Ash Hall (they/them) walks us through their origin story growing up in the Houston area and how their college years led them to find their political voice. Ash educates us on how the framework entitled ‘gender ideology’ is developed by the right to promote the idea that gender-nonconforming people seek to indoctrinate all people into their ‘lifestyle,’ which is a complete misunderstanding of how gender identity works. We explore how power structures feel threatened by open discussions of gender, and Ash reminds us that privilege is separate from individual actions. In other words, acknowledging privilege doesn‘t mean someone is a bad person and we are each responsible for our actions. We take a moment to explain gender identity, gender expression, and sexuality. We end this week’s half by acknowledging that many of our power structures are built on a scarcity mindset and how we could use more compassion. Next week, join us for the final half of our discussion with Ash, where we dig into the specifics of Texas and the actions our government has taken that affect the lives of everyday citizens.
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Is Gender Identity Part Of A ‘Woke Agenda’? Ash Hall Educates Us, Part 1 (Culture Wars)
This series that we are chatting about with you all is our Culture War Series, and we are trying to come at this with an open mind, understanding what we are talking about when these hot-button issues come before us. Something that is very much in the news that we wanted to wrap our heads around and have a better understanding of and language for is that around gender identity or gender ideology.
We had an incredible guest come and speak with us, Ash Hall. Ash has done so much work around LGBTQIA+ rights and advocacy, working with politicians and nonprofits, and trying to help people understand what these discriminatory bills, what their effects look like on Texans. Nicole, what are some of the things that you are still thinking about after our talk?
There are so many things. What I appreciate about Ash is that they are not interested in hyperbolic language or ranting. They are very much focused on educating and calmly discussing, trying to ease people’s concerns or fears from a patient and calm place. I appreciate Ash’s tone and their willingness to share so generously.
So generously that this is going to be a two-part episode. Midway through the conversation, Nicole and I were realizing there was a lot here, a lot of important things to touch on and we didn’t want to stop the conversation. Yet, we thought this would be good if we broke it up because it’s a lot to take in one sitting. Learn a lot in the first half and get ready for the second half.
It’s going to help you have better language to come at this. For me, it’s something I’m still learning a lot about. I have learned a lot about it in the conversation. I was like, “Can you explain to me what transgender is?” I had this idea that it is this. Nicole, you said in the episode that a lot of people think it’s about moving towards some surgery to completely transition from one gender to the other.
It’s not that for some people. It’s this middle space that they stay in, and I was like, “Okay.” There are a lot of my own assumptions that were challenged and I appreciate that Ash was very patient with us and helped explain this and it felt very judgment free. It’s okay to ask questions. I’m still going to be learning a lot. I feel like I’m behind on this, but I’m excited to educate myself and understand what it’s all about so that I can be a better citizen, neighbor, Texan, and community member because, at the end of the day, we want to create a more inclusive state.
We want to prepare people that it is dense. There’s a lot of information and a lot to take in. Don’t be intimidated by that, and I’d also love to encourage re-reading. If there’s something that you feel like you missed and you couldn’t quite get the first time around, I wouldn’t stress over it. I wouldn’t feel bad about that. I would encourage you to read again and see if next time that sinks in. Certainly, reach out if there’s something you feel like we could answer, but patience is something I’d love to encourage in all of us. Being patient with ourselves, being patient with the information, and taking your time.
Let’s read and learn more from Ash.
Nicole and I are so excited to chat with Ash Hall. Ash, how are you?
Pretty good, you?
I’m doing good. I’m feeling somewhat rested, which is surprising because I have two little kids, and they like to get into my bed early in the morning and I lose an hour of sleep. I had enough coffee to offset that. Nicole said she had a little bit of a chaotic morning, but here we are.
I did. We all made it though. Congrats. Surviving chaos is sometimes all you can hope for.
When we have our guests on, we love to get a little bit of their origin story and find out who made them and who they are. Are you from Texas? Where’d you grow up? What was your upbringing like?
I am from Texas. I grew up in Houston. I spent the first ten or so years of my life in this Gulfgate, Magnolia Park area of Houston. That was pretty inner-city. I was a minority racially, but my class status very much matched that of those around me. Ten years in, my family separated and my mom and my sibling, and I moved to Clear Lake, which is very different from an inner-city area. That is where Mission Control is. It still has diversity but a different diversity. You are going to see more AAPI communities there than you would in the inner-city area that I first started out in and certainly more White people, but it made for an interesting adjustment.
It was an interesting spot for me as I grew up and grew into my identity because it was a place that was conservative but also scientifically minded. You had a lot of people who were very religious but also obsessed with science and wanted to know every little thing that NASA was doing. When it came to social issues, you never knew where people were going to fall.
That made coming out fascinating. You never knew how anyone was going to react. It made politics one of those subjects that you never talked about if you could help it. There was a lot of polite discussion and a lot of subjects that we avoided. In a way, it felt like my political development was very much stunted by being in Clear Lake. It was good for me to get out.
Clear Lake is in Houston?
It is. It’s like a little suburb of Houston, Southeast. It’s very close to Galveston Island. We are about as close to the coast as you can get, which gets interesting during hurricane season.
I’m a fellow suburb kid but from a suburb of Dallas. I know exactly what you are talking about with the politeness around anything that could be slightly uncomfortable. That’s my political background too, which is why I feel pretty late to the game. I’m here and learning, but it was not part of my upbringing. This was not something you don’t talk about in polite company. We keep everything nice.
I was lucky that my mom would talk to me about it at all. The first election that I remember being aware of was Bush versus Gore. My elementary school which was in that inner-city area was interested in talking about that and having informal polls of the students and teaching them what voting was. I asked my mom about it and she said, “Gore was the person to go with,” and that the Republicans were this mean party and the Democrats were the ones that were trying to help people. I had no idea at the time how true that would end up being. That was a very helpful teeny tiny primer and that was about as in-depth as it got for a number of years until I was significantly older.
It sounds like there wasn’t a lot of discussion in your household regarding politics.
Not in the beginning, in part because my father was a Republican and my mom was a Democrat. Bringing that up back when they were together would have been a nightmare. When they separated, all I knew was that the Democrats were the nice people trying to help everybody, but at that point, we were in Clear Lake and that wasn’t coming up as much. My mom would go do her thing and vote, and I was paying attention to other things, music, band practice, and trying to figure out who I was.
Both of us are very interested in how your upbringing shapes how you think about politics now, especially if it’s very different from where you are now to where you were younger or where your parents maybe were. I’m always like, “Tell me what it was like.” I’m curious about that experience.
That does beg the question. What is your political awakening? When did that happen and what did that look like?
It gets interesting. I had that sheltered high school experience. I came out towards the end. At the time, I was gay. I didn’t know anything about gender identity and I had been walking around for years feeling very different and not having any language for why. I knew that it helped to come out as gay though. All that being said, my high school was very competitive. It was close to impossible to get into the top 10% to be considered for the best universities and so I did not make it into UT Austin which would have been the best choice probably for somebody with my identities.
What I did do was go ahead and get duped by Baylor University. They had the second-best Psychology program and so that appealed to me because that was what I wanted to study. When I went to campus and visited beforehand, they lied to my face and said that they welcomed LGBTQ students and they were treated like family and there was nothing to worry about. God loves all his children and all of that cute stuff that I now admittedly feel a little bit skeptical of when I first hear that from anybody. It’s going to take a while to heal from that.
Can I pop in and say for people who don’t know that Baylor is a Baptist University?
It’s Southern Baptist. As it turns out, not a very good place to go if you are LGBTQ at all.
Where was that lie? Where was it revealed that wasn’t what it was? Did you feel like there was any acceptance from anybody, be it students, faculty, or anything like that?
There was some, which was how I ended up surviving because I had to stay there for a year before I could transfer out. Thankfully, I did find a number of folks who were supportive. The thing that made it tricky was that Baylor tried to make it as hard as humanly possible to have any sort of discussions like that. If they caught you on their server having a discussion like that and you were a professor, you could be let go for it. If you were a student and they caught you trying to organize around that, they put you on a list of students that they would monitor more closely and they would wait for you to break some university rule and use that as an excuse to let you go.
When you say that, do you mean any discussions about LGBTQ issues?
The more that it took on a tone of organizing, the worse off you were. I couldn’t do any of that, but my biggest frustration was that I couldn’t even find anybody for the longest time. It took me months to find somebody else that identified the way that I did. In the meantime, I had allies. A lot of them were very quiet and didn’t necessarily want to talk about it, which is a whole lot.
When you are newer to an identity, you want to talk about it. That was hard. I eventually did find a group of misfits on campus whom I could talk to more about it. There was one person in our group who was not okay with it, but it makes sense when you hear the makeup of this group because I got to be our queer person, and then the rest of us were two Catholics, a Muslim, and a Calvinist.
It was the Calvinist who was not so cool with the LGBTQ piece. Everybody else was great. That ended up helping quite a bit and I was also able to come out to a number of my professors, in particular English teachers, and that helped quite a bit. That’s always been a safe space for me. Bless all the English teachers. They were helpful because I could get feedback on little written assignments that had notes of support on them and stuff and no one could see that in a system. They were safe. I was safe.
It sounds like it was the administration that said, “You’ll be good,” and then flipped that on its head once you were there.
Correct. In fact, the year that I was there, they hired Ken Starr to be the President of the university and Ken Starr is known as the lawyer who defended proposition aid in California, big anti-gay, law against marriage. It’s a hell of a year to be there.
What happened after Baylor?
I got out as soon as I could. By the time I had, the administration and I had been fighting each other about me leaving because my grades were very good and it made them look bad that I was leaving. We’d gone back and forth about whose fault that was that I needed to leave.
At such a young age. I can’t imagine going through this at 18 or 19.
It was wild. I was like, “Why are you telling me to stay here and suffer so this school can get better when you have more power over it than I ever will?” By the time I left there, I was furious and a little traumatized and I desperately needed to have some agency over my own life. I got to UT and immediately joined all the LGBTQ groups that I possibly could including an advocacy group. I started to find my footing there and find my voice. What ended up getting me into politics was that we did a lobby day with Equality Texas.
It was the first time I had ever been to the state capital, the first time I had ever talked to lawmakers, and any of that. I found that not only was I pretty good at it, but I liked it a lot. A lot of students were happy that they did that and then went back to doing other kinds of advocacy. I kept going back to the capital by myself to keep meeting more people and keep learning about the system. That ended up being a big political awakening for me. It comes down to the difference between Baylor and UT and what options were available and what community was available.
I hear that thread. I hear you were able to find a community. The other thread that I wanted to point out is your fight against institutions and then you finally landed in an institution where you could find a community. I am fascinated by the idea that you did that work at the capital and then kept coming back. That also was an awakening for you. Similar to so many other stories that we have heard and that Claire and I share, it’s that personal connection. There’s almost always that thing within each of us that is incredibly personal and that animates our need to make a change and to be a part of change-making. Thanks for sharing that.
It’s a bit of a long story but sometimes the origin stories turn out that way.
It’s good to know because it very much informs the motivation of why you do what you do. Having gone through this experience of being somewhere that was very oppressive, it sounds very patriarchal, being like, “This is not benefiting me, making me a stronger, better, and more whole person.” Once you see that, it’s easier to see it in other places and find other people who can help you fight against it so that other people don’t have to go through that hopefully. Tell us how your journey into politics kept going and going. What was your first official job in politics or unofficial?
The first unofficial thing I did was that I joined Annise Parker’s reelection campaign as part of this program that was dedicated to teaching young folks about how campaigns work. It was an unpaid thing, but you learned a whole lot while you were there.
Annise Parker, Mayor of Houston. Is that the campaign?
That was wild because I didn’t guess at all that they would be interested in me. I had pretty low self-esteem as well. There was that playing into that. I applied one day and then within hours, they called me and said that I was exactly the person they were looking for. That was exciting, and then I got to learn what a campaign is like. I learned about how part of what a public servant does when they are being a public servant and not a straight-up politician is asking the people what they are supposed to be helping what they care about and how they are doing.
We made a lot of phone calls to Houstonians asking those questions and taking notes and then we would forward those long so that way the mayor and her folks could go ahead and help people out. That was cool to be a part of. I got to go to some political events. I met her a number of times. That was the first unofficial thing, but doing that helped me get another internship that ended up being pretty huge at the time. It was with the LGBTQ Victory Fund. It was the first year that they had launched their congressional internship program for LGBTQ students across the nation.
Depending on the semester, they would take 4 to 8 students at a time from across the nation and put them in congressional offices. It was very hard to get in. I did not feel like I stood a very good chance, but I got extremely lucky. I not only made it in with seven other people whom I got to learn from all over the country. I got placed in Leader Pelosi’s office. She was the leader at the time. I know she’s a speaker now. I’m still very used to calling her Leader Pelosi.
That turned my world upside down because that was a completely different system from what I had seen in Texas. It was a different politics. It was a chance to learn about more issues because I was getting sent all over the capital for different hearings and taking notes and bringing those back. I was helping write speeches and all sorts of different things.
It was like being thrown from easy mode into like semi-hard mode, but it was fascinating. It was at that point that I started getting asked questions like, “Would you ever consider running for office? Would you ever consider making a career out of this?” I hadn’t given that much thought at that point, but that was when I started to ask myself if I could see myself doing any of those things. That ended up being instrumental in my staying in this line of work.
It sounds like you were drawn to the lobby day and kept going back to the capital and got into these other positions and people were asking you, “Will you stay in this work?” Was there something else that you thought you were going to do? To me, it seems like a natural progression that you would continue to grow in this industry.
I still ended up getting my major in Psychology. The whole time all of this was happening, I still held on to the possibility that I would still go and become a therapist. As I evolve in my ideas of what that might look like, different kinds of therapy or specialties became of interest like being a therapist for LGBTQ folks. For a lot of my college career, I thought that might be what I ended up doing. By my senior year, I was fairly positive that would not be happening. I went ahead and got the degree but, at that point, because of my time in DC, I understood that your degree does not necessarily dictate what you’ll be doing, so I kept going to the capital
I have a History degree and I am not a historian. You take those skills. There are incredible skills you learn no matter what you study that are applicable no matter what you do.
I’m grateful I did Psychology because there’s a lot that I can see and a lot that it’s helped me, be able to navigate more easily in the capital. I don’t regret that at all. The main thing that I tell mentees at this point when they are asking about their degrees is that most places that are hiring want to see proof that you can commit to something for four years.
I remember a class I took in college. It was a Philosophy class. I did not like Philosophy, but I remember two things from that class. He said like, “The whole purpose of college is to learn how to write well and speak well, and that’s it.” I was like, “That’s why we are all here.” You are going to figure out the rest in your other career or in your continued education. It very much illuminated the reason you get that degree in the first place. That’s good advice. Tell us a little bit about what is happening since you are our political expert around this discussion regarding gender ideology.
It’s a new thing. I could be wrong.
It feels like a new thing.
The same guy who pushed CRT, Critical Race Theory as this horrible beast has now termed gender ideology as the next arena that he’s going to light up folks and make such a hot-button issue. Ash, what would you say?
Calling it gender ideology is new. The attacks on trans people are not quite so new. I started seeing bills attacking the trans community probably in 2015. It was the first time that I became aware of it in Texas. I’m sure there were times before then where there may have been the occasional bill that was specifically targeting us. I wasn’t deep enough into the capital yet to know about it, but I do know that by the time I was a fellow with Equality Texas in ‘15, we were starting to see bills that were targeting trans people specifically in terms of bathroom use, public accommodations use, and things like that.
The attacks aren’t necessarily new. What is ramped up is the intensity and the focus of our opponents. They have figured out that if they separate us trans people out from the rest of the greater LGBTQ community, it’s going to be easier to take us down. We have seen this with a lot of oppressors over centuries. It’s the divide-and-conquer tactic. In a sense, that’s not even anything new, but calling it gender ideology, coming up with these wild lies about how parents are forcing this on kids. That’s relatively new. It’s a hot mess. They all need to look at history to know that we have been here forever.
Is gender ideology not good? What does that mean? Is that even the way we should be talking about this?
I wouldn’t exactly call it that because it’s not ideology. They are calling it a gender ideology because that makes it sound political and it makes it sound like something trans people are using to manipulate other people. When we think of ideology, that’s what a lot of us think of.
It’s a framework that’s coming from the right.
It’s saying you think that you are this instead of you are this?
It’s partially that. Your parents, teachers, and liberals want you to be this, but you are not. This isn’t real, and if you think you are this, you are mentally ill, is what that is. Which as we all know that is extremely messed up because that’s not how it works. Trans people have been here pretty much since the beginning of time.
There’s art, archeological findings, and anthropological findings that prove that we have been around forever. There would be more, but a lot of information on trans people going back further in time was burned by the Nazi Germany regime. That’s why there’s not more. Calling it an ideology is fairly new, but all we have been talking about in LGBTQ+ circles, progressive circles, mental health circles, you name it. It’s a matter of talking about gender identity and expression and making it clear to people that there are more than two genders.
You may or may not find that one of these genders works better for you than the one that you were signed at birth. It’s not a big deal either way because you are still human and worthy of dignity, love and respect. If you do fall into this broader transgender category, there are some considerations to make around your personal safety. There’s a journey you may have to go on if you find that you need to make changes to your body because the medical process is pretty intense and has a lot of roadblocks, as well as for that matter, the mental health system and the legal system.
That’s most of what those discussions were, and it was making sure that young kids in particular, but anyone of any age knew that this was a set of identities that exists. Therefore, if they were already feeling some dysphoria or sense of otherness that they weren’t alone, and that otherness isn’t a bad thing. There’s feeling different and feeling okay about that, and there’s feeling different and feeling terrible about it. We would prefer that people feel good or okay about it because most of our differences are something to celebrate.
Conservatives took that whole model and the way that we were talking about this, and they have turned it into something that’s supposed to be about child abuse, forced surgeries, and no consent whatsoever for the kids. It makes the whole thing sound terrible and scary when it’s anything but. The kids in the families, where parents are accepting, lead the way in the process and the parents are there as guides. It’s the same thing with doctors and therapists and everybody else who’s part of that kid’s journey, but the kid is the one who decides what happens and what doesn’t. Everyone else can advise as to when or what is appropriate based on age or development, but there’s nothing scary about it.
I’m trying to wrap my head around why some people are feeling so much resistance at this moment to this conversation about gender identity. All of a sudden, it feels like we are asking people what their pronouns are and even non-binary. It feels like there are a lot of newnesses and that always kicks up the ground for confusion and change and there’s so much resistance to that. I’m trying to figure out how we help people get over that discomfort and start understanding that by adopting this language and accepting people, we are going to be better on the other side. How do we help those people get there?
That’s part of what I’m trying to figure out, and it reminds me that as much as we need policy change, we also need a culture change. We can’t have one without the other without things not going well. On my end, I try to be reassuring. I tell people who have identities like mine that are non-binary, “We have always existed. We didn’t always have the words to describe who we are.”
“Now we do, we have found other people like us. We have found pronouns that work for us. Now, we want people to not only know who we are but to respect who we are because that’s part of how we love each other as humans.” It doesn’t have to be something scary and it’s okay if you mess up if it takes a while to get used to this. You are not going to be in trouble. You are not going to be screamed at anything like that. These things take time.
That’s part of what I’m doing to help people understand that. I also make it clear that it doesn’t mean that you have to question your own gender identity. It doesn’t mean that you have to take on gender or anything like that you aren’t prepared to take on. Some people believe that we want everyone to be transgender, and it’s like that is not true. That sounds like a lot of work for one thing. Some of what makes people uncomfortable is realizing that because trans people exist, so do cisgender people. Folks who are not transgender whose identities match what’s on their birth certificates.
I don’t think that would necessarily matter so much to people. When you come into conversations about power, privilege, and who is more likely to be a victim of violence or who is more likely to not get a job, and things like that. That’s when people start to dig in their heels because people associate privilege with being the bad guy, and it’s not the case. It means that the way our systems are set up, you are supposed to have an easier time than another group of people with an identity that you do not have.
It doesn’t make any particular person a bad guy, but people are very resistant to the idea that they could have any privilege because they feel that their own lives have been hard or they have other identities where they do not hold privilege. The thing is, as we know, we all hold a number of different identities and the whole thing is very complex. We’ll have power in some places and none in others.
The things that need to be changed more than anything are the systems that privilege some people over others and end up hurting different people. At some point in time, an identity that we hold will be attacked and will be heard over that, and at another point in time, we’ll be fine, but somebody that we have privilege over is going to be hurt and we won’t even feel it.
That’s the scary thing like identifying and truly seeing the power and privilege that we all possess in one way or another. There’s that fear like, “If I lose that privilege or advantage, I will be alone and left in the dust. I’m not going to be able to provide for myself.” It’s such a bigger thing when you zoom out because it is this scarcity, capitalistic world we have been a part of. That’s the harder thing to change and the change is hard and scary. The road we are on at the same time is not the better of the options. It’s going to be more work to change it. Here we are.
I don’t even know that people are conscious that they are scared to lose any privilege. What I am seeing people consciously do is take offense to be told they have any privilege. That’s part of what’s at play here. Nobody wants to feel like there’s some oppressor because their first thing is confusion or anger. Because they are confused, that makes them a bad person. People don’t take well to that.
It’s true though. Your privilege has no standing on whether or not you are a good or bad person. Your actions determine that. That’s been the struggle and I’m seeing a lot of resistance in particular from cisgender women, especially cisgender White women. When we start talking about trans women, especially Black trans women, and the particular struggles that they face.Your privilege actually has no standing on whether or not you're a good or bad person. Your actions determine that. Click To Tweet
It’s so interesting. There’s this desire to overturn patriarchy for a number of them, even though some of the more conservative ones cling to the power they are granted by being with a man, but there is this camaraderie that is found in having an oppressed identity. What I’m seeing is that a number of cis White women do not like the idea that they could have power over another gender. It flies in the face of this identity that they have created for themselves, especially if there’s something of a victim complex there.
They are willing to gatekeep what it means to be a woman. They are willing to say that there are only two genders and that sex rather than gender is the only thing that matters. By which we are talking DNA, chromosomes, and secondary sex characteristics. It’s a lot of effort to gatekeep so that there’s this shared identity and illusion perhaps that they can maintain where they are strong and independent, but at the same time victims worthy of attention, funding, and whatever it is that they have attached to that particular identity.
None of that changes that when we are looking at violence and proportions in terms of communities, Black transgender women are undergoing an epidemic in terms of assault and murder. You can gatekeep all you want, but that doesn’t solve the greater problem that this violence is happening. It’s a mess. It’s an area that I feel like I have to be so careful in as a trans person because, at this point, as wild as it is with all the advocacy that I have done and everything I have seen, I feel like I have to be the most careful now around White cis women because if I push too far, the amount of vitriol and that sense of betrayal that I have seen White cis women expressed is a little bit intense and sometimes it scares me. It’s been wild.
What do you mean by that? How are you careful?
I’m careful with explaining gender identity and expression, transphobia versus sexism versus trans misogyny, and how we fit the race into that and intersectionality. All of these conversations are very important conversations that desperately need to be had. It’s interesting because I’m finding that for the first time in my life, I am starting to get nervous about having those conversations with cisgender White women.
I feel like I may be coming into this a little late to say this. I feel like a breakthrough I had. Ash, I had shared on the show before that my ten-year-old is non-binary and my whole family had to do a lot of learning when we had that conversation. One of the quick moments of tension that it brought up was that we knew, and we also knew that we were going to be heading to West Texas for Christmas within a couple of months of, “This is my child, Cassidy,” announcing that they were non-binary. Not a tailspin quite but a little bit of how are we going to handle this with our very conservative West Texas family?
I decided what would be best was if I wrote a letter to them detailing what to expect. We are going to be coming and this is what you are going to see when we get there so that everybody could have their own private reactions. What I found as I was writing the letter was that I needed to do some education and share the education that I had gone through as a result of Cassidy’s announcement.
I broke it down into categories for them which were there’s gender identity, expression, and sexuality. I was trying to very succinctly and simplistically say gender expression is how you appear to the world. Gender identity is how you identify yourself, and then sexuality of course is whom you are attracted to.
In Cassidy’s case, their gender expression. They have a more feminine presenting look to the world, but their gender identity is that they don’t feel like a girl or a boy and we are not going to talk about sexuality because, at that point, they are eight. That’s the discussion we need to have. Plus, it’s also not anybody’s business.
Sometimes I think that super basic framework is sometimes gets lost in all of that. It’s like, “Let’s take all of the fever pitch of what people view as so scary and break it down like that.” Even though I want to throw it out there too, it does get complicated, and also it can be simple like my older daughter is gender non-conforming. Her gender expression is very male presenting. Her gender identity, she identifies as a girl, and again, we are not going to talk about sexuality.
There are a lot of different combinations, but once you have the basic understanding, my hope is that then it doesn’t feel so scary. It gives you permission to make mistakes and that it’s okay and people are very gracious about that. I wanted to step back and highlight categories for people who might be feeling a little confused when we talk about these things.
Apologies. I may have gone off on a tangent there for a bit, but that’s in its simplest form what this discussion is. These categories exist. They are here to help you have language for how you feel and who you are. There are people, especially conservatives who get scared at the idea that these are identities that they can explore. I get this sense that some of them probably would identify in ways similar to myself if they would allow themselves to explore those identities. That scares them and that makes them have a bad reaction.
The need to declare that it’s such a sticking point. What if instead, we approached all of this with a little bit of fluidity? It’s okay. You can explore and you can change your mind. Not even necessarily change your mind but find out new things. Learn more about yourself and discover new aspects like it, “Why does everything have to be so fixed?”
Fixed has brought a lot of these folks comfort. Whereas for folks like myself, the idea that nothing is fixed is what brings comfort.
That’s a tough place to be in for so many people.
The truth of the world is that some things are fixed and some things aren’t, and the comfort you find in it is what you make of it.The truth of the world is some things are fixed and some things aren't.The comfort you find in it is really what you make of it. Click To Tweet
You can find your own comfort, but you don’t have to impose that on somebody else.
It’s interesting because they are accusing the trans community of imposing our identities and the way that we see these identities on the world when the more accurate way of explaining this struggle is they do not like that there is an alternative way of seeing the world to what they see and what they have been taught, and they are trying to impose their worldview on the rest of us, our identities or mental health be damned.
Do you think that’s about power and control, about controlling what people do with their lives and who’s in and who’s out?
From a political framework? Absolutely. This goes along with the struggles we have been having about bodily autonomy, and abortion access, things like that. The Republican party in particular thrives when they get to dictate what we do with our bodies and how we see ourselves and what XYZ identity means about what rights we do and don’t have.
Their whole thing is making a certain class of people feel incredibly special, and then the class below that gets to spend their lives feeling hopeful that they will enter that class, and then the class below that have no hope. They exist because the middle class there needs to feel like they are better than somebody. That’s the system that they have set up that they want. People who are trans, LGBTQ, Muslim, Black, Latine, AAPI, you name it, anyone who was different from that like White cis-Christian idealized model that they have come up with, exists to be controlled or to serve as the basis of somebody else feeling better than.
It’s crazy because this structure is a scarcity model. It’s a pecking order, and yet the people at the top like to see themselves as victims being oppressed. It’s like the upside-down. How can you believe in this totem pole and yet you are the ones at the bottom in your minds? It’s very strange but it’s working for them.
It is and it’s odd. I have met people who grew up in these environments where they did have quite a bit of privilege, but they were taught by their church groups. They are practically cults in some cases to be completely real with you, but they have been taught that by virtue of being Christians, White Christians, et cetera, they are victims. The world is going to treat them terribly and they must cling to their faith in each other and be ready to go out the same way Jesus did.
It’s fascinating and seems to miss the point of the Jesus story in the first place. It is wild. It is very much that upside-down feeling of how can you possibly see yourself as being such a victim when you have so much more than so many people and there’s this whole system that is designed to make sure that you are comfortable at the expense of other people?
Yet you still don’t feel secure. You still don’t feel like the winner. It’s so broken.
It is. You are supposed to feel like you any day could reach the point of being like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk, and at the same time, be fearful that you’ll lose everything. You stay in this place of like hope and fear constantly and never feel fully settled, and that makes you easier to control and it makes it easier for you to not pay attention to the systems that keep you in that bind.
Thank you. What we want to do in this show is reveal those systems because they are very much at play. We are so busy caught up in these emotions that we can’t even see them for what it is. How do we feel about this system? Do we like it? I don’t like it. A lot of people when they are honest with themselves will say, “I don’t like feeling this way. I don’t like being spun around. I want to solve these problems,” but you can’t until you name it, recognize it, confront it, and then strategize how to change it.
That’s the next problem we run into when we talk about how to change it and we talk about creating systems that allow everyone to thrive and give everybody the basics that they need to survive, then we start hitting those scarcity mindset arguments about whether we don’t have enough to do that. This needs to be a merit-based system. We are one of the richest nations in the world and we spend more on defense than just about anybody, and we have more than enough for everybody. We could easily end hunger in our own nation, not to mention other ones. We don’t have a scarcity of much of anything here but compassion.We're one of the richest nations in the world and we spend more on defense than just about anybody. We could easily end hunger in our own nation, not to mention other ones. We don't have a scarcity of much of anything here, but compassion. Click To Tweet
For people who aren’t aware of what is enshrined in policy here in Texas, maybe I will let you start with that because of course what we want to understand is with the legislature coming into session in January 2023 to be on the lookout for.
The one thing that is truly explicitly anti-trans that is state law at this point is the Anti-Trans Student Athlete Bill. If you are a trans student at the very least in a public school or playing in a public-school sports program like UYL, for example, you do not get to play on the team that matches your gender identity. It is now explicitly about what sex you have or what gender is on your birth certificate, what was on your original birth certificate because you can get that changed.
Now, what’s dangerous for a lot of trans people is the Republican party saying, “We don’t care what you changed it to. The original is the only thing that matters,” which takes away some of the rights and flexibility legally that we have been afforded by being able to change our documents. That’s the only thing that’s on the books.
It’s terrible because being able to engage in an athletic activity is linked to better mental health outcomes. Trans students by virtue of being discriminated against, already struggle a lot with anxiety and depression. Now we are saying you cannot participate in competitive sports teams if you are trans, so good luck with all of that. That’s the only thing that is explicitly anti-trans that is on the books.
My youngest is in middle school and wanted to play volleyball. We did play volleyball, and it was a fantastic experience. This is my not-so-athletically inclined child but desperately got to be a part of the volleyball team. They do go to a private school. I asked, “Do you want to sign up for basketball?” with a big question mark in my tone. Personal testimonial about the value and the need for kids to have access to sports. It’s super important and it goes way beyond athletics. I would say that’s probably the least benefit for my particular kid. It is about camaraderie and being part of the team.
Physical exercise is a piece of it because that helps with different regulatory systems in your body, but it’s camaraderie. It’s the friendships. It’s learning teamwork. It’s learning how to make the best out of a loss and things like that. The fact that we are depriving one of the most vulnerable groups of kids in the entire state of those benefits, to me, that’s insidious. It tells me that these elected leaders do not care about our kids.
That’s the only one that’s on the books. What isn’t on the books but is happening anyway, so it’s interesting. Even though this is not on the books, it’s not a law or anything like that. In addition to that, Greg Abbott also mandated that the Department of Family and Protective Services should start investigating and accepting families with trans kids. Have CPS look into these families, investigate them, and determine if there’s any child abuse happening.
He was able to do this on his own. He didn’t need other elected officials to back him up. It was an executive order. I decide this is happening. Is that how that worked?
Yes and no. That is how he attempted to do it. Whether or not it’s legal, that’s been an interesting fight in the courts. Ultimately, the courts determined that he was not allowed to mandate that of the agency because the legislature didn’t pass anything saying that was the law. However, the agency has chosen to go ahead and do this anyway.
A number of families have been terrorized by this. We are talking small children, ages 5 to 8 crying and thinking that their families are going to be ripped apart and it’s all their faults because a group of adults has decided that this is appropriate behavior for them to take. The result has been a mass exodus out of Texas by a number of these families, which is extremely painful to watch.
Now we have young kids saying goodbye to their friends, families, and the places that they grew up. Having to be reassured by everyone in their life that it’s not their fault, and I do believe that as they grow older, they will understand that. Right now, I imagine it’s hard for a lot of them to not feel like this is their fault and if only they weren’t trans.
It’s another insidious action by our state government. That’s been the result of the families that have stuck around. It’s been a lot of counseling, crying, talking to lawyers, and leaning on community trying to keep a low profile. A number of us have been showing up at the department hearings and speaking out against this over and over again. We got told that it’s “not a big deal. It’s only thirteen families.” It’s like, “That’s thirteen families. It’s too many. If it’s ‘not a big deal,’ maybe you should stop the investigations. ‘
Let’s talk about the chilling effect. I can share my experience that it’s scared the ever-loving what out of us. There’s the scramble for how do we secure our safety as a family. I always get super emotional about this, but it was scary. I’m so lucky that I get to speak from a place of privilege on this. My kids do go to a private school that is incredibly accepting. I felt very confident. I did email the school and say, “Can you please reassure me that if somebody shows up to campus, you will not allow them to interview my children?”
Immediately they said, “Of course.” I knew I had a shield in that space. I have the privilege of being able to send my kids to private school, and that is unbelievably lucky and privileged. I can only imagine the terror and the fear that other people feel and it’s real. Even if it’s not your particular family that’s being investigated, you feel exactly what we are meant to feel, which is incredibly fearful.
I’m sorry that you’ve had to go through this. We fought so hard against this so that you and your family would not have to go through this. It’s state-sanction terrorism. It is designed to terrify families, keep kids in the closet, and keep families from letting their kids be who they are. It is exactly designed to have a killing effect, and so your options are either move away or go back in the closet and hope that doesn’t kill you, and that’s not okay.
These thirteen families that are being investigated, what has that looked like for them? What’s that experience been like? Are they showing up at their schools and interviewing the kids?
I don’t know. It’s much about them showing up at the schools. I assume that has probably happened or at the very least, phone calls have been made. Most of the stories that I hear about, it depends on the CPS case worker. The ones that are more aggressive are the ones I’m most concerned about. Those are folks that keep making phone calls that keep knocking on doors and demanding to speak to the kid.
It’s harassment. They keep showing up and they keep being very threatening. They try to look into personal data for each member of the family and try to see if they can twist that into a way to force the kid to talk to them. Other caseworkers know that this whole thing is ridiculous and they strongly disagree with it. They chose to do it because they felt it was better that they do it than one of the more aggressive people.
They will do the investigation and talk to the parents. They will be incredibly apologetic. They may do a little bit of observation and then they will make notes in the case that it looks to be a normal, healthy, and functional family and ideal for other families and other kids. The problem is that these cases stay open, no matter what the caseworkers want because the agency is being pushed by the governor to keep these cases open because it looks better for him politically.
Meanwhile, many caseworkers have been so offended by this entire mess that a lot of them have left. Now we have a department that was already in a lot of trouble because they could barely take care of the foster kids that they were supposed to help. Now they don’t even have a bunch of CPS case workers. It’s a system that was already in big trouble, falling apart even more needlessly because of one man’s hate-mongering campaign to make him seem like more of a conservative.
I keep thinking to myself, how do you connect those dots for people who might vote for Abbot but still have a lot of compassion for children and families? You understand what’s happening in your name when you vote for folks that push forward these agendas. You are breaking the CPS system, which is there to support foster children and we will have more foster children as more women can’t access abortions. It’s so connected and I don’t know how you help take off those blinders.
Part of the problem is when you first try to explain this to somebody who has been listening to Abbott and the greater Republican machine about this. They say like, “That’s what’s supposed to happen because these kids are being abused.” Never mind. We have so much data from so many different credited medical agencies that show that kids who have supportive families are way more likely to have better mental health outcomes than those that don’t.
Having even one supportive adult in their life reduces their risk of a suicide attempt by 41%. Generally, trans people are a lot happier and report lower rates of anxiety and depression when they are surrounded by supportive loved ones and have a chance to start a transition even if that transition is as simple as a name change, new pronouns, and a new outfit. For a lot of our younger members, that is what transition looks like. It’s discussing gender identity, maybe with a therapist, a new wardrobe, a haircut, different pronouns, and maybe a different name. It depends.
Can you talk about how gender mutilation does not belong in this discussion?
One of the most outrageous lies of all is the genital mutilation piece of this. That’s straight-up not a thing. There is not a doctor in this nation that would do that for anybody. There are two notable exceptions. One is circumcision. Somehow, we are not raising a big stink about that, but two, and this is wild because in every anti-trans healthcare bill we introduced, there’s this exception in place. We are totally cool with doctors mutilating genitalia on infants if they are intersex and they can’t consent to that. Later on, we find most intersex folks are traumatized to learn that is what has happened to them, and there’s a big movement to stop doing that to intersex infants.
What is intersex?
Intersex is when your genetic material itself suggests that you are not a man or a woman. You have a mix of both primary and secondary sex characteristics. Externally it may appear that you have a vulva, but internally you may have testes. That’s one example of many different kinds of intersex variations that exist. That’s what intersex is and it’s extremely common.
In the United States, you are as likely to be looking at a person who is intersex as you are to see a person with red hair. It’s an extremely common variation. When it comes to these genital mutilation scares that the Republican party are trying to bring up, we aren’t doing that to transgender youth. Medical transition is a long process, takes years, and there are a lot of steps taken to ensure that somebody is emotionally ready and developmentally ready for any surgery to happen. You are not going to see anything like that until teenage years at the youngest.
The destination is not always surgery. It needs to be clear. It’s like that that’s an option. It is on the table, but that is not the destination for everyone.
That’s right. There are a number of different ways that trans people transition and find joy in their own bodies and their own genders. Surgery is not always what the answer ends up being for folks. It is an option and it’s an answer for some folks, but it’s not for everybody. It’s wild to me that we are accused of this, but then in these same bills that purport to ban genital mutilation, there’s an exception in there for surgery on intersex infants, which tells you that the cruelty is the point.
What are their thoughts around intersex folks?
They won’t even talk about it. We have called them out on it so many times and they have nothing. They won’t tell us anything, and that’s because the cruelty is the point. If they try to justify it for even a second, it becomes clear this is an anti-LGBTQ bill and the I for intersex is included in our community. This is part of how they punch down at us.
I want to take a quick step back because I’m even realizing my blinders and what I don’t know. When you say trans, it sounds like that’s a spectrum. Can you define transgender? For me, that would help.
It’s an umbrella term. The simplest definition I have for it is that it’s somebody whose gender identity does not match what is indicated on their birth certificate. That’s the simplest definition I have got. That being said, it is an umbrella term. It includes people who are trans men, folks who transition from female to male, and trans women, folks who transition from male to female.
It includes people who are non-binary like myself. It includes people who are two-spirit, which is a Native American gender identity. That’s somewhat similar to folks who might be non-binary or bigender in the sense that they feel that they have an identity that is inclusive of both male and female. There are folks who are bigender. There are folks who are agender and feel they don’t have a gender at all.
There are many identities that fall into that category, and then there are some that fall into this more Venn diagram range that likes the non-binary identity. Some folks feel that they are non-binary and trans. Some folks feel that they are just non-binary but wouldn’t say that they are trans. It’s a fascinating umbrella. Some people are directly under it, some people are outside of it, or partially in, partially out.
That’s helpful. Do you think part of the backlash is that we are finally naming these things and recognizing them and people are like, “This is too much. I can’t keep up with this. I don’t want to change?”
We have been naming a lot of these things for years and that has always come with backlash. I don’t know if it’s less that people can’t keep up so much as they don’t want to and they don’t want to complicate their worldviews.
That’s what I was going to say. It sounds like the symptom, but the actual illness is not wanting anything to be different or to change. Even though it’s like it’s always existed, the awareness and the need to acknowledge is what feels different.
What offends people more than the fact that the terms exist is the fact that the terms are more widespread now. That’s what makes this whole effort to shut us down and make us invisible. What’s interesting is that it’s not like these terms are going to magically go away because you pass some laws that make it harder to experience being trans safely in public. The internet will always exist. Presumably, these terms will continue to grow and evolve. We will always be here.
I mentioned before that Nazi Germany attempted to erase a lot of our history. They also attempted to erase us. We were one of the groups that were rounded up and put into camps and annihilated. We still keep popping up in cultures and countries all over the world. We have always been here and we are going to keep appearing in the world.
I don’t know what the meaning of life is. I don’t know why trans people exist or don’t, but personally, I’m happy that we have so much variation in our cute little human species because there’s a lot that we can learn from each other, and these differences are something that we can celebrate. I think there needs to be a lot more celebrating around difference as opposed to being freaked out by it.
The go-to is freak out.
It doesn’t need to be. I feel like one of the easiest examples I have for this, maybe allegorically is the fiesta in San Antonio. That is an event that celebrates everything like Latine, Hispanic, and the community relationship between Texas and Mexico and all of that. The grand majority of people I see there belong in those communities, but you also see people of all sorts of different races, cultures, and ethnicities there.
Everyone’s welcome there to like participate, celebrate, and have a good time because that’s an event where difference is celebrated. This isn’t about that White norm that a lot of the conservatives are obsessed with. We are focusing on this particular culture. Come celebrate the difference, have some good food, and listen to some good music.
It could be that easy. I like the hopeful note.
Culturally, it could be. There are still issues to figure out around systems and privilege and power, but in terms of our culture, it could be that easy.
I’m wondering what the message is. What do you wish people who maybe don’t identify as LGBTQIA+ or allies who are sitting on the sidelines? I don’t know how this impacts me. What’s the message to them?
It impacts you more than you think. If it doesn’t yet, it will. Also, there’s an Ann Richards quote that about all the time because the first time I heard it, I got happy pills, and it’s, “Why should your life be just about you?” I love that quote. I do mention the first two points though because of what we have been finding for quite some time now. When we start to attack trans people and try to make these rules about who belongs on what sports team or what qualifies as a man enough or woman enough, some of the first people who get implicated in that mistakenly are Black cisgender women.
We have seen this many times over looking at sports requirements. Some of the first people who are accused of being “too man” to participate in women’s athletics are Black women, especially when they start accomplishing and achieving a lot, and White women start placing 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in comparison. That is one of the first racialized gender identities here that gets turned on when we start using these transphobic ways of boxing people in.
We have seen that with the Williams sisters. We’ve seen that with Caster Semenya. We have seen that with a number of Olympians. It’ll be interesting in a bad way. As the trans sports ban takes effect in these school years and people are told what they can and can’t do, trans people will be the first to feel the brunt of it, but it’s a matter of time before there’s a Black female student who sits, who starts excelling at track meets, basketball, or volleyball, you name it and there’s a White parent from the other team who decides that woman can’t possibly be a woman. That’s probably a man. That’s how it starts.
What happens then? Are they like, “You have to go to the doctor. The doctor has to check?” What does that look like?
“We are going to find out.”
It’s like this should not be happening.
I love what you are saying because what seems almost casual is how much that seeps into the culture. My little testimonial moment here is that when my daughter was playing soccer and I explained she was very male presenting. She’s on a girls’ team. She’s a girl. Although it doesn’t matter, somebody yelled out from the other team, “This is girls’ soccer,” when they saw her as the goalkeeper. The coaches very quickly shut it down. They went, “We know. We got it,” and wouldn’t entertain trying to defend anything, which I was grateful for, but that’s awful for my daughter to have to hear somebody yell that out as if they have the right to question anything.
Clearly, they felt empowered and as if they did have that right. That’s scarring to a child. That’s that thing that you remember forever. That writes on your heart and soul. Beyond all the big things that we are talking about, there are also those little moments when people feel empowered to step outside of the bounds of respectability and kindness, and they feel all rights to do it. I would imagine that those people won’t even think twice about that thing that they yelled out so casually, but that’s the stuff that for kids is deeply scarring. This is real and important is what I want to underline. Everybody plays a part. We all have a role to play in shutting this stuff down.
That’s exactly it because policy and culture interact all the time. It’s something I want to study more. A lot of what happens in the pink dome ends up determining how we get treated out in the rest of the world. That example is exactly it. Now that trans people are on everybody’s radar in this scrutinized negative way, there are all these people that feel empowered to make these rude, bold, and damaging comments to kids, and they don’t think twice about it.
It’s like your comment may be what is echoing around in a kid’s head as they spiral from being in a relatively good place mental health-wise to developing an anxiety disorder. You have options with how you respond to this stuff, and people don’t even think about it. Ultimately, we all have to take responsibility and like try to be that positive force that shuts this down but also actively affirms all the kids around us no matter what they look like. That’s going to be part of how we win. We create the culture that we want to see and we want to be a part of.
I have one more question and then we’ll move on to our last part. There are so many times in this show where I’m like, “Nicole, there’s so much to fix.” Where do you think we should most focus our attention to make sure Texas is an inclusive place that is welcoming for all Texans?
It’s going to have to be schools, in part because that is what our opponents are focusing on. That’s part of why I spent a lot of time this past election cycle focusing on school boards. We had a lot of people trying to get on these school boards with an agenda to make it harder to be a kid that has any identity that is seen as outside of that White cisgender, heterosexual norm.
In a weird way, it’s because our opponents are putting so much pressure now in schools to teach inaccurate US history, to be terrible to trans kids, to assert what bathrooms people can use, what sports teams people can be on, and what books we read. That’s going to have to be where we focus too, and that’s going to be complicated because our public schools in particular are so underfunded still to this day.
Our teachers don’t have the resources they need to even teach their classes the way that they would like to much less receive the support that they need to live their lives in a way that’s comfortable. We have our work cut out for us, but it’s going to have to be schools. We decide to be the parents that are affirming and accepting around everyone’s kids and also around parents who are trans, LGBTQIA+, and all of that.
We are going to have to fight to make sure that there’s a variety of books that are available to our kids. We are going to have to fight to make sure that our teachers know that not every parent thinks that they are terrible. A lot of us think they are doing a great job. We are going to have to show up to school board meetings and voice that which is a surprisingly effective tactic.
When parents show up at school board meetings where there are people ready to scream about teachers and then they go in there instead and talk about how great everything is and how great the teachers are, the school board and the schools and all that, it completely messes the screamers up because now they are going to look like jerks if they scream, shout, and sound terrible. It completely changes their tenor. I strongly recommend that move. We are going to have to focus on schools because that is what is coming under fire the most. It’s the starting point for most of us. We learn who we are, we get socialized, and we learn a lot of our values in school. I would look there.
For me, a lot of it comes back to public education. This is an institution we typically all tend to agree deserves funding and support and is still a public good. We have to make sure that it’s getting the funding and support it needs, and the positive messages and that we are invested there. I love that answer. That helps.
To remind people, if you are a child goes to a local ISD, there is a portion at the meetings which are normally monthly for public comment and you can say, “My child’s teacher is incredible. I want to take a moment to brag on them,” or whatever it is. I’m sure that would be incredible for them to hear, and like you said, maybe take the piss out of people who are there to complain. That’s a great idea. Nicole, any last thoughts before we move on to our last part of the show?
A quick shout-out to public schools. I revealed that my kids go to private school, but I was a public school teacher. I went to public schools my whole life. I am a supporter.
I’m not saying everyone has to go to a public school. There are some great private schools out there too. There are some that are not great, but there are plenty that is great and that’s awesome. Kudos to you for being a public school teacher. It’s one of the greatest things you can do for our society, so thank you.
We love our educators. This was a lot of great information. There are so many things to touch on and think about and discuss.
Ash, thank you for sitting with us for so long. We have gone so far over time.
It’s okay. I hope I’m not rambling too much or anything. I have so many thoughts in my brain all the time.
The more we get into this, the more we realize the interconnectedness of everything. To talk about this, you have to back up and talk about this, and then you have to talk about that. That’s how it is, but the more we can piece it together, the more the new picture becomes clear. I like this version of reality over this version that we are living in. For our last part, before we let our guests go, we like to do our attention mentions where we mention something that has our attention. A lot of times, for me, it’s a TV show, but it can be a book, an article, or something that happened that was quite memorable. Nicole, what have you got?
I prepared as we were talking because I was like, “This is something, for sure, that I have seen that I can recommend, and it is The Problem with Jon Stewart, which many of the clips are available on YouTube, but it is on Apple+ and the season two episode one is called The War Over Gender. He has this amazing conversation with the Attorney General of Arkansas that displays all of the hypocrisy of so much of the legislation that is trying to legislate the bodies of transgender people. The Problem with Jon Stewart Season 2 Episode 1, The War Over Gender is a good primer, after you read this for letting everything sink in.
That was a great episode. My favorite part of that episode was when he was interviewing his round table and there was a parent who talked about the experience of having their child come out as trans. This was a person who grew who was in a very conservative community in a church environment and how this isn’t great. This is the story how abandoned that person was by their community, and I was like, “Are you kidding me?”
Jon Stewart asked, “Did this experience that you went through change anyone’s mind around you?” The parent was like, “Sadly no.” Surely, when you see someone that you care about go through this that has to have an impact, and maybe it did and those around were quiet about it. That’s the thing I hope that we get some movement on is these people who are nearby start to wake up and say, “This person’s hurting and I have to help them,” and be a support system.
That’s not a downer. It’s an interesting lesson in making sure the community that you are in is the right community for you and is going to support you no matter what happens.
I like that spin. Do you have anything, Ash? I figured out what mine is.
I’m having trouble thinking as much about a specific show or anything. I went to the Texas Book Festival and so I want to give that event a shout-out. I feel like if you are a Texan and you’ve never been, you should try to go at least once. It’s every fall in Austin at the capital. Around the capital, you get to meet authors and hear them speak.
There are books for sale everywhere. There are books for free everywhere. A lot of people bring dogs for you to pet. There are food trucks. It’s a gorgeous little event, and it’s neat to be surrounded by so many different people who are all there because they are interested in learning and they are curious about the world around them and the people around them. That’s what’s on my mind lately is how much I love that event and how I wish everyone could go at least once.
One of my closest friends growing up, that was her parents’ yearly couple trip. They would come to Austin for the Texas Book Festival. I can even still see the La Quinta in my mind where they stayed downtown to go to the festival.
It’s a good date spot.
I have no excuse. I have never been, but I will go now. I will make sure because I live in Austin. How much easier could it be? There are free books. Sign me up. I love free books. My mention is this documentary I saw on Hulu called God Forbid: The Sex Scandal That Brought Down a Dynasty. I saw this and I was like, “This story is messy.”
A quick little recap for you all not familiar. It follows the sex scandal of the Falwell couple, Becki and Jerry Falwell Jr. They had a years-long relationship with this young man in Miami, and yet they were saying in public that marriage is between a man and a woman, don’t have premarital sex, and don’t have affairs and all this stuff.
Jerry Falwell Jr. is the president of Liberty University. His father Jerry Falwell created their religious right, the Moral Majority. He activated that voting bloc. The documentary starts out and it’s a very salacious sex scandal, but then it goes into the story of the rise of the religious right and exposes the hypocrisy there. I thought this was so well done.
It has ties to Trump. I watched it. It was interesting to see how the political machinery was all up in it.
I have read reviews or comments about the documentary like, “It was great until it got political.” I was like, “The point was that these people are political.” You have to tell that part of the story to make it whole and to understand why this sex scandal matters to us.
Otherwise, it’s completely unimportant. That’s a marriage story.
It’s their life. Who cares?
It sounds like they didn’t read the previews or anything and were ready to judge some people
Probably. You all should check it out and let us know what you think because that was an interesting narrative that they put together. All that to say thank you again, Ash. You are an incredible guest and we appreciate the work you do. I love your story and how you are studying therapy. It sounds like it’s so much helped inform the way that you can communicate about gender issues and policy and put pieces together for people in a way that hopefully, they hear and then can help become part of that coalition to make things better.
That’s the goal and thank you for the support and the love on that. I am gearing up for what is going to probably be a very busy legislative session, but I do have some hope. Thanks to your show, I have made more inroads with some of the moderate Republicans than I originally thought. I’m going to keep trying to use these skills to reach people whom a lot of people might deem unreachable and see if I can get them to be helpful.
Thanks for your willingness to do that.
It’s so easy to be like, “No one can be moved.” We are still people at the end of the day. There’s always hope and that’s the thing that we cling onto. As we say in the show, “Offering hope in these challenging times because people can surprise you in pleasant ways.” That’s what we put out to the universe. Thanks again. This was great.
We hope you are enjoying the interview with Ash Hall so far. This is part one of the episode. In part two we talk more about the bills that were introduced in the Texas legislature last session and the ones that are going to be on the horizon. Also, some of the things impacting families with children who belong in the LGBTQIA+ community, specifically transgender children, and the challenges those families are facing right now. We encourage you to tune back in. This was a great conversation and we love sharing our time with Ash. See you next episode.
Hopefully, we demystified some little portion of Texas politics, and we hope that you will do more with us. Check out our website at www.GoBehindTheBallot.com, where you all find links to all of our social media and you will find our community. Let’s join together and do more. We hope you will let us know what is working and we hope you will join us next episode. Thanks, everybody, and have a good one.
- Ash Hall
- LGBTQ Victory Fund
- Equality Texas
- The Problem with Jon Stewart
- The War Over Gender
- Texas Book Festival
About Ash Hall
Ash Hall (they/them) became involved in social justice advocacy in Texas over a decade ago, after discovering their own queer identities and finding community with others facing oppression. They have worked on numerous campaigns and nonprofits dedicated to civil rights and achieving equity for LGBTQIA+ Americans. Today Ash serves as a precinct chair, member of the State Democratic Executive Committee, School Board Organizing Director of Texas Blue Action Democrats, co-founder of New Endeavor Texas, Chair of the Travis County Democratic Party’s Legislative Task Force, and founder of Justice Strategies. Ash is committed to reaching justice for all marginalized communities and changing cultural norms in favor of compassion and equity.