to so-called transracial individuals. If a philosopher finds ‘transracial’ claims absurd, but not transgender claims, then they need to articulate why, which, again, is the sort of thing one does in a philosopher paper.

Lawford-Smith’s concern, however, seems to be not so much with philosophers as with the public at large. Of course, the public at large does not read philosophy journals. To that point, she writes: “Somewhat ironically, the probabilities [of the paper being widely read] were incredibly low before all of this blew up online. They’re probably a lot higher now. Perhaps it’s too quick to suggest that the correct response to an offensive paper is to ignore it, rather than to draw attention to it.”

Of course, she misses the true irony, which is that this “blew up” online because of the hyperventilation of the signatories to the open letter. But more to the point: if philosophy papers now must be written such that no member of the public will misconstrue the arguments involved and act foolishly, then philosophy will cease to exist as an intellectually worthwhile enterprise.

Let’s take just war theory as an example: just war theorists have considered whether or not terrorism is ever permissible, with some arguing that it is. Other just war theorists have considered whether torture is ever permissible, with some arguing that it is. Still other just war theorists have defended the claim that ‘fragging’ (or murdering one’s military superiors) is sometimes morally permitted. None of these arguments should have been presented if we are supposed to worry about how members of the public at large might misunderstand them.

And that’s just within just war theory. As has been noted above on this blog, there are many, many arguments that philosophers have considered that might cause offense, disgust, or misunderstanding. The only philosophically relevant standard is whether or not such arguments generate intellectual progress.

4. The bulk of the rest of Lawford-Smith’s is, essentially, “Hypatia is different.” I believe this is a point on which all can agree. Hypatia *is* different, and especially more so after this controversy: it is not a philosophy journal. Accordingly, I would hope that philosophers who wish to do cutting edge feminist work will refrain from submitting work to Hypatia. I would also hope that hiring committees take this fact about Hypatia into account.

17

Evan 05.06.17 at 8:17 pm

The method of Professor Lawford-Smith is deeply flawed. The original posts’ starting point in deciding if an idea or action is right….is who is expressing it. If the demographics of its supporters are sufficiently marginalized…they assumed to be right. I think this is sometimes called “oppression olympics” because it rapidly leads to the practice of everyone trying to be more oppressed than thou.

As a method of making decisions, it has no heuristic value. And as a system of incentives – it destroys all incentive to do good or even speak good – only what category you belong to matters.

Little wonder, then, that so many were willing to vilify Prof. Tuvel because of the possible implications or effects of her ideas.

Also, questions like “is it a choice to be gay” often turn out to be less important than initially assumed. By now, people are ready to defend the right to choose one’s partner. (Without which, what rights would bisexuals have?)

Similarly, any particular theory of gender is probably not essential to the human rights of trans people.

18

jane 05.06.17 at 8:42 pm

The second paragraph of Jimmy Lenman’s reply is hilarious but also tragic: What was once expected to be intelligent debate has become ad hominem self-righteousness.

19

Manta 05.06.17 at 8:53 pm

Chevalier @13,
reprinting your stuff in a different place would neither be a misconduct, nor be against professional norms, provided that you disclose to the new venue that the stuff you are submitting has already been published (and that you retain the legal right to republish).

20

Neil 05.06.17 at 9:31 pm

The author here speaks of “the epistemic limitations imposed by privilege” and writes of Prof. Tuvel, “Perhaps if she’d done more to hear the opinions of black people opposed to Dolezal’s claimed ‘transracial’ identification, the content of the four arguments would have been different, and more importantly, better.”

The problem is that, even though this assertion has been made at numerous places, I haven’t seen anyone explain how this would be the case in this specific situation. Help?

21

Chet Murthy 05.06.17 at 10:00 pm

[I searched for and found a non-searchable copy of the paper. Searching for “tuvel passing for white hypatia” and “tuvel passing hypatia” found nothing useful in google.]

Huh. it sure seems like, in a paper on transracialism, you’d want to mention the long-standing history of transracialism in the USA (maybe elsewhere in the West? I wouldn’t know). I refer, of course, to black and other colored peoples “passing for white”. Not being a social scientist, and not having the time to dig thru this paper and relevant literature, I’ll leave it at that, and not venture to offer any conclusions other than this:

The possible harm isn’t merely that of “transgender people being denigrated by analogy to people like Dolezal”. There’s another harm, in the opposite direction: transgender people argue (and with good reason) that gender is in many ways fixed and somewhat uncorrelated with genetic sex; hence gender reassignment to bring the two into accord. By analogizing transgender and transracial, the implication is that racial categories also are somehow innate.

I’m sure it’s obvious now what I’m driving at, yes? Your friendly neighborhood white supremacist would just love to have more reasons to think that races are innate, immutable, and not social constructions.

It’d be nice to learn that in fact she -did- carefully study the history of black & colored folk (happens amongst us South Asians too) passing for white.

22

Gareth Wilson 05.06.17 at 10:01 pm

Tuvel’s Native American, her grandfather is Choctaw.
Nah, just kidding. Shows you the problem with basing this on demographics, though.

23

Sashas 05.06.17 at 10:33 pm

@Manta 8 I cannot speak for philosophy, but it is normal in my field of computer science to be concerned about the impact of your research. The ACM Code of Ethics addresses this question in sections 1.1, 1.2, and more directly (from a leadership perspective) in 3.1. ACM is a professional body covering practitioners as well as researchers, but I have seen no indication that these directives only apply to the practitioners.

A quick web search suggests this is a live debate topic in the subfield of computer security research. That’s not really my area, but there could be some work there that is relevant to the debate here in philosophy. If you will bear with my a second, I can offer an example by way of an analogy: One specific question that computer security friends of mine have raised in the past is what one should do if one discovers a devastating vulnerability in a system. If you publish, then hackers will absolutely use the vulnerability. If you don’t, then hackers may use it at some point in the future but won’t right now. What most researchers do is meet with the owners of the vulnerable system. They explain the vulnerability and work with the owners to patch it. Once that is complete, they publish. Now replace “vulnerability” with “argument” and imagine that, instead of discussing computer security, we are discussing philosophy.

24

SusanC 05.06.17 at 11:50 pm

I’ve always found these kinds of worries to be exaggerated, because of the extremely low public readership of papers in Philosophy.

I find this a bit unsatisfactory as a defense, as it only works if you can persuade people that your entire academic discipline is irrelevant and worthless … do you really want to be running that argument?

(Though, sure, academics often overestimate their own importance).

There have been some notable figures in academic philosophy that have had an impact on the political activists (Judith Butler, etc. etc. Maybe even something much longer ago like Plato’s Republic influenced political thought :-)) Sometimes the influence is indirect, as activists who haven’t read the original research are still influenced by the retelling, popularisation, and so on of the ideas. If philosophy occasionally has a success and influences politics, we might care about what the effect is going to be.

25

nnyhav 05.07.17 at 1:05 am

CHE: further developments
previously, IHE: Harm’s Way

The OP has a couple problems: Hypatia did not issue an apology, a majority of the associate editors did, and per CHE above. “Hypatia’s editor, Sally Scholz, stands behind the article’s publication and the integrity of the journal’s review process.” (Note that one correction has been made by Prof. Tuvel: elision of Jenner’s ‘deadnaming’.) And while the open letter was formally addressed to Hypatia, it severely impugned the professional reputation of the author; OP(1) makes this seem merely ‘collateral damage’.

26

Carnap 05.07.17 at 1:54 am

Here is a paper (or, rather, a reference to a paper no longer available via the link included) which argues that *if* the pro-life position is correct, then it is permissible to assassinate abortion providers. The author, I believe, intended it as a reductio of the pro-life position. Still, should this idea not even be publically discussed as it *might* be taken by a pro-lifer to justify murder.

https://whatswrongcvsp.com/2016/03/16/does-the-pro-life-position-entail-the-permissibility-of-killing-abortion-providers/

27

engels 05.07.17 at 2:21 am

I find this a bit unsatisfactory as a defense, as it only works if you can persuade people that your entire academic discipline is irrelevant and worthless … do you really want to be running that argument?

I seem to remember Jonathan Wolff claimed somewhere that analytic philosophy causally influences the real world via the Oxford PPE degree…

28

Salviati 05.07.17 at 3:24 am

The impression I get from the “associate editors”, etc., is that Dr. Tuvel should never have publicly stated the conclusions she did, because the act of a professional scholar dignifying these thoughts through the act of publication could be used against the trans* community at large to diminish their claims for status as a “marginalised group”. It would give the enemies of those wishing to normalise these identities a justification to consider marginalised identities as not “real”, but rather label those individuals as simply acting through personal choice (or less charitably by right-wingers, delusion or mental illness.)

For those in any academic field who wish to utilise these techniques to define “correct” thoughts and behaviour, I recommend the works of Eric Blair, a masterful philosopher who passed on much too soon, especially since it didn’t allow him to expand and comment on the volume of works he left behind. I think the concept being advocated by the attackers of the Tuvel paper would be perfectly described by his term “crimestop”.

29

Sancho 05.07.17 at 3:26 am

This is like Die Hard set in an ivory tower.

30

Raven 05.07.17 at 3:28 am

In passing, I note that “race” is not a genetic but a social construct, witness the varying definitions of “black” — a label applied to disparate populations originating in Africa, Australia, and even southern India (wherefore the Hindustani language was once colloquially called “Moors”, yes, as in the former black rulers of Spain) — and even “African American“, such that some descendants of pre-1860s American slaves resent applying that label to [descendants from] more recent immigrants from Africa, who lack that particular shared ancestral-yet-nongenetic heritage… thus, among others, Barack Obama (with a Kenyan father) has been called “not really African-American”. (Although Obama’s “white” mother may have had distant ancestors in slavery. Go figure.)

One young woman who was in the news in the last year, as “transracial” I suppose, was “white” but raised in a “black” family and identified herself as “black” — and why should that even be surprising? To the extent that’s a culture and speech pattern etc., it’s no different than an orphaned child of English parents adopted by German or French et al. parents and picking up and identifying with that culture and language by immersion. (Make the examples “Chinese” or “Japanese” or “Maori”, and there’s the “racial” component again; how simple that was!) We’ve seen that assimilation into the English-speaking USA (thus identifying as “American”) over generations of immigration; is it so hard to understand that it can work in other directions too?

And though the dates may differ, ultimately we are ALL from (if not still in) Africa….

31

LFC 05.07.17 at 4:13 am

If I understand her correctly, I disagree w/ Prof. Lawford-Smith’s discussion under her point (2). She seems to take seriously the notion that if certain people read — or misread — an article in a way that reinforces politically ‘damaging’ conclusions or has politically damaging effects — even if those conclusions are clearly not those of the author himself or herself — then that somehow should or might count as a reason not to write or publish the article. Prof. Lawford-Smith writes: “I’ve heard a version of this criticism made many times by philosophers with activist commitments: we shouldn’t argue for such and so, even if it’s true, because of the possible political consequences of arguing for such and so (emphasis added).” She goes on to say that she finds this overdone b.c the typical philosophy article isn’t very widely read. But I find it rather surprising, to put it mildly, that anyone would suggest not arguing for something, *even* if it’s true (or valid, if you prefer that word), because it might have bad political consequences. And as AnonPhD @16 points out (at least as I read that part of the comment): if an article might be misread by someone and that misreading would support ‘bad’ political views and that in turn is taken to count against the article, that’s pretty close to a recipe for the end of honest intellectual interchange.

As others have pointed out upthread, Rogers Brubaker, a well-known sociologist, wrote an article that considered the Dolezal and Jenner examples or ‘cases’ under the same umbrella. I really don’t know, frankly, what Brubaker argued because I did no more than skim the article, and I did not read his subsequent book on the subject, titled Trans, iirc.

However, *whatever* Brubaker argued, he definitely considered the transracial and transgender phenomena (is that word acceptable? I hope so) in the same pieces of work. That’s apparently some of what has some of Tuvel’s critics upset: she considered the two things together, never mind the specifics of her argument. The mere fact of considering them together could lead people who are misreading or reading casually to draw ‘bad’ political conclusions.

But if that was a concern of some, where was the torrent of criticism from these same people against Brubaker when he considered the two phenomena together? As far as I know, there was no such torrent of criticism. Could it be that academic philosophers who work on these topics are so mired in their disciplinary silo that they couldn’t even be bothered to read an article and a book on these very same topics by a prominent sociologist?

32

Raven 05.07.17 at 5:26 am

LFC @ 31: If I understand you correctly, the peril is this: anyone at all may be attacked, mercilessly and relentlessly, merely because someone else read (or TL:DR, even skimmed) their work carelessly, perhaps hungover and on too little sleep, and drastically [conceivably maliciously?] misinterpreted what they saw, relaying that distorted version on to an echo chamber for the enragement and reactions of others. That’s entirely too plausible a scenario, on the ’Net.

A: I see your most recent paper mentioned both Smythe-Jones and Reticule, thus clearly you agree with both these retrograde pestulant nitwits; accordingly, I’ve moved to have all your qualifications withdrawn wherever I have influence.

B: No, in fact I conclusively rebutted both; that was the very point of the paper. Did you not read it?

A: I don’t have time to read retrograde pestulant papers. I’m blocking any further correspondence from you.

33

JPL 05.07.17 at 5:31 am

I don’t have anything to add to this discussion myself, but I would like to mention an article by political scientist Adolph Reed Jr., written in June 2015 (before the Hypatia affair), that provides a well- considered and thoroughly thought out treatment of the general issue raised in the OP.
https://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/06/15/jenner-dolezal-one-trans-good-other-not-so-much

I should think that, in addition to the Brubaker book and the other references mentioned above, anyone interested in engaging with this issue would benefit from taking Reed’s thoughts into account as a serious contribution. (The article was linked on Brian Leiter’s blog (Leiter Reports, May 2, 2017), but not included it seems in the above list provided by Robin M. Of course, people should read the whole article, not just react to the title.)

34

Raven 05.07.17 at 5:47 am

self @30: “Make the example[] ‘Chinese’…, and there’s the ‘racial’ component again….” — Though in fact “Chinese” is only a nationality, and contains within it many different ethnicities, e.g. Han, Zhuang, Hui, Manchu, Uyghur, Hmong, Yi, Tujia, Tibetan, Mongol,…. — so again let’s be careful what we label a “race”.

35

Chris Bertram 05.07.17 at 7:12 am

First of all, full disclosure, I suggested that we ask Holly Lawford-Smith to write something for us, so I feel a responsibility in the (local) extension of this argument. We didn’t give Holly a brief to write on any particular “line” and there is no Crooked Timber collective opinion. If I were writing a piece, it would have been less generous to the signatories of the Open Letter than Holly has been. But my sense is, nevertheless, that many commenters are misreading the OP here, probably because their criteria for an acceptable piece include full-throated support for Rebecca Tuvel and unequivocal condemnation of the the complainers. I think that misses the point of the OP, which is not to reproduce arguments that have been hashed out at other sites, but rather to make intelligible to each side the perspective of the other and to get beyond the shouting. Because people are pretty wound up by the issue (and understandably so) that is getting in the way of reading the OP carefully.

36

Raven 05.07.17 at 7:58 am

Chris Bertram @ 35: As (inter alia) a quondam academic and a Wikipedian, I’m accustomed to the latter site’s “neutral editing policy” wherein editors try to fairly portray ideas and people with whom they themselves may not agree. I wish that were wider practice, and I did in fact take that to be what Holly Lawford-Smith was going some lengths to do. (Particularly since there were two bitterly opposed sides represented, and no-one could simply agree with both.)

37

Raven 05.07.17 at 8:20 am

self @30: “One young woman who was in the news…” — My distant, and as it turns out, partly wrong on the details, recollection of Rachel Dolezal. (She grew up with two white parents, who also adopted three African-American children and one black Haitian child.)

38

Neville Morley 05.07.17 at 9:21 am

Like others, I’m struck by the “this is what I thought happened… this is what actually happened” opening, which is rhetorically effective – but clearly problematic. At least some elements of the first version do not obviously cease to be true even if the second version is accepted; most obviously, Tuvel’s privilege in relation to some groups in a wider context does not negate her relatively marginal status in the context of academic philosophy. This may be considered less important, of course; but it emphasises that we’re faced with different accounts of events which each have claims to validity (depending on assumptions, prior commitments etc), not with an obviously correct account superseding an obviously incorrect one. Indeed, a lot of the debate seems to be around who gets to establish “what really happened”, to set the terms for debate about how this should then be interpreted.

39

Charles Turner 05.07.17 at 9:22 am

‘journals that are explicitly interdisciplinary are bound by the norms of all of the disciplines they include’ has to be the most touchingly naive thing I have red in a long time.

Apart from that, the more worrying aspect of this is that people who object to something can’t be bothered to express their objections in their own words but simply put their names to a letter composed by someone else. So much for freedom of thought.

40

GFGM 05.07.17 at 11:23 am

In attempting to articulate what the two sides are thinking, I think the OP is obscuring the fact that there are 3 important actors here: the author, the letter writers, and the associate editors.

Lumping together the letter writers and the editors is unfortunate because although the letter writers are free to get angry and sign letters (letter writers gonna letter write
– although its not what I’d hope for in academia) the editors have a responsibility to act professionally with respect to the author of a paper their journal has chosen to publish. This is true *whether or not the arguments of the paper are intrinsically good or bad*.

The points the OP raises (Hypatia has special commitments, some ideas are dangerous, articles in Hypatia should be inclusive) are all fine (or maybe fine – I don’t like the middle one) standards to apply *during peer review*. Remember a Hypatia editor and two (I assume 2 – standard in my field) reviewers selected by Hypatia thought the the article was exactly the sort of thing Hypatia publishes and went ahead and published it. After that, and absent evidence of gross academic misconduct like plagiarism or the fabrication of data, there is no grounds to write a Facebook post on the journal page saying things like that the criticism the author received was both “predictable and justified”.

I mean, imagine going through the whole rigamarole of submitting, revising and resubmitting an article to a journal. Refraining from submitting to another journal during the (I assume because this is the norm in academia) long editorial process, and then after the journal finally says “we like your article we’re going to publish it” having them add a public statement on their website to the effect that your article is terrible and you are an idiot. Even if the article is bad, or even damaging to other groups (in ways that have not been clearly articulated in my view), there is specific damage here to the author stemming from gross misconduct by the editors. Their behavior strikes me as far more reprehensible than the behavior of the letter writers because they have professional responsibilities, and not excusable by any of the explanations raised by the OP.

41

Patrick S. O'Donnell 05.07.17 at 12:10 pm

I found the post by Holly Lawford-Smith helpful (especially because I was not motivated to follow the round-by-round blows of the fight), although I confess to being distracted and puzzled by the parenthetical comment that “we should all ignore” Žižek. Why is he singled out here for such opprobrium? I’ve only recently found the time to begin reading his many works and I must say there’s much to value and engage with, agree or disagree with this or that argument. He strikes me as one of the better philosophers on the Left, and I say that despite the fact that I’ve never warmed up to Lacan despite an abiding interest in if not passion for post-Freudian psychology and psychoanalytic theory (after Freud, in the hands, say, of Erich Fromm, Marcia Cavell, Jonathan Lear, Sebastian Gardner, Ernest Wallwork, Jessica Benjamin, Richard Wollheim, Sudhir Kakar…). I even began to grow fond of Žižek after he appeared on/with Tavis Smiley (PBS)!

42

Chris Brooke 05.07.17 at 12:25 pm

*** Journals that are explicitly interdisciplinary are bound by the norms of all of the disciplines they include, so whether a retraction of the paper is warranted is not settled by the fact that it wouldn’t be warranted in Philosophy. ***

This sentence puzzles me.

Firstly, it’s because I’ve never thought that Philosophy has different norms from those of other disciplines concerning this kind of thing, and I’m wondering which are supposed to be the academic disciplines where this kind of call to retract would be treated as normal. (I suppose the implicaton is that it is Women’s Studies or Gender Studies, but I haven’t myself ever heard of this happening before, and if it does happen, I’d be interested to learn about examples both of calls to retract being made, both when they have been successful and when they have been unsuccessful.)

Secondly, interdisciplinary journals can only plausibly be bound by the norms of all the disciplines they include if those norms don’t come into conflict with one another. If one of the disciplines has a norm that published papers aren’t retracted unless something of the magnitude of plagiarism or falsification of data is going on, and the other one doesn’t, you just can’t be bound by both norms, but need a method for adjudicating which one is to govern the situation at hand.

43

SusanC 05.07.17 at 12:53 pm

As someone who is occasionally a journal editor or member of a conference programme committee – interdisciplinary papers are a nightmare for editors. If a paper uses ideas from fields X and Y, the poor editor has to find referees from both fields to check the paper, with increased risk that something highly embarrassing is going to slip past the referees and then get a lot of criticism from the actual experts in X or Y when they finally read it in print.

Philosophy papers are often in effect interdisciplinary, in that they are philosophy applied to some problem domain. If – for example – your journal is considering a paper on the philosophy of quantum mechanics, you probably need to get a physicist to check that whatever claims the philosopher is making about their specific problem domain are ones the physicists will recognize.

44

praisegod barebones 05.07.17 at 1:08 pm

Four parties, not three: the actual editors of the journal have stood by their initial decision, despite the letter from the associate editors

45

John Holbo 05.07.17 at 1:19 pm

Hi Holly, thanks for your guest-post. Welcome to CT. I only just read the Tuvel paper myself yesterday and, like many others (but not all others) reacting to this controversy, I don’t see anything in it that warrants remotely the level of protest it has generated.

I take the protest signatories to be rather badly in the wrong and “Hypatia” to have acted wrongly in backing down so quickly in the face of the protest. My arguments are pretty much the same as you’ll find in a lot of places by this point. I’ll put it in terms of your post in a way I don’t see that anyone upthread has done – not quite. Your post has a ‘here’s what I thought happened … here’s what actually happened’ structure. I think it’s pretty clear both things (sort of) happened and the first thing is quite bad. The well-meaning quality of the second thing doesn’t undo that.

As others have done upthread I would dissent from the high-bar standard of “engage with the full interdisciplinary spectrum of work”. ‘You could have done more, or different’ is always something someone will want to say about any article, especially about anything inter-disciplinary. More importantly, in this context, it doesn’t provide any warrant for such over-the-top – possibly career-destroying, in Tuvel’s case – protests.

You conclude: “the content of the four arguments would have been different, and more importantly, better.” This is a perfectly ordinary critical circumstance for a scholar to find herself in: her paper could have been better. The fact that this is about the worst that can be said about the paper – that I can see – only underscores the unwarranted character of the extraordinary response to it.

But we can agree about Zizek. And thanks again for your guest post.

46

Lastuniversalcommonancestor 05.07.17 at 1:20 pm

There have been in fact instances of published peer-reviewed articles in (supposedly) less “soft” fields than philosophy which have been editorially retracted, or had disclaimers appended to them after publication in recognition of a failure of peer review to identify substantial theoretical (i.e., not experimental/methodological or ethical) problems that should have precluded publication, often in response to readers’ reaction. Some articles supporting, more or less stealthily, Intelligent Design/Creationism come to mind (recent example: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0146193 ).
So, without getting into the merits of this specific case, it’s not like peer reviewed acceptance is or should be deemed sacrosanct. As anyone in academia knows, the peer review system is as flawed as its human participants.

47

Yan 05.07.17 at 2:45 pm

48

GFGM 05.07.17 at 2:45 pm

@Lastuniversalcommonancestor Agree that peer-review is not sacrosanct (and flawed in many ways), but in the case you link to there was some sort of investigation and review: a procedure of some sort (text reads “the PLOS ONE editors have carried out an evaluation of the manuscript and the pre-publication process, and they sought further advice on the work from experts in the editorial board”). Given that, as has been pointed out upthread, the journal’s editor disagrees with the statement the associate editors released, this clearly did not happen in this case.

@praisegod barebones: agreed more groups than 3. I guess the point I want to emphasize is that explanations for the behavior of the signatories to the letter carry less weight when applied to the associate editors. The associate editors have a responsibility stemming from their position to not endorse the position of the critics without review of some sort.

49

Chris "merian" W. 05.07.17 at 3:07 pm

Thank you, Crooked Timber. I think this blog is an excellent place to have a conversation about this, with the polemics level firmly dialled down.

I find the OP very thoughtful, and am glad Holly Lawford-Smith constructed it in a way to unroll some of the strands of reasoning and values at play behind the “affair” rather than tying down her own take more securely. Separating out the “quality” argument from the “dangerous idea” argument is helpful, though there’s still a lot to work out about the articulation of the two. Is it that the more dangerous and idea, the higher the requirement for a thorough, meticulous argument that doesn’t leave out any major analytical tools? That’s what my intuition says. (I’m reminded of how I felt about Bret Stephens’ as a NYT columnist: I want someone to lay out the right-wing arguments against vigorous action on climate change as explicitly as possible, given how it seems to have the upper hand in much of politics, and think it is perfectly reasonable for a paper like the NYT to hire someone to do it. But the actual (first) column was just abysmally bad, dishonest by overblowing scientific uncertainty, unspecific by its lack of supporting examples, and partisan by taking random disconnected jabs at Clinton’s presidential campaign. And I’m more angry about it when the we’re in a zone of danger (“we’re going to cause great harm if we don’t act on the climate, now”) rather than if the op-ed, just as incompetently, dealt with topic in which the potential harm from coming down the wrong way is less broad and deep (say, zoning; or really down the list, the transfer system for football players).

There’s a bit of vagueness around the notion of “politically damaging”. I take it to mean “liable to cause harm to people of a particular (often, disfavored, marginalized) group, or some other entity worthy of protection, including bystanders not as of yet involved in the argument”. Nothing new here, and nothing limited to philosophy, academia, or the sciences. There are topics for example for which professional guidelines exist for reporting on them, such as suicide (in particular youth suicide — and see the controversy around the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, which many experts on the topic consider potentially dangerous for teens with suicidal ideations, while at the same time it is widely lauded for its artistic merit, perfectly suitable watching for psychologically stable adults). Closer to the academic field, there’s the history of nuclear weapons. The discovery of fission in 1938 happened in a pretty bad moment in history if you preferred for its implications for war use to be explored in some form of harm-reducing international multilateral way. And even though some of the scientists involved immediately saw the potential for an explosive chain reaction, there’s a difference between publishing the results of scholarly inquiry and writing in support of building the engine itself.

Even though the effect an argument in favor of the existence of transracial identity modelled on transgender identities is neither quite like nuclear war, or like a teen suicide epidemic, I’m all for treading lightly when real impacts on real people are the obvious next step from a wiser acceptance of the argument. But the journal, having let the cat out of the bag, does have a responsibility to the author as well as to its wider readership and the world at large. These are hard to square, but it’s disappointing when instead of figuring out a way to apologize to the right people and doing the right things, there’s basically a split in the leadership in which one part does one thing and another does another. I like the comparison with the friend who does something horribly sexist: I still like for someone loyal to be there for the friend (both the author and the journal, actually) and help them to become better at what they do, and stop doing sexist crap, but that doesn’t have to be, and sometimes can’t be, me.

I don’t understand the harsh attitude towards the letter writers I see in many comments. One thing to remember is that whenever a group of relatively less privileged people from outside academia have a grievance towards the behavior of some academics, they’re bound to be somewhat uncouth, and the playbook seems to be the same. Cue the anthropologist, dismissively: “Look, good people, those bones you want back from us are fulfilling an important educational and research role in our museum, and they’re not the bones of your ancestors anyway given that they are really old and belong to a culture that precedes yours. AND they were collected by $IMPORTANTGUY, who had a perfectly legal permit from the colonial administration that subjugated you. Maybe you could go away if we give you a few museum passes to educate your children in this truth?” Well, but even from such inauspicious beginnings, the idea of restoration of justice has made some headway these days. Yet, there’s an ethical immaturity in academic disciplines going through the process of arrogantly dismissing outsiders’ concerns; one I’d love to see go away.

Last, I’m a little dismayed to discover that a lot of the philosophers who are commenting defend the argument that transracial identities are a thing. I, too, think it’s a worthwhile topic to explore, but I’m coming at it from the other side — a strong intuition that no, at least based on the single Dolezal data point we have, they are not[1]. And yes, I’ve been trying to articulate cleanly and exhaustively (and of course intellectually honestly) why not, so I think the topic of inquiry of the article is worthwhile. One thing to point out is that finding no difference and finding a difference between two things aren’t symmetric analytical operations. The more you are able to think about a topic with nuance and deep understanding, the more likely you will be to find differences. To the ignorant things that are different look the same more commonly than things look different that are the same. And that’s where I come to my last point, the one about diversity (and inclusion) only partially being about justice: the other bit is expertise. If basically the whole community of people of color takes one look and says “nah, are you crazy? this isn’t a thing!” it’s worthwhile to pay attention. Sure, they might all be ‘phobic, like transphobic feminists, but at one point you’d find someone who says “yeah, I accept you as black just like my own, and here is how: …”. People do have a say about inclusion into their own group — not the ultimate say, mind, but ideas will win out at one point.

[1] What is my intuition based on? The notion that we experience gender and race very differently. That for example the gender system of a different culture or different historical time is more likely to be compatible with our own conceptualization of gender, while we’re usually completely in the dark how a different society might think about racial distinctions. That gender fluidity and change is something we find in the literature of many times and places. And, well, that this is a sample size of one. More promising approaches for racial fluidity come from a different quarter — interracial people, questions of exclusion or inclusion of people by racial communities based on appearance rather than heritage, …. all things that the pro-transracial camp doesn’t seem to be making an effort to integrate into their thinking about race.

50

John Holbo 05.07.17 at 3:17 pm

I wrote above that “Hypatia” had acted wrongly in backing down. Now I see it was only the associate editors who did that. Well, they were wrong. I’m glad to see that the actual editors are holding their ground. If the editors stick with her, Tuvel has a good chance of emerging from this undamaged, with her professional reputation deservedly intact.

51

praisegod barebones 05.07.17 at 3:29 pm

‘I don’t understand the harsh attitude towards the letter writers I see in many comments. One thing to remember is that whenever a group of relatively less privileged people from outside academia have a grievance towards the behavior of some academics, they’re bound to be somewhat uncouth, and the playbook seems to be the same’

The letter writers aren’t from outside academia: most of them have given an academic affiliation alongside their signature. And while some of them may be ‘less privileged’ than the author of the piece they are criticising, not all of them are – the signatories seem to include – among others – two members of the author’s dissertation committee.

GFGM @48: Yes, agreed. But given the way things have developed, I think it’s quite important to note that although the associate editors are at fault in this way, the actual editors of the journal are not. (Important, among other things, because they don’t seem to endorse Lawford-Smith’s suggestion that Hypatia should operate by a different set of norms from other philosophy journals, which, as Sally Haslanger noted in her guest post at Daily Nous, is a potentially a matter of consequence for anyone in philosophy whose tenure file includes a publication in Hypatia.)

52

Ben Alpers 05.07.17 at 3:40 pm

Could someone please provide some links to the evidence for Holly Lawford-Smith’s version two? Like a lot of folks upthread, I’m a bit skeptical of the conclusions that she draws from version two, but in the midst of thinking about this I realized that it was offered without evidence and I am having trouble locating the extra-academic anger that version two suggests preceded the letter. I’m honestly not doubting its existence. But I would find it helpful to know the specifics of it.

53

AcademicLurker 05.07.17 at 3:49 pm

the signatories seem to include – among others – two members of the author’s dissertation committee.

I read elsewhere that a few of the signatories are members of Hypatia’s editorial board. Perhaps some philosopher can explore the metaphysics of writing a petition to yourself.

54

Frank Lammar 05.07.17 at 3:57 pm

a group of philosophers were angry about the paper

or

a few philosophers together with a great many more non-philosophers from marginalized groups within society at large were angry about the paper

…or neither? To read the open letter to Hypatia and the (partial) editorial board’s response, anger wasn’t at issue; indeed, it could be taken as demeaning and undervaluing those involved to ascribe their intervention to an emotional state. Rather, the open letter focused on harms done.

Specifically, The open letter indicts Tuvel’s alleged failures of scholarship; it adds “these failures of scholarship do harm to the communities who might expect better from Hypatia”, but without specifying what form that harm takes. A postscript adds a disclaimer: “The statement is not an exhaustive summary of the many harms caused by this article.” This is unilluminating, given that the statement doesn’t identify any harms caused by the article; the statement identifies problems with the article itself and is highly critical of Tuvel’s scholarship and Hypatia’s review process, but says nothing about the harms that have been caused by publication of the article.

There’s a similar lacuna in Hypatia’s response, which opens by apologising “for the harms that the publication of the article on transracialism has caused”. The next sentence opens “The sources of those harms are multiple” – a statement which is followed by the enumeration of some of Tuvel’s alleged failures of scholarship – but, again, without identifying what those harms have been. In the second paragraph we have the harms that have ensued from the publication of this article and even a reference to the harms listed above – again, without any suggestion that any individual or group has been harmed by the publication of this article.

I don’t for a moment deny that exclusionary and discriminatory social practices cause harm, or that discriminatory practices are underpinned by discriminatory belief structures; Tuvel’s article may be extremely problematic, particularly in the context of Hypatia. But maintaning that it has caused harm – or arguing on the basis that identifying an objectionable argument is tantamount to identifying harms done by publishing it – strikes me as difficult to accept. I wonder if this rhetorical inflation – or conflation of harm and offence – is related to the denial of anger with which I began.

55

Darius 05.07.17 at 4:02 pm

Unless Jimmy Lenman and Anon PhD above are seriously mistaken in their understanding of the OP — as they seem to me not to be –, Dr Lawford-Smith has not made the view of the signers of the open letter intelligible to their opponents, and
whether or not any other commenters are misreading the OP is irrelevant to anything worth being concerned about. Furthermore, Dr Lawford-Smith’s intention is pretty clearly not ‘to make intelligible to each side the perspective of the other’ but to point out on behalf of one side (entirely unconvincingly, as I believe Jimmy and Anon have shown) why the other is wrong.

Sometimes people on both sides are shouting because what one side has done is appalling and unconscionable. In such cases it is not true that both sides are ‘understandably’ wound up. This does not really need pointing out to you, Chris, since you naturally and rightly regard many other political disagreements in this way. It is not clear why you regard this one as different. You have given no reason why criteria for an acceptable piece should not include at least either full-throated support for Rebecca Tuvel or presentation of hitherto entirely unknown, game-changing evidence (which, needless to say, Dr Lawford-Smith does not provide). After all, I’m sure you suppose that criteria for an acceptable piece about academics detained in Turkey include, in the absence of such game-changing evidence, full-throated support for them.

While I don’t doubt the sincerity of your plea for mutual understanding, the Tuvel case illustrates well that those who deploy the rhetoric of ‘peacemaking’ are not always on the side of the angels. A number of high-profile fellow-travellers of the ideologues who disgracefully called for the retraction of Tuvel’s paper are themselves well-known for pronouncing upon many issues (especially concerning sexual politics in the academy) in a harshly polarising way, up to and including smearing those they regard as ideological enemies. (I have several times seen people expressing clearly legitimate concerns about due process in Title IX cases reflexively characterised as ‘rape apologists’ for example.) Some of these fellow-travellers are now pushing a strongly ‘Can’t we all just get along?’ line on the Tuvel case — ‘Haven’t people on both sides suffered enough?’ and so forth. It is very hard to avoid the suspicion that, having made the wrong kind of friends, who have now taken a too-obviously indefensible position, their sudden discovery the virtues of compromise and irenic toleration is little more than an attempt to shield the ideologues as much as possible from fully warranted criticism without actually joining them in the stocks.

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Chris "merian" W. 05.07.17 at 4:21 pm

praisegood barebones:

The letter writers aren’t from outside academia: most of them have given an academic affiliation alongside their signature. And while some of them may be ‘less privileged’ than the author of the piece they are criticising, not all of them are – the signatories seem to include – among others – two members of the author’s dissertation committee.

Fair enough. I looked at the letter again and agree that it’s trying to do too many things at once. It seems like as far as the relevant discipline is concerned, writing a better article that obviates the points that Tuvel is making (or failing to make), would be the right response. I also agree that a member of the dissertation committee’s loyalties to their former student should only be overridden by some more obvious failing. But still, there seems to be a feeling against the open letter as a general way of addressing someone one hasn’t normally access to. Compared to Twitter mobs, a rather more venerable and established genre…

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Salviati 05.07.17 at 4:21 pm

I finally had the opportunity to read the original article, and I can see why the uproar occurred. Dr. Tuvel has written a very skilled analysis of the situation, and makes a very difficult-to-refute case for the functional equivalence of the justifications for acceptance of transgender and transracial persons. The logic is straightforward, and indeed compelling. And for POC, possibly harmful to their cause.

I suspect the real reason for all the anger is that these findings, if accepted by the public, would mean that it would be possible for someone to personally choose to become a POC. This causes a big problem for POC. The historical oppression of slavery, with its modern residue of growing up under parents whose outlook (and thereby, their ability to nurture their children to greater personal achievement) has been adversely affected by historical oppression and lack of opportunity, would be rendered moot by allowing the hood of colour to be granted to anyone who expresses the desires and decides to actually live outwardly presenting as a POC. This would obscure the primary reason why POC need to be treated as under-privileged; under this new scenario it would be possible for a POC to benefit from the array of benefits available for POC without having suffered the stunting effects of growing up POC in the USA that these benefits were designed to mitigate and reparate. This in turn would erode the public’s belief in the noblesse of providing those benefits packages already in place for POC, and indeed the need for POC to be treated differently at all, and make them less likely to expand or even support them as a concept. As the saying goes: when everyone’s special, no one is.

It appears that the identity studies communities have basically painted themselves into a corner, and Dr. Tuvel has very cogently pointed it out, if perhaps unintentionally. The progression of academic arguments used to justify a) identity theory and the intersectional concepts of systemic oppression and relative privilege of POC vs. whites, and b) greater inclusion and acceptance of LGBT+ individuals in society, have over the years created a structure of precepts and precedents that together present a sizable body of justification that of necessity interlocks very closely. The problem is that until recently nobody realized (or more probably, never said aloud) that these arguments create an opening for (and in theory encourage) new identities to be discovered or created, and that those identities need to be accepted as a matter of principle by society. Because this is so foundational to the concept of identity theory, it is too vital to the integrity of the structure to able be eliminated or significantly altered. Indeed, the structure would probably fall without it. Unfortunately, since the theory was built on top of this foundation, it is impossible to remove or significantly alter it without destroying the entire structure.

I think few will dispute that the vast majority of minority and disadvantaged studies programs are primarily concerned with advocacy for their subjects, and are focusing their academic research in directions designed to support a priori theories. But by doing so instead of following the evidence and searching for the full truth without preconceptions or the need for pre-determined “truths”, the entire structure of identity-based social studies may have a fatal flaw in its foundation. The panicked reaction, resulting in this very public mess, will cause the exposure of these arguments to the public that they so dreaded. Those whose very careers are invested in this structure that been exposed as flawed by the paper are being hoist by their own petard. Speaking of petard, this situation reminds of another quote from Hamlet: “So full of artless jealousy is guilt, it spills itself in fearing to be spilt.”

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lastuniversalcommonancestor 05.07.17 at 4:26 pm

@ GFGM #48: “Agree that peer-review is not sacrosanct (and flawed in many ways), but in the case you link to there was some sort of investigation and review: a procedure of some sort (text reads “the PLOS ONE editors have carried out an evaluation of the manuscript and the pre-publication process, and they sought further advice on the work from experts in the editorial board”). Given that, as has been pointed out upthread, the journal’s editor disagrees with the statement the associate editors released, this clearly did not happen in this case.”
Well, that cuts both ways. It is unclear whether the editor-in-chief has thoroughly evaluated the objections to the published paper and carried out such review, and instead she seems to just have decided to stand on principle:
“I firmly believe, and this belief will not waver, that it is utterly inappropriate for editors to repudiate an article they have accepted for publication (barring issues of plagiarism or falsification of data). In this respect, editors must stand behind the authors of accepted papers. That is where I stand.
But that – to me at least – seems like a meaningless hill to choose to die on: peer reviewers can be careless or intentionally make bad decisions, and so can editors. I wonder whether the associate editor’s decision to go public with their reply happened before or after the editor-in-chief’s decision that a published paper could not be retracted except in case of grave malfeasance.

Again – I am utterly unqualified to professionally comment on the merits of the case (I have my own lay opinions on the issue, but they don’t matter in this regard). As an academic in a different field, I think vulnerable junior faculty deserve some elasticity and protection in the evaluation of their work, but of course there are some limits that each discipline can and should be allowed to impose.

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harry b 05.07.17 at 5:14 pm

Thanks Holly, for the thoughtful post. I’ve been enjoying a lot of your work lately!

You say
” a member of a marginalized group within our profession, but of a privileged group relative to much of the population (being both white and university-employed) published a paper; a few philosophers together with a great many more non-philosophers from marginalized groups within society at large”

Yes. But we don’t know much about the relative all-things-considered privilege of the letter signers and their target. And we do know that the letter signers are far from representative of members of the marginalized groups to which they belong (almost all of them list affiliations with universities and colleges, and from a very rough look a substantial proportion of the American signatories are from private institutions, and a substantial proportion of the remainder are affiliated with selective or highly selective public institutions).

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Sebastian H 05.07.17 at 5:47 pm

“If basically the whole community of people of color takes one look and says “nah, are you crazy? this isn’t a thing!” it’s worthwhile to pay attention.”

I don’t have a settled opinion on whether or not I believe trans-racial is a thing, but this can’t be the standard because a similar response could easily be applied to trans-gender.

Part of the problem with believing that trans-racial is a thing is that most of us don’t believe that “race” is a real enough thing that you could have it mis-assigned to you. But that is the crux of one of the problems trans-gender activists have with earlier waves of feminism–very recently much of feminism was committed to the idea that gender wasn’t enough of a real thing in that sense.

My approach is that psychology and sociology aren’t advanced enough that I can feel safe dismissing very much lived experience for the sake of theory. It isn’t like physics where if someone says they came up with a perpetual motion machine you can dismiss it out of hand until they can really deeply show it. When I first heard about the Dolezal case, I thought she was some kind of huckster. After reading more about her, I still think she is troubled, the way it expressed itself was in a deep interest in protecting her black siblings and then really living their experiences with them, so much so that she identified more with them than her ‘native’ culture in (perhaps) the same kind of imposter way that trans-gender people experience.

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Heliopause 05.07.17 at 6:00 pm

@49
“And, well, that this is a sample size of one.”

The more I think and observe the more I tend to think that this exists ubiquitously, though we tend to call it other things. Most people don’t hew to sharp, distinct boundaries when it comes to gender roles or, for that matter, to cultural traits that are usually associated with racial groups. Dolezal’s just an outlier.

And when we say that her thing is not a real thing we of course run up against the most basic philosophical problem of access to others’ inner lives. I don’t see any basis for going there.

What she “really” is, then, is irrelevant, and the question becomes, is this an identity shift that society can accept? For reasons embedded in this country’s history the answer might very well be no, but I don’t think Dolezal herself bears any relation to this question other than being the proximate cause of its being asked.

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jane 05.07.17 at 6:03 pm

Re Salviati’s point: Rachel Tuvel has simply gone in for the sort of logical thinking that extends a logical variable into new fields — like, for instance Peter Singer’s extension of racism and sexism to speciesism. There are reasons why sometimes ‘x’ is not intersubstitutable, but these reasons need to be argued. Surely Rachel Tuvel can’t be impugned for applying this sort of ‘if x there, then why not x here?’ reasoning. Why does she have to rely on previous research in order for her logical speculations to be valid?

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M Caswell 05.07.17 at 7:49 pm

“a privileged group relative to much of the population (being both white and university-employed) “

If “university-employed” is a privilege, I really don’t understand what “privilege” is supposed to mean. I would have called it a “job.”

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Liz 05.07.17 at 9:16 pm

Although I only know of one white person who thinks she is black (Dolezal) , I believe it is not entirely uncommon for white people to think that they are actually Native American in some important way.

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history/2015/10/cherokee_blood_why_do_so_many_americans_believe_they_have_cherokee_ancestry.html

If , in order to successfully assert that you possess a certain personal identity, all or most people who are acknowledged to possess that personal identity have to agree with your assessment, this could be taken to suggest a similar test for whether a person is really a man or a woman. Do most women think that Caitlyn Jenner really is a woman? I don’t believe we do or ought to consider that in evaluating Ms. Jenner’s assertion of identity.

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Mark Engleson 05.07.17 at 10:55 pm

There are two sorts of problems that can exist with an argument:

A) the logical implications of the argument; and
B) the possible behaviors that people who accept the argument will engage in.

It seems like the criticism here is actually of form B: people who become familiar with Tuvel’s argument are more likely to engage in Dolezal-style racial shapeshifting, because they perceive the argument as justificatory.

The criticism does not get at the heart of the case, which is whether the analogy holds. If Tuvels argument is correct, then it provides a justification for this type of behavior. Arguing that the analogy is wrong because of the behavior it justifies begs the question.

Notice that I’m speaking in terms of justification, not in terms of people’s actual behavior. What an argument genuinely justifies and how people actually behave based on that argument are completely distinct. Let met point two very prominent historical examples.

Nazi intellectuals found justifications for the views in Nietzsche, and Stalinists in Marx. They would be horrified at what was done by these regimes, and their body of work in way actually justifies the barbarism of these regimes.

We can only hold Nietzsche and Marx responsible for the logical implications of their work, not the behavioral implications.

To use another example, utilitarianism is criticized for allowing, as a mathematical possibility, the existence of slavery. A utilitarian has to have at least *some* response to the problem that you can shoehorn in unspeakable cruelty and injustice on a logical basis. But I don’t hold Bentham, Mill, and Sidgwick responsible for some jerk taking a single pass at their writing, seeing the back door, and deciding he can just set up the institution of slavery.

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Gabriel 05.07.17 at 10:56 pm

That was a very cogent analysis, Salviati, and tracks well with my own feelings on the matter.

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dave heasman 05.08.17 at 12:10 am

Chris “merian” has a point that –

“If basically the whole community of people of color takes one look and says “nah, are you crazy? this isn’t a thing!” it’s worthwhile to pay attention. Sure, they might all be ‘phobic, like transphobic feminists, but at one point you’d find someone who says “yeah, I accept you as black just like my own, and here is how: …”. People do have a say about inclusion into their own group — not the ultimate say, mind, but ideas will win out at one point.”
but coming at it from my particular point of interest might I point to the – different but similar in one on-point way – lives of Herb Jeffries and Johnny Otis?

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yenwoda 05.08.17 at 12:14 am

The best part of the open letter is where its own authors thank a fellow scholar for pointing out that they’ve committed a “dangerous erasure of anti-Blackness and the erasure of the Black labor on which the rhetoric of our own letter is built”. I really think a discipline (or interdisciplinary journal) can thrive if its contributors are forced to tiptoe around unintentional slights of identity to quite that degree.

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JW Mason 05.08.17 at 12:41 am

This is a very good piece — the best I’ve seen on this business. The final point, from where I’m sitting, seems like the most important one. Thank you, and thanks to CT for publishing this.

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Chris "merian" W. 05.08.17 at 1:58 am

Sebastian H, Heliopause and dave heasman:

It’s one of the criticism to argue from this one case. There are so many other examples of how self-identification comes into racial identity. Take the SF writer Tobias Buckell, who is Caribbean, bi-racial, but by the accidents of genetics and schooling usually reads as white. I know two highly visible people in the Alaska Native community who identify as both Native and Black (and are of mixed-race ancestry with dark skin). You have people of Mediterranean ethnic background whose physical types are all on a rather narrow continuum, but depending on their country may be racially classified as North African or European white, and the latter may be taken for the former by racists and Islamophobes and experience discrimination. Etc. Etc. But all the other examples I’ve encountered have one thing in common: that they’re all arguably, at least in some sense, non-white beyond mere self-identification. And one wonders, why now blow this up big, with the lone example being a woman who, if she isn’t black, would be white? Isn’t there some sort of hegemony going on?

In a larger sense, nothing of this is really new. From my time on LGBT usenet, there are still people around for whom the name Sally Picketfence evokes memories of the longest flame war in history — from the eponymous fictional woman who identifies as bisexual, is a married (to a man) suburban stay-at-home mother with 2.5 children. None of these attributes of course precludes her being bisexual, but the questions revolved around, in what practical sense is she? What if she’s never had sex with a woman? Never actually engaged in any same-sex dating/making out? After 25 years in suburbia, with no LGBT friends or involvement, can she be called straight without doing her a horrible injustice? Conversely, does she have to be given as much room to speak on behalf of LGBT people as, say, someone who’s same-sex partnered? Or sexually active with members of the same sex? Or a celibate gay activist? (Another examples are the “political lesbians” that appeared for a while in feminist circles, and who turned out not to actually be lesbians, sometimes to their own chagrined discovery. There’s the concept of lesbian until graduation. Without claiming they were imposters — mostly just misguided, and sometimes engaged in youthful experimentation — it is still possible to point to harm done by straight people barging into the lives of people who don’t have the option of reverting to the straight setting if things don’t work out. ) These things are genuinely complicated to sort out.

Salviati: “I think few will dispute that the vast majority of minority and disadvantaged studies programs are primarily concerned with advocacy for their subjects, and are focusing their academic research in directions designed to support a priori theories. “

I admit I’m an outsider in these fields, so can’t claim expertise, but I’d dispute this, unless you also accept that this is what happens with just about every applied scientist, academic engineers, most ecologists, volcanologists… I’m and earth scientist and work on wildfires. The paper from the revision of which I’m taking a break to type this comment is based on solid data analysis, but the motivation is to provide better tools to manage and understand wildland fire hazards. I may even advocate for certain approaches and attitudes, or for spending society’s resources on certain measures, and protecting vulnerable communities or ecosystems may play into this. There’s no reason the quality of your research should suffer just because you think it has a societal benefit beyond pure intellectual exercise (and contingencies like training students for jobs).

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Lupita 05.08.17 at 2:09 am

@Salviati

Great post. Another fatal flaw I see in identity-based social studies is in the category of people who are Latin American or descendants of Latin Americans, that is, Hispanics. Before 1970, they were white, not based of self-identification, but by law, and were singled out by the Census Bureau based on Spanish-origin surname. From 1970 on, Hispanics have racially self-identified mostly as “other” which the Census Bureau does not agree with. It has to be American Indian, Alaskan Native, Asian / Pacific Islander, Black, or White. Now, in order to get rid of so many “others” (who do not specify which other) and “mixed” (who do not specify which admixture), the Census is going to add a new race and get it over with once and for all: the Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish-origin race. Yes, Hispanic is now going to be a race and everything will add up to 100%.

So, as you can see, race categories have nothing to do with self-identification and everything to do with a bureaucracy trying to get rid of “other” responses by finally acknowledging people who are colloquially referred to as brown without opening the door to non-Spanish Mediterranean types and Middle Easterners and their descendants. I pity the poor identity-based social studies scholars who will have to explain all this to the people, particularly, why what used to be politically correct (Hispanics are an ethnic group; they can be of any race) is no longer so.

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Yankee 05.08.17 at 2:17 am

The problem is that until recently nobody realized (or more probably, never said aloud) that these arguments create an opening for (and in theory encourage) new identities to be discovered or created, and that those identities need to be accepted as a matter of principle by society.

Isn’t that pretty much what people at _that_ end of my facebook feed have been running on about for some time. As witness the growth of the LGBTQ acronym. We just do a ‘+’ now?

will cause the exposure of these arguments to the public

That horse has left the barn. cf “snowflake”

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Joseph Brenner 05.08.17 at 3:00 am

Mark Engleson@56:

“Nazi intellectuals found justifications for the views in Nietzsche, and Stalinists in Marx. They would be horrified at what was done by these regimes, and their body of work in way actually justifies the barbarism of these regimes.”

Yes: Nietzsche is one of my favorite examples as well, but myself, I tend to take it the opposite way– modern philosophy invariably takes the line that there’s a vulgar reading of Nietzsche that’s completely wrong, and unsupported by a thorough study of his work, but it seems to me that the vulgar reading isn’t *completely* wrong: Nietzsche in various places talks-up power, strength, evil, force and war. It’s a good bet Nietzsche would not have appreciated being claimed as an inspiration by the Nazis, but then, I can see why he appealed to the Nazis. It doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me to say Nietzsche’s writings are one of the things that helped lead to the rise of the Nazis.

“We can only hold Nietzsche and Marx responsible for the logical implications of their work, not the behavioral implications.”

This is a hard one, but it seems to me that this leads into some problems. Is philosophy supposed to be completely irrelevant to people’s lives? If philosophy is ultimately intended to influence behavior, that philsophers can’t just shrug off what people actually *do* with their ideas. Repeatedly going “but that’s not what I meant!” only goes so far.

That said I don’t know how any of this applies to a notion of transracialism. At first glance, the idea doesn’t seem that crazy: isn’t race primarily a social construct? Why wouldn’t you expect racial identity to be roughly as fluid as gender identity?

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faustusnotes 05.08.17 at 3:15 am

It seems to me that “African American” is itself a trans-racial identity, given how Africa is not a country or a race. “Person of Colour” is also cobbled together from a bunch of different racial backgrounds.

The idea that transracialism is possible seems uncontroversial to me. Much of government policy about race and migration is built on various forms of it, for good or ill. For good, for example, Australia’s multicultural policy is built on the idea that our identities are mutable and race is irrelevant to them. For ill, for example, Australia until 1972 had a policy of raising “half” Aboriginal children in white families on the explicit assumption that they could be made white, and today Australian society is full of people who know they must be to some extent racially Aboriginal but are culturally “white”. My own mother was half Spanish but is completely white, and her racial identity is as English even though her own mother thinks she can’t be (and anyone with any sense knows that “English” is not a race).

And what in any case is wrong with creating new identities? Have at it, I say!

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pomo queer theorist 05.08.17 at 3:49 am

As it seems the initial iteration of this post was too vitriolic to publish, I’d like to try again, with the grace of the moderators.

I’d like to give a perspective on what this (“The Hypatia Affair”) looks like from outside the realm of academic philosophy and perhaps academia in general, whether or not it will help. My best friends are all anthropologists and they see academic philosophy as rife with white supremacy, transphobia, and misogyny. I always try to defend it to them and point out anthropology’s correspondingly racist history, and the works of philosophy I consider foundational to my identity, such as those of Judith Butler and other members of the earlier queer theory movement.

What doesn’t help our case is to label only philosophical discourse as legitimate within philosophy, because when we do that, we are saying that the only legitimate discourse is universally dominated by cisgender, straight white men. I should hope it’s not difficult to see why philosophy is thusly reviled, even if you think these claims are not reasons to reject the enterprise entirely, as I do. (meaning I really love philosophy and want to help make it better, not discard it)

Dr. Lawford-Smith further comments that “a few philosophers together with a great many more non-philosophers from marginalized groups within society at large were angry about the paper and expressed this in online venues,” and I would first like to ask, aren’t these groups marginalized in society at large also marginalized within philosophy itself? Furthermore, I think it is at least arguable if not obvious that there are certain subjects on which non-philosophers of certain identity groups will be infinitely more qualified to speak than philosophers not part of those groups who are seemingly ignorant of those subjects. If we accept this, the only question is whether or not this is an instance of that, and I think the answer is yes.

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John Quiggin 05.08.17 at 4:18 am

Addressing the issue of Tuvel’s argument, rather than the subsequent mess and doing so rather naively perhaps, it seems to be that there are at least three ways one might become a member of a group associated with some aspect of identity. Either you decide for yourself, or the group decides whether to treat you as a member. Or as under apartheid for example, where some outside authority defines a group and assigns people to it whether or not they agree. Indigenous status in Australia has elements of all three
https://aiatsis.gov.au/research/finding-your-family/before-you-start/proof-aboriginality

So, if I understand it, Tuvel says that
(a) Gender identity depends on self-identification
(b) Race and gender identity are similar in important ways
(c) So, self-identification should be considered as a basis for racial identity

Put that way, I can’t say I’m convinced. But I haven’t read the article only the commentary.

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Gabriel 05.08.17 at 6:14 am

JQ:

You haven’t read the article, but you feel it’s fair to summarize the arguments the article you haven’t read might be making, and you aren’t convinced by the arguments that you’ve constructed?

…thanks for the contribution?

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John Holbo 05.08.17 at 6:21 am

I’ve read the article and I feel it’s fair to say that JQ’s summary is basically accurate.

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pomo queer theorist 05.08.17 at 6:22 am

>You haven’t read the article, but you feel it’s fair to summarize the arguments the article you haven’t read might be making, and you aren’t convinced by the arguments that you’ve constructed?

I’ll assume you’ve read the article then, and are totally convinced? I’ll admit I didn’t finish it, it veered off into “not even wrong” territory as regards the subjects it was purporting to explore much too quickly for me.

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Mark Engleson 05.08.17 at 7:10 am

Joseph Brenner @57

Then, if we have to repudiate and we cannot allow the dissemination of Tuvel’s ideas because of the possibility of the harms they may cause, we’re going to have to start butchering the philosophy curriculum.

We accept that much more significant harms — everything up to genocide — has come out of people who were influenced by Marx and Nietzsche.

Gone.

We need to keep some perspective here. The “harms” that this article can create are small potatoes compared to the nastier business in the world. Or do we give out extra points depending on who the victims are??

Utilitarianism, as I pointed out: someone could easily find license in that to do some hideous things.

Gone.

If you really believe that the harms created by people led on by this article are that significant, then you’re going to have to gut moral and political philosophy. Very little can survive.

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pomo queer theorist 05.08.17 at 7:32 am

Mark @80: “If you really believe that the harms created by people led on by this article are that significant, then you’re going to have to gut moral and political philosophy. Very little can survive.”

If the best you can say in defense of something is that it’s not actively harmful, you’ve kind of painted yourself into a corner, no?

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Manta 05.08.17 at 7:46 am

There is this Hypatia quote, that seems to apply to the situation at hand: “Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.”

Is it truly hers, or apocryphal?

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John Holbo 05.08.17 at 7:58 am

“If the best you can say in defense of something is that it’s not actively harmful, you’ve kind of painted yourself into a corner, no?”

You’re holding Mark’s argument wrong-way round.

He isn’t saying that the best that can be said for Tuvel’s article is that it’s only slightly harmful. He’s saying that the worst that can be said against Tuvel’s article is that it might be slightly harmful. (Ceiling, floor. Not the same.) But then the harm-argument against publication – which is the main argument – collapses. Because if we are going to not publish anything that might be (or might not be!) slightly harmful, then we are going to not-publish a lot. Most of ethical philosophy, for starters. That seems right to me.

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pomo queer theorist 05.08.17 at 8:02 am

>Because if we are going to not publish anything that might be (or might not be!) slightly harmful, then we are going to not-publish a lot. Most of ethical philosophy, for starters. That seems right to me.

I personally think it’s at least a bit more than just slightly harmful, because the piece itself ignores entire fields and comes off as completely ignorant to even people who are minimally versed in these subjects. (i have more to say but my cubital tunnel is acting up, talk later)

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Collin Street 05.08.17 at 8:15 am

If your male best friend does something horribly misogynistic, then presumably it is obvious to everyone but the most oblivious that they have done so.

… no? if you’re acting in good faith, then definitionally the mistakes you still make were ones that were invisible to you… and they’ll remain invisible to you until something changes within you. At which point they’ll immediately snap into focus, you’ll say, “of course!”, and you’ll start to mutter why people put so much effort into proving you were wrong and all they had to do was to talk you through it like they did that last time.

People, of course, systemically underestimate quite how much their perspectives change. Illusion of continuity or something?

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Frank Lammar 05.08.17 at 8:16 am

Let’s take it that Tuvel’s arguments have the potential to support social practices whose effects are likely to be harmful. Does that make Tuvel’s article harmful? Does it license us to say – as both the open letter & Hypatia’s response do say – that it *has caused harms*?

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John Holbo 05.08.17 at 8:18 am

“I personally think it’s at least a bit more than just slightly harmful, because the piece itself ignores entire fields and comes off as completely ignorant to even people who are minimally versed in these subjects.”

Yeah, I totally have that problem with anthropology when they start in about philosophy – especially analytic philosophy. Except that my term for that is ‘slightly harmful’. (I kid, I kid. I was raised by anthropologists so I know they mean well. Well, mostly. But boy are they confused about philosophy.) But seriously. If the charge against the article is that it’s mediocre scholarship – or downright poor scholarship – then that is another route to the conclusion that these protests are unwarranted. The proper response to poor scholarship is to ignore it or write better scholarship, correcting it. The alternative is all pitchforks and torches all the time. Because poor scholarship – in at least some folks’ opinion – is everywhere.

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pomo queer theorist 05.08.17 at 8:28 am

>Because poor scholarship – in at least some folks’ opinion – is everywhere.

Absolutely, but the argument is generally that the standard is lower for white/cis/whatever privilege people to publish good scholarship. If anyone is interested, several trans and Black feminist scholars have written about this whole thing on Twitter and I do suspect at least a paper or two are forthcoming.

https://twitter.com/rachelvmckinnon/status/861340772850966528

https://twitter.com/TransTheory/status/861331441875013637

https://twitter.com/JuliaSerano/status/861250622208696320

https://twitter.com/ztsamudzi/status/858033675673489409

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faustusnotes 05.08.17 at 9:08 am

pomo queer theorist, I read the Julia Serano links and her claim that transracial theory is based on one person’s experience while transgender experience is pan-cultural is wrong on academic and cultural grounds. There is an extensive literature on transracialism (also called passing), which appears to have been ignored in past work by Tuvel’s critics. As for an American academic blithely ignoring the possibility that transracialism might have happened outside the experience of a single white American – do we even need to go there? This site, for example, includes a description of an Australian Aboriginal man who adopted a black American identity in order to escape Australian racism – in Australia. But apparently no according to a leading american academic the only person who has ever done this is Rachel Dolezal! I guess that Julia Serano has never heard of the “stolen generation” or any of the concepts of race that are associated with it, or the very many forms of identity that Aboriginal people have adopted and continue to adopt in order to deal with white people’s idea of race.

Americans need to come to terms with the fact that your experience and ideas of race are a) very particular, b) extremely dysfunctional and c) heavily embedded with imperialist and racist ideals. This applies just as much to black Americans, who despite their many domestic political problems remain some of the most privileged people on the planet (if you want a hint of this, look at the rhetoric coming out of Flint, Michigan, that this could happen “even in a developed country” – black Americans take for granted a bunch of privileges that elude a large number of people on this planet).

I bet I could dig through the bibliographies of the 800 or so signatories to this letter and find that barely any of them have bothered to draw on the experience of indigenous people outside of America, to examine the very different transgendered experiences of people in countries like the Philippines or Indonesia, or to engage in any kind of dialogue with the many African feminists and anti-imperialists who might have a critical word or two to say about the cooption of African history and culture for their own use at the heart of their cultural empire. No doubt some have, but I find the arrogance of Americans in assuming that their experience of race is universal to be deeply frustrating, arrogant and very ignorant.

(My impression is that Serano didn’t get involved in this stupid letter and is using the debate to make important points about broader issues about trans representation but still, I would really like to see more humility from Americans about your own weird racial issues).

90

Neville Morley 05.08.17 at 9:40 am

@Manta #82: apocryphal. We have virtually no sources for the life of Hypatia, let alone her ideas (we have a number for her death, which is what interested various ancient writers). However, we do have a load of very creepy fictionalised versions, e.g. by Charles Kingsley. This quote comes from an odd and almost entirely fanciful essay by one Elbert Hubbard – and in fact it’s put into the mouth of Hypatia’s father Theon, who’s credited with her education in these terms.

91

Manta 05.08.17 at 10:06 am

How does Jweish history (and the forced conversions to Christianity) fit into the discussion about trans-racialism?

92

Shmoo 05.08.17 at 1:13 pm

While I have little to add to this discussion other than to express relief that I’m not an academic philosopher, with regard to racial identity, I can recommend a marvelous book, The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire by Karl Jacoby. Read this a couple months ago and loved it.

93

John 05.08.17 at 1:13 pm

>> How does Jweish history (and the forced conversions to Christianity) fit into the discussion about trans-racialism?

Interestingly the Tuvel article does employ the example of the opposite case (conversion to Judaism). Of course this is an anomalous example, “Jewishness” having unusually both an ethnic, inherited, and a religious components. Tuvel writes:

“Generally, we treat people wrongly when we block them from assuming the personal
identity they wish to assume. For instance, if someone identifies so strongly with the
Jewish community that she wishes to become a Jew, it is wrong to block her from
taking conversion classes to do so. This example reveals there are at least two components
to a successful identity transformation: (1) how a person self-identifies, and
(2) whether a given society is willing to recognize an individual’s felt sense of identity
by granting her membership in the desired group. For instance, if the rabbi thinks
you are not seriously committed to Judaism, she can block you from attempted conversion.
Still, the possibility of rejection reveals that, barring strong overriding considerations,
transition to a different identity category is often accepted in our society.”

94

Enzo Rossi 05.08.17 at 1:15 pm

I take it that the main argument of Tuvel’s detractors is that one shouldn’t write about marginalised groups without referring to their own lived experiences, i.e. without citing their auto-ethnographies and other similar literature. This would follow from a version of standpoint epistemology, which says that failing to attend to marginalised people’s lived experiences will inevitably contribute to reinforcing their oppression by the dominant culture, or something like that.

Now the cynic in me says that the people who believe in the existence of “philosophical gentrification” are prepared to viciously attack others for the sake of a methodological monopoly on some topics and a healthy citation count, as I couldn’t resist observing on Daily Nous. Add to those detractors those who are heavily invested in the identity politics camp in the current philosophy culture wars — a faction that has repeatedly shown its unselfconsciously self-righteous ruthlessness, even in the face of strong evidence against their previous claims. But only a minority of the detractors can be that nasty, so we should consider the argument on its merits.

Philosophers ask: if one can show that Tuvel’s article contributes to reinforcing the oppression of trans people and/or people of colour, why not do so? Well, the detractors may reply, we have done so: don’t you see the outrage felt by so many trans people and PoC? Their lived experience tells you that the article was harmful and should never have been published! And there’s the rub. It seems as though both sides can’t see the force of the other side’s argument unless they give up on their own methodological commitments. Yet some work in epistemology has been trying to bridge this gap. But then why give up on that project and jump on the e-mob bandwagon instead? Why renounce argument in favour of power politics? It could be exasperation, or lack of confidence in one’s own arguments, or both.

Still, arguments are a two-way street, and we can’t expect all the bridging work to be done by those speaking from or on behalf of the position of the marginalised. While the profession has every reason to support Tuvel on procedural grounds, it would be good to also see some more philosophical critique of the sort of standpoint epistemology that underpins the detractors’ reaction.

95

Laurie Shrage 05.08.17 at 1:16 pm

In regard to Manta’s question, Karen Brodkin’s work is helpful:

“How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America”

http://forward.com/opinion/356166/how-jews-became-white-folks-and-may-become-nonwhite-under-trump/

96

Z 05.08.17 at 2:03 pm

So, if I understand it, Tuvel says that
(a) Gender identity depends on self-identification
(b) Race and gender identity are similar in important ways
(c) So, self-identification should be considered as a basis for racial identity

John (Quiggin+Holbo who concurred), you said you were convinced by the argument, but you didn’t specify which part was unconvincing to you. As I assume the logic is pretty uncontroversial, I guess you are unconvinced either by (a) or by (b) (or by both). But which is it?

A biographical anecdote: as my physical appearance (especially my melanin rate) and my cultural heritage (North African) point towards a racial and cultural identity which is very different from my actual social one (given by my name and surname, for instance), upon the occasions I have had to state my racial identity (usually when filling a diversity form for an Anglo-American institution), I had a very strong feeling that, insofar as I had one, self-identification was indeed the basis of my racial identity.

97

Raven 05.08.17 at 2:06 pm

Liz @ 64: “Although I only know of one white person who thinks she is black (Dolezal) , I believe it is not entirely uncommon for white people to think that they are actually Native American in some important way.” — Let us also not forget that, due to the old practice of “passing as white”, there are today many people with “black” ancestors who think of themselves as solely “white”. That is, very conscious and deliberate “trans-racialism” went on in the other direction… on a massive scale… whenever possible from the slavery period through the Jim Crow years, and thereby it (or its effect on the descendants) still continues. So to deny its existence now seems historically untenable.

98

Sebastian H 05.08.17 at 2:22 pm

Julia Serano implies that it isn’t academic freedom?!? There are a lot of red state legislatures who are going to be excited to hear that!

Would it be appropriate to analyze trans-studies literature as potentially harmful to academic freedom because publishing it might be used by certain legislators to attack academic freedom?

Maybe what we really need is a way to sort minor and major harms rather than acting as if “potential harms” is enough.

99

Raven 05.08.17 at 2:41 pm

Joseph Brenner @ 73: “If philosophy is ultimately intended to influence behavior, that philsophers can’t just shrug off what people actually *do* with their ideas. Repeatedly going ‘but that’s not what I meant!’ only goes so far.” — So Jesus Christ (with all his “love your neighbour, do good to those that hate you” talk) actually is responsible for all the killings done in his name, is that what you are telling me?

And here I’d thought later interpreters, from Paul and fire-and-sword-conversion-justifying Augustine down to the commanders in the field — like Arnaud Amalric, papal legate at the Massacre of Béziers, who gave the infamous order to “Kill them all [i.e. Catholic and heretic alike], let God sort them out for God will know his own.” — might themselves have borne some blame for distorting a message of peace and love. Silly me.

100

Yan 05.08.17 at 2:48 pm

Quiggin and Holbo 76 and 78:

I haven’t read the article, but I’ve read quotes, and (a) and (c) don’t seem to fit the following quote, which suggests that racial identity cannot be based on self-identification alone, but something like reasonable self-identification based in broader objective criteria of cultural knowledge and experience.

“Charles Mills identifies at least five categories generally relevant to the determination of racial membership, including “self-awareness of ancestry, public awareness of ancestry, culture, experience, and self-identification” (Mills 1998, 50). If ancestry is a less emphasized feature in some places (for example, in Brazil), then Dolezal’s exposure to black culture, experience living as someone read as black, and her self-identification could be sufficient to deem she is black in those places. And because there is no fact of the matter about her “actual” race from a genetic standpoint, these features of Dolezal’s experience would be decisive for determining her race in that particular context. The crucial point here is that no “truth” about Dolezal’s “real” race would be violated.”

101

Yan 05.08.17 at 3:01 pm

The problem with a “standpoint epistemology” critique–if taken as a reason to withdraw publication–is that it’s question-begging, since it’s not only a highly contested view, but one that has a long, internally conflicted history.

The other problem is that, as practiced today, standpoint epistemology, even if correct, is a bit like divine revelation: the only person who can know if someone rightly speaks on behalf of a standpoint is the person, but this is–like Kierkegaardian faith–unprovable, as well as irrefutable, to anyone else.

In this way the controversy draws on the internal contradictions of this intellectual tradition. On the one hand, it is a claim not about individuals but communities and, more importantly, social structures and statuses. This is most evident in its origins in Lukacs theory of the standpoint of the proletariat. In this respect, it is about *objective* social conditions that determine one’s standpoint, and not about self-identification.

From that side of the tradition, it makes sense for a community, for example, the African-American community, to say that Dolezal’s self-identification as black is nonsense, since their *shared objective conditions of existence*, not their “self identifications” or “personal lived experiences” tell them so. In rejecting her claim, they aren’t appealing to personal standpoints but social positions that can be objectively assessed.

On the other hand, the contemporary strand of this tradition focuses–in liberal style–on the individual and on personal feeling and experience, misunderstanding standpoint as a subjective matter rather than a social position within a social structure.

That’s what allows for both Tuvel’s argument about the analogy of Dolezal to transgender identity and the often contradictory response from her critics, who switch between inconsistent versions when convenient, asserting a totally subjective privileged epistemological standpoint when they want to exclude a voice, then returning to objective social conditions when they want to defend one.

102

John Holbo 05.08.17 at 3:09 pm

pomo queer theorist: “I’ll assume you’ve read the article then, and are totally convinced?”

Why assume reading = being totally convinced?

Yan: “I haven’t read the article, but I’ve read quotes, and (a) and (c) don’t seem to fit the following quote, which suggests that racial identity cannot be based on self-identification alone, but something like reasonable self-identification based in broader objective criteria of cultural knowledge and experience.”

Here is the conclusion from the paper: “I hope to have shown that, insofar as …
arguments that render transgenderism acceptable extend to transracialism, we have
reason to allow racial self-identification, coupled with racial social treatment, to play
a greater role in the determination of race than has previously been recognized.”

So she isn’t arguing that it’s same-same but that there are significant parallels.

John Q was careful to say self-identification is ‘a basis’ not ‘the basis’ in his original thumbnail summary. That’s the right way to put it.

103

bianca steele 05.08.17 at 3:31 pm

Some observations:

1. One understanding of the issue seems to be: the problem is the article is (argued to be) bad scholarship, but then it should be refuted in the normal way. Nothing specially bad went on here that had to be addressed by one group of scholars publicly (that is, in their Facebook circles and in their fields’ publications) calling out the problem and the scholar.

In other words, the problem is not that the article violated general social norms. Or if it did, certain kinds of scholarship gets a pass on social norms, for one reason or another, and this is one of them.

So either philosophy doesn’t have to worry about the political and social effects of its publications, or those effects can never be bad.

Similarly, if anthropologists object to a philosopher’s contribution, they should write an article to refute it, presumably engaging in philosophical terms. Engaging solely in anthropological terms, it sounds like, won’t cut it. Neither will engaging in the wrong kind of philosophical terms.

(On both accounts, Hypatia seems to be a special case, but not unique.)

2. It’s taken for granted, presumably, that the threats of violence against Tuvel are somehow connected with the verbal protests against Hypatia and the article itself, but seems to be assumed that this has nothing to do with academia. (I’m not sure whether it’s been suggested that anthropology is on the side of the pitchforks; presumably not.) Is it assumed that the threats stem directly from the open letter? Possibly they might have occurred anyway? Also, some people who’ve weighed in on this (not on CT) have been less than careful, in my opinion, in distinguishing between “Usenet or Twitter mobs”, online criticism by large numbers of people that doesn’t attempt to direct itself to the person criticized, and professional kerfuffles that involve people taking sides and doing so vocally.

3. Someone who hasn’t been present on this thread has, not long ago, discussed her own practice when writing about groups she doesn’t belong to (I believe public health, in an Australian context). I don’t know how many commenters on this thread were aware of that discussion.

104

Raven 05.08.17 at 3:34 pm

Do we really know the family history of Rachel Dolezal’s parents?

The cable-TV genealogy program Who Do You Think You Are? recently featured actress Liv Tyler uncovering that one of her ancestors (through rocker dad Steven Tyler) was a Civil War veteran who had both retired and died while identified as “white”… but had earlier in his life been identified as having mixed parentage “half black and half white” — which made him “black” under the rules of the time. [Reports say dad ST loved the news, as helping explain his successful rock career….]

105

Mark Engleson 05.08.17 at 3:44 pm

>> How does Jewish history (and the forced conversions to Christianity) fit into the discussion about trans-racialism?

As a Jew, I feel qualified to make a comment.

There are internal and external dimensions to identity. The weight of those dimensions is not static. For my grandparents, who fled Nazi Germany, the external dimension of identity weighed all-but-nigh. Self-identification was a non-issue to them. They were, quite literally, force to wear badges of their Jewishness.

My Jewishness will never be quite like my grandparents’ Jewishness. To the extent that I identify as Jewish, it is driven largely by internal forces, by identification with my family history, by pride, by a sense of history. I don’t feel the world imposing my Jewishness on me, in the way that even my parents did a generation ago.

I think the indignation against the Rachel Dolezal case is that, for all but a very few, exceptional fringe cases, when it comes to race, no evil regime has to force you to wear a badge, because your race is worn on your skin. The external dimension of race imposes itself on with all its ugly, brute realities. To even suggest that you can choose to become a race is an affront to the reality of people who cannot escape from racism.

We get so caught up in talking about the exception cases that we forget that they are the exceptions that prove the rule. The existence of borderline cases or penumbra cases does not make race any less an objective social fact. A thing that is true because of social consensus is no less true, and thing that has fuzzy edges can still have a solid core.

106

Plarry 05.08.17 at 3:48 pm

As an academic scientist and associate editor of a couple of scientific journals, I find this affair opaque. As near as I can understand no one is alleging misconduct of any kind on Tuvel’s part. I have difficulty even phrasing my bafflement without it sounding snarky (which it’s not intended to be) but once a process has been followed with editor, associate editors, peer reviewers, and the authors, does not the article become part of the academic dialog and should be treated as such? And for the associate editors to go outside the bounds of the academic dialog is to treat their own journal and the peer review process with complete disrespect? If they feel like the journal’s standards were violated through the process, then it seems to me that the right thing to do is to resign as an AE, but from what I can gather that hasn’t happened either.

107

kelly oliver 05.08.17 at 3:50 pm

My response to the social media outrage over Tuvel’s article, and to some of the editorial board of Hypatia’s “apology”
http://thephilosophicalsalon.com/if-this-is-feminism-its-been-hijacked-by-the-thought-police/

108

AcademicLurker 05.08.17 at 4:15 pm

Is it assumed that the threats stem directly from the open letter? Possibly they might have occurred anyway?

Many things are technically possible, but I would consider that to be extremely unlikely.

The social media storm accompanying l’affaire Tuvel followed the familiar pattern that these things generally follow, and threats, hate mail & etc. are standard parts of the package. Sometimes the obvious explanation is the correct one.

109

JHW 05.08.17 at 4:16 pm

I don’t think passing is very much like “transracialism,” let alone that race passing is an instance of it. Passing is a strategic choice by a member of a marginalized group to present as a member of a non-marginalized group to avoid the social consequences of marginalization. You can accept the reality and legitimacy of passing and still think that passing doesn’t produce a real change in racial status (i.e., a black person passing as white is still black, just as a gay person passing as straight is still gay), or that the nature and reasons for the presentation counts (Dolezal’s argument turns on a sort of cultural psychological affinity, which involves construing what it is to be black in a particular objectionable way, while passing is a strategy for avoiding group-based mistreatment), or both (my view). So I wouldn’t judge Tuvel too harshly for not referencing passing literature, but, conversely, I wouldn’t defend transracialism with reference to passing.

Passing itself is a controversial strategy, because by its nature it provides for individual escape at the expense of group solidarity, and sometimes at the expense of familial and other interpersonal ties. But the issues and problems it poses are distinct.

110

Freddie deBoer 05.08.17 at 4:31 pm

Tuvel absolutely could have had – and could still have – her career ruined by this controversy. In this academic job market? Absolutely. So I think the commenters who are suggesting this is all no big deal are being, at best, callous and dismissive.

111

praisegod barebones 05.08.17 at 4:41 pm

‘Let’s take it that Tuvel’s arguments have the potential to support social practices whose effects are likely to be harmful. Does that make Tuvel’s article harmful? Does it license us to say – as both the open letter & Hypatia’s response do say – that it *has caused harms*?’

There’s actually a bit of scholarly discussion of what seems like a structurally similar issue in the literature on global justice and world poverty – namely the case of whether those who support the existing economic order thereby harm those who are wronged in ways that that order enables (roughly speaking, Thomas Pogge and Elizabeth Ashworth argue that the answer is ‘Yes’; Saladin Meckled Garcia that it’s no)

I don’t know whether and to what extent any of these scholars would endorse the extension of their argument to the current case.

112

bianca steele 05.08.17 at 5:01 pm

Many things are technically possible, but I would consider that to be extremely unlikely.

Could you clarify which is unlikely, in your opinion?

I assume it isn’t academics making the threats. It’s the kind of people who ordinarily make those threats, having found out about the situation through social media, probably Twitter, after the situation was discussed publicly by people seen as activists, who in many cases aren’t academics (but may follow discussions in places like Hypatia). The alternative is that academics’ social media, probably Facebook, includes people who make threats, or more likely, that the open letter was discussed also on Twitter by academic/activists whose posts were seen by trolls.

113

Tom Slee 05.08.17 at 5:15 pm

Mark Engleson #105 writes:

no evil regime has to force you to wear a badge, because your race is worn on your skin. The external dimension of race imposes itself on with all its ugly, brute realities. To even suggest that you can choose to become a race is an affront to the reality of people who cannot escape from racism.

These sentiments have also been expressed about men transitioning to female, with “gender” substituted for “race”, and so do not distinguish trans-race claims from transgender claims.

114

Heliopause 05.08.17 at 5:24 pm

@70
“And one wonders, why now blow this up big, with the lone example being a woman who, if she isn’t black, would be white?”

I guess it blew up big because society considered it unacceptable, if not outrageous. She lost her job, her position with the NAACP, many friends, and so on. The other examples you cite all receive some measure of understanding from the rest of us, I suppose, but Dolezal has gotten very little.

I tend to think that Dolezal is operating on a continuum rather than as a type. We place a great deal of emphasis in this society on declarative statements about identity which don’t necessarily line up neatly with the way we live our lives or perceive ourselves. We’ve all seen, for example, the many white teenagers immersing themselves in hip hop culture, listening to the music, adopting the accoutrements, the mannerisms, the jargon. It’s marginally acceptable behavior to the larger society, they’re allowed to do it if they want but we tend to make fun of them, or we decry it as cultural appropriation. But when Rachel Dolezal ticked the “I am black” box that was a bridge too far.

115

Frank Lammar 05.08.17 at 5:26 pm

Enzo Rossi – don’t you see the outrage felt by so many trans people and PoC? Their lived experience tells you that the article was harmful and should never have been published!

Their lived experience tells you that they’re offended. But calling offence harm doesn’t make it so.

praisegod barebones – sounds interesting, but I’m not competent to discuss Pogge et al, so I’ll park it there unless you or anyone else want to elaborate.

116

Orange Watch 05.08.17 at 5:30 pm

pomo queer theorist @84:

I personally think it’s at least a bit more than just slightly harmful, because the piece itself ignores entire fields and comes off as completely ignorant to even people who are minimally versed in these subjects.

How does this make it harmful? Or rather to whom does this make it harmful? A cursory consideration of your assertion here suggests that the only parties harmed by the particular actions you cite are academics within the disciplines that were undercited… which is a very different thing than what is being implied by essentially all invocations of the concept of harms alleged to arise from the paper.

117

AcademicLurker 05.08.17 at 5:30 pm

bianca steele@112: I was specifically responding to the phrase “might have occurred anyway”, which I read to mean “Might have occurred in the absence of the open letter and subsequent internet fracas”.

My reasoning is that 1) When social media storms erupt it is extremely common that their object ends up receiving threats and hate mail, while 2) at least to my knowledge, it is extremely uncommon that people come across philosophy papers in sub-field specific academic journals and decide on their own to send threats and hate mail to the authors.

As to who is making the threats, according to one of the pieces up at the Daily Nous, it would seem that at least some are being made by academics. To be clear, these were, according to the author, career specific threats (that Tuvel would be ostracized, that there would be campaigns to make sure she’s denied tenure & etc.), not physical threats. If there were any physical threats I’d like to think that they came from the usual gang of online morlocks who jump on any excuse to harass women, and not from academics.

118

Joseph Brenner 05.08.17 at 5:32 pm

Mark Engleson@80:

What I’m trying to say is that neither of the obvious answers on this issue actually works terribly well:

(1) Yes, if thinkers need to second-guess social effects of what they write, this would make it hard to work. If pursuing a line of logical thought leads into territory that feels dangerous, do you have to drop it?

(2) But then: are we to take intellectual workers as inhabiting a pure, abstract realm divorced from any practical concern? Isn’t what they say supposed to have some importance, some real-world implications? How is this work supposed to proceed if it doesn’t pay any attention to it’s supposed purpose?

Take the example of Bret Stephens first column for the New York Times: are we supposed to embrace it as a welcome addition to the diversity of opinion on the OpEd page, or are we allowed to object that it’s “skepticism” is a pernicious under-mining of the fight against global warming?

See, if you answer is “that’s different, it’s not academic, it’s the New York Times!” you’re implicitly embracing the idea that academic writing doesn’t matter.

119

mpowell 05.08.17 at 5:33 pm

As someone who is not an academic but is part of the public academics may wish to influence, let me offer this view. First, I don’t accept that all or even the most significant of the Hypatia critics are disadvantaged compared to Tuvel. Rather, it is quite clear that some of them are important gatekeepers in their fields. Now, given this reaction to this paper, what am I to think about those fields? This: the amount of significance I assign to their output, consensus and conclusions is lower than it was before.

I can understand how certain disadvantaged groups and people could feel harmed by this paper and respond by getting very upset. The world is messy and well-intentioned people will piss each other off from time to time. But it is the response of more powerful figures that is most daming. Tuvel wrote, as far as I can tell, a pretty good paper. It could have been better (of course!) and it could have consulted more work in the area (pretty hard to avoid with an interdisciplinary paper). But those criticisms, as I understand, don’t completely invalidate the inconvenient questions raised. Given the treatment Tuvel received, it is clear that inconvenient but honest academic inquiry is not welcome. That’s a pretty huge credibility problem.

120

Heliopause 05.08.17 at 5:34 pm

@110
Perhaps we could say, then, that merely raising the possibility that this is no big deal has caused harm.

121

Heliopause 05.08.17 at 5:56 pm

@99
“So Jesus Christ (with all his “love your neighbour, do good to those that hate you” talk) actually is responsible for all the killings done in his name, is that what you are telling me?”

Probably not that Jesus, probably the one who declared himself the sole path to Truth, that non-christians were “withered vines,” and so forth.

122

Kiwanda 05.08.17 at 7:14 pm

bianca steele:

I assume it isn’t academics making the threats.

Why do you make that assumption?

bianca steele:

Also, some people who’ve weighed in on this (not on CT) have been less than careful, in my opinion, in distinguishing between “Usenet or Twitter mobs”, online criticism by large numbers of people that doesn’t attempt to direct itself to the person criticized, and professional kerfuffles that involve people taking sides and doing so vocally.

Such careful distinctions are almost never made. Traditionally, the line between “stern criticism by many people” and “online abuse by a mob” is drawn according to sympathies and agendas. The character of a set of critics is traditionally chosen from among its worst members, if you disagree with those critics, and its best, otherwise. Why should it be any different here?

123

pomo queer theorist 05.08.17 at 7:41 pm

>A cursory consideration of your assertion here suggests that the only parties harmed by the particular actions you cite are academics within the disciplines that were undercited… which is a very different thing than what is being implied by essentially all invocations of the concept of harms alleged to arise from the paper.

Well, not exactly. I do find the implication offensive myself and the piece itself is strewn with bits of stuff to the effect of “we can’t accept transgender people unless we except Rachel Dolezal as black,” and that implication is absolutely harmful especially when it doesn’t have a damn good argument backing it up.

124

LFC 05.08.17 at 7:48 pm

b. steele @103
So either philosophy doesn’t have to worry about the political and social effects of its publications, or those effects can never be bad.

Has anyone in this thread endorsed that view?

My view, fwiw [I realize, based on our past interactions, that you don’t care what my view is, but in case someone else might] would be something like: Various fields might “have to worry” about the political and social effects of their publications, but the way to address that worry is not to call for retraction of an article that (based on what seems to be general agreement) does not plagiarize or falsify data/sources. IOW, there are certain grounds for retraction and if those grounds are not met, retraction is not an appropriate ‘remedy’.

Moreover, bad effects can’t always be laid at the author’s door; depends (at least to some extent) on whether the piece has been read fairly, etc.

125

Steve 05.08.17 at 8:12 pm

The arguments in Tuvel’s paper have now been discussed many, many, many more times than they would have been without the open letter. If the signatories of the letter really were concerned with the “harms” that the paper may have caused, they would have been well-advised to bite their tongues. Once you get consequentialist about speech, it cuts both ways.

126

bianca steele 05.08.17 at 8:33 pm

at least to my knowledge, it is extremely uncommon that people come across philosophy papers in sub-field specific academic journals and decide on their own to send threats and hate mail to the authors.

You may be right. The coming-across part seems relatively common to me, though. Activist types on Twitter are constantly sharing links to academic papers that support their political work, or that they think are wrong. And though I don’t know of systematic proof of this, I think it’s at least widely believed that trolls and who-knows-who often follow their political opponents’ feeds and hashtags, just so they can start things like this.

127

Mario 05.08.17 at 9:34 pm

I have a copy of the paper here, and from what I have read, I think I can say that I understand the original negative reaction. She writes, plainly, that

In this article, I argue that considerations that support transgenderism extend to transracialism. Given this parity, since we should accept transgender individuals’ decisions to change sexes, we should also accept transracial individuals’ decisions to change races.

I’m not familiar with philosophy texts – but by usual standards this leaves pretty little room for interpretation. Overall, this is not the kind of text that hides its message behind convoluted formulations. Instead, with the usual caveat that I simply don’t know the author nor her ultimate intentions, I would say there is a chance that this text hides its message behind unusually clear language. Consider this:

Indeed, I imagine it was once just as odd to hear people say they felt like they belonged to a sex other than the one that they were assigned at birth.

And this:

Therefore, anyone who suggests that all women share some biologically based feature of experience that sheds light on a shared psychological experience will have to show not only that biological sex gives rise to a particular gendered psychology, but that there is something biological that all women share.

If I were transgender, I would certainly have to make an effort to not feel that this text is mocking me.

128

Manta 05.08.17 at 9:47 pm

Some people in this comment thread (e.g. pomo @124) are claiming that some harm by the piece (and I suppose by people claiming to be trans-racial): can you please clarify what is the harm and who was harmed?

I don’t see this harm (and other commenters also didn’t): it may be privilege on my part, but I don’t see:
a) how an intellectual argument can ever be harmful. at most, it can be wrong (or “not even wrong”)
b) how a person choosing his race can harm you with that choice.

129

pomo queer theorist 05.08.17 at 9:49 pm

If I were transgender, I would certainly have to make an effort to not feel that this text is mocking me.

Yep. You nailed it.

130

pomo queer theorist 05.08.17 at 10:23 pm

Manta @129

can you please clarify what is the harm and who was harmed?

Absolutely. Let me try my best.

a) Because it can give a false legitimacy to bad ideas that allows people who hold them to justify themselves. See Charles Murray for an extreme example of this. Tuvel’s piece is already being used by TERFs (see the comments on the Facebook post with the apology) as a reductio against trans rights, i.e. being transracial is clearly wrong, and being transgender is similar so therefore it’s also wrong.

b) I think this is explained by a), but I’ll go a bit further. Their choice in isolation cannot harm me as a trans person, but equating their choice to do so with mine makes it a lot harder for me to fight for my rights and trivializes my struggle.

This is why I say you need a damn good argument. If you’re going to do that to me and make my identity’s authenticity that much harder to argue for, you need a damned good reason why. For me, Rebecca Tuvel does not provide such a reason. As I said earlier though I haven’t read the whole piece so if you think she does I encourage you to share it, this article is apparently not open access.

131

pomo queer theorist 05.08.17 at 10:26 pm

Manta @129 again

I guess to be more direct the people who are harmed are transgender people for the most part but also people of color, and the harm is that we now have to refute another argument against our legitimacy. This follows the iron law of the bullshit asymmetry.

132

bianca steele 05.08.17 at 10:31 pm

LFC,

I’m just laying out what the possibilities are, logically. Does that seem objectionable to you?

Either there is no effect on the real world, either in this case or because philosophy papers can’t cause those effects, or there are effects but it would be worse to try to prevent them by not publishing, or not publishing could prevent them but it isn’t philosophy’s responsibility to worry about those things.

If philosophy papers can’t affect the real world, one reason might be this possibility of refuting them. But that seems unlikely to me, because a lot of time can pass until that happens. (Above and beyond arguments that philosophy is consistently bad at refuting certain kinds of arguments.) No one has explicitly made this argument, but it is suggested in the emphasis many have put on the importance of refutation.

The arguments around calls for recall sound persuasive, but I’m honestly stunned that a journal with claims to support activists wouldn’t think the article would be found offensive, and it’s difficult not to wonder if they would be so cavalier if the issue were around one of their more traditional topics, and not trans rights.

Kiwanda:

As I said, the assumption overall on this thread appears to be that the threats come from some Internet world beyond academia, where they just don’t understand about academic processes and aren’t as well behaved as academics are presumed to be. Certainly I agree that the idea of physical threats, as other women have received, coming from academics, is improbable.

133

Yan 05.08.17 at 10:45 pm

“If I were transgender, I would certainly have to make an effort to not feel that this text is mocking me.”

Do you mean by this that–regardless of the author’s intent–it probably has this subjective effect? Or do you mean that the quoted text shows evidence that the author intends to mock? If the latter, which part of the quotation?

I don’t see mockery, and don’t–as one is usually able to do in cases of unintended offense through careless or ambiguous language–even see how to interpret the quotations as mocking.

134

Faustusnotes 05.08.17 at 10:52 pm

Mario, you’re quoting a defense of the validity of transgender transition as mocking trans people. How does that work?

The only way that this article can mock or harm trans people is if being transracial is always and everywhere wrong. Such a position has to be both historically and culturally ignorant and deeply conservative, if not openly racist and/or grounded in some very scary concepts of race that have long been discredited. The open letter doesn’t specify what the harms are or from what social dynamic they derive but it seems pretty clear that the heart of the objection is that transracialism is ethically wrong, at least in any case where a person from a non victimized race does it (see the serano tweet above). This is exactly the view that a bunch of second wave feminists took of transgender people 20 years ago, and we know that that view is still around (see e.g. Greer). Has the academic feminist community learnt literally nothing from those vicious debates?

I can think of many examples of transracialism that are ethically right and completely normal (see my blog for specifics) and I think the onus is on the critics of this paper to explain how transracialism is wrong (and not just through reference to one case or one form of transracialism in one country) and how comparing it with transgender is harmful to trans people. Otherwise this letter is breathtakingly ignorant as well as a textbook example of academic bullying and gate keeping.

135

Orange Watch 05.08.17 at 11:39 pm

pomo queer theory@124

I do find the implication offensive myself and the piece itself is strewn with bits of stuff to the effect of “we can’t accept transgender people unless we except Rachel Dolezal as black,” and that implication is absolutely harmful especially when it doesn’t have a damn good argument backing it up.

This isn’t what you claim @84, however (nor is it a particularly concrete explanation of harms). @84 you claimed that failure to sufficiently cite extant scholarship and “coming off as ignorant” was by itself proof of harmfulness. So again, how is undercitation a real harm to anyone except those academics who feel entitled to control this discourse and receive citations and deference from anyone treading upon the theoretical territory they’ve staked out?

136

basil 05.09.17 at 12:22 am

I think I raised this subject here a while ago, but it’s good to see a consensus of a kind has developed. I am mightily pleased to be in such vehement agreement with every line in faustusnotes, and glad as always to read from Lupita.

I wonder, how would we line up in a debate regarding Obama’s consciously becoming African-American? True, Obama’s journey in self-determination is part self-propulsion, part interpellation but it is very similar to Diallo’s (I shan’t be deadnaming).

It could be argued that both are founded on familial connection (siblings, marriage), sympathy with a marginalised community (developed through college and enlightenment that education away from the tethers of home often delivers), the limited options available in the US’s embrace of Linnaean taxonomy, and even an entrepreneurial apprehension of the possible opportunities available. Neither claim is based on decent.

137

John Holbo 05.09.17 at 12:25 am

pomo queer theorist on why it is a harm: “Because it can give a false legitimacy to bad ideas … For me, Rebecca Tuvel does not provide such a reason. As I said earlier though I haven’t read the whole piece so if you think she does I encourage you to share it”

I’m just going to be boring and reiterate the standard liberal line that the ‘for me’ bit undoes the ‘bad ideas’ bit. (Because the standard liberal line seems to me to be correct.) Procedurally, you don’t get to set yourself up as the bad idea czar. You may be right but, because you may be wrong, you don’t have absolute intellectual authority to hand down an ‘error has no rights’ ukase in this case. Also, apparently you haven’t even read the whole paper. That’s bad practice. You should withhold judgment that someone’s ideas are as bad as all that until you are sure you know what she says. Also, as Orange Watch says, once we are falling back on complaints like undercitation, it ought to be obvious that we are not any longer considering the level of harm that might warrant protest action.

138

John Quiggin 05.09.17 at 12:36 am

Z@96

My problem is with (b). It seems to me that my gender is primarily relevant to me, and therefore what matters is my own perception of the question not that of other members of my self-ascribed gender (bathroom bills notwithstanding).

By contrast, my membership of a racial or ethnic group is relevant in important ways to that group.

But, I should stress again, I haven’t read Tuvel’s article and I haven’t thought a lot about this, so there may well be strong counterarguments.

139

LFC 05.09.17 at 12:48 am

bianca steele @133

Ok, I understand what you’re saying on that particular point now, and it is not objectionable; thank you for clarifying it.

140

John Holbo 05.09.17 at 1:10 am

OK, one more response to pomo queer theorist, then I’m giving it a rest:

“I do find the implication offensive myself and the piece itself is strewn with bits of stuff to the effect of “we can’t accept transgender people unless we except Rachel Dolezal as black,””

I don’t know whether you know this but that isn’t a quote from the article. That’s important. You shouldn’t make up quotes to make the article sound worse than it may be. I expect you’ll say that you are just exemplifying what you take to be the tenor of the argument but it’s not ok to invent apparent quotes that may then wander around on blogs or twitter and be taken, wrongly, for actual quotes. (You want a case of real harm through undercitation? There’s your likely suspect – invented quotes.)

The invented quote substantially twists the argument. Tuvel takes the acceptability of transgender people as a moral axiom, more or less. That is not in question at any point in the paper. It is quite clear the author does not regard it as a point on which there is reasonable doubt. So there’s none of this ‘we won’t accept transgender people unless we accept Dolezal’ stuff. That sounds too much like ‘we won’t accept transgender people until we accept Dolezal’. And it is flatly inconsistent with the paper’s opening: “It is not my task in this article to decide the Dolezal case one way or the other. Nor is it to discern whether she sincerely identifies as black, as she continues to insist, or whether she claimed this self-identification to mask what was really an appropriation of black identity to serve her own ends.” To be fair, the conclusion of the paper is rather confused. The final two sentences articulate a weak conclusion then a very strong conclusion, without really deciding between them. “I hope to have shown that, insofar as similar
arguments that render transgenderism acceptable extend to transracialism, we have
reason to allow racial self-identification, coupled with racial social treatment, to play
a greater role in the determination of race than has previously been recognized. I
conclude that society should accept such an individual’s decision to change race the
same way it should accept an individual’s decision to change sex.” That last sentence is a clunker. It’s way too strong and loses all the tentativeness of what goes before. But the rest of the paper is more conditional and tentative and qualified. That’s important because we don’t hang people for writing bad sentences. Also, at it’s clunkiest, the paper never says what you say it says. Namely, it’s an open question whether we will accept transgender people.

141

faustusnotes 05.09.17 at 1:19 am

John I don’t think that cuts it at all. Your gender is very relevant to everyone else of the same and different gender because a) they have to decide whether to have sex with you, and most people do this on the basis of an assumed gender, and don’t like getting sudden surprises when the heat is on, as it were, b) for sports there are serious performance differences between the genders which mean that your birth gender may be relevant to where you are classed, not your identified gender [this led to an unfortunate scenario recently where a judo? wrestling? contest went completely pear-shaped], c) when you claim a new sex you may be also staking a claim to a bunch of aspects of that sex [e.g. childbirth] that you are physically incapable of, and which the born members of that sex justifiably see as an important part of their identity, and when you change sex you might also slightly affect the overall identity of that sex.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that acceptance of trans people entails challenging the accepted gender identities of the existing two sexes, and that for many members of those two sexes this challenge is unpleasant – this is part of why trans people are subject to so much violence and discrimination. So it’s not enough to say that your sex is your own business. Society polices sex ferociously from birth or even before, and your ability to and right to switch sex is a matter of some significance to both of the existing sexes.

I think a problem underlying the response to this article is that many senior academic feminists still haven’t really accepted trans people. They see them as a fifth column, and sex workers as quislings, and although they’ve been bludgeoned into publicly tolerating the movement they don’t really accept it. [this puts them way behind the majority of the population, in my opinion]. If this article is allowed to stand it will represent the final victory of trans theory, since it extends the arguments for trans people to that other great category of contestation in America, race. Feminists of a certain generation haven’t taken kindly to losing the ability to police the boundaries of gender, or to having to allow women to completely choose the rules about who they have sex with [even for money]. Now they are going to have to give up on policing race too? This is their ultimate “old man yells at cloud” moment. And worse still, the article does all this in clear and simple language that shows a lot of those old curmudgeons up as poseurs. Oh, the horror!

142

Heliopause 05.09.17 at 1:25 am

@131
Arguendo, let’s say that you and I accept Dolezal’s right to self-identify her race, that society should be accepting of this, but at the present time society is not accepting of it. How would we go about arguing for this acceptance?

143

Lupita 05.09.17 at 1:29 am

Faustusnotes @136

I think the onus is on the critics of this paper to explain how transracialism is wrong (and not just through reference to one case or one form of transracialism in one country)

I think that, in the American context, transracialism can be viewed as wrong because it would demolish the foundations of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action which would open the door to redistribution and welfare programs based on class. I believe the uproar is political rather than philosophical.

I don’t know if this is a case of transracialism in another country, but there was this Venezuelan telenovela, Topacio, in which the protagonist had a baby and time passed so older babies had to be substituted periodically. Sometimes he was white, sometimes black, with all the gradients in between, but always cute. I mentioned this casting discontinuity to other viewers, and all thought that the babies were cute. My point is, race is viewed very rigidly in the US as compared to other places where not even casting directors notice these things.

144

faustusnotes 05.09.17 at 1:50 am

Lupita that’s what I think too, and if so then in my opinion that’s just too bad. You don’t destroy a young woman’s career because the political consequences of her theory are uncomfortable for you, even though the theory is correct.

145

Heliopause 05.09.17 at 2:03 am

@143
“Feminists of a certain generation haven’t taken kindly to losing the ability to police the boundaries of gender”

There is a strain of feminism that does this, yes, and their argument bears striking similarities to the arguments against Dolezal; a trans woman can’t possibly understand what it’s like to live a whole life in a female body, with the female reproductive system and all it entails, it’s an insult for Caitlyn Jenner to have lived for decades in a relatively privileged identity and then ask acceptance for her shift, etc.

146

pomo queer theorist 05.09.17 at 2:26 am

In response to Orange Watch, you’ll note 84 was cutoff hastily and I did not mean to imply that the only real harm was undercitation. My apologies for that, I hope the posts underneath it gave a more “particularly concrete explanation of harms.”

I’m sorry, John Holbo, I really did not mean to seem like I was trying to wind you up or anything, nor did I want to “make the article sound worse than it may be.” I realize it’s not from the article, I did indeed make it up. I’ll refrain from putting in quotation marks what’s not a direct citation in the future, it’s a bad habit of mine from arguing in less formal venues. I promise I was not trying to be uncharitable with that quote, and I still don’t think it’s difficult to derive that from her argument, but again I might have her argument completely ass-backwards as my university does not subscribe to Hypatia.

Thus, I’ll admit that what I have read of it I read from the linked Twitter threads and what else I could find of people arguing about it online, which I realize is exceedingly vulgar from an academic point of view but I do trust the people writing there at least as much as I trust anyone here. Trust me, I’ve tried to read it. If there’s any other way to read it, I would really love to so I could evaluate it more completely. Obviously, if what I say is completely not worth listening to until I have read the piece cover to cover with my own eyes, you can stop reading here, because I haven’t read the whole thing yet.

That being said, this is what I take Tuvel’s argument to be based off of prior experience and what you pasted in from the conclusion, roughly speaking:

If we accept transgender people on the basis of their self identification, then we should accept “transracial” people on the basis of their self identification.

Is this right? It could be completely wrong in a million different ways, but it seems consistent with the conclusion and intro you posted. If it’s wrong, we can stop here, and I’ll apologize for having wasted everyone’s time, but if not, I’ll say that it is the contrapositive of the above that I find harmful and which I previously put in quotes.

147

pomo queer theorist 05.09.17 at 2:33 am

One of the authors of the letter has written a response, and it covers a few things I’ve mentioned above:

http://www.chronicle.com/article/Why-Tuvel-s-Article-So/240029

“For too many underrepresented scholars — and black and trans scholars are severely underrepresented — philosophy is inhospitable and in many cases uninhabitable.”

As she intended it, the letter was specifically defending the black and trans communities within philosophy that indeed were not just undercited but lacked citation entirely aside from Charles W. Mills. (by the way The Racial Contract is a really fantastic book if you haven’t read it)

148

John Holbo 05.09.17 at 2:41 am

“If we accept transgender people on the basis of their self identification, then we should accept “transracial” people on the basis of their self identification.”

That’s basically right, with the caveat that it isn’t necessarily so one-factor. Sorry to be a bit exasperated-sounding in my above remarks.

149

John Holbo 05.09.17 at 2:46 am

Actually, it’s more like necessarily-not one-factor, but self-identification is presumed to be a major factor. It would probably be good to add one more basic premise: transracialism might be a thing. If it might be a thing, then we should consider what kind of thing it might be, and it seems like, if it’s a thing, it’s probably a thing concerning which self-identification is a major factor.

150

Lupita 05.09.17 at 2:53 am

If there’s any other way to read it, I would really love to so I could evaluate it more completely.

https://gendertrender.wordpress.com/in-defense-of-transracialism-rebecca-tuvel/

151

John Holbo 05.09.17 at 2:54 am

And it’s fair to say that, since the title is “In Defense of Transracialism”, the reader is led to expect a full defense of transracialism. Not a more tepid ‘maybe this is a thing?’-type case. The truth is: the paper is more tentative in substance but then sort of irrelevantly rises to a strong conclusion right at the end, as previously noted. I take that to be eminently criticizable but not the single worst scholarly sin I have ever witnessed.

152

pomo queer theorist 05.09.17 at 3:21 am

Right, and if we’re doing analytic philosophy here, taking the contrapositive should preserve her argument, and the contrapositive is (correct me if I’m wrong) “If we do not accept transracial people on the basis of their self identification, then we cannot accept transgender people on the basis of their self identification.” She might not say this, and in fact I’ll assume she doesn’t even believe it, but it’s not an invalid conclusion from what she does say as far as I can tell.

As regards comment 150, if the paper is really not setting up such a strong implication and is instead more timid and tentative and hedgy exploration of the idea of transracial people as it pertains to the transgender people, then this is the exact sort of situation where undercitation is damaging, and this is I think the piece everyone is missing. It’s not most damaging to people outside the realm of philosophy, and if what I have said makes it seem that way, I apologize. The problems with it and the harm it causes are pertaining to who has the most voice in academic philosophy and who has been historically excluded. I read the letter as speaking up for Black people and transgender people in academic philosophy, whose relevant works on this subject Tuvel seems to have ignored for the most part. That her work could become more well known than theirs without dealing with it properly is what people object to, if you want to be cynical about it. The attitude here seems to be that bad scholarship is nothing to get up in arms about because it happens all the time, but when that bad scholarship comes to conclusions that can be harmful, is that not when you might consider retraction? I’ll admit I don’t know, because I don’t have any experience whatsoever with academic publishing aside from understanding the publishing system from a technical standpoint.

153

John Holbo 05.09.17 at 3:38 am

Thanks for the link to the Chron article. I’m finding a lot of these anti-Tuvel pieces to be frustratingly procedural and meta when it comes to articulating what the alleged big bad deal is.

http://www.chronicle.com/article/Why-Tuvel-s-Article-So/240029

“Tuvel received substantive critical feedback at conferences from scholars in critical race theory and trans studies. We do not understand how this failed to shape the review process and can only assume that such scholars were not selected as peer reviewers. We argue, then, that the peer-review process failed, in this instance, in at least two ways. First, it failed a junior scholar, Tuvel, by allowing subpar scholarship to be published in a flagship journal. Second, it failed the field of feminist philosophy as a subdiscipline that continues to struggle to break from the longstanding habits of the broader discipline of philosophy. More specifically, the article’s publication signals an arrogant disregard for the broad, well-established, interdisciplinary scholarly fields of both critical race theory and trans studies. For an article that is explicitly about the concepts of the transracial and transgender, that omission is egregious.”

This argument still lacks a needed conclusion.

‘Because of all these procedural problems the following egregious, substantive, intellectual, philosophical, theoretical problem was not caught in the text and got into print ….’ Something like that, and it better be good. I mean: bad.

It’s fine to fault someone for neglecting established intellectual frameworks, but you’ve got to finish the thought. Frameworks are not sacrosanct structures. Suppose Judith Butler is making a critique of Rawlsianism. Suppose Butler fails to adopt a full-dress Rawlsian framework in doing so – or fails to cite and quote a large number of established Rawls scholars. Maybe that’s a problem, if it means she is just way off base as to what Rawls is all about. Maybe it’s not a problem in the least. Maybe it’s a bit of a warning flag? Remains to be seen. Tuvel knows shes saying something that other people, working in this area, don’t (yet) accept. That’s why she’s saying it. The demand can’t just be for blanket deference to some intellectual status quo. If a Rawlsian were to respond to someone’s critique with a generic ‘this is not in line with broad, well-established views about what justice as fairness is all about’ that would not cut it. Again, maybe Tuvel is totally off-base. Ignorant. Lazy and slipshod as a scholar. But the fact that she’s departing from currently accepted frameworks isn’t, itself, proof. The fact that some critics are saying just that, and leaving it at that – the Chron piece goes no further – is not a good sign.

All the stuff about the whiteness of philosophy is 100% fair but unfair to lay at the door of this one poor paper. It isn’t right to make Tuvel the target and it isn’t convincing to try to shrug that off by saying that really “Hypatia” is the target of the protest and Tuvel, too, is really a victim of “Hypatia”‘s alleged editorial failings. Tuvel is very much being attacked, so if she personally doesn’t deserve it, the attacks are unfair and unwarranted. Retracting her paper would be scapegoating not an “amazingly revolutionary gesture”, per one Chron article quote. So it seems me.

I’m repeating myself. I’ll shut up and get back to my own work now. Please continue the discussion and let me say this thread is generally going ok, all things considered. Good!

Oh, one last note. I have not read Charles Mills. I am really pretty ignorant about this intellectual area of philosophy, and I’m not proud of that. I should know more. But I consider norms for publishing – and for protesting publishing – to be within my professional competence to judge, and I’ve tried to confine myself to points bearing on that.

154

Val 05.09.17 at 3:45 am

bianca @ 103
“3. Someone who hasn’t been present on this thread has, not long ago, discussed her own practice when writing about groups she doesn’t belong to (I believe public health, in an Australian context). I don’t know how many commenters on this thread were aware of that discussion.”

I think this may be me? I’ve been reading the discussion here and at Feminist Philosophers, but haven’t read the article so can’t comment. I’m trying to finish my thesis, which is giving me plenty of headaches at present.

As a general principle, I think if you are writing about groups you don’t belong to, as you say, you have to consult with them and you have to accept that they may disagree (sometimes very strongly) with your interpretation. My background is in history, not philosophy, but maybe I’m a bit with the anthropologists on this one – there are times when just arguing on the principles can be wrong (in terms of evidence as well as ethics).

However as I haven’t read the article, this is only a general comment, and I would certainly also sympathise with the view that even if the article was misguided in some ways, withdrawing the article (let alone potentially ruining her career) is also wrong. Maybe I’ll have time to look at it when I finish my thesis, as it’s a very interesting discussion, if it’s still going then.

155

John Holbo 05.09.17 at 3:46 am

Comments crossed. Sorry about that. So I’ll address what pomo queer theorist says at 152: “As regards comment 150, if the paper is really not setting up such a strong implication and is instead more timid and tentative and hedgy exploration of the idea of transracial people as it pertains to the transgender people, then this is the exact sort of situation where undercitation is damaging, and this is I think the piece everyone is missing. It’s not most damaging to people outside the realm of philosophy, and if what I have said makes it seem that way, I apologize. The problems with it and the harm it causes are pertaining to who has the most voice in academic philosophy and who has been historically excluded.”

I am fine with admitting that the paper suffers from undercitation of relevant work in the area. I am not competent to judge and, as I said, the paper waffles concerning the intended strength of its conclusion. That can’t be good. I’m only not fine with the level of protest. I don’t see that we can finesse the wrongness of the protests by finding some feature of the paper that kind of/sort of calls for some level of protest, even if maybe this one misfired. I just don’t think mediocre papers (the very worst we’ve got here) get the pitchforks and torches treatment. It’s wrong and harmful to Tuvel, sets a bad precedent, not a good one, and makes everyone look bad and so people shouldn’t do it. Period. And now I really am starting to repeat myself. As you were.

156

Faustusnotes 05.09.17 at 3:52 am

The chronicle article second paragraph implies the letter was written by white, cisgender authors “on behalf of” trans and black scholars. Is that why authorship is anonymous? Also what are they going to do if the reviewers come forward and turn out to be major black/ trans theorists?

And why should she have taken on the critical appraisal at conferences? Maybe it was as low quality as the reasoning in the letter?

157

John Holbo 05.09.17 at 3:57 am

““If we do not accept transracial people on the basis of their self identification, then we cannot accept transgender people on the basis of their self identification.” She might not say this, and in fact I’ll assume she doesn’t even believe it, but it’s not an invalid conclusion from what she does say as far as I can tell.”

pomo queer theorist is right about this much. Modus ponens. Modus tollens. Fair enough.

158

pomo queer theorist 05.09.17 at 4:07 am

Lupita @150

Thanks, I’ll look over it in the morning. Bit concerning that it’s being hosted on a hardline TERF site, though no?

159

Faustusnotes 05.09.17 at 4:12 am

If we don’t accept transracialism how can we accept self identification of race? It’s self identification of race that is at the very heart of this issue. Why should I believe any scholar who claims to be black or Lakota or whatever? Surely if transracialism is wrong we would need some kind of objective standard of blackness. But if self identification is the only admissible standard of race then transracialism must be possible and permissible. How do the letters authors reconcile their demand for Tuvel to cite more black scholars if they also deny the validity of those scholars’ self identification? How is Tuvel to know? What if she cites a whitey pretending to be black!? Or, as one of the more disgusting commenters on a different blog put it, a man in womanface?

The letter writers demand for more citation of minority/trans scholars is hilarious when by their own lights the trans people are allowed to simply say “yeah I’m a woman” but the other minorities have to be held to some objective standards. What are those standards and how do we apply them? If only some enterprising young scholar were to write an article investigating this apparent discrepancy …

160

basil 05.09.17 at 5:02 am

Exactly, the trouble with an anti-transracial politics is that it argues for the racists. White supremacy both supplies the originary violence that made and forces people to be ‘black’, and now orders political possibility so that there’s no way to mobilise against this oppression but through racial identification.

No one polices the boundary more strictly than those who seek to permanently exploit the allegiance of this class as leaders and spokespersons. This valorisation of a durable difference is, as Paul Gilroy argues, a shared feature of the perspective of the skinhead and the racial nationalist.


Even as an abolitionist, I am persuaded by the argument that those of us who aren’t racialised in these ways should be sensitive about making such arguments. Reading emblackened radicals on social media offers much encouragement.

P.S. Isn’t it a little rude to insist on called Diallo by their old name?

161

Alan White 05.09.17 at 5:18 am

Do the conclusions of arguments from analogy about two cases that result in an entailment claim have contrapositive force above the inductive structure of similarity that stands behind the assertion of the conclusion? Of course, *if* the conclusion is itself assumed as true. But the argument from analogy is about the strength of one concluding that that *if* might be true. One must assess that argument by the analogy’s strength before one assesses the posited truth of a conclusion by logical equivalence, or using that conclusion for further logical deductive uses.

162

Manta 05.09.17 at 6:06 am

Bianca @132 & others
” Certainly I agree that the idea of physical threats, as other women have received, coming from academics, is improbable.”

Have a look at http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/?s=brian+leiter&x=0&y=0

163

Chris Bertram 05.09.17 at 6:48 am

Manta: Campos has a long-standing feud with Leiter. I’m declaring this OT.

164

Chris Bertram 05.09.17 at 7:05 am

As Gilbert Harman long ago argued, from If P then Q, and P, we are not necessarily obliged to accept Q. If sceptical about Q we might have our confidence in P undermined but we might be led to doubt whether “if P then Q” holds after all . Various choices. Modus ponens, Modus tollens tells you about some logical relationships, it doesn’t tell you what to believe, all things considered.

165

Manta 05.09.17 at 7:13 am

The response at http://www.chronicle.com/article/Why-Tuvel-s-Article-So/240029
is a train wreck.

It starts well enough (minorities get marginalized in philosophy, “philosophy remains one of the most white and male fields of all the humanities”, etc).
It lists some weakness of the article (actually, only one: “the article’s publication signals an arrogant disregard for the broad, well-established, interdisciplinary scholarly fields of both critical race theory and trans studies. For an article that is explicitly about the concepts of the transracial and transgender, that omission is egregious… methodological insularity “).

Then I would expect the meat of the argument on the specific defects of the article, and why they warranted retraction, and I get instead this:

“None of us ever expected it to circulate so widely, to garner so many signatures, or to become the object of news stories. Yet, largely due to the fast response by Brian Leiter, the letter and the quickly issued apology by a majority of associate editors of Hypatia quickly became whipping girls, as it were, for the discipline as a whole. This has been, for me, the most astonishing part of the saga. Why would a discipline that has shown a systemic disregard for feminist scholarship suddenly care about this critical dialogue within it? .. Given this history and that data, the lightning-fast vituperative response by scholars who would never consider publishing in Hypatia (and who may not respect feminist philosophy) is suspect, to say the least…. Let’s call this response what it is: the deflection of serious, sustained criticism of philosophy’s normative practices.””

I hope prof. Winnbst will retract her letter and issue an apology.

166

Manta 05.09.17 at 7:31 am

Chris @163: fair enough.

My point was not to single out someone, but to show that “an academic is better than the average person” is an unwarranted assumption (unless it’s heavily qualified as “in his field, an academic is more expert than the average person”).
Same thing goes for “people on our side” (see Bianca again @112).

167

Z 05.09.17 at 7:42 am

If we accept transgender people on the basis of their self identification, then we should accept “transracial” people on the basis of their self identification.

FWIW, I don’t find this formulation (or its contrapositive) absurd at all. Evidently, there are people who feel that their gender, as they understand it, is a deep part of their identity and that it may not be congruent with their socially or biologically assigned one. Equally evidently, there are people who feel that their ethnic or cultural identity, as they understand it, is a deep part of their identity and that it may not be congruent with their historical, social or biological one. Personally (as a cisgender man who regularly gets attributed a different culture than the one I was raised in and who almost systematically gets attributed a different ethnic identity than the one I genetically belong to), I care deeply about neither (so much so that I don’t personally think about my gender, my cultural or ethnicity as a deep part of my identity), but I think it is common decency on my part to make at least a little effort to accommodate the wishes of those who have a different experience.

Independently of this conversation (which for me primarily belongs to common decency in inter individual relations), some groups suffered and still suffer systemic oppression and some traits are objectively the statistical properties of some groups and not others. Societies should (and sometimes do) make an effort to redress the harms done to these communities and to address the specific properties of the relevant groups. I believe that it is obvious that people should be entitled to the social benefits and related specific treatments to that effect only in terms of their historical or actual belonging to the relevant group.

168

Mario 05.09.17 at 8:46 am

@faustusnotes

When I look at those quotes (and other, similar ones in the text) from a perspective in which trans identities haven’t been fully accepted (i.e., The Real World ™) they sound like biting sarcasm. Surely unintentional, but for recognizing that I need to take a breath and say, well, she couldn’t have meant it that way.

Here’s another one:

Indeed, we need an account of race that does not collapse into a position according to which all forms of self-identification are socially recognized, such as one’s self-identification as a wolf.

169

faustusnotes 05.09.17 at 9:00 am

Mario, they clearly aren’t biting sarcasm and you shouldn’t read them with such little kindness.

Regarding violent academics, I personally witnessed an academic of some standing physically wrestle with another academic to take a mic away from him and stop him speaking at a conference. I really don’t find it hard to believe at all that academics would make threats of the kind described, and I hardly need point out that denying threats are even possible in the midst of a social media firestorm is the last refuge of scoundrels (see, e.g., gamergate for egregious examples of this).

Manta at 165 is right about the article, which pretty clearly fails to identify any problems with the paper. I have yet to see in all of this anyone say who Tuvel should have cited, and how citing those people would have changed her argument. I get a strong feeling that there’s some pique here because some academic gatekeepers took her down at a conference but she ignored their comments, probably because they were rude and dumb.

170

Manta 05.09.17 at 9:47 am

Mario @168:
you may have heard of furries…

Faustusnotes @169: your criticism is a bit stronger than mine: I don’t doubt that there are colleagues that she should have studied better and cited; but since that’s the only actual criticism to the article it does not justify asking for a retraction (it may have justified it if e.g. they said “this argument has already been presented in [1, 2, …] and convincingly criticized in [3,4…], but the author does not try to address those known problems, most importantly a), b), and c)” etc.).

Moreover, the discussion around this topic has actually convinced me that the article (and most of the objections to it) are quite weak, since it has very few/almost none mentions of actual instances of trans-racialism; this makes the article a bit of intellectual wankery (which I suppose fits in a philosophy journal…)

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Faustusnotes 05.09.17 at 11:17 am

There I think you do the article a disservice Manta. I think transracialism is actually really common and uncontroversial but you maybe need to look outside US racial discourse for examples. I give a few on my blog, and in fact given that the Australian bureau of statistics defines Australian as an ethnicity and I adopted an Australian identity at some point in my teens or twenties I think by some kind of definition I and a large number of other Australians are transracial. I really think Americans are lost in their own toxic race history here. For example the original chronicle article describing this dispute mentions complaints that she didn’t take into account scholarship on race and the black experience in America. I’m sorry but those two things are not the same and the black experience in America is only marginally relevant to theories of race. There are other races on the planet, and other experiences of and theories of race besides the monolithic American slavery experience. The transracial examples I give on my blog are related to the migrant experience and the post-genocidal cultural recovery of indigenous people and I think there are waaaaay more people affected by that than just black Americans.

I don’t think the article is too abstract at all and I think it raises some interesting questions for non Americans who are so used to fluid race categories that they had never considered the possibility that something big like transgender could be conceptually similar to something small like changing your racial identity.

Regarding the contrapositive, the problem with going backwards from transracialism to transgender is that race is fluid and socially constructed while gender is bound to defined biological categories. So transracialism could be seen as a weak form of gender change but the conditions for racial change might not be sufficient to argue for accepting gender changes. I guess it could strengthen the article to talk about strong and weak categories of transition or to say that this might be a one way relation but it doesn’t seem earth shatteringly bad ( and of course it has no relationship to the letter, whose authors appear not to have noticed this issue).

172

Z 05.09.17 at 12:13 pm

@John Quiggin By contrast, my membership of a racial or ethnic group is relevant in important ways to that group.

I’ll just note that Tuvel is well aware of this fact. Let me quote (with my emphasis)

“Recall my earlier point that for a successful self-identification to receive uptake from members of one’s society, at least two components are necessary. First, one has to self-identify as a member of the relevant category. Second, members of a society have to be willing to accept one’s entry into the relevant identity category.

So in fact, going back to your initial description of the logic of the argument, her argument is closer to

(a) Gender identity depends on self-identification and acceptance by the group.
(b) Race and gender identity are similar in important ways.
(c) So, self-identification and acceptance by the group should be considered as a basis for racial identity.

No big deal, I would say. I guess it is entirely possible that her piece “ignores entire fields and comes off as completely ignorant to even people who are minimally versed in these subjects”. That’s also probably true of the entirety of my own research output…

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Trader Joe 05.09.17 at 12:20 pm

Apart from the specific noise, the real conclusion most people should take away is that daring to write research on a controversial topic is a task best reserved for tenured faculty, not those hoping to establish themselves in a field.

Perhaps that’s the most unfortunate harm of all

(Of course there’s no possible way I can ever understand harm that since I’m not transracial, transgender, academic, or any of the other parties that have generated more heat than energy over this…..it reminds me in some ways of the Steven Salaita in the way it destroyed an academic for being edgy and for how they said something rather than what they said).

174

Manta 05.09.17 at 12:25 pm

Faustusnotes @171

1) I wasn’t clear enough. I tend to agree that transracialism is a real thing: therefore, I think that an article that deals with it should give some reference to real examples (e.g. the ones you and others mentioned). And maybe to some famous examples in the literature (Moses, Kim, …). Otherwise, as I said, the discussion verges on the intellectual wankery.

2) I don’t think that the implicit focus on the US experience is a major problem. Or better: it is a major problem for a field that purports to study race and racial relations; moreover, a mention (in the article and on the part of the critics) of other approaches to the question in other cultures would have been an improvement.
However, since race is mostly a cultural construct, it makes sense to write a paper (and read it) focusing on the culture the author is familiar with: in other words, the fact that in other countries/cultures transracialism is a relatively normal thing, doens’t necessarily imply that in US transaracialism is normal, or should be acceptable, or means the same thing as in Australia (if the same word “race” has different meaning in US and Australia culture, not all analysis that fits the Australian context would work in the US one).

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Raven 05.09.17 at 12:31 pm

JHW @ 109: “I don’t think passing is very much like ‘transracialism,’ let alone that race passing is an instance of it.” — Historically, race passing is exactly how numerous individuals and their entire families have had their racial classifications changed, as accepted by society. That’s what “transracialism” means.

> “Passing is a strategic choice by a member of a marginalized group to present as a member of a non-marginalized group to avoid the social consequences of marginalization.” — So we should distinguish trans men (FTM) from trans women (MTF) because the former were making such a strategic choice and the latter were not? Mmm, seems a rather divisive approach.

Nkechi Amare Diallo, to use her current name, may not have started out as a member of this particular marginalized group (though her four adopted siblings were), nor with the motive of avoiding marginalization, but she has taken the same action nonetheless.

And like most actions, passing is defined by the act itself, the deed, not the motive: “Racial passing occurs when a person classified as a member of one racial group is also accepted as a member of a different racial group.”

> “You can accept the reality and legitimacy of passing and still think that passing doesn’t produce a real change in racial status….” — Again, to the extent that “race” is a social construct and not simply a matter of genes (otherwise why have the “one-drop” rule, which ironically is what made passing so easy for so many legal “blacks”?), keep in mind that successfully “passing” for a prolonged length of time means being accepted in society under that changed racial status. Thereafter, that person and his or her descendants will (if uncaught) always be recorded as members of the new race.

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faustusnotes 05.09.17 at 12:42 pm

I see your point 2 Manta, but it gets kind of cute if you replace “it makes sense to write a paper focusing on the culture the author is familiar with” with e.g. “the gender” the author is familiar with (the excuse of male authors for the past 50 years for writing terrible female characters), or the “race” the author is familiar with (a common problem in public health for much of the 20th century). I also note that many of the signatories of the letter are American, and many of the complaints about who wasn’t included seem to focus on scholars of black American history and culture and struggle, and I think frankly (as I said above and on my own blog) all American cultural studies folks, including black and trans people, need to consider just how parochial they are and maybe – just maybe – occasionally sit down, shut up and listen to the rest of the world. Because this identity politics stuff and all this unique and weird language (transracialism is okay, transgenderism isn’t, deadnaming, just to give a few examples) is all driven by Americans and their weird messed up religious imperialist culture, and its overpowering influence globally is a big problem. I grant you it’s not in my field, in public health we listen to the UK and Europe and Asia and Australia, but in gender and race theory there is a predominance of American voices yelling at each other about things that, from looking in on this debate from the outside of both the country and the field, it appears a lot of people really don’t have much of a clue about. I don’t see this as Tuvel’s problem since she wrote an abstract piece with two specific examples, but it does seem to be a problem for a lot of the people attacking her, who are actually enacting their own “privilege” (which is actually parochial ignorance). As in, for example, the Serano tweet above where she claims that the only person to have ever been transracial is Dolezal. Is she an academic or just some person with an opinion? Because that is really ignorant and parochial. And a lot of the complaints about this article seem to be based on a specific racial conflict happening in one country, and not to do with any broader abstract principles at all. To the extent that this kind of clamour drowns out more reasoned voices (which happens with sex worker health and human rights a lot where American feminists get involved, btw), it’s a real global problem that I wish Americans would pay a little more attention to. /rant.

177

pomo queer theorist 05.09.17 at 12:47 pm

Faustusnotes @171

“and of course it has no relationship to the letter, whose authors appear not to have noticed this issue”

Well, not the letter writers per se, but us transgenders are used to fending off arguments like this all the time, frequently attack helicopters are mentioned. The people I linked higher up mentioned this, and I hadn’t noticed it until I saw their analyses.

Furthermore, the kind of stuff you cite on your blog happens in America all the time as well! This is where people are upset that she didn’t cite people in these fields. Racial passing has a long history in this country, as do people of many ethnic backgrounds becoming “Americanized.” Scholars of critical race theory and earlier social/theoretical movements have been examining this for a long time. Even the intersection of queerness and Blackness dates back to at least the Harlem Renaissance if not earlier! Nonetheless, this article almost completely ignores that history and the actual history of the word “transracial” and what it actually means.

The single best argument I’ve seen against this paper is that anyone can be transgender but only white people can really choose their race, because white is the default in a white supremacist society. White people are the only group that is considered a “blank slate” with regards to race.

You’re mischaracterizing the opposition if you think this is about some kind of racial puritanism. All the examples you give are incongruous to what is actually being argued for here, which seems to be that the acceptability of transgender people hinges on white people’s ability to change race. The paper is arguing for a very specific thing which you are not arguing for with the examples you gave, and beyond that, I don’t understand why there’s a point in arguing it when we only have one very weird example of such a thing ever happening. The details of the Dolezal case are decidedly weird, she lied about her heritage and her parents’ races to justify darkening her skin and claiming a specific racial identity. She then goes around claiming that she’s more stigmatized than transgender people and manages to get a book deal and all of this other attention on top of it. Why she has spawned an entire category of philosophers concern-trolling claims of transgender identity is beyond me.

178

Salviati 05.09.17 at 1:16 pm

For anyone who hasn’t actually read the actual article, it is now available for download:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/hypa.12327/full

179

harry b 05.09.17 at 1:24 pm

“Apart from the specific noise, the real conclusion most people should take away is that daring to write research on a controversial topic is a task best reserved for tenured faculty, not those hoping to establish themselves in a field.

Perhaps that’s the most unfortunate harm of all “

That’s probably right. But there is another less obvious effect, which is that the attacks on Tuvel signal to any philosopher who might want to engage with issues that are, currently, at the margins of mainstream philosophy, that they should leave well alone. I quipped to some friends in an email that I should write a passive-aggressive post saying that I had planned to write a post engaging critically with Tommie Shelby’s important new book Dark Ghetto, but since I am not a philosopher of race, and haven’t personally experienced ghetto poverty, I’ve decided to engage critically with a much less important book by another privileged white guy. I will do a Dark Ghetto post, but, really, the anti-Tuvel campaign is a very clear warning to anyone who wants to engage with issues that fall outside the mainstream topics of contemporary philosophy that they should not do anything of the kind.

180

Z 05.09.17 at 1:57 pm

@pomo queer theorist

All the examples you give are incongruous to what is actually being argued for here, which seems to be that the acceptability of transgender people hinges on white people’s ability to change race.

I think it is fair to point out that “seems” does a lot of work in this sentence. As John Holbo already pointed out above, a very natural reading of the article is that the fact societies should accept transgender people is taken as a given. Then, the article argues that they should consequently accept transracial people. Maybe you think the argument is unpersuasive, even terribly ignorant, but its most natural reading is that if a society does not accept transracial people, then it is committing an injustice that should be redressed (“we have reason to allow racial self-identification, coupled with racial social treatment, to play a greater role in the determination of race than has previously been recognized”), not that this injustice should be made worse by the supplementary injustice of not accepting transgender people.

The single best argument I’ve seen against this paper is that anyone can be transgender but only white people can really choose their race, because white is the default in a white supremacist society.

I believe this argument is fractally wrong. First of all, it seems to me to be factually false that only white people can really choose their race. I am a person of color of North African heritage but my social identity has along my lifetime given me ample opportunities to choose to identify as white, Caucasian or even WASP (the latter, always a funny experience to me).

Now, even if it were true (and to the extent that it is true in the American society for instance), one could similarly argue that male has long been and still is the default gender in patriarchal societies so that, by the same logic, only men can really choose their gender. Of course, this is discussed in Tuvel’s article.

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faustusnotes 05.09.17 at 2:14 pm

pomo queer theorist,

what is actually being argued for here, which seems to be that the acceptability of transgender people hinges on white people’s ability to change race.

This is exactly not what is being argued. Have you read the article? Because you’re completely wrong about this.

Trader Joe is right that you shouldn’t take risks like this until you get tenure, and I’m really surprised nobody she trusted warned Tuvel of this. But since some of the people who were on her advisory committee also signed that dreadful letter, I guess it’s not surprising …

182

Ronan(rf) 05.09.17 at 2:40 pm

“Americans need to come to terms with the fact that your experience and ideas of race are a) very particular, b) extremely dysfunctional and c) heavily embedded with imperialist and racist ideals. “

I hate to agree with faustusnotes, so I’m not really going to, but I think this part is mostly correct. However, we are talking about the US specifically, so US understandings of race are important. You cant wish them away by imagining a radical constructivist post race Utopia.

“There is an extensive literature on transracialism (also called passing), which appears to have been ignored in past work by Tuvel’s critics.”

Passing was explicitly a way to escape white racism, and was contingent on acceptance by whites. Passing was an escape from racial classification not an example of the unimportance of race.

“This site, for example, includes a description of an Australian Aboriginal man who adopted a black American identity in order to escape Australian racism – in Australia.”

But look at what he didnt do, adopt a white identity, partly(I would imagine) because he couldn’t. He did not adopt a ‘transracial’ identity by the conventional understanding of the term, but a different identity within the same race.

“to examine the very different transgendered experiences of people in countries like the Philippines or Indonesia, or to engage in any kind of dialogue with the many African feminists and anti-imperialists who might have a critical word or two to say about the cooption of African history and culture for their own use at the heart of their cultural empire. No doubt some have, but I find the arrogance of Americans in assuming that their experience of race is universal to be deeply frustrating, arrogant and very ignorant.”

US discussions* of race can often be parochial, inane and annoying. IMO primarily because of what often drifts into race essentialism(obsession with racial lineages bordering on a leftist version of the one drop rule, imagining all goodness or badness as essentially determined by the racial identity of the person in question etc) But the fact that race/ethnicity/whatever might be categorised differently in different countries doesn’t mean that each country doesn’t have their own series of racial/ethnic/whatever categories, where the boundaries between these groups is still heavily policed.

I don’t know how I feel about transracialism (or now, I guess, transgenderism) It does seem though that undermining the importance of racial and gender categories rather than reinforcing them (ie by making racial identities something that are unimportant rather than something so important someone needs to adopt them** ) is probably the best way to go.

*this is, of course, not specific to the US. Just we’re all saturated in US culture and racial politics.

**this is a very rough, intuitive reaction. Im sure there’s a more logically coherent and informed response to all this.

183

parse 05.09.17 at 2:55 pm

“If we accept transgender people on the basis of their self identification, then we should accept “transracial” people on the basis of their self identification.”

That’s basically right, with the caveat that it isn’t necessarily so one-factor. Sorry to be a bit exasperated-sounding in my above remarks.

There is a difference that I think is relevant, which is that Tuvel does not set up acceptance of transgender people as a conditional. She doesn’t write “if we accept,” as has been pointed out previously in this thread, but instead “since we should accept transgender individuals’ decisions to change sexes”.

184

pomo queer theorist 05.09.17 at 3:09 pm

I realize that it’s not exactly what’s being argued for, but I think I explained above why I think you can draw that conclusion from her argument.

As for Z’s argument about men, I have to again ask why it is taken as a given that you can meaningfully compare race and gender. In some sense, you’re right. It’s really only men that aren’t always forced to live life through their gender due to male privilege, but at the same time, patriarchal notions of masculinity do actually hurt men in a way that I don’t think white supremacist notions of race hurt white people. Additionally, male privilege is somewhat accessible in certain circumstances to women through performance of masculinity and femmephobia, and it is also absolutely accessible to transgender men.

If we’re going to take it as a priori that this paper is at minimum shoddy scholarship, we’re not really disagreeing over all that much from my perspective.

However, I remain unconvinced by Tuvel’s argument and those of everyone who supports her conclusion here. I will concede at this point that it is perhaps an interesting hypothetical but we seem to have lost the reality that we’re theorizing and drawing a swath of conclusions from what seems to be a single case.

It still galls me that people think being transgender is a natural comparison. Call me a standpoint epistemologist if you want to, I just don’t see it. The argument is too unoriginal and clichéd to convince me otherwise.

Either way, I really should be studying for finals so I’m going to have to sign off for a couple of days (watch me eat my words after you respond).

185

Manta 05.09.17 at 3:31 pm

pomo,

2 separate considerations

1) the scholarship of the article may be shoddy, but doesn’t seem to rise to the level of “let’s sign a letter asking for a retraction (and ruin her career)”. Or, if it is, both the original letter and the article in http://www.chronicle.com/article/Why-Tuvel-s-Article-So/240029 do a terrible job of explaning why.
Since the letter aimed to do some very real harm to an actual person, this lack of proper explanation is much worse than what Tuvel has been accused of.
People are NOT entitled to be taken at their word when they claim some harm if they ask for a redress that will damage someone else.

2) I don’t get the argument that what the article is discussing is one weird case, and the several examples discussed above are different/irrelevant.
Is it that the article’s example deal with “white to black”, while the other examples mostly deal with “black (or other disfavored minority) to white”?

186

pomo queer theorist 05.09.17 at 3:38 pm

I realize you could make the same argument I did about male privilege for colorism and white supremacist standards of beauty, but Tuvel makes the claim that instead Dolezal is trying to give up white privilege entirely.

Seeing as she’s keeping her name for her book deal along with a few other details though, I don’t think Dolezal even wants to give up white privilege entirely. She wants access to spaces for people of color as a person of color while maintaining her white privilege, which is entirely different from why transgender people transition and why for example I am.

If you were to ask Noel Ignatiev if he thought we should give up white privilege by blacking up, I’m not certain he would agree.

Here are a few more arguments:
http://www.salon.com/2015/06/22/what_we_cant_afford_to_forget_about_rachel_dolezal_a_master_class_in_white_victimology/

187

Tom Slee 05.09.17 at 4:11 pm

I disagree with most of pomo queer theorist’s positions in this thread, although without the certainty to take them up. Besides, there is no shortage…

But without pomo queer theorist’s contributions, this would be a much less interesting thread to read.

So good luck on your finals, PMQ.

188

pomo queer theorist 05.09.17 at 4:26 pm

Tom Slee @187

Thanks, I get something of a self-defense response when there’s a chorus of voices opposite me and nobody on my side. Unfortunately though I think I’ve failed my side so far because I haven’t been consistent and clear enough and I still haven’t really managed to express my opinion fully. Instead, it’s coming out in shards here and there. Rest assured my opinion hasn’t actually changed, but my adrenaline-fueled posting sprees help no one and I need longer to develop my opinion.

I wouldn’t have gotten involved in the first place, but this is like the first time I’ve seen CT come down so hard on one side of an issue and me so hard on the other, and I really won’t feel good about myself on this until I can fully articulate a developed position. Apologies so far for what I have said because it’s not good enough and I know it.

Look at me, breaking my own rules.

189

Douglas Lain 05.09.17 at 4:33 pm

There is quite a lot to disagree with in this piece, but I’ll start with the bullet points.

“(1) Hypatia is a journal of feminist philosophy explicitly committed to both ‘interdisciplinarity’ and ‘diversity’, positioned as both ‘accessible’ and a resource for ‘the wider women’s studies community’ (see their website)[…] anger was directed at Hypatia for not catching many of the offensive aspects of the paper[…] Journals that are explicitly interdisciplinary are bound by the norms of all of the disciplines they include, so whether a retraction of the paper is warranted is not settled by the fact that it wouldn’t be warranted in Philosophy. “

What discipline is it that includes the norm that the work done in the field must be inoffensive? If such a discipline exists how does it manage to produce work given the diversity of attitudes that exist in the world and the nearly infinite variety of ways people can take offense?

2) (This is a paraphrase) Philosophy is not done in a vacuum and ideas have political consequences. Therefore it is sometimes justified to limit free inquiry and debate if such debate will have negative political consequences. (The author does not believe that this obtains in regards to Tuvel’s essay, but leaves open the possibility.)

Claims that this or that outcome (for instance the outcome of emboldening or bolstering TERF discourse) is a “negative political consequence” can’t be reasonably justified in advance but, like all other reasonable propositions, has to be debated and and argued out. The alternative to reasoning and debate is the use of force to settle political disagreements. When political force is used the realm of reasonable politics has been set aside. The move from reasoned free debate to the use of force is a move to violence, although not always physical violence.

We might agree that violence is politically justifiable but its important to see that this violence is a rupturing of reason and can’t be justified by reason. Once a commitment to violence has been made one needs to prepare for counter violence. This move to violence should not be made rashly and is always unreasonable as it is a rupture of reason.

3) Tuvel owes an engagement with critical race theory, transgender theory, and the perspectives of trans black people.

This is perhaps the most objectionable claim as it naturalizes or essentializes CRT and Transgender Theory. Theories about subjects are not identical to the subjects. Critical Race Theory about black lived experience is not identical to black lived experience. Therefore one can be inclusive of people and subjects without including particular theories. For example, one can include working class concerns, perspectives and theories without including any Marxist scholarship. The degree to which essays about the lived experience of the working class would be accurate without reference to Marxist scholarship can only be understood by testing the ideas that exclude Marx against Marxist ideas. Pointing to the fact that a body of working class literature exists called Marxism is not enough.

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TF79 05.09.17 at 4:38 pm

I’m rather amazed that the recent chronicle article author stated explicitly, in writing, that the call for retraction was to more or less send a message to philosophy in general, and feminist philosophy in particular. I sort of got the sense that was the case from other things I read, but the jargon was obfuscating enough that I wasn’t sure if I was interpreting it correctly. But this is a plain-English statement of the intent of the open letter – to call for retraction and (rather cavalierly and without remorse) punish a junior scholar due to the general failures of the field of philosophy. Instead of trying to understand this through the lens of scholarship in a way familiar to the rest of us in the academy, it might make more sense to view this as a ritual purification, with Dr. Tuvel’s paper (and perhaps career) as the sacrifice to cleanse philosophy (and feminist philosophy) of its sins.

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Mark Engleson 05.09.17 at 4:47 pm

“If we accept transgender people on the basis of their self identification, then we should accept “transracial” people on the basis of their self identification.”

Here’s the kicker: I think there’s more to it than that, but as a norm of etiquette, I’m not going to demand more from them as proof.

Trasngenderism is recognized in the medical, including psychiatric community. I believe that before doctors will start the process of transitioning with a patient, they generally require that the patient undergo a process therapy with a counselor who specializes in these issues. If this is correct, then for transitioning or transitioned transgender person, we’re *not* solely relying on slef-identification. The transition is evidence that the medical community identifies the person as transgender.

There is absolutely *nothing* comparing for transracialism. Nothing. If you want to see this idea parodied, go watch the Jamie Kennedy film Malibu’s Most Wanted, which uses the term “negrophilia.”

192

Manta 05.09.17 at 5:02 pm

Douglas Lain @189
about “3) Tuvel owes an engagement with critical race theory, transgender theory, and the perspectives of trans black people.
This is perhaps the most objectionable claim as it naturalizes or essentializes CRT and Transgender Theory. Theories about subjects are not identical to the subjects “

I disagree: it seems to me quite standard scholar practice to demand that an article on subject X deals with the literature on X; maybe even to say “all the past literature on X is bullshit, and here is how things should be done”.
It’s not a claim that “literature about X” = X.
(The letter and the chronicle article writers put the complaints about lack of engagement with past literature as slights against black/women/transgender *scholars*).

I agreed that pomo made the thread way more interesting: a bunch of people agreeing with each other is not much interesting to read; the fact that flame wars were avoided is a nice bonus too.

193

lurker 05.09.17 at 5:30 pm

‘The transition is evidence that the medical community identifies the person as transgender.’ (Mark Engleton, 191)
Gatekeeping is, I believe, the term for this sort of thing, and some people find it problematic. I suppose we could get out the old calipers and start measuring skull shapes to assign race in properly scientific fashion…

194

MD 05.09.17 at 5:33 pm

I’d like to make a small but I think important point which undermines what seems to me the main worry Tuvel’s detractors have about her conclusion. (Perhaps Chris Bertram has a point like this in mind @164, but I think it’s worth spelling it out and emphasizing it in any case).

From what I understand (and I haven’t read the article), Tuvel’s main conclusion (or main lemma, perhaps) is the conditional
(C) If we should accept transgender people as having the gender they self-identify with, then we should accept transracial people as having the race they self-identify with.
Tuvel, of course, accepts the antecedent and so thinks we should accept the self-identities in both cases. The detractors worry, though, that by arguing for C Tuvel must thereby be arguing for its contrapositive
(CC) If it’s not the case that we should accept transracial people as having the race they self-identify with, then it’s not the case that we should accept transgender people as having the gender they self-identify with.
And many people find this problematic, since it suggests that those with the widely held view that the antecedent of CC is true should reject the self-identities of transgender people. It’s not that the detractors think Tuvel herself thinks either antecdent or consequent of CC is true (she clearly doesn’t), just that she’s committed to CC, and that’s bad enough. (See the helpful exchange between pomo queer theorist @152 (and elsewhere) and John Holbo’s response @157)

But there’s reason to doubt the validity of contraposition, especially in cases like this (for discussion, see Bennett’s A Philosophical Guide to Conditionals). It’s totally coherent for Tuvel to assert C while denying CC. She can say that while she thinks she’s right about C, she’s not 100% confident in its truth (this is philosophy, after all). And she may be much more confident in the truth of the antecedent of C than she is in the truth of C itself. Then if she supposes the falsehood of C’s consequent (or discovers some very conclusive evidence against it), she would reject C rather than rejecting that we should accept transgender people as having the gender they identify with. In this case (assuming the Ramsey test–suppose the antecedent, then see if you accept the conclusion–is pretty good at tracking acceptance of an indicative conditional) Tuvel will reject the problematic contrapositive CC even while believing C.

The problem here seems to be taking the English ‘if… then’ to be material implication, or perhaps in taking authors to be proposing that we have credence 1 in their conclusions. In any case, once this mistake has been cleared up, I think Tuvel’s concluding C is less likely to offend.

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Mark Engleson 05.09.17 at 7:54 pm

Lurker @193:
‘The transition is evidence that the medical community identifies the person as transgender.’ (Mark Engleton, 191)
Gatekeeping is, I believe, the term for this sort of thing, and some people find it problematic. I suppose we could get out the old calipers and start measuring skull shapes to assign race in properly scientific fashion…
——–
I’m not suggesting we measure skulls. My point was that If I want to know if X is transgender, there’s actually evidence we can consider besides self-identification.
If the assumption about self-identification crumbles, Tuvel’s whole argument is shot.

196

Z 05.09.17 at 7:59 pm

As for Z’s argument about men, I have to again ask why it is taken as a given that you can meaningfully compare race and gender.

I certainly don’t take it as a given myself (in fact, if I were to express my gut reaction, I would probably say something close to Ronan(rf) @182; if I were to adopt a more analytical stance, I would posit critical differences between the two especially in the ways anthropological values respectively deal with one and the other). I’m just of the opinion that the comparison you mentioned, if not a priori obvious and meaningful is also not a priori obviously false and meaningless, that the validity of such a comparison and the consequences one can draw from it in terms of attitude towards transgender and transracial people are legitimate objects of inquiry from a philosophical point of view, that I believe that Tuvel’s article does just that and that consequently it merits no exceptional treatment from the academic community.

I will concede at this point that it is perhaps an interesting hypothetical but we seem to have lost the reality that we’re theorizing and drawing a swath of conclusions from what seems to be a single case.

Really, no. Just like you will find plenty of people throughout history and societies who do not identify with their biological, socially designated or assigned gender, you will find plenty of people throughout history and societies who do not identify with their biological, socially designated or assigned ethnicity. Whether this legitimately compare to gender transitioning is not obviously true (again, I don’t believe it myself) but also, not obviously false.

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Douglas Lain 05.09.17 at 8:13 pm

Manta,

There is a conflation of black/women/transgender scholars in general with a particular set of theories.

198

JHW 05.09.17 at 9:38 pm

Raven at 175:

There’s no point fighting about definitions. I don’t think passing is very much like “transracialism” as people talk about it in the context of Rachel Dolezal. The question isn’t whether there are cases in which a person socially categorized as Racial Category X is later categorized as Racial Category Y. The question is whether a strong personal sense of identification with a racial category puts you into that racial category or should get other people to regard you as in that racial category.

So, with respect to the gender case, I would certainly analytically distinguish people who present as a particular gender to avoid negative social consequences (e.g., female authors who use male pseudonyms) from transgender people, who present as a particular gender to align their gender presentation with their gender identity.

I agree that race is a social construct. But that doesn’t have much bearing on this debate. Race being a social construct means that truths about race depend on social facts; you can’t tell someone’s race by looking at their genes or their physiology, you need to know about history, social practice, and so on. But that doesn’t shed any light on which social facts are the ones that matter. In particular, it doesn’t mean that “This person is socially regarded as being such and such race” is the determinative fact. You acknowledge this yourself by adding the “if uncaught” caveat: there would be nothing to “catch” if the only fact that counted was social perception.

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Faustusnotes 05.09.17 at 10:58 pm

First Ronan(f), Thankyou. If you can stomach it my blog has examples of white peoples exploring non white races, and a bunch of vaguenesses in between including black peoples exploring black race. I don’t think we need to rely on passing or Dallio (I’m not going to “deadname” her now I’ve discovered she changed her name) for this. In my view transracialism actually seems like a very normal thing and the bigger question for me is why Americans are so heated up about the possibility of its acceptance – in so many ways the response to this article mirror TERF responses to trans people that it’s inadvertently hilarious.

Regarding engaging with the literature of passing (assuming Tuvel didn’t, which claim I would need to verify myself before believing the claims of those writing the shambolic letter), had Tuvel referenced it she would simply have strengthened her case. Passing is analogous within the TERF “intellectual” framework with women passing for men to escape sexism, and you’ll note that most of the panic among feminists and right wingers alike is about (to cite a disgusting commenter on a blog linked above) “men in womenface “, not the opposite. To engage with the literature on passing would be simply to say “people already accept the disempowered group passing as the empowered group, just as they did for gender transition, it’s going the other way that hurts them.” Wouldn’t weaken her argument at all. So are the letter writers demanding she retract her article because it would have made an even stronger case but didn’t? No, I think they’re just butt hurt that she didn’t reference them. But judging by he quality of the letter their scholarship probably isn’t citable. (Also I read on another blog linked above, maybe the daily nous, that most literature on passing is based in fiction and it could be that since Tuvel is not a lit scholar she didn’t incorporate it into her work – in some fields fiction doesn’t count as citable).

Really the disgust evidenced at transracialism by Tuvel critics is so perfectly analogous to the disgust at transgender (“men in womanface”) that that alone should give them all pause to stop and have a good long think.

Pomo homo queer, once your finals are done you should try and publish a rebuttal of the article. Then maybe you too can have your career ruined before it even starts!!

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OldJim 05.09.17 at 11:45 pm

pomo queer theorist @ 146, and 152

“If we do not accept transracial people on the basis of their self identification, then we cannot accept transgender people on the basis of their self identification.”

I understand that this contrapositive has seen much response already, and I don’t want to say anything redundant, or fail to acknowledge that what has been said to date has answered some of the concern around it substantially and well.

Alan White @161, Chris Bertram @164, MD @194 have all of them offered an explanation of some of the strictly logical reasons why the undesirable conclusion quoted above needn’t necessarily follow from the argument of the paper. And parse @ 183 has noted that the language of the paper treats a transgender right to self-identification as an axiom from which to argue, and not as an assumption dependent upon or subject to any of the arguments contained within the paper.

The reason I can’t help myself from posting yet another response is that I want to more closely engage with the contrapositive as you have put it, and with the actual structure of the arguments as they are given in the paper.

What I want to argue is that whilst your derived statement is well-put, and does indeed follow from the paper, the way that that conclusion invites us to read it is misleading. What I mean is that the way that the paper is structured makes clear that the emphasis would look like this:

“If we do not accept transracial people on the basis of their self identification,, then we cannot accept transgender people on the basis of their self identification.

and not like this:

If we do not accept transracial people on the basis of their self identification, then we cannot accept transgender people on the basis of their self identification.”

That is, if we do not grant that people can self-identify racially, then we do not take seriously the kind of ‘right to radically self-identify’ for which the paper argues. If this is the case, then whatever our ground for accepting transgender people, it cannot be on the basis of the kind of ‘right to radically self-identify’ for which the paper argues. The conclusion then follows that we accept transgender people for some other reason, and not on the basis of a putative ‘right to self-identify’. It does not follow that we needn’t or can’t accept transgender people. You can see, I hope, that this interpretive difference is a very important subtlety.

Not only do I think that that is the correct way to parse the paper, I think that, given its argumentative structure, the paper misses no opportunity to invite the reader to parse it in this way. With each treated objection to the analogy between transgender and transracial people, the paper provides the reader with an alternative ground upon which to accept transgender people without accepting transracial people; i.e. an alternative ground upon which to accept transgender people without granting a general ‘right to radically self-identify’:

1) sex is biologically based – we accept transgender people based on their neurology being congruent with the sex/gender with which they seek to identify, and not with their assigned or birth sex/gender. In this instance, we recognise neither transracial nor transgender people on the basis of their self-identification ; we recognise transgender people and refuse to recognise transracial people because the former have a neurological, ‘objective’ ‘true sex’ which legitimises them, whilst the latter rely solely upon a right to radical self-identification which we have rejected.

2) sex is malleable because anatomy is plastic; race is fixed because it is a factual designation wholly and unproblematically determined by ancestry – in this part of the paper, it is observed that sex is changeable as a matter of physical fact — it is implied that we are not accepting transgender people on the basis of their self-identification, but rather because the sex with which they identify is their sex once they have transitioned; conversely, it is argued (in a bit of a strawman argument) that race, a matter of simple ancestral fact, and nothing intrinsically to do with culture or appearance, cannot be altered.

3) identity is determined at an inter-subjective, and not at an individual level. In this objection, trans people are accepted by society because they are accepted by society; transracial people aren’t because they… aren’t. Again self identification is treated as an insufficient ground for either individual; it is a particular cultural context that legitimises the one practise and delegitimises the other.

Sure, the paper ultimately dismisses all of these alternative grounds as inadequate, but of course it does. The whole point of the argument is that the author thinks that the only satisfactory conclusion is a broad and radical right to self-identification. I just want to observe that in the process of arguing to that conclusion, the author is at great pains to help the honest and well-meaning reader to determine where they no longer grant the argument and why, such that their objection will take the form of an alternative ground upon which to accept transgender people.

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Sebastian H 05.10.17 at 12:08 am

“I’m not suggesting we measure skulls. My point was that If I want to know if X is transgender, there’s actually evidence we can consider besides self-identification.”. I don’t really know if that’s the case. My understanding is that the main job of such gatekeepers is to verify the enduring fixity of the ‘new’ gender self-identification. (New is probably the wrong term and I apologize in advance for that).

The point being that the strength of the self identification is what is being verified. Not something else.

202

Faustusnotes 05.10.17 at 12:15 am

Pomo queer theorist, sorry in writing on my phone and being unwilling to scroll up I shamefully miswrote your name, sorry about that! I was misremembering it from someone’s acronym for it, I think (which clearly marks me as stupid as well as rude).

203

JanieM 05.10.17 at 12:29 am

In the new moderation regime, I hope it’s permissible to just say:

OldJim: Thank you!!!

204

Lupita 05.10.17 at 1:41 am

Ronan(rf)@182

But the fact that race/ethnicity/whatever might be categorised differently in different countries doesn’t mean that each country doesn’t have their own series of racial/ethnic/whatever categories, where the boundaries between these groups is still heavily policed.

With regards to race, by “each country”, we actually mean each one of the three countries on planet Earth that ask their population to categorize itself by race in its census. These are:

1) Brazil: white, black, pardo (brown), yellow (Asian), or indigenous.

2) South Africa: White, Black African, Coloured, Indian / Asian, or Other.

3) US: White, Black, American Indian, Alaskan Native, or Asian / Pacific Islander.

In the rest of the world, racial boundaries are not heavily policed.

205

Lupita 05.10.17 at 1:42 am

Mark Engleson@191

Trasngenderism is recognized in the medical, including psychiatric community.

There is absolutely *nothing* comparing for transracialism. Nothing.

That could be because you can very easily get some makeup and a wig online. No doctors, surgeons, or psychiatrists needed.

206

pomo queer theorist 05.10.17 at 2:11 am

So beyond this “radical self-identification,” there’s actually a pretty solid, biological litmus test for being trans if you’re willing to try hormones. Granted it’s a bit of a trial by fire but it can’t be beat if you’re totally confused and don’t know what to do. If you feel better after starting hormones, problem solved. If you feel worse, congrats. You’ve gotten a little taste of what it’s like to be trans. Don’t worry though, if you like your hormones, you get to keep your hormones! (apologies to President Obama) Unfortunately because trans people are such a tiny minority, there’s not a ton of research around this stuff, but in general it’s well accepted that most cis people aren’t trans.

I’m not saying there needs to be a similar test for “transracialism,” nor do I really think it should be a standard for being recognized as the gender you identify with. But let’s first clarify what I mean by “transracialism” here, because we seem to be juggling a few definitions in this discussion and it’s causing some confusion.

For now, I’m going to bind what I say to the US. I’m not saying it’s not the case elsewhere, but I’m only willing to say it is the case here. When I say “transracial,” I’m only referring to cases which could be considered Dolezal-esque, and here’s why. Passing for white as practiced by light-skinned people of color in the US is done to escape a specific experience of oppression, not because the person passing identifies internally as white, at least to my knowledge. Indeed, what is expected of the person who is passing and what they actually want to do are often incongruous and difficult to deal with. Nella Larsen’s book “Passing” is a good exploration of this topic in the US, and there’s also a lot of very queer (though possibly irrelevant) subtext to it as well. More generally, there needs to be at minimum freedom from conscious coercion, meaning that this is something the person would choose if they weren’t living in a white supremacist society. This is also why I don’t consider sexual minorities who transition in countries where switching gender is acceptable but being gay isn’t to be transgender as we define it in the US. I sympathize with their struggle, and they have every right to the label if they want it, but as far as I know the choice is kind of made for them, and it’s not what they would choose if they weren’t living in a homophobic society. Transgender people do not transition to escape or gain privilege, we do it because we have an internal sense of our gender that needs aligning.

The more widely accepted meaning of “transracial” is somebody who was adopted by parents of a different racial grouping (for lack of a better word), but we also don’t seem to be dealing with that here, so I won’t address it.

As a baseline positive definition of “transracial” for the purposes of this paper and the surrounding discussion, Tuvel’s definition seems pretty good, so let’s stick with that one: “I conclude that if some individuals genuinely feel like or identify as a member of a race other than the one assigned to them at birth—so strongly to the point of seeking a transition to the other race—we should accept their decision to change races.” A transracial person, no quotation marks, is someone who genuinely feels like or identifies as a member of a racial grouping other than the one assigned to them at birth, so strongly to the point of seeking a transition to the other race.

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PatinIowa 05.10.17 at 4:40 am

Apologies if I missed something above

1. It seems to me that what Dolezal did wrong was less identifying as African-American than pretending to speak for African Americans. I’ve met a person or two in a corrections system who “looked” white, but once they opened their mouths… if you’re paying a price for identifying as black, you can have it. If you’re getting paid for it…

2. If we’re castigating philosophers for the behavior of their disciples, well, heck, what about Plato? Acquinas?

208

Salviati 05.10.17 at 5:06 am

OldJim #200

Reactions to your points:

1) “sex is biologically based – we accept transgender people based on their neurology being congruent with the sex/gender with which they seek to identify, and not with their assigned or birth sex/gender. In this instance, we recognise neither transracial nor transgender people on the basis of their self-identification ; we recognise transgender people and refuse to recognise transracial people because the former have a neurological, ‘objective’ ‘true sex’ which legitimises them, whilst the latter rely solely upon a right to radical self-identification which we have rejected.”

As far as I am aware there is no biological testing that can state with any confidence that someone is transgender. Whilst there are some few studies that imply some brain weirdnesses for *some* of those who identify, the only current path to confirming someone as transgender is if that person says they are. Physchiatric examination is the only “testing” that can be considered applicable, and in the end all that does is back up that the person is saying themselves. Likewise, transracials would logically only be identifiable through their own desire to be so, rather than any biological markers.

2) “sex is malleable because anatomy is plastic; race is fixed because it is a factual designation wholly and unproblematically determined by ancestry – in this part of the paper, it is observed that sex is changeable as a matter of physical fact — it is implied that we are not accepting transgender people on the basis of their self-identification, but rather because the sex with which they identify is their sex once they have transitioned; conversely, it is argued (in a bit of a strawman argument) that race, a matter of simple ancestral fact, and nothing intrinsically to do with culture or appearance, cannot be altered.”

At best, only the outward physical appearance of sex is malleable; every cell in one’s body is indelibly marked with the chromosomal brand XX or XY (except in the obvious extrememly rare cases, which are not part of the point here). However, I readily grant that it is outwardly malleable. Concerning race: it is a phenotype, no more. It is one’s skin colour, physiognomy, hair characteristics, etc. Like sex, it is immutable is the sense that one’s genes cannot be altered to change one’s default appearance. However, like sex the outward appearances can be altered, through skin lightening (or darkening), cosmetic surgery, hair treatments, etc.

3)”Identity is determined at an inter-subjective, and not at an individual level. In this objection, trans people are accepted by society because they are accepted by society; transracial people aren’t because they… aren’t. Again self identification is treated as an insufficient ground for either individual; it is a particular cultural context that legitimises the one practise and delegitimises the other.”

Transgenders are accepted by society because… oh wait, they aren’t yet, at least not universally. That’s the whole complaint and mission of transgender activism: to get trans* accepted by default. Their efforts seem to have picked up a lot of support from non-trans folks encouraging them in their efforts. So, if transgenders can work to change an existing societal opinion to something more to their liking, and it is alright for them to try, then transracials should have the exact same right, and ought to receive the same encouragement and support.

The more I think on it, the more inevitable the logic of Tuvel’s arguments become to me. As I have said elsewhere, that is why I think POC are so terrified of this paper.

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faustusnotes 05.10.17 at 5:40 am

pomo queer theorist, your definition doesn’t change anything about the debate, I think, even if we restrict the discussion to Dallio-like cases. But it also negates or dismisses a huge amount of migrant and Indigenous experience, which is really important to understanding this topic. The entire process of rediscovering and recreating Indigenous culture, either as a disinherited individual or as a community, is a conscious case of transracialism, and by restricting the discussion only to the cases you consider to be offensive (white people posing as black) you’re cutting out most of the experience of most actually transracial people.

I guess this is partly Tuvel’s fault for focusing on Dallio’s case, which is obviously one that raises a lot of interesting questions about power and privilege and sheep’s clothing and all the rest of it, whereas a native American person’s struggle to rediscover the culture they weren’t quite raised in is something entirely more sensitive and coherent to a lot of her readers. But nothing in Tuvel’s paper suggests we need to restrict ourselves to the case of the powerful becoming the disempowered. It just so happens that this is what her critics have decided to focus on, and in so doing have behaved exactly like a previous generation of feminist critics of transgender people. I think you should try teasing out where their reaction leads us when it comes to people who choose their racial origin.

For example, as I mentioned above, I’m a one quarter spanish British person who chose to become Australian (and currently lives in Japan). By the logic of Tuvel’s critics I must identify as Spanish-British (the racial heritage of my parents and grandparents); given that my father and grandmother (the racially “pure” parts of my heritage) identify as English, it would appear I’m bound to identify as a racial category I don’t even accept exists. When in fact, I chose to be Australian because that’s what I identified with for most of my later childhood and young adulthood. Australian is an ethnic identity in Australia (google it if you don’t believe me), but Tuvel’s critics in their enlightened state of racial knowledge insist that I have to be Spanish even though I know nothing about Spain, hispanic even though that is a category that doesn’t exist in any country I have ever lived, or English which is a racial nonsense term.

My case is a trivial one but I think you need to recognize that there are way more complex and nasty versions of this out there, and ask yourself where Tuvel’s critics’ idea of racial identification leaves us.

210

John Holbo 05.10.17 at 5:53 am

At the risk of sounding patronizing – and semi-self-congratulatory – I would like to commend the contributors to this thread for generally being reasonable and not turning it into the shit-show that is every other Hypatia thread around the web the last few days. True, we moderated the thread. But we let little grace notes of vituperation and indignation through here and there – who can resist a touch of the human, all-too-human? – and yet people still contributed in a non-shitty manner! Kudos! Such restraint! (I’m serious.)

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pomo queer theorist 05.10.17 at 6:23 am

Faustusnotes @209

The thing is though, this is a Crooked Timber post on an article in Hypatia. I was told to read that article so I could discuss it. I do not want to discuss anything other than the arguments in that paper, because race is an enormous subject and I’d like to focus specifically on the arguments. You asked me to read the paper, and I read it.

I’m sorry she focuses on Dolezal, but it seems to be what she was thinking about while writing it and I don’t see the relevance. I don’t know where you’re seeing this “logic of Tuvel’s critics,” and I think you’re broadly misinterpreting what she’s talking about. You clearly have claims to several ethnic identities. Dolezal’s family has been German, Dutch, Swedish, and Czech for 400 years. If you think people on our side are all about our racial purity, you’re sorely, sorely mistaken.

I realize I’m erasing a lot of nuance here, but I assure you you just don’t understand what people are upset about if you think we’re in the business of policing mixed-race peoples’ ethnic identities. It has nothing to do with puritanism. People are upset about Dolezal specifically and the analogy drawn between her and Caitlyn Jenner.

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faustusnotes 05.10.17 at 6:36 am

Like I said, pomo queer theorist, sticking to that particular example doesn’t change anything because the question remains what is wrong with Dallio doing what she did? And even if it is wrong, why does this invalidate Tuvel’s paper? And how is the reaction any different to past feminist reaction to transgender people? As far as I can tell the logic of Tuvel’s position has not been challenged by her critics and indeed some of the suggestions to improve the paper (e.g. incorporating the literature on passing) simply strengthens her analogy.

The very strong impression I get here is that the critics are arguing from their horror at the implications of the conclusion to the finding that the scholarship is bad. They haven’t given any evidence of the harms that arise from the paper, they haven’t explained what is wrong, they haven’t said what scholars should have been cited or how that would have changed the paper, and they haven’t explained why poor citation is sufficient reason for retraction in this single case and no others. They’re focusing with simple horror on the possibility that transgender okay implies transracial okay, trying to boil that down to a single case (which the Serano tweet above explicitly confirms) and ignoring the consequences of the implicit alternative theory, which is close a civil war era theory of race. I think they have a lot of explaining to do on all these points and they’re very carefully failing to explain any of them.

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faustusnotes 05.10.17 at 6:38 am

And also yes, if the letter writers can opine on the harms of Tuvel’s conclusions for transgender people, I think it’s legitimate for me to opine on the harms of their conclusions for transracial people. Would you damn me to be English? That’s a cruel fate!

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pomo queer theorist 05.10.17 at 7:06 am

I’m sorry that I can’t seem to communicate this better but it doesn’t take an expert in critical race theory to explain this, there is absolutely nothing wrong with coming from several different ethnic backgrounds and identifying with some, all, or none of them. To put it bluntly, the opprobrium for Dolezal is about whether a white person can be Black just because they say so. I can’t speak for everyone but the people I know who do work in this area already acknowledge self-identification as you put it. You seem to think we’re rejecting it entirely, but as a white person I really don’t care about it except for when it’s white people demanding that they be acknowledged as people of color. I might be a reverse racist for saying this, but it’s basically free reign for everyone else, and I’ll leave it to those communities to decide who is and isn’t a member, as we all should. White supremacy has hugely damaging repercussions such as far as passing and colorism are concerned, but I don’t make it my business to police what oppressed people do to protect themselves.

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faustusnotes 05.10.17 at 7:49 am

Right, so basically the issue is that the conclusions of Tuvel’s work undermine your opposition to a specific single process on political grounds, and on those political grounds a bunch of people want to reverse engineer a flaw in the paper, and destroy her career to boot.

And furthermore, all those objections arise from exactly the same logical position as past feminist objections to transgender people, i.e. all the exact reasons Tuvel’s work is correct, and yet in this case it’s okay, even if the final consequence of applying that exact logic to the racial case is a civil war era theory of scientific racism.

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lurker 05.10.17 at 8:06 am

@Mark Engleson, 195
There are people who argue for the right to self-identify as any gender whatsoever, or no gender at all, and do not recognize the authority of medical professionals or other transmedicalist gatekeepers. And there are others who think that the former are cis people frivolously inventing or appropriating identities just to look special, threatening the acceptance gained by actual trans people by making gender identities look ridiculous to the mainstream.
ISTM that people with a diagnosable dysphoria have a stronger case for their gender identity (above all, the need for medical care in making a transition is rather more serious than the need for a agender pronouns and names), but my feels do not trump other people’s feels, especially when it’s their identity that’s at stake.

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Philip 05.10.17 at 8:40 am

@faustusnotes, I think a few people on CT have a more fixed idea of race than I am used to and I think this might be a USA thing. I remember being surprised when people commenting on a Chris Bertram thread said that Polish people could not face racism in the UK because they are white. My grandad was Polish and came to the UK after WWII. He was taken by the Germans when he was 18 and separated from his family and ended up fighting in a Polish regiment of the British army in Italy. When he came to the UK he couldn’t work as a joiner because he couldn’t join the union as he wasn’t British. He ended up taking a British identity and changed his name to a British one. He wasn’t involved with the local Polish community and married a British woman. He did have a slight accent, some grammatical quirks, and still liked cherry vodka and Polish sausage. I’m not sure how much he did this to pass as British for practical reasons or because he struggled with the loss of his family and uncertainty about ever seeing them again that he found his Polish identity painful. But, he could do this because he was white, black or Asian people coming to the UK at the same time could say they were British but still face racism on a day to day basis. You can identify as Australian in Australia but could you identify as Japanese in Japan? To me a discussion of transracial identity needs a shared understanding of what race and racism is and isn’t but there is too much contention around these terms.

@PQT, thanks for your contribution to this thread, I’ve found it very interesting t read your point of view but I think your holding yourself to too high a standard for making comments on a blog.

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Phil 05.10.17 at 9:21 am

I think the key issue for me isn’t whether Tuvel’s paper is good or bad (‘subpar scholarship’ etc) but how bad it is, if it’s bad. I mean, we’re hearing that it’s bad enough to merit retraction and apologies – something that’s incredibly rare in an academic context, apart from cases of academic malpractice (plagiarism & fraud).

It seems to me that a key element of the argument for it being that bad is the language of ‘harm’: Tuvel’s paper hasn’t just advanced an argument that’s questionable and failed to engage with the appropriate literature, it’s caused harms. But I’m still mostly in the dark as to what those harms are supposed to have been.

PQT (who deserves some sort of medal for their patience and forbearance in sticking with this thread) says @130 that drawing a parallel between transgender and transracialism (a) legitimises anti-trans arguments and (b) trivialises trans people’s struggles – but isn’t the tendency of the paper the reverse, to problematise arguments against transracialism? In any case, even if we could say with 100% certainty that Tuvel’s arguments would be useful to bigots – and would make it easier for them to do harm – would that justify calling the arguments themselves harmful, and saying that harms had been done by publishing the article? I don’t see it, even in that extreme case.

Even dangerous arguments deserve exposure, if the argument itself is good. In fact dangerous arguments need exposure, if only so that they can be refuted. I can’t think of anything more dangerous at the moment than a paper arguing authoritatively that global warming had gone into reverse – think of how the energy companies and their lobbyists would exploit it! But if the evidence did point that way, that evidence would need to be published – if only so that climate scientists could pick over it and find out what was really going on.

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faustusnotes 05.10.17 at 9:21 am

Philip your grandfather sounds very much like mine! Same story basically but for being Spanish, in a Spanish regiment.

I just went to see Mucha’s Slav Epic and while looking at it was struck by how European racial self-identities have changed – from a concept of Slavs as a separate racial category striving for independence to a pan-European concept of a white race in conflict with Muslims, for example. This means that Russian neo Nazis now share a racial identity with German and Greek fascists where once they had very different places in a granularized racial heirarchy. Even Nazis have changed their racial self-identity over a couple of generations!

And yes, Japan still has a long way to go on discussions about race, and would consider it very strange if I identified as Japanese (I don’t). It creates a lot of interesting confusion when they meet children of foreigners who have been raised in Japan and are effectively Japanese but for the skin colour. There was some controversy recently over a “half” miss universe Japan who was not considered to be Japanese by some. But I would say it’s always the halfs and the ratbag interlopers who force change in concepts of race, just as it’s been queers and sex workers who have forced change in concepts of sex and sexuality. Not listening to them is exactly the wrong response!

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Chris "merian" W. 05.10.17 at 10:17 am

I don’t agree with faustusnotes about much, but what I strongly agree about is that only discussing this in (some subset of) the (mainstream) US understanding of race is just inadequate. It ties in what I mentioned above, that race and gender aren’t in the same way universal (to the extent that they are in the first place) across times and cultures. Both transfer in some ways, but race transfers a lot less well. To spin this on, even though in both cases there is a tie-in with supremacy/oppression, male supremacy and white supremacy don’t work the same ways. (Plus, there are cultures where there is a non-white race of maximum privilege, though it would be interesting to hear from a specialist how say Han supremacy and white supremacy are different or similar in various ways.) Racial categories also can appear with surprising alacrity. People can not really think in racialized ethnic categories until some events pull the rug out under a relatively stable situation and suddenly people segregate (sometimes, self-segregate) and civil wars. European anti-Semitism made Jews out of a lot of secular educated middle-class people who had never seen a synagogue from the inside, or were even first to third generation Christians. And in some places, Jewish isn’t considered a race by non-Jews at least. Race is also transmitted differently than gender. Everyone has family members of both (main) genders, but in the Western world, close family members are more often racially homogeneous than not. (To varying degrees, and not everywhere probably. But it’s probably the personal experience of a majority of people on this thread.)

What I don’t agree with him about is the expansive definition of “tansracialism” as including all sorts of racial passing. In the sense here it’s not about passing for white to access higher social capital when knowing full well one’s mixed-race status. Or passing for black when one is dark-skinned and of Greek ancestry and therefore treated as black anyway. Passing is also an aspect within a single racial identification (like when a person of color is read as white, like Buckell).

It seems to me that the role of self-identification is receiving a very simplistic, under-developed treatment. It’s pretty much being equated with a personal choice. But even to the degree it is, it’s not a choice open to many! *I* can’t just choose to be a man — I’m not trans. And that doesn’t make me an essentialist: I do believe that I (and we all) participate in the performance of gender to varying degrees and have our own mix, but it is still true that I’m best described by the label “woman”, and that there is a reality to this label that the choices that are accessible to me can’t change into “man” (it may be possible to change into some variant of “genderqueer”, but that’s beside the point; also, I’m not exploring that at the moment).

A very small minority I think has, at least after the age of 16, done a serious self-examination about one’s “chosen” gender. Or one’s “chosen” race, though I’m sure this is the case for more people as mixed racial heritage is common. (Me… not so much. I could probably make something about being of mixed Hugenot and Bohemian heritage, which really doesn’t give me much of a racial community to give me a useful strat sign. And those who have, probably won’t talk about choice as much as exploring the facets of their identity.

Self identification comes into both racial and gender identity, but it’s never JUST self-identification. When a person who appears to be one [gender|race] tells us they are really another, we might ask “tell me more”. And one may tell a variant of the story of internal vs. external representation, gendered pass-times, eye-opening readings of Stone Butch Blues,, whereas the other may talk about their ancestry, maybe out in the open from birth, maybe discovered belatedly. If both are social constructs, is there any particular reason we have to use the same blueprints? I guess we *could* have taken the first group and stuffed them into their own gender category (“hopelessly mixed-up” or whatever), but it turns out that for a majority of such people, if they take up the option to go through a transition and adapt their physical features to within the range of the target gender by medical means, and commit to performing the gender they identify with, there has now developed an area of consensus to consider them as *being* of their target gender… mostly by a path of development during which objections have largely dissolved (quite similar to same-sex marriage, btw). But the same hasn’t been the case for race, not in North America or Western Europe. Maybe it’s because of familial transmission of racial categories, or because of the extreme asymmetry of race: a black person who identifies as white and lightens their skin to pass will be considered a fraud and not, at the moment, be accepted by white people as white. Rather I fear for their life should their history be discovered. And this last point is one why some people of color are so harsh with Dolezal because they consider that she availed herself as an option that black people don’t have.

It’s not at all important whether Dolezal strongly feels internally that she is black. Even in case she started out as a pretend-game, by now she probably does! Convincing oneself, even self-deception, is something most people practice concerning some aspect of their life! The point is that as things stand, in this time and place, self-identification and changing her appearance aren’t enough anchor points to tie her identity into the “black” category. That she engaged in actual deception and told untruths to get herself accepted doesn’t help.

There’s something to be said for the OP’s suggestion that ignoring something that shouldn’t be there in the first place isn’t happening as much as it should. When I heard the story, I thought “what an odd person” and expected her to fade into obscurity (back, as far as I’m concerned). That this didn’t happen is linked to the very public, quite problematic comming out by Caitlin Jenner.

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Ronan(rf) 05.10.17 at 11:20 am

“I remember being surprised when people commenting on a Chris Bertram thread said that Polish people could not face racism in the UK because they are white. “

As someone at the forefront of that campaign, I’ll just clarify. My reasoning was we had better words to use (such as bigotry or xenophobia) and that “racism” wasn’t particularly useful, analytically, as there wasn’t much evidence that the Poles were radicalized in any meaningful way (rather than just disliked for being foreign)
I was actually reacting to what I see as the north American tendency to see everything through race (in its most vulgar form this was to claim that the Poles had lost their “whiteness”) I don’t really buy this, or whiteness studies in general, in part because i think it overstates how fluid racial (rather than ethnic) categories have Been, and looks at everything through the black/white US model(rather than, for example, the idea of the dominant ethnicity, and how a national/ethnic identity changes to include out groups)
Looking at it in those terms, imo, means we can look at it more universally, rather than through the US frame where it seems to be(at least in the public debates) only whites vs non whites, and every other ID is secondary.

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Ronan(rf) 05.10.17 at 11:22 am

Lupita, it depends how you define race. But beyond that nearly every country has ethnic/religious/caste boundaries that are heavily policed. I agree though(as just said above)that consuming all those into the settler colonies racial frames isn’t useful.

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Faustusnotes 05.10.17 at 11:32 am

Thanks Chris. I’ve been trying to avoid too much focus on passing because I think it’s uncontroversial- for me the challenging aspect of Tuvels work is it’s extension to exactly the kind of cases that resemble the early political trans movement. I’ve been trying to give examples of lateral or relatively power neutral transracialism to point out how normal it is, and also the consequences for a lot of ordinary people of adopting an essentialist view of race, which forces people into identities they don’t want. Being transgender is rare precisely because gender is an essential trait, it is not something most of us can choose or could even conceive of choosing without the knowledge that a very small number of people have to. But race is not essential, and not in fact even real , and crossing races in both small and big ways is common. We often think of this as crossing cultures but it’s not, and Tuvel offers a logical structure in defense of the idea that we can be what we want to be not what our society tells us we have to be. I think an acceptance of this expansive definition of transracialism is a step towards the abolition of race as a category and thus as a form of oppression, which is why I find the opposition to her paper so tragic (in addition to the obviously transphobic similarities and the inherent scientific racism of the position ). (Obviously I’m not naive enough to think a philosophy paper will change anything but I hope you see my point). But to do this we need to accept that this means white people can be black. I sincerely doubt many white people will take that option, but if it isn’t there for them it’s also hard to build a proper discourse of racial transition for indigenous people and migrants, for whom this really is a fact of life. I think we can do better and I expect left wing and feminist scholars to try harder than this!

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Ronan(rf) 05.10.17 at 12:12 pm

Faustusnotes, I read your blog post (or at least I read 4/5s of it, but had to leave the rest as was rushing out)
I still think you’re overstating how fluid these categories have been. Of course there were people who moved between groups, and of course IDs are to some extent contingent. But as a practical matter, in how most people have viewed these IDs in recent history*, they aren’t that fluid, and particularly not in terms of race. The fact that Australian national ID has been able to expand to include groups not from the British Isles is true, but then so have a lot of similar(western)countries by stressing civic rather than ethnic national IDs. But that doesn’t necessarily speak to the realities of how race is viewed, and I think you’d have a tougher time claiming as a white man to be black, than you would as New Zealand born claiming to be Aussie. (Even this has its limits, as I don’t think it’s so fluid that I could claim to be Aussie even though Ive only been there once. You still need some level of socialisation into the national Identity. I mean, you mentioned your Spanish grandfather, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you identify as Australian and not Spanish) The question then is can Dolezal ID as black on account of having been socialised into a black ID? As a normative matter I don’t know (I don’t know if I really care too much either) But as a practical matter, it doesn’t seem so.

*You can see this, for example(afaik) in caste in India, which has a genetic basis predating colonialism by millennia. You can see it in Ireland where you had two very similar (aesthetically and culturally) ethnic groups who didn’t intermarry in any great numbers until very recently. And you see it numerous contexts where the movement between IDs was probably not as easily done as those who stress ID fluidity tend to claim.

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Kiwanda 05.10.17 at 2:31 pm

Chris “merian” W:

…there has now developed an area of consensus to consider them as *being* of their target gender…But the same hasn’t been the case for race…

This amounts only to a description of the current state of things, not how things could be or ought to be, which is the question.

It’s not at all important whether Dolezal strongly feels internally that she is black.

For other categories, steadfast self-identification has become sufficient for acceptance by others, so why not for race? The importance of this self-identification is exactly what is at issue.

Even in case she started out as a pretend-game, by now she probably does! Convincing oneself, even self-deception, is something most people practice concerning some aspect of their life! The point is that as things stand, in this time and place, self-identification and changing her appearance aren’t enough anchor points to tie her identity into the “black” category.

She started out as a “pretend-game”, you mention “self-deception”. But (suppose) she *knows* she is black, either all her life, or eventually coming to that realization after much doubt and unhappiness. Again, the observation that such self-knowledge is adequate here and now for social acceptance in some cases, but not others, is not evidence for what could be or logically should be, which is the question.

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pomo queer theorist 05.10.17 at 5:14 pm

Faustusnotes @215
“And furthermore, all those objections arise from exactly the same logical position as past feminist objections to transgender people, i.e. all the exact reasons Tuvel’s work is correct, and yet in this case it’s okay, even if the final consequence of applying that exact logic to the racial case is a civil war era theory of scientific racism.”

Why is the alternative to this scientific racism? I’ve tried about as hard as I can to explain this, I don’t understand what’s not being communicated. I’m talking about Dolezal, as a vulgar American I couldn’t care less about European ethnic distinctions, and I’ve explained above why white passing people of color and other cases are irrelevant. And no, the opposition is not on purely political grounds. The political opposition stems from her conclusion being badly wrong, largely because she ignored the people and fields that could have explained otherwise. I’m sorry that I can’t perfectly articulate what’s wrong with it concisely, critical race theory is something I’m still figuring out fully for myself. But it seems that there is at least one simple chink in her argument with regards to intersectionality. Race and gender cannot be parallel to each other because they intersect and reinforce one another. I realize that’s vague and incomplete but it’s the best I’ve got right now for a simple explanation.

I could say more on this, and I’m working on a more comprehensive framework for evaluating it, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. What is the actual harm done to Tuvel and her career so far? The paper has not been retracted, and the editor stands by their publishing of it. I’m not a tenure-track academic, so I honestly don’t know. Is this sort of thing hugely damaging in general? Because it seems like the vast majority of the academic community is on her side and vehemently so, from these comments and looking at the discussion on other websites. As in I’m the only one here (as far as I know) who’s roughly on the side of the letter writers, as far as I can tell. 800 signatures might be pretty scary, but since the letter was received it seems like those 800 are being universally reviled at least as badly as they would have done to Tuvel.

If a small minority of people even discussing retraction is enough to harm someone, consider perhaps that it is possible for Tuvel to have done harm with the work she published simply by discussing the possibility that protections for transgender people extend to people who choose their race.

As long as I’m not allowed to entertain the possibility of its retraction or even give it too harsh a rebuke, I don’t think there’s much more I can say.

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Douglas Lain 05.10.17 at 6:02 pm

pomo queer theorist:

You wrote, “The political opposition stems from her conclusion being badly wrong, largely because she ignored the people and fields that could have explained otherwise. ”

If this is the case then what needs to be done is the arguments and evidence from those people and schools of thought should be presented as a refutation. The fact that these schools exist and can be gestured at isn’t sufficient. Specific arguments need to be presented and a case needs to be made that these theorists and schools of thought adequately meet Tuvel’s argument and refute it.

” I’m sorry that I can’t perfectly articulate what’s wrong with it concisely, critical race theory is something I’m still figuring out fully for myself. ”

Given that the argument from critical race theory needs to be worked out it seems premature to insist that Tuvel’s perspective is wrong, although it very well could be. And certainly the demand for a retraction of Tuvel’s essay is justifiable. Rather, critical race theorists should take the time to work out a refutation based on their ideas and arguments.

“If a small minority of people even discussing retraction is enough to harm someone, consider perhaps that it is possible for Tuvel to have done harm with the work she published simply by discussing the possibility that protections for transgender people extend to people who choose their race.”

Let’s be clear, there was an open letter demanding retraction and accusing her of violence against trans people and people of color. One of those people demanding a retraction was sat on her dissertation committee. This isn’t justifiable as not only is it specious to claim that the essay caused harm, the essay also sits unchallenged in terms of argument. The demand for the retraction of this essay is not in any way comparable to the suggestion that certain rights to self select identity be extended to new terrains.

“As long as I’m not allowed to entertain the possibility of its retraction or even give it too harsh a rebuke, I don’t think there’s much more I can say.”

Of course, you are allowed to entertain the possibility of a retraction, but in order to justify that position you’ll need to say quite a bit more.

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pasaudela 05.10.17 at 6:21 pm

One aspect of the situation that I find distressing that is seldom mentioned is that Tuvel effectively criticizes the work of the associate editor that spearheaded the apology (Cressida Heyes) in the impunged article … wasn’t it a pretty obvious and severe conflict of interest for Heyes to lead the apology? She used her position as associate editor to go after a junior critic of her work.

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Sebastian H 05.10.17 at 6:37 pm

This debate sheds light on something that has been bugging me for a while, but which I hadn’t really put my finger on until now.

We have real trouble keeping track of when it is ok to be essentialist about traits that have a component of social construction.

Gender is largely constructed. Ok. But it has essential enough components that some people might be mis-identified EVEN THOUGH gender is largely constructed. Ok. I can accept that clarification. But those markers are not (at least currently) outwardly evident enough for dispassionate scientific diagnosis (that isn’t as sensitive a word as I want, because it suggests disease, but I don’t know what else to use–dispassionate scientific labeling?) So we end up relying very largely on self-identification.

And that is pretty much where we are with transgender right now? Right? (This is not completely rhetorical. I’m trying to accurately describe the current state of thought on transgender).

I’m having trouble understanding the anti-Tuvel parallel construction, which means I’m not understanding their arguments.

I think they all agree that race is largely constructed in much the same way as gender. Is that where I’m wrong? Is it that they think race is NOT constructed?

If not, it must be something about race that they think is more essentialist than gender. I’m not clear on what that would be. Is that where I’m wrong?

But if it is something about race that is more essentialist, they must think that UNLIKE gender it can’t be mis-assigned. Is that it?

Or if it can be mis-assigned, it can’t be mis-assigned by people from the dominant race maybe because that would be a fraud? But that flies in the face of the fact that we accept male to female transgender as a non-fraud.

The last point is interesting because actually there were (are?) quite a few feminists who initially believed that male to female transgender was a sort of fraud.

The question of ‘passing’ is being skipped over pretty lightly on the transgender side as if it weren’t a thing too. But in my admittedly limited experience in San Diego, California with about a dozen transgender people, I would say that the desire to strongly pass (enough so that they don’t want most people to know that they ever were known as the other gender and just slip out of LGBT circles) appears to be present in easily a third of them. (All interestingly enough FtM transgender–I would guess because it is somewhat easier to pass).

There is an attempt at threading the needle on the essentialist characteristics of race that the anti-Tuvel people don’t seem to directly confront.

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AcademicLurker 05.10.17 at 7:02 pm

Is this sort of thing hugely damaging in general?

Yes, but the damage is mitigated in this case…

Because it seems like the vast majority of the academic community is on her side and vehemently so

As to the letter writers and signers being reviled: everyone is of course free to sign whatever online petitions they want, but when you resort to these kinds of public shaming tactics, the possibility that they might rebound back on you is a risk you take. As an academic, my take on the open letter is that, yes, it was indeed a significant departure from the normally accepted way of dealing with scholarly disputes, and I have yet to see a convincing case made that the sins of Tuvel’s article were so extreme that they justified this.

Again, though, people can write online petitions for whatever they want. I’m a managing editor for one journal and on the editorial boards of 2 others, and from that perspective, my much bigger concern is with the actions of the associate editors. They seem to have gone through no formal process, just informal discussion among themselves. Instead of signing the apology with their names, they signed “a majority of Hypatia’s board of associated editors”, thus invited the conclusion that the journal as a whole had repudiated Tuvel, when we now know that that was not the case. Based on the fact that Drs Scholz and Solomon subsequently publicly declared that the apology writers did not speak on behalf of the journal, it looks like the associate editors in question were doing all of this without even bothering to inform the Editor-in-Chief of what they were up to.

That behavior is, to use a technical philosophical term, not cool.

From my perspective as someone involved in various capacities in running academic journals, it looks just breathtakingly unprofessional from start to finish.

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Mark Engleson 05.10.17 at 7:09 pm

” And in some places, Jewish isn’t considered a race by non-Jews at least.”

In some places, we don’t consider *ourselves* a race. In Israel, Jew as a racial category is pretty nonsenical. Racial distinctions clearly exist -within- the Jewish population: Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Arab, Black, etc.

I’ve personally been asked if I am or assumed to be Middle-Eastern.

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pomo queer theorist 05.10.17 at 7:43 pm

To answer the question of “which authors specifically,” here’s a Google Doc with an extensive bibliography on these subjects:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1icoJ8jx08pApchnn4uAh8pRWtzFNCLRCokILByD8LvA/edit?usp=sharing

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Alouette 05.10.17 at 10:18 pm

I’m not at all convinced by Tuvel’s argument; I don’t think the two cases are parallel enough for it to work.

I think some of the posters in the thread above aren’t very familiar with the transgender community (although some others clearly are!)

In the activist circles I’m familiar with (other communities in other countries may be different) its often useful to make a distinction between:

a) The political community that is campaigning about some set of related causes
b) People who acting in a particular social role (e.g. a gender role)
b) People who have a particular medical condition or are undergoing a particular treatment

For (a), we might use some acronym with a lot of letters like LGBTIQ that is really upfront about its membership being united around a set of political causes without necessarily sharing some biological condition in common. The particular group I’m often involved with is focussed on the T and I of LGTBIQ, in the strong sense that both T and I individuals are actively involved, not just theoretically entitled to membership should some show up.

For (b), we might go with male and female as the available gender roles that our current society offers us, while noting that other societies in other times and places have had different gender schemes (including ones aren’t equivalent to our current notion of a transgendered identity, either), and that some people in our current society would tick ‘other’ on the gender box on a form. Intersex people often have a clear idea of what gender they are acting in, notwithstanding their unusual genetics.

For (c), people may variously have intersex conditions like mosaic chromosomes; or be undergoing medical treatment as a transsexual; or have some condition like high-functioning autism that in some cases can also affect gender expression; or just be behaviourally variant from the stereotype for their birth sex without undergoing any medical treatment. We can accept that these things exist, are different, and in some cases present different issues, without assigning any moral value to them (e.g. that one is “more authentic” than another), or thinking that one is more worthy than other for the type (b) gender classification.

I think I’m going to abstain from speculating about how Nkechi Amare Diallo might map into some racial equivalent of the above schema, and just that sometimes it matters what level of the classification you’re talking about.

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M Caswell 05.10.17 at 11:31 pm

“It’s literally true that (in 2-dimensional Euclidian geometry) straight lines that are parallel are by definition (“axiom”) not intersecting. (Non-Euclidian geometries have different rules.) “

In what geometries do parallel lines intersect?

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Orange Watch 05.10.17 at 11:48 pm

@pomo queer theorist #232

To answer the question of “which authors specifically,” here’s a Google Doc with an extensive bibliography on these subjects:

The question was not ever merely “which authors” – it was “which arguments”, with “by ‘which authors'” an afterthought if mentioned at all. Again, it is not enough to point to the existence of a field to refute a claim. The question is not “who did Tuvel ignore”, but rather “what important point did Tuvel ignore (by ignoring authors XYZ)”. A bibliography is neither necessary nor sufficient in this case.

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pomo queer theorist 05.11.17 at 12:47 am

A few things. I’ll try to go top to bottom.

Douglas Lain @227
“This isn’t justifiable as not only is it specious to claim that the essay caused harm, the essay also sits unchallenged in terms of argument. The demand for the retraction of this essay is not in any way comparable to the suggestion that certain rights to self select identity be extended to new terrains.”

I wouldn’t say it sits unchallenged in terms of argument, I’ve been trying to articulate in several different ways why race and gender are constructed differently here. Granted I haven’t been especially eloquent or consistent most of the time, and the best reason I can give here is my feeling that it’s not even wrong, vague and insufficient though it may be. These arguments come up all the time in completely nonacademic settings, almost universally as a reductio ad absurdum against trans rights and against self identification of identity, on the grounds that race and gender are similar therefore since you clearly can’t self identify your race, you also can’t self-identify your gender. This is the contrapositive that I mentioned up above, and when I introduced it, I did in fact say that I assume Tuvel doesn’t agree with it. I’m willing to be charitable, because she seems innocently ignorant of this. Granted, trans women wouldn’t be, and that’s sort of the point here. Nonetheless, that’s the social context you’re dealing with when you make an argument like this. You will sound like a TERF because it’s a TERF argument, and it takes more than a slight academic veneer to overcome that.

Simultaneously, you seem to be at as much of a loss as we are to quantify the actual harm that’s occurring here. This is essentially a one-sided argument from my perspective: there are a handful of people that agree with me in my thread, but everyone else who shares my opinion is being ridiculed by the mainstream (Daily Nous, Chronicle, whatever) as the “thought police” and (ghastly) complaining that someone’s “free speech” has been violated. I’ve watched the CT community deal with issues of free speech at a much higher level of nuance than what seems like is being expressed by the majority on this issue, and I don’t quite understand why this is different. Is it because academics have a unique position to commit harmful speech acts? I’m honestly not trying to insult anyone, I’m just shocked at how quickly people are to jump to discussing freedom of speech when the original argument (and the position of the letter writers) was largely around how white, cisgender voices are centered in the mainstream of philosophy.

Here’s a longer Facebook post by one of Hypatia’s editors on the subject:

https://www.facebook.com/lsalcoff/posts/10156108465053047

Sebastian H @229
“I think they all agree that race is largely constructed in much the same way as gender. Is that where I’m wrong? Is it that they think race is NOT constructed?”

Definitely not. In fact, that’s the entire source of disagreement. They think race is socially constructed, but they think it is socially constructed so differently from gender that the analogy completely falls apart. Even so, reasoning by analogy is never particularly strong. I will observe again that most of the problem in her argument and our analyses of it is that none of us have an especially strong understanding of the notions of social constructivism, especially not strong enough so as to enable radical analyses of personal identity. She might not have to deal with critical race theory and queer theory to make her argument effectively, but I then have to wonder why she is arguing from the perspective of social constructivism in the first place as it pertains to queerness and ethnic groups when there is an enormous body of work examining these distinctions. It’s actually extremely difficult to understand in full, modern formulations like Butler’s are (crudely) sort of neo-Althusserian as regards ideological embeddings of roles and such.

Passing politics in the trans community are a thorny subject and I think they’re best not brought up here. From people who want to pass, to people who don’t, to people who wish they could for practical reasons but can’t, there’s far too much nuance to discuss here. Of course, I’m only saying that because I maintain that it’s not comparable, and I don’t feel like it’s been proven that they are comparable yet.

Academic Lurker @230
“Yes, but the damage is mitigated in this case…”

You speak as if a crisis were narrowly averted. I don’t quite understand what that crisis is and what possibly could have caused it when the letter writers have received such ridicule for demanding retraction. They clearly miscalculated the political climate surrounding their request, but then I wonder what the actual risks were in the first place.

“As an academic, my take on the open letter is that, yes, it was indeed a significant departure from the normally accepted way of dealing with scholarly disputes, and I have yet to see a convincing case made that the sins of Tuvel’s article were so extreme that they justified this.”

I’m going to get a lot of shit for saying this, but I don’t really think this letter was about Tuvel in a broad sense. I think it was more like the straw that broke the camel’s back, to use a tired cliché. Black and trans voices in philosophy have been ignored and silenced for a very long time, with articles like this popping up frequently. If you don’t believe this to be the case, I ask then why you are willing to accept that philosophy as a discipline is overwhelmingly composed of white men specifically but more broadly cisgender white people. (maybe you don’t, but people have said they at least agree with me on that higher up in this thread) Big changes and social movements almost always start focused around the deeds of a specific individual, even when there is a history of systematic oppression by many people and not just individuals. Clearly, Rebecca Tuvel is not that individual when it comes to making philosophy more inclusive, because her position and her right to defend that position without fear of retraction has been vociferously defend by what seems like god damn nearly everyone in academic philosophy.

So yes, on the one hand, I do feel somewhat sorry for the individual that becomes a synecdoche for a history of oppression. However, on the other hand, they would not act as a stand-in for that history if their actions were not oppressive in the first place.

These academic debates might seem like they don’t matter, but I caution philosophers (as does the editor in the linked post) against assuming that their thinking is divorced entirely from the social and political realities of our current existence. I’ll be charitable and assume that everyone speaking here is not transphobic, and certainly Dr. Tuvel isn’t either, but when you have the academic mainstream on the same side of an issue as TERFs and transphobes and Black and trans people on the other side with the National Review cackling with glee about the PC police eating their own, I urge everyone involved (my side included) to pause and consider who they are aiding with their arguments and how best to not just distance themselves but respond to the people on their side who are abusing their arguments to hurt people. What do you have to say to the contrapositive, and the people who do think you endorse it with your original implication?

237

pomo queer theorist 05.11.17 at 12:54 am

Oh yeah, forgot one.

Bloix @233
“This is a classic example of a logical error arising from reasoning from metaphor. It’s literally true that (in 2-dimensional Euclidian geometry) straight lines that are parallel are by definition (“axiom”) not intersecting. (Non-Euclidian geometries have different rules.) But the statement “race and gender are parallel” is not a statement about lines in Euclidian space and neither is “race and gender intersect.” There’s no logical reason that that categories that metaphorically are parallel cannot also metaphorically be intersecting.”

Hence why I tried to hedge a lot when I said it. I wasn’t actually trying to reason about it metaphorically from a position of Euclidean geometry, I was trying to allude to several arguments in intersectional feminism about why intersecting concerns can’t be considered separately (parallel). If you think the logical error is in intersectionality itself, I’d love to hear that argument, but I realize that my formulation was bad, I just couldn’t think of a better way to put it.

238

Faustusnotes 05.11.17 at 1:53 am

Pomo queer theorist, the reasons the objections lead to scientific racism is that they don’t allow self identification, which by necessity requires someone else to be the determinant of an individuals race. Whether that’s Heinrich himmler or a queer theorist, it’s a dangerous road to go down. Even if we allow society (e.g. Black Americans) to determine who is or isn’t of a race it’s still dangerous – look at what is happening tot he rohingya for examples of how this can end up playing out , or the dubious way that extreme rightists in Japan refuse to allow second generation Koreans to be Japanese (backed up by a history of pogroms this starts to look unpleasant). I gave the example of indigenous cultural reclamation and resistance above, and indigenous people are a really good example of communities whose race has been consistently policed by the state and society (and still are – “you don’t look aboriginal so how can you speak for them?” Is such a common refrain). It’s not just comic book nazism, scientific racism has many cunning forms and it can still be bad for a lot of people. Even in my trivial case (it doesn’t matter to my rights or wellbeing what my identity is) I don’t want some race theorist telling me I’m English. Fuck that noise! I’ll decide whether I’m Australian or not!

It’s particularly amusing given sex is so strongly biologically determined, but for some reason self identification is okay, but race is purely socially constructed and yet we aren’t allowed to rebel against that social construct? This is nonsense, surely?

239

F. Foundling 05.11.17 at 2:01 am

A few thoughts on the OP:

It is symptomatic of the extremely unfortunate direction in which ‘left’~liberal intellectual discourse has developed that a discussion of such a controversy starts, almost as a matter of course, with a discussion establishing the relative ‘marginalisation cred’ of all the main participants, rather than the correctness or justness of their arguments.

I disagree with the assumption that while a philosophy journal may not need to prioritise not offending (some) people over theotetical merits, a journal committed to ‘engaging’ and ‘promoting’ diversity must prioritise not offending (some) people over theotetical merits. ‘Diversity’ should not be equated with ‘inoffensiveness’. Causing offence is not the same thing as excluding. Excluding those who cause offence *is* excluding.

Obviously, I also disagree with the very notion that philosophical ideas should not be published if they are judged to be politically harmful.

The OP suggests that in Tuvel’s discussion of the possible arguments against her position, Tuvel has omitted some additional arguments that (could) have been made by members of the groups she discusses. I think that this suggestion should have been substantiated. Disagreeing is not the same thing as ignoring.

240

Tom Slee 05.11.17 at 12:21 pm

I find the phrase “TERF” offensive. It is commonly applied to diminish and marginalize the contributions to feminism of some people I have admired all my life (Robin Morgan, Germaine Greer as two examples).

241

engels 05.11.17 at 12:41 pm

I find the phrase “TERF” offensive. It is commonly applied to diminish and marginalize the contributions to feminism of some people I have admired all my life (Robin Morgan, Germaine Greer as two examples).

What term would you prefer?

242

Tom Slee 05.11.17 at 1:16 pm

We all know that labels change in their meanings, and that a different combination of letters with the same intent would change nothing. That said, here are a few suggestions:

Instead of: Tuvel’s piece is already being used by TERFs (see the comments on the Facebook post with the apology) as a reductio against trans rights

Try: Tuvel’s piece is already being used (see the comments on the Facebook post with the apology) as a reductio against trans rights

Instead of: Bit concerning that it’s being hosted on a hardline TERF site, though no?

Try: well, nothing.

Instead of: Claims that this or that outcome (for instance the outcome of emboldening or bolstering TERF discourse) is a “negative political consequence”

Are the RF parts of this important here? Is TERF as used here representative of what may also be called second-wave feminist thought? Or it is a too-easy label. Try: Claims that this or that outcome (for instance the outcome of emboldening or bolstering discourse that seeks to penalize and harm trans people) is a “negative political consequence”

Instead of: in so many ways the response to this article mirror TERF responses to trans people that it’s inadvertently hilarious.

Try: nothing. The sentence is simply a claim to insight that the rest of us don’t, apparently have. Such a sentence is fine within a group that shares a common set of beliefs, but to use it in the context of debate adds little. Like other labels, TERF is too often used to police the boundaries of acceptable debate.

243

magistra 05.11.17 at 1:45 pm

Is Rachel Dolezal really the best example of white to black transracialism to use to think about the problem? How much of the problem with her is “that everybody hates a tourist”, as Jarvis Cocker sang about transclassism: that Dolezal could ultimately walk away from being black whenever she wanted to?

As another alternative version of transracialism, how about the career of DJ Derek, ‘the blackest white man in Bristol’?

244

apres coup 05.11.17 at 2:20 pm

I actually see “TERF” as slur (almost like the new “dyke” or “bitch”). It is indeed used to diminish and marginalize the contributions to feminism of women who do not accept as an article of faith that a male’s declaration of womanhood makes him _the same_ as females in any fundamental or relevant sense, or puts him in a position to speak on behalf of women or feminism, or that other women must “centre” such a person in their conceptions of themselves, women as a class, and feminist politics. Basically, “TERF” is used against women who do not uncritically accept the idea that a feeling of “gender identity” makes one male or female, or who reject the idea that women’s oppression is equivalent to the oppression of feminine gender identities/expression. In reality, “TERFs” are simply gender critical women/feminists who focus their analysis/politics around the idea that women are oppressed systemically as a class, i.e. the female sex is oppressed in patriarchy, not ‘gender identities’.

To me what is truly amazing about the Hypatia controversy is Tuvel’s real mistake, which was to naively out pro-trans the most pro-trans possible position in a way that exposed the internal contradictions of trans identity. I think she was trying to occupy the most “progressive” position possible and it dialectically backfired. That is why people are mad and why there are no good arguments made for why her paper is poor scholarship. She accidentally revealed the conceptual incoherence of trans identity by pushing it to its logical conclusions. Therefore, her argument cannot actually be critiqued without effectively deepening its implied critique of transgender discourse. Her critics are in a catch-22.

245

pomo queer theorist 05.11.17 at 2:24 pm

“I find the phrase “TERF” offensive. It is commonly applied to diminish and marginalize the contributions to feminism of some people I have admired all my life (Robin Morgan, Germaine Greer as two examples).”

I’m sorry that you admire transphobic feminists, but what am I supposed to call the opinions of someone who thinks trans women are “ghastly parodies of women?”

Calling somebody a TERF is calling them out for bigotry. It is no more a slur than calling somebody a racist or a misogynist is a slur. Leave it out.

246

pomo queer theorist 05.11.17 at 2:26 pm

Oh for christ’s sake, are we going to have to relitigate trans identity here? This is not something I’m willing to do, and frankly, y’all are kind of proving my point.

247

pomo queer theorist 05.11.17 at 2:28 pm

apres coup @245, Tom Slee @243

Both of you are proving my point that this is a transphobic argument. Nice job.

248

pomo queer theorist 05.11.17 at 2:30 pm

I’m sorry, as a trans woman, I categorically refuse to argue about this right now. This is exactly what I didn’t want to happen as a result of this article, and now it is happening. This is when I quit.

249

pomo queer theorist 05.11.17 at 2:36 pm

Can I ask why Crooked Timber’s comments policy forbids blatantly homophobic comments but allows blatantly transphobic comments?

250

bianca steele 05.11.17 at 2:45 pm

Thinking back to Harry’s pessimistic comment a ways back, I wonder (at the risk of seeming to parachute in to give the view from 30,000 feet, which I know can seem annoying) whether the problem is essentially the sense that Tuvel and other scholars are trying to heal the rift between their scholarly camp and the one occupied by CRTists and so on, and are disappointed that their offer wasn’t accepted in the spirit meant. What happened to Tuvel seems tragic. She wanted to write something that would help people, and a powerful group of those people within academia were very angry about what she wrote, even though she acted in good faith and had no way of expecting them to be angry. In that case, really there are only two responses: I’m sorry and I don’t care. The Hypatia editors acted very quickly to say they were sorry but essentially said they didn’t care to her. It seems like the only conclusion to draw is don’t write across those boundaries, or if you do, work very, very hard to show that you care about those on the other side. Which might amount to the same thing. It’s a tough problem.

251

Tom Slee 05.11.17 at 3:23 pm

The label “TERF” reduces the experiences and achievements of second-wave feminism to the equivalent of bigotry. I am afraid we have little to talk about (at least in the format of a comment thread).

252

Faustusnotes 05.11.17 at 3:35 pm

Tom, the gendertrender website that was dismissed as “hardcore TERF” is disgusting – it’s basically a hate site. The things that some of these feminists “questioning” trans rights say are nasty. Julie Bindel, one of their leading lights, isn’t just anti trans – she thinks heterosexual women shouldn’t have sex with men. Unsurprisingly she and Jeffreys (another TERF) hate sex workers and hold them in complete contempt, because they see gender relations as a war with trans women as a fifth column, straight women as traitors and sex workers as quislings. If TERF bothers you then consider the entirety of their political project, which is deeply misogynist and steeped in gender essentialism, full of scorn for ordinary women who want men, and pitiless in its contempt for femininity.
TERF is just a tiny part of their problems.

253

JanieM 05.11.17 at 3:51 pm

I’m sorry that you admire transphobic feminists, but what am I supposed to call the opinions of someone who thinks trans women are “ghastly parodies of women?”

Calling somebody a TERF is calling them out for bigotry.

Maybe start by noticing the distinction between addressing opinions and labeling and lumping people?

254

pomo queer theorist 05.11.17 at 4:03 pm

“Calling somebody a TERF is calling them out for bigotry.

Maybe start by noticing the distinction between addressing opinions and labeling and lumping people?”

I’ll do both. The opinions are transphobic, and feminists that express them are TERFs.

255

pomo queer theorist 05.11.17 at 4:07 pm

Seriously though. Ban the transphobes if you want to discuss this. I’m done.

256

AcademicLurker 05.11.17 at 4:14 pm

pomo queer theorist@236:

I wouldn’t be quite so certain that no damage has been done to Tuvel’s career. It looks to be true that, in the large general field of academic philosophy, the majority disapprove of the actions of the letter writers and associate editors. However, the particular subfields in which one needs to look for support letters when going up for tenure tend to be small. If enough people in Tuvel’s sub-area continue to hold a grudge, that’s going to hurt. In addition, there are issues of how her presence in the field will be handled now that her name is associated with a “scandal”. Say someone is selecting speakers for a conference: will the risk of a bunch of angry activists showing up and disrupting the session be weighed, if Tuvel is being considered as a speaker? Similar with edited volumes & etc., now that clear “sides”, complete with loyalties and emnities, have been drawn. Most potential damage to Tuvel’s career would likely take the form of these sorts of negatives that are difficult to prove.

Black and trans voices in philosophy have been ignored and silenced for a very long time…on the one hand, I do feel somewhat sorry for the individual that becomes a synecdoche for a history of oppression.

Which individual is not a random accident, I think. I mean, OK, philosophy is overwhelmingly white and male, POC and trans voices have been silenced for a long time. A bunch of mostly tenured and senior philosophers, having contemplated this grim state of affairs, get together and conclude that the solution is to…lay this whole history at the feet of the most junior female academic philosopher they can get their hands on, and not worry too much about whether they might be torching her career in the process.

I confess I’m not following the reasoning here.

257

John Holbo 05.11.17 at 4:20 pm

“Can I ask why Crooked Timber’s comments policy forbids blatantly homophobic comments but allows blatantly transphobic comments?”

That’s a good question. I turned that one on because – although stupid – it addressed the topic in an argumentative fashion, in a minimally respectful (since intellectualized) tone. Basically apres coup is your modus tollens option, pomo queer theorist. I do feel some of your own comments have been more insulting than they needed to be, to make your points – yet I am approving them semi-automatically at this point – so I suggest you take the good with the bad. We don’t always get the interlocutors we want. If apres coup just starts repeating him or herself I probably won’t have much patience for it.

258

Chris Bertram 05.11.17 at 4:42 pm

I confess to not knowing how to referee this particular disagreement. As John Holbo said upthread, we’ve had a pretty decent discussion of a topic that has (as we’ve seen elsewhere) been hard to discuss in a civil way. I can’t share Tom Slee’s admiration for Germaine Greer who has displayed open hatred of trans people in print. Ditto Bindel. On the other hand, I would not wish to shut down or shout down radical feminists who worry that reconceptualizing the boundaries around sex and gender risks sidelining some issues, e.g. around reproductive rights, that have been central to the feminist agenda. I’d say that making careful distincti0ns would be a way through, but experience suggests that even this will be perceived by one side or other as threatening and offensive. AFAICS, the term TERF generates a lot of unnecessary heat and unhelpfully lumps together people who actively hate trans people (call them subjective transphobes) and people who draw the boundaries of and conceptualize biological sex and gender differently to their opponents (call them objective transphobes if you want, but that seems very theory-dependent). Anyone rude and nasty enough not to respect a trans person’s identification as something genuine has no place here, I think that’s compatible with some degree (not *any* degree) of reasonable variation in understanding what that something amounts to. (And I write this conscious that my own perspective is that of a cisgender man, hence limited and partial, and I wouldn’t have tried to articulate even these thoughts were it not part of the duty of a moderator.)

259

bianca steele 05.11.17 at 5:00 pm

Anyone rude and nasty enough not to respect a trans person’s identification as something genuine has no place here, I think that’s compatible with some degree (not *any* degree) of reasonable variation in understanding what that something amounts to.

Is that lack of respect demonstrated by persistently (as at least two commenters here have done) claiming that the only self-identifies trans person participating on this thread is defending arguments that are transphobic? Maybe the sense of respect in discussion prevalent here makes this OK, I don’t know, or maybe it doesn’t.

But defending Tuvel’s right not to have her reputation damaged by that kind of unsubstantiated name-calling would seem to be more consistent with a “no” answer.

260

pomo queer theorist 05.11.17 at 5:02 pm

“I do feel some of your own comments have been more insulting than they needed to be, to make your points – yet I am approving them semi-automatically at this point – so I suggest you take the good with the bad.”

I’d honestly rather you hadn’t. I’d much rather be censored and have my opponents censored than have the conversation derailed by blatant transphobia. Plus, I still feel that I need to learn how to be less insulting, and if you grudgingly allow my transgressions, I don’t know where the line is. For me the line is around calling trans women men. If you want to discuss the word TERF, I’d even be willing to do that to some extent. But I personally draw the line at apres coup’s comments, and I’d much prefer you ban the both of us than let them continue if I’ve crossed the line.

261

efcdons 05.11.17 at 5:16 pm

Tom Slee @240

I agree. Second wave feminism is being marginalized by epithets (though I suppose TERF is not inherently bad since they are “trans exclusionary”. It’s kind of accurate) since their once relatively mainstream opinions on the nature of sex and gender are now verboten. As others have said, one of the main reason Tuvel’s paper is controversial is she reveals the “TERFiness” of the arguments against the possibility of “transracialism”. Dolezal is apparently in no way African-America. She is only pantomiming a ghastly parody of Blackness.

Could this dilemma or contradiction be deescalated by admitting someone who identifies as transracial may identify WITH, present as, want to live as if, they are of another race than their own, but they are not exactly 100% the same as a “natal” African-American for example. Since they don’t have the history, life experience, etc. of someone who was born into the community who lived as and as part of the community for their entire lives. This seems to be a big part of the issue some are taking with the claim of transracialism. That the person who has “transitioned” is trying to take everything from the other racial community without having either a moral right to do so (because of the nature of power and racial hierarchy in the US) or simply a factual claim since they haven’t “truly” lived as the other due to their pre-transition experience. Or is the nature of racial identity such that one cannot claim any part of another group’s experience and history even without making the hard claim of being 100% a member of the community both before (because it’s how they’ve always felt on the inside) and after their transition?

I see some of the differences between gender identity and racial identity, such as history and ancestry being a big part of racial identity and less so with gender (we don’t only come from a long line of only men or only women). But that distinction falls apart some with interracial people who like everyone else in respect to sex/gender, come from both Black and white (like President Obama for example) but can and do commonly identify entirely with one or the other parent’s race, largely in response to how society views them.

There also seems to be a conflation between privilege/social experience and identity. If Dolezal was seen as Black by everyone in society she would be treated as if she were Black. Her lived experience would be similar (though not exactly the same) as any other Black person. Just as if a person who was born into and identified personally as Black but was seen by the rest of society as white would experience day to day life as any other white person (though again, not exactly the same).

But identity is entirely internal and doesn’t depend on society’s perception, does it? Or maybe identity is only “real” if it is confirmed by others?

Tuvel’s article grapples with a lot of these questions and they all seem to be legitimate topics of discussion and argument. Though I’m still not sure whether people who are bothered by the article believe these aren’t legitimate topics or if Tuvel isn’t allowed to discuss them because she isn’t trans* or a PoC.

262

lurker 05.11.17 at 5:59 pm

@magistra, 243
Could it be that a DJ Derek, or a Johnny Otis (to use an American example), may get a pass from the community, but that’s earned, not something you can claim as your right?

263

engels 05.11.17 at 6:39 pm

The label “TERF” reduces the experiences and achievements of second-wave feminism to the equivalent of bigotry.

Massively out-of-my-depth here but surely it could only do that if second-wave feminism were essentially trans-exclusionary?

I take Chris’ point about the heat that’s generated by the way its thrown around online but that seems to be an objection to a practice in which it’s used and not the term itself, which seems to me just a factual description of a unitary subset of discussants (radical feminists who don’t think trans women can be part of the feminist movement).

264

Marc 05.11.17 at 8:13 pm

I find the demand for banning other posters to be unacceptable and actually quite astonishing. This has been an unusually civil discussion of a topic where that’s difficult to achieve.

265

Phil 05.11.17 at 10:05 pm

800 signatures might be pretty scary, but since the letter was received it seems like those 800 are being universally reviled at least as badly as they would have done to Tuvel.

That’s a bit like saying that the racist who gets beaten up by his victim’s friends is a victim too – those people are being reviled for a highly unusual and questionable act, not for publishing a paper. In any case, nobody is being reviled – by name – anywhere near as badly or memorably as Tuvel; I can only remember a couple of signatories individually, and I wouldn’t swear to their names.

If a small minority of people even discussing retraction is enough to harm someone, consider perhaps that it is possible for Tuvel to have done harm with the work she published simply by discussing the possibility that protections for transgender people extend to people who choose their race.

Both in my named comments and those I initially posted under a pseudonym, I’ve asked what harm Tuvel did by publishing that article. This actually is consider[ing] that it’s possible for Tuvel to have done harm – if I wasn’t entertaining the possibility I wouldn’t ask the question. I’m even willing to concede that some ideas and some arguments are dangerous, in the sense that they can be used to support and validate harmful actions (see the history of gendered childrearing and the scholarship that supported that). Whether Tuvel’s arguments are dangerous in this sense I’m not going to judge, but let’s just say for the sake of argument that they are. So: does mere publication of dangerous arguments cause harm? Should dangerous arguments be suppressed? Should dangerous arguments be allowed to surface in most areas (e.g. the climate change example I gave above) but not in this one? I honestly don’t see it.

266

Faustusnotes 05.12.17 at 12:19 am

Don’t leave PQT, that is exactly why that commenter wants! They can’t win on the arguments but they want to make it so unpleasant that you don’t stick around to make them. So don’t!

267

apres coup 05.12.17 at 1:49 am

Maybe the tone of my comment came off harsh because there was no sugar coating at all, but I don’t see what could be “over the line” or morally wrong about the understanding of women’s oppression it expresses or its use of categories male/female. It is a different view from genderist discourse but that should not make it taboo (unless we are applying the standards of Hypatia’s associate editors), so thanks to the moderators here.

I can understand why some people of color find the transrace discourse advanced by Tuvel problematic. I don’t understand why so few people understand why some women might find transgender discourses similarly problematic. As others have noted, race is a social construct, while being female or male has at least some material basis. Trans arguments would actually apply more readily to race than sex, and in fact, Tuvel could just as easily have used critiques of transrace to push back on transgender discourse.

268

John Holbo 05.12.17 at 1:51 am

“I’d much prefer you ban the both of us than let them continue if I’ve crossed the line.”

Well, I’m sorry to say this isn’t how the comment policy works. I am not going to entertain ‘you can ban me if you also ban this other person’ tit-for-tat requests. (I didn’t ok that other comment because of what you said. I just ok’d that comment AND what you said.)

But since I turned on apres coup’ comment, since I’m a bit of that smelly old thing, a liberal, I might as well refute that dumb comment I approved.

“To me what is truly amazing about the Hypatia controversy is Tuvel’s real mistake, which was to naively out pro-trans the most pro-trans possible position in a way that exposed the internal contradictions of trans identity.”

The idea is that trans identity is this hyper-voluntarist thing. You can choose to be anything. If you identify as male you are male. If you identify as a wolf, or a galaxy you are a wolf, or a galaxy; and, furthermore, everyone else is henceforth obliged to play along on pain of being an intolerable bigot. But this is nonsense, therefore trans identity is nonsensical.

“She accidentally revealed the conceptual incoherence of trans identity by pushing it to its logical conclusions. Therefore, her argument cannot actually be critiqued without effectively deepening its implied critique of transgender discourse. Her critics are in a catch-22.”

This is just obvious nonsense. It happens all the time that people advocate positions in ways that turn out to be too strong, or somehow wrongly formulated . They say things they think they mean that imply things they didn’t mean and don’t accept. The idea that it’s shocking for this to happen? when it has happened in literally every ethical theory debate, ever? This isn’t even a Catch-22. The form of the argument here a reductio. If you can choose to be a woman you can choose to be a helium atom. But you can’t choose to be a helium atom, so you can’t choose to be a woman. (A Catch-22, by contrast, is when you need to get something as a precondition for getting it, so you can never get it. Nothing like that here.)

The way to stop this nonsense is quite obvious: explain why gender is not like race, or being a wolf, or being a galaxy or being a helium atom. But the way to stop this nonsense is not therefore so simple. How and why is gender different? We feel that it obviously is, but articulating this is non-trivial, to say the least. Mario, upthread, was impatient with Tuvel’s use of the wolf example. His attitude is plainly this: Look, we know that being trans is ok and that being some otherkin freak is not the same. Right and wrong is simple and self-evident and the good people know what is right and it’s a waste of time arguing about what we all know. It just lets bad people get a word in edge-wise.

I think it’s wrong to be so self-assured in these areas. You can find it to be self-evident that being trans is not like pretending you are a galaxy – or being deluded that you are a wolf. You don’t have to doubt that you are right, somehow, if you think these are silly cases. But you may still find it worthwhile to work through seemingly silly cases, to clarify what it is you really think about gender. That’s the spirit of the philosophical exercise, at any rate. If you don’t like that, then your problem isn’t with Tuvel, actually, it’s with this whole style of philosophy – which is fine. Lots of people think this sort of socratic puzzle-mongering is dumb and never produces anything worthwhile or insightful. But I don’t think that at all. Sure, it’s just a game sometimes, but this sort of thinking has also been an important engine for moral progress. You may not think you are seriously going to conclude that people can choose to be a galaxy, but sorting all this stuff out may somewhat alter what you do think.

To put it one last way: part of doing socratic-style philosophy is entertaining a lot of extreme, absurd-sounding propositions, at least experimentally. If you are on a hair-trigger for anything that would be harmful, if everyone started believing it, then socratic philosophy is more or less a series of bad bombs waiting to go off. But that seems to exaggerate the risks of socratic-style philosophy. The main danger is that no one believes the conclusions. The main danger is not that every silly step along the path is so much in danger of being widely believed that we can’t let people walk this path.

Apres coup is what philosophers call an asshole. Because philosophers are people, too. And when people see people being jerks, they call them ‘assholes’. But sometimes the things assholes say overlap with the things philosophers say (because sometimes philosophers ARE assholes, but that’s not always the reason for the overlap.) If you are going to do philosophy, you are going to get some assholish contributions, passing under cover of being thought-experiments or extreme reductios or what have you. Comes with the territory. And that’s why sometimes we turn on comments by assholes. And why the comment policy can’t be perfect. End of pious liberal sermon.

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John Holbo 05.12.17 at 2:09 am

“Maybe the tone of my comment came off harsh because there was no sugar coating at all”

I think the snakeoil-grade quality of the medicine you were selling was also not such a hot selling point, apres coup. Although what they say about a spoonful of sugar is also true! Honestly, I assumed you were probably a troll. But I turned your comment on, on the off chance. If you want people to take you seriously, I suggest be considerate in the construction of your arguments, going forward. You are in a forum with people who don’t agree with you. If you want them to agree with you – if you aren’t just here to yell at them, in which case I’ll eventually ban you – you need to show a little respect for the strength of their positions, and make counter-arguments that might convince someone. This won’t cut it: “naively out pro-trans the most pro-trans possible position in a way that exposed the internal contradictions of trans identity.” The problems with saying that, and leaving it at that, are a bit too obvious.

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John Holbo 05.12.17 at 2:27 am

“Plus, I still feel that I need to learn how to be less insulting, and if you grudgingly allow my transgressions, I don’t know where the line is. For me the line is around calling trans women men.”

I’ll also address pomo queer theorist. The problem is that I – we – don’t really want to draw a line not letting in bad or wrong thoughts. It’s true that there is some shit we just won’t stand for, but the idea is to let some shit in. There is no way to have an open discussion without admitting some contributions you regard as shitty. Now, with regard to your slinging of ‘TERF’. I really have no opinion about the intellectual sociology here, but my view is: I have no problem with you accusing 2nd wave feminists of being ethically abominable re trans stuff. So long as you explain why you think that. I have no interest in refining ‘TERF’ and then incorporating it into our comments policy and henceforth not letting in any TERF comments. The goal is not strengthening or clarifying the censorship aspect of comment moderation but encouraging open critique in as optimal a fashion as possible. Doing that means letting some shit in. An optimal discussion environment contains some people being shitty because there is no way to stop that completely without narrowing the discussion too much.

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pomo queer theorist 05.12.17 at 2:33 am

That’s fine, I was really much too whiny in that last comment reading it back, because I got very emotional after reading that post and probably should have taken a break and walked away for awhile instead of responding as rapidly and unsubstantively as I did. I also have to admit I didn’t expect any of those four one-liners to get past, it’s the sort of thing you regret right after doing and hope somebody will stop you.

What I really meant is that in the future I’d prefer that somebody tell me when I’m out of line like specifically. I realize you did earlier up in the thread but I’m still not exactly clear about what was too much and what wasn’t for me.

Being a vulgar college leftist, the political discussions I’m used to are far less polite and tend to be a lot louder overall. Obviously it’s not an excuse for my behavior. I think we have something to learn from more restrained academic discourse, and I know I definitely do when it comes to seriously disagreeing with people and not getting angry. I’ll also Try really hard not to threaten ragequitting again, it’s a really authoritarian gesture on my part and totally derails things.

So I’m not just prostrating myself in front of everyone else asking for forgiveness here, I think the discussion was going fine until people started saying transphobic stuff. It’s extremely difficult for me to read stuff like that as anything but a personal attack, even in contexts where I should be more charitable to people than normal. I think there’s a lot more to pull apart here about gender and race, and I’d love to continue doing it, but I do not actually want to defend my specific identity from people who don’t respect it. I’ll be the first to say that I’m really, really bad at that as anyone reading this can see. Perhaps TERF is too loaded a word, because it’s a statement of being, not of doing. But it’s still transphobic, and I stand by that.

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faustusnotes 05.12.17 at 2:52 am

Apres coup, the problem with TERFS is not that they ‘do not uncritically accept the idea that a feeling of “gender identity” makes one male or female’. It’s that they uncritically refuse to listen to the perspective of anyone who questions their definition of sex, their definition of what is a “good” woman or a “good” feminist, and their uncritical scorn for any woman who does not behave like a revolutionary. Also, comparing being trans to blackface, dismissing the lived experience of trans people, and saying openly nasty things about trans women.

Yes, lots of ordinary women are suspicious of trans women’s claim to be women. I think almost every (non-activist) heterosexual woman I’ve ever spoken to on the issue is suspicious about what being trans, and accepting trans women, tells them about the sanctity of their own sex and their own ideas about their own sex. But they also don’t deny those women the right to their own identities or dismiss those women’s experience out of hand, and they’re willing to accept them and also to admit that maybe their own definition of what it is to be a woman isn’t the world’s most definitive thing ever. If only anti-trans feminists would just for once in their career bother to listen to the voices of ordinary women they might learn a little nuance. But listening to the voices of ordinary women and trans women might lead them to question their very specific and authoritarian views on who is and isn’t a good woman, and we can’t have that!

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Lupita 05.12.17 at 3:06 am

Daily, words crash into each other and either discharge metallic sparks or form fluorescent pairs. The verbal sky is endlessly populated by new stars. Daily, words and phrases float up to the surface, still dripping humidity and silence down their cold scales. In that same instant, others disappear. Suddenly, the wasteland of a fatigued language is covered with unexpected verbal flowers. Luminous creatures inhabit the density of speech. Voracious creatures. In the bosom of language there is a merciless civil war.

Octavio Paz

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pomo queer theorist 05.12.17 at 3:20 am

Ok, so I think I understand the goals of the policy a bit better. My apologies.

John Holbo @270

I’ll talk about the terminology a bit, but part of my hesitance is that this very argument has been hashed out to my satisfaction many times over, and as a result I don’t really have much to add from what you’d here if you talked to any trans-inclusive feminist.

I’ll try to articulate what the third wave sees as its major innovations and its historiography of feminism, but there are people elsewhere that have done a much better job on this than I can. There’s also the obvious caveat that I haven’t lived anything but the most recent “wave,” so all of this is what I’ve learned, mostly from fellow third-wavers.

The first wave of feminism while vital was also clearly not very inclusive. Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech is still I think the best material here. Additionally, there is of course the question of suffrage for whom? White women.

The second wave is of course a lot more nuanced and a lot more complex. It’s erasing a lot of nuance to say this, but what I take to be the apex of the second wave was the failure of the equal rights amendment. I absolutely consider it tragic and I think we’d be a lot better off it had passed. I don’t think there’s a lot of disagreement there, at least from my (trans, white) perspective. During the second wave of course we have the sexual revolution, and as always there’s more than one side to this. Things like birth control and abortion are clearly vital to the sexual liberation of women, but at the same time, you have the problem that Black women were rarely depicted as anything but hypersexualized by the mainstream culture.

Nonetheless in broad strokes what the third wave sees as the failure of the second wave was a canonicalization of a specific view of womanhood. Before we get to how the third wave thinks it’s gotten past that, I’ll try to be a bit more specific. I’ll also note that far from all the feminists who gained notoriety during the second wave (and I’ll assume even fewer of those who didn’t) are transphobic. Gloria Steinem isn’t, off the top of my head. Andrea Dworkin was actually extremely radical on this stuff, and while she thought that a society without gender roles would eliminate trans people entirely (I’m not convinced) she entirely supported trans people and thought communities should provide for transitioning as a basic service, roughly.

So what we talk about when we talk about TERFs are actually a vocal minority, as committed transphobes are in communities outside of feminism. Camille Paglia, Sheila Jeffreys, Janice Raymond, Germaine Greer etc. I can’t speak to all of them but nearly all of what Paglia produces is poisonous anti-feminism. I think their positions are shitty because they either reduce womanhood to a biological configuration or they otherwise enshrine an incorrect normative (frequently white) vision. There’s rarely room for sex workers in most second wave feminism, for example.

The third wave tries to be anti-essentialist about the definition of womanhood and manhood. This is mostly stemming from Judith Butler and the broader performative turn in the humanities and social sciences, as well as of course Kimberlé Crenshaw’s (hello critical race theory) theory of intersectionality. It became clear at some point that there was no singular experience of womanhood, and that by canonicalizing a certain version you were always going to be excluding people. It’s also generally well accepted that any “ideal” vision of womanhood is going to be a white supremacist vision while white supremacy is dominant, a classist vision, etc. The same goes for platonic ideals in all forms of activism, which is sort of the main contribution of post-structuralism I think, crudely.

My experience with the third wave is that it’s lost almost none of the positive aspects of the second wave and gained a lot of stuff too. The modern third wave is a mish-mash of stuff but we take a lot from radical and queer feminists in particular of the second wave. The critique of patriarchy stays, with a more nuanced vision of how gender expression effects how you are perceived in a patriarchal society, such as the introduction of femmephobia (generalized fear of femininity) in the vocabulary along with plain old misogyny. The critique of rape culture stays. We don’t think you need the biological essentialism to be good feminists, in fact we think essentialism of all kinds inhibits feminism.

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pomo queer theorist 05.12.17 at 3:28 am

I feel awkward to keep linking to people offsite who agree with me. Is that generally an ok thing to do?

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John Holbo 05.12.17 at 3:37 am

Yes, relevant linking is fine. No one has to follow links they don’t want to. Sometimes we don’t allow linking if we feel someone is just trying to drum up traffic for a site we regard as toxic.

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Lupita 05.12.17 at 3:47 am

Paz uses the concept of “mask” as a metaphor not only for what people hide, but also for what we want to represent. And beneath all the masks (identities) we wear, there is nothing, only the masks are real.

The mask turns into a face
The petrified face into a mask

He also says that our masks are no more than language and describes language as a mask. Paz’ masks make more sense to me than “identities”, perhaps because I am Mexican and, as Paz notes, we are always hiding stuff.

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pomo queer theorist 05.12.17 at 3:49 am

Great. In that case, the #Discourse is starting to proliferate around this issue, and there are a few more takes on the longer side than there were a few days ago.

Julia Serano, again
https://juliaserano.blogspot.com/2017/05/regarding-that-transracialtransgender.html
https://twitter.com/JuliaSerano/status/862044508602720256

The most salient point is that she thinks open letters of this sort are relatively common for controversial papers.

Noah Berlatsky, arguing specifically against Jesse Singal
http://www.splicetoday.com/writing/is-jesse-singal-a-bigot

I won’t go to the extent he does with the guilt by association stuff, only to say that it’s difficult for me to have less respect for Singal’s opinions than I already did, and that he’s not wrong about groups lining up on this issue, at least from what I’ve seen (since apres coup joined, in this thread, too).

A storify of Zoé Samudzi’s criticism, which I think I linked to earlier above
https://storify.com/laripley/zsamudzi-on-tuvel-s-hypatia-s-failure

A less respectful, less nuanced take from Trans Lady Academic:
https://twitter.com/TransTheory/status/862698606364467200

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Tom Slee 05.12.17 at 3:49 am

Faustusnotes:

You say “lots of ordinary women are suspicious of trans women’s claim to be women” which is almost certainly true. But your description of “TERFs” is a caricature of all that could be wrong with radical feminism and you lump anyone suspicious of trans women’s claim to be women in with (your description of) TERFs, as in “If TERF bothers you then consider the entirety of their (whose?) political project, which is deeply misogynist and steeped in gender essentialism”.

That’s why such labels are not helpful. Among those who think Julie Bindel is a terrible person is this horrible alt-right site http://theothermccain.com/2015/09/06/guardian-columnist-julie-bindel-says-put-all-males-in-some-kind-of-camp/ but that obviously doesn’t make you racist like them.

Aside: the gendertrender web site was inaccessible most of the day and I have no idea who is behind it. But I traced your comment that Julie Bindel “thinks heterosexual women shouldn’t have sex with men” to this 2009 Guardian piece where she reflects on the influence of the 1978 “Love Your Enemy?” booklet by revolutionary feminists in Leeds.

Honestly, 40 years on is a bit too late to be shocked. I was there (well, not writing the booklet obviously, but in Leeds, and at Sussex University where that debate was everywhere for a few months among lesbians and feminists). It was a product of the sudden appearance of political lesbianism, and parsing sentences at this distance is to miss the point of something written in the moment, of the moment.

Plus Julie Bindel writes for The Guardian of all things — exactly how appalled should we be?

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faustusnotes 05.12.17 at 4:26 am

I don’t like the performative gender idea. I think it’s simply a feminist retelling of the age-old western (christian) idea that women act feminine to get a man or to get their way and that femininity is just a gloss over their real characters. It’s encapsulated in the idea of “feminine wiles” and really just a reinterpretation of the genesis creation myth, which is evil, in which a girl tricks a guy. It suggests that femininity doesn’t need to be taken seriously and that in our move to equality we have to drop gender differences even if dropping those differences is not something women want to do.

I also think it’s related to the idea of sex and gender being different, which is just silly, and also a throwback to Descartes and his ghost in the machine idea. It seems to me that these aspects of third wave feminism are simply trying to mainstream very old christian misogyny and enlightenment errors within feminist thinking (obviously not intentionally).

I was suspicious of those ideas for a long time but moving to Asia, where femininity is viewed very differently to the west, cemented in my mind the idea that the western repugnance at the “performative” aspects of gender has a lot to do with a distrust of the feminine and a fear of women as mysterious, treacherous, etc. See also: I hope those tits aren’t fake, you can’t trust women because they wear make up, she was asking for it in clothes like that, plastic surgery is shallow and vain, I can’t respect a man who takes longer to do his hair than I do, etc.

It’s also easily deployed by TERFs, since if femininity is just a gloss over the real gender, then trans people are just men who want to wear dresses, perverted cross dressers who were messed up by the patriarchy, dudes who got their performative wires crossed. And simultaneously, any woman who’s actually really into high heels, dresses and make up is performing for the male gaze (and thus suffering from false consciousness) rather than genuinely expressing her sense of self as a woman.

I prefer not to distinguish, and to accept the possibility that the way we express our gender may actually be connected to a deep and abiding core of our gender that we can’t change or identify. But that doesn’t allow for much theorizing, and certainly wouldn’t fill the pages of a journal!

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faustusnotes 05.12.17 at 4:46 am

Tom Slee, I spent about half of my career so far working in sex worker and injecting drug user health issues, and I can assure you that feminists like Bindel are a grave problem for sex worker health. She writes for the Guardian because the Guardian supports the nordic model of criminalization, which is a disaster for sex workers, and the fact that she writes for the Guardian hardly is a strong point in her favour. I also don’t think she and her colleagues in the anti sex work campaign are doing academia any good – they certainly use extremely shoddy tactics to promote their sex trafficking agenda, and in my experience their scholarship is poor. But at the core of their campaign is the deliberate dismissal of the voices of sex workers and trans women, and the misrepresentation of any sex worker who disagrees with them as a pimp or an abuser of women. Fortunately they are categorically losing the ideological battle over sex work, so hopefully soon their outdated and anti-woman ideology will be wiped off the pages of the Guardian, but until then I’m afraid their attitude towards women who don’t toe their line on sex and sexuality is a dangerous and unpleasant thing.

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pomo queer theorist 05.12.17 at 5:04 am

There is no gloss over the real gender. The real gender is the one you experience and express, and it is the only gender there is. That’s the entire point. You’re misunderstanding what performativity means. Butler herself backed down from the most radical interpretation (in Gender Trouble) after discussing her position with trans people. The position she articulates in Bodies That Matter is much more developed, and she recently did an interview with the TransAdvocate about trans rights that articulates an even further development of her theory. She doesn’t entirely reject the biological basis either, the basic idea is that the social realities of gender are entirely resultant of expression and reception, not an internal biological congruence.

What you are describing is the femmephobia I was talking about. For example, men who like dresses will be the target of femmephobia and probably homophobia but not misogyny. Granted if they want to pass all of these factors shift. There’s no reason we can’t have men who like dresses and trans women too. I guess this just seems obvious to me because I’m trans, but there actually is a difference between men who like dresses and trans women, namely that men who like dresses are men who like dresses and trans women are trans women. There’s no reason your expression and your internal sense of self can’t appear entirely disjoint to people. What kind of clothing you like has very little to do with who you are and what your gender is. Our gendered associations with categories of clothing and stuff are sexist and should be eliminated ideally.

And I completely agree with you that gender and sex is a false distinction, this is a point that has been made by Butler and subsequent trans scholars for a long time. “Biological sex” is at least as much of a fiction as “gender” is from my point of view.

Of course the more developed perspective is that gender is something to be enjoyed and there are no limits on how you express this enjoyment. You get to choose your gender and how you express it. The so-called “gender critical” feminists misunderstand Butler’s position on gender abolition and use it to support their opinion that since “gender isn’t real” or whatever that trans people don’t have any claim to their identities. Needless to say she completely disagrees and is fairly eloquent in explaining why, I think:

http://transadvocate.com/gender-performance-the-transadvocate-interviews-judith-butler_n_13652.htm

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faustusnotes 05.12.17 at 5:47 am

Good to see Judith Butler’s finally caught up to me, PQT! (But seriously, that’s a great interview, and a sure sign that I haven’t been keeping up on my reading!)

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Tom Slee 05.12.17 at 12:18 pm

PQT and Faustusnotes: if gender and sex is “a false distinction” and if the “idea of sex and gender being different…is just silly” then I really don’t know what we are talking about. What does it mean to say anyone is a woman? Both biology and social construct have now been thrown out, leaving us only with personal experience. But “personal experience” has to be experience of something. Do you actually think feminism fought oppression, and if so on the basis of what? Women’s personally-chosen experience?

If the “real gender is the one you experience and express, and it is the only gender there is” then this too is a form of gender essentialism. And if “You get to choose your gender and how you express it ” then we are back where this dispute began. Why not race?

If I continued to participate in this thread it will take up my energy for the day, and I think we are past the point of diminishing returns. Best wishes to both of you in your personal journeys but I won’t be replying further.

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bianca steele 05.12.17 at 1:05 pm

It’s charming to see the assumption that random online opponents of feminist theory are authoritative explicstors of it.

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Collin Street 05.12.17 at 1:45 pm

I don’t like the performative gender idea.

あたしもそう思うわ。

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Trader Joe 05.12.17 at 2:05 pm

I was reminded this morning of the definition used by Susan Stryker in her book Transgender History. She focuses on the “trans” part of these descriptors and focuses on the Latin roots of that stem. She asserts that the stem ‘trans’ is “the movement across a socially imposed boundary away from an unchosen starting place.”

This phrasing provides a nice bridge (in my view) which highlights the differences and the similarities involved in couplings such as trans-gender, trans-vestite, trans-racial, and many more (splitting the words for emphasis).

Stryker’s definition also embraces the notion of a ‘boundary’ and as we know, all boundaries are routinely policed. In the Tuvel case we have at least two concerns: 1) should these boundaries be policed and 2) were the actions of Tuvel’s critics an appropriate police action. There have been many comments addressing each and they are obviously intertwined.

Tuvel, and others, as I read it favor minimal border policing, allowing free passage across the ‘socially imposed boundaries’ according to each persons own recognizance. Others seem to suggest that the in-group within these borders does in fact have some right to police their own borders and has less or more stringent criteria.

My own take, is that I think the ‘police’ action was too harsh regardless of whether their intentions were sound (the equivalent of dragging Tuvel off the plane perhaps). I’m still personally unsure of where I stand as to whether the ‘police’ in this case had a cause of action.

As I read the comments I find myself relatively more agreeable to self determination for Transgendered as compared to Transracial persons. I’m not exactly sure I understand why I feel that way as I’m decidedly not opposed to the later. I feel (without being able to prove) that race and gender are different and I guess I’m not fully convinced by the way Tuvel has set equivalence even if I might generally agree with her conclusions.

Thanks in any event for the many thoughtful posts. An interesting topic on many levels.

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Z 05.12.17 at 3:35 pm

Regarding the “we are really talking about one case (i.e Diallo)” counter-argument, I would nominate as interesting the story of Wayne Jospeh and his brother (for instance as told in http://www.alternet.org/story/16917/black_like_i_thought_i_was). Growing up, everybody from himself to his family to society at large though of him as Black, yet a DNA analysis showed his ancestry was 0% African (the story apparently being that his ancestors passed as black in order to make a political point). Now, Wayne himself has a conflicted relation with these findings, but an interesting point in this story is that his brother apparently flatly rejects them. He is Black, period. However they finally choose to self-identify, I’m sure we all agree that their choice is morally acceptable and that people should make an effort to accept it as the right one. That pretty much sums up my approach to the trans phenomenon.

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faustusnotes 05.12.17 at 4:20 pm

Collin Street, that’s quite brilliant. よろしくね!(But it doesn’t rebut the point at all, and that kind of gendered language is actually extremely rare in my experience).

Tom, yes, why not race? I’m not sure about your confusion as to sex and gender, in my view it’s very easy – we’re gendered by our bodies and by our cultures, and given the proportion of people who are uncomfortable with their birth gender I would suggest that our bodies are the primary determinants of our sex. But then there’s a whole bunch of complicated shit that we don’t understand and never will where our inherent physical experience of our sex and the cultural policing of sex interact. But if we all agree to get along it doesn’t matter which is which. And the same could be true of race if people would just try.

Bianca, I don’t understand at all what you’re trying to say.

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pomo queer theorist 05.12.17 at 6:28 pm

I think I betrayed the nuance of Butler’s work to say that gender is a choice. Her position is more along the lines that it is constituted and defined through behavior and speech rather than being an essential characteristic arising from biology. These acts and behaviors are somewhat within individual control and somewhat not. The constitutive process is iterative and subject to gendered ideology, among other things. This is where the Althusser is most relevant.

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apres coup 05.12.17 at 10:16 pm

I’ll clarify that the gender critical perspective I’m suggesting is not so much a throwback to second wave feminism as a ‘fourth wave’ emerging in response to the essentialism of contemporary genderist discourse, among other things. This essentialism, which Tom Slee @ 284 noted, lies in the way that gender is understood as an innate individual identity and experience, an almost soul-like essence that is not subject to external verification. Symptomatic of this form of essentialism is the tendency to conflate sex and gender and/or slip between the categories depending on the claim being made. This is not simply intellectually sloppy; such (re)collapsing effectively undoes decades of feminist work. So, if there is a connection between the second wave and contemporary gender critical perspectives, it lies in the latter’s building on the fundamental insight that gender is a social construction that is ultimately oppressive to women, and that ‘femininity’ is not innately related to womanhood. From such a perspective, the idea that identifying with femininity makes one a woman is not only absurd; it is profoundly offensive. Incidentally, if people are interested in gender critical politics (i.e. what “TERFs” actually say) they could start with http://www.feministcurrent.com

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Orange Watch 05.13.17 at 3:08 am

@pomo queer theorist #290:

It might help with clarity to scale back the assumptions baked into your word choice and substitute inherent for innate. To cite a possibly useful parallel, I am inherently a native speaker of English, but in no way, shape, or form am I an innate native speaker of English. I did not and cannot choose to be a native speaker of another language, and short of destroying chunks of my brain cannot cease to be one (though I can let my proficiency and vernacular atrophy by immersing myself exclusively in another language, and perhaps achieving fluency such that I can pass as a native speaker). However, again, this is not innate: I could have become a native speaker of Spanish or Tagalog or Capacha by being raised among native speakers, and I could have become bi/etc.-lingual by being raised speaking multiple languages during my most linguistically formative periods.

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faustusnotes 05.13.17 at 4:11 am

Apres coup, that website is nasty – it’s open sneering at sex workers and their representatives is quite disappointing, though not unsurprising.

Are you suggesting that a feminist view drawn directly from the lies told about women in Genesis, and a Cartesian model of the mind as separate from the body, is somehow modern? Because to me it seems like just a rebranding of the same old misogynist shit about feminine wiles and feminine brains.

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pomo queer theorist 05.13.17 at 5:33 am

Tom Slee @284 is poking holes in his own analysis. The definition of an essentialist theory of identity is a theory which posits a few objectively observable and necessary characteristics as the only possible justification for claims of identity. Let’s try to read my definition of gender as an essentialist theory:

“real gender is the one you experience and express, and it is the only gender there is”

The essentialist formulation would be something like: “you have no identity claims to a gender which you neither experience nor express.”

The first claim is a subjective characteristic, so the claim itself is not essentialist to boot. The second claim is the standard performativist definition, and the third claim asserts that these characteristics are solely constitutive of gender identity.

I personally find “you have no identity claims to a gender which you neither experience nor express” to be very reasonable and almost obviously correct. But what you really meant to say is that it’s essentialist because it doesn’t allow for your essentialism, which is circular reasoning. Show me that your definition of womanhood is not essentialist and you’ll have proved me wrong, but if you want to call me an essentialist, you’ll need to show that you do have identity claims to a gender which you neither experience nor express.

“What does it mean to say anyone is a woman? Both biology and social construct have now been thrown out, leaving us only with personal experience.”

I certainly haven’t thrown out the social construct, just wrong interpretations of it.

I think this paragraph from that transcendent Butler interview should clear this up:

“But this idea of social constructs does not acknowledge that all of us, as bodies, are in the active position of figuring out how to live with and against the constructions  – or norms – that help to form us.  We form ourselves within the vocabularies that we did not choose, and sometimes we have to reject those vocabularies, or actively develop new ones.  For instance, gender assignment is a “construction” and yet many genderqueer and trans people refuse those assignments in part or in full.  That refusal opens the way for a more radical form of self-determination, one that happens in solidarity with others who are undergoing a similar struggle.
One problem with that view of social construction is that it suggests that what trans people feel about what their gender is, and should be, is itself “constructed” and, therefore, not real.  And then the feminist police comes along to expose the construction and dispute a trans person’s sense of their lived reality.  I oppose this use of social construction absolutely, and consider it to be a false, misleading, and oppressive use of the theory.”

“Do you actually think feminism fought oppression, and if so on the basis of what? Women’s personally-chosen experience?”

I explained this in my brief and incomplete historiography of feminism. Historical feminism fought oppression on an essentialized and idealized view of womanhood, which almost completely excluded sex workers, women of color, disabled women, women who are unable to get pregnant, old women, and yes, trans women. You can get pretty far with this model, but it’s not everything and eventually you need a broader and more generalized criticism of power (as provided by Butler and Foucault) to keep fighting oppression.

One final quotation for apres coup because this interview is goddamned brilliant:

“CW: Do you think “sex” is a social construct?
JB: I think that there are a variety of ways of understanding what a social construct is, and we have to be patient with terms like these. We have to find a way of understanding how one category of sex can be “assigned” from both and another sense of sex can lead us to resist and reject that sex assignment. How do we understand that second sense of sex? It is not the same as the first – it is not an assignment that others give us. But maybe it is an assignment we give ourselves? If so, do we not need a world of others, linguistic practices, social institutions, and political imaginaries in order to move forward to claim precisely those categories we require, and to reject those that work against us?”

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toblerone 05.13.17 at 11:43 am

@faustusnotes #293

A long-time lurker, with a question regarding your statement here about the link provided by après coup:

“Are you suggesting that a feminist view drawn directly from the lies told about women in Genesis, and a Cartesian model of the mind as separate from the body, is somehow modern? Because to me it seems like just a rebranding of the same old misogynist shit about feminine wiles and feminine brains.”

I was not familiar with the website, and so clicked through. The headline story when I clicked on it is an article entitled “Why are progressives pushing Victorian era ideas about gender?” that appears to be directly critiquing the statements you made above, rather than arguing for it.

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pomo queer theorist 05.13.17 at 1:11 pm

I read a few articles on feministcurrent.com, and unfortunately they were all filled with egregiously sloppy thinking.

Here’s their piece on bill C-16 for example. Let’s walk through tearing it down.

“A key problem with this Bill is that it proposes to amend something as important as the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include something that is not even definable.”

Heaven forbid. Unfortunately, the article then goes on to define it:

“According to the Justice Canada and The Ontario Human Rights Code, “gender identity” is defined as ‘a person’s internal or individual experience of their gender.'”

Oops.

“But this definition misunderstands what gender is. Gender is not about internal or individual experiences — it is a social construction. It exists as a means to reinforce stereotypes and oppressive ideas about men and women. Gender does not mean male or female; it means masculine or feminine.”

This is not true. You say gender does not mean male or female, this just means that gender is not the exact same thing as sex to you. Good job, except I don’t believe that it does either. Gender identity is man or woman or non-binary; gender expression is masculine or feminine or whatever. The two could be completely different. You can obviously be a feminine man or a masculine woman.

“A century ago, gender determined that women should not be allowed to vote or be counted as persons under the law in Canada. Gender says that men are inherently violent, aggressive, independent, assertive, and rational whereas women are inherently passive, delicate, nurturing, irrational, and emotional. These ideas have been disproved, thanks in large part to the feminist movement,”

And thank god they have been disproved. No disagreement here.

“yet, today, in creating and supporting the idea that one can have an internal “gender identity,” we are regressing. No one is born with a “gender.” We are born male or female and gender is then imposed on us through socialization.”

I’ll note that people are not always born with exclusively male or female anatomy and biology. I’ll also agree that people are not born a gender. This article states that gender is imposed on us through socialization, which would imply not only that we have no say whatsoever in our gender, but also that socialization is destiny. Hypothetically speaking, what would be the gender of a girl who was socialized male? Like if for example had been expressing as exclusively masculine for their upbringing. Before puberty, it can be extremely hard to tell boys and girls apart when they express similar genders. The patriarchy absolutely grants an advantage to women who express masculinity over women who express femininity, and beyond that, it’s entirely conceivable that this girl is perceived as a boy by most people while she is growing up. I think your response to this would be that parents for example that parents know her true identity and would raise her as a girl, but nonetheless, this is just a further esssentialism.

The very idea that you could raise somebody to be a man or a woman and they have no say in the matter whatsoever connotes a whole host of inexplicit essential differences between men and women that don’t actually exist. If you’re just saying that boys and girls are raised differently, then sure, but conservatives and liberals are probably also raised differently and that doesn’t mean that they’re destined to be conservatives or liberals as adults.

“Treating gender as though it is either internal or a personal choice is dangerous and completely misunderstands how and why women are oppressed under patriarchy, as a class of people.”

I don’t think so. I’ve explained above why you don’t need an explicit definition of womanhood to fight patriarchy, and that doing so enables patriarchy. By defining who is and isn’t a woman beyond stating that men aren’t women, you’re inevitably inscribing a certain upbringing (admittedly, in this case) and experience of womanhood as valid and saying that all other experiences aren’t.

“Patriarchy was invented in order to control women’s reproductive capacity and gender was created in order to naturalize and reinforce that hierarchical system.”

Yeah, no disagreement there.

“Women and girls around the globe are killed, prostituted, raped, and abused every day, not because they wear dresses, have long hair, or behave passively, but because they are female, and under patriarchy, females are said to be less than — things that exist for male use, to be owned, bought, sold, and looked at.”

They’re so close on this one and yet so far. You can’t oppress someone for their sex, (being female) as it would require looking at their chromosomes. Women are oppressed because they are women, and part of how they are recognized as such is long hair, dresses, and feminine gender expression. It’s pretty apparent that more masculine women are given more privilege than more feminine women in our capitalist system, and this article is sort of self-evident of that. Our capitalist patriarchy appreciates aggressive masculinity no matter which gender is expressing it. Consider how violently men who express femininely are treated in our society. Granted, perhaps not as badly as feminine women are, but decades of homophobic hate crimes are nothing to laugh about either. Patriarchy is at least a little about repressing the “wrong” gender expression too.

“Women’s rights exist on this basis — because we, as a society, understand that women are discriminated against and subjected to male violence regardless of their clothing, body language, or behavior (which is now, apparently, is defined as “gender expression”.)”

Sure, this is definitely true. However it’s pretty apparent that not all women are equally oppressed, because women of color face intersecting oppressions and white women don’t necessarily. In addition, women that imitate male gender norms are often rewarded for it. Consider the place of women in the business world, which is almost impossible to navigate without capitulating to patriarchal masculine norms. The amount of oppression that one experiences as a woman is thus also at least partially contingent upon gender expression. Anyone that does not hew closely to the ideology of masculinity is violently oppressed to some degree.

“If we say that a man is a woman because of something as vague as a ‘feeling’ or because he chooses to take on stereotypically feminine traits, what impact does that have on women’s rights and protections?”

Well sure, but what does a cis woman have of proof of her gender identity beyond a feeling too? Chromosomes? Maybe, but your chromosomes do not always match up. How do cis women know that their experience of gender is what we call womanhood and not something else? There’s no objective test. Cis women “feel” like women too. There’s no basis on which you could objectively exclude trans women without objectively excluding some cis women as well. The parts of the article that use this oxymoron are consequently straw men. They are not what trans activists believe.

“Should he be allowed to apply for positions and grants specifically reserved for women, based on the knowledge that women are underrepresented or marginalized in male-dominated fields or programs and based on the fact that women are paid less than men and often will be fired or not hired in the first place because they get pregnant or because it is assumed they may become pregnant one day?”

All these factors are due to patriarchal, capitalist sexism. Regardless at this point the article is aggressively misgendering trans women, who (as demonstrated above) have no less of a claim to womanhood than do regular women. Thus, the opinion to this disingenuous question is obvious: yes.

It’s also not just women that can become pregnant. Anyone with a functioning uterus and ovaries can get pregnant, and this includes some intersex people and trans men. The notion that only women can get pregnant is also a sexist norm that I think can only be struck down with the aid of transfeminism.

“The way men ‘feel’ ‘on the inside does not change that they hold power and privilege in this society and the way women ‘feel’ ‘on the inside’ does not change their experience of sexism.”

I agree completely with this statement, however as I’ve demonstrated above, womanhood can be thought of as an experience stemming from feeling like a woman and expressing this feeling as you see fit. This is why I consider trans women to be women, so the rest of this article is just attacking a straw man. We’re not saying that men who feel a certain way are women, we’re saying that people who feel a certain way are women. “Men who feel like women” is thus an oxymoron. You can’t be a man who feels like a woman because you would no longer be a man.

“I don’t ‘feel’ as though I should be called misogynist names, objectified, abused, or sexually harassed, but these things have happened to me anyway. I did not choose to be treated as a woman under patriarchy and I have never felt comfortable with femininity. Does this make me a man?”

Of course it doesn’t make you a man, but you have to respect the decisions and rights of women who are comfortable with femininity and like to express it. If you don’t feel like a woman, you don’t have to be one. It’s pretty obvious (and I completely agree) that both women and feminine gender expressions in general are violently oppressed in our current society. Because of this oppression, it would also seem pretty clear that people who stick with the category “woman” have good reasons for doing so, at least some of which must be that they feel very strongly that they are women and not something else.

“Dissolving the categories of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ in order to allow for ‘fluidity’ may sound progressive, but is no more progressive, under the current circumstances, than saying race doesn’t exist and that white people don’t hold privilege in this world if they don’t ‘feel’ white or if they take on racist stereotypes attached to people of colour.”

There’s a difference between questioning the gender binary and eliminating the categories of man and woman. As referenced before, masculine women (including masculine trans women) have more privilege than feminine trans women. Thus saying that trans women don’t hold privilege is no different from saying women don’t hold privilege, which is to say, completely wrong. However, privilege is a gradient, not a binary, and it would seem pretty obvious that trans women have less privilege than cis men, if only because their gender expression is not exclusively masculine. It’s also pretty apparent that they have less privilege than feminine men, because part of male privilege is being secure in your identity and being secure in the knowledge that your identity is the default. Knowing that your identity isn’t that default revokes all of the most violent expressions of masculinity.

Consider this argument for a further examination of this, and Laverne Cox’s explication of this position:

https://thinkprogress.org/trans-women-do-not-grow-up-with-male-privilege-e51eba1eb42c

https://twitter.com/Lavernecox/status/840711779948740608

“If a white person did this, we would rightly call it cooptation and denounce the behavior.”

Oh, the irony.

“Why do we accept that if a man takes on sexist stereotypes traditionally associated with women he magically changes sex and sheds his status as male in this world?”

We don’t believe this, and this is a straw man. This is called drag. The difference between drag and trans identity should be obvious, but if it’s not, here it is: drag queens identify as men (for the most part, though granted a lot of women figure it out this way) and not as women. A lot of trans women actually think drag queens are misogynist caricatures of womanhood, so we’re not entirely in disagreement with you on that. The fact that we can distinguish ourselves though should clear up that we’re not the same.

“The rights of women and girls are being pushed aside to accommodate a trend.”

Perhaps they are, but you haven’t explained why in this article if they are.

“Bill C-16 may sound persuasive in its efforts to be open-minded and inclusive, but it rests on very shakey ground. I implore you to further consider the consequences and implications of these ideas, this language, and this legislation, before jumping on this bandwagon.”

I hope I have considered these consequences and implications, I believe that thinking about these subjects intensely and critically is the only way of disabling patriarchy.

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Sebastian H 05.13.17 at 4:00 pm

“The real gender is the one you experience and express, and it is the only gender there is.”
This may or may not be true, I’m not sure. But if it is true, you’ve given literally no explanation why the same could not be true for race. To most people, gender appears to have deep biological roots. Your claim appears to be that for poorly understood reasons, a trans-gender person’s experience of gender ends up different from those biologically deep roots. Or alternatively you are saying that gender while seeming to have deep biological roots, actually doesn’t.

In either case, it isn’t clear why the same thing couldn’t be true for race.

You keep saying lots off things about trans gender, but you keep not explaining why you think those things would be different from trans-race. Why are all your transgender explanations NOT applicable for trans-race explanations? To my eyes, all of the approaches you forward look equally applicable.

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Sebastian H 05.13.17 at 4:09 pm

And to be super clear, when I say “It may or may not be true” I mean that the particular explanation of why transgender people are the way the are may or may not be a good explanation. I’m not denying for a moment that trans-gender people do in fact experience being of a different gender than the one they were initially assigned. I’m merely suggesting that it is very possible that we don’t understand the why of it very well.

Much of the discussion has been about what trans-gender people subjectively experience. None of that has convinced me (as a person who has subjectively experienced neither a feeling of misassigned gender nor race) why we should think that misassigned gender is possible but misassigned race is not. The empathy which makes me think “hmmm, if I deeply felt I were one gender and society insisted I were another, that would suck” can also think “if I deeply felt I were one race and society insisted I were another, that would suck”. Strangely being cis-male may be helping me here, because I already have to extend empathy to get to trans-gender understanding.

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pomo queer theorist 05.13.17 at 5:33 pm

“Or alternatively you are saying that gender while seeming to have deep biological roots, actually doesn’t.”

Yes, that’s precisely what I’m saying. We do not gender people based on biology, we gender them based on appearance and behavior. Many people falsely assume that there is a direct connection between biology and gendered behavior when there probably isn’t, and even if there was, it wouldn’t matter because we wouldn’t know the biology without chromosomal reports and hormone panels for everyone we interact with.

“Strangely being cis-male may be helping me here, because I already have to extend empathy to get to trans-gender understanding.”

This is the fallacy that Julia Serano was talking about though. Cis people assume they are the only objective authorities on the trans experience because they’re not biased by having to deal with it. Nonetheless you can’t quite understand the experience unless you really have experienced it, so you’re stuck listening to me telling you that it’s wrong.

“You keep saying lots off things about trans gender, but you keep not explaining why you think those things would be different from trans-race. Why are all your transgender explanations NOT applicable for trans-race explanations? To my eyes, all of the approaches you forward look equally applicable.”

Because calling something a social construction tells us nothing about how two things are similar and different. It definitely doesn’t mean they’re the same. I don’t think race is constructed in the same way that I think gender is, that is, through constitutive speech acts and gendered behaviors. For one thing, there is no strong or even significant racial binary on the biological level, and aside from white-non-white on a social level, which as I have stated before was explicitly created by white people very recently to subjugate non-white people. The distinction is one that does not actually exist at all except for racist reasons, whereas the distinction between men and women I think does exist outside of a sexist system. The distinction between the male gender role and female gender role and men as masculine and women as feminine might not, but I think I’ve already explained why being trans is different from that.

This is largely a question of whether men and women (and by extension trans men and trans women) would exist in a society without gender roles, and I think they would. I think they would because again it’s not about identifying more with a specific role, it’s about identifying with the gender itself, which I hold is at least somewhat prior to the role.

For me saying that they do apply sort of requires that you assume racism and sexism are the same thing as well, and I think they’re different in important ways. The burden of proof in this case is still on the people who think that they are similar, and I don’t think they’ve done so yet.

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Lupita 05.13.17 at 6:41 pm

Since the correlation between language and ancestry is high, and given that we have google and google translate, I propose that instead of using self-identified race as categorized by the US Census Bureau and US society, as an indicator of diversity and as a means to inclusivity (PoC), we use language. What is the significance of English-speaking transgenders, feminists, and philosophers passionately discussing a topic that is being met by dead silence in the blogs of non-English speaking transgenders, feminists, and philosophers, as revealed by a google search in Spanish of the topic of Tuvel’s paper and Tuvel herself?

And, in answer to the call by some for more examples of transracialism, I propose Shakira. Google-image her when she was young and see for yourselves.

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engels 05.13.17 at 7:43 pm

My last four comments (on this and another thread) were blocked by the automatic moderation I think (just checking this actually goes through before I type another one…)

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engels 05.13.17 at 7:52 pm

Okay it’s in the queue—it seems like I was (automatically?) blocked for at least 24 hours.

I don’t think I’ll type them again but apropos of those asking ‘if gender may be self-ascribed why not race?’ I wanted to point to Amos Oz’s take on Jewishness:

The Society for Humanistic Judaism defines a Jew as “someone who identifies with the history, culture and fate of the Jewish people.” In their view it is therefore possible for a non-religious individual to adopt Judaism and join a Humanistic Jewish community, and for the Society for Humanistic Judaism to adopt the person wanting to be part of the Humanistic Jewish family.[91] As Israeli author Amos Oz puts it, “a Jew is anyone who chooses or is compelled to share a common fate with other Jews.”[92] Oz summed up his position more succinctly in a monologue published in Tikkun, saying “Who is a Jew? Everyone who is mad enough to call himself or herself a Jew is a Jew.”[93]

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_is_a_Jew%3F

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apres coup 05.13.17 at 9:29 pm

PQT is arguing that it is not women but “femininity” that is oppressed under patriarchy, and that gender non-conforming (“masculine”) women are privileged. By implication this would mean that lesbians are especially privileged by patriarchy, since as a group they are disproportionately gender non-conforming. Another implication is of pqt’s claims is that women’s historic oppression is a result of their natural/innate femininity, since it is feminine people who are oppressed under patriarchy, not female persons. Frankly, these notions undercut the very possibility of feminist politics, as they deny the existence of women as a class and simultaneously naturalise gender norms. These elements of trans politics are deeply, deeply anti-feminist/woman. The gender critical claim is that gender is a social phenomenon not reducible to individual psychology. Women have common political interests because of historic and ongoing oppression related to a lack of control over their bodies, among other things. It is not essentialist because it does not posit a category ‘woman’ based on some inherent physical or psychic trait/identity feeling, but rather a common set of interests based on being collectively positioned in an oppressive set of social relations.

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mbw 05.13.17 at 9:52 pm

The fervor and length of this discussion, here and elsewhere, is grounds for pessimism. Here’s Russell’s concluding paragraph on Augustine.

“It is strange that the last men of intellectual eminence before the dark ages were concerned, not with saving civilization or expelling the barbarians or reforming the abuses of the administration, but with preaching the merits of virginity and the damnation of unbaptized infants. Seeing that these were the preoccupations that the Church handed on to the converted barbarians, it is no wonder that the succeeding age surpassed almost all other fully historical periods in cruelty and superstition.”

I suppose one could argue that our preoccupations are different in detail.

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Mario 05.13.17 at 10:12 pm

I’m not denying for a moment that trans-gender people do in fact experience being of a different gender than the one they were initially assigned. I’m merely suggesting that it is very possible that we don’t understand the why of it very well.

Sebastian, that’s 100% transphobic. You probably haven’t noticed, but you are suggesting here that there is a similarity to schizophrenia or a delusional disorder. To your credit, though, I admit that sensibility for trans issues is fairly new, and that because of that it is really difficult to keep all transphobic language in check.

A while ago, I was sitting in a Café with my wife, and on the radio there was a talk programme about how it is a reality that PMS hinders women in their careers (that was last august, it was SWF 3, in Germany. I wish I had the date and a link). While we were drinking our coffee, a trans woman called in to the show and told her experiences. My wife (who’s always had pretty bad PMS) got pretty mad and started to say some really horrible things about the caller, completely denying her her experience. I thought that was pretty bad and made it clear to my wife that I would not tolerate such transphobia from her. From the ensuing discussion I think I learned that there is still a long way to go before we can achieve full gender equality and acceptance of transgender identities, but also that it’s actually possible. But I think that will require a more careful use of language than what most people are used to.

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Sebastian H 05.13.17 at 11:49 pm

“Cis people assume they are the only objective authorities on the trans experience because they’re not biased by having to deal with it.”

No, you’re taking me almost 180 degrees wrong. I don’t deal with the trans GENDER experience so I have to extend empathy from your descriptions to get there. But when you do so, I can extend empathy in similar ways to trans RACIAL experiences. You don’t have to extend any empathy to understand trans GENDER experiences–you’re living them.

“We do not gender people based on biology, we gender them based on appearance and behavior. Many people falsely assume that there is a direct connection between biology and gendered behavior when there probably isn’t”

Ok. So literally why can’t you say: we don’t ‘race’ people based on biology, we ‘race’ them based on appearance and behavior. Many people falsely assume that there is a direct connection between biology and racial behavior when there probably isn’t.

Don’t those sentences sound even more true for race than they do for gender?

“I don’t think race is constructed in the same way that I think gender is, that is, through constitutive speech acts and gendered behaviors.”

Are you being serious here? Of course race is constructed through constitutive speech acts and racial behaviors. Black people for more than a century got accused of “acting uppity” if they tried to adopt the ‘wrong’ racial behaviors. And more than that they get ‘constructed’ through policing of norms at least as strongly as gender gets policed. They actually got put into special areas of many cities. You can’t just erase segregation.

“For one thing, there is no strong or even significant racial binary on the biological level”

You should talk to Chinese people about how the Han treat lighter skinned people. (It turns out they value lightness of skin almost as much as people in the Deep South).

And this seems to STRONGLY contradict what you just said about gender in the first sentences I quoted–where you said that we don’t gender people based on biology. Now suddenly it is a real and existing binary that has no analog in race? I can’t follow your logic there.

I would tend to say that there is quite a bit of biology in gender, and much less in race. Which should make it more likely to be trans-racial rather than impossible.

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Tom Slee 05.14.17 at 1:14 am

For me, apres coup hits the nail on the head. Thank you.

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pomo queer theorist 05.14.17 at 1:54 am

“PQT is arguing that it is not women but “femininity” that is oppressed under patriarchy, and that gender non-conforming (“masculine”) women are privileged.”

No, that’s not what at all what I said. Please try to argue against what I said, not what you want me to have said. Women are oppressed under patriarchy, as is feminine gender expression. Privilege is not a binary state, it is a gradient of advantages and disadvantages. This is the entire thrust of intersectionality. Anyone can be (and generally is) an oppressor along one dimension and oppressed along another. You can be oppressed for your gender expression and oppressed for your gender identity separately, they are not the same thing. They inform, interweave, and can reinforce each other, definitely. But they are not the same, and I’m making a serious effort not to conflate them.

Saying that people with masculine gender expression have more privilege than those who don’t is a dynamic feminist analysis that acknowledges that circumstantially some women can have more privilege than others depending on their gender expression. Masculine men still have more privilege than masculine women, and feminine men still have more privilege than feminine women, all else being equal.

“By implication this would mean that lesbians are especially privileged by patriarchy, since as a group they are disproportionately gender non-conforming.”

No, this is something I definitely did not say, and which I certainly do not believe. Sexuality and gender are linked but they are not the same thing. Lesbians are not especially privileged by heteronormative patriarchy, they face homophobic as well as misogynistic oppression, and can face femmephobia as well. You’re also generalizing what I said about masculinity to mean generalized non-conformity. It’s pretty obvious to me at least that being a gender non-conforming woman can mean many things besides being masculine.

“Another implication is of pqt’s claims is that women’s historic oppression is a result of their natural/innate femininity, since it is feminine people who are oppressed under patriarchy, not female persons.”

If you’re going to call something an implication you have to state what you’re implying from. So far this seems more like putting words in my mouth than following my implications. I don’t believe any of what you’ve said I believe so far, and I think you’re broadly misunderstanding my position. Female persons and feminine people are oppressed under patriarchy, it’s both, not just one or the other. More feminine women are especially oppressed, but masculine women face misogyny too. Some of the oppression that women have faced historically is because of their being “female persons,” and some of it isn’t.

“Frankly, these notions undercut the very possibility of feminist politics, as they deny the existence of women as a class and simultaneously naturalise gender norms.”

Undercut the possibility of feminist politics? Absolutely, that’s why I don’t believe them. You’re the one who’s saying it’s feminine people who are oppressed and not women, I never said that and do not believe it. I did say that cis women have no better “proof” of their womanhood than do trans women, and I stand by that claim. I would bet that that’s where we disagree most, the rest of the disagreement so far is straw people.

“These elements of trans politics are deeply, deeply anti-feminist/woman.”

Could you explain why? I honestly don’t understand so far.

“The gender critical claim is that gender is a social phenomenon not reducible to individual psychology.”

Again, I don’t believe that gender is “reducible to individual psychology” and I completely agree that it’s a social phenomenon. I don’t call myself “gender critical” because that is a word used by trans-exclusionary feminists to describe a certain (incorrect, as demonstrated by Judith Butler’s interview response quoted higher up in the thread) reading of Butlerian social constructivism.

“Women have common political interests because of historic and ongoing oppression related to a lack of control over their bodies, among other things.”

Trans-affirming politics is right on the tip of your tongue here, it’s painful. If I didn’t have the context of your previous statements I would say that you’re already trans-accepting. Almost the entire experience of being transgender is not having control over your body and being condemned to live in it nonetheless. Tell me how that’s not an experience of womanhood in your definition. “Other things” I suppose…

“It is not essentialist because it does not posit a category ‘woman’ based on some inherent physical or psychic trait/identity feeling, but rather a common set of interests based on being collectively positioned in an oppressive set of social relations.”

Ok, so then why am I not a woman, to you?

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Orange Watch 05.14.17 at 3:19 am

@pomo queer theorist #299

We do not gender people based on biology, we gender them based on appearance and behavior.
[…]
This is largely a question of whether men and women (and by extension trans men and trans women) would exist in a society without gender roles, and I think they would. I think they would because again it’s not about identifying more with a specific role, it’s about identifying with the gender itself, which I hold is at least somewhat prior to the role.

These two statements seem almost directly contradictory (much in the same way the ones Seb@306 highlights). If gender is not based on biology, and no gender roles exist in a society, it is rather a stretch in want of proof to conceive that gender would endure in a form recognizable to what we refer to as such – unless ofc society aggressively enforces adherence to gender norms in order to maintain its existence.

It’s frustrating to see reasoned arguments recourse to this sort of magical thinking, whereby “masculine” and “feminine” as currently heteronormatively expressed correspond to characteristics not linked to biology yet are somehow both objectively real in a manner that stands distinct from “mere” socialized roles within a culture, and innate to individuals. Without recourse to dualism positing non-corporeal gendered souls, it’s a rather hard stretch to see what the reification of such a claim could be.

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John Quiggin 05.14.17 at 4:56 am

Z @172 “So, self-identification and acceptance by the group should be considered as a basis for racial identity.”

That seems like a plausible conclusion, but it would be problematic someone like Rachel Dolezal. As far as I can tell, she wasn’t accepted by African-Americans as a member of their group, at least once the facts of her biography became known.

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pomo queer theorist 05.14.17 at 5:07 am

I’d just like to know what people think of this specific take:

https://twitter.com/JuliaSerano/status/862044508602720256

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pomo queer theorist 05.14.17 at 5:20 am

Orange Watch @309

“If gender is not based on biology, and no gender roles exist in a society, it is rather a stretch in want of proof to conceive that gender would endure in a form recognizable to what we refer to as such – unless ofc society aggressively enforces adherence to gender norms in order to maintain its existence.”

I’m sorry, I clearly explained this using a lot of slang that we use in the trans community but which seem like terms of art elsewhere.

When I say “gender someone” I mean “assume their gender.” I don’t mean to say anything about what gender is when I reference that.

Thus when I say that you don’t gender someone based on biology, that doesn’t mean that biology has zero effect on gender. It just means that, as I mentioned earlier, you don’t look at their chromosomes and hormone panels before assuming their gender. Simultaneously, even if you did, these biological markers can’t tell the whole story. They might tell a good part of the story for a statistical quantity of the population, (say the middle of a bell curve or something) and none of it for others. The best definition is still how that person conceives of themselves, and you can only find that out by asking.

For people who are other to yourself, there is no causal relationship between biology and gender. For yourself, there may well be, if that makes any sense, but that’s something only you can really know.

Biological incongruence (gender dysphoria) with regards to hormones and secondary sex characteristics is not a necessary condition for being trans but it is a sufficient one. That’s why I think there would still be trans people in a post-gender society.

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Sebastian H 05.14.17 at 5:38 am

“As far as I can tell, she wasn’t accepted by African-Americans as a member of their group, at least once the facts of her biography became known.”. The same is true of lots of trans women and trans men. Which is one of the reasons so many (especially trans men) try to pass.

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faustusnotes 05.14.17 at 5:38 am

I disagree with pqt on whether gender is innate or socially constructed. I absolutely think it’s innate. It’s also socially constructed. We can, to cite the famous gif, have both.

I find it interesting that the gender critical feminists (TERFs) think sex is entirely socially constructed but can’t allow a man to be a woman. This is completely incoherent. If sex is socially constructed and your mission is to deconstruct the harmful parts of that construction, then inevitably you’re going to get men dressing and acting as women. Yet as soon as someone comes along who does that you create a whole network of websites preaching hate against them. What’s that about?

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Loki 05.14.17 at 7:03 am

Thanks all for a fascinating discussion.

@John Quiggin an additional problem with group acceptance as a criteria is that success or not is likely to be based upon somewhat arbitrary things like personal popularity and power relations within the group. Also, who descides who are the members of the group? Is it immediate family, or people who live nearby, or anyone who heard about the case on TV or the Internet?

The attitude of the group will enormously affect someone’s quality of life, but I’m suspicious of using it to define someone’s identity, especially concerning people who are trying to transgress social norms concerning identity or behavior.

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shah8 05.14.17 at 7:06 am

Okay, um, having read the first hundred comments…

Let me just say I find some of the comments absurdly appalling.

I, of course, have never thought of Tuvel’s paper as anything more than empowered mediocrity. I didn’t think she hurt people, but I also do not think that the argument she presented (as I understand it) was worth publishing or worthy of any sort of intellectual defense. It reminds me of a very unfortunate homophobic argument I made on a CEDA email group, way back in the day, using similar chains of reasoning (or unreason–I wasn’t thinking very much about much else but scoring points and being a noisy asshole).

Even if you take this stuff seriously, Rachel Dolezal is a horrible person to use when making any sort of “transracial” argument. And using the right sort of examples pretty quickly leads to some pretty TERF-y places.

I wouldn’t care to repress Tuvel’s academic speech or whatnot, but I would also not piss on her if she was on fire.

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Val 05.14.17 at 7:59 am

This thread is so depressing. Just to start with, the number of people who confidently pronounce on ‘biology’ when they clearly don’t know much about it (that includes Tuvel, because I have now read part of her article). It’s the kind of argument that makes me despair, because it’s so full of people confidently sounding off about issues they don’t seem to know much about, and so readily denouncing others who express different views.

One thing – there is a connection between ‘biology’ (or genes, or chromosomes, or whatever you want to call it) and both sex and ‘race’ (ie the appearance on which the concept of ‘race’ is built). It’s not that there’s no connection, it’s just that the connection does not necessarily justify any of the elaborate, valenced, socially constructed meanings that have been built around it.

Also – as others have also asked – do people here believe that there is a ‘self’ that exists independently of the body? I’m not saying there’s necessarily a right or wrong answer, just that you should at least think about it.

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shah8 05.14.17 at 8:29 am

And now having read the entire thread…

I’m not going to do any razzle dazzle philosophy here. I’m just going to do, I guess, history.

1) There is an underlying assumption that people like Dolezal is acting in good faith. This should be challenged, and it should be challenged on a broad level.

2) Why? There is a long history of white actors who perform transracialism to get something they want, typically access to non-white spaces for whatever reasons. These aren’t spaces like bathrooms like anyone of any gender can use. These spaces/resources are like the student teaching job that Howard University that she was rejected for and sued for discrimination. Remember, though, that Howard University accepts white students! Howard University would not care one wit whether that white student thought of herself as black! Black people in general aren’t going to stop a white person from saying that she’s black. “Transracialism” has never been about the normal drift of identities and families and who you associate with. “Transracialism” has always been about people like Margaret Jones, Linda Taylor, Kent Johnson, and all the other invasive white people who take on non-white identities at least in part to seize opportunities. And like Miley Cyrus, they switch back to being white (or anti-black) on a dime as needed.

There is a long history, as Chris Rock explained a while ago, of white people wanting all the perceived advantages of being black, without being black. Get Out was just all of that updated.

There simply isn’t any real analogue to transgender. Even if you thought that Caster Semenya was a cheater cheater cheater, she also isn’t going to be anything other than a woman. More than that, she had never been anything but a woman. This lack of a real resource conflict with treating trans as who they are has a lot to do with how society has to construct scenarios where trans people are threats to the “righteous” users of the the porcelain thrones.

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shah8 05.14.17 at 9:01 am

Okay, uh, having just now read Zoe Samudzi’s storify, my jaw is on the floor. Maybe she’s being mean and taking everything out of context, but if that is representative, oh hell yes this mediocre woman should have a curtailed career. I thought this was some sort of make a series of trivial connections philosphy-ey sort of paper. Some of the commentary, like the part about Michael Jackson and vitiligo is both wrong (both about causes and motives) and is really rather offensive. Transablism? Huh?

I think that much of the disorganize response at least at first is very much a Pauli “Que? This isn’t even wrong!” response where one has to actually register that no, Tuvel is serious and others take her seriously so one has to make…rigorous arguments, before collecting oneself and sallying forth.

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engels 05.14.17 at 12:05 pm

Suppose the article had compared transgender to ‘trans-classism’ (Britain’s venerable tradition of posh people discovering they are working class when students/up-and-coming artists/right-wing Labour MPs) I assume would it have been reasonable for people to have been offended then?

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engels 05.14.17 at 12:17 pm

Sorry, my last comment was a bit flippant. I think there are lots of useful comparisons to be made between these various categories but it also clearly has the potential to be done in a way that is superficial and offensive.

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bianca steele 05.14.17 at 12:42 pm

So: Althusser: would he clear up the question “does explaining how gender is socially constructed emancipate, or does it reinforce oppression”?

Or the question fn raises: “does the fact that gender is socially constructed mean we can and should try to live without (defined) gender?”

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TF79 05.14.17 at 1:31 pm

pqt @311

Regarding the claim that the Open Letter wasn’t all that unusual, as a journal editor and someone who sits on several editorial boards, I don’t buy that. Relative to the number of papers published and journals out there, the frequency of calls for retraction is pretty small, and in all the cases I can think of (in my field and outside it), they hinge on some sort of “bad faith” on the part of the researcher. So for example, data fabrication (poli sci guy), plagiarism of others (or self-plagiarism), making up events to support a hypothesis (as Goffman was accused of), some sort of editorial shenanigans/conflict of interest, etc.

So I think a lot of the interest on the part of the broader academic community is due to the fact we’re looking for similar evidence of “bad faith” or academic misconduct that would prompt such a letter calling for retraction (and an apology from the AE’s), but not really seeing it (or at least enough of it). From my position as a journal editor, if such a letter came to me saying “there’s related but uncited existing literature,” I’d say “Great, write a paper to SHOW how that literature changes/enlightens/overturns what’s in this article.” In fact, I’ve written such an article myself (SHOWING why another paper’s conclusion, which was at odds with the existing literature, was garbage).

Whereas with the other cases that “blew up” beyond their academic field’s rumor-mills, even if you weren’t in the same academic field, you could understand why data fabrication/falsification/etc constituted serious cases of scholarly misconduct. Here, the core academic issues seem best handled through the scholarly process itself, and a lot of the rest of it seems rather unprofessional (as AcademicLurker noted above).

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Tom Slee 05.14.17 at 1:34 pm

faustusnotes #314 writes:

I absolutely think [gender is] innate. It’s also socially constructed. We can, to cite the famous gif, have both.

My recollection of the 1990s is that there was a recognition, partly following Judith Butler, that what it means to be a “man” or a “woman” was socially constructed as well as biological. That what it meant to be “a man” involved biology (sex), but also involved adopting roles that were the product of social expectation and history (gender).

It was helpful to have a word for each of these aspects. So we all started seeing “gender” getting used where social construction was prominent and “sex” where biology was prominent. That was, if I remember correctly, the whole point. Part of the benefit of this evolution was that it helped society to realize how much of the man/woman thing is socially constructed, because using “gender” emphasized it. It also helped us to be more careful in our thinking about what it means to be man/masculine/male and woman/female/feminine because we had to stop and ask ourselves “am I really talking about biology or am I talking about socially-constructed roles and expectations?”

If you are now going to say that both sex and gender are both biological and socially constructed, the usefulness of the distinction gets lost, and the usefulness of having two words gets lost. Politics aside, this is a huge loss in clarity and makes it much more difficult to communicate: I no longer have a clue what you mean by “gender”, or by “sex”.

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Tom Slee 05.14.17 at 1:49 pm

Plus, to be a bit more assertive: the gender/sex distinction was politically important because it freed up the more-oppressed sex to adopt gender roles that did not fit with the norms of the time. It helped create a space for homosexuality, for women to reject some of the constraints of femininity, and even for a few men to reject the constraints of masculinity.

It would be sad if stories like this one in the NYT “My daughter is not transgender: she’s a tomboy” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/18/opinion/my-daughter-is-not-transgender-shes-a-tomboy.html ) became more common.

Tentatively, I suspect they will: as “exit” from gender expectations becomes more of an option, “voice” to change those expectations will become less of one.

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Orange Watch 05.14.17 at 1:56 pm

@pomo queer theorist #312:

I’m sorry, I clearly explained this using a lot of slang that we use in the trans community but which seem like terms of art elsewhere.

Please extend your interlocutors the respect of considering the possibility that you’re using language in an unclear – indeed, ambiguous – manner rather than using strange, foreign jargon which they’ve never possibly heard before. You write with the enthusiasm of a youthful convert to an ideology, with the conviction that the only thing preventing us from agreeing with you is that we’ve never encountered the tenets of the theory you’ve embraced. We have – certainly, I have – but we found them lacking and unconvincing. Merely repeating them as obvious facts rather than arguing their validity is not in the least persuasive.

To echo something Seb said earlier that you took issue with – coming at this “from the inside” does not necessarily give you a better perspective. It’s actually a bit of a trap. If a presented theory closely aligns with one’s personal experience, it’s easier to accept it as generally true, regardless of whether or not it is an accurate general characterization. Standpoint epistemology has many problems beyond this, but presenting subjective bias and limited perspective as expertise is certainly one of its shortcomings. And since you’ll likely disagree with what I just said for the very reason I said it, I’m going to do something I’d rather not and absolutely should not need to, because it’s not actually relevant and does not give my words any more validity than they’d otherwise have: I’ll qualify all of the above with “As someone who could be reasonably described as genderqueer-but-passing”.

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Val 05.14.17 at 2:11 pm

And another of these ‘can we get the basics established here’ things is that people are not born adult. Most babies have primary sex characteristics, so they are assigned to one sex or the other.

So pqt @ 312, we you say we ‘gender’ someone, or assume their gender, that’s not the primary way that people get ‘gendered’, as I’m sure you realise. They get assigned to a gender as a baby on the basis of primary sex characteristics (or technically they get assigned to a sex and then a gender) – that’s the usual pattern (though not everyone fits even at birth of course)

But humans are complicated and for complex reasons that sex assignment/ gendering may not ‘fit’ – they may not want to behave in the way associated with the gender that’s supposed to go with their sex (which is common because of patriarchy, etc) or they may not want to be of that ‘sex’ (which is obviously more complex).

But given that we exist as embodied beings, who is the ‘self’ who doesn’t want to be that body? Is there a self that exists independently of the body? Because that’s what your reasoning seems to be based on but you don’t seem to say that (although I must admit you have written a lot and I haven’t read it all carefully).

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Sebastian H 05.14.17 at 2:23 pm

“Thus when I say that you don’t gender someone based on biology, that doesn’t mean that biology has zero effect on gender. It just means that, as I mentioned earlier, you don’t look at their chromosomes and hormone panels before assuming their gender. “

How is this a distinction between how we ‘race’someone and how we ‘gender’ them? if this is what you meet by”based on biology” we don’t race identify based on biology either.

You keep saying things like this with the assumption that they don’t apply in the race case, but they keep looking like they apply in the race case. What you seem to be saying in this explanation is that in practical reality we gender people by secondary and phylogenic surface characteristics rather than deep genetic or hormonal markers. And we really shouldn’t.

Are you arguing that in the (totally different) race case we ought to race identify people by their secondary and phylogenic surface characteristics? And that contra the trans case that can never be wrong? I don’t think you’re arguing that but I don’t see how you think your discussion of biology and gender applies to the race case in ways to exclude the race case. If you look at what I quote from you, how do you intend to distinguish it from race?

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AcademicLurker 05.14.17 at 2:25 pm

As an academic journal editor myself, I second everything TF79 says in 323.

If anyone wants an example of how the sciences handled a high profile paper that was widely held to egregiously flawed, but not guilty of an actual ethical violation (e.g., plagiarism, fabrication & etc.), look at the arsenic/DNA fiasco of several years ago. There were many blog posts, letters to the editor in the journal (Science in this case), and follow up papers refuting the original report. It ended up being an embarrassment for the authors, but the paper was never retracted nor, as far as I know, was there any widespread call for retraction.

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pomo queer theorist 05.14.17 at 4:19 pm

bianca steele @322
“So: Althusser: would he clear up the question ‘does explaining how gender is socially constructed emancipate, or does it reinforce oppression’?”

I think possibly, yes. Understanding gendered subjects as interpellated within a certain ideology of gender validates transgressions against that ideology and also explains at least some of the complexity surrounding identity.

Of course Althusser being an arch-structuralist and Butler being a poststructuralist she has to criticize and develop his idea before applying it to gender:

“Here the performative, the call by the law which seeks to produce a lawful subject, produces a set of consequences that exceed and confound what appears to be the disciplining intention motivating the law. Interpellation thus loses its status as a simple performative, an act of discourse with the power to create that to which it refers, and creates more than it ever meant to, signifying excess of any intended referent.”

(from Bodies that Matter)

This is also probably a case where my understanding of Lacan is lacking, and unfortunately I can’t help a lot with the Lacanian aspects of these theories right now.

TF79 @323
“Here, the core academic issues seem best handled through the scholarly process itself, and a lot of the rest of it seems rather unprofessional (as AcademicLurker noted above).”

Well right, but isn’t this sort of what those editors were saying and trying to do? That they needed to change their review practice? And they were vilified for saying so, they were told to stand behind it unequivocally. As of right now it seems highly unlikely that the paper will be retracted, so the question becomes one of whether it should have been or what else should have been done in response to the letter.

Orange Watch @326
“Please extend your interlocutors the respect of considering the possibility that you’re using language in an unclear – indeed, ambiguous – manner rather than using strange, foreign jargon which they’ve never possibly heard before.”

Yes, I would say that I’m doing that. For some people here though I know that this discussion is not as well understood, and I realize that for example when I say “gender” that I probably am using it interchangeably in several senses and that it’s not always apparent based on context. I do apologize for that and I’ll make an effort to clarify what I mean when it seems ambiguous from here on out.

“You write with the enthusiasm of a youthful convert to an ideology, with the conviction that the only thing preventing us from agreeing with you is that we’ve never encountered the tenets of the theory you’ve embraced.”

Yes, I’m actually quite certain that I’ve been behaving like this. Is it inherently inappropriate here?

In some cases I do think though that careful explications in these theories will help people understand what I believe even if they don’t agree. I’m not always writing to convince people here, it’s a bit more expository than that for me. Of course, I’ve definitely been less than careful for most of this discussion and my enthusiasm does get in the way, no disagreement there.

“If a presented theory closely aligns with one’s personal experience, it’s easier to accept it as generally true, regardless of whether or not it is an accurate general characterization.”

Yah but this isn’t entirely what I’m saying. I don’t think Seb is actually arguing against the poststructural theory of gender (at least I haven’t seen them do that so far) I think they’re taking it and extending it with a gross oversimplification. If I used my identity to validate my belief in that particular theory and bludgeon people who disagree, yeah I would consider that grossly incorrect and I apologize if I did that.

All I want to say about standpoint epistemology is that I do think I’m somewhat more qualified to say that Rachel Dolezal is not more oppressed than trans women are, and that her case is not inherently similar to ours. Perhaps you don’t think so, but I don’t yet understand why.

You need a lot more than just “why doesn’t this work for race” to develop a positive case in that direction, and I haven’t seen it provided so far.

“And since you’ll likely disagree with what I just said for the very reason I said it, I’m going to do something I’d rather not and absolutely should not need to, because it’s not actually relevant and does not give my words any more validity than they’d otherwise have: I’ll qualify all of the above with ‘As someone who could be reasonably described as genderqueer-but-passing’.”

No I actually don’t disagree with you or what anyone has said because of standpoint epistemology primarily. If I gave that impression it was because I was trying to express in a naive fashion what my friends would say about this conversation, because for them this sort of barrier is enough to make this not worth discussing at all. I don’t believe that! I disagree with them pretty strongly on this, but I also don’t think it’s an entirely intellectually bankrupt perspective and perhaps useful to consider from time to time. You obviously have a lot to say on standpoint epistemology though so I’ll let you explain why it is completely intellectually bankrupt.

Val @327
“So pqt @ 312, we you say we ‘gender’ someone, or assume their gender, that’s not the primary way that people get ‘gendered’, as I’m sure you realise.”

Yes, this is is why I tried to clarify. I accept that sense too and I apologize if it seemed like I was vacillating between the two definitions because sometimes I do mean one and sometimes I do mean the other.

“Is there a self that exists independently of the body? Because that’s what your reasoning seems to be based on but you don’t seem to say that (although I must admit you have written a lot and I haven’t read it all carefully).”

Hmm, I would say probably no it’s not independent, but this is a little complicated and a very interesting question to boot. I think even if you’re trans that your self is very dependent on your body, even if (as is often the case) your self is defined against your body. I guess maybe then there must be something (a self?) that does the process of definition? But I also think that that process of definition is sort of ongoing, and that saying your self is dependent on your body could be read as invalidating trans identity, but I’m trying to use it to do the opposite. Maybe it doesn’t work. I clearly have more thinking to do on this.

For what it’s worth it’s not probably all worth reading carefully, mostly because I’ve been butchering a lot of very elegant and beautiful theories and confusing a lot of people along the way.

Sebastian H @328
“You keep saying things like this with the assumption that they don’t apply in the race case, but they keep looking like they apply in the race case.”

I don’t actually have that assumption a priori, I just wasn’t talking about race because I was responding to apres coup’s transphobic comments. As for why they don’t apply, I’m not sure I have a better answer right now besides that I wasn’t talking about race? You can’t just interchange the subject of these theories and expect to get all the same conclusions unless the two are exactly the same before transformation.

“What you seem to be saying in this explanation is that in practical reality we gender people by secondary and phylogenic surface characteristics rather than deep genetic or hormonal markers. And we really shouldn’t.”

Yeah, I meant gender here in the Althusserian sense of hailing. You seem to be saying that gender should be based on deep biological characteristics, and I’m just saying that it’s not currently.

I also don’t think that would be a good idea because I don’t see how that view of gender could be trans inclusive or account for intersex people. Prove me wrong, though.

I apologize for the tendency on my part towards logorrhea in my responses. We’re keeping a lot of different conversations at the same time here and a lot of very difficult questions without simple answers.

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Chris Bertram 05.14.17 at 4:50 pm

@shah8 that would be the same Samudzi who refers, in the New Inquiry, to people like Tuvel (and their defenders in turn) as “cockroaches”.

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