Gender Reveal Party – Update 1

Hello!

In my abstract, I wrote that I intended to create a metaphysical and epistemological model to systematically unify queer identities, but over the last few months, I’ve substantially adjusted the goals of this project. The more I’ve learned about the metaphysics (not to mention the politics) of gender and sexual orientation, the less comfortable I am attempting to unify them with a philosophical model. The factors which cause different people to embrace or reject a ‘queer’ identity are so personal and so diverse that it would be very easy to do harm with a model that claims to be definitive, and as such I don’t feel comfortable doing that work at this time. Rather than attempting to propose a comprehensive model, I will tackle a series of smaller questions which strike me as particularly interesting and important, and which together reveal the fascinating relationship between the metaphysical nature of gender, the conversations we use to understand and reinforce it, and the ethics of the role it should play in our lives.

As of now, I’m researching with the intention of writing four major essays:

  1. An ethical treatment of lying for and based on the experiences of queer people, partly as a response to Harris’s Lying
  2. An epistemological treatment of heterosexual condescension, based on Fricker’s Epistemic Injustice
  3. A treatment of queer hermeneutical injustice, also based on Fricker’s work
  4. A metaphysical treatment of gender as something that allows us to exist in the world, based on Bornstein’s My Gender Workbook and de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex.

I also expect to write one much shorter essay, which will attempt to make Mari Mikkola’s otherwise useful trait/norm covariance model trans- and nonbinary-inclusive.

I’ve consistently found unexpected connections between the texts I’m reading for this project. I had originally hoped to finish the first essay before writing this update (hence why it is late July as of posting), but as I began researching other topics I continued to find reasons to revisit and adjust it. Reading Epistemic Injustice for the purpose of explaining heterosexual condescension gave me a new model to discuss the potential harm, as well as the virtue, of mindful deception. Likewise, de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex has changed my own intuitions about the nature of gender so much that it will certainly affect all of these essays.

Since starting this project, I’ve had the pleasure to learn a lot in discussion with other queer people. Several friends have allowed me to use their experiences to illustrate my arguments, and even conversations with strangers on Twitter have helped to improve my perspective several times. I’m really excited to make something new with everything I’ve learned.

Happy LGBTQ Wrath!

 

 

 

Comments

  1. ewbrown says:

    Hi! It’s Ethan Brown here. Your work sounds really fascinating, especially as a fellow queer person. I’m a bit curious about your critiques of Mari Mikkola’s work; I’m not familiar with it, but you mention you’re interested in making it more inclusive for transgender and non-binary individuals. What flaws specifically do you see in Mikkola’s current approach and how do you see it as lacking for the aforementioned groups?

  2. jlbeardsley says:

    Hey, sorry, I missed this comment *checks notes* one year ago, but I can explain quickly based on what I remember:

    Mikkola proposes the trait/norm covariance model as an alternative to the sex/gender distinction, which conceives of sex as purely biological, and gender as purely psychological and social. In reality, sex and gender are both social constructs, and both deeply connected to biology. Rather than conceiving of sex and gender traits as being of totally different kinds, Mikkola’s model considers how each of these traits ‘covaries’ with others. The traits of ‘having ovaries’ and ‘identifying as a woman’ strongly covary–if someone has ovaries, it is pretty likely that they are a woman, and if someone identifies as a woman, then it is pretty likely that she has ovaries. I think there is a lot of value in this model, since it allows us to acknowledge major covariances without conceding that there is ‘a male body’ or ‘a female body.’

    It’s been more than a year and a half since I read this essay, so I don’t know whether I would stand by all of my criticisms if I re-read it now. When I first read it, though, I felt that Mikkola should have done more to demonstrate that some kinds of evidence about a person’s gender are more important than others. Surely, if the *only* thing you know about a person is that they have ovaries, it is a pretty good bet that they are a woman, but this evidence should go out the window if you find out that the person identifies as nonbinary or male. The essay has a sentence like, “When I saw her without clothes on, I realized she was a woman,” and uses this example to demonstrate that it is possible to deduce someone’s gender, in part, by seeing their naked anatomy. This bothered me a lot, because I think the way a person looks when they’re clothed is much more likely to tell you what gender they are. I thought the model needed more work to do the best job of accounting for trans people’s experiences.

    Also, this theory doesn’t seem to have a place for nonbinary people at all, although I’m sure we could expand it to account for those experiences as well.