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What “Veiled Threat”? Response to Élise Hendrick

Date: September 25, 2007

On Life After Gonzales, Élise Hendrick claims that I made a “veiled threat” against Joelle Ruby Ryan, a trans activist and graduate student at Bowling Green State University.

Élise writes:

Dreger repeats her unsupported and unspecified claims of misrepresentations (in one case “profound” misrepresentations”) and factual errors throughout her correspondence on the subject with Emi Koyama on the Women’s Studies listserv WMST-L, and falsely claims that Bailey’s critics attempted to censor him. She does not enlighten interested readers about the scientific status of Bailey’s claims or his defamatory responses to criticism. She closes the e-mail exchange by endorsing a veiled threat directed at Ryan by Emi Koyama:

I also appreciate your advising Joelle Ruby Ryan “that she was putting herself at risk as a scholar working within a controversial field (trans issues) by tolerating tactics that breed fear and stifle academic freedom.”

I think Élise is getting the context incorrectly. As you can see from the full text of my two WMST-L posts on this matter, I responded Alice Dreger to challenge her, not Joelle. In addition, I had three email exchanges with Alice privately to continue to push her on how established non-trans scholar like her should engage with someone like Joelle, because I was not happy about how Alice communicated with Joelle.

But I also didn’t want Alice to think that I don’t take her concerns about academic freedom seriously (ah double negatives), so I added a summary of what I told Joelle on another list (trans-academics) earlier. During the discussion on trans-academics, Joelle alleged that Dreger’s motivation for writing the paper in question was “clear and direct hatred against the ascendance of transgender people, activists and academics in society”–which I felt was unfair and unfounded.

I was particularly keen on people being attacked unfairly once they are associated with Bailey (for real or in someone’s imagination) because I also received such attacks. Someone named Gina has been going to various blogs that mention my work within intersex movement, and told people that not only was I closely associated with Bailey, but also received funding from Northwestern University, supported eugenics, and also endorsed genital surgeries for intersex children–all of which is false. Please see here and here for more information.

I am not some outside “expert” studying intersex or trans people; I do not hold any academic position or have advanced degrees. I am an activist whose interest includes advocating for the rights of intersex and trans people, just like Joelle. And yet, Gina happened to disagree with me about something (although I don’t think she actually understands how I think), and I went quickly from a fellow progressive activist to the evil eugenicist and oppressor for whom any dirty attacks are permissible. Clearly, Gina got the idea that it was okay to attack me in this manner from seeing it done to Bailey and others perceived to be associated with him.

In the exchange I had with Joelle in trans-academics, I described my experience of being unfairly attacked and said:

The problem Dreger wrote about isn’t all made up. In fact, I have also been accused of being a close associate of Bailey, funded by his Northwestern University clique, endorsing genital surgeries for intersex children, endorsing eugenics, etc. simply because I do not condemn the term “DSD” in similar style.

Of course tactics like these breed fear and stifle freedom–not just for non-trans, non-intersex experts, but those trans and intersex individuals who happen to disagree with the Zeitgeist. That means that you, too, could be on the receiving end of these attacks, assuming that you hold on to your sense of honesty and scholarly integrity, that is.

This is not a veiled threat. I am writing as someone who is in a similar position to Joelle that we need to bond together to oppose political tactics designed to breed fear and stifle freedom, even if we find someone’s comments or publications harmful to us. I’m not saying this because I want to protect our oppressors; no, I’m saying that using fear to fight back at our oppressors will come back and hurt us even further.

Élise, perhaps you might think that my approach is too soft, or you might otherwise disagree with me at some level. But even if we can’t agree on anything else, it’s not a threat and I’d like you to retract that.

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