How can we accept the transgendered but not the transracial?

There’s been a lot of chatter about the recent interview with Rachel Dolezal by Ijeoma Oluo, published in The Stranger. Here’s a sample of some of the response that it has generated. Most people seem to regard it as having buried Dolezal, once and for all. I found it rather mysterious. To see why, imagine that someone did an interview with Caitlyn Jenner, in the same tone, making the exact same arguments. It would instantly have been denounced as transphobic, everywhere but in the furthest reaches of the alt-right. What I don’t understand – I have no axe to grind here, what I really don’t understand – is how people can view the two cases, of people opting to change race, and people opting to change gender, as so very different, or how they could regard the former as more dubious than the latter.

For instance, before even getting to the interview, Oluo spends two entire paragraphs mocking Dolezal for having changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo. She then proceeds to ignore the name change, and calls her Dolezal throughout. Suppose a journalist were to treat Caitlyn Jenner in the same way – after all, changing one’s name from Bruce to Caitlyn (with a “y”) does leave one vulnerable to certain forms of mockery – and then insisted on referred to her as him, and calling him Bruce throughout. Microaggression! Or better yet, just ordinary aggression…

Okay, so let’s not be that way. From now on I’ll refer to her by the name that she chooses to be referred to by, as Diallo.

I’ve been thinking about this issue lately, because I’m teaching Germaine Greer in the fall (The Female Eunuch), and several colleagues that I’ve mentioned this to have responded by saying (roughly) “OMG she’s transphobic!” It’s largely because of the argument that Greer has made, that it is “unfair” for men like Bruce Jenner to grow up, enjoying all the benefits of the patriarchy, and then decide later in life to become women (or that they have been women “all along”). Being Germaine Greer, of course, she puts it in a somewhat pithier way: “If you’re a 50-year-old truck driver who’s had four children with a wife and you’ve decided the whole time you’ve been a woman, I think you’re probably wrong” (here, and for an even more blunt expression of her view, here).

Anyone who understands what she meant by the phrase “female eunuch” would, of course, be unsurprised that this is her view of that matter. She is simply being consistent. Her more straightforward argument, however, is that the Caitlyn Jenners of the world are acting out a form of male privilege, by choosing to become women, and then demanding that everyone honour that choice without question. (As far as I know, Greer only has a problem with men deciding to become women, I haven’t come across her complaining about women becoming men, “third gender,” etc.) In any case, what I found striking is that Greer’s view on the transgendered is basically identical to Oluo’s take on Diallo. Oluo thinks that a women like Diallo “deciding” to become black is just a manifestation of white privilege (and not at all the same thing as black women who “pass,” or identify as, white). Here I just don’t see any difference between Oluo’s view on race and Greer’s on gender.

Diallo has been a needle in the side of contemporary race theory, with its emphasis on the “social construction” of racial categories – a tendency that reaches its pinnacle with the insistence that racial minorities be referred to as “racialized” minorities, as though there were no physical substratum to the terms whatsoever. There is something similar going on with the use of the term “female-presenting” and “male-presenting.” Both expressions are, of course, pleonastic if one accepts the social constructionist thesis. (Just for fun, I have started referring to my wife as a “female-presenting, racialized minority,” just to savour the bemused expressions that it produces.) In any case, if it’s all just about how people perceive you, if there is no essence to the category (e.g. if gender is merely “performance”), then shouldn’t changing the way people perceive you change your category? Oluo has a not-very-persuasive argument against this (she says, roughly, “just because money is socially constructed, doesn’t mean I can choose to become a millionaire”). In another paragraph, however, she tips her hand a bit more:

By turning herself into a very, very, very, very light-skinned black woman, Dolezal opens herself up to be treated as black by white society only to the extent that they can visually identify her as such, and no amount of visual change would provide Dolezal with the inherited trauma and socioeconomic disadvantage of racial oppression in this country.

This is where things get a bit dicey. Lots of people want to make this argument, that because Diallo did not have the experience of growing up black in America, she cannot later choose to become black. Substitute “female” for “black” and the argument applies with equal and perhaps even greater force to Caitlyn Jenner. But set that aside for a moment, and consider the case of Oluo herself, who is a striking illustration of how varied the “black” experience in America is. There isn’t a great bio available, but as far as I can piece together, Oluo is mixed race (“technically” mixed race, she says), with a Nigerian father who disappeared when she was 2 years old, leaving her to be raised by her white single mother. So when she talks about “inherited trauma,” it’s not clear what she is referring to. Technically, she is no more African-American than Diallo is, in that she is not a descendant of the slaves brought to the Americas from Africa, nor did her family experience segregation, Jim Crow, and all of the other formative experiences of the African-American community. Nor did she experience the socioeconomic disadvantage of racial oppression when growing up, having been raised by her white mother in what she describes as a “lily-white” suburb. In other words, it seems to me that Oluo is someone who has chosen to identify, and to identify very strongly, with the struggles, aspirations, and identity of the African-American community. Which seems to me just fine.

I was struck, however, by the following conversation that she reports with her mother. As Oluo became older, her mother found it hard to see “that my blackness was so complete that I couldn’t take her with me”:

“I mean, I think I know what it’s like to be black,” she said to me once.

“No, you don’t,” I emphatically replied.

“But… I raised you,” she argued.

“So you know what it’s like to be a white woman who raised black kids,” I replied, “But mom, you are not black, and will never know what that’s like.”

She paused for a minute and then tearfully asked, “How come you never identify as white, too? I mean, you’re half white.”

I was flabbergasted.

So yeah, reading this helped me to understand why the meeting with Diallo did not go so well. Oluo’s identity, it seems to me, is very clearly based upon a choice that she has made, but she is heavily invested in denying that it is a choice – and instead regards it as her “authentic” identity, so authentic that even her own mother cannot understand or share in it. Then someone like Diallo comes along, whose racial identity is also based upon a choice, but who has absolutely no plausible claim to authenticity. To accept someone like her as having the identity would, in effect, be to call the bluff on the authenticity claims made by herself and a great many others.

This is my best theory as to why Oluo reacted so negatively to Diallo. As for the transgendered, I suspect the lack of comparable resistance is due to the fact that gender is, for most people, an “ascribed” status, and pretty clear-cut at that, so they don’t feel any need to prove or think of themselves as “authentically” male or female. As a result, the fact that some people are transforming it into an “achieved” status, by changing gender, or gender presentation, does not really threaten many people’s identity in the same way, and so there is not the same resistance to it.

This is just a theory however. If anyone can recommend some good literature on the topic — focusing on the difference in the treatment of these two statuses — I’d be happy to read it. I’m teaching Greer’s work in a historical survey of 20th century social criticism, in talking about the sexual revolution and 2nd generation feminism. I hadn’t really wanted to tackle these contemporary debates, but with the reaction of my colleagues, I see now that I’ll need to have something to say about them. (Greer had to cancel some campus speeches in the U.K., because of students protesting her. That’s wrong on so many levels, but in any case, it leads me to think that the issue might come up.)


How can we accept the transgendered but not the transracial? — 42 Comments

  1. Thanks for another thought-provoking, out-of-the-box analysis.

    One thing that strikes me about the perceived difference between transracial crossing and transgender crossing is the role of sexual desire in relation to gender identity. Few people think of Caitlyn Jenner as wanting to be identified as a woman in order to claim a status as a member of an oppressed group in virtue of which she could then claim the authoritative voice of authentic standpoint epistemology. The assumption about her motive is that, at least in significant part, she want to be desired as a woman. Her attention to appearance and fashion is hard to explain otherwise. That makes the request for recognition of the change a matter of her desire to be desired, and that is far less politically loaded. It’s just a desire she has. I’m not saying this is all there is to gender transitions; I’m just trying to explain differences in reactions.

    If Diallo/Dolezal had been primarily aiming to be accepted into the family of (imagine she had one) her black husband, instead of being accepted into the role of speaking with self-authorizing authenticity from the position of head of an NAACP chapter or as a professor of African-American history, I think there would be a lot less resistance. Because then it would be about her personal desires.

    And if Jenner had been motivated by the ambition to play a particular role in a women’s rights organization — say, to lead a women’s delegation to the Olympics — then I think it would have also been seen as presumptuous.

    That strike me as the key difference: sometimes the motives for a transition are presumptuous, perhaps even structurally so.

    This provides a way of situating the discussion in a more helpful place: as a debate about presumptuousness rather than about metaphysics.

    BTW- in thinking about metaphysics of race and gender, I’ve found Sally Hastings’s work to be among the best out there. Her central insight is that, when the metaphysical bases of assignment are indeterminate, it makes sense to turn to “impact on social justice” as a basis for determining how we can best approach disputes over criteria of gender- or race- assignment.

  2. Rogers Brubaker wrote a book on this question. See “Trans: Gender and Race in an Age of Unsettled Identities”, Princeton University Press, 2016.

    I would be very interested in your review of the book, if you care to blog about it.

  3. It appears that Rogers Brubaker also wrote an article specifically about Diallo/Dolezal, also comparing her to Caitlyn Jenner (probably covered in the book, but maybe more useful for a syllabus):

    “The Dolezal Affair: Race, Gender and the Micropolitics of Identity”.

    Ethnic and Racial Studies 2016, vol.39 no.3

  4. “I’m teaching Greer’s work in a historical survey of 20th century social criticism, in talking about the sexual revolution and 2nd generation feminism. I hadn’t really wanted to tackle these contemporary debates, but with the reaction of my colleagues, I see now that I’ll need to have something to say about them.”

    The idea that you’ll have to say something is troubling to me. It suggests that everything has to be filtered through the lens of social justice virtue-signaling now. I imagine this is what it would have been like teaching in medieval Europe, wanting to assign a book on some subject or other, but then having to worry about it because the author had once been accused of having the wrong position on the nature of the Trinity or whatever.

  5. This is a really interesting post, thank you for writing it. It never occurred to me to think of think of the Dolezal affair as analogous to transgender, but it now strikes me as obviously as some parallels at least potentially being at play.

    There are a couple things with the Dolezal case (and this post) that strike me as making it only useful as a jumping off point but that complicate it too much for being of much use otherwise. Disclaimer: I am a straight white male layperson, so was hesitant to wade in but hopefully am at least a little constructive and not presumptuous.

    One issue is the repeated instances where Dolezal seems less than truthful in explaining herself over the years. That muddies things a lot.

    One example is rather than say she changed her name so it more closely matches her authentic inner self, she apparently said it is to make it easier to find employment. That doesn’t seem to add up. She also still goes by Dolezal publicly according to the Independent, and indeed that is what is on the cover of her book just published in March. This post would benefit from taking this into consideration.

    The section on “inherited trauma” and Oluo’s choice makese me uncomfortable too. Even if not directly descended from slaves or raised by middle class white people, POC still tend to experience discrimination and related issues that white people don’t really encounter . This could also easily explain Oluo’s distress with her mother’s comments. She also notes in the next section her being flabbergasted is at least in part because her mother apparently raised her with a strong black identity. This along with her actually reasonable continued usage of Dolezal’s name undercuts the theorizing at the end about Oluo’s motivations a lot in my view.

    But a thought-provoking piece and comments too. Joel’s points further got me thinking, but also reinforced my impression that Dolezal is too fraught to be that useful a case. The history of race relations in the US and black identity is complicated enough – e.g. one drop rule, continued prejudice/privilege dynamics, passing or wanting to be in solidarity with similar background and also face discrimination, etc. Adding on other considerations of whether someone could be trans, plus Dolezal’s own checkered or at least confusing past…

  6. I recently taught a class in which we spent several weeks on issues related to race and gender, including a week on the question Joe asks: if transgenderism is accepted, why not transracialism? As Joe points out, a lot of the arguments against Diallo/Dolezal, if taken to their logical conclusion, would entail rejecting transsexualism. This is true not only of Oluo’s argument, but many other criticisms of Diallo. It has also been disturbing to see how many of the criticisms of Diallo echo a longstanding prejudice against trans people as deceivers. So I share Joe’s dissatisfaction with a lot of the commentary on Diallo.

    Nevertheless, there is a principled way to distinguish transracialism for transgenderism. This view draws on philosophies of race that do not see race as purely socially constructed. The best version of this view I have come across is by my colleague Michael Hardimon, whose paper “The Idea of a Scientific Concept of Race” answers a lot of the common criticisms directed against the idea that there can be a scientifically valid concept of race. Hardimon sees race as a “minimalist biological phenomenon.” It is minimalist in that it rejects all the racism that has historically attached to widely used race concepts (like the idea that certain races are less intelligent or hard working than others etc.). Although racism has been a longstanding aspect of thinking about race, the concept of race itself does not depend on it.

    If we boil the concept of race down to its essentials, then on Hardimon’s view it will include a hereditary component. A person’s race depends on the race of his or her parents, in a way that does not seem true of either gender or sex. Gender is normally seen as a social category, whereas with sex, giving birth to both male and female children requires a biologically male and female parent (raising a child, or course, is a different story). Race is different from gender and sex in that changing the race of one’s reproductive partners will change the race of the offspring one can biologically conceive.

    Given that we can’t change who our biological parents are, this view will see a disanalogy between transracialism and transgenderism. This disanalogy will be strongest in the case of people whose parents are the same race. However, mixed race cases are more complicated. In those cases, as Joe points out, it sometimes happens that someone identifies with one race more than another. Even so, it is not clear to me that that is enough to eliminate the disanalogy. The heridary component of race is arguably still defining a person’s racial options, only now there are three options rather that one: they could identify as mom’s race, dad’s race or as mixed race.

    I used the Heyes piece in my class but would not recommend it. It employs a social constructivist view of race, with the twist that the conception of race that matters most is that held by the general public. Because the general public sees race as inherited, race is not something that can change. This is unlike sex, which the public does now see as changeable. Whereas for Hardimon what matters is that race really is herditable, what matter for Hayes is that the public thinks it is hereditable. I found Hayes’ view frustrating in that, much like the view Joe targets, it has a lot of unwelcome implications, including for transgender people, but not just them.

    Hardimon’s paper is published in the Journal of Philosophical Research, Vol 37 2012, pp.249-282. He also has a book coming out that expands on the same argument:

    • Hi Andy. Thanks for your fascinating and useful post. I accept race as a scientifically valid concept, but I’m having trouble seeing the disanalogy. It seems to rely on arbitrarily removing the biological component from one but not the other. I see both sex/gender and hereditary race/”race expression” (sorry, I’m not aware of any proper terminology) as having biological and social components, and a comparison between gender and hereditary race as apples to oranges.

      • Hi Josh. Some people do want to deny that even sex is biological, but the view I was expressing does not presume that sex is culturally constructed (as opposed to gender). So let me grant for the sake of argument that sex is biological (I say for the sake of argument because I’m not trying to express a view one way or the other about how biological sex is). In the case of transgender people, their experiences do sometimes include surgery or other steps that can be seen as changing a “biological component” about themselves (although it is important to note that there are different ways of being trans, and not all trans people want or seek surgery). Even so, not all biological components will be the same. If race includes a hereditary component, such that belonging to a particular racial group is in part a matter of belonging to a particular lineage, race will be different from sex insofar as surgery, or anything one does to one’s appearance or body, will not change the fact that one descends from one’s parents, grandparents etc. Race, on this view will be a form of “population thinking,” where sex, even which understood biologically, will not.

        • Ah, I see. That distinction (“population thinking”) makes a lot of sense.

        • Surgery and hormones absolutely do NOT change the fact that one’s SEX “descends” from the particular chromosomes you “inherited” from your parents. You seem to be basing your disanalogy on their being a difference in the type of inheritance involved in “race” and “sex” – racial characteristics are genotypically wide (DNA coding for hair texture, skin color, physical build), whereas with sex (secondary sex characteristics plus type of reproductive system (uterus, fallopian tubes, etc versus prostate, testes, etc) – they are genotypically narrow.

          Now that I’ve written this out – I would say, CHALLENGE, someone to specifically chart out the physical characteristics of race and those of sex (including secondary sexual characteristics). What percent of our DNA codes for “racial characteristics” and what percent for sex? So actually, YES, both are inherited, when you get into the actual DNA.

          • Hi Twyla. The disanalogy has to do with belonging to a lineage rather than anything to do with “DNA coding for hair texture, skin color, physical build” etc. There are no genetic features common to all members of a racial group. I suggest you read Hardimon’s article if you are interested in finding out more about the view I was referring to.

  7. I think Joel’s point comparing Jenner’s and Dolezal’s plausible motivations is very good, but I don’t know that I would describe a transgendered person’s motivations as just “personal desires”. The “personal” part is right, but it’s not a mere “desire” in many cases. (A personal “consideration counting in favour of” perhaps).

    That brings up another way in which “transgender” and “transracial” are different, I think: it is very plausible that there really *is* something “trans” about quite a few transgendered people, in that quite plausibly their brains in relevant ways really do have low-level biological properties found more in the opposite gender than in their assigned-at-birth-gender. Of course we don’t know very much about this yet, and it is likely not true of all people calling themselves transgendered. There probably really are so-called “trans-trenders” in other words. But arguably it’s better to err on the side of admitting some false positives than excluding some false negatives, nor do we want to have to submit people to some kind of gender-litmus-test when we do learn more about any biological bases of transgenderism.

    • “it is very plausible that there really *is* something “trans” about quite a few transgendered people, in that quite plausibly their brains in relevant ways really do have low-level biological properties found more in the opposite gender than in their assigned-at-birth-gender.”

      Great point. A neurological basis for transracial identity doesn’t sound as plausible, but I wouldn’t rule it out entirely. How should we respond if Dolezal/Diallo were to participate in psychological tests whose results reliably vary by race, e.g. a test of the cross-race effect, and we were to find that she performs as if she were black?

    • What is going on in anyone’s brain is irrelevant to the question of sex. Sex is solely based on what reproductive system you have. In a sexually-reproducing species like humans, there are two viable choices only: Female or male. Even IF transgender individuals’ brains vary from the norm for their sex, that is irrelevant: It just means that nervous systems and reproductive systems (that is the DNA that codes for these organ systems) vary independently. Which makes sense. You are assuming that they are dependent variables.

      • I was about to take some time to write out a reply to this, and also Josh, but then I noticed that S, below, has already done a very good job of it. Thanks, S.

  8. Since this comparison deals with the interplay of biological determinants with identity, and that one of the major contributions of queer theory to the destabilizing of a gender binary was its discussion of intersex conditions, I started to wonder.
    Could someone taking a pro-Diallo stance make an appeal to vitiligo do destabilize racial boundaries?

  9. Right, so following the Tuvel affair, I should thank everyone here for responding to the above post in such a constructive and helpful way. Also thanks to everyone for not inviting the cyber-mob over here by posting on Daily Nous something like “hey, look what Heath says….” I was working my way through the literature recommendations, starting with Heyes (thank David), but then got sidetracked by the need to follow the Tuvel dust-up and read her paper. I was going to make the same point about Heyes’s argument that Andy makes, but then I see Tuvel makes it too, so I guess the problem is pretty obvious.

    As for the response to Tuvel’s article, the demand for a retraction is so incoherent, so wrongheaded, and so embarrassing to the signatories, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Overall, however, it tends to reinforce my impression that they don’t have any good argument for their view, which is why the article hit a nerve.

    • If, as you say, the anti-Tuvel “cyber-mob” is “so incoherent, so wrongheaded, and so embarrassing” that it just reinforces the impression that the mob “don’t have any good argument for their view”, what does it tell us about the state of academia that reflex of large and prominent groups of academics is to behave in this way?

      This links back to l’affaire Potter: why should “academic freedom” be defended so strenuously if this is the way that it is going to be used by its beneficiaries?

      (Note that Turvel is an untenured academic being burnt at the stake by a bunch of folks who are, one might say, rather more “privileged”. That being the case, does anyone seriously believe that “academic freedom” really exists, at least in the Humanities?)

      • This part of your comment doesn’t make sense to me: “why should “academic freedom” be defended so strenuously if this is the way that it is going to be used by its beneficiaries”. The cybermob on twitter and facebook are not exercising any recognizable form of academic freedom, they could be doing this regardless of whether they were academics. It’s Tuvel’s academic freedom that is at stake — the freedom to publish a politically unpopular research article — and the incident underscores the importance of defending the principle of academic freedom (as does Potter’s). Also, I seriously doubt that this will have a negative impact on Tuvel’s career, given the way that more senior members of the profession have responded to the incident. But I could be wrong.

        Also, I didn’t realize until reading the National Post story that Tuvel is Canadian. The incident makes more sense to me now. One of the easiest things to do, as a Canadian, is to underestimate how easy it is to make Americans go nuts about race. It’s really easy to say things that seem totally innocent, but that set them off in unanticipated ways. A Canadian trying to say something helpful to Americans about race is about as likely as an American coming to Quebec and trying to say something helpful about language.

        Anyhow, as far as the state of academia is concerned, it’s depressing. It’s like someone woke up and said “right, day 100 of the Trump administration, my top priority today is to mobilize hundreds of left-wing academics to discredit themselves.”

        One other thing I should mention, while I’m at it. There’s been a lot of talk about the return of “identity politics,” and what might be wrong with that. For those of us who can remember the ’80s, this is all terribly familiar, since we have already lived through one iteration of the same arguments. In any case, the thing that doesn’t get mentioned often enough, and the major reason that people got so tired of identity politics going in to the ’90s, is that its major consequence seems to be merely generating internecine conflict on the left, and thus is a net handicap to progressives. The Tuvel affair is a great example of this — of how the left can spend all of its time attacking other segments of the left over minor doctrinal differences, while ignoring the larger issues of the day. In one respect this is an advantage, since it makes it possible to ignore most “identity politics” practitioners, safe in the knowledge that they will be so busy attacking one another that they will have no time to make trouble for anyone outside their little world. At the same time, it is all a terrible misdirection of energy.

  10. Let me offer an alternative view, which is not at all based in the strong blank-slatey set of traditions offered here.

    Maybe, just maybe, there are just two genders, broadly defined as feminine and masculine traits which tend to accompany corresponding sexual, physical correlates (i.e. genitalia). These traits derive from evolution, which have shaped male and female brains differenrly as part of a division of labor one should expect as the null hypothesis of natural and sexual selection.

    Now, the world is messy, and men and women in fact share facets of each of these traits, and it is even possible traits of an opposite sex may lie dormant in us, activated by environmental and neurochemical stimuli, or be ever present in the way the common architecture of a mammilian brain speaks to both genders.

    Given this baseline, I’ve always thought it possible for someone to be in a sense a man trapped in a woman’s body, or vice versa. One hypothesis, for instance, says the chromosonal choice of sex comes first (xx vs xy) determining the physical development of male or female sex organs, musculature, etc, after which stochastic factors may cause genes to express differently specifically for the brains development. A brain in a male body may then come, in a minority of cases, to take on female characteristics, desires, personalities, etc. This fits well with the phenomenology of many trans people, who often know quite early in life that they are not psychically sympatico with their physical endowment. I also don’t rule out that this change gene expression can happen later in life, perhaps due to hormonal shifts with maturity.

    Now, given that we inherently possess the potentiality to express both gender characteristics, I give a strong presumption to trans people that they identify as they say they do. Yet I cannot say the same for race. The heritabiliby of a racial category is clearly linear and path dependent. I am not black and, indeed, do not have black genes that could somehow, even implausibly, suddenly express themselves. This literal heritage is something totally unavailable to me. It is not something I can choose. Nor, in this framework, is gender a choice, except perhaps by exogenous intervention with hormones that express latent potentialities. But alas there is no androgyn equivalent for racial categories.

    Forgive me if the above analysis is insensitive or essentialist or offensive in anyway. It just strikes me that some version of my argument quite clearly demonstrates a real difference between the legitimacy of transgender and transracial identity. Perhaps it is the general avoidance of these terms of analysis that causes such an obvious distinction to be missed.

    • Please help out a layperson who is only now just beginning to investigate the literature and familiarize myself with the vocabulary.I accept your argument, but I note that you say “Nor,in this framework, is gender a choice…” (other comments above have also referred to biological factors). This raises the question: what if it is a choice? What if someone simply chooses to change gender,or perhaps if someone simply chooses a sexual orientation regardless of whatever messages their brain activity may be emitting? I believe people would accept these as legitimate choices. It seems like there should be some way to account for why these choices are legitimate but others may not be.

  11. I would like to just point out that the human species, like all mammalian species, exhibits sexual dimorphism, and that every person who has ever lived is the product of the joining of a gamete from one sex (the female) with the joining of a gamete from the other (the male). So one difference between sex and race is that sex differences are real in the sense of having material consequences for human beings over and above those grounded in culture. (Not so gender, which to me is analogous to race). I also think we should acknowledge a fundamental difference between women (adult human females) and trans women (who are a subset of adult human males). Trans women desire to be perceived and treated by others as they imagine women are perceived and treated, and their being male often makes this difficult. Women (females) by and large desire to be treated as human, and their femaleness makes obtaining that result difficult.

  12. 1- Transsexuals are accepted, abortion is not. I’m waiting for the transwoman who come out as an anti-abortion as a woman and a feminist.

    “In the last decade, movements for transgender equality appear to have advanced with astonishing speed, while other issues of concern to women’s movements have largely stalled, either making little progress (equal pay) or suffering real setbacks (abortion access). From policy reforms to public opinion trends, it seems that the situation has changed faster, and in a more positive direction, for trans people than for women.”

    2-A transman with a plastic cock and the TSA
    “Hustling to grab my carry-on and shoes, two TSA agents escorted me to a private room with fogged glass walls and a small table. Once inside the room, the agents started speaking quietly to themselves. I stood awkwardly, adjusted my shirt, opened and closed my fists.
    “Sir, we need to know what’s in your pants,” said the male agent, not at all hiding his lingering gaze at my crotch.
    “I don’t think that’s any of your business.” I said, trying (and failing) to hold back my rage.
    “Actually, it is our business, because we know it’s not a penis,” said the female agent, smugly, like she’d just discovered an important secret.
    Before I could think about what to say or how to say it, I reached into my jeans and pulled out my packer (a small prosthesis) and threw it on the table. “There! Is that what you’re worried about?””

    3- A hypothetical: A high school football player decides he identifies as a transgender male identified lesbian. He, now she, changes nothing about her dress or behavior, and sues under title IX because there are no urinals in the girls bathroom.

    4-A woman who demands the state designate her a man, but who also wants to become pregnant.

    5- There’s no logical difference between transgender and transracial
    “Their contention is that one kind of claim to an identity at odds with culturally constructed understandings of the identity appropriate to one’s biology is okay but that the other is not – that it’s OK to feel like a woman when you don’t have the body of a woman and to act like (and even get yourself the body of) a woman but that it’s wrong to feel like a black person when you’re actually white and that acting like you’re black and doing your best to get yourself the body of a black person is just lying.”

    6-Candy Darling:

    “I’ve been up all night alone, wondering about my identity. Trying to look for an explanation for living this strange, stylized sexuality. Realization cuts feeling off. I try to explain my identity as being a male who has assumed the attitudes and somewhat the emotions of a female. I don’t know what role to play.”

    The defense of trans anything is a defense of the moral equivalent of orientalist romance. Eminem doesn’t call himself black. Neither did my brother, and he had just as much right.

    Desire is not reality. Wanting to force the world to see you as you want to see yourself is to put yourself beyond criticism. It’s the argument for neoliberal narcissism.

    “Some of my best friends are Jews”

    The topsy turvy world of Zionism: “I’m a liberal!” Without the need to ask a Palestinian.

    “Of course I’m a feminist!! Honey, get me a beer.”

    It’s the politics of Chalmers’ “Extended Mind”

    Philosopher dude and angry girlfriend:
    “No baby… please… I understand you… you’re a part of me! I have an extended mind!”
    “In your dreams, asshole. Goodbye.”

    The end result of claiming “to see the other in myself” is the denial of the existence of the other.
    Get that through your head. It’s obvious.

    All that’s left is the self and the community of soi disant enlightened agreement. The politics is obscene.

  13. I’ll take trans race seriously iff a good number of white people transform themselves surgically to have the package of color, nose shape & hair type whites “see” or “imagine” in blacks as the basis for their somatically based discriminatory beliefs about the heritable inferiority of blacks in terms of cognitive and ethical capacities.

    If many Dolezals put themselves on this surgical boat that can’t get back into the white harbor, then I’ll take claims of transracial experience seriously. Otherwise, transracial people or this one transracial person should be understood to be claiming a black identity without having experienced the burdens associated therewith only for the purpose of exploiting it for opportunities of a higher quality than she could get as a white person, e.g. a leadership role of a major organization with a brilliant history (NAACP) and a professorship.

    • This is almost exactly what Greer said, with appropriate substitutions.

      • Jenner does not draw any advantages from being a woman who was once a man. In fact she risks considerable violence against herself. Dolezal however enjoyed success she could never have had by claiming to be a black person who white people could feel comfortable with given that she looks white with a tan and probably sounds under the affected speech like a white girl.

        • Plastic surgery does not change the history of experience. This is not a discussion of people born intersex. It’s not a discussion of light skinned mixed race people who can pass. It’s a discussion of desire, and of wanting the world to see you as you want to see yourself. You have no right to make such a demand. It’s a demand for confirmation. “I’m a liberal!” “I’m a leftist!” The world is the judge. We judge each other. If you think you’re not a racist, ask a black acquaintance for an honest answer. That answer will hold more weight than your opinion. Ahain: Eminem does not claim to be black. He has the respect of those who see him as a peer. “You know you’re my favorite white guy right?” I agree with Andy Warhol about transsexuals. “They don’t really know what it means to be a woman. They don’t bleed.”

        • “Jenner does not draw any advantages from being a woman who was once a man.”

          More gaslighting. That’s all we can call it at this point. You know we can all watch the media, right?

          Here’s JUST A SUMMARY of what has happened for Jenner BECAUSE of the transition:
          – Cover and story in Vanity Fair, shot beautifully by Annie Lebowitz, accompanied by glowing article
          – Glowing interviews on multiple TV news shows
          – Won the ESPN “courage” award that was supposed to go to a black female that year
          – Had a brand new, just for Jenner, TV show that would make a vanity book deal blush
          – Oh, and a vanity book deal from a major publisher
          – More glowing interviews for “news” publications
          – More covers of magazines
          – Breathless interviews to find out what Jenner thinks about Trump, multiple times
          – Breathless interviews about everything else
          – Now considered a top spokesperson for all LGBT issues you can name
          – Now considered a reasonable person to interview about what it’s like to be a woman
          – Received “courage” awards from multiple LGBT organizations EVEN THOUGH anti-marriage equality originally
          – No end in site to all these new and LUCRATIVE advantages

          Name one single female who in the same time span has gotten all of those awards, offers, and opportunities and I will show you someone who actually had to WORK for that, not just be a media darling for nothing more than coming out as transgender and having feelings and opinions.

          • Do you have any idea what Jenner was not able to cash in on after becoming the world’s greatest athlete due to her trans identity? Jenner has been not transitioning since the gold medal to cash in on the results of sexual reassignment surgery. Don’t be absurd.

          • I’ll let Caitlyn answer your question, Rakesh
            “The hardest part about being a woman is figuring out what to wear.”
            – Caitlyn Jenner, Glamour’s 2015 Woman of the Year

            Does anyone really believe that Jenner would transition to living as a poor woman in a slum in India or a Brazilian favela or even just to a nursing assistant in a long term care facility?

            Don’t be ridiculous. Jenner is a wealthy white Republican heterosexual male who fathered six children with three different women. One part of his family became famous for being famous and Jenner got to ride those coattails to fame and fortune. As husband and father. Who stole his daughter’s underwear. But now we all have to pretend none of that happened and that Jenner is the most oppressed person on earth? Rational people say no.

      • There is an important thing about that saying of Greer’s: it was factually wrong. (As the OP is planning to teach about Greer, I’ll make this answer somewhat extended, hoping to help prepare that course).

        Yes, Greer did write, in 1999, “no so-called sex-change has ever begged for a uterus-and-ovaries transplant”. This was not true. Over 60 years earlier, Lili Elbe died from the complications of an attempted uterus-and-ovaries transplant. I do not think Greer intentionally lied. I think she never bothered to check her facts.

        The problem here is not only transphobia. There was, and probably still is, a systematic problem with Germaine Greer – she did not donearly enough work to research reality and see whether it matched her mental model. In 2003, she wrote “The Beautiful Boy”, presenting the idea of women openly desiring juvenile-looking males as somehow new. By 2003, the bishounen and yaoi genres of manga were well established and classics like Ai no Kusabi were well known. Moreover, in the Anglosphere, “slash” fandom was also well established and many women in it were no strangers to this sort of aesthetic. So she basically reinvented the wheel.

        And this had nothing to do with any trans people, this was simply her head being too high up the ivory tower or too deep in some other place, depending on the perspective.

        I hope these notes come in useful.

  14. Thank you for taking on this very fraught subject and giving another perspective. There are too many people who want to bury Dolezal and the issues she brings up; there are way too many people who want to do the same to the comparisons between transracial and transgender. Speaking of which, it wasn’t clear to me from reading whether you had seen Ijeoma Oluo’s own denunciation of the comparison:

    There are so many flaws in her argument, I’m surprised she felt confident in publishing this. Just her first point is enough for an entire rebuttal article:
    “While the flow of racial identity can only go one way (white people can become black but black people can’t become white) the flow of gender identity goes multiple ways” – this is just flatly untrue as proven by the lived realities of countless people who documented their experiences of “passing” or of repudiating their families and communities.

    She goes on to this “2) While a white person who becomes black retains the bulk of their privilege and indeed can more easily move to the higher eschelons of black society[…]when people transition genders, they give up absolutely huge amounts of privilege – whether assigned male or female at birth – I mean, trans people can’t even pee in peace for chrissakes.” The fact that some conservatives are trying to make bathroom policy hardly explains this away. The NBA – a multibillion dollar international business – moved one of its hallmark events over the issue – that’s hardly a loss of privilege for trans women and quite the gain in attention for transgender men.

    She concludes with a mash of concepts so convoluted it’s impossible for me to believe that she wasn’t doing a variation on what a student with no real argument does when they run out of their first few points. Just throw in every concept you can think of and make other people sort it out (knowing that her readership on Facebook is highly unlikely to do so).

    I’ll leave it to you to see for yourself. I believe this discussion is anything but closed.

  15. The copious amounts of previous commentators and dialogue suggests only one thing, the discipline of feminist philosophy is a broad and extravagant farcical undertaking, not worthy of being acknowledged in the academy. Absurdity masquerading as reason is all that feminist philosophy is.

    The letter or apologia on behalf of the journal “Hypatia” suggests what the editors value. It is academic pseudo intellectual nonsense. The editors describe the very intellectual environment to which which they are so clearly condemned. They(the editors)insist that feminist philosophy has been:

    “…to long-considered marginal in philosophy. Too many of us are still characterized as “ not real” philosophers by non- and anti-feminist colleagues”

    A self fulfilling prophecy.They articulate what has declared their very undertaking as irrelevant and meaningless exercises in obscurity. As previously stated absurdity is disguised as reason. This entire fiasco stinks of anti intellectualism and an appeal to a religious cultus of “mea culpa.” This is the death toll for feminist philosophy. They must be formally drummed out of the academy. As alt right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos infers “…they are (truly) a cancer.”

    I finish with a post from a respected and mostly beloved Canadian journalist Rex Murphy and a relevant referral on the issue

    as well as Daphne Patai’s article on the subject matter. (real philosophy)


  16. I support social constructionist theory of “race” and also fully respect Diallo’s identity and thing people should LAY OFF HER. “Race” should not even matter, except for racists and in racial justice movements. Who cares about racists? And let racial justice movements handle their own organizational decisions internally. Those of us in neither category should just apply common courtesy by using the name she prefers. We don’t need to refer to Diallo as “white” or “black” because we don’t need to refer to anyone as “white” or “black” – unless we are a part of some definite movement.

    In her case the movement was NAACP, which, by the way, has its own take on blackness: . So this is a matter for the NAACP. Nobody who is not a member of the NAACP is entitled to an opinion on Diallo’s “racial” identity.

    And despite being very much a constructionist, I really really like the general line of your post… and don’t see exactly where it makes, or relies upon, the “scientific race” argument. You mention social constructionism, appearing to disagree with it, then this strand does not seem to go anywhere.

    Also, I would offer an alternate theory regarding Oluo, one that presumes she actually deeply believes in what she says (that her blackness was not a choice) and is not trying to hide a choice aspect from herself or others. It is true that she did not “inherit” any black issues, but in that “lily white suburb”, she might have experienced a lot of them personally – in a form quite exaggerated compared to your average middle-class black child, because that average child is growing up in a mixed-“race” environment. Oluo did not. She was the sole “black” teenager surrounded by a pack of “white” ones, so she was probably “othered” and bullied in significant ways. So for her, “black” identity was really forced onto her, and its meaning, for her, was entirely negative. She never got to enjoy positive aspects of “black culture” because she never grew up in it; but the negative was thrown at her with considerable force, because she was the only “black” person around.

    In my theory, Oluo is comparable to a specific kind of trans-exclusionary radical feminist. Not the ivory tower dweller like Greer, but someone who, by the particular circumstances of their life, grew to see the specifically female experience in society as solely negative; not merely lack of certain privilege, but outright torture or slavery. When this kind of feminist views “womanhood” as a curse, she certainly thinks anyone appearing to take the “curse” upon themselves voluntarily is disingenuous at the least.