The Becky Blog


July 22, 2006

John Dean: "Right-Wing Authoritarians"


"The president and vice president, it appears," writes John W. Dean, the former counsel to President Nixon, in his new book, "Conservatives Without Conscience," "believe the lesson of Watergate was not to stay within the law, but rather not to get caught. And if you do get caught, claim that the president can do whatever he thinks necessary in the name of national security."

The metastasizing of conservatism under Bush is a problem that has naturally obsessed Dean. His part in the Watergate drama as the witness who stepped forward to describe a "cancer on the presidency" has given him an unparalleled insight into the roots of the current presidency's pathology. He recalls the words of Charles Colson, Nixon's counselor and overseer of dirty tricks: "I would do anything the president of the United States would ask me to do, period." This vow of unthinking obedience is a doctrinal forerunner of Bush's notion of presidential infallibility.

Dean, moreover, was close to Barry Goldwater, progenitor of the conservative movement and advocate of limited government. Dean was the high school roommate of Barry Goldwater Jr. and became close to his father. In his retirement, the senator from Arizona, who had been the Republican presidential nominee in 1964, had become increasingly upset at the direction of the Republican Party and the influence of the religious right. He and Dean talked about writing a book about the perverse evolution away from conservatism as he believed in it, but his illness and death prevented him from the task. Now, Dean has published "Conservatives Without Conscience," whose title is a riff on Goldwater's creedal "Conscience of a Conservative," and intended as an homage.

Conservatism, as Dean sees it, has been transformed into authoritarianism. In his book, he revives an analysis of the social psychology of the right that its ideologues spent decades trying to deflect and discourage. In 1950, Theodor Adorno and a team of social scientists published "The Authoritarian Personality," exploring the psychological underpinnings of those attracted to Nazi, fascist and right-wing movements. In the immediate aftermath of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's rise and fall, the leading American sociologists and historians of the time -- Daniel Bell, David Riesman, Nathan Glazer, Richard Hofstadter, Seymour Martin Lipset and others -- contributed in 1955 to "The New American Right," examining the status anxieties of reactionary populism. The 1964 Goldwater campaign provided grist for historian Hofstadter to offer his memorable description of the "paranoid style" of the "pseudo-conservative revolt."

While Dean honors Goldwater, he picks up where Hofstadter left off. "During the past half century," he writes, "our understanding of authoritarianism has been significantly refined and advanced." In particular, he cites the work of Bob Altemeyer, a social psychologist at the University of Manitoba, whose studies have plumbed the depths of those he calls "right-wing authoritarians." They are submissive toward authority, fundamentalist in orientation, dogmatic, socially isolated and insular, fearful of people different from themselves, hostile to minorities, uncritical toward dominating authority figures, prone to a constant sense of besiegement and panic, and punitive and self-righteous. Altemeyer estimates that between 20 and 25 percent of Americans might be categorized as right-wing authoritarians.

According to Dean's assessment, "Nixon, for all his faults, had more of a conscience than Bush and Cheney ... Our government has become largely authoritarian ... run by an array of authoritarian personalities," who flourish "because the growth of contemporary conservatism has generated countless millions of authoritarian followers, people who will not question such actions."

It's scary to realize that I know quite a few of these folks. Many progressive thinkers do not really know a significant number of authoritarians, so they think these folks can be subject to rational persuasion. They can't. The authoritarians are not going to change, no matter how much logic you confront them with. They know they are right. They know you are wrong. You can't reason with an authoritarian. The way to deal with the dilemma they present is to reason with other moderates and even conservatives who still retain their rationality - to persuade thoughtful people that there are areas where authoritarians should not be permitted to have the final word. Areas such as stem cell research, vetoed by the authoritarian president; freedom of choice; and fair and equal treatment for LGBT persons. Authoritarians have the right to their opinion, but they shouldn't have the right to make it mandatory for the rest of us.

July 29, 2006

An Evangelical Who "Gets It"

From the New York Times:

Like most pastors who lead thriving evangelical megachurches, the Rev. Gregory A. Boyd was asked frequently to give his blessing — and the church’s — to conservative political candidates and causes.

The requests came from church members and visitors alike: Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-abortion work? Would the church distribute “voters’ guides” that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn’t the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary?

After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said. Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.

“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”

...In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others — “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.

“America wasn’t founded as a theocracy,” he said. “America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state.

“I am sorry to tell you,” he continued, “that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.”

Mr. Boyd lambasted the “hypocrisy and pettiness” of Christians who focus on “sexual issues” like homosexuality, abortion or Janet Jackson’s breast-revealing performance at the Super Bowl halftime show. He said Christians these days were constantly outraged about sex and perceived violations of their rights to display their faith in public.

“Those are the two buttons to push if you want to get Christians to act,” he said. “And those are the two buttons Jesus never pushed.”

Pastor Boyd paid for his courage and integrity. About a thousand of his 5,000 members left the church in suburban St. Paul, and a $7 million building drive fell far short of its goal. But the remaining members are secure, strong, and reaching out to have "power under" the minorities in need in their area.

Congratulations to Pastor Gregory Boyd and the Woodland Hills church. Thank you for reminding us that not every Christian is a right wing authoritarian.

August 21, 2006


When the story and the pictures first appeared in the news, one commentator used the phrase "about two quarts shy on testosterone." Surely his appearance was less than macho. And the fact he was in Bangkok... so when the news broke in the more sensational outlets that Karr had visited a surgeon who performs SRS procedures, I shouldn't have been surprised.

Not that I think there's any indication he is a transsexual person.

We don't know the details yet, and we mustn't form fixed opinions. Still I feel it's necessary to share an opinion on what we know so far. There's no evidence he ever saw a therapist for GID. No evidence of any attempt to live in a new role. What do we make of such a person presenting to a surgeon (who obviously doesn't follow the HBIGDA standards)?

The following is speculation on my part - my opinion only.

I think there are a number of men who are not happy about the acts they have committed with their sex organs. These acts may have been illegal - or they may have been perfectly legal between consenting adults - or they may have been strictly of the imagination. But the men feel guilt and shame.

So what are we taught to do in the land of the up, tight, religious right?

And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Matthew 5:30

There are reasons people seek surgery which have nothing to do with being a transsexual person. I'm not ready to diagnose this person, but I am pointing out that such behavior is not our behavior.

Stay tuned. Don't let the tabloids frighten you. They undoubtedly will try.

September 1, 2006


This month has always been my favorite, and remains so despite the assaults of recent history. It's the month of changes. The summer heat starts to relax its grip. A couple of days ago, Fairbanks, Alaska registered its first frost of the season. The cooler winds move south and, in a few weeks, the leaves will start turning in the Northeast. By the end of September, the summer season is over at Jackson Lake Lodge in the Tetons, and Yellowstone Park starts to get ready for the snow season.

Even in Arizona some changes begin to appear. The last triple-digit high temperatures in Phoenix will be recorded in mid-month. Northern Arizona becomes a marvelous temperate world as Flagstaff, Sedona, and the Rim turn cooler at night. October is coming, with its blazing leaf colors.

I wonder how much the excitement of autumn is tied into the anxiety of approaching winter. The beauty of September and October gives way to the dead leaves of December, and the chill is no longer so pleasant - it demands protection. The foliage dies and goes dormant. While we don't see any of this in September, our knowledge of past years warns us to anticipation.

So much music speaks to the changes of autumn, relating them to the cycle of life and death. (You knew this was going to get around to music, didn't you?) Two albums, one contemporary and one fourteen years old, leave an impression on me.

R.E.M. were immensely popular in the late 1980s and 1990s. They should have gone out on top, and quit after 1996's New Adventures in Hi-Fi. But at their peak, with the great Automatic For the People, no band was more popular, no lyrics more eloquent. It's a difficult album, full of songs about death and loss. "Everybody Hurts" is an undisguised plea to choose life over suicide. The video is still my all time favorite. "Sweetness Follows" speaks of loss of loved ones and the search for closure. In "Try Not To Breathe" the anxiety over aging and death is contagious. The album's closing pair of songs are a true grand finale. "Find the River" ends on a hopeful note of discovering one's place in the world, finding meaning in life. Before that, however, we are treated to the wonderful ballad "Nightswimming." In this music, the joys of youth (okay, exemplified by skinny dipping) are giving way to adult anxiety - the "fear of getting caught," "I'm not sure all these people understand." Central to the theme is the phrase, sneaked in unexpectedly: "September's Coming Soon." Time for a change.

Here are the lyrics to "Nightswimming." Enjoy the poetry:

Deserves a quiet night
The photograph on the dashboard
Taken years ago
Turned around backward so the windshield shows
Every streetlight reveals
A picture in reverse
Still, it's so much clearer
I forgot my shirt at the water's edge
The moon is low tonight

Deserves a quiet night
I'm not sure all these people understand
It's not like years ago
The fear of getting caught
Of recklessness and water
They cannot see me naked
These things they go away
Replaced by everyday
Remembering that night
September's coming soon
I'm pining for the moon
But what if there were two?
Side by side in orbit,
Around the fairest sun?
The bright, tight forever drum
Cannot describe

You, I thought I knew you
You, I cannot judge
You, I thought you knew me
This one laughing quietly
Underneath my breath

The photograph reflects
Every streetlight a reminder
Deserves a quiet night
Deserves a quiet night

©Berry, Buck, Mills, Stipe

Later in the weekend I'll talk more about the heart of the Flaming Lips' album "At War With The Mystics." I'm at a meeting in Albuquerque, where September starts off cooler than in Phoenix. Labor Day in Santa Fe. What's not to like?

September 3, 2006

More Autumn Music: Be the Bird

In addition to "Nightswimming," there are many more musical allusions to autumn as a first warning of the dead winter to come. I wrote in "Parallel Lines" about "Forever Autumn," featured in Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds and written by Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues. The reference to the birds disappearing "one by one" is echoed in Enya's song by the same name:

One by one my leaves fold
One by one my tales are told...

I am reminded of my high school friends. We stay in touch by e-mail, and several of our number have folded their leaves in the last couple of years. Each one had a tale to tell, but who will tell their stories now?

The Flaming Lips, my favorite alternative band, have been obsessed with the phenomenon of dying - and living until we die - for years. Both their 2002 and 2006 albums include three consecutive songs on the topic. From Yoshimi we hear:

Do You Realize - that everyone you know someday will die

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes —
Let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last

All we have is now
All we've ever had is now...

Just in case we didn't get the message, they are more emphatic on At War With the Mystics. There's no pie-in-the-sky afterlife to blind us to the needs of the present:

Who knows, maybe there isn't
A vein of stars calling out my name

There's just you and me, maybe that's just as well
If there ain't no heaven, maybe there ain't no hell...

The point is not to argue theology, but to seize the moment and fill the present day with good deeds. My favorite number, "My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion," notes the blessing of having a friend to "stay through the wintertime" with you.

They tell us autumn's coming
Soon everything around us will die
Only a fool believes that he is different from the birds in the sky
All those birds go chasin' some better sunny days
You can't hear them singing 'cause they've all gone away

But this one bird didn't leave you
It stayed through the wintertime
You can't hear it sing but you can hear it as it flies
So don't you believe them,
They'll destroy you with their lies
They only see the obvious
They see the sun go down but they don't see it rise

There's no greater gift we can give than to stay through the hard wintertime with a friend or a loved one. We find meaning in our own lives by how we minister to those who need us. Don't go away for the winter - conduct your own autumn rebellion.

Be the Bird!!

October 11, 2006


I'm writing this from San Francisco. We have begun the Annual Conference of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) as of today. I am co-chair of the program (which explains why I have not written anything recently - staying so busy with program preparations). All indications are that the program will be a great success. Our Trans Health Pre-Conference Institute this morning had over twice as many persons in attendance as last year's event. I'll write more about it later.

It's a moment of great accomplishment, but right now none of it matters.

I just spoke on the phone with our veterinarian. Babe has had a swelling on her lower jaw for a few weeks. We took her in on Saturday before I flew over here on Monday. The vet was calling me with the biopsy results.

Babe has a highly aggressive cancer. It is already affecting her ability to eat. Her time is very short. Most likely, soon after I return, we will hold her in our arms as the vet helps end her suffering.

I am not dealing too well at this moment. I have to call Margaux at home and tell her. I wish we could at least be together at this time.

Mortality sucks. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

October 16

We are home. Margaux has taken such wonderful care of Babe while I was gone. The vet gave her a long-acting cortisone injection and she has been more energetic for several days.

I am so glad I took today off from work to decompress from my trip. I have tried to spend so much time with Babe in my lap, on my chest, in my arms, just next to me. Margaux has done the same. We want her to know how very much she is loved. I think she knows... I'm sure of it.

Sometimes she walks out to the back patio and yowls - not in pain - then walks back in and purrs. I would love to know to whom she is yowling. She knows some things we don't know.

These are the golden days. All we have is the right now. Memories are being made and cemented forever. We are fortunate to have the time and the opportunity to give and receive this love.

I do not want it to end.


Soul to soul
Our shadows roll
And I'll be with you
When the deal goes down.

Bob Dylan

October 21

We're hanging in there. Babe still has a good appetite, especially for bits of shrimp or salmon from our plates. Eating doesn't seem to cause her pain. She still jumps on the bed for a wake up call.

We have a lot of "lap time." When we got Babe from the Humane Society (she was one day from euthanasia back in 1998) the card on her enclosure said "Great Lap Cat." I was wearing jeans and sat with her in my lap as she snuggled onto my leg, very lightly clasped my knee in her front paws, and started to purr. I've been under her spell ever since. She still takes the same position, complete with loud purring. It's hard to believe her diagnosis, but I know it must be true.

Losing a loved one slowly does give us time for adjustment, but it is still full of grief. I find myself going through the Kübler-Ross stages, currently bargaining - God, please heal her, and I'll do this or that. It's a nice try, but it didn't work for either of my parents.

I'm okay at work, but I do have this knot of anxiety in my stomach.

We both want to give her as much quality time as possible, but we don't want to delay so long that her last days are unpleasant. So far we haven't had to face that decision.

If you think "Becky, she's a cat, get over it," you probably aren't someone who would be reading this blog in the first place. I imagine my readers understand.

October 26, 2006

Good News From New York

From the Sylvia Rivera Law Project:

(excerpt) New regulations have been proposed by the New York City Department of Health for transgender birth certificates. If they are passed, transgender people born in New York City would be able to receive new birth certificates that do show our new gender. Applicants would need to prove that we have completed our transition and intend to live permanently as our gender. Only applicants who are at least 18 years old and who have lived as the new gender for at least the two most recent years would be able to get the new birth certificate.

Although the proposed new policy is very good and very close to what trans advocates and expert healthcare providers asked for, a few corrections need to be made.

• The proposal should be changed to take out the requirement that applicants live in our gender for two years before applying for a new birth certificate. Some transgender people transition completely, including with genital surgery when it is indicated, in considerably less than two years. Also, some transgender people transition completely but are not always able to live fully as our gender at all times because we lack an accurate birth certificate.
• The proposal should be changed to take out the requirement for a name change order. Some transgender people have gender neutral names that we never change. A name change order has nothing to do with the completeness of our gender transition.
• The proposal should be changed to take out the requirement that providers must have two years of experience working with transgender people. Some transgender people who were born in New York City may now live in areas where providers with a significant amount of experience in treating transgender people are simply unavailable. Treating providers in these areas can still be qualified to make these assessments.
The proposed new policy can still be amended to fix these problems.

This is a great step forward. Please visit the Sylvia Rivera Law Project site at the link above and send your constructive comments.

October 27, 2006

What Talk Radio?

This is weird. In the last week I've heard from two people (one complimentary, the other not) who said they heard me on talk radio in San Antonio. Now, I've never even been to San Antonio. I don't know a soul there, except for one med school classmate. I've never called into, or been called by, talk radio there. So I thought the first writer was mistaken - except for the fact she said she got my email address from the program. Then I got the second email, from someone obviously not associated with the trans community, saying the same thing.

So, if you're reading this and laughing about impersonating me on talk radio in San Antonio - whatever. Enjoy your limited accomplishment. Just know that I know you're a phony.

November 11, 2006


I'm away from home this weekend at the interim meeting of the AMA House of Delegates. Our GLBT Advisory Committee is nearing completion of our two year initial charter, and we are preparing proposals for the Delegates which will increase awareness of the health needs of GLBT patients, as well as asking the support of the AMA to reduce discrimination based on gender identity as well as sexual orientation.

We had a reception and caucus last night to which all attendees were invited, and the number of persons attending was more than double that of last year. Little by little, we are moving into the mainstream and changing people's points of view. It is a privilege to serve on the advisory committee and have an impact on health care of trans patients. We are hoping for continuation of our committee for the future – there is much more work to do.

The documents displayed and distributed at our reception included the "Ten Things" series developed by GLMA and co-branded with the AMA:

It's a start. We have other data in preparation to advise the AMA's Councils on future policy document updates. It is very encouraging to receive this welcome from the most influential organization in American health policy.

It does hurt to be away from home. Babe is a bit weaker, but still eating and drinking water, and does not behave as if she's in pain. I would love to be with her, but I know Margaux is taking the best care of her.

I miss them.

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