A bad month. Again.

Trans people – particularly transwomen who are disabled and non-white – are at high risk of attack and death – despite being a fraction of the LGBT population, they are by far the most likely to be attacked or killed.

In fact, most murders of LGBT people are murders of T people.  In Hate Violence in 2012, the NCAVP found that, in the USA:

  • 73% of murder victims were people of color.  Of these, most were black.
  • 50% of murder victims were transwomen
  • 60% of victims (not of homocide but other violence) reported having a disability
  • Trans people experienced police violence at 3.3 times the rate of non-trans people

Other findings are equally sobering.  We are not a country that treats trans people decently.  Or people of color.  Or disabled people.  And we’re really awful to people that are in more than one category.  If you add HIV status to the mix, those with HIV are even more likely to be victims.  So we’re not even through treating people with HIV like shit in this country.

Then, survivors of violence face violence from those we pay to protect us.  They face violence at a substantially higher rate from police.

That is the context of every month.

(note that for the below, I attempted to get names and genders correct – unfortunately much reporting relies on birth names and incorrect genders, so please let me know if you have information about someone’s gender or name that is incorrect below – I do not intend to insult violence survivors or the deceased)

This month, like other months, saw reports of violence against trans people.  I’m sure I’m missing tons of reports.  What I know about:

  • On July 9, Dora Özer, a transwoman who lived in Turkey, was murdered.  She was stabbed to death.
  • On July 14, Diamond Williams, a black transwoman living in Philadelphia, PA, USA was murdered.  She was stabbed, dismembered with an axe, and dumped in a vacant lot.
  • On July 21, a disabled transman living in Knoxville, TN, USA, was physically assaulted while his house was vandalized.  His front door was spray painted with the words “Tranny Fucker.”   While being attacked, he was threatened with death if he did not move away.  He reported being laughed at by police when they arrived on scene.  This was the second time he was attacked.
  • On July 21, in St. James, Jamaica, a transgender 17 year old was stabbed, chopped up, and dumped in bushes along the side of a road.
  • On July 21, Amanda Blanchard in Spokane, WA, USA was murdered by her fiance, who set fire to her home and then killed himself.
  • On July 25, in Thailand, Jatupon Ratworabood was murdered by being shot in the head.  Her body was dumped on the side of a road.
  • On July 25, in Limoges, France, Myléne, a transwoman, was beaten to death with a hammer.
  • Sometime this week, Gaye, a transwoman from Istanbul, Turkey, was murdered.
  • On July 30, in Philadelphia, PA, USA, a transwoman was shot in the head in her apartment by an unknown man.  The last reports I’ve seen indicate that she is expected to survive.

This is just a sampling, based on what I’ve seen this month, of violence and murder of trans people.

I wish for and pray for justice for the families (whether biological or chosen) and survivors of these acts.

Send a Backwards Thinking Sheriff a Copy of Lawrence v. Texas!

UPDATE: The EBRSO put out this statement on Facebook:

The Sheriff’s office apologizes that the way these investigations were handled made it appear that we were targeting the gay community. That was not our intent. The Sheriff’s Office also apologizes to anyone that was unintentionally harmed or offended by the actions of our investigations. While sections of La. R.S. 14:89, Crimes Against Nature, have not been removed from the Louisiana law code, they have been deemed unenforceable and unconstitutional. The Sheriff’s Office will not use these unconstitutional sections of the law in future cases. We are committed to working with all branches of our government, as well as the LGBT community, to find acceptable ways to keep our community safe.

This is still problematic – unless these men are trying to pick up children, gay guys trying to hook up in a park might violate your moral sensibilities, but it’s not a danger to your community.  So you don’t need to find an acceptable way to keep the community safe (which I read as “we’ll find another way to prosecute gays”).

Original Message:

The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, following their slogan of “doing more with less,” is arresting (that is, handcuffing, booking, fingerprinting, photographing, publishing names) of men under the unconstitutional Louisiana sodomy law.  Read about it here and here.

I’m going to send the good Sheriff a copy of the Lawrence v Texas ruling. If you have a few minutes, you can do this too.

The mailing address, if you also want to send a copy – I’d love to see them get hundreds of copies of the ruling (I’m thinking postal mail is ideal):

East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office
100 St.Ferdinand St.
Baton Rouge, LA 70802

You can get a PDF copy of the Lawrence v. Texas ruling (that declared sodomy illegal) at: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/pdf/02-102P.ZO

Will you help?  Let’s make a statement about what we think of the Sheriff’s unconstitutional acts.

Sex Change in Iran

Quick, second to Thailand, what country performs the most sex reassignment surgeries?  Answer: the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Flag_of_Iran.svgA few days ago, I wrote just a bit about Be Like Others, a documentary about transgender people in Iran.  I was sort of expecting to hear how Iran sees trans people, and that certainly was a part of the documentary.  But, more disturbingly, was how Iran sees gay people.

In the USA, when someone’s kid comes out as transgender to mom and dad, a frequent comment is, “Are you sure you’re not just gay?”  Being gay is more acceptable than being trans.  In Iran, the question is to gay kids: “Are you sure you aren’t trans?”

Certainly, there’s an element of “same but different” in homosexuality and transsexuality – in both cases, people are violating gender roles.  In the one, they are violating the gender role for who they are supposed to love.  In the other, for who they believe they are.  In both cases, the problem boils down to “not living as someone of your presumed gender should live.”

It turns out that some Muslims believe being trans is acceptable – not necessarily wonderful, but not mortal sin either.  Homosexuality on the other hand remains the mortal sin.  In fact, Ayatollah Khomeini, prior to receiving political power, in 1967 declared that sex changes were acceptable.  Stonewall in the USA didn’t happen until 1969, two years later.  For people not well versed on LGBT history, while gays and lesbians were targeted by police in Stonewall, the worst of the targeting was directed towards males wearing makeup (effeminate gays) and both women and men who wore the “wrong” gender’s clothing.

So, back to Iran.  What do you do in a country that doesn’t have gay people (something the Iranian president said when being questioned about the execution of two gay men – for being gay) if you are gay?  It turns out that what can keep you alive is to change your sex.  At least you can survive then, albeit not likely as someone who will enjoy their life.

Nobody knows how many gender reassignment operations are being done on gay (not trans) people in Iran, but it’s a significant percentage of the surgeries.  Nor do trans people have a choice in having the surgery – if it’s recommended, they are expected to have it.  And it’s recommended if the person is trans.  Period.  That said, in 2004, one organization estimated the rate of forced or coerced operations done on gays was around 45%.  Nearly half.

So maybe trans people have a slightly easier time in Iran than in some other countries.  They are fully legally recognized in their new gender, so marriage is not an issue – so long as they are heterosexual (that is, attracted to the sex opposite their reassigned sex).  But it’s hardly a welcoming country, even for people who really are transsexual and not gay.  But it’s even worse for gays.

From a western perspective it’s a strange situation.  Is it more accepting or less accepting than other countries?  I don’t know.  But it’s certainly not where we need to be as a world.

Respect for the Dead

“Kelly Young” was born “(masculine name here)”.  That’s how ABC in Baltimore began to describe a murder victim in a story earlier this year.  Except they printed a name that wasn’t her’s.  I won’t dignify that by repeating that name.

Kelly clearly wanted to be known as Kelly.  The general rule of thumb is you respect that.  In some cases, it may be relevant to a news story, but this wasn’t one of them.  This isn’t unique to transgender people.  News stories routinely refer to celebrities by names other than “birth names” (and, indeed, other than their legal name).  Women who take the last name of a husband usually don’t have their maiden name printed if they are killed.

I’m amazed at the obsession to know two things about trans people: what their genitals look like and what their birth name was.  Let me make this simple: that’s rude, objectifying, and humiliating.

But this is routine when trans people are killed.  Their genital status often comes up when a victim is trans.  It comes up in several ways, as does their trans history – “The male victim was dressed in women’s clothes” may be in a story.  Is that relevant?  Maybe it’s relevant that the person is trans, if you are reporting on a suspected hate crime.  Or if the person was well known as a public activist or figure.  But other than that, no, it’s generally not relevant and serves no purpose other than to give people a chance to snicker at someone dead.  That’s not classy.  Certainly what their genitals look like is almost never relevant.  And, equally so with their “birth name”.

Brandon Teena's inaccurate grave marker

Brandon Teena’s inaccurate grave marker

It’s not just reporting.  I know trans people that are scared their families will put a name other than their name on their tombstone.  Imagine living your life, only to be insulted when you die.  Brandon Teena, the subject of Boys Don’t Cry, a transman was brutally raped and murdered in Nebraska.  He’s now buried in Nebraska.

His grave marker – something that should tell the world who he was – instead uses the wrong name and refers to him as “daughter, sister & friend.”

Imagine that.  You’re brutally murdered.  And even when you are dead, your family buries you under a different name and gender.  It’s hard to explain how humiliating that is.

Why do people do that (Brandon Teena is not the only one that had this done to him)?  I don’t know why Brandon’s family did this.  I do know why others do it, though.  Some families find it really hard to acknowledge that their child is trans.  So hard, in fact, that they would rather loose their relationship with their child than to have to explain to their friends, family, and church why their son is now their daughter – or visa-versa.  This acknowledgement of someone else’s life is so horrifying to people that they would rather bury their child under the wrong name and gender.  Imagine what it is like for that child to be alive, to live a life unacknowledged and unaccepted by family.

More than that, thanks to the right wing, and the common confusion between sexual orientation and gender identity, and a general anti-gay sentiment in the right wing, the mere act of calling someone by the name and pronouns they ask to be used is now sin.  You see, in the eyes of these people (Note that I believe most are, sadly, not acting out of heartfelt analysis of scripture, but rather out of blind faith in their religious leaders and personalities), if you see someone who is gay (and, thus, by extension, someone who is trans), you have to say something to show you don’t agree.  Otherwise, apparently, God will send you to hell or something.  There’s also a really twisted idea of gender roles here – women subservient and all that (I’ll write about that some other time).  Lest you think I’m exaggerating, I was a member of such a group so I do have some idea how they think.

The idea is that if you “accept” it (that is, keep your mouth shut when you object – which is obviously a far cry from true acceptance), then you’re encouraging and in a way a codependent.  If you make life suck for the trans (or gay) person, then maybe they’ll stop sinning.  There is a problem here, though: some do – they kill themselves.  And even then they get stuck in graves which further the very abuse that made them hate life.

But apparently it’s not sin to spit on a grave or worse.  Even after the person is dead, they are fair game for abuse.

What do we do about this?

Simple.  We demand accountability.  Newspapers and TV should be called out when they refer to people with the wrong gender, out a victim as trans when it’s not truly relevant to the story, and we should make sure people we know are remembered for who they were, not who someone else wanted them to be.  And we should treat people properly when they are alive, too – if someone tells you their name and gender, it’s not your job to enforce the right-wing will.  They aren’t doing this because you didn’t insult and abuse them enough.  It’s time to stop the abuse, particularly in the name of God.

RIP Kelly and Brandon.  I will acknowledge who you were.

FDR Dressed Like A Girl. Probably in Pink.

Yes, FDR wore a dress.  So did other famous people.

FDR - the President - as a little boy.

FDR – the President – as a little boy.

No, they weren’t trans.  Nor was it considered “gay”.

It was how you dressed little boys for pictures.

The boy to the left is the man who grew up to oversee the United States as we recovered from the Great Depression and into war with Germany and Japan.  And if this picture was shown to people voting for him, he still would have been elected – he probably would have been told he was a cute boy.

Wikipedia tells us that clothes were once more expensive – and a dress could fit for more years than pants could.  So that was important when kids are growing.  And, equally important, pants were hard for little boys to undo – so toilet training was difficult with them, but much easier with a dress.  I imagine diapers – particularly of the time – worked better under the dress too.

Now I have no idea what color FDR’s dress was, but pink on a boy was not only acceptable but preferred.  You can read about that and the pink on boys in Smithsonian Magazine.

From that article:

For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.

Later, pink and blue became the symbols of girls and boys that we know today.  But they clearly weren’t always.  It’s part of a trend we’ve seen with children, continuing even today, to ironically replace gender-neutral children’s items with gendered items, even as we claim that we’re wanting women in man-dominated fields like computers and Engineering.

Don’t believe me?  Look at this:

Argos catalog items.  Left was a selection of 1976 toys, right was modern-day toys from the same company.

Argos catalog items. Left was a selection of 1976 toys, right was modern-day toys from the same company.

As you can see above, toys for girls have become much more, well, girly.  At least what we – if not FDR’s parents – would call girly.  Some might say it’s even sickeningly girly, a parody of femininity.

The clear statement by things like the pictures above is that there are clearly girl toys and boy toys.  Girls need girl toys, according to the marketers.  And we must agree, because they sell them.

Of course, socially, we know a lot is wrong with this.  We know intellectually that fathers can push a baby stroller.  We know that men can cook and clean.  We know that running a cash register isn’t a “girl’s” job or a boy’s job.

Yet we vote with our pocketbooks.  We buy girls pink stuff.

We know that doing stuff like making a stove pink will cause boys, who have (today) been socially conditioned that being a girl is bad, and pink is “girly”, to favor other toys.  We’re shaping the careers boys and girls go into as adults.  We claim to not want to do that, but then again, we buy these things.  And kids generally want them – kids generally want to assert their gender, as they’re taught to do through advertising and social pressure.  Since most kids have clear ideas of their gender, this makes it pretty simple for them to select the toys.

As more evidence of this, remember the Easy Bake Oven controversy last year?  The girl who started this, on behalf of her brother, felt we should be past that as a society.  I agree.  But what she may not have realized is not only are we not past it, but it’s actually getting worse.  Look at this Easy Bake oven from years ago:

25th Anniversary EZ Bake Oven being Sold on Ebay

25th Anniversary Easy Bake Oven being Sold on Ebay

Ignore the pinkish blanket it’s on in the picture.  And, yes, there’s a girl on the box, and “EASY BAKE” is in pink on the box.  But other than that, it looked pretty high-tech for the early 80s, clearly in the style of a microwave oven.  It was made to resemble a real cooking appliance, not some ultra-feminized version of one!

The oven the girl was talking about were far from the relatively gender neutral oven of the early 80s.  Fortunately, she had the support of many, and Hasbro has introduced a 50th anniversary edition (almost in stores) that is a much cooler design than the obsessively pink predecessor.  Unfortunately, much of Hasbro’s marketing is still focused on girls and gender stereotypes – check out their Easy Bake site, entitled “Easy Bake | Cooking & Baking Games for Girls”.  Because, after all, how would a girl know that she could use an oven?

It’s pretty amazing that in a 100 years or so, we’ve moved from dressing boys in dresses and pink to a time when every toy, every baby item, every piece of clothing on a young child must speak about their gender.  It’s not enough for a boy to be a boy, he needs to be dressed as a boy and playing with boy-toys (no, not that kind of boy toy!).

I think some of it is insecurity of adults.  Too many adults are insecure about gender and sexuality, and intentionally or not act on those insecurities.  This action instills the “appropriate” behavior from an early age.  Ironically, this is at the same time the right wing is criticizing a camp for gender non-conforming children for “forcing” transsexuality on kids.  You can see some decent reporting on the camp here.

The head of Family Research Council (ironically a lobbyist group that does no research) in a Christian Post article stated,

“There is a risk of locking children into a life course, which, if they had been left to develop naturally, they would have outgrown,” warned Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council in Washington D.C., in an interview with the Christian Post Tuesday.

Sprigg argued that teaching kids they have to identify with their “sexual orientation” or “sexual identity” could “lock” them in a phase. “You’ll have children who are going through natural periods of confusion and experimentation with their sexuality and all of a sudden you have adults telling them, this means you’re gay, you were born gay, you will never change,” he said.

Of course this mischaracterizes the camp (they are not telling them they are gay or trans – only telling them them that they can be who they want to be.  But “not punishing gay and trans behavior” is the same as “making them gay or trans” in the eyes of the right wing.

And we all know that there is no pressure to conform to gender stereotypes.  Okay, maybe there is.  But apparently that’s okay and not damaging…except for the 30% of LGBTQ and 50% of trans youth that attempt to commit suicide before they are 20.  Or many of the rest who haven’t quite progressed that far, but hate themselves for who they are nonetheless.  But, to some, gender stereotypes are more important than life (ironically these groups almost universally claim to be pro-life when they are lobbying for policies of death).  Me?  I think all children have a beauty that should be cherished whether or not they follow stereotypes.

We’re Having the Wrong Conversation

Lots of people have insecurities about public toilets and locker rooms.  If you combine that with a lack of understanding of trans people, they may be afraid of using a bathroom with someone who is trans.

The fear comes from lots of places.  A lot of it is simple ignorance.  Most of us were taught:

  • Men have penises, women have vaginas (Thanks, Kindergarten Cop!)
  • XX Chromosomes = Female, XY Chromosomes = Male
  • Male = man, Female = woman – that is, sex and gender are 1 to 1 associations (see Terminology to learn the difference)
  • Determining the sex and gender of a person is simple.  Look at their parts or examine their chromosomes.

None of these are true, unfortunately.  But a lot of people truly don’t know that.  It’s ignorance.  There is no shame in not knowing something.  Nor is it evil or bad to not know something.

The solution to ignorance is education.  It’s pretty easy to spot whether someone was merely ignorant (I.E. not morally bad or evil) or if they may also hold prejudice and ego – which can be negative moral positions.  A lot of people, when educated, respond out of anger that they were corrected – this is often ego.  People don’t like being wrong, unfortunately.  Maybe they’ll get over that, and it’s one reason education should, when possible, be done gently without moral judgement (at least until the person shows that it’s not simple lack of exposure to the topic at fault).  Of course that’s a lot easier if you’re not the trans person who is being invalidated by these defensive reactions – hence the need for us allies.  Others are prejudiced or “willfully ignorant.”  They don’t want to listen to alternative evidence, this is “common sense” to them.  These people can’t be educated until they get past their refusal to participate in education.

This brings us back to bathrooms (this is a North-Americanism – elsewhere the word would be toilet).  There are a few more assumptions people have regarding bathroom users:

  • Women are at risk of attack in spaces shared with men
  • Women are particularly vulnerable in a bathroom
  • Transwomen are really men because they have a penis and/or XY chromosomes

We talked about the third bullet.  I’m not going to explain why that is false, but it is.  You can Google it yourself easily enough.

The first bullet point is based on a truth, but isn’t itself true.  Most sex crime victims are women and most perpetrators are men.  But it’s not shared spaces – it’s private spaces.  And, generally, it’s not random men.  It’s known men, not strangers, doing it (now I’m not saying that women don’t get assaulted by strangers – that clearly happens too, but it’s not as common).

There’s no actual crime evidence that women are more at risk in a bathroom, but I can understand that many people feel vulnerable when in the bathroom – you’re not likely to be as able to easily fight people off while sitting on a toilet with your pants down!  Plus, bathrooms are typically relatively quiet, secluded places – so people might not know you’re being attacked in there (one could argue that making one bathroom instead of two – and thus increasing traffic in it – would make many bathrooms safer because most criminals wouldn’t want to commit crime with witnesses or potential defenders around).  It’s important to recognize however that this is a feeling, however, not necessarily supported by evidence (for rape and sex crimes, statistics show that a private residence is far more dangerous than a bathroom).

There simply isn’t any evidence for thinking transwomen in a women’s room is dangerous.  But these views persist.  What else might be keeping women from seeing transwomen as safe?  There’s a few things:

  • They might believe being trans is a choice
  • They might believe transwomen to be immoral
  • They might associate trans with mental illness
  • They might associate mental illness with dangerous people
  • They might associate poverty with dangerous people
  • Unfamiliarity is felt as danger in humans

The first two bullets are related – some people, despite medical evidence clearly to the contrary, insist that trans people are choosing to be trans.  Further, this group is typically the same group that believes making this “choice” is immoral.  If you believe someone is going against God’s laws in one area, you might fear them in another.  I think this is why some people associate gay men with pedophiles – it’s not based on facts, but based on moral beliefs (for what it’s worth, most pedophiles are married to an opposite-sex spouse and even pedophiles that molest boys are, similar to non-pedophiles, mostly heterosexual with similar percentages identifying as gay in both the pedophile and non-pedophile groups [source]).

The third and forth bullets are also related.  While there is a diagnosis for gender identity disorder, and clearly the mind plays an important part in determining who we are, there is an assumption behind the scenes: “trans people are mentally ill in a way others are not.”  Nobody would dream of telling a depressed woman (depression is clearly a significant and life-altering mental illness) that she shouldn’t use the bathroom.  In fact, according to the NIMH, 46% of the US adult population will experience a mental illness during our lifetime.  Nearly 1 of 2.  Someone in your family, in other words.  Someone you love.  Someone you hang out with.  In a given year, 26% of the US adult population experience a mental illness.  Of that, 6% of the US adult population will experience a severe mental illness, which it turns out to be pretty hard to define.  You’re using the bathroom with some of these people, trust me

Further, mentally ill people are not more likely to attack you.  They are more likely to be victims.  They are even more vulnerable than the typical women or child in general.  I’ve written about this regarding autism in particular, but it applies to gender identity disorder and other illnesses as well.  There’s a lot of bias against mental illness.  So, linking this back up to choice, you can see yet one more reason why nobody is “choosing” to be trans – in our society, that’s linked to mental illness and mental illness is linked to moral failure and danger.

Now we get to the meat of the issue – the issue of poverty.  It’s combined with other things, like crime, drug use, and prostitution.  But the root of the issue is poverty.  People who aren’t poor are scared of the poor.  They don’t associate with the poor.  They don’t like being in the same neighborhood.  Watch what happens when a public housing agency tries to build affordable housing in a typical suburban neighborhood – beyond the rhetoric about property values (which is essentially “Well, everyone else is biased”) is fear of the poor.  Few look at the links between crime and poverty – why do people turn to prostitution or drug abuse?  But it should be noted that the poor – even poor, prostitute, drug-users – aren’t walking into random bathrooms to rape women.  In general, the rapist (over 90% of the time) is someone the woman knows, probably from her own social class.  Rapists don’t know class boundaries.  And plenty of “respectable,” non-mentally ill, non-poor, non-drug-using men are raping women.  And that problem isn’t going to get solved while we focus on the risk that isn’t there (transwomen who are raping non-trans women in the bathroom).

Of course, if you are concerned about poverty, you would probably support a bill that would reduce poverty.  Like ENDA.  Which will never pass so long as the Republican party has breath left.  Of course fear of the poor doesn’t actually translate into concrete action to deal with the problem of poverty faced by too many trans people.

That’s where we get to the last bullet: unfamiliarity.  You probably do know someone who doesn’t hold a traditional gender view for their sex.  They might not be expressing it, out of fear.  It turns out that when others see unfamiliar things, and it challenges their way of viewing the world (or, worse, their view of themself), some people get violent.  Not the unfamiliar person, but others.  Yet, for some reason, the unfamiliar person is seen as a risk!

When we look at bathroom attacks, I know of none that involved someone taking advantage of non-discrimination laws.  Yes, some women have been assulted in bathrooms.  Here’s a the first few reports I found of women being assaulted in the bathroom (I have nothing but sympathy and sadness for the victims and anger and a desire of justice to be served for the attacker):

In no case was the man presenting as a woman.  That’s important.

NYC has a good non-discrimination law that applies to a bathroom.  Yet a man was still caught and held accountable.  He doesn’t get a free pass to assault someone because of a non-discrimination law.

Lack of a non-discrimination law or policy applying to trans people at UNC and Taylor did not stop a man from entering the bathrooms to do wrong.  After all, sexual assault is a far worse crime than being in the wrong bathroom (which is probably not against the law anywhere in the USA unless you are committing other crimes).

Again, none of the perps were presenting as women.  It’s not the trans person you need to fear.

Yet, we can see horrible attacks against trans people using the bathroom.  Search for “bathroom”, “trans”, and “attack”.  Here’s two of them:

Both these attacks were particularly violent, even compared to the attacks against women by men I mentioned previously.  If you can stomach it (the attacks were both very violent, which is the norm for attacks against trans people – it doesn’t seem like trans people get “sort of attacked” – it’s usually a rage-fueled attack that goes well beyond a mere assault), read a bit about the above.  “IT” was literally carved into the man in the first one, for his crime of using the men’s room.  No doubt someone who looked like a man wouldn’t have been treated better in the women’s room – and this shows that the attacks against trans people aren’t based on safety – clearly the transman was no threat to the attacker.  In the second case, a transwoman was violently beaten – by women, not men – after using a bathroom in a McDonalds.  Workers and customers not only watched – some filmed it.  You can watch the video. Watch it and note how only few tried to stop it (an elderly woman did try – probably the least physically capable person of stopping the attack actually tried, while everyone else watched).  If she was a non-trans woman or a child, do you think they would laugh at a non-trans woman or child getting beaten so badly (you can hear that on the video)?

I’ll note that in the McDonalds incident, it was women, not men, doing the assault.  Trans people are at risk both from men and women.

You want to tell me about the safety of women?  Go watch that video of two women attempting to kill Ms. Pollis while others watch and laugh.  Don’t you dare fucking lecture people about safety until you actually give a shit about women like Ms. Pollis.

And before you lecture me for saying “fuck”, I hope you are at least just as angry that we have a society where trans people can have “IT” carved into them and attempted murder is filmed rather than stopped, if the victim is trans.  If not, your priorities are quite fucked.

Did I mention that a few weeks prior to that attempted murder, a bill failed in the Maryland legislature that would have recognized transgender people as facing prejudice, and provided them similar protection as is provided to gays?  It failed this year too.  It should be noted that even in 2011 (it had failed at least 4 times previous), there was no provision for applying protections to trans people in public accommodations (that was an attempt to compromise and pass the bill – the previous attempts had that language).  More proof that compromise is not something everyone is capable of doing.  Of course why did people think removing that language would help?  Because of the bathroom issue.  Whenever public accommodation protections come up, so do bathrooms.  And thus when these laws are debated, people start talking bathrooms.  Could that have influenced the attackers in Maryland?  Quite possibly, yes.

So, yes, we need to have the conversation about safety.

But that’s not the conversation we’re having.  We’re talking not about making bathrooms safe for everyone, but instead about how to pander to people’s bigotry, bias, and ignorance.  That’s how much society seems to hate trans people: rather than discussing how to stop attacks like the USC-LB and Maryland attacks, we’re talking about discriminating against the people who are getting attacked so that ignorance, bias, and bigotry can continue unchallenged.

Why Hate Crimes Aren’t About Free Speech or Thought

On July 21, a Tennessee (USA) man* was assaulted in an apparent anti-trans attack.  In addition, a hate message was spray painted on his front door and his possessions were destroyed.

(*Note: I am unsure of the victim’s gender identity, so I’m going with the reporting thus far as far as pronouns.  As always, I’ll edit this article with a note if I learn that the reporting was wrong)

An online article talks about how Tennessee lacks hate crime laws that consider gender identity of the victim.  The article seems good, although it’s missing something – the reason for hate crimes laws.

The right wing has dominated the discussion on hate crimes being “thought crime.”  Yet we already consider intent and motive when we sentence many other crimes – both intent and motive are also thought.  I’d say spray painting “Tranny Fucker” on someone’s door goes beyond merely holding a protected first amendment view.

That’s where the other side doesn’t do well.  We can’t explain why we need a hate crime law.  After all, we have a vandalism law already.  Spray painting anything on a door is illegal without permission, right?  Why would one form of speech get different treatment?

The reason is simple.  First, it’s not that someone held unpopular or hateful views that is the issue.  That’s legal under every hate crime law in the USA.  It’s legal to wave a sign that says, “God hates fags!” anywhere where a sign that says “God loves gays!” would be legal.  That’s protected first amendment speech.  It’s you’re right to be filled with hate and to spew it anywhere that other political views can be spewed.  No hate crime law makes that (or the Bible, nor even really hateful twisted preached interpretations of the Bible) illegal.  Hate crime is about actions that harm, not words that harm.

Having hate spray painted on your front door is different than random vandalism for two reasons.  First, it’s clear you were targeted as a victim, and it wasn’t just a crime of opportunity or a random prank.  Someone took the time to personalize the message.

Secondly, and more relevant to hate crime laws, the victim isn’t just the person attacked or who had their property damaged.  The victim is the entire class of people targeted by the hate.  The message spray painted on the door can be seen similar to a threat against any trans person (or, indeed, anyone who might consider themselves supportive of trans people or anyone who might be mistaken for being trans).  It’s a statement: we’re criminals and we’re going after trans people.  It’s a threat.  It puts an entire community on edge, wondering, “Will I be next?”

Criminal statutes do recognize that an action might have many different consequences, but that the more severe consequences should generally have more severe sentencing.  For instance, in this crime, the damage is listed as “less than $500.”  Apparently, in Tennessee, vandalism that causes more than $500 damage receives a different sentence.  We recognize that the more financial harm done, the more significant the crime.  Likewise, we have different fines for drug possession near a school vs. away from a school, because we consider the harm more severe if it occurs near where children are known to be.  And, if I yell, “Fire!” in a crowded room (that I know is not on fire!), which results in people becoming trampled, I’ll be held to a different penalty than if I was operating a store and hollered, “The first 10 people to come to the counter get an iPad for $100!” and people got trampled.  The first one, I was intentionally doing something dangerous, while in the second one, the victims, who may have been just as badly hurt, weren’t injured as a result of me trying to intentionally do something dangerous. They were injured because I did a dumb thing unintentionally (still possibly a crime, but not as severe of a sentence).

Hate crimes work the same way.  An assault can target a random person or one specific person.  In such a case, it may raise concerns of anyone in a geographic area, but nobody is going to think they are more at risk of being a victim than someone else.  On the other hand, if someone communicates “fags must die” (where people witness it) while beating up a gay man, that is different.  A straight person probably isn’t a lot more worried about their safety, while another gay man will be very concerned that he may be the next victim.  So, in the first case, where it’s a random attack, there’s essentially one victim.  In the second case, where it’s clearly targeted (no hate crime law makes it a worse crime to beat up someone in a protected class – it’s only a different crime if you targeted the person because of the class he’s a member of), anyone who shares that trait with the victim is also a victim.  Sure, it is a different kind and degree of victim, but it’s still a victim.

Hate crime laws recognize that different acts have different consequences to victims.  It’s not about speech.  You can continue to be a bigot if you want, so long as your bigotry doesn’t fuel your own violence.  Hate crimes are about the damage you do to others.  Sadly, we’re bad at getting that through to people like Tennessee lawmakers.

Spikes in Divorce – Same Sex Marriage?

One of the talking points of right-wing commentators is that same-sex marriage will both increase the divorce rate and lower the marriage rate.  Essentially, the argument is that same-sex marriage will soil the word and institution of marriage so badly, that straight people will not want to be in marriage anymore.

The CDC keeps statistics of marriage and divorce.  There is some caveats with this data, and there are slightly different versions of it, so the numbers very slightly.  However, they don’t vary enough to change the conclusions from anything I’m saying, and I have normalized for missing states (not every state reports the data every year).

Historical USA Divorce RateWhat you can see in the chart to the left is interesting.  While there are some data oddities (the drop right around year 2000 is due to data gathering differences), the trend is clear – the divorce rate is not sky-rocketing as a result of gay marriage being legal in several states.  Instead it’s flat or maybe slightly down over the last few decades.

I’ll define the terms “divorce rate” and “divorce rate” briefly – they simply are “how many marriages were there that year per 100,000 people living in the USA” and “how many divorces were there that year per 100,000 people living in the USA.”  As you can see, in the 80s and 90s, there was nearly one divorce for every two marriages, although it’s dropped a bit down since then.

What this chart doesn’t show is 1946 (my data source for that time period didn’t break it down by year) – there was a massive spike in divorce following WWII, one that rivals the modern 1980 spike.  Why?  Nobody really knows, but the two biggest theories are (1) it was hard to get divorced when you were in the army (and likewise hard to divorce someone who was in the army) and (2) the war put a tremendous strain on young families.  The divorce rate in 1946 was 4.3 divorces per 1,000 population, versus 2.0 divorces per 1,000 people in 1940 and 2.6 divorces per 1,000 people in 1950.  In fact, 1946 had more divorce than every year from 2002 onward on a per-capita basis (when compared to marriage rate, 1946 also saw a very high marriage rate – but the divorce rate was still much higher than the previous and following year, even on a per 1,000 marriage basis).  So war is bad for marriage.  One wonders how US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are reflected in the above graph – would our divorce rate be lower if we didn’t go to war (sometimes I wonder how the right wing reconciles their definitions of pro-life and pro-family with their support for going to war).  So here’s similar data from the CDC (but different scale, so not directly comparable) about divorce in the USA that shows, clearly, the spike:

From http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/mvsr/supp/mv32_03s.pdf

From http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/mvsr/supp/mv32_03s.pdf – data from 1920 to 1980

The other spike was gay marriage being legalized.

Okay, no it wasn’t.  At the end of the 70s, beginning of the 80s, there was a massive change to USA divorce law: the no-fault divorce became legal nearly everywhere.  In 1969, California instituted no-fault divorce.  In 1977, the 9th state changed their law to allow no-fault divorce.  In 1983, all but one state (South Dakota) did likewise (South Dakota did so in 1985).  Before this change, you had to legally prove, essentially, guilt of one spouse in an adversarial trial.  One spouse would attempt to prove guilt, while the other could defend against the claims.  And the claims had to be something tangible, not simply “we don’t get along” or “I’m not in love with her.”  It had to be something like abandonment or adultery (but not rape of the wife – up until 1982, there were still states that did not recognize that a husband could rape his wife, as she supposedly consented to any sex her husband ever could want when she said “I do”).  No fault divorce let one obtain a divorce without proving to a court that your spouse did something wrong.  Obviously, that made it easier for a divorce to occur when only one spouse wanted to get divorced (since now there was no defense against divorce to force the court to keep the marriage intact legally).

Who was divorcing in 1980?  They were married a median (not mean) of 6.8 years.  That means (no pun intended) that 1/2 of people divorcing were married less than 6.8 years, 1/2 more than 6.8 years.  It meant that 1/2 got married either before or after 1973.  The median age of women divorcing was 30.3 and the median age of men was 32.9.  In other words, the median birth year was 1947 (men) or 1949 (women).  Of course 1/2 of divorcees were born before then, 1/2 after.  In other words, these were the kids on Leave it to Beaver.  They weren’t pro-gay people!  In fact, if we calculate things, we find out that this group now has a median age of 64 (women) or 66 (men).  Do you know what is interesting about that?  According to Gallop, only 41% of 65+ year olds believe gay marriage should be legal, while only 46% of 50-64 year olds do.  Going back to 1996, 30-49 year olds (our median ages for those who divorced in 1980 would have been 47 and 49 in 1996), showed only 30% believing it should be legal.  In comparison  today, 70% of 18-29 year olds think gay marriage should be legal and 53% of 30-49 year olds.

So, this group that divorced more frequently than people today is also more anti-gay.

If we look at 1975, with a divorce rate nearly as high as 1980, we see the median length of a marriage at time of divorce was 6.5 years.  In 1968 (1975 minus 6.5), the median age of marriage was 21.5 (woman) and 23.6 (man) which put their age at time of divorce at roughly 28 and 30 years old in 1975.  That puts their age of birth at 1945 (women) and 1947 (men).  Maybe this is less the age of Beaver and more the age of Wally Cleaver.  Regardless, this group too still holds a significantly more anti-gay viewpoint than the children of the 80s and 90s (ironically these are children, often, of divorce!).

Anti-gay attitude doesn’t seem to make marriages more successful.  One would think things like communication and compromise do.  But of course promoting those things isn’t nearly as important as being anti-gay for “pro-family” organizations.  Should any pro-family organization want my advice, here it is:

  • War is bad for marriage.  We better be darn sure the war is worth it because even just war like WWII (Gallop says 9 out of 10 Americans believe WWII was just) has tremendous consequences for marriage.
  • Being anti-gay doesn’t seem to correlate to having successful marriages, if history is any example
  • Maybe the Leave it to Beaver family wasn’t quite as perfect as we remember.  It certainly didn’t prepare people for lasting marriage (children of the 70s and 80s are doing better at staying with their spouse).
  • There probably were a lot of unhappy marriages before no-fault divorce.  Rather than attacking these laws (such as by so-called Covenant Marriages which roll-back no-fault divorce laws), maybe we should figure out why so many people are unhappy enough with their marriage to want a divorce

Now, I don’t want anyone to think any of the above is any sort of criticism of people who have divorced.  It’s not intended that way.  I recognize that there are lots of reasons why people divorce, and I can’t imagine anyone divorcing without substantial thought and a broken heart.  So I recognize that divorce is not a moral failure.  That is why I’m opposed to the covenant marriage movement.

Again, what do all of these statistics show?  They show marriage is complex.  It’s affected by lots of things (such as no-fault divorce laws and WWII).  But one thing that isn’t seen in any of the statistics: the institution of marriage is not particularly any worse off today than it was when Reagan was president, nor is legal recognition of same-sex marriage creating any apparent impact upon our divorce rates (the same can be said for marriage rates, too, but that’s a different post).

What is Natural?

DVD Cover art for Be Like Others, onsisting of a man sitting next to a woman with the words 'be like others' displayed above themYesterday, I watched Be Like Others.  It’s available (for a fee) from Amazon in the USA (not sure about availability outside of USA).

I have a lot to say about this film – and I’ll put that into a future post.  I think a lot of what is going on in Iran is truly horrifying, particularly seeing the number of people who are just about to have sexual reassignment surgery or have already had it who, if it wasn’t for the forced coercion of the Iran religious government, wouldn’t have the surgery.  Homophobia pushes gays and no-op trans people into surgery.  That’s pretty horrible.

What I do want to write about today was one interesting scene in the film where an Islamic religious expert (Iman?  Not sure) was speaking to a transsexual support group in Iran.  He was answering the question of whether or not it’s unnatural to have sexual reassignment surgery.

His answer was eloquent and beautiful.  My paraphrase of it probably won’t be, but I’ll try anyhow.  He talked about how man takes wheat and makes bread – he’s changing the nature of the wheat in the process.  Or how man cuts down a tree and makes furniture – something that is man changing something God made.

We do lots of things that aren’t natural.  And normally we consider that good.  “It’s not natural” really just means, “I don’t like it.  I don’t think you should do it.”  It’s what we fall back upon when we don’t have a good reason for what we are saying, so we need to rely upon “common sense” about nature – our bigotry in other words.

Natural is fine.  But so is man, responsibly, interacting with the natural.

Another Murder & Gay Panic

On Sunday, July 14, news reports indicate that a transwoman was killed in Philadelphia.  She was killed with a hatchet and screwdriver, then dumped in a vacant lot.  The woman has not yet been identified.  I’ll warn you that this post may be triggering.

This is not the first murder of a trans person in Philadelphia, nor, sadly, do I expect it to be the last.

In this murder, the accused (who has confessed) claims to have been intimate with the victim.  Charles Sargent is accused of committing the murder upon discovery that the victim was trans.

I expect over the next few weeks to hear opinions about whether or not the woman was a prostitute.  Trans murder victims commonly experience this – and the reporting rarely does much more than scratch the surface beyond placing blame on the victim.  For instance, it’s rare indeed that the reason too many trans people turn to prostitution is discussed.  It’s rare that the conversation is framed in the larger context of continual and persistant discrimination in employment, housing and health care that trans people face.  It’s rare that the reality of too many trans people – that their families disown them – is discussed.  Nor is it discussed that in a struggle to just survive, many trans people have no choice but to live a life – one often without legal employment, good housing, and family support – as who they are.

But we need to step back – we don’t know this woman, and don’t know the circumstances of her death.  And that’s the point.  Too often the conversation jumps ahead to assumptions based on bias.  She’s trans, so she’s …

I also expect to hear about gay panic.  There is a couple of common reasons given for murders of trans people.  The first is just plain hatred of trans people – a guy (it’s almost always a guy or guys) or a group of guys sees or knows of a trans person.  The person might be a transman or a transwoman, but regardless the murder(s) feels they need to “do something” about the person.  That translates into brutal attacks.

The other common reason given is gay panic.  Essentially it comes down to “I can’t be gay.”  Somehow, that translates into killing the person you were intimate with to somehow prove you aren’t gay.  Being gay is worse than being a murderer in the eyes of some.  Often, the murder doesn’t occur unless the person is either surprised, or, more commonly, they are in danger of being found, or just found out by others, to have had intimate relations with someone (or knowledge of that person’s trans status becomes known or is in danger of becoming known to others).  It’s not so much the fear of being gay in many cases as the fear of being found out to be gay.

Of course intimacy with a woman doesn’t make a man gay, whether she is a trans or non-trans woman.  But too often trans and gay get confused.  Even so, bigotry is bigotry, whether it is sexual orientation or gender identity.  And it all comes down to how strongly people feel they need to comply to expectations for their gender and sex – who that gender or sex should sleep with or what identity people with a given sex are supposed to have (see this blog’s terminology page for how I am using the words sex and gender).

Gay panic becomes a legal defense to some.  The so-called “gay panic” defense in law is an attempt to say that the person was nearly out of their minds with rage, and didn’t plan the violent attack.  Fortunately, the American Bar Association may be recognizing the danger of blaming the victim’s orientation for an attack.  It’s a reprehensible defense that attempts to blame the victim.

So all members of the LGBT community and it’s allies need to keep the media accountable.  Murder is not justified by fear of being gay.  Even the most homophobic person is responsible for their violent actions.  The name and pronouns the victim used of herself (I’m assuming she identified as a woman, but if not, then once we know we need to use proper pronouns) should be used in reporting – anything else is an attack on a dead victim.

That said, this is not entirely the main story.  The main story is simple:

Someone has lost a daughter.  Someone has lost a friend.  Someone’s life was taken, and she’s no longer with us.  We need to remember that.  We need to remember her.