When Men Were Men? Setting Things “Straight” in the Burbs of Boston

LGBT image croppedThe impetus for this post is to present a list of footnotes/resources backing up statements I made in a recent letter to the editor responding to discriminatory statements made in opinion pieces in the local paper serving my past and current hometown.

Unfortunately, more and more, the word “opinion” is bandied about as meaning “whatever I want to say or think” versus a perspective based on facts.

Below, you will find a number of resources documenting:

  1. The existence of transgender folks, including openly transgender folks, throughout the ages and
  2. Past and current discrimination faced by those who are transgender.

After that, you will find the letter containing the statements I am backing up with theses references. Scrolling down further, you will find my previous letter to the editor addressing, in its second half, statements made by Mark Sardella in a column that was about opioid abuse in which he also manages to include an extremely ignorant statement about transgender people. That letter contains references backing up statements I made in that letter.


A brief selection of URLS pointing to articles supporting the long-time existence of transgender folks:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgender_History

http://one.usc.edu/motha/ Transgender Hirstory in 99 Objects: Legends & Mythologies

http://civilliberty.about.com/od/gendersexuality/tp/Transgender-Rights-History-United-States-Timeline-Transsexual.htm

https://www.umass.edu/stonewall/sites/default/files/Infoforandabout/transpeople/genny_beemyn_transgender_history_in_the_united_states.pdf

A brief selection of URLS pointing to articles pointing out current and historical discrimination against transgender folks:

http://www.hrc.org/resources/discrimination-against-transgender-workers

http://www.transequality.org/issues/national-transgender-discrimination-survey

http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/why-we-dont-know-the-size-of-the-transgender-population/

http://www.glaad.org/blog/timeline-look-back-history-transgender-visibility


Published September 7, 2016 in the Wakefield Daily Item of Wakefield MA.

To the Editor:

While this letter is predominantly in response to statements about transgender people made in opinion pieces, I would like to start by asking that the Item adopt and/or consistently enforce a policy that all letters to the editor be published as signed by the specific person or people who wrote the letter rather than by just the organization the writer(s) represent. Letters published on August 23 and August 30, 2016 with Wakefield Civic League as the signer are recent examples.

As to statements referring to transgender folks, I am writing in response to two instances of such, one made in the August 31 Comments column, and one in an opinion piece published on September 1.

In the Comments column, the unknown writer states, “In the past, people were clear about their sexuality. They were either male or female, and that’s how they lived their lives. Some folks may have been confused but they kept it to themselves if they were dealt an alternative hand. Not anymore. Everything is in the open now, thanks to social media.”

Never mind that these words, while appearing to refer only to those who are transgender, also insult all LGBT and related folks, the statement has no basis in fact. In particular, the second sentence shows no sense of understanding or empathy for the issues faced by those who are not heterosexual.

One only needs to do a little research to find that there was never a time when folks didn’t act on their sexual identity, and in fact, it was or still is accepted as a valid way of being in many cultures. The big difference today is that our country, as a whole, has been shifting to the realization (starting even before “social media”) that that being heterosexual is not the only valid way of being in a sexual or otherwise relationship and that there are actual biological/genetic reasons that cause a person to be transgender.

The other statement was written by Mark Sardella in his September 1 column titled “Voter Fatigue.” I suspect he has been counting the hours until someone pointed out this non sequitur at the end of this piece: “We don’t see widespread reports of transgender discrimination either, but we still pass laws to prevent it.” Again, a bit of research (never mind the inclusion of this statement in a column about voter fraud) will show that there is indeed widespread discrimination.

I would like to suggest that the Item take great care in what is written in the Comments column, and also start introducing any opinion column, as well as the Letter to the Editor section, with a disclaimer such as:

“The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Wakefield Daily Item or official policies of the Wakefield Daily Item.”

But, most important, I am hoping that the Item will adopt a policy in which it will refuse to publish any letters or other opinion pieces that present as bigoted, discriminatory, or prejudiced and thus support ignorant, hurtful views.

Please note that, in using the word ignorant, I am doing so with this definition mind: Lacking knowledge, information, or awareness about something in particular.

For handy links to a number of sources that back up my statements in this letter, see the post titled “When Men Were Men? Setting Things ‘Straight’ in the Burbs of Boston” on wendellsden.com. To start, see https://www.umass.edu/stonewall/sites/default/files/Infoforandabout/transpeople/genny_beemyn_transgender_history_in_the_united_states.pdf and http://www.hrc.org/resources/discrimination-against-transgender-workers

Sincerely,

Wendy Dennis

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Submitted on February 23, 2016 to the Wakefield Daily Item of Wakefield MA. It was published shortly thereafter but I am not sure of the date.

NOTE: Transgender issues addressed starting part-way through the letter as noted.
##
A recent column by Mark Sardella (Judgement Day pub. 2/18/16) ends thus: “I applaud anyone who seeks treatment for addiction but it doesn’t help anyone to deny or excuse the damage, including the property crimes, that addicts commit. I guess I’m just judgmental.”
Merriam Webster defines judgmental as “characterized by a tendency to judge harshly or too quickly.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines judgmental as “inclined to make judgments, especially moral or personal ones.”

Given the definitions of the word judgmental, the two phrases in the second to last sentence, separately, don’t appear to be judgmental in nature.

The two phrases together, however, do present as judgmental. As written, the sentence implies that denying or excusing the behavior of people with addiction issues is related to the philosophy behind current treatment programs, which is not the case.
I have yet to find any evidence of people not being charged for crimes of theft, violence, or traffic accidents because the person was under the influence of a drug or committing the crime to get money to support a drug habit.

As to the second phrase on its own, the only reference in Mark’s column to any reduction of punishment for drug-related crimes is alleged potential legislation that would repeal a law that, to quote Mark’s column “takes away the driver’s licenses of ‘convicted drug dealers’ [my emphasis] for up to five years. While I have yet to find information about such legislation, a bill has recently passed both the House and the Senate, with great statewide support from law enforcement, that repeals the automatic license suspension of those ‘convicted of drug offenses’ [my emphasis] unrelated to driving. (See malegislature.gov/Bills/189/Senate/SD2232).

In his column, Mark also takes issue with a mysterious “they” that apparently admonished his assumption that recent break-in crimes in our community were committed by folks addicted to opioids. Since the issue of opioid addiction is already being addressed statewide and beyond, I don’t see the benefit to the readers of writing a column about one’s opinion about the cause of criminal behavior as related to opioid addiction being censored by an unnamed entity.
BEGINNING OF ADDRESS OF TRANSGENDER ISSUE
Then there is the following sentence that appears early on in Mark’s column: “These days, even science is no basis for making judgments. A person’s gender, we’re told, is no longer determined by “x” and “y” chromosomes. It’s determined by what a person “feels” like.”

Perhaps Mark believes this. Thus it is his opinion. However, he states as fact that “we are told” (by another mysterious unnamed entity) something that is not the main theory coming out of the biological scientific community these days.

Yes, there is a long history of asking respect for how people feel in their own bodies. But, there also has been much scientific research that, in the expert opinions of scientists, (e.g. how hormones and genes can affect behavior and physical attributes) indicates biological cause and supports investment in further research.

Here are some excerpts from the email that I sent to Mark directly concerning the gender reference in his Judgement Day column:
“…I am friends with a number of people who are transgender and/or transsexual (the latter meaning action is taken to change physical attributes via hormones and/or surgery) as well as friends with a parent of a transgender child. One transsexual friend lives in Wakefield. The parent lives in an adjoining town. What you wrote was very hurtful, as well as not true…”

I followed up with another email citing three articles reporting on research pointing to biological causes of transgender identity.*
I suggested that he remove this offending sentence from subsequent publications of his column. I will add here that, never mind the blatantly false and frankly bigoted message presented by the sentence, it has nothing to do with criminal behavior, laws, and/or opinions as related to opioid use.

Beyond being judgmental, Mark is speculating, my using the word in the context of the Miriam-Webster definition of speculate: “to take to be true on the basis of insufficient evidence,” throughout much of his column.

I know that, in this day and age, the mantra is “Everyone is entitled to their opinion.” It is also clear that many people think it is fine to base their opinions on nothing other than how they “feel.” (Where did I read that before?) But publications and journalists should have higher standards, even, and maybe even especially for their op-ed columns, and, may I suggest, any Letters to the Editor that are granted publication.

Let me quote from a lesson on opinion-based writing: “A good opinion piece does three things: states the opinion clearly, supports it with reasons, and wraps up the argument.” [http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/presenting-opinions]
To do less leads to needlessly insulting people, feeding prejudices, and misleading people by presenting incorrect information as fact. To do less can also lead to reduced readership.

I realize that, along with all print publications, the Wakefield Daily Item is struggling to control expenses and that the staff does not always have time to fact-check, never mind allocate monies to hire an ombudsman. I also understand that Mark is an excellent reporter and that it makes sense to grant him space to write an opinion column.

What I would like to suggest is that the Letter to the Editor section have a clear notice that readers cannot assume that all statements made are indeed factual. In addition, opinion columns by Mark or anyone else should be printed starting in the Opinion section with the same sort of disclaimer. Finally, and most important, I ask that you take the time to review for and fact check any statement that could be taken as bigoted, negatively discriminatory, or the like before it is included when an article or letter goes to press.

I will end by saying that I love that our community has a local daily paper and I greatly appreciate all the hard work involved in publishing the Wakefield Daily Item. I hope that, with some editorial tweaking, it can grow and thrive for many years to come.

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causes_of_transsexualism

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150213112317.htm

https://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2015/04/23/bruce-jenners-transgender-coming-out-hes-not-alone-but-is-it-in-the-genes/

Wendy Dennis


And that’s it for now. Thanks for reading!