The Hypatia Affair
May 12, 2017 9:13 PM   Subscribe

Why did so many members of Hypatia’s Board of Associate Editors apologize for an article it published? Rebecca Tuvel’s article, “In Defense of Transracialism,” published in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, clearly touched a nerve.

To oversimplify, the article suggested that, because it is both possible and acceptable to change one’s gender, it also ought to be possible and acceptable to change one’s race. Roughly 800 academics signed an online petition demanding that Hypatia retract Tuvel’s article, contending (among other things) that Tuvel’s article “failed to seek out and sufficiently engage with scholarly work by those who are most vulnerable to the intersection of racial and gender oppressions (women of color).” The editor of Hypatia, Sally Scholz, declined to retract the article; other philosophers pointed out that the demand for retraction of the article was odd, given that philosophy articles are not typically retracted on the basis of disagreements over methodology or conclusions. The controversy even was the subject of an extensive article in New York magazine, unusual in that academic controversies are not typically at the center of that magazine's focus.

A few academic reactions follow:

* Shannon Winnubst, Ohio State University (from an opinion article in the Chronicle of Higher Education):

I signed the open letter as part of a continuing effort to make feminist philosophy something other than a damaged, dutiful daughter to the deeply troubled discipline of philosophy. I also signed it as part of continuing efforts to change philosophy’s practices. After all, the methodological insularity evidenced in Tuvel’s article and its publication effectively render ignored and disrespected black, trans, and other minority scholars who work in these fields doubly marginalized. The inequalities perpetuated are both conceptual and practical.

* Suzanna Danuta Walters, editor of Signs (from an opinion article in the Chronicle):

One can agree or disagree, or wish the author had done more of this or less of that. But the assertion that broaching the very subject produces inevitable harm is specious, to say the least. Indeed, the idea that any article in a specialized feminist journal causes harm, and even violence, as the signatories to an open letter to the journal claim, is a grave misuse of the term "harm." Consider the intent and background here. By any measure, Tuvel is a committed feminist philosopher who repeatedly and clearly states her absolute support of trans rights. She is not Coulter or Murray or even the predictably contrarian Camille Paglia. Surely, Tuvel should not be immune to critique — none of us are. But to organize a petition and demand retraction should be an action reserved for work that is willfully erroneous, improperly vetted, and riven with demonstrable falsehoods.

* Claire M. Colebrook, Pennsylvania State University (quoted in the Chronicle):

"A retraction would be heavy-duty, but it would be an amazingly revolutionary gesture in philosophy," Ms. Colebrook said. "Times are different. Things do change. It would be remarkable. It would be unheard of. But maybe that’s OK."

* Brian Leiter, University of Chicago (from his blog):

I confess I've never seen anything like this in academic philosophy (admittedly most signatories to the "open letter" are not academic philosophers, but some are). A tenure-track assistant professor submits her article to a journal, it passes peer review, it is published, others take offense, and the Associate Editors of the journal declare that "Clearly, the article should not have been published" and that the abuse to which the author is being subjected is "both predictable and justifiable." … I hope that Prof. Tuvel consults a lawyer about this defamation; and while it looks to me like defamation per se (i.e., damages are presumed since the critics are impugning her competence in her profession), I would imagine showing damage would not be hard. How can Prof. Tuvel, for example, now use this repudiated but allegedly peer-reviewed article as part of her tenure process? Indeed, how can her department or college support her for tenure when she has been so vilified as a scholar and professional by people who work in her fields? I wonder did any of those professing solidarity with those who specialize in taking offense consider the very tangible harm they are doing to the author of this article?

***

Those interested in history may wish to note that the philosophy journal at issue is named after the great philosopher and scientist Hypatia of Alexandria, whose life ended prematurely when she was kidnapped and murdered by a mob of religious Christian zealots.
posted by Mr. Justice (245 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite


 
I don't get what the history of the journal's name has to do with anything though?
posted by ShawnStruck at 9:20 PM on May 12 [11 favorites]


Has there been a thorough and sound refutation of the original article? Preferably by a woman of color? I understand the criticism surrounding it, but I have yet to read a point-by-point takedown of the original argument, something that is otherwise commonplace in academia. Surely someone is champing at the bit to dismantle this piece.
posted by R.F.Simpson at 9:51 PM on May 12 [9 favorites]


I live in the Spokane area and Dolezal has done so much damage to race-related causes around here... I mean, Spokane is 84% white, and we're not too far from Coeur d'Alene, ID which had Klan issues 20 years ago, and we're only a day's drive from Whitefish, MT which is where Richard Spencer has tried to draw together his kind of people. This white woman in blackface who managed to fool so many people and who continues to push forward her conceit as somehow being okay has set back the entire area's public perception of the NAACP here, which given the demographics isn't the most robust chapter of the organization to begin with.

I'm agog that anyone would write a paper supporting Dolezal's delusion, let alone anyone publishing that paper.
posted by hippybear at 9:57 PM on May 12 [34 favorites]


On one hand, hoo boy do people need to be able to discuss this stuff in good faith without reasoned discussion getting lost in massive brigading.

On the other hand, speaking as someone with a science PhD, "you did not do the research and consult previous work in the field" is a really solid reason to reject a paper. Or retract a paper. In any field.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:58 PM on May 12 [63 favorites]


I don't get what the history of the journal's name has to do with anything though?
Indeed. Different circumstances, but here in AU we have a climate denial group who call themselves the Galileo Movement. Bringing up Hypatia of Alexandria in this context feels a bit like that.
posted by dumbland at 9:59 PM on May 12 [9 favorites]


I thought the way this worked was -

Author writes paper.
Submits it to journal.
Journal vets paper and publishes if all goes well.
Second person disagrees and writes an opposing paper.
Submits it to journal.
Journal vets paper and publishes if all goes well.

And so on until the topic dies of old age or the authors change position or something.

Am I incorrect here?
posted by Samizdata at 10:00 PM on May 12 [10 favorites]


To clarify my "different circumstances" bit, I mean that I have absolutely no reason to think that the people establishing the journal named it in bad faith, like the GM people most certainly did.
posted by dumbland at 10:01 PM on May 12


Also, isn't the idea of peer review to make sure everything looks okay within a reasonable doubt?
posted by Samizdata at 10:01 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


@R.F.Simpson -- your question is an interesting one. This may answer it:

"Tina Fernandes Botts, an assistant professor of philosophy at California State University at Fresno, first read Ms. Tuvel’s paper before the January meeting of the American Philosophical Association’s Eastern Division, where Ms. Tuvel presented her work. Ms. Botts found the work to be "out of step" with research in critical philosophy of race and the black experience. She was scheduled to be a commenter on the paper but was unable to attend.

In a paper presented to the Res Philosophica conference at Saint Louis University last weekend, however, Ms. Botts presented her refutation in full.

She said Ms. Tuvel was correct in her assertion that both race and gender are socially constructed but had failed to understand how they are constructed in different ways. Ms. Botts argued, contra Ms. Tuvel, that race is a function of ancestry, while gender is not — which makes gender more of an individual experience. Put plainly, because race is tied to ancestry in the world, a person cannot declare being a black person trapped in a white person’s body, as Rachel Dolezal has described herself. Only someone with black ancestors can count as black.

Ms. Tuvel’s fundamental misunderstanding of that point, alongside several other baseline conventions in philosophy of race, raise a question, Ms. Botts said: How was the article was able to make it through peer review?"
posted by Mr. Justice at 10:02 PM on May 12 [46 favorites]


I must say that Brian Leiter's comments made me laugh out loud. Maybe poorly argued and researched articles shouldn't help you in the tenure process?
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 10:03 PM on May 12 [10 favorites]


There are just not enough tables to flip.

The concept of "transracialism" re: Dolezal makes me want to flip a table.

The exploitative usage of trans people as "proof" or a "what if" re: transracialism makes me want to flip a table.

The casual denigration of philosophy makes me want to flip a table.

Academic philosophy's actual enormous issues with sexism make me want to flip a table.

The assertion that gender is a "social construct" makes me want to flip a table.

The convoluted, cringey and frankly just awful trainwrecks of thought people get into when combining two or more of these things makes me want to flip some tables.
posted by byanyothername at 10:14 PM on May 12 [28 favorites]


ugh, "transracialism". this bit me in the ass back when rachel dolezal was in the headlines.

on the one hand, i do find the question interesting in an academic sense. while i don't really make a habit of arguing with cis people about whether i am what i say i am, it still seems like a good idea to know the answer to that one.

on the other, i'm still waiting to see it asked in an intellectually honest way.
posted by magentaisafuncolortobe at 10:23 PM on May 12 [4 favorites]


on the one hand, i do find the question interesting in an academic sense.

A lot here seems like it comes down to questions of what can be discussed "in an academic sense" and where. It's pretty obvious why discussion of this comparison in a practical sense is offensive to a whooole bunch of people. The category of "transracial" in this sense in fact seems largely artificially created just to force that offensive comparison - there's about one person who claims to identify with it and I don't think it's a particularly useful way to frame the complicated racial identities that do exist in the world. So whether the author made the hypothetical/abstracted argument she intended successfully or whether it's been refuted on those terms is probably irrelevant to the concerns of a lot of people who have taken issue with its publication.

Whether this journal was an appropriate place to make this argument or what would be an appropriate place isn't really a question the world is waiting for my answer to, I don't think.
posted by atoxyl at 10:46 PM on May 12


Similarly, a week ago.
posted by koavf at 11:02 PM on May 12


There's a detail in Winnubust's letter that the problem isn't the soundness of Tuvel's argument but rather that Tuvel didn't engage any trans or PoC researchers at all. Apparently there were conferences where Tuvel received such feedback, and Winnubust's concern is that Tuvel didn't heed it.

And I think that's fair. It's not that the subject matter is taboo, or that there's something incorrect about Tuvel's essay (it's not that long and after skimming parts of it, the overall claims and arguments are pretty standard from a left point of view)--the complaint is basically that it's disrespectful in the sense of being super Whitesplainy, with the social implications of doing that in the discipline, etc.
posted by polymodus at 11:04 PM on May 12 [17 favorites]


Re: Botts' "refutation". The point of the role of ancestry in the definition of race is addressed by Tuvel in the paper (at several points). Her point is that ancestry is neither sufficient nor necessary, and she gives two counterexamples:
Still, an objector might insist there are important reasons to prefer an account of race based on ancestry than one based on self-identification and social treatment. After all, ancestral ties do play a central role in the historical and ongoing constitution of races. Yet the insistence on ancestral ties still faces the normativity problem mentioned above. That is, it excludes many who should rightly be considered members of a certain race. For instance, consider the case of an American black couple who adopt a dark-skinned child from India. Imagine this child was adopted young enough not to develop an Indian accent. His parents raise him exactly the same way they raise his black siblings: as a full-fledged member of the black community. As he grows up, he becomes subject to the same discrimination and mistreatment that characterize the plight of his fellow blacks. He also attends a black church, participates in black cultural events, and self-identifies as black. In short, when it comes to his race, this child is virtually indistinguishable from any other member of the black community. According to the ancestral account of race, however, this child is of a different race. His ancestry is Indian, not black. Or, to take a different example, consider someone like Dolezal who did turn out to have a black ancestor. According to a popular version of the ancestral account of race, this person would be black, given the ongoing and highly problematic use of the historically racist “one-drop rule” of black racial membership. Are we really prepared to allow the acceptance of someone like Dolezal to hinge on such a fact?
So the burden is on Botts to offer a reply to these, or to criticize the 'self-identification' account Tuvel endorses. I think the whole problem is to decide whether (some version of) self-identification is sufficient. Tuvel's entire argument is that self-identification is the best account of gender identification and that if there is a case for transratialism, self-identification would also be the best account. It doesn't really read, to me at least, as a specific defense of Dolezal, but of the idea that in some cases transratialism might be reasonable.

A more direct criticism would be to point out that, if, as at some point is mentioned in the paper, self-identification is a political act, it might never be the case that qua political act, a trans-ratial self-identification is reasonable (it seems that this is the real pain point). I feel all the interesting problems with this are in this dimension, not in the metaphysics.
posted by fmoralesc at 11:05 PM on May 12 [37 favorites]


Criticisms that the work didn't engage with relevant thinkers in the field are legitimate. And for me the ancestry argument is the best rebuttal I've seen. But criticisms on the grounds that a certain philosophical idea is hurtful or damaging and should therefore be erased rather than simply refuted...well then you're not doing philosophy at all, anymore, sorry. You're doing something, maybe it's legitimate, but it's not philosophy or scholarship.
posted by Jimbob at 11:17 PM on May 12 [29 favorites]


isn't the idea of peer review to make sure everything looks okay within a reasonable doubt?
Ok, so, who are the peers? In this case, it is incredibly unlikely that a women of color reviewed this work:
The A.P.A. Committee on the Status of Black Philosophers and the Society of Young Black Philosophers reports that currently in the United States there are 156 blacks in philosophy, including doctoral students and philosophy Ph.D.’s in academic positions; this includes a total of 55 black women, 31 of whom hold tenured or tenure-track positions. Assuming that there are still 13,000 full-time philosophy instructors in the United States, the representation of scholars of color is plausibly worse than in any other field in the academy, including not only physics, but also engineering. Inexcusable.
Philosophy has a real problem, and it needs to take a good long look at what is going on here. This is yet another piece of evidence of the systematic and entrenched biases in the field.
posted by sockermom at 11:35 PM on May 12 [36 favorites]


To oversimplify, the article suggested that, because it is both possible and acceptable to change one’s gender, it also ought to be possible and acceptable to change one’s race.
I find that a bad simplification. It looked at the arguments against transracialism and how they were very recently used to reject transgender identities. It was explicitly in enthusiastic agreement with trans rights and acknowledged the authors discomfort with Dolezal and transracialism, but pointed out that most arguments against transracialism can be easily also be used against transgender people (and are therefore *wrong*).

The content of paper asks the question "What is it about race and gender that makes us all feel comfortable with transgender identities but not with transracial ones? Does a rejection of transracial identities endanger the growing acceptance of transgender ones? Does the growing acceptance of transgender identities mean history will judge us poorly for our rejection of transracial ones?"

The format of the philosophical paper as a defense determined the structure and the conclusion. The conclusion was basically "I can't cite or create any argument against transracialism that does not also attack the rights of transgender people so I must find it acceptable". "I know it when I see it" isn't an acceptable argument in philosophy.

The retraction petition and online reaction to this paper was disgusting. The paper is short, go read it. I guarantee that anyone currently mad about it will no longer me mad at the author, unless you are of the opinion that a white cisgender person must not ever mention these subjects.
posted by Infracanophile at 12:09 AM on May 13 [74 favorites]


Yeah I don't understand the cognitive dissonance that allows someone to say this method of self identification is wrong but this one is right (assuming you believe race and gender to be social constructs).

Can anyone list any important academic works or authors that the original piece didn't consider?

NB: I'm white and non-binary since people seem to care when it comes to stuff like this.
posted by R.F.Simpson at 12:19 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


I mean, where would you even start? If you search for 'transracialism' in philpapers , you literally only get three results, only two of which are directly related to the issue, and both defend transracialism... One is Tuvel's and the other is one (Overall's) that Tuvel addresses in the paper, from 2004 (!). That paper, from philpaper's data, has only been cited once, in a paper from 2006 (Hayes), which Tuvel also addresses. That paper is then cited by one other (McKinnon 2015), which is cited by three others (Barnes, Howard and Paul) in a special volume (it seems) of the Res Philosophica journal (Tuvel also discusses Barnes' views in the paper). But at that point, the discussion has turned more in the direction of gender and transformative experience (still relevant, on the assumption that the parallel between transgender and transrace that Tuvel argues for holds).

I'm sure there is a huge literature on the broader topics that bear on this, but if you are studying this particular problem as an outsider (or a newcomer to the field), you would have to go into it from the references in these two papers. I wouldn't be surprised if Tuvel researched the topic from the entry point of Overall's paper and initial approach (and btw, why hasn't Overall's defense of transracialism not been commented on?).

It's as if this was taken as so obviously wrong that people have not felt the need to properly address it academically (by which I mean, get to work and publish rebuttals)
posted by fmoralesc at 12:59 AM on May 13 [11 favorites]


It's not in the philosophy literature, but Ijeoma Oluo pretty well demolished every one of Dolezal's arguments in this interview.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:57 AM on May 13 [7 favorites]


The paper is titled "In Defense of Transracialism". It's a piece of political advocacy and it's both unfair and unrealistic to demand that people relate to it as if it were a purely academic work.

I think the social construction of race and gender are interesting, but the author's comparison of the two is shallow and facile. Her argument that the weakness of racial definition supports "transracialism" misses the point: race is primarily significant (particularly in the USA) as an imposed denial of privilege, not as an element of identity. It is incoherent to argue that something imposed from outside "should" be a matter of choice, as if the point of the Civil Rights struggle had been Black people's desire to be White. By definition, that couldn't happen: they were fighting againt the categorisation itself.

Her position would extend further privilege to the privileged, while reifying an ongoing problem that continues to harm vast numbers of people. It's a stupid/evil argument and she doesn't deserve academic courtesy.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:59 AM on May 13 [21 favorites]


The attack on this paper is horrific, and the "oversimplification" in the Post above is just as bad. The paper does not argue anything of the sort.

I think the thesis is more accurately: that there is no robust theoretical basis for the distinctions we make between transracialism and transgenderism.


The question of the necessity of robust theoretical bases for social action is somewhat suspended in the paper, (although obviously Tuval has a bias towards having robust theoretical bases).
posted by mary8nne at 4:00 AM on May 13 [24 favorites]


race is primarily significant (particularly in the USA) as an imposed denial of privilege, not as an element of identity.

I think you will find that is also the feminist case against gender discrimination though?

That the category "woman" is primarily an imposed denial of privilege, not an element of identity.
posted by mary8nne at 4:03 AM on May 13 [16 favorites]


if you are studying this particular problem as an outsider (or a newcomer to the field)

So here's the problem. Philosophers make up new names for slight variations on old shit all the time. It's just above 'being white' as things philosophy is famous for. Keyword searches aren't a robust method of literature review in philosophy, the way that searching for a chemical compound name will tell you whether it's been analyzed in certain ways in other fields. You need to engage actual peers who are already in the discussion before you can join.
posted by persona at 4:04 AM on May 13 [11 favorites]


damages are presumed since the critics are impugning her competence in her profession

I really don't understand where Leiter is coming from when he claims that there has been defamation. This issue is particularly heated - but challenging a fellow academic's competence has a long and glorious history.

It isn't a factual claim that can be demonstrated to be untrue, but a strong opinion about the quality of her work (and the vetting done by the reviewers). If we can't share strong opinions about the quality of a fellow academic's work for fear that we can be sued for damages,, where does that leave us?

At the very least, it's an odd argument for him to make if he's concerned about free academic discourse. And I do wonder if he would have made it, if it wasn't someone he feels an obvious sympathy or empathy for - if it was someone who he thought was incompetent.

As a side note, I don't think we can assume that no one's working on an academic response. Given the timelines of academic publishing (and how busy academics are), if one is in the works it could take a while to appear.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:21 AM on May 13 [6 favorites]


Response to this incident from an actual trans philosopher.

At the very least, it's an odd argument for him to make if he's concerned about free academic discourse.

Leiter's response to all sorts of trivial things in the past has been to threaten lawsuits, it's just one of the things he does. (It's always amazing to me as someone in an adjacent field that this guy is such a prominent public voice in philosophy.)
posted by advil at 4:53 AM on May 13 [19 favorites]


I think the whole problem is to decide whether (some version of) self-identification is sufficient. Tuvel's entire argument is that self-identification is the best account of gender identification and that if there is a case for transratialism, self-identification would also be the best account. It doesn't really read, to me at least, as a specific defense of Dolezal, but of the idea that in some cases transratialism might be reasonable.

Is gender appropriated in the same ways as racial identity?

No.

Since there is a robust literature on cultural appropriation and the damage it does, especially when majority identities appropriate features of minority experience, it seems rather obvious that any account of transracial identity would have to take into account appropriation.

Tuvel's thought experiment posits a situation which avoids appropriation. But note, even in her thought experiment, that the child's racial identification relies on being adopted by parents who *are* ancestrally black, being raised in the black community, and spending a lifetime participating in black culture and being identified as culturally black *by that community*.

Her own example is a fairly clear, if apparently unwitting example of the very different ways that racial identity is constructed...and it relies, ultimately, on a concept that the racial identity does emerge from a community identity based in ancestry. It shows that the ancestral concept of racial identity construction applies at the community level, and not necessarily at the individual level, but it hardly abolishes it.

But because of these features, Tuvel's thought experiment does not support any ethical demand for that community, defined by its ancestry, to accept the claims of any and all claimants to a share in that communal, ancestrally-defined identity. There's some legerdemain int he article when she moves from "feels like a member of that race" to the multiple social structures that her thought experiment must invoke in order to support a contention that this feeling can be, for lack of a better term, "authentic" or perhaps "good faith."

More broadly, she moves from the issue of transgenderism, where biological sex is less relevant than socially constructed gender identities, to racial identity, which is almost entirely socially constructed and tendentious as a biological concept. Tuven acknowledges that race has no strong biological basis, but she conflates the literally genetic concept of *biological sex* with the figuratively "genetic" component of racial identity as a function of ancestry. It's a fallacy of equivocation.

But in the case of identities shared by culturally defined communities with particular histories, "socially constructed" does not mean "anything goes if an individual feels it's true." And this is why even Tuven's thought experiment must, at base, rest on community identity.
posted by kewb at 4:55 AM on May 13 [33 favorites]


Also, Tuvel really shows an ignorance of very basic ideas in Critical Race theory when she writes this:
Moreover, someone who genuinely identifies with blackness could perhaps be viewed as affirming blackness instead of insulting it, insofar as this suggests it is desirable to be black. In a world where the worth and value of blackness is routinely denied, perhaps Dolezal's transition could therefore be viewed in a positive light.
I mean, that's what cultural appropriation is: "If someone previously identified by others as white identifies as black, that suggests that being black is worthwhile and valuable."

Imagine applying that thinking to transgenderism! "If someone previously identified as male now identifies as female, that suggests that being female is worthwhile and valuable."

There are certainly worthwhile, supportable arguments to made that racial self-identification can have bases other than individual ancestry, but most of Tuvel's arguments don't work and show a real lack of understanding of prior scholarship on the topic she's broaching.
posted by kewb at 5:01 AM on May 13 [24 favorites]


The retraction petition and online reaction to this paper was disgusting.

I have decided to cut contact with a few people I know who signed it, my equivalent of slowly backing away from a dangerous mob. I don't care about the content of the paper. I saw the righteous bloodlust to attack a woman assistant professor no one had ever heard of before, at a minor college , just gleaming in the eyes of some powerful far more privileged people. I kept thinking about other junior women PhD students and colleagues I have known and imagining them being treated this way by a bunch of academic bullies.

The backlash has been well deserved. If you don't like an argument, demolish it in print. Talk all the shit you want. But when an assistant professor is getting death threats and a gang of tenured bullies is trying to silence her and ruin her career?

Fuck that. It's bullying and piling on no matter how you look at it, and no matter who does it. We have academic freedom for a reason. We have peer review and tenure processes for a reason. This isn't Tumblr.

Here's hoping I get to review something by a signer of that letter someday and I recognize the work. You'd better have cited *everything.*
posted by spitbull at 5:23 AM on May 13 [54 favorites]


The controversy even was the subject of an extensive article in New York magazine, unusual in that academic controversies are not typically at the center of that magazine's focus.

But VERY usual for Jesse Signal, who's lately tried to carve a terfy little niche for himself as a cis man writing for cis audiences with interviews of poor cis folks beset by The Big Mean Trans People (Who Don't Actually Exist, BTW)
posted by Greg Nog at 5:24 AM on May 13 [28 favorites]


Is gender appropriated in the same ways as racial identity?

Given the number of male writers my English teachers spent years telling me *totally* understood women (Hemmingway, I am looking at you), despite the objections of many of us present, that's not quite as useful an argument as you might like. It is very much possible for the male voice to be used as a way of stealing from women.

("In the same ways" is a trap here. Of course it's not in the same ways. No two things are the same.)

On the face of it, the comparison is ridiculous. But this is a bad argument.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 5:25 AM on May 13 [16 favorites]


Fuck that. It's bullying and piling on no matter how you look at it, and no matter who does it.
...
Here's hoping I get to review something by a signer of that letter someday and I recognize the work. You'd better have cited *everything."


Um.
posted by Etrigan at 5:32 AM on May 13 [22 favorites]


The FPP is a mischaracterization of the original paper.

The whole affair has been a witch-hunt based on what people think or heard that she said.

I just pray that her life isn't ruined by the vitriol. And I would never, ever suggest that a non-tenured academic write anything interesting again.
posted by jb at 5:35 AM on May 13 [29 favorites]


I'm agog that anyone would write a paper supporting Dolezal's delusion, let alone anyone publishing that paper.

that's not what the paper was about. It was asking (and not necessarily answering) why do Americans feel so differently about racial identity than they do about gender identity, because they do.

Also: anything you read about it being "anti-Semitic" is pure nonsense. She described the process of conversion to Judaism perfectly - and the narrative of having "a Jewish soul born into a non-Jewish person" is both common and widely accepted among born-Jews and Jews-by-Choice alike.
posted by jb at 5:40 AM on May 13 [24 favorites]


Ms. Botts said: How was the article was able to make it through peer review?

Find a few 'reputable' people you've met, gotten a taste for their approach to things, but not had a working relationship or friendship with and put them on the recommended reviewers list
posted by JoeXIII007 at 6:19 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


This is a Canadian paper, right?

I have read it and I think it's pretty garbage. I strongly suggest that you read it before defending it.

Why?

1. It does not engage with any scholarship by writers of color on this issue.
2. The way it talks about trans issues is all kinds of incompetent - you have only to read her description of Caitlyn Jenner, which is cheesily phrased, to feel deep doubts about her ability to write on this issue.
2.5. She doesn't engage with trans philosphers - or philosophers with serious bona fides on this issue - either!
3. It's pretty much at the level of idle blog speculation - I mean, if I sat down with a glass of wine and said "I am going to spitball some ideas about what gender means", I might produce something at that level. It's just...not that good.

Look, if you want to see what a serious paper about gender and race looks like, I recommend finding Cressida Heyes's "Changing Race, Changing Sex". You will need academic access, I think, but you need that for Hypatia too. It's a thinking-through of how people in the Anglosphere tend to understand race versus how we tend to understand gender - for instance, we think of race as inherited but we don't think of gender as inherited. She talks about how we tend to understand the social construction of race and the social construction of gender and how these differ. Seriously, it's super accessible and it will show you how someone can write about these topics in a way that is rigorous, intelligent, readable to a lay person (such as myself) and useful.

This Hypatia paper was a bad paper, an epic fail. If Nature publishes an epic fail, they have to deal with it. Philosophy isn't just "what I think when I'm having a drink at the bar at the end of the day" - there's, like, actual standards.
posted by Frowner at 6:25 AM on May 13 [52 favorites]


Here's a (as far as I can tell legal) pdf of Changing Race, Changing Sex
posted by hydropsyche at 6:26 AM on May 13


(sorry, that is actually a commentary on the original article, which unfortunately I can't access)
posted by hydropsyche at 6:28 AM on May 13


dammit, here you go
posted by hydropsyche at 6:29 AM on May 13 [11 favorites]


If you don't like an argument, demolish it in print. Talk all the shit you want.

Does the open letter not count as print because it's online
posted by Greg Nog at 6:30 AM on May 13 [9 favorites]


I mean, I tend to think that a better way to handle this would be to have a big chunk of the next Hypatia dedicated to responses, because I think it's worth producing an academic artifact that deals with this line of reasoning. OTOH, people who are concerned about her career might consider that online is sorta-forever, but "Special Issue of Preeminent Journal In Your Field Detailing The Failure of Your Paper" is really forever.

On the "she is just an assistant professor" thing: Look, if you publish in one of your field's big journals, you are published in a highly visible place. If you are not aware that people will respond to your work as if it had "Important and Authoritative" on it, you do not understand how academic journals work. And frankly, it is Hypatia's job to insure that what is published there is up to the mark - they fell down on this just as much as she did, and they should definitely be taking blame. If anything, they let her down - letting someone publish a bad paper that will inspire backlash based on its very badness does them no favors, and I think it would have been more conventional to send it back with "this does not engage with the major scholarship in the field; try again".

With so much of this stuff, I just want to say to people "Are you writing on a topic which is sensitive and which is intimately important to people of a marginalized identity that you do not share? Why not spend some time on these our internets, so that you can get a sense of perspectives that you may have missed before you publish?"
posted by Frowner at 6:43 AM on May 13 [40 favorites]


A one-sentence summary of any text can be challenging; the constraints of being fair, accurate, and concise will have their effects. Nonetheless, I think that paraphrasing Tuvel's article as saying "because it is both possible and acceptable to change one’s gender, it also ought to be possible and acceptable to change one’s race" (in the FPP) is a perfectly OK one-sentence summary. Here is the abstract of Tuvel's article, which says much the same thing; presumably, Tuvel both approved this abstract & has some understanding of what her article says:

Former NAACP chapter head Rachel Dolezal's attempted transition from the white to the black race occasioned heated controversy. Her story gained notoriety at the same time that Caitlyn Jenner graced the cover of Vanity Fair, signaling a growing acceptance of transgender identity. Yet criticisms of Dolezal for misrepresenting her birth race indicate a widespread social perception that it is neither possible nor acceptable to change one's race in the way it might be to change one's sex. Considerations that support transgenderism seem to apply equally to transracialism. Although Dolezal herself may or may not represent a genuine case of a transracial person, her story and the public reaction to it serve helpful illustrative purposes.

One thing about the controversy that this article has triggered is especially amazing to me: several hundred academics, many of them philosophers, didn't seem to understand that there is anything wrong with calling for the public retraction of a philosophy article because (essentially) they differ with its method and/or its conclusions. I tend to think that the petition signers do not really understand what philosophy is or what it is supposed to do. I don't think that this would be a very interesting news story if these were 800 auto mechanics or 800 teenagers signing onto this, but this is 800 academics who really should know better. (I don't know if it's exactly 800, but you can count them if you want.) I found all of this so eyebrow-raising that I actually called one of the signatories, who is chair of the philosophy department in a university in the city where I live, to confirm that his participation wasn't a hoax (it wasn't). Precisely to the extent that the many, many petition signers have not absorbed the norms of academic philosophy, this is a jaw-dropping social development; as a former philosophy student and teacher, it really makes me worry about the norms of the profession.
posted by Mr. Justice at 6:49 AM on May 13 [18 favorites]


I know a lot of the main players in this drama, and I hate that the story has hit here. It's basically impossible for a sub-field to have a fight about something without people popping popcorn and turning it into a big spectator drama, I guess.

I mean, I tend to think that a better way to handle this would be to have a big chunk of the next Hypatia dedicated to responses, because I think it's worth producing an academic artifact that deals with this line of reasoning. OTOH, people who are concerned about her career might consider that online is sorta-forever, but "Special Issue of Preeminent Journal In Your Field Detailing The Failure of Your Paper" is really forever.

I think one objection to this is that our field rewards scholars who are "interesting but wrong" and that would basically be a couple dozen high profile citations, a kind of reward for sloppiness. (Think how disagreeing with Rawls raises his work's profile....)

I think it's a bad paper but I counseled people to ignore it rather than demand a retraction, even boycott it in their citation practices. There are a few papers in my field that I do this with: reviewers often demand a perfunctory cite to them, and I refuse, giving the editor my reasons, and often replacing that cite with a larger discussion of the issue and ancillary cites to placate the reviewer if they'll be reading an R&R. Philosophy doesn't have the same retraction norms as the sciences, so it's hard to imagine a justification for retraction of the sort the Associate Editors demand.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:05 AM on May 13 [12 favorites]


Now, I have not read it and cannot vouch for it, but You've Changed: Sex Reassignment and Personal Identity (2009, so honestly some of the language is pre-2010s trans blogs/publications/visibility) looks pretty interesting. One might not, like, agree with the essays - I don't know, I haven't read any but the Heyes - but it looks like a good way to see what philosophy on this issue looks like.

(Weirdly, I came out of this with a lot more interest in philosophy-the-discipline than I'd felt since before my college philosophy seminars killed me with too much Hume. First I read the Tuval paper and was like "this is like a blog post from 2005, I guess feminist philosophy really is a bit crap", then people started linking to really interesting papers that were challenging to read and a whole new academic landscape opened up.)

The piece that advil linked above is super worth reading. There is way too much quotable stuff to quote, but I was particularly struck by this, which gets at something that bugs me about the article:

Know that we have for decades been exploited across numerous disciplines by researchers who regard us as convenient symbols, examples, and curiosities, often at the expense of distorting and misrepresenting our lives and voices, without regard for the public damage that such distortions and misrepresentations may do.

Tuvel wants to make an argument about "transracialism", which she props up by a metaphorical use of transness while being so uninterested in actual trans people that she doesn't even know the normal language conventions for discussing trans issues. Like many cis writers, she thinks of trans people mostly as a sort of rhetorical simple machine that you use to do other things.

posted by Frowner at 7:18 AM on May 13 [30 favorites]


Are you writing on a topic which is sensitive and which is intimately important to people of a marginalized identity that you do not share?

I really appreciate this point. This paper is about issues that have enormous consequences for trans people and for people of color and black women in particular, but are of only abstract interest to the author and most people in the field of philosophy. Is the (apparently intellectually shoddy) pursuit of abstract intellectual noodling equally important as the concerns of those for whom these abstract arguments have a very real impact on their survival?

Yes, the field of philosophy is going to engage with some heavy shit, but thoughtfulness, rigor, and engagement with those impacted by that shit becomes especially important if you're going to talk about a topic as incendiary as this.
posted by latkes at 7:23 AM on May 13 [15 favorites]


Re: getting philosophers of color to respond in a later (online) edition - my colleague at a nearby university who described some of the behind-the-scenes to me (as I briefly noted previously) pointed out that asking women and philosophers of color to do the extra labor of refuting arguments that have failed to engage with any of the previous work in the entire sub-field of critical race theory (much of which, I gather, is the output of black philosophers) is kinda racist, and piles on to the erasure issues already committed by the editorial board deciding to publish the article in the first place. (My colleague had lots more to say about the power dynamics of the situation, in addition to this point.)

When I think about my own discipline of mathematics: journals and prominent mathematicians regularly receive submissions from people purporting to have proven this or that major open problem (eg. the Riemann Hypothesis) or to disprove a major known result. These typically come from folks outside of the discipline in question (though not always from outside of academia! Sometimes the authors have studied related fields), and typically do not reference work from the relevant area of math. The authors are typically derided as "cranks" and not engaged with or given serious academic consideration.

Although there is certainly an issue of academic classism and people making assumptions based on credentials (or lack thereof) of such authors (those receiving such articles are most often late-career, hold degrees from and tenured positions at esteemed institutions, are white, and are male), the lack of proper citation or engagement with the relevant academic discipline in such papers is often a primary and quite obvious indication that one has such a paper on one's hands. (Though tone of writing in terms of dramatic claims to challenge or upend established orthodoxy is a not-uncommon feature, I'm told.)

Thus they are not given serious academic consideration in large part because they have not given like serious academic consideration by engaging with relevant current literature. It's an issue of academic integrity. If such a paper somehow did get published, the inevitable public calls for retraction would likely be accompanied by a small amount of political infighting, because that sort of thing always seems to happen, but maintaining the journal's academic integrity by retracting a paper that had failed to engage with the relevant research area would not, in itself, be particularly controversial. No one would call for a thorough academic consideration of the ideas in the paper by researchers in the relevant field, and said researchers would likely feel insulted if the journal asked them to seriously refute the paper beyond "this paper does not use mathematically valid arguments" or "the result has been shown previously and this paper does not seriously engage with earlier work as would be necessary for disproving an earlier result."
posted by eviemath at 7:24 AM on May 13 [15 favorites]


On postview, anotherpanacea, I see your point that publication standards in math or the sciences may be different from those in philosophy and thus not entirely comparable.
posted by eviemath at 7:32 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why publishing articles refuting the paper wasn't enough. It's not like more than 100 people would have even read the thing without the controversy.
posted by empath at 7:32 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


race is primarily significant (particularly in the USA) as an imposed denial of privilege, not as an element of identity.

I think you will find that is also the feminist case against gender discrimination though?

That the category "woman" is primarily an imposed denial of privilege, not an element of identity.


I'm not at all sure about that being the feminist case but I think that position would imply that gender is no more changeable than race. If being recognized as a woman is an unwelcome imposition and not part of a person's identity, why wouldn't they just change it? Surely it's because they can't (which is obviously true for many people).

But Tuvel presumes that people can change their gender and their race, which implies that to her they're primarily a matter of self-identification and not something that's imposed. This is a bit facile even when talking about gender, but it's quite risible when talking about race. How many Black people could meaningfully choose to identify as White?
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:37 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Joe in Australia: "How many Black people could meaningfully choose to identify as White?"

Tuvel addresses this, pointing out that this is not an argument against transracialism. I'm not going to reproduce her argument here, but maybe you should read it?
posted by TypographicalError at 7:43 AM on May 13 [6 favorites]


I really appreciate this point. This paper is about issues that have enormous consequences for trans people and for people of color and black women in particular, but are of only abstract interest to the author and most people in the field of philosophy. Is the (apparently intellectually shoddy) pursuit of abstract intellectual noodling equally important as the concerns of those for whom these abstract arguments have a very real impact on their survival?

I sometimes feel like bad scholarship drives out good. The "They've Never Listened To Us" piece linked by advil mentions that a number of trans and/or POC philosophers are interested in ways that the social construction of race and gender intersect. My sense, based on how difficult it is to have conversations about complicated aspects of trans identity, is that the worse/sloppier/more hostile/more instrumentalizing majority discourse is about issues affecting marginalized groups, the more those conversations get sidelined just because people have to, like, survive. It feels like if you say "the way gender is constructed is complicated, and gender identity is complicated, and even trans people have complicated relationships to those concepts", a whole lot of But Actuallys and transphobes are ready to jump in to assure you that therefore trans people don't real, etc, and I imagine that the same is true about race.
posted by Frowner at 7:44 AM on May 13 [12 favorites]


race is primarily significant (particularly in the USA) as an imposed denial of privilege, not as an element of identity.

I disagree.
posted by latkes at 7:45 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


It's a shame that trans rights sometimes seem to be defended with exceptional belligerence, as though intimidating potential opposition was as important as cogent exposition.

All that matters in philosophy is whether your arguments are interesting. If you fail to cite or engage with the right ideas, your own arguments are likely to suffer, but that's the only reason it matters. A philosopher with interesting arguments who cites no-one at all is far better than a dullard who correctly and comprehensively recites the views of the authorities. If you're not interesting, you won't be read; so retraction is at best redundant.

At worst: well, they retracted Socrates alright, didn't they? They retracted him good.
posted by Segundus at 7:49 AM on May 13 [8 favorites]


All that matters in philosophy is whether your arguments are interesting

I find this problematic.
posted by latkes at 7:52 AM on May 13 [6 favorites]


Ah, Brian "defamation per se" Leiter. One of the many joys of having quit philosophy is to only seldom catch a whiff of him as he wafts through the discipline like a putrefying sock.
posted by Beardman at 7:54 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]


To oversimplify, the article suggested that, because it is both possible and acceptable to change one’s gender, it also ought to be possible and acceptable to change one’s race.

Except, here's the thing: gender identity is to some degree innate and neurological. See for instance the case of David Reimer, who was raised as a girl after losing his penis in a circumcision accident (spoiler: it didn't take, and he ended up committing suicide); see also various studies on neurological aspects of gender identity (here, for instance). "Racial identity" is largely cultural and socially constructed. Transgender people would still be transgender even if the option to physically transition were unavailable (and exist in every culture). "Transracial" people wouldn't exist at all without a separate racially-defined culture to acculturate to.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 8:20 AM on May 13 [11 favorites]


It's a shame that trans rights sometimes seem to be defended with exceptional belligerence, as though intimidating potential opposition was as important as cogent exposition.

It's almost as if there are centuries of oppressing trans people, people of color and women, and numerous more recent indicators of a glorious backslide away from civil rights after a few decades of minimal or nonexistent progress or something.

That's the fundamental problem with abstractly noodling about stuff that may not affect you, but does affect a whole bunch of other people. That, and in this particular case, transness and "transracialism" are not at all similar or related things, and the very assumption that they must be is patently offensive on multiple levels. Philosophy should be interesting, but this all gets into "Aristotle talking about teeth" or "Aristotle talking about freedom while shooing away the slaves" territory. It's obviously motivated more by a mordant freakshow voyeurism from cis/white people than sincere interest in how gender and race can possibly be compared or expressed in personal identity.
posted by byanyothername at 8:20 AM on May 13 [33 favorites]


Bad scholarship happens all the time. I don't know if this piece is bad scholarship or not, I don't have those capabilities. But if scholars have a problem with the normative conclusions or implications of an academic paper's argument, they should do what all the other adults in the academy should also be doing: rebut in print, at conferences, on blogs, whatever. The last thing they should be doing call for a retraction (how do retractions work for theoretical pieces if there are no plagariasm issues?).

This reaction is absurd and a threat to academic freedom.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:17 AM on May 13 [10 favorites]


I was perplexed by Tuvel's first note:
Importantly, I am not suggesting that race and sex are equivalent. Rather, I intend to show that similar arguments that support transgenderism support transracialism. My thesis relies in no way upon the claim that race and sex are equivalent, or historically constructed in exactly the same way.
I mean, if you are not suggesting that they are equivalent, shouldn't that lead to the consideration that the arguments you are comparing also aren't equivalent? Or at least a hint that you have to do a lot more groundwork?
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:19 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


There's a strong difference in self identification between race and gender. Gender is a pretty strong element self-identification for most people. I mean for one thing it's tied up with human sexuality which, to say the least, people have strong personal feelings about to the point where people who are asexual are considered very much not the notm.

Race is not a primary element of self identification for most people. Ethnicity is, and I want to make a distinction between the two. For example, I have cousins who are Ethiopian/Norwegian American. This statement actually says something, albeit limited about their background, their cultural knowledge, and family life growing up. And they are free to identify more or less with different aspects of their background.

But at large in American society, they get to be considered "black." Which says absolutely nothing about their experience or background outside of which useless and insulting stereotypes they get to encounter.

Now one of the lasting wounds of slavery and segregation in the United States is that there is no racially neutral "American" ethnicity in the public consciousness. Slavery violently tore the cultural heritage from the African Americans who were brought over in chains, so there was no choice but to make that identity anew. Racism and segregation have ensured that to this day that if a white person identifies their ethnicity as "American" there is a very loud, if unspoken "white" added at the beginning.

Honestly, I think that's why a lot of white Americans have so much trouble identifying as plain "American" rather than "ethnicity-American" because there's a gut level understanding that this means endorsing race, and quite possibly racism, as identity. And one of the things that gives me a sinking feeling in my stomach is that a lot of the rhetoric I see on any side of the political divide only seems to reinforce the implicit assumption that racial categories are ethnic categories.

The problem is, in America, to some degree they are, and you can't fix that by being "race blind" because in practice that means asking people who aren't visibly white to act more like a stereotypical white American than visibly white people, while still getting a lot of crap. I wish I had a better solution or answer, but I think the truth is that it's just going to take a lot of hard work fighting racism on all fronts to make "American" a racially inclusive identification. And it should be. It needs to be.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:23 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]


That's the fundamental problem with abstractly noodling about stuff that may not affect you, but does affect a whole bunch of other people.

I get why this would not be acceptable for a FPP, or a dinner table conversation, or whatever. But if a scholar studying this stuff can't do it in a philosophy journal, then where can one do it?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:31 AM on May 13 [12 favorites]


Does it need to be done? Is the world better if tired arguments that have already been refuted repeatedly both in the literature not referenced in the article and in the world get published in a philosophy journal?
posted by hydropsyche at 9:33 AM on May 13 [6 favorites]


Plenty of scholarship that doesn't need to be done gets done. Cf., all dissertations. That's a pretty high bar. Anyway,its up to the editor. And do people call for the retraction of a paper if it makes tired arguments? or if they believe that the peer review and editorial process wasn't great? No. Don't fool yourself into thinking this reaction is about the quality of the argument--its about the normative implications/conclusions of such an argument. That's not a good precedent. Scholars have ways of dealing with poor scholarship, this isn't one of them.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:38 AM on May 13 [17 favorites]


I think the problem with the thought experiment is the lengthy history we have in the US of blackface and the whole racism-driven concept of passing and the exploitation of race for entertainment. Particularly problematic is the example of Dolezal who managed to become the head of the NAACP in Spokane while performing blackface as her lifestyle.

The concept of race as a social construct is one that should be examined and is one worthy of thought in many disciplines. Using Dolezal as an example of this is so problematic that it negates any examination of the subject as worthy of discussion.
posted by hippybear at 9:38 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


As others have said, in my discipline, if something this poorly cited had somehow slipped through the peer review process, it would be retracted.

How do I know it's poorly cited? I am a stream ecologist, and I can name papers in critical race theory and trans theory that should have been cited and that if the author had read them could have prevented this whole thing from ever being written let alone published. If I know about this work, how could someone doing a basic literature review before sitting down to write have missed it? And why would you publish something that failed to do a basic literature review?
posted by hydropsyche at 9:46 AM on May 13 [17 favorites]


So there are two big issues that seem to be in play here:

(1) Is her piece good or worthwhile?
(2) Is the response it received warranted?

Lots of outstanding insight into (1) above...I'm curious what you all think about (2)?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:02 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


One explanation for why this could have happened (conceding that this=shitty scholarship that ignores lit in the field got published) is if the editors of the journal aren't familiar with that subfield. I've seen this happen for general journals before. Is that the case? Can anyone with expert knowledge weigh in?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:11 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


I'm agog that anyone would write a paper supporting Dolezal's delusion, let alone anyone publishing that paper.

The paper itself is not a defense of Dolezal's actions. The paper is a philosophical argument, which makes a logical case that you cannot view as transgenderism as morally unproblematic without making the same assumptions about "transracialism." It does not absolve Dolezal for what she did to set back the cause of racial justice organizing in Spokane.
posted by jonp72 at 10:14 AM on May 13 [11 favorites]


Is the world better if tired arguments that have already been refuted repeatedly both in the literature not referenced in the article and in the world get published in a philosophy journal?

Yes? How is this even a question. We should never stop thinking about anything. If someone wants to ponder the philosophical implications of phlogiston or a flat earth, they should be able to do so.
posted by empath at 10:29 AM on May 13 [10 favorites]


I found the paper to be careful and precise, and possibly helpful. After reading it, I wondered why isn't this considered an opportunity for CRT and Trans philosophy to sharpen their insights. I don't think Tuvel's examples were final. They were useful and I hope that someone will write a paper that offers a critique or an angle she might not have considered. Hurt feelings is not a useful critique.

The article did not say that gender and race were the same, or similarly constructed. It wasn't even a defense, really, of transracialism. It did, however, force those who are in the discipline to be much more precise. This is why I think it's interesting. While I'm not a professional academic, I have still found many fundamental concepts as explained by people in CRT and Trans theory to be very confusing in their own literature, and I've often wished that they had stronger philosophical training.

Critical Theory and Philosophy approach problems differently. The idea that a person of any specific identity has authority over one's own experience is contested epistemologically, first of all, and as a solution philosophers begin with simply stating their assumptions, not their specific context of those assumptions. By and large, it's not required that philosophers address all the literature beforehand, or engage it as a foil.

There are larger critiques of philosophy, in particular analytic philosophy, as a whole that may have merit. Philosophy departments should research why the discipline is generally white and male.
posted by john wilkins at 10:34 AM on May 13 [16 favorites]


This thread seems to be functioning well as a refutation of why asking those who have already thought and written much on a topic to write further responses to a poorly-sourced article from a neophyte in the subject area may not, in fact, be a productive response by most common definitions of "productive".
posted by eviemath at 10:36 AM on May 13 [19 favorites]


Yes? How is this even a question. We should never stop thinking about anything. If someone wants to ponder the philosophical implications of phlogiston or a flat earth, they should be able to do so.

No one's stopping them from pondering whatever they want. The questions seem to actually be 1) Should they get to publish in the primary literature? and 2) Should people be allowed to criticize them when they do?

I can ponder whatever I want in ecology, too. But to get published, my shit better be well grounded in the literature, including the well-established literature that contradicts my pondering.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:37 AM on May 13 [14 favorites]


so yeah gonna put in another plug for the article that advil linked above, They've Never Listened To Us. i strongly recommend that as a primer on why trans people and people of color are actually up in arms about this paper.

it's easy to think at first blush that we're just being censorious about a totally valid paper that just happens to reach conclusions we don't like. (in fact, Rohl emphasizes that the comparability of issues of racial identity and gender identity is one that philosophers are discussing meaningfully-- just not like this.) they speak to that criticism here:
Worse than either of these, though, is the consistent, willful mischaracterization of our concerns. No matter how many times we say that the paper is under-researched, under-argued, derivative, or banal, and no matter how many times we say that the real problem is bigger than this paper, others have seized upon the idea that the paper is under attack for asking unaskable questions or for drawing an unpopular conclusion.

Some of us disagree with the paper’s stated conclusion, but, for the most part, objections to the question and the conclusion have not been at the center of the complaints presented. Others have chosen to read us this way on very little evidence. To understand why this is so insulting, you need to understand that we are, after all, philosophers. We know how to appreciate a good argument for a bad conclusion. We know how the examination of such arguments is essential to doing careful philosophical work. Like other philosophers, we got into this business to ask the big questions, and we understand that sometimes, when you do that, you get answers that challenge your comfortable, familiar beliefs.

The paper takes a controversial position, and many observers were quick to assume that our stated objections must be primarily objections to that position. This reading of our objections is at odds with the idea that we are real philosophers who are willing to confront the hard questions and the uncomfortable implications of appealing positions. Given this tension, many of our colleagues have chosen to stick with the unsubstantiated hunch that we must think no paper defending this conclusion should be published, and to discard the assumption that we are serious philosophers. This comes across as more than a little insulting.
posted by magentaisafuncolortobe at 10:38 AM on May 13 [32 favorites]


Yes, we do seem to be forgetting that Hypatia is a peer reviewed academic journal, not a random blog or internet magazine even.
posted by eviemath at 10:40 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]


Is it common for poor scholarship to provoke 800-signatory-petitions?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:48 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


2.5. She doesn't engage with trans philosphers - or philosophers with serious bona fides on this issue - either!

Tuvel cites at least two transgender scholars in the paper, Susan Stryker and Talia Mae Bettcher. She cites Susan Stryker in the second paragraph for crying out loud!
posted by jonp72 at 10:49 AM on May 13 [9 favorites]


The paper is a philosophical argument, which makes a logical case that you cannot view as transgenderism as morally unproblematic without making the same assumptions about "transracialism."

Just to add, again, that there are multiple problems with this premise along multiple axes, and posing it as a serious question at all displays rather offensive ignorance of both trans and racial issues. It might be a beautiful argument (by critical accounts, it's not), I'm not wasting my time engaging with it, but it's built on a bad faith premise that can go nowhere but downhill.

This is like if someone wanted to publish a paper arguing for racial inferiority/superiority and used a completely unrelated field like behavioral studies of rainforest snakes to support that position. Bad and specious and poorly researched and unwilling to take into account the work of other academics and individuals more directly affected by the issues discussed. There isn't much merit to that, it just acts as an intellectual weapon to drain others of time and energy refuting an intentionally nonsense position.
posted by byanyothername at 10:54 AM on May 13 [10 favorites]


I'm a cis white guy, but I did go to liberal arts college in the 1990s & I remember there used to be a lot more hostility directed against female-to-male transsexuals in the debates at the time. I know personally somebody who was an alumna of Wellesley who transitioned to a male gender identity & got blackballed as a result. I also seem to remember reading about incidents of transmen who were booted out of women's music festivals at the time.

So, the idea that transgenderism is "naturally" unproblematic, while transracialism is naturally problematic in the same way, it just doesn't make any sense based on my own historical memory.
posted by jonp72 at 10:56 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]


If someone wants to ponder the philosophical implications of phlogiston or a flat earth, they should be able to do so.

This is an occasional and constantly needed reminder that gender and race issues are very much not like phlogiston or flat-earth issues, because people who are personally and professionally engaged in phlogiston or flat-earth issues are not getting murdered.
posted by Etrigan at 10:59 AM on May 13 [32 favorites]


(2) Is the response it received warranted?

So I've been involved in an academic kerfluffle over a paper I coauthored that resulted in a published correction because my paper only cited two of someone's more recent papers and not enough of their older work to tell the story to their satisfaction. And that exchange was not half so polite as the letter calling for this article's retraction.

If I tried to publish an article in any reputable journal that straight up ignored vast amounts of prior work, I would expect to be rejected and told in rather blunt terms to go do a lot of reading. If I somehow got a paper published that ignored vast amounts of prior work, I would full well expect to get raked over the coals and the journal, too.

Yes, the fact that it's related to an issue that has national attention greatly magnifies the attention it gets and the number of people weighing in. But if this were a paper in an obscure field with the same faults, I can only imagine an even more one-sided and harsh grilling.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:00 AM on May 13 [10 favorites]


The paper is a philosophical argument, which makes a logical case that you cannot view as transgenderism as morally unproblematic without making the same assumptions about "transracialism."

No, it doesn't make a logical case, at all, because it proceeds from flawed assumptions that constitute a fundamental category error (see my previous post). The whole thing reads like an attempt at a subtle discrediting of trans identities by comparing being transgender to cultural appropriation of womanhood (because TERFs and other transphobes almost invariably focus on trans women and not trans men, for some reason).
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 11:02 AM on May 13 [7 favorites]


Just to add, again, that there are multiple problems with this premise along multiple axes, and posing it as a serious question at all displays rather offensive ignorance of both trans and racial issues.

If there are multiple problems along multiple axes, why don't you state them? I've seen people in this thread that Tuvel ignores arguments about transracialism based in biology, even though other people have quoted Tuvel's paper to show she does address that argument. I've seen people say Tuvel doesn't engage with transgender scholars, but when I start looking up the names of the scholars in the paper, I can already find two transgender scholars & I am nowhere near up to speed on current debates in academic philosophy.

You can definitely take on Tuvel's argument, but I am completely dumbfounded by the bad faith and easily falsifiable arguments that have been directed against her. A lot of the criticism directed against Tuvel boils down too "You horrible person with such a horrible argument. I can't even begin to tell you how wrong you are." & then they never exactly what was wrong or horrible about her argument.
posted by jonp72 at 11:05 AM on May 13 [19 favorites]



If there are multiple problems along multiple axes, why don't you state them? I've seen people in this thread that Tuvel ignores arguments about transracialism based in biology, even though other people have quoted Tuvel's paper to show she does address that argument.


In a glibly superficial way that ignores and misstates by omission the actual state of research on the biological/neurological bases of gender identity.

I've seen people say Tuvel doesn't engage with transgender scholars, but when I start looking up the names of the scholars in the paper, I can already find two transgender scholars

Cherry-picking a few quotes you can twist to support your argument isn't really "engagement", certainly not to the level that inviting trans scholars to be part of the peer review process would be.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 11:10 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


No, it doesn't make a logical case, at all, because it proceeds from flawed assumptions that constitute a fundamental category error (see my previous post). The whole thing reads like an attempt at a subtle discrediting of trans identities by comparing being transgender to cultural appropriation of womanhood (because TERFs and other transphobes almost invariably focus on trans women and not trans men, for some reason).

The idea that racial identity must be treated as categorically different from gender identity because gender identity is more "natural" is addressed in Tuvel's paper & completely ignores that religion has no biological basis whatsoever, but we view religious conversions as completely unproblematic. In addition, Tuvel is not comparing being transgender to cultural appropriation of womanhood (e.g., drag shows by cis men) but arguing that the same distinction we make between transgender and cultural appropriation of womanhood could also be used to make a distinction between transracialism and blackface. Blackface and transracialism are not the same thing, Tuvel argues, because blackface is the temporary "donning" of a racial identity for the sake of denigrating that racial identity, whereas transracialism implies an intent to permanently convert to another racial identity and voluntarily accept any burdens that come with that racial identity. Dolezal is a morally problematic person, but her desire to be black is not the core of what makes her morally problematic. There are several cases, such as Mezz Mezzrow and Johnny Otis, of white people who adopted a black identity at considerable risk to themselves & do not have the history of deceit that Dolezal does.
posted by jonp72 at 11:19 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


To oversimplify, the article suggested that, because it is both possible and acceptable to change one’s gender, it also ought to be possible and acceptable to change one’s race.


I cannot get past the word "acceptable." Lord almighty I wish cis people would stop writing about trans people and give us our own platform. It is absolutely not acceptable. WE CAN'T EVEN PEE IN PEACE FOR CHRIST'S SAKE. Many of us can't get healthcare, most of us are not protected at work, and I personally know three people who cannot access homeless shelters. "Acceptable" my ass.

Also, we don't change our gender. We just tell everyone what it has been all along.

The Big Mean Trans People (Who Don't Actually Exist, BTW)

You don't remember meeting me in Chicago, then? ;)
posted by AFABulous at 11:25 AM on May 13 [39 favorites]


Cherry-picking a few quotes you can twist to support your argument isn't really "engagement", certainly not to the level that inviting trans scholars to be part of the peer review process would be.

Is the issue that Tuvel did not cite a sufficient quota of trans scholars? Or is the issue that Hypatia did not enlist trans scholars in reviewing Tuvel's paper? (Although are we sure that trans scholars didn't review Tuvel's paper? Since peer review is anonymous, we don't absolutely know if one or more of the reviewers was trans or not. We're just assuming that the reviewers didn't include any trans reviewers, because other trans-identified people denounced the paper. But what if there is a silent minority of trans scholars who do not find Tuvel's paper problematic?)

Even if we do stipulate that Hypatia did not include trans scholars in the process of reviewing Tuvel's paper, that is not Tuvel's error so much as an error on Hypatia's part. One junior professor should not be made the scapegoat for the macro-level disciplinary problem of lack of trans representation in reviewing philosophy papers at feminist papers.
posted by jonp72 at 11:25 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]



The idea that racial identity must be treated as categorically different from gender identity because gender identity is more "natural" is addressed in Tuvel's paper


Except it really isn't. It's not something that's interrogated in any real depth, and it makes selective use of citations to buttress the argument she's making while ignoring a significant amount of current and relevant research into the relationship between neurology/biology and gender identity.

Tuvel is not comparing being transgender to cultural appropriation of womanhood

Except she kind of is. Since "transracialism" is cultural appropriation, and she's defending it. (Obvious subtext is obvious.)
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 11:25 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


One junior professor should not be made the scapegoat for the macro-level disciplinary problem of lack of trans representation in reviewing philosophy papers at feminist papers journals.

Except that that problem is symptomatic of a certain strand of feminist scholarship that denies the validity of trans identities and seeks to exclude trans women from feminist spaces. You may be ignorant of this history and context, but many of the people protesting the publication of this article are not.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 11:31 AM on May 13 [13 favorites]


In addition to the excellent article by a trans philosopher that has already been linked a couple of times and the article in the FPP by one of the signers of the letter, those who are still confused by the rationale of the letter (and who hopefully have read the letter), may appreciate the response by the full Hypatia board (i.e., not just the senior editor) and this post by one of Tuvel's colleagues.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:34 AM on May 13 [9 favorites]


None of us ever expected it to circulate so widely, to garner so many signatures, or to become the object of news stories.

Since "guessing at the secret motivations behind papers in analytical philosophy" seems to count as a legitimate form of philosophical critique by the open letter's authors, let me guess at the secret motivation revealed by this line in the Winnubst article: the open letter's authors had really hoped to be able to expunge Tuvel's perspective from the literature without the world at large really noticing. Although the letter itself is disgraceful, the fact that it reached a wider audience means it may ultimately have had a beneficial effect.
posted by oliverburkeman at 11:41 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]


The article did not say that gender and race were the same, or similarly constructed.

But she constructs her arguemens as if they were. Tuvel needed to parse out how the categories were alike and different in her mind before she started with the comparisons. A weak disclaimer is not sufficient.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:43 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


Since "guessing at the secret motivations behind papers in analytical philosophy" seems to count as a legitimate form of philosophical critique by the open letter's authors

Didn't read it, I see. (Or you're doing your own guessing, perhaps.)

the open letter's authors had really hoped to be able to expunge Tuvel's perspective from the literature without the world at large really noticing

Calling for a retraction on the grounds of shoddy scholarship isn't "expunging...perspective"; papers in philosophy journals have to meet certain criteria to pass peer review (including engagement with current scholarship in the field relevant to the subject). If you're going to interrogate the construction of gender and racial identities, then you should be engaging with scholarship on those issues from gender-variant and non-white perspectives (particularly so in the case of something submitted for publication in a journal of academic feminism).

the letter itself is disgraceful

No, it isn't; the paper was rather disgraceful, the response is merited. This isn't an issue of academic freedom, or freedom of speech; it's an issue of academic rigour and peer-review standards relating to scholarship touching on marginalised identities.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 11:58 AM on May 13 [12 favorites]


Cherry-picking a few quotes you can twist to support your argument isn't really "engagement", certainly not to the level that inviting trans scholars to be part of the peer review process would be.

So much this. The citation style is "freshman college essay" - picking out quotes that support a predecided point. In a work of academic scholarship, papers need to accurately summarize the conclusions of the works cited.

Reading the paper fails to impart anything about the important differences between race, as constructed in modern American society, and gender, as constructed in modern American society. This is very much an academic failing on its part. This context is very necessary. Despite protests to the contrary, the work does focus on examining the case and arguments around a specific person in a specific cultural context.

And the fact that it's author did not do the reading on it shows. The arguments basically proceed from "race is a social construct that can change" to "it is possible to imagine a society in which it is possible 'race' is an quality individuals can change" and then uses that imagined definition of "race" to address questions of race in this one, with utter disregard to that those two definitions of race aren't the same thing. Yes, it is possible to define a imaginary society with a definition of "race" such that "race" can be an individual choice. But without any comparison to race as it stands in present society, that's just an exercise in question begging. And writing that, I just realized that bringing in transgendered people wasn't even necessary to make the argument that this paper makes.

The bottom line is that the author did not familiarize herself with the subjects she was wading into sufficiently, a good peer review process should have caught this and told her so that she could go do the reading, get a better grasp of what race means at this place and time, and write something that would have a chance of advancing the discourse.
posted by Zalzidrax at 12:17 PM on May 13 [8 favorites]


Seriously, if you're looking at Tuval's paper and saying "but she cites" and "this is tightly reasoned!", I strongly suggest that you read the Heyes paper or poke around and read some other writers - even people I'm not super into, like Halberstam or Butler. Tuval's "citations" are really thin citations - like, they don't engage complexly with what is cited.
posted by Frowner at 12:37 PM on May 13 [9 favorites]


Since "transracialism" is cultural appropriation, and she's defending it. (Obvious subtext is obvious.)

"Obvious" assertion with no argument is not proof.
posted by jonp72 at 12:42 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


I don't really have the time or energy to elaborate on this point, and I hate to drop a bomb and leave, but it's false that "gender" is socially constructed. Gender roles and presentation are socially constructed. Gender exists outside of roles and presentations; examples are feminine trans men and butch trans women. Humans made up a binary based on sex characteristics; people with vaginas are like this and people with penises are like that. That is easily proved to be mostly arbitrary garbage (many vagina-havers don't like kids, etc etc). People can choose their roles and presentations (albeit with consequences if one strays too far from the binary) but they cannot choose their gender, only discover it.
posted by AFABulous at 1:08 PM on May 13 [20 favorites]


Seriously, if you're looking at Tuval's paper [sic] and saying "but she cites" and "this is tightly reasoned!", I strongly suggest that you read the Heyes paper or poke around and read some other writers - even people I'm not super into, like Halberstam or Butler. Tuval's "citations" are really thin citations - like, they don't engage complexly with what is cited.

I can't be sure exactly what paper you're talking about, but I did track down the Heyes paper that Tuvel cited in her own paper: Changing Race, Changing Sex: The Ethics of Self-Transformation. Now that I've read the Heyes paper I am actually less convinced that Heyes has a slam-dunk argument against Tuvel. I think Heyes has made the error that gender is somehow more real or "natural" than race because it is more medicalized than race is. For example, she argues that there is no racial analogue to Gender Identity Disorder, yet earlier in the paper, she includes a gratuitous aside that argues transracialism is a mental disorder. She also cites several examples of lesbian separatist antagonism toward male-to-female transsexuals, including the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival's policy of accepting only "womyn-born womyn," but these only serve to undermine her assumption that gender has a special status as "more natural" than race.

Second of all, Heyes organized an anonymous letter denouncing Tuvel without revealing that her own work was criticized in Tuvel's paper. At best, this a major violation of academic norms of collegiality. And at worst, it's a violation of scholarly ethics.
posted by jonp72 at 1:28 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


The letter and the good number of links above have provided a clear rationale for why people find Tuvel's article troubling. There is zero evidence that Heyes or anyone else was objecting to Tuvel's criticism of her work. Every single scholar out there knows that their work will be criticized. That's part of the literature. Nobody organizes campaigns like this because their feelings are hurt by scholarly criticism.

Again, the editorial board of Hypatia agreed with the criticism of Tuvel's article in the letter and agreed that something had gone wrong in their review process for it to have been published in their journal.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:48 PM on May 13 [4 favorites]


The letter and the good number of links above have provided a clear rationale for why people find Tuvel's article troubling. There is zero evidence that Heyes or anyone else was objecting to Tuvel's criticism of her work. Every single scholar out there knows that their work will be criticized. That's part of the literature. Nobody organizes campaigns like this because their feelings are hurt by scholarly criticism.

How the hell do we know that? This strikes me as extremely naive about how office politics within academia works.
posted by jonp72 at 1:53 PM on May 13 [10 favorites]


I have an MS and a PhD and have been a professor for 6 years. I have published over a dozen articles in the primary literature, some highly cited, some not, many with blistering criticism.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:55 PM on May 13 [5 favorites]


[jonp72, you're kind of digging in here in a weirdly insistent way, that the numerous criticisms of the article detailed above and in the links can't be correct or can't be the actual reasons. It's fine if you're unpersuaded, but at this point maybe let it be at that.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:00 PM on May 13 [12 favorites]


From hydropsyche's link:

"the practice of deadnaming, in which a trans person’s name is accompanied by a reference to the name they were assigned at birth"

Did Tuval do this? If so that's pretty egregious on her part and on the part of the editor.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:02 PM on May 13


I have an MS and a PhD and have been a professor for 6 years. I have published over a dozen articles in the primary literature, some highly cited, some not, many with blistering criticism.

I have a Ph.D. too, but I fled academia. Maybe you should realize why some people flee academia & the toxic office politics that reigns there. I see the Heyes vs. Tuvel fight as a more senior scholar bullying a junior scholar & I cannot simply assume that Heyes' motives are pure simply because she identifies as feminist. Academics have positions of relative privilege in our society & should be called to account when they abuse that privilege.
posted by jonp72 at 2:02 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


(She deadnamed Caitlyn Jenner...(?))
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:04 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


This is only as controversial as it is because it fits in so neatly with the ongoing narrative that academia is becoming too PC and too hostile to thought crimes and so on. The letter and the retraction of this article are just symbolic of something bigger, of a mob mentality, a hostility to free speech, and a refusal to engage with ideas people don't want to hear. Is it even really about the article itself? Does it even matter what the board says about retracting the article over peer review issues? They might as well be saying they caved in the face of PC pressure, and oh, for shame they didn't bravely stand their ground. That narrative was already out there, and this is just another chapter.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:10 PM on May 13 [6 favorites]


[one comment deleted. Please don't use Caitlyn Jenner's former name; it's regarded as offensive to do so, look up " deadnaming" if you want to read more about that norm.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:10 PM on May 13 [5 favorites]


(She deadnamed Caitlyn Jenner...(?))

FYI, per the article:
[Correction added on May 04, 2017, after online publication: at the author’s request, a
parenthetical reference to Jenner’s birth name was removed.]
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:15 PM on May 13 [4 favorites]


This is only as controversial as it is because it fits in so neatly with the ongoing narrative that academia is becoming too PC and too hostile to thought crimes and so on.

it's also reflective of a pattern of invalidation of the criticisms that trans people and PoCs have for the white and/or cis people who oppress them.

a paper is published which clearly reflects the lack of engagement by philosophy as a discipline with trans and PoC voices, particularly those of trans and PoC philosophers; we speak up with reasonable and detailed criticisms about the issue, as loud as needs be to be heard-- and indeed get redress, so, go us-- but we are also accused of being censorious and attempting to silence arguments which might undermine our own case for our validity and rights.

casting any attempt on our part to speak up for ourselves as silencing and bullying is a convenient way to avoid having to perform any self-examination or admit any fault on their part.

and it is drearily, drearily familiar.
posted by magentaisafuncolortobe at 2:23 PM on May 13 [25 favorites]


it's also reflective of a pattern of invalidation of the criticisms that trans people and PoCs have for the white and/or cis people who oppress them

Sorry, I've got a migraine and I may have misspoken. What I meant was that I think a large part of why people are treating this as a chilling blow against free speech is only because that narrative is already out there. The hordes of trans and trans-allied scholars at the gates of sober, rational thought experiments, etc. I don't think there would be so many thinkpieces about this if it didn't fit in so neatly with that narrative.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:35 PM on May 13 [5 favorites]


hydropsyche: "In addition to the excellent article by a trans philosopher that has already been linked a couple of times and the article in the FPP by one of the signers of the letter, those who are still confused by the rationale of the letter (and who hopefully have read the letter), may appreciate the response by the full Hypatia board (i.e., not just the senior editor) and this post by one of Tuvel's colleagues."

I've read all these. I still don't get it fully, but maybe that's because none of these bothers to engage with the arguments Tuvel gives. Several of these articles are very upfront about this! And there's also ugliness: I don't know how you can cite an article as "excellent" that contains this shitty work:
They insist the piece is tightly argued, but they restate its core argument using generalizations that fail when confronted with trivial and obvious counterexamples that would immediately occur to anybody who has done even the most basic philosophical work on these topics.
I lost count of the number of rhetorical problems with that paragraph.

Fundamentally, all of these articles are written with an assumption that the reader already knows and understands "critical race theory" and etc. etc. It's a completely inaccessible argument to the general public, and no one has made any real effort to fix that. Especially on this godforsaken thread. And while I'm generally very sympathetic to claims that people shouldn't be asked to address things they feel are "basic" about marginalized groups, when you have literally everyone talking about the basic ideas that Tuvel doesn't address... maybe you mention one? Two?

None of it feels like how you would respond to a journal article, and since no one is bothering to explain to the proles the deficiencies in the arguments, it's really not that hard to get to the conclusion that most of the reaction to this paper is just a deflection of the widespread anger of Dolezal onto Tuvel.

I don't know if the article is good or not. I read it, it seemed well-argued to me. None of the things I've read subsequently have bothered to try to convince me otherwise, just sneered at me for not getting it.
posted by TypographicalError at 2:42 PM on May 13 [16 favorites]


Oh yeah, looking at my other comment, I should have made it more clear that I think the "PC thugs shut down free thought" narrative is kind of bullshit.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:42 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


Ugh, this thread is sucking. People are digging in, and I personally feel like I can either contribute to a pile on or let go comments which I find harmful. It's challenging to get anywhere good at this point in the conversation.

I know some people have a real fear about a chilling effect of the response to this paper. I'm not sure that there's quantitative evidence for that fear, but it seems like a valid thing to be concerned about.

But should that concern be weighed equally with the concerns of folks who feel the original article is reinforcing a set of beliefs that is used to justify economic, housing, and job discrimination, along with emotional and physical violence? Black people and trans people are being murdered simply for existing. Do you weigh concerns about academic freedom equally to that? I mean, is it at least understandable why this article might inspire a strong response?

I am concerned about the rights of academics to explore controversial issues, and I am concerned about POC and trans people's right to self-determination. But I am not concerned about those things equally. Is it wrong to ask that if someone in academia is going to write something likely to feel really hurtful or offensive to people of color and trans people, that they should take care to be thoughtful in their wording, and to make an effort to read what people from those communities are writing on the topic? Or do people here really think academics should just write whatever the hell they feel like?

I don't understand how it would hurt those of us who have gender and/or race privilege to simply have a little humility and curiosity about other people's perspectives? We live in a world where we have heard much more from cis people than trans people. We have heard much more from white people than people of color. My fellow white cis people, let's just listen a little? It won't hurt us to listen.
posted by latkes at 2:47 PM on May 13 [24 favorites]


I have learned a lot from this thread and the references given in the comments. I hope it can continue because this discussion is so much more thoughtful than what I've read elsewhere.
posted by SakuraK at 2:52 PM on May 13 [4 favorites]


Sorry, I've got a migraine and I may have misspoken

i didn't see anything wrong with what you said, and i hope i didn't make you feel attacked. i was just trying to add to it an important perspective that's more obvious from where i sit.

i just feel that it is important to understand, a core idea of white supremacy is that white people have the exclusive right to tell the stories of PoC; and cisnormativity feels the same way about us. challenging the idea that a white cis person should be able to say what she likes about trans people and PoC without getting any backtalk is not going to go over well with a certain type of white and/or cis person.

i am not surprised at the uproar. a lot of people have a lot invested in the status quo. it's important to them to keep us quiet.
posted by magentaisafuncolortobe at 2:53 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


[One deleted. We've had the "what are the norms around deadnaming" conversation a number of times, and again if you want to revisit that please go read about it elsewhere rather than starting it up in here. (It's relevant only insofar as someone saying they're a scholar of transgender issues should know the current norm. The fact that people outside the field don't know the norm is neither here nor there.) And jonp, I'll say it one more time: take a break from this thread for a while.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:07 PM on May 13 [12 favorites]


Speaking as a white trans academic, I've found this thread a depressing read. It's the same old, same old: marginalized scholars critique a problematic publication which relates to both their areas of expertise and their lived experiences. Then the controversy goes public, and they are framed as hysterical, the true oppressors, the enemies of free speech, whose critiques are opaque nonsense. I'd have hoped for better here, but we see the same tired old themes. With a bonus helping of the deceptive trans person trope.

I mean, don't get me wrong, I believe internet callout culture can be deployed in very bad ways. But this thread has sapped my energy for substantive discussion, so I'm going to step away and go hang out with my guinea pig. Peace.
posted by DrMew at 3:20 PM on May 13 [34 favorites]


Here's hoping I get to review something by a signer of that letter someday and I recognize the work. You'd better have cited *everything."

Um.


No, "um" back atcha. All I'm threatening is to practice peer review to the same standard these bullies have disingenuously endorsed. I'm not threatening to shame and bully people in public, send horrid letters to their deans and colleagues, and assert that because they didn't cite the right people they deserve to have their entire career ruined.

Many of the signatories to that letter are bullshit scholars whose work is largely autoreferential advocacy. For any number of them, accusing another scholar of failing to cite relevant work is a charge very easily turned back against them.

I don't review in philosophy, anyway. But in my world, making a bully live up to the standards they wish to impose on others is fair play. This was not about who the author cited, that was as much a line of bull as Trump claiming he fired Comey because it was recommended to him.
posted by spitbull at 3:52 PM on May 13 [12 favorites]


Just dipping in to add my (official trans™) voice that this situation and thread is painful, and I am grateful to those in and out of this thread who have been willing to engage. This situation is so samey and wearisome.
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 4:04 PM on May 13 [8 favorites]


I'm not threatening to shame and bully people in public, send horrid letters to their deans and colleagues, and assert that because they didn't cite the right people they deserve to have their entire career ruined.

Are these things happening to Tuvel?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:15 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


[One deleted; this thread is about the Hypatia situation, not debating transracialism qua transracilaism.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:23 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


As a point of information, jonp72, the group of people who wrote the open letter to Hypatia's editorial board was composed of a variety of scholars in critical race studies and trans studies, many of whom are also junior academics in academically/economically vulnerable positions. To characterize the letter as a more established academic bullying a junior academic is disingenuous and inaccurate.

As mentioned in multiple comments above, the open letter was quite reasonable and respectful, and although it included an academic critique of the paper in question, was focused on failings of Hypatia's editorial process, not on Tuvel herself.

That anyone on the internet without expertise in the relevant academic fields could (originally, not anymore) add their name to the letter, in combination with the fact that it became the subject of an Atlantic article and went viral fairly quickly, was certainly non-ideal. According to the letter by Rival's colleague, that pile-on effect has had negative consequences for her beyond the reasonable academic consequences of publishing a poor piece of scholarship.

As I noted in my comment on the call-out culture thread that I linked here upthread, my understanding is that members of the group who wrote the open letter tried to resolve the issue with Hypatia's editors privately, with no or insufficient success, before writing the open letter, however. If my understanding is accurate, the relevant editor or editors at Hypatia bear no small amount of responsibility for the negative consequences (both academic and personal) for Tuval.
posted by eviemath at 4:29 PM on May 13 [14 favorites]


This is exactly about the marginalization of trans and people of color voices in academia even in areas where their personal experiences are very useful and relevant. And by marginalization I mean not getting read and cited. The goal of the letter's signatories is to ensure that Hypatia's peer review process ensures that marginalized scholars do get read and cited, as is consistent with the mission of the journal.

Frankly, a big threat to Dr. Tuvel's career is all the people "defending" her work by trying to tie this into a narrative of "all those mean minorities oppressing us" because that isn't something she can escape by engaging with the work of other scholars and addressing their criticisms with understanding and reasoned debate, which is the whole goal here.
posted by Zalzidrax at 4:41 PM on May 13 [10 favorites]


I'm not threatening to shame and bully people in public, send horrid letters to their deans and colleagues, and assert that because they didn't cite the right people they deserve to have their entire career ruined.

Is every signatory to the letter guilty of all of that? You can agree or disagree with the idea behind the letter itself (I can't speak to how unprecedented a retraction is), but I'm not seeing evidence that the underlying motivation for hundreds of people to sign it was a gleeful desire to ruin someone's career. Several of the public statements by people who signed it, which are posted in this thread, have explicitly denounced hate mail and public shaming. Several people have said they don't hold anything against her personally despite the errors she made, and that as junior faculty themselves they understand the position she is in (although I suppose we could speculate that maybe they're all lying, or that in spite of their public statements there is, in fact, some latent desire to see her career ruined). I have no doubt that some powerful actors signed it in bad faith, but to reduce all of this to a desire to ruin a woman's career seems like a gross oversimplification of the situation.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 4:46 PM on May 13 [8 favorites]


Fundamentally, all of these articles are written with an assumption that the reader already knows and understands "critical race theory" and etc. etc.

TypographicalError, that's because the rest of us are butting in on an academic debate about the academic value of an academic paper in the field of critical race theory (which is a real thing and doesn't need scare quotes) that was published in an academic journal. But perhaps you've missed a few of the links if all of them that you have read have been aimed only at the critical race theory community? The majority of the links I've read from this thread (which also or likewise is not all of them) have not been based on such an assumption. Interpolating between our two experiences, perhaps half of the links are for that academic audience and half are more general?
posted by eviemath at 4:52 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


#notallsignatories?

More seriously, I think what I've learned from this thread (with great thanks to those patient enough to stick it out) is that the paper is bunk, the journal fucked up and then didn't do right until it was publicly called out (another fuckup).

Understanding those things as I think I now do, and suddenly the issue of the response being a "witch hunt" is a lot less credible. I still think those who did come after Tuvel's job or person are shitty, but I'm less convinced that they had much to do with the open letter or represent a movement or threat (or even a "mob").
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:52 PM on May 13 [8 favorites]


All I'm threatening is to practice peer review to the same standard these bullies have disingenuously endorsed.

Allow me to expand my "Um.":
Evil always starts with "I know this is a bad thing, but the people I'm doing it to deserve it." It's not the only component, and it's not an inevitable progression, but it is always there, right at the turning point. You are -- in your own words -- threatening to do this. Maybe take a step back and a deep breath.
posted by Etrigan at 4:57 PM on May 13 [9 favorites]


(at risk of continuing this derail, but he did write that it's an empty threat as he doesn't review in philo, but it's also not entirely clear that it "is a bad thing," since it's just a matter of being punctilious and persnickety with academic conventions, iiuc).
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:01 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that letter was not a witch hunt. It was sober, stated its points clearly, and focused its requests on things the journal could actually do to further its stated mission. The letter put most of the blame on the journal 9which is eminently reasonable); it seems that their editorial standards and/or expertise are not up to the task they've set themselves.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:05 PM on May 13 [11 favorites]


It's a shame that trans rights sometimes seem to be defended with exceptional belligerence, as though intimidating potential opposition was as important as cogent exposition.

This is literally how you change cultural norms. People will spout sexist shit right up until it becomes uncomfortable for them to do so. People will do likewise with transphobic shit.

This is no abstract thought experiment, like.
posted by Dysk at 5:18 PM on May 13 [23 favorites]


[Couple deleted; some loser, if that was an honest question, get in touch with me and I'll help you come up with some better framing -- as phrased, it was going to read as an attempt to troll.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:52 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


"I can't be sure exactly what paper you're talking about, but I did track down the Heyes paper that Tuvel cited in her own paper: Changing Race, Changing Sex: The Ethics of Self-Transformation. Now that I've read the Heyes paper I am actually less convinced that Heyes has a slam-dunk argument against Tuvel."

The article you link there is a further commentary by Heyes on her previous work, not the actual, previous work. While I think that commentary is interesting, substituting it for the referenced work and declaring that it doesn't sufficiently banish your reservations is weak sauce.
posted by klangklangston at 6:01 PM on May 13


This is a frustrating thread. It's frustrating for several reasons, the first being that the paper, to my eyes, just isn't very good. Back when the Dolezal news broke here and people were making the transgender analogy, I was incredibly disappointed by the mod decision that it was something beyond discussion, because there's a significant vein of scholarship that explicitly examines the comparisons and contrasts, especially in legal contexts.

Prior to the insufficient progress made in the last decade or so in securing legal rights for people who are transgender, there have been centuries of legal arguments over racial classifications. Because of that, there's a significant body of work arguing for recognition of rights for people who are transgender that use the arguments from racial classification to analogize and distinguish gender from race.

None of this shows up in the Tuvel paper.

Some of it shows up, obliquely, in the Heyes paper, which I disagree Tuvel sufficiently engaged with (despite citing Heyes' book). But to use Dolezal as the only real example to muse off of is a failure of scholarship, when racial categorization and the ability to transcend, renounce or cross racial identification has been a significant historical concern, from whether Barbary Coast pirates were white, whether a husband's race attached to a wife in a marriage, whether Chinese exclusion applied to all Asians, how race was constructed in New Orleans and the transition to American control changed the categories, whether ethnic racial classifications of e.g. Irish were based on immediate or distant genealogy… Even here in California, there have been state law questions on transgender issues going back to before statehood (regarding marriage and inheritance for the wife of a man who was discovered to be transgender after his death).

The construction of both race and gender in America are really complicated (and I'd argue that a lot of the problem with racial construction is that it's an incoherent concept based on white supremacy and backfilled afterwards). But to me, that a non-academic cis white dude like me was able to come up with far more perspectives in a couple hours two years ago for a MeFi/MeTa thread means that Tuvel has fundamentally failed to do the barest minimum of research that should be required for a peer reviewed paper.

Tuvel's defenders, especially those hoisting the "free speech" banner most boldly, like this article in Spiked, do themselves few favors. (Fer chrissakes, the author of the Spiked piece complains that the letter calling for a retraction is full of "technical jargon," which really just seems like willful ignorance.) And the defenders seem to be ignoring how Tuvel's article fails the criteria Hypatia sets for itself, which seems like the strongest argument for retraction. The defenders seem even more unfamiliar with the terrain than Tuvel herself, and as such, it's hard to take those defenses seriously as weighing the complaints requires understanding things like why deadnaming is actually a pretty big deal — of course it seems trivial if you don't understand it, but with Trump showing the profound folly of that approach at nearly every juncture, it feels unnecessary to promulgate it here.

I don't have strong opinions on whether retraction is the right course of action. But portraying this as a witch hunt seems overblown, and the article
posted by klangklangston at 6:50 PM on May 13 [22 favorites]


If weak scholarship were grounds for retracting papers in minor journals (because really few people ever heard of Hypatia before this) there's be a lot less published scholarship all around. Why this paper? I can point to a hundred weak papers published in the last decade in fields I know well, where no outraged social media mob has demanded their retraction. Some are articles by people who signed on to this witch hunt, which is what I will continue to call it. Hell, I've seen journals refuse to retract articles with identified plagiarism in them, the subject of multiple and even organized complaints.

This has nothing to do with "scholarship."
posted by spitbull at 8:05 PM on May 13 [10 favorites]


Yeah, that letter was not a witch hunt. It was sober, stated its points clearly, and focused its requests on things the journal could actually do to further its stated mission.

Agreed. And it's offensive to call it a witch hunt when actual transgender people are subjected to real witch hunts every day in the form of bathroom bills and violence.
posted by daybeforetheday at 8:22 PM on May 13 [19 favorites]


Wow, it seems to me like a large percentage of the arguments here are rooted in a two way misunderstanding of the goals and approaches of critical theory and the more analytic branches of philosophy. There seems to be a better understanding of critical theory here, which makes perfect sense for these subjects because it rightly dominates the popular discussion. To vastly oversimplify, concentrating on ideals, critical theory is a social theory focused on changing society and the other is a more formal approach to understanding and explaining the world.

It makes no sense, for example, to cite most critical theory as a foundation when pursuing an analytical approach. From a critical perspective a lot of these issues are considered basically closed, from the analytic perspective they can't be, as we do not have any rigorous definitions of race and gender to base them on.

Analytic philosophy is slow. Cultures change and therefore lived experiences change, the cold and impersonal logical arguments do not (except by better logical arguments).

It is the reason we view this as something we can answer by argument and not from interpreting the received wisdom in holy books, it invented the scientific method, it invented the concept of justice. It invented and justified the concept of fundamental natural rights themselves. For non-royalty, for women, for minorities.

To me, this is the justification for my complete acceptance (and enjoyment of) analytic philosophy that questions everything, even those things that are important and painful and considered dangerous to question. Because if it is true, and we do it right, it will slowly burn away the garbage that our cultural blinders do not let us see and the truth will remain. There is no threat to the things that are true, simply some necessary painful arguments on the way to providing even better justification for them being true.

Right now, we all believe some things that our betters in the future will be ashamed of us for believing. We have a mechanism to move past them. We need critical theory now, to fix the problems we see now, but the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution used accepted critical theory to justify their actions as did many others. So we also need a bunch of navel gazing logic nerds to ask insulting questions and argue endlessly in circles. They check our work for us. Eventually.
posted by Infracanophile at 8:38 PM on May 13 [16 favorites]


A want to add a point of information. I'm not a philosopher, I'm a sociologist, but as a trans academic I wind up mentoring lots of grad students on the margins, in an array of fields. Many of them--cis and trans, people of color and white--have been following the Hypatia controversy with distress. And what they see in Tuvel is not a marginal young scholar being attacked by her superiors. They see someone who actually has a tenure-track position, something a minority of grad students can now hope to attain. They see someone who wrote about topics that are at the center of their own work, without engaging with the literatures they have dedicated themselves to studying. They see someone who treats the lives of people they care about as hypothetical thought experiments. Some of them participated in a long thread on Hypatia's cite carefully explaining their objections to the poor review process that led to this article's publication--only to see that entire thread taken down, and all the careful public documentation of their objections erased.

And now they see both public commentators and senior academics portraying them as irrational ravening monsters who must be stopped. This week I have listened to two grad students who signed the letter calling for a retraction express anguish over their fears that they will never get one of the ever-rarer assistant professor positions, as listening to respected major cis white feminist scholars paint signatories as enemies of open inquiry adds one more nail to the coffin of their disrespected status in their fields.

So I want to push back against the framing of the academic response to Tuvel as a bunch of senior scholars beating up on someone they have power over, plus an ignoramus internet mob. The people I personally know who signed the retraction call are all grad students, or other assistant professors who are people of color and/or trans. And they are pretty despairing that people who dabble in the issues they study from an outsider perspective get published, while their own scholarship is viewed askance in their home departments, and they are pressured to study more "relevant" or "important" topics or theories.

It's just hard to go from comforting young marginalized scholars who are rationally upset to seeing some of the ways signatories of the retraction letter have been framed in this thread.
posted by DrMew at 9:32 PM on May 13 [44 favorites]


Infrancophile, I'm curious as to what you think the duty is of analytic theory is to engage with the work of critical theory when it is covering the same ground. I mean when Tuvel asks:

"In any case, it is not clear how one can affirm that it is possible to feel like a member of another sex but deny it is possible to feel like a member of another race. How might one hold such a position?"

Wouldn't that be a very good time to review how previous works have tried to hold such a position? What is the proper analytic way of approaching them?
posted by Zalzidrax at 10:23 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


I'm into philosophy, and this thread is literally worthless. I don't care if anyone "learned" anything. This entire discussion is a complete waste of time. I've returned to it here and there because it's difficult to just let problematic, hurtful, ignorant statements simply stand, and yet it is draining to have to continually refute them as well. This conversation serves utterly no purpose except to enervate and demoralize trans people and people of color. "But what if people are wrong about their lived experiences?" - and let's be blunt, that is the not entirely subtle subtext - is not a question worth raising or a discussion worth having anywhere.
posted by byanyothername at 10:26 PM on May 13 [17 favorites]


I'm astounded and deeply worried to have reached the bottom of this thread without seeing any discussion of the peer review concept itself and the massive, irreparable problems with it.

Peer review is a process by which, if your work does not actively please the established personalities in your field, you don't even get to publish it, you don't get credit for writing it, and nobody that matters will ever get to read it.

Please think about that for a minute. If peer review did not exist and were being proposed as a new process today, Metafilter would be up in arms about how utterly Orwellian such a mechanism would become.

And yet, because the myth is so pervasive that peer review is the gold standard of scholarly rigour, we see people looking at this story and handwringing about how retraction means the dangerous silencing of an unpopular view, as if that would be an exceptional event rather than exactly what happens every day of the week.
posted by automatronic at 10:35 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


"But what if people are wrong about their lived experiences?" - and let's be blunt, that is the not entirely subtle subtext - is not a question worth raising or a discussion worth having anywhere.

Except that the entire thread has decided that Dolezal's lived experience is wrong. She asserted her lived experience of a phenomenon that only she could attest to, and the world (or at least metafilter) declared her a liar and a fraud.

But what do I know? I have a mental illness, so my lived experience is often wrong as my perception of reality is distorted by my illness. I don't trust lived experiences.

also, as someone who works in social science, I'm very aware that the lived experience is highly individual - and broad social trends or phenomenon are often not perceptible at the individual level.
posted by jb at 10:42 PM on May 13 [19 favorites]


But what do I know?

If the answer is ever "not much" on a topic, maybe step back a bit and don't force yourself in as an automatic authority.
posted by byanyothername at 11:27 PM on May 13


(Personal and general "you," there; it's honestly a rule of thumb everyone would be better following. Speaking as someone who does learn through discussion. Sometimes asking people to discuss wearying, tiresome, stupid, offensive bullshit is actually harmful and not cool.)
posted by byanyothername at 11:29 PM on May 13 [4 favorites]


There's a saying that hard cases make bad law, and Dolezal's is a very hard case, not least because it seeems to have been an evolving story. But I don't think the details are necessarily relevant to Tuval's claim, which is that we ought to recognise that individuals can legitimately identify with a race other than the one with which they are (or were formerly) identified.

I have a lot of sympathy with that position, as far as it goes. People frequently transit ethnic boundaries in what is effectively an act of quiet resistance to racial division. I feel that the problem with the position advocated by Tuval is that the real racial barrier is racism, not ethnicity, and that makes transracialism a nugatory right for anyone isn't already privileged.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:42 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


So we also need a bunch of navel gazing logic nerds to ask insulting questions and argue endlessly in circles. They check our work for us. Eventually.

Interesting how it's never the people being insulted insisting that we need the JAQ-offs.
posted by Dysk at 1:30 AM on May 14 [12 favorites]


(well, there was Spinoza...)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 3:37 AM on May 14


spitbull:

People coming in at the bottom of a metafilter thread and asserting an interpretation of events that we've discussed above and that many of us have tried to debunk, without referencing, responding to, or engaging with the plentiful discussing prior to their own comment is obnoxious, and just pontificating rather than contributing to a discussion.

People coming in to an academic field that's been in development for a hundred years and, in the specifically academic forum of a peer reviewed academic journal, asserting some claim or argument without referencing, responding to, or engaging in any substantive way with prior work in the field (even to argue why they don't believe the previous methodology should be used, if that's part of their claim, as Infrancanophile posits (though I am dubious of the accuracy of that, Infrancanophile)) is academically dishonest, not simply "poor scholarship".

I believe when people tell me that philosophy has different standards for article retractions. I have no way to evaluate whether or not philosophy journals tend not to retract other articles that are found to be academically dishonest, so my default would be to believe folks in the discipline if they say that it doesn't happen. But that shit would most definitely not fly in any area of math or science, and claims that it's accepted in philosophy don't exactly raise my opinion of mainstream philosophy as a serious academic discipline that any of the rest of us should listen to or take seriously.

For what it's worth, Hypatia is basically the only serious philosophy journal I've heard of or read articles from, and I've known of it for many years. That they have apparently bucked some mainstream philosophy trend (from what you're telling me) in order to uphold standards for academic integrity through this affair certainly raises my esteem for the journal.
posted by eviemath at 3:56 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


Spitbull joined the discussion fairly early, didn't they?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:13 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Spitbull had a comment early on, yes. From what I've been able to tell, Tuvel has received personal bullying beyond reasonable academic discussion, and spitbull was I think rightly upset about that. Several of us then argued that the open letter to the Hypatia editors was not, itself, bullying, nor even focused on Tuvel. Several of us have also pointed out that many of the letter's writers and signatories are at least as vulnerable career-wise as Tuvel, and have argued that the narrative of senior academics bullying a junior academic is inaccurate. So we challenged spitbull's assignation of blame for the issue that they noted. Spitbull has not engaged with those arguments, merely reiterated that their opinion on the matter is unchanged. I don't object to that. I mean, I don't think it adds much to a discussion to simply reiterate one's previous point, but that the intervening arguments have been unconvincing to one interlocutor is a data point, so is informative to some degree; and sometimes one just doesn't have the energy, especially given that the rest of us did not particularly engage with the obviously strong emotional content behind spitbull's original comment.

Spitbull did go from initially specifically not engaging with any questions about Tuvel's article's validity, to a comment that seemed, from context at least, to be responding to klangklangston's comment immediately above, but incorrectly conflating klangklangston's more general comments with the specific critiques of the Hypatia editorial process from the open letter, thus jumping in to the discussion of the academic validity of Tuvel's paper itself at a late point seemingly without having read the intervening discussion. Other commenters have been more egregious about this (so I wrote my comment more generally), but spitbull's comment was the specific one that clearly mischaracterized concerns about academic integrity as concerns about the more general academic value of Tuvel's paper (so I addressed my comment to them). It does look like I am saying that spitbull primarily or is the only interlocutor who jumped into the discussion in a fighty way later on. Neither of those things are true, and I apologize for implying so (and thanks for pointing it out, Joseph Gurl).
posted by eviemath at 4:49 AM on May 14 [10 favorites]


But what do I know?

If the answer is ever "not much" on a topic, maybe step back a bit and don't force yourself in as an automatic authority.
posted by byanyothername 5 ¼ hours ago [+] [!]


That was sarcasm. My point was that even though you were claiming authority (even primacy) for lived experience, I was pointing out that a) not everyone's lived experience is respected or considered valid, b) not everyone's lived experience is reliable (using myself as an example), and c) lived experience can be important for understanding some things (I work in qualitative social research; lived experience is our data), but there are many social phenomenon on which lived experience does not show you the whole picture (and sometimes even can go against what's really happening - that's why we need psychology and epidemiology and many other disciplines to understand what we don't perceive as individuals) - and thus while lived experience is one form of knowledge, I don't hold it to be primary.

I actually work in a field which interrogates something I have a great deal of personal experience with. I never rely on my own lived experience to trump the research or lived experiences of others - including the less-marginalized (eg someone in power talking about the difficulty of supporting an employee with a mental illness). Their lived experience is valid. My lived experience informs my work, constantly, but is just one part of it -- and the lived experiences of those who are unlike me, who do not understand my experiences, who have more power than me: these are all valid lived experiences. I don't have to agree with them, but I have to take them seriously. If we (as a research group) don't, then we can't help the marginalized person (the person with a disability) by changing policies and practices - because no one in power will listen to us.
posted by jb at 5:05 AM on May 14 [11 favorites]


To bring it back to a more pointed place:

a lot of arguments in this thread assume that a cis person should not be writing on trans issues -- as if the cis person does not also have a gender identity, fixed or fluid. Or that a white person does not experience race - or man experience patriarchy or sexism.

Obviously, HOW they experience these phenomenon are different (though perhaps one shouldn't assume that an apparently cis person hasn't had struggles with their own gender identity? That's a big and unwarranted assumption). But how white people experience race is important to understand (even if they don't themselves), how men experience patriarchy and gender is important (best history book I've ever read on gender was about the nature of manhood in a heirarchial, patriarchal society). In fact, I would argue that you cannot really understand any of these phenomenon (gender identity, race, patriarchy/gender roles) without talking to both the marginalized and not marginalized - anymore than you would study the politics of a country without talking to the powerful.

You don't have to agree with them: you can interrogate them and their ideas, interpret them in light of your knowledge from other lived experiences, show how their interpretation of X (based on their own lived experience) is wrong (or rather biased or incomplete). But you need to engage with them - because otherwise you really aren't getting to understanding the phenomenon.
posted by jb at 5:20 AM on May 14 [5 favorites]


Of course yes, the problem is that trans people don't and aren't interested in understanding gender identity or transness. JFC.
posted by Dysk at 5:28 AM on May 14 [10 favorites]


Jb your last statement is exactly what marginalized voices in research are asking for, to at least be engaged with otherwise the author is not goint to understand the phenomenon. The refusal to engage with those already doing this work is already failing to meet that requirement. To all the marginalized participating in this thread, im sorry you're dealing with this.
posted by xarnop at 5:28 AM on May 14 [9 favorites]


Like, this isn't a cis person writing about or exploring cisness or how that relates to transness. It isn't even a cis person wiring about transness. It's a white cis person writing about blackness, using transness as a rhetorical prop or analogy. However you feel about the first thing, this isn't that.
posted by Dysk at 5:32 AM on May 14 [16 favorites]


I'd love to be pointed to some trans pov analytic philosophy (not critical theory or continental philo) on this or similar topics--I have JSTOR access. Anyone?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:53 AM on May 14


Her use of Jewish conversion as an analogy isn't great either. It's not offensive, per se, but after reading Dysk's comment I'm now struck by how shallow her analogy is. If she had engaged with it more it might have had some explanatory power - not all Jewish groups recognise each other's conversions, there are groups of people who consider themselves to be Jewish, but whose lack of historical connection means nobody else does, there are all sorts of things that might have been relevant. She doesn't get into that, though, she basically just says that denial of transracialism is like denial of the right to convert, and hence is obviously wrong. That's not just begging the question; that's giving it its own account on GoFundMe.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:00 AM on May 14 [7 favorites]


Joe in Australia: there are such things as page limits. What she did write about Jewish conversion was accurate and a good summary of the experience.
posted by jb at 6:17 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


[One deleted. Don't make things personal; as it says below, focus comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand—not at other members of the site.]
posted by taz at 6:20 AM on May 14


I'd love to be pointed to some trans pov analytic philosophy (not critical theory or continental philo) on this or similar topics--I have JSTOR access. Anyone?

Not to harp, but the more I think about it, the more important this seems to be to me. Where's the good analytic philosophy literature that she should have been aware of or that does a better job than she does? Because I'm interested in reading it! (This is not to say that analytic philo is somehow better/more legit/more real than continental or crit theory--in fact, I generally prefer the latter!--but that analytic philo doesn't usually engage with those areas and can't really be expected to do so...they just don't speak the same language. At all.)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:35 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Questions from a non-philosopher:

(a) Is Tuvel's article an example of analytic philosophy? What makes it so? Is there a good explainer on these different methodologies for the non-expert (say, one with a bit of background in philosophy/epistemology of math and science, at least)?

(b) If the vast majority of work on a given topic in my area (math) uses one methodology, that's usually because it's the most (or only) applicable methodology for addressing that problem or topic. Serious academic papers addressing the topic from a different methodology would be expected to at least note the history of work using the more popular methodology and that the current paper differs in methodology, and preferably would also explain the reasoning behind the choice of alternate methodology. (In math, admittedly, often this is as simple as "new methodology enables us to obtain new results that previous methodology didn't," so doesn't take up a lot of space in a paper's introduction.) In that vein, what would be the benefit of applying analytic philosophy methodologies to problems that have primarily or only been studied using critical theory methodologies? Is there some reason that the other methodologies are less relevant or appropriate for studying the questions under consideration, or is the split explainable by purely historical/political circumstances (and if so, what are the details of that explanation)?
posted by eviemath at 7:07 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


That was sarcasm.

Which is an extremely unhelpful tactic in contentious threads (and rarely a helpful one in uncontentious threads), so there's that. I get the impulse and give into it myself from time to time, but I often end up regretting it on more sober reflection.

Another unhelpful tactic, and I suspect Tuvel's root error, discounting a crypto-TERF agenda, is taking a position of lofty disinterested inquiry and applying it to significant elements of life and survival for groups to which the interrogator does not belong (more on belonging below). The "disinterested" person is likely to miss significant elements affecting the situation and is extremely likely to reach faulty or banal conclusions, usually due to the blinding effects of privilege.

More pointedly:
a lot of arguments in this thread assume that a cis person should not be writing on trans issues -- as if the cis person does not also have a gender identity, fixed or fluid. Or that a white person does not experience race - or man experience patriarchy or sexism.

You almost get to where you need to be in your next paragraph, but you back off on it (I suspect out of a very natural desire to center your exploration on your own identity). Its not that cis people should not write about trans issues or whites about black issues or men about women's issues. However, its dangerous for the blinding effects -- even with the best will in the world, we want to build our intellectual constructs around ourselves, and, when we are speculating outside our own identities, we are likely to miss at least some of the territory.

It's pretty obvious that this is where Tuvel is -- for whatever reason, she has not done the groundwork necessary to effectively engage with the territory she has mapped out.Her language and approaches to trans issues are out of date at best (misnaming Jenner being the most egregious) and underresearched. Additionally, she does not do a good job of defending her initial premise -- that race and gender are similar enough that comparing them is going to be fruitful. In fact, she acknowledges that they aren't similar, then goes on to act as if they are. And, as Joe in Australia notes, she extends the problem to religion -- are we expected to believe that racial identity, gender identity, and religious identity are equivalent to each other? (There might be an interesting, if fraught, paper in that, but Tuvel breezes by the issue (which I am a little startled that the reviewers didn't flag)). Without completely locking down that issue, the paper is incoherent. And it's not unreasonable to assume that it got that way because Tuvel, a cis white person, entered territory relating to black identity and trans identity without proper preparation, self-reflection, or, I am guessing, a spirit of humble inquiry necessary when working so far outside one's experience. And the reviewers and editors, mostly, if not entirely, white and cis, failed in their role to appropriately evaluate her arguments and their suitability for publication.

tl;dr -- it's not the privileged can't write about areas of non-privilege (n some cases they definitely should), but there are a lot of conceptual dangers to navigate, so it must be done with extreme care and empathy.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:16 AM on May 14 [11 favorites]


a lot of arguments in this thread assume that a cis person should not be writing on trans issues -- as if the cis person does not also have a gender identity, fixed or fluid.

Having a gender identity is different from having the experience of being transgender. That is so obvious I can't believe I have to state that. I am a white person. I will never ever know what it feels like to any other race. I have been in situations where I was a minority, and I felt uncomfortable and self-conscious about it, but then I ... just went home. Cis people can dip their toes in the water by writing about trans people and then just go home into their safe cis bubble.

There is a very long history of cis people writing about trans people, mostly negatively and ignorantly. I don't see anything wrong with asking them to take a break and uplift the voices of trans people.
posted by AFABulous at 7:20 AM on May 14 [13 favorites]


Addendum: I am okay with cis people writing about the relationship of cis people to trans people. E.g., "We fucked up. Here are the consequences that trans people face because of our fucked-up-ness. How can we do better?"
posted by AFABulous at 7:25 AM on May 14 [6 favorites]


This is a topic I have been thinking about for a few months, reading and discussing. It was brought to my attention by a trans activist friend, wanting to discuss how many of the the arguments against transracialism she had seen were scary because she felt that they strongly resembled arguments that had been used against her, particularly from the TERF crowd. She was not advocating for transracial acceptance, but rather wanting to discuss how to deal with the fact that people she considered allies were deploying arguments that she felt were specifically dangerous to her.

I think that a constructive reading of Tuvel's paper essentially raises the same question. I am skeptical of claims that the comparison is obviously flawed to the point of not being worth considering, simply because I see that it is being considered by people I know who have both lived experience and academic background in the subject.
posted by Nothing at 7:59 AM on May 14 [6 favorites]


It was brought to my attention by a trans activist friend, wanting to discuss how many of the the arguments against transracialism she had seen were scary because she felt that they strongly resembled arguments that had been used against her, particularly from the TERF crowd...I am skeptical of claims that the comparison is obviously flawed to the point of not being worth considering, simply because I see that it is being considered by people I know who have both lived experience and academic background in the subject

So, wait, you're using your friend's concerns to....ignore your friend's concerns?
posted by byanyothername at 8:43 AM on May 14


So, wait, you're using your friend's concerns to....ignore your friend's concerns?

I think what Nothing's friend was doing is identifying the gotcha in the whole "transracial/transgender" thing -- the implication that, if you support one, you must support the other, and, if you reject one, you must reject the other.

It's meant to be a wedge, of course, in most cases.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:59 AM on May 14 [4 favorites]


So, from outside the academy, this is what it looks like to me:

1) Academics have arguments all the time.
2) Open letters are a thing that academics do.
3) When PoCs or trans people do something that is not frightening when cis/white people do it (go to the bathroom, walk down the street, write open letters), tables get flipped by self-described progressives at close to the speed of light.
4) Jesse Singal got dragged over a series of questionably researched, increasingly belligerent articles about Kenneth Zucker like, two years ago, and has very clearly not gotten over it yet.
5) If it weren't for (3) and (4), almost none of us would have heard of this.
6) As it is, this will never be a source of anything other than increasingly bad-tempered aporia, lazy thinkpieces and death threats directed at PoC and trans academics.

Did I miss anything?
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:20 AM on May 14 [8 favorites]


I think what Nothing's friend was doing is identifying the gotcha in the whole "transracial/transgender" thing -- the implication that, if you support one, you must support the other, and, if you reject one, you must reject the other.


This was EXACTLY Tuval's argument - she starts from the position of supporting transgender idenities, therefore feels that it would be more consistent to support trans-racial identities.

regardless of how other people have used it, she is explicitly NOT terf-ing the argument. She states repeatedly that she supports trans rights and right of trans individuals to assert their innate gender identity (or lack thereof).

But then she goes on to point out - just as Nothing's friend realized - that people were using arguments against transracialism that were very close to the arguments made against transgender people, especially trans women.

But she's not a TERF, not a crypto TERF. If she were a TERF, her argument would end there. Instead, she says, I support argument A in case B -- why doesn't it apply in case C?

Now, it would make sense if this whole discussion was about how Tuval has misunderstood racial identity and that it is inherently communal - like Jewish identity. Regardless of one's internal feeling (eg "I have a Jewish soul" - which totally is a common claim among Jews by Choice), one will not be accepted as a member of that community unless you fulfill a series of requirements as defined by that community (and yes, I am fully aware that the "community" don't have one set of requirements, and there is a good question about whether one can say there really is a coherent Jewish community - but let's leave debates like that for Shavuot, it's just around the corner).

Or maybe race doesn't work like gender in American culture, because many Americans - white supremacist and anti-racism activists alike - really do believe that race is something inherent and not just a social construct, and then the interesting question is why does the progressive left appear to agree with white supremacists about the immutability of race? what does this say about the legacy and depth of racism in American culture?

instead it's fixated at her secret TERFness (despite her several statements of full support for trans rights) and/or racism, and isn't she such a terrible person! isn't anyone who thinks she has some good points so terrible!

As for my comments, they are also being mischaracterized. I did not say that a cis person experiences trans-ness, but that they do experience gender identity. Similarly, a white person experiences race, and a man patriarchy. These experiences are inherently different from (respectively) a trans person, a non-white person, a woman (or non-binary person). That doesn't make them invalid. They are their experiences, for good or for ill. And you will never really understand gender identity, race and racism, patriarchy and sexism unless you take them seriously as lived experiences.
posted by jb at 11:22 AM on May 14 [11 favorites]


Nobody here (as far as I can tell?) has been saying Tuvel's a TERF, or that she's a bad person.

And a number of people have been at pains to say it's not the conclusion of the article that's the problem.

They're saying her article is bad from a scholarly point of view -- shallow, sloppy, badly argued, gets terminology etc wrong, doesn't engage in a deep way with the current literature -- and that a proper peer review process would have prevented this embarrassing outcome.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:29 AM on May 14 [7 favorites]


To elaborate a bit more. As a philosopher, my take on this is: it's just not a good article. It's sloppy in argumentation, it uses terminology/phrasing in ways that are out of date in the field it's supposed to be illuminating (and that even I know are out of date), and its engagement with other authors on this stuff is shallow. This doesn't mean Tuvel is a bad person. I can easily see this as an early draft -- a conference paper, workshopping it around, and then incorporating a lot of feedback to improve it. But the paper is superficial in a way that should've been caught during peer review, and that's exactly what the open letter says -- Hypatia's peer review process fell down here and they need to do some soul-searching to understand why.

Let's be clear: Nobody should be subject to harassment. It sucks that a junior scholar has been. But nobody in this thread is saying otherwise. People are discussing the article and the process; just pointing out that harassment is never justified doesn't make the article better or mean that Hypatia picked appropriate reviewers for the article.

In this controversy, people who aren't philosophers and aren't especially current on philosophical treatments of transgender or race issues have read the paper and thought "hey that seems ok to me" -- while philosophers who work on this stuff are saying, "no, this isn't up to the current standards of scholarship in our field." This is apparently what happened in Hypatia's peer review process, too -- non-specialists vetting a paper that should've been vetted by specialists instead.

This thing about analytic philosophy really doesn't save it, either. For one thing, from what I can tell, Tuvel's not aspiring to be solely an analytic philosopher, and Hypatia's not meant to be solely an analytic journal. She came out of a continental grad program (Vanderbilt) just a few years ago, and her faculty page lists critical race theory as an area of specialty. Hypatia doesn't restrict itself to analytic articles; they explicitly say they intend to be covering the wider range of approaches.

But for another thing, although the paper is more-or-less analytic in its approach, the analytic approach is only as good as its inputs. If I tried to write an analytic philosophy paper about the nature of atoms based on my recollections of high school chemistry, it would end up being a bad paper even if my arguments were logically valid -- it would get facts wrong, it would use terminology in a sloppy way, it would not yield useful results. I'd be analyzing my own half-baked understanding of the thing. A journal with a robust peer review process would not publish it. Same thing here.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:31 AM on May 14 [23 favorites]


LobsterMitten: "Nobody here (as far as I can tell?) has been saying Tuvel's a TERF, or that she's a bad person. "

Uh, literally half of all the times the word "feminist" appears on this page is to slag on the feminist community for hating trans people. So I don't know wtf you're talking about, frankly.
posted by TypographicalError at 11:39 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


I don't know what you're seeing, but Ctrl-f for "feminist" in this thread shows that's not the case.

I'm seeing one comment that points out this whole kerfuffle is taking place against a background that includes some historical TERF baggage, and that that matters to how people are reacting -- and even then, the comment doesn't say Tuvel is a TERF, it's about understanding the wider context of people's reactions.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:46 AM on May 14 [7 favorites]


This was EXACTLY Tuval's argument - she starts from the position of supporting transgender idenities, therefore feels that it would be more consistent to support trans-racial identities.

Well, yes, and I think it's a fundamentally flawed argument. As I've said repeatedly in this thread, Tuvel failed to even try to establish that gender and race are similar enough for the comparison she wants to make; she just takes it as a given. To my mind, the two categories are quite different. For one thing, the trans experience is getting increasingly well documented in all its variety while the "transracial" experience seems to be based on a sample size of one. It's hard to compare the two concepts on scale alone.

As for my comments, they are also being mischaracterized. I did not say that a cis person experiences trans-ness, but that they do experience gender identity. Similarly, a white person experiences race, and a man patriarchy. These experiences are inherently different from (respectively) a trans person, a non-white person, a woman (or non-binary person). That doesn't make them invalid. They are their experiences, for good or for ill. And you will never really understand gender identity, race and racism, patriarchy and sexism unless you take them seriously as lived experiences.

Except the white cis male experience is extremely well documented and broadcast. Most trans people have a fairly complete idea of what the cis experience is like, for example, because that's the narrative that is most dominant. A cis person, on the other hand, has to do a lot of work to develop even a rudimentary idea of what a trans experience is like, and the cis experience is always going to be peripheral to that discussion, so the cis commenter has to constantly fight against the urge to center the discussion on their experience rather than the trans experience.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:34 PM on May 14 [9 favorites]


But what if people are wrong about their lived experiences?"

I guess for me I need to do some work to understand this claim better. I would favorite your comment if not for that hesitation.

You're not denying the reality of perception distorting error or mental illness completely here, right? You're not arguing it's entirely impossible to misunderstand or be deluded about one's own lived experience, because that's obviously not right, and I say that in full awareness of the problematic nature of questioning other's accounts of first person experience, as someone who's literally needed medication at the extremes to overcome delusions in the past and who is vulnerable to marginalization and stigma myself.

That can be a legitimate question to ask in some cases, in that sense, at least, right? Or do you disagree there are ever times people's personal understanding of their lived experience is wrong?

What I believed most of my life about my own kidnapping to the U.S. as a kid was mistaken, I know now, so it definitely doesn't seem given to me that lived experiences as we understand and report them at a given point in time can't be just plain wrong sometimes, if not even most of the time...

I think I'm misunderstanding your point though, so please elaborate if you could.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:46 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


As for my comments, they are also being mischaracterized. I did not say that a cis person experiences trans-ness, but that they do experience gender identity. Similarly, a white person experiences race, and a man patriarchy.

Largely in a way that reminds me of the joke about the fish (two young fish, swimming along; older fish going by says "morning! water's fine today, isn't it?", younger fish look at each other and one says to the other "what the fuck is water?"). The experience of cis people of gender identity, white people in the US of race, and men of patriarchy doesn't necessarily translate into any kind of actual awareness of those things.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 12:59 PM on May 14 [7 favorites]


?

The idea that men are unaware of the ways patriarchy acts upon them is a bit demeaning isn’t it? Plenty of men can detail the ways patriarchy affects them, for good & ill. There’s a pretty detailed literature on the topic within feminism IIRC.

Unless by "men of patriarchy" you mean the men who are actually at the top of the heap?
posted by pharm at 1:12 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


I think part of the problem is the analogy is not men/patriarchy but men/gender.
posted by lazuli at 1:14 PM on May 14


Also, how did we end up talking about men's feelings? Barring the fragility of male columnists confronted with dissent, I am not sure it plays that much (unusually) into this discussion.
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:18 PM on May 14 [8 favorites]


As for my comments, they are also being mischaracterized. I did not say that a cis person experiences trans-ness, but that they do experience gender identity.

returning to those comments then:

a lot of arguments in this thread assume that a cis person should not be writing on trans issues -- as if the cis person does not also have a gender identity, fixed or fluid. Or that a white person does not experience race - or man experience patriarchy or sexism.

while it's true that both cis people and trans people have gender, as a rule cis people don't examine theirs. meanwhile, detailed examination of one's own gender is a prerequisite for being trans.

it's possible through study for a cis person to get the level of awareness of gender that a trans person is forced to have. but it takes a great deal of study and focus for them to familiarize themself with everything they've never needed to see before because they're cis.

when i started out, it felt like i was teaching myself a crash course in gender theory, just to get caught up. indeed, i said at the time it was like a fish getting a word for water. one i started thinking about gender, i saw it everywhere.

so when a cis person with no prior training tries to approach gender issues with the intent to talk about them as an equal with trans people? in general, they just don't have the grounding. it's going to be farcical. and here we find ourselves :)
posted by magentaisafuncolortobe at 1:19 PM on May 14 [7 favorites]


The idea that men are unaware of the ways patriarchy acts upon them is a bit demeaning isn’t it

No, it's reality. Most men, as far as I can tell, are generally unaware of the way patriarchy acts on them, and have a limited understanding of what the experiences of women in a largely male-dominated environment are actually like (just as white Americans by and large seem to be largely ignorant of the realities of navigating things like job interviews and encounters with police for African-Americans). If your perspective is the one that's an assumed cultural default (in this case white cis male) then you very often just won't have the perspective afforded by the experience of being non-white, non-cis and non-male. (And please don't turn this into "but not all men!" because I didn't actually say "all men".)
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 1:24 PM on May 14 [9 favorites]


You're not denying the reality of perception distorting error or mental illness completely here, right?

The original evocation of mental illness affecting lived experience, and the limited usefulness of lived experience in certain specific fields, was made in bad faith and sort of poisoned understanding of what I was saying. Like Tuvel's argument, it took unrelated things that at a casual glance appear to be related but really aren't.

To be clearer, "lived experience" in this case means that trans people and people of color will typically have more complex and nuanced understandings of transness and race than cis or white people, and should be part of the conversation from the beginning. Tuvel's paper is just another in a long line of cutting out the people who are actually affected by these issues in order to do abstract intellectual wankery, to turn lives into positions that must be debated and found of sound argument by hostile opponents before they can be valid.

When it asks in its subtext, "Are people wrong about their lived experiences?" what it's really asking is, "Are trans people wrong about transness? Are black people wrong about blackness?" It's a marginalizing. It may not be intentional, but that's the effect when someone who obviously is astonishingly ignorant starts making up foolish "What If"s like this. There seems to be a lot of resistance and hesitancy in this thread to acknowledging that some ideas are simply bad; it's not just that Tuvel's conclusions or arguments are bad, the questions asked are themselves toxic. It can only be asked if one is enormously ignorant of both trans and racial issues. Any of us could think of dozens of questions that would be inherently harmful to ask, but because this is about trans people and black people, it's treated as a valuable academic contribution even though many of Tuvel's peers have not found it to be that at all.

Not a whit to do with mental health, but this thread hasn't been great for mine.
posted by byanyothername at 3:17 PM on May 14 [13 favorites]


They're saying her article is bad from a scholarly point of view -- shallow, sloppy, badly argued, gets terminology etc wrong, doesn't engage in a deep way with the current literature -- and that a proper peer review process would have prevented this embarrassing outcome.

To elaborate a bit more. As a philosopher, my take on this is: it's just not a good article. It's sloppy in argumentation, it uses terminology/phrasing in ways that are out of date in the field it's supposed to be illuminating (and that even I know are out of date), and its engagement with other authors on this stuff is shallow.


I've read the Heyes article, and went back to the petition. And… I think the one thing the petition could have done better, was to say at the outset that the main concern is the harm that this published paper does to minority scholars. The harm happened because when the academic apparatus allowed a person with much less skin in the game to publish in a flagship journal, to discuss the same topics, that's an egregious, unacceptable instance of the structurally silencing of voices of those who are more (materially) vulnerable. I think that's what's meant in the petition by the term "anti-Blackness"; it's the structural oppression of this that affects the livelihood of Black scholars. I think that's the more compelling reason that something is not okay about this, and it shows the concerns without making it about the "badness" of the article per se, because it puts the focus on the relationships instead of objects and problematic attempts to assign value on objects. I've had moments on here where I call writing bad or sloppy, but I also can reflect that it's not necessarily the thing, but rather me not being my best self when I talk that way. It's also the distinction between telling others, versus showing (and thus also, engaging—which needless to say, is crummy for me/us queer and PoC minorities because we engage twice as hard, only to get less far); it's tempting to use the language/tools of academic gatekeeping, but that's hugely problematic (and spitbull's comments speak to that, to me).

When I put myself in the shoes of a PoC/trans scholar in this instance, what I see, is here's a person who didn't tread lightly on a disciplinary area (critical theory x race, critical theory x trans), and comes in and easily gets rewarded one of the best journal slots, despite all the work that me/my colleagues in my field have already done. Why did they get selected, and not me or my colleagues? That could be thought of as insulting—more accurately, very problematic. In those shoes, I can feel the profound disrespect of context of such an occurrence, and how I'd interpret this as both clearly systemic on the part of the publication, as well as ignorant/insensitive on the part of Tuvel's actions (which ideally, opens up space for mending that).

And I feel that somehow in the controversy and noise, the main message keeps getting lost. (Honestly though, it's not super clear in the petition, either, considering it's an open letter, [for example they had to add in the term "anti-Blackness" which was not in the original petition] but that aspect of it should be understandable and I think should be tolerated, given the power dynamics). One of the reaction letters specifically mentioned a PoC/gender scholar who's actually sympathetic to transracial arguments. That sounds closest to where I'm at, personally. But the issue isn't about the paper or purely scholarship, it's about the politics, and validly so.
posted by polymodus at 3:18 PM on May 14 [6 favorites]


When it asks in its subtext, "Are people wrong about their lived experiences?" what it's really asking is, "Are trans people wrong about transness? Are black people wrong about blackness?" It's a marginalizing.

I think it's telling that the vast majority (if not the entirety) of people who think there is something useful in the discussion of "transracialism" seem to be cis and white. All the PoCs and trans people I've seen have been "uh... no." about the whole topic. That should be a big hint.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:03 PM on May 14 [12 favorites]


The thing about "lived experience" is that if you're theorizing about someone else's lived experience and your response to what they say (especially when "they" means "lots of people over time") is basically "your understanding of your experience is wrong because what you say about your lived experience does not explain the behavior of an abstract figure with these characteristics sort of painted on that I just made up", your theory is bad.

There are all kinds of ways of understanding one's experience; how we understand our own experiences changes over time; most of us would agree that we have gained insight into earlier experiences that we did not have in the moment; most of us would agree that we are not transparent to ourselves and can never have a total, complete understanding of ourselves. This is sort of the therapy and/or psychoanalytic way of thinking about lived experience. In this sense, we're "wrong" about our experiences a lot.

This type of self understanding isn't, IMO, what is being referenced when people talk about trans and/or POC lived experience. I understand perfectly well that I face hostility based on my gender expression, and that my trans women friends face psychotic levels of harassment on the street. I understand perfectly well that my "case" is up for debate among cis people I know personally, as if they are entitled to weigh in on my gender. I know perfectly well that I am a talking point and bad example to someone who lives not three miles from me. I know that a friend was fired after she transitioned. I know that struggles with my gender have shaped my experience since I was a kid. This kind of "lived experience" isn't on the level of "how can I parse out how misogyny has shaped my understanding of gender and my ideas about my gender" or something super subtle.

In any case, even if we're talking about the super subtle "how can trans people know themselves, narrate and understand their experiences when that's tricky for any human" side, I am baffled as to why the answer seems to be "well, trans people clearly can't know themselves even if they think carefully about these things at length, but obviously cis people can just spitball about transness and get better answers".

But the thing is, we can all be wrong about how to interpret our experiences, but except when people are in the grips of actual mania or other kinds of delusion, we are unlikely to be interpreting, eg, when someone throws a full carton of milk at you while they drive by shouting "what the fuck are you" (which has happened to me, in adulthood) as hatred when it's really affectionate tolerance, or as part of a system of exclusion instead of a total outlier perpetrated by a Martian. "People can be wrong about their experiences" should not be used as a blanket statement to say "therefore, when many trans people and/or POC talk about systems of exclusion, we need to argue vigorously against them just in case they are wrong about what they have lived."
posted by Frowner at 4:25 PM on May 14 [15 favorites]


Nobody can point me to good analytic philo about this or related topics? There's nothing out there, really? Come on, gentle MeFites, hope me?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:52 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


I thought I'd read philosophy is one of the most egregiously white, straight and male fields in all of academia?
posted by latkes at 5:05 PM on May 14


I think it's telling that the vast majority (if not the entirety) of people who think there is something useful in the discussion of "transracialism" seem to be cis and white. All the PoCs and trans people I've seen have been "uh... no." about the whole topic. That should be a big hint.

Hi, I'm a white trans person, and I think there is something useful in the discussion of 'transracialism', for the following reason: despite going out of my way for several years to seek leftist, pro-LGBT, anti-racist discussion on the subject, both on Metafilter and elsewhere, I've never actually managed to encounter a convincing argument against the idea of transracialism in the abstract that couldn't have been trivially adapted into an anti-trans argument that I've considered and rejected a thousand times. To be honest, the vast majority of what I've read has been in the form of out-of-hand dismissals.

This bothers me, because I don't know what it means, then, that almost everyone I know seems to find it obvious that this isn't even worth thinking about: am I'm missing something, clear to everyone else, that entirely obliterates the possibility of any useful analogy between gender and race as systems of ascribed status, or are these arguments simply not being deployed by the left against people like me because the leftist political consensus currently happens to be in favor of my existence? So I'm glad Tuvel is asking the question explicitly; I guess this puts me in a very similar position to Nothing's friend.
posted by polychora at 5:47 PM on May 14 [17 favorites]


To be honest, the vast majority of what I've read has been in the form of out-of-hand dismissals.

Yep. Being told the question is too dangerous to even ask. When all we want to know is the answer, and not another pile-on about how hateful and ignorant we are for even wanting to know. I thought I saw the answer earlier in this thread, finally, when the argument from ancestry came up, then someone else came and quickly tore it down again. I mean, I can understand the defensiveness, from historically and presently marginalized people who are just trying to get on with life in the face of near-universal oppression. But not everyone wanting to understand are doing it to try and destroy transness, but to put it on a firmer foundation in their minds. I get it's not anyone's job to ease my cis white male intellectual stress and I should just deal with shit and accept it as something unknowable, but it seems for polychora the issue has real implications for their life.
posted by Jimbob at 6:03 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


I think it's telling that the vast majority (if not the entirety) of people who think there is something useful in the discussion of "transracialism" seem to be cis and white.

Well, no, not exactly, from what I've been told by my colleague or, as polymodus notes, as some of the links here discuss. But the black or other POC scholars addressing this issue apparently have a much more careful, detailed, and nuanced take on the idea. And write papers informed by previous work, and sometimes have a hard time getting that careful, well-researched, nuanced work published.
posted by eviemath at 6:31 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


polychora, I don't think the issue is so much "we should never talk about or compare gender and race as socially constructed concepts" but "who is talking about it? do they have any lived experience with the subject matter? are they listening to people with lived experience? what oppressive agendas might they further with this discussion, even unintentionally?" I'm also trans and as you know, words have real world consequences for us.

I said above why I don't believe that gender is a social construct. From the dawn of humanity we've assigned babies as male or female based on genitalia. That's not invented. Those genders exist, we know this because the vast majority of people are cisgender. I'm transgender because my parents assigned me incorrectly. But my gender was not externally imposed on me. It is intrinsic to me. They just didn't know what it was.

Whereas, race is an externally imposed social construct. We know this because racial classifications have changed over human history (whereas sex assignments have not). A person cannot decide their race, because it is always chosen for them. There can't be an intrinsic quality that is externally imposed.
posted by AFABulous at 6:37 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


But, whether transracialism is right or wrong, whether or not it can be dealt with well using analytic philosophy methods - these are derails as far as the content and concerns of the open letter go. polymodus has the main idea (except I'd add that what you describe as politics I would also label as a failure of academic integrity).
posted by eviemath at 6:41 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


We frequently teach students in university about the most common forms of academic dishonesty (plagiarism, inventing or fudging data), but we don't teach what academic integrity is or why it's important as frequently, so an overview may be helpful here. Academic integrity is:

1. Giving credit where credit is due. This include properly citing sources used, giving co-authorship or acknowledgement to others who helped you develop your ideas to varying degrees, and situating your new work properly within the broader dialog. The goal here is twofold: the academic endeavour works better when we specifically work to avoid letting our egos get in the way or preventing the situation where others feel that their work has been ignored, and we want to be able to accurately trace the intellectual development of any idea or area of research.

2. Engaging openly and honestly with the research or inquiry; engaging in good faith. This includes not making shit up, which is most often thought of as not making up or doctoring data in the sciences, but also includes not basing arguments on strawmen, or intentionally using a variety of other logical fallacies in constructing an argument. But ideally it goes a little farther than merely avoiding egregious bad faith engagement with a topic. This includes honesty about the limitations of our own personal experience, interrogating our personal biases and goals and being aware of and open to how those might affect our research and conclusions, seeking out and listening to differing experiences and potential confounding data. The goal here is again that we should be committed to furthering academic inquiry, not to our own egos.

3. Relatedly, identifying and clearly articulating our hypotheses or assumptions, and checking that hypotheses or assumptions that we argue from are satisfied. The goal here is that academic inquiry should ultimately arrive at some sort of truth.

Points 2 and 3 can be quite difficult in practice in many circumstances. Even in math, where we are much more clear about our hypotheses, there is an apocryphal story of a grad student who had defined a new mathematical object and written an entire, well-researched dissertation investigating the properties thereof, but at the student's defense, an external reader or audience member pointed out that no instances of the newly-defined mathematical object could exist - the dissertation described properties of a set of objects that was empty of any actual instances. And so that student had to start all over.

This is basically a list of best practices in any discussion or debate, but because academic inquiry strives to be a search for actual truth, they have been elevated to a more integral, less optional status. There is certainly some influence of Enlightenment/liberal values in this list, that one could interrogate and disagree with. Personally, I interpret the collection as requiring that we privilege eg. trans, black, and other POC input on the commonalities of their lived experiences, as requiring that we be aware of and actively seek greater inclusion and diversity of who gets to engage in academic inquiry, and as arguing against a more naive/unnuanced and combative defense of "free speech" that de facto silences less privileged voices (to apply this to a different, broader debate that's been promoted by conservative pundits and in the pages of magazines such as The Atlantic).
posted by eviemath at 7:22 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


Nobody can point me to good analytic philo about this or related topics? There's nothing out there, really? Come on, gentle MeFites, hope me?

Did you see hydropsyche's link earlier? I thought it was a pretty good analysis, though I'm far from knowledgeable about any of this.
posted by panic at 8:10 PM on May 14


Infrancophile, I'm curious as to what you think the duty is of analytic theory is to engage with the work of critical theory when it is covering the same ground. -Zalzidrax
To critique it's arguments and if those arguments lead to their conclusions, without engaging with the stated values unless two sets of values that conflict with each other have been used, to offer better arguments, to probe at the boundaries of the arguments to find edge cases and ask questions about what the conclusion is in those cases. To ruthlessly attack the logical foundations of well established positions in order to either undermine them or strengthen them .

Also to take the conclusions on two or more subjects and compare and contrast them to examine what we can learn from deciding that both conclusions are correct or what error was made that lead to one or two incorrect conclusions.

To be able to cite the values, arguments and conclusions being used by the critical theorists so that the critique isn't too shallow to be helpful, but also to not be swayed by them so much you inherit their biases.

To use a recent historical example: To point out to a branch of feminism that their trans-exclusive position made some gender essentialist assumptions that conflicted with some of their other stated values and their position was incoherent as a result. Then to stand their ground while they were attacked as privileged garbage who were endangering women by trying to include people who were really men. Then to go back to being completely ignored when everyone realizes they were right, right because they used reason and the lived experiences of the people making the arguments had left them with some blindspots and unexamined biases.

Also, to take questions like this and get distracted with an examination if there have any duty to engage and what those duties are, ask what we mean by duty anyway and then once every million arguments like this, every couple hundreds years, to find a really important answer and completely remake civilization into something better as a result.

More practically, to be familiar enough with the subject to be able to examine the whole chain of arguments made by the relevant critical theory and avoid being just a shallow skimming of the subject.
posted by Infracanophile at 8:39 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


Yep. Being told the question is too dangerous to even ask. When all we want to know is the answer,

Consider that there may not be AN answer. Consider that The Question may be a lot of different questions umbrella'd into something that looks like a single thing but isn't. And may not be a very good (in the sense of allowing for useful exploration and explication of what we know) question anyway.

This is the reason that I object to this framing of "if transracialism therefore transgenderism", as if it's a useful query that will produce An Answer. It's not and it won't.
posted by rtha at 8:39 PM on May 14 [12 favorites]


For one thing, trans people evidently exist. They're all over. Many are even academics in disparate fields who can speak for themselves. Where are the "transracial" people? It is not a thing. We just don't see it happening to a degree that suggests Thingness. Conflating them like this denigrates trans people and validates racial appropriation. There is not a good way to discuss it. It's poison.
posted by byanyothername at 10:22 PM on May 14 [6 favorites]


"Nobody can point me to good analytic philo about this or related topics? There's nothing out there, really? Come on, gentle MeFites, hope me?"

One of the big problems with a naive search is that "transracial" by its widest usage refers to "transracial adoptions," when parents of one race adopt a child of another. It's yet another area where the fuzzy edges of racial categorization have been discussed.

I don't know enough about the field of analytic philosophy to know the leading scholars in the fields of race and gender — those seem like things that most frequently get discussed in a critical theory setting. It's worth noting that Lobstermitten mentions Tuval comes out of a continental program, and Hypatia is a journal that leans toward critical and the less analytic side of philosophy.

The two scholars who I started citation mining from last time were Susan Stryker and Tey Meadow. Stryker is a trans woman and a historian of transgender identity; I don't know how Meadow identifies (aside from her using the feminine pronoun), and she's written extensively about transracial identities in post-Apartheid South Africa and on raising transgender children. Meadow tends to approach from a legal philosophy perspective but has published on ethnography guidelines; Stryker similarly has talked about transgender ethnography.

Stryker has positively reviewed this book, Trans, and it even foregrounds its discussion of transgender versus transracial in the Jenner-Dolezal context. He even delves explicitly into the philosophical underpinnings of different positions (a handy chart is on page 22).

Honestly, for this discussion, I think many would be well served — and that Tuval would have been well served — by reading this piece aimed at high school sociology educators: Is Transracial the Same as Transgender? The Utility and Limitations of Identity Analogies in Multicultural Education which pretty clearly lays out a lot of what makes these analogies problematic, and talks about contexts in which they can be useful.

But.

The sentiment that comes in comments like this: Yep. Being told the question is too dangerous to even ask. is either misleading or misled, and plays to the hand of people who don't think any of these questions of identity are important. Fer chrissakes, when Breitbart is suddenly trying to position itself as a defender of feminist inquiry against trans bullies using that same framing of people shutting down the entire discussion because of impolitic questions, it's worth recognizing why they want to push that as a narrative and to do the little bit of extra mental work that is required to transcend that narrative: It's not that questions about racial categorization or "transracial" identity are too dangerous to ask, especially not because trans people (or people of color) are particularly fragile on the issue. It's that there are ways of asking these questions that do inflict real harm to delegitimize the concerns of trans people regarding things like the pernicious lies about sex predators, and that the deception narratives and diminishment of transgender people as legitimate people really do legitimize violence that is aimed at trans people all the time. Seriously, read the details of some of the myriad trans people murdered by their partners in even the last couple years. It's all about how trans people tricked straight men, so shaking their gender and sexual identity that it provoked them to violence. So while it's superficially effective for right-wing assholes to use rhetorical tropes like trans people and feminists confusing words with actual violence, upon examination (which, if you're gonna have an opinion on a fucking philosophy controversy, you should pretty fucking well interrogate that opinion as the price of entry) it's that people who are violent against transgender people routinely cite justifications that are embedded in and consistent with some forms of asking these questions. The questions aren't dangerous, but the questions aren't happening in a vacuum, and it's a huge fucking red flag when someone blunders in doing things like deadnaming that they're about to repeat some of the same tired tropes that nearly every trans person has already heard a thousand goddamned times. Even more to the point: I have a number of trans people in my circle of friends, and the only one who hasn't had violence directed at them specifically for being trans is only out in extremely limited contexts. I'm not presuming to speak for trans people here, but it's my understanding that very few of them haven't experienced violence aimed at them for being trans. Remember the Schroedinger's Rapist thread? Taking away from this discussion that it's dangerous just to ask the question about whether "transracial" is substantively analogous to "transgender" is like taking from that discussion that it's dangerous to even ask, "Hey, whatcha reading?" to a woman. The literal question isn't so much the issue as the context in which it occurs, and the initial context of deadnaming implies that the right of a person to be identified as the person they are is either unconsidered or unimportant. Without that basic respect, positing that you're just asking the question is disingenuous — Hypatia isn't going to publish my essay about why it's not totally OK to call women broads, you know, if some women happen to call themselves broads.

Again, my depth in analytic philosophy isn't great, but for articles in political philosophy or law, if you're going to attempt to analyze a concept or term, one of the very first steps is to research how it IS used in the world, and if it's not used within your particular subfield, you would discuss how your usage should be distinguished from prior uses elsewhere. That's, like, really basic stuff, the kind of defining of terms that happens in the first few introductory paragraphs. Instead, Tuval's wandering in with transracial and proceeds to chew at it like Trump declaring that he came up with the novel phrase "prime the pump." That this happened in a journal that is explicitly intersectional — meaning that the editors should be aware of these types of overlapping boundary issues with marginalization and differences in power structure as part of their every day jobs, is an argument for retraction. Defenses like Spitbull's above, where he says that he's seen journals refuse to pull articles where there's plagiarism, highlights the particular bad faith of the defense: plagiarized articles should be pulled. That they are not pulled by any given journal is bad form for them, and arguing that Hypatia therefore should not pull the article is tu quoque — unless spitbull thinks there's no problem with plagiarism, which I doubt, given the vehement (if empty) threat of citation scouring that he promised. (Likewise, I should hope that if I tried to submit a paper on whether potlatches were rap battles to a journal he edited, my lack of familiarity with the topic should be readily apparent to someone who is an expert, and if I hadn't engaged with literature on the same topic, even if it happened to be outside of my direct subfield, that would be a reason to reject prior to publication. My ignorance would reflect poorly on his reputation as an editor and reviewer; Tuval's ignorance reflects poorly on her and Hypatia.)
posted by klangklangston at 10:45 PM on May 14 [13 favorites]


Even in math, where we are much more clear about our hypotheses, there is an apocryphal story of a grad student who had defined a new mathematical object and written an entire, well-researched dissertation investigating the properties thereof

I wasn't in math (I wish), but more towards the CS side of things, and I've heard of this horror fable, but for the life of me I can't remember if a friend told it or if I read it online somewhere. Clearly, institutional memory might benefit from a citation process too.
posted by polymodus at 11:13 PM on May 14


And, just to keep me honest, C. Ray Borck has a review of Brubaker's Trans coming out soon in an issue of the Transgender Studies Quarterly, whose title "Negligent Analogies," should give some preview of the criticism lodged.

(I had searched for Brubaker through TSQ's own website and not seen anything, but turned this up when looking around further for scholarship on the issue. I wanted to avoid using Stryker as an authority to justify Trans as a good book — while I've read a couple chapters and papers it was based on in just the last couple days, I haven't read the whole thing.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:14 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


In a looser sense, people who have integrated into ethnic communities that they were not born into are everywhere. Though they've faced xenophobia, people have been doing this since presumably the dawn of human history. What Dolezal was trying to do was no different than what countless people throughout history have done. In fact a couple people were even named in this thread who could reasonably be said to be white members of the African-American community.

The only difference in the Dolezal case is that she screwed it up. She hurt the community she wanted to be a part of. She violated shared the social mores and values of the African American community, and so was rejected.

So why did anyone feel the need to suddenly coin the term "trans-racialism?"

Consider for a moment, that it may have been an act of deliberate deception: a phrase constructed to make you forget that Dolezal was only extraordinary in her incompetence in empathizing with the community she wanted to see herself a part of. One that perniciously trades on the peculiar construction of ethnicity and race in America in the aftermath of slavery.

In that case, the question "What is the difference between 'transgender' and 'transracial?'" belongs in the same category as a question like "When did you stop beating your spouse?" in that its very construction may require false or incoherent assumptions.
posted by Zalzidrax at 12:00 AM on May 15 [5 favorites]


[One deleted. Let's remained focused on the actual topic of the handling of / response to the Tuvel article rather than drawing in various unrelated examples of possible or charged appropriation (eg Elizabeth Warren being called Pocahontas, etc.). ]
posted by taz at 1:12 AM on May 15


Where are the "transracial" people? It is not a thing. We just don't see it happening to a degree that suggests Thingness.

What about 'passing'?
posted by empath at 5:02 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Some relevant context: philosophy journals of every stripe are *littered* with articles that are poorly argued, that don't cite all of the relevant literature, etc. They are never retracted. There are hundreds and hundreds of low quality philosophy articles published every year. They stay published.

E.g., I know of a philosophy of science journal article whose source code contained errors and all of the results were based on this error. That article was not retracted, its errors were simply pointed out in another publication.

Many of Tuvel's critics are arguing that their expertise in areas of philosophy related to trans/race issues are not being respected, but they seem to be missing the point. The point is that the standards for publication retraction being invoked here don't seem to hold for any other specialization in philosophy.

Poorly argued, out of date terminology, missing citations, etc. are not reasons to unpublish an article in any other specialty, they're reasons for rejecting or demanding revisions at the submission stage. Nobody's accused Tuvel of plagiarism or deliberately misleading/false quotations, etc. and so this really does come across to many in the profession as an unfair, and occasionally nasty, singling out of this author.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 5:13 AM on May 15 [6 favorites]


it's possible through study for a cis person to get the level of awareness of gender that a trans person is forced to have. but it takes a great deal of study and focus for them to familiarize themself with everything they've never needed to see before because they're cis.

Except lots of cis (or apparently cis) people have had struggles with their own gender identity - you can't know by looking at them. As trans issues become more public, more cis people will be interrogating their own identity and thinking about what it means.
posted by jb at 6:51 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


I did misspeak : when I originally said "trans issues", what I really meant was "issues of gender identity". And I'm very aware of this because I am a cis person (or living as cis person) who has struggled to understand my own gender identity, with great personal stress - but very few people in my real life know about this.
posted by jb at 6:53 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


The original evocation of mental illness affecting lived experience, and the limited usefulness of lived experience in certain specific fields, was made in bad faith and sort of poisoned understanding of what I was saying.

It was not made in bad faith. I made the analogy, and I based it on MY LIVED EXPERIENCE - or rather, the lived experience of others around me that have had to tell me what really happened when I was sick.
posted by jb at 6:57 AM on May 15


something useful in the discussion of "transracialism" seem to be cis and white. All the PoCs and trans people I've seen have been "uh... no." about the whole topic. That should be a big hint.

I can report the opposite. A woman PoC student from Rwanda asked me just last month if viewing race and gender as social constructs meant we should respect people's choices to transition between both types of category. I think puzzles like that are a natural starting point of inquiry, and took my student's question (pre-Tuvel controversy) as supporting Tuvel's framing.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 6:57 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


What about 'passing'

I'm a white person and not a scholar of critical race theory, so I don't have any meaningful take on racial passing itself, but I do think that this is an excellent example of why the whole transracialism/transgender argument falls down.

Trans people do not "pass" as their gender. A trans man is not "passing" as a man. Women sometimes choose to "pass" as men for a variety of reasons - joining the army, holding other jobs that are not permitted to women, escaping harassment, etc, but this is not the same as being trans. (There is some language around "passing" that some people use to describe "meeting the stereotypical requirements of your gender so that cis people do not question your gender presentation".) Racial passing is not any kind of "transracialism" which parallels transness.

There have been about umpteen billion articles linked in this thread that describe the differences between how people understand race and how people understand gender, and why they do not serve as metaphors for each other. There are some commonalities in the experience of oppression, there's all kinds of complicated stuff and fuzzy edges stuff - but race is not just gender transposed to skin color, and gender is not just race transposed to how we interpret genitals and hormones.

Consider if I were to say [the following statement which is incorrect in a variety of ways but which is not totally different from things people really do say], "Gay men are just like women! We can explain gay men's experience by reference to women's experience! Gay men are feminine, women are feminine, if you believe X about gay men, you must also believe it about women!" And then let's imagine that gay men and women were all "here are lots of lines of argument showing that both historically and subjectively, gay men's experience is not in fact the same as women's!" but my response was to say "I have made an argument in which I call gay men A and women B, and when you reason out the relationships I've set up between A and B, you can see that gay men must be just like women, and women must be just like gay men - you probably think this is incorrect because you are wrong about how you interpret your experience".

Asserting that to you, based on a casual and partial understanding of a category, the category seems the same as another does not in fact make it so. "These things seem similar on casual examination" is the starting point for an examination, not proof that things are the same.

On another note: to me, one reason why we really can't have a meaningful conversation comparing "transracialism" to transness is that the degree to which transness is biological/neurological/genetic/epigenetic is still a really vexed question. We don't know why people are trans and to what degree people are "born that way", and in fact this is hotly debated - but we do know that most human societies have some people in them who do not identify as their birth-assigned gender. We know that this is trans (as it were) historic, transcultural, transnational. It seems not impossible that if we understood brains and genetics and epigenetics well enough, we could find some of the "causes" of transness - although I don't think this is the most important line of inquiry in front of us, and I surmise that there is not a single "cause".

Race, on the other hand - we have a pretty good fix on how racial difference comes into being. "Race" as we know it is an artifact of imperialism, slavery and colonialism. We do not expect that some kind of super-sophisticated way of studying the brain, hormones or epigenetics will shed light on the "causes" of identifying as white, for instance, and if someone were pursuing that line of inquiry, we would suspect them of being white supremacists.

Racial identity and gender identity have aspects that chime - we understand race and gender in ways that are modulated by our culture, by modernity, etc. It's not like the way we understand gender today is the same as the way gender was understood in, say, 17th century Spain.

But to do what Tuval does - to use extremely facile, ahistorical comparisons between racial and gender identities - is...well, it's like saying "an apple is called a pomme and a potato is called a pomme de terre, so we can tell that we can learn a lot about apples by looking closely at potatoes".
posted by Frowner at 7:14 AM on May 15 [14 favorites]


Where are the "transracial" people? It is not a thing.

Some are converting to Judaism; I've met them.

Others - well, if anyone felt trans-racial, and they saw how Dolezal (for claiming it) and now Tuval (for talking about it) have been treated, they would stay deep, deep in the closet, wouldn't they?

Or to take your own argument: transness must have been so much more rare 100 years ago - and non-binary gender has just been invented! Because it certainly didn't "exist" when I was young. Or maybe it was heavily closeted?

Thing is: I don't know how I feel about transracialism at all. I do know that I have met many people who claim to have been born with "A Jewish soul in a non-Jewish body" - and that these people are accepted as "lost souls returning to the Jewish people" by my local Jewish establishment. I did not have this experience (and worried about whether I would be accepted for conversion because I didn't have this experience). But I knew many people who claimed to, and I trusted them, because who am I to question their lived experience, though it is different from my own?

But clearly progressive Americans conceive of membership in the black community differently than liberal Judaism. Feeling black does not make one black. Passing as black - and thus giving up white privilege - does not make one black. There are no black conversion classes, no tests or Beit Din. This also suggests that black and white progressive Americans alike have a model of race that really isn't a social construct (like citizenship) or innate like gender identity. It's a more absolute model - a blood model.

That's where I find the progressive argument itself to be in bad faith. Progressive Americans don't want to admit that they have accepted the racist model of race: that race isn't a social construct but a real, biological division between people. You are black because you have black blood; you cannot be black - even if everyone perceives you to be so - if you do not have black blood.

I find this interpretation of the nature of race to be abhorrent, precisely because it buys into the race models of white supremacists. I would rather not accept their definition of the world.
posted by jb at 7:23 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


Okay: that was all tangled. Notably, I'm not a philosopher and this isn't an academic journal.

What I mean is: the black community can set their definitions of acceptance however they want, obviously. But if those definitions are based on blood, we should actually admit that and recognize it. And think about why the majority of people - black and white - in the US seem to agree on this, and why the whole argument in the first place was started by right wingers who were using racism to denounce trans rights, rather than using our recognition of trans rights to open up and question how we all think about race.
posted by jb at 7:27 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


There is some language around "passing" that some people use to describe "meeting the stereotypical requirements of your gender so that cis people do not question your gender presentation".

Eh, it's pretty widely used by trans people to mean "being 'read' as [female/male - whichever is congruent with your actual gender]"* which I suppose it's similar but not quite the same (passing a cis is not the same as passing as a woman in my case, for example - the latter is sometimes attainable in some spaces, the former is laughably unrealistic). I personally also distinguish between passing as [your actual identity] contra passing for [something you're not].

* In my experience this is language used by binary trans people predominantly if not exclusively - most non-binary people I know don't consider it possible for them in most circumstances due to the lack of awareness and acceptance of non-binary identities, and non-binary communities aren't obsessively focused on it as many mostly binary trans spaces - particularly those focused on people earlier in transition and support groups - often are.
posted by Dysk at 7:27 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


I knew a Native American man, born and raised on a reservation, that used to tell people he was Brazilian. He looked vaguely "exotic" enough that most non-Native people didn't know the difference, and Brazil is a racially heterogenous place anyway. He hated being Native because of abuse he'd suffered, both by his own people and at the hands of outsiders. But he didn't think that he was Brazilian, he just chose to pass as that because it seemed psychologically easier to him (it wasn't, but that's another story).

Also, there are plenty of historical of examples of light-skinned Black people (or other POC) passing as white. Did they think they were actually white, or did they refrain from challenging the assumption because it was (is) so much safer and beneficial to be white? I don't know. I haven't heard of any examples of people whose skin tone/hair type couldn't naturally pass as white being able to do so by altering their appearance. There's no hormone you can take for that.

In contrast, I know I'm a man whether anyone else thinks so or not. I'm not pretending to be one. I'm not lying about it. I've altered my appearance through hormones and surgery so that I would be comfortable in my own skin. It has the beneficial side effect of making me much, much safer when I'm out in the world. Some trans people choose not to, or can't, significantly alter their appearance, but they still are the gender they say they are. They know it, and thus we should believe it.

Almost everyone agrees that Dolezal is a liar. And she knew it. She said she "felt black," not that she "is black." My friend above, while his story is sad, is lying about his race, and he knows it. This is why asking the question is dangerous. It implicates trans people as liars, and that's how we get assaulted and killed. This is how we kill ourselves, because we're made to doubt our own hearts.
posted by AFABulous at 7:47 AM on May 15 [10 favorites]


we have a pretty good fix on how racial difference comes into being. "Race" as we know it is an artifact of imperialism, slavery and colonialism.

There's substantive debate over whether something like racial concepts were used in ancient Greece. E.g. see: McCoskey, D., 2012, Race: Antiquity and its Legacy, London: I.B. Taurus.

We do not expect that some kind of super-sophisticated way of studying the brain, hormones or epigenetics will shed light on the "causes" of identifying as white

Some cognitive scientists believe we naturally, as a general matter of cognitively developing biological categories, slice up humans in race-like ways -- i.e., we're innately disposed to assume superficial phenotypical markers correlate with non-directly detectable properties that also define the group.

See e.g., Was Race thinking invented in the modern West?

Or: Gil-White, F. (2001). Are ethnic groups biological ‘species’ to the human brain? Current Anthropology, 42(4), 515–554.

I didn't touch on your many good points, and per usual I learned from them. (You honestly should be doing my job as a philosophy professor.) But if there's any new ideas worth considering above, ones that came from discussing the race/gender analogy, doesn't that suggest its exploration isn't as fruitless as you're making out?
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 8:02 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Racial identity and what makes someone black are interesting questions without simple answers, certainly the kinds of topics philosophy should address. But what I keep getting stuck on here is how people can lack the simple empathy of seeing why this topic has the capacity to feel hurtful and harmful. It strikes me as basic human compassion and manners to hear trans people and people of color say, "Hey, the way this paper was framed and executed is hurtful to me." and just shrug and reply, "Academic freedom! Don't witch hunt me!"

This label "transracialism", which as far as I can tell was made up by someone who is widely considered to be a very hurtful asshole, exists in a context. I mean, racism exists. Transphobia exists. The meaning and even possibility of a black person to identify as white is massively different from a white person identifying as black. The fact that there is a long academic tradition of white people theorizing about people of color, in ways that cause demonstrable harm, without bothering to ask people of color about their actual experience, is real. Likewise for cis academics talking about trans people. People are literally getting murdered because they are black and or trans. This has been true for hundreds of years, and is still true right now in 2017. Let's not even start on the extensive and very painful tradition of white people stating they are American Indian.

Researching what black scholars have written about racial identity can only enrich anyone's analysis of this idea of transracialism. Researching what trans people think about this topic can only make any thought experiment on this topic stronger. And a failure to consider what people of color and trans people have already written on this topic, along with the failure to consider the impact of blithely claiming that transracialism is equivalent to transgender, I mean, it's just, on very basic human terms, thoughtless and unkind.

Norms in philosophy and academic publishing don't excuse those who participate in those worlds from the reality that their work has a real impact on real people. People whose lives are under very real attack.

I mean, for defenders of the paper, do you think that the rights of a white cis academic to spout off a poorly researched theory holds more weight than the impact of that theory on the people she is talking about?
posted by latkes at 8:06 AM on May 15 [10 favorites]


But clearly progressive Americans conceive of membership in the black community differently than liberal Judaism. Feeling black does not make one black. Passing as black - and thus giving up white privilege - does not make one black. There are no black conversion classes, no tests or Beit Din. This also suggests that black and white progressive Americans alike have a model of race that really isn't a social construct (like citizenship) or innate like gender identity. It's a more absolute model - a blood model.

Or maybe it's not any different and the Dolezal case is analogous to someone getting their nose enlarged, claiming they were Jewish, and then, when not accepted into the Jewish community saying "But I feel Jewish! I'm trans-racial. I've always loved money!"

I mean if she had used the term "trans ethnic" people would just laugh, because this is America; every black or white person In America have ancestors that are "trans ethnic." It is the unique construction of race in America that overrides and destroys culture and ethnicity in the service of white supremacy that gives the term "trans racial" the power to make people forget the obvious and somehow think that Dolezal is different.

And this is exactly why comparing transgendered people to Dolezal's "transracialism" is so pernicious and wrong. It is easy to imagine an individual behaving so reprehensibly that they should not be allowed access to their preferred gender category, as Dolezal has managed with her preferred identity. In fact there is a whole political media machine dedicated to doing this and slandering transgendered people with those imaginings.

And this is why even "asking the question" is not just dangerous, it is downright evil.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:25 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


That's where I find the progressive argument itself to be in bad faith.


It appears as if, rather than be distressed you "can't even ask the question," you have already settled on a preferred answer and are happy to reject anything that doesn't conform to your preconceived notions.

Is there a situation in which you can imagine changing your mind?
Is there any level, style, tone, kind, method or variety of evidence or argument that could lead you to changing your conclusions?
Could you recognize them if they were in front of you?
Based on your comments, it looks like the answer to the last is 'no.'
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:30 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


Judaism is a weird example to use anyway, because it was always explained to me as a multivalent thing anyway, that can encompass ethnicit(ies), culture, and religion, separately or together. People can be ethnically Jewish, and introduce themselves as Jewish, without being religious at all. And when people convert to Judaism, it's understood that they're changing their religion and possibly culture, not their ethnicity, or their nationality, and certainly not their family history.

Changing religion is something we have a context for. Blackness has no religious component. And to the extent that it does - like, Southern Baptism, black churches and traditions - white people can join those churches just fine.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 9:43 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


Man, I have really not been in a good state to engage in this thread (sleep deprivation, intense postoperative pain, depression, etc.) and construct perfect shiny logical arguments and I honestly do not believe that most of you jerking your knees are even remotely engaging in good faith here; this is just a back and forth with trans people and people of color saying, "The analogy is bad, there are reasons" and others piping up with, "YEAH WELL WHAT ABOUT X, WHY DON'T YOU LIST YOUR REASONS" in really offensive, stupid, clueless ways. No, what Dolezal did is not like being a third culture kid or converting to a religion that is part of a particular ethnicity. No, "passing" (a contentious word/concept) in the context of trans presentation is not the same as "passing" in the sense of light skinned people of color integrating into white spaces. As was pointed out above, "transracial" has pre-Dolezal referred to adoptions of another race, and gets tangled in with multiracial people and families who, also, should probably be a part of this conversation but never really are.

There are enormous differences between these things that should be obvious and there is way too much resistance to even being willing to consider that for me to read good faith in a lot of this thread. Likewise, this attitude of expecting minorities to hold your hand and drag your dead weight kicking-and-screaming ass down the Hall of Enlightenment needs to stop. It's not anybody's job to educate anybody, and if you have a sincere interest in a topic, there are better ways to get help researching it than just bluntly rebutting every. Single. Thing. offered by people affected by it.
posted by byanyothername at 9:48 AM on May 15 [10 favorites]


"Transgendered people" is not correct terminology. We don't say "gayed" people - nothing "happened" to us to make us trans; "transgender" is not a verb. Likewise, "transgenders" is inappropriate. "Transgender people" is correct.
posted by AFABulous at 10:01 AM on May 15 [9 favorites]


i've been following this thread for the entertaining garbage fire that it is. i swear to god i feel like it will run until the last persistent white cis person gives up asserting that transracial is a thing; or the last PoC, trans person, or ally gives up trying to persuade them otherwise.

we're never listened to.

we state our position, we attest to our lived experience, we say something is offensive or just plain wrong.

and we're never listened to.
posted by magentaisafuncolortobe at 10:04 AM on May 15 [12 favorites]


Or to take your own argument: transness must have been so much more rare 100 years ago - and non-binary gender has just been invented! Because it certainly didn't "exist" when I was young. Or maybe it was heavily closeted?

Also, just to reply directly to this, this is another case of you asserting your ignorance as something authoritative. There are loads of historical (often messy, tragic and by nature not entirely binary) accounts of trans people and gender variant people. Here is one to start with, here is another. There are many. There are numerous cultural categories for gender variance; some of them are positive for trans and gender variant people, some of them are negative. Many, like hijra, are a combination of aspects both helpful and harmful. You can make arguments that these are not "trans" people in the contemporary Western sense, but that feels like cultural chauvinism and a weird emphasis on modernity, where these weirdos who are in the news are debatably valid (but probably not), but those weirdos in another culture centuries ago are obviously invalid. So, let's not do that, please.

I know of none for people who are "transracial" in the Dolezal sense. I would be fascinated by any if there were. Yes, there are loads of historical cases of light-skinned people of color "passing" as white and all kinds of confusing categories like black Dutch to account for this. Yes, there are lots of third culture kids (hi?); but they don't really "feel x" or know they are X in the way trans people do. Yes, there are lots of multiracial people and mixed race families. Again, not really comparable.

What's especially damning about Dolezal is that her "blackness" fluctuated depending on how beneficial or harmful it would be to her in any given situation. That should raise a lot of alarms. What Dolezal did seems to fall more into another phenomenon we see a lot of historically: racial appropriation.

There are a lot of interesting conversations we can have about this. But beginning from, "Is transracialism the same as transgerness?" is a huge fucking non-starter. An academic paper especially ought to be taking into account aaaalllllllll this stuff, not ignoring 98% of it to do a shitty, hurtful one-note rhetorical trick.
posted by byanyothername at 10:12 AM on May 15 [15 favorites]


"Transgendered people" is not correct terminology. We don't say "gayed" people - nothing "happened" to us to make us trans; "transgender" is not a verb. Likewise, "transgenders" is inappropriate. "Transgender people" is correct.

Right. Apologies for letting that slip by, and thank you for pointing it out and correcting it.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:05 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


... E.g., I know of a philosophy of science journal article whose source code contained errors and all of the results were based on this error. That article was not retracted, its errors were simply pointed out in another publication....

(a) The open letter notes the rarity of retractions in philosophy and addresses it, explaining why they are calling for retraction in this particular case. As has been discussed upthread.

(b) The issue is academic integrity, not merely poor scholarship. As has been discussed upthread.

(c) If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump off a cliff as well? In many/some cases, the correction published later can be a reasonable alternative to retracting a paper that has somehow made it through the peer review process without meeting standards for academic integrity. You appear to be claiming that the discipline of philosophy as a whole has laxer standards for academic integrity than many other disciplines, however. This... is not the slam dunk defense that you seem to think it is. And perhaps some change in that area would be a positive thing for philosophy, it's reputation among the general public, and it's ability to argue convincingly for public funding and support? Item (c) here has not been discussed as extensively upthread as items (a) or (b), but has also been touched upon previously.
posted by eviemath at 1:02 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


I like you, jb, but you're out of your depth.

"Some are converting to Judaism; I've met them. "

That's kind of irrelevant unless they identify as transracial, isn't it? Dolezal isn't describing herself as a convert to blackness or a migrant to blackness, she's appropriating a term from one group to justify her appropriation of another's culture.

"But clearly progressive Americans conceive of membership in the black community differently than liberal Judaism. Feeling black does not make one black. Passing as black - and thus giving up white privilege - does not make one black. There are no black conversion classes, no tests or Beit Din. This also suggests that black and white progressive Americans alike have a model of race that really isn't a social construct (like citizenship) or innate like gender identity. It's a more absolute model - a blood model. "

Passing as black does not mean giving up white privilege. Dolezal has the privilege of reverting to a white identity any time she chooses. Her attempted choice of a black identity is itself a privilege. There's also the concurrent issues of lighter skinned black people enjoying more relative privilege than darker skinned black people.

You also seem to be poorly served by your example of citizenship, something that is far more complicated than you let on. The two main philosophies for determining citizenship are jus sanguinis and jus soli. Jus sanguinis, literally "right of blood," is citizenship conferred by parentage (sometimes also race or language); Jus soli, "right of soil," is citizenship conferred by birthplace. Every single country I can think of uses a mix of the two: Children of Americans are guaranteed American citizenship no matter where they're born; children born in American territory are guaranteed American citizenship no matter who their parents are.

I'm not presuming to speak for black people on who is black, but it seems clear that reducing it to an "absolute model — a blood model" is deeply wrong with regard to Dolezal. She was neither born into black culture nor to black parents, and we do expect a narrative with race (and nationality and ethnicity, etc.) that is different from what we expect with gender or sexuality. We know that transgender children are often born to cisgender parents; we know that gay children are often born to straight parents. Even beyond any genetic explanations, the assumption of continuity of gender does not exist the way it does for ethnicity, citizenship or language.

If you wish to follow that analogy beyond those obvious problems, the end point becomes clear: Dolezal, having neither jus sanguinis nor jus soli could only gain citizenship into the imagined black nation by fulfilling the tests stipulated by that nation. For some nations, generally those of strongest jus sanguinis lean, becoming a citizen is nigh impossible.

"That's where I find the progressive argument itself to be in bad faith. Progressive Americans don't want to admit that they have accepted the racist model of race: that race isn't a social construct but a real, biological division between people. You are black because you have black blood; you cannot be black - even if everyone perceives you to be so - if you do not have black blood."

And that feeling of bad faith is directly a result of your lack of familiarity with a passel of concepts of identity, reducing it to either social construct or blood lineage, so it's unfair to put it on progressives. I've mentioned before that I think that the way racial categorization happens in America is incoherent; I would assume it's incoherent in Canada as well. That's one of the fundamental problems with using it as a thought experiment to analogize from: the intuitions drawn from the application of an incoherent standard to another situation cannot be expected to produce reliable clarity and insight, and must be handled with exceeding care in situations where the grist is the lived experiences of marginalized groups.

"I find this interpretation of the nature of race to be abhorrent, precisely because it buys into the race models of white supremacists. I would rather not accept their definition of the world."

By reducing identity to this false dichotomy and ignoring the repeated comments of those affected, you already have.
posted by klangklangston at 1:51 PM on May 15 [17 favorites]


John Howard Griffin was a prototypical trans racialist, who undertook strenuous measures and great risks to discover what it was like to inhabit another skin. His experiment ended up killing him.

Black Like Me, 1960, book by John Howard Griffin; (Movie).
posted by 0rison at 10:06 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Why is this so hard to understand? Griffin didn't believe he was actually black. Trans people aren't "inhabiting another skin" or performing an experiment. I'm not disguising myself as a man. I am a man.
posted by AFABulous at 11:26 PM on May 15 [22 favorites]


I know that absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence, but although I've read a number of accounts by/about people who lived with a different ethnic group as a member of that group, (e.g.) the subjects have never seemed to conceptualise their experience as a transracial one. Very few of them said anything like "I became an X" to describe their association; the ones did were basically colonial Boys' Own accounts and even those didn't say "I used to be a Y , but now I have become an X"; they weren't abandoning a former identity but adding a new association. None of them ever said "I had always been X despite people identifying me as Y". The contrast with what I have read of tg identity could not be more absolute.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:55 PM on May 15 [6 favorites]


0rison, the rumor that Griffin's experiment killed him has been repeatedly debunked. He died of diabetes, unrelated to his use of methoxsalen.

And it seems like there are a lot of people in this thread picking random examples that have nothing to do with the central issue and saying "what about this? Is this relevant? Does this make the issue clearer?"

No. And, in fact, it seems like this impulse-- "is this thing like this other thing? Maybe???? Let's debate!!" is exactly what is so troubling about the original article. I believe that philosophers should be allowed to ask questions-- but a person who does so without doing her due diligence to understand the field or the subject is not engaging ethically with either philosophy or the topic. It verges more on sealioning and JAQing than a good faith engagement with a fraught issue. An issue that literally kills people, btw.

The fact that this has frequently been a problem for Metafilter (I dunno, have you ever tried NOT engaging with structural patriarchy/racism/inequality? CHECKMATE) might actually explain why this thread has been so toxic.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:44 AM on May 16 [12 favorites]


I'd like to apologise for taking the position I have taken here, that this concept should be permitted to be discussed, and for any hurt I caused by doing so. I understand this is a topic that causes real pain for people, and that satisfying my curiosity doesn't justify that pain. I'll try not to think about it or engage with it from this point on.
posted by Jimbob at 11:09 AM on May 16 [3 favorites]


"I'll try not to think about it or engage with it from this point on."

I mean, I'm not trying to speak for any trans people, but since trans people have written stuff on this issue giving their perspectives, maybe a better approach is to seek out that stuff on your own and engage with it there while being mindful of your participation? I mean, if you think that you can't devote a couple of hours to reading through stuff that has already been written with multiple perspectives on what the hazards are and what to be aware of, and that after that you can't make an informed judgment about when to not engage and just listen, then yeah, maybe don't think about it, but since the response of e.g. the "actual trans philosopher" was to listen to trans voices on this, it seems like maybe an overreaction to declare that you won't even think about it for fear of causing harm.
posted by klangklangston at 11:29 AM on May 16 [14 favorites]


i feel like situations like this one have the effect of poisoning the well.

the intensity of the debate has over time sharpened both sides' positions into stronger and less compromising forms-- each so as to present less of an attack surface to the other.

we started off with something nuanced, like "the points of comparison between gender identity and racial identity are real and worth considering, but it is by no means a clear parallel, and the concept of 'transracialism' is the exact wrong entry point to the discussion. by our natures, trans people and PoC are going to be much better-positioned to discuss this issue, and-- especially if they don't have training in it-- it's a topic that a white cis person should approach carefully with intent to listen more than they talk." (note: even this is eliding a lot, particularly in that it assumes no cis person has ever really thought about gender, and that all trans people are equally well-informed about it. i can't comment on the PoC side of things but i strongly expect there's complexities there too.)

and after 230 goddamn comments we get to where jimbob comes away with the impression that this subject should never be discussed at all, or that cis people don't get to engage with it, period.

trans people and PoC aren't generally looking to shut down debate. we do so only as a last resort. what we want is for our expertise to be respected, and to be given a position of privilege in the discussion that reflects our deep familiarity with the topic.

there's a strong tendency for some white people to act as though they know more about being a person of color than PoC do. and for some cis people to act as though they know more about being trans than trans people do. it's a kyriarchic tendency to privilege narratives written by the dominant groups in society, for them to write our histories for us, as seen through the lens of their own power over us and how it suits them for us to be.

drawing a false parallel between being transgender and "transracialism" suits the purposes of the white cis majority, it makes a lot of things about us "make sense" in a neat and trivializing way, so it has a certain gravitational pull for some white cis people. and the negative consequences of discussing it carelessly-- that it promulgates it as a wedge issue-- rebound to us. it benefits their worldview and costs us our status and our lives.

as always, #notallcis, #notallwhites, but it is a tendency that's there in being part of the dominant social group, and it's a thing that needs to be pushed back against.

"i'd better never talk about trans issues with a trans person" is not a good lesson to take away from this, though i can see how anyone involved in this thread would feel burned. definitely approach respectfully, definitely listen way more than you talk, do some googling first, and remember that it's not our job to educate you; if at all we do so on a volunteer basis. (i can't speak for PoC on this.)

but it's better to start learning about the systems of gender-based structural oppression in our society, even though that will mean putting yourself in an uncomfortable positions, feeling embarrassed, learning about things that you wish you didn't know about. you have the privilege to turn away from that discussion and go back to your normal life; consider not exercising it.
posted by magentaisafuncolortobe at 12:31 PM on May 16 [8 favorites]


Jimbob, I think doing what klangston suggests is a much better way to satisfy your curiosity and scratch the intellectual itch, anyway. If you poke around, there have been quite a lot of arguments by trans people and people of color on this very topic and why the comparison is so toxic. Leaving aside everything else for a moment, that the comparison simply doesn't work makes it a terrible way for anyone to learn more about the actual topics being discussed in the first place. It is fine to be curious, to want to learn and discuss, but starting from a harmful premise that only muddies understanding is just a bad way to do that.
posted by byanyothername at 1:10 PM on May 16 [8 favorites]


i feel like situations like this one have the effect of poisoning the well.

Absolutely. I feel like there is an extent to which that is inherent to the particular topic ("transracialism"/Dolezal) which is why it's received so much pushback all the previous times anyone's tried to make a post about it. This had the best shot at not just being awful and, well...
posted by Dysk at 1:42 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


If anyone wants to consider why treating transgender (a recognised state experienced by many people ) and "transracial" (a name intended to make the outlier actions of one white woman seem like a trend) as equivalent is being described as "harmful", btw, there's this.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:55 AM on May 17 [3 favorites]


(It's from a different angle, but this stuff does not stay in the Academy...)
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:56 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]


Good lord, that Piers Morgan article! Yes, this is exactly why random academic discussions of race and gender are so dangerous. Even if they are well-researched and constructed, they risk matastacizing when they "leave the lab." When they aren't well done it's like fuel on a fire.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:32 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]


I don't understand why Piers Morgan has a show at all — how many people ever say to themselves, "You know, this topic would benefit from a posh British moron's opinion"?
posted by klangklangston at 3:25 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]


I know, it's extraordinary. I mean, every now and then I follow a link to some disgusting English rag and I find myself reading something that's even more appalling than the rest of the article and so I check the byline and go "Yep, Piers Morgan." I feel so sorry for the people on the panel who had to put up with his "what if I pretended to be an elephant" nonsense.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:35 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]


It's death by a thousand cuts. Trans people deal with that shit daily unless we close ourselves off from society and culture (which some do). A couple of years ago I was at a live Kids in the Hall reunion show, and Scott Thompson did a little monologue about trans kids like "When I was 5, I wanted to be a mermaid." I felt sick and were it not for my friend, I would've left the theater. I hadn't yet transitioned and I was still questioning whether anyone would take me seriously as a man. This is why we kill ourselves.
posted by AFABulous at 9:21 PM on May 17 [6 favorites]


""When I was 5, I wanted to be a mermaid.""

That's a sentiment I've heard from a bunch of cis dudes, some of them gay, and I'd imagine that it comes across 'spainy as shit. Like, "I thought I wanted to be a woman when I grew up, but I grew out of it." And it's like, yeah, but a lot of people who wanted to be women when they grew up are now women, and some of them were assigned male at birth, so clearly that experience isn't as universal as you think. Seems like being trans is more like being an astronaut than a mermaid, since more kids think about being an astronaut than grow up to be an astronaut, and some people actually get to be astronauts.
posted by klangklangston at 1:36 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]


Rogers Brubaker, the author of Trans: Gender and Race in an Age of Unsettled Identities, a (forthcoming?) book on this issue (mentioned above) has an OpEd in the New York Times.
posted by nequalsone at 7:41 AM on May 18


Ugh, shitty op-ed.
posted by klangklangston at 12:21 PM on May 18




Sigh. Thanks for linking that statement from Hypatia's board, airing nerdy laundry. To be clear, it is nowhere near the same vicinity as Piers Morgan. I commend them for trying to inject a more nuanced understanding of the academic publishing world into the debate outside of academia. The lack of clearly naming or describing why people are upset indicates that they likely don't really get it, though. Which means that the promised reexamination of their structures has the potential to turn into a power struggle between the board and the (majority of the) associate editors (whose statement indicated a better understanding of the structural issues brought up in the open letter), or at least to be long and somewhat contentious and possibly not lead to much improvement. That would be an unfortunate outcome.
posted by eviemath at 5:42 AM on May 19 [3 favorites]


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