The Bathroom Law the Right Wing Actually Wants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NC HB2 – and How NC Protects Children

Yes, you actually read this right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

North Carolina Can’t Even do the Wrong Thing Right

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

Buck Angel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Honor, Even in Honor

Mary Edwards Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meritocracies and Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, it’s not that kind of discrimination.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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”.