Celebrated widely last month as one of the U.S.'s first out trans news correspondents, Zoey Tur is once again a hot topic among trans rights supporters — but the tone has become decidedly less triumphant.
This month, the Los Angeles-based reporter has received increasing criticism over controversial remarks she's made on national television about hormone therapy, trans youth in sports, and trans women in locker rooms, among other topics. This week, Inside Edition confirmed to The Advocate that the show has ended its relationship with Tur, but claimed the decision was not influenced by the increasing outcry about Tur's public comments.
"It was just a part-time assignment, for February sweeps," co-executive producer Esther Pressin stated. "She did three stories for us, and we're done."
But on Monday, a spokesperson with Inside Edition walked back that statement, offering this statement to The Advocate: "To clarify, Zoey Tur was finished with her February commitment as correspondent for Inside Edition and will have a continued relationship on a freelance basis."
The same day, Tur announced on her Facebook page that her next story for Inside Edition would profile Mandi Camille Hauwert, the transgender guard at California's infamous San Quentin State Prison, who earlier this month wrote an op-ed for The Advocate about her experience transitioning on the job.
Tur, whose previous claim to fame was capturing live video of O.J. Simpson in the infamous 1994 Bronco chase, quickly became one of the most visible and outspoken trans people in media after signing with Inside Edition in February. In the weeks since she landed the role, she's been invited to speak on hot-button trans news stories — including Planet Fitness cancelling a woman's membership after she repeatedly complained about a trans woman and speculation on Bruce Jenner's gender identity — for several news programs, including shows on CNN, TMZ, and HLN.
Tur's contributions (included in the list below) have often been distinctly different from positions held by prominent trans rights activists and trans rights organizations, calling recent gains in trans access to public sex-segregated facilities and school sports teams into question. In response, trans advocates have begun firing back in essays and online conversations, arguing that Tur's relatively large public platform increases the harm any misinformation in her statements can create — especially when they appear to resonate with beliefs held by the right wing and antitrans politicans, like those currently pushing "bathroom bills" in Florida, Texas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Kentucky.
"Your comments can be used by our opponents to undermine what little progress we have made trans human rights-wise in this country," lamented trans activist Monica Roberts on her blog TransGriot. "Your comments make it harder for me and others to educate my people on the issues that impact our community."
Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, echoed these sentiments to The Advocate. "[Tur] certainly has every right to have her own opinions and views on things, and I don't mean to suggest otherwise. But it is unfortunate that someone who does not have a great deal of expertise on the issues will be looked to as a guide," he said. "I would contrast that with some other transgender people who have been thrust into the limelight — like Chaz Bono, for example. I really admire the way he also was very visible, but he has been so careful to educate himself and to work with groups and advocates who have been doing transgender advocacy to make sure that any messages he's putting out there are accurate and well-informed. I think that's a great model."
LGBT media watchdog GLAAD, meanwhile, has tried to address possible misinformation with television networks, director of communications and special projects Nick Adams shared with The Advocate. "GLAAD contacted CNN to alert them of factual inaccuracies contained in a story about Planet Fitness, and offered to help the network book a transgender person who is an expert on gender-inclusive nondiscrimination laws for a follow-up segment," he explained. Tur, meanwhile, has claimed that GLAAD and other advocates are seeking to silence her.
"I was told by two major LGBT advocate groups that I should sit down, shut up, and listen," she told The Advocate. "I was told like I'm a stupid woman. That's violence, terrible violence, to tell a woman to sit down and shut up." But her detractors insist that they are simply trying to head-off the potential harm caused by the spread of misinformation about transgender lives.
Kylar Broadus, director of the National LGBTQ Task Force's Transgender Civil Rights Project summed up the possible danger to The Advocate, saying, "When people get incorrect information, that leads to discrimination, harassment, and all the kinds of bigotry that occur. It only helps perpetuate that sort of bigotry," he explained. "We have an epidemic of murders of [trans people] in this country and the world, and other violence. 90 percent have issues with ... underemployment in this country. Over 70 percent, I believe, experience harassment. And so when you have folks going around making these sorts of statements, it only adds to this violence and discrimination."
Below, find issues on which Tur has publicly spoken that have drawn red flags, and hear other trans adovocates' responses.
When Michigan resident Yvette Cormier complained to Planet Fitness about the presence of a trans woman in the lockerroom, the famously "judgement free" gym franchise made it clear that any self-identified woman was welcome in the female facilities. When Cormier returned for four days straight to "warn" other female gym-goers that trans women were allowed to share space with them, Planet Fitness cancelled her membership.
Trans advocates lauded the company for sticking by its gender nondiscrimination policy, and the unwitting trans woman at the center of the controversy, Carlotta Sklodowska, eventually came forward to state that she had made sure she was allowed into the locker room ahead of time and meant no harm — she was simply there to hang up her belongings. A conversation ensued in the media that echoed current debates about trans people's access to sex-segregated public facilities, including bathrooms and dressing rooms.
Asked to comment on the controversy by HLN's Dr. Drew On Call, Tur explained that, "I think people have a right to be concerned, and I think there should be private [changing] areas," going on to speculate that Sklodowska was actually a male-identified crossdresser expressing a "sexual fetish." During an after-show interview, Tur more directly accused Sklodowska of entering the locker room as a sexual predator aiming to "perv out on women," notes LGBT rights site ThinkProgress.
Responding in the Huffington Post, Gender Rights Maryland director Dana Beyer raised concern that Tur's comments would adversely affect trans women (a group Sklodowska has publicly counted herself among) using women's locker rooms and bathrooms, particularly those who do not have socioeconomic access to genital reconstruction — painting them as threats, imposters, or sexual predators. Such claims about trans women have been used to push forward antitrans "bathroom bills" this month — with Florida's proposed legislation already clearing two hurdles in the state's House — and may help explain findings that transgender people, rather than their cisgender (nontrans) peers, are more likely to be attacked in public facilities.
"[Tur] pontificates on issues of which she is ignorant, putting all women at risk," Beyer explained. "And [the media] furthers the spread of falsehoods and misunderstandings that threaten women who struggle just to get on with their lives everyday."
Speaking with The Advocate, New York Trans Rights Organization director Melissa Sklarz added, "I've been working with our communities for almost 20 years. I know of no circumstances where trans women pose any danger to single-gendered people. It's a theme that we hear from enemies of transgender people that seem to have no basis in reality."
The issue: Trans youth playing on school sports teams
Stepping into years-long conversations about transgender youth in sports — which often revolves around the question of whether transgender girls have a physical "advantage" over their cisgender female opponents — Tur stated that "male puberty" is one threshold she would consider in keeping trans women out of women's sports. In the Dr. Drew interview above, Tur said she would also consider the Olympic Organizing committee's standard of allowing trans women to compete following gender confirmation surgery and two years on hormone therapy.
But trans advocates like Melissa Sklarz say these arguments miss the point. "The idea is to let kids play, let teenagers play, let children play," said Sklarz. "If there's a need to revisit an individual, formal state-wide policy, that can be reviewed at the time. To just do a knee-jerk, fear-based overreation before there's any body of [research] work makes no sense."
Trans sportswriter Christina Kahrl agreed, telling The Advocate that, "Trans kids are just that: kids. They want to do and have every right to do the same things that their peers are doing, and that includes playing sports." A similar "trans-inclusive" position on K-12 school sports is espoused by the Transgender Law and Policy Institute, and backed by trans athletic activist Chris Mosier's educational resource Trans*Athlete. The TLPI advises schools to remember that "All young people should have the opportunity to play recreational sports and have their personal dignity respected. Transgender young people are no different."
Further, Kahrl adds: "As far as 'competetive advantage,' let's keep in mind that, outside of any trans-specific considerations, some kids have advantages in sports because they're simply good at them. But in the states that already have policies in place for trans inclusion, there haven't been any problems of this sort. Any claims about trans kids having a 'competitive advantage' aren't just unfortunate, they're uninformed, but this is one of the reliably untrue assertions made about all trans athletes as a scare tactic to argue for their exclusion."
Any claim about trans kids having a 'competitive advantages aren't just unfortunate, they're uninformced, but this is one of the reliably untrue assertions made about all trans athletes as a scare tactic to argue for their exclusion."
The issue: Hormone therapy's effects on sexual orientation
"It takes a while, but it gradually comes on. You start noticing men and you're attracted to men," Tur told celebrity news site TMZ of trans women's sexuality after beginning a hormone regimen. "A lot of it is initially the pheromonal response. And then you start looking at men differently, and it's the normal female characteristics. Like, if a guy's funny, he's attractive ... It's really strange, but hormones, you know?"
Taking Tur's comments as a form of expertise and allegedly consulting "several prominent doctors in the field," TMZ then concluded, "The estrogen drives down levels of testosterone and the brain 'feminizes' — in the vernacular, [one] begins to 'think like a woman,'" often allowing "suppressed" desires for men to emerge.
While there is certainly fluid sexuality within transgender communities, trans advocates have balked at the boiling of a complex issue down to a simple causality: estrogen = attraction to men. The argument resonates with messages that the entire LGBT community has been combating for decades: That heterosexual attraction is the "normal" default for all female-identified people, and that this is a biologically hardwired fact. Indeed, a large number of trans women identify as bisexual or lesbian.
"Sexual attraction is individual of gender identity, and for people trans and nontrans alike, one's desires may shift over time and experiences," clarified trans activist and writer Mya Adriene Byrne to The Advocate. "Trans women certainly do not have a universal experience of becoming heterosexual when they begin hormone therapy."
LGBT rights reporter Zack Ford of ThinkProgress concluded, "[Tur] cited a preliminary study suggesting that hormone therapy changes a person's sexual orientation, which TMZ presented as a conclusive fact despite the unique and inconclusive results of the singular study."
The issue: Trans men and polycystic ovarian syndrome
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Tur's references to science have received much scrutiny in another area: her comments on trans men's biology.
"It's a little bit different," Tur explained of transgender men to James St. James of LGBT production company World of Wonder in the above interview. "Many have something called polycystic ovarian syndrome, where there's a reduction in the production of estrogen and a rise in tesosterone, and you having a masculinizing effect. ... With hormone replacement therapy [estrogen], if it's properly diagnosed, it can be treated."
When asked by St. James, "So you're saying that they might think that they're transgender when actually it's just a medical situation?" Tur responded, "Correct."
The seeming implication that certain trans men are, in some way, truly women — an argument often deployed by the trans community's detractors — has raised hackles from a number of trans activists, including TransGriot's Monica Roberts, who worry Tur's words might be interpreted to mean, "Trans men don't exist."
In response, Tur insisted to The Advocate that her full thoughts on the issue were edited out of the interview, and that she has never believed that trans men are not real. She claims, rather, that trans men's origins are found in a number of biological places proposed in scientific research. "Some [trans men] have polycystic ovarian syndrome, some have genetic differences in the brain, [for] some, something happened in utero, blah blah blah," she posited. "It's all the same stuff you'd read on Medline."
Tur's reliance on scientific research to make conclusive statements about transgender bodies has been called into question. "Zoey presents herself as a scientist and an expert on transgender issues, yet the fact is that however well-intentioned she may be, her wild and inaccurate claims and attempts to define our narrative have done nothing but case significant harm to the trans community," writes social justice blogger Kelsie Brynn Jones in The Huffington Post, suggesting that Tur has not taken time to learn about the many identifties and "intracacies of the trans umbrella."
"Tur's reference [to PCOS] was to a study in Japan which showed that there was a high incidence of polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, in those on testosterone therapy — but the study did not have an equal sample of trans-identified males who were not taking testosterone."
The issue: Bruce Jenner and coming out
In February, Zoey Tur went on CNN twice to definitively state that former track-and-field Olympian and Kardashian stepparent Bruce Jenner is a transgender woman — despite the fact that Jenner has never publicly stated, in the midst heated media speculation, that he identifies as trans. "I think he — or she — should come out and talk about it now," Tur stated in one interview, arguing that trans communities need him as a role model amidst staggering suicide rates. "We need Bruce to come out, stand up, and talk about it. It's no big deal."
At the same time, a deluge of trans advocates have urged caution and sensitivity to Jenner, arguing that everyone has the right to privately self-determine their own gender in their own time.
"We don't know how Jenner identifies until Jenner tells us," explained trans writer Dawn Ennis in an Advocate op-ed. "It ought to matter that Jenner isn't discussing this yet. ... I can only plead to the media to consider that there is a real person at the center of this frenzy."