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I’m a member of the Human Rights Campaign, one of the biggest LGBT equality groups in the United States, and I get their email blasts that are supposed to keep us informed about how they’re spending our money, what kind of legalized discrimination they’re fighting against, and where some of the most egregious abuses are occurring.

There are a couple things, one good, one bad, one somewhat questionable thing, from the most recent email blast I want to bring up, so I’ll just dive right in.

First, the good: Rep. Richard Floyd, a Republican from Chattanooga, TN, was trying to get a law passed that would make it a misdemeanor offense (punishable with a $50 fine) to use a bathroom other than the one assigned for your birth sex. I’ve written at length about these so-called bathroom bills in the past, so I don’t want to rehash what I’ve already said. I am gratified to see, though, that unlike previous situations, the comments on the article at the Chattanooga Times Free Press are mostly sensible. The worst part of the whole thing, in fact, are Rep. Floyd’s remarks. If a teenager is dressed as a woman, and presumably trying on women’s clothing, it’s quite possible you’re dealing with someone who’s trans. Granted, there are some transgender teenagers who are perfectly happy with who they are and I think that’s awesome. In such cases, more power to them. Let’s just get out of their way. But what if that child, and I’m projecting a bit based on my own experience, is confused, full of self-loathing and needs more than a little help? Is charging that individual with a crime really the best way to handle the situation?

If said teenager is trying to use the women’s dressing room, I think the appropriate response here, and the response that seems quite lacking from most Republicans, is one of compassion. Rep Floyd, on the other hand, seems to think that “stomp[ing] a mudhole in him and then stomp[ing] him dry,” is the appropriate response. And they wonder why there’s so little support for the Religious Right/Moral Majority of my parents’ generation…

The good news, though, is that a member of the Tennessee state Senate, one Bo Watson, who had originally sponsored the bill, has done an appropriate about face and effectively tabled the measure, citing the more pressing issues that face our nation and his state as more deserving of the legislature’s time and effort. I don’t think this is the end of the situation in Tennessee, but at least it effectively neutralizes the threat.

The bad news I mentioned above is that in Oklahoma, they’re considering codifying a ban on gays and lesbians in the state’s National Guard. According to HRC, the state would be allowed to ask about the sexual orientation of service members. If there’s one thing the repeal of DADT has taught me, it’s that none of the dire predictions by the fearmongering Republicans came to pass. Having gay and lesbian service members only makes our military better and stronger– if you want to sign the petition to get this ridiculous measure tabled, you can do so through the HRC’s website, here.

The lukewarm news comes by way of Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, who recently released her remarks on how the department is improving the lives of LGBT Americans. I’ve seen and heard a lot of good things about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and think that once again, the Republicans are screaming about the falling sky on bright, sunny days. On the downside, I have a major question about the ACA, and how Secretary Sebelius thinks it improves the lives of LGBT Americans, or at least, transgender Americans (that’s what you’re here for, right? Trans issues?).

Specifically, while we might all have the opportunity to obtain health insurance, with no exclusions for prior or current illnesses, I haven’t seen anything that addresses the refusal of Medicaid, state insurance or private insurers to cover transition related care. When abortion and birth control are things that our legislators are arguing about covering with public money, I can’t see how treatment related to transition, even when medically necessary, is going to be covered. Trans people historically get thrown under the bus, our interests sacrificed in order to make gains for other groups that represent more people (does anyone remember the trans inclusive ENDA and how quickly the trans part of that got excised back in 2007?). Transition related care can and probably will still be excluded from coverage, leaving us to try and find ways to cover the exorbitant costs on our own. While the ACA is a good step forward, I think it’s a bit silly to act as though it’s doing us a lot of favors. While we may be able to obtain insurance, the most expensive aspects of our care will still be excluded from coverage and that isn’t good enough.

Since things aren’t good enough, please consider going to the HRC website and finding ways to support the cause of LGBT equality, writing to your Congress critters and asking them to support the repeal of DOMA and to support a trans-inclusive ENDA. If enough of us are interested in the cause of social justice, we can’t be ignored.

While there are pressing issues facing our country, including a bad economy, I don’t believe that fixing the economy is separate from fixing problems of inequality for the LGBT community: repealing DOMA and passing a trans-inclusive ENDA and improving healthcare for LGBT Americans are all things that help people, real people like me, like your friends and family, save money on our taxes, save money on our necessary healthcare and ensure that the jobs we have are jobs we don’t have to worry about losing because of who we are.

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All the talk on the internet about the Prop 8 trial here in California got me thinking about intolerance. Some people talk about how LGBT people want to “re-define marriage” as though we’re interested in destroying the very institution that we want so badly to be a part of. We’re accused of being intolerant towards the religious views of other people, or as my brother calls it being intolerant of intolerance. That’s a disingenuous turn of phrase, because it tries to lump all these disparate behaviors under a single umbrella and brand them intolerant. It tries to make everyone appear intolerant because the prop 8 supporters believe we’re all intolerant of something*, so they try and paint LGBT people as being intolerant of religion.

They try to paint us as hypocrites in order to level the playing field—if everyone in the fight is a hypocrite, opposed to the rights of their opponents, then that makes LGBT people seem less like the right side of history and more like just another special interest group.

The appropriate deconstruction of the intolerance of intolerance starts with first identifying ourselves: are we hypocrites? The LGBT community is trying to resolve the dispute between moral conflict and liberty by erring on the side of LGBTs. In that sense, we are requesting to place some restrictions on religious belief and practice—that a justice of the peace could not decline to marry a homosexual couple even if it offended their conscience. But does that make us hypocrites?

To answer, I’m going to crib from a post by someone else from somewhere else (Special thanks for all involved in this quote’s chain of custody. You know who you are). Glaucus at Ars Technica recently said:

I propose the notion of higher order intolerance. First order intolerance consists of rejecting people for their attribute or traits. Second order intolerance is rejecting people based on their first-order intolerance of others. So, that line about “where the intolerant aren’t tolerated” is really a statement about 2nd order intolerance towards the 1st order intolerant.

If we look at our behavior that’s being called intolerant, it falls under Glaucus’ second order: in other words we are intolerant of certain actions, but not necessarily the beliefs that inform those actions. As evidence, let me offer up the text of any anti-discrimination law that says regardless of race, religion, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression. That law unequivocally grants the same protections to religious people that it does to gay people. If you can’t be fired for being gay, you can’t be fired for being a Christian, either.

But antidiscrimination laws don’t touch on the issues at hand in Peter Vadala’s lawsuit against Brookstone. He lost his job for expressing anti-gay sentiment on the job, which is a good bit different than losing one’s job because of being a Christian. An out and proud gay person could have just as much difficulty on the job were they outspoken and offensive enough. Indiscriminately blasting religion in front of religious co-workers should earn one as quick a trip to the HR penalty box as Vadala received for expressing anti-gay sentiment.

I am not intolerant of Vadala’s opinion. He’s entitled to it. But the line is drawn and crossed when that opinion gets expressed to a co-worker and that person feels uncomfortable or threatened or demeaned. That’s the difference: Vadala was criticizing the action of the co-worker marrying her same sex partner which looks like second order intolerance on its face. What he’s really attacking however, is the underlying relationship and attraction that might lead two women to get married in the first place, which is an attribute, and thus first order intolerance.

The fundamental difference then, between the religious right and the LGBT community seems to be a conflict between actions and beliefs, deeds and words. When the LGBT community speaks out against discriminatory actions directed at LGBT people, the religious right decries that criticism as hypocritical intolerance.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I want to expand on my brother’s refusal to accept me as his sister. When I try to tell him that his behavior towards me is intolerant, he tries to turn it around on me. At one point in a conversation last year, he said to me “What gives you the right to take away my brother and change everything I know?” The answer, aside from what I said (“Because I’m a transsexual”) is really “Because I transitioned.” It’s the action, the thing that I did, that really made me different.

My protestations affirming my gender identity or his protestations against don’t have much impact on the discussion. I transitioned, and as a result I have changed**. When I talk to my brother though, it’s what he says, in his eyes, that really matters. He may not let me in his house, but as long as he reaffirms his love for me, in his mind, that makes it all okay. My experience is drastically different than his. What I see is that he claims one thing, while his actions are saying something completely contradictory. This is a difference between us that runs very deep, it goes deeper than religion and hits at the very core of who we are as individuals***.

But religion does factor into this. The differences between us, I believe, could most easily be summed up as a conflict between faith and works. My brother places a lot of emphasis on what he says, which indicates what he believes about his faith. I place a lot of emphasis on treating people with dignity and respect, on letting my actions speak for my faith. The lines between us get crossed because I don’t understand his words without the context of consistent action: I don’t feel loved by my brother because the way he treats me is the antithesis of loving one’s neighbor regardless of what he might say, or how he might try to make it sound like he’s doing this for my own good.

He doesn’t understand me because I emphasize what I do, how I want to be treated, and how I might treat him, while completely disagreeing with and rejecting his words, beliefs, and faith interpretation. To him, that feels like I’m being intolerant of his beliefs when what I’m really expressing is intolerance for his actions. He is free to believe whatever he wants about me, but not to treat me in a way that is void of dignity and respect for my identity.

He thinks that I’m being unfair, that I’m lumping him in with a bunch of people that he’s not necessarily similar to and he’s right about that, at least to the extent that I categorize him based on his actions. The reason I do that is because the things that he says and does are hurtful to me, and are similar to other hurtful experiences I’ve had. I am emotionally distancing myself from a relationship that doesn’t have any affirmative value because divorcing myself from that hurt is better for me at this point.

I’ve tried to explain this to him, and tried to get him to understand. I talk about how we go around in circles, but the truth is that we’ve done no such thing. I’ve gone around in circles with others and I’ve seen how so much of that is just so much wasted time and logical fallacies and differences in Bible interpretation. As the kids say, “You can’t reason someone out of a position that they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place.” With my brother,we’ve discussed how he views my transition, that he thinks transition is the wrong decision and at this point, I can’t talk to him anymore.

The problem with naysayers like my brother is that they don’t have alternative treatments to offer, they don’t have any special insight into my condition, and the truth is that they just don’t know what it’s like to have a cure in reach and have people tell you that it’s a morally compromised decision to take hold of it. Before the description was removed from the title, Gender Identity Disorder used to be referred to as Gender Dysphoria, literally a depression caused by one’s gender. This isn’t some bullshit that trans people make up so we can mutilate ourselves. Those feelings and the depression are real, and when things are at their worst, the finger waggers aren’t the ones that deal with the pieces that we break into. As far as I’m concerned, trying to make people do what you want and absenting yourself the rest of the time isn’t an attempt to do the right thing or help someone avoid a grievous mistake. It’s an attempt to be a watchman, except there’s none of the action you might expect. In this case, the watchman blows the trumpet to cover his own ass and then, rather than helping people get to shelter, or rallying the army, he runs and hides, his duty having been fulfilled. While I might respect that the watchman at least stands by the conviction to speak the truth, I don’t respect the further actions that are informed by those beliefs. In other words, I don’t believe our obligation to others ends once we have sounded the alarm.

To people that fancy themselves modern day prophets I reply that it’s not my place to be the punching bag for other people or their religious beliefs. Transition was a hard thing, and more stressful than I would have liked. But I made it, my job is still here, my wife is still here, my home is still here. But it hurt me. I’ve been hurt. And now I feel like I want some peace. If people don’t want to accept me as I am, then I don’t want to go through the emotional wringer for them. That they may be unaware that they’re being rude doesn’t absolve them of their guilt. The things they say hurt and I’m not interested in being hurt anymore, for any reason.

Late last year, I asked Christine to talk to my parents. I’d had enough of them, I didn’t want to deal with the pain, and I’d have given anything for it to stop, even if it meant never seeing them again. The day she called, Christine phoned me, crying. It took several minutes for both of us to calm down enough for her message to come out cleanly—my parents were acting completely different.

They were apologetic, sorrowful and desirous to make amends with us. I was flummoxed. Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen them a few times, and while I’m not certain that this represents a certain change on their part, they are treating me like a human being again. I’m not certain how they really feel about my transition, but they’ve said that they realize that they have no place to judge my actions. It’s short of a statement of full and complete acceptance, but it’s a lot better than the position we were in for most of last year. Assuming that the visceral reaction, the internal belief of my parents hasn’t changed, then we’re agreeing to disagree. If I am a sinner, then they are succeeding at loving me while hating my sin and that makes them one of the best examples of Christianity that I’ve seen in a long time.

I think if you want people to be tolerant of your views, then you have to be tolerant of theirs. That’s something that the religious right fails to do, something that only a very few people are able to get right. That is where second order intolerance comes in: when the majority fail to get it right, the minority appeal to the courts to overturn the tyranny. That’s not disrespectful of the beliefs of people who think that being gay is a sin, it’s an attempt to re-establish the dignity and worth of every human being, regardless of race, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, and gender identity, to exhibit a little second order intolerance. In short, by challenging the constitutionality of Prop 8, we are decrying the way we are treated, not what other people believe. While the supporters of Prop 8 are defending their first order intolerant actions by claiming to have friendships with gay people, they’re working to disenfranchise those same friends****. That’s intolerant and duplicitous, not being in the right.

Being intolerant of intolerance is a mature understanding that there are some restrictions to liberty when living in a society. We work for the greater good and respect the dignity of all people, whether they’re like us or not. First order intolerance is the insistence of having it our way, which isn’t always possible.

The petulant thing for Prop 8 supporters to do would be to insist on upholding Prop 8 and then to work on getting similar bans passed in other states. The mature thing is to realize that they can just not get a gay marriage while leaving others free to live their lives as they see fit.

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* The supporters of Prop 8 believe that there are more people who are intolerant towards bestiality, polygamy and inbreeding than people who are intolerant merely of gay marriage. If the pro 8 side can convince people there’s a slippery slope link between gay marriage and these socially unacceptable relationships, it’s possible to rally a lot more people to the pro 8 cause. I’m not sure how effective these tactics actually were at getting out the Yes on 8 vote, but the fact that these things even come up during a campaign seems like nothing more than a smear attempt.

** It’s weird when people say that transition doesn’t change who you are. If I wasn’t going to change at all, then why on earth am I going to all this trouble, spending all this money, using up all this time, jumping through all these hoops just to be the same person? It’s inconceivable. It’s not a case of Jekyll and Hyde as much as it is a metamorphosis. Like any chrysalitic organism, there are some traits that remain consistent between the pre- and post- metamorphic forms. If you look at those two photos, there are drastic differences but there’s also something weirdly similar about them, too. At least, I always tend to think so. And I think it’s kind of the same thing with anyone who undergoes a drastic life change: they’re going to be wildly different than what you remember but you will still be able see underlying parts of the person that you knew. I hope that at least the Dr. Who fans that are reading this will have a clear understanding of my clumsy words.

*** As a transsexual, I experience my gender in an action-oriented way: I perform various gender roles, not necessarily expecting my proclamation of being female to be sufficient to convince people of the fact that I’m a woman. That’s something I was trying to get at on my “About” page—if I wanted people to really see me as a woman, I had to transition. It was the action, not the words, that would make it real for all of us. And it has. Being female is different than feeling female or wanting to be female.

**** When I hear members of the religious right say that they have gay friends, I feel like replying, “No you don’t. No one treats their friends like that.”

From the NCTE press release regarding Amanda Simpson’s appointment:

For thirty years, she has worked in the aerospace
and defense industry, most recently serving as Deputy
Director in Advanced Technology Development at Raytheon
Missile Systems in Tucson, Arizona. She holds degrees in
physics, engineering and business administration along with
an extensive flight background. She is a certified flight instructor and test pilot with 20 years of experience.

Now, I don’t have the specifics of Ms. Simpson’s job, but from what I’ve been able to gather from the Department of Commerce’s website and other news sources, the Bureau of Industry and Security monitors “dual use” exports. “Dual use” implies exactly what you think it does. Lots of technological innovations that can be used for scientific purposes (like generating nuclear power) can also be used for military applications (like building atomic bombs). Some of those items (a list is available on the website) are blacklisted for export.

Ms. Simpson’s job is as a technical advisor. Given her experience in missile systems at Raytheon, it sounds like she’s a really good fit for analyzing the export of various technologies, assessing the capacity to which those goods could be used by foreign agents to make missiles, and whether that’s a sufficient reason to block the export of said technology. It sounds complicated, and I’m sure that Ms. Simpson’s job will be challenging, but (and let me be *very* clear) her status as a transgender person has absolutely nothing to do with whether she can do her job.

For all the individuals that would criticize her expertise, experience or qualifications, I’d like you to find one person that you’d put up in her place for the same position. Here is some of the information on obtaining non-career Presidential appointments for some of the jobs, and a direct link to the application. Please, encourage all those overqualified and overlooked individuals to apply. We want the best people involved in our national security, don’t we? So what is that I’m trying to say?

I’m saying I have *absolute* faith in Ms. Simpson’s qualifications and abilities to fulfill her duties. I would put her up against *anyone* else in this country without a second’s hesitation. But because she’s transgender, suddenly she’s unqualified for the job, she’s a token tranny in the Obama “white hut”, we have license to make fun of her and call her “it”, misgender her, and treat her like shit? I guarantee that if it were Mr. Simpson applying for the job, no one would have batted an eye. So, everyone, let me introduce you to transmisogyny.

No one deserves to be treated the way that Ms. Simpson is being treated. That people may disagree with the choices she’s made in her life is their right as citizens of this country, and while her role in the public eye necessitates dealing with criticism, I think criticism of her gender identity is entirely inappropriate. Do you get criticized at your job, being told that you can’t handle a promotion because you’re male? Or because you’re too militantly straight? How about if you look too stereotypically masculine? Better yet, do you actually think that your appearance has much at all to do with how you perform your job?

Does Ms. Simpson’s history as a trans woman make her mentally unstable or unfit for her job or the security clearances that she needs and possesses? The FBI apparently doesn’t think so. And neither do any of the other professionals that have worked with her and evaluated her. That she had an impressive enough résumé and recommendations to get a job at that level of government is impressive, and is the reason she got the job. I don’t think I could have pulled the same thing off, and I write well enough to sucker a lot of people (well, I think it’s a lot of people) into reading this dreck I call a blog (daily humility checklist: self-effacing comment…. check).

Ms. Simpson’s appointment is an incredibly positive thing for trans people– she’s broken through a glass ceiling here, showing that trans people can be accomplished and professional and secure good jobs. I’m glad that she wasn’t an appointee related to trans-inclusive policies: then she would have been the token tranny on a larger panel of LGBT people*. As of right now, she’s just the most qualified woman for the job. Prove me wrong.

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* I’m not saying she’d be unqualified for that position either, merely that being on a panel of LGBT people would more likely be a numbers game, and allegations of quota filling might make a bit more sense, but not much. Simpson’s experience with the NCTE makes me pretty confident that she’d be awesome as a policy maker, too.

Tim Pawlenty, governor of MN, was recently interviewed by Newsweek, the content of the interview published online yesterday will be hitting newsstands on Jan 4 of next year. The reason I linked to the third page of the interview article was that I wanted to highlight the following:

Overbaked?
That statute [the employment non-discrimination statute in Minnesota] is not worded the way it should be. I said I regretted the vote later because it included things like cross-dressing, and a variety of other people involved in behaviors that weren’t based on sexual orientation, just a preference for the way they dressed and behaved. So it was overly broad. So if you are a third-grade teacher and you are a man and you show up on Monday as Mr. Johnson and you show up on Tuesday as Mrs. Johnson, that is a little confusing to the kids. So I don’t like that.
Has the law been changed?
No. It should be, though.
So you want to protect kids against cross-dressing elementary-school teachers. Do you have any in Minnesota?
Probably. We’ve had a few instances, not exactly like that, but similar.

That “probably” is the most disturbing part of the whole thing. He doesn’t even know, but he’s ready to throw people he doesn’t know to the wolves he isn’t sure exist. What he’s doing is knocking down a transgender straw man (pardon me, straw woman), not addressing anything that remotely resembles reality.

To actually address Pawlenty’s real response, I’d point out that for trans people, the way we dress, the way we behave is not a preference, anymore than Pawlenty’s presentation as a man is fake, forced, affected, or otherwise artificial. If he’s going to privilege his cis gender over my trans gender, then he’s going to have to answer for that kind of entitlement. My preference is (I hope somewhat obviously) to be cisgender. But I’m not. So I have to do what I can with what I have.

Speaking for myself only, gender identity isn’t fluid—the subtext to Pawlenty’s response is that Mr. Johnson will be Mrs. Johnson on Tuesday, but then show up on Wednesday as Mr. Johnson again. That would be confusing. Hell, I’d be confused by people that did that. But trans people aren’t like that. We might not identify strongly with the gender binary, but we usually have a pretty fixed placed in the spectrum. I’m a woman. I’m not the most feminine woman ever, but I’m not the most masculine one either. I’ve always had that internal identity, even if I didn’t express it outwardly.

But, you might ask, what about people whose gender expressions are more fluid? I don’t have the knowledge or experience (or space) to speak to that question, but yes, people with more fluid gender identities do exist. Regardless of how you fear they might act, I think that if you want to be a dick to people, you have to have more than a general suspicion and a cheap straw man argument. I’ve never even heard of androgynous, gender fluid people acting the way that Pawlenty fears. But then again, that’s because I’m talking real, actual people, not scare-tactic-fear-inducing-straw-men.

But Pawlenty claims that they’ve had to deal with something similar to crossdressing teachers in Minnesota. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, but I did want to see just what it was he was protecting OMG teh childrhunz from. So I tried googling “crossdressing teacher Minnesota”. I didn’t find a lot on crossdressing teachers in that state (or any state for that matter), but I did find that it’s the crossdressers that are usually the ones who have it the hardest, not the straight kids or adults who make fun of them. Who’s protecting whom?

One other thing I did see was that a male to female transsexual librarian transitioned on the job in Minnesota. Her name is Debra Davis, and she has a website that nicely explains her position in her own words. As it happens, one of Ms. Davis’ colleagues, Carla Cruzan, sued the school district over allowing Davis to use the women’s restroom. Here’s a summary of the case from the Transgender Law Center, the info about Cruzan v. Special School District No. 1 is on the top of page 2. If you don’t want to read the link, Cruzan lost her case; the court found that the school district was not permeated with intimidation, ridicule and insult by allowing Ms. Davis to use the restroom that was consistent with her gender identity and presentation, and that such conditions hardly constituted a sexually hostile work environment.

Let me explain why allowing Ms. Davis to use the ladies’ restroom doesn’t create a hostile work environment: trans people don’t molest cis people in bathrooms. For all the states that have tried to pass Non-Discrimination Acts and been met with the charge of providing safe haven to child molesters and sexual predators, there has never ever been a single case of a trans person assaulting someone in a bathroom. There have been plenty of cases where straight people do it, though. The linked example here is the case of a CVS manager who was spying on his female customers with a camera phone, and was also circulating a petition outside his own store in protest of a non-discrimination ordinance that was being considered by the city council. In other words, he wanted to prevent trans people from using the restroom that was appropriate for their gender identity because he was afraid that trans people might assault cis people in the bathroom. It’s too bad I already wrote an article on hypocrisy.

The snippet from CitizenLink above is another example of the same disingenuous bullshit that Pawlenty spouts, and it seems like all these conservative news outlets and politicians just snowball this kind of crap back and forth. I’d like to remind you, that there is absolutely no evidence, no case that the paranoid conservatives can point to that supports their contention. If they had a real life example, it would be all over the god-damned place. But they can’t even find one. What they can find is Ms. Davis, a woman who just wants to go pee. As a result, they don’t have any proof, just a bunch of scare tactics that work off the use of the word “probably.”

Let’s say we have a hypothetical white male child molester. Let’s say he typically goes after little boys (I apologize if this is squicky, let’s just say that we’re on the jury of his criminal trial, and when we find him guilty, we’re going to lock him up for the rest of his life). So, his usual M.O. was to get little boys in the boys’ restroom, right? The presence or absence of the bathroom bill does nothing to prevent this from happening.

Now let’s assume that in a second charge of aggravated sexual assault on a minor, the child molester hid behind a non-discrimination statute to enter the girls’ restroom and molest a little girl. First, even if the child molester claimed to be transgender, and tried to pretend that he had every right to be in the girls’ room, that still DOESN’T GIVE ANYONE THE RIGHT TO MOLEST KIDS IN THE FUCKING BATHROOM. Second, even if the non-discrimination act wasn’t on the books, let’s suppose our child molester really wanted to hurt a little girl. Would the presence or absence of a bathroom bill stop him from doing that? Trying to use one’s status as a trans person makes sense if you want to *use* a bathroom, but not if you want to molest or harm other people while in that place. There just aren’t words for that kind of analogy fail.

Let me explain something about trans people and bathrooms: we understand that restrooms are safe places for people of the same gender. I think that trans people understand this better than most cis people give us credit for—believe me, we hate feeling uncomfortable in the bathroom. We don’t like to be uncomfortable, and we don’t like making others feel uncomfortable. That’s why we use the restroom that is most appropriate for our gender presentation.

Regardless of internal identity, you use the restroom that is consistent with your gender presentation, at least in public. If you look like a man, don’t go in the ladies’ room. Even if you identify as female, others will be uncomfortable, they might call security or the police, and you’re going to have to out yourself and explain the whole uncomfortable situation to a group of strangers who may be less than sympathetic. Likewise, if you look like a woman, it’s probably not a good idea to go somewhere other than the ladies’ room. If you don’t mind, go back and take a good look at that photo of me in the red dress I posted two days ago. Where do you think I would cause the most consternation: the men’s room or the ladies’? And that’s why the male child molester in the girls’ room is a straw man. No male bodied trans person is going to go in the girls’ room if she doesn’t pass.

And that’s why Cruzan’s case made no sense—she might have known that Ms. Davis was born male, but it seems like it’s pretty obvious that Ms. Davis didn’t identify that way, and I don’t think Ms. Cruzan should be unclear about that. So where is Ms. Davis supposed to go when she needs to use the restroom? The men’s room? Or is she supposed to be singled out and forced to use a unisex bathroom? I’ll tell you something from personal experience—having to do that is humiliating. It’s one of those ways in which cis people entitle their own genders above those of trans people. If I’m out at a restaurant for lunch and no one knows that I’m trans, no one in the ladies’ room gives me a second glance. But at work, I’m not even allowed in the ladies’ room to check my makeup. It’s like everyone’s worried that I’m going to see something that I’ve never seen before. That’s humiliating because it says to me that I’m not a real woman, that I’m fake or artificial, and my artifice will make others uncomfortable even though all I want to do is go pee.

Here’s the same story, but from Mission America. The note on the case makes a point of misgendering Ms. Davis, using her male name, and repeatedly using incorrect pronouns. They make it sound as though Ms. Cruzan was the only female faculty member willing to fight for the decency of *all* the female staff, and look at how she was rebuffed—in a fit of poetic justice she was told to use a unisex single restroom if she preferred.

That’s pretty harsh, maybe, but if you think so, then maybe you should think about how it feels to be in the shoes of a trans woman and be on the receiving end of that kind of treatment everywhere you go. Is that kind of treatment justified because a person chooses to transition? Should we force people to choose between being themselves or being accepted? I realize I asked a very similar question in relation to the episode from The Closer, but it seems like that dichotomy is the one that comes up most often. There is always some compromise involved, but it is unfair and discriminatory when it is never the cis people but always the trans ones who must compromise.

I want to ask why accepting trans people as they are is such a negative thing. Why is it so hard to believe that other people experience their gender in a way that is different from you? One thing I’ve learned from feminist writing is that no two women can even agree on what it means to be a woman. Everyone experiences their gender differently, and feeling like your gender and body are mismatched doesn’t seem impossible. It may be outside your experience, but that doesn’t make it wrong any more than being poor or black or atheist or not very athletic would.

I could ask other questions: why isn’t my life ever represented fairly in our culture? Why do the Christians get to have it all and still complain about being put upon? If I may:

For more than 30 years, homosexual activists have been demanding that our Judeo-Christian culture capitulate and embrace their view of human sexuality, marriage and family. If Americans ever accept these demands, they can expect to live in a culture that will be turned upside down — literally unhinged from the sane moorings instituted by the God of heaven.
Harvey’s prediction is of a grotesque culture that includes: “Lesbian bride dolls. Fourth grade ‘gay’ clubs. A king and king at the high school prom. Dating tips for same-sex teens.”

I want to ask why any of those things are seen as being negative. How much different, how much less depressing and horrible would life be for kids who learned to accept themselves instead of hating, hurting, cutting or killing themselves? What’s wrong with letting a person’s life be represented in our pop culture? What’s wrong with lesbian Barbie, other than the fact that people might actually buy them?

I suppose, as Governor Pawlenty might say, “we wouldn’t want to confuse the kids.” I guess it would be an absolutely horrible thing to confuse kids into thinking they can be themselves only to let them find out as adults that they’ll be treated like perverts and freaks.

So this news isn’t exactly great for proponents of marriage equality. The reason I say this isn’t great is because these kind of situations get blown way out of proportion– the anti-equality crowd will be using this to write their propaganda for the next 10 years.

The fact is that this did get all out of hand. A Christian registrar who refuses to do her job will get in trouble for it; I don’t think that comes as a huge shock. The justice of the peace in Louisiana didn’t get a break on his bigotry, and I don’t think Ladele should get one here. The thing is, it’s not up to county or city employees to make the call over who can and can’t get married. If it’s legal, then it’s legal. I would like to point out why I’m calling Ladele a bigot rather than giving her a pass on the religious exemption clause: she’s not clergy.

I should add a caveat– the case in question here with Ladele is in the U.K., not the U.S. The law there is probably different, and I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not going to expound upon the British legal system. I will try and tie it in to the fight for marriage equality here in the U.S. because that’s where I live and I expect I’ll be hearing about this particular case when the petitions to repeal prop 8 are being circulated. NOM and those of its ilk will be crying about how their religious liberty is threatened, and here’s an example from Britain, except they’ll de-emphasize the fact that it didn’t even occur in the U.S., it will simply be held up as an example of OMG, teh persecutionz, and how we need to fight teh ghey.

There’s a very interesting document by Chai Feldblum on moral conflict and liberty. It’s a very long, very footnoted document, but very worth reading, if you have about an hour or so to really go through it.

Feldblum analyzes potential conflicts between moral and religious liberty, and examines whether there are burdens placed on a person’s liberty when you regulate conduct. She also goes on to examine whether those burdens are justified. In other words, the state, as a morally neutral agent can burden beliefs by regulating conduct when there’s a compelling reason to do so.

So, when we look at the Ladele case in light of U.S. law, we have to ask a two-pronged question: was Ladele burdened by being asked to perform civil marriages, and if so, was there a compelling reason to so regulate her conduct? As Feldblum puts it:

In most situations, of course, conduct is not intended to convey expression. For that reason, one does not ordinarily feel that a requirement to engage in certain conduct (or not to engage in certain conduct) necessarily undermines one’s identity or beliefs. We engage in innumerable acts throughout the day. We might get on the subway in the morning, buy a newspaper, order lunch, give an exam or take an exam, fix a car, buy stock or feed a baby. We rarely experience ourselves as expressing a belief system when we engage in these forms of conduct. Beliefs may underlie our actions (for example, public transportation is good; newspapers should be supported; babies should be cared for), but it is rare that we experience our conduct (or our lack of engaging in certain conduct) as inherently intertwined with our beliefs and identities.

So, does Ladele view her conduct on the job as expressive of her religious beliefs? I think it’s a safe assumption to make that she most certainly does. After all, she claims that having to perform a same sex civil marriage unduly burdened her conscience. As Feldblum argues at one point, it’s better to err on the side of accepting the existence of the burden. If I can claim that my identity liberty is burdened when I am discriminated against, and Ladele must accept my statement as valid truth, then I must accept hers as well.

So, I think we can say that there is a burden on her beliefs by compelling her to perform same sex weddings. The second part of the analysis is more complicated: is that burden justified? Is there a compelling reason for the government to regulate Ladele’s actions such that her beliefs are burdened and she has no recourse?

If we look at Feldblum’s example of Boy Scouts of America v. Dale:

If that analysis had been done, and if the Court had taken seriously the adverse impact on the identity liberty of gay people when a government fails to protect them from private discrimination, I believe the Court would have appropriately determined that a group as large and as broad-based as the Boy Scouts should not have been granted an exemption from the state law.

In other words, in order to determine whether the burden on Ladele is justified, we must determine whether allowing the discrimination against LGBT people to stand serves a more wide-ranging interest (as the courts decided in the Boy Scouts case) and whether we are allowing everyone access to the same rights in a meaningful sense.

In the case of marriage rights, most states recognize the desire of LGBT people to start families with their partners (several states that don’t permit same sex marriage still have provisions for domestic partnerships or civil unions). One of the claims I heard during the Prop 8 debate was that gay people are free to marry someone of the opposite sex just like any other heterosexual person, so everyone was allowed access to the same right of marriage. The argument from the pro-equality side was that such allowances were not meaningful, and I think they had a very good point, as that disingenuous argument didn’t take into consideration the simple variable of object choice– not all men want to marry women. Requiring them to do so is not allowing everyone equal access in a meaningful sense.

If heterosexual couples have access to the rights and privileges of marriage, giving homosexual couples meaningful access to the same rights would include allowing them to get married and file their federal taxes jointly. And right about here is where we run headlong into the brick wall of Ladele’s conscience.

At this point, we must determine how to fairly distribute the burden of the conflict. We can make the case that Ladele should be free to decline to perform same sex marriages, and that one of her colleagues could fill in for her. Or we can make the case that Ladele should be forced to do her job or be fired. In the first case, I’d like to quote Feldblum again:

If individual business owners, service providers and employers could easily exempt themselves from such laws by making credible claims that their belief liberty is burdened by the law, LGBT people would remain constantly vulnerable to surprise discrimination. If I am denied a job, an apartment, a room at a hotel, a table at a restaurant or a procedure by a doctor because I am a lesbian, that is a deep, intense and tangible hurt. That hurt is not alleviated because I might be able to go down the street and get
a job, an apartment, a hotel room, a restaurant table or a medical procedure from someone else. The assault to my dignity and my sense of safety in the world occurs when the initial denial happens. That assault is not mitigated by the fact that others might not treat me in the same way.

Allowing Ladele to excuse herself from performing a marriage for some people on the basis of their sexual orientation is still surprise discrimination. In order to protect the belief liberty of one registrar, we are potentially exposing dozens (hundreds?) of couples to that kind of discrimination.

In the second case, in Ladele’s own words, she was forced to choose between her religion and her job. But there’s a problem here: she performs civil marriages. Presumably, her job might require her to marry differently religious couples, while her religion might approve of unions that exist only between two Christians. Also, her job might require her to marry a young man and his pregnant girlfriend, when her religion explicitly disapproves of such sexual conduct. Was Ladele performing spontaneous surveys of the religious beliefs of all the couples she married? Did she ensure that they were not engaging in sinful sexual practices prior to their wedding? Allowing equal access in a meaningful sense implies that Ladele would not be permitted to decline to marry any couple, same sex or otherwise. She was practicing discrimination under the guise of her religion, and that isn’t permitted under the law, her religious objection notwithstanding. Anti-discrimination laws do not favor one religion over another, and as such do not violate the anti-establishment clause of the first amendment. Rather, it’s not her objection so much as her discriminatory practices that were the issue.

I have few problems with Ladele’s claim that homosexuality conflicts with her religious beliefs. What I really have a problem with is the sickening application of the double standard, this bullshit of privileging homosexuality as the chief of all sins. A few weeks ago, I peeled the Christian fish decal off of my car (it’s been there for more than 10 years) because I no longer want to be associated with people who act and behave as though they have any place to impose their moral beliefs on others, as though they’re better than anyone else just because they’re straight.

While it appears that I’m imposing my moral beliefs on Ladele, I would disagree– I’m not keeping her from believing anything, though I am in support of regulating her conduct as it benefits a larger group of citizens. I would also argue that if it were my job, I wouldn’t decline to perform her marriage just because she’s a bigot. Civil marriage has evolved into a morally neutral institution, entirely separate from our religious notions that happen to have the same name.

The Washington, D.C. city council has passed a marriage equality bill. That is a Good Thing, and I couldn’t be happier for the people of D.C. The Roman Catholic Church, predictably, isn’t very happy though, and neither is the National Organization for Marriage (NOM).

In response to the legislation passed by the council, the Roman Catholic Church is threatening to stop all charitable work that is done jointly with the city. The primary reason, according to Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, is that

the measure has too narrow an exemption. She said religious groups that receive city funds would be required to give same-sex couples medical benefits, open adoptions to same-sex couples and rent a church hall to a support group for lesbian couples.

I’m going to address the last issue first, because as a Christian, that’s the one I’m most concerned about: autonomy of the church. I think separation of church and state is a good idea, but I also think it goes both ways. The church ought not to interfere in state business, and vice-versa. I don’t think the church should be forced to rent parish halls on what is exclusively church property to people that aren’t members of that church. In all honesty, if a lesbian support group tried getting a church hall, the church could refuse them and it would have the legal right to do so. I think that’s a little uncharitable, and more than a little un-Christ-like, but they’re still allowed to do it. I might not agree with the idea, but that’s part of their exercise of religious liberty and they’re allowed to act like that. But that’s also why I’m not a Catholic (or an Evangelical, or a southern Baptist).

It is conceivable that if the Catholic Charities organization, which does receive city funding (and is therefore not exclusively owned by the church), had a suitable place for a support group meeting, that they could be required to rent that out to anyone that wanted it. But if it’s only some offices, and not a part of your sacred space, I don’t really see what the big deal is. Why is a lesbian support group such a bad idea anyway? Is it really such a horrible thing to help some people out? I’ve been to support groups for trans people, and it involves a lot of bitching and kvetching about how hard it is to get your gender marker changed at the DMV, or what a hassle it is to fly if your ID doesn’t match your gender presentation. I would imagine that support groups for lesbians are a lot of the same kind of thing: it’s not like they’re asking to set up a speed dating service on nights and weekends, they’d be using it to sit around and talk, sort of like the AA group that meets in the parish hall of my current church.

But like I said, that’s assuming that Catholic Charities doesn’t have any sacred space amongst its offices. But how do I know that it doesn’t? How do I know that Catholic Charities couldn’t be forced to rent out sacred space to non-believers? Because I just spent about 5 minutes on Google and learned that the address for Catholic Charities headquarters in the DC archdiocese is 924 G Street, NW Washington, DC 20001. And there isn’t a church located at that address. If the charitable organization (with separate offices from the actual Church itself) receives city funds, how does that equate to renting a church hall? It’s owned jointly, and the church ought not to have more power in that situation than a roommate would when two people share a common living space. They can express their discomfort to one another over certain situations, but again, it’s not like anyone is asking them to do something against their conscience. If you don’t want to watch the movie your roommate is watching, and they’ve got dibs on the living room for the night, it’s not like you’ll be tied down and forced to watch. In the case of renting out some space for a support group, we’re talking about doing something nice for other people who are having a really tough time in life. Maybe that witness is more important to God than being a shining example of a people that are rigidly legalistic and uncompromising. I don’t see salt and light in that kind of dogmatic response, I just see people being rude to each other.

Gibbs also pointed out that Catholic Charities would have to provide same sex couples the same kind of partner benefits they provide to married employees. And they would have to support the adoption of children by same sex couples.

The first issue, the health insurance, is a non-starter for me. Of course you have to treat all your employees equally. If you don’t like that, then you aren’t allowed to receive public funding. Hell, you’re probably not even allowed to do business in most places. The concept of social justice requires that, not some liberally progressive nanny state, and again, it works both ways. Christians aren’t allowed to discriminate against people they think are “sinners” and vice-versa. There are times and places where those kinds of laws protect Christians, you just don’t hear about them very often because something like 75% of people in the US celebrate Christmas. There aren’t a lot of vulnerable Christian communities, but there are a lot of communities with vulnerable minorities.

The state specifically passes laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, religion or lack thereof, sexual orientation, and gender identity, so if you’re affiliated with the state in any way, you aren’t allowed to, either. Compromise is not possible with people who think that discrimination against others is a God-given right rather than a status quo that ought to be overturned. The reason I say this is because in this particular example of D.C. legalizing same sex marriage, it’s not possible to extend benefits to same sex couples in any way without upsetting the Catholic Church. If it wasn’t done through legalization of same sex marriage, then it could be done with a domestic partnership law, but that still wouldn’t be okay. The church would still find some way to complain. It’s as though the Catholic Church wants to punish its homosexual employees by forcing them to purchase health insurance for their partner and family when a heterosexual employee could get their benefits at least partially subsidized by their employer.

The issue over same sex couples adopting children could be argued in a similar way to health insurance—it’s really just discrimination. The Catholic Church is trying to impose its sectarian view of what a family should look like (i.e. heterosexual) when it’s receiving public funding to make adoptions happen. That’s using public funds to promote discriminatory policies, and that’s not okay because, as I’ve pointed out already, the concepts of social justice and the separation of church and state work both ways.

I do not understand all the intricacies of adopting a child, but I do understand that in some places there’s a shortage of good parents. Why the church would be reluctant to place a child in a home with gay parents makes almost no sense—except from the sectarian point of view. They’re trying to prop up their image of what the perfect family should look like and two gay men don’t fit that idea.

There are a couple of issues with that mindset when it comes to getting children adopted: you’re ignoring what’s obviously in the best interest of the child, which is getting them in a stable home. The old meme about children needing both a Father and a Mother have been sufficiently discredited—there are enough kids who grew up in homes where one parent was absent from death or divorce that all of us probably know several people who grew up in single parent homes– they’re not evil reprobates who set puppies on fire and molest children. They’re decent hardworking adults, and that disproves exactly what the Catholic Church is trying to maintain—the outdated idea that the only safe way to raise a child is with one male and one female parent.

One of the things I used to admire about Rick Warren (he of the Saddleback Church and Barack Obama’s inaugural invocation) was that his church used to partner with all sorts of non-Christian groups to promote AIDS awareness in Africa. I remember reading an interview of his on Thanksgiving Day several years ago and he had mentioned partnering with various pro-choice groups because getting the message out about AIDS and HIV prevention was more important than maintaining some distinction about not getting your hands dirty by working with the wrong kind of people. I remember thinking at the time that it was an incredibly mature attitude, and showed more of the character of Christ than I think Warren has publically displayed in the years since then. I think the Catholic Church really ought to consider something similar as a policy here—there are people who want to adopt some of those kids who don’t have homes. Why would you say no to people who want to help you, especially when you need the assistance? It’s absurd.

I would hypothesize that the Catholic Church isn’t really interested in taking care of children or in making secure families; they’re only interested in propping up their religious dogma. Unlike the church’s stance on holding unrelated charitable services over the heads of DC city council members, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is just tackling the marriage issue head on. NOM (I intentionally decline to provide a link) is promising to start another grassroots voter based movement in DC to “protect” marriage.

I’m not a huge fan of using scare quotes around words like protect, but it’s appropriate here. NOM isn’t actually trying to protect marriage. They’re trying to protect their idea of what they want marriage to be, not what marriage really is. Marriage was established by God, they say, and every civilization since the dawn of time has recognized marriage to be between one man and one woman. What they fail to mention are all the cases of polygamy and non-traditional marriages that are not only described in the Bible, but blessed by God. Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines (1 Kings 11:1-3, for those following along in a Christian Bible) and was regarded as one of Israel’s greatest monarchs. So even though Solomon was theoretically married hundreds of times, since each time it was just between one man and one woman, that makes it okay? Why does that seem like an epic logic fail? Honestly, aside from recognizing that society’s understanding of the marital contract has changed over time, I don’t see how there’s a way to parse Solomon’s hundreds of wives and concubines with NOM’s idea that marriage has always and only been between one man and one woman. There are additional counterexamples to NOM’s contention, but my blog is not a Bible study, and I have no desire to turn it into one.

I do want to say that NOM is being disingenuous—using a democratic tyranny of the majority to oppress and disenfranchise people who don’t have a sufficiently loud voice of their own. The point of the Constitution of the United States, the point of separating government power into judicial, legislative and executive branches, was to prevent the very thing that NOM is doing: getting a majority of people to overturn (via referendum) legislative and judicial decisions that protect groups of people who need protecting. While it seems inevitable that same sex marriage bans will eventually be overturned by judiciaries, the time between now and then is just a waiting period for LGBT people in a purgatory of discrimination.

So why do I care about marriage equality? Especially in D.C.? Or Maine? Or New York? As a trans woman who was married to my wife before transition, I’m fortunate that my marriage still counts as an heterosexual marriage. In the great state of California, marriages are only ended by death or divorce. In other words, since our marriage was legal and valid at the time it was performed, it’s still legal and valid even though I have transitioned and the state of California now recognizes me as a female.

But that’s why I care about marriage equality—my wife and I have, tentatively speaking, a same sex marriage– I’m a bisexual trans woman married to a straight cis woman*. If something should happen to either one of us, it’s possible that the Social Security Administration could deny the other the survivor benefits to which she would be entitled. The validity of our marriage could be contested by a belligerent family member who doesn’t think one of us should have power of attorney for the other or rights of survivorship. It happens. It’s happened in other states, and every state is different. Jennifer Boylan wrote a great article for the NY Times a while back that treated this issue with her usual blend of wit and humor (there’s a reason I pumped her books in my previous post—they’re really good).

Marriage equality is important to me because it means I won’t have to worry about whether my marriage is valid somewhere else, especially when being perceived as lesbians with a domestic partnership means we can be denied** access to each other in the hospital, or any of the other benefits that heterosexual couples receive without even having to prove that they’re married.

Those attitudes towards same sex marriage are perpetuated through the misrepresentation of gay relationships by the Roman Catholic Church and other religious organizations such as NOM. The church is supposed to “respect the dignity of every human being”*** but the Catholic Church and NOM aren’t respecting other people, only those people who agree with them. Mitt Romney said, “Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.” That was from Romney’s “Faith in America” speech, and while being LGBT doesn’t have a lot to do with one’s faith, those two aspects of a person’s life can intersect, and the Roman Catholic Church and NOM are making sure that they do: LGBT people are vilified in the public square, accused of corrupting (and recruiting) children into the queer fold, trying to fight for the validity of a lifestyle that is nothing more than a choice. We are painted as anti-Christ, against all religion, as though Richard Dawkins himself were the keeper of the evil, liberal, homosexual agenda.

What groups like the Roman Catholic Church and NOM fail to understand is that LGBT people are people of faith, too. We see our responsibilities to our faith differently, understanding the commandment of God to treat others with respect “for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deut 10:19) with a slightly different sense than people who have never stepped out of their privilege before. I do not hate NOM or the Roman Catholic Church. But I do not appreciate much of their rhetoric about how they are protecting traditional marriage, the subtext reading as though LGBT people were somehow undermining it.

I think what some people need to realize is that the world is not as tidy and neat as they want to believe, as though traditional marriage as NOM defines it is the only kind of marital relationship the world has ever known. The truth is that the world is never that clean, things never fit into such nicely delineated and labeled boxes: marriage has evolved and is always evolving, just as society has and does.

What used to be a social contract uniting two families is now a way for loving people to communicate their love to and for each other. As our understanding of what it means to be LGBT evolves, so too does our understanding of human relationships. It is not impossible for gay people to love monogamously just as heterosexual couples do. The fact that societies haven’t formally recognized gay relationships in the past with the m-word doesn’t mean that gay relationships didn’t exist. It also doesn’t mean that the new way of doing things is wrong. I would challenge people to understand that the visibility of LGBT people and their relationships necessitate an evolution in the understanding of the committed marriage relationship, not a forced freeze on all thought about how people relate to each other. Stagnation in social thinking curtails justice, it does not render it complete.

——————–
*I pity the judge and jury that would get our case should the validity of our marriage ever become an inssue.

**Incidentally, that lawsuit was dismissed by a federal court. Why religious groups are always so concerned about activist judges when those same judges are on the religious right’s side most of the time is a mystery to me.

*** In fact, it’s so important, that it’s part of our baptismal covenant, the thing that all Episcopalians say every time anyone gets baptized (Book of Common Prayer, 1979, page 305).