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The Right couldn’t even wait one day before turning the great story about California passing a law protecting transgender students into an excuse for rampant transphobic fear-mongering. Instead of bringing in actual experts on the issue, both Fox News and CNN decided to showcase people who either openly admitted that they didn’t know what they were talking about or let that be known as soon as they started spouting “facts” about transgender people.
CNN, in a completely puzzling move, decided to invite Randy Thomasson to speak alongside Masen Davis about the issue. Davis is the Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center, one of the groups that backed the bill and lobbied for it. He and his organization have been working closely with this issue for a long time. Thomasson, on the other hand, is the President of Save California, which is listed as an Active Anti-Gay Hate Group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He is not a legal expert; he is not a psychologist or gender specialist. It seems the only reason CNN would invite the leader of an actual hate group on and not identifying him as such is to hope that he would make inflammatory remarks. Well, Thomasson certainly didn’t let them down.
Thomasson immediately started misgendering these hypothetical trans* students, talking about “biological boys” and “girl’s basketball teams [allowing] boys that say they want to be on it.” Next he tossed out a term that doesn’t really mean anything but is sure to ruffle some feathers when he said that in California, they are considering “nine other sexual indoctrination laws.” But that was just the beginning. Thomasson really went off the rails when he was asked what he would do if he had a child who said that they were transgender.
Well if a child is sexually confused, they need professional counseling. Lots of children are being molested in America, lots of children are being abandoned by one or the other parent and that creates a problem with the child’s expectations in the child’s mind and so a child that is being sexually confused, they need professional counseling.
Thomasson’s terminology alone is confusing as he seems to think that being transgender is related to sexuality. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. His claim that trans* people are the way they are because of sexual abuse or lack of heteronormative parental guidance is so outdated and backwards that it’s hard to believe he’s being taken seriously by a major news network. By allowing him to be the spokesman for those who oppose this law, CNN is giving a stage to very dangerous misinformation and presenting it as news.
The next highlight in Thomasson’s complete and fundamental misunderstanding of who transgender people are came when he said that trans* people aren’t covered by the 1964 Civil Rights Act because being trans* isn’t an “immutable characteristic” and “if you are changing away from your xx chromosome or xy chromosome, your natural gender, if you’re changing away from that with the scalpel of a doctor, that is not deserving of a civil right.” There is so much wrong with that statement. Being trans* isn’t about trying to change an innate characteristic of yourself, it’s about being your true self and living your life authentically. Then he talks about “natural gender” as if it is the same thing as what chromosomes you have when it is really more about socially constructed roles, behaviors and attributes. And not only do many trans* people never get any kind of surgery, but according to science, you absolutely cannot change your chromosomes with a scalpel. Being the class act that he is, Thomasson signed off by misgendering Davis, a trans man, by saying “Hey, good to talk to you ladies.”
CNN didn’t stop there. On the show CNN Newsroom, they jumped right into the pot-stirring with a clip showing a worried mother of a nine-year-old girl saying “she could potentially have a 14-year-old boy walking in on her in the bathroom.” And again, they have non-experts speaking on the issue. CNN legal analyst Paul Callan said “when I hear that a first grader is a girl trapped in a boy’s body or vice versa… I wonder if the science sort of has kept up with where society is on this issue.” In fact, science has already said that transgender youth should be supported and allowed to explore their gender. The American Psychological Association has said that if a parent has a gender nonconforming child, they should work with their schools to ensure the child’s safety and that “It is not helpful to force the child to act in a more gender-conforming way.” He jumped on the misgendering bandwagon by agreeing that people should be upset “if they thought their first grade child, girl, was going to be in the bathroom with a boy who thinks he’s a girl.”
Not to be outdone, Fox News gathered up a whole army of pundits ready to misgender and spread misinformation and transphobia. But where CNN brought people on who pretended to be experts, the pundits on Fox openly admitted their ignorance. Sean Hannity said that when he was a kid he “didn’t know anything about this, I still don’t for the most part.” On Fox and Friends, Clayton Morris said that he didn’t even know what a transgender student was while Gretchen Carlson admitted that she “just can’t get [her] head around this.”
On Hannity’s show, he and conservative radio host Dana Loesch compared trans* students’ struggles with Loesch’s dream as a five-year-old that she wanted to be a flower. Hannity also came up with an unrealistic and misgendering situation where “the seven-year-old girl that goes into the locker room and there’s the 14-year-old boy naked in the girls’ locker room because that’s where he chooses to be.” It’s so strange how much those on the Right keep on focusing on this problem of people being in the wrong bathrooms or locker rooms, because that’s exactly what this bill prevents. If this bill hadn’t been passed, young trans* men would be forced to either use completely separate bathrooms or would have to use the girls’ bathroom. Similarly, young trans* women would be forced to get changed in the boys’ locker room. Those are the situations where someone is in the wrong locker room and is vulnerable to real danger, not when trans* people are allowed to be who they are.
It’s Fox and Friends who lives up to their reputation and takes the cake, though. They opened their coverage with a very tasteful graphic of a police car, sirens wailing, lights flashing pulling up to big letters that spelled out “PC Police.” This was followed up by a panicked-looking Michelle Malkin calling the bill “social engineering run amok” and saying it would lead to a lawless world where “transgender is defined anyway they want to! As long as a child has the self perception they are transgender they will be able to go into any bathroom that they want!” Well, that’s not true: A trans* woman shouldn’t be allowed in a boys’ locker room and a trans* man shouldn’t be allowed in a girls bathroom. Once again, the conservative commentator demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation at hand.
Gretchen Carlson joined in with the idea that students like to pull pranks and might take advantage when “the boys want to go into the girls bathroom and the girls want to go into the boys bathroom and they can just say ‘oh i was just transgender for the moment!’” Ah yes, that classic prank where children purposefully uproot their life, potentially alienating their friends and getting kicked out of their homes, putting themselves in danger of being harassed, assaulted and murdered. As many trans* people know, convincing your parents that you are actually trans* and not just “going through a phase” is not not the easiest thing in the world. And facing your peers for the first time after coming out can be just as difficult, and even more dangerous. It’s difficult to imagine a real situation in which children would engage with these experiences for fun.
Now, I don’t expect every single person to be an expert on trans* issues and know all the correct terminology to use. I’m willing to cut people some slack. But these are people claiming to be experts on the issue, these are people who are supposed to be delivering the news. It’s their job to know, it’s their job to do the research. They really have no excuse to be spreading this kind of misinformation and transphobia and pretending that it’s the informed opinion of professionals or actual news. It is neither. What it ultimately is is ignorant and outdated opinions and dangerous ideas that lead to real-life crimes and abuses against trans* people.