Generation X and Trans Lives

So, I’m going to preface this thing I’m about to write by being as clear as I can be about this, so there’s no confusion or ambiguity on this score:

Trans women are women, trans men are men, trans non-binary folks are non-binary folks, and trans rights are human rights. I’m non-squishy on this. I know, like and care for too many trans people to feel otherwise, but even if I didn’t know, like and care for any trans people, I would like to think I would say the same, because the validity of their lives should not be dependent on whether I know them.

Moreover, and fully acknowledging my outsider status on this as a straight, cis man, it seems that any attempt to carve out trans people from queer culture runs smack into the fact that arguably there wouldn’t be a modern queer movement without Marsha P. Johnson throwing that shot glass (or brick, depending on who is telling the tale) at Stonewall. Trans people — and trans people of color — were present at the birth of the gay rights struggle in the United States. It’s their story as much as anyone else’s, as far as I can see. They can’t be separated out, nor should they be.

With that as preamble:

In the last year especially, I have noticed that a not-small number of my contemporaries, some who I like, some who I love, and some whose work has meant so much to me that I find it difficult to express my admiration for it in non-gushy terms, have settled themselves on an essentialist view of who gets to call themselves a man or a woman. Usually there’s some biological component to this, but however it gets put together in their heads, at the end of it is trans people being othered, and estranged from their proper identities.

And while one does not have to be in one’s mid-40s to mid-50s to have this essentialism as part of one’s worldview, I certainly notice it the most in that group of people — in Gen-Xers, that slice of the population curve that I’m part of. There are Gen-Xers who I otherwise find myself in alignment with in terms of issues of the rights of women, with (cis) gays and lesbians and with people of color, but then have a sharp break on matter of the rights and identities of trans people.

It might be that I notice this schism because I’m a Gen-Xer, and so statistically speaking more of the people I know are of my generation. But I don’t think it’s just that. I think it’s possible that — in very general terms — every group identified as a “generation” has a group that it, for whatever reason, still sees as an “other” in some significant way, and for cis Gen-X people, it’s trans people.

It’s certainly true enough that trans jokes other cultural othering were still acceptable in the media Gen-Xers grew up with: the plot of Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, of all movies, hinged on it (as did the plot of Soapdish, pitched to a different demographic). The Crying Game relied on its protagonist being surprised at someone’s trans identity. There was the recurring gag of Chandler’s trans parent in Friends. These are the obvious examples, which is why I name them, but there are a whole bunch of other examples one can name.

This isn’t to excuse cis Gen-Xers denying trans identity as valid, nor is it to make a facile argument that Gen-X trans othering is the fault of popular culture. We can’t blame it all on Friends. There’s a lot going on in the culture, and how we have built our identities as people, that I’m not touching on here, primarily for brevity. But it is to make the point that even as Gen-X had (arguably, and depending heavily on political/social background) understood itself to be racially diverse, and (again arguably and depending on political/social background) made the cause of gay rights its own civil rights struggle, there was still a culture frontier — an other, for its cis members: Trans people.

Millennials seem to me to be far less likely to exclude trans people from their cohort, and from what I see of Generation Z to date, they simply assume gender identity is fluid to a greater or lesser degree. It’s the cis members of Generation X who, it seems, have to do the real work of digging into their own biases and assumptions about gender — and their own discomfort with trans identity — and make the effort to change a worldview that implicitly and explicitly on the outside of it.

And it is work for us — look, folks, I’m gonna be honest with you: I didn’t get to being able to say “trans rights are human rights” and actually meaning it without some real work and effort. As (just) two examples, fifteen years ago, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have seen what the big deal was with deadnaming people, and it literally wasn’t until I saw a friend on Twitter being taken to task for it that I understood that “tr***y” was an actual and genuine slur. I can’t think of a time when I was actively transphobic, but I certainly sucked in a lot of passive transphobia over the years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere along the line some of it came out of me, too.

(If somehow you find something out there where I’ve been transphobic: sorry. There’s no excuse for it. I’m not going to say I’m a better person now, but I will say that I’ve done work on myself to do better. And if I fuck up now, well, Jesus. Call me on it, please, and I’ll keep trying to be better from here on out.)

Some time ago I talked about sexism and I made the observation that if one’s understanding of what sexism is stopped in the 1970s, the 21st century was gonna be a real rough ride. Well, guess what: If your understanding of what sex and gender mean is stuck at the turn of the century, 2020 is going to come for you, and it’s not going to be nice about it (2020 isn’t nice about anything). Understanding one’s own sexism, or racism, or homophobia, or transphobia, isn’t about reaching some plateau and getting to stop. You have to keep working at it.

Which can be fucking tiring, you know? Now I get why so many people who were 20 or 30 years older than I was would tell me proudly that they marched with MLK or protested in the 60s: Because it was a way of saying “here’s my resume, I’m on the side of angels.” But the 60s were the 60s, and now is now. The fight’s not the same and sooner or later, generationally speaking, there’s always something to trip over.

I will tell you how it makes me feel seeing people in my age cohort — people I like, people I love, and people whose work I respect and admire — trip over trans rights and identity: It makes me feel old. It makes me feel like my generation has joined all the other generations who had a blind spot in their vision of who gets to be “really real” in the culture. And just as Gen-X looked at older generations and thought smugly to themselves “well, we’ll just wait for them to die off, and that problem will be solved,” now we’re the generation that younger generations will look at, shrug off, and wait to be launched into eternity.

And, yes, #NotAllGen-Xers, but you know what? Enough of us Gen-Xers to be noticable. The Gen-Xers I like, love and admire who are struggling (to charitably put it) with trans issues are all over the board. Some are rich, some are not. Some are educated, others aren’t. Some are famous, some are known only to friends and family. Some are white and some are people of color. Some, I think, might eventually get it. And some of them, well, won’t — either just because, or because eventually too much of one’s identity is tied up into their position on trans identity, and there’s no easy way back from that.

I don’t think it’s the responsibility of Millennials or Gen-Z folk to do anything about Gen-Xers who trip over trans issues or who can’t or won’t listen. Those Gen-Xers (usually) aren’t your parents; you don’t owe them that service. I don’t think it’s the responsibility of the Gen-Xers who are better about trans issues either — but I do think there might be a better chance that the former might listen to the latter better than to anyone else, when it comes time to talk about these things. Because it’s often easier to listen to friends and to members of one’s own cohort, with whom you otherwise have things in common, and some lived experience.

So I come back again to the issue of the Gen-Xers who I like, and who I love, and whose work I honor, who resist the idea that trans women are women, and that trans men are men, and that trans lives are valid as they are. They’re wrong about that, and if it turns out they will listen to me say that — and then explain why, as patiently and with as much kindness as I can provide, to the extent that I as a cis, straight man can — then I will count myself lucky to be able to tell them, and to hope that they will think about what I have to say. It’s not my responsibility, but I remember the times when friends, with patience and kindness, explained to me how and why I was wrong on something important. It helped me then. Maybe I can pay that forward.

Until that time, and again: Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Trans non-binary folks are non-binary folks. Trans rights are human rights.

148 Comments on “Generation X and Trans Lives”

  1. Notes:

    1. This is bound to be a contentious topic. Please behave and be kind to each other while posting and responding to each other. The Mallet is ready for you if you are not.

    2. In particular, if you are thinking of posting a comment here along the line that, in fact, trans people aren’t really their identity, you’re gonna find the business end of the Mallet pretty damn quickly. This is not the place to try to argue someone’s life is not valid. Do that elsewhere, preferably far away.

    3. I think I should note here that while I discuss trans issues being a civil rights issue that is a particularly a Gen-X struggle, Gen-X has its own issues with sexism, racism, homophobia, etc — we’re not perfectly on the side of the angels with any of that (nor is any other generation, frankly). We’re none of us perfect, otherwise we wouldn’t be having the protests we’re having now.

    4. Since it will be asked, why, yes, the recent Twitter and blog postings of JK Rowling (and the response to them) were one of the reasons I was thinking about writing this post. However, from my point of view, her tweet and posts were just one more example of something I’ve been thinking about, regarding my age cohort and how it deals with trans lives. It’s not just about her, or even primarily about her. That being the case, I’d be happy not to have this thread only about her, although I understand she is the most prominent example of a discussion of trans lives and will be a topic of much conversation.

    5. Also, as a disclosure: I know JK Rowling personally. I have complicated thoughts about her tweets and post and I’m still processesing it and much of what she revealed in the blog post in particular, the thoughts on which I am likely to keep private. Slagging her in her person might be cathartic but for here I’d really prefer if you addressed the substance of her tweets/posts instead, with respect especially to this entry.

    6. Oooooooh man I am nervous about this post.

  2. Did you actually read Rowling’s piece? It was almost entirely about violence against women.

  3. As noted, this is not exclusively or even primarily about Ms. Rowling, or what she wrote. It’s about what I see a lot of in my age cohort.

  4. Some of my fellow Boomers took a VERY long time to accept same-sex relationships. I cringe now, remembering some of the things I heard friends say about THAT subject back in the Seventies. I’m sure there were some gay people in my circle, but they were not “out” to straight guys like me back then.

    And when a Boomer cousin of mine married a Black man back in the 1980s, her “Greatest Generation” mother, who would have had no problem with a Black guy living next door, went ballistic.

    I suppose each generation has its own set of narrow-minded ideas about people who are different from what they consider the norm.

  5. I am an early GenXer, and like you, I am fully on the side of trans rights and gender fluidity and all that. but I do think some of the confusion of our peers comes from the message we got as kids in the 70s about being gender neutral, that whole Free to be You and Me thing. Like, my mom was always very clear that I did not have to adhere to gender stereotypes because whatever I did as a girl/woman were, de facto, things girls and women did, even if it wasn’t traditional, there was never any “boys do this and girls do that”. So many Xers have maybe a fuzzier idea of what genders do and that then leads to not being empathetic to people who aren’t comfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth. I am lucky enough to have younger friends who got me on the right track of, duh, let people be who they are and everyone deserves compassionate and equitable treatment, but I can see how people can swerve into the wrong lane from the same starting point, y’know? Especially in certain tea drinking places where being a TERF is weirdly acceptable.

  6. Gen X here myself, and I’m not sure either. I definitely see some of those patterns you’re talking about, but I also see a lot of people on my cohort on the spectrum between acceptance and indifference – indifference is obviously also Not Great, but different from the packaged transphobia that seems to be so popular in the UK right now, and there are Gen X parents fighting for their trans kids. I know a couple.

    I think the biggest breakdown I’ve seen in my sphere is gendered, with more cis women supporting their kids than men. But that could be just my smallish sample size.

  7. Bravo. Thank you. As a late boomer mother who still has teenagers at home I think you are right about the youngs and their absolute belief that Gender is a spectrum. At least in my kids’ inner Sydney middle class cohort. Anti-trans views are not something they are prepared to overlook, either, even in their former heroes.
    What surprises me, is that as I’ve grown older, I think I have got less confident in my own views and their rightness, and more inclined to think I could well be wrong, and maybe other people know their own realities. How has this not happened to others over 50? As you say, the work of becoming a better person is a lifelong task. I will be sharing this post.

  8. I’m disabled, have been since birth. I’m “othered” by the physical realities of the world pretty much on a daily basis. I decided long ago to just leave people be. I refuse to “other” people. I figure most people grok themselves far better than I ever could and their personal lives aren’t my business in any case. Managing my own life is a full time job. If you’re essentially a decent human being, I have no problems with you. If you’re a jerk, I’m avoiding you.

  9. The “in” to being on the right side of history on this issue for me, the initial impetus that got me thinking in the best direction, was simply “even if I don’t really grok it, why should I be bothered about how someone else lives their life?”. And then that initial thought led to actual informed acceptance and as much understanding as I can have from the outside. I guess even at the most charitable I can be regarding JKR and others of our GenX cohort, I just can’t understand caring enough about it to raise a fuss.

  10. John.. First sentence of second paragraph, which you repeat in conclusion, says it all.

    I am a mid-baby boomer (1956). Some of us in my generation truly believed we were going to change the world for the better (listen to our music ~ 1966- 1971; read the books we read). We didn’t, and have been confused and somewhat a negative force in society ever since.

    What helped me then, and throughout my life has been reading speculative fiction. The story which had the most profound effect on me on gender issues and it’s fluidity was John Varley’s “Picnic on Nearside” published in the August, 1975 issue of F&SF. I re-read it often, and have shared it with many people, including my wife, when they questioned my social libertarianism.

    How other people choose to live their lives is none of my business. I do believe it is my responsible to research and read about the chooses others do make, mainly to treat their choices with respect and understanding. I live my life as I choose mostly without confusion or guilt, and only have a handful of people in my life I have to accommodate…. wife, chidren, grandchildren, and a handful of carefully chosen close friends.

    I like my life. I like the person I am.

  11. I can’t fathom why anyone would be nervous about posting this. This is the safe position, the one that places one squarely in the hugbox. The brave position is the one Rowling stakes out. If you don’t believe me, check out the Twitter thread by @boodleoops that gathers just a fraction of the despicable sexist abuse Rowling has received. If anyone can read that, and think that Rowling was asking for it, and think that they’re on the right side of this argument, I don’t know what else to tell them.

    And yes, this is about Rowling. She’s pointing out that some of the demands of the trans activists are harmful to women. Aren’t we supposed to care about women? Have women not faced discrimination and violence as a class? Should we not be able to speak about women as a class in order to address that imbalance?

    Mallet me if you will, but this blog post doesn’t get anywhere near the main point of contention here. It assumes that the only objection to trans activism comes from the right. This is FALSE. There is a significant movement on the left that wants to defend women from the excesses of trans activism.

  12. It saddens me, and makes me enjoy their work less, when an artist doubles down on views I find so objectionable. Another variation on the Suck Fairy, I suppose, as it’s not the first and won’t be the last.

    Also, TIL what “deadnaming” is. Names have power.

  13. Cressida:

    “And yes, this is about Rowling.”

    Well, apparently it is for you. Which is fine; the rest of us can talk about the piece more expansively, and probably will.

  14. As a nonbinary person closer to 40 than 30 (on the Millennial side of the generational cusp), it reassures me to see this sort of firm statement on the fact that people like me are the gender we say we are. Especially as I’ve had to distance myself from work that was important to me in my childhood and teenage years that I now see came with its own problems, like a rot that was always there and has only gotten more obvious as time passes.

    And I appreciate seeing the nod that it is hard for people to disentangle their own identities from their mis-perceived threats to those identities. Not that it is an excuse, of course; just that the more someone doubles down, the more work–and humility–is needed to get out of that hole, and the humility portion is especially hard to do. Work that is unquestionably worth dealing, and humility worth cultivating.

    I’ve been doing a lot of consideration on how much weight I can put on “Death of the Author” when it comes to my personal experiences, and especially when it comes to authors whose personal stances are incompatible with my lived reality. It’s going to be ongoing. And it also encourages me to put more effort into reading authors I know won’t disappoint me like that, because they too are trans. (Alongside my commitment to read more authors who are BIPOC.)

    I know people can reconsider their prejudiced beliefs, because I’ve done it myself, and I have Gen-X friends who have no problem with it (or are themselves non-cis). I hope that people who still hesitate to recognize that each person is the authority on their own gender identity will take this current time to reconsider that.

  15. Life-long Gen-Xer here. I know it’s not the only factor, but I did read JKR’s post, several times. I felt obliged to, because the narrative seemed so far from the person I thought her to be. I was sincerely moved by her own struggle with violence, particularly as a single mother, and I believe strongly in the causes she supports to make women safe.

    But in the end, however well it is spun, she makes clear her feelings that cis women are not safe if trans women are allowed into women-only spaces, despite there being no evidence that such a thing is true, and mountains of evidence that the opposite is true. Trans women need those spaces very much.

    It struck me very much like conversations I have had recently about policing. I cannot abide a social contract that forces one group to feel unsafe so another, more powerful group can have their fears assuaged and catered to, no matter how irrational, and I’m tired of being quiet about it. In the Gen-X vernacular, I’m gettin’ too old for this shit.

  16. Well said. My experience with trans people has been quite limited but educational. Even watching their transitions from a distance, some of the impact on their mental and emotional well-being was clear. J & B both seem significantly more comfortable in their own skins now.

    I apologize for any errors in terminology: this is a subject I am still learning about..but I am trying to learn.

  17. I think every generation, when it is young enough to want to start define itself as something apart from everyone else, uses Othering as a tool in that identity search. Sometimes we can only define ourselves in negative terms – not pejorative type of negative, but I’m-not-that type of negative. This is all done, I think, subconsciously or even unconsciously. Identity Othering focuses on phenotypes, because they’re obvious differences to define oneself as not-that.

    And I think some people get stuck there. Some people ride through it, and achieve a sense of self without having to persist in Othering. The ones who don’t…. maybe can’t. Maybe they never achieve a secure enough sense of self, of who they are, and so they continue Othering because they can’t get past defining their identity in negative terms.

    Meanwhile, the world keeps changing, and the types of humans you can Other without serious social consequences keeps shrinking. Trans people are the latest marginalized group to revolt against being marginalized: they are relatively few, have relatively little power in society, and are therefore a group it’s “okay” to Other and make mock of.

    I think this is why there’s so much fear behind the Othering, why people who are bigots get defensive and even violent in reaction to being called on their Othering. They don’t have a fully formed, fully functional sense of identity, so challenging their Othering is essentially challenging the only way they know to define themselves.

    So I guess the challenge is how to deal with people with a sense of self so broken and incomplete they need to Other. How do you teach them that someone who isn’t like them isn’t a threat to them? At what point do you give up on them?

  18. I rarely respond to blog posts, but this one I have to. As the cis woman married to a trans woman (who is a Baby Boomer while my wife is Gen X), thank you. Although not surprising, it is lovely to read a straight cis man state so clearly that gender identity

  19. (Obin: “it,” not “he or “she.” Because they’re hermaphrodites. That means male and female sex organs. Go ahead and have your giggle. I’ll wait. Okay. done? Good.)

    That quote has always really bothered me. I’m not sure if the singular they was as much of a thing when Zoe’s Tale was published, but it certainly was when I read it. I could understand other reasons for referring to the Obin as “it”, but that paragraph just explicitly sat there. I understand that a small number of non-binary people do use ‘it’, but none that I’m directly familiar with so it just strikes me as wrong.

    It is my understanding that the UK is much more TERFy than the USA for a country that would otherwise be considered more liberal than the USA. Even mainstream publications like the Guardian are considered TERF friendly. I don’t think TERF ideology has gotten as much of a foothold in the USA; most of the transphobes are just conservatives. Not sure how that lines up with the people you know. Obviously in the USA right now the younger someone is the less likely they are to be conservative. I’m at the young end of Gen X, but if I’m being honest I just don’t know enough people in Gen X to be a representative sample.

    But it could also just be a factor of how online people are. All of the arguments in Rowling’s screed were already debunked nonsense. Even some of the terminology, like referring to ‘natal girls’ instead of the accepted terminology of cis girls or AFAB just screamed transphobes. But if you never had encountered any of it before, I could sort of see how it could seem superficially reasonable. That is of course why it is so dangerous.

  20. Dear Whatever commenters: This issue is about women. It is *not* about mean right-wing Christians who don’t think men should wear makeup or skirts. It’s about women being able to name ourselves and our struggles. Please check out sexgenderandjustice dot com and sexandgenderintro dot com. It is not as simple as you’ve been led to believe.

  21. As a proud GenX mother to a nonbinary GenZ teenager, I applaud this posting. I hope, and think you are right about GenZ seeing gender as fluid as I am most concerned about their peer-to-peer interactions. I know they will run into GenXers and others when searching for a job, etc. and hope they encounter the more broad-minded sorts.

  22. “I think it’s possible that — in very general terms — every group identified as a “generation” has a group that it, for whatever reason, still sees as an “other” in some significant way, and for cis Gen-X people, it’s trans people.”

    This implies that Millenials, Gen Z, and Gen Alpha, will all find their own groups to other. I can’t think of what groups those would be, but if one doesn’t belong to it they are likely to be blind to it. Is this something our society is slowly outgrowing? Am I ignorantly othering someone in my daily life? Or, more worrying, am I fully aware of this othering and simply too prejudiced to realize how shitty I’m being?

  23. I’m Gen X and I have a trans son.

    I also have a gay brother and several gay uncles.

    Also, I have a number of pals in the LGBT community.

    Point being: since I was a teen (and learned about my brother) I’ve been an ally of the gay and trans communities and even more so since my son came out.

    I mention all of this because what I’m going to openly wonder in just a few moments is one of those things that piss off a lot of trans people. And so I want to make my allegiance and position clear first. Because my son is my son, regardless of what biology he was born with.

    HOWEVER, I do wonder if SOME of the folks who take issue with the growing visibility (yay!) of the trans community do so because of the language used to describe the trans experience and nothing else. Not to say there are not actual transphobes for whom the whole trans experience is terribly uncomfortable. Oh, for sure that’s the case. And those people have some serious soul searching to do/therapy to attend regarding why they are the way they are. So for sure: if you have anything against the trans community, this comment is not about that. I find those anti-trans people to be lost at best and heartless animals at worst.

    But I’m talking about people who simply don’t get it because, well, why would they if they’ve had no reason to really sit and think about what it means to be trans or a trans ally. And those people do tend to be my generation and older.

    Hell, even I sometimes get tripped up on the wording the trans community uses to define and explain the trans experience. Is my son my son? 100%. Do I look at him as a male? I very much do. Because that is who/what he is. Period. But did I always? Did I look at him as male BEFORE he came out to us? No, I didn’t. I looked at him as a girl, because that is what we KNEW him as before he made himself clear to us.And I get that is painful for a trans person to hear. I 100% get it (much as a cis person can). But does the average person who has not been thru this experience w/a trans loved one (or as a trans person themselves) understand how hurtful that is? How could they? Because they’ve only been raised to see gender as biological and binary. And thus, you get conversations like this:

    RANDOM PERSON (RP): So you’re daughter thinks she’s a guy?
    ME: No, my son is a guy.
    RP: But he was born with a vagina so…she’s a she, right?
    ME: No.
    RP: I mean, I get she FEELS like a he and that’s great. But she’s got a vagina and a womb and so she’s a she. That’s just the definition of what it means to be female. How can you argue with that?!?
    ME: Because trans men ARE men.
    RP: Ok, well then I’m an attack helicopter! This is a ridiculous conversation! You are letting your kid live in a fantasy world!

    And that Random Person goes off and- because I’ve been unwilling to meet the average person where they are when it comes to trans people- the trans community has lost the chance at another ally.

    I don’t think the trans community owes non trans and non trans allies an explanation. In an ideal world, a good person would do the work to figure it out on their own because they care to. But that’s not most people and if you’re not versed in this stuff (and why would someone who isn’t trans or a trans ally be versed in it?) there’s no way to come to it logically simply based on how many of us are raised to only think of gender as biologically based.


  24. I was going to keep the comments on overnight, but seeing as the dimwit I already malleted has made a couple other sallies that went straight into spam, I’m going to close the comments while I sleep. They’ll be back up bright and early in the morning. Sleep well!

    Update: Comments back on.

    Also: Out on the Internet, I saw this comment: “did Scalzi seriously just write a blog post proclaiming his unwavering support for trans rights and then add that JK Rowling is his buddy and people aren’t allowed to say mean things about her in the comments”. Quick answer to this:

    1. My whole point was that my support hasn’t been unwavering, alas; it’s something I had to work at to get to, and I think that’s a hallmark of my particular generation of people.

    2. JK Rowling is open to criticism here and elsewhere. Also, without overstating it, yes, she is and has been a friend, and for me, I suspect like most people, it’s painful to have people you know and like slagged to one’s face, even when they’ve done something one very much disagrees with. Which is why I’ve requested people here, who are discussing her words, to avoid a tirade about her person if they can. It’s not so much that I’m asking people to be kind to her; I’m asking them to be kind to me.

    So, yes, you may criticize her and her words and positions here. Just know it’s someone I know, if that matters at all with regard to how you craft your words. And also that the piece isn’t just about her; it’s about a wider issue with my generation of people and how we think about trans lives. I think that should be focus of comments.

    Also, as a general suggestion, check out the comment policy here; it’s helpful.

    (As an aside, this is a weird side effect of having both a publicly accessible site and a narrow sort of fame; there is a chance someone you know will become a topic of conversation. As it happens I have a general policy for that.)

  25. To Cressida: Why does being able to name ourselves and our struggles require the exclusion of trans women? Women are not a monolith and our struggles have never been homogenous. The struggles of black women are not the same as the struggles of white women, the struggles of disabled women are not the same as the struggles of abled women. Trans women are another fabric in the patchwork that makes up womanhood, and I don’t believe it dilutes my identity as a woman to recognize that, and to acknowledge my experience as a woman is not universal.

  26. I generally support trans people on this issue, but I do think there is a different dynamic between the hegemony of masculine culture and the “hegemony” of ciswomen.

    I have sympathy for someone who is suffering PTSD and similar conditions from sexual assault and abuse. (And this description covers a fairly large percentage of all women, trans and cis.) I would not allow them to use that as an excuse to oppress other people who are worse off than them. But I would definitely take a step back and give them a more sympathetic ear and spend more time trying to reason with them. (And I would also recognize that I am probably not the right person to reach them in most cases.)

    As a side note, Scalzi and I have radically different views on how to talk about history. I am pretty sure there would be a gay rights movement by now without Stonewall.

  27. I am old CIS broad of 67 years. I’ve only known two trans people through what iin my own head i think of as “before and after”. I have known another transgender person, because they informed me of their status. Otherwise, I am sure I have met others who I just assumed they are what they say they are, which is the same assumption people make of me. I have no knowledge of what genitalia they were born with, nor do they know anything of mine. Unless we care to discuss it. But at my age, we are more likely to discuss bad knees than crotches.
    So it goes.

  28. Cressida:
    Do you think that Amy Cooper was justified in calling the cops on Christian Cooper? Because it seems to me that your argument leads in that direction.

  29. Fellow Gen-X-er here.

    Something interesting happened with one of my own teenage sons a while back (pre-pandemic): when out to buy sneakers, he saw that the shoe store also had athletic jackets on clearance, and he needed a light jacket, so he browsed through the selection. And he decided to get something off the “women’s” rack.

    As far as I can tell he is heterosexual, cis, etc., but he felt completely uninhibited about getting clothes labeled as “women’s” if he thought they looked better and fit him better than the alternatives. And lordy, when I was his age, I would have worn clothes that were literally radioactive before going out in public wearing something marked as female. (“OK, if I wear this I might get cancer in twenty years, but if I wear this I might get beaten to death before I graduate from high school. Easy choice.”) And it’s not like I grew up in an ultra-conservative neighborhood.

    The times really have a-changed.

    I also wonder whether growing up in an era with legalized same-sex marriage has affected that generation’s broader view of gender roles. (The conservatives were right! Legalizing same-sex marriage has undermined the traditional American family! And a damn good thing, too!)

  30. I’m 66 years old, so definitely older generation to Gen X, and I freely confess that I don’t THINK as well as I once did. It IS a struggle to keep up with the times, and I am profoundly grateful for giving me the words that help me think.

  31. As a Gen-x trans person, thank you for being an ally.

    Cressida, nothing, not one thing, excuses any abuse sent JKRs way because of her views on this issue.

    BUT this abuse doesn’t similarly give her any excuse for what she said in her recent blog post.

    I urge everyone, you, John and everyone else who has commented on this post, to read this very detailed & measured rebuttal of her post by a trans ally on Twitter –

  32. Privateiron:

    To be clear, I think there would be a gay rights movement without Stonewall. What it would be and how it would be different is up for speculation. But I think it’s accurate to say the modern gay rights movement we have goes through Stonewall.

  33. Born in 1960.

    As noted, I think reading science fiction my whole life has helped me be more mentally flexible about questioning assumptions and thinking about changes in society.

    I’ve seen a lot of rights activism from the outside, as an ally, well-meaning but inherently unable to know the experience of being marginalized for who I am. (I check all the privileged boxes except for wealth and religion.)

    It felt like there was a tipping point for gay rights a few years back — not meaning the bigotry and discrimination are gone; obviously it’s a battle still being fought. But at a certain point it was clear most Americans were okay with marriage equality, and certainly younger people, by and large, don’t see an issue at all.

    I hope we’re approaching that point with the rights of trans people. It wasn’t long ago that the very existence of trans people was treated as a joke in pop culture, even by liberals. On The Daily Show they ridiculed Dennis Kucinich for suggesting Federal judge appointments should include trans women. (That was 2002, but they should have known better even then.)

    A few of the writers I correspond with are trans women, and it’s through them I learned about TERFs; I honestly didn’t know before that some feminists put all their energy into trying to keep trans women from being accepted as women. So trans women get to experience all the oppression women in general do, plus bigotry because they’re trans. I don’t understand it; they have to use really twisted logic to justify their bigotry as somehow supporting women’s rights.

    Not sure what JKR’s deal is. I have no interest in vilifying her; just sorry she’s using her huge audience this way, a way that can harm real people. I hope she’ll have a conceptual breakthrough and change course.

  34. I come from a place of not much knowledge. I am curious: there seems to be a phenomenon where the loudest homophobes, at least in Congress, turn out to have same-sex events or relationships they are hiding. Is there any chance that some unexplored jealousy that we never felt like we could explore or determine our own gender identity is what drives some of the gen X resistance to this more flexible understanding of what it means to be a woman or a man? In my experience, it is very difficult to reason with jealousy.

  35. [Deleted because… yeeeeeeaaah, this isn’t it. This essentially reduces to the “we could tolerate [insert group here] more if they would just CONFORM,” argument which, aside from anything else, has a bad track record of actually being true — JS]

  36. Late Gen-X / Early millennial here, and yeah, I remember *laughing* at the transphobic jokes back in the day. I don’t know how or where that change happened for me, but — like several other political and moral changes I’ve undergone in the last decade or two — it’s very clear that I would not have liked the “me” of yesteryear very much.

    And it makes keeping ties with the people I love who are _not_ changed in the same ways hard. Because they’re still my friends, but it’s a challenge constantly to balance the friendship with knowing that because I’m their friend I may be the best person to call them in instead of calling them out… if they can hear me doing it.

    So I feel ya on JKR; I think what she and the TERF side of UK feminism are up to is repugnant, and I feel for the trans fans of Potterverse she’s wounding (and all the other trans folk her money and support are hurting too) but it’s gotta be really hard to be her friend sometimes.

  37. Similar to you John, I begin with the same disclaimer – trans women/me are women and men. Sorry someone may have touched on this, and I apologize if it has already been addressed, but if I may invite you to consider the Black Lives Matter movement. Activists belonging to the movement have, quite rightly, been upset when others (sometimes in innocence, other in malice and mischief) have provided the rejoinder ‘all lives matter’. The trans issue for many encroaches on another rights issue that has evolved its own champions and thinkers, and they perhaps feel that their movement is compromised by the 3rd and 4th wave of feminists. You may be right that it is largely generational, but we are in effect asking people to change a stance they themselves have battled hard for

  38. I’m at the tail end of Gen X and I grew up in a conservative family going to catholic school for about half of my education. Gays and Trans folks were others or weirdos because that’s what I was told. For me this changed when I started LARPing as a hobby which attracts all different kinds of people. I’d encounter people, have fun playing with them and talking with them only to find out they were Trans later. The thing was I didn’t feel betrayed by not being told beforehand, I was an adult, nobody had to brace me. It wasn’t actually a big deal. This was 20 years ago and it evolved naturally from there. It seemed for me that exposure was the key because of how I was raised. I just needed that switch to be thrown to realize how limited and obnoxious my thinking was. It’s not like these people were berating me for my limited thinking or pressuring me. They just behaved like people and my fucked up way of thinking eventually corrected itself.

  39. Thanks for this, John. I’m about your age, and like you I grew up surrounded by media that portrayed trans people as punchlines at best, often outright predators.

    But I also had access to the internet quite early on, and that allowed me to explore and find accounts by trans people, and think about what they had to say, and… it really wasn’t that hard for me to shed the stereotypes, when I met the reality.

    I’d also note that even if one doesn’t care about trans people (and one should!) this brand of biological essentialism inevitably ends up being harmful to cis women too.

    My mother believed that womanhood was defined by one’s body. I loved her dearly but she was, I am sorry to say, extremely derisive of trans women; I like to think her attitudes would have shifted over time, but I’ll never know.

    She got cancer, and had to have the works: hysterectomy, double oophorectomy, double mastectomy. That would be traumatic enough for anybody, but on top of it all, her identity was shattered because she felt she’d lost the parts that defined her as female. She was one of the toughest people I knew, and she was just about broken by this.

    Then there are all the masculine cis women who inevitably get harassed or outright assaulted by the Bathroom Defenders who’ve been whipped into a frenzy about the bogeyman of trans predators.

  40. I really wish you hadn’t chosen to write out the t-slur. It’s great that you’re recognising it *is* one – could please also treat it like one? If you’re worried that people wouldn’t recognise the word you’re referring to, starring out one or two letters would still be better.

  41. Matt:

    I’m not 100% sure that the racial dynamics of why certain white people in the US say “All Lives Matter” maps very well with why certain cis women are resistant to trans women, however, and how it does isn’t especially flattering to the cis women.


    I have no problem going back and putting asterisks in; I think people will know which word it is. I’m doing it now. I apologize for the discomfort I may have caused you and others.

  42. Gen-Xer here. For me the most difficult part of the equation is to get my stubborn brain to rewrite its pathways to rightly use and remember names and pronouns. I have had friends come out to me, not knowing how I would react but trusting that I would be a safe person and I am relieved to say I passed this test. I know how hard it is for me to change the words that I speak , I cannot fathom how hard it must be to physically alter your body so that it will fit who you are in your soul. I still muddle the names/pronouns and get really mad at myself for it. but we are kind to each other for this because we are all working through this as best we can in this circle of friends. For me the main thing is that they know my screw ups are not coming from a place of malice.

    And in the end I’d like to think that we could grow beyond just seeing the surface of people and see what they are in their souls. If someone tells me they identify as male or female or non binary I need to adjust my view to see them as they wish to be seen, as they see themselves not overlay my preconceived biases and ideals onto what I’d like them to be. Trans females are women, trans males are men and the souls who walk in between are non binary. It should not be this hard.

    My friend who is transitioning is a beautiful soul. The shell they were born with will no longer define how they see themselves, people will either move along with this person to grow and change, to walk beside them or they will not. I hope to be at their side. I hope to be an ally who would stand up for them so they they might have the very same rights I enjoy. I do not understand why we cannot see beyond the flesh to the soul inside.

  43. MALLETED!!! Vive la Revolucion!

    BUT BUT BUT… John, I get that. However, would you then postulate that ANY behavior, of ANY type, ANY place, in furtherance of militant pursuit of an objective, is useful and/or acceptable?!

  44. I think you are right about our generation. I certainly had to do a lot of growing. What helped me was a colleague at a training started with, “My gender doesn’t need to make sense to you.” For some reason something clicked and in an almost magical way I was able to move forward.

  45. John,
    How do you respond to the central issue from JK Rowling’s essay? It sounds like you are saying that we all either move all the way to “biology is bunk” when it comes to gender (even as it relates to escalating the stress on the women who have been abused) or we have no seat at this table.

  46. The list of famous and popular entertainment with a noticeable transgendered character should include Monty Python’s Life of Brian. It premiered in 1979, and was widely banned for going too far when mocking religion. As a tail-end boomer, I saw it at the time. My only context for transgender issues was probably tennis player Renée Richards.

    One famous scene was when Brian wanted to join the People’s Front of Judea (or was it the Judean People’s Front?) and the meeting kept fracturing over what rights to agitate for. Eric Idle’s character “Stan” wanted the right to be a woman, the right to have babies, and to be known as “Loretta”. John Cleese’s character “Reg”, the group’s leader, was beyond exasperated. How ridiculous could one get? And so the very idea was played up to maximal comic effect.

    What’s most interesting to the modern viewer is that towards the end of the film, we learn that Idle’s character is simply “Loretta”, and everyone, including “Reg”, accepts this, and there are no issues. No fanfare or anything, and if you weren’t paying attention, you didn’t notice. But it’s there.

    As an aside, perhaps every last Jewish viewer assumes that the PFJ vs JPF vs the one-other-guy arguments were a deliberate (and utterly hilarious) send-up of Jewish fractitiousness. Apparently,, though, that’s just a coincidence. They were mocking the Left’s tendency to form circular firing squads.

  47. Cressida: “Rowling’s piece? It was almost entirely about violence against women.”

    I read it. It’s mostly a lot of milquetoast. Mostly bland excuses and generic concerns. All built up in layers the way an oyster builds layer upon layer of pearl to hide that singular piece of sand.

    There is exactly ONE thing in that rambling jumble of milqutoast that stands out as singularly focused. She even says its the thing that “triggered” her against trans people.

    She was “triggered” when she read that Scotland was changing the law to protect trans people. Which is still bland milquetoast. There’s no charge to it. In the para before saying she was triggered, she says this:

    “When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman – and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones – then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth.”

    Even here, she’s trying to maintain the milquetoast facade. These are just facts, folks. Just simple truths she wants to communicate. (They’re lies, actually, but i’ll get to that later)

    “A man who intends to have no surgery and take no hormones may now secure himself a Gender Recognition Certificate and be a woman in the sight of the law. Many people aren’t aware of this.”

    She states this as if she had uncovered some grand conspiracy.

    41 paragraphs into a 44 paragraph manifesto, she she finally lets her milquetoast facade down, and her panic and fear show up as rage and accusation: ” I refuse to bow down to a movement that I believe is doing demonstrable harm in seeking to erode ‘woman’ as a political and biological class and offering cover to predators”

    *Offer* *cover* *to* *predators*.

    Thats what all this is about. This is the trigger. She diffuses her fear across half a dozen paragraphs and mingles it with milquetoast to hide it. But her entire 4,000 word manifesto is layer upon layer of shiny pearl meant to conceal her one terror: That a straight-cis man will get a gender certificate as a woman and use it to prey on women in women-only bathrooms.

    This is the her actual concern, the source of her being triggered. This is where her post finally goes from “blah bla free speech is good blah blah” to specific accusations and specific demons conspiring with deliberate intent on destroying the world.

    This is the grain of sand at the center of her pearl.

    And it is a lie.

    From transequality dot org :”We all care about safety and privacy in restrooms. Which is why it’s important to remember that nondiscrimination laws protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have been around for a long time. In fact, 18 states and over 200 cities across the country have passed and successfully implemented laws that protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination in public accommodations–and there’s been no increase in public safety incidents in restrooms in any of these cities or states.”

    If its not really a thing, then what’s Rowling’s deal? Well, she said she was “triggered”. And later on in her manifesto, she talks about being pbysically abused by a man, feeling like she barely escaped with her life, and to this day she is… i believe the word she used is “jumpy”.

    Rowling’s problem isnt her imagined demon straight-cis man with a gender certificate in the women’s bathroom preying on women, nor is it her imagined conspiracy of the trans movement gleefully offering cover to these predators. They dont exist. Her problem appears to be some serious, long lasting, but latent ptsd from being relentlessly physically abused in her past relationship. But rather than face her past, and how it might color her perception of the world today, she appears to be indulging her fears and letting them distract her from her own issues by calling the trans movement a group conspiring to protect predators.

    It just so happens that those predators are men abusing women. But she hasnt bothered to notice the similarity to the man abusing her, and how that might be coloring her perceptions.

    So, instead of looking at her undistinguished fear, she blames the trans community. And this 4,000 word manifesto is either one huge “pay no attention to the woman previously abused by a man now seeing predatory men where there are none, behind the curtain”. Or it is one massive, convoluted cry for help of someone who maybe knows something doesnt feel right but doesnt realize they have. a huge gaping chest wound.

    So, no, her manifesto isnt almost entirely about violence against women. Its almost entirely about one man’s violence against her in the past, and how those wounds have never healed, and are now causing others pain. She sees conspiracies where none exist. She sees predators where none exist. Its not real. Its all a replay of her own unhealed past.

    I just hope there is someone close to Rowling who recognizes the symptoms of this unhealed wound and can get her help. It would appear that Rowling will listen to no one so far. Rather than look at what thousands of people have tried to point out to her, she has instead retreated to “i support free speech” arguments. She walking around with an old spear through her chest, stabbing everyone she goes near, but she cant see it.

  48. Scotty:

    As a sort of inherently conservative person, I’m not sure I’m a great person to make that sort of argument. I will note, however, that recent protests have done more to provoke action on certain issues, so what’s “useful” and what’s “acceptable” may be two different things entirely.

  49. Hey John, very interesting indeed.
    As the strange guy who always looks at language accidents and what they reveal, I have a question about this part of your first comment:

    I have complicated thoughts about her tweets and post and I’m still processesing it

    Did you write “processesing” on purpose? If not, was a part of you hesitating between “processing” and “assessing” as you were writing?
    I mean, it’s such a perfect neologism for what your sentence seems to express that I feel like I might use it someday. So it MUST come from somewhere, right?

  50. Thank you, Mr Scalzi. Once again your clear writing has exposed a nugget of hard truth in the raw.

    I think we Boomers don’t have quite the same problem simply because those of us who accept gay rights, did not see trans as anything different. In fact, we tend not to distinguish queer, trans or bi as distinct in anyway. Many of us have no idea these are different things in the first place. Either we accept none of it (as many do), or we accept it all.

  51. Franck Mée:

    I think it’s more of a typo because it was late at night and I was both physically tired and mentally wiped out a bit trying to put my thoughts into a cogent form. But, if you like, sure, it’s a new word. It’s certainly true I’m still thinking about what she wrote and what I think about it.

  52. Anyone who thinks that there are exactly two sexes and that they are completely determined by what dangly bits a person happens to have hasn’t paid attention to biology. In the slightest.

    As for me, my rules are:
    1) I don’t care what you do with whom as long as everyone is old enough and willing enough to participate, and
    2) People are people. Treat them like that.

  53. As someone on the tail end of Gen X (we like calling ourselves Oregon Trail), I totally get this post. I’ve been that guy, I’ve made those jokes (more recently than I’d like) and I’ve worked with and been friends with trans people. I’ve certainly seen the culture, although at this point I don’t know if I could even watch Mars. Doubtfire without being supremely uncomfortable with it.

    We’ve all got a lot of work do. I hope that we find ourselves capable and willing to do it.

    ed: John, sorry for the double post if it is one, I had some browser/rss weirdness…

  54. As a mid-range Gen-Xer with a diverse social circle, I have this sense that after years of trying to get my head around it all, I get it intellectually – although sometimes I get completely crossed up with the terminology, like the proper references to physiological structure versus genetic markers versus psychological self-image – but there are days I feel that my gut, my instincts, are woefully behind the curve. The instinctive reaction is not one I want to have, and I’m careful not to express it until my intellect can override it, but I worry there may still be transphobia baked into me.

    I had an online acquaintance come out to me a number of years ago, and it didn’t occur to me until much later just how much faith it takes for someone to entrust that fact to another. In a way, it helped that it was in an online conversation, so we were just strings of text to one another, and the medium allowed for one to pause and think about what to say without instinctive reactions crossing one’s face and betraying one’s feelings, but still … they essentially put their life in my hands by telling me.

    Not something for me to be proud of; it’s the way things should be, right? You are what you are, even if it doesn’t quite match up with others’ category divisions, and besides, human beings aren’t exactly well-designed machines anyway?

  55. I think it possible you are missing my intended point.

    I understand the distinction between ‘useful’ and ‘acceptable’.

    But the global acceptance of everybody as ‘just people’ requires buy-in at EVERY demographic level.
    And the ones who most need convincing are NOT those who are already ‘woke’ (ugh, I fucking hate that term).

    I assert that the ones who most need conversion are the segment, mostly older and more, uh, conservative, who are most likely to be so offended by such shenanigans that no further discourse is internalized.

  56. And, yeah, I guess one strategy is to just fight a holding action until eveyrone in my age group just dies. If doing the whole actions that don’t offend thing is too heinous to consider.

    War of attrition. That always ends well.

    I’m gonna go do something else now. This is harshing my Friday.

  57. After seeing a few comments trying to equate biology (primary and secondary sex characteristics, chromosones, genes, etc.) with gender, an apparently human-specific thing oriented more in those specific aspects of our brain and part of the complex way our inherently social nature shapes and forms our identity even before we are born, I was going to note those are two very different things.

    And as someone with actual scientists in my family, I was also going to note that biologists in general would absolutely not agree with the assertion that sex is somehow binary. I then saw that John already commented to that effect and I am only commenting to add an additional introductory sort of reference from a source with a lengthy history of translating complex science into more accessible forms. (They are far from perfect, but if a perfect source exists, I’ve yet to find it.) Again, it’s just an introduction. If you want to know more, it’s a rabbit hole that keeps going.

  58. I’m a GenXer who was late to trans rights. I supported them in theory, but I didn’t know anyone who had transitioned, leaving me with some badly confused ideas about what was happening.

    Once I got involved in the SE Michigan Con community, it became an active situation involving people I liked a lot. If they said they were women, they were women. It seemed simple enough.

    Then someone who was really, really close to me indeed transitioned. There were a lot of very confused feelings on my part – I wanted them to be the person that felt right, but it took me a while to get past “I’m losing an important piece of my life. ”
    I wasn’t, though. They were still right here. It hurt when they said they wish we had never met until after the transition, because I wouldn’t feel weird about past memories. I hate that idea, because it would give up so many years of a cherished friendship.

    We’re still trying to figure all of that. But I have no doubt trans men and trans women are women. I’ll die on that hill. My friends are what they know themselves to be, no matter what anyone else thinks they know.

  59. So I just don’t understand the argument that trans activists are harmful or damaging to cis women.

    Any argument that says they are is based in either ignorance or fear (or both). IMO.

  60. Refusing to change clothes in front of someone is not a form of hatred. I will defend my personal boundaries until someone shoots my Gen X body into the sun.

  61. I hail from the dividing line between Gen X and Millennials, and grew up in a conservative area, so maybe I fit in the Gen X cohort on this one. I’m struggling to understand the argument. I’d really like to understand it better.

    Growing up, I was told that little girls were quiet and obedient, liked wearing dresses and having their hair done, didn’t have too many opinions or ask hard questions and didn’t have much of a brain. I was defective because I was female but most of those other things were not true of me. My mom, who is one of the most loving people I know and didn’t mean anything hurtful by it, used to tell me that one day her real daughter would show up, and she’d be all of those things. That still hurts. For whatever reason, probably with the help of positive feedback from teachers and the books I was reading at the time and various other influences, I decided the problem wasn’t me being a female that had traits x,y, and z- the problem was with those who tried to enforce nonsensical expectations. I’ve had moments into adulthood where it’s hard to fight against those expectations, but I’m still convinced that if anybody has a problem with what I do, or like, or say because I’m a female, then that’s their problem, not mine. I want to continue to open up possibilities for women by doing as I darn well please, normalizing the idea that people are just people and their sex doesn’t have much to do with it. And I feel like we should be giving our young people the understanding that whatever combination of sex and other traits they were born with, and the interests and ambitions and desires they develop, is a great combination, and anybody who tells them otherwise is the one with the problem, not them. It bothers me to think that young people might be feeling the need to change their gender identity to the point of body modification to fit into a stereotype, rather than having the support to disregard the stereotype. That said, I don’t have any problem with people doing as they like with their own bodies, or sharing spaces with trans women, or calling someone who identifies as a woman a woman, etc., and I know there’s a lot about trans people’s experience that I don’t understand, because I haven’t been there. I just think it’s reasonable to take into consideration what we should change about society rather than making individuals feel like they need to change themselves. I genuinely don’t understand the vitriol or how that puts people on separate sides of the trans rights issue- it seems like several facets of the same argument to me.

  62. I’m Gen-X with a teen child, and we’ve had a lot of conversations around both gender issues (child currently IDs as cis; I ID as…probably cis? cis-light?) and the calcification of generational thought.

    Specifically, we’ve had a discussion about some of her teachers who are late Gen-X or young Boomer and who, when they were in their teens and 20s, almost certainly were radically progressive and thought of themselves as being so. But now, they’re…almost normal? One teacher told a group of ninth graders that pronouns were important, and I nearly had to talk child down off the ceiling.

    “How dare she be so condescending? She didn’t even mention non-binary people or talk about those pronouns. And how could she think that we DIDN’T KNOW about this…”

    I had to point out to child that the teacher thought she was being progressive — that by merely bringing this up, she was “ahead” of the curve even though, for a group of ninth graders, she was being almost quaint. The teacher has spent her life as a “progressive” in a very conservative environment and so she’s never had to grow beyond where she was in 1990.

    It’s, I think, easier for the younger Gen-X folks, and for the people who’ve lived on the internet for most of their lives, but even then, we find our comfortable bubbles and we don’t ever have to adjust our mental images of ourselves and our positions. “I’m progressive!” means that anyone who pushes your comfort zone is a dangerous radical who is probably doing harm somewhere.

    I don’t know if that’s what happening in the discussions about trans folks right now, but it’s probably at least one factor. I think it does mean that there’s at least a possible light at the end of the tunnel for SOME people. If someone really thinks that they’re progressive, and it’s important to them, you can patiently walk them through history of the past twenty years and see if they make the leap. Some won’t, but many will. The teacher? She’s getting better — and partially because I encouraged child to speak up and speak out.

  63. I wrote a longish comment and didn’t make it in before last night’s cutoff.

    Good thing. In the interim, what passes for my brain hopped off in another direction that I believe has some relevance and hasn’t been injected into this discussion, yet.

    I’ve been working against the patriarchy for longer than Our Gracious Host has been alive. My perception of anti-patriarchy activism has changed a lot over the decades as the effort has evolved, but one thing that emerged somewhat-early and has remained a constant is this:

    There’s a dichotomy.

    On one side are those who, consciously or unconsciously, are comfortable with the difference in culture-assigned artifacts of gender (things like dress, assignments of responsibility for particular aspects of parenting, assumptions about what life choices, occupations, and activities are ‘naturally’ more congenial, etc.) The focus of these activists tends to be “Why do we not value the things women do? Let’s change society so that the choice of being a stay-at-home nurturer is valued and compensated on the same basis as the choice of climbing a corporate ladder!”

    On the other side are those who, generally VERY consciously, see pretty much all culture-assigned artifacts of gender as a perpetuation of The Central Problem, forcing gender-based assumptions of who you are and how you should live your life on everybody.

    These two groups are not very comfortable with one another.

    At one point I would have said “older activists tend to embrace the first approach and younger activists tend to lead the way in the second approach” but I’ve just encountered too many exceptions (including myself) to make that generalization work.

    I often see this reflected in how a particular person who wants to end the patriarchy regards drag culture, and their explanations for why they feel that way. It’s interesting to see what emerges in a conversation about it.

    I don’t think this is a dichotomy that can be resolved, only evolved.

  64. Let’s start with saying* I agree with everything you say in your preface. I also trust (if we don’t end up in a Trump’s Handmaids dystopia) that this is not going to be a longterm problem. Gender will hopefully go the same way as sexual orientation, namely that it’s seen by most as a gliding scale (and simply a personal and not a political or moral matter.) Not that we’re quite there yet with sexual orientation but it’s moving in that direction.

    There’s the one thing I do worry about and that has to do with the percentage gap between boys and girls who identify as trans: . I think this may have at least something to do with the fact that we live in patriarchic societies that don’t value women & girls (and often treat them hatefully.) So it wouldn’t be that surprising if quite a number of girls would grow to hate being girls and ‘decided’ being a boy would be more satisfying. Whatever the reason for it, it’s a worrying difference, I think, because some activist groups promote quite far-reaching treatments for trans children and adolescents. While I realise this is not the most urgent trans issue, it is worrying that it’s not possible to talk about these things without being immediately labeled as transphobic or practically dehumanised as a ‘terf**’ by these activists.

    So yes, again, ‘Trans women are women, trans men are men, trans non-binary folks are non-binary folks, and trans rights are human rights’ – and I’m all for ignoring anyone who wants to ‘debate’ those principles but there are, as with everything, practical issues that need to be discussed, even though they are not the most acute or fundamental*** problems; like the differing numbers of boys and girls questioning their assigned gender, or abused women (born as women) who fear for the future of same sex shelters. It would be healthier if we could talk about those things in solution seeking ways; and I’m sure there will be practical solutions to practical problems, if we concentrated on solving them instead of shouting at each other.

    *I’m 58, by the way; I should probably start with that.
    **No, that’s not really hyperbolic: in certain social media circles ‘terfs’ are routinely compared to Nazis.
    ***Take gender and professional sports. I’m not suggesting it’s a trivial matter but compared to the daily & practically worldwide discrimination and (deadly) violence against trans people, it’s not uncaring to call it a decidedly minor concern.

  65. John – love your work, have enjoyed your Whatevers for years, and want to say: this this this. I’m a gen-xeninial parent who discovered my teen is non-binary a couple years ago, and I’ve have to do the work to address my unconscious bias and an illogical reluctance to acknowledge that I didn’t understand anything.

    I was ‘fine with trans people’ until confronted with someone I love saying I had it wrong.

    I am doing the work now (and it is work!) to actually understand and advocate. It has been a humbling journey for me, and I am grateful I got the chance to recognize the assumptions and fears underneath a lot of my loosely defined opinions.
    And yes. I feel very very old. And it’s scary, having to learn to words for things, understand the name I gave my child is now a dead name (yikes, did I cry over that!) and have all those conversations about pronouns and such with extended family. But I am grateful.

    And oh boy, I better not catch someone trying to say my kid’s identity isn’t valid – I’ve discovered I’m somewhat fierce on the subject, even though a few years ago I would have agreed with them.

    I know personally that we can change ourselves, and be a force of change in others. It takes a willingness to be wrong, and uncomfortable, and afraid, and feel old, but it is possible. Love sure helps.

    Thank you for writing honestly on the subject and our continued need for growth.

  66. I don’t know if this adds to the conversation so feel free to delete it if you like, John.

    For the “biology is binary” folks, intersex people (people with biological traits of “both” sexes) make up roughly 1.7% of the world population. That’s about 136 MILLION people worldwide. That’s more people than all but 9 countries. Mexico has fewer citizens.

    I’m only listing these statistics as an introduction to the sources linked by people above. Maybe it will encourage some to actually click through on the links.

  67. This isn’t a sci-fi novel where we gladly accept a few impossible things just to get the story moving along. I can accept time-travel if that’s what you need to drive the plot, I can accept inter-stellar travel because you can’t have a space opera without it. But you can’t just state that men are women and expect me to accept it. This isn’t a novel this is real life. And while you can gaslight a large portion of the population, not all of us are falling for your specious argument. As JK Rowling so eloquently says, trans people have every right to live their life however they want. But so do women. And by redefining who is a woman you are taking away rights that women have fought so hard for. That’s just wrong. You are a reasonably progressive person and I’m sure you aren’t intentionally being misognystic, so I’d encourage you to step back and reconsider your position.

  68. But you can’t just state that men are women and expect me to accept it.

    Good thing that nobody is saying that, then.

    What they are saying is that biology is a lot more complicated than “Male and female He made them” and that it literally costs you nothing to treat other people as you would like to be treated. (There’s even a recommendation to that effect somewhere in the Bible, I think.)

    Follow the links that have been provided. They feature actual biologists describing the many, marvelous ways that our sexes and our genders get screwed over by nature.

    And then ask yourself this question: “If a man wants to become a woman, how does it hurt me, personally?” If the answer is “it doesn’t”, then just shrug and move along.

  69. Thank you for this. And in particular, thank you for saying it takes work.

    I’m at the absolute tail end of the Boomer generation, and it’s my age set that experienced desegregation first hand as young kids (at least in my small town in Texas where busing happened when I was in 3rd or 4th grade).

    My husband and I often talk about the bigotry of my father (much less so my mom), and how we improved over their generation due to the desegregation effort. That said, I know when I see biracial couples, it often registers. That’s all it does, but I can’t deny that it does. And I know that is a generational thing made possible by where I fell in my upbringing, the size of my town, and my father’s view. It’s something I’ve had to work at to put behind me…with varying degrees of success.

    Oddly enough, I never had the same reaction to LBGT people. Maybe it’s because I left Waco and moved to Austin during my teen years, but for whatever reason, that particular designation never phased me at all.

    So yes. These blind spots are there, but they’re worth the work to overcome.

  70. I think David put his finger on something really key. He wrote that “In an ideal world, a good person would do the work to figure it out on their own because they care to,” and while that’s true, it’s not an ideal world and it’s one of the things I struggle with trying to be an ally. People are absolutely right to say “it’s not my job to educate you about X,” whether that’s transgender issues, racism in America, etc. someone who has been on the receiving end of painful and long-standing bigotry has no obligation to teach you or me or anyone anything at all. Seriously, f*#! that guy for asking you to.

    OTOH research is hard. I’m an academic, and I teach research methods at a university. They are not obvious or self-evident, and good sourcing for certain issues becomes even more fraught when the not-American students are trying to research very American phenomena. I once had a student submit a good faith effort to explain biological racism using sources primary linked from the Daily Stormer. Her decidedly not American not closely associated to a western Nazi past background simply did not prepare her to appropriately vet the content she found using the search terms she chose. She was a first year, from a very different kind of secondary background, and she was learning to research as an adult for the first time and found some very wrong stuff. And some of that stuff, like the TERF stuff out there, can be convincing if your not skilled doing research or reading critically. She was mortified when I explained it to her, but sometimes that *is* the first step: someone has to help you figure out where to look.

    I haven’t looked at the sites Cressida linked above, but given her tone I assume their position is not exactly that taken by the Trevor Project, for example. But even if my assumption is incorrect and unfair, we all know there are sites out there that work to make themselves look good, look convincing, but aren’t helpful to or for allies or people just trying to figure out if they want to be allies. But if everyone’s position becomes “it’s not my job to educate you” then it’s not going to get better. And we can’t just leave it to the allies to teach others because, as many of us have said in this thread, we sometimes (often) still get stuff wrong even trying out best.

  71. I’m leading edge Gen X (1965) with children from the first to the last year of the most commonly used Millennial boundaries (1981-1996). I have a teen Gen Z grandchild. (My 2 year old grandchild will be toward the front of whatever generation comes *after* Gen Z.)

    I’m also autistic, though I didn’t have a name for it or know there were others like me until I was 51 years old. That’s not really similar in any way to being trans except I deeply understand the sense that something deep within you doesn’t align with the expectations in which you are immersed, the pressure to conform that misalignment generates, the rejection and sometimes outright assault when you cannot meet those expectations, and the resulting deep confusion and often hurt from your earliest years. I understand the struggle to find a path of some sort and build a life through it all.

    I also have not read and do not intend to read the latest salvo from Ms. Rowling. For those familiar with the research, my adverse childhood experience (ACE) score is 9 out of 10. All 5 forms of abuse and neglect are included in that score. Many of those involved had experienced their own deep wounds. In some cases, I have a deep-seated belief they were doing the best they were able to do and did not intend harm at all. And, in fact, many were a mixed bag. I received things that helped me a great deal in life alongside the things that didn’t. People are complicated. But our experience of abuse from others does not excuse our own perpetuation of that cycle. That’s true for me. I hold myself to that standard as much as I hold everyone else to it. Will we fail at times? Sure. But we need to see failures as just that and do all we can to redress any harm we’ve caused and work to be better human beings in the future. I generally find it distressing and harmful when I try to read things that take a different path so I’ve learned it’s better for me to avoid absorbing some sorts of things. From the descriptions I’ve read, her latest post seems like one of those things.

    But as John has repeatedly stressed, it’s not really about any one person even if current events provided some of the impetus for the timing of his post. It’s not true that human awareness and understanding of gender is somehow new as I’ve seen some assert. Anthropology shows incredibly complex and nuanced expressions and approaches to gender across cultures pretty much throughout human history. It’s deeply embedded in our identity as social animals and it’s never been simple. It is, however, true that our modern scientific understanding of gender has been growing by leaps and bounds in my lifetime. Concepts and language my youngest and her friends take for granted barely existed in our American culture when I was a child. Language is deeply intertwined with the way we perceive and understand the world. As I’ve learned new language and understood the concepts underlying them, I’ve found my perception of the world naturally changing, becoming deeper and more nuanced than I remember it once being.

    I see that in myself and the discovery I’m autistic. No, nothing about have shared descriptive words for my experience altered that core experience of the world in an intrinsic sense. It didn’t somehow change my identity. At the same time, everything changed. I had a shelf on which to put things that had never fit. I had a structure in which I could better organize my own understanding of myself and everything I had experienced. I was who I had always been. And my whole universe had changed. Both were true at once. That’s the level at which identity functions.

    My first cousin with whom I was closest growing up relatively recently came out as a trans woman. Apparently when I dragged her into all night sessions delving with autistic focus into Avalon Hill games as a young child, that had a significant later impact on her career choices. (Hopefully she’s grateful for that impact. ;-) ) Many of my youngest’s closest friends are trans (mostly trans men, non-binary, or genderfluid). My eldest has recently discussed a close friend of one of her partners who is asexual and non-binary. My world is a richer place with the trans people I know, respect, and in some cases love in it. I believe I was open and affirming when I had fewer close connections, but to any degree I wasn’t that was my loss at that time and not one I’m willing to perpetuate.

    I understand from my twitter feed that Ms Rowling also threw autistic people under the bus with some rampant ableism at some point related to this. Again, I haven’t personally read any of it for reasons I’ve outlined above. I have found in general, though, that exclusionary attitudes rarely stand alone. When you see one and scratch the surface, other things do tend to surface alongside them.

  72. Two stories and a perspective:

    Story one: There is a regular morning coffee klatch at my urban donut shop where I would go before work. The klatch is a bunch of senior citizens. One day someone showed up whom they hadn’t seen in a while. “What’s new?” He answered ruefully “My son/nephew (I forget) is a she now.” My ears perked right up—And the conversation went on as if no big deal! As Emma early on the thread noticed, seniors mellow.

    Story two: A fews years back I was at an anime/manga convention (I felt fine at being one of the few members of the older generation) At a well attended seminar by an older professor about yaoi, —most of us were female—a boy (he looked high school age to me) in a sailor moon outfit (with skirt) said his mother helped him with his costume. Very loud squeals and applause!

    Perspective: Experiences in the west are coming down the pike so fast, changes so fast, that we can’t properly speak of generations, but must, as our host does, speak of cohorts (within a generation) One of my private “cohorts” is to think of the world-views before and after the arrival of color television sets.

    … Meanwhile, in our ongoing war on terror, (Thank you for your service) I doubt that our opponents need the word cohort. I wonder if they feel left out?

  73. Very late Boomer here (born in 1982.)

    I must say that in general, being bi and having my main formative experiences of sexuality and gender in the very permissive late 70s, I’ve never had any real issues with accepting trans folk for who they are (i.e., who they present as.) Of course, I was also raised by extremely liberal parents who always stressed the ideas of acceptance and individual identity as vitally important, so it was fairly natural for me to roll with whatever people wanted to be as what they are.

    Now, I’m a high school science teacher (often teaching biology) so I both spend a fair amount of time with Gen-Z kids and teach gender as a part of the biology course. It’s actually fairly well accepted by most Gen-Z kids I know that gender is fluid and that biological sex is too. They get it. I have had several students who are either trans or are gender non-conforming and it’s never been an issue with their classmates. It gives me hope for the future, I must say.

  74. I’m Gen X and I learned that TERFs exist something like 2 years ago and apparently I learned the term “TERF” on Jan 2, 2019(!) from a commenter on our blog. The idea that anybody could be feminist and still *for* a bathroom bill was utterly mind-boggling to me. A “feminist” historian professor that I definitely no longer follow went off on a very JK Rowling like twitter screed and that was my first introduction to the concept. She’s older than me so I don’t know if she’s tail boomer or X herself. JK Rowling is also quite a bit older than I am. So maybe it’s you older Xers?

    But I also didn’t watch Friends (I saw the cheerleader episode and decided I didn’t need to see any more) or any Jim Carrey movies. So maybe I’m missing out on that culture. And I went to a boarding high school where we had trans students who didn’t call themselves trans, they just were who they were (although still lived in dorm assigned by sex, not by gender). And in college I got to see Deirdre McCloskey on her book tour about being a woman in economics, notes from a novice, which was amazing (especially since I’d read much of her work in my econ history classes because she’s a top notch economic historian and such a good writer that she is accessible to undergraduates). Since then, as a professor, I’ve had plenty of trans students who, like the trans kids in high school are just who they are (though I guess it should be notable that in my southern university I have not had any out trans female students to my knowledge… it’s probably too dangerous, which is a shame).

    So I guess I’ve met more trans people in person than TERFs on any medium, and the only two TERFs I’ve encountered were that historiann person and jk rowling, who might both be gen X. I’ve also met way more people who were for bathroom bills who are flat out bigots of all generations than I have either group. And plenty of conservatives who used to be republicans but are now independents who are very against bathroom bills because they’re bad for business (and for privacy because they believe government should be about promoting business, not getting into people’s pants).

    I still don’t get TERFs, I mean, WTF? Trans people are not hurting anybody. Not even in the convoluted ways that TERFs argue they are… I mean, logically they make no sense. Delegar and her trans son had a really great take-down point-by-point a few years back… I should find it.

  75. Mr. Scalzi, I see a lot of not trans people telling me that my place in the world, my efforts, my beliefs, my journey of healing and discovery, is not valid.

    At least YOU are speaking on the side of having an open and accepting mind.

    I really just wanted to post a gushy squishy fan letter but the people who reject my identity have already arrived to the party.

    I AM A WOMAN. Despite my outward appearance, I have never fit into male society. Agent of the patriarchy? I have been rejected by the patriarchy. I was never manly enough. I spent my life not belonging ANYWHERE.

    I am tremendously grateful for my fellow women who have embraced me. I am saddened, but not much, by the very small minority who reject me.

    You know, to the one up there saying my existence is an assault on the rights and history of women, FINE. You think what you think. I won’t change your mind. But I tell you this: DONT GET IN MY WAY.

    Especially if I am in a rush to the ladies room. 😆

    To the beloved author of so much joy, YOU ARE AMAZING. Thank you. Your honest and vulnerable look at yourself and at our culture is beautiful. In this time, the words we all need are words that build connections. You speak with values that I share, here, and in all the works I have read.

    That was the gushy squishy part of my comment. Lordy, should I ever find myself facing you at a convention somewhere, I will offer a mighty hug.

  76. [Deleted because Pedro didn’t read the article very well and I’m not going to indulge him here. Move on, Pedro — JS]

  77. Informative bullet points and links!

    1. Cressida is trying to sneaky link some TERF recruiting sites up there in her June 12, 12:10 AM comment.

    2. There is an excellent 2018 Radiolab series on sex, gender, genotype, phenotype, and the latest science behind it all:

    3. A lot of the US/UK cultural divide on transgender rights in feminist and generally left-leaning circles comes from Mumsnet. I’m not sure if it’s generational so much as regional? Another article, also 2018:

    4. The amount of DARVO being deployed in defense of Rowling is pretty intense.

  78. 1957 here–by some metrics I fall into the Jones segment of the Boomers. I came to feminism in the mid-70s. Your post resonated with me because it made certain things clear about why some people seem to want to die on the hill of anti-trans, TERF ideology. To be honest, when my awareness of TERFdom arose I was scratching my head because it seemed to contradict the feminism I grew up on. To me, it still does. I have problems with the notion that you can be feminist and anti-trans. It literally does not compute for me, because I’ve always been part of the group that says you are what you think you are when it comes to your gender identity. And if even conservative, rural, Boomers are flexible with the concept of genderfluidity, (pre-COVID, I remember the conversation amongst fellow Boomer quilters about a particular local genderfluid person of Boomer age running as “sometimes he’s a he, sometime she’s a she, you’ll know which is which when you talk to them.”–look, I live in rural Eastern Oregon and the people in question are Trump voters), then I gotta wonder why GenX has this blind spot.

    So is TERF a GenX reaction to their Boomer parents’ sexual revolution? Or GenX making alliance with their Silent parents? I don’t know. To me it has never seemed to be a big deal to recognize trans people as who they say they are and pronouns? Not an issue. Bathrooms? Look, I don’t care what body parts the person in the stall next to me has. I’m unlikely to see them, just like they’re unlikely to see mine.

    But I do have a major issue with tying gender identity to body parts, or asserting that “all women menstruate.” Um. No. I’m post-menopausal and no less a woman because I don’t bleed (and haven’t for almost ten years now). Women who have had their reproductive organs removed because of cancer don’t menstruate. They’re no less women than they were before. If someone with male bodyparts identifies as a woman, or vice versa, what’s the big freaking deal? It is who they are.

    So yeah. Color me as a Boomer feminist who just doesn’t grok why I should have my pantaloons in a fuss because people’s gender identity doesn’t match biology. Gender ain’t biology, in my perception, and I just can’t wrap my mind around why it’s all right to discriminate against some women because of their biology.

  79. (Warning—stupidly long comment incoming)

    I was born in 1970, I came of age in a liberal family during the Reagan and Bush Sr years, and I’m a cisgender college educated straight man, so I can check off just about all the privilege boxes except actual wealth. I can identify with almost everything John has said. Normally I don’t feel like I have anything to add to these discussions (and in general feel that folks like me should make it their religious practice to just the hell up and listen). However, in this case I’m going to share some of my own random thoughts in the hopes that it might add something for some folks. If instead I’m just showing my lily-white male ass for the internet to see, then please let me know :)

    My first encounter with the term “terf” cam a few years back when I was reading some internet commentary regarding the very first episode of “Sense8”, in which a trans character (Nomi) is rejected by a group of non-trans women at a pride event. The commenter said something to the effect of “terfs gonna terf”. After some googling, I understood what the commenter was talking about, and it made sense. (pun unintended)

    But what struck me was my own reaction to the scene. While Nomi was one of my favorite characters, she appeared to be rejected as another “colonizing male” because she argues that the distinctions implicit different the different letters of LGBTQ were meaningless. While the audience is clearly supposed to be on the side of Nomi, I heard in the reaction of the non-trans women the same frustration people of color had expressed with phrases like “all lives matter” – erasing differences can sometimes feel like losing acknowledge of own’s own specific lived experience. (Please note that there is probably more complexity to the scene than I’m going into – I’m aware that there’s a lot to unpack in any discussion of the Wachowski sisters, race, gender, etc. Also, in fairness, at the time I wasn’t familiar enough with Stonewall and Martha P Johnson to see the historical irony in the terf’s rejection of Nomi because she was trans.)

    However, because I was (and am) grappling with my own privilege and the way liberal progressive men like me can inadvertently colonize poc’s and women’s spaces, I felt like I could understand the terf’s anger. It was the same anger women had expressed in reaction to my early and uninformed attempts to be an ally. In addition, my mother was sexual abused as a child, and assaulted as an adult, and I’ve seen see how her fears of (certain) men make it harder for her to perceive trans women as women. Nonetheless, I’ve seen the stats on suicide rates among trans youth, and I believe that shaming and rejection are in many cases as horrific as actual physical violence for social creatures like homo sapiens. It’s not enough for cis folk to be merely “accepting” of trans folk – we must engage in active embracing. (I see parallels to current discussions on how not being a racist is insufficient – one must actively be antiracist)

    Where all this leads me to in the internet and public spaces. The internet gives us a far richer shared community than television ever did – but it can mean that that some folks don’t realize when they’ve crossed over from being one voice among many, or even a privileged voice among many, to being an actual gatekeeper. J.K. Rowling has become a gatekeeper. Her voice is loud enough and reaches far enough that (whether she means to or not), she does not merely drown out other voices in her own personal conversation, but in many other conversations as well. I would not deny her personal pain or her own process to come to grips with the world. But once you’ve got this much power, I think you’ve probably got enough personal space and personal community to process your own shit within those personal spaces and personal community, and that you need to yield public space to those who perhaps don’t have as much space as you do. I know her horseshit about bathrooms, etc is just that – but as a cis white man, I don’t feel I can completely dismiss her pain or the pain of folks like Cressida. But I sure as shit am not going to dismiss the pain of trans folk.

    TLDR – intersectionality may actually be easier to see for someone like me whose multiple identities all have power, rather than for someone like Rowling who has experienced power in some, but not all of her identities. Also, like a lot of Gen Xers, she may be more informed by second wave rather than third wave (or beyond) in her feminism. Furthermore, I suspect there is a British dimension to all of this – my mostly uninformed impression is that contra their alleged politeness, Brits are on average a lot more uncomfortable than Yanks is admitting their privilege.(All that royalty and repression) And finally, in response to Cressida, I hear what you are saying – I think about non-blacks speaking as though they should have the slightest say in who gets to be black, and I can imagine that some of this discussion must feel that way to you. Furthermore, since as a global culture we have not fully acknowledged or dealt with the unimaginable scope of violence towards women like Rowling, so I think that this may all feel like we are rushing past any acknowledgement of your pain. But I think that collectively, there are enough of us that we can acknowledge both your reality and that of trans folk at the same time, both specifically and as a whole.

    Sorry for the length, and does this make sense, or am I full of shit?

  80. I’m Gen-X and trans. I transitioned in the 1990s, in a conservative area, before anyone mainstream knew was a trans person was. To say I suffered abuse of every physical, psychological and sexual form would win a hilarious Understatement Award (The Understateys?). I say that only to establish some credentials on the topic.

    I’m sure JK Rowling is a lovely person generally (most people are) but she is using her billion-dollar platform to promote the ideas that are someday going to get me killed. I’d super appreciate if she would stop doing that. Her blog post is no different than a Tucker Carlson rant about how black people maybe really are just more prone to crime and therefore cops need MORE armored personnel carriers.

    Throughout history, every oppressed group has had a related group that oppressed them as an expression of their own insecurities (among the usual bigotry reasons). For gay people it is the “civil unions” groups who feel gay marriage somehow cheapens their marriage. For black people it is the “separate but equal” crowd. Trans people have TERFs.

    Cressida, I read your articles. They are boilerplate TERF talking points. They are tired, long disproven ideas, if only you would take the time to learn about them. It is not my job to do so, but the thread-app rebuttal of JK’s piece (linked above by another commenter) is a terrific place to start. Please do not behave in the ways of a TERF. This is John’s house and I would never suggest what he should do, but if it were my blog, I would mallet you for posting what amounts to “hey guys- look at the Confederate Constitution over here! It’s actually full of good ideas!” in my comments.

    I am sorry JK Rowling was abused, I really am. Nobody should experience that. It does not give her the right to inflict even more abuse on an unrelated group of people. Someone with a megaphone as loud as hers has a responsibility to know better.

  81. If you had any confidence in the strength of your argument, you would restore my post and let the readers think/decide for themselves. You are a University of Chicago graduate. It would be to your credit to act like it.

  82. Thanks for this, John. I am cis but have lots of trans/nonbinary people in my life, and I adore them and watch them all try to figure out where the line is between getting the word out on support/resources and protecting themselves.

    UK transphobia is abhorrent; it is a mix of insidious genteel xenophobia masquerading as “expertise” (nope) and fearmongering and elements of beloved comedic traditions. Unsurprisingly, this is exactly what British white-supremacy looks like. (I say this as someone who is half-British, genealogically, and otherwise loves British comedy.) A few months ago, an Oxford professor who goes around talking about being “gender critical” (code for “I absolutely hate trans people and am about to say malicious/inaccurate things about them”) was in the BBC loudly talking about how she went to the police claiming that she was being sent death threats from “trans activists” online. (I doubt it very much. Most of the trans people I know are busy trying to survive, and the trans activists I know are remarkable, patient, loving people who do their work at considerable risk to themselves given how much hatred there is out there.)

    I’m in my early 30s and I love the trans people in my world and it breaks my heart to see them mistreated. What I really can’t understand about JKR’s position, beyond throwing all trans people ever under the bus, is why Phantom Abusive Cis Man would go to such bureaucratic lengths to pose as a trans woman, as if the paperwork is the only thing outwitting such a person. Almost a parody! I know from experience what being stalked is like, and I also know from experience the feeling of questioning every new person in my life in case they’re the stalker somehow trying to gain access to me (answer: no). Anxiety turns into gatekeeping, which turns into throwing an entire community or two under the bus. This does not help the anxious person, and it does considerable harm to the community or two in question.

    @Benno: Fortunately, there are whole textbooks out there about transgender studies; I recommend the one edited by Ardel Haefele-Thomas (2019). There are also a couple of books out there on transgender children; the one I have is by Stephanie A. Brill and Rachel Pepper (2008) and is very accessible.

    @mkd127, Jan Thie: Fortunately, this is a hypothetical concern that doesn’t see much representation in reality. My guess is that if it’s labelled transphobic, that’s probably because it seems too much like endorsing therapy aimed at talking someone out of transitioning (which, like “anti-gay” therapy, is both ineffective and just terrible for a person’s psyche). Restrictive gender roles are indeed awful and cruel and bad for society. Nothing actually needs to be as gendered nearly as much as it is (products, dress, names, toys, maybe even sports!). Fortunately, transition is long, medically supervised, and almost always preceded by careful psychiatric evaluation. In other words, virtually no one is transitioning as a reaction to the gender roles available; it’s about a distinct, deep, usually inexorable internal sense that the guesses everyone made at birth did not match their gender, and that this is not who they are. Dysphoria is painful and not at all the same thing as gender nonconformity (i.e. you turn out to be cis but a bit unconventional relative to what was acceptable in your culture in someone of your assigned gender category). Women feeling oppressed/stifled will consider fighting for the rights of women. Men assigned female at birth will look into transitioning. If anything, super-feminine trans women and lesbians are sometimes accused of overdoing it or holding up stereotypes – which is messed up! This is all part of people getting to be themselves. It’s not at all a “problem” that people are trans or nonbinary. That was always true. We’ve simply reached a point where (most of the time) those who don’t fit into the boxes have compared notes and made it clear that trying to fit gender (a complex cognitive phenomenon with 7 billion versions, all slightly different from each other) into a small number of small boxes was never going to work.

  83. Pedro:

    Nah, dude. As a University of Chicago graduate, I recognize bad argumentation when I see it, and as an editor and moderator I curate for a good and useful reading experience here. I’m doing my university proud!

    Also, let’s go ahead and table this discussion, it’s not relevant to the larger thread.

  84. (Knock knock)

    Hi! Trans woman entering the room! Hello!

    Mr. Scalzi, THANK YOU. When I see such well loved (by me!) people of some influence speak as true allies to my experience, I feel all warm and squishy. You also speak with a humble presence of mind, one that acknowledges how much more we all need to grow.

    Thank you.

    The first big conversation I had with my wife about my coming out full time was met with a lot of understandable confusion. Where did this come from??? Well, a lifetime of suppression builds solid camouflage skills. And then she said, “how can a man just assume a role of woman without living the struggle we all know?”

    That was a year ago.

    Our marriage has been stronger than ever.

    Last night, she came to me nearly in tears, “I said this to you and I was so very wrong! Your struggle is not mine, it is yours, and I had no right to play gatekeeper.”

    Much cuddling and assurances followed because I understand the root of her worry.

    Let me speak about my failed manhood and the patriarchy. I never fit it. I was bullied because I was not a proper boy. I spent a lifetime hiding my truth, even from myself, because of how our patriarchal society judges my nature.

    And then, one year ago, I surrendered it all. I took off my clever disguise. I broke down and from the pieces have rebuilt a life that, for the first time, feels healthy and honest.

    I am in the early stages of processing my physiology to make it align with my spirit. This is NOT an always easy process, and it has brought some sacrifices, and it has encouraged me to open up to new ideas in the borders of my marriage, and IT FEELS AMAZING!

    I would love to talk about that in detail but there might be children reading.

    When I go out in the world, nobody even has to do a double take. “Yes, ma’am.” “Ladies first!” *honk honk* HEY PRETTY!

    That last one was actually quite validating as a first time experience.

    I am a woman.

    I will not say that I chose to be one. I have ALWAYS been one. In the end, the choice I made was to end a painful charade and trust the world to accept who I have always been.

    To the people here who look for reasons to invalidate me, it might surprise you to know that your words are meaningless. Your gatekeeping is futile. And, really, I don’t care what you think. I only have this to say: DONT STAND IN MY WAY.

    Especially if I’m rushing to the ladies room.

  85. I especially like your point about generational awareness, John. Relatedly, I think a major barrier to progress is institutions. Bad institutions “institutionalize” retro, bigoted thinking, and it can be hard for even well-meaning individuals to break free from that. I am thinking, especially, of this piece which I hope everyone reads:

    I have a trans friend who works at a university – which really ought to be on the vanguard – and it still took her a year of meetings and explanations just to get them to use her new name on all ID’s, paperwork etc. Let’s say that only half of that was systemic bias and implicit transphobia, and the other half bureaucratic inertia. It’s still bad on many levels.

    It’s relatively easy for many (not all) to speak up on antiracism or trans rights and acceptance in their personal lives–and doing so is good. But doing it at work, in your local community and religious groups, etc., may be even more important. (If more risky.)

    re your point about humans needing an “other.” One of the first times I came across that idea was in the Ray Bradbury story about the bar where everyone was watching the Martians and cracking racist jokes about them. And it ends with the black janitor expressing relief that someone else was finally going to be the target of all the abuse. I can’t remember which book that was in…Dandelion Wine? Anyway, sf for the win!

    PS – society may continue to grow and evolve, but can we all agree that Friends will suck forever?

  86. I am a peak-era Boomer, born in 1957, raised by a parent who was a WWII vet and who viewed every non-het, non-cis person as automatically a pederast and predator, and therefore a threat to his darling baby daughter.

    While I rebelled against that parent from an early age, it is astounding and horrifying to me to realize how many decades it took me to erase the illusion that lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and non-binary people are threats from my head. And the work still goes on even today.

    I am incredibly fortunate in having friends who have helped me gain a different perspective. And my own offspring, who are in their mid-late 30s, have been most forthright in calling me out when I drop a thumper, for which I am deeply grateful. Because as I said, the work continues, and at 63, with that terrified, homophobic, transphobic old man dead for decades, those old messages are still worn deeply into my brain.

    Thanks for this piece, because it truly helps me renew my determination not to be the person I was raised to be, and to be better than my parent.

  87. Conflict: “As JK Rowling so eloquently says, trans people have every right to live their life however they want. But so do women. And by redefining who is a woman you are taking away rights that women have fought so hard for.”

    Pfft. The only thing Rowling eloquently put was that she is terrified of the nonexistent threat of predator men with fraudulent gender certificates in women’s bathrooms, likely because she has some unresolved fears around a previous relationship she had with an abusive man.

    Gaming up some nonexistent issue is not “taking rights away from women”.

    Rowling should deal with her ptsd before she inflicts any more damage from her undistinguished fears.

    Group A does not lose rights because group B gained rights. The only thing group A can lose is privilege or bigotry from group B’s gain.

  88. perfectpanicky:

    Refusing to change clothes in front of someone is not a form of hatred. I will defend my personal boundaries until someone shoots my Gen X body into the sun.

    No one is preventing you from changing in private.

    Over the last two decades I’ve visited a yoga retreat every few years or so. In recent years, I’ve visited as myself and therefore I use the female facilities, but prior to that I presented as male and therefore used the male facilities. The locker rooms outside of the saunas are open-concept, even the showers, with six or eight showerheads in a communal space. So I changed in the bathrooms, instead, in a toilet stall. In the bathrooms with individual shower stalls, I used to have to walk into the shower stall before disrobing, and hang my clothes on the hook outside by standing inside the curtain and holding it closed as I reached out with an arm to hang up the clothing. Mildly inconvenient, but manageable. Last time I was there, I found that they had retrofitted those areas with hanging curtains, on runners mounted to the ceiling, so that each individual shower stall also had an individual private changing area just outside of the shower stall. I thought it was ingenious, and I doubt it cost much. It afforded everyone greater privacy, which is all to the good.

    And, as always, I made damn sure that no one ever knew they were sharing the facilities with a trans woman.


  89. Also, Mr. Scalzi, if I ever have an opportunity to meet you at a convention somewhere, I would like to give you a standing offer of a great big squishy hug and the drink of your choice.

  90. 2QS: Exactly! I’m not saying teach me (or anyone), but the entire responsibility cannot be offloaded on someone who admits to being ignorant and needing help. We need to be willing to at least point others in the right direction. As someone confirmed above, Cressida’s links are TERF talking points, but someone well-meaning but ignorant might come across them and think, “oh, so that’s what this is all about.” Same point behind the story I shared above. Now I have some work to be doing.

  91. ACoV, I think you just proved John’s point here.

    What I’m reading from your comment, and from JK’s post, is “trans people are just A-OK with me…but they are Other.”

    And, to be quite honest, when one is just trying to live their life as their correct gender (I’m not gonna say “ the gender they want” because I know that’ll get intentionally misconstrued), that’s *all* they’re doing. They just want to be the person they want and need to be. And just like the 99.9999% of people in this world, they just want to go about their day living a normal life.

    They aren’t stealing any rights away from women at all. To call being trans inherently ‘misogynistic’ is saying “trans people are just A-OK with me…but they are Other.”

    Not to mention that this argument is almost *always* inherently about
    ‘trans women in women’s spaces”. In my experience trans men are usually excluded from this particular conversation. If there’s any actual misogyny going around, that certainly is where it resides.

  92. mkd127:

    It bothers me to think that young people might be feeling the need to change their gender identity to the point of body modification to fit into a stereotype, rather than having the support to disregard the stereotype.

    It’s not about fitting into a stereotype. It’s about (a) being comfortable in your own skin, and (b) being treated as a member of the group you know you are.

    There is a vicious cycle, old and still cycling today. Because people will not take us at our word, that we are who we say we are, we must argue our case. And that means pointing to whatever shreds of evidence people will accept. And, it turns out that a lot of people will accept evidence having to do with stereotypes, like, “I was never comfortable playing with trucks” or “I always hated being forced to wear a dress on Sundays”, and so on. In other words, for a significant proportion of the population, that argument works. Enough to be a tool which can, sometimes, motivate enough people to let you get on with your life.

    But, it encourages people to believe that the trans people they see represent all trans people. And the trans people they see, perversely, are the ones who work hardest to conform to stereotype because that’s what enables them to buy the daily bread with the least chance of getting assaulted.

    But people walk right past trans women like me, or a bunch of my friends who are trans. I get gendered appropriately by strangers 100% of the time, in my daily life. I’m not particularly femme. My hair is usually in a ponytail, I usually wear jeans and a tank top, with a fleece on top if the weather requires it. Usually I wear a little eyeliner and call it done. I do things which code feminine sometimes, and I do things which code masculine sometimes, and I get on with my life… like an awful lot of cis women, and an awful lot of other trans women.

    I have a dear friend who is trans, and she also passes as cis flawlessly. And no one ever knows she’s trans, even though she often vibes as a retirement-age biker woman, with her boots, her jeans, her chain wallet, and her face which has seen a lot of weather.

    No one notices her, no one notices me, precisely because we don’t conform to stereotype, whether it’s the various stereotypes of what makes a woman, or a man, or a cis person, or a trans person.

    I didn’t modify anything to conform to a stereotype. During my transition, I sometimes hewed to a stereotype to some extent in order to get people to accept me for what I am, but that was not me following my inclinations — that was me following the road to survival.

    It has nothing to do with stereotypes. And when I hear people, often dedicated Second Wave feminists, lamenting that trans people are “forced” to change, and they wish that we could just accept ourselves, I hear people speaking with good intent while completely misunderstanding who and what I am.


  93. I’m an early GenX (’67) cis man. First, trans women are women, trans men are men, trans rights are human rights. And still, I struggle with some aspects of the discussion. Broadly, I think a lot of people — not just me, but also many members of marginalized groups — believe there are limits to intersectionality. I’m entirely confident that trans men have been marginalized where cis men have not and have had different experiences from cis men. I’m fairly confident that trans women have been marginalized *in different ways* and have had different experiences from cis women.

    It seems plausible to me that, in the case of women, there’s another side of the coin: cis women have been marginalized in different ways and have had different experiences from trans women. If that’s true, is it okay or is there a way for cis women to share/explore/confront/discuss those issues and experiences that are unique to them while still welcoming trans women and being inclusive to them and being allies FOR trans women in the experiences and struggles that are unique to THEM?

    I also frequently struggle with the linguistic rules or norms. For example, if JKR had reacted to the “people who menstruate” thing with “they’re called cis women,” would that have been okay? I absolutely agree that what she ACTUALLY said was hurtful and exclusionary but I’d also easily understand it if cis women felt their identity was erased or at least obscured by the “people who menstruate” construction. And I believe if a cis woman did feel that way, they have a right to speak up about it.


  94. Gonna pop in here with a quick note to say:

    Folks, this probably isn’t the best place for “Trans 101” questions, because a) my personal ability to answer questions with any reliability is limited, b) it’s not the job of the trans folks who are visiting this thread to answer them (although obviously they may do so if they wish).

    So, here, this is, literally, “Trans 101”:

    Check it out. Thank you.

  95. @Greg Benage
    You can be a cis woman without menstruating, whether by choice (various birth controls, surgery, etc.) or by medical condition (pcos, menopause, etc.). Menstruation does not make you a cis woman. Lack of menstruation does not make you not a cis woman. It is neither 1-1 nor onto. So, no.

  96. Thank you Grace and 2Qs for your specific responses, and to all those on this thread who are helping us understand each other better, and to John for hosting and cultivating such a helpful discussion!

  97. Theodore Sturgeon once said, “Ask the next question.” So, yes, indeed, trans men are men and trans women are women. The next question is, “Are all aspects of identity equally fluid?”

    For example, is race something that may be chosen?

  98. What is so infuriating to me is that once again, men are telling women what they can and cannot think. You even start off this post saying that disputing your key premise is out of bounds. And if we dare to point out the obvious, we are vilified and threatened by these same men exercising their male privilege. We are called a transphobe, TERF, and much much worse. So tell me John, what gives you the right to redefine what a woman is? Is it your male privilege? The fact that you have a bigger platform and know that you can use it without the repercussions that any woman on the internet will face? The hordes of transtrolls that will descend on anyone challenging your claims? It doesn’t seem that someone with a reasonable argument for their position would start off by saying that we can have a discussion, but only if we don’t talk about the main point of contention.

    As a writer you know that words matter and whoever wins framing issue is at an advantage. People opposed to women’s autonomy over their own bodies framed the issue as being “Pro Life” not “Anti-Women’s Autonomy”. Who isn’t in favor of life? It’s unfortunate that the movement to reform the police has been sloganized as “Defund the Police”. That’s not what they mean, but it is certain to be mischaracterized. It seems that AG Barr has taken a page from your playbook and declared that “Pepper spray isn’t a chemical”. Likewise, characterizing anyone who disagrees with your premise as a transphobe is a good rhetorical strategy but morally wrong. The TRAs have engaged in a massive disinformation campaign that unfortunately has resulted in otherwise rational people, like you, throwing rationality out the widow in favor of chanting the dogma over and over. It’s wrong and should stop.

  99. There’s a certain potential reactionary streak in people who have lived most of their lives being proud of the fact that they are Very Progressive. Being one of the good guys becomes integral to their self-image. But times change, and what was progressive in 1980 feels conservative now. As time marches on, self-identified progressives are going to encounter situations where their thinking is challenged as behind the times, even bigoted.

    And in some cases, this leads to a doubling down, a hardening of attitudes. “I can’t be the bad guy here, don’t they understand how progressive I am? Clearly *they’re* the ones being unreasonable.” A lot of current transphobia is coming from socially progressive Boomers and Gen X-ers who were sort of fine with trans people in principle, but never had to really wrestle with the details, and now can’t abide the notion that all this time, they were perhaps being transphobic. It doesn’t fit their self-image. So they’ll insist that they’re not transphobic, these activists just go too far. And they’ll fail to notice how similar they sound to their parents, who insisted they had no problem with [insert group here], they just didn’t want them living next door.

    Don’t fall into this trap. Remember that there’s always new stuff to learn, that you’re never going to be perfect, and that changing eventually is far, far better than never changing at all.

  100. I’ve appreciated the comments as much as the piece. I’ve been thinking more of why Gen X may be more stuck than later generations (or possibly even earlier ones). Some of it I think is that the progressive perspective growing up when I did was that gender didn’t matter. Alan Alda could be a sex symbol and women are equal was cutting edge stuff. It’s hard to intellectually get from sitting solidly in that perspective to gender being so important to someone. I don’t think it’s as hard for other generations because they aren’t starting in that place.

  101. Gen X cishet male. But. Around the time I discovered I was attracted to girls, I figured out that the thing I was attracted to was the same thing I wanted to be. Someone mentioned Varley upthread; I remember reading those stories as a teenager and thinking, this, this is the thing that I’d like to have. (The stories feel a bit weird now with their radical gender fluidity combined with binary biological essentialism, but I digress.)

    Over time, I’ve experimented with clothing choices that are coded as feminine, and I enjoy wearing skirts and dresses when I can. But I’m still male with ugly gross facial hair and all of the experiences of benefiting from patriarchy, and all of the bad male hormones making me think bad male thoughts. And so when I think about trans women, I find myself thinking, sure most of them are probably real women, but maybe some of them are people basically like me? Because if I’d grown up in Gen Z and known that trans was an option, I’m not sure which direction I would have gone. And so, while I try to make every effort I can to treat trans and nb people as valid in their genders, I have skepticism inside myself that I can’t shake.

  102. In addition to comments others have made pointing out that only a subset of cis women menstruate, equating “people who menstruate” with “cis women” also excludes trans men who menstruate as well as other genders who may menstruate.

  103. A Conflict of Values:

    “What is so infuriating to me is that once again, men are telling women what they can and cannot think.”

    Lol, no. You can think whatever you like, however you like to think it. But while you are here, you have to pay attention to the rules I lay down for the site, and for the comment thread. This is covered in the comment policy, which has been on the site in its current iteration for well over a decade. If you don’t like how I run my site, or the comment thread, the door is right over there. You have the whole rest of the Internet to be on. You are welcome to go be on it.

    Also, you know. I’m okay saying that here, some women don’t get to tell other women they’re not really women. And I’m okay with you not liking that.

  104. I was talking about this with a friend last night with regards to unspoken views that our Gen-X parents held. We came to the conclusion that people who have fought hard for a place as feminists struggle to realise that there are other people who need access to that space as women and quite frankly a lot of people aren’t willing to share as they “didn’t take part in the struggle”. This could be entirely wrong but we thought it wasn’t a bad *explanation* for recently observed behaviour in older feminists. It is 100% not an excuse however.

  105. Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Trans rights are human rights.

    Yes, and, to add a touch of intersectionality:
    Black women are women. Black men are men. Black trans women are women. Black trans men are men. Black rights are human rights.

    It’s really that simple. JKR’s most famous work has our protagonist forced to live in a closet, and well: No one deserves to live in a closet.

  106. Genx cisish, hetish, woman here.

    I would say I start out as supportive of Trans folks, because I support people who get picked on for who they are (as opposed to their opinions is pretty much my default setting.

    2SQ, Expressed one of the

  107. “I think this may have at least something to do with the fact that we live in patriarchic societies that don’t value women & girls (and often treat them hatefully.) So it wouldn’t be that surprising if quite a number of girls would grow to hate being girls and ‘decided’ being a boy would be more satisfying.”

    Ah, but it’s equally – perhaps more – possible that the opposite is true; that children assigned male at birth would be reluctant to transition because of the hatred and stigma heaped on women in general and trans women in particular.

    Ironically, one of the things that has come out of this discussion is that, in fact, what triggers me is people claiming they have the right to speak for me. The number of people ignoring the women (cis and otherwise) in these conversations who support trans rights and insisting that women are being silenced makes me deeply angry and upset. I was assigned female at birth. I am a woman today, right here, right now. I too have had a history with a male partner I don’t talk about much and try not to think about much. Menstruation does not define me. Having a uterus does not define me. Abuse and oppression does not define me. And no TERF gets the right to define me either.

    Also: there are plenty of people I don’t want to change in front of. So I go behind a curtain or into a stall. This ain’t brain surgery.

  108. My wife and I are both in our mid-40s and Rowling’s article has hit us hard, in that we came to shouting at each other over it this morning.

    I’m trying to charitable to the point of view that Rowling is saying valuable things there, but I just have trouble when she says things that I know seriously shade the underlying facts. (e.g. about the Maya Forstater case) I’m trying to read it with an open mind and give her views the same chance that my wife claims to have given the view that transwomen are women, but it’s hard.

    Crud. I want to write more but this took much, much longer than intended and now I have work obligations…

  109. I think my encounters with TERFs have doubled just from this comments section alone! That’s… not a good thing. (Or maybe they’re Russian bots?) If the TERFs would be so kind, are you all Gen X, and if so, are you closer to the boomer portion or Gen X or the Oregon Trail portion? I hate to be ageist, because I know bigotry is not unique to one generation, but I am curious to see if these patterns bear out.

    (I probably have two X chromosomes, female secondary characteristics, a birth certificate stating “female”, and have given birth, so I think, according to TERF logic, my female sex bonafides allow me to tell TERFs that no, they don’t have the right to tell other people what their gender is. In case you need a “woman” to say it.)

  110. Last post was accidental I was still writing this:

    Genx cisish, hetish, woman here.

    I would say I start out as supportive of Trans folks, because I support people who get picked on for who they are (as opposed to their opinions0 is pretty much my default setting. I’m about to describe the evolution of my thinking so please hold your thoughts to the end.

    I did struggle for a while with understanding something about Trans Identity, and it was what I like to think of as the opposite of biological essentialism. I was firmly in the camp of gender is constructed camp. So I wondered for years, if we got rid of narrow gender rolls, wouldn’t being Trans not be a thing anymore?

    2SQ, Did a great job of debunking that. For me learning gender identity as a term separate from gender helped enormously. 

The more important point though is that I SHOULDN’T NEED TO UNDERSTAND someone else’s identity to support it. And I wonder for how many other Gen-X folks this is the barrier. We “don’t get it” and we withhold support until we do, as if we’re being asked to endorse something. As if we’re signing onto something if we support other people’s right to be, and we might be asked later to account for it. 

    The last part, and it’s hard to write, because survivors of sexual assault carry deep wounds. AND I am one. And bad things happened to me in a bathroom. AND in no way does this make me feel like their is any danger by having trans women in the bathroom. Men who want to do assault women haven’t been kept out of bathrooms by existing restricts. Men who want to assault women are the very definition of people who don’t care about rules. Transwomen are in way more danger than I am by having to use a bathroom that doesn’t match how they present. I know that a lot of the people who site bathrooms as an excuse are bigots to begin with who want to police other peoples lives. But honestly if you are cis woman who isn’t a bigot, but has bought into this fear, rethink it. Who’s really more vulnerable?

  111. My book group read “Becoming Nicole” by Amy Ellis Nutt a couple of years ago and her autobiography really changed the way I understood trans women. She and her identical twin were born male, but from a very young age she never felt comfortable as a male. So it wasn’t something cultural that she picked up from somewhere else but something that came from deep inside herself. It was really an eye opener for this cis Boomer. I know two trans men in my circle of acquaintances, but haven’t seen either of them since I read the book. I hope that what I’ve learned in the interim will make me a better ally in future.

  112. Anon:”charitable to the point of view that Rowling is saying valuable things there”

    I dont think she is. She’s admits she is triggered. And her base argument is that men will call themselves women to sneak into the womens bathroom and assault women. And then she attacks trans rights groups as conspiring to provide cover for these predators.

    But thats not a thing. Predators dont apply for a gender reassignment card to go into women’s bathrooms and assault women. A man could do it, but its not a statistical thing. What IS a statistical thing is trans people getting murdered for going into a bathroom that some murderous bigot decided was the “wrong” bathroom. Half of trans people have been abused or assaulted. Thats what the laws are trying to reduce. Rowling argues that these laws will cause some massive surge in straight-cis men preying on women in bathrooms. But there is no statistical evidence to support it. She is basing it all on her own unmanaged fear, stemming from being abused by a man in a previous relationship.

    You dont have to make up something valuable in her manifesto when value isnt there. The one and only specific problem she cites is not a real thing. Its a fear.

  113. I’m old. Born 1940. Straight white cis male. But I’ve always known gay people (a cousin was, and he was, as a hairdresser, in a famously gay profession, with a summer house in a famously gay community on Fire Island). In high school, jocks called me “fairy” or “faggot” because I was smart and unathletic, not because of anything else (and they may not even have known what the terms actually referred to). In college and in grad school, I had the occasional pass made at me by a gay guy, and was able to politely decline the offer without getting upset, again probably because I’d been inoculated by family contact. The older I got, the more gay and lesbian people I knew, and the more gay and lesbian friends I had.

    The husband of a family friend was the American endocrinologist who treated Christine Jorgensen, so I learned about transsexual people fairly early on. Took quite a while before people realized that she was neither unique nor the first.

    I make no special claims here. I was lucky in my background and upbringing. I know that I have as many unconscious biases as one might expect, and some that I’m conscious of that I try to overcome. But If I had to choose, I’d rather have a trans child than one who was a Trump supporter.

    I was upset last year to find that a feminist cartoonist and animator whose work I had been following for years was charging that she was being deplatformed because of her adamantly TERF positions. No names; but I now think much less of her.

    I simply cannot understand people who think that allowing other people to have rights somehow diminishes their own. Freedom is not a zero-sum game.

  114. As a feminist, I can’t tell you how sick it makes me when other feminists characterize any and all criticisms of women as misogynist.

    Crying misogyny because someone with a penis dared to disagree with a woman puts forth an especially rage inducing straw man argument that undermines the entire cause.

    Even more sickening is the notion of biological essentialism as a feminist justification for transphobia.

    LOL! And “Agree with our sexist, transphobic stance or your identity as a non-misogynist gets it!” has to be one of the most hilarious, intellectually lazy instances of extortion I’ve read in quite some time!

    Equally funny is the “abandon your comment policy and give me a platform for my bigoted viewpoint or your academic credentials/integrity/honor get it”

    I really needed those laughs, thanks!

    To continue, here are some key passages from an oldie but goody called Gender Trouble:
    “The sex/gender distinction and the category of sex itself appear to presuppose a generalization of “the body” that preexists the acquisition of its sexed significance. This “body” often appears to be a passive medium that is signified by an inscription from a cultural source figured as “external” to that body. Any theory of the culturally constructed body, however, ought to question “the body” as a construct of suspect generality when it is figured as passive and prior to discourse” (Butler)

    “Mary Douglas’ Purity and Danger suggests that the very contours of “the body” are established through markings that seek to establish specific codes of cultural coherence. Any discourse that establishes the boundaries of the body serves the purpose of instating and naturalizing certain taboos regarding the appropriate limits, postures, and modes of exchange that define what it is that constitutes bodies: ideas about separating, purifying, demarcating and punishing transgressions have as their main function to impose system on an inherently untidy experience. It is only by exaggerating the difference between within and without, above and below, male and female, with and against, that a semblance of order is created” (Butler).

    So-called “feminists” maintain the very “order” and “naturalized ““taboos” that they purport to stand against when they discriminate against transwomen for having been born with what societies and cultures have decided are markers of immutable masculinity.

    Speaking of a need for an “other,” James Sabata’s novel Fat Camp talks about a phenomenon called “the hierarchy of bullies.”

    I believe we’re seeing it in action. ☹

    I swear, between the unwavering support for racists and lynching to the dismissal of transwomen from the feminist/” first class citizen” clubhouse, my faith in humanity is officially small enough to be drowned in a bathtub.

  115. Late Boomer here too and I have to agree with the sentiment of dominicamann. I worked through college at our local theater (stage + movies actually) and had many gay friends. I come from a mixed background (oh so close to never existing because of prevailing US laws, luckily my parents met in Germany) so was used to being “other”.
    I couldn’t see the reasons why people cared about sexual orientation anymore than skin colour. I KNEW it happened; i despised it but I couldn’t “relate” to it.
    As for trans people, I know a few (6 to be exact) and they are… people. Once they came out as their true selves, that was who they became to me and are to this day.
    Frankly, I can’t imagine them as their “old selves” anymore.

  116. It’s amazing how the anti-trans rants are indistinguishable from the old anti gay rants, and the anti civil rights rants before them.

  117. Those Varley short stories were set in a world where gender reassignment surgery was easy, easily reversible, uncontroversial, and almost entirely consequence-free – even for the very young. In our world, things are not as straightforward. An MtF person is a woman, a FtM person is a man, and a child who’s not yet a legal adult… raises serious questions. Why is it that such a high proportion of teen girls are said to be presenting with gender dysphoria? And why are many of these on the autism spectrum? Are the two things correlated? What sort of workup are the children given? What co-existing conditions (depression, body dysmorphia, history of self-injury) do they have? I’d like to see a *lot* of scientific study about these things. And I’d like to see the results discussed in a calm, dispassionate, open-minded way.

    Better understanding of our biological underpinnings might give us tools to transcend them.

  118. Folks:

    As a head’s up, Krissy and I have a date night tonight, because hey, my wife is awesome and I like spending time with her. So while we’re out doing the date thing I’m going to shut down the comments, and depending how late the date goes, the comments may stay closed for the evening. You have a couple hours at least to comment, but I don’t want the closing of the comment thread to be a surprise when it happens.

  119. Very interesting post. Just wanted to check in as there seem few other Boomers here. I know I’ve said stupid and unthinking things when younger, about this as well as other things, as one so often does when young. But some of us to grow up and learn. I do find it odd how people can feel so threatened by other people’s lives. If you know who you are and what you believe, why do you feel threatened at the thought of someone else’s sexuality (for one example)? Live your own damn life and let them live theirs. What I have always hated is the hypocrisy, for instance Congressmen like Dan Burton and Vito Fossella (you can look them up, whippersnappers) who were out there (so to speak) condemning Bill Clinton’s extra-marital affairs (Burton called him a scumbag” as I recall), while both of them had love affairs outside their marriages and fathered children by said women.

    It isn’t my business how someone else chooses to live, and it isn’t J. K. Rowling’s either. Period.

  120. The other thing I don’t get about TERFs is that they have arguments for BOTH gender switches. Like, they’re worried about transwomen in bathrooms, but that shouldn’t be an issue for transmen. And yet, they don’t like transmen either. Because it’s not fair to women somehow, because we all want to benefit from male privilege. (This is especially ironic when the person talking publishes both under her initials and under a male penname.) I don’t really understand the latter point because there is nothing stopping any woman from living her life as a man except for all of the societal things that make it really awful to be trans, like transphobic other people. I mean, I’d love to have male privilege, but transmen have to put up with so much garbage that the tradeoff doesn’t seem worth it to me.

    The arguments just seem so logically bizarre and it would be laughable if they weren’t so hurtful. TERFs are hurting vulnerable people by being vocal about something that isn’t actually affecting anybody. Like, be as bigoted as you want in your own head, but there’s no need to broadcast that bigotry. Can’t you fight against other things that are more obviously anti-feminist? Like dismantling systems of oppression, for example. It’s like when the Catholic church decided to go after Gay marriage when it could be focusing on Good Works. Like, don’t you have better things to preach about that actually help people? Poverty reduction would be nice.

    I still don’t get it. In Rowling’s case it sounds like she needs to process her assault in a way that doesn’t hurt trans people. But I don’t know what the excuses are for other folks. Is it just that they watched too many Friends episodes? But plenty of people watched Friends and didn’t decide to crusade against trans people. I wonder if anybody has done a dissertation on this– it seems like it would make a good anthropology study.

  121. 2QS says: “Fortunately, this is a hypothetical concern that doesn’t see much representation in reality. My guess is that if it’s labelled transphobic, that’s probably because it seems too much like endorsing therapy aimed at talking someone out of transitioning (which, like “anti-gay” therapy, is both ineffective and just terrible for a person’s psyche).”

    Thank you for the reply.
    I would also think that the long process of transitioning means that this process works as it should. What concerned me was reading a few times about hormone therapy and even surgical operations aimed at minors*; in other words, those in the relative early stages of transitioning. I don’t think that that is a good idea – even though I also believe that many people know from a very early age that their assigned gender is not what or who they know they are. It’s not just about kids/adolescents being sure though (and I’m sorry I forgot to make that point earlier!): There are just too many downsides/risks to certain medical interventions aimed at still growing bodies. That doesn’t mean these kids don’t need and deserve all the practical and moral support they can find – and thankfully there are now many ways for young people to find the help and support they need. The internet is a great boon in that regard.

    I absolutely agree that aversion therapy is an abomination and something that might actually be a violation of a person’s human rights.

    *It is very hard to find objective information, especially about the risks of the transitioning process, since most of those kinds of articles/studies seem to have an anti-trans bias. As far as I can judge – and I readily admit that this is limited – the articles I read about the difference in the numbers of ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ thinking about transitioning (or wanting To do so) weren’t part of the anti-trans propaganda machine.

  122. Another cishet white gen-x woman here. Deeply feminist for decades and have considered myself mostly radical for most of that time, in the “burn it all down” sense.

    I grew up as ignorant of trans issues as most people of my generation, I’m guessing, and my introduction to trans issues was a bit destabilizing in the beginning. But now I think it’s exhilarating, for lack of a better word. Yes, when you’ve been a) taught that a category you belong to without consent has fundamental traits that legitimize your oppression and then b) are taught by another group of people that those traits define you but don’t legitimize your oppression, in that order, it can feel like an an attack on your being instead of a fight for liberation when others argue that they don’t have those traits but still belong to that category and want to be treated as members.

    I see my gen-z kid and her friends all exploring gender identities and expression and it’s amazing. Yep some of it feels like a tight fit in my creaky old brain but I can’t wait to see the world they build. Assuming we don’t destroy the planet before they grow up, I think they’ll do great things.

    Rowling and her supporters seem to have missed the memo that you can be a victim and a victimizer. It’s not even unusual. Many abusive parents were abused themselves, and so on. But we don’t use that as an excuse in other kinds of abuse and we can’t use it here either. I too have been a victim of many kinds of gendered violence, and I am *all for* trans rights, because human rights are important and also because traditional concepts of gender harm so many people. Having been abused/sexually assaulted/raped/stalked has not turned me into a TERF, somehow.

    The reason that right-wing conservatives are so violently opposed to trans rights, the reason that trans people are subject to such physical and economic violence and policing, the reason they are targeted by police and institutions etc., and the reason that this has all been true for decades/centuries, is because their existence and identity is a threat to the heart of the gender/sex binaries that our civilization and patriarchy in general is based on. So I see trans rights & freedom as inextricable from feminism and from social justice for everyone.

  123. TERFs groom their recruits. As shown by Cressida’s websites, they start off sounding extremely reasonable. Each of their talking points sounds perfectly normal, perfectly understandable and perfectly unexceptional. But bit by bit, slowly over a period of time, they lead their recruits ever deeper into the morass of illogical hatred which is their philosophy, handing out rewards as the recruit swallows the latest nonsense, and punishments when they balk.
    And like fresh religious converts, the recruit embraces the ideology in order to receive the approval of their mentors. But Bog help the recruit if they begin to question the ideology.
    Here’s one woman’s experiences with TERFs:

    What I fear has happened with Rowling is a scenario like I’ve described. She was vulnerable because of her prior abuse, and a TERF (or group of TERFs) saw that as an opportunity to get a very high-profile recruit with deep, deep pockets and a very large audience to help feed their movement. They’re exploiting her vulnerability and her money.

    I’m a trans woman born in the grey area between Boomer and Xer. As I grew up, I was exposed to and absorbed the casual homophobia and sexism of the late ’60s and ’70s. I was always aware that I wasn’t fitting in with the boys, and wasn’t given any opportunity at all to fit in with the girls. Like so many others, I experienced bigotry and bullying because I couldn’t act like a boy, and I joined the military in a futile attempt at overcompensation (Join the Navy and become a man! See how well it worked out for me!)

    I finally hit the Wall, and began transitioning 15 years ago. It was that or end up a suicide statistic. Since then I’ve done my best to “fade into the woodwork” and not cause cis people any reason to suspect that I’m trans. But if ever I dare Come Out, especially online, I open myself up to fresh abuse.

    Speaking on the whole washroom/changing room mess, It’s been my experience, and the experience of every trans woman I know that we go to extraordinary lengths to not cause anyone else even a moment’s unease. When I was pre-op I never got fully undressed except in an enclosed stall. Christine Jorgensen was Outed by the Press in 1952. In the 68 years since then, not one trans person that I know of has been arrested or charged with any form of sexual assault in a washroom or changing room. As has been pointed out many times before, even in these comments, a little plastic sign on the door is not going to keep out a determined rapist. Just plug the search terms ‘rape’+’park’+’public washroom’ into Google to see for yourself. And none of this nonsense about men ‘pretending to be women’. A man so filled with misogyny that he’ll rape is not going to want to sacrifice his precious masculinity by pretending to be a woman, especially once he finds out how convoluted, bureaucratic, expensive, time consuming and (this is the important part) irreversible the process is. No man is going to want to go down that road. They know all about transphobia and do not want to experience it for themselves. Not even if it lets them rape. Besides, as I already noted, they simply don’t have to do that.

    Further, sexual assault is already illegal. Letting trans women change their legal sex hasn’t changed that. If a trans woman commits a crime, she’s opening herself open to incredible abuse at the hands of the Legal/carceral system. Cops and prison guards take it upon themselves to punish trans people for daring to live their lives authentically. Trans people actively avoid situations where they may end up dealing with the Police, because we learn the lesson early and well that Cops are NOT our friends.

  124. @2QS
    “What concerned me was reading a few times about hormone therapy and even surgical operations aimed at minors*; in other words, those in the relative early stages of transitioning. I don’t think that that is a good idea ”

    Isn’t it a good thing this this never happens? What you read was TERF/transphobe propaganda. The Standards of Care developed by WPATH clearly specify that minors are not to be given irreversible HRT or surgery until they are adult. The most that’s done is to give them reversible hormone blockers (which are also used to treat cis people experiencing hormone imbalances). Blockers are safe, entirely reversible and literally life-saving.
    Here’s some reading for you:

    Also, don’t let yourself fall down the Ken Zucker rabbit hole. Transphobes will frequently quote his study on desistence in gender-nonconforming youth without mentioning that he’s a quack. Here’s some background on Zucker, his colleagues and the facility he works in:

  125. What I find hard to forgive TERF about is that they pretend to speak for me, both as a woman and a feminist. They say that they want to defend the political importance of being a woman and a feminist: but they are usurping such things, taking them away from me.
    Separately, I can’t for the life of me understand this issue with penises in the women’s bathrooms. Never once in 54 years of frequenting women’s toilets I have ever seen another woman’s genitals. For those that may not know: in women’s toilets you pee and poo in cubicles, hidden from view. Yes, you can be assaulted by a man there: but nothing stops a completely male male from entering a woman’s toilet. There is no magic spell preventing that. I have once chased away a male swimming pool attendant who liked to loiter inside the women’s lockers. He scared a friend of mine so I went and growled at him. He was not in any shape or form trans.

  126. As a general note, this thread has become mostly about Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists specifically and less about the other aspects of the post above, so I think it might be useful to bring it round a bit and see if there’s anything else to explore in the piece.

  127. (I tried to post this once before and it’s not showing up. Please delete if it’s showing up twice.)
    People who think of themselves as well-meaning and empathetic but on the “old” side of a movement also sometimes fall prey to throwing up their hands when the “right thing to do” isn’t obvious, or is a matter of contention inside the movement.

    As a Gen X pop culture example, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is considered to have one of the first fully realized sympathetic trans characters in Wanda (introduced in A GAME OF YOU). At the time, it seemed LGBT activists gave Gaiman trouble over the fact that Wanda talked about not choosing to have bottom surgery. The vocal consensus then, apparently, was that this made her seem not sure that she wanted to “commit to femaleness,” and thus “confused” rather than trans.

    Twenty-odd years later, Wanda choosing not to get bottom surgery is not at all problematic, because we now believe transitioning is not contingent on surgery or hormones. But the part that really didn’t age well is that the very powers of the universe are completely gender essentialist and don’t count Wanda as female (moreso than the mortal characters).

    I suspect and hope Gaiman wouldn’t have written the gender essentialism the same way again. Hopefully he’s also acknowledged the pain this likely caused trans readers. And even if so, there are still probably some readers who have permanently canceled him from their bookshelves over that story.

    This ties into Scalzi’s theory of apologizing, maybe. In order to stay on the right side of history, it’s not enough to feel that you’re a good and empathetic person and trust your own gut to come to conclusions. You need to keep evolving, and keep acknowledging your past mistakes.Also accept that this won’t necessarily get you all the approval you seek, or your fans back.

  128. Thank you for your support of trans rights. My daughter is a transwoman. We have an extremely supportive family and community (and we live in MD, which is also very supportive). I’ve been so happy that she hasn’t experienced the trauma that many other have. I’m a member of the Mama Bears group (the one that the cast of Schitt’s Creek mentioned), so I experience the stories firsthand with other members. But I do worry that, when she leaves our little bubble someday, she’ll be faced with people from whom I can’t protect her. She’s already been through the suicide ideation and self-harm that often comes with the dysphoria (even though we have been accepting and even celebratory from the very beginning, it took her six years to come out even though she had no doubts we’d be supportive–she kept hoping the feelings would all go away). Compassion sounds like a very simple quality to have. I’m afraid it’s not. I hope your support, and the support of others who also have the bravery to stand behind our loved ones, leads the way for others to show compassion for the difficult lives they live. You make my mama-bear heart happy.

  129. I think a lot of folks don’t get some of the political context here. Much of what Rowling speaks of as if it was a matter of new, startling laws being passed is actually the opposite: politicians like Liz Truss are currently working for long-established protections for trans folk to be gutted. JKR is lending her voice, and potentially her money, to a particular political point of view that tramples on human rights.

  130. Hi! I’m yet another Gen X trans woman. This post is from my perspective as a binary (but somewhat tomboyish) woman. I apologize for not going into non-binary perspectives.

    First, I wanted to thank you for signing my Kindle a few years back at Wiscon. It was the first I’d met you, and I appreciate you humoring my odd (some would say soulless) request. Unfortunately, Kindles turn out not to be good at holding ink, so all that’s left is the part that fell into the embossing. It’s a fun keepsake in any case.

    I’m writing mostly to say thank you for your post and your moderation. Sure, there are some terfy comments, but those tend to start out with misunderstandings most non-terf cis people have anyway, so it’s good to see the chance to address them.

    On your post itself: honestly, I haven’t noticed much difference between Gen X and Millenials regarding acceptance of trans people. When you get down to the early teenagers in Gen Z, yes, there’s a huge shift happening. But when I came out at work, it wasn’t the Xers who brought their friends within sight of my cubicle to laugh at me. It was Millenials. The Xers mostly just faded away silently.

    I say this because we still have a lot of work to do on all levels before we reach an accepting society. Just saying “well, the kids are better now” isn’t going to fix anything.

    My other point, after reading through most* of the comments, is just, please remember that the vast majority of binary** trans people are just trying to fit in as best we can. We want to get noticed an appropriate amount, as human beings, by people who might be friends or friendly acquaintances. We want to do our shopping, exercising, socializing, playing, praying, and yes, peeing, with no more harassment than cis people of our genders get. And we want to be treated the same way cis people of our genders are treated.

    Most of us go a long way to present ourselves so as to make all that more likely (which for a lot of us winds up looking the way Grace Annan described above***). If you see someone out there who’s just clearly trans, and that triggers you somehow, understand that the odds are very high that this is already the best they can do at looking the way you want them to. We try because it sucks to be harassed for being ourselves, and it sucks to be misgendered all the time. Being harassed takes a lot of energy, and we’re out there every single day living our lives, which means that energy drain is constant. We don’t want you triggered any more than you want to be triggered!

    But for those of us who don’t “pass,” the alternative to looking visibly trans is never transitioning. And that’s just not a possibility. Not once we’ve figured out who we are.

    Final point, on the bathroom and “women’s spaces” stuff. When I don’t feel like I’m “passing,” those spaces are absolutely terrifying. I’ll go (literally and figuratively) if I’m brave, and otherwise skip it and hate myself later. While it’s true that there’s no evidence of trans women assaulting anyone in those spaces, plenty of trans women *get* assaulted in those spaces. It’s too bad the political conversation focuses on the thing that doesn’t happen at the expense of the thing that does.

    *- I skipped over the stuff that looked like it was going to be angry anti-trans rants, or just the same boring terfy talking points that people have been debunking for a decade now.

    **- I apologize again to non-binary people who don’t feel seen here. I really don’t want to speak over you about your experience.

    ***- Jeans and a fleece may help us blend in, but I reserve the right to wear pretty dresses and heels when I want to, just like any other woman.

  131. @John,

    You can also call them Feminist Appropriating Radical Transphobes if you want. (Acronym entirely intentional)

    I think that the reason a lot of Gen X people struggle with transphobia is because of the massive amounts of disinformation, misinformation and just plain *wrong* information which was the only thing available at the time when we grew up.
    When the only things you know of trans people are The Crying Game, Ace Venture and Jerry Springer, you’re going to get a few wrong ideas setting up housekeeping in your head. Once those incorrect ideas get settled in, it takes an extraordinary effort to shift them.

  132. @Jan Thie
    What concerned me was reading a few times about hormone therapy and even surgical operations aimed at minors*

    As Jessica pointed out (thinking 2QS was you), this is not done. WPATH defines the standards of care for trans people, including children, and prohibits hormones or surgery for minors. They recommend puberty blockers, which are a necessity because natal puberty for trans children is every bit as bad as incorrectly getting HRT would be for cis children. See Jessica’s comment for links to more info.

  133. munizao, a lot of trans people are in fact people basically like you, but who couldn’t stop at “gee, it would be nice to be gender X but I guess I’m not,” and instead found their days and nights consumed by the thought that it is REALLY REALLY IMPORTANT that they be gender X, alternating with self-doubt that this isn’t enough to make them really trans and they must just be faking it for some reason. Nothing ever feels like a good enough proof, because no one really knows what what makes people trans, but the consensus litmus test seems to be that cis people do not tend to spend all their time thinking about how they ought to be a different gender, so anyone that does is probably legitimately trans.

  134. Incidentally, this idea that more assigned-female-at-birth people identify as trans seems to be disinformation spread by a “gender critical” (TERF) website. In reality, the numbers are roughly equal on either side.

  135. My perspective on bathrooms is heavily informed by spending a year in co-ed dorms. The dorms were not built to be co-ed, so men’s and women’s bathrooms were on alternate floors. The women’s bathrooms were locked, with Very Good Reason as I discovered from talking with the college boys on my floor; I thought it was slightly bizarre that the men’s bathrooms were not locked, but all the guys I asked about it were totally fine with it, and a couple were oddly thrilled at the idea of *a girl* walking in on them; that said, I don’t know if any of them would have felt free to say they were uncomfortable with it, although I always phrased the question with the assumption that they were uncomfortable with the men’s restroom door being without a lock, and I assume that *some* of the guys weren’t thrilled about it, since not all guys want random women looking at them naked! Fundamentally, 1. several of the comparatively non-hostile college guys wanted to put webcams in the women’s bathrooms so they could watch us shower, etc., 2. there were college boys on the floor who were demonstrably predatory [lots of drunk girls were “taken advantage of” in various ways, for instance], and 3. if you went to the bathroom between 2-5am, generally no one else was in there (aka: no witness, no backup, if someone was hiding and attacked you). So! I really appreciated those locked doors.

    In terms of personal experience, I have had threats of physical violence against me dozens of times by men (generally cis?), once by a woman (mentally ill stranger who seemed to have mistaken me for someone else?), and acts of physical violence against me have been exclusively done by men. AND I don’t think I’d be nervous/irritable about changing clothes in front of the one trans woman I personally know (as long as the circumstances weren’t weird – there are circumstances where I wouldn’t be happy changing clothes in front of anyone!).

    Basically: do I want to be leered at while changing or while showering in the way I was leered at in [non-revealing] pyjamas in the hallway of the dorm by particular bad actors who were all male? Fundamentally, no; that felt really, really gross. (I swapped to brushing my teeth first and then only changing into pyjamas after I was back in my dorm room for the night. The creeps weren’t out in early mornings, so I could change back from pjs to clothes via shower on those days, and otherwise swapped in dorm room.) If I had ever been leered at like that by a woman, my views on what types of strangers I would feel comfortable changing in front of would likely be different. I felt physically safe in the dorm hall because if I yelled, people would/could pop out of any given door (and, if female, you simply didn’t go in the stairwells or around “invisible” hallway corners after a certain time of night – there were elevators for between-floor transit that were right near the RA’s rooms), and I felt safe in the bathroom because of the locks, although in the middle of the night, if someone else was in there but not in line of sight, then usually greetings were exchanged for mutual yep-also-not-a-threat reassurance (and also for verification that the other person in there didn’t need anything due to stomach flu or clothing crisis or whatever). So, fundamentally, no, I did not want guys allowed in the women’s bathroom/showers at all.

    That said, there were guys on that dorm floor that I did not feel unsafe around; I would have been okay with sleeping in a room where they were, for instance (although, still, probably not changing clothes in front of them). There were just plenty (*plenty*) that I did feel unsafe around to varying degrees, and some of those *really* wanted to get into the women’s bathroom. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have gone all the way to the degree of getting a Gender Certificate, though, unless it was really easy to get or unless they made it a Personal Quest sort of thing? A couple of them did joke about dressing up as a woman to get in.

    Anyway, that is the sort of experience that informs some responses to the idea of reduced barriers to problematic men “getting into” bathrooms/locker rooms; that encounter in the gas station hallway-to-the-bathrooms that you are deeply glad was not *in* a bathroom (hello, security cameras! even just reminding an aggressive guy that they *are* on camera can shut things down); peeping tom incidents; a few too many “being undressed with someone’s eyes” experiences; that one time a guy on the bus masturbated under his coat while staring at me when I was a teenager [which felt so, so gross; he never got within 5 feet of me, but: so, so gross]; having been physically assaulted by men who had no issue with lying or bending rules as long as they thought they could get away with plausible deniability.

    That said, if individual bathrooms are not an option (I’m thinking of the “family/disabled” bathrooms at lots of rest stops where the whole room is visible when you open the door), cis-women in general are probably at less total risk than trans-people in general, bathroom-wise, despite the huge numerical difference, so that probably wins out for bathrooms! But I do think it’s asking one group to give up an unknown fraction of their safety (not immunity-from-prosecution as per men wishing to be free from allegations of misconduct, but physical safety) and accept some increased fear/reduced security for the sake of another group, and I don’t think that should be elided? (I also think it’s more of a hard sell when it’s argued to be for “feeling fully included as a woman” instead of for safety)

    That said: have not read the Rowling thing. This is entirely my own experience, which doesn’t include any locker rooms for the past decade or so, and as someone from Gen Y/Oregon Trail. I’d also note that I have friends who hate all locker rooms due to female locker-room bullying in school, and if I’d had that experience, I’d probably feel a lot less by-default safe and comfortable in them. While there are often a few curtained stalls to change in, showering defaults to nude and public, so they just don’t really have many options.

    But it’d be good to figure out how to keep all the people as safe as possible (and, ideally, as un-creeped as possible)? And it’d be good to have trans people not be falsely accused of locker room shenanigans *and* not have random predatory [or even just “curious” ogling] men be allowed into women’s locker rooms *while* not having 24/7 locker room/bathroom cameras, please. Basically, I don’t really see how to entirely solve this specific problem, given my experiences with… strategic… guys, with only Men’s and Women’s things? And honestly the current setup also has a history of working out very poorly for those teen boys who are assaulted in lonely men’s restrooms/locker rooms. So. It would be good to solve this all around – I know women with young teen boys who don’t want to send them into the men’s locker rooms, but obviously also don’t want to bring them into the women’s locker rooms! And I don’t know how to solve it. But I don’t think that it makes a ton of sense to tell women that they need to assume as both 1. trans/female and 2. harmless any stranger with a penis who comes in while they’re naked in the locker room? But then what about the trans women, who are at risk (anecdotally, but also I think statistically?) if they go through the men’s locker room? Auuugh.

  136. As a 61-year-old white straight woman (other modifiers are librarian, divorced, Mom, etc) I can distinctly remember some aha moments concerning gender. I was fortunate to be raised by two immigrants who didn’t have a biased bone in their bodies (that I ever saw), and then as a theater major, I embraced the gay community in a very friendly and loving way. I worked at a major publisher in the 80s who had a higher-up staff person transition, and the CEO walked that person around explaining to everyone (briefly) what was happening and how jokes and sniggers would absolutely not be tolerated. Cool. But about fifteen years ago I read a NYT article about whether historically women’s colleges should accept trans men who transitioned while at school. And then I did think, “Hmm, do those folks want to have their cake and eat it too?” And anytime you think to yourself, “those people”, you’re part of the problem. A few years later I wondered why it would be upsetting to have a couple guys dress up in bad makeup and old prom dresses for charity. Someone gently explained to me why.

    I watched part of the Monty Python reunion tour and cringed at the campy military chorus. That didn’t age well AT ALL. But like someone upthread mentioned, I re-watched Life of Brian and liked how smoothly Stan who is called Loretta played out in the story.

    We have these opportunities to keep learning and growing and stretching our understanding of humans. Knowing someone who seems other to us in some way goes a long way in helping that process, but it shouldn’t be necessary. That is why we have such big brains – to use them. Reading the comments has presented several opportunities. :-)

    And I highly recommend Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez’s book Legendary Children: The First Decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Last Century of Queer Life if you want another learning opportunity.

  137. Dear John,

    Typing very fast in the hopes of getting this in before the comments close.

    I have a real horse in this race, as I wear Sandy Stone’s ring (no that’s not a metaphor for anything — literal fact). People should Google Sandy Stone. It’ll be worth their time.

    Some historical corrections — Stonewall is not where it began. It’s the iconic movement people talk about, the same way my generation gets talked about as being the “Woodstock Generation,” but before Woodstock there was Monterey Pops, and there are direct causal and personal links from the latter to the former.

    Similarly, before Stonewall was the Compton Cafeteria riot, which similarly, directly connected to Stonewall. Also Google-able. That was entirely a transgender riot. Yeah, we built this city on rock ‘n’ roll and transgender rights.

    I think you are too hard on your generation. Toxic, transphobic feminism Predates Generation X. Look up Janice Raymond (born 1943), the author of the utterly vile “The Transsexual Empire,” published in 1979. Google the history of Olympia records and Sandy Stone, when TERFs were going after her with guns. I am not making that up!

    The first major wave of toxic political feminism hit in the early 80s. It was not your generation that created it.

    Important note: the adjectival modifiers on feminism. This is NOT a criticism of feminism, it is safe criticism of a radical intolerant subset of it that wreaked havoc and harm on the majority of feminists and queer folk.

    That’s it. Have a great date!

    – pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery. 
    — Digital Restorations. 

  138. And indeed, ctein, you posted literally as I was closing comments. Good timing!

    Thanks everyone. Have a very fine Friday evening.

    Update: A very cogent criticism of this comment thread, here. That’s a link to a thread of comments that cis folk here should be thinking about.

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