Feature Image via Archive.org
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that trans* people are the way they are because of sexual abuse or lack of heteronormative parental guidance is so outdated and backwards that it’s hard to believe he’s being taken seriously by a major news network.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.
the delivery of these clouded and flawed judgments passed off as facts is the reason why so many still come from the foundation of fear what is not understood instead of looking into gaining the correct unbiased truth!
feathers have been ruffled
“…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.” <– I feel sorry for any male children people like that have, since they seem to think these kids are automatically sexual assailants, or that if a female/girl possibly saw a naked male she would be so traumatized as to, what? make her gay or something. Oh crap, wait…
THIS SO MUCH. We have so much fear over “stranger danger” and the potential for sexual assault in this country that we assume all boys become sexual predators as soon as they hit puberty. This does a real disservice, not only to the boys and men who are viewed this way when they’ve done nothing to warrant it, but to the girls and women who are taught to fear them. (I’m not at all denying that sexual assault happens, but statistically speaking a girl/woman is much more likely to be assaulted by someone she knows well than by a random stranger in a public bathroom. Assault by strangers does happen, but its not nearly as common as the media would have us believe.)
Besides that, in this scenario the 9-year-old girl would be sharing a bathroom with a 14-year-old trans* girl. Not a boy.
People are stupid.
But isn’t it revealing, that in case of cis boys/men the society makes the girl/woman solely responsible for preventing sexual assaults by instructing them on how to be safe (don’t drink, don’t wear skirts, don’t be alone after dark, just stay at home and never do anything). No one talks to boys/men about consent and what r-e-a-l-l-y prevents sexual violence.
In case of trans* girls/women however the only solution is to extract them form girl’s/woman’s – their very own – spaces? No safety tips necessary? Magical. Because … ???
Ugh, I just hate the rhetoric, in which the bodies of girls/women are instrumentalized and used as weapons against each other.
Okay, I just reread my own comment and I kinda worded it in a confusing way. What I was trying to say, I guess, was – even though they keep misgender trans* people and decide for them whether they “really are boys” or “really are girls”, they still don’t treat them the same way they treat cis folks of (what they think as the) “corresponding” gender.
– When it comes to cis boys vs cis girls, it is the girls who are extracted and disadvantaged (by safety tips that don’t allow them to live as freely as boys do).
– But when it comes to trans* girls vs cis girls, it is the trans* girls who are extracted (physically) and stripped down basic human rights.
Basically, trans* girls, of whom they think as “confused boys”, do lack male privilege of not being the disadvantaged in this “oh, but I am so concerned about my daughters safety” scenario.
And this is how to know, that they are just bullshitting everybody! What they actually do is using little girls bodies to oppress (and sexualize?) other girls and women.
If that makes more sense… ?
thank you for covering this so thoroughly, mey. it’s so disappointing to see what the mainstream media is doing with this story (and with trans* narratives in general) though obviously not surprising, unfortunately. i wish people read autostraddle as frequently as they watched this bullshit, maybe then we could move past the fear and the lies and the transphobia that is so set in so many minds.
also, as upsetting as this is, i’ve gotta say how happy i am that you’re part of the team now because your writing style is amazing — the bits of sarcasm and dry humor in this post made me laugh out loud at some points, which i definitely didn’t think i’d be doing while reading such a rage-inducing story. thanks again.
Thank you so much!!! Last night I was getting all sad because I was reading through other articles and thinking about how I’m not nearly as good a writer as everyone else here and especially not nearly as funny, so you really have no idea how much hearing you say that means to me! I’m seriously crying a little bit. <3
You know what? That first video, from CNN news, Davis was a fantastic role model. He dealt with the other guy’s transphobia admirably, and I want to be like him one day. But that other guy… I actually felt kind of sick by the end of the video. I understand that some people have to get through a past of people telling them bigoted views are the right views, and for some people that takes longer than others. I can get that, for whatever reason, some people might be opposed to the bill, and I get that they have a right to state their opinion (hey, free speech works both ways here. I can state my opinion if you can state yours). I disagree with their opinion, and I hope they come around eventually, and it’s really sad they hold it in the first place, but I also can’t say they don’t have a right to hold it.
What really upset me the most, though, is how he was so malicious at the end. When Davis said he was trans, the other guy seemed rather surprised – watch it again and you might notice he sort of froze, and then shook his head- so I assume before then, he had registered him as a man. So, to then deliberately add in the “ladies”, when it wasn’t necessary and didn’t even sound right in the sentence, seemed deliberately cruel. The other videos bothered me, sure, but that little bit was a deliberate attack on an individual person. That upset me the most.
All the videos, though, were intrinsically biased towards the transphobic people. I mean, the host in one of them shouted over what he disagreed with. There was a small clip speaking to a trans girl, and Davis spoke, but did anybody actually sit down and talk to trans kids and their classmates? Did anyone ask the ones who are actually affected what they thought? Did anyone ask students whether they found it more “traumatising” to find a trans guy in the girl toilet? Because from what I experience in public, people react worse when I go into a girl’s toilet than a boy’s toilet.
And, finally, are they advocating kids staring at each other when getting changed or something? Suppose, for a moment, I was cis and in a changing room. Surely if I was caught looking at someone else’s body parts that are usually covered by clothes, regardless of what those might be, I would get in trouble. For the record, if it’s a case of what their bits look like, and scaring the other kids, what about people with atypical bits, whether intersex or as a result of something else? A new separate changing room/toilet, perhaps? Or, seeing as everyone is different, 6 billion new ones?
Sorry it got all rant-y. I guess I got a bit carried away.
I was thinking the same things. I was proud of how calm and admirable Davis stayed while hearing what this disrespectful bigot had to say. When he referred to them both as ladies, I lost my shit.
Also, I refuse to watch anything with Sean Hannity in it today because I don’t have time to be pissed off for the next hour.
Fierce article, Mey. Keep it comin’.
I totally agree. I admire Masen Davis so much for keeping his cool and not completely flipping out on the other guy. All the time when I see trans* people on the news I think about how they have so much more self control than I do, because I know that if I were in Davis’s shoes, I would have flipped out after being so disrespectfully misgendered like that, especially after all of the other insulting things he had said.
And in case you were wondering, the young trans* woman they showed a clip of is Eli Erlick who just graduated high school and is the director of Trans Student Equality Resources and does a ton of awesome work to get more rights for trans* students.
I had to watch it again because I didn’t realize he shook his head when he found out Davis is trans*. Really disgusted to do that on TV and not give at the very least respect to your opponent, who was being just a stand up and amazing human.
The ignorance of the networks is horrible, but not unexpected. Society lacks a general understanding of the trans* experience, and the networks are merely making their buck by demonstrating their ignorance to their audience.
My hope is that as more of us come out with our trans* stories, we’ll replace society’s narrative of “confused boy/girl” with a trans* positive one. At that point, it won’t be nearly as profitable for the news networks to provide this kind of “exploitative entertainment” at our expense.
Fox & Fools I could care less about… they’re transphobes, what else is new? But the creeping conservatism of CNN continues to be more alarming and disgusting. The entire point of that “report” was about how right wingers with their panties in a bunch somehow deserve airtime in their abusive attempts to continue mistreating trans children. Masen, as usual, is such a cool customer, yaay for our side.
Mey, thank you for a well written article that beautifully sums up every feeling I’ve had about the responses to the bill!
As a Californian I was thrilled to hear about the passing of the Transgender Student Bill, I believe California can show other states that such a bill will make a tremendous impact on the lives of trans* students and make school a safer place for everyone, regardless of how they identify.
It is people like Thomasson that drag our entire country backwards, and watching him speak (especially that last dig in his farewell) makes me incredibly sad. It makes me want to smack him and then give Davis the biggest hug for being an amazing role model and positive influence for any student, trans* or otherwise, through his attitude and words in that interview.
“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.””
I’m sorry I know this is a very serious issue and transphobia is the worst and everything, but I’ve just been laughing in front of my screen since I read that sentence. I know Fox News doesn’t bother to even try to appear unbiased, but this, it’s like they don’t even care about being taken seriously by sane people anymore.
In a way they’re actually doing us a favor, because people who are on the fence about this kind of social issues would certainly join our side after seeing what the other side looks like and who do these opinions come from.
The whole segment for me was just a whole series of “yes, and?…yes, and…determined entirely by what the kid feels about her/his/their gender identity…and?” Yes! That’s the point! None of the outrage and scoffing made any sense. The law makes perfect sense. I’m embarrassed for the people who participated in the broadcast.
Also, you really think there’s gonna be some mass exodus of cisboys claiming they’re trans* so they can get a peek at the girls’ bathroom? Facepalm.
No way, that’d be too gay to pretend to be a girl.
What the ever-loving fuck, CNN??
Also, holy crap, I commented on this before reading the article, only having seen the ridiculous Fox segment the previous night. But “Good to talk to you ladies”?!?! Real class act. F you, man. Also why CNN thinks these two guests are proportionate perspectives is something that, to borrow a phrase from Gretchen Carlson, “I can’t get my head around.”
The entire time reading this I sat here with what I’m sure looks like the grumpy cat meme face.
I’m so thankful the bill passed, but this is just so disappointing and disgusting. Especially that CNN is now slowly but surely turning to the other side…
It amazes me that they didn’t even do their homework to figure out where the hell the law even came from. There are more than a few documented examples in the country where a child is living as their gender and the school says they either have to use the bathroom/locker room typically associated with their birthsex (the wrong bathroom) or the faculty bathroom. There are many other things that went into the making of this bill. That was just one example.
If you are going to try to argue against this law, it is kind of important to go to the original reasons and fight against those or try to argue that it either does a bad job at it or comes at too high a cost. They sort of tried to argue on the last one but instead sensationalized rather than genuinely argue it. Sadly, that same sensationalization is what is readily eaten up by society.
People just don’t seem to understand that a kid saying “I’m a trans girl”, “I’m a trans boy”, or “I’m a trans somethingoranother” is not really something you can just take back and has huge consequences for how one is seen by others from that point forward. It is not the sort of thing a cis person would do just so they can go into the other bathroom. Considering how saying “I am trans” is a lot bigger deal than and comes with much bigger consequences than saying “I am bi/pan/a lesbian/gay” and how afraid cis straight youth are often afraid of being seen as gay, I doubt we will see even one student seriously consider this idea.
This is why I don’t watch Fox or CNN sometimes. The way they phrase things makes them look like real idiots on TV which is pretty bad for the LGBT community sometimes because it’s shit like this that gives us a bad name. Jesus Christ. Maybe if they actually had someone more well versed in being a trans everyone would be clear.
And as for people who are disgusted this bill has been passed, shame on them. They don’t know the first thing about the LGBT community, I’ll bet you.
Now that I’m done saying what I think of CNN and Fox, I’m very happy this Bill has passed. Great to know California is taking a step FORWARD in this world. Hey Russia, you could really use some tips from CA. haha.