Trans Rights & America’s Modern Left

I first began to legally and medically transition a little over a year before Trump was elected President. While my entire social group knew I was trans before that point and I had spoken to individual family members about it, I then had to make sure every person I cared about was on the same page. The reason why most LGBTQ people come out is because we get tired of living with the pain, humiliation and alienation of double lives and secrecy and want to live more complete lives with our whole world- not just a part of it.

When faced with the need to reach out to family members I had not yet spoken to and to come out at my work in order to plan appropriately, I began to feel the enormity of both the release of being out as well as the attendant risks. As someone with a public-facing job, there was simply no way around broaching the subject at work. There are many important things about us that are not visible on the surface- our values, psychological states, religiosity, spirituality, political commitments, etc. -so many things that can be sorted into a segregated private life that need not have any bearing on a public life. Transitioning from one gender to another cannot be one of them- at least not while you are transitioning.

I felt a very powerful sense of achieving real participation and control with my world. Perhaps for the first time ever, I began to grapple with the possibility that the world I live in has a place for me as well as everyone else. For an adult who never viscerally encountered this, the experience is dizzying and surreal. While the feeling of emancipation is nearly dream-like in its’ unprecedented power, the darker possibilities are equally powerful.

I had dealt with harassment on a more indirect and secretive scale before: once, while at a bar I frequented on weekends, I went to the bathroom and made no secret of it. This was a place where many people knew me as my authentic self and I felt no need to avoid using the women’s bathroom. Later, after a full night of drinks, I predictably had to use the ladies’ room again, only that time there was semen all over the toilet seat and the walls. A group of men cackled at me on my way out. At that point in my life I was no stranger to men behaving badly but this was the first time where something uncalled-for was known about and laughed at by a large number of people.

If this is what harassment can look like when a transwomen is still closeted, I began to seriously dread what might lay in store for me after openly transitioning. As I child, I heard stories about friends’ of friends’ who committed suicide and were found dressed in women’s clothing, which for my childhood left me too terrified to ever think about coming out in my hometown. It was a terror I had to overcome in order to come out, but I was now faced with fears that were all the more daunting for their shapelessness.

I had serious moral objections to Hilary Clinton as a Presidential candidate in 2016- Sanders, Stein and Johnson all reflected my values better -but I voted for her on the strength of one thing: her verbal commitment to trans rights. Clearly, I was a one issue voter, but this one issue carried all of my peace of mind with it. Hilary Clinton was one of two potential Presidents and her shot at the oval office alone was enough for me to take her dedication to trans rights seriously. An American President who was unambiguously committed to trans rights was simply too urgent of an issue for me not to vote on. Even Obama, during his first run for President, said that his view on LGBTQ rights was “evolving”- more frank support at that time may have cost him his Presidency. On the historical scale, American LGBTQ equality is new enough to be fragile and is absolutely not to be taken for granted- not then and not now.

At present, these stakes are no lower, but my view of American politics is less clouded by haunting and personal panic. For now it is, anyway. It’s not like there isn’t anything to panic about. We still do not know where the consequences of Trump’s assassination of Soleimani will lead in the end and nuclear war is a clear possibility. We may be mere decades (or years) from global catastrophe due to climate change. And right now the world is in the grip of a global pandemic. The industrial military complex and the fossil fuel industries now constitute existential dangers. Many Americans were already living the reality of our broken health care system and now COVID-19 has made it’s failings absolutely unavoidable.

The stakes right now are absolutely urgent and are complicated by the corruption, amorality and incompetence of the party that is faced with the task of running a candidate against Trump. Issues that I consider too important to ignore- such as the green new deal and avoiding nuclear war -were championed by candidates that the DNC acted together to thwart such as Tulsi Gabbard and Bernie Sanders. Elizabeth Warren seemed like a promising bet as well until her pivot on universal health care made manifest her willingness to be bought. If someone can’t stand up to big pharma, then they have zero potential to resist Wall Street, the fossil fuel industries and the military industrial complex.

Big money carries all of the weight on the mortally threatening sides of issues like climate change and global war and only Bernie Sanders made it clear that he was financially beholden only to ordinary people. I already mentioned in the last entry that, during the last debate before Super Tuesday, Sanders was the only candidate who said he would not defer to the prerogative of the DNC and the super delegates.

It’s been said that the Democratic Party worked harder to defeat Bernie Sanders than any Republican in recent memory. And it’s unavoidably true. Polling data predicted a clear victory for Sanders before Super Tuesday. When the rubber hit the road that night, there were several surprise endorsements and the attendant shifting of their respective bases. Pete Buttigieg, initially committed to sticking it out until the bitter end, received a private phone call from none other than Barack Obama telling him that, if he dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden, then Sanders could be defeated.

Biden, who continues to run on his status as Vice President to Obama, was anointed as a one-man Sanders spoiler. Ever since the very earliest debates there has been a clear institutional preference for a non-threatening “electable” candidate who would be generic enough for widespread appeal. This approach has proven itself unreliable in the last two decades. Bill Clinton won in the early nineties by working across party lines and ever since then bipartisanship has been treated as a path to certain victory for Democrats. In 2016, Hilary Clinton was perceived as approachable to conservatives and independents and less polarizing than Sanders, and therefore a safe choice to run against Donald Trump.

If an institutionally anointed centrist loses against a candidate with the blessing of a social movement, it should not be that hard to do the math. After this latest Primary, though, it’s clear that the DNC still fails to do so. In addition to Biden’s indifference to most issues that I consider urgent, his presumed route to victory is based on a proven failure. If the lessons of the 2016 election aren’t enough, there is also a depressing resemblance to the 2004 race between John Kerry and George W. Bush. Or even the 2012 race between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Incumbent Presidents have the built-in credibility of their first term and the validated passion of the base that elected them. In 2004 and 2012, institutionally-vetted “safe-bet” candidates failed to win against incumbent Presidents, and this is the strategy that the DNC is poised to implement now.

There is one issue, though, that Joe Biden appears to be firmly committed to that I find difficult to ignore. The Human Rights Campaign recently published an article on their website surveying Biden’s stances on LGBTQ issues. Not only does he express clear support for trans rights but the record of the Obama administration cannot be ignored. The State Department, during the Obama administration, made it significantly easier for trans people to change their names and gender signifiers on passports. In the HRC article, Biden is quoted as saying that he will do anything he can to make legal transition as easy and efficient as possible. He has even gone so far as to say that trans and non-binary people will be able to mark X for their gender on legal documents- no small thing, considering that support for non-binary individuals is frequently perceived as discrediting by the right and political independents.

Joe Biden also said that he would commit to not allowing trans people to be assigned to the prison for their birth sex. The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was issued guidance during the Obama administration regarding the high risk of rape faced by incarcerated trans people. This was the Transgender Offender Manual, issued by the U.S. Department of Justice, and was rolled back during Trump’s first term in office. In addition to undoing the set-backs implemented by Trump, Biden says that he would even commit to making medically necessary transition-related care such as hormone replacement therapy available to prison inmates and the Justice Department will be tasked with enforcing national compliance with PREA standards. The White House under Joe Biden would also update the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports Supplementary Homicide Reports to record sexual orientation and gender identity, in order to bring more scrutiny to bear on anti-LGBTQ violence.

Considering the threat of violence and harassment many trans people live under, these promises deserve to be taken seriously. At the same time, progressives on the left have begun to perceive left-leaning social issues as distractions or consolation prizes to be offered in the absence of economic, environmental, medical or military policies. When Elizabeth Warren began to lose her clout as a progressive after welching on Medicare for all, she accused Bernie Sanders of being a secret sexist, contrary to his entire political record. This was (correctly, in my opinion) dismissed as an attempt to distract voters from her policy concessions. Warren also began to take up the cause of transwomen placed in men’s prisons shortly before gambling away her credibility.

This had the unfortunate consequence of giving progressives the impression that trans issues and women’s issues are lip-service that neo-liberals use to disguise their willingness to be bought on matters of climate change, foreign policy and economics. Using leftist social issues as a way to pacify the progressive movement that the Democratic establishment attempted to dismiss could have disastrous long-term consequences for the party. As monstrous as the ideas and policies of Trump and his movement are, Trump still knows enough not to alienate his base. The Democratic Party may have scattered its base to the four winds on Super Tuesday while telling them to suck it up and vote blue in the end.

Is it possible to use trans rights or feminism cynically as misdirection or a persuasive bit of lip-service? Absolutely. And I’m certain that Biden is hoping that his commitments to social issues will make up some of his lost ground with progressives. What’s more is that Biden had a pattern of supporting rigid and punitive drug laws in the eighties and remained an enthusiastic supporter of mass incarceration throughout the nineties. Joe Biden also collaborated with Strom Thurmond (yes, Strom fucking Thurmond) on a bill that expanded civil asset forfeiture in relation to drug crimes and, for those convicted, removed the possibility of parole at the federal level. I find this deeply disturbing, especially considering the unconstitutional nature of civil asset forfeiture- for those who don’t know, civil asset forfeiture is when the government seizes money or property because they suspect you are going to use it to commit a crime. The Biden-Thurmond bill expanded the use of civil asset forfeiture in relation to drug crimes.

This record cannot be ignored. But neither can the gains for LGBTQ individuals achieved under the Obama Administration and the extreme to which Trump has advanced anti-LGBTQ legislation. While I may have had a coming-out experience that was way less traumatic than what was endured by my queer elders, there are still vast numbers of American trans people who routinely face housing and employment discrimination and violence. I remain extremely doubtful of Biden’s ability to win against Trump and the pro-Trump social movement and there was never any reason to think that Biden would support a green new deal, anti-interventionism or Medicare for all. If his commitments to LGBTQ equality are to be believed, though, I’ll be happy to see him beat the odds. This is something I would very much like to be wrong about. If Biden was sincerely speaking his own truth in his forward to Sarah McBride’s book, when he stated that trans rights is the Civil Rights issue of our time, I think this deserves to be weighed seriously in balance with the rest of his record. I am disturbed by his lack of serious interest in a green new deal, easing us away from nuclear war or universal health care, but I cannot in good conscious ignore a candidate that may make serious gains for me and those like me.

This expressed support for trans people may drive me to vote blue again. Yet I cannot shake the possibility that this is part of an angle- recently, someone told me about a sales technique in which a customer is allowed to hold an item they want and then have it taken from their hands, or told to put it back. The idea is to give the mark a sense of ownership of the merchandise before they have paid for it, so that they will pay in order to keep the feeling of ownership. Values in an election can be used similarly: we will remove all of your values from our platform except for one- and that one may tempt you to pay with your vote. But with so much at stake that is not being addressed by such a candidate, I might wonder: am I giving my well-being and my dignity as a human being- and all those like me -the serious consideration it deserves, or am I fool?

https://www.hrc.org/resources/joe-biden-on-lgbtq-issues

Trump Legitimizing Corruption & Democrat Incompetence

So yesterday my girlfriend showed me a Huffington Post article (link below) about Trump owning a stake in Sanofi, the French company that makes a consumer-grade version of hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug that Trump has repeatedly recommended to fight COVID-19.

The consensus among experts is that hydroxychloroquine is in no way effective against Coronavirus. To get other pertinent facts out up front, Trump has three family trusts and each of them has investments in a mutual fund whose largest holding was in Sanofi. This was quoted at length from a New York Times article- the Huffington Post piece also quoted the financial news site MarketWatch which stated that, while the actual value of the shares collectively owned by his three family trusts ranges somewhere between 100$ and 1500$, those same trusts “hold broader European stock-market index funds”, which means that his holdings in Sanofi could make him far more money. The New York Times source also stated that Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Secretary, also has financial ties to Sanofi.

So it looks like the American President is hawking an anti-malarial drug to treat COVID-19 that he stands to profit from. This is the same President that has made billions from arms deals with the Saudis and has openly used his hotel chain to launder bribes from the Saudis as well (to name just one of his documented clients). Aaaand back in January, Trump coordinated the assassination of a high-ranking Iranian general during peace negotiations in Iraq with a drone, which resulted in Iran openly defying the centrifuge stipulation of the 2015 nuclear agreement and taking part in joint military operations with Russia and China. Shortly after that, Trump deployed 3500 troops to the Middle East.

Consider the scope of criminality that is now being openly legitimized by America’s head of state.

If describing this as legitimizing criminality sounds like a lazy or sweeping generalization, what are we to make of the last Democratic debate among prospective Presidential candidates before Super Tuesday? The candidates were told that, because of the high number of people seeking the Democratic nomination, it was entirely possible that none of them would receive enough Primary votes to constitute a majority. In electoral jargon, a majority is over fifty percent of the votes. If no single candidate receives fifty percent of the votes in the Presidential Primary, but one of them still receives more votes than anyone else, the one with the most votes is said to have a plurality.

On that last debate before the Primary, the candidates were asked if they would be satisfied to concede the nomination to a candidate that got a plurality and, if not, would they be okay with the DNC or the super delegates making their own choice. Remember, a plurality is more votes than anyone else even if none of them has over fifty percent. Like, someone has forty percent and everyone else has less than that. That would be a plurality.

Anyway, every candidate except Bernie Sanders said they would defer to the DNC and super delegates in the event of the plurality. Meaning, even if one candidate clearly had more votes than everyone else, every candidate but Sanders would be okay with the DNC and super delegates making their own decision regardless of the votes. In a Democratic debate on national television, every candidate except Sanders frankly stated that the DNC and super delegates should make the final decision even if one of them got more votes than everyone else.

One of those assenting candidates, of course, is now the presumptive nominee. So that person, who told America on national television that their votes do not matter, is now going to ask for those votes in November while running against Trump. This was on national television and none of the big news stations, MSNBC and Fox and the like, could be bothered to comment on it. I mean…is this a unique depth of cynicism? Openly telling voters that their decision does not matter? It seems that way to me. Does this or does it not mean that Trump has moved the Overton window so far in favor of corruption that Americans have completely ceased to care? Like, not even the barest fig-leaf pretense of not being corrupt?

I know, I know, I know: Ailix, you were just talking about how horrible Trump is, with his profiteering off of COVID-19, accepting massive bribes from the number one state sponsor of Jihadi terrorism and galvanizing a military alliance against America? Surely you’re gonna vote blue in November no matter what? Even if the Democratic nominee openly thinks that democracy is bullshit and will happily play ball with anyone rich enough? Who cares if he shielded his son from the law, Ukraine doesn’t extradite to America, just let them make their own call. Ukraine is a sovereign country, they don’t gotta extradite to anywhere they don’t want to, just mind your own business and vote blue. Surely you can’t be impugning the leadership of the Democratic party? Can you, Ailix? Are you seriously gonna split hairs over a little harmless nepotism after a President who openly launders money, commits war crimes and was known to visit Jeffery Epstein’s private jet?

Sorry, normally I don’t get that bitchy. But on top of being corrupt, I’m also impressed by the sheer incompetence of the Democratic party during the last few years: the Mueller report didn’t effect a damn thing and then they decided to roll the impeachment dice on the phone call to Ukraine over Biden’s son. I mean…they seriously ignored all the emolument shit and collaboration with Saudi Arabia and their support for Jihadi guerillas? They ignored so much legally actionable crime in favor of the phone call to Ukraine? I mean, either the Democratic party has the worst leadership ever or they’re deliberately staying out of Trump’s way.

I also have to admit to how naïve I feel just now: doesn’t everyone know that institutions always serve their own interests in the end? On what grounds am I acting like America is now in a uniquely bad place? I’m Native, aren’t I, surely this can’t be news to me? That the country that carved the faces of its leaders on a mountain range that was the most holy location in an indigenous religion might not be perfectly moral? Aren’t you descended from people who eagerly converted to Christianity because of all the horror stories they heard about those that did not?

I never thought I’d live to see a time where I, of all people, turned out to be too hopeful about America’s moral backbone.

https://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/us_5e8c41d7c5b6e1d10a696280

The assassination of Qasem Soleimani via American drone

Sooo as a lot of you are probably aware, an Iranian general named Qasem Soleimani was recently killed with an American drone. At the time Soleimani was assassinated, he was attending a peace talk with Saudi Arabian representatives hosted by the Prime Minister of Iraq.

An NPR journalist named Jane Arraf tweeted that this peace talk was actually initiated by Trump in an exchange with the Iraqi Prime Minister. Later, the American media ascertained that Soleimani had a travel ban imposed on him that prevented him from entering Iraq: his presence at the peace negotiation was therefore a violation of the ban.

So it’s possible that Donald Trump not only orchestrated the event at which Soleimani was killed, but indirectly caused him to violate his travel ban and place himself beyond the reach of legal and military protection.

When I learned about this nuance I had this huge depth of “what the fuck” going on in my head.

To keep my reaction somewhat concise: I think the American public has underestimated Donald Trump. Specifically, they have overlooked the difference between lacking wisdom and possessing base cunning. I don’t necessarily think this level of planning is terribly sophisticated, but it does show a little bit of thoughtful calculation. In addition to the obvious moral bankruptcy. Donald Trump lacking wisdom or morality should not cause anyone to think he is not dangerous. At the very least, this reveals a depth of malevolence that goes beyond ordinary self-interest.

My level of shocked incredulity also for awhile made me forget something both terrible and obvious: Trump never made any secret of his disposition. He said over and over again, prior to his election in 2016, that he wanted to “go after” the “families” of terrorists. In essence, making it clear that he is prepared to kill civilians in the Middle East. He even crassly expressed support for police brutality during a Bill O’Reilly interview. He never gave us any reason to expect anything else from him.

I also felt like an idiot because we’ve all known that warhawks in Washington have been jonesing for a war with Iran. But I’ve been assuming that they would seize an opportunity to go to war with Iran if one presented itself. I was too naive to consider the possibility that they would actually orchestrate it on their own. And this brazenly. I mean, if Trump wasn’t suggesting the peace talk to get Soleimani to violate his travel ban so he could kill him then why did he suggest it?

Think I’m catastrophising? Let’s consider the arguments to the contrary: Mike Pence has since stated that the White House has intelligence that Soleimani was involved in 9/11 and he therefore needed to die. When pressed for clarification, Pence said that the information they received suggested that it was possible that troops trained by Soleimani may have fought against America during the 2003 Iraq invasion. You know, that thing that occurred after 9/11 and later proved itself pointless when it was made clear that Saddam never co-operated with the 9/11 hijackers. So no, the information Pence was referring to does not hold water or even any relevance.

Oh hey, while we’re on the subject, do you know where the majority of the 9/11 hijackers came from and were radicalized? Saudi Arabia. You know. The country that Trump has made multi-billion dollar weapon deals with. The country that executed an American journalist and had nothing but co-operation from Trump. That is the country the hijackers were from.

Not to sell short the bottomless loss and mourning that’s bound to ensue from these events, but I wanna talk about my personal reaction. For me this is the latest in a series of “what the fuck” moments. The one before this was learning that we might, optimistically, have maybe a few decades before the real consequences of climate change start ramping up. That has been my highest political priority ever since then. Now, in my dark moments, I wonder if homo sap will even last long enough to die from floods and hurricanes before we vaporize ourselves.

Oh yeah, and Iran is now participating in joint military operations with Russia and China. Iran is also now ignoring the centrifuge stipulation of the 2015 nuclear agreement. Sooooo I….don’t want this to mean that we’re walking right up to the brink of annihilation…but….but….but…but…

What if we never sufficiently internalize the possibility of our shared extinction until the moments before which it is inevitable? This is the price of avoiding the possibility of death and catastrophe. Death is scary and it’s therefore tempting to act like it doesn’t exist.

The problem with such indulgences is that they can add up to cumulative disasters. I remember after Trump got elected a lot of friends on social media were saying things like “Your world won’t end, this doesn’t have to be a disaster, we just have to ride it out.” If every bad political decision is an innocent mistake then what do you do with a million innocent mistakes? Are we always gonna say “we’ll do better tomorrow” up until the point where there is no tomorrow?

I want these thoughts to be mistaken so badly. I would like nothing more than to be proven wrong on this in the long run.

The importance of non-binary language for those who are not

I have a lot of mixed feelings about bringing up this topic but since I brought it up in my very first post I feel like I should clarify what I meant.

Way back when I heard Jordan Peterson’s appearance on Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcast and felt compelled to sound off publicly, I briefly mentioned my own relationship with non-binary language when I first began coming out.  The more personal and anecdotal stuff was secondary to my main points there, but upon re-reading it I don’t think I was very clear on what I meant.

Right away, I want to make it clear that I’m not saying everybody is non-binary.  A. that just isn’t true and B. it parallels a very fallacious line of thought about bisexuality.  In the past, when people have learned that I am bisexual, they’ve been a little incredulous.  A straight friend of mine from high school seemed to think that I’m interested exclusively in men and, for awhile, was surprised whenever he was reminded that I’m attracted to women as well.  One man, whom I was involved with for a long time, would sometimes say that, on the rare occasions he had sex with women, that they were essentially “the exception that proves the rule” (this person is gay.)  The point of these stories seemed to be that everyone has some degree of flexibility but there is an inevitable average that, for most intents and purposes, designates your orientation.

I don’t think this person knew about Alfred Kinsey, but his beliefs clearly mapped onto the concept of the Kinsey spectrum.  When Kinsey gathered his data for his two books on human sexuality, he surveyed innumerable people and reported that people who are exclusively heterosexual or exclusively homosexual are rare, and that most people are “predominantly gay” or “predominantly straight”.  In essence, everyone is bisexual but everyone has an average that designates their sexual orientation more than the deviations from the average.  Back when my high school friend would be surprised by my attraction to women, he would sometimes express something similar.  I would say something like “you already know I’m bisexual” and he would say something like “yes but don’t you…desire men more than you desire women?”  The high school friend and the ex-partner seemed to be driving at the same thing: the term ‘bisexual’ is fundamentally not relevant.  Either you have a consistent average within more diverse possibilities, or you are simply refusing to “own up” to the fact that you are either gay or straight.

I don’t think people should be afraid of fluidity but I also think embracing fluidity can obfuscate other relevant averages.  On one hand, consider people who have been mostly straight except for one very deep and long lasting same sex attraction.  If that one relationship ends, such a person may simply continue being interested in the opposite sex.  The one break in the pattern does not, in and of itself, compel one to re-evaluate their identity.  Internalized homophobia could also come up in this context: if you think that gay people are foreign “others” who you think of as existing far from you, you might not mentally place yourself in that category.  On the other hand, there are people like me who simply do not have a consistent preference for the sex or gender of their partners.  For myself and other bisexuals, bisexuality itself is the average.

Forgive me if I’m taking a long time getting to the point, but I think this habit of mind bears mentioning.  With sexual orientation and gender, there are categories that are used the most and that people are the most familiar with, i.e. gay, straight, male and female.  The vast majority of people can relate to one of those four categories and their common acceptance can create doubt about people who do not relate to those four groups.  If it is commonly assumed that those four groups are universal and if someone has things in common with more than one of them, a lay person might think that some sort of male \ female straight \ gay identity must be there, even if it’s not obvious.  This has an unintentional consistency with “questioning” people who may feel alienated from commonly accepted groups but eventually come to identify with one of them.  This both alienates people who truly do not identify as gay or straight, male or female, and compels people to re-interpret their lives with previously unclear aspects of their identity re-defined as lucid.

Aaaaaannndd……at long last we’re now close to that “point” thing that seems to be all the rage these days.  In the Waking Up episode with Jordan Peterson, he expresses his anxiety with legal protection extending to non-binary individuals in particular.  In other situations, Peterson has described gender neutral pronouns like ze and hir as words that he “hates” and will never use.  From that point, I started getting anecdotal with my early twenties when I was struggling to come out and how Kate Bornstein’s explanation of being genderqueer was my first really accessible way of making sense of my feelings.

As I said at some length above, I do not want to say that everyone is non-binary in the same way that Alfred Kinsey encouraged people to think that everyone is bisexual, and that once you’ve nailed down your consistent average the wider flexibility ceases to matter.  As someone who used to identify as non-binary, I would never say anything that flippant.  But I’m not at all convinced that my lived experience is unique, or even very different from the average transgender person.

For me, the most basic and obvious reason for the usefulness of non-binary language is that the average transperson has internalized a script from the rest of society interrogating their existence.  Most transwomen, at some point in their lives, have heard something like “it takes more than a dress, heels and surgery to make a woman”.  Queer people in general are also likely to be asked why they are how they are.  I’ve heard some truly odd replies to this question when older transwomen have told me about other conversations that they’ve had.

In my own family, there’s a widely circulated story about a trans individual who said she wanted to be female because men open doors.  I don’t think I need to dwell on how absurd that is.  But if you have been told that you’re mentally ill and have had people demand an explanation from you over and over again, it definitely makes sense that you’d start to think that any answer would be better than no answer, that if you just say something, no matter how transparently false, it will take the heat off of you.  If someone badgers you to answer a question over and over again throughout your life, it makes sense that eventually you’d just want them to shut up and go away, and giving a random answer could be a learned way to do that.

Another surface level reason for why non-binary language is useful for trans people within the binary is their lived experience.  I have not had the childhood that a ciswoman or a cisman has had.  Cismen don’t have their peace of mind ruined by gender dysphoria and ciswoman have female anatomy.  As a bare bones concession to objective reality, I have a set of experiences as a transgender person that cispeople simply do not have and vice versa.  TERFs are infamous for pointing out the absence of wombs, vaginas, menstruation, etc.  Strictly speaking, these remarks are relevant, but not in the way that TERFs maintain that they are.  It doesn’t mean that transwomen are less female or that transmen are less male, but it does mean that there are experiences that trans people have that cispeople do not.

If that seems obvious to the point of being silly, let me break down some stuff about myself.  My body dysphoria compelled me to persistently seek out hormone replacement therapy and voice training.  The stress of my dysphoria compels me to make my body more female.  Regardless of what I believe about gender or consciously assert about myself, my bodily transition is definitely headed in a direction that fits within the binary.  I don’t know why that is and never have, so my dysphoria seems to have a subconscious origin.  According to the definitions, this makes me a transsexual woman, since the motivation comes from and relates to my sex.  A big part of my transition is making my body female, which in and of itself is an experience that both cismen and ciswomen do not have.  Although I’m female, only a minority of females need to transition.  It’s absolutely true that I don’t have a uterus and have never menstruated, but the same can be said of many women, and it fits with the larger phenomena of experiences unique to transpeople.  I don’t think owning this uniqueness causes anyone to lose, it certainly doesn’t invalidate anyone.  Only in a world where male and female are the only two gendered categories could that be invalidating.

An intuitive objection to this is that mainstream culture in general only accommodates the categories of male and female and to act like this does not have the power to isolate and harm people is naive.  I totally agree, but the consequences of social censure is not the same question as whether or not something is real.  A lot of us have had conversations with straight people who think that being queer is a “bad idea” because of all the ways that society punishes queerness.  This is also more or less what social conservatives mean when they say that the definition of marriage is between a man and a woman.

Asserting that someone disbelieves in something or will attempt to dissuade others from doing something is not evidence against it.  A statement of belief or disbelief is not objective evidence of anything.  So it’s absolutely true that society punishes people who do not conform to the binary, but that’s not the same question as whether or not non-binary experiences and language matter.  I think it even attests to the weakness of the binary that it alienates and oppresses people who identify within the binary, like transsexual women or men, who typically have to deal with a lifetime of reconciling their felt gender with a world that constantly demands an explanation or justification.

There is another objection to this that I really do have mixed feelings about, though; that trans people feeling alienated from the binary is a consequence of internalized transphobia.  That’s true and there’s nothing like the difference between a trans persons’ conscious assessment and beliefs and the persistence of body dysphoria to underscore how true it is.  Body dysphoria can compel someone to transition in the face of a lifetime of internalizing messages that they should not.  At the same time, though, I also believe that part of exorcising bad emotions is to acknowledge that it’s okay to feel them.  If you have felt that being trans has caused society to make you feel unwelcome as either a man or a woman, then the next step could be to acknowledge that it’s okay not to be either.

Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris and Canadian gender identity protection

So I was listening to a recording of Sam Harris’s Waking Up podcast just now and was put in the uncomfortable position of getting exasperated with one of my intellectual heroes (Harris).

Harris was interviewing Jordan B. Peterson, which I thought was exciting given Peterson’s thoughts on mythic archetypes.  I’m a creative writer myself and I’m also a total spazz for literary criticism, mythology and history.  I was kinda stoked about this.  But before they got to what I thought would be really interesting they began by discussing a legislative measure in Canada protecting gender identity from spontaneous public heckling.

Soooooo I’m a trans lady myself (on HRT for over two years and been totally out for as long) so I realize I have a protective emotional impulse on this topic.  But I think there are glaringly obvious reasons why these legal policies should not be seen as absurd on their face.

Yelling random invective is something that you could end up in court for.  If I loudly scream ‘fuck you’ while we are arguing in public I can reasonably expect legal charges.  The basic way of behaving in question is not something the mainstream would disagree about beforehand.  We all agree that random and spontaneous verbal harassment should have some kind of legal protection or social consequence.

Peterson trots out the Canadian protection of gender identity and preferred pronouns as if people would be hashing it out with you on a regular basis and it wouldn’t be reasonable to impose a legal penalty for it.  I know I’m just relaying an anecdote here, but I work in an elementary school.  It requires you to be around all kinds of people all day.  In general, my gender identity and preferred pronouns are not a problem.  Around the time I came out I was assured personally by many of my coworkers that I had nothing but support from them.

I’m not trying to say my lucky experience is normal but I am saying that there is such a thing as an ordinary expectation of civility in mainstream culture.  All our lives we’ve learned that baiting trouble is a bad idea so I don’t see how legally protecting preferred pronouns and gender expression is somehow beyond the pale.  It does not demand anything that general social mores do not already.

Large diversity of different non-binary pronouns are mentioned by Peterson as a problem and a dangerous foreign step into something static, delicate and necessary.  The volume of different pronouns alone is, for Peterson, an indication of scary Marxist post-modern nutjobs taking over the world.  Listen to the video yourself if you think I’m exaggerating.  Peterson mentions social justice tribunals and means for determining unconscious biases that he says are not supported by science.

I realize that Peterson sees the pronoun question as the ‘bath water’ and the suspect unconscious bias examinations as the ‘baby’ in question here, so he presumably sees the pronoun issue as the tip of the bigger iceberg and, implicitly, not strictly culpable.  The segue from the specific policy protecting gender expression and preferred pronouns to Peterson’s general anxieties about social justice kicking open the door to cultural fluidity is glossed over.  After talking about employers being sanctioned for the bigoted language of their employees while on the job or with the public, Jordan Peterson says this that this is in keeping with “other elements in the background that are equally reprehensible” and then starts with the social justice tribunals.

You could say that Peterson is not specifically laying blame against transpeople here, but he is also trotting out an implicit association between gender-nonconforming people and social break down.  Jordan B. Peterson is a big boy and I think we can safely assume he knows that he’s making the association.  The fact that he glosses over it could mean that he doesn’t think it matters, that he takes it as a matter of course or that the audience should know already that the pronoun lead in was a “ringer” to begin with- that it never was the real subject.  None of those possibilities provide a sequential justification for the association.

(I don’t wanna dwell on things beyond Peterson’s bald subject jump, but he mentions that he’s worried about the dialogue concerning biology and gender identity- read Julia Serano and Susan Stryker.  The trans community is interested and active in that conversation and making it sound like you’ll be slammed in an iron maiden for mentioning it is stupid)

My next big problem here has to do with what I think is a misunderstanding about non-binary language.  Let’s start with something nice and plain and personal.  To say nothing of the genuine experience of non-binary individuals, non-binary language can make the early steps of coming out easier to understand for trans people within the binary.  This I’ve experienced.

In my early twenties I made my first earnest attempts at coming out.  In the interest of staying on topic I’ll try to not digress too deep into personal anecdote. I barely knew what I was doing at the time and soon I became anxious to be familiar with a body of information that would make my feelings easier to talk about.  I began reading everything I could find about gender variance throughout history and current psychological wisdom.  I found book-length studies of male crossdressers, historical texts and pop culture commentary.  A lot of it was extremely interesting and academic curiosity alone would have been reason enough to read all that in the end.

Curiosity may have been the only reason in the end, since nothing I found addressed what I wanted: what I wanted was to understand my dysphoria and find a way to think clearly about feelings that would help me to put self-destruction behind me.  It just didn’t happen during my gender bending psychology, pop culture and history kick.  A book about gender-fluidity did speak to what I was feeling though.  A day putzing around in Barnes & Noble put me in touch with Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein.

I said earlier that I wasn’t going to make this particular entry all about me and my life.  I’m really not, even now: I’m just trying to explain how language without it’s emphasis on designating someone as male or female has practical applications for trans people within the binary, like myself.  I was raised in a starkly non-conformist mixed-race environment both before and after my parents’ divorce.  As the child of a single mother- and also as a female-identified queer -I need no convincing as per feminism or the oppressive nature of historical gender roles.  A basic part of my nature spoke to a particular state of being- to express it would be to walk into a rhetorical nightmare of “you think femaleness is X”.  I had no way of discussing or understanding it, even to myself.  For me, learning how to think and talk about gender outside of the binary was a much-needed kiss of life, even if I myself am not non-binary.

So let’s wrap this up: dysphoria has to do with a visceral experience of being required to live in total resistance to your gender identity.  If I may hearken back to my parenthetical remarks about Jordan Peterson, I’d be all ears for a definite verdict from evolutionary biology or neurology relating to gender identity.  The conflict between how I was reared versus how I felt is so staggering and mysterious that I can’t help but wonder about biological factors.  But however amorphous this notion may be for a cis person, let us at least stay with the bedrock that dysphoria is total panic and confusion; dysphoria is to be driven toward what you need because where you are right now is fundamentally not supportable.  Dysphoria will tell you what you need to get away from but it will not tell you where you are going.  My resistance to dysphoria has taught me that I am a transwoman.  I know that now, but simply knowing the word ‘dysphoria’ and the concept of gender-variance could not have told me how I would make sense of things in the end.

In case that’s too wordy: gender dysphoria is a visceral, repulsive experience that does not endear you to normal ways of discussing gender.  Non-binary language can be way of disarming aspects of this early on, even if one is not non-binary.

I think that might be all I have to say about this that requires any sort of minutia.  And, although I said it would not be, it was largely anecdotal.  What I wanted to do was explain one or two plain reasons why a gender-nonconforming person would benefit from non-binary language, whether or not they are non-binary.  As far as legal protection and rational expectations go, you cannot yell ethnic slurs or insults without legal sanction- I’m not convinced that protecting gender identity demands anything more of society.