I had a conversation the other day about one of my favorite twists on the superhero formula: organized, professional villainy. The heroes and their archnemeses both have the genre-savviness to realize that they’re dancing, not fighting — leading and following, not winning and losing. So, they each form their own trade association and establish some clear rules of engagement. Since everyone’s got work to do, why not have a little professionalism?

In fiction like that, villainy isn’t a monstrous aberration. It’s just a job. And superheroes aren’t lonely sentinels bending, Atlas-like, under a burden too heavy to bear. They’re cheerful…


I was reading a blog post in which the author expressed frustration with the current state of the discourse around gender. They described decades of relating ambivalently to the gender they were assigned at birth (and as which they currently present). They wrestled with it. They felt discomfort. Certainly, they’d never inhabited it in an easy, unselfconscious way. All of that ambiguity and struggle, though, they felt was getting lost and flattened, covered up by the reductive label “cisgender.” Calling them “cis” felt totalizing and simplifying. “You identify with your assigned gender, end of story,” failed to capture their reality.


I was reading a left-leaning academic’s blog post about disliking pronoun rounds. They weren’t coming from an indignant “I’d rather go to jail than use they/them” perspective — instead, they thought it was a bit dehumanizing not to address someone else in the room by name. They felt that the best pronoun for everyone in a conference was “you.” Talk to people directly, they said. Don’t abstract them away as though they weren’t sitting next to you.


I knew a transfeminine person who preferred to go by “they/them.” But whenever it was time for a pronoun round, that’s not what they would say. Instead, they always asked for “she/her.” When I was curious about that, they told me that asking for “she” meant getting “they” in practice — but asking for “they” would only get them “he.”

I’d like to be more optimistic than that, to assume sincere intentions of those who go to the trouble of asking for people’s pronouns. But I do admit that since leaving the activist community, I don’t miss having to do…


I had only come out as trans a couple of years earlier. I’d recently moved from a small town to a larger city, and I was sick of waiting. It was time for me to finally plug into the community. Meeting another openly trans person sent me over the moon. Here was someone I could actually connect with! My cisgender friends were nice, but they didn’t really understand. “Sympathetic but confused” was as good as they could manage.

So I opened up to my new acquaintance, pouring out my feelings about transition and social isolation. I expected them to reciprocate…


This is not an argument about “reverse racism.” I’m not claiming that anti-bias training in the workplace discriminates against white people, straight people, or cis men. The kind of prejudice it enables is the plain-and-simple, old-fashioned variety: white people and men getting ahead while everyone else stays behind.

After the Black Lives Matter protest wave last summer, American companies have started bulk-buying diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives like toilet paper during a shortage. The people who develop and administer these training modules, and the individuals who make the choice to hire them, are generally sincere anti-racists. They want to…


A decade ago, my friend got very excited about the It Gets Better Project — tens of thousands of people uploading videos to reassure LGBTQ teens that if they can make it through high school, their lives will, in fact, improve. The idea was to combat the frightening suicide rate of young gay and trans people with an outpouring of community positivity. At the time, my friend still nominally identified as straight. But they showed up to our school’s It Gets Better wear-purple event dressed in violet from head to toe.

They asked me what I thought about the initiative…


Nature abhors emptiness. In my 20s, so did I.

I needed my life to matter — to have capital-M Meaning. Eating, sleeping, working, and dying wasn’t enough. Time is short. When I thought about the prospect of having squandered it, the horror and disgust made me shake. I couldn’t allow myself to live like those other people, who passed through the world without transforming it. They had no special, transcendent purpose. Did I?

So, I became a Marxist. I don’t know whether I ever quite convinced myself that the worker’s revolution was going to literally, physically happen. Honestly, I never…


Back in school, I found an old book from the 70s: first-person stories from the women’s liberation movement. In it, a radical feminist activist confessed that she wasn’t entirely sure whether she really wanted women and men to be equal. Since she saw little reason to give men the benefit of the doubt, she wondered if a flat-out matriarchy wouldn’t actually be a better goal. But in practice, her ambivalence didn’t matter. Whichever endgame she preferred, in a male-dominated society the first step was to advance the interests of women. …


When I was newly transitioning, I embraced a piece of analysis floating around my feminist, radical-queer social circles: anti-trans prejudice will live and die along with the current gender system. The two cannot be separated. It’s not just undesirable for trans people to assimilate into the cis world — it’s impossible. After all, merely existing is all trans people have to do in order to threaten the entire mainstream concept of gender.

When you transition, you prove that gender can’t possibly be an innate, objective property dictated by genitals and chromosomes. And since that’s the foundation on which the whole…

Sophia Burns

Paganism, Buddhism, Classics, philosophy, LGBTQ culture, and the art of living well. Former activist; I don’t trust culture war.

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