Recently, Bruce Springsteen cancelled his concert in Greensboro, NC in opposition of HB2, a recently passed state law that disallows transgender people from using public restrooms based on their gender identity, as well as limits future protections for the LGBTQ community. The Boss posted an open letter to his fans explaining his decision– in short, saying that:
“Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry… is one of them. It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.”
His decision has been largely met with praise and admiration (even by disappointed ticket holders), but a number of religious conservatives disagree with his decision. Local resident Michael Brown, theological author and director of the Coalition of Conscience, posted his own open letter in disapproval of Bruce’s decision. His letter can be read here: https://stream.org/open-letter-bruce-springsteen-band/
Notably, the writer seems to be genuinely curious, at times, about trans issues, directing his questions towards Bruce. I believe many other supporters of HB2 may also be genuinely curious about these issues; so, although I’m sure Bruce’s response would be perfect (as he is da’ Boss), I’d be happy to answer these questions
**As a note, Dr. Ryan Kelly has worked as a college instructor of human sexual behavior, has worked under leading sexologists, assisted in sexology research, and worked directly with transgender clients. He is also a Bruce Springsteen fan, has seen them in Greensboro before, and is the son-in-law of the biggest Bruce fan in the universe **
First, how do you know if someone is really “transgender” or not?
The term transgender generally refers to individuals who do not strictly identify with their assigned sex or gender. Those who do not identify with their assigned sex may consider themselves transsexual and have likely received hormone therapy and/or sexual reconstruction surgery. Because of this, a transsexual male will look male and a transsexual female will look female — unless you analyze their DNA or request birth records, you will not know the difference. Here is a picture of renowned model Laith Ashley, a transsexual male (FtM) who has received testosterone and reassignment surgery. Some of these individuals may not legally be affected by the bill.
Other trans people may identify with their sex (e.g., genitals) but not their gender (i.e., social norms tied to their assigned sex), and may still have some sex-linked characteristics (e.g., genitals, bone structure, vocal pitch); however, you still won’t be able to tell for sure without analyzing their DNA, as such variations exist among non-transgender populations as well (sometimes referred to as “manly looking women” or “girly looking men”, in layman’s terms).
Furthermore, just shy of 2% of people are born with ambiguous genitalia due to chromosomal abnormalities or atypical sexual development, and may not be traditionally “male” or “female”. For instance, a matured woman (XX) with congenital adrenal hyperplasia may appear masculinized (e.g., facial hair, tall, deep voice) with external genitalia more similar to a penis. Although they may identify with their assigned sex and gender (female), HB2 supporters may fear that they’re actually a “man in disguise”.
Did you know that many countries (e.g., Australia, India, Japan, etc.) have a third gender, either as a social construct or as birth record documentation (i.e., indeterminate sex)? This, too, may be collapsed into “transgender” in the US.
The fact is, you will not know for sure if someone is transgender unless they tell you, but I don’t think that’s what you’re concerned about. Based on the video you posted, it seems you’re primarily afraid of heterosexual males (primarily identified sex-offenders) sneaking into female bathrooms for voyeuristic or exhibitionistic reasons. Do you think that a law like HB2 will stop them from doing that, given that (a) many of the cases in the video happened in areas with preexisting laws and (b) most of the men already have a history of criminal behavior (i.e., don’t abide by laws)?
Is it determined entirely by how they feel about themselves?
Whether or not someone is considered transgender depends largely on the culture they live in. If a male hunting enthusiast from the US went to live with the African Aka tribe, he may be considered transgender, given that his cultural host views hunting and wearing hunting attire as a part of the female identity (the men stay at home with the children, cooking and wearing artful garments). Although this is not the global norm, it’s important to remember that “gender” is a social construct, not a biological one.
Once within a culture (we’ll stick with US), being transgender is thought to be largely determined by biological, psychological and environmental factors. A young boy might get more psychosocial comfort and pleasure when accompanied by female friends, as his natural temperament and personality may be more akin to theirs. He may also develop more of an interest in playing with dolls and painting his nails. Such gender nonconformity does not guarantee he’ll be a trans adult, but is somewhat predictive of future gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Neuropsychological research has found that children diagnosed with gender dysphoria often have brain structures more similar to the opposite sex when compared to their peers. They’ve also been found to smell (e.g., hypothalamic response to steroid odor) and hear things (e.g., sensitivity to clicking sounds) more similar to the opposite sex. There are multiple predictors and influences that may cause someone to naturally challenge a culture’s sex or gender assignment when it goes against their own core identity.
Eventually, trans people have a choice to make, but I wouldn’t say it’s based on a “feeling” – to me that word connotes something fleeting or possibly invalid. The choice is not “should I be transgender” – they’ve known since they were a child that they identify with the opposite sex or gender. The choice is “do I express myself as who I am – behave in ways that make me happy and allow me to positively contribute fully to the world – despite the negative consequences this culture will surely enforce upon me”.
If so, do you think that it might be hard to make laws based entirely on how people feel? Did you ever stop to consider that?
Unfortunately, this law is based entirely on how people feel. Conservatives feel scared that dangerous men are going to dress up as women (as that seems to be the only voiced complaint) and expose themselves to young girls, attempt to expose the girls (e.g., videoing, peeking in stalls), or attack someone. As a father of a little girl, that is a scary feeling, but this law will not stop that, because law abiding trans people are not the problem. There is zero credible data linking transgender people to higher rates of pedophilia or violence (though trans persons are far more likely to be assaulted themselves, by non-trans people).
Furthermore, supporters of this bill believe that transgender people are inherently bad and dangerous, despite the data saying otherwise. Do some trans people engage in such behavior? Of course they do – they are human, and all humans are capable of horrible things, without exception – but morally they are no different than anyone else, so why target them?
Second, what’s the difference between someone with “gender dysphoria” (or, as it used to be called, “gender identity disorder”) and someone, say, with schizophrenia or “multiple personality disorder” or some other psychological condition? In other words, if a man is a biological and chromosomal male but believes he is a woman, is he actually a woman, or does he have a psychological disorder?
I think it’s important that I make this very clear from the start: gender dysphoria is not a mental illness or disorder. Yes, it is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (5th edition), but the diagnostic term (as stated by APA) only exists to protect those to whom it applies and ensure access to care. Without a diagnosis, insurance would not cover any “legal change” to their sexual identity (e.g., hormone therapy, surgery).
I encourage you to read about schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder (DID), as those are objectively debilitating conditions that, with all due respect, are not remotely similar to gender dysphoria (which, again, is not a mental illness or disorder).
Also, keep in mind that active trans people who experience clinical gender dysphoria usually pursue hormone therapy and/or surgery (which is often a successful and lifelong solution) and therefore may not be legally affected by the bill, but I will still comment on this, as your question understandable and is one that many conservatives have.
Consider this: In the 60s, a case of a botched circumcision among identical twin boys resulted in one being converted into a girl (sexual reassignment, name change, and hormones). Unlike her brother Brian, “Brenda” was raised like any other girl. The theory at that time was that sexual identity and gender identity were entirely learned, so this treatment would suffice. In short, it did not.
Even as a young child, Brenda did not feel like a girl. He developed like a girl, was given “girly toys” and dressed like a girl, but suffered greatly from the depression and anxiety that accompanied his gender dysphoria. Later in life, he was told the truth. He switched hormone therapies and began going by the name David. Unfortunately, the scars of being forced to be something that felt unnatural were too much, and he committed suicide.
This case taught us two very valuable things; first, that one’s sense of sexual identity can be more important than their assigned sex, and second, that being forcefully misgendered can cause irreparable psychological damage.
Despite our culture’s dichotomous view, the truth about sexual identity is much more complicated. Even if you just consider the biology of it, you can have different variations of sexual chromosomes, internal genitalia, external genitalia, hormone levels, sex-linked physical characteristics, and innate temperament “more similar to the other sex”. On top of that, add variations in sex-based personality traits, behaviors, interests and skills, all set on a feedback loop with one’s culture. Sexual and gender identity is more than just having a penis or vagina – a Y or X (or missing, or extra) chromosome(s). For some people, gender dysphoria is a reasonable response, much like fear, sadness, happiness or stress when given the appropriate stimuli. That being said, when it comes to sexual identity, not knowing or understanding the reason for gender dysphoria does not make it a “disorder”.
If he does have a psychological disorder, should we try to treat that disorder or should we celebrate that disorder?
Gender dysphoria is not a disorder. If he is experiencing stress, anxiety or depression as a result of that gender dysphoria, those should be treated. Positive diversity should always be celebrated.
And is it right to call biological males who feel they are women and biological women who feel they are men “freedom fighters”?
When they make the very difficult decision to free themselves from rigid cultural norms despite the guarantee of judgment, ridicule and unequal treatment? I would argue that they qualify. If they continue on as activists for disadvantaged populations such as their own community – undeniably so.
Could you kindly point me to the definitive scientific literature that explains that these biological males are actually females and these biological females are actually males? I’m not saying they don’t deserve compassion. To the contrary, I’m saying that’s exactly what they deserve: compassion, not celebration. But perhaps I’m being too abstract here…
No one is saying that trans woman are XX or trans men are XY – they’re saying that they identify as a woman and man, respectively. I could give you research to say that yes, their brains are actually more similar to the sex they identify with than their same-sex peers, but I don’t think that’s what you’re asking for. If you think they deserve compassion, why do you believe that they shouldn’t be able to use a public restroom that they feel safe and comfortable in? I do not believe you are being too abstract; in fact you seem to have difficulty thinking beyond black and white ideas of what it means to be a man or a woman.
Let’s get really practical. Let’s say that a 6’ 4” male who used to play professional football and who has secretly agonized over his gender identity for years finally determines that he must be true to himself and live as a woman. Do you think it might be traumatic for a little girl using the library bathroom to see this big man walk into her room wearing a dress and a wig?
I like that you used the words “agony” and “true to himself”. To your credit, that is very insightful into the trans experience.
If it were to traumatize her, I’d have some questions regarding her past negative experiences with large men or women. If you’re suggesting that this scenario alone might be traumatic for her, I’d want to know if such a fearful response was typical of her (as she may have anxiety issues of her own), and encourage you to educate her on trans people and/or large women.
Should we take her feelings into account, or is she not important?
Yes, which is why we should explain to her why she shouldn’t be scared (if that was her response), and instead teach her not to judge trans people, but also to know about boundaries and privacy in case a man or woman every tries to encroach upon them.
What if that was your granddaughter? Would you care if she was traumatized? And when you speak of “the human rights of all of our citizens” does that include little girls like this?
I imagine he would seek treatment for his granddaughter whose underlying anxiety disorder caused her to be so easily “traumatized”. A trans female walking into a restroom that a child is in does not in any way encroach upon that child’s rights as an American – telling the trans female they can’t use the restroom of the gender they identify with, arguably does.
I understand that this gentleman will have difficulties should he decide to dress and live as a woman, but that is still a choice he is making, and it is not fair to impose his struggles on innocent little children, is it?
Consider this – he knows living as a trans woman will be very difficult, but does it anyways because those difficulties don’t compare to the anguish of being forcefully misgendered. There is nothing sinful, evil or explicit that this man is doing (outside of some religious text, which is absolutely meaningless when it comes to state laws), so the innocence of the little children remains in tact. Perhaps they can use this moment to develop empathy and understanding instead of fear and intolerance.
And what if this same man, whom we’ll assume is not a sexual predator, wants to share the YMCA locker room with your wife and daughter, standing there in his underwear as they come out of the shower stalls wrapped in towels. Is this fair to them?
I’m seeing a trend here – you seem to think (despite the evidence) that most trans woman are sexual predators, and also feel that young women (or perhaps women in general) should not be exposed to low levels of male nudity. In any case, YMCA locker rooms are private, and aren’t regulated by HB2. I believe many are adding a bathroom policy accepting trans members, though.
Let’s take this one step further. If any man who claims to be a woman can use women’s bathrooms and locker rooms, then how do we keep the sexual predators out? I’ve… giving examples of male heterosexual predators who donned women’s clothing to get into the ladies’ rooms… Without HB2, rapists and voyeurs and pedophiles would have free access to our women and daughters in the safety of their own bathrooms and locker rooms…what’s your plan to keep the predators out? How can we tell the difference between a “genuine” transgender person and a sexual predator? Since everyone knows you as “The Boss,” what would you do to keep the ladies and children safe?
You can’t keep all of the sexual predators out. You should know that roughly 4% of pedophiles are female – they’re in there no matter what. Regarding keeping the “predators in disguise” out, many of the examples in the video you posted happened in places where trans people already weren’t allowed in. The law didn’t help there. And what about non-trans men in the men’s room – how do you tell which ones are “genuine” non-trans men or sexual predators? How should I protect my son from these men? Perhaps your answer here may also apply to trans women in female restrooms?
When you booked the concert in Greensboro, the laws in North Carolina were just as they are today: In public facilities, people had to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that corresponded to their biological sex. Why, then, did you agree to come in the first place? Why cancel the concert when things today are just what they were six months ago?
Because there wasn’t a law that blocked future protections for the LGBTQ community – there was legal room for change. HB2 jeopardizes that.
Again, I appreciate your sincerity, but I question your judgment. In your zeal to do what is right, you have actually done what is wrong.
No one questions the Boss. Sorry, couldn’t resist.