Our Body Politic

Transpolitics 101

Episode Summary

Transgender rights are increasingly under attack in the United States, despite studies showing that the majority of Americans don’t want laws limiting transgender rights. But politicians on the right, who have long used gender and family issues to appeal to conservative voters, are now trying to reach broader audiences with anti-trans rhetoric. In this episode of “Our Body Politic,” guest host Imara Jones, founder and CEO of TransLash Media and host of the investigative series podcast, the Anti-Trans Hate Machine, gives listeners a thoughtful overview of what’s going on right now in the world of transpolitics – the politics impacting trans people and our communities. She also speaks with the trailblazing non-binary politician Mauree Turner about anti-trans issues and policies. And on our weekly roundtable, “Sippin’ The Political Tea,” Imara and journalists Orion Rummler and Samantha Reidel dig into how the media talks about trans people and legislation, and how two pivotal works have guided the cultural and political conversation.

Episode Transcription

Imara Jones [00:00:03] Hi, folks. We're so glad you're listening to Our Body Politic. If you haven't yet, remember to follow this podcast on your podcatcher of choice, like Apple or Spotify or wherever you get your podcast. And if you have time, please leave us a review. It helps other listeners find us and we read them for your feedback. You can also reach out to us on Instagram and Twitter @OurBodyPolitic. We're here for you, with you and because of you, so keep letting us know what's on your mind. We'd also love for you to join in financially supporting the show if you're able. You can find out more at OurBodyPolitic.com/donate. Thank you for listening. 

This is Our Body Politic. I'm guest host Imara Jones, founder and CEO of TransLash Media and host of the investigative series podcast, The Anti-Trans Hate Machine. Transgender rights are increasingly under attack in this country, according to a 2022 study by the Public Religion Research Institute, data shows that two thirds of Americans don't want laws that limit transgender rights. But politicians on the right who have long used gender and family issues to appeal to conservative voters are now trying to reach broader audiences with anti-trans rhetoric. On this show, we'll hear from a trailblazing, non-binary politician on the most pressing anti-trans issues and policies. Then we'll dig into how the media talks about trans people and legislation and where they get their talking points. But first, an overview of what is going on right now in the world of trans politics. And by trans politics, I mean the politics impacting trans people, our communities and our nation to start. I'm joined by Our Body Politics’ very own creator and host, Farai Chideya. Hi, Farai. Thanks for handing me the mic for a minute. 

Farai Chideya [00:01:58] Oh, please. I love having you in the bossy seat. And, you know, happy pride, happy being ourselves, happy being human. So TransLash media has grown from a docu series in 2018 to launching your podcast in 2020, around the same time we started Our Body Politic. Tell me about your journey into being a media maker, you know, your early media work. What sorts of things did you pick up in the environment that perhaps let you know that this was going to be on the radar for a while with increasing tension? 

Imara Jones [00:02:33] Yeah. So before this, I wrote as a freelance journalist about a whole host of social justice and economics issues for a variety of places and publications. When the Trump administration came to power, one of the things that they did was to decide to focus on trans people through a whole host of anti-trans policies, which struck me as just being odd. I mean, with 1% of the population, why would you do that? If memory serves, I think it started with the trans ban on trans people serving in the military, and then it just rolled out in all these places that just seemed to be really aggressive, you know, education policy to health care policy to housing policy. It was just kind of on the march throughout the government. And that's why, you know, not only do we have the podcast that we have and also do short docs and films, but are now doing animation and have a writing platform and a zine, and just figuring out more and more ways to reach people with stories about our community because our existence has become so political and so charged. It's going to be one of the biggest issues next year in the presidential race. And so the work is really vital. 

Farai Chideya [00:03:51] So let's dive into the regional specifics first of all. Two states making headlines. First in Texas. Tell us about the trans child separation directive introduced by Governor Greg Abbott. 

Imara Jones [00:04:03] Well, in February 2022, a few weeks before reelection, Governor Abbott issued an executive order that said parents who supported trans kids and allowed them to receive gender affirming care could have the state remove that child from the home to have custody, remove it because the governor was now labeling it as child abuse. And I remember speaking to one of the first agents to receive the first case in the States, Morgan Davis, who herself is trans and worked in Austin, Texas. He said that he didn't take it seriously because the directive was what he thought was just part of political posturing in an election year. We have a clip of Morgan talking about what it was like, that shock wave just days after the directive came down. 

Morgan Davis [00:04:58] This wasn't even an order. This was a directive. Because a State legislator had already voted this down. And so this was Governor Abbott's workaround. It was gutting because we didn't even have a policy that covered it and nothing was offered to me in writing. But what was even scarier is that after he was reelected, he kept going. They didn't stop. 

Imara Jones [00:05:17] And that was more than talking about kind of a haphazard way, which this order came down because it didn't seem to be a focused, well-thought out thing. And then when it came down, it released really consequential actions to the point where now there are thousands fewer protective service agents in Texas because they refuse to enforce this. It's had devastating consequences on parents figuring out what to do, whether or not they're going to leave the state, whether or not they're actually going to hide the gender identity of their child because they can't afford to leave or can't leave. Or families splitting up. Part of the family goes to one state where a kid can receive gender affirming care and the other part of the family, either because of a job or a parent who needs to be looked after or a child with special needs who's in the right school and they can't take that kid out of school having to stay. So it's, it's a huge deal. 

Farai Chideya [00:06:13] Yeah. I actually was at a women's business networking event in New York and met a Texas mother who was going through this. And I can't imagine the range of different decisions that families like hers have to make. So let's just dig in a little bit. Why are family issues around children and parents so much of the anti-trans narrative right now? 

Imara Jones [00:06:39] It's because the far right movement or the Christian Nationalist movement, however you like to refer to this particular type of ideological movement within politics, did a lot of research on this issue. There's been a lot of brain work that they put into this issue. And one of the things that they know from focus groups and other types of research is that even parents who say that they are liberal or supportive of LGBTQ people, for whatever reason, are uncomfortable with the idea of trans kids. And they understood that this was a way that they could begin to make inroads into the suburbs and into people and parents that may not necessarily be on their side on certain issues, but that they could shave just enough off of that group to make really political inroads, because Farai, as you've reported on for a really long time, and as we know, elections in America are decided by razor thin majorities. 

Farai Chideya [00:07:38] Yeah. 

Imara Jones [00:07:38] If you flip a thousand people in a state that cast 20 million votes or 5 million votes, even in a suburb that can flip the state, and they understood that this is one of the issues that could do that for them and have leaned into it by focusing on kids and children in this particular way. 

Farai Chideya [00:07:58] Now, let's turn to Florida. You spoke with Simone Chriss, the director of the transgender Rights Initiative at Southern Legal Counsel, in the same episode. 

Imara Jones [00:08:07] Yes. One of the things I've learned from the way that this movement works is that usually when one thing happens in one place, it's a road test to see what the contours are, and then it will begin to popcorn in a variety of other places. So you can look at what Governor Abbott did in Texas as a bit of a road test, but it was under an executive order in Florida. It was part of the legislative agenda of the governor, who has focused on a whole host of anti-trans and anti LGBTQ rules, including not being able to talk about gender identity in schools, you know, making drag shows effectively illegal, targeting, affirming care, sports bans and putting this within the law; putting the ability to be able to separate kids. And it's even more aggressive in that it will allow parents who have custody of a trans child from another state who when they're visiting Florida, let's say, you know, they're divorced. One parent is like, I want to take our kid to Disney World. The other parent says, great, have a good time. While the parent is in the state of Florida, they can go to a judge and say the other parent is providing gender affirming care to this kid. I believe that's child abuse. And the Florida judge will transfer custody of that child from the custodial parent to the non-custodial parent, such until the time that it can be reeducated in the original state. So it's an even more aggressive intrusion into families and here is Simone Chriss who you mentioned talking specifically, talking about this and what it means for families and kids. 

Simone Chriss [00:09:53] The provision that they amend or create falls under the custody provisions in state statute and. That was actually created to prevent things like parental kidnapping, which is what Florida is incentivizing through this bill. So it sort of creates this reverse safe haven where unaffirming parents can bring their children to Florida. 

Farai Chideya [00:10:15] Yeah, I mean, I happen to know in middle school a girl who was kidnaped by her non-custodial parent, this is serious. You know, how are people in the legal community, transgender or not responding to a law like that? 

Imara Jones [00:10:33] They're suing. You know, they're suing. And I think that we have to realize that the suits present a double edged sword. For one thing, the legal system is a remedy, right, for these laws, many of which are being declared unconstitutional. At the same time, the far right wing Christian Nationalist movement also wants these cases to be adjudicated because there is a sense and a belief that they have been able to essentially tilt the judicial system enough, specifically the Supreme Court, in their favor to where they will win these cases. And I think that we have to be prepared that like an abortion, we don't actually know whether or not these being adjudicated is going to work out in the favor of trans parents and trans kids. I think that the broad effect here is to figure out how far the state can go in intervening in the parenting of kids to drive the behavior that they want. And I guarantee you in the next legislative session, we're going to see an explosion in these types of bills because this is generally the way that it works. 

Farai Chideya [00:11:48] Let's go over how transgender rights are impacting debates over healthcare, sports and race. So healthcare, what's the landscape? 

Imara Jones [00:11:57] You know, the discomfort that's being spoken about with regards to trans kids and gender affirming care is actually based in a lot of pseudoscience. There's actually now five decades of research and a broad consensus in the healthcare community about how you treat trans kids and trans people. Now, of course, that research is always being updated on new experience. But the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the list goes on. All are in broad consensus about the impact of gender affirming care and how it is within the broad mainstream of healthcare delivery in the United States. And I think that one of the things that we're seeing is showing the way in which this initial attack on trans kids is being brought in to other areas. So at first it was, you know, a ban on gender affirming care for kids up to 16 and then 18. And now we're seeing 25. In Missouri an attempt to ban all gender affirming care throughout the state, regardless of age. Now, that eventually failed, but you can see a gateway into a much larger attack on whatever we're speaking about. But sports largely it's about people being and in spatial areas where they don't believe that you should be based upon the way that your body is and how they perceive and obsess about your genitalia. But from that will flow broader attacks on the presence of trans people in all types of public space. So you can see that what's happening is we're starting in some small places and then moving out much more broadly. 

Farai Chideya [00:13:41] So staying in that lane on TransLash, you spoke with Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Commission co-vice chair Ciora Thomas about race and representation in the LGBTQ space. And so here she is on your show talking about the importance of Black trans leadership and the founding of her nonprofit SisTers PGH. 

Ciora Thomas [00:14:00] What I've seen over the years is that there has been this gatekeeping behavior, this savior syndrome, if you will of non-Black folks who most of the time have the best intentions, but are also replicating white supremacy through their services. And what this does is not put us in a position to de-marginalize as a Black trans woman in this area. Even today we're experiencing that myself, our leadership team, it's as if Black trans leadership is an anomaly. 

Farai Chideya [00:14:38] So flesh out a little bit more of this aspect of race and transgender issues and LGBTQ issues. 

Imara Jones [00:14:45] Well, it builds upon everything that we're saying, which is that because of the society that we live in, just because you're a member of an impacted community doesn't mean you haven't absorbed the larger teachings of the society. So even if you're LGBTQ; and we know that there's this historical marginalization that's occurred along racial and gender identity lines within the community, because there is a belief that the degree to which the community is seen as a white community, it's a way to advance the idea of LGBTQ equality. I mean, we know that this happened in 1974 when Sylvia Rivera, one of the people who helped to start the Stonewall Rebellion and then lead the first march or participate in the first march, and others were deliberately excluded out of future pride parades, because there is this idea that this movement can appear to be too Black and brown and can't appear to be too trans, because that's not the gateway to acceptability. What Ciora is talking about here is the way that the issues that are occurring in the wider society can be compounded within community that makes an effective response to what's happening even harder. 

Farai Chideya [00:16:05] So Imara TransLash Media is just wrapping up the second season of the limited series podcast, The Anti-Trans Hate Machine. What is that project all about and what are you doing with this season? 

Imara Jones [00:16:18] So The Anti-Trans Hate Machine looks at the people, the money, the billionaires, the organizations, the politicians and the religious ideology that are driving the anti-trans legislation. And we learned so much that we decided to put it in this narrative form of this investigative series. In season two, what we're doing is we're looking at the relationship between pseudoscience and disinformation and the way that that's then picked up in mainstream media and how it then connects to driving anti-trans legislation. It's really cultural reporting and focusing on our profession and our role and driving this conversation. And so that's what we're doing, literally looking at the debate around conversion therapy in the ex-gay movement, seeing how that was the road test for everything that we're seeing now, the way that the right wing learned a lot of lessons from that effort, applied it to trans people and have been able to exceed even their wildest expectations about impacting mainstream conversations in the press and elsewhere about trans people. 

Farai Chideya [00:17:24] You know, just pinging off of your mention of conversion therapy, it brings to mind the 2024 general election, where you have former Vice President Pence going up against his former boss, former President Donald Trump, and many other people. What are you hearing from the GOP and for that matter, the Democrats on transgender issues? 

Imara Jones [00:17:45] Well, I think that what's interesting about the Republicans, we can just say again, anti-trans policies and rhetoric have moved from a plank of the Republican Party to a pillar. Almost every major declared candidate in that party has made being anti-trans one of their leading arguments for why they're ready to be president. That's definitely the consensus among the leading candidates, specifically former President Trump and current Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. One of the things that we can say about Mike Pence is that his PAC started running anti-trans ads in Iowa weeks ago. This is going to be one of the major issues of 2024 in ways that I don't think that we can anticipate nor imagine, because it hasn't happened in this way before. I think that the analysis that I would give of the Democratic Party is that they're trying to do two things at once. They understand that they need to say publicly and to do things to show that they support LGBTQ people. At the same time, I think they're really worried about the way in which the discomfort around trans people has been successfully activated and weaponized in places all across the country. They're wary of being seen as being too forward-leaning on this issue because the voters that they need in the suburbs, some of them are going to be really uncomfortable on trans issues. I do think they're trying to do two things at once, and neither necessarily, you know, with the greatest commitment because you're trying to walk a fine line. And I think that we'll see how it plays out. 

Farai Chideya [00:19:24] To bring home even more of the work you've been doing. You have spoken with many elected officials on the TransLash Podcast, including Montana State Representative Zooey Zephyr, the first openly transgender person to be elected to the state's legislature. Here's Zooey on your show: 

Zooey Zephyr [00:19:40] There's, you know conservative thinktanks and, you know, conservative legislators that are pushing this anti-trans rhetoric and anti-trans policies. But at the community level, when you get down to the daily life, there's a lot of support and love there. And to me, I hold on to that as I move forward. I have to figure out how do I get people on the right to realize that this isn't what their constituents want? This isn't what Montanans want. It's not what conservatives in Montana generally want. And from a strategy point, it's also losing the right elections like we saw in the 2022 midterms. 

Farai Chideya [00:20:17] And that was from when she won the election. A few months later, she faced censure and backlash from her GOP colleagues. So even with the record number of runs and wins from the transgender community in 2022, what are transgender politicians coming up against? 

Imara Jones [00:20:35] They're coming in for a tremendous backlash. When I listen to what Zooey said at the time, even though that's true, that still didn't stop the state legislature from passing anti-trans legislation and also censuring Zooey. Their political calculation is that these attacks are good politics, regardless of what the polls say. And I think that that's interesting for people who follow politics to ponder. Right? Do we believe the polls are do we believe the practitioners of what they think works and doesn't work? So it was not the first to come under attack. And another person who will speak to the very first person to be censured by a state legislature for who they are is Mauree Turner, a state representative from Oklahoma who is trans, nonbinary and Muslim. I think that what we are seeing is something that's potentially very worrying. We know that throughout history, totalitarian regimes target people who have big voices and big microphones, regardless of whether or not they are able to implement their views through political power. What we are seeing is the targeting of state legislators who are trans non-binary, who are Black and brown simply because they have a microphone in the halls of government. And I think that everyone should be very concerned and on alert. Again, they are seeing the contours of how to do this in a specific population. I've never seen anything that has been successfully tested by the right only stay in the targeted community where it originally began. 

Farai Chideya [00:22:20] So let's zoom out to the national level. U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal was on your show to talk about the Trans Bill of Rights, which was a resolution introduced in the House of Representatives in 2022. And she spoke with you about her experience defending these rights as the mother of a transgender daughter. 

Pramila Jayapal - When I spoke about Kashika, I kind of had it and just said, this is ridiculous. What are you doing? This is my daughter you're talking about. There was a pin drop silence. Now, it didn't lead to people voting down the amendment, the horrific amendment we were debating. But I do believe that it makes it harder. It makes it harder for them to introduce these amendments, to vote for them, to speak on them. When we are in the room talking about our own children being the targets of their cruelty. 

Farai Chideya - So what did it mean to hear that from Representative Jayapal? And what is the Trans Bill of Rights? 

Imara Jones [00:23:19] Well, the Trans Bill of Rights is a resolution that says that trans rights should be enacted throughout all parts of the government and also through the Equality Act. So it's a broad call for the declaration of human rights for trans people in the United States, because right now trans people are not seen as human. You know, Congresswoman Jayapal is deciding to use her voice to stand up for what she believes in, including her own kid. And I think that there's so much in that clip where individually there may be reticence on the part of politicians, but somehow these policies are still moving forward, which I think underscores just the energy that they have and a portion of the political landscape in America. 

Farai Chideya [00:24:09] So the last thing I want to ask very much in an Our Body Politic tradition is about joy. You often talk about trans joy amid the struggle. So what is giving you joy amid it all? 

Imara Jones [00:24:22] Oh, revisiting the discography of Tina Turner, how can you nt be joyful at that? At 70 years old on a crane? What, probably 80 feet in the air. Having a crowd of 100, 120,000 people in Europe scream Nutbush city limits. Yeah. I mean, there's something emphatically defiant and joyful in that example. You know, I was at the Trans Prom recently that was held for trans kids who were in a lot of these impacted states to be able to come together and have a moment of celebration. And for me, very much in the same vein of Tina Turner, their joyful defiance is something that deeply resonates with me and also makes me happy. So I think that right now, my trans joy overall is joyful defiance and wherever I find it. 

Farai Chideya [00:25:22] Imara, thank you so much for joining us. And thank you for giving me this tour of politics and, you know, where we're headed. 

Imara Jones [00:25:31] Thanks, Farai. That was Our Body Politics creator and host Farai Chideya. Kicking off our episode on trans politics with me, Imara Jones.

With so much happening at the state level, we turn next to one state in particular: Oklahoma. Mauree Turner is the current representative for the 88th District and Oklahoma's state House of Representatives. In 2020, they were elected alongside 336 other members of the LGBTQ+ community across the country. Representative Turner is the first Muslim elected in Oklahoma and the first out non-binary person elected to a state level position in U.S. history. They self-identify as a queer, non-binary, Okie Muslim. In March 2023, the representative made headlines when they were censured by the Oklahoma legislature. The censure came after Turner was accused of harboring a fugitive, a transgender rights activist who went to the Oklahoma representative's office before turning themselves in for allegedly assaulting a police officer. Turner's was only the first in a series of censures of state legislatures across the country. Thank you for joining us today, Representative Turner. 

Mauree Turner [00:26:51] Thank you for having me. 

Imara Jones [00:26:53] So for people who are not from Oklahoma, can you please tell us about the 88th District? What is it like and how would you describe the needs of the 40,000 people that you represent? 

Mauree Turner [00:27:06] Yeah, So 88 is… it's like the hub of arts, culture, entertainment, education, activism, I think, for a good portion of Oklahoma. Like long before I even knew what a House district was like, House District 88, it was a place I was coming to often. My brother went to school here at Oklahoma City University, so I spent a lot of time in like high school and middle school here. And it also, the 88th District houses our gayborhood or our 39th Street District. And just a place where so many queer and trans Oklahomans come to be fully and freely themselves. I think still, it's still predominantly white. And so like another thing that I don't think a lot of people talk about too often is that I am the first Black person to hold this seat. 

Imara Jones [00:27:56] I think that both from who you are and the place that you represent, people would be surprised because the thought is that Oklahoma is a firmly red state, though, like so many in places that we consider to be, quote unquote, red, does have these areas of blue and others of diversity. 

Mauree Turner [00:28:17] You do, you find these pockets all throughout Oklahoma, Right? We've got a good portion of historically all-Black towns here, like Oklahoma was a place where throughout history folks would come to be fully in freedom selves and places like Norman, Oklahoma, which was like a few years back, like dubbed like a safe place for 2SLGBTQ+ folks. And you see these places kind of growing to like despite I mean, it is a deeply red state, right. Which I think keeps a lot of national organizations from looking at Oklahoma. But it is a place where rural Okies, like liberal Okies, are continuously fighting to preserve what truly is an Oklahoma standard, to just be able to protect ourselves and our neighbors, to take care of each other. 

Imara Jones [00:29:04] So that diversity kind of explains, it would seem, your election as well. 

Mauree Turner [00:29:11] I think wholeheartedly, right?. And specifically for House District 88, it's been progressive and liberal long before I held the seat like it has been historically Democratic. I think for at least like the last three decades. I think 88 specifically is a place where a lot of our organizers and activists like really come to grow something and to also, like, still maintain a deep sense of community. Like people want to be able to relate to politics, not just say like, okay, like that's person like and that suit and tie that represents me and like I'm so far removed from them. But we get to create a place where everyday folks, right, from city council to school board like 88 has like so many phenomenal leaders that really show that folks directly impacted can be our own representation. And I think that's something that grows because in our most recent election, Oklahoma County I think went solidly blue because that community organizing, I think it catches like wildfire, right? When folks are like, Oh, wait, we can do this, right? We can ask for what's next, We can write the playbook, and then we can also work it to make sure we get it. And I think that's one of the most beautiful things about Oklahoma and House District 88 specifically. 

Imara Jones [00:30:25] But one of the dynamics that has come up is the fact that you and people like you are being debated within those walls in terms of your place in society. Oklahoma is one of the states that bans gender affirming care, along with a series of other anti-trans bills that are being debated and passed. And so I'm wondering, how is it for you going under the dome each day and having your validity questioned beyond just a clash of values, policies and politics? 

Mauree Turner [00:31:01] Oh, my goodness. I am deeply introverted. Going into politics was never in the cards for me. I wanted to become a veterinarian and live on a ranch in Montana by myself, you know? So when I go from a place of being an 88 and into a capital where I will have Republican colleagues look at me across the aisle or either come to my office and say like, you know, trans folks are made in the image of God, right? Like, this is a really powerful thing. And then also vote away our access to healthcare without even batting an eye. For me, it's just very jarring because as a community organizer, one of my big things is that people can say anything they want to, but the action, that's the most important thing. Right. And so, like when you tell me that trans folks are made in the image of God and then you go and you vote our rights away, just some of the most heinous legislation that really tries to rip away the humanity of trans Oklahomans, of gender non-conforming Oklahomans. And then at the end of the day, you'll slink off to my office, right, and say like, I'm so sorry you had to experience tha, or people really don't care about this in my district. But, you know, sometimes we just have to go along to get along, things like that. And I'm like, Well, while you're going along to get along people are dying, you know, like, that's a line of work I thought I'd never have to be in. 

Imara Jones [00:32:33] And what's interesting is the way in which even in the conversation that your colleagues have with you, that there's this intertwining both the identity and religion, of your identity and what their religious views are. And so I'm wondering if you can just talk about for you what that experience is like when your colleagues are saying, well, for us, this is about religion and missing the fact that you, too, are a person of faith with a different religious experience and lens. 

Mauree Turner [00:33:02] So I grew up in a Baptist church, in church on Sunday mornings, and my mom, when she could, taught Sunday school. And my mom Baptist, my dad Muslim, and they raised us with principles from both. For me as a deeply religious person that is trying to learn the most about anything and everything at any time I can, I don't ever want to realize that there are people in my community that I left behind because I was ignorant and not educating myself, like at the basest of just about any religion. Right? It calls us to just take care of one another and right to make sure that we make it through this together. Right? There are just like our five structured prayers where we read from the Quran and in Suratul Ayat 177, basically the translation is like the good people, right? Aren't the people who pray right. But it is the people who are protecting the sick and the shut-in right? Who are giving away their money whenever they can. Right? Those who are committed to breaking the chains of bondage. Right? Those are the people who are good. Right? And those are the people who will inherit the kingdom. Right? Those are the people who are who enter heaven. And for me, that means that I couldn't deny someone access to healthcare. Right? I couldn't deny someone access to a livable wage. Right? I couldn't deny someone access to making sure they got the resources, any resources they needed right? I don't actually get to judge people based on the things that they need. 

Imara Jones [00:34:43] That's really powerful. So one of the things that we know happened is that all these forces that we're talking about came to a head for you in March. When you were censured in March of this year, kicking off a wave of censures. Right? And so I'm wondering for you if you can just talk to us about what happened and what the impact was on you?

Mauree Turner [00:35:08] So the censure itself happened because there was a community member that came to my office, trans community member. And I can't stress enough, right, that sometimes these four walls that I'm sitting in right now are the safest place for trans folks, gender nonconforming folks, two-spirit folks. And I think for the center specifically that outlined, unless I apologize to the body and more specifically to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, that I would not be reinstated to my committees. I think one thing to also note is that in Oklahoma, a session lasts two years, so they took me off committees this year and committee work was halfway done by the time I was censured. But that also carries over to 2024. So I don't get an opportunity to speak on behalf of the people in House District 88 in committee until I run and am reelected for 2025. I think it also has spurred comments specifically in our Democratic caucus about how, while some members of the caucus might think that these are just Mauree Turner issues like this doesn't have to do with like the grander scheme of the work that we do. But the thing is right, that we are continuously not only silencing the roughly 39,000 folks that I represent, right? But we are also silencing like trans Oklahomans, gender nonconforming Oklahomans, right? Like Black Oklahomans, Muslim Oklahomans that don't actually get a voice in this Capitol if it is in dissent to what the Republican Party is willing to put out. I ran because people on any side of the aisle were continuously making decisions about our everyday lives and were so willing to carve us out of those decisions for a win. So the censure itself is a really big slap in the face, I think, to democracy. And it sent rippling effects across the U.S. with not only like Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson and Zooey Zephyr right? But like folks well beyond that. 

Imara Jones [00:37:30] So I'm wondering what you think your experience says about where the United States might be headed unless more people pay attention to politics. And I ask that because, of course, there are many who say that they fear the prospect of rising authoritarianism in the United States. So I am wondering if those are concerns that you share as well and where, again, you think we're headed unless we pay attention to what happened to you and and the others that came after you. 

Mauree Turner [00:38:03] I'm not going to sugarcoat it. I'm scared probably like everybody else. And I think for me, the humbling part about being a culmination of all of these identities is that… I understand quite literally that there are some members on the Oklahoma House floor that would buy my family or sell them on an auction block today if I'm just being honest. Right? But I think about and hold with me every day the fact that if the people on those auction blocks weren't continuously fighting that I wouldn't be here today. Right? And I think that's the thing, right, is that we carry with us power, so much power, beyond what we see and so much hurt, too. I would be lying if I wasn't honest about that, because people continuously fight to make sure that we were here today. Folks that would never know our names or know if we existed. Right. But we're committed to the preservation of community, the preservation of living in the sun with joy, Right. That we don't have to steal between moments of oppression. And I'm committed to that fight. 

Imara Jones [00:39:25] Well, thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience and what you've learned and what you want the rest of us to learn from everything that you have been through and are seeing, both as an observer and a practitioner of American politics. Thank you so much. 

Mauree Turner [00:39:48] Thank you. 

Imara Jones [00:39:49] That was Mauree Turner, State representative for Oklahoma's 88th District. 


Imara Jones - Welcome back to Our Body Politic. I’m Imara Jones, founder and CEO of TransLash Media and host of the podcast The Anti-Trans Hate Machine sitting in for Farai Chideya. Each week on the show, we feature a roundtable called Sippin’ the Political Tea. This week, we're deep diving into two pivotal, anti-trans pieces. They've taken hold of the national conversation and the mainstream media ultimately seeping into anti-trans legislation. The 2018 Atlantic article When Children Say They're Trans by Jesse Singal and the 2021 book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by Abigail Shrier. Both rely on Lisa Lichtman's discredited concept of rapid onset gender dysphoria. The idea that children identifying as trans could be caused by peer influence or a “social contagion.” Joining us to talk about these pieces and their legacy are Orion Rummler, LGBTQ+ reporter for The 19th. Thanks for joining us,Orion. 

Orion Rummler [00:41:08] Thanks, Imara. 

Imara Jones [00:41:09] And we're joined by Samantha Reidel, transgender movement journalist. Welcome to the show, Samantha. 

Samantha Reidel [00:41:14] Thanks so much for having me. 

Imara Jones [00:41:16] So, Samantha, I want to jump right in and talk about Jesse Singal’s piece in The Atlantic, which I think was a turning point in helping to mainstream these pseudoscientific ideas, particularly the concept of rapid onset gender dysphoria. Samantha, can you frame this process of mainstreaming these ideas for us and why this piece is singular in that? 

Samantha Reidel [00:41:36] Yeah, absolutely. I think you're right to say that this is  a singular piece in how these talking points have gotten pushed into the mainstream, but it's not where they started. You know, just for Jesse Singal. One of his first ways of getting into this topic and my first time interacting with his work was early in my transition in 2016 when he wrote a piece for The Cut defending Kenneth Zucker, who is now more widely known as somebody who in his clinic had practiced a number of clinical interventions that would now be considered conversion therapy for trans youth. But buying into that, quote unquote treatment is pretty easy to do. If you only read that article by Jesse Singal because he presents arguments very matter of factly and just as though it's it's it's such a shame that legitimate medical questions are being shouted down by unreasonable activists. That's a very compelling argument. Until you do any background reading of your own and actually find out what other people are saying about these kind of interventions. At that point, I realized, oh, this is not somebody who's really coming at this from an honest perspective. They have an agenda. And that agenda is not friendly to trans kids and their needs. And we saw that progress even further in Jesse Singal’s 2018 article for The Atlantic. And it's very interesting to even just to like look at the title of that article, right? Like it's now known under the title, I believe… 

Imara Jones [00:43:33] When Children Say They’re Trans

Samantha Reidel [00:43:34] When Children Say They’re Trans, yes. But the Atlantic article was originally titled Your Child Says She's Trans, She Wants Hormones And Surgery, She's 13. So right off the bat, this was really pretty clearly not an article that's interested in just exploring the full picture of what trans youth and gender dysphoric youth broadly are facing and the internal struggles that they're facing, the struggles with the medical establishment and getting what they need. It was very transparently framed as something that parents need to be concerned about and afraid of. And having that statement not just appear on the cover of The Atlantic, but alongside an actual non-binary cover model who had not come out to their parents yet, not only caused a really troubling mainstreaming of this fear based rhetoric, but it also upset that person's life in particular. And I think that's a pattern that you see across this kind of coverage, is that it is both broad and specific in the ways that it harms trans lives. 

Imara Jones [00:45:00] Yes. And that piece has been quoted in dozens of anti-trans bills. So what's happening here is that there is discredited information about trans people appearing in pieces in mainstream media. Then those pieces are used to justify anti-trans legislation. And then that anti-trans legislation is being reported on. And those stories include the pseudoscience mentioned in those bills. So there's this feedback loop of misinformation in mainstream media that drives these bills. So I'm curious about your thoughts when it comes to reporting on trans people. If the notion of, quote unquote, objectivity is even functional right now. Orion, I'll start with you.. 

Orion Rummler [00:45:44] I really enjoyed talking about this because I we're all trans journalists, and so as journalists, we're used to everyone who reports on what they report on being a subject matter expert. Hopefully, like if you're on a particular beat and if you're a trans journalist, you are a subject matter expert in a way that other journalists just are not. So that's how I feel about the objectivity question about trans reporters or objective, I guess they are, and they bring more subject matter expertise. So I think the question of like, when these newsrooms feel like they need to be or like what they're thinking of as objectivity, ends up reading as like dehumanizing. And it's not covering these communities in an empathetic way or actually taking a step back to think about are we actually, like treating trans people as people. 

Imara Jones [00:46:34] You know, objectivity does not mean the promotion of things that aren't true. And that's why I'm curious Samantha about what your take on this is, because for me, one of the most interesting things about this is that it seems as if the standard rules about not promoting things that aren't true are not parroting things that aren't sure. You can say things that are a different perspective, right? But you can't say things that aren't true. Why that standard does not seem to be applied in the same way when it comes to reporting about trans people. 

Samantha Reidel [00:47:07] I think for racially marginalized and sexually in gender marginalized communities, it's pretty easy for other people who are not necessarily connected with that lived experience to be able to think of us as people, but not like people who the things happen to. I think that there's sort of a fascination with trans people in the sense of a spectacle, but people feel more challenged to think of these as like real things that real people struggle with every single day. But more specifically, I think this has a lot to do with talking out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to, quote unquote, centrist journalists who really make these kinds of issues their bread and butter. The assumption within them is that we're all centrists here. We're looking for just the truth, which is always somewhere in the middle. And that's where we see this obsession with, quote unquote, heterodox thinking that has so many people obsessed with ideologues like Joe Rogan. And, you know, a lot of people that just are way more conservative than they like to admit to other people and to themselves. 

Imara Jones [00:48:32] When it comes to this debunked social contagion idea, Abigail Shrier really took it to the next level with her book, Irreversible Damage. And one of the things that I find most egregious is that Shrier is often cited as a journalist, even though she's not a journalist. She was an opinion writer for The Wall Street Journal and a contributor to The Federalist, which is a conservative publication. But because she's considered a journalist, her book is given more credibility despite the fact that she's working off of pseudoscience. I'm wondering if you can talk as journalists about having to uphold the idea of fact based reporting. Orion, I'll start with you. 

Orion Rummler [00:49:10] The credibility piece you're talking about, that's something that comes up a lot in these anti-trans bills when state houses bring experts that are not experts to talk about these bills. So to me, that's something we see repeatedly. And then in Abigail Shrier's book, you know, she argues that what she describes as the phenomenon sweeping teenage girls, she argues that that's different than the fullness of transgender experience, as she describes it. And she argues that it's different from the civil rights fight for trans rights. And to me, that's an argument we see in statehouses when Republicans try to say like we're not, you know, targeting trans rights or trying to protect kids, like it's not about trans rights. To me, there are a lot of points in this book rhetoric that we can see continue through these statehouses. And another that stands out to me, as you know, in her introduction, she says, like the more she learned about adolescents who, she says suddenly identify as transgender, she becomes haunted by wanting to know, quote, what's ailing these girls. So her book references repeatedly and is trained around this idea of like, we need to protect girls from, you know, being caught up in transitioning into men. And to me, that's an anxiety we see in anti-trans rhetoric specifically in like fear around fertility for trans men systems. Several of the ideas that she plays out in this book. We do see repeated anti-trans rhetoric. 

Imara Jones [00:50:54] Mm hmm. Sam, what do you think about, again, this interplay between someone who is actually out with an opinion, right, that they're driving in the world, being conferred the idea of journalism, where if they were on any other type of reporter talking about any other subject, it wouldn't be the case. But this conflation between opinion when it comes to reporting about trans people and what's facts. 

Samantha Reidel [00:51:22] Yeah, I think that's and it's something that all of us have dealt with in our own careers, Right. Like, I know that sometimes when an article of mine gets picked up by another site, sometimes their comment section will have all these like, this isn't news, this is an opinion because I have clearly staked a lane and my lane is trans joy is good. 

Imara Jones [00:51:46] How controversial? 

Samantha Reidel [00:51:48] It's extremely controversial, Imara. But yeah, it goes back to what you were saying about you shouldn't be able to use these debunked scientific pseudoscientific ideas to push an agenda that anybody should take seriously. In Shrier’s book she isn't just relying on anti-trans pseudoscience. She also relies on like pseudo sociology as well. She references the work of Jean Twenge, who wrote about adolescent mental health and screentime pretty extensively in the 2010s. Taking the argument that, you know, kids are spending so much time on phones and iPads and everything and it's this screen time and not enough interpersonal time that's driving bad mental health outcomes. And that was really thoroughly debunked. But we still see, like Shrier driving these ideas to prop up these equally debunked and unsupported ideas from places like the Littman study, which get their sources as Jesse Singal also did from outright anti-trans sources like the anti-trans feminist group Fourth Wave Now where a lot of these quote unquote concerned parents statements and accounts are sourced from. So the writers themselves are so strongly positioning themselves as, you know, objective. And I have respect for trans people, but I have some concerns about what the most egregious and most outspoken people among you are saying, because that's pushing things a little too far. You can position yourself that way. And then as soon as… if people take you seriously, you can feel free to continue along as far as you like and just deny the consequences of what your work actually has. And meanwhile, marginalized reporters who are in our communities who are reporting on things that we see just around us all the time, are told that because we are too close, because we live what is going on in our communities and we live the attacks and the violence, that disqualifies us from writing, quote unquote, real news. And it's a false distinction. 

Imara Jones [00:54:32] I'm wondering if you can just talk a little bit about the importance of having, you know, trans journalists and trans people being considered valid in the reporting of our community, because I'm sure that a lot of people will be listening and saying, well, what can we do about this? And I think that one of the things that is a possible answer is the inclusion of more people who are trans in mainstream newsrooms to be able to report on our community in ways that would actually be fair. 

Samantha Reidel [00:55:03] I think that part of the issue that we're facing is that a lot of people's default state when it comes to thinking about trans people has a lack of trust. A lot of people just don't flat out trust that not just that we are who we say we are, that we are capable of making these decisions for ourselves and directing our futures. I think that's anti-trans sentiment kind of in a nutshell. I think for people who are still just kind of in the throes of this bizarre culture war in which they have been subjected to a lot of misinformation and may understandably not know who to trust. At this point, it is important to see more trans people telling stories from our communities. These are human stories. These are things that more people than you realize in your communities as well are going through. And this is the support that we need. 

Imara Jones - And Orion?

Orion Rummler - I said the one of the biggest reasons that it's important for trans people to report on her own community is that I think we're more focused on the impact of what's happening than a cisgender reporter who is probably going to be more preoccupied with like, what's the legislation, specifics, which is important, the machinations of how it's being developed, which is also important. But for me, it's like my number one is like, how is this actually affecting people right now? And if we're not including that, then like, why are we writing this story? And I think that's what trans people first that we need in newsrooms right now. 

Imara Jones [00:56:53] Well, thank you so much for joining us and for talking about this interplay between our jobs, the information that's out there and how it's driving these bills. I think that's a critical part of understanding our political conversation around trans people right now. So thank you so much. 

Orion Rummler [00:57:11] Thank you, Imara. 

Samantha Reidel [00:57:12] Thank you so much, Imara. 

Imara Jones [00:57:13] That was Samantha Reidel, transgender movement journalist, and Orion Rummler, LGBTQ+ reporter at The 19th. 

Thanks for listening to Our Body Politic. We are in the air each week and everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can find us on Instagram and Twitter @OurBodyPolitic. Our Body Politic is produced by Diaspora Farms and Rococo Punch. 

Farai Chideya, Nina Spensley and Shanta Covington are executive producers. 

Emily J. Daly is our senior producer. Bridget McAllister is our booking producer. Natyna Bean and Emily Ho are our associate producers. Monica Morales-Garcia is our fact checker. This episode was produced by Emily Ho, Mona Hasan, Andrea Asuaje, and Monica Morales Garcia. It was engineered by Mike Garth. 

This program is produced with support from the Luce Foundation, Open Society Foundation, Ford Foundation, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Democracy Fund, The Harnisch Foundation, Compton Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the BMe Community, Katie McGrath & JJ Abrams Family Foundation, The Pop Culture foundation, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.