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Jonathan Van Ness Takes a Whirlwind Tour Educating Transphobes on the Realties of Women in Sports

Sarah Bricker Hunt

Jonathan Van Ness, beauty influencer, entrepreneur, amateur gymnast, star of Netflix's “Queer Eye” and all-around fantastic human being, has been putting in way too much emotional labor batting down tired arguments about trans women in sports.

The latest was a nasty Instagram exchange with former Fox anchor Megyn Kelly, who openly mocked the sweetest person on television in a segment for her web chat show, whatever that means.

This exchange followed Van Ness's exhausting appearance on Dax Shepard's podcast, where they engaged in a heated debate about trans rights and the role of The New York Times in progressive news. Despite identifying as a Democrat, Shepard presented counterarguments to Van Ness's stance on trans rights, leading to a tense conversation about the legislative efforts surrounding trans participation in sports.

​​“This whole notion that to be critical or to question, you’re seeing the whiplash reaction to that,” Shepard said. “To even question it makes you an enemy. I don’t think that’s the way forward.”

Van Ness, who identifies as nonbinary, argued that restricting trans kids from sports essentially legalized bullying under the guise of protecting girls in sports. They emphasized the importance of addressing misinformation and disinformation surrounding anti-trans sentiments and called for understanding and empathy.

“When you have an outsized reaction to something, there’s a good chance that you’re being exposed to misinformation and disinformation,” he told Shepard. “And a lot of the rhetoric around anti-trans inclusion and just the anti-trans backlash does have a lot of misinformation and disinformation in it.”

They added, “I’m a nonbinary fucking trans person. When I talk to my dad or people who say similar things, it’s hard to be cool through that. I’m not calling you a transphobe. You cannot be transphobic and still have thoughts that espouse trans misogyny and espouse transphobic ideologies or beliefs... Just like how I have to challenge biases about white privilege and make sure I’m not speaking over someone who is a person of color or a Black person if we’re talking about racism or police brutality.”

By the end of the call, Van Ness was in tears. 

“I could just cry because I’m so tired of having to fight for little kids because they just want to be included,” they said. “I wish that people were as passionate about little kids being able to be included or grow up as they were about fictitious women’s fairness in sports.”

Meanwhile, the exchange with Kelly began when she feigned concern for her daughter's right to play sports with other girls. Van Ness responded by debunking the notion that trans athletes prevent cisgender athletes from participating and highlighted the systemic issues affecting women's sports, such as unequal access to resources and opportunities.

In a super bitchy segment for her web chat show, Kelly mocked Van Ness’s appearance on Shepard’s show. Feigning tears, she claimed, “I’m so tired too. I’m so tired. I’m tired of having to stand up for my daughter’s right to play sports with other girls. I’m tired of having to stand up for the volleyball player down in North Carolina…”

In reality, Kelly would be hard-pressed to actually back up her claim as there have been no situations involving trans athletes preventing her daughter from playing sports.

Van Ness responded on Instagram, critiquing the science cited by trans inclusion detractors and highlighting the lack of professional trans athletes despite decades of participation in sports like tennis and swimming.

In the midst of strong opinions and national attention, figures like Van Ness and Kelly embody different viewpoints in a complex dialogue. For Van Ness, the goal is to advocate for the rights of all people, emphasizing the need to reframe the discourse from exclusion to equality. For Kelly, the goal is to appeal to the audience that butters her bread.

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