The Legs of my Four-Year-Old Daughter

Though made of watermelons and Sunday chickens

they are not these things.

Hominluluid, curvilinear, balletic exclamation points.

The size of a serious mechanic’s wrench,

two-handed tool, capable of a fair poundage of torque.

Though I have watched, I have never seen them grow.

It is the same as Orion toggling across winter’s horizon

or the roots of the water lily spreading under blankets of mud.

Imperceptibly she is stealing away from me,

born away by these pale vines, detestable

beautiful archeries of flesh.

Shins of moon cratered with ochre and midnight bruises

(I counted eleven today)

subdermal epistemology, wisdom of worldly encounters.

Spriglets sprightly wound up tightly, dancing drumsticks, metronomes…

Keep the time in tapping toes, oh Anthropos.

Two half notes with stems pointed down surround a quarter rest,

the squiggle of a conch tossed with driftwood by the ocean.

Some can only appraise the volumetrics of cylinders.

But you walk on talismans, the howls of wolves made solid.

The Turing Toaster Test

Father of a Gender Non-Conforming Kid Lovingly Responds to Hate Mail

*The following is part of what may or may not become a quasi-regular series of posts. They are my (mostly light-hearted) replies to actual things people have said/written to me. I have modified their comments just enough to fit the format of this “Dear Abbey” style question-and-answer, but the gist of their remarks is unchanged.


Installment #1

Dear Deranged Douche,

You are obviously a joke. I can’t believe you are a professor. Boys have penises and girls have vaginas. That’s called science – look it up. You can’t just choose one or the other. So, if your students asked you if they can be a toaster what would you say?!


Self-righteous Blowhard


Dear Blowhard,

Great question. And, I might add, one of the perennial quandaries that ranks up there with “do we have free will?” and “how many degrees of separation are there between Francis Bacon and Kevin Bacon?”

There is much debate about the Great Toaster Conundrum (as it is known among analytic philosophers). Some follow this chain of thinking, which is generally attributed to Gettier:

(proposition alpha) Humans and toasters both have a material existence,

(proposition beta) humans and toasters both know (in the main) what to do with bread,

(conclusion) therefore, yes, humans can be toasters.

However, at the 1932 conference of the Vienna Oval (a breakaway group of philosophers who had interminable quibbles with Popper re: Abduction, etc.) Herr Wundtz surmised:

(proposition theta) Humans have veins whereas toasters have heating elements,

(proposition chai) humans are (generally) mobile whereas toaster are (generally) not,

(conclusion) therefore, no, humans cannot be toasters.

Obviously, I am glossing over all the crucial details, which continue to play out in the pages of the periodical Of Bread and Men (H factor: 32).

My own take is slightly more pragmatic. While walking out and about, I have found people say things to my son like (upon holding the door) “What a gentleman!” or “How old is your son?” or “What sports does he like to play?”

So, I tell my students to run an experiment along the lines of the Turing test: head out for a walk down campus just being simply who you are. If people spontaneously and sincerely say things like, “My, this toaster really does bagels perfectly!” or “What setting should I use for rye?” or “Whose toaster is this and can you get it the f**k out of chair?” well, then I think the answer to your question is “yes.” But for now, I am going with a provisional “no.”


Loving Dad

Penises, Guns, and Fear in Texas

I want to push an analogy about two of the hottest debates in Texas politics now: bathroom bills and campus carry. Of course all analogies walk on three legs, and I may have pushed this one so far it falls over…


Someone with a penis walks into a women’s bathroom but no one is ever the wiser, because it belongs to a trans woman who might look something like this. Someone with a gun walks onto a college campus but no one is ever the wiser, because it belongs to a conceal carry license holder. One is always hidden behind clothing or a stall door. The other is always hidden in a purse or a backpack.

Both are there because of rights claims – the right to equal treatment under the law, the right to self-defense. If either of them ever becomes visible, then almost certainly an illegal event has occurred. You cannot rip someone’s pants off and you cannot just rip someone’s purse off. Also, you cannot pull down your own pants in plain sight, and you cannot pull out your gun in plain sight (see the UNT campus carry policy).

In both cases, it is claimed that allowing a penis or a gun in those places will invite greater dangers. Men will take advantage of non-discrimination policies to gain access to women’s facilities. Disgruntled people will take advantage of concealed carry policies to bring more guns on campus. Then, they say, we’ll have increased sexual assault and campus shootings.

Sure, it is always possible that a dingbat uses a gender identity inclusive law to justify getting access to a bathroom or locker room. But it is exceedingly rare (over 200 cities and 18 states with non-discrimination laws report no increased incidents of sexual assault or public safety violations as a result of the laws). Further, this is all a red herring given the fact that over 80% of rape and sexual assault is perpetrated by non-strangers, whereas 64% of transgender individuals will experience sexual assault simply for being who they are.

And, sure, someone with a conceal carry license could fly off the handle and become a campus shooter. But it is exceedingly rare (in Texas, conceal carry holders, who comprise just three percent of the population, are six times less likely to commit a violent crime than the general public). In the US, 150 campuses have concealed carry laws and not one violent act has resulted. Further, if a person really wants to commit a violent crime on campus with a gun, they are not likely to go through the process of obtaining a legal license when they can much more quickly and easily just get a gun and illegally carry it on campus.

You want to restrict penises in ladies rooms and guns on campus? Good luck enforcing that without violating privacy rights and ratcheting up a culture of policing and control.

The penis or the gun doesn’t matter. It is the behavior that matters. If everyone is being peaceful and respectful, then there is no issue. And indeed in both cases, you can argue that history has proved this to be the case. Transgender people have long been using Texas restrooms that match their gender identity with no incidents. Conceal carry holders have long safely been walking around Texas.

Yes, in both cases there is the further argument not about behavior but about mere presence. People say they don’t feel safe just knowing there could be a penis in the stall next to you or a gun in the backpack next to you. It will foster an atmosphere of discomfort in one case. In the other case, it will have a chilling effect on free speech and critical feedback (e.g., honest grades).

But in the case of genitalia, this is simply a mental hang-up. It is not the responsibility of a trans person to help you deal with the complex reality of gender identity. That’s on you. They should not be forced to lead undignified, stigmatized double lives just because you have a vague sense of repugnance or discomfort. If there are bad behaviors, report it. Otherwise, get over it.

The same thing goes for guns. Your mental block and feeling of unease does not trump someone else’s right to self-defense. Yes, it would be more important if the statistics showed conceal carry leads to more actual threats of intimidation or violence, but they don’t show that. Of course, a gun is not neutral – it opens up a different reality and makes its possessor into a different subject. Still, though, there is no evidence that someone with a conceal carry license will turn into someone who intimidates or commits violent acts simply by virtue of having a gun.

In the end, if someone is going to hurt you either with a penis or a gun it won’t be because of a non-discrimination law or a campus carry law. Of course, there is always a slight chance – we can never rule out even the slimmest of possible risks, even death by falling coconut. But the fear engendered by these laws is blown way out of proportion.

Adam Says Farewell to DAG

Five years ago, then newly elected City Councilmember Kevin Roden arranged a meeting with the now defunct Center for the Study of Interdisciplinarity at UNT. He asked me if I would be interested in forming a citizen’s committee to help the city rewrite their rules governing drilling and natural gas production. This was shortly after the council had approved three wells near McKenna Park amidst great controversy. I agreed and wrote up a one page document outlining the basic idea of an informal, ‘shadow,’ advisory and educational commission. And that’s how the Denton Stakeholder Drilling Advisory Group was born. Across the years, it changed a lot, including a name change to the Denton Drilling Awareness Group. I served as Chair, then Vice President, then President, then Board Member.

And today, I attended my last Board meeting. After five years, I am no longer a part of DAG. I depart on good terms with all the current members – Rhonda, Tara Linn, Ed, Carol, Michael, and Emily – and I am confident they will continue to do great things. I look forward to supporting them however I can as a fan and occasional volunteer. I have recently been voted in as the Vice President of the Board for the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, and I just decided that both jobs would be too much.

I thought I would make this announcement so that everyone would know. Clearly, now when and if I speak in public about fracking I only speak for myself and not on behalf of DAG.


I want to thank everyone who has been involved over these past five years. I learned so much and took so much joy in serving my city and fellow citizens. It’s crazy to think now about all that was involved – I wrote over 300 blogs first on the dentondrilling site and then on, produced several videos, wrote many op-eds, participated in a few debates, and hosted dozens of meetings. But that was only a tiny slice of the work that took a whole community to accomplish – reaching out to neighbors, printing flyers, writing reports, raising funds, marching in parades, playing music, making art, writing letters to the editor, making signs, making phone calls, speaking at City Hall, driving down to Austin, working the polls, voting, protesting, and so much more.

Now, if you are a pessimist you might say that after all that, given HB 40, we are right back where we started. But that’s not just too bleak of a view – it’s wrong. Because we have come a long ways. So many people have been educated. So many people have tuned into their power as citizens. So many people have gotten activated to take part in our public sphere. And we won that glorious victory on November 4, 2014. Nothing can ever take that away…and nothing can ever take away that feeling of empowerment and the bonds of community that we have forged.

So, thank you to everyone who has played a part in Denton’s fracking saga these past five years. And my very best wishes to DAG as they go forward and to our entire city as we struggle toward justice.

Asthma, Gender, Numbers, Self

I have lately seen both of my children intersect with the realm of medical and social labels. A kid who likes short hair and Star Wars becomes “transgender.” A kid who coughs and is prone to pneumonia becomes “asthmatic.”

The labels help some and hurt some. It is good to know there are others out there like you and your family. It is good to know there are things to do. I take the labels seriously. But I try not to reify them and let them do the thinking for me. Asthma, for example, is not well defined. Our different pediatricians disagree about the diagnosis. Even those who like the diagnosis admit that asthma is really a catch-all term for lots of poorly understood stuff about breathing problems.

How many asthmatics are there? Well, it’s an unanswerable question, because the term is so loose. How many transgender people are there? Well, I think ditto. That doesn’t mean there is no such thing as being asthmatic or transgender. It just means human categories are often poor approximations of reality. Breath is a spectrum from in to out. Gender is a spectrum. It’s ok, just breathe.

Is Lulu really asthmatic? I don’t think that matters as much as trying to do things that help her to flourish. Is MG transgender? Again, ditto. So, I understand the need for short-hand labels. But beware the way labels become impersonal signifiers. They become numbers and data points that get used this way and that. They hide the faces behind them – the unique stories. They are like the eyes of Medusa – they freeze into stone a living, changing self.


People sometimes ask how a child who is only eight years old could possibly identify with a gender that doesn’t correspond to their sex or the gender assigned at birth. Kids are too young, they say.

Well, maybe it seems less weird if you consider that an eight year old is also a 3,000 day old or a 4,320,000 minute old.  Have you ever spent all day with a three or four year old? It can seem like an eternity. Now stretch those eternities across eight years and you can remind yourself of how it is to be a person. The slow work of unfurling, becoming, self-knowing.

So much is packed into a day of, say, a five year old. The bathroom saga. The toothbrush dilemma. The board games strewn around the toy room. The sore fingers from tying water balloons. The skinned knee from falling off the trampoline. The inconsolable rage at your sister. The unstoppable laughter when tickled. The adventure of making lunch. And dear god it’s not even afternoon yet.

We used to play make believe zoo, then make believe garbage monsters, we learned to swim, we used to be a white belt in Taekwondo and of course we used to not do Taekwondo, we used to really be into Spiderman, Minecraft on again off again, we used to love Caillou (thank god that is over).

We used to say there are lots of ways to be a girl. Now we say he is a boy. Dresses went away at the age of 2. Asking questions about whether scientists can turn us into boys at the age of 4. Short hair at the age of 5. Changed pronouns at the age of 6 and a half – really 6 and three quarters. That didn’t happen overnight. Day by day – slow and slow – things change. But some things go away and some things develop. We don’t play garbage monsters any more, but we are still wearing our hair short. We are still convinced “pretty” is a derogatory term. We still identify as boys. We still are boys. We are still who we have always been, though changed, of course.

Transition, metamorphosis, selfhood. I wonder if we can keep all of this in mind when we talk about bathrooms and gender identity. We all have spent millions of minutes becoming who we are and being who we become.

So, please be conscious of the way labels can trigger in your mind instant assumptions, boxes in which you then file people away – good or bad, blessed or cursed, odd or normal. No eternity of days can be captured in a single word. And no word can substitute for listening ears and loving care.

Never Trust Someone the FBI Hasn’t Visited

Shortly after the scary fliers about anarchists and outsiders came out, my family had a medical emergency. I suppose the buzz has now all died down, but I did want to say just a couple of words.


Cindy Spoon and Will Wooten are not outsiders. They live in Denton and they care very much about this place. There is no international organization pulling their strings. They are not puppets – they are thoughtful, autonomous adults. So what if they draw some inspiration from an organization that has its historical roots abroad? Christianity, anyone? And don’t Republicans and Democrats have ties with “Washington, D.C.”? How scandalous this all is!

I know Cindy better than Will and can, thus, speak more to her character. I think she has become one of the smartest political minds in our town. I mean not just that she is savvy, but also that she has a very strong grasp of the perennial themes at stake in politics — about power, privilege, community, and communication.

I think anarchy, understood in its philosophical sense, is a beautiful thing. I’m probably too much of a fuddy-duddy (I won’t say ‘realist,’ cuz that is a total cop out) to live up to that ideal. But I like that it is part of our intellectual/political milieu around here. I keep a copy of To Change Everything in my backpack. It’s good stuff. What’s so wrong about thinking radical thoughts? After all, much of our world – the world we take for granted – is utterly fucked up and unjust.

And what is so wrong with civil disobedience? Yeah, we’ve had some encounters with the FBI. So what? Given that our existing legal order is in such dire need of change, I think we should be suspicious of anyone the FBI has NOT visited. What’s so wrong with you that you are so normal in the midst of this insanity?

Now, keep in mind that I am a supporter of Joey Hawkins, though I wish that his statement would have been much stronger against the fliers.

You, Ma’am, Need Jesus

Here is how the script goes.

A Christian conservative, says something about keeping men out of women’s bathrooms. He gets a bunch of likes on Facebook and supporters who comment “Yeah, give those trans perverts a bathroom of their own labeled ‘confused’ LOL!”

Then someone on the left calls him a hateful monster and brainless excuse for a human being. The two sides shout at each other online for a while until the next story distracts them.

When Tracy Murphree, the Republican candidate for Denton County Sheriff, took to Facebook last week, the script played out. He wrote, “If my little girl is in a public women’s restroom and a man, regardless of how he may identify, goes into the bathroom, he will then identify as a John Doe until he wakes up in whatever hospital he may be taken to.” There was a chorus of “Amens” on his page. Mr. Murphree said he would not arrest someone who had beaten a man in a women’s restroom. Like a county clerk refusing to issue same sex marriage licenses, here was a soon-to-be county sheriff claiming a religious freedom exemption for assault without cause.

Then the other side launched into character assassinations of Mr. Murphree: “What a moronic bigot!”

My wife, Amber, criticized his comment, arguing that it puts our transgender son, MG, at risk of vigilante violence. She soon found herself in a media storm, because nothing gets clicks quite like a gender rumble. Yesterday, a news team came to our house. When the camera went on in our living room, she was set up to play her part in the hate fest. It was as if the director of our culture war had said, “And cue the angry mother of a transgender child…action!” Sit back and watch the sparks fly.

But Amber didn’t stoop to name calling. Instead, she said, “I don’t think Tracy is a bad person.” And for his part, Mr. Murphree apologized, admitted it was a mistake, and promised to have a meeting with the LGBT advocacy group Equality Texas.

We don’t always have to follow the script. The key is to acknowledge human imperfection, avoid the seduction of certainty, and try to get to know each other as human beings, not icons and comment boxes.

The people on Mr. Murphree’s page were oh-so-sure that they know everything there is to know about our family and our son. One of them wrote to Amber, “Give me a freaking break! I raised four kids. Sure, each of them wanted to wear heels etc. when they were little. I let them because they were toddlers! Then you tell them at age 4 & 5, no honey that’s for girls and that’s for boys! I’m not buying your story at all.” Another wrote, “this whole idea of your not born one sex or the other is ludicrous.” And another about our son, “At 8 years old he’s looking for direction. You should point him in the right one not leave him confused and encourage it. Wow…You, ma’am, need Jesus.”

The exclamation points tell us that she has it figured out. Even the most cursory exposure to our family is enough to know for sure that our story is not to be “bought.” The whole thing is patently absurd. There is one right direction and they, of course, know what it is.

If you begin with this kind of piety, rather than compassion, then the beginning is already the end. You already know it all. The only thing left is to spout your wisdom at the benighted masses and hope they find Jesus too.

Sometimes love and hate are hard to untangle. Mr. Murphree’s love for his children came out in a hateful way. I can relate. I bet most dads have felt so protective of their kids that they get that hot feeling in their chest, that righteous anger. It’s intoxicating. I felt that way when I first read his comments and those of his supporters. I love to hate them.

But if I check that impulse I am able to hear something that got passed over in the media frenzy. At least three times, Mr. Murphree referenced political correctness. For example, he said, “I won’t sacrifice my daughter’s safety to political correctness.” This is a man who feels like he couldn’t say something important, because a censorious culture filled with the same pious rectitude would label him bigoted and his concerns illegitimate. But there is a legitimate concern there. What if a culture of tolerance shames people into silence and leads others into harm? As Mr. Murphree later wrote, “I’m angered that when someone says bathrooms should be gender specific, they are made to be a horrible person.”

As an aside, I think our local politics has become diseased with the badgering dogmatism of political correctness. I can’t think out loud through different points of view or even share an article without the hounds nipping at my heels to get me back into the herd. When I stumped for the fracking ban, I’d always acknowledge that reasonable people can disagree. And then I’d give my best arguments for the ban. Being ardently committed to a cause yet retaining a sense of one’s own fallibility is a matter of tone and good grace. Now it feels like I am surrounded by the unimpeachable. It’s exhausting.

Those of us striving for a safe, tolerant, and fair society for transgender people are not going to succeed by shouting down others. As Jonathon Chait wrote, “Politics in a democracy is still based on getting people to agree with you, not making them afraid to disagree.”

So, how do we get people to agree with us? I think it takes face to face conversations.


I’d love to talk with Mr. Murphree about his concern that allowing people to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity will “raises the odds” and “give a window” for sexual predators to commit crimes. From what I have read, that is exceedingly rare. According to Media Matters, non-discrimination policies do not lead to an increase in assault, voyeurism, or harassment. Even the American Family Association boycott pledge against Target cites only two examples, one of which just involved a guy taking off his shirt in the women’s locker room. So, I’d like to ask him why there is so much fear.

I’d also like to know what he means by “a man, regardless of how he may identify.” I imagine my son at the age of twenty being forced to use a women’s restroom because of a law that identifies him by birth certificate. I think that may be what Mr. Murphree has in mind, but then again in terms of how MG looks outwardly, a man is in the women’s room. I think he would want MG to use the men’s room. I think he would want trans women to use the women’s room. And of course, neither of us wants anyone to be assaulted or harassed. So, maybe we don’t have much to disagree about.

The last thing I would love to ask him is what he means when he says: “I have no issue with transgenders. That’s between them and God.” For me, the religious dimension is one of love. Christians have been given a radical call to love everyone, even the despised outsider lying in the ditch. Mr. Murphree admitted that his statement was un-Christian. I think that is a very Christian thing to do. And it’s a good place to start.