Gender & Identity Love Wellness

This is the true cost of acting like nonbinary people are invisible

June in the U.S. is a time for celebrating LGBT Pride, and for reflecting on the challenges our community still faces. For many of us, our reality as nonbinary people – those who don’t fully identify as either male or female – ensures that one of those challenges is invisibility in mainstream society and the way that invisibility impacts our health.

Most people today believe in a concept called the gender binary: the idea that there are two genders. However, the gender binary doesn’t actually capture some people’s experience of their gender.

Nonbinary is an umbrella term for anyone who identifies outside the gender binary. Under that term, people can also have other more specific identities. For instance, someone who doesn’t identify with any gender could use the term agender, while someone whose gender identity varies over time might use genderfluid.

Despite progress in recent years, queer identities are still underrepresented in media.

Most people today believe in a concept called the gender binary: the idea that there are two genders.

Only 6.4 percent of regular characters on primetime broadcast TV last year were LGBTQIA+, according to GLAAD’s annual report on LGBTQIA+ media representation, and almost none were nonbinary. We’re often left out of mainstream discussions of LGBTQIA+ rights and history. That invisibility can make it hard to feel confident in our identities.

And while some countries and American states are starting to recognize a third gender on official documents, most of the time our legal identification has a binary gender on it, meaning our government is officially pigeonholing us into an identity that doesn’t fit.

Being nonbinary means living most of your life carrying an invisible weight: you’re almost constantly misgendered, deliberately or accidentally, and faced with the many expectations society has of your perceived gender. Being misgendered can contribute to gender dysphoria – discomfort associated with being perceived or assigned a gender that is different from your identity. 

Studies show that coming out in a supportive environment is good for LGBTQIA+ people’s mental health. That makes sense: carrying a secret about your identity is definitely mentally and emotionally taxing.

And it highlights the importance of social acceptance of LGBTQIA+ identities: it directly impacts our health.

Unfortunately, ‘coming out’ can be a scary, tiring, or even dangerous process for many nonbinary people. Correcting people can be lengthy and exhausting: not only do you have to tell them what your real gender is, but you face the possibility of having to try to convince them that your gender is real.

I avoid coming out, which leads to me being misgendered and experiencing dysphoria.

I joke with friends that I feel like I needed to carry around a projector and PowerPoint presentation to make coming out as nonbinary worth the effort.

For me, the cost of being nonbinary most often comes in a weird sense of preemptive exhaustion. I sometimes choose not to come out to people because the thought of having to deconstruct their understanding of gender to explain myself is so tiring. Plus, after all that effort, they might not really understand or respect my identity.

So I avoid coming out, which leads to me being misgendered and experiencing dysphoria. This dysphoria makes me feel ill at ease in my own body, self-conscious about its shape and space it occupies, and like it somehow doesn’t fit me.

I’ve almost exclusively only come out to friends who are queer because I know their journey towards understanding themselves probably already taught them a bit about the gender binary and the fact that people can exist outside it.

A study of 900 transgender youths in Canada found that nonbinary participants struggled more with their mental health than their binary trans counterparts. A study in Europe produced similar results.

That isn’t to minimize the challenges faced by binary trans individuals; it’s just that society is gradually coming to understand trans binary identities better, while nonbinary identities remain little known or understood outside the LGBTQIA+ community. Both straight, cisgender people and LGBTQIA+ people sometimes discredit nonbinary identities as some sort of fad, despite the fact that many societies around the world had nonbinary identities long before they experienced Western colonization.

People want you to fit into the gender binary, and even strangers feel entitled to try and police you to that end.

A day after I talked with a friend about how much I wished people would stop assuming my gender when they looked at me, I was leaving my gym and a stranger on the street (probably drunk) started shouting at me, “Hey! HEY! Are you a dude or a chick? A dude or a chick? I just wanna know!”

Technically, I wanted people to recognize that I was neither a man or a woman, but the way the stranger approached me was callous, disrespectful and scary.

People want you to fit into the gender binary, and even strangers feel entitled to try and police you to that end.

Nonbinary invisibility means I have to explain my gender experience to well-meaning friends (which I don’t always mind, but again, can get tiring), but I am also hounded by strangers who think that I am not adequately performing a gender I don’t identify with.

The person who shouted at me didn’t pursue me or pose a real threat, but that was a matter of luck, not a marker of genuine safety in our society for people outside the gender binary. That stress has real costs for our mental health.

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USA Politics Race The World Policy

If the “Blue Lives Matter” bills pass, it’ll be easier for cops to end Black lives

Last Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed the “Protect and Serve Act of 2018.”

The euphemistically named bill offers protections modeled on hate crimes laws to police officers. Harming a police officer is already a federal crime, and laws enhancing penalties for violence against police are already on the books in all 50 states. So if all these protections already exist, what purpose does the “Protect and Serve Act” really serve? 

Well, according to the ACLU, “It serves no purpose other than to further dangerous and divisive narratives that there is a ‘war on police’.” The ACLU also points out that hate crimes laws were specifically designed to provide justice to people who were often denied it, people from marginalized groups in society. They were meant to protect people based on immutable characteristics, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.

The US first began to enact hate crimes bills in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, when violence against people of color often went unpunished, as white jurors voted to acquit white defendants accused of crimes against Black Americans in particular. It was a way to take judgment out of the hands of the accused’s white sympathetic friends and neighbors and achieve some measure of justice by putting it in the hands of a federal jury. It was a way to finally start taking violence based on prejudice seriously in a country that has so often enabled or ignored that violence.  

In contrast, violence against police is already being taken seriously.

It leads to manhunts and lengthy prison sentences or the death penalty, not to jury nullifications and impunity. On the contrary, the real impunity is often enjoyed by police officers who have assaulted and/or killed civilians and rarely face charges. While the people currently protected by hate crime legislation are the victims of targeted violence, police are often its perpetrators, harassing, brutalizing, and killing disproportionate numbers of people of color.

The federal “Protect and Serve Act” is similar to a number of bills that have been circulating the country in state legislatures. These “Blue Lives Matter” bills, as they are often called, are a reaction to the calls for police accountability by Black Lives matter and other activist groups. They’re meant to cast the police as a targeted minority, despite the fact that actual violence against police is near record lows. And they are meant to implicitly link that Black activism against police brutality to an invented surge in violence against police when the reality is that the majority of people who do attack and kill cops are white and often associated with far-right groups.

Some critics have said the “Protect and Serve Act” is a “solution in search of a problem,” given the relatively low levels of violence against police officers in recent years. The truth is, it’s worse than that. The false narrative of the war on cops reinforces a mentality that leads them to view the communities they should be serving as enemies. It makes them feel more justified in enacting precisely the violence that Black Lives Matter and other anti-brutality activists are trying to stop. And Republicans and Democrats alike in the House of Representatives just lined up to vote for it.

The next step is for the Senate to consider their version of the bill, which civil rights groups believe is even worse.

If it gets past that stage, there’s little doubt Trump would sign it into law.  So let’s not let it get that far. Call your Senators and tell them not to pass any version of this bill. For help on talking points, check out the first part of Human Rights Watch’s letter about the Protect and Serve Act of 2018.

USA Editor's Picks Politics The World Policy

Trump called immigrants “animals.” Are we headed down a slippery slope?

Two weeks ago President Trump described deported immigrants as “animals.”

Not long after, that verbal dehumanization was codified on an official White House press release entitled “What You Need to Know About the Violent Animals of MS-13.” While Trump and his supporters say he was specifically speaking about members of the gang MS-13, his track record on immigration issues leaves the possibility that he was talking about all immigrants from Central America.

And even if he was only talking about gang members, this kind of language is an extremely dangerous road to start down. 

As many people rightfully pointed out, dehumanizing language is often the prelude to real, physical violence. Consider the Nazi depictions of Jews as “rats” and the Hutu depiction of Tutsis as “cockroaches” in Rwanda. And for examples closer to home, consider the depiction of Africans as “animals” to justify their enslavement and all its attendant brutality.

The argument over whether or not Trump was specifically referring to MS-13 members is semantic and mostly unimportant. The bigger issue is that people are people, regardless of who they are or where they are from, regardless of who they are, where they are from, or what they have done. And people have rights. In some cases, when people have been convicted of crimes, their rights are abridged, such as when people are imprisoned. The process by which we do that in the U.S. is tainted by systemic racism already. Categorizing any person as nonhuman will only make the abuses of our criminal justice system worse.

In 2016, a man died of dehydration in a Milwaukee County jail. Then-Sheriff David Clarke, who ran the jail, and his deputies had denied the prisoner, Terrill Thomas, water for seven days. Others in the jail reported hearing Thomas crying out and begging for water for days before his death. Clarke has been a vocal Trump supporter, and the president is likewise a fan of Clarke’s: Clarke was in talks for a position in the White House last year before John Kelly shut down that idea. Instead, Clarke has become a spokesman and senior advisor for a pro-Trump super PAC.

Last summer, Trump pardoned former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had been convicted of criminal contempt for his illegal racial profiling in his crackdown on undocumented immigrants. Some other fun facts about Arpaio: he has proudly referred to his jails as “concentration camps,” and has addressed overcrowding by having inmates stay in tents outside in the Arizona heat. His devotion to hunting down undocumented immigrants is so strong that he often failed to actually investigate things like reported sexual assaults in his jurisdiction. During his tenure at Maricopa County, violence against inmates in his care was rife, and its perpetrators rarely punished.

Why would they be, when their boss clearly had such little regard for the lives of immigrants he viewed as criminal?

It’s also important to remember that the state decided what acts are criminal, and to what extent to pursue and punish that criminality.

Remember how the Obama administration decided that although marijuana possession and use was still a federal crime, it would no longer be a high priority for federal law enforcement? Now consider what crimes a Justice Department headed by Jeff Sessions will consider most important to punish, and in particular what criminals a man who was once denied a federal judgeship for a host of racist comments will crack down on the most.

The label of “criminal” has always been more than a specific descriptor of wrongdoing. It is also a broad brush to paint certain groups of people as unworthy of rights of the basic rights they are guaranteed by law. Using the term indiscriminately hurts people, and calling anyone who has committed a crime an animal makes that risk of violence worse.

At a rally on Tuesday night, Trump doubled down on his language, turning it into a new call-and-response chant with his supporters. In the 2016 election, his rallies were sites of violence against people his supporters decided didn’t belong. Cities that hosted him saw increases in violent assaults.

And he seems dead set on whipping up a greater frenzy of animosity towards immigrants.

Politics The World

This is the real story behind the latest Palestinian protest against Israel

In the past seven weeks, the Israeli military has killed at least 113 Palestinian protesters on the border with Gaza and injured over 12,000 more.

The deadliest day was May 14, when Israel killed 62 Palestinians. The majority of the victims that day were under 30, and at least ten were under 18. That same day, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was in Jerusalem with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, as well as other representatives of the Trump administration, celebrating the opening of the US’s new embassy in the city.

Many writers have cited the embassy move as the reason behind the protests in Gaza. But while the move certainly hasn’t helped Israeli-Palestinian relations, the reasoning for the protests go back much further than the embassy’s opening. The current protests in Gaza began on March 30th, and mark 70 years since the beginning of the Nakba, or “the Catastrophe.”

In 1948, 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes in what is now Israel to make way for the founding of the new state. As Israel has expanded its borders, more Palestinians have been displaced and forced out of their homes.

Today, the UN estimates that of the 1.9 million people living in the Gaza strip, 1.3 million of them are Palestinian refugees. The protest of the past two months, and particularly the fact that protesters were deliberately marching to the fence that marks the border with Israel, was called the Great March of Return. It asserted the ongoing belief in a Palestinian right of return: the idea that they have a legal and political right to go home after all these years. As it stands, the conditions under which Israel operates largely resembles apartheid – in fact, the UN once described it as such. 

The right of return has always been a flashpoint in negotiations for peace between Israel and Palestine. There is a persistent belief on the part of right-wing Israelis in particular that conceding the right of return would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. It is true that such a policy would hugely alter the demographics of the current state of Israel. But it is also true that the ongoing occupation and blockade of Gaza and the violence it inflicts on the Palestinian people directly challenges another part of Israel’s identity: its claim to be a modern democracy. Through its blockade of Gaza, Israel already controls the lives of nearly 2 million who don’t get a say in Israeli policy.

And Palestinians living in the state of Israel are in many ways second-class citizens, subject to indignities that don’t affect their Jewish Israeli neighbors.

The result? 72 percent of Gazans are food insecure. 80 percent rely on humanitarian aid to survive. On average, they get about four hours of electricity a day, and hospitals depend on generators for power. Palestinians living in Israel face problems like housing and employment discrimination.

 In contrast, Israel grants its own version of the right of return to anyone Jewish born anywhere in the world, a practice that leads to the expansion of Israel’s borders into Palestinian territory as new settlements are built.

So how does the US embassy’s relocation fit into this bigger picture? The status of Jerusalem is a key point in the possibility of ultimately creating a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine. Both Israel and Palestine claim Jerusalem as their capital. In a series of ultimately unsuccessful peace talks throughout the 2000s and 2010s, Israel has sometimes shown a willingness to concede Palestinian control of East Jerusalem.

As far back as the 1940s, when Israel was founded, the UN pushed for a deal that would establish a state of Israel, a state of Palestine, and a  UN-administered City of Jerusalem that could allow both sides access to the holy and cultural sites of the city. The embassy move is so controversial because it seems like an affirmation that Jerusalem belongs solely to Israel. Past administrations kept the embassy in Tel Aviv (where the rest of the international community also maintained their embassies) as a way of recognizing the centrality of Jerusalem’s status to any prospect of peace.

For years, American politicians have claimed to be brokers of peace between Israel and Palestine, even when billions of dollars in American military aid to Israel over the years has been used against Palestinians. The embassy move is like rubbing salt in that open wound, doing away with the pretense of impartiality.

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America has a proven track record of rewarding torturers, and it started with Bush

Gina Haspel was sworn in as the director of the CIA on Monday.

The decision follows a contentious hearing process: Haspel was the director of a CIA black site in Thailand where at least one prisoner was waterboarded and subjected to other forms of torture (or “enhanced interrogation,” as the program’s defenders prefer to call it) including sleep deprivation, stress positions, being stripped naked, and confined to a box meant to look like a coffin. The prisoner in question, Abu Zubaydah, was tortured for six days before CIA personnel in Thailand decided that he didn’t possess the information they wanted. However, CIA headquarters continued to believe he was withholding intelligence, and so his torment continued for at least two more days.

During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump made it very clear that he disagreed with the Obama administration’s decision to stop using the worst of the torture techniques implemented under the Bush administration. He claimed that “torture works,” and that he was ready to bring back waterboarding and “much worse.” Trump’s assessment flies in the face of most expert opinions about interrogation. His decision to appoint someone who has already shown herself willing to torture prisoners sets the stage for a huge step backward in America’s treatment of prisoners, and its position in the world.

But it’s a step that wouldn’t be possible without the failures of the two administrations that preceded Trump.

Obviously, the Bush administration set us on this path. Several months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, then-president Bush signed a memo saying that Article 3 of the Geneva conventions, prohibiting “mutilation, cruel treatment, and torture,” do not apply to anyone captured and believed to be a member of al Qaeda or the Taliban. Not long after, Abu Zubaydah became the first CIA detainee in Bush’s global war on terror, and his torture began. He was waterboarded at least 83 times. Abu Zubaydah’s torture sessions were videotaped, as were interrogations of other detainees. There were 92 such videotapes at the site Haspel was overseeing. In 2005, the Senate considered launching an independent investigation into the CIA’s interrogation techniques. By then, Haspel was back at CIA headquarters in DC, where based on orders from her superior she drafted the final cable to the site in Thailand telling CIA personnel there to destroy the videotapes of the interrogations.

Obama stated clearly on the record that he viewed waterboarding as torture. Furthermore, he stated that anyone involved in the Bush-era tortures “blatantly broken the law” and would be prosecuted accordingly. Instead, though, the Justice Department closed their torture investigations without charging anyone. As a justification, Obama expressed a desire to “look forward, not backward.” In other words, he would discontinue some of the worst abuses of the Bush administration’s interrogation programs, but no one would face any real accountability. He viewed the release of the Senate intelligence committee as sufficient in atoning for the crimes of the past. But, since no one involved in those tortures faced criminal charges, they remained eligible for advancement.

At this point, we have strayed so far from seeking justice for the victims of torture that we are actually rewarding its perpetrators. That makes the world more dangerous for all of us. The UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights has said that America’s unwillingness to prosecute anyone for torture weakens norms against torture around the world. CIA officials, Haspel included, have said that a major reason they wanted to destroy tapes of torture sessions was to protect the personnel in the videos from reprisals. More broadly, the Geneva Conventions that the Bush administration flouted rely upon the principle of reciprocity: we agree not to torture our adversaries in the hopes that any of our people who are captured abroad will also not be tortured. It isn’t a perfect system by any means, but its promotion by groups like the International Committee for the Red Cross has helped to lessen suffering around the world.

Haspel was described by superiors as a “good soldier” who “followed orders.” The history of the 20th century is full of the atrocities good soldiers following orders committed. Haspel’s confirmation was made possible by the abuses of the Bush administration, the mistakes of the Obama team, and the ongoing complicity of every Senator who voted for her, Republican and Democratic. And it is an affront to everyone in the US and around the world who cares about justice.