Indian members of the LGBT community take part in a pride parade on June 26.

Indian members of the LGBT community take part in a pride parade on June 26.

Last week, a federal judge blocked an order from the Obama administration mandating that public schools nationwide allow transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. Earlier in the summer, the U.S. legally recognized the first non-binary person, someone who identifies as neither male nor female. Both of these stories highlight the latest chapter in how our understanding of gender is changing—and the corresponding unease many have with it. What it means to be a man and a woman, and evolving perspectives on gender and sex.

Guests

  • Frank Browning Author, "The Fate Of Gender: Nature, Nurture, and the Human Future"; former NPR science reporter
  • Jennifer Finney Boylan Author of thirteen books including "Stuck In The Middle With You" and the forthcoming "Long Black Veil"; Anna Quindlen Writer in Residence at Barnard College of Columbia University.
  • Emma Green Senior associate editor at ​The Atlantic, covering politics, policy and religion

Transcript

  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. When the Supreme Court opened the way for same-sex marriage across the country, it represented a major shift in how we understand gender, part of the latest chapter in a long history of challenging gender norms. Here to discuss our evolving perspectives on gender and the cultural and political implications, Frank Browning, author of a new book titled "The Fate of Gender."

  • 11:07:25

    MS. DIANE REHMEmma Green of The Atlantic. And joining us from Waterville, Maine, Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of 13 books and the forthcoming book, "Long, Black Veil." Throughout the hour, we do welcome your comments, questions. I'm sure many of you will want to weight in. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.

  • 11:08:03

    MS. JENNIFER FINNEY BOYLANHi.

  • 11:08:04

    MR. FRANK BROWNINGYes, hi, hi.

  • 11:08:04

    MS. EMMA GREENThanks so much for having me.

  • 11:08:06

    BROWNINGYes, it's a great pleasure to be back here in this part of the world.

  • 11:08:07

    REHMGood to -- I'm glad to have you here, Frank. I'm going to start with you Emma, because you wrote earlier about what's going on in America. You wrote about something called gender anxiety and you say America is experiencing that. Talk about why.

  • 11:08:30

    GREENSo we've seen, over the past months in the summer and in the spring, a remarkable controversy come up in places like North Carolina. This was particularly related to the legislation that was passed there that had to do with, of all things, bathrooms. People getting up in arms about whether men and women who identified as transgender could go to a bathroom that other people would not necessarily say that they should go into.

  • 11:08:58

    GREENThis has been a surprising controversy because when you think about it in just sort of plain sense terms, it's not really clear why people would care so much about where people go to the bathroom. But beneath that, there is a deep structure that people, and particularly those who follow conservative religious traditions, are very committed to, which is that men are men and women are women. The idea of gender is very fundamental to who we are and then, America has particular forms.

  • 11:09:28

    GREENSo that has been a source of anxiety, especially as new legislation has come out, court decisions, battle in Congress, in a lot of different spheres in American public life.

  • 11:09:38

    REHMAnd when you talk about laws, it's one thing. When you talk about public attitudes, it's totally another.

  • 11:09:48

    GREENI think there's an interesting intersection here in the way that the laws are almost the last frontier of representation of these public attitudes. When the North Carolina legislature finally passed HB2, which was this limitation, again, on public spaces and bathrooms, it almost seemed like those were legislators who were facing a changing landscape of gender, seeing the way that gender is shifting, the fact that being a man or being a woman isn't as set of a designation as perhaps people once assumed and they used legislation as a way of digging in on their position and trying to codify into law their notions of what makes a man and a woman.

  • 11:10:30

    REHMAnd turning to you, Frank Browning, the title of your book "The Fate of Gender," what is the fate of gender?

  • 11:10:41

    BROWNINGWell, there'll always be men and there'll always be women, all right? We're not talking about sex specifically. What we're -- my quick and easy version is, when I was a kid, men didn't can tomatoes or make jam or knit sweaters nor did they push baby strollers. Most people I see -- I live in France now, but I'm in Kentucky a lot, too. Most of the people I see on the streets pushing baby strollers are men and with they're with their women, the women are doing business on the Smartphone.

  • 11:11:17

    BROWNINGThis is something of a cliché, perhaps they're trivial tales, but I think not trivial because the ways in which we can comport ourselves as human beings, the restrictions that were placed both on men and women -- you know, Simone de Beauvoir, probably the grandmother of all of this, said a woman is not born, a woman is made by the society. That is equally true for men, you know. When I tried to play baseball in grade school in my two-room school in Kentucky, they said get that boy a bushel basket, he don't know how to catch nothing and they were right.

  • 11:11:53

    BROWNINGThat was also an assault on what it meant to be a real boy.

  • 11:11:58

    REHMSo all of that is changing across the country.

  • 11:12:04

    BROWNINGAcross the world. I was -- part of the time I spend in China doing this, I went to a preschool there. I went to preschools in Norway, too. And what was interesting, this young woman who was running the preschool, Celia's Dream School, she called it and her object was to start with 3-year-olds to combat the Chinese dictum to become married at age 20. And she said her message, do not get married unless you wish to be and you don't have to be married to have children, if you wish to have them. Don't or do. But the point was to encourage little girls and little boys to imagine what they wanted to do with their lives according to their own lights.

  • 11:12:54

    BROWNINGNow, most little girls are going to be fairly conventional little girls in certain sense of femininity, but they're all going to work and as did American woman. Who ran the factories during World War II?

  • 11:13:07

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:13:08

    BROWNINGIt wasn't men.

  • 11:13:08

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:13:09

    BROWNINGAnd what happened to them when the war ended in the Eisenhower years? They got sent back home to wash the clothes and stir the cookies.

  • 11:13:18

    REHMRight. And Jennifer Finney Boylan, you and I had known each other for many, many years. I know that you're watching these debates unfold from a very particular vantage point. You, yourself, are transgender. So how do you see the current debate going on?

  • 11:13:45

    BOYLANWell, let's see. In some ways, when I hear about gender anxiety, it does make we want to question that term because, you know, if you're -- it's people who are not transgender are the people who are experiencing anxiety. If you're transgender, in some ways, this is a wonderful time to be alive because we are people who can express ourselves freely, in some ways, for the first time. And we can, in many places, enjoy equal protection under the law. And if that causes anxiety in the hearts of our fellow citizens, well, I'm sorry about that.

  • 11:14:30

    BOYLANBut you can think of many moments in the course of the development of civil rights in this country when the granting of equality and the recognition of humanity, of minority groups in the country has been responded to with anxiety. The thing people need to know is that transgender people have not just landed here from the planet Venus. It's not as if we were invented within the last couple of years. We've been here for as long as there's been a country.

  • 11:15:03

    BOYLANIn fact, there's a famous painting of the governor of New York, Lord Cornbury, whose painting was painted in the -- I believe it's the late 1600s. It would be the early 1700s and he's wearing a full dress and he's in drag. We have been here forever and in some ways, one of the big change is that the rest of the country is finally noticing that we're here. And you know, if you're a person like me, it's kind of like, well, I'm sorry if people are anxious, but please catch up. Be kind and open your hearts.

  • 11:15:46

    BOYLANAnd the idea that people -- our fight for equal rights and a recognition of our humanity has been reduced to a conversation about toilets. You can see how, in some ways, that seems a little unfortunate, a little disrespectful.

  • 11:16:05

    REHMYeah, and even insulting.

  • 11:16:09

    BOYLANIndeed.

  • 11:16:09

    REHMI know, Jen, you wrote your memoir back in 2003. Did you expect the country to move as far as it has albeit accepting as far as toilets are concerned? I mean, is this idea of marriage between homosexuals, it seems to me that moved more quickly than even some homosexuals and gays and lesbians expected it to.

  • 11:16:56

    BOYLANWell, the way societal change happens so often is through visibility. And when we see people and we recognize their humanity, I mean, that's a huge thing in terms of how people change their minds. If we're talking about homosexuals and we're talking about all those people over there, all those others, to use a grad school term that we all loved to use, that's very different than when we're talking about your Uncle Charlie or your, you know, or your Aunt Charlotte.

  • 11:17:35

    REHMRight, right.

  • 11:17:35

    BOYLANOr someone who is part of your family, someone who lives next door. And one of the great things that Harvey Milk gave this country was the encouragement to gay people everywhere. Come out, be yourself, be recognized.

  • 11:17:50

    REHMIndeed.

  • 11:17:51

    BOYLANAnd now, we're seeing that with transgender people. It's going to take awhile, but it will change and we're all going to live in a better country as a result.

  • 11:17:59

    REHMJennifer Finney Boylan, she is the author of the forthcoming book, "Long, Black Veil." She is writer in residence at Barnard College. Stay with us.

  • 11:20:02

    REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about gender, how it has transmogrified over the last several decades. Here in the studio, Emma Green. She's associate editor at The Atlantic, covering politics, money -- politics, policy and religion. Frank Browning is the author of the new book titled, "The Fate of Fender: Nature, Nurture, and the Human Future." He's former NPR science reporter and at one time sat in for me in this chair. On the line with us from Waterville, Maine, is Jennifer Finney Boylan, the author of 13 books, including her forthcoming book, "Long Black Veil." She's the Anna Quindlen writer-in-residence at Barnard College of Columbia University. She writes frequently for The New York Times.

  • 11:21:14

    REHMIf you'd like to join us, give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send an email to drshow@wamu.org. Emma, talk about the importance of same-sex marriage and how important that is to what we're seeing now in terms of this whole gender question.

  • 11:21:48

    GREENSo the movement for same-sex marriage was in some ways a slow, slow, boring of hard boards, until they drilled through very quickly at the very end.

  • 11:21:58

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:21:59

    GREENThere were a number of decisions that sort of came very quickly. And then obviously, in the summer of 2015, the Supreme Court made it legal across the country. But what was interesting about that movement is that, in some ways, it was a very straight movement. There were pictures of older lesbian women being couples as sort of the endorsement for same-sex marriage. And, in fact, a number of the plaintiffs who were in the suits that subsequently led up to the same-sex marriage decision were older people who seemed very conventional.

  • 11:22:28

    REHMWho had been together for many years.

  • 11:22:31

    GREENExactly. Very acceptable, based on conventional norms of what a loving family looks like and, very importantly, what a man looks like and what a woman looks like. The interesting fallout that we're seeing now, have seen over the last year and a half, since the -- or two years now, since the same-sex marriage decision, is the other side and the implications of what that means for us as a country. You can't just say, men can marry men and women can marry women, and not ask the further question, well, why do we have any limitations around what makes a man and what makes a woman?

  • 11:23:06

    GREENAnd that's why, now, in the subsequent sessions legislatively, at the state level, we've seen some legislation attacking specifically this notion of gender. It's not just against same-sex marriage. It's not just against gays and lesbians. But it's specifically trying to answer that other question, what does it mean to be a man and a woman and what should the relation of the law be to that?

  • 11:23:27

    REHMI know you want to jump in, Frank.

  • 11:23:29

    BROWNINGWell, I think the words are important. What does it mean to be a husband? What does it mean to be a wife? One of the things that I find somewhat bizarre -- and I'm functionally married to a man in France and will be technically married to one in Kentucky next week, the same one -- but the question -- and I'm -- I flinch when I hear gay men talk about my husband. Husband is a troubled word, it seems to me. Husband, historically, in the West and mostly in Asia, is a term of caring and it's also a term of ownership. Years ago, in California, I would hear lesbian couples refer to my wife. It seems to me less loaded.

  • 11:24:11

    BROWNINGBut there is a presumption in the language -- it's the same in French, it's the same in German, it's the same in English -- that the wife is the -- is more dependent on the power of the husband and the husband exercises control. And that, in fact, has been reflected in a great deal of law -- family law until very recently. So these terms upset people. They upset the sense -- the millennia of patriarchal authority. And husband is a term that tends to imply patriarchy or male authority. Women have done their best to ditch that.

  • 11:24:51

    BROWNINGHaven't succeeded in Kentucky and Alabama and Mississippi altogether. But these terms are deep within us. That's part of what I suggest is the anxiety. And we haven't even started to talk about the fact that men are losing out. Start-ups are increasingly more launched now by women than they are by men. Women are the best students in universities, whether you're in China, Germany, University of Alabama or Alaska. And they are greater numbers in colleges. What that has surely done is to provide a certain level of anxiety to that sector of the world, the Brexit people in England, the Le Penists in France, and people who seem to cheer with misogynistic slogans for one of the current presidential candidates, whose name I prefer not to mention.

  • 11:25:50

    BROWNINGThey're left out. They're not acknowledged. The world that they thought that they understood, in class terms and in gender terms, has shriveled. And it's not going to change.

  • 11:26:03

    REHMJen, do you want to jump in here?

  • 11:26:05

    BOYLANOh, yeah, I think that's -- I think Frank has it exactly right. I think, what's behind all of this? It's not about bathrooms. Really. It's about people thinking that the one thing in the world that they could depend on, gender, as a constant, as something stable and unchanging, turns out in fact to be the opposite. It turns out to be malleable and morphable. And so this is frightening to people who have never considered this truth before. And yet, of course, it is a truth.

  • 11:26:43

    BOYLANAnd, you know, nature has given us all sorts of delightfully surprising things in this world. There are blue potatoes and lobsters and the Venus Flytrap. Surely, if the world contains such an abundance of variability, we know that gender is just as variable as anything else in nature.

  • 11:27:14

    REHMWell, and...

  • 11:27:15

    BOYLANAnd, in fact, that that is -- and the fact that is a great strength and that we should celebrate this. And going about creating a world that is more accepting and fair of all of the variations in human experience makes this a better world. So I know people are nervous about the world not being as simple as they thought it was. But, in fact, if the world is not as simple as we thought, the world is also more wondrous and full of variety and miracles. And we should celebrate that.

  • 11:27:49

    REHMAnd -- interesting.

  • 11:27:51

    BROWNINGAnd you didn't even mention penguins.

  • 11:27:52

    BOYLANPenguins, yeah.

  • 11:27:52

    REHMAnd, you know what, Emma, I want to ask you about this one person who has now achieved binary status. He/she has been declared neither a male nor a female. What do we know about that person and the declaration? You don't know about that?

  • 11:28:23

    GREENSo, which person are you referring to. This might be an obvious trick question with an obvious answer.

  • 11:28:26

    REHMNo, no. It's not a trick question at all. Jen, have you read about this individual?

  • 11:28:34

    BOYLANI don't know this particular story. But I will tell you that there are plenty of people who define themselves as non-binary or gender non-conforming. On, you know, you'll hear the phrase, gender queer. And that can mean a couple of different things. In some instances, it's people who kind of -- they want to identify in a kind of middle state, a kind of androgynous state. Other people want to live in a kind of gender-fluid place...

  • 11:29:01

    REHMSure.

  • 11:29:02

    BOYLAN...where they can express their...

  • 11:29:03

    REHMSure.

  • 11:29:03

    BOYLAN...masculinity or femininity as they see fit, according to what their heart tells them each day. And, again, okay, if you've grown up in a world in which men only have beards and eat steak and women only wear, you know, tutus and eat salad, this is going to surprise you. But if you live in the world, you see people who are gendered differently all the time. And this is, again, not something that should surprise anyone.

  • 11:29:35

    REHMSure. Jen, can you talk briefly about your own marriage and the roles that each of you play and how different that is from perhaps what we think of and, as Frank described, a more traditional marriage?

  • 11:30:01

    BOYLANWell, gee, it's funny, because I think people think of transgender people as these outliers and these, you know, crazy people who are living, you know, in bubbles in space. And, in fact, my wife Deirdre and I have been married now for, what, 28 years, 16 as wife and wife, 12 as husband and wife. And so we are a same-sex couple. We were married before my transmission, right there in Washington, D.C.

  • 11:30:38

    REHMAnd I was there.

  • 11:30:40

    BOYLANAnd you were there, God bless you, Diane Rehm. And so, when I came out as trans, it was certainly -- it was, look, it was a shock. It was surprising to many people who did not know whereof I spoke. And, but it was the assumption, even among people who loved us most, that we would separate, that the course -- we couldn't possibly have any common ground in a marriage anymore. Well, guess what? Now we've been married longer as two women than as...

  • 11:31:19

    REHMThat's so interesting.

  • 11:31:19

    BOYLAN...husband and wife. And what was true about us before is largely true about us now. We are two people who love each other like crazy. We have raised two sons, who are -- one has just graduated from college, one has just headed off to college. And, you know, in some ways, we are a very binary couple, which -- and it's worth saying that some transgender people, myself included, do have a binary sense of themselves.1

  • 11:31:52

    REHMHmm.

  • 11:31:52

    BOYLANAnd by that, what I mean is that, as a woman, I, you know, I identify as someone who looks pretty female and who acts in many ways in a feminine way. So I'm -- but there are many people -- there are many different ways of being trans.

  • 11:32:12

    REHMSure.

  • 11:32:13

    BOYLANAnd our marriage represents one of them. But the important thing is that we love each other. And have our roles changed within the marriage? Maybe a little. But, you know, we were a pretty egalitarian marriage to begin with. We always shared the cooking. We shared the cleaning up. I mean, if those are the things that we define as gendered. It's interesting that we think of the kitchen as the gender place. But we, you know, we both work. We both raised the children. And I think that you would find that to be true among many marriages of people who are not transgender, cisgender people. I think that's the world we live in now.

  • 11:32:59

    REHMIt certainly is.

  • 11:32:59

    BOYLANIf you're looking for a world in which the man is the sole breadwinner and behaves in this, you know, works on his car on the weekend or something like that, you're going to have to look really hard to find that marriage. Those are the outliers now.

  • 11:33:16

    REHMJennifer Finney Boylan, she is the Anna Quindlen writer-in-residence at Barnard College at Columbia University. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Frank, you talk about nature versus nurture in your book. But you also talk about babies born who seem to be unisex from the start.

  • 11:33:54

    BROWNINGWell, you're talking -- that's a biological question. There are -- or intersex is the more technical term, in which both organs appear to be present. And sometimes surgeons take it upon themselves, at birth, to eliminate what they suppose should be eliminated -- goodness, less and less do they do that. But, yeah, sure that's -- and that's true across any number of animal species as well, in which certain animals -- those more related to the sea, apparently -- seem to switch their biological sexuality. Gender is not exactly the same, of course.

  • 11:34:36

    BROWNINGI mean, it's the male penguin who sits on the egg and hatches it, while the woman is -- the female, excuse me -- while the female is out getting fertilized for more useful eggs. So she's the ground -- she's the gadabout. And the male is the stay-on-the-nest creature. That's just one trivial example. But it happens across the biological spectrum. It's not exceptional among penguins.

  • 11:35:07

    BOYLANYou spoke about marriage. Well, marriage will change, is changing, has changed. One of the great writers -- post-War, French writers, on her second marriage, said to her husband, dear, I love you desperately. But marriage is not a convent.

  • 11:35:22

    BROWNINGAnd he said, certainly not. Does that mean that they did not respect and care for each other? No. But monogamy seemed like a stupid idea. And I would say that 80 percent of the gay, male people I know -- maybe I'm an outlier -- think of monogamy as a very dumb idea. They think of sexuality as one of respect. And they think of it as a kind of athleticism.

  • 11:35:49

    REHMEmma.

  • 11:35:51

    GREENWell, I think that though we have seen a lot more examples in popular culture -- like, for example, you think of the Amazon series, "Transparent," or Caitlyn Jenner coming out, or even the myriad gay couples who have been presented as images in popular culture, let alone in politics -- even though that's become more popular and part of American consciousness, I'm skeptical of the idea that monogamy and typical gender constructions that have existed for a long, long time in American history are just going to go away.

  • 11:36:19

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:36:20

    GREENI think, for a lot of people, the idea of a monogamous marriage and even for some people, as we've been discussing, the idea that there are certain ways of being a woman that are essential to your identity and character and certain ways of being a man, that's going to be very, very hard to shift on a uniform basis. I think what we're going to see more of is diversity, the sense that people have for themselves the ability to choose. And hopefully that will one day mean not only in a cultural sense, but also in terms of their legal rights and the protections that they get from the government.

  • 11:36:53

    GREENBut I do think that there will still probably be some stability in a lot of parts of the country, maybe more some than others -- rural parts, places that aren't as coastal. And I think it will be more about choice rather than overthrowing the whole system.

  • 11:37:08

    BROWNINGSure.

  • 11:37:09

    REHMAnd we're going to take a short break here. Emma Green is senior associate editor at The Atlantic. Your calls, your comments, when we come back. Stay with us.

  • 11:40:02

    REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about gender in this country and around the world, how the idea of being an absolute female or an absolute male somehow may be shifting. I talked earlier about a -- an individual who had moved from being a man to a woman and has now moved to a new third gender. In June, an Oregon judge allowed a 52-year-old retired Army tank mechanic to change gender identity to a new third gender. Jamie Shupe is now legally non-binary, widely believed to be a first for the United States. What do you think of that, Jen?

  • 11:41:09

    BOYLANI say you go, friend.

  • 11:41:17

    REHMYes, I think that's a good way to put it.

  • 11:41:19

    BOYLANLet's celebrate this individual for finding -- finding their peace and finding their joy.

  • 11:41:28

    REHMBut what is...

  • 11:41:30

    BOYLANIt takes nothing away from anyone else.

  • 11:41:31

    REHMSure.

  • 11:41:33

    BOYLANI think that's the thing. I think people feel that if they recognize this that it will take something away from them, which in fact it really -- it really doesn't.

  • 11:41:40

    BROWNINGBut what does the passport say?

  • 11:41:44

    BOYLANWhat?

  • 11:41:45

    REHMWhat is the passport going to say.

  • 11:41:47

    BROWNINGWhen you go through immigration.

  • 11:41:48

    REHMThat's interesting.

  • 11:41:51

    BOYLANThe passport says non-binary, right? I mean, I -- actually, I don't know about that.

  • 11:41:54

    REHMGo ahead.

  • 11:41:56

    GREENI think this speaks to the complications that we're going to be seeing for years as cultural changes catch up to legal changes, and legal changes catch up to cultural changes.

  • 11:42:07

    REHMRight.

  • 11:42:08

    GREENAnd by that I mean, for example, the Department of Health and Human Services, recently in a rule revision for the Affordable Care Act, finally after many, many years and rounds, they came to a decision about how their non-discrimination provision would apply to LGBT people. And one of the things that they wrote in this very, very long rule of clarification was that the Department of Health and Human Services accepts that maybe there could be people who don't necessarily fit into a binary notion of gender.

  • 11:42:38

    GREENThis of course is huge and would be a huge destabilizer of the way that not only health care laws are written but a lot of federal guidelines are written.

  • 11:42:47

    REHMSo it would mean you would not have to check either male or female.

  • 11:42:53

    GREENI think it was a little bit of the government prevaricating speech, where they didn't exactly say that there was a plan for how they would deal with this but rather sort of hinted that this is where rulemaking and lawmaking is headed, and I think that suggests that there's going to be a lot of complication in figuring what this means from a legal perspective moving forward.

  • 11:43:12

    REHMIndeed, Frank?

  • 11:43:13

    BROWNINGAs well as health care reform, if it ever happens in this country, so that you get something like most Western European countries have, which is universal health care in which you don't have to fit into the prescription regime that follows women or follows men. That's going to shift. It's going to shift broadly anyway, but that raises an interesting question. How do you do the planning? How do you do the financing? How do you deal with these people in North Carolina who pass absurd laws, which will follow you through the rest of your life.

  • 11:43:51

    REHMAll kinds of questions. All right, let's open the phones to Los Angeles, California. Michael, you're on the air.

  • 11:44:03

    MICHAELHi.

  • 11:44:04

    REHMHi.

  • 11:44:05

    MICHAELI was curious about two things. First off, what is the -- you know, we had women's suffrage, you know, relatively recently, considering the age of the country, and I'm wondering, does gender beyond male and female affect our right to vote when it includes transgender? I mean, you know...

  • 11:44:29

    GREENSo all Americans in the United States are allowed to vote, and that's all United States citizens, and since at least the Voting Rights Act of 1965, arguably that has meant enfranchisement for every American. There are no limitations in U.S. law that say people of a non-female or non-male status are not allowed to vote.

  • 11:44:50

    REHMAll right, to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Susan, you're on the air.

  • 11:44:55

    SUSANHello, Diane.

  • 11:44:57

    REHMHi.

  • 11:44:57

    SUSANThis is a great show.

  • 11:44:58

    REHMGood.

  • 11:45:00

    SUSANAnd I want to say right off the bat I'm a great supporter of the LGBT community, as I've raised a 29-year-old daughter who is gay. And it's been my opinion, as the mom and watching this, that my daughter was born that way. She didn't fall into the stereotypical cheerleader, let's get a boyfriend type of thing, and she's a lovely young woman. I've taken my -- and successful.

  • 11:45:25

    SUSANI've taken my opinion, and I've applied it to this transgender situation, and I'd love to hear the opinions of the -- if there's any brain science research being done because I can't imagine anyone, like in the gay community, choosing to be gay, to choose just on a whim to change their gender because it's so complicated. And I just see that with all the brain science across the board, with diseases and psychological situations, there are so many variables that people are discovering that it seems the more we know, the less we know, and I just wonder about that brain science element to it.

  • 11:46:08

    REHMAll right, Frank?

  • 11:46:10

    BROWNINGWell broad territory there. I'll give you -- the nature of the plasticity of the brain is enormous. The capacities of male and female brains at any particular subject matter are essentially the same. However, that said, one of the fascinating things that I came across based on research at Yale and University of Denver Medical School has to do with the post-orbital cortex quantity of gray matter that seems to shift in relationship to intimate care of newborns.

  • 11:46:50

    BROWNINGNow there was an assumption that this particular part of the brain in women might be enlarged as a result of giving birth. Well, it turns out through functional MRI monitoring, the same thing happens to the male brain during the early years of childcaring, if it's really childcaring, nurturing, feeding, diaper changing, touching intimacy, that sort of thing. The brain shifts, and then it goes back to where it was before.

  • 11:47:20

    BROWNINGNow in terms of your issue of LGBT, we know that the brain is always in a state of relearning, retraining. We know that we don't -- we don't remember what we did when we were -- 20 years ago. We remember the last time we remembered it. That's the nature of how the neurological system works, which suggests there's endless shifting.

  • 11:47:45

    BROWNINGWhat we like physically, it's very, very possible not what we liked at 40 what we liked at 30, so...

  • 11:47:53

    REHMYeah, you know, and during the break, Emma, we were talking about young children, those at two or three say I'm not a boy, I'm a girl. I mean, what do we know about what happens to those children as they go along?

  • 11:48:14

    GREENI think those instances of young children having these very strong instincts about their girlness or their boyness speaks to the power of society and culture in shaping our views of how we should express our gender. I think that's why it's a little bit complicated to introduce questions of biology and let alone brain science, which as the caller said we don't know that much about.

  • 11:48:40

    GREENAnd there have been conflicting studies, for example, about whether homosexuality is biological or non-biological. But when you turn to the cultural element, I think it really speaks to the fact that in the instance of those four-year-old girls and boys who have this very strong feeling of gender, they look out into the culture, they can see at a very young age and are exposed at a young age to these notions of maleness and femaleness, and they move back and forth and say I want to be a boy, I want to be a girl.

  • 11:49:06

    GREENBut they're following those templates. They're not necessarily following a scientific statement.

  • 11:49:11

    REHMInteresting.

  • 11:49:13

    BOYLANWell, if I may jump in.

  • 11:49:14

    REHMSure.

  • 11:49:14

    BOYLANSome people are following cultural templates, but there are others, myself included, who had a very fundamental sense of our gender that was -- that had nothing to do with the culture. It had nothing to do with playing with dolls or, you know, wanting an Easy-Bake Oven. I mean, and many -- I was, you know, I was not a tremendously feminine person when I was a boy, and as a woman I'm not a tremendously feminine person. But in fact that makes me very similar to most of the other women my age that I know.

  • 11:49:51

    BOYLANI think what's behind this question of brain function and being born this way, if you think about it, I think what's behind that question is a sense that if -- if it's about neurology, then it's not our fault, and we want to say it's not our fault because on some level we're ashamed, or it must be bad to be trans or to be gay. You know, I mean, you hear that. Oh, they can't help it, you know, they were just born this way.

  • 11:50:23

    BOYLANAnd in fact I think we need to kind of let go of that shame, let go of, you know, trying to find a reason other than, you know, our own -- the nature of our own souls for why we are the way we are.

  • 11:50:38

    REHMSure.

  • 11:50:38

    BOYLANAnd in fact we should be grateful, we should embrace ourselves, and we should celebrate all the diversity of gender and sex and life itself.

  • 11:50:51

    BROWNINGWell...

  • 11:50:51

    REHMGo ahead.

  • 11:50:53

    BROWNINGYou're addressing really very interesting and fuzzy territory, which is what is the nature of desire, how is desire formed, how does it shift over time and in what does our neurology respond to those senses of desire.

  • 11:51:12

    BOYLANWell, what do you mean -- what do you mean desire, when you say desire? Because my sense of myself as female was a sense of being, it was not a sense of -- of...

  • 11:51:24

    BROWNINGTwo different things.

  • 11:51:25

    BOYLANMaybe I'm not understanding what you mean by desire. I want to make sure that we're not conflating gender identity and sexual orientation.

  • 11:51:34

    BROWNINGNo, they're -- gender identity and sexual orientation are quite different things, but they may also merge from time to time as we develop more experience trying something out that either is or isn't contradictory to what we felt about ourselves at age 14 or age 24 or age 64. It's a fuzzy area, that's all.

  • 11:51:53

    BOYLANOkay, but being a female is not a -- yeah, but being female is not a thing that you do because you have a sexual desire, if that's what you mean.

  • 11:52:05

    BROWNINGNo, I'm not saying that at all, no.

  • 11:52:08

    BOYLANOkay, all right, I just, you know...

  • 11:52:09

    REHMAll right, and...

  • 11:52:11

    BOYLANIn making that difference clear, sometimes I like to say being trans is not about who you want to go to bed with, it's about who you want to go to bed as.

  • 11:52:21

    BROWNINGRight, however, one does learn, especially if you're on the sexual outside, that there are kinds of things that you do that you might not have done before and pleasures that your brain rewards or doesn't reward, and that almost certainly has some effect on your aesthetic sensibility in the world, quite -- which is not to say anything different from what you are, the sense of being female or being male.

  • 11:52:54

    REHMAll right, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Jen, I want to move from the inner feelings to the outward obligations and ask you about the complications being transgender has meant for you, the documentation, the clarification, the -- the government. I mean, what has all that been in terms of a journey for you?

  • 11:53:34

    BOYLANYeah, well, when I went through transition, it seemed like there was just an unending pile of things to take care of, and it was -- in some ways it was discouraging, although, you know, looking back I think of it as not dissimilar to when you move. There's just a lot of people that you have to notify that you're not at the same address anymore.

  • 11:53:57

    REHMSure.

  • 11:53:57

    BOYLANI also had, to a certain extent, a sense of victory and a joy when I received some, you know, stupid piece of paper that outwardly verified the thing that I had known to be true within for most of my life. But I will say that I have -- I have been on the receiving end of violence, I have been on the receiving end of prejudice, but in some ways I've never felt quite as at risk as I have in the last year, since this HB2 business began in North Carolina.

  • 11:54:40

    BOYLANIf I were to go to North Carolina right now, even though I have female anatomy, and if you were to see me you would probably see an unexceptional-looking middle-aged woman, if I were to go to North Carolina right now, to obey the law I would have to go to the men's room, not to go back to the issue of bathrooms again. But that's -- I never had my birth certificate changed because I didn't have to.

  • 11:55:06

    BOYLANSo technically, even though I am by all impressions, rights and reasons female, I would be required to use a men's room, and that puts me in danger. And so in some ways this -- the -- this -- the laws of certifying gender are in fact making people like me less safe rather than more safe.

  • 11:55:37

    REHMAnd all of this, Emma, has become part of our election politics, how so?

  • 11:55:47

    GREENWell, we've seen this everywhere from on the campaign trail, for example before Ted Cruz dropped out of the Republican primary, his last stand was not about the wars in the Middle East, it was not about the economy, it was about bathrooms and transgender restrictions. But I think the other thing we've been seeing at the state and local level and even at the national level is this battle over what the law actually says about how people can treat transgender people, let alone LGBT people as a whole.

  • 11:56:18

    GREENMost people actually don't realize that the United States government does not forbid discrimination against transgender people or lesbian, gays and bisexual people on housing, on firing and hiring and on public accommodations, which is going to bathrooms and public parks or going into stores. There is no federal law that says it's illegal for an employer to file -- to fire a person when they go through a transition, for example.

  • 11:56:47

    GREENSome states do outlaw that, and some cities do outlaw that on a local ordinance level. But there is still a very, very long way to go in the United States before it is actually even illegal to discriminate against transgender people.

  • 11:57:00

    REHMSo no matter how far we've come.

  • 11:57:02

    BOYLANI think people need to know transgender people are not here...

  • 11:57:05

    REHMI'm sorry, Jen, we're almost out of time.

  • 11:57:08

    BOYLANI'm sorry, okay.

  • 11:57:10

    REHMBut no matter how far we've come, we still have a long ways to go. Thank you all, Frank Browning, Emma Green, Jennifer Finney Boylan.

  • 11:57:19

    BOYLANThank you.

  • 11:57:21

    BROWNINGThanks for having us.

  • 11:57:21

    GREENYeah, thanks for having us.

  • 11:57:24

    REHMAnd thank you. I want to tell you, I'll be off for the next few weeks, first a few days of vacation and then off for a voice treatment. You will have great substitutes. So stay listening. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

Topics + Tags

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows

The Trial Of Derek Chauvin

Friday, Apr 02 2021Diane talks with Paul Butler, law professor at Georgetown University Law Center and author of “Chokehold: Policing Black Men," about the first week in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer accused of killing of George Floyd.