Transpolitics

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Someone just smashed two British women’s weightlifting records — and on the same day!

A rapper and Oxford graduate by the name of Zuby tweeted two videos of herself easily breaking the U.K. women’s record for dead-lift and bench press, even doing the dead-lift again the next day to quiet criticism of her form. Zuby, I should say, normally walks around as a man, but he identified as a she for the hour or so it took to break the records. “I identified as a woman whilst lifting the weight,” she (usually he) tweeted along with the video of her (now his again) record-breaking attempt. “Don’t be a bigot.”

O.K., so Zuby is being a bit of a dick by insisting he’s secured two U.K. women’s weightlifting record titles while claiming temporary womanhood, but that asshole does have a point.

The same point was made by Martina Navratilova last December, when she too took to Twitter to say trans women shouldn’t be allowed to compete against women women, known in today’s progressive parlance as “cis women.” (The “trans” in transgender is Latin for “beyond” or “on the other side,” while the “cis” in cisgender translates to “on the same side,” meaning someone who lives on the same side of the gender divide that he or she was born on.) When Rachel McKinnon, the first trans woman to win a world championship in track cycling, blasted Ms. Navratilova for being transphobic, the tennis legend clarified that she only meant trans women who still had all their pesky boy parts and weren’t taking the appropriate (corrective?) hormones.

Ms. Navratilova, herself a lesbian and thus a member of the LGBT community, went on to publish an op-ed in The Sunday Times in February in which she argued it was “insane” and “cheating” to allow “a man [to] decide to be female, take hormones if required by whatever sporting organisation is concerned, win everything in sight and perhaps earn a small fortune, and then reverse his decision and go back to making babies if he so desires.” A group which claims to support LGBT athletes promptly dropped its support for Navratilova, who became the first female pro athlete to come out of the closet way back in 1981, the same year Billie Jean King was outed as a lesbian by her ex-lover, and a year before the first Gay Olympics were held in (of course) San Francisco.

So Ms. Navratilova can safely claim to have been an out-and-out queer person since before it was cool, at least in sports.

A former British swimming champion named Sharron Davies came to Ms. Navratilova’s defense. “It is not a transphobic thing. I really want to say we have no issue with people who are transgender,” she told BBC Sport. “Every single woman athlete I’ve spoken to, and I have spoken to many, all of my friends in international sports, understand and feel the same way as me.” Ms. McKinnon, the trans woman who is now a world champion cyclist, labeled Ms. Davies a “transphobe” and said the swimmer was “sharing hate speech.” “There is no debate to be had over whether trans women athletes have an unfair advantage: it’s clear that they don’t,” McKinnon tweeted earlier this month:

Since the Nov 2003 IOC policy openly allowing trans women to compete, not a single trans athlete has even qualified for the Olympics, let alone won a medal.

This remains true even after the Nov 2015 IOC policy making it easier for trans women to compete. No trans woman has won an elite world championship medal. The fear that trans women will suddenly ‘take over’ sport is irrational, which is the very definition of transphobia.

I hope for a day soon when an ex-Olympian’s sharing hate speech from a hate group–Fair Play for Women–is no longer newsworthy.

“I was the 3rd place rider,” tweeted Jen Wagner-Assali, who competed against McKinnon at the 2018 UCI Masters Track World Championship in October. “It’s definitely NOT fair.”

(Interestingly enough, a few weeks ago Dr. McKinnon, who teaches philosophy at the College of Charleston, tweeted height and weight histograms which seemed to demonstrate, at least to me, how the bodies of men and women tend to be very different, with men typically being significantly taller and heavier — I can’t believe this needs to be spelled out — although not always.)

Last week I was condemned by a handful of people on Twitter for the way I wrote about trans people and gender identity in my write-up on the recent Bernie Sanders rally here in Vegas. In trying to give the reader a sense of the audience, I wrote that I had seen:

a big bald-headed middle-aged white woman carrying an infant, a brawny bearded Latino wearing a Colorado t-shirt, another bearded Latino wearing a shirt that read ABOLISH ICE in bright white letters, and more men who looked like women than I had seen in my life. A stylish European-looking person with quaffed hair and an elegant turtleneck sweater stood holding a clipboard next to a table where some vendor was selling pink Bernie buttons featuring the senator’s cartoonish silhouette. I spent a few seconds trying to figure out if the person was a woman, a very metrosexual man, or a transexual (whether man or woman was beyond me)—till I heard the deep voice.

Later in the essay, feeling the need to share my own personal views on gender identity politics, I wrote about:

how Tinder now gives users the option of selecting from a list of 37 genders, and I said how I don’t think there are but two genders, though I understand how male and female, man and woman, can be very elastic terms. Still, a man can have his dick and balls chopped off and have whatever’s left folded into a vagina-like organ, but that doesn’t make him a woman; just as a woman chopping off her mammaries and swelling her clitoris through the use of testosterone doesn’t make her any more a man—though both should have the same right to a happy life as anyone else.

I always thought it a little ass-backwards the way members of the LGBT community go around saying there’s really no such thing as gender, that gender is “fluid,” yet when a man wants to be a woman or a woman wants to be a man, he or she usually sticks to the textbook definitions of man and woman, with the transexual man popping on a bulky wrist-watch and the typical collared shirt, while the transexual woman smears on some lipstick and slips into a pair of pumps. The way I see it, you are born either a man or a woman, biologically speaking—but whether you’re born a man or a woman, how you live your life and behave in society is entirely your choice. I stand by a person’s right to choose to be exactly who they are, and I don’t see what a person living his or her life has anything to do with the rest of us.

The Nevada chapter of Bernie’s political action committee, Our Revolution, said that I had “mocked attendees with transphobic tropes & lackidasically [sic] misrepresented the activites [sic] of volunteers.” The group, or whoever tweets for it, asked that I avoid “reporting in a way that assumes gender or mocks one[‘s] appearance associated with gender.”

After making sure Our Revolution Nevada understood that Latino Rebels had no affiliation whatsoever with the UNLV Rebels, I then got into a row about trans politics with the group’s communications director and a few other LGBT activists who probably smelled blood in the water. I don’t feel like getting into the nitty-gritty of what was said — you can head over to Twitter if you’re that curious — but this being my first run-in with the feared trans-politics police, a few concepts came up which shocked me: the main two being that I, as a cis man, could never hope to be as progressive as a queer person, and that my inability to believe there are thirty-seven genders (some say more) proved I “can’t truly be progressive.”

Admittedly, I really thought about that last claim; I’ve been thinking about it since. Here was a group of self-identified progressives arguing that I was practically barred from holding truly progressive principles since I didn’t belong to a certain identity group, and that my refusal to take other people at their word when they claimed to be the twenty-fourth or -eighth of over three dozen recently discovered genders automatically made me a “body fascist.” Catch that? My refusal to agree unequivocally gave them license to abuse me on Twitter and call me the fascist. And here I thought I was merely being an independent thinker.

The little quarrel on Twitter ended on good terms between most of my attackers and me; I didn’t leave them much to argue with by repeatedly stating my love for LGBT people as fellow human beings. I think all queer people have all the same rights that I do, just not the same liberties; there are some unfortunate cases wherein a queer person cannot live or behave as they would like to, as in the case of trans women fighting cis women in the UFC or other contact sports, for instance; and I’m still not convinced there are as many genders as some people say there are. A self-described hip-hop anarchist pointed me to a 2015 article in Nature which explained how in the last few decades some biologists have begun to understand sex and gender as non-binary and existing on several different spectrums, something I already understood intuitively — no, really, I did, being myself physically and sexually very much a man, but emotionally damn-right womanly. (I always got a long better with the girls at school; I liked being around them for more than the obvious reason.) The article ends by stating more of the obvious:

[I]f biologists continue to show that sex is a spectrum, then society and state will have to grapple with the consequences, and work out where and how to draw the line. Many transgender and intersex activists dream of a world where a person’s sex or gender is irrelevant. …

So if the law requires that a person is male or female, should that sex be assigned by anatomy, hormones, cells or chromosomes, and what should be done if they clash? ‘My feeling is that since there is not one biological parameter that takes over every other parameter, at the end of the day, gender identity seems to be the most reasonable parameter,’ says Vilain. In other words, if you want to know whether someone is male or female, it may be best just to ask.

Yes, it may, but clearly not always; some people simply cannot be trusted to self-identify. Early last month the neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris told Joe Rogan about a tech CEO who told Harris about an employee who went to the HR department demanding there be litter boxes in the bathrooms — turned out this person didn’t identify as a person at all but as a “furry,” something non-human, part of a condition now known as “species dysphoria” or  (even crazier) “Species Identity Disorder.” Mr. Harris never said if the tech company actually had litter boxes put in its bathrooms, but if they weren’t, I’m sure we can all guess the company’s reasons for denying the demand. The moral of the story here being: A person or non-person can self-identify however he or she or it chooses, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the world must accommodate him or her or it in all areas of public life.

In January the president of the Venezuelan congress, Juan Guaidó, self-identified as the interim president of the republic, in a stunt meant to remove the actual president Nicolás Maduro from office. Since then Guaidó has been flying around the world acting like he’s the president of Venezuela, and while the President Trump and his Latin American lackeys have been accommodating his delusion, giving him access to Venezuela’s oil assets, most of the world has refused to recognize Guaidó’s self-identity as president, including a majority of the Venezuelan people and the armed forces.

Self-identity is not the end-all be-all, because identity, while extremely personal, is also extremely social. I am black and Latino and an American, not only because that is how I feel and how I see myself, but also because that is how the world sees me. Identity describes a person’s relationship with society, and relationships are a two-way street. I can’t call myself a brother if I have no siblings, or a husband if I have no wife, or a father if I have no children — no matter how much I may feel like a brother or a husband or a father. You can’t claim to be Mongolian if none of your ancestors were Mongolian, you can’t claim to be Cherokee if you’re Elizabeth Warren, and you can’t say you’re a Martian because that would just be crazy. (There is still such a thing as “crazy,” isn’t there? Or are we all just on some spectrum of one kind or another?) Trans people understand this perfectly: When a trans woman demands to be treated as a woman, she means she wants to be treated as cis women are treated in society; if she didn’t want that same treatment, then she would be a trans something-else.

Rachel Dolezal had her wannabe-black ass handed to her when the people of Spokane, Washington realized that their cornrow-wearing local N.A.A.C.P. president wasn’t African-American at all but just a confused white woman. Yet, Homo sapiens being originally an African species, aren’t we all technically African at the end of the day, if not since the dawn? Don’t ask the black people who still refuse to accept a self-identifying transracial woman as one of their own. Seems the gender line may be disappearing, and gender itself may be non-binary, but the color line is still a clear issue of black and white. (And here I thought race was completely made up and socially and politically imposed.) Now poor Ms. Dolezal has to walk around as a white woman, unable to live her life as a self-identified black woman, and no one seems willing to treat her as a black woman and give her the things that black women deserve.

Look, transgender people have a right to be treated as the gender they identify as in most cases, but there are instances where society is forced to make a distinction between a trans woman, say, and a cis woman. Since a trans woman has lived much of her life as a man, she already has a leg up on cis women forced to struggle against a sexist, patriarchal system because they weren’t able to pass as men. (One of the main reasons Ms. Dolezal was denied black womanhood was her having passed as a white woman during much of her life, thus avoiding the hell many black girls catch as black people and women.) Trans women should be allowed to do most of the things other women do, but when it comes to competing against women women, a trans woman has to face the reality that she was born different, has lived differently, and that those differences make it unfair for her to compete against cis women who were born and have lived as women all along.

To put it another way, trans people have the same right to be left alone that I do, but society also has a right to place certain restrictions on each of us for sake of a better functioning society — that is, to protect the rights of everyone else. I have a right to drive my car or shoot my gun, but there are restrictions on when and where and how I drive or shoot. I have a right to walk down the sidewalk swinging my arms like a windmill, but I don’t have a right to swing my arms if doing so would violate someone else’s right not to be touched. I have a right to identify as Batman, but I can’t stalk the streets at night looking for bad guys to beat up. The examples are endless, so it shouldn’t be difficult to understand why a trans woman should have the right to live as a woman but not have the right to compete against cis women.

I don’t think believing that makes me transphobic or not a progressive, especially when there is still a debate, even among biologists and athletes, who should know more about the differences between genders than the rest of us. And I’m not willing to merely take a trans woman’s word for it that trans athletes have no advantages over cis athletes, especially when that trans woman is now a world champion cyclist and thus has something gold and shiny to fork over should she lose the debate. I, on the other, have nothing to lose or gain by expressing my views on the issue (unless you count potentially losing my stalling career as a writer); I’m not an athlete, professional or otherwise, so whether trans women compete against cis women or not is really none of my concern. Let a trans woman be president for all I care (though, would she really count as the first woman president of the United States? I guess in the same way that Clinton was our first black president.) We all have rights, trans or cis, but as members of society we are all forced to meet society halfway. Compromise, after all, is the basis for society — we all give up some things in order to gain other things — and only a trans sociopath would argue otherwise.

 

Featured image: Shannon Kringen/Flickr

Hector is the editor and publisher of Enclave. A Chicago writer now floating on the edge of Las Vegas, he is also the former deputy editor for Latino Rebels, as well as the former managing editor for Gozamos, a Latino art-activism site based in his home town. He has contributed to RedEye, a Chicago daily geared toward millennials, and La Respuesta, a New York-based site for the Puerto Rican Diaspora, plus a number of publications, including The Huffington Post. He studied history (for some reason) at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where his focus was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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