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Girl Brain, Boy Body, and Transgender Politics at the South Dakota Legislature

I tell people that I have a girl brain, a boy body.

—Jazz Jennings, I Am Jazz, 2012

Two bills attacking transgender student-athletes are enjoying more success than they should in the South Dakota Legislature. Last week, House Bill 1161, which prohibits the South Dakota High School Activities Association from making policy pertaining to sexuality or gender identity, passed House Education on a 9–6 vote. The House deferred HB 1161 Thursday, perhaps because it had already approved the markedly worse House Bill 1195, which not only repeals the SDHSAA's gender-choice rules but mandates athlete gender be determined by birth certificate first, physical exam second. HB 1195 passed the House 51–16 Wednesday.

Democrats remain the consistent and unified defenders of gender fairness. In the votes above, Dems have been joined by Republican Reps. Steve Hickey, Thomas Holmes, Tim Johns, Herman Otten, Tona Rozum, Kyle Schoenfish, and Jacqueline Sly.

When the Minnesota State High School League debated its transgender policy last December, MinnPost interviewed Jazz Jennings, a 14-year-old who was born a boy but who identifies as a girl and competes on her high school's soccer, tennis, and track teams.

Her high school—I have to admit, my gut tries to put quote marks or an asterisk on that pronoun. I hear Jazz say girl brain, boy body, and I can't quite get my boy brain, wired to boy parts, around it. How can that be? What you see is what you get—how can we differ from the visible, physical reality in front of us?

I suppose I don't have to get as esoteric as atomic theory, relativity, or quantum physics to say that my daily experience does not describe, let alone set norms for, everyone else's. There are South Dakotans whose minds and bodies and junctions therebetween aren't like mine. The minor tedium I feel when I'm stuck sitting with guys talking football is nothing like the outright angst that some of my students feel when they are forced to play with the boys when every fiber of their soul says, "But I'm one of the girls!" To negate by law their gender identity is all the more oppressive and cruel.

I may not personally understand a disconnect between who my pants say I am and who my brain and heart say I am, but I understand that the world is more complicated than my limited experience. I also understand that I can be who I am without expecting, let alone demanding by law, that everyone else be like me.

Legislators, if you're struggling with the urge to impose your genetic predisposition on everyone else as "normal," watch this documentary about Jazz Jennings... then pull the plug on House Bills 1161 and 1195, and let the Activities Association and the schools handle this issue in the best interest of their students.


  1. grudznick 2015.02.16

    This isn't about playing dollies and tea. This is about 100 meter sprints, throwing elbows on a rebound and and checking people into the boards.

  2. larry kurtz 2015.02.16

    old folks' home not open today, grud? you seem to keep bankers' hours.

  3. mike from iowa 2015.02.16

    Is this a confession,Grudz? Are you suggesting ways to force her back to being a boy-the righteous evangelical way-with blunt force?

  4. bearcreekbat 2015.02.16

    Wow, Cory, that is a great story and video. Perhaps if our lawmakers do watch it they will be able to see the human side of the issue and develop some compassion and basic understanding before enacting discriminatory and harmful statutes that harm rather than help our kids.

  5. grudznick 2015.02.16

    As a banker, Mr. Kurtz, I learned a $1 bill is still a $1 bill no matter how much it feels like a fiver.

  6. bearcreekbat 2015.02.16

    grudz, I'm no banker but I learned that a human being is a human being no matter how much you want to classify him or her as something of lesser value.

  7. Bob Newland 2015.02.16

    Grudznick, I think I know who you are, and while you are cute once in a while, you're awfully f-----g annoying. You're better as you, rather than a fake-grumpy character you have said is "poetic."

    And Cory, that was a top-drawer commentary.

    Remember Rep. Mike Verchio's words, "I believe it violates my Christian faith and that's all I have to say about it."

    It does not violate any sane interpretation of the "Christian faith," but it bothers a snake-handler that people aren't satisfied with the plumbing that god installs. It appears that about 1/3 of the Republicans in the legislature, along with a D or two, are afflicted with varying degrees of 6k-year-old-earth disease. With the exception of a half-dozen-or-so, the rest are somewhere between Sleepy and Happy.

    What the Democrats want to do is pretty much irrelevant, given their scrawny numbers.

  8. larry kurtz 2015.02.16

    amen, brother bob.
    let us pray.

  9. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.16

    That is a powerful video, and Jazz is simply delightful. It's so perfectly apparent that she is as girl as a girl can be.

    I've known some trans people, both male to female and female to male. I'm not able to identify with the feeling, but its got to be real. Why would anyone endure the struggles by choice?

    People come in every variety. Skin, hair, (bald?), facial features, height, weight, sexuality, eye color. Everything.

    Oh, and Grudz my friend, you have Got to watch a college women's basketball game. They're on tv nearly every night. If you tried to drive into the lane, those women would knock you flat on your butt. And if you wanted to go up for a rebound you'd lose teeth. You really have no idea what women's athletics is like.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.02.16

    Bob, Rep. Verchio said that on the House floor? Ugh. That statement is a copout. He can believe what he wants, but when he's making public policy, he has an obligation to explain what principles and evidence lead him to his conclusion and justify his forming public policy that affects others. Did you hear anything approaching good reasons offered by the folks voting for these bills?

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.02.16

    Grudz, it's one thing to say that a dollar is a dollar, or that any inanimate object is what it is. A dollar bill has no say in its identity.

    We aren't talking about, the SDHSAA is not making policy for, and these House Bills are not imposing anyone's narrow-minded conceptions and queasiness on objects. We are discussing and legislating human beings, entities composed of flesh and mind, substance and will.

    I am willing to entertain that the mind's (heart's? soul's? where is gender identity seated?) ability to choose identity is bounded by absurdity. Jazz cannot claim she is a rock, or a volcano, or a tree, or a squid, or a dog, or Napoleon. But Jazz can identify herself, by will and action, as an athlete, an activist, a Republican (wouldn't that be something?).

    Where does gender fit into that spectrum? Does Jazz even get to choose? Or would it be as unnatural for her to reject her gut feeling of femininity and accept an identity defined by her physique as it would be for me to reject my masculinity and accept a gender identity in contradiction with my equipment?

  12. Roger Elgersma 2015.02.16

    I read in a thirty year old book in USF library(Baptist college) that it was determined what male and female traits were assumed to be. Then they sent out questionaires to lots of people and got the results back. Most women were 60/40 female traits and most males were 60/40 males traits. So most had some of both. In fact those who were 95/5 in their traits were people whose personalities were so out of balance that they did not fit well in society. So it works best if most of us actually have quite a bit of both traits. So what is normally male and what is normally female. Is it what we all assume as our societal assumptions. Remember when WWII started and women started doing a lot of jobs that only men did before like riveting airplanes. Many men who thought they had the world figured out found out that women did not fit their assumptions.
    So now when a five year old tells me that they think they are a different gender than we thought, I think that someone who did not reach puberty yet has no idea what their gender is about unless they have been molested.
    But five year olds do not tell me that. It is adults that want to make me think that they thought that at five years old.
    In general we learn from our role models. Lots of kids not are raised by single parents and are not getting normal amounts of gender role models as before.
    I think ones gender is mostly based on body parts and that there are a lot of different personalities and influences from various role models. Last week a man told me that he knew since he was five that he was different. Later in the conversation he told me that he was raised my a single lesbian mom. So what were his role models. This does not mean that he was born that way.

  13. Curtis Price 2015.02.16

    Thank you for this post Cory. These bills are doing some pretty positive things. I am floored by the young ladies' testimony in Pierre.

    Grudznick (and the legislators) should read the policy they shoot off their mouth or vote. It addresses all these concerns, which is why it has been adopted in more than thirty states. The bill's author mentioned NC, GA, and Alabama having policies similar to 1195 in House hearing. Just the company of states you want to be in.

  14. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.16

    Roger, did you watch the video about Jazz? Several of your comments are addressed.

    MN is in the processing of creating a transgender school policy. It might be done. I'm not sure. It states that children should participate in activities according to the gender they identify with. It enjoys majority support in the state, though there is a group which is opposed.

    That group is also opposed to anti-bullying policies. My opinion is that group consists of people who have major sexuality/fear issues.

  15. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.16

    Maybe I shouldn't have said "sexuality" issues. I think fear of change is probably more accurate. Note that I'm offering opinion, not professional analysis.

  16. mike from iowa 2015.02.17

    This fits wingnut narrative that they don't care about a fetus after birth,but will micro-manage it every way they can think of in the interests of smaller,less intrusive gubmint. Got that?

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.02.17

    Thank you, Curtis for that link to Heather's and Andrea's testimony. I regret that they entered the public spotlight, only to have the Legislature disrespect them with their votes, but their words, their stories are vital to this conversation, so that we understand we are talking about real students, real people, not just the bogeymen of certain conservatives' fantasies.

  18. Bob Newland 2015.02.17

    Verchio's comments that I quoted above were said at a crackerbarrel a couple of weeks ago.

  19. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.02.17

    Awful. Floor debate or crackerbarrel, representatives should explain their policy choices, not just use their Bibles as flak jackets.

  20. mike from iowa 2015.02.17

    The thing is there is no defense or reason to treat people the way wingnuts treat them. They trot out their so called religious cred because they have nothing else.

  21. Donald Pay 2015.02.17

    "I believe it violates my Christian faith and that's all I have to say about it."

    What does that even mean? Christ never said anything about the subject, so, quite obviously, whatever "faith" Rep. Verchio claims to have isn't from Christ. So, where is does he derive his supposed sense of violation from?

    He just made it up, both the "faith" and the "violation." This has more to do with Rep. Verchio's lack of faith.

    I lack Verchio's type of lack of faith. I wonder whether people like Jazz and others are around to test folks like Verchio. Would Jesus be as arrogant and unChrist-like as Verchio? No.

    There's nothing wrong with Christianity, except for the Christians.

  22. Bob Newland 2015.02.17

    I lack everyone's lack of faith of faith. I am quite confused by lack of lack of faith of faith. That is why I am so faithlacked and lackfaithed. And that's all I have to say about it.

  23. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.18

    I couldn't have been more eloquent Bob. Well put.

  24. mike from iowa 2015.02.18

    That is what you get from driving Fo-cough,cough,gag,rds my dear Ms. Deb. Snark,snark.

  25. Sharpshtik 2015.03.10

    The LGBT lobby's transgender policy adopted by SDHSAA (among others) intentionally discriminates against every girl in the state by selectively ignoring the gender of boys who declare an abnormal mental state (i.e. declare they want to be a girl) to get into girls’ bathrooms, locker rooms and sports. The Supreme Court correctly rejects intentional discrimination (e.g. affirmative action) as a solution to actual discrimination. Obviously then, intentional discrimination cannot possibly be a remedy to soothe a mere alleged state of mind. Athletics, bath and locker rooms are not psychiatry. LGBT students already have equal access. It is fair to put boys in boys sports, bath and locker rooms. It is unfair and potentially dangerous to force girls to compete against 15-18 year-old boys. Government can do nothing for boys with physical defects who want to compete in sports. A boy with a mere abnormal mental state and full physical capability should not be exalted above everyone else and given an athletic advantage by intentionally discriminating against girls. The alleged discomfort of a boy (sad as it may be) must remain that boy’s burden, not turned into every girl's discomfort and burden.

    In athletics and life generally, a person becomes better by overcoming mental or physical difficulties (as opposed to demanding a particular outcome). Take, for instance, Anthony Robles. He turned his massive physical disability (born with one leg) into an advantage by being much stronger than his opponents and by using a unique style in wrestling. He left college an NCAA champion. Anthony didn’t lobby or threaten government to hand him an advantage and discriminate against everyone else based on completely dishonest statements about level playing field, equal opportunity, fairness, etc. What you want is not the same as your "right," especially when what you want intentionally discriminates against others who meet gender qualifications.

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