Friday, November 25, 2022

Why Calling the Colorado Springs Shooter "They" Doesn't Mean "We Lose"


On the weekend before Thanksgiving and the night before Transgender Day of Remembrance, Anderson Lee Aldrich burst into Club Q in Colorado Springs. Aldrich was wearing tactical gear, armed with an automatic rifle and a handgun, and spraying bullets. Five people were killed and 17 others shot before unarmed patrons at the club--a cis straight man, a trans woman, and an apparently cis gay man--subdued the shooter. 

LGBTQ+ people all over were traumatized. In an era of ever-expanding attacks on queer and trans folks and our allies as "groomers," and of laws being passed to try to erase or segregate trans youth and adults, the attack underlined how we are not safe from hate.

On the political right, the media and social media had little to say about the mass murder. Tucker Carlson did bring on a guest to say that events like this would continue to happen as long as "these people keep trying to get their hands on children." But mostly the right wing just ignored the story that didn't fit their narratives that guns are good and trans people are bad.

Then, a few days after the mass murder, in a flurry of court filings, the shooter's legal team said that Anderson Aldrich is nonbinary, and should be referred to as Mx. Aldrich and "them." And rightwing social media posters went wild, suddenly bursting with interest in the incident. The left had thought they had scored a point on the right, but psych! The point goes to Team Red! Posters were gleeful. Oh, this was perfect, what a move! Aldrich had caught the left in a trap, a glorious Catch-22. Either "the libs" would have to admit that trans people are unstable and dangerous wingnuts, or admit that people who are obviously male can say they're trans when it is not true, and thus have free access to spaces reserved to protect women and girls if society recognizes trans rights.

Watching the flood of rightwing social-media celebration about this news was really hard. People were doing the verbal equivalent of gleeful jigs, while I had been mourning, and supporting scared students who are trans, nonbinary, gender-nonconforming, and/or queer, all week. Few of the exultant posters were even bothering to give lip service to caring that people died, people were maimed, a community was in mourning. It was just "Haha, gotcha gotcha gotcha!"

And I know it can be really hard to respond to this. So many trans and queer folk are exhausted and don't have the energy reserves needed to muster an analysis and develop a response. The exultation of bigots was retraumatizing. And well-meaning Americans who just don't know much about gender-variant communities don't know what to think. Should they call the shooter "they" or not? What was going on?

So let me explain why calling the shooter "they" doesn't mean the trans community loses, and in fact has the potential to educate others and move things forward. And it by no means lets Anderson Aldrich off the hook for the consequences of their hateful and heinous actions.

The Context

First, let's step back and get a better picture of Anderson Aldrich.

This is a photo of Aldrich with some family members:

The photo was one of the very, very few of Aldrich that people were able to locate after the shooting. This is unusual, especially given the many public controversies Aldrich's family was involved in, and Aldrich's own prior livestreamed threats to blow up their house and their family a year ago. Those arrest records were sealed, even though Aldrich was a legal adult at 21, and it seems internet content was scrubbed as well. 

In any case, in the photo above you see that Aldrich's face has been circled, along with that of their grandfather, outgoing Republican California State Assemblymember Randy Voepel, self-declared "super-MAGA." Randy Voepel was infamous for proclaiming that the January 6th attack on the US Capitol was the first battle in the next Revolutionary War against tyranny. Here's Voepel in his regalia:

Randy Voepel's daughter, Laura Voepel, is Anderson Aldrich's mother. Her life story is pretty boggling. It includes being active in communities of the Church of Christ of Latter-Day Saints (i.e. the Mormons, of which Aldrich is a registered member as well). It involves marrying an MMA fighter who had already been arrested for battering her--Aldrich's father--then divorcing him soon afterwards. It also includes a long list of charges being brought against her--for drunk driving, for arson, for "criminal mischief," for refusing to appear in court. Here's a photo of her in her youth:

In 2008, when Anderson Aldrich was 7 years old, police responded to a call about a home invasion. They found Laura Voepel lying on her bed, with her wrists and legs bound in duct tape. According to news reports, "Voepel initially told police a man had put string around her neck, bound her with tape and placed a knife on her chest. She admitted the following day, however, that she had been under the influence of narcotics and fabricated the incident because 'she was lonely and wanted attention,' a police report states." 

Not exactly a role model for veracity or stability. What about Aldrich's father? He is Aaron Brink, known as "The Frijolero" in MMA circles, and as Dick Delaware in his second career, as an actor in pornographic videos. As an MMA fighter, he won 29 fights and lost 27, and as an actor, he had supporting roles in Spiderman XXX: A Porn Parody, Thor XXX, and many other films. Here he is in a safe-for-work promo photo for the Thor XXX film, wearing what appears to be a fantasy Viking tactical vest, with bonus six-pack abs:

That all seems pretty amusing. What's not amusing is that he was abusive to his family, spent time in jail, was addicted to meth, and says he taught young Anderson Aldrich that one must respond to any challenge from others with overwhelming physical violence--to be the dominator and not the dominated. When informed that his offspring had committed the atrocity in Colorado Springs, Brink responded, “They started telling me about the incident, a shooting involving multiple people. And then I go on to find out it’s a gay bar. I said, ‘God, is he gay?’ I got scared, ‘Shit, is he gay?’ And he’s not gay, so I said, ‘Phhhewww…’” He said he couldn't tolerate a gay son, as a Mormon and conservative Republican. 

Anderson Aldrich grew up in a family of unstable adults who desperately craved attention--and tended to get what they wanted, as conservative white people with connections and means. Randy Voepel got elected to the California State Assembly to seek to promote his ultraconservative brand. Laura Voepel never did any jail time for any of her charges and convictions. Aaron Brink got to be a B-list celebrity, with acting credits in some mainstream films as well as 340 pornographic videos. This was a family of contradictions. They were Mormons who called themselves ultra-social-conservatives, yet Laura Voepel and Brink were also lawbreakers who were addicted to drugs, alcohol, and thrills. The theme of extremes of conforming gender expression in the family photos is really evident--along with its usual companion, fragile masculinity, which resulted in physical abuse.

At some point, Aldrich moved in with their mother's parents, who were apparently the most stable option. So Aldrich grew up in the home of "ultra-MAGA" Randy Voepel. At 16, they changed their name, with their grandparents sponsoring the name change to Anderson Aldrich. Laura Voepel says the name change was intended to sever ties with Aaron Brink, whom Aldrich feared. Brink says Aldrich wanted a different last name due to being upset as a good Mormon that Brink was a porn star, and that Brink agreed to sign the name change papers because "I let my son down."

It is clear that by this time, Aldrich was being teased and bullied about having a porn star dad by classmates.Someone created a YouTube channel in Aldrich's old name, and posted a racist, homophobic video on it entitled "Asian homosexual gets molested by floating piece of f*ckle." There is little information on what transpired, but whatever harassment was going on, it did involve fag-baiting Aldrich, seeking to humiliate them by portraying them as gay and thus supposedly displaying failed masculinity and low social value. (This doesn't mean Aldrich was actually "gay"--fag-baiting one another is a ubiquitous practice among boys in American middle and high schools, and among gamer bros everywhere.) In any case, Laura Voepel was concerned, and posted in her Mormon women's social media group, asking for recommendations for someone who could coach Aldrich in boxing, and for therapist recommendations.

And at some point, Aldrich started to acquire weapons, ammunition, body armor, and tactical gear. 

The Bomb Threat and First Attempt at Notoriety and Suicide by Cop

In June 2021, Aldrich became extremely upset, because they found out their grandparents were going to move to Florida. Aldrich was now 21 years old, 6'6" tall, living in their own rental apartment, and possessing weapons. They reacted with a rage combining a toddler's temper tantrum with an armed adult's menace. Aldrich went to Laura Voepel's house and threatened to blow it up with a homemade bomb, killing them both. News reports describing Aldrich's own video of the event show that, "'This is the day I die,' he can be heard telling his mother. 'They don't give a f*** about me anymore. Clearly.'"

So Aldrich provoked Voepel to call the police. And what followed was a very familiar scene. We've all seen it in many other mass shooting events committed by white supremacists and incels and others in the manoverse online network of young far-right edgelords and 4chan chuds. Aldrich was wearing body armor, carrying a long gun, and livestreaming the entire event, hoping to go viral. “If they breach, I’ma f***ing blow it to holy hell,” Aldrich told the camera as police arrived outside. Police cleared people out of the 10 surrounding houses. Here's a screenshot from Aldrich's livestream:

But the whole event fizzled. There was no bomb. There was no suicide by cop. Police brought in crisis negotiators, and Aldrich eventually put down their weapons and walked out to be arrested without incident. The result was not a period of internet fame and notoriety. Instead, Aldrich's well-connected and well-funded grandparents managed to get the charges dropped, and the case sealed as if Aldrich were a minor. Further steps seem to have been taken to scrub the internet of information about Aldrich and/or the event, including convincing news organizations to remove stories about the bomb threat.

But it seems clear that this outcome, which is what Aldrich's family wanted, is not really the one Aldrich wanted. That's why we see a more dramatic repeat of the attempt to secure fame through a blaze of violence, with a deathwish attached. This time, Aldrich realized that you don't get much attention from the manoverse or news media by just threatening your own family, and attacked a vulnerable community instead. They attacked an LGBTQ+ club in their area on the weekend of the Transgender Day of Remembrance. 

Is Anderson Aldrich a Member of the Trans Community?

Aldrich's lawyers say their client is nonbinary. It's clear how the transphobic political right views this announcement. They don't believe it on two levels. First, they deny the validity of nonbinary identities generally. And secondly, they don't believe that Aldrich actually identifies in this way. They frame the claim as a tactical lie meant to trap trans/nonbinary/gender-nonconforming communities and our allies. If we say what they are thinking--there's no way this militia-looking dude really means it--the posters say that means the left must agree that people lie about their gender identity, and thus trans people must be segregated and excluded from public life. Society must protect cis women and girls from men pretending to be women and using trans-protective laws to supposedly prevent society from doing anything to stop them. That would put an end to trans rights movements, they crow.

So, cackle the transphobes on social media, if "team groomer" is to avoid that outcome, we'll have to call sly Aldrich "they" and treat him as if he is a member of the trans community. And in that case, the shooting can't be considered a hate crime! Instead, the right will say it proves the left harbors violent domestic terrorists--a charge the left is always annoyingly making about the right. Touché! Oh, and if the right calls Aldrich a he, the sad, entrapped lefties will have to defend Aldrich's right to be called "they", even though they know he's really a dude! How delicious! Mwahahah!

So, say the transphobic posters, gather around friends, and get out your popcorn--let's see which bad option the libs choose. . .

And here is the response we can give:

We will refer to Anderson Aldrich as "they." This will not destroy the case against them. When a person states that they are trans, it not allow them to harm people. Instead, the trans community and our allies will stop them from committing harm, and deliver them for justice.

We in the trans community have had to engage in a great deal of thinking about identity, and how to tell an identity is "real". We are so often faced by people questioning the reality of our identities as we consider transition, and by transphobes challenging our lived genders after transition. And so we've learned things. 

One fundamental thing we understand is that nobody can tell how a person identifies except that person. If someone says they identify as a Christian, or a geek, or heterosexual, or nonbinary, you can't get into their head with them to verify they are telling the truth. Of course, this begs the question of why anyone would lie about their identity. Yes, of course that happens. People have concealed their true identities to escape oppression throughout history. They could be a Jew during the Spanish inquisition passing as a Christian, or a gay man living in 1950s America, when gay sexuality was illegal and being known to be gay got you blacklisted from employment, hiding in the closet and presenting as straight. Conversely, a person could assert having an identity they really don't have to try to get some kind of advantage. Someone might want to be in a relationship with another person who they have learned is really into geek culture, for example. Or they might want to escape a hate crime prosecution after committing mass murder at an LGBTQ+ club.

But stating one identifies as something and being a member of a particular community are different things. Community membership is something we can verify objectively. Can the person claiming they are a geek tell you what aspects of geek culture they are passionate about? Do they spend a lot of time chatting on internet forums with others who are into that type of geekery? Do they attend fandom conventions, or makers events, or play weekend sessions of Dungeons and Dragons with fellow tabletop gaming geeks? Are friends and family aware they are a geek? Do they have a collection of favorite geeky t-shirts? Do they defend the honor of the community when they hear people making jokes about geeks?

So: does Anderson Aldrich really identify as nonbinary? We can't know. But was Aldrich a member of the trans/nonbinary/gender-nonconforming community? No. Nobody at Club Q recognized them. They did not march in pride parades or wear nonbinary flag tshirts. Instead, their Instagram shows an image of a Pride flag on fire. Their dress and demeanor were those of rightwing anti-LGBTQ+ militia fans. They did not defend the honor or safety of queer and trans people under threat. They were the threat. They tried to kill as many LGBTQ+ people as they could with an automatic rifle. They committed a hate crime against the community.

Well then, why am I referring to Aldrich with the pronoun "they"? Because despite the fact that they were an enemy of the LGBTQ+ community, they could be telling the truth about their identified gender. They could be immersed in extreme rightwing culture, depending on support from ultra-MAGA grandparents and Mormon parents--and yet have realized in their heart of hearts that they were nonbinary. If you had a father, however estranged, who thought it was a worse thing for you to be "gay" than for you to commit mass murder, and you realized you were nonbinary, might you not wind up experiencing extreme self-loathing? 

It is plausible to imagine that a person immersed in a culture of extreme transphobia who realized they were themselves a nonbinary trans person, who was already unstable and armed, would feel, not love for the trans and queer community, but increased hate. There were people who had come out and were happy, having fun at drag shows, supporting one another through the Trans Day of Remembrance, looking forward to an all-ages brunch where young people would get to be themselves and feel safe and accepted. How dare they get to enjoy something a person like Aldrich could not--that Aldrich had already missed out on, with their years as a minor now past? How enraging that these out LGBTQ+ people felt pride where Aldrich felt shame!

So: Aldrich could be lying about being nonbinary, as his mother lied about being a victim of a home invasion, for attention and plaudits from a cackling rightwing audience, and to try to get out of the hate crime prosecution he deserves. Or they could be telling the truth about their identity--and have committed a crime of doubled hate, against proud and open LGBTQ+ people, and against themself. 

Since we can't tell which is the case, the right thing to do is to refer to Mx. Aldrich in the way they have indicated accords with their identified gender. In this way we model that respect for identified gender is a right, just like the right to a fair trial with an attorney. We don't withdraw those rights just because we are horrified by a crime, or don't like a person. Respecting people's right to a trial of a jury of their peers, and their right to be referred to by the pronouns they say they use, doesn't mean that person gets away with committing evil acts. It means that when we hold them accountable, we have done so in a just and civilized way.

And consider this: if Aldrich is in fact cisgender, they now have to live their lives being misgendered, and called "they" when they think of themselves as "he". They have to face familial disgust. The masses of transphobes now laughing with them as owning the libs will move to laughing at them, and in time, as Aldrich has to go on asserting that they really mean it, they are nonbinary, through the months or years that court cases against them proceed, they'll become a figure of disgust to those they now delight, held up only as a supposed example of how trans people are "crazy."

And if Aldrich is not trying to pull some Super Genius scam, and they are indeed nonbinary, and for the first time in their life they are using their identified pronoun publicly and openly, and we nod and employ it--well. What could be more self-punishing than committing an atrocity on a community you hate because they can be out and happy and you believe you cannot--and then finding out that you can come out and have your gender accepted, at least by LGBTQ+ people, but you have destroyed your chances of finding community by shooting community members in rage and hate?

Aldrich is not a member of the LGBTQ+ community. How about another claim that rightwing talking heads now intone, that as a nonbinary person, Aldrich a leftist, not a conservative, and liberals must now own that their side has domestic terrorists? Rightwing media are currently scolding that the left has been blaming the right for this shooting, and must now apologize to the right, and heap the shame they tried to foist on rightwing media and politicians on their own heads. 

This is ridiculous. Aldrich was immersed in rightwing militia culture, and wanted to go out with a bang, spraying bullets at people they hated. They picked an LGBTQ+ club on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance because like the rest of us, they have been bombarded with messaging from the transphobic right that queer and especially trans people are evil groomers. They prevented an all-ages drag brunch from happening in an act of domestic terrorism that looks just like the mass murders perpetrated against people who are Black, Latine, or Jewish by rightwing white supremacists. Like the mass shooter at the Pulse LGBTQ+ club in Florida, it is possible that they were internally conflicted. The Pulse shooter may have experienced same-gender attraction; Aldrich may be nonbinary. But whether or not that is the case, which we cannot truly know, they were terrorists full of hate for LGBTQ+ people because of homophobia and transphobia spread by bigots who are on the political right. Politicians and media figures who support hate are the ones encouraging hate crimes, and blaming the victims is reprehensible.

What we must not do

There are some things I see people doing--largely allies rather than trans, nonbinary, and/or gender-nonconforming folks--that I think are counterproductive, though the people are well-intentioned. And we should push back against these things.

One is to focus on Aldrich's body. The fact that they are 6'6" and very bulky and look male is held up as belying a nonbinary identity. That's just wrong. Nonbinary people can have any sort of body, and many do not medically transition. And it is such a major theme of transphobia to attack trans people assigned male at birth for having male sex characteristics like broad shoulders or big feet, which is not something anyone can change. Once you've gone through puberty, you get dealt a hand that you have to live with, including sex characteristics that may cause you great distress, and there are no medical transition procedures to narrow a wide pelvis or drop a foot in height. Attacking Adrich for their bodily characteristics just entrenches a harmful trope.

A second is to say there's no way someone whose father would prefer that they shoot up a queer club than be queer is nonbinary. Someone raised by a "super-MAGA politician" is declared obviously cis and straight. That's ridiculous. The reason places like Club Q are so important is because there are so many trans and queer people whose bigoted families reject them, leaving them to patch together a family of choice in spaces like LGBTQ+ bars and cafes.

And a third is to argue that a person who is LGBTQ+ by identity can't be an anti-LGBTQ+ bigot, proving Aldrich is cisgender and lying. Well, have you noticed how huge the list is of politicians who have both sponsored hateful anti-LGBTQ+ bills, and been caught having gay sex? Those politicians don't get a pass on their evil homophobic actions because they were secretly gay. It's an open secret that men who express rabid hate against transfems and gay men are very often covertly attracted to them. That doesn't make the impact of their hate any less.

And if a clandestinely nonbinary person shoots up a club full of queer and trans people in a fit of selfhating, LGBTQ+-hating rage, their secret identity doesn't make it any less of a hate crime. Nor does revealing it after the fact. 

In conclusion, why we should call Aldrich "they"

I myself will remain agnostic as to Aldrich's true identity. It's not something any of us can ever really know, since we can't share their brain, and who would want to. . . I'm skeptical just because faking minority identities and thinking that that gets you privilege over cis straight white people is a fantasy of rightwing culture warriors, that they often try to put into practice. One example would be last year's "superstraight" campaign, in which edgelords on 4chan organized a campaign to declare that they had a sexual minority identity called "superstraight" that meant they could only be attracted to cis people, and that since they were "born that way," their disgust at the thought of sex with trans people had to receive  deference from the left, and civil rights protection as part of the "LGBSS" community. Yes, "SS" is also the abbreviation used by infamous Nazi death squads--that was part of the "fun."

But it is possible Aldrich could be a self-hating nonbinary person filled with rage and hate at out and proud LGBTQ+ communities, of which they were not a member.

Either way--what we want to model are two things. First: we accept it when people tell us what their identified gender is. And second: that this doesn't mean a person who says they are trans gets away with any evil act they engage in. That's a fantasy of the transphobic, homophobic right. 

A few years back, there was a cis man who was a member of alt-right trolling online groups. He was married to a woman and had kids. And he started entering the women's locker room at my university gym, wearing his khakis and button-down shirts, in his stubble and Great Clips men's haircut. He was in touch with a conservative legislator, it turns out, and was hoping to "prove" that trans-protective school policies put cis women in danger, as any man could just enter their locker room and stare at naked women there, and nobody could stop him.

You know who stopped him, and protected the women in the locker room from a man with bad intentions? Trans people at my university. It was trans community leaders who told him his online connections had been tracked. That his wife could be informed of his activities. That the police could be informed. That there would be someone allied with us in the locker room at all times, waiting to document his presence, and if the network found out he entered again, then those steps were going to take place.

He didn't try again.

This is a modest example of what is revealed by the subduing of the Club Q shooter by unarmed patrons: trans folks are not "fragile snowflakes." We have dealt with a lot of difficult stuff, we have learned we must rely on ourselves to protect one another, and we are not weak. We will stop evildoers in our midst, whatever they claim their identities to be.

So: we should call Anderson Aldrich Mx. Aldrich, because everyone, even a murderer, has a right to state what pronouns they use, and have that automatically take place. And we can do so because we have full confidence that what pronoun a person uses matters not at all when it comes to subduing them if they shoot at us, or arguing forcefully that they be charged with a hate crime for murdering us.

 



Saturday, July 9, 2022

Inclusive Language Erases No One

 

 

Recently, Bette Midler wrote a viral tweet that read, “WOMEN OF THE WORLD! We are being stripped of our rights over our bodies, our lives and even of our name! They don’t call us ‘women’ anymore; they call us ‘birthing people’ or ‘menstruators’, and even ‘people with vaginas’! Don’t let them erase you! Every human on earth owes you!”

Let's be real: nobody is, as the transphobes claim, walking around telling women, "You can't say you're having a women's night out tonight and will be hanging out with the ladies! You have to say you're having a menstruators' night out and will be hanging with the people with vaginas!" Not a single trans person is saying that. 

Inclusive language about body parts is used in a specific context: when talking about a body part and medical care related to it. When medical guidance is being given in a pamphlet or on a website, and it's about getting menstrual periods, care providers have become aware that young people may avoid reading that advice, or may read it and feel hopeless, because they are nonbinary youths or trans boys and it refers to everyone who gets a period as "girls." So they write, "When a person gets their first menstrual period. . ." 

Medical educators are not worried that cis girls will read the inclusively-worded menstrual health advice and say, “I don’t know if this applies to me. Is a girl a ‘person’?” That’s a strange concern to claim to have. 
 
When I write "pregnant people" rather than "pregnant women," when discussing abortion, it's because I want to recognize the nonbinary people and trans men who might become pregnant and seek those services. I know there are lots of people who roll their eyes, and say "You're catering to some tiny minority!" And there are some who say, "You are erasing women, and denying that it is we who give all life!" As Midler says, "every human owes women" for the gift of life.
 
But that's not true at all. My daughter owes her existence to my former uterus, and I'm a trans man. Nor was I ever actually female, having been born intersex. People who insist that if I gestated a baby, that means I am a woman, are not just denying that identifying and living as a man means that yes, I am a man. They are ignoring the complexities of physical sex diversity.
 
Now, here's the irony. What language that includes trans and intersex people does is to say, "A woman and a uterus are two different things. Some people have uteruses, but are not women--they're nonbinary people or trans men. Some people are women, but don't have uteruses--they could be trans women or cis women who had hysterectomies or intersex women assigned female at birth who never had a uterus. Anyway, it's weird to reduce womanhood to having some bodily organ. Women are so much much more than walking uteruses!"
 
Now, what do trans-exclusionary people claim? "How dare you speak about 'people with uteruses!’ You're calling women walking baby factories--nothing but containers for wombs!"

Actually, we're doing the exact opposite of that. So, rest assured, being respectful of trans people is 100% compatible with being respectful of cis women! We all agree: you can't equate a woman with a uterus.
 
Right now we are seeing a flurry of nasty tweets and transphobic media columns (there was a doosy recently in the NY Times, which Midler said inspired her tweet, and which I'm not going to dignify with a link). They all claim that it's the transgender agenda to erase womanhood by referring to "pregnant individuals" instead of "mothers-to-be." That's not true--it's in the same vein of lies as "They won't let you say Merry Christmas anymore!" that has been a Fox News staple for so many years now. Nobody is asking cis women not to call themselves women. Nobody is asking Christians not to celebrate Christmas.
 
Being inclusive of a minority does not erase the majority. Yes, the majority of children who play American peewee football are boys, but girls play too, and it doesn't erase boys from the earth to speak of "kids who play football" rather than "boys who play football."
 
When we move from saying "mankind" to saying "humankind," we are not erasing men. When we say "pregnant people" instead of "mothers-to-be," we are not erasing moms. We're just trying to make everyone feel welcomed and seen.
 
Trans people and our allies agree with cis feminists when they say, "A woman can't be reduced to a uterus!"
 
We're not the ones doing that. Direct outrage at people who are actually oppressing women--not at intersex and trans and nonbinary people! Please.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

My Left-Handed Grandmother and Other Stigmatized Schoolkids

 

I love this photo of my grandmother, who was born in 1901, and immigrated to the US as a tot. Sweet, yes? But wait! I'm posting this to tell you that she was adjudged a rebellious delinquent at the ripe age of six.

Why? Well, because she started school--and kept picking up her pencil in her left hand. Every time the teacher saw her do that, the teacher would hit her hand hard with a ruler and yell at her for being disobedient. And yet, Rachel would do it again. She was judged wayward and ungovernable by her teacher--a child who would never amount to anything. Another "unruly, ignorant, immigrant Jew."

Facing such stigma, eventually my grandmother trained herself not to use her naturally-dominant left hand, and to write with her right. But her introduction to schooling had been traumatic.

I tell you this story now because it helps explain why, at the time my grandmother started school, only about 3% of children were reported to be left-handed. As the social stigma associated with being left-handed came to be seen as unfair and unnecessary, that rate would rise. In 1920 it was 5% of American children who were found to be left-handed. By 1930 it was 7%. In 1940 10% of schoolchildren were left-handed, and by the early 1960s, the rate was a bit under 12%, at which point it stopped rising. It's still a bit under 12% today. You can see the change over time in this chart:

 


Today, there's a great deal of social commentary about the fact that the percentage of youths with gender-expansive identities--transgender, nonbinary--is rising substantially. On the political right, a whole lot of people are screeching that this is due to their being "groomed" by adults and duped or seduced into having these "unnatural" identities. But even on the left, a lot of cis people are uneasy about the increase, and consider it a strange "fad."

Both of those perspectives presume that there is something bad or at least dubious about trans-identification and its rise. I'm here to point out that actually, it's the fact that more people--especially young ones--see clearly that there is nothing wrong with being a gender minority, that accounts for the rise. If you see the social stigma and shame aimed at trans and/or nonbinary people as unnecessary and unfair, you will accept trans-identification with a smile or a shrug. And when people aren't being punished for their gender identity being atypical, they'll go ahead and express that, and the rates will rise.

There's nothing sinister about that. And yes, I use that the word "sinister" to remind people that it is simply the Latin word for "left". Being prejudiced against left-handed people is a weird, ancient superstition in Western culture. It's a lot older than prejudice against gender-expansive identities.

Don't panic when young people aren't right-handed. Don't panic when they aren't cisgender. They'll be fine--if you let them be who they are, instead of torturing them for being atypical.



Sunday, March 27, 2022

The Real Problem When it Comes to Trans Kids and Athletics



 



At the time I write this, 12 states now ban either trans girls, or all trans youth, from participating in school athletics. Eight more currently have bills pending, and others have bills waiting to be introduced.

Attacking trans youths, especially trans girls, is all the rage in America's "red states." This is claimed in the most outraged tones to be necessary to protect cis girls. Trans girls are misgendered as "males" and framed as barging into girls' spaces. Lawmakers say the people of their great states are panicked over the need to protect cis girls' privacy, and outraged that "biological females" participating in sports will no longer be able to win trophies or ribbons, because of "males' natural advantage."

Context

Generating sex panics to energize conservative culture warriors is nothing new. Between 1998 and 2012, the same states now banning trans girls from sports banned same-gender marriage. These discriminatory laws were called "Defense of Marriage" acts, and it was claimed that allowing people of the same gender to form legal families would somehow imperil the family as an institution and destroy moral values. My own lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, stated, "This is a slippery slope. . . at what point are we going to be OK marrying inanimate objects? Can I marry this table, or this, you know, clock? Can we marry dogs?" To allow same-gender marriage was to condone bestiality and table-marrying.

The movement to ban same-gender marriage was bigoted and ridiculous--as bans on trans kids' sport participation are bigoted and ridiculous. Allowing two people of the same gender to marry actually strengthens investment in families, protects children, and does exactly zero to harm marriages between women and men. But claiming that supporting LGBTQ+ families would somehow destroy society was extremely effective in generating political energy and funds for conservative political candidates.

And before the panic about same-gender marriage on the right, there was panic about laws that would prevent job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The 1970s and 80s saw the "Save Our Children" movement and its spinoffs, which claimed that because "homosexuals cannot procreate," they sought access to children to "convert" to homosexuality via pedophilic abuse, and were seeking bans on discrimination so they could access vulnerable children as teachers or scouting leaders. This slander about pedophilia was very useful in funneling evangelical Christians and large amounts of money into Republican campaigns, and so Republican politicians keep stoking it, decade after decade. Consider what Gov. Ron Desantis' press secretary Christin Pushaw recently tweeted, in defending Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill that bans discussions or children's books mentioning sexual orientation or gender identity in elementary schools. She claimed, "The bill that liberals inaccurately call 'Don't Say Gay' would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill. If you're against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don't denounce the grooming of 4-8 year-old children. Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn't make the rules." The term "grooming" refers to preparing a child to be sexually abused-- recycling the same old claim made by "Save Our Children" decades ago. LGBTQ+ people are seeking to get at your children, to abuse and convert them. 

And before sex panics about LGBTQ+ people, America had developed a long tradition of justifying racial segregation and racial terrorism as necessary to protect white women and girls from Black men, framed as monstrous sexual predators. I've written before about how tactics deployed against trans people in the U.S. today are heavily modeled on those developed to oppress African Americans, after the end of slavery and the withdrawal of Reconstruction. 

The Problem

So, America has a long history of using panics about sex, gender, and sexuality to keep the conservative masses politically engaged. I know it's nothing new. But I hear a lot of cis people who mean well say that as if it is supposed to be comforting when it comes to state bans on trans youth participation in sports. "Don't worry, they're always saying this about someone." Either I'm told that they'll lose interest eventually and turn their attention to some other target, or I'm served some narrative about progress being inevitable. And anyway, I'm told, there aren't really a lot of kids being affected--the bans are symbolic. Basically, we're being trolled and should just ignore the trolling.

OK, let's look at these claims one by one.

Progress is unfortunately not inevitable; it requires a deep investment of time and energy. But even if it were, this blasé mindset ignores the tremendous damage done to people's lives during the long years while that progress is being fought for--including years in which other hate campaigns take center stage. It's true that to keep levels of political outrage high, conservative politicians and influencers shift their focus around to keep the news fresh. But when news cycle is focused elsewhere, the discriminatory laws and policies don't fade. Nor do the negative interactions marginalized people have with bigots go away because the particular flavor of hate aimed at them isn't a media focus at that moment.

Then there is the idea that not many people are affected, or the impact isn't serious. The spotlight in evaluating the impact of bias gets focused on the many who do not survive. Over 4000 Black people were lynched in acts of white supremacist racial terrorism between the end of Reconstruction and 1950. More than half of all trans youth reported that they had seriously considered suicide in 2020, and about 1 in 5 trans youth of color reported having attempted to kill themselves.

But I think the focus on mortality both understates and misstates the problem. Well-meaning cis allies are correct: very, very few trans kids are getting kicked off of their school athletics teams now as these bans are being passed. And nobody dies of being kicked off a team.

But the reason so few kids are getting kicked off teams is because, formally or informally, almost all trans youths are already being kept out of school athletics. Tennessee passed a law banning trans youth from sports, despite the fact that the transphobic activist organizations and legislators could not find a single example of a trans girl ever participating in Tennessee school sports. Neither could North Dakota, or Indiana, but their legislatures passed bans. Utah found exactly one trans girl participating in school sports. 

This demonstrates the real problem, which is that trans girls aren't overrepresented in sports--they are drastically underrepresented.

Trans boys and nonbinary kids assigned female at birth are also deeply underrepresented--even though the "logic" of trans sport participation bans doesn't apply to them at all. The claim is that "biological males" inevitably beat "biological females," giving all trans girls, trans women, and nonbinary folks assigned male at birth an unfair advantage. This myth has been debunked at length elsewhere. (And that one trans girl athlete in Utah? She works hard, but her performance is totally middle of the pack.) In any case, by that "logic", transmasculine youth should be at a sport disadvantage, with cis boys having an innate advantage over them. But because bigots like to cloak their bigotry in an appearance of fairness, many of the trans sport participation bans apply to all youths.

So, trans kids of all birth genders and all identities are being kept out of sports. Individual principals or coaches or school boards may have formally banned their participation. But it's rarely necessary. Because trans kids see clearly what is going on. It has been made crystal clear to them that if they try to participate in school athletics, peers will attack them in locker rooms, adults will spit at them in school board meetings, their parents will be targets of hate and perhaps death threats, and now that they might be removed from their family homes, because familial support of trans youths is being framed as child abuse by right-wing culture warriors. 

Trans girls do not present a threat to cis girls in sports. But because they are claimed to do so, almost all of the many thousands of trans youth around the country do not participate in athletics. As usual, conservative culture warriors reverse victim and offender, and abuse the marginalized. 

I don't really think I need to tell you this, but participating in athletics is healthy for children and adults, while being inactive is not. 

So: these bans may just formalize what is already the praxis. Trans kids are already kept from sporting participation. But the same was true of same-gender marriage bans. States passed them despite the fact that same-gender marriages weren't being performed. The importance of this legal discrimination is that the act of campaigning about and passing discriminatory laws is meant to create fear and silence. To cause people to stay in the closet. For the privileged to erase and "cancel" the marginalized, while claiming that it is they, the privileged, who are the real victims, the real targets of "cancellation."

Telling trans folks to just ignore these bills as trolling because there are few trans kids affected ignores the fact that the vast majority of trans kids, of every birth sex and every gender identity, are already affected.

It's really important that we see the real problem here for what it is. Because framing transfeminine people as a threat generates energy for right-wing politicians and for TERF influencers addicted to the "culture war," trans kids are vastly underrepresented in school sports. They have been segregated out formally, and terrorized informally into self-segregation. 

Young people need our support and encouragement, not to be terrorized. People who recognize the humanity of trans kids should be pointing this out every time some bigot starts with the TERF/right-wing claims that their actions are motivated by care about girls' and their participation in sports. 






Thursday, January 20, 2022

On Anti-Androgens and Covid-19

 


Perhaps you learned this past week that among the self-"treatments" Americans opposed to vaccination have been using for cases of Covid are anti-androgens.

Anti-androgens are medications that block the body's production of testosterone. They have lots of uses recognized by the medical profession: as part of a medical transition for trans women; to suppress testosterone production in cis women whose bodies are making a lot of it and who don't like how that manifests; to slow the process of balding; to treat hormonal acne.

Taking them to try to treat Covid is not among these medically-recognized uses.

Some observers--especially in the trans community--have been chuckling or groaning or tearing their hair to see that a subgroup of people who are often highly transphobic have been ganking spirnolactone dosage and scheduling information off of transition information websites. Some suspect that a person who takes anti-androgens according to information they got from a transfeminine education site, all the while claiming to despise trans women and to be the most "alpha male" person ever, might as well be holding up a sign saying "Hi! I am selfhating, trans, closeted, and in denial!" That is an excellent point.

But what I wanted to focus on here is the underlying belief that has led those pushing "alternative" medical treatments for Covid to put anti-androgens on that list. That belief is a truism you hear all the time in discussions of Covid lethality. And that truism is that "males are more likely to die of Covid than are females."

It isn't actually true.

Or, ok: it is true in some places at some times, but false in others. In Texas, it has been true during the entire pandemic. In Connecticut, it was true during some months of the pandemic and false in others. In Massachusetts, it is women who have died at higher rates from Covid. There are more states in the US in which Covid has proven more fatal to men than women than the reverse, but it's highly variable by region and point in the pandemic.

Do you know what doesn't vary by region and month? Biological sex characteristics. If testosterone was making people more vulnerable to Covid, that would be as true in Massachusetts as it is in Texas.

What does vary regionally are social factors. What does the gendered division of labor and occupations look like in a given area of the country? And which of those gendered jobs involve heightened risk? (We often think of "dangerous jobs" being those that involve heavy machinery or violence, but caregiving jobs that are framed as feminine, like working in an elder care facility, or daycare center, or as a nurse's aide, are both highly stressful and associated with high exposure to disease.) Also varying by region is gender expression. How do men perform masculinity? Does it involve considering actions like handwashing "sissified," or not seeing a doctor until symptoms have become dire? Or are washing your hands and seeing a doctor deemed nongendered, commonsensical activities?

Suppressing testosterone production does have real effects--ask any trans woman on HRT, or cis woman with PCOS, who is taking spiro. Over time, it thins body hair production, for example. But those effects do not include making you wash your hands and wear a mask more diligently! They do not magically change the gendered division of labor in your region of the nation.

The presumption that if a gendered difference is noticed in some kind of health outcome, it must be biological and universal is, to be blunt, stupid. The ideology of biological essentialism blinds people to the empirical reality that what it means to be a man or a woman or any other gender is largely social. This is not to deny that biological sex characteristics are real! Estrogen really makes breast tissue grow. Testosterone really makes facial hair grow. But hormones do not cause employers to pay people in jobs coded as masculine more than they pay people in jobs coded as feminine. They do not make girls like pink and boys like blue. And they don't make you wear face masks more or less often.

Taking anti-androgens will not magically cure Covid. I can't say I'm surprised it has been proposed to do that by conspiracists on social media--having watched people fervidly believe in and seek out such "alternative treatments" as bleach solutions and horse de-wormer over the course of the pandemic.

What does sadden and annoy me is how there have been a bunch of medical studies looking at the idea of taking anti-androgens to prevent or treat Covid. Early in the pandemic, when we knew little about the coronavirus, its understandable that medical researchers would be grasping at straws. But it is now clear that the higher mortality rate for men that was observed in some studies is not at all universal, and doesn't appear in 11 US states. Medical researchers should know that if some phenomenon is gendered one way in state X, and the opposite way in state Y next door, and this shifts over the course of a year, then it is strongly social in causation, not due to chromosomal variance. 

But the demand for "alternative treatments" of Covid has been high, and the public's beliefs about testosterone inflate its importance and paint it in magical terms, for reasons rooted in patriarchy and the framing of testosterone as the "essence of maleness." And so, while most medical researchers consider the proposal that anti-androgens can prevent or cure Covid to have been disproven, a subgroup persists in asserting this claim--and they get lots of attention from conspiracists and tabloid-style journalism.

And that is how, recently, advice from "alternative medicine" influencers--a few of them doctors--to treat Covid with androgen blockers went viral. 

Anti-androgens will not save you from Covid. They'll slow your balding, if that's your thing. (It's not mine. I'm very happy with the balding hairline testosterone HRT granted me!) But a person who avoids vaccination, masking, and social distancing, thinking they can just take that bottle of spironolactone they acquired to cure Covid if they catch it. . . well, that person can die. 

And among the factors we can blame for their death--along with MAGA intransigence and the rage for conspiracies and quack doctors profiteering--are magical beliefs people have, about testosterone in particular, and physical sex characteristics in general. 

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Reconsidering Mother's Day

 

As a gestational parent, I am among many who have ambivalent feelings about Mother's Day.

The issue with this holiday is that it compounds so many things that need to be considered separately. So let's deconstruct Mother's Day!

First: the history. The contemporary Mother's Day holiday was actually established to celebrate feminist activism--specifically, women's advocacy of peace over war, and the movement for votes for women, which would give these peace advocates a political voice. It arose out of the volunteer work of Victorian women. The Victorians invented the idea of "separate spheres," where (white) men would work outside the home for pay, and (white) women be confined in the home, to raise children and do domestic labor without pay. Victorian feminists framed their activism as an extension of their vaunted maternal duties, and hence as right and proper. Antifeminists called their activism improper, unwomanly, and disordered. So the idea of making a holiday to celebrate mothers' volunteer labor was in fact quite political. It was feminist.

But within a few decades of its founding in 1907, the radicalism had been drained from Mother's Day. It was commercialized, and became a day for giving mothers floral arrangements, jewelry, restaurant meals, and other gifts. By the 1950s, it was a sentimental holiday celebrating stay-at-home motherhood--now something feminists were critiquing.

This remains the case today, but unlike the Victorian era or 1950s, we are not living in an era of separate-spheres binary gender arrangements. Heterosexuality is no longer compulsory. Fathers are now expected to participate in child care. The fact that women in mother/father coparenting couples still do a disproportionate amount of the domestic labor is something that many women have been tearing their hair over during the pandemic. And some parents are trans and/or nonbinary.

So let's deconstruct what gets celebrated on Mother's Day into its component parts.

There's being a gestational parent. Pregnancy is hard work that gets little accommodation in the U.S., and that's not fair. Giving birth remains dangerous, most especially for marginalized parents. In my home state, Black individuals giving birth are 5 times as likely to die as Anglo white individuals. Latine gestators are 3 times are likely to die giving birth than Anglo white individuals. Pregnant trans men and nonbinary individuals in my state are treated with disdain and incomprehension by medical care providers, which most certainly also increases their risk, although nobody has funded a study of this. 

But we should not just focus on the danger of dying as a result of giving birth. Gestational parents make physical sacrifices when they endure pregnancy and labor. As the phrase goes in the world of sport, we "give up the body." Pelvises can separate, spines can be injured, sacroiliac joints are harmed--and these injuries often result in chronic pain, for years or for life. People endure genital tears, or major surgical wounds, and their healing can be complicated. Stress incontinence can be a lifelong issue. 

But an ideology has developed in the contemporary U.S. that to demand recognition and accommodation of the work, exhaustion, pain, nausea, temporary disabilities, and permanent disabilities associated with pregnancy and delivery is a sign of being a bad employee who does not deserve respect, good pay, or promotion. Pregnancy and delivery are treated as private choices which must not impinge on employee duties. Parental leave is treated as a vacation, not as an entitlement to paid sick leave from employers.

In this context, it is important that we have an annual reminder that we should be honoring the risks and pain endured by gestational parents to bring new lives into the world (and not just with cards, but with laws ensuring accommodations). The problem is that some of those who are making sacrifices that go unaccommodated are not mothers. Gestational parents who are not women go largely unrecognized by the medical establishment and by government agencies. And by honoring gestational sacrifice under the rubric of "Mother's Day," celebrants validate and participate in this exclusion. Gestators who are men or nonbinary wind up either having our gender identities denied by people sending us "Mother's Day" cards, or get no recognition of what we have done at all.

Another problem is how honoring the work and the sacrifices of those who bear children gets conflated with so many other things in Mother's Day.

For example, there's domestic labor. In the 1950s reconception of Mother's Day, mothers are framed as "homemakers," and on this one day a year, father and the children cook the meals, do the grocery shopping, and wash the dishes, to give Mama one day of out 365 as a vacation day. That's an eyeroller of a number of vacation days for Mother. Now consider today, when the majority of mothers have paid jobs. Unlike their white middle-class counterparts in the 1950s, white middle-class fathers married to women today do a substantial amount of childcare today, changing diapers and giving kids their baths. But the wives of these men today remain responsible for the lion's share of other domestic chores, like washing and folding laundry, or cleaning the bathroom.

The unwillingness of cis men married to women in the U.S. today to step up and do more manifested during the pandemic in many women becoming unemployed, not because their workplaces shut down, but because schools did, and their husbands simply would not engage in childcare during work hours, or do more chores, even though, with entire families at home for months on end, the amount of dishes and mess went way up. Husbands and employers conceiving of childcare and domestic chores as optional for men and mandatory for women put great pressure on women whose husbands had jobs that paid enough that the family could survive for a time on just his income to leave the workforce and become fulltime housewives. Many were very unhappy about being pushed into a patriarchal family arrangement by husbands who would not step up and share the burden of increased domestic duties.

These gender politics deserve to be seen. And the value of doing domestic labor should be honored. But if we honor them under the rubric of "Mother's Day," we wind up naturalizing and supporting an unfair division of labor by binary gender, rather than critiquing this arrangement.

There are also people who are neither mothers nor women who have suffered greatly from this equation of mothering with doing the domestic work. For example, a primary caregiver and domestic laborer may be nonbinary. Or they could be a "standard" cisgender, endosex father who is a single parent. About 1 in 5 single parents today is a man. 

Single parenting is always a struggle. During the pandemic, it was a terrible position to be in, as schools and childcare shut down, yet single parents had to work to support their children. And in this case, it was single fathers who were in a particularly poor position, because their status gets treated as incomprehensible by many employers, who refuse to make any accommodation at all for a man's parenting responsibilities. 

Again, by honoring the performance of parenting and domestic labor under the rubric of "Mother's Day," we participate in the exclusion and nonrecognition of people like nonbinary parents and single dads.

So: the celebration of "Mother's Day" is really a celebration of three different things. One is the traditional meaning of the holiday, as a day to honor women's volunteering and feminist activism. The second is to show respect for the sacrifices made by gestators. And the third is to recognize the performance of childcare and domestic labor--the value of that unceasing work that receives neither pay nor employer deference.

My solution to this would be to get rid of Mother's Day, or that silly holiday, Father's Day, invented just because men were pouty about women getting a special day with no men's parallel, and consumer capitalists being in favor of more holidays and more spending.

I'd replace these holidays with a greater number of more specific ones. I'd have a Childbearer's Day that seeks greater social recognition of the labor performed and sacrifices made by gestators--especially recognition in the form of employer accommodations and paid leave. I'd have a Caregivers' Day, to recognize the labor of childrearing, and not act as if bringing children into the world marks the end of the sacrifices required to raise them. And I'd have a Domestic Labor Day, where we all march to call for the recognition of this work, and for it to be performed equitably. None of these holidays would be gendered, so that parents of all genders who gestate, raise children, and do domestic labor would be honored. And then I'd have one gendered holiday, to restore the original intent of the Victorian founders of "Mother's Day," which was to celebrate women's activism. I was thinking International Women's Day might serve, but it is evolving into another trite Mother's Day-style holiday of posting pictures of flowers. There's a Women's Equality Day that celebrates the day the 19th Amendment gave women in the U.S. the vote, but that is kind of narrow, and makes it seem like the need for feminism ended in 1920. So I suppose it's best to just be straightforward, and call it Feminism Day.

Instead of one holiday, I present you with four! Deconstruction is festive.



Saturday, April 10, 2021

Creating Social Panics to Entrench Bias: A Brief History


Creating social panics about sexual problems that don't actually exist has been a favorite of reactionaries in the U.S. in response to civil rights movements.

In the 1950s, reactionaries claimed that ending racial discrimination would lead to white women getting sexually-transmitted infections from Black women in public bathrooms. If schools were racially integrated, they said, white schoolgirls would get syphilis from Black girls in shared school bathrooms.
 
These claims were racist and ridiculous. But many white people believed them, and this fear was harnessed to generate waves of resistance against racial integration.

In the 1970s, reactionaries claimed that prohibiting sex discrimination with the Equal Rights Amendment would mean that public restrooms could no longer be segregated by gender, which would lead to widespread rape of women by men.
 
The ERA would not have banned gendered restrooms--that was a lie. But bathroom panic was a main reason the ERA failed to pass.

In the 1980s, reactionaries claimed that protecting people from employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation would lead to gay and lesbian teachers and scout leaders sexually abusing children. Gay men were said to be pedophiles who would somehow be empowered to assault boys in bathrooms by employment nondiscrimination. A "crusade" against this was led by Anita Byrant, dramatically named "Save Our Children!".
 
This was homophobic nonsense. But masses of parents were filled with panic and hate, which slowed and reversed antidiscrimination efforts.

In the 2000s, reactionaries claimed that allowing same-gender marriage would destroy the American family and enable bestiality. Politicians equated same-gender marriage to claiming a right to marry a table--something only a society that had lost all sense could support. 

It was the reactionaries' assertions that were nonsensical. But between 1998 and 2012, 31 states passed state constitutional amendments banning same-gender marriage due to panic that the institutions of marriage and family would be destroyed by. . . marriages and families.
 
Now reactionaries claim that respecting trans students' lived genders will "destroy female sports," and laws that ban trans girls from playing sports with other girls have been introduced in over 30 states. You know what the real problems are? Sports for girls and women are underfunded and disrespected. And as for trans children and adults, we suffer poor health due to exclusion from gyms and athletic activity. Far from the mythic domination of sports, transfeminine girls and women are at particular risk from harassment and lack of a safe place to change or shower that keeps so many from being able to exercise where other people can see them at all, let alone compete in sports.

And then, somehow simultaneously with presenting trans girls as a threat to cis girls, reactionaries claim that their goal is to protect trans kids, who are said to be victims of terrible medical experiments, in which evil parents conspire with mad doctors to mutilate their bodies. Republican politicians are writing laws that hold no minor can understand what they are saying when they assert a trans identity--that it's like saying they want to be a dinosaur when they grow up. And they are pretending that evil doctors are pumping tots' bodies full of adult hormones and cutting up their genitals. None of this has any relation to reality. Nobody is doing genital reconstruction on kids (unless they are born intersex, and this is forced on them as infants, but that's another story). Nobody is giving adult hormones to elementary schoolers. 

The fact is that medical transition services for pre-pubertal kids consists of psychological support. Then, at adolescence, youths and their families are offered medication that simply postpones pubertal changes. This makes no permanent alteration to a youth's body--it just prevents bodily changes from taking place that cause despair. Some pubertal developments, like voice change in a transfeminine youth, are irreversible. Others, like breast growth in a transmasculine youth, can be surgically addressed, but that's much more invasive than simply postponing pubertal changes. That's why the American Medical Association supports puberty suppression for trans youth.

But if you look at commentary about these bills, there are masses of comments from enraged and panicked adults and fulminating politicians claiming that abusive parents are making monsters out of little children with scalpels and drugs. The reactionaries claim they are not motivated by bigotry, they just want to protect children. But  passing a law that states that a person's sex is "genetically encoded at the moment of conception" and "cannot be changed," as the law passed in Arkansas banning transition-related care for minors does, makes it clear that what this is really all about: enshrining the misgendering and rejection of trans people in law. The proposed law in North Carolina would even require schoolteachers to immediately inform a child's parents if they observe the minor exhibiting "gender nonconformity," making the policing of binary gender stereotypes a state employee duty.

Once again, we see a panic about sex and the cries of "what about the children!" being used to spread bigotry, dressed up in concern trolling. Anita Bryant claimed to be motivated by her "love of homosexuals" to be trying to save them by promoting homophobic discrimination. Transphobes today claim they are motived by care as well. But the fact that banning recognition and care for trans youth is likely to lead to increased despair and suicidality doesn't deter them at all, because "care" is not the real motivation here. Bigotry is, fanned into a firestorm by a social panic.

The thing you have to remember about sexual panics is that they are not spontaneous or random. They are purposefully generated by people with power to prevent social change.

We have to call out these manufactured panics for what they are. Putting current faux fears in the context of past ones can help make it obvious. So share these histories!

Saturday, March 6, 2021

The 4chan "#SuperStraight" Troll Campaign

On March 6th, 2021, the hashtag #superstraight was one of the top trending topics on Twitter in the U.S. and Canada. There was a #SuperStraight Discord server bursting with activity. #SuperStraight TikToks were suddenly appearing. 

What is "SuperStraight," you might ask?

Supposedly, #superstraight people are a newly-recognized sexual orientation group who are only attracted to cis men or cis women. The claim is that anyone who defends LGBT rights must recognize, respect, and fight for the rights of SuperStraights. 


Soon, the #SuperStraight posts were joined by posts from people claiming to ally with, or have identities as, #supergay, #superlesbian, or #superbi, being also only attracted to cis people.

But let's be clear. The #SuperStraight campaign is really is a trolling attack hatched in the cesspit of the /pol board on 4chan. Here you can see it being discussed there on March 5th (warning: slurs galore):


Let's examine this post. At the top, you can see the trolling logo proposed for the #SuperStraight campaign. That's a Nazi SS flag, only tinted in the colors of the PornHub logo for lulz. 

Below the fascist troll-logo (which board members decided to replace with a plain orange and black graphic when actually taking the campaign "live" on social media), you see the overview of the goals of the troll campaign. The plan is to astroturf social media--that is, to claim to be an emerging grassroots campaign of people who feel they belong under the protective umbrella of the LGB community. The hope is that posts from 4chan "SS agents" will lead ordinary social media users to jump on the bandwagon. Everyday transphobes can reconceptualize themselves as "victims of trans violence," and instead of sitting silently, not wanting to show the world what bigots they are, be activated by pride, and speak up! This will, the 4channers believe, "redpill" zoomers (that is, it will reach members of Generation Z, currently the under-24-year-olds, and awaken them to the supposed evils of progressivism, setting them on the road to eventual misogynist white supremacy). Meanwhile, the 4chan trolls hope, cis lesbian, gay, and bisexual people will feel compelled to defend a fellow sexual orientation group, rejecting trans people as their enemies. Instead of an LGBT community, they'll speak of an LGBS sexual orientation community. This will allow transphobic cis LGB people to stop hiding their transphobia, since it will now be considered "woke!" Mwahahah.

How will this be accomplished? The claim is that the "SS agents" will "use the left's tactics against themselves." That's not actually accurate. The tactic being employed is that of the generic social media "gotcha" post. Such social media posts are popular among people of every conceivable political stripe today, in which a people seek to invalidate their enemies by portraying them as hypocritical. For the 4chan fascists, this means taking common rallying claims used by trans, LGBTQ+, or progressive communities, and deploying them against trans people.

The central conceit of the #SuperStraight campaign would be a twist on the transmisogynist classic: portraying trans women as sexual predators. The "superstraights" would be cast through a #MeToo lens, as well as that of the brave sexual minority coming out. The claim would be that trans people are trying to force cis people to have sex with them. For too long, the cries of cis straight men that they struggle every day with sexual harassment and coercion from trans women have been ignored, but now they are uniting and demanding to be heard!

Put that way, on its face, this seems a massive eyeroller. (Riiight, the trans ladies are forcing you to get all those boners, collect all that porn, and hoot at them on the streets!) But the goal would be not to state things that baldly. Instead, the plan was to exploit the fact that when transphoblic lesbians claim that they face sexual coercion and harassment from trans women, they get listened to, and cloak the #SuperStraight posts in this language.

Now, here is the thing. Many people, myself included, have written and advocated about how sexual orientation is based off of gender, not genitals. When you meet someone and find them attractive, the chances are very high that they are wearing clothing at the time. You do not see their genitals. And the central truth of trans experience is that it is our gender identities, not our genitals, that determine whether we are women, or men, or nonbinary people, or agender. When someone says, "I am only attracted to real men, not trans men," that is a transphobic statement (it calls trans men "fake" men). It's also almost certainly false, in that some trans men when dressed are indistinguishable from cisgender men, and as likely as they to be found attractive by a transphobe. On the other hand, many trans men are visibly transgender, and are not passed as cis people. But why should this be seen as "bad," and as making them unattractive? The only reason a person who is generally attracted to men would assert that they cannot be attracted to trans men is internalized transphobia.

It is indeed true that lots of people have internalized transphobia, and consider trans people gross. There is no doubt they really feel that way. But this is no different from the many other forms of social bias that strongly shape whom people are attracted to--ableism, fat phobia, racism and colorism, etc. These are potent, but they are not "sexual orientations." To define your identity around only being attracted to light-skinned blonde people is called "white supremacy," and is not some innate "Aryansexuality."  If a person says they only date non-Jews, they are not a "gentilesexual," and asserting this does not make me a "gentilephobe."

So, as a trans person, I object very strongly to people saying that they are proud of only being attracted to cisgender people. Crowing "people like you sexually repel me!" is cruel, and the sort of thing only a bigot would trumpet to others. People who are kind and opposed to bigotry are instead aware that all of us are socialized to have internal biases, and that we need to work on those, not take glee in them.

But you know what this does not mean? It does not mean I have the slightest interest in a relationship or hookup with a transphobe, least of all one standing in front of me saying, "People like you repel me."

Yet for years, TERFs have been attacking trans women and framing them as predators by making false claims that trans women objecting to transphobic disgust are somehow engaging in sexual harassment. A TERF spits that she is a lesbian, and that she would never date a trans woman because trans women are actually men. A trans woman responds that she is indeed a woman, not a man, and that her lesbian identity is no less valid than a cis woman's. The TERF then claims that the trans woman is demanding to have sex with her personally, revealing how "trans women are sexually predatory men."

This TERF attack is the tactic the "SS agents" seek to exploit. So we see:


Along with posts framing trans people as demanding that uninterested cis people have sex with them, there are posts making 100% unsubstantiated claims that people coming out as superstraight are being terrorized by rape threats by violent trans people:


Note the graphic, which seeks to twist the rallying cry that trans rights are human rights into a claim of a human right to be a bigot. 

Ostensible "superstraight" cis men argued for the need for safe spaces for (cis) women--not to protect them from cis men, but from vicious trans/nonbinary attackers:



The 4chan "gotcha" tactic unrolled as planned. There were saccharine allyship memes:


And there were humor memes, claiming allied empowerment in demanding recognition of  a shared "sexual orientation" of telling everyone how much trans people repel you, whether you were superstraight, superlesbian, supergay or superbi:


And indeed, the TERFs jumped right on the bandwagon with #superlesbian posts:


From both the 4chan astroturfed fake accounts, and from the TERFs who eagerly piled on, came claims that #SuperStraights were benefitting from male privilege in getting their "suffering" at the hands of trans people acknowledged where that of TERFs had been ignored:


These posts snuck in claims that cis lesbians and gay men have been crying out in vain for years about trans people trying to coerce them into sex--a TERF slander, weirdly and falsely being claimed to be shared by LGB people generally. These posts also followed the tropes employed in varied social media campaigns challenging privilege, seeking to use that to cloak the fact that cis people are the privileged group with respect to trans people. This is a classic DARVO move, reversing oppressor and victim. DARVO is the the long-favored technique of abusers--one that became way too familiar to all under the Trump administration, as turning every callout of his behavior on its head was Trump's daily occupation. That is why the /pol 4channers are so enamored of the man: he was their Troll in Chief.

So, many more social media posts by the 4chan "SS agents" and the various other transphobes who joined in followed other themes common in posts by trans advocates, LGBT allies, feminists, progressives, and the like. Using the DARVO tactic, they reversed victim and offender.

People who pushed back against this trolling attack, arguing that being sexually repulsed by trans people is a bad thing, a product of socialization, and something to seek to overcome rather than take pride in, were attacked as pushing "conversion therapy" on people with a superstraight orientation:


People who pushed back and called out #SuperStraight posts as obvious transphobia were insincerely labelled "SERFS"--"Straight Exclusionary Radical Feminists" who were oppressing brave SuperStraights--and critiques of TERF attacks mirrored back at trans allies.


People who rejected as ridiculous the claim that "SuperStraights" were an oppressed group who should be recognized and protected as LGBTQ+ were framed as biased gatekeepers:


Trans-allied critiques of transphobes who make outlandish claims about trans people, that ask if the bigot has ever actually spoken with a trans person, were also reflected back, DARVO-style:



The "SuperStraight movement" was claimed to have finally united LGB and straight people by revealing their shared dismissal of trans "bullshit", a cause for relief and celebration:


And in general, people who were trans/nonbinary or their allies who pushed back against the #SuperStraight trolling were attacked with "gotcha" posts, claiming that they were hypocrites for disrespecting someone based on their "sexual orientation":


Bonus points there for using a Harry Potter meme, now that JK Rowling is a central spokesperson for TERFism!

Whether this was a short viral flash in the social media pan, or if people will take up and actually identify with the terms superstraight, superlesbian, supergay, and superbi, only time will tell.

What I am hoping is that people will identify it from the start as a 4chan /pol troll. This campaign was initiated by literal fascists using an SS logo. "Superstraight pride" is 100% akin to the "straight pride" parade organized by Milo Yiannopoulis, or to "white pride" racist organizations. Just look at this "superstraight pride flag," modeled off of the Nazi war emblem:
 
 

 
Compare:
 

 
Or behold the profile of a Facebook spreader of #SuperStraight memes, overloaded with Nazi references:


The #SuperStraight campaign is a fascist trolling effort, as insincere as they come. Spread the word.