Unconditional acceptance

That post in which Derrick Jensen responded to Oregon State’s no-platforming of a talk of his –

The issue was apparently that he has said cis women shouldn’t have to share “sleeping and bathing” space with males and by “males” he seems to mean trans women.

I’m a founding member of an organization called Deep Green Resistance. Given that gold standard studies show that 25 percent of all women in this culture are raped within their lifetimes, and another 19 percent fend off rape attempts, and given that many members of this organization have themselves been sexually assaulted, and given that the overwhelming majority of sexual assaults are committed by males, the women of this organization decided that when we have conferences, they wanted for their sleeping and bathing spaces to be for females only. That’s it. That’s the beef of those who identify as transgender and their allies. The issue was not mentioned in the book of that same name. This was the sole issue: are women allowed to bathe and sleep and organize and gather free from males?

I of course agree with them. Given that we live in the midst of a rape culture, where at the very least a significant minority of women have had males attempt to sexually assault them, I don’t understand why any group of women should be forced–against their will–to allow males into their most vulnerable spaces.

Quite possibly the issue is more that he says “males” when he means trans women.

Also I don’t understand why it’s an issue, because who shares sleeping and bathing spaces anyway? I don’t want anyone of any gender anywhere near me in my sleeping and bathing spaces. But maybe the DGR does budget conferences and people share rooms. (Ick.)

His larger subject though is no-platforming as such. One of his fundamental themes is the distinction between disrespect and disagreement.

You deplatformed me because you say I disrespect those who identify as transgender. You are both scholars, both at a major university. I respectfully ask both of you to find any place in any of my books or articles where I have disrespected those who identify as transgender, where I have committed the sort of hate speech that would cause one to be deplatformed from a university committed to open discourse and discussing the most difficult issues of our time. This is not a rhetorical request. Please do look, and see what you will find. And let’s be clear: I mean disrespect, not disagreement. I would hope that when speaking to two scholars at an institution of higher education I would not have to detail the difference between disrespect and disagreement. Generally, unless participating in some form of fundamentalism, people understand that disagreement does not equal disrespect. The understanding that disagreement does not equal disrespect is in fact a necessary part of living in a pluralistic society. That understanding should be central to any institution of higher education. Sadly it is not central, and is becoming less central by the day.

To be honest I would say it is disrespect to call trans women “males.” I would say that is disrespect more than disagreement, although it may be based in disagreement about what the criteria are or should be for saying who is male and who isn’t.

But the distinction is still an important one, even if the execution of the distinction-making isn’t always good.

You wrote: “Honestly, we had not been tracking this issue closely. We realize that the issue is a small blip in the entirety of your body of work.”

My response: Approximately 7000 words out of probably 5 million published, or .14 percent, or only 14 words out of every ten thousand (I can guarantee I use swear words more often than that), and even those written only after I began receiving death threats. It’s less than a blip. It would be like disagreeing with eleven words out of this entire missive I’m sending you. And that “blip” is not disrespectful, but simple disagreement. Why am I not allowed to disagree with an ideology? When did slavish agreement with the philosophers Michel Foucault and Judith Butler become a precondition not only for speaking at a university, but for even being considered to be respectful?

You wrote: “But it is a big deal here at OSU, where unconditional acceptance and respect for everyone is a value, and for us this includes transgendered people.”

My response: You are both scholars. Please name one place in any of my books or the two published essays I mentioned where I disrespect those who identify as trans. Once again, not disagree, but disrespect. Once again, this is not rhetorical. Disagreement is not disrespect.

The two can overlap, though. The two can be present together. I understand his point, believe me, but it’s not the case that disagreement precludes disrespect (and vice versa).

I think part of the problem is that a terrible rhetorical coup has taken place in Academia, and that in this case we seem to be confusing “unconditional acceptance” with “adherence to an ideology” and “disrespect” with “political disagreement.” That is a rhetorical coup because it makes discourse impossible. Those who perpetuate or support this confusion have made it–and you are going along with this–impossible to talk about the subject (or, clearly, any subject, including the murder of the planet), because any disagreement on that particular subject is immediately labeled as a lack of acceptance and as disrespect (and the person who disagreed is deluged with rape and death threats, and blacklisting: the irony of the recipient of these threats and blacklisting then being accused of a lack of acceptance and of disrespect does not escape me). As someone to whom honest discourse is as vital as my own heart, I cannot tell you how much I resent the manipulation of discourse such that mere disagreement with an ideology–any ideology—is silenced as disrespect.

Further, what do you mean by “unconditional acceptance”? Can someone skip every class and do no homework without you flunking them? Do you have to unconditionally accept them and pass them? Or can you unconditionally accept them as human beings but still have a specific metric for whether you allow them to pass the class? Can someone attend school without either having a scholarship or paying tuition? Or would they eventually be removed from campus? Is there a metric for whether the school allows someone to take classes and to be called a student? Can everyone be on the basketball team? Or can some students be unconditionally accepted by everyone involved but still be excluded from the basketball team, and not be called members of the varsity basketball team? Can anyone attend graduation and walk across the stage and receive a diploma, or are there some metrics in place such that some people are unconditionally accepted by everyone involved but are excluded from receiving a diploma and being called graduates? Are military veterans allowed to organize with others who share their experience, or can anyone join every one of their organizations? Can military veterans (or African-Americans, or American Indians, or Mexican-Americans, or for that matter physics majors or members of a sorority) unconditionally accept other students as human beings but not allow them into their organizations, or more to the point, their most intimate spaces? And as for yourself, if a student wanted to shower with you, would you have to accept that, else you’d be risking failing to unconditionally accept that student? Or are you allowed to have boundaries? Likewise would a student be forced to shower with you? Or is the student allowed to have that boundary? Why can I not unconditionally accept those males who identify as trans, yet not wish for them to be allowed to shower with women who don’t want to shower with them? Everyone else is allowed to define boundaries: why are these women the only ones who can’t say no? I don’t understand why believing that women are allowed to have boundaries says anything about whether I do or don’t accept people.

How about if all of us get to have the boundary of showering and sleeping alone if that’s what we prefer? That would solve this silly issue at a stroke. Make all restrooms unisex with stalls, give everyone privacy, problem solved.

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