On Deadnaming and the Hypatia Debacle

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:

  1. Individuals, who believe their gender and identity differs from their sex like Bru—I mean Caitlyn Jenner, for example, are not delusional but correct.
  2. Gender isn’t causally related to sex.
  3. Identity is a function of the will.
  4. 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.

Jan Sobieski IV

For Jan Sobieski IV, the West is on the precipice of ruin again. With interests in journalism and philosophy, he’s a millennial convinced we’re living in another Vienna, 1683. Sobieski IV aspires to help lead the pivotal charge for Western civilization against those seeking to overrun or open her gates—these days, they’re one and the same, deserving nothing but the fury of the winged hussar reborn.

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15 Comments

  1. This really does reveal the emperors have no clothes to those who are looking closely. I fear that we’re coming to a point where too many of the peasants aren’t wearing clothes either, and so don’t even notice.

    One point that I think I disagree with Jan: You say that deadnaming is normative. I don’t know that it is. Isn’t deadnaming just a species of calling someone a name they were given, but that they and some relevant community around them has ceased to use? For instance, there are lots of people who_never_go by their given names, for whatever reason. I don’t think it’s normative to call them by their given names. Isn’t it the case that what is actually normative is to call people what they (and maybe a core surrounding community) want to be called? Thus, teachers at the beginning of the school year ask students to inform them if they would rather go by a nickname or something.

    • “there are lots of people who_never_go by their given names, for whatever reason. I don’t think it’s normative to call them by their given names. Isn’t it the case that what is actually normative is to call people what they (and maybe a core surrounding community) want to be called? Thus, teachers at the beginning of the school year ask students to inform them if they would rather go by a nickname or something.”

      Interesting point, Walter. I hadn’t considered the scenario of people who prefer to go by their middle names or some other nickname. But don’t these cases, e.g. Chris Eric Barnes goes by Eric instead of Chris, tend to still be informed by sex and a concomitant gendered name bestowed at or close to birth?

      I was hasty in my characterization. Let me amend it: It’s normative to refer to someone by a gendered name as informed by his or her sex at birth. This is what transgender activists are trying to overturn.

  2. I would contend that the very act of naming oneself is a performative contradiction, and that’s why anyone with a functioning brain can intuitively feel that doing so is something absurd. It’s constitutive of being named that the name be given. But by whom? Not from me. For if I name myself, it is no longer a name, but really a pseudo-name, for the only one who could name me is not me, but my parents. Why?

    Our given name is a reflection of the significance of our birth. We did not choose to bring ourselves into being and we had no power to do so. No one has willed himself to be born, which is why it is just as incoherent to think one could name oneself. We are just as passive with respect to our births as we are to the names we receive in turn.

    What’s really going on here with the transgenderism agenda then?

    Lurking beneath the idea that we can name ourselves (thereby determining our own identities free of any constraint), is the Luciferianism that is coming more into the open with every passing day. It is a reversal of everything natural and normal, including the most basic and fundamental features of human existence: male and female, mother and father, natural birth, etc.

    We are witnessing the complete reworking of society in the image of an antichrist spirit. We are living in a society that is openly embracing the infamous “Do what thou wilt” mindset espoused by Crowley. This is where we are, and it is only going to get worse.

  3. “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.”

    This is accurate but strikes me as fitting uncomfortably with the rest of your post. Yes, you are right that these people don’t really care about scholarly standards. And, yes, this is about control. Why then, do you repeatedly, along with the other writers on this blog, criticize feminist and other leftist academics for failing to live up to scholarly standards, going to great lengths to explain how they fail to live up to such standards? They don’t care. And we already know that they fail to live up to such standards. So, who are you talking to?

    I don’t mean to single you out, but perhaps you or someone else can explain to me why those on the right endlessly engage in this game of politely explaining how the left has failed to play by gentlemanly rules while the left stands there and endlessly kicks them in the balls with impunity.

    • Schopenhammer,

      What would you have me do then? My post is pretty polemical, so I’m not sure I’m being polite at all.This blog has been criticized for failing to be substantive, but if I’m understanding you correctly, you think we’re playing too nicely with the left?

      We’ve taken heat for our coverage and our taking of screenshots of “Christian” philosophers saying some pretty nasty and non-Christian things in the wake of Richard Swinburne’s presentation of his paper arguing against homosexuality at a SCP event. In other words, we’ve pissed in the eyes of leftist philosophers, and more than on one occasion too. That’s not very gentlemanly or doing actual philosophy — there are no polemics in genuine philosophical inquiry. But this blog never intended to be a philosophical journal devoted to such a noble end. It has a political function because politics has become a necessary evil to counteract the politics defiling the discipline that ought to be devoid of them.

      We have noticed, as you do, that war is upon us, and the left gets away with playing dirty no matter how often or accurately it’s pointed out by the right. We’re sick of it too. And, to a certain extent, we’ve struck back.

      “Why then, do you repeatedly, along with the other writers on this blog, criticize feminist and other leftist academics for failing to live up to scholarly standards, going to great lengths to explain how they fail to live up to such standards? So, who are you talking to?”

      Ah, but I didn’t just criticize them for failing to live up to scholarly standards — I noted how they failed to live up to their own. I’m taking their own toys and using them against them. It will infuriate some. But hopefully using their own tools of analysis will cause more reasonable others, despite my mockery, to see we might have a point. Likewise, we do have a right-wing audience, and it should appeal to them too.

  4. From the comment above at 3:43pm. “For if I name myself, it is no longer a name, but really a pseudo-name, for the only one who could name me is not me, but my parents.”

    This is an accurate reflection of the quality of *philosophy* that goes on here at Halfwittedly Considered: pretty much worthless.

    Kids actually do seem to name themselves in some wacky families. Some kids chooses the name “Bicycle” in a public naming ceremony. Other people pick up on the name and intend to use it in the way the kid did, to refer to himself. A Kripke-style chain of same-intended-use extends to me, and I refer to the kid with “Bicycle.” I would need more than mere assertion to understand why this doesn’t count as being a naming just as much as any other instance.

    Stick to what you’re all good at: echoing and whingeing.

    • I agree with you about your philosophy of language point (TSI appears to have a postmodern bent?), but come on man (or woman or moman or otherkin or alien–hard to know these days), surely you can easily do better than “Halfwittedly Considered.” “Rightly Confused” and “Tritely Considered” are *obviously* superior. Get your troll game up to speed, JS.

    • “Stick to what you’re all good at: echoing and whingeing.”

      Okay, JS. Stick with what you’re good at too–spelling, lol.

    • “Some kids chooses the name “Bicycle” in a public naming ceremony.”

      So the the kid does not choose his name? As far as these ceremonies go, if they need a ceremony, then the kid doesn’t choose his name. If you and another get married, you don’t get yourselves married. There is a public ceremony and someone imbued with the authority marries you.

      The kid, in the ceremony may choose what the name is that is given, but he is still given the name.

  5. 7:59,

    If you think the fact that kids from dysfunctional families are allowed to “name themselves” disapproves my point, rather than simply reinforcing it, what more can I say? I’m not going to belabor the point, but notice how your own characterization of the situation belies your own point: after all, as you say, the parents must ALLOW the child the latitude to name himself. The power is granted, not already his to exercise. And in any case, he was given a name at birth, so the fact that he’s later allowed to make one up by himself doesn’t cut any ice against my point; it simply illustrates the point that kids from weird families aren’t really behaving any more rationally than grown adults who suddenly decide that they’re the opposite sex.

    The fact that you don’t see how you’ve just refuted yourself is not, I imagine, unrelated to why you think a man can simply decree he’s a woman or vice versa.

    And please don’t mention Kripke’s casual theory of reference here, which isn’t going to get you far. To begin with, we’re not in a graduate seminar vying for brownie points with the professor, so I don’t see how mentioning one of your favorite idols is productive.

  6. Before I forget or you reply, I should also add: I think your reply is very telling, for it reveals the heart of the matter.

    In essence, you’re committed to the idea that things are what they are by virtue of what we choose to say or how we agree to say they are. So, as you say, if Jimmy wants to name himself “Bicycle” and everyone he knows starts calling him that, then, well, Jimmy is now Bicycle. But this is why you’re wrong. Just because everyone chooses to play along doesn’t mean it’s actually so. Jimmy is still Jimmy, and Bruce is still Bruce.

    Some things are what they are regardless of what we want to call them or how we choose to name them. And no amount of denial can change that.

    • I think the philosophical issue/non-issue disagreement here detracts from the main point.

      Wouldn’t you say that under certain conditions adult persons would be galactic pricks to not call me by my chosen name. Pretend I had dead beat parents who did drugs, gorged on McDonalds, and named me “Big Mac”. I get made fun of all the time at school so when I graduate, leave home, and set off to start a new life I sucessfully obtain a court-ordered name change. Somehow my new friends and co-workers find out my old name and instead of calling me “Matt” (my new name), they just call me “Big Mac”. They don’t call me that as a nickname though. They just want to refer to me using my previous name.

      This reminds me of an ex-girlfriends’ father who would call his daughter’s boyfriends (the ones he didn’t ‘respect’, though really it was just a cover for getting delight out of being a colossal prick) literally by another name. They could be “Peter” and he would call them “John”. Everytime “Peter” was around, and interacting with “Peter”, he referred to “Peter” as “John” in a serious tone, even after he was corrected multiple times. The father was an upper-middle class doctor. He was doing it as a sign of disrespect. Thankfully, he called me by my name!

      Some people want their preferred social constructions to have the same social-power traction as currency does. Obviously, self-naming doesn’t have that power or it would be much more inconvenient for someone to not call you by your legal name. Obviously then, it also can never have more traction than currency, which means it’s silly to think you are shirking reality by not using someone’s selected name.

      Having said all that, no one is keeping you from seeing a transgender person as male or female. They’re (at least I hope this is what the majority of people simply want) just saying you should give them the respect of calling them by their chosen name. The only other thing to add here is that if you think the person suffers from gender dysphoria, then there is additional reason to believe you are being a prick in not calling them by their preferred name. If you think they are faking gender dysphoria, then you have to weigh the probability you are right with the expected disutility of not calling them by their preferred name.

      Obviously, no one should ever be institutionally forced to call someone by their preferred name. For mis-naming, within a legal and commercial context, there will already be major disincentive. Furthermore, if the person changes their name once a month, then there is astronomically less reason to consider mis-naming them as being a prick (at some point the frequency of name changing is so high as to make placing so much burden on others to not mis-name, prickish and not the other way around).

      What about someone who is seeking an official name change, but hasn’t obtained it? Probably a little less reason to consider you a prick. What if they intend to never seek an official name change, but want you to refer to them as one new name for the rest of their lives? How close of friends will you be with them?

      Eventually, you reach a point where someone who intends to never seek an official name change, but changes their name frequently, and expects others to play along, becomes the galactic prick. They expect adults to treat them like children playing whatever imaginary games children like to play.

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