Why the Trans Inclusion Problem cannot be Solved

Philosophia 50 (4):1639-1664 (2022)
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What is a woman? The definition of this central concept of feminism has lately become especially controversial and politically charged. “Ameliorative Inquirists” have rolled up their sleeves to reengineer our ordinary concept of womanhood, with a goal of including in the definition all and only those who identify as women, both “cis” and “trans.” This has proven to be a formidable challenge. Every proposal so far has failed to draw the boundaries of womanhood in a way acceptable to the Ameliorative Inquirists, since not all those who identify as women count as women on these proposals, and some who count as women on these proposals don’t identify as women. This is the Trans Inclusion Problem. Is there any solution? Can there be? Recently, Katharine Jenkins, pointing to the work of Mari Mikkola, suggests that the Trans Inclusion Problem can be “deflated” rather than solved. We will investigate this proposal, and show that, unfortunately, Jenkins is mistaken: Mikkola’s project will not help us answer the Trans Inclusion Problem. After that, we’ll look at Robin Dembroff’s suggestion that we “imitate” the linguistic practices of trans inclusive and queer communities, and we will evaluate whether this would help us solve the Trans Inclusion Problem. Unfortunately, this strategy also fails to solve the problem. By the end, we’ll have a better appreciation of the challenges faced by Ameliorative Inquirists in their project of redefining “woman,” and clearer view of why the Trans Inclusion Problem cannot, in fact, be solved. That’s primarily because, no matter what it means to be a woman, it’s one thing to be a woman, and another thing to identify as a woman.

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Tomas Bogardus
Pepperdine University

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