A Reply to DWC Listserv complaints about the publication of my article ‘Scrutinizing the Equality Act’

A group of scholars in the American Society of Criminology’s Division of Women and Crime (DWC), of which I am a member, have recently emailed to the listserv a statement signed by other DWC members, which expresses several grievances, among them the publication of my recent article ‘Scrutinizing the Equality Act’ in Feminist Criminology.

Here, I limit my response to those that address my paper as ‘TERF hatred’ and the publication of my paper by the journal as the promulgation of objectionable transphobia. 

First, I reject charges that my article is ‘transphobic’, ‘hateful’, and ‘unfriendly to queer people’. Critics, including signatories, have repeatedly called my work ‘hateful’, ‘transphobic’, ‘horrible’, and so on. They are free to make such claims, and as I noted in the paper and in response to several tweets, I remain open to a discussion of these issues. I welcome debate; indeed, stimulating discussion was the purpose of my article. 

Second, I find it disturbing that people fail to see (or comment on) the inconsistencies between levelling charges of harm, hurt, queer and trans exclusivity, and other such accusations at my work, myself, and Feminist Criminology while making obviously hurtful charges at same. This is particularly odious given the blatant misrepresentation (or misunderstanding) of my arguments. I can only speculate as to their reasons for non-engagement with the substance, but their actions suggest they prefer condemnation and name-calling over rational debate and critique. Given the lack of engagement, I can only make conjectures about their objections, but the most obvious seems to be that they do not think sex exists as a material reality and, therefore, issues related to sex and the needs of female people, including discussion of sexism, are verboten. I expect people on the political right to deny the persistence of sexism, but a denial of sex and sexism from the Division of Women and Crime is alarming. 

If the name-calling was meant to change my position or deter me from expressing my concerns, I am sorry to inform that such tactics are unlikely to be successful. I am persuaded by logic and evidence not name-calling and slander. Whether they have deterred others from speaking out or engaging with the issues discussed in my article remains to be seen. I hope not. But I remain resolute that we feminists have a responsibility to consider how sweeping legislation that would prioritize unchallengeable gender-self-ID over biological sex would affect females. This does not imply a prioritization of females or a lack of concern, much less hatred, for transgender people. 

In a society where you have to show formal government ID to *buy a beer*, the idea that any male person can gain access to female provisions, including rape crisis centers, prisons, shelters, and other spaces and events, simply by uttering the magic words “I identify as a woman” – no sincerity required – is absurd and displays a callous disregard for the well-being of females and ostensibly a misunderstanding of the rationale of sex-separated spaces. IF ANYONE CAN OPT IN TO PROTECTED SPACES ON A SAY-SO, THEY ARE NO LONGER PROTECTED SPACES, SO WHAT IS THE POINT?!! (Yes, I’m yelling that one, because I’d really like an answer.)

I was prepared for a heated discussion, but I must admit my deep disappointment with my DWC colleagues who make no attempt to engage in a dialogue, to acknowledge the substance of my critique, including my recognition of the need to protect transgender persons, and instead engage instead in gossip, name-calling letters, and attacks on the editorial team who bravely published my piece without endorsing it. Condemning the editorial team for a) publishing an article that went through peer review and/or b) not accepting (‘desk rejecting’) a response to said article, is unprofessional. Personally, I have had several responses desk rejected at various journals, so I understand the disappointment of rejection. However, having a response rejected does not justify an attack of an editorial team. Nor does the rejection preclude their posting a response to many preprint outlets or blogs, as I and others have done to articles in the past, while they attempt publication in other outlets.

I entered this debate, like others, given a sense of political urgency after the House passage of the Equality Act, in its problematic form, and the upcoming election. I believed that a discussion among criminologists, many of whom are intimately familiar with the disturbingly high rates of victimization and trauma in women in prison, domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers, and other sex-separated spaces from male violence (often sexual violence), would be beneficial. That a discussion that considers how a fundamental shift from sex-based to gender-identity based rights could affect females is off-limits in the division of WOMEN and crime, is quite simply not a state of affairs I find acceptable nor am I willing to accept. Once again, quoting Kathleen Stock, I object to letting “even small numbers of females be the automatic collateral in sweeping social changes such as those proposed”, without any discussion or consideration for their needs. In sum, their unwillingness to engage with the substance of my arguments is disappointing because I have always acknowledged that my knowledge is partial like everyone else’s.

Best wishes to all of my colleagues, including those condemning my article, during this difficult time. I remain hopeful that we can, in some not-so-distant future, recognize that we can disagree without malice, debate without slander, and find strength in our commonalities and stimulation from our differences and work together to make the world a safer, better place for all people.

**Apologies in advance for typos. Written in a hurry because first week of classes.

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