On this episode of the pod, Amanda Weinstein, Jasmine Clark, and Rachel Vindman talk about sex, baby... comprehensive sex education, that is! Sex ed overlaps with every other issue we’ve been discussing this year: book bans, abortion rights, trans kids, accusations of “grooming,” even gun violence. It's clear that right-wing politicians care more about maintaining power than they do about the lives and well-being of kids.
The hosts exchange stories of what they learned in sex ed and talk about why comprehensive sex ed (especially teaching consent) is so important. In fact, Jasmine has pushed for a bill in the Georgia legislature that would require consent to be taught during sex ed. (To no one’s surprise, the GA Republicans refused to even discuss the issue.)
Then we’re joined by Christine and Shannon Curley, a mother/daughter duo who host a podcast called Sex Ed Debunked. Shannon and Christine discuss the shortcomings of American sex ed programs and why it’s important to include respect, consent, body autonomy, gender identity and sexual orientation - at age appropriate levels. Shannon also chats about what it’s like to host a podcast about sex with her mom! If you want to check out Sex Ed Debunked, you can find it on all major podcast platforms.
After that, Rachel sits down with Jess McIntosh. Jess is a communications consultant, the co-host of Signal Boost with Zerlina Maxwell, and has been working with Advocates for Youth to stand up for abortion access, LGBTQ rights, and honest sex ed. Jess and Rachel discuss why the radical right has been using sex ed to scare suburban moms, what it means to be non-binary, the weirdest thing about being a commenter on CNN, and so much more.
Finally, Amanda, Jasmine and Rachel raise a glass to military veterans and the start of summer in this week’s “Toast to Joy.”
Our National Troublemaker Training with Senator Mallory McMorrow is coming up on Monday, June 6. If you’d like to join Mallory and other badass suburban moms, you can register for this event at https://go.redwine.blue/GetTrained.
For a transcript of this episode, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Suburban Women Problem - Season 2, Episode 22
Rachel Vindman: Hi everyone. Thanks for listening. I'm Rachel Vindman.
Amanda Weinstein: I’m Amanda Weinstein.
Jasmine Clark: I am Jasmine Clark. And you're listening to the suburban women problem this week. We're talking about sex education, which actually overlaps with pretty much every other issue we've been discussing this year. Book, bans, abortion rights, trans kids, these ridiculous accusations of grooming, all of those issues connect to comprehensive sex education.
I'll get to share my interview with Jess McIntosh, a CNN contributor and the host of Signal Boost with Zerlina Maxwell. And before that, we'll be joined by Shannon and Christine Curley, a mother-daughter duo who hosts a podcast called Sex Ed Debunked. I love the idea of hosting a podcast with your daughter! But I'm going to have to wait until mine is over the tumultuous tween years.
But anyway, before we get to all of that, let's just check in. Last week was a really difficult one. We released an emergency episode about the school shooting in Texas, so if you haven't already listened to that, please check it out. How are you guys feeling now?
Jasmine: I will just say I hate that I wasn't able to be on the emergency episode. I actually was at my daughter's school—
Rachel: Oh yeah, you were.
Jasmine: Like, I'm honestly just relieved that today is the last day that I have to send her into that building. And I have a couple of months to process and prepare for the next time that I trust that when I send my daughter off on a school bus, that she will come back home on that same school bus. Right now, I'm just like in a stupor of just like, I don't even know like what to do. I just feel stuck. I mean, this is just all a continued assault on our children. Just one thing after another.
I feel like the right is just continuing to use this guise of protecting children, but they don't want to protect children. They're trying to protect their own interests and they don't care anything about actually protecting children. They care about protecting their campaign accounts and they're beholden to the gun lobby. They're beholden to the NRA and whatever the NRA said goes, and it doesn't matter if children are killed in the process. I noticed that a lot of them use the exact same wording in their statements on Twitter. That wording very likely came from the NRA where someone said, “Hey, dude, this is really bad. We got to say something.” And they were like, “here, say this.” And they weren't even smart enough to paraphrase it to where we didn't all realize they came up with the exact same statement. Cause it came from the exact same source.
Rachel: So Jess and I actually talked about that. Cause we talked about how the school board meetings, it's like you go from one person to other and it's totally interchangeable because they're all using the exact same talking points. It's the same when it comes from NRA, because all this stuff is top-down guys.
Amanda: And that's how you know it's all talk and no action. And the truth is those, those politicians are also beholden to their scared base. They’re scared, irrationally scared, that were coming for their guns. And I don't even care anymore. I don't care that they're irrationally scared because you know, which kids are rationally scared? The kids that were in that school. And I care more about the kids in that school who are scared than the irrational grown men who are scared I might come take their guns. Grow up.
Jasmine: What we're saying here is that they are more afraid of their base than they are afraid of dead children. That's what we're saying here.
Rachel: I think they're more afraid of their donors, but yes, of their base as well. But you know, Mitt Romney took just under $14 million from the NRA and Liz Cheney… and these are the normal ones, guys! These are the normal, the normals of the Republican party. These are the people that we somehow celebrate as being the ones who stand up for things.
Amanda: And who we used to say were pretty far right?
Amanda: Like Liz Cheney was never a moderate.
Jasmine: She's moderate in today's GOP.
Amanda: We also want to take attention away from the kids, because if we take attention away from the kids and talk about, oh, mental health care, then that puts it on that person that puts it on those parents. And it takes responsibility away from politicians who really need to get up and do something about it.
But I also find it, I find it interesting… you know, we don't see girls, who are also bullied, shooting up schools. Why, are girls never bullied? Like, please. We know girls get bullied too. We have had some pretty extreme bullying that actually made news in my school district of a girl who was bullied. She didn't bring a gun into the school. Right. So there's another issue that we're not talking about as much either. That somehow these boys think that they have it in their right to take whatever they want, whether that's a life or a person's body. And that is an issue we are also not talking about. And then I think is related what we're talking about today when we're talking about sex education.
Amanda: And most sex education for most states, they are not required to talk about consent. Boys are not required to learn they must get consent.
Rachel: But girls need to learn it too, because I will tell you just recently in my family, we were on a long car drive car ride, and we used that as a chance to talk about these things. We actually had an agenda— and just to remind our listeners, I have an 11 year old—
Amanda: Wait, that's a great idea. Do you have like little bullet points? You're like, these are the things we're going to talk about with Ellie and this trip?
Rachel: I mean, we did!
Amanda: Ooh, I love that.
Rachel: And we had, we discussed it and we had to talk about consent. We had to talk about all these things. Like it is your call. It is your decision. And I feel like we've talked about it before, but not in a super purposeful way. And I am a big proponent of comprehensive sex education. It's just, I don't know, you know, it's not been something that she's been introduced to in school yet. So we felt like we really needed to introduce her to it.
But recently I was talking to a friend of mine. She called me and she was like, “do you know anything about Instagram?” And I was like, “uhh, can you give me a little bit more information?” And so she told me that her daughter, who is a 9th grader and who I know well, and she had kind of blown off a boy. And he just started making Instagram stories, calling her horrible, horrible things. You know, her mom, maybe I kind of indoctrinated or radicalized her mom a little bit, but I was like, “He attacked your daughter! Because she wasn't interested in him. That is wrong. What if it was a physical attack? I know it wasn't, but—“
Amanda: He felt like he is entitled to her.
Rachel: Yes, exactly. And I mean, he thought he could say these things. It just, this is part of the comprehensive sex education, in my mind. This is saying, you can stand up for yourself. You do not have to put up with this and you don't have to feel like you're the snitch or something when he's getting in trouble, because that's how he and his friends tried to make her feel.
Jasmine: Well, what that's, what people do when they try to control you. They try to make you fear getting them into trouble for the things that they are doing to you. And I think it's really interesting that we're talking about comprehensive sex education, because I know in Georgia I dropped a bill that did exactly what we are talking about.
Rachel: Right, you did!
Jasmine: It would add consent to sex education, and it couldn't even get a hearing. Like they wouldn't, it was a bipartisan bill, they would not even give it so much as a hearing.
Amanda: I mean, let's stop right there. The Republicans would not even consider making sure boys knew that they should get consent before having sex with a girl.
Jasmine: The craziest part about it is, you know, they're like, “oh, comprehensive sex education and wokeness is a threat to our children.” Why is it that comprehensive sex education is a threat, why is it that CRT is a threat, why is it that like a handful of trans kids who just want to fit in and play sports are a threat, but a friggin rifle that can kill multiple people within seconds is not a threat? That is not something that we should legislate. That's not something that we should touch. That's not something that we should even talk about. But you have no problem standing on your pedestal and talking about how “oh sex education and the woke mob and the woke left are trying to indoctrinate our kids and tell our kids that they have to get consent to have sex. That's just the way for them to teach our girls to have sex.” And I'm like, what is wrong with y'all? Like, I just do not understand what in the hell is wrong with people.
Amanda: And at the same time we have like the stuff going on with the Southern Baptist convention, right. They went out of their way to hide sexual assault allegations and attack victims of sexual assault. Like that's how far they went. Because it is assumed that men have all of the power, but none of the responsibility, when it comes to sexual assault, they have the right to women's bodies. And if women don't remain pure, then it, they basically deserve what happened to them. And that is sick.
So I've also heard, do you remember Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped from Utah and then found later? So she also speaks out about how damaging it is to be talking about purity and talking about how, you know, “if you have sex, you're a used piece of gum.” And especially, I mean, this is harmful for everyone, but especially for the victims of rape, you are dehumanizing them and telling them they are of lesser value because of what someone did to them through no fault of their own.
Jasmine: Not just that, it makes them less likely to report it.
Jasmine: Let’s be clear. They are teaching this in classrooms. They are getting kids to take a piece of gum and put it in their mouth and then spit it out and they are comparing that spit out piece of gum to a woman's vagina after she has sex. That is what they do in an actual classroom. We had to happen right here in Georgia. It is why I'm so adamant about changing our sex education curriculum across the state, because first of all is sick, but second of all, it doesn't work. And third of all, it's very dangerous for people who are experiencing things like sexual assault or molestation and things like that. And they're too afraid to report it because of the stigma attached to something that they had absolutely no control over. Like all of this stuff is so infuriating to me. I don't, I don't know if you hear the indignation in my voice.
Rachel: I am speechless. That is so gross.
Jasmine: It is really gross. It's disgusting.
Rachel: When we started having this conversation with Ellie it was interesting because both Alex and I were then trying to think about how we were introduced to these topics. So how were you guys, like, how was this discussed in your school?
Amanda: Oh, I definitely remember. I mean, the first time I was taught about like, the mechanics was definitely from a friend. And when my mom like sat down with me, I was like, “I already know.” Cause I did already know. I think she thought I was lying, but no, I definitely already knew cause a friend told me. But my mom actually taught the abstinence part of the sex education. So let me tell you how cool I was in high school! But she was also strangely very like pro forms of birth control and like would dress up as a condom for Halloween. Also, my house was very cool because we had the mom dressed up as a condom for Halloween. Like, man, I don't like, I don't know. It was strange.
Jasmine: I think when I was in school, I remember we started all in the same room, the girls and the boys in the same room. And it was just some very general like, hi, today, we're going to talk about your bodies. And then after that they separated us. And so on the girls side, I know we talked a lot about our period and that was it. Like the majority of the conversation was you're going to get a period. It didn't even tie necessarily that menstruation is your body's way of saying that now you can, you know, have a baby, you can get pregnant. And we did that for like an hour and that was it. Our sex ed, like, legitimately did not talk about sex.
Rachel: I don't think ours did either.
Jasmine: The current version of sex ed in a lot of counties in Georgia involve abstinence only and signing a purity pledge at the end and their success is based on how many students report— self-report—that they chose to abstain from sex by the time they graduated from high school. And I'm like, all of this is dumb. Like this is so dumb.
Rachel: Well I think this is the perfect time to bring in our Troublemakers of the week. Shannon and Christine are a mother and daughter who host a podcast called Sex Ed Debunked. Shannon and Christine, welcome to The Suburban Women Problem.
Christine: Hi. Hi, Rachel. Good to meet you.
Rachel: Well, thanks for being here. So tell us a little bit about your podcast. What made you decide to do a podcast about sex ed?
Christine: Well the brain child of a podcast was Shannon’s—
Shannon: The actual child too!
Christine: And the actual child! But I am, I am presently getting my PhD and I study sexuality and its connection to health. So Shannon's heard me talk about it a lot. And I was teaching psychology of human sexuality and realized that a lot of my students were like, “Hey, I never knew any of this stuff. Why didn't anyone teach me this?”
Shannon: Yeah. So I, I have a marketing background, so that's part of what kind of brought it to life. I had some experience in marketing. I had some experience in podcasting and producing podcasts in the past. And then for me, I'm a member of the LGBTQ community. So there's an obvious intersection between comprehensive sex ed and understanding identity-affirming sex ed and just inclusivity in the queer community. So yeah, we, we basically had a two-hour conversation on a beach about sex ed and the gaps in our respective educations. And then I said, “oh, you know, this would actually maybe be a good podcast.” And that was, that was it. It was sort of decided in a day it was like, “oh, we should do this. Yeah, we should probably do this.”
Amanda: That is awesome. So you talked about some of the stuff that like was missing from your education, and you also talked about the intersection between sex education and LGBTQ issues. What are those intersections? And what are the missing parts? What are some of those things that you have talked about?
Christine: Well, the first part, I guess, the gaps in sex education, is our very first myth is that there's comprehensive sex education in the United States at all, which we all know isn't the case. We in this country focused on sex, but we need to focus on comprehensive and education, right? And that starts from an early age of just understanding the complexities of gender, understanding the complexities of sexual orientation.
Shannon: And it doesn't mean that there has to be, you know, these very in-depth very serious conversations, but acknowledging the possibility of an orientation outside of straight and acknowledging the possibility of a gender outside of whatever your assigned gender is at birth or your assigned sex at birth. So for us, it's a lot of starting conversations early, and that's what it comes back to for us is, you know, when you start normalizing those conversations early on, whether it's about sex or sexual communication or identity or gender or whatever it is, the earlier you can have those conversations, the easier it is to acknowledge that as a reality in your world, but also possibly a reality for you.
Jasmine: I think that's what scares people, right? Isn't that what you are calling normalizing, they are calling indoctrination and grooming?
Shannon: Yeah. So we had an episode a few weeks ago where we interviewed a friend of mine actually, who I've known since elementary school, Benny. And he told us his story of transitioning. And in that story, we asked him, you know, “if it had been spoken about sooner, like how would that have affected you?” And he said, “well, it wasn't spoken about at all. And I still transitioned. But if it had been talked about, my life would have been a lot easier.” And so I think what we try to do too is allow the conversations that we don't have a, you know, immediate personal experience with, we try to invite other people to talk about their experiences.
So there might be this question of, “oh, it's indoctrination or it's grooming” or whatever. You know, we've heard from many people that the difference would have been… “if it had been talked about, I would have felt safer. I would have felt supported. I would have felt loved. My life would have been easier. And even though it wasn't talked about, I still am exactly who I am today.”
Jasmine: Right. I think stigma is the root of a lot of issues that we have in our country, and this is no different. There's stigma associated with having sex, which is why somebody might be afraid to report if they've been sexually assaulted. There’s stigma associated with things like STDs, which is why people are afraid to go get tested. And so that brings me to my question. You're talking about comprehensive sex education and you kind of alluded to it, but why do you specifically feel like it's so important for kids to have this more comprehensive view of sex education versus what a lot of students, especially where I am in Georgia, are getting? Which is very focused on abstinence and does not give that bigger picture.
Christine: Our country is so focused on “oh my gosh, you're teaching our kindergartener about sex.” No, we're talking about body autonomy to kindergartners, to being able to say no to Uncle Joe when he wants to hug you.
Amanda: Yes! It's my body, my choice.
Christine: And the second piece is education. So there are models across the world, pointing to like the Netherlands and Sweden and Switzerland. They start at age four and five. They have lower, lower, unwanted pregnancies, lower age of first sexual intercourse, because the education is about when you're ready. And it also includes healthy relationships and communication. That's the comprehensive part that we're missing in this country.
Amanda: So a lot of teenagers, I remember growing up, right, talking about sex with your mom is not like the easiest conversation to have all the time, but here you are, where you are regularly talking about sex with your mom. So I’m just wondering, what is that like? And are there any episodes where you're like, “oh man, this is an awkward conversation with my mom right now”?
Shannon: There are definitely moments. And you'll hear them on the episodes. There are moments where, especially like my mom will say something and I'll be like, “okay, I didn't need to know that.” But I think, you know, I tend to focus more on my perspectives than my experiences, and obviously your perspectives are born of experience, but I do tend to avoid specifics. And I think actually that, that extends to what we're trying to do, right? Is having conversations and developing perspectives, but not necessarily, you know, tell me about who you hooked up with. It's more like, how have you experienced it? How can you learn from it? What are the healthy practices to put into place? So there's definitely episodes and definitely topics where I do a little, like, “gulp!” I think for the most part, because we do approach our conversations as conversations and not as, you know, exposes, it's never really awkward.
Amanda: Oh. So I hope I can have conversations like that with my daughter. So we've talked about my body, my choice, but I hope that I really want these conversations to happen because I do know that that leaves kids very vulnerable. And when we hear these complains about grooming, not having the conversations is how our kids become vulnerable to that.
Rachel: It’s so obvious. It is so obvious and yet there's such tremendous backlash.
Jasmine: It’s the irony of like them accusing people of grooming actually shuts down the conversations that would prevent grooming from actually happening.
Rachel: Well, thank you, Christine and Shannon, for joining us.
Christine: Thank you for having us!
Rahcel: So where can people find your podcast?
Shannon: Wherever you stream your podcasts. It's Sex Ed Debunked. So Spotify, Apple Music, whatever. And then on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at Sex Ed Debunked, or if you have any questions slash don't have the social medias, you can email us at sexeddebunkedatgmail.com.
Rachel: I love it. Well, thank you again so much for joining us, and now we're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we'll have my conversation with Jess McIntosh.
Rachel: Our guest today is a writer, a communications consultant, and a political strategist. She co-hosted the show Signal Boost with Zerlina Maxwell, she was the deputy communication director of Emily's List, and she worked as the Director of Communications outreach for the Hillary Clinton campaign. Jess McIntosh, welcome to The Suburban Women Problem.
Jess McIntosh: I am so glad to be here. I feel like I have been in so many rooms over the 15 years that I've been on political campaigns where we have discussed the suburban women problem. And here I am right in the middle of it.
Rachel: I mean, you pointed out you you've done so much in your career to fight for women's rights and for the Democratic Party. And I mean, we could talk about just about anything, but today we're choosing to talk about sex education. And I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that sex ed is one of the ways the far right extremists are trying to limit freedoms and scare suburban women and anyone else who wants to be scared. So what's going on here? What, what do you think the controversy is over sex education? If you could distill it in, you know, a few words, what would you say?
Jess: Well, I think that in large part, it's what you just said. It is designed to scare parents and to confuse parents so that school curriculums can be seized by partisan actors. And honestly, more importantly, I think they just want to keep us in a state of agitation so that we don't engage, we are afraid to speak up. We are afraid to vote. We are afraid to run for school board. And they'll take whatever comes their way.
You know, about a year ago, I started working with Advocates for Youth, which does an amazing job creating curriculum that is safe and inclusive and healthy for kids. And what they were telling me was that stuff was popping off all over the country around sex ed in a way that they had never seen before. And superintendents and educators and advocates and parents were just caught completely off guard and they needed somebody to help them fight back against a disinformation campaign.
And that means that somebody like me has to go to a space that shouldn't be political at all. We should just be following best practices is laid out by the pediatrics association and by places like Advocates for Youth. Instead we're dealing with disinformation on the level that we saw in the 2016 presidential campaign. It's just focused entirely on a very small school district. And that school district is not prepared to fight back because the opposition is a very well-organized and very well-funded.
And if I could, if I could say one thing about all of this to your listeners, it's that the same thing is happening everywhere. And that's for a reason, it's because the same entities, the same organizations, the same outside money— a lot of foreign money, we’re talking about Russian funders, we’re talking about Christian nationalists, all of the big bad guys—they all fund these organizations that create these moments in school districts. So like if you show up in school board, and somebody is there to yell about sex ed, it’s very likely that they're not even from your district.
Rachel: Yeah. And they have the same talking points. I mean, like they downloaded them from the internet. They have the same talking points. One person can just pick right up off another because they're all singing literally from the same song sheet.
Jess: Exactly. And it's because somebody wrote that song sheet for them to sing. Like that is a concerted organized effort.
Rachel: Right. We talk about that a lot, you know, on our show, just so people understand kind of what they're up against. But you know, there's some freedom in that as well because these aren't their, you know, these aren't the views that they've long held. These aren't thought out views. So you can counter them with some just reasonable thought out views. I mean, things that you've actually reasoned through and thought yourself. I mean, it's, it's, it's not complicated, but you know, when you push back, they don't know what to say. Cause they only have what's in, what's in front of their face.
Jess: It’s very true.
Rachel: Not to be an ugly debate, but just to say, “Hey, what about this?” And then they're like “uhh, uhh…” because they, they haven't considered it.
Jess: That’s the thing about disinformation. It runs up against reality. Eventually disinformation runs up against reality. And the reality here is that we have all the facts on our side and we have the numbers on our side. Like 98% of people are in favor of sex ed in high schools, 89% are in favor of it in middle schools. These are the kinds of numbers that exist alongside clean drinking water. Right? Okay. These are the least controversial sorts of positions.
Now the focus of the debate is on elementary school, so I don't want to, I don't want to play, like, hide the ball here by talking about high school and middle school. But when you tell parents what sex ed in elementary schools means, you get those same kind of numbers, you're back up to 92%.
And what does it mean in elementary schools? It means the basic foundational concepts that later on, in later grades, will be layered on to actually relate to sex. But in elementary school, you're learning basic things like bodily autonomy, respect, consent. You can't just take someone's crayon without asking. You have to ask. If they say yes, then you can take it. Now that's not a lesson about sex. But it's not hard to see how you can apply that lesson to something about a relationship when the kid is say 13 or 14 or 16.
So it's these basic foundational concepts that foster healthy relationships that the right is objecting to in elementary school. And the way that they've gone about doing it is especially pernicious because they're calling sex ed advocates “groomers.” Now what sex ed and elementary school actually accomplishes, and I want to say this really clearly, because I think it is the most important point you can possibly make on the subject. Comprehensive sex ed in elementary school keeps kids safe from adult predators. It keeps them safer from bullies. They're less likely to be harassed. They're less likely to be discriminated against and they are less likely to be groomed.
I'm not just saying it. There are countless medical studies that show this. If a kid understands the correct body parts to talk about and has a sense of whether or not they have agreed to something, they are more likely to report if an adult is improper with them. And the right knows this, they just don't care. They care more about keeping parents confused and scared than they do about keeping our kids safe.
And that's, that's sort of a, a through-line that we have seen, not just in sex ed, but also in the gun safety debate. Also when we're talking about banning books. Like they care more about scoring partisan political points than they do about our kids' safety and welfare. And that is a really, really tough thing to live with, but that's the reality of what we're facing.
Rachel: Something I'm struggling with is… I get why the politicians do this. Because they have a dog in the fight. I mean, it's about power and it's about money and access for them. I am unclear about how regular people have been co-opted on this mission. Like, what do they get out of this? It’s like, baffling to me.
Jess: There are a few people, I believe a very small minority—I mean, we talked about those percentages, which means that if you're on the other side, you're in the extreme minority. There's 11% of Americans who don't want sex ed in middle school and there, there are a few people in that 8-11% who believe in a very traditional… what I'm going to describe as a “retro family structure.” And they care more about making sure that girls grow up knowing that they need to be submissive and that there is no alternative to heterosexual monogamous marriage and that there is no gender expansive anything. They're more invested in that than they are in having kids be healthy and successful when they leave school. Now that's not a, that's not something I can relate to. I don't agree with it, but there is a small minority of people who, who are very, very committed to a very, very backwards way of understanding gender.
I think there's a lot more people who have been, you know, suckered by the disinformation. They do it because it works. And, and there are so many ways to talk about sex ed that sound terrifying. You know, the disinformation is scary. The stuff that they say is scary. If that stuff was actually happening in our elementary schools, I would be very concerned. Like, I don't want a six year old learning very adult sexual things! And that's not what's happening of course. But if a parent is not super engaged and they hear that, there’s plenty of rabbit holes to fall down the internet that are going to confirm the worst things not at all based in facts.
Rachel: So that is amazingly true. I mean, I have my 11 year old does read… okay, it’s graphic novels, sue me, because that's what she reads—
Jess: No, that's great! Graphic novels are wonderful!
Rachel: They are. She regularly reads, you know, graphic novels that, you know, they have LGBTQ characters or, you know, it gets into relationships and it actually is a really great way to facilitate conversations. Cause it's kind of hard to bring it up to a 10 or 11 year old. So by reading about that, and then we can talk about it and then we… you know, it's a conversation starter.
Jess: Oh my gosh. Of course.
Rachel: That actually, you know, when I say that to her, she was like, “oh, that's a good point.” And then if you, if she wants to share her values in that moment, then that's a good time for that. But it's better than just like bringing it up over, like, you know, some chicken nuggets on a Tuesday night. It's very random for your mom just to bring it up. And it's awkward. “Do you ever think about gender identity? Have some mustard.”
Jess: Haha. Oh yeah. “Pass the barbecue sauce.”
Rachel: So, I mean, I know you personally identify as non-binary, correct?
Jess: Yeah. Yes, yes. That is true. That is a, it's a, it's a definition that I'm like coming into.
Rachel: Well, I mean, you know, for many of us, especially in older generations— I'm much closer to 50 than I'd like to be. I mean, I'm thankful because the alternative is worse—
Rachel: But with this group, you know, it's something we didn't learn about in school. And I think a lot of people don't fully understand it for me and for our listeners who may not know a lot about what non-binary means… could you, you know, tell us and maybe tell us how we could talk to our kids about it?
Jess: So I, I come at this from a different angle because I'm 40, which means that I didn't learn the word nonbinary until the kids taught it to me.
Rachel: I like that.
Jess: Now that's not, not an unfamiliar sensation for me because I'm, I am bisexual and I have been out in that way since I was 15. I came out as bisexual immediately after hearing the word bisexual.
Rachel: Where’d you hear it?
Jess: I, it was a friend of mine. She transferred in sophomore year and she said that she was bisexual and I went to a, you know, a New York City public school, it was very liberal. It didn't matter if you were queer or anything. I knew I wasn't gay though. I liked boys. You know, I always had a crush on a boy. I just also really liked looking at pictures of Janine Turner. And I didn't know how to put those two things together. But here's this girl and she comes in and she says, “hi, I'm bisexual.” And I'm like, “oh my God!” My brain exploded. “That's what I am.” Now, this was 1995. There was no internet. I don't have access to all of that. But I started identifying that way and it was such a freaking relief to, to realize that like, it wasn't weird. It's just this other thing that I didn't know existed.
So, so coming out as non binary was honestly very, very similar. I have simply never had much of a relationship with my gender. I, I remember asking my girlfriends in high school and college like, what made them feel like a woman. Because I was taking all these feminist courses and, you know, we're learning about the essential nature of being a woman and I'm like, “I don't feel it.” So I would ask my friends and they would give me all of these really interesting, rich, fascinating answers, but I just sort of felt a void when I thought about gender. Like if I woke up as a boy the next day, I’m not going to feel any different. There's, there's nothing about that that connects with me.
Rachel: Oh I love this!
Jess: And I've always been that way. I've always loved the characters that were a little androgynous. You know, I cut my hair to look like Luke Skywalker when I was five, most of my Halloween costumes were male. I just, I've never, I've never really cared one way or the other how I presented or how people saw me. Like I was, mis-gendered a hundred percent of the time as a kid because I had short hair. And my mom would put me in these like dangly, bright pink earrings, just to like announce to the world that I was girl and still the short hair meant they would be like, oh, what a cute little boy. My mom hated this. And I simply didn't care.
Rachel: This is so good, Jess! I mean, this is a powerful, I am learning something. I know this is going to speak to so many people because I think people think it's like some sort of choice or you've decided to just like, not go either way. But this is like the most amazing definition and so clear to understand. So I just have to thank you in the middle of the interview. Thank you.
Jess: That’s very sweet. It was during the trans rights fight as that started five years ago that I actually kind of started to understand that I was non binary. Because everybody started using pronouns and I didn't feel super comfortable about identifying as a cis woman. I used the word “girl” until I was like 35. Not because I was trying to be young, but “woman" just felt weird. And, and talking to trans friends about how strongly they related to their gender just made me realize that I was different. Like I just always had been. But like, it's nothing to be scared of. You know, my life hasn't changed. I just have a word for what I've always been, which is lovely.
Rachel: Thank you for that. You are lovely! And this was just such a great primer if you will. So what, I mean, what can we do? Let's say we're, you know, the 90% that support comprehensive sex education, what can we do to, you know, to support that and advocate for it? Either at the state level with these ridiculous, you know, DeSantis Don't Say Gay bills, or even at the local level in our own child's school, because frankly that's a lot more, you know, impactful.
Jess: I think letting teachers in schools know that you care about sex ed is one of the most important things you can do. Because this is, this is what our side—And like, again, I'm going back to politics here. This is what we do wrong. We don't call it. Like if we live in New York and California, right.We don't pick up the phone and call our senators and say, we want responsible gun laws. We only tell people living in West Virginia and Arizona—
Rachel: I just did, I did today!
Jess: Good! You have to call people who you think agree with you already and tell them that you have their back, because that's how they're going to be comfortable climbing out on a limb. They're going to know the voters in their district are holding that limb up.
The other thing you can do… and, and the sex ed fight is sort of split into two pieces. One is this disinformation piece where they're saying it's pornographic or it's grooming, et cetera, et cetera. The other one is the one where they're saying, it's gonna make your kids gay. It's going to make your kids non binary. And I want to talk about that one for a second, because that is simply not how it works. And everybody who is listening to this probably already knows that you do not become gay because you hear the word gay. Like having been through that twice in my life, I can tell you, like the identity did not come with the word. The understanding of what I was came with the word, and that made my life happier and easier to live.
Every single school has LGBTQ students. Every single one, there is no school that does not have a person like me. And all of those kids deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. And it's not just about those kids. If you foster an environment and again, I'm quoting medical studies here, I'm not just talking. If you foster an environment where everybody is treated with dignity and respect, then even the straight kids don't get bullied. They get less abuse. They get less harassment. They, they don't see, like if we teach kids that some kinds of families are right, and some kinds of families are wrong… that’s cruel. That's a cruel way to, to make them grow up. It's indoctrination. And it's a terrible way to put them out into this increasingly global world. They're going to interact with people who have read the American history books that the right has been banning, and they're going to be at a disadvantage. And that's not what we want for our kids when they graduate.
Rachel: No, I completely agree. Well, this has been heavy, but super informative and we appreciate it. But before we go, we do like to do some rapid fire questions. So can we do that real quick? Are you ready?
Jess: Yes, of course.
Rachel: Great. You have such a great personal style. Do you have a style icon?
Jess: Oh, my gosh. Well, now there are so many, because now there are so many androgynous people out there. Like I absolutely love how many men are walking down the women's runway, wearing women's clothes. I mean, like Harry Styles is probably one of my style icons right now, and I don't dress nearly that girly.
Rachel: He’s my everything icon, if I could just say.
Jess: Personally, like I'm a little Natasha Leone. I love what she does with a suit jacket. Anything with a biker jacket and I'm happy.
Rachel: Fair, fair. What's your favorite TV show from childhood?
Jess: Oh my gosh. TV show from childhood. Wow. I mean, I loved She-Ra. I watched tons of She-Ra all the time.
Rachel: So what's the weirdest thing about being a commentator on CNN?
Jess: Oh, this is an easy one. Okay. So, so in order to show up on TV, I have to spend 20 to 30 minutes in a chair getting a new face put on my face and my hair done so that I can sit next to a wild haired man in his sixties who has gotten a 20-second powder and comb to like talk about abortion. And it drives me up the wall. And like, I do it any way, because I don't want to show up bare faced on TV. You would be distracted. We're not quite ready for that yet. But like those moments when I'm stuck in the makeup room and the other guys are already on set, chatting about the topic that we're going to talk about… It is one of the most frustrating experiences of my life.
Rachel: I’m sorry. So who's been one of your favorite guests on Signal Boost?
Jess: So many. We were, so we were really lucky to be able to interview Secretary Hillary Clinton twice, which was incredible. We also had the Vice President on twice, which was incredible.
Personally, I got to meet Pam Greer and I can't imagine a job where that would happen otherwise. And it was incredible. I mean, she, she took me to school and church at the same time explaining how white women were specifically targeted to be made uncomfortable by her movies because her movies were lasting in theaters for too long. And this is back in the time when they only showed one at a time. So the John Wayne picture couldn't come in because the Pam Greer picture was still in. So they literally invented the term blaxploitation to turn off white women from watching these movies where women got to be bad-ass and shoot guns and ride horses and stuff. And it's like, oh, of course. Oh, that makes so much sense. Thank you so much for educating me, Pam Greer. It's amazing to be able to have those kinds of conversations with people.
Rachel: So that's the end of our rapid fire questions. Where can people go to find out more about you and your work?
Jess: I spend way too much of my life on Twitter—
Jess: So that's probably a good place to find me. I'm at Jess_mc. You can find me there. And you can see me on CNN. I'll be on a few times in the next couple of weeks, so you can see me there in my makeupped face.
Rachel: Okay. Super. Well, it has been wonderful talking to you. Thanks for stopping by The Suburban Women Problem.
Jess: This has been really fun. Thank you.
Amanda: Welcome back everyone. Rachel, I loved your interview with Jess and I love the part about her talking about how just having these conversations, where you define things for someone like being, you know, non-binary, right. It doesn't make someone non-binary to talk about being non-binary. But you then have a label for something that you felt, and then you feel seen and you feel someone can describe who you are.
And I think about the, you know, the book Gender Queer, which gets so much backlash, but that is what Gender Queer is about. It is about someone not understanding their gender identity and figuring it out. So to have someone else say like, “I felt the same. I was questioning, you know, my gender identity.” Like this is what that book is all about.
Jasmine: Yeah. I mean, I think it was a great conversation and I think it also, when I just think about myself and just my own journey with just, my body and things like that, that affirmation and feeling seen and not feeling like you're the only person in the world that's dealing with the thing that you're dealing with… like that really is affirming and I wish our society would be more welcoming to these types of conversations instead of trying to shut them down.
Rachel: Yeah. Yeah. There's such freedom in that. So you know, this has been some very difficult weeks lately and, you know, it's hard sometimes I think to find the light in the dark. So I think it's really important that we hold on to our Toast to Joy. And so Amanda, start us off. Big or small. It doesn't matter. We've got to like really celebrate these moments.
Amanda: I know. Yeah. So we had Memorial Day and coming up on D-Day and D-Day is actually always when I think of my grandfather who was at D-Day. And I actually got to talk about him today at an event for our rotary club here. And I got to talk about my grandfather and military service and the things he did in WWII. And so my Toast to Joy today is to the veterans, you know, to your husband, Alex—
Rachel: Whose birthday is D-Day!
Amanda: Oh! I didn’t know that! Oh, that's so special. Yeah, so D-Day, that's when I think of my grandfather every year. And so I appreciate the sacrifice that he has made and all of our veterans have made and the people serving. And it's just this it is a special day for me to think about, you know, serving our country and protecting our democracy. And so my Toast to Joy is to all of our service members and the people who support them.
Rachel: Of whom you are a member! So thank you for your service as well.
Amanda: Thank you! Jasmine, what is your Toast to Joy?
Jasmine: All right. So I have been like just raging lately. So I was actually dreading this part of the podcast cause I was like, I don't even know what I'm happy about anymore. But the, but the truth is like, there are things to be happy about and I think that sometimes we have to find those things and we have to lean into those things. Especially in times, like now, with things that are going on in our society.
So I really have just been thinking about number one, my kids. My son celebrated his birthday last week and that's really exciting. And my daughter's going into her summer and she’s so excited about a summer vacation and she's like making all these plans… just her innocence and just the way she just approaches life as just like, “there are lots of bad things going on, but I still want to hang out with my friends and do fun things and get my nails done and go to the pool.” And I really just love how she inspires me. Like I'm inspired by my daughter and I'm inspired by my son. And just how they can still find joy in this world where I'm constantly like, “what, is there anything good happening?”
So that's my Toast to Joys, just to other people finding the joy and me being inspired by them finding their joy.
Amanda: There’s nothing more joyful than kids when summer break starts.
Jasmine: Oh, I know. They’re just so happy. All right Rachel. You're up.
Rachel: My Toast to Joy is, you know, trying to be really intentional with my daughter as we go into the tween years, writing down what I'm thankful for, memories of her that I really want to remember, and trying to do that on a daily basis so when I'm frustrated by the end of the day, which is kind of often, it's nice to remember there were good times during each day. And we clash because we're both pretty passionate people who feel strongly about a lot of things.
Jasmine: It gets better. I promise. Me and my mom are the same way.
Rachel: I’ve heard that! I’ve heard. So I'm extremely thankful for her. I'm going to miss her when she goes to camp soon. So maybe a little absence will make the heart grow fonder with us, but it's still nice. And then, you know, otherwise just a Toast the beginning of summer, right? I mean, it's, it's always exciting.
So we just thank you everyone again for joining us again today. If you are enjoying our show, share it with someone. You know, as the midterms approach, I just think it's so, so important, more important than ever that, you know, we have these conversations and share this so we can work on that, you know, relational organizing. That's just so important. And we'll see you again next week on another episode of The Suburban Women Problem.