Jan 2 2023
38. Trans Mental Health with Zander Keig, LCSW
Long-time listeners of this show have heard from numerous voices in the post-trans community, all of whom feel that the beliefs and medical practices surrounding transgender identification have been harmful to them. Today’s guest, on the other hand, has a different perspective. Zander Keig is a "trans man” with no regrets after 17 years on testosterone. As it turns out, though, Zander and I have a few things in common. We’re both mental health professionals who share practical concerns about how certain culturally sanctioned ways of thinking and relating to others impact wellbeing. We’ve both been accused of bigotry for expressing concerns about whether “transitioning” is right for everyone. And we’re both world-bridgers, who respect viewpoint diversity, and see the need to help society collectively navigate sensitive issues more gracefully.In this episode, Zander debunks the myth of the "trans monolith,” arguing there is no consensus in his community about the right way to approach certain issues. We exchange ideas about how certain prevalent mentalities, narratives, and dialectics impact behavioral health and social wellbeing. Zander articulates his pragmatic understanding of how and why emotional health should not be taken for granted, nor can it be catered by the outside world, but must be actively cultivated by the individual. We share our mutual concerns for the welfare of trans-identifying people in general, whether or not they will eventually desist. And we debate important questions for which there are no easy answers, such as: what should the future of healthcare for trans identifying people look like, and how should it be governed? Plus, Zander shares about his own personal history. Zander began his “transition” in his late 30’s, after a lifetime of facing discrimination as a gender-nonconforming butch lesbian. Zander had no history of dysphoria earlier in life, yet he felt as though a weight had been lifted the moment he started taking testosterone. What does this tell us about the relationships between sexism, homophobia, social pressures, and transition? Zander also tells us about how counseling would have been helpful during such a disorienting time in his life, and how, despite the horror stories we’ve all heard, his marriage survived his transition just fine.If I do say so myself, I believe we had an excellent discussion. We each represented a different voice with which many others will find themselves agreeing. I believe an ongoing dialectic between these two different perspectives is necessary in order to help move society forward constructively while navigating unprecedented challenges.Zander Keig is an award-winning licensed clinical social worker, educator, and author who served in the US Coast Guard. Zander serves as an Advisory Board member and Senior Fellow for the Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR) and helps develop and deliver FAIR's corporate diversity training, emotional wellness, and interpersonal growth courses. As a trans man and first-generation American of Mexican heritage with subject matter expertise in transgender health, social care, and mental wellness, Zander brings a unique perspective to all aspects of his work. You can find Zander’s work at ZanderKeig.net, Zanderology on Locals, or FairForAll.org.A note on pronouns and my choice of guest: My audience comprises many thoughtful people with a wide range of viewpoints on controversial issues in the field of gender. Many open questions are up for debate in the broader community, such as the notion of “true trans;” conceptualization around “dysphoria” and social contagion; and of course, the question of pronouns. Perhaps you recall how I spoke with Jayme in episode 28, and what I stipulated in that show’s notes and introductions, or how I spoke with Corinna Cohn in episode 31. Given that I have grown increasingly comfortable over time with sticking to biology-based pronouns despite social pressures to do otherwise, some listeners who favor this approach may find themselves disappointed or frustrated that I reverted to calling Zander, a biological female, “he.” I understand this frustration. The erosion of truth in language has real consequences for the human psyche, and broader cultural implications as well. On principle, I remain committed to speaking truth, and honesty is one of my topmost guiding values. I don’t want to be manipulated, coerced, or frightened into denying reality. However, many social situations challenge us to strike a balance between competing values, and selecting one guiding principle above all others may come across as rigid, inflexible, and imbalanced. For instance, those who choose brutal honesty in all situations, without incorporating kindness as a counterbalancing virtue, can often come across as insensitive jerks, and have difficulty making friends with anyone but the thickest-skinned.In the case of my conversation with Zander, it simply would have felt stilted to remain committed to this form of honesty at all costs and insist on calling Zander “she.” Not only do I know that Zander goes by “he” and prefers not to talk about it; not only was I in the earliest stages of building a relationship with a colleague who kindly offered his time to be a guest on my show; but also, frankly, everything about Zander’s appearance and presentation, not the least of which include his bald head, enormous beard, and deep voice, intuitively reads as "male.” We are an unprecedented situation that evolutionary biologists I admire (Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying) might call “hyper-novelty.” Never before in human history has there been such a thing as a female whose physiology has been altered by years of exposure to large doses of male hormones. Whenever faced with such a radical and complex challenge, I think it advisable to summon patience, goodwill, and temperance.It seems to create a sort of psychic split when we have to reckon with such a profound inner tension between what we cognitively know to be the reality (“this is a female on testosterone”), and how we intuitively read it (sensing maleness or femaleness via the same unconscious processes that have allowed us to correctly intuit one another's sex without thinking about it 99% of the time since time immemorial). This split is at the heart of many contentious issues within the community of those of us who debate gender issues in any capacity. Radical activists on the pro-trans side of the debate would like the rest of us to feel guilty and repent for committing “literal violence” for having dared refuse to comply with their attempts to deceive us. Meanwhile, activists on the gender critical side see the blatant, glib, remorseless choice to deceive us as Machiavellian, dangerous, and unworthy of our respect or compliance. While I generally align with gender critical views, I sometimes depart ideologically from other GCs’ stances by favoring such virtues as nuance, world-bridging, forgiveness, redemption, grace, charity, and cooperation. For example, I was recently name-called, slandered, and blocked by a gender critical feminist who followed me on Twitter when I came to the defense of EJ Rosetta, who I respect for having publicly acknowledged she was wrong about something — a mature and principled move many people go their whole lives without risking. You can see a part of this exchange here. I can no longer view the whole thread, as the other person involved has blocked me.Many GCs and radfems will forever draw hard lines that exclude people like Zander and declare them unworthy of the sort of collegial dialogue we had in this episode. And, as I am unfortunately reminded every month or two on Twitter, some of these folks seemingly have no qualms with escalating to name-calling and character assassination the moment someone they follow (including me) amplifies any message they do not agree with 100%. Frankly, this kind of behavior strikes me as toddler-esque: lacking the maturity it takes to recognize that other people are separate from you, entitled to their own opinions, worthy of respect; not divinely ordained to serve as your personal mouthpieces, nor deserving of righteous rage the moment they fail to fulfill this role you assigned them in your mind. While I dislike overgeneralizing, I can’t help but to think these are the same sorts of people who listen to my abortion debate with Robin Atkins (episode 27) and jump straight to making comments that attack the other side (whether pro-choice or pro-life), entirely missing the point of people on different sides of a complex issue attempting to have a respectful, nuanced discussion.So, if today’s episode weeds out some of my audience, so be it. I’d love for all my listeners to be on board with my world-bridging mission, but I can’t expect that to be the case. Perhaps, like episode 27, this one will serve as a litmus test for those who share my broader values, and not just those who like it when I say things that happen to align with their views on a controversial topic yet have no ethical qualms with flying off the handle at people they disagree with. It’s not my intention to lose people, but when it does happen periodically, I trust and accept the process.
If you enjoyed this conversation, please rate & review it on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Share this episode with a friend, or on social media. You can also head over to my YouTube channel, subscribe, like, comment, & share there as well.To get $200 off your EightSleep Pod Pro Cover visit EightSleep.com & enter promo code SOMETHERAPIST. Take 20% off your entire purchase of nourishing superfood beverages at Organifi with code SOMETHERAPIST.Be sure to check out my shop. In addition to wellness products, you can now find my favorite books!MUSIC: Special thanks to Joey Pecoraro for our theme song, “Half Awake,” used with gratitude and permission. www.joeypecoraro.comPRODUCTION: Thanks to Eric and Amber Beels at DifMix.comPLUS: early access to the documentary I’m proud to be a part of, Affirmation Generation, is now available! Stream now for free, check out the trailer & more at affirmationgenerationmovie.com. Follow Affirmation Generation on Twitter @2022affirmation or Instagram @affirmationgeneration. Please consider making a small donation to support the costs of production.Have a question for me? Looking to go deeper and discuss these ideas with other listeners? Join my Locals community! Members get to ask questions I will respond to in exclusive, members-only livestreams, plus other perks TBD. Get your first month free with promo code GRANDFATHER; after that, it's only $8/month. Check it out at somekindoftherapist.locals.com.
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