About actual living people

So let’s take a closer look at what Audrey Yap is saying in that comment, which followed several comments about the epithet “TERF” and whether it’s a pejorative or not.

I don’t happen to find the term problematic, personally, but I also don’t share views with anti-trans feminists about these issues, which means it doesn’t apply to me so I don’t have much of a stake in it. So I’m fine with not using it.

So setting aside the question of terminology, 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.

What I wonder is whether the grave concern about “the invalidation of a lot of people’s identity and lived experience” applies everywhere or only to the identity and lived experience of trans people (aka folks).

“Identity” covers a lot of territory – so much that it can become all but meaningless. Is it a general expectation that we should accept people’s accounts of their “identities” as true simply because they are their accounts? Is there never any reason to decline to be quite that trusting? Is there never any reason to be skeptical? What if someone claims to be a historian but appears to know nothing about the subject, for instance? Are you allowed to be doubtful?

Perhaps the difference is when many (and steadily more as time goes on) people make one particular claim about their identities, so that the rule doesn’t apply to one person but to several or quite a few or many?

Would that work with race? At present Rachel Dolezal is still seen as a bad joke and a self-aggrandizer, but what if a lot of white people started to “identify as” black? Would Audrey Yap then see it as a serious problem that some black people continued to be skeptical of such identifying, giving their reasons and (as she put it) “taking one side of an argument” that opposed the side that insisted those white people really are black?

Or what if a lot of Americans started identifying as undocumented immigrants from countries Trump considers shitholes? Not changing their lives or giving up the privileges of citizenship, but just “identifying as.” Would Yap see it as a serious problem if thoughtful people asked how that worked, what it meant, how “identity” was being defined?

I really do wonder. I wonder what the talismanic words “identity” and “lived experience” are construed as meaning, and if they apply broadly or narrowly, and how we can find out if there are people calling it a serious problem when we try to ask.

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