Antioch Review: No More Transphobia in the Literary Community

Writers, Editors, and Librarians Denounce Transphobia in the Antioch Review

May 4, 2016

The Winter 2016 issue of Antioch Review includes an article by Daniel Harris called “The Sacred Androgen: The Transgender Debate” (full text available here: http://review.antiochcollege.org/sacred-androgen-transgender-debate-daniel-harris).

In this article, Harris describes transgender people—which he refers to as “TGs,” or, elsewhere, as “the TG”—as swimming in “surgeon-infested seas” of “mass delusion,” while entangling a presumably cisgender “us” in “trivialities” such as preferred pronouns, and refers to transgender women as “hyper‑sexualized l’odalisque[s]” living in a “pre‑feminist dystopia.” Harris also writes that the 41% suicide attempt rate among transgender people “suggests that many TGs experience profound disillusion over the fact that their problems were not resolved during their transition,” when in fact recent studies have suggested that this rate is not due to being transgender but due to transphobia itself.

As writers, editors, and librarians in the literary community we denounce the Antioch Review’s decisions not only to publish this piece, but subsequently to tout it on social media as “not-to-miss,” “sure to entertain, intrigue, and provoke,” and an opportunity “to take our debate to a new level on the topic of transgenders” [sic], and we ask for accountability from the editors for this decision. Antioch Review, founded in 1941, advertises its mission as being to “publish the best words in the best order,” and we call on the editors to respond to how this article fits into that mission.

As writers and editors ourselves, we find a serious lack of judgment behind the writing, publishing, and publicizing of this piece, and we are shocked that the Antioch Review, a journal of such stature, would choose to publish it. As people who care about language, we are particularly troubled by the article’s righteous celebration of ignorance about how nouns and adjectives work, and the author’s desire to blame trans people and their allies for rejecting nouns that have no descriptive or identifying purchase (“transgenders”) in favor of adjectival uses that correctly describe people: trans men, trans women, trans people, gender non-conforming humans. It is deeply troubling that the Antioch Review promotes this sort of bigotry. We can find no redeeming aesthetic or political justification.

Harris calls into question the very identity of transgender people, whom he calls “incomplete figures, arresting amalgamations of sexual traits,” and an “(often unsuccessful) illusion.” Framing the existence and realities of trans people in this way — as up for debate — is far from innocently provocative. It’s dangerous, specious, and complicit in the spectrum of violence that trans people face every day in this political climate. Among the many troubles with this piece, we consider this one of the most harmful.

Antioch College as a whole issued a press release calling the article a “must-read.” The layers of not only complicity but endorsement that this dehumanizing article passed through is astounding. As members of the literary community, we refuse to be silent in the face of transphobia in our midst, which we understand to be related to the many individual and structural incidents of racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and other violences large and small experienced by members of our community.

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