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. 




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.