Last week, “Orange Is The New Black” actress Laverne Cox appeared on the cover of TIME, illustrating a piece about how trans rights issues are “America’s next civil rights frontier.” Cox was the first-ever trans person to appear on TIME‘s cover.
This weekend National Review writer Kevin D. Williamson published a piece entitled “Laverne Cox Is Not A Woman,” which was later reprinted in the Chicago Sun-Times. Why anyone cares what Williamson — whose job is simply “roving correspondent” for the Review — has to say about transgender issues, I don’t know. But his piece — which we will not link to so as not to give it traffic — was so full of ignorant pseudoscience and bias that it couldn’t help but attract (mostly negative) attention.
The crux of Williamson’s argument is rehashing his point of view, which he has spouted off before regarding Pvt. Bradley Manning (now Chelsea Manning). Williamson thinks someone whose gender is determined at birth to be male cannot be and is not a female. He continues that Manning would have actually been the first-ever trans person on the cover of TIME, seeing how society is supposed to acknowledge that trans folks are always the gender they feel they are inside. (Nevermind that Manning did not come out publicly as transgender until pretty late in life and that some trans folks may never come out publicly at all.) In service of his erroneous belief, throughout the piece Williamson misgenders Cox, calling her a “he,” “him” and a “spokesman” — whilst acknowledging “no doubt he would object to the term.” The misgendering is no accident, say, the way the pop star Cher has occasionally referred to her son Chaz as a woman. Williamson misgendered Cox purposefully to be a dick. He then had the gall to snark that using the wrong pronoun is “now considered practically a hate crime.”
Williamson inaccurately claims that “the phenomenon of the transgendered person is a thoroughly modern one,” which is just patently-fucking-untrue. It’s about as intellectually shallow an argument as saying that women made barely any contributions to American history because nearly everyone in our history books is a white man. It’s about as intellectually shallow an argument as the bigots who claim that marriage was always intended to be between one man and one woman. (I direct you to the book Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert for more on that subject.) The reality is that trans folks have always existed; they just haven’t been visible. In fact, I can reach into my own personal history for Williamson — my family and I discovered this weekend in our geneology that I have a descendent who was likely trans. Sarah Rosetta Wakeman dressed as a man, worked as a man, fought in the Civil War as a man, and was buried in a Lousiana cemetery under a man’s name. Our geneology hypothesized that she was transgender — though I’m not enough of a history buff or sexuality expert to know if that’s what being trans was officially called during the Civil War. But, hell, she sure did exist either way.
What is possibly most offensive in this all-around offensive piece is how Williamson repeatedly refers to being trans as “delusional” or “a delusion.” In other words, he is trying to dismiss Laverne Cox by making her look CRAZY. Williams even likened a trans person’s request for surgery to “a man who believes he is Jesus and inquiring as to whether his insurance plan covers crucification.” Here, Williams seems to be taking myths surrounding gender dysphoria — a diagnosis that leads to medical treatment for transgender health issues — and using it to bludgeon trans folks over the head, rather than acknowledging the myriad medical issues within trans health. Not surprisingly, Williamson suggests “therapeutic responses” could help these delusional souls. (I’m certain he does not mean therapy to help a trans person cope with the difficult life of harassment and disrespect, but rather, therapy to make him or her just shut up.) All this is predicated on the belief that, well, delusional trans folks may flipflop around with gender, but their sex is a stone cold, hard fact. I quote:
… Cox is not a woman, but an effigy of a woman. Sex is a biological reality, and it is not subordinate to subjective impressions, no matter how intense those impressions are, how sincerely they are held, or how painful they make facing the biological facts of life. No hormone injection or surgical mutilation is sufficient to change that.
Wrong again, buddy. Once again, whatever label you are assigned at birth by a doctor is not necessarily who you are. Maybe Williamson should Google the terms “agender” and “intersex.” But, hey, clearly, research is not his strong suit.
I really wonder about people like Kevin D. Williamson. What makes him care so much? What makes him write snotty comments like “we are expected to defer to all subjective experience in the matter of gender identity”? How does he not see that the person “policing language” is actually HIM? How does he not see that the person who is detached from reality in 2014 is actually HIM? Why wouldn’t you defer to someone’s subjective experience on the matter of gender identity? Whose experience should we defer to — the National Review writer who says you look like a man, so poof!, I decree you are a man? I’ll bet that Williamson doesn’t believe and doesn’t want strangers to be able to look at him and tell him who and what he is. But transgender folks aren’t afforded the same basic courtesy or respect. Because to people like Williamson, trans folks are sick and crazy.
If you are as offended as I am by Williamson’s piece, you may consider signing this petition aimed at the Chicago Sun-Times, which reprinted the National Review article. The petition asked for an apology to Laverne Cox and requests that the Sun-Times institute an editorial policy with standards for covering transgender folks. (Note: this should be something the paper does already and why they don’t have it, or do have it and ignored it in this case, is beyond me.)
Update, 3:40p.m. The Chicago Sun-Times has removed the reprint of the National Review‘s column from their web site. It has not yet issued an apology or an acknowledgment of why the column was removed.
Update, 5pm: The Chicago Sun-Times has issued an apology to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation:
“We try to present a range of views on an issue, not only those views we may agree with, but also those we don’t agree with. A recent op-ed piece we ran online that was produced by another publication initially struck as provocative. Upon further consideration, we concluded the essay did not include some key facts and its overall tone was not consistent with what we seek to publish. The column failed to acknowledge that the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have deemed transgender-related care medically necessary for transgender people. It failed as well to acknowledge the real and undeniable pain and discrimination felt by transgender people, who suffer from notably higher rates of depression and suicide. We have taken the post down and we apologize for the oversight.”
Email me at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter.