Talking about Talking

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?


24 thoughts on “Talking about Talking

  1. Apologies for not having the comments on for the post. I’m not sure how I had them off in the first place, but they’re on now.

  2. I think Audrey, on a different post, has done a great job of explaining why many of us a very hesitant to have these discussions. She writes:

    “what I do have a serious problem, with, are people who are happy to speculate about gender identity, and whether trans women are really women, as though it were an abstract philosophical puzzle to be solved, and not something that is about actual living people. When taking one side of an argument involves the invalidation of a lot of people’s identity and lived experience I think it’s right that we be extremely hesitant to take it. That’s not to say it’s entirely off limits to talk about gender identity or to disagree with trans folks or other feminist philosophers. Not all trans folks or feminist philosophers agree with each other on these issues anyway. But cis people and trans people have a different stake in the matter. And a view that says trans folks are just wrong, deluded, deceptive (etc) when they make sincere claims about themselves is to discount and marginalize them as participants in the discussion. Whereas believing them may have consequences that some people believe will be ultimately detrimental to cis women, it still doesn’t marginalize cis women or say that cis women are systematically mistaken about themselves in really fundamental ways.”

  3. Thanks, Jenny. I guess I was hoping that feminist philosophers might be motivated to seek ways to have conversation that avoid the vices you describe. Maybe that’s not possible?

  4. Let me remark that I’ve long been involve in trans issues, but not at all as absract concerns. Unfortunately in Texas, where I am over half a year, anti-trans feelings affect the political agenda and finally actions that are played out in schools, among other public spaces. There’s actually a lot of visible suffering caused by the semingly entrenched far right views. The episode in the piece I originally referred in my – about the worry that a little trans person might look at her daughter – are very vexing. We’re comparing real suffering with possible embarrasment.

  5. About the talking . . .

    Is it possible to neologize (sp?) the vices away? So maybe we have the categories women(1) and women(2). Women(1) are, let’s say, all who identify as women, and women(2) are those people who have the relevant social/causal histories (whatever that is).

    Many people will be both women(1) and women(2). Some W1s will not initially W2s, but may become so over time. Some W2s may stop being W1s (trans men). There may be good reasons to have spaces reserved solely for W2s, and solely for W1s, and spaces for people that are both. Etc.

    The question, “Is so and so a woman?” full stop, should perhaps be treated as uninteresting, if not nonsensical. And, who falls into which category seems rather more straightforward.

    Anyway, just thinking out loud. Mods, feel free to delete as appropriate.

  6. Since I’ve ventured out into the discussion on Daily Nous (thanks for linking to my comment), if I may, I’d like to add to the discussion of Audrey’s comments. I think that two things can be brought together:

    1. Philosophical speculation as if questions about gender don’t impact people is surely to be avoided.
    2. It is possible to have a view on which a person has a mistaken view about their own beliefs, motivations, identities, and so on, without that view “marginaliz[ing] them as participants in the discussion.” (I think this is distinguishable from the arguments that trans people are deceptive when they don’t disclose, which I’m setting aside for the moment–though I have very strong views about this, having had some pretty unpleasant experiences from self-identified feminists and even other trans-identified people themselves.)

    I do not think that I, as a trans person, am deluded (I think that on a certain conception of what it is to be a man, I am a man). At the same time, I also think that human beings are very bad at self-awareness in a number of ways. And philosophers hold many different views about the extent to which people are deluded in some deep way (perhaps about the reality of medium-sized objects, or about their having persisting selves, etc.). Thus I think it’s important to hold in tension two things: some respect for people’s own sense of self as a starting point for inquiry and an explanatory constraint, but we need not preclude a priori the possibility that some explanation of transgender experience involves having erroneous beliefs, feelings, etc. (on some conception of “error”). Frankly, though, I would say that such explanations might turn out to cut in more than one direction, given that all of us have complex gendered, socialized, embodied experiences of ourselves.

    How do we hold these together? I think that requires taking people’s testimony seriously, without necessarily taking it as infallible. Talia Bettcher has made some arguments in this direction. And I think it also means keeping in mind, as Audrey points out, the stakes for having an error theory in this context. Flippantly calling a trans woman “deluded” can have life-or-death consequences. I see little evidence, though I am open to being corrected, that cis women are under the same threat from trans women.

  7. As someone who has published academic work on this topic,* I’m following this thread with interest. For my own part, I try to follow an approach that keeps in mind the kind of considerations Audrey and Jenny raise concerning the different stakes people have in these issues and not treat other people’s lived realities as a fun puzzle, and I find that doing so leaves plenty of room for debate that’s both politically important and philosophically interesting. So, there *are* conversations about gender identity and trans rights that I’m just not interested in being part of, and those include ones that treat it as a live possibility that trans people are just fundamentally and blanketly wrong/deluded/deceptive. I’m also not interested in participating in debates that question whether trans people’s preferences for names and pronouns should be honoured. But granting that the gender identities of trans people are valid and should be honoured in social interactions still leaves open the question of how society ought to be re-organised in light of the existence of gender identity as a phenomenon, and the experiences of trans people, which were not well or widely understood until relatively recently. Those are conversations I *am* interested in having – and indeed that I think we *need* to have in order to make solid progress towards justice for everyone, including and especially trans people. Because we all live in a gendered world, we all have a stake in how we deal collectively with gender, and although these stakes are different for differently situated people, they all need taking into account. For example, I don’t find it plausible to think that the concept of ‘gender identity’ exhausts the phenomena that we’ve been talking about under the label ‘gender’; we also need concepts that describe the material reality of a system that coercively imposes hierarchical social status on people in dependence on the way their bodies are perceived relative to possibilities of biological reproduction. So it does not strike me as axiomatic that gender terms ought to be reserved for gender identity in all contexts, and that measures aimed at combating gender-based oppression (all-women shortlists, for example) should be implemented on the basis of gender identity. These claims need to be supported by arguments that take into account all forms of gender-based oppression. In fact, I am confident such arguments *can* successfully be made: in my opinion, we *should* reserve gender terms of gender identity and exclusively use gender identity in measures like all-women shortlists (roughly, I think that in the current context there are significant harms to trans people that will result from doing anything else, and that any drawbacks that there might be to adopting this approach can be mitigated fairly easily). But I don’t think that wanting to know what these arguments are, or taking a different stance to mine on them, puts anyone beyond the pale.

    If there’s a suggestion in the above, beyond what Audrey and Jenny already said, it’s this: it might be helpful to distinguish between debates about whether trans people’s identities are valid, and debates about how we should collectively respond to gender identity along with other aspects of gender. I think the former are to be avoided, but not the latter (though like any debate with major ethical and political implications, they need to be approached with great care).

    * This work advances a line of argument similar to the one ajkreider sketches above. It can be found here (open access):

  8. Frankly, opening with a quote that refers to “the apparent conflict between women-who-are-not-transwomen’s rights and interests, and transwomen’s rights and interests” strikes me as a really bad start to this conversation. I have no idea what this ‘apparent conflict’ could possibly be, except one born of hate, like the ‘apparent conflict’ between valuing black lives and valuing ‘all’ lives, or valuing immigrants rights and valuing ‘America’, etc. I mean literally, I just can’t even imagine a non-hateful thing that this might be referencing.

  9. Rebecca, I guess I’m unclear whether you’ve read the article linked (though I doubt you’ll approve if you do), but apart from that, I wonder if you could draw out how ascribing hate here can contribute to improving the dynamics of the dialogue – i.e., the OP is about trying to improve a degraded dialogue, so are you saying that this isn’t possible and we should just assume hate is motivating Stock and repudiate her? In the alternative, since you’re phrasing is ambiguous, if you are suggesting that I am motivated by hate because it is my OP “opening with” the quote, perhaps you intend that I be repudiated as hateful? Or maybe both Stock and me? It’s of no use for me to protest that I’m not hateful so I won’t, but I really do want to know what higher good there is in calling me (or Stock) this.

  10. The “conflict,” by the way, refers to the public discussion surrounding the UK Gender Recognition Act and how those conversations are presently publicly framed.

  11. I don’t think you’re hateful. But I do think that the sentence, “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,” grammatically implies that there is in fact an apparent conflict between these. This seems to me a non-starter for a non-hateful discussion. It would have been very different if Stock had said, “Beyond the academy, there’s a huge and impassioned discussion going on, between what some people see as a conflict between women-who-are-not-transwomen’s rights and interests, and those who see no such conflict”, for instance. Stock’s set-up builds in that there IS an apparent conflict that we should be discussing and I think this basically guarantees that the discussion will go very badly. By accepting that there is some apparent conflict we accept that the conversation is about how to resolve or dissolve a competition between two groups at odds with one another. Not only do I think this is deeply false, but it also deeply others trans-women as on the other side of some important fence from other women and treats ‘them’ as some kind of a threat to ‘us.’

    Also important: Since surely vanishingly few trans women think that there is such an ‘apparent conflict,’ that ‘impassioned discussion’ she is talking about is necessarily one that only includes cis women and others talking ABOUT trans women, and surely that’s not the discussion we want to prioritize or get involved in.

  12. But isn’t this conversation between you and me an example of why we need greater charity in navigating all of this? I.e., you posted something that was ambiguous in its wording and could imply that you were repudiating both me and Stock as hateful people, and people aligned with “white lives matter” moves and white nationalism(!). You’re now dialing that back and explaining more fully (and charitably) what you meant. This is exactly why I think it troubling to then toggle to reading one sentence of what Stock wrote with an eye toward how she could have better put it as proof she is not hateful. You could have better put your objection above to avoid the appearance of accusing me of white nationalist sympathies… The dialogue as a whole is dying to go off the rails, begging to go off the rails, so that’s why charity and a resolve to try to talk carefully is all the more needed.

  13. It sure seems like there are apparent conflicts to me. (1) A conflict over the very definition of what it is to be a woman. The gender identity definition is advantageous to trans women, making it clear they are women. But to some cis women it just seems all wrong. They are not aware of having a female gender identity. They see the reproductive aspects of their bodies as central to what it is to be a woman. The shift in the concept bothers them, possibly because they think concepts matter, politically. Whether rightly or wrongly, they think how “woman” is being redefined will have some impact on the direction of feminism. This has nothing to do with hate. (2) The conflict over eligibility to participate in women’s sports. The new IAAF testosterone rule (to take one example) is bad for trans athletes, but advantageous for some cis athletes. Again, it doesn’t take hate to see this as a conflict. If there’s one obviously correct resolution, then you could say the conflict is spurious and superficial, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to think that there is. (3) The conflict over rules governing shared spaces. Some of these are fueled by hate but I wouldn’t say they all are. I’m not prepared to say every cis girl who’s uncomfortable changing next to a trans girl is motivated by hate. Maybe these are only apparent conflicts, in the sense that they all have just resolutions, but still…at the moment they are apparent conflicts. I agree with Stock that philosophers ought to be openly and inclusively talking about these things.

  14. It seems to me that the apparent conflict between ‘apparent’ and ‘seems to some’ is splitting exactly the wrong kind of hair, but appearances can be deceiving.

  15. Perhaps my earlier comment was a bit flippant, but I thought it was funny.

    After thinking some more it seems to me that part of the problem here is that this is hard to discuss without begging the question against the other side – if there can be a conflict between the interests of trans-women and cis-women then trans-women aren’t the same as cis-women. If trans and cis women are not different groups then there can’t be a conflict between their interests. So even claiming that there is an (apparent!) conflict could be seen to be claiming that there is a difference between trans- and cis-women – and if cis-women are ‘real’ women then trans-women aren’t.

    I don’t think this is right though. ‘Real’ women (at bottom I don’t think there are deep facts about gender, hence the scare quotes) exist in many different modalities, and conflicts between them don’t need to be exclusionary from the category. The interests of black and white women, rich and poor women, etc., might come apart in certain respects. ‘Women’ don’t need to be monolithic anymore than the subgroups of cis- and trans- women need to be monolithic.

  16. I also want to second how important framing is to this discussion, as per Rebecca’s comment above.

    I’m not sure that it’s generally helpful to frame issues as conflicts (whether actual, or simply perceived) between the interests of trans women and the interests of cis women. Not even in many of the cases linked in the article above. For instance, one of the driving cases (that is a matter of safety rather than discomfort) has to do with predatory men claiming to be trans women in order to gain access to women’s spaces. But surely it’s in the interests of *both* trans women and cis women to be protected from people who want to abuse gender-segregated spaces.

    As an alternative way of discussing some of the issues that I think are being indicated here, I really like Katharine’s way of framing things. I really can’t see how anyone benefits from an open discussion of whether trans folks’ identities are valid, however respectful it tries to be – mostly because I don’t see how they do anything other than marginalize trans folks. Maybe I’m not sufficiently disposed towards metaphysical discussion, but that kind of talk really does seem to be the kind of abstract discussion impacting people’s lives that I really worry about. (Note to my metaphysician friends – this is not a claim about metaphysics in general)

    On the other hand, I agree that there are important discussions to be had about how we organize ourselves in a society in which gender has the complexities that it does. So what about alternative framings which presuppose something like Talia Bettcher’s view that people have first person authority over their gender, but acknowledge the real complexity over our social identities even beyond gender. I take the point that some cis women might worry about trans women speaking to women’s experience generally, if they are people who have transitioned later in life. But this is just one instance of a far more general phenomenon by which there really is no such thing as a universal experience of being a woman. Many BIPOC women worry about being represented by white women. Many disabled women worry about being represented by non-disabled women. And so on. And many trans women worry about being represented by cis women.

    I suppose what I’m trying to get at, maybe a bit long-windedly, is that I think it’s both possible and desirable to take cis women’s concerns about safety/representation seriously without accepting a framing of the issue that scapegoats and marginalizes trans women. I don’t think I see a way of progressing these discussions otherwise.

  17. Jean said: “It sure seems like there are apparent conflicts to me. (1) A conflict over the very definition of what it is to be a woman. The gender identity definition is advantageous to trans women, making it clear they are women. But to some cis women it just seems all wrong…. The shift in the concept bothers them, possibly because they think concepts matter, politically. Whether rightly or wrongly, they think how ‘woman’ is being redefined will have some impact on the direction of feminism.”

    This doesn’t sound to me like an “apparent conflict between [cis women]’s rights and interests, and transwomen’s rights and interests.” Isn’t the conflict here between trans women’s rights and interests, and what some subset of cis women see as their rights and interests? But we haven’t shown that that subset of cis women is very large. The only statistical evidence I have here is US polling indicating that substantial majorities of non-Republicans believe that people’s genders can differ from their sex assigned at birth–though this doesn’t demonstrate that the views of non-Republicans on the whole are representative of the views of feminists.

    Audrey, excellent post. Maybe the short version of what I’m saying is that we can talk about complexities without beginning with the idea that there is an apparent conflict here.

    (Matt Weiner, Vermont)

  18. Dear Colleagues,

    I think at this point asking people who want to do critical scholarship on this subject to “read the literature” seems to often get dismissed as a near- ad hominem, or as a tactic for uncritical dismissal without any engagement (and thus intellectually shallow).

    However, the literature people are referencing in critical discussions is relevant for what specifically these discussions are responding to. For example, critiques of the “identity” approach to trans rights often infer that as a consequence trans people are existentially incoherent because these identity frameworks are not perfectly coherent, without paying attention to more in-depth and nuanced trans scholarship (such as found in the Transgender Studies Readers 1 and 2 from 2006 and 2013, the journal Transgender Studies Quarterly, and Trap Door from late 2017, for example) that do not necessarily rely on this framework (and often directly critique it). This thus risks using a critique of more mainstream and simplistic frameworks of trans identity deployed in liberal politics, often by non-trans people, to critique trans lives in general without considering relevant scholarly (and extra-scholarly) counterarguments and different frameworks that have existed for decades.

    The question of whether or not trans women are women has been around since at least the work of Krafft-Ebing in the 1800s (who decidedly said no), continuing through Mary Daly and Janice Raymond, Marilyn Frye, Elizabeth Grosz, Bernice Hausman (who also say no), Catherine MacKinnon (who says yes, or at least relevantly so for feminist activism) and more, to the extent that there is a Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy essay discussing the subject from 2009 by Talia Bettcher (, with very recent articles about this tension published in the 2017 Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy written by both trans and non-trans women. It has been a long conversation, and likely will not stop soon!

    Hence, I worry sometimes that the “silence” of having this conversation is a specific silence about conducting this conversation with engagement and consequences in relation to how they play out for trans people, considered as people who have now carved out a (tenuous) space in public life, and may even be your academic colleagues. One thing that was exciting about the Trans* Experience in Philosophy conference, for example, was that we saw it as a moment to mark that trans studies and trans philosophy should not be conducted without including us and our voices. I worry that the difficulty of having a conversation about whether or not trans women are women (it stands out to me, by the way, that this yet again focuses on trans women rather than trans men) amounts to a suggestion that the conversation should not include our scholarly and personal voices, and continue to cast us as people who scholarship should be about rather than with.

    In a way, I wish that I could remain silent about this as well, and I have in the past, but I have no choice in having my existence debated, with unavoidable consequences for me, both before I was born and likely after I am dead.

  19. Somehow my comment got deleted so I am attempting to repost:

    Both of Stock’s pieces linked here include a collection of misguided and ignorant concerns about what cis women might have to lose by being inclusive of trans women. (Even to use the term “women-who-are-not-transwomen” (WNT) instead of the accepted term “cisgender” reflects either ignorance or unwillingness to enter into a discussion in a way that is sensitive to how trans people conceptualize the issues.) For example, in her new “guide for the perplexed” she gives a list of the apparent things that cis women lose by including trans women. I could go through each of these and explain how they’re misguided, but I’ll just discuss the first one: “WNT are losing access to some formerly female-body-only spaces, where they get naked or sleep (in shop changing rooms, swimming pool cubicles; sleeper coaches; women’s prisons; and bathrooms).”

    This way of framing the concern assumes that cis women previously had good access to these spaces and that they lose something important by being trans inclusive, but that’s not an accurate way of putting it. Only some cis women previously had good access to these spaces. For example, lesbian, bisexual, and queer women often feel very uncomfortable in single-gender spaces, and so often avoid them. As a queer cis woman, I feel *more* comfortable in spaces that are either not single gender or that are as gender inclusive as possible. This is because an assumption of such spaces is that they are asexual, and this assumes that there are only straight women in these spaces. This makes me an outsider in these spaces. Still, I have relative privilege in these spaces because I pass as straight. Those who don’t, or are more male presenting, often feel even more uncomfortable in these spaces than I do. Stock needs to seriously challenge how she is thinking about the “sides” of these debates. This isn’t an issue involving cis vs trans women. Instead, this is an issue about whose discomfort should guide policy: those with relative sex-and-gender-related social privilege or lack thereof. Should we countenance discomfort that reifies gender essentialist and heterosexist assumptions at the expense of the comfort of LGBTQ people? We should not.

    More importantly, however, the feeling of discomfort that some cis women have at more gender inclusivity in women’s spaces pales in comparison to the regular harassment, abuse, and threats to their physical safety that LGBTQ people regularly face in these spaces. The discomfort that LGBTQ people have is rooted in lived experience and robust statistics. The rate at which LGBTQ people are targeted in these spaces is much higher than the instances of abuse by cis-gender men posing as trans women, and there is a complete absence of any evidence that trans people themselves threaten the safety of cis women in these spaces. To treat both kinds of discomfort as though they are morally on a par is homophobic and transphobic.

    It is perfectly reasonable for people not to want to engage in a debate when it is set in terms that are ignorant and oppressive in this way. I assume Stock does not mean to be homophobic or transphobic, but we all internalize oppressive ways of thinking and need to actively fight against it. If she really wants to have these discussions, she must do the work to figure out how her views involve internalized oppressive attitudes, and listen hard when LGBTQ people, especially trans women, see the discussion as hateful or prejudiced. It can be all those things without any conscious intentions or awareness.

  20. One thing that bears mentioning is what has gotten displaced in the conversation: the legislation Stock is talking about in the first place! I don’t know details but as far as I can tell the Gender Recognition Act looks utterly innocuous and Stock hasn’t given us credible evidence it would have any of the pernicious effects she thinks it would — for instance, in support of her assertion that it would enable people to “commit crimes such as voyeurism, flashing, public masturbation, and sexual assault” she links to one thing and it’s some bizarre anonymous document that’s just a list of news references, rather than research or policy. Her “response to my critics” piece doesn’t do much more.

    For my money Stock DOES give us a hint of what she’s actually upset about when she says, “In selecting who may stand on their behalf as a Member of Parliament in a particular constituency, the UK Labour Party — one of the two main UK Parties — now allows TW on all-woman shortlists, a move originally designed to increase the political representation of WNT. The Labour party also now has, as one of its women officers, Lily Madigan, a 19 year old TW.”

    So here’s a hypothesis from an outsider: Stock’s hobby horse is at least partially just a proxy war on behalf of an anti-Corbyn faction of Labour (see also: that she’s blown up into some referendum on feminist philosophy. She’s not actually trying to have a conversation about some deep philosophical question. She’s trying to score points in a local political conflict. Or at least it is not reasonable to treat her as doing such.

    This is just my $0.02. UK feminists may have more thoughts here since they are more familiar with the political culture, I invite them to offer reflections.

  21. Rachel, I guess I’m not clear why you would take one point of the several as the crux of it all or as a governing motivation under all the rest? Several above have articulated objections to the position Stock is laying out, but there seems something different in kind to suspect her of being disingenuous, or using all her claims as a Trojan horse in a political conflict.

  22. This is echoing and piggy-backing off of some of the other stuff said by others here.

    One thing that I think this post demonstrates is that when we’re not well versed on a topic such as this one, we likely don’t know what the comment pitfalls are, or what their impact is on the people being talked about. And I think a space like Feminist Philosophers should set ourselves a high bar for knowing these things.

    In the several discussions on this issue that I’ve witnessed, one pitfall I’ve seen is that cis people often frame these conversation in a way that doesn’t do justice to what is at stake for many trans people. Prof. Manners opens the original post by focusing on how some people feel like it’s “impossible” to talk about this issue and/or how they have “fear of being perceived to have the ‘wrong’ view.” But that right there should be a red flag, if not on its own then in part because a similar move in discussions about race is a huge red flag, yes? It’s a common occurrence for white people to talk about how they’re afraid of being *perceived* as racist. And that phenomenon is systematic enough that the overarching effect is sometimes that someone calling someone out for saying something racist is perceived and framed as more hostile/uncharitable than someone saying something racist. And I’m assuming most of here already know why that’s a problem.

    So I think Prof. Manner’s original post similarly gets off on the wrong foot when it focuses on the fear felt by a cis person of possibly saying the wrong thing or worries about people not being patient enough before using the word “transphobia.” The broader context—that trans and non-binary people are vastly more vulnerable to discrimination and violence—has to be part of our calculations if we are going to say a single word about how cis people are impacted by discussions of trans issues. Otherwise we’re falling into the same problem that Atwood identified with “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” Cis people are afraid of making a faux pas or being perceived as bigots. Trans people are afraid of being killed. We need to make sure we don’t get tunnel vision and focus on the feelings of cis people or worries about our conversations being civil and comfortable enough in cases where the overall conversation/landscape is not sufficiently discussing and addressing the ways in which a vulnerable group is being discriminated against at work and in their homes and is disproportionately subjected to violence and hate.*

    I know most of us here already know this in principle. But again, it’s really hard to know whether I am doing something problematic like that if I’m not well-versed on a topic–if I don’t know the common ways that transmisogyny tends to manifest in these discussions. Each form of oppression is its own horrible morass that we need to learn how to navigate—even if we already know the ins and outs of several other seemingly similar landscapes. And I know most of us know this meta-point in principle because of all the awesome work that’s been done on standpoint and epistemology of ignorance. But what this means on the ground is that us cis people need to be on high alert if we find ourselves saying, “but surely…” in a discussion on trans issues we’re not well-versed in. We shouldn’t feel sure! We need to be highly suspicious of feelings of surety here. It is really important that we are appropriately suspicious of our ability to fruitfully engage with a conversation like this when we aren’t familiar with the territory and/or have some relevant privilege (and thus almost certainly have a boatload of active ignorance).


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