TRANSCRIPT of Panel: Does Sex Matter? Gender Identity vs. Material Reality
Transcribed by Robin Long
Saturday, March 23rd, 2019, Urbana Free Public Library 3-5 PM
Host: Traci Nalley. Panelists: Carey Callahan, Nina Paley, Corinna Cohn
Traci Nalley: Thank you for coming, It’s so beautiful outside I can’t believe the room filled up! I’m Tracy Nalley, I’m a local attorney, and I work for an established, conventional media group in town, and I think the reason why I was invited to this as because as such I am a real believer in free speech, people being able to say what they want to say in a considered, peaceful, thoughtful way… Whether they agree with me or not, you know, especially if they don’t agree with me, so so that’s why I think I’m here and I’m here to be the moderator today.
Now it’s very likely that I don’t have to do anything but introduce the panel, that would be a really good afternoon.
So also one other thing is that I also have I have a 37-year career as an attorney, and part of that is in employment discrimination. Had a lot of experience in employment discrimination and I’ve seen over these 37 years a lot of different kinds of discrimination develop. Like there wasn’t disability discrimination when I graduated from law school. There was no age discrimination or it was just new brand new… Sexual harassment was not considered a form of discrimination when we graduated from law school. So I think we’re now on the beginning of another type of discrimination under you know with respect to transgender, and I don’t know how that’s all going to fall, you know develop in the law, but I’m very curious and I’m going to be a very good listener today so that I can have a considered opinion about it and I hope you all join me in listening closely and participating in today’s conversation.
Today’s speakers have traveled a long way to be heard and our time is limited anyone disrupting or interfering with their ability to be heard will be asked to leave now each friend. That’s the way it’s going to go. Each panelist is going to talk or eight or ten minutes serially, and then after they’re done we will open it up for questions and discussion. I’ll tell you the names of the three panelists now, and before each of them starts to talk, I’ll read a short description of who they are and then they’ll tell you about themselves, but the three panelists are Corinna Cohn, Carey Callahan, and Nina Paley. So everyone, the first person who is going to talk is Corinna Cohn, who is an adult transsexual from Indianapolis. Having undertaken hormone therapies and sex reassignment surgery as a teenager, Corinna addresses the responsibilities accrued by a male inhabiting the social role of women and what young people should know before making and irreversible commitment to transition.
Corinna Cohn: Thank you everybody for coming out today. Let’s talk about football. There is a thing called CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Have you heard of it? Yeah. Football is a sport that everyone in America or many people in America love, but there are some people who say football players in the NFL and in college are getting injured and having these permanent brain injuries as part of their sport. They’re saying players should be safer. The NFL should be doing more to deal with the medical issues and the NFL and some talking heads and return say you hate football. You criticize the NFL you hate football. You’re trying to ruin the sport. You want to bring it down for everybody. We’ve got to bind together and protect the NFL from their players with the brain injuries.
He’s so I bring this up because I’m going to say some critical things about the trans community today and it’s not because I hate the trans community it is because I see that in the trans community, there are some things that are analogous to people getting brain injuries.
I wasn’t planning to say it that way but the topic today is whether material reality matters when it comes to sex and gender identity.
Well a couple of years ago. It was my first opportunity to have an exam with my physician, a full physical, and the question of whether material reality matters doesn’t occur to you when you’re having a prostate exam. So today we’re here to talk about the conflict between gender identity and whether biological sex matters anymore when gender identity is on the rise. My answer is that yes, biological sex does matter. I’m a transsexual and it’s only possible for me to be a transsexual because I was born one sex and I undertook a series of treatments in order to change my sex to appear more like the opposite sex. If biological sex doesn’t exist, then you can’t transition. There’s nothing from which to transition from.
So before I get too much further, I wanted to find a couple of my terms, because I’m going to be talking a little bit about transgender ideology, and I think it’s only fair for everyone who wants to participate in this conversation that I define my term first. So transgender ideology is the belief that biology biological sex is subordinate to one’s personal identification as a woman or a man. Transgender ideology asserts that it’s impossible to define female in a way that doesn’t exclude transwomen or male in a way that doesn’t include trans men.
That’s going to be the whole of my definition of transgender ideology. I think that there’s some other surface areas to talk about with us. But to me, this is the core of it, that if you if you believe something or wish something hard enough it changes reality. What I know from my own experiences, is that as much as you can alter your appearance of your body, there’s still something underlying that’s permanent and true.
When you face it, and you accepted it makes your life a little easier to deal with. Another term that I’d like to find this transsexual. Just upstairs a few minutes ago I was checking out the tran inclusionary network event, and I was introducing myself to somebody up there, and I revealed that I was going to be speaking here which caused a little bit of consternation and I said, “don’t worry. I’m a transsexual.” And they said well nobody uses that term anymore… Which I know, and I’m going to address that but it’s it’s so relevant because I’m told don’t use that word. We don’t we don’t want to hear it anymore.
So a transsexual is someone who has been diagnosed with and is receiving, or has received medical treatment for the conditions we call now gender dysphoria, or at the time that I transitioned gender identity disorder. So you cannot identify as a transsexual without taking steps to transition any more than you can identify as a football player without going out and playing football.
The action of doing is what defines you as the doer; identity is meaningless.
When I transitioned the term transsexual was the common phrase, and it was even a couple of years, maybe about 1995 before I even heard the word transgender. It just wasn’t in common use. What I learned upstairs a few minutes ago is that there’s an entire generation of people who have never heard anything any other word to describe people like me, that transgender is the normal word accepted word. And it may surprise you to hear this, but transgender is fairly recent.
About 2003 there was a book published by an academic named J. Michael Bailey who is at Northwestern I believe, and he published a book that was titled The Man Who Would Be Queen. The book was about his interactions. He went out to meet and interview and document transsexuals, and he agreed with Ray Blanchard’s categorization that there’s basically two types of transsexuals, homosexuals transsexuals who are only interested in having relationships with men, and autogynephilic transsexuals, who have a sexual attraction to themselves as women.
Regardless of whether I agree with these categorizations or not, J Michael Bailey received a lot of heat from trans activists for publishing this book.There were activists who complained to Bailey’s employer to try to get him fired. There was an activist named Andrea James who found pictures of Bailey’s children on the internet and then put sexual innuendo phrases over them and sent them to him to harass him. And they tried to ruin Dr. Bailey professionally and personally.
The people doing this were considered to be pillars of the trans community. Aside from Andrea James, I’m not I’m gonna not going to mention the others, but I did a text search of the book; remember that this is published in 2003, for the word transsexual and the word transgender. The word transsexual is used over 200 times in the book. The word transgender is only used 26 times and it doesn’t show up until halfway through the book when Bailey is choosing to use it to describe it as a homosexual or transgender homosexuality to differentiate it from what we would normally think of as homosexuality. So even back in 2003 it wasn’t really considered a mainstream term, even for an academic who is writing on the topic.
So the next major milestone was a book by Julia Serrano called Whipping Girl. And in my opinion, this is one of the most important writings in transgender community because this established a lot of the ideas that are now extremely prevalent in the community. Serrano popularized the terms transgender and cisgender. And this was published in 2007. So this is when the conversation really started to change, and the language about how we talk about trans issues started to change.
2007 was about the early period of the internet there was no Reddit. There was not really social media quite up and running yet. And before that time if you felt like you were perhaps trans and were seeking some information on the internet you would go to sources like…I’m going to forget the name of it. There are a couple of trans bulletin boards… Susan’s place. So if you’re looking for information, that’s about the only place that you could find it. These were kind of out of the way byways where if you’re going to join and participate you would create some sort of alter identity and try to learn about the community that way. Contrast that with today’s world where we do have Reddit… I would have to guess about a hundred… Let me explain write it in case you don’t know. Reddit is a forum on the internet that has thousands and thousands of different categories for topics. Reddit makes an effort not to be too censorious. So pretty much any topic that you would care to discuss, there’s a forum on Reddit to talk about it. There are probably about a hundred different trans related subreddits and that’s that’s the the topic board. Many of them are created to create these circles of validation
So if you can imagine being a person who…You don’t feel like you have a place in the world necessarily, you’re not comfortable in your own skin. You feel like you look a little strange in the mirror. Like your body doesn’t quite look like what you mentally think it ought to be you, you want to reach out and you want to see if there’s other people like you. Well, there’s a lot of these spaces on the internet now between places like Reddit and Tumblr, where when you come to these communities and you say, I don’t know if I’m trans or not, almost unanimously every voice that you hear is going to say, Yes, you are trans. Yes, if you’re coming to us presenting as a boy. Yes, you can actually be a girl inside you just seize it, and there’s not a lot of critical inquiry like, will this work well for you, what do you want to get out of it? You know, are you aware of some of the through the dangers and taking these medicines? Do you know that some people who are trying to do it or trying to solve one problem when they have a different problem? There’s very little, like consideration of who’s coming into the community, it’s like this big whirlpool that pulls people in.
This coincides with the rise of what is now called intersectional feminism, where we define people in terms of all of the different sort of categories they belong to, so for example, I would say that I’m a white transsexual half Jewish… What is it, neurotypical…You’re laughing, but this is this is a very much right of vision.
But the premise of intersectional feminism is that the world needs to be a more fair and just place in the way that we do. This is by being very aware of what privileges we have over other people, but unfortunately, even though this is like a good premise and something that people should be considerate of, it has been weaponized and used to drive people away from each other by defining tinier and tinier and tinier categories, and then also implicitly asking people in these categories to sort themselves into a hierarchy and, wow intersectional feminism creating hierarchies. Maybe that’s not a good idea.
So in these communities people who are born male and were raised male, or went to college had successful careers, families, children, all as male… They begin identifying as transgender. And that suddenly moves them from whatever position of privilege that they had occupied into being extremely opressed allegedly.
Whereas on the other hand girls that get pulled into this and I’m sure that there are some more like adult women who start to get into this a little bit, but this is the seems to be especially pernicious with girls and young women who adopt names like Aidan or Lucas start wearing breast binders.
And on Tumblr or on Reddit, they get lectured and browbeaten to prioritize the emotional needs of transgender males. And there are some stories in some of these communities where the males in these positions use this in order to sexually predate women, so this is not great.
Women and girls are being separated out and being told not to trust themselves, not to report these sorts of things, that if trans women are predating on them that not to go to the justice system because they won’t be treated fairly and honestly, I don’t know how to fix it. But I think the first thing to do is to recognize that it’s happening. So this is taking me towards the end of what’s been developing on the internet and that is the term TERF. Does anybody not know the term?
Okay, it’s an acronym and it stands for transgender exclusionary radical feminists. TERF. It was originally coined by an Australian feminist blogger who goes by the handle TickTock, but even if she coined it she is not the person popularized it. You’ve probably all heard of the term feminazi, and can you tell me what name you think of about feminazi? Rush Limbaugh? Rush Limbaugh was not the person who coined the phrase feminazi. It was actually a professor named Thomas Haslet, but nobody probably knows who Thomas Haslet is, but Rush Limbaugh gets all the credit. Well, yeah credit the notoriety. Thank you.
Like the term feminazi, the term turf was popularized by a trans blogger who is the editor of a website that’s called trans Advocate, and editor is Christyn Williams and Christyn Williams created a website called the TERFS, and spent a lot of work on social media to get the trans Community to start labeling women who were speaking about this issue is who are speaking about gender critically as a TERF.
That was about 2013. Over the last couple of years the term TERF has appeared in all sorts of threats of violence. There was somebody who openly attended a trans parade with a bloodied shirt that said punch a Terf, there was just the last week, I believe, I guess the term TERF wasn’t brought up. I think someone somewhere there was somebody who had a t-shirt that said something like I killed TERFS at feminist or LGBT events advertising these messages of violence. These messages are excused. The people defending them say trans people are oppressed. And therefore you should not be censoring anybody who is expressing these messages of violence because they are expressing these terms towards their oppressors, who are women, who are frequently lesbian women.
Looking at it from a higher view. What we’re seeing is LGBT events, where male people are openly expressing violence towards women using misogynistic phrases, and these peoples needs are being prioritized over everyone else attending. This is an aspect of the transgender community that has to change.
Women were the original target of this slur TERF, but as more and more voices started speaking up saying, “maybe there’s maybe there’s a middle ground. Maybe there’s there’s something that we have to do so that both women’s needs and transmutes are are met, like how do we compromise?” And those people also started being called TERFS. And then eventually I think maybe sometime late afternoon. The first man was chiming in on this, sorry, a cisgender man, somebody said hey, I think maybe it’s not fair for somebody who achieved adulthood as a male to be competing in sports against women. And now that man is a TERF.
And now anybody who says… Hey biological reality matters and is relevant, and material reality is important is a TERF. So if you happen to agree with me that, well, biology matters, that you cannot be a transsexual or transgender without moving to a different state of being, starting from mail or going to female or vice versa. If you agree with me that you cannot wish your way into being a different sex than you are also a TERF. Every time this word gets used, it gets robbed and leached a little bit of its meaning. It used to be terrifying to be called a TERF, it is becoming more and more normal or less shocking to be called a TERF even though it still does have material effects on people. But the more people who misuse or, actually I don’t think there’s a good use for it. But the more people say at the less the less punch it’s going to have.
Yeah, and if anyone ever accuses you of being a TERF I think you should say, so what if I am? In fact, I know a transsexual who is a TERF so there then. Because of all the word changes one of the words that’s been buried is the word transsexual. When I transitioned there were basically two groups of us. There were transvestites are crossdressers, and transsexuals and the transsexuals were the ones that went all the way; leave it to your imagination. There was really no middle ground. So there were some people who thought that there ought to be a middle ground.
And the term transgender was starting to be used to represent that middle ground, and that middle ground is largely occupied by gender non-conforming people who don’t want to their appearance to be clearly male or female. I think today we call them non-binary. It’s occupied by crossdressers who wanted to the opportunity to live their lives day by day. I’m going way over in the time aren’t I? Really most importantly the the that’s transgender middle is held by adult males who transition and do not want, they want to have hormone treatment because they feel that it’s good for them to do it, and I’m not going to judge that, but critically they don’t want to have surgery on their their bottoms. They want to keep their their malehood intact, and it’s really important that if you are in this category, that you try to knock drag queens out of it; drag queens used to be transgender. I don’t know if you know, you’re not allowed to be anymore. But if you are in this position, you have to knock the other people out of the boat because if somebody says well, what’s the difference between transgender and a transsexual you say? Well a transsexual has gone all the way and had surgery. And then a reasonable person might say well that seems like an okay place to draw a line in terms of public accommodation. And we can’t have that line drawn if we’re going to include everybody. So I actually don’t know the right place to draw the line. What I do know is that the word transgender has eclipsed everything about my identity, that when I go up to a room full of the trans-inclusive network and I get told don’t use the word transsexual. That’s not my group. Those aren’t my people, we’ve been pushed out.
Traci Nalley: Our next speaker is Carey Callahan, a detransitioned woman and Family Therapist from Ohio. She explores the role of sexism and the rise of youth referrals for gender dysphoria and the portrayal of transitioners, or detransitioners in the media.
Carey Callahan: That is a very ambitious topic, and it’s more of a 30-45 minute topic, so this is going to be much more of a detrans 101 kind of a thing, just to let you know. So this is a little about how detransitioners and how we’re responded to, I’ll give you a little bit of context on me and why I’m a credible source on that, and then context on the changes in the structure of trans healthcare in this country and the likely increased prevalence of detransitioners.
Can everyone hear me in the back? OK I’ll stand up. I’m 37 and the energy just isn’t there anymore. So, I was trans identified, I’m detransitioned, I did take testosterone for 9 months, I detransitioned in 2014. So it’s been a minute. When I detransitioned in 2014 it’s important to keep in mind that this all occurred in the shadow of the word TERF. So when I detransitioned I was very scared of my peer group finding out that I thought I was thinking critically about this and that I would be labeled in TERF and what that would do, to not only my peer group, but also my career prospects. So I had an anonymous blog I’ve logged under the pseudonym Maria Katz, and that’s kind of what all my detransition peers were doing at the time also.
In 2016, Julia Serrano wrote a little essay about us and about how we don’t exist pretty much, and now we re right wing trope. So it really pissed us off and we decided that it was time that we had some Visual Evidence of our existence out in the world. Alright, so we made some YouTube videos because you don’t really exist if you’re not on YouTube. And at the time it was a big deal; there were you could not go on YouTube and see detransitioner videos. Now, you can change to a lots and I encourage you to check them out. Out of that I began youtubing kind of advice for detransitioners, which at the time was a big deal. In 2017, I presented at the United States Professional Association on Transgender Health at the first professional presentation on detransition mental health care. It was a little scary, but I got to tell you that that presentation was pretty warmly received, everyone stayed chill and relaxed. So later in 2017 we were encouraged by an organizer of the Philly Trans Health conference to present that presentation at Philly, and a presentation on alternative methods of dealing with gender dysphoria. About two weeks before we were supposed to go before the conference that was cancelled, was deplatformed, because people felt that it was so controversial that it was going to result in violence, and also that parents of trans kids would come to our presentation and get the wrong idea and stop transitioning their kids. That was a prominent fear about us being in the mix.
In 2018, so last year, I was profiled by the Atlantic, and the short documentary that was an accompaniment to that intensely controversial Jesse Single article about pediatric transition that came out last year. I did that, I participated in that video about a month before I had to graduate take two licensure exams. Don’t do that. That’s not self-loving. So I’ve done a lot, and I have to… I’m bragging first of all, but I just want to say that me and my detransitioned peers have been actually in the past five years incredibly effective at building community and support for detransitioners. It’s, I think that we’ve done an amazing job. I will tell you that I get tons of, I get tons of feedback about my appearance. I get tons of feedback about how the fact that I’ve cultivated such a normie appearance, means that I couldn’t have ever experienced gender dysphoria, which is a really bitter pill to swallow because I still sometimes, when I’m going through times of stress, will have intense levels of gender dysphoria. It is a double bind which is, we are all as female people subject to because I’ll tell you that my detransition peers that cultivate, had that have an androgynous or masculine appearance, are accused of being non-binary, in denial. And I’ve seen this happen. I’ve seen this happen to my dear friends. So I’ll tell you is that there’s actually no way to look that will affirm your credibility, and it’s just the classic female predicament that there’s no way that the statements coming out of your mouth will take precedence over the statement that people attribute to your appearance.
So a little Detransition 101… So to transition means that you’re trans identified and you participated in a medical intervention to affirm that trans identity, which can be hormones can be surgery. Right? There’s also the terms desistance that you’re going to see a lot; in to desist means that you’re trans identified you moved on from that without taking part in a medical like intervention. How many detransitioners there are is hotly debated, and we have almost no research on it. So the best number that we have is a two percent prevalence rate, and I want to tell you where this comes from and why it’s such a lousy number. So that comes from a Swedish public record search. So they did a study of Swedish name changes from 1960 to 2010. And how do we consider detransition for this study? You had to go all the way to applying to change your name, and then go all the way to applying your to change your name back. Just to say I would not be counted in this statistic.
I know about 300 detransitioners. I probably know about ten who have done this. Okay. So there’s one way that is 2% number is like lousy. Another way that it’s kind of lousy is that Sweden, from 1960 to 2010, is a very different context than America. So for one, everyone who transition in Sweden during that time had to go through a really structured assessment process. There is no such thing as an informed consent clinic at this time, right? So informed consent is at this point the norm in America. I will also say that 2 out of every 100 people which is 2% It’s actually not a negligible rate. That’s actually a lot.
So a Williams study estimated that the amount of trans people in America was 1.5 million. We can’t assume that all of those people are going to engage in medical interventions. But if we say that a third of them are going to engage in medical intervention and we say that two percent of those will detransition. That’s actually 11,000 people.
So, not a small group that might need some support. We hardly know anything about the experience of female deransitioners. And that’s because research gets shut down. So in February of this year a high court in the UK affirmed Baths by University’s decision to not approve James Caspian’s proposal to study the detransitioner experiences, and they refuse to do that because quote attacks on social media may not be confined to the researcher, but may involve the university. So research on detransitioners is controversial enough that we’re just not going to do it.
So, in fact, the best information that we have on detransitioners comes from detransitioners, and in 19 2016 a young detransitioned woman who blogs a guide on Raging Stars put out a survey and found two hundred and three female people who had either detransitioned or desisted. She found a hundred and seventeen of them that have medically transitioned out of those a hundred and seventeen. So this is a hundred Seventeen women that’s either gone through hormones or surgery; 41 had received no therapy before.
In her sample of the average age of coming out as transgender was 17 years old, and the average age of detransitioning was 21 years old, and what’s interesting is if you look at Erikson’s like classic stages of human development, that actually lines up with the identity development stage versus the relational challenge stage. So so so what can I tell you about even how many people are transitioning in America right now? Well, I can tell you that the HRC has 44 clinics listed in America that serve gender expansive youths.
It’s hard to try and get a number of how many kids are coming through those clinics, partly because like our capitalist medical system produces really lousy stats. In England where they have socialized medicine they produce much better stats. So the Tavistock Clinic in the UK found that from 2016 to 2017 there was a 42% increase in youth referrals.
I couldn’t find you statistics on the number of informed consent clinics in America, but I’ll tell you that many universities provide hormone therapy on an informed consent basis. Try going you will need to know what informed consent is crazy. Yeah. Yeah. So informed consent is a model care where you sign over your right to see your doctors, so it means that you would check off a list saying I understand there’s very little research on testosterone long-term. I understand that there may be effects of this that I don’t want, to understand there may be effects on blood clots and cancers, but pretty much what you’re saying is that like, you’re safe. I won’t sue you.
So many universities do this. That’s I did this. Also, I signed about before pages, I initialed four pages of “I won’t sue you, I won’t sue you.” Planned Parenthood has also committed to providing hormone therapy on an informed consent basis. So from the Planned Parenthood of Illinois website for the agenda for getting hormone therapy, they say that the agenda for your second visit when you’re seeking hormone therapy will be to review your lab results and get your prescription for HRT. The Planned Parenthood, Massachusetts website says that, depending on your medical history, we will either prescribe the hormones to you at your first visit or wait to prescribe hormones until we get your lab results back. So at least at least they’re checking your cholesterol. So what I’m telling you is that within the past 15 years there’s a massive increase in opportunities to get hormone therapy without any psychological assessment process, and this is why I am passionate about detransition mental health care services.
So I’m passionate but I’ve got to tell you that besides speaking and writing about this. I can’t really work on the project in a therapeutic capacity, because I feel like strongly for myself that I can’t support pediatric transition. I worry that in 10 years they’ll all have a lot of people to serve who have been through pediatric transition, and to be involved in trans health care right now, to be taken seriously and allowed to participate, you need to be on board with pediatric transition thing. So in the fall, I was approached to contribute a two-hour presentation on detransition mental health care to a transgender and mental health certificate program; therapist will do these things where you pay a lot of money like thousands of dollars to get a certificate. The problem was that the facilitators and the people who are going to be making money from the certificate program are like, very aggressive proponents of pediatric transition. As I am I can’t do… (Audience question–what is pediatric transition.) Oh, it’s transition people under 18. Yeah. Thank you for asking. (Medically, right?) Yeah. So it’s providing hormones or surgery to a kid under 18 or puberty blockers, because that’s a big part of pediatric transition is giving kids Lupron and other GnRH Agonists to shut off their hormonal system.
Is everyone bummed out now,? (laughter) So maybe I can talk about, a little bit… So I want to talk about the where we at. So I want to talk about what we will not see in mainstream portrayals of detransitioners. First is what you’re going to see when you seek out detransitioner produced media. Right, and they’re at this point you have no excuse, there’s lots of detransition or produce media. Okay. There’s let me give you some names. You can check out the Peak Resiliency Project, which is, yeah, clap for them! Its a YouTube channel with four detransitioned women, and they also do a podcast called the Dangeramen Podcast… There’s all kinds of blogs and all kinds of scenes; I don’t want to give you all the names of the blogs, but I have an essay on Medium called Advice for Gender Dysphoric Teens that has a list of all of my top detransitioner blogs. And the main difference that you’re going to see is that one huge theme in detransitioner produced media is the idea of post-traumatic growth.
And what you’re going to see in mainstream media portrayals of detransitioners is a lot of trauma and pity. Okay, so post-traumatic growth is a psychological term, and it’s defined as the experience of individuals whose development, at least in some areas, has surpassed what was present before the struggle with crises occurred. The individual has not only survived but has experienced changes that are viewed as important and go beyond the status quo. This is a huge theme in detransition in our media. People get out of trans identification and suddenly all these resources that they had been dedicating to that project are free. So suddenly people end up finishing grad school, they end up producing research,, they end up doing things and making meetups they end up doing a whole lot.
And so if you look at videos of people talking about their detransitions they’ll describe years of just suddenly being very effective in the world. And that was certainly that my experience of detransition is that, since detransitioning I learned that I’m much more effective and powerful than I understood previously. and that’s not what you’re going to see in terms of magazines and newspapers telling you detransitioner stories. You’re going to see a lot of stories of trauma and people you feel a lot of pity for, and I have a personal experience with it. So in 2018, I agreed to participate in this documentary by the Atlantic. I did not want to participate in the first place because I’m not actually sure that I’m the best rep for detransitioners. I think in a lot of ways I’m a strange detransitioner, I transitioned old and um, I just don’t want to rep. I don’t want to be the symbol.
If I couldn’t find someone else to do it, which I have a lot of resentment about, and and in the end. I saw Jesse Single’s article, and I was like shoot there’s nothing in this article about the fact that detransitioners were deplatformed at Philly. There’s a lot missing from this story in terms of detransitioners. So I said I’ll do this video if the video is mostly about what just happened in the past year. Okay, so it turns out you cannot negotiate with media production people, that’s not a thing. So I had all of these, you know, things that was important to me was in the that is in the video. I really it was important to me we talked about being deplatformed. It was really important to me that this be about, like my role as a therapist, and instead the video that was produced was about a very sad woman.
People evidently feel very sorry for, and we had… Like the video opens with a line that I was like fed. It turns out one of my lessons from this is that I should not talk to the media without a handler; handlers are very important. It turns out. and it was a real trip. I would say that it was kind of traumatic. I get lots of emails from people who say that they’re praying for me. I get lots of people who tell me that Jesus Loves Me… It’s like fine. Yeah, but like it’s all chill you know… And it was interesting to have all these people feeling really bad for me, really bad. A lot of people saying that I need lots of therapy because you know, I consider myself someone who can do things that a lot of those people can’t do… So it’s interesting to a lot of people pity you that you’re like, but you could not accomplish what I’ve done. So anyway, I would really encourage you to check out detransitioner media. Please check out the Peak Resiliency Project, tons of videos now.
Yeah, I guess that’s it. Thanks so much.
Traci Nalley: Our next speaker is Nina Paley, who is an animator from Urbana, best known for her feature films Sita Sings the Blues and Seder-Masochism, an outspoken critic of both censorship and sexism, she has been no platformed and blacklisted locally and abroad for saying penises are male.
Nina Paley: Well, hey, I’m going to try to do this in 10 minutes, but it’s going to be boring because I’m actually just going to be reading things aloud, and I know that’s more dull, but I’ll talk and interact as soon as that’s done. So first, I want to read a quote from Daphna Whitmore of New Zealand from the 12th of March. I slightly edited it. There’s a human rights act happening in New Zealand. I just change that to law.
“There is a need to separate sex from gender identity. If there is inclusion of gender identity in law, that should only be if it is clearly defined as a distinct characteristic from sex. Sex based exceptions need to be clear as they exist to protect the rights of natal women. Transgender people’s identities should not be given status over women’s rights to sex-based exception. Gender identity ideology is a belief system I do not subscribe to; however, I accept the right of others to believe in it much like religion. Thus I support the inclusion of gender identity only on the basis that it be clearly distinguished from biological natal sex.” I share that opinion.
All right, and now I’m going to read you the ever entertaining open letter to the University of Illinois, an Abridged version. It’s about half as long as the one on my blog.
In July of 2018 Arcadia, the cafe in Urbana, announced on Facebook and art salon at which my new film would be screened. The next day Professor Mimi Thi Nguyen commented on Arcadia’s event page: “She’s a transphobe. I will never attend your events now.”
My crime was, months earlier, sharing on Facebook the following lyric:” If a person has a penis, he’s a man.” at various times. I have also shared such contentious views as, women don’t have penises. Everyone is free to identify however, they wish but not to force me to identify them the same way. And woman means adult human female. Nonetheless, if a person has a penis he’s a man is continually quoted as my greatest hit of so-called hate speech. It is also a fact. When asked by other commenters why my stating biological facts was transphobic and grounds for no platforming, Ms. Nguyen replied: “I’m the chair of gender and women’s studies. I know what I’m talking about.” Speaking not merely as an individual, but in her capacity as a UIUC faculty member, Ms Nguyen threatened local business and libeled a community member and encouraged others to join in.
Arcadia promptly cancelled the event. That October my film Seder-Masochism screened to enthusiastic audiences at the Vancouver International Film Festival. In attendance were film scholars Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, frequent speakers at past Ebertfests who loved the film and emailed the Ebertfest Director Nate Kohn to recommend it. Kohn replied, they already knew about Seder-Masochism and it was at the top of their list.
Later that fall I turn down an invitation to judge a major film festival in Buenos Aires because it’s dates overlap with the Ebertfest. SinceSeder-Masochism was at the top of their list I didn’t want to miss it. In January. I emailed Nate Kohn and Chaz Ebert to ask if, in fact, Seder-Masochism would screen. For over a week, they didn’t respond. That same week, I was attacked by a Twitter mob accusing me of hate speech. Once again for having said if a person has a penis, he’s a man. Then, all trace of my film was removed from the website of a woman’s film festival called Elles Tournent in Belgium after they were bullied by a Belgian trans activist.
Still awaiting a response at the end of January. I emailed Ebertfest again. They replied: “Sorry. We don’t have room for it.”
Now I’m not entitled to be at any film festival, and the decisions of Ebertfest, a special event of the University of Illinois College of media, are made behind closed doors preventing any hope of accountability. But, going from the top of Ebertfest’s list to sorry, there’s no room in the midst of libel campaigns is consistent with the blacklisting and no platforming of feminists at universities nationally and internationally. From the banishing of noted feminist speakers, like Sheila Jeffries and Julie Bindel, to the suppression of politically incorrect research at Bath Spa University and Brown University, to secret blacklists of female academics uncovered at Goldsmiths University, the speech suppressing Behavior as University of Illinois is consistent with unsavory developments around the world.
Many in this college town are afraid to voice support for me, or express any gender critical thought for fear of being true of being branded transphobic. Academics elsewhere who even questioned gender identity have been disciplined or denounced and open letters. Those who express fully gender critical views have lost their jobs. Between that and the imposition of preferred pronouns, which require the speaker to suppress their correct recognition of biological sex in favor of compelled speech that is lying, university employees, their spouses and friends feel compelled to keep quiet.
So instead of the quote opportunities for substantive civic engagement promised in the University’s principles, the University instead fosters a climate of fear and silence in The wider community. Beyond this harm to our community, I have been harmed personally. I can’t calculate the cost this has had on my professional reputation, career, and livelihood. I have certainly suffered psychological harm being falsely accused and shut down and intimidated in my hometown with no accountability for the accusers, the looks of despair I had previously only read about in books like, The Crucible, and histories of witch trials.
The University needs to protect speech. I acknowledge the University is in a bind; recent State interpretations of Title Nine have perhaps unwittingly redefined sex to include gender identity. As long as Title Nine fails to uphold its original purpose, protections based on sex, and instead protects incoherent ill-defined and fundamentally sexist concepts of gender identity, it is at odds with the First Amendment and with itself. Preferred pronouns are compelled speech forcing the speaker to contradict their own recognition of another sex. This compulsion violates the First Amendment, but preferred pronouns also violate Title Nine itself insofar as it still protects sex.
Although trans activists vehemently deny this, there is ample evidence that some trans identified males are autogynephiles, that is fetishists who are sexually aroused by imagining themselves as women, which by the way, I have no problem with; everybody is entitled to their own Kink. But being forced to call such men she is forced participation in sexual activity without consent. That is just one way privileging gender identity over sex is institutionalized sexual coercion.
Sex and gender identity fundamentally mutually, exclusive.You cannot protect one without delegitimizing the other. The University considers failure to use preferred pronouns harassment against the individual who imposes them.But preferred pronouns themselves are harassment including sexual harassment against individuals compelled to use them.
My plea to the University is to reaffirm its commitment to free speech and acknowledge the untenable and inconsistent demands added to Title Nine by the redefinition of sex. It is tragic that the former Integrity of Title Nine, which has been instrumental in providing sex-based protections and opportunities for women and girls is now in opposition to the First Amendment. Free speech is important. Sex-based protections are important. Redefining sex to include gender identity is an assault on both. Thank you.
Traci Nalley: Ok I think that the floor is open for questions…
Nina Paley: Do you have any questions for us first?
Traci Nalley: Do I have any questions for you? Well, I guess I’ve been taking notes about all the places I should be looking for more research on this, quite honestly, because I’m such a square when it when it comes to transgender issues. I’m learning myself. So I admit it. I’m a square, so I don’t have any formal questions. No, but…
Audience member: This is for both Carey and Corinna, and I want to ask you your relationship with passing, and what that means for you currently and what it means for you in the past, because both of you look obviously look are in very comfortable clothes, you know, but do you, when you’re not really putting in even more effort, you know, we all have those days, do you ever get mistaken for as a guy, and does that ever you know, does that bring back gender dysphoria or how do you feel with that now or do you ever get called, you know sir, you know or you know some says in passing he and what that means for you, what that meant for you back then in terms of passing and what it means for you now.
Carey: So I don’t really wanted to pass that was what my transition was about. I wanted to walk down the street being perceived as a guy and then I got like terrible terrible transition advice. I went, in 2012 I went to the Philly Trans Health Conference. I got awful transition advice, and I specifically got the advice that it was like transphobic of me to care about passing, and that’s you know that I should just like socially transition right away and like get on hormones right away. Okay. Well if you have my body you can… Testosterone does not in any way make me look male. So testosterone, because I was just like, it was just like, as I took it was just more and more clear that I was in no way getting closer to being perceived as a dude, like my dysphoria was off the charts, off the charts.
No, I never know, like people just don’t people don’t I don’t think that people look at me and guess that this is in my history. People seem surprised when I disclose it. The stuff that like increases my dysphoria now, it’s mine is very very body dysmorphic. So like when things are out of my control and I’m feeling humiliated, or especially if the humiliation is sexist, which it often is, I can it’s not so much. I just feel like total despair, and all my sign that things are going off the charts in my life. Is that all beyond medical vacation websites, that means I’m in a terrible place. So… Yeah, I don’t know. I mean like the fact is that like life is not fair in terms of who can pass, and what I found is that the community was like really in denial about how different it is for different people to be on the project of trying to pass, and how much money had to do with it, how much skinniness had to do with it. So so yeah. In some ways honestly if people like get I don’t this is a little problematic, but like if someone has a more successful transition in terms of like not going homeless and keeping their job and stuff because I’m hearing my story. I just don’t want people to be homeless and I want them to kill themselves. So that feels to me like a positive thing.
Corinna: As for me, passing used to be a lot more important to me now or than it is now, and that’s because it was really important for me that other people viewed me the right way? I don’t know if it’s because of my exposure to ideas from radical feminism, or if it’s because I’m getting old and just am losing the ability to care as much, but I don’t have a right to tell other people what to think about me or how to perceive me. So a lot of people I interact with, I assume believe I’m female, or don’t get me reason to believe otherwise… I don’t correct them.
If somebody the other day, somebody called me sir, and I was like, oh no my gender identity. I went home and sat in a dark room and just… Yeah no I didn’t. If you have…There’s like a core of your identity. And the weaker it is the more you need external validation, and the stronger it is the more you can find some validation inside yourself. I never hear trans people talk about that and it’s really important. You have to be able to validate yourself. And you can’t do it by getting completely wrapped up in the trans community. You have to actually go into the world and do something, a hobby or a career, and make make a change of some sort to get that internal validation. You have to like participate in life.
Audience: A question for Carey… You had mentioned that it’s possible to get hormone treatments or prescriptions or whatever from Planned Parenthood on a second visit. Considering that this panel is about gender and material reality I’m wondering where the financial resources are coming from in order to pay for those hormones and stuff. Like is it being taken away from women who would otherwise receive services from Planned Parenthood?
Carey: Wow, that’s… I have no idea I have no idea about funding, I’m really… I’m bad at that. So I guess that’s a great question. Maybe someone else could speak better about that than me, if someone knows a lot about how the funding breaks down?
Audience: I’m just wondering if money is being taken away from women’s services in order to accommodate this.
Carey: Well, Planned Parenthood only has a certain amount of money, so you can do the math.
Nina Paley: And people who donate to planned parenthood, many of them have no idea this is happening.
Traci Nalley: In the back…
Audience: This is a question for Nina. This term “compelled speech,” I’m hearing it for the first time. Could you elaborate on that?
Nina Paley: Yeah, so normally when we talk about freedom of speech we’re talking about not being censored, right we want to say something and we don’t want that shut down. Compelled speech is forcing us to say something that we don’t want to say, that we don’t want to believe. I mean off the top of my head when I was a kid here, the schools started requiring us to say the Pledge of Allegiance, right? You couldn’t sit that one out. That’s compelled speech. If I am forced to refer to somebody that I know Is male as female, if I’m forced to say “she,” that’s compelled speech.
As opposed to you know, being told not to say anything at all, as opposed to censorship.
Audience: Okay. So I happen to be teaching at English at Parkland in 1994, and prior to 1994. It was not it was considered a political opinion. If you said the doctor, he on your essay, and I would rail with the students that he should be the doctor he or she and they go “Oh, you’re just a feminist.It’s okay, then in 1994. I believe that was the year the MLA came out with the fact that it was an error to say the doctor, he, which I was screaming like a glorious moment; mark down your students and just say “It’s not a political opinion. um OK, I’m trying to…There’s something that you’re trying to protect that I’m trying to understand. Umm… At that point the students felt it was compelled speech, they felt it was ugly, ungainly. Now, I have to say a sentence with he or she; it ruins the rhythm, and I just said sorry, it’s an error. That’s fine away. Okay.
You are saying that you I guess I think that speech is constantly compelled. The act of speaking is the act of delivering oneself over willingly to compulsion. That one has to say things that mean things for everybody, one has to say how is your day the stupidest expression in the world. All of that is participating in compulsion. Now you’re weird enough and I am a little bit but there’s something that really, you’re really furious about this compelled speech thing. I guess. I figure somebody wants me to call them an elephant. I’ll call them an elephant. I’ll say hey, that trunk is magnificent…
Nina Paley: Ok, so I think that what we’re talking specifically about pronouns, it’s like why won’t I use, why is it this thing that troubles me. It is because when people are forced to deny the reality in front of their own eyes, that paves the way to Fascism. And all of these fascists.(applause) All of these fascist and totalitarian projects that we know about, and we go like, “How could people do that? How could they do that?” It’s like because they were homing to the heard. They were, their main concern was their neighbors and how other what other people were going to say about them, rather than each person thinking to the best of their ability for themselves, right? I realize that you know, the self other, you know, it’s a it’s a continual negotiation between self and other but there are times when I myself perceive reality, and I know it’s fucking reality. I trust my senses over what other people are compelling me to say. And then when they up the ante by, for example no platforming my film, calling me a TERF, calling me hateful, shutting me out of the community, things like that, then it’s like, rather than going, “OK I was wrong, I’m like, Nope. I know what I am seeing, I know my perceptions, I’m not saying my perceptions are infallible, they’re not. But everybody is entitled to their own perceptions, right; other people do not get to dictate your perceptions and your thoughts, and that means you can be wrong, you’re going to hurt people’s feelings, people might feel bad, right, but you take self-responsibility and you honor your experience about what other people tell you your experience needs to be. Thank you. (applause)
Audience: You just said something, Nina, about being called hateful. I just want to ask everybody about this; it’s about hate really which is that I know I feel like the call for empathy is largely always out there, and I feel like for me, that my positions are empathetic and I imagine that everyone in this room feels that they have empathy, and when I feel like people lose friends when it comes to this topic, people lose, you know, the respect or care of people that they care about or they fear that they’re going to lose that. So how can we walk forward into you know, this world that we’re in and address those who might call people hateful when it seems to me that no one here is hateful and how can we address those people in ways that will strategically allow us to keep bridges open so that we can have conversations with people who disagree who might just be willing to Say Nina, you’re hateful. I don’t think so. I don’t think I’m hateful. I don’t think you got anyone up the is hateful. But how do we go about bridging those divides with people who I think are very well meaning when they call us hateful. That’s for everybody.
Corinna Cohn: You can’t make somebody listen, so…I don’t know that there’s that much else to say. If you’re ready to listen…
Audience: I’m sorry, just if you can’t make people listen, but what if you’re being shut out of your community and by, you know, a cafe, and by your friends and family, it’s it really impacts you in a material way. What if your employment is being targeted, you know…
Corinna Cohn: It’s unfair, and it’s lonely, and it sucks, and what you do is you say hey, Nina, we should do something in Urbana. And get some people who want to hear these ideas, because I don’t think anybody in this room has hate for anybody. But when you feel like, when you open your mouth and people are gonna exile you, you don’t say anything. So you start speaking.
Nina Paley: What he said! (audience laughter while Corinna dramatically acts out dying)
Carey Callahan: Um, I think a lot about normies, and I think a lot about squares, and like people who dont know; they don’t know the context at all, and about how often, when I talk to people about, like informed consent care, and statistics and stuff, they’re just like pffff, they have no idea that anything like this is happening, and so I guess I feel like… You know like I’ve been called hateful a lot. And I guess I feel like the person calling me hateful is not actually, like my audience; like it’s normies that I’m directed to, so I feel like the person calling me hateful, like they’re working through shit, whatever. Like, it’s going to… It’s like that’s how you’re feeling about things now. Things change, things changed for me. You know, that’s kinda how I feel about it. I feel that people outside the context matter more…
Audience: Great but it’s their your employer and they’re calling you hateful and they fire you from your job. Yeah, you know…
Carey Callahan: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, you know what another thing is that when I left the community I was like, I’m only going to be in normie contexts. I’m only going to have bosses, and like I don’t honestly, like I don’t hang out in alternative spaces. I don’t hang out with anyone who has like a like a side mullet, or like I, don’t hang out with vegans anymore, like I am Normal. But I don’t mean to make light of your concerns, because people do get fired. People lose money, people lose housing situations, Yes, for some people there actually is not the option to seek out safety, but so I don’t know the answer. I’m just like that has been my personal strategy and so I’m very focused on people outside the context.
Traci Nalley: In the in the back there…
Audience: Hi, I read your article but I… (audience members say “we can’t hear you”) Umm, I read the article in the Atlantic, and I think what you did is really important, and I guess that I’m thinking about bridges and shared experiences, and you went through this journey of being true to yourself. So it seems like the people who are trans are trying to be true to themselves, I mean everyone is. So why is everybody’s panties in a knot about this, that it didn’t work for you? And well, that’s okay and it worked for someone else. I mean, I just don’t get it. I don’t get why they’re calling you hateful. You were just being true to yourself.
Carey Callahan: Yeah, then I was public about it. I mean I yeah, I mean, I don’t know. It’s people, it’s very distressed people trying to resolve distress. So I think, I just dunno. No, I’m sorry guys. This is the thing. I don’t I can’t figure out I’ve been I’ve been at it for a long time. I don’t really know ethically what it… I think a lot about maybe I am being hateful. I think a lot about like… I self reflect a lot about whether I’m an ok person.
Audience: I guess what I’m seeing is like each person is trying to find what home is for them, and you’re doing it in your way and other people will find it in another place… Why can’t we accept that it will be different for all of us?
Nina Paley: I would like to address that. So it’s true. It is true that they’re very very well-meaning people that are participating in these witch hunts and not, you know, they know not what they do. They’re really, you know with the best intentions they’re saying, Nina Paley is a hateful bigot. But it’s not just that it’s not, oh what’s happening. There’s there’s political forces at work and there is a grab for political power, and there are groups of people form they form tribes and mobs, and having people to hate is is a way that they bond with each other, and consolidate their own power. So we actually provide a kind of service to groups that are seeking power, and I don’t know what to do about that, but I don’t… It’s what is going on is not completely benign. I mean, among all individuals.,It certainly seems that way. But we’re in kind of a sick society, we have been for a long time, introduced to this society is the internet, and not just the internet but social media, which is a drug that we’ve never been exposed to before, and I really think that the rise of genderism, along with some other movements, like it just would not happen without the internet. There is, there’s a huge there’s like social dysfunction on steroids…(laughs) Um, on some kind of drug that we’ve never encountered before, and we can’t stop it, and we can’t step back and look at it… We don’t really know what’s happening. It’s as though somebody has sprayed psycho drugs on everybody in certainly the United States, and we’re just going to see what’s happening. And what’s going to happen, and this is what’s happening. And I think it’s unprecedented, actually. I think that just as totalitarianism was unprecedented in the early 20th century. This is unprecedented as well, and oh, it gives me a chance to recommend a book: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zubov, which is, it has a lot of words in it, but maybe too many worries, but excellent concepts.
Audience: Thank you. This is so refreshing for me, and affirming in many ways because I’ve silenced myself tremendously on these topics in the Academia actually, so that is has been frightening for me given that my job is to engage in critical thinking and guide younger people to do the same. But the whole compelled speech issue is is tremendously alive, how questions of are you dead naming or you doing all these things? I worried tremendously about pediatric transition. Yes, because these are dangerous drugs that that for example, they’ve been tested on women with endometriosis with horrifying effects. And these drugs, this so called puberty blockers, are given to block development that is mental, physical, emotional, hormonal, all those things. So what happens when you stop something at a stage where you’re supposed to be allowing eating better, eating more vegetables, exercising, getting fresh air so you can grow. Okay, so I think this is frightening. Then, the bizarre language tricks that are played on people have me confused and I read a lot. So people who don’t have a depth of hundreds of books later then I suppose they must be even more confused than I am.
What I’d like to say is tha,t 17 to 21 year olds as somebody say the’re a very vulnerable population there. There are a lot of people trying to change their names which is fine. I don’t have a problem with that. But it because people are searching all those things. But I also think that the mutilating of the body. Yes, it’s a horrendous problem. So if we think that that I would say no mutilation is, I called mutilation because I don’t think that there’s a need to take, to take your breasts and chop them off. I don’t think that that’s that’s like a necessary thing that will that will make you be less oppressed. Okay. So if we’re looking at a situation where, as a class of people women have had to deal with less pay, less leisure time. Let’s access to stuff. And then we think of all we have to do now is chop off our breasts and grow beard and then we’ll be free. Okay, I think that that’s completely, that it’s tremendously misguided.
Audience: I have two things, the first is in response to, what do we do when someone calls a hater. I think one response that someone can do in that case is to ask them to define their terms. What exactly are you accusing me of in detail? How is it that I’m being hateful, and exactly what is the negative impact that I’m delivering. And often people, they don’t want to do that. They want to have, “well you’re a hater, you’re a bigot” be a close to the conversation rather than having it be a conversation starter so perhaps we can figure out a way that we can co-exist together.
The second thing that I wanted to bring up, someone mentioned language games. And the language games people say well, it’s just language, why does it matter. Why I think it matters because we’ve got this thing going on. That’s kind of like, I tend to call it the euphemism treadmill in reverse. So you have people saying well, I’m a woman what’s wrong with that. Well, the problem is it’s not just people saying well, I’m a woman and saying that there can only be one way to be a woman, and that one way to be a woman has to somehow encompass the both of us so that there can’t be any line driven between. So then, someone in will say well we’re oppressed we have things that go on with us materially from the moment that were born. It’s our body that is being judged. Women are not denied the right to vote because of identity issues. We were… nobody asks the identity of girls that are told that they got to go on a menstrual hut once a month. Okay? (applause) Alright, that’s fine, people want to be into the group of women, then maybe we will start saying that we are female.
But what happens when people start saying and this is the norm, right? This is women. This is lesbians on dating sites or whatever start saying, okay, that’s cool. I’m just going to say I’m a female woman or a woman born woman. But it’s a problem because you drew the line. So now that people come up with a way to say that they are also are female women. So they will say I took hormones therefore. I have a female hormonal profile therefore I’m also female woman. Or I was born with, I am identifying as a woman, I was born with my genitalia. So my genitalia is women’s genitalia which is female genitalia. So I too am born with female genitalia. So what about that? So people say Okay the female male penis. Alright, so now we have people on dating sites saying “I’m cis.” Well now we got people saying well I already did all the transition I want, and sometimes this includes, you know, the full thing–or not, which is fine, I can understand why people wouldn’t, saying that therefore they should say that my gender identity no longer mismatch my body, because I got body modification. So then maybe I also should be cis. So this thing that keeps on going because, it’s the, the important part is that there not be any line drawn. Whereas I think you know, maybe we need to say that trans women are trans women and trans men are trans men, and that’s great. And I think that there should be, absolutely should be protection in the law, orthogonal to each other for both, sex, for sexual orientation, which is about the body, it’s about sex.You know, and also gender presentation and gender identity. There should be room for all of those things and we should have legal protections for all of them. And it doesn’t help anybody when we have people mixing them together, often out of well-meaningness, to say that we’re going to have gender and sex be the same thing. I mean part of it started out with gender being a euphemism for sex. So the when they ask you sex on a farm you don’t do the 12 year old boy thing is all hung up. Yes? But the problem is then, during that time, that we wrote a ton of laws saying that we have gender protection, right, and when we did that we meant sex. But now people are saying, well, we have that gender identity thing, so we need to rewrite that. And that’s where we get this conflict between gender identity and sex. We need to have protections for both of them. Nobody should be getting fired because they’re not wearing the right thing, you know? We shouldn’t have any of this, “Oh women gotta wear high heels to work” or any of that business either. Or a male person who wants to wear heels to work, power on, right?
Corinna Cohn: They’re uncomfortable. (audience laughs)
Audience member continues: Yes, we need protections for all of them. And one of the things that’s causing a lot of strife in the community right now, is that because of this mixture of gender and sex being defined as the same thing, and even in the Trump pronouncements he does that too, but a lot of well meaning people use those terms interchangeably and so it provides this wiggle room that muddies up the water. But some people need to use that area to get area to get protections for sexual orientation; back in like the 70s and 80s, and it’s a hundred percent understandable why they did that because it was the only way to do it. But now hopefully we’re in a more enlightened time in 2019 and we should be able to say that we want to disambiguate these things. We want to define them separately, and have explicit protection for sexual orientation in the law. And I think if we can fight for that everybody can get together to fight for that. It’ll cause a lot of the strife maybe to dissipate somewhat so I probably gone way too long.
Carey Callahan: I do want to go back to pediatric transition because the more that you know about pediatric transition, the more horrifying it is. And um I specifically… I’m on this kick where I would like people who are anti pediatric transition to frame themselves as pro-orgasm, because a lot of time what we’re experimenting with is a kid’s ability to orgasm. Yeah, and so and specifically when we talk about male kids. So like jazz Jennings was on puberty blockers, which will halt your development in terms of ever having an orgasm, right, and then he had bottom surgery as well, so there is
Corrina Cohn: Defining terms… What’s an orgasm?
Carey Callahan: Ummm, that’s out of my pay grade (laughter) So, umm, When we talk about people, so it’s like, even if a child actually remains trans identified through their life, when we talk about regret what we’re talking about, does a 10 year old know what it is to consent to not being able to orgasm.
Audience member: Or fertility
Corinna Cohn: Not to have too much TMI here, but I’ve started, I did my transition as a teenager and you’re absolutely correct.
(Audience members say the’re sorry)
Corinna Cohn: It’s okay. I have an iPhone. (Audience laughs)
Audience member: When I grew up, there were only two categories: sex, and sexual orientation, you know, and now we’re just a lot more discriminating in our discussions and I even learned a new one today that there’s gender presentation. I haven’t heard that one before, but there’s all these different gender categories and sexual categories. And so I wanted to ask a question to to Carey and Corinna. This is a thought experiment; suppose that we lived in a society where people just accepted the physical body that you had and that other people had and that there was, you know, male and female and the continuum, you know mixture, there and physically or emotionally, psychologically whatever that there was that people just accepted who we are and and didn’t try to shove people into categories, and say, you know, except for physical there’s male and female. If it was just acceptance and, do you think that people would still feel uncomfortable in their bodies and want to change their bodies if they were accepted in their feelings, and that their feelings about themselves and identity were just considered totally normal, whatever it was.
Corinna Cohn: I know. I wish that that would be possible. It seems utopian. The process of puberty, and fact that you’re not really mentally mature at the time that you’re going through puberty means that even in the most accepting sort of environment, you’re going to feel weird about yourself, and it’s going to become a puzzle that you try to solve. I think even even in that sort of environment that you are supposing if it could exist. I think that there’d still be people who would, if they knew the transition was possible want to explore it to see if that was a way to find themselves.
Carey Callahan: I don’t know. I mean, you know, these things are above my pay grade. I don’t know. I don’t know. But I know that lots of kids have dissociative symptoms during puberty. Also, it seems like a lot of women, when they’re pregnant, have dissociative symptoms. So it seems like when your body is changing very quickly, it’s hard to be aware of your body’s boundaries and stuff. I do think that if we lived in a wonderful world where everyone was always offered dignity, that would I we would all be mentally more healthy and…
Audience member: So speaking about compelled speech, it’s not just socially compelled anymore. It is being codified into law in some places and countries that if you misgender someone it will be a misdemeanor. It will be like, yeah, exactly and Canada for instance. The laws about recognizing gender versus sex have now defunded a woman’s Rape Relief Center. And those are the real effects of why these politics aren’t just personal. They affect services for people who need them. And it’s very frustrating to watch it happen, and I have a 13 year old daughter who thankfully is very awake and comfortable and knows. But all of her friends are compelling her speech. All of her friends are saying you must be non-binary constantly to her because she doesn’t want to paint her nails and wear a dress. All of her teachers are asking her, are you trans because she doesn’t like the arts. You know it this is it’s utterly ridi- and there and then as a parent I also am running into these stories where children are being removed from their parents because the parents are concerned about the health effects of these drugs, and they’re saying you know what my 13 year old doesn’t have the mental capacity to understand the damage they’re doing to their body. I as the adult should be able to apply this but kids are then being taken away from their parents. Like I know that happened in Ohio, like like there’s one in there was a case at least about yeah, but it’s it is happening and it’s terrifying that kids can transition at school. And not have the parents told. And this is not College. This is high school and Junior High.
Another audience member: I was just hoping that the… I would like the panelists to talk about the underlying sexism and misogyny of the contemporary trans activist movement. You mentioned the Vancouver rape Relief Center and the you know, that is of misogyny behind all of this and it being much larger than just individuals and their preferences and personal stories.
Another audience member: Can I have hierarchy to that because that’s what we’ve missed. There is a hierarchy to this; Vancouver Rape Relief is women and it’s men who were shutting you down. Does that fit with your…
Audience member: Yes it is. Yes. Let’s talk about the underlying misogyny to the contemporary trans activist movement. If you can talk about that, please do.
Carey Callahan: So first where I go with that immediately is actually like the treatment of trans men within the community. My experience was that it sucked to be a trans guy because your sexuality was being patrolled. It was super problematic if you like, you know only wanted to be with female people people; made fun of trans guys dating trans guys literally all the time. And also you were like patrolled for like these secret like, you know male privilege, like if you talked too much that was a big one like this idea that trans guys are always talking and laughing, and so I don’t know like I that’s that was a trip. It’s a trip to be accused of having male privilege and you still have tits in you’re walking down the street with them. So I worry about it a lot and I’m laughing but like some of the trans guys that I’m talking about are like 15 year olds or 18 year olds. It’s so easy to prey on an 18 year-old and guilt-trip them about their sexuality and stuff. So that’s that’s immediately where I go. And yeah, I don’t know if that answers…
Nina Paley: I got sort of initially schooled in modern trans activism when I criticized the cover of Vogue that Caitlyn Jenner was on, and I was like, this is super sexist. This is not what makes somebody a woman, right? I’m a woman and this to see this depiction, everybody say yeah. Sure. That’s the woman I was like, whoa, no! And then everybody jump down my throat and said you were transphobe, you’re a transphobe, and I was like, what a great cover for good old-fashioned sexism, you know, like they’re making sexism look woke. Yeah. It’s intense. I mean the… We have in many ways regressed and the ideals of feminism that I grew up with which basically said women can be anything you can have any sort of personality. You can wear any kind of clothes that’s like no girls now say the wrong or kind of personality like mine people would say, oh, you’re really a boy and yeah, it smells like misogyny to me!
Corinna Cohn: When you prioritize the feelings of a male person over the experience or life of the female person, I think that that’s fair to describe that as misogyny. Or at least one form of it. I believe that we’ve come to the point where the word transphobia is used to enforce that dynamic. Prioritizing one group’s feelings over the reality of a another group’s, and I don’t think that’s purely inside of the trans community. I think it’s also from the people who declare themselves to be allies.
Audience Member: Yes, I have a question that for the panelists from an experience. I had probably 10 years ago as a University librarian, and not here but at a prestigious University in the east coast where the board of directors was trying to figure out what to do with the what they’re called there Frosh. I mean there were you know, we couldn’t the most important University for pronouns, but I had to learn them. And the the problem was that at this University people can live with anybody, but not their frosh year. In other words sophomore junior senior. You can choose: man woman whatever, but there were there were two shrinks on the board who disagreed. What do you do about I hate to pick on the Braska, but I will, a Frosh from Nebraska being roomed with a person undergoing transition and there was a big argument at this University. And I wonder what y’all think about that because there was a lot of argument about well people undergoing transition, there’s a lot of psychological stuff going on and a poor freshman, Nebraska, who is not it doesn’t know about these issues shouldn’t be put in this position. Is that still going on or is it not is this an old-fashioned thing?
Nina Paley: I have a question. Are you saying that the frosh were segregated housing by sex?
Audience Member: They were by sex, yes.
Nina Paley: And so the issue for the transitioning student was in the way this is phrased. It’s like there seems to be two issues there. Like I definitely have opinions about sex segregated spaces right that the criteria of sex now is how people identify.
Audience Member: What happened is that Frosh; good question, I didn’t say this. They were putting transitioning people in single rooms. And the transitioning people said this isn’t fair. We want a roommate. We want to have the Frosh experience. And the University, they were putting trans…
Another audience member: …And they wanted a roommate who was the opposite sex?
Nina Paley … Someone who matched their identity rather than their sex?
Audience member: Yes, that’s right.
Nina Paley: Ok, all I really want, all I’m asking for, is for people to acknowledge the difference between identity and reality, ideas and reality, sex, you know like it or not, it’s based on material reality. And yes, we all know intersex exists; that does not mean that sex is a spectrum. It just means that, you know biology is is complicated and things happen, but there’s no like 30 sexes, there’s no you know, there’s no like, you know gamete that’s between a sperm and an ovum right? It’s and it’s just look at sex like if we’re if we’re making laws, those have to be based in material reality and, you know, one area that I completely agree with with the trans activists with I sa,y you don’t know, you know, what’s inside another person’s head and heart. It’s like that’s correct. Nobody knows what’s inside another person’s head and heart right? Like that’s yours you own that right, but we can, in some cases, imperfectly observe material reality and laws should be based on that not things that we can’t see, not things that nobody knows exists except you. It’s again the separation of church and state, these assertions of our identity. These are unprovable things and that’s not, it’s like just because something’s unprovable doesn’t mean it’s bad or wrong or I don’t respect it or I don’t like it, or I hate it. It just means it’s unprovable, and religion is fine people need it actually people who need magic and spirituality and all sort of stuff, but that’s you know, that’s not the realm of law.
Audience Member: So one solution they could have done, and again, maybe they changed this. I haven’t kept track, but this occupied a whole year of board meetings. So, which I attended. So what they could do is to survey about how do you identify and then, if you say transitioning, but two transitioning people together, if they want to remain…
Corinna Cohn: But the trans, the transactvists I have dealt with has said that’s not acceptable. You can’t separate us; separate but equal is not legal, like they start comparing themselves to civil rights, and like so different drinking fountains and things like that and it’s not the biological reality should be the deciding factor.
Audience Member: So how do you do that? If you’re with kids coming to college the first time…
Carey Callahan: what is your sex? It’s so simple!
Audience Member …as your biological.
Carey Callahan: Yes.
Traci Nalley: In the back with the blue hair. There’s only two of you.
Audience Member: I grew up in the 50’s into my late teens, and I was I was a weird nerd dweeb dork Sissy boy. And I had no idea where I was supposed to be. And three times in one year in my last two years of high school, I was hospitalized wanting to kill myself. I didn’t want to live in a world of violence and Injustice, and I certainly didn’t want to be one of those men, and had male relationships.Then I was President Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech and I realize you don’t kill yourself, stupid you make Revolution. And in wondering what that Revolution would be, I am now asking a question of, I think what I thought was I wanted to… I thought all the problems of History were due to men. That I wanted to make men in a good image as nonviolent people, and that was the direction I chose, and I I don’t know if I consciously stopped having relationships with men, but I know that what I was focusing on, and I don’t really hear the room was… I think the problem is how our gender became. And I don’t want to make myself fit somewhere else. I don’t want to make myself help men be nice. I want to know if the panel has anything to say about that.
(Agreement from audience)
Carey Callahan: Well really quick, I’ll just say, that having had the experience of being in a very Utopian minded, ideological community that turned coercive, has given me a really rigid practicality. I honestly, consciously trained my brain to not think about Utopia stuff. So like I don’t know how the world should be, and I don’t know how men should be. I dunno how women should be, but here I am, and like here are the people around me, and how are they behaving, and are they giving people honor and respect… Now that is because I know that I can go overboard and get way too deep into stuff. So that’s just kind of where I’m at. And I know those questions are very interesting. I guess I think that like, the specifics of interactions and stuff and the specifics of what medications do, the specifics of how people build lives. I think are very interesting. And so I’d like to think on a smaller scale these days.
Nina Paley: Yeah, I’m also susceptible, or have been susceptible to Utopianism, and try not to go down that way. But I am an anarchist. The thing about Anarchy is that the people that are actually practicing Anarchy are not anarchists. They do not identify as anarchists. Like you’ll find like a lot of conservative Christians practicing Anarchy, Mutual Aid, and people just you know, willingly helping each other out, or patching holes in the road, or things like that, or being in recovery groups and just helping each other out. So I…
I really think the most is like totally try it, you know, really the most if not revolutionary; I don’t feel like not really interested in revolution at this point, it kills a lot of people, but you know, the most best thing people can do for the world is to be decent human beings and help their neighbor, and the best way to fight fascism is to not behave like a fascist.
Audience: Does Corinna have to say something about that?
Corinna Cohn: No.
Traci Nalley: In the back…
Audience Member: One concern I have is that attention span is finite. Not ours. It is nearly impossible to follow the academical backdrop of this discussion. And what is happening is in the rest of the country and the rest of the world is the rising of a far more dangerous darkness than the one pill that we are trying to die on because of One Division. And to me it appears that the two apparent sides of this debate are actually natural allies against the far greater danger.
So it pains me to see friends on both sides, with justifiable perspectives that fray one another with great conviction. Whereas we see something akin to the end of democracy in our lifetimes, and as we know from history is always propagates in a way, where we divide so that they can conquer minorities. So that minorities can see one another as enemies, and whether these are based on race or ethnicity or gender; this is not too different. So what are practical steps where we can say, “we do not need to pick where we protect vulnerable women who have concerns about spaces that they need to find shelter, and because they have been abused, people that that look like me have been the cause of it more often than not.
People that look like me have been the privileged that have trampled over other people’s rights, and when they say that I don’t want you in the space because you frighten me I must listen to this. And I am not permitted to dictate that I have a right to be very they don’t want me to be.
Yet also, people that identify something other than they are born? Why should they not be protected for what they choose, to me. This is a false dichotomy. We don’t need to choose one or the other, they are somebody over there said these are orthogonal needs we need to insist on both, and we need to not compromise when…
Nina Paley: We need to not conflate them in the same laws. That’s like very understood. The problem is that they’ve been conflated in the same laws and we need to not do that. That’s it. Very simple!
Audience Member: …and I would really like to disagree with you very politely. People that identify as women that are men that have, are being placed in women’s prisons. They are raping women in prison because they identify as women. Women’s shelters are being shut down because they do not allow these men who identify as women to use the shelters. Women are getting hurt on sports field because they’re playing against men who identify as women. There’s a lot of actual physical things that are happening to women’s bodies because of this. And I don’t know if denying biological reality is a civil right?
Carey Callahan: Just to kind of respond to that… I worry all the time about whether I’m helping Trump get reelected. Like, umm… There is a way that by us like making this issue really prominent, we’re absolutely helping people in Nebraska be like what the hell is up with Democrats? And the problem is that like when this viewpoint has like, the ACLU was really promoting this viewpoint, Planned Parenthood is… So in a perfect world the Left could have this discussion and work it out without everyone thinking. I’m going to be real like I think that Trumps going to get reelected, and I think it’s going to because of cultural stuff like this because it is insane what we’re letting happen to kids. We’re wrong on that.
Nina Paley: Alright let’s have one more question; this is going to be the last question.
Audience Member: …continue on with time and talk about the equality act because… Frankly I’m leaving the Democratic Party because of this. I’m not going to be a Republican, but I’m changing my registration to Independent over the Equality Act.
Nina Paley: So I think it should be called the Female Erasure Act, that this is on a national level, what’s happened to Title Nine in the state of Illinois. This is going to conflate gender identity with sex, or really erases sex in favor of gender identity, or redefine sex as gender identity nationally, and this is going to totally undermine women’s rights everywhere.
Audience Member: …and every Democrat’s on board with it.
Another Audience Member: Can I say something quickly, that the equality act also wants to protect the rights of lesbians and gay people, and that that… Maybe the wording about gender identity could be changed in the Equality Act and it could be fixed, so that it could be protecting
Audience Member: … a builder sending for the house right now though doesn’t it is not fixed. And I’m speaking as a lesbian feminist here. I don’t want it passed in the form that it is.
Another Audience Member: Right in the form that it is. But I mean what what I know a lot of leftist feminists, and what they’re concerned about is that if we get on board with saying we don’t want the Equality Act at all, it’s going to erase the protections that in our intended in the equality act for gay and lesbian people.
Audience Member: Yeah, it can be postponed. It’s more important to protect women’s rights at this point. I’m a lesbian but I’m also a woman.
(Audience argues over this point whether the Equality Act can be changed or should be discarded)
Nina Paley: I am so freaking grateful for you. I’m so …
(Loud discussion and laughter as the event ends)