This Odiously Transphobic Article Must Be Read to Be Believed

Outward
Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Aug. 7 2014 9:00 AM

This Odiously Transphobic Article Must Be Read to Be Believed

classroom.
Raise your hand if you think basic trans equality is really not a big deal!

Photo by Jetta Productions/Thinkstock

Several months ago, Outward decided to stop using the term homophobia as a blanket term to describe any and all anti-gay beliefs; a phobia, after all, is a fear, and it’s clear at this point that it’s not fear but bigotry that drives the modern anti-gay movement. But after combing through the religious right’s more recent attempts to denigrate and dehumanize trans people, I think phobia—pure, unalloyed fear—remains the single biggest driver of anti-trans hysteria today.

Mark Joseph Stern Mark Joseph Stern

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.

Perhaps the best evidence of this fact arrived in the pages of the conservative Federalist this week, in the form of Mary Hasson’s craven and malicious hatchet job on a trans teacher. Hasson, who has heretofore specialized in painting gay men as promiscuous disease vectors, is distraught that a schoolteacher at Washington, D.C.’s Janney Elementary is transitioning from male to female. Why? Not because her children attend Janney or because she knows anyone who does. Rather, Hasson is horrified that Janney’s principal, Norah Lycknell, dared to email parents tips to help children “safely process” the transition.

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According to Hasson, Lycknell isn’t really encouraging “equity and inclusion,” as she claims; rather, she’s “foisting ideological conformity on America’s school children, re-educating them in gender and sexuality according to queer theory.” By Hasson’s telling, Lycknell is engaged in a conspiracy—with trans people, it’s always a conspiracy—to indoctrinate her students with her own “dogmatic” views of gender identity. The school’s willingness to embrace a teacher’s gender transition isn’t an act of basic decency; it’s a covert effort to erase “two millennia of philosophical, scientific, and religious perspectives.” To Hasson, trans tolerance is simply incompatible with religious liberty; accepting a trans person into the school’s community will invariably push Christians out:

[Lycknell’s] tight control and soft coercion are creating an intimidating, potentially hostile environment for families that hold time-honored, well-reasoned beliefs about the integral connection between a person’s biological sex and gender identification and the unity of the person (body and soul).

And if Lycknell’s email itself isn’t proof enough of a pro-trans, anti-Christian conspiracy, Hasson has a trump card:

Lycknell omits from her email some particularly salient information … Lycknell is a lesbian who “married” her partner in a Canadian ceremony in 2008.

The ironic thing about all this, of course, is that it’s Hasson, not Lycknell, who wants to push her “dogmatic” views on schoolchildren. What, after all would Hasson have Lycknell do rather than encourage children to keep calm and continue treating their teacher like a human being? Hasson seems disturbed by the prospect that children will even interact with a transgender teacher; presumably, then, she’d have the teacher fired. But since firing an employee on the basis of gender identity is illegal in the District of Columbia, I’m really not sure what Lycknell could have done except tell the community don’t freak out.

Freak out, incidentally, is precisely what Hasson does. Not only is she convinced that mere acquaintance with a trans person will wreck kids’ moral compasses; she also ponders whether trans tolerance might actually endanger children, making them more vulnerable to predators:

Does the school’s rush to embrace Reuter’s transition create an unsafe situation by brushing off or stigmatizing the negative feelings some children might experience around Reuter? Child safety protocols teach children to pay attention to their natural instincts and to “tell someone” when they feel uncomfortable in the presence of particular adults. But negative feelings in reaction to Reuter have been invalidated by the Left’s declaration of transgender normalcy. Does the Janney staff expect the youngest students … to override their interior perceptions that something is not quite right about the apparent Ms. Reuter? When it comes to transgendered persons, will children’s feelings no longer count? Or will children be “re-educated” until they learn to repress, disregard, or change those feelings?

This passage is deeply troubling. Hasson’s connection between trans people and child predators is offensive, chilling—and ridiculous. She suggests that trans people are so disgusting, so aberrant, that if children are forced to think they’re normal, they’ll no longer be able to differentiate between trustworthy adults and child predators. Or, worse, Hasson may be intimating that trans people are often child predators; it’s hard to pull a coherent thread out of her minatory mishmash. Either way, her association between trans people and child predation is so oblivious and derisible that I have to believe it arises more from unconscious terror than conscious antipathy.

Ultimately, Hasson’s screed will surely fall on deaf ears within D.C., an overwhelmingly liberal city whose schoolchildren are known to celebrate and defend LGBTQ teachers. The families who send their children to Janney Elementary probably understand that nobody is born bigoted and that kids have to be taught prejudice—usually by people like Hasson. Because time, the law, and the community are on Lycknell’s side, I’m confident she’ll weather this controversy with ease. But Hasson’s article remains an important, and alarming, glimpse into the transphobia of 2014, which can turn a simple gesture of tolerance into an act of child endangerment. 

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