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.

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.

HRC: What the Fuck?

In the USA, the Human Rights Campaign, or HRC, is the leading gay rights group, at least in terms of how much airtime and money they manage to get. They currently claim to be trans-inclusive, and to support transgender rights, although they have a history of fucking up in many ways. But their mission statement includes, “The Human Rights Campaign is organized and will be operated for the promotion of the social welfare of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.”

Every few years, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt, that they aren’t just a self-serving part of the charity-industrial complex focused more on donations than actual work. And they always, consistently demonstrate they are unworthy of it.

Their flagship “product” is the Corporate Equality Index. This index is intended to encourage companies to treat LGBT people as, oh, human beings.  Companies are rated based on a bunch of criteria, such as having non-discrimination policies, and, importantly in 2015, whether or not they provided health care benefits that included benefits transsexual employees require. It gets a lot of attention and does generate real change. But it has some problems.

Some companies got a perfect score, like United Health Care. These companies are supposed to be the models of LGBT inclusion – they have good policies and practices, and are good corporate citizens when it comes to LGBT issues. In fact, they are perfect!

Other companies, such as Exxon, do much worse.  Exxon received -25 – yes, negative 25 (the link to their database indicates “0” points, but their actual score is listed, along with reasoning, in the HRC full report).  You can read more about why here.

When looking at my own employer (which I will not name here out of concerns for my privacy), I note that my company did not achieve a perfect score in part because they lack trans-inclusive health care benefits. Fair enough, they should rightfully get dinged for that, and it’s great that HRC is looking for trans-inclusion – hopefully it pushes my employer and other companies towards finding better options for health care.

But here is my gripe…

My employer is not perfect, certainly. They rightfully get dinged for not providing trans-inclusive benefits. But the reason they don’t provide those benefits is that they use a health insurance company that HRC ranked as a ‘perfect’ company.

In this case, my employer uses United Health Care (UHC), who achieved a perfect score because they provide their own employees with health insurance that includes trans-inclusive benefits. But many, if not most, of UHC’s health care plans have an explicit anti-trans statement in them.

Transsexual health care is an a life and death issue. It’s not about cosmetic surgery. It’s not experimental or unproven. For many people, appropriate medical care, which might include sex reassignment surgery (SRS) or other procedures, is an appropriate medical treatment. After surgery, people who sought SRS report significantly higher happiness and significantly lower suicide attempts. The American Medical Association, in 2008, passed a resolution that appropriate medical care should be provided to those who need it. The cost of such care is, roughly, 11 cents per year per insured person for a corporate health plan (from the link in the prior sentence; note that this does not include cost savings that are related to reducing prescription drug costs post-surgery or reduced mental health costs post-surgery – in balance, SRS actually saves money).

From some health care provider information UHC provides on Gender Dysphoria:

SURGICAL TREATMENT FOR GENDER DYSPHORIA

Most plans exclude coverage for surgical treatment for gender dysphoria.

This is evidenced by examining certificates of coverage and evidence of insurance.  For instance, one of Tulane University’s 2015 plans, provided by UHC, contains the following, starting on page 25:

Benefit Limitations

M. Procedures and Treatments

7. Sex transformation operations.

That’s pretty clear.  And that’s not unusual (by UHC’s own admissions).

So, basically, UHC, a company with a “perfect” HRC record for LGBT rights, can offer a plan that rejects the medical judgement of the American Medical Association (and others) for some transgender people, simply because that is a medical treatment that some transgender people require. In fact, Medicare covers SRS (thanks to this decision in 2014, which, rightly, pointed out that you can’t deny a treatment that is proven to be medically necessary, effective, and safe simply because it’s socially controversial).

To put this in simpler form, a company can get a perfect score on the HRC equality index even when they:

  • Actively discriminate against some transgender people (If your medical condition is directly related to being transsexual, we choose not to cover some medical treatment, despite clear and convincing evidence as to medical necessity)
  • Provide products that exclude some trans people (this would be similar to a company providing a “Man and Woman Health Plan” that provided coverage for married straight couples but not for married gay couples)
  • Engage in actions that increase depression, poor quality of life, and suicide attempts among transgender people
  • Is making decisions that greatly harm some transsexual people based on inaccurate and non-scientific rationale (similar to how gays were considered to need reparative therapy, UHC often will pay for counseling – presumably to “learn to live with” the wrong genitals – but not surgery).

In other words, a company that is contributing to the death of transsexual people by their choice to not cover the surgery (despite the extremely low cost, and even cost savings when lifetime mental health costs are considered).

Now UHC is not the only insurer to do this, nor are they the only company with a perfect score on the HRC Equality Index that do this. It’s a major problem throughout the insurance industry. Sometimes, when you ask if things are covered by a company, you’ll hear terms like “experimental” and “cosmetic” to describe surgery (this is inaccurate and not based on the modern science, according to respected groups like the American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, and WPATH). Other times they won’t give a reason. And, often, you’ll hear the most disingenuous response: “We offer many plans that provide coverage for these procedures.”  UHC and other insurance companies do have good plans that do not have this exclusion – but in general, most plans have it, and the only times that plans won’t have this exclusion is when there is outside pressure (“Our Fortune 500 company is unwilling to purchase insurance that doesn’t cover this” or “The State requires us to offer this”) – and then it only applies to the specific cases where this pressure was applied, not to other plans. And, since most people get insurance through an employer (either their own or a relative’s), there is a significant financial cost of seeking a different plan if the employer-provided plan doesn’t provide coverage.

As an example, Aetna actually tries to say that they don’t cover trans-related surgeries because of insurance regulations – it would involve changing plans that have been approved by state insurance commissions. Apparently, they want people to think that insurance companies frequently face regulatory sanction because they cover something extra – this is obviously not a particularly credible argument, although I welcome the insurance industry to respond by comment giving case information for when a state went after an insurance company for providing a little more than they said they would.

Moving to include gender reassignment procedures in our plans is consistent with other changes we have made to better serve the needs of the LGBT community,” Aetna said in a written response to The Denver Post. “In 2015, Aetna started covering gender reassignment surgeries for our 33 Aetna plans offered to federal employees. … Aetna also is expanding coverage of gender reassignment surgery in many of our fully insured commercial plans … and will continue to roll (such plans) out over the next couple of years as we refile our plans with the states. We will be introducing the product in West Virginia, Utah, Idaho, Missouri, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Louisiana, South Carolina (for our fully insured plans) this year.

The above is from a Denver Post article that is quoting a statement from the insurance company. They also told the post they support the LGBT community, which is interesting considering they are actively refusing to provide some treatments when people need them because they are T.  Perhaps Aetna should refine their statement to say they support the LGB community. Aetna is meanwhile merging with Cigna – Cigna has some of the strongest anti-trans exclusions in the industry, with plans even prohibiting hormones for trans people.

Who can you support, if not HRC?

I encourage people who might want to support the LGBT community to support organizations that do not reward companies that are actively discriminating.

In particular, you may look into the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. Another worthy cause is the True Colors Fund (they fight LGBT youth homelessness). You also should look both locally (your local transgender support organization almost certainly can benefit from any help you can provide) and in places in the country where trans people face particular prejudice and where your time or money may make a huge difference (for instance, the midwest or deep south). Trust me, there are plenty of pro-T groups that you can support without needing to send money to HRC. The need is far greater than any of our pocketbooks or volunteer schedules.

A Footnote

As an aside, I would implore others concerned about the coverage of SRS and any other treatments to be very careful in how they approach de-medicalization of transsexualism (which is one specific category of trans people). There are many trans people who do not need medical treatment, and it is important to recognize that many trans people do not have a medical condition, nor do they need or benefit from medical treatment. But it is also important to recognize that other trans people do have a medical condition that is treatable medically – and this is not mere personal choice or desire. In this way, some transsexual people differ from gay people – there is no medical treatment that is appropriate or needed for homosexuality, and homosexuality is not a medical condition, but there are various medical treatments that are medically appropriate and necessary for some transsexuals.

Not all trans people want or need certain surgeries. There is tremendous variation among trans people. Some may identify as neither gender, both genders, or third gender. Others may strongly identify as one gender, but are comfortable having sex organs that typically are associated with another gender. As always, this should be respected, and when I talk about medical necessity, I am not referring to the people who do not need or desire a particular procedure.

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).

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”.