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    Ann Rostow: Swimming Upstream

    By Ann Rostow–

    Swimming Upstream

    Last issue, I deliberately avoided the story of Lia Thomas, the transwoman who swims for the Penn State women, because I found The Washington Post coverage unnerving. Thomas, the Post reports, “has shattered school records and has posted the fastest times of any female college swimmer in two events this season.”

    The Post continued:

    “Since she obliterated two school records and posted nation-leading times at a meet last month, Thomas has garnered attention from across the swimming community and right-wing media. Credentialed media at Saturday’s meet included Fox News, Newsweek, the Daily Mail and ESPN. Tennis icons Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert have publicly said Thomas has no business competing in women’s swimming, as has Olympian Erika Brown … .”

    Make no mistake, Thomas has been on female hormone treatment and testosterone blockers for two and half years, twice as long as required by the NCAA rules. Her times have declined by over five percent since she swam for the men’s team. Yet her times are still good enough to beat the women against whom she competes. Ironically, her only losses have come against a transgender man who has not started hormone treatments and who swims for the Yale women’s team.

    Of course, the right-wing media is ecstatic about this story. It’s a weapon in the hands of ant-GLBT lawmakers and conservative activists who are busily engaged in trashing the transgender community at every turn, particularly transgender women in high school and college sports who have been banned from competition in at least six states. 

    And the reason I didn’t want to touch it last issue is because it doesn’t neatly fit my thoughts on the matter. I thought that a year of testosterone blockers was enough to even the playing field. I thought that the notion that transgender women are crushing cisgender female athletes was a myth based on stereotypes and bias.

    So, how come Lia is “posting nation-leading times” and how come she beat the times set by two Olympians this year, including a three-second improvement over Olympian Brooke Ford’s time in the 500 meter freestyle? For that matter, how did that Yale transman manage to beat her despite never having hormone therapy himself? That doesn’t quite fit my layman’s understanding of hormones and gender.

    And that’s part of the problem. The interplay between hormones and gender, the effect of testosterone, the impact of puberty—none of this can be reduced to a simple policy or pronouncement or regulation for women’s sports. It’s too complicated for a layman, and that means it’s too complicated for conservative lawmakers, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, and yours truly. 

    Further, Lia Thomas is clearly a phenomenal athlete. As one of my informal consultants on this story pointed out, Penn is not a top-ranked swim school, so it’s not surprising that an exceptional swimmer would lead the team. Do transwomen have to be mediocre in sports in order to fit our political narratives? Obviously, many transgender women will be great and some will be extraordinary. Lia Thomas (like Jeopardy! champ Amy Schneider) is in the latter category. Enough said.

    Backwards Christian Soldiers

    Earlier this month, the High Court heard arguments in an interesting First Amendment case, one that affects our community only because, um, because every High Court First Amendment case affects our community. This one involves the three flagpoles outside Boston City Hall: The first flies the stars and stripes. The second flies the State of Massachusetts flag. And the third usually flies the flag of Boston. The Boston flag is often switched out for other flags, the rainbow flag for Pride, a flag for Juneteenth, and so forth. But Boston has refused to fly a Christian flag with a white cross for a faith group called Camp Constitution because the religious image would breach the wall between church and state. 

    Camp Constitution sued, claiming the city was discriminating, given that Boston had said yes to every flag request in the past, some 284 different banners. These, however, were not religious-based, and as such, Boston won its case before the lower court as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. 

    And it does seem on the surface as if Boston is within its rights. According to the Constitution, the government may not endorse a particular religion, and sticking a crusader cross on the city flagpole looks like an official thumbs up from the government. Plus, doesn’t Boston have the right to pick and choose what goes up in front of City Hall? Surely the city doesn’t have to fly a swastika, right?

    Well, that’s the question. If Boston has allowed its third flagpole to become a public forum rather than a government signpost, it may have forfeited its ownership. When the state creates a public forum, it is not allowed to discriminate between opposing viewpoints. I think it was a city hall somewhere in Florida a few years back that was designated a public forum (I forget why) and was obliged to allow a “religious” display from the Pastafarians featuring a pile of cooked spaghetti on a folding chair. In theory, Boston might be forced into a similar dilemma, although I’m not sure if there isn’t a loophole that would save them from hoisting a Nazi flag. 

    I can’t quite see how Boston would not maintain its right to decide what flag to fly on a pole that a) sits next to the U.S. and state flags, b) is often flying the City of Boston flag, and c) is right in front of frigging City Hall. If you’re an average citizen, or passerby, or just anyone who hasn’t seen those 284 flags-for-a-day, wouldn’t you assume the third pole is delivering government-approved speech? If so, and that is indubitably so, then Boston has not created a public forum. I’m following the case, however, because with this Court, who the heck knows what they’ll do? They may see a Christian flag and their eyes might glaze over. We’ll see later this year.

    Don’t Look Up

    I may have said this before, and it has nothing to do with GLBT news, but I am annoyed by click bait headlines that tell us a massive asteroid is heading towards Earth, let’s say, next Tuesday. These are not dangerous scenarios. The asteroids have been tracked for months or years, and are not coming anywhere close to actually hitting us. And yet, I have recently read: “Large asteroid stronger than nuke heading towards Earth late January,” “Potentially hazardous asteroid set to zoom by Earth,” and similar absurd warnings.

    Now it seems the danger has passed, because I just saw, “Massive asteroid zooms safely past Earth,” as if there was ever a doubt about its trajectory. Sure enough, I see that this particular space rock has been tracked since 1994 and it was over a million miles away, or four times the distance between us and the moon.

    In other non-gay news, you should know that a female “blanket octopus” can grow to six feet, while a male of the species measures about two centimeters, the size of a thumbtack. These rare octopuses feature the largest gender gap in these terms in the animal kingdom, I read in The Guardian. The males die after procreating, which isn’t surprising if you think about it. At any rate, I think we can all agree that it would be better to be a gay blanket octopus than a straight one. 

    And finally, in additional unrelated news, a study in the Journal of Nature Products (whatever that is) says some of the compounds in cannabis may prevent the entry of the coronavirus into human cells. I know!

    That’s Not So Gay

    Returning to our core subject, I was reading about the state legislature in South Carolina, where conservatives were rubbing their hands together at the prospect of passing a law that allowed medical practitioners to decline treatment based on their conscience.

    We’ve seen similar laws debated and passed. In Ohio, for example, a law passed last year gives “a medical practitioner, health care institution, or health care payer … the freedom to decline to perform, participate in, or pay for any health care service which violates the practitioner’s, institution’s, or payer’s conscience as informed by the moral, ethical, or religious beliefs or principles held by the practitioner, institution, or payer.” There’s another one just enacted in Arkansas, and there are other variations on the theme.

    But just as our nemeses were poised to hit their voting buttons, someone realized that this same law could easily be used to protect medical personnel and clinics that refuse to treat unvaccinated patients. Ooops. The bill is shelved for now. “I want to make sure what we’re passing isn’t codifying what we’re railing against on the other side,” co-sponsor Senator Shane Martin told the Charleston Post and Courier. 

    I’ve lost track of the other Republican state legislatures and the dozens of antigay and anti-democratic measures they continue to promote. I see that both the Florida house and senate, for example, are working on a bill to snuff out any discussion of GLBT issues in school. And who knows what else is going on? 

    Meanwhile, my “gay” search results are overwhelmed by news that the Chief’s linebacker, Willie Gay, had a fight with his ex-girlfriend, the mother of his child. He threw a vacuum cleaner across the room and got thrown in jail for a misdemeanor criminal damage. Of course he stayed on the team for the playoff game last week, which I can’t complain about since I’m a Chiefs fan.

    Oh, I am just kidding, for God’s sake. That kind of domestic violence, particularly against the mother of a fragile child who was born prematurely and is on oxygen, is reprehensible. And if it were up to me, he’d be sidelined. That said, did any of you see that Chiefs Bills game? Oh. My. God.

    Paging Hercule Poirot

    Like everyone else, I’m a fan of Wordle, although unlike some others, I could spend hours on word games anyway so this is not surprising. I just tried “Queerdle,” which is a seven-letter Wordle-type game with a GLBT edge. The game I just played, for example, produced “STRAPON,” which I got in five, thank you very much. I won’t be playing it as a rule, because the thing I like about Wordle is that you can only play it once a day. This saves me from squandering an hour or so on repeated Wordles that I know I am capable of doing. 

    And in other random gay news, the GLBT party host, Atlantic Events, just set sail on a week-long Caribbean cruise for 4,700 people, in the middle of Omicron! Really guys? 

    “It’s time to start living our lives again and vaccines and tests allow us to do that. This isn’t Covid 2020,” cruiser Andre Mayer told The New York Times. “This is going to be the wildest party for our community in two years. I’m talking dirty dancing, sex, drugs, raves, orgies and sweet, sweet freedom.”

    The cruise, nicknamed “Omicron of the Seas,” has already led to one fatality, which was due to cardiac arrest. It followed a smaller gay cruise, with 2,200 passengers, as well a zillion straight cruises, give or take a few. As the Times article pointed out, getting Covid on a cruise ship is not a relaxing spell on the balcony with a blanket over your lap and a few sniffles. You’re likely to be quarantined in a lower cabin with cold food, not to mention that fact that just because Covid 2022 is no longer life-threatening for vaccinated patients, it’s still no walk in the park. More like one of the worst flus you have ever had with the possibility of long-term side effects and (I just read) the potential loss of male fertility. I think the cruise will be back from the party by the time this issue goes to press, so by all means google it for the latest information.

    And finally, how about those 49ers!