Episode 119: Stephanie Kapusta discusses misgendering

This month, Henry Curtis and I talk to Stephanie Kapusta (Dalhousie University) about misgendering. Click here to download the episode.

In the ordinary sense of the term, misgendering is when someone addresses someone else in a way that corresponds to the wrong gender. Like if Elizabeth Warren was on the street in front of me, dropped her wallet, and I picked it up and yelled: “Sir, you dropped your wallet,” then I would be misgendering her. Why? Presumably because sir is a form of address reserved for men, and she isn’t a man. Now, that probably doesn’t happen to Elizabeth Warren very often, if ever. But if it started happening to her constantly, such that lots of people completely stopped ever addressing her in the woman way, you could imagine it getting on her nerves.

In this episode, Professor Kapusta lays out some of the basic reasons why misgendering someone is a kind of moral harm. The extent of the harm varies significantly depending on the case, and depending on how much the person cares. There are some people who don’t care at all, and they constitute interesting edge cases that we should take seriously. But a lot of people do care, and there’s some work to be done explaining why. One of our guest’s big ideas is that misgendering is especially harmful when it happens to someone who has struggled in some way to achieve their gender, such as a late-transitioning trans woman. If we’re talking about a pattern of deliberate and persistent misgendering, then it seems like this form of address is a way of disrepecting one of the misgendered person’s core life projects.

Another interesting idea our guest puts forward is that there’s also a sense in which a philosophical theory can misgender someone. If I give an account of what gender is that implicitly predicts that so and so is e.g. a woman when in fact so and so is a man, then in endorsing that account, you could perhaps say that I am misgendering the person. Stephanie Kapusta calls this more extended form of misgendering philosophical misgendering and suggests that scholars who work in social metaphysics ought to take care to avoid engaging in it (whether deliberately or indavertently).

I hope you enjoy the episode!
Matt Teichman






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