The Absurdity Of Rejecting Transgender Identities: A Response To Widely-Circulated Harmful Bigotry

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Trans people of color and their allies speak their truth this weekend at Creating Change.

Trans people of color and their allies speak their truth this weekend at Creating Change.

This is a response to the wildly transphobic Public Discourse piece, “The Absurdity of Transgenderism: A Stern but Necessary Critique,” by Carlos Flores, president of the UC Santa Barbara Anscombe Society, an organization that takes conservative (read: anti-LGBT, among other things) positions on “family, marriage, and sexual integrity.”

Flores basically argues that there is no such thing as transgender identities. They should not be socially affirmed, they should not receive affirmative therapy and treatment, and they should not receive legal protections. Needless to say, it’s a fairly problematic essay. I responded on Twitter by claiming that its authors and promoters have blood on their hands, which Erick Erickson was all too happy to boast about (but no citation to me, Erick? Come on!).

I confronted Flores on Twitter, and he confirmed to me that he has only met one transgender person ever, whom he misgenders. Despite this severe lack of context, he proclaims himself expert enough on transgender identities to reject them outright.

He challenged me on Twitter to write a point-by-point rebuttal. As I sit in the lobby of Creating Change, surrounded by hundreds of trans people, this seems like a very simple errand. I know trans people exist because I believe them when they tell me they’re trans. And unlike Flores, I’ve met a lot of them. I’ve heard countless stories. I write about them all the time. I consider myself a proud friend and ally to the trans community, and the feedback I get from them is that I’m doing a pretty good job at advocating on their behalf. (I’m not worried about the implications of saying “I have trans friends” here since my support for them hopefully isn’t in question.)

But Flores wants a point-by-point rebuttal, so let’s get to it. I’ll otherwise follow his points in order, but I want to start with this one:

“What is medicine? Here is a plausible answer: medicine is the enterprise of restoring bodily faculties to their proper function.”

That’s a reasonable sounding answer, but it’s a skewed and incomplete one. I find a better model for the answer is the Hippocratic Oath. Its commitment that patients “suffer no hurt or damage,” its promise to not “administer poison,” and its vow to “willingly refrain from doing any injury or wrong from falsehood” present a much better guide for understanding what it means to help someone. The Psychotherapist’s Oath more specifically calls on professionals to promote “healing and well-being,” “respect the integrity” of patients, and “provide a safe and trusting haven for healing.” The well-being of the patient is a much more plausible answer for the purpose of medicine, and one that does not grant the premise Flores uses to reject transgender people and their experiences.

Indeed, I find this rationale to be the core flaw in everything that Flores argues, which is why I mentioned it first. Flores’ obsession with what he sees as “natural” ignores what is actually very natural for transgender people: their gender identity. He pays no heed to what might actually be best for the welfare of trans people, instead imposing his own assumptions at their expense. With this in mind, it’s quite hard to see his piece as anything but a call to erase transgender people and disregard their lives; in fact, he makes no claim to actually wanting to help transgender people. Indeed, he does just the opposite. I’ll say more about it as I address his other points.

“Why think that what one “identifies as” is significant at all, especially to the extent that others should actively recognize or cater to such an identity, and especially when the identity one adopts is contrary to reality?”

Flores rejects the idea that sex and gender are different components of identity. He doesn’t actually substantiate this rejection; he just asserts it. (This will be a recurring theme.) This, more than anything, reinforces how little he actually knows about what it means to be trans. Even the World Health Organization, which unfortunately still treats transgender identities as a mental disorder, nevertheless appreciates the sex/gender distinction. A recent study on the valid way young transgender children experience their gender demonstrates that biological sex does not always determine gender.

This distinction is essential for understanding what trans people experience. The reason that many trans people face mental health challenges associated with gender dysphoria is because of the gap between their sex and how they experience their gender. It is these consequences that must be addressed. Depression, anxiety, and their more extreme consequences are what mental health professionals seek to rectify. It is not being trans that causes them, it is not being able to experience gender as one feels it. That’s why a consensus of medical professionals support affirmation, and why transitioning improves the mental health of transgender people. That’s medicine working.

“No amount of surgical mutilation of body parts, effeminate behaviors, or artificial female appearances can make a man a woman.”

Oh hey, another assertion without evidence based on a flawed assumption. But the real reason Flores is wrong here is because he is ignoring the actual experience of transgender people. If a transgender person feels more whole, more complete, or more authentic with a body that represents the person they think they should see in the mirror, that benefits the mental health of that person. Not only does Flores not grant that premise, he insists that it’s wrong on mere principle. The use of words like “mutilation” and “artificial” judges what is very real and very crucial to a trans person’s everyday life, to what allows them to function, prosper, and contribute equally to society. Each trans person finds peace of mind in a different way; transition means something different for each of them. However a person transitions, however, it is not about changing their gender, but confirming their gender. Helping them achieve that peace of mind should be the goal not only of medical professionals, but for all of us.

The Analogies: “Suppose that a Caucasian man from Finland—call him Gunther—suddenly decided that he identifies as being of Sub-Saharan African descent.”

I’m always amazed by conservatives who invent hypotheticals that don’t actually exist in reality to criticize something actually does exist. Ethnicity does not function in the same way as gender identity. Flores has already demonstrated that he doesn’t understand gender identity, so there’s not much to dismantle here. There is no such thing as “transethnic” nor a community of people persecuted for that identity. The analogy is simply irrelevant.

The Analogies: “Similarly, suppose that a seventy-year-old man—call him Bob—comes to identify as a sixteen-year-old.”

There’s no such thing as “transage” either. I can’t even quite conceive of what it would mean for Bob to “identify as a sixteen-year-old,” but hey, I applaud him for staying young at heart.

The Analogies: “It is for this reason that we can make sense of mental disorders such as anorexia nervosa as disorders: they involve persons’ having persistent, false beliefs about their identity or how they really are.”

Here again the priority of well-being is important to keep in mind. People with anorexia face negative health consequences for trying to change their bodies to match their perceptions. Transgender people face negative health consequences if they don’t. That’s besides the fact that body image, like ethnicity and age, functions differently from gender. This analogy does not serve Flores’s purposes because anorexia represents the exact opposite kind of problem from what transgender people face.

“Now, put to one side the fact that 70-80 percent of children who report having transgender feelings come to lose such feelings.”

Put to one side that Flores links to Paul McHugh’s article here. We’ll get to McHugh soon enough.

There is actually truth in the fact that not all young people who explore or experiment with gender ultimately conclude that they are transgender. But so what? Nothing is lost in the process of that exploration. Even those young people who take the step of delaying the onset of puberty to allow extra time to make such a decision face no consequences. Affirming young people however they might express their gender spares them the mental health consequences of forcing them to deny it.

“And because love compels us to seek the good for another, it is thus a grave evil to condone such surgical procedures.”

This is, unsurprisingly, another example of pure conjecture, but I have to call it out separately for revealing Flores’s bias against transgender people. “Grave evil” is quite a dark description. I don’t know how he defines “evil,” but I would think it would have to in some way entail a promotion of harm in the world. He describes transition-related surgeries as harm, except they serve the exact opposite purpose of supporting trans people’s mental health. I’d counter that the real grave evil is encouraging the rejection of transgender people, especially if done in the name of love. If evil means promoting harm as he seems to intend it, then he is the one guilty of evil.

“Dr. Paul McHugh’s words here are particularly incisive.”

Opponents of transgender equality cite Paul McHugh all of the time because he is the only doctor that actually supports their position. It doesn’t matter that the consensus of major medical organizations support affirmative therapy for transgender people. It doesn’t matter that McHugh’s interpretation of the research on transgender people has been thoroughly debunked. It doesn’t matter that McHugh’s biases against all LGBT people, rejecting decades of scientific research even on sexual orientation, have been thoroughly documented. He’s a person with a title who says things that they want to hear.

McHugh is not an expert on transgender people; he is an expert on rejecting transgender people. It’s unsurprising that he is the only authority Flores cites in his essay.

“The suggestion, then, that gender identity disorder therapy should be criminalized is as absurd as the suggestion that therapy to eliminate anorexia should be criminalized.”

Given there is ample evidence that rejecting trans identities is harmful, considerable evidence that transgender identities have biological components, and absolutely no evidence that a a person can be cured of being transgender, Flores’s ardent defense of ex-trans therapy is incredibly problematic. Moreover, it reveals how uninformed he is about transgender people. The American Psychiatric Association no longer defines being transgender as a disorder, so his continued reference to a “disordered transgender identity” reflects either his bias, the fact he’s using information that’s now at least two years old, or quite likely both.

“If habitually watching pornography can change a man’s brain so significantly, then it should hardly be surprising that through intentionally and habitually behaving like a woman a man’s brain would too change to some extent. But again, this does not thereby show that such a man is a woman after all; all it shows is that through habituated action of some sort, the man’s brain behavior has changed.”

The tangent about brains largely doesn’t make much sense. What’s worth pointing out here is that people don’t habitually act like a gender and then claim to be trans. It’s actually the other way around. The two-year-old who knows her gender didn’t condition her brain to be like a girl’s brain. She knows because it may already be that way. Of course, brains only offer one clue into the biological components that underlie a trans identity and hardly tell the whole story. Thus, little is gained from further humoring Flores’ sideline on this matter.

“Cases in which an individual is intersex, however, are exceedingly rare. Indeed, even granting the point, it would not be unfair to say that in 99.99 percent of cases (and even this might be too low a percentage), a person is either male or female.”

It’s worth flagging Flores here. Intersex people are real regardless of how few he thinks there are. If your assertion that genitalia is a deciding factor, then you can’t just rule out people whose genitalia defies the binary you rely on. The mere variety of intersex identities and the complex way these individuals arrive at their gender identities — especially when they were surgically “fixed” as infants without their consent — paints an incredibly vibrant picture of gender that Flores can not so easily disregard. According to the Intersex Society of North America, intersex conditions occur in about 1 in 1500 to 1 in 2000 births. That number jibes with his percentage, but I think it makes it sound quite a lot more people than his percentage suggests.

“But, alas, LGBT activists are actively working to make it the case that the state and private businesses cover “gender-reassignment” surgeries, that men who identify as women be able to use women’s restrooms, that girls who identify as boys be able to play on male sports teams, that we consider it immoral to refer to infants as male or female lest we insidiously impose upon them a “gender” they might not identify with, that we ban therapy to treat gender dysphoria, and that we generally co-opt language and social norms to reflect pernicious falsehoods about the human body.”

Here is where Flores lays out all of the trans protections he opposes. He doesn’t want businesses to have to cover procedures that could be essential to the health of transgender people. He reinforces the myth that trans women are somehow predatory by default; you never hear about letting “women who identify as men use the men’s restroom,” and I don’t think they want my trans brothers who are bald and have beards walking into the women’s restroom. Girls can already play on some male sports teams like wrestling and football, so I don’t know what’s so profound about his objection to trans boys doing the same. I don’t know of any legislation trying to ban gendering children, but I do think it’s harmful to reject a gender identity a child asserts. As for that last complaint, it sounds like Flores will just be pissed people will disagree with him. I’m personally not worried about offending his sensibilities when there are lives on the line.

“What is relevant is whether we will make public policy and encourage social norms that reflect the truth about the human person and sexuality, or whether we will obfuscate the truth about such matters and sow the seeds of sexual confusion in future generations for years to come.”

You know how kids get confused? When you try to force them to be something that they’re not. As referenced above, the kids who know they’re trans are not confused at all. It’s only a society that rejects what they know about themselves that creates that problem. And it’s essays like this one that unabashedly promote that rejection.

So there you go, Carlos. You told me that I made too many bare assertions on Twitter and that you wouldn’t take my perspective seriously unless I charitably responded point-by-point. I do consider it charity, because this weekend I’m surrounded by a gorgeous mix of genderqueer, transgender, gender non-conforming people at the Creating Change conference, people you only wish you were lucky enough to ever meet. But I decided that your words, now shared over 17,000 times, were so dangerous to their well-being that I’d take the time to explain why you were just so, so wrong.

And, chances are, you might not care, and your mind might not be changed in the least. But, if you even bothered to read my response, you at least can’t unread it. And whether it has any effect on you or not, hopefully others will see how baseless and bigoted your assertions were and choose to ignore them.

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Queer and Queerer Ep. 81 – Celibacy: Same Shameful Ingredients In A Shiny New Package

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Zack and Peterson are back to talk about a new (old) product on the market: celibacy! Also known as “ex-gay lite.” Since the ex-gay movement has largely crumbled in recent years and it’s no longer convincing to argue that sexual orientation can be changed, conservatives are now encouraging gay, lesbian, and bisexual people to just not have sex. Given celibacy has its own theological history, does this new advocacy for embracing it measure up or is it just a different-looking outcome for sin-shaming? Also, Zack is one of the 40 under 40 and Peterson’s got his eye on some new transgender television shows.

The Queer and Queerer Podcast!

Listen to this week's episode:  

(Please click here to listen on iPad/iPhone or download.) | Open Player in New Window

Here’s some more information about what we talked about this week:

» Zack is one of The Advocate’s 40 Under 40.

» Peterson interviews actress Marlo Bernier about her new dramedy Myrna.

» Also read more about the BBC transgender sitcom Boy Meets Girl, the webseries Brothers, and the Amazon Prime show Transparent.

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Queer And Queerer Ep. 80 – Toto, We’re Not In Kansas Anymore

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Zack and Peterson have new stories to tell about foreign worlds. Peterson’s new projects addressing climate change are not getting the warmest reception in LGBT spaces, nor are there many LGBT people at the climate change conferences he’s attended. Likewise, Zack attended his first atheist conference, speaking at the American Atheists national conference in April, and similarly observed that queer people were simply underrepresented. What’s it like being queer in these accepting yet strangely uninclusive spaces? Oh, and Marvin Bloom’s around somewhere too.

The Queer and Queerer Podcast!

Listen to this week's episode:  

(Please click here to listen on iPad/iPhone or download.) | Open Player in New Window

Here’s some more information about what we talked about this week:

» The new PetersonToscano.com!

» Watch all of the panels from this year’s American Atheists conference, including Zack’s on Atheism and LGBT Activism!

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Queer And Queerer Ep. 79 – Quest of the Holy Placenta

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Zack and Peterson are together for the holidays, and rather than yak about Utah or Duck Dynasty, the two follow the travels of the afterbirth of Jesus in the Lost Gospel of the Holy Placenta. Enjoy this lighthearted and only slightly blasphemous holiday episode and let us know what you want to hear from us in 2014. Also, make sure to go see Zack in New York City Monday night and check out all of Peterson’s new upcoming projects!

The Queer and Queerer Podcast!

Listen to this week's episode:  

(Please click here to listen on iPad/iPhone or download.) | Open Player in New Window

Here’s some more information about what we talked about this week:

» Learn more about the #HolyPlacenta from Peterson’s tweets.

» Check out the show Zack is accompanying in New York on December 30!

» Watch Grey Gardens.

» Check out the art that benefits the Trans Justice Funding Project.

» Here are some books by Dr. Lynn Huber about the apocalypse.

» Here’s the entire Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 19 haikus.

» Watch Kiki and Herb perform “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

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Hate Mail From Sharon Kass: ‘Zack Ford, Captive of Gay-ness’

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My best approximation of Sharon Kass.

My best approximation of Sharon Kass.

I got some very amusing hate mail this week!

Many folks out in the LGBT activism world are familiar with Sharon Kass. She regularly trolls advocates of equality with emails extolling ex-gay therapy and the ex-gay group NARTH. In fact, Truth Wins Out has been tracking her for some time, and she’s also had run-ins with my friends at The Bilerico Project, Good As You, and others. She contributes occasionally to some uber-conservative sites like WorldNetDaily, where her schtick is the same.

Most recently, Kass targeted Tennessee 11-year-old Marcel Neergaard, who successfully petitioned Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst group to rescind an education award from state Rep. John Ragan (R), sponsor of the pro-bullying “Don’t Say Gay” bill. (I met Marcel’s mom, Misty, this summer at Netroots Nation, and let me just say that the world would be lucky to have more moms like her.) Kass wrote to Marcel’s dad telling him that he was responsible for Marcel’s homosexuality, which she called a “disorder of deep-seated gender self-alienation.” She went on to explain how the family clearly didn’t want a second boy and so the distance between father and son is what caused Marcel to be gay. “The ex-gay truth,” she wrote, “will prevail in this country.”

A Change.org petition asking Kass to stop sending hate mail currently has over 600 signatures.

I’ve heard from Kass plenty of times myself. Back in September, she even suggested that we hold a public debate. After exchanging a few emails, she decided I was not a “worthy opponent” because I sneer at “Christians” (her quotes, not mine) and ignore “original sources” (those quotes are mine) like NARTH, Joseph use-gay-porn-to-cure-homosexuality Nicolosi, and Richard hit-a-pillow-with-a-tennis-racket Cohen.

I was disappointed, actually, because I don’t know if “Sharon Kass” is a real person. I’ve never seen a picture of her anywhere. I’ve never seen her make a public appearance anywhere. Her name outside of her hate mail might not even be Sharon — she might not even be a she. (That would be disappointing, because I hate misgendering people.) During the should-we-have-a-debate debate, I asked to see a picture of her, and I think that may have put her off.

But this week, I heard from her out of the blue! And this time, she wrote a custom article about me! It includes some quite random quotes from here at ZackFord Blogs as well as over at ThinkProgress. I replied to ask her if it was published anywhere, but her only reply was, “To quote Hillary… what difference does it make?” I sure hope that my sexual identity doesn’t become an overblown fake scandal like Benghazi, but I assume — with some Google confirmation — that she meant “no.” So, I’ll solve her that problem and print it here because I think it’s just so amusing. To be nice, I’ll even toss in some links to my posts and her sources (since she only included the reference list at the bottom). Here is a direct copy and paste of her email:

Zack Ford, Captive of Gayness

Sharon Kass
October 29, 2013

I’m just a regular guy, I think.  Well, maybe.–Zack Ford, “Who is Zack Ford?”  ZackFordBlogs.com

He’s young.  He’s Leftist.  He’s gay.

Welcome to the world of Zack Ford, head gay at the Leftist D.C. think tank the Center for American Progress.

He’s a self-described atheist.  Psychologist Paul Vitz, in his Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, explains how an early troubled relationship (or nonrelationship) with the father contributes to a lifelong troubled relationship with authority.  God, of course, is the Ultimate Authority.

Male homosexuality originates in faulty bonding and identification with the father, starting at or before age two.  Psychologist Joseph Nicolosi discusses this in his article “Fathers of Male Homosexuals: A Collective Clinical Profile.”  To the male homosexual, with his insecure masculinity, the male object of desire is not the object of mature erotic love but a source of a masculine fix.  (A “gay” relationship may have an element of true friendship, but the erotic part is neurotic.)

He says, of himself, that being adopted is “just kind of cool.”  He’s in denial.  Being casual about family ties is a pose he puts on in order to escape his feeling of hurt.  Deep down, he wonders what role his having been adopted played in his father’s difficulty relating to him.

He loves knocking ex-gays and critics of homosexuality.  But he’s got no opposing case.  He’s very invested in being a “sexual minority” because then he gets to be part of a “protected class” like blacks and gets to force his fellow Americans to affirm his “gay identity.”  Nicolosi’s “Gay as Self-Reinvention” explains this.

More Fordisms:

It [the assertion that "gay" is psychotherapeutically treatable]‘s the latest evidence that all of these groups [such as Parents & Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays and the Family Research Council] are actively working against the lives of LGBT people ….

How to Invalidate Gays: Validate Ex-Gays

Ex-gay Rich Wyler, founder of People Can Change, had the opportunity to reiterate many untrue ex-gay talking points, including unfounded “causes” for a gay orientation, the misguided notion that it’s ethical to support a patient who wants ex-gay therapy, and a completely inaccurate comparison between ex-gay and transgender patients.  ….  NPR [National Public Radio] has no obligation to highlight their [ex-gays'] harmful, anti-scientific, and anti-gay views as having any merit.

Ford lives in a bubble of denial, a Leftist bubble.  All his life, he has been among the millions of Americans who have been used for bogus civil rights cache.  He makes his living repeating unsubstantiated talking points.  He is a captive of gay-ness.

GayScam could end as soon as 2021.  If Zack Ford is smart, he’ll get real help and start working on learning who is really is.  No time to waste.  ///

Sources:  http://thinkprogress.org.feedsportal.com, www.zackfordblogs.com.  For real information, see www.narth.com, www.gaytostraight.org, www.peoplecanchange.com, www.jonahweb.org, www.janellehallman.com, www.josephnicolosi.com, www.voiceofthevoiceless.info, and www.pfox.org.  The 2013 meeting of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality is November 8-9 in Phoenix.  

So, a couple quick thoughts:

  • I don’t think I’m the “head gay” at CAP. Lots of other people are doing great LGBT work there, and they definitely do not report to me.
  • If gay sex is “neurotic,” so what?
  • Why is GayScam, whatever it is, going to end in 2021? I didn’t get any memos.
  • Why is everything my dad’s fault? Is it his fault I also don’t like peanut butter?

Speaking of my dad, I showed him Kass’s letter. He wrote me the following response:

Zack,

Tell her the next meeting of the National Association of “Hypocrites of America” is on November 3, 2013, at your local church. Remember Ms. Sharon, Jesus despised the hypocrites and the money lenders (rich white right wing bankers).

Love,

Dad

My dad always jokes that he likes to read the last lines of my posts (which he reads daily, by the way), because he enjoys how I drive home whatever point I’m trying to make. I think I’ll let his be the final point here, though.

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Queer And Queerer Ep. 78 – Taking Liberties With Religion

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Two episodes within less than a month’s time! It’s like some government shutdown miracle! This week’s episode is dedicated to talking about that “religious liberty” concept conservatives are always throwing around. What do they mean when they say it and how are they trying to use it do keep discriminating against LGBT people? Does a Quaker school have to hire a Neo-Nazi? Zack and Peterson break it all down. We had a little technical glitch or two, so apologies for that, but it shouldn’t interfere too much with enjoying our delightful banter and brilliant insights.

The Queer and Queerer Podcast!

Listen to this week's episode:  

(Please click here to listen on iPad/iPhone or download.) | Open Player in New Window

Here’s some more information about what we talked about this week:

» Learn more about ENDA’s religious exemption.

» Learn more about that Washington florist.

» Learn more about that Oregon bakery that closed, and the cakes that they would make.

» Learn more about that New Mexico photographer.

» Learn more about that Iowa wedding venue suing for the right to discriminate.

» In fact, here’s a whole list of religious liberty concerns conservatives are worried about.

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Should Transgender People Have To ‘Compromise’ On Which Facilities They Can Use?

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This post continues a dialogue with Brandon McGinley of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, who opposes transgender nondicrimination protections because sex-segregated locker rooms allow for “camaraderie” while reducing the “sexual nature” of a space where there is usually nudity. I countered at ThinkProgress that the safety of transgender students, like those protected by California’s new law, trumps such fears. McGinley has written a follow-up, and though back-and-forth debates aren’t conducive to how we publish at TP, I wanted to continue the dialogue with him here.

His primary concern seems to be genitals:

To be clear, I am not arguing that transgender people should go in the woods. All the examples I gave of the troubling implications of this type of legislation were of people who appeared as one sex being granted access to facilities reserved for the opposite sex. I didn’t address the question of what facilities people who have undergone sex change surgery should use because, to my understanding, it is not a source of controversy.

The common sense answer is this: Folks should use the facilities where they would appear, regardless of their own convictions about their gender, most at home, or a private unisex facility. Some gender non-conforming people might prefer to use facilities in accord with their (internal) gender identity, and some other people might be uncomfortable even with a post-op transgender person in the bathroom; though both of these impulses are understandable, this is the type of compromise on which social comity is built. But more than that, it just makes sense given the purpose of sex-segregated facilities to begin with, as I argued in the Public Discourse essay.

First, let me say this: If McGinley believes that transgender people who have had sex-reassignment surgery should be protected from discrimination, I’m glad to hear it. It’s certainly a start. Unfortunately, only about 20 percent of people who identify as trans actually have the surgery. In addition to being too expensive for many trans people (who also tend to experience high rates of poverty thanks to employment discrimination), it also results in losing their reproductive ability. Some trans people find coherence with their gender identity without making this very personal sacrifice. It’s my hope that McGinley is not in favor of forcing people to be sterilized in order to participate equally in society; perhaps he can clarify this point in another response.

Moreover, let’s talk a little bit about appearance. Perhaps McGinley doesn’t appreciate the definition of gender identity, which is an enduring aspect of identity. It’s not a switch that is flipped daily. In other words, there’s nothing about gender identity protections that enables people to “fake” being the other gender just to sneak into the other restroom. They are designed to protect people who live their whole lives according to their gender identity.

Given his caveat for people who’ve had gender reassignment surgery, it thus seems that he is defining “appearance” entirely by genitals. But that’s really not what appearance means to most transgender people. If we’re talking how safe other people feel in the locker room, let’s take a look at a few test cases.

Here’s Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center:

Masen Davis

Davis is transgender, which means he was assigned female at birth, but he identifies as a man and has used hormone therapy as a part of his transition. I think most people would look at him and agree he sure looks like a man. Now, I don’t know what surgeries Davis may or may not have had, and it’s frankly not anybody’s business but his, and it’s an irrelevant point to the rest of his appearance. I don’t think anybody looks at a bald man with a beard and concludes that he must use the women’s room. (I’m pretty sure Davis won’t mind me using him as an example like this since he uses himself as an example in media appearances all the time — thanks Masen!)

Just to provide a reverse example, here’s Jenna Talackova, who placed in the Top 12 in last year’s Miss Universe Canada contest:

Jenna Talackova

Which locker room would Talackova be safer in, the men’s or the women’s? I think it’s fair to objectively say that she is quite a beautiful woman, and subjecting her to a men’s locker room because she was assigned male at birth is most definitely not in the best interest of her safety and well-being.

According to what I think McGinley is saying though, Davis and Talackova should have to drop trou and let someone else assess the current state of their genitals in order to determine which facility they’re allowed to use. Exposing transgender people to that kind of skepticism and humiliation surely cannot be the only solution “on which social comity is built.” And what exactly does that “social comity” mean, exactly? That women won’t have to see a trans woman’s penis? What exactly is the problem that really needs to be solved? If the answer is “safety,” then that’s just an unfounded, prejudiced assumption that trans people are somehow more likely to be dangerous or predatory. If the answer is, “trans people’s bodies are icky,” that’s outright intolerance. And if the answer is just that people should never have to see a genital that they don’t have one of themselves, that’s an argument with no foundation whatsoever.

McGinley also defends the idea that imposing heteronormative standards is not a problematic thing to do:

One might object that this second point is heteronormative, and indeed it is because the world is heteronormative. We can never completely de-sexualize any aspect of the human experience, but we can try to minimize the sexual nature of places and experiences that ought not to be sexual. And the fact of the matter is that opposite-sex sexual attraction is the norm in the human species, both in terms of raw numbers and its orientation toward procreation. Nude men and women comingling is more sexually-charged, more often than nude men or nude women comingling. Only the most abstract and obdurate sexual theoretician could deny this fact.

We should clarify some language here. The world is not heteronormative; it is simply hetero-majoritarian. Imposing the norms of a ruling class of people — say, white people — on a smaller segment of the population — say, African Americans — is not really a precedent that is easily defended.

To be fair, I do see some merit to what he is saying, at least to the extent that I am not advocating for gender-neutral locker rooms. But heteronormativity doesn’t justify discrimination against transgender people. McGinley doesn’t seem to have any problem letting gay men use men’s locker rooms or lesbian women use women’s locker rooms, so I don’t see how this argument warrants any different kind of policy against transgender people. In particular, transgender people identify as something other than straight about 77 percent of the time; in fact, there is an incredible diversity of sexual orientations within the trans community. There’s really no valid way to justify that trans people would somehow add to how “sexually charged” a locker room is. If anything, this assumption once again echoes the prejudiced beliefs that trans people are somehow more deviant or are somehow a threat to “safety” — stigma, not “common sense.”

Despite his best efforts, I still don’t see a compelling argument against gender identity nondiscrimination protection that isn’t simply based on some degree of discomfort regarding transgender people. Discomfort alone does not justify depriving trans people of equal access to society, including the freedom to use the restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender. If there’s anything I’ve learned from the trans people in my life, it’s that their genitals are pretty much the least interesting thing about them.

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Queer and Queerer Ep. 77 – Not All Popes Are Married Like That

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Thanks to the flattery of Ben, Zack and Peterson found time for a new episode. (It may have helped that Zack is under the weather.) Among the topics are Christians are “not all like that” (NALT), how the Pope really is like that, and Peterson’s second wedding — don’t worry, it’s to the same person as the first. But maybe there will be a third or more! There are lots of different state options to choose from. There’s also an interjection about foot cream, but it’s probably lacking in validity. If you like what you hear and want to hear more, leave lots of comments and shower us with praise. Positive reinforcement works!

The Queer and Queerer Podcast!

Listen to this week's episode:  

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Here’s some more information about what we talked about this week:

» Not All Like That, a video project about LGBT-supportive Christians.

» The hodgepodge of state marriage fights.

» That big long interview the Pope gave.

» The random story about foot cream that Zack found.

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Queer and Queerer Ep. 76 – Is The Marin Foundation Building Bridges?

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This episode features Peterson Toscano’s tell-all about Andrew Marin and The Marin Foundation, best known for encouraging Christians to attend Pride events holding signs apologizing for how churches have harmed LGBT people. Zack listens as Peterson shares his roller coaster of confusing about whether or not The Marin Foundation is actually helping build bridges between evangelical Christians and the LGBT community — as it claims — or possibly humoring some dangerous ideas. The journey includes intersections with the work of Warren Throckmorton and Mark Yarhouse, both of whom have connections to the ex-gay movement. Are bridges being built, or are there reasons to be skeptical about this work… or both?

The Queer and Queerer Podcast!

Listen to this week's episode:  

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Here’s some more information about what we talked about this week:

» Mark Yarhouse’s own reporting attempting to validate ex-gay therapy found that even those living an ex-gay life still admitted their orientations hadn’t changed.

» Check out the Trans Justice Funding Project, which Peterson helped support last week.

» Zack’s summer musical, Love, NY, opens this weekend, so if you’re in the DC area, check it out!

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Queer and Queerer Ep. 75 – The Exodus Exodus

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Not only are Zack and Peterson truly back, but for once they’re actually in the same room! Broadcasting from Zack’s apartment in Washington, DC, we discussed the epic change up at Exodus International — namely, Alan Chambers’s apology for the ex-gay ministry and announcement last week that he was shutting it down. A big chapter in the shaming of the gay community has come to an end, but what does it mean for evangelical Christians? Our conversation dives deep to see what will come of the end of this historically harmful conversation.

The Queer and Queerer Podcast!

Listen to this week's episode:  

(Please click here to listen on iPad/iPhone or download.) | Open Player in New Window

Here’s some more information about what we talked about this week:

» Check out ThinkProgress’s reporting on the great survey of ex-gay survivors, the closure of Exodus International, and the backlash this week from Focus on the Family and other ex-gay groups.

» Beyond Ex-Gay continues to be a valuable resource for ex-gay survivors.

» Peterson’s rewrite of John Smid’s apology.

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