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.

American Owned

You’ll see the signs still in some places.  Most of the time, “American Owned” hanging on a convenience store window or hotel means one thing: “We’re white.”  It’s racism, plain and simple, and carries the implication that someone who isn’t white can’t possibly be American.

About 10 years ago, on election day, I went to my favorite restaurant.  The shop owner, a Vietnamese man, was in the process of becoming a citizen while legally operating his business.  He came over, but rather than ask if I wanted my “usual,” he asked if I voted yet.  When I said I hadn’t, he firmly told me that he would not be serving me until I had done so.  At first, I thought he was joking and explained that I would vote, just not before eating! He insisted.  He told me about the process he was going through to become a citizen and that I, as a citizen, have a responsibility to America to go and discharge my citizenship duties. He said, “I can’t vote, but I can get people who can to do so.” Clearly, this man wanted to vote, and I know (he is now a very proud citizen) that he proudly votes in every election.

I left, voted, and came back later. I got a free meal for it.

When I think of people coming to America, I always think of this man. He worked harder than most people I know. Hard work is American, right? He ran a successful business in the free market, by providing what people wanted for a price they would pay. That’s American, right? He is more patriotic than most. That’s American, right? He recognized the good about America. That’s American, right? He’s exactly the kind of person that makes America into America. I don’t know what his religions was, but I do know that he didn’t look white. And, in my mind’s eye, I can see a competitor hanging a sign that says, “American Owned” in the window when the competitor cannot compete on the basis of a superior product at a superior value.

In WWII, we saw the enemy of the Japanese. Heck, we saw the enemy of the Japanese-American. We locked Japanese into internment camps. This was while we were fighting the Nazis who were sure that race mattered. Apparently, it didn’t just matter to them.

During WWII, the 100th Infantry was made up of Japanese Americans, fighting two wars: the war against the Axis and the war for recognition as full Americans. By all accounts, they fought hard and incredibly bravely. TWENTY ONE of the members of this battalion received the Medal of Honor during WWII. TWENTY ONE! This is the highest possible military honor in the United States. It’s awarded for the often dismissed phrase, valor “above and beyond the call of duty.” To put in perspective how high of an honor this award represents, a four-star general will salute a private, even if in civilian clothing, who is wearing the medal. I know a white veteran who was in Italy while the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a part of the 100th, was also there. I can assure you that nobody will insult a Japanese American in his presence without finding out the full story of what our fellow Americans did there.

But there’s more to this story. Those 21 medals? 20 were not awarded until 2000, because these men were ignored – due to race, according to the commission investigating in 1998 – despite tremendous valor deserving of the award. It took us 50+ years to recognize the heroes of the 100th. Of course there’s other awards, too, that many were deserving of.  The 442nd is, for the size and length of service, the most decorated unit in US military history.

But, in WWII, these brave men were the enemy. They had the skin color of our declared enemy. They weren’t Americans, they were the enemy. They weren’t “us.”

Of course Japanese-Americans weren’t the only ones treated this way. We did it to blacks and Asians (and still do). And today, it’s popular to treat Hispanic Americans and Muslim Americans the same way.  For instance, what could be more American than singing the American Anthem? Apparently you are not to do that dressed as anything but a western European:

Sebastien, the boy in the above video, is as American as anyone else. He’s a citizen, born in Texas. Yet, he was attacked online for being “Mexican” and non-American. Fortunately, the San Antonio Spurs basketball team responded in the perfect way: they asked him to come back and sing again.

Yet, a positive response by a sports team doesn’t erase racism. It’s still here.

We saw that again with the Miss America Pageant when an Indian-American woman won. Among the racist tweets and statements were many that assumed Nina was an Arab Muslim, a common mistake made by racists. Apparently, in their America, a Muslim or an Arab couldn’t represent America. After all, Muslim Arabs are terrorists, and so are people who look like them. And thus they are the Japanese of the 21st century.

It’s time to stop this cycle of hate. No, it’s not about whether she was Arab or Indian. She’s American. That’s what this needs to be about. And whether she believes in Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Athiesm, or something else, she’s still an American. We’re a diverse country. With Muslims. That aren’t terrorists.

And, lest you think this attitude towards Muslims by an American is a new, liberal idea, check out this article by the Huffington Post. The founding fathers knew Muslims existed – they weren’t as stupid as some think. And they built a country that was supposed to recognize them as full Americans.

Not everyone wants that America, though. And rather than claim to be destroying the foundational principles of America, those who don’t want it hide behind the flag and patriotism, claiming they want “Americans” to represent America, when what they really mean is only white Christian people should represent America. Their “patriotism” needs to be called out as the bigotry that it is.

Soldiers, Voters, and Cross-Dressers

Just recently, the US has opened up military combat roles to women.  However, we’ve already had women in combat roles, well before the 21st century.  No, I’m not talking about the women who were honored for finding themselves in combat while performing a supposedly non-combative job (these women were every bit as brave as any man who signed up for a combat role).  No, in every conflict the USA (and likely others) have been involved in, women soldiers were on the front lines.

Civil War Memorial on the side of the Colorado Capitol Building.  Taken by self.

Civil War Memorial on the side of the Colorado Capitol Building. Taken by self.

For instance, in the Civil War, at least several hundred – perhaps well over 1,000 – women served on either side of the battle lines.  No, not just as nurses or such (although the only woman to have received the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor in the US, was a surgeon; she is also one of only eight civilians to receive the Medal of Honor – she dedicated her life after the war to woman’s rights, as even after receiving the Medal of Honor and being a prisoner of war, she was unable to vote).

A Washington Post article describes a book and research on the Civil War.  Unlike Mary Edwards Walker, these women dressed and acted as men during the war – in fact, they enlisted as men, using male names, wearing male clothes, and, in most cases, going undetected (unless injured or, in some cases, having a child).

Albert Cashier, likely a FTM transsexual who served in the US Military during the Civil War.

Albert Cashier, likely a FTM transsexual who served in the US Military during the Civil War.

The reasons for this were varied – some, such as Albert Cachier (referred to as Jennie Hodgers in the Washington Post article) would likely be classified as transsexual today, although it’s hard to apply modern labels to historical figures.  Albert worked as a man following the war and was eventually committed to a mental institution (for non-trans related reasons).  At that mental institution, he was discovered to be female (referring here to sex, not gender) and forced to wear dresses.  He turned the dresses into pants.

Other reasons for presenting as a man during the war included a desire for independence, greater rights, better pay (war pay was quite good compared to what many workers made, and certainly better than what women made), love (to enlist with a significant other), patriotism, or revenge (often to take revenge for the death of a loved one or family member).  Voting was a particularly possible reason as well.  Of course the reasons given by the military for this were less noble – typically homosexuality (then considered a very grave moral sin) or prostitution.  A good woman didn’t enlist in the army, after all.

Ironically, just as in the civil war, cross dressing today in the military is grounds for discharge.  While gays and lesbians may serve openly, being found out to be a cross dresser or trans person in the US military is grounds for a discharge under mental health reasons.  In fact, even having had sex reassignment surgery or being intersexed is reason to be discharged (or not admitted).  Apparently, sex organs matter in combat, at least in the eyes of the USA military.  Maybe some of this is related to the idea that only men can possibly fight in combat roles, an idea the USA had until recently, at least officially.

Not all other countries see things that way.  For example, during WWII, women bomber pilots fought for the Allies.  No, I’m not just talking about the women who ferried planes around the world, sometimes at great risk to themselves.  I’m talking about women who had bombs loaded on their planes and flew into combat with the bombs, to drop them on the enemy.  The Russian Night Witches flew some of the oldest and worst planes in the Russian air force, but successfully performed their missions.  Incredibly successfully, in fact.  They flew a dozen or more missions each during an average night (owing to the planes limited payload capacity), and most pilots flew over 1,000 missions.  Very few suffered casualties, but not because it wasn’t dangerous, but because of their outstanding tactics and flying skills.

And, today, many US allies allow not only women in all roles, but also allow trans people to openly serve.  For instance, Canada not only allows open service, but even covers SRS (sex reassignment surgery) under the military health plan (and allows time off for surgery).  Israel just enlisted their first known trans service member.

It is probably time for two things: First, we need to fully recognize that not only did women provide essential support, often at great cost to themselves and their families (just as men did) during times of war, but performed as men do in military – as soldiers.  Second, we need to finish the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell in the USA.  What matters is a soldier’s ability to perform their job, not their sex organs (or their surgical status).  Let them serve openly as who they are – they are fighting for all of our rights to do the same, after all.

The Connection Between Military Service and Trans People

320px-Marine_RPD_machine_gunA recent study (focused on the USA) talked about, among other things, how trans people were more than twice as likely to have served in the military than non-trans people.  It talked about a lot of other things, only some of which I will talk about here, as some of it is truly horrible – the likelihood of being a rape victim, for instance, is particularly high among closeted trans people serving in the military.

Today’s policy in the US armed forces is that someone with gender identity disorder is mentally ill and thus should be discharged as unfit for duty.  The same goes for intersex soldiers.  Being open about your gender identity, even after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), is not acceptable and will get you kicked out.  There is no apparent plans to change that.

Of course it doesn’t have to be that way – Canada has allowed trans people to serve, and even provided SRS (sex reassignment surgery) under the military health coverage.  So does Israel.  And the best speech ever by a military officer about treating people decently (specifically after a sex scandal) was written by the Australian General’s speech writer, a transgender Lt. Colonel.

But, back to the study…the study found there are tons more military veterans among the trans community than among the non-trans community.  Why?  They cited an earlier study which found many trans people, particularly transwomen (that is, people who initially had an “M” on their birth certificate but are women), undergo what the researchers described as a “flight into hypermasculinity.”  I believe, based on stories I know of transsexual people, that this is both real and common, and have a thoughts as to why.  First, this “flight” usually seems to occur in early adulthood.  This is a time of tons of changes, such as brain maturation, physical maturation, and leaving home (for many).  People are trying to find themselves, trying to figure out where they belong.  To find acceptance and peace, obviously it would be easier if one were living according to society’s expectations on gender.  So people try.  I think this is one reason why so many transwomen have done very masculine things in their teen and early adult lives, whether it’s being the high school football star, being part of the hyper-masculine Seal Team 6, or a motorcycle racer.  Now, I’m not saying women can’t do these things, but they are traditionally very masculine jobs.

I think the flight into hyper-masculinity may be similar to a may man who has internalized prejudice and marries a woman – only to have a broken marriage years later.  It doesn’t turn out to work.  He’s still gay.  And, likewise, the transwoman is still a woman.  Yet, there is an attraction for both the gay man and the trans woman – if only they could live as society expects, life would be much, much easier (and likely better).  They can’t, because they aren’t what society expects, and trying to live that life leads to death.

It’s unfortunate that the Veteran’s Affairs (VA) health system (the medical system that provides medical care for veterans in the US) leaves transgender people out in several ways.  Now, it’s not all bad – overall, the official policies of the VA are actually relatively decent compared to most health care.  But there are three big gotcha’s in the policy and implementation.  First, good policy, alone, is insufficient if people providing care don’t get it.  And that’s sure to happen in a health system as large as the VA.  It’s inexcusable to treat a veteran in need of medical care in a way that humiliates or demeans, but sadly it does happen.  Second, the policy itself prohibits sex reassignment surgery.  The VA, like many health care providers, consider this surgery to be primarily cosmetic, while at the same time recognizing that gender dysphoria is real (and has a surgical cure, for transsexuals, particularly transsexual women).  In addition to these two problems, the third is a problem of access – many trans people are discharged non-favorably from the military, in which case they may not qualify for VA health benefits, even if they otherwise qualify (for instance, an honorably discharged veteran who served in combat within 5 years would qualify for a time).  For instance, cross dressing is against military justice code, and can cause a dishonorable discharge – which results in no veterans’ benefits.

So, the next time you hear news of gay veterans, think of the transgender military members – there’s plenty of them and they are, sadly, at risk of dishonorable discharge or worse (suicide is very common among trans people trying to live as a gender they are not).  And then, when discharged, think how the system we’ve set up to ensure our veterans are healthy and can adjust back into society fails someone on this most personal and important aspect of their being.  We have work to do.