Jan. 28, 2019, Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C.: Four self-defined feminists present on a panel entitled “The Inequality of the Equality Act: Concerns from the Left.” Featured speakers: Jennifer Chavez, lawyer and board member of the Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF); Kara Dansky, lawyer and Board Member of the Women’s Liberation Front; Hacsi Horvath, adjunct lecturer in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco and formerly identified as transgender; Julia Beck, lesbian and producer of Women’s Liberation Radio News and former member of Baltimore’s LGBTQ Commission. The panel was moderated by Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation.
From the Heritage Foundation description of the event:
Who could be against a law that promises equality and bans discrimination? Parents who’ve already experienced grief, despair, and witnessed medical harms as they attempted to get help for their gender-confused children. Medical experts concerned about how adding “gender identity” into civil rights law would cause physical and psychological harm. People who have transitioned, and then detransitioned, concerned with what this ideology will do to children. Lesbians who have been punished for having the audacity to say that men are not women. Radical feminists concerned that nearly all sex-segregated spaces, colleges, sports, dormitories and women’s rights in general will disappear if “gender identity” becomes a protected class and the dangers this poses to women and girls.
Please join us for a panel discussion featuring speakers from the political left as they share their stories of the harmful consequences of what will happen if “gender identity” ideology is enshrined into U.S. civil rights law.
The Heritage Foundation? Concerns from the Left? It is confounding that anyone who calls themselves “left” would align with the Heritage Foundation. This organization’s track record is littered with dog whistles, bare-toothed vicious attacks and rhetorical defecatory missiles launched to damage second-, third- and fourth-wave feminism; gay liberation and contemporary LGBTQ equality movements; sexual freedom and bodily autonomy/sovereignty movements; and any movement or theory that threatens or critiques male supremacy, patriarchy and the subjugation of women and children.
What is the common thread uniting the very powerful U.S. right-wing political and propaganda machines and the relatively small sector of women who have come to be known as TERFs or trans-exclusionary radical feminists? Both seem to believe the freedom to self-define one’s gender and one’s sexuality is a seek-and-destroy operation to crush categories of “men” and “women.” Further, TERFs believe these freedoms to be an attack on “homosexuality” and/or lesbianism. Their new organizational ally, the Heritage Foundation, has never defended homosexuality, or gay rights, although it is deeply invested in protecting and defending traditional definitions of “men” and “women” cuz the social fabric is shredding. Voila! This newly minted partnership will work night and day to defeat The Equality Act, which seeks to extend non-discrimination protections to persons based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
And now, this partnership of truly odd bedfellows has been joined by Andrew Sullivan, former editor of The New Republic, a longtime conservative gay commentator/pundit, and now, apparently, a defender of real men’s man. In an article published in New York Magazine on Feb. 1, 2019, titled “The Nature of Sex,” Sullivan gathers his estimable analytic acumen to consider the destruction of homosexuality and the end of categories man/woman and categories boy/girl. He argues that these categories are under serious attack by the simple, if insistent, expressions of freedom of self-definition by persons whose sex at birth does not align with their own experience of gender. A man/boy likely engages in a years-long personal process to transition from category man/boy to category woman/girl, seeking to quell their own gender dysphoria, or the what/when/how of their discomfort or distress about the internal conflict over one’s at-birth assigned gender and the gender lived in real time. And please understand: the movement bullhorns obsessing about the dissolution of categories of sex and gender care very much more about the category man/boy transitioning to the category woman/girl than they care about the reverse.
The fevered fears of Chavez, Dansky, Horvath, Beck and the Heritage Foundation, and now Sullivan and the Canadian Sky Gilbert, flow from these tenets of faith, theory and politics:
1. Biology is destiny. No, really. Forget about second-wave feminist’s bold claim that women would not be automatically consigned to birthing rooms and kitchens based on their sex. Forget about those peculiar, minor and (they hope) forgotten indigenous cultures that engaged in biology-busting recognitions and honoring of individuals whose lives were not defined by category man/boy or category woman/girl and whose lives were rich, full and flourishing in a special category and roles all their own. The TERFs and the Heritage Foundation have given full-throated endorsement to the old — very conservative — saw: it is biology that must be and is the controlling definition of category man/boy and category woman/girl lest sexual, social and cultural chaos overtake us. See Sullivan here. Just as second-wave feminism analyzed “biology is destiny,” gender identity transitioning challenges the notion that each of us can only be defined by the sex assigned us at birth and all the concomitant social expectations attached to that assigned-at-birth sex. This so-called “natural law” has been contested for many decades and remains contested now.
2. TERFS argue If category man/boy is permitted willy-nilly to self-define into category woman/girl, category woman/girl will no longer exist as a legal term of art. Non-discrimination laws, they claim, will no longer be applicable to persons in category woman/girl because no one will be able to present and hold an un-challenged claim to the category. For those of us who lived through the 1970s nationwide political campaign to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, this particular feature of the nascent national political campaign to crush the Equality Act will ring bells in our memory banks. (See Eagle Forum/Phyllis Schlafly). More recently, gender identity anxiety has arisen in opposition to anti-discrimination laws at the local and state levels, in fear of the presence of transgender people in restrooms appropriate for their current gender expression.
3. Further, if category man/boy can transgress without consequence category woman/girl, women-only and especially lesbian-only spaces will disappear.This argument is especially troubling because it falsely hoists enormous responsibility for disappearing lesbian spaces onto the shoulders of category man/boy >> category woman/girl. In reality, these spaces disappear because of womens‘/lesbians’ relative lack of economic agency and access to money to operate those spaces; the phenomenon of online social and political spaces for women/lesbians; the welcomed-by-many emergence of cultural and political spaces for both lesbians and individuals category man/boy >> category woman/girl who share a same-sex sexual orientation, or who may not share that but are glad to share space/time for political, social and cultural gatherings. But what’s a contemporary lesbian separatist to do? How about some good old-fashioned organizing rather than laying blame on those who prefer different company and solidarity?
4. TERFs and the Heritage Foundation (and Andrew Sullivan and, the late Phyllis Schlafly) are not ready, willing or able to acknowledge that category man/boy >> category woman/girl persons are women. The best of it, from Sullivan, is that these persons are trans women and ought to be treated with respect, given support and allowed to live in peace. The worst of it, from TERFs, Heritage Foundation and the late Phyllis Schlafly, is these persons are category men/boys from which there can be no exit, no escape, no freedom. TERFs and Sullivan each imagine — in mirror images of desperation — gender as colony-like spaces that define people, who, if they decide to free themselves, become dangerous and threatening gender outlaws.
5. Now, about homosexuality, as sexual practice, not as cultural or social space, but about who touches whom, where and why and what kind of pleasures can ensue. Sullivan and Sky Gilbert, a Canadian playwright, filmmaker, and university professor (See Gilbert here.), for their parts, are very super worried that category woman/girl >>> category man/boy persons will destroy (male) homosexuality as we know it.
Consider this fantasy (true story, told to me by a pal): What if, seeing across the room a super hot and handsome (H&H) man, a male person approaches to explore the possibilities of an assignation. The two proceed with flirtatious chat because H&H perceives category man/boy person hot and handsome, too. And both are horny. So, they repair to a home space after establishing HIV statuses and parameters of sex relative to that and other personal tastes. Male person, assigned male at birth and remains so, thinks H&H man is also straight up category male, because he has not said otherwise and besides which there is a telltale bulge in H&H’s jeans. They commence to more than chatting, moving right into pack and play. The bulge is not connected to H&H’s body and is, instead, a dildo. Male person is undeterred since H&H remains all he wants in a man that night; H&H is also undeterred and turns out to be a real pro with that packed rubber dongle.
For Sullivan and Gilbert, the above story might reveal duplicity, disappointment, derogation, and deflation of erection. Why? Because H&H isn’t really a man, assigned male at birth and remaining so. He is one of the escapees from the opposite category woman/girl. In this terror dream, escapees from the woman/girl colony space are threatening and dangerous because they pose as something they are not, pretend to have genitals they do not, has one too many holes down there, and cannot, for a “real man,” satisfy in a way that would be exciting and hot. Or, Sullivan and/or Gilbert maybe would give H&H a toss in the hay and next day, be singing a different tune about category woman/girl >>> category man/boy persons’ capacities to uphold and expand the experiences and meanings of homosex. End of fantasy scenario.
In addition to other misleading commentary in Sullivan’s New York magazine piece, he holds out that the Equality Act will include — gasp — gender identity, as if it has never been thought of before, as if gender identity non-discrimination is a shiny new object about which we know nothing. But that is not the case, not at all.
From the ACLU website:
California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia all have such laws. Their protections vary. For example, Nevada’s law bans discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations like restaurants, hospitals and retail stores; Maine’s law covers those categories plus access to credit and education.
At least 200 cities and counties have banned gender identity discrimination, including Atlanta, Austin, Boise, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Dallas, El Paso, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Louisville, Milwaukee, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and San Antonio, as well as many smaller towns.
The governors of Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania have issued executive orders banning discrimination against transgender state workers. Some cities and counties have also protected their transgender public employees through local ordinances, charter provisions or other means. People discriminated against by public entities on the basis of gender identity might also be able to argue that the government’s action was unconstitutional.
As well, the Equality Act also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, which is included in a plethora of laws, policies, and court interpretations in 25 states in the US. The Equality Act would bind up this patchwork into a blanket of federal protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity. (See Movement Advance Project map.)
So, what were the four self-defined feminists doing at the Heritage Foundation? They want to make common cause with religious rightists and conservative thinkers in order to attack and discredit the burgeoning freedoms of people to self-define their gender. As well, these women want to amplify their message by attaching themselves to the Heritage Foundation bullhorn. Jennifer Chavez at the Heritage Foundation panel said:
“One of the significant differences between here and the U.K. is that there are journalists in the U.K. speaking out about [the issue]. And here there are journalists speaking out but not with the sort of national reach and name recognition that the journalists who are speaking in the U.K. have had and I think that has made a humongous difference. So, we need journalists to speaking about this and covering both sides of the story at least.”
Here is the real rub for all of those who bleat about the faux dangers of gender identity non-discrimination protections. That train left the station, see above. For a seminal text on the topic generally, see Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by the brilliant queer scholar Judith Butler (Routledge1990; second edition 1999).
More so, the reality train of people choosing to transition likewise pulled out 68 years ago, as per the first very public transition in the United States. From the web:
Christine Jorgensen (May 30, 1926 – May 3, 1989) was an American trans woman who was the first person to become widely known in the United States for having sex reassignment surgery in her 20s. Jorgensen grew up in the Bronx, New York City. Shortly after graduating from high school in 1945, she was drafted into the U.S. Army for World War II. After her service she attended several schools, worked and around this time heard about sex reassignment surgery. She traveled to Europe and in Copenhagen, Denmark, obtained special permission to undergo a series of operations starting in 1951. She returned to the United States in the early 1950s and her transition was the subject of a New York Daily News front-page story. She became an instant celebrity, using the platform to advocate for transgender people and became known for her directness and polished wit.
To all the TERFs, to Andrew Sullivan and Sky Gilbert and even to the late Phyllis Schlafly, you are late to the story and you (exception taken to Phyllis who is deceased) are welcome to join the millions of people who believe the Equality Act should be enacted into law forthwith. And, we invite you to embrace the not-new, not-shiny, not-dangerous idea that humans can be freed from the constraints of socially policed notions of gender. Welcome to the not-new world!
Sue Hyde serves as the Executive Director of the Wild Geese Foundation. She was director of the Creating Change Conference/National LGBTQ Task Force, 1994-2018. Hyde is the author of “Come Out and Win: Organizing Yourself, Your Community, and Your World” (Beacon Press, 2007). Hyde is a proud resident of the People’s Republic of Cambridge, Massachusetts.