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.

trans-umbrella-1

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:

courtney-act

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.

Open Letter: 350+ Trans Women and Transfeminine People Stand Against Calpernia Addams and Andrea James

Trans Women Oppose Recent Attacks by Calpernia Addams and Andrea James

We, the undersigned trans women and trans-feminine individuals, are appalled at recent attacks on trans woman journalist Parker Marie Molloy published by Calpernia Addams and Andrea James on the Huffington Post and Boing Boing. Addams’ and James’ hit pieces exhibit a pervasive hostility to young, queer trans women, and indeed any trans woman who is uncomfortable with the use of transmisogynist slurs by cisgender drag queens like RuPaul. They display homophobia, transphobia, ignorance, dishonesty, and hatred throughout.

We believe that these pieces should not have been published, and that they are not representative of the views of trans women as a community. Calpernia Addams and Andrea James do not speak for us.

 

1. Absence of good-faith arguments

James variously describes trans women who take issue with RuPaul as “hecklers”, “shut-ins” who “spend their waking lives online”, “victim cultists”, “self-haters” engaging in “attention-seeking behavior”, “elitists”, “the language police”, “finger-wagging schoolmarms”, “fucking stay-at-home transactivists”, and “trans separatists” with “internalized transphobia” who “transition from male to female with the zeal of a religious convert.” Unlike James, we do not believe that objecting to transmisogynist slurs makes someone any of these things. We also find it doubtful that James genuinely seeks to “resolve this dispute like professional journalists”, as her column exhibits very little sense of professionalism at all. If, as James says, “experienced activists seek to build bridges and establish empathy”, we are skeptical of her experience.

 

2. Misleading personal attacks

Addams and James have chosen to focus on an individual trans woman and personally attack her at length. In doing so, they give the impression that opposing the use of transmisogynist slurs by cisgender drag performers is an isolated and marginal position held by, as Addams puts it, “nutty trans hacktivists”. In reality, the conduct of RuPaul and others has been widely criticized by vast swathes of trans women. This is not a new critique that has only arisen due to a lack of experience among young queer trans women. It is a long-standing and well-supported objection, one which has been articulated by trans women of all ages and sexualities. Addams and James ignore this in favor of needlessly inflammatory rhetoric, a regressive defense of gay and lesbian transphobia, and unmitigated contempt for the gender and sexuality of queer trans women. Their columns do not contribute to this discussion in any meaningful way.

 

3. Traditionalism and ageism

We reject Addams’ portrayal of young trans women like Molloy as “newcomer[s] to transition and lesbian/trans issues”, a description which suggests young trans women are less informed, less competent, and less qualified to argue their viewpoints on these topics. To the contrary, young trans women can offer a fresh and contemporary perspective to balance the traditional and stagnant views of those like Addams and James. Whatever decades of experience with trans issues that Addams and James have had, it has not served them well in these recent columns.

 

4. Misgendering and accusations of “privilege”

We find it completely unacceptable that Addams would accuse queer trans women of being “conditioned to bully and take by a lifetime of white, heterosexual, male privilege”, using “the gains and habits of this privilege”, and having “lingering ‘cis-het privilege.’” It is baffling and incomprehensible to imply that an out queer trans woman is somehow capable of wielding heterosexual, cisgender, male privilege to her advantage. This isn’t a new tactic – it is commonly used by transphobes to misgender trans women and dismiss anything we say as coming from a place of supposed “maleness”. Here, Addams has done exactly that. This is not a meaningful argument; it is only more of the same classic transmisogyny.

 

5. False hierarchies of trans women

We oppose Addams’ and James’ oversimplification of queer trans women’s sexualities, unique personal histories, intersectional experiences, and self-understandings. Addams describes her own “feminine and soft nature” and experiences of being “rejected from participating in heteronormative culture”, while claiming that queer trans women “presumably lived most of their lives with the tacit approval and support of a society that viewed them as heterosexual, white men”. Her presumption is unwarranted, as is James’ description of these women as “newly-minted queers”.

If a trans woman is attracted to women, this does not mean that she always lacked a “feminine and soft nature” (whatever Addams thinks this means), that her sexuality was never called into question by others, that she was not “a participant in LGBT culture”, or that she was never attracted to men. Many queer trans women who are attracted to women share these experiences – their queerness is not “newly-minted” by any stretch of the imagination. Addams’ and James’ false dichotomy uncomfortably echoes the long history of straight trans women being judged as more legitimate in their womanhood and more “feminine” than queer trans women. This constitutes the same kind of implicit misgendering as Addams’ claim that queer trans women possess “lingering” privilege, while Addams herself supposedly does not.

 

6. Hypocrisy and feigned offense

While any use of “drag queen” to deny or delegitimize a trans woman’s gender is obviously unacceptable, we decry James’ hypocrisy in taking offense to the accurate description of Addams’ history as a drag performer. James herself notes that trans women have a history of “working alongside drag performers”, and that there “was no separation of drag and trans” in “pre-Stonewall Manhattan LGBT social life”, but then claims that “drag queen” is a “transphobic slur” when referring to Addams’ involvement in drag performance. This is, at a minimum, inconsistent. It is absurd that James would denounce this accurate statement of fact as “transphobic”, while she and Addams promote false generalizations about queer trans women and implicitly misgender them with accusations of “male privilege”. We particularly note the hypocrisy of Addams’ call to defend “trans people who choose to… associate with gay and lesbian people”, given her own hostility toward queer trans women.

 

7. Siding with mainstream prejudice

Contrary to James, we do not accept that drag performance is itself a valid excuse for cisgender people to use transmisogynist slurs. James believes that “taboos around language” – language such as “shemale” – are “practically begging drag queens and kings to violate these taboos”, and that drag is an “art form with countercultural subversion at its heart”. Such a rationale is nonsensical. When a word becomes so closely associated with open hostility toward a marginalized group that it is widely considered a slur by the group it targets, this is not itself a justification to continue using this word. It is rather obviously a compelling reason not to use it.

Cis people using transmisogynist slurs are not violating a taboo when the use of such slurs is already broadly accepted among cis people. Most of society does not consider it taboo to refer to trans women in these terms – there is no taboo to break. Repeating a one-word distillation of a culture’s hostility to trans women is neither countercultural nor subversive. It is mainstream. In light of this, James’ commitment to “siding with offensive artists” is hardly a laudable choice.

 

8. Disingenuous conflation of “transgender” with drag

We reject James’ classification of RuPaul as transgender, as well as any implication that cisgender male drag queens are therefore entitled to use transmisogynist slurs. Cisgender male drag queens are assigned male at birth, and they neither consider themselves to be women nor live as women in their everyday lives. Unlike trans women, they are not the ones who regularly face the consequences of widespread transphobia and transmisogyny, and they are not confronted with the fallout of normalizing transmisogynist slurs. Likewise, Addams’ statement that she “hate[s] the term ‘cisgender’” shows a lack of understanding of the importance of this distinction.

 

9. Hiding behind “homophobia” to defend transphobia

We further reject Addams’ argument that trans women’s criticism of the use of transmisogynist slurs by cisgender drag performers is a form of “homophobia” or “hatred or derision for gay and lesbian culture”. Trans women’s objections to transphobia do not become any less legitimate when that transphobia comes from “gay and lesbian culture”. This transphobia is no more excusable – it is equally deserving of scrutiny. While Addams recognizes that “being trans is not a free pass to be transphobic or homophobic”, she appears to believe that being gay or lesbian is indeed a free pass to be transphobic. We do not share this belief.

 

10. Elitism and exclusion of queer trans women from queer culture

Addams attacks trans women who object to RuPaul’s slurs as “hate-filled, angry and inexperienced folks” who “hop the fence at this late stage and try to dictate our culture rather than learn and build and participate in it”. We believe that trans women have every reason to be angry at the mass media legitimization of transmisogynist slurs by cisgender men, and we question the value of learning from this culture or participating in it, let alone building upon it. It is no point of pride to tolerate a transphobic culture. Accusing young queer trans women of trying to “dictate our culture” implies that they have less of a claim to gay and lesbian culture than Addams, and lazily dismisses legitimate objections to the harms of this culture and the attitudes it has normalized.

 

Our aims

We ask that Calpernia Addams and Andrea James refrain from publishing further columns exhibiting this variety of homophobia, transphobia, transmisogyny, misgendering, ageism, and unwarranted hostility toward other trans women. We further ask that Huffington Post, Boing Boing, and other outlets refuse to give a platform to any columns endorsing such prejudice, whether by Addams and James or by others. As Addams notes, “you choose your community’s voices and heroes.” We reject Calpernia Addams and Andrea James as voices of our community.

 

SIGNATORIES

  • Lauren McNamara, defense witness, United States v. Manning
  • Amelia June Gapin, software engineer
  • Thorin Sorensen, activist and writer
  • Katherine Prevost, software developer, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Anne Cognito, activist and author
  • Kat Haché
  • Andrea Borquez Brito, law school graduate
  • Sarah Brown, politician and trans woman
  • Kristina Foster
  • Teri Dawn Wright, student, activist
  • Lauren Voswinkel, software developer
  • Bobbi Joseph, activist
  • Dr. Mirah Gary, physicist
  • Vivian Doug, public speaker and systems analyst
  • Breanna Clayton, web content strategist
  • Danielle White, SAS Platform Administrator
  • Rachel Ripstra, software engineer
  • Jessica Reardon Smith
  • Kimberly Horne, software developer
  • Josephine Doggett, artist
  • Dr. Aoife Emily Hart, lecturer
  • April Daniels, writer
  • Morgan Smith, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies student and activist
  • Sabine, activist
  • Chelsea Tera Boyhan, field support engineer
  • Fallon Fox, Mixed Martial Arts fighter
  • Sarah Foreman, activist and software developer
  • Josefina Vineyard, graphic designer
  • Rebecca Hargate, software developer, University student
  • Schell Carpenter, Vice President of Engineering
  • Kayley Whalen, trans activist
  • Carol Holly, Scientist and Global Business Development Manager
  • Erika Sorensen, software developer
  • Laurelai Bailey, journalist for TransAdvocate.com
  • Emily L Kwolek, activist
  • Adele Sheffield, social media manager, web editor
  • Winter Hardin, student
  • Skye Arixe
  • Melissa Savage, activist
  • Dana Lane Taylor, TransAdvocate.com, University of Pennsylvania
  • Rhianne Stevens, lecturer, activist and Transgender Support Group Officer
  • Willow Dobmeier
  • Katie Anderson, software engineer
  • Chelsea Richards, emergency medical responder
  • Emily Prince, Esq.
  • Morgan Rose, artist
  • Casey Coughlin, student
  • Zoe Gagnon, software engineer and activist
  • Kathryn Anna Fortunato, IT systems administrator and activist
  • Rebecca Putman
  • Ellie Green, artist
  • Coda Gardner
  • Jayska Teag
  • Eleven, filmmaker and writer
  • Alisha G, information technology
  • Greta Gustava Martela, software engineer and TGSF board member
  • Nina Chaubal, software engineer
  • Annetta Gaiman, trans feminist
  • Diane Tejera Monaco, scientist and educator
  • Alex Ray, web admin
  • Claire Siegely
  • Ally Clarke
  • Aria Smith
  • Devi Smith
  • Bethany Turner, market researcher and webcomic author/artist
  • Cristan Williams, Senior Editor for the TransAdvocate
  • Madison Turner, singer/songwriter
  • Rabbi Emily Aviva Kapor, author and activist
  • Amy A. Dobrowolsky, trans feminist geographer
  • Autumn Sandeen, Editor for The TransAdvocate
  • Christina Ann-Marie DiEdoardo, Esq., criminal defense attorney
  • Melissa Jensen, sex worker
  • Octavia Reising
  • Naomi Ceder, IT director, Pythonista, advocate
  • Kris Simon, disability, gender, and sexuality activist
  • K.L. Tremaine, author and publisher, Artemis Flight Books
  • Kelli Anne Busey, contributor TransAdvocate, blogger planetransgender, activist
  • Serana Storey
  • Kylie Brooks, gender, disability, race and sexuality activist
  • Amber Dawn Redman, International Media / Commercial Aviation / Communications / Equality Journalist
  • Reverend Erin Fish, Professional Twitterer
  • Sarah Noble, transgender and equality activist, university student
  • Paige Sullivan, software engineer, trans* activist, wife, and parent
  • Amélie Erin Koran, Executive Office of the President of the United States (Detailee) & President of U.S. Department of the Interior GLOBE
  • Morgan Mullaney, software engineer
  • Lisa Harney
  • Meryl Scarlett Fortney
  • Dani Pettas, videographer/advertising creative
  • Forth Sadler, queer transwoman
  • Ayasha Pope, writer and musician
  • Sara Ross, activist and game developer
  • Kylie Jack, ux designer, activist
  • Kathryn Long, technical artist and software engineer
  • Kaitlyn Richardson, system administrator
  • Hannah Cutler, archaeologist
  • Miranda Lukeman
  • Karin Engström
  • Harriet de Kok, student, aged care personal care worker
  • Freja Falson, student, writer, and trans feminist
  • Shadi Petosky, creative director
  • Jennifer Kitney, student chef
  • Megan Danielle Turcotte, software developer
  • Annie Mei Shen
  • Lauren Moffatt PhD, Professor of Physics
  • Rani Baker, destroyedforcomfort.com, noise musician/freelance artist
  • Amy Wilhelm, trans activist, network engineer
  • Amoreena Crees, interior design
  • Zoey Marie Bedenbaugh, student, writer
  • Dominica Deal
  • Eva Odland, IT worker/author
  • Mara Emily
  • Phoenix Lee
  • Katherine Cutting
  • Cassidy Drake
  • Drew Stroud, web and game developer
  • Amara Sugalski, geneticist
  • A.J. Hunter, activist and writer
  • Rhea Vichot, graduate student
  • Trinity Pixie, blogger
  • The Right Honourable Max, Lairde Harmony
  • Dr. Myriam J. Johnson, physicist
  • Charley Matz, trans lesbian artist
  • Jess Rowbottom, IT consultant
  • Zoė Alexandra Adams, physics student and trans woman
  • Frida Viñas, Universitat Politécnica de Catalunya architecture student
  • Sabrina Kane, Elections Project Officer
  • Maria Ramnehill, transfeminist
  • Addie C.
  • Rebecca Turner, software engineer
  • Caelyn Sandel, indie games developer
  • Anathema Jane McKenna, journalist and poet
  • Stephanie Springflower, self-employed bookkeeper
  • Michelle Emily Cloud, student, poet & lyricist, musician
  • Julie Rei Goldstein, Actress / Voice Over Artist
  • Samantha Llywela Thornton, photo technician, student
  • Alice Wilde, drafter
  • Erin Susan Jennings, trans liberation activist
  • Jessica Ferguson, Sr. Information Security Manager
  • Alison Chan, advanced networks researcher, uni student, LGBT student leader
  • Jessica Fay Speed, artist/postwoman
  • Henry-Katherine H., student
  • D.J. Freedman, MSW, queer social worker
  • Michelle Spicer, BA, Writer/Activist
  • Jennifer Lavender Winn, seamstress
  • Alyssa C. Smith, student, activist
  • Alice T., comedian
  • Aurora Michelle Danes, activist and nursing student
  • Jenna Stewart, student
  • Sarah Spohn, system administrator
  • Jasmine Erricka Glenn
  • Alexie Scanlon, activist 
  • Christina Kahrl, sportswriter and activist
  • Amy Rebecca Boyer, Software Architect
  • Dee Emm Elms
  • Androgyne Partridge, noise musician, graphic designer
  • Emily Joh Miller, student/writer/musician
  • Chloe Skedgell, web developer
  • Stephanie Wilson, retired, civil engineer, program manager
  • Natalie Roman, web developer, LGBT youth mentor
  • Rowan Davis, student
  • Chris Malarky, IT professional
  • Laine DeLaney, transwoman, author, columnist, activist, and community organizer
  • Maddy Love, podcaster and clinical laboratorian
  • Marja Erwin
  • Danni Shochet, Director of Information Systems, Vice Chair Raleigh Transgender Initiative
  • Clare Davis, bookkeeper
  • Jane Natoli, Financial Crimes Consultant
  • Amy Roberts, writer, game designer, software QA
  • Danielle Burgess, web developer
  • Sophie Taylor, aerospace engineer
  • S. Allen, charity worker
  • Elizabeth Rossiter, software engineer
  • Emilie Geary, trans advocate
  • Sarah Savage, activist and writer
  • Julie Harper Lynch, registered nurse
  • Roberta Joanna Manners, software engineer
  • Rachel S. Adelhyde, writer and activist
  • Cadence Valentine, board member of Transgender Leadership Council, co-chair and lead organizer of Transgender Leadership Summit, Program Coordinator for Transsafetycounts, secretary of Transgender Service Providers Network
  • Johanna Wolf, game developer
  • Alexandra Robin Clodge, software engineer/activist
  • Juli-Ann Richmond, Kind Hearted House Sitting, pet and plant services
  • Abby Malson, software developer, transgender woman
  • Allison Lara Keene, software developer
  • Janet Logan, software engineer and transgender woman
  • Katherine Norcross, molecular biologist and artist
  • Alison Edwards, writer and educator
  • Rachel Determann, musician, data journalist and engineer
  • Nicole “Nicky” Roberts, activist, 2013 JCF grantee
  • Jamie M. Kerrigan, Sales Associate
  • Kara Johnson, animal rights activist
  • Finch K., Research Analyst
  • Margaret Laughlan, Residential Social Worker
  • Harper Sylvia Sanford, software QA
  • Victoria Solís Quintillá, student, activist
  • Alexandra Pitchford, writer, game designer
  • Skyla Marchel, activist

  • Ashley Wells, library technician and artist
  • Zoey Bartlett, research chemist and legal activist
  • Gemma Seymour, Sorciére Itinérant, Writer, and Activist
  • Jennifer Mason
  • Donna Levinsohn, attorney and activist
  • Elizabeth Flanagan, Trans/Geek Feminist
  • Madison Rae, HIV Outreach Educator of the Transaction program
  • Kelley Sullivan, Sales Representative
  • Nina Yorty, freelance caregiver
  • Tommilynn Janelle Travis, Customer Support and Sales
  • Jessica Ottowell, software engineer, small business owner, PR officer for the British Liberal Democrat party
  • Rye Silverman, comedian and writer
  • Christina W., Software Engineer
  • A. Mani, Researcher (Math, Logic, Rough Sets), Trans Feminist
  • Sara Hughes, college student information systems analyst and project manager
  • Erica Jones, software developer
  • Michelle Jené Wedge, Writer / Activist
  • Danielle Newberry, author, culinary engineer
  • Nuala Shields, retired network engineer, trans activist, human being
  • Lily Connor, Pagan priestess and nursing student
  • Miranda Radik
  • Charlie Hale, student and author
  • Aisling Fae, college student, physics
  • Gina Grahame, businesswoman
  • Laila Villanueva, United States Army Nurse – currently silently serving on Active Duty
  • Ryan Alana McLaughlin, artist, blacksmith, former Special Forces medical sergeant, activist, and feminist
  • Ellen Faye Harvey, Sales Specialist
  • Mica Hind, storyteller/historical interpreter
  • Claudia Jean Adams, Online Community Manager
  • Nancy Scott Burke Williams, Associate Professor of Chemistry
  • Kelsie Brynn Jones, ILGA Advocate
  • Lara Boons, Belgium, a little bit a solo activist on disability, hit by PTSD
  • Allison Andrews, software engineer
  • Aleshia Brevard
  • Anne Rowlands, librarian and pagan
  • Alena Bruening, model
  • Eli Erlick, student, activist, and director of Trans Student Equality Resources
  • Vera Vartanian, writer
  • Alex Sennello, student and cofounder of Trans Student Equality Resources
  • Tina Kent, truck driver
  • Dawn Alderman, systems engineer
  • Lynn Cyrin, student, activist
  • Nic Llewellyn, cleaner and musician
  • Aubrey Schaefer, writer
  • Bella Bellucci, writer, activist, entertainer
  • Lilith Barri Routh, network engineer
  • Lilith Annabelle Rios, Customer Service Representative and Trans Feminist/Activist
  • Laura Watson, Singer/Songwriter/Musician
  • Kathryn Isaacs, software developer
  • Jena Lewis, trans* diversity educator, community activist, feminist
  • Jade Juhl, trans advocate
  • Lily Wolf Solomon, owner of Greenpath Transcripts
  • Gwyneth Yeh, Artist at ArenaNet
  • Samantha Hypatia Thompson, librarian
  • Dr. Joelle Ruby Ryan, Women’s Studies Professor
  • Veronica Garrett, Nuclear Professional
  • Emma Bready Larson, student, library worker, and activist
  • Morgan Sea, Tranzister Radio
  • Sierra Kinney, owner of Lone Star Laser
  • Sena Riley, blogger/programmer
  • Caitlin Howarth, student
  • Christina Williams, IT manager and newbie trans advocate
  • Kendall Cunningham, pastry chef
  • Miranda Rae Lunabel, barista and musician
  • Alexandra Bard, medically retired Marine
  • Chelsea Allens, Artist/Student
  • Drew Deveaux, queer porn star, feminist, sex educator
  • Julie Danielle Barnett
  • Coraline Ada Ehmke, Software Engineer and Activist
  • Isabelle Jones, law student
  • Gwen Carlson, student and activist
  • Lisa Severn, IT Architect
  • Helen C. Walther, Chat Administrator, Susan’s Place Transgender Resources, Executive Director, Southern Tier Trans Network
  • Jody Toomey, sci-fi author and musician
  • Eleanor Amaranth Lockhart, university lecturer and researcher
  • Cristin Meravi, student
  • Alys Elbe, student
  • Erin Dean, queer trans* woman of color and radical intersectional activist, blogger at Glitter of Revolt
  • Ellie Morris
  • Crystal Frasier, author
  • MC Tanuki, musician
  • Eva Allan, Revolutionary socialist and Trade Union Activist
  • Elizabeth Izatt, software engineer
  • Bitmap Madelyn Prager
  • Veronikka Edmunds, Waste Management Consultant
  • JoVan Wilson, Healthcare Communicator
  • Natalie Russell, civil engineer
  • Ellie Howard
  • Eleanor Robyn Carson II, author, photographer, video game reviewer
  • Tylyn S. Anson, filmmaker and MFA student
  • Alex Richards Childs, student of Metallurgical Engineering
  • Bobbie Jo Conner, maintenance worker
  • Jessica K. Nichols-Vernon, writer
  • Rachel Evil McCall, writer
  • Sophia Gold, performance artist
  • Kathryn Cowie, writer and editor
  • Johanna Marseille, graphic designer
  • Kori Evans, student
  • Morgane Oger, small business owner
  • Amanda Melody Barna, student and pizza delivery driver
  • Rachel Collier
  • Michelle Jane Perez, writer
  • Lauren Gartrenlaub, Case Manager at a social service agency
  • Robyn A. Montgomery, student
  • Vikki Valimir
  • Alyson McManus, Staff Writer at Persephone Magazine
  • Ryder Goodwin
  • Ash Shields, artist, student
  • Stephanie Wallace, Wine Professional, Software Developer
  • Johnnie Ramona Peel, College Instructor and Blogger
  • Rebecca Dobie-Watt, Helpdesk Analyst
  • Sarah Robinson, IT Tech
  • Bridgett Josephine Waxman, student
  • Dana Ashleigh Goodyear, LPN
  • Tali Gaither, trans*femme Disability justice activist, feminist, queer writer
  • Trina Hanson, IT support/web developer
  • T. Walpole, trans officer, Goldsmiths LGBTQ
  • Maya Martinez, US Army Infantry
  • Christina Lynn Johnson, studying for a Paramedic certification
  • Jasmine Doherty, Air Traffic Controller
  • Cheryl Ann Davidson, advocate/hotel front desk clerk
  • Jacquelyn Kjar-Meyer, student
  • Corinne McCreery, Customer Service Representative
  • Tara Franks, student
  • Joli Shempert, university student
  • Antoinette Coles, Information Technical Professional
  • Julia Kreger, systems engineer, photographer, support group meeting facilitator, retired alternative lifestyle community leader
  • Mackenzie Jade Compton, artist
  • Vanessa Kindell, IT support
  • Tori Amanda Foote
  • Lily Lambda, leathergirl
  • Jayna L-Ponder, Podcaster, Educator
  • Alexandra Williams, Licensed Nurse’s Assistant
  • Emilia Lombardi, Professor, Public Health
  • Lexi Kamen Turner, musician/student
  • Petra Mullooly, student and freelance writer
  • Jale Queen, IT Practitioner and Produce Worker
  • Jacolleun “Chrissy” Madron, actor/director/producer
  • Catherine S Hopkins, Airline Captain
  • Alison Stevenson, student
  • Jamie Lynn Armitage
  • Shay Fabian
  • Alice Beaty, DJ, Mixed-media artist, Kaotee
  • Christianne Benedict, illustrator, writer, cartoonist
  • Kiera Beltman, student
  • Dr. Jadis A. Smith, Postdoctoral researcher
  • Allison Kelly
  • Rebecca Adomaitis, accountant
  • Kerri Green, senior staff nurse
  • Willa Riggins, Information Security Professional
  • Stephanie Lawless, retail accounts management, feminist, trans* support facilitator
  • Shelby Green, student, trans activist / educator
  • Jemma Nelson, Bioinformatician
  • Wren Tobi Stein, college student, cashier, real estate owner
  • Marissa du Bois, Programmer Analyst
  • Joanna Blackhart, Musician, Activist, Educator
  • Anna, Former Huge Calpernia Fan, Former Recommender of Finding your Female Voice
  • Wenda Rhiannon Rose, writer, producer, artist, and proud trans lesbian
  • Alicia Artemissian, programmer, writer, caregiver
  • Morgan Thorp, student, occasional Youtuber and Twitch streamer, and further proof that trans lesbians exist
  • Kristen Haven, student, web developer, volunteer
  • Susan Lewis, Social Care
  • Roberta Proença de Gouvêa, Flight and Aeronautical Engineering Student
  • Ashley Davis, software development
  • Willow Gallagher; transfeminist, community leader, trans activist
  • Auriana Danielle Fabricatore, student and pornographic actress
  • Alice Summer
  • Nata Murray, MilTrans advocate who transitioned a decade ago, still in uniform after over 27 years service
  • Evie Ovalle, Healthcare Worker
  • Amber Planting, Air Force Veteran
  • Jenifer Divine, musician, writer – Koh Lanta, Krabi, Thailand
  • Bethany Hill, trans activist and graduate student
  • Danielle Church, software architect
  • Chelsie Scott, writer
  • Sylia Gray
  • Elen Parker, student, queer historian, and trans dyke
  • Hayley Anthony, marketing planner
  • Ada Nicole, mathematician/teacher
  • Robynn Penelope Mussell, transwoman and owner of Robynn Penelope Game Design Studio and co-founder of Know Where To Go QCA
  • Nicola Romanski, draftsman – electrical engineer
  • Nicola Clubb, freelance 3D designer
  • G. Searer, engineer
  • Victoria Kaye, Mechanical Design Engineer
  • Adina Lynn Levy, Software Development Supervisor
  • “Storky” Duncan, professional poker player
  • Zoe Steinfield, Program Media Assistant at the MSU LBGT Resource Center
  • Danielle Krassner, Systems/Network Admin
  • Alyssa Herzog, trans*woman and DevOps
  • Wren Gayle Romano, doctoral candidate and activist
  • Tetyana Swan, Co-Founder, Co-Owner, San Francisco Sleep Diagnostics
  • Megan Faulkner
  • Eloise, scientist
  • Rava Soler, trance music producer, trans feminist blogger Akntiendz Chik (in Spanish)
  • Jeannie Lynn Robert, IT professional
  • Corinne Green
  • Cynthia Pauline Jones, Trans woman and Poet
  • Renata Luisa Sdao, Photographer/Artist
  • Dawn Stacey Ennis
  • Barbara Campbell, MSgt, USAF (Ret)
  • Rebecca Miriam

 

If you are a trans woman or otherwise trans-feminine and would like to sign this letter, please email Zinnia Jones at zjemptv@gmail.com with your full name and occupation. This letter will be updated regularly.

I’ll be at Women in Secularism 3. Will you?

Women in Secularism 3 is coming up fast, running from May 16-18 in Alexandria, VA. Among the speakers are Ophelia Benson, Barbara Ehrenreich, Melody Hensley, Susan Jacoby, and many other spectacular secularists you won’t want to miss. Also, I’ll be appearing on the following panels on Friday, May 16:

  • 1:15 pm – 2:45 pm
    Online Activism
    Moderator: Lindsay Beyerstein, Panel: Soraya Chemaly, Amy Davis Roth, Zinnia Jones, Miri Mogilevsky
  • 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm
    Intersectionality and Humanism
    Moderator: Soraya Chemaly, Panel: Miri Mogilevsky, Heina Dadabhoy, Zinnia Jones, Debbie Goddard

This is going to be really awesome and you should totally be there. Register early for discounted rates!

A Secular Argument for Transphobia

trinity-150Guest post by Trinity Pixie

Trigger warnings: Abuse, isolation, transphobia, homophobia, racism.

My previous post, Green, which I presented without comment, was actually a piece of creative nonfiction. It was about my family’s response to my transition: taking advantage of my disability to isolate me.

I lived in a place somewhere between rural and suburban. Many houses, few businesses, no public transit. There was a convenience store about a mile and a half away, a grocery store about ten, and in between were a number of people who would likely recognize me from pre-transition – many of whom were happy to attack me previous to transition, without the excuse of queerness thrown in.

I was explicitly not invited to family functions, and forbidden from telling anyone, even my siblings, of my trans status. I had access to medication and health care used as a bargaining chip, was told that I was faking the severity of my disability. I had my own father threaten me with physical harm and make me fear for my life, all the while being told I was the one harming the family.

My parents are atheists. They have used labels like secular humanist to define themselves. They don’t believe in a god, a savior, or a holy book. The reasons, the arguments they would use to defend what they did, how they treated me, are secular. They are also just as valid as any secular arguments against abortion, so why is it that a leader of the secular movement will acknowledge those arguments, but not acknowledge my parents? Aren’t these the type of people you’re trying to attract to the movement?

Why are you comfortable with violations of the rights of cis women, but not with people like my parents? My parents, who vote Republican, choose to give their money to companies like Chick-fil-A, and likely (I’ve admittedly never discussed it with them) are anti-abortion. Who believe slavery should have been a state-by-state issue, and have a secular argument for that. You need to ask yourself: why are you comfortable drawing the line there?


Trinity Pixie is a member of the Secular Woman advisory board.

Darker shades of pink: Having depression when you’re transgender

1522095_10152076191576077_222205893_n (1)The past few years of my life have featured various events that repeatedly force me to update significant parts of how I understand myself.

I used to see little purpose in life and no path forward for myself, until I created an ongoing open-ended project to direct my energies toward, and coincidentally slid into utter femininity in a matter of months. I’ve gone from coasting on the decades-long assumption that I was still a guy – just an extremely femme one – to realizing that no part of me bristles against womanhood. I thought I didn’t have any gender dysphoria, and medically transitioning was simply a matter of taking things from “good” to “even better”. Then I started HRT and gained the perspective to see just how awful, how suffocating, how unbearable things were before – and how it brought me to a place where I was finally a happy, functional person who truly loved life.

About that last one…

You’d think, after all this, I’d understand that things are always going to keep changing. I should realize by now that if I believe the current state of my life will persist forever, I’m almost certainly wrong. Many of my writings should be considered mostly obsolete for that very reason. They’re snapshots of a certain time in my life, not conclusions meant to persist for all eternity – and as more time passes, they’ll become more divergent from reality.

Still: I thought I had fixed this. I thought I had found the answer – the reason why I had felt so pervasively uncomfortable for all of my life, and the solution that did what nothing else could and actually made everything better. I thought I was in the clear to check that off as decisively handled.

I’m now having another one of those moments where I’m forced to realize: I was wrong. I was wrong about having fully understood the nature of my problems. And I was wrong about the extent to which transitioning could adequately address them.

1. How I experience dysphoria

For the most part, my dysphoria typically doesn’t feel like discomfort with the physical form of my body. My dysphoria feels like depression. I wasn’t aware of this similarity at first, because I didn’t yet have an understanding of what depression feels like. Other people had to tell me.

When I wrote “8 signs and symptoms of indirect gender dysphoria”, I aimed to offer a description of the emotional problems which I experienced prior to transition, and which went away after I transitioned – experiences that had also sometimes been relayed by other trans people. I did my best to convey how this felt for me:

  • “I could force myself to get things done, but it would take a lot out of me. I would be irritable, snappish, annoyed by everything, and in anywhere from a mildly bad mood to a very bad mood almost every day.”
  • “As a child, I would cry almost every day at the drop of a hat. Anything could trigger it – being even mildly reprimanded, getting a wrong answer on schoolwork, the sort of insignificant things that no one else around me ever cried so frequently about.”
  • “A feeling of just going through the motions in everyday life, as if you’re always reading from a script.”
  • “When I worked on things, there wasn’t any higher sense of eventually working toward anything.”
  • “Nothing made me feel truly fulfilled, like I was accomplishing anything meaningful.”
  • “I often wondered how other kids could just go about their lives, talking and laughing and being so calm and happy, like nothing was wrong.”

Many trans people told me that this article resonated strongly with them; some said it was as if they were reading what could have been their own journal. Others pointed out that there was substantial overlap between what I described, and the symptoms of depression. Some felt that this overlap was so complete, the article was not a meaningful description of dysphoria at all – one trans woman called it “frankly, bullshit”.

To show a connection between these experiences and gender dysphoria, I had to rely on one key point: that these issues were present before I transitioned, and they unexpectedly subsided once I began to transition.

So what does it mean when they come back?

2. The limits of my understanding

Before transitioning, I had concluded that these pervasive negative feelings were simply an innate aspect of my personality, and something I’d have to learn how to live with:

I figured all I could do was ignore it as much as possible and focus on whatever positives I could find – I gave up hope of ever truly fixing this.

So, having decided that this is just how I am, I didn’t think to consider whether these issues might be due to an actual, knowable cause like dysphoria or depression. Even as I developed a better sense of my gender, it didn’t occur to me that there could be a link between finding a more suitable identity for myself and resolving my emotional problems. I saw these things as two parallel lines, each progressing on their own path but never intersecting. I didn’t regard transitioning as a way of fixing my mood issues – of all the reasons I was driven to do it, this just wasn’t one of them.

So it came as a surprise when these two things began to interact: I started HRT in 2012, and almost immediately felt free of all the crushing negativity for the first time in my life. Thus, I learned to recognize dysphoria. I did not learn to recognize depression.

This would prove to be a major deficiency in my understanding of the problems I’ve faced. Around the end of 2013, I started experiencing what seemed like the same thing all over again:

  • Being exhausted by everything, and irritable all the time
  • Feeling unable to handle the basics of everyday life
  • Becoming stressed to the point of crying at the end of every day
  • Seeing no ultimate point to anything I did, and feeling it was all meaningless
  • Wondering why I even had to be alive

Because I had previously associated these feelings with dysphoria, my first guess was that all of this had to be linked to gender-related factors. So that was where I started: Was it my recently-adjusted progesterone dose? Is it that I just haven’t had the right surgeries? I switched back to my previous dose – but the relief was only temporary. (Surgeries, obviously, are not quite so accessible or easy to experiment with.)

It just didn’t make sense – I didn’t understand why everything suddenly felt so horrible, even though very little had changed. I was starting to get scared. Things were fine before. What is this?

3. Looking beyond gender

My fiancée Heather has often provided a useful outside perspective on my issues. That just sounds really abstracted, though. The truth is, she’s the reason I realized I’d rather be someone’s girlfriend than their boyfriend. She was the first person to call me “she” all the time and make it feel normal, a simple fact of who I am. She started a new life with me, in a place where everyone knew me as a woman. She let me know that starting hormones would make me even more desirable in her eyes, not less.

Without her, much of my transition wouldn’t have happened with such efficiency, or happened at all. We’ve been together for nearly three years, and Heather knows me very well. She’s also struggled with depression throughout her life, and this provided her with some degree of insight into just what the hell was going on with me this time.

When she noticed I’d been miserable for weeks, and asked me what was wrong, I told her how all of this felt – how everything just seemed like too much, and I didn’t feel like I could handle it anymore, and I didn’t know why. It sounded familiar to her, and she raised the possibility of depression. I asked her: is this what depression feels like? She confirmed this. My next, even more desperate question: just how helpful is her medication?

4. Navigating healthcare as a trans woman

I only go to my gynecologist for HRT and the associated check-ups and blood monitoring. I’d have to find someone else for this new… thing. (I still wasn’t certain of how to name it, and I’d talk about it in terms like “this stuff” or “dealing with things”.) Before this, I actually didn’t have a regular physician, largely because I just didn’t want to deal with doctors. It’s not due to some arbitrary aversion – it’s because receiving appropriate and sensitive healthcare when you’re trans, even healthcare completely unrelated to transitioning, is a minefield.

Trans people have often found that when they seek care for any sort of illness, their doctors advise them to discontinue HRT regardless of whether their current health problem has any connection to this. Some of us don’t even get that far – one of my friends was unable to receive any medical attention for her asthma simply because her doctor refused to treat trans people at all.

This issue is more than anecdotal: in a national survey of over 6,000 trans people, 19% reported they had been denied service by a healthcare provider due to being trans. 28% had been harassed in a medical setting because they’re trans. And 28% also reported that because of disrespect and discrimination from providers, they delayed or avoided treatment when they were ill.

That may not be wise, but when cis people go to a clinic for a flu or a broken toe, they generally don’t have to worry about being turned away just because of who they are. We do, so seeking care can be a difficult thing to contemplate. When going to a new and unfamiliar doctor, we never know what kind of ignorance or hostility we’re going to face. It’s an alarming unknown.

So I went with the option that we already knew the most about. Heather’s family doctor had treated her depression and anxiety, and he knows that she’s queer – she told me of how she’d started crying in his office while talking about how her co-workers called her a “fag” every day. She’s never had problems with him. I’d also met him when we took our son for check-ups, and he was really friendly toward all of us. To me, he seemed like the best bet. Heather reassured me: “If he gives you any trouble, we’re all firing him.”

5. “Mild depression”

Outness is a risk factor for refusal of service: 23% of trans people who are out to their medical providers have been denied service, compared to only 15% of those who aren’t out. Nevertheless, I still listed my current medications on the intake form, and left helpful notes like “I am a transsexual woman (male-to-female)” in the “other information” section. I didn’t want to have to deal with any surprise issues if they only realized I was trans later on, nor did I want to see someone who would only be willing to treat me under the pretense that I’m cis.

Fortunately, all of this turned out to be a non-issue. Other than asking whether I was taking hormones under the supervision of a doctor and whether I’d had a blood test recently, the topic didn’t even come up. He asked how I was feeling, and I told him everything – the way that life had somehow become unbearable for no apparent reason, and the dread I felt at having to face every single day. And I made sure he knew that it wasn’t like this before, that transitioning had helped me more than I ever expected, that it really did make things so much better and I didn’t know why this was happening now.

He seemed to know exactly what I was talking about, even identifying the feelings I hadn’t yet mentioned: the monotony of everything, and the difficulty with finding the motivation to get started on almost any activity. Everything he said gave me the impression that he understood this well. He concluded that because this appeared to be a more recent and transient problem rather than a lifelong issue, it was likely a kind of “mild depression”.

We worked out a balance of which medication would be both affordable and effective for me, and ended up settling on his first recommendation – something he felt would give me more energy. “I take it myself”, he reassured me as he wrote the prescription.

6. Anything but trans

People widely regard being trans as an undesirable existence. Often, cis people just don’t want the people around them to be trans – whether this comes from a place of overt intolerance, or just pity and regret for the hardships we face. And trans people, sometimes to an even greater extent than cis people, have also been known to seek out any potential reason to conclude that they’re not actually trans and therefore won’t need to face expensive procedures and near-universal hostility from society.

This urge to avoid the possibility of transness manifests as a staggering variety of excuses and denials. The cis people around us, often our parents and relatives, may claim that our gender-related feelings can instead be explained as a product of:

  • Childhood bullying
  • Sexual abuse
  • Negative experiences with other members of one’s assigned sex
  • The influence of supportive therapists and other professionals
  • Following a trend among a social circle
  • Viewing pornography
  • Homosexuality
  • Unspecified “confusion”
  • Demonic supernatural influences
  • Low testosterone (for trans women)
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Autism
  • Depression

These are all things that trans people have actually reported hearing from various cis people, and this is not an exhaustive list. Given the prevalence of these creative explanations, trans people in search of reasons to doubt their own transness have ample opportunity to seize on them as well. But this fervent effort to locate any possible alternatives to transness extends beyond the poorly-informed folklore of laypersons. It’s also visible in the poorly-informed folklore of certain medical professionals.

7. Trans-negativity in medicine

Dr. Kenneth Zucker is head of the Gender Identity Service for children at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Under his direction, this program has subjected children to a form of reparative therapy to discourage them from being trans or questioning their gender. This includes taking away “girlish toys” like dolls from male-assigned children and encouraging more stereotypically masculine interests, an approach resembling the techniques of discredited “ex-gay” programs.

Zucker contends that cross-gender identification in children is driven by other issues not directly related to their gender, and calls their feelings “a ‘fantasy solution,’ that being the other sex will make them happy” – in other words, a misguided answer to a separate problem in their lives. He posits that their desire to live as another sex is instead largely rooted in family issues:

First, he thinks that family dynamics play a large role in childhood GID—not necessarily in the origins of cross-gendered behavior, but in their persistence. It is the disordered and chaotic family, according to Zucker, that can’t get its act together to present a consistent and sensible reaction to the child, which would be something like the following: “We love you, but you are a boy, not a girl. Wishing to be a girl will only make you unhappy in the long run, and pretending to be a girl will only make your life around others harder.” So the first prong of Zucker’s approach is family therapy. Whatever conflicts or issues that parents have that prevent them from uniting to help their child must be addressed.

Zucker is open about his belief that transness should be avoided if at all possible:

Despite these difficulties, Zucker clearly feels it’s important to at least attempt change. He points out that the burden of living as the opposite gender is great, and should not be casually embraced.

“We’re not talking about minor medical treatments. … You’re talking about lifelong hormonal treatment; you’re talking about serious and substantive surgery,” he says.

Failure to intervene increases the chances of transsexualism in adulthood, which Zucker considers a bad outcome. For one, sex change surgery is major and permanent, and can have serious side effects. Why put boys at risk for this when they can become gay men happy to be men?

(In fairness to Zucker, he is noted as “the first to acknowledge that no scientific studies currently support the effectiveness of what he does.”)

Alice Dreger, a bioethicist who previously compared gender-questioning kids to children who unseriously pretend to be train engines, promotes a similar idea. She’s cited unnamed clinicians as agreeing that these children are the product of “dysfunctional” families:

Here’s more unwelcome news from Ms. Dreger. A child’s gender issue may merely be a symptom of other family problems. “The dirty little secret is that many of these families have big dysfunctional issues. When you get the clinicians over a beer, they’ll tell you the truth. A lot of the parents aren’t well in terms of their mental health. They think that once the child transitions, all their problems will magically go away, but that’s not really where the stress is located.” Clinicians won’t say these things publicly, she says, because they don’t want to sound as if they’re blaming gender problems on screwed-up families.

Dreger likewise depicts transitioning as undesirable, and endorses alternatives where possible:

Sex-changing interventions are nontrivial. They involve substantial physical risk, including major risk to sexual sensation, and a lifelong commitment to trying to manage hormone replacement. …

But somehow if we wrap these major interventions around gender identity, we’re supposed to believe they are not that big a deal in terms of planning for a child’s future? And the clinician who tries to get a gender dysphoric kid to learn to like her or his innate body really is a Nazi? Not buying it. …

What if a boy could go to school in a dress and still be a boy? What if a girl could declare she’s going to grow up to be a man without being dragged to a clinic for a cure and/or prep?

effexor-poster-2As a trans woman, my diagnosis of depression exists within the context of these widespread attitudes. We live in a society where transitioning is regarded as a “bad outcome”, a last resort, only to be pursued when all other avenues for dealing with this discomfort have been exhausted. Are you sure you’re not just gay? Maybe you only think you’re trans because you’re afraid of other men. Can’t you wear a dress and still be a boy?

We’re warned that this may be no more than an illusory “fantasy solution” to our real problems. Commonplace medical practices reflect this overabundance of caution, something which became all the more striking when compared to my recent experiences. Unlike in 2012, I did not need to find one of the few therapists in a city of millions who would evaluate me and provide a lengthy referral letter for treatment. Instead, I was able to go to the same doctor as the rest of my family, and soon found myself sitting in an exam room full of detailed posters about depression and the drugs that might help. Within 30 minutes, I walked out with a prescription in hand. Trans people are often asked to consider whether they may just be depressed cis people – but depressed cis people are rarely asked to consider whether they might be trans.

Yet I’ve now found out that my ongoing unhappiness has persisted through transition, and so I’ve opted to receive treatment for depression. What am I supposed to make of that? And what will others make of it?

8. Relationships between dysphoria and depression

Actually, there are some critical (and obvious) flaws in the notion that other mental health conditions may serve as an “alternative explanation” to apparent gender dysphoria.

For one, there is no reason why gender dysphoria and other mental illnesses should be seen as mutually exclusive. If you’re trans, having depression doesn’t suddenly make you no longer trans. (For that matter, neither does childhood bullying, sexual abuse, autism, and so on.) Would anyone ever make a similar argument about physical conditions – that, say, you can’t have both Crohn’s disease and migraine headaches? Those also make me feel pretty terrible, but it would be absurd to claim that only one of these is responsible for the entirety of my physical pain. There is no reason they can’t coexist as contributors to that pain. And just as I’ve had to acknowledge that my gender dysphoria alone isn’t sufficient to explain all of my mood issues, it would be equally faulty for someone else to claim that my depression alone would suffice to explain this.

Does it seem at all realistic that there would be no occurrence of depression among trans people? People sometimes get depressed, and trans people are people. Scientific studies confirm, rather predictably, that gender dysphoria and depression can coexist. A 1997 study of 435 trans people found that they experienced psychiatric conditions at a rate similar to cis people:

Specifically, gender dysphoric individuals appear to be relatively “normal” in terms of an absence of diagnosable, comorbid psychiatric problems. In fact, the incidence of reported psychiatric problems is similar to that seen in the general population. Similarities in incidence included depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. … Although a small percentage of gender dysphoric individuals in this sample had prior identifiable psychiatric problems (7-10%), this is not inconsistent with the general population.

And a 2010 study found comparable levels of mental health conditions in 579 people diagnosed with gender dysphoria:

Adjustment disorder (6.7%, 38/579) and anxiety disorder (3.6%, 21/579) were relatively frequent. Mood disorder was the third most frequent (1.4%, 8/579).

Furthermore, studies of trans people undergoing medical transition have consistently confirmed that these procedures are significantly helpful in addressing the symptoms of other mental health conditions, and increase our general well-being. Hormone therapy, in particular, stands out as a key factor in reducing levels of distress. A 2013 study followed 57 trans people before and after HRT and genital reassignment surgery, and found that starting HRT was associated with a marked decrease in depression and anxiety:

A difference in SCL-90 overall psychoneurotic distress was observed at the different points of assessments (P = 0.003), with the most prominent decrease occurring after the initiation of hormone therapy (P < 0.001). Significant decreases were found in the subscales such as anxiety, depression, interpersonal sensitivity, and hostility. Furthermore, the SCL-90 scores resembled those of a general population after hormone therapy was initiated.

Another study of 70 trans people examined their self-reported stress and their blood levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. Being on HRT was linked to a reduction in perceived stress levels and cortisol awakening response:

At enrollment, transsexuals reported elevated CAR; their values were out of normal. They expressed higher perceived stress and more attachment insecurity, with respect to normative sample data. When treated with hormone therapy, transsexuals reported significantly lower CAR (P < 0.001), falling within the normal range for cortisol levels. Treated transsexuals showed also lower perceived stress (P < 0.001), with levels similar to normative samples.

And in another study of 187 trans people, initiation of hormone therapy was associated with reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety:

Overall, 61% of the group of patients without treatment and 33% of the group with hormonal treatment experienced possible symptoms (score 8–10) or symptoms (score >11) of anxiety. The same pattern was found for symptoms of depression; the percentages were significantly higher in the group of patients without treatment (31%) than in the group on hormonal treatment (8%).

A study tracking 118 trans people before and after hormone therapy found that their levels of depression, anxiety, and functional impairment were much lower after HRT:

Psychiatric distress and functional impairment were present in a significantly higher percentage of patients before starting the hormonal treatment than after 12 months (50% vs. 17% for anxiety; 42% vs. 23% for depression; 24% vs. 11% for psychological symptoms; 23% vs. 10% for functional impairment).

And a study of 67 trans people found that those who received HRT had a higher quality of life, reduced depressive symptoms, and better self-esteem:

After adjusting for age, gender identity, educational level, partnership status, children at home, and sexual orientation, hormonal therapy was an independent factor in greater self-esteem, less severe depression symptoms, and higher psychological-like dimensions of QoL (psychological well-being and taking care of oneself of the SQUALA).

These studies suggest that the relief of depressive and anxious symptoms I experienced upon starting HRT was not something I only imagined – it is a phenomenon that has been repeatedly observed among many other trans people. Conversely, those trans people who did not receive HRT were noted to have higher levels of these depressive and anxious symptoms. This doesn’t bode well for the notion that trans people should first seek relief from their distress through means other than transitioning; medical transition may be exactly what they need.

This is not a mere “fantasy solution” as described by a handful of bombastic personalities who traffic in media controversy. This is real: for trans people, transitioning works. That doesn’t mean it’s a miracle cure-all – and really, what is? – but it does mean that it helps.

9. How transitioning helped me

For trans people who are depressed, treatment for depression is not a substitute for transitioning – it is an additional treatment for an additional condition. Being treated for depression hasn’t made me feel that my transition is any less necessary, or that my womanhood is any less important; I continue to be far more comfortable than I ever was as a “guy”. If anything, I know that the experience of transitioning has put me in a far better position to handle a challenge like depression.

Before I made the decision to start HRT, I saw it as something to put off for as long as possible: it was a last resort, to be used only in the event that any further physical masculinization became intolerable. Eventually, I took a more proactive stance, realizing that it would be better to avert those changes as early as possible. And when I finally started transitioning, I was astonished that I had been missing out on the mental benefits of HRT for so long.

What I learned was: don’t wait. I didn’t have to spend all that time enduring daily discomfort when there was a treatment right in front of me that could have helped. And I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. As soon as I recognized that I was likely experiencing depression, I made an appointment – there was simply no good reason to put it off. The sooner I received treatment, the sooner I could start getting better.

Transitioning taught me what it was like to feel truly good for the first time in my whole life. And this contrast showed me that what came before, the fog of constant unease and dissatisfaction and emotional numbness, was not normal. If I hadn’t transitioned, I might never have learned that there was an alternative – that I didn’t have to feel that way. I wouldn’t have known that this perpetual struggle to cope with my own existence meant that something was wrong.

So when my depression set in, I realized that my search for answers shouldn’t stop at “I guess that’s just how it is”. I knew I had to do something to fix this. As I described it to my doctor: “it feels like before I transitioned.” I have that frame of reference now, with an intimate understanding of just how awful and terrifying that feeling is.

Transitioning, quite simply, improved me. It made me into a more confident, capable, perceptive, outgoing, and overall emotionally well-rounded person. And it made me realize that I matter. At last, I love the person I am, the face I see in the mirror, the mind that can finally work at its full strength. Transition made me care about myself, and now I know that I deserve the best in life. I don’t deserve to suffer.

10. The story so far

Like HRT, I had no idea how this would feel before I started, and I wasn’t sure if it would even make a noticeable difference. But, also like HRT, I’ve now found that it makes a very noticeable difference. By the end of the day, the stress usually hasn’t overwhelmed me, and it fades more quickly rather than sticking around indefinitely. I’m getting more things done, and I’ve even started to write again. I’m just plain happy – or, at least, content.

Before, I’d been struggling to stay above water; now, it’s like sitting in a glass-bottom boat. I can still see and contemplate all the things that had dragged me down before – the sense that I’m worthless, the apparent pointlessness of existence, the question of why I keep going, the knowledge that my body is still wrong – but the dark things are behind a barrier now, and they’ve mostly lost their power to lash out and sink their teeth into me. I could choose to think about them, but I usually don’t; my mind isn’t drawn to them because there’s very little appeal there. Those thoughts rarely arrive uninvited, and they don’t stay for long.

Heather says that my mood is more like that of when I first transitioned. And it does feel like that. I once described HRT as like running my consciousness through a noise removal filter, and my antidepressants seem to have a similar effect. It makes me confident that I’ve made the right decision. It isn’t perfect – I’ve also had a moderate increase in panic attacks, and I’m now being treated for that as well. But, altogether, things are improving. My doctor agrees, and says I can stay on it for as long as I feel it’s helpful. He’ll see me again in three months.

I realize that these are still the early days and anything I say about depression and its treatment still comes from a place of inexperience. There’s certain to be surprises ahead, just as my first excited videos about HRT only offered a snapshot in time that couldn’t predict all the changes that would follow. It could get worse, like dysphoria can get worse. My current medications could eventually stop working, like hormones did. As always, things are going to keep changing, and I won’t know how until it happens.

I still worry that this pattern will keep repeating – that my entire life will just be a constant sprint from one apparent solution to the next, without ever being able to settle on any final answer. But hormones bought me a good year, and hopefully this will too. Transitioning meant checking one thing off the list. Treating my depression is checking off another thing. However long that list may turn out to be, I’m chipping away at it.

There Is Also a Secular Argument For Infanticide

1522095_10152076191576077_222205893_n (1)American Atheists president David Silverman recently attended this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) with the intention of reaching out to non-religious conservatives. CPAC, if you aren’t familiar with it, has featured such illustrious moments as:

All of that, by the way, happened within the past week alone. So, how did Silverman go about sharing the word of atheism at this most respectable of political conferences? Roy Edroso of Raw Story reports on his strategy:

“I came with the message that Christianity and conservatism are not inextricably linked,” he told me, “and that social conservatives are holding down the real conservatives — social conservatism isn’t real conservatism, it’s actually big government, it’s theocracy. I’m talking about gay rights, right to die, abortion rights –”

A simple enough idea: conservatives can continue to uphold (some of) their political values without any need for religious faith. Silverman, understandably, didn’t seem very interested in legitimizing homophobia or the deprivation of terminal patients’ medical autonomy. Anyway, where was he going with that last part?

Hold on, I said, I think the Right to Life guys who have a booth here, and have had every year since CPAC started, would disagree that they’re not real conservatives.

“I will admit there is a secular argument against abortion,” said Silverman. “You can’t deny that it’s there, and it’s maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage.”

Oh. Okay.

Taken literally, the statement that secular arguments against abortion do exist isn’t a very controversial one. Yes, there are anti-abortion arguments that do not rely on supernatural or theological claims. These arguments can instead rely on concepts like “rights”, “human life”, “personhood”, and so on, without introducing any explicitly religious elements.

Of course, the mere existence of such arguments says nothing about their soundness. Silverman himself stated that he was simply recognizing these arguments even as he disagrees with them:

and please understand this is not support. I’m vehemently pro choice. Just acknowledging they exist. They do.

But whether such arguments exist, and whether they have any merit, is beside the point. What really stands out as notable here is Silverman’s more open-minded approach to this particular issue, even as he dismisses other issues outright.

Silverman is not interested in reaching out to conservative CPAC attendees who oppose marriage equality, oppose end-of-life decisionmaking, or support prayer in schools. However, when it comes to conservatives who oppose the right to abortion, he takes a rather more tolerant stance. While he sees homophobic conservatives as having no place in organized atheism, he’s more willing to recruit anti-abortion conservatives to the secularist cause.

Whether he would actually agree with this or not, that’s how his special exception for abortion opposition comes across. To him, homophobes don’t have a place in our movement – but abortion opponents do?

Is this necessarily a demographic worth reaching out to? JT Eberhard argues:

We must be willing to work with people with whom we disagree on some subjects. …So if you acknowledge that someone need not be right on all subjects for them to be right on the one you’re working on together, this can’t be a reason for you to be upset with Dave Silverman.

But this does nothing to explain why abortion rights should be a subject on which disagreement is acceptable, while LGBT rights, for example, should not. Drawing a line at that particular point seems arbitrary. JT continues:

I don’t think it’s fair to expect someone to avoid telling the truth (that a secular argument exists for being anti-choice, lousy though it is) in order to not give a hat tip to the people Silverman has said multiple times he opposes on that subject. That seems a bit like getting exacerbated at scientists whenever they acknowledge the existence of complexity in the universe because they’ve given a “tip of the hat” to creationists. … If you acknowledge as atheists we shouldn’t shy away from stating facts even though we know there are people out there who will twist them toward an inaccurate or unethical position, then you can’t really be upset with Dave Silverman.

Here is another truth that we, as atheists, need not shy away from stating: there is a secular argument for the elective infanticide of healthy newborn humans. It is not even a very complicated argument, and it is one that is perhaps especially well-suited to atheistic naturalism, scientific empiricism, and the rejection of mainstream Christianity.

Suppose that we abandon the idea that the human species occupies a uniquely privileged or “sacred” place among all organisms. Our ethical considerations in how we treat human life – from blastocyst to infant to elder – should not lean on an assumption that humans are special simply for the mere fact that they are humans. Ethical questions should take into account actual substance rather than just a name: the features that actually constitute an individual human. These features can include the extent to which they can experience pain and pleasure, their level of awareness of the world around them, their ability to possess distinct desires and goals, and their level of awareness of themselves as a sentient being.

When we recognize that questions of ethical treatment should consider such features, two conclusions emerge: First, humans are not the only organisms that merit our ethical concern – various animals are also capable of suffering pain, having desires, and possessing different degrees of awareness and self-awareness. And second, not all humans are identical by these metrics; depending on their degree of development, some may be more or less aware, more or less capable of experiencing pain, and so on.

Therefore, instead of a model wherein all humans occupy a special ethical category meriting unique concern, we can conceive of a spectrum of ethical concern along which all organisms fall – humans and other animals alike. One potentially uncomfortable fact is that some animals may be more well-developed than some humans in their capacity for self-awareness, desires, and so on. As Kate Wong notes in Scientific American:

Human babies enter the world utterly dependent on caregivers to tend to their every need. Although newborns of other primate species rely on caregivers, too, human infants are especially helpless because their brains are comparatively underdeveloped. Indeed, by one estimation a human fetus would have to undergo a gestation period of 18 to 21 months instead of the usual nine to be born at a neurological and cognitive development stage comparable to that of a chimpanzee newborn.

Similarly, MRI scans of dogs suggest that they are capable of experiencing emotions on a level similar to human children:

Do these findings prove that dogs love us? Not quite. But many of the same things that activate the human caudate, which are associated with positive emotions, also activate the dog caudate. Neuroscientists call this a functional homology, and it may be an indication of canine emotions.

The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child.

Dogs may also possess mental capabilities on par with those of 2-year-old humans:

According to several behavioral measures, Coren says dogs’ mental abilities are close to a human child age 2 to 2.5 years. … As for language, the average dog can learn 165 words, including signals, and the “super dogs” (those in the top 20 percent of dog intelligence) can learn 250 words, Coren says. “The upper limit of dogs’ ability to learn language is partly based on a study of a border collie named Rico who showed knowledge of 200 spoken words and demonstrated ‘fast-track learning,’ which scientists believed to be found only in humans and language learning apes,” Coren said. … Dogs can also count up to four or five, said Coren. And they have a basic understanding of arithmetic and will notice errors in simple computations, such as 1+1=1 or 1+1=3. …

Through observation, Coren said, dogs can learn the location of valued items (treats), better routes in the environment (the fastest way to a favorite chair), how to operate mechanisms (such as latches and simple machines) and the meaning of words and symbolic concepts (sometimes by simply listening to people speak and watching their actions). … During play, dogs are capable of deliberately trying to deceive other dogs and people in order to get rewards, said Coren.

So: Humans are not the only organisms capable of emotion or developing accurate mental models of the world, and we’re certainly not the only organisms capable of experiencing pain or a desire to continue to live. Indeed, some animals possess these capabilities to a greater degree than newborn humans.

And yet, despite their possession of these capabilities, there exists a widespread disinterest in recognizing a “right to life” of animals. Instead, people commonly consider it acceptable to kill animals if we simply decide it is necessary. Cows “exhibit behavioral expressions of excitement when they solve a problem”, but all that’s needed to justify killing a cow is our mere preference that it should become several delicious steaks rather than continue existing as a feeling, thinking organism. Dogs exhibit intelligence and emotions similar to toddlers, but people leave healthy dogs to be euthanized at shelters every day.

In a society that accepts such treatment of animals as a norm – and accepts even the most trivial of human desires as a justification for such treatment – it should be similarly acceptable for the custodians of any newborn human to have that infant killed, for no reason other than their simple desire that this baby no longer be alive. Newborns have lesser abilities of thinking, modeling, perceiving, feeling and wanting than animals, and probably an equal capacity to experience pain. Yet the presence of even greater capacities in many of these areas has largely failed to convince us to recognize a “right to life” of animals. So why should the life of a human embryo, fetus, or infant be seen as always worth preserving and protecting?

Scientific findings support the facts underlying this argument for infanticide rights. This argument also has strengths which other common pro-choice arguments lack. For instance, one such argument contends that whatever right to life an unborn fetus may have, it is always outweighed by a person’s right to bodily autonomy – their right not to be compelled to provide sustenance, in the form of their own bodily resources, to another organism.

However, this “competing rights” argument opens the door to debate over just how important these respective rights are, and whether a fetus’s right to life really is small enough to be overridden. It implicitly agrees with abortion opponents in recognizing that a fetus actually does have, to some degree, a right to exist. And it requires proponents of a pro-choice position to maintain that a person’s right to bodily autonomy is, in all circumstances, the more important right in this situation. Abortion opponents, like Kristine Kruszelnicki of Pro-Life Humanists, may in turn contend that the fetus’s rights carry overriding weight.

In contrast, the pro-infanticide argument presented here does not have this vulnerability. It does not recognize an embryo, fetus, or even a newborn human as possessing a “right to life” to any degree whatsoever. And so it is not even necessary to argue that a person has a right to bodily autonomy which overrides a fetus’s supposed rights.

Clearly, there is a secular argument for infanticide. One does not have to support it or agree with it, and one may feel that it is far from decisive or clear-cut, but it does indeed exist. Others might twist this argument to make atheists look bad, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid recognizing this truth.

I’ve met David Silverman before, and he was a really nice guy – I hope we get to meet again. I don’t have any problem with believing that he certainly meant well with his outreach efforts at CPAC, as idiosyncratic as his views on acceptable political differences may be. And a few isolated quotes expressing a nuanced position – albeit a potentially disagreeable one – aren’t necessarily cause to dismiss and ignore a person entirely.

What I would ask is this: What is American Atheists doing to reach out to pro-infanticide atheists and bring them into the cause of organized secularism? Is our conception of the parameters of a “right to life” any less worthy of being courted than that of abortion opponents? If we’re really seeking to expand the tent of atheist activism, why extend it only in their direction, and not ours? I’d contend that if anything, those of us who are pro-infanticide can bring much more of value to the atheist movement than anti-choice conservatives would, such as our evidence-based approach to secular ethics. And if you think it would be distasteful to reach out to us, ask yourself: is it really more distasteful than inviting people who would legally force a person to give birth against their will?

Gender-Neutral Pronouns Rant

IMG_20140209_080947Ohey, it’s me!

This is a bit ranty, and I’m not sure if there’s going to be much direction to it or a “point”, but it’s going to be full of words. Talk of misgendering and such ahead.

I stumbled onto a rather unpleasant blog post written about a suit filed by a gender-neutral employee in regard to having coworkers repeatedly go against their wishes by referring to them with feminine pronouns and pet names like “miss” and “little lady”. Actually, the link I provided (the original source material) is the only un-biased, not-super-condescending thing I could find before having to abandon that mission. I won’t be linking to any of the hateful sites because no one needs that triggery shit.

A former catering worker who identifies as neither female or male is suing Bon Appetit Management Co. for $518,000, claiming co-workers referred to the employee as a female though repeatedly being asked to stop.

Valeria Jones alleges in a lawsuit that co-workers repeatedly called Jones “miss,” “lady” and “little lady” despite explanations that Jones “was not a female or a male and that the term was unwelcome.”

Workers also directly said Jones looked like a woman and made female celebrity comparisons, the suit states.

(Emphasis mine.)

I don’t even know where to start with this. Setting aside for a moment that this has anything to do with gender, everything about this qualifies as harassment. The coworkers were asked to stop referring to Jones with feminine terms (terms which I think we can safely deem “hurtful” since it caused emotional distress) and they didn’t. The company didn’t do anything because there aren’t provisions for trans* recognition in the workplace. The coworkers go on to tease this person. Making comparisons to Ellen (“female celebrity”) is a) very, very old and b) extremely rude when you’re talking to someone who clearly doesn’t want to be grouped in with women.

There is so much condescension surrounding this issue that binary-minded people don’t seem to even register that we’re talking about harassment here, regardless of the gender of the recipient. It seems pretty simple to me: If someone asks you not to call them something, you don’t do it, regardless of how harmless it may seem to you.

Since the existence of non-binaries is a totally new thing for most people, I can see how ignorance runs rampant. Many of the sites that have talked about this story seem to think Jones wants everyone to use some “made-up” word to refer to them. I don’t know why, but this freaks people the hell out. (Unfortunately, the small vocabulary of invented neutral pronouns hasn’t made it to the general populace yet.)

I kinda-sorta understand discomfort with trying to adopt alien vocabulary–it’s part of the reason I haven’t personally chosen to use any of the invented gender-neutral terms like “ve”, etc. But, English-speakers use a neutral pronoun all the time with “they/them/their”. It’s used so casually that we don’t even notice it happening.

This whole thing is really thorny for non-binary people because you have people telling you that your gender isn’t even real because there are only two gender options. You have people freaking out about using “made-up words”, then you get others who won’t use “they/them/their” because “It’s plural”.

Segue into the lovely conversation I had with someone on Facebook*. (You’ll spoil the surprise** at the end of the post if you read the full convo right now, btw.) My comments are paraphrased/edited down, M’s are copy/pasted as-is:

Comments:

M: http://genderneutralpronoun.wordpress.com/ Though it’s such a foreign concept to intentionally adopt made up words into my vocabulary, I’m willing to try.

Lux: What I’m pointing out is that people often assume that gender-neutral terminology requires use of newly-coined terms. I’m actually just turning a mirror on the fact that people use “they/them/their” without thinking about it. I prefer they/them/their to the new terms because people already use those easily and naturally in everyday speech.

M: But then the question presents itself, how to refer to someone in a personal pronoun. Without these new terms all we are left with is “one” and “it” and I doubt you’ll like either one of those. Him or her shouldn’t be insulting, I refer to you as her because your my friend’s wife, not because I only percieve you as a woman.

Lux: We use “they” to refer to hypothetical people we don’t know, like the drivers of other cars. It’s somewhat of a transition to start using it to refer to someone personally, but I also found that pretty easy to do when one of my friends requested gender-neutral terms be used to talk about them.

To clarify: I’m not insulted by gendered pronouns. It’s more a matter of hurt feelings. I’ve tried to make myself “okay” with “being a woman” and being referred to as such, but I don’t really have a choice about the fact that it makes me feel bad. It took a lot of courage to change stuff online to reflect who I feel I am, and to ask people to switch pronouns. In reality, I almost never ask people to switch, even people I trust, even though it hurts me (out of my control) to be called woman-related terms.

M: No like, I’m not gonna ask: “Hey Chris how’s they/them/their?” I can say: “How’s Lux? Or how’s the wife?” But the English vernacular doesn’t allow for a nongenderized version of him/her. I can use they/them/their when it applies in proper form. But from now on ill ask Chris: “How is they?” See what I mean? Not as simple as it seems, there is no personal nongenderized pronoun.

Lux: How are they. It’s fine to use the plural verb since the context implies that you’re referring to a singular.

M’s first comment proved my point that people’s initial conclusion is to think of the invented pronouns and not the ones we use every day. Then, they made the assumption that I’m insulted by the use of feminine pronouns and immediately told me that I shouldn’t feel insulted because they don’t mean what I think they mean.

Then we see a little more of the imagined issues with using “them” to specifically refer to a singular person, such as switching verb conjugation, which is completely unnecessary. Another commenter pointed out that we juggle singular/plural verb use every day with the word “you”.

Why do people seem to think it’s okay to trample all over people’s gender-related preferences? It seems like every trans* person will deal with someone deliberately misgendering them at least once in the name of “you shouldn’t be offended, it’s not like I’m using slurs or anything”. There are cis people in our lives who seem to feel entitled to choose our labels for us. (And, of course, there are larger structures in place which enable people in power to ignore the requests of people in comparatively disadvantaged positions more generally.)

I do want to call attention to something I mentioned in my Facebook comments: I actually don’t ask people to switch pronouns in my AFK interactions. Online, all of my bios are written with gender terminology and my genderqueerity is one of my primary identifiers in internet interactions; I just sort of expect people to pick up on it and use those terms without my having to say anything. I will occasionally correct people misgendering me online, but usually only because they managed to upset me.

I pretty much never ask people I have face-to-face interactions with to use proper pronouns for me. Even if it hurts my feelings to be misgendered all the time, even though some people misgender me out of ignorance and others out of spite, even though it’s simply incorrect to refer to me with feminine terminology, I don’t ask people to switch.

Why? Because my gender is an important part of who I am and it’s hard to explain and easy to misunderstand. It’s a very vulnerable, raw thing that I’m not interested in submitting to potential injury by lack of understanding or malice. I’m not interested in risking having an integral part of me rejected and/or scoffed at, so only certain people even get to know that I’m genderqueer in my AFK life.

Plus–and this is actually kind of sad–I’m concerned about being imposing by asking people to switch pronouns. I understand that if you’ve never switched pronouns, you have to reprogram your brain to think of gender as a plastic thing in the first place and then train yourself to use the proper ones. You have to retrain the way you think about the person whose pronouns have changed. All those difficulties are tripled when the person requests gender-neutral terminology. I recognize those difficulties, and they weigh in heavily when I’m deciding whether to inform someone of the proper terms to use.

TL;DR

If there are any lessons to be learned here, let it start with: Don’t assume you know what other people are thinking. It’s condescending and rude. Telling someone that they shouldn’t be insulted implies that you have some insight into what they’re thinking and that you know better than they do what does or should upset them.

Further, if you are aware of a trans* person’s pronoun preferences, use them. If you don’t know and you really need to know for some reason, ask them privately. If you have any amount of respect or care for them as human beings, you will do what you can to minimize their marginalization and suffering, and affirm their gender. It’s really just basic recognition of an integral part of their identities that almost every other human being gets to have validated. (Or not integral, in the case of some agender and other people.)

 

*My tweets forward to Facebook. This format was easiest since I didn’t want to take a screencap from Facebook. I’m lazy, sue me.

**The surprise is that I used absolutely zero gendered pronouns in this post. Did it in any way detract from the information provided that you didn’t know M is a cis man?

To my future mother in law on the occasion of my impending wedding

We chose a theme today. You don’t keep in touch too often, but even if you had you might have missed the significance of that one so no harm done so far. This week, we crossed a significant hurdle in the progress of my divorce. My ex-husband and I had some tax debts that would have been more than complicated to resolve on account of his status as a non-resident alien. This year’s filing resolved that debt with my refund and gave me a little extra money to boot. We are now no longer impeded by the debt or the lack of funds that once stood in the way of serious wedding planning. So, we chose a theme.

We also chose a venue. We wrote a guest list. We’re making a budget. We’re working on a timeline. So if your hesitance to display enthusiasm was at all related to my legal marital status, I hope this clears up any reservations you may have had on Lauren’s behalf. I can assure you that the length of our engagement has had everything to do with raw numbers and nothing to do with any sort of indecision or unwillingness on either of our parts.

If your reaction to Lauren’s phone call today was fully a result of the above, you can disregard the rest of this correspondence and stop reading now, but you’ll forgive me if I don’t believe for a minute that you have – or at least, not honestly. Since forming a relationship with Lauren, my second-hand encounters with you have been littered with painful aggressions wrapped in cowardly excuses, casual blame shifting, and disingenuous denials. You have actively shielded your family and friends from the reality of Lauren’s gender and sexual orientation. You have continually expressed humiliation and unwillingness to prioritize your familial bond with Lauren above the meaningless, shallow social capital you’ve amassed in your little suburb.

If only you could see your words from an outside perspective – from the vantage point of somebody who just watched her partner disintegrate into tears as her mother offered to “skype in” to a wedding. What would you think of yourself, do you suppose? Are you the sort of person who is perfectly content to discard your family’s well-being for the sake of your reputation? Oh, who am I kidding. Of course you are. “Don’t tell grandpa.” That’s your favorite phrase, right? Or is it “I’m glad you live far away.” Well, I’m glad you live far away, too.

But perhaps I’m being too harsh. Perhaps you simply don’t possess the wherewithal, courage, or natural instincts with which most of us are endowed. Maybe you’re simply not capable of caring for people other than yourself. In which case, I’m sure you’ll understand that your presence is not welcome at our wedding. While your presence would certainly save on electricity bills, we’d much prefer an air conditioner for keeping our venue frosty.

-Heather

Green

Guest post by Trinity Pixie

Green. The color was chosen without much thought, she liked green. It was a pleasant dark shade, and covered the thirsty white walls in only a couple hours. ”Why do we have to move my room so quickly?” she asked, frowning as she continued laying tile on top of the unfinished wooden floor. ”Your sister wants her own room, and it will be more… private for you down here.” Her father didn’t – refused to – look at her as he answered.

Green. She celebrated her first birthday since the move in that room, alone watching movies. The color was made a nice backdrop behind the TV, and made her feel a little less lonely. The room seemed less empty than it would have with bright, white bare walls.

Green. It was what she woke up to instead of sunlight, whenever it was that she slept. The room had no windows, and she had started to lose track of when day and night came and went. She hadn’t seen the sun in a week, though it didn’t seem quite that long.

Green. It surrounded her constantly. She all but stopped leaving her room except when using the bathroom or retrieving meals. Sometimes she caught a glimpse of the sun through a window in those brief moments she left, but she nearly stopped noticing. It was all the same.

Green. It filled her field of vision when she finally opened her eyes after crying. She didn’t feel better, but there were no tears left and no one around to notice if she cried more anyway. The color was soothing and irritating. A prison and a sanctuary at once. Green.


Trinity Pixie is a member of the Secular Woman advisory board.

On the Loss of False Male Privilege

Guest post by Trinity Pixie

False Male Privilege is experienced by some trans women prior to transition. It only affects us externally, and only until our presentation changes.

Back in May, I traveled to Women in Secularism 2. It was far from my first time getting somewhere by greyhound bus, but it was my first time taking one while presenting distinctly feminine, as I generally opted to travel while presenting androgynously even after my transition. I arrived at the bus station early, only to find out it was running late, leaving me at the station for well over an hour and a half. I passed the time listening to music and texting, generally trying to ignore the world around me. A young man was sitting on the other side of the station on a laptop when I arrived, and he stayed for about half an hour before putting away his computer and getting up to leave. On his way out he stopped in front of me and started to talk to me. I looked up and took out one headphone, assuming he might be from out of town and asking for directions. Instead he asked me what kind of music I like, and what I was listening to, even asking me to show him some, indicating the earbuds I was using (gross…). Eventually he gave up and left, only to come back a minute later without his things to try again, asking me what concerts I had been to and other small talk before finally giving up again after too many single word answers.

The bus itself was fairly empty, and the ride uneventful apart from being late and nearly missing a connection. I arrived in DC, found my way down to the metro and started reading the machine to figure out how to buy myself a ticket that will get me to my friend’s house. Two men immediately came over, and started explaining the machine to me as if it were something I was incapable of figuring out, including asking such personal information as where I was going and why I was in town, stuff I didn’t think much of giving out at the time. The metro ride itself, to my friend’s house and then to the conference and back everyday, was constantly full of stares. One man, riding with what I assume were his wife and children, spent the entire thirty minutes we were on the train staring very intently at my thighs. Other times I’d occasionally catch whispers between groups of men about the “chick with red hair.”

Arriving back in Pennsylvania, my ride from the bus station to home fell through, and I wouldn’t have another one for about six hours. I decided to walk a couple miles to an area with some shops to pass time. While walking next to the road I noticed an unusual frequency of people honking their horns. For an area with such a small population, and so little traffic it wasn’t usual to hear it every couple minutes as I did. It finally struck me as a single car honked passing by, with no other cars or people in the area: it was all being directed at me. Why was more obvious when a man in a red convertible pulled over to offer me a ride, with an expectant “are you sure?” when I declined.

Not a single thing listed is something I had experienced while male-presenting, and none of it was pleasant. An even worse set of events happened just a couple weeks ago, walking by myself on my way home through a more populated city. I passed by a crowded bar with a few men outside smoking cigarettes. One of them looked at me, his eyes obviously going straight from my breasts to my butt. He said “Hey there, sweetheart” followed by something I couldn’t quite make out. As I got past him I muttered “I’m not your sweetheart” under my breath, quiet enough he likely didn’t hear. I got a few feet away and I heard him yell behind me “Hey! Where the fuck do you think you’re going?” I quickened my pace without turning around, and my hand instinctively rested on my knife.

As I got to the corner where I needed to cross, I heard two men coming up behind me laughing, both wearing tuxedos. They looked at me and said “Don’t worry, we’re not going to creep you out… well maybe we’ll creep you out a little” and one stepped towards me reaching his arm out. I backed up putting distance between me and him, and refused to blink until after they crossed. The traffic light cycled once more before I crossed, and made my way to my bike, thankful the rest of the way wasn’t as populated. Riding home, on the empty path I got one more comment, shouted anonymously from some home nearby. “Hey good looking, going for a bike ride?”

In the span of ten minutes, I was persistently harassed in a way I never experienced previous to transition, by people treating me as they would any other woman passing by. I never felt more terrified of the people I passed on the street previous to transition including when a man once pulled a switchblade and demanded my wallet while I was still in university. These people weren’t interested in my purse or my jewelry, they wanted my body, and that made me feel incredibly small.

All else being equal, the levels of harassment from strangers on the street I experienced before and after transition went from a single attempted mugging to nearly every man I pass staring, whispering, or shouting about my body, or even outright threatening me. To treat anyone this way is unacceptable even if it were just one incident, and the reality is far worse than any isolated encounter. The world is teaching me that it does not value my comfort or safety as a woman, and I have little choice but to listen.


Trinity Pixie is a member of the Secular Woman advisory board.