And I’m not going to miss it

It looks like Anderson Cooper’s talk show is being canceled. And I’m happy to hear it. On one occasion, Cooper used his new platform to publicize the claims of a trans woman who’s suing drug manufacturer Merck because she believes their hair loss medication made her trans, citing unnamed and likely nonexistent “thousands” of men who have allegedly experienced the same thing. This kind of sensationalism can ultimately be more harmful to us than the Jerry Springer “my girlfriend is really a man!” style of overt transphobia. In this case, it served to promote absurd, unproven, and completely impossible ideas about what it means to be transgender, by seeking to tie it to a pathological origin.

The drug in question, finasteride, reduces male-pattern baldness by blocking the action of testosterone. This is why it’s also sometimes used in hormone replacement therapy for trans women – women who could potentially lose their access to this medication if a ridiculous lawsuit like this were to succeed. The reduction of testosterone in cisgender men does not turn them into transgender women. Indeed, cis men who suffer from low testosterone often experience something similar to the dysphoria that can occur in trans people who are missing the hormones specific to their gender identity. Likewise, their symptoms can be relieved by replacement of those hormones. Trans men without testosterone don’t just become women for lack of male hormones. Neither do cis men. Gender identity simply doesn’t work like that – hormone deficiencies can result in or amplify dysphoria, but they don’t cause people to flip genders. And the relief of dysphoria that comes from transitioning isn’t typically accompanied by trying to sue the pants off the people who supposedly cursed you with this terrible fate.

Anderson Cooper willingly allowed this woman to spread bizarre misconceptions about being trans to the wider public. It’s a relief to see that the show’s ratings now reflect how empty-headed its content was. Good riddance.

Putting up a PayPal donation link

I’m setting up a PayPal donation button in the sidebar for anyone who feels like helping me with transition-related expenses. These include things like a legal change of name, as well as medical bills. We’ve found a local paralegal group to assist us with the complicated process of a name change – while changing your last name is a simple matter, changing your first name in our state involves a court hearing and a criminal background check, among other pricey hassles. The counselor and doctor I’ve been seeing charge us on a sliding scale, which has been nice, but they’re specialists and quite a drive away.

Heather and I both work very hard, but we don’t have a lot of expendable income at the end of the month. After feeding, housing, and clothing two young children as well, there’s not much left for transitioning, and so it often falls to the wayside. This has left us with about $700 in expenses that we’re struggling to cover.

I know that all of my fans have been extraordinarily supportive of my transition thus far. If you’d like to help me further in this, donating just the price of a movie ticket would significantly ease the burden. Once again, thank you so much for everything you’ve all done for me.

Hey, The Young Turks: Men having sex with trans women is NOT “non-straight sex”

The Young Turks recently covered a Foreign Policy article about trans women sex workers in the Middle East and the systemic abuse they face from authorities. Throughout the clip, Cenk Uygur is seemingly astonished that, whoa, men would interested in having sex with women? Steel yourself:

Highlights of the clip include:

– Uygur saying: “All these Arab Gulf countries, Persian Gulf countries, very conservative, being gay is totally and utterly wrong, unless I mean it’s like a really cute girl that happens to have a penis, in which case maybe we can make an exception”. (Of course, police do anything but make an exception when they arrest trans women for “homosexuality”.)

– Uygur saying: “But then, here comes the awesome part – now, it’s got a terrible dark side, but it’s got awesome hypocrisy – so, a lot of times they get arrested, and when they do, what’s the first thing that police do? Police arrest them because they are being immoral, and then immediately have sex with them.” (Hypocrisy or not, I don’t think police sexually abusing women in custody is particularly “awesome”.)

– Uygur saying: “And it’s not just the hypocrisy, right – it also shows you, by the way, the reality of sexual orientation in the world, right? It’s not binary, and I can guarantee you that if you ask those guys, at the very least nine out of ten of them would tell you, ‘Oh no, I’m totally straight.’ Right? But when push comes to shove, they pay a lot of money to have non-straight sex.

Hoo boy. I can see – vaguely, distantly – how he might have been trying to be supportive or inclusive by pointing out that human bodies are not limited to men with penises and women with vaginas, and that people’s sexual behavior reveals that this widespread binary notion of gender – not sexual orientation – is simply inapplicable in practice. That’s the most charitable way I can plausibly interpret this.

But when a man has sex with a woman who’s trans, that is not “non-straight sex”. When a man and a woman are having sex, there is no conceivable way that any sexual act could be described as something other than straight. Calling this “non-straight” means claiming that there is some element of homosexual desire or tendency involved, simply because the woman is trans or has a penis. But this idea is not reflective of reality, either – it is inapplicable in practice. Why do men who display attraction toward trans women largely identify as straight? Because trans women are women, and because these men are straight. They are attracted to trans women because they are women.

This is not contrary to their heterosexual orientation – it is because of their heterosexual orientation. Men who are attracted to trans women typically display heterosexual patterns of attraction, not homosexual patterns of attraction. These men do not otherwise identify as gay, and do not exhibit attraction toward men or engage in sexual conduct with men. They engage in sexual conduct with women, including trans women.

If being attracted to trans women made these men “non-straight” or something less than heterosexual, we would not expect to observe this. We would expect to see them having sex with men. This largely does not happen, and this is why describing sex between men and trans women as “non-straight” is misleading.

It is not in any way inconsistent for men to be attracted to trans women while identifying as “totally straight” – there is no “but” there. If anything, these patterns of attraction reveal the hypocrisy of regarding trans women as anything less than women, and of prosecuting them under laws against homosexuality – not the supposed “hypocrisy” of being straight and also attracted to trans women. No matter how much anyone protests or moralizes, reality itself gives lie to the assumption that we aren’t women and that sleeping with us counts against a man’s heterosexuality. These aren’t the gays you’re looking for.

Not “him”, just me: Gendering the past

Pill bottlesI’ve been on HRT for about a month now, and so far it’s been awesome enough that I’ll probably continue for the foreseeable future. While some people have claimed that its effects shouldn’t be noticeable for quite some time, the physical changes alone are already obvious, which leads me to believe that the mental effects could be just as real. Even if some part of it is only placebo, I can honestly say I haven’t felt this calm, happy, confident, in control and well-integrated in years – if ever. And though I’m not sure what physiological or neurological basis there might be for the common trans metaphor of “running on the right fuel” (and I’d be interested to learn more about this), it seems accurate enough in my case.

Before I started, I wondered whether it might cause some kind of mind-blowing shift in my consciousness, sense of self and subjective experience of the world. While it definitely feels great for me and I have a strong preference against discontinuing it, I can’t say it’s been like any kind of bright line between before and after – alcohol has more of an immediate and significant effect, all things considered. I’m just the same person as before, but it does seem like whatever elements factor into my overall personality and mood have been tweaked just enough to improve things without outright destroying who I was. I mean, who I am.

What interests me is that some trans people do seem to draw a harder distinction between their lives before they came to terms with their gender identity, and after. At times, I’ve even seen women refer to their past selves in the third person, as entirely different people – such as “him”. This shouldn’t be surprising, since many people experience a massive gulf between where they are in terms of their gender, and where they want to be. It makes sense that they wouldn’t see much in common between the person they once were, and the person they sought to become. Likewise, I’ve heard from people for whom realizing they were trans was a relatively sudden epiphany, and something that simply hadn’t occurred to them before, which would make it a pretty convenient place to draw a line dividing their life into that of two separate people.

Personally, I can’t say my experience has been very similar to this. As Heather often reminds me, if I had started off as a bodybuilder with a beard and back hair, I’d likely feel much different. But I didn’t. And I was never struck by that abrupt epiphany, because the possibility of being trans has been on my radar for the past several years. For most of that time, I just didn’t think it was where I was headed, but it turns out that it was – and I was always comfortable with that possibility. I was also fortunate enough to start off in a place where I didn’t have to close very much distance to get my body to reflect my identity. Yet because the process has been so blurry, shuffled and gradual for me, to the point that the final step consisted of no more than choosing to say “I’m trans” rather than “I’m not”, I find it almost impossible to identify any sort of boundary between one life and another, one gender and another.

A collage of photos spanning 10 yearsAlthough I’ve had to work extensively on training myself to think of my new name as the true one, it never took nearly as much effort to think of my new gender as the true one. I suppose that on some level, I was already open to it even before I knew what “it” was. I found it similarly easy to accept myself as queer when I was 14: if that was reality, then that was reality, end of story. Acknowledging that I’m trans was essentially the same, to the point that my earlier experience seems to foreshadow it neatly. For some people, recognizing their genuine sexual orientation or gender identity seems to require demolishing a large part of the foundation of their identity, leaving them with the burden of having to fill in that newfound empty space. I’m just not one of those people.

Even when I assumed I was straight or a guy, for simple lack of personal development or critical self-examination, it wasn’t a central part of who I was. Obviously, straight guys are rarely required by society to think about their gender or sexuality as something that stands out, or consider themselves as anything other than the archetypal “default” human. But having never identified strongly, or even weakly, as a man or as heterosexual, losing those presumed features meant losing very little of my core self. Since I hadn’t become attached to what these identities implied for me, it was only a slight course adjustment in the direction my life would take, and the destination was just as valid. Nothing about it demanded tearing apart my old self, marking them as obsolete, and constructing a new person in their place.

Yet this still seems to raise an unavoidable question: if I was once “him”, then when did I stop being “him” and start being “her”? Of course, when it comes to talking to other people about my past, I see no need to say anything to tip them off about me if they haven’t already been brought into the circle. It’s just a matter of consistency, because there’s no sense in referring to a woman as “him” when discussing her childhood. But if they already know, it isn’t personally significant to me whether they see my younger self as having been a “him” or a “her”, and in some cases there’s no way around this. For instance, if we were looking at any of my childhood photos, it would be pointless to try and avoid the obvious. And all my mom’s friends would likely find it hard to believe that the son they’ve always known never actually existed, and that she’s suddenly acquired a very familiar-looking daughter.

A photo timeline of the past 4 yearsBut at what stage should I regard “him” as over, and “her” as having begun? There’s just no easy way to pinpoint a particular moment. Was it when I started caring about my appearance for the first time in 19 years? Or when I switched to buying women’s shirts because I found I looked better in them? Maybe it was when I first decided to try on makeup? Or when I went out in public like this for the first time? When I told people either gender pronoun is fine with me? When I started calling myself Zinnia on a whim? When I first identified as genderqueer? When I put together the first timeline of my transformation? When I started dating a lesbian, and we both knew that I was undeniably her girlfriend and couldn’t possibly be considered a boyfriend – even while still saying, paradoxically, that I didn’t think of myself as trans? When I first attended a family function, her brother’s wedding, as a woman? When I found I was going “full-time” simply out of habit? When I finally did admit that I was trans? When I made the decision to pursue treatment for it? When I picked a whole new name for myself, for real this time? When I worked up the nerve to “make it official” and come out to my parents – as if they couldn’t tell? When I started wearing a bra, no matter whether it contained anything? When I actually got around to finding a therapist and a doctor? When I took HRT for the first time? When I ordered business cards to replace the ones that said “Z.J. OldName”?

All of that has been spread out over the past four years – and not one of those changes feels like an appropriate place to divide myself in two. So is it just a matter of when you finally do feel like a different person, if ever? That, too, seems like a standard I may never be able to meet. I’m certain I’ve changed more just by aging throughout my life than by transitioning, and yet I still don’t think of myself at any age as a distinctly different person, no matter how little we would have in common. Some part of me was always there, and some part of them is still with me. I would see no point in referring even to 4-year-old me as being a separate person, different as I was.

Of course, gender is typically regarded as much more fundamental to identity than age, and that idea likely helps to fuel the inclination – or perceived need – to conceptualize yourself as a different person just because you were (presumably) a different gender. And for all I know, maybe there will come a day when I feel I’ve changed so much that I have nothing in common with “him”, and I’ll be more comfortable with classifying a part of my life as belonging to someone else. But for now, I’ve always just been me, even as a “boy” who rarely thought of “himself” as a boy. The unvarnished and fuzzy reality of things like identity, time, change, and people don’t always fit the concepts of “boundary”, “box”, “before”, “after”, “them”, or “me”, and it would be a mistake to try and map them onto the world when in some cases they’re just inapplicable. Transitioning wasn’t a soul-ripping, spacetime-rending event that cleaved my past and future apart. Like every other change in my life, big and small, it wove them together. What do I call my pre-transition self? The same thing I call myself now, because that’s who we are: I.

Lisa Graas, mind your own business

I have a suggestion for religious homophobes: Stop acting like the rest of us are stupid.

Jeremy Hooper recently posted a video of a panel at a “town hall meeting” of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, the campaign working to ban gay marriage once again in Maryland. In the clip, panelist Reverend Robert Anderson claims that “those who practice such things are deserving of death”. Just to drive the point home, he further adds that “if we don’t vote against it, then we are approving these things that are worthy of death”.

Then Catholic blogger Lisa Graas decided that this was something she needed to defend. In a reply to Jeremy Hooper, she insisted that Anderson’s statement “refers to the death of the soul. In other words, going to hell. He is saying that God will send sinners to hell.”

Here’s why everything about this excuse is crap. When a member of a politically powerful religious majority declares that a historically disempowered minority is “deserving of death”, and goes beyond mere disapproval in the religious realm to insist that these beliefs also justify unequal treatment of that minority under secular civil law, that is a threat. It is a threat because they are using their religion as a reason to impose inequality on us in the legal sphere, and because they believe their religion designates us as “worthy of death”. There’s no way around where this line of reasoning leads, and that is why it is an obviously threatening act.

Choosing to defend this means that, just like them, you’ve elected to value religious beliefs over human life and well-being. The consequences of this should be unacceptable not only to minorities, but to everyone, because there’s no telling which religion will one day rise to prominence, and what morals that faith might decide it’s entitled to force upon the entire population via the state. Why would anyone want to be potentially subject to that?

Not only is siding with those who make such threats an act of foolishness and inhumanity, but Graas’ explanation is intellectually dishonest garbage. Pretending that those who say gay people are “deserving of death” only mean it in a spiritual, theological, metaphysical sense, rather than a literal and physical one, is plainly unconvincing. People know what “deserving of death” means. It means deserving of death. The real phenomenon of death is something that everyone understands, and if a religion instead decides to use it to refer to what they believe is part of a supposed afterlife that isn’t supported by even the thinnest of evidence, their use of the term in a general setting without clarification is extraordinarily careless.

And this was a general setting – the panel was part of a campaign working to bring about a change in the civil, secular law via a measure that will be put to a referendum. Citizens of all faiths, belief systems and philosophies will be voting on it. It was not a sermon directed solely at those who choose to affiliate themselves with Reverend Anderson’s church and its beliefs. It was delivered to a general audience of voters. To say that a certain minority in the state which is about to vote on their equality is deserving of death, without specifying that you actually mean something much different from the most prevalent understanding of “death”, is both irresponsible and a failure of communication – if that was even what he meant to say.

Historical religious attitudes about sexual “sin” and the death penalty make it impossible to conclude that we should only interpret Anderson’s remarks in the most charitable, metaphorical light. The Bible itself does indeed state that a man who “has sexual relations with a man” is “to be put to death”. Regarding this as merely a metaphor for something-or-other would require reading adjacent passages – such as those saying “kill both the woman and the animal”, “the members of the community are to stone him”, and so on – as also being metaphorical rather than literal. This would make no sense.

It is obvious that the Bible contains passages which clearly refer to homosexual activity, and prescribe the death penalty in plain language. And even the common apologetic defense that this is no longer the case due to Jesus or something must implicitly acknowledge that this was once the case, and that there was indeed a time when religious disapproval of homosexuality had very real consequences beyond simply telling someone that “God will send sinners to hell”. There is an extensive history of religiously-based laws against homosexuality which prescribed punishments up to and including death, and this still occurs today.

Expecting listeners to ignore both the common meaning of “death”, and the historical record of religion being cited to justify killing gay people, is simply untenable. It means asking people to deny the violent and dangerous implications that are right in front of their own eyes. We’re not the ones who should be obligated to interpret a political campaign calling for our death as just a figure of speech. Anderson is the one who should have exercised better judgment instead of speaking so recklessly.

Finally, if he was indeed only claiming that gay people are going to hell, then the proposal to ban gay marriage is both ineffective and irrelevant. First, banning gay marriage never stopped anyone from being gay. And second, saving “souls” is not the government’s business. Our civil law does not exist to force people to do whatever some religion believes will keep them out of hell. Why is Anderson’s church free to believe what they do even if some other faith claims they’re going to suffer eternally for it? Because whatever someone’s religion says about the afterlife, this is only their own concern, and it’s never grounds for telling the entire population what they can and can’t do.

The only reason they’re able to practice their own faith without interference is because of this fundamental principle of individual religious freedom, and disregarding that freedom jeopardizes everyone’s rights. If the government ever told them they needed to stop being who they are for the sake of their own “salvation”, they would be outraged at the total lack of respect for their freedom of conscience and self-determination. And you know what? So am I! We don’t need a nanny state in the name of a nanny god. If your god really exists and wants to send me to hell after I die, then that will be between me and your god. But right now, we all live on earth, where there are things like basic human rights and secular governments that do not endorse religions.

Lisa Graas and her pathetic excuses reveal the worst aspects of every campaign to ban gay marriage: they can’t even be honest with the people whose rights they’re trying to take away, they don’t know the difference between the law and a Bible, and they just can’t seem to mind their own business.