Mark Angelo Cummings -- author, former occupational therapist, and social media personality -- has been a transgender man for 12 years, but now says he is "ex-trans." And, with his newlywed wife, he seeks to build a movement against gender transition.
"I have been a member of this community for a very long time," Cummings tells The Advocate. "I considered myself a very strong advocate in the beginning, trying to educate people regarding this issue." He cofounded the Internet programTransition Radio with his ex-partner Jessica Lynn Cummings for that express purpose.
Now he says he has a different lesson to teach:
"Educate people that they don't have to do this, that they can live comfortable in their skin. Instead of gender specialists giving people letters to get hormones and surgery, let's deal with the real issue they have, which is neurological impairment, mental issues."
"The body's not the issue, the brain is," added Lynna Arielle Lopez Cummings, who married her cohost Thursday.
In this article, even though Lopez is the third woman in Cummings's life to take his last name, for the purpose of clarity, she is referred to by her maiden name, Lopez.
Lopez, who formerly identified as male-to-female transgender, continues to present in the feminine gender. The Santa Ana, Calif., native and Cummings, a Cuban by birth, live in Silver City, N.M.
"I accept that I was born male," Lopez tells The Advocate. "I accept that I am biologically male. I accept that I will always be male. That's immutable. It can't be altered."
"The original birth of who we are, I feel, in my opinion, is who we truly are," says Cummings. "The other is another part of us, I think a lot of us have a male and a female side. But those in the trans community tend to want to kill that initial side. And I believe that's wrong. We should be allowed to present our gender-nonconforming self instead of [being] placed in a box" labeled male or female.
He directed us to use male pronouns here, "since people know me as 'he' for the 12 past years." Cummings says he and Lopez now identify as "two-spirit" or "gender-variant," saying, "We all have this duality -- it's part of human nature; a male and female energy, something that I believe is very normal, but society doesn't allow that." He says he considers that he might be intersex. Online, he also refers to himself as dual gender, using both Mark and his female birth name, Maritza.
Cummings told his story to The Advocate by phone as well in Facebook posts and messages like this one:
"I was a hormonal nightmare growing up, problems with my reproduction organs, intermittent menses (4 times a year), enlarged clitoris, etc."
But Cummings says it was his mind, not his body, that started him down the road to transition, due to what he said was the power of suggestion. As he explained in our interview:
"At 37 years old, I went to an all-women's resort with an my then ex-partner, and somebody asked me, 'Hey are you an FTM [female to male]?' Because I was a female bodybuilder and I was in pretty good shape, and I was taking steroids to masculinize me. I had never heard what an FTM was before.
"I went on Google, and then all of a sudden, boom, wow! This is me.
"Who would want to feel as 'less than' all your life, being told that being a lesbian is incorrect, not right? Now, all of a sudden it was like, 'I can be a man and then be looked upon as normal?' Boom. Power of suggestion."
On Facebook, Cummings denounced the therapist and surgeon who changed his life in 2003:
"I went on Testosterone, and 5 months later, I had my precious breast and my amazing reproductive organs ripped out of me, all in a quest to be a 'man.'
"What sane person does this, and what medical professional who swears to do no harm goes along with this diabolical plan? I am sorry but now that I have come to my senses and see what this vile community has become, I see the reason for the vileness and the darkness in its intent."
He summed up his feelings and the campaign he and Lopez launched in three sentences:
"Gender dysphoria is a lie, I don't expect many to believe me or understand since you are still entrapped in your delusions. A woman can never be a man or visa versa, we can't change biology, and what the medical system has allowed for profit should be shamed and prosecuted."
"I for one no longer identify as trans," Cummings tells The Advocate, "because I no longer feel the term trans holds any water. I feel that's a garbage term. It was coined in the '90's as a way to promote a product."
In actuality, the earliest known example of the term's use was in 1965, by Dr. John Oliven, in a book about sexual activity published by Columbia University, as reported by Cristan Williams of The Trans Advocate.
Cummings criticized the 2013 shift by the American Psychiatric Association from classifying gender identity disorder as a mental disorder to using the current term, gender dysphoria, which it classifies as a clinical condition. "Gender dysphoria doesn't exist," he stresses to The Advocate, relying upon his professional experience to defend his claim.
"As an occupational therapist, I've studied the [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] backwards and forwards. ... Psychology at one point used to be thought of as fraud. I don't really trust psychology very much -- or psychiatrists for that matter."
But Cummings revealed on Facebook that he no longer has a license to practice occupational therapy, as his Florida license expired and was not renewed. That fact that was first reported by Intellectual Blonde, an investigative blogger for the Trans Inclusive Moderate Empathetics Movement.
Cummings and Lopez expressed their strongest opinions on the subject of transgender children, using the word "exodus" to describe the sheer number of parents deciding to help their gender-nonconforming children pursue transition. He also argues "conversion therapy is no more harmful than transgender [treatments]."
The risk of suicide in children, which is an oft-cited statistic due to the alarming frequency of suicides by transgender individuals, is overstated, Lopez tells The Advocate:
"It's billed as being the key critical component for helping a trans kid. They're like, 'Oh my gosh, they're going to kill themselves if they don't [transition].' Even Jazz Jennings's page on her foundation's website has a note showing where a little kid scribbled, 'I want to kill myself.'
"It's subliminal. It's expected that these kids are probably going to end their lives if mom and dad don't give them what they want. And it's usually a Munchausen by proxy-driven mother and it's always a kind of wimpy dad-kind of thing going on, mom wears the pants in the family."
That claim, Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, is a serious allegation; the medical term is "factitious diagnosis imposed on another" and is considered a form of child abuse. It is also a criminal offense. And on his Facebook page, Cummings accuses the mother of the best-known transgender child in America of that crime, and repeated in our interview.
"Jazz Jennings, thanks to me, came forward. I know the father, very quiet. Jeanette wears the pants in that family."
Viewers can decide for themselves by watching Jazz and her family in a new reality series that debuted Wednesday on TLC, fittingly titled I Am Jazz.
Now 14, Jennings spoke exclusively with The Advocate about Cummings at the ESPYs Wednesday.
"I just don't understand ... why people can be so hateful, and they just have to bring people down," Jennings tells The Advocate. "All I can say is, please come to the path of love and acceptance and tolerance, and look at people for who they are on the inside, don't judge them for their labels. ... We are all people, and our main goal is to work together to come to this place in society where we can just have the freedom to be who we are."
"Let the kids be kids," Cummings tells The Advocate. He and Lopez make the case that children should be allowed to present in any gender they choose, but they firmly object to any form of medical intervention, including drugs that delay or block the effects of puberty.
However, when asked what specifically should be done to help girls and boys struggling with their gender expression as they enter puberty, having to deal with developing breasts, beard growth, and other secondary sex characteristics, Cummings's response falls short:
"People need to accept themselves for who they are ... to accept the fact of who they were born as."
"They should be given those opportunities to make those decisions when they are mentally capable of doing so," Lopez tells The Advocate, suggesting the mid-20s would be the right age.
What then, for those whose bodies transform during puberty according to their genetic-coded design of overtly masculine or typically feminine shape, and the sexual characteristics that hormones impart? What about the experience even Cummings himself shared, that many transgender people share, of dysphoria when seeing a body image reflected back from the mirror that does not match one's own mental image?
Cummings's response steered the conversation in a direction that could not be anticipated:
"So let me ask you this," he posited. "People who have body dysmorphia, who feel their arm does not belong to them, is it OK for a doctor to cut off that arm? A perfectly healthy arm? See? This is all a mental disorder. "
Although the renaming of gender dysphoria was welcomed by trans advocates as a step toward de-pathologizing the trans experience, the body dysmorphic condition Cummings mentioned was a topic on one of his and Lopez's programs, and it isn't something they invented. It is, in fact, a confirmed identity disorder, although it's not yet included in any of the major medical reference books. According to a 2012 study conducted by the National Institutes of Health
"Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) is a rare, infrequently studied and highly secretive condition in which there is a mismatch between the mental body image and the physical body. Subjects suffering from BIID have an intense desire to amputate a major limb or sever the spinal cord in order to become paralyzed."
In hopes of spurring further research, an entry for BIID was added to section III of the DSM 5 -- where diagnoses proposed for future inclusion are listed -- along with hypersexual behavior and skin-picking syndrome.
But the shock of comparing a rare, almost unknown malady, with the very real phenomenon of gender dysphoria, which affects more than 700,000 Americans and an untold number around the world, pales in comparison to Cummings's callous Facebook post from June 13.
In sharing an article about a transgender teacher who died by suicide after her complaints of bullying by her colleagues were allegedly ignored, Cummings wrote:
"A normal person does not commit suicide no matter how tough life gets."
Cummings declares he's never considered suicide and looks back at his own experience as instructive. "There was something wrong with my mind," he says. "Instead of handing me hormones they should have done some treatment."
In our interview, Lopez also denounced the most prominent trans celebrity, Caitlyn Jenner, mocking her as "the face of the modern transgender movement," and railing against the image as presented by the media.
"It normalizes everything, and it paints a picture of acceptance, with the Kardashians and everybody -- they already have their reality TV show, and now it's just making it seem to be the new normal, when there's really nothing normal about being transgender."
That claim flies in the face of words Cummings recorded November 2, four months after breaking up with Jessica.
"Transition Radio [was] the platform to help the community express themselves, show the world that transgender people are normal people," Cummings said in a video in which he tearfully announced he would be ending his Internet program, his "baby, my heart and soul" as he called it. Cummings said in the video that he was the target of hatred and negativity, from "especially trans women."
But Transition Radio lives, and the new platform -- denying the existence of gender dysphoria, expressing disdain for the overwhelming majority of transgender people and for the health care providers dedicated to treating trans patients (including children) -- has received support from two outspoken groups: mothers who do not believe children can be reliably diagnosed as transgender, and radical feminists who specifically and vociferously oppose the inclusion of transgender women in cisgender (nontrans) women's spaces.
But when asked by The Advocate to provide a sponsor or well-known public figure to speak on his behalf, Cummings at first balked, citing privacy and concerns the information would be used to support his enemies.
And he certainly has those. Some have gone so far as to make threats or suggest violence in comments and posts on social media.
But after several days of online conversations back and forth, Cummings at last suggested one woman in particular could speak in support of his positions. She is a well-known figure, a Maryland attorney who for this purpose gave her first-ever interview to The Advocate:Cathy Brennan.
The outspoken lesbian activist and feminist, labeled a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) by The Advocate and other publications, agreed to come to the defense of perhaps the most hated trans man on earth.
Throughout an 18-minute phone conversation, Brennan pleaded ignorance to Cummings's motives and positions, insisting she was only "vaguely aware of some of their public statements" following a guest appearance on his program.
But then Brennan gave chapter and verse to Cummings's three biggest points.
"As a general matter, I think the idea that transgender is not real, that stems from the idea that gender itself is socially constructed," Brennan told The Advocate. "So, to the extent that you cannot have transgender without gender, it's not 'real,' in that it's not an innate reality. I think that's what Mark is getting at. It's garbage to the extent that gender is garbage and a lot of us view gender as oppressive."
Brennan dove deeper to address a topic that trans journalist and MSNBC host Janet Mock made the title of her best-selling memoir, Redefining Realness:
"There's all this discussion in our community and there's a huge lack of understanding or agreement on some very basic terms, one of which is, this concept of 'realness.' And so, I think it's important for people to understand that social constructs are obviously real, because they're very powerful in shaping behavior. That doesn't make them innate. That doesn't make them occur because of a biological basis."
Brennan's statement, however, contradicts a February finding by researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine
who concluded "there is increasing evidence of a biological basis for gender identity."
Brennan went on to reveal that she not only knows transgender people, but has friends who have transitioned.
"I've been in the gay community a very long time, and I have a lot of friends who have decided, most of them are women, who transitioned to be men, that is something they undertook, and I'm assuming they didn't take it lightly, and people are entitled to make their decisions. I have no interest in telling people what they should or shouldn't do, and I'm especially not interested in telling women what they should or should not do because we are told what we should or shouldn't do all the time, and I'm not contributing to that.
"Do I believe transition makes a female person male? Of course not. Do I think you're female? No, of course not. Do I think that makes you unworthy of respect? No, of course you're worthy of respect."
Brennan then moved to her main point:
"People socially transition and decide to live as the opposite sex or how they think the opposite sex is. Good for you! I think people should live their lives and be happy. The problem is when this conflicts with laws that are in place to protect women and girls. That's my political objection. ...
"I think our community is still in this 'la, la, if you have objections to this stuff, you're a bigot' [phase]. The more people pay attention to this, the more they are aware, there are questions. And people have a right to question this ideology that's been shoved down our throats."
When asked about transgender children, Brennan backed up Cummings's claims that medical intervention is criminal.
"I think it's abusive. And I think the responsibility for that abuse lies with medical professionals. I think you have parents who, in this age of the Internet, it's easily Google-able, and people can diagnose themselves with whatever ailment they want to diagnose themselves with. ...
"This is being marketed to parents, so you have these liberal-leaning parents who want to do well and have been told over the last 20 years this is how you support gay people, and then they have their child. I think it's interesting that you have this explosion of kids being diagnosed as transgender or having gender dysphoria.
"And honestly, I don't think it's the kids who are the problem, I think it's medical professionals that are the problem, and I think it's some of the folks in the GLBT movement, particularly those that operate nonprofits that depend on the existence of transgender children, in order for their organizations to exist."
Brennan (pictured at right) was careful to note these are her opinions, not researched facts, but that she makes these statements as a keen observer, "and it is troublesome and it is worrying."
Her concern is personal, she tells The Advocate. "I am well aware that had I been born 40 years later, that very well could have been me, and that's disturbing to me." She continued:
"I wouldn't necessarily believe my 2-year-old who told me that she thought she was a boy. Because she's 2. And that's very common for kids to say, 'I am a boy,' or 'I am a giraffe.' You have parents now, who their kids say that and it's automatically, bam, 'My kid has gender dysphoria.' Let's be honest, for all these stories about how horribly oppressed trans kids are, there's all these these glowing stories about them and their parents get a lot of affirmation for it. It makes one wonder if it's being intentionally caused to give this 'cure.'"
Brennan, of course, is not alone in supporting Cummings and Lopez's efforts. Several bloggers are helping to spread their message by excerpting and reblogging their claims, including Nelson Garcia's NGEquality, GenderTrender, 4th Wave Now, and Joel Nowak'sreTransition blog.
Cummings received perhaps his greatest audience yet when The New York Times offered him an opportunity to write an op-ed:
"My views are that boxes are for the dead -- you shouldn't have to try to fit into a stereotype of an individual and push away your biology. Instead, we should all embrace our differences. While you are young, express away without harming yourself or changing the unchangeable. Puberty blockers are too dangerous and our kids too precious to take these kinds of risks. If one is going to transition, they should at the very least be old enough to vote and have a beer after work."
In addition to his allies and Brennan's point-by-point support, The Advocate received several emails and Facebook messages endorsing Cummings in response to a post seeking evidence of his support.
"I support Mark in their advocacy for rethinking sexual reassignment surgery and the use of hormones to treat gender dysphoria. The reason I am so supportive is that peer-reviewed, scientific studies bear out the fact that transgendered persons commit suicide at an equal rate after surgery as before surgery. ... It pains me that transgendered persons undergo surgery in an attempt to fit into society's binary definitions of gender when, in fact, it is society that that has the problem of not accepting those who do not fit neatly into male or female," wrote Valerie Smith.
Another supporter, named Charlie, wrote: "Adults making their own way in what is still an uncertain, unproven long-term neocience is one thing. They have had the ability and capacity to make adult choices. Children making that decision are another situation entirely. At this point in time, no one is fully cognizant of long-term outcomes and young children cannot make informed decisions. That is why they are not allowed to make certain decisions for themselves until they reach adulthood. I worry for their futures."
And a mom who blogs and asked to remain anonymous explained why she feared being identified by The Advocate but felt the issue was important enough to write in:
"Yes, I DO support Mark's efforts to shine a light on the current trend to transition kids. Please read my blog, because I've written extensively about it. I don't particularly agree with his approach sometimes, which too often ends up in vicious Facebook wars. But his heart is in the right place -- and you can quote me on that.
"You really have no idea how much people who question the dominant trans paradigm are vilified and harassed. ... We have to protect our CHILDREN's anonymity. We can't afford to have their identities exposed -- unlike the parents who are making tons of money parading the children they are sterilizing before the fawning media. Jazz Jennings comes to mind."
Much of the information parroted by Cummings's supporters comes from his Facebook postings and blogs
, which blogger Lexie Cannes
diligently reported with corroborative information to debunk his claims about puberty blockers, transgender children, the benefits of affirming gender early, the "suicide regret" fallacy, and regret over medical intervention to help transgender children.
Another debunker is author Julia Serano, whose book Whipping Girl is still heralded as a breakthrough in transgender writing. She posted information online to correct what Cummings, Lopez, and others are telling their followers about a theory dating back to the 1980s that hypersexualizes transgender women called "autogynephilia." Serano is herself a scientist as well as a writer and scholar on this pseudoscience -- which is still being used to delegitimize male-to-female transition.
Dr. Chris Freeman, who teaches a course in transgender studies at the University of Southern California, is on the board of directors of the One Archives Foundation and boasts 25 years of experience on the subject, hadn't heard of Cummings or Lopez when The Advocate interviewed him last month. But after hearing their claims that gender dysphoria doesn't exist, Freeman compared their theory to beliefs about another condition:
"Chronic fatigue syndrome: People say it is not real. But it is. And being trans is a thing. The terms that were coined may not fit everyone, but there is no one transgender experience. That's why people say, 'your mileage may vary' or use the term 'person of trans experience.' I have a bigger objection to the word 'cisgender,' which is a bullshit term."
This year, researchers confirmed what millions of chronic fatigue sufferers already knew: that their pain was a real disorder, and not just their imagination.
In trying to justify his own existence, Cummings says he "destroyed" his life. But he tells The Advocate what saved him was finding love, for both another person as well as for himself, as he wrote in one post:
"I just needed to have self love, and having found the one has allowed me to see life for the wonderful life that it truly is. Gender Dysphoria is the devil and it needs to be stopped."
"Falling in love for the first time in my life has allowed me to feel my true nature, which is my feminine self," Cummings tells The Advocate.
Cummings appears to have been in love twice before, however. His first wife, to whom he was married for 10 years, Violet Cummings, remains a friend. She posted a message of support on Facebook last fall when Cummings's former fiancee publicly accused him of domestic abuse, which he denied. No criminal charges were ever filed.
Cummings and that ex-fiancee, Jessica Lynn Cummings, made headlines in the New York Postin 2013 when they announced their plans to be wed. "Lovebirds to Marry After Both Changed Genders," shouted the tabloid headline.
But these so-called "lovebirds" soon drifted apart; Jessica told Intellectual Blonde, "Ever since I left him and cut all ties he has seemed to spiral into a different kind of crazy based on what I have seen and heard."
Cummings said in an April 2014 interview with Medium, "Transition Radio was Jessica's idea, the name and website," despite his claims to the contrary after they broke up. For years, the show was until recently headquartered in Mark's RV, and at present, both Cummings and his ex have each claimed the title "Transgender Highway" for their separate online ventures.
Lopez met Cummings in December, and early in their courtship she suffered a terrible accident, the day before New Year's Eve. She survived a 300-foot-plunge when her car went off the road on her way to be with Cummings. Luckily, passersby heard her screams for help.
Although temporarily paralyzed, Lopez made a miraculous recovery, and the two have been together ever since.
And although doctors and medical science likely saved her life, Lopez and Cummings have nothing good to say about the health professionals who work in transgender care.
"These doctors know that what they're doing is incorrect," Cummings says, calling gender reassignment surgery "mutilation."
"They're hurting people, but they don't care. It's all about the money."
Lopez wants to be clear about the couple's intention in spreading their message, sharing their stories and videos:
"The reason is because we were concerned. That is really what drives us, just the concern we have for the community. I don't want the community to think we hate them, at all. I want the community to know that we think there is a better way. We think there's a way where they can accept themselves, for who they are, for where they're at."
Cummings's final words to The Advocate are that he wants to be the other voice:
"I think there should be, like there's a Republican and a Democrat, there should be two sides, there should be another voice."
Those opposed to that idea took action in May, organizing a Change.org petition to ban Cummings and Lopez from Facebook -- so far it has 330 supporters -- and notifying sponsors of the hosts' new agenda. All those sponsors swiftly dropped Transition Radio.
Stripped of their financial backing, the radio hosts posted on Facebook that their claim that they would be detransitioning was just an experiment, and they denied they ever stated that was their intention, despite prior posts announcing their plans.
An apparent TERF group called "Concerned Parents Against Medical Child Abuse and Women's Rights" is now listed as Transition Radio's one and only sponsor. The couple also has a GoFundMe online fundraising campaign, which has a long way to go to reach its $5,000 goal.
At press time, the grand total contributed by Cummings's supporters was $160.