Let’s talk about trans kids and the state of academic information on trans folks and the history of medical misconduct that trans people have had to cope with.
But before all that, let us talk about a science writer named Jesse Singal. Jesse Singal is a senior editor and science writer for New York Magazine. He’s especially well known for some particularly well-written deconstructions of that particular hate movement in gaming that will never end.
He, however, is also becoming more and more well-known for his articles on trans kids. Which are… okay, the only charitable way I can put this is that they are awful. Absolute drek.
Defense of Zucker’s Reparative Therapy Clinic
His first infamous article on the subject of trans kids was a defense of Zucker’s infamous Gender Identity Clinic in Toronto.
Now, most cis people have never heard of Zucker or his clinic in Toronto. A few have and assume that since it was a clinic set up to serve “trans and gender non-conforming kids” that it must therefore have been an empathetic and caring institution that tried its best to serve trans youth and young trans adults.
Except it really wasn’t. Zucker’s clinic was essentially one based on the idea of reparative therapy. I.e. the idea that one can “fix” being trans or being “girlier” or “butcher” than is typically expected for your gender.
As such, Zucker’s main treatment methodology surrounded “gender-confirming behavior”. Basically, if you have a boy child that is expressing that she is a girl or that he would like to play with dolls or dress up in high heels, that the best way to care for that is to aggressively counter that by giving them stereotypically masculine clothes and toys and refusing to call the child by the gender or names they ask for. This sort of “tough love” will then set the boy straight and keep them from growing into the sort of “deviant” lifestyle that the sort of permissive parents who would let little boys play with dolls would encourage.
Sure, if a child fought through all of Zucker’s many steps of emotional abuse for years and years and their parents (specifically their mothers, Zucker was a big fan of the “your mother is the source of gender confusion” theories)*, then he might deign to allow them to pursue medical transition options in late childhood, early adulthood and a lot of kids in the Toronto area had no choice but to do that, because for the longest time, he was literally the only game in town for transgender youth. But his main goal was no
*Here’s a heartbreaking account from a mother of a transgender child talking about the lack of research and trying to follow Zucker’s advice and seeing just how much pain and misery that was causing in her daughter.**
**Which of course, it does. Singal tries to turn Zucker into a martyr, speaking obliquely about an untold and hidden number of folks who mourn Zucker’s clinic for it’s “excellent” trans-related care, because it’s telling that there’s not many trans folks who went to his clinic who think fondly of him, or even many folks at all. And that’s unsurprising. Even if his methods work, and even he admits that his methods are fully unsubstantiated, they are still awful abusive things. Like, almost no child who is gender non-conforming as a kid but grows up gay instead of trans or even grows up cis and het looks back and goes, “you know what time in my life was awesome? When I was brutally bullied for liking the color pink.” Hell, a lot of male geeks carry lifelong chips on their shoulders entirely surrounding being bullied for “not being tough” and “being a girly wimp”.
Overall, his method was rather indistinguishable from the status quo treatment of “effeminate” boys (and those read by society as boys) and its treatment of “masculine” girls (and those read by society as girls). Bullying, threats, social condemnation, outright refusal of expression. And for those of us who have been through the gay rights struggle for the last few decades, from the methods of ex-gay camps which also fixate on “gender affirmation”.
Hell, the hilarious and brutal coming-of-age comedy But I’m a Cheerleader is entirely based on the weird gender ideas of sexuality reparative therapy and the overall ex-gay movement. And a central motif was the aggressive attempt to “normalize” “deviant” attraction with stereotypical feminine or masculine activities, completely unaware of how homoerotic many of them are:
And that’s the thing, Zucker’s clinic is no different than any run-of-the-mill ex-gay clinic, hell his protocol is literally what Pre-Snake Person Dispensationalist Christian parents are encouraged to do with their kids if they suspect they may have “deviant” tendencies***.
***The comic below is “Dumbing of Age” by David Willis. In this comic, Joyce is a former homeschooled evangelical kid from the PMD culture and her boyfriend Ethan here is a gay male she is in the process of trying to “fix” (she later realizes how fucked up this is and comes to fully support him). The “Joshua” they are referencing is Joyce’s trans sister Jocelyne, who has yet to come out to the family but has come out to Ethan:
The main idea behind Zucker’s clinic is that the first priority in any form of trans healthcare is to make doubly, triply sure that no single cis person ever be forced through the ignominy of going through what we expect trans people to do.
And the thing about it is that view was not that uncommon very long ago and still holds a lot of sway in the academic literature on trans individuals. In fact, Zucker himself started a vanity press solely devoted to publishing his papers on the awesomeness of his method and other works by former mentees of his. By volume, this makes up a hefty bulk of the available research on trans youth. To the point where a lot of the protocols at the time were heavily sourced from Zucker or his associates.
History of Bad Health Care
For the longest time, trans healthcare and the access to it has been based on convincing cis gatekeepers that you are in fact trans enough to be allowed to seek healthcare relating to the treatment of gender dysphoria or receive legal recognition for your gender identity. And it’s main goal has been to discourage as many seeking care from doing so in the hopes that that will make sure not a single cis person will transition and come to “regret it”****.
**** “Transgender regret” is a major watchword of the TERF movement and among right-wing transphobes including the ADF and is frequently used in papers arguing against the extension of equal rights to transgender individuals. A lot of it surrounds a single man by the name of Walt Heyer who is basically just PFOX Part 2. (No really, here’s Zinnia Jones looking into his claims on the number who regret transition and what she found about his claims and the claims of other “ex-trans” activists).
For the longest time, the Standards of Care for transgender individuals was based on the infamous Harry Benjamin Standards (which are still in effect, unfortunately, in many places, despite the hard work of trans activists). The Harry Benjamin Standards of Care basically demanded from trans folks looking to transition be of specific body types and levels of femininity or masculinity (overweight patients were forced on crash diets and unhealthy eating disorders to approximate the shape allowed to proceed and those whose overall body shapes were not deemed masculine or feminine enough or those who were non-binary were straight up denied care). They then were expected to spend up to 2 years living without hormones as the gender that they were (meaning putting themselves at high risk for street harassment and violence), then allowed hormones and surgery, but and here’s the catch, they were expected at the end of the care to disappear and become stealth, literally starting brand new lives with brand new names, miles away from any friends or family, so as to best blend in as cis and certainly never mention that you were trans or aid younger trans folks trying to get care.
These standards devastated the trans activist community, denying us our activists for decades and convincing many to hide themselves and their lives away lest they be denied medical treatment for their trans identity. And it’s only been in recent years, thanks to the tireless activism of trans folks who refused to disappear and abide that stealth requirement in the 90s and 00s (not to mention the rise of the internet) that has allowed the trans community to rebuild its community strength and actually advocate more effectively for its rights. This was the normal and the academic side of things was no better.
One of Zucker’s other main defenders has been Alice Dreger, who wrote a pop-science book on “activists wars on scientists” that was basically a giant hit list of people she disliked personally. (Zinnia Jones did a big deconstruction of her and her work here). But she was a major source for Jesse Singal’s article. Her main objection surrounded defending a book called “The man who would be queen” by J. Michael Bailey. Which was in and of itself defending an academic concept known as “autogynephilia”. The idea behind it is that there are “true transsexuals”, who are hyper femme and attracted to boys (unurprisingly given social anxiety surrounding masculinity and the idea that boys “can become girls”, most of the research in existence focuses on freaking out about trans women first and often added trans men standards and research as an afterthought and never even broaches topics of non-binary identities) who should be allowed to undergo this whole procedure, because hey, in the mind of the researchers, if they’re hot enough, it’s almost like they’re girls and it’s better than being gay*****. And so everyone else, the trans lesbians, the trans bisexuals, the trans girls who like butching it up with flannel or a pair of jeans and sneaks, were clearly just “fetishistic straight men” who “get off on wearing women’s clothes” and so should be denied any treatment what’s so ever” (again, no really, go back and read Zinnia Jones’s deconstruction, it’s hella damning). This second group was then referred to as “autogynephiles” because they weren’t, in the eyes of the researchers, “trans”, they just were in the love of the idea of themselves having vaginas (hence the term). It’s still a popular term among TERFs and is usually trotted out to justify harassing trans lesbians and argue that they are just “pretending to be women” in order to “get off with sleeping with lesbians”.
***** No really, that was a large part of the theory. And part of the conspiracy theory TERFs break out every so often to argue that trans people in general is all a conspiracy to turn all the gay people straight. Trans lesbians and trans gay men are ignored in this or called the wrong gender in order to justify this feeling of persecution (not to mention straight up ignoring bi or ace trans folks or nb trans folks of all varieties or orientations or how interconnected the trans movement has always been with queer rights in general (Miss Major threw the first brick at Stonewall and trans activists have been at the center of a lot of gay rights struggles including the right to get married)). Ironically enough, they usually cite things like Iran’s support of trans folks only when they would otherwise be gay to “prove” this conspiracy. Despite the fact that the system Iran is using is the same systems they themselves praise as the “good ones” (like the old Harry Benjamin system) before “political correctness” took over. And are otherwise fine with reducing the idea of trans people into “former gender-non-conforming gay person turned trans” when it means rejecting the huge trans spectrum (or wibbly-wobbly ball) that the trans community puts forth.
Her and Bailey are also big fans of Blanchard’s Typology. Which is based on the idea that there is an “objective” survey that separates out the “lying autogynephiles” from the “true transsexuals” and labels said “autogynephilia” as a paraphilia similar in structure to pedophilia or bestiality. Blanchard is also somewhat famous as that guy that trained a bunch of the scientists the right-wing likes to parade around from time to time who rant about how transgender identities are all made up or harming America and for being a massive homophobe who believes that the opposite of being gay is being “normal”. A lot of it is based on questions about feeling attraction to being viewed as a woman (interestingly enough 93% of cis women have “autogynephilia” according to the autogynephilia side of his “test”) as well as questions asking about orientation.
J Michael Bailey in fact simplified the test to look like this:
“Once you have learned about the distinction between autogynephilic
and homosexual transsexuals, and seen several of each, distinguishing
the two is easy. If Blanchard and I saw the same 100 transsexuals, I
would be surprised if we disagreed on more than two. But most readers
will not have met a single transsexual of either type, and even most
clinicians who see gender patients are not used to thinking about them
this way. In any case, you cannot simply ask someone “which type are
you?” I have devised a set of rules that should work even for the
novice (though admittedly, I have not tested them empirically). Start
at zero. Ask each question, and if the answer is “yes,” add the number
next to the question. If the sum gets to +10, stop; the transsexual
you’re talking to is autogynephilic. If the sum gets to -10, she is
[Actually you should take the whole test before making judgment.]
+10 At least three times, have you become sexually aroused enough
when wearing women’s clothing in private that you masturbated?
+10 Have you been married to, and had biological children with, a
+9 Have you been married to a woman, without children?
+10 If I had observed your childhood behavior, would you have
appeared about as masculine as other boys?
+10 Are you nearly as attracted to women as to men? Or more attracted
to women? Or equally uninterested in both? (If “yes” to any of these)
+9 Is your sexual preference (to men, women, both, or neither)
difficult for you to decide?
+9 Were you over the age of 40 when you began to live full time as a
+9 Were you a virgin (no oral, vaginal or anal sex with another
person) until after the age of 20?
+7 Do you refer to yourself as “transgendered?”
+6 Have you often felt envious when looking at sexy women?
+10 Have you ever been in the military or worked as a policeman,
truck driver, or something equally stereotypically masculine? (use
+9 Have you worked at any of the following occupations: computer
programmer, businessman, lawyer, scientist, engineer, or physician?
-8 (If the previous two questions are answered “no”) Have you ever
worked as a hairstylist, beautician, female impersonator, lingerie
model, or prostitute?
-9 Does this describe you? “I find the idea of having sex with men
very sexually exciting, and the idea of having sex with women not at
+9 (If the answer to the previous question is “no”)
-8 Is your ideal sex partner a straight man?
+8 (If the answer to the previous question is “no”)
-9 Have you had sex with many men and no women (or only one woman to
see what it was like)?
-7 Would you like to look at pictures of really muscular men with
their shirts off?
+5 (If the answer to the previous question is “no”)
-8 Were you under the age of 25 when you began living full time as a
-8 If you saw an elegantly dressed and sexy woman on one sidewalk,
and a muscular, naked man on another, which would you look at? (Man)
+8 (If the answer to the previous question was “woman”)
-7 If you could spend only one hour with a very attractive man, which
would you like to do more: dance with him or suck his penis? (Penis)
+5 (If the answer to the previous question is “dance”)
“Interviewer, ask yourself:
-8 If you didn’t already know that the person was transsexual, would
you have never suspected that she was not a natural-born woman?
+9 (If the person has been on hormones for at least 6 months) Do you
find it difficult to imagine that this person could ever pass as a
-6 Would some of your male friends find this person sexy?
-3 (Male Interviewers) Is this person flirting with you?
+8 (Female Interviewers) Is this person flirting with you?
“Finally, this interview could be invalid if you suspect that the
transsexual may be autogynephilic and either (a) worried you will
think badly of her or will deny her a sex change if you know the
truth, or (b) obsessed with being a “real” woman. As far as mistakes,
it is more likely that the interview would identify an autogynephilic
transsexual as homosexual than vice versa.”
Which looking at it, we can see the major problems inherent in it, the way it dismisses queer or closeted trans women as fake, the way it prioritizes the sexual gaze of the observer and whether or not the trans person turns them on or not and puts in rewards for being sexual in the right way (i.e. straight and horny).
Not to mention it is straight up disproved by the fact that gay and ace and bi trans folks are still trans. And the fact that these questions when looked at directly are such absolute garbage, it becomes hard to believe anyone actually gave this shit the time of day, much less felt this was a valuable and accurate piece of science worth pissing away one’s credibility to defend or worth setting up whole systems of care to codify. Like, seriously, we’re supposed to put up with a system that heavily weights the stereotypes and biases of the interviewer and which straight up ignores the majority of trans experiences in order to pitch a discriminatory model? Puh-leeze.
And we also see the garbage that has been sold as science for so long. Nonetheless, Jesse Singal continues to defend Alice Dreger as much as Dreger defends Bailey and Bailey defends Blanchard and the other old transphobes that had a stranglehold on the state of science for so long.
And here’s the thing. That’s been the case for a long long time. Our science has been transparently awful and designed to create a very narrow means of accessing health care and has prioritized restricting and denying care in the name of “protecting” the very idea that a cis person could accidentally transition and have to go through the dysphoria and misery that we expect trans folks to go through.
Hell, trans folks have published zines and guides for decades entirely about how to get around gatekeepers, sometimes to the extent of informing each other on how to illegally acquire things like testosterone, estrogen, and spirinolactone so as to self-medicate.
And nonetheless, these systems have stood for far too long, dominating the literature on trans health care with garbage essay after garbage essay sexualizing and dehumanizing us in the hopes of making our existences more palatable for a cisgender society, putting their comfort ahead of our lives. And it’s only begun to change recently thanks to the tireless work of trans academics like Susan Stryker and Julia Serrano as well as throngs of trans activists risking the staggering murder rate of trans individuals and all manner of social costs to speak about our actual lives rather than the sanitized pap this whole crew had been smearing everywhere.
Bi and ace trans folks speaking out. Non-binary trans folks speaking out. Trans kids speaking for themselves. Building community and proving these theories wrong largely by simply existing. Showing that these attempts to other and disappear them into bizarre categories was entirely a fiction crafted by a cisgender society that is desperate to recast trans folks as “just what happens when someone gays too hard”.
And we’ve seen the results of this system we’ve had in place for so long. The suicide rates among transgender individuals is staggering (According to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey 41% of surviving trans individuals have attempted suicide at least once in their life and conservative estimates of those lost to suicide before getting a chance to be surveyed stand at about 31%-50%******) and is even higher among trans kids owing to the pure hell that being forced to go through the wrong puberty is.
****** I’m sorry for the long runup, but I’m trying to stay somewhat dispassionate about this shit, but this shit infuriates me for several reasons. One, I love good science and I hate pseudo-scientific garbage people nonetheless accept because they so desperately want to believe what its peddling. Like, you could have the worst designed study, but if you conclude that black people are dumber than white people, gay people are bad parents, 1950s gender roles are evolutionary, or most trans people are cis, you’ll get no end of assholes lining up to tongue your ass and call you a visionary and overlooking massive design flaws in your tests. Two, I’m a trans woman and I am also a teacher. And so I have trans kids in my classes who are directly at risk from this faffing about surrounding their health care. I have so many friends and students were all my work is just keeping them alive, because the world is so painfully shit to trans people that that is actually a difficult thing to do. And every ounce of garbage that calls itself science and its defenders makes that job harder. And third? My dad wanted to send me to reparative therapy. Because he believed this shit. He disowned me and tried to ruin my life because he believed this toxic awful shit. And I see the same thing happening to my students. Where their parents read this crap and then suddenly backtrack on treating their kids as human beings, because “scientists say you’re just making it up or are diseased” and the best thing for you is to abuse you. And it makes me so mad I can barely see.
Back to desistence
Which brings us at long last to Jesse Singal’s latest abomination, which is about desistence.
Much like “autogynephilia”, desistence is a term much beloved among TERFs and is an old scientific idea that has zombie-like floated around the cesspool of research on trans issues for awhile, contributing to misinformation among parents.
Here is the idea behind desistence. Desistence is the scare term to describe an efect wherein “most” “gender non-conforming” youth do not actually turn out trans and thus “desist” from that (unhealthy) “lifestyle”. Already, it’s got some major problems. First among them that it is called desistence or desisting in the first place. Because desisting is something you do from a crime. You are ordered to cease and desist when you are being given a court-order to stop doing things or when a cop orders you to stop your commission of a crime. The type of people who view being trans as akin to a crime do not in any way have our best interests at heart. Full stop.
And the science its based on is fatally flawed, often lumping together gender-nonconforming kids (i.e. those perceived as boys who like playing with pink or dolls or other objects socially associated with girls or kids who are tomboys (whether they turn out to be girls or boy) with kids who state out loud that they are transgender and who express marked discomfort at being misgendered on a consistent basis.
Which, no shit, sherlock. Most kids who are just being considered by society as “too girly to be a boy” or “too manly to be a girl” will not end up being trans, because they are not trans, because that has nothing to do with being trans. They are kids who have an interest society has decided is too masculine or feminine for their gender.
This is not even in the same ballpark as actual trans kids who have stated repeatedly what their gender is to the point that their parents no longer wrote it off and actually sought out care. And who persist in that year after year. But hey, lump those non-trans kids in with actually trans kids and count all the non-trans kids as having “desisted” from being trans, you can sell the oft-cited narrative that “80% of trans kids desist from being trans”*******
******* This shit actually pisses me off a lot. Because, it’s intellectually dishonest and it is such a transparent repackaging of the “don’t worry parents of gay kids, your kid being gay is just a phase, he’ll shake it off in adulthood, see look at all these other kids labeled gay by their peers, not many of them ended up gay, did they” bullshit during the blatantly anti-gay days that I can’t fathom how so many can willfully blind themselves to the similarities. But also, because this is directly used to deny trans kids even the smallest forms of dignity and support because “why bother going through all that effort and social stigma, if you’re just going to grow out of this anyways”. And that lack of social support from parents and culture directly leads to dead trans kids and is a large part of why our suicide rates are so high.
And those performed at clinics (specifically clinics run by proteges of Kenneth Zucker, the aforementioned reparative therapy guy) counted those who simply did not return to the clinic as having “desisted” under the argument that “well, it’s the only clinic in the country, so if they didn’t go here they clearly didn’t seek out trans-related medical services. Which, given the aforementioned suicide rates of trans kids is gross negligence at the very least and painfully unscientific (like no, from a study design standpoint, no, just no, you never do that shit).
Also, probably doesn’t help that Singal’s essay literally only quote former mentees of Zucker, because that asshole is the cancer on trans academic literature filling it with this unscientific muck.
In fact, this desistence idea is one that Zucker was very fond of and used to justify his many horrible practices (all in the name of making sure those “80% of cis kids” were weeded out as quickly as possible because again, they are seen as worth more than trans kids [not to mention that to TERFs that quote these papers incessantly, trans kids literally do not exist or exist in such microscopic proportions as not to be worth considering. Because they don’t believe trans people really exist, that we are instead all lying for nefarious purpose]).
Which brings us to Singal
I’m gonna try really hard not to shit on Singal here, even though evidence is mounting more and more that his decision to alienate trans voices and curate a readership of self-identified TERFs is deliberate and intentional, but I feel it is important to talk about the what of what Singal is doing as that is monstrous enough whether he’s just got an academic blindspot or is willingly throwing his hat in with the TERFs.
First up, let’s talk about this desistence. The theory is bunk, but even among those who subscribe to that shitty shitty bunk theory, they willingly admit that their “desistence” numbers magically disappear once they start talking adolescent trans kids and those who actually go on blockers.
Jesse Singal is no exception to this:
The article he cites to argue that he’s not transphobic even spells out that close to a 100% of kids who go on blockers remain trans. And we know from other studies that trans kids on blockers report less dysphoria, suicidal ideation, and depression than trans folks who did not receive blockers.
Additionally, he’s aware of the impact having parents support trans kids before blockers identities has on a student’s mental health and ability to survive as well as the importance of letting a child explore their identities:
So, by this side of his position, he is in agreement with most trans activists. Gender expression =/= gender identity. Kids who actually state they are trans and make it to the age of the onset of pubescence are almost certainly trans, but there is no problem in supporting a pre-pubescent child’s gender exploration and in fact it can be critical to their mental health.
He supposedly gets that.
And again, I’m gonna try really hard not to go off on him, but his article and his statements since the article have largely consisted of demonizing blockers and scary “social transition” (i.e. calling your kid by the name and pronouns they prefer and letting them dress how they want and play with the toys they want to play with, ooooooooh so scary) despite even his awful broken evidence and supposed understanding of issues saying this is scientifically the wrong thing to do.
And he largely does so by raising the scary spectre of hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) and non-reversible surgeries (which is the thing every transphobe gets hooked on. Honestly, if I had a dollar for every transphobe weeping over the potential future of my penis despite my having no actual interest in seeking Gender-confirming surgery, I’d be a frickin’ millionaire) happening to your kids. And arguing that mean old trans folks are somehow against this idea that not every tomboy turns out to be an actual boy or not every effeminate little girl turns out to be a girl.
Okay, let’s break this down into sections, cause there’s a lot here.
1. Social Transition, scary stuff, right?
So let’s talk social transition, because that’s been the main way that Singal has tried to raise the demonization of trans children. Most of the “research” he cites focuses on pre-pubescent children, that’s where his numbers of “desistence” come from and its majority focus on gender non-conforming kids rather than trans kids. Additionally, it’s where he shows his inability to tell the difference between gender dysphoria (the feeling your body is fundamentally wrong, something that usually doesn’t hit trans people until puberty, because their body is literally becoming wrong during that time********) and gender-non-conformity (displaying social traits more associated with one gender than the other).
******** That being said, trans kids can experience social gender dysphoria from wrong names and gender pronouns being used. This is usually the experience that clues in pre-pubescent trans kids that they are who they are and is behind more trans kids feeling safer to come out and be who they are earlier and the source of Singal et al’s panic about “younger and younger trans kids, ohmahgod”.
In fairness, the studies he cites also have the same problem given they are largely based on the work of a man who genuinely believed you could get a kid to stop claiming they are trans by forcing them to play with toys stereotyped to their gender.
“Social transition” is all that’s available to trans kids under the age of pubescence. And for the scary title they try and add to it and how desperately his defenders try and make that indistinguishable from the ideas of surgeries************* that transphobes like to fixate on, all it really is is when a child says they want to go by a certain name or use certain pronouns or hang out with other kids of that gender, you let them.
************* Read that whole thread cause it really shows that rhetorical trick exploited to its full extent. “He’s talking about pronouns. Pronouns are easy to switch.” “How would you know, here’s some folks who regret ‘transitioning’ who are all people who regret surgeries“. The whole point of calling pronouns and names “social transition is to deliberately conflate it with surgeries*************** so as to make the freak out over kids using different pronouns for awhile or going by a different name or wearing a dress to school some week seem like something other than a transphobic freak out. Also, “how would you know if changing pronouns is hard…” Ugh. I’ve got some examples below of why this is especially galling, so I’ll just say, changing pronouns is only “hard” when transphobes create a culture of transphobia that punishes kids for asking. And that’s not “letting them choose”, that’s bullying the trans kids to remain closeted so you can go back to pretending everyone is cis.
*************** And of course it is. That’s the source of all consternation about trans people is the spectre of genital surgeries. If you’re trans you will hear no end of hand-wringing about your body parts as if they are public consumption and everyone gets a say about what happens to it. And for transphobes, including the pack of TERFs that worship Singal’s articles, everything a trans person does can be looped back to this primal fear in the same way that discussions about gay rights issues used to always loop back to anal sex. In that thread and in many of Singal’s responses to the article itself, you see the article writer talk about pronouns and blockers almost exclusively and the detractors response is to immediately bring up surgeries and those who regret surgeries (we’ll get to that can of words later). Because to them, all trans people are are surgeries and genitals. It’s all they can think about when they think about trans kids is the possibility that that kid may one day have surgeries or that their genitals might not match. And it’s genuinely disturbing. Not just because this dehumanizes trans folks to their genitals, not just because this presumes a lifelong control over a trans person’s body by scared cis people who will deny even social acceptance out of the fear that one day someone might work closely with doctors and therapists and decide a surgery is best for their needs after years of conversations, but also because it creepily sexualizes trans kids and gives adults an excuse to fixate about kid’s junk to an unhealthy degree. And that last one tends to be on full display when bigots start talking about trans kids in a very similar way to how it’s on full display in obsessions about queer kids. And all of this obscures the fact that “social transition”, i.e. using a person’s pronouns and not being an asshole about their identity is not actually all that scary and is only scary in the context of bigots freaking out and obsessing about surgeries and their own baggage about trans people at the expense of actual trans kids just wanting people not to misgender them all the time.
It’s quite literally THE LEAST YOU CAN POSSIBLY DO TO SUPPORT SOMEONE WHO IS TRANS.
And yet, it’s critically important. Trans people of all ages try and “socially transition” and its a literal fight for a lot of them, with schools resisting their rights to use the bathroom in accordance with their gender identity, with workplaces and housing discriminating against those who come out, with the high murder rate of trans folks, and with some places actively misgendering trans kids.
Zucker’s clinic was an active opponent of the idea of social transition, seeing it as a negative imposition on a potentially “normal” child and an unhealthy indulgence by a mother more interested in being liberal than doing what is right for their kid (Zucker was a great guy, salt of the motherfucking Earth).
And Singal echoes those fears by connecting them in the minds of his readers with “scarier” transition stuff:
Much of the controversy stems from questions of age: How young is too young to help a child socially transition — that is, to change their name and pronoun, and possibly the way they present themselves? To prescribe them cross-sex hormones to begin the process of physically transitioning?
In this model, if young children’s claims about their gender identity are “insistent, persistent, and consistent,” these claims are taken as face-value evidence that the child is actually trans, and should be socially transitioned with little delay. Zucker and his colleagues’ view was that since, in their theoretical model at least, gender is partly a matter of behavior and identity being learned and reinforced over time, socially transitioning a young kid is likely to reinforce their dysphoria. “I have predicted that we would see rates of persistence increasing overtime as more children engage in social transitioning in childhood,” Singh told me in an email. In other words, if kids who begin socially transitioning shortly after their first appointment at a gender-affirming clinic are more likely to persist and come to permanently identify as trans, and more and more gender-dysphoric kids find their ways into these clinics, the overall desistance rate may well drop over time.
Note in this last quoted paragraph that he literally argues trans kids remaining trans is a negative outcome. The goal, in Zucker’s mind and in Singal’s focus is to force trans kids through abuse and hell that actively harms them, because this might somehow convince them not to stay trans.
The prevention of trans is valued over the health and well-being of the children affected.
But “social transition”, i.e. not being an asshole about pronouns and identity and letting the kid explore with gender is not exactly all that terrifying except to transphobes who are appalled at the idea of their children somehow ending up trans.
And the best part of social transition is that its literally instantly reversible if that identity or pronouns don’t stick. Come to school saying you are a boy one day, a girl the next, to see which feels right to you, change your mind in a year or two? Yeah, doesn’t hurt anyone, in the same way as kids trying to figure out their sexuality and flitting between self-identifiers to find the best fit doesn’t actually hurt anyone.
And for all the hand-wringing of its “disruption”. It really isn’t.
I’m a trans teacher and I have trans students. And as main LGBT mentor, I am often in charge of best supporting these trans students and keeping them alive and safe. As such I was in charge of supporting these students in their gender explorations and pronouns and creating a safe space on campus for these kids to figure out what they were (even if that meant deciding they were cis all along). Two of my students first identified as genderfluid and had shifting pronouns*********. One of them, shifting pronouns that literally switched around from day to day.
********* Between they and the pronoun relating to their gender assigned at birth. Shockingly, despite being an evil trans activist, I somehow didn’t shame my kid every time they felt more like their assigned at birth gender or treat it any worse or less worthy of respect than when they identified with the they pronoun. Nor did I try and exploit their gender fluidity to push an agenda. Almost like we want trans kids and kids who turn out not to be trans to be comfortable in whatever gender identity best fits them… I know, shocking, right?
So, to ensure our teachers could not misgender them while they figured out what fit for them, I would send out daily emails just with the current pronoun the students preferred to use and which pronouns to use with parents until they were ready to come out. One of my students was genderqueer and wanted to explore using multiple pronouns at the same time, so correspondence with them involved switching between he, she, and they between each usage of a pronoun.
So we did that. We practiced. We got good at it. And it didn’t take all that much from us other than some specific focus to do our students right. Currently, the majority of our students have come out to their parents. And for many of them, having the freedom to explore and experiment with pronouns and identities allowed them the space to figure out what they are and have that remain consistent for months and years and find the ways that best helped them treat their dysphoria.
Those kids are also alive, something I’ve worked very hard to ensure, and many of them have thanked our campus specifically for giving them a single space where their identities don’t get them drowned in transphobia and denial of their identities.
This is not hard to replicate. All it takes is not being an asshole and deciding that you must know their gender identity better than them simply because you don’t value it. And that’s really all “social transition” and its assorted hoopla translates to. Not being a dick to kids over their pronouns, identity, or behavior.
So this panic over “socially transitioning kids without delay” as Singal states, is complete bollocks because why wouldn’t you let a kid “socially transition” without delay. It’s literally the least one can do and requires very little actual effort and is 100% reversible in a second assuming you have a system set up that doesn’t socially punish “freaks” for daring to explore their gender.
And to Zucker and Singh, that is viewed as awful, entirely because the idea of trans kids being happy and ending up trans and their precious 80% number not being accurate is a terrifying idea for them. They genuinely like the idea of trans kids going without care and pretending to be cis because it lets them sell to parents the idea of reparative therapy to get them over this “scary phase” without having to do anything so small as using a new pronoun.
And this gets used to deny actual trans kids respect. So many of my trans kids had to fight their parents for every pronoun. Had to build up courage for months and find what fit best for them before hand because they knew their parents wouldn’t support them exploring. Wouldn’t accept them as trans unless they could state a truth without hesitation. And even then getting them to use pronouns can be fights lasting years.
One of my students is a trans male and has known this for years. He is in his teens and his mom still refuses to call him by his preferred pronouns and we’ve had to use “she” in all correspondence home to her about her kid. And this is because she took him to a psychiatrist of the Zucker school who told her it was a phase and to actively resist the pronouns and identity in order to convince him to drop it, aggressively enforcing the “she” pronouns until he relents and accepts it and retreats back into the closet again. His fight to be seen as who he is continues largely because of articles like Singal’s.
And that’s the damage of denying “social transition” for these bigoted horseshit reasons.
2. Blockers and the golden snitch
First up, let’s be specific. Raising the spectre of “blockers”, “hormones”, and “surgeries” in pre-pubescent trans students is fucking bigoted and transparent. Largely because social transition at that age is literally all you can do. They aren’t in puberty yet, so there’s nothing to block. They aren’t in puberty yet, so giving them hormones would be bizarre. And no one’s going to be performing genital surgeries on them**********, because they are not finished going through puberty and thus not done growing. All fears about pre-pubescent kids facing any of those is thus based on literally nothing.
********** And here’s where I awkwardly cough and reference the genital surgeries performed on children born intersex which is somehow still the common medically recommended procedure and which is literally based on the idea of making the genitals look like one or the other default so that it’s less confusing or alienating for cis folks. Like, literally it’s done because doctors are worried “about the child not fitting in during puberty or when examining their genitals”. So again, we see the hypocrisy where even the spectre of genital surgery is enough to deny trans kids pronouns, but we’ll happily make it required for intersex kids to have their genitals surgically “corrected” in order to preserve our societal delusion that genitals = biological sex and biological sex = binary despite its noted harm to intersex individuals growing up. Yes, I am pissed at that shit and the cavalier hypocrisy this underlines.
So let’s talk blockers. Blockers are what is currently given to pubescent kids and really all that’s given to pubescent kids until the kid is around 16-18. Puberty blockers are frickin’ magical. Because all they do is delay puberty. Basically they are only prescribed when the person is starting puberty and is showing the first signs of going through a puberty that will likely induce dysphoria in them. And what it does is buy time for the person to figure out if they are actually trans***********.
*********** This buying time also conveniently marks the trans kids by their delayed or absent puberties at the same time as their peers, but who are we to suggest that this is working as intended. Especially when lawmakers and school officials are playing around with various ideas to identify and mark their trans kids.
That’s it, a big ol’ delay switch. If at any point the trans kid’s like eh, fuck this trans shit, I’m actually super cis, they can do so as easily as stopping taking their blockers.
The day they stop, their pubescence will pick off where it left off. The worst having happened is being a late-bloomer. And given that this is a medication, it has one of the fewest list of side effects, being safer for kids to take than even over-the-counter medication like Ibuprofen.
Not that this stops Jesse Singal panicking over this like its lead in children’s toys:
And this is where I have to stop myself from just straight up screaming at him, because this is willfully blind.
He straight up admits most kids assigned blockers don’t “desist” and remain trans. He straight up admits that the costs of not going on blockers is horrifying and terrible for trans kids. And he’s too smart an individual to not know that the only existing alternative in existence right now is forcing a kid to go through the wrong puberty and somehow survive that, unnecessarily. He has genuine sympathy for kids like many of my students whose parents struggle on the 1st step of social transition, much less letting them have publicly available medicine that could keep their kids from going through a puberty that is visibly making them more depressed and suicidal************.
************ And I speak from direct observation here. I had a trans male student who went through middle school into high school. As his body developed more and more into that which he didn’t want, he became more visibly uncomfortable, awkward and exhibited more self-harming behavior we had to put him on watch for. His parents were even supportive too. They used his correct pronouns and referred to him as their son. But they read a lot of pop science articles like Jesse Singal’s demonizing blockers and so denied their son them because “it’s probably a phase anyways” and “I’m really scared of the idea of surgeries” and a bunch of other nonsense completely unrelated to what blockers actually do. And I’m tired of seeing kids who didn’t have to go through the hell of the wrong puberty that I did forced to go through it anyways simply because a bunch of transphobic pieces of shit decided to throw whatever bullshit at the wall in the hopes that it would stick, because they want to deny that they are appalled and terrified at the idea that trans kids exist.
And yet, here he is, tsk tsking a critic, because “what, why would we dare medicate a child who might not need it”.
And to that, I say, what the ever loving fuck.
My school is specifically focused to serving an at-risk student body in general. Mental health, LGBT, drug addiction, debilitating injuries or disabilities, that sort of thing. Kids who’ve been through hell and need some support getting through stuff.
As such, a number of my students struggle with various mental health issues including depression, anxiety, and bipolar. And so for these students, every month is sometimes a medical carnival as their psychiatrists try and find the right dosages and drugs to deal with their pubescent body’s reactions to the drugs needed to get their mind to stop trying to kill them. Our bipolar students in particular tend to shift medications very frequently as the hormonal changes mess with what is and isn’t working at any given moment.
As such, this notion of “why bother trying a kid out on a medication if it might not work” is just… literally stunning.
And the answer is somewhat obvious. You medicate a child who might not need it, because that’s how you find out what is working or not and what is helping or not. You try an anti-depressant on a suicidal patient. Maybe that works, maybe that doesn’t. Maybe that’s the wrong drug because the patient doesn’t actually have depression per se, they have bipolar and so a different set of medications is needed to treat it.
You try things out because there’s already a noticeable problem needing adjustment (the patient is dysphoric and is starting to go through the wrong puberty).
To go, “why would we use medicine, maaaaan”, is to deny a kid diagnosed with diabetes their insulin shots because “hey, it might be a gland disorder or diet or something, so why don’t you do without this necessary potentially life-saving medicine for a bit while we make extra double-sure you’re not faking this diabetes thing for attention”.
It’s unnecessarily cruel. More than that. It’s medical malpractice.
We don’t deny people medicine that might help, that is approved as ethically safe by our medical institutions, that’s been heavily tested and vetted by the FDA, and which is therapeutically recommended for patients with that condition out of our personal ideas that we somehow know better than them what they need.
For Jesse Singal to state this is appalling and seems to hint rather strongly that he simply does not value the health and well-being of trans kids and their right to receive medicine that could help them. That can literally be gone off of at any time to resume their original pubescence if they so choose.
Especially when his literal next tweet was:
Which was then followed up with:
And ugh… where to even start.
Detransition and Ex-trans
Okay, so, first up, let’s note that we didn’t even get to hormones and surgeries because those don’t really occur until trans kids are forced to jump through hoop after hoop to prove that no really, despite the 90 billion times to turn back, I can confirm that I am truly genuinely trans. And as such, isn’t even offered as an option until late teenagehood at best and more like young adulthood. Even if the kid has remained consistent for years. Even if Jesse Singal admits that the rate of kids on puberty blockers who “desist” and change their mind is near zero.
Hell, he opens his article with a scare story about a parent who acquired their child hormones somewhat illegally or certainly without official approval:
“He had been on puberty blockers since the age of 9,” Helen Webberly, a general practitioner, told Lyons, discussing a 12-year-old patient to whom she prescribed cross-sex hormones. “He would have to now wait until 16 to get testosterone. This child has always been a boy, never worn a dress, always played with boys. He was so ready, his mates are starting puberty and he’s desperate to start puberty. I felt and the mother felt and the child felt it was the right time, so that child’s now on cross-sex hormones.”
12 years old, you’re supposed to cry! Why, that’s much too young! I must weep and worry about surgeries even though this boy just wanted to go through puberty at the same times as his peers and not be left out.
All to raise the spectre of this happening more frequently. The whole article is designed to raise the idea that this sort of thing is happening younger and younger and being “pushed” on kids even though he again, readily admits that the “desistence” rate of adolescents (i.e. the age of kids who’d be at around this example boys’s age) is near zero. And yet, when called on it, he’ll deny and claim that people readying a scare story about trans health care are “misreading things” and “showing their anti-science bias”. All while citing studies all from one single crew of people, peddling stuff his own statistics disprove, and here, straight up trying to recruit a group of ex-trans fuckers to harass a critic and references “gender detransition” like fucking Focus on the Family does, citing this and recruiting voices as if to pretend this is some grand number of people, when it really isn’t and those that do exist tend to artificially inflate their numbers by citing folks who “detransition” for reasons other than no longer viewing themselves as trans.
And this is the point where I’m just seeing red. Because this ex-trans shit and “you can change” garbage should not be being given a free pass after so much ink has been spilled on the horrible damage the ex-gay movement has done and how thoroughly they’ve fucked up so many kids. When we are now more aware than ever at the sheer awfulness of reparative therapy.
But somehow, it’s trans kids, so who gives a fuck, right?
And I’m even more incensed because he straight up overvalues cis kids and the fear he has of them possibly having regrets about thinking they were trans than trans kids being forced to go through a puberty they don’t want and don’t have to do. He readily admits the number of “detransitioners” is near infintessimal, and yet he amplifies their voices over trans kids (none of whom he actually quoted or interviewed for his articles on trans kids, though he certainly takes his time to reach out and recruit and highlight the stories of “ex-trans” bigots who’ve joined hate movements), even when their stories often have literally nothing to do with puberty blockers or social transition or even hormonal stuff************.
************ He cites one case in specific which is a woman who feels she was “railroaded” into transition, but she describes an endo who literally had no idea what trans people were and literally had to google care guidelines because he had no idea and the thing she says she regrets is a double mastectomy she had in her early adulthood. Oh, and she also deliberately kept quiet about adverse health effects because she really wanted to transition, so I’m not sure what the message is other than, hey, we need to force every kid to go through the wrong hormones and need to have later surgeries in their early adulthood, to prevent the possibility of one single cis kid having to go through with that. Oh and she belongs to a TERF network actively harassing trans folks, but let’s forget about that last part.
And of course, it’s not frequently about hormones, because hormones are pretty easy to get off of as well. You literally stop taking them and then, boom, back to your old hormone patterns for better or worse. And if you stop taking them within the first three months (which is usually far long enough for people to notice if this is suddenly inducing dysphoria in a major way), then it is completely redone and reset by your old hormone patterns within a few months. Again, as medical procedures go, it’s safer than most things, but regulated like liquid gold out of the fear that some cis kid could “irreparably harm their fertility” using them out of the “delusion” that they were trans (again, among TERFs who are Jesse Singal’s biggest fans, all trans people are deluded and secretly cis, so in their minds no one should be allowed hormones or surgeries or even “social” transitions because in their minds, we’re all ex-trans waiting to figure it all out.
And again, I’m speaking from personal experience here. My enbyfriend went on testosterone for a period of time, about a year actually, but had to drop it because the hair growth was making them feel dysphoric. They are not “not trans”, they are just non-binary. Since, they’ve restarted their old hormonal patterns simply by stopping taking testosterone. And that’s meant things reshifting back to how they were, with little overall effect and all the old dysphorias of the old system as they try and figure out their next steps to best address their dysphoria with the options available to them. The lasting effect is “their clitoris is a bit big and can serve as a small dick”, same as a person who did steroids for a period of time in their youth. And that’s with a full year of the stuff. Hell, they are even still fertile as much as they wished they weren’t.
And yet, Jesse Singal is peddling garbage from ex-trans activists and arguing that this undoes the evil trans narrative of “everyone who has dysphoria being trans” and buying their bullshit that gender identity clinics somehow don’t support “detransition”*************:
************* Okay, this pisses me off, because A) trans people get shit for medical care. So, some ex-trans acting like the mean trans people lobby somehow moved to block them from accessing “de-transition services” because all the doctors are focusing just so hard on giving trans people all their time and energy is downright offensive. We have to fight, beg, borrow, and steal every moment of health care, usually against hostile gatekeepers, but somehow we’re in control of a medical institution we can’t even reliably get to see us as human and using it to deny ex-trans folks care. B) It’s a transparent copy-paste from ex-gay narratives that argue that all the gay organizations and services discriminate against ex-gays and don’t affirm their “equal” “lifestyle” in their literature. And C) Most “detransition” care is simply going off of stuff. Want to “socially detransition”? Tell people you’re your Assigned at birth sex. Done. Want to “detransition” from blockers? Stop taking them. Done. Want to “detransition” from hormones? Stop taking them. Done. Want to “detransition” from surgeries? Well, no it’s actually taking effort, but here’s the dirty secret. It’s totally available and open to folks needing to do that, the only catch is that it’s just as difficult to obtain as transition related surgeries and ex-trans folks believe that as cis folks, they shouldn’t have to suffer the ignominy of that to get “restored” and so pitch a fit that they have to jump through the same shitty hoops as trans folks to receive the surgeries they feel will best serve their gender identity. And well, yeah, that’s the bed you created with all your wailing about how our existing system of bullshit isn’t nearly onerous enough for trans folks. You made it, so you get to lie in it, same as us.
And chiding folks for not seeing “both sides” like a fucking creationist or an anti-vaccer. All while accusing trans folks of not being more aware of the folks who gladly joined our oppressors and working against our access to health care and arguing that all of our kids have to go through unnecessary hell all to protect the glimmer of a thought that one cis kid might have to go through a fraction of what we regularly expect trans kids to go through.
And at that point, I find it extremely difficult to not conclude that Jesse Singal knows exactly what he’s doing. And for all he says he empathizes with trans kids, he simply does not value them even a fraction as much as cis kids.
Conclusions and side-note on trans folks being unfair
These mythologies, these scare stories, hurt real kids. And they hurt real kids, serve to deny them care they need, simply because the narratives that folks like Singal accuse trans folks of spreading “against science” just don’t get out there all that much.
Most parents are much happier to believe that 80% number means their child who’s said they are trans for years is one day gonna magically decide it’s all a phase and become cis that they straight up deny their trans kids care until they tragically end their life like Leelah Alcorn did.
I’m on the ground. I get to pick up the pieces of these types of clickbait horror-shows selling “you were right to be concerned about the trans menace coming for your kids” and “science totally backs your misgivings about supporting your kids” narratives. The one trying to keep them alive as their parents deny them care that could end their pain out of a misguided idea that this will somehow be a kindness to the cis kid hiding deep inside of them.
And I get to see how close we are at every minute we are to losing them to the transphobia in our culture and the pain that such untreated dysphoria causes. We want excuses not to deal with the reality of trans individuals and their medical needs. We want to make it seem terrifying for a trans person to use a bathroom, to use a new pronoun to refer to someone, or for a kid to use medicine to see if it helps a condition they have.
Because if we do that, then we don’t have to evolve. We don’t have to accept how this changes things and that the way we did things has changed.
Jesse Singal thinks this acceptance is against science and cites discredited articles from people literally stripped of their roles by scientific bodies who found their work distressing and harmful and folks in active hate campaigns against marginalized individuals as non-biased sources. And even then, he ignores what his biased studies say when they argue in favor of more compassionate and accepting medical care procedures. He thinks this is somehow an act of censorship against science itself, as if science was pure and virginal and never allowed to be wrong.
And well, it’s not. Hell, things exist in scientific parlance today that really shouldn’t.
One of the classes I teach is Forensics Science. And so, every time we get to hair analysis I have to give a talk about how slow science is to adapt to the existence of people who are not cis straight white men and how this can lead to science sometimes feeling painfully behind the times. I have to give this talk not because I’m an evil PC-culture lieberal destroying the ethical foundations of science, but because of how the existing science refers to the racial category of hair fibers.
Basically there are three categories: “Caucasoid”, referring to hair fibers likely orginating with a European origin, and then… CONTENT WARNING: RACISM… “Mongoloid” to refer to hair fibers with a likely east asian origin and “Negroid” to refer to hair fibers with a likely african origin. These terms are genuinely horrifyingly out of date and bring visible cringes to my students. And I feel genuinely uncomfortable teaching this section, because the terms of science were put down by racist white men and the field has not quickly adapted to this and fixed it.
This happens all the time. We’ve had to change how we study things like heart attacks, because we were for a time treating the white male as a default state for all humanity and thus simply overriding actual symptoms of heart attacks in women as “non-indicative” leading to an adverse survival rate.
And a lot of times, it has been the community most affected who has had to gently remind science to actually look at them and recheck the assumptions they have always gone by. Black folks were responsible for breaking through the horrendous scientific racism of the 1800s, women were responsible and are currently responsible for undoing a lot of our sexist myths, gay people had to create their own literature and studies to counter the hate machines of Focus on the Family and the American Family Association. And now, trans people are doing the same with the horrendous state of affairs that has been trans health care and science up to this point. With folks not connected in the Bailey, Blanchard, Zucker triumvirate actually contributing their studies and evidence disproving the horseshit that they peddled for so long. With trans folks putting forth their life experiences to counter universalist statements of who is “allowed” to be trans.
And this leads me at very very long last to my final point.
And that’s Jesse Singal’s very first framing and the central problem with his whole persecution complex surrounding the trans individuals who have critiqued his bad science, the very title of his piece:
What’s Missing From the Conversation About Transgender Kids
The “missing” is implied in the essay and in Jesse Singal’s tweets to be trans folks not wanting to talk about kids who are just gender-non-conforming but not trans. Who don’t want to talk about non-binary spaces or folks who don’t want all the transitions, or even folks that change their mind and don’t identify as what they did anymore. That we are so inflexible we can’t stand any critique of our orthodoxy and that and only that is the reason we are so unwilling to politely tolerate someone shoving harmful discredited “science” in our faces. Because of our inflexibility.
And it’s this essence that reveals that Jesse Singal truly has no clue what he is talking about, that he is bereft of trans people in his life, or if he does, that he lacks empathy and connection to their lives in a meaningful way.
Because trans people as a whole, and especially in the last decade or two have been incredibly accepting to diversity. And this “you’re not thinking about this” smacks of “you feminists aren’t paying attention to muslim women’s issues” arguments. Because yes, feminists were the ones to bring those issues to your attention. Muslim feminists in particular, the first to beat the drum of what had been happening to them. And it’s the same with trans folks.
Trans folks have worked tirelessly to try and reduce the amount of shit a gender non-conforming cis kid gets for their non-conforming behavior, in reducing the weight of gender norms because we remember thinking we were our birth sex and being brutalized for what we were into or how we were. Trans folks have worked tirelessly to try and value the voices of marginalized folks outside the binary and have worked with queer communities to help aid the rights struggle of gay, lesbian, bi, pan, queer, intersex,asexual, and so on communities. They have in many cases been an amplifying voice to intersex people and their fight to be recognized in scientific classes and to stop being mutilated in childhood.
And we might not always get it right, but we work harder than most communities to respect our diversity. We’re one of the few communities that fully supports genderfluid and genderqueer individuals and a lot of us came from gender-non-conforming movements like drag or the stone butch scene. And what we argue for is that every kid has the freedom to explore and figure out who they are and not have to defeat an army of gatekeepers intent on pretending they are all cis. What we argue for is to improve things so our trans kids can SURVIVE.
We’re not talking about “desistence”? True. We don’t often talk about hate terms designed to marginalize us and make us seem like a crime. But we do talk about how not every kid who plays with dolls is going to grow up to be trans or gay. We talk about how gender expression =/= gender identity. We talk about the freedom of letting kids figure themselves out and not abusing them for it. Our webcomics and art are full of this idea (comics below are from Assigned Male by Sophie Labelle):
This rhetorical trick where the marginalized are accused of the bad behaviors of their oppressors because their oppressors don’t want to change and adapt and accept what the existence of the marginalized people means regarding their assumptions needs to stop. And it is disingenuous to pretend that trans people are somehow undermining science by participating in science how it was intended to be participated with, finding their own studies, disproving old bunk theories, making the field of science more accurate.
And to Jesse Singal, I will point out three things to conclude.
1) The medical community agrees with trans people on what best serves them. You are free to disagree. But the onus is no longer on us to disprove the ideas and protocols that were shed. It is on those who want them maintained to defend their merit and prove the new ways are harmful. So, you can do that or you can whine about it, but if you do the latter, we trans people are not being the ones who are anti-science.
2) Your work is harmful to trans kids. When you imply their lives are worth less than the idea that a cis person might have to go through what we expect them to endure. When you sell disproven mythologies to their parents that reinforce their fears, that’s not on them “misreading your work”, that’s on you to check your framing and assumptions and make sure you are not reinforcing bigoted nonsense.
3) Fuck your word games with framing.
No, I’m sorry, but seriously, fuck the bullshit word games. Like, you’re a professional wordsmith. You know what you are doing when you frame a discussion about kids “socially transitioning” and use words and arguments echoed by hate groups to imply fear about surgeries. And fuck your “I’m just defending and talking about science” when right now trans kids are fucking fighting for their right to be seen and survive and when there’s little to no conversation about what they face and the actual safety of what services exist now.
And fuck your “I’m being technically accurate” bullshit, because it’s the same shit we’ve seen a thousand times before. Doing this “ooh, what about desistence, even though it doesn’t apply to the population I’m talking about” and “Oh, what about the poor ex-trans, you trans folks aren’t talking enough about them” dance is the frickin’ equivalent of chanting “all lives matter” to a “black lives matter” protest. Yes, it’s technically true, but it’s still fucked and deliberately trying to erase the fact that the other side does believe all lives matter, but that there own is not being considered part of that all.
And so with trans healthcare, to pretend we have actual power, that it is a heavier question to wonder about the ex-trans already receiving the same care as trans kids over the trans kids just trying to access any health care, you are saying you do not value the suffering and suicides of our children. That we are worth less, because we are not cis.
And for what it’s worth, we take care of the folks who are gender-non-conforming but cis. We ally with them. We’ve marched with them. We’ve let them come into our meetings and figure out if this trans thing fit them. We encourage them to explore who they are. We’ve done all we can. So fuck you if you’re going to pretend we don’t simply because we refuse to sit still and let poisonous garbage be spewed at us without response or let folks condemn our health care because they once thought they were trans, but now have aligned themselves with hate movements against us.
In the same way that gay groups are not wrong for not accepting the casual bullshit of Robert Oscar Lopez and their right to harm our lives and families based on their negative experiences and feelings surrounding their time identifying as gay. And for criticizing every debunked anti-gay factoid he throws up to try and argue legally against our rights and against treating gay kids like human beings.
And I’ll be damned if I watch my kids suffer or worse, kill themselves because some cis prick wants to believe that he’s a brave centrist seeing through the “extremism of both sides”.
Cause I don’t want to spend the next 10 years teaching watching kids who could have the blockers they desperately need or the social acceptance they so desperately need denied to them because of school officials and parents believing that some asshole still mourning the closing of a Reparative Therapy Clinic is telling the truth when he says the consensus of science is that most trans kids are going through a phase.
Especially when he can’t even bother to believe that is true, except when convenient to escape the reality of how his arguments are being used to harm others.
Yeah, so after my last post, I had planned to roll out some big projects. Well, that didn’t quite work out as I then spent over a month having to screw around with iTunes just to get the first thing I had planned semi-functional.
Well, I’m not going to promise revolutionary yet, but I’m going to try and have more content.
I am proud to announce a new podcast created by me featuring all original Lesbian Pulp stories called Lesbian Pulp Theatre Podcast.
The first two episodes are up on iTunes for subscription, or you can be old-fashioned and check out each episode as it’s uploaded to the archives. The first arc will be 4 episodes long and the last two episodes of the arc should be out and uploaded by end of December.
If you’ve got ideas for future arcs, please leave them in the comment thread.
If you know me on Sadly, No!, you’ll know I do this thing in the comments there sometimes where I go in and takedown an article ripping it apart and occasionally even approaching funny.
Well, a random recommendation by Substance McGravitas on the last post made me think, hell, why not do a weekly thing here where I find a piece of wingnut drivel and rip it apart?
So expect to see the first example of that in a couple of hours.
This is still in the future as I want to create a buffer first, but part of this last month has been brushing up my video editing skills for a new project where I will be ripping into bad movies with transgender characters, mocking both the terribleness of the movies as well as the offensive wrongness of the characters.
It will be called Transgender Media Fail and I hope to start releasing it early next year.
There may be more, but hopefully this will give you all something to enjoy in the meantime.
If you have at all paid attention to the Right during this economic downturn, you have noticed their firm disbelief in the idea of a social safety net.
“Entitlement programs”, “wasted money”, and so on. In their eyes, welfare and other safety net programs in place to take care of the unemployed, the unable to work, and those who are down and out merely breeds laziness in those who partake in it and actually does harm to the employment rate.
In their eyes, the unemployment rate is the way it is because of the laziness of “moochers” stealing the hard-earned money of the “productive class”.
Now, all of this is patent bullshit. Hell, at this point of political debate, the fact that it comes from a right-winger at all is already a giant clue that the argument has no connection with reality or sound policy.
We could talk about how UI and other aid to the poor have some of the highest impacts per dollar spent of any stimulative expenditure. UI has a $1.64 economic impact for each dollar spent, meaning the government is actually gaining money in expanded economic activity and thus taxes paid back when they “waste money” on the poor.
We could point out that countries with a strong social safety net have some of the more robust economies. Countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Norway were able to much easily ride out the global economic collapse than countries with less robust safety nets. Scandanavia in general has one of the highest rates of entrepeneurship and has actual class mobility, where the ability to form a start-up and succeed is much easier than in the states. This fantastic article from Inc Magazine points out that the presence of a robust safety net allows those with ideas for businesses to take a risk and start a business for they know that if they fail, they won’t be ruined. Shockingly, seeing as how most new business ventures do fail, having that not mean potential death encourages people to take a risk and be innovative. Robust welfare systems instead of breeding cultures of waste and laziness show the highest rates of innovation and some of the robuster economies in the world.
We could even point out that in the type of capitalist system we have that there is a minimum unemployment rate that the economy is not allowed to dip below. Thus, there must always be at minimum at least 5% of the working population out of work at any time and that’s not counting those who are unable to work or those who have taken themselves out of the workforce entirely (retirees, full-time homemakers, people unable to work for physical or mental reasons). This is necessary for the economy that there always be people out of work, looking for work that isn’t yet there. Raw empathy alone would argue that if we are always going to have less work than people looking for work that two things would be true.
1) That such people should be given a basic ability to pay rent, food, and other necessities.
2) That the image of the jobless as lazy and unwilling to grab the plentiful jobs that must exist is fundamentally untrue.
Furthermore, we could point out that our current economy does not have a problem of companies seeking to hire and being unable to find takers, but rather companies refusing to hire and using the downturn as a reason to become even more selective in hiring, looking to hire the recently laid off of rival companies and seeking those with 20 years experience for entry-level jobs, thus making it nearly impossible for even the hard-working to break into even basic level employment.
And indeed, I have pointed all this out, but it’s not what I want to focus on in this post.
Sure, they are wrong at nearly every level, but let us look just at the most basic assumption.
That fear, fear of unemployment, is the greatest motivator for looking for work. And furthermore, that motivation of lacking a safety net is the only thing preventing complete surrender and slacking off
Let us address the second of those points first.
The thing is, people want to work. They want to feel useful and like they are contributing rather than feeling devalued, a drain on society, or worthless. People want to work to feel external validation for their worthiness and will seek it out even when the pay isn’t dramatically different. Those who don’t do so tend to find their validation in the self and for the most part they will try and find worth in activities they choose themselves such as personal projects.
In many ways, the fact that the “poor people are lazy and won’t get work unless forced” meme is so seductive to so many is proof that a critical American text has gone unread by too large a section of the population. That text is The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.
The titular “Feminine Mystique” is the longing of the housewife to engage in activities that are valued. Since housework and childcare were devalued both by men and society, a stay-at-home homemaker felt infantilized, devalued, massively depressed, and almost manic at the repetitive chores and lack of purpose. Even today, someone stuck at home often has a mental weight on them and is in need of clear delineators of when their “work day” begins and ends, frequent release to the outside world, and important hobbies to retain sanity.
There may be a few who take advantage of a generous system, but for the most part, people who are able to work in any system will do so, because the mental weight of being an unemployed layabout is often emotionally crippling as the Feminine Mystique painfully points out in harrowing story after harrowing story. Such experiences are not gendered.
And now let’s address that first part. Are people more motivated by fear than other methods to search for work?
Well, no, not really. We can look to countless psychological reports that fear actually shuts down the ability of the brain to think at its peak ability. Furthermore, fear and dire potential consequences often induce strong boats of depression and despair and as anyone who has suffered depression can tell you, depression means immensely lowered energy reserves, longer sleep schedules, and so on. This means less time available and less energy available to send out applications and continue job searches. Add this with businesses’ desire to hire happy workers and the fact that job searching is an emotionally tumultuous and unpleasant activity and one can see that making it even more harrowing and difficult is about the same level of good idea as beating an abuse victim to try and stop them from flashing back.
I can definitely attest to this personally. I have kept putting out applications and chasing leads, because I genuinely wish to work, but such work has been immensely difficult emotionally because the complete lack of available of safety net that means a damn makes search incredibly difficult.
For the last year, I have been gripped by the fear, dread, and panic that conservatives argue make one a better job searcher. As such, I have drifted into deep depressions. Each job search and each failure feels more like a personal evaluation on my worthiness of life (a deliberate desire of the conservative model, the unemployed’s ability to survive is directly related to their ability to get someone to hire them and hire them for living wage). So after the thousands upon thousands of applications I have turned in in the last year and two months, the evaluation has become one of absolute meaningless. My mind has often betrayed me. I have become unable to do anything but search for jobs and weep for months at a time, feeling guilty even for simple self-care procedures or taking any time in the pursuit of projects that could even make me some small income if I were to finish them. I have repeatedly over the course of this campaign been reduced to complete breakdown, unable to do anything but cry and hold myself tight. And I am ashamed to admit that thoughts of suicide have certainly been making their attacks on my psyche.
Cause the thing about high consequences is that it doesn’t motivate one to grab hard on the tightrope and battle the angry horde back onto some semblance of balance. It motivates one to surrender, to give up to the hopelessness of a cause and accept the seemingly inescapable fate.
I don’t say these things out of desire for pity, but to point out that it has only been through my will, my desire to do this for myself that I have been able to send out any applications, despite all the rejections, because the mental torture of having no safety net makes each action so much harder than it needs to be.
Indeed, very recently, I have been at my most productive in the long year I have been unemployed. I had been receiving aid from a relative and I had just begun to believe in it as a makeshift safety net. The pressure finally lessened and I was able to put forth applications and simultaneously work on two side projects that I have been very excited about pursuing and which could make me some small bit of money if I am able to complete them to my standards.
For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel like a zombie, barely shambling forward on nothing but momentum, but someone genuinely excited and full of spirit. The mental energy wasted on raw fear of the future had been alleviated and allowed to actually work on productive acts for my improvement.
With a safety net, I was able to truly be motivated.
Not just doing it because I had to, fighting every mental scar, and relying on my personal will, but with full emotional and mental batteries actually working on real and important problems rather than simply focusing on base survival.
Things were easier and I had an easier time doing the activities for my future good when I didn’t have to worry where next month’s groceries or rent was going to come from.
This is a lesson that Scandanavia and most first-world nations have already realized. That a safety net doesn’t make tightrope walkers jump and instead makes it easier for the walkers to perform their maneuvers instead of being unbalanced by the fear of death if they should fall.
Fear doesn’t motivate, it only cripples.
And I feel that again.
My relative will be unable to continue helping me in future months. Don’t worry about me, I think we should be able to survive fine and I’ve got a few more months of aid to turn into desperate minimal savings.
I’m not saying this to request aid or pity, but rather to note that with that news, all the comfortable motivation I felt has fled and I’m back to the same scrap and scrape feeling I had been for a year, relying on will to continue forward and fighting mental and emotional betrayal by my mind to cloud my ability to work on both applications and my own projects.
Having the feeling however illusionary of a reliable safety net and now having the feeling of a complete lack of safety net again, I can understand viscerally how such “motivation” doesn’t motivate. How it demotivates, breaks, and destroys.
The right, as they always are in their arguments about society and human motivation, are full of shit.
You didn’t need me to say this, but I hope this further illustrates how every petty, mean assumption they bring to bullshit like the Debt Crisis and the so-called “Spending Crisis” are woefully lacking in veracity.
These are people’s lives, who are being asked to die, who are suffering until eventual bankruptcy and death, because a bunch of sociopaths think that a lack of a safety net will make people search harder for non-existant jobs.
This. Should. Not. Be.
I don’t care what else should be true, but that at least, is the minimum our empathy should expect. That such a system should not exist and no one should have to go without food or shelter because someone thinks they’ll be “more motivated” without them.
So I’ve decided from time to time I will dredge out some ancient long-simmering rant about some movie or videogame that everyone has already discussed to death and try and hopefully present something new to at least some people.
Today’s edition is about a videogame released last year called Metroid: Other M. For those of my readers who are not gamers, Metroid is a series of games about a female bounty hunter named Samus Aran who is called in to various solo missions where she unravels the plots of a group of Space Pirates and often saves the universe from huge epic threats.
The games began as basically a form of side-scrolling platformer and were later turned into a first-person shooter. The character can often turn into a ball to jump higher or navigate tight spaces thanks to futuristic space armor with a host of weapons that are often acquired through the game for often arbitrary reasons. For more reading, here’s the wikipedia page.
Now, that’s the basics of it and I’ll be getting into the rest later.
Now, the reason I’m doing this rant (and specifically now) is because of a series of factors.
First, the release of this latest game in the series, Metroid: Other M. The game has been routinely criticized for creating a hideous mess of a game with an unbelievably offensive grasp of women.
Basically, the short of it was the game was handed to a company called Team Ninja who are famous for a game called Dead or Alive: Beach Volleyball which was game based around watching women in skimpy outfits bounce up and down, so basically an even more objectified version of The Man Show.
Said company made a number of questionable decisions regarding the titular character, deciding to give her an “epic backstory” which basically presented her as a PTSD mess unable to accomplish anything akin to the tasks she had in other games without the assistance of men.
Worst of all, they included a game mechanic wherein Samus had massive daddy issues and an Elektra complex that caused her to doff any sense of competence and actually take ongoing damage from environments until the object of her affection told her she could protect herself. In the game this would consist of walking into flames and getting burnt until the male authority figure known as Adam told her she could protect herself.
As an exploration of abusive relationships or possibly BDSM, this mechanic could have been interesting, but instead, it was presented as straight. Samus was unable to think for herself because this was the developer’s idea of a reasonable depiction of how a woman would act.
But I’ll get into further rants on that after I point out the other “recent” events that have excavated this rant.
Second, has been a video response to the controversy by MovieBob who is a movie and games critic who also has a show called The Game Overthinker. During this show, he had a video up defending the game, which I have link below:
The episode gave me quite a bit of an urge to rant. But that gets us to the final prompt.
Another gaming critique show called Extra Credits, which may be one of my favorite shows on the site for its frequent deconstructions of the medium of video games and various cultural issues, recently had a video about Other M embedded below. This followed an excellent video on Female characters in video games, which is a must see:
This video was posted today and takes care of a lot of the issues of Other M, pointing out the broken mechanics and a number of other creative missteps that created the game.
There even was some brief addressing of Other M’s most egregious faults (the sexist protrayal of its central female protagonist), but both it and MovieBob’s review ended up glossing over it to a large extent.
And the sexism shouldn’t be glossed over, because it is a large part of the backlash.
No, not because the sexism is just a way to attack Japan for having a different culture as MovieBob tried to deflect to, but because how women are presented in video games is a real subject with some real problems.
Video games doesn’t have a wealth of good female characters. Worse yet, it has an even smaller pool of female main protagonists and an even smaller pool of good ones.
I own many of the games that do and love many of them. Silent Hill 3, Portal, Beyond Good and Evil, Parasite Eve, Mirror’s Edge.
Sadly, many of these games are cult favorites, not so much remembered (Portal being a recent exception) and few being as fully recognized as the Mario or Sonic games in gaming’s lexicon.
As such female protagonists are few and far between and rarely are such characters non-sexualized as objectified pieces of ass for presumed male players.
Worse yet, such characters are rarely allowed to be competent badasses on the scale of male heroes, many female characters in gaming playing support roles, being the reward object (such as Princess Peach in the Mario games) or otherwise on the periphery.
This is especially true when you focus on the icons of gaming history. There are a number of male heroes that are considered gaming icons. Mario and Sonic, Simon Belmont of Castlevania, Pacman, Megaman, Bomberman, Link from Zelda, and so on.
Nintendo has a game series called Super Smash Bros which collects those gaming icons it has created as a longtime gaming company and in it there is a number of beloved characters.
And most of them have presumed penises. In the last Smash Bros game, of the 35 characters included in the game as characters, only 3 were women.
Two of those women were support characters. One the aforementioned kidnap victim Princess Peach, the other a homebase support character from the Zelda games (Princess Zelda) who basically kickstarted most missions by sending Link off to save the world.
And then there is Samus Aran.
Samus Aran is the first female main protagonist in gaming history. The revelation in Metroid where she takes off her suit to reveal herself as a woman to the player remains one of gaming’s most important historical moments. Furthermore, she is one of the few female characters in gaming who wasn’t sexualized to titilate male gamers.
Here she was, the games argued, a tough bounty hunter who will break into the Pirate spaceship and blow shit up, just like her male contemporary heroes.
So she was important, but it is even bigger than that. Samus is the only positive female icon in gaming.
Let me repeat that:
Samus is the only positive female icon in gaming.
She is the only figure of gaming’s history that is regularly considered one of history’s true defining characters, one of those figures from the early days of gaming that nongamers have heard of and that can be synonymous with gaming.
One of the figures who belongs in the medium. Not as an accident, not as a fad, not as a cult favorite, but because she has been beloved for decades and is a welcome part of gaming’s history.
This is important because this has been a rocky shoal that female gamers have clung to.
Female gamers have constantly been considered secondary in gaming. They are not the target audience of new games. Little attention is put into catering to a female audience and when it is, the attention betrays a complete lack of understanding of what women want.
Worse yet, female gamers have found themselves the trigger for a lot of hardcore vs casual debates. Every genre that finally posts equal numbers of fans of male and female varieties seems to end up being deemed casual and not real gaming shortly thereafter.
This happened to puzzle games (yes, Tetris used to be considered hardcore), adventure games (again, Myst was hardcore), simulation games (SimEarth and SimCity used to be considered for supernerds), and now recently with Japanese RPGs.
If women like it, it must not be real gaming. I can’t wait for shooting games to eventually have a 50% female audience to see how that became “pussified” and “casual” in the minds of the gamer community.
But that’s beside the point. What is the point of this is that women tend to be tolerated at best, and often just ignored or written out entirely in the gaming industry. We rarely get characters we can wholly identify with. We rarely get explorations of themes that are important to our day to day lives and we often have to slog through a bunch of “jiggle physics”, string bikinis, and ultramacho dialogue just to enjoy our leisure time.
But no matter how unwanted female gamers have felt in the general gaming community and in the eyes of developers, they have always known that they belonged in said communities.
Because of Samus Aran. As long as Samus Aran was an icon of gaming, as long as she was someone female gamers could drift into enjoying all the empowerment fantasies that their male counterparts took for granted. As long as that was true, then women belonged in gaming. There was proof we had been there in the beginning, that we’ve been along for the ride and that strong female protagonists and games that didn’t insult female gamers were worth exploring.
And that really illustrates why Other M is such a travesty and why responses like MovieBob’s fail to grasp why the backlash over the game is so intense.
If they merely screwed up on a character, one in a dozen, there is backlash from fans of that character, feelings of betrayal from those who loved that series. It’s bad, but it’s contained. People can go enjoy another character they love and can identify with.
Similarly if a game includes a sexist storyline, depiction or character. It’s bad. It can easily ruin the ability of a woman to enjoy the game and it will prevent a lot of men who can’t ignore those issues from enjoying the game as well. It’s bad, but meh, there’s a lot of garbage so what can you do.
But this was something even worse. They took gaming’s sole female icon. The one thing that women have consistently had to look up to and know they belong in the fan community. They took that and made it a sexist mess.
They made a badass competent professional into a mewling child unable to complete missions without men completing the important tasks. Unable to even protect herself unless the man she imprints daddy issues onto tells her she’s allowed. Every nasty stereotype of women seems packed into this game.
Women are emotional, check. Women are incompetent, check. Women can’t think for themselves, check. Women can’t do anything without a man, check. Women are willing to sacrifice and be puppets for men, because that’s natural. Dear fucking Bob in Himmel, why is there a checkbox for that!
There is no real way to explain the betrayal, the sheer punch in the soul that that kind of betrayal of character represents (and regardless of what MovieBob argues, it is clear she at least had enough humanity in early presentations to not be a walking “women are shit” bag of sexist stereotypes).
This is reducing gaming’s one female icon into a sick joke, a sexist nightmare.
It is nothing less than the developers of Other M telling female gamers that they simply do not belong in gaming. That they are unwanted and that there is no female character so beloved, so well crafted that it can’t be reduced into a steaming mess of sexist assumptions in order to appeal to the default male gamer.
And there is no real alternatives. Women do not have another icon to turn to and say oh well. The scarcity that made Samus so critical also made her fragile and hideously damaging. As such, we will have to wait for her character to be passed to a better studio and to get the apology game and retcon assuming such a game even surfaces.
Its also why the backlash is so intense. Not only was this a horribly offensive idea of a female main protagonist, but it was done to a beloved icon. And not only a beloved icon, but the female icon.
If there is one positive its that meek off-topic defenses like Movie Bob’s (where he argues with a straw man over arguments where he holds some small level of accuracy) are the minority.
For the most part, the mostly male gaming community has reacted with rage at Other M and better yet, the focus of that rage has been the sexist characterization and betrayal of the icon and what she represents.
People have repeatedly pointed out the most egregious sexist moments and called out the developers for it.
And I think this is proof of what Samus represented and represents to this day. That her presence as a good female character with a rich long history is important to gaming as a whole in its slim connection to a female audience and to the viability of female protagonists in games today.
Even men who would gladly ignore the objectified women or sexist typecasting in other games, realize that this was a step too far and a travesty to the character.
For the first time, the feminist argument is one heard by the majority of gamers, not a small targeted minority.
And that is good and to be cherished, but it also highlights the damage.
Which is why close to a year later, female gamers and those who wish to see more of us are still ranting about this game.
The video details a transwoman getting thoroughly thrashed by two assailants because she was seen as entering the “wrong” bathroom at a Maryland based McDonalds.
The staff filmed the assault and did not intervene in any way to stop the assault and in fact urged the assailants to flee before police arrived. The only person who intervened on the woman’s behalf was an elderly woman.
For all of the people who like to deny the correlations between cultural hatred and disregard of trans identity with violent assault and murder of trans individuals.
Moreover, for all of those who argue that the bathroom issue is “complicated” and that transpeople need to take a back seat to “concerns about safety”. That the cultural segregations at the bathroom do not create a mindset wherein defense of a clear separation isn’t seen as the most important thing. For those who can’t understand why bathrooms end up being such a huge source of stress, fear, and so on.
And especially for those so bound by hatred for transpeople’s existence that they believe transpeople deserve to get assaulted if they want the ability to shit like normal human beings in a closed stall like every other bastard seeking privacy and intestinal relief.
Watch the video at the link. Listen to every frightened scream. Listen to every hate-filled assault. Watch every boot come down.
Do that and then come back here and I dare you to not find the words turn into ash in your mouth.
For the rest of us, dear Bob in Himmel. It hurts to watch. And it hurts more to know this happens nearly every day in one form or another.
And if there’s one piece of hope I can give you, it’s that more and more people seem to be recognizing such acts as evil. More places are outraged when incidents like this occur. McDonalds has responded with an emphatic apology for the terrible actions of its employees and the initial uploader, at first proud of it, has found themselves at the center of a very nasty backlash.
Maybe just maybe, the social safety of being a bigot is decreasing and such actions will be less and less likely to be seen as laudable or “normal”.
*Warning on the comment section of the Joe My God post. It’s infested with some vile right-wing trolls and bigots so if you decide to scroll down into them, be wary.
Let’s talk about a political situation. A problem that occurs at the level of our politicians. Something that has been analyzed both cynically and hopefully, by means of problem identification and problem solving. It’s a problem at the root of a growing alienation and dissatisfaction among youth and liberals in general. It’s used as a battleground for the usual battle of party-line enforcer versus idealist reformer. And it may well be the problem that ends up destroying this nation. Certainly the problem that prevents any real solution to what is ailing the country from ever being considered much less enacted.
The problem has created vast gulfs between what is seen as politically possible and what is socially supported. Is the reason why most liberals work far more often on social reform than political solutions. Is the reason why the Democratic Party often finds its base disappointed and alienated. Is the reason why things have seemed to only get worse in the last 30 years with a crushing feeling of powerlessness seeping into the politically minded and motivated.
What is this problem?
This problem is a pattern.
What is this pattern?
This pattern is the one we’ve seen over and over again.
On half is Republicans sweep into power and its huge conservative reforms, important safety nets or human rights ripped up or targeted, legal processes ignored, lawmakers steamrolled and liberals in political power left to try and stem the worst of it, accepting any number of abuse to the system in its wake.
We see this now in Wisconsin, with the Republican victory there leading to an all-out assault on the collective bargaining rights (aka, the end of the right to unionize, a long time “free-market” conservative pipe dream). We see it again in the tea party congress victory in the House of Representatives leading to a stand-off against the most conservative representatives over the continued functioning of the government where the only deal was how Republican of a plan to accept (one which eliminated and privatized medicare and social security or one which merely gutted every single non-defense agency, already decimated by earlier cuts and attacks). We saw it in the Bush Administration where constitutional rights were wholesale ignored, plans to privatize social security, pass constitutional amendments banning gay rights were considered, and multiple wars, multiple torture camps and concentration camps were opened and so on. And certainly the iron march of tax cuts pairing with “spending cuts” and poison pill department heads targeting perceived liberal sectors such as the EPA, Department of Education, science funding, welfare, drug treatment, and so on. Not to mention the huge spade of retrograde laws being passed in Arizona since they got a wingnut governor.
This on its own is a relentless push. Dominated often by desperate scrambles to defend the basic rights of whatever minority is targeted this week, where things quickly get worse and one hopes merely to survive rather than reform.
But it gets paired with the other side of the problem.
And that side is that Democrats seem almost as ineffectual as Republicans are overpowering when they are in power. At the same time as WI, we here in CA have seen a large victory for Democratic leadership. The state has a large need for heavy reform. Our tax situation has been completely fubared by Prop 13 and intransigent minority power Republicans, our privatized public utilities have been nickel and diming the citizens, and a number of retrograde laws were passed since the time of Gov. Davis. Our new governor however will be looking to begin by passing a Republican compromise of heavy spending cuts to education and other public sectors, leaving alone Republican supported sectors such as prisons. In congress, our Democratic leaders in the Senate and the Presidency seem unable to gain any real positive change over the teabagging new House. Going back 2 years, Democrats had their heaviest gains in nearly their entire history, holding briefly 60 seats in the Senate, found themselves unable to pass anything but old Republican ideas deemed too liberal by today’s Republicans and various “half-and-half” compromises that resulted in things getting slightly better.
The saddest thing is that slightly better is something that was refreshing to many owing to its extreme novelty. Since the time of Reagan, Democratic gains have seemed to coincide only with things getting worse only slower, rather than any real improvement. Clinton presided over DADT, NAFTA, and any number of Republican-friendly compromises.
The pattern is thus, with regard to human rights, minority protection, social safety net strength, regulatory power, and the funding we give to our government infrastructure.
Things get dramatically worse under Republicans. Things only get slightly worse under Democrats.
The problem with this is that conservative views are toxic, wholly resistant to the notion of a real world, and often based more in tribal hatreds than any real desire to deal with reality as is or humanely interact with people.
So our system continues to suffer, often surviving only on personal rebellions, the remnant social improvements and safety nets installed in the 30s-70s, and shortchanged infrastructure in all fields being held together by the equivalent of baling wire and hope. Our education system limps on a shoe-string and disrespect, powered only by its last defenders willing to accept abuse and poverty wages to support something they believe in. Our bridges and electrical grid is literally falling apart. Our regulation system is unable to intervene to prevent ecological disasters like the BP oil spill, nor adequately address the various factors that lead to the global financial collapse.
In addition, we are seeing an ever-growing gap between what we socially support and what we view as politically possible. Ted Rall wrote a book during the administration called “Wake Up, You’re Liberal” which pointed out the various number of political issues that had majority liberal support when polled individually and how such support only went up when people were provided full information on what each side supported.
During the big health care debate, huge majorities supported systems far more liberal than were ever argued politically. Systems like single-payer or medicare for all. Nonetheless, politically, even with huge Democratic majorities, the debate seemed ever more slanted to ever more Republican compromises, ending with a few emergency pieces of duct tape trying to patch off recision, bad insurance policies, and setting up private insurance exchanges to kick in at 2012.
Unfortunately, those who have low-grade insurance at the moment have seen how ineffectual such changes were in making any real change to the broken system. Paying for “care” that never seemed to pay out is a system still well in practice.
This isn’t to bitch about Democratic weakness or to lay the blame wholly on our liberal leaders at the political level.
It’s pretty clear that campaigns of political nihilism on the part of conservatives have allowed them to make great gains where they are socially unpopular. Holding one group’s rights or humanity hostage for another group’s downfall, exploiting legal loopholes to bypass public scrutiny or delay legal rights by their opponents, and engaging in out right fraud.
The last especially has seen Presidents bribing foreign hostage takers to delay release of American prisoners so they look better when fully elected, illegal concentration camps, bribery scandals, quid pro quo deals with corporate financiers, and suicide bomb legislators who don’t care about ill will because they plan on entering corporate welfare after they do their damage.
This has led to victory, but has only fueled the gulf. Not only does this breed a growing feeling of powerlessness and civic disengagement by many with regards to political rights, but also this leads to a huge gulf between who we are socially and what our political system looks like.
Now, for our conservative counterparts, this may seem like a victory. Civic disengagement and depression among liberal activists and the victory of conservative desires above and beyond social support by any means necessary means continued support of an extended status quo, corporate power, and the continued punishment of “undeserving” minority groups for perceived sins.
But while this is frustrating and unhealthy in the short-term, it’s even worse for us all in the long-term.
The more we feel that the peaceful political option in addressing problems, grievances, and suffering is closed to us. And the more that feels to more people…
Well, that is the exact set of circumstances that tends to lead to things like the French Revolution. When the powerless see no peaceful means to protect themselves, bring benefits to their lives, protect themselves from exploitation. When the powerless see their lives get consistently worse and when more people see themselves as powerless, then alternate options end up being the only response.
For the political is important. It’s what affects our lives, provides the protections we take for granted, provides the society we rely on. When that finally breaks, when what we see socially fits in no way with the debates in the political arena, there is naught but conflict.
Hopefully we can fix this problem before it ruins us.
Clever post title sold to pay for heating.
Anti-gay arguments. Many of us in the LGBT community have heard them for a long time. We’ve gotten so used to debunking their complete break from reality that it’s become routine. The problem is that we’ve gotten used to just debunking them and moving on. I mean, the people using these arguments generally are just using them as smokescreen for raw animus anyways, so…
However, I feel that’s failing to appreciate the raw horror that are these arguments. Let’s look closely at some of the more popular arguments used in arguments against gay rights (specifically gay marriage) and what they reveal about the type of person who’d make and/or believe them, or otherwise find them compelling.
#1) Marriage is for procreation
The common stand-by, because the ability to conceive a child by unprotected sex is one of the few things that separate same-sex couples from opposite-sexed couples. Sure, a same-sex couple can still have children from previous marriages, use IVF, enlist a surrogate, adopt, or serve as mentor for a large group of children, but they can’t conceive solely using the plumbing and DNA of the two people in the relationship…unless one is trans and pre-medical transitioning…and shut up, shut up, shut up.
As I said, we’re used to breaking down this argument logically. There’s a great post here doing so. But let’s look at this argument much more closely with regards to what it’s saying.
At it’s most basic level, it argues that marriages are solely about children and procreation. Thus, that marriage is adamantly NOT about love. And this is a rather radical belief here in 2011, thanks to the tireless work of activists who have come before.
We are used to in the 21st century the notion that marriage is a ceremony to enshrine love, to say, “I love this person so much, that I want to try and be with them the rest of my life. They are the person who understands me the best, the one who can relay my concerns and needs the best of all when I’m incapacitated, sick, or dead. They are my sweetie.”
But SSM marriage opponents are right when they say that this isn’t the “traditional view of marriage”. The “traditional” view of marriage was one of a man purchasing unwanted property off of a father, that of a daughter. Said man, would then take his new property and put it to work as a house slave to keep his house, birth and raise his children and meet his sexual needs when he so desired, regardless of her own beliefs on the matter.
This attitude has mostly died off, thanks to pioneering artists for centuries dreaming of love as a matter of the heart and feminist activists slowly building up public regard for women until it became more common to imagine them as full people with hopes, dreams, ability to love, and furthermore someone that shouldn’t be raped or devoid of the right of self-ownership.
And just like we see in the “abortion debate”, that female self-ownership is still woefully supported, we see here in the anti-gay argument the resistance to this cultural evolution.
These people are admitting that their own marriages aren’t about love. They are about duty or because someone was knocked up, or because they were told they were nothing if they didn’t have the possessions “a family”, “a wife”, “kids”.
And it’s worth taking a moment to boggle at how utterly terrifying and sad that is.
To the people that this argument resonates with. To the people making these arguments as if they made rational sense to them. To the ones to which this makes emotional sense, marriage must be a trap rather than a celebration. Something tolerated merely out of duty to tradition and fealty to perpetuating a stark patriarchy for religious reasons.
No one’s marriage should ever be that. It should be a celebration of love.
Sadly, the number of jokes about “marriage as trap” and “wife as ball and chain” seem to hint sadly, that the true “traditional” marriage may not be so long dead as we would hope.
#2) Gay marriage is a slippery-slope to polyamory, bestiality, and child-molestation
Often made with these sexual unions being marriage level recognized unions. Now, let’s leave aside the fact that recognition of polyamorous triads, quads, and so on are in fact something that society should eventually grant social recognition and protection to similar to marriage, possibly by expanding marriage. And let’s leave aside that the main perpetrator of what is socially scary about polygamy (the hideous patriarchal “harems” of certain mormon sects) are also the main backers of most of the anti-gay movement at the moment (Mormons run NOM, which is behind most of the movement fighting against gay marriage).
Leaving all aside, it’s a remarkably bad argument. Not only because it’s a raw emotional appeal that doesn’t make legal sense, but because of what it fucking screams about the person making this argument.
And the thing it screams is that the person making the argument has ZERO, and I mean ZERO concept of consent. Or if they do, that they do not value it or regard it in sexual and marital interactions.
Or to put it bluntly: “What part of consenting adults eludes you?”
This argument is remarkably popular. Such conservative stalwarts as Pat Robertson, John Cornyn, and the usual gasbags like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have all made the argument.
Overall it might be the most popular anti-gay argument made in the fight for gay marriage.
But again, let’s point out the obvious. This statement, in order to even make internal consistent sense, has to completely ignore or devalue consent.
And to be frank, this is not an unfair statement. The conservative opposition don’t really believe in consent. Look at the “abortion debate”, look at the current Republican attempt to redefine rape, look at the constant anti-feminist resistance to the notion that rape means anything other than “white christian and her black boyfriend”.
And furthermore, the people making this argument and who this argument resonates with just don’t value consent. I don’t mean that they are rapists, per se, but that the culture of most conservative religions such as Fundamentalists, Mormons, Catholics, and many others views sex as inherently bad and sex one has chosen to commit as worse.
So if sex is inherently wrong, then there isn’t much moral difference between some consensual heavy petting and raping a child or a cow. Furthermore, there is a belief that sex is “more permissible” if one got “caught in the emotion” than if one has planned a sexual encounter, taking care to buy contraceptives and to fully explore boundaries and consent before hand.
Thus in these world views, consent actually makes sex worse because it shows a consciousness and “sluttiness” betrayed by admitting you are like 99% of people in the world and crave sexual interaction.
Now, it’s worth pointing this out, because this is a horrifying worldview that needs to die a quick and merciless death. Consent is critical in sexual interactions and respect for it needs to be unanimous or close enough. That so many are of the opinion that consent is either not a part of the marriage or sexual debate or that consent actually makes it worse, so that this slippery slope argument could at all make sense to them, shows a deep rot in our society and the relative youth of the movement to make consent a household expectation rather than a radical position.
A child or a horse can’t provide meaningful consent to either legally binding documents or sex. That they see it as equivalent shows that it’s all “bad sex” to them and thus, I fear for the sexual partners of every person who has ever made this argument.
Because their partner just argued in front of everyone that they don’t value consent in their sexual interactions with said partners.
Yeah, heartbreaking isn’t it?
#3 and #4) If gay marriage is allowed and everyone is gay married, then no children will be born and everyone will go extinct AND Homosexuals recruit and are trying to recruit me or my children into the “homosexual lifestyle”
The latter is an old standby and the former is gaining steam in the anti-gay movement as the arguments are turning towards “marriage is for procreation” arguments that I mocked earlier owing to the fact that that’s the only definable difference between same-sex parties and opposite-sex parties.
My “favorite” recent example of the former is probably Jeffrey Kuhner‘s insane assertion that it’s socially barren and a “homosexual society” or a culture that permits homosexuals will thus become extinct because homosexuals can’t create children with each other. And the latter has been seen everywhere.
Now, see, these arguments are very similar, because they both assert that homosexuality is so very desired. So very much seductive that everyone would be gay if there wasn’t such heavy social stigma against homosexuals in society. The argument of extinction, basically building on the older “gays recruit” angle to argue that legal rights would be seeing everyone switching teams because it’s just so awesome.
Now, see, let’s be frank.
There is no way. NO single possible way this is at all convincing to a person who is heterosexual or asexual.
See, heterosexuals and asexuals, and even homosexuals know that one can’t be “recruited” to the other side. You are attracted to what you are attracted to and not to what you aren’t. Nothing could make me sexually attracted to men or women.
So, what these people are doing, what they are screaming out to any who will hear is that they are very very gay. Or at least bi.
And not so much on the bi, because all of the people selling this argument the hardest often speak of homosexuality as this huge temptation that no one could possibly pass up. The extinction arguments are great, because it’s basically arguing that once the social stigma against homosexuality is gone, no one would stay in the sham marriages and we’d all go with the “obviously superior” option.
Which screams to anyone who really looks at this argument that the person who made it is flaming, is so very attracted to the same sex that they are legitimately concerned that the growing social equality of same-sex couples is threatening their marriages.
In fact let’s add
#5) Gay marriage threatens my marriage
To the list.
All three arguments, have at their core the fact that the one making the argument is feeling legitimately tempted by homosexuality. They have romantic and sexual interests in same-sex partners and are counting on social stigma to keep them from acting on it openly.
Basically everyone who makes this argument in any sense of seriousness has just come out as a Kinsey 1 at the least and considering they see it as a dominant choice, something that trumps all others, we’re talking Kinsey 4-6 much much more here. These are people who are admitting they are mostly homosexual in fighting against gay rights.
And what interests me is that this argument is relatively popular. Which provides pretty strong anecdotal evidence to a pet suspicion of mine that the majority of people aren’t heterosexual, but some flavor of bisexual.
As I said before, these arguments have no resonance for people who are really heterosexual. There is no there to tempt and it’s clear there is a vast separation in their desires for women and their lack of desires for men.
Now to be fair, it could just be bisexuality mixed with intense misogyny. The same religious cultures which short-change consent and hard-sell marriage for duty also view women as inhuman creations tolerated at best. They are instruments for birthing and raising children, a step up from possessions, who are to be resented for their femininity and weakness lest it somehow taint the masculine male by association.
These viewpoints are hardly alien and are lurking in our culture as a sort of toxic guidebook for masculinity that claims to be the only real path to being a man.
With women sold as beings to loathe, as lesser beings only good for sex, and where what matters most is one’s connections to other men, there is the basis of strong homosocial connections.
And for those just stumbling along, maybe with the slightest bisexuality, it might seem like it would be so much easier to ditch the dead weight of the woman and make those homosocial interactions homoromantic and homosexual as well in order to fulfill all needs without having to debase oneself seeking female companionship.
And for these people, I can see how the social stigma against homosexuals does seem like the only thing in their way. If gays weren’t categorized “girly men” or socially feminized, then what’s to stop the bisexual intense misogynist from sticking with the winning team where masculinity would reinforce masculinity.
And possibly more frightening is that these ultra-patriarchal societies are painful and shitty for the women living in them. If they could “choose” who they wanted to be with, with no social stigma, why would they stick around?
It’s a fear that keeps patriarchs awake at night, that their possessions might just do without them and “go lez”. It’s not rational and growing feminist victories means that people are slowly doing without those strict patriarchal relationships and striving for more egalitarian ones in all relationships. But still, it’s a crippling worry for those who are relying on social mores to keep women “in community” and ignorant of options.
Again, none of these options speaks well of the people advancing these arguments.
The point, finally
We often point to the disingenuousness, the history of equality movements, and the similarities between anti-gay arguments and anti-other-minorities arguments to show the moral depravity of the anti-gay movement and its proponents.
But we needn’t go to so much effort. The greatest horror of their statements isn’t the raw hate, isn’t the willingness to grasp any lie to make us suffer, it’s the statements themselves.
The arguments they make reveal their true characters far better than we could ever hope to reveal.
Let us take them at their word and be appalled by it.
So, the abortion debate is hot at the moment, given the recent Republican House deciding that creating new assaults on the right to choose was the first and most critical legislative priority, but let’s start frankly and honestly with something that has sadly been left out of all discussions of abortion. That is to say:
There is no abortion debate.
Oh sure, there is a lot of debate, discussion, surrounding abortion access and so on, but the thing that gets lost in the cultural and media discussions of the issue is a fundamental one. That is:
Abortion is a medical, surgical procedure*.
It’s similar to most other organ surgeries in its response to a medical necessity or request on behalf of a patient who is fully briefed on their medical rights and options, said patient being the woman involved.
But most importantly, this means that the only relevant debate surrounding this medical procedure is a medical and biology debate. That is, what the science says about the procedure, the personhood of fetuses and blastocysts as compared to birthed children, the rights of the patient, and so on.
And frankly, this debate is non-existent. The medical community and the field of biology has had a strong consensus on the necessity of the procedure in dealing with unwanted or awry pregnancies and on the personhood of the fetus (hint: there’s a reason that the word child is not used medically until the act of birth).
Not only is there no current medical controversy on this topic. There hasn’t been medical controversy on this topic in a Very, Very long time. Going back millennia, medical science has considered birth to be the transition point from pregnancy to full child with equivalent rights. And unlike many other issues, the acquisition of new biological knowledge of the process of pregnancy has only confirmed that initial assessment.
Medically, there is no question as to the necessity and ethical practice of the surgical procedure of aborting pregnancies.
And since, as I noted earlier, abortion is a surgical procedure, the opinion of the medical field is the only one that really matters with regards to reality and the performance of the procedure.
If there is a problem with it, the objection should arise from the medical field. New biological evidence that disregards what we know about development and the humanity of the patients involved and makes strong medical arguments for the cessation of the procedure. For the most part, the party in opposition has barely even tried to argue along such lines.
As such, the “debate” as it is, is essentially meaningless as the field has been settled as far as any opinions of merit are concerned.
And this is important, because medicine as a field is one largely unconcerned with the personal beliefs of the general population.
There is a minority of people who believe that medical intervention is an affront to God, known as Christian Scientists. Despite their beliefs, medical science continues to provide care to those who request or consent to it and will even provide emergency care to these individuals if they are involved in an incident requiring such care to save their lives.
And in case you think a majority of people is somehow more important in this matter, I also present the issue of creationists. Creationists believe that evolution is a lie. Many believe that all evolution or belief in it can produce is misery, separation from God, death, destruction, and so on.
Whether they believe in it or not, however, evolutionary techniques are used dozens of times in the creation of pretty much every life-saving medicine **. The medical field, not only continues to use such products and interact with knowledge based on understanding diseases and infections as the products of evolution that they are, but will use such medicines and knowledge on a creationist to save their life.
This is how medicine works and it cares very little to the personal beliefs of those in other walks of life. Outside of gaining consent and patient interaction, what matters in patient care is what the medical science shows. What works best for the patients and providing the care required and requested along lines of medical ethics and so on.
So as I state, there is no meaningful “abortion debate”.
Nonetheless, there is a strong, unfortunate, and sadly, medically unethical assault and debate surrounding the abortion procedure.
There is lots of debate that uses the abortion surgical procedure as a backdrop and a position of assault and there has been a lot of action attempting to limit access and availability of this surgical procedure by means both semi-legal and sadly, terroristically illegal (but nonetheless successful).
And to any who have paid even remote attention to this issue, it’s quite apparent that this issue really has very little to do with this surgical procedure, but rather a set of separate cultural debates regarding women and this nation. (And for those tempted to balk on this point, I urge you to follow this link, though it may be broken at the minute, or just pay attention to the actions of anti-choicers rather than their rhetoric***)
Those debates are mostly two fold. 1) The personhood of women**** and 2) Sex and sexuality, especially with regards to women and whether we accept and value it or seek to deny and repress it.
This second debate is certainly the crux of much of what is considered the “abortion debate”. How we treat sex. Whether we value consent or whether sex is inherently wrong so entering into it with clear head is even worse. Whether we teach sex and sexuality to our youth so they will be prepared and fully cognizant of their options and choices and whether they can understand their sexual choices and operate with full informed consent. Whether women are acknowledged to have a sexuality rather than simply being gatekeepers deciding whether or not male sexuality is denied or inadequately prevented.
And most critically, whether or not people, but most especially women, should be “punished” for engaging in sexual congress by the removal of personhood and being forced to carry their “mistake” to term to showcase their shame and serve as cultural warnings for those who go against cultural taboos of sex and sexuality or seek to understand it on any level.
Whether we encourage ourselves to understand our bodies, our sexualities, whether we even have sexualities, and so on.
This debate is the real one surrounding the “abortion debate” and is a hotly contested issue. And many religions have decided that this issue is one that they are willing to bet their future relevance now (it’s no surprise that pretty much every argument against the legality of the surgical procedure is either religious or metaphysical).
And frankly, it is a strong cultural battle. A lot of patriarchal and conservative religions have based a lot of their teachings on control over the human impetus towards sex (for 99% of us, asexuals represent). Furthermore, there is a lot of human rights for women that is based on sexual and bodily autonomy and consent and other issues that require cultural education and awareness of sexuality.
Not to mention the fact that a lot of religions base themselves in denying women’s sexual agency, desires, and often personhood in selecting and connecting with partners, hoping to engineer situations where choices are limited so that “escape” from churches or cultures where women are treated much like under-respected house-slaves is much more difficult.
And of course, much as my sidenote pointed out, the fact that respecting bodily autonomy is a crucial underpinning of consent and a full cultural victory there would help greatly our culture in respecting consent and valuing it as crucial in sexual and human interactions, which is bad for those who have a lot invested in sexist cultural practices and institutions.
Honestly, it’s a battle, that I feel good being on the side of women, of acknowledging the reality of sexuality, and of standing with the medical and biological scientific communities on.
The abortion debate never was. It has always been a convenient rhetorical strategy for an argument one side has been ashamed to vocalize honestly. And perhaps that most of all points to the fact that that debate, despite the many setbacks, the terrorism, and the nasty cultural debris, might be one we’re winning after all.
…Still might be worth it to contact your congresscritter and remind them to vote fuck you on the latest assaults. But take heart, this debate is one we can win, are winning, if we just continue to stand firm and be as honest as we can be.
*And furthermore, is one of the more performed surgical procedures in America. Roughly one-third of women have had or will have an abortion in their lifetime. Which makes perfect sense, honestly. Not only is there a lot of cultural pressure increasing the risk of unprotected intercourse between people not ready to raise a child, but pregnancies are not exactly guaranteed. Many pregnancies end in miscarriage and while medical science has reduced the number of pregnancies that have ended in female mortality, the solution has been the surgical procedure of abortion and increases in pre-natal care and monitoring. As such, things still go wrong in pregnancies requiring emergency procedures for the health of the patient. Which makes this “debate” all the worse, considering there are a shit-ton of real lives being cynically threatened over a debate that shouldn’t even be happening.
** Seriously, drug development, and most modern biology experiments in general require dozens of steps which simply would be impossible to complete if evolution was false. Inducing mutations, targeting binding proteins or antibodies, responding to bacterial and viral mutations to current drugs, and so on. The list is simply too long to name, but rest assured, if you’re taking most any medicine, knowledge of evolution and evolutionary techniques were critical in the development and testing of said medicine. It also makes that particular insanity all the more stupid.
*** Rhetorically, there are many reasons why the arguments are seductive to many. Three leading examples are as follows: 1) Potential. We are impatient creatures who like to invest emotionally in potentialities. Often times, we invest more in potentials because potentials can be anything and often lack any of the imperfections and disappointments of realities. This isn’t an inherently bad thing. Building excitement for say, a wanted pregnancy, by treating it as a lay-person as a baby helps one prepare for the act of parenting and the responsibilities it involves and is a very human response. Sadly, it also becomes a strong rhetorical hook for those who benefit when potential is equated with born feeling, thinking children which brings me to 2) Anthropomorphism. It’s a human tendency to attribute human emotions and motivations to non-human objects or beings. Most people are used to this with regards to animals, where we attribute human reasoning and motivation to the actions of pets of animals at the zoo or imagine them as talking creatures in our cartoons. But it’s done with the weather, the chances that dominate our life, and of course, potential. As such, there is a strong human drive to treat a developing pregnancy as a completed human child or even a full adult and attribute pain, complex thought, and “silent screams” to something incapable of doing any of that. Again, it’s a human response, and absent the attempt to erase the humanity of the only actual human involved in the process, it’s a perfectly reasonable and human response. But again, it provides a rhetorical hook to sell the idea that “babies are being murdered and can feel everything and no one is saving them” to the emotional centers of people. The final, but not least is 3) Cultural belief in the importance of men. That is to say, that our culture has strong beliefs in the universal importance of men in all regards, always at least equal to women and often superior. This applies to all things and as such, pregnancy is no exception. It is hard, culturally, to process and accept that the process of pregnancy involves surprisingly little involvement of the male. Outside the beginning donation of DNA, the rest is all done by the female’s body. The donation of egg, mitochondria and other cellular apparatus, half of the DNA, implantation, protection from the body, pH balance, growth, division, steering the fetal development with hormone changes and floods, providing the nutrients for growth, sacrificing calcium from the bones, and essential vitamins from the body to create the being piece by piece, evolutionary step by step and so on. In our culture, this is a hard truth to process for many. As such, it becomes “easier” to imagine that all the “real work” ends at fertilization and thus the “child” is created at this step rather than birth. It becomes “easier” to imagine that the woman doesn’t really factor in for the majority of the pregnancy, mostly just a meaningless host to an automatic process that is unrelated to anything. That the fetus is growing in a white ball of light, distant from any flesh and blood creature or any active involvement from the woman’s body. Because otherwise, the creation of new human life, one of the more “important” actions of humanity, as they say, would involve disproportionately the woman over the man and that doesn’t fit the cultural narratives we’re used to. One may scoff at the power of this particular narrative hook, but it’s more powerful than most realize. The idea that a child is made at fertilization is a powerful one, even so many years removed from the homunculus and is central to many of the metaphysical arguments of anti-choicers. The disappearance of the woman during pregnancy is central to every anti-choice rhetorical argument as none of it can operate in a world where the pregnant woman is fully human and afforded all the rights thereof. Most critically that all anti-choice arguments require as their basepoint an assumption that a fetus should be granted rights no other human has (the right to another’s body without their consent, the right to the donation of blood, tissue, organs, and nutrients without consent, and so on) and that a woman loses rights we deny to nearly no one, such as the right to bodily autonomy, the right to medical intervention, the right to not be enslaved to another, and so on. No matter how “cute” the one or “slutty” or “undeserving” the other, these rights are violated nowhere else to this degree. Not even to save Baby Jesus, not even if the person is Hitler, this does not occur between two living born real human beings. Even if all that is needed is a little blood to save another’s life. Without consent, it doesn’t happen. Period.
**** As much as we like to think this issue settled, it’s hasn’t been. Feminism, the radical belief that women are human, is still often publicly decried and socially shunned. Consent is hardly universally valued and there are many current cultures where women are under-appreciated and trained with low-self-esteem to take positions where they are essentially house slaves expected to raise the kids and consent to the husband’s sexual demands regardless of their own. And it’s not all in foreign nations, but right here in the US, by people that are considered normal and respectable culturally speaking. This war over the humanity of women is most obvious in the simple fact that there is an abortion debate at all. As I note above, to have such debate supposes a position not only where medical reality ceases to apply to medical matters but one where women are stripped of rights no one else is stripped of when pregnant and fetuses and blastocysts gain rights no actual person has, a sort of super-person. The fact that this is at all a source of consternation and the fact that the rhetorical question of abortion is at all viable, shows that the humanity of women is a very murky thing for most, hard to accept in all things and that it is culturally “normal” to view bodily autonomy and consent as somehow “negotiable” when said person is female. On a side note, this reality is also why this is so important a fight. A culture where it is “normal” and “we need to respect their beliefs” with regards to the erasing of the humanity of half the people on this planet and bodily autonomy and consent in general is one of the major underpinnings of the rape culture and all the sorrow and pain that brings. When respecting the bodily autonomy and humanity of women is as easy as it seems to be for mere potential or male citizens, then we can finally be seeing the beginning of the end of this fight. At the moment, however, the fight has merely begun and the concept of female humanity is a hard one even for allies. Sadly.
And now, to complete tonight’s trifecta of ranting, I present an overly personal, possibly embarrassing emotional response to my current situation.
This rant will be bitter, unfair, even less focused than my usual posts, and probably a giant emo mess.
If that doesn’t sound like your bag of tea, I encourage, nay urge you to skip this one.
Honestly, this is just me airing some personal demons because keeping them bottled inside has been affecting my day-to-day mental health.
Okay, deep breath.
My life currently sucks.
If you’ve been at all following my blog or were a member of a blog where I used to be a more frequent poster (cough, pharyngula, cough) you’ve noticed that I’ve been doing a lot less posting. What have I been doing with the time otherwise spent posting things on the internet?
Looking for work.
I’ve been unemployed since my return to this country after gaining my master’s degree, so about 8 months now. Said months have been entirely on the poverty line where me and my partner have been playing a game of chicken with the clock just trying to avoid eviction and homelessness, often on the back of assistance by friends and family.
Now, I am very grateful for that help, but the whole situation has been soul-destroying in a way that is hard to translate into words.
Sending at times up to 20 resumes in a single day simply to receive nothing back in turn. Spending one’s days doing “everything right” in how one sends out one’s resumes and applications, spending over 8 hour days just working on job searching and getting little but “wow, you’re pretty experienced” from resume helpers and static from the actual companies I apply for, even the retail positions.
These actions infect you, no matter how strong you assumed your self-esteem or individualist streak to be. You start questioning your own worth. Inner demons of low-self-esteem, anxiety, terror at the void, become consuming. You start to wake up every morning, heart-automatically beating fast as you hope that this day you’ll at least have an interview.
In 8 months of searching, I have sent out over 1000 applications in a variety of fields. I have received 3 total interviews. One is up in the air, possibly destroyed by a recent “distraction” and “compromise” involving further slashing the California Education budget. Another was dismayed that being a full-time student that I had only managed to get 3+ years of academic lab experience (i.e. job experience in labs run by Universities) rather than industry experience and thus might not be suited for their entry level position doing essentially what I did for my master’s thesis. The third was a seasonal retail stint that was my sole breath of employment.
During this time, I have neglected self care. Only recently have I begun fighting myself and started to consider investing time in side-projects to keep myself sane while I search. One of whom I hope to bring to this site by year’s end.
Of course, it’s easy to understand the fixation. Unlike Denmark, whose cozy culture I grew very comfortable with in my two year’s abroad, there is no safety net here in America.
If I can’t find a job, the welfare system may throw me a few pennies to use for feeding myself mayonnaise while living in a box on the street. Unlike Denmark’s system, I will not receive a minimum living wage until I can manage to secure full-time employment.
Considering our capitalist system requires that a certain percentage of the population be unemployed at any given time and that we’ve even begun deluding ourselves by changing how we count “unemployed” people so the numbers don’t look as bad, you’d think it critical that we actually allow such people the chance to survive, but then, that would require us to give a shit about whether people live or die.
Lack of employment holds far greater weight than just that.
Lack of employment also means lack of health insurance.
Well, more or less. I mean, the anemic HRC passed means that I, for only a brief time more, have access to my parent’s health insurance. Which they “have”, from working a decent enough middle class job.
Except, despite the reforms, my parent’s health insurance is an open scam. Any attempt to actually use it guarantees requiring out-of-service doctors as few medical providers have even heard of the health insurance company in question. There is little way to contact a human at the providing company and the company refuses to pay any medical bill acquired, leaving one essentially the same as one without medical insurance.
Neither me or my parents can afford to get sick or injured at the moment and my parents have been unable to help me out in my quest for survival as they’ve been finding this out with a minor hospital bill.
Whether this will change when “things go into effect” in 2012 remains to be seen, but it’s a reason I bristle sometimes at those who want to pretend that HRC “ended” the debate on health care. The “fix” fixed nothing.
Now, lack of health insurance is something a lot in my generation have had to deal with. It’s a common state of things for those under 30, but for me, there’s another stabbing wound caused by this situation.
Now, not every transgendered person seeks medical or hormone therapy to be who they are.
However, I really want said therapy. One could say I desperately need such therapy. I’m coping the best I can, but each continued week with no interviews, no real hope of an end to this current state of being, I have to face inner demons.
Will I ever have access to hormones? Will I ever have access even to one-on-one therapy? How long must I delay being myself, dragging the edge of my gender dissonance against the ground especially with the attacks of low self-esteem and self-hatred caused by the cultural shock of returning to the States and it’s lack of social support network.
These are not light questions and while I’ve tried to make use of what resources I can, I can’t escape the fact that my life is on hold, in Hell, until I can not only find a job, but one with either inclusive health insurance or a damn fine paycheck that I can afford counseling and hormones on my own.
The belief that this will happen soon, much less at all, is rapidly draining.
And this coincides with the fact that this country is a gender-segregated mess that assaults my gender dissonance ever fucking time I head out, which demands I lie and feel inhuman every time I fill out an application for a job.
Seriously, this culture enforces the gender divide stronger than I remembered before leaving. Everything is gender coded and even single-stall toilets are carefully divided into a male and a female restroom even when it would be easier simply to label them bathrooms and let them be gender neutral.
Most every application has required identification by sex, causing a strong question and a bout of depression every fucking time I send out one. I send out several a day.
Worse than that, is the other ways the applications force one to lie and betray oneself.
I don’t know if many others have sent out retail applications lately, but retail applications have begun to do some pretty close to illegal bullshit in their “personality tests” of late.
Sure, there’s the usual pablum about whether you think customers are god’s chosen people and whether you think stealing is worse than stabbing someone to death for stealing.
But there is also direct questions intended to weed out anyone with depression, anxiety, or disabilities as unworthy of employment, basically asking everyone to be sunny and nimble like a fox just to be worthy of consideration.
Worse than that though is that the questions have recently been asking very carefully worded questions basically making sure one is conservatively minded and lacks liberal tendencies.
Not just the already questionable “are you a supporter of unions” type bullshit, but questions about whether one trusts current political leaders, what one thinks of current political issues, and what one thinks about the goodness of capitalism in all things and it’s inability to ever do wrong or the inability of a company to ever work against the interests of its workers.
Oh yeah, you better act like you love the taste of Free Market Jesus if you want employment at any retail chain in the good old USA.
So that’s what we got, a mess of a situation, bereft of social net, bereft of necessary medical care, tortured by the situation to the point where it is a daily battle against my own suicidal tendencies, and a number of political debate centers around things that spell life or death for me and those close to me…
Or it would, but instead it’s a bunch of Republicans trying to kill me and a bunch of Democrats trying to figure out how to help me so little that the Republicans will stop calling them socialists.
And frankly, America sucks right now. My life sucks.
This shouldn’t happen. We shouldn’t allow so many people to be on such a thin razor for everything.
We need a functional social safety net in this country. We need real genuine stipends, equal to a minimum living wage to the unemployed and underemployed and if that seems like a lot of people, then we better damn start employing some people.
We need real reform of the broken health care system, one where the current crop of scam artists have no input (not to punish them, but because they make their money by finding means to provide zero health care).
We need real reform in how we treat minorities, so that one can be themselves on their own terms, instead of forcing themselves through Hell on the off-chance that they’ll eventually be comfortable enough that it makes “financial sense”.
We need to care whether people live or die, prosper or suffer, thrive or collapse.
Coming home to America should have been joyous. A time to reunite with loved ones and be glad. It shouldn’t have been a nightmare that makes me wonder how stupid I was to ever make such a daft mistake.
America is not the best of all current systems.
It is the most broken, hideous, heinous system in the developed world and it is my firm belief that there is no reason why that should be the case.
We can be better. We should be better.
And I hope to fight all my life to try and make what is happening to me an archaic unthinkable notion.
But for now. Life sucks.
So I know I just had a long rambling post about treating politics like a game, but this is a related topic that has come up a lot lately in arguments I’ve had with fellow commentators on liberal blogs.
Basically, related to the urge to treat politics like a game, has been an urge for a number of liberal commentators to go from merely understanding and commiserating that Obama and current Democrats have a hard job and have to make unpleasant compromises to get something passed to essentially acting and arguing as if they were a current Democratic Senator and on-line debate must be constrained solely to discussions of the current compromise options and only then during the time the other Senators and congresspeople are having their debates.
Now, it may be the case that I have merely run into a handful of actual congresspeople taking a rest from their busy jobs and forgetting that they aren’t actually in the deliberative chambers, but I think it highly unlikely that that is the case.
I think it’s more the case that people wanting a stronger sense of connection with the process have basically inserted themselves into it, often as a defense for the “Team” of Democrats or beloved politicians as a rhetorical strategy of remaining positive no matter what is passed. Possibly born out of defensiveness against a particular style of argument I’ve complained about in the past.
But whatever the origins of the argument style, I nonetheless have to break the bad news.
You are not a member of Congress. These blogs or conversations with friends are not grave deliberations where you may have to make hard compromises to get a bill passed. You, like me, are a peon on the internet, trying to do activism for left-oriented causes the best you can.
And the thing is, while that can seem more powerless and less exciting than being in the legislative body, it really shouldn’t be. There is a distinct role that grassroots activists, those of us on the ground play.
And it isn’t just getting the vote out every 2 years.
Those of us on the ground are part of those who argue from our hearts, telling our life stories, sharing pains and opinions, and building the social support for various causes.
That last one is very important. It means we don’t follow the example of our legislative victories or compromises.
It instead means we precede them. We don’t need to “censor” our beliefs because they are “too out there” for our team. It means we advance “unpopular” beliefs until they become common sense.
As I began to discuss in my last post. All of those great liberal accomplishments we take for granted began as really really “weird” ideas, ones there was little support for, and which often were considered utopic, legislatively impossible, and so on. Slaves free men, equal in legal status to a white man? Women not only not property, but having the right to vote and not only the right to vote, but the right to work outside the home, to compete in sports, perhaps in equal number to men? Gays not only not to be treated as plague vectors, but to have their relationships treated as equal to those of straight individuals? Consent actually important in sexual matters?
Not all of these battles are finished, but they are certainly far more popular now than they have been and it never would have been that way if activists had merely sat back and gone “I better not advance any idea that isn’t supported or advanced by the current congress”.
Additionally, these rights have been constantly undermined and attacked and it has been important over the years to argue against giving in to political pressure by the retrograde in our society.
Many times these battles, harsh words were said against those who are on the most part considered heroes. Not only against great politicians like FDR, LBJ, Kennedy, and so on, but also great activists like MLK Jr.
It’s part of the battle, the advancement of the improvement of people’s lives and the fight to improve the social environment we all have to live in. Hopefully so the “political environment” is improved as well in the form of binding legal protections.
It leads to a large amount of criticism. No activist or politician is perfect on every issue and political gamesmanship can lead to some political bargains seeming less toxic than their effect on the ground.
But that’s part of the necessary symbiotic nature between activist and politician. The pressure on the social causes increases the options a politician has and the criticism and pressure to do better reminds the politician of the stakes at play and keep them grounded.
If we were to cease this and instead only praise “Our Team’s Actions” whether good or bad and only discuss issues within the constraints of what is considered at the moment, then the politicians have less to work with and are more at prey to machinations to support worse compromises and tackle fictional issues (such as the deficit, which no one really cares about, least of all those crowing about it the loudest) rather than the real ones (such as the lack of a real safety net in this country, and so on).
And frankly, many of the politicians we admire, thus prompting some to want to act as if they are them, understand this interaction. It is why Obama echoed FDR’s calls to “make him do things”, to put the pressure on him to do the right thing. It’s why Harry Reid honored Dan Choi rather than treat him like an enemy despite the massive pressure Mr. Choi had put on him and his office.
It’s because they understand the role we play on the grassroots.
The way we speak our minds more directly, the way we let them know that these issues are not a game, that we are paying attention and that we are fighting for a better world that addresses the problems and issues we have today.
We don’t have to censor ourselves. We should be criticizing even members of our party, even ones we are fully intending to vote for and help elect in the next cycle. We should be fighting for the advancement of the “utopic”.
Because that’s our job.
(Note, this debate leaves off the question about whether it’s necessarily good for politicians to pre-surrender principles and be easily swayed by what the media considers the “politically possible”. Personally, I wonder if it’s really a good political strategy because it seems to create situations where you are compromising from a position of half-shit-sandwich which doesn’t leave much room for good strong meaningful bills, especially with the massive problems we have these days. But I can understand that the deeply broken political system and the way the media has rigged the game can make things painful and thus something is better than nothing. Either way though, the drama and questions faced by our leaders should not be emulated. There is no reason why commentators on blogs, activists on streets, and people in their daily lives should be limiting themselves in their considerations, support, or negative reactions to only the “politically possible”. That’s just stupid.)