I hope you vote NO for Governor McRory!

If you live in North Carolina, you know about HB2 – the bill that has cost you the NBA playoffs, caused your tourism officials to spend your money to explain why a discriminatory law isn’t actually discriminatory, and generally been a way for Mr. McRory to keep his name in the press (at your expense).

I visited North Carolina when I was in high school, on a trip to a national science event. I listened as Duke University and North Carolina State tried to influence our college selection process.  I remember experiencing the best of southern hospitality, seeing a beautiful state. When I got home, I decided that there were only a few places I wanted to live – and North Carolina was one of them. Alas, I got lucky and didn’t get to move to the beautiful state of North Carolina, but instead am fortunate enough to live in a state where we have legislators focused on problems like K12 education and roads. I’m sad that such a wonderful state, with wonderful people, has chosen to hang out a sign saying, “Trans people are unwelcome here!”

Isn’t Common Sense

You’ll hear this phrase a lot from Pat McRory – that bathrooms are a common-sense issue.  What he really means is that people generally are ignorant of the complexities in the science of sex (the biology of people in our species, that is, not the act). I’m not speaking of gender identity, but actual sex, as in what genitals a person has and what chromosomes they have. One example: an individual might have XY chromosomes but have a vagina (from formation in the womb). It also means, “I don’t have a good reason to defend this, so I’m counting on you not thinking too hard about it.” Nor are all states and nations uniform in birth certificate law – some allow you to change the birth certificate with no surgery at all. I suspect Pat McRory either is completely ignorant of the issues (and, thus, incompetent) or a liar. You can decide.

Not Protecting Kids

Kids are being exploited in North Carolina already. Typically, it’s a relative, family friend, or someone in authority over the kid (like a teacher or priest). It’s typically someone that is seen as trustworthy. It’s not typically a stranger – child sexual abuse thrives on the abuser keeping his acts secret, which means he’ll (usually a “he”) want to groom a child first, to ensure that the child doesn’t tell an adult. This law does nothing to stop these kinds of abuses.  Other abuses, such as an adult (of either sex or gender) exposing his or her genitals in front of a child, or watching a child in a state of undress for the purpose of sexual gratification are, already, illegal in North Carolina – in fact, unlike HB2, the law that makes these things illegal actually has a penalty attached to it. There is no penalty under HB2 for a person using the wrong bathroom, just a requirement for governments to allow private businesses to discriminate and for governments to actively ensure trans people are discriminated against.

Doesn’t Fix Privacy

I don’t want to be stared at in a pool locker room by a man or a woman. I expect most people feel the same way. I expect that you feel even stronger if I talked about whether or not a man should be able to sit in a pool locker room all day and watch boys undress – of course you would be angry and want to do something about it. HB2 doesn’t address this. What would address this is building code changes! I suspect plenty of breast cancer survivors, accident victims, abuse survivors, and others would like a truly private place to change. Heck, even trans people want this – the highest desire for the vast majority of trans people is to blend in so they don’t get killed.

Experience Elsewhere

You literally have more chance of being hit by lightning or winning the Powerball Lottery than being abused by a trans person in a locker room or bathroom. Don’t believe me? Go Google lottery winners, lightning strikes, and “assault by trans person in bathrooom”. Perhaps North Carolina’s Governor could spend his time legislating about lightning strikes to defend kids! In places with non-discrimination law, men who violate the privacy of women’s facilities are still prosecuted and jailed (for instance, in liberal Boulder Colorado, a man who watched women in women’s bathrooms and porta-potties was successfully prosecuted and sentenced to prison – Boulder’s non-discrimination law was no obstacle for prosecutors to successfully overcome).

Safety of Trans People

What is a problem elsewhere is assault on trans people, particularly people who decide to take matters into their own hands and enforce their view of gender on the trans person. As collateral damage, women who look too masculine are also subject to bathroom policing. In some cases, these non-trans women have been dragged out of bathrooms, even after the women tried to show a driver’s license, by, ironically, men acting as bouncers or security. These bathroom laws don’t just make using a bathroom more dangerous for trans people that are “clocked”, but for non-trans women who don’t look stereotypically feminine.

Disclosure: I don’t live in North Carolina, and have no plans on changing that until North Carolina treats all their citizens fairly under the law.  This is my personal opinion, and was not society by any candidate, PAC, or similar group.

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.)

Hurray, Amazon – and the Passing Stereotype.

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

Image depicting several of the characters in the movie Transparent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

FDR Dressed Like A Girl. Probably in Pink.

Yes, FDR wore a dress.  So did other famous people.

FDR - the President - as a little boy.

FDR – the President – as a little boy.

No, they weren’t trans.  Nor was it considered “gay”.

It was how you dressed little boys for pictures.

The boy to the left is the man who grew up to oversee the United States as we recovered from the Great Depression and into war with Germany and Japan.  And if this picture was shown to people voting for him, he still would have been elected – he probably would have been told he was a cute boy.

Wikipedia tells us that clothes were once more expensive – and a dress could fit for more years than pants could.  So that was important when kids are growing.  And, equally important, pants were hard for little boys to undo – so toilet training was difficult with them, but much easier with a dress.  I imagine diapers – particularly of the time – worked better under the dress too.

Now I have no idea what color FDR’s dress was, but pink on a boy was not only acceptable but preferred.  You can read about that and the pink on boys in Smithsonian Magazine.

From that article:

For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.

Later, pink and blue became the symbols of girls and boys that we know today.  But they clearly weren’t always.  It’s part of a trend we’ve seen with children, continuing even today, to ironically replace gender-neutral children’s items with gendered items, even as we claim that we’re wanting women in man-dominated fields like computers and Engineering.

Don’t believe me?  Look at this:

Argos catalog items.  Left was a selection of 1976 toys, right was modern-day toys from the same company.

Argos catalog items. Left was a selection of 1976 toys, right was modern-day toys from the same company.

As you can see above, toys for girls have become much more, well, girly.  At least what we – if not FDR’s parents – would call girly.  Some might say it’s even sickeningly girly, a parody of femininity.

The clear statement by things like the pictures above is that there are clearly girl toys and boy toys.  Girls need girl toys, according to the marketers.  And we must agree, because they sell them.

Of course, socially, we know a lot is wrong with this.  We know intellectually that fathers can push a baby stroller.  We know that men can cook and clean.  We know that running a cash register isn’t a “girl’s” job or a boy’s job.

Yet we vote with our pocketbooks.  We buy girls pink stuff.

We know that doing stuff like making a stove pink will cause boys, who have (today) been socially conditioned that being a girl is bad, and pink is “girly”, to favor other toys.  We’re shaping the careers boys and girls go into as adults.  We claim to not want to do that, but then again, we buy these things.  And kids generally want them – kids generally want to assert their gender, as they’re taught to do through advertising and social pressure.  Since most kids have clear ideas of their gender, this makes it pretty simple for them to select the toys.

As more evidence of this, remember the Easy Bake Oven controversy last year?  The girl who started this, on behalf of her brother, felt we should be past that as a society.  I agree.  But what she may not have realized is not only are we not past it, but it’s actually getting worse.  Look at this Easy Bake oven from years ago:

25th Anniversary EZ Bake Oven being Sold on Ebay

25th Anniversary Easy Bake Oven being Sold on Ebay

Ignore the pinkish blanket it’s on in the picture.  And, yes, there’s a girl on the box, and “EASY BAKE” is in pink on the box.  But other than that, it looked pretty high-tech for the early 80s, clearly in the style of a microwave oven.  It was made to resemble a real cooking appliance, not some ultra-feminized version of one!

The oven the girl was talking about were far from the relatively gender neutral oven of the early 80s.  Fortunately, she had the support of many, and Hasbro has introduced a 50th anniversary edition (almost in stores) that is a much cooler design than the obsessively pink predecessor.  Unfortunately, much of Hasbro’s marketing is still focused on girls and gender stereotypes – check out their Easy Bake site, entitled “Easy Bake | Cooking & Baking Games for Girls”.  Because, after all, how would a girl know that she could use an oven?

It’s pretty amazing that in a 100 years or so, we’ve moved from dressing boys in dresses and pink to a time when every toy, every baby item, every piece of clothing on a young child must speak about their gender.  It’s not enough for a boy to be a boy, he needs to be dressed as a boy and playing with boy-toys (no, not that kind of boy toy!).

I think some of it is insecurity of adults.  Too many adults are insecure about gender and sexuality, and intentionally or not act on those insecurities.  This action instills the “appropriate” behavior from an early age.  Ironically, this is at the same time the right wing is criticizing a camp for gender non-conforming children for “forcing” transsexuality on kids.  You can see some decent reporting on the camp here.

The head of Family Research Council (ironically a lobbyist group that does no research) in a Christian Post article stated,

“There is a risk of locking children into a life course, which, if they had been left to develop naturally, they would have outgrown,” warned Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council in Washington D.C., in an interview with the Christian Post Tuesday.

Sprigg argued that teaching kids they have to identify with their “sexual orientation” or “sexual identity” could “lock” them in a phase. “You’ll have children who are going through natural periods of confusion and experimentation with their sexuality and all of a sudden you have adults telling them, this means you’re gay, you were born gay, you will never change,” he said.

Of course this mischaracterizes the camp (they are not telling them they are gay or trans – only telling them them that they can be who they want to be.  But “not punishing gay and trans behavior” is the same as “making them gay or trans” in the eyes of the right wing.

And we all know that there is no pressure to conform to gender stereotypes.  Okay, maybe there is.  But apparently that’s okay and not damaging…except for the 30% of LGBTQ and 50% of trans youth that attempt to commit suicide before they are 20.  Or many of the rest who haven’t quite progressed that far, but hate themselves for who they are nonetheless.  But, to some, gender stereotypes are more important than life (ironically these groups almost universally claim to be pro-life when they are lobbying for policies of death).  Me?  I think all children have a beauty that should be cherished whether or not they follow stereotypes.