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May 23, 2014

A Sincere Happy Mother’s Day Wish To Me From Cathy Brennan

By Autumn Sandeen


Back in 2011, Cathy Brennan and I were among a group of people working to pass Maryland’s HB 235 (Prohibiting Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination) into law. I developed what I thought was a friendship with her while working on the bill — this was the e-mail she sent me that changed the tone of our relationship.

Thumbnail link to email from Cathy Brennan with the subject line of 'None Of This Is Personal'

I asked her in a comment thread on Pam’s House Blend, the blog I then contributed to, whether or not she considered trans women to be female (and I can’t find that comment thread now), and she responded in an email dated May 8, 2011. It was in that email that she first spelled out that she didn’t consider me, and as we later have seen in the multiple times she publicly stated her point of view regarding trans women, to be female.

In May of 2011 she stated wouldn’t state her view on trans women publicly, so she said it in a letter she wished to remain private. As that isn’t a private point of view of hers anymore, I don’t see a reason to keep that point of view of hers private anymore.

Even after stating that she didn’t consider me female in that email, she stated she didn’t want to hurt my feelings – perhaps a sweet sentiment. And add to that, at the end of that email she wished me “Happy Mother’s Day.” She knew I have three children, and given that context I believe she was wishing me, as a parent (and not a child of my own mother), a Happy Mother’s Day.

Her letter is a long way from where she later called me a violent man — in the same month as Mother’s Day — in 2013.

Thumbnail link: Cathy Brennan Twitter Status, May 30, 2013, Calling Autumn Sandeen A Violent Man

The following is the text of that e-letter:

So please don’t take it personally. This is about a concern for crafting legislation that doesn’t harm women. And I didn’t answer your question on PHB because it is rather besides the point what I think a woman is or a female is. We are talking about a legislative fix to the problem of sex stereotyping without examining critically what “gender-related identity” or “gender expression” means. But I will answer you privately, as it seems important to you. Female means you are born with a vagina. That roughly works for the majority of people. I know there are folx who are Intersex and perhaps there are other exceptions, but I am not interested in screwing over females legislatively to protect unicorns. Perhaps this offends you. I an sorry if it hurts your feelings, because I do not want to hurt your feelings.

The definition in HB 235 is flawed and nonsensical, and relies in part of society’s understanding of what are “masculine” traits and what are “feminine” traits. The truth is, there are no “masculine” or “feminine” traits. If you want to tell me differently, then I am afraid we don’t have common ground.

This bill is coming up again in 2012. I worked on HB 235 because I came in on it late, because a friend asked me to, and I would not kill a bill like that, that late in the game, because I have spent a lot my entire adult life fighting against irrational discrimination. But we have a chance now to draft legislation that will (1) achieve its goals (i.e., banning irrational discrimination) and (2) not harm females. Surely, as a woman, you have an interest in not harming females by enshrining this definition of gender identity/gender expression into law.

I find it interesting – and I think you should too – that more and more lesbians are waking up to the implications of this legislation for females. I’m not concerned about being outnumbered in support on your blog, but I would think you might be very concerned as to how this will play out in Maryland.

I truly hope that you are well,


PS – Happy mothers day.

Just as Cathy Brennan sincerely wished me a Happy Mother’s Day back in 2011, I wish her one as well here in 2014.

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  • Language from the bill in 2011 she was supporting yet claimed she didn’t like the language.


    Language from the 2002 Baltimore city ordinance she took credit for passing while being interviewed on the Roseanne Barr Radio show of 10-27-2013

    “Gender identity or expression” means an individual’s having or being perceived as having a gender-related self- identity, self-image, appearance, expression, or behavior, whether or not those gender-related characteristics differ from those associated with the individual’s assignedsex at birth.”

    So what is it Ms. Brennan? You were for it before you were against it. Where have I heard that before?

  • crash2parties

    There is a massive fallacy in the TERF argument(s).

    If someone identifies ‘opposite’ their assigned sex/gender*, they are transgender, right?

    And if their brain expects a body opposite their assigned sex, they are transgender.

    Or if they express their social gender opposite expectations, they are transgender.

    If attributes of their brain, skeleton, &/or endocrine system develop opposite their assigned sex…that usually correlates with some degree of trans, too.

    Even extreme enough social role, clothing &/or mannerisms opposite social expectations are enough to warrant the label, applied externally.

    …But if a person’s innate sex-of-attraction is opposite expectations based on their assigned sex, that’s somehow categorically & empirically different?

    I call, B.S..

    Inconvenient as the politics are for “blank slate” 2nd Wave Feminists and others who build their identities on their sexuality, being gay is clearly a subset of cross-sex development & expression. In other words: transgender. Call it sex/gender variant if you want to use uglier words (“atypical” for a more clinical tone). Pretty much everyone outside the LGBT is aware of it and it’s how they see us, and why they conflate the letters so easily. Yes, it’s based on a false assumed binary. And yes, there is a statistical kernel of truth to the description, “atypical”. But at the end of the day, having a sexuality opposite expectations based on assigned sex is just that; opposite expectations. Trans.

    As such, Cathy Brennan and others like her are accomplishing nothing but exhibiting an amazing, drawn out and sometimes violent public display of self-loathing. Either that, or someone playing the “True Scotsman (woman) Fallacy” and not knowing that they’ve long since lost the argument.

    A lesbian parent of a trans kid.

    *I know, it’s not actually binary. Dumbbell curve assumed for simplicity, okay?

    • Dee Omally

      {Great comment…..}

      ….which is why I can never, ever, no matter how harsh I believe others deserve my strongest vehement public condemnation arrive at a position of anger or hate. I simply can’t and won’t—not only because it tends to go against my nature but because from my perspective it’s like dealing with a family member who has become constantly confrontational.

      …I almost needed to break out my well-worn “book of tricks” in physical defense from such a family member exhibiting anger toward me based primarily on my “flight from manhood” transition. Such ignorance projects a non-existent (in me) male identity, so often behind parental and other abuse meted out on trans children/adults.

      …I have worked in Campus Safety (Sworn) at LA County and prior to becoming a stay-home “mom”, I strongly asserted my peers to unite, not divide. They didn’t heed and the department quickly disappeared, and so did many of their jobs.

      …this is exactly what is going on as Trans females (so telling that trans females, not trans males are “always” the focus) and it speaks well for our nation that gays and lesbians have reached a state free of condemnation (still elusive for we who are trans though) such that many have turned their self-defense energies to offense: against the trans community.

      …whilst trans demonizing from the “straight” community is so often very abrasive, particularly from those who are supposed to be meting out love (Christians of which I am also), I can understand it. This from having been in close proximity with others of the shared faith, a faith that I hold very, very deeply as well. I simply refuse to elevate gender to that of being a “sin”, if only because gender itself is a beautiful trait of creation…gone wrong after “the fall”, I hold.

      …as you say, our LGB brethren, due to “family” proximity (like my example above), is far more knowledgeable of who we (trans) persons than the “straight” community. Although such knowledge can be egregiously wrong (the RPaul Disaster Reality), our LGB “family” “should have known” the crucial difference between female impersonations (costume) and females that are fully post-male.

      …with the above expectations, I reserve the harshest critique (not hate mind you) for our LGB “family”. They must know that within gay/lesbian circles exist many gay identities, and so too the trans circles.

      …nonetheless, as you say the “straight” community looks at the LGBT community and rubber stamps “they’re all gay” over the acronym. Disunity—no matter how merited—benefits more those outside a shared commonality than those inside (LGBT). When I look at the TERFS and those with trans animus, including “in the name of God”, I stop and think: “Who would it serve best to impede trans equality?” I keep arriving at this answer: the patriarchal hierarchy who is extremely hypocritical as it demonizes trans females more than trans males, emphasizes Alpha Male hyper-masculinity which is at the heart of domestic violence on females expected to live in complete submission….equates same-sex male preferences as “male weakness” (its not)…on and on we can roll.

      As usual, history serves to shed light on where we are today. History shows that contrary to our Declaration of Independence and Constitution that gives “man” default rights, these very rights have had to be, like teeth, pulled out of those in power….we know who they have been and still are (one example: gay white males). History shows that power is never relinquished, the sharing of power must be coerced. History shows how those outside of the power circles have been mistreated…including females. History shows that the male patriarchy has been the one with the power, that we as trans females, not unlike females before, are asking to have a voice in.

      • Dee Omally

        As I like to say, complicated issues can never be discussed through simple one-liners. I hope that my lengthy commentary, often hastily typed with inadvertent omissions and grammatical missteps is interpreted as underscoring my deeply held convictions that critique is good, conflict is “normal”, civilized conduct is not an option, offensive violence is never “plan c, d, e, or f”, and criminal behavior is never a given.

        When faced with highly potent trans offenses, participation in defense is never optional. I respect beliefs, even if different or “wrong” with the knowledge that both belief and preference are not “wrong” from “their” perspective. We know that many trans adversaries judge us based on our inability to successfully appear as our target gender, however I fully expect them to know that this is not our fault, but the high cost of having undergone a male puberty, unlike the option made available to trans children of today. This calls for compassion, not conflict; a discussion based on facts, not fear.

        We know that most violence is statistically a product of males, but we also know that a trans journey truly relegates our maleness to the past, not the present. Only those of us who finally achieve a hormonal balance in synchronicity with our gender identity will ever know the wonder that this is. No male-identified person seeks to lose his “manhood” in the name of violence or seeks a sex change to gain access to female inner sanctums. Such perverts, being law-breakers by choice know that such access is merely a door-push away, as has already tragically occurred.

        As trans persons, we are no less capable of exercising intelligence and must never forget that if history documents one thing it is this: selective violence against any group begins in the minds of despots who know that it must be made palatable. Those loyal to him then execute violence as easy as eating a sandwich, a duty to country. Phase I is always about “winning hearts and minds” as they create this demonizing mindset, followed by phase II, the horrific implementation that is measured in lives lost.

        Today, such despots would utilize all modes of technology. We in the trans community know that a trans-violent mindset is already palatable to many. The TDOR is proof of this. Such implementation is already in place, the product of a mindset that strips us of humanity & gender. It reassigns us as “other”, “neither”, “sex hybrids” or as some would call us: “tr*nny”, “she***e”, “he/she”. This is phase II implementation well underway for far too long. Our LGB cohorts are too busy partying on the LGB-T bus as marriage equality arrives, while trans equality falters as we cling to the bumpers of the bus, if we are lucky.

        Female impersonators, once off the stage, are but gay males, so phase II implementation as reflected in the TDOR is a foreign concept to them, but never to us who make the world our “stage” as we live our reality never under the color or cover of impersonation. This is why they don’t understand that this isn’t about “hurting our feelings”, but about feeding a mindset that has already hurt many of us, job-wise and life-wise—unless of course the TDOR is Wikipedia fiction.

        This is my motivation, and I’m stickin’ to it…..runaway keyboard and all ;).

  • friday jones

    I think that “happy mother’s day” was a parting shot aimed at the fact that she can legally, as a “political lesbian” of means, can buy her way into motherhood, and you, Autumn, as a non-wealthy trans woman, would not stand a chance as things now stand.

    • Jos

      “buy her way into motherhood”?? What does that mean. Brennan is a mother; she grew babies in her womb and gave birth to them. It sounds sincere. No need to snarl whenever someone is nice to you.

      • friday jones

        Do you have any idea what IVF costs? No need to leap to CB’s defense whenever someone points out her incredible privileges in this life.

      • 1) My wish for Cathy Brennan to have a Happy Mother’s Day was sincere.

        2) I have twin, adult sons born through IVF. My oldest son was adopted. My ex and I took on a lot of debt to have all of our wonderful kids. My kids are loved; Cathy no doubt loves her kids. I’ll leave it at this: love to me is the important thing.

      • friday jones

        Love is greater than all.

  • Weird, her original letter is misinformed yet rational, almost as if she could be taught and persuaded that we deserve our rights too. Such a shame, still she made her choice to stand on the wrong side of progress.

  • I have a lot of love for my gay & lesbian family, having worked alongside them, kept them safe, and continue to admire their tenacity and tensile strength. Like the recent RP Disaster Reality taught us however, aside from a commonality in sexuality, far too many on the L & G side are anti-trans to such an extent that they can only be described as trans-adversaries. Clearly, despite our common sexuality, it is a difference of perspective relative to gender that creates a chasm. Perspective, like perception, is reality. Stated otherwise, one person’s pet is another person’s dinner. Same view, different perspective.

    Perhaps I am unique in my own perspective in that I admire passionate debate more than being right. For this reason I have some admiration for our trans nemeses. My sincere hope is that our fervent trans adversaries, whomever they are, come to the realization that like gay & lesbian civil struggles that appeared hopeless year after year only to finally break through, so too are trans civil struggles reaping benefits.

    I am not a believer in adversarial conflict that seeks to find a lower common denominator and engage in a protracted gutter-level teeter-totter back & forth dialogue that is common to middle school playground out-of-teacher-earshot behavior. Such is at best a “lose-lose” argument that brings out the worst of those on both sides of the juvenile-level discourse. I am a believer, however, in never withholding critique no matter how harsh on those who en-masse engage in wholesale group smearing that in effect slanders an entire group of people (no matter the group) by presupposing guilt based on random samples. If anyone should know better, it should be our gay & lesbian family who, basking in the sunshine now void of gay/lesbian condemnation, is quickly forgetting the torment their predecessors had to endure.

    There are gay and lesbian safe havens depending on geography, but the fact that in many states one can be terminated based on sexuality reminds us that gay & lesbian safe havens are the exception, not the rule.

    The posture demonstrated above, if factually accurate, reminds me of many peer relationships that can only be described as “embrace and squeeze” where a foe dons the garb of ally to gain proximity, all the while concealing true ulterior motives. The foe is so deftly skilled at employing acting skills that if the initial hints are missed, it may reach the point where one is unable to survive the “squeeze.”

    Many such sweet & sour hints commonly employed by those who see trans equality as a threat are included: “Don’t take it personally [uh this is personal correspondence is it not?]”…”crafting legislation [uh crafting?]”…”…that doesn’t harm women” [as in “real” women?”]…[female = born with vagina? So doctors and judges, who change sex every day, have it all wrong, for years?]….[screwing over females? As in “real” females?]….[unicorns? Really? A little dehumanizing? But no offense intended? Ya rite.]….[…no masculine & feminine traits? As in no gender? So there are no males or females after all?]…”It is rather beside the point what I think a woman is or a female is. [and yet the point is female = person born with vagina?]

    If the fear is that transgender = gay male drag queen = cosmetic + aesthetic female = legally ID’d as male…..then I know that most here agree that an argument supporting adult males accessing female private areas is one without legal standing and is foolish on its face. Such males, if in initial stages of a gender transition, risk incarceration and take such risk on their own, and must make an ID sex update (MD’s approval of medical transition) a priority.

    As trans females, the TDOR serves as an annual reminder that a trans journey is really a gauntlet, one that many of our sisters do not survive. The last thing we wish to do is execute violence on others. Of course, like any one group in society, there will be those that fail to heed laws and statutes. No one group owns the right to innocence—all are represented in prisons. The tragedy though is to pre-convict all trans females as criminals. Personally, I know that cis females are well represented in prisons as well, and yet no one is claiming that being cis female = criminal. Our judicial system is based on judging the individual, not the group* which he/she is a member of. Our constitutional system screams for individual rights from Mt. Rushmore. To pre-judge trans females as a criminal threat is essentially un-American in consequence. If such a threat to females really existed, beyond anomalies, all female restrooms would have an attendant checking IDs for sex/gender.

    Those of us who push back hard against trans adversaries are never advocating for criminal culpability, but for individual innocence. It is a mindset that we fight against, not the individual who represents such a mindset. Revealing a person’s motives however, through harsh critique is crucial toward unraveling a mindset so intransigent that seeks to keep trans Americans/persons from the “pursuit of happiness”.

  • Kara

    I’m curious to know what turned her into such a bigoted and hateful person. I suspect there is something behind her irrational hatred.