Issues in Philosophy Normalizing Pronoun-Sharing at Philosophy Conferences

Normalizing Pronoun-Sharing at Philosophy Conferences

by Hannah Trees

Last month, I attended the Central APA meeting in Chicago to be part of a panel on queer productions of knowledge. [1] I do not usually expect big events to be queer-inclusive spaces, but I was very excited to see that the conference was providing pronoun stickers for everyone in attendance. When I arrived, a volunteer told me that pronoun stickers were available to put on my name badge and pointed me in the direction of a nearby table in the middle of the main floor of the conference center. The large rolls of various types of stickers – “SHE,” “HE,” “THEY,” “ZE/HIR” and write-your-own – were readily available for the duration of the conference. 

For those unfamiliar with the practice of sharing pronouns, it usually goes something like this: “Hi, my name is Hannah. I use she/her pronouns.” In situations where you can’t verbally introduce yourself to everyone, like APA meetings, a “SHE” sticker on your name badge does the work for you. These stickers make it less likely that trans, queer, and gender non-conforming people are misgendered by people who’ve just met them, and ideally, if everyone uses them, it helps to normalize the practice of sharing pronouns.

Unfortunately, the meeting in Chicago turned out to be less than ideal in this respect. As soon as I began going to sessions, I noticed a marked lack of pronoun stickers on name badges, especially among the cisgender men in attendance. [2] Given that everyone was told upon checking in that there were pronoun stickers and the central location and constant availability of the stickers, this lack of use could not be attributed to ignorance or a sticker shortage. Each name badge even had a clearly labeled place to put a sticker. And while I’m sure that there were probably a few people who refused to use them due to transphobia, I’d like to give the philosophic community the benefit of the doubt and assume that most of the people who didn’t have stickers on their badges were not motivated by anti-LGBTQ sentiments. 

So why were so many cis people not using pronoun stickers? I think the most likely answer is quite simple: they thought they didn’t need to. The vast majority of cis people (and many queer and trans people who “pass” as cis) don’t need to worry about telling people what their pronouns are, because most of the time everyone else can correctly guess which pronouns they prefer. We have all been socialized to assume that when someone dresses a certain way or has certain secondary sex characteristics, we should use pronouns that “match” that person’s gender presentation or perceived sex. [3] When it comes to cis people, these factors line up in exactly the way we have been taught to expect, and so when a cis person is given the option of putting a sticker next to their name to make sure others know their pronouns, they have the luxury of opting out.

Of course, you might be thinking: why does it matter if cis people don’t explicitly tell people their pronouns? If no one is ever going to use the wrong pronouns, isn’t it just redundant to tell others which to use? The APA meeting program has one response to this question: the stickers “can easily be worn as a show of solidarity.” The quote in full is as follows:

“Beginning this year, as a show of the APA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, we are introducing pronoun stickers for your name badge, including blank stickers that will allow you to use a pronoun of your own choosing. Stickers will be available for pickup at registration and can easily be worn as a show of solidarity, and a means of making our annual conference a friendly and safe environment for all.” (from the APA Central Division 115th Annual Meeting Program, page 1.)

While it is admirable that the APA is encouraging straight and cis people to be better allies, this answer misses the mark. It suggests that only certain people – people who don’t have the luxury of “looking cis” (Again, you cannot tell if someone is cis or trans just by looking at them. But it is the people who “look cis” by societal standards, whether they are actually cis or not, who have the privilege of not needing to tell people what pronouns they use.)– really need to use pronoun stickers or engage in any other pronoun-sharing practices. Everyone else can choose whether or not to use pronoun stickers depending on how explicitly pro-LGBTQ they want to be. This line of reasoning ignores the fact that everyone has preferred pronouns, and that because of this, everyone should get into the habit of telling others what pronouns they use.

Most importantly, cis people’s refusal to engage in pronoun sharing practices reinforces the deeply engrained idea that we can tell which pronouns someone prefers simply by looking at them. It encourages people to jump to conclusions about other’s pronouns because it supports the current norm of simply making assumptions about how others identify, rather than attempting to shift the social etiquette to one that encourages the sharing of and asking for pronouns. We have to remind ourselves that although it might seem superfluous for someone who identifies as a man and has a beard and wears a shirt and tie to let others know that he prefers he/him/his pronouns, there are people who look and dress like that who do not use he/him/his and who do not identify as men. Until we all stop making assumptions about pronouns, the simple act of making an introduction will remain a social nightmare for those people who don’t fit the cisnormative mold.

Moving forward, I hope that the APA maintains their commitment to LGBTQ inclusivity, but more needs to be done to ensure that everyone understands the full import of pronoun sharing practices. There are many very simple changes that we can all make: include your pronouns on your website and in bios; when introducing yourself in any context, but especially when in front of a large audience (as a session chair or at the beginning of teaching a new group of students, for instance), tell the audience your pronouns; if you are introducing someone else before a talk, ask them what pronouns you should use in your introduction. These are not practices that should be relegated to explicitly “queer” spaces; there are queer people in every area of our discipline, and in that sense, all spaces are queer spaces. Furthermore, when we leave APA meetings and return to our home departments, there will be no name badges and pronoun stickers to fall back on. When we ask our undergraduates to introduce themselves at the beginning of the semester, it is up to us to make it clear that verbally sharing one’s pronouns is a normal and easy thing to do. Of course, this is not the only thing that must change in order to make philosophy more inclusive, but it is small shifts like this that make the difference between a climate that is rife with seemingly innocent microaggressions and one that is genuinely welcoming of individuals of all genders.


[1] I use the term “queer” to mean anyone who falls under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. Not everyone in the LGBTQ community identifies as queer, though, and when talking about the identity of a specific individual, it is always best to ask them which terms they prefer.

[2] For those unfamiliar with this terminology, someone is “cisgender” or “cis” if they identify as the gender that they were assigned at birth. For instance, someone who was assigned female at birth and who identifies as a woman is a cis woman. Normally, no one should assume that they can tell whether someone is cisgender or transgender just by looking at them, but I think in this case, it is safe to assume that if someone wasn’t using a pronoun sticker, they probably weren’t part of the LGBTQ community.

[3] I put “match” in quotes because there is nothing inherent to certain secondary sex characteristics or to ways of dressing or presenting oneself that make these things correspond to feminine or masculine pronouns. And I say “perceived sex” rather than “sex” because no one can know for sure what someone’s sex is based merely on cursory observations about their secondary sex characteristics. A discussion of how sex, like gender, is socially constructed is not something I can get into here.

Hannah Trees (she/her) is a fourth year philosophy PhD student at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research interests include self-knowledge, introspection, and feminist and queer epistemology.


  1. You ask, “So why were so many cis people not using pronoun stickers?”

    Because this is yet another example of the political correctness craze run wild? I see no problem with the stickers, but do see a problem with trying to guilt trip everybody in to wearing them.

    There comes a point when political correctness becomes counter-productive, as example we might note the recent election of Donald Trump, a clear reaction to the excesses of good intentions.

    How about this? Why don’t we let people do want they want to do in peace and respect their choice as it is. Sound familiar?

    In that spirit, if it works for you to join the national blame and shame game, ok, fair enough, go for it. You can blame and shame us, we can blame and shame you, and we can keep going with it until we all finally realize that just because some of something is good does not automatically equal more being better.

  2. Not everyone was told about the stickers on registration. I didn’t learn about them until late in the conference when I happened to walk by the table where they were stationed on my last day there.

    I agree that it’d be a good idea to make their use more normal. Perhaps they should be at the actual registration desk, where selecting a sticker is part of the registration process.

  3. You write, “Until we all stop making assumptions about pronouns, the simple act of making an introduction will remain a social nightmare for those people who don’t fit the cisnormative mold.”

    The solution to this is not to attempt to change an infinite number of other people, a seemingly endless task, but to change ourselves. This is not a moral point, but a logical one. Which is easier to change, millions of brains we have basically no control over, or the one brain we have the most access to? It’s just simple arithmetic.

    To explore a hypothetical, let’s say you call me a he when I identify as a she. I could politely correct you if I wish, or I have the option to ignore your mistake. In any case, what difference does it make what you call me, or what you think about me? In either case, that is your situation. Where is the logic in me taking your situation on as my problem?

    If I decide to experience a social nightmare inside of my own mind as a result of your error, ok, that’s my choice too. I am free to do that of course. And if I wish to blame someone for what I have chosen to do within my own mind, that is my right as well. But at this point I am leaving logic behind and entering the realm of fantasy and self inflicted wounds.

    The primary group which needs to accept the LGBTQ community is the LGBTQ community.

    This same concept is true for all of us, every human being, whatever our situation sexually or otherwise. Once we have fully accepted ourselves as we really are, we will no longer care if someone else is accepting us.

    That’s what gay liberation looks like. That’s what human liberation looks like.

    In the spirit of the article, I am addressing inter-personal relationships here, and not legal issues. If the legal rights of any LGBTQ person are being violated the solution then is to bring the full weight of the law down upon the offender with great enthusiasm.

  4. Thank you for speaking up about this important issue. If philosophy is going to evolve into a more inclusive field, we must recognize that there are simple actions that the cis community can take to normalize LGBTQ+ participation at APA conferences. It is not blaming or shaming to ask gender-conforming philosophers to use pronoun stickers as well. If a moment of sticker application can prevent the accidental mis-gendering of even one colleague (and the mixture of frustration, etc. one might feel in having to interrupt and correct), it is time well spent. This is not political correctness — it’s chipping away at one of many barriers for LGBTQ+ people’s participation in our professional conferences. Thank you again for bringing attention to this issue.

  5. Hi Savannah,

    Well, you seem to have ignored the most logical response to this issue, each person managing the one brain they have the most control over. This is a philosophy site, aren’t we supposed to be concerned with logic?

    I agree that asking people to wear stickers is not a big problem. I’m just pushing back against any notion that there is an obligation involved, or any manipulation by guilt tactics. The logical response to all this is, put the stickers where people can find them and if they want to wear them they will. Problem solved.

    The author writes, “So why were so many cis people not using pronoun stickers? I think the most likely answer is quite simple: they thought they didn’t need to.”

    And they were correct. They don’t need to. They can if they want to, but they don’t need to.

    There is a larger point here which transcends the LBGTQ issue and affects all of us. As example, you don’t NEED to manage my emotions. My emotions are happening in between my ears. They are my responsibility to manage. More to the point, I am the only one who can manage them.

    If I define you as the person in control of my emotions, I have just surrendered my own responsibility, and more importantly, my own power. I have “unliberated” myself, and made my emotional state a slave to whatever you decide to do or not do. Where is the logic in that??

    It does not well serve the LGBTQ+ community to propose to them that they are dependent upon the acceptance of the straight community. If a straight person can not accept gay people, that is THEIR problem, not the gay person’s problem. The gay person should not make this problem their problem, and if anything, should feel sorry for the straight homophobe.

    The exception of course, as stated above, is when anyone’s legal rights are infringed upon. I agree that’s a completely different subject, requiring a different response.

    The author has good intentions, but is treating gay folks in a condescending paternal manner. The author is not needed to manage the minds of our LBGTQ friends, they are intelligent adults, fully capable of doing the job themselves. This is how we show respect, by not treating them as children.

  6. Take this observation for whatever it’s worth: I can’t think of a single other example of fostering inclusiveness to minority groups in which nonmembers of the minority (advisably) take on superficial traits (such as the practice/felt need to divulge preferred pronouns) of the minority. Is there any other case where this would be anything but tokenism, if not downright insulting?

    There won’t be any uncontroversial examples, since any example will draw a parallel between transgender and other nonconforming people they might not appreciate. But enough of them put together might get the oddness of the sticker proposal across. I’ll just give one

    For example, I have autism. It would completely miss the point if others pretended to have difficulty reading social situations or found loud noise distracting/distressing in solidarity with me, or self-identified as neurotypical. What actually helps is that others be kind and understanding and patient.

    On the other hand, were it common practice when meeting others to introduce oneself as autistic or nonautistic, then I would likely have an easier time of it. But I can’t imagine asking others to make it common practice to let me know they aren’t autistic just so I can let them know I am.

    Are there some differences which necessitate explicit inclusion, like gender (non)conformity, and others which don’t, e.g. neuropsychological disorders, cultural/racial selfidentification? Should we have more little stickers to wear? Maybe this is the wrong approach to inclusion altogether?

    Again, I think what members of minorities really need is for others to be kind and accepting of their differences, not for them to pretend like others differences are their own.

  7. I endorse Andrew Lavigne’s comments, with a few reservations. I don’t know if he is confessing to having autism, but I confess to having what (I think?) is mild autism, compared with the severe autism of people with Down’s Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, and so on. But I definitely do not want to have to wear a label on my chest that says “Hi! I’m Eric D. Meyer! And I’m autistic…,” even though I find that people know I am right away, without anybody saying anything. I think many people with these conditions would simply like to pass as ‘normal’ and lead ‘normal’ lives and be accepted as ‘normal’ by other people, and not have to constantly speak out against prejudice and discrimination or defend themselves against attacks because they are different. And so on. But I can say from many, many years of experience that when people know that you are disadvantaged, they will almost always take advantage of it, by putting you in embarrassing situations, by putting words in your mouth, by cheating you or playing games with you, by making a fool of you, or worse. They derive a perverse pleasure from it, and it’s so deeply rooted in human behavior that it’s like a reflex, and very difficult to change. When I worked (briefly) at a center for developmentally disabled people, I had the dubious pleasure of observing the staff and public constantly doing these things to disadvantaged people, and less disadvantaged people doing these things to more disadvantaged people, every day, over and over again. And so in addition to endorsing Andrew Lavigne’s comments about privileged, pampered college professors and grad students playing at being disadvantaged by claiming somebody else’s disadvantage or victimization, I have to say that when I think of the painful struggles that really disadvantaged people go through every day to cope with the ‘normal’ world, I find it simply obscene to hear those privileged, pampered people going on and on about gender pronouns and gender roles and so on, as if they were suffering from some horrible discrimination, when they are not. As if changing the pronouns would change the deeply rooted propensity for hatred and violence in contemporary human beings, when it won’t. As if changing pronouns would change the world. Which it won’t…

    And just so that I don’t waste this comment talking about my silly, petty problems (…frankly, I like who I am and wouldn’t want to be ‘normal’…), I’d like to suggest that APA readers who are really concerned about women’s oppression might consider checking out the situation of Kurdish women fighters in Afrin whose country has just been invaded by the Turkish army. Or Afghan women caught between the US spec ops, the Afghan government, and the Taliban. Or Syrian children bombed by Russian jets while just trying to go to school.

    If we think we have problems…

    On the eve of International Women’s Day, our women continue to burn in the blaze of a hell named Afghanistan laid out by the US and its Taliban, ISIS, Jihadis and technocrats stooges. This land, which the US and its allies occupied seventeen years ago under the pretext of “liberating” Afghan women, is now being reigned by tyranny and barbarism where women face the brunt of these atrocities, while the misogynist culprits enjoy the freedom of impunity. Our women under the ironic US-made banner of “democracy and women’s rights” face unspeakable violence everyday: killing and burning, mutilation, beatings, rape, stoning-to-death and lashing in public.

    Kurdish female fighters battle for freedom, equality across Middle East By Haidar Khezri

    For years, Kurdish fighters have been partners to the United States in the Middle East. From 2003 to 2017, they helped overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein, battled al-Qaida and pushed the Islamic State out of northern Iraq and Syria.

    In recent weeks, some of these same fierce fighters have been violently clashing with Turkish troops in the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin. In January, Turkish president Recep Erdogan launched an aggressive bombing campaign called “Operation Olive Branch,” intended to clear Kurds from the city.

    Reports of chemical weapons and a high civilian death toll are now emerging from the conflict zone. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced.

    In all of these battles, Kurdish women have fought on the front lines, as they have done since the 19th-century Kurdish commander Kara Fatma led an Ottoman battalion of 700 men and 43 women. That was unusual for the period – but, then again, Kurdish women have long been exceptions in the mostly conservative Middle East.

    Airstrikes near Idlib elementary school kill 16 children in bomb shelter, first responders say

    MAR. 21, 2018
    AMMAN: Pro-government airstrikes killed 20 civilians, including 16 children, inside a bomb shelter near a school in central Idlib province on Wednesday, first responders and sources on the ground told Syria Direct.

    At least three airstrikes reportedly hit the town of Kafr Batikh in rebel-held Idlib province on Wednesday morning, members of the local Civil Defense told Syria Direct. First responders identified the source of the strikes as Russian warplanes, a claim that Syria Direct could not independently verify.

    During Wednesday morning’s attack, a number of students at the Kafr Batikh Elementary School reportedly fled to a nearby bomb shelter, Layth Faris, a member of the Saraqeb Civil Defense who responded to the scene, told Syria Direct. At approximately 10am, two further airstrikes landed near the shelter, causing it to collapse on those hiding inside, he said.

    “It took four hours for us to find all of the dead,” Faris told Syria Direct on Wednesday. “Talking about it is different from seeing it.”

    Videos and pictures posted to social media by the Civil Defense and local media organizations on Wednesday appear to show first responders carrying lifeless children in their arms as other first responders use heavy equipment to bore into the collapsed shelter in search of survivors.

    “There were children huddled together in a corner—all still wearing their backpacks,” Faris said. “Even those with hearts of stone cried when they went into the shelter.”

    And I bet all these children would just like to have had a normal life, too…


  8. I don’t endorse what eric d. meyer says.

    (1) I didn’t say anything about pampered college professors, etc. I should hope I didn’t come across as simply condemning the practice in question, or insulting those who advocate it.

    (2) This is really beside the point, but I wasn’t “confessing” to anything, just trying to approach the issue from my own perspective. I have Autism Spectrum Disorder, which is a different condition entirely from Fragile X and Down’s Syndrome and such (though there are significant rates of comorbidity in both). Fragile X used to be considered part of an “autism spectrum” in the DSM-IV along with other diagnoses, like PPD-NOS.

    eric, I don’t know if you meant that your ASD is less profound than in those with these comorbidities, or whether you’re using “autism” as a general term for a variety of conditions, or what.

  9. Upon a bit more reflection, I think what set me off about the piece was my impression that some, with good intentions, were attempting to apply social pressure to get everyone to conform to a group consensus. They seemed not to be content to wear the stickers themselves, but needed everyone to wear the stickers.

    This mindset sort of reminds me of what gay people have had to deal with for centuries, the demand that they conform to the majority.

    If the article had limited itself to, “we’re wearing these stickers and we think it’s fun” and “some folks aren’t wearing the stickers and that’s ok” I’d have had no complaints.

  10. Eric Meyer’s comments have helped me further investigate my own reaction to the article. Though I should add this is more a reaction to the site as a whole, to the world of philosophy at large, and well I suppose, the human condition.

    It seems we are easily distracted by the smallest of things, which while being normal, doesn’t seem logical or appropriate in the world of professional philosophers.

    While Eric’s comments might be fairly labeled off topic, he does effectively remind us that there are far bigger things happening in the world than any of our personal feelings. Given how often our focus is so small, perhaps someone should be regularly dragging us off topic?

    I don’t find the article to be any more guilty of smallness than a million others, but as my impatience with the limited vision of professional philosophy grows, it appears it doesn’t take much to set off this complaint in my mind, and now, from my mouth.

    I hope no one will take offense to the above. My whiny complaint is really a kind of compliment, because I expect so much more from members here than an average gathering.

    Let’s go BIG guys, or I’m going to fall asleep like most everyone else here.

  11. While we’re on the subject, I’m proud to announce the launch of a wonderful new campaign to facilitate inclusiveness in the APA. From now on everyone on the blog really should wear a button which says…

    “We welcome typoholic honking foghorn blowhards!”

    …. so that I’ll feel comfortable and included. After all, we don’t want me to experience a social nightmare!

  12. I agree with the thrust of this article and also support the use of pronoun-stickers as a step forward, but want to point out that this only applies to conferences where English is the only or the main language spoken. Pronoun-talk in the context of respecting gender ID/the absence thereof is Anglocentric, and one way to achieve the same goal of being respectful while avoiding pronoun-talk is to talk about preferred gendered word forms (which may be any part of speech), and then answer in terms of masculine/feminine/neutral. E.g. my preferred gendered word forms are neutral but if those are not an option (which is unfortunately the case with many languages, where the gendering is binary) I prefer masculine over feminine forms. I prefer this over saying ‘I use ‘they/them’ pronouns’ because English is not the only language that exists or even the only one I speak/am spoken to or about in.

  13. Thanks for your support Mister Lavigne. I was writing on the spur of the moment to describe the abuse and harassment I have experienced many times and have seen done to other people many times, but have never seen addressed by discussions of discrimination at professional conferences in school classrooms or other privileged elitist institutions, including philosophy departments. I have never been diagnosed with anything labeled by the psychiatric profession, and I don’t have the luxury of psychiatric or medical care, I had to find out for myself what it means to be autistic when nobody was talking about it or admitting they did it to people, but I know in my guts and nerves when I am being abused, even if it doesn’t show. And I know it happens all the time and nobody speaks the truth about it or even tries to. I also know that when I worked with disadvantaged people they were being taken advantage of and ridiculed and abused, but didn’t have the self-consciousness or the fancy terminology to describe what was being done to them, which is a crude definition of what autism does to people and what people do to autistic people that makes their condition worse. And I also know that this abuse and discrimination is built into the college and public school educational systems, because I experienced it from the first day I went into a pre-school classroom through elementary school high school college and grad school, until I was forced out of my tenure track position for trying to talk about it, by people who pay lip-service to the political correctness jargon but don’t practice it. My comments were to the effect that I find it offensive when those who occupy the most privileged positions in this professional system complain about discrimination while presiding over a system that engages in discrimination and abuse on a daily basis. I find that offensive and I stand behind that comment. But I also know that compared to the suffering and death that many people experience in the contemporary world as a direct result of the US foreign policy endorsed directly or not by all of us as American citizens, my complaints are petty and trivial and I only make them because I sincerely wish nobody ever had to experience the things I did in American public schools ever again. I will stop now because I feel that pain in my nerves and guts again and I don’t like to write from resentment or anger but I will gladly withdraw my endorsement of your post thank you. EDM

  14. This comment thread is pretty typical of my experience of a generational/ideological divide in the APA, academia, and American culture more generally. Instead of focusing on egregious non sequitur, here’s a simple point that counts in favor of Hannah’s post and the general observations regarding things the APA can do to be more inclusive.

    If someone suggests that doing x will make a space more inclusive to a disadvantaged minority group (in this case, LGBTQ people) at no substantive cost to yourself, then there is good reason to do x.

    As far as I can tell, the notion of marking one’s pronouns on a sticker and wearing said sticker on the name badge is not cumbersome. If it has the effect of helping folks who often have their gender identity mistaken (which is a deeply upsetting and uncomfortable experience, especially in a professional environment) feel more comfortable and socially accepted, then that seems like a good reason to do so. That is being aware of a social challenge, and being considerate to those who encounter it.

  15. Sorry Joshua, no.

    That is reinforcing the corrosive assumption that one’s state of mind is dependent upon what other people do or don’t do, say or don’t say, think or don’t think etc.

    I’m not an academic. I’m not a professional philosopher. I’m a writer only in my imagination. I’m a minority on this website. Are you going to wear a button welcoming man in the street Internet blowhards?

    No, you’re not, you will instead do the sensible thing. You will instead assume that if I choose to come to site where my opinions are very likely to be challenged by those with far more education, it’s up to me to manage my brain so that I can be comfortable in that setting.

    This isn’t a moral point. This is NOT a moral point.

    It’s a logical point. If I make my experience here dependent upon whatever the rest of you think of my ideas, I’m making myself in to an emotional slave, I’m handing the keys to my experience over to you. I ask you please, what is logical about that??

    Gay liberation is not about getting everyone in the world to be nice to gay people. That’s never going to happen because lots of us aren’t very nice to anybody, no matter their sexual preference or anything else.

    Gay liberation is about gay people accepting themselves as they really are, so that other people’s opinions of them don’t really matter. And that’s not even gay liberation, it’s human liberation, it applies to all of us.

    The logical approach is to meet this emotional challenge in one place, in the one place we have the most access to, the most control over. Win the battle on that one front, and we’ve automatically won them on all the other fronts.

    As always, I am discussing emotions here, not legal issues.

  16. I think the APA ought not be polite to internet blowhards because the community isn’t trying to create an environment more accessible to internet blowhards. It is trying to create an environment more hospitable LGBTQ+ people.

    “Gay liberation is about gay people accepting themselves as they really are, so that other people’s opinions of them don’t really matter.” Of course, it isn’t like the gay liberation movement advocated for change in legal, social, and political attitudes towards gay people… oh wait, that’s exactly what happened. There is legal reform (repealing DADT; marriage equality; employment/housing/health care non-discrimination) and reform of social norms (public recognition and acceptance of gay relationships; disseminating public information about gay culture). So… you’re just wrong.

    And, not that it matters, but my point doesn’t have to be considered a moral one. It’s just a statement of a hypothetical imperative. If the APA has a particular goal (including historically disadvantaged minority groups), then it should encourage certain practices that contribute to that goal. That’s just a straightforward practical reason; if you want a cup of coffee, then you should take an action plan that results in getting a cup of coffee.

    Setting aside the observation that you’re not a philosopher (which… isn’t surprising), it is pretty uncontroversial that experiences are dependent on things like the institutional facts and social conventions with which we interact. That’s not a matter of being “an emotional slave,” just that it turns out external stuff plays a role in our experience; if the external stuff can be modified in a way that makes life better/easier/more consistent with the goals of individuals or communities, then that provides a prima facie [practical] reason to do that modification.

  17. Hi Joshua, you wrote…

    “I think the APA ought not be polite to internet blowhards because the community isn’t trying to create an environment more accessible to internet blowhards. ”

    In general, seems a sound principle. But what if an Internet blowhard has dominated this page with a logical point that none of the professional philosophers have been able to refute? If you’d like to take a shot, please make the case for why we should be elevating a notion that the emotional well being of gay individuals should be dependent upon what the rest of us do or don’t do, think or say etc.

    You wrote, “Of course, it isn’t like the gay liberation movement advocated for change in legal, social, and political attitudes towards gay people… oh wait, that’s exactly what happened.”

    You’re failing to make the distinction between law and emotions. The law has to be enforced by the group, that is agreed, has been agreed repeatedly above. The question I’m raising is, who is in the best position to manage the emotional situation?

    You write, “… If the APA has a particular goal…”

    And of course they do, the promotion of reason. I’m making a reasoned case regarding the most efficient and effective way to create a positive emotional experience, and you’re making the politically correct moral case. I’m just pointing out, this is a philosophy site, not a Catholic site.

    You write, “…it is pretty uncontroversial that experiences are dependent on things like the institutional facts and social conventions with which we interact.”

    Yes, it’s uncontroversial because it’s an established largely un-examined dogma of the group consensus. The job of a philosopher is not to blindly accept group consensus dogmas, but to test them from every angle.

    The real world fact I’m attempting to point to is that our internal emotional experience is not dependent on “institutional facts and social conventions” unless we choose for it to be. Our internal emotional experience is not dependent on what happens around us, but rather on what relationship we choose to have with the external events.

    This is what liberation is. Choosing a positive relationship with external events. The price tag of emotional liberation is the surrender of the victim pose, and the accepting of responsibility for our own emotional experience.

    This tends to be a somewhat unpopular principle, because many of us find it easier to point the finger outwards than to take on that responsibility. And the price tag for that choice is continued emotional bondage to anybody who happens to walk up to us and say the wrong thing.

    Thank you for engaging this subject and my comments above, that is sincerely appreciated.

    But look mister, you’d better pick up that “We Love Blowhards!” button and put it on, or I’m going to start crying, and then you’ll be sorry! 🙂

  18. How about the APA just tries to create an environment more accessible to everybody, whether homosexual or heterosexual, female or male, gay or straight, leftist or rightist, liberal or conservative, white or black or brown or red, or whatever? And where everybody has the equal right to make their wildly off-beat opinions heard, whether cranky old internet blowhards or pampered privileged young liberal college professors? Just as long, that is, as nobody (like me…) monopolizes the discourse?

    What’s wrong with Phil Tanny’s views, in my opinion, is that his fixation on everybody paying attention to their own brain borders on solipsism, and ignores that everybody is affected by the environment around them, like it or not. And like I tried (clumsily) to point out, hostility and hatred in the environment cause psychological pain and even physical suffering for everybody, especially for disadvantaged (differently-abled, differently-sexed, ptsd-suffering, autistic, etc.) people. Therefore everybody should, I hope, want to create an environment comparatively free of hostility and hatred, without, of course, setting out to purge the world of people who occasionally have bouts of hostility toward others or who express opinions different than yours. Then everybody would benefit from the policy, not just special interest groups who self-identify as special interest groups, and nobody would have to self-identify as a privileged minority just to get protection from having to deal with everybody else’s problems.

    What’s wrong with Joshua Stein’s position, in my opinion, is that it suggests that somehow gay (trans-gendered, trans-sexual, trans-whatever-ed…) people have more rights than cranky old internet blowhards (like me…), and should be protected against the hostility and hatred of others, while cranky old internet blowhards (probably all white heterosexual males!) don’t deserve such protection, and should just take what they get! since they don’t belong to a category of people currently deemed worthy of special protection by The American Association of Liberal College Professors & Political Correctivists, Unlimited…

    Frankly, I’d be more likely to accept proposals to confer special protection against hostility and hatred on certain people if they were not always directed toward special interest groups, and, instead, accorded equal dignity and respect to others not included in their categories (those darned white heterosexual males!…), just like I’d be a lot more likely to sympathize with those special interest groups if they realized that there are many, many people in the world suffering much more terrible discrimination (or worse…) than they are, and paid more attention to the suffering of those others. Just to mention a few: In the US, Muslim-American co-religionists, Native Americans on the Res, homeless people on the streets, developmentally-disabled people in group homes, etc.. In the rest of the world, Syrian opposition activists, Kurdish independence fighters, Muslim terror suspects, Afghan women, Somalian refugee-camp dwellers, etc. etc. etc. And the list goes on…

    Oh, and on a lighter note. I guess everybody would agree Trump’s order barring trans-gendered people from the military constitutes discrimination, right? But if LBJ had banned trans-gendered people from the military in 1968, suddenly many millions of draft-age American males would have been trans-gendered! At least until the Vietnam War was over and they could come back from Canada without getting busted and sent to ‘Nam…

    So when is discrimination not discrimination? When it benefits you. right? But, then, isn’t that discrimination, too? Only call it reverse discrimination… So when is discrimination not discrimination? When it gets your enemies what they deserve! Now that’s what I call double-reverse discrimination! The Old Statue-of-Liberty play, right? Get it? No?…

    Maybe you just had to be there…


  19. Hi Eric, a great post, well done sir.

    I think it’s important to make a distinction between emotional experiences, and physical attacks or illegal discrimination. I am addressing emotional experiences only in my remarks, because that seems to be the focus of the article.

    Emotionally speaking, yes, everybody is affected by the environment around them. And how we are affected is largely up to us. If you think about it a bit, this is actually very good news. It seems logical for us to take an interest in such good news.

    Yes, we want to create an environment free of hostility and hatred. But this is not perfectly possible in the real world no matter what we do. There will always be somebody who doesn’t like us, makes a snotty remark, declines to include us in their clique etc. You know, jerks extend out over the horizon in every direction, and this will always be so.

    Thus, any attempt to achieve inner peace by managing the thoughts and behaviors of everyone around us is eternally doomed to failure. Even if we could all agree on the right course of action, and we never will, managing everyone to think and act just a certain way is simply beyond our power as individuals or as a society.

    Again, I have no objection to people wearing stickers if it pleases them to do so. My objection is to the theory that the emotional well being of gay people will arise from the actions of straight people. Any gay person who accepts themselves the way they are need not fear the opinions of straight people.

    In those cases where the opinions turn in to illegal actions, then yes, come out with guns blazing, agreed.

  20. Phil Tanny writes:

    “That is reinforcing the corrosive assumption that one’s state of mind is dependent upon what other people do or don’t do, say or don’t say, think or don’t think etc.”

    I think it is trivially obvious that your state of mind does depend on what people say in at least some cases. Lets say I show up up outside your window at 3am, and say, in a loud voice, “Phil Tanny is an derp,” over and over. (If you live high above ground in a high-rise, I would have to do this in the corridor outside your door, affecting the state of mind of many of your neighbors instead.)

    Even if I were to do such things without disrupting yours sleep – maybe, among other things, by creating a “Phil Tanny is a Derp” FB group and inviting all your friends to join – it would cause a certain amount of stress. This would have measurable adverse effects in your immune system (the empirical sciences are on my side here).

    So at least to a certain extent, it is reasonable to ask people not to say certain things.


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