Earlier this month, the massively popular podcaster Joe Rogan, told former U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard a story about a school that put litter boxes in classrooms in order to accommodate students who “identified as animals.”
That's unbelievable, right? Right. You shouldn’t believe it because it’s not true.
In fact, the truth about this story is even worse than the lie. NBC News only found one school district that keeps cat litter for student use, and only in the event of an active shooter situation in which students may have to hide for long periods of time without access to restrooms.
Just another day living the American nightmare.
Notice the particular language of the lie Rogan told his millions of listeners. It’s supposed by Rogan and other right-wingers that respecting transgender people’s gender identities is a slippery slope to people identifying as animals or other nonsense. Even elected officials like Marjorie Taylor Green are spreading this lie about litter boxes.
This is a fabrication, but not a unique one. Lies about trans people are rampant. And while all forms of bigotry often find their foundations built upon misinformation, transphobia is a particular problem because of how accepted it is in society.
[Related: OPINION: The horror of transphobia in film]
The anti-trans bigotry we see from politicians and pundits is blatant and obvious, whereas other forms of prejudice are generally cloaked in dog whistles. For this reason, it’s up to all who believe in such politically frivolous concepts such as “truth” and “logic” to shove transphobes into the closet, so to speak.
One way to combat ant-trans misinformation is to tell the truth about sex and gender. This will have limited success, though, because bigoted people can be closed-minded and fake stories are pervasive. Regardless, becoming educated and educating others is imperative in any movement seeking social justice.
A good starting point is understanding it’s a lie to say people can only be male or female, and that gender is biologically determined.
Sex is not binary, either. There are millions of people who are intersex, or those who have varying sex characteristics and hormonal differences that don’t fit into the male/female binary. And intersex people aren’t rare, either – there are as many intersex people as there are people with red hair.
South African Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya is one such person. Semenya was raised female, identifies and is legally recognized as a woman. But she was barred from competing at the Tokyo Olympics after rule changes were made declaring individuals like her ineligible to compete because they naturally produce too much testosterone.
Semenya is a talented athlete who was robbed of her chance to compete before the world. If conservatives had their way, only athletes who fit within their rigid ideas of gender would be able to compete in sports. They say it isn’t “fair” for trans people to compete against cis people, and pass laws to prevent it.
It’s misleading to say trans people have an advantage over cis people in sports. Talent naturally varies between athletes of the same gender. No one is under any illusions that all college football players are equally talented – for example, the players at Rutgers are better than the players at IU.
Because talent varies, it logically follows that trans athletes don’t always win. Swimmer Lia Thomas has been the frequent target of conservatives because of her success. But Thomas, a trans athlete, has also lost many races against cis women. For some reason (what could it be!) conservatives ignore this.
The takeaway from all of this is that gender and sex are complicated. Many conservatives will try to tell you these things are simple, but they’re not. Promoting trans acceptance will require educated activists exposing conservative lies at every opportunity.
Jared Quigg (he/him) is a junior studying journalism and political science.