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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).

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.

Advice to Students who need to Interview Activists

Date: September 13, 2007

While I feel that I made a point that needed to be made in my initial response to the student who kept requesting an interview, it occurred to me that publishing it on this blog would seriously discourage students from emailing me, not just for some class assignments that I could do without, but for everything else–some of which I do want people to contact me for. My point wasn’t that my time is so valuable that students shouldn’t waste it by talking to me; it was that those who engage in research must be accountable to those who are being researched. So I’ve decided to write down some recommendations for students who wish to contact activists and activist groups for a class project.

1. Do your homework. Is it really necessary to take up someone’s time and attention, or can you find the same information if you simply went to the library or dig deeper on the website?

I realise that sometimes teachers specifically require that students interview someone. I find such requirement unethical, as the teacher is basically demanding that complete strangers subsidise the education for which they receive salary. If the teacher requires this, suggest her or him to change the requirement to “volunteer and interview” instead.

2. Offer to volunteer. This is to establish more of a reciprocity between you and the activist group you wish to interview. Plus, you’ll probably have a better understanding about the organisation that way. Some may think that volunteering for an organisation that one writes a paper about would compromise student’s objectivity. But fuck objectivity.

3. Donate or hold a fundraiser. If it’s a cause or organisation you are interested in, perhaps you could show your appreciation by offering to raise money to support its activities. Again, some might say that it would cause perverse incentive for the organisation (i.e. they would say what students want to hear in an interview so that more of them would interview–and raise funds for–the organisation), but I really don’t foresee that students’ fundraising efforts would bring in so much money that it would have a serious impact.

In my case particularly, I fund my organisation, Intersex Initiative, by giving lectures at various universities, so it would be most beneficial if you could get your student organisation or department to sponsor my visit. Think of it as a way to redistribute wealth from universities to activist world.

If you think of any additional advices, please share in the comment field.