[NOTE: an audio version of this will be posted to the companion podcast for Charlotte’s Web Thoughts, which you can download here]
In late May, during public remarks at a school board meeting for Loudoun County in Virginia, Tanner Cross, an elementary school physical education teacher in the district, stated he would not use the authentic pronouns for trans and non-binary students under his care.
This was in response to the school board implementing non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ students following the Virginia state legislature passing broad legislation banning discrimination against all LGBTQ people in the state.
In return, the district rightly suspended Cross for his remarks, and then, a circuit court judge ordered his reinstatement. The district is now in the process of appealing that decision to Virginia’s Supreme Court, and Cross has become a cause célèbre among social conservatives who are obsessed with the bodies of trans children in a way that is entirely creepy.
In his remarks, Cross said he wouldn’t “affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa because it's against my religion. It's lying to a child; it's abuse to a child – and it's sinning against our God."
Leaving aside the fact that the discussion of transgender people in the Bible is quite murky (and rather fascinating)—and thus, as more than a few social conservatives have admitted to me, it’s unclear being transgender is a so-called “sin”—we’re still left with a public employee charged with the welfare of children stating before God and Creation that he refuses to treat certain children with respect and dignity. That, in fact, is abusive.
I’m not going to unpack all the myriad reasons why this is clownish in itself because I want to focus on something that hit me when this story popped up.
I don’t personally know Tanner Cross other than what I’ve read in the news. I’ve never met him, and I don’t know anyone who knows him.
And yet, I feel like I’ve known Tanner Cross all my life. He hits all the same marks as so many men I’ve known in positions of authority, particularly in sports and the military.
I grew up in a conservative environment in Central Texas. I played high school football. I went to an evangelical church in my late teens (where, unsurprisingly, my political views were not warmly received). And I served in the military — and not just in the military but in the testosterone-saturated U.S. Army Infantry.
For most of my life, I have been around men like Tanner Cross. They have strong opinions about what men should be (and what women should be) and tend to make those opinions known.
I am a proud trans woman, but for the first 30 years of my life, I was in the closet and navigating these spaces. Around these men.
And without fail, men like Tanner Cross would—in some way, shape, or form—call me a girl. They weren’t just the first people to call me a girl. They were the only people to call me a girl or woman before I came out.
Like my 8th grade football coach who really loved calling us “ladies” during practice.
Like my freshman football coach who never seemed to tire of telling us that we “hit like girls” if he felt we weren’t going at full speed.
Like the assistant football coach during my junior year of high school who, on more than a few occasions, said some choice words about how we should try out for the girls volleyball team instead. Oh, and this mocking inquiry toward one of my teammates: “Did your mother teach you how to throw?”
Like during minute one of hour one of day one in basic training when I heard a drill sergeant scream at all of us to “get the sand out of your pussies”. And that was probably one of the more tame things I heard along these lines during my time in the military.
Yes, all those sports movies where male coaches yell at their players with some flavor of misogynistic “encouragement”? Those scenes are based in reality.
I heard that all my life in male environments, and that’s to say nothing of the numerous ways in which society communicates to boys that they shouldn’t cry, shouldn’t appear weak, be the “man of the house”, etc.
That’s what I’ve been thinking about over the past two months as this situation unfolds in Loudoun County, Virginia (which, by the way, is a lovely place with no shortage of wonderful people).
I’ve been thinking of all the school coaches and P.E. teachers who I saw throughout my childhood call boys and young men "ladies" and "girls" as a way of, uh, "motivating" them and now claim that using the correct pronouns for trans kids goes against their religion. I call it the Male Coach Gender Paradox.
These are the same men. Truly.
Do I have proof that Tanner Cross has done that? I do not. But I’m right. I know I’m right. Call it hard-earned instinct.
These men always betray themselves by their fear of women. They seem unable to maintain any sort of consistency in following their own views. Because it was never about religion or respect for God. It was always about their profound discomfort with women.
In their minds, women are weaker and less worthy of respect. They jab their fingers in the direction of girls and women and yell at the boys and young men under their control: Do you want to grow up and be that? Small and weak? Then get your shit together and man up.
I’m sometimes asked by the occasional cis man why there’s far more support for trans women among cis women than cis men, since it’s cis women, social conservatives tell us, who supposedly have the “most to lose” from trans equality.
I think there are a lot of reasons, but two stick out for me personally, one for women and one for women.
The first is that I believe the vast majority of cis women understand deeply what it means to have your body controlled in service to a forced gender identity and expression.
The second is that these particular cis men absolutely feel they have the most to lose. Not materially or spiritually, despite the claims of Tanner Cross. They feel they have the most to lose because when they already benefit substantially from a social framework that supposedly prescribes in detail what “manhood” should be, why cave-in to that internal fear in the pit of their stomach that they’re not really being themselves but a carbon copy of the fearful neuroses of all the men who came before them?
Why would these cis men admit that gender is incredibly complex and fluid? They’re scared of the answer to that question — the possibility that they don’t know their true selves and it’s so much safer to stick with the devil they know than the one they don’t.
Ironically, these cis men live in fear of their own gender reveals.
I’m not saying they’re secretly transgender and in denial. I’m saying that gender identity and expression are so directly structured that these cis men are terrified of a world in which “manhood” may encompass the full spectrum of gender expression and they find themselves doing things they’ve always been told men don’t do.
And yes, hashtag not all cis men — I knew so many wonderful cis men growing up, men who I looked up to, men who wouldn’t use their religion as an excuse to abuse trans children.
Men who I know would believe Tanner Cross is a whiny, fearful punk-ass who picks on children.
Men who respect me as a woman now.
Hi, I’m Charlotte Clymer, and this is Charlotte’s Web Thoughts, my Substack. It’s completely free to access and read, but if you feel so moved to support my writing, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription: just $7/month or save money with the $70/annual sub. You can also go way above and beyond by becoming a Founding Member at $210.
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