I am leaving academic philosophy because of its transphobia problem
To the academic philosophy community:
I am a trans woman and a philosophy grad student, and I have decided to leave the discipline and seek a non-academic job because of transphobia in the academy. I have been a participant in academic philosophy for many years. I have presented at conferences. I have published research in philosophy journals. I have refereed journal articles. I have taught many undergraduate classes. I am a member of your professional community. I am your colleague. I have not chosen to quit philosophy because I have fallen out of love with the work, or I want something else to do with my life. I am leaving academia ONLY because of TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) — so called “gender critical feminists” — and those who amplify their voices. I am writing this letter because I want people to know that there are real, concrete, macro-level consequences to allowing hate speech to proliferate in philosophy under the guise of academic discussion. In sharing my pain and anger at being forced out of a career that I once loved, I hope to stir some of you to greater action.
The past two years have taken a toll on my mental health because of the amount of hateful discourse regarding gender identity and “biological sex”, starting with the Hypatia/Tuvel affair, and most recently concerning the actions of Kathleen Stock and her co-conspirators, Brian Leiter, and to a lesser degree, Justin Weinberg. I think that transphobia is particularly pernicious and harmful to trans philosophers (as compared to trans folks in other non-academic careers) for a few reasons. Firstly, a significant amount of professional socialization occurs on social media among philosophers. There is an opportunity cost to professional philosophers who choose not to use social media. Philosophers who stay off Facebook and Twitter miss out on job openings, conference opportunities, and networking. However, social media is also where gender identity discourse about trans people happens. An article will appear on Medium or Daily Nous, professional philosophers will start sharing and talking about it, and then the article and related comments will appear in my feed, letting me know that once again my colleagues are debating my existence. Even if I avoid these thinkpieces, the knowledge that there is once again trans discourse in philosophy has itself become stressful. In the past year, I have been driven off social media because of feelings of stress, vulnerability, anger, and pain that surface whenever there is new trans-related philosophical news. Again, this has cost me significantly with respect to my career opportunities.
Secondly, I do not feel safe or comfortable in professional settings any longer. In a non-academic setting, if one of my colleagues has transphobic views, they could not openly or publicly share them due to the fear of professional reprisal. If I worked at a for-profit company and had a colleague who called me a man or a male to my face, there would be human resource issues that resulted. The same is not true of academic philosophy. Not only do I have to sit with the knowledge that people who are supposed to be my colleagues actively deny my gender identity, I might even encounter these people in a public space. I can easily imagine running into Kathleen Stock or some other transphobic philosopher at the APA or an invited talk. It is reasonable to consider the possibility of there being a transphobic talk at the APA or another professional event, in light of Stock’s recent invitation to the Aristotelian Society. How can I be expected to attend professional events where people deny and question such an integral part of my identity and act like that is tolerable or normal?
Here are direct quotes from Stock’s twitter explicitly arguing that I (as a trans woman) am a danger to women because of being trans and calling a prominent UK trans woman politician a “heterosexual biological male” (which is misgendering Lily Madigan). There are innumerable examples of this behavior. Her ilk say things like this on a daily basis on Twitter. Leiter publishes similar things on his blog and Twitter account. These comments are harmful to me, and especially inappropriate coming from a colleague.
How can I be expected to attend professional events and participate in a professional culture where others allow this to happen? As a trans person, I deal with oppression on a daily basis. It is not hyperbole to say that I am fighting for survival. Recent efforts to repeal trans rights in the field of medical care could literally lead to my death someday if an EMT or doctor denied me emergency care. I should not have to suffer indignities and feelings of vulnerability in a professional space among colleagues and friends as well.
Finally, because of the very subject matter that constitutes philosophy, I am expected to tolerate constant public discourse about the nature of my gender identity, whether I “count” as a woman, and what rights I am due in virtue of my gender. I am expected to tolerate public discourse regarding the things that demonstrate other people’s respect for me as a human being. I am expected to tolerate questions about fundamental aspects of my being, questions about my legitimacy as a person.
My gender is not up for debate. I am a woman. Any trans discourse that does not proceed from this initial assumption — that trans people are the gender that they say they are — is oppressive, regressive, and harmful. It comes at a huge cost to me and other trans people both mentally and emotionally to engage with transphobes, whereas it’s easy for transphobes to write transphobic arguments. So, trans people shouldn’t have to engage with transphobes and constantly attempt to legitimize their existences. People who do choose to respond immediately get misgendered by people like Stock et. al, which is painful and harmful. The legitimacy of trans people as their identified genders is not up for debate.
Any trans discourse that does not proceed with a substantial amount of care at amplifying trans voices and understanding the trans experience should not exist. It is not merely TERFs that have harmed me as a philosopher. It is all of the philosophers willing to defend a TERF’s right to philosophically examine my existence, in journals or elsewhere. It is so disheartening to know that any comment section on a Daily Nous piece will be filled with comments from philosophers defending TERFs on the basis of “free speech” and “academic freedom”.
I do not have to tolerate these harms in another career. There is no dignity for me as an academic philosopher. And so I have decided to pursue another career. To be clear: this is an injustice. Being forced out of my chosen career due to transphobia is an unjust harm that has been done to me.
I have already committed to leaving philosophy, but some others might still be saved. Their experience as professional philosophers might be made better. And so I issue a call to action:
- If you are a journal editor or a referee, do not publish or recommend for publication transphobic articles. Do not entertain submissions that question the legitimacy of trans people. Do not entertain submissions that question what rights trans people are due. Do not entertain submissions about trans people that do not take great care to amplify trans voices and understand the trans experience.
- Do not invite conference speakers who are transphobic. Do not accept conference submissions that question the legitimacy of trans people. Make it clear that these are not welcome at your conference in your call for papers.
- Do not provide a platform for transphobes in philosophy. Do not give them an opportunity to publicly express their bigotry. I’m thinking in particular of the Daily Nous and other prominent professional blogs. Do not share their work on social media.
- Finally, if you do see transphobia in philosophy, speak out. Do not remain silent.
If you do not do the above things, you are complicit in forcing people like me out of the discipline. You are complicit in harming your trans colleagues. Do not harm trans people. Do not force them to choose between their mental health and their careers.
Thank you for reading.