How Depression Is Like Back Pain

10464169_10201853698937124_3923966816234564280_nAs a person with depression, I’m always thinking of new ways to describe it. Partially so that people who don’t experience it can understand what it’s like, and in the hope that these perspectives will help me treat it like a legitimate problem instead of beating myself up over feeling bad “for no reason.” It’s becoming common to relate it to physical illnesses like cancer and strep throat. Here’s a good one: chronic back pain.

(I don’t experience any severe chronic pain, so if I’m completely off the mark with any of this, feel free to correct me.)

Someone with intense back pain might have difficulty getting out of bed. They probably could get out of bed, even if in pain, but most people wouldn’t expect someone to push through that kind of agony unless there were pressing matters to attend to.

Some people with intense pain can’t even bring themselves to go to work every day (or at all, in some cases).

If they do go to work, they might be tired and/or sore enough to be unable to do dishes, laundry, or other house work when they get home.

Chronic pain comes and goes, and sometimes it’s more debilitating than others. One day might be bearable and the next day, even going to sit at the computer is a task of unimaginable difficulty.

It seems as though, by and large, these things are accepted and the person experiencing the pain is not shamed for not being up to the tasks before them. Unfortunately, some people do experience invalidation from others, especially if the pain is not the direct result of an injury. Then, it’s “just in their head.” Which is pretty much the attitude toward depression and other forms of mental illness.

The thing about depression is that it is painful at times. Emotional agony is just as real as physical pain. At the end of the day, it’s all just brain signals, and most people have a pretty firm knowledge of what feels good and what feels bad, whether skin sensations or states of mind.

Depression, like chronic pain, can go for periods of time in “remission,” can pop up for a couple days at a time or months on end, and can be triggered by other things. Someone with back pain might twinge something while lifting a heavy object and be stuck in bed for several days. Meanwhile, someone with depression might have a particularly stressful day at work or a heated argument with a friend or partner, thus cascading them toward depression even if they were feeling okay beforehand.

They’re both unpredictable. They’re both painful. And they’re both real. Invisible illnesses deserve as much respect as cancer or Ebola. (Though you can leave the panic at home.) Nobody should face stigma just because they’re sick.

White House Response to Non-Binary Gender Petition

10464169_10201853698937124_3923966816234564280_nDon’t get too excited, folks. The response was about as disappointing as you might expect.

Thank you for your petition requesting that the executive branch legally recognize genders outside of the male-female binary and provide an option for these genders on all legal documents and records.

We know how important this issue is, and we understand the profound impact, both symbolic and otherwise, of having official documents that accurately reflect an individual’s identity. These documents play an essential, functional role, but also demonstrate the measure of dignity and respect afforded to our nation’s citizens. We cannot overstate the care and seriousness that should be brought to bear on the issue.

We recognize the importance of gender identification in particular and the Obama Administration is working to modernize federal policies in this area. For example, in 2010, the U.S. Department of State made it easier for individuals to update the gender marker in their passports. And last year, the Social Security Administration followed suit by simplifying the process for individuals to change the gender marker on their social security cards to reflect their identity accurately.

As you can imagine, there is considerable variance across agencies and levels of government. And so while the Obama Administration wants to make sure that official documents reflect the identities of the Americans who hold them, we believe proposals to change when and how gender is listed on official documents should be considered on a case-by-case basis by the affected federal and state agencies. However, that consideration must be informed by best practices and a commitment to honoring individuality and ensuring fairness.

Thank you again for your petition. We appreciate your input and the opportunity to convey our shared commitment.

It really just strikes me that the person who wrote this response (Roy Austin, Deputy Assistant to the President for the Office of Urban Affairs, Justice, and Opportunity in the Domestic Policy Council) doesn’t have an understanding of non-binary sex, much less gender. Like how babies are born with “ambiguous” genitalia and there’s no legal option for designating their sex as something other than strictly male or female. (Not to mention the many inherent problems with designating sex at birth anyway.)

The original petition wasn’t worded super well anyway.

Legal documents in the United States only recognize “male” and “female” as genders, leaving anyone who does not identify as one of these two genders with no option. Australia and New Zealand both allow an X in place of an M or an F on passports for this purpose and the UK recognizes ‘Mx’ (pronounced as Mix or sometimes Mux) as a gender-neutral title.

This petition asks the Obama Administration to legally recognize genders outside of the male-female binary (such as agender, pangender, genderfluid, and others) and provide an option for these genders on all legal documents and records.

So yeah, an expected disappointing response. I’m glad there’s a way for us to engage our government more directly and show our numbers, but I had hoped for more.

Seeking trans participants for a project with photographer Martin Schoeller

My good friend and colleague Kristin is working with photographer Martin Schoeller on an upcoming project featuring trans people during transition. Schoeller is well-known for his series of photographs of celebrities and other subjects in his signature close-up style. Kristin, herself a trans woman, has worked with Schoeller on earlier projects, and he is very LGBT-friendly.

We’re looking for people who are at the beginning of their transition and are willing to have face and full body photographs taken, followed by another series 12-18 months later. This project is likely to be featured in a number of high-profile publications, and could become a standalone book. These photographs will be taken in a tasteful and humanizing style.

Trans women, trans men, and nonbinary trans people are all welcome to participate. Currently, we’re looking for participants around New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area. If you’re interested, or know anyone who might be, please contact Kristin at [email protected].

Why I’m representing Chelsea Manning at SF Pride

lauren-userpicThis year, Private Chelsea Manning was selected as Honorary Grand Marshal of SF Pride. As she is unable to attend, she asked me to serve as her representative due to our personal history, and I agreed. I’ll be present for various events this coming weekend, including the parade on Sunday. If you happen to be in San Francisco this weekend, I hope that you’ll have the chance to stop by.

Throughout my involvement in this case, I’ve occasionally heard from trans people with some connection to the US military – defense contractors, veterans, or active duty. Some feel that Chelsea’s actions reflected poorly on trans servicemembers, and have set back the movement for trans acceptance and inclusion in the military.

Regardless of one’s opinion on Chelsea’s conduct, the fact remains that she is a trans servicemember who is currently incarcerated in a men’s prison and is still being denied access to any transition treatments. As such, her case involves key issues like integration of trans people into the armed forces, and the ability of trans people in prisons to receive appropriate transition-related care.

The Army has refused to provide Chelsea with treatment such as hormone therapy, on the basis that transgender people are ineligible to serve. However, the Army is also unable to discharge her because she’s currently appealing her sentence. Chelsea’s fight for access to treatment while incarcerated could potentially set a precedent, with implications for the military’s policy toward the eligibility of trans servicemembers and the availability of necessary care for them. The importance of changing this policy should be clear to everyone, no matter our personal opinions of Chelsea herself.

We must also recognize that transgender service in the military is not a hypothetical – it is a reality. As with gay, lesbian, and bisexual servicemembers under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, many trans people are currently enlisted and serving in silence. The Williams Institute at UCLA estimates that over 15,000 trans people are currently serving in the US military, and finds that trans people are actually twice as likely as the total adult population to have served. This is not a question of bringing trans people into the US military for the first time ever; it is a matter of accepting those who are already serving.

In light of this, citing Chelsea’s actions to justify suspicion of all trans servicemembers is plainly absurd. Thousands of trans people already serve in the US military, and many more are allowed to serve openly in the armed forces of allies such as Canada, Britain, and Israel. Using one person to make generalizations about a group of thousands is as invalid here as it would be anywhere. Such fears are not due to the actions of any particular trans person; they are due to the widespread prejudice of cis people. The enemy is not a trans woman incarcerated in a men’s prison without access to treatment. It is a culture of institutional intolerance toward trans people – an intolerance that is never justifiable.

These are my views, and my views alone. However, in my role as her representative, Chelsea has also asked that I emphasize certain key points to the queer and trans community: that we have the right to exist as our genuine selves, that we are the only ones who can define ourselves, and that we should stand and make ourselves visible. These values are not centered around her circumstances – this is a universal message of pride for all queer and trans people. I believe Chelsea Manning’s message deserves to be heard at SF Pride.

—Lauren McNamara
26 June 2014

I waxed my legs… [Pics]

Spoiler alert: It was a terrible idea.IMG_20140531_055252

I’ve been shaving my legs since I was about 14. There was a brief period where I let it grow out because of transness, but I’ve more or less decided that I don’t like having leg hair. It’s disconnected from gender for me; I just don’t like it very much. Smooth legs = one of the best feelings.

Waxing has seemed appealing on a few occasions because how awesome is it to not have to deal with leg hair for, like, two months?! After thinking about it for forever, I finally found a waxing kit at the local grocery store and decided I’d go ahead and try it. Documenting the experience just seemed like extra giggles.

The first thing about this–and the part I wasn’t aware of or prepared for–is that your hair has to be something like 1/4-1/2 of an inch long in order to wax it off. Which is annoying when the whole point is to get rid of the hair. Since my hair pokes through the skin at variable intervals, I had most of it at the appropriate length, but still had hairs which weren’t even popped up through the skin. Very inconvenient. As a result of this, I ended up doing the actual waxing before all the hair was at the appropriate length, but I just couldn’t handle it any more.


Gags - 13

It’s very important to read all the directions if you’re planning on doing something like this. And to follow those directions. They directed me to put this *totally microwave safe* container in the microwave to heat up. [Read more...]

“Why can’t Bailey Jay just have her feelings about RuPaul?” On the trans community and differences of opinion

After trans adult performer Bailey Jay criticized trans people who object to the use of transphobic slurs in mass media such as RuPaul’s Drag Race, an anonymous person on Tumblr asked me why I took issue with her remarks. My response is reprinted here.

Anonymous asked: Why can’t Bailey Jay just have her feelings about RuPaul? Some consider her (Ru) part of the trans community, others don’t. The idea of a ‘transgender’ community or identity is a recent invention, and many people have the word ‘tranny’ used against them. just my two-cents from a twoc who’s found RuPaul empowering, even if you consider her just a Black man in a (fabulous) dress. Also fuck that last anon, you’re just as pretty as Ru! :P

I appreciate your perspective on this. I don’t consider drag to be something that’s strictly and inherently negative in terms of its consequences for trans people, and I can totally understand how it can serve as a gateway for trans or questioning people to explore gender. So I get how it can be empowering – I had a phase where I had no better way than “drag” to describe what I was doing, and that was a step on the way to figuring myself out.

What I really object to is RuPaul’s various statements about how the difference between drag and trans people is “$25,000 and a good surgeon”, and recently, the overt hostility toward trans people who’ve objected to these particular slurs being regularly used on TV. Were it not for that sort of thing, I otherwise wouldn’t really have a problem with RuPaul, or the others who’ve been involved in this.

If the idea of an overarching trans community is a recent one, then I can see why some of these people might think they’ve been unwillingly drafted into something bigger, and others are now telling them they can’t use their own slang. Personally, I’m not a fan of the “trans umbrella” concept either – there are a lot of serious distinctions between drag performers, recreational crossdressers, people who transition, and everyone else whose differences get erased by a blanket concept of “transgender”.

I try to look at things in light of the different challenges we respectively face – some of us will have to deal with the legal and medical system in the course of expressing our gender, issues with sex-segregated environments, coverage of transition-related treatments, and so on; others will not have to deal with any of this. I think looking at the specifics is more helpful than anyone just deciding to define us together, or define us apart.

But at the same time, I’ve recently seen a lot of these same people – Calpernia Addams, Andrea James, Justin Vivian Bond – suggesting that “transgender” really is such a broad grouping, and a label which they have equal claim to. Looking at how gender-variant people in general have been historically treated, I can see that there’s some truth to this. Bigots often haven’t bothered to distinguish between gender-nonconforming cis people, or drag performers, or crossdressers, or people who transition – to them, every one of us is a “tranny” or “shemale”. They don’t care much for the specifics of our lives and identities and experiences and what the differences may be.

The trans umbrella grouping may be recent, but it seems like the recognition that these are distinct phenomena is also just as recent. The other day, I was reading an article in the New York Times from 2000 about Calpernia Addams. The writer could barely figure out which pronouns to use, whether she was a woman or a “gay man”, the implications of this for her boyfriend’s orientation, and whether they were in a “homosexual” relationship or not.

It was so conceptually muddled that it was obvious the author was conflating so many distinct ideas – but back then, they just didn’t have the language or the models and understandings to articulate this in a more sensible and clear way. It was like that person on Tumblr who was like “Neil Patrick Harris is gay, not cis”, except it was an entire article full of that. And that was just 14 years ago.

I’m just glad that things have become a bit clearer since then – it may not be a perfectly clear split, the lines may be blurry, but it’s not all one identical shade of grey either. And I get how performers like RuPaul can have very different experiences from trans people, while also facing some of the same things, like the slurs and hostility. But I have trouble accepting the logic of: “we’ve been targeted by these slurs, they’ve been targeted by these slurs, they feel fine about these slurs, therefore let’s all continue normalizing these slurs in mass media”.

One imbalance here is that the particular people who are putting their stamp of approval on this language have a great deal of media reach and access. RuPaul has a really popular TV show. Calpernia Addams and Andrea James are advisers on trans portrayals in major Hollywood films. Bailey Jay is probably the single best-known trans adult performer. So they have a disproportionate impact, even when there may be hundreds or thousands more trans people who are really uncomfortable with the casual use of these words. They may not represent our views – but they’ve still ended up representing us to the entire world anyway. There are far fewer trans people with that level of access and popularity who have strongly spoken out against these words.

Another issue is that this has extended far beyond them having their own feelings about these words, about RuPaul, and so on. They also have feelings about us having our own feelings about this. Particularly, when we’ve expressed our discomfort with hearing these slurs all the time, they’ve called us “nutty”, “fringe”, “fascists”, “trans lesbians” in a derogatory sense (why they think this is derogatory, I have no idea), “newly minted queers”, “stay at home activists”, and accused trans women of having “male privilege”. They’ve attacked our orientations and genders. This has gone beyond a respectful difference of opinion.

Personally, I haven’t felt any need to misgender any of them during this, or use mental illness stigma against them, or attack them for their sexual orientation, or any of that. I don’t know why someone would do that and I’ve honestly been surprised that many of them have escalated this to that level. I’ve stuck to addressing their arguments, because that’s all that should have to happen here.

So it’s become about more than the words themselves. It’s also become about how the people who loudly, publicly endorse these words also just so happen to be loudly, publicly attacking trans people in ways that, if cis people were to talk about us like this, would be unambiguously recognized as severe transphobia. It’s been really uncomfortable to see them doing this time and time again, and it worries me that their support of slurs used against trans people is so often associated with outright hateful attacks against trans people. At a minimum, this is not breaking down the association between these words and transphobic hatred. It is reinforcing that association. I don’t like being on bad terms with people – I really, really wanted to be able to like RuPaul and Calpernia and Andrea and Bailey. What they’ve been doing lately is making that really difficult.

But even if they hadn’t done any of this, and even if they had otherwise respected us, I’m still not sure that this can be a live-and-let-live kind of situation. For a lot of trans people, those words can conjure up really traumatic memories of being beaten or harassed on the street or rejected by their families and partners or anything else that so many of us deal with from a transphobic society. It’s not even just memories – it’s a reminder of the real danger that some of us face just going outside every day.

And it’s a reminder that society has, at seemingly all levels, decided that the words we hear from people who reject our existence – sometimes violently – are totally suitable for mass media. That’s disturbing, and unsettling, and suffocating. The reality of having to live in this world can feel like we’re drowning and no rescue is coming. It’s like a nightmare we can’t wake up from.

So I find it difficult to accept that erring on the side of caution, here, means going ahead and continuing to throw these words around casually just because some people think it’s okay. I have to wonder what degree of deprivation that people will be subjected to simply by being asked not to say “tranny” and “shemale” – is the absence of these slurs from the conversation just as frightening as the everyday, inescapable transphobic climate that they’re so often associated with? I find that hard to believe.

I think erring on the side of caution would mean showing the decency of recognizing that these words often show up alongside some really, really bad shit for a lot of people who can’t get away from it. And I guess I really can’t grasp how these other people can feel so put-upon by that simple idea. I was being called a “tranny” and “shemale” on YouTube, years before I transitioned or before I even knew I was trans. It was never, ever, ever a positive thing, and even back then, there was no way that I was comfortable even saying those words out loud, let alone as some kind of joke. Even if others also have a claim to these words, I think it’s worth considering whether we’re really asking as much of them as they’re asking of us.

Related reading:

Trans Women Oppose Recent Attacks by Calpernia Addams and Andrea James

How modern-day drag hurts trans women and achieves little or nothing of value

Atheist transphobia: Superstition over science

I’m going to Women in Secularism 3 this weekend, and I feel like this is a good time to get into something relevant: my experiences as a woman in the secular community. Particularly, my experiences as a woman whose gender is often considered debatable.

When Dave Silverman went to this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, the secular community raised a lot of questions about some of the statements he made: Why, exactly, would the president of American Atheists suggest that abortion is the one human right that there’s a secular argument against?

But during the much-needed uproar over this, Silverman’s other statements were largely ignored. Yes, he implied that opposing reproductive rights can be a valid difference of opinion within the atheist movement. And that’s really not okay. But he also gave the impression that, unlike abortion, the issue of gay marriage was a settled and “clean cut” question for atheists.

Silverman later defended this on Twitter, saying:

How many anti gay atheists do you know? I can’t name any off top of my head. I know a few anti choice atheists.

He continued:

School prayer, Death with Dignity, LGBT equality are 100% religious. That was my contrast.

There weren’t quite so many secular voices pushing back against the idea that opposition to LGBT equality is “100% religious”. Chris Stedman, a Humanist chaplain at Harvard, was one of the few to respond to this, saying:

I’ve heard from atheists who say that I’m too “effeminate,” that my being gay makes atheists seem “like freaks,” or that my “obvious homosexuality” makes me an ineffectual voice for atheists.


What does LGBT equality really mean?

It would be easy to think that support for the LGBT community is nearly universal among atheists. What reason would they have to dislike us, when they’re free of any religious dogma marking us as an abomination?

And polling data would seem to confirm this. A 2012 Gallup poll found that 88% of those with “no religious identity” supported the legality of same-sex marriage. A 2014 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute similarly found that 73% of the “religiously unaffiliated” were in favor of legalizing gay marriage. And the internet-based Secular Census, consisting of a self-selected convenience sample of secular Americans who volunteered to respond, found even higher rates of support: 97.3% of those who participated said that gay couples should be allowed to marry.

It does look pretty open-and-shut: support for marriage equality is apparently the norm among non-religious people, and most of that demographic has indeed settled on this as their answer.

There’s just one little problem. “Marriage equality” and “LGBT equality” are not synonyms. Believe it or not, equality for LGBT people does not begin and end with marriage. And a person’s support for marriage equality tells us nothing about their views on:

  • Employment nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people
  • Housing nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people
  • LGBT inclusion in the armed forces
  • The competence of LGBT people as parents
  • The parental rights of LGBT people
  • The reproductive rights of LGBT people
  • The adoption rights of LGBT people
  • So-called “reparative therapy” for LGBT people
  • Hate crime laws protecting LGBT people
  • Anti-bullying policies protecting LGBT students
  • Public accommodations protections for transgender people
  • The right of trans people to have their identity documents updated without undergoing invasive surgeries
  • The coverage of transition-related procedures under healthcare plans
  • The right of trans students to present and be recognized as their gender in schools
  • The right of trans people to be free from police harassment and profiling
  • The right of trans people to be treated as their gender in homeless and domestic violence shelters
  • The right of trans people to be housed according to their gender in prisons
  • The right of trans people to receive appropriate medical treatment in prisons
  • Or gender norms and gender variance in general.

While there are plenty of polls focusing on marriage equality and the opinions of different demographics on that issue, far less attention is given to these other areas. And that’s a pretty serious gap, because many of these issues are of far more immediate importance to us than marriage. Certainly, marriage does matter – my partner and I are getting married this summer. But living in this society as a trans woman is something I have to deal with every day.


100% religious?

One thing I’ve often had to deal with is the opinions of other atheists on just about every aspect of my existence. Chris Stedman is far from the only one who’s faced hostility from atheists for what they perceive as a deviation from gender norms. Long before I came out, before I transitioned – before I ever talked about trans issues at all – just about the only thing I covered was atheism, and atheists comprised most of my audience. But even back then, plenty of people were already under the impression that I was trans. Here’s what some atheists had to say about my earlier work:

  • “Stop lying to yourself and admit you’re a man.”
  • “Why are you dressed like a girl?”
  • “Denying your own gender is called being delusional.”
  • “You’re a transexual? Now you make athiests look bad.”
  • “Zinnia Jones creeps me out too. … Flamers creep me out. A lot. I could never take a guy seriously if he wore makeup and had a girly voice, etc.”
  • “I honestly think he makes an ugly woman.”
  • “This guy is brilliant, and always very well spoken, but I can never use him as reference for helping me make a point.”
  • “This chick has the golden voice of Ted Williams.”
  • “why i can’t say out loud that someone looks like a freak, if he/she really does?”
  • “all he needs is boobs now and I’d hit it… not”

You can clearly see that these atheists have very positive attitudes toward the LGBT community – assuming the T stands for Thunderf00t. Really, what is going on here? From what I’ve been told, atheists should have no reason to treat us this way. And yet, here they are. So, does this mean that their transphobia is due to some failure to let go of religious views on trans people? Is it just a Judeo-Christian cultural value that they’ve absorbed, and haven’t yet overcome?

I don’t think so. When you look at what these atheists are actually saying, their claims have nothing to do with religion. If you’re wondering how they can be transphobic despite being atheists, you’re asking precisely the wrong question. They aren’t transphobic in spite of their atheism. They’re transphobic because of their atheism.


“Merely in the mind”

And I don’t mean that their atheism has made them merely indifferent. No – it’s actively made their transphobia worse. As unlikely as that might sound, it’s pretty obvious from the way they structure their arguments. It’s not an appeal to faith – far from it. They appeal to the values of science, observation, and reality, because they feel that these values support their transphobia. In many cases, they actually compare being trans to believing in God. They’re not speaking the language of religion, they’re speaking the language of secularism.

Here’s a really good example of this – from my YouTube comments, naturally:

The odd thing about having a transgender identity is that your mind does not match your biology. If you think you’re a dolphin but you’re not, your belief does not match reality and you’re delusional. If you think you’re a man and you have XY chromosomes, testes, and a penis, then your identity matches reality. How can you have disdain for the religious having no proof of the Divine and yet defend those with no evidence that their gender doesn’t match their genitals?

And another one:

I understand that people can perceive gender and sex to be different. But like an anorexic’s self image vs. her actual body, one is merely in the mind with no empirical evidence to back it up. When your belief crosses the line where you are willing to mutilate yourself because of it, it’s usually called a disease.

And then there’s this person:


Notice how this is closely related to the tendency to conflate religious belief with “delusion” or “mental illness”. That itself is a problem – do these people not realize that atheists can have mental illnesses too, and that this isn’t anything like being religious? It’s not like I can just pick up a Dawkins book and decide to deconvert from having depression and anxiety. This alone shows that these people don’t have a very good grasp of what mental illness even is.

So it’s not surprising that they’re prepared to dismiss just about anything that they label a “mental illness” – in this case, being trans. But when they go on and on about this, it comes off as more of an expression of a stigmatizing attitude, not an articulation of some uncomfortable truth. They’re not rocking the boat here. They’re not being edgy, they’re not upsetting the status quo. Instead, the sheer redundancy of such a declaration exposes their total unfamiliarity with the medical consensus.


So what’s your great idea?

Since 1980, three editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders have included some kind of diagnosis related to being trans, under names like transsexualism, gender identity disorder, or gender dysphoria. “What the hell is the diagnostic manual of whatever?”, my bewildered atheist YouTube commenters might ask. Oh, it’s just a little book by the American Psychiatric Association. It’s generally considered authoritative by doctors, researchers, insurance companies, and other delusional folks like that.

So, let’s say you’ve been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. What happens now that you’ve been diagnosed with this “mental illness”, as my friends in the comments put it? Well, I already know what happens, because I’ve actually been diagnosed with this!

Spoiler alert: I transitioned.

And this wasn’t some original idea of mine that I had to convince anyone to go along with. There are millions of trans people around the world – it’s so common that there’s an established treatment protocol for us. It’s called the Standards of Care, published by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. Here’s what it has to say about our condition:

Some people experience gender dysphoria at such a level that the distress meets criteria for a formal diagnosis that might be classified as a mental disorder. Such a diagnosis is not a license for stigmatization or for the deprivation of civil and human rights. … Thus, transsexual, transgender, and gender-nonconforming individuals are not inherently disordered. Rather, the distress of gender dysphoria, when present, is the concern that might be diagnosable and for which various treatment options are available.

“Stigmatization” – how about that. Maybe it’s not such a good idea to spout off about how we must be “delusional”? I assume that all the decent people out there already understand this, but apparently some of you need it spelled out.

And what about those various treatment options? Let’s take a look at section VIII:

Medical Necessity of Hormone Therapy

Feminizing/masculinizing hormone therapy – the administration of exogenous endocrine agents to induce feminizing or masculinizing changes – is a medically necessary intervention for many transsexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming individuals with gender dysphoria.

And section XI:

Sex Reassignment Surgery Is Effective and Medically Necessary

… While many transsexual, transgender, and gender-nonconforming individuals find comfort with their gender identity, role, and expression without surgery, for many others surgery is essential and medically necessary to alleviate their gender dysphoria. For the latter group, relief from gender dysphoria cannot be achieved without modification of their primary and/or secondary sex characteristics to establish greater congruence with their gender identity. … Follow-up studies have shown an undeniable beneficial effect of sex reassignment surgery on postoperative outcomes such as subjective well-being, cosmesis, and sexual function.

“A medically necessary intervention”. “Effective and medically necessary”. “An undeniable beneficial effect”. And now you know how this particular “mental illness” is treated.

By the way, that’s from version 7 of the Standards of Care. There were six editions that came before it, dating back to 1979. This is not experimental – it’s an everyday medical treatment. So I really don’t know what these people expect from me when they start yelling about how I’m “mentally ill”. I already saw a therapist about this. And then they referred me to a gynecologist. And pretty soon they’ll refer me to some surgeons.

On the one hand, there’s the constellation of medical professionals who are working with me on this little upgrade, and the hundreds more who’ve worked to develop protocols for this over several decades. On the other hand, there’s FluffyFeralMarmot, esteemed YouTube commenter. Tell me again who I should be taking medical advice from?

Transphobes call us mentally ill because they think it’s an easy way to try and shame us for who we are. The problem is that they didn’t give a moment’s thought to what would come after that. They didn’t bother spending five minutes learning about how this is treated, because they were too busy calling us “delusional”. We don’t need medicine to certify who we already know we are, any more than cis people do – but if you’re going to bring science into this, you should make sure the science actually says what you think it does.


Anti-science atheists

Again and again, I see this pattern being repeated by atheists who think they’re equipped to debate trans issues. They assume that science and evidence support their position, when actually this most often supports the exact opposite of their position.

I’ve seen atheists argue that trans women shouldn’t be allowed in women’s restrooms, public facilities, or other spaces, because we’re supposedly going to rape everyone. After all, nothing says “rapist” like testosterone blockers, suppressed libido, genital atrophy, and erectile dysfunction. In reality, a majority of trans people have been harassed just for trying to use public restrooms. Have a majority of cis people been harassed by trans people in restrooms? I haven’t seen any studies suggesting that this is the case. Do you know of any? 55% of trans people in homeless shelters or domestic violence shelters have been harassed while residing there. Have 55% of cis people been harassed by trans women in shelters? I’m not sure if there are any studies on that either, but feel free to find them, if you can.

I’ve seen atheists argue that it’s unfair for trans women to be allowed to compete as women in professional sports, or that this gives them a competitive advantage. Actually, the Association of Boxing Commissions, the NCAA, USA Track & Field, the UK Football Association, and the International Olympic Committee all allow trans people to compete as their declared gender after medically transitioning. Obviously the International Olympic Committee has to ensure that no one has an unfair advantage – but have they consulted that dude on Facebook who won’t shut up about trans women’s “bone structure”?

And in the midst of all this, it’s practically a cliché for them to say “it’s 8th grade biology!” whenever they’re enlightening us with yet another tautology about chromosomes. I guess the American Psychiatric Association just needs to go back to middle school, right? You’d think that these science enthusiasts would realize that early education isn’t a core of foundational truths upon which all later knowledge is built. It’s a rough approximation designed to be understandable to grade schoolers, and it becomes progressively more nuanced as students advance. But instead, they’re doing the equivalent of citing “4th grade science” to claim that plasma isn’t real, the sun is a myth, and who are fluorescent bulbs trying to fool, anyway? Personally, I’m glad that the surgeon who’s going to cut my balls off decided to stay in school after junior high.

So, why would people who engage in this transparent nonsense claim that they have science behind them? They don’t exhibit any honest interest in the process of science and its actual findings about reality. They only seem to have a selective interest in the idea of something concrete that would back up their preconceived beliefs. If I didn’t know these people were atheists, I don’t think I would have been able to tell.

What else do you call it when someone knows nothing about science and thinks they can blather on and on about it anyway? What do you call it when someone refuses to change their beliefs when faced with evidence? What do you call it when they try to tell us there’s some nonexistent “controversy” to be debated? What do you call it when they think their own intuition and baseless conjecture are more reliable than any research? And what do you call it when they don’t even care that this lack of acceptance makes life so much worse for trans people? I sure wouldn’t call that a secular value.

How is believing I’m a woman any different from believing in God? Really? Here’s a question: How is believing that transitioning is “mutilation” any different from believing that vaccines cause brain damage? How is believing that trans people have an unfair advantage in sports any different from believing the earth is 6,000 years old? How is believing in an epidemic of transgender rapists any different from believing in “irreducible complexity”? And how is believing that trans people are “deluded” any different from believing that atheists are just angry at God?

Sorry, but you’re not Neil deGrasse Tyson giving a science lesson to middle America. You’re Ken Ham telling an audience of faithfully ignorant sycophants how Adam and Eve rode around on a T. rex. Science and observation and reality should matter to everyone, and I hope they matter to you. But if you’re leaving out the science, the observation, and the reality, you suck at being a skeptic.

Religiosity Still ≠ Mental Illness

Sometimes it’s easier to talk than to write, so I did some talking in a video.Picture 20

People within the atheist movement have a nasty tendency to refer to the behavior of the religious as “crazy” and “delusional.” Unfortunately, some people with respectable platforms willingly and knowingly propagate this type of misinformation and vehemently refuse to use more correct (NOT ableist) terminology. My first video on this subject was not exceedingly well-articulated, so I decided to tackle the issue again.

And I also decided to go ahead and transcribe it for you, in case I’m unclear or if you just don’t like watching videos for some reason!

Me: Hello, Internet people!

I decided to finally make a video following up the one where I was talking about religious fundamentalism and mental illness, and why they’re not the same thing and why you shouldn’t treat them as the same thing.

I want to start this off with a PSA: If you don’t have a mental illness and if you aren’t a professional within the field of psychology or some very closely related field, you should not be making statements about whether or not something is crazy or whether something is delusional or whether somebody is afflicted by a mental illness. Because there’s no way for you to know that and you’re not a professional and you should not be making judgment statements based on things that you’re clearly not very well informed about.

So, in my last video, I was really talking about choice–that’s the kind of big difference, for me, between being a religious person and being a person with a mental illness–is that you choose to engage in religious activities and not in having a mental illness. I do agree somewhat with some of the comments on that: that that’s a little bit of an oversimplification of the issue.

There are parts of the world where you don’t really have a choice about whether or not you adhere to a religion because you can be put to death or put in jail for having those beliefs [or not], but in the United States pretty much the biggest ramification is: social outcast. You can lose members of your family, which is a big enough ramification for some people and a big enough consequence that they don’t do it–they don’t defect from their religion at all, they don’t name it when they have doubts. That’s a legitimate concern and it’s unfortunate, but doesn’t really take away from the fact that the internet now exists and you can have access to information aside from what you were taught.

It’s also been pointed out to me that if you’re indoctrinated as a child, you have significantly less opportunity to branch out and change the way that you think because of the fact that your psychology is so malleable when you’re a child. You can be changed enough that you’re not capable of making a choice to get away from your religion later on in life.

Some people also pointed out that being exposed to this as a child can cause you to develop mental illness (I think somebody said). Which I would grant to an extent, because like I said, when you’re a child you’re very malleable and if you’re being engaged in any kind of brainwashy-cultish sort of stuff (some religion, Christianity, sort of borders on that), it can cause you to develop a higher propensity for getting a mental illness later on in your life or having those kind of symptoms.

But that’s true of other things when you’re a child as well. If you’re abused in a secular sense, if you’re a victim of physical abuse when you’re a child, that can also increase your chances for developing depression and those kind of symptoms when you’re older. But by itself that’s not the case.. (Well you know whatever. I don’t know what I’m saying. I’ve tried to do this like 6 or 7, 8, 9 times and it keeps fucking up, so i’m just kind of saying stuff….)

Anyway! The mental illness rate among religious people is actually a little bit lower than it is among the general populace. So, those two things aren’t mutually inclusive by any means. Religious people are not mentally ill and mentally ill people aren’t religious, necessarily. Probably the reason that the rate is a little bit lower among religious populations is that there’s that community sort of benefit; that psychological benefit to having people in a like-minded group around you to provide support and to bolster your beliefs and help you when you’re starving and things like that. So, for those reasons (probably) the rate of mental illness is actually a little bit lower among Christians in the United States than it is among the general populace in the United States. So that’s something to chew on if you have a tendency to call religious people delusional.

Having a wrong idea is not delusional. and I wanted to go ahead and read from the DSM on this because the dictionary definition of “delusional” is probably a little bit more broad and can encompass some religious beliefs, but I want to just go ahead and read this bit:

[Paraphrasing]: ‘Delusions are fixed beliefs that are not amenable to change in light of conflicting evidence. They’re deemed bizarre if they’re clearly implausible and not understandable to same-culture peers and do not derive from ordinary life experiences. The distinction between a delusion and a strongly held idea is sometimes difficult to make and depends, in part, on the degree of conviction with which the belief is held despite clear or reasonable contradictory evidence regarding its veracity.’

So the reason that believing in god–especially in the United States–is not considered “delusional” is that it’s really common and it’s a very easily acceptable belief. You’re actually considered crazy if you DON’T believe in god in the United States. I’ve been called crazy for not believing in god. So, it’s more socially acceptable here and because of that fact, it can’t qualify as delusional because there are too many factors reinforcing your participation in that particular belief for it to be an outlier, such as delusions are kind of required to be.

An interesting example of this that I found in October is: a man in India sacrificed his 8-month-old child to a goddess for some reason or another, and a lot of people in the United States were calling that “crazy” and “delusional” behavior. If it’s considered socially normal (not “normal”–I’m not saying that people in India think that killing infants is normal, please don’t say that I’m saying that) but if it’s more culturally accepted by your religion, especially, that you can sacrifice an 8-month-old child and get any kind of positive benefit from it; if that’s a culturally accepted idea then it can’t qualify as delusional. Because the idea in India of what’s right and what’s wrong is different than the idea in america of what’s right and what’s wrong. And they would say I’m crazy for wearing pants, for example. (I am wearing pants.)

The cultural context is actually a pretty big factor in determining what qualifies as crazy behavior, so it’s not even strictly definitional from one place to another.

The biggest thing though–the biggest reason that you shouldn’t call religious people “delusional,” aside from the fact that you’re probably wrong: is that you’re throwing all of us under the bus; all of us who actually live with mental illness. (I have depression and anxiety to a lesser extent.) I’m not in the same category as a religious fundamentalist–or, I’m not in the same category as a person who chooses to have their child circumcised because of their religious beliefs. And it’s really not fair in any way, shape, or form to put normal (“Normal”) people with mental illness in the same category as people who make a decision to participate in a religious ritual, whether or not they were raised in it or whether they chose it as an adult–if they were “born again.”

It’s really just ableist and you’re probably not a professional, and you probably can’t speak to the issue if you’re making those kind of conflations. It’s a false equivalence: they’re not the same thing. Stop calling them the same thing if you’re not somebody who actually knows what they’re talking about. That’s pretty much all I had to add on the subject and I’ll see you guys later!


Sorry that I kind of jump around while I’m talking. I have ADD and haven’t been taking the meds this week because it makes it practically impossible for me to eat a reasonable amount of food throughout the day. x.x Makes it difficult to complete a train of thought in a way that makes sense. Happy to clarify in the comments if you have questions!

The worst assimilation of all: How modern-day drag hurts trans women and achieves little or nothing of value

1. A many-sided debate

It’s been almost two weeks since the publication of our open letter regarding Calpernia Addams and Andrea James, and I feel it’s had quite a useful impact. My goal in this was to present a loud, powerful, and broad-based protest against what would otherwise be unopposed transphobia by two women who are perceived as community “leaders”. And this chorus of opposition consists of none other than those most affected by this: trans women and transfeminine people ourselves.

I’m very pleased that this has helped to force a long-simmering and much-needed conversation about the continuing tensions between trans women, drag queens, and the cis people who mistakenly conflate these two groups. That conversation has since elicited a variety of reactions:

  • RuPaul’s Drag Race agreed to discontinue using the word “shemale”, as previously featured in their “Female or Shemale” and “You’ve Got She-Mail” segments. RuPaul himself later made numerous references to George Orwell and Animal Farm.
  • Andrea James suggested that her own attendance at the GLAAD Media Awards was more important than the dissenting views of hundreds of other trans women, promptly made friends with Cathy Brennan and praised her for “speaking up for what you believe in”, and then touted the number of Facebook likes received by an article defending the use of “tranny” and “shemale” by drag queens. (For reference, the number of signatories to our letter currently stands at 389 trans women. This is roughly 1 out of every 900 trans women living in the United States, and approximately the number of trans women you would expect to find in a city the size of Buffalo, New York – est. population 259,384. But I don’t believe it’s especially difficult to get thousands of likes from cis people who want to be told it’s okay to say “tranny”.)
  • Calpernia Addams wrote an op-ed describing trans women who object to transmisogynist slurs as “conservative” and “producing nothing themselves”, while criticizing the word “cisgender” as “weaponized terminology”; she also bragged of her superior social media reach. (I should note that our letter’s signatories included politicians, attorneys, GLAAD board members, leaders of numerous trans organizations, veterans and active duty servicemembers, and authors of LGBT policies for the executive branch. I’d further add that Calpernia’s social reach isn’t much to brag about.)
  • Former Drag Race contestant Alaska Thunderfuck produced a graphic video in which he appeared to shoot and kill a trans woman (caricatured as having a wig and mustache) for objecting to certain language used by drag queens. Andrea James called this “perfect”. While the Huffington Post initially publicized this video, they later took it down and acknowledged that it was “patently offensive to many people”. One trans man decided to stop writing for the Huffington Post due to their publication of the video.


2. The impact so far

If there had been any doubt that James, Addams, and many names connected to Drag Race are overtly hostile toward trans women who disagree with them, they seem to be doing their best to dispel any traces of that doubt. It was already difficult to believe that any of them truly had the interests of trans women at heart, and now it’s practically impossible.

Even as James herself seemed to take credit for reaching out to Drag Race and asking them to stop saying “shemale”, she didn’t seem particularly apologetic for attacking hundreds of trans women who sought the same thing, or for cozying up to Cathy Brennan (someone who has directly contacted trans women’s doctors and attempted to interfere with their medical treatment). And when a Drag Race contestant’s response to all this is a symbolic murder of trans women who simply dislike slurs such as “tranny”, it’s pretty clear that productive discourse isn’t what they’re going for.

I never had much hope that our letter would persuade James or Addams that they had acted inappropriately – this seemed unlikely. More than anything, I felt that this was a display for the benefit of others, primarily cis people. Cis-run major news outlets might choose to amplify the voices of one or two select trans women – I’m looking at you, Boing Boing – and in doing so, give their cis audiences the impression that these women can speak for all trans women. What they might not have realized is that beyond this handful of cis-approved big names, there are hundreds and hundreds of everyday trans women from all walks of life who find these particular individuals to be unrepresentative of their own views.

Trans women are far more numerous and diverse, more dignified and accomplished, than two “leaders” who are content to tell cis people that anti-trans slurs are really just some kind of meaningful and subversive artform. Inducing James, Addams, and Thunderfuck to escalate their aggressive prejudice to a point that almost anyone would find unacceptable, in contrast to our own humanizing and well-articulated objections, may have actually been the best thing we could’ve asked for.


3. Competing meanings of “transgender”

What did stand out among all this was a more nuanced critique by Will of Queereka, who examined the history and limits of the word “transgender”, and thankfully didn’t feel the need to express this via the visual metaphor of shooting anyone in the face. That’s definitely something I can appreciate after the past couple of weeks.

Will first explores one conception of “transgender” as a broader, umbrella-like term. He cites Susan Stryker’s definition of the word as more generally “the movement across a socially imposed boundary away from an unchosen starting place”, as well as the National Center for Transgender Equality’s definition, “people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth”.

Working from these definitions, he notes that drag performers could potentially be considered transgender, and observes that drag and transness were historically not treated as distinct categories of identity. He contrasts this with a contemporary usage of “transgender” that’s more constrained:

Another view of “transgender”—and one that seems to be a historically recent narrowing of the broad umbrella term usage—is a person who lives their everyday lives as a gender other than the one assigned to them at birth. … Clearly drag queens are excluded from the category “transgender” in Jones’ usage due to the fact that most drag queens do not try to live out their daily lives presenting as women.

Finally, he frames these differing usages as a battlefield of the competing interests of assimilation or liberation, which he describes as follows:

In many ways, this divide reminds me of the same sorts of liberationist vs. assimilationist arguments in the gay and lesbian communities that were especially tense in the 1970s and 1980s. I can’t help but think that some of the more outlandish responses (such as the person calling for the “delegitimizing” of drag on Zinnia Jones’ petition) have come from people who may be classified as assimilationist, or seeking to integrate trans* people into heteronormative society through normalization of “transgender.” And some of the responses from people like Our Lady J could be seen as more liberationist with their calls for unfettered freedom for people to identify however they wish and use language however they wish without regard to the potential harm caused by such language.


4. The umbrella that lets in the rain

I’ve never really been a fan of the so-called “transgender umbrella”, and I’ve had some pretty annoying experiences with it that have helped illuminate its shortcomings. Years ago, before I considered myself to be trans at all, I was often faced with people who watched my YouTube videos and assumed that I must be trans. At the time, I made sure to clarify that I didn’t see myself as trans – not because I felt there was anything bad about being seen as trans, or because I saw this as some kind of affront to my identity, but simply because I didn’t want others to think that I could speak for trans people.


Back then, I didn’t feel that my identity or my experiences were similar enough to trans people that I could legitimately speak as one of them, rather than just doing my best to advocate on their behalf. Clearly my situation has changed since then, but if it hadn’t, I would still hold that to be true. No, really – I used to talk about “passing” with no critical analysis, utilized cliché soundbites like “comfortable in their bodies”, and generally had an oversimplified, cis-like concept of transness rather than the kind of deep understanding that comes from experience. Yet after I explained that I didn’t regard myself as trans, something interesting (and obnoxious) happened: people started telling me I was wrong.

trans-umbrella-2According to them, it was an undeniable fact that I was trans, by definition. Why? They explained that “transgender” is an umbrella term – and by their estimation, I fell under it because of the gendered aspects of my appearance relative to my assigned sex, and/or because I didn’t feel strongly about having any particular gender. I still didn’t feel like any of this was sufficient grounds to label me as trans, and when I looked into this umbrella definition, I realized that the gap between our respective notions of transness was even larger than I first thought.

trans-umbrella-3What I found were many explanatory charts and infographics – predictably featuring an umbrella motif – of the same variety that Will linked in his post. These umbrella models included people whose identities or expressions are “not consistent with conventional standards for masculine or feminine behavior or appearance”, as well as “butch”, “femme”,  “masculine women” and “feminine men”. All of these were defined as being “transgender”.

The inclusion of those descriptions really made me question the value of such an expansive definition. Masculine women, feminine men – masculine or feminine by what metric? Are butch, female-assigned, female-identifying lesbians now transgender? How do you define “butch”? Are women who wear pants transgender, too? Can people only be considered cisgender if they adhere to the 1950s-era stereotypical gender roles and presentations of their assigned sex, with anyone else falling outside of cisness even if they identify fully and exclusively with their assigned sex?

Obviously this definition was broad enough to include me even years before I thought of myself as trans. But could it actually mean anything useful? Someone just deciding to classify me as “transgender” did nothing to persuade me-of-2011 that my experiences were anything like those of people who considered themselves a gender other than the one expected of them, or lived as another gender in everyday life, or altered their bodies to reflect this.

At that time, I wouldn’t have been comfortable walking up to such a person and saying “hey, I’m transgender too!” It would have felt incredibly presumptuous, and I’d fully expect them to tell me that I know nothing about what being trans is like for them – because, back then, I didn’t. Switching labels around isn’t the same thing as actually changing the substance of what’s being referred to. Today, my own placement within all of this may have shifted, but my assessment of the situation has not. As it turns out, now that I’m rather firmly trans, I do indeed find it presumptuous and just plain inaccurate when people such as cisgender male drag queens are defined as “transgender” alongside someone like me.

Anyone is free to cobble together such umbrella definitions in whatever combinations they like, but that doesn’t mean these definitions will provide clarity rather than just more confusion. Insisting on clumping such disparate groups together, and referring to them with the same term, means emphasizing their similarities while also disregarding their differences. When those differences are substantial and relevant, and have widely varying implications for the everyday lives of these distinct groups, glossing over this can be a disservice to everyone – both the many groups who are now seen as fused into a single mass, and the people on the outside who are trying to understand who and what we are.


5. What is gender expression?

“Gender identity, expression or behavior”, as used by the National Center for Transgender Equality, is an ambiguous concept. A gender-related expression, such as dressing in drag for the purpose of a performance, is not necessarily the same as an expression of a person’s gender. Choosing to enact a gendered expression, especially when this is temporary and for entertainment, doesn’t mean that this expression actually reflects some facet of their gender. It may not be an instance of their gender expressing itself at all.

Not Calpernia Addams.

Not Calpernia Addams.

When Jared Leto played the transgender character Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club, or when Lee Pace played Calpernia Addams in Soldier’s Girl, these were certainly a kind of gender expression. But that doesn’t make this an expression of Jared Leto’s or Lee Pace’s gender. Identifying as female is not a part of Leto’s or Pace’s gender – they appear to identify as male, consistently and exclusively.

One might respond that they are actors, and that they represent a special case, as it is their job to play a variety of roles that do not at all reflect on who they are. I would agree with that, and I would further argue that this also encompasses cisgender male drag queens. They likewise devote themselves to playing a role, and regardless of the visibly gendered and exaggeratedly feminine aspects of that role, this does not necessarily mean that their gender must be anything other than male. Drag may be a “gender expression”, but that doesn’t make it an expression of that person’s gender.

I’ve had some experience with this general concept, although I’ve never been involved in any sort of drag culture or performance. When I was 9, I volunteered to be dressed up in a wig, makeup, and a girly shirt with balloons stuffed in it, because some organizers wanted this to be a part of a school pep rally. Sure, this was a gendered expression, but was it an expression of my own gender? I didn’t think so – afterward, I was content to go back to my regular outfit for the next decade or so. (I never really gave much thought to the subject of my gender until my 20s.)

Later, on YouTube, I’d sometimes wear a full-length red leather coat and feather boa for my videos – or for surprise interviews of Westboro protesters. Was that an expression of my gender? Not really, it was more of an expression of wanting to irritate homophobes and fundamentalists. Now that I’ve transitioned, I think I have a pretty good idea of how I express my gender as a woman – and it’s not like that.

Will does have a point when he notes that some trans women initially discover their gender through participation in drag. (To clarify, the reference to cis male drag queens in the open letter was not intended to imply that all drag queens are cis men, but only to specify those drag queens who are cis men.) My own creative explorations of gender expression certainly helped me learn more about myself, and cleared a path to my eventual decision to transition. But performing as a drag queen, and simply existing as a trans woman, are still very different things. For example, here’s a drag queen, Courtney Act from Drag Race, in and out of drag:


And here’s a trans woman, in and out of her everyday attire:

#nomakeup #nofilter

#nomakeup #nofilter

Can you think of any reasons why trans women might not want to be confused with drag queens?


6. This confusion is intentional, and harmful by design

If a cis person is told that drag queens are “transgender”, what are they going to think of me when I tell them I’m transgender? This is a situation where collapsing these very different phenomena into one word directly affects me in a way that’s more than just theoretical or philosophical. Will they take this as meaning that the entirety of my appearance is just an elaborate artifice – a fragile shell that falls away the moment my clothes come off? That, underneath, I’m still just another cis guy like Courtney Act?

This is a common misconception, and it’s been exploited by conservatives and other transphobes in their campaigns against basic nondiscrimination protections for trans women. Their strategy is to depict us as dangerous, predatory “men in dresses”.

  • The Family Institute of Connecticut, in opposing one such bill, described trans women as “men that dress as women” and “men – sexually attracted to women (with all the aggression and physical strength of men)”.
  • A Republican delegate in Maryland voiced her disapproval of a similar bill, saying “if you happen to see a guy in a dress in the restaurant bathroom, you’ll know the bill passed and that I voted NO!”
  • Fox News reporter Todd Starnes has raised the spectre of “big burly men in dresses” using the women’s restroom.
  • Maryland Citizens for Responsible Government previously protested a bill that they claimed would “allow cross-dressing but biological males in your daughter’s school locker room.”
  • Activist Peter LaBarbera has likewise asked “whether federal female employees will be protected from transsexual men wearing dresses who demand to use ladies’ restrooms”.
  • The Traditional Values Coalition and the Family Research Council have used images of drag queens in their publications opposing hate crime and employment protections for trans people.

It’s a long-running trope that’s guaranteed to be trotted out whenever trans people might obtain some measure of legal protection. So does it really seem like such a good idea to go ahead and start using “transgender” to refer to people who actually are cis men in dresses?

And in the midst of all this, what stands out the most to me is that cis male drag queens are hardly affected by the politics of transphobia at all. They aren’t the ones confronted with the daily dilemma of which restroom is safest for them to use, if any. They don’t face the threat of possible arrest just for going to the public bathroom that aligns with their gender. They also don’t have to contend with the legal issues surrounding:

  • Having our identifying documents updated to reflect our gender
  • Having transition procedures covered by healthcare plans
  • Being recognized and treated as our gender in schools
  • Being recognized and treated as our gender in homeless and domestic violence shelters
  • Being housed according to our gender in prisons
  • Receiving necessary transition-related medical treatment in prisons

Drag queens and other cis people have the self-accorded luxury of trying to define drag queens into “transgender”, while they themselves never have to deal with the repercussions of this. They don’t have to worry about how to get an accurate ID that doesn’t out them, or if they’ll still get their hormones if they’re ever imprisoned, or whether they’ll be placed with the wrong gender in a homeless shelter.

They have nothing at stake here – and meanwhile, trans people are the ones who pay the price for cis male drag queens’ willing embrace of the toxic confusion sown by transphobes. If cis male drag queens are defined as “transgender” alongside us, then their experience of being “transgender” still bears very little resemblance to ours. And if this umbrella concept is promoted to cis people as the definition of “transgender”, then it becomes all the more understandable that they would question why actual men should be allowed to change the gender on their ID, or be placed with women in prisons, or use women’s restrooms.


7. Selling assimilation as “liberation”

So, what of Will’s contention that trans women who take issue with certain aspects of drag are “assimilationist” and “seeking to integrate trans* people into heteronormative society through normalization of ‘transgender’”, while those who’ve recently defended these elements of drag are “more liberationist with their calls for unfettered freedom for people to identify however they wish and use language however they wish without regard to the potential harm caused by such language”? I’d posit that this is almost perfectly backwards. There is nothing “liberationist” about harming trans women – and encouraging and participating in such harm serves as a way for cis male drag queens and certain trans women to gain acceptance and assimilate into a society where harming trans women is already normalized.

If drag is to be grouped under “transgender”, then it is perhaps the safest, most unchallenging and non-confrontational element of that so-called umbrella. Drag is prepackaged entertainment with no serious commitment required of anyone involved. Cis men put on an outfit for a time, and when they’re done, they continue to be cis men and go back to their everyday lives – this temporary engagement, this lighthearted dabbling in extravagant costumes, has done nothing to change who they actually are. Other cis people are free to stay away from these nightclub acts in a part of town that they already avoid anyway; at worst, they get the opportunity to have their once-a-year whinefest about how some kids might see a drag queen in a parade.

Trans people, on the other hand, are not just safe entertainment. We do challenge deeply-held notions of the supposed permanence and immutability of gender and physical sex – we’re living proof that these fundamental aspects of who you are can indeed change. And we’re not hidden away in some corner of a bar, where cis people can easily avoid us. No, we’re everywhere. Cis people aren’t likely to encounter a drag act at their workplace, at their school, or at the grocery store. But they will encounter us. Cis people can always choose whether they want to go see a drag show or not; we don’t offer them such a choice. We ask for more. For this, we’re treated like garbage: harassed and attacked just for going outside, fired from our jobs and immediately rejected by potential employers the moment they see us, denied even basic medical care, endlessly mocked in all media, and then depicted as rapists when we just need to use the bathroom.

Who, here, seems to be most assimilated into cis society? And who seems to be most in need of liberating? Assimilation implies changing who you are in an attempt to make yourself more palatable to society, and Will suggests that some trans people would go about this by cutting drag performers out of the transgender “umbrella”. But for that to make any sense as a strategy, it would have to be the case that trans people have more social acceptance than drag performers do – that, in isolation, we as trans people would clearly be recognized by cis people as the “good ones”. This is clearly not so; if anything, society broadly considers us to be far worse.

Does that mean it would be more effective for us to assimilate by consciously aligning ourselves with drag performers? No – because we’re not trying to assimilate in the first place. The very reason we face such violent, pervasive hostility from society is because we won’t change who we are. Instead, we ask society to change, to accept us, and to stop hurting us. What we ask for is liberation.

What does actual assimilationism look like? It looks like Andrea James. It looks like Calpernia Addams. It looks like Alaska Thunderfuck. In fact, it looks quite a bit like Will’s idea of “liberationists”. Liberation implies being freed from some previous constraint or hardship. But when has there ever been a widespread taboo against cis people saying “tranny”? Who had been preventing them from speculating about whether a woman is a “shemale” for all this time? It’s not as if cis people are being “liberated” into a new era where they can suddenly feel free to throw around transmisogynist slurs whenever they please. They already do this.

This is an existing norm, and James and Addams are doing their best to assimilate into cis society by defending this norm. Much of James’ “activism” for trans women has been dedicated to the goal of being invisible at any cost – literally. Now, she publicly attacks any trans women who object to the use of “tranny” and “shemale” by cis people. This is assimilation: she’s showing cis people that she can be just like them, that she’ll never ask too much of them, that she’ll never protest their transphobia, and indeed she’ll join them in tearing down any other trans women who dare to speak out.

Calpernia Addams enables, facilitates, and then defends stereotypical depictions of trans women in major films, telling cis people that this is totally okay. After that, she mocks any “nutty trans hacktivists who had been ‘triggered’ by the buzz generated when Jared Leto thanked me in his Oscars acceptance speech”. She frames herself as one of the “good ones”, someone who’s safe for cis people and will give her stamp of approval to how they treat trans women – and if it comes down to it, she’ll side with them against trans women who demand to be respected.

Alaska Thunderfuck, a cis male drag queen, made a “humorous” video of himself shooting a trans woman in the head for disagreeing with him. In doing so, he’s symbolically putting trans women back in our proper place, and affirming to cis people that he’s capable of just as much enthusiastic violence against trans women – especially outspoken trans women – as any other cis person. Andrea James endorses this.

That’s assimilationist.

When asking for respect gets us nothing but another cis man joking about murdering trans women, don’t try to tell me that I’m for assimilation and he’s for liberation. What kind of liberation is that? Were cis men not doing that already?

Addams, James, and the drag queens they’ve aligned with are acting in the most assimilationist fashion imaginable. They’re the ones misguidedly chasing acceptance by choosing to tolerate slurs, and joining the chorus of cis people who don’t want to be told to stop calling us “shemales”. They’re changing who they are to be more palatable to cis society, but to do so, they have to try and silence us as well. For the sake of this false acceptance, they are the ones trying to cut us away so they can pursue cis approval, unhindered by our inconvenient insistence on our own humanity.

But we are not assimilationist for simply wanting to go about our lives without being insulted, attacked, cast out, treated like rapists, and seen as “men in dresses”. For that, we need liberation.