Evolutionary Transphobia: Reality Sandwich, Dani Katz & Transformational Culture

by Be Scofield

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TRIGGER WARNING: SEVERE TRANSPHOBIC CONTENT BELOW

“Reality Sandwich has, I believe, played a key role in the birthing of the new consciousness that is now manifest in the world… and it has an even greater role to play in the future in guarding and nurturing the growth of that consciousness.”  - Graham Hancock, bestselling author. 

On January 18th, Reality Sandwich, a progressive web site that addresses the “social, spiritual, and ecological crises of our time,” published a highly offensive and transphobic front page story that repeats long-standing stereotypes about transgender people and ridicules and mocks the realities of gender dysphoria. In her piece “Gender Reassignment: It Sure Ain’t Simple,” writer Dani Katz claims among other things that transgender people are “freakish and scary” looking and are made up of a “seemingly mangled humanity.” The main point of the article is to question the validity of what Katz calls the “gender reassignment industry.” That’s right, a cisgender person (one who identifies with the gender assigned at birth), who has no experience of gender dysphoria or trans issues mocks the need for surgery in the transition process. There is a much easier way she claims. All we need to do is “simply redefine our current understanding of gender.” The tweet she used to promote the article says it all:

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It’s not surprising that Reality Sandwich or someone like Dani Katz would promote the belief that gender dysphoria isn’t serious enough to require surgery. The idea is actually quite commonplace and deserves a continual debunking. In her excellent article,  “Myths Around Gender Confirmation Surgery,” Brynn Tannehill does a stellar job of challenging these misguided beliefs .

What is surprising, is that in the year 2014, a progressive web site thinks that it’s ok to publish and defend an article that describes transgender people as “freakish and scary” looking. To be clear, Dani Katz’s article was approved by Reality Sandwich editor Ken Jordan (also founder of evolver.net). Additionally, after writing to both Ken Jordan and associate editor Faye Sakellaridis demonstrating the serious problems with the piece and including feedback from several queer & trans people they defended it stating,  ”My reading of Dani Katz’s article is that she asks provocative questions that our community will find valuable to consider.” Jordan continued in typical fashion by claiming their intentions were good and deflecting blame, “I’m sorry the article hurt you, and that you’ve taken personal offense from it. I am certain that wasn’t the author’s intent, nor was it mine or the RS staff’s.” According to them, the problem is me, not that the article is terribly offensive.

Here is a sampling of some of the hurtful, offensive and ignorant language that characterizes Dani Katz’s article:

Slicing off one’s penis, chopping off one’s breasts – these are not heart-based actions.  These are endeavors driven by separation, by a lack of acceptance so massive that it inspires voluntary amputation, which has me wondering if gender reassignment surgery is really the most loving and intelligent way to deal with this gender identity business.

“greeting the trannies”

I claim no expertise or inklings as to how this is going to unfold, but I do know that armed with love, courage and willingness, we can figure it out together, without jetting to Thailand to have our junque hacked off.

“slice, dice and medicate”

Transcending and including encourages a person with a vagina to walk and talk and gesticulate as “manly” as she wants to without twisting her clit into a balloon animal and calling it a penis.

…the transgender right to lob off their genitals, receive any number of foreign implants into their bodies and spend the rest of their lives dependent upon pharmaceutically-processed hormones,..

I have no idea how long Mary’s been a “woman,”

I flashed upon Mary’s manicured man hands struggling to reach behind her back to fasten the overstretched row of hooks around her surgically implanted breasts.

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First, Dani Katz has never experienced gender dysphoria and is not trans, how then would she have any idea if surgery is a heart based action or not? With what authority does she speak? It is evident that she doesn’t even have the most cursory understanding of gender identity or trans issues. I must admit I’m curious if people like Katz go around telling many others who face challenges that they’ve never known how best to handle their situations. Or is it only trans people?

Secondly, Katz and cisgender people are not the ones affected by any change made to accessibility of surgical procedures and thus they aren’t the ones who should be dictating the rules. The degree to which a society justifies the right to surgically transition affects trans people, not cis people. Lives are seriously impacted by this. As a trans/queer person who is transitioning I can attest that gender dysphoria is a very real and intense experience. For some of us surgery literally means life.

Where’s the Dialog?

It is quite evident that neither Dani Katz or Reality Sandwich founder Ken Jordan and associate editor Faye Sakellaridis sought dialog with the trans or queer community before publishing this article. Interestingly, Jordan proposed a back and forth written dialog between myself and Katz that would then be turned into an article. I refused because saying transgender people are “freakish and scary” looking is not a reasonable viewpoint to dialog about. These are not ideas worth entertaining as doing so will only lend them more credibility. A wrong was done and Reality Sandwich should apologize and delete the article. It’s simple. (A good example to follow is what happened when Julie Burchill published her transphobic article, “Transexuals Should Cut it Out” on the Guardian/Observer and after a huge outcry ensued they deleted the piece, giving this editorial explanation.) Yet, in my refusal to “dialog” with Katz, Jordan ironically lectures me about the importance of dialog.

“Only through dialog and compassion can any real understanding and change take place…By refusing to engage in a dialog, your assumptions will never be tested….The value of dialog is that it helps us affirm that heart connection to one another, with the understanding that it’s always possible to reach another person so they can acknowledge and value our personal truth.”

Where was the attempt to dialog with trans or queer people before publishing this hurtful article? What sort of heart connection did the author establish with people who experience gender dysphoria? What stories did she listen to? What pain did she hear before publishing wildly ignorant assumptions? Why haven’t Dani, Faye or Ken listened to the pain and hurt in the voices of those who have responded to this article? And, of course, the glaring irony here is that these words should have been said to Dani Katz before she wrote the article, not to me.

Free Speech?

Ken Jordan claims this is a free speech issue. However, no one is denying anyone’s constitutional right to freely spew vile and transphobic content.  The focus here should be on the fact that Ken Jordan and Dani Katz consciously chose to publish a very irresponsible and damaging article. Hiding behind free speech is merely a way to try and deflect and deny responsibility and ignore the pain the article has caused. Of course, there are numerous other horribly oppressive and offensive ideas that Jordan would never publish and defend as free speech. Yet, in 2014 it is still deemed appropriate by many to publicly attack trans people.

Conclusion

Dani Katz’s article and its front page status on Reality Sandwich didn’t happen in a vacuum. The dominant media narrative about trans people is one of suspicion. It portrays trans people as frauds or fake and questions the legitimacy of the need to transition. Katz’s article feeds into this narrative. In addition to a climate of violence, particularly against trans women of color, trans people are deemed legitimate targets to be exposed, examined and interrogated. The recent suicide of Essay Anne Vanderbilt after she was publicly outed by Caleb Hannan in his piece for Grantland is an all to recent reminder of this.

It’s clear that when Ken Jordan says he thinks Katz’s article raises important questions for “our” community to consider, trans and queer people are not included in the “our.” His community is based on exclusion and indifference. Another all to recent example of this is the transphobia in Derrick Jensen’s Deep Green Resistance environmentalist group.  Until we can embrace a truly intersectional approach, one that not only tolerates and includes trans people but also celebrates us, efforts for change will be incomplete.

While popular buzz words like evolutionary, consciousness, integral, spiritual and transformational culture invoke warm and idealistic feelings of social progress they are not enough in themselves. Katz’s article highlights the danger of romanticizing these “evolutionary” concepts as these are most often not rooted in material realities and efforts for justice. Furthermore, personal spiritual transformation alone doesn’t provide the type of social information we need to create change.

If it’s true as author Graham Hancock says of Reality Sandwich that they have an important role to play in growing and nurturing a new consciousness it’s vital that justice show up on their front page.

Following Up

  • Choose to not write for Reality Sandwich or stop writing for them if you currently do.
  • Write to editors Ken Jordan (ken@evolver.net) and Faye Sakellaridis (faye@evolver.net) to express your concerns.
  • Tweet to Dani Katz @katzdani
  • Comment on the original article: ”Gender Reassignment: It Sure Ain’t Simple,”
  • Share this article to help spread awareness that transphobia is still deep within movements for change.

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