Caitlyn Jenner is a Friend of Mine


caitlyn-jenner-transformation-high-cost-surgery-clothes-house-5I’m deeply troubled by some of the anti-trans and anti-queer commentary that has been taking place on some of the comments on this blog in recent months. I’ll never forget when this project first began—talking with the founders about its original purpose: to bring the “F” word back into the mainstream religious discourse and more importantly, to be a place where scholars, young and old, senior or junior, could write, collaborate and eventually converse with across cyberspace.

However, in recent months, I’ve found myself being more of a watchdog rather than a frequent commentator on issues pertaining to feminist religious discourse. I’ve found myself reading comments about issues I may not frankly identify or agree with just to make sure that the cisgendering or anti-trans narratives do not become symbolic of what this blog is now rather than what was supposed to be at the beginning.

When I sat down to write my very first post I was scared. I was terrified that feminists from all communities would see me only as I appeared and not for whom I actually was. I was afraid that all I had worked for throughout my life would be moot with the first bad comment on one of my posts. While all of those fears were real and valid they quickly faded away as I was embraced by this community and many others for my passion rather than my gender; my life’s work rather than my privilege; and more importantly, the personal mission to make the world a safer and better place for women and girls everywhere.

To speak ones truth is oftentimes a difficult and nearly impossible act. However, to live one’s truth, on a day-to-day basis, is an aspect of life that has become so foreign to individuals who have become so comfortable in their own skin that I fear the activist and social justice roots that we all claim to hail from have fallen at the wayside and been replaced by complacency and reductionism.

Caitlyn Jenner’s story is one that many individuals, often not highlighted on this blog, know all too well. Caitlyn Jenner’s story and personal experiences are valid and for members of the feminist community to refer to her as not “feminist” or merely as a man “masquerading” as a woman while still utilizing his privilege from being biologically born as a man is troubling and the root of the problem facing many trans individuals today when they’re negotiating coming out as their true selves.

Trans individuals face a cadre of other horrible social, physical and mental statistics that oftentimes lead them to be more likely to self-harm.   However, as feminists, isn’t it our job to make sure that all groups have access to the same freedoms rather than working towards denying it for certain groups while trolling the comments sections of posts?

Shakespeare said: “To thine own self be true” and for those of us who identify with the Golden Rule, if we no longer treat others as we would like to treat ourselves, then we really have failed as feminists; and if the comments on recent blogs are any indication, we still have a long way to go before all voices can feel welcomed not only on FAR but also in the world at-large.

John Erickson is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Religious History at Claremont Graduate University. He holds a MA in Women’s Studies in Religion; an MA in Applied Women’s Studies; and a BA in Women’s Literature and Women’s Studies. He is a Permanent Contributor to the blog Feminism and Religion, a Non-Fiction Reviewer for Lambda Literary, the leader in LGBT reviews, author interviews, opinions and news since 1989 and the Co-Chair of the Queer Studies in Religion section of the American Academy of Religion’s Western Region, the only regional section of the American Academy of Religion that is dedicated to the exploration of queer studies in religion and other relevant fields in the nation and the President of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s LGBTQA+ Alumni Association. When he is not working on his dissertation, he can be found at West Hollywood City Hall where he is the Community Events Technician and works on policies and special events relating to women, gender, sexuality, and human rights issues that are sponsored or co-sponsored by the City of West Hollywood. He is the author of the blog From Wisconsin, with Love and can be followed on Twitter @JErickson85

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28 replies

  1. I don’t know whether Caitlyn identifies as a feminist but she is certainly welcome to! I’ve been concerned after beginning to explore this website that it was not trans-friendly enough, with people praising Mary Daly and Z. Budapest and essentialist stuff about how women are inherently more empathetic, nurturing etc. I’m glad to see your contributions here, and hope that we can turn the tides towards more trans & genderqueer inclusion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, caelesti, for your comment. It is very important to me as one of the co-founders of Feminism and Religion that everyone feel welcome to participate in the conversations on FAR. There are indeed a wide range of contributors with varying perspectives and it gets tense at time, that’s for sure. But many of us are working to nurture dialogue and understanding and I’m hopeful we will continue to increase the diversity of voices. Thank you!

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      • I cannot agree more caelesti and I hope you’ll come back more and take part in these ongoing discussions. We all have a voice and all are worth hearing but we need to make sure that all these posts are welcoming to all.

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  2. I’m afraid there is a big element of the transcommunity that is vocally supporting the erasure of lesbians and lesbian culture and that makes it very difficult for a lesbian to support them. And it is being done using the language men use to subdue women in actively threatening to rape and saying we are transphobic when we only want to be with women who are born women. That is not the way to be accepted.

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    • I’m sorry but can we discuss this erasure narrative? This is the refusal to interrogate your own position of power and the ways you might be complicit in a system that, for lack of a better word, screws someone else over. This is privilege and it is the same cry that heterosexual people still say when talking about the destruction of marriage via the inclusion of same-sex relationships. I believe that all communities should have the ability to be with whoever they want to be with but utilizing tools of oppression that were also used against you isn’t a way to overcome the problem, it is the exact way to become part of the problem. There is nothing wrong with standing by your decisions but you can’t expect people to not see through the bigotry behind it.

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      • Might I point out that as a male you are the one asserting priviledge. Only a lesbian can define lesbian culture and who is a lesbian. Too often we are being told our culture and values as lesbians is of no value and that we are transphobic in not wanting to sleep with people we are not attracted to at all. We are being called Terfs which is a male defined way of surpressing lesbians. We are being defined by men and according to men’s terms when it is our culture that is being erased or negated. I came out in 1979 and I have no desire to ever sleep with a man and I never will. And doesn’t take much investigation of social media to find examples of threats of rape on lesbians who don’t want to sleep with anything that isn’t a woman born woman. Women as through out most history are being told they don’t get to decide who they are attracted to but who they must be available to. Yet again we become sex objects for men.
        I don’t see a lot of gay men running to sleep with transmen and telling them who they have to sleep with now that they have become men, do you?

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      • “Shut up,” he explained. Good one, John!

        Conveniently forgotten, perhaps, is the invention of the notion of transgenderism in the 1800s as a proposed explanation and cure for “homosexual perversion.” Esteemed doctors and psychiatrists argued successfully that lesbians were “inverted,” meaning they were men caught in female bodies. With a little “genital transformation surgery” lesbians could be cured of their lesbianism and live so-called normal lives as heterosexual males. If they could not be “cured,” inverts were destined for a mental institution.

        If anyone really wants to talk about the “erasure narrative,” it must be taken into account that, historically, transgenderism was conceived as a medical “solution” to lesbianism, or what might be called “reparative” or conversion therapy today. The current transgender lobby goes an extra step now, by insisting that penises are female anatomy if they belong to males who identify as females. Therefore, lesbians must (if they’re not transphobic bigots) engage sexually with penises/males, and presto-chango the “problem” of lesbianism is “solved” by erasure.

        I would be interested in a theological examination of the concept “male born in a female body.” How does this work? Are we all born perfect, except for some of us? Does God/dess never make mistakes, except for colossal blunders such as putting wrong souls in wrong bodies? From the perspective of your religious beliefs, please explain how and why “inverted” beings exist.

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      • Thank you elfkat and Lisa Jones for your comments. I am glad for the conversation if indeed it is with the purpose of increasing understanding and not to attack. I’ll recall FAR’s comment policy and ask that we all respect the space and aims of FAR – thank you.

        We welcome comments and appreciate all viewpoints shared. There is no single definition of feminism and this is a place of many voices. Please be respectful and share with the intent of furthering dialogue and creating community.

        Please remember that the purpose of FAR is to further feminist dialogue while nurturing one another, even across our differences. Our tone should be encouraging rather than judgmental. We all bring our own feminist perspectives and practices to the conversation and that should be welcomed. It may be that in our encounter with one another across the diversity of our contexts and experiences our definitions of feminisms may be expanded – a sign that feminisms is alive and grounded in the lived reality of people’s lives.

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      • Lisa –

        I never in my post nor in any of my comments said “Shut up.” I’ve actually been engaging in a dialogue rather than saying such things that would not welcome and shut down any hope of continued conversations. Please do not try to accuse me of “mansplaining” when that clearly is not the case as that is extremely offensive and takes away from what is going on in this post.

        Are you saying that God/dess cannot make mistakes so where does this leave trans individuals? Frankly I’m not the person to ask for issues of theology or spirituality in general as I believe that the God/dess is a construction of and mindset of humankind that is required to deal with an individuals grappling sense of their own demise.

        However, this issue of the gender of the soul is one I explored during my Master’s program while studying Gnosticism and its relationship to transgender individuals. The standard rap is that souls are not gendered. If we look at the conversation between Jesus and the Sadducees in Mark 12 (The woman who had seven husbands). Resurrected dead people are like angels in that passage, who, apparently are not gendered. However, what about dead women in the afterlife? Are they still women, female gendered? Do they act like women (i.e. perform the functions of girls, wives or mothers) when they are mere souls without bodies? Mormonism would seem to say “yes” to these questions that our roles on Earth dictate what they will be in the celestial kingdom.

        All traditions in antiquity are full of female deities. The promise to all people, women included, is to become as they are, assimilated to the deity. Think of all the saints: Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Paula, plus many, many, more. However, gender switches for those who subscribe to reincarnation. Empedocles was once, as he claims, a woman, a duck, and a bush. Plato had a hierarchy of incarnations: bad men became women in their next life; good women, by implication, became men in their next life. For some, the category of gender is less restricted than our norm. “What gender is a bush?” would be my professor’s question to us.

        Additionally, are you saying that the invention of transgenderism in the 1880s was a direct result to cure lesbianism? Therefore by comparison, transpeople and their experiences did not exist prior to that time or as a result of this “invention” only are in existence to cure and correct lesbianism? If this is the case, no wonder trans people do not feel welcome to share their experiences on this site.

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    • elfkat –

      I know you do not know me personally but I have always been a longtime advocate for lesbian only spaces as well as spaces for transwomen and transmen to meet together or on their own as well. Here in the City of West Hollywood we have the nation’s only Transgender Advisory Board because the issues that effect their community are at once a part of the LGBT continuum and at the same time truly unique to their community.

      Not only are lesbian only spaces disappearing to the point that they now are extinct but also they have become a point of contention when the real history behind issues like Michigan get blown up in popular culture and the media and shy away from what “really” happened. While threats of violence facing lesbians are real and have been for a very long time, the same goes with trans individuals who also have no space to equally meet and feel protected when they too are facing threats of violence as well.
      The problem I have is that I feel we are skirting the issue of the “Oppression Olympics” here with “who” is more oppressed and that is a slippery slope to go down and one that occurs when we utilize essentialism as a tool.

      What makes someone a woman? What makes someone a man? Is it a woman who has bleed in her lifetime because she was biologically born a woman? Or is a man a man because he can naturally ejaculate (a thought I’m still resonating on after a conversation about this post with a mentor and adviser)? Essentialism hurts us all and time and time again we keep coming back to it. These are aspects of our experiences and world that society determines for us because gender and sexuality are socially constructed.

      I cannot speak to the experiences of lesbians, women or trans individuals for that matter but what I can do, and one I hope to continue to do, is be an ally and advocate for fully equality and inclusion bar none.

      Liked by 1 person

      • John, there are concrete, real-life ways in which transgender politics conflict with lesbian politics — and conflict with feminist values, such as the right of all women to reject compulsory heterosexuality, and the right to question all instances of medically unnecessary clitoridectomy, and the right to interrogate not only gender stereotypes but the entire theory of gender.

        If you’re interested in exploring these points of conflict, great. Based on your comments on this thread, however, I sense that your aim is to dismiss the conflict as mere ignorance based on bigotry (or, in your words: screwing someone else over), and therefore not valid, and not worthy of honest discussion.

        I am not opposed to a theological analysis that concludes: “Male, female, spirit, flesh, whatever — it’s all good!” I generally agree with this. I am opposed to an analysis — or lack of analysis — that concludes: “Extensive surgical and pharmaceutical intervention for life, for adults and children, to alter otherwise healthy secondary sex characteristics in order for the body to be perceived as either more male or more female, is a beautiful, wonderful thing that must be celebrated and must not be criticized.”

        Trangenderism is a relatively new phenomenon (1800s) with an actual, documented history. Castration, female genital mutilation, and cross-dressing, however, have a much longer history. I’ve heard the transgender lobby claim people such as Sappho, Amazon warriors, and Joan of Arc as transgender. Perhaps to you this “proves” the longtime existence of transgenderism. To me, it’s yet another example of the transgenderism appropriating women’s history and erasing the existence women who did not conform to gender stereotypes (turns out, they weren’t women, they were trans, surprise, surprise.)

        When advocates of transgenderism say, “Can’t we all just get along?” what I hear is, “Can’t all you women just go along with this?” As if women are to blame for violence against transgender people. As if women are the problem.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lisa, it’s not just transgenderism that was invented in the nineteenth century. Jonathan Katz has (persuasively, imho) argued that heterosexuality – *as* an identity – was invented in the nineteenth century as a way of pathologizing certain sexual behaviors. Certainly, this doesn’t make one’s experience of heterosexuality (like mine, for instance) “not real,” nor does it mean that there weren’t people having sex with people of the opposite sex or the same sex before the nineteenth century. Identity politics – be it trans*, lesbian, gay, hetero, or what-have-you – is an invention of the modern era because of the rise of the modern (Western), individualized “self.”

        In other words, while there is a history of human behaviors that include more than what has been called “traditional” views of human sexuality and relationship, such that (post)modern-day feminist and queer historians have long gone back to genealogically trace a heritage in order to disrupt the erasure that has been the norm in mainstream academia, there’s no evidence that something like heterosexuality, homosexuality, lesbianism, etc. existed (IF by that we mean an identity *as* heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, etc.), since none of these identities existed until the nineteenth century. Those identities arise out of the socioeconomic, political, etc., conditions that make them possible in the modern era.

        There are instances of recorded history around individuals like 17th-c. Catalina de Erauso, the “Lieutenant Nun,” for instance (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalina_de_Erauso), who passed as a man for much of her adult life and was given a papal dispensation to live out her years wearing men’s clothing. Does this make her trans*? Well, seeing as how the word didn’t exist until the 20th century, how could she possibly identify herself this way, let alone advocate to be addressed with masculine pronouns? What we *can* say, though, is that she was clearly disrupting any essentialized idea of gender.

        When there is a whole community of people expressing their similar experiences of gender dysphoria, and there’s a respected medical community who is increasingly discovering how gender is more complex than simply what genitalia you’re born with, it’s disrespectful to dismiss these concerns outright without engaging in trying to understand another’s experience. There’s a history of this in feminism, though – an example being white feminists called out by Black feminists for engaging in misogynoir (from the Combahee River Collective in the 70s all the way up to Black Feminist Twitter today).

        Being oppressed as a lesbian woman does not mean one can’t also be complicit in the institutionalized oppression of others (just as I, as a cishetero white woman, can be complicit in others’ oppression as non-white, or non-hetero individuals by not acknowledging my place in the system that does so).

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      • Thanks. I first marched in Christopher Street West parade in 1980 when it was hard to find the L it was still just G as in gay. So perhaps I excessively sensitive to be erased again. But I know many of my sisters feel that some transwomen continue to act in very male fashion and privilege by threatening violence and harm when they aren’t accepted and tell butch lesbians that they are really men and we aren’t, we’re women loving women.

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      • elfkat –

        I want to thank you for engaging in this dialogue with me and know that I agree that the erasure of lesbian spaces is real and it is happening (sadly, it seems like it has already happened all over) and now there are just a few remaining places.

        I wrote on this blog a few years ago about the closing of the Palms out here in West Hollywood and my its relationship to my good friend and mentor Marie Cartier’s work in Baby, You Are My Religion. Where would many of the women be that she interviewed if it weren’t for the gay bar pre-Stonewall or even after? The Palms was the only lesbian bar in a crowd of gay nightclubs that are all over West Hollywood. The City is currently working on ways to increase lesbian spaces and emphasize the ones that already exist such as the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives which is housed here in West Hollywood and needs renovations so their meeting rooms and spaces can continue to be utilized.

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    • Lisa –

      Please stop attacking and writing things I never wrote anywhere on this post. You write:
      “If you’re interested in exploring these points of conflict, great. Based on your comments on this thread, however, I sense that your aim is to dismiss the conflict as mere ignorance based on bigotry (or, in your words: screwing someone else over), and therefore not valid, and not worthy of honest discussion.” I never wrote “screwing someone else over” so please, again, stop trying to accuse me of writing something that I never said.

      Additionally, you say –
      “Trangenderism is a relatively new phenomenon (1800s) with an actual, documented history. Castration, female genital mutilation, and cross-dressing, however, have a much longer history. I’ve heard the transgender lobby claim people such as Sappho, Amazon warriors, and Joan of Arc as transgender. Perhaps to you this “proves” the longtime existence of transgenderism. To me, it’s yet another example of the transgenderism appropriating women’s history and erasing the existence women who did not conform to gender stereotypes (turns out, they weren’t women, they were trans, surprise, surprise.)

      When advocates of transgenderism say, “Can’t we all just get along?” what I hear is, “Can’t all you women just go along with this?” As if women are to blame for violence against transgender people. As if women are the problem.”

      This is extremely offensive! The term transgenderism may have been created in the 1800s, by your timeline, but trans people have existed for a long time prior to that. You’re literally erasing their experiences and history with this comment? Is that your goal? I’m extremely offended by what you wrote and it just echos what I said in my post (something I actually wrote) – ” Shakespeare said: “To thine own self be true” and for those of us who identify with the Golden Rule, if we no longer treat others as we would like to treat ourselves, then we really have failed as feminists; and if the comments on recent blogs are any indication, we still have a long way to go before all voices can feel welcomed not only on FAR but also in the world at-large.”

      Like

      • John, in your to response to elfkat at 10:06 a.m., you wrote: “This is the refusal to interrogate your own position of power and the ways you might be complicit in a system that, for lack of a better word, screws someone else over.” So much for honest dialogue with you. Do take care of yourself.

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      • Apologies, I thought you were referring to the main post. Still, it doesn’t take away from anything else that I said, you have been attacking and hurtful throughout all of your comments.

        I wish you peace in this world. I hope if you ever dialogue or meet with a transgender individual you treat them with the respect that we all deserve when working for full equality in regards to this grand and complex issues.

        Additionally, I have been engaged in an honest dialogue with you throughout this entire thread but am still waiting for you to clarify your positions in reference to your early posts since I do not want to assume what you may mean with your commentary.

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  3. Great post John,

    It has been interesting to see how the trans community and more importantly the trans people of color, have responded to the reveal of Caitlyn. While Hollywood has gotten on board with the glamorous reveal of Caitlyn, there many more people out there that are struggling with their outward appearance and receiving negative reactions and even violence. There is even a social media movement #myvanityfaircover to show the nonhollywoodized trans face.

    This movement and your post shows us time and time again, that while we have come far we still have many miles to go

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  4. John, you’ve made some excellent points. But what really bothers me about this whole Vanity Fair cover thing is (a) The Pose. It is of a submissive woman, hands behind her back, up against a wall, her head turned down. It has no doubt been Photoshopped with bulging bosom and lovely face, and a small waist too. And (b) The Person. Is this the woman that Caitlin really wants to be? Is this the woman who has been hiding for so long? Where’s the strength of character that made her famous in the first place? Is this someone we want our children to admire? Not me. I don’t want our children to admire helpless, submissive women. I want them to see women — and men — with strength of character who stand up straight, or who bend to help another. If Jenner is a woman, fine. I am just so sorry she chose to be such a poor example of a woman.

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    • Mary Ann –

      Thank you for your comment! I too thought the most shocking part of the entire event from the interview to the Vanity Fair cover was her outing as a Republican! I wonder if she can be an agent for change within that political system or if she too will learn, as many of us have, how the Republican agenda and conservative legislation has been a deterrent to any real progress for transgender individuals and women all together.

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      • Good grief, John, I don’t give a hoot if she’s a Republican. What I would like is for her to have some guts and gumption, like a real woman.

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      • However she wants to live her life is her choice and as long as it fits within her vision of who she is then that is alright. I feel there is more to come with who she becomes in the future but more importantly, I see where she comes from (her family, etc.) and the emphasis that is put on outward beauty and bodily appearance.

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  5. So many things to comment on here; where to begin?!

    First, thanks, John, for highlighting the ways we, as cisgendered individuals, can be so quick to assume things about the world, often not realizing that these assumptions are limited by their being rooted so firmly in our own perspectives. That is, by definition, an operation of privilege.

    Which brings me to elfkat’s comments: while I have no trouble believing that lesbians often receive rape and death threats because of their gender and sexual orientation since the interwebs is a hotbed of hot messes (and this is deplorable, indeed), it is certainly not the case that all trans* individuals or trans* allies seek your bodily harm. It’s not clear to me why the term TERF is necessarily male-defined, especially given that it arose as a “deliberately technically neutral description of an activist grouping” (TigTog 2014)* from a woman. However, given I don’t know the entire etymology of usage for the term, it is possible that it has evolved. But it’s still not clear to me, given the evidence, that it is *necessarily* so.

    Furthermore, it’s not clear to me why acknowledging trans* and genderqueer individuals’ experiences is somehow an affront to any particular lesbian’s sexual life. Like I said, there are trolls, and they deplorably use online harassment and threats regularly, but you’ve offered no evidence that this is representative of the trans* and genderqueer community.

    What does seem apparent, though, is that there is some misinformation about what transgenderism and genderqueer is – which, as John pointed out, revolves around what qualifies as “real” woman. Perhaps this could be explored further in future posts – how gender as a category has never been stable and how there is growing evidence that it’s not binary, either.

    I will say that – given all the discussion about race and white privilege I’ve been having in other social media outlets, and as a cishetero white woman – it is absolutely necessary to interrogate the ways we might be blind to our own privilege. This is the way the white supremacist, capitalist, heterosexist patriarchy (thanks, bell hooks) works – it’s a intricate, intersectional system of oppression that has set up a hierarchy in which no one can possibly embody its impossible ideals perfectly, but in which there are some individuals who are not just fighting for a “slice of the pie,” so to speak, but for their very lives. This shouldn’t be an “oppression Olympics,” but rather an opportunity for dialogue about both the ways we all similarly suffer under the system and the ways we might be complicit – on a systemic, institutional level – in someone else’s oppression.

    Let’s have that conversation.

    *”TERF: What It Meants and Where It Came From.” http://www.transadvocate.com/terf-what-it-means-and-where-it-came-from_n_13066.htm#sthash.nbrKykTG.dpuf

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  6. Feminism to me is like swimming. I had to learn it. But once having learned it, it came naturally. So was it something I learned or an unlearning? The same is true with all prejudice.

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