Imara Jones: Hi, fam. Welcome to the TransLash Podcast, the show where we center trans voices and conversations about news, politics and culture, you name it. I’m your host, Imara Jones, and I’m delighted to have you join me. We’ve got a fascinating show for you today. First, I’m going to unpack the religious right, why they’re obsessed with trans people and what it may take to get them on our side, whatever. I’ll be doing that with Debi Jackson, a former evangelical who’s now a vocal advocate for trans rights.
Debi Jackson: It’s a church that was created based on the power structures of men controlling their women, their property. The Southern Baptist Church was all based on racism, and there’s definitely a power issue there.
Imara Jones: After that, we discuss important updates to trans healthcare standards coming next year with Dr. Asa Radix, who’s helping to create them.
Asa Radix: The last standards of care came out in 2011, and the new standards will come out next year. So that’s 10 years, so 10 years of new research.
Imara Jones: But first I want to start out by honoring a luminary in our community who was taken from us too soon.
As I said upon the news of her passing last week, Monica Roberts was a pioneer and essential North Star for trans journalists. She demanded that Black trans women be treated with dignity and respect in both life and death, through the critical conversations she started in her award-winning blog, TransGriot. As a Black woman, and one of the first out trans journalists, she made space where there wasn’t any inspiring countless trans storytellers and mentoring many. She also was a fearless advocate for our community, speaking truth to power without fear, nor favor, equality that we need now more than ever. Let’s now take a moment to listen to some of Monica’s words which were captured by AJ Plus, part of the Al Jazeera Media Network.
Monica Roberts: Far too often, I saw Black trans victims being misgendered, using the words, “man in women’s clothing,” the chosen name of the trans person in quotation marks. I was fed up with it, and I wanted to role model what good coverage looked like. I felt like the history of trans folks, especially Black trans folks, wasn’t really told. Griots in West African culture, are oral historians who are able to tell up to five centuries of their people’s history from memory. One of the missions of TransGriot is to document our history, good, bad and indifferent, and it has to be preserved for future generations to know about this.
Imara Jones: Monica, we are so grateful and owe you so so much. Maybe we take two hard lessons you taught us and make you proud as we carry on your legacy. Rest in power, and peacefully.
Next up is our segment, The News. One thing that fascinates me is the religious right, because they are so obsessed with trans people. And they’re a powerful voting bloc that Trump has locked. That’s why we have to understand what drives them when it comes to trans people. To take us into that mindset and explore the possibility of finding common ground, if there is any, with the evangelical community. I’ve invited someone who used to be a part of it.
Debi Jackson of Alabama, was a conservative Southern Baptist. But when her daughter Avery came out as trans at the age of four, her beliefs and thoughts started to change.
She is now a nationally known advocate for trans youth, and is a founding member of the Human Rights Campaign’s Parents for Transgender Equality National Council. Debi has lent her expertise to pivotal community groups like PFLAG and the Trevor Project through her consulting firm Gender Inc. Debi, thank you so much for joining me. I really really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you.
Debi Jackson: Well, thank you for having me on your wonderful, amazing new podcast. I’m very, very happy to be here.
Imara Jones: On this podcast, we’re not going to talk a lot about Avery, your daughter, because she is now a young adult who deserves her privacy, but I just wanted to recognize that she was on the cover of National Geographic with her famous pink hair at the time, which is one of the ways in which you were thrust into public consciousness.
So I just wanted to note that at the top of our conversation here, but I’m actually more interested today in Avery’s mother, you, Debi, and I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about your upbringing, and where you grew up, how you grew up? And what were some of the fundamental beliefs that animated your consciousness?
Debi Jackson: Sure, this is such a timely topic for me, because I’ve really been thinking a lot about this this summer, for some reason, just trying to go back to childhood and remember what everything was that influenced my way of thinking and some of the things that I still struggle with around gender. And I come from a southern, traditional, conservative, Baptist, military family, always straight-ticket Republican, you really couldn’t talk about the Democratic party without it being, “Oh, the touchy-feely people we just need, you know, to put a little bit of intellect into the conversation and everything they believe in doesn’t make sense.”
In my childhood, I went to church at least three times a week, you had your Sunday school, Sunday mornings and then Sunday evening services. And then Wednesdays were the classes to learn about missionary organizations and how to go proselytize and talk to others about your beliefs.
And very, very strict gender rules, like I don’t swear, and I don’t swear to this day, because I was taught that it was incredibly inappropriate for girls to sound vulgar like that. Girls had to be very modest, they had to be very quiet and demure. You had certain roles that you could perform and couldn’t perform in leadership and with the church, men were definitely in charge. And I remember how this even got into family life.
Every single day at about 5:30, I would see my Mom stop what she was doing, if she was cooking dinner, if she was, you know, folding laundry, whatever. And she would go to the bathroom and touch up her hair and put on some lipstick. And at one point I actually asked her about that. And she was like, “Well, my job is to look good for, you know, my husband.” So that’s what stuck in my head that women have this role of pleasing the men in their lives.
But at the same time, when I became a teenager and I wanted to start playing with makeup and clothing choices, it was all about modesty. And I put on a little tiny bit of blush for the first time like I could hardly even see that I had it there. And my mom said, “You look like a hussy, you look like a streetwalker, you can’t do that.” So there are these mixed messages. You’re supposed to be super feminine to please the men in your life and make sure that you are performing femininity in the way that they want you to, but at the same time, a little bit too much of it or at the wrong time, and you’re suddenly called out as being inappropriate. And it’s this fine balance that you’re supposed to play and somehow magically figure out.
Imara Jones: That is a lot. And that is potentially, I would think crazy-making when it comes to negotiating gender not only for yourself, but for the world in terms of how strict that was, and all the rules. So when you had all of that and brought all of that with you through your life, you got married, had children, worked, I believe, at Major League Baseball, another sort of all-American institution, what was it like to have your beliefs changed and then challenged when Avery started to share her gender with you?
Debi Jackson: Well, at first I thought I was being a really cool progressive parent. And also I don’t think I ever really performed my gender in the way that my family and the church wanted me to. I was always a tomboy. I remember my mom getting really angry with me because I was so opinionated. And I was always willing to talk back and to fight and to make sure that I was heard. And she would get really, really upset with me that I was not appropriate and that sometimes she wishes she could be more like me, but it was just not acceptable, and I needed to learn my place. So then it was really difficult, like you said, working in Major League Baseball. In professional sports, almost all of the front office staff are former athletes, or you know men who wish they had been those athletes.
So it’s hard because I’m also really petite and barely–not quite, I’m not quite five feet tall. And I know I look like a young child and kind of sound young. So trying to hold my own in meetings and things, I had to be as aggressive as possible, or at least kind of figure out how to play the game of who to talk to when to talk to so that my ideas were heard. When I had what I thought were two sons, I was really happy, because I didn’t really relate to girlhood in the way that I was supposed to, and I was afraid I would have a really feminine girl that I couldn’t relate to.
And I also knew that my “sons” were going to have a much easier time navigating the world than I did. So I don’t know that I struggled with Avery wanting to transition. But I know that I really had no problems at all, when she was breaking the gender rules when we thought she was a boy, because I was like, “Yeah, I broke a lot of rules, too. These are really dumb rules.” And I’m glad that you know, she has a chance to be herself.
Imara Jones: So, I guess my question is, was there ever a moment where you did struggle with their transition in regards to the beliefs that you were brought up? And it sounds like the answer to that is no, but I just want to want to ask.
Debi Jackson: I don’t think I struggled personally, because I already had so many doubts and issues about the way I was taught to believe. A lot of times, parents will talk about going through a “mourning process” when their child transitions. I didn’t mourn in the way that some people talk about, like “I had these ideas for my child.” What I was actually kind of mourning is that she, my daughter, was going to end up feeling the same way that I had felt, that there are limitations and restrictions, that things aren’t fair, and you’re going to be objectified and you’re going to be sexually harassed and face so much of the inappropriate things in your work environment, you don’t know how to deal with that. That was where I really struggled, I didn’t want my child to have to experience being a girl or a woman in our society.
Imara Jones: Wow. Given the tremendous terrain that these beliefs created for you, in terms of things that you were trying to be, and then things that you unraveled and realized that you weren’t, you have a really good understanding of all of the nooks and crannies of the christian right in this country. I am wondering if you can help us to unpack why the evangelical community is so obsessed with gender and gender identity, it seems to be very beyond doctrinal and conflict with this idea of Christian love and acceptance.
Debi Jackson: I think it comes down to power. It’s a church that was created based on the power structures of men controlling their women, their property. The Southern Baptist Church was all based on racism and there’s definitely a power issue there. When I look at all of the rules that end up being imposed on women in the church, it’s men in charge, telling women how they are supposed to behave, it’s men in charge, who want to have their daughters have a promise ring to them, that they will be chaste until marriage, there’s definitely a sense of ownership. And I think that anything that challenges that, you know, has the potential to topple their authority and their power. So they have to continue to impose these very strict gender rules and norms as a way to maintain the power that they’ve held kind of naturally, for hundreds and thousands of years.
And it’s, it’s fear, it’s fear of losing power. And unfortunately, the women in evangelical churches don’t know any other way of existing, you’re taught from the time that you can walk and talk. And even things like sex ed, I know so many evangelical women who don’t understand contraception, they don’t understand how children are actually made. They’re just told you have to submit to your husband’s authority. They certainly would never feel like they’re allowed to, you know, make their own decisions on who to vote for.
Imara Jones: We’ll come to the impact on voting in a minute, because I think it’s important, but on this issue, is there any hope for progress in the evangelical community on trans issues? Or do you think that we just have to essentially understand that we’ll be in a constant state of confrontation with them as a community?
Debi Jackson: I can definitely see continued confrontation with men in the evangelical community, but I have become part of some groups online called Ex-vangelicals, that are people who are escaping. And you really do you feel like you’re escaping a cult, almost, once you’re able to get away from that influence and start thinking for yourself. I know a lot of women in marriages right now who are like, I’ll tell my husband how I’m going to vote, but I’m going to vote this way, in secret, I just can’t say it to him.
I also know a lot of people who are finally getting to the point where they are just leaving the church and making decisions for themselves for the first time ever. And I think sharing the commonality of body autonomy.
Imara Jones: Hmm.
Debi Jackson: You know, women in the church sometimes, and I know it can be said, disparagingly from outside the church, but people inside the church too, can feel like you’re just a breeder. And you are meant to have all the children, as many children as you can, in order to please your husband, and please God, but women are tired, and it’s exhausting. And maybe you didn’t want to have six children that you then have to feed and take care of every day. And what I have found as a message that resonates is don’t try to police my own child’s body and tell her what is and isn’t correct for her when you have been forced to do things with your body your entire life and police what you wear and police how you behave and police how you sit.
Don’t extend that to my daughter or other people in the trans community. This is all about us, as individuals having a chance for self-determination, and to not have to bend to the will of someone else who’s trying to control us.
Imara Jones: Wow, you mentioned that many women in the church feel compelled to vote like their husbands. It seems as if Evangelicals have had a disproportionate impact on our politics, particularly in this moment. There’s so many things that you’re describing, where when I think about Trump, he makes sense in so many ways. The muscular patriarchy, the silence of Melania, the proliferation of children, the idea of submission, and even the idea of cults, all kind of accrue to him in this moment. And as we move into the election, I’m wondering what your reflections are about this movement, and Trump, and the way that it intersects with gender and what kind of impact that’s having on our politics and national life.
Debi Jackson: Mm hmm. I’m hoping that this is going to be a year when evangelical women finally stand up for themselves. I know a lot who voted as their husbands wanted them to vote in the previous elections. But at that point, we didn’t know the width and depth and breadth of the depravity that we would see. So it didn’t seem like it was such a scary thing to vote for this “strong, intelligent, successful man,” the way that he was presented to a lot of people. But again, women can see all the things that are wrong, the way children have been targeted, the way women’s rights have been targeted. And I think that people are ready to take back some of that power and say, “Wow, we’ve been living under this structure in our own homes, we really don’t like it when it extends to every possible moment of our lives outside of our homes, either.” And that’s what he represents. I think when you see it within a church, or you see it within your house, it seems small. But when you see the repercussions on the much more grand scale, it’s frightening. And I hope that this is the year that people are going to stand up against that finally.
Imara Jones: Wow. What you’re describing is that there’s a possibility that seeing his impact on a larger society is kind of that feedback loop of, as you say, Evangelical women standing up for themselves and beginning to separate from this ideology, like, when you take it to its logical extent, it will be society-wide, and that seems to have been a trigger for people to begin to separate from that. And included of that, of course, as you say, are the attacks on trans people and just the attacks on everyone, I mean. On this issue, I wanted to just end where we began, which is around this really powerful insight that you gave around your daughter and fearing that she would have to experience essentially misogyny and patriarchy and that is the thing that you’re worried about. And I’m wondering that now as Avery moves into teenage-dom and then further on, young womanhood, are those fears, the ones that you still have?
Yes and no. She is very much a headstrong, independent thinker–
That’s not a surprise.
Debi Jackson: She has always been one to pave her own ways, even now she breaks gender rules. And she’s like, I don’t have to wear something just because they say I’m a girl and I’m supposed to pick from the girls’ clothes. So she loves the fact that she can be trans and still come back and break the gender rules. But also, I see as she’s getting into the teens and there are first crushes, and there’s trying to impress new people in her life, that she’s definitely struggling a little bit with what it means to have the world see her as a teenage girl, and how much she needs to conform to what is expected of teenage girls. But we have a lot of open, frank talks, we always have. And we are able to point out the hypocrisy between the way that teen boys and girls are allowed to dress and look and act and present themselves on social media and the pressures that everyone’s trying to live up to right now.
So, I do have fears that again, just because of our society, and because she has been affirmed for so long that people do absolutely 100% see her as a girl and treat her as a girl, that she’s going to suffer all the same things that every other teenage girl suffers from. But I hope that she has learned to be strong-willed and resilient, and to speak up for herself. So that if she’d ever does encounter any of those problems, she can handle it or she knows to immediately come to us and that we are here to to help walk her through.
Imara Jones: Well, here’s to Avery’s example of finding freedom through the breaking of gender roles. Here’s to you being a parent that modeled that and encouraged that. And I think just in so many ways, I want to thank you for coming on and for your leadership and your insights. I think that we need to hear your perspective, because regardless of what happens in the election, the institutions of the Evangelical community and just Southern Baptists in general will still be there. And we’re gonna have to find a way to navigate that and to create space for us. And I just want to thank you for your leadership, and your love and your bravery overall. Thank you so much for coming on.
Debi Jackson: Again, thank you for having me. Of course.
Imara Jones: That was Debi Jackson, who is a trans youth advocate, and former Southern Baptist conservative.
And now it’s time for Transform, the part of our show, where we elevate changemakers in our community who innovate and create a better future for us all. Transform takes us into their world. Dr. Asa Radix has been hard at work on trans health for decades now. He is the Senior Director for Research and Education at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York City. Callen-Lorde is the single largest provider of transgender health care in the United States. But Asa’s impact is even larger. He is currently setting new global standards for trans health as co-chair of a World Professional Association for Transgender Health Committee. That committee is developing standards to help inform medical professionals across the world about the type of care trans people need. Asa also sits on the board of that organization, WPATH. In full disclosure, Callen-Lorde is my health care provider. Callen-Lorde was neither consulted or involved with this segment. Asa, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it.
Asa Radix: I’m so happy to be here, Imara. Thank you for inviting me.
Imara Jones: Of course, of course. I think many people might be surprised that there actually is a global organization that helps to set trans healthcare standards, among other things. I’m wondering if you can talk about why trans health standards are really essential. Why do we need them?
Asa Radix: Well, I want to go back a little to the beginning, when hormones first came out, and that was in the late 1930s. They immediately started to be used for transition care, but no one had standards. So every person who went to a provider got a different dose got a different type. And you can imagine, with the lack of consistency, we weren’t really sure whether the doses were too high or too low. So when the WPATH standards of care came out in 1979, it was just about creating some type of consistency in the dosing, and also trying to determine, you know, who was right for hormones?
Imara Jones: Can you talk a little bit about how transgender health has changed and expanded over the years? You mentioned the beginning of hormone treatment in the 1930s. And since then, over the intervening almost, what, eighty years, can you talk a little bit about how trans healthcare has changed? What things have we added to forms of treatment and access beyond hormones?
Asa Radix: Imara, that’s such a great question. The first thing is that hormone care is much more mainstream now. In the beginning, it was really a very small number of medical providers, usually specialists. And now really any medical provider is able to prescribe because there are these great guidelines that exist, right, I think the insurance field has really made a big difference in the United States, especially under the last administration, it was made very clear that discrimination against transgender people would not be tolerated. And also that transition care was included under Medicare, and under Medicaid in many states. And then, of course, on a state level, like New York, now, really, insurance companies are mandated to follow the standards of care and provide hormones and surgeries that are deemed medically necessary.
So quite a lot has changed. Other things that have changed, we have research now. So we know, for example, that some types of hormones are not as safe as others, I’ll give you one example, there was a type of estrogen that was used back in the 1940s, 1950s, called ethanol estradiol. In fact, it’s still used in some countries around the world. But we know that it has really bad side effects, for example, causing blood clots in the legs, and the clots can travel to the lung, and you could die from that. So we know more and more about some of the bad effects. And we also know the types of estrogens that are really safe to use. So part of what I do as a medical provider is talk to patients about guess this is a homerun you may have been on 10 years ago, I know you probably really liked it. But we should probably change because we know more about this. Now it’s not safe, especially as you get older. So we’ll switch to something that’s safer.
Imara Jones: Yeah, I think that’s really important that what you’re doing, as you’re mentioning is grounded, in research and data, which is scorned in some corners, but that there is actually a science and a tautology to and an organization of the facts that you use to treat trans people. I find it really interesting, because on the right, they’ll take examples, as you mentioned, of these older medications, etc, as example, that somehow trans health is dangerous or transitioning is dangerous, but not recognizing that actually, there is, you know, a global organization that’s devoted to making sure that this is done in a safe way, using the best data that we have and the latest information. And I think that this is a really important part because I think that there is this notion out there that trans people get medications and are just applying them recklessly.
This is why I think this conversation is so important that there is actually a structure and a detailed approach to the way that we’re treated as people just like everybody else. On that particular point about the current standards that we have, one of the things that you’re working on is developing new standards, and that that’s a process that’s ongoing. And I’m wondering overall, what the motivation for doing that is what is missing in the current standards that you hope to address with the new standards?
Asa Radix: Well, Imara, that, that’s also a very good question. The last standards of care came out in 2011 and the new standards will come out next year. So that’s 10 years, so 10 years of new research, changes in how we deliver care globally, not just in the United States, you know, what gets covered by insurance. So there are quite a few things that will be different. For example, this new standards of care has a section on reproductive health. For people two decades ago, the assumption was that transgender people didn’t want to have their own children and now we know that’s so different, so we need to have guidelines about what should happen, should a person decide to have surgery that, for example, would prevent them from having children because the ovaries or the testes have been removed.
And the fact is, they’re good solutions, which is before you have a surgery that’s irreversible, or before you initiate any hormones, there should be a discussion about if should in the future, you decide to have children, you can have them. And that was never even considered in the last standards of care. Another area is about education.
In the past, if you’re a patient, and you were going to have surgery, you know, you would, I guess, find a surgeon, but maybe you wouldn’t know how many surgeries they had done, what kind of training they had done if they were really qualified to do this. And, of course, there were some disastrous results. And now, in the new standards of care, there’s a whole section on education, really.
What to expect of your provider, what types of qualifications they should have before they say that they’re competent to do this type of care. There are other areas, for example, there’s a new chapter on people with intersex conditions. That wasn’t there before. We’ve also separated out the child and adolescent chapters, because obviously, the needs that children have and the needs that adolescents have a very, very different.
Imara Jones: Hmm.
Asa Radix: Also, because of the new research that has been done in the interim, we can save different things around when people should have cancer screenings or get screening for bone health, or what should we tell them about cardiovascular disease, and so on. So it’s a very packed revision, with lots of new information, it’s going to be incredibly exciting.
Imara Jones: Yeah, it sounds like it’s comprehensive, and covers so many new areas. And it just shows the explosion of trans health and the number of people and then the ways in which trans people are changing in terms of what we need and how we’re approaching it. And so it’s really, really exciting. And we’ll be the beneficiaries of all of that research. Given your career and experience as a pioneer in trans health. I’m wondering how you’re feeling generally about where we’re headed on trans health? You can separate that in terms of the US and the world, because I know that there might be a division or a difference there. But how are you taking in this moment, and what are you observing?
Asa Radix: If I had to sum it up in I guess one word, I would say hopeful. We’re seeing more and more that people are much more aware of trans health, people who work in health care, are understanding more why they should learn about how to provide trans people with the right type of respectful and appropriate culturally competent health care, it’s now become almost mandatory in many medical schools, nursing schools and postgraduate training. I mean, I just reviewed an article today, and it’s not about transition care, or, you know, gender affirming surgeries. But even they were interested, you know, in ensuring that they could provide culturally competent care to trans people.
So I think that’s the the big thing, that there’s more awareness and there’s more understanding that this is absolutely necessary. On the other side, insurance companies are starting to cover more and more that they wouldn’t cover before. There used to be absolute exclusions around reproductive health, facial surgeries, you know, they had a whole list of things that they just didn’t want to cover. And now we’re seeing slowly, some improvements there.
Of course, you know, whenever we get information from this current administration, that they’re trying to stop access, essentially, it is very disturbing, but I’m still hopeful that we can continue to provide this improved level of healthcare. And again, the new standards will be part of that, because they’re absolutely going to say, these things should be covered.
Imara Jones: I’m so heartened by what you are describing that’s happening in nursing schools and medical schools across the country in health care providers. I mean, one of the most scarring episodes that I had was a time that I went to an emergency room maybe six or seven years ago. And when I was there, I went for a stomach ailment, that was pretty much, my primary care physician was sure was a stomach ailment, but then I had to go to hospital and get fluids and antibiotics.
But the doctor in the emergency room was obsessed with the type of sex that I had, what I did for work, where I was immediately before I came to the hospital, and had basically concluded that I was a sex worker and had prescribed me the wrong antibiotic for what I had because he was convinced that I had an STD and I didn’t. And I still remember that to this day, and how devastating that was and how reticent it made me to seek medical care in so many ways. And the fact that you’re working in such a way in a comprehensive way, where incidents like that can’t happen, or will happen a lot less, is I think, really, really, really encouraging. And I know that you’ve probably heard stories like that throughout your career. I want to thank you for joining us today.
And I want to thank you for everything that you do, and have done to advance the frontiers of trans health. And to make sure that people here in the US and around the world who are trans, get the health care that they need and seek and deserve.
Asa Radix: Thank you again. It’s always wonderful to discuss these things with you. And I’m so happy that you’ve given us a platform to do that. So congratulations on this great podcast as well.
Imara Jones: Thank you. Thank you so much.
That was Dr. Asa Radix, who is transforming healthcare for trans communities through his work at the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, and Callen-Lorde.
Thank you for joining me on the TransLash podcast. Now listen all the way through to the end of this show for something extra. I’m Imara Jones.
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TransLash is produced by TransLash media by Futuro Studios. The TransLash team includes Ruby Fludzinski, Oliver-Ash Kleine, Montana Thomas and Yannick Eike Mirko, and the Futuro Studios team includes Nicole Rothwell, Jess Alvarenga, Stephanie Lebow, Leah Shaw, Julia Caruso and Sophie Davis. Our digital strategy is handled by Daniela Capistrano with support from Sean Watkins.
The music you heard was composed by Ben Draghi and also courtesy of ZZK Records.
Alright, TransLash fam, what am I looking forward to? I’m looking forward to the fact that you all will be able to hear in podcast form on October 20th, a live political discussion that I had with the In the Thick team. Of course, In the Thick is a podcast that’s produced by Futuro. Futuro Studios is also our partner in producing the TransLash podcast. I was on live to talk about and unpack where we are politically. So make sure you listen to that on October 20. The election is almost over. So just hang in there, but we’re all trying to figure out what’s going on and what’s going to happen. So listen to our podcast form of our discussion last night because it was fire!
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