Category Archives: abuse

Incandescent Fury at Church and State


13-year-old Trinity transitioned at 4 years old. Before that, she was despondent and depressed.

Debbie says:

I can separate church and state just fine in my head. Right now, I would happily make both of them small enough that I could drown them in a bathtub.

As I write this, both houses of the U.S. Congress have just passed the “tax scam” bill, which Trump will gleefully sign. This bill, aside from increasing the U.S. debt by more than $1,000,000,000,000, is also an anti-health-care bill and an anti-environment bill. I’m not going to write any more about it; you can read and watch and listen to thousands of clear-sighted, carefully argued denunciations of it from all points on the political spectrum, from everyone who isn’t a slave to the Republican donor paymasters.

Instead, I will turn my fury to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, another group which theoretically has kindness, charity, and the best interests of all people at heart. Amy Littlefield reports at Rewire that, in a letter entitled “Created Male and Female,” this group of men has taken it upon itself to declare that transgender people do not really exist, and to strongly imply that transgender children (who presumably also do not exist) should not receive gender-affirming care.

“Children especially are harmed when they are told that they can ‘change’ their sex or, further, given hormones that will affect their development and possibly render them infertile as adults,” the letter claims. “Parents deserve better guidance on these important decisions, and we urge our medical institutions to honor the basic medical principle of ‘first, do no harm.’”

“First, do no harm.” I have a great idea. How about first, stop telling people that you know what harms them better than they do.  I am, of course, fine with telling children “don’t swallow those pills” or “don’t touch the stove; it’s hot.” I am profoundly not fine with telling anyone “I know who you are in a deep way, better than you do, and I know it will do no harm for me to get my way about you instead of you being able to tell the truth about you.” And the U.S. Conference of Bishops does harm by superimposing their simplistic beliefs on individuals’ truths.

These men don’t care what the medical establishment has learned, nor do they care what scientific evidence may refute their position:

In a recent survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), respondents with supportive immediate families were less likely to report homelessness, serious psychological distress, and attempting suicide; 37 percent of respondents with supportive families had attempted suicide versus 54 percent of those with unsupportive families.

“The danger of advice like [the letter] for families is that it is giving parents who don’t understand what it means to be transgender and who are desperate for information and guidance for how to best protect the children that they love … the worst possible blueprint for what to do,” the NCTE’s [Harper Jean] Tobin told Rewire.

While the USCCB letter calls for “compassion, mercy, and honesty” for the transgender people whose existence it simultaneously negates, the letter omits any mention of structural threats, like the killings of at least 26 transgender people in 2017.

When I get past the steam coming out of my ears, I really don’t have much to say. Trans people have existed throughout history and across cultures, as have nonbinary people. Treating people, especially children, with the real respect of taking each other seriously and believing our stories about ourselves is the only way out of the mess we have made in this world.

As long as our political and religious leaders refuse to do anything of the sort, as long as they continue to either believe or pretend that they know who we are better than we do, and they know what we need better than we do, AND they have every right to enrich themselves and/or hold onto their power at our expense, we’re at their mercy.

Historically and currently, counting on that “mercy” seems like a bad idea.

Pointer from the indefatigable Melissa McEwen at Shakesville, who never fails to call out injustice. Photo from an excellent article earlier this year by Diana Tourjée at Broadly.

Freddie Gray, Kalief Browder: Revealing Police/Jail Violence


Debbie says:

The Undisclosed podcast, hosted by Rabia Chaudry, Colin Miller, and Susan Simpson, got its start as a spin-off of the wildly popular podcast, Serial, hosted by Sarah Koenig.

Season 1 of Serial, and Season 1 of Undisclosed, examine the case of Adnan Syed, an American of Pakistani origin, who still in prison for a 1999 murder for which a judge has required a new trial–but he can’t get out of jail while the state of Maryland is appealing that ruling. Syed was 17 in 1999. Chaudry is a personal friend of Syed’s, and got the ball rolling with Serial, and then moved on to start her own more detailed podcast about the crime. Season 2 of Undisclosed digs into the case of Joey Watkins, also still in prison for a murder he cannot physically have committed.

In Season 3, after completely drawing me in to the stories of Syed and Watkins, Undisclosed took a brief look at the case of Jamar Huggins, and has now moved on to an extremely deep dive into the globally publicized death of Freddie Gray in police custody.

As most people know, Gray was arrested in January 2015, and never spoke or walked again after his arrest. A highly-publicized trial of six Baltimore City police officers resulted in no convictions. The Undisclosed team reporting on Gray’s arrest and subsequent death are Rabia Chaudry, journalists Justine Barron and Amelia McDonell-Parry, and Dr. Marcia Chatelain (professor of African-American Studies at Georgetown University).

Barron and McDonell-Parry have taken amazing pains to deconstruct what happened to Gray, second by second, based on the Baltimore Police Department’s story, the stories of eye- and earwitnesses (many of whom voluntarily came forward to the police and the press but were never interviewed or testified at trial), the mysteriously convenient cameras which watch the low-income Gilmor Homes neighborhood where Gray lived and will never return (but somehow don’t seem to watch the police), and more.

This series, now five episodes in, is very painful to listen to. When I want to turn it off, I remind myself that Freddie Gray didn’t get to turn it off, and neither did his family, friends, and neighbors. Nor do they still. Besides, if you can hear anything through the pain, it is also fascinating.

The Undisclosed team is among a huge chorus of voices recommending Time: The Kalief Browder Story, a six-episode TV series from SpikeTV, produced by Jay-Z, Harvey Weinstein and David Glasser (viewable online at the link until 7/30/17).

Browder, again as many know, was arrested in 2010, at age 16, for allegedly stealing a backpack. He was never tried, let alone convicted, but he spent three years in New York’s notorious Rikers Island prison, undergoing unspeakable assaults. Jenner Furst, the director of Time, somehow obtained some extremely rare and apparently inexcusable footage of what actually happens at Rikers Island, including documenting the complicity and participation of the prison guards. In addition, Browder spent a substantial portion of his Rikers Island time in solitary confinement (now illegal for inmates under 21).

Browder was released in 2013, and committed suicide in 2015.

I don’t want to watch Time. But, as with the audio of Freddie Gray, I remind myself that Browder didn’t want to and should not have gone through his ordeal. So I will.

For me, listening to and watching these accounts is an act of bearing witness, a way of making myself remember how racist and corrupt the “system” of police/prosecutors/judges/prison guards is, and how relatively protected I am. Spending time in other people’s hells is not for everyone. I understand and support your right to choose your own level of immersion in other people’s pain. If you’re white, if you’re privileged enough to make that choice, knowing that these stories exist, paying as much attention to them as you can afford, is one small piece of committing to a time and place when they can be told as history, and not as news.