The Trans/Gender Debates in Philosophy: A New Look for Old Views

In a recent post, I asserted that feminist philosophers must work harder to integrate analyses of ableism into their interventions in the ongoing debates in philosophy about gender and transgender (and in their feminist philosophical work more generally). I pointed out that heretofore interventions in the debates thus far have largely (I could have said almost entirely) separated the apparatuses of sex and gender from other apparatuses of power with which they are mutually constitutive and reinforcing.

When feminist arguments fail to account for ableism, racism, ageism, and classism, among other apparatuses, these arguments must be recognized for the role that they serve in the perpetuation of hierarchies and exclusions in philosophy and elsewhere and thus be aptly challenged.

Must feminist philosophers be reminded that one is never simply a gender or gendered but rather is always also subjected in accordance with the apparatuses of disability, race, nationality, age, and class (among others)? Must feminist philosophers be reminded that analyses of power relations that isolate gender from other axes of power reconsolidate, reproduce, and reconfigure the very ableism, racism, classism, and ageism that they tendentiously attempt to conceal?

We need to ask why the gender/transgender debates in philosophy have gone on for so long in the way that they have, that is, by decontextualizing gender and the ensuing discussions about it. Does the decontextualization of gender in these discussions serve a purpose or purposes? Is that purpose (or purposes) pernicious inasmuch as it precludes from consideration certain questions, issues, or states of affairs?

Why, for instance, hasn’t either side (yes, there are two clearly delineated sides) raised the issue of personal attendant services that many disabled women use? Why haven’t “gender critical” feminists been concerned about the safety of disabled women in these interactions? Why don’t their opponents make any effort to refute potential concerns about the safety of disabled women who have trans women attendants assigned to them? Have feminist philosophers once again conveniently overlooked the fact that disabled women (however gendered and racialized) are sexually abused and assaulted at several times the rate that nondisabled women? Do they even know that caregivers are often the perpetrators of this violence?

I want to argue that the decontextualization of these debates does indeed serve a purpose (or purposes). My argument is that with the gender/transgender debates in philosophy, feminist philosophers whose work focuses (almost) exclusively on gender and sex, that is, feminist philosophers who are not specialists in how sex/gender is built through and with other apparatuses of power have found a new way to keep the discussion in feminist contexts squarely on gender (and sex) alone and keep at bay more complicated analyses of gender/sex and their imbrication in other apparatuses of power. We know how these respective analyses roughly line up demographically.

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