- Gender Exaggeration as Trans.Dan Demetriou & Michael Prideaux - manuscriptSurprisingly, it follows from commonplaces about sex and gender that there is a widely-practiced variety of transgenderism achievable through sex/gender “exaggerating.” Recognizing exaggeration as trans---or at least its moral equivalent---has several important consequences. One is that, since most traditional cultures endorse exaggeration, trans lifestyles have often been mainstream. But more importantly, recognizing that gender exaggeration is trans (or its moral equivalent) reveals a number of sex- and gender-discriminatory practices and intolerant attitudes: from pathologizing hypergender to legally restricting androgenic hormones, many (...)
A public reply to referee(s)
Not out of umbrage so much as a deep concern over ideological censorship in philosophy, I want to publicly note and respond to the negative referee reports this paper has received (when graced with a report at all----it was desk rejected multiple times without comment). I believe the comments I quote below, compared with a reading of the paper itself, will reveal that it was rejected for ideological reasons, and that the paper warrants publication and indeed engagement.
Background: I co-authored this paper with a student, Michael Prideaux, a queer activist who is now studying non-profit management. I disagree with my coauthor on many matters, but we agree on the importance of principles, consistency, and reasoning in ethical debate. Unfortunately, our referee(s) believe in gate-keeping and stifling views they find "troubling." I waited to post a public reply until he was in grad school so as to shield him from controversy.
Below I will quote the only two referee reports I received. I will quote them in full (italics). My responses are interspersed in boldface.
Referee Report on 4874, “Gender Exaggeration as Trans”
I recommend rejecting this paper. The theoretical basis of the paper is not well worked through. It makes far too many problematic assumptions, and uses some generally offensive terminology.
Comments to author(s):
The paper attempts to argue that we should treat those who move towards the 'extremes' of gender expression (or, I suppose, sex) should also be considered transgender. It's an interesting idea, but I think it ultimately fails. Below are only a few of my thoughts.
1. "transgenderism" is generally considered offensive by trans people when talking about trans people. It reeks of the clinical study of real people's lives and identities.
A recent New Yorker article is entitled, "What Is a Woman? The dispute between radical feminism and transgenderism." Taylor&Francis publishes the International Journal of Transgenderism.
2. The paper also seems to conflate gender identity with gender expression: these are different.
The distinction between identity and expression is drawn explicitly on pp. 2-3, and discussed at multiple points near the conclusion of the paper.
Those who 'move' from one (e.g.) masculine gender expression to a more 'extreme' masculine gender expression do not have a shift in their gender identity: they identified as men before their 'transition,' and identified as men afterwards. Thus nothing has changed about their gender identity. They are not trans.
This comment simply denies a main conclusion of the paper without confronting the premises for it. The paper argues that the continuum model renders precisely this sort of reasoning obsolete.
while the authors seem to note that there's a difference, they are mistaken in
their operationalization of the distinction. Many genderqueer people, for
example, hold their genderqueerness *as a gender identity*, not merely as a
gender expression. Gender expression is merely how we express our gender: the
clothes we wear, our behaviors, etc. Those who "fall between the
categories of boy/man and girl/woman" (which I take the authors to mean,
e.g., agender people) are those with trans *gender identities* not
"trans" gender expressions.
To quote our paper:
Availing ourselves of the distinction between one’s gender identity (a relatively stable self-image)
and one’s gender expression (how one presents oneself at a given time), those
expressing in the middle are often called “androgynous,” and those falling between the
identity categories of boy/man and girl/woman “genderqueer.” These terms are very
much in flux, and have wide senses meant to reject both traditional genders without
commitment to being “between” them (AP 2013). However, we will use them in their
narrower sense here.
Clearly, the referee hasn’t read the word “identity” in “…those falling between the identity categories of boy/man…” Moreover, in this comment, the referee suggests that those between man and woman are trans, which they are not necessarily: one may simply be genderqueer. Genderqueer we take to be a positive gender, and isn’t agender.
Now, the author(s) may think that there are people male-assigned at birth (MAAB) who 'transition' to something like being genderqueer, and this is manifested only in changes in gender expression, so are they trans? That depends entirely on whether the person has a non-cis gender identity. Some MAAB people who, for example, crossdress regularly (and as part of their daily lives) identify as belonging under the transgender umbrella, others do not. It depends on whether the person's gender identity has shifted from their identity assigned at birth. And the difference is due to the difference between gender identity and gender expression.
This is all obvious and nothing we say contradicts it. The referee simply didn’t read the
paper carefully, as just shown. The referee is trying to portray us as clueless.
3. The paper strikes me as making a number of deeply problematic assumptions. There seems to be no defense of the sex/gender distinction. The distinction itself is a topic of controversy.
We didn’t feel the need to defend the widely-accepted distinction between sex and gender, especially as the distinction is assumed in the common definitions of “trans.” However, a moment’s reflection would have revealed to the referee that our arguments runs if there aren’t two separate continua of sex and gender, but one. Moving to the opposite pole is no more trans that moving to the nearer pole to an equivalent degree. This works even if we deny the gender/sex distinction.
The paper strikes me as assuming some form of oppositional sexism, particularly in its overly simplistic treatment of the APA/GLAAD definitions of being trans. A more sophisticated understanding of what it means to be trans is that one's gender identity is *different* than what one was assigned at birth. The authors note this as a better definition, but don't note how it's already entirely consistent with the APA/GLAAD definitions. This suggests to me that the author(s) are new to the topic.
Our background is irrelevant—this is an ad hominem. We raised two objections to the APA and GLAAD definitions. The referee doesn’t explain
what’s wrong with our criticisms. Both groups assume a sex-gender mismatch. We offer
actual counterexamples. The referee doesn’t explain why the counterexamples fail.
Another signal is the relative dearth of sources on trans identities (particularly *by* trans people).
Cary Castillo, whom we quote approvingly, is a trans professor and blogger. How many trans sources must one cite to make a persuasive argument? It isn’t always easy to tell if one is trans or not. How does the referee know we are not trans? (Answer: she looked us up.)
One particularly serious problem
with the author(s)'s definition including 'transition' is that there are many
trans people who have trans gender identities but don't "transition"
or otherwise change much about their gender expression.
We are also neutral on how much effort one must expend to change one's sex or gender. Some readers will argue for a high standard on which one isn't really trans unless one has actually transitioned. Others will say merely having an abiding, deep dissociation with the gender or sex one has had foisted upon them by society or fate is sufficient for being trans, even if one hasn't taken any steps to transition. What we say below is compatible with any view about this question, so we invite readers to tweak our analysis to suit their favored threshold.
Furthermore, the author(s)'s view doesn't account for agender, bigender, and genderfluid people.
This is a red herring. Our view accounts for these identities at least as well as the standard model. We have no obligation to discuss every category in trans research to make our point. This is clearly the sort of objection at best raised in a response piece, not as a reason not to publish the paper.
4. One common worry I have with the paper is that it inappropriately attaches the 'trans' label to people who explicitly don't identify as such.
This is discussed in the objection section, especially where we discuss trans as a natural kind. The referee simply ignores our anticipation of that objection.
Also, it is far too wide of a definition, as it includes nearly every person as trans.
False. We state in our analysis that a necessary condition of being trans is that one desire a “significant” change in their sex or gender, and we take pains at various places to say that the reader can set their own standard of how extreme that change must be. Moreover, as we note with the sun/star case (in the objections), a natural kind time might have a much wider extension than usually supposed. The referee doesn’t seem to have read to the end of this (short) essay.
We all negotiate our gender expression often throughout our lives. We're constantly playing with gender expressions, moving all over the spectrum in many ways. On the author(s)'s view, this seems to make anyone who goes through a "phase" as trans. But trans identities are crucially stable through time: gender *expression* is free to roam, but gender identities are not as free-floating.
We make no such claims, and we argue explicit;y against such claims.
5. The MAAB example of Jack and the "singularly incompetent" doctor is absurd and offensive in its absurdity. A case like this has never happened (to my knowledge), and wouldn't happen. It makes light of people's experiences with being assigned the wrong sex at birth (who tend always to be intersex).
Imagine a referee objecting to the violinist thought experiment: "A case like this has never happened to my knowledge"!
6. "Sex change operation" is often considered offensive. 'Sex reassignment surgery' is slightly better,
but still disprefered by many trans people. 'Genital surgery' or just 'transition-related surgeries' are
We changed this terminology in the revised version now posted. But in the version this referee is replying to, we used "gender reassignment surgery just the paragraph before. We needed to distinguish between a voluntary and non-voluntary operation that changes one's sex. The referee is willfully eliding over this in their comments to the editor.
7. Finally, I'll note that this was an upsetting paper to read. I think that it will be personally offensive to a lot of trans people, and I think that the authors should consider why (and whether they should change or abandon the project).
This is censorship in the starkest terms. How insulting it is to the editors, to the authors,
and to the trans community to say that a provocative piece with interesting and original
arguments shouldn’t be published because it (might) offend. If its arguments are
unsound, let someone write a reply. In any event, the paper is as enthusiastically pro-trans
as possible, and this particular worry is dealt with in the objections section, which it seems
the referee didn’t bother reading.
Comments for the Author:
We (i.e. my co-author) are quite familiar with the debate between trans and feminist communities. It just didn't matter to this paper. This comment doesn't explain at all how our point is weakened by failure to ensconce itself in this literature. We see it's fresh approach as a virtue for a general audience. The translation of this comment is that "non-feminists need not write on trans issues."
Second, their analysis seems entirely disconnected from the experiences and the politics of actual trans people. Instead, the authors rely on hypothetical examples. For example, the authors consider an individual, Joe, who is male, identifies as man and as masculine. However, he also has a self-image as female, changing his body accordingly. The authors claim it is obvious Joe should count as transgender. However, the example seems merely hypothetical - there are no such cases I have ever come across in my many travels in trans communities.
Imagine that---a thought-experiment to test an analysis of a concept.
Second, and more importantly, it's far from obvious that this person would be considered 'transgender' - at least, I don't think he would be so considered by very many transgender people I know.
God forbid philosophy challenge our categories. In any event, the very first objection we reply to is this one. But the referee apparently rejected the paper before getting to that point (remember the paper is under 6000 words), or just wants to misrepresent the paper to the editors.
Notably, their analysis of 'transgender" comes from the American Psychological Association (an organization many trans people view with suspicious) and GLAAD. While they engage with these definitions critically, they also seem to accord the organizations some authority in determining the meaning of the terms. What gets lost in this is the fact that these terms have a history (e.g. 'transgender' as a broad umbrella term was introduced for the purposes of combatting an oppressive binary). They ignore the ways in which these terms have evolved and are politically contested. I honestly don't know what is to be gained by taking some organization's definition, tweaking it, and then trying to make the case that "gender exaggerators" count as "transgender" when 'transgender' is claimed, disavowed, questioned in so many different ways. They ignore, for example, the importance of self-identification with respect to the term. Many people who are categorized by others as transgender disavow the categorization (e.g. some transsexuals object to being viewed as 'transgender; many highly-gender variant people, e.g. some lesbian butches, do not seem themselves as transgender). Of course, the authors could just say the self-identification is unimportant. But then, they would have completely abstracted themselves from any meaningful discussion of transgender issues.
Note the referee offers no *alternative* analysis of "transgender" I somehow missed, nor any more authoritative source. The scholarly thing to do is cite the APA and GLAAD, which we do, not people "one comes across." Again, the idea is to keep "outsiders" from publishing on this issue. Notice also the criticisms of things we don't say couched as criticisms of the paper: did we assert that butch lesbians were trans?
Third, the main argument in favor of the inclusion of gender exaggerators does not work and I do not see how I can be fixed. The authors recognize that 'trans' typically refers to individuals whose gender identity or expression is on the other side of the binary with respect to their sex (or assigned sex?). But, the authors argue, the binary is a fiction and so we may speak only of sex and gender spectra. Once we embrace the spectra, they argue, what reasons do we have for excluding those individuals who transition from a moderate masculine position to an extreme one?
What the authors fail to note is the very real existence of a social binary. Consider, for example, the sex-segregation of public restrooms, or the binary sex-designators on public documents, etc. The fact that both gender expression and sex may be analyzed in terms of spectra does not undermine the fact that we live in a social reality in which a very stark binary continues to exist. And once we recognize this fact, we see why trans people who effectively "cross the social binary" (through identification or expression) are subject to social stigma and punishment. We also see why others who, rather than crossing that social binary, remain with it, are not similarly stigmatized or punished. Indeed, it is worth noting on this point that "transgender" has typically been associated with transcending or crossing a socially-constituted binary. I just don't see the argument for including gender exaggerators under that umbrella.We address this in the objections section, which the referee totally ignores. To quote:
As to “hijacking,” it is worth comparing the claims of this paper to a point routinely made by anthropologists with regard to race. Instead of the usual strategy for undermining racism which involves accepting and embracing biological difference, the standard anthropologically-informed tack is to point out the biological superficiality of racial differences in the first place (AAPA 1996). We say the same of transgenderism: a “typical, cis” teenage boy pushing himself to be more manly by artificially lowering his voice or nurturing a struggling mustache is as trans as he would be if he were curling his hair and wearing eye shadow. Of course, demonstrating that the differences used to justify some form of discrimination are phony isn't—and shouldn't be read as—making the case that the discrimination suffered by the relevant outgroup hasn't been grave. (15-16)
Notice no premise is objected to by the refeee. We explicitly note that there is a social binary, but we reject---along with the referee---the reality of that binary, and explain how interesting things follow when we do. Although the referee suggests we do not, we plainly *do* say that exaggerators are not persecuted to same degree as traditionally "trans" people are because of this social binary.In any event, the referee is so insulted by our objections to the mainstream analysis of "trans" that they ignore our larger point, which is that exaggeration and hypergenderism is morally on par with transgenderism and genderqueerhood, even if exaggeration *isn't* trans. This is stated in the abstract and the paper at multiple points.
Finally, the authors seem to want to have their cake and eat it too. On the one hand, they recognize (rightly) that hyper-masculinity and hyper-femininity are typically socially embraced. On the other hand, they want to cite instances of discrimination against gender exaggerators. But the only place they can locate this discrimination is in progressive (feminist?) circles. Certainly, reducing hyper-masculinity to insecurity over penis size is a mean and inappropriate thing to do (one example they cite). Besides, that, however, I wonder whether there is conflation of discrimination with legitimate feminist critique (again, please read the Heyes!). What they do cite, in any event, hardly seems comparable with what many trans people actually experience (particularly trans women of color) - obstacles finding employment and appropriate health care, physical and sexual abuse, even murder. And, for me, this highlights the greatest failing of this paper - namely, its being completely out of touch with the subject matter it purports to discuss.
As we point out, and quoted just above, we acknowledge that those who cross the gender binary are more harmed (usually) than exaggerators. Nonetheless, exaggeration is indeed dangerous, as our point about steroids shows. In any event, the referee is again signalling our "outsider" status with the comment about being "out of touch." Exactly which premise is shown false by our being "out of touch"?
A public reply to referee(s)
Australian National University
This is not a comment on the quality of the referees’ reports – though on a quick reading it does seem to me that you may not have been given a fair deal.
But speaking as an outsider, what strikes me above all is how terribly ideological and hair-splitting all this has now become. It rather makes one think of communism in its worst Stalinist phases, or North Korea today: a wrong word, a word out of place, and one ends up in a gulag (or worse). The gulags in this case are metaphorical but I get the impression they are no less real for that.
A public reply to referee(s)
Reply to Derek Allan
Thank you for your observation, Derek.
I agree. The terminology around this issue is minefield, and there are many shibboleths. As I note in the paper, the terminology is shifting so quickly that we had to more-or-less beg readers to be charitable and understand that no offense is meant (cf. the use of "retarded" in the animal rights literature on "marginal humans"---except that terms in the hyper-offense culture around trans issues have much shorter half-lives than "retarded").
A public reply to referee(s)
Readers: Sorry for the typos. I hurriedly wrote this in rural Cameroon, where electricity is spotty, and couldn't proofread as well as I'd like to have.
A public reply to referee(s)
Georgia State University
For future reference, there is an extensive discussion of the reports and whether they're ideological policing at Daily Nous: http://dailynous.com/2016/07/05/allegations-ideological-policing-via-refereeing/