Once again: why is it okay to be transgender but not transracial?

You’ve probably heard of the fracas surrounding the publication of a paper by philosophy professor Rebecca Tuvel in the academic organ Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy (I discussed it here; see also here). Her paper was called “In defense of transracialism“, and you can get a copy if you’ve downloaded the free and legal application Unpaywall, which you should do. The paper examines the arguments supporting the acceptance of transgender people, and finds them similar to the arguments supporting acceptance of “transracial” people like Rachel Dolezal, who, though of white ancestry, claimed to be black. Tuvel concludes this:

In this article, I argue that considerations that support transgenderism extend to transracialism. Given this parity, since we should accept transgender individuals’ decisions to change sexes, we should also accept transracial individuals’ decisions to change races.

Now Tuvel doesn’t accept Dolezal’s own narrative, nor does she reject it. She considers it largely irrelevant to her philosophical argument, which is this (my words): “If society accepts gender as a social construct, and finds it permissible to change genders, why is it not permissible to changes races as well—race also being seen as a social construct?”  She considers four objections to society’s accepting transgenderism but not transracialism, and rejects all of them:

I will entertain four objections that maintain that an individual should not be able to change races: first, the idea that it is unacceptable to claim a black identity unless one has grown up with a black experience; second, the idea that society’s current understanding of race places limits on an individual’s (perhaps otherwise) legitimate claim to change race; third, the idea that identifying as a member of another race insults or otherwise harms members of that race; and finally, that it is a wrongful exercise of white privilege for a white person to cross into the black racial category, and that such crossing is therefore wrong.

I find her arguments convincing, though less convincing when she rejects the notion that people should also be able to consider themselves “otherkin” (members of other species) or as disabled when they aren’t disabled. But I have heard no good philosophical or moral argument that finds transgender people acceptable and transracial people unacceptable—so long as you see both race and gender as social constructs. If that is your feeling, then you can’t accept transgender identities and reject transracial identities. (I’ll leave aside the otherkin and “disabled-identifier” arguments.)

Tuvel’s article comprises a philosophical argument, one sympathetic to both transgender and transracial people.  Nevertheless. she was crucified for it, and for reasons having nothing to do with her arguments. (There’s even a Wikipedia article about the controversy.) Tuvel was excoriated for “deadnaming” Caitlyn Jenner (giving her pre-transition name, which Jenner herself does), for ignoring trans scholarship, and for promulgating hatred and violence—even though Tuvel was for transgender and transracial acceptance. Hundreds of academics sent an open letter to the journal, asking for the paper to be retracted.

The editors of Hypatia issued a craven apology, even though Tuvel’s paper passed peer review, with some editors saying they were sorry for causing “multiple harms.” And social justice advocates are tying themselves in knots trying to find ways to reject Tuvel’s paper without coming to grips with her arguments.

I’m sorry, but I totally reject the characterization of Tuvel’s article as harmful. It was a philosophical examination of moral positions, and was sympathetic to the marginalized people it discusses. The howls of outrage came simply from those who had already decided a priori that Caitlyn Jenner was okay but Rachel Dolezal was not, and resented Tuvel for her analysis saying they were both okay.

Bearing on this is an interesting piece in the April 20 New York Times (link below) in which people were asked to self-identify by race or ethnicity, and then were given DNA tests to determine what their genes said about them. (By the way, the results of those tests, which give race and ethnicity as identifiers—identifiers taken seriously by the subjects—suggest that those identifiers are something more than social constructs.)

Here’s Bernard from that article, who identifies as black but was shown by DNA testing to have less than 1% African ancestry. He was outraged because he identified as black. Would those scholars who excoriated Tuvel now tell Bernard that he’s not really black because of his genes? If so, then you’re accepting a non-social-construct definition of “black.” Or, if Bernard’s allowed to self-identify as black, why wasn’t Rachel Dolezal, who may have had more than 1% African ancestry (she wasn’t tested, as far as I know)? Or would they accept Bernard as black because he has 1% black genes, adhering to the “one drop rule” formerly used to promulgate segregation? What percentage of your genes must be black to identify as black? If it’s a social construct, zero.

I suspect that the pack of outraged scholars who went after Tuvel wouldn’t bat at eyelash at accepting Bernard as black, even though there’s no substantive difference between his ancestry and Dolezal’s. (Dolezal, by the way, was raised in a family with four adopted black children and married a black man, so there are also cultural rather than genetic roots.)

Tuvel’s article did what a good philosophy article should: stimulate discussion, and about important social issues. For that she’s been the recipient of hate mail and threats that she would be denied tenure if she pursued similar work. The people who criticized her for “transphobia” and “deadnaming” are reprehensible, and it’s a sad indictment of today’s outrage culture that an inquiry into the bases of our beliefs was deemed taboo.


For continuing news on HypatiaGate, go to this continually updated site.


  1. Bruce J. Cochrane
    Posted May 13, 2017 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    For a particularly embarrassing defense of the “open letter” see this in the Chronicle of Higher Education.


    The author is the chair of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department at Ohio State University; reader responses to the piece are well worth reading.

    • Harrison
      Posted May 13, 2017 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      The comment about seesawing back and forth between essentialism and identitarianism is spot on. There simply does not exist any sort of consistent line of argument, so it’s necessary to flip between two mutually incompatible forms of reasoning in order to support the conclusion you want at any particular time.

      In fact I believe there’s a word for that.

  2. Posted May 13, 2017 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    The Tuvel saga reveals that once one departs from reality and instead adopts ideology, such as “race and gender are purely social constructs”, then you’ll inevitably run into a mess of contradictions.

  3. Posted May 13, 2017 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    I’ve been reading Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture and for the most part it’s scientific and rational and – in the best sense of the word – materialistic – and then he gets to the chapter on gender and suddenly he brings in ‘poetic naturalism’ and starts asking ‘If a person has two X chromosomes and identifies as male, what of it?’ (p.142). And that leaves him entirely incapable of arguing against ‘species dysphoria’.

    It’s like gender has become another of Gould’s ‘non-overlapping magisteria’: a field of knowledge where we leave the epistemology that we employ in understanding the rest of reality at the door.

    It really is another religion.

    • Sshort
      Posted May 13, 2017 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      Excellent point.

    • somer
      Posted May 13, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      Carroll is good when he sticks to physics. Why is massive distortion combined with either massive naivety or aggression on any social issue so ingrained across society

  4. Randy schenck
    Posted May 13, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    The Bernard example would seem to indicate the culture and how you were raised is far more important than any DNA test. That is to say, your own mind is the clincher.

  5. Posted May 13, 2017 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    And I saw Myers joining the dog pile on Tuval and arguing there no such thing as a witch-hunt. How the hell can this guy teach biology? It’s bad enough that he teaches bullshit but kerb-stomping a junior academic woman in the name of feminism? Jesus wept.

    • Harrison
      Posted May 13, 2017 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      That group simultaneously insists that defining atheism as merely a disbelief in gods is “dictionary atheism,” but also that there’s no such thing as a “witch hunt” unless people are actually being stoned or burned based on accusations of witchcraft. They are very literal-minded in that regard, and if you call anything a witch hunt they will unironically say “well I don’t see any pitchforks.”

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted May 14, 2017 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      Do you mean PZ Myers?

      He was happy to curb stomp high school girls in the name of feminism back at the start of the elevatorgate drama.
      The real cause in fact, when Stef McGraw dared dissent from the feminist line and Watson lambasted her from a position of power.
      Myers backed her up on this.

  6. Sastra
    Posted May 13, 2017 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    My understanding from reading others on placenotnamed is that the significant difference between sex/gender and race is that the former is experienced from the inside by individuals, and the latter is imposed from the outside by society.

    It’s not a topic I’m well versed in, so I don’t think I could do a good job explaining it, defending it — or for that matter criticizing it. But that’s at least one argument.

    • Posted May 13, 2017 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      Yes, but one can argue that what sex you are transitioning from is based on your genes (whether you’re XX or XY), as is what “race” you’re leaving (call it “ethnic group” if you want, but transitioning between “races” involves moving from one genetic group to another that is perceived to be different).

      The difference is not significant, and even if “race” was imposed by society, which it is not, that’s an even better reason to condone transracialism.

      And remember, those people would reject Bernard’s claim to be black. Do you stand with them?

      • Posted May 13, 2017 at 11:04 am | Permalink

        I think there are plausible developmental reasons why someone might believe they belong to the opposite sex.

        Sexual development in the womb is uneven and I can imagine that the cognitive map of the body – the Penfield humonculus – or whatever doesn’t match the body. And if there are brain related behavioural differences – something feminists deny – these might mismatch too.

        Without being anywhere near an expert on the subject I can accept that may explain some gender dysphoria.

        On the other hand I don’t think there’s a cognitive map for cornrows or rap music. I don’t think there’s any biological basis for race dysphoria. That’s a purely psychological phenomena.

        • Posted May 13, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

          If your brain is changed by growing up with black people, as Dolezal’s might have been, then there’s no difference between the psychological and biological. Are you saying that Dolezal, if she was telling the truth about how she felt, has A CHOICE ABOUT FEELING BLACK? And that that imperative was less “real” than an imperative dictated by genes or hormones.

          Sorry, but at bottom it’s all biological, and nobody “chooses” how they feel. Your beef should be only whether Dolezal or transracialists like Bernard are telling the truth. I believe that Bernard, at least, is.

          • Posted May 13, 2017 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

            I was thinking in terms analogous to the condition that occurs to some children in the Dominican Republic where male sexual development fails to occur in the womb but occurs when ‘girls’ reach puberty and suddenly develop penises. These children are actually XY karyotype boys who had failed to develop normally.

            What I am suggesting is that the masculinisation of the foetus might cease before the brain fully develops leaving the child with a brain more typical of a girl.

            This would make transgenderism more of an intersex condition present at birth than a result of socialisation.

          • BJ
            Posted May 14, 2017 at 5:17 am | Permalink

            I largely agree that transgenderism and transracialism are very similar, but for the argument you just made, woulnd’t you need some data demonstrating that growing up among a certain group of people (in this case, a white person growing up around black people) can make changes in that persons brain that make them believe they were born in the wrong body racially? As far as I know, we don’t have any evidence of this, although I’d be happy to be enlightened if that’s not the case.

      • Sastra
        Posted May 13, 2017 at 11:06 am | Permalink

        If “race” is basically a social construct derived from colonialism (as this argument says) then wouldn’t this mean that no, Ben IS black. Has he benefited in any way from white privilege? Or has he always had to be wary of the police, suspicious shopkeepers, and the like?

        If chromosomes a d genes are discounted as a determinant of sex/gender, the a transsexual individual is not really changing their sex/gender, they’re only changing the way society labels them.

        I do see problems with this argument, but it’s not necessarily inconsistent with itself.

        Apparently this is the standard model accepted by the experts in Gender Studies. The philosopher Tuval is being compared to someone who “asks interesting questions ” about evolution without first checking with evolutionary biologists, in order to find out if it’s really an interesting question or not.

        • Posted May 13, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

          If “race” is basically a social construct derived from colonialism (as this argument says) then wouldn’t this mean that no, Ben IS black. Has he benefited in any way from white privilege? Or has he always had to be wary of the police, suspicious shopkeepers, and the like?

          If a black person who looks white can have ‘passing privilege’ because they are taken to be white then a white person who looks black can certainly have black disprivilege.

          If racist cops are targeting black people, who is more likely to be arrested – a black guy who looks white or a white guy who looks black? The cops aren’t going to wait for DNA results. Nor is a prospective employer.

          • Sastra
            Posted May 13, 2017 at 11:45 am | Permalink

            That’s a good point, and I’m not sure how it would be answered, though I suspect a lot of factors are thought to go into constructing “race.” Though the same thing could be said about sex/gender.

            To me, one of the most salient issues in the debate is that being a woman seems to be linked with feeling “feminine,” and being a man equated with feeling “masculine.” I’m not surprised that at least some feminists bristle at that one.

            • Posted May 13, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

              I think this is the issue that people like Ophelia Benson has. If someone says they are female because they are nurturing or male because they prefer sports they are confirming stereotypes rather than challenging them. If you are male but like to dress up what’s wrong with being a dandy? If you are a girl and like climbing trees what’s wrong with being a tomboy? Men can like things more associated with being female and women can like things associated with being male. That’s more of a ‘gender spectrum’ than changing your identity to one society expects.

              • somer
                Posted May 13, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink


              • Sastra
                Posted May 13, 2017 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

                I have heard that there’s a study which indicated that individuals who were raised in a culture which was fully accepting of homosexuality almost never identified as the opposite sex. The theory was that transsexuals are reacting not to an inner identity as the “wrong” sex, but to a culture which has prepared them to think that genders involved specific behavior.

                The study was strongly criticized, though whether it was for bad science or bad conclusion, I don’t know.

              • Posted May 13, 2017 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

                The incidences of transgenderism seems to be higher in countries where it is permitted but homosexuality is not. I think this supports what Sastra suggests.

      • Posted May 13, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

        as is what “race” you’re leaving (call it “ethnic group” if you want, but transitioning between “races” involves moving from one genetic group to another that is perceived to be different).

        I am confused. As I understand it, “race” is a property that lay people assign to other humans. The racial variance in this sense is almost completely morphological. However, I also think that “race” in this sense has little to do with definition and application of race as a purely biological concept.

        So what does transracialism even mean if a “white” person wants to transform to another kind of “white”? (Can an Arab become a Nordic??) Is there a real way for a person to change their genes to be most similar to a population group in a given geographical coordinate? If not, then what does transracialism hopes to achieve?

        In short, my argument is:
        Dividing humans to two broad categories (man and woman) makes more scientific sense than dividing them into “races” (in the sense that lay people believe in). Therefore, transgender is a thing, transracial is not.

        • Posted May 14, 2017 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

          It seems that people are actually expressing a desire for “transculturalism” where the cultures are tied to local demographics loosely coupled with skin colour. The heat in what would otherwise be an innocuous desire is in “judging the book by the cover (color)”

  7. Posted May 13, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Another book I am reading at the moment is Simon Ings’ Stalin and the Scientists. It’s a fascinating history of the considerable scientific achievements and utter insanity of the scientific community in Soviet Russia. We saw there the same denial of biology and the subjugation of psychology to ideology we are now seeing in the West. At least the Soviet scientists could claim to have been forced into it – which makes the opposition of the dissidents even more heroic. Westerners are embracing this claptrap when they have so many other options.

  8. biz
    Posted May 13, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Ok, we know the SJWs/far-left desperately cling to a logically inconsistent and indefensible position – that believing that your gender phenotype doesn’t align with your mental identity is great but believing that your racial phenotype doesn’t align with your mental identity is awful.

    But my question is why? Why have they chosen these particular ludicrous positions, and why do they defend them in such a totalitarian manner?

    Here’s my hypothesis: On the one hand, SJWs/far-left (and even the fringe of the mainstream left) are quite enthusiastic to destroy any semblance of what they perceive as a traditional family structure (only American traditional family structure of course – traditional Muslim family structures are to be encouraged). Transgenderism certainly challenges traditional family structure by creating a category neither fully male nor female. So they need transgenderism.

    However, -transracialsm- on the other hand contains the seeds of something that completely destroys the SJW/left worldview. SJWs/left desperately cling to the idea that America is a singularly awful place due to racism. The idea that an individual like Rachel Dolezal would -prefer- to be black rather than white in our society for the social and coolness benefits flies directly in the face of this. If America is such an unquestionably awful place to be nonwhite, why would people prefer to be just that? SJWs/left cannot allow this to happen.

  9. Ullrich Fischer
    Posted May 13, 2017 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I have an idea: Instead of referring to these self-deluding folks as Social Justice Warriors, as seems to be the habit of many progressives who have not been sucked into the regressive left ambit, let’s refer to them as “Ideology before Evidence” folks or IBEs. The ideology they promote seems to actually militate against Social Justice and, in fact, seems to give totally undeserved credibility to the Trump/Breitbart/Fox News lie machines. The IBE designation also highlights the glaring similarity between the regressive left and the Christian and Islamic right when it comes to critical thinking (or lack thereof).

  10. jeffery
    Posted May 13, 2017 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    People who claim to be “disabled”, to the extent of living in a wheelchair to the point where their legs atrophy, or having perfectly good limbs amputated ARE, indeed, “disabled”- mentally!

  11. Posted May 13, 2017 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    I think Tuvel’s paper is an interesting one.

    Regarding the first objection she addresses, that it’s unacceptable to claim a different identity than what you were born with because you didn’t have the experience of growing up with that identity, I think her analysis misses some aspects of the idea.

    There is current controversy around Bill C-16 in Canada to amend the Human Rights Act to ensure greater protection to transgendered individuals, with the controversy coming partly from Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter. Their objections stem from the first issue addressed in Tuvel’s paper. VRR says:

    “Female-born women and people who were born male and self-identify as women have different life experiences. I don’t know what it means to ‘feel like a woman’ — I know what it is to be a girl and to be a woman, and the experiences and the feelings I have because I am a woman…. We know the embarrassment of having our clothes stained with blood from our period, the anxiety of facing an unwanted pregnancy and the fear of being raped, and we know the comfort of grouping with other women.”

    VRR blocked a post-operative trans woman from volunteering as a front-line rape counsellor because of this, and I think their argument has some merit to it. There are physical realities of growing up biologically female that could be important to have experienced in that line of work, notably the anxiety of unwanted pregnancy and the realities of menstruation. I cannot think of any analogue to this in a transracial case.

    I do think Tuvel’s argument is good overall, but the above is one example of how I think transgenderism and transracialism are different.

    • Posted May 13, 2017 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      I think rape counselling was the final straw for Julie Bindel. It’s one thing to argue about pronouns or bathrooms but at some point you have to ask who’s emotional wellbeing is more important – a transwoman seeking validation for her sense of identity or a woman who has been raped? In this case the transwoman should look elsewhere. If you can’t put your clients feelinga above your own you are in the wrong job.

  12. Rob
    Posted May 13, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I wish people could just live the way they want without having to block out an identity. Be who you are, study what you want, follow the career you desire, live where you want, etc. In other words, I want to be who I am without conforming to any one else’s expectations, nor having to redefine who I am. (Perhaps I’m missing the point.)

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted May 13, 2017 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

      I would like this too.

      The trouble is, we’re not living in a world that’s anything like that and so we have to deal with all this other stuff.

      It’s been beyond me from the start how a philosophical argument in a philosophical journal has led people to act this way. Surely discussing the tough questions is what philosophy is all about? If even the philosophers aren’t allowed to do it anymore, we’re screwed.

      At it’s root, I see this as an attack on freedom of speech, thought, and expression.

      The case of Ben shows that race can be a social construct. Ben will not be vilified because he didn’t do it in a way that others see as deliberate. Rachel Dolezal has been judged by others who don’t know what’s going on in her head to have been deliberately dishonest. She, therefore, gets the vilification treatment.

  13. Posted May 13, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    How do they define “Hispanic” genes? Of all the arguments that race is a social construct, the fact that people consider”Hispanic” a race is to me the most convincing. Is an Argentinian with German ancestry Hispanic? A Mexican with mostly Spanish ancestry? A descendant of the Mayans? How much African DNA is needed to be Hispanic? Do Cubans count? What about Brazilians, are they Hispanic?

    • DrBrydon
      Posted May 13, 2017 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      The argument has been made that Hispanic should not be a race, that descendants of Spanish and Portuguese immigrants are European, and, therefore, Caucasian. Descendants of Mayans would be Native Americans.

    • loren russell
      Posted May 13, 2017 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      Since the breakdown typically resolves “Native American and “[subSaharan] African, ‘Hispanic’ here could only be meaningful in a DNA test if it specifies Iberian Peninsula ancestry.

      Bernard’s DNA profile is probably quite frequent among descendants of early Spanish colonization in the New World, which included many ‘moriscos’, people with a mix of Iberian and Arab and/or Sephardic Jewish ancestry. If he lived in southern Spain today, it’s my belief that he might be profiled as possibly but not necessarily a [recent] North African immigrant, but probably not as sub-Saharan African.

      • Posted May 13, 2017 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

        It seems rather arbitrary to call all of Europe “European” except Spain and Portugal, which are “Hispanic.” No matter how you slice it, “Hispanic” makes no sense as a “race.”

    • Razib
      Posted May 15, 2017 at 7:44 am | Permalink

      i think the tests are fake or not robust. the ‘hispanic’ category is a tell.

      what company is doing these tests? how are they doing them?

  14. nicky
    Posted May 13, 2017 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    What goes for the trans gander should go for the white goose 🙂

  15. geckzilla
    Posted May 13, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I knew a woman in high school who wanted to be black, or seemingly wanted to be… I recall she was taunted mercilessly when she had a weave put in and it fell out due to the nature of her straight hair. I always had a difficult time liking her because of other reasons, but there was no good reason for any of us to belittle her for what she wanted, awkward as it was. Our school had a much higher ratio of black to white people than many other schools in the area, and cultures readily overlapped where possible, even if skin color didn’t necessarily do the same.

  16. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 13, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    I think this is based in part on a particular form of resentment: that, after all this time putting up with white privilege (which is a real thing), non-white people have finally managed to carve out their own privileged niche based on their minority status (at least in one corner of academia), only to have white people now threatening to barge in and arrogate for themselves even that meager form of privilege, too.

    I think that resentment is understandable. But that don’t make it right, or make it intellectually honest, either.

  17. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 13, 2017 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never identified as black (and can’t contemplate doing so with a straight face), but, ever since I was a kid tuning into the strains of soul music on the radio waves bounding out of the Motor City, I’ve identified with black culture. Other minority cultures, too, especially Jews, Italians, Irish, Hispanic. Most every group, really, except for WASPs. I’m sorry, but those people smell funny — too much Pine-Sol, not enough garlic.

    Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I wanna deny them the vote, or put their kids in segregated schools or anything. Hell, I’ve even gotten used to sharing drinking fountains with ’em.

    • Posted May 13, 2017 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      There were almost no WASPs where I grew up (the suburbs of NYC, where everyone’s parents were born in the Bronx, Brooklyn, or Queens and moved out to the ‘burbs). I only heard about WASPs as some mythical creature from west of the Hudson, or the Upper East Side. It wasn’t until college that I realized it’s atypical to live in a place where almost everyone is either black, Puerto Rican, Haitian, Chinese, Irish, Italian, or Jewish. Or some combination of these.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted May 13, 2017 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, you New Yorkers used to be lucky in that your undesirable WASP population was largely confined to the old-money masters-of-the-universe on the Upper East Side. But now, an infestation of hipster vermin has swept eastward from the Village, across downtown, and over the bridges into Brooklyn Heights and Williamsburg. 🙂

  18. David Duncan
    Posted May 13, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    According to the “one drop rule” Bernard *is* black.

    • Posted May 13, 2017 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      Who isn’t? Maybe we should all take that test.

    • Posted May 13, 2017 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      According to the “one drop rule” we all should be considered black if our origins were Africa
      however many millennia ago. Even “blacks” and “whites” are mongrels, mixtures of black, white, brown, yellow, red, etc. Mixtures of cultures as well. Mixtures of countries of origin as well. Most of us do not know our lineage far enough back to be aware of all the diversity we contain. Racial purity is not real.

      Except for the necessity of reproducing (so far) which requires male and female (or sperm and ova), all other preferences, appearances, behaviors and activities should remain at the discretion of the individual. There is no need for other human beings to have a say in it other than to form an opinion and, then, mind their own business.

  19. Posted May 13, 2017 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Biology, or more generally “nature” is a platform on which anything else, including the social, rests. We can build something high, and even attach crannies, towers and platforms to the side, but only to a certain point. With ingenuity, we get better at expanding the natural foundation. This is what I believe to be a core realist assumption, a fact, for which it is perverse to withold assent.

    We also create, expand and abstractize categories through constant association-making, which lies at the core of our cognition — we cannot help ourselves. The thing before the blinking of the eye needs to be identified as the “same thing” a moment later. If we want to make sense of anything, we need to transfer lessons learned from “one type of thing” to the next instance of the “same” kind of thing. This is survival.

    From this arise tiny idealized models about reality, and they form a graded landscape: some birds are more “typical”, “birdier” than others. Robin beats penguin. Human groups, too, however they arise, soon release so-called prototypes. The typical rapper. The typical Brit, and of course the typical men, or woman. This principle is known as prototype theory, and at least the core assumptions are established knowledge (though other aspects are controversial). They are also the reason for stereotypes, and prejudice which can attach itself to any category, and may be unwarranted (pre-judice as prior to experience). This is in my view the beginning of a model-dependent view on the world, which distinguishes between maps and territory. Together with the above, this leads to a model-dependent realism.

    A queer person, whatever their inner state, could be described as somebody who wants to be perceived as different from the prototypes that otherwise rest in everybodies mind. A transperson is someone who wants to move towards, and be perceived as belonging to some other (dimorphic species – the other) prototype.

    Because of the way this works, and humans being a social species, there are several mechanisms that cause even “free choice” (or “nurture”) to converge. For example, consider the average boy thinking something is “manly” then trying to move himself towards this prototype — now an ideal — believing this is what the girls want. As I see this, prototypes become attractors. They are not imposed by Teh Patriarchy.

    Note that none of this is jeopardized by changing attitudes, local customs, culturally different prototypes (i.e. masculinity in some isolated tribes). You can easily picture a genderqueer Massai, as doing the same kind of perception-maneuvre, or a transperson in such cultures.

    With subcultures, something similar happens, and they too have prototypical “identifiers”, whether you look at punks, mods, headbangers or various “black” subcultures in the US. The only difference is that some identifiers are locked down by phenotype, i.e. appearance, and that if a subculture is prevalent enough will constitute the prototype, and thereby charge it up as a stereotype. I.e. if in your culture only gingers can be part of the ginger subculture, and are often pushed into it (othered), or encouraged, then this ginger subculture will over time determine the common views about red-headed persons, whether they are part of that subculture or not. In the US, this seems to be what is called “race” and it has ultimately little to do with genetics. Biology is only the “gate” and identifying mechanism, everything else (important) is social. Natural differences are emphasized for racist reasons, and are either trivial, unimportant, or cultural-in-disguise (cf. Flynn Effect).

    In my view, the difference, on the face of it, is only acceptance and gate-keepers that protect their imaginary categorical domain.

    We should be more mindful of the role of perception and cognition rather than biology, genes or hard-to-explain “inner states”. Aeons ago, people will have seen “the other” without any idea why they are different. Nobody knew of “races” or “genes” and people still saw the European explorer as “different” from their vantage point. We should also keep in mind that we can’t escape heuristics (things of thar type have properties A,M,Z), and perceptions that easily. It’s not racist to assume someone with a certain appearance is e.g. Chinese, of African origin etc.

    “Difference” is at the end of the day a matter of cognition, not merely biology. But closing the bracket, of course differences have had primalily physical, natural reasons (hence our faculties evolved as helping us survive), and will always be anchored in material reality. We will always see “the blonde” over there, and identify “the tall guy” and nature imposes its limits. You cannot be perceived as anything you want, but we have to see that supposed genetic (etc) differences are overplayed. If you look and act the part, you can play the part, which means you ARE that way. Authenticity is overrated.

  20. Jenny Haniver
    Posted May 13, 2017 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    Re PCCE’s comment above, according to Dolezal’s recently published memoir, her “brain was changed” by reading National Geographic, not much by growing up in some African American environment (though when she was a teenager, her parents adopted three black children). I have not (yet) read her book and don’t know if I will. To be fair, here are the relevant quotes in context from the Washington Post: “Where did Dolezal’s identification with blackness originate? She writes that ‘the way I saw myself was instinctual, coming from some place deep inside of me.’ As a child, she ‘felt Black and saw myself as Black.’ She drew herself in brown crayon instead of peach because ‘I felt like brown suited me better and was prettier.’ Feelings of innate blackness gave way to fetishized escape fantasies in the context of a traumatic home life: “I would pretend to be a dark-skinned princess in the Sahara Desert or one of the Bantu women living in the Congo I’d read about in copies of National Geographic.'” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/when-saying-youre-black-and-being-black-are-two-different-things/2017/03/24/d41a6590-0a4b-11e7-93dc-00f9bdd74ed1_story.html

    Whatever one wants to say about the ‘legitimacy’ of her status as transracial (according to Wikipedia, she also identifies as Arab and Jewish. What next! Go for it all, girl!) The po’ chile certainly has no free will. Given the totality of what I’ve read about her (not just about her racial identification), including her own words (she gets in a lot of trouble for other misrepresentations), I think she has psychiatric problems. But none of that vitiates Tuvel’s argument, whether one is comfortable with it or Dolezal, or not.

    And re Bernard’s DNA test, in discussing things trans (racial and sexual), where are the intersexed in all this? If one’s DNA contains no traces of African ancestry, and that person identified as black, that would be compared with transsexuality; if one was of mixed heritage, wouldn’t that properly be compared with intersexuality? (Or should I be using “to” instead of “with”?)

  21. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 13, 2017 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    Well, I’m mostly sympathetic with the caveat that some transgendered folk felt from a very early age that they are different from their assigned gender, and I tend to think an identification with a race other than the obvious one may come later in life.

    You can also qualify identities, as saying I am “culturally” so-and-so or with less strength have empathy with without going for a full identification.

    I spent five years of my life (1968-1973) living in a dominantly Jewish neighborhood and while I became very philo-semitic as a result, but without joining a synagogue I would not consider identifying as Jewish.

    I spent seven years of my life (2003-2010) living in Berkeley in which it worked out that most all of my social circle was gay. When Richard Dawkins said he was “culturally Christian”, I asked a friend if that meant I could say I was “culturally gay”. He answered in the affirmative, thinking my fondness for Judy Garland, campy drama, and Broadway musicals was enough of an in. But I still don’t claim to be just plain vanilla (straight???) gay.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 13, 2017 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

      If Sammy Davis, Jr., could be a Jew, you could be a Jew, too, JLH.

      As for the gay thing, unless you’re ready to head over to the Castro and suck some … ah, well, never mind about that right now.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 13, 2017 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

        Well Jewishness complicates things horribly since it is both a race (or is it?) and a religion, and the overlap between the two leads to confusion. It could be called the reductio ad absurdum of the ‘identity’ question.

        Does someone who converts to the Jewish religion become a Jew? If they leave it, do they cease to be Jewish? (And if so, what constitutes a ‘secular Jew’, it seems a little oxymoronic, like a Catholic atheist).


  22. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted May 13, 2017 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    “the idea that it is unacceptable to claim a black identity unless one has grown up with a black experience;”

    Well, I think claiming a black identity is bogus unless one was born black, though anyone is perfectly entitled to live as a ‘black’ if they wish. But a lot of it hinges on how you interpret the word ‘identity’.

    But more to the point, what the heck does a ‘black experience’ mean? The experience of a black man in Mississippi, or Hawaii, or Jamaica, or Uganda, or Ethiopia, are going to be so different they have nothing in common. Or are Jamaicans and Ugandans and Ethiopians deemed to be not-true-blacks for the purposes of identity?


    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 14, 2017 at 5:51 am | Permalink

      Or are Jamaicans and Ugandans and Ethiopians deemed to be not-true-blacks for the purposes of identity?

      That sounds so utterly ridiculous that the papers defending that position are probably in press already.
      The only thing I find moderately surprising from this is that I’d probably carry a higher proportion of Afro-Asian genes than “Bernard” – by a factor of 2 to 4 – on the basis of either a great-grand or great-great grand of Caribbean descent, some time in the late 1800s.

  23. Dan
    Posted May 14, 2017 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    If I self-identify as white, do I automatically get “white privilege”? How does white privilege work? Do we get discounts and freebies at Costco? More free miles flying Southwest? No longer being called a friendly little island person?

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 14, 2017 at 4:24 am | Permalink

      No, “white privilege” means that, when you go to Costco, you’re more likely to be treated as a customer, rather than a shoplifter.

  24. Amelia
    Posted May 14, 2017 at 4:40 am | Permalink

    After reading this I had a hypothetical question; if a white child was adopted by a black family and thus being immersed in their culture, would that make them, in some way, rightful to adopt a black identity?

    • ladyatheist
      Posted May 14, 2017 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

      Eminem comes to mind

  25. Alex Gee
    Posted May 14, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Where does one stand when ones only race

    is “Human” ?

    I always “Human” as the answer to any

    question about race. The sooner we

    appreciate that’s what race we really are,

    the better for all.

    In the same way that “yes please” is the

    only logical answer to the question SEX?_____

  26. Cristian Mancilla
    Posted May 14, 2017 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for writing this, Jerry. I feel that these reactions against Tuvel rise as a threat on philosophical reflection and inquiry. One commonly thinks of freedom of speech in these cases—it’s true and relevant to acknowledge the freedom of speech issue, but this shouldn’t obscure that of philosphical inquiry. The development of reason and of science largely depends on the freedom we allow philosophical inquiry to explore without limitation every aspect of the human world and its surroundings.

  27. ladyatheist
    Posted May 14, 2017 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    We are all of 100% African heritage! The rest is a series of mutations.

    Since hormones play a role in gender identity, I would argue that it’s never wholly cultural. Both sexes live in the same culture, so how could culture be the determining factor in gender identity? If a guy doesn’t have the receptor for testosterone in his brain he may indeed feel less like a “man” biologically, so I can sort of accept trans people as biologically different … NOT culturally different! If culture were the most important thing they wouldn’t identify with the opposite sex! They’d conform to their culture.

    I have to wonder if these Nazis have considered all those Chinese babies brought to the U.S. Are they Chinese or “American”? And what about all those kids adopted by Angelina Jolie? None of them is experiencing the poverty and deprivation of their “culture.”

    I recommend Dave Chappelle’s sketch about “Clayton Bigsby,” the blind black man who was raised in a white racist home and doesn’t know he’s black.

    • Posted May 15, 2017 at 6:54 am | Permalink

      Excellent comment. I’m not emotionally opposed to transracialism, as most liberals seem to be, nor even intellectually opposed, but I still think transracialism is not interchangeable with being transgender, & I think you hit the nail on the head as to why that is. I think that a lot of transgender people are actually intersex to some degree, at least in terms of brain development & hormone sensitivity.

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