Matt Walsh would rather DIE than have a woman touch him in THAT way

Dear Joel,

Thanks for sharing Matt Walsh’s utterly stupid post about gender during one of the gravest humanitarian disasters the US has ever seen. For those who missed it:


Above, a man wearing camouflage pants and a baseball cap carries a woman holding a child through the water that Hurricane Harvey deposited in Texas. Two men stand in the background by a small boat. Further behind, a car sits, mostly submerged in water, as a highway overpass rises in the background.

Walsh is a conservative Christian blogger on the younger side. His website’s tagline–“Absolute Truths (and alpaca grooming tips)”–let’s us know that he’s both hip (alpacas!) and a cocksure ass. He’s a Catholic opposed to abortion, Democrats, cultural relativism, women priests, and humility. You can tell because his BLOGS about “Absolute Truth.”

I’m skeptical about absolute truth anyway, but I’m confident that it’s not going to be delivered to us via a blog. And, for certain, probably not by a blogger who also contributes to The Blaze, a conservative rag not known for its journalistic integrity.

Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 5.03.09 PM

Oh, Matt, Matt, Matt… You don’t get to call yourself “sayer of truths.” Something like this is like a nickname, something others bestow on yo

I’m rather skeptical, too, that Walsh has ever had a meaningful interaction with a gender studies professor. I doubt he’s ever approached one with the humility that I imagine someone seeking Absolute Truth would display.

So, having once served as the director of a Women’s and Gender Studies program, I’ll fill in the blanks. What would this gender studies prof say about the photo above?

That Walsh has no idea what is happening here. We aren’t told what the relationship is between these three people. Husband, wife, and child? Or maybe he is a helpful stranger? Or a member of a trained rescue team? Good students look for the context clues, but when they aren’t sufficient to make a claim, they don’t make claims the evidence doesn’t support.

That Walsh is willing to exploit other people’s tragedies to gin up outrage at gender studies professors, who are, like, the easiest targets in the world for right-wingers. Who do they hate more than gender studies profs? Hillary Clinton? Black Lives Matter Activists? Really, this kind of tweet is just lazy. C’mon, Walsh! You gotta do better than this if you’re going to distinguish yourself from the other conservative knuckleheads on Twitter. Of all the lessons to learn from Harvey, including some ones about human kindness, this is where he goes. Lazy. Just lazy.

That, should Matt Walsh, ever be drowning, or trapped in a burning building, or in need of the Heimlich maneuver, slightly over 50% of the US population can safely ignore him without feeling any bit of guilt. He’d want it that way.


St. Eugenia and the Nashville Statement

Dear Joel,

The preamble to the odious Nashville Statement captures the anxiety of conservative Christians about changing notions of gender, not just gender orientation. Declares the Statement:

It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences. The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for his creatures is thus replaced by the path of shortsighted alternatives that, sooner or later, ruin human life and dishonor God.

That is, conservative Christians aren’t just worried about the challenges that trans identity delivers to their traditional ideas of gender. They are also worried (for 40+ years now) about cismen and ciswomen’s challenges to gender. And, holy moly, this isn’t just personal. It’s going to ruin not just individual lives but “human life.” (If this sounds familiar, you may have read about it in chapter 5 of God Hates.)

In the 1970s, a host of books about “traditional womanhood,” with titles like Fascinating Womanhood and The Total Woman, came out to direct women how to stick with traditional gender roles even as second wave feminism was opening up new opportunities for them. In the 1990s, we saw a similar effort for men through Promise Keepers and books with titles like Raising a Modern Day Knight and The Tender Warrior.

We might see current anti-trans work like the Nashville Statement as part of this work to maintain strict gender distinctions in conservative Christianity. Fans of the Nashville Statement see it as a necessary effort to protect gender boundaries.

But… why?

I mean, if gender boundaries were as natural as essentialist readers of the Bible say they are, wouldn’t we just conform without the policing? Would we need book after book of Christian advice on how to be a woman or how to be a man? Wouldn’t we just know? If this stuff is built into my very anatomy, why does it need to be defended so vigorously?

The need to police speaks to the desire to defy.

Which could mean that the “solution” to the defiance of those norms is to get rid of them. Or, if conservative Christians can’t quite bring themselves to do that work, at least loosening them up a bit.

Fewer rules about gender mean fewer challenges to them.

St. Eugenia

Above, a detail of St. Eugenia, taken from the Church of the Archangels in Ioannina, in Northwestern Greece. In the third century, Eugenia was about to be forced by her pagan parents to marry a pagan. A Christian, she disguised herself as a man and fled to a monastery, eventually becoming the abbot. Whether they are trans or cis, people who threaten patriarchy are subject to gender disciplining and need to stand together against it.

I’m not saying that if women were allowed to wear pants to church or pray before mixed-sex audiences or if more men worked in the church nursery that would mean that fewer people would be trans. (Fewer people being trans isn’t the goal here, and being trans isn’t reducible to simply wanting to do the tasks associated with a different gender.) I’m saying that tight control over gender gets cis and trans people all down. A queer tide lifts all boats, or something like that.

Which is just why conservative Christians want to marginalize trans people right out of the kingdom of heaven–because the whole thing won’t work to the advantage of the most powerful if everyone’s not on the straight and narrow in terms of gender and gender identity.

Conservative Christians’ denial of transphobia and claim to love trans people might ring a little truer if it didn’t seem to be more linked to their desire to also limit cismen and ciswomen in their roles.

Unless, I mean, transphobia is related to misogyny. (Hint: it is.)





The Role of Private Parts in Salvation (Yes, I’m absolutely serious.)

Dear Joel,

(First, I originally used the word “genitals” in the title of this post, but FB flagged it as spam and wouldn’t let me post it. Sigh.)

Thanks for the notice that the Nashville Statement has been published. For those of you who missed it, the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which 30 years ago produced the the Danvers Statement, is once again up to no good. Danvers is anti-LGB, and Nashville is anti-T (that is, anti-trans).

The Nashville Statement has 14 articles, each with an affirmation and a denial. For example, article VII:

We affirm that self-conception as male or female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture. 

We deny that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purpose in creation and redemption. 

What you see, when you read each one independently and then together, is that the Nashville Statement signatories believe that

  • All physical bodies neatly fall into categories labeled male and female and always have, since the creation of Adam and Eve, “the first human beings” (article III). (For more on why a literal Adam and Eve had to exist and had to be distinctly male and female in their anatomy in order for the rest of conservative Christianity to hold water, see my guest post at Righting America, Susan and William Trollinger’s companion blog to their book Righting America at the Creation Museum. )
  • Physical bodies that don’t conform to the anatomical standards of male or female (Wait! That contradicts the last point. But never mind.) are going to need to fall into one whether they like it or not. “Physical anomalies or psychological conditions” (which is what National Statement folks think being trans is) don’t undermine the “God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.” Those with “a physical disorder of sex development” should “embrace their biological sex insofar as it is known” (article IV).
  • Bodies determine gender, which means that bodies also determine which roles people can take in different domains of life (Biblical complementarianism, as explained in article III).


Image result for karoly patko adam and eveAbove, Karoly Patko’s 1920 Adam and Eve shows the full length of Adam’s body from behind and Eve’s from the front. She reaches to pick a red fruit from a tree at the center of the image. Conservative Christians who sign onto the Nashville Statement seem to think that the genitals are the most important part of this story.

For those who are feeling disheartened by all of this, I think there is good news.

First, the Christians of the sort who sign onto this voted heavily (81% of white evangelicals who voted) for a serial sexual assaulter, adulterer, pornographer, and abortion advocate. Nashville Statement supporters who have been critical of Trump (and there are some of those one the list, too) have reneged on their commitment to help their own co-religionists to “walk orderly” in favor of pointing out the speck in their neighbor’s eye. The fact that they keep talking, as if anyone outside of their rapidly shrinking circle cares, is embarrassing to them but shouldn’t hurt those of us outside of that circle. As you point out, they supported a man who violates all their sexual standards and yet they think that trans rights are going to be the ruin of America. Jesus has some words for those people. And they aren’t nice.

As you argue just today in The Week, Trump supporters need to understand what their legacy will be.

Second, we all see through the language of compassion and love. In lots of places in the Nashville Statement, the authors say that God loves and can save trans people–if they conform to the “Biblical standard” of sex and gender (which are the same thing in this model). The Nashville Statement never uses the word hell, but it’s there. Sure, God loves everyone, but he will send even those he loves to hell if they don’t express their gender in ways that align with their “biological sex” (a term that the Nashville Statement never defines).

This is the most dangerous, dishonest part of the Nashville Statement. The mournful eyes. The “this-hurts-me-more-than-it-hurts-you” tone. Truly, I respect the honesty of Westboro Baptists, who don’t confuse God’s love with hatred, more. The fact is, these Christians don’t love trans people. They demean them, and want to take away their basic ability to exist in the world. They use a politics of disgust to whip up public sentiment. The Nashville Statement calls on conservative Christians to use incorrect pronouns and deadnames for trans people (“speak truth in love at all times, including when we speak to or about one another as male or female,” from article IX.)

If you are trans, walk on by this language because it does not describe how God loves the diversity of creation. If you love a trans person, call this language for what it is: hurtful, nasty, mean-spirited, lies trying to hide as the theology of “Christian faithfulness and witness” (article X).

Third, the Danvers Statement was a shot fired in the battle against gay rights and same-sex marriage. Conservative Christians have lost that battle in the law and in culture, and they are losing their churches over it. All they have left is some fighting about whether florists should legally have to arrange flowers for same-sex couples’ weddings. While such arguments are important, as the Supreme Court’s decision to hear Masterpiece Cakes this year indicates, it’s the end of the argument. Even if they win that case, all they win is the right to huddle together and discriminate against people. It does matter that queer couples have access to all the same consumer experiences as straight couples. But by the time we’re arguing about frosting and flowers, the battle is almost over.

Fourth, as you say, the Nashville Statement makes this kind of Christianity very unattractive. And that’s good, because it is a Christianity that narrows the wideness of God’s mercy. It’s a religion that affirms the powerful and threatens the weak. It shrinks the awesomeness of God and uses it as a weapon. It is not spiritually dangerous like the religion of Jesus should be–a danger to the status quo–but to those who hold it.

The Nashville Statement is going to make news for a little while. Conservative Christians are going to pat themselves on the back for taking such a “courageous” stand against a culture that is becoming more, not less, expansive about what it means to be human. Today, it hurts trans people and especially trans Christians and especially those queer people in conservative churches. We should care for them tenderly right now. And we should keep fighting for their rights.

But the Nashville Statement would not have been written if anti-queer Christians didn’t already feel threatened. There is some encouragement in that.


Coast Guard as Anti-Trans Proving Grounds

Dear Joel,

You know that I’ve got ambivalent feelings about Trump’s executive order banning trans people from military service. Trump probably doesn’t care any more about trans soldiers than he cares about the ten sailors who were lost at sea last week when a navy ship collided with a cargo ship. (Which is to say, he does not care.) His indifference to them is like his indifference to everyone who is not actually Donald Trump, which means that he’s quite willing to harm them to bolster himself. You’ve noted The Week that it’s an effort to keep the losers in the culture wars on his team because the culture wars are the only thing he has–and, even here, he’s going to lose.  This executive order, like everything Trump does, is a way to gin up rating, reassure the Religious Right that they matter to him, and exercise power over people who are less powerful than him, just like bullies do. At the same time, I don’t think anyone has the right to kill other people, and the military and warfare are generally places of oppression, not liberation, sexual or otherwise. I would like to see us offering new visions of freedom and civic duty to trans people so that military service isn’t even attractive.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m not worried about the ban.

Here’s why:

The ban includes the Coast Guard, which is organized under the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Defense. Prior to the creation of Homeland Security, it was part of the Department of Transportation. During times of war, the president can transfer the assets of the Coast Guard to the Department of the Navy–and this has, indeed, been the strategy that most presidents have taken during a time of war. But, right now, the Coast Guard, while part of the military, doesn’t fight wars.

Image result for coast guard

Above, members of the Coast Guard take a photo with drugs they’ve intercepted. On an average day, the Coast Guard seizes $9.2 million in drugs. Trans people can do this job without any risk to “military readiness,” so why ban them?

Now, Trump’s argument that trans service members undermine our ability to win wars is incorrect. (We don’t win wars for lots of reasons, but trans people aren’t one of them.) But if we accept that argument, including the Coast Guard in the trans ban doesn’t make sense. It’d be like banning trans people from serving in ICE or Border Patrol or FEMA or Customs or TSA or the Secret Service. All of those fall under Homeland Security, too.

And we wouldn’t ban trans people from serving in those ways, would we?

Unless, I mean, this is a larger effort to make it justifiable to get rid of trans employees for any reason. Which might just be the promise that Trump is dangling before his transphobic voters.



Joss Whedon and the Theater of Allyship

Dear Joel,

Joss Whedon took a risk that reeks of male entitlement: to claim feminism but not give up his abusive behavior toward women. Maybe he’s a faux-feminist or a woke misogynist. Maybe he’s a liar who wanted to cash in on feminism. Maybe he can’t make the connection between the political and the personal. Maybe he’s doing what more feminist-identifying men would do if they were given the opportunity. The fact that he decided to speak like a feminist and act like a dirtbag suggests to me that he wanted the benefits of both—for him to be celebrated by women and also for him to have power over them. Like lots of men, he sees the advantages that feminism has for him, but he doesn’t want to give up the perks of sexism. It’s rather nice to have the tools of sexism—firing women for getting pregnant, marital infidelity—in your toolbox, just in case you might want to use them one day.

Perhaps this is why so many good men, men who are, in practical ways, feminists, don’t embrace the term. Once you declare yourself a feminist, you have to live up to it. You secretly want to reserve your right to be a misogynist, just in case your wife asks you to do something really uncomfortable, like organize your family around her career trajectory or keep her own last name or just address the f@&*! Christmas cards this year. Better to be a misogynist than a hypocrite, seems to be the logic.

Of course, you don’t have to be either. You can be a consistently good man, which is to say, a man who consistently challenges male privilege and works to insure equitable treatment for those who are not men. You don’t have to be a perfect man, but you do have to be a man doing better and being better than he was before. This is what good people want in all areas of their lives—that their “love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” Becoming a better advocate for those who are vulnerable, including women, is part of that growth.

Sometimes, it’s easy to see misogyny and fight against it. Don’t cheat on your wife. Treat domestic violence like the crime that it is. Don’t laugh at sexist jokes. Intervene in sexual violence against women.

And, sometimes, men still have a lot to learn and, even harder, believe: about the wage gap, about the mental load, about emotional labor, about why putting your dishes IN the dishwasher or your clothes IN the hamper is a requirement for leveling up in feminism. (Many feminist men seem to struggle with prepositions. If there is a Bloom’s taxonomy for feminism, mastering the difference between in and next to is toward the top. I’m not making an easy joke about that, either. Recognizing inequality in the household workload is harder for most men, I think, than is seeing inequality elsewhere.)

In feminism, as in loading the dishwasher or diapering an infant, it’s not okay to throw up your hands and say, “I’ll never do it well enough to please you, so I’m just going to stop trying!” You have to keep trying, recognizing (as with the dishwasher or the baby) that there are a million ways to do this right and a few big ways to do it wrong and that, as an adult, you have to do it one of the right ways. And it’s not your wife’s job to teach you how—it was your father’s.

We can’t escape the culture we live in, including its sexism. But we can, over time, change it so that the sexist behaviors men today accept as the norm about will be ones that the men of the future can’t even fathom.

Image result for men who change diapers change the world

Above, a bumper sticker declares that “Men who change diapers change the world.” True, but I’m fairly sure that my children wouldn’t understand that, once upon a time, men needed to be celebrated for providing for the basic needs of a person they are, you know, responsible for. Just one way that I think the future is going to be different. 

Glad we are doing it together,


Keep White Supremacists on the Run

Dear Joel,

I have bad news, good news, and better news.

The bad news: ACT for America is an anti-Muslim group with a worrisome number of victories that have a real impact on Muslim Americans, Muslim immigrants, and those who would welcome them as our neighbors. The group claims 750,000 members and chapters all across the country, though those numbers may be unreliable, given the organization’s history of exaggerating its number of chapters. It also takes credit for a dozen federal and even more state-level bills aimed to curtailing immigration, “securing” the border, and outlawing “sharia law,” a bogeyman they use to scare up support for anti-Muslim policies. The organization, which bills itself as an “grassroots” national security non-profit, organized a multi-city “March Against Sharia” event this past June. ACT for America operates as if its main concerns are women’s rights (which is just a way to gin up outrage at Muslim-majority nations, not an actual effort to protect women’s rights any way that might offend the many conservative Christians who participate in this group), “standing with Israel” (also a direct appeal to conservative Christians and Jewish people), and national security (that is, anti-immigration).

Leaders in ACT for America might pretend to be nice, respectable citizens (In Jonesboro, Arkansas, where the local chapter is quite active, many members are current or retired pastors and lawyers. A prominent local Tea Party politician is also a member.), but they are part of an organization with explicitly racist and violent views. Just one example: the June rally in Arkansas was led by Billy Roper, a former history teacher and one of Arkansas’ more ambitious white supremacists.

In other words, you don’t have to dig very deep beneath ACT for America’s veneer of respectability (Folks who attend conservative churches: See if your church is getting propaganda from this group, please.) to find white supremacists calling for genocide against non-whites of any religion.

Embolded by the Trump administration’s anti-Muslim policies, they’d planned nationwide rallies for September 9.

The good news: The rallies got cancelled. Or, rather, moved to online rallies. The only sad part about this is that it’s always good to see just who in your community would show up to protest the settlement of war refugees in your town so you can be sure to boycott their business.

The better news: They bailed because they saw the counterprotest in Boston. They saw how pathetic the 50-100 white supremacists looked against 15,000K people who won’t accept hate–and they saw that white people, in particular, won’t stand for it. In their comments in Breithbart (No, I’m not linking to it), ACT for America, like their white supremacists president, put neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, and other white supremacists in the same category as antifascist protestors and said that, by golly, things were just too dangerous–even though the Boston counter protests were remarkably peaceful. But don’t let them lie to you: they aren’t afraid of neo-Nazis and defenders of slavery. They put those folks to work leading the organization! They are afraid of the humiliation of counter protest.

Counterprotests work. For folks wondering if we shouldn’t just ignore protestors, if depriving them of an audience would shut them up–nope.

I’ve shared this story elsewhere, but it’s worth retelling. I learned it from working in hate studies for years now. It comes from insights from a former hate group recruiter who shared it.

You want to recruit in a town. You go in and do a little damage–paint a swastika on the synagogue, for example. If, the next day, the only people cleaning it up are the Jews in town, you stay and recruit. If, the next day, the whole town is there–more people than you can count, more people than could ever be useful in cleaning it up, and they are of every faith and they are happy to be pulling together and they are loud in their proclamation that this won’t stand in their town… then you move on. There’s no reason wasting your time there. 

This is how we have to treat hate. We keep it running. When a flyer goes it, you take it down–loudly and repeatedly. When ACT for America makes a reservation for a meeting at a local restaurant, you start a boycott of the restaurant until they deny the group meeting space. When the campus Republican club invites a speaker with ties to white supremacy to campus, you fill up every parking space on campus and the five surrounding blocks hours in advance, and you meet them with on the sidewalk with signs and sousaphones and professional clowns and whatever else the spirit moves you to greet them with–but you let them know that you are watching them and that you are collecting their license plates numbers and calling their bosses to let them know that white supremacists work there and that you’ll be sharing this information on the company’s Yelp page. Call their mama and their grandma too. Make them understand that hate won’t take root on your watch. They’d best just move along.

It works.


USPROTESTSFREESPEECH_1Above, a photo from the Boston counter protest to white supremacy this past week. A counterprotestor stands behind a sign that says “Keep Your Country Nice and Clean” and includes an image of a figure tossing a swastika into the garbage can. 

Elijah Parrish Lovejoy, Heather Heyer, and the white fight against racism

Dear Joel,

Has some defender of the Lost Cause told you yet this week that you need to “learn your history”? (I know, it’s only Sunday, but I’ve already wracked up a few!) I find that retort to be especially vexing because those who toss it out generally don’t respect the intellectual work of historians. Most often, they’re not going to be convinced by history, and they don’t value learning.

But I’ll meet them partway and offer a brief history lesson:

I’ve heard that Elijah Parrish Lovejoy was the first white man killed in defense of freedom for enslaved African Americans. I don’t know if that is true, but he was clearly one of the first. He was killed in 1837–nearly 30 years before the Civil War broke out–when a pro-slavery mob came to set his newspaper press on fire. His abolitionist newspaper had been attacked three times when it was located in Missouri, a slave state, so he’d move across the river, to the free state of Illinois, to continue his work.

He was a Princeton-trained theologian and a Presbyterian pastor. He knew that slavery was wrong, and he fought against it using the liberty granted to him by the First Amendment. He was killed in that endeavor.

Lovejoy is a hero, the kind of person, like Heather Heyer, who put his life on the line to fight injustice.

We honor Lovejoy with a monument in Albon, Illinois, where he was shot and killed.

I hope this year sees a rush to honor more people like Lovejoy and Heyer, like Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner and others who resisted white supremacy and slavery.

Image result for lovejoy monument

Above, the Lovejoy Monument, honoring a true Civil War hero.