Philosophers & lesbophobia

Homophobia—and in particular lesbophobia—is a problem within academic philosophy that often goes unremarked. I take homophobia to encompass a wide range of negative behaviors towards same-sex relationships or those persons who engage in them, and especially those persons who engage in them exclusively and those who refuse to (re)define their sexuality as ‘same gender’ attracted. Whilst I think it’s fine, of course, for those who want to re-orientate their understanding of their own sexuality to encompass e.g. men who have vaginas if one identifies as a gay man (so they are “homogenderal”), I think there have been a number of concerning homophobic developments in academic philosophy in recent years. Same-sex attraction has been erased (in Dembroff’s 2016 paper, for example), appropriated and coercively redefined to encompass male-bodied persons (and no, I don’t think there are only two sexes; but yes, I do think it’s wrong for a person with a penis to call themselves a lesbian), and talked about as if it’s as immoral (e.g. Rachel McKinnon’s tweets).

At it’s worst—and rarest—homophobia takes the form of hatred. I think this is rare in academic philosophy and academia more broadly. More often homophobia in the university takes the form of some comment or behavior that reveals some ordering/valuing, which subordinates same-sex relationships and those who engage in them to some other way of being. And becoming more common, I’d say, is a type of indifference or lack of attention to the particularities of ways in which members of that group are mistreated by society, or the ways in which such treatment within one’s lifetime can leave lasting marks on people’s lives. This neglect can be driven, among other things, by an ignorant belief that *people who engage in same sex relations are no longer marginalized and disadvantaged*.

As an example of a homophobic action by a academic philosopher, take, for instance, this re-tweet by Sara Uckelman (Durham University, UK). The tweet that Sara has posted to her timeline says “for the problematic lesbian in your life” and then the road sign in the image underneath reads “unsafe dyke keep clear”. This is of course meant to be a bit of ‘light humor’. Maybe in the right context and delivered by the right person it would be. But shared by someone who is not a lesbian is problematic, especially given that ‘dyke’ was originally a slur but was reappropriate by lesbians for lesbians. Sara’s RT was also poor judgment in the context in which many same-sex attracted students and scholars are feeling attacked—including, I hear on the grapevine, by Sara*—in the discipline at this time.

In drawing attention to this issue, my concern is primarily for younger or newly out same-sex attracted persons, especially students studying philosophy. Many philosophers seem to have strangely double standards when it comes to calling out the poor treatment of LGBTQ people in the discipline. It would be nice to see all LGBTQ people and identities respected in the philosophy community.

*Also in a tweet today Sara notes that she’s given money to Mermaids (a British charity for ‘transgender children and adolescents’) in ‘honor’ of JK Rowling’s birthday. Mermaids was recently dropped by the BBC as a reliable and ethical source of information. It’s hard to read this decision as unconnected to the BBC’s recent Newsnight investigation into the Tavistock’s GIDS in London, where (among many issues) clinicians expressed concern that they were participating in a type of conversion therapy of same-sex attracted children and that many of their parents were homophobic. Mermaids and Susie Green, its CEO, are all sorts of shady and have expressed some very troubling homophobic views (some documented by an intersex activist here). Please see my post here on the issue of false-positives in sorting gender diverse children – the neglect by philosophers like Uckelman and Buxton of this complex issue, which disproportionately affects girls that grow up to be bi or lesbian, is in my mind an example of lesbophobia in the discipline too.