Genesis and Gender

If we wonder about how gender is represented in the Bible, a common approach is to start with Genesis, first book in the Old Testament: the foundation of humanity as we were created “in the beginning” (Gen 1:1). God created a multitude of systems in binary: heavens and earth (Gen 1:1), darkness and light (Gen 1:2-3), night and day, evening and morning (Gen 1:4-5); over the next “days” God created land and seas (Gen 1:9-10), and moon and sun (Gen 1:16-18). But God also used a broader paintbrush in some of creation. The stars were made with almost infinite variation, and in creating vegetation, the life that teemed in the waters, the birds that flew in the air, as well as livestock, crawling things and animals that move with enormous variety: God’s creativity is apparent. And when God created humanity: “in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen 1:26), that work seemed to go back to the binary: “male and female He created them.” (Gen. 1:28). From this description, it appears that God was fond of binary creativity: and thus humanity was fashioned in two complimentary sexes. This is exactly the perspective that Jeff Johnston from Focus on the Family takes in his description of the duality of human sexes (Focus on the Family, 2008, 2015). He seems to wrap it up in a tidy package that denies anything that is not traditional orthodoxy.

And yet that is not the end of the story. Many times I’ve been asked why there are two separate and somewhat contradictory descriptions of creation, in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. The answer is simple: a change in narrative focus. The story in Genesis 1 is much more global and overreaching: and it ends with the creation of humanity. Genesis 2 is much more specific and focused: and it is about the creation of humanity. This is not just my idea. It is very orthodox: as illustrated by Ascension Press (2015): “There’s a perspective shift between chapters. In Genesis 1, the reader’s a distant observer of the creation of the universe. Genesis 2 zooms in for a close-up on the ‘man’ God created everything for.” So the second chapter is about the creation of human beings. So why didn’t Mr. Johnston mention anything about Genesis 2 in the above article? I mean, the account in Genesis 2 is about humanity. It describes not just that we were created, but how.

It turns out that Genesis 2 does not support Mr. Johnston’s simplistic view of humanity. It does not support the agenda associated with Focus on the Family.

Genesis 2 describes a much more complex version of the creation of humanity: and one that challenges the binary view of gender. Specifically: because the second human being was created almost as an afterthought. Adam was created first, and alone. We actually don’t know his name: Adam means “earth creature” and is like “horse”. Eve is not named until much later in the story. Adam was created effectively as a perfect representative of our species. Note that when Eve was created, it was not for the purpose of procreation. It was so that Adam would not be lonely. And God went to all kinds of trouble to avoid creating another human being, trying all the different animals first. When God finally decided he needed another human, Eve was created from Adam’s side: which shows that Adam actually had all of the potentiality of Eve in him. Adam had all the potential femininity of our species. There are some who have called Adam genderqueer (Affirming Theology, 2010). Nor is this an unusual or even new idea. It has been reflected by different Old Testament scholars: “The rabbis understood this to mean that Adam was created as an intersexed being, a hermaphrodite; singular in one respect, plural in another. Exactly how Adam was constituted as an intersexed being was debated. Rabbi Jeremiah ben Elazar held that Adam was an androgyne, while Rabbi Samuel bar Nachman held that Adam was more like conjoined male/female twins” (The Forward, 2016). For those unfamiliar with “the rabbis”, the men referenced lived in the 2nd or 3rd century AD. So the idea that the first human being was not simply male in the way we understand it traditionally is nothing new. There are a thousand implications to this, but the point is that Mr. Johnston’s assumptions about gender in Genesis are incomplete. Or actually: he’s just wrong. Because if we look back at the key verses that he used, we see that the English is ambiguous. Genesis 1:27 – “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” As we are traditionally convinced that male and female are opposites and contradictory, we assume that “them” at the end of that passage must refer to Adam and Eve independently: male and female, Adam and Eve. But what if those are just two different qualities? Consider: “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; intelligent and artistic He created them.” Intelligent and artistic refer to both, collectively. We all have a certain degree of intelligence and artistry: some more or less of either, some more or less of both. The bible supports the idea that gender is the same. And it is supported by both creation passages. It’s just that because with the split of “male” and “female”, God also split the physical roles in reproductionm So we assume that the physics and chemistry (chromosomes and hormones) are the only things that matter in gender.

They are not. And given the freedom to be themselves, we see well represented in populations today.


She is a Woman & She has a Penis

I first saw this YouTube post a few months ago, and I loved it. I wasn’t sure I should post about the vid because most of the hard work has been done by Reece Lyons. And I’m not sure I can add very much at all: other than to emphasize my support: of her as both a trans person and an actor. I love her wording and her performance because it emphasizes that being a woman is not a matter of genitalia, it’s not a matter of chromosomes or expressions of stereotypes or clothing. It’s a matter of who a person is. It transcends cultural stereotypes. A trans woman would know that she is a woman whether born in modern Britain or deep in Africa; ancient Greece or far in the future. The difference is that we, here and now, are only now developing the technology and the cultural values to allow a transition to be more complete and to be accepted. In the future we will look back on the difficulties of today with the same eye-rolling as we look back on those who opposed same-sex marriage two decades ago… or the decriminalization of homosexuality before that. I remember what it was like in those before times.

One of the reasons that I’ve included both the vids below is that I think the contrast is important. The first is a poetry slam; it was done with a minimum of support and coordination. It looks like the first time Reece was really performing the piece. The second is an event. The same words, the same speaker, the same passion: and yet it is more fullsome, with background and choreography and obvious support. We see the first and think: yeah, she has a point. We experience the second and we think: wow, she has a point. And isn’t it sometimes like that with trans people themselves? We accept them based on the fullness of their transition. Those who have the money and the support and the access to meds we think: wow. I couldn’t tell. Those who don’t have all this we think: yeah, sure. But they’re no less trans, they’re no less the gender they know themselves to be. Yet often our culture and our capitalistic norms prevent them from fully expressing who they are. And we take that context for granted: as Reece says: “I am only going to be beautiful when I am convincing to you… when I am… acceptable enough for you to perceive me as a quote-unquote real woman.” But trans people… trans women… are real women. They are who they say they are regardless of how we perceive them.

Yes, I know I’m a man and many terfs feel I should have no voice in this. I know that’s mostly just an excuse and because I don’t agree with them: they’re certainly happy enough to brag about the gays in the LGB Alliance who want to get rid of the “T” in our community. I’ve had those comments many times: “Yeah, another man trying to tell me what I can and cannot do.” The misandry is palpable even through social media. But they are the ones who are so focused on gender and sex that they’ve lost any sense of the humanity and compassion that was once associated with those words. I recognize that in our culture women have been oppressed and ignored in the past. I will do what I can to correct that. Part of my work as a data analyst has been in support of pay equity; I have marched before to support women’s rights. But many terfs today are just playing the victim card to get them as much privilege as they can. Which is valid: until it starts to exclude those women who are discovering their womanhood. Many terfs only want to welcome women like them. My research and experience has convinced me that they are only a loud minority, much like the minority who still claim that “homosexuality is unnatural“. Their voice has been drowned out in recent years, and one day the call of the terf will just be an echo of what it is today.

We’ve worked for years to move beyond the idea that womanhood and beauty are lodged in physical bodies. When I worked as a pastor in the States, I had friends suffering from cancer loose their hair and their breasts: and I’ve helped them through that loss and emphasized that their beauty and capacity as a woman has not changed in the least because of the disease. (Some women still trust men with personal reflections. Even me.) I cannot help but feel this debate is a step backward. I look forward to the day that the voices demanding that our gender fit specific conditions or patterns of behaviour are drowned out by the steady wheels of progress, technology and compassion.

Reece Lyons: I am a woman and I have a penis (2018)

Reece Lyons: I am a woman and I have a penis (2020)

Character Today

I’m fascinated by today’s social wars about character. They’re very different from what I knew in the past. I’m old enough to remember when conservative politicians used to go to great pains to appear more “morally correct” than their liberal counterparts. Conservatives were considered to be the party of those who adhered to religious faith, in particular Christianity. So there was a benefit to being “righteous” as well as a convincing politician. Scholars and individuals have gone back and forth, arguing about the degree that a politician like a president needs to be a good person as well as a good leader. “The best presidents – including figures such as Abraham Lincoln and George Washington – are celebrated not only as good leaders, but as good men. They embody not simply political skill, but personal virtue.” (University of Washington, 2019). And it’s true that the best can be both. But not everyone can.

It used to be that when we discovered some action that a person took that was considered “wrong” that we would talk about what they had done and what the circumstances were around it. Part of the assumption was that, “If the world is imperfect, and requires a politician to lie, cheat or otherwise do wrong in the name of doing good, then there is sometimes a moral reason for the politician to do that wrong.” (Ibid) There are a number of examples. Political leaders must often deceive in order to safeguard their country, it is argued. This has been extended to apply to businesses as well. And it trickles down to where none of us believes much of what another says any more… unless we want to believe them. Our biases are no longer reasons to recuse ourselves in making important decisions. They are becoming more and more important in getting a job done… at least from our (biased) perspective.

It used to be that when we discovered that a person had lied, or cheated, or in some way did something they should not have, we talked about the reasons they may have done it. Were there justifying circumstances? Was there a greater good that came about because the person acted falsely? It is said that George Washington, who is fabled to have said “I cannot tell a lie” when he cut down the famous cherry tree, was actually a master of deception (The Atlantic, 2018). And there are times when “the greater good” can perhaps justify a false or illegal action. In which case that should be discussed and determined.

But what happens today far more often than such discussion is what we see in the above image. The “Appeal to Hypocrisy” Fallacy (Grammarly, 2018). The discussion starts when we point out a flaw in a leader’s character… such as George Santos claiming that his mom had died multiple times. There was a context for the comment; he had just won his seat in the House potentially because of the lies that he told (TheHill, 2022). The response from supporters… was to point out offences committed by the current president, who is of the other party. And of course those offences had to be more, and they had to be embellished. But the point is: they actually have no bearing on the original point. If anything this particular argument does nothing other than to show that none of our politicians is trustworthy. They all lie about what they’ve done and the details of their lives in order to “score points” for votes. So why should we care? Amd why shouldn’t we do the same?

There’s part of me that wishes we would cover “logical fallacies” more in public schools so that people know from an early age what is appropriate in an argument. But I’m not sure that matters these days. Particularly with respect to the public nature of social media these days, it’s more important to get a good “zing” at your opponent and to have a lot of characters in your replay than to actually prove that they were wrong. And it has impacts on our society. It’s why we don’t trust our teachers or scientists or engineers any more: because we no longer have a level playing field for arguments. We care more about a good show having high production value than about being right. And because we also live at a time when we are facing numerous environmental, social and international issues, we no longer have a consistent way to compare two sides. We need to work together, not drive ourselves apart. #Use Less Love More.

Emergency Flashers

I was travelling home yesterday: the major streets around my home are dug up and slow due to the construction of the Finch West LRT here in Toronto, so a lot of us locals take side-streets to get where we’re going. Those have also become congested, particularly during classic rush hour periods. I was travelling north on Driftwood Avenue and approaching the construction on Finch: a generally busy area because of the Jane-Finch mall on the left, the large apartment buildings just to the north and the residential areas on the right. It was not raining heavily but it was enough to be uncomfortable if you were not prepared for it.

The street is generally busy and there’s a lot going on, but people are generally courteous in their travels. I was behind a black GMC truck at the time: we were making decent time, but as we approached the signs of construction… exactly where the road became busier and narrower… he suddenly stopped. Just stopped and turned on his flashers. He may have tried to move to the side of the road, but it was hard to tell because the truck was so big. There was traffic coming south on the other side, so I couldn’t get around him. I heard honking and activity growing behind me. I finally had to squeeze between him and the oncoming traffic, hoping that at least they would move over. Others followed, but it slowed us down considerably. While the truck just sat there, flashers blinking.

As I passed I got a look at him. And my stereotypes smacked me in the face. The driver of the truck was a young woman, and she was calmly talking to her passenger. I have no idea why she was blocking the road. There was apparently nothing wrong with the truck. I’ve seen people do this when they’re getting a coffee, or picking up a friend, or something similar where their personal whims outweigh the needs of everyone behind them, and they use their emergency flashers so they feet justified in blocking the rest of us. This woman couldn’t even drive 50 more metres to where she could turn into the parking lot of the Jane-Finch mall and have her conversation there.

I was struck by the similarities to another discussion that has been happening online. The woman in the truck was using her flashers to try to convince everyone behind her that there was something going on for which she needed to get in everyone’s way and make herself the centre of activity on the road. And yet no such emergency existed. She was pretending that such a threat was ahead, or she was afraid that it was there. She had the power to block the rest of us, even though she was wrong. Then she made life worse for the rest of us by insisting to block the road because of whatever she perceived.

It’s like that with those who adhere to a Gender Critical Ideology (GCI) who see sex and gender as immutable and as so significantly different that there is no connection between genders. This in spite of the overwhelming scientific proof that we do not need to be limited by chromosomes or physical organs. People have been merging genders in different cultures for thousands of years. We’re finally moving in the right direction to conquer the patriarchy and the misogyny inherent in the idea that women are “different” and “other” and “less than”, and they’re trying to move us in reverse. And it is often from among women that the loudest voices come.

The biggest ones to suffer in this are the trans, gender-fluid and non-binary members of the world’s communities. The classic line is that violent men will use gender self-identification to be able to “pretend” that they should access women’s spaces, and wreak their havoc within. Now I’m the first to say that those concerns are valid… but they have to be seen for what they are. There is nothing changed by the blurring of gender lines. Violent men have no more opportunity to strike because another vulnerable person has access to gendered places. Violent men who pretend to be someone else so they can access others’ spaces have always existed, and they always will. There are laws against their violence. Trans women are not the problem. We should not be fighting against the vulnerable, or pretending that they are a threat. We should all be fighting for equality and against violence: violence against all women, misogyny and exploitation.

Instead, we sit in the road behind terfs in their big trucks, their flashers wild with perceived threats and warnings. They kick up a fuss about a danger that has always been there and has nothing to do with the vulnerable trans women that they perceive as a threat. While those trans men and women suffer violence thrown at them by the majority: physical, social and emotional violence. We strive for equality in name only if we strive for equality only for those who are like us. Or those who see gender as we do.

Default pronouns: they/them

Let’s start with my pronouns: he/him. I am cis, and a man, and my pronouns are the masculine, personal versions of whatever language one is using. I do not consider myself trans or genderqueer or non-binary, so I’m fine with the gender implied by my sex assigned at birth. I include my pronouns in my signature at work and any time I have to identify myself. Or I try to.

But it seems that some don’t like the idea that they can’t tell a person’s gender just by looking. They want things to be easy. They don’t want to ask, and they don’t want the responsibility that comes by getting an answer. They want to be able to make assumptions about another person’s gender: they want to be able to decide what that person’s gender is, and to have the other person respect their choice. I remember a discussion I had a long time ago along similar lines: the person argued that if they were wrong in observing a person’s gender, then it was the other person’s fault for dressing either androgynously or “wrong”. Women wore dresses and men wore pants. (Yes, this was a long time ago: but the idea is still similar.) It’s the height of arrogance if you ask me. And like most things that show pride, the person acting rudely isn’t even necessarily aware of it.

I was at church about a week ago; I volunteered for a youth event for the first time. So I knew literally none of the kids. We decided to go around and introduce ourselves. Now times and fashions and expressions have changed since I was a kid; and I could not tell whether some of them were boys or girls. They were androgynous: a look that has been increasingly popular over the last few years. I didn’t want to single out those who were less gendered defined: so I asked to identify their gender as well. The kids were fine with it. Interestingly, it was the adults who felt the need to joke and to demean the concept. And so I decided to write out this post. One of the men said that their pronoun was “it”. I’m deciding if I will proceed to refer to them that way.

I came across a post the other day regarding what a person should use for pronouns: When asked “What are your pronouns”, don’t answer (2022) It’s an interesting read on the conservative rebellion against the multi-faceted experience of gender that is becoming more standard in the Western world today… and one more example of how they are becoming detached from the world, refusing to even engage with the questions and issues that modern people struggle with. Conservatives often refuse to discuss anything that does not align with their ideology: but by doing so, many of them fail to grasp why the subject is so important to many people, and they lose any respect that those people might have had. It reminds me of my history as a gay Christian in the 1980s at Moody Bible Institute, where I was told I had to participate in “conversion therapy” in order to please God and to be a good person. The discussion was most definitely not about how to be a good person as a gay man. It was about how to eradicate those parts of myself that were non-traditional and that they did not understand: and then we could talk about being a good person. But I had to change myself before I was even respected.

The author of the piece mentioned above, Colin Wright, tries to use the “Genderbread Person” (a simplified tool to teach gender to children… so perhaps just right for Colin’s capacity to grasp the subject) to justify their statement: “The clear message of gender ideology is that, if you’re a female who doesn’t ‘identify with’ the social roles and stereotypes of femininity, then you’re not a woman; if you’re a male who similarly rejects the social roles and stereotypes of masculinity, then you’re not a man.” (Ibid) Now this is wrong. As Alice Whitmore confirms, Colin’s comment is based on poor understanding of gender theory. I’m not even that experienced with gender theory myself, but I have a number of trans and non-binary friends and Colin’s statement struck me as wildly inaccurate. It’s particularly unfortunate in that people will read the article and believe what it says: and because so few of them will actually venture out to ask a trans person, the misinformation within will take further root in the church.

So it is with many churches, who will trust Colin’s perspective because they claim to be conservative. It’s sad: church should be a place where people struggling with racism or homophobia or transphobia should be able to go and to feel supported. Instead, trans people only feel judged. My own church does not reflect Colin’s perspective. We welcome all as who they are. We want to experience people, not the masks they project out of fear of judgement.

The trans people I know do not identify with “social roles and stereotypes”. They identify with a gender. Being a trans man or a trans woman does not limit them regarding their roles in society, any more than a cis man or a cis woman. Or it should not. As far as I can tell, the “social roles and stereotypes” that are being imposed on trans people are from the outside, not from within. A trans person would know that they are trans no matter where or when they are born, at times or places that “social roles and stereotypes” can be wildly different from our own. It is not the stereotype that alerts them to the problem; it’s the gender. The difference is in the degree of ease they might have in expressing who they are from within that culture.

Now it’s interesting that Colin focuses so strongly on battling the “stereotypical” gender roles in their article… because I’ve read lots about the Genderbread Person, and I’ve never seen that word as part of the description. Colin uses quotes around everything except the word “stereotype” when describing the Genderbread Person. That word is something they introduced in order to make the practice seem “regressive”, even though it’s nothing of the sort. Asking a person’s pronouns is an effort at politeness and respect, an attempt to identify commonality across different perspectives. By describing it as they do, Colin shows only their own shallowness and their lack of capacity to see from others’ points of view: as well as their lack of desire to even try. Much like the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day, they are convinced that they are correct and will not listen to anyone else. They won’t even participate in the discussion.

Colin believes that all people (or at least conservatives) should be like this. And unfortunately, much of the conservative church already is. Their writing gives conservatives justification. Much like Christians who refused to accept an expansion of gender roles for men and women 50 years ago, or who refused to accept different orientations 30 years ago, Colin is giving the church an excuse refuse the expanding expression of gender in our world. They want to to hide behind the stone walls of our ancient interpretations and wonder why the conservative church is dying. Why is the church so out of touch with the average person’s experience?

Using pronouns does not represent a “worldview”, regressive or otherwise. At best it is part of a worldview. My Christian worldview incorporates trans people quite well. I do not believe that God makes mistakes; and I do believe that God created a spectrum of genders. I can argue this from the Bible far more easily than someone like Colin can argue that trans people are theologically wrong. Some trans people can be made to feel more themselves by changing their gender expression; some are non-binary; some are non-gendered. Some need drugs or surgery; others do not. That’s fine. The Bible does not say that everyone will fit into the gender binary of man-woman, any more than it says that we must all love the opposite sex. The Bible is a book that needs to be interpreted to be applied. And those interpretations can be either inclusive, allowing for the “other” and looking forward to new ways of being, or they can be exclusive, excluding the “other” and looking backward at tradition. The example we have of Jesus is one who always looks forward and loves the “other”. Indeed, every time the church has hung on to tradition and used it to exclude parts of our human family, the church has been wrong. So it is today with Colin and their understanding of pronouns.

In fact, the question of pronouns just represents a desire to be polite. Misgendering a person can be difficult and traumatic. I’m not trans; but as a kid in the 70s, I was tall and lithe and had long hair, and I was referred to by feminine pronouns more than once. And it was hard to know where the problem was: how much was me, how much was society, and how much was just the person who didn’t care. Using the correct pronoun is like using the correct title: like “Dr.” or “Sir”, or even “Mr.” or “Miss”. We see no problem with using titles… and I know more than one person who takes deep offence if you forget that they have a doctorate. A gendered pronoun is an attempt to show that they recognize another as a person and not a thing. Getting the wrong pronoun is like calling a person “it”.

Which is one of the reasons I’ve started using “they/them” pronouns in my speech and my writing if I don’t know how a person identifies. (I’m still not very good at it, but I try.) My pronouns are “he/him”, myself, but I don’t like to make assumptions about what another person uses. “They” is the closest English has to a non-gendered personal pronoun, and has a long history of such use (The Atlantic, 2016). Since it can be difficult to tell a person’s pronouns by the way they look, I prefer to do my best at not making a mistake. Referring to “them” means that I will never accidentally misgender someone, and they can correct me if they would prefer I use something else.

Which thus becomes a good response if you ask someone’s pronouns and they “don’t answer”, as Colin is suggesting. I don’t mind if they don’t answer. Asking is an effort on my part to be polite, asking their pronouns. So I’ll use “they/them” pronouns, as I do for anyone who’s gender I’m not sure of. People like Colin might think that I should be able to tell their gender by looking at them: but I’ve been in enough cross-cultural situations that I’m not willing to risk it. And that’s a matter of being polite, not ideology. Colin can take that any way they want.

Would Frank Herbert Approve?

Last week I published a post (2022) that included a snippet from Frank Herbert’s Dune. It’s one of my favourite quotes in the book, the Litany Against Fear:

“I will not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
I will face my fear.
I will let it pass through me.
When the fear has gone,there shall be nothing.
Only I will remain.”

It is appropriate today because so much of our world is, or has been, threatened by fear. In the old days it was fear of what would happen if slaves were freed. Fear that they would be a drag on society. Then it was fear of what would happen if women went back to work in positions thought of as “men’s”. Then it was fear of what would happen if homosexuality was legalized, or if same-gender marriage was accepted. Then it was fear of what would happen if we let refugees into our nations. Antagonists came up with a thousand scenarios, tried to use statistics to demonstrate what would certainly happen: but in all these cases they were capitalizing on fear. Fear of the unknown, and fear of the different. It was easy to come up with illustrations of what might happen. People were already afraid of that. But did they happen? Did they come about? In all cases, the legal and social good dwarfed significantly the negative effects of the propositions. This is why fear can be so debilitating: because we never fully understand others’ perspectives. We’re just worried about ourselves and those like us. Fear is thus the root of some of our biggest problems in the world: racism, sexism, antisemitism, homophobia… and now transphobia.

I’ve wonder how Herbert would have reacted to the modern concept of gender vs. sex, which is very different from what was expressed with regard to the Bene Gesserit in the Dune books. Herbert’s concept of gender and sex was profoundly rooted in the XY chromosome and essentialism. Very 1960s, which is when the story was published. The Bene Gesserit were a profoundly feminine organization, and much of the plot revolves around Paul (the main character) being a male Bene Gesserit, who can “see” down both female and male genetic memories. There are some who have tried to read into the storyline something of a modern twist and modern terms: describing Paul as “a non-binary posthuman entity capable of all knowledge”. (New York University, 2021) I’m not sure that is what Herbert intended, though. Paul was unique in his capacity to overcome gender boundaries: unique in all history. This is not what “non-binary” means. The story around Paul makes anyone who steps out of the gender capacities assigned at birth today just a shadow of the queer, trans or gender-challenging concepts that we think they are. There is only one non-binary, one genderqueer. That makes him unique. And it locks the rest of us into our assigned sex. The universe is not completely cis, according to Herbert: but there is only one exception. Ever.

At another point in the book, Herbert says: “There is in each of us an ancient force that takes and an ancient force that gives. A man finds little difficulty facing that place within himself where the taking force dwells, but it’s almost impossible for him to see into the giving force without changing into something other than man. For a woman, the situation is reversed.” Which reveals the gender binary of Herbert’s thought. The “giving” and the “taking” are just a creative way to rehash standard gender roles. And they are essentialist. It’s “almost impossible” to see (and perhaps even understand) the other side of the gender/sex divide.

Now this is not unexpected. It was the science and the thought of the time. I also just recently re-read Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, also published in the 1960s. Stranger was an important book for me when I read it in High School, as it challenged many ideas of humanity as we are linked to sexual activity and monogamy and the cosmos. And much though Heinlein enjoyed smashing down the limited sexual perceptions of his day, he was also trapped in some of them. He explicitly identifies homosexuality as “inherently wrong” and homosexuals “unworthy” of sharing water. I believe I’ve heard him quoted before his death in 1988 saying he would have treated homosexuality differently if he had written the book later: but then a book is a reflection of its time and its culture. It was born into a time and space. I don’t want Stranger or Dune to be rewritten to reflect modern thought: part of the suspension of disbelief is to enter into the world as it was. I may not like aspects of the world that existed back then, but I don’t want to forget it either. The farther we get from those days that were rooted in heterosexism and patriarchy, the easier it is to forget what it was really like and risk being dragged back there.

One of the things that is important about my favourite authors from those days: a lot of them had ideas that were progressive at the time, even if now they are seen as passe. I’ve re-read a lot of the books from my young adulthood: some of them have surprised me at how backward they were. And yet… they were not as backward as they could have been, and they were not as backward as the time. My favourite authors are the ones who were able to see where we were, to recognize our limitations, and to suggest new ideas moving forward. And I always imagine that if they were alive today and were challenged in new and exciting ways, they would change their thinking.

Which is one of the reasons I don’t read JK Rowling. I’ve heard that people enjoy her; and many suggest that I would too. She certainly knows how to be popular and to reach a broad audience: which is one of the reasons I feel no lack by never having opened one of her books. I can’t. I used to like Orson Scott Card, but once he became popular he came out as a homophobe. I can no longer read his books and I won’t participate in his riches. There are lots of other things I can do with those precious minutes of my day. It’s one thing to read a book that has no significant queer characters because the author didn’t think they could relate or do them justice. That’s fine. But to have no significant queer characters because the author disagrees? That is not a place I want to go, or a world I want to enjoy. Ms Rowling has participated in more crushing of trans spirits than Card ever did.

Many of my favourite authors lived in the past, and that’s where their roots are. They participated in an enlightenment of the time, even if it’s different from we need today. But those who are alive and participating in the culture wars of today, trying to take us back to the 1960s rather than beyond those years, these are authors I will not support.

Why I am not Bisexual

So in my conversations with people who are Gender Critical (GC) (or whatever their current nomenclature is) I’ve been accused of being bisexual. I’ve been out as a gay man for over twenty years, and I recently also “came out” as being attracted to some trans men. (I’m not attracted to all cis men; just as I’m not attracted to all trans man.) Aydian Dowling is one who I think of, pictured at right. Just like I’m attracted to Mike Farrell, or Hugh Laurie, or Colin Donnell. All quite handsome guys, though different in their own ways. Now I don’t usually talk in a public forum about my crushes; especially my crushes who are straight and married. But if you want to know my “type”, these men are good examples. (Except that they’re straight. And married.) And it happens that because Aydian is trans and I find him attractive, many who are GC and who know that I’m gay will still describe my sexuality as bisexual. As though they have any right whatsoever to make assumptions about MY sexuality.

And so this post. Which I wish I did not feel the need to write. I’m gay/queer and that should be enough for people. I don’t mind explaining what I mean by those words: but I should not have to explain why I’m not bisexual. I am attracted to men, and the simple fact is that trans men are men. Maleness is not a matter of body parts, reproductive organs or chromosomes. Or it might be to a few, but it’s not for everyone… including me. In all the ways that count with respect to my attractions, trans men are men.

Definitions of our words are changing. This has been happening for decades, and probably even for centuries. This is particularly true with regard to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Standard lexicons like the Genderbread person help us to understand how social drives and research are affecting our perception. I even teach on this topic across Ontario, and it can be difficult to keep up with exactly what the current trend is regarding what words are synonymous and what words have starkly different meanings, and the unspoken baggage that different words carry. “Sex”, for instance, was used to refer to your assigned sex at birth, and what was listed on your birth certificate or your driver’s license… but now in some places the latter can change. “Gender” is much more socially defined by a person’s experience and internal sense of being. Which is being upheld in courts more and more often, in spite of the essentialism presented by transphobic lawyers. But nonetheless, “sex” has been used for decades commonly with regard to orientation and experience. And so GC activists are capitalizing on the awful confusion in referencing “homoSEXuals” and “same-SEX marriage”, both of which have been used by terfs (including the capitalization) to say that gay people are only attracted to people of the same SEX, not of the same gender. Please. A word’s etymology can be related to parallel meanings of the word, but it does not mean they share definitions.

Now I have nothing against bisexuals. Yes, some of my best friends are bisexuals. But sexuality is something that needs to be adopted, accepted and understood by the individual, not imposed by a fringe element of society. There was a long time when I considered myself straight; I was still attracted to men, but I did not consider myself gay. I was assistant pastor in a conservative church in Pennsylvania; the last thing I wanted was to be associated with gays. Back then I was too wrapped up in the stereotypes and lies that described the gay community. Since then I’ve come out: and it is now just as important to me that I not be identified as bisexual. To try to impose that identity on who I am is to deny a very large part of my history.

Interestingly, I find that the same stereotypes and lies are still being told about our community. But know it’s coming from within. Though the goal is the same: trying to establish rigid definitions so that “others” can be excluded.

I grew up during the last years that homosexuality was considered a crime in Canada. I don’t remember the announcement when it came, pushed by Pierre Trudeau; I was young enough that my attractions to men were not yet fully sexual. Nonetheless, that prohibition formed the backdrop of my understanding of sexuality. Being gay was still still seen as a sickness, as a disorder, as I grew into my adulthood: and it was deemed “unnatural” by almost everyone, even in the scientific community. Those were the days when I would have given anything to be bisexual. It was a time of the ultimate “erasure” of the bi community. No-one wanted to claim bisexuality, because it implied at least a bit of homosexuality. Sure bisexuality existed in the academic literature: Alfred Kinsey had published the 0-6 “scale” of sexual attraction years before I was born. But if you were bi and if you could build a romantic and sexual relationship with the opposite gender, you considered yourself straight. Why would you not? Being gay in those days was not just unpopular. It meant you would lose family and friends, and had negative connotations far beyond religious organizations. It meant you couldn’t get some jobs; the military wasn’t the only one that wouldn’t hire “known homosexuals”. Gays were considered untrustworthy and perverted. It wasn’t that you even lied to yourself if you were really bisexual: you just didn’t acknowledge those other feelings. I’ve had numerous friends from my days in Bible College, all of whom are now married to a spouse of the opposite gender, confess to me in the dark of night that they’ve had “feelings” for the same sex. They were not admitting to bisexuality; they just acknowledged that they understood my attraction for the same gender.

Those were the days when I would have given anything to be bisexual. I did not want to be gay. Everything I saw of the gay community did not reflect who I was… because what I saw was a lie. Anita Bryant filled the airwaves with calls of “Save Our Children” and homosexuals’ threat to young people. Homosexuals were all pedophiles and drag queens: neither of which represented me or my attractions. I felt like the only homosexual in the world who was attracted to football players and middle aged men. I believed the propaganda and didn’t even try to discover the truth. It was not that women sickened me or that straight porn made me run screaming from the room. I hoped such attraction would grow on me when I met the right person. I was part of the AV club in high school, and we sneaked our share of straight porn. But women did nothing for me. And believe me, I tried. Unfortunately, erections don’t come for the asking.

Conversion Therapy has been around since the last part of the nineteenth century. It’s taken many forms: hypnosis, electrolysis, aversion therapy. By the time I tried it in the 1980s, it had evolved to a form of “talk” therapy that used peer pressure and religious context to get a person to deny his natural feelings and build attraction for the opposite gender. There were numerous success stories of men who married women and had children after their experience with conversion therapy: I even knew a few of them (at JPUSA, a religious community in Chicago) and they were my role models. I wanted to be like them. So with great trepidation I volunteered to have my wiring switched. My counselor thought I’d be easy: I had never slept with anyone; I had no history with the gay community to overwrite, and I sincerely wanted to change. All I had were those damn attractions and urges. We were to discover just how difficult those were to change.

I went for biweekly sessions starting in my junior year; I worked on-campus during the summer so we could continue even during breaks. We talked through all the standard lines that reflected the science of the day: homosexuality was unnatural and wrong; it went against the biology of the human body; sexuality was intended for procreation. Homosexuals were a net drag on human society. Intellectually I was convinced that homosexuality was evil (which took me a long time to get over, let me tell you). And yet emotionally and physically I was still attracted to men. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do with them. I knew my attractions hadn’t changed, and I was even attracted to my role models. (And no, I was not attracted to my counselor. That was one of my first caveats.) I admitted to my counselor many times that my attractions hadn’t changed. He told me not to worry. It was normal. It would take time. Orientation change did not happen overnight. He told me that if I lived like I was straight, if I “claimed my healing”, it would eventually happen. I might not ever lose my same-sex attraction, but eventually my attraction to women would blossom and grow.

It sounds silly and naive today. I know that. But at the time, that was the dominant narrative. Homosexuality could be “cured”. And in my desperation, I wanted it to be true. It wasn’t known for years that most of the “success stories” were, in fact, distortions: men who never reduced their attractions for other men, and often lived a secret life in the gay community. Think Exodus International, which did not close down until 2013. That was empowering for me when it happened. But I had come out more than a decade before. So it was far more confirmation than initializing change in my life.

I got married a year after my graduation from Bible College, in the late 80s. I proposed to my ex-wife in the Coffee Cove at Moody Bible Institute; I told her I was gay and had been through conversion therapy. We both came away with very different understandings of what had been said during that proposal and how much I had been “healed” from homosexuality. But we got married and lived for almost a decade as a family in Pennsylvania. If this was the period of time for which people started calling me bisexual, I would understand. I had sex with my ex-wife, and apparently I was even decent at it. But… well I’m not going to go into how I did it. But I managed to fool my wife, at least for a while. And that is now the biggest blot on my personal record of integrity that I can think of. Marriage is supposed to be about honesty and bonding, not deceit. I managed to do what was expected, in spite of the lack of attraction. I am not proud of it, and I hope no-one will ever feel that pressure again.

But it illustrates that I am not bisexual.

The thing that was more difficult to fake in this, however, was the emotional connection that is a fundamental part of a long-term sexual relationship. My ex-wife and I were best friends. But we were not spouses. We were not lovers. We were a team and from the outside it looked like we were effective. And it would have been one thing if I’d been incapable of forming those kinds of deep, emotional bonds with anyone. A lot of guys are like that, and they don’t put energy into relationships at all. But my wife had to watch as I built those kinds of bonds with other men, creating deep and lasting friendships with straight men that I went out of my way to refine. My ex-wife and I went to counselling for years; we read book after book on “Venus” and “Mars” and building marital intimacy. And we had momentary successes. But it never lasted. And, in fact: I didn’t fully realize what my ex-wife really wanted until after I married my husband. I have with him what my ex-wife always wanted with me.

Which illustrates that I am not bisexual.

The problem is actually a simple one, and is already stated above. According to the GC ideology, one’s sex and one’s gender are the same: and they immutable and fixed, tied to chromosomes and body parts. I disagree, and so does emerging science. I am attracted to men and masculinity, not to penises or butts. Gay men learn their representation for masculinity quite early in life, just as straight men learn their representation for femininity. We are all attracted to what we associate as the expression of gender that attracts us. There are some physical characteristics that I enjoy; a man’s eyes need to be deep and sensuous, and a beard can cover a multitude of sins. I am not attracted to femininity. I’m not scared by women’s sexuality, and I can hold my own. But it does nothing for me. I am still a man who attracted to his own gender. And only his own gender.

I am gay. I am queer. I am attracted to men: what I consider to be my own gender/sex. And I don’t care how GC apologists try to twist my words. I know cis men and trans men who are attractive and desirable. They are not women and I am not bisexual.


One of the more recent attacks… or at least attempts… from Gender Critical (GC) feminists and their supporters, those who are trying to eliminate the transgender “T” from the LGBT acronym… is to argue that same-sex attraction is fundamentally transphobic. They argue that attraction is based on “sex” and therefore based on body parts and chromosomes. They point to the proliferation of porn and how they see sexuality is based on specific actions and attractions to easily identifiable parts of the anatomy. And since trans people don’t necessarily have those parts of the anatomy, they can’t actually be that “sex”.

It’s an unfortunate argument and one that I thought had been dealt with decades ago: a woman who gets breast cancer and has a mastectomy is no less “a woman” than those who are well-endowed. It turns out it’s one more example of how GC feminists are teaming up with religious essentialists that they once battled in the past. I guess it’s true that politics makes strange bedfellows, but I’d be more concerned about personal integrity.

I have to admit that there was a time when I had an inkling of agreement with this. It’s an emotional argument and twists words and understandings… but it appeals to our base understanding of sexuality and attraction. I’ve known a number of trans folk and for a long time I had to admit… I did not find trans men attractive. Okay, let me explain: my sexuality is fundamentally based on masculinity. I have never fully understood the allure of drag queens, and let’s just say I’m not into twinks. (Look it up if you’ve never heard the term.) I have never been attracted to the feminine side of things: in particular anything that bridged the masculine and the feminine. I only wish I could, but I’m much more a man’s man. The men I’ve been attracted to have generally been older than me (until recently, and only because I’m older myself); often rougher than me (I’m a city guy) and have a bearing that (for me) reflects an aura of masculinity.

I remember the first day one of my friends came out to me who was a trans man and who had been trans for a number of years. He “passed” perfectly. I never would have guessed. And it was then that I realized that my stereotypes were blocking my attractions. Andrew (not his real name) was masculine, bright, handsome, shy and strong, and very much my type. It wasn’t that trans men weren’t attractive to me; it was that I was only looking at trans men who were beginning their journey. Since then I’ve not only met a number of sexy trans men, but I’ve come to appreciate some of those I’ve known for a longer time.

Now I’m actually not attracted to body parts. Okay, and I’ll be really clear on this. I don’t care about dick. I’m not a size queen. I know we’ve all heard the stereotypes, and everyone thinks they understand what “every” gay man has to want out of a sexual experience, one side or the other: but it’s not true. I don’t know why it is; but I’ve never had any interest in sneaking a “peak” when I was in changing for gym or swim meets in high school. Maybe that’s even the reason: I was so paranoid about being identified as gay by “peaking” that the whole experience of seeing naked, male bodies was no fun for me. No matter what the reason, for a long time I thought I was the only one. Not only is a man’s penis not the defining aspect of his attraction for me, I couldn’t possibly care less. Really. As you might have surmised, most gay porn does hardly anything for me. I’ve never “done” anal sex. I’m neither top nor bottom. (There, I said it.) And I’m not the only one. There are a lot of us out there. I learned very early as I started to explore gay and queer sexuality that there are an almost infinite number of ways to satisfy a man sexually, and that a good partner is as interested in both of us having a good time as they are in getting off himself. No matter what we do. So even though anal sex is popular among gay men, there are also a sizable number of us who do… other things. I’ve been told that straight men can learn a lot from us in this regard: we can be very good at pleasing one’s partner through creativity and moving beyond the traditional.

As acceptance of 2SLGBTQ+ sexuality has become more accepted in the mainstream, the number of people who to identify somewhere on the non-straight continuum has expanded, particularly among young people. I know a lot of people think they are just going through a “phase”, now that they “have the chance”, and there may be some of that. But remember that for generations, Western powers and the church have made it difficult to be anything other than the standard binary. Now that people can explore other aspects of themselves, they’re taking advantage of it. And it means more than people expressing themselves through different gender identities. One of the biggest drivers of that expression is the affection and camaraderie and love that they feel from their community. The attraction that people feel for others and the closeness they feel with others like this. The church has been cashing in on this coin to keep us bound to our cis and straight identities for generations. Now that people are exploring other identities, they will also explore other attractions and how to express that affection.

I look forward to how that will express itself in the world. For one thing, those like me will not feel so alone. But it will hopefully also mean a loss in the opportunity to exploit the act of sex for advantage. There will probably always be a central core that defines sexual actions that can be sold and used. But as our attractions expand and our desires become more far-flung, I hope that it will be less and less profitable. Some aspects of the sexual experience will always be with us, whether approved or not, but I hope they will eventually only exist as outlets for experience, and not necessary for survival.

Fear is the Mind-Killer

For those who don’t recognize this quote, it’s from Frank Herbert’s Dune trilogy, a series I read as a young adult and which had enormous impact on my outlook on life. This attitude toward fear is one of the ways that it helped me. Fear can be both personal and communal, and recognizing how fear can hurt us and keep us from moving forward is essential in becoming fully human.

“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.”
Bene Gesserit – Litany against fear, Dune  by Frank Herbert

I thought of this in recently during the “controversial” discussions about the The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, as I watched tempers flare on social media over the last few months. From what I could see, there were (and are) two primary opposing perspectives on this bill and the influence it will have. And they are very opposite. The first perspective is that of trans people, who are a different recognized gender from what appears on their government-issued documentation, and who wish to change those documents for the purposes of self-identification with their identified gender. Although the process is legal and was established in the early 2000s in London and by extension to the rest of the UK, it is also onerous and time-consuming, built around the idea that trans people should be sure that they need to identify as another gender. Which was, perhaps, the thinking of the time. But it is fundamentally discriminatory, and it means that many trans people are living an extended portion of their lives with their documentation reflecting the wrong gender… and often exactly at that time of their lives when they are trying to build their persona and their expression to the world. And their documentation says they are wrong. This is both emotionally painful and damaging to their careers. Having to explain why their documentation is wrong, and why they cannot fix it, emphasizes that they are “different” and “other” and why they cannot fit into a modern society that is trying to accept them. Most trans people can “pass” as the correct gender and there would be no way to tell they were trans… other than their ID. Which is wrong.

This bill is intended to make it easier to do that, to get their documentation to match their being, in a process that is more respectful and more humane.

Now note the verb case in that paragraphs. Present tense. These things are happening now. It’s not that they might be happening one day or that they happen to a small group of trans people. They affect trans people today. Every day. And all of them. The process takes years: a substantial portion of their lives. They know their gender: yet they must wait years until the law catches up to them to fully live as they know they should.

And on the other side, the other perspective: those who are afraid. Most are not afraid of trans people, though a lot are afraid of trans women… all trans women… and deeply distrust the modern understanding of gender versus sex. But all are afraid of “some cisgender men”… “violent men” or “predatory men”… they are worried that such men might claim to be women and get the documentation that they need to prove it, and thus to prey upon women. They are afraid that such men “might take advantage of its proposals in order to gain access to women-only spaces” (The Times, 2022). But think about it. When was the last time you used your driver’s license or your passport to “prove” you’re the right gender to be in a particular space? They’re certainly useful to prove your age to get into bars, but that’s the only situation I can think of. Shelters perhaps? I haven’t worked in a shelter since I lived in Chicago in the 1980s, and we considered the most vulnerable to be obviously so. And beyond that… fake IDs are not that difficult to find. If a kid can get one to get into a bar, certainly an adult could get one with a different gender. Still, I wasn’t aware that there were places in the UK that you had to show your ID to get into the bathroom. Of course I’m just a man and just Canadian, so there’s a lot I don’t know about how things work in other parts of the world.

Now I’m not trying to minimalize anyone’s fear or to downplay the possibilities. A UN expert warns that “The Scottish government’s proposals to reform gender recognition laws could allow violent males to ‘abuse’ the system”. (BBC, 2022) Absolutely. The risk is there. We’re a bit sketchy on the details of how that “abuse” could happen, but I’ll allow it. But again, look at the verb case. Lots of “mights” and “coulds” and possibilities. Risks. No guarantees… unless you’re particularly distrustful of “men” and so the probability is almost guaranteed. But the fact is, if a “predatory” or “violent” man was going to pretend to be a woman in order to get into women’s spaces, this legislation would have virtually no effect. How would it? Like a predatory man is going to go through the effort to get a “real” driver’s licence with a fake gender? And beyond that… much though we’ve all heard stories of predators caught in women’s washrooms… that whole fear is mostly a myth. In 2016 the “bathroom” argument was used against LGBT inclusiveness in Jacksonville, Florida. “Opponents of Jacksonville’s LGBT-inclusive Equal Rights Ordinance warn that non-discrimination protections threaten women’s safety in public restrooms. But experts — including law enforcement officials, government employees, and advocates for sexual assault victims — from 12 different Florida cities and counties with similar non-discrimination ordinances debunk the ‘bathroom predator’ myth, citing empirical evidence and experience working with sexual assault victims.” (Equality Florida, 2016) I was able to find a couple of verified examples of men pulling stunts like filming women in washroom… but they did not claim to be trans and the event had nothing to do with bathroom ordinances. The events were not connected to trans people at all. Laws already exist to protect women and children, and men are charged under those laws. (Snopes, 2016) In fact, all the hype about bathroom predators is rejected as a myth by many: The Truth About The Anti-LGBT “Bathroom Predator” Myth (Media Matters, 2016); Debunking Bathroom Myths (Huffington Post, 2015); No link between trans-inclusive policies and bathroom safety, study finds (NBC News, 2018).

But like I said: I don’t want to minimalize anyone’s fear. It depends on what you consider to be “violence”. There are certainly a few examples of men exposing themselves in women’s spaces; but again, they don’t need documentation to do that. Obviously lots of people are afraid, and others are stoking that fear for their own political advantage. Part of me says we need to move slowly so that people can be comfortable with their trans neighbor. The problem is: we’ve already done that. We’ve been moving slowly for decades. And it’s at the expense of the trans community. They are the ones who suffer: it’s not that they’re afraid they could suffer, it’s not that they might suffer: they are suffering. The Bill in Scotland has taken years to look at all the angles. During that time the fear has only become worse. To figure out where I stand on this issue, I’ve got to look at who is suffering most. It is not a matter of one groups’ rights over another. On the one side I see suffering. And on the other I see fear being exploited to hold trans people at bay, and to keep our laws cemented in the past.

Most people opposing trans rights believe they are standing up for women’s rights: I honestly believe that. But there is a minority on that side who know that the dichotomy is false; they believe in a gender critical ideology don’t want to change. They pity trans people and don’t want them around. They believe that women and men are essentially different and they want to keep it that way. They want to be afraid of the blurring of genders. They will not “face their fear” as Herbert describes, above. They will not let it “pass over them and through them”. They will hold on to it and display it for everyone to see. They want to capitalize on that fear so that trans people can never be who they really are. And in my mind that pretty much defines what we mean when we say, “transphobic”.

Laws that make it easier to change one’s documented gender do not threaten women’s rights. They only threaten gender critical ideology and terfs.


I’ve been teaching about the various identities that comprise the 2SLGBTQIA+ community for the last decade. I’m part of a group that travels around the province of Ontario and does presentations on the subject, to help people to understand the different perspectives within the non-straight community. The events and the surrounding discussion can vary a fair bit because they are based on personal experience. So although the foundations are the same, we all describe our interactions with different parts of the community according to what we’ve each built up in our histories. I presented a few of the identities we describe on this blog a few years ago: LGBTQIA+. It was a beginning. Over the years I’ve expanded my repertoire of words that I speak about. One of the words I’ve added based on my past is SSA… “Same Sex Attracted”; a moniker for those who are gay but who don’t identify with the community, due to religious pressure or stereotypes… as I did for the first half of my life. Another is “Terf”, which is becoming more of a widely recognized term. The first time I presented on “Terf” I was afraid that no-one in the audience had heard it before; but I should not have worried.

We didn’t add “Terf” for a long time because we thought as a pejorative term and intended as an insult; and even if terfs don’t consider themselves part of our broader community, we wanted to be fair. I agreed with Phoebe Kirk back in 2018 in Huffington Post: “Why I Won’t Call you a TERF“. But times have changed, even in four years. Today, many women identify proudly as terfs on Twitter or other social platforms. Now most of these accounts are anonymous, but that just illustrates that many of them stand behind terf ideals… though they recognize they represent minority opinion. It is not the word “terf” that is unpopular. It’s the ideology.

Now let me be clear. I disagree vehemently with terf ideology and believe that gender is a social construct, much more important than the “sex” determined by physical body parts or chromosomes. But I do not believe in physical violence and would never endorse violence against terfs. I do not believe in censorship and believe terfs should have their say: but if that results in protests and the closing down of presentations and discussions, I do not believe there is anything wrong with that. That is the result of our “marketplace of ideas”. Unpopular or discriminatory ideas are met with an appropriate backlash. I don’t believe in censorship; but nor do I believe that every perspective deserves the same protection. I also believe that we need to be accurate in our discussions. I prefer not to describe events that allegedly illustrate terf “hate” unless they are documented and can be proved. There is too much false anger in the world: and this is exactly what I believe to be the central problem with terf. They fear trans people and have built an ideology around that fear. I believe that our lives should be built on love, not fear. The powerful have always used fear to try to control the less vulnerable. The powerful will quote extremes as though such a small number are representative of an entire group. Fear was used to motivate people against same-sex marriage; gay marriage was going to “destroy the family”. Didn;t happen. And before that fear was used to fight against the decriminalization of homosexuality; and before that even against women having the vote. All have made our society better. It’s ironic that now some women are using the same tactics to exclude an even more vulnerable group: trans women.

But what is a terf? According to Viv Smythe, who coined the term (The Guardian, 2108) it was intended only as shorthand for the longer phrase “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist” (FERF), which she used in her writings to distinguish from other feminists who were trans inclusive. The term has since expanded and grown. The key feature is that terfs are trans exclusive. I’m not sure that everyone who claims the title “terf” these days even knows what radical feminism is, other than that they want to exclude transgender women from their spaces. Indeed, it’s unfortunate that the TERF acronym has held on so strongly, because many feminists who want to include the trans community have stopped identifying with radical feminism. According to ThoughtCo (2020), “TERF is not just transphobic feminism; it is a violent international movement that often compromises its feminist stances to partner with conservatives, with a goal to endanger and get rid of trans people, especially transfeminine people.” Many feminists are therefore adopting a lens that is more focused on intersectional feminism in a desire to be more inclusive. Some have adopted the term FART rather than TERF to reclaim radical feminism: Feminists Appropriating Reactionary Transphobes. However, that one is a slur.

Terf ideology has some specific expressions in Western culture, particularity in the UK, where it has been popularized by the conservative media of Rupert Murdoch. It is said that trans women, in particular, threaten women’s spaces: such as lesbian spaces, women’s sports and washrooms. None of these are true. There are extreme examples, obviously, which are promoted and described by activists to become normalized and assumed to represent all trans individuals and experience, but this is wrong. Yes, some trans women commit rape and/or murder and need to be held accountable. But it is not because they are trans; and they are not necessarily masquerading. There are just bad trans women out there. When a lesbian commits murder in an all-women bar, women don’t demand the end of lesbianism. When its a popular group, we understand that murder is committed by an individual, irrespective of the communities she might claim.

In the LGBTQ community, terfs have been trying to excise the T: advocating that transgender rights are do not align with gay, lesbian or bisexual rights. Because they believe that rights and privilege in Western community boil down to anatomy and chromosomes, they are “Gender Critical” and identify biological sex as the only factor worth consideration in a person’s identity. And although this might be fine for them, it’s a modern reflection of how heterosexuality was fine for most people in the 20th century. It fails to acknowledge not only the minority who exist on the edges of the gender and the sexual binary who cannot function in a binary world, but the majority who actually exist somewhere on the broader spectrum of gender expression and sexual attraction, and might not want to maintain the binary. In spite of more and more people identifying with the LGBTQ+ community and the percentage of lesbians increasing, terfs claim that lesbians are going “extinct”. (Washington Post, 2021). It’s true that lesbian bars are decreasing; but this might just as well be because lesbians have a much broader range of opportunities to meet other women nowadays. The fact is, services that exclude trans people are not illegal, as illustrated by JK Rowling’s funding of an assault centre that will not support all women (The Guardian, 2022). Even so, they will have to deal with public backlash.

And so with the T dropped from the acronym, the LGB consortium has reared its head. They have a strong bias toward a binary in all things sexual. They seem uninterested in variations in sexuality or gender; born sex and physical attributes seem to be what is more important to them. Which I find not only uninteresting, but profoundly threatening. As one who is nearing 60 and who took decades to explore and refine his sexuality, both by choice and due to peer pressure, I am now comfortable with my identity and my sexuality. And it does not align with any kind of binary. After a decade of living the aftermath of conversion therapy, most people respect my sexuality as I define it. Except for those who are trying to redefine sexual attraction, those who identify as LGB. I will describe my experience in a future post.

I understand that Terfs and those who call themselves part of the LGB feel threatened. I see that. But their reaction to feeling that way has been to threaten and exclude others, who are often more vulnerable than they are. I find that most of their arguments are rooted in outlooks that are more appropriate to the last millennium. Claims to women’s vulnerability are particularly ironic considering that their spokeswoman is Ms. Rowling, who illustrates just how powerful a woman can be today. I had hoped that we had moved beyond this. One day we will.