Dye My Eyes And Call Me Pretty.

A friend of mine, a cisgender man, recently posted this question to my Facebook wall:

Okay, so a question that’s thrown a wooden shoe into my gears: I’ve been raised to accept that gender roles are generally bullshit. It is acceptable for women to fix cars. It is acceptable for men to bake cakes. A woman fixing a car does not make her less “ladylike.” A man baking a cake is not more feminine due to the baking of said cake. Transgendered [sic] people seem to welcome gender roles (beyond dress and outward appearance) as a method of reinforcing their identity. Is that regressive, and if not, how?

It’s a fair question, based on his experiences. I assured Emmett (his name is Emmett) his experience is specialist, anecdotal, and wrong. I know hundreds of transgender people, men and women, and their range of acceptance or rejection of gender roles and expectations is as broad as it is for cisgender people. Also, it’s possible there’s confirmation bias at work: Maybe he’s not noticing the clichéd behavior in cisgender people so much because subconsciously he’s more evaluative of transgender people.

It may be true that transgender people as a group are slightly more likely to exhibit stereotypical gendered behavior and preferences. That’s probably true, in fact. Several factors contribute to that. Here are some that come to mind.

First, and probably most significantly, many transgender people go out of their way to embody gender stereotypes when they’ve just begun their transitions. This is a way for them to revel in and celebrate this aspect of themselves that they’ve finally come to accept. Transwomen may buy of floral prints and jewelry; transmen may complain about shopping or buy cowboy boots. Chaz Bono talked in a 2011 interview (early in his transition) about how “testosterone” had changed his behavior:

There is something in testosterone that makes talking and gossiping really grating. I’ve stopped talking as much.

Elsewhere in the interview he talked about his growing interest in “gadgets,” implying there’s something essentially male in that interest, or that male hormones (and transitioning) had brought it to the fore in him. It’s a cartoonish and untrue stereotype that has historically (and wrongly) discouraged women from entering math and science fields, but apparently Chaz believed it, and used it as an example of his new “maleness.” Really, he was just being a jerk. Maybe he even believed “being a jerk” is also a male trait.

I wrote above that new transitioners “celebrate” their gender. That’s not always the right word. Some low-information transgender people indulge in this hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine behavior because they believe they should want to. Their understanding of gender is as simple and wrong as everyone else’s, and badly outdated.

Outdated at least back to the mid-twentieth century, when Johns Hopkins University was the only place in the United States to get reputable treatment for “transsexualism” (as it was called at the time), the university’s diagnosis protocols required people seeking hormones or surgery to conform to these stereotypes. Transwomen had to pretend to like crinoline dresses and dating men, even if they didn’t. The university was the gatekeeper, and if its diagnosticians doubted their patients’ sincerity, they got no treatment. While medical and psychological care has improved vastly since then, but many transgender people still think this way.

Also, especially for transgender women, conforming to stereotypes is simply a survival strategy. It’s easier for a transgender woman to “pass” if she’s wearing makeup and a skirt and walking with a sway in her hips, and if she fails to pass, she could literally be risking her life.

There’s a lower-stakes version of this, too. The world misgenders us all the time, calling us “sir” or “ma’am” where the reverse would be preferred, or using the wrong pronouns with us. It’s not always malicious; some folks just do it absentmindedly or subconsciously. I briefly worked with a sixtysomething man a few years ago who had been a military pilot, and the whine of aircraft engines had destroyed his ability to hear the upper registers of human speech. As a result, certain qualities in my voice meant he often said “he” when mentioning me to a third party. He didn’t mean to, and always hastened to apologize. The cognitive error got into his brain at a deep, primitive level, and it was hard for him to excise it. I corrected him, and he was contrite when I did so.

Firmly asserting our gender identity from time to time, in small ways or large, can be a subtle, nonconfrontational way to remind others how to be respectful of our gender identity.

Perhaps most of all, transwomen are still women and transmen are still men. If they perpetuate behaviors stereotypical of their gender, it’s because at least a plurality of people of that gender exhibit those behaviors. And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with women being feminine or men being masculine, as long as we acknowledge that’s the norm, but not normative. It’s fine for women to be masculine and men to be feminine as well.

I myself love embrace my femininity without fetishizing it. I like high heels and usually wear makeup, but I more often wear jeans than skirts. I’ve been known to cry when watching insurance ads on television, but I’ve also been seen to drool when browsing the tool department at Home Depot. If the 21st century is teaching us anything, it’s that we should all finally feel free to simply be who we are.

America’s Got Transphobia

Earlier today I saw the YouTube clip of octogenarian Ray Jessel performing a song on an episode of the NBC reality show America’s Got Talent. It was moderately appalling, but, you know, what’s not these days? I assumed it was an old clip someone on Facebook had recently shared (what’s not these days?), and I quickly forgot about it.

It wasn’t until a few hours later that I noticed Ray Jessel and his song were trending on Twitter, and that his episode had aired just last night. That’s when I realized I needed to come here and post about it.

In the song, Jessel related that he began seeing a woman. She was lovely, stylish, well-dressed, etc., but unfortunately (and this is the refrain), “She’s got a penis.” This discovery, of course, was a deal breaker.

When he first hit that line, the judges and studio audience went nuts with laughter. As he continued, explaining that he must draw the line at male genitalia, and that moreover hers was bigger than his, the judges and audience surrendered completely to their hysterical mirth. In the vernacular, they “lost their shit.” Ray finished the song to wild applause and a standing ovation from Howie Mandel. He then had this exchange with Howie, Heidi Klum, and the woman I assume is the former Scary Spice:

Heidi Klum: Did this happen to you? Is this a true story and you turned it into a song?
Ray Jessel: Something like that happened to a friend of mine.
Scary Spice (making air quotes): A “friend of mine.”
Howie Mandel (in a dubious tone): Ooohhh…
Ray: I know those “friend of mine” things, but this is true, actually.

The judges then awarded Jessel four “Yes” votes, which apparently is an unusually high score. You’re probably getting that I’m not a regular viewer of this show.

Now, everyone get out your Transphobia Tropes cards. Let’s see what we have in the song and the subsequent conversation:

  • Transgender women are “really” men.
  • Transgender women go stealth in order to “trick” or “surprise” the men they become intimate with.
  • Straight men don’t date transgender women.
  • A man who admits to having a an experience such as this should be mocked for maybe being gay.

Did anybody score a bingo? There are no prizes.

We are in the summer of 2014, yes? I didn’t unwittingly go back in time to a day before Laverne Cox was TIME magazine’s cover girl? Before she and Carmen Carrera schooled Katie Couric and Wendy Williams on how to be respectful of transgender people? Before California passed AB 1266? Before a string of favorable court decisions strongly hinted that maybe it’s not so nice to dehumanize transgender people and treat them like circus freaks anymore? Because that’s what it feels like.

I can give Mr. Jessel himself a pass. I wouldn’t expect most of his generation to know any better; he grew up in less enlightened times (although I know men in their 80s who do know better). Call me ageist, but studies back me up: homophobia and transphobia are negatively correlated with age. That kind of ignorance is solving itself actuarially.

In fairness, transphobia wasn’t the only reason he was so well received by the crowd. He also benefited from what I call the “Betty White” effect. Senior citizens aren’t expected to talk about sex, or even know about sex that isn’t wholesomely missionary, marital, and mid-century. Those who defy that expectation get comedy cred, even if what they’re saying isn’t objectively funny. At least a third of Jessel’s appeal last night was in his willingness to say “penis” out loud. Howard Stern made this reading explicit by admitting how impressed he was that Ray, at his age, still had a sense of humor. Scary Spice expressed the same sentiment, more obliquely, calling Jessel a “naughty, funny” old man.

But transphobia was the primary reason Jessel was such a hit. The judges were unabashed about it; their wink-winking and nudge-nudging was adolescent and puerile. They should have known better. At least Heidi Klum should have.

The producers most certainly should have known better; they must have chosen Jessel and vetted his performance ahead of time.

It isn’t just thin-skinned “political correctness” to take exception to jokes about “trans panic” or “gay panic” humor. I can ignore rudeness, or shake it off. Hurt feelings aren’t the only thing at stake. Reducing transgender people to a punch line gets people killed. It’s not funny.

Freedom of Speech in the United States

This is how the First Amendment’s protection of our right to free speech works:

Person A: My opinion is [states opinion].
Person B: I disagree. My opinion is [states contrary opinion].

This is how too many people today think the First Amendment’s protection of our right to free speech works:

Person A: My opinion is–
Person B: SHUT UP!

On Shaming

Yesterday I saw an infographic that was getting passed around Facebook that was a photo of an overweight man who had fallen off his motorized scooter in the soda aisle of a grocery store and was clinging to one of the shelves, seemingly trying to right himself. It’s unclear from the photo which store this happened at, but superimposed over it are the words “Meanwhile At Wal-Mart,” so presumably that’s where it happened. “Meanwhile At Wal-Mart” is apparently a well-established meme for the purpose of mocking that chain’s employees and clientele.

I won’t share the infographic here. I’m confident my readers are savvy enough to find it on their own, if they’re interested, and I don’t want to be guilty of directly contributing to its hit count. It’s a cruel, disgusting photograph, compounded by the knowledge that the photographer’s first thought was to take the photo instead of running over to help the unfortunate man.

I was bewildered when someone shared that picture in my Facebook feed, because I didn’t think I was Friends with anyone who would have shared it. When I called him out, he defended the share by saying the person isn’t disabled, eats excess calories, and doesn’t exercise. He was surprised I didn’t want to join in the fun, since, as I’ve mentioned here before, I run every day. He thought my demonstrated ability to keep to a fitness regimen meant I would share in his ridicule of someone who lacked that ability.

My erstwhile friend believed it was okay to be cruel to this individual, because he was using a scooter despite not being disabled, because he was buying sweetened soda despite already being morbidly obese, and because the person has clearly “given up” and is doing nothing to improve his health.

I love the Internet, and mostly believe it makes us better people, but it brings out the worst in some. The Internet enables that kind of shaming because it keeps us anonymous, and shields us from the reality that the victim is someone else’s father, husband, brother, or son. It’s a medium that mitigates against compassion and encourages low-information judgments. Consider:

We don’t know the person is not disabled. It is just as likely he is overweight because he can’t walk and therefore can’t get enough exercise. It’s a chicken or egg thing. And even if he’s using the scooter “merely” because of his obesity, it’s not a reason to make fun of him for his weight.

We don’t know that he consumes excessive calories. He may be shopping for someone else. He may be getting diet soda or tea. Or maybe he’s on a diet and has already lost fifty pounds, and is rewarding himself with the first sweet calories he’s had in a month. There’s no way to know any of these things. But even if he drinks a twelve-pack of high-calorie soda every day, and injects another ounce of chocolate syrup into each can, it’s not a reason to make fun of him for his weight.

We don’t know that he has “given up,” or is content to be the size he is or to have limited mobility. Again, he could well be days or weeks into a vigorous exercise regimen that has already delivered results obvious to everyone who knows him. All we know from the photo is that he experienced one very bad moment in a public place. But even if he has “given up” and stopped trying to improve himself, and lives a life of daily despair, it’s even more reason not to make fun of him for his weight.

The only thing we know for certain is that the man, like all people, deserves to be treated with dignity and compassion. Would my former friend point and laugh if he saw this man in real-time at that grocery store? Of course, he wouldn’t. No one would. People tend to assume the subjects of such memes are not really out there in the world, living ordinary lives and reading the Internet like everyone else. That’s not the case. Consider what happened to Caitlin Seida when she responded to the haters:

The most common response was not remorse or defensiveness but surprise. They were startled that I could hear what they’d been saying.

Shame is a powerful weapon in society, and it can be used for good, as I think it (mostly) was in the cases of Taylor Chapman and the “deranged sorority girl” (and apropos of nothing, that latter became the inspiration for Michael Shannon’s current career pinnacle). When shame is wielded against people who have done nothing to afflict others and are just living their lives, I despair for our species.

I face many difficulties myself, and I deal with them with varying degrees of success. I’m lucky that none of my difficulties are obvious to people who see me out in public. This isn’t true for many trans people, and it hasn’t always been true for me.

Every grown-up should be morally advanced enough not to make other people’s lives harder than they have to be. I kind of hate it that I felt the need to write this post.

Bad Parenting

I received a negative ad mailer from Elena Parent in the mail today. She’s running against Kyle Williams for the Democratic nomination for state senate in Senate District 42, which I live in, and which Jason Carter vacated to run for governor. The mailer warned me that Kyle Williams has been endorsed by “the same Republican group” that endorsed Mitt Romney. Here it is:

Parent-mailer-on-Kyle-front

Of course, the Republican group isn’t named. I’m pretty sure it must be the Log Cabin Republicans, since they would have supported Mitt Romney (since they’re Republicans), but also a candidate like Williams (who is openly gay).

Parent is threading a very narrow needle: she needs to associate Williams with conservatives, because Senate District 42 is a liberal Democratic district. But she can’t mention a gay group in a negative way, because that would seem homophobic. So, she just says Williams is BFFs with a mysterious, unnamed “Republican group.”

It’s Vaguebooking as attack ad.

Kyle Williams has released some negative ads of his own, going after Parent’s nuanced position on a HOPE scholarship bill a few years ago.

I’ll be glad when the Georgia primary is over.

UPDATE: I got another mailer from Elena Parent on Saturday, and she’s doubling down on this reprehensible guilt-by-association attack:

PalinParent

I also received a robocall from her today (on my cellphone!) that began “Kyle Williams cannot be trusted…” I hung up after that.

Elena Parent, if you want my vote, tell me who

    you

are. Don’t tell me about the jerks who like your opponent.

A Wasted Life

Fred Phelps, the 84-year-old founder of Westboro Baptist Church (that’s the Wikipedia link; I find it distasteful even to type the WBC’s actual website name), is at death’s door. He may already have died by the time you read this.

It’s fair to say he won’t be missed by the general public. Under his leadership, WBC has been a single-issue activist group, and that single issue was its hatred of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people. The church’s antics, most infamously including picketing military funerals with hateful, homophobic messages on their signs, are sufficiently well-known that I won’t detail them here. They’re nasty people, and especially nasty if you’re LGBT. They’re so nasty that even mainstream conservatives, themselves openly homophobic, disavow them.

Phelps was excommunicated from the WBC, which he founded in 1955, last year. I’ve seen it speculated that he was kicked out because he has softened his views and was calling for the church to take a “kinder approach.”

That’s not accurate. According to Nathan Phelps, Fred’s estranged, atheist son, Fred was calling for church members to be kinder to each other, after a power struggle that ousted his daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper from command (I don’t know how Nathan came by this information, estranged as he is, but the church members themselves aren’t talking, so this is the best information we have.). We don’t have any reason to assume Fred isn’t still hatin’ on the gay people just as hard as he ever has.

At least two Facebook groups are preparing to celebrate Fred’s passing. I strongly condemn such actions. Death is a horrible thing, and I don’t think anyone’s death should be celebrated. For one, while it’s a cliché to say that would bring the celebrants down to the level of their antagonists, it’s also true. Yes, it’s not easy to take the high road with such an odious person. That’s why it’s called the high road. If you’re opposed to the beliefs and tactics of Westboro Baptist Church, you should actually be the better person you think you are.

For another, the death of a human being is also the death of learning. Any chance that Fred Phelps ever had to see the wrongness of his beliefs and repent will die when he does, and that is something to be regretted, not celebrated.

Phelps’s legacy is more complicated than most people realize. Yes, he’s an icon of homophobia. However, as an attorney in the 1960s, he also played a significant role in several civil rights advances. He fought against racial discrimination and sex discrimination, and in the 1980s opposed sending an ambassador to Vatican City on separation of church and state grounds. He and his law firm even won commendations and other awards for this work.

When I first learned about Fred’s past prosocial work, I wondered if he might have had a “Phineas Gage” experience. Phineas Gage, a nineteenth-century railroad worker, survived the passage of an iron rod through his brain. In popular lore, it reversed his personality, changing him from a hard-working, kind man into a shiftless, quick-tempered drunk. The truth is more nuanced than that, but similar things have happened to other people. Might Phelps have had an undetected stroke or aneurysm that caused his shift from tolerance to hate?

In interviews, Phelps has claimed there’s no dissonance between his homophobia and his support for racial and gender equality. Certainly, he wouldn’t be the first clergyman who managed to thread that needle with his theology, and in any case, Phelps’s church has stood behind him the whole way, so unless every congregant has suffered the same traumatic brain injury, we probably shouldn’t assume any such thing.

Westboro Baptist Church’s mischief continues without Fred Phelps, so when he dies, it won’t end. So that’s not another reason for anyone to cheer. There’s no reason for anyone to cheer.

Ellen, Liza, and Jokes.

At the Oscars ceremony Sunday night, host Ellen Degeneres made a few jokes at Liza Minnelli’s expense.

“I have to say one of the most amazing Liza Minnelli impersonators I have seen in my entire life,” Ellen said as she approached Minnelli’s aisle seat. “Just really, seriously, good job, sir.”

I’ve been asked if I thought this joke was transphobic. I don’t, but I’d be in good company if I did. Here, let me Google it for you:

Search term “ellen liza”

This one’s simple. Liza Minnelli, like her mother Judy Garland, is well-loved by Friends of Dorothy, and consequently is a very popular character for drag queens and female impersonators. Here are a few examples.

If Ellen had made this joke about a transwoman trying and failing to “pass,” it would have been transphobic and unkind, no question. That’s not the case. Drag queens are performers, and they leave their female identity on the stage. They’re men. It’s okay to call them “sir.”

The humor in Ellen’s joke wasn’t drawn from the idea that “men dressed as women are funny.” It was drawn from Liza’s popularity as an impersonation for drag queens.

The joke wasn’t even on Liza, for that matter. It doesn’t imply Liza looks masculine. It’s the opposite; it suggests Ellen mistook a drag queen for the real Liza because he was so convincing. It takes nothing away from her.

Hypersensitivity isn’t good for any of us.

My next post will be about Jared Leto and his Oscar win. There will be plenty of justifiable outrage in that one.

Running Every Day

I’ve been a runner, off and on, since the year I began college. Originally, and still mainly, I guess, it was for fitness and weight control. Those aren’t the only reasons; I’ve also experienced the “runner’s high,” and the time when I’m running is a great time for me to listen to podcasts and to think. I’ve never meditated, but I imagine running does for me what meditation does for those who do that.

I wrote “off and on.” The “off” has been for many reasons. I had a knee injury that sidelined me for a couple of years. I didn’t have a consistent schedule, or a track of a decent length, when I was in the Navy on a deployed ship. Before I owned a treadmill, it was easy to convince myself it was too cold to go out and run. That sort of thing. I could let myself fail to run, but I always felt bad about it.

February 2013 was the busy period where I worked at the time. I worked long days and frequently arrived home, exhausted, after 8 p.m. or even later. At such times it was even easier to let myself off the hook and skip the run.

Around mid-month I realized I was doing this more often than not, and I was only logging one or two runs a week and feeling rotten. I decided to do something about it: I pledged to run every single day, at least until March or April with the busy season at work wound down. This, I hoped, would take away all excuses. At the end of the day, if I hadn’t run yet, I’d better run, or risk breaking my streak.

I set some rules. I’d never run less than 20 minutes, and never slower than 12 minutes a mile. I figured this would give me plenty of leeway if I had to run while sick or injured.

It didn’t matter if I ran after midnight, as long as I hadn’t been to bed yet. Yes, this meant I sometimes went more than 24 hours without running, but also sometimes I ran late at night and then early the next morning, so I figured it all averaged out in the end. I could’ve gone mad worrying over trivial details like that, so I didn’t.

I also resolved to report each day’s run to Facebook and Twitter (#RunningEveryDay), so my friends and followers could get used to it and grow to expect it. Knowing they were expecting this would help hold my feet to the fire. Er, to the treadmill.

Day 1 I ran for over an hour, and felt pretty good about it. But one day of running is a singular accomplishment; it’s not a trend. If I’m brutally honest, I didn’t have much confidence in myself. I’d made pledges like this in the past and never kept them.

On Day 10 I broke double digits, and for the first time began to let myself think I might be on to something.

By Day 100 I was mainly just worrying that I’d twist an ankle badly or have some other injury that forced me to miss a day. I started taking elevators more often and being much more careful when climbing down stairs in high heels.

Sunday, February 16, 2014, was Day 365. It occurred to me only then that my anniversary wouldn’t actually be until the next day, Day 366, but whatevs. I ran that day too. I’ve kept running. I’m into the 370s now, and I don’t plan to stop. The streak is real. The streak abides. I run every day.

I ran the day work became a long, dreary slog and I didn’t get home until midnight.

I ran on March 5, the day my dear cat Jack died after a long battle with cancer. I ran on November 14, when his sister Piper died of liver failure (they were both very old).

When I had a raging flu last summer, including a fever, runny nose, and whole-body aches, I took some DayQuil, stumbled through my minimum run, then collapsed back into bed, once each day, until it had passed.

Four days in Las Vegas last July? The casino’s treadmill. Four days at Dragon Con last August? The hotel’s track. The need led me to the means.

I made many fewer “minimum” runs than I’d expected. As little as I wanted to run much of the time, I discovered that once I was on the belt and my heart rate was ramping up, I often wanted to keep going once I’d hit the minimum distance. I logged over two hundred hours through the year, and well over a thousand miles.

I’m fitter and slimmer since I began this, but the greatest dividend has been psychological. Before the success of Running Every Day, I’d have told you I wasn’t capable of this sort of dedication. Now that I know differently, I’m wondering what else I’m capable of.

Running every day is not for everyone, and of course anyone starting a new exercise regime should always consult with a doctor first if they aren’t sure they’re up for it. But this is working very well for me.

The First Martians

A private venture called Mars One is selecting candidates to be the first colonists on Mars in an expedition planned to land in 2025. I don’t know how well-funded or likely this venture is; you can go to their website and draw your own conclusions. For now I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt (and optimism) and assume they’re going to make it.

Since the colonists never plan to return to Earth, it’s being described in the press as a “suicide mission,” which I think is a shortsighted way to think of it. They’ll be going to Mars for the adventure, for the experience, and (I’m guessing) for the page in the history books each of them is likely to have one day. It’s incidental that they’ll also die there, although Mars will certainly be a dangerous environment. They’ll die someday wherever they are. I doubt any Englishmen ever said to the departing Jamestown colonists, “Hey, man, sorry you’ve decided to commit suicide by Virginia.”

The first group of 1,000 colony candidates has been selected, and I was telling my partner about the announcement a few days ago.

“One of the potential colonists is a transgender woman.”

“…Is it you?”

No, it’s not. I wouldn’t have thought I’d be qualified, for starters. When I heard about the call for applicants I assumed they’d want engineers, geologists, astronomers—people with scientific or technical backgrounds. But no, this first transgender candidate is a British cab driver named Melissa Ede. I wish her well, if she really wants to go and this isn’t a publicity stunt. A few years ago Ms. Ede set up a website to auction off her virginity.

I know why my partner thought she should ask, though. I’ve been in love with the planet Mars ever since I was a kid and read Edgar Rice Burroughs’s (completely nonfactual) John Carter novels. I’ve devoured every book that has anything to do with the Red Planet. One of my favorite science fiction trilogies is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars). I’ve been to two of the Mars Society conferences. I see every movie set on Mars, although this is usually an exercise in frustration, since most of these are failures both scientifically and artistically.

Mars is the next logical home for humanity. It’s a good idea to colonize the planet for all sorts of reasons. Science is a great one; a single geologist in a spacesuit with a rock hammer can accomplish more in a day on Mars than the best rover can in a year. Mars holds mysteries, and we need to go there to solve them.

Culture is another good reason. Humans are natural explorers, and we need frontiers. The frontier opened when we first ventured out from sub-Saharan Africa into parts unknown. It’s debatable when it finally closed, but it was definitely so by the time when we could examine any square meter of our planet we wanted using Google Earth.

Frontiers are bridges, not walls, between societies. If there were a separate branch of humanity on Mars, it would enrich the cultures of both planets. The first colonists to Mars will bring cameras and microphones with them, and everything they see and here can be sent back to Earth. Television, books, movies…every aspect of our culture will have a whole new set of experiences to draw on.

And so on. That link above outlines many more reasons why it’ll be good to settle Mars; I won’t restate them all here, but I’ll argue vehemently with anyone who disagrees. People should be on Mars, and I’d love to be one of them one day.

But I don’t want to be one of the first people. Despite what I said in paragraph two up above, life on Mars for the first colonists will hold many more dangers than I’m willing to expose myself to, and mortality will be high. The learning curve will be steep. In the lower gravity (38% of the surface of the Earth), colonists will be likely to stumble and trip a lot while they adapt to it, and it’s a long way down to the bottom of Valles Marineris. Space suits and equipment will be prototypes, and they may be less durable than their designers had hoped. The colonists will need to grow their own food, and it’s still an open question if plants can grow in the Martian dirt, or if they can, if the crops thus grown would be nutritious.

Other dangers abound. The air isn’t breathable, so oxygen will have to be pulled out of the atmosphere and rocks; the machines that do that could break down. Background radiation is much higher, since Mars doesn’t have a magnetic field, so Mars One’s people will be vulnerable to cosmic rays and solar flares, which will increase cancer rates.

Ms. Ede will have an additional problem. She has stated that she won’t be able to take a lifetime supply of estrogen along for her hormone replacement therapy. Sex hormones are important in the body; even post-menopausal cisgender women’s bodies produce some estrogen, and it helps keep the heart and skin healthy and the bones dense. Since bone density is likely to be a problem for everyone on Mars due to the lower gravity, it’s going to be even more so for Ms. Ede if she doesn’t keep taking estrogen. A broken leg will be a very serious condition in an extreme frontier environment.

I want to live a long time, even more than I want to see Mars firsthand. Joining the first group of colonists would certainly shorten my life, by years or decades, and I’m not willing to do that, not in exchange for anything.

Besides the physical dangers, there’s another major downside to forsaking Earth for its neighbor. While the first Martians will have frequent, maybe even constant contact with everyone they left behind, live communication will no longer be possible. The shortest distance between the two planets is three light-minutes, so if you placed a transplanetary phone call, there’d be a six-minute gap between saying “hello” and hearing a reply. The greatest distance is over twenty light-minutes, in which case a pair of greetings would take the better part of an hour. That wouldn’t work. You could still send texts and email and every other form of non-real-time communication, but the immediacy and intimacy of live conversation would be forever out of reach. That’s another bar I find too hard to clear. Permanently giving up physical contact with the one you love is one thing, and it’s pretty bad, but losing all forms of closeness, including this one, is more than I’m ready for.

Should humans settle Mars? Would you go? Tell me what you think!