Last night I had a dream about a new Star Trek show under development. This morning, I was thinking about why people are bigoted against transgender people. Within a few minutes, I realized I was thinking about the same thing.
Part 1: The Dream
In my dream, NBC had originally developed a spin-off to Star Trek called The Romulans. According to my dream, in 1970, there had been three full episode scripts written and a pilot made. This was a sympathetic view of the Romulans, and depicted the Federation as barely relevant to their existence.
NBC had originally pulled the plug because they decided viewers weren’t ready for that sort of progressivism. But now, in 2023, as Paramount Plus was casting about for novel ideas, they had assigned a creative producer named Michael Ivens to the task of taking those three scripts and that one pilot, revamping them to the current Star Trek aesthetic, and creating a full season of episodes.
I was working somehow with Ivens, because in the dream I was sitting with him in his broom closet of an office discussing his plans and his perspective. I don’t know if I was his assistant or a journalist interviewing him for an article. Or a prospective writer, or some other creative attached to the show.
In many of my dreams, my identity isn’t particularly relevant. I am usually an active participant, but I am often just watching my dream as if it’s a TV show, occasionally inserting myself just to remind my brain of the dream’s relevance to myself. This was the case in this dream.
Part 2: Bigotry
Brushing my teeth this morning, I found myself thinking about why people are so opposed to people being transgender. This wasn’t a long thought process, because I came to: This is too simple a question for such a complex answer.
I am active in several marginalized online communities, particularly the transgender and Autistic communities. Ask what it means to be transgender, and you’ll get a complex answer: It’s different for everyone, nobody has the same path, we’re all unique individuals. Ask what it means to be Autistic, and you’ll get the same complex answer.
Ask why people are hostile to individuals in either group, and the answer will dwell on hatred, bigotry, closedmindedness, and so on. If we’re at all generous, we’ll include that many people are ignorant and misinformed.
We are multidimensional and complex; in our minds, our opponents are one-dimensional. It appears not to be possible for well-meaning and informed people to be opposed to someone presenting as transgender; it simply must be hatred and ignorance.
Part 3: Star Trek‘s Progressive Stumble
The original Star Trek series was lauded for its progressiveness. For 1960s TV, it was indeed progressive in several ways: There were multiple ethnicities in the regular cast, including one alien; money was rarely mentioned; the goal was exploration, not domination; the default was to see foreign races as benevolent until proven otherwise.
There were several ways in which it stumbled, some of which were addressed in later series: The women all wear miniskirts and are in supporting roles (at one point, Kirk complains that a competent woman officer will someday find her man and will leave his ship; in the final episode, Kirk comments that women can’t be Captains, by Starfleet policy). While the Prime Directive is recited as Starfleet Policy throughout the show, it’s also routinely violated when Kirk needs to save his own ship. And while Starfleet is shown as being ethnically diverse, both the Klingons and the Romulans (as well as most of the single-episode races) are ethnically monotone.
That is to say, all the Klingons look like Klingons (with the exception of “The Trouble with Tribbles”, where it’s a plot twist), and all the Romulans look like Romulans. More importantly, in the original series, all* the Klingons ACT like Klingons, and all* the Romulans ACT like Romulans. (* I wouldn’t be surprised if “In episode x of season y, this one character…” because I don’t have encyclopedic memory of the show, but nobody immediately stands out.)
In the Cold War climate that the show was made in, the Klingons were thinly veiled Russians, and the Romulans were thinly veiled Chinese people. But here’s a reality: Even in the height of the Cold War, many Russians hated the Soviet Union, and many Chinese people hated the Chinese government.
Star Trek’s plots routinely allow for members of the Federation to be opposed to their basic ideals. Indeed, Kirk himself pushes against direct orders multiple times.
Naturally, the focus of the stories is not on the complexities of what’s happening on Klingon or Romulan ships; the story is generally about “these bad guys are threatening us, how are we going to respond?”
Plus I’ll grant that having all the Klingons look the same (right down to the facial hair) and all the Romulans look the same makes things easier for the viewer at home. The show is about the Federation, and the Bad Guys are background information.
At the same time, though, the Klingons and the Romulans are more one-dimensional than they need to be, as shown on the later Star Trek shows’ treatment of, say, the Ferengi and the Borg.
Part 4: The Red Pill (the estrogen metaphor, not the MRA perversion)
For the most part, people who are opposed to transgender rights present a fairly one-dimensional perspective of us: They see us as broken, as perverts, as dangerous. And I’ll be honest, I’ve interacted with one or two transgender people who are dangerous, broken perverts. That’s out of the hundreds of transgender people I’ve interacted with, but they do exist, and any of our claims that they don’t is a disservice to the truth and ultimately to our own goals.
Until I started seriously exploring my own gender, I had a simplistic view of transgender people. Now that I’ve crossed the breach, I find myself resisting the pull in my community to simplify my view of cisgender people, and of anti-trans bigots in particular.
Ron DeSantis, JK Rowling, Dave Chapelle, and Piers Morgan are four distinct humans. They have different views on a variety of subjects. There are places where they are likely in full agreement, and there are places where they disagree, even on transgender rights.
They are not a monolith of thought, even on transgender issues.
What absolutely matters most is that they are all actively working to make the world more dangerous for me and my transgender siblings. That is absolutely, unquestionably the primary issue.
Also what makes them differ from us is that we want to live our lives in peace, and they want to control us.
That’s certainly true if we see them as a monolith of misinformation and malice. Seeing them as multidimensional means we should at least take the time to consider the aspects of their perspective that contradict our claim that we don’t want to control others.
Part 5: Bathrooms
One of the things that many transgender people want is the right to use gendered lavatories that match their gender.
One of the things that many women (including trans women) want is the right to have gendered spaces, including lavatories, that are free from the threat of men.
So what to do with a trans woman? The woman sees herself as a woman, because she’s a woman. The anti-trans bigot sees her as a man, especially if she has a penis.
(The irony that the bigot is thinking invasive thoughts about a trans woman’s genitals while fretting about the possibility that a trans woman is only going into a woman’s bathroom to get her jollies thinking about cis women’s genitals should not be forgotten.)
It is easy for me to declare that the trans woman’s right to pee safely trumps the cis woman’s right to pee… safely?
And therein sits the problem:
A trans woman has a legitimate reason to fear for her safety in a men’s bathroom. Transgender people are still killed in the United States at a disproportionately high level (once a week in 2021, three a month in 2022, according to the HRC), and assault levels are similarly disproportionate. Statistically, the risk that a given trans woman will be physically assaulted in a public bathroom on a given day is very low, but it’s not zero. And the risk of verbal assault is far higher than that; my friends have numerous stories of mockery and gatekeeping at the bathroom door.
So it’s statistical fact that a trans woman is overall safer from both verbal and physical assault in a woman’s bathroom than in a men’s bathroom. And safety aside, it just plain makes sense that a woman should be using women’s bathrooms, if we’re going to have gendered bathrooms.
At the same time, though, all women have a legitimate reason to fear for their safety from men, and there have been a handful of incidents involving both men claiming to be women and trans women proper assaulting women in bathrooms. The statistical likelihood of that happening is likely lower than the risk of trans women getting assaulted in men’s bathrooms, but it’s not zero.
Standard debate points apply here: Sexual predators will find ways to predate (but that doesn’t mean we should make it easier for them); cis women assault cis women (but at much lower levels); bathroom “guard” policies hurt cis women who look “suspicious” and get blocked, while rewarding stealth trans women who pass; these arguments are low-hanging fruit in the debate and often hide a deeper distrust of transgender people.
That aside, though, I would agree that it’s important for everyone to feel safe. And if my position is that those cis women who fear that trans women are just perverted men looking for their jollies need to “just get over it”, then I’m indeed seeking to control them.
And since such women typically see me as a man, as part of the patriarchy that is constantly seeking to strip them of their hard-won rights, I can completely understand why they wouldn’t want me being part of the decision-making of who gets to use their bathroom.
Part 6: Pronouns
The other major “you’re trying to control us!” talking point is pronouns and other gendered language.
I do not consider myself a man. As a result, I do not like having male-oriented language used for me.
I am aware of my body. I know what my genitals are. Statistically, I am most likely to have XY chromosomes, especially since I “sired” a child. These are facts that I have no interest in changing.
It is hence inevitable that, in 2023 in the United States, the majority of people will just automatically assign “male” as my gender and slip into male-oriented language about me.
If I want it to change, I need to say something. I need to assert my desires.
Some people do this gently: “I prefer ‘they/them’ pronouns. If you want to show your respect for me properly, please use those.” But then, if someone slips or, worse, maliciously uses the wrong pronouns, they just keep any complaints themselves.
Some people do this aggressively: “My pronouns are ‘they/them’. Anything else is wrong and will not be tolerated.” And then, if someone slips or, worse, maliciously uses the wrong pronouns, there’s an air horn at the ready and a trip to HR in the offing.
And no, I’m not kidding about the air horn.
If I see myself as a genderless (not sexless) person and you see me as a man, then we have a difference of perspective. Me forcing you to accept my belief about myself is me trying to control you, even if it’s in a ludicrously basic way.
I could write screeds on the complexities of this topic, but the relevant point is: Me telling you how to speak when addressing me, to the point of assault (air horns are assault, says the Autistic) or threatening your job, is me controlling you. At the same time, though, I have the right to not be in a hostile work environment, and someone maliciously misgendering me at work is creating a hostile work environment.
Part 7: The Romulans: The Undiscovered Series
The relevant point is: Some of these topics are complicated, and they can be greatly simplified by “we’re complex and diverse, and our opponents are one-dimensional groupthinkers”.
Rather than accept the complex nuances and having mature discussions, it’s easier to just say, “Y’all are hiding your true agenda, which is total control.”
This river flows both ways, too. Which is why Twitter, the land of simplistic takes, is filled with “Y’all are hiding your true agenda, which is total control.” From all sides of every topic.
Which is why social media in general is filled with insults and dismissiveness towards opposing viewpoints.
To be clear, to be absolutely and totally clear: Some viewpoints aren’t worth serious consideration. The idea that Drag Queens are categorically seeking to sexualize children is absurd on its face; Drag Queen Story Hours are mostly just men* in overdone dresses and makeup reading fun children’s stories to children. Not my thing, but not sexual perversion, either. (*Most-not-all Drag Queens are men having fun or exploring their gender perspectives.)
But even those viewpoints are connected to, even evolutions of, more reasonable positions. When we dismiss more reasonable positions without at least arguing through their reasonableness, we leave them to fester into inanities.
Also to be clear, to be absolutely and totally clear: I am not asking any victim of bigotry to “rise above” and to take the time to see the opposition as reasonable. On the topic of transgender issues, there is a very clear side that started the hostility, and I do believe the bulk of the onus for finding peace in this debate is on them.
What I’m pointing out, though, is that whether we want to admit it or not, our opposition, whoever that is, is no more of a monolith of thought than we are. It may feel like we’re facing the Borg, but we are not.
Postscript: Trump Supporters
The other day, I was talking to my boss about politics. He lives in a “red” part of the metro area, meaning that in the fall of 2020, most of his neighbors had “Trump” signs on their lawn. Most of my neighbors had “Biden” signs on their lawn.
Over the last half-decade, I’ve fallen into the habit of saying that anyone who would vote for Trump is a terrible human being. Don’t they know what Trump supports?
Don’t I know what Biden supports?
We discussed, my boss and I, how the majority of people just vote for whatever party they’ve always voted for. A single “Trump” sign on the lawn during Presidential election season may mean a steadfast support of bigotry, but it more likely means “I’m a Republican, I’ve always been a Republican, and this is the Republican candidate this year”.
I pointed out that the Wall of Trump Signs is different. That people wearing Trump 2024 shirts in 2022 are different. Those people are advertising a depth of commitment that we have good reason to be concerned about.
But as the low attendance at an average Trump rally in recent months indicates, those people may be loud, they may be dangerous, but they’re not the majority of the 74 million people who voted for Trump.
Not even Trump voters are a monolith.
I have seen it claimed on social media that Biden and the DNC enforce singularity of thought, that disagreement is not possible.
I will say without fear of reprisal: Biden has a lot of terrible policies. Biden is continuing a long tradition of militarism and colonial attitudes around the world. His weakness on student loan forgiveness is appalling. He has failed to make any clear comment on the mess that SCOTUS has become. I would rather have him as President than Trump, but I struggle to believe that in a country of a third of a billion people, he’s the best we can do. Not even in the top 100.
There. Come at me, Jeffries. Let’s go, Schumer. You want a piece of me, too, Harrison?
(The current chair of the DNC is Jaime Harrison. I had to look that up.)
It’s not happening. Democrats are allowed to publicly disagree with Biden. Republicans are allowed to publicly disagree with Trump. Yes, I do think that Trump is propped up by a dangerous Cult of Personality, but that doesn’t mean that the majority of his voters in 2020 were monolithic groupthinkers. Just the loudest. Just the most dangerous.
It is easy to see our community members and allies as complex. It is important to remember that our opposition is also complex.