Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Debunking Silly Claims about Testosterone

As someone who takes exogenous testosterone regularly, and is all too familiar with the fears and stereotypes people express about what will happen to the personalities of those who gender transition using testosterone, I feel zero surprise about the results of this study: testosterone does not make people less empathetic! Nor does it make people more likely to chose whatever course of action requires more... action.

From the article discussing the study, which looked at subjects making moral decisions about which lives to save in the famous Trolly Problem:

"'The results of the current study yielded no evidence in support of any of the four preregistered hypotheses,' write the authors. Those given testosterone were no more likely to prefer taking action than those given the placebo. It was predicted that they'd also be more prone to make utilitarian judgements that minimize total casualties; this wasn't true, either. Another hypothesis suggested that those given testosterone would be less sensitive to moral prohibitions, such as not choosing to kill someone. In fact, the results suggest the exact opposite is true."

That researchers thought having higher levels of testosterone would cause such consequences is the fact that makes my eyes roll.

Testosterone, like all hormones, has real biological effects! But our society is so invested in an essentialist, patriarchal, binary gender ideology that people believe testosterone causes a ridiculous range of gigantic, multicausal phenomena: power, competitiveness, strength, bravery, callousness, violence--everything people love and hate about our conception of masculinity. Those who love patriarchy want testosterone to define an eternal male power that must be deferred to. For essentialist feminists who see women as innately less problematic than men, testosterone is instead the cooties hormone that makes people abusive, impulsive, and smelly.

People naturalize a set of gender relations and stereotypes that are very historically and culturally specific and deem them eternal effects of a hormone. It's just silly. It makes as much sense as saying capitalism is caused by insulin or socialism by melatonin.

I can tell you that I personally am a much calmer and less angry person now than when I was full of progesterone and estrogen. I did not lose my empathy. I did not become more competitive; if anything, I because less so. I did not lose interest in complex moral reasoning. I did not become obsessed with beer. I did not lose the ability to coordinate colors. I did not decide feminism is a load of hooey.

I did get a lot hairier though.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Protecting Bigotry as "Sincere Religious Belief"

It has become so familiar today. Americans aching to discriminate cry out piteously that they are the real victims. Stopping them from discriminating is oppression! It's religious oppression--or, to be more specific, anti-Christian bias.

This week, the Trump administration's Department of Labor released a new proposed rule allowing corporations and groups that do business with the government wide latitude to discriminate on the basis of "sincere religious belief." Earlier this summer, the Trump Department of Health and Human Services finalized a rule allowing employees of health care organizations to refuse to treat people based on their beliefs and "moral conscience."

Central in the public arguments for these and other similar policy rulings have been people who are trans, nonbinary and/or queer (with the usual transmisogynistic focus on transfeminine people). The specter is raised of businesses being forced to employ "men in dresses" who violate religious sensibilities and scare off clients. Clinic staff will be forced to respect and use patients' pronouns even if they believe their religion demands patients be mispronouned!

Administration spokespeople claim that the Trump administration rejects discrimination--yet it opposes passage of the Equality Act which would make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity illegal. Why? Because the Equality Act "is filled with poison pills that threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights." In other words, the Equality Act is "poison" because it would prevent evangelical Christian parents from sending their queer and trans children to conversion therapy, and prevent white evangelical bakers from refusing to sell cakes to same-gender couples. Preventing discrimination would harm a "conscience right" to discriminate! Ah, the logic of these times.

But the phenomenon of justifying bigotry with religion was hardly invented in the Trump era, and has a long history, stretching back even before the Revolutionary War. Racial slavery was justified on religious grounds. There was the paternalistic lie that Africans torn from their homes and pressed into forced labor learned to embrace their enslavement because it replaced "heathen superstitions" with Christian salvation. There was the claim that dark skin was the "curse of Ham" or "mark of Cain," and that God intended the descendants of Ham or Cain to experience eternal suffering. And there were claims that various mentions of servants, bondservants and slaves in the Bible meant that God approved of slavery. (This ignored the facts that racial slavery in the Americas was very different from the typically temporary enslavement in ancient times, and that the Biblical story that does discuss an equivalent is that of Moses leading the Jewish people in a slave revolt, in which God punished the Egyptians with plagues for not giving the enslaved Jews their freedom).

Racial segregation was also justified on religious grounds. White evangelicals based this claim that the Bible required racial segregation on Acts 17:26, which reads in its entirety "And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation. . ." White evangelical racists claimed that these words meant that God created all humanity, but separated them by race, placing "bounds" around them, and that anyone arguing for desegregation was an agent of Satan opposing God's plan. Consider this photo of a pro-segregation rally from 1959:

In the middle, you will see a sign reading "Stop the Race Mixing March of the Anti-Christ." That marching "Anti-Christ," supposed enemy of all Christians, would be the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The fact that King was a Christian pastor brings up an important point. It is true that racial slavery and segregation were both justified by Christian arguments from the Bible. But the groups that fought for the abolition of slavery and for the civil rights movement that brought down segregation were both full of Christians (African American, white, and of many races) who based their positions on scripture as well. And today, the vast majority of white evangelical churches have abandoned former claims that the Bible justifies slavery or racial segregation. (The standard approach is to say that the former racist religious claims were never really made by many evangelicals, that most white evangelical churches and organizations were just going along with the common behavior of the time, and that the sin that they own as white evangelicals was going along with what everyone else was doing, instead of critiquing an un-Godly society.)

These histories show us a couple of things. One is that great evil has been justified in the name of Christianity throughout American history. (And we could list many more examples. Colonialism. The separation of indigenous children from their families and communities to "assimilate" them in mission schools. Framing Hitler as an agent of God sent to cause the nation of Israel to be refounded so that the End Times can come as predicted and the born again raptured into heaven while the Jews burn in hell.)

The other thing we can see is that each of these movements for evil have been opposed by Christians who base their opposition in scripture. Christian scholars today say, "[T]here’s a gaping chasm between saying that “Christianity provided the moral justification for slavery” and saying that slavery “was justified in the name of Christ.” It’s the difference between saying that a religion itself provides the justification for an action and saying that people claim the religion justifies the action. Just because people attribute their actions to Christianity or Islam doesn’t mean that the religious justification that they provide is actually authentic Christian (or Muslim) theology." In other words, Christian bigots get the Bible wrong.

But at the times of slavery and of Jim Crow segregation, racist Christians heard this argument from Christian abolitionists and civil rights supporters--and were supremely unpersuaded. The counterresponse of major 20th century white evangelical leader Bob Jones to Christian supporters of the civil rights movement? "These religious liberals are the worst infidels." Christians working towards racial justice and integration weren't just ignorantly misinterpreting the Bible, they were willful agents of evil rejecting religious truth, the sorts of sinners that churches used to burn at the stake. Christians who married outside their own race were like Judas, betraying Jesus.

The Bob Jones University policy against interracial dating and marriage, repealed in 2000
So: in every American conflict over the rights of the marginalized, there have been Christians on both sides, each claiming the other side is wrong about what the Bible says.

Disagreements about how religious doctrine should be applied to social life on earth are nothing new.

This is, after all, why the Constitution requires the separation of Church and State. The founders who drafted it had just fought a war of independence against Britain, in which the British saw the Americans as heretics. Americans lived in British colonies; the official religion of Britain was the Church of England; the head of the Church of England was King George. By rebelling against the King, Americans were told, they were traitors not just to Britain, but to God. It is due to this experience that the American Constitution was drafted to contain provisions for freedom of religion--and also against the establishment of religion as law.

This is why the longstanding religious exemption to the nondiscrimination policy for businesses working with the federal government has always been framed very narrowly.  Ordinarily, companies doing business with the government are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion. But under the traditional federal religious exemption, a Jewish charity working with a federal agency that has a kosher kitchen in their facility is allowed, as required by Jewish religious rules, to hire a rabbi to come inspect it to certify it is kosher, and not open the hire to people who are not rabbis. On the other hand, policy language and court decisions have stayed out of the business of trying to decide which religious belief is theologically correct. If there is substantial disagreement about what the religion requires, then the nondiscrimination exemption is not granted. Only widely recognized, codified tenets of a religion can be the basis of a request for an exemption.

The new rules written by Trump administration members are tossing that understanding out the window. The new federal contractor exemption policy allows for a vastly expanded right to discriminate. There are a bunch of ways in which it does this, but I will focus on two. Instead of just allowing businesses to restrict a job opening to a co-religionist, businesses are now allowed to require their employees to follow the claimed religious beliefs of the employer. In other words, they are allowed to fire you for being in a same-gender relationship, or embracing and supporting your trans child, or anything else they claim is counter to "adherence to religious tenets as understood by the employing contractor." That's true even if you share the same religion with the employer, but believe that you are acting in accordance with religious precepts, and your employer's interpretation of religious doctrine is wrong.

And that leads us to the most shocking element of the new policy. Instead of only allowing exemptions for officially recognized, little-disputed, codified religious practices, now contractors are allowed to discriminate based on any belief they personally sincerely hold. The old policy kept government out of battles over religious belief by refusing any claim based on a belief that is contentious. They new one keeps government out by accepting any and all beliefs, so long as they are "sincere."

And that is scary, because a lot of people sincerely believe all kinds of repellent and bigoted things.

Consider a 2014 (pre-Trump) survey by PPRI regarding Americans' opinions about whether businesses should have a right to refuse services to various sorts of people, based on the business owners' religious beliefs. While a large majority opposed the idea that businesses should have a right to discriminate against patrons, a disturbingly substantial minority spoke up for such a right. For example
  • 21% of white evangelicals stated businesses should be able to deny service to atheists
  • 16% of Midwesterners believed businesses should be allowed to discriminate against Jews
  • 13% of Gen X respondents said businesses should be able to refuse to serve African Americans
  • 26% of white evangelicals supported businesses being able to discriminate against "gays and lesbians"
While this seems disturbing enough, that was then, and this is now. By 2018, 51% of white evangelicals voiced support for businesses having a right to refuse to serve LGBT people based on "religious freedom." The percentage had nearly doubled. A comparison of total American support for a claimed religious entitlement to discriminate in 2019 is pictured in this graph:

Another troubling fact: in the 2018 survey, both Republicans and white evangelicals counterfactually asserted that Christians face substantially more discrimination in society that LGBT Americans. Over a few years that have felt very, very long, this pattern has gotten ever stronger. Victim and victimizer are reversed. Are white evangelicals being targeted by domestic terrorists, banned from the military, subjected to conversion therapies by their parents, beaten in the streets for being white evangelicals? It's the same DARVO tactic under which white supremacists frame families seeking asylum from violence as dangerous invaders, and "redpilled" men frame themselves as the pitiful victims of systemic oppression by women.

Christian women praying that a generic Houston antidiscrimination law will not pass, wearing transmisogynistic t-shirts reading "No Men in Women's Bathrooms"
There is something it is very important to recognize, though. And that is that while white evangelicals in the U.S. claim to speak for all Judeo-Christians, they very much do not. The percentage of Catholics in 2018, for example, who supported allowing businesses to discriminate against people identified as LGBT was 28%--still depressingly high, but not the 51% of white evangelicals. Many Christian denominations explicitly name discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity as sin, including Lutherans, Episcopals, Anglicans, and the Alliance of Baptists. So do the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist branches of American Judaism.

White evangelical leaders are in fact well aware that while they speak to the media and their flocks as representing all of Judeo-Christian belief in opposing LGBTQ+ rights, this is really not the case at all. A 2019 Pew study shows that same-gender marriage is supported today by 61% of Catholics, 66% of white mainline Protestants, and, in fact, 29% of white evangelicals. Another 2019 survey asked people their opinion on the position--supported by evangelical leaders and adopted by the Trump administration--that the law should not protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination. A large majority of Americans of all religious groups disagree. According to the 2019 PRRI survey, "Among major religious groups, the strongest supporters of LGBT nondiscrimination protections are Unitarian Universalists (90 percent), Jews (80 percent), Hindus (79 percent), Buddhists (75 percent), and religiously unaffiliated Americans (78 percent). Even majorities of faith traditions that have been historically more opposed to LGBT rights support these protections. Fully seven in 10 Mormons (70 percent), along with 65 percent of black Protestants, 60 percent of Muslims, 54 percent of white evangelical Protestants, and 53 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses favor LGBT nondiscrimination laws." (The same study found that 55% of white evangelicals and 54% of Mormons favored allowing small business to deny services to LGBT people, showing inconsistency in some people's responses. But in any case, white evangelicals and Mormons were the only two out of all American religious groups in which a majority voiced support for a religious exemption to nondiscrimination laws for businessowners, and those majorities were not large ones.)

The beliefs of white evangelical Christians set them apart from the American religious norm.

In particular, many people have noted that American white evangelicals have become strangely obsessed with sex, gender and sexuality. Their political activism centers rejecting gender egalitarianism, premarital sexuality, contraception, abortion, same-gender relationships, nonbinary gender identities, and gender transition (except in the case of children born intersex, in which case seeking sex change surgery is made mandatory). This is formally codified in the Nashville Statement. Putting it less formally was the Modesto, CA "straight pride parade" organizer Don Grundmann, who said, there are "two religious views of the world. One is Christianity, which is represented by heterosexuality, a culture of life, and its opponent is the LGBT movement, which is represented by an opposing religion and an opposing view of life.” Having a egalitarian stance toward sex, gender and sexuality is a "religion," and evangelical Christianity is its inverse. A popular white evangelical approach to this today is to frame a demand for heterosexuality, cisgender identity, limiting sex to the marital and procreative, and requiring wifely submission to a husband as a sort of zero-th commandment: implicit, but the foundation of all Christianity.

A friend of mine who is an Anglican priest said bluntly that this should be understood as anti-Christian. Jesus says nothing in the New Testament about contraception, abortion, same-gender relationships, nonbinary gender identities, or gender transition. But he has a great deal to say about duties to feed the poor, visit the sick and imprisoned, care for migrant people, and love all of humanity. That's why my priest friend devotes herself to serving, without judgment, people who are suffering at society's margins--homeless, trans, addicted, undocumented, dying in hospice, survivors of sexual abuse. To spend one's energies judging, vilifying and seeking to exclude people is the exact opposite of what she reads Jesus telling people to do throughout the New Testament.

Also, she says making up a fundamental commandment that is nowhere in the Bible and calling it Biblical is heresy.

Christians at a Pride parade
As we have seen before, battles for freedom, justice and equality in America regularly have Christians on both sides, each claiming the Bible supports their position. Personally, I find my priest friend's theology vastly more convincing. But the problem is, there is no doubt that most religious bigots sincerely believe that God is on their side.

So, is opposition to queer, trans, nonbinary and intersex people the "religious position" in the U.S.? Clearly not. Is it the Christian position? Not according to a majority of Christians. But under the new Trump administration rules, medical practitioners and clinic staff can turn us away, and businesses fire us or refuse us service, so long as they claim being LGBTQIA+ is against their religious beliefs. And of course, they can do the same to any other marginalized group.

Consider, for example, these two other examples just this week:

In North Carolina, a sheriff's deputy was assigned to train a new co-worker. He refused to work with the new deputy because she was a woman. His supervisor told him training the new deputy was a job requirement, and he had to do it or he would be fired. He still refused, and he was fired, and now he is suing for religious discrimination. He claims to be following the "Billy Graham Rule"--that a man and woman who are not married must not be alone together. His lawsuit states that he “has a sincerely held religious belief against working alone in his patrol car in isolated areas with a female who is not his wife.”

Under the white evangelical position that Trump is happily allowing Mike Pence to promulgate, not only is the man who was fired in the right, but entire businesses can choose to hire only men, lest a man and woman who are not married wind up in a room alone together.

And then there's this example: a candidate for a City Council position in Marysville, Michigan stated during a candidates' forum that her aim would be, to "[k]eep Marysville a white community as much as possible" and to keep out the "foreign-born." After the forum, when speaking to the local newspaper, she explained that her position was based on her being a Christian. “What is the issue is the biracial marriages, that’s the big problem. And there are a lot of people who don’t know it’s in the Bible and so they’re going outside of that.”

Interracial marriage has been legal since the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case in 1967. Mildred and Richard Loving had been arrested after traveling from Virginia, where interracial marriage was banned, to Washington DC, where it was legal, to get married. The judge in the Virginia county criminal court that found them guilty wrote, "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

I'm sure the judge in the Loving case was sincere in his religious belief, and that the Marysville candidate is, too.

Richard and Mildred Loving
Frankly, I can't imagine how one could see persecuting people by denying them the right to marry, refusing to work with them, torturing them in attempts to "convert" them, or refusing them access to lunch counters or bathrooms or medical services could be embraced as a "moral conscience." According to the religious precepts of my faith, all of these are acts of evil which I am required to oppose and seek to repair.

But while my religion is an important personal motivator for my secular actions, I completely oppose the idea that religious beliefs should determine what people are allowed to do in civic society. In a nation where people have very differing religious and ethical beliefs, this will render nondiscrimination laws useless. White supremacists' "conscience" tells them that racial discrimination is a great good. Eugenicists' "conscience" tells medical practitioners to withhold treatment from disabled people so that they will die rather than reproduce. Whatever form of evil and discrimination you can imagine, someone out there has a religious justification for it that makes sense in their mind and that they sincerely believe.

You would think white evangelical Christian leaders would see that the position they are pushing through dominionist activism can be used against them, just as it can against other groups. I am sure there are many people in the U.S. whose conscience tells them a business should to refuse to bake a cake for people who have refused to bake a cake for a same-gender couple.

Actually, however, I am sure white evangelical Christian leaders see this very clearly, and lust after it. Because in our weird historical moment, white evangelical Christians, other Trumpist Republicans, and the entire internet manosphere is in love with a victim narrative. Remember, that's where this post started: with piteous claims that antidiscrimination laws are persecuting Christians. We live in an era where a whole lot of white people see themselves as the "real victims" of racism, where "redpilled" men see themselves as victims of systemic oppression by women, etc. etc. etc. For white evangelical Christians, this takes the form of a faith-under-fire narrative, under which they can paint themselves as noble martyrs. The thing is, being a martyr in the "War on Christmas," where the wounds one suffers are receiving greeting cards that say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," lacks much gravitas and is kind of embarrassing. How much better it would be to face real discrimination, being denied service at a bakery and getting to have a sit-in!

The vision of opponents of social justice movements today is that being a member of an oppressed group is lucky and fun, something that will get you political power and social media fame and free government handouts. The privileged are oppressed because they lack this oppression!

As those of us who face actual marginalization know, the reality is vastly different. It looks like refugee children being ripped from their parents' arms and kept in cages. It looks like being bullied and beaten at school and rejected by parents, leading over 40% of all trans/nonbinary youth to attempt suicide. It looks like being stereotyped as dangerous, overpoliced, and treated unequally by courts so that one in three African American boys can expect to grow up to spend time in prison, as opposed to one in 17 white boys. Oppression isn't fun, it doesn't make you famous, and you don't get to laze around on mythic lakes of "free government handouts for minorities." If white evangelical Christians were to really experience systematic oppression in the U.S., they'd learn that.

But that lesson has not been learned, so here we are.

And that is why everyone who wants discrimination in the U.S. to be illegal must fight the "sincere religious belief" and "moral conscience" exception policies being enacted by the Trump administration tooth and nail. And while white evangelical Christian leaders aren't concerned, and are in fact psyched by the idea that these exemptions will mean people like them actually get discriminated against, too, I suggest we make it clear we are fighting on everyone's behalf, including that of their followers. Because while it might very well be satisfying to give people a taste of their own medicine, a nation where every person is free to spit on their neighbor is a dystopic nightmare.

It's also hardly what I believe the words "love your neighbor as yourself" mean. But since oppression and cruelty have a long history of being supported by religious justifications, we have to step outside of religion into the laws of civic society to end discrimination--and religious exemptions defeat that purpose.

Monday, February 5, 2018

American Attitudes Towards Trans People Are Not Great

Americans seem to have the impression that LGBT people in the U.S. have more rights and get more respect than in most places. In particular, I've run into many Americans who think that trans rights have been advancing here at mach speed. If they're transphobic, of course, they frame this as some horrible threat to society that must be undone. But I've encountered a lot of cisgender Americans who understand themselves as generally supportive of the LGBT community who still say that the pace of change when it comes to trans issues has been so fast it's hard for them to keep up, so let's just slow down. The U.S. may be the most socially advanced country, but we don't need to get crazy.

Well, this fall an international study was conducted in 27 countries on attitudes towards trans people. And what it shows is that rather than being the most "advanced" in its acceptance of trans people, the U.S. population has a much more negative attitude towards trans people than the norm.

Consider these findings:

1. Americans are the most likely to say they would intentionally misgender trans people (call a trans woman "he," a trans man "she," and refuse to use any gender-neutral pronoun). For example, there are almost twice as many Americans who say they would intentionally misgender trans people than there are Australians or Canadians who say this.

2. Americans are three times more likely to say being trans is a mental illness than are citizens of Italy, Spain, Argentina or France.

3. Americans are more likely than study participants in any of the other surveyed countries to frame being trans as "sinful."

4. "Americans are the most likely to say that society has gone too far in allowing people to dress and live as one sex even though they were born another (36%), while people in Japan are least likely to agree with this sentiment (9%)."

So, you may hear people telling you that America is "way out there" when it comes to trans rights, and needs to slow down. In fact, the U.S. is dragging way behind the international community when it comes to accepting and supporting trans people.
Americans need to know that, step up, and do better.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

When #MeToo Celebrities Fail Trans Women

If celebrities are going to profit off of being the figureheads for our collective traumas, then we have the right to demand they do it right.

Trans people are sexually victimized at a sadly high rate. All victims of sexual harms deserve to be respected and represented by those treated as the spokespeople of the #MeToo movement. Unfortunately, that's not the case. I want to speak out about a nasty case of ally fail that took place this week, when a presumed spokesperson for abuse victims shouted down a trans woman.

This is Rose McGowan. You probably know who she is, but if you don't, she's best known as an actor playing one of the attractive witch sisters on the aughties show Charmed. Recently, what she's been famous for is being one of the victims of sexual assaults by Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein kept the story of his assault of McGowan quiet for a decade through a combination of paying her settlement money and hiring agents to keep the story out of the press. That McGowan was sexually assaulted was horrible. That Weinstein could get away with it, appalling. McGowan was victimized and she has my complete empathy for that.

When the news that Weinstein had assaulted and sexually harassed at least 8 women finally broke last October, McGowan initially refused to comment. But after a few days, she became part of the breaking wave of celebrity women speaking out about having been sexually assaulted or harassed by powerful Hollywood men. This was the start of the #MeToo movement. Rose McGowan became a hero of the movement on Twitter, when her account was suspended for 12 hours for allegedly violating Twitter's privacy policy, in the midst of her sending a flurry of tweets about Weinstein. This led to mass outrage about the silencing of victims of sexual abuse. McGowan's actions were one element triggering the birth of #MeToo, and I respect that.

The #MeToo movement detonated by the Weinstein news coverage quickly swelled and spread. Celebrities and scientists and political aides and grad students and masses of ordinary people--a majority of them women, but including men and others--joined in calling out their abusers. People told their stories, to reporters, on social media, in classrooms and face to face. It was an important moment of mass disclosure and mass confrontation.

The #MeToo movement continues to have social influence, and as one of the innumerable victims of sexual assault, that is very important to me. But there is an issue that arises in our contemporary world dominated by media, for-profit and social, and that is the issue of representation. Whose voices get amplified? Who is the face of the movement, and how is that person chosen? Who gets to profit off of their victimization, and who instead pays a steep price for speaking out? Will the person who gets to speak for us represent us well? Represent us all? Or will they actually kick some of us in the teeth while being celebrated as heroes?

Rose McGowan has become a key face of the #MeToo movement. She just published a memoir, Brave, about her experiences with Harvey Weinstein. A five-part E! documentary about her experience has also just started to screen. She's doing the full tour of news and entertainment shows to promote her book and talk about what happened to her and what she did about it.

McGowan is a victim, but she's also someone who is getting a whole lot of profit out of telling her story--both in the direct form of the money she's being paid for her book, documentary, etc., and in the form of revived and amplified celebrity. I don't have a problem with that, in principle. Imagine a world in which every one of us who has been abused received karmic retribution in our own lifetimes, and became rich and powerful, while those who harmed us made to apologize on national media. That would be cool.

That's not going to happen, unfortunately. A sadly small percentage of the victims of sexual harassment or assault will ever see any justice. Just a tiny handful will become rich and famous as the media faces of our collective suffering. Ideally, those fortunate few would be selected for a good reason. Perhaps they suffered the ghastliest abuse. Maybe they worked for years to directly aid abuse victims. Perhaps they are excellent spokespeople who have put in years studying people's experiences, and know how power and marginalization and abuse work, how they play out differently according to class, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and the full range of social statuses--and can explain this to people.

This being America, though, usually the people selected to profit by being spokespeople are celebrities. Like Rose McGowan. That's not fair, but that's the way our culture currently works. We ordinary people will rarely become the media face of a movement. But we can at least demand that the celebrities chosen to represent us do that: represent us.

The problem, of course, is that celebrity relates to social privilege. One of the earliest aims of the #MeToo movement was to call out men's dominance of the entertainment industry and abuse of that power. We live in a world of #OscarsSoWhite. The underrepresentation of people from marginalized groups among our media figures is pervasive. And so we wind up with spokespeople like Rose McGowan: a white cisgender woman who this week shouted down a trans woman, in the process making transphobic comments and spewing out colorblind racism.

Here's how that went down. McGowan was speaking at a book release party for her memoir, Brave. People from the audience were asking her questions. And a trans woman pointed out that trans women suffer extreme rates of sexual and physical violence, and asked McGowan to speak to that. Her motivation for asking McGowan this undoubtedly came out of statements McGowan made in an interview by RuPaul last summer, in which McGowan framed trans women as really men who have no idea what real women go through.

McGowan's response was to deny that trans women face more victimization than cis women, then to put a happy face on that by calling the trans woman "sister" and saying "we're the same"--a gesture, I take it, of McGowan's positioning herself as a good spokesperson for trans women victims of sexual violence.

The woman who asked the question was not happy with the response, and she and McGowan spoke and then yelled over one another. The trans woman was removed by security, chanting "white cis feminism" all the while. And then McGowan proceeded to yell and rant at the audience. She was outraged at being called cisgender and at having her whiteness pointed out. She screamed,

"Don’t label me, sister. Don’t put your labels on me. Don’t you fucking do that. Do not put your labels on me. I don’t come from your planet. Leave me alone. I do not subscribe to your rules. I do not subscribe to your language.

"You will not put labels on me or anybody. Step the fuck back. What I do for the fucking world and you should be fucking grateful. Shut the fuck up. Get off my back. . . I didn’t agree to your cis fucking world. Ok? Fuck off. . .

"I’m fucking mad with the lies. I’m mad that you put shit on me because I have a fucking vagina and I’m white or I’m black or I’m yellow or I’m purple. Fuck off. All of us want to say it. I just do. . .

"There’s not a network here devoted to your fucking death. There’s not advertisers advertising tampons with a camera lovingly going up a girl’s body as she’s being lovingly raped and strangled. Piss off. And until you can collect that fucking check, back up. My name is Rose McGowan and I am obviously fucking brave.”

What this rant presents is in fact a Top Hits of white feminist colorblind racism, trans-exclusionary feminism, and self-aggrandizing bad allyship. Shut up and be grateful, trans woman. Terrible things happen to cis white girls! I don't experience cis privilege or white privilege. You're attacking me because I have a vagina and for the color of my skin. I don't care if people are black or white or purple, and by bringing up my whiteness you are the real racist. (But I do care about what genitals people have, oh yes, and make presumptions about what is in your pants! And I refuse to call myself a cis woman, because that's a trans imposition, more proof that trans women are really men trying to control the real women.) I'm so brave I'm willing to shout down a trans woman, something everyone wishes they could do, but is too afraid!


Herein lies the main problem of the spokespeople of contemporary social movements being, not the most qualified person, but the most famous one. You wind up with somebody who has little awareness of their own privileges. You wind up with someone who is below the 101-level of understanding how privilege works. They still see it as an on/off switch. "I've been victimized, so I am not an oppressor." They haven't yet learned to see that all of us have dozens of social statuses, and enjoy privilege along some and endure marginalization along others. They haven't yet done the work to examine how they themselves are benefitting from the marginalization of others. You get people speaking for a social justice movement who are themselves bigots. You get transmisogynists who paint trans women as a sexual threat rather than as sexual victims. You get the familiar, specious argument that as victims of sexual assault by cis men, because they frame their bias against trans women in terms of fear of assault, cis women's transmisogyny should be validated rather than decried.

You get people who frame as personal attacks on them calls for them to recognize how being a person of color or trans or otherwise socially marginalized makes victimization worse. You get people who present those who critique their inadequate spokespersonship as the supposed problem with progressives today. You know: the complaint of a "circular firing squad."

Attacking one's allies because their choice of terms is anything other than 100% perfect is bad, to be sure. But this is something else. This is calling out transmisogyny and colorblind racism on the part of someone who is supposed to be the public voice of #MeToo. You cannot be the voice of people who deal with so much worse crap than you do, as a white cis celebrity, if you are in denial about your privileges, or worse, actively voicing bigotry.

This was #MeToo fail. And we all have the right, and the responsibility, to call on our media spokespeople to stop failing us.

Rose McGowan, you have my complete sympathy and solidarity with regard to your having been sexually assaulted. But you are harming my family, my communitymembers who are not cis white women, and I demand you do better in exchange for your profiting as our figurehead.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Trans is an Adjective: The Cartoon!

I made a little cartoon to share with people who have trouble figuring out what it means when someone says, "Hey--trans is an adjective, not a noun!"

I hope you enjoy my quality stick figures, heh.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Red State is "Detransitioning" State Employees--Like Me

It's been close to a decade since I legally gender transitioned.

While it was a great relief to finally live authentically in the gender I knew myself to be, transitioning was a process both challenging and tedious. I needed to have my name and gender marker changed in so many databases. This meant awkward interpersonal interactions. (For example, when I went to get a driver's license issued with my new name and gender marker, the person staffing the front desk at the DMV, apparently seeing me as insufficiently manly looking after just a few months on testosterone, responded by exclaiming in front of the crowd waiting in line, "What are you, some kind of pre-op?!").  It meant educating and cajoling and placating administrators of multiple bureaucracies who had never personally changed anyone's gender marker in whatever system they administrated, and were disconcerted to be asked to do so. It meant presenting my court order of name change and state ID showing my "M" marker over and over again.

Running the gauntlet of getting my gender transition acknowledged and implemented took months. It was tiresome. But I managed it, and moved on with my life. As my appearance shifted under the influence of hormone therapy and most people got used to addressing me as "he," the levels of stress involved in just living my life as myself slowly dropped. There were ongoing battles that remained, like my fight against the ban on insurance coverage for transition-related care in the policies offered to Wisconsin state employees, but the legal hassles seemed mostly behind me. I could mostly breathe free and just go about my business.

And for a brief moment, things really started to look up. After eight years of fighting with no success for insurance coverage for the trans care my wife and I required, policy directives under Obamacare forced my state to say it would lift the ban on transition care. The exclusion was to be lifted on January 1, 2017. But in November of 2016, Donald Trump won the presidential election, promising to repeal Obamacare and produce a total change in federal regulations. Now, my Republican governor and state legislature felt empowered to enact transpohobic policies. In December, the "Employee Trust Fund" or ETF--the agency administering all benefits programs for Wisconsin state employees--directed all insurers providing coverage to state employees to reinstate the ban on coverage for trans care.

For a family like mine, with two gender transitioners who had been waiting for many years to access additional care and get coverage for our HRT, that was more than depressing. But at least we saw it coming.

What came like a bolt from the blue was the notice I got a week ago.

It was a Friday afternoon. I'd just given a colloquium talk in my department. The week was winding down, and so was I, sitting in my office going through the day's pile of email--the usual questions from students about assignments and discussions about programming with instructors in the LGBT+ studies program I direct. Then I came across an email from my university human resource specialist, opening with a cheerful "Hello!" It informed me that ETF had changed their policy on gender transitioning in their system (which covers not only health insurance but all benefits, like disability, retirement plans, etc.). It stated that in order to "maintain a gender change," I had to provide additional documentation for myself and for my wife.

We were being detransitioned by the state, though I'd legally transitioned nearly a decade ago, and my wife started her transition in the 1990s. And we did not have the additional documentation demanded.

Reading this email caused an immediate feeling of shock at the attack on our identities. But let me note that reverting our gender markers to what they were years ago does more than emotional or psychological damage. And it impacts more than how others view our genders. For example, I have developed a neurological problem with my arm leading to partial loss of the use of one hand. I'll be seeing a neurologist in a few days--and a mismatch in my identification can mean denial of insurance coverage. That could be very costly to my family--but delaying needed medical care is costly in other ways.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Before I get to discussing the additional demands ETF is making, let me point out a very broad problem, and that is the idea that agents of the state can change one's legal status retroactively at any time. Imagine, for example, if the state decided that it wished to make it harder for people to get married, and so it imposed a new requirement--that in order to have a marriage recognized, residents would have to provide DNA evidence proving they and their spouse are not related (an expensive prospect). Then imagine that all married state employees were informed that their status had been reverted to single in employment databases and systems, because they had not complied with the DNA test requirement when documenting their marriages. That's not the way regulatory changes, mundane or shocking, operate--they are applied going forward, but not retroactively.

Now, as for the new procedures for gender transitioning, there are three requirements listed by ETF. The first is that the employee must notify ETF directly, providing their old and new names, old and new gender markers, ETF ID number, and a declaration that they are gender transitioning. Previously, employees notified HR at their place of employment, and employer HR staff changed the gender marker directly in the benefits system. But now ETF will centralize control over implementing transitions, and maintain a database of gender transitioners. In essence, we are being required to register with the state. As a Jewish person who lost extended family in the Holocaust, I find this extremely creepy.

The second thing trans people are required to do is provide "proof of identity," such as a driver's license or military ID showing the new name and gender marker. That's what we had to do in the past, and my wife and I can easily produce our Wisconsin driver's licenses showing our names and most correct binary gender markers. But now ETF is demanding more.

We are now being required to produce a third item, "proof of gender." This is very strange, because a driver's license already provides state-recognized proof of one's gender. Requiring more serves no purpose other than to make it harder for people to get their identified genders recognized. And the new "proof of gender" items are difficult and intrusive items to get.

Let's look at the options. One is a court order of gender change. To get one of these is difficult, expensive, and in many states, like Wisconsin, requires a doctor to testify that one has had surgical sex reassignment. Now, some people cannot have such surgery for medical reasons. Others do not want it--they desire social recognition of their identified genders, not a program of body modifications. And nonbinary gender transitioners often find they are denied access to surgeries. But let me underline that in any case, the very surgeries that ETF is making necessary in order to have one's transition recognized it has also categorically excluded from insurance coverage. My wife and I have been waiting for years to access some surgical interventions that would make our lives easier on many levels, one of which is being able to access things like a court order of gender change. But we can't afford them without insurance coverage. It's a Catch-22, and seems deliberately cruel.

Well. Instead of presenting a court order of name change, another "proof of gender" is a US birth certificate showing the identified gender. Now, in bluer states than mine, amending one's birth certificate sex requires just a letter from a doctor or therapist attesting that a person under their care is gender transitioning. A few states with reactionary policies, like Ohio and Idaho, do not allow birth certificate sex to be changed for gender transitioners at all. But most states, like Wisconsin, will do it for people who have had sex reassignment surgery which is documented in some particular way--in Wisconsin, it's by a court order of gender change. So we're back to square one, for my family and for so many gender transitioners.

What else will ETF accept as proof of gender? Another option is a US passport showing the identified gender. My wife and I have been trying for months to get the documentation we need to get passports issued in our lived genders, but have run into difficulties trying to get certified copies of legal documents. Hopefully these problems will be resolved in time and the rules for gender transition and passports won't shift under us before then. But even if we had them, this option as provided by ETF is highly problematic. Their policy requires that for a passport to "count" as proof of gender, the original passport must be mailed to an ETF P.O. box to be examined. It's crazy to demand that someone hand over their passport, via ordinary mail, with no specified procedure for ensuring its safety, no description of how long it will be held, no contact information given for an employee to inquire about the location of their passport should they not receive it back in a timely fashion, and most of all no explanation as to why the original document has been demanded, rather than just shown to the employee's HR office. So, even if we did have passports, we wouldn't want to mail them off to ETF as required.

Finally, there's the alternative of mailing a letter from a care provider as "proof of gender." At first, this seems the go-to option. Letters from medical practitioners and therapists are employed in many transition contexts. But there are two problems with ETF's letter option. First, ETF will only accept a letter from someone with a doctoral-level credential. The clinic where my wife and I get our medical care is staffed solely by (very competent!) nurse practitioners, with masters-degree-level credentials. So our care provider isn't allowed to write a letter for us.

But there's something more insidious, and that is the content required in the letter. Transition letters are commonplace, and they follow a standard format intended to protect the private medical information of the gender transitioner. The care provider writing the letter makes only a general statement that "appropriate clinical treatment" has been provided. But ETF demands that the letter writer explain what that treatment was. This is none of their business! Moreover, ETF is staffed by bureaucrats and accountants, not medical personnel qualified to review such information.

There's no justification given for the letter to disclose such highly personal information. But given what we've just experienced in terms of retroactive de-recognition of our gender transitions, there's reason to fear. It may be that if certain medical procedures are not listed in the letter, even if the letter is accepted now, at some time in the future employees might find their gender transitions reversed in state records yet again.


So, I've been trying to mobilize my university HR to push back against the detransitioning of me and my wife in the benefits system, and against the imposition of onerous and atypical requirements future gender transitioners. A conference call is planned between ETF and HR administrators. We'll see what the outcome is, but one piece of information I have been given so far by the head HR administrator at my university is that apparently my wife and I are the only people to whom ETF directed a notice be sent that our gender transitions would be reversed unless we produced additional documentation, at least as far as he could determine.

There are two interpretations I can give this disconcerting bit of information. Both turn on the fact that I am quite open about being trans, run an LGBT+ studies program, and as an academic who researches intersex and trans issues, have been interviewed by the media numerous times to provide commentary on related news stories. The first interpretation is that some ETF staffmember has been tasked with identifying trans state employees to receive detransitioning notices, and as I'm simply particularly visible as a trans employee of the state, I and my wife were the first identified. And the other is that because I am a critic of transphobic policy initiatives, my family has been personally targeted in retaliation--which is a pretty unsettling possibility. I suppose there's a third scenario--that every other trans person who is a state employee or receives benefits as family member of a state employee presented their HR office with a court order of gender change or amended birth certificate when they gender transitioned. But given that there are almost 300,000 state employees, how hard it is to get those documents, and the fact that they were not considered necessary until now, this seems extremely unlikely. It's an anxiety-inducing situation to find oneself in under any interpretation.

In any case, the short story is this: around the US and the world, as trans rights have advanced, insurance coverage for transition care has become commonplace, while changing gender markers has shifted to being based upon gender identity, not any particular physical sex characteristic or its modification. States like Wisconsin were lagging behind the curve, but progress was being made. Yes, there were backlashes, like the flurry of so-called "bathroom bills," but under the Obama administration, these were federally identified as discriminatory.

But like so many things, a lot has changed fast. And trans people are among those finding themselves besieged.

And that's how I find myself facing detransition by an agency of the state.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Doors Slamming Shut on Trans Care

A Preamble

So much has happened so quickly since the Trump inauguration, so much of it damaging to marginalized people, that it's difficult for folks to keep up with what is going on. That is clearly the intent of Trump puppeteer Steve Bannon, with his desire to produce shock and awe, stir up society like an anthill, and remake it in his nasty image.

With so much going on, it's important that we make and listen to reports from the many fields of struggle, which is why I'm writing this post. But I do want to preface my report with a call for unity. We've been set up, by this initiation of battles on many fronts via tweets and executive orders. Our opponents in Washington hope to divide us. They hope that we'll splinter into "interest groups," each demanding primacy and seeing calls for help and attention from other embattled groups as acts of betrayal. Remember, the concept of "divide and conquer" is as old as the hills. 

None of us can fight every battle--but we can support one another's efforts. We have to focus our individual efforts on what we can do best to resist in our local communities, with the skillsets we each have. But we also need to have one another's backs.

So: I make this small field report, not to distract people from protesting the ban on refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations, or from pushing their representatives in Washington to oppose the nominations of unqualified ideologues to head federal agencies, or whatever other actions people are engaging in. I make it because we must keep one another informed of all the negative changes that are taking place. That's what we need in order to keep taking positive steps to resist.

A Trans Report from the Midwest

I am an employee of the state of Wisconsin, teaching at a state university. About a decade ago, the University of Wisconsin system added to its nondiscrimination clause protections based on gender identity or expression. Yet the insurance plans offered to people working and learning at University of Wisconsin schools all banned coverage of "procedures, services, and supplies related to surgery and sex hormones associated with gender reassignment." I've been fighting that ban ever since.

Until the summer of 2016, I got nowhere. It was a strange battle, because at every turn, I encountered expressions of surprise and sympathy from colleagues and benefits staff and administrators in the University of Wisconsin system. Colleagues presumed transition care must be covered by our insurance, since our antidiscrimination policy bans discrimination based on gender identity, and that must mean what it says. Human resources staff presumed the denial of coverage in our insurance plans must have originated with the insurance companies, and be their national exclusion policy. Upper university administrators saw that the discriminatory medical exclusion came from on high--proclaimed for all state employees by an entity called the Employee Trust Fund. But they regretfully stated that the university system couldn't tell the state what to do. They promised to bring the exclusion up as an issue to be addressed at the state level should an opportunity arise.

And so, year after year, I'd repeat this process of approaching people at various levels, reporting on the ongoing discrimination and asking for their help. I'd speak to them personally, and tell them how my family was impacted. With two gender transitioners and two disabled people in the little family of three I support, we couldn't afford any uninsured surgical care, and the lack of coverage for our trans endocrinological care was costing us between $1000 and $2000 a year out of pocket. Between our other medical expenses and the big hit my take-home pay received when the state withdrew much of its benefits support, my family's savings disappeared, and we have been sinking further and further into debt. And not being able to access surgical transition care is not "just" some issue of psychological discomfort for my wife and myself. It means relying on antiandrogens for year after year, with side effects that can be cumulative. It means relying on the extended wearing of chest binders for year after year, with their restrictions on breathing, exercise, and risk of rib injuryIt means if we fly, we regularly get stopped by airport security and detained due to our "anomalies."

And year after year, the people I contacted would express sympathy, but do nothing.

Then, in the summer of 2016, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services posted the "Final Rule to Improve Health Equity under the Affordable Care Act." And one of the things this document said was that health insurance could not discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression. Blanket exclusions of transition-related care were stated to be unacceptable discrimination.

And lo! Based on this federal guidance, the Employee Trust Fund, the entity declaring policy for state benefits programs, instructed all the health insurers providing insurance to state of Wisconsin employees to remove the ban on trans care.

In the fall of 2016, my family received a letter from our insurer stating that the ban on coverage for transition-related medical expenses would be lifted on December 1, 2017. We put the letter up on the fridge and celebrated.

And then Trump won the election.

I wrote a social media post a few days after the election saying to watch out, because I bet that trans medical care coverage would disappear for people in red states soon after his inauguration in January. A batch of people replied in comments saying that of course things were uncertain, but that I shouldn't be so alarmist. Once rights are granted, they are very hard to take back, they said. Insurers wouldn't want to look bad. If insurers did try to put back blanket bans, they'd face years of lawsuits. And anyway, Trump said he was ok with Caitlyn Jenner using the women's bathroom in Trump Tower.

Who was right? Well, it seems under the Trump administration there is no such thing as an alarmist progressive worry.

What followed Trump's election in Wisconsin was an immediate flurry of activity in the state health insurance regulatory world. Insurers, who a couple of months ago had sent out sunny letters about how they did not discriminate and offered wonderful health care coverage to all, regardless of gender identity, had private conversations with the ETF. Soon, Governor Scott Walker and our anti-LGBT activist state Attorney General, Brad Schimel, were voicing their opinions that the federal bullies who had forced the state to offer trans medical care had no more influence, and the state should reassert its noble, sovereign right to discriminate. The ETF asked the Group Insurance Board for a ruling on whether a "rescission of coverage" would amount to a "breach of duty" to the employees of the state of Wisconsin. The GIB basically ruled, "No, go for it, once Trump is inaugurated."

The very first executive order Trump signed after his inauguration was one stating that Trump intended that Obamacare be repealed, and that meanwhile, all possible actions should be taken "to minimize the unwarrented economic and regulatory burdens" of Obamacare, and give the states "more flexibility and control."

And so, in the name of freedom, states rights, and economic security, the ETF acted. On February 1st, they issued a statement saying that "the exclusion of services related to gender reassignment is reinstated as of today."

One month. That's how long trans medical care needs were acknowledged to be valid in the state of Wisconsin. I didn't even get to have a single refill of my testosterone covered, because of a backorder at my pharmacy.

Hold the Doors

This is a moment where doors are swinging shut all over America. Due to racial and religious bigotry, they are being slammed shut at the national level in the faces of refugees who are fleeing the horrors of war. We must fight for the refugees and immigrants whose lives and livelihoods are endangered by anti-immigrant sentiments and actions. 

But we should also notice and help resist the other doors slamming shut on the smaller levels of state and local action. And the Wisconsin re-adoption of trans discrimination in health care for state employees is one of those actions.

So, can you do anything to help? Well, if you are actually a University of Wisconsin employee, especially an administrator, now is the time to stand up against transphobic discrimination and speak out. Perhaps you didn't know there was a ban on trans medical care coverage before. Perhaps you knew it existed, but thought that was true across the U.S.. Perhaps you knew it was an ETF policy, but thought of it as a sort of ancient fossil, some passive, unconsidered barrier. But now you know. The ETF has pulled the rug out from under your co-workers who are transgender, or have spouses or children who are trans. Coverage is clearly possible, since for one brief month it was offered. It is being denied in a blatant case of discrimination.

I realize that nobody at the University made this decision to reinstate the discriminatory policy. I know that it comes from the state, and that if you are an employee in the benefits office, you don't want to hand out discriminatory plans. University staff supervising and hiring individuals who are trans or have trans dependents don't want them to face unfair financial burdens and negative health and safety outcomes. You are just part of a large system.

But when you hear yourself saying, "I am a cog in a huge machine. I am just following orders," I hope that this makes you shiver, then shake yourself, and do something to resist. This is a habit that we need to develop or redevelop in these times, when talk of creeping fascism is not hyperbole.

Most readers, of course, aren't Wisconsin state employees. But you can help as well. You can contact state legislators via phone or fax. You can make a donation to a trans advocacy organization or the Wisconsin ACLU or other group. Most of all, what you can do is be aware of what is happening here as an example of what is happening in many states and localities now. Find out what is happening with regard to trans health care discrimination in the localities and states you live in or have connections to. Help raise awareness of the issue. There is so much to fight, now: xenophobia, racism, religious discrimination, misogyny. . . I'm not asking people to put transmisogyny and transphobia at the top of some list of deserving causes. I'm asking people to focus on the work they are best at, but when it comes to the list of issues they are not concentrating their personal work on, to make that an inclusive list. We need to have one another's backs, and help one another out where we can, though none of us can effectively take everything on. This is what I am trying me best to do.

And now you know one way to have my back.