In the wake of the fallout from Rebecca Tuvel’s Hypatia article, “In Defense of Transracialism,” I became acquainted with another leftist neologism—”deadnaming.”
What’s that? Apparently, it’s referring to a transgender individual by his birth name. That’s a big no-no. Tuvel, an assistant professor of philosophy at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, is guilty of it in her paper. According to the apoplectic, Tuvel “uses vocabulary and frameworks not recognized, accepted, or adopted by the conventions of the relevant subfields,” among other “scholarly” failings.
Hence, “ruh roh.” Cue the march of the harpies and the sycophants they sit upon; academic philosophy must be terrorized and trampled underfoot again.
While it’s hard not to have fun at their expense—we’ve already done it—I feel the need to point out a couple serious things here.
First of all, outside of the realm of critical gender theory and transgender activism, deadnaming, i.e., referring to a person by the name on his or her birth certificate as informed by sex and regardless of whether he identifies as male, female, or whatever, is a legitimate form of discourse. It’s normative.
Of course, what’s normative is at issue here. To treat deadnaming as objectively wrong, a term that condemns immoral behavior in common use, presupposes at least:
- Individuals, who believe their gender and identity differs from their sex like Bru—I mean Caitlyn Jenner, for example, are not delusional but correct.
- Gender isn’t causally related to sex.
- Identity is a function of the will.
- People and customs are “transphobic,” i.e., transgendered people face institutional oppression.
Summarily, it presupposes most of if not all of the transgender activist narrative.
Now, there are philosophers and academics who either disagree with some or all of 1-4. So the charming writers and supporters of the infamous open letter to the editors of Hypatia need to levy other means than arguments from outrage and question-begging jargon of their niche to persuade, not only the dissonant members of the academy, but everyone else, that 1-4 are true. For the sake of intellectual honesty, on pain of vicious circularity, they ought to try.
But whom am I kidding? Logical propriety likely holds no sway over these folks. Vicious circularity? They strike me as the people who would maintain that squares can be circles or triangles—that lines, angles, geometry, are viciously “constrictive,” “noninclusive,” “ur-shapist”—if it suited their agenda. After all, the coup for the moral high ground via a pretense of righteousness is a gambit that’s paid off before for the left. Why stop now?
Yeah, okay, I know: Check my cisgender privilege; I don’t know what it’s like to be transgendered, and I need to be respectful of their experience; my mouthing off is an act of “violence” and perpetuating cisnormativity; oh, and ditto for “those who are most vulnerable to the intersection of racial and gender oppressions (women of color)” in this fiasco; yakety yak, don’t talk back.
But once you’re done with your rote hermeneutics of suspicion, I have some unmasking of my own to do. That’s right. It’s time for the proverbial, ham-fisted “My turn.”
Tuvel, by noting how similar Rachel Dolezal is to Jenner, how alike transracialism and transgenderism are, stumbled upon an example of intellectual incoherence on the left and how fragile its coalition based upon identity politics is (something we have pointed out before). Transgenderism is the latest cause du jour, while fighting “institutional racism” remains the principle rallying cry. Dolezal’s story, a white woman identifying as black, is an affront to the critical race theorists and race-baiters of the latter. She had to be discredited and thrown to the wolves.
Unfortunately, it’s damn hard to differentiate, in principle, the case of Dolezal from Jenner and others like him. So Tuvel doubled-down in a socio-political environment in which transgenderism is the new “It” cause while transracialism is an anathema. That’s her faux pas: Ideological consistency in a time when the fads of the left haven’t caught up with the implications of its thought.
And the sexual revolutionaries, like the critical race theorists prior, couldn’t have that; they have the most to lose. So they went nuclear. Don’t be fooled by the appeals to “scholarly standards” and the false pretense of moral decency. They’re just a facade. The ordeal is a matter of power. It’s what these people theorize about and covet most, and theirs—the legitimacy and prestige of the transgender critique and their place as prophets within it—suddenly was threatened. Tuvel and her work had to be discredited and thrown to the wolves too.
However, this episode of the left cannibalizing its own is much more illustrative and ironic than a mere instance of political correctness run amok. Tuvel’s paper unwittingly caught the transgender movement with its pants down. Like a transgender individual who hadn’t undergone the “gender confirmation surgery,” its content didn’t make sense. It was contradictory.
So too was the backlash, most importantly. In a tradition that prizes exposing ideology, laying bear the insidious in the seemingly mundane and revealing the underlying contradictions in the status quo for the sake of social change, its practitioners making the ruckus about Tuvel and Hypatia‘s editors, both of whom are otherwise kindred spirits, are operating from, and zealously protecting the same sort of oppressive hierarchy and problematic conventions they claim to critique. After all, they’re beneficiaries of them; they boast disproportionate influence and normative power at universities compared to their non-crusader colleagues. Advocating social justice causes, fighting the “good fight” while being a minority renders them untouchable to criticism from those outside of the victimized fold whom they, on the other hand, specialize in criticizing (See Tuvel, Rebecca). When they’re not successfully haranguing for mandated curricula that advances their social engineering projects, they’re inciting frenzied mobs against those who displease them, ruining careers, jeopardizing livelihoods. Hanging over everyone’s heads is a Sword of Damocles these ideologues wield for their own interests. Whenever someone violates their orthodoxy, which becomes stranger by the semester (deadnaming, anyone?), it drops, resulting in the horrid spectacle we’ve witnessed during the last week.
This all raises questions: Are professors, especially those striving toward tenure, really free these days to lecture, research and pursue the truth without the fear of facing torches and pitchforks? Is this really progress? Is this what liberation looks like?
Thanks to Tuvel, we can see that it is, and it’s unjust. Though not in the manner intended, her paper stirred up venom and unveiled how “irrational” and “ideological” the present order is for academics. In effect, it was “critical” in a Marxist sense, pulling back the curtain of false consciousness, so praxis—autonomous revolutionary action—might occur. It challenged the status quo controlled by megalomaniacs, who in their paranoia, always look for a new status quo to subvert and thereby more authority to grant themselves because #SocialJustice.
That’s the crucial lesson: We had a glimpse of our overlords in all their malevolent benevolence. Whether it sticks, that might be another story.
- Roger Scruton chats with James Delingpole of Breitbart - June 23, 2017
- On Deadnaming and the Hypatia Debacle - May 9, 2017
- Freedom of Expression and Ulrich Baer: A Case Study in Leftist Mendacity - May 2, 2017
- After Veritas: Why journalists are so poor at their jobs, part 1 - March 28, 2017
- The Curious Case of the Christian Abortion Cake - March 4, 2017
- Je suis Jordan Peterson! - December 4, 2016
- Trick or Treat: Social Justice Warrior as Constant Cultural Appropriator - October 31, 2016