Trans Posing: NPR Explores The Need to 'Loosen the Reins of Gender Expression'

July 17th, 2013 7:45 AM

You could tell it was going to be a wild night of transgender advocacy on NPR when Tuesday's All Things Considered anchor Melissa Block sent this insane-sounding tweet: “Coming up on @npratc: beyond he and she? High school students say ‘I want you to call me 'Tractor' and use pronouns like Zee, Zim, Zer.’” But wait, there is one certainty in this milieu: NPR would be channeling the Left, and there would be no time to consider conservative dissent from the evolving political correctness.

NPR reporter/pagan witch Margot Adler was exploring the brave new world of gender fluidity with young cultural innovators who reject the "gender binary" as oppressive. It came to this conclusion:

MARGOT ADLER: One of the paradoxes of culture, says Joy Ladin, is that innovation is often driven by young people.

JOY LADIN: And we say, oh, you know, they're pushing the boundaries, they're exploring new ways of being. All of that is true. But part of what enables them to do that is that they're not really sure yet where they are going.

ADLER: Ladin believes that in the future, male and female will always refer to some people but not all. The reins of gender expression will become looser.

That means that a man can insist he can be called a "him" or a "her," depending on which days it is -- or a "zim" and a "zer."  Adler went looking for the Left's newest  frontier at Elisabeth Irwin High School, whose alumni include Sixties radicals like Kathy Boudin and Angela Davis and the children of traitors Julius and Ethel Rosenberg:

ADLER: At the Elisabeth Irwin High School in New York City, there's a student group called Spectrum. The title was chosen because it seemed to represent what students were thinking and feeling much more than gay students association, or LGBT or even LGBTQ, for queer. I asked Harry Fernandez, a sophomore at the school who identifies as a gay male, what he means by queer.

HARRY FERNANDEZ: Kind of straying from the norm, not being what society tells you to be regarding your sexuality, your gender, who you love.

ADLER: Becka Luna Liebowitz, a freshman in the group, uses Q for another word.

BECKA LUNA LIEBOWITZ: I, myself, I guess you call it questioning.

ADLER: But some students are going further. At one college that Joy Ladin visited, things were so fluid you could make up a different pronoun for a different event.

LADIN: So you can be she/her at one event and then you go to lunch and you say, OK, now I am he/him. And then one charming young woman told me, oh, yes, today, I'm just using made up pronouns.

LYNN WALKER: We encountered high school students who said, I want you to call me 'Tractor' and use pronouns like zee, zim and zer. And, in fact, I reject the gender binary as an oppressive move by the dominant culture.

ADLER: That's Lynn Walker, a director at Housing Works, an organization that provides housing for those with HIV. About 10 percent of their clients are transgender. Walker teaches a course called Trans 101 for all new hires. When she started coming across people who were gender non-conforming in so many different ways, she began to ask new questions.

WALKER: And then part of the intake is to say, well, what pronoun do you like today? It might be just today.

ADLER: Because Walker has clients who might be Jimmy one day, and Dolores the next.

WALKER: Once you develop the habit of saying, oh, that person, that is a she, that's Dolores. It doesn't matter that she looks rather like Jimmy or looks like she was called Jimmy by her parents.

ADLER: And your decision doesn't depend on gender reassignment surgery, which is expensive and is something often only a certain class of people can do. What you look like, she says, isn't always who you are.

FERNANDEZ: In a perfect world, your gender would just be what you want it to be. Gender would sort of just be an individual title, not really a male or female thing.

In a "perfect world," you could be a "trans poseur," switching identities at the drop of a hat. This way, you could cleverly find yourself oppressed by "pronoun bigotry" in whichever social situation you're currently located. What creates this world of gender anarchy, gender whims instead of gender norms, in complete defiance of reason and science? Making it a "civil rights issue" where "transgenders" are oppressed and subject to violence. That's how the story began:

MARGOT ADLER: It began with a speaking event at Oberlin College in Ohio. I was at dinner with the college chaplain and 16 students on his interfaith council. I was startled when everyone introduced themselves saying their name, what year they were, what they were studying and then described their preferred gender pronouns. I wasn't taping but it sounded similar to these high school students introducing themselves to me recently in New York.

RUSSELL LASDON: I'm Russell Lasdon and I use he/him/his pronouns.

KETZEL FEASLEY: I'm Ketzel Feasley and my PGP's are she/her/hers.

ADLER: For those of you who have never heard this done, as I hadn't, this is happening on many campuses. It's a way of being supportive or an ally to those who are transgender or gender non-conforming. Those who are not cisgender - that is, their emotional gender identity does not match their biology.

I admit my first reaction was it felt cult-like and I thought, these people are paying $50,000 a year for college and this is what they care about most -- what pronouns you use? [This was the closest the story came to disapproval, and it quickly lapsed.]

When during my college days we were fighting for civil rights, registering voters in Mississippi and facing tear gas and fire hoses. But then I stopped and thought about it.

I went to one of the smartest people I know in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Carl Siciliano. He is the executive director of the Ali Forney Center for LGBT homeless youth. Of the nine homeless young people who have been murdered in New York since he ran the center, seven of them, he says, were transgender. They experience more violence at home, at school, and on the streets.

CARL SICILIANO: It's just so abundantly clear to me that trans kids face an enormously disproportionate burden of the bigotry and the hostility and the hatred that's directed against the LGBT community.

ADLER: So, he says to me, these college students you saw identifying with transgender people, the most marginalized group in our society, how different is that from you, when you were in college, identifying with the most marginalized and joining the black Civil Rights movement? He brought me up short. I had to think long and hard.

Apparently, that's because blacks had to use separate bathrooms, and in today's civil rights struggle, the "transgender" activists want to use whichever bathroom they feel like today.