There have been a few essays and commentaries of late about the difficulties in dialogues within feminism surrounding trans issues. All I’m about to say should be prefaced by acknowledging my lack of expertise or even good acquaintance in trans issues. I am not up to speed on the philosophical literature, nor am I up to speed on how all the conversational dynamics play out in less formal dialogues (e.g., I don’t use Twitter, but gather that this is a veritable hellscape of human misery where these conversations are concerned). My only reason for posting concerns the meta-level talk about talking happening as an offshoot of the core debates.The talk about talking is about how impossible it is to talk, feminist to feminist or philosopher to philosopher about trans issues. For example, here is an essay by Kathleen Stock, in which she acknowledges her own irresolution on the core issues, but notes,
Beyond the academy, there’s a huge and impassioned discussion going on, around the apparent conflict between women-who-are-not-transwomen’s rights and interests, and transwomen’s rights and interests. And yet nearly all academic philosophers — including, surprisingly, feminist philosophers — are ignoring it.
She ascribes some of this silence or ignoring to the influence of social media, saying:
people are now frightened to discuss the issue on social media, for fear of it going out of control, or for fear of being perceived to have the ‘wrong’ view. I know this, because I have recently started to explore related issues on my own Facebook page, and have been contacted behind the scenes by other philosophers who are sympathetic but reluctant to discuss this in public.
A similar worry is expressed by a commentator, a philosopher who is trans, at Daily Nous, here, who writes in part:
I don’t know what the answer is, as someone who refuses to publicly disclose private information to the discipline for the privilege (?) of engaging in combative online debate about this topic. I do generally keep quiet about it and refuse to make it an area in which I publish on, even if I wanted to, since the environment is vitriolic, and charges of “thought police” and “transphobia” fly all too quickly on both sides, rather than a patient attempt at inquiry and understanding before responding.
Again, allowing for my own ignorance about the issues, it is nonetheless surely worrisome that people across the spectrum are either walking out of the conversations, or expressing thoughts only privately while ascribing the privacy to worries about the nature of the dialogue, or left thinking that many philosophers with relevant expertise are abdicating participation in a public debate because the professional-social costs are too high.
There are of course many domains in philosophy in which people express this kind of fear – a reluctance to speak for worry of heated, denunciatory disapprobation. Yet seeing it transpire within feminist philosophy is perhaps especially painful. Because some of us do (again, naively) want feminist spaces to have exemplary conversational norms. Because if lots of feminists step out of issues of public controversy, those controversies won’t profit from what they might add. Because conversations that require a high toleration for hostility will inevitably exclude perspectives it might be important to entertain. Because…
In many respects, this blog is a case in miniature of the problem here. What little I do understand of the relevant controversies and debates I have gleaned elsewhere. The conversations are not happening here. There are multiple possible explanations of that – perhaps my co-bloggers are of the view that there really is nothing to discuss. But I worry that it might better be explained by the fact that none of us want to bite the nasty bullet of navigating the comments that might ensue. Or the ways we might summon negative attention to ourselves individually by saying anything at all. I.e., we bloggers are just like lots of other folk in this, reluctant to engage at all.
I understand that even posting this may reap the whirlwind, not least because I am not apprised of all the dynamics informing it. But to be clear, I am not asking anyone to bring me up to speed – at least in part because I expect this would but generate a host of hostile “it’s not my job to school you” responses (which, fair play, no one does owe me that!). I am just posting this because, as a relative bystander, I think it worth noting that lots of bystanders may simply shrink from engaging and I’d like to hear ideas for how that can be addressed, if it can. Or, if it really doesn’t matter if lots of people bow out, why doesn’t it matter?
Edit: I am closing comments on this post for the time being. -Stacey Goguen