Saucers of Mud

June 10, 2019

Philosophy’s Transphobia Problem

Filed under: Uncategorized — matt w @ 11:11 pm

[Update: I forgot to add my full name to this–this is Matt Weiner of the University of Vermont.]

From Alysonesque on Twitter:

Philosophy as a professional discipline has tacitly (and often explicitly as well) decided that attacking trans women under the guise of freedom of inquiry is not only acceptable, but is beyond the scope of acceptable criticism. This should horrify philosophers.

Trans women who work in the field suggesting that their lives are not in fact abstract questions and that these debates do in fact impact the well being of active participants in philosophy, has been determined to be an unacceptable violation of free inquiry.

This is true, and horrifying. Trans women have been subject to relentless attacks in philosophy; and when people push back on the attacks, far too much of the response consists of expressions of concern over whether this means prohibiting trans-exclusionary views in philosophy journals. But the attacks on trans people aren’t limited to journal papers.*

There is what Justin Weinberg here describes as “name-calling, referring to trans women as ‘he,’ and mocking colleagues’ looks.” There’s the onslaught of blog posts that minimize the vulnerability of trans people and insinuate without evidence that trans women are more violent. See L Mollica, Aaron Jaffe, Asia Ferrin, and Lorna Finlayson, Katherine Jenkins, and Rosie Worsdale.

One particular notable thing; in a Medium post partly responding to the above pieces (at least, listing them in an Appendix as “half-arsed takedown attempts of my arguments, launched into the philosophy blogosphere,” Kathleen Stock responds to Justin Weinberg’s claim that “we have good reason to believe that the facts regarding statistical male violence are not representative of the facts regarding violence by transwomen” by demanding evidence that trans women are less violent than men.** She doesn’t provide any evidence that trans women are more violent than other women (nor have any other philosophers provided it, and sadly I’ve read a lot of what they’ve had to say about it).

Finlayson, Jenkins, and Worsdale provide some reasons to think that evidence is necessary—”in short, trans women are different from cis men” (see also Grace Lavery on “socialisation”)—but really, it should be obvious that evidence is necessary. As Jennifer Nicole and I. Roll point out, this is not good philosophy. An article that based one of its key claims on a thesis that it didn’t provide evidence for wouldn’t get past peer review (I hope). When the thesis is derogatory to vulnerable people, that’s even more egregious.

So: My apologies to trans philosophers and all other trans people for the attacks that you’ve been subjected to in philosophy. We need to do better.

*Not that trans-exclusionary articles in journals are fine.

**As Ray Briggs points out here, California made it easier for trans people to affirm their identity and “[t]here has been no rash of violence against cis women as a result”; Sophie-Grace Chappell makes a similar argument about Ireland at the end of this dialogue and Holly Lawford-Smith seems to accept it, though I haven’t seen her acknowledge that in other contexts. But again, it seems almost beside the point to argue this when no evidence has been presented for it.

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