Lynnea Urania Stuart
I want to talk to transpeople heart to heart here. When it comes to identifying the transgender community I’ve often thought, “What transgender community?” At another time I might think, “It would be a very good idea.” It isn’t that transpeople don’t have what’s nominally called the “trans community” or something to that effect. Our function has often so contentious that calling ourselves a “community” in a general sense often seems like an oxymoron.
We’ve inflicted some genuine harm inflicted on many who come to us for help. Too often our own have been treated with contempt and condescension, sometimes even open rudeness and violence… not always by open enemies of transpeople but by us. Today the protections sought from government are being stripped away and out conduct may easily have played a role in that happening.
Let’s not pretend this kind of disharmony doesn’t exist. One can easily see it in conversations run afoul in social media. We see it in the activities of transgender trolls. Transsexual and transvestite have traditionally been at odds. Intersex individuals don’t share the same issues as drag queens or kings. At times these disparities erupt in some very pointed exchanges that end friendships forever.
On top of that we often face a perennial imbalance resulting from those trans individuals who have issues regarding sexual practice. It’s something transpeople don’t like to admit but it’s true. For too many of us it really is all about sex. They’re the kinds of individuals we often block and even warn others to do the same. But even in the world outside the Internet those who have yet to mature could easily find themselves “personae nōn gratae” in local transgender groups with social volatilities of their own.
As a result it might be said that there’s no monolithic trans community. Instead we find pockets of community here and there. It’s a disunity that has hampered what a trans community can really do to secure civil rights for everyone.
Think about it. Seeing how the most recent estimates from the Williams Insitute suggest as many as 1.4 million transpeople in the United States,1 you’d think the numbers would be significant enough to secure a range of allies at least ten times that many. Over 14 million allies writing to members of Congress can be an overwhelming response to address proposed legislation. However, that’s not happening. In fact we’re facing legislative and legal assault from the Far Right with their own masses engaged in an anti-transgender lobby.
Consider the recent ban of trans military servicemembers, estimates of which constitute as many as 15,000 on the high end. It isn’t going to be a gradual phase-out either. This is a precipitous action noted by The Guardian and LGBTQ Nation:
“As noted by The Guardian, Trump’s declarations on Twitter don’t have any legal power. But the content of those tweets has been made into “A Guidance Policy for Open Transgender Service Phase Out” by White House staff and the White House Counsel approved the policy as legal “guidance” yesterday.
“An unnamed source quoted by Ocamb said, ‘The administration want[s] to get rid of transgender servicemembers as fast as they can.’ The document says that the military should encourage early retirement and fire transgender people up for promotion in order to purge the military of the estimated 15,000 transgender people working for it.”2
The role of the Far Right appears to come into play 2 weeks before the announcement of the ban on July 10 at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and arranged by White House Staff as reported by Religion News Service. They quoted Evangelical author, Johnnie Moore, thus:
“… the policy on transgender people serving in the military had not been on the agenda for the meeting. It was one of many topics that came up throughout the day, including health care, taxes, religious liberty and judicial appointments.
“We briefly discussed this (transgender) issue,” Moore said.
But earlier this week [i.e. the week of July 26 when Trump tweeted the transgender ban], the evangelicals followed up with a signed letter asking the president to reverse the Obama era policy allowing transgender people to serve in the military, Moore added.”3
It would be a mistake to think that their letter alone made the difference. But White House staff other than Trump were noted to have attended the meeting, possibly even Steve Bannon who urged immediate action upon Trump to end transgender military service.4
The White House would respond to criticism about the transgender ban by sharing an op-ed from the Alt-Right website The Daily Signal authored by detransitioned anti-transgender activist Walt Heyer on West Wing Reads. The op-ed, titled, “I Was Once Transgender. Why I think Trump Made the Right Decision for the Military,” was reported to say:
“Heyer notes, ‘people are not born that way,’ the military needs ‘psychologically fit’ troops, and Chelsea Manning—who Heyer refers to with the incorrect pronoun—shared confidential documents because she was ‘psychologically and emotionally unbalanced.’”5
Apart from old innuendos, Heyer’s op-ed represents something common among people who enter or re-enter Evangelical organization. Evangelicals rely heavily upon testimonials to make any point. Testimonials declare, “Look at me! I experience this and therefore so does everyone else who has been part of (and you can fill in the blank with any organization or social status).” Testimonials drive sales much the same way and many ministries operate through the actions of salespeople either indirectly through vocal and financial endorsements or actually employ salespeople as ministers. Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses offer some of the most blatant missionary salespeople through colporteurs. Colporteur ministry is typically the proving ground for their future elders, deacons, and evangelists.
However, testimonials also embrace an undercurrent of fallacy that’s either ad hominem (argument against the man) or ad partisam (argument against the party). One person’s experience doesn’t mean the next person will experience the same. Because of this foundation of fallacy, testimonials rank among the major methods of propaganda.
Of course, Walt Heyer, like anyone transgender, has the right to detransition… or re-transition if anyone so chooses. But why would Heyer so heatedly turn against an entire demographic of people this way?
A probable scenario would be an issue of personal “sacrifice” in order to come religiously “clean”. But it means more than that. By vehemently denouncing that stigmatized community from which one comes while entering a church organization, that person secures a higher level of social status in that communion than if he didn’t. It’s easy thereafter to rely upon old innuendos to further stigmatize the stigmatized. It inflates the egos of church leaders who brag about their “convert” and inflates the ego of the one who writes it. Religious conversions typically rely upon self-interest and any claim, true or not, can provide the flash point for a person to make a decision to go this way or that.
In which case, we shouldn’t ask what caused Heyer to so vehemently betray a demographic with whom he formerly identified, but why he should not have been happy to have transitioned like most of us are happy to have done so. Should everyone who considers transition actually do so? Of course not. Psychiatric assessments, generally practiced prior to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and again before surgery are supposed to enable patients to ascertain whether their action has been well founded and Heyer’s obviously didn’t do their jobs properly. But there’s another element that comes into play: ours.
Traditionally, the approach to transition has been to support the one transitioning and after that person has had surgery send that person on her or his way. Too often social support for that person evaporates. That presumes, of course, that community support had been offered in the first place, a presumption none of us can safely make.
How can we talk about community support for those transitioning when the general milieu consists of lots of trolling and catfights galore? We cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility. Community demands that we commune.
There’s an unfolding reason why that communing should continue after surgery and that we’re amiss to tell people to go on and live their lives apart from transpeople. It comes down to a study often appealed to by those who insist that transgender people have higher rates of mental illness while post-op because transition essentially fails and the “mental illness and instability” that drove transpeople to transition remains unresolved or even enhanced by transition itself. It’s what’s often referred to as “that Swedish study” by those who probably never read it. Consider this from “that Swedish study” as published by the Karolinska University Hospital:
“It is therefore important to note that the current study is only informative with respect to transsexuals persons health after sex reassignment; no inferences can be drawn as to the effectiveness of sex reassignment as a treatment for transsexualism. In other words, the results should not be interpreted such as sex reassignment per se increases morbidity and mortality. Things might have been even worse without sex reassignment. As an analogy, similar studies have found increased somatic morbidity, suicide rate, and overall mortality for patients treated for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.,  This is important information, but it does not follow that mood stabilizing treatment or antipsychotic treatment is the culprit.”6
The claim that “that Swedish study” says transgender people are innately crazy and need to be institutionalized, clearly relies upon cherry-picking of information and rendering out of context in order to lead to conclusions not agreed to by the researchers. This is the sort of appeal to which Heyer and also the Dominionists in the GOP rely.
Would Heyer not have taken this course of hostility against the trans demographic had he known post-operative acceptance and friendship? We don’t know. But we can know this: an environment of general contention and hostility should produce people who rise up against it; and morally one might say it’s well deserved.
Seeing how Walt Heyer presents all transsexuals to be mentally ill and unstable, then he should assess himself also and I hope he has seriously done this. If it’s preposterous that one who transitions should be considered sane, it’s equally preposterous to believe that one who detransitions must be necessarily saner. One should also expect that one who attacks the entire demographic of transpeople would not find many willing to befriend him.
And yet we should if we can.
Walt Heyer should be befriended as we might befriend any frienemy. Of course, the “trans community,” many of whom ostracized Caitlyn Jenner on grounds of politics and class status, no doubt will find few hearts stout enough to do this. Heyer may not in a strict sense and may indubitably object to being considered “transgender” now. But in a broader sense, based upon the definition of “transgender” as “one having crossed the bounds of living the gender role of one’s birth” he can’t be considered entirely removed from the trans phenomenon either.
But we don’t really have a right to hate Walt Heyer. Transition demands a moral compass and a heart willing to offer reconciliation if it can. If one who transitions does not become a better person by doing so, the effort hasn’t amounted to much. Being a better person is part of coming alive and being real.
A moral compass isn’t necessary for the sake of becoming prudes; far from it. Moral agency, something to be restored and cultivated, is our best guard against obsession that hinders natural innocence and happiness, a state represented in this invitation by the poet Rumi:
“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”7
An awakening to the possibility of such a field existing such as Rumi described has been known to accompany trans experience. It doesn’t mean one throws away morality. It means it’s something necessary to maintain while transcending it in levels of spirituality not all recognize exists and which some seek actively to destroy.
And the destruction thereof is the tragedy of continued rancor. This writer has no doubt that this article will spark controversy, even condemnation. What else is new for a writer who has known a lot of ostracism from the “trans community” herself? But if we ever revisit the rancor that may have fueled diatribes not only by Walt Heyer but by others even within the “trans community,” we must look for new ways to make peace. That’s my invitation.
- Flores, Andrew R.; Herman, Jody L.; Gates, Gary J. and Brown, Taylor N. T. How Mahy Adults Identify as Transgender in the United States? (June 2016) Report: The Williams Institute: https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/How-Many-Adults-Identify-as-Transgender-in-the-United-States.pdf , p. 3.
- Bolinger, Alex. Trump’s transgender military ban is now official policy (August 5, 2017) Web: LGBTQ Nation: https://www.lgbtqnation.com/2017/08/trumps-transgender-military-ban-now-official-policy/#.WYYqa5CCfF0.facebook . Retrieved August 5, 2017.
- McFarlan-Miller, Emily. Trump’s Evangelical Advisors Discussed Transgender Ban at White House Meeting (July 28, 2017) Web: Religion News Service: http://www.christianheadlines.com/blog/trump-s-evangelical-advisors-discussed-transgender-ban-at-white-house-meeting.html . Retrieved August 5, 2017.
- Nick Duffy. Mike Huckabee hits out at Republicans who voted down anti-trans law (July 18, 2017) Web: Pink News: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/07/18/mike-huckabee-hits-out-at-republicans-who-voted-down-anti-trans-law/ . Retrieved July 26, 2017.
- Steinbach, Jesse. White House Newsletter Endorses Op-Ed By “Ex Transgender” Activist (July 31, 2017) Web: New-Now-Next: http://www.newnownext.com/trump-trans-military-white-house/07/2017/ . Retrieved August 5, 2017.
- Dhejne, Cecilia; Lichtenstein, Paul; Boman, Marcus; Johansson, Anna L.V., Långström, Niklas; and Landėn. Mikael. Long-Term Follow-Up of Transsexual Persons Undergoing Sex Reassignment Surgery: Cohort Study in Sweden (February 22, 2011) Web: PLOS. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0016885. Retrieved June 18, 2016.
- Rumi, Mewlana Jalaluddin. Out Beyond Ideas (n.d.) Website: All Poetry: https://allpoetry.com/Out-Beyond-Ideas . Retrieved August 5, 2017.