Social-Media Response to the Hypatia Transracialism Controversy

On Friday, 28 April 2017, Tuvel and the article came under attack on Facebook and Twitter. Tuvel was called transphobic, racist, crazy and stupid, and was accused of having engaged in "epistemic violence". Several feminists referred to her as a "Becky", a pejorative sexist term. The article was called violent, crap and "wack shit". Kelly Oliver, W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University, who chaired Tuvel's dissertation committee in 2014, made an effort on Facebook to defend Tuvel by asking for arguments rather than insults, and suggested that Hypatia invite critical responses. She was told her comments were "unforgivable", and that her suggestions were "doing violence" and triggering PTSD.

According to Oliver, several people associated with Hypatia joined in the criticism and apologized individually for the article. A friend of Oliver's described one of the Facebook apologies as "like something ISIS makes its captors read in a hostage video before beheading them". Dissenters were shut down or afraid to speak up; several people who wrote sympathetically to Tuvel in private attacked her in public. Others who posted criticism acknowledged privately that they had not read the article. A "senior feminist philosopher" telephoned Tuvel to remind her that she had to appeal to the "right people" to get tenure. Oliver writes: "Through every medium imaginable, senior feminist scholars were pressuring, even threatening, Tuvel that she wouldn't get tenure and her career would be ruined if she didn't retract her article." Tuvel said that people were "absolutely vicious" toward her.

Nora Berenstain, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Tennessee, wrote on Facebook on 29 April that the paper contained "egregious levels of liberal white ignorance and discursive transmisogynistic violence". Criticizing Tuvel for failing to cite women-of-color philosophers or black trans women, Berenstain objected to Tuvel's parenthetical reference to Jenner's former name (deadnaming), and her use of the terms "transgenderism", "biological sex" and "male genitalia". The paper's references to surgery, Berenstain wrote, objectified trans bodies, and its reference to "a male-to-female (mtf) trans individual who could return to male privilege" promoted "the harmful transmisogynistic ideology that trans women have (at some point had) male privilege".

Open letter
Signatories and objections

An open letter requesting a retraction began to circulate on 29 April 2017; its point of contact was Alexis Shotwell of Hypatia's editorial board. The letter had 130 signatories by 9 am on 1 May, 520 later that day, and 830 by the afternoon of 2 May. According to Singal, the top five signatories were Elise Springer (Wesleyan), Alexis Shotwell (Carleton), Dilek Huseyinzadegan (Emory), Lori Gruen (Wesleyan), and Shannon Winnubst (Ohio State). Lisa Guenther (Vanderbilt) also signed it; Gruen and Guenther were members of Tuvel's dissertation committee in 2014.

Delivered on 2 May to Hypatia's editor-in-chief, the letter urged the journal to retract the article; avoid deadnaming; open its editorial procedures to scrutiny; release a statement about how it plans to improve its review process; and undertake to involve in future "people targeted by transphobia and racism and scholars who specialize in the related relevant subfields of philosophy". It alleged that the article had fallen "short of scholarly standards":

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.

According to Justin Weinberg, associate professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina, and Jesse Singal of New York magazine, most of the letter's claims were false or arguable. Regarding the term transgenderism, GLAAD does caution against its use. The deadnaming consisted of Tuvel including Jenner's previous name in parentheses, a name that Jenner herself refers to, Singal wrote. Weinberg argued that it was unclear why the conversion example was deemed objectionable; it consisted of a paragraph explaining that, barring (for example) objections from the rabbi that the prospective convert is not committed to Judaism, those who wish to become Jews can do so. Weinberg also argued that Tuvel had not identified Charles Mills as a "defender of voluntary racial identification"; he wrote that this allegation was "just plain false".

The criticism that Tuvel had not cited enough women of color may be a fair point, according to Singal, but hardly sufficient to demand a retraction. Weinberg argued that Tuvel's critics had failed to point out a particular work that was both directly relevant and that had been omitted.

Associate editors' apology
On 30 April 2017--two days before the open letter was delivered to Hypatia--Cressida Heyes, then one of Hypatia's 10 associate editors, posted a 1,000-word apology on her Facebook page from "We, the members of Hypatia's Board of Associate Editors". The post was later removed or made private. On 1 May it was reposted to Hypatia's Facebook page, this time ending with "Sincerely, A Majority of the Hypatia's Board of Associated Editors". The apology stated: "We, the members of Hypatia's Board of Associate Editors, extend our profound apology to our friends and colleagues in feminist philosophy, especially transfeminists, queer feminists, and feminists of color, for the harms that the publication of the article on transracialism has caused":

To compare ethically the lived experience of trans people (from a distinctly external perspective) primarily to a single example of a white person claiming to have adopted a black identity creates an equivalency that fails to recognize the history of racial appropriation, while also associating trans people with racial appropriation. We recognize and mourn that these harms will disproportionately fall upon those members of our community who continue to experience marginalization and discrimination due to racism and cisnormativity.

It continued that "clearly, the article should not have been published", and blamed the review process, which had exposed Tuvel to criticism that was "both predictable and justifiable". The associate editors had been asked but declined to name the anonymous reviewers.