With draconian and cruel laws that target transgender folks of all ages being passed nationwide, it’s important to revisit what we can do as an organization and as progressive Democrats to elevate trans voices and fight for trans rights. On Thursday, the Daily Kos Equity Council facilitated a discussion on trans rights that included three incredible panelists who brought their expertise before moderator and Trending News writer Marissa Higgins (she/her). As part of this panel, we present the full video and transcript for y’all to enjoy.
A bit about the panelists: KB Brookins (they/them) has a wealth of experience putting words to pressing issues that impact the trans community as both a poet and essayist. They are a culture worker and an Artivism Fellow with Broadway Advocacy Coalition, a stellar group that similarly finds creative means to help advance pressing issues; Holiday Simmons, MSW (he/him) is the Resident in Resilience and Healing at the Campaign for Southern Equality. His work focuses as much on equality from a holistic and wellness standpoint to supporting groups that advocate for environmental justice and similarly intersectional causes; S. Leigh Thompson (he/they) uses an array of techniques to creatively explore equity, diversity, and inclusion while also helping to facilitate dialogues with folks similarly interested in DEI work.
Michelle Shull: There we are!
Marissa Higgins: Okay, amazing. Okay. So we’re recording, I believe. Okay, so just to start, I just want to thank everyone for coming. There are so many people here I can’t see everyone at once, so I’m really grateful that so many people are showing up. I know that we have a lot of questions and topics that people are eager to learn about so I’d like to just get right into it, and since it’s being recorded, if people trail in a little late, then that’s fine.
Marissa Higgins: So, yeah. I’ll just quickly introduce myself. My name is Marissa. I am a staff writer in Trending News. And, though I cover a lot of trans content for the site, I am cisgender so I am just an ally. So I am also very eager to learn from our panelists today too. So even though I am asking the questions, I definitely do not have all the answers or consider myself an expert by any means. With that, if each panelist—so KB, Holiday, and Leigh—could each quickly introduce yourselves in a few sentences and then I will jump into the questions. So, Leigh, since you are familiar to many of us here at Daily Kos already, would you like to take the lead?
S. Leigh Thompson: Sure, I’d be glad to. Hi, folks! It’s so good to see so many of you again. My name is Leigh. I use he or they pronounces. I am a queer, trans, genderqueer, white native person with disability living in the unceded occupied territories of the Munsee-Lenape Tribes in a place called Kingston, New York. I am a consultant, strategist, and facilitator around diversity, inclusion, and equity. I work with a variety of different organizations, from small, two-person grassroots nonprofits to really big behemoths that work globally and everywhere in between to support their deeper understanding and practice of equity in their work. I’m also a Theatre of the Oppressed practitioner and do that work to support organizations, activists, and educators to have deep dialogs around the issues that they’ve experienced in community and how they can do that in creative ways. And, yeah, just been working on LGBT and gender issues for over 20 years now and excited to be in this dialog and in conversation with my colleagues and all of y’all.
Marissa Higgins: Thank you, Leigh! That was excellent. Holiday, would you like to go next?
Holiday Simmons: Sure. Hey y’all, I’m Holiday Simmons. My pronouns are he and him. My home is the former Muscogee-Creek territories now known as Atlanta, Georgia. I run a holistic mental health and spiritual wellness practice called Southern Soul Wellness and we support LGBT folks, Black, Indigenous, and people of color, formerly incarcerated people, and men working on transforming their patriarchy. And so those are the clients we serve. And so it’s a one-on-one practice as well as a group practice. We support social justice and climate justice organizations. And, yeah, I’m really happy to be here. But before I went back to my mental health roots I was an advocate for LGBT folks in the South as well as LGBT youth before that. And so I’m happy to be here.
Marissa Higgins: Thank you! And so, last but not least, KB, would you like to introduce yourself a little bit?
KB Brookins: Hello. What’s up, everybody? I’m KB. My pronouns are they and them. I am on Comecrudo, Carrizo, and Comanche people’s land otherwise known as Austin, Texas. I’m a poet, essayist, and cultural worker. My work entails essentially talking about politics and culture through writing. And also kind of like [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] DEI and accessibility work with individual companies, institutions, and things like that. My roots are in community organizing. And I try to center art-based activism in organizing in all the things that I do. Thank y’all for having me.
Marissa Higgins: Wonderful, thank you! So, to give everyone like a rough outline of how the panel is gonna go, so you can mentally prepare for what topics we’re gonna hit, I’d like for our panelists to talk to us about pronouns to start and then I would like us to touch on combatting right-wing talking points that people who are moderates or even progressives might slip into. Like, how to respond to those and how to identify them. And I would love for us to also talk about breaking down myths and like journalistic responsibility when it comes to gender-affirming health care, particularly for youths. And I would also love if we could talk about combatting stereotypes and myths when it comes to trans people of all ages in sports. So those are kind of the big-picture topics and if you guys haven’t already seen, there is a link available where you can submit anonymous questions that we can hit in the question and answer portion. So you can feel free to write those in at any time on the Google form. And if it’s something that ends up being covered then we can always review it or skip it just depending on what the group wants, so feel free. Or you can always leave questions in the Slack if you prefer. Or, rather, the Zoom chat. It doesn’t matter. Okay, so with that in mind, I’ll open this up for each panelist just so everyone can hear variations on why this is so important but I would love if we could start with Holiday. Could you share with us why it is so important that people honor everyone’s pronouns even if we don’t always understand them or even if we feel some pushback, say, in terms of grammar or what their pronouns were before. Like how to reach people who just aren’t quite getting why it is valuable.
Holiday Simmons: Sure. I’m having some access needs. I’m hearing some feedback. I think, sorry to call you out, but Colleen, if you could mute yours. I’m just hearing some feedback and having a hard time. Thank you so much. Appreciate it. Yes, absolutely. So pronouns, a phrase that I heard someone say once that I’ve since used for my family and other folks who were having a hard time is that pronouns are a big deal for me but they don’t need to be for you. In other words, they make such a big difference and it’s a small thing to shift for someone who’s trying to be supportive, and it’s sort of a gateway to safety, connection, and understanding. So, if you can use the term of how someone wants to be addressed, that is just the beginning of opening for better understanding, safety, and connection. And there’s room for mistakes, you know. Even as trans people, we make mistakes. Also, people change pronouns, so what’s right today might be incorrect the next day. So it’s a good practice to ask, it’s a good practice, maybe not in every staff meeting but in some formats to have everyone say their pronouns, to put them in their signature for their email just to get in the practice of, we all have, for the most part pronouns. Some people don’t like the standard ones. They only like their name. But whatever it is, we want to be referred to respectfully so creating a culture of doing that is helpful for everybody, not just for people who have, you know, have a pronoun that you might not expect. It’s really to help keep everyone safe.
Marissa Higgins: Amazing, thank you. Leigh, I think I saw you nodding along. Would you like to jump in next?
S. Leigh Thompson: Sure! Everything Holiday said is definitely really crucial. The only other couple things to add is just remembering that, when we ask people their names, we’re asking, “What word can I call you?” And we don’t check people’s IDs. We don’t check what validation they use for having that name. But pronouns are usually words that are chosen for us by other people based on an expectation of who we are and who we’re supposed to be based on a cursory look at our bodies. So they take a look at our bodies and make an expectation and put a word on us. And so that’s something that may actually work for you. It’s totally great. It’s never been an issue for you to have someone call you by a pronoun that isn’t somehow in alignment with what they read upon your body. And for some folks, it’s just not as common, right? People take a cursory look at our bodies, they make a decision, and they’re communicating that in their words. And so, ultimately, when we ask our names, we ask pronouns too just to say, “What are all the words I can use for you?” rather than using some. And just remember, for a lot of trans people, using the wrong pronouns can actually be dangerous. Depending on where we are, especially with a lot of anti-trans hate that we are experiencing, the uptick of significantly right at this moment, and the legislation that empowers people to be even more judgmental and caustic in interactions with trans people. Using the wrong pronouns can actually “out” people. This also comes with people you’ve had previous relationships with, you perhaps knew prior them shifting their pronouns or transitioning. And if you’re calling someone by their wrong pronouns in a space, you could “out” them and create a dire situation for that person’s safety. And then lastly, they/them pronouns have been around in the English language for a long time to refer to someone in the first person singular, especially when gender, this was before, was not known. And now we can just say that gender is just an inclusive question. That it is a valid way to experience yourself outside the gender binary.
Marissa Higgins: Amazing, thank you, Leigh. And KB?
KB Brookins: Yes, and apologies to y’all if you hear anything in the background. So, pronouns, and I want to go kind of off what S.—Leigh, sorry—was talking about with pronouns. Pronouns are an extension of someone’s personhood, so you wouldn’t want me to just be continuously giving you the incorrect name. Like Marissa has told me that her name is Marissa. I would not just be out here calling her Emily just because I don’t “agree” with the name Marissa. It’s the same thing, you know what I mean? Like, it’s not something that you either agree or disagree with, it is just a person’s personhood. And if you are not respecting that, that person is not going to want to be around you, that person is not gonna feel safe with you. And so much of what we’re talking about today is safety and the constant, kind of like, unsafety of trans people at the expense of cis people who just feel uncomfortable with their personhood being different than a trans person’s personhood. It’s an issue, and if you see pronouns less as some kind of accessory thing and more a core part of someone’s personhood that is and can change, just like names can change, right? Like I think that we’d be better off. And, like, the pushback that I generally have when someone is having a hard time with pronouns, especially they/them pronouns. Those and other neo-pronouns seems to be the issues that most people have when it comes to getting someone’s pronouns right. Not the only, but definitely a lot. “They” is singular and has been since 12th century Chaucerian-era of language. I know I have a writing degree so I’m just like, know so much about the colonizer English language. Like, if I was to, for instance, we were all in the room and I leave a pen down but you don’t know that I did that, right? You don’t know who left the pen at the table, you would say, “Somebody left their pen. I hope they come back and get it.” And you would not think twice about it because we use “they” in a singular way and we already have for so many centuries. So that is generally my pushback that I would suggest that you use. “They” is singular and has been in English for a very long time and we use it presently for objects and when you don’t know what a person looks like. Just because you now know what someone looks like, you’re having an issue with it. And that’s just something you have to think about internally, right? And, also, I think it’s important to bring up, like, if you don’t understand. There’s so much. Like, Google is free. There is so many videos, infographics, my gosh, I see them on my timeline all the time explaining what pronouns are. That information is very much accessible. One resource that I often use is, I think it’s called my pronouns dot org, don’t quote me on that, but it has maybe a paragraph of information for every single kind of usage of pronouns that you could think of and I use that to be like, “if you want to learn this, take two minutes out of your day and watch this clip or read this.” And I think that it doesn’t just stop at pronouns, right? Which we’re going to talk about other things, but I want to super emphasize that seeing the person as that gender, meaning getting their pronouns right, and also not being inquisitive about who they were before social or medical transition, and also not making assumptions about that person based on their pronouns or based on knowing that they’re trans, right? Trans people are not a monolith and it’s important to see that person, you know, as the gender that they would like you to see them as and that goes past using pronouns.
Marissa Higgins: Thank you! You guys all gave incredible answers. So one more on pronouns, and this is another where I’ll ask each of you to speak but I promise I won’t do this for every question. One thing I guess for some context is that here at Daily Kos we are like a remote company. Like some of us see each other in person outside of Covid but generally we’re mostly communicating on Slack. And some of us communicate a lot with readers on our website through comments and social media, so there is like a dialog and it’s common that our readers will engage on articles and videos that we produce. With that in mind, I would love to hear from you all on what could be a good starting point or what could be a good foundation for how people can take accountability or appropriately apologize if or when we do make mistakes. Like if someone does misgender someone, got their pronouns wrong, maybe once, maybe more than once, what is maybe a good baseline check-in for how to maybe take accountability and address that? Especially if you can think about it just in terms of Slack or like a Zoom call because that’s usually what we’re doing here. I’ll let whoever wants to jump in first go.
KB Brookins: Yeah, I’m happy to. So I think that is gonna be specific to the individual because I don’t think what I would like someone to do in that instance is maybe gonna be the same as what Holiday or Leigh would like someone to do in that instance since we’re all individual people. And it’s important that when harm is done to a person that you center the harmed party’s needs in that instance. But I can tell you what I like, which is generally I am not a fan of over-apologizing. You know what I mean? Like, it happens and you’re like, “I’m so sorry. Let me tell you this story about why I didn’t use your pronouns correctly. Also let me apologize again in 10 minutes just to bring up the fact that I did it again and let me say all of these demeaning things about myself.” Like, I don’t like that. I don’t like that because also it feels less about me, like less about you messing up my pronouns and more about you trying to deal with your guilt. You don’t always have to auditorially process your guilt about something when you do something wrong or if you process that, I don’t think I need to be there for it personally. So, probably no to over-apologizing. I personally enjoy an, “Oh, sorry. I’m gonna do better next time.” And we move on with whatever conversation we were having. And the “do better next time” looks like getting my pronouns right, you know what I mean? So, like, just not making that moment about yourself, right, I think is the key that probably is pretty universal but I personally like when people just kind of move on, not make it an event, not make it an “I’m sorry” tour situation.
Holiday Simmons: Thanks for that, KB. I feel similarly on a lot of those points. I think specifically for written platforms, I appreciate when people both directions, I’ve gotten feedback that people appreciate if I go in a, I’m trying to think of the name of it, like a private chat to say, “Hey, just a heads up. So-and-so’s pronouns are actually what-have-you” versus responding in a big public chat because I feel like it just draws more attention there in a way for the person who was mispronouned might not have consented to. One thing I’ll add is that, yes to not over-apologizing and taking the fragility of the person making the mistake is not the responsibility of the person who was mispronouned but I do appreciate an acknowledgement. Not just acting like it didn’t happen. I appreciate if someone does say something. “Oh, my bad,” or if I say something that does acknowledge it and leave it there and then handle whatever feelings come up somewhere else with someone else. And so then the one-on-one corrections versus in the larger group for written things. And then I also mentioned earlier that everyone makes mistakes. To that point, I think of practicing when you’re not with that person. Especially if you’re not someone who has a lot of people in your life who are changing pronouns, you’ve got like one or two people to practice, I just think about for the non-binary and trans and queer people, like, we’re always in the practice. That’s another point, actually: We’re all practicing. It’s not just this didactic, one-to-one, there’s a person transitioning and then everyone else needs to get their pronoun. We also have other trans people in our lives who we’re in relationship with who we’re evolving with and transforming with, including their names and pronouns and other things. And so that’s one thing. But also back to the practice point. Especially if that’s new for you and so if you have a few people, or even if you have more people, you know sort of like envisioning talking about them outside of the moment when they’re not around and really practicing that. I know that for my family, some of my family that really loves me and is struggling on the cognitive shift part, they’re like, “Oh, when I practice, I get better.” So, yeah, I think that’s all I have to say about that.
S. Leigh Thompson: The whole practicing thing, I just have to be real. I’ve had at times with colleagues who are for some reason just messing up, and a dear colleague who I worked with weekly, I just had to put a post-it note up behind my monitor that says “Danny uses they/them pronouns” and just be done with it, right? So that was my attempt to practice so that I’m actually doing the working. Because you can mess up once and say like, “Oops, sorry,” and if you realize that that’s a pattern that’s going on, it’s like, “Ah, I need to do something different instead of just saying sorry and move on. I need to actually take the effort that’s there to make sure the relationship is not going to be further damaged. And that’s something that we don’t often think about is like, if we actually care about building relationships with people, if we’re trying to connect with people, then we actually are going to have to care about how they receive us as well. So I can’t just be like, “Eh, they’ll just get over it” or whatever. I’m creating an inauthentic relationship or a challenge or a barrier between us and that’s going to be harder to, I don’t know, be friendly, just do work, trust that they’re gonna have my back when stuff goes down and we need to run with some big issue or something. All of those things that happen are just going to make it more difficult for a person to connect. For your readers, for your contributors, who you don’t ever see in person, maybe you never even see a picture of, you really have to acknowledge like, if you really want them to connect with Kos and the work that you’re doing, you can’t start off by saying, “Eh, it’s not a big issue to me so it’s going to be not a big issue to them.” As Holiday said before, it may not be a big issue to the other person but it’s a big issue to the person who receives the wrong pronouns. Also, the plant thing is perfect.
Note: This is in reference to a comment in the chat:
KB (they/them): actually gave one of my plants ze/hir pronouns to perfect them
We have a cat that we gave they/them pronouns to, not just for us to practice, but that way everyone else around us had more of a possibility that when they were talking about our cat they were gonna use they/them pronouns and to make sure that our kid also had more practice in using they/them pronouns. Because our cat doesn’t know gender. Our cat doesn’t know anything. Our cat knows how to eat food and suck on their tail and all sorts of stuff. But gender is a human creation. That cat doesn’t need to have he/him or she/her pronouns, they/them pronouns work fine. They still get fed, they still get their pets. So definitely a way to continue to practice. And I also agree, that the casual at least response of not making it about you. The apology is for the harmed person, it’s not for the person making the apology to absolve themselves of guilt. So always know what you’re centering when you’re having that conversation.
Holiday Simmons: Leigh just reminded me about something in media that I’ve seen two ways and I think the important thing is to check in with the person who you’re writing about. If someone is mispronouned in the story, I’ve seen when the editor will come in and do a post-script, going like, “There was a mistake,” just to update this. But then the original article has still all the wrong pronouns. Or just go and change them completely and not have a post-script. So for some reason Leigh reminded me of that just in media, in writing.
KB Brookins: I just wanted to add to that because I’ve been misnamed in posts before and I don’t know, I was not super a fan of “This person’s name was this in an earlier version of this, but now it’s this.” Like don’t do that? Just say you updated the name. Why you wanna deadname me again, you know, in the update? So just emphasizing what Holiday was saying, like check in with the person before maybe making that executive decision if a mess-up happens.
Marissa Higgins: Absolutely. Thank all of you. Those are wonderful answers. And I am excited to see that many people in the chat are also a fan of the cat and plant ideas so thank you. So for our next section, I would love to move into gender affirming health care and with an overlap for breaking down misconceptions and right-wing talking points, and so gender-affirming health care in terms of adult need and also youth need, just to give everyone an idea of where we’re going. And so, to start us off, and I will again open this up to whichever of our panelists would like to start, because I know these questions will be a little more involved, so take time to consider. You don’t need to rush to respond right away. But I would love to hear what you think is the biggest misconception allies, like people who are maybe Democrats or vote blue or even donate blue, so not necessarily far-right people but people we would hope are on our side, what are some of the biggest misconceptions you think allies have about trans youth seeking gender-affirming care? Like what you think some of the struggles people have are, like where those misconceptions come from.
KB Brookins: This is my kind of jam. So I will start. So, misconceptions because I live in Texas, misconception, you know, USA. But I think a large misconception around gender-affirming care in youth is that youth can make these kind of body-altering decisions at a super young age. Depending on your state but I would say most, I would say all states don’t allow you to do any kind of large procedure like top surgery, for example, until you’re 16 and before you’re 18 you have to have parental consent. And so a lot of people think that three-year-olds or something can like walk into an office and get this, like, no. That is actually misconceptions that a specific group of people are peddling. And also even for things like hormone replacement therapy, in my particular state, you cannot get that until I believe you are 16 and you have to have parental consent from 16 and 17 until you are 18. That’s number one, the more obvious one. Number two, I think we think about gender-affirming care in these very limited ways for both adults and youth where we’re like gender-affirming care is only for trans people when it’s actually like cisgender people also get gender-affirming care all of the time. Like if a cisgender man says he’s tired, he will get prescribed testosterone, you know what I mean? Like they get prescribed testosterone so easily and also things like plastic surgery, gender-affirming care, anything you like alter, if you alter your body in any way because gender is a presentation, you know what I mean? That is like gender-affirming care. So this is not a thing that’s even specific to trans youth, right? And youth, right, just like cisgender youth just like transgender youth get gender-affirming care in different ways. And also gender-affirming health care is not even to me about surgeries and HRT. It is like everyday interactions that non-cisfolks have in the health care system. I have this article, not to self-plug, I have this article about what it’s like to go to a gynecologist when you’re a Black trans man in Texas and talking about how actually difficult that experience is, you know what I mean? And, like, gender-affirming health care to me would mean that anybody regardless of their experience of gender can get the health care that they need and that youth and adult doesn’t have to be put in that position to educate their provider or to be unsafe. Also because being trans or non-cis in medical situations can also lead to unsafety. Because it’s like, if you have someone in front of you who has the power to alter the experience of your body or your mind, that is a large responsibility and I think it’s super important that people are competent around giving health care to trans folks. I kind of like went in a circle there but I promise I’m coming back, which is, misconceptions are that this is like a single issue when we do not live single-issue lives, word to Audre Lorde. This is a thing that absolutely everybody should care about because having legislation that hinders how you can support your child is an issue that everyone should care about. And the misconception is, I think, that people think it’s a trans issue. I think it’s a human rights issue.
S. Leigh Thompson: Thank you so much for that, KB. I’m having memories of my first gynecological visit in Omaha, Nebraska in like early 2000s and just like sobbing through it because I was hoping to get on hormones and instead just dealing with a really caustic man and just a really horrible experience, right? This just underpins that health care for anybody is hard in the United States, right? It’s already hard. So, like, who actively desires to engage more in the health care system just for funsies? It’s so, so rare that that happens. People are struggling to actually get any care whatsoever and so for trans people to take the extra effort to seek out actual care that, to affirm and to support their experience and their identity in the world, that’s not something that just happens on accident. It’s through great consideration and great deliberation. And while there are people who might and I’m putting on the absolute far-right statements that they make, there may be people out there who are doing this as a whim, right? That would be the tiniest little speck of dust in an absolute sandstorm to find that individual and people do a whole bunch of things in their health care on a whim as well and those things are allowed, right? We can do things to our bodies in a lot of different ways that are legally supported and sanctioned. The reason why this isn’t is because people think it’s weird. And because of that, we make trans youth be absolutely rock solid in their identity because you’re gonna regret it one day or what if you’re making a mistake or what if it’s just on a whim and you know what? We actually get to do those things. Just because somebody comes out as trans at eight, nine, 10 years old and actually moves their body in a way that actually aligns more with that gender identity and that gender identity changes at age 20, 25, 27, like, that doesn’t mean that that was a mistake. It just means that that’s what they were doing at that time. Just like you might go on a whim and say, “I’m going to shave my head and paint my head purple and that’s going to be what I do every day.” And then, you know what, you just stop doing that one day. And that’s okay. Because we can do things about our bodies that aren’t our forever things. We can move to areas, we can take careers, we can do so many life-changing things. We can say we’re not going to college. To hell with college. I don’t need it. And then decide 20 years later that you want to do it. These aren’t things that we can’t shift and change, they’re just part of our experience of the world. And so I think we’re just framing it consistently in this wrong space that it is like this absolutely rock-solid, cannot change, cannot go into unless people are absolutely certain and we don’t make that demand of other people for other things. This should be the same thing. Okay, maybe I went through some care. Maybe I got a hysterectomy and can’t carry a kid and there’s a lot of people in the world who want to carry kids who’ve had hysterectomies and find ways to do it. There are so many things that we can do to just say this is one of the ways to be in the world without making it this monolithic, horrible thing for especially young people to have to beat through.
Holiday Simmons: Yes, yes, to both my colleagues’ comments. Totally, totally. I feel like the only thing that I would add, and I feel like KB you were getting to this a little bit, it’s just that affirming health care for trans people is not just about the gender-affirming care, it’s also how we’re treated at the dentist, as the mental health provider, all the different body parties inside and out that we maintain and get checked out. That’s always a question for a lot of people as Leigh said. Health care is a shitshow in our country. So it is hard to access affirming and accessible health care in this disease management system that we have going here. And so, of course, if you add other oppressed identities to that, but like, you know, I’ll use some personal self-disclosure. I’m pretty out pretty much everywhere in life. I determine if I’m going to out myself as a trans person, if it’s a new provider who might not need to know. So like if I go to urgent care for a Covid test, do I have to out myself to them? And I’m sharing like this is a thing, even if it’s the most affirming urgent care place, I still have to do that work to figure out if it’s safe to do that and if I want to do that labor. Even if we create the best systems, A) this is still something trans people have to navigate but back to my story of getting a Covid test at an urgent care center. I need to figure out, that’s still something that even those providers, not just the lower doctors and the endocrinologists and the other doctors that administer trans-affirming, excuse me, gender-affirming medicine, it’s everybody needs more education and competence about being safe places so that’s, I think the only thing I’ll add to those brilliant answers.
S. Leigh Thompson: Can I just hop real quick on the end of that? Holiday, thank you for opening this up. When we’re talking about medical providers, it’s not just the doctor; it’s the person who you make an appointment with on the phone, it’s the person who hands you the form, it’s the person who like comes out and calls your legal name in front of everybody as you’re going into the room, like many of you already know this. I carried my child. I was at a gynecological office on a regular basis looking like this, pregnant, and waiting to see a doctor. I eventually started to get over having the issue. I worked with the provider pretty heavily and later on ended up training that entire hospital system because of learning all the mistakes. But that experience is something that somebody every single time they go in, they’re gonna have to deal with that. And that is not just the experience of what the actual health care provider who’s trained in medicine does; it’s what the administrators does, it’s what the billing does, it’s what insurance continues to do. All of these things, when we’re talking about medical providers, like all have an engagement with our care. And we’re not even just saying, we’re asking if you’re trans or even what your gender is, we’re asking what surgeries have you had, what medication are you taking, and those things will out you if nothing else does. So there is a long system overhaul in health care and that completely lines up with the other alignments with health care we need to do. We’re not naming, and Holiday mentioned, intersectional identities. I want to just name the way that like race and racism and white supremacy show up in the health care system. If we want to actually start dismantling some of this stuff, we have to acknowledge all of the ways that these actually dovetail together because Black trans people are going to be screwed a hell of a lot more because of the combination of race and gender, and then when you add on transfeminine women of color, they have a whole other thing because of misogyny and cisexism and racism that are all playing together. And so if you care about racism, if you care about sexism, you’ve got to care about these things too. Because there are trans women of color that are struggling and they’re struggling because these systems are all intertwining and they’re actually making things worse for most people, actually.
Holiday Simmons: I want to share a funny story that Leigh just reminded me of when I was picking up my first testosterone prescription. I live in Atlanta and there’s a certain way that a lot of places in the South, we speak to each other, we make small talk with complete strangers. And so I get where this guy was coming from. The pharmacist was an old Black man, or at least I perceived him to be a man who’s an elder and he read my prescription, I’m picking up my first T prescription and out loud in front of a whole pharmacy, there’s shoppers, he goes, “Mmm, mmm-mmm. They’ve got you on this for three months baby girl. I don’t know what’s going on with you. I’m sorry, but anyway, here you go.” And it was just like, wow! Come on, HIPAA. What in the name of HIPAA violation? And, outside of the gender moment, I have a million moments in the South as a Black person, you know, speaking of intersections, and I otherwise would’ve loved it if he wasn’t saying my business. I would’ve loved it. Like he was concerned. He was like, “Oh, why is this person I read to be female on testosterone CPT for three months and I’m on that too.” You know, he probably was, right. Obviously, to Leigh’s point, all of the various players within our health care system could use competency and education but also those cultural nuances and like, yeah, it gets tricky.
KB Brookins: And the last thing I want to add, absolutely thank y’all for bringing those things up, and I’m like ooh, the doctors that I just didn’t go to because their front office was so atrocious and just like misgendering me in front of everybody. It’s a problem. But bringing it back to kind of like a journalistic standpoint, when you’re covering these things on trans youth, I think it’s super important to get all of those players to be represented in those stories because this attack against trans youth and the whole medicalization of it all, because trans youth don’t have just like issues with transness as their only kind of medical thing. There are so many things in the medical system that just hinder, just like cisgender folks who aren’t just trans folks. Like pricing. A lot of my friends did not get top surgery for a super long time because they could not afford it. Things like that. And also to be covering things like that, I think it’s super important, and also insurance companies doing this whole pathologizing of transness and being like, “You have to be on testosterone for a certain amount of time. How long have,” literally I’m thinking about this because I just forwarded an email for one of my friends thinking about getting top surgery and I looked at the old email and they were like, “How long have you lived as a man?” It had all of these qualifying questions in order to get the medical care that I needed to get. All of it needs to be pushed back on and in my state, also, in order to get a legal name change, you have to get a letter of support from an MD or PhD to say, “This person has gender identity disorder.” Why should I have to do that? Why should I have to do that? Why is so much of transness like, you have to tell people that something is wrong with you in order for you to affirm your gender. We should change all that. And those issues are for youth and adults. Changing the way we think about transness, changing the competency level, making it much higher for the care that we give trans people.
Marissa Higgins: Thank you all. That was excellent. I love that you all are like responding back and forth to each other. It feels much more organic and I am definitely enjoying listening. So actually, off of what KB was just saying, and I’ll open this to anyone, I would love to get feedback from you all. A topic I cover on the site and that has gotten some national coverage for sure that I feel for a number of reasons I’m sure that is not getting the same outcry as other issues is Republicans have pushed a number of obviously anti-trans legislation to try and make it effectively impossible for trans youth or trans adults to update their birth certificates, to update their sex and name on their birth certificate. And I’ve noticed that readers on our site don’t always respond very poignantly to the issue but in terms of education, I would love if any of you could explain why on a practical level, why having accurate legal documentation and why having it be accessible to get that is so important for anyone but especially trans people.
Holiday Simmons: I’m about to jump into it. The birth certificate piece feels like an intersection of a few things. It feels like access to records, human rights-slash-civil rights, reproductive rights, and trans rights issues. All of those issues, rather. And just for clarity, I think the issue is not so much that every trans person wants to change their birth certificate. It’s that for those that need to or want to, there should be that access under the guise of it being our personal records. Birth and death is a legal contract so you can’t just have a baby be born and not file that birth with the state or the other way when someone passes away. And so with that legal contract, as a baby, there’s no autonomy there. It defaults to whoever the guardians are, the parents or the state, or what have you. With age and self-determination and barring other things that might make you not like a full-fledged citizen but I probably have issues on those things too, about criminalization and all that. But if you’re not on papers and what have you, the idea that there are other documents you can change all the time, and this one should be no different. And the necessity of it is like a death for some people. And it is a matter of being able to continue whatever a particular journey of affirming one’s gender and full self is. Sometimes people need this to connect with other legal documents, either marriage or social security or other things, there’s a real necessity of really being able to change that document. It’s a green light for access to other documents. There’s also the case of people who don’t want to change it but need to change it to protect themselves. That is my personal story. I don’t interact with my birth certificate enough to feel incongruent with it. I don’t really care what it says. The problem is with a transphobic parent that is also an insurance agent, my father has multiple life insurance policies that he owns for me and because he is transphobic and also a narcissist, I need to have some boundaries from him physically but also legally, I need him not to be able to make decisions about me in the case of my death or even just to have money that he can do things with in the case of my death. All to say, he won’t relinquish these multiple birth certificate policies and the only way they can become null and void is if that person the policy is for no longer exists. Otherwise, in the case of my death, they’re gonna go, “Oh, this person. This person’s birth certificate. This person’s death certificate. This life insurance policy. Boom.” So that’s like actually one of my loopholes to create safety for myself and I’m sure there’s a million other stories like that where people just need to do this, whether they want to or not. And so why is the state, well, we know why. But anyway, that’s what I’ve got.
KB Brookins: Yeah, thank you, Holiday, for that answer. I’m thinking about legal documentation and why being accessible, having that be accessible and able to change that is so important and it’s like where in the world do you go where you don’t need an ID to get any medical or governmental thing done, really? Like, where can you get a job without an ID in this country? Where can you go to even have a drink , right, at a bar. It’s literally what you need to access most services and buildings in the U.S. And I personally am not a fan of having to out myself every time I have to do that. That puts me at safety risk, for someone to look at my ID, you know, I still haven’t gotten my ID updated, actually, but I need to. Because people will look at my ID and then just act totally different for the rest of my interaction just based on that information that they have about me, where I’m like, I don’t even have consent to give you this information. Like I had to give you this information in order to gain access to this service and that’s not fair. Like, cisgender don’t have to go through these weird, impossibly unsafe–so far it has been weird and I’m one of the lucky ones but it can be very unsafe, these interactions. And honestly with birth certificates, I think because of safety and because of transphobia cooked into our culture, some folks have to be stealth. And if you don’t know what that means, it means a trans person not telling anyone that they are trans under any circumstances, really. And some of us have to live that kind of life, which is unfortunate, but for that reason, they have to have an updated birth certificate and that means, for anything like marriage, for anything like passports, you very much need a birth certificate for all of those things. I actually just got a passport and it’s such an issue, right, to where, like, you know, trans folks have to have these whisper networks for what clerks they can go to in order to get married or what place they can go to in order to request a legal name change. And it shouldn’t take all that but that is unfortunately the world that we live in, right? And getting a marriage certificate even done is very much a thing that is still up to the individual clerk to choose. Like, I think that, it was so jarring to me, I was watching Pose recently. I promise this is on topic. I was watching Pose recently and it’s a really amazing show. These two characters were getting married and they like went to the office, the county office to get a marriage certificate and the trans person was so scared, you know, that someone was going to look at their ID, see this inaccurate depiction of their gender, and deny them their marriage certificate. That kind of stuff still happens. Even though that was, like, a TV show set in the 90’s. We are in the 2020s and that is still very much happening. And it’s not illegal to do so because of the ways in which religion and that clause in the Constitution has been warped. People can still make these decisions that are not in the best interest of trans people. And so far that reason, and also for reasons of, like, I don’t know anybody who got married who’s cisgendered who had any of these issues that I’ve had in trying to get my name changed. It’s not equity. It’s not equality. I shouldn’t have to go through all of these kinds of hoops when, you know, cisgender folks don’t have to do that. And they shouldn’t have to do that and I shouldn’t have to do that. Legal documentation is just simply how we interact with the world and we should be able to change that.
S. Leigh Thompson: I live in New York now but I’m originally from Omaha, Nebraska. That’s where I originally came out and it’s where I go back to go and see my family on a regular basis. And before I had my license changed, had gone back to visit and I stopped, it was late at night, and I was trying to figure out if I was going to meet a friend or if I was going to go home. And there was nobody else on the street and the light turned green and I just sat there for a moment. And then the light turned red again, and then the cop apparently just saw me sitting there not going through a green light and looped their lights and came up to me, and, all I did was just not go through the light. Nothing else. And they said, “Well, can we look at your license?” Handed it back to me and said, “Pull up to this parking lot.” Eight squad cars came. Eight. While they had me out and did every single test, every thing you could possibly do, and it was a parade. It wasn’t anything else. It was a parade. And at the end, they ended up taking me home, and letting me get in my car and go home and that was the end of it. If my license looked any other way that wouldn’t have been an issue. But because they looked at how I looked, incongruent with the “F” on my license, that became a reason for them to call up all of their friends in the middle of the night by myself in the middle of a parking lot dancing for teams of police officers. And, as KB said, these aren’t hoops that other people have to go through when that happens. I worked for a trucking company, I had an employee who worked there who changed his name from Mark Sanders to Lonesome Dove because he liked the movie a lot. And that was fine. That was granted. He can be Lonesome Dove, no issue. But when someone’s like, “Okay, I’d like to go from Ashley to Ash,” people go, “Whoa, whoa. You must be skating some credit card fraud or something like that,” and so that’s why we’re doing it. These laws, I mean, particularly when it comes to birth certificate, the question is also like, is it actually helpful to have a record of what someone’s genitals look like when they came out of the womb? Because that’s what it says, it’s like what does your genitals look like and based on a cursory look of your genitals, we stamp on this particular marker. Now, if I can go in front of the cops and be like, “Whoa, we don’t understand what’s going on here.” The only thing they look if they’re not trying to find me in the world, the only thing they have a record of of how I look like is what my genitals looked like when I was an infant. They have nothing else of how they can actually record who I am as a human being. And they’re probably, when they’re looking for somebody who has genitals how I was born with, they’re not looking for a face like this. And so it’s not even a helpful, identifying tool because we looked so different from when we were babies. And so that is not an especially helpful tool. Why it’s even there is already an antiquated thing. It comes from these ideas of who you are and who you’re supposed to be based on body shape and if we think bodies equal behaviors then we’re fine. But we know that that’s not true. And so the document loses its meaning when you actually see how it shows up in practice, how it’s actually used, and so then why are we actually holding onto it. And at the same time, I also didn’t have my birth certificate changed. It was a too high of a bar at the time. My birth certificate was in Omaha, Nebraska and I didn’t want to deal with it. And it’s not a big issue. I’m super super out but it can still be an issue. It has been a thing that has flagged people in terms of credit searches when they’re looking for a job, and though it’s not as much of an issue, some will still get flagged. It will out people. And it will cause them to lose their employment because, first off, perhaps they are trying to defraud the company they’re being hired to, the other is that there are so many clauses in contracts that this job offer is contingent on that you provided accurate and honest information to your employer. And if there’s some piece of information that they think is not accurate or honest, they can terminate your contract immediately. All you need to do is get notification that some sort of legal documentation doesn’t match up and having that causes you lack of employment. Unemployment numbers for trans people are double the national average, and for trans people of color, they’re four times the national average. Unemployment is because of these employment gaps that are caused by the barriers that the legal documentation creates and then all the other barriers of actually working as an employee in the world as a trans person. So, for these reasons, yeah, it’s not only a crucial document, a life-changing document for some people. But we also need to start asking why is it something that we actually still need to be recording. Just before I have a baby, just before they changed and allowed for babies to get nongendered, in fact I coached, in New York State, you can get an X on your birth certificate. You can get an X now. And so that was something that was coached in by a labor and delivery nurse and for the person who became the advocate within a hotel system to actually, and then, for another family, we ended up working together to find a loophole to get the first no gender recorded in New York state before it was actually a legal thing. And so these are things that, like, we individuals are trying to do but it’s just proof again that it doesn’t actually matter. And if it doesn’t matter, then why are we holding onto it so much?
Marissa Higgins: Okay, that was excellent, thank you. All of you. So, the next subject I would love for us to move into is a big one on our site, like our readers. I think national media too, but even in our site, our progressive, our Democrat voters, our very loyal reader base. When I cover this subject, I will get hundreds and hundreds of comments of people arguing, compared to maybe 15 comments on like a different article for example, but this really gets people riled up, I’ll say. It is trans folks competing in sports. And this is one where I have gotten some questions from staff already. And I’ve written a few variations of questions to maybe guide or push the discussion in different directions but I guess for framing for you all, I think, when we’re asking these questions, it’s to educate staff and to also help staff through our communicating with our readers. Like some foundations or tips or advice on how to combat incorrect information coming from readers, so it’s like educating us and then eventually that education pushing through to the greater progressive readership on our site. So with that in mind, one starting question that anyone is welcome to jump into is, what would you say to allies who are convinced that allowing trans girls and/or trans women, depending on if you want to focus on youth or adult sports, either is fine for now, what would you say to people who feel that allowing trans girls to compete on girls teams is unfair to cisgender players?
Leigh: If it’s okay, I’d love to join the beginning of this. First off, I’m not a sports person and I know there are other sports people probably on this panel and I am not one of them. But I want to say something that underpins a lot of this and just gets to the other, deeper, kind of the deeper pieces that trans people are really struggling with and kind of hinges on the last thing that we were just talking about. One of the common tropes around trans people is that we are deceivers, and that we are hiding as a thing. Like we are hiding, that we’re being sneaky, that we’re being deceptive, and that we are, by nature, untrustworthy. This comes under common language structures that say that trans people are “pretending to be” or “they were actually” or even the conversation of real, right? Like, the concept of who’s real or who isn’t. All of these things have this undercurrent of being a deceiver, it’s something that tracks into documentation and name-changing, but definitely when it comes to sports because there’s this idea that people are identifying as trans in order to succeed at some sport and pull some sneaky caper, you know? They’re pulling the wool over people’s eyes and they’re gonna succeed in running in a women’s marathon when they should be running in a men’s marathon. Like, that as an experience of why a trans person is going to come out as trans and go through all the challenges we’ve already been talking about to make it as a success in one particular thing doesn’t happen. And there’s this little Cold War thing around the Olympics and this idea that like people from the Soviet Union are going to be trying to compete as women to try and get more medals. But also, like who the hell cares? It’s a couple more medals. It’s not that big of a deal. But we have to do it because the Olympics is war, right? So that idea that like trans people are deceivers, that’s one of those common tropes that we are going to be struggling with and we are going to see continuing to pop up but it’s definitely a core component of why people freak out about the idea of trans people in sports. And then I’ll leave it to others to get more specific.
KB Brookins: It’s very interesting to me that people don’t cover… I have a couple of things to say. So when people don’t cover trans women competing alongside cis women in sports when they don’t win, it’s like not a thing. When they win, it is a whole thing. And I’m just, like, interesting, like when they win it has to be chalked up to, I don’t know, their genetic advantage. Number one, please show me the research on that. I personally have not seen any research that even substantiates this claim, and if there is research out there it has usually been from someone who is just transphobic. To this day I have read 50-plus articles trying to find something that substantiates this claim. I have not been able to find it. And then also this idea that, well, we shouldn’t let some people who have a genetic advantage over others compete with them. Everyone has a genetic advantage over someone else in some kind of way, so that’s a silly argument. Literally based off my genetics, and I just talked with a nurse about this three days ago. My achilles tendons? Terrible, because I’ve got bad genetics from both my mom’s side and my dad’s side on that. Which means that, in order for me to be some kind of track star, I would have to train for hours and hours and hours and hours. And that’s just to get as good as somebody with two good genes in that. Like some folks have longer legs, so they’re going to be able to go longer distances than folks with shorter legs. Are we really going to become a society that classifies people based on height and like other genetic dispositions? No, we are not. Y’all are just being transphobic, you know what I mean? Because everyone in some form or fashion has a genetic advantage over another person in some kind of way. We have so many genes inside of us, right? So, like, I don’t know, I’m just like all of the arguments that I’ve heard so far sound very silly to me and very non-substantial. And also I feel like I want to amplify what Leigh said, like, and I think Leigh said this earlier as well. No one is going out of their way to be trans. This is not something that someone would choose. We’ve talked so much about disadvantages. We’ve talked so much about the things we’ve had to experience just to be who we are, right? So why would someone like choose oppression in order to have some sort of athletic advancement? But the athletic advancement in question is not based on transness. It’s based on, have you considered that maybe she’s just better than you? Have you considered that, you know what I mean? Like people trying to get good at things. Have you considered that? It’s just so infuriating to me that this is even a conversation. Sports by design are competitive, meaning that some people are going to be better than others. That literally is just cooked into sports. Are we going to say now that Lebron has a genetic advantage over his teammates and therefore he should not be in the starting four, the starting five? Are we gonna start doing stuff like that? Like because someone’s metabolism is higher than another’s which is literally just like science like not something we can like work on? I mean, you can work on your metabolism, that was a bad example, but you know what I mean. There’s somethings that are literally just like human nature. That is my two cents. You can come from it from a research standpoint and also like genetics. You actually don’t know what you’re talking about. There are a lot of things that go on in genetics that have nothing to do with your chromosomal makeup.
Holiday Simmons: Thanks, y’all. This is a near and dear issue to me because I consider myself a radical jock, been a lifelong soccer player, I still play, and I am still a trans athlete. I play in a league that’s really super inclusive and it’s setting the stage for other Atlanta sports league to have great policies and be a safe place for people. Athletics are such an important way for people to build character and build leadership and I have so many feelings about this, I’m going to just try to choose four. But I have a whole list of why this is bogus. First of all, it’s actually not even about protecting cis women. It’s a prop. It’s actually about the discomfort that our society has around gender and then our perceptions of gender and transgressions, particularly our perceptions of when male-assigned people transgress their assignment, much more so than if the people who are assigned female at birth, just gonna use that term for now. The world has much more space. There’s this archetype of tomboys but there’s no sort of like counterpart for little boys who are feminine. There’s only slurs. And our society and culture is hyper-fixated on people who are assigned male transgressing that in some way and that’s the whole joke of the men in a dress joke that’s such an old tired trope in so many comedy troupes and comedy scenes. And even State Farm had some fucked up ad, before it was like Jake from State Farm, where that character that you see, little cute Jake, whatever. I don’t need to say the joke. I don’t need to give it air. But all to say that this is an long-tired trope and this policy, it pulls from that discomfort in our Western colonial ideals of gender binary, that there’s only two genders and that one is over the other. That there’s two and that men are over women. This is the construct that Europe has given us. It’s a prop. Similar to abortion, with anti-choice people, it’s not really about protecting the sanctity of life, it’s about controlling people who our society says should not have control of their own bodies. So that’s the one thing, is it’s actually not about that. Two, there’s no such thing as playing down. People only play up. So if you’re a 10-year-old and you’re good enough, you can play with older kids. If you’re V10 but you’re really good, you can play V12. There has never been a case like Leigh was saying, someone in the wild universe that someone was like, “I’m going to act like I’m trans just to be better at other people at sports.” A) it doesn’t happen on gender. It also just doesn’t happen in sports, period. People don’t join leagues and teams that are worse than their capacity just to be the best ones. That’s just not how athletics works. So the last two things that I’ll share, giving less breath to the bogusness of the proponents of these policies and giving more life to the importance of extra-curricular activities for youth and for trans youth and how sports can be a particular one. But, particularly sports, these are babies who need a safe place to go after school. When do sports happen? After school. Who needs safety? All youth. Who really needs safety? Trans youth. Who really, really needs safety? Trans feminine youth. Especially after school. So you’re telling young trans girls who may have finally found an activity that they excel in and that presumably it’s a safe team, a safe coach, etc. Now we’re saying that, because you perform too well, now you gotta find something else to do after school. Really think of it on an individual level, outside of the policy. Even if she ain’t good. That’s the other thing, this targets the other thing like my colleague KB said. Oh, only if they win, now y’all made, right? But what if you’re just trying? What if you’re just trying to play volleyball? Now you can’t go because somebody’s gonna report you to the dean or the principle. This is just asinine, just absolutely asinine. The last point I want to make is about the anti-Blackness that is embedded in this. Black female athletes have been targeted for their masculinity for time immemorial, I can cite Castor Semenya, the South African sprinter who is still under scrutiny. The Olympics just recently had a new ruling, she has to take some sort of hormone blocker or take estrogen, something. If she wants to compete she has to take hormones. Now, ain’t that something. The trans kids wanting to take hormone blockers, they say no. And then they make someone who don’t want to take them. It’s all a hot mess. Let me finish this point, though, about the anti-Blackness. Thank you someone who mentioned Simone Biles. The scrutiny of Black athletes, of Black people, period, as objects of work and entertainment is a thing that I think y’all know. And also the scrutiny that Serena Williams gets, I mean the list goes on and on. So, there is a particular, I think that this is also a Black issue. Even cis, straight Black folks should care about this issue also. And it’s also a public safety issue just in terms of, these are youth who’ve found a safe place to go. And now you’re telling them they need to find something else. It’s a hot mess.
KB Brookins: Affirming everything you’ve just said. I’m so glad we have a sporty person on the panel. I can’t speak to the specifics. I tried to play basketball but I was not good so, glad, glad you’re here. And I just want to say, also, there is no definite amount of testosterone or definite amount of estrogen in any given person. Like, some cisgender men have higher levels estrogen, some cisgender women have higher levels of testosterone. That should not be a cause for concern, just like thinking about trans folks in sports. Testosterone and estrogen to me feel very not important as far as sports are concerned because it’s a lot about training and it’s a lot about genetics and the only way that you maybe kind of make up for it like from a recessive trait in your genetics is by training. And so these girls are just good.
Holiday Simmons: You know, you just reminded me of something, KB. I’ll throw down on this one more time. Yes to this. We all have all these hormones and most of the people with testosterone prescriptions are aging cis men. We’re all transitioning, throughout life, just to demystify the trans experience, just to detokenize us. All the bodies are changing from birth to death in transitioning. And a personal story is when I was earlier on in my medical transition, I was not seeing some of the physical changes that I wanted and I asked my doctor, should I get a higher dose? And I go to a queer medical place. He’s like, I got big burly bears who have low testosterone levels and little skinny twinks with testosterone through the roof. It’s really not correlated and also maybe let’s interrogate this. We’re cool, so he can ask me this, like what is it that you want and where is it that that comes from? Like, get out of my life. But anyway, so, absolutely, about who’s on these hormones and their effects. The other thing I just want to throw down about, the athletic piece in particular is. Yes, any extracurricular activity is great, especially if it’s safe, it’s great for anybody, especially youth. The thing I want to throw down about athletics though is because it is such a physical thing, I’d say the same thing would be true for like theater, or anything that’s really an embodied practice, that is so important for youth and for trans people. Your bodies are changing and to have an outlet to really embody and be out of your head and not think of like, “Am I doing this right because of what they say I am and what they say I’m not?” And to really get to the team aspect and the passing and the shooting, that is such a playing field for character development and to your nervous system. There is so much to be had there in and of itself, and so the idea of taking that away is just, it hurts my little jock heart.
Marissa Higgins: Thank you all for these excellent answers. Before we move into the Q&A question, I do want to press down with just one more question on trans sports because, for context, this a line of argument that I know as a writer I get often in comments and I know some folks who do site moderation and community work with our readers, I know they come up against this line of attack very often. So I would just love to hear what you all, what kind of respond you suggest. But often, when it comes to trans youth in sports, and sometimes trans adults too, like especially the NCAA stuff. But a very common response that I see is people who consider themselves allies, again, right, Democrats, progressives, they’ll say. How to put it. They’ll get very much into the weeds and say well but what if that fifth-grader, what if that bone structure hasn’t developed and they’ve already started hormones or what about this high schooler? I think there’s a deep urge, I think, they’ve regurgitated some right-wing talking points, whether they realize it or not, to be like, well what about the science? Or, but what about this specific example? Or, what about that? And so I guess I’d love to hear from you all your reactions and what advice you would give to redirect the conversation and to call out those talking points. Anything along those lines I think would be really helpful in trying to educate our readers without shaming them, but just trying to reshape this very common rhetoric that we see on our site.
KB Brookins: Yeah, my initial reaction is that whataboutism doesn’t have a place in intellectual conversation. And I know that’s not nice, but if you’re getting not nice comments, I don’t know what’s wrong with a not nice answer. You can be kind without being nice. And also often scenarios about fictitious kids are not backed by research and not backed by even personal experience. I maybe would even ask, like do you have an example of this that has happened in the news? Do you have an example of this that happened in research? If you don’t have an example and it’s literally something you made up, I’m not actually sure that’s helpful in a conversation where you are trying to stand. Sometimes those comments, and I get those when I get published at larger publications, Huffington Post included, I’m like: So what is your goal of asking me this question? Are you trying to learn more or are you trying to do this whole bad-faith argument thing? Because if you already have your mind made up about me and about trans people, then you don’t deserve my time talking about this. Often when I’m trying to intervene in harmful conversations, I get inquisitive. I ask questions. Because that’s often seen as “less mean.” When you ask questions rather than saying like, “Shut down, this is not okay.” But I also don’t know if me answering this question about this fictitious kid is going to be helpful to this dialog that we’re trying to open up.
S. Leigh Thompson: I totally agree with you KB. We can “what if” any scenario. And, for some people, it’s a helpful thing for them to start to learn the boundaries of an idea or of an issue and so they’re trying to figure out, what are the edges of this conversation. As a person who receives a lot of these questions, I’m much more like KB where it’s like, yeah, I don’t have time for this. You’re just giving me all these imaginary scenarios in order to continue to challenge my right to exist and move through the world. As a person who trains on these issues, I approach it a little bit differently at times. Which is just to remind people, to really help folks understand that, often if people are trying to “what if,” they really are trying to learn where the extremities are of this thing. Some people are literally trying to “what if” in order to tank the issue. And so trying to lean into the ally space of people who actually really want to support and health. And if that’s really what you want to do, I try to get to what’s at the core of the “what if.” Like, are you really trying to understand this issue more? Because we can come up with a scenario, anybody can actually pretend to be anyone else in order to defraud a sports team. Anybody can pretend to be somebody else in order to do harm, or because they have a whim, or because they have an issue and they really hate all girls in sports and want to screw them over. There are so many possibilities. Those are possible. They’re not likely. We don’t have any experiences of them actually happening. Let’s actually instead of focusing on the one maybe, let’s focus on all of the thousands and thousands of trans young people who are trying to engage in sports and need to do so in a supportive way. All the reasons that my colleagues have already identified. And so really supporting people and saying this is the pathway that can actually get to the place that we want to go. It’s the same conversation on the bathroom thing. Like, what if someone’s gonna dress up like a woman and go into a bathroom? Hasn’t happened in any situation. In fact, men don’t dress up like women when they want to accost women almost ever. And sexual assault is already illegal. And so if they’re gonna do it, they’re gonna do it. And so we have to always remember in the conversation, with the “what ifs,” there’s always “what ifs” but we have to remember there’s actual people in this and they’re the people we need to support.
Holiday Simmons: I don’t think I have anything to add to that question, thanks.
Marissa Higgins: Okay, perfect. Thank you all. I very much appreciate my colleagues typing up your answers as well. I honestly was surprised myself that this issue in particular is such a sticking point with our readers but it is. So this is truly, deeply helpful to kind of arm so many of us who work with our community directly, to kind of have some good starting points on how to handle these conversations that can go so far down a tunnel of whataboutism. That’s very helpful.
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