Meet Rebecca Tuvel. She’s an assistant professor at Rhodes College, and she had the temerity to publish an essay in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, asking a simple question about Rachel Dolezal and Caitlyn Jenner: what’s the difference? More specifically, Tuvel asked why society would accept the concept of transgenderism but not transracialism – the notion that a biological man could rightly and justifiably identify a woman but not that a white woman could identify as a black woman. Tuvel observed mildly, “Considerations that support transgenderism seem to apply equally to transracialism.”
All hell broke loose: Tuvel had spoken the truth no one may speak and remain in favor on the left. And so she was destroyed. Essay after essay emerged condemning her for her failure to ignore such an obvious question. Some 500 professors signed an open letter to Hypatia protesting the essay, and enumerating the problems with the essay:
1. It uses vocabulary and frameworks not recognized, accepted, or adopted by the conventions of the relevant subfields; for example, the author uses the language of “transgenderism” and engages in deadnaming a trans woman;
2. It mischaracterizes various theories and practices relating to religious identity and conversion; for example, the author gives an off-hand example about conversion to Judaism;
3. It misrepresents leading accounts of belonging to a racial group; for example, the author incorrectly cites Charles Mills as a defender of voluntary racial identification;
4. It fails to seek out and sufficiently engage with scholarly work by those who are most vulnerable to the intersection of racial and gender oppressions (women of color) in its discussion of “transracialism”. We endorse Hypatia’s stated commitment to “actively reflect and engage the diversity within feminism, the diverse experiences and situations of women, and the diverse forms that gender takes around the globe,” and we find that this submission was published without being held to that commitment.
First off, no essay is obligated to use the language approved by those who abide by a partisan point of view on an issue in question. If she had written a paper on illegal immigration, she would not have been obligated to use the term “undocumented immigrant.” Using transgender conventions in the paper would not have changed the underlying point, nor would it have done anything to salve the wounds of those who hated the essay.
Second, as an Orthodox Jew, I can say that the essay characterizes Judaism’s view of conversion quite properly.
Finally, the notion that you have to quote people who disagree with your argument approvingly is asinine. You don’t have to quote a transgender writer to disagree with the premise that transgenderism and transracialism are similar phenomena. This is just idea policing garbed in academic-speak. As Jesse Singal of New York Magazine wrote at the time, “This Is What A Modern-Day Witch Hunt Looks Like.” Singal points out that Tuvel isn’t denying transgender identity – she actually advocates for it. “This is a witch hunt. There has simply been an explosive amount of misinformation circulating online about what is and isn’t in Tuvel’s article, which few of her most vociferous critics appear to have even skimmed, based on their inability to accurately describe its contents,” Singal writes.
Yet Hypatia apologized for publishing the article.
This is how women’s studies destroys its credibility. It’s how critical race theorists destroy their credibility. More broadly, it’s how academia destroys its credibility.