Discomfort vs. Identity

Recently, California passed a new law that clarified existing law – it didn’t actually do anything new, but it made the interpretation of the existing law a lot clearer.

180px-Oregon_special_election_ballot

A mail-in ballot (From Wikimedia, Public Domain license)

This law, AB1266, is short and easy to understand.  This is an advantage over the other non-discrimination law that doesn’t directly answer questions such as, “Do schools have to recognize the gender of a trans student?”  Instead, the other law simply says they can’t discriminate against a trans person, but doesn’t explicitly say lack of gender recognition is a form of discrimination.

AB1266 added to existing language in California that requires schools to treat the sexes equally (the existing language required schools to do things such as providing career counseling that included occupations outside of gender stereotypes.  The new, trans-specific language is very short:

A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.

And that’s where the issue is.  It makes it clear that a trans girl could play girl’s basketball and use the girl’s locker room.  And you don’t mess with two things in America: you don’t mess with sports or nudity.  It’s our God-given right to have as many lethal firearms as we want, to have easy access to alcohol, to allow people to die of treatable illness if they can’t afford good medical care, and to invoke the name of God in school even if it offends some students (note however that this only applies to the Christian God – don’t try to invoke the a deity from another religion!).  But, if a teenage girl finds out a penis exists…well, then it’s all over.

Of course I’ve written before about the need for privacy in bathrooms and locker rooms – and how it’s only a minority of people that the right wing cares about protecting in bathrooms.  If adults want safe places for our children to pee and shower, they can start by getting rid of non-private facilities.  Seriously.  That would be legislation worth having.  Too many people are abused in the current facilities.  Including trans people, but not only trans people.  If you want your kid safe from having to see a penis, give them both a private place to do their thing!

Unfortunately, the same people that funded much of Prop 8 are behind a new move to repeal AB1266.  These include the National Organization for MarriagePacific Justice Institute and Calvary Chapel.

The various groups behind this  also used the same tactics.  Like conjuring out of thin air not one lie, but two – they found two instances of girls being harassed by trans students in the bathroom.  Yes, both were lies.

The first one was a girl from Colorado.  Here’s a report, including audio conversation with the school, that shows one of the other organizations behind this initiative, the Pacific Justice Institute (a right-wing Christian political group) made up the accusations about harassment.  The falsely accused girl?  She’s on suicide watch.  If this doesn’t demonstrate the need to protect the rights of trans students, I don’t know what does.

The second lie was about a girl from California. This was by a Calvary Chapel of Temecula ministry – Salt and Light Ministry.  Again, the story was about a trans girl that was harassing students in the bathroom.  Just one problem: it wasn’t true either.

Now, I don’t think there is actually a commandment against trans people (maybe someone can find that for me).  But the 10 I learned did talk about bearing false witness. It also stirs up hate and violent sentiment towards trans students.

Back to present time, however. There are several groups that want to repeal AB1266, and they’ve been collecting signatures to put it on the ballot.  It looks like they’ve met that goal – they claim over 600,000 signatures, when just over 500,000 are needed.  Now, it’s certainly possible that 20% or more of the signatures won’t be valid, but I’m not holding my breath.  I hope they are.  As I see it, that’s about our only chance, because the possibility of educating people about trans people is just not realistic for 2014. And an initiative like this, funded well by the right wing, would do damage not only erasing the law, but worse in stirring up hatred and violence. And there’s a solution that meets everyone’s needs: private facilities. Yes, it would cost money. Aren’t our kids worth that?

If the signatures are valid – and, again, I pray to God there aren’t enough – then this will go to the voters. And we’ll see who the true allies are among the LGB community. Sadly, I think some will stand on the sidelines while their T brothers and sisters are thrown to the wolves. And discomfort around trans people (the “ick” factor) will win over logic and identity.

 

You Want To Talk Bathrooms?

If you listen to the right wing, their opposition to every LGBT protection law that includes gender identity comes down to bathrooms.

In California, AB1266 recently became law.  This law basically made it explicit: trans people have rights, even if they are children, and that includes the right to be treated as a member of the gender they identify as.

What gets lost in the discussion of the law is that this law didn’t change the law!  Seriously.  It was already California law that you not discriminate, and there has been plenty of case law in other areas establishing that treating a transwoman as a man (for example) is sex discrimination, both federally (this is a positive recent change) and within California law.

What it did do is end a bunch of legal bickering that occurred in more conservative districts whenever a trans person wanted rights in schools.  It made it easy for the bigots to figure out the law – they didn’t need to think anymore, which apparently is good for bigots.  Now they have no excuse and no legal arguments over what the law actually says.  So it did do something, even if it wasn’t necessary: it made it harder for districts to waste time in court while being an asshole to a trans student.

That’s probably why it was supported by so many people.  According to the bill’s Senate Floor Analysis, it was supported by Equality California, Gender Spectrum, GSA Network, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Transgender Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union of California, Anti-Defamation League, Bay Area Youth Summit, California Communities United Institute, California Federation of Teachers, California LGBT Health & Human Services Network, California State PTA, California Teachers Association, Child & Adolescent Gender Center, Family Equality Council, GLSEN, GLSEN Orange County, HonorPAC, L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, Labor/Community Strategy Center, LAUSD, LGBT Community Center of the Desert, Los Angeles Gender Center, MALDEF, National Association of Social Workers, CA Chapter National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, North County LGBTQ Resource Center, Our Family Coalition, Pacific Pride Foundation, Public Advocates Inc., Public Counsel, Restorative Schools Vision Project, San Diego Cooperative Charter School, San Diego LGBT Community Center, San Francisco Unified School District, The Center Long Beach, The Center OC, The Trevor Project, and Youth Justice Coalition.

Yes, that’s a lot of support.  Who opposed it?  You would think that if this created problems in schools, at least one education-related organization would oppose it.  So let’s see…who opposed it officially?  It’s a short list:

  • California Catholic Conference
  • Capitol Resource Institute
  • Concerned Women for America
  • Traditional Values Coalition

I had to look up “Capitol Resource Institute” (CRI) to find out who they were.  They are a right-wing Christian lobbying group, who opposes gay marriage, LGBT rights, and other “left” causes like public money funding public schools (rather than vouchers, which of course CRI supports). They are also working with the creators of California’s hateful Proposition 8 to come up with a ballot initiative to remove rights from trans students.

The others are also right wing Christian groups.

Not one educational organization was willing to officially oppose the bill.  That should tell you something: restating existing law is hardly the end of the world as we know it.

So, what is the opposition?  The guys trying to appear to be sane according to a Huffington Post article that quotes an AP story, say,

In an interview with the Associated Press, Donnelly said that his sons, aged 13 and 16, are “horrified” at the prospect of using the same bathrooms as peers who were born female.

Yes, I’m sure that Donnelly’s kids have no idea that vaginas exist.  After all, I suspect Donnelly believes in saving sex for marriage – you shouldn’t know anything about it until then, after all.

But, more significantly, the opposition is always about bathrooms.

Except it’s not about bathrooms.  It’s about basic dignity.  It’s about being treated as who you are.  And it applies to far more than bathrooms – it ensures that a girl is treated as a girl in all aspects by the school.  That’s what it’s about.  It’s not about seeing penises or vaginas.

But, if they want to talk bathrooms, let’s talk bathrooms.

One California Representative opposes the recent law because it invades the privacy of the other 98% of students.  For instance, he says:

Some of my most pressing questions are: What are the long-term repercussions of this measure? Will some kids be too embarrassed to use the bathroom or locker rooms, knowing that a member of the opposite sex could enter any time? Could this create unneeded anxiety with students, creating a massive learning distraction? Will creating gender neutral facilities increase the likelihood of a sexual assault on campus?

Let’s look at that.  Let’s start talking about kids not being able to use the bathroom.  Let’s talk about the 7% – a large part of that “98%” he talks about – who have trouble using public facilities due to Paruresis, a medical condition commonly known as “shy bladder.”  According to the International Paruresis Association, restrooms could be designed better.  To give people privacy.  Then this 7% could pee in peace.

But it’s not just that 7%.  We have gay people in our society.  Really.  And it’s 10% of the population.  The California legislature concerned about the privacy rights of the 98% is also concerned that somehow transgender students will be attracted to the students in the bathroom they are using, but not the bathroom that doesn’t match their gender.  Apparently he doesn’t realize that not all trans people are gay.  Heck, most aren’t.  Duh.  But 10% of the population is gay, and is using showers and facilities.  They might even be attracted to someone.  Rick Santorum was definitely worried about this when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was being repealed.  So we have to worry about that 10% too.

Of course it’s not just gays – there are those pesky bisexuals.  46% of the male population, according to a Kinsey study on behavior (not attraction) or reaction (you can guess what that means) of men to men and women, showed they were at least somewhat bisexual.  That’s an older study, but I suspect men in the 1940s and 1950s were even less likely to tell a researcher about their bisexuality than it would today.  Now, most of this 46% doesn’t identify as bisexual, but does that matter to the right wing?  Probably not.  And plenty of other studies have confirmed Kinsey’s studies, although it is important to distinguish between differing definitions of bisexuality (as an aside, Kinsey disliked that term). And would they want a bisexual student peeing in a urinal next to their boy? My guess is no. So they must be excluded.

So let’s see… 98% of the population needs privacy from trans people.  Of that 98%, 7% of them can’t urinate with others in their space or sound area.  So that’s .98 multiplied by .93 which yields 91% of the population doesn’t need bathroom design changes if trans people aren’t allowed in any bathroom.  If we take that 91% and multiply it by 90% (let’s exclude the 10% of gays from bathrooms, so nobody worries about the gay guy checking them out), we find out that 81% of the population is now okay.  But, remember, 46% is bi.  So 54% (the non-Bi chunk) of 81% is 43%.

43% of the population would be just fine if trans students, people with paruresis, bisexual attractions or behavior, or gays were banned from restrooms.  Of course that would require us to ban 57% from the bathroom.  Or at least build bathrooms, showers, and other environments that are accessible to the majority (the 57%).

You know what meets the needs of both the 43% and the 57%?  Private facilities.  Seriously.

But of course none of the legislators or right wing lobbying groups talk about making facilities private.  No, they just talk about excluding people. Even though 57% of people is a lot of people not peeing if they have their way.

It’s time the 57% get their rights back.

In Remembrance…September 2013

In September, we lost at least 5 people through murder.

I hate writing about this.

I’m not going to editorialize this time, although I could talk about how people are referred to (again) after their death, and how even LGB news services don’t always respect names and genders of dead trans people.

Instead I’m going to ask that you take a minute and reflect that the following people had their lives taken. Reflect on what we need to do to make change and to stop the violence.

The links below will go to third party news sites that don’t always respect the identity of the victim.

Sometime before September 1, 2013, in Savannah, TX, USA, Konyale Williams was killed. No additional details are known.

On September 9, 2013, in Baldwin Park, CA, USA, Melony Smith was murdered. Melony was forced to leave home at age 16 because her parents did not accept her gender identity. While living in hotels, she completed her high school education and was working to save up for further education at the time of her death.

On September 12, 2013, in Baton Rouge, LA, USA, Shaun Hartley was murdered. Hartley was to be the key witness in a murder trial.

On September 19, 2013, in Sakaew, Thailand, Kornsirinya was brutally murdered.

On September 24, 2013, in New Brunswick, NJ, USA, Eyricka Morgan was murdered in her home.

I apologize and will make corrections if I misgendered or misnamed any of the people above.  I did my best to find their preferred names and pronouns, but I can make mistakes. I do not desire to dishonor the dead.

Think on the names above, the locations where these crimes occurred, and realize that trans people are sadly not safe anywhere. Also think on those I didn’t name, but lost their lives just as tragically – those who were victims of suicide, having left the world to escape the pain. Think about what we can do to change that.

Another Bad Month

candleAugust was another bad month for trans people.

When I recount the violence I know about, remember that many crimes against trans people go unreported, don’t get media attention, or are treated as ordinary violence in media reports.  Sadly, the majority of crime against trans people falls into this unreported and ignored category.

Even so, what is reported is horrifying and shows us, again, that we need to continue to fight for trans people.  Not for marriage.  Not for employment.  Not for bathroom access.  Just for the right for trans people to exist.  Just to exist.

As always, I strive to respect who people are.  Unfortunately, the preferred gender identities, names, and pronouns of victims are not always evident from reports.  In addition, some cultures have different views among trans people of who they are – all the world doesn’t view gender as western society does.  I’ve tried to be respectful of people, and am sorry that not everything linked here goes to that same trouble.  I also know I may get it wrong, as I am forced in most cases to rely on media reports.  I welcome correction and will update this post accordingly.  I’ve also tried to be respectful in what I link, but at the same time, some of the only reporting is often horrifying or degrading.  Please keep this in mind when clicking links.

During the beginning of the month, a trans woman was brutally attacked by a group of thugs in Russia.  The attackers even video taped themselves brutally attacking the woman.  Unfortunately, we don’t know if the woman’s physical wounds have healed or not, but it is clear that the attack will have lifelong consequences.  It’s hard to imagine that not only could someone do this to someone else, but they could actually make a graphic video about it.

On Aug 18, 2013, in Ankara, Turkey, a crowd violently attacked a group of trans people, beating them with bats, gassing them, and destroying their automobiles.  When the crime was reported to police, with license plate information, the police claimed that the license plates were false.  However, the victims report that they are concerned that the apathy of police will cause these attacks to continue.

In Dhobi Ghat, India, on Aug 19, a trans person was raped.  The rapist went on to rape severely ill person (who died, in large part due to the attack according to relatives) only a few hours later, followed by participating in a gang rape against a photojournalist two days later.

One day later, on Aug 20, in Fontana, CA, USA, Dominique Newburn was murdered in a violent struggle with her attacker.  Some of her belongings were stolen, and a manhunt continues for the suspected killer.

On August 22, in New York City, a Islan Nettles was brutally attacked, dying several days later having never regained consciousness from her injuries.  The murderer was a student at a local university who was apparently so enraged upon finding out that the woman he was hitting on (and who turned him down) and her friends were trans brutally attacked Islan in front of a New York City police station, leaving her unconscious.  Islan’s friends were also attacked, although with less significant injuries.  Meanwhile, the suspected killer’s mother, seems to have found another man to try to take the blame for the murder, to spare her son jail time.  Fortunately, police are still investigating Paris Wilson, the originally suspected killer.  It should be noted that others were also likely involved in attacking the trans women.

Of course, even in all of this, several of the victims of the crimes described above faced additional injustice when they reported the crimes to apathetic police, endured misgendering, were referred to as “drunk” or “prostitutes” by police and/or media, and even when their families used the wrong pronouns or names in talking about the victims.  The attack rarely stops when the physical violence ends.

This article puts it in perspective, speaking about July:

These findings were based on statistics released by the Organization of American States and included incidents from Canada, the United States, Central America and South America. The report found that in the month of July alone, 39 people were murdered: 23 transgender people and 16 gays and lesbians.

The article goes on to talk about that, while gays face more risk of violence than straight people, trans people, particularly trans women and non-white trans people, face violence at an incredibly increased rate compared to even gay people.

This has to stop.  When you see people devaluing the humanity of another, whether it’s a crass joke, intentional misgendering, laughing at someone’s gender presentation, or gossiping behind their back, you need to speak up.  These things are not violent attacks, but they lower the social status of trans people and make them less than fully human in some people’s eyes.  And they’re asshole things to do besides.

The Tradition of Fixed Gender

A recent Fox News article about a proposed California law to protect trans students from discrimination is what one would expect from Fox – transphobic and ignorant of science, while finding obscure hate groups to provide “counterpoint” to a fictitious argument.

As someone who finds history – particularly history of gender, sex, and orientation – to be fascinating and much more interesting than much of what I was taught in school (or should I say “what they tried to teach me in school?”), I found one statement pretty humorous:

“For a millennium, sex has meant male or female,” she said. “What they are saying is now you can change that.”

The person quoted is Andrea Lafferty, the non-traditional head (many “traditional” churches still ban women from leadership, after all) of the Traditional Values Coalition of California, an obscure anti-gay group that has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center not because of their anti-gay stance, but rather because of the known and verifiable lies they use to promote their cause  of hate.  Any responsible journalist would recognize that this may not be the best source for a quote, unless you are talking about how absurd some groups in America are when it comes to hating gays (and, to these groups, gays and trans people are exactly the same).  But I digress.  She claims that for a millennium (that would be roughly 914 A.D. until now) that sex has meant male and female.

Apparently intersexed people don’t exist.  These are people who, at birth, have ambiguous genitals or other sex characteristics.  For instance, someone with some cells that have XX chromosomes (female) and someone who has XY chromosomes (male) would be intersexed (and, yes, these people do exist).  Sex determination is hard – so hard that most reputable, scientifically based groups (such as most sports organizations) have acknowledged that someones we just can’t know if someone is more male or more female – they are ambiguous, and no test can make it clear (in those cases most sports organizations fall back to the person’s legal recognition).

That of course is not new.  Focus on the Family seems to imply that intersexed people shouldn’t marry, by saying:

From [some previously quoted Bible passages] we see that Christians are called to understand that God readily seeks to strengthen and encourage those who find themselves unable to marry and participate in genderedness and sexual expression as ordained in the created order.

The context of this is about why you can dismiss intersexed people as a challenge to Biblical ideas of male and female (note that not all Bible scholars agree that the Bible says everyone is fully male or fully female and cannot change).  They go on to say that the person should live their assigned gender identity, never mind the possibility of error at birth.  So, Focus on the Family’s solution is to just ignore intersexed people when it comes to discussion about gender, and that they live single lives rather than complicate the situation for Focus’s followers.  Oh, elsewhere they tell us that intersexed people – unlike the rest of us – are a result of the fall of man, and thus are basically the fruit of sin.

So ignoring or insulting intersexed people is hardly new for some groups that claim to be acting in the name of Christ.  So it is no big surprise when the Traditional Values Coalition’s (TLC) executive director ignores those.  At least those who have existed in the last 1,000 years or so.

But back to the rest of her point – that, ignoring intersexed people, sex has meant male and female for a 1,000 years.  Of course we should differentiate sex and gender, with sex being biological and gender being identity – and I’ll ignore the common sense that says someone who identifies as a woman and is known to be a woman should use the women’s room, or the common sense that a non-discrimination law for students affects far more than bathrooms.  Or that this is needed because of the tremendously high suicide rate of trans youth.  I’m going to ignore that and just focus on how sex has meant male and female for 1,000 years.

Looking at that, most trans people would say, for the most part, it still does.  Most trans people don’t seek a third category (some do, and this of course should be respected).  The very idea of gender identity disorder (the current DSM-IV diagnosis for a transsexual) is someone that is unhappy with the biology of their body – and there are of course medically recognized treatments, consisting of things like hormones and surgery, for this diagnosis.  And most of these people would consider themselves to be male or female after transition.  No surprise there (except possibly to the TVC).

I suspect the literal reading (a mode of Bible study these people are fond of!) is not what the Executive Director intended, however.  I suspect she’s arguing that sex is fixed, and can’t be changed.  And, further, that people should live in the gender role that matches society’s expectation for their sex.

So, let’s look at some history.

Let’s take Queen Christina of Sweden in the 1600s.  That’s within 1,000 years.  After she abdicated the throne, she traveled as Count Dohna, a man.  There’s some evidence she may have been intersexed, and also may have been bisexual.  During her life, many observed she (unfortuantely I don’t know which pronoun she would prefer) did many things as a man would.  Want a real mindblower?  Her body is in the Vatican crypts.

Queen Christina of Sweden on horseback, as painted by Sebastien Bourdon in 1653

Queen Christina of Sweden on horseback, as painted by Sebastien Bourdon in 1653

Or the many Native Americans who lived as what we might see as transgender or transsexual lives.  That is, a person born with male sex organs who lived, worked, married, and dressed as a woman, often married to a man.  Or vise-versa.  Or those that lived as neither man or woman.  That mostly stopped as the USA was colonized and Christianity (and European interpretations of Christianity) were brought into the culture.  This was certainly within 1,000 years.

Or we can look at Islam and Mohammed, who lived a few hundred years before the last 1,000 years.  The Quran references “Mukhannathun” who would generally be considered transwomen today.  Within the last 1,000 years, other writings have confirmed this view.  There is controversy about whether trans people are committing sin in Islam, but regardless of that controversy, clearly gender was not always black and white.

Or we can look at USA court cases.  Such as M.T. v. J.T. in NJ (1976), which affirmed that a post-operative trans person was in fact a different sex than their birth.  It’s for this reason that most US states allow reissuance of a birth certificate after a sex reassignment procedure.  Clearly sex is not fixed in the eyes of the law.  We can look at more recent legal decisions such as the federal In re Jose Mauricio LOVO-Lara (2005), where a post-operative trans person was recognized as a female for immigration purposes.

There are literally thousands of examples I could cite, but the above is sufficient: sex was never recognized as completely black and white, one way or the other, and unchangeable.

Of course then we get to the heart of the issue and the real transphobia in the Fox article.  The heart is the idea that trans people aren’t really the gender they claim to be, that they really are whatever was put on their birth certificate at birth.  That’s what’s really at issue, beyond all the talk of bathrooms and religious discrimination and love for the product of Adam’s sin.  It’s about whether or not a person’s gender can be legally recognized.  Some, who have nothing in the fight except hate, say no.  They say that they outnumber trans people, so trans people should lose.  Fortunately, our country’s founders were smart enough to not quite let majority rule at their whim – and this hateful group very likely lacks even that majority.  Even the rights of one are worth protecting.  Scared your kid might have to use the bathroom with a trans person?  I hate to tell you this, but they almost certainly already have.  And so have you.  Beyond that reality, trans people are not sexually assaulting kids in bathrooms.  No, rather than that, the trans kids are being assaulted in the bathroom.  So, if you really care about kids, as you claim, why don’t you start by figuring out why someone would think it’s okay to beat someone up because you think they dress wrong, talk wrong, act wrong, or pee wrong.  But, no, the solution from the right wing is to allow schools to exclude and neglect trans people, to appease people who think they are living a life of sin, who want a trans person to be punished for the mistaken idea that somehow you can punish the trans out of someone.

One thing is for sure, though: trans people aren’t a new part of society.  This is hardly a new idea to any serious student of history (you know, the kind that doesn’t just read stuff that reinforces their views and ignores all other sources).  Maybe it’s new to some bigoted right-wing hate group administrators, but it’s not new to the world.  I didn’t even mention the Asian or African cultures that lived for thousands of years (and often still do) with third gender members of their communities.  Or the women who dressed and acted as men to fight for the USA (or other nations).  Or the many other people who didn’t meet everyone’s gender expectations.