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.

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.


Spikes in Divorce – Same Sex Marriage?

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

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

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

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

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


From – data from 1920 to 1980

The other spike was gay marriage being legalized.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balancing on the Edge of the Toilet Bowl

We need to balance the rights of everyone.  Uh, sure.  But not that way.

We hear this statement – we need to balance everyone’s rights – when someone’s rights are being denied.

Ancient Roman latrines / latrinae, Ostia Antica.  There is considerable scholarly debate as to whether these roman latrines were gender-segregated.

Ancient Roman latrines / latrinae, Ostia Antica. There is considerable scholarly debate as to whether these roman latrines were gender-segregated.  Toilets are a controversial subject!

In Colorado, we have a pretty awesome Division of Civil Rights.  They recently ruled (PDF via Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund) that Coy Mathis, now a second grader, has the right to use a bathroom that matches her gender identity (she is a trans girl).  While Coy has left the discriminatory district and is planning to attend school in another city (a wise decision, as retaliation if subtle can be hard to prove), this decision will help many other people in a very practical way – the right to go to the bathroom.

One of the arguments we heard during the debate from the discriminatory district was that this was a “complicated situation” (that means “I don’t really want to discuss this publicly or have it questioned – it’s too complicated for simple public discourse, after all…”) and that the district couldn’t extend special rights to one student (or a small number of students) at the expense of the majority.  Of course the special rights tactic isn’t new, particularly from that area of Colorado, as it gained great prominence in the Colorado Amendment 2 battle (the formal title of Amendment 2 was “Colorado No Protected Status for Sexual Orientation Amendment, Initiative 2”).  There were three reasons given to the general public at large for the need to pass Amendment 2:

  • Passage will provide for the safety and well-being of children (that is, allowing non-discrimination ordinances to exist would be bad for children because then they’ll hear that gays are equal and are supposed to be treated well, which, apparently, will make more kids gay).
  • Gays are making a lifestyle choice, which shouldn’t be protected in the same way things that are not choices should be protected.  We shouldn’t “protect sin.”
  • Gays are a very small minority, so nothing is wrong when a majority of people believe something is wrong and vote to codify their moral beliefs in law, even if it affects that minority.  They are outnumbered.  Special rights for gays that YOU don’t get.

Of course most people know that being gay isn’t a lifestyle choice.  So I’m not even going to dignify that with an argument.

As for harm to Children, that was prominent part of the Amendment 2 TV advertising.  For example, one anti-gay ad (click to watch) used the following voice-over, “School kids are taught this lifestyle is healthy and normal.  By law.  Do we want to protect our children?  Yes we do!  Vote yes on 2!”  The implication is that children will be infected by gay, I guess.  There is of course children on the other side of the issue – as Judge Kennedy wrote, when striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, anti-gay laws serve to “[humiliate] tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.”  So that leaves us with the third point.  I’ll address this along with the next argument.

The third argument in favor of Amendment 2 was the argument that the majority trumps the minority has been used forever.  Essentially the majority will claim, “If we recognize rights for the minority, we’ll lose rights.  And it’s not right that the majority loses rights.”  It was special rights for gays.

(note that I’m not equating gays and trans people – but the issue is the same, just as the historical opposition to desegregation is similar to the opposition today against LGBT people).

And that’s where we are today.  The idea is that somehow the rights of the majority are violated when a trans child uses a bathroom aligned with the child’s gender identity.  Sometimes you’ll hear the same Amendment 2 style safety concern, or a slightly different one along the lines of “They are going to let perverts into your girl’s bathroom.”  The “special” right of being able to use a bathroom that matches your gender when you need to urinate doesn’t apply to trans people.  After all, we have to think of the right to be safe while using the bathroom.

That’s where the argument is today – there are two parts to the argument that allowing a 2nd grade transgirl to use the girl’s room is dangerous and thus a violation of more people’s rights than prohibiting her use of the bathroom would be:

  • Women, girls, and, to a lesser extent, boys have the right to be safe from others
  • Trans people are dangerous

Few people would disagree that people using the toilet have a right to be safe – just as during Amendment 2 in Colorado, few people were opposed to protecting children – the disagreement was whether or not being able to fire gay people in Boulder, CO for being gay had anything to do with protecting children.  Of course what is lost in this argument is that trans people also have the right to be safe – both psychologically and physically.

There are few if any (I know of none) incidents of a trans person using a bathroom and then assaulting a woman or child in that bathroom.  There sadly are many incidents of trans people being beaten, kicked, insulted, humiliated, and threatened for using a bathroom – and this is true no matter which bathroom they use.  But balancing the rights of Coy Mathis and the other students, in the eyes of some, means segregating Coy from other girls because Coy is the problem.  If she can use the bathroom, that would be the same as letting a man use the bathroom.  It would be dangerous.  Yet the evidence says otherwise.

The next response is, “Well, Coy is essentially third gendered.”  No, she’s not.  She’s a girl.  She doesn’t identify as “neither boy or girl.”  She identifies as girl.  There are people who don’t see themselves as either man or woman, but a different category – and this of course needs to be respected.  But in Coy’s case, she sees herself – as do her parents, doctors, and most of her teachers (but not district administration) – as a girl.  She’s not third gendered.  Using a staff bathroom (ironically they were single stalled, but still signed “men” or “women” – they were still gender segregated) would be stigmatizing to anyone.  Do you not think kids would notice and then tease someone who used a different bathroom?  Who was using a bathroom kids normally are prohibited from using?

Now, I believe in having private bathroom options for all people.  Certainly some trans people will use them.  So will some people that reject binary gender.  And so will plenty of non-trans people who need extra privacy for whatever reason.  But it must be a choice, not forced, to remain free from stigmatization.

The right of Coy should be considered.  She has the right to be a girl.  Colorado law, fortunately, recognizes this.  Someone else’s “right” to not feel uncomfortable does not trump Coy’s rights.  No matter how numerous the uncomfortable people may be.  Besides, there’s an easy solution for people who don’t feel comfortable sharing the bathroom with someone else: use the single-stall bathrooms!  Coy isn’t the problem (statistically, it’s clear she’s not likely to harm others).  Perhaps it’s a good time to think about bathroom safety for all, since too many children are assaulted in bathrooms (by people who are not trans).

We also have good law already for someone who will violate someone else in the restroom.  The gender of the attacker isn’t the critical issue.  The act itself is.  And the law does recognize that certain acts shouldn’t happen in the bathroom.  For example, despite Boulder, Colorado having laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression, their porta-potty peeper was rightfully brought to justice.

There is no need to “balance” the rights of bigots with Coy.  The bigots are of course free to grumble and protest, but they aren’t free to discriminate, whether it’s Coy or a black student or a muslim student.  Their bigotry is not solved by discriminating against the object of their hate.

So, in summary, it is possible to balance the rights of the people who will be uncomfortable and the rights of Coy.  Let the people uncomfortable sharing bathrooms use private facilities.  Those of us who are fine with someone else urinating in another stall can then get on with our lives – and you don’t harm or segregate an innocent girl in the process.  She isn’t responsible for someone else’s bigotry or discomfort.

Sexual Orientation is a Continuum

Uh, no.

It’s not.  Really.

Yes, I know there are gays and lesbians and bisexuals.  Sure.  I know that some people are mostly attracted to men or mostly attracted to women, but have some attraction for the other gender, and that the relative preference for one gender over the other can be all over the map, depending on the person.

I get that.  But I still say this is the wrong way of looking at sexual orientation.

This is the political way of looking at it: we separate people into groups, primarily based on whether what they do is persecuted by society at large.  Straight people don’t get persecuted, pretty much everyone else does.  So we define groups based on the factor that causes persecution: is the person attracted to the same sex?  Then we divide this further: is the person attracted to both sexes, and to what degree (perhaps)?  Maybe we even throw in, “I’m not attracted to anyone” or “I’m only somewhat attracted to anyone.”  And, for politics and identity, this can be a fine way of dividing things.  Nor will I fault Kinsey for his use of a continuum scale.

But is that really the most important thing in finding relationships?  For some people, yes, sex or gender is an absolute – the relationship can’t work without that, there is no attraction without that.  For others, it’s not important at all, but some other characteristic – possibly something that most other people don’t care about – is what is important and can disqualify those who lack it from being considered as partners.  Others might find sex or gender important, but not an absolute – they might strongly prefer men, but at the same time be open to a woman who has certain traits.

Sexual orientation is a great simplification of reality – and why that translates into the inapplicability of the experience of one person with an orientation to members of the entire group that share that orientation.  It’s a simplification of the mosaic of desire into a simple line.  You lose most of the mosaic when you turn it’s two or three dimensional design into a one-dimensional line (or worse, a binary choice). It’s important that our expressions of experience consider that not everyone – even those in the category we identify with – would agree with all the things we consider essential to our experience as a member of that category.  If you know one gay man, you know one gay man!  That one gay man’s experience may or may not be similar to other people’s.  We’re a mosaic, not a line.