The Challenge of Being Transgender in a Nursing Home


Many elder-care facilities are ill-equipped to deal with the needs of transgender seniors, who fear that a move to assisted living may leave them vulnerable to discrimination and harassment.


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When Brett, a 69-year-old man from St. Paul, Minnesota, went to visit his dying mother in a nursing home a few years ago, he began to worry in earnest about his later years.

“I’ve been in institutions most of my life,” says Brett (his last name has been withheld to protect his privacy), who spent his teenage years in a series of foster homes and juvenile detention centers, estranged from his family. “It never scared me. But I won’t get to be in a nursing home like my mom was.” His own experience, he fears, will be much different.

Brett, who is transgender, has a full beard, a low speaking voice, and has had his breasts removed. But he never had sex-reassignment surgery, meaning that his transgender status would quickly become obvious to a nursing-home aide charged with bathing or dressing him. Like many transgender seniors, he worries what this will mean for him once he enters a nursing home or assisted-living facility.

Currently, there are more than 1.5 million LGBT people over 65 in the U.S., a number expected to double over the next 15 years as the population ages. But precise statistics on older transgender adults—or, for that matter, transgender people of any age—are hard to come by. One 2011 study using health-survey data estimated that the country’s transgender population was around 700,000; this past May, the Census Bureau published a study that analyzed the number of “likely transgender individuals” based on the people who had changed their name (around 90,000) or sex (around 22,000) with the Social Security Administration.

These estimates vary so wildly in part because there’s no reliable means of tracking when people change their gender: The Census Bureau still offers only male and female, and many trans people haven’t completely transitioned into living full-time as their expressed gender. Others have so successfully suppressed their history that there’s little evidence they ever lived as anyone else.

One thing, though, is clear: For transgender people, aging into the later years of life can present a unique set of challenges.

Most transgender people have not surgically transitioned—for reasons that include prohibitive cost and decreased sexual function—so when they disrobe in a medical setting, they’re automatically outed, explained Loree Cook-Daniels, the founder of the Milwaukee-based Transgender Aging Network. “That inability to closet even if they want to means we have a much bigger problem in getting trans people to health care,” she said.

Past research has found that many transgender people avoid seeing a doctor for fear of being ostracized. Of those who do seek health care, a 2011 survey of 6,456 transgender people across the U.S. found that 28 percent of respondents had suffered harassment in medical settings, including ridicule or rough treatment. Nineteen percent said that they had been denied care altogether by doctors and other providers, and 50 percent reported having to educate their medical providers on transgender care.

In a more recent study, Tarynn Witten, the director of research and development at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Biological Complexity, examined the concerns of 1,963 transgender survey respondents about their later-life and end-of-life plans. Many participants, she wrote, “stated that they would prefer to die at home rather than be in a palliative care or nursing home facility,” often out of “[fear] of the type of care that they would receive; would they receive the right painkillers, would the care be respectful, would they be abused or violated, would their gender identities be respected, would they be allowed to live their last moments with grace and dignity [?]”

“As I am only part-time in each gender, I am worried that I will be in some situation that will force me to be considered totally masculine,” one of Witten’s study participants wrote, like “being assigned to ‘the boy’s room,’ meaning exile from femininity.”

reported for The Atlantic, the U.S. Department of Education has affirmed that the protections of Title IX extend to transgender students; in July, citing Title IX, the Justice Department filed a statement in support of a transgender student suing a Virginia school district after being required to use an “alternative” restroom. But, Cook-Daniels said, there are currently no similar anti-discrimination regulations in place for nursing homes and other assisted-living facilities.

Cook-Daniels and other TAN employees regularly host workshops and trainings on transgender aging issues for health-care professionals, elder-care providers, and national aging organizations. The most common questions, she said, are ones about segregated living spaces: “People want to know, ‘What gender roommate do I give [a transgender senior]?,’ ‘What bathroom do they use?’,” she said. “There’s still a basic lack of understanding of how gender identity trumps biological sex, and that people should have access to facilities that match their gender identity.”

The roommate question, in particular, can be fraught with complications. Brett recently experienced what life might be like for him in a long-term care facility when he checked in for a temporary stay in a St. Paul nursing home to recover from a back injury. After a week in a single room, he said, he was assigned a male roommate—but he worried that a roommate of either gender would soon discover that he was transgender, a fact he didn’t want to be publicized.

“A female would have a problem with me, and I’d have a problem with a male,” he said. “I wouldn’t want him to know about me … And with the gossip in nursing homes, that secret would last about a week.”

Rather than take a roommate, Brett left the nursing home and went to stay with his daughter, who took over caring for him as he recovered. But many in Brett’s situation wouldn’t have that same option: Past research has found that LGBT seniors are only half as likely as their heterosexual peers to have a support network of close relatives, and in a recent survey of 6,450 transgender people in the U.S., more than half reported that they were estranged from their families—a significant disadvantage in a country where around 80 percent of older people with disabilities rely partially or exclusively on family caregivers.

Mitigating the effects of social isolation experienced by older LGBT adults is a goal of the advocacy group Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders (SAGE). One of the organization’s current priorities is working to secure recognition for the LGBT community in the Older Americans Act (OAA), the source of federal funding for senior-care programs across the country, as a population of “greatest social need,” deserving of dedicated funds for training, outreach, and services. (The current interpretation of the term, as explained by the U.S. Administration on Aging, is vague: “In some communities, such isolation may be caused by minority religious affiliation. In others, isolation due to sexual orientation or gender identity may restrict a person’s ability to perform normal daily tasks or live independently. Each planning and service area must assess their particular environment to determine those populations best targeted based on ‘greatest social need.’”)

On July 13, the SAGE executive director Michael Adams was one of four delegates representing LGBT concerns at the White House conference on aging, a conversation that happens once every 10 years and influences the contents of the OAA. The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, a training center run by SAGE, currently receives direct federal funding, Adams said, but he hopes that the delegates’ presence at the conference will make groups like his more of a priority: “Designating older LGBT adults as a population of greatest social need in the OAA could open the door for [other training organizations] to receive federal funds,” he said.

In the meantime, many similar groups rely on private donations, small state grants, and fees paid by the service providers who hire them. Rajean Moone runs one such organization; as the executive director of the St. Paul-based Training to Serve, he regularly works with facilities that want to improve their inclusivity. “It’s not about repainting your building with a rainbow flag,” he said. TTS recommends simple steps like changing intake forms to leave questions about gender open-ended, and putting mechanisms in place for residents to report bullying or discrimination.

“We’re not there to change anyone’s beliefs,” says Moone. “We’re there to help them give high-quality care to people who deserve dignity.”

$500 Million Is a Small Price to Pay for Women’s Health


Jeb Bush suggested that the federal government is spending too much money on female-specific services. He’s wrong.

Jim Young / Reuters

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Just what is women’s health worth?

Earlier this week, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush took some heat for a misguided remark, delivered in the context of calling for Planned Parenthood to be stripped of its federal funding. “I’m not sure we need a half a billion dollars for women’s health issues,” Bush said.

Bush later tried to walk it back, saying that he misspoke and that, of course, the funds from Planned Parenthood should be funneled into other, more worthy, women’s health initiatives.  

Whether it’s at Planned Parenthood or other projects, money spent on women’s health is money well spent. Of course, the motivation for providing health services to women shouldn’t come down to dollars and cents, and it certainly shouldn’t be about political gamesmanship. But for those who want cost-benefit justification, there’s ample reason.

A recent paper put out by NBER highlights the importance of female health for financial success in developing countries by comparing the economic gains enjoyed based on targeted health increases for men or women. The conclusion? “Female health is more conducive to economic development.”

Healthier women, who are able to control their fertility, increase their educational attainment and participate in the labor force in greater numbers. That results in economic gains for their households. Those without the ability to control their own fertility had decreased opportunities for education and higher wages.

The study, conducted by David E. Bloom of Harvard, Michael Kuhn of the Vienna Institute of Demography, and Klaus Prettner of the Institute of Statistics and Mathematical Methods in Economics in Vienna, also found that focusing health initiatives on men provided a boost mostly to short-term growth, while doing the same for women boosted long-term growth. But it’s not just about controlling fertility—decreasing illness and disease, helped to bolster the education and wellbeing of the household, allowing for increased longevity in the workforce and greater economic progress for the whole family.

The same can be said for the importance of increasing the health and wellbeing of women of the United States. Greater access to birth control has been shown to increase the likelihood of college attendance and decrease the likelihood of dropping out before completion. And even in difficult economic times, a college degree remains one of the best ways to increase wages over the duration of a career.

The Next Economy

Women’s ability to work is important for the next generation, too. Daughters who have working moms are more likely to wind up holding jobs themselves, allowing them to contribute to both the workforce and the economic wellbeing of their families. And sons of working mothers are more likely to pitch in around the house, and put in more hours caring for family members, lessening the care-taking burden of women.

Health is critical to this endeavor. Preventative screening and early treatment of common medical issues—such as cervical cancer, which disproportionately affects and kills women with decreased access to health care—means that fewer women have to take time away from the workforce for treatment, fewer women have to leave the workforce due to a serious illness, and fewer women die because of diseases that could have perhaps been treated or cured had vaccination or early treatment been available.

Planned Parenthood receives about $530 million from the government annually, or $3 per woman per year. Seems pretty worth it.

The Makeup Tax

On July 20, Hillary Clinton conducted a Q&A session on Facebook, and Facebook staffer Libby Brittain posed an unusual Q to her:

“Every morning, as my boyfriend zips out the door and I spend 30+ minutes getting ready, I wonder about how the ‘hair-and-makeup tax’ affects other women—especially ones I admire in high-pressure, public-facing jobs,” Brittain wrote. “I know these questions can seem fluffy, but as a young professional woman, I’d genuinely love to hear about how you manage getting ready each morning (especially during your time traveling as Secretary of State and now on the campaign trail) while staying focused on the ‘real’ work ahead of you that day.”

“Amen, sister,” Clinton responded, because she’s relatable. “You’re preaching to the choir. It’s a daily challenge. I do the best I can—and as you may have noticed, some days are better than others!”

It’s too bad Clinton punted. The “makeup tax” Brittain mentioned is very real. Women invest time and money into doing their makeup because it impacts their relationships and their paychecks. And while both genders tend to buy haircuts, shaving cream, and moisturizer, the price of makeup is something men never have to worry about.

The cosmetics industry makes $60 billion each year. The personal-finance site Mint claims the average woman will spend $15,000 on the stuff in her lifetime. It also costs time. My weekday morning makeup routine takes 10 minutes. That’s roughly an hour per week, or two full days per year. Last year, the Today show pegged this number even higher, at two weeks per year per woman.

I’ll pause now to address the most common response when this issue comes up: “Just don’t wear makeup!”

It’s true that some women never wear makeup for various reasons. Some look better without it than others do. Some object on principle, or prefer to maintain a vaguely earthy-crunchy vibe. Others simply don’t have the time, can’t afford it, or have jobs that don’t involve interacting with others.

But for many of us, showing up at the office or a bar without at least a swipe of blush and some mascara results in a day spent being asked if we have the flu. Amy Schumer nailed this phenomenon in her perfectly titled sketch, “Girl, You Don’t Need Makeup.” Its takeaway: The “just free yourself from makeup!” crowd, particularly its male contingent, has no idea how makeup-wearers look after they wipe it all off.

Most women wear at least some makeup, some of the time. The polls around cosmetic use are notoriously bad—they’re often sponsored by beauty companies—but they’ve reported that between 50 and 80 percent of women use it at least occasionally. (According to another survey, though, two-thirds of women wear fewer than three products daily.) When University of New Hampshire student Ann Marie Britton surveyed 137 of her classmates for a thesis in 2012, at least half of respondents said they were “likely” or “very likely” to wear makeup to class, work, a job interview, to socialize, or on a date. “Mascara was used in almost all situations,” she found.

But more importantly, women on TV wear it. Many of our moms wore it, as did our elementary-school teachers. Magazines bombard girls with tips on “looking flawless.” That’s just how women look, in the collective mind’s eye: With unnaturally shiny lips and dark eyes.

For men, the closest analogy to being stuck without makeup, for women who usually wear it, is being forced to wear a stained shirt to a meeting. It’s probably fine to run errands in a shirt with dribble of barbecue sauce down the front. (There’s even a country song about it!) But if a man were to arrive at work for an important meeting, having somehow forgotten that his shirt was stained, and finding himself without an emergency clean shirt to don, he’d probably feel deeply uncomfortable. I feel roughly the same way about my five most essential tubes of face-goo.

Makeup, in short, is a norm, and nothing ruins a first impression like a norm violation. Some women contend they only wear makeup to “boost their confidence,” but the reason they feel less confident when they don’t wear it is that there’s an expectation they will.

Makeup works by enhancing facial contrast—the color difference between your lips and nose, for example. Facial contrast is closely associated with femininity, and femininity with female beauty, in Western cultures. In a study I reported on last year, both male and female participants thought “regular” women looked best when they applied a moderate amount of makeup. Another study found that subtle makeup made women seem more competent, likable, and attractive.

Years of research has shown that attractive people earn more. Thus, the makeup tax: Good-looking men and good-looking women both get ahead, but men aren’t expected to wear makeup in order to look good.

trekandshoot / Shutterstock / Atlantic

It gets worse. One study found that participants were more likely to award “prestigious jobs” to women who were made up than to the same women when their faces were unadorned. Male (but not female) restaurant patrons tip more when female waitresses wear makeup.

I know, it’s terrible! I did not make the rules! Throw not your Bobbi Brown eye pencil in my general direction; tweet not your angry tweet at my difficult-to-spell username. In fact, “don’t shoot the messenger” seems to be the general attitude among researchers who study the economic effects of cosmetics.

“I wish society didn’t reward this,” Daniel Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told The New York Times. “I think we’d be a fairer world if beauty were not rewarded, but it is.”

So, what can be done about it? Workplace policies that allow employees to work from home, where their facial-contrast levels are judged only by their cats, could be an immediate help. So could including more bare-faced women in TV shows and magazine spreads.

For more enduring change, women could just stop wearing makeup. But unless we all did it in unison, it’s likely that the holdouts would continue to reap benefits while the au naturel protesters would continue to field questions about their thyroid health from strangers.

Or, the country’s only serious female presidential contender could, when asked, speak out against appearance discrimination and gender bias—something she herself has very publicly faced. That kind of response could help change the makeup norm, sister.

The Age of the Robot Worker Will Be Worse for Men


The jobs that are least vulnerable to automation tend to be held by women.

Rosie the Robot. As it turns out, not a realistic vision of the future. meunierd / Shutterstock

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Many economists and technologists believe the world is on the brink of a new industrial revolution, in which advances in the field of artificial intelligence will obsolete human labor at an unforgiving pace. Two Oxford researchers recently analyzed the skills required for more than 700 different occupations to determine how many of them would be susceptible to automation in the near future, and the news was not good: They concluded that machines are likely to take over 47 percent of today’s jobs within a few decades.

This is a dire prediction, but one whose consequences will not fall upon society evenly. A close look at the data reveals a surprising pattern: The jobs performed primarily by women are relatively safe, while those typically performed by men are at risk.

It should come as no surprise that despite progress on equality in the labor force, many common professions exhibit a high degree of gender bias. For instance, of the 3 million truck drivers in the U.S., more than 95 percent are men; of the nearly 3 million secretaries and administrative assistants, more than 95 percent are women. Autonomous vehicles are a not-too-distant possibility, and when they arrive, those drivers’ jobs will evaporate; office-support workers suffer no such imminent threat.

This pattern holds for many of the most gender-biased occupations. Men hold 97 percent of the 2.5 million U.S. construction and carpentry jobs. The Oxford study estimates that these male workers stand more than a 70 percent chance of being replaced by robotic workers. By contrast, women hold 93 percent of the registered nurse positions. Their risk of obsolescence is vanishingly small: .009 percent.

What is causing this pattern? The skills exhibited by the coming wave of intelligent machines are better suited to occupations currently dominated by men. Many of the jobs held by men involve perception and manipulation, often in conjunction with physical exertion, such as swinging a hammer or trimming trees. The latest mobile robots combine advanced-sensory systems with dexterous manipulators to successfully perform these sorts of tasks.

Other, more cerebral male-dominated professions aren’t secure either. Many occupations that might appear to require experience and judgment—such as commodity traders—are being outdone by increasingly sophisticated machine-learning programs capable of quickly teasing subtle patterns out of large volumes of data.

By contrast, women typically work in more chaotic, unstructured environments, where the ability to read people’s emotions and intentions are critical to success. If your job involves distracting a patient while delivering an injection, guessing whether a crying baby wants a bottle or a diaper change, or expressing sympathy to calm an irate customer, you needn’t worry that a robot will take your job, at least for the foreseeable future.

So what will the new machines be good at? For starters, they will be well-suited to tasks that are easily specified and offer objective criteria for success. These features permit an engineer to codify requirements in a programmatic form and measure the results. It’s easy to understand what a robotic housepainter is supposed to accomplish and to see if the job has been done correctly; it’s harder to assess whether a dementia patient might be more comfortable with a warmer blanket. Computers also excel at tasks that benefit from consistency, attention, and objectivity, such as washing windows, managing the flow of air traffic, or assigning taxi drivers to trip requests.

Another characteristic affecting a job’s security is the breadth of skills it requires. Computers aren’t usually designed to replace workers; they typically automate specific tasks, making a given worker more productive. But when an automated system can match the entire range of that worker’s talents, his or her services are no longer needed. So the broader and more varied your duties, the harder it will be to replace you.

In short, today’s typical women’s work is what will predominate in future. On a mass scale, this pattern may result in an involuntary shift in the division of labor, with husbands tending to household duties after dropping their wives off at the office. Superficially, that may sound cheery, but the reality will be much grimmer, as families struggle to make ends meet on one income, and men struggle with the emotional upheaval of no longer having a place in the world of work.

Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?

In the future, everyone’s going to have a robot assistant. That’s the story, at least. And as part of that long-running narrative, Facebook just launched its virtual assistant. They’re calling it Moneypenny—the secretary from the James Bond Films. Which means the symbol of our march forward, once again, ends up being a nod back. In this case, Moneypenny is a send-up to an age when Bond’s womanizing was a symbol of manliness and many women were, no matter what they wanted to be doing, secretaries.

Why can’t people imagine a future without falling into the sexist past? Why does the road ahead keep leading us back to a place that looks like the Tomorrowland of the 1950s? Well, when it comes to Moneypenny, here’s a relevant datapoint: More than two thirds of Facebook employees are men. That’s a ratio reflected among another key group: futurists.

Both the World Future Society and the Association of Professional Futurists are headed by women right now. And both of those women talked to me about their desire to bring more women to the field. Cindy Frewen, the head of the Association of Professional Futurists, estimates that about a third of their members are women. Amy Zalman, the CEO of the World Future Society, says that 23 percent of her group’s members identify as female. But most lists of “top futurists” perhaps include one female name. Often, that woman is no longer working in the field.

Somehow, I’ve become a person who reports on futurists. I produce and host a podcast about what might happen in the future called Meanwhile in the Future. I write a column about people living cutting-edge lives for BBC Future. And one thing I’ve noticed is how overwhelmingly male and white they are.

It turns out that what makes someone a futurist, and what makes something futurism, isn’t well defined. When you ask those who are part of official futurist societies, like the APF and the WFS, they often struggle to answer. There are some possible credentials—namely: a degree in foresight, an emerging specialty that often intersects with studies of technology and business. But the discipline isn’t well established—there’s no foresight degree at Yale, or Harvard. And there are plenty of people who practice futurology who don’t have one.

Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence Research Foundation; Elon Musk, the head of SpaceX; Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google; Ray Kurzweil, the director of engineering at Google. They don’t necessarily belong to a particular society—they might not even self-identify as futurists!—but they are driving the conversation about the future—very often on stages, in public, backed by profitable corporations or well-heeled investors.

Which means the media ends up turning to Brin and Musk and de Gray and Kurzweil to explain what is going to happen, why it matters, and ultimately whether it’s all going to be okay. The thing is: The futures that get imagined depend largely on the person or people doing the imagining.

* * *

Why are there so few women? Much of it comes down to the same reasons there are so few women in science and technology, fields with direct links to futurism (which has a better ring to it than “strategic foresight,” the term some futurists prefer).

Zalman says futurism has actually fought to present itself in a certain way. When the field was founded in the 1960s, it came with a reputation that still lingers a bit today, she says. “Like magicians, crystal ball gazers, sort of flakey, that’s the reputation that followed the WFS for awhile. Because the field itself had to struggle to be taken seriously, that put more pressure on folks to demonstrate that they were scientific. And it was coded masculine.” While futurism includes not simply the future of gadgets, the field found itself pushing away some of the perceived “softer” elements of foresight: social change, family structures, cultural impacts—in favor of mathematical modeling and technology.

Madeline Ashby, a futurist with a degree in strategic foresight who has worked for organizations like Intel Labs, the Institute for the Future, SciFutures, and Nesta, says that another big part of the gender imbalance has to do with optimism. “If you ask me, the one reason why futurism as a discipline is so white and male, is because white males have the ability to offer the most optimistic vision,” she says. They can get up on stage and tell us that the world will be okay, that technology will fix all our problems, that we’ll live forever. Mark Stevenson wrote a book called An Optimist’s Tour of the Future. TED speakers always seem to end their talk, no matter how dire, on an upward-facing note.

Ashby says that any time she speaks in front of a crowd, and offers a grim view of the future, someone (almost always a man) invariably asks why she can’t be more positive. “Why is this so depressing, why is this so dystopian,” they ask. “Because when you talk about the future you don’t get rape threats, that’s why,” she says. “For a long time the future has belonged to people who have not had to struggle, and I think that will still be true. But as more and more systems collapse, currency, energy, the ability to get water, the ability to work, the future will increasingly belong to those who know how to hustle, and those people are not the people who are producing those purely optimistic futures.”

“I don’t know if I kind of pick up on the optimism as I pick up on the utter absurdity,” said Sarah Kember, a professor of technology at the University of London who’s applied feminist theory to futurism for years. “And that’s great for me in some ways, it’s been a traditional feminist strategy to expose absurdity. It’s a key critique.” She points out that as someone whose job it is to take a step back and analyze things like futurism from an outside view, a lot of the mainstream futurism starts to look pretty silly. “You’ve got smart bras and vibrating pants and talking kitchen worktops and augmented-reality bedroom mirrors that read the tags on your clothing and tell you what not to wear, and there’s no reflection on any of this at all,” she says.

Both Frewen of the APF and Zalman of the WFS told me that they were concerned about the gender imbalance in their field, and that they are hoping to help change it. But they also both reminded me that, compared to a lot of fields, futurism is a tiny speciality. And it’s homogeneous in other ways, too. The majority of the WFS members are white, and most of them are 55 to 65 years old. “It is not okay for the WFS, although we care about them, to have only men from North America between the ages of 55 and 65,” Zalman says. “We need all those other voices because they represent an experience.”

* * *

Any time someone points out a gender or racial imbalance in a field (or, most often, the combination of the two) a certain set of people ask: Who cares? The future belongs to all of us—or, ultimately, none of us—why does it matter if the vast majority of futurists are white men? It matters for the same reasons diversity drives market growth: because when only one type of person is engaged in asking key questions about a specialty—envisioning the future or otherwise—they miss a entire frameworks for identifying and solving problems. The relative absence of women at Apple is why the Apple Health kit didn’t have period tracking until a few months ago, and why a revolutionary artificial heart can be deemed a success even when it doesn’t fit 80 percent of women.

Nnedi Okorafor, a science fiction author. “I’ve always sided with the robots. That whole idea of creating these creatures that are human-like and then have them be in servitude to us, that is not my fantasy and I find it highly problematic that it would be anyone’s.”

Or take longevity, for example. The idea that people could, or even should, push to lengthen lifespans as far as possible is popular. The life-extension movement, with Aubrey de Gray as one (very bearded) spokesman, has raised millions of dollars to investigate how to extend the lifespan of humans. But this is arguably only an ideal future if you’re in as a comfortable position as his. “Living forever only works if you’re a rich vampire from an Anne Rice novel, which is to say that you have compound interest,” jokes Ashby. “It really only works if you have significant real-estate investments and fast money and slow money.” (Time travel, as the comedian Louis C.K. has pointed out, is another thing that is a distinctly white male preoccupation—going back in time, for marginalized groups, means giving up more of their rights.)

Beyond the particular futures that get funded and developed, there’s also a broader issue with the ways in which people think about what forces actually shape the future. “We get some really ready-made easy ways of thinking about the future by thinking that the future is shapeable by tech development,” said Kember, the professor of technology at University of London.

In the 1980s, two futurists (a man and a woman) wrote a book that invited key members of the futurist community to write essays on what they saw coming. The book was called What Futurists Believe, and it included profiles of 17 futurists, including Arthur C. Clarke and Peter Schwartz. All seventeen people profiled were men. And in some ways, they were very close to predicting the future. They seemed to grasp the importance of the cell phone and the trajectory of the personal computer. But they completely missed a huge set of other things. “What they never got right was the social side, they never saw flattened organizations, social media, the uprisings in the Middle East, ISIS using Twitter,” says Frewen.

Terry Grim, a professor in the Studies of the Future program at the University of Houston, recalls a video she saw from the 1960s depicting the office of the future. “It had everything pretty much right, they had envisioned the computer and fax machine and forward-looking technology products.” But there was something missing: “There were no women in the office,” she said.

Okorafor says that she’s gotten so used to not seeing anybody like herself in visions of the future that it’s not really surprising to her when it happens. “I feel like more of a tourist when I experience these imaginings, this isn’t even a place where I would exist in the first place,” she says. “In the type of setting, the environment, and the way everything is set up just doesn’t feel like it would be my future at all, and this is something that I experience regularly when I read or watch imagined futures, and this is part of what made me start writing my own.”

This is also perhaps why futurists often don’t talk about some of the issues and problems that many people face every day—harassment, child care, work-life balance, water rights, immigration, police brutality. “When you lose out on women’s voices you lose out on the issues that they have to deal with,” Ashby says. She was recently at a futures event where people presented on a global trends report, and there was nothing in the slides on the future of law enforcement. The questions that many people face about their futures are lost in the futures being imagined.

* * *

In the 1970s, Alvin Toffler’s book Future Shock argued that there are three types of futurism the world needed: a science of futurism that could talk about the probability of things happening, an art of futurism that could explore what is possible, and a politics of futurism that could investigate what is preferable. Futurism has done well to develop the first side, building devices and technologies and frameworks through which to see technical advances. But Zalman says that it’s fallen down a bit on the other two. “Arts and humanities are given short shrift.”

Asimov science fiction covers. Which is not a future I’m interested in.”

The futurism that involves glass houses and 400-year-old men doesn’t interest her. “When I think about the kind of future I want to build, it’s very soft and human, it’s very erotic, and I feel like so much of what I identify as futurism is very glossy, chrome painted science fiction covers, they’re sterile.” She laughs. “Who cares about your jetpack? How does technology enable us to keep loving each other?”