By Caroline Sha
Race. Nothing has determined the lives of so many people than this construct. From slavery to affirmative action, it has been a source of fierce contention in politics since the founding of the nation. In fact, it is such a complex topic that today, even some of the most liberal politicians can still manage to fall while tiptoeing around it. Elizabeth Warren learned this the hard way when she released a DNA test which supposedly proved that she had a Native American ancestor. Warren has openly touted having an indigenous predecessor for years, attracting taunts of “Pocahontas” and accusations that she lied about her heritage on university and job applications. Though Warren has railed against the racism latent in these statements and published proof on her website that her reported Native American ancestry played no role in advancing her career, many, such as Donald Trump, have continued to mock her. As a result, Warren decided to ask Stanford scientist Carlos Bustamante to perform a genetic test which revealed that although she was largely white, her DNA, when compared to the DNA of those from places such as Peru and Mexico, did show that she did have an indigenous ancestor six to ten generations ago. Though these results may seem like a positive gain for Warren, the actual act of taking the test has garnered outrage from the very group she sought to win over.
The heavy criticism Warren faces from various tribes results from their perception that she is utilizing genetics as representation of native heritage. The Cherokee Nation decrees that "using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong”. By basically conflating her genetic results with undeniable proof that she is truly Native American, Warren advances the view that race is the determining factor in tribal heritage. According to many tribes, this type of thinking takes away their sovereignty in determining membership. Rather, it gives the power of deciding identity to genetics, as opposed to the Native concept of close social ties. In fact, the reason Bustamante could not use Native DNA as a reference for his test was that mistrust of racial genetic testing and their potential ramifications for tribal autonomy have stopped many from the Native community from offering up their blood. After all, the study of heredity in America has historically been used as a tool of white supremacy. For example, starting from the 1700s, the federal government enacted blood quantum laws to limit the growth of tribes. Under this system, federal employees recorded how much “Indian blood” individuals had and used those records to decide who could be considered a part of a tribe. Often, because of ignorance toward Native definitions of membership , people were falsely marked as “full blood” or non-natives based solely on appearance, not actual involvement with a certain tribe. This was problematic as white settlers basically redefined “Native American” as a race, throwing out previously established tribal standards for native identity. To many, Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test echoes this cultural imperialism, suggesting that she, a non-indigenous person, can choose her own interpretation of native heritage, and override existing indigenous benchmarks.
But will this tarnish on Warren's progressive image harm her in the context of her future political career? Though a likely hurdle for her presidential run in 2020, this misstep doesn’t seem to be completely destructive. Despite her base caring ever more about racial issues, according to a Quinnipiac University poll, 60% of Democrats still have a favorable view of her. Moreover, on the republican side, the criticism against Warren for her DNA test has been scant. Though Donald Trump recently tweeted a meme about Warren’s results, it carried the same message and intensity as the attacks he made before this controversy. While issues such as climate change, immigration, and the economy take their place as the top issues of the 2020 race, Warren’s blunder may not come back to bite her.
By Mason Krohn
For most of the FDA researchers at the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, May 3, 2017 was a somewhat uneventful day — except for those who kept their eyes peeled on the campus televisions. Alas, as a leaked email from the department reveals, the Trump administration instructed the department to lock every screen in the building on the Fox News channel. The lack of remotes and plethora of Laura Ingrahams yelling into the halls of the FDA may seem inconsequential, but, in truth, the gesture symbolizes the growing conservative tilt within health agencies under the Trump administration. As RPR contributor Injae Lee investigated, within his first year in office, Trump banned words including “evidence-based”, “fetus”, and “transgender” from CDC reports. Furthermore, in surveys conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, 32 percent of FDA staff and 48 percent of CDC workers reported that the consideration of political interests at the agencies hinder science-based decision making. The Trump administration has even gone so far as to terminate federal recognition of trans identities by commanding the Department of Health and Human Services to alter the definition of gender under Title IX. In all cases, it appears that the federal government is chipping away at the research and study of LGBTQ+ issues through politicized attacks. However, these curtailments of governmental science are minor when compared to the slow and silent persecution of transgender communities perpetuated by the FDA, the healthcare system, and the pharmaceutical market in the form of injectable estrogen shortages.
For trans women, high doses of injectable estrogen are necessary to achieve desired feminine characteristics such as curvy hips, breasts, thinning face and hair growth. Though medical intervention is not necessary to be considered trans, a great amount of trans people opt for hormone therapy as a life-saving tool to alleviate their gender dysphoria. Researchers note that, for many patients, sex reassignment therapy (including hormone therapy) contributes to significant reductions in anxiety, depression, interpersonal sensitivity, hostility, and overall psychoneurotic distress. Any reduction in these symptoms is vital for members of the trans community in America, which faces a suicide rate 26 times the national average as reported by the largest survey of trans Americans to date. As renowned actress of Orange is the New Black, Laverne Cox, eloquently remarked, “Healthcare for trans women is a necessity. It is not elective. It is not cosmetic. It is life saving.”
Regardless of the evident cruciality of trans medical access, the path to hormone therapy is strenuous.Trans women seeking estrogen injections must first seek out a provider to write out a prescription. It seems like a simple task, but for trans women, this procedure is laden with barriers. First of all, 31 percent of transgender Americans lack regular access to health care. Discrepancies in access stem from stigma and ignorance from healthcare professionals; in fact, 22 percent of transgender people report avoiding doctors for fear of discrimination, which is of particular concern for sexual minorities in rural areas. Under the Church Amendments passed by Congress in the 1970s, medical practitioners in the United States reserve the right to reject any patients if the service contradicts their religion. Hence, even if trans women can overcome the fear of stigma, many doctors can turn them away out of hostility or sometimes out of pure lack of experience with trans patients. After all, in a Stanford University School of Medicine report, only 40 out of 132 U.S. and Canadian medical schools included content on gender transition in their curricula. Ultimately, stigma, inexperience, and legal discrimination have driven transgender patients away from medical spaces.
After jumping through the many hoops of trans primary care, severe shortages of injectable estrogen compound the difficulties of hormone therapy. Presently, a duopoly controls the market for injectable estrogen, leaving trans women with Delestrogen (a product of Par Pharmaceuticals) or Estradiol Valerate (a generic manufactured by Perrigo). A shortage of both substances commenced in July of 2016 and endured until June 12, 2017, but the only reasoning listed by the FDA was “shortage of an inactive ingredient component” for Estradiol Valerate and “other” for Delestrogen”. When the 2016 shortages took effect, Perrigo refused requests for comment by the Chicago Tribune, the Guardian, and Vice, offering no explanation for their withdrawal from the market. Par Pharmaceuticals, on the other hand, disclosed that when their supplier of Delestrogen’s main active ingredient pulled out, they had to alter their supply chain. By August 9, 2016 (within a month of the shortage commencing), Par representatives stated that thousands of Delestrogen vials were ready for sale. Nevertheless, Par had to await FDA approval of its new supplier before distributing the new Delestrogen. Therefore, the FDA is culpable for injectable estrogen shortages for over 10 months. It is understandable for the FDA to review the manufacturer for safety concerns, however, given the nature of the shortage, the FDA’s disregard for timeliness is more of an affront to the trans community than a sign of caution. Moreover, the FDA’s long winded scrutiny is suspicious given that there are 17 estrogen medications with approval from the FDA for cisgender menopausal women. Due to partial FDA incompetence and the lack of distributors in this field, trans women were left to suffer the consequences.
The question then arises: how did trans women who had been injecting high doses of estrogen last almost a year without any available supply? For some, the shortage entailed turning to the black market. Vendors on Deep Web marketplaces like Hansa and Valhalla link trans women to illicit producers largely based in India and the Philippines. Participating in these markets is dangerous, because hormones found there might be diluted or laced with harmful ingredients including but not limited to chalk and boric acid. Unfortunately, the only alternatives to the black market are estrogen pills or patches. Pills are less effective than injectable estrogen vials, come in lower doses than necessary, and pose the risk of blood clots. Patches are prohibitively expensive and are just as ineffectual as pills. At the end of the day, the shortage left trans women vulnerable and cut back on the progress many of them achieved with hormonal therapy.
Even though the combined shortage of Delestrogen and Estradiol Valerate concluded last year, the supply of injectable estrogen is still broadly sporadic and inaccessible. The cheaper generic, Estradiol Valerate, has repeatedly gone out of stock; in fact, the FDA currently lists the drug as “in shortage”. Hence, trans women’s only option is the name brand version, which is often outside of their budgetary restraints. Even then, Delestrogen tends to only be available in urban areas with steady demand, including New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. For Par Pharmaceuticals, there is little incentive to keep a supply in rural pharmacies, given that the trans community is only 0.6% of the US population and many trans Americans move to urban areas. Since Par faces little competition in the field, it can single-handedly decide the fate of trans citizens seeking hormone therapy by deciding price and distribution of the product.
So long as market barriers remain steep, no trans woman can count on the ready availability of the next prescription of estrogen. Without this access, issues of gender dysphoria and outrageously high suicide rates that are already alarming will proliferate in the trans community. Put simply, a quintessential treatment has been withheld from a disadvantaged group. It ultimately prompts the question: would trans women still face this reality if, instead of Fox News clamors, it was their painful stories that reverberated through the halls of the FDA?
by Camille Shen
In the wake of Tumblr’s recent ban of all adult content site-wide, user stravinskow commented, “I can’t believe the last meme of 2018 is tumblr’s death.” Stravinskow’s lamentation is just one of many in the flood of complaints, criticism, and of course, memes against Tumblr’s latest corporate decision to censor “not-suitable-for-work” content. This modification was precipitated by the blogging site’s removal from the App Store in November due to the existence of child pornography on the website, but still came as a sudden shock to many. Now, as users ready themselves to press “f” to pay respects to Tumblr as a whole, it is likely that their beloved community is indeed in danger of an early funeral– even if the platform itself survives.
This is not the first time Apple has removed an app from its store for violating its guidelines. In 2015, it pulled the plug on a war-simulation game for portraying a real terrorist group as the enemy, and more recently, an app formed by a religious group that denounced homosexuality as sin. As a private market, Apple has every right to discern what goes on its “shelves” for consumers to buy and download– even if it means purgation of more popular apps, such as Tumblr. And without Apple’s permission to sell a product in their sanitized, wholesome environment, starting or maintaining a mobile business is nearly impossible. So from this perspective, Tumblr’s decision makes sense: if it wants to survive, at least in our pockets, it needs to stay on Apple’s good side.
But the pull from the App Store was just one deciding factor for Tumblr to prohibit all NSFW content. In fact, the ban was a long time coming: according to Vox, the company could not continue selling ad space next to the pornographic content that often appeared on its website. This decline in profits was part of a series of disastrous years after Yahoo famously bought Tumblr for over a billion dollars in 2013. Since then, Yahoo has written down the blogging site’s value to a less than half of that: a mere $482 million. Now, both Yahoo and Tumblr have become Verizon’s newest acquisitions, and the telecommunications giant plans on learning from Yahoo’s mistakes by finding a way to profit off of the huge fandoms and communities comprised of young people. And, as it seems, the only way to maximize profits is to monetize safe-for-work content and discard the rest.
But what does this mean for Tumblr users? It is no secret that Tumblr has had a problem with porn and porn bots since its early days– many users have called for their removal on multiple occasions, though never with any success. However, while 20% of people on Tumblr consume pornographic content, it is only produced by 1% of its users. The vast majority that this ban affects are regular people participating in niche communities: artists, writers, cosplayers, and other content creators. So, decidedly not child predators, but rather, users who produce NSFW content for specifically targeted audiences. While Tumblr has attempted to differentiate between sexually artistic expression (allowed, in most capacities) and sexual obscenities (prohibited), the rudimentary algorithm it hastily implemented has created a blurred line between the two and left many mistakes in between. In fact, a post that has now gone viral shows that the Tumblr staff’s post announcing the new nudity policy was flagged as inappropriate by its own algorithm. This is just one example of the countless incorrect bans of safe-for-work content, ranging from memes to cat pictures to even classical paintings of Jesus Christ. There is a fine line between nudity used in a sexual context and nudity used for educational or artistic purposes– one that Tumblr expects a few lines of simple code to walk.
But moreover, to institute a blanket ban on all adult content, including the particularly vague “female-presenting nipples”, would stifle the culture of open discussion of sexuality that Tumblr has built its success upon. A large part of the adult content that existed on Tumblr was aimed at the queer community and celebrated a sexuality that is often rejected by mainstream media. This exposure to a spectrum of normalized sexuality was especially important to marginalized LGBT+ groups, who often cannot find accessible and secure spaces to bond over sexual identity. Now that “female-presenting nipples” have been banned, many queer women find their interests and orientation vilified by yet another popular social platform, discouraging further discourse and interaction within LGBT+ communities. In addition, sex workers who appealed to queer groups once flocked to Tumblr for its low-risk, easy-to-use structure and free communication around the topic of sex. After the ban, they are left to search the Internet for an alternative, though few websites exist that are safe and suitable for their line of work. Queer and sexual communities, paired with the staggering number of fandoms, constitute the overwhelming majority of Tumblr’s user base. As they flee to other websites in wake of the purge, they take with them an undeniably vital aspect to Tumblr’s identity: uncensored self-expression. Now, what is left is a pale imitation of “positivity” marked by the fear of flagged content and banned blogs.
But even after a torrent of scathing criticism from its users and speculation of imminent collapse circulating the Internet, Tumblr probably isn’t going anywhere– for the time being, at least. The reality is that there simply aren’t many better alternatives to such a uniquely structured, established blogging site: other platforms similar to Tumblr are either still in beta mode or have dwindling user populations, such as the ancient LiveJournal, the start-up PillowFort, and the new Twitter-like Mastodon. Fearing they will lose an audience and community that is often built up over several years, most users are planning to stay on Tumblr and adapt to the new policy change, whether they like it or not. In this sense, the ban may prove beneficial for Tumblr, and perhaps be the change it “needed” all along to foster growth: it will easily be able to monetize more content and generate more ad revenue than before, even if it means giving up some users in the process.
However, the ban will only ensure that the business side of Tumblr makes it out alive. It won’t meet its end here, but by destroying its hundreds of niche fandoms and communities, it certainly will lose what made it different. Tumblr was once a space for people to candidly and unashamedly express themselves, and that is what gave them the edge over hyper-sanitized, more mainstream platforms such as Instagram and YouTube. This is not to mention the pivotal role it’s played in the growth of Internet culture, absurdist gen Z humor, and of course, the modern meme. Now, the latest memes about the ban all share a similar theme: whether it is “staff” shooting “tumblr” in the head, “staff” as Oprah freely handing out bans, or “staff” as the iceberg that S.S. Tumblr is headed toward, corporate always seems to be the bad guy. And for good reason, too– because at the end of the day, it won’t be Tumblr the company that takes the fall, but Tumblr the community.