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Another Response to Élise – Retraction vs. Clarification

Date: September 26, 2007


This is a response to your comments to “What ‘Veiled Threat’? Response to Élise Hendrick.” It became too long to post as a comment, so I’m making it a new entry.

Certainly Dreger could have picked a different case to put her weight around around, but I don’t think she approached the Bailey case from some vague sense that she wanted to address the importance of academic freedom. In one way or another, she found herself in the middle of it, recognised a problem that nobody else is addressing, and decided to do something about it.

Come to think of it, there’s no reason that I should be focusing on intersex or trans rights, because if I were really concerned about human rights, there are other groups in this world who are more severely in need of advocacy. But people don’t operate like that: we get involved in issues where we have personal connection to, either because we are ourselves impacted by them, or are close to those who are–or sometimes we are led by our curiosities or get exposed to the issues by sheer chance.

As for the difference between retraction and clarification: retraction involves accepting responsibility for the wrong that took place, whether you intended it or not; clarification generally does not.

Your description that Dreger was “endorsing a veiled threat… by Emi Koyama,” to most readers, means that I made a threat. That sentence is unfair if I didn’t actually make any threat, so I am asking you to acknowledge that it was unfair and should have been phrased differently, not simply because some readers might interpret it in a way that you didn’t intend, but because the sentence was factually wrong and hurtful to me.

Clarification would have been appropriate if the meaning of your sentence was ambiguous, and reasonable readers might interpret it in multiple ways. The problem is that your sentence wasn’t ambiguous: most readers would interpret it as saying that I made a threat and Dreger endorsed it. You can’t expect any reasonable readers to understand that what you meant to say was that my comments could have meant something else entirely but Dreger has turned it into a threat.

I can show you a snippet from the private emails I sent to Dreger on September 21:

I’ve publicly criticised some of the things Joelle said in the past (see, but then I’m just an academic outsider. You are an established and well-respected scholar, and I wish you’d cut her some slack… it’s important to support juniour scholars (she’s a graduate student) who are themselves trans.

I’m not suggesting that you can’t criticise her arguments or defend yourself against false or misleading characterisation of your work, but I feel that it was unnecessary and excessive to state that she “is not acting like a scholar” in public.

Here’s another snippet, from September 23:

Same standards [should apply], yes, but I don’t necessarily think that same response is appropriate, because the same response could have disparate consequences and impacts depending on one’s position within the power structure. In other words, someone like Joelle may suffer more as a result of being labeled unprofessional in that context than a non-trans scholar does, which I feel should be considered… But I do agree that she deserves to be treated like a real scholar–it’s just that there is no such thing as a generic “scholar” or a uniform way all scholars are treated.

As you can see, I am in fact confronting Dreger about the very behaviour you are criticising her on your blog for, and yet you wrongly alleged–perhaps unintentionally, but as far as any reasonable readers can tell–that I was the one threatening Joelle. That’s factually inaccurate and unfair to me as an activist.

Regardless,I appreciate that you are willing to engage with me. In the past, I’ve had difficulty engaging with people who are somehow convinced that I am close buddies with Bailey (I wouldn’t blame them if that was actually the case, but obviously it wasn’t and isn’t).

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