True Thirty is Talking Trans
(first in a series)
So here’s a quiz. And just like those cognitive/personality/employment tests, there’s no wrong answer!
What is truth?
Or, better still: what is indisputable or undeniable truth?
The Holocaust happened. I wasn’t alive in the late 1930s or 1940s but the historical record seems pretty clear. I say that knowing that “pretty clear” is an amorphous concept to some, but really, don’t we have better things to do with our minds – and our imaginations – than to wonder if one of the greatest calamities in world history really happened?
The Phillies were swept in the 1950 World Series by the Yankees. I wasn’t there but it’s in the historical record and I’ve never once in my years heard anyone deny it. And hey, Philadelphia sports fans are not above some convenient skepticism when it suits them. I’d like to say the Phillies actually won in six, but where’s my proof?
Why is one questioned, but the other isn’t?
Must have something to do with dark spots of the soul that exist, well, everywhere.
Climate change? Now I’ve never personally flown into a tornado nor manned a weather station on the shores of Greenland but the evidence – for those who choose to pay attention – is also pretty clear.
And really, did Shakespeare write all that stuff? Where’s the proof?!
Just kidding, of course.
Now how about gender?
Gender is a pretty clear, defined thing. Right?
I was born a man. I have the parts and have been called Sir a few times in my life.
I have never once felt the need to finish off an email salutation with He/Him. And if the receiver of an email or Zoom meeting wonders to himself or herself, “hmm, I wonder if Joey identifies as male or female,” that’s between them and their imagination.
To a lot of folks, it’s a thing.
And in many respects, a relatively recent thing.
How recent? How about in February when Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) decided to pick a fight with eventual Supreme Court Justice-confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson about gender fungibility (yea, fungible is now a thing). Citing a statement from the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg regarding a case centered on the admissions policy at Virginia Military Institute, Sen. Blackburn tried to goad Jackson into confirming that there are basic, physical differences between men and women that are subjective.
Brown Jackson first replied that she couldn’t comment because she had not seen the quote. A future member of SCOTUS perhaps, but clearly not ready for her Jeopardy moment.
Or – maybe – the nominee chose not to lie and simply admitted that she could not comment on something she was not familiar with.
Sen. Blackburn pushed again, asking Brown Jackson about her interpretation of Justice Ginsburg’s comment.
No go, again.
Then – “Can you provide a definition of the word woman?”
“No I can’t,” Brown Jackson replied.
“You can’t?” asked Sen. Blackburn.
“Not in this context. I’m not a biologist.”
You go girl.
Everything in life is context and the issue(s) of gender identity and ideology is having its crazy, screwed up contextual moment. For better or worse, no one knows. Seems to be a lot of evidence that it’s not great.
There are myriad faces involved in the topics of gender dysphoria and trans ideology and our early reporting on these subjects makes one thing clear: this subject is the most contentious topic of our time (which is mind boggling). And we thought Critical Race Theory and Defund the Police were polarizing!
To date, our reporting on gender ideology is in its first stage. And our forthcoming conversations and articles will discuss this issue from both a personal and professional standpoint. Topics will include the mental health of trans people, their family and friends, how “transitioning” affects parenting, careers, marriage, love life, and competitive sports. And that’s just from the adult perspective.
What about our children? Are they indeed capable of discerning their own gender identity as early as 3 and 4 years old (as some respected clinicians believe). Why is there a 4400% increase in 11-15 year olds girls now identifying as male vs. female? What do researchers and clinicians think about this startling statistic? Is Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria a possible answer? Or is it a mean-spirited attack on the new world of gender fluidity? What do countries like the U.K. Australia, and Scandinavia know that we don’t? The questions are endless.
In 2021, Helen Joyce – an Irish journalist, feminist, and an Executive Editor at The Economist in Britain – published a book called Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality. Unearthed from whatever place you dwell, you could have easily predicted that this publication would elicit howls on both sides. Because, you know, Americans needed another wedge issue.
Joyce discussed her book, its message, and the moment with me on my Podcast (the show will drop in early June).
To be concise, Joyce is no fan of what she perceives as a hysteria about gender identity and the hijacking of a very serious issue by those that would politicize – and monetize – something that has very serious physical, mental and emotional ramifications.
Her central thesis, printed in the introduction to her book is this: “underlying my objections to gender self-identification is a scientific fact. Biological sex has an objective basis backed by other socially salient categories like race and nationality. Sexual dimorphism, the two sexes, male and female, first appeared on Earth 1.2 billion years ago. Mammals, animals that grow their young inside them rather than laying eggs, date back 210 million years. No mammal has ever changed sex.”
In other words: if someone changes their gender – biologically – then they have transferred. If they say they are a different gender than what they were born as based on a decision to do so, they are not suddenly a different gender. There is no “I think, therefore I am.”
Gender identity was described during our chat as “this generation’s civil rights battle,” and as often happened in the 1960s, the players and their methods often receive as much play and press as the issues themselves.
“In no society – anywhere, ever – have people been oblivious to the sex of those around them, and certainly not in situations involving nakedness or physical contact,” Joyce continued. “And in all societies – everywhere, always – the overwhelming majority of violence, sexual assault and harassment suffered by female people has been perpetrated by male ones.”
Joyce says that in her book and other public statements, she is looking to help, not hurt. “My intention is not to be unkind to trans people, but to prevent greater unkindness.”
Sex, she claims, is a biological category while gender is a historical category.
Regarding safe spaces, Joyce adds that it is “logically impossible to admit people of one sex to spaces intended for the other while keeping them single-sex.”
Joyce asks: if two “women” – one female by birth, the other by self-decree – both try to occupy a safe space, is it really safe for either? Or both? Joyce says no. And when I asked her point blank on the podcast “Who is harmed if a trans female is admitted to a women’s only space like a rape clinic, she said, “Every woman in the room.”
“A liberal, secular society can accommodate many subjective belief systems, even mutually contradictory ones,” she adds. “What it must never do is impose one group’s beliefs on everyone else.”
Gender self-identity, she says, is a demand for validation from others.
Another lightning rod on Joyce’s side of the pond was Maya Forstater who lost her job in the London office of the Center for Global Development, a think tank headquartered in Washington D.C., for having the temerity to stand up for the bizarre notion we call evolution.
John Scopes receiving a misdemeanor back in 1925 was one thing. Forstater’s fate almost a century later was another.
Forstater stated that in humans, male and female are distinct categories. She added that it was vital to state this in the service and protection of women’s rights. Previously, she had tweeted that sex was a matter of biology, not identity.
The think tank ruled that she was transphobic and fired her. At her tribunal – where she cited as defense of her views the UK Equity Act of 2010 – Forstater was asked by her employer’s attorney how she could know the gender of a child if she was not the attending doctor at birth. Forstater’s supporters in the audience erupted in laughter.
The judge liked a lot of what she said, calling her “sincere, cogent and serious.” Being serious wasn’t enough. He said her arguments were “not worthy of respect in a democratic society.” Good thing she wasn’t frivolous. She appealed and won.
None other than J.K. Rowling added her thoughts: “Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?”
Joyce is alarmed by the strong arming of the issue by those who would profit from gender identification from academics to health care institutions to the pharmaceutical industry – no stranger to accusations of choosing profits over science, good sense and ethics.
Joyce cites charitable foundations “controlled by billionaires who are joining with activist groups to support lobbying.” Academics, pharma and the healthcare industries, she claims, suddenly and relatively recently “woke to the fortunes to be made.”
Gender dysphoria is the term for children who have one sort or another discomfort with their biological sex. Joyce says there have been around a dozen studies that have shown that most children grow out of this discomfort as long as they are “supported in their gender non-conformity and not encouraged in a cross-sex ID.” Many, she claims, have and will simply end up gay. In her book, Joyce cites the research of Dr. Ray Blanchard and Dr. Richard Green, both of whom studied this issue in longitudinal studies in the ‘80s. Green’s study showed that “70 percent of boys and 36 percent of girls were no longer gender dysphoric after an average of 10 years follow up.” But frequently, they are now sent down a path of changing pronouns, puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and radical surgery.
Joyce implies also that it is impossible to separate the issue of teen mental issues with the sudden obsession with gender identification. Teenagers, who frequently need to engage in ill-advised behaviors to fit in, might, she says, “simply want a different community and validation.”
I interviewed another respected feminist and journalist named Julie Bindle on the topic of gender dysphoria. Julie is the author of the best selling book, Feminism for Women, The Real Route to Liberation” and co-founder of the law reform group Justice for Women. During the forthcoming podcast we discuss her book, the state of the patriarchy, her four decades long fight for women’s liberation, the violence of trans activism, and why “safe spaces” need to remain safe for women. As stated in her book, “The concept of safe spaces came about for this very reason. It is rooted in early second-wave feminism when it was recognized that there was a need for protected places away from male interference in which women could explore issues specific to them, and as refuges to escape danger.” As Julie shared with me during our chat, these safe spaces include: rape clinics, domestic violence centers, and female prisons to mention a few. And both Bindle and Joyce agree that these safe spaces cannot be occupied by biological men. Full stop.
Another issue to be explored in greater depth as this series continues, is that of gender identity and the fraught issue of inclusion/exclusion in everything from bathrooms to competitive sports.
In Philadelphia, there is a trans female by the name of Lia Thomas who happens to swim for the women’s squad at the University of Pennsylvania. Lia Catherine Thomas – as she is now known – in March became the first openly transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship in any sport when she won the women’s 500-yard freestyle.
Thomas, who grew up in Austin, TX, swam for the men’s team at Penn in 2017 and had the sixth highest score nationally in the 1,000-yard freestyle. She also ranked, not as highly, in both the 500-yard and 1,650-yard freestyle races. In the 2018-19 year, still swimming for the men’s team, she was runner up in three races at the Ivy League championships.
In the spring of 2019 Thomas began transitioning using hormone replacement therapy, and came out as trans to her coaches, friends as well as members of both the men’s and women’s swim teams. In 2019-20, she was required to swim for the men’s team while undergoing therapy and then took a year off to retain her eligibility during Covid.
Finally, she began to swim for the women’s team in the current, 2021-22 season. She had lost muscle mass and strength through testosterone suppression by taking estrogen and progestin. In the 2018-19 season, her national ranks in the 200/500/1650-yard freestyles was 554/65/32 among male swimmers.
In 2021-22, swimming as a female, those rankings were 5/1/8.
In late 2021, anonymous parents of other University of Pennsylvania swim team members wrote to the NCAA, asking Thomas to be declared ineligible to compete. Around the same time, USA Swimming official Cynthia Millen resigned after 30 years in protest of Thomas’ eligibility and then, natch, appeared on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle.
But Thomas also had supporters, inside and outside the pool.
One group of swimmers from Thomas’ team made a statement supporting her inclusion on the team even while others in the university community were working behind the scenes to retain support for a transgender athlete policy that could have prevented Thomas from continuing to compete on the team. Many supported the idea that Thomas – rather than being judged or scrutinized – should be celebrated for her hard-won successes.
The confusion was perhaps best summed up by 23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps who was quoted as saying, “I believe that we all should feel comfortable with who we are in our own skin, but I think sports should be played on a level playing field. I don’t know what that looks like in the future. But it’s – it’s – it’s – it’s hard. It’s a really…..honestly….I don’t know what to say.”
You’re not alone Michael.
And why we’re approaching this topic through the lens of slow journalism. Over the next many months at True Thirty, we will feature articles and interviews with subject matter experts ranging from clinicians, therapists, and researchers, to feminists and journalists like Helen Joyce and Julie Bindel. We’ll also interview parents of children in “transition” and those using puberty blockers or cross sex hormones – as well as trans people themselves. Our first guest in this upcoming series is an old colleague of mine who now identifies as Trans and Non-Binary. I saw the announcement of her new expression on Facebook, and reached out and invited her on the show. During our ninety minute chat, we talked about her transition, her facial and hairline surgery, her divorce, her attempted suicide, the term gender (and why it matters), bathrooms, and trans females competing in sports against natal females. We didn’t agree on everything, but we finished our discussion with kindness and mutual respect – and more love for one another than during our previous tenure together in the world of advertising.
We hope you’ll find this series both educational and thought provoking. Our goal for our subscribers is to help you understand one another a bit better – with or without agreement.
Let us know how we’re doing in the Comments section. We welcome all polite debate and constructive criticism.