Favorite Words

Lux, here!

I figured I could ease into blogging here by starting with random thoughts about language before hitting the big super complex gender stuff that’s also been floating around my brain. It’s an adventure!

<insert segue here>

Lots of people have a favorite color, favorite song, favorite season, favorite holiday, etc. Being a nerd of many trades, I have a soft spot for words, syntax, and language in general. My favorite English words (being my native tongue) are: spontaneity, clever, and exacerbate.

Recently, I noticed I had the word “ameliorate” popping up in my head. The more I mulled it over and thought about the definition–laughing at myself because it’s the opposite of “exacerbate”–I realized that I like this word as much as the others and can consider it one of my favorites.

There’s not really a set standard for why anything becomes my “favorite” something. For words, it’s often a combination of liking the definition, the way the word expresses the definition, and the way the word sounds/feels phonetically. Oh, and there’s almost always a sentimental reason as well.

Spontaneity is my top favorite because it literally means “randomness”. It’s just a fancy-pants noun for “random”, which is an adjective I took to heart during some of my most formative personality-building years. It sounds awesome and it’s cool to say.

Clever is one of my favorites, to be completely honest, partially because the Doctor uses the term a lot. He says things are “brilliant” too, but it just doesn’t ring the same way for me. I’ve also been complimented as being “clever” and felt very flattered, so that probably factors in.

Exacerbate is on the list because it’s incredibly amusing to me. I first heard it on Shaun of the Dead, then almost immediately again while reading the book Eragon by Christopher Paolini. (Fucking excellent book series, if you don’t mind my saying.) I guess it just tickles me that a succinct word exists to describe making things worse.

Ameliorate mostly just sounds really cool and rolls off the tongue well. Plus, it ties in with the amusement from the previous word.

Am I just super weird for having favorite words? What are some of yours, if you have any? I’m normally not great at being active in the comment community, but I will try to do better so LET ‘ER RIP.

Oh Hi, There!

Well, hello there, FTB! This is an introductory post!IMG_20140209_080947

I’m Lux Pickel, and I started my actual activism within the atheist community by blogging on Teen Skepchick–one of the Skepchick sister sites. Later on, they added me to Queereka, the LGBT-oriented Skepchick site. This past October I stepped down from those positions due to my depression, which has been like a black hole eating away at my life. :D

Basically, my life lately has been going to work, coming home to play video games and watch stuff with my lovely husband. I peruse Twitter, which is how I befriended Zinnia and her partner Heather. I’m attempting to get organized and launch into recovery mode to kick depression’s ass! I’ll let you know how that goes. Most often, posts about that stuff will be at my oddly monikered blog: Metaphorical Penis.

Stuff that I’ve written about elsewhere–which will probably show up here as well–include feminism, intersectional social justice, church/state separation, mental illness, media representations of various groups, religious influence on society and government, and patriarchy. Oh, and nerdy stuff. There will probably be random nerdy stuff. Doctor Who, Bo Burnham, Tim Minchin, World of Warcraft, language, ancient polytheistic religions… It’ll get interesting.

More random stuff about me: I’m in a recently-opened poly marriage with a gorgeous, loving guy. We have two cats who are fuzzy and good cuddlers. I’m genderqueer and pansexual and probably a 5 on a 1-10 scale of kinkiness. I like making jewelry from sheet metals like copper, silver, nickel-silver, and niobium if I could get my hands on any.

So yeah, that’s the main stuff. If you’d like to get to know me better, you can find me on all the sites. Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube… umm… There are probably others, but you get the idea.

I look forward to getting to know you lovely people! Leave some comments to share the love. <3

“Why was I vilified?” On Piers, Janet, and what it means for the rest of us

Guest post by Heather McNamara

I had to smirk at the TV as Piers moaned about how vilified he was by “abusive” people on Twitter. Lauren and I didn’t say much to each other after Janet Mock appeared on Piers Morgan’s show last night. We griped a bit on Twitter about Piers’ gratuitous use of the word “boy” and constant interruptions just as Janet was about to lead the discussion away from her surgery. We rolled our eyes and gawked at Piers’ defensive and offensive tweets and we clicked the favorite button on some particularly humorous snipes in his direction, but there wasn’t much going on behind the laptops in our house. We held hands. I got the Kindle version of Janet’s book and we skimmed over the first few pages together and we got ready for bed with the quiet parallel understanding of the overwhelming and uncomfortably close mess forming in the media. We’ve been there before.

This past August, as Chelsea Manning received the verdict at the end of a highly publicized trial and subsequently revealed herself to the world as a woman, my family had some new challenges to face. Lauren had been called as a witness to the trial and, as a transgender woman herself with a tie to the case, found herself invited on several news networks for brief interviews on the subject of transgender issues in prison. For a while, our sons and I were squealing with delight and calling family and friends to brag whenever her face was on television or her voice on the radio. We were excited and proud.

But our adventure (yes, admittedly, primarily Lauren’s adventure) was not without a price. One of her interviews on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper aired on the television in the waiting room at the doctor’s office as I waited with my sons to get an ear infection checked out. At first I was excited that I’d get the opportunity to watch the interview live though I was away from home, but my enthusiasm quickly turned to horror. My sons, who simply knew their stepmother as a “woman born with a boy body” watched as Jake Tapper described her as somebody who “used to be a gay man.” They listened as the other patients in the waiting room snickered and as their stepmother patiently attempted to explain Chelsea’s needs to somebody who insisted on calling her a man. Red-faced and near tears, I confronted the loudest and most obnoxious jerk in the waiting room who was, no surprise here, a masculine looking guy complete with beard, tattoos, and a shit-eating grin. “You think that’s fucking funny?” I asked him, my gaze hard.

“Yeah” he responded and continued laughing. The women at his flanks, apparently unrelated to him, joined in.

I had more choice words for him that I’d have let fly if I hadn’t been worried about being dropped as a patient from the one queer-friendly physician Lauren and I had grown to trust. I wrote about it when I got home and confronted Tapper on Twitter, pointing out that his disrespect of my partner’s gender was unacceptable to me. Tapper and I ended up speaking on the phone and after much defensiveness and belittling of my concerns, he asked me to write a letter to the “higher-ups” at CNN which he would pass on for me. I wrote that letter and it was reprinted and quoted and nothing changed. Lauren and I wrote an article together about our experiences attempting to enlighten Tapper and the CNN staff. We were quoted by trans people desperately hoping some sort of quotable would lead to an end to this hell, but nothing changed.

It was a difficult time for us as a family. More of my coworkers, friends, and even barely acknowledged acquaintances who did not previously know about Lauren’s transgender status were informed via television. When the buzz died off, this would be a vehicle to getting to know who my real friends were, but at the time, it was a dizzying experience of heightened awareness and distrust. I fielded more questions than I’d have liked about her gender, whether she’d had surgery, and what this meant about my sexual orientation.

These questions, as they often do, came from people who had neither the knowledge nor the vocabularies to process the real answers. Awkward, over-simplified half-truths were my replies. “Surgery is a complicated question, but she has… medically transitioned” I would say instead of “she’s been on hormone replacement therapy for a little over a year, has completed a name change and could change her birth certificate in some states but not in others because we cannot currently afford the orchiectomy and…” you get the idea.

The week that Chelsea came out was a sickening one culminating in a lot more anxiety attacks than I usually have, some fights we wouldn’t otherwise have had, and some calls to a therapist who didn’t exactly specialize in anxiety but whom we could at least trust to know what a transgender person was and not suggest treatments based on not being that anymore. Count your blessings if you’ve never had to take that into account when searching for a therapist or physician.

Since then, there isn’t much to say to each other when this sort of thing comes up. We know that when trans people get into the news, slimy little tendrils of ignorance will squirm into our lives and we’ll find ourselves answering more basic questions with oversimplifications. We’ll have to explain what bigender is to our friends and why asking Carmen Carrera about her genitals is inappropriate. We’ll have to explain why Leto’s performance on Dallas Buyers Club did not amuse us. We’ll feel overwhelmed by the thousands leaping to his defense because at times like this it seems like everyone in the whole world can identify with the person erasing our experiences, lives, and years of carefully crafted confidence and nobody can seem to learn from or identify with us. We’ll know, as they sneer at us in reply, their faces blank and uncaring, that they’re thinking the same words Piers said on his Twitter account last night.

We’re not alone. Though not much can approach the impact on our lives of the Chelsea Manning controversy, our internet social circles lit up with activity as Piers Morgan dug his heels in with tweets about how “dimwitted” his accusers were. Trans people all over the world consoled one another by talking about how shitty this is, by bickering with one another about what should have happened, and by developing minimum criteria for an acceptable apology that will never come. We reach out to each other through crowds of ignorance and exhaustive attempts at teaching the uninitiated and we surround ourselves in the cocoon of each other.

When Piers went back on his show tonight he argued with Janet about how he’s fairly sure that since he called her pretty and didn’t refer to her as “he,” he did all that he really needed to do. He didn’t know that his colleague Jake Tapper went through this with us only a few months ago because he didn’t bother to pay attention. He didn’t see anything wrong with confronting Janet over and over again about her surgery in spite of what just happened with Katie Couric. He stubbornly continued to refer to Janet as having once been a man because that is the only way he cares to understand us.

Thousands and thousands of people who tuned in will also feel that in spite of the disproportionately high homelessness, murder, rape, and suicide odds that trans people face, they too shouldn’t have to do more than call Janet “pretty.” The poor arguments and ignorant bloviating they’ve learned from listening to Piers and his even more ignorant panel of assholes will seep into our lives and come out of the mouths of coworkers, the Facebook statuses of friends, the mouths of our sons’ peers, and the conversations at family gatherings.

Concepts like “essentialism,” “dysphoria,” “misgendering,” “identity erasure,” and “tone policing” fly over their blissful cisgender heads as surely as the words that describe them. Our oversimplified half answers: “I was born a boy” were thrown back in our faces as they are whenever we ask for a bit of understanding, and often with, as Ben Ferguson said in his sick response: “science says you were born a boy.” Our lessons, patiently given, were used as weapons against us.

And, you know, Piers Morgan was “vilified.”

Trans panels at FtBCon 2!

This year’s FtBCon, running from January 31 through February 2, will have three trans panels on awesomely diverse topics. These include:

Between A Rock And…: Non-Binary Gender in Atheism (February 1, 11 AM – 12 PM)

When women started talking about women’s issues in the skeptic and atheist movements, it created an incredibly charged atmosphere within those communities. A couple years later, we’re still having this heated discussion. In talking about gender-related issues, how well do people within the community address trans* people, particularly non-binary-identified individuals? Is there an overlap between misogynistic attitudes and transphobic attitudes? Is non-binary erasure a problem for the atheist/skeptic communities? What place do binary and non-binary trans* people have within the community, and what are their contributions?

Trans* Representation in Video Games (February 1, 8 PM – 9 PM)

The few transgender characters in the video gaming world are problematic, if not outright dehumanizing. But are there representatives that aren’t complete stereotypes or foils for transphobic narratives?

Trans Men and Trans Masculinity (February 2, 1 PM – 2 PM)

The transgender male and trans masculine community includes people with a wide range of identities and lived experiences. Panelists will answer some common myths and questions and share their lived experiences. We will also address some of the similarities and differences between our experiences and those of trans women and cisgender people.

These panels feature some of the brightest minds in the trans and secular communities. Be there!

Out now: Hacking Transition, by Kristin

My colleague and good friend Kristin has just released her e-book, Hacking Transition: Tips and Tricks for Making Transition Easier. The book includes advice on all aspects of transitioning for trans women, from a a position of firsthand experience. Kristin says:

Over the last several years I have been through a lot with my transition, and learned a great deal. I’ve done many things well, and many things I wish I could do over. Along the way I’ve recorded all of the knowledge I have accumulated into an E-Book. Now that my transition is complete, I don’t want everything I have learned to go to waste, so I’m selling it in the form of an E-Book.

The book is on sale for just $7.99, with additional bonus packages available as well. Kristin is a great writer and visionary, and I highly recommend it.

Semi-hiatus type thing

I’m working through some stuff right now and I’ve needed to pare down my obligations as much as possible. Things like blogging didn’t make the cut, sadly. It’ll probably be pretty sparse around here until other things are taken care of and I have the energy and motivation to get back into it. If anything really important comes up, you can reach me at [email protected] I’ll see you around.

How Small Is Your Dick? Some “uncomfortable wiener questions” for Tim Graham

Last week, actress Laverne Cox and model Carmen Carrera appeared on Katie Couric’s talk show to discuss their careers and their experiences as trans women. What could’ve been an otherwise respectful interview instead took a turn for the incredibly inappropriate as Couric openly and shamelessly asked Carrera about whether her “private parts” are “different now”. Carrera, who was just not having any of that, responded perfectly: “I don’t want to talk about that, it’s really personal.” Cox later took the opportunity to explain how focusing on “the genitalia question”, as Couric phrased it, ignores the very serious issues of homelessness, discrimination, economic injustice and violence faced by trans women. Both Carrera’s and Cox’s segments are worth watching for their fantastic responses, if you can handle the severe awkwardness of the situation.

Naturally, the conservative NewsBusters.org – a Media Research Center outlet billing itself as “exposing & combating liberal media bias” – doesn’t really see a problem with any of this. It seems there’s only one thing with the power to unite the MRC and Katie Couric, whom the MRC previously bestowed with the singular honor of “Worst Reporter in the History of Man”. This is, of course, a mutual and overwhelming sense of entitlement to trans women’s bodies.

Tim Graham, the MRC’s director of media analysis, upholds the standard of excellence in news coverage for which conservative media are famous: vacuous commentary, lazy misgendering, and literal toilet humor. In his post, titled “Katie Couric Upsets the ‘Trans Women’ By Asking Those Uncomfortable Wiener Questions” (why the scare quotes? Is he calling us cis?), Graham spends a few short paragraphs putting in the least effort possible even for a transphobe. Meandering from calling Carrera and Cox “men” who “dress like women” (clearly Couric was actually inquiring about the surgery they’ve had done on their wardrobes), to suggesting questions about genitals (or “the bulge issue”, as he so cis-ly put it) were “inevitable”, to pondering whether it’s “possible to pretend to be a woman and use a urinal”, he ultimately projects an air of befuddlement that only comes from people who’ve never had to think about this in their lives: how could you possibly see anything wrong with asking trans women which genitals they have on national television?

Indeed, what’s the big deal? It’s just genitals, right? No need to get uncomfortable over a few wiener questions. Yet Graham would do well to ask his colleagues at NewsBusters the same thing. Since 2010, his fellow writers have published numerous articles expressing their outrage at the Transportation Security Administration’s updated screening procedures – namely, the full-body scanners that reveal the shape of passengers’ bodies, and the “extended pat-downs” which can include contact with the breasts, buttocks and genitals. Just look at all these very upset stories:

Oh, and an article from just last month in which Graham himself described the TSA as “well-known for being too aggressive in its body searches”.

So, let’s put it all together: When some bored TSA agent in another room merely looks at the shadow of an angry cis white guy’s “junk”, or checks whether that’s a firecracker in his pants or he’s just happy to see them – for the purpose of potentially preventing hundreds or thousands of deaths – it’s “invasive”. It’s “overboard”. It’s a “civil liberties abuse”. It’s “too aggressive”.

When trans women of color are asked point-blank about their genitals in front of a daytime audience of millions, for no reason other than prurient and entitled curiosity, it’s “inevitable”.

Inevitable. Inevitable that trans women’s bodies will be treated as public property and denied even basic human dignity. Inevitable that they’ll be gleefully dissected in detail for the enjoyment of cis people – or, as Laverne Cox pointed out, simply murdered in the streets if that’s what cis people want.

As long as no one touches Tim Graham’s junk.

But those “uncomfortable wiener questions” are still on the table, right? That’s totally an appropriate topic for everyday conversation. Has anyone gotten around to asking Tim Graham if he has a penis? Or is that “bulge” just a packer? Are those his original genitals or did he have them reconstructed? Does he have to sit down to pee, or can he use urinals like a real woman? Is he a grower or a shower? How big does it get? How does he have sex – like, how does that work? Does he have to take medication or does he have one of those erectile implants?

Most crucially: Can we all make sure that he’s forced to answer these very important questions every single time he decides to share his valuable opinions and experiences as a straight cis man?

Penis Impossible: The most baffling transphobia ever

Purely out of necessity, people can be very creative when trying to invent real-world evidence – rather than merely abstract objections – to justify hating and fearing trans people. Some of this transphobia relies on arguments about scenarios that are theoretically possible, but do not actually occur: things like cis boys passing themselves off as trans girls to peep in locker rooms, something which happens only in the imagination of Bill O’Reilly. Other transphobia relies on citing situations that probably do occur sometimes, and then using them in arguments that are plainly illogical – like a cis man picking up a trans woman he finds attractive while assuming she’s cis, having a mutually enjoyable tryst with her, and later discovering she’s trans and retroactively declaring this was now a singularly horrific event which was wholly her fault.

Occasionally, we get the chance to see transphobes wander just a little too far into the realm of fantasy. I don’t know how I managed to miss this, but last year, transphobic radical feminist “Ann Tagonist” took the typical disclosure-and-deception sex trope and ran with it – directly into oncoming traffic. Tagonist’s breathtaking new argument (I’ve honestly never seen this one before) is structured as follows:

  1. Cis women can be at risk of becoming pregnant from sex.
  2. Cis lesbians might assume that limiting themselves to lesbian sex means they are not at risk of pregnancy.
  3. If a cis woman sleeps with a trans woman, the cis woman could be at risk of becoming pregnant.
  4. If the cis woman in question has not been informed that her partner is a trans woman rather than a cis woman, she might not realize she needs to take steps to mitigate her risk of pregnancy.
  5. Therefore, trans people should be obligated to disclose that they are trans before having sex.

Before getting into this, I’ll give you a moment to locate the exact point where this falls apart. (Hint: somewhere between 3 and 4.)

Tagonist first makes reference to a real-life case that can’t possibly support this line of argument:

The Scottish Transgender Alliance has filed a petition with the Home Office demanding that Scotland’s courts stop jailing people who lie about their trans status to their sexual partners. Over 2,400 people put their names on this thing. The Scottish Transgender Alliance argues that a person’s “gender history” is their own personal medical history and they are not obliged to disclose anything to do with it.

This petition followed the conviction of Chris Wilson, a trans man who did not disclose that he was trans before dating two women. Trans men (men who were assigned female at birth) lack the capacity to produce sperm, no matter which procedures or surgeries they may have had. There is no way in which the risk of pregnancy is relevant to trans men having sex with cis women – not even in theory.

Undeterred by this particular fact, or any facts at all, Tagonist goes on to lay out her concerns:

Lesbians, when they consent to sex with female partners, are doing so on the understanding that they are definitely not going to become pregnant. … If a lesbian ‘consents’ to sex with someone she thinks is reproductively female but that person is actually reproductively male, that lesbian has not given informed consent. She has not been given enough information with which to make her decision. Women need to know the reproductive capacity of a potential sex partner so they can decide not to engage, or take steps to protect themselves. …

“Gender history” is irrelevant here. We need to know the sex of the people we’re having sex with because, hello, pregnancy. Legislation which allows males to lie about their sex in order to obtain consent contravenes women’s bodily autonomy.

Rarely do I encounter transphobia rooted in something that is not just improbable, not just illogical, but in fact literally impossible. If we were to make a decision tree of every different way in which such a hypothetical event could proceed, there would be no possible endpoint where the cis woman partner would both experience an event leading to pregnancy and remain unaware that her partner is actually a trans woman and not a cis woman.

In order for it to be possible for a trans woman to impregnate a cis woman during sex, that trans woman must still be capable of producing sperm. This would no longer be the case following vaginoplasty (commonly known as “The Surgery”), during which the testes are discarded. A trans woman with a vagina has no remaining tissue in her body that can produce sperm – ever.

The only way in which a trans woman could conceal the fact that she’s trans during any kind of genital-genital contact is if she has a vagina, and thus can’t produce sperm. After all, the entire trope of trans women not disclosing prior to sex relies on a scenario where our partners can have sex with us and still not be able to tell we’re trans. Conversely, the only way in which a trans woman could impregnate a cis woman during sex is if she still has a penis (and testes), the presence of which can be assumed to disclose one’s transness inherently. Yet Tagonist seems to be under the impression that these two mutually exclusive possibilities could happen concurrently – that a cis woman could have sex with a trans woman without knowing she’s trans, and become pregnant due to this.

I struggle to comprehend the reasoning behind this. Perhaps Tagonist believes that cis women can become pregnant from exposure to trans women’s vaginas, something which is physically impossible. One might as well fret about the potential risk of virginal conception (and any unintended deities that may result). Or maybe she believes cis women are so totally ignorant that they would not recognize the presence of a woman’s penis as an indication that this woman is indeed trans – which is contradicted by her assumption that cis women will have enough baseline knowledge of trans issues that they will know how to act on this information.

Or perhaps she imagines that a cis woman could somehow remain completely unaware that a real, live human penis is present in close range of her genitals – before, during, and after a sexual act that could lead to pregnancy. Maybe, in Tagonist’s world, trans women are capable of flawlessly concealing their own penises even during penetration itself, like the sexual equivalent of the hallway scene from Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol.

Which totally happens all the time, what with our state-of-the-art Invisible Stealth Parts – the latest craze that’s sweeping Thailand! I mean, how else would such a thing be possible? Have I missed something here, like time-traveling trans sperm? I’m genuinely curious as to how this whole line of argument coalesced in her mind. For all I know, this is something she’s dealt with before, in which case she should strongly consider taking up Randi on his $1 million paranormal challenge. Otherwise, her ramblings about “informed consent” in regards to trans people having sex ring rather hollow, given that she doesn’t seem to be informed about much in this area at all.

Queer ghosts of Christmas past

christkindlmarket-chicago-christkindlmarket-chicagoBack in 2004 or so, I was probably 15 or thereabouts, and back then I was still staying over and visiting at my dad’s house every weekend or every other weekend. I had my own room in the basement, a computer, the whole works. So yeah, being 15 and testosterone and so on, I’d sometimes just look at a ton of porn. There was this one night where I was looking at stuff on 4chan and I found whatever section had super-femme guys in it, and there was just this wholly uneventful realization of… this works for me. There wasn’t even a moment of anxiety or worry about what it might mean – only the immediate sense of “oh.” It was probably the first time I realized I was some variety of queer.

The next day, we all got on the train to go to downtown Chicago for the Christkindlmarket festival, and the entire day, I was just completely distracted because my world felt like it had been turned upside down. It was fascinating and I was just in awe of this newfound understanding that I could find literally anyone attractive if I wanted. It totally blew my mind and it felt like an incredible shift in perspective and I just stayed in that state of whoa for like a week. It was so liberating.

So yeah, Christmas has always been really strongly associated with the stirrings of queerness for me.

oplatekOne of the traditions at dad’s house was Wigilia. I think they still do it, I just haven’t been back there for the holidays in years. It’s this big Polish dinner for Christmas Eve (with some Kucios elements since we’re Lithuanian too), with pierogi and white fish and mushroom soup, and also herring and sometimes sunflower seed bread and other fun stuff like that. My grandma and grandpa would come out to visit, we’d all open presents that evening, and it was nice

But before we could get to dinner and presents, we had to do… the oplatki. It’s basically a large rectangle, about the size of a tarot card, of the same vaguely edible material used in communion wafers. It ended up being possibly the most passive aggressive Christmas tradition imaginable. How it works is the oldest person takes it first, and offers a piece to everyone around the table, with their wish for them in the new year. Then the second-oldest person offers a piece to everyone around the table, and so on, until everyone’s had a chance to exchange new year wishes with everyone else.

For as long as I can remember, this had devolved into a palpably uncomfortable “airing of grievances” where people would hassle each other for not quitting smoking, or tell each other to get a job, or tell me to get a haircut and do something with my life, and so on. Things between me and my stepmom and her kids had always been uneasy throughout my teen years and I just tried to shrink into the background and ignore anything mean they said. But there was this one year, it must have been 2009 or so, when I had finally come out as a “gay guy” to everyone. And yeah, it wasn’t really the most comfortable identity for me at the time, and I was still in that liminal state where I had yet to figure out that being massively femme actually meant something much different than gay-dude-ness for me. But, back then, that was where things stood.

And while I gritted my teeth during the oplatki, trying not to take it too seriously as I listened to the barely concealed barbs, my older stepsister held out the wafer and I broke off a piece and she told me, “Meet lots of cute boys.”

And it was one of the first times anyone had ever made an overt gesture toward openly including that part of me in family life, and it was all the more surprising because it came from someone I hadn’t always been on good terms with. And as rough as things might have been before, my dad’s side of the family turned out to be the ones who were so, so much more ready to accept me and include me without question. Through everything, to this day.

I love Wigilia, and it’s really important to me.

Back in 2010, I was still living with my family, and also living under the delusion that I was a guy. Heather and I were in the still-just-super-really-good-friends (-who-are-in-love-but-don’t-know-it-yet) phase – we’d yet to meet up, other than just talking online all day and all night. And we decided we totally had to get each other Christmas presents. I think I got her a new translation of The Second Sex (she LOVES books), and she picked out something from my Amazon wishlist. But we told each other not to open it until Christmas, so when I got a package from her (gift-wrapped and all!), I put it under the tree with the rest of my family’s presents.

And then it was Christmas morning and my mom was handing out everyone’s presents, and of course I had to just tear right into Heather’s first, and it was the most beautiful pair of arm-length black satin gloves. I put them on immediately in front of everyone and they were so perfect. I was just so excited! My mom haltingly asked: “…Who are those from?”

“My friend Heather!”

“Oh.”

And I ran off to take selfies in my pajamas to show to Heather:

215744621

Transgender women in women’s restrooms: A purely imagined harm

This August, California passed the School Success and Opportunity Act, a law mandating that transgender students must be included in school activities on the basis of their identified gender rather than their assigned sex. This includes playing on sports teams consistent with their gender, as well as the use of facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms.

Conservative groups predictably painted this as an outrage, raising the terrifying possibility that trans girls might use girls’ restrooms – which is supposed to be a problem for some reason. Frank Schubert, a strategist behind numerous state campaigns against marriage equality, is now leading an initiative to overturn the law. The National Organization for Marriage, following a lengthy series of failures to achieve any of their marriage-related aims, has decided it would be easier to attack trans kids.

But of all the groups that have lined up to oppose this law, perhaps none have been as vocal – and as dangerous – as the Pacific Justice Institute. On their website, Pacific Justice immediately began seeking plaintiffs who felt they were somehow wronged by this new law, and were willing to challenge it in court. Having apparently no success in their search, they had to go all the way to Colorado to find the supposed victims they needed as the face of their campaign.

On October 13, the Christian Broadcasting Network published a story claiming that a transgender girl had been harassing other girls in restrooms at Florence High School in Colorado. From the very beginning, this story was suspiciously light on details. No further information was given as to the specific nature of the alleged harassment. No individuals involved were identified or even quoted. No evidence was provided that any of this had actually taken place. The “story”, if you can call it that, came down to nothing more than a vague allegation – and half of the very short article was devoted to grandstanding and self-promotion by Pacific Justice.

Following its publication, this story was uncritically syndicated by news outlets around the world, including Fox News and the Daily Mail. Fortunately, Cristan Williams of Transadvocate.com took the time to contact the school superintendent, Rhonda Vendetti, and find the facts surrounding this supposed incident. When asked about the story, Vendetti stated: “to our knowledge and based on our investigation, none of those things have actually happened. We do have a transgender student at the high school and she has been using the women’s restroom. There has not been a situation.” She further added: “There has not been an incident of harassment, or anything that would cause any additional concern.”

In other words, the Pacific Justice Institute’s story appeared to be more of a non-story, and likely nothing more than a false accusation. The Daily Mail subsequently removed the article from their website. But the exposure of their fabricated story didn’t stop Pacific Justice from continuing to pursue it anyway. Within days, they issued a very revealing clarification of their earlier claims: “It is our position that the intrusion of a biological male into a restroom for teenage girls is inherently harassing and intimidating.”

This is not a minor detail. As soon as their false accusations of harassment were revealed, they tried to claim that what they meant all along was that her mere presence was the same as an act of harassment. This is a significant backtracking from their original allegations, and essentially an admission that nothing had actually happened. Cristan Williams subsequently interviewed the student’s family, and found that she’s only 16 years old, that she had transitioned two years ago, and that she was now on suicide watch following the campaign against her.

What really happened, according to the cis “victims”

But even that wasn’t enough to convince Pacific Justice to back down. Last week, they posted a video of the “victims” talking about how traumatic it is that a trans girl would use the women’s restroom. If you can stand to watch the video, I highly recommend that you do. What the students actually had to say about their experiences is really surprising.

Throughout the video, three girls recount what it was like to use the bathroom, or not use the bathroom, while a trans girl was there, or was not there:

“It kind of makes me a little bit nervous about if I run into him. … I was going into the bathroom, as I was just walking in, I see him there, and I just turned around and walked out of the bathroom. … I just don’t go to the bathroom as much anymore.”

“I feel uncomfortable because I know that he doesn’t have the same parts as me, which I do not think that’s right that he could go into the same bathroom as me. … I actually only use the bathroom probably once a day, and that’s when I’m in gym and I don’t have the same gym class with him, so I’m trusting that he won’t walk in there while I’m in there. … Me and my friend were in there, and all of a sudden we see him walk out of the stall, and I felt really weird and we just walked out.”

“I believe if you want to be gay or a girl if you’re a guy, you have the right to do that but you don’t need to put everyone else in a position where they’re uncomfortable to do that. Things are meant to be private and kept for you and only for you.”

Here’s the most striking thing about their stories: All that they’re talking about is how they used the restroom while a trans girl was there, and nothing happened. At no point in any of their stories is there any instance where this girl did or said anything inappropriate – indeed, there are no instances of her doing or saying anything at all.

If she had conducted herself in any way that was even remotely possible to construe as harassment, you can be sure that it would have been brought up in this video. But nothing of the sort is mentioned at all. Literally the only event they talk about is: a trans girl used the restroom.

Note also how much of this is about them. They are the ones who are nervous. They are the ones who are uncomfortable. They are the ones who “felt really weird”. They are the ones refusing to use the restroom. How is this the fault of one student who’s done nothing wrong? She’s not the one being weird around them – they’re clearly the ones being weird around her.

Yet their parents, and Pacific Justice, are all too willing to treat this as a compelling reason to attack a student who hasn’t done anything inappropriate. Against a background of dramatic music, three parents ramble aimlessly and veer off into utter incoherence:

“You’re kind of wired, as a mom, to protect your kid. And when you’re unable to, it’s scary. … I feel sorry for this little boy, but at the same time, I need to respect him, he needs to respect me. And I do that. Why can’t he do it? Why can’t we teach him, you know, respect others? … This is not the school’s problem or my daughter’s problem that he has decided to do this. But it is my problem when they’re uncomfortable, and not safe at school. I feel as if they’re not safe at all.”

“The school pretty much told us, your daughter has no rights. … When the school told us, there’s no rights, I was like, there has to be rights for these girls. … You have private parts for a reason, you know, and now they’re not private anymore. … We pray for this boy every night, as a family we decided we’re going to pray for this boy and, you know, he’s a confused boy.”

“From day one, you protect your kid from electrical outlets, you put things on your cabinet so they can’t get into the medicine, it’s your job to protect your kid because they can’t protect themselves yet.”

Again, these parents are talking about protecting their daughters in a situation where all parties admit that nothing has even happened. Moreover, they do this while, in the same breath, turning one innocent girl’s life into a media firestorm. After this girl has been on suicide watch, they now claim their daughters are the ones who aren’t safe.

They talk about “rights” as they try to kick her out of a public restroom. They talk about “respect” when they can’t even bring themselves to respect her gender. They talk about “private parts” while making international news out of someone’s anatomy. They offer their meaningless and condescending prayers while refusing to do anything that could actually help this girl. They call it a “problem” when their daughters are “uncomfortable” in the face of no harassment and no inappropriate behavior, yet they have no problem with harassing one girl until she’s almost too uncomfortable to go on living. They don’t even care.

And that’s really the heart of all this. The closest thing resembling an argument in this video is the contention that cis people’s discomfort should be the only reason needed to exile trans women from women’s restrooms – even if these trans women have never done anything inappropriate. They seem to believe that if cis people are ever uncomfortable with the mere idea of this, then trans women need to leave immediately and just never use women’s restrooms.

But no thought is given to how uncomfortable trans women might be about this, or whether trans women’s discomfort should compel cis people to act differently. They don’t seem to think this is worth considering at all.

In light of this, I contend that the mere discomfort of cis people at the simple presence of trans women in women’s restrooms should not be a compelling argument for anything. This is not a sound justification for excluding trans women from women’s facilities. And there should be absolutely nothing wrong with seeing yet another case of cis people complaining about nothing, and telling them, “who cares?”

Use of women’s restrooms by trans women is normal and common

The discomfort of cis people is not some inherent feature of trans women using the women’s restroom. It does not need to be seen as a completely understandable reaction: a great many cis people are just fine with trans women using women’s restrooms, and these cis people do not make an issue of it at all. It is not an inevitable consequence of our bathroom use – there’s nothing about our presence that forces people to feel this way. So this is not about what we are doing, it is about how they choose to react to that. Given that so many cis people don’t see this as a problem and don’t try to ban us from bathrooms, what’s their excuse?

Moreover, even if every cis person was uncomfortable with trans women using women’s restrooms, their discomfort would be totally unwarranted. This anxiety is completely unsupported by the facts at hand – there is nothing to be anxious about, and so this baseless reaction shouldn’t be considered a compelling argument for anything.

In an absolute sense, trans women using women’s restrooms is an incredibly common occurrence. A 2011 study from the Williams Institute at UCLA analyzed multiple surveys, and found that about 700,000 people in the United States are trans. Let’s assume half of these people are trans women – about 350,000. If these trans women only use women’s restrooms an average of 3 times a year – some of them more, some of them less – there are over a million instances of this every year.

There are over a million instances of something that Pacific Justice wants us to believe is “inherently harassing”, over a million cases of what they see as cause for a melodramatic, teary video about how traumatizing it is just to be in our presence. Yet the reality of our bathroom use clearly does not support such an assumption. On top of that, 77% of trans women haven’t even had any genital reconstruction – most of us indeed do not have “the same parts”. But are we to believe that every time we use a public restroom, this ends with shocked and weeping cis women running from the stalls?

No. The inherent harassment postulated by Pacific Justice is, in truth, neither inherent nor harassment, and “parts” clearly aren’t a problem here either. Their president described this as an “ordeal” for these girls, who have apparently “gone through a lot, mentally and emotionally”. I think this would come as news to the millions more cis women who use restrooms alongside us without issue.

Admittedly, cases of trans women using restrooms do occasionally become newsworthy. We see dozens of such “incidents” make the news every year – but not thousands. The fraction of cases where this becomes an issue is so small as to be negligible. And when it does become a problem, it is almost invariably caused not by the actions of trans women, but by the actions of cis people. These are not instances where trans women have misbehaved, acted inappropriately, or harassed anyone. Instead, these incidents happen when cis people identify someone as trans and seek to exclude them from public restrooms for that reason alone.

In Florida, a nursing student was told she would face charges if she continued to use the women’s restroom at college. In Idaho, a woman was issued a no-trespass order for using the women’s restroom at a grocery store. In Colorado, a 6-year-old girl was told she couldn’t use the girl’s bathroom at school anymore. Almost every one of these supposedly newsworthy events comes down to the same story we’re seeing here: a trans woman used the women’s restroom and nothing happened – except for cis people causing problems. It’s obvious that we’re subjected to this not because of any behavior on our part that would merit such treatment, but simply because of who we are.

Trans women are at high risk in restrooms – because of cis people

If the harassment of women in public restrooms is something these people are concerned about, they could start by worrying about the harassment of trans women. In a survey of trans people in Washington, DC, 59% of trans women reported being verbally harassed in bathrooms. This included being “told they were in the wrong facility, told to leave the facility, questioned about their gender, ridiculed or made fun of, verbally threatened”, as well as having the police called or being followed after they left. 17% of trans women were denied access to restrooms outright, and 14% were physically assaulted in restrooms.

This is not a case of people “inherently harassing” us just by being there – they are actively harassing us by beating us, yelling at us, and denying us entry. This danger creates a climate of fear: 58% of trans people reported avoiding public places because they weren’t sure if a safe restroom would be available, and 38% avoided places with only gender-separated restrooms. And 54% suffered some kind of physical issue from waiting too long to use the bathroom.

One person explained how much planning goes into using public restrooms:

“Stay out in DC for short periods of time. Scout bathroom options. If men’s and women’s entrances are very close and the bathrooms are not currently in use, I will use them. If there is a line to use the restrooms, I will not. Standing in line usually always results in verbal abuse or denial of access.”

Does that sound like something cis people have to think about every time they need to go to the bathroom? Pacific Justice is happy to trot out stories of cis girls who avoid using the restroom while a trans girl is there, simply because they “felt weird”. What they don’t seem to realize is that this is a daily reality for trans women – and not merely because we feel “weird”, but because we face a very real threat to our safety. And that threat does not come from trans people. It comes from cis people.

Given the attacks we suffer from them on a regular basis, expecting us to view our own simple presence as somehow harassing to others is the height of entitled cis ignorance. Cis people harass us with extraordinary frequency, but nobody sees all cis people as the problem here. Yet trans people do nothing, and we’re subjected to campaigns to bar us from using the proper restroom. Does Pacific Justice have any data on how often we’re beating cis women in restrooms, threatening them, and telling them they have to leave? Or just some more videos about how nothing happened?

Cis people’s bathroom fears do not matter

These groups are trying to make an issue out of what is, in reality, the biggest non-issue imaginable. And the sickening irony of it all is that campaigns like these, where cis people’s unreasonable fears are inexplicably treated as valid, are exactly why we as trans women have every reason to be afraid. When their discomfort over nothing is elevated to a no-questions-asked veto power over our restroom access, this teaches people that they’re right to see us as a danger, and that they’re justified in taking action against us. It encourages cis people everywhere to appoint themselves as bathroom vigilantes, policing restrooms for any sign that a trans person might be trying to use the facilities.

And they think they’re the ones who are uncomfortable? They’re the ones who are “a little bit nervous”? We’re the ones who have to live in the constant fear that just using the restroom might mean encountering someone who doesn’t like how our faces look, how our voices sound, how our necks are shaped, or how tall we are. We have to live with the possibility that at any moment, no matter how unimpeachable our behavior may be, cis people can single us out, question the legitimacy of our gender, and make such an issue of it that it becomes a worldwide headline. And the world will think we’re the ones who did something wrong. We fear this because it’s actually happened countless times before, and it’s certainly going to happen again. Each of us fears that we might be next.

So let me be clear: When cis people talk about how unsafe they feel around us, I do not care. Just because they’re distressed at simply being around someone who’s trans, that doesn’t mean anything has to be done about this. It doesn’t mean we’re the problem here. Their discomfort with something harmless does not need to be accommodated at the expense of others – it doesn’t create any sort of moral imperative to be imposed upon us, and it doesn’t obligate us as trans women to cater to their baseless anxieties.

They have the luxury of being taken far too seriously when they fear a nonexistent threat. Meanwhile, we’re faced with suspicion, harassment, global media exposure, and even violence – for no reason at all. Campaigns like these are not just groundless, they are not just wrong, they are precisely backwards: Cis people are not the ones who are threatened by us. We are the ones who are threatened by them.