Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Antioch Review Publishes Transphobic Article; Here's What Happens Next

So this has been a big story on my social media feed today. For those not in the know, here is a summary of what happened:

1) The academic literary magazine The Antioch Review recently published an article called "The Sacred Androgen: The Transgender Debate," by Daniel Harris.

2) Trans people found it to be highly transphobic for a plethora of reasons, which are smartly and succinctly explained in this open letter signed by hundreds of Writers, Editors, and Librarians.  [note added 5-6-16: I originally attributed this open letter to The Seattle Review of Books, but it turns out they were merely boosting the signal]

3) Antioch College (who publishes the journal) released a statement that, while not condoning the article and its sentiments, nevertheless expressed that they "have confidence in the Review’s editor and editorial process."

This is the story so far. But as a longtime trans activist, I'm pretty sure that I know where this is all eventually heading. So here are my predictions, in no particular order:

  • Daniel Harris's (completely invented off the top of his head) theories about transgender identity are bound to become incorporated into Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminist ideology. They will also be heavily cited by transphobic social conservatives, despite the fact that they and Harris probably have nothing at all in common besides their mutual disgust of trans people.
  • Some combination of Paul McHugh, Alice Dreger, Michelle Goldberg, and/or Dan Savage will weigh in on the matter, even if nobody asks them to.
  • Antioch College will eventually soften their stance and/or express regret for the publication of the piece. They do, after all, have a nondiscrimination policy that explicitly includes gender identity. And there will be numerous calls for apologies from both within and outside their institution.
  • Regardless of whether or not Antioch College walks this back, there will likely be a series of reaction pieces, at least one of which (if not more) will appear in The Atlantic. These will likely do one or some of the following:
  • They will hem and haw about whether Harris's article actually constitutes "transphobia" - I mean, what does that word even mean? It's not like Harris was literally beating up trans people or firing them from their jobs while he was writing it!
  • They will portray transgender activists as some kind of existential threat, even though we make up a mere 0.2% of the population, plus we are the ones often living in actual real-life fear. Also, those who paint us as a threat will surely ignore the far larger numbers of cisgender people who agree with us that the piece was highly transphobic.
  • They will portray this as an assault on the academy or academic freedom. Those who express this deep concern for academic writing and research will hypocritically be unconcerned that Harris's article (published in an academic publication) completely ignored the large body of academic and otherwise worthwhile trans literature, and instead relied entirely on pop culture references, Craig's List ads, and salacious stories to provide the basis for his critique of transgender people.
  • Other reaction pieces will dismiss this as yet another example of the internet outrage machine, or overly sensitive millennials, or censorship, or political correctness - and I will be driven to pen yet another How to Write a “Political Correctness Run Amok” Article to point out their shortcomings . . .
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