A New Kind of Sustainability Crisis: Eliminating Minority Stress to Grow and Nurture Truly Sustainable Communities

The following lecture (sorry, this is long, about 7,500 words in several segments) was delivered as the 2016 Elizabeth Lockwood Wheeler Lectureship at Central Michigan University, on Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Thank you so much to Dr. Leah Markel, Eta Sigma Gamma, and the entire CMU Public Health department for the privilege of discussing this topic with you.

What is sustainability and what does it have to do with embracing difference?

Tonight, I want to push you to think about the embracing of difference as not just a social justice issue, but as truly an immensely under-considered public health issue, and an untapped reservoir for public health initiatives that can build better community health, both in the sense of making individual people in communities healthier, but also in the sense of making the community, as a gestalt, healthier.

Multiethnicity

Communities with room for all kinds of faces are better communities (Photo: Fotolia)

I hope that what I can do is not teach you public health, but rather to contextualize your work in this area, and maybe even convince you that your field is important in ways you haven’t thought very much about. Continue reading

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The implicit value equations of feminism

This follow-on piece to the workshops and blogs in which I have previously used the concept of “Queering the Value Equation” (see here and here) was originally intended to be a chapter in the book I am currently working on. The working title for the book changed, and with the change in perspective (funny how that is, one loves changes in perspective), this chapter now really didn’t fit in the book any longer, so here it is, for you, my dear readers. And let it be a slight apology that life events have not made the late winter / early spring conducive to writing, and so this blog has not been updated very often.

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Much like workplaces that include women actually become better workplaces and better performing organizations, can inclusion make feminism better for everybody involved? Source: Fotolia

I have recently given a couple of iterations of a presentation I decided to call Queering the Value Equation. I introduced this idea of a queered value equation in the context of ending discrimination in the workplace against LGBT people, but truly, it applies very well to a conversation about girls and women. In its simplest form, in the business world*, a value equation is a very simple decision making tool. Value is defined as the ratio of what you get, to what you give — high value is getting much and giving little, and low value is getting little and giving much.

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My fundamental “unqueered” value equation argument was that, when companies thought about LGBT inclusion, they understood the benefit to them poorly, and they exaggerated if not fabricated the cost. As a result, they approached inclusion from the perception that it offered very poor value, and even if they were not conscious of it, this caused them to drag along, struggle, and as advocates of inclusion (since they advocated for it, even though they perceived its value to be poor), placed them in a defensive, ineffective posture.

That queered value equation, in the context of the LGBT community, looks a little like this:

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In essence, the only reason that (straight) people were advocating for LGBT inclusion in the workplace was because it made them feel good about themselves, or even more particularly, better about than others. That’s fine and good, but it’s a weak business motivation. They perceived, and very clearly the depiction above is meant to make fun of this, some fairly absurd costs associated with inclusion, most of which circle from wanting to include LGBT people without actually understanding us or appreciating the way we think or act. You could see how this applies to women. Indeed, when women were not in many kinds of American workplaces**, and we began the process of changing this, this value equation seemed much the same. Of course water cooler conversations became awkward — many of them were about objectifying women, and it is certainly more awkward (although this seems to stop no one) to objectify us when we are standing right there. There were increased costs — many offices didn’t even have a women’s room, and certainly, those bins for tampons cost, well, a prohibitive amount. And the fun in work was, sometimes, rooted in the idea of the workplace as a man cave, to which a man went to avoid his wife***, and this would certainly be shattered as well.

A concept, dear readers, I wish to consider, is that this problem occurs not only when patriarchy, men, society, consider women, but it exists inside feminism, too. It is at the root of, say, exclusionary movements inside feminism. There is a perception that the “cost,” for instance, of accepting me as a co-advocate, because I am trans, is too high — you know, my “male privilege” and “male energy” polluting the environment like I’m leaching bisphenol A into the water, etc.**** — and the value, is too low, if even existent. Or there is some strange idea that if feminists were to include sex workers in their ranks, we would somehow have to move our meetings to strip clubs, or, I don’t know what. There is a perception that, if we talk about economic marginalization, “we” distract ourselves from “real” women’s issues. And certainly, there is a perception that we want more “women like us” to be part of the sisterhood, and if we don’t have anything in common with other feminists, we think it should be no fun at all.

In my LGBT inclusion work, I argue that the antidote to this is to — substantially — revise the value equation. I argue that, in fact, there are a host of benefits and hardly any costs to LGBT inclusion in the workforce. And, importantly, I argue that one should do it because it delivers benefits, not because it is the “right” thing to do. This is actually really critical. Oh, I like it when people feel good about themselves because they help me. But I also believe that charity as a model is ephemeral and unsustainable. It lasts through the feast and not the famine. And I really do believe that inclusion is something that works. In this same way, we need an inclusive value equation for feminism.

My queered value equation may actually serves as a good starting point.

With respect to ending sexism, although I focus on girls and women, I do talk about men, too, like my blog, “Sexism is Bad for Men, Too” from 2015. But consider some concrete examples. Quantopian did a study of Fortune 1000 companies between 2002 and 2014. The study, summarized by Forbes Magazine, found that women CEOs outperformed the S&P 500 benchmark by a staggering 226% over eight years. Lest you think we just do well in the “big box” (where I, myself play) Forbes also reported results from a Centre for Entrepreneurs study in 2015. The Centre found that women make better entrepreneurs, too, because they are better at managed risk and self-monitoring. Outside of business, a 2015 Washington Post piece summarizes decades of research that shows that putting more women on the police force reduces police brutality. These, and many others, are “mainstream” benefits — not some medal given out by us as feminists.

And like my queered value equation, if the “I” in the equation is men*****, the result actually improves men. I’m not saying that women are just intrinsically better CEOs, for instance. Rather, the systematic differences in performance in this role that are seen when women hold it are relatively underrepresented, because there are few female CEOs, and men do not particularly have to worry that, say, their board will read the results of these studies and fire them in favor of a woman who will outperform them. Because of this, men are incentivized to act “like men” in this role, as well. Imagine, for instance, a situation in which 50% of Fortune 1000 CEOs were women, instead of the <10% in the article. In that situation, while it is still probably unlikely a man would explicitly be fired because replacing him with a woman would improve company performance******, men would be frequently compared to women, his processes to her processes, and his outcomes to her outcomes, and men would likely be strongly motivated to emulate the winning strategies of women (which are probably not, at least not entirely, immutable characteristics of something like our different cognitive architecture or our hormonal milieu).

Inside feminism, similarly, we need to think about these challenges I’ve been highlighting as signs of inborn error in our value equation. The value equation is not an attempt to commercialize feminism. This is, itself, an important discussion. The authors of the #FemFuture report and others have coined the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (a term that seems to go at least as far back as Ruth Gilmore, Dylan Rodriguez, and others at the initial The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, on my birthday in 2004, more than ten years ago, and before that, goes to a much longer discussion of shadow states and shadow governments. There are important consequences of deferring important, mission critical (if one’s mission is sustainable, ethical society) work to a diffuse network of non-profit organizations relying on donor funding, and, when the state feels like it, grants, much as there are serious consequences for privatizing things like the military, police force, or prison system (not that we’d do that). On the other end, Dan Pelotta, in his 2013 TED Talk, “The way we think about charity is dead wrong,” argues that nonprofits are hampered from efficacy in many situations because they play by a different set of rules than for-profit entities, limiting their access to capital (from a capitalistic / entrepreneurial standpoint, access to capital is the lifeblood of innovation) and limiting their access to great talent or world-class solutions. Both of these arguments are important arguments*******.

However, economics does not just apply to money. Economics is much more broadly an analysis of the way things work (and the ways they don’t work). The value equation isn’t about money, although that is the way it is usually considered. It’s about decisions you make about whatever you value. A slice of your time. Your energy. Your thoughts. Your voice. Your heart or passion. Rather than making a capitalistic argument, I hope, like me, you value at least some of those other things way more than your money. And the value equation is about decisions you make about whatever demands whatever you value — causes, movements, issues, not just how you spend your cash or where you swipe your credit card or tap to pay.

In this light, the value equation is just an attempt to uncover a process that is already happening, of which we are unaware, but, like gravity (or sexism) affects us anyways********. This makes it much like classic feminist analysis tools, such as inverting a gendered statement about the world and examining our reaction to the statement when applied to men in the way it is to women, and to women in the way it is to men. The more we recognize about our current value equation around inclusive, proud feminism, the more we can understand why we are not achieving it, and what we haven’t been ready to admit we believe. The more we create an inclusive value equation for future feminism, the more we can center ourselves on the benefits feminist movement derives from inclusion, which give us robust, sustainable reasons to improve feminism. And like the effects of ending sexism, itself, on men, I believe and intend to demonstrate that an inclusive feminism actually has more, and not less, to offer all girls and women, including the “bluebloods” among our sisterhood (of whom I may be sometimes a one*********) who are frequently most resistant to inclusion and who (when they are motivated to include) do it from a sense of noblesse oblige and not from a perception that it will make feminism better.

*  There are numerous jokes to be made at this point about men liking to measure things, etc.

**  Certainly, we have always worked, and much more often perhaps still than men, have essentially no vacation, ever. For instance (and I love my Teri very much), where we go on vacation, it’s incumbent on me to… make hotel reservations, pull up directions, find lists of sights to see and present them to Teri, go back and find alternate sights to see because I haven’t found what Teri wants, find restaurants Teri will like, and even in our case, do most of the driving. So, I quip, evenwhen we are on vacation I am working. As I take the week off, at the moment, for writing time for this book, I am still responsible for making the meals, grocery shopping, getting issues with the house addressed, cleaning, and so on and so forth.

*** There is an engineering joke in bad taste, although it really is more making fun of engineers than misogynistic, that goes like this: Why should an engineer always have a mistress? Because his wife will think he’s with his mistress, and his mistress will think he’s with his wife, and he can go in the lab and get some work done.

****  Something you should know about me being trans is that I made the least convincing pretend man, ever, and this I think contributed to why no one was particularly surprised when I came out. Teri and I have a game — I tell him, “I could totally be a guy,” and he laughs in my face.

*****  Which, one quips, it is — that’s kind of the whole thing about patriarchy.

******  One does feel the need to point out that, just weeks before I wrote this, Ellen Pao was forced from her role as CEO for an internet darling, Reddit. In her time there, she was well known both for changing company policy in innovative ways that improve diversity, such as eliminating salary negotiation, as well as for reforming Reddit as a service, by eliminating areas, or subreddits, that were perennially used for sexual harrassment. She stepped down after an epic wave of misogynistic trolling against her. Ironically, after a random feminist post, I did some reading through “The Red Pill” on Reddit… and, well, I’m not going to link it. It’s easy to find. Be forewarned.

*******  By way of disclosure, my employment was in the non-profit sector when I wrote this, although I currently own and operate a small, for-profit consulting firm. The NPO world was new to me — as an engineer, I worked in large for-profit companies, mostly publicly traded — Ford, Visteon, Textron. I’ve spent a significant portion of my adult life at universities, too, though, mostly public (the Universities of Michigan and Florida), but also private (the University of Chicago), which operate according to their own philosophy that is not exactly like cause-based non-profit work nor like for-profit enterprise.

********  And feminism is dedicated to the radical notion that sexism is way more endable and way less a basic reality of the universe, than gravity is.

********* I said sometimes, when I wrote this last Fall. Now I hasten to admit, quite often.

Towards a World Where Every Child Belongs

A few weeks ago, a mom brought her tween son in to the Center without an appointment, to ask about resources. I knew, since I know all my families, that she wasn’t the mom of any of our kids in the ABA clinic, and we weren’t seeing new patients at that day or time, that she wasn’t someone we knew. I caught enough of her facial expression to gently interrupt and offer to help in any way I could. They came back to my office for a chat. Her son told me about his experience being bullied by kids in his school. I spent some time getting to know them, what’s he’s good at, and what he likes. I told him briefly that I had been bullied at his age, too – I don’t talk about it a lot, but when I was in sixth grade, there were these boys who used to gang up on me and hit me. I was too ashamed to complain. My mom ultimately saw bruises, and then she went on the warpath, much as this mom was doing now. If you know me, you know I have an ugly mamma bear side, that doesn’t come out often, but it comes out when someone bullies or threatens our kids, so maybe this is where it came from. So, I supported mom in her warpath – you fight, sister, tooth and nail. I gave them some resources – my friend Anthony Ianni’s Relentless Tour to stop bullying, a toolkit from a national anti-bullying center, and also some resources for places to go to be social with people who won’t bully you or tease you and adults watching over who wouldn’t stand for that – our friends at the local YMCA, I told him about cool things going on like Autcraft. And I wanted him to know that there are people who think autistic kids are cool. We cried a little bit and he gave me a big hug, and to be honest, I haven’t seen him since then, and I don’t know how the story turns out. It seemed like an imposition on my time – there are lots of demands on my time – but it turned out to be a really healing conversation for me, too*. And it’s a good introduction to this topic.

Yeah right, you're going to bully this guy. But back then, when he wasn't 6' 9

Yeah right, you’re going to bully this guy. But back then, when he wasn’t 6′ 9″ and he didn’t know how to stand up for himself, you did.

Teri and I watched this movie last night, After the Dark (it’s on Netflix). It’s about this senior philosophy class, and their last gedanken is that they are in a remote place, and atomic bombs are about to go off, and they have a bunker that can only save ten of them, and they have to decide whom. We really liked it – I gave it five stars on Netflix.

It fit really delightfully with this recent business of using personality inventories for leadership at work (in our management development series, we did a profile called the DiSC – see more in a prior blog post of mine). Elyse kind of went crazy on this, and may possibly have taken it multiple times to get the results she wanted. We had a couple of our newer leaders who hadn’t done the profile do it, and on a profile wheel, she mapped out all of my leadership team, so that we could see how our styles as twelve different people were similar or complementary. It turned out that many of our people were clustered together, and it taught me some important things about their desire for harmony and dislike for open competition (although, apparently not in the context of really long, admittedly slightly dorky board games, but that’s another story that’s apparently happening next month). We talked a little bit also about how we cluster leading to a gap space in our wheel – it turns out that we lack someone who is comfortable as a conductor, and this is true. I bring to the table at least some ability to inspire and motivate, and to give people a really amazing vision, that enables them to achieve explosive growth. Elyse brings to the table uncanny acumen and a brilliantly scientific mind that pushes us to be technically excellent. And a big group of our leaders bring steadiness and harmony – they are critical, because the pace of what we’re trying to accomplish can burn people out without steadiness and harmony. But, when there are things that would go more smoothly if someone just implemented a concrete process and held everyone to it, like schedules and managing our productivity and stuff like that, we honestly kind of struggle. This is a concrete way in which more diversity would help us, even if we also generate strength from what we have in common. Rather than being in conflict, the dynamic balance of the two is what makes us strong**.

One of the barriers in getting to this kind of realization, often, is reticence to accept the idea that people, in their dimensionality, bring both strength and struggle to the table. There are these questions, right, when you interview, and someone asks you what your weakness is? And you’re supposed to say something that sounds loosely like a witness, but which you can spin into a strength, to show that you know how to make lemonade out of lemons. But you can’t say you’re a perfectionist, because everybody says they’re a perfectionist. And, of course, you can’t admit to a weakness from which you don’t know how to benefit, because that’s the way the Bizarro world of interviewing works. One of my biggest weaknesses, which is hardly hidden from anyone, is that I take things personally. When our kids suffer, I cry, I feel it along with them. When an injustice is done to them, I rage. I don’t ask for ownership in the things going on in my life – I take it as a birthright. I’m unapologetic about my weakness – I know that it inspires people to both extremes in their feelings for me. I know that it can make things difficult. It really was also how and why I came to do the things I’ve done in the last few years, when I had the biggest chance in my life to take something personally.

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Like MLK, I argue that a world where your children and mine can play together, side by side, is a better world for your children and mine, for you and me, … for everybody.

After the Dark also took on this topic of weaknesses in an interesting and critical way. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but the kids in the movie are repeatedly pressed to be analytical, to accept that one person can objectively be classified as better than another, and to make choices based only on that kind of holistic and reductionist value judgment. And this goes wrong – terribly wrong. There is something to be said for seeing in our whole strength, our unified personality, that even when we come together, we are not just a collection of strengths, but also a collection of struggles and challenges and weaknesses, and that doesn’t necessarily just make us weak – it is also what makes us beautiful.

In a talk I recently did, I argued that failures in diversity and inclusion often begin with a failed value equation like this one.

In a talk I recently did, I argued that failures in diversity and inclusion often begin with a failed value equation like this one.

I feel like there’s some of this with the model of diversity and inclusion that we have. “We’re” afraid “them,” rather than thinking about how a broader definition of “us” would make us all better. And we set really exclusive ideas of things, and we set them in kids’ minds really early. Another example – I can’t talk a lot, yet, about this project, but I got to spend Friday morning on it, and it’s soooooo cool – I’m collaborating with some people on a  really cool science education project. I was brought in to help with things like sensory sensitivities the autism community may have, and to help make it accessible to a neurodiverse audience. But as it unfolded, I really saw some cool opportunities to be inclusive in so many more ways. For instance, telling the human story of sciences like physics is a great opportunity to critically address the fact that, if you talk about this stuff to a group of early grade schoolers, all the girls will be engaged and raise their hands, but if you talk to the middle schoolers, many of them will already think this is boy stuff and not really participate or identify. They ought to know stories of women like Shirley Jackson or Lise Meitner. Or even the great Marie Curie herself. If they do, they might get to see that doing science like a girl is pretty great, and that if they’re interested in science, they should be able to feel like they belong in science***. And people who are different in the way their brains are wired – well, there is more than a passing interest in the possibility that Einstein was autistic, and he, Feynman, and some of the others even among the most famous of that era, were nothing if not unique. So I’m taking the opportunity to go beyond making this project neurodiverse in the sense of sensory supports, but I’m pushing the team (and they’re being really receptive) to the idea that inclusion starts with how the story is told, and that stories like the one we’re working on can be a powerful vehicle to help make sure that those girls, those ethnic minorities, those autistic kids, those whoever is different for whatever reason – who might make really good scientists, don’t get faulty messaging from a bad value equation that tells them that they don’t belong.

People need to belong not just in professions, or, say, with the diversity of the leaders in my leadership team, in a place in leadership if they want one, but that they also deserve to belong, socially. Back to the young man’s who paid me an unexpected office visit a few weeks ago, the problem is that kids in his school don’t know how much better their life would be if they had an autistic friend. I live in a bubble, especially where I work, where every single person I interact with loves someone autistic. Where every single neurotypical person is aware – my fifty staff, our parents, our kids’ siblings – of the beauty a child with autism has brought to their life. And it’s more than that – some of our graduates, who are older now and in school – are rock stars. So many other kids have found out how cool it is to be their friends. In one case, a boy who was at our Center was in a class with a bully. But the bully didn’t have any friends. And our boy made friends with the bully, and the bully stopped being a bully. That’s the kind of magic I’m talking about. That’s what makes me dream that someday, we’ll all belong, we’ll all be a part of community as a birthright. I dream of a day when every kid has a friend with autism. And a world where everybody, more generally, has a friend who is “different” from them. And like all the people in my life who know and love someone “different,” I think you’ll all love it, when it comes true. Because it will. That’s what I mean by taking things personally.

* This boy wasn’t my patient, but this does also bring in this whole topic of therapeutic sharing – which is primarily for the patient’s benefit but sometimes also benefits the provider. I shared because there is a powerful cloak of invisibility around abuse, and breaking that cloak down helps the victims of things like bullying. In a recent panel discussion, I also, however, made the argument that some, particularly in psychology, of our ethics models and the way we think about multiple relationships with our patients, actually makes things worse instead of better and is ill thought out. As I say later in this piece, I am unapologetic, often, in positions I take, and in my defense, I’m not just saying this now because I’m a full grown clinician and no one can victimize me – I said the same thing during the ethics segment of my board certification oral examination.

** One example of this, I make fun of calls to have a “Straight Pride,” but just as many white people don’t really understand that they have a race like anybody else, I think maybe a future direction for enhancing our understanding of Pride as a celebration is that, when we celebrate nature’s diversity of sexuality and gender, plain old straight people are part of that diversity as well, and as I said in my Sorry, Not Sorry Conversation, one of the problems with the I’m Sorry movement at Pride is that the straight people who are part of it have failed to understand what Pride is about, and they don’t belong because they don’t understand what they’re celebrating. So, increasingly, I think we need to teach them to have pride, too, much like feminism is not about hating men, and anti-racism is not about hating white people. Not a Straight Pride event, but it’s okay to enjoy your identity as heterosexual.

*** When I applied for engineering and physics graduate programs, one of the physicists who wrote a letter of recommendation for me shared that, when she herself had applied to grad school, she had found out after the fact that one of her professors, who had agreed to write her a letter of recommendation, had put, in it, that she, as a woman, had no place in physics. She found out about the letter, thankfully, because it made someone at the university to which she applied livid, and they leaked it to her. And, obviously, she managed to make it to being a professor of physics at Michigan, so she did not half badly for herself. And in case it seems like this is a problem of yesteryear, we have the current inexcusable behavior of a Nobel laureate.

A Mission to Christianity

Last week, Calvin College brought Mark Yarhouse to speak about the transgender community. Christian LGBT community members raised concern. On digging further into the matter (I had heard neither of Dr. Yarhouse nor of the Regent University from which he hails), much of this concern is rooted in Dr. Yarhouse’s historical body of work. At its best, he takes a non-judgmental* approach to supporting Christians (predominantly) who are trying to reconcile their sexual identity with their Christian identity. At its worst, it stoops precipitously close to apologetics for conversion therapy, teetering on an edge (although, from Dr. Yarhouse’s perspective, trying not to go over that edge) of what is considered criminal in multiple states (although not Michigan), and what is considered clearly unethical by a preponderance of us as psychologists.

I, in turn, reached out to friends at Calvin and summarized these concerns. They very graciously had me out to tea to discuss them further. I understand (and welcome) their spirit of trying to create dialog across what they perceive as a chasm (although, in truth, we are quite able to sit at the same table, drink the same tea, and find common language with little difficulty). I also understand and accept their challenge in working with a broader range of stakeholders, ranging from their students (who are generally quite accepting) to some of their older constituents (who are, sometimes, otherwise).

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Based on Dr. Yarhouse’s presentation, I cannot recommend his forthcoming book.

I went to hear Dr. Yarhouse speak, and up until now, I have been largely silent (or, as I am sometimes accused of being, “diplomatic”). I did so out of love for my friends at Calvin – and I do sincerely consider them friends – who I am very convinced are trying to do right (and good). I do so out of love for my Calvin alumni staff – anyone who knows me knows how much I love my team, and that I would make (and sometimes have made) all manner of sacrifices for them. My friends at Calvin worked very hard to make this a non-combative atmosphere for discussion, and I do appreciate that, although there are subtle nuances of these choices that are more problematic**.

I have held off because I have been balancing various other perspectives, as well, causing me to wait before I responded. I balance the very different perspective my own organization is in the process of taking towards its own mission of Christian service (one which I wholly endorse, for no simpler reason than that it is based in love), and even the wonderful things Calvin College, itself, is doing for its trans students, like a whole campus network of gender inclusive bathrooms***. I balance my duties to the LGBT community – many of whom would not be willing to even listen to this. And I balance my obligation to live my life, to be the sort of woman God made me, to be what and whom God has seen fit, to be unashamed and unabashed, to try and be a source of support and kinship for others. Again, anyone who knows me really knows how much I love the wonder of this life. In speaking now, I accept and embrace that I am doubtless to be scorned on the one side or the other, and most likely, on both. But I – we – must live our lives against what is right and not against what will receive scorn. From anyone.

Yarhouse spoke about many things. Semantically, he used marginalizing language under the apologetic of recognizing that “we won’t all agree on words.” Scientifically, it is my opinion that he misrepresented and selectively presented data – for instance, in discussing the increasingly common practice of suppression / delay of puberty medically for trans kids, he included data that indicates that young children who do not conform to their birth assigned sex have a high rate of “desisting,” or not being transgender-identified by adulthood, but he ignored data that adolescents have a much lower rate of return to cisgenderhood. He ignored large scale data on the safety and efficacy of transition. This data is not inaccessible or esoteric to the researcher – much of it is summarized in the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s Standards of Care****, commonly considered the international, scientifically accepted, gold standard, and endorsed widely by other provider and specialty organizations (and freely downloadable – you should read it, if you have not already). He included some references to neuroscience, ignoring much of the most recent cognitive neuroscience data. There is much more that could be said about the scientific content of this lecture. But I think this is entirely not the point*****.

Rather, it is the Christian content of this lecture that most troubles me. On one level, the Christian content of this lecture was deeply problematic because it included discussion of the kind of “deadly passages” that are used, and used absurdly, in Christian discussions of LGBT people. To caution for deep pause and great consideration of scripture such as the Deuteronomy quote, “No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord,” is to forget the gospel (or worse, to fail to understand it). But the real point that bears discussion goes beyond this kind of legalism, too.

My last blog post was a continuation of a discussion from a year ago. In some ways, this post, too, is a continuation of a prior thread of discussion. What remains from that discussion is this question of why full and easy acceptance (for me, particularly) comes from all corners of society except certain elements of the church (which do not include my friends at Calvin, or even Calvin as an organization, and which does not generally include my own church, but which are exemplified by conversations like the one led by this speaker). I am drawn back (again) to Frederick Douglass’s claim that, under the surface, there are two separate Christs – one of the Cross and one of this land. Whereas the former accepted, included, and fought for social justice, the rather, all too often, back in his day, and still today, looks for permission to hate, reasons to exclude, limitations on welcome, and the development of a Christian body that is more concerned with its organization and prosperity, than with serving God. A Christian body that uses religion not as salve, but as weapon. A Christian body that uses its senior leadership not to motivate believers to love and nurture people, but who motivates them to shun them (or, in a weaker form, to have conversations about whom and what they are still ‘allowed’ to shun). The same sort of people who cry foul that Christians are a mistreated minority (in America, no less) while, in the same breadth, fighting marriage equality.

I find, since reading over the foregoing Narrative, that I have, in several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion, as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose me an opponent of all religion. To remove the liability of such misapprehension, I deem it proper to append the following brief explanation. What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference–so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. — Frederick Douglass

In Douglass’ day, it was the conflation of Christ with slavery, whereas today, this phenomenon is best seen at looking at too much of the church’s attitude towards women and gender/sexual minorities. But, the phenomenon, itself, is wholly alive. And, sadly, quite well. Although there are times when we let ourselves infight as marginalized communities, and one cannot ignore the overwhelming magnitude of the body of depradation wrought by the Christians who championed slavery, and I have no wish to pretend that I have been subjected to those kinds of horrors, still, the mechanics are the same. In those days, Christians had these very same conversations asking whether Black men were men, whether Black women were women (“like our women”). The fundamental problem with Dr. Yarhouse’s talk – and with “Christian apologetics” and the way transgender people are treated by the church – is a failure to recognize that God’s making us in His likeness is a two-way street. God is in heaven, and we are on earth, yet the reality is that merely existing is not enough to be Christlike to anyone, and failing to love, to understand, or to accept, particularly when done in the guise of Christlikeness – is morally wrong.

Early in my coming out process, once, I had a gay man tell me, presuming that I must be interested in him at all, that I could not be his girlfriend, but that I must be his boyfriend. In saying what is the point in understanding what is wrong with the lecture I went to see, I can only say simply that both he and Yarhouse miss the point of my existence entirely, and in exactly the same way. Yarhouse seems genuinely surprised that a gay Christian would perceive more in common with other LGBT people (as gay) than with him (as a Christian). He would be surprised, likewise, that I would shun this olive branch of being told that I can be accepted, not as the woman that I am, but instead, as a “biological male presenting female” or some other self-evident absurdity (again, evident to everyone except certain members of the Church). But far more than this, this line of reasoning runs the risk of ignoring the inevitability that denying what God made me, must always be a denial of God, Himself, as well.

In truth, I felt the greatest wall separating my closeness to God, all the time between when I realized the woman I must grow up to be, and when I finally let myself be her. When I finally accepted the charge to be myself, that wall – those scales – they fell away at that moment of finally accepting the full truth. In those days, I did make a lifestyle choice – one that kept me from my place as a daughter-child of the divine. I left that choice behind, and I became – am becoming – whole again. Not sin-free, not screw-up-free, because I do many things I feel unworthy of the woman I am called to be, and perhaps, most of the time, find myself generally inadequate at this and many other things. But as whole as a wicked girl like me can find a way to be.

Much as it was not my accepting the truth of who I am that kept me at arms length from God, but rather my refusal to do so, for many years, Yarhouse fails to understand that it is not now any choice of mine that prevents these Christians from being Christ for me. It is their choice. Their lifestyle. Their denial of God’s truth (or even the very small part of it that is evident in my existence) even when presented directly with it. This, I fear, is very much the same to be a disciple of the Christ of the land, and not of the Christ of the Cross, to look for excuses not to love, rather than opportunities to love. I am not the one being intransigent in this case – for being that woman is not one of my many sins. I know that I find myself bathing****** daily and hourly, in all manner of guilt that I did not do more, love more readily, work harder, be less weak, and I scarcely feel capable of being Christ for anyone, but I do not spend my time looking for excuses to not love, to not accept, to exclude, to discriminate.

Thus, the premise underlying Yarhouse’s statement is fundamentally flawed. I appreciate your desire to be Christ for me, but if you wish to call me these names, if you want to have this kind of discussion over my living body, then you’ve already made your decision not to do so. This is your decision, and neither I nor God have made it for you. And again, my fear is that anyone who makes such a decision will find themselves aligned with the Christ of the land. I won’t judge you for making this decision – it isn’t my place. But, like Douglass, I will respectfully decline to be interested in that sort of Christ.

That choice is their moral quandary. But thus, I am left with what becomes my moral quandary. Christ spent time in synagogues. He debated and spoke with elders. But he spent much more time loving people, and being out among them. I must ask myself, what is the opportunity cost of spending time (any time) trying to build inroads into the dwellings of this Christ of the land, instead of being out loving? What is the point in this dialog? What is the point of feeling the rage build up inside me, at the injustice, for all these days since that talk, and before I wrote this? Who was I not able to love, because I was too busy hurting, these last days – hurting man-made hurt? Could I not shed the tears I shed, just now, as I wrote this, for something more worthy? To me, the truth is, it is the Church that needs our prayers, with the “issue” of transgender people, not me. Save your prayers for me, please, for my million actual flaws and shortcomings, and not one of the few things that is not wrong with me.

I don’t have an easy answer to this quandary. In my feeble attempt to be like Christ, I try to spend most of my time out loving others. On most days, I am simply thankful for all the kids God has given me, for the rich work I have been given and for the surprising ability of my small hands to do even a tiny part of it. But, like Christ, I also long for a day when the structural injustice is undone, and the Church can again establish itself as a home for the broken hearted, and not for exclusionary movements.

* What, in my sister, Miss Austen’s, time, would have been called “disinterested,” when that word still meant a good thing, that a person was supporting another person out of a desire for that person’s good and not their own.

** Calvin uses – this is not unique to this event – comment cards for Q&A. The cards are moderated, with a subset being presented to the speaker by a faculty facilitator. In general, this has the significant strength of creating a more civil, and a more continuous discourse. It is also probably ultimately faster, allowing for answer to more questions and questions of more substance. In this kind of a case, however, it, unfortunately, amplifies the fact that this is a conversation on transgender Christians but not by or with us – by further silencing our already marginalized voices from the conversation. When Frank Foster, an outgoing State Representative, who fought for change to our civil rights amendment, but made a tactical decision to sacrifice the wellbeing of transgender people for the sake of a bill protecting the less marginalized (but still at risk) gay/lesbian/bisexual components of our community, only, I did feel it was my responsibility to gently raise the issue that we do, in fact, exist, and that our voices belong in the conversation about us. I do not represent trans women, or trans people, but I am one, and, if no one else will speak, I am willing. I also frequently promise not to pick (verbal) fights, and most usually, I keep my word. But, promises to behave oneself were made somewhat superfluous by the manner of the lecture.

*** Although, I do also hope the point is clear that I welcome this, but that I do not generally need/use gender inclusive bathrooms, myself, and I am content to use the women’s room like any other woman, which is also the only generally accepted policy from an HR standpoint.

**** I am a member of WPATH but was not involved in writing the Standards. As of this writing, Dr. Yarhouse does not appear to be a member of WPATH.

***** I often quote my friend, Mara Keisling, who heads the National Center for Transgender Equality, when she says that, “Science is our best friend.” So this may, especially in conjunction with my own pedigree as a neuropsychologist, for the best of readers, strike as somewhat a surprise. Do let me explain. I do think that there is science underlying my claim that I do not “identify as,” “present as,” “live my life as,” but rather, that I simply am a woman. Science that has to do with my brain. Science that establishes the safety and efficacy of transition-related medical services. Science from an anthropological standpoint that demonstrates our stable presence over time and space, across cultures, a marker of a likely biological/genetic/epigenetic phenomenon. But, for people who have not yet accepted gays and lesbians on this same ground, and who in some cases (this happened at a Christian Reformed event, held by a grassroots effort called All One Body, a few months ago) have still not come around to the idea of what they refer to as “interracial” marriage, I think a scientific conversation is really a waste of time and effort.

****** Alongside all the other more trivial, daily, guilts, of having eaten too much, of having not been ladylike enough, and so many other things.

I Think I Passed

Okay, never one to shy from controversy, I think I had my first real experience being “stealth*.” To be fair, I’ve gone to the store many times, and I’m more or less stealth – outside that time I went late at night, about which I blogged previously, I’ve actually rarely felt very stared at, and most of the time I make direct contact with a few people in the process, and none of them do a double take, and the interactions are pleasant, except when someone honks at me, because I swear I looked in the rearview and they were not there when I started backing out. 

It’s often worse at inclusive spaces**, in a slightly ridiculous way, because other LGBT people read me more readily than straight people.  Also, more generally, the funny consequence of this is that only people who know me well ever misgender me, even though I’m just three months on hormones. You can argue the point if you want (people got catty when I suggested this was happening in a trans thread on Facebook). But it’s decently accurate, and no one is more surprised about it than I am.

I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me Blackbird?

But, in the real, not officially inclusive world, the experiences have been stacking up. I do get compliments. They’re flattering, but I also admit that when I get compliments, going out, I assume people know exactly what I am, and they think I’m hideous, and they’re just being nice (because who could ever find me pretty?). So they compliment my bracelet or earrings to be pleasant without having to engage me on my appearance. This interacts a bit with the eating disorder history, too. I don’t have distorted body image so much, anymore, but at some level, those perceptions and those cognitions will always be with me. 

Anyway, little things challenge the pattern of cognition. I sat down at Starbucks the other day, and the woman on one side chatted friendly that she was envious that I could pull of a pant suit, because she can’t. This one I don’t think really had anything to do with recognizing I was transgender, but moreover, it caught me off guard, because I was a little scared to go with the pants over the skirt for fear that the outfit was just a little less clearly feminine, although, of course, with a frilly blouse, heels, and dangly earrings, the point comes across, honestly, well enough. But anyways, I was caught off guard, although the compliment felt genuine and really nice, actually. I quickly recovered with, “Thank you! I’m not always sure I can, either!” Which is actually the truth. My face doesn’t blush unless NARS has helped, but I would have blushed if my complexion allowed for it. The young women on the other side of me liked my earrings. Excellent power up before going into a big meeting, and I felt just plain like a woman all day***. 

But here’s the other, secret part. This is the part I haven’t heard very many trans people who “pass” (either as well as I do, or far better) talk about. Conceptually, I think it’s unlikely no one recognizes I’m, well, a different kind of woman. I also kind of know it’s unlikely that everyone thinks I look like a freak, and they are all simultaneously playing much better poker faces than I can muster, so that no one in the crowd shows it. I can also conceptually accept that some people probably do think I look a little … different … and may not much care for it, and are just being nice. What drives me crazy is not whether I pass, but that I don’t know what other people think of me. That drives me insane, because I’m that girl who wants everyone to like her, and can’t be terribly comfortable with the idea that there may be people who are faking liking me and I don’t know it. There. I said it.

People have written about how it’s hard to be pretty. I’m not going to try to convince you of some absurdity, like pretty people have it worse than ugly people or smart people have it worse than stupid people, or rich people have it worse than poor people, because by and large, the scientific evidence (which has addressed this) does not support the claim. But this is the dark side to … passing is the wrong word. Stealth is the wrong word, because, as I’ve already explained, I’ve made a  nuanced decision not to go stealth, even if I could. It’s the dark side to having a high degree of social acceptability (in a wide range of settings and among people who don’t know me) as a transitioning person, because like pretty people (dare I say other pretty people? It’s taken me a long time to wrap my head around the fact that I’m perceived as pretty, as much as I’ve longed for the moniker all my life), a lot of us hide insecurities, and just … there is a specific hell to not knowing what people think of me, even if the answer would turn out to be not so bad.

* Here I simply mean being in a cisgender space and being pretty sure most of the people with whom one interacts don’t know one is trans. As usual, I semi-facetiously court controversy. So, I don’t pass judgment on the choice of trans people who choose to go into a deep stealth, where they live in such a way that even many/most of their close/intimate friends and colleagues do not know they are trans. As I’ve said before, locally, that could never be an option for me, but were I to relocate somewhere where there isn’t a large neuropsychology presence or other network connections to my perceived-male days, it might be feasible. I don’t have the option globally, unless I were to leave my profession. I’ve also chosen not to do this, because, in my case, I believe I can work and thrive here, where many people know me, and by doing so open the door wider for our siblings. 

** Okay, so I wrote my post about Coolclusion, right? A couple weeks later, at church, one of the same people I mentioned, I kid you not, on the day that the sermon was about what it means to be an open and affirming church, told my girlfriend and me, “If we can accept you [laughter], we can accept anyone, can’t we?” Blithely. What does it really say about us, as a people, if I can go to expensive bars and fancy restaurants, and totally get treated well and feel welcome, and this is the standard to which we hold ourselves in making an inclusive church accepting? How did things come to be this way, and how do we right the apple cart?

*** And they don’t even know what coolclusion is, or who they’re trying to coolclude!

Coolclusion: That Hip, New Thing

This is gentle criticism, and it’s directed at people I love. I’ve had some really interesting experiences exploring the inclusive church space over the past half year. I’m technically a member, or at least I was, of a certain large Protestant church that is thick as thieves here in West Michigan. I became a member in my 20s, in Ann Arbor, when I was an engineer, after going there through most of college. It was my church home altogether for most of ten years. I left for two reasons. The proximal one was that I was in the process of shipping off to Gainesville, FL, to do my doctoral studies. Of course, the sensible thing to do would have been to re-establish my churchgoing in Gainesville, but I want to be honest and admit I did not do this. The distal, truer, and less public reason, had to do with the fact that, at that time, I knew who and what I was, and I accepted it conceptually, but I was not anywhere near brave enough to do anything about it, and I wasn’t really ready to know how to love myself, either (anorexia, ironically, had already begun to lead me towards knowing how to love myself, but this was early in my disordered eating days yet). I felt a very strong sense in that church of the message from God that no one had the right to separate me from the divine. It almost was like a vision* that came to me, once, actually, when I was late and snuck into the choir balcony, and it was a stern rebuke, not a gentle reassurance. But I had become increasingly convinced, even though at that time, I really was just beginning to understand consciously the issues surrounding LGBTQIA+ inclusion, that this simple message received only lip service, and certainly was not the model of religious fellowship I saw around me, most of the time.

What I saw around me were generally more-or-less good people, with everyday problems (I went to Sunday school with a fellow Ford engineer’s wife, who complained about him “having” to buy Ford cars, which struck me as… disingenuous). I also saw, frequently, that they used the perception of sin as a means to bully each other and achieve submission. The most glaring time I saw this was a newlywed fellow graduate student (whom I legitimately liked) trying to convince me that, even if had not had extra-marital sex, I was an adulterer because I thought about it. These kinds of messages were always externally directed – one got these sermonettes about whatever the “preacher” didn’t personally suffer from, but figured other people probably did, and so they could be cowed by being confronted with it and thereby amplify pre-existing guilt. This is really not the life Christ wanted us to live, and I didn’t (and don’t) pretend to be any kind of saint, but I knew it. So I know it is not my place to bargain with the divine, but I simply told God that I needed to be in placed where people were in need, and I could be of service to them, and to places where I heard the divine voice, and particularly, that, at the time, church sadly was not that place. I also agreed to accept contradictory marching orders – whenever God wanted me in church, to church I would go, without question, but that I would look for divinity my own way until then. I had this negotiation in my own heart, although I transparently told as much to the one or two people who asked about it. For what it’s worth, I do know people kicked out of this church for being what I am (in the sense of my gender identity and my sexual orientation). Although they’ve started taking recent positive steps, my understanding is that I would probably not be welcome as a member, now.

I know it’s just the right size and it has a nice feel to it in your hand, and it swings nicely, but for the love of God, please stop thinking that the correct use of this thing is to hit people over the head with it

I didn’t feel that draw back to church until just the last few years (I went about ten years rarely going to church). Then, I started feeling the tug. I went to Catholic Church. Well, I was dating a Catholic. It wasn’t bad. The priests freestyle over the beat break in the Lord’s Prayer, which I find mildly unnecessary and disturbing (one of my favorite Bible verses is from Quoholeth, “God is in heaven, and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”) In this particular case, they also preach entirely too often on the state of their retirement accounts (and not the kind in heaven). Anyways. I actually kind of liked it, altogether. Since I am not Catholic, I extended my decade of not taking communion, and whereas Catholics do this all the time (which is not what Christ asked for), Protestants do not, and so even with intermittent trips by myself to my home denomination, I continued to do without communion.

If you’re not these guys, you do not get to freestyle over the beat break in anything, let alone the Lord’s Prayer

When she and I split up, I started attending a Universalist-Unitarian church. They’re hokey. But a well-rooted hokey – four of the first six presidents were part of this church. Harvard and Tufts are their seminaries. They’re nice, and they even did a transgender inclusion workshop. They’re not particularly interested in scripture, and they take a very hands off approach to developing right-mindedness, and it didn’t ultimately work out for me, but I like them. Now I’m at a United Church of Christ, and I like this so far. What I have to say goes to both of them, and to many other spaces.

Inclusion doesn’t have to be awkward. I’m advocating for “coolclusion.” A wonderful gentleman introducing himself to my girlfriend and me at one of these churches said, “Well, you’re certainly a different couple, but we’re glad to have you here, and all really are welcome.” He was genuinely trying to be friendly and inclusive. I’m not mad at him, and I feel welcome there. Coolclusion is the gentle reminder that “Cool! It’s nice to meet you, and I’m glad you’re here” works just as well. Coolclusion also advocates that one generally needn’t show ally cred by doing any more than being friendly. One needn’t tell me, “Oh! My niece is a lesbian” as if this will prove one accepts my relationship. One needn’t stare at me and grin until I break down and explain why I might look a little different from other women (which, it turns out, is more often because they don’t know many Indians, and although my blood seems to go all the way back to the migration from Persia, I don’t really look like other Indians anyways). Actually, the point is totally applicable to ethnic inclusivity and many other kinds of inclusivity that have nothing to do with LGBTQIA+.

The truth is, before I went to this newest church for the first time, I had sat by a retired pastor of the church in which I was originally a member. I don’t know how well I “passed” that night, but his vision wasn’t so great, which takes the heat off! Anyway, he treated me like any other young lady (don’t even start with me, I still pass for a young lady in some crowds!). We talked about his daughter, about art and music, about early autism interventions and the value in giving young people all the chances we can, about the vicious cycle of poverty, and about economic development being a key to helping the underprivileged lift themselves out of the cycle. He introduced me to his best friend, and briefly to their wives, who were in the row behind. It was a lovely conversation, and I just want to emphasize that I felt absolutely included without a single moment spent affirming my LGBTQIA+ status or anything else that marks me as different. It didn’t even need a rainbow flag. I did send his daughter (whom I’ve never met) a note on Facebook, just to let her know how great her daddy is.

I have to admit I’m dealing with a lot of my own insecurity, too, and this layers into it. I feel like a hot mess many times even when I look my best. I think in my head that people compliment my appearance, my choice of accessories and sense of style, because they feel sorry for me, and not because there’s anything to compliment. I know. I’m working on this. I know it’s absurd – I got compliments on my style and accessories as a presumptive man, and even with the stress of trying to drape a body that’s just been freed of testosterone two months ago, I do kind of know I know how to do accessories. So I’ll try to be less of a bottomless pit of low self-esteem.

In the meantime, in general, I’m advocating for a more laid back, less-is-more kind of inclusion. If you want to include me, please have a conversation with me and talk about whatever we talk about. Please don’t think that you are not inclusive until you interrupt a conversation about something I find really interesting (autism, healthcare reform, politics, farm-to-table, Dig Dug, Coach purses, etc) or whatever you find really interesting (please don’t let it be NASCAR, please don’t let it be NASCAR) to steer the conversation to my ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity. If you get to know me, as you’ve seen in this blog, I’ll happily talk about those things. And if and when you need help knowing how to fit into an environment you’re not used to and not screw it up, I’ll help if I can (because, god, I’ve had to rock being that only girl in a miniskirt at the party before!). And I’ll just say, “use she and her” if I need to (it’s actually only people who know me and are trying too hard, who offer me options I am unlikely to want, like gender neutral pronouns, again, I know they mean well), because I know you have no idea what I mean when I say I “prefer” female pronouns, because, honestly, less is more on our side too, and I’m also not sure why I use this clumsy language.

Slackware. It’s not just for Linux anymore. Look, the girl made a geek joke! Now sudo make me a sandwich, and stop staring at me! 

Just be cool, dude. And I’ll try to be cool and not-a-dude**. We’ll all be fine.

* We’ll have to see if it’s prophetic, also. The only prophetic dream I ever had involved dreaming there were storm clouds raining inside the optics lab I was working in. I told my fellow grad student about it, and then we went out to lunch. When we got back, the receptionist noted the funny pouring sound coming from our lab. A pipe had burst and it was raining all over the setup. I think it did $35,000 in damages. I don’t know if my utter failure to do anything useful with the prophetic dream got me cut off, if or if this is one of those things where one gets a second chance!

** Also I pledge not to use terms like “hip,” “cool,” or “dude” for at least one or two next blog posts.

You Gotta Have Principles

newmanifesto
I love girl power, and I’m fine with most of the logos, but it’s time we have a feminism that gets back to fighting for “equality, period”

So… Rather than merely attaching myself to hooks’ intersectionalism or to Serano’s trans-feminism, to me, these are my guiding fourth wave feminist principles:

  1. Woman is born in chains, but we are everywhere making her free – to turn Rousseau’s famous quote on its head (although there are arguments that he meant closer to what I mean), rather than pretending that we are created equal, and that our differences are arbitrary constructs, we must recognize that we are born with many inequalities that give and take privilege before we even speak for ourselves and continue to operate in modified forms throughout and beyond our lives.
  2. Sex and gender are deeply rooted in the very existence of human social constructs, and the feminism that helps us will be every bit as radical as this, in an honest manner that understands what we can can and cannot change, today, about human biology. Like Serano and other scientists, and since I am a neuroscientist myself, I do reject the idea that sex/gender are purely socially constructed – although there is arbitrariness in what is perceived as masculine and feminine at a given time, that many people naturally congregate and compartmentalize behaviors into masculine and feminine, and that these are moderately to strongly correlated with karyotype, is a stable feature of humans across time and cultures, and evidence against either a purely socially constructed or a purely genetic (excluding epigenetic effects) notion of sex and gender makes both of these extremes implausible. The focus of fourth wave feminism must not be arguing with people about their gender identity or experiences, or arguing with people about the very existence of gender and sex, but must rather be on how we can use intellectual/philosophical, legal/moral, and scientific / technological innovations to create (not restore) equal playing fields, as we learn more and more about what we can and cannot change, and how we can and cannot change human beings.
  3. Only inclusion builds stronger society. We have ample evidence that segregation does not work. We must stop banging our head repeatedly against doors marked “separate but equal” when we know that this has failed us time and time again. Although she denies it, history generally credits Phyllis Schlafly with using the fright of unisex/gender inclusive bathrooms to stop the ERA, and almost 40 years later, we’re still scared enough of equality that we are frequently choosing segregation (Civil unions? Please…) when we know it is not “close enough.”
  4. The fights for every kind of freedom, for freedom from poverty, freedom from racial/ethnic marginalization, freedom from sexual oppression, freedom from unjust or inhumane incarceration, freedom from dominance by the ignorant – they are all the same fight, and every freedom fighter is our kin-in-arms, and I am in league with everyone who dreams of and yearns for the life beyond the bars. Whenever we start a conversation with “equality for xxx,” are we not implying that, even when we get what we want, some people will be equal-er than others? I’m not saying that we can’t be pragmatic, that we can’t implement equality piece-by-piece, but we have to be clear that the ultimate goal is an inclusive world that provides whatever we mean by equality (not homogenization) as something everyone can enjoy.
  5. No one ever truly became freer standing on the neck of another. Oppressing trans women will not make cis women free. Oppressing the poor does not make the rich free. Demonizing members for mere membership in the dominant ethnic minority is as wrong as demonizing someone for other factors not under their control such as their sex, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. We are none of us safe until we are all of us safe, and we must build freedom for those who lack it without trying to destroy the freedom of others.

buddha
“And Govinda saw that this mask-like smile, this smile of unity over the flowing forms, this smile of simultaneousness over the thousands of births and deaths — this smile of Siddhartha — was exactly the same as the calm, delicate, impenetrable, perhaps gracious, perhaps mocking, wise, thousand-fold smile of Gautama, the Buddha, as he perceived it with awe a hundred times.” — From Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

To paraphrase Steinem, the advocates of the status quo, of ignoring all of these points, and of keeping one group or another bound in chains, they will do anything to make a woman like me seem ridiculous. They will argue with me about everything, from my hemline to my mascara to my genitals, from questionable translations of the Bible to non-credible histories of the founding fathers, in short with everything but what really matters, which is freedom for my people.

I Am A Radical Feminist (And Proud of It!)

Yes, you heard me rightly.

I think this needs saying. There are two historical meanings of the term radical in the context of radical feminism. Actually, Merriam-Webster lists three, although their first and second definitions are closely related (I’ll ignore definition four, or at least leave it to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).

TMNT

Radical, dude!

The classical meaning of the term, and the first two entries in Merriam-Webster, goes back to the etymology. A radical approach is one that goes back to the very roots or origin of something. The other, of course, increasingly in vogue in the last twenty years, is the use of radical as a synonym for extremist. Although I don’t personally know any feminists who really hate men (I know many who hate things men do), and I don’t know any people who are really feminist separatists, who want to live off in some female-assigned-at-birth fantasy land (although there is such a fantasy land near here),

There are radical feminisms of both kinds. I want to dedicate this post to pointing out that the former is the more important use of the term, and that the idea of feminism being radical is so important, that we must absolutely not cede the concept of radical feminism to the makers of exclusionary movements, and we must continue to stand up as radical feminists, to own this term, to love it, and to make (by the former definition) feminism that is far more, not less, radical.

To be sure, when second wave feminists began calling themselves radical (1967 is commonly cited for the inception of the term), they existed over a broad range. Some of them were shockingly (for the time) open about how they found men beautiful and appealing. Others argued that patriarchy prevented even the possibility of an ethical sexual relationship between women and men, and that notions like romantic and sexual orientations must be entirely revamped to provide any possibility of ethical comity. (This is most commonly attributed to MacKinnon, and sometimes to Dworkin, but as snopes.com points out, neither said anything like “all sex is rape,” and both were really, to me, insightful in analyzing the ethics of sexuality, particularly heterosexuality). To be fair, a few of them were openly suspicious of not just men, but of anyone assigned male at birth. Germaine Greer went farther than most, and in those days, was openly cruel to transgender people, and particularly trans women; she still has not really set the record straight, although recently her position has been more complex (and more confusing to some, although to me, having already said I think we should cut back on using the term transphobia, somewhat open to discussion). But again, others felt strongly and articulated clearly that feminism had a role in making the world not only better for cis women, but for everyone (Steinem and Firestone, notably — I think a careful read of Steinem’s work over the course of her life makes it hard to believe she was ever much of an exclusionist, but she has been far more explicit about this recently). Finally, still others seemed to vacillate (my reading of Naomi Wolf is this way). There was even room for some philosophies that tread a surreal line between comical and profound (if you haven’t read Vamps & Tramps or other early Paglia … it’s an experience, for sure).

But, this variation in feminist voices needs to be understood in the context of re-analyzing the world that made patriarchy from the roots in an honestly radical way, to figure out how to end the patriarchy. Moreover, while all these struggles for equality are the same struggle, I do feel we should not spend the bulk of our time making a villain of someone for fighting a different part of the equality struggle than the one that affects us at a given moment.

In careful reading of some of the authors I mention above, it is clear that, many times, their intent was to provoke theoretically, rather than demonize a group of people. Other times, I believe they were acting legitimately from fear, ignorance, or uncertainty, and from the memories of their own suffering (“hurt people hurt people“). But these women were spelunkers, lamps bound to their foreheads, crawling through the crevices and tunnels underpinning patriarchal society, having no idea what they might find or what it might mean. In the history of any new science or philosophy, as its principles are elucidated, their implications are not immediately understood, and claims that, in hindsight, seem erroneous or incompatible with the theory are made, being rejected later as the process continues. That is, the vagary of these early radical feminist views, to me, is just like the vagary of the early moments of new theories in physical science, new principles in software design, or other area of the design of science and technology.

Dworkin-IntercourseAt times, I was/am scared of Andrea Dworkin. I may be the only trans woman you’ll ever hear say this, but I was also strongly influenced by her way of thinking and her way of relating to the world, even if I disagree with some of her conclusions

Before I was aware of the latter use of the term radical, I used to call what evolved next, as the second wave slowed down, as a sort of “land grab” feminism (it has also been called cultural feminism and sometimes “difference” feminism falls into this space, too, when it is not called radical feminism in usurpment of the prior radical feminism). At the time, I didn’t know to articulate that the problem for me most centrally was that my own experience as a woman-in-becoming was being excluded. Nor did I really understand that, to the extent that I have any business talking about the concerns of or advocating for the needs of men, I was doing it as an outsider (because, in those days, I although my heart knew it, I, again, did not have the words to articulate that I was not, had never been a man). But what bothered me is that the feminism that succeeded radical feminism and ultimately stole its birthright was pragmatic in scary ways – willing to sacrifice ideology not just when no alternative was present, but at the drop of a hat, and willing to accept any intellectually odious approach or position if it benefited even one woman, even when it came at the cost of another woman (this cold be benefiting cis women at the cost of trans women, but most commonly, in the US, it was benefiting white women at the cost of black and Latino women).

This feminism was not honest. Rather, it was ready to be deceptive if it might prove beneficial. The old radical feminists were developing a science and a philosophy, and a technology derived from that science and philosophy. The new radical feminists were cobbling together bad technological solutions, because they did not care to understand or value the science or the philosophy.

smash-patriarchy

If there is a reason feminism is associated with monstrosity (outside of the primary reason, which is that it is a tool the patriarchy and the status quo use to stop us), it’s this dishonesty, this unwillingness to follow guiding principles like creating a more just society. Smashing the patriarchy, in contrast, is not monstrosity at all

My feeling is that the results have been disastrous. We did not pass the ERA, because of stupid things, like believing that sex segregated bathrooms were more important to preserve and enshrine than the equality of women and men. (For those of you who are feminists and physical scientists, what this reminds me most of is the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox…. sadly, nearly 40 years later, the horror of the bathroom is again being used to dehumanize trans people) Feminism became irrelevant to modern life, and we spent the intervening years in stupid arguments that ranged intellectually all the way from “is Ally McBeal a feminist?” to “Is Miley Cyrus a feminist?” instead of talking about how we empower women and build a world where our stories as women matter, get told, are heard.

Behind the scenes, on the other hand, a slightly more complex story was evolving than this “woe for the death of feminism.” Shulamith Firestone, that genius who wrote one text decades ago and largely disappeared from public conversation, I believe, understood many of the intersectional aspects of feminism from her place as a middle-class, white, cis woman. Over the coming decades, bell hooks went far farther, and alongside other women, extended this story to integrate the narratives of the poor and oppressed ethnic minorities, long blind spots of feminism, and later yet, inclusionary queer theorists extended this story to sexual and gender minorities, but largely extending the same story told by Firestone and Steinem that the true feminism was the one that took everyone’s right to personhood seriously. In my mind, as these dies coalesced into the so-called “fourth wave” (which really became an extension of the best of the second wave), the long dark night without a relevant feminism finally broke, and dawn shone, and didn’t it feel good to be alive and to be woman?

So, in the newest lexicon, I endorse the intersectionalism of bell hooks and others, and the trans-feminism of Julia Serano and others. In spirit, I find kinship with most of the people who call themselves part of the “fourth wave” of feminism, as well as most of those placed in the fourth wave by others’ attributions. I endorse these types of feminism as the most radical feminism available to me. I will do my small part (if our gifts were measured by capitalization, bell hooks would be in all caps and I would be in lower case subscript!) to extend it, and to make it more radical yet, and most likely, because we’re nowhere near done figuring this out, there will be other terms for the most radical, and most honest kind of feminism that comes to exist, and when I see it, I’ll join it. I bet Steinem and hooks will too, and if she were here to do so, so would Firestone.

And someday, maybe, just maybe, our descendants, genetic and spiritual, won’t even need to call it feminism anymore, because the radical notion that women are people will seem as worthy of question as the radical notion that the world is a globe.

Why I Choose Advocacy

There are a lot of politics surrounding the notion of “passing” (that is, not generally being recognizable as trans after transitioning) and trans* people who transition and can/do pass. These politics follow an odd pattern. There is this irrational fear in parts of the cis- world that trans women who pass or blend in are some kind of stalking monsters whose aim is to prey on unsuspecting heterosexual men (no one who has ever met me had ever thought of me as a super-predator … most of my girlfriends have claimed they could take me in a fight, and, well, they’re right). However, usually when cis people see me walk like a duck, talk like a duck, quack like a duck, it helps them accept that I, well, I am a duck*. Actually, most of the antipathy towards trans women who blend in with cis women comes from … other trans people. They don’t question my womanhood, but they do look with disapproval on trans women like me who are or want to be deep inside the binary.

More on that issue another time. It’s actually the necessary frontispiece, in this case, to say that, while I probably don’t pass or blend completely right now, a year or more down the road, I think I might. Now this is what I really want to talk about. I do not have a credible option to be truly “stealth” (having no one really know I’m trans, in my day-to-day life). The only way this could possibly happen is if I were to completely abandon the professional field which I studied for seven years of graduate school, internship, and residency, in which I became board certified, which I honestly love. My field is simply too small – most of my colleagues inside my specialty will know when I go full time, because of the connections I inherited and the connectedness I craved and developed. So no, I can’t go deep stealth. I could go a more shallow stealth. In many places, there are only handfuls of people in my specialty practicing, and not all of them at connected in the way that I and most of my classmate are. So what I could probably do is go full time and then move somewhere where HR, and maybe my immediate supervisor, know that I am transgender. If I shut this blog down, silence my trans story in favor of a nondescript story of my womanhood (which would not make for a great herstory), I could probably maintain this indefinitely.

There’s really one thing I would lose, besides a level of my sense of personal dignity, if I did this. It’s my ability to advocate. No pride parades. No calls for local, state, and national government to increase LGBTQIA+ rights and protections. All of that would “blow my cover.”

I have to admit, it’s a little tempting. Oh, not forever. I’m a connected queer. I just don’t have it in me to isolate. But the thought of doing this, especially early after transition, when it would be more possible, is awful tempting, just to have the experience of simply being known as a woman, before having that as most of my life space (as opposed to limited areas of my life space, when I’m around only strangers) becomes infeasible. If I wasn’t so connected, if my field weren’t so reliant upon webs of references and colleagues and mentors voicing their support of me, I can’t honestly say I am sure I would reject the option.

On the other hand, I also view it as something of a blessing that it’s not much of an option to me. The truth is, I like advocating. This road has been hard for me. I did suffer. I’ve been bullied and bruised. I’ve been called countless names, which healed far more poorly than the bruising. I’ve played a role that doesn’t work for me for a long, long time, at first in ignorance and then knowing the truth full well, but not seeing a way out. I didn’t always know how I would survive, and although I never gave up, I was often sure I would die unfulfilled, and there are parts of my journey that I survived I know not how.

I know I’m not the only one going through this. I’m not very strong, and I’m not very brave. I’m not at all courageous. I get scared. I cry. But I feel that if some brother or sister could suffer a little less because of my being out in the open, I will wear the target, and suffer the attacks, and if I must fall, I hope that I shall look braver than I feel as I fall, that the fight I put up will scare our enemies, and embolden our allies, and that I acquit myself with some small measure of honor. I also do it because I believe that if people like us have the audacity, we can shape the world in an inclusive way, instead of letting bigots shape it into a maze of exclusionary movements and spaces.

david_bowie

Mazes are not really very inclusive spaces, but I will point out that Labyrinths, which are a completely different thing, have major genderqueer cred

I could vanish into the night. I choose instead to stand my ground and advocate.

*I am not a duck, just to be clear. I am a woman.