Sex Crimes and Hackers

I’m going to speak to men here, about the recent photo hacks. For anyone that hasn’t heard, several famous actresses (some accounts say 100 or more) had their phone backups hacked. In a complex and scary example of how awful humanity is, the hackers found images these celebrities took of themselves naked and they, or people they sold the images to, posted these images publicly. These pictures were obviously intended to be shared with a person in a relationship with the celebrity, not with the public.

The first thing I’m going to say to the men is this: You don’t need to Google these images. I’ll just say a few words on why: sexual gratification without consent is at best creepy. These women didn’t consent.

But in the interest of confronting some of the men who justify this behavior, let me respond to some of the creepy things I’ve seen other men say online.

But they are celebrities, in the public eye.

Yes. But that doesn’t entitle you to violate their privacy and get sexual gratification from violating them. Just as it would be creepy for you to try to peek in their window while they shower, it’s creepy for you to do this. Even if they are famous.

Don’t put anything online you don’t want to be public.

Uh… Seriously?  I do my banking online. I pay taxes online. My work has my performance review online. Your kid’s address is online. Your medical records are sent to the insurance company online. We do plenty of things that should stay confidential online. Someone doesn’t give up expectation of privacy simply because they use a computer to do things not everyone wants to see.

This part of the argument is interesting because most people reacted negatively to the USA government saying, basically, “Don’t worry about us spying on you if you don’t have anything to hide.” In other words, don’t do anything you don’t want the government to know about, and you’ll be fine. Uh, no.

Well, taking pictures of yourself nude is dumb.

No, sharing your sexuality and romance with someone you care about is not “dumb.” It’s intimacy and trust. In intimacy, we share things, whether they are pictures or acts or our deep fears and dreams. Sharing is good.

Certainly trust can be violated. Of course. But someone hoping they found someone they can trust is not dumb. I hope others can be themselves with their intimate partners – it’s wonderful to share a relationship without things to hide.

And I’ll say another thing, which I hope most men in straight relationships can agree with: it’s nice when you see your partner’s body! Why is it wrong for a woman to be sexy and show you that? Which gets into the next one…

Only sluts would take pictures of themselves naked.

Perhaps your idea of sexual intimacy is in a darkened room where only missionary style sex is performed while wearing clothing covering most of your bodies and is done for the sole purpose of creating a baby.  But a lot of us find sexuality fun and exciting when done with consent, even outside of these parameters.

There is nothing wrong with a woman taking a picture of herself for her husband or boyfriend. Think about it:

  • She probably feels pretty sexy doing that. That’s cool! Too often women are ashamed of their bodies, because people (often men) give them the idea they aren’t sexy if their body doesn’t fit a certain pattern. So it’s awesome when a woman overcomes that and knows she’s sexy in someone else’s eyes!
  • She knows her husband likes looking at her. As a husband, I hope my wife always knows I like how she looks!
  • She is showing a lot of trust in the person. She’s basically saying, “I know you are a good man.” She’s expressing vulnerability and trust, that her man will understand ever. And she’s saying “not all men, not my man.” Isn’t it wonderful she’s found someone that restores her faith in men?
  • She wants to do something nice for her guy! She knows he gets pleasure seeing her. I personally think this is a wonderful gift, although the trust she expressed is even more wonderful. A real man will recognize this.
  • She wants to express her sexuality. It’s okay for a woman to want sex. Besides, I hope most guys would want their partner to want sex! That doesn’t make someone a slut.

She feels sexy, looks sexy, knows you’ll see her as sexy, knows you are a good man who is trustworthy, and is communicating that she feels hot around you. Seriously, how could a man not like that?! Who wouldn’t want their partner to feel and be like that?

So, before you criticize someone as a slut for wanting to share pictures intimately with someone special, you might want to make sure you never want to be that someone special in anyone else’s life. Because pictures or not, being trusted and loved by a woman you love and who feels sexy and hot around you is pretty nice!

There are Bad People in the world, she should know that.

Dude, do you really think that there is any adult woman who doesn’t know there are bad men in the world?

She knows that there are people who:

  • Shame her for expressing her sexuality
  • Tell her it is her fault if someone she trusts and loves turns out to be an asshole
  • Think it’s okay to get sexual gratification without consent
  • Say that if you are too well known, it’s okay for people to violate your body

And you think she doesn’t know there are bad people?

They should have used good computer security practices.

Usually this argument gets drawn into computer security. It’s not computer security. Whether these woman use a password of “password” or one of “klsjkR#isvsz0dmNDwx95fsVDSe2s3!” doesn’t matter. The problems here are not password problems. The problem here is a misogynistic one. And securing passwords doesn’t solve the misogynistic one – it just changes how people express their misogyny.

It’s also pretty poor taste to say that a sex crime victim “had it coming.” If you want to talk about password security, more power to you. But what people are upset about is not that they don’t know how to secure their computer (besides, they probably aren’t as ignorant as you think). They are upset because this is a cyber equivalent of the real-space exploitation and objectification of women. They are upset that when they want to talk about that issue, people start lecturing them about what clothes to wear, what beverage to drink, what pictures to take, and what passwords to pick – but not the actual issue that concerns them the most: that no matter where they go, online or offline, some men seem to feel women exist solely for their sexual gratification. This translates not just to feeling icky around these men, but physical safety. Yet you want to talk about passwords. If you can’t see why this is upsetting, you probably are part of the problem.

Do you want to empower people to protect themselves against assholes? Fine, do that. But don’t do it by using victims as a platform you stand on to pontificate. You don’t do it by derailing a conversation. You don’t do it by telling the people you supposedly are empowering that the conversation they want to have is the wrong conversation.

You want to empower? Try listening.

A MESSAGE FOR MEN:

Do you want really awesome, really mind-blowing sex?

Sharing trust and intimacy makes it awesome.

Way more awesome than being an internet peeping tom / sex offender. Be someone that can be trusted.

Hurray, Amazon – and the Passing Stereotype.

Amazon is about to release the rest of the episodes (later this month) of Transparent, which is an Amazon TV series that follows a fictional family through the struggles of self-involvement and selfishness. As you might guess from the title, one of the main characters is trans, and in the pilot struggles with coming out to her adult children.

Image depicting several of the characters in the movie Transparent

Normally, that description would be enough for me to say, “I have no desire to see yet another shock-value series, where trans people are used as a “shock” to build interest in the show. I’m impressed however that Amazon seems to use a different angle, one that feels at least somewhat more authentic than the shock value delivered.

Before I talk about what I like about this show, I do want to mention one thing I dislike: the transwoman is portrayed by a non-trans man. This trans-face isn’t cool and Amazon can do better. One of the biggest problems in the trans community is employment, so it’s a shame that some of the amazing talent out there among trans people wasn’t used in this series for the main role.

That said, it’s not all bad. And there’s something really good. The transwoman character would probably not end up as a model for a fashion magazine.

Let me take a step back and talk about a stereotype. This is what I might call the “drag stereotype.” In a drag performance, it’s typical for a man to dress up as a woman, wear elaborate make-up, wigs, accessories, etc. Depending on the performance, the effect may be comical, satirical (Sisters of Perpetual Indulgance, anyone?), or to “pass.”  In the stereotype, transwomen are assumed to be in this category of people trying to pass. In this context, pass means “be seen by ignorant people as a member of my gender.”

Certainly, most binary trans people do try to pass, and spend a lot of effort and time doing so, both for personal reasons (who doesn’t want to look good?) and for practical reasons (“I don’t want to get the shit kicked out of me, so if people don’t know I’m trans, I will be safer”). But there’s a problem with the drag stereotype of binary trans people: Most trans people, particularly MTF people, won’t pass perfectly. Some won’t pass at all, ever.

Yet, the trans people who appear on national TV shows, in movies, and on magazine covers typically could pass, at least most of the time. They are, by conventional standards, beautiful people. The problem is that people think the average trans person could succeed at passing, so if a trans person isn’t passing, they are crazy (“Does he know how he looks in that dress? The guy’s nuts” – note that the person is typically misgendered here) or needs a helpful tip (I’ve actually heard trans people tell me they were told to laugh more feminine or some such, something I’m sort of sensitive to since I was told as a kid that if I laughed more masculine I would be accepted as a boy and not beat up). The idea is that a trans person, with the right tips, make-up, and effort can look indistinguishable from their peers.

Sadly, reality doesn’t work that way. Even very conventionally beautiful, obviously feminine trans women, with all the right curves, hairlines, necklines, cheek lines, voices, laughs, make-up, clothing, way of walking, way of sitting, etc, will fail to pass at some point. Passing shouldn’t be a requirement to be a woman (or a man). Yet the implication is that by laughing better, you’ll be more of a woman. It’s bullshit.

It’s also damaging. Binary trans people need to be authentic to themselves. The alternative, often times, is death. We need to affirm the gender of other people, not tell them how they can play a role better.

So, back to the show, what I love is that the character, at least in the pilot, basically looks like the stereotype of “a man in a dress.”  She looks like a lot of trans people do. She is beautiful, just as all people are, but not in the way that will earn shock value when people find out she’s trans (note I’m speaking about the character – the actor is, as far as I know, a non-trans man). She’s showing she’s a woman, despite not fitting all the proper stereotypes of a woman. That’s absolutely outstanding. I hope the series doesn’t take this in a direction that she ends up looking like a fashion model at the end of the season.

We need more realistic depictions of trans people in the media, and Amazon is off to a great start here – even if it’s in a fictional series that isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. We need to break the “super-trans” stereotype where the only acceptable form of trans expression is conventional beauty, and we need to recognize that being a woman (or a man) has nothing to do with someone’s ability to “pass” as a woman (or a man).

You would pass better if you…

One thing I’ve noticed is that a trans person will almost always hear something like, “You would pass better if you…” followed by some “helpful” suggestions. For instance, the “if you” part might be:

  • If you wore more feminine clothes
  • If you bind your chest tighter
  • If you laugh more like a woman
  • If you act interested in sports
  • If you wear your hair differently
  • If you lower your voice
  • If you give up your masculine hobbies
  • Etc.

Imagine going up to someone who isn’t trans, and saying, “Hon, you look great! But you’d look even better if you put make up on right.” It’s a recipe to get slapped or punched. Maybe both. Yet, for some reasons, it is assumed that trans people want these helpful tips.

Often, they don’t. There’s a time to realize they can’t look more like a woman (assuming they are a transwoman) than they already do. How can a woman look more like a woman? But the assumption is that they aren’t “really” a woman, that they are really just learning to be a woman, and they need your help (whether you are a woman or not!) to give them a hand.

Part of this comes, I think, from the divide between different groups of trans people. For instance, a drag performer may look stunningly beautiful and extremely feminine – and spends hours to get that look just right before you see them. A drag performer wants to look the part of some idea, to present a living portrait of a specific link. Whereas, a transsexual person may just want to live as they are and be allowed to be who they are. Sure, they could do what the performer did and comply better with the stereotype (depending on the performer!). But why? Why should they need to?

Nobody fits the stereotypes, and trying to fit them isn’t a recipe for happiness – the 1970s taught us that with divorce, when the stereotypical nuclear family formed in the 50s was the source of the rise in divorce (it wasn’t the sexually liberated young hippies getting divorces!).  People were trying to live a stereotype, be something that wasn’t natural, in family life. And it was miserable. Likewise, most of us aren’t performers (and even performers probably don’t want to perform every minute of the day). Most of us – trans or not – are happiest when we have the freedom and support to be who we are, even if it doesn’t fit someone else’s ideas of who someone like us should be.

So, when you see that woman that isn’t a perfect stereotype of a woman, don’t give them hints about how to become that stereotype. Affirm who they are: a woman. Even if they have a deep voice, prefer wearing jeans over skirts, don’t wear make up, or whatever else. Or even if they have a feminine voice, wear mini-skirts, and spend an hour putting on makeup before leaving home. Likewise for men – being a man is about more than getting drunk or watching sports. Affirm his manliness!

Sure, give advice when asked. But remember there are all sorts of men, and all sorts of women, and all sorts of non-gendered people in the world. And that’s okay and good.

I remember visiting London, where I met up with two British autistic guys, and we ventured around London. I remember an anti-war activist coming up to the group of the three of us, and addressing me, the supposed Londoner, and asking me if my American friends would be willing to talk about the war! Were they not British enough? Hardly. Was I non-American? Again, hardly. My friends and I were fine – it was the activist who messed up. After all, what can an American do to be more American? I already am American – I can’t be “more American” (despite what some might say).

We need diversity! And we need our friends, whether we are trans or not, to support us learning who we are, interacting in the world in our own unique way. And we need to recognize that men and women don’t always fit stereotypes. And that’s a good thing.

So, You Are an LGB Ally – How T is Different

Are you an LGB (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual) ally?  Or maybe you are L, G, or B.

Think you know T (trans)?  Maybe you do, maybe you don’t.

A lot of pain is caused by people assuming that being a trans ally is just like being an LGB ally (or an L, G, or B yourself).  But it’s not – there are key differences that too often are ignored.

Here’s some differences:

Acceptance for Some Trans People is About Invisibility

For much of the LGB community, the desire is to be who you are, wherever you want to be: to be able to bring a loved one with you to the company picnic, to be able to get legal recognition of your relationship, or to be protected from discrimination when people see you as you are.

For some T people, this is the same – particularly for people who identify as non-binary.  They want the right to be accepted as they are, without having to confirm to an inappropriate category.

But, equally, many want to be recognized as the binary gender they identify as. They don’t want to be asked if they are trans, they don’t want to go to a trans-pride rally, and they don’t want to be outed. It’s not that they aren’t proud of who they are, but rather that they know who they are. It isn’t a third category. It’s one of two categories already recognized.

You want to respect a transsexual who identifies as a woman? It’s simple: treat her as a woman. Not a transwoman, but a woman.  And treat yourself the same way – treat yourself as a woman (or a man), not a ciswoman or a cisman – that still creates a distinction when someone else just wants to be part of the same group you are in.  Treat this person like any other person. Obviously, that doesn’t apply to someone who considers themselves non-binary. But many trans people do consider themselves binary.

That leads into…

Not All Trans People are Non-Binary

Just as not all LGB people are bi, not all trans people are binary. It’s insulting to a gay to insist that he’s “really” bi. In the same way, it’s insulting to insist a trans person who identifies binary is really non-binary!

So, you don’t create bathrooms that are “male”, “female”, and “trans.” You don’t ask someone if they are “male,” “female,” or “trans”, as that creates a difficulty for a binary trans person – are they a man or a trans person? And are you really wanting to know about chromosomes and genitals (male, female) or gender, anyhow?  What you do is consider things like single-user bathrooms that everyone can use and forms that provide a blank rather than a checkbox for sex or gender.  But you don’t create a “trans” choice that may make some people feel pressured to identify essentially as a third-gender. At the same time, you recognize that some people are non-binary and you provide that option as well – just do so in a way that doesn’t pressure a trans person.

Trans is Not the Future Civil Rights. It’s the past too.

Remember Stonewall, where the gays rose up against oppressive laws and police? Go back and read about it again, and read why people were prosecuted. In general, it was for crossdressing.

When people promote an employment non-discrimination act that throws T people to the curb, they are denying the heritage and the people that helped fight for (and win) rights for gays. Nobody that does this, no matter how much of an ally they are for LGB people, is a T ally.

Trans People are at Higher Risk

Trans people face higher risks of violence, homelessness, and unemployment than LGB people. Trans people are more likely to be kicked out of their home, have their identity used against them in child custody cases, and lose connections to former friends when they come out.

While sadly many LGB people have also faced these things, it’s important to be careful about saying you can relate. It’s generally best to not compare sufferings.

Trans People are Discriminated Against by LGB Groups

Just because a place claims to be LGB friendly, doesn’t mean it is T friendly. This is particularly true for transwomen. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival comes to mind – they welcome lesbian women, so long as they weren’t born with a penis, complete with justification about how women can’t feel safe if there is a “man” there (typically referring to a transwoman that way) – very discriminatory BS. I’ve heard stories from transwomen about being excluded from lesbian-friendly survivor support groups, dating sites, social events, etc. I know others that have been discriminated against in some Metropolitan Community Churches (one of the first “gay friendly” denominations). Just because an event is LGB friendly doesn’t mean a T person is going to be welcome.

It’s also important to remember, despite this blog mostly drawing a distinction between LGB and T, things aren’t quite this simple. Plenty of T people are L, G, or B.

Trans and LGB People Have the Same Problem, But it’s not Recognized

Trans people face discrimination and violence because they don’t fit someone else’s idea of the gender role they should live. (edit: of course it’s due to prejudice ultimately – that prejudice is based on the idea that people should fit certain gender expectations of prejudiced people)

LGB people are similar. But this is one that a lot of LGB people get upset about when it’s mentioned. Part of this is because a lot of gay people have been insulted and told they are like women, while a lot of lesbians are insulted by being told they are like men – when obviously this isn’t true. Gay men are just as “man” as straight men. The same goes for lesbian women – they are just as “woman” as a straight woman. So it is understandable there would be a gut reaction. But the issue is still there: The reason a gay man is discriminated against is because of the gender role they are living. They are living, as a man, but not following the stereotype properly – they are attracted to other men, after all. That’s where their lived gender role (that of a man) fails to fit the stereotype of what others believe a man should be.

It is because of this that trans people have long recognized that the LGB movement is about gender roles, just as the T movement is about gender roles. Not the idea that gender roles must be dismantled (although obviously some people believe they should be), but rather that one should be able to live as they identify, even when someone else doesn’t like that choice based on stereotypes and expectations.

Some T People will Always be Clocked

If I see a non-trans man at Wal-Mart, who is alone, I have no idea if he is gay (barring a T shirt that says, “I’M GAY!”). Yet that man can very well might be living as a gay man, openly.

However, some T people, aren’t fortunately enough to be able to live as they are without people knowing they are trans. They simply never get seen as a human being apart from being trans. They are always trans, to everyone, all the time. They are always on-guard, and even completely innocuous things, like going to Wal-Mart, can become an ordeal. It can be hard to just leave the house.

So It’s Just Not the Same

The summary is simple: Trans people have desires and overlap with the LGB community, but also have concerns unique to their community.

More than Toilets

Most of the debate about rights for trans people revolve around toilets.  While toilets are a big issue, there are a lot of other big issues too.

I’ll keep this simple.

Here’s a sampling – a lot of this is the right to not be outed, to be safe, and to participate in society:

  • The right to not be assaulted for being trans. Violence is still extremely common. There isn’t a trans person who doesn’t have to consider, “If I go to this bar, will I be attacked?” or “If I tell this person, will they respond violently?”
  • The right to not be insulted, misgendered, and placed in a gender that doesn’t fit (for instance, a binary trans person likely wants to be seen as man or woman, not trans-something and not a third gender; Likewise, people who aren’t binary don’t want to be identified as a binary person). People have the right to their identity.
  • Employment records that don’t “out” you.  If someone calls an employer from 5 years ago, will the employer mention the name I was employed under or my current name?
  • Education records that don’t “out” you.  What name is on my diploma?  My transcripts?  Are you crossing out my old name or noting my old name, or are you re-issuing it in my name?
  • Credit reports that don’t “out” you
  • Voter registration that doesn’t out you
  • Junk mail that doesn’t “out” you.  Some databases are really old.  They’ll insist on using old names and titles even 20 years after they are no longer applicable.  Non-profit causes, I’m looking at you – you’re among the worst.
  • Government records that don’t “out” you.  Full transcripts of SSI data, tax records, property ownership, and court actions should not list the old names without good cause. Public curiosity and open records laws are not good cause.
  • The right to change your social security or other government ID numbers. Essentially to get a chance at not being reminded of the most painful time of your life continually.
  • The right to transition while on the job, without losing your job.
  • The right to identify as trans.
  • The right to not identify as trans.  (Non-trans folk: Make sure your use of “cis-” to refer to yourself doesn’t put someone in the uncomfortable position of having to call themselves something different than you or to lie; Generally, you shouldn’t use it in any introduction about yourself where all trans people wouldn’t mention they are trans; I.E. if they might want to say they are a man, you probably shouldn’t say you’re a cis-male)
  • The right to prison and jail placement that reflects identity, provides safety, and ensures access to health care
  • Health care that doesn’t involve needing to tell every single doctor, nurse, administrator, etc, your trans history. I.E. if someone is asked for their surgical history (“What surgeries have you had?”), and they say, “It’s not relevant,” don’t press. Same with medication.
  • Health care practitioners that are educated – if someone says they are trans, intersexed, or don’t have gonads, a doctor shouldn’t say, “I’ve never heard of that.”
  • Proper names and pronouns in health records, without exposing irrelevant history to people who don’t have an actual need for it. Allow change of name for past procedures that are in the records.
  • The right to, if qualified, serve in the armed forces
  • Health funding parity (public and private) for gender-related medical procedures and counseling
  • The right to any sexual orientation
  • Telemarketers that can correct the source data when someone says, “I’m not a sir” or “I’m not a ‘ma’am”.
  • The right to marry as someone of your gender identity
  • A right to news stories about you not mentioning that you are trans or your prior name, unless this actually has something to do with the story, is newsworthy, and is not just an attempt to get attention
  • A memorial service after death that respects your chosen name, gender, and identity

There’s probably a lot of other ones (feel free to comment!) that I missed. As you can see, this is about respect, privacy, and safety. That’s not too much to ask. And, interestingly enough, as important as toilets are (and they are important), some of these things are every bit as important.

God Doesn’t Make Mistakes

As a Christian, I want to start this by saying:

No Shit.

Of course God doesn’t make mistakes (Oh, I dare someone to find the Bible passage that condemns me for saying “shit”).

But let me backtrack a bit…I’m going to write this from a Christian perspective, but I think it will be accessible to all who want to confront this particular form of intolerance.

I was reading a news story about a trans person, and made the mistake of reading the comments, where you typically find the trolls, immature assholes, and people just generally enjoying destroying what others build.  In one of the comments came the standard “Christian” reply to someone who says they are trans, along with plenty of mis-gendering, since somehow Jesus would want us to do that. Apparently.

“God doesn’t make mistakes.”

In this context, what is meant is, “If you live your life as who you claim to be, you are turning your back on the person God made you to be. You are not accepting His perfect plan for your life.”

I can translate this because I had (and still have) contact with fundamentalist circles. I thought this way. So I know why others do. I also know why it is bullshit.

God may not make mistakes, and God’s actions may be perfect – but it’s obvious and evident that the world (and the people in it) are not perfect. There are the obvious ethical problems in the people of this world, all of whom are part of God’s creation even when not acting in accord with God’s heart. Then there are the bad things that happen to good people. Sometimes a good church or hospital or orphan home or whatever else catches fire and burns down, sometimes killing people. That isn’t God’s actions, that’s a bad thing that happens. Sometimes we have floods and storms that kill not just the bad, but also the good people. And to say these things are good is not only ignorant, but horrible.

But there’s also another class of things – sometimes we learn about who we are and we choose to live authentically. Truth and God are never opposed to each other. And me, living as my true self, whatever that means, is not opposed to God.  Nor is someone else living according to their true self.

Of course this is the sticking point: What is truth? I’m not going to try to answer that here. Others far smarter than I have tried. But I will say this: others far smarter than you have tried too.

People can and do change things God created all the time.

  • We dig holes in the ground and pull out the coal. God didn’t make a mistake putting the coal in the ground, where we have to mess with it rather than on the surface where we wouldn’t need to bother to dig it up.
  • Most people (although it is not without controversy) feel that surgery to correct cleft palate is appropriate and proper. Even though “God doesn’t make mistakes.”
  • If someone has a defective organ, we may transplant a working one. Even though the malfunctioning organ was part of God’s creation.
  • We go to school to learn, even though God didn’t endow us with all knowledge at birth. For some reason we don’t think we need to remain ignorant. Heck, we go to Bible Study for the same reason!

Now, if you are going to claim that if God creates something one way, that people have to stay that way, that’s fine to impose on yourself. But it’s abuse to impose on someone else, since not only would you need to impose it on trans people, but also on the infant born with the treatable medical condition. God may not make mistakes, but there are still plenty of problems in the world and it’s okay to do good and try to fix them.

But, gender is something different. Too many Christians think that a few Bible verses they read as anti-gay say something about defining who is man and who is woman (sure, it talks about crushed stones and such, but it never actually tells us how to determine male or female). Of course this is where we get into the controversy.  Plenty of people have discussed what is wrong with the anti-gay interpretation of a handful of Bible verses, so I won’t get into that. But that’s the root of the problem: the root of the problem is the importance some see in gender roles, and the importance of enforcing them rigidly. That’s why someone who believes women and men should both manage a family together (rather than one having authority over the other) are a threat to too many – despite other versus making it clear that Christ draws no distinction between men and women.

You see, the idea that men and women each have distinct, rigid, unchangeable roles is essential in this mindset to fighting the gay.  “The gay” think that these roles may not be quite so rigid or fixed or distinct – two fathers can raise a child, just as two mothers can, just as a mother and a father can.  And truth – scientific studies, measuring outcomes – agree.  And this is a problem, because, if true, it clashes against the spoken reason for the anti-gay bigotry – that every child needs a mom and a dad.  If that goes away, then we are left with just raw hatred of “the gay.”  And that doesn’t sound very loving anymore.

So, it’s important to enforce gender roles. Trans people (and, typically, intersexed people as well) are basically the collateral damage of this need to enforce gender roles – or, rather, gender stereotypes. If I can’t look to see if someone has a penis to decide whether or not they are a leader, how could I possibly know if they can lead a family?!  (Yes, that’s sarcasm, besides it’s not what is actually done – what is actually done is people make a guess about whether someone has a penis and then enforce gender roles on that basis)

But what if, just if, it might be possible that God created people with female brains and male genitals – and also the converse.  Could God do such a thing?  Of course.  And there are a lot more possibilities than the binary, too.  God can do anything, right?  And before we put God into that box, just maybe we should make sure we know what we are talking about when we start condemning people – particularly for something that the Bible is remarkably silent about. Just maybe we need to error on the side of grace. It would be most unfortunate indeed if we failed to recognize what God did create right in front of us. Even more so, it would be fighting God if we tried to keep one of God’s children from living the true and authentic life God has for them.

But some people know as much as God. Ask them. And chances are they’ll tell you that “God doesn’t make mistakes” which is nice and all, but too often just a cover for lack of intellectual rigor and an excess of uninformed bigotry.

Kansas License to Discriminate…Against Women Drivers

Kansas Representative Charles Macheers (R), Right-wing Extremist

Kansas Representative Charles Macheers (R), Right-wing Extremist

The Kansas House of Representatives just passed Rep. Charles Macheer’s HB 2453 on Tuesday, by a nearly 2 to 1 margin. This bill, as has been widely reported, is basically an attempt to allow discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, as long as the person doing the discrimination feels it their religious duty to be an ass. Secular discrimination would remain illegal. Seriously. So the lesson here is, if you want to be an ass, it’s best to be a religious ass. Rep. Charles Macheers – and in fact the Kansas House of Representatives – has your back. But that’s not all. Like the State of Oklahoma, Kansas can’t even do the wrong thing right. In 2010, one house of the Oklahoma legislature, in attempting to prevent hate-crime laws from being applied in cases of LGBT victims screwed up – they passed a bill that left gays protected, but stripped rights from victims of religiously and racially motivated hate crimes. Kansas, meanwhile, apparently means explicitly legalize religiously motivated hate, albeit not in the context of violent crime (as the hate crime law applied), but “just” in things like employment and government services. Jesus is pleased, I’m sure. For instance, HB 2453 reads, in part:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no individual or religious entity shall be required by any governmental entity to do any of the following, if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender:

(a) Provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement;

(b) solemnize any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement; or

(c) treat any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement as valid.

While parts (b) and (c) are pretty awful, (a) is astonishing. Let me make this a bit more clear, because (a) has the clarity we have grown to expect from the anti-LGBT lobby.  Here’s what (a) allows, at least when there isn’t a Federal law that would trump it:

  • A DMV worker who feels that their religion doesn’t allow women to drive (like some in Saudi Arabia) could refuse to help the 50% of DMV “customers” who enter the local DMV.  In small towns, this person might be the only one on-staff at times. Besides lightening their own workload, the person would receive protection from the State taking any personnel action against them.
  • A woman showing up at a male doctor’s office could be refused care by the male doctor if a woman doctor is available or if she isn’t accompanied by the appropriate male relative. After all, again, some in Saudi Arabia believe this for religious reasons. All it takes is a sincere belief…
  • A Christian who believes “women should always be under the authority of a man” could refuse to hire women into any supervisory role.

It’s a lot broader than these examples but that should be sufficient. Note that I don’t believe all Muslims or Christians are anti-woman, but, sadly, some are. Others are decent human beings. Sadly the decent human beings don’t seem to be making the laws in Kansas.

Of course one could also believe that the anti-woman provisions of this law just might not be an accident. After all, the religious right (by all accounts the true sponsor of this law) doesn’t just think homosexuality is wrong or that transgender people are “living in sin,” but they also believe something very interesting:

Every child needs a mom and a dad” (warning: that link contains a lot of B.S., but demonstrates the view of those who use this argument in opposing marriage equality).

What exactly does “every child needs a mom and a dad” mean if it doesn’t mean that there are some things which are either only done, or only should be done, by one sex or the other? I suspect dad is to be the leader, while mom is to be homemaker. This proposed Kansas law would help accomplish that.

 

Facebook…got it wrong.

A sample of Facebook's 50+ gender options

A sample of Facebook’s 50+ gender options

Facebook, today, added 50-some new gender options, for your profile (although left “man” and “woman” as the only partner options for seeking a relationship). While this is a welcome move, it’s not the right approach.  They made a mistake here.

They left people out.

Quite possibly, this was intentional – I imagine they allow advertisers to target people on the basis of gender, so having checkboxes the advertiser can select to determine who sees their products is probably a good selling feature for Facebook.

But it leaves people out.

Not everyone identifies with the same gender markers.  While Facebook added 50+ new options – certainly a welcome addition by anyone who identifies by one of those 50 options, no matter how many options they add, they are going to leave some people out.

For instance, they have genderqueer, but not queer.  They have neutrois, but not neuter. I know people that identify as queer and people who identify as neuter.  They don’t really matter to Facebook, at least not that much. They should be happy with a different term, since they have non male/female options (hint to Facebook: male = sex, not gender).  Concerning, I suspect they asked some US-based organizations what to put in the options list – they are missing the obvious Hijra – quite possibly the identity that has the largest number of people who identify as something other than man or woman. Someone thought they knew more than they do. This is where these things always fail.

They also fail on recognizing that people may have different genders in different environments. For instance, at college, a student might be genderqueer or bi-gender at school, and around people who accept that. But at home, their conservative family doesn’t accept that. To save family strife, they identify as a binary gender at home. Why can’t we do the same thing on Facebook that we can do in real space?

Equally concerning, they give three pronoun choices: “he”, “she”, and “they” in general. What about xe and ze? And can you come up with every possible identity pronoun?

Here’s my advice to Facebook and anyone else making a form: Unless you have a really strong external mandate that requires you to collect sex or gender from among 2 or 50 selections, either don’t collect it or collect it in a way that allows a “fill-in-the-blank” answer. Don’t do “male”, “female”, and “other” for gender (or “custom” when you mean “other”, as Facebook did). Besides “male” and “female” being sexes, not genders, this is othering – males and females get a box, but you don’t.  You have to go through a different process.

I know where this type of thing comes from – it’s nice to search through a database for people who match a category. And free-form entry means people will typo it, use 5 different spellings for the same word, and all kinds of other messy people things. Well, people are messy! And gender doesn’t fit neatly into any number of boxes, whether that’s 2 boxes or 56 boxes!

Similarly, pronouns and titles should work the same way. So should selection of potential relationship partners.  Yes, this means database work is hard. And Facebook is in the database business – they want to know who you are so they can sell you targeted ads. That requires a database. But I believe Facebook has enough smart people to solve this right. And “right” isn’t picking 50+ terms at random (or from an advocacy group that has a US-centric view of culture), but allowing people to be themselves. However they refer to themselves.

Likewise, they also get a major fail for not allowing either of two methods to be “out” in a limited extent. Many people, particularly early in transition, need to use different gender identifiers around different people – they might use one set of terms for their work, one set of terms for friends, and another set for their family. Their government ID might not match any of these! Recognize people are complex. If this is too hard to do, Facebook could make major progress simply by letting people create two profiles, if they are doing so for gender reasons. That makes it hard for Facebook to track you (they have to figure out these profiles are the same person, but being they report yearly on duplicate profiles, clearly they can do that). But it protects people and allows them to be out with the people of their choosing. It reflects the reality of the double-life that trans people are often forced to live early in transition. It also facilitates a clean break with one’s past if desired.

But it’s against Facebook’s rules to have two profiles. So you can’t do that. Even if you’re trans.

I worked on a government identity management system – basically a common login & password used between different agency computer systems.  So you would have one password to renew your driver’s license, voter ID, pay taxes, apply for unemployment, etc.  One thing that came out early was that each agency might know a person by different names – someone may have changed their name with the DMV, but not the tax agency, so don’t force them to have a single name for all agencies. Likewise, they might want to interface with an agency under a pseudonym (for example, to report child abuse, seek AIDS information, or to comment on a potential policy – things that typically don’t require you to prove your identity, and for which people might not want to give a verifiable identity). The solution? Give people the option. But don’t pass information to the agency without the user’s permission – ask them, “Is it okay if I tell this agency about you?” And accept “NO” for an answer.  If Government can figure this out, why can’t tech companies?  I might want my dad to see me as a different gender than my best friend sees me.

Facebook could show true support for diversity by not only recognizing non-binary genders exist, but could go further, and recognize that they can be a platform for people to experience living as their true selves, without having to be “out” to everyone. That could be tremendously powerful and empowering. Or they can focus on selling database records. I think they’ve chosen the later.

So, in summary, if you are going to ask for gender or sex, here’s  how to do it respectfully:

  • Give a blank to everyone to write their gender. Don’t try to guess possible options.
  • Do the same for titles and pronouns.
  • If your organization might interface with different aspects of a person (their medical identity, their legal identity, their social identity – for instance), recognize this real-life reality and allow a person to have multiple genders as appropriate.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  50+ gender identifiers are better than two. But we shouldn’t be satisfied when people are still left out. Don’t mistake what Facebook did for the right thing. Maybe it’s “more right”, but it isn’t “right”.

Don’t Make it Part of Your Identity

LGBT people are told to keep their orientation and gender private. They are told that what they do in their bedroom is fine, but it shouldn’t be their identity. You’ll hear this primarily in religious circles – the idea is this: you should have an identity as a Christian, not as a gay. Being gay or straight, so it goes, is not important. Being Christian is. And making something else – anything else (but especially homosexuality!) your identity is making that thing a false God. Sure, there are some religious folk that will claim “God Hates Fags” and the like, but this is a slightly more insidious version of the same exact thing: it isn’t okay to be gay. Why can’t you be a Christian instead?

Of course this is wrong on a bunch of levels. It’s clearly a straman – nobody is saying, “My religion is ‘gay’, so I can’t be a Christian.” Well, nobody except the aforementioned Christians. Nor is this standard applied to other things – I can say I’m a teacher or an engineer. I can say I’m a man (provided I’m not trans, in which case I’m only allowed to say I’m the gender they think I am). I can say I’m old or I’m young, depending on which I am. I can say I’m white. I can say I’m an American. Heck, I probably could even say I’m a Democrat or Republican. And nobody thinks I’m supplanting God by doing this (well, maybe if I say I’m a Democrat I am…).

However, when it comes to identifying as gay, it’s supplanting God and is a false idol, because I’d be basing my identity on homosexuality rather than God. The people who promote this nonsense go on to claim that it wouldn’t matter if I did this with something else like my career or even straight orientation. It’s all about putting something in the place of importance to my identity that only God should have. But of course the hypocrisy is clear.

To be honest, I have less of a problem with the God Hates Fags crowd. At least they let you know what they think, and don’t try to find a whitewashed way to present their bigotry. So, my hint to fellow Christians: say what you mean and mean what you say. You don’t get to have it both ways – you don’t get to justify your prejudice by claiming that you just want people to identify as Christian, yet then, through your acts and deeds, make it clear that your problem has nothing to do with that, but rather has everything to do with who someone loves or that someone’s gender isn’t what you think it should be.

If there’s one thing Christ hated, it was hypocracy.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. (Matthew 23:13)

As for me, I pray to recognize love, wherever it exists.

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor 13:13)

Is Sex Reassignment Surgery a Right?

Just recently, the US First Circuit Appeals Court of appeals ruled that a prisoner’s rights were being violated because she was denied medically necessary sex reassignment surgery (SRS) [I use the term SRS rather than gender reassignment surgery because the surgery doesn’t impact gender identity or expression, but it changes things associated with biological sex, like breasts or genitals]. This violated the prisoner’s 8th Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

This is one of the first federal cases in the United States that has recognized that SRS is medically necessary.  This is a major win for the trans community.  And the advocates of the community understand this.

We expect the bigotrs to hate this. They don’t believe surgery is needed for anyone, much less a prisoner. “Let her rot.” Actually, they’d say, “Let HIM rot.” They don’t believe trans people exist, after all. But that’s not what annoys me.

However, what’s the response from the trans community as a whole? Basically the same as 2012, when she won a different case.  You can find comments online like, “I for one am infuriated by this. The inmate is a murderer serving life… Normal people can’t get this covered yet I can go kill some one and then someone will pay for my SRS? Ugh…..”

Or, “Although, I completely agree on a person’s need for GRS/SRS. I do not believe this person is entitled anything from the state. This person committed MURDER and they will now be rewarded with free medical anything from honest TAX PAYERS.”

These arguments are – pardon this language – bull shit.

First, the 8th Amendment, just like the 1st or the 2nd, is still in force. It is illegal to have cruel and unusual punishment. Even for someone sentenced to life. Even for a murderer. The US constitution is supposed to put us above abuse of prisoners. Even when the prisoners are bad people. Especially when we think the prisoners are bad people.

But, beyond that, we don’t have this standard for other treatments. We don’t say, “Oh, no defibrillator for you, no ambulance ride to the hospital. Die of the heart attack. You’re a prisoner. We don’t want to pay for you.”

We don’t say, “You can’t get cancer treatment. You’re a bad person. Too bad. We don’t want to pay for you.”

Yet, with SRS, apparently the standard from many members of the transgender community is two-fold: First, it’s not actually a right, it’s just a right for non-prisoners. Second, no prisoners get rights before get my rights. And even more critically, “This isn’t really medically necessary.

Well, rights don’t work that way. The prisoner is not keeping you from getting SRS. Maybe society is, and quite possibly your rights are being violated! That doesn’t change whether or not the prisoner gets SRS. Either way, your rights being violated don’t mean that someone else’s rights weren’t violated. Seriously, this is a basic concept! Once you bring your own rights into a discussion about someone else’s rights, that’s a problem. Let’s talk about your rights, and make sure you get what you need – and, yes, health care is a human right, and you should be getting it, even if some in our political system disagree. And it’s going to help you when a court recognizes it as a right. Really.

Second, SRS is a life-saving medical procedure for many. This prisoner was sentenced to life in prison. LIFE in prison, not death in prison! Yes, it sucks that sometimes prisoners get better medical care than non-prisoners. Perhaps the solution of that problem isn’t to take away the prisoner’s health care and violate their rights, but to make sure the rest of us also get medical care. Taking away their medical care won’t help those of us outside of prison have medical care!

It sickens me to hear the same arguments used against gay marriage to express disagreement that someone has a right to SRS. The gay marriage opponents’ argument is, essentially, “If someone else has a right, that hurts me.” That’s not cool. No, gay marriage doesn’t hurt straight people. It just helps gays. You can help someone without hurting someone else. The same goes for SRS for prisoners – you can help a prisoner, and live up to our constitutional obligations – even when that prisoner is a bad person – without hurting someone who isn’t a prisoner.

Yes, we need to fight for peoples’ rights to have SRS. That means we need to fight for prisoners to have that right. And for people who aren’t prisoners. It’s a human right, not just a non-incarcerated right. People are sorely mistaken if they believe throwing some trans people under the bus and saying they don’t have a right to SRS will help those who aren’t in that group. You’re just proving the point of the bigots: that SRS is not actually medically necessary. Yes, it is medically necessary for those who need it. And these people for whom it is necessary – like anyone else – may even be in prison. THAT is what needs to be fought for. Not the right for some people to have SRS, as that will only prove that SRS isn’t truly needed. Medical care is a human right. Let’s not forget that.