The following is a joint statement from Minorities and Philosophy UK and Minorities and Philosophy International.
In line with the missions of Minorities and Philosophy (MAP), MAP UK aims to support and celebrate the work of members of under-represented and marginalised groups in philosophy. This includes, for example, (but is not limited to) women, trans and non-binary people, people of colour, disabled people, LGBTQ+ people, working class people, immigrants, and practitioners for whom English is not a first language, among other historically underrepresented groups.
The presence of these voices in academic philosophy improves academic philosophy for everyone. Not only do members of these communities make our discipline fairer, but their contributions also make ongoing conversations richer and better.
The discipline of philosophy, as it stands, has much work to do for each of these groups. But one particular area that we must focus on is the increasing professional hostility towards trans people, with trans women and trans feminine philosophers regularly experiencing intensified and aggravated forms of hostility and abuse. In recent years and months, attacks on the trans community have been led by a number of prominent philosophers and are made to seem legitimate due to the unwillingness of the wider community to speak up and protect its most vulnerable members.
A number of trans people have spoken out about their experiences in philosophy, especially on the painful topic of how recent events in philosophy have impacted (and continue to seriously threaten) their wellbeing, their professional careers, and their personal lives. We list some of these invaluable and heartbreaking testimonies below.
In continuation of such harmful trends, today (3rd June 2019) the Aristotelian Society hosted a talk by Professor Kathleen Stock, entitled ‘What is Sexual Orientation?’. We have composed this statement for two reasons: firstly, we are disappointed that a prominent philosophical organisation has hosted a talk by someone who has so aggressively and routinely spoken out against the trans community. Secondly, we are deeply concerned by the fact that the Aristotelian Society is offering its valued intellectual platform to a paper that, itself, targets the trans community. We believe this talk brings into stark relief the current situation for trans and non-binary people in philosophy.
In defence of their decision, the Aristotelian Society recently released a statement of support for Professor Stock’s right to engage in philosophical debate. We believe a right to engage in legitimate philosophical debate does not absolve a person of responsibility for the harms they inflict on vulnerable persons, nor should philosophical institutions encourage such forms of moral evasion. We believe that by remaining ‘neutral’ and referring to ‘philosophical debates’ in this way, the Aristotelian Society has demonstrated its detachment from trans and non-binary people and their embodied and continually endangered lives. In effect, their statement of ‘neutrality’ amounts to an explicit indifference to the harassment of trans people and their allies. In this context, we have to tell it like it is and acknowledge that purported neutrality in the face of bigotry is complicity. We believe that by hosting this talk, and also by not issuing a clear and unequivocal statement of support for trans people within the profession and outside, the Aristotelian Society has contributed to the wider harms being done against trans people.
Unlike the Aristotelian Society, we want our trans colleagues to know that we are here for them, and that we stand wholeheartedly with our trans and non-binary siblings everywhere. Unlike the Aristotelian Society, we refuse to be ‘neutral’. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Unlike our colleagues at the Aristotelian Society, we refuse to remain silent in the face of injustices inside and outside the academe.
The right to promote hateful ideas is not covered under the right to free speech. Thus, we resist the charge that this is simply an attempt to silence and stifle philosophical debate. Nobody is entitled to unlimited and unopposed speech in academic philosophy - and we need to identify and call out forms of speech that target, oppress, and silence marginalised groups.
Not every item of personal and ideological obsession is worthy of philosophical debate. In particular, scepticism about the rights of marginalised groups and individuals, where issues of life and death are at stake, are not up for debate. The existence and validity of transgender and non-binary people, and the right of trans and non-binary people to identify their own genders and sexualities, fall within the range of such indisputable topics. We also condemn the questioning and policing of the sexualities of gay and lesbian people attracted to, and in relationships with, trans people. This policing and attacking of the genders and sexualities of others is just one way in which anti-trans arguments mirror other anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric.
Instead of engaging with or supporting the anti-trans work from members of the community, we encourage everyone to listen to and engage with the work of our transgender and non-binary colleagues, both through their academic publishing and their public work. We encourage everyone to listen to how trans and non-binary people are currently experiencing and faring in the discipline, and to engage seriously with this egregious state of affairs.
Specifically, we ask the Aristotelian Society to:
- Issue a statement in support of trans students and staff within philosophy, and commit to creating a more welcoming and affirming professional environment for trans people.
- Commit to a more nuanced approach to representation and diversity in their invited speakers, and to refrain in the future from inviting speakers that seek to exclude and marginalise through their speech vulnerable persons.
- Listen and engage with the work of queer, non-binary and trans philosophers, and to give appropriate uptake to the concerns that such philosophers raise about instances of anti-trans rhetoric and other expressions of bigotry in the profession.
- Materially support the work of advocacy around issues of LGBTQ+ equality, and especially the work of those groups that advocate for the rights of queer and trans persons.
More broadly, we ask that those in positions of relative professional security and power call out anti-trans rhetoric and hold their colleagues to account. We call on philosophy departments to make explicit their support of trans and non-binary students and staff, and to support the work of LGBTQ+ organisers in their departments.
On behalf of the community, we are sincerely sorry to those who are hurt and affected by this talk and the presence of anti-trans bigotry in academic philosophy. We recognise that as a discipline, we have repeatedly failed to support trans and non-binary colleagues. We commit to doing more, speaking louder, and making our discipline a better place.
Note - at both MAP International and MAP UK we are working to do more in support of our trans colleagues. This statement is not adequate on its own. One next step we’re taking is to release a more general call to action later this week, and we welcome suggestions and support.