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What Is a Fetus by Any Other Name?

Trump CDC transgender fetus science
A sign marks the entrance to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Oct. 8, 2013. David Goldman / AP file

Are the scientists of the CDC pandering to the right in order to gain congressional approval? And if so, what could be next?

OPINION: Today, as I was scrolling through Facebook to pass the time, I came across an article written by The Hill. I didn’t think much of it at first, but after the first read, I found myself frantically searching the web, hoping that it wasn’t true. After getting the same information from the Chicago Tribune and AOL, I had to admit that what I was seeing was, in fact, real.

What was being reported is a direct attack on the first amendment to the constitution. This amendment grants protections in respect to establishment and the exercise of religion, the right to peacefully assemble, the freedom of the press, and even the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. The one protection that most people remember, however, is the one the article threatened: freedom of speech.

On December 14th, officials with the CDC circulated a list of words that they are now forbidden to use in official budget policy documents for the 2019 year, which is due to be released in February. These words are: evidence-based, science-based, vulnerable, entitlement, fetus, diversity, and transgender. According to the articles, these banned words may also be excluded from official documents in other branches of Trump’s health department.

An analyst who attended the CDC meeting told the Washington Post that the CDC was given alternatives to some of these words. In place of “evidence” or “science-based” they were instructed to use the following: “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes”.

It is widely known that the Trump administration is doing everything in its power to stifle the media. From calling reports that aren’t flattering “fake news” to denying the smallest of facts when confronted, great lengths have been taken to keep us from the truth. Even the repeal of net neutrality is a way for the people to only see what the government wants us to see. By allowing corporations to control our access to the internet, then the decision of what we learn is left in the hands of those that can profit from our ignorance. For them to directly ban words like this is a direct contradiction to what the first amendment protects. How far will Trump go to change the way we think? If we no longer call an unborn child a fetus, will it be easier to ban abortion? If we no longer refer to research as science-based, will it be simpler to replace the truth with what they want us to believe? Already we see Republicans citing the bible as if it were verified fact, and as if we all should believe as they do. If we don’t openly use the word transgender, then how will we ever receive equal treatment in life?

First, official documents in the CDC. What’s next? Modifying scientific facts our children are taught in their science classes? Many people want to believe that we possess an awareness of the world around us and the current events in our country. In the end, however, how can we know that the news we hear every day isn’t information that has been filtered and edited to be more palatable?

Update: A memo sent to NBC News from CDC Director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald stated that no words had officially been banned from the CDC. The statement read:

“The CDC remains committed to our public health mission as a science- and evidence-based institution, providing for the common defense of the country against health threats. Science is and will remain the foundation of our work … As I have said previously, there are no banned, prohibited or forbidden words at the CDC — period.”

Dr. Fitzgerald went on to explain that the discussion of verbiage had been a topic of discussion at a staff-level meeting to find the best way for 2019 budgets to pass the Republican-led Congress. However, as Dr. Sandro Galea, who serves as dean of Boston University’s School of Public Health, stated to the Associated Press, “If you are saying you cannot use words like ‘transgender’ and ‘diversity,’ it’s a clear statement that you cannot pay attention to these issues.” This could be seen as applicable, even if the words are simply be dismissed from budgetary discussions to win a right-sided vote. 

Editor’s Note: World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day 2017

A note on World AIDS Day from About editor-in-chief, Anthony Ramirez.

Hi, everyone. I hope you’ve all had a lovely week and are wrapping up your Fridays differently than I am – by not working.

As most of you who are in the LGBTQIA community know, today is World AIDS Day, a day specifically targeted at remembering those who have lost their lives to the HIV/AIDS virus, as well as to spreading education about the importance of safe sex, prevention, and living with HIV/AIDS.

I want to start by saying that there is nothing shameful about living with HIV/AIDS. I, myself, am HIV-negative, so there are a lot of aspect to HIV/AIDS that I cannot speak to. But as a person who is very sexually active and who has been with multiple gay male partners in his life, it’s extremely important to me that I am tested regularly, and that I take the precautions necessary to prevent myself from contracting HIV. And I believe it is equally important that we all get tested frequently. We have to so that we can live longer and healthier lives with those we love.

But back to my previous point: having HIV/AIDS is not a shameful thing. It’s not something that a person does to themselves. It is not a reflection of the kind of person someone is. It is not a scarlet letter they should have to wear for everyone to see. HIV/AIDS is an illness, and one that takes lives every single day. It does not, however, define a person who is living with it, nor should it affect the way that others look at them. It should not serve as an excuse for anyone to pass judgment on them. Again, it’s an illness that affects far too many people because preventative medications and healthcare are expensive, and because the LGBTQIA community does not have proper and comprehensive sex education throughout almost all of the United States of America.

The real trouble here is, nothing is 100% effective. You can utilize expensive condoms and take PrEP as prescribed, but you are never going to be 100% protected from transmission. That said, science has brought the LGBTQIA community very far in terms of prevention. True, PrEP provides a 92-99% reduction rate in your risk of transmitting HIV, but 1-8% of potential transmission is still a potential for transmission. That’s why being tested is (again) so very important. While I cannot – nor would I ever try to – speak for an HIV-positive person or try to expound upon their experiences, I can say that it is not a virus that anyone would want. For decades, our community has battled HIV – back to when it was still referred to as GRID (gay-related immunodeficiency disease) – before even that. In that same span of time, innumerable people have lost their lives to this disease.

However, science is constantly looking for ways to make us safer, because HIV/AIDS is not a virus of perverse sex or to just being gay. It’s a virus that limits our ability to love freely and live long, healthy lives. HIV/AIDS has long been used against the queer community by the conservative side of politics as a tactic to restrict the rights of queer people. And in many ways, that has served a hindrance to scientists who work their entire careers trying to find a cure for it. But no one is giving up.

We’re lucky that the number of queer people who are living with HIV/AIDS has diminished. Lucky, because no one deserves to live with something so nightmarish. Still, it is possible to live a long, happy, and relatively healthy life with HIV/AIDS. It’s not always an end-all. In fact, more people are living now much longer lives than ever before with HIV and AIDS. And that’s really something, because it was nearly unheard of just thirty years ago.

So, with all that said, About Magazine did not publish any content related to World AIDS Day, as we have a number of articles for you that will be released starting tomorrow, Saturday, the 2nd of December. We aren’t putting a time parameter on when these articles will end, as we believe that HIV/AIDS should be normalized and discussed all throughout the year. However, given what we recognize today, the next week will serve more information than normal. These articles will talk about the importance of sexual education for queer youth in schools, preventative measures for HIV, resources for people living with HIV/AIDS, a history of World AIDS Day, lists of myths about HIV/AIDS and the people affected by it, some personal stories from those in the Houston LGBTQIA community that are living with this virus, and much more.

It’s our earnest hope here at About that everyone will learn something from these pieces, and take this information to share it with the people you love and in your life. If you have questions you don’t know a credible answer to, hopefully we can help provide it, or at least point you in the right direction. Our goal here at About is always to make sure that this community lives well, happy, and healthy lives. So, please take the time to read some of the information if you’re unsure of anything about HIV/AIDS. And always feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or if there’s something you think we should touch on. You can reach us at info@about-online.com.

For anyone reading this, please know that you are important, that you are special, that you are beautiful, and that you are loved, regardless of your HIV status or anything else you may feel defines you. Because nothing defines you other than what’s in your heart and how you treat others around you.

Choose kindness.

Choose community.

Choose love.

 

Anthony Ramirez
Editor-in-Chief 

About Adds New Editors, New Business

2018 Will Bring New Editors Into About Magazine, About Editions, The Magazine’s Publishing Company.

(HOUSTON) – In addition to its new trans-specific content page, About Magazine will be adding two new editors to its staff in 2018. The first of which is Jessica Olsen, who will serve as the assistant editor for About Magazine under editor-in-chief, Anthony Ramirez. The second of which will be Ian Townsley, who will serve as the associate editor for About’s trans-content page, About Trans. Additionally, Ramirez’s publishing company, Black Magic Media, will be absorbed by About Magazine in December. The new publishing company will be a branch of About Magazine, called About Editions.

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Olsen has worked with Ramirez at Black Magic Media as the editor of fiction. Her responsibilities will include content editing and generating creative ideas for new content. Though not LGBTQIA herself, Olsen is an avid supporter of LGBTQIA rights and an ally to the entire community.

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Townsley is an outspoken advocate for the trans community who hosts support groups at the Montrose Center and local churches around Houston. He is also a drag king who performs in and puts on numerous benefits to serve the trans community in obtaining gender-affirmative surgery. Additionally, he has taken on the endeavor of helping trans people legally change their gender status. Syder-Blake himself is an out trans man.

Though Black Magic Media was not strictly LGBTQIA content before (though many of its titles were written by queer writers), it will be after it’s first season of books. The first book, a collection of poetry by Short Story America prize winner Mathieu Cailler (May I Have This Dance?) will be released December 14th, 2017. The remaining books to be published throughout 2018 are How to Break My Neck (Jessica L. Walsh), Heart Radicals (Les Kay, Sandra Marchetti, Allie Marini, and Janeen Rastall), Lifelong Learning (Ezekiel Jarvis), the second edition of Ramirez’s novel Witches of the Deep SouthSpace Baby (Nicole Oquendo), Nesting (Kristen Figgins), Lady Leda’s Dancing Girls (Amber Edmondson), q & a (Steven and Ben Ostrowski), i was born dead (Caseyrenée Lopez), Maleficium (Witches of the Deep South #2 (Ramirez), Naomi and the Reckoning (Christine Stoddard), and Shotgun Mirage (David Rawson).

Mathieu Cailler’s May I Have This Dance can be pre-ordered here.

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Raising Kiki, a Genderfluid Child

Kiki the Genderfluid Non-Binary Child Gender

Moco & Maize Steinman of art duo Mandem give insight into raising a genderfluid child.

Raising children isn’t a task anyone is up to. They come into the world completely unpredictable. You can’t say if they’ll grow up to excel at math or at mischief. Their sexual orientations will begin to reveal themselves at unknown times. It’s impossible to know if they’ll be artists, or scientists, or humanitarians. What’s also impossible to predict is the gender – if any – they will identify with.

The latter was the case for young Kiki, the gender-fluid, sometimes non-binary child of parents Moco and Maize Steinman-Arendsee. Kiki prefers the pronouns they/them/their, and as an aside from being non-binary (not a defining factor of who they are), they are also extremely talented in art and linguistics. They are loving, kind, and possess the brains of well-attuned adult.

Kiki’s parents (and Kiki!) sat down with About Magazine to discuss what it’s been like raising a non-binary child, how it’s changed them, and the pride and humility their child brings to the both of them.

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About Magazine: Let’s start by hearing a little bit about your child, Kiki.

Moco & Maize: Kiki is a super-affectionate and clever child with a tendency to hyper-focus on research into their interest of the day (currently ant-keeping). They’re also bouncy, hyper, and resilient in the face of tragedy, though easily made sad by failure or rejection. At the end of this semester, they’ll have just turned 7-years-old and will be in third grade. They’re in public school via a virtual/online option, which allows them to work through things at their own rate and (more importantly) allows them to do math while jumping on the trampoline, wear pajamas all day, and take sanity breaks whenever needed. It’s a great system, and Kiki is doing well with it. They want us to add that they have multiple imaginary friends who are very important to them, and that they’re a very kind person.

Kiki’s pronouns are they/them/their. Kiki is, presumably, non-binary. Correct?

Yes, that is mostly correct. If you were splitting hairs, I think you’d say “non-binary spectrum” because they alternate between being a boy, or a girl, or both a boy and a girl, or agender. Under some classification schemes one might call this gender-fluid, but non-binary works.

Tell us a little bit about how that discussion came up between the two of you as parents, if you don’t mind.

We are asking Kiki all of these questions because we don’t want to speak for them, but when we asked “how did you realize you were both a boy and girl,” they express confusion because that’s just how it is. I think most six-year-olds when asked “when/how did you realize you were a <gender identity>” would be confused – it’s just how they are. And Kiki has been outwardly expressing this gender identity since before they can remember. So we’ll try to answer without them.

But to be honest, this is hard to answer – it didn’t come up between the parents, it developed naturally with getting to know Kiki. They brought it up. So you get a narrative.

We started with the awareness that we didn’t actually know their gender. We did originally use their “designated at birth” pronouns (which we’re not going to mention here), but with the psychological awareness that we were open to whatever gender identity they developed. We also were choosing mostly non-gendered clothes (to the best of our ability) and such early on because we wanted this to be something that could develop naturally.

Before they could talk, Kiki started developing a strong preference for clothes and toys that were coded for the “opposite” gender; and as soon as they could talk they started saying they were the “opposite” gender of their assigned-at-birth sex – and correcting people about that. So, we started using the pronoun “they” because we weren’t sure what gender was going to stick. Around 3 1/2-years-old, Kiki started going through a six month femme stage, and at the same time started identifying exclusively as a boy. At that point they’d explain to everyone “It’s okay, boys can wear dresses too,” and correcting us whenever we misspoke or referred to “boy clothes” or “girl clothes.” But they grew out of the “all femme all the time” stage when they were around 4 to 5-years-old, and then they verbally articulated that they were BOTH a boy and a girl, and sometimes neither a boy nor a girl, and that they just wanted to be able to change between them. Consistently since then, they have been fluid in their identity – mostly settling on “both a boy and a girl.”

You two also began using the they/them/their pronouns, and you mentioned to me previously that Kiki asked this of you. Can you tell us a little about how that conversation and decision went?

The entire family did transition to using they/them pronouns, though it’s not as simple as “Kiki asked us,” per se. We have both self-identified as “genderqueer” for over a decade (we were both gender nonconforming), but within the context of being in a queer relationship and not in the context of changing pronouns or thinking much about that aspect. When we were queer youth, the idea of changing one’s pronoun was a lot more niche than it is now (we are a bit older than most people think we are) and trying to survive (as disowned queer teenagers) was more on the forefront of our mind for a long time. And it also seemed to us before that being trans was a very binary thing, that there wasn’t space for someone to be “not a boy and not a girl.” But talking through with Kiki how they felt about gender helped both of us realize that this was also a more authentic way of thinking about our own lives as well. I suppose it helped that Kiki would frequently ask us our pronouns/genders (“Today I’m a girl. What are you today?”) and no one had ever asked either of us that in a safe environment before. (Plenty of, “So… are you a boy or a girl?” from street harassers, of course!) So just having a reason to interrogate that was amazingly healing.

I’ve met several parents, actually, that came out as trans or began to identify as trans after seeing that their children were gender nonconforming and thinking “that’s just like me as a kid” – and then realizing that they could love their children regardless of gender or binary presentation. A good parent with a trans kid can come to this line of thought: if I can love my genderqueer kid, then the problems I had as a child couldn’t have been my fault – it was a societal fault, or a parental fault, or whatever… and if my child should be proud of who they are, then how can I try to repress it in myself?

We’ve both had this experience along multiple vectors of abuse, while watching our child grow up. There are all these little moments that have nothing to do with gender and everything to do with love, such as “when my child breaks things and cries about it, I just want to cuddle their little heart and make them happy again…. how could my parents have hit me when I broke things?” And then you forgive yourself for having been a “bad child,” because you never were.   But that’s getting a bit off topic.

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Do you think that more parents should adopt the ‘they’ pronouns? And what are the more important aspects of it that you would stress?

Kiki feels strongly that parents should start with a gender-neutral pronoun – we’re all fans of “they” for that – and switch to he or she (or keep they) when the child becomes aware of their own gender identity. Kiki says it can negatively affect a child to be misgendered, and that if you call them he or she they might be mad that their parents have been using the wrong pronoun.

From a slightly more adult perspective, keeping in mind how slowly society changes and what challenges face a child, we would suggest a more moderated answer.

So, yes – more (all) parents of gender nonconforming children should ask their children if they would like gender-neutral pronouns and be willing to support that if the answer is yes. There is sometimes a rush to assign children to a binary gender – even with trans kids – and this shouldn’t be so parent-driven. Parents already say, “You were born with this genital configuration so we’re going to gender you thus,” and switching over to, “I see you have these gendered interests so we’re going to re-gender you this other way” isn’t the answer. Allowing kids to have the space to explore their gender while using non-gendered pronouns is a really good measure that takes into consideration the concerns regarding young transition while also acknowledging the reality that trans kids often know their authentic gender very young. And of course only a non-gendered pronoun is going to be an authentic fit for a child whose gender exploration is going to also end with a strongly non-binary identity. This needs to be youth-driven in that parents should ask and listen about their children’s authentic gender expression.

Kiki is probably right that it’s also true that more parents should start out saying, “We don’t know for sure what my child’s gender is,” and that starting with a gender-neutral pronoun and waiting to see what gender develops would be a brilliant. But in real life, this is a battle that may not be worth it in most cases. Using a non-binary pronoun means you have to defend the pronoun and face transphobia really early on, and there’s also this sense that then you’re putting a weight on a child to pick a gender ASAP because everyone is asking about it. For us, when Kiki was very little, it was easier to use a gendered pronoun until such time as they expressed a preference, even though in terms of clothes and toys we mostly gave them non-gender-stereotypical things. That said, I think what would be really glorious would be if parents could avoid aggressive gendering of children (i.e., buying them only toys marketed to one gender, adhering to gendered colors or styles, etc.), and then just check in occasionally to see if they have a preference on gendered terms and pronouns.

Did having a non-binary child change your opinions about things like gender-reveal parties, and learning the sex of a child before birth?

Learning the physical sex before birth can help parents prepare to take care of that particular configuration of physical body parts, and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially since parents need to be prepared for the fact that doctors are going to try to pressure parents into gential-altering surgery if the child is born with a penis or intersex genitals, and parents shouldn’t go uninformed into that situation. Knowing what physical parts the baby is going to have can be totally separate from assuming gender.

That said, to be honest we were never very comfortable with gender-reveal parties. I think people assume that a kid’s genitals are going to tell you a great deal about their personality and that’s just not a given… so there’s a sense that the kind of person who cares so much about the infant’s genitals isn’t going to be very able to let go of those preconceptions and be happy to allow the kid to develop into whoever they want to be. But maybe it’s just something neurotypical people do that we’ve never grokked. It wouldn’t be the first thing that seemed confusing.

When people asked us, “what do you want?” assuming we’d answer boy or girl, we used to respond, “A clever kid.” It threw people for a loop when we answered that way.

Also, a name-reveal party would be more fun.

How supportive have the reactions of other parents, teachers, and children been about the non-binary pronouns?

It’s a mixed bag. Concern about that is a small part of why we’re doing virtual school (though to be honest that has more to do with Kiki’s learning style).

Kiki says that the teachers at the Youth Club they attend have been very supportive but still don’t pick up on using “they.” However, they are not being bullied about it and that’s pretty cool.

Kids are often confused — they ask Kiki a lot of questions about “how does that even work, being a boy and a girl?” and Kiki tells them “I just am.”

When we use “they” casually in conversation, we get a lot of “wait, there’s more than one?” and then people trying to explain grammar to us, which is frustrating. Of course we’re prepared with the entire linguistic history of singular they, but even people who have within minutes used the singular they without realizing (as in, “I don’t know who left these keys but I’m sure they’ll come back for them,” or even “Are they a boy or a girl?”) then act confused when we used the singular-they to refer to Kiki! Despite common usage, people seem reluctant to use it for people who self-identify as such.

Online we get a lot of support — a lot of questions, a lot of people seeking to understand, and that’s really encouraging.

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Aside from the use of the they pronoun, you could do anything to adjust the school of thought on gender identity, what would that be? Either as parents or as people.

Kiki says everyone should use “they” for people they don’t know and only use he or she if they have confirmation that’s the right gender identity/pronoun. Kiki says they wish people would not use physical appearances to assume gender identity – like long hair vs. short hair.

And Kiki says they wish other parents would realize that they’re hurting their children by not letting them choose their gender. They said that if their parents didn’t respect their gender, “I would be sad and have to wait until I was an adult with my own house to get out of their presence! I would have to lie to my parents … but I would tell my friends in secret that I was nonbinary.”

We think this question is more complicated than it first appears, because in asking about “adjusting the school of thought,” the question assumes that there’s just one school. And there are people on every side of the aisle that do think that there’s just one school and everything else is wrong. But we’re more inclined to think that gender and gender identity are both societal constructs… that the reason we have gender nonconforming folx appearing all across society is that almost all of the schools of thought are attempting (metaphorically speaking) to draw a round, 3-D world on a square, 2-D map, and necessarily that means warping elements and flattening elements and also choosing an “up” and a “down” and a “center” in a way that reflects all kinds of biases and false assumptions. Making a 2D square map is an inherently biased process. Likewise any school of thought on gender is going to have biases based on the culture it comes from, the gender of the people making it, and all kinds of religious and social and class issues.

If there was one thing I wish people knew, it would be that their school of thought was a construction – a flat map of a round world, or a classical mechanics system that doesn’t explain quantum-level functions. It’s good enough to get around with, but it’s not going to be 100% true or accurate, and the more granular your resolution (e.g., the individual rather than the masses) the less it will hold up. Likewise the more binary the school of thought, the more stuff in the middle of the spectrum that gets erased. But binaries are easy, and the instinct is to fall back into them (“cis” and “trans” are also binaries in many ways).

People who are genderqueer or nonbinary or “other” may find that they don’t have the words to describe what they feel and are, until such time as the construction and the language evolves. That’s why some people will talk about being nonbinary as “a fad” right now, because just ten years ago the language and ideas weren’t popularized enough that people “in the middle” had words for their feelings. Nonbinary people always existed; they just didn’t always have the language to describe their lives. So…. be kind to those who are struggling now to find the words. Be kind to yourself if you’re looking for this language. And if there wasn’t room in your construction previously to allow for a space between “boys” and “girls,” then do your research and make sure you really think your construction works…. because binary divisions are almost nonexistent in nature. There’s always a gradation.

 


Moco & Maize are artists of several varieties, collaboratively making up the duo Mandem. You can visit their website here.