S1: Hello and welcome to the March 20 21 edition of Outward. I’m Christina Carucci, a senior writer at Slate. And as I bask in the 70 degrees sunshine on this fine day, I want to celebrate an often ignored holiday for the queer community. It’s a time for cutting sleeves off of T-shirts, cutting legs off of jeans, cutting a few centimeters off your alternative lifestyle haircut, cutting hair, flop top, which I’ve just invented into a crop top. That’s right. It’s cutting season for all of us and a very happy one to all of our listeners who celebrate.
S2: Oh, my gosh, I love I love cutting season.
S1: Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard of cuffing season this season.
S2: I’m Brian Lauter, editor of Outward and apropos of cutting cutting season, I am indeed that guy in your neighborhood walking around in shorts and a tank top, even though it is just 58 degrees and only kind of sunny. I am not sorry about it. My dams are closed.
S1: I really wish I lived in your neighborhood now would be such a welcome sight.
S3: I sort of feel like I do, Brian, because that is what we’re all sort of starting this episode by saying the same thing. And so I’m going to add my two cents, just that I’m a model. I’m in New York City. It’s 60 degrees. The other day, my friend Emily Gould tweeted about having her first shirtless dad working out outside sighting of the season. And I just thought, like, yes, this is my favorite season. This is my absolute favorite season where I’m forced to go to the playground. I’m willing myself to be warm, even though it’s not entirely warm. And there is the short list doing his chin ups on the playground equipment. It’s you know, it has been a long winter for a lot of people. And I think we are about to if this if this little panel discussion is any indication, we are on the verge of the next pandemic of spring fever, like a truly interesting outbreak of spring fever. I’m ready for it, though.
S1: Just to clarify, Ramon, are you the shirtless dad doing chin ups?
S4: In fact, yes. The one and only time I went for a run not wearing a shirt. It was like ninety nine degrees.
S3: I ran by, like, seven people I know, which never, ever happens to me in New York City. And then I was like, oh, I can never, ever do this again. So no, I am not that dumb, but I do appreciate that.
S1: But it is socially acceptable for dads to go topless on the playground. I never knew that. I wouldn’t I wouldn’t say so.
S3: I wouldn’t say that it’s socially acceptable, but I will say that it does happen.
S1: Well, I’m glad we’re all in such a chipper mood. It’s the one year anniversary of the pandemic in the US this month. And I was reminded by the weather outside of the first time we recorded this show from our homes and I had built myself a pillow fort. I wedged myself on the floor in the corner to accommodate my pillow for it just to get the best audio quality I could, because I know our listeners expect the ultimate in queer excellence from us pristine, pristine. But over the course of the year, a lot has changed. I’ve really relaxed my perfectionist expectations for myself. I’ve given up on the pillows. I’m at a desk in what I’m sure our producer Daniel would tell you is an under furnished and very echoey room. But it’s more sustainable this way. And I hope that all of you, both you, Brian and Remon and our listeners have also made adjustments that help you keep yourself safe and comfortable because you deserve sanity and comfort. And I just want to thank all of you for sticking with us through this year. And this show, our one year anniversary pandemic’s show is a real meaty one. We’re going to start out with a conversation about the sexual harassment and assault allegations against fashion designer Alexander Wang and what those stories can tell us about the changing and sometimes murky standards of consent in gay male spaces.
S5: Then we’ll chat with science writer Ryley Black about anti trans bills advancing in state legislatures that are trying to keep trans girls out of girls’. Sports rightly argues that it’s a fool’s errand to try to fight transphobia with the rhetoric of science and finally in our gay agenda will recommend a few of our favorite things to occupy your time this month.
S1: But first, let’s all share our pride and provocations. Remon, how are you feeling this month?
S3: I’m feeling proud this month. Earlier this month, Andy Toal, who has published a blog called Tollroad for 18 years, Scott announced his retirement from that media outlet. Andy used to be the editor in chief of a magazine called Genre, and when he left that job, he created this blog as a place to collate LGBTQ news stories of the serious and the silly. And for the last eight years, that blog has been a really reliable resource for a queer perspective on the news of the day. I’m really happy that it’s going to continue after Andy’s departure, but I do want to congratulate him on an incredible run and I want to thank him as a reader. You know, the endurance of Tele Road reminds me that the Internet sort of began with these utopian ideals, that it was going to be a space for. All people at this point, our lives are mostly controlled by Google and Amazon. Mm hmm. But you know that digital space really does belong to all people. And people like Andy claim some of the territory for people like us. I’m really grateful to him for it and I’m really proud. That’s an incredible run. 18 years on the Internet. That’s really something.
S2: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That blog has just been so important and his work has been so important to me is like a I mean, that’s kind of how I one of the places I learned how to do what we do here at Slate, like what it does, it’s just incredible that you put in that work for so long. So, yeah, here here to that pride. Brian, what’s going on with you? Well, I have a sort of honorary pride. So our listeners will have heard by the time this comes out that Norton Juster, who is the author of The Phantom Tollbooth, among other books, passed away this week on the it would have been the 8th of March and I’d say honorary because Juster was not gay himself, but he created a a book in The Phantom Tollbooth that I think it should be sort of thought of as a as a queer classic. Interestingly, I have not seen I looked and I’ve not seen many people write about this. So maybe it’s maybe it’s something that I should do at some point. But growing up this this book and the movie, it’s a book from nineteen sixty one. And then there was made into a movie in 1970, animated film, just like spoke to me at this deep level with its playfulness, its curiosity, it’s, it’s sort of wit and campiness something about it just always struck me as I very having a very queer perspective on knowledge.
S3: Do you guys know the book well? Should I. Yeah. Yeah. This is a really interesting reading of that book, Bryan. I’m not sure that I’ve heard anyone make this particular argument, but it’s so striking. And it’s one of those things that, like when you talk about a book for children from the distance of adulthood, you see it totally different.
S2: Yeah, no, absolutely. And as I say, I should probably sit down and work on that reading a little bit more. But it’s one of the I think probably our listeners have this, too. There are certain things that just feel queer even if you can’t find the evidence. I remember a while ago I went on Google just to see, well, he must have been gay, was not gay like that. That’s not the case. But just something about the story of Milo going from sort of incurious to this this real odyssey of learning about knowledge and language and wordplay and just, I don’t know, just just the beauty of of sort of humanism, really. Something about it’s queer. So I don’t know. I will I’m going to give Norton Juster an honorary pride and say thank you to him. As soon as he leaves, it leaves us to for for creating this thing that really meant a lot to me as a queer kid.
S1: And even now, that’s really lovely. Um, Christina, I’m feeling provoked this month, and I’m realizing that because this show only runs once a month, it has had the perverse effect of forcing me to, like, hold on to my rage after this particular provocation has been stewing for a couple of weeks now. As I’m sure both of you know, Lady Gaga as French bulldogs were apprehended by a mugger who shot her dog walker. Um, they’ve since been returned. But in the process of this whole tragedy, I’ll say Lady Gaga, who has identified as queer, which is why her actions warrant provocation, um, offered a five hundred thousand dollar reward for the safe return of her two French bulldogs. No questions asked now. The pandemic has really amplified the distance between the haves and the have nots and even between the haves and the have nots. And this is one of those instances where the differences really come into stark relief. So, you know, dogs are wonderful and important, and these designer dogs were surely worth more emotionally even than they cost at the breeder. But her decision to offer this no questions asked reward struck me as evidence of a particular sort of disconnection from humanity, her dog walker and allegedly close friend Ryan Fisher, who I’m sort of assuming is gay, though I have no evidence, you know, one way or the other. But he just feels you got to know you you got to assume at some point he was shot. And and, you know, instead of a reward for the identification and apprehension of the person who put her friend in the hospital with gunshot wounds to the chest, she offered a reward for ostensibly the person who shot him. Mm hmm. Claiming, you know, or promising that, you know, there would be no consequences for the return of her dogs. And I mean, this is one of those where I feel like, yeah, I feel like you don’t even need to articulate why you’re provoked.
S3: It’s like it’s enough on the face of it. Like that’s everything you’ve just said. It’s it’s almost like you’re playing a game of Mad Libs, you know, where you’re saying, like Lady Gaga, French bulldog shot reward, like none of that really makes any sense. And you’re right to be provoked. And actually, I think it’s a symptom of how weirdly broken everything feels culturally at the moment, that there wasn’t more like I saw that news story and I was like, oh, yeah, that that makes sense that that would happen because nothing really makes any sense at the moment.
S1: And I just I have this sense of people who achieve a certain amount of wealth and fame of becoming so attached to objects. And I understand that dogs aren’t objects and dogs have feelings, too. And certainly I would never wish harm on her French bulldogs. But the fact that she would put in place more emphasis on the return of her property than on the life threatening injuries of somebody who was a friend, an employee, and I’m assuming a member of the LGBTQ community, because I have to, you know, why wouldn’t he be is so outside of the realm of any rational reaction to tragedy that it provoked the hell out of me. And I’ve been thinking about it for two weeks or so now because I wanted to save it for this show. So now I’m ready to put that in a bubble blowed away and my provocation and I’m so glad that, you know, Ryan Fisher is in the process of recovery and the French Bulldogs were returned. I hope you’re happy Lady Gaga.
S2: Let’s hope they ask for a raise commensurate with.
S3: Oh, really? Really.
S1: She’s at least five hundred thousand at least. Yeah.
S3: And, you know, it is it is possible that she did something for him that we simply don’t know about. But I don’t think you’re wrong to be provoked by that. Although I’m I’m fascinated by your assumption that if you are the dog walker to Lady Gaga, you, Urgo are probably gay. Like, I don’t disagree with you. I just don’t know why that makes sense to me.
S1: But it does like all the puzzle pieces. It does. It does make just a lot of ingredients there that get picked up and like a really gay cake.
S3: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. So in twenty seventeen, The New York Times published reporting by Megan Toohey and Jodi Kantor on the producer Harvey Weinstein revealing years of sexual harassment and assault. Weinstein’s victims, as we know, included some very well-known people. That story is talked about as a turning point in our culture, a moment where we began to talk openly about consent, about violence, about violation, about naming transgressors, about naming their victims. Actresses and models stood up to say, to use a phrase borrowed from the activist Tarana Burke, me to. That’s become shorthand for this cultural moment of interrogating power, of holding people and institutions to account. There was only three years ago, so it’s hard to say whether there have been real changes in how individuals think about power and sex and harassment. But what seems clear is that we are, as a culture, more comfortable now having this conversation in public. At the end of last month in New York magazine, Angelina Shapen and Matthew Schneier wrote about allegations of impropriety against Alexander Wang, fashion designer who helps his own namesake label. He was, for a time, the creative director of the European house, Balenciaga. Wang is very different from Harvey Weinstein, he’s not white, he was born in California, the child of Taiwanese immigrants, and he’s not straight as an engineer right in their piece, quote, in queer spaces in particular, where sexual freedom is sometimes equated with independence, rebellion or a hard won rate, sex can be a part of the point of a night out and the lines of license and consent can become clouded. And quote, Chabin unretire detail, a couple of specific accounts, a young fashion graduate describes waying reaching into their pants while on the dance floor. A male model accuses waying of groping him. A trans model describes women trying to pull down her underwear and expose her genitals inside of a nightclub. The article includes an account attributed to a man named Luke, which is a pseudonym that Wayne groped him and when serving him a drink at a nightclub, Luke was under age at the time, may have put something. It’s not clear what into it. Luke says, I was used to people touching me because I’m a gay man. I’m not saying that’s OK, but it’s just like something that happens. So is that something that happens? How can queers talk about issues of consent and power, but also queerness and pleasure in a post meta world? I feel like it’s a lot to dig into here. Brian, what was your take on reading this reporting?
S2: Yeah, there’s a lot there’s well, there’s a lot. And there’s also not much going on, actually, I would say, in the sense that from what we get in this piece of reporting, the allegation suggests that Wang had a pattern of a specific kind of harassment or assault that I don’t know is attributable to any larger culture. I mean, the thing that keeps coming up over and over again is putting hands down people’s pants or unzipping their pants or grabbing their genitals without consent. This happens probably, what, five, six times on this piece. I think it’s mentioned with different people. That is that is I think we can state at the outset wrong. The other thing I would say about the sort of this larger question that you pose, Remon, about about is it something that happens or is is using, like, air quotes around that, or is it sort of normal for for in gay male spaces in particular, for there to be more license with touch? That is a very interesting thing to talk about and we will talk about it. I do not know that it was the right frame for this piece. So I take issue just a little bit with with the. The invocation of that idea here, because I think the things that are described are are much more simple than that, are much simpler than that, I think I think it’s this person, if he is indeed guilty of what he is accused of doing is a predator. Right. And he acts like a predator. I don’t think any of the any of the interesting things about about about consent and Squarespace necessarily excuse that are apply. So so it is indeed true, though, that his some of the accusers invoke this. Right. So I’m not I’m not saying that the journalists shouldn’t have at all, but I think it is I found myself reading the piece and being a little annoyed that that we were sort of made to think about the two things together quite so much. Does that make sense? I know. Yeah, that does make sense, I guess. Yes, it is true that gay men, gay male cultures, some of them urban ones, you know, there’s all kinds of caveats have have a history of a different relationship to to to touch and intimacy and let’s say semipublic spaces. Absolutely. I don’t know. And I would you know, we can talk more about that because I think it’s very interesting. But I don’t know. Perhaps I’m just getting hung up on the wrong thing, but I feel troubled by by, like giving any of that sort of space to to this storm, to him or to this story maybe, except to acknowledge except to acknowledge very quickly that, as you rightly pointed out, the victims feel this way. And it is it is interesting. I had when I had first come out in New York City as a as a college student and started going out to bars, one of the first times that I was there, something happened to me on a on a dance floor that was sort of in this realm that sticks out in my memory, where someone came up behind me and put their hands down the front of my pants. So well, without concern. And I don’t feel that I don’t I thought about a number of times in my life and it doesn’t it is not something that sticks out to me is like hugely traumatic or something that I wish to to to, like, litigate in any in any deep way, except to say that it is interesting to sort of contradict myself a little bit that that I don’t feel more strongly about it, if that makes sense. Right. So so sort of like to I don’t know, as a note of support to the way that these these victims experienced it. Maybe I’m experiencing that too. And in the sense of downplaying it because because of where it happened.
S3: But I mean, the difference between what you’re describing happened in your own experience and what is being laid out in this article is that it’s absent the dimension of professional power. Yes. You know, the people in this piece are aspiring models.
S6: They’re young sort of people beginning a career in the fashion business and they brush up against someone who was a little older than them and tremendously powerful inside of a business in which they want to thrive. And so that dynamic complicates things immensely because that person, like when you possess that kind of power, you have to discharge it more thoughtfully. You have to just be you have to be aware of it. And that if you or someone and you’re dealing with someone who is younger than you and you’re dealing with somebody who aspires to sort of a professional relationship with you, you understand when you’re taking things too far. And it’s a different dynamic. It’s just a different dynamic.
S3: And I think that’s sort of what this what’s interesting about this piece is that it’s talking about nightlife and making sort of like air quotes in my mind, like the sort of like amorphous idea of like party. But it’s connecting that universe quite explicitly to a business. And fashion is a business and it’s a business with a lot of money involved. And so that really complicates the dynamic. I mean, I, I think that it’s wrong for somebody to put their hand on anyone’s pants. You know, that is that is quite different than the kind of touch that I think that you or I or other men in many women would feel like is acceptable in a place that is a little bit sexually charged. It’s completely different to put your hand put your arm around someone you don’t know and like suggest something with your physical proximity then to put your hand into their pants, you know, like, yeah, I think so.
S4: It’s not really that slipperiest. It’s not really that gray an area, I don’t think.
S1: Yeah. And what you’re what you just said, Bryan, about, you know, thinking about this thing that happened to you. I mean, I certainly think there’s no reason to think you’re reacting, think that your reaction isn’t strong enough because you didn’t feel traumatized. Right. I think and that’s the difficult thing or the ostensibly difficult thing about sexual harassment and assault, is that the only difference between a touch that is sexual assault and the same touch that is not is whether it’s welcomed or not. And that’s where consent comes into play. You know, one of the best ways to find out if your touch is going to be welcomed or not is to ask or otherwise make clear that that’s what you want to do and leave space for the other person to say whether or not they want to do that. And I feel like I’ve talked about this on the show before, but I and many other people I know have been sexually harassed by gay men in gay spaces, like physically groped. Yeah. And I think there is a sense to sort of depart from the specifics of this case. There is a general sense that the inversion or flattening of the power dynamic between two gay men or a gay man and a woman makes certain kinds of transgress. Means less severe than they would be between a man and a woman or a straight man and a woman, you know, a touch that would yeah, I’ll leave it there. But I think it’s possible that, for instance, Alexander Wang didn’t think he was doing anything egregiously wrong. That’s not an assumption that I would make about straight men who do this to women, since that is an obviously agreed upon wrong. It’s not clear to me necessarily that this is like miles past a culturally agreed upon norm in the same way that it would be for a straight man and a woman, although that line of thinking like is is clearly to me problematic because it would seem to excuse men who grow up in a culture that normalizes sexual assault, which is exactly the culture we live in. Yeah. So like my reaction to this to be to give him a little bit more leeway, as I’m reading some of these allegations, is troubling to me. And, you know, I if I take a step back from it, it’s very obviously just as disturbing as these allegations would be about a straight man. But there’s a part of me that feels like, oh, am I being homophobic? Because, you know, gay men just are a little bit different.
S6: Well, you know what, you’re talking about our norms, right, and so then the question becomes like, how do we adjust those norms? Like there was a period of time when a lot of stuff that we find, you know, abhorrent now was the norm, that it was the norm to be sort of casually racist, that it was the norm to just to say that a woman’s place is in the home. Those were the norms. So how do how does the culture interrogate those norms and what you describe right. To be in the body of a woman and be in a space full of gay men and have them like, touch your boobs, for example, and think that that’s funny, it’s not sexual. Right. So therefore, it’s sort of permissible, permissible and fun. Almost funny, but it’s not OK. Like, how do we arrive at a place where that’s the agreed upon norm that you don’t do things like that?
S3: And, you know, I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t really have an answer. But I do think that this reporting in asking the question does something useful. It just sort of makes you think like how do we change our attitudes?
S6: How do we you know, as you yourself said, Christine, like the simplest way to know if a touch is welcome or not is to ask, but how do we normalize a system in which people are asking?
S1: I will say, though, I wonder what Jeremy Atherton Lin would have to say about this. We just talked about his book, Gay Bar in the last episode, and he writes in that book, I’m going to paraphrase, I don’t know the book in front of me, but, you know, he’s a little bit. Put off by the more explicit codes of consent and codes of conduct that have been that have arisen in some of the queer spaces that he frequents because, you know, in in the olden days, it felt to him like you would go to a gay bar explicitly for the purpose of being touched and that there may have been some unwanted touches or unwanted advances. But again, I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but the impression I got was that, you know, that was sort of like the price you pay for going out. And you said no, if you didn’t want it. But, you know, maybe the initial touch was something that you just kind of dealt with and that the more stringent ideas of consent or the fact that some places were posting rules on the doorway, like harshing his M.O. a bit. And I definitely feel like the queer spaces that I’m a part of have been more on the forefront of consent and rules and stuff than any of the street spaces that I’ve visited. Of course, that that differs from places that specifically cater to gay men. But I don’t know. That seems to me like there are probably a lot of people out there who do feel a little bit of a sense of loss, you know, when people are being called to account for behaviors that might have been permissible in the past. So I just want to leave space for that perspective, which isn’t being expressed here, but I’m sure it exists.
S2: You know what I mean? I will say as someone who before before the pandemic was pretty active in nightlife in the sense that, well, I’m so that might be to compare it to Alexander Wang as part of everyday life. Right. In this case, not at all. But but did go out Hermit, who is someone who has seen the exact evolution that you’re talking about. Christina seen some of those ninety five theses to the door of the club like it? It is. I was at first suspicious of it. I will say I was like, this is like the right tone. Is this like what we kind of energy that this is about? But actually those spaces that have done that have remained just as sexy and fun and people do what they want to do regardless in a positive way. And so if if Ghost Jeremy Arthur Caplan, who is here with us, it regrets, I wonder if he has experienced enough of it, that that figure would have experienced enough of it to really know, because I don’t think I don’t think that’s been to the bat at all. I really think it has it has maybe made things more explicit and perhaps perhaps like, you know, driven away or precluded bad actors from entering. This is actually what it’s for. And the first in the first place, the people who are already adhering to maybe these these sort of tacit codes of conduct that I think that function well, probably haven’t had much of a hard time adjusting to this. I think I think they’re kind of perhaps a continuum, whereas the people who were as Ravon, you know, I think rightly pointed out, like exploiting them for for cover, maybe maybe this is maybe this is a good evolution. And I’ve certainly come around to thinking that it’s great. And actually, you know, a point and a favor for me now of choosing to to pay a cover, go to a party is whether they have articulated, like a kind of philosophy about about this stuff.
S6: So I do think that some of what you guys are talking about is is generational and a sort of natural generational evolution, like a changing idea about what is permissible like that to you don’t just inherit norms, but you can interrogate them. You know, I’m always kind of skeptical when people get too mournful about like, oh, we will lose this thing. You know, I’m not really sure what that thing is that we’re talking about.
S3: Morning, that we’ll lose some kind of some great culture of hedonism or permission like I like you said, Brian. Most people understand what that understand the rules of the thing and don’t want to follow them and not exploit them. And so if you’re lamenting the loss of the liberty to put your hand down strangers pants, then maybe you should think about what it is you’re so mournful about and not like what’s wrong with the kids today. Exactly. Well, there’s a lot of food for thought. I mean, none of us are going to a nightclub or a fashion show or any of that stuff any time soon. But I did really enjoy this article. And I think it is really important to have these kinds of conversations and really work out what a. As we think about consent and power going forward, yeah, I don’t know.
S1: I don’t know what you’re talking about. Remon, I’m going to mechanise next weekend. You’ll be at the White Party. All right. Onto our next topic.
S5: So when the Biden administration took over earlier this year, we had hoped that it would mean at least a pause in political assaults on LGBTQ rights and a reversal of the various setbacks from the Trump era. But while that’s been true on the federal level so far, the states are another story in these first few months of twenty. Twenty one state legislatures around the country have taken up more than 70 anti trans bills, the large majority of which are focused on attacking trans youth. Some of them are trying to limit access to widely accepted and reversible forms of medical care like puberty blockers. But most are focused on keeping trans girls out of girls’ sports. Politicians on the right have tried to make trans inclusive sports out to be some kind of sea change in athletics or epidemic. But when the AP contacted two dozen legislators who’ve sponsored these kinds of bills, hardly any could name even one case in which a trans athlete playing sports had caused any kind of conflict in their state. Nevertheless, conservatives have seized on youth sports as a wedge issue, basically trying to shroud their attacks on trans kids in the rhetoric of protecting CIS girls. So as of the day we’re recording this episode, only two of these bills have reached their governor’s desks in Mississippi and South Dakota. Most of them, we hope, will fail. But while advocates have been trying to fight these bills and explain why trans people aren’t a threat to women and girls in sports, they can meet some familiar pitfalls. In a recent Slate piece called Stop Trying to Out Science Transphobia. Science writer and author of Skeleton Key is Riley Black cautions us against responding to transphobia arguments with science. Doing so, she writes, is a trap that allies fall for time and time again. We are so excited to have Riley on the show today to tell us more. Welcome, Riley. Thanks for having me on. So you start your piece by writing that watching your body and identity get dissected on the public stage is the status quo for transgender people. Can you explain to our listeners what exactly you mean by that?
S7: Yeah, I mean, really, this current moment that we’re seeing so many of these anti transgender bills coming up almost every day, there’s another news piece about the number of these things and feeling like we’re constantly like we’re a threat that needs to be explained away, that we’re inherently there’s something inherently wrong with us or there’s something inherently that needs to be. Yeah, basically, I use that word very deliberately distracted by kind of cut open and shown to everybody else, like see where OK, see where acceptable. So we’re not going to hurt anybody. And we never seem to question why is there this panic in the first place? What biases and sort of misinformation are there from the get go? Like it’s very reminiscent of some ways of the panic over gay people in bathrooms from decades past. I mean, this is just the next iteration of basically fear leading the debate, but it’s shrouded in science.
S3: Yeah. When the three of us were talking about this particular issue of trans people in sports, I thought immediately of the trans argument about bathrooms, which seems like I mean, you’re talking about the gay people in bathrooms argument, which is decades older, but like it was only like a year ago, a couple of years ago that that was kind of held up as the picknick. Is your sense that that particular strategy simply failed? It simply did not take. And so the culture, the front of the culture war has moved to sports from bathrooms.
S7: I think it moved on to sports because with the bathroom bills, they were getting some traction, but not as much like it seemed like people weren’t getting as bothered about that. But sports now here, people have a hot button issue where they feel that, you know, because the phrase it’s used over and over again. And the governor of Mississippi who just signed the anti trans bill said this like not forcing girls to completely compete against biological males. And that’s going to help people like me are being described. And I don’t know where he’s getting that information from. I don’t think I’ve shared my hormone levels with anyone like that. But that’s the impression that they have in that they’re running with. And I feel like in that sense, in the sense of competition, it’s about fairness. It’s a very like sort of Mrs. Lovejoy thing from The Simpsons. Like, won’t somebody please think of the children here? They they’ve got something that’s a little bit more of an emotional tone. Yeah. I think.
S3: They can push a bit more so in your piece, you mentioned Margery Taylor Greene, our esteemed member of Congress, and her kind of theatrical invocation of a binary understanding of gender and science. And like many, I’m sure all of you saw like the viral tick tock thing of a scientist saying, like, you know, that congressman is wrong. And here’s my understanding of how gender works. And what struck me about your argument, the argument you were secured in this piece is that it’s not unlike when I’m putting my kids to bed and they say, oh, no, no, but it’s seven o’clock in Illinois, so I shouldn’t have to go to bed now or it’s usually five o’clock in California. And it’s like, yes, those are facts. And that’s all interesting and accurate. But it’s not salient because the argument that you’re making in this piece is that, like, it’s not a good faith attempt to really rely on science. It’s a it’s an attempt to bend science to a political agenda. And so, therefore, maybe we should simply not engage in that conversation because we know it to be in bad faith. It’s not your responsibility to, like, formulate an alternative plan of action. But what do you think might be an appropriate response when people do invoke science for someone to say, like, how do we how do we then say your argument is in bad faith and I’m not going to discuss science? You’re not a scientist. I’m a scientist. I don’t want to get into this. That’s not the point. Like, how can we we need, like, a catchphrase. We need an argument. And I don’t know what that is. And again, it’s not your job to tell me what it is, but I’m curious to hear what you think.
S7: Yeah, I’ve thought about that quite a bit. And it’s difficult because I think it varies somewhat by context and venue. When I’m talking to somebody who might be making a trans phobic argument, I’m going engage with them differently than if I were, say, like in the state legislature talking to a politician. Sure. But I think we need to lead the argument and say, do you accept that trans people are real and that they’re valid, that there are people whose gender does not match what they were assigned at birth, and that is just a normal part of being a person if they say yes, OK, now we’ve got some stuff to talk about. Now we can kind of have have a discussion. But if they say no and they’re denying our basic humanity from the outset, that’s like, OK, before we even touch the science, tell me why that is. Is it because the Bible told you or you think the Bible told you? Is it because you just have a misunderstanding? And I think that’s a lot of what I was trying to get at, is that using science and a lot of our arguments are very responsive. It’s very much kind of like we’re on the defensive. We’re letting the transphobia lead the debate and say, well, this is about, you know, someone’s testosterone levels. So this is about someone’s anatomy. And it also medicalise those things very much like not all trans people medically transition like I do hormone replacement therapy. I haven’t had any surgeries, but there are people who just, you know, they change their gender in the way they present and change their name and their pronouns. And they get left out of all this because so much of it starts to anonymize trans people with needing a biological justification like that. We need to get closer to what sense people are like. And that’s our goal. And that’s all that we want. And I think that’s harmful in the term. So really, a lot of this I think it’s not letting the opposition define the parameters of the debate and from the very beginning, asking, like, do you see trans people as people who deserve rights? And if the answer to that is no, then we have a whole lot of unpacking to do.
S2: One of the lines in the piece that really struck me was where you write What we’re living through is a trans panic akin to the satanic panic of the 80s and 90s when parents and police were convinced that there were devil worship and cult infiltrating every facet of society. I would just love to hear you talk more about that comparison, because I think you’re right. But it was such an interesting way of looking at this particular moment that we’re in with all of this legislation.
S7: Yeah, it’s something that I’ve been fascinated with for a little while. There’s a great book called The Enemy Within about the Salem Witch Trials, but that also expands the satanic panic and some other sort of great panics and history and great I don’t mean good, but just like widespread this idea, because I think a lot of where this is coming from is from that fear that this is not somebody saying like, well, I as a scientist think that people with greater testosterone have more muscle mass and will perform better. Like that is not where this is coming from. It’s coming from this idea that and like I I went to church long ago. I’m not saying like, I know everything about our current evangelicalism, but like I’ve seen the way that these people think and talk about the world and how scared it is. It’s always like this outside opposition, the world coming in and telling people that, you know, God didn’t determine your gender at birth, that you can choose at all these sorts of things. I think that’s where the parallel. Is that there is this fear that, you know, transgender people are somehow, you know, ruining society, ruining the world, telling people that they can change things that God intended or what have you. And it’s no surprise a lot of the pushback for this. It’s not coming from a biologist at some university or something. It’s from it’s the religious freedom aspect that, you know, NPR just had a piece the other day about religious freedom, objections to the Equality Act and other bits of law. So it’s like it’s really not difficult to see where this is coming from. And I think that’s the larger part of it, that people like me are they see as a threat to society itself and their way of life, what they want for the country. That’s why the governor of Mississippi said, like this is promoting transgenderism and we need to stop. It wasn’t even protecting women at that point. It was stopping people from me like existing. And that’s what they don’t understand. So we’ve always been here. We’re here now. We’re going to be here. It’s like sometimes I don’t know what they want. It’s just like disappear or like move to an island somewhere. It’s I’m not really sure what their end game is.
S1: Yeah. I think it’s particularly interesting that you, you know, a science writer, somebody who loves science, has built your career on science, is, you know, saying that science can’t really help us here. Do you feel any sort of conflict there?
S7: I do, because like like you said, I’m a science figure. I love this stuff, there’s plenty that I want to know. For example, like I started taking progesterone a couple of months ago. We don’t know exactly why that does the things it does under hormone replacement therapy and stuff. It rounds things out. It adds some extra padding in places that I’d like it. That’s great. But it has been so understudied like HRT in general, it’s life saving and we know so little about it. I would love to know more. It’s fascinating. But that by itself, if I make everything about not only am I excluding people who don’t do that as part of their transition or part of their identity, but it’s sintering, you know, something where it’s very easy because science is a process. Science like we can get some things wrong. And I think it kind of we think we’re making this strong, authoritative point. But, you know, studies can make mistakes. Studies might not be replicated if we can’t put all the weight on scientific data and then we have a correction to it. Even if it’s a positive correction, we’re more right than we thought we were. So like, oh, well, this paper said this and now it turns out that that’s wrong. Isn’t science wrong then? We think we’re being strong, but it puts us in a weaker spot. And honestly, in writing my book, Schoenke is I talked a lot about scientific racism and the using the framework of science to hurt people. And I see similar impulses now where science is being used as a way to say there’s only X, X and Y, you know, sex equals gender. All like these were playing out very similar things all over again. And what really made the difference in kind of getting out of that was the humanitarian point. It wasn’t scientists going like, you know what, we realized that there aren’t just five races and this is how you divide them. It was the fact that World War Two happened. And we saw where this line of thinking went and saw what happened with the Holocaust. And people said like, oh, no, we need to stop doing this. And that is ultimately what changed people’s minds. So it’s not so much that science should never be discussed or part of it. I think where it’s relevant, it certainly should. But it’s more like what are we leading with?
S3: You know, hearing you talk about the tension between the appeal of science and the appeal of sort of like humanity or human rights as a strategy. It makes me think of the conversation that’s happening in the culture about the various vaccines for a coronavirus where people who don’t and I include myself in this population, people who don’t know shit about science are like, well, I see this ninety three percent figure and it freaks me out. And I have said this is my argument and it’s like this, you know, science is complex and it demands like expertise. And we so much of what’s happening in the culture when you talk about a host of cultural issues seems to me to have to do with this sense that the individual gets to decide that everything is a matter of belief and we have to sort of change this cultural attitude that it doesn’t really matter whether you believe in climate change or not. It doesn’t really matter whether you believe in coronavirus or not. These things exist independent of your belief. And I do think that, like statistics and numbers are so unpersuasive because you feel like you understand them even though you don’t. But something like a human face is much harder to argue with. And I think that, like, it’s frustrating because it demeans the importance of science to shift that to look an emotional language. But I also think that’s what’s necessary. And that’s what I liked about your piece, is saying like, let’s not have these bad faith arguments.
S7: Yeah, well, that’s I’m glad that you brought up vaccines because I actually was just working on a piece for a magazine about vaccinations and the history of vaccines. But in talking to experts on the history of vaccination and people working now in communities, for example, reaching out to people who could use the HPV vaccine, and there’s so much misunderstanding about that, especially because of intersex sexuality, what they were telling me was not like, well, you know, when we explain the science to these people, they understand it so much better and then they’re on board. What they were saying was this is about community building. It’s about building trust. It’s about saying we understand your concerns and talking to them and having a conversation, maybe even putting on things like as silly as it seems, things like where it has people represented in the community and sort of like getting people to pay attention to this and that sort of emotional appeal that I feel like a lot of us were told not to use. Your will take our English classes and my high school and college. It’s like be careful with those emotional appeals now. But like sometimes for things like that, that’s where the crux of it ends.
S1: Mm hmm. I think that’s just about all the time we have. But I just want to leave you with one question, and this is a kind of broad one. What do you hope that trans allies might do during this current moment in this current fight, instead of appealing to science in the way that you’ve talked about?
S7: Number one, I want them to just ask their trans friends and gender queer friends and I’m wondering just how are you doing? No one just talked talk to us and don’t talk for us is really awesome when you have a skill or information or something that you can use. But also, it’s kind of like tweeting, like when you see somebody make a point and then somebody else, quote, tweets it and kind of like you’re talking over them, don’t do that part. So that’s one thing that you can do. But another is, I think, keep the focus on the fact that we’re people, that we’re here, we’ve always been here, we’re always going to be here. And that in talking about our bodies and talking about our biology, are you actually helping or are you kind of contributing to this like that? Our bodies are up for display and debate and discussion and how distressing that can that can be when you decide to engage, if you decide to engage, are you keeping in mind that we’re we’re people and we deserve equal rights? And is that where your own conversation is coming from or are you just kind of responding on the defensive? And I think just by doing those two things, like a lot has the potential to to change at least I hope so.
S1: Thank you so much, Riley. This was a great conversation. Riley Black is a Slate contributor and author of the natural history books, Skeleton Keys and My Beloved Brontosaurus. Riley, it was so great to have you.
S7: Oh, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much.
S1: All right. That’s about all the time we have for this month. But before we go, let’s hear our gay agenda. Brian, what have you brought? Sure.
S2: So I subscribe to a two minute streaming platforms, but one of the ones I subscribe to that is actually kind of interesting is Schutter, which is a horror platform. And on that, recently, my partners and I stumbled across and their queer section, which is amazing that they have not. And our thing and their cross section, a documentary that’s from 2019. It was called Scream Queen My Nightmare on Elm Street. So it is about the main actor in whose name is Mark Payton, who was in Nightmare on Elm Street to Freddy’s Revenge. If our listeners haven’t seen that before or seen it in a while, I recommend doing this as a double feature, which is what we did. We watched the the original in nineteen eighty five I believe, movie first and then watched the documentary. And it’s a fascinating thing because it’s about how this, this film was at the time or certainly shortly after it came out, sort of understood by people to be gay, to have like this really intense gay, not even subtext really like it sort of it sort of rises to the level of tax. There’s there’s like an infamous locker room scene where a coach is like beaten with a towel bare ass before he’s he’s shredded. There’s like a dance sequence. There’s all this stuff that that’s like pretty gay. The actor himself is gay, but was not out at the time, like, you know, not out publicly at the time and did not know that he was in a film that was going to be read this way. Oh, my God. And so it is about the sort of fallout from being in this what how his career was essentially ruined because of Hollywood homophobia. It’s about AIDS and HIV in that community at the time and sort of also about his reemergence, I guess. What is it? Thirty five years later, forty years later, into a sort of cult status where he’s going to these these horror icons and things like that and sort of establishing a sort of revived kind of fan. But it’s a very uncomfortable because of his his experience with this movie sort of ruining from his life, from his perspective, his life. Wow. So it’s it’s it’s really fascinating. It’s I had seen the movie, the original movie a long time ago. And watching it again was a sort of a campy shock. But then seeing what the what the consequences were for for that. And, you know, he has a confrontation with the writer because he’s convinced that the writer on purpose. And it’s very interesting. So if you can, I think it’s available on other platforms, too. It’s called Scream Queen My Nightmare on Elm Street. And you will learn a lot about the the what it means to be the final boy and sort of the final girl in her movie. Yeah.
S1: Ruman, what are you recommending?
S3: Well, first, I want to talk about a movie as well, a movie called I Care a Lot, which is streaming down.
S4: Ratzmann Pike won a Golden Globe for her performance as a grifter criminal who is also a lesbian. Her wife or her, her partner in both crime and in bed in the movie is played by an actress named Isaac Gonzalez, who they’re both really great looking like as most people in movies are, and they have a lot of chemistry that they were really charming couple. I’m not sure the movie really as much as most Hollywood movies I’m not sure really understands like how two women have sex. But I really loved the performance of queerness in this movie. And I think it’s sort of great that they’re like that the bad guys are lesbians, but like in a more complex way than you might expect when the bad guy and like a Disney animated film is clearly coded as gay. So the movie’s called I Carlot. I really I did really enjoy watching it.
S3: But I also want to talk about a book. I always talk about books, but I want to talk about a book that I just read really loves called Horse Crazy. It’s by Gary, Indiana. It’s from nineteen eighty nine. It is a book about love and obsession. The narrator of the book meets this younger man with whom he is just completely smitten and so much of the book. Describing like a New York in the nineteen eighties of gallery openings and parties and bars, it would have felt bygone anyway. But in a moment where we’re all just at home, it sort of felt even more poignant. I really I read it over a couple of nights last week, and it was like the highlight of my day was getting into bed and reading this book, so I just highly recommend it. If you are a reader or looking for something that reminds you of what it is like to be obsessively in love with somebody and that reminds you of what it was like when we could go to bars and gallery openings. It’s called Horse Crazy by Gary, Indiana. Christina, tell me what your gay agenda is.
S1: I’m recommending a cookbook, which is a little bit of a queer choice, I think, agenda. So the book is called Simply Julia 110 Easy Recipes for Healthy Comfort Food. It’s a new cookbook by Julia Hershon, who I hadn’t heard before, but I had this book was recommended to me because it’s a very gay cookbook and it is, in fact the gayest cookbook I’ve ever cooked from. And not just because it’s partially dedicated to a dead cat, although that certainly plays into it. Yeah. So the author of this cookbook, Julia Turgeon, has. I never met her. I’ve never heard her speak, although I understand that woman. You interviewed her for the Working Slate’s working podcast. So I look forward to listening to that. But I get the sense from this book of just a radiant warmth. It’s an extremely familiar and unpretentious cookbook. I would say it’s more on the relatable side of cooking than the aspirational side of cooking was. That’s exactly what I need right now. I don’t need to make any more Ottolenghi recipes with like 18 different kinds of onions and garlic in them. But I also love it because her family comes through in so many ways. Over the course of the book, she includes her wife’s cooking tips in here, including a recipe that is her wife’s, which is a very simple recipe. Sometimes I get annoyed when recipes are like I could have thought of that. But actually in this cookbook, there are a lot of recipes that I could have thought of but wouldn’t which I almost need more just different ways of cooking the things that I normally would. But in general, it’s just it’s a cookbook that is strung together in a way that a normal person’s home cooking habits would be. You know, there’s like sort of like well-loved recipes that she’s just thrown together. There’s a whole page about recipes she cooks when her wife’s out of town, things her wife hates but she likes or things that are just so weird. You wouldn’t make it for two people, but you would make it for one things that are adapted from her memories and her family members. It’s just incredibly endearing and accessible and has brought me a lot of comfort for for a recipe of comfort food. It really delivered on that promise.
S4: That is such it’s such a good book and Julia is such a great human being, we are friendly and I just I adore her and I am so happy to hear that you have the experience of a book, especially like a year into being trapped in our homes. I think we’re all really like over cooking. So it’s nice to hear somebody talk about getting excited about a recipe.
S1: Yeah, yeah. I had the experience of being burnt out on my own recipes over the cookbooks that I have, and this has made me excited to be in the kitchen again.
S4: Well, now I’m really hungry. So we’re going to say our goodbyes and I’m going to go make something. As always, please send us your feedback, your ideas for other topics. Outward podcast at Slate dot com. You can always which is also on Facebook or Twitter at Slate Outward. Our producer is Daniel Shrader. June Thomas is the senior managing producer of Slate podcasts. And if she ever left us, we’d gladly pony up five hundred thousand dollars for her safe return. If you like outward, subscribe in your podcast up and tell your friends about it. Right, and review the show so others can find it out. It’ll be back in your feeds on April 21st. Guys, it was always it was so good to see you as always.
S2: You too, Herman. Yeah. Oh, and let’s maybe we can see each other outside soon. Yeah. And our tank tops. Yeah.
S1: I’ll be doing chin ups at the playground. Awesome. All right, everybody.