You know whose breathless histrionics I haven’t enjoyed in a while? Jesse Singal’s.
I’ll share a little bit about Singal’s background here, because there’s a lot to unpack in Singal’s latest masterwank, “This is What a Modern Day Witch Hunt Looks Like” (a decidedly not burned cis white woman, apparently).
Back when Singal first started cluelessly meandering into trans issues, virtually every trans feminist academic I read approached him with kiddie gloves. Julia Serano gave an interview with him to help orient his slant on a Ken Zucker piece in relation to empirical evidence–he declined to use any of the information she provided. Same thing with Parker Molloy, who goes to great lengths to avoid calling Singal transphobic despite his omission of Molloy’s attempt to introduce the evidence to him. A blogger by the pseudonym of Cerberus has meticulously documented Singal’s foray into trans issues, and spends several years trying to patiently explain the sheer amount of denialism necessary to maintain the opinions Singal defends. Kelley Winters has tried to inform Singal (multiple times). Cristan Williams has tried to inform Singal. Zinnia Jones has tried to inform Singal. Casey Plett has tried to inform Singal. I’ve tried to inform Singal.
So I want to make it abundantly clear that Jesse Singal has had ample opportunity for respectful dialogue with trans feminists and gender psychiatrists, multiple offers of delicate hand-holding from advocates across multiple platforms of media, and dozens of attempts to offer clearer information for the purposes of his journalism.
It’s only under this context that I am now certain in saying Jesse Singal has exhausted any claim to good-faith argumentation. Singal is lying. More importantly, he knows he’s lying.
That brings us to Singal’s “witch hunt,” notably absent of any fires and show-trials constructed through Catch-22s and loaded misogyny. Rebecca Tuvel managed to get a dubiously sourced-and-argued article published in Hypatia comparing Rachel Dolezal’s bastardization of “transracialism” to gender variance (“transgenderism,” as the cis insist on calling it). Tuvel has, not without reason, taken some flack for it. Trans academics–you know, the people that actually study and live this stuff–still struggle to have our work taken seriously, especially in academic contexts, but hey, if you’re cis and have the right stamp on your certificate, you can coast straight through the uncritical editorial vision of (also cis) feminist editors. But Jesse Singal thinks our objections to Hypatia‘s publishing of Tuvel’s piece to be a witch hunt.
Cue my esteemed colleague, Crip Dyke, emphasis added by me:
While sexism pervades many witch hunts, from my limiting reading it seems like it does not always do so, at least not primarily. It seems to target outsiders and the vulnerable. In the article above, although I excerpted Mary’s story, young boys (especially) and also boys up to the edge of adolescence are also commonly targeted. A while back when I was doing reading on this topic I came across something that I can’t seem to find again. The substance, however, was that the people in a certain region had good evidence of the reliability of their religious rituals that “find” witches or “prove” witchcraft. What evidence of reliability, you ask? It was that the magical witch-hunters who performed the magic rituals always named someone that those in area already found suspicious: it never found witchcraft among the popular and powerful.
So what was it that inspired Singal’s latest piece? Was Tuvel tarred, feathered, dragged through the streets? Put on trial for crimes she couldn’t possibly have committed, her lack of popularity cited as evidence, chained to a stake and executed in one of the most inhumane ways conceivable?
No. In fact, Singal’s theatric self-flagellation was sparked by a mildly-worded open letter from academics.
While it is not the aim of this letter to provide an exhaustive list of problems that this article exhibits or to provide a critical response, we would like to note a few points that are indicative of the larger issues. We believe that this article falls short of scholarly standards in various areas:
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.
“We believe that this article falls short of scholarly standards in various areas” is apparently equivalent in Jesse Singal’s mind to “Burn the witch!” That Hypatia’s editors nonetheless accepted Tuvel’s paper is not seen as evidence that academic transphobia is in fact quite mainstream and popular; instead the fact that anyone at all has objected to its representation is all the reason Jesse needs to proclaim victimhood on behalf of her.
Tuvel’s article wasn’t even retracted. It’s still there, in all its (embarrassing) glory.
Indeed, that Tuvel has received online abuse from anonymous commentators (who doesn’t, as a woman?) serves as a convenient bait-and-switch for Singal–who, just paragraphs prior, was chastising academics for relating transphobic speech to transphobic violence. Now, suddenly, the academic objections describing scholastic inadequacies of Tuvel’s piece are equivalent to the YouTube comments section.
I don’t envy Tuvel her un-asked-for fame, nor do I appreciate that anonymous commentators threatening violence are distracting from the legitimate criticisms to be found in this entire debacle. But turning these academic concerns into “vicious attacks” serves ironically to undermine the very critical dialogue that academics claim to be supporting.
That’s saying that only the trans-antagonistic line can be towed, and no matter how delicately you phrase your opposition to it, you’re just a march-in-lockstep cultural marxist, the Worst of the Regressive Left, if you say otherwise.
But this is Singal’s entire shtick, see.
It’s not Dr. Kenneth Zucker’s fault his career is in ruins due to a fatally flawed methodology which informed his clinic’s practice; it’s all the fault of those hysterical, shrieking harpies pushing the insidious anti-Real Science™ “trans agenda” on children.
It’s not Dr. Alice Dreger’s fault her painfully obvious axe to grind got her book, Galileo’s Middle Finger, pulled from the Lambda Literary Awards, it’s the fault of those evil “activists” who are against “the principles of truth, accuracy, and fairness.”
And it’s not Rebecca Tuvel’s fault that she has done the academic equivalent of walking into a glass pane door, it’s the fault of the rest of the room for noticing she did it.
The irony of it all? Tuvel’s banal nonsense wouldn’t have even come to my attention, if not for Singal helpfully prostrating himself on her behalf.
No, in Singal’s world, reasonable criticisms of various anti-trans mythologies simply do not exist. No matter how carefully we bubblewrap our response, it’s always too much. Too aggressive. Too shrill. Not logical enough. Because in the twisted realm of liberal transphobia, invoking the same misogynistic tropes that have undermined cis women for centuries is a-okay when you do it to trans women instead.
And nobody cheerleads for liberal transphobia quite like Jesse Singal does. Take it from an expert in shrill transgender hysteria, there is no tone or turn of phrase that won’t make Singal and his like-minded posse self-immolate, because it’s not the substance of the criticism that bothers him–it’s who’s making the noise to begin with.
I’ll let Shannon Winnubst close:
Given this history and that data, the lightning-fast vituperative response by scholars who would never consider publishing in Hypatia (and who may not respect feminist philosophy) is suspect, to say the least. We authors of the open letter, and the associate editors of Hypatia, are accused of poor reasoning, poor scholarship, and lack of integrity. In other words, the overwhelmingly sexist, male, and white discipline has, once again, called out the feminists as irrational, hysterical, and immoral. To say that we’re engaging in a “witch hunt” couldn’t be more paradoxical when we, the feminist philosophers, have long been treated like the witches of the discipline. Let’s call this response what it is: the deflection of serious, sustained criticism of philosophy’s normative practices.
(This piece is more about Jesse Singal’s well-documented tendency to misrepresent criticisms of trans-antagonistic material. If you’d like to see what the problems are with Tuvel’s piece, I recommend you read this from one of Tuvel’s critics [who largely blames Hypatia for failing Tuvel] and this piece from one of Tuvel’s colleagues and this piece for broader context.
Edit May 12, 2017: Adding this piece to the essays discussing the deficiencies of “In Defence of Transracialism.” And just in case people don’t think an established scholarly body on gender variance and critical race theory actually exists, they can look at these.)