My Conversation with Jim Goad
I recently wrote a Thought Catalog article titled “I Can’t Write for the Same Website as Jim Goad“. Within the comments section of the article, multiple people suggested that we “debate” the issues (the primary issue I had was that Jim had referred to transgender people as “self-mutilating freaks”). Jim and I began e-mailing each other. Below is the conversation, unedited.
Jim’s website is jimgoad.net
Parker Marie Molloy:
Since you wanted to chat, let’s chat.
First, to acknowledge the points made in your comment, you’re right, I probably shouldn’t have come to the conclusion that you were in favor of Russia’s anti-propaganda law. Your article didn’t explicitly say that, and so, I’m sorry for that.
The main frustration I had with the pieces you’ve written, and why I’ve chosen to stop writing for Thought Catalog stems mostly from the words you’ve written about transgender people in the past. The other aspects (comments you’ve made about women, Muslims and Jews) were just things I disagree with, but didn’t have the personal backing (with the exception of being a woman, but it seemed you were talking of cis women) to respond to.
Why is it that you’ve labeled transgender people “self-mutilating freaks?” How is that fair? You can take issue with me personally for things I’ve personally said and done, but to make a blanket statement about a group of people that has been such a target for assault and murder just seems callous.
I’m interested in having a real discussion with you. I do not hate you, nor do I have any ill will towards you. I accept you for who you are. I’m just curious why you can’t offer trans people the same?
Looking forward to hearing from you,
Fading out at the moment and will be asleep soon, so I can’t address all your points at the moment.Generally, I think someone who undergoes surgery to change their genital configuration is the antithesis of someone who accepts who they are. And to my knowledge, a DNA test would still find transgender people to be their pre-op gender. So it’s my personal opinion—and I can be swayed, so long as I’m not dismissed as “phobic” rather than cynical—that there’s a bit of delusion in insisting that males are suddenly females and vice-versa.I do think if you talk to me enough you’d realize that I’m in many ways more of an outsider than most people. I’m epileptic and possibly autistic, so in ways I identify with people who are different. What depresses me is when formerly bullied groups turn into bullies, control freaks, and leaders of ideological lynch mobs themselves once they taste a little power.That’s it for now. So tired I don’t know if that made any sense. But thanks for at least contacting me. I don’t need to be liked, but I guess my main motivation as a writer is that I have a need to be understood. Talk later.
Parker Marie Molloy:
Thanks for taking the time to write back.
Okay, so on the topic of trans people, will the history of a transgender individual include the fact that they were born into a sex opposite to the gender they eventually identify as? Of course. Yes, the sex I was assigned at birth was male. Yes, it wasn’t until I was 26 that I conceded that I couldn’t keep trying to be someone I wasn’t, someone I tried so hard to be.
Believe me, Jim, I tried. I tried to just “be a guy.” I felt like I there was a constant buzzing, a constant ringing in my head. I lived in a fog.
Therapy, medication (anti-anxiety, antidepressant), none of it helped. I kept slowly feeling like less of a person, less able to keep going from day to day. Trying to be someone you’re not will take a serious toll on anyone.
It wasn’t until I began hormone replacement therapy that my mind started to feel more at ease, like a dissonance had cleared. This was the one medical intervention that helped.
To your point about your opinion that someone who would surgically reconfigure their genitals being the antithesis of someone who accepts who they are: what are your thoughts on someone who has surgery to correct a cleft lip? What about someone who gets their wisdom teeth removed? Neither situation, if left untreated, would directly lead to death. Shouldn’t someone just accept that they have wisdom teeth? Shouldn’t cleft lip babies just accept that they were born like that? (obviously, no, these are completely legitimate medical procedures)
Some transgender people don’t even want any sort of genital surgery. I purposely avoid writing about anything to do with genitals and/or surgery because, honestly, if someone isn’t my doctor or my lover, what’s in my pants is irrelevant.
I agree that it’s ridiculous when the bullied become the bullies. I don’t see how that necessarily applies to trans people, though. The political activities that the more activist-y of trans folks pursue tend to be pretty simple: outlaw discrimination based on gender identity (ENDA), eliminate housing discrimination against trans people (no proposed legislation), be able to use restrooms, and receive the same respect any other person would get when being reported on in the media.
I think you and I have a lot of common ground, and hopefully we can continue this conversation tomorrow (I’m also just about to drift off, so excuse me if any of these thoughts were a little less than coherent).
OK, I’m somewhat sentient at this point.
So much of this hinges on semantics. I disagree that you were “assigned” a gender. If there’s a penis there, and if the chromosomes are XY, then we’re talking about maleness that can be quantified. If youfeel like a female, that’s a personal construct and is nobody’s business but yours.To my knowledge, cleft lips and wisdom teeth are usually altered surgically because they present palpable health problems. I don’t think being born with genitals you don’t want present any physical health threats.Generally, it’s the humorless militancy and throbbing hostility of many of these TG people that annoys me. I think it utterly escapes them that their strident moralism is every bit as self-righteous and scornful of the cultural “other” as your most fanatical Christian. Just as with blacks, Mexicans, women, et al, it’s not their identifying features that annoy me, it’s that they hide annoying personalities behind their social identities and insist my problem is with their social identity rather than the fact that I find them to be annoying assholes. I believe that everyone can be an asshole—the truest definition of equality I’ve yet seen.
Parker Marie Molloy:
I agree that a lot of this. So much of this does hinge on semantics. I guess the most important distinction is sex and gender. Gender is not defined by XX or XY, penis or vagina. Sex is. Gender is the mental/emotional/social aspect of things.Also, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had my chromosomes tested. Sure, you and I are both likely XY, but neither of us can say that for sure. I might be XXY, you might be XXY, and neither of us would know. From a biological POV, research over the past decade or so has suggested that sex and gender are more ambiguous than one would have previously thought. An example of a recent discovery is the FOXL2 gene, which functions in a way that can affect how someone’s mental & physical sex is impacted as their life goes on.Your statement there, that if I “feel like a female, that’s a personal construct and nobody’s business but [my own],” seems fair enough. I was born male (sex), but I am a woman (gender). I just ask for the same basic courtesy as anyone else. I would like people to use “she/her” pronouns when referring to me. I would like people to call me “Parker” (which is legally my name). I would like protection from someone firing me for no reason other than because I’m transgender. I would like protection from housing discrimination. I would like access to public accommodations like restrooms (my drivers license says “female”).More than 40% of all transgender people attempt suicide at some point in their lives. That’s a scary number (the general public is around 2-3%). While you say that being incongruent with your genitals doesn’t present any health risks, apparently it does. This isn’t something any trans person chooses for themselves any more than you chose to be a white, American man. It’s just what you’re born into.I agree that there’s a lack of humor within the transgender community, and really, the reason for that is this: we’re always the butt of jokes. Because we’re the butt of jokes, because we’re treated as “self-mutilating freaks,” because we’re often seen as less than human, we also end up the victims of rape, assault and murder at a much higher rate than any other segment of the population. The public has been conditioned to think that we’re “less than,” and so when something happens to one of us, no one seems to care. A recent example is the murder of an African-American trans woman named Islan Nettles. Last month, as she was walking home, she was beaten to death just a block from a police station. The man who did this? He was caught and charged with misdemeanor assault. A misdemeanor. For killing someone.It’s been my opinion that yeah, sometimes the trans community can be a little angry, a little militant. And yes, it’s my opinion that sometimes that can be a bit much, a bit counter-productive. That’s why I choose to write about my experiences, the good and the bad, in hopes that I can help humanize transgender people in the public eye. I’m not out marching, I’m not out protesting, I’m not out screaming “die cis scum!” at people. I’m just me, just trying to provide a point of view that a lot of people might not get otherwise.If nothing else, can you agree that trans people aren’t all, by definition, “self-mutilating freaks?” Do you think I’m a freak? I hope not. If you want to judge Manning for the actions resulting in jail time, go for it. I just don’t think it’s fair to then apply those thoughts to trans people as a whole.I’m enjoying this conversation, and I’m glad to be able to get your point of view on things. Maybe, from this, on this one particular topic, we can make some progress in bridging whatever gaps there may be between us.
An article I wrote about epilepsy. I refer, by implication, to myself as a “tongue-swallowing loser” who has a “biological impairment”:So, yeah, statistically I’m a “freak.” I’m OK with that.Even more salient than semantics here might be aesthetics. I make no presumptions about your background, but I’m from a working-class section outside Philly, which is a blunt and brutal town to begin with, so things that seem horribly offensive to some people seem like business as usual to me. That’s why I always blanch when people allege that I’m trying to be offensive. This is just how people talk where I grew up.I’m also old enough to remember when it was the so-called right-wingers who wanted to ban books, burn records, and get offended at every fucking thing on Earth. There’s been a huge seismic shift at those things as I behold the people who used to be the free-thinking, impossible-to-offend types morph into people that I feel are insanely hyper-sensitive.
Parker Marie Molloy:
I think it’s one thing to self-identify as something, an entirely different thing to label others. If, as a result of your epilepsy, you’re comfortable calling yourself a “freak,” that’s your prerogative. If I went out and said, “all people with epilepsy are freaks!” or “people with red hair are mutants!” or “left-handed people are satanic!” it’s nothing more than just being needlessly mean.What your writing about transgender people has been, though, is somewhat dehumanizing. When you say that all transgender people are “self-mutilating freaks,” you’re suggesting that we’re somehow sub-human for being born into a condition like this. And when you say this about transgender women (in this case: Manning): “By the way, his name is Bradley Manning, and he’s a guy. To claim he’s suddenly a chick is to deny biological reality,” you’re suggesting that I am not what I say I am.“Stop shaking, Jim. You’re just doing that on purpose. There’s no such thing as epilepsy, you’re faking it.” See how incredibly stupid and ignorant of biology and medical science that comes off? To say, “you’rereally a guy,” is the same thing. Both epilepsy and transgenderism are recognized medical conditions by the American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, World Health Organization and National Institute of Health.But somehow it’s not real?Epilepsy – Journal of the American Medical AssociationTransgenderism – Journal of the American Medical AssociationEpilepsy – American Psychiatric AssociationGender Dysphoria – American Psychlogical AssociationI’m not trying to tell you to stop having the opinions you have or saying things the way you do. You’ve got a right to say whatever you want, using whatever language you want, using whatever tone you want. I’m not suggesting anything be censored. I’m just trying to point out that the things you’ve said about transgender people are factually flawed. Yes, I was born into a male body, but my brain is female. I couldn’t reconcile the two without seeking medical intervention. To say, “you’re really a man,” is an overly simplistic opinion, not based in medical science.To say “you’re a self-mutilating freak,” is just mean, nothing more or less. As I’ve said several times over, not all transgender people pursue surgical intervention of any kind. For me, my brain was wired to work on estrogen, not testosterone. I wanted to fix that, and so, like any of the hundreds of millions of Americans who take pills, supplements, injections (Tylenol, Zoloft, Lipitor, Xanax, etc.), I pursued medical intervention. In my case, it was in the form of hormone replacement therapy.Would you say to someone suffering from heart disease, “you’re a freak if you get a valve implanted! Don’t take your medication! Freak!”? Probably not. Would you tell someone who takes Zoloft or Prozac that they’re sub-human freaks for taking those medications? After all, those medications change how the brain works, which really, if you think about it, changes who they are, straying from the level of authenticity standard you hold transgender people to. Should they not take the meds that might prevent them from committing suicide?I am telling you this right now: if I had not pursued hormone replacement therapy, I would be dead. Jim, honestly, I would not have been able to continue living. My head was filled with static. Shouldn’t I take medicine that saves me from that?In the end, it’s up to you what you’re going to write. I just want you to know that when I was 11-years old, I was made to feel like a freak because the loud voices of “jokes” on TV, not because I was a freak. For a kid, that’s awful. I’m an adult and can weed through the bullshit now. But when someone is young, when they’re confused, when they’re afraid, words really do hold power over them. A commentor on the article I wrote quoted you verbatim, calling me a “self-mutilating freak” (which, mind you, I haven’t ever had any sort of surgery, of any kind, ever). Your words influence the opinions of others. It’s up to you how you use them. Right now, by calling people like me that, you’re just adding more voices to the crowd of people who wish people like me ceased to exist. Somewhere there’s an 11-year old going through this, and maybe they stumble across your piece (I remember getting on the computer at a young age and just searching various phrases I thought would give me more insight into what was “wrong” with me). Maybe that kid reads your piece, maybe that kid kills himself. They’re your words, though. Do what you want with them.
Didn’t the APA, as recently as the 1970s, define homosexuality as a mental illness? Was there some landmark scientific discovery in the intervening years that led them to change their mind? No, it was intense political pressure. If the APA was wrong before, then it’s fallible.
If you didn’t choose to take hormone replacement therapy, you would not have died of natural causes. That’s the difference between gender dysphoria and heart disease.If someone kills themselves, that’s a choice they make. I reject the idea that “bullying” causes it. In fact, suicide in the face of criticism tends to suggest that the person who killed themselves agreed in some way with their tormentors. Either that, or they were less of an individual than they were a social animal. I’ve faced intense social criticism my entire life, and it’s only made me stronger.Which brings me to the topic of TGs and others who not only crave but seem to demand social acceptance. Why? To me, that’s a sign of weakness. I prefer individuals to herd animals. And I also tend to like people who don’t demand that I like them.By the way, I voluntarily underwent two plastic-surgery procedures in my early 20s. I regret it and would deem myself a “self-mutilating freak” on that alone.As an aside, I am staunchly opposed to the proliferation of psychiatric medication in the USA. I feel it’s possibly the most damaging cultural phenomenon of the past generation. But that’s an entirely different discussion.
Parker Marie Molloy:
Hi Jim -Correct, until 1973 homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. You’re right, groups like the APA and AMA do occasionally change their classifications on the basis of political pressure. More often, changes are made as medical science advances. Yes, the next edition of the APA’s DSM will chang the classification from “Gender Identity Disorder” to “Gender Dysphoria,” and that was the result of political pressure. No, this does not mean that being transgender is any less real.I’m not saying that these organizations are infallible (they’re not), but I am saying that there has been substantial medical evidence that supports the APA, AMA, NHS, and WHO classification of this being a medical condition. And this wasn’t added as a result of political pressure. If anything, people are trying to de-stigmatize gender dysphoria, pushing for it to be considered less of a condition associated with mental health and more a physiological one (which the AMA, NHS and WHO all believe).The fact that you, being someone who has never experienced what it feels like to have a disconnect between your mind and your body, being someone who (to the best of my knowledge) does not have a medical background or experience in the field of gender and sexuality, that you believe the “you’re self-mutilating freaks” argument holds water… it’s just disappointing. There’s a lot of evidence that contradicts what you’ve said, but you seem insistent. You said that you were open to the idea of being swayed on this topic. Are you? Because, honestly, it feels like I’m sitting here showing you globes and photos from outer space, but you’re shouting about how you believe that the world is flat.Why do trans people want to blend in and fit in socially? Possibly to be able to hold down a job, to be able to walk through the streets without being murdered, to not get kicked out of the house by their parents as a teenager?Transgender people are typically more educated than the average population, but they tend to find themselves at significantly higher risks of unemployment (4x the national average), homelessness and poverty. It’s hard to go around with the “I don’t give a fuck” attitude you say makes someone “an individual,” when the world is systemically against people like you. This is another topic that you cannot directly relate to.What I’m asking is that you ask yourself if you’re really qualified to opine on a topic before taking it on. Ask yourself, “do I really understand what it is to be transgender?” Just like I didn’t feel qualified to argue the statements you’ve made about Jewish people or Muslims (because I didn’t have the personal experience to intelligently speak on those subjects), I’m asking that if you’re not confident that you can accurately portray transgender people, maybe that’s a topic to skip?I guess I have 3 questions:1.) Do you believe me to be a man or a woman?2.) Are you standing by the statement that you believe transgender people (including myself) to all be “self-mutilating freaks?”3.) Would you object to me posting our conversation to my blog, unabridged?I still hope you come around on this one, Jim. I’m not a freak. I’m a human being.
So far I haven’t seen any convincing evidence that it’s a physiological condition rather than a psychological one. The link you sent (http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1568265&resultClick=3) is only an abstract that talks of “Managing Transgenderism.” So to this point it’s not as if I’ve been exposed to a tsunami of compelling evidence. I would be eager to see more in-depth studies that explain how it’s a physiological condition.
I could see how things such as hormone levels could come into play in making one feel less “absolutely” male or female. I believe it was Kinsey who had a 7-point spectrum of homosexuality where either end of the spectrum meant someone was undeniably heterosexual or homosexual, with five gradations in between. And yes, I realize gender dysphoria is not the same as homosexuality; I’m merely making an analogy. Rare is the person who is entirely macho or feminine.At the end of the day, however, I believe that science would determine you have a penis and XY chromosomes, thus meaning you are biologically a male. I also believe that if you identify as a female, that is something cognitive rather than physical.If suicide rates are higher among the transgendered, one could offer different explanations. You seem to think it is a result of societal rejection and mocking. I offer the possibility that it could be due to fundamental unhappiness with one’s condition. Are there any studies that compare suicide rates pre-op and post-op? If so, I’d be especially interested to see those.I think we may not be on the same ground regarding exactly what constitutes a “freak.” Someone could have fifteen testicles and I’d still consider them a human being, although a biological freak. Webster’s (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/freak) offers the following synonyms for the word: aberrant,abnormal, atypical, exceptional, odd, rare, singular, uncommon, and unusual. Since an estimated 1 in 300 Americans are transgendered, I believe those synonyms all apply. Estimates vary, but roughly 1 percent of Americans are epileptic. Around ten percent of people are left-handed. Since these are atypical and uncommon conditions, I am a biological freak in both cases here.When I spoke of “self-mutilating freaks,” I was referring exclusively to those who elect for reconstructive surgery. And unless someone is performing genital reconstructive surgery on themselves, I guess the term “self-mutliating” is inaccurate. Instead of “self-mutilating freaks,” would you prefer “persons who request that physicians surgically alter them so that they become genital anomalies”?Feel free to publish all of this, so long as it’s unedited.