A Very Queer Conversation About Gender

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By Ketrin Agustine

It’s a time of contrast and contradiction for gender queerness in America: At the same time that about 5 percent of Americans under 30 identify as transgender or nonbinary, over 20 states have passed some sort of restriction on gender-affirming care for children. In 2023 alone, over 550 anti-trans bills have been introduced across the country.

The political push and pull can overshadow a broad spectrum of rich questions and possibilities that queer culture opens up — about how we think about identity and social categories, how we structure our communities and support networks, our anxieties about having children who are different from ourselves, how gender norms shape all bodies and how difficult it can be to make big life decisions.

[You can listen to this episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” on the NYT Audio App, Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.]

Masha Gessen is a staff writer at The New Yorker who has thought deeply about many of these questions. “Gender is something that happens between me and other people,” they say. In this conversation, the guest host Lydia Polgreen asks Gessen, who identifies as trans and nonbinary, what the social and political shift around gender has looked like to them in the past few decades.

They discuss why gender has captured the conservative imagination, how L.G.B.T.Q. activists have fallen into the “regret trap,” what it means to understand gender expression as a choice rather than something biologically determined, why Gessen prefers a liberatory framework focused on protecting freedoms-to rather than freedoms-from when thinking about L.G.B.T.Q. issues, how gender-affirming care is not just for trans people, how the making of the 1999 movie “The Matrix” reflects the rapid social change around trans visibility in the United States, the anti-L.G.B.T.Q. sentiments that made Gessen decide to leave their home in Russia,how gender conformity is social contagion and more.

This episode was hosted by Lydia Polgreen, a New York Times Opinion columnist and a co-host on the weekly Opinion podcast “Matter of Opinion.” She previously served as the managing director of Gimlet, a podcast studio at Spotify, and as the editor in chief of HuffPost.

You can listen to the whole conversation by following “The Ezra Klein Show” on the NYT Audio App, Apple, Spotify, Google or wherever you get your podcasts. View a list of book recommendations from our guests here.

(A full transcript of the episode will be available midday on the Times website.)

A portrait of Masha Gessen.
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This episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” was produced by Kristin Lin. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris, with Mary Marge Locker and Kate Sinclair. Mixing by Efim Shapiro. Our senior editor is Annie-Rose Strasser. The show’s production team also includes Emefa Agawu, Jeff Geld and Rollin Hu. Original music by Isaac Jones. Audience strategy by Kristina Samulewski and Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser. Special thanks to Isaac Jones.

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