I hope you vote NO for Governor McRory!

If you live in North Carolina, you know about HB2 – the bill that has cost you the NBA playoffs, caused your tourism officials to spend your money to explain why a discriminatory law isn’t actually discriminatory, and generally been a way for Mr. McRory to keep his name in the press (at your expense).

I visited North Carolina when I was in high school, on a trip to a national science event. I listened as Duke University and North Carolina State tried to influence our college selection process.  I remember experiencing the best of southern hospitality, seeing a beautiful state. When I got home, I decided that there were only a few places I wanted to live – and North Carolina was one of them. Alas, I got lucky and didn’t get to move to the beautiful state of North Carolina, but instead am fortunate enough to live in a state where we have legislators focused on problems like K12 education and roads. I’m sad that such a wonderful state, with wonderful people, has chosen to hang out a sign saying, “Trans people are unwelcome here!”

Isn’t Common Sense

You’ll hear this phrase a lot from Pat McRory – that bathrooms are a common-sense issue.  What he really means is that people generally are ignorant of the complexities in the science of sex (the biology of people in our species, that is, not the act). I’m not speaking of gender identity, but actual sex, as in what genitals a person has and what chromosomes they have. One example: an individual might have XY chromosomes but have a vagina (from formation in the womb). It also means, “I don’t have a good reason to defend this, so I’m counting on you not thinking too hard about it.” Nor are all states and nations uniform in birth certificate law – some allow you to change the birth certificate with no surgery at all. I suspect Pat McRory either is completely ignorant of the issues (and, thus, incompetent) or a liar. You can decide.

Not Protecting Kids

Kids are being exploited in North Carolina already. Typically, it’s a relative, family friend, or someone in authority over the kid (like a teacher or priest). It’s typically someone that is seen as trustworthy. It’s not typically a stranger – child sexual abuse thrives on the abuser keeping his acts secret, which means he’ll (usually a “he”) want to groom a child first, to ensure that the child doesn’t tell an adult. This law does nothing to stop these kinds of abuses.  Other abuses, such as an adult (of either sex or gender) exposing his or her genitals in front of a child, or watching a child in a state of undress for the purpose of sexual gratification are, already, illegal in North Carolina – in fact, unlike HB2, the law that makes these things illegal actually has a penalty attached to it. There is no penalty under HB2 for a person using the wrong bathroom, just a requirement for governments to allow private businesses to discriminate and for governments to actively ensure trans people are discriminated against.

Doesn’t Fix Privacy

I don’t want to be stared at in a pool locker room by a man or a woman. I expect most people feel the same way. I expect that you feel even stronger if I talked about whether or not a man should be able to sit in a pool locker room all day and watch boys undress – of course you would be angry and want to do something about it. HB2 doesn’t address this. What would address this is building code changes! I suspect plenty of breast cancer survivors, accident victims, abuse survivors, and others would like a truly private place to change. Heck, even trans people want this – the highest desire for the vast majority of trans people is to blend in so they don’t get killed.

Experience Elsewhere

You literally have more chance of being hit by lightning or winning the Powerball Lottery than being abused by a trans person in a locker room or bathroom. Don’t believe me? Go Google lottery winners, lightning strikes, and “assault by trans person in bathrooom”. Perhaps North Carolina’s Governor could spend his time legislating about lightning strikes to defend kids! In places with non-discrimination law, men who violate the privacy of women’s facilities are still prosecuted and jailed (for instance, in liberal Boulder Colorado, a man who watched women in women’s bathrooms and porta-potties was successfully prosecuted and sentenced to prison – Boulder’s non-discrimination law was no obstacle for prosecutors to successfully overcome).

Safety of Trans People

What is a problem elsewhere is assault on trans people, particularly people who decide to take matters into their own hands and enforce their view of gender on the trans person. As collateral damage, women who look too masculine are also subject to bathroom policing. In some cases, these non-trans women have been dragged out of bathrooms, even after the women tried to show a driver’s license, by, ironically, men acting as bouncers or security. These bathroom laws don’t just make using a bathroom more dangerous for trans people that are “clocked”, but for non-trans women who don’t look stereotypically feminine.

Disclosure: I don’t live in North Carolina, and have no plans on changing that until North Carolina treats all their citizens fairly under the law.  This is my personal opinion, and was not society by any candidate, PAC, or similar group.

The Pseudoephedrine-Method of Gun Control

Pseudoephedrine Limits in the USA

The USA has laws limiting how much “over-the-counter” pseudoephedrine-containing decongestant people can buy. There are all sorts of problems with this law – non-drug-dealer grandmas being treated like drug dealers, limits that prevent families with children or disabled family members from buying enough pseudoephedrine for the whole family (in many states, you have to be 18 to purchase pseudoephedrine – and you can buy slightly more than the maximum allowable single-adult dose), and privacy concerns as people are put on national databases (run by commercial companies to exempt them from many of the privacy laws that apply to government search) to track their purchases.

The FDA hastily approved a substitute that simply doesn’t work.  While pseudoephedrine shows a clear difference from a placebo, the drug we’re supposed to be using instead of pseudoephedrine – phenylephrine – is basically indistinguishable from a sugar pill for treating congestion. That said, it’s a sugar pill with a ton of side-effects, including increasing blood pressure. As you may know, heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the USA, so a non-effective pill that causes increased blood pressure simply shouldn’t be on the market.

In most places in the USA, the following laws apply (some states are stricter):

  • No more than 9.0g of pseudoephedrine (PSE) may be contained in products purchased by a single person in a 30 day period
  • No more than 3.6g of PSE contained in products may be purchased by a single person in a 24 hour period
  • Must present government-issued picture ID
  • Must consent to have information recorded and available to government and other third parties
  • Must be 18 or older

This is done for one reason: To make illegal methamphetime less available.

What does this have to do with gun control?

On Sunday, one of the worst mass shootings in recent history occurred in Florida, when a person decided to target members of the LGBT community.  At least 49 people died, and we may hear more died soon.  At least another 50 people was wounded physically in the shooting.  The psychological toll is surely much higher than that.

Of course one thing that is off-the-table to our authoritarian-minded government officials: gun control.  We can regulate the bedroom – Michigan lawmakers proposed a change to their sodomy law that would modify much of the language but keep oral and anal sex illegal – a felony offense. Yes, Michigan lawmakers don’t want to remove a law that allows for life in prison for a consensual blow job from the books (fortunately the law is considered unconstitutional by the courts, and, thus, can’t be used for much beyond harassment of consensual adults).

There is no place we see the authoritarian beliefs of our leaders more clearly than in combatting drug abuse. To protect people from themselves, we have gone to extraordinary measures and imposing restrictions on lawful users of legal products for the war on drugs. In fact, there is just one thing we’re unwilling to do: address the role of the gun in drug crime.

While we might have authoritarian leanings with drugs, guns are off-limits.  With guns, we’re told that guns are important – “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” – according to the Second Amendment.  If we limit handguns, semi-automatics, assault rifles, large capacity magazines, certain types of bullets, or even advocate for technology that prevents a gun-owner’s gun from being used against him by someone else, we’re told that’s a slippery slope towards taking everyone’s guns away.

Well, I have a solution.  The pseudoephedrine regulations definitely impact people’s health – something arguably more important than, say, shooting beer bottles with your new gun.

Only Criminals will have Guns

One of the most common arguments against gun control is that criminals would own guns while law-abiding folk wouldn’t.  That’s one reason I don’t advocate gun control, but bullet control.  That aside, the meth problem that continues in our country shows that making something less available doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be less available.

While the number of meth users seems to have declined since these laws have been passed (in 2012, the levels were estimated to be about 2/3rds what they were in 2006), the number of drug-related deaths continues to rise.  Not only did we not eliminate 2/3rds of the drug deaths, but we may have shifted drug users to other drugs (such as opioids).  Using the National Survey on Drug Use and Abuse, and ignoring the strange statistical spike in 2006 (roughly 350,000 estimated users in 2006 compared to 140,000 in 2005 and 160,000 in 2007 – the 2006 year’s numbers are thus highly suspect and are probably closer to 150,000 in reality), we see that heroin use was somewhat flat through 2007, when it suddenly took off.  That’s roughly the time the pseudoephedrine laws took effect.  Unfortunately, opioids appear even more deadly than meth.

So, what is different about guns?  Why won’t criminals just find another source?  There are two reasons for this:

  1. Unlike drugs, guns are not able to be manufactured and distributed in quantity from Latin America into the USA. Much of the meth now in use in the USA is from south of the border.  However, we’re the supplier of arms to Latin America.  Guns pose a much more significant challenge due to their bulk, complex and difficult manufacturing process, and the relative ease at which they can be detected, unlike highly concentrated drugs.  In fact, one of the reasons drug cartels send their drugs to the USA is to get guns in return – we likely would make a bigger dent in the drug war by dealing with guns than with drugs.
  2. There’s not a viable substitute weapon to a gun.  While a meth user might take up opioids if meth becomes hard to find, a criminal that turns to swords is a lot less of a threat to people than a criminal with a gun.

 

Guns Don’t Kill, People Do

Likewise, pseudoephedrine doesn’t kill, people who take too much meth are the ones that are dying.

Yet, because someone else might take meth, and we’ve decided that is a bad thing, worth protecting the person against, we make the precursor chemicals – which have legal and non-drug-abuse uses – difficult to procure.  We do this even when it has public health impact.

It is pretty much impossible to determine how many people in the USA die of meth overdoses – that data simply doesn’t appear to be collected or computed.  But we do know that approximately 47,000 people died in 2013 through all uses of drugs, both legal and illegal.  Many of these were surely suicide, accidental overdose, or unexpected drug interaction by non-recreational users.  When we look at drug use rates, what we can find for death rates, etc, we can expect that, at the upper end, several thousand people die from meth overdose per year in the USA.  It may be significantly less than that.

Yet we know approximately 20,000 people kill themselves with a gun and 10,000 people (same source) are victims of homicide via a gun.  Even if all 20,000 of the suicide victims would have found other mechanisms, many of the 10,000 homicide victims would be with us if guns were not available to the shooter.  Either way, that’s significantly more lives saved than we can hope to save through any war on meth, even if somehow we managed to eliminate all meth and all meth users simply gave up meth and all other illegal drugs.

If it’s important to stop drug deaths, why is it unimportant to stop gun deaths?

A Potential Solution

It’s simple: regulate bullets like decongestant.

  • 9.0 grams of gunpowder-type propellent per 30 days per adult.  Assuming a 5 grain load for a typical 9mm round, that’s 324mg of propellent per round.  Thus, an average gun owner could purchase 27 rounds per month.
  • Because buying large quantities at once is associated with danger of illicit use, no more than 3.6 grams in a 24 hour period. That is roughly 11 rounds. Of course you still can’t exceed the 27 rounds per month.
  • Purchasers must be 18
  • Purchasers must present government-issued ID
  • Purchasers must sign a statement that they will not use the rounds for undesirable purposes
  • Purchase history is stored in a private national database accessible to the federal and state government

It’s simple. I suspect this would, at the least, make mass shootings much more difficult, and impose on many legitimate gun owners the same type of one-size-fits-all approach that decongestants have now.

Or, perhaps, you could look at Australia’s model.

Disclaimer: I own guns. My first gun was given to me by my parent’s when I was in elementary school after I proved I could pass a gun safety course.  It was a Marlin Model 60 semi-automatic .22LR – one of the 18 round capacity models that is hard to find these days (due to capacity restrictions).  I’ve probably shot 50,000 rounds through that barrel, and who knows how many through the barrel of other guns. So please don’t pretend that I’m someone who has never fired a gun.

The Bathroom Law the Right Wing Actually Wants

I’m going to help the right wing out here.

They claim their goal is to keep people with penises out of women’s locker rooms and bathrooms, to keep little girls safe. Of course little girls aren’t generally in danger from strangers, nor from trans people, nor from anyone in bathrooms – they are at risk from people who have authority over them or who have a close relationship with them or their families.  People like parents, siblings, priests, coaches, teachers, doctors, dentists, babysitters, family friends, uncles, etc. Usually the people abusing them are men (but not always), although the most common molester of young girls is a straight, non-trans man – almost certainly not someone who uses the women’s room, even in places that have non-discrimination laws that treat trans people like actual human beings.

The second fear is that a girl might see a penis. Of course we know that no girl should see a penis until her wedding night. Until then, she should assume that they are like Ken Carson (you know, Barbie’s boyfriend of 30+ years – but, hey, Barbie is a fairly progressive girl who won’t be tied down). That is, if you take their pants off, they, like Ken, have some sort of intersex condition that renders them penis-less (I’m happy that Ken and vagina-less Barbie found each other, as I’m sure both know what it is like to not fit expectations of gender).

The incompetent politicians behind these bills have stated that this isn’t meant to apply to people who have had surgery. For instance, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s misnamed “Myths vs. Facts” email about HB2 includes this:

6. Does this bill mean transgender people will always have to use the restroom of the sex of their birth, even if they have undergone a sex change? 

  • Answer: No. This law simply says people must use the bathroom of the sex listed on their birth certificate. Anyone who has undergone a sex change can change their sex on their birth certificate.

Of course the answer isn’t correct – not everyone can, as some states don’t allow anyone to change their birth certificate, “sex change” (his terminology, not mine) or not. I know several people in this category – people with vaginas but with “M” on their birth certificates. And plenty of people can change their birth certificates without any surgeries – something I suspect Pat McCrory wasn’t aware of, since that would defeat his intentions of keeping women’s bathrooms penis-free.  (I didn’t mention female-to-male transsexuals since that’s not a concern to McCrory – he’s not worried about boys seeing vaginas; and McCrory clearly has no idea that non-binary people exist).

So, if we ignore that wanting to force women – trans or not – to use the men’s room is evil and bigoted, and we want to ignore that it will cause great emotional distress to transwomen and result in violence towards trans people, and somehow we suspend our ethics long enough to engage in a thought experiment, we find that the bathroom laws being proposed screw up in two ways (usually):

  • They don’t talk about penises, just birth certificates or “biological” sex (which is a lot more complex than “has penis” and “doesn’t have penis” (note that it is “doesn’t have penis”, not “has vagina”, in common application by bigots; note they also tend to think intersex people don’t exist)
  • They don’t tend to make it illegal to use the “wrong” bathroom (occasionally they do, but neither North Carolina’s or Mississippi’s bathroom bills do this)

So I’ll help out: if you want to do this evil thing to trans people, who aren’t doing anything other than wanting to pee, you make a law that has the following:

  • No person with a penis should ever enter a woman’s locker room or bathroom, except for the conditions the law lists (NC’s lists things like helping disabled people or bringing a baby boy into the woman’s room with his mother)
  • There is some sort of punishment if a person with a penis is there
  • People can be asked to prove they don’t have a penis to any interested party that sees them go into a restroom. Whether they have a penis or not, they should be required to yank down their pants and undergarment and prove it upon request. If they don’t have a penis, then they should be able to proceed.  After all, we’re not worried about kids seeing vaginas.

Okay, maybe the last point would be too much for the immoral politicians proposing the bathroom bills.

But there’s a problem with the first and second point too: the right wing not only doesn’t want anyone to see a penis, they don’t want to say or write the word. If you’re a guy and say it, maybe they think you’re gay or something. I don’t know.  The right wing just can’t say “penis.”

That’s why we get this legislations that references birth certificates, even though it actually requires some people with penises, if a business wants to discriminate, or if a government agency tries to “enforce” the law in a public building, to use the women’s locker room – because it’s very possible for some people with penises to have birth certificates that say “F” for many reasons. Don’t think that referencing chromosomes, “biology”, or whatever else gets you off the hook, either – XY chromosomes don’t guarantee a penis, after all. Never mind that XX and XY aren’t the only valid configurations of genes in humans – and some people who don’t fit expectations of people with no more than an elementary understanding of genetics might not even know that they have genetic weirdness (it is often found out when a couple has trouble getting pregnant and seeks medical advice).

Of course passing this “no-penis” legislation wouldn’t go far – it’s unconstitutional (for many of the same reasons HB2 and Mississippi’s laws are). When these kinds of laws are applied to a large population (like a state’s population), you also find out about the exceptions. What about people with prosthetic penises? If a woman is carrying a dildo, does that count? What about a man who lost his penis in an accident? Or someone who is intersexed and may not fit either M or F boxes neatly?

But at least, conceivably, it would accomplish their aims. Unless their aims really have nothing to do with girls seeing penises, and everything to do with trying to torture gender nonconformity out of trans people.

NC HB2 – and How NC Protects Children

Yes, you actually read this right.

North Carolina has been in the news lately, due to an absurd law aimed at stigmatizing trans people (see a previous post, http://crimeagainstnature.org/2016/03/24/north-carolina-cant-even-do-the-wrong-thing-right/).  Basically, the law, which includes no penalty for non-compliance, requires government to designate multi-stall bathrooms for use by only one gender as indicated on birth certificates. It also prevents cities and counties from passing non-discrimination ordinances for pretty much anything, including to require bathroom access be properly allowed. Obviously, this is problematic.

The stated reason for these laws is to protect young boys and girls from sexual predators, who, apparently, will enter a bathroom of a gender different than their birth certificate and expose themselves and/or watch the children for sexual gratification.

Note that the law doesn’t make it illegal to enter a bathroom based on your birth certificate (you may be committing trespass however, if the property owner does not approve, if your birth certificate isn’t what the state thinks it should be).

That said, it is a felony (and has been for some time) for an adult (anyone 16 or older) take indecent liberties (which includes exposing the adult’s genitals) with a child (NC § 14-202.1) – if someone is 5 years older (or more) than the child, for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire. There’s a similar law in NC § 14-202.2 that applies to children committing this against another child. One difference between the adult and child versions is that someone 16+ years old needs to be 5 years older than the victim under 16, while a child committing the similar child crime needs to only be three years older. Thus, it’s indecent liberties with a child if a 15 year old exposes themself to a 12 year old, but not if a 16 year old exposes themself to a 12 year old. Maybe that would be worth fixing if the state wasn’t so fixated on keeping transwomen out of bathrooms.  Importantly it doesn’t matter what sex the victim or the perpetrator are – same or different sex, the law still applies. And there is no exception for bathrooms or locker rooms.

So I decided to investigate a few things.  Particularly, how does North Carolina protect children and others from sexual and other acts, other than just indecent liberties.

North Carolina wisely disallows children under 14 from marrying, even if pregnant.  But if there is a pregnancy, there can be a marriage of a child to another person.  The fetus doesn’t need to actually be born, since abortion is legal in NC.

NC § 14-12.7 prohibits masks on public roads and sidewalks – intended to make some KKK activities illegal, no doubt. Fortunately NC § 14-12.11 protects the traditional Halloween costume, masquerade balls, labor union meetings (sometimes), and anyone that has the permission of the town’s board.  There is no exception for my tinted motorcycle helmet however.

NC does regulate sexual activity, perhaps to protect children along with, apparently, others, like gay men.  For instance, § 14-177 makes “crime against nature” illegal – basically any penetration (however slight) other than a penis into a vagina between two people (or any sex with an animal), consensual or not.  See here for some more details (note the link includes discussion of child sex abuse). Of course much of the activity technically illegal under state law was determined to be legal under Lawrence v. Texas, but for some inexplicable reason, NC’s legislature doesn’t want to repeal this law – they want all you straight people having oral sex to know you shouldn’t do that.

NC § 14-184 makes fornication & adultery illegal.  Basically, it’s fornication if a straight couple has sex where both are unmarried, and it’s adultery if one or both are married to someone else – but NC goes a bit further and makes all cohabitation or “bedding” together illegal if it is done “lewdly and lasciviously” – you get to figure out what that means. However, if the two people are the same sex, it’s okay under this law (I don’t think they got around to making this law gender neutral even after their homosexual sex law became invalidated).  Too bad North Carolina doesn’t have an anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation! But because they don’t, straight people don’t have the protections gays have, at least as far as fornicating together in bed. Oh, it’s also illegal if the fornicating/adulterating (?) couple checks into a hotel and claims to be married (NC § 14-186).

NC’s sexual obscenity statute (NC § 14-190.1) defines sexual conduct as to include the portrayal of someone naked or in undergarments being tortured. I don’t know if the Catholic Church and others who depict Christ crucified realize the sexual undertones of their portrayals – but fortunately there’s an out in the reasonableness standard, at least until there are enough people offended by that depiction to declare it obscene.

Apparently unknown to state legislators, NC § 14-190.9 makes it illegal for an adult – same sex or opposite sex – to, in a public place (which is places the public can go – most business and government bathrooms, for instance) expose their genitals to a child under 16 for “arousing or gratifying sexual desire.”  Even better than HB2 because it actually addresses the concern raised by legislators and others in passing HB2, this protects kids from all adults, and is actually targeted at the problem that legislators didn’t realize they already solved years ago.

In addition, NC § 14-196 protects us all – adult and children – from phone sex, which is illegal in NC (also computer sex, if done using a computer modem – I personally think that would hurt, but obviously I don’t have the mind of a legislator in North Carolina).

So, certainly, North Carolina seems to have found all sorts of strange ways to protect us from gay sex, wearing the wrong motorcycle helmet, marrying at 14 (unless pregnant or making pregnant!), telling hotel clerks you’re married when you aren’t, and phone sex.

Perhaps they would be better off trying to make bathrooms actually safe. You know, safe not just from imagined predators, but safe for trans people – including trans kids. You start that process by not giving state approval to bigotry.

North Carolina Can’t Even do the Wrong Thing Right

North Carolina passed a hateful law, targeting “liberal” cities like Charlette, NC, that had the audacity to think that LGBT people should be treated like…well…like people. In doing so, the North Carolina Republican Party demonstrated itself incompetent at government.

Buck Angel

Buck Angel, a very masculine (and, according to people attracted to men, very attractive) man. From Flickr.

No, I’m not saying they are incompetent because they did something I disagree with, or even because they are discriminating against people. No, they are incompetent because they failed to achieve the supposed aim of the legislation.

What do I mean by failing to achieve their aim? Their aim was multifaceted, but supposedly it was about the children. We have statements from the Lt. Governor (via thinkprogress.org) about a recently passed Charlotte municipal ordinance that allowed trans people to be protected in employment, housing, and public accommodations. He said “…the loophole this ordinance created would have given pedophiles, sex offenders, and perverts free reign to watch women, boys, and girls undress and use the bathroom.”

Apparently, in North Carolina, top state government officials believe that there is no law preventing pedophiles, sex offenders, and perverts from going into a bathroom and having “free reign” to watch women, boys, and girls undress.  Of course the law (you can read the law here) doesn’t say “Pervert’s can’t watch people getting undressed.”  It says that public schools and universities can’t accommodate trans students in an appropriate way, yes, but it doesn’t make watching people getting undressed any more or less legal than it was before. It doesn’t include any punishment for being in the “wrong” bathroom.  It certainly doesn’t stop a pedophile man from going into the boy’s room and being a pedophile there.

Let me say that again: Nothing in this law creates a punishment for using the wrong bathroom! Nor does this law stop a private business, private school, or private university from allowing trans and other people to use an appropriate bathroom. The law just prevents a city from enacting an ordinance that would require private individuals to do the right thing, and prevents public educational facilities from actively implementing the correct ethical choice. Nor does this law address the concern of pedophiles watching people undress in a bathroom (for what it’s worth, North Carolina must have different bathrooms than Colorado, for I can’t recall ever seeing a naked body in the bathroom in Colorado).

But it’s worse – clearly what was intended, although unsaid, was that nobody with a penis should be in a girl’s or woman’s room. My question to North Carolina: Why didn’t you write the law that way, rather than defining “biological sex” as what is on a birth certificate? I’m not saying I agree with that (I do not), but I do think they just made it illegal for some people with the “wrong” genitals to use the facility that North Carolina believes corresponds to those genitals.

In the hopes that some North Carolina legislator might actually educate himself (I note almost all legislators there are men), I’ll explain what most of the country doesn’t need me to explain.  Let’s say a woman has had sex reassignment surgery (SRS). This woman was almost certainly born with an “M” on her birth certificate. You do not need to change your birth certificate to have sex reassignment surgery. So, this woman, post-SRS, very well may have a birth certificate that says “M”. In fact, some countries and states will not change the birth certificate even if a person has had SRS. Now, this woman, with no penis and with a vagina, labia, and other “woman parts”, perhaps cosmetically indistinguishable from any other woman (depending on her surgeon and procedure),  has a birth certificate with an “M”. If she is attending a public university, or is a teacher at a public school, in the state of North Carolina, her school would be required to make her use the men’s/boy’s room.  Was that intended? I doubt it.

What about Buck Angel, a FTM (Female to Male) porn star, who’s picture is above in this article? I don’t know if Buck has changed his birth certificate to say “M” – nor is it really any of my business. But if his birth certificate says “F”, it appears that North Carolina has given him a lot more reason to be in a girl’s bathroom in North Carolina. I somehow doubt this was the intent. I doubt most women, except for particularly open-minded women, would feel comfortable if they saw Buck in the bathroom or locker room they were using. (note that I don’t think Buck is a pervert – everything I’ve read on him is that he is a strong, respected advocate and nothing indicates he is a pervert in the least)

But, it gets worse. The law also allows people who haven’t had surgery to enter the “wrong” bathroom.  Depending on state or national law, a handful of places allow birth certificates to be changed upon request – no medical documentation needed. If your 55 year old predator happened to live in such a place, he certainly could ask for the certificate to be changed, and, thanks to the full faith and credit clause of the constitution, he would be recognized as female, even if he was not trans and had no intention of presenting as anything other than a creepy man. NC, did you really intend to open that door?

Many states – including some very large ones – also allow trans people to change their birth certificates without surgery. Thus, the very people you intended to keep out of the “wrong” bathrooms very likely have exactly what you wish to sort-of require – a birth certificate listing the penis-possessing woman as female. Was that your intent? I doubt it.

I wrote all of this to point out the ineptitude of the North Carolina Republican government – they can’t do the wrong thing right, and frankly are unqualified to write laws. But, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some other problems. Laws like this tend to encourage violence. They give “courage” to violent individuals who hate LGBT people. Will a trans person using the “wrong” bathroom be beat or killed in the next few months in North Carolina? I hope not. What about a butch lesbian?

And that brings us to the final problem – you can’t tell someone’s sex by looking at them (even naked). The Olypmics and every other major sporting organization has struggled with this, and nobody has found a perfect test. Chromosomes aren’t perfect (some people have more than two sex chromosomes such as XXY; others have a combination of XX and XY within their body; others might be XX but have penises; the variations go on and on). Hormone levels aren’t perfect, both because of the ability to artificially change and because of the tremendous variation among humans. Even genitals don’t allow us to neatly divide the world into two parts.

So my final question – would is a woman like Khadijah Farmer be challenged just for peeing in North Carolina? It should be noted that Khadijah is not trans, presumably has a vagina, and presumably has an “F” on her birth certificate. Khadijah was Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund’s first non-transgender client, after she was ousted from a New York City bar because a bouncer didn’t believe she was a woman.

What a “Pro-Life” Vote Requires

Americans, vote pro-life in 2016. I’m proudly pro-life (but not in the way you think) – I believe you should:

  • Vote against the death penalty.
  • Vote against war.
  • Vote against expanding the military-industrial complex.
  • Vote against militarization of our police
  • Vote for comprehensive health care for all
  • Vote for safety net social services.
  • Vote for gun control
  • Vote for intelligent, nuanced foreign policy
  • Vote for policies that help remediate institutionalized racism

Oh, you thought I was telling you to vote against abortion? Well, yes, you should do that too – I’d say:

  • Vote for comprehensive sex education
  • Vote for the rights of all capable parents to adopt (including gays)
  • Vote for widespread, easy, affordable birth control
  • Vote for access to emergency contraception
  • Vote for affordable and available child care for working parents
  • Vote for comprehensive prenatal care
  • Vote for parental leave
  • Vote for financial supports to allow a parent to remain at home if they desire

There is a political party that opposes everything pro-life. I wouldn’t vote for them.

No Honor, Even in Honor

Mary Edwards Walker

Mary Edwards Walker, pictured in her customary dress with her Medal of Honor

One of my heroes is Mary Edwards Walker. Among her many accomplishments, Dr. Walker was the second woman to graduate from medical school in the USA, she tended to the sick on both sides of the battle lines during the US Civil War (earning a Medal of Honor in the process – the only woman to do so), and helped create the women’s suffrage movement in the United States. But mostly I honor her for living an authentic life, and having the courage to be herself, qualities I hope to possess one day.

Being a doctor was pretty non-traditional for a woman of her day – one of her business ventures, a partnership with her husband (also a doctor), failed, probably because not many people though a woman could be a doctor.  Of course she was non-traditional in other ways, too – she didn’t wear a wedding dress (she wore men’s pants) and didn’t take her husband’s name when she married – and also didn’t take any vows to obey her husband. That’s probably fortunate because after the Civil War, she divorced him because of his adultery (which had to be proven in court at that time to obtain a divorce in New York state where she obtained it). She was granted some special consideration (including a bill in 1866 in the NY State Assembly to remove a 5 year restriction on divorce for her, in light of her military service).

When the military wouldn’t allow this non-traditional woman to be part of the paid US Army in the Civil War, she volunteered. And I mean that – she volunteered without pay. Eventually, after being taken as a prisoner of war and later released in a prisoner swap, she was eventually given a very humble salary and was made an “assistant” surgeon (despite that she was, by all accounts, as capable as any other doctor of the day).

She was known throughout her life for cross dressing. At times, she kept her hair long. She said she did this so people would know she was still a woman, which was clearly her identity, even if she didn’t follow stereotypes of the day (one of the things I respect about her is that she was willing to be both a woman and to discard stereotypes she objected to). This started from a young age, where she wore boy’s clothes out of practicality (she lived and worked on the family farm) and out of a belief that the women’s clothing of the day was unhealthy, being heavy and constricting. She carried this belief throughout her life and was a major figure in the Dress Reform movement (don’t mistake this movement for being just about clothing – it was a major force in the feminism of the day).

She believed so strongly in this that she endured ridicule and even arrest. Indeed, she bragged about being arrested for impersonating a man! Unfortunately, a rift developed between Dr. Walker and the majority of the suffrage movement of the day (including organizations she helped found) – they sought an amendment (which they eventually got in the 19th Amendment, year’s after Walker’s death). She believed such an amendment was unnecessary because “We the people” (the preamble of the constitution) already included women. In a way, she advocated for women’s suffrage in the same ways as marriage equality advocates ended up getting that right recognized – by recognizing a right already inherent in the US Constitution.

In 1917, she was dealt a blow in the form of the US Army revoking her Medal of Honor, since she wasn’t actively fighting the enemy in the war. She was ordered to return her medal – which she never did. She continued wearing it, believing she legitimately earned it. President Carter, in 1977, agreed, and restored the medal to her, posthumously.

In Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender, the author includes a section from a biography about Mary Edwards Walker, where the biographer decides to diagnose her with conditions fitting the 1960’s psychoanalytic culture:

Mary Walker’s history clearly indicates a well-established diagnosis of paranoia, representing a compromise with reality unwelcomingly thrust upon a militant and determined ego that revolted against its sex, rebelling–not in a mere turn to homosexuality–but in an open and complete as possible, switch to the opposite sex. At best, Mary Walker was a poorly adjusted and chronically unhappy wrench of a woman.

Postage stamp that "honored" her by dressing her and styling her clothes in a way she never would have.

Postage stamp that “honored” her by dressing her and styling her clothes in a way she never would have.

Just about any woman would have been a “chronically unhappy wrench of a woman” indeed if she would have read this about herself!

Lest you think she could finally achieve honor due after death with the restoration of her Medal of Honor in 1977, she was dealt a final injustice in 1982, when the US Postal Service honored her with a stamp. In this stamp, she wore women’s clothing, curly hair, and her medal. The only part of that which was accurate was the medal, which she did wear, but the rest was a lie, fashioned to fit the time the stamp was created.

Of course it isn’t particularly uncommon for people to be remade into the image of gender stereotypes after their death. Too many trans people have been buried under names that neither represented who they are or were respectful of the deceased wishes. When trans people are murdered or commit suicide, it’s common for news reports to refer to the wrong name and gender, to make them into something they are not. I’ve written about this before,

If you’re reading this, and you’re responsible for remembering someone’s life, remember them as they wanted to be remembered – even if it makes you uncomfortable at times. Sure, you can have memories of someone from parts of their life they might have identified differently, but you can do this in a way that respects them instead of in a way that makes them into the image of who you wish they were. I hope you choose the way that respects them.

When you honor someone, you need to honor the person they are. It’s no honor when you remake them into someone they weren’t. You’re saying that this part of their life isn’t worthy of honor. Don’t do that. Don’t do what the US Postal Service did.

(a note: normally I would never publish a picture of someone presenting in a way that didn’t reflect their desires, such as the portrait on the stamp of Mary Walker. However, I believe that because this stamp was widely produced, and because it illustrates the need to finish something she advocated for during her life – dress reform – it is appropriate in the proper context.  I respect that others will very much disagree with this decision, and I welcome the feedback.)

HRC: What the Fuck?

In the USA, the Human Rights Campaign, or HRC, is the leading gay rights group, at least in terms of how much airtime and money they manage to get. They currently claim to be trans-inclusive, and to support transgender rights, although they have a history of fucking up in many ways. But their mission statement includes, “The Human Rights Campaign is organized and will be operated for the promotion of the social welfare of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.”

Every few years, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt, that they aren’t just a self-serving part of the charity-industrial complex focused more on donations than actual work. And they always, consistently demonstrate they are unworthy of it.

Their flagship “product” is the Corporate Equality Index. This index is intended to encourage companies to treat LGBT people as, oh, human beings.  Companies are rated based on a bunch of criteria, such as having non-discrimination policies, and, importantly in 2015, whether or not they provided health care benefits that included benefits transsexual employees require. It gets a lot of attention and does generate real change. But it has some problems.

Some companies got a perfect score, like United Health Care. These companies are supposed to be the models of LGBT inclusion – they have good policies and practices, and are good corporate citizens when it comes to LGBT issues. In fact, they are perfect!

Other companies, such as Exxon, do much worse.  Exxon received -25 – yes, negative 25 (the link to their database indicates “0” points, but their actual score is listed, along with reasoning, in the HRC full report).  You can read more about why here.

When looking at my own employer (which I will not name here out of concerns for my privacy), I note that my company did not achieve a perfect score in part because they lack trans-inclusive health care benefits. Fair enough, they should rightfully get dinged for that, and it’s great that HRC is looking for trans-inclusion – hopefully it pushes my employer and other companies towards finding better options for health care.

But here is my gripe…

My employer is not perfect, certainly. They rightfully get dinged for not providing trans-inclusive benefits. But the reason they don’t provide those benefits is that they use a health insurance company that HRC ranked as a ‘perfect’ company.

In this case, my employer uses United Health Care (UHC), who achieved a perfect score because they provide their own employees with health insurance that includes trans-inclusive benefits. But many, if not most, of UHC’s health care plans have an explicit anti-trans statement in them.

Transsexual health care is an a life and death issue. It’s not about cosmetic surgery. It’s not experimental or unproven. For many people, appropriate medical care, which might include sex reassignment surgery (SRS) or other procedures, is an appropriate medical treatment. After surgery, people who sought SRS report significantly higher happiness and significantly lower suicide attempts. The American Medical Association, in 2008, passed a resolution that appropriate medical care should be provided to those who need it. The cost of such care is, roughly, 11 cents per year per insured person for a corporate health plan (from the link in the prior sentence; note that this does not include cost savings that are related to reducing prescription drug costs post-surgery or reduced mental health costs post-surgery – in balance, SRS actually saves money).

From some health care provider information UHC provides on Gender Dysphoria:

SURGICAL TREATMENT FOR GENDER DYSPHORIA

Most plans exclude coverage for surgical treatment for gender dysphoria.

This is evidenced by examining certificates of coverage and evidence of insurance.  For instance, one of Tulane University’s 2015 plans, provided by UHC, contains the following, starting on page 25:

Benefit Limitations

M. Procedures and Treatments

7. Sex transformation operations.

That’s pretty clear.  And that’s not unusual (by UHC’s own admissions).

So, basically, UHC, a company with a “perfect” HRC record for LGBT rights, can offer a plan that rejects the medical judgement of the American Medical Association (and others) for some transgender people, simply because that is a medical treatment that some transgender people require. In fact, Medicare covers SRS (thanks to this decision in 2014, which, rightly, pointed out that you can’t deny a treatment that is proven to be medically necessary, effective, and safe simply because it’s socially controversial).

To put this in simpler form, a company can get a perfect score on the HRC equality index even when they:

  • Actively discriminate against some transgender people (If your medical condition is directly related to being transsexual, we choose not to cover some medical treatment, despite clear and convincing evidence as to medical necessity)
  • Provide products that exclude some trans people (this would be similar to a company providing a “Man and Woman Health Plan” that provided coverage for married straight couples but not for married gay couples)
  • Engage in actions that increase depression, poor quality of life, and suicide attempts among transgender people
  • Is making decisions that greatly harm some transsexual people based on inaccurate and non-scientific rationale (similar to how gays were considered to need reparative therapy, UHC often will pay for counseling – presumably to “learn to live with” the wrong genitals – but not surgery).

In other words, a company that is contributing to the death of transsexual people by their choice to not cover the surgery (despite the extremely low cost, and even cost savings when lifetime mental health costs are considered).

Now UHC is not the only insurer to do this, nor are they the only company with a perfect score on the HRC Equality Index that do this. It’s a major problem throughout the insurance industry. Sometimes, when you ask if things are covered by a company, you’ll hear terms like “experimental” and “cosmetic” to describe surgery (this is inaccurate and not based on the modern science, according to respected groups like the American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, and WPATH). Other times they won’t give a reason. And, often, you’ll hear the most disingenuous response: “We offer many plans that provide coverage for these procedures.”  UHC and other insurance companies do have good plans that do not have this exclusion – but in general, most plans have it, and the only times that plans won’t have this exclusion is when there is outside pressure (“Our Fortune 500 company is unwilling to purchase insurance that doesn’t cover this” or “The State requires us to offer this”) – and then it only applies to the specific cases where this pressure was applied, not to other plans. And, since most people get insurance through an employer (either their own or a relative’s), there is a significant financial cost of seeking a different plan if the employer-provided plan doesn’t provide coverage.

As an example, Aetna actually tries to say that they don’t cover trans-related surgeries because of insurance regulations – it would involve changing plans that have been approved by state insurance commissions. Apparently, they want people to think that insurance companies frequently face regulatory sanction because they cover something extra – this is obviously not a particularly credible argument, although I welcome the insurance industry to respond by comment giving case information for when a state went after an insurance company for providing a little more than they said they would.

Moving to include gender reassignment procedures in our plans is consistent with other changes we have made to better serve the needs of the LGBT community,” Aetna said in a written response to The Denver Post. “In 2015, Aetna started covering gender reassignment surgeries for our 33 Aetna plans offered to federal employees. … Aetna also is expanding coverage of gender reassignment surgery in many of our fully insured commercial plans … and will continue to roll (such plans) out over the next couple of years as we refile our plans with the states. We will be introducing the product in West Virginia, Utah, Idaho, Missouri, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Louisiana, South Carolina (for our fully insured plans) this year.

The above is from a Denver Post article that is quoting a statement from the insurance company. They also told the post they support the LGBT community, which is interesting considering they are actively refusing to provide some treatments when people need them because they are T.  Perhaps Aetna should refine their statement to say they support the LGB community. Aetna is meanwhile merging with Cigna – Cigna has some of the strongest anti-trans exclusions in the industry, with plans even prohibiting hormones for trans people.

Who can you support, if not HRC?

I encourage people who might want to support the LGBT community to support organizations that do not reward companies that are actively discriminating.

In particular, you may look into the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. Another worthy cause is the True Colors Fund (they fight LGBT youth homelessness). You also should look both locally (your local transgender support organization almost certainly can benefit from any help you can provide) and in places in the country where trans people face particular prejudice and where your time or money may make a huge difference (for instance, the midwest or deep south). Trust me, there are plenty of pro-T groups that you can support without needing to send money to HRC. The need is far greater than any of our pocketbooks or volunteer schedules.

A Footnote

As an aside, I would implore others concerned about the coverage of SRS and any other treatments to be very careful in how they approach de-medicalization of transsexualism (which is one specific category of trans people). There are many trans people who do not need medical treatment, and it is important to recognize that many trans people do not have a medical condition, nor do they need or benefit from medical treatment. But it is also important to recognize that other trans people do have a medical condition that is treatable medically – and this is not mere personal choice or desire. In this way, some transsexual people differ from gay people – there is no medical treatment that is appropriate or needed for homosexuality, and homosexuality is not a medical condition, but there are various medical treatments that are medically appropriate and necessary for some transsexuals.

Not all trans people want or need certain surgeries. There is tremendous variation among trans people. Some may identify as neither gender, both genders, or third gender. Others may strongly identify as one gender, but are comfortable having sex organs that typically are associated with another gender. As always, this should be respected, and when I talk about medical necessity, I am not referring to the people who do not need or desire a particular procedure.

Why I’m Annoyed at the Right Wing

I grew up conservative, and I still believe in personal freedom and for government to know where they money is coming from when they create our budgets.

But the right wing in America seems to have lost track of these core values of conservatism. Here’s what I mean:

  • They support small government. That means government should stay out of things like the environment and banking regulation (things that impact innocent people if big corporations get them wrong), but should be intimately involved – literally – in people’s personal lives. Do you have anal or oral sex? Are you gay? Etc – even when no innocent parties are hurt (or, indeed, impacted at all) by these actions. Doesn’t sound like small government.
  • They want to promote wealth, because wealth building in turn promotes job creation through investment. But the biggest wealth-creating institution – marriage – in the US should be closed off to 10% of the population, according to these “conservatives.”
  • They claim that too much money is spent on social programs. Yet, when you say, “We can eliminate over 50% of spending in one set of social programs,” they don’t want to do that! Why? Because they don’t want to use effective programs to prevent unwanted pregnancy, like government funded birth control (which pays for itself many times over in social spending savings). They can’t stomach the idea of sex without life-devestating consequences.
  • Likewise, they claim to be pro-life, while being pro-death-penalty, restricting access to social safety nets, and, most significantly, restricting access to comprehensive sex education and birth control – two things that are directly linked to reduced abortions.
  • They believe in religious freedom, except when it comes to religions that want to do something they don’t like. Like marrying gays.

Seriously, if there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s hypocrites. And there seems to be plenty of them in the right wing today.

Meritocracies and Women

I wrote my first program around 32 years ago (granted it wasn’t much of a program – I was pretty young!).  So I’ve can talk a bit more about computer history than most.

Right now, in all areas of computing, whether they be gaming, open source, or information technology, and no doubt others I don’t have personal experience with, there’s a problem: everyone I talk to is a guy. For instance, at work, I work on a team with 6 other guys. My boss is a guy. In fact, every boss in my management chain is a guy. We do have a woman on our board. One woman.

Open source is similar. I’ve been active in several open source projects. But I’ve never received a patch from a woman or sent a patch to a woman (yes, I’m making assumptions of gender on the basis of names, so I could be wrong, but probably am not).

But, back to my opening sentence – I’ve been in computing for a long time. I learned about routers, DNS, network cabling, ethernet hubs and switches, etc, from one of my school district’s IT managers – a woman – who made time for an annoying kid interested who was interested in computing. My first boss, at my first computing job was a woman. So was my boss at a second computing job. So was my boss at my third computing job. And so was my boss at my fifth computing job. 15 years ago. I’ve only briefly (for a couple of months) worked for a woman in the 15 years since then. The first 10 years of my work life was pretty much all women, with the exception of one two year stint working for a guy.

15 years ago, the department I worked in was probably 30% women. Today, it’s 0%. That’s a pretty huge change. And lest anyone think I think my company is anti-woman, I actually think it’s one of the least sexist places I’ve worked. Even so, the numbers don’t look good today. Why are there no women at this company I think is probably pretty decent towards women?

What us computer people like to think is that computing – including gaming, open source, and professional IT work – is a meritocracy. If you are smart and work hard, you’ll get rewarded. If you don’t, you’ll be gone. And, for many guys, I believe this is the case – it does work that way. And it used to work that way for women. When someone brings up the lack of women today, inevitably a man who thinks we have no problem with sexism today in computing will do what I did above – talk about the women role models they had, the women who taught them computing, supervised them, and worked along side them. The problem is that the next generation, I fear, won’t have these women. And the other problem is that these women are almost always in the past tense.

I don’t know what happened to the women. But I do know that the meritocracy doesn’t exist, at least not for 50% or so of the population – actually, probably less – a lot less.  I won’t go into how many of my coworkers are white, although I will say I don’t know that the numbers have declined in such a startling way for non-whites as they have for women.  At one point, MOST computer programmers were women.

I’ve heard all sorts of theories to explain how my field doesn’t have a sex discrimination problem. I’ve heard, “Women just aren’t interested in computing.” Perhaps, but the “why” needs to be asked, particularly when they were the backbone of many computing operations not that long ago. What has changed? What hasn’t changed is the ability of women to understand the technical requirements of computing – they understood it fine at the dawn of computing and through the 70s and into the 80s – even somewhat in the 90s, we saw plenty of women working. But that started dropping off at the end of the 90s and has fallen significantly today. I don’t think this can be explained by “math is tough” (see this pdf about wrong assumptions about women in STEM fields).

I don’t think most discrimination is intentionally committed to hold back a minority class, at least not the type of discrimination I see (I’m not saying that doesn’t happen – and it is horrible when it does). No, it’s not a sign on the door that says, “Women need not apply.”  It’s not the post-WWII days when women’s jobs were given back to men:

No, it’s not that kind of discrimination.

What the meritocracy means is that people are rude and aggressive to each other when they think the other’s idea is bad. Men are taught, socially, you respond aggressively back and defend yourself, or you’re a wimp. Women are taught to submit, or their “bitchy” and a “nag.” So who do you think does better in this? Of course being a rude asshole has nothing to do with ability to understand and do technical work – but I’ve seen this in plenty of open source projects, gaming, and professional work (yes, in professional work).

It means that social events outside the office involve drinking. I’ll note that too often rape victims are told that, if they drank, it is their fault they were raped – but even after sending this message (“It’s okay and safe for guys to drink, but women who drink will get raped so it’s their fault for drinking”), we somehow think they’ll want to participate in drinking parties just as much as men do later in life! Because it’s really safe to be around a bunch of drunk men. So the choice is, for someone uneasy about being around drunk men, “Don’t be a team player” or “risk rape” for trying to have a good time. And when they aren’t “team players,” that’s apparently the bad decision.

There are other problems – hours beginning computer professionals are expected to work, types of team building activities, subtle discrimination in school, family friendly policies, etc. And of course there are plenty of men affected by companies that expect all computer people to enjoy aggression, competition, drinking, long hours at work, etc. But sometimes these “great environment” perks impact women more then men.

To many of us in computing, getting a chance to learn and meet people at a conference is a wonderful perk! A good boss will pay your way! Unfortunately, even here, women face problems. If you’re a woman, maybe a board member of a really important open source organization, you might be sexually assaulted at your organization’s conference – and then told it was your fault (she got some pretty awful comments about how she brought this attack on and it was, essentially, her fault). This is a reward to your good employees – a chance at being raped. I know plenty of women go to conferences and have a great time, but I’ve never heard of a guy getting sexually assaulted at a computer conference. It’s definitely not unheard of for a woman to. And I suspect if a guy was assaulted, the reaction wouldn’t be, “You wore a skirt, what do you expect?”

It’s far more than this, though. I can’t list everything, and I certainly don’t understand all the ways we subtly make it clear that computing is no place for a woman. But I can spot a problem. And we have a problem.

Instead of pretending we have a wonderful meritocracy, maybe we can try to be polite to each other and encourage people who are interested in growing, but have wrong ideas (I can’t think of any of my mentors who treated me like I see too many young up-and-coming programmers treating me – thank God!). Maybe we can actually think about the team building activities we do and think, “Is this something everyone – even people who don’t want a competition or an aggressive experience – will enjoy?” (I know plenty of women would be fine with competitive, aggressive team building – but plenty aren’t, and plenty of men aren’t, either).  Maybe you need to think about what it means to be coworkers and a “cohesive” team – does it mean everyone should be “one of the frat boys” or does it mean “we respect each other, help each other, and grow each other?”

But even more than listening to me rant about this…you can try something that would be effective: you might try listening to an actual, you know, woman. You can find plenty of their stories online and offline about why computing is and isn’t welcoming to them. And then you can think, “Are the things that aren’t welcoming so important to us that we are willing to create inequality?” It’s not about not being a sexist pig. It’s about recognizing how actions not intended to be sexist or discriminatory can in fact disrupt our meritocracy.