“We welcome genuine dialogue”

The Institute of Arts and Ideas have now published a Retraction Statement by philosophers Robin Dembroff, Rebecca Kukla and Susan Stryker, explaining why they didn’t want to be part of a debate with philosophers they consider not just wrong but worse than wrong on the questions around trans gender identity. That’s ok, but some of the content of what they say is not.

We welcome genuine dialogue and mutually respectful exploration of the complex and contentious social realities that characterize contemporary transgender issues. We devote a large part of our working lives to these issues, and we have much at stake in them, personally and politically. We object, however, to any “debate” that questions transgender people’s fundamental legitimacy as people who are entitled to the same respect as any other person.

Does that describe the other participants in the discussion, Holly Lawford-Smith, Kathleen Stock, and Julie Bindel? Do those three question “transgender people’s fundamental legitimacy as people who are entitled to the same respect as any other person”? No. Of course not. But it makes them sound evil, so I guess that’s a good-enough reason for saying it?

We reject as a starting place presuppositions held by some voices included in the IAI forum that transgender people are by definition mentally ill or delusional, and that respecting transgender people irreparably conflicts with the interests of cisgender women.

More subtle, but still dishonest. They don’t presuppose that transgender people are by definition mentally ill or delusional, they argue that it’s not the case that people can change their sex. That doesn’t translate to: trans people are delusional.

These presuppositions are uniformed, and fly in the face of evidence as well as years of feminist thought and activism. They preemptively delegitimate transgender people as speaking subjects.

The presuppositions aren’t what Dembroff, Kukla and Stryker say they are, and if they were they wouldn’t necessarily “preemptively delegitimate transgender people as speaking subjects.” That’s just a kind of rabble-rousing meant to make The Enemy look bad. We’re supposed to think they’re bad people who want to harm the helpless transgender people, like mean bullies in the playground.

We consider the right to occupy spaces in which our basic safety is not at risk to be a right that should not be up for debate.

But what about women’s safety?

We refuse on principle to engage in any discussion that treats such positions as up for abstract intellectual debate, in the same way that we would refuse to participate in a conversation that debated whether the Holocaust actually happened, or whether corrective rape should be used to cure lesbianism, or whether or not the white race is superior to all others.

Dirty dirty pool. Gender-skeptical feminists are not comparable to Holocaust deniers or advocates of corrective rape or white supremacists. Filthy pool. They should be embarrassed.

There are limits to civil and intellectual discourse beyond which speech acts are simply acts of violence.

We believe that the discourse of some invited participants in the original IAI forum goes beyond those limits. We refuse on principle to “co-platform” with those who seek, under the guise of “debate” with us, to persuade an audience that it should partner with them in advocating harm to us.

Filthy pool. They should be embarrassed and ashamed.

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