25. A Week in Philosochick’s Life

Some Thoughts From My Week

I'm usually a very busy person, partly owing to being a young academic teaching and researching, and partly owing to all the stuff that's involved with a gender transition. I try very hard to have a good work-life balance, and things are generally, finally returning back towards normal. I'm starting to have "weekends" again, which is nice. A lot of interesting things happened this past week, and I feel like writing about them, so I will.

metamorphosis_calendar.png I'll start from Sunday the 23rd: that was a good day. I received news that two of my articles have been accepted for publication in good philosophy journals. This brings me up to 5, and I'm barely out of my PhD still. Strictly speaking, that's 5 articles accepted for publication in about 16 months. Not too shabby. I've also received 3 in the past 4 weeks. But hearing about two on the same day is pretty special. My girlfriend and I celebrated with some champagne and take-out.

It's a particularly big deal for a few reasons. First, one of the papers is a central piece of my research project for the past couple years, and what I plan to continue working on for the next few years. It's also the stepping-stone paper that allows me to publish a lot of other stuff that depends on its being out there. Second, I'm applying to both jobs and a post-doctoral fellowship. The adjudication process of the fellowship, and the selection process of tenure-track positions depends heavily on how many publications one has, and how good the journals are that one's publications are in.

Last year, before officially completing my PhD, I was on the job market with 2 publications in good journals, great letters of reference, but the job market is so bad for philosophers, that I didn't even receive an interview for approximately 60 applications. The difference between 2 publications and 5 is non-linear (having 2 is more than twice as good as 1, and each subsequent publication is worth more than the previous one…up to a point, of course). So I'm a much stronger job candidate this year than last. I hope that the job search bears fruit this year.

I also narrowly missed out on winning a post-doctoral fellowship last year. Ironically enough, I learned of my second publication the day after I submitted my application. That may have made the difference in the competition. This year, again, within two days of submitting my application, I learned of more publications. Fortunately, this time, I still had time to call the funding agency to have my application re-opened so that I could add the new publications. I actually like my chances this year. But I'll be crossing my fingers regardless.

So that was Sunday. Monday included teaching (which is going awesomely, by the way; more on that below) and badminton at night. I've played badminton for around 20 years. And I was competitive pretty much from the start, with a very large trophy cabinet. (My other principal competitive sport was golf.) I eventually won the junior provincial championships at 15, and the future looked bright. Unfortunately, a car accident a few months later ended both of my professional sports career aspirations, and I turned to academics. It didn't stop me from competing, though; I just had to accept that I wasn't going to really play on the national or international stage anymore.

I took a few years off at the very end of my undergraduate career due to a very badly sprained ankle, and then because I began my graduate studies across the country with no time for finding a new club. However, partway through my PhD, I resolved to start playing again. My city has very good facilities, with some competitive players. After taking time to regain my fitness and skills, I rather quickly became one of the top players at the club. That lead into requests to compete provincially, and I did: playing doubles, mostly. We did fine, but I didn't like the travel, so I stopped competing, and focused on playing well in the club.

Well, fast forward a few years, and I'm going through a gender transition. So what does this mean for sports and being competitive? Well, I still want to compete, but will they let me compete as my affirmed gender? Neither Badminton Canada nor Badminton Ontario have transgender policies. Ontario Soccer does, though. You can find their policy here. Theirs is similar, but importantly different from the NCAA's policy in the US, and mirrors the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association's (CCAA) policy. Here's another article by Rachel Corbett of the Sport Law and Strategy Group. (It's worth noting that I need to write her a letter about some of the terms she incorrectly uses. For example, 'sex change' is now offensive and outdated.)

I spoke to my old doubles partner about whether he'd like to play mixed doubles with me next year. He was excited at the prospect. I'm still a very good player, even though I'm no longer "training" for competition. But he then asked, "How do you think other people will react?" My honest and immediate response: "Badly…but there's nothing they can do." You see, I know the law, and I know ethics. With Ontario's entering gender identity as a protected class against discrimination in the human rights code, and with even the somewhat backwards policy of the IOC/IAAF, it's clear that the tides are shifting to the inclusion of trans* athletes, and that transwomen are being allowed to compete. The least restrictive policies so far require one year of anti-androgen hormone therapy; the more restrictive policies also require genital surgery.

Why do I know that there's nothing anyone can do in complaint? Because I'll meet the more stringent policy standards by the time that I plan to compete. I plan to engage with the governing sports bodies, both federally and provincially, to formulate a policy in the coming months. I'll keep people updated.

The next significant event happened Wednesday during class. I try to promote an inclusive class atmosphere, and there are university policies against students' poisoning class atmosphere. One student, who has been rather forceful in his comments (very sure of himself and dismissive, though often wrong and verbose) in the past was making a contribution to our large class discussion on rationality and decision-making procedures (in the context of discussing Bentham and utilitarianism). He said something along the lines of, "When Man has to decide, he has to…". Before he could finish his sentence, I asked him to stop. I said, "Let me stop you right there. Let's try not to use male only pronouns for the general case, ok? Something like person or human would be better."

He was not happy: he said, "What, I can't say man? Human!" It's clear that he was trying to say that 'man' stands for 'human,' but that means that he completely missed my point. So I responded, "Well, we're actually going to talk about this in a few weeks: it's just not a good idea to use 'man' to stand for the general case of 'human.'" And he said, putting his hands out, leaning back in his chair and looking around the room, "Does anyone have a problem with that?" Before I let that go anywhere, I said, raising my hand, "Your professor does." I said so calmly, and I think that he saw that I wasn't going to let that debate go further, but I did let him finish his original comment. He then went on to say "human" but then male only pronouns "him" and "he" with a little extra emphasis.

Now, I didn't handle that as well as I could have. First, I should have just let him make his whole comment (whether his use of 'man' was offensive or not). Then, I could have contained his lengthy diatribe — I mean, comment — by saying something like, "OK, well let's leave that there and see where we can go from here," while turning away and moving immediately into moving on to make a comment about how there may have been a problem with expressing comments in class by using male pronouns for general cases. And at the end of doing so, I should just transition into the next part of the lecture without inviting a response from the student. My main mistake was interrupting him and giving him a chance to respond. It ended 'ok', but it could have been a lot worse…and doing things differently could have produced a better outcome.

Well, I say "could" have, because I don't think that any other way of going about things would have helped. I resolved to try to speak to the student (I hadn't remembered his name) Friday, at the next class. Fortunately, while I was setting up, he walked in the door right next to me, I asked his name, and if he'd be willing to stay after class for a couple minutes to discuss what happened Wednesday. He was nice enough to agree, and he stayed to talk.

I explained to him that I wasn't happy with how things played out on Wednesday, and I told him where I made mistakes. However, I stood by my request that students endeavour to not use male pronouns for the general case. I explained my reasoning for this, including evidence showing how it produces a toxic atmosphere for female students. I also mentioned some of the side effects of thinking in those terms: for example, for a long time, drugs for women were tested on young males (drugs for the elderly are also typically tested on young males…go figure). So I asked him if he'd be willing to please comply with my request.

His principal response was about communication and that the point of speaking is to clearly communicate what one thinks, and he thinks that using "Man" to mean "human" or "people" is his way of being clear. Before I could interject that I'm not stupid and that I know what he means (OK, I wasn't going to say that!), he said, "My mistake was thinking that I was communicating with the class. I grant that when communicating with you, I should use 'person.'" So I said, "Well, actually, it's not about communicating with me: it's about having a good class atmosphere. Moreover, I fully understand what you're trying to say; I'm just asking that you use different words that aren't as problematic. And my request is my application of university policy regarding class disruptions and atmosphere."

His response was: "Look, you're going to get your desired outcome, but not for the reasons you want." I said, realizing that that's the best that I can hope for in this situation, "OK, I can be consequentialist about this." (We had just finished our unit on utilitarianism and Friday's lecture was on deontology.) I should also note that I successfully applied the "containment" strategy on his comments, since he made a very long, convoluted, and fallacious argument/comment: "OK, let's leave that there because we have to move on."

Honestly, though? I think that he strongly dislikes women; or, at the very least, he has little to no respect for them.

I'll write about Thursday in another post, as this one is already long enough!!

Yours truly,