Heterodox Trans People #1

Heterodox Trans People #1

Zander Keig on why reasonable minds need to come together

Zander Keig is an award-winning licensed clinical social worker, health educator, and anthology editor who served in the US Coast Guard. He currently serves as Director of the Transgender American Veterans Association Community and Healing Committee and as an Advisory Board member and Senior Fellow for the Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR). Additionally, he develops and delivers corporate diversity training, emotional wellness, and mental fitness courses. Zander brings a unique perspective to all aspects of his work as a trans man and first-generation American of Mexican heritage (Latino) with subject-matter expertise in conflict mitigation, social care, and mental well-being. His educational training includes a BA in Interpersonal Communication, MS in Conflict Analysis and Resolution, MTS in Theological Systems, and an MSW in Clinical Social Work.

Be Reasonable neon signage
Photo by Victor on Unsplash

BROADVIEW is a reader-supported publication. Please consider becoming a paid subscriber.

Lisa [00:00:04] So welcome to Broadview, Zander Keig. I'm excited to talk to you today.

Zander [00:00:09] Thank you. It's so wonderful to be here. I'm looking forward to our discussion.

Lisa [00:00:13] So I wanted to start with your transition story, which I think is a little different from what we often hear in the media these days.

Zander [00:00:24] Absolutely. Well, so for reference, I'm 56 years old. And I started my medical transition, meaning I started taking testosterone when I was 39 years old. So it's been almost 18 years, 17 and a half years now. And when I first started testosterone before I started testosterone, I should say, I had been to a presentation that was given by a medical doctor in San Francisco, California, where I was living at the time, at the main library in the Civic Center neighborhood, right in the downtown, so to speak, neighborhood of San Francisco or one of them. And this it was one of these big auditoriums in the library. And the focus was testosterone, for the FTM, female to male. That was sort of the parlance of the day. And people still use that. I'm an MTF, male to female. It's just not, it's not as common anymore.

But it was like, the focus was what is testosterone and what will it do and what won't it do? Come and ask your questions. And so the room was packed. People were standing in the back, sitting in the hallways or the aisle ways and the doctor said, “What are your questions” to the audience? And what she did was, I really like how she did this. She wrote down every single question on like a big whiteboard. And if there were more if there was more than one person who asked a similar same question, she just put a little checkmark next to the question that she wrote. And it turned out that most of us had very similar questions, and a lot of them had to do with things like mood and behavior. So, for example, were we going to be calm or all of a sudden, really angry and aggressive and violent? Was testosterone going to do that to us now? At the time, I believed that it would because I had spent all of my adolescence and my adult years up to that point in lesbian community. And so it was pretty common to hear people say within the lesbian community, lesbian, feminist community that men were violent and it was testosterone that made them violent. That was that was just something that was pretty common to hear. And so I was reluctant to take testosterone.  I had actually come to a trans identity about six years prior. But I was I was afraid that if I took testosterone, it would make me violent.

And so I went to this presentation. I asked my question just like everybody else did, and she systematically went through every single question. And by the end of it, it was pretty clear that testosterone does not make people violent, that hormone imbalance can make people act in in aggressive ways or violent ways. The example she gave was premenstrual syndrome and how sometimes that leads to violent behavior that's legally recognized as like an under duress kind of experience. And so we were to be careful with keeping on a regular schedule of injections, you know, like not messing with when we did them and how, you know, what kind of testosterone we're putting into our body and that we got lab tests on a regular basis to make sure we were staying sort of even, and that we also got our lab results about the same time every time. So if we were going to do a shot on Monday, we should probably get our labs on like Wednesday or Thursday, not on Monday or Tuesday when they were the highest, but also not on Friday when they might have been too low right to so that we could have reliable, valid data about our testosterone levels. And so for me, that was enough to make the decision that I was going to do testosterone.

But another part of the story is that up to that point, right prior to that, I never had any sense that I was born in the wrong body. Right. You'll hear people say I was born in the wrong body, or they were born in the wrong body. That's not something that has ever occurred to me. I'm just happy to have a body that's functioning. I was paralyzed when I was six years old on the left side of my body. For almost a year and a half following the MMR vaccination, I contracted rubella, which is the R in MMR, and I was very sick. I had seizures, I was in the hospital for about three months. I was in a medically-induced coma for two weeks. I was sick. They didn't think I would survive. And once I came out of the coma, was brought out of the coma, and I was paralyzed and blind in my left eye, they thought, well, that was it. But thankfully I was able to do speech therapy and physical therapy and recreational therapy and occupational therapy. Every kind of therapy I could get to be able to. Right now, I don't rely on wheelchairs or braces or crutches like I did when I was when I was between six and eight years of age. So I was happy. I'm happy to have a functioning, for the most part, healthy body. So born in the wrong body just didn't fit with me.

I also went through a period of time, and I know you'll appreciate this because you wrote the book on tomboys, is that I was a tomboy, right? And so that and that wasn't anything that I experienced pushback from in my family. So I wore, quote unquote, tomboy clothes, meaning I just wore boys’ clothes. That's what that means. And I like to do things like ride my Schwinn cruiser and take my skateboard to the skateboard park and put big skateboard wheels on my Vans tennis shoes and make them my own cool roller skates. Right? Like that's what I really enjoyed doing. I played soccer. I was the goalie on my soccer team in Torrance, California, where I grew up, that's Los Angeles County. And so I was having a pretty normal kind of tomboyish life. I was being raised by a single father. It turns out my mother, which I sort of knew about, I mean, I guess I knew about it, my grandmother, which I also knew about, were not happy with my tomboyish-ness, but they mostly communicated that to my father. It turns out my father never shared those sentiments with me. He's a good guy. He's a wonderful man. He has dementia now. I'm a caregiver. But so he was a wonderful, wonderful man. He's a wonderful man. But so I was not really bothered by being a tomboy. Even if there were external pressures, I wasn't really paying attention to them. Again, this was the seventies, right? Late middle, the late seventies, early eighties. Free to be You and Me was still very a popular sentiment. I was wearing clothes on the rack, I can't remember it was Sears or JCPenney, but it was like these racks of clothes and earth tone colors that were right between the boys’ and girls’ department. And I loved them because it was you know, they were I guess what we would refer to that is unisex clothing. And so there was really no problem. And it didn't occur to me that I was different in the sense of I was supposed to be a boy or I should have been a boy, or God made a mistake or like that. Those sentiments never really occurred. They didn't ever occur to me, I should say.

Now my memory pre age say eight is completely gone because of the encephalitis. That's what I experienced with the MMR vaccination was encephalitis. So I don't know what my earlier years were like, but neither of my parents said that I had any sort of issues with that. So as I'm going through my adolescence and my young adulthood, I was very much active in the lesbian community. I was dating. I had a girlfriend in high school. I you know, I was in Los Angeles, right? I was not really having any issues around this. Now, I knew that like, quote unquote, the church was against it. Right. I was raised Mexican in a Mexican family, Catholic church. So I knew that the church was against it. But I never heard my priest say word one about homosexuality. Right. And so and I knew that there were issues going on, but I didn't internalize those. That's part of my personality. I don't internalize negative messaging. And so I think that's you know, that's a good, I guess, coping mechanism or defense mechanism is that I don't internalize negative messages. And I'm not a follower. I'm more of a leader. I'm a behind the scenes leader, which is a little out of the ordinary. I don't need to be in front of the crowd to be the leader. And so I like to encourage people to do their own thing. And so I wasn't easily persuadable in the sense that, you know, oh, you like boys clothes and you're a lesbian, maybe you're actually trans or like, nobody was talking that way when I was in high school. And well, and then I went into the military and that was pre don't ask, don't tell. So I was basically a closeted, you know, lesbian in the military. But I enjoyed it very much for the most part. It wasn't really until I went to college when I was 30 years old, so I was a nontraditional student. I worked in what was called at the time the LBGT Student Services Office, and it stood for gay, lesbian by not bisexual and trans, not transgender. So this was 1995 or 1996 in Denver, Colorado. So it was very progressive, right, in the sense of how that word, I think, used to be used. And so it was in that environment that I was exposed to a lot of different trans people. And because we were bringing them on campus to do talks and performances, we had a library in our office and so there were books there that I could read and talk to other people about it. So I was introduced to I knew about drag queens because my mother had a lot of drag queen friends, but I didn't know about transsexuals and, and what were at the time called transgenderist people. We don't use that term very much anymore, if at all.

Lisa [00:10:25] What did that term mean then?

Zander [00:10:26] Virginia Prince popularized the term transgenderist. These were people, and she was one of them, who had been cross-dressers. So she was doing at the time what was called like part time, right? Cross-dressers that are part time dressing in women's attire and then transsexuals go full time. Right. That's kind of but transsexuals at the time were notably having surgeries. They were doing hormones and having surgeries. Virginia Prince was a pharmacist and she was from part time to full time. And she was taking estradiol and perhaps an androgen suppression medication, I'm not sure. But she didn't want any surgeries at all. So she was transgender, as were sort of full time cross-dressers who took hormones, perhaps, maybe not all of them, but didn't have any of the genital reconstruction surgeries. Yeah. Virginia Prince. She started an organization called Tri-S that I think still exists. TR I-SS I think that might be it. Really interesting organization. And so, so like I knew about these terms and none of them seem to fit. And then Leslie Feinberg, the author of Stone Butch Blues, came to Denver, Colorado, where I was going to college and was reading from her book, which was new at the time at the women's bookstore. And so I went and I was sitting on the floor right in the bookstore listening to her read and she introduced. And I say she because Leslie was lesbian, although a very masculine one, but later in life came out saying that Stone Butch Blues wasn't entirely autobiographical, it was just partly autobiographical, but that she was still a lesbian of sorts, right? Trans masculine, perhaps in today's vernacular. But Leslie was talking about how trans gender or trans was a transgressive act. Right. So as a gender non-conforming person, my entire life up to that point, I mean, I'm in my early thirties now. I'm, I'm like, well, I'm, I'm transgressive. I transgressed societal norms about how women or females are supposed to behave and dress and who they're supposed to partner with. So it made sense to me that I was trans because I was transgressive. Right. As a prefix trans. Right. It can mean many different things. It can mean to cross over, but it can also mean to, like, sort of challenge. Right. And so I went into identifying as trans from that perspective as a gender non-conforming, gender transgressing female, but a very masculine one. And it wasn't until the year 2000 that I then started to think of myself as not so much in lesbian community anymore, but in trans community, although still partnering with women and still recognizing my own sex as female, which I still do as a trans man. And so that's kind of how I went into it, which is, you're right, it's not very common in media portrayals, but it is common enough because I've met many people in the trans male community in particular who have a very similar, if not almost the same back story.

And so I think it has a little bit to do with the fact that I didn't get a lot of pushback from my family about my gender presentation, my gender expression. I didn't take in and internalize the societal expectations. And so I wasn't fighting anything. So I didn't really have that sense of angst and I didn't internalize it. So I didn't feel inferior or different in a negative way. I felt different in a very proud way. I considered myself to be countercultural, a renegade, and these are things that I was very proud of. I didn't see them as being negative. And so I think there's something to say about when we're looking about trans people, when we're doing research, when we're interviewing, when we're wanting to know information, we should find out a little bit more about the personality, the temperament, the right of the trans people, because we're not a monolith. We handle things in very different ways. And it might be interesting for people to know, like the people that come through adversity. I have had adversity, of course, but the people who've come through it and are more resilient, maybe even antifragile, versus the ones who are just succumbing to all of that distress. Like what's making the difference?

You know, I think they the ACES study, right, the adverse childhood experiences study was an attempt at looking at that in a broader sense. But it's, I don't think that people really drill down into that too much when they're looking at trans people, when they're researching trans people, when they're talking about trans people, when we're talking about treating trans people, we can't be cookie cutter treated. Right. So it's. So, again, I didn't feel like I was born in the wrong body. I didn't have a sense that I was the wrong sex at all. I think I just got to a point where, in my mid-thirties, I had endured up to that point, physical assault, verbal assault, like just nonstop. It felt at the time, of course, an onslaught of negativity for being a masculine woman. Right. Trying to go to the bathroom at the mall, walking hand-in-hand with my girlfriend down the street. These kinds of things just brought slurs being tossed out, passing car windows, people getting frightened or angry at me in bathrooms. I mean, it was just I just got to the point where I was sick and tired of it, really. And. I again, I didn't internalize it in the sense that I should stop doing this. There's something wrong with me. I just thought, you know, society has a problem with masculine women and effeminate men. I mean, let's be clear about that. And so I think I just got to a point where I wanted to. At that point, I had met several trans men. I had watched documentaries about trans men. I had read books written by trans men and I thought to myself at the time, I wonder what my life would be like if I looked and sounded like a man in society. Right? If my masculinity was being perceived as quote unquote, appropriate versus inappropriate, like would that really change my life in a significant way? Would I be able to go day by day without the looks of disgust or contempt that I was that I was picking up on, or at least that was my interpretation at the time of those looks, because I think I had just sort of maybe reached a kind of burnout, so to speak, in public hostility. I thought, I wonder if that's true.

And so I went to that presentation. And I heard what the doctor had to say. I called her office the next week day that was available, and I made an appointment. And when I went to go see her, I took my I think girlfriend maybe at the time, trying to think, yeah, my wife now, but it's been 20 years that we've been together. So I was trying to think about where we were in our relationship. And I told the doctor, I said, Listen, this is my story. I gave her the story I just gave you. And I said, Is that legitimate enough of a reason to want to start testosterone? And she's like, Oh, yeah, I bet. At the time she said, I've been working with trans people for 12 years. This is not the first time I've heard this story. Right. It was about things like being safer. It's more, safe in society. Right. About being able to not be harassed about. I had had some problems with jobs because of my masculinity as a woman. I had been turned down for a job and they told me right to my face, like, we just can't we just can't have you going to high schools and working with children because the parents are going to freak out. I was a then and still now a facilitator of workshops. And so I was hearing people directly say like, no, we can't be what they hired me for a different job, but they couldn't hire me for the job that I applied for. So it's like I just got to almost like a breaking point or a burnout point, so to speak, and that. And I thought, what the heck, let me try this thing, this testosterone. And if it if I don't like it, then I'll just stop. And I've been taking it now for 17 and a half years and I haven't regretted one day. I actually do love life. I've always loved life. But it's just there's just a different sense of ease that I have. That's not to say that men don't navigate the planet dealing with, you know, all kinds of B.S., too. It's just a different kind of B.S. And I haven't hit a burnout point on that yet, so. Well.

Lisa [00:20:04] It's hard for me to listen to this and not feel sad that there wasn't space for you and that, I mean, I'm happy that that you are happy and that you have that sense of ease. But it's a sad story about our society's intolerance of gender nonconformity. And I'm not sure we have more tolerance of it. I mean, so you in some ways, you went from being the way you describe trans as this like, outlaw thing to being a conformist.

Zander [00:20:44] Well, see, I still feel like I'm very subversive and transgressive because I refer to myself as transsexual. I acknowledge that I'm female sexed natally. So in some ways, I'm still that way. And it's like part of the issue for me might be, ah, the issue at large might be that there are a lot of masculine women in society. Right. And many of the very masculine, ah quote unquote butch lesbians are dykes that I spent a lot of time around. Didn't have a story very differently from me, but they were much more aligned with being a woman. And I never really aligned with being a woman. But I’ve got to say, I don't align with being a man now either. Right. I just. I'm a person. I present very masculinely, so to speak. I mean, the funny thing is, is that I was too masculine as a woman, but sometimes people consider me too feminine as a man now. Right. And so I refer to it as the gender game, and I just don't play that game. And so if I had been more inclined, like a lot of my lesbian friends or dyke friends to be very attached to womanhood, then I probably wouldn't have done what I did, but I wasn't attached to it. I don't reject it. I don't I'm not I don't have internalized misogyny. Like, I don't I didn't hate that I was a woman. I don't hate that I'm female. It was more just a sense of since this is all happening very socially and if I could do this one thing that changes my social experience. And it works. Well, why not? Right. And so it's. To me, it didn't it doesn't feel like it didn't. And it still doesn't feel like I gave up anything.

Lisa [00:22:44] Do you think that transitioning when you don't have gender dysphoria makes you more likely to be satisfied, that it solved the problem? It solved the problem that you were having, but you weren't expecting it to be life-saving and you weren't expecting an emotional transformation.

Zander [00:23:14] Perhaps. I remember at the time at the time it was gender identity disorder. It wasn't gender dysphoria in the DSM 4. And so it I started testosterone in 2005. In 2007, I started a blog and I didn't get very far into it because I got sidetracked. But I I've reviewed I've gone back and reread it several times over the years. And one of the things I wrote in this blog was that I didn't feel like I had a gender identity disorder. I felt that society had a gender identity disorder and that their attempt to force people into these male and female are man and actually man and woman boxes was really the problem. And I actually, you know, as a workshop facilitator back then, I was facilitating workshops periodically for an organization called the National Community for Christians and Jews, which became the national. Community. Oh. What did it become? For conflict resolution may be or CCJ. And they had been around since like, I don't know, like maybe the twenties or thirties, really old organization that initially was about bringing to and sort of an interfaith right, bringing together Christians and Jews for conflict resolution purposes. But they expanded out. And part of the trainings that we did through NCC was looking at the, quote, man box and the woman box and asking teenagers and young adults to give us words for, you know, what does it mean to be a man? And we'd write them in there. Was it mean to be a woman? And so this idea of the societal expectations that are coming from family, community, church or synagogue, righteous, just different religious faiths that those messages. Some people internalize those messages, see. And so whether you internalize them or you externalize them like I do, they're still in society. And so it's possible that people now just refer to that as gender dysphoria, because that societal pressure is creating a distress for them internally that really they might just be tomboys or sissies, right? So to speak. They're going to grow up to be lesbians or bisexual women or just more like, you know, sort of tough straight women. And same with the guys, right? It's like they're maybe they're gay, maybe they're bisexual, maybe they're going to, you know, do drag performance. You know, maybe they're just going to be a more sensitive, you know, straight man. We don't really know. We don't know about that. And so but I think that in some cultures, there is much more pressure on conforming to that, you know, where they even divide them up in places of worship and style of dress and. Right. You can see it's happening all over the world still, that really that you're not allowed to be non-conforming. So I was able to be non-conforming. Lots of people can be non-conforming. I think the problem of late is that nonconformity to gender expectations of gender roles and is being somehow in for some people I think it's being converted into that you must be trans, then I think that's probably you know what's happening in an effort to, I think it's a good faith effort, in an effort to rescue those children, to save them from all the years of agony and pain that some trans adults have experienced when they were younger. So I get the impulse to want to do that, but I think it's without truly knowing what those young people are experiencing and going through because they probably don't know what they're click through. That's how to articulate it.

Lisa [00:27:20] That's right. And they're not being raised with free to be you and me like you and I were. You know, they're being raised with if you don't conform to gender norms, you know, you might have a girl brain and a boy body and you might get caught in the wrong body. And they get they're getting these messages very young. And so they're having a they're not learning as much about gender norms because as you and I both know, because you did that piece on the gender, you didn't do the gender unicorn, the genderbred person.

Zander [00:27:57] Yeah.

Lisa [00:27:59] You know that, that often these lessons about gender for children say that gender is a feeling inside you. And they don't say much about gender roles and gender norms and gender stereotypes.

Zander [00:28:13] And yeah. Yeah, it's almost as if we went from. Well, not went from there are certain there are certain elements within society, right. Let's say within the United States that are cultural, maybe religious slash cultural based, where there are very strict gender norms. And so that can be that can be very difficult for kids who are maybe feeling a more non-conforming kind of internal sense of their gender or maybe a same sex attraction. And they're seeing that that's not allowable. But then we've gone in some sense, it seems like there's a pendulum swing which happens, right? The pendulum swings to another extreme, which is if you feel any of those out of sorts with gender non-conformity or same sex attraction, then. Then maybe. Or you must be. Or we should at least give you the opportunity to investigate if you are trans. Right. That's probably it. That social transition period is in, but it's still going based off of these norms, which is it's like to me, that's what's sad, right? That free to be you and me and second wave feminism, which I was raised in, you know, in the household. My father was a card carrying member of the National Organization of Women are now and so like, you know and did Pflag stuff. I mean so I, you know, I grew up in a really supportive environment and in some ways, you know, maybe that maybe I'm taking it too far, but in some ways I wonder like, okay, free to be you and me: My female sex shouldn't restrict me. I should be able to be whatever I want, do whatever I want. So why not, why can't I then live as a man? Like, how it, like is that going like, is that too far? Is that too far down? The you know, what, what would they call that? The. The is an empty slate right notion about gender that it's all constructed. It's like, well, why not? Why not be a female who presents in the world as a man? Isn't. Wouldn't that just be one example of I'm free to be me, right? It's like it's probably one that a lot of people don't like and wouldn't accept, but it's like when articulating, you know, you can be and do whatever you want. Can we say, I'll accept this? Like, well, we put roadblocks on and what you can be.

Lisa [00:31:08] It's a good question. But if you had grown up in a society, or lived as an adult in a society which had room for you, and you weren't harassed. Mhm. You know then you might not, I mean, you don't feel like you gave up anything you said.

Zander [00:31:32] I mean, it's when people say, oh, you know, how bad was it? It's like, well, it was as bad as being having a bottle thrown at my head. Yeah, when I was walking down the street, it's as bad as riding on a bus and being harassed on the bus. And when I got off the bus, these young teenage boys got off the bus and chased me all the way to my home. It's as bad. I mean, it's as bad as being punched in the face by a grown man in a 7-Eleven parking lot. I mean, it's not just that people were hurling slurs at me or, you know, the priest. The priest was saying homosexuality is a sin. I mean, I had like. Yeah. Real, you know, troubling experiences, you know, altercations with people throughout my adolescence and my twenties and into my thirties. It was it just sort of compounded, I guess, on me.

Lisa [00:32:29] Yeah. I mean, that sounds really traumatizing. And I know that gender non-conforming people are vulnerable to violence and you are safer now as someone who passes. But it doesn't create more room in society, which is not your job, but for gender non-conforming people. And yes, that is that has been the goal of my work, is to create more understanding, that actually we don't need to make, as you were alluding to before, we don't need to make any meaning out of childhood gender nonconformity. We don't know if a person will choose to transition because it's easier or because they feel so uncomfortable. We don't know if that person will be gay or lesbian. We don't know much. I mean, I interviewed 80 people who had been tomboys for my book, and the only thing they had in common in adulthood was a kind of self-confidence that I really envied as a non tomboy.

But I want to segway into, you know, we've talked now a little bit about some of the controversies about childhood transition and the different ways to think about it. And one of the reasons we were going to talk today was. To discuss how both sides are talking about this issue. And by both sides, I don't mean left and right because I don't divide it that way. I mean, for and against. And I know there's actually more sides than that. Can you talk a little bit about the rhetoric first of the those who are against childhood transition and how they can speak about it in a way that is still maintains space and respect for trans people?

Zander [00:34:37] Sure. Well. I think the terminology that gets used is problematic in the sense that I think it'll be difficult to find ways to build a bridge or come together to work toward a solution. But maybe that's not their intention. Maybe their intention isn't to find a solution that is mutually agreed upon, so to speak, because they'll use terms like mutilation when they're discussing, you know, a chest reconstruction surgery, which I had. I don't consider it mutilation, you know. And so. It's one of those things where I think it's a loaded term. Right. Mutilation. I think that's a very subjective thing. If somebody who had top surgery or chest reconstruction or double mastectomy, there are different names for that, which with they call it double mastectomy with reconstruction. Right. Because it's not the same as a double mastectomy for breast cancer. They might feel that what they did to their body was mutilated. I'm not taking that away. So if people want to talk specifically about their own bodies and the experience they had and say, I feel like I've been mutilated, or what I did was mutilation, fine. You know, they can express themselves. It's when it gets used more broadly saying that, you know, that these surgeries are mutilation and not even just because they're not at the at some point, they're not going to say with just children, it just becomes mutilation across the board. Right. Chest reconstruction, follow plastic vaginoplasty. They'll refer to them as mutilation. Right. We’re mutilating our bodies. And I think that that that creates a defensiveness in people who have had the surgeries, who. Right. That seems natural. They're going to want to defend their decision making right there to position their bodies. Right. They want to feel that they have, you know, autonomy in their bodies and what they do with their bodies. And so to be told that they've just mutilated, it can be distressing for people. Me, I just I just reject it. I didn't mean to let my body and I move on, but some people are again, they're going to internalize those messages. So I think if there are people who are, quote, against surgeries for children, which I also you know, I don't think children should be having, you know, surgeries of this type. Right.

Lisa [00:37:28] You mean adult. Do you mean adolescents, too, when you say children? Because that that's part of the language problem. Like some people say, well, I'm having surgeries. Right. And then prepubescent children. But it's not, it's pubescent children having surgery.

Zander [00:37:43] Yeah. So, okay. By children, I mean minors. So anybody under the age of 18. Now, I know that that's not a that's not a favored, you know, sentiment for people that are on the far side of things and that really sort of aggressive kind of what I would refer to as authoritarian way that if you don't agree with them, you're transphobes. But if you don't agree with the people who call surgeries mutilation, then you're some other kind of ideologue or you're immoral. Right. There's some of that language. So I think mutilation is one of those terms. I think also the phrase, the usage of the phrase gender ideology is confusing. I mean, it works. I mean, that's what sophistry is all about, right? It's about finding ways to encapsulate in as few words as possible an idea and then expounding on that idea. I get it. I got my bachelor's in speech. I understand sophistry. I understand, you know, to a certain degree, like marketing and advertising and campaign slogans. I mean, there's an effort to do things like that. I think that's where, quote, gender care or gender affirming care has also come from, because who would be against care that's affirming, right? It's so it's smart. It's smart messaging. But it also is the kind of messaging that will only appeal, I believe, to certain populations of our society that are much that are in the minority of our population. And so there's a certain segment of our population that's going to like things like mutilation and gender ideology. And then there's going to be another popular side of the on the so the other side, so to speak, although as you rightly said, there's more than two sides to this, they’re going to have the very strong reaction against it? So, you know, as a person who's more of a centrist or a moderate and also a person who is interested in depolarizing, you know, conversations and I've got my first Masters is in conflict analysis and resolution. I'm very much wanting to find ways to manage and resolve conflict. And one way to do that is to not use charged language like this. I've  studied and I've trained and I've been a trainer of nonviolent communication. I know that system very well. I've also trained in powerful non defensive communication, entirely different, you know, communication technique. And so that would that's my aim. My aim is to find ways to talk about the concerns people have without using such charged and polarizing language on both sides.

Lisa [00:40:46] A counterpoint.

Zander [00:40:48] Yeah.

Lisa [00:40:50] So one side is using very, very charged language and another side is using very euphemistic language, yes, that's hard for us to object to.

Zander [00:41:00] That's right. Because if you don't approve of an affirming, you know, methodology of treatment, then you're well, you're disapproving, then you. And then you're a bad person because then you don't care about children who are suffering. And these children are, you know, are you know, they're standing at the ledge of suicide. Right. That's. So they'll use somewhat of like an emotional kind of threat of suicide. And so that that gets pulled out quite a bit. That's also.

Lisa [00:41:36] Clear. But I think just when we say top surgery or.

Zander [00:41:41] Yeah.

Lisa [00:41:41] Affirming care, even when we say gender identity, to a certain extent, we're talking about, we're obscuring a kind of precision and often couching it in kind of the language of diversity and inclusion. And it makes it difficult for liberals to object because now we've, in theory, we're the ones who embrace pluralism and diversity and a big tent and. When it's a broad, hazy concept. It's hard to object to when you know, the Times. The New York Times wrote a piece that said more teens are choosing top surgery. But I think if they had said more teens are choosing bilateral double mastectomy with chest reconstruction, there'd be a very different reaction. So I think. Hmm. I think one side is to. You too vague and. One side. Is this too literal or something?

Zander [00:42:52] Yeah, well, you know, using terminology like top surgery and bottom surgery, these are in-group Slang terms. Right. These are these terms that have been used for probably. At least two that I know of in possibly three or more decades within the adult trans population. And so I remember when I went to go have top surgery, my surgeon called it bilateral double mastectomy with chest reconstruction. That's how it shows up on my insurance, not my insurance I paid out of pocket, but how it shows up on my medical record. Right. So these were terms that we used because that's what that's what cultural communities do. Right. They have insider language. Right. The broader LGBT community does that. You know, black African-American communities, Hispanic communities do that. We have words that we use that are shorthand. So that we don't have to say bilateral double mastectomy, chest reconstruction. We shorthand it because we know what we're talking about. But when we go outside of our community, so to speak, we know to refer to it in different ways. What I see has happened is that in group, the in group vernacular has now become. The data is now being used in professional academic medical settings. That that. And so. It's that's one of those things where. It. It makes sense for us to use it in our in-group settings. But once we're outside of our group. It. I think you're right. I think it does. It clouds perhaps what's really being said, because most people probably don't know what top surgery, what that means. And when they do find out what it means, most of the women I know, when they found out I was having, quote, top surgery, they were very concerned for me because their mother had breast cancer or they had it or a friend of theirs had it. And it was a devastating surgery for those women. Whereas, you know, in the FTM community or, you know, trans male community, you know, we're celebrating the same surgery, so to speak, but it is slightly different surgery. It's under very different circumstances. But and ours is outpatient, whereas they end up spending sometimes a night in the hospital. Right. So it's sort of like, oh, my God, they're sending you home the day of your surgery. You know, it's alarming. It was alarming for people back then. And I would imagine it would be if it was talked about in that in that more in-depth way.

Lisa [00:45:48] But one of the things that we talked about before was that these, the for and against sides, the loud voices are actually a minority of people. And. Do you feel like the kind of trans activist voice that many of us are familiar with that says things like, you know, sex is a spectrum or immaterial and everyone has a gender identity or, you know, anyone objecting to this is a is a bigot. Do you think that's the minority of transpeople? That's the first question. And the second is, what's the. What's the responsibility, if there is any of trans people who don't agree with , I know you don't like that the gender ideology term but for lack of a better term, you don't agree with that and are concerned about what's going on with kids. What's their responsibility? And how do we create an environment where they can speak up they want to? That's three questions.

Zander [00:47:03] Yeah, I should have included somewhere in my bio that I do have ADHD. So I'm not remembering the three questions. But let me get back to what I what I think I remember is one of them, which is. You know how we talk about things. Happens because we have a worldview, we have a paradigm. And generally speaking, people are modernist or post-modernist. You know, just in a sort of sloppy way of just discussing this. Right. And so I'm a modernist, I'm not a postmodernist. And so in a post-modernist view, the idea that, you know, everything is subjective and everything can be deconstructed and everything is there is some form of oppression, you know, makes sense to a person who holds a postmodernist view. As a modernist, I'm like, no, sex is a stable, you know, it's a part of reality. And so it doesn't make any sense to me to think of my sex as subjective. I think gender identity is one of those concepts that is fairly new. I mean, it's been around maybe, what, 40, 50 years and. I think it was. My understanding is it was. Built on this notion of blank, you know, sort of blank screen or. What is it? Is it blank?

Lisa [00:48:38] Blank slate?

Zander [00:48:39] Blank slate. Yeah. That our masculinity and our femininity and the way that we present and the way that we, we function in the world is all socially constructed. Well, that's not a modernist view. That's a that's more of a post-modernist view. Right. Socially constructed. You know, that's in sociological terms. I'm not a sociologist. I'm a social worker. And so I don't I don't live in the world of sociological post-modernist worldview. That's not where I live. And so that's part of the issue, I think, is that when you have people who hold completely different worldviews. In which they frame their life and life around them. You get those people to come together. Well, they're just going to talk past each other because they're basically speaking a different language almost. Right. And so I think that's what's happening. And so the people that are on this, so-called the extremes of the for and against are people that are arguing from a perspective who might not know that they hold that perspective or they or if they do, they might not recognize that other perspectives are also held by people and that perhaps they're legitimate as a viewpoint. That doesn't mean that they're legitimate for making law or policy or statute or ordinance. Right. That should be handled by more reasonable minded people that aren't using that kind of influence and that kind of, you know, power dynamic. So I'd say that, you know, we have to recognize that we all have different core values. We all have different worldviews. We all have different moral foundations. Right. And so one of the things that I do as a social worker is I coach people and I do trainings on getting more familiar with the self as a clinician and investigating these things like what is my worldview, what are my core values, where what are my moral foundations? What kind of intervention models do I do I prefer? What theoretical orientation do I hold as a clinician? Most people can graduate school and not know any of these things about themselves. And so that's something that I bring into the trans community as well. And so I do think that the most. aggressive slash authoritarian, the most with the like the louder voices that are threatening people. You know, they're name calling. I do think that's the minority. Unfortunately, I think and I'm not an expert in this, but I, I think that algorithms of social media just elevate those voices. And so it seems to people that it's a majority view. But, and I'm not alone in saying this is a minority view, because I can go into trans community all over the country in in in person or virtually and not deal with any of these kind of people. I can interact. I interact every year with hundreds, if not thousands. When I was going to conferences and this this person, this kind of person was definitely in the minority. But because of social media and its influence, especially on younger, more impressionable people. They might think, Oh, this is what my community says, so then I should believe it and I should act from it because I want to be a good member of my community.

Lisa [00:52:28] Well, I also think that the more activist voices from the trans community are influencing policy, they're influencing guidelines. They're publishing scholarly papers and pushing ideas that I think benefit them. You know, I think I think for this, you know, in the desistance literature, the ten or 11 studies about kids with early onset gender dysphoria. Most of them with under watchful waiting, where they were not psychologically transitioned, most of them desisted. The majority were gay. And then there was this 10 to 15% who never stopped and went on to transition. And I think what's happened is we've rejiggered things to respond to that minority population so that we're treating every kid as if they're going to grow up to be that 12 to 15%.

Zander [00:53:37] I agree.

Lisa [00:53:38] And part of it is the kind of obsession right now with protecting minoritized and marginalized communities on the left. The kind of overcorrection that we're in.

Zander [00:53:53] Well, if you think about it from the perspective of for how long. Right. Decades, access to power was denied to the, quote, homosexual and transsexual communities. Right. The ability to be teachers was questioned, the ability to become a doctor, the ability to serve in the military, the ability to parent, the ability to marry the person that you love, want to spend the rest of your life with. Right. These things are being denied. And then there were the gay rights movement and. Right. And transgender rights, all these. And so then all of a sudden, slowly but surely, people started getting access to those things that they were denied. And so when you have a bunch of trans people who are lawyers, professors, doctors, you know, CEOs of companies. Right. And so not only not only did we get in, we went all the way to the top and have become quite successful, right. In that standard kind of, you know, American capitalist way of thinking about it. We gained the success we can serve in the military, we can run companies, we can you know, we can teach classes. And so I think what happened is that. You know, if in the earlier days of this, quote unquote, you know, trying to gain access, we were being kept out. We were being oppressed, we were being discriminated against. It was all based on prejudice. It's like, well, now where we're at, all of those places in power structures, right, government, right, with all the influence that we have through advocacy. So it's like, have we now become the people who are being prejudiced and trying to deny other people now their access? You know, is our government agencies denying grants to research projects that don't align with the current, you know, understanding of what's acceptable research? I mean, the answer is yes. Of course, we know that that is happening. You know, our large media corporations, you know, saying no to news stories written and televised that don't align. Well, of course we know that's true. You know what, personally? Right. So we do know that this is happening.

Schoolteachers who say, wait a minute, maybe we shouldn't be doing this, are now being shunned, maybe even, you know, suspended or fired. And so what's happening now is, is what's above all of this is our judicial system, our courts. And so that's where everything's ending up now. It's going through the judicial process, and it's going into the courts. And largely, the courts are finding in the favor of people who are saying, you can't force me to say that word or you can't stop me from speaking my mind about this topic. Or, you know, you can't you can't fire me from my job because I say something that people don't like. Right. It's slowly starting to happen. What I don't see happening is the news media, all forms of it, in a in a broad sense of the way sharing all that information about those lawsuits. Right. That's what's not. People don't know that that systems are losing and individuals are winning those lawsuits. Because we do have laws that protect us on. Right. We have we have civil rights laws to protect us, whether we're Hispanic, black or white. Right. Irish. It doesn't it doesn't really matter. And so, you know, for example, in the schools where they were, you know, compelling pronoun usage among the student population. Well, these are making their way through courts now. And they're siding with the children. They're saying children are not to be compelled in public school to use pronouns they don't want to use.

Lisa [00:58:05] I know there was a teacher. I know there was a case that a teacher won his suit. I feel like it's been a real mixed bag in the courts. And partly it's because it's, as you and I know, it takes a really long time to understand the complexities of these issues. And judges are not experts, and it depends what expertise the judges are deferring to. And so if the judges are looking at the AAP or the APA or the AMA, you know, then they'll side with the kind of activists and activists have helped change the guidelines of those places. But I you're right. If they start thinking of it as a free speech issue or they come to understand the research or they come to understand what's happening in other countries, maybe they'll have different decisions. But I guess we're going to, I guess that's what the next couple of years hold for us as we start to see the lawsuits. The first detransitioner lawsuits have been filed. I know there's a company, a law office in California that's been investigating, looking in into consumer action around puberty blockers and I think there are, as more people feel, they've been really hurt we’ll see a new round of lawsuits. And I think the schools changed in reaction to lawsuits. I think the Gavin Grimm lawsuit and before that, the Nicole Maines lawsuit sort of scared the schools into changing and thinking they were doing the right thing. And maybe in those cases for those kids, they were the right, that was the right thing to do. And it's really hard to know because as you said at the beginning, there isn't one way to treat somebody going through gender dysphoria or identifying as trans. And I guess it's a really hard thing to make policy about.

Zander [01:00:21] Well, I think the thing with the courts that's interesting is that it depends on the level. Right. It's like the lower level courts. Where it's like, you know, one judge and they're their team, right? Their team of clerks. And then as you go up in the system within the state and then off into the federal courts, then, you know, you get it's not just one judge anymore. Right. You can get to an appeal level where maybe there's like three judges and then ultimately Supreme Court with six judges. Right. So it's when you the more judges you have, then that's where I think the variety of influences and information and the that's coming at them because even in the lower courts, they're going to get the amicus briefs and the white papers. And so they're going to be and they could be influenced by that because, you know, or they're looking at precedents. Right. And so and we were always saying that we don't want activist judges. Right. That's been a that's been a liberal charge for a while now to not have activist judges, because for a while it was coming from a, you know, the, quote, wrong side of the aisle. Right. And so it's like, oh, but now it's okay to have activist judges.

Lisa [01:01:38] If they're on our side. We love them. Yeah.

Zander [01:01:40] It's probably never good because they're supposed to be above all that. Yeah.

Lisa [01:01:47] Zander, let's. Let's end with. Your work with FAIR and this idea of the child-affirming approach.

Zander [01:01:57] Hmm. Yeah. So I've been working with FAIR for about a year and a half now by partnering with the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism. Fair for Little plug. I was invited by, by and partnering the founder of FAIR to become an advisor. So on the advisory board like you are, and about three or four months later, he asked me if I'd be interested in becoming a senior fellow and doing some work with FAIR. So since around I think December of last year, I've been a senior fellow and contributing in a lot of different ways. I'm one of the fair diversity trainers. Fair diversity is a pro human approach to DEI training in corporate settings. So I've been doing that for about a year now. I also help Fair in Medicine, which is one of our networks of professionals, people who are physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians assistants, psychologists, social workers. A lot of different. Health care occupations coming together to, you know, share best practices. And they write articles. We do a lot of webinars. So I'm involved in a lot of webinars with a lot of people that are part of the trans community that are very outspoken like I am on these topics. Aaron Kimberley for one from Gender Dysphoria Alliance and Corinna Cohn from the Gender Consumer Care Network, and Dr. Erica Anderson, psychologist. All of us are trans and talking about these topics and yeah the so the. On the website, there's a section called issues and one of the issue topics is gender. There's a lot of different topics and so people can go and click in and look at what FAIR has to say about gender. There's also when we talk about child affirming, that's coming up a lot in our Fair in Education Network, which is made up of K-through-12 teachers, university professors, school librarian, school administrators, a lot of people involved in public and private and parochial schools around the United States and Canada coming together to talk about standards, guidelines, recommendations for, you know, the FAIR approach, the pro human, as we call it, approach to working with children of all types, including gender nonconforming. And what we've come down to is this idea of that we are child affirming. Not gender affirming. So we affirm children to express their gender however they want to express it and to be, quote unquote, conforming or non-conforming to the expectations of gender and to not try to squelch that, but also not to turn it into something that needs to be medicalized. Right. Just letting kids. B kids.

Lisa [01:05:19] Sounds great. Let kids be kids.

Zander [01:05:21] Yeah, right. Just let kids be kids. And so FAIE is made up of probably somewhere between 80 and 90 chapters around the United States and Canada. We have tens of thousands of members. A lot of them are parents. And people who are in these chapters are working in their local areas to try and educate school board members and parent teacher associations on, you know, bringing in this child affirming message into the schools and articulating that parents need to be brought in on issues that affect their children. The teachers are not mental health providers. And they shouldn't be administering, you know, mental health advice or psychoeducation in the classroom. That that's the job of a licensed mental health provider, which schools have the schools have licensed social workers and psychologists. And, you know, they have those things. But it's largely been the job. It's been of teachers to bring in the transformative social emotional learning or school curriculum, changing that anti-bullying curriculum to be more in alignment with the with the current sort of ethos of. What are the real problems in society? Right. It differs from school to school, but it's all of these things are then taking up the time. Of learning academic subjects. Yeah. And intermingling, socializing with other children, learning how to. How to experience, you know, wins and losses, you know, and learning how to have, you know. Conflict resolution like we used to have in schools maybe a decade ago. They had little designated mediators during recess that would go over and sort of like mediate a little dispute that was happening on the playground. You know.

Lisa [01:07:31] Well, those are some of the lawsuits that are making their way through the courts now about schools socially transitioning children without telling the parents. So that'll be part of what we're watching and seeing how it plays out. It's going to be an interesting couple of years.

Zander [01:07:55] I mean, my prediction is that the parents will win because almost always, parents’ rights trump a lot of those other issues I think they have historically as well. But we'll see. Right. Teachers are not the custodians or guardians of children. I mean, there for a period of time, you know, the children are in their care, right? The minors are in their care, but they don't get to supplant parental, you know, values and authority.

Lisa [01:08:30] Well, we'll find out. We'll find out. You know, the last line in my book, not to give it away, is “it'll be interesting to find out what happens.” So, you know. Well, you and I will check back in periodically and see where we are. But, Zander, I want to.

Zander [01:08:47] Well, just really quickly, what I don't want to happen is an extreme negative reaction to all. This becomes the norm for a period of time. I don't want to continue going through these. These like major pendulum swings in how this issue is being dealt with in society. Reasonable minds need to come together, sit down at the table and work this out so that we don't have a backlash.

Lisa [01:09:10] I agree with you completely and have been arguing that point by saying that's why the left needs to speak up. And maybe that's why more trans people like you need to speak up. And those of us who are afraid of the backlash, but also afraid of where the left has gone, and the more we can speak out and feel safe to speak out and create an environment where people feel safe to speak out, the more we can try to prevent that backlash.

Zander [01:09:40] Well, and Bill Maher is doing it every day on his show regularly. So. And he has a lot of influence. I think so. And people are responding there. They're laughing. They're clapping. So he's maybe he'll have an effect. Let's comedians can do anything with.

Lisa [01:10:01] Well, Zander, thank you so much. This has been a great conversation.

Zander [01:10:04] You're welcome. I really appreciate it. Have a wonderful time speaking with you. And I look forward to doing we're going to be doing more things together. So I'm really looking forward to that.

Lisa [01:10:13] Me, too. Thanks.

Zander [01:10:14] You're welcome.

BROADVIEW is a reader-supported publication. Please consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Questions? Comments? Disagreements? Praise? Money? Drop me a line or hit me up on Twitter.

Discussions about the impossible-to-discuss topic of gender...whatever the heck that word means.
Listen on
Substack App
RSS Feed
Appears in episode
Lisa Selin Davis