Why the Trans Stuff?

This could also be titled, “Can you explain what Joel has been up to the last year?”  Or “Why is Joel glad Autreat moved from Johnstown.”

Some readers of this blog may wonder why there is the trans-advocacy stuff here.  It mostly started in 2012 with an issue involving Autreat.

In 2012, as a member of the planning committee, I discovered, by accident, that our Autreat venue at the time (University of Pittsburgh @ Johnstown) was discriminatory against trans people (and, most likely, still is).  Essentially, they decided to prohibit many trans people from using the correct facilities for their gender identity and expression (I.E. a transman should be able to use the men’s room; that said, depending on where he is in his transition and with his expression at the time, he may choose to use the women’s room for safety purposes, which should also be respected as this is an issue of safety from assault, not preference or comfort).  The change was made in 2011, despite a pretty good official non-discrimination policy (that includes, ironically, gender identity).  It was proclaimed semi-officially – it didn’t go through the typical rule making process, nor was it put on paper, but it absolutely was enforced and echoed by official statements made by the University.  In fact, it was enforced against a student at Johnstown who arrested for using the “wrong” facilities and charged with indecent exposure.

This was significant to Autreat because research shows that autistics are highly represented in the trans community (for instance, 6% of people with gender identity disorder are autistic according to one study – much higher than one would expect if there was no relationship).

There’s all sorts of commentary on U Pitt’s decision online and in print – most of it revolving around whether or not different advocacy organizations and trans people responded “right” to the discrimination or whether or not the trans person who was arrested was right or wrong. Unfortunately most of this commentary doesn’t actually question the discrimination, and most seems to imply “just wait it out” is the right response when you personally face discrimination – but that’s the typical response to anything that disturbs the status quo from people not personally bothered by the status quo. However, the root of the problem is not any specific case, but rather official statements from the University administration about how trans people would be treated. For instance, a spokesperson quoted by Think Progress said,

As this [policy] applies to use of facilities, a female who identifies as a male, or a male who identifies as a female, may use restrooms or locker rooms of his or her declared gender identity after he or she has obtained a birth certificate designating the declared gender. This practice applies to student athletes as well.

Many trans people, for many reasons, do not have birth certificates that agree with their gender.  Depending on where you are born, you may be able to change your birth certificate simply by filling out a form (no documentation or surgery requirement), by providing evidence that you are undergoing treatment for Gender Identity Disorder, by proof of certain surgical procedures, or, in some cases (such as if you are born in Ohio), not at all.  Thus, this can place people in not only bad, but dangerous situations of being forced to use a facility that doesn’t match one’s gender expression.

As a result of this discrimination by the venue, I wrote a long document near the end of July addressed to others on the Autreat planning committee (see this PDF: The Right to Pee) about my concerns.  I sent it after Autreat 2012 (we couldn’t move Autreat when this was discovered immediately prior to Autreat 2012, so I held off on the formal presentation of my concerns until after Autreat 2012).  The document includes documentation about the decision by the University, responses to questions I predicted people would have about the policy, and samples of good policies (such as the guidance issued by the NCAA, a group that knows a lot about single-gender activities and facilities usage, particularly in the context of college campuses).  I’m publishing it here primarily so that people can get ideas for their own advocacy and also to understand the problem surrounding the University’s statements (which are too numerous to go into here).  I’m also publishing it because Johnstown, Pennsylvania continues to be a hot spot for discrimination against trans people, unfortunately – I suspect in part due to the University of Pittsburgh normalizing discrimination.

A few months after I wrote about U. Pitt’s discrimination to the committee, the University of Pittsburgh in Johnstown still had not made an offer that accommodated Autreat’s dates and other needs to host Autreat, so the gender identity discrimination issue became somewhat moot at that point (the end of November) and a venue search was then begun.  Unfortunately my document and/or it’s presentation to the committee was insufficient by themselves to persuade the committee to begin the search immediately (it did trigger the creation of an ad-hoc committee, which over a year later still hasn’t produced any recommendations and is probably moot now with the Autreat re-organization), so the search was started at the end of November rather than earlier.  That’s a common problem – it’s hard to convince people that discrimination exists, and it’s even harder for even good people to challenge the status quo in areas that don’t fit with their own personal experience.

It was obviously a relief that a different venue was chosen for Autreat 2013.  AFAIK, California University of Pennsylvania does not have any official policy (or interpretation) that would lend itself towards discrimination.  Nor do I know of any trans discrimination issues recently in California, PA.

The PDF document linked above (as “The Right to Pee”) still basically applies to the University of Pittsburgh (all campuses), with a couple of caveats due to changing circumstances.  First, trans students are now supposedly allowed to use bathrooms corresponding to their identity, on the basis of statements made on a “Student Life” page on the U Pitt website:

“The University has agreed, prior to the finding, to allow people to use the bathrooms with which they identify,” Frietsche said, citing a statement posted May 21 on the Pitt web site’s “single use restrooms on campus” page (www.studentaffairs.pitt.edu/lgbtqa/singleuserestrooms) that lists the locations of non-gender-specific restrooms on campus.

It states, in part: “The University trusts that members of the campus community and their guests will exercise sound judgment and discretion when accessing and using the restrooms.”

Frietsche, quoted above, is a lawyer for the Women’s Law Project, a group helping represent the campus LGBT group in a complaint against the school over the problematic policy (the above quote was from a University Times article).  However, it’s unclear whether or not “sound judgement and discretion” is the same thing as “allowed to use the bathroom that corresponds to your gender expression.”  The terse and strangely worded statement also leaves many questions unanswered – can a transwoman take a PE class offered to women?  Which locker room is she supposed to use?  Which dorm?  And since this new “policy” is listed only on a site that is specific to one campus, on a page that lists where single-occupancy bathrooms are located on the main Pittsburgh campus, does it apply to other campuses, like Johnstown?

The bathroom policy changed to the current “sound judgement and discretion” standard only in response to a legal complaint by the Pittsburgh campus LGBT group. The University seems to be losing in this (thus far, their motions to dismiss the complaint on have been denied, and the parties were ordered into the current phase). However, that complaint was made to the City of Pittsburgh (which has strong non-discrimination law), and it’s unclear how much influence the City of Pittsburgh would have on a campus located in, say, Johnstown, PA.  After all, unlike most places in the US northeast, there are no protections in Johnstown (or most Pennsylvania communities) for trans people – for instance, it is perfectly legal to refuse a trans person service in a restaurant simply because you don’t like their gender identity or you think it’s a sin and you don’t want to “enable sin.”

The complaint is currently in a reconciliation phase where the two parties are to try to come to an agreement that is mutually satisfying, according to the process for complaints made to Pittsburgh’s Human Relations Commission.  If the parties can’t agree (likely), it will go back to the City of Pittsburgh (and, likely, be appealed to state court by whichever side loses).

Other than this, the situation essentially remains as described in the document.  Trans people still don’t have real rights on the U Pitt campuses, with the possible exception of being allowed to use bathrooms (if the school agrees it was sound judgement) and even then possibly only in Pittsburgh.

So, back to why I care – a significant number of autistic people are trans, and it’s simply not possible to have an autistic event without considering the venue’s attitude towards trans people (or, put another way, whether they have simple respect for people). Learning about this also opened my eyes to how easy it is to unknowingly participate in furthering discrimination against trans people (Autreat certainly didn’t know Johnstown was discriminatory when we signed the contract to have Autreat there, and a lack of prior preparation through policy and procedure caused significant delays when trying to figure out what to do about it).  So it’s importance to be careful and do research, and for those of us who have learned about this to speak up when we see gender identity or expression discrimination.  It’s also important to think through these issues so you aren’t learning after there is a problem, but you learn and prepare ahead of time (that said, this shouldn’t be hard: people leaving others alone in the bathroom should also be left alone – duh – how hard is this to figure out?). As I researched this particular issue, it was pretty clear that trans people routinely face discrimination in all areas of their lives and that the fight for trans rights is – as Vice President Joe Biden phrased it – the civil rights issue of our times.  I’d like to be on the right side of history and to be able to tell the next generation, “I did my part.”

That’s why I care.

Coy Matthis – and Excuses to Exclude

I wanted to write a bit about a big local news story. But I also wanted to write about how different populations (in this case, trans people and autistic people) face too many of the same stigmas and excuses when we’re excluded.

As an autistic person, I’ve seen plenty of excuses to exclude. Of course we’re not the only group of people excluded from places and activities, as a long history of exclusion in the USA demonstrates. Today, one group that frequently loses their rights is transgender people. As autistic people, we should be concerned anytime anyone’s rights are infringed – we know what it is like.

Coy Matthis is a (now) second grader. She successfully brought a complaint against the Fountain-Ft. Carson School District (Fountain is a town directly south of Colorado Springs, home of Focus on the Family and several other right-leaning political-religious organizations). Her complaint was that the school district prohibited her, a transgender girl, from using the girl’s bathroom, and suggested (initially) that she used the boy’s bathroom, or, (later) a staff restroom.

Predictably, the Division of Civil Right’s decision (pdf) angered a lot of people, with predictable complaints, as it affirmed Coy’s right to use the girl’s bathroom. As you read through some of the complaints I’ve seen below, as I paraphrase them below, think about what other populations you’ve seen these complaints used against. This is one reason it’s important to ally ourselves with other communities – their struggle is remarkably similar to our struggle, so it’s useful to learn from each other. Of course Coy and others like her have plenty of different struggles than autistic people generally have, but there are some commonalities even where the specifics are different.

I don’t believe she’s really trans, her parents are using her

This argument comes down to “I don’t believe her.” How many times have we heard that about autistic people in the autism community? The minute an autistic speaks out against something someone is saying or doing to autistic people, we learn that we aren’t really autistic. Denial of our identity is a pretty basic way of trying to silence an opponent. And plenty of autistics are told that they are only pretending to be autistic.

But, that aside, I’ll make one suggestion: if you know a 6 year old boy (Coy was 6 at time of the bathroom ban), see if you can get him to wear girl’s clothes to school, tell people he’s a girl, and otherwise do “girl things.” I’ll be mightily impressed if you can do this. After all, society strongly encourages gender stereotype conformity.

How can a 6 year old know she’s trans?

Likewise, we’re (autistics) are too often dismissed when we relate our experiences interacting with the world. “How can you be bothered by a fluorescent light?” It’s basically, “My experience was nothing like yours. I never went through being trans at 6, so I can’t see how that’s possible. I never was bothered to the point of pain by a fluorescent light, so you’re making it up.”

The answer to this question turns out to be pretty easy. From a recent American Academy of Pediatrics (not to be confused with the American Academy of Pediatricians!) policy technical report (pdf) on treating LGBT children:

Awareness of gender identity happens very early in life. Between ages 1 and 2 years, children become conscious of physical differences between the 2 sexes. By age 3, children can identify themselves as a boy or a girl, and, by age 4, gender identity is stable. In middle childhood, gender identification continues to become more firmly established, reflected in children’s interests in playing more exclusively with youngsters of their own gender and also in their interest in acting like, looking like, and having things like their same-sex peers.

Clearly, children know they are boys or girls at a young age. When that knowledge is significantly different than the apparent sex of the body, to the point where the person can’t accept living according to the stereotypes of their body, it’s a serious – potentially life threatening – problem (it can create such unhappiness that people feel suicide is their only way of dealing with this). The solution to this problem is to live as you are, not as people might want you to be. This, in Coy’s case, was confirmed medically through her doctors and therapists. I imagine the “Is she really?” question crossed these experts’ minds. I also imagine they investigated that and got a good answer. Probably a better one than someone without knowledge about gender identity can come up with, particularly without knowing Coy!

Finally, again, ask a random six year old if he’s a boy or girl. Hopefully you’re not surprised that the child provides an answer quickly (well, unless the child may be questioning, in which case it’s very healthy). Children generally know what they are. Really!

Boys have Penises, Girls have Vaginas

We have expectations about “obvious” things. Lots of people have expectations about autistic people – “They don’t talk” or “they couldn’t live without 24×7 help” are two obvious ones (I’ll note that the 24×7 help isn’t something people get even in institutions, but that’s not the point of today’s post, so I’ll move on). It’s another way to say, “NO, you aren’t. You’re what I think you are.”

I’m not sure where Arnold’s kindergartener learned about penises and vaginas, but as the decision by the Division of Civil Rights states, it’s a bit more complex than that. The decision cites the presence of intersexed people as examples of people that don’t conform to the overly simplistic “boys have penises, girls have vaginas.” Enforcing some sort of uniform standard is yet another way of dismissing someone’s identity. “You’re what I think you are. I know better than you. Or your parents. Or your doctors. Or the State of Colorado. Or the US Department of State” (all of the above recognize Coy as a girl). I’m going to pick the sex trait *I* think is important to determine your gender (note that gender and sex are different – I’ll mention that later).

It’s a way of saying, “There can’t possibly be any girl who has a penis, because, well, I say so, that’s how I’m defining girl. No penis.” (Ironically these same people probably would pick a different trait if Coy was ever to have genital reassignment surgery – part of the proof that they aren’t really concerned about genitals nearly as much as making sure they voice their disagreement with the person’s identity) That simplistic, genital-based thinking not aligned with most current research or thinking on gender. Just as someone can believe man-made pollution has no or extremely little impact on climate, you can believe whatever you want about gender. But that doesn’t make you right. With the vast degree of diversity in the human condition, it’s pretty hard to say anything with absolutes, particularly with something as complex as gender. We might all like absolutes (penis = boy, XY = boy, or whatever else), but absolutes just don’t fit the realities of humans. We’re complicated. And trying to make it simple might make you seem smart to yourself, but really exposes your ignorance.

Ah, we’re not discriminating on the basis of gender, we’re discriminating on the basis of sex

Again, autistic people see this type of hair-splitting. We’re told, “We’re not refusing to hire autistic people, we’re refusing to hire people with (insert some autistic trait).”

Likewise, trans people face this as a result of sloppy language used by politicians, lawyers, and the general public.

Quick, if you’re asked if you’re “male or female”, should that question be entitled “sex?” or “gender?” If you said gender, you’re wrong. Gender is identity and/or expression (depending on context). Man, woman, girl, boy are words to describe gender. It’s how you interact with society, which generally doesn’t involve genitals or chromosomes (I don’t ask someone for a genetic test before calling her “Ms” or ask someone to drop their pants before I call them “Sir”). Sex, on the other hand, is biological (and complex!). It’s the combination of traits, such as brain structure, gonads, genitals, secondary sex traits (height, bone structure, muscle structure, fat distribution, breasts, baldness, voice pitch, etc), hormones, and chromosomes – any one of which can point towards a different sex than the others (hence why it is complicated!). So, if you’re interested in a person medically, you may want to know their sex, but if you’re interested in whether you call the person “sir” or “ma’am,” you’re interested in gender (and then you should ask “man or woman” generally, not “male or female”, or better yet, allow the person to fill in the blank in case they don’t identify either way).

Unfortunately for Coy, Colorado, in addition to making transgender a sexual orientation (huh? Trans people are straight, gay, bi, and otherwise – it’s like making transgender a skin color, it makes no sense), confuses sex and gender throughout its laws, to the point where the Civil Rights Division concluded they are synonyms and the meaning has to be discerned through context. Both parties (the school district and Coy’s lawyers) agreed that sex and gender are distinct. But of course our laws are muddy, because legislatures are not quite so clear. Other examples are the Colorado “Change of Sex” form which is used to record a change on Colorado ID cards and driver’s licenses. The State form titled “Change of Sex” doesn’t, outside of the title, ask about the person’s sex. It asks for the person’s gender! Or, the famous, “One man, one woman” standard for marriage. They don’t really mean man or woman (gender), they mean one male, one female (sex). Courts have all agreed that they mean sex, even when they said man and woman (and didn’t define what makes someone a man or a woman) – it was a ban on same-sex, not same-gender marriage.

This is unfortunate because you have statements in law that allow creation of some single-sex (or single-gender, depending on the regulation or law – both terms are used) facilities. For instance, having a “men’s bathroom” is not illegal in Colorado, but the legislature absolutely intended to make it illegal to prohibit trans men from using it (even female men). So, is it sex or gender discrimination to ban a man from the men’s room, when single-sex (or is it single-gender) facilities are allowed?

It turns out that the saving grace for trans people is that the law is otherwise clear – the law was clearly intended to allow trans people to use a bathroom that matches their identity. But there’s going to be a lot of pointless debate in the future due to imprecise language. While advocates might agree that women need to be treated like women on paperwork and in laws, we probably should ensure we don’t muddy the waters by letting laws pass using the word “sex” when “gender” is meant, or vise-versa. The argument could have been avoided with precise language.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…

Okay, it makes for a good movie. But it makes garbage public policy. This argument was essentially the argument used in every single case of widespread discrimination in the USA. Why were Americans that had Japanese ancestry locked away in interment camps? Because trampling on their rights was seen as an acceptable price to pay for the illusion of security it gave the majority of citizens. It’s today used against autistic people to argue for segregation in school or institutionalization.

This argument used towards trans people implies that use of a bathroom by a trans person (or whatever other right they might have) is somehow interfering with the rights to another. There’s this idea that just being in a bathroom or other place with someone with different genitals is somehow hurting the other person – that it’s an infringement on rights. This is probably only true if you value a “right to discriminate”, which sadly some do value. The only right violated is your right to violate someone else’s right.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I would hope the school would do something about two male boys showing each other their penises in the boy’s room rather than using the room for it’s intended purpose. You go in there to do your business. And by all accounts, that’s exactly what Coy did – her business and nothing more. Now if someone was showing their genitals, you deal with that. It is inappropriate behavior to do that in public restrooms, but it’s equally inappropriate if it is two boys (with penises) doing it. Or two female girls.

And there is a solution for the person who really does feel uncomfortable (no students reported feeling uncomfortable with Coy, it should be noted; it was a couple of school administrators that felt uncomfortable with the idea of Coy using the girl’s room). You let them use a more private facility. Problem solved – now both kids can pee in peace.

She can use the boy’s room…or the staff bathroom, so she can pee

Again, this is used in other areas of discrimination. With autistic people, we’re told that there are other places we can, other activities we can sign up for, etc. We can be somewhere else, just not here. So it’s all cool, right? Of course not.

There’s more to bathrooms than just peeing. While it’s not a place to wave your genitals around in front of others, it has a social component – actually several of them. People do socialize in bathrooms (particularly, from what I hear, women). And, more importantly, bathrooms have a gender confirmation purpose. Some people are violently attacked simply for not following society’s expectations for their presumed sex. Sometimes someone will watch someone use the bathroom, just to determine, “Is that person a man or a woman?” The door they use tells them. If they use a third door, or a door not in conformance with their expression, that confirms, “This person really isn’t a woman, ‘he’ is a man” rather than, “Oh, this person might just be a tall woman.” Someone that already drew a conclusion may not be swayed by this, but for people that were unsure, this can confirm or exclude that a person is dressing and acting appropriately. Equally bad, if people thought the person was a woman, and had no doubt about her being a woman, but she uses the men’s room (or a third bathroom), now she’s obviously and visibly different – and very likely the conclusion will be, “She’s not a real woman.” That’s a risk to her. (it can work the same way for trans men) It’s a risk she should evaluate, not someone else.

Finally, asking any student to do something different just because of who they are (rather than a choice they make), such as using a third bathroom, will say to other students, “This person is different.” Now, difference isn’t bad in itself, but too often that message is communicated too. In this case, the message is, “This person isn’t a real girl.” That contradicts the message the school was properly trying to send when it used feminine pronouns and otherwise treated the girl as a girl.

I don’t think I could ever understand what it is like for someone who has went through pain of being trans, and having a body that didn’t match their being. But I imagine it’s incredibly humiliating and triggering to be told, “No, I think you’re really something else.” A life of people not accepting who you are probably becomes very painful to many. It implies that the trans person is a liar, cheat, fake, evil, sinner, and whatever else. Imagine the pain that it must feel like to have people constantly remind you that they don’t see who you are. Imagine that someone has chosen to live who they really are, not the lie that was killing them, only to be told they are wrong for choosing life over death.

What about safety?

Again, this happens for autistic people. People have stereotypes about what is safe and what isn’t. Someone screaming in a meltdown is “unsafe”, whether or not they intend to do violence. As is someone saying things that an autistic person might to an authority, like, “What you’re doing isn’t safe, it could get you hurt if someone didn’t like what you were doing” (something an autistic person I know did to someone without authority or training who was trying to enforce zoning codes). It feels like a threat, either the meltdown or the concern about a person’s safety. So it must be. Even when it’s not.

Likewise, discussion about bathrooms always comes around to safety. There is an idea that a rapist or molester would never rape or molest someone with the same body parts as themself, and would never enter a place where he or she shouldn’t be – but once you let them in, they’ll now rape or molest. This is problematic for a bunch of reasons, such as assuming that people who have the “wrong” parts would only be in some places to cause problems. But it’s also wrong – we still have extremely strong laws to protect people against rape and molestation. They aren’t always applied or used, but the laws themselves are generally pretty strong and carry severe penalties. If that’s not going to keep someone from doing wrong, no sign on the door will.

Even more significant, however, is who’s safety is seen as important to protect. The idea is that this hypothetical wrong-bathroom-rapist (I know of no case where this has actually happened – where someone raped someone after entering a bathroom and claimed he or she had the right to be in a bathroom because he or she was trans) is a bigger concern than the safety of trans people (who are raped, molested, beat, and killed for using the “wrong” bathroom). The concern wasn’t about making Coy comfortable and safe (part of that is showing that she’s normal and a real girl, not a fake or liar in need of correction). It wasn’t empowering (by letting Coy and her parents make decisions about what is safest for her). No, it was treating people like Coy as the threat – if she uses the bathroom, then people are unsafe because hypothetically someone else might. So the threat needed to be removed.

Likewise, forcing Coy to use a different bathroom doesn’t make her safe either. While a private bathroom may be more safe than a shared bathroom, it can also be less safe. It’s more safe when it’s a non-stigmatizing option that everyone might (and do) use, but it’s less safe when it serves to “out” someone or communicate she isn’t a “real” girl.

If you’re really worried about everyone’s safety, then worry about it (start by giving people privacy in anyplace where they may be partially or fully undressed, privacy even from people with the same sex parts). It means also worrying about rapists that have the same genitals as their victims. Otherwise, it’s just an excuse.

Other Excuses

I’m sure there are other excuses. All of the above were excuses I recall hearing, either in the formal determination by the Civil Rights division, or by commentators about this. The reality is that none of them get to the root of the problem: they are justifications, not the real problem. The real problem is dislike for how someone else lives their life. The excuses are simply attempts to justify bad behavior on the part of the person making them.

Arizona Legislator Shows His Ignorance – And a Lesson on Sex and Birth Certificates

I’m not writing about Autism today, but I am writing about discriminated against another group of people – trans* (I’m using this primarily to refer to transsexual people, but using “trans” instead because I believe this issues affect more than just transsexuals), intersexed, and people that might get mistaken for being the other sex (such as people like Khadijah Farmer who was thrown out of a restaurant bathroom that matched her sex, gender, and, presumably, chromosomes).

An Arizona legislator has entered a proposed amendment to a bill being heard by committee. The bill was originally written to establish regulations for massage therapy. The amendment would completely strike that language and replace it with nothing to do with massage. Instead, it would create a criminal penalty for using the wrong bathroom:

A PERSON COMMITS DISORDERLY CONDUCT IF THE PERSON INTENTIONALLY ENTERS A PUBLIC RESTROOM, BATHROOM, SHOWER, BATH, DRESSING ROOM OR LOCKER ROOM AND A SIGN INDICATES THAT THE ROOM IS FOR THE EXCLUSIVE USE OF PERSONS OF ONE SEX AND THE PERSON IS NOT LEGALLY CLASSIFIED ON THE PERSON’S BIRTH CERTIFICATE AS A MEMBER OF THAT SEX.

It does go on to grant some exceptions, such as allowing a small child of the opposite sex accompanied by a parent into a bathroom.

This type of thing is not unique to proposed laws in Arizona. It’s been tried elsewhere. For instance, the University of Pittsburgh expelled a student for using the “wrong” locker room on the basis that the student’s birth certificate presumably indicated a different gender than the sign on the bathroom door.

Bathroom and locker room usage is also a common objection by people generally opposed to LGBT non-discrimination laws, particularly when “T” is included in the law. In fact, it appears that the Arizona proposed amendment may be a response to the City of Phoenix passing a law banning discrimination against LGBT people. The argument is, essentially, that women and girls are placed at great risk if a man enters their bathroom, and that sexual predators will be granted freedom to molest girls because they’ll be able to pretend to be a woman and thus protected by the law. That’s bogus, and I’ll explain why later – but I’ll give a preview: it’s less to deal with protecting children than simply having moral disapproval for how someone else lives their life. But “I think they are sick” doesn’t track as well with the public as “children are at risk.”

So, here’s some education for future potential legislators seeking to ban trans people from public life. If you want to be a bigot, at least do it right.

Not Everyone Has Birth Certificates

An Arizona legislator should know this, since there is a way to apply for a “delayed birth certificate” in Arizona (like most, if not all, other states and foreign jurisdictions). A delayed birth certificate is issued when no birth certificate exists for a person who is older than one years old. That person could even be an adult that for whatever reason never had their birth recorded. They are still citizens of Arizona and the USA (assuming they were born in Arizona), but don’t have a certificate on file.

Under this proposed law, they could not use any public bathroom in Arizona that was signed for one or both sexes (they could enter unsigned bathrooms).

Not Every Birth Certificate Indicates Sex

Not all birth certificates indicate the sex of a person. I know a person who has the word “CHILD” under “sex” on the birth certificate. This person, and others like this person, could not enter any public bathroom in Arizona that was signed for one or both sexes (they could enter unsigned bathrooms). I guess they could enter a bathroom marked “CHILD” but that’s probably not the intent of the law!

I Can See Your…Birth Certificate?

This would seem to be obvious, but people generally don’t carry their birth certificate with them. A police officer arresting someone or charging someone on the basis of their presumed birth certificate, without any evidence as to what the certificate actually says, very well could be subject to a bias complaint – remember, sex discrimination is against federal law, and sex discrimination can occur when decisions are made because someone doesn’t fit the expected sex stereotype.

So a police officer confronted with a person who doesn’t look like a “proper” man or woman has a choice: she can either assume that the person has a birth certificate that matches her assumptions or not. But there’s not necessarily a direct connection. Remember, the law proposed doesn’t care about anatomy – it only cares about what is written on the paper.

Evidence also must be presented in court. Presumably, the prosecution would request the birth certificate from the state of birth and ask someone to testify as to its’ authenticity. But that seems a bit much for a misdemeanor. Without that, there is no evidence however, baring a person incriminating themself. It’s even more difficult if the state or foreign jurisdiction doesn’t see the request for birth certificate as a valid reason to produce the record.

Doesn’t Do What it Means to Do

The intent of the law is clear: establish law that doesn’t recognize legal sex changes. The assumption is that the birth certificate reflects the person’s “birth sex” (which is problematic in itself), while other ID, such as a driver’s license (which is often easier to change) might not. However, birth certificates don’t necessarily recognize birth sex, despite this legislator’s apparent beliefs.

In some cases, birth certificates are wrong. All it takes is a simple typo that goes unnoticed. That person, in Arizona, would be required to use a bathroom they don’t belong in.

In other cases, birth certificates are changed without surgery. I.E. the person may have a penis but be listed as “F” on their birth certificate. My guess is that the legislator intends that such a person wouldn’t be in the women’s locker room. However, this law would require that person to use the women’s locker room – exactly the opposite of the legislator’s intent. Ontario, Illinois, and federal (USA) jurisdiction (for births of USA citizens-by-birth abroad) are just a few jurisdictions that don’t require surgery to change birth certificates.

It also works the other way – someone can have genital surgery and have a birth certificate under their “old” gender. They may not have applied for a new one, or they may be in one of the few jurisdictions that won’t allow a birth certificate change (in the USA, only Idaho, Ohio, and Tennessee fit this category). So now you can have someone with the “wrong” parts legally required to use a bathroom that this legislator probably doesn’t think they belong in.

Far from preventing “men from being in the girl’s locker room”, this law would require that.

It Doesn’t Make People More Comfortable

One of the arguments – which is completely bogus – is that we have to think of everyone using a bathroom or locker room, and their comfort. Of course, usually the trans or intersexed person’s comfort isn’t a major consideration.

But, tell me, would most women feel comfortable changing in front of Ian Harvie? Now, I have no idea what sex is listed on Ian’s birth certificate, but I doubt anyone worried about men in the women’s room would want someone like Ian in the women’s room!

It Promotes Discrimination

Many people who are transitioning pick a bathroom based on safety and discrimination concerns. Sometimes it may be safer to use the men’s room, other times the women’s room. Using the bathroom of the target gender confirms to people that you “really are” what you present as, particularly if it’s not completely unambiguous. Being outed as trans, by using an inappropriate bathroom, can expose someone to anti-trans violence. While we should live in a world where someone should be able to safely be trans anywhere, we don’t. So we have to think of the safety of the people most likely to be hurt. Ultimately, it isn’t my place to tell someone else what bathroom they should use when their personal safety is at stake. (note that it is NEVER the trans-person’s ‘fault’ if they are attacked for simply being trans, regardless of what bathroom they use)

We Already Have Laws to Protect Girls

Despite that plenty of boys are abused in bathrooms, the discussion on these laws usually deals with the perceived risk to girls (apparently, boys can’t be molested in some people’s eyes).

In Boulder, CO, a man was recently charged with watching others use the bathroom. It’s become a bit of a circus, but clearly there are still laws violated when people breach the privacy of a bathroom or locker room, even in places where there are strong anti-discrimination laws, like Boulder, CO (which has some of the strongest in the country).

We have laws to protect people from inappropriate behavior in bathrooms and locker rooms. I don’t care what is between your legs if you are trying to molest someone. Fortunately the law doesn’t, either. Nor do I care what parts you have (or certainly not what is on your birth certificate) if you are sexually harassing people or violating their privacy – I also don’t care if you are straight or gay, or doing it to someone of the same or opposite sex. It’s wrong and illegal. Already.

In addition, in no jurisdiction where there is good non-discrimination law has that law been successfully used as a defense by someone using the bathroom to molest or invade the privacy of others.

Not Every Man Has a Penis

While I think the proposed law would be more likely to match the intent of the legislator if he wrote “people with penises must not use the women’s room,” it still would be a bad law (it is interesting however that the people most concerned with whether or not someone else has a penis are the same people who refuse to use the word “penis”). Besides transmen that may or may not have a penis, people can have unusual genitals for all sorts of reasons, such as accidents, medical errors/malpractice, or biological conditions.

Solutions

Clearly, some people are uncomfortable with the idea of transsexuals and others they don’t approve of in the bathroom.

The solution is simple: they shouldn’t use multi-occupancy bathrooms, locker-rooms, etc. Just as someone who is uncomfortable in the presence of blacks should not use public accommodations, if they want to be comfortable. It’s not any more right to ban transsexual and other people from public spaces than to ban blacks from public spaces, even if people are sincerely uncomfortable. There are plenty of sincere racists.

It’s not the victim of discrimination’s fault that a bigot is uncomfortable. The problem is the bigot, not the victim. So the burden should be placed squarely on the bigot when deciding who doesn’t need to fully participate in society.

For people concerned about minimizing discomfort (and increasing safety) to all people, it’s best to have spaces where people can disrobe or use the bathroom in true privacy. We don’t have to build open showers and changing areas. Really. Single-stall/shower facilities are a great solution. That said, nobody should be forced into such facilities while others use other facilities, but at the same time such facilities provide a place for people who desire greater privacy, such as people who might be offended by the presence of a trans person.

If people really cared about their fellow citizens, this would be the demand: private changing areas and bathrooms. Seriously. I’m not any more comfortable with a creepy man staring at my parts than a creepy woman staring at my parts!

Much of the debate comes down to: is a trans person “really” the gender they claim to be, or should they be forced to be what someone else thinks they should be? Beyond the sad case of David Reimer, modern science has certainty here – they are who they say they are. Yes, they (pdf) are. Don’t worry, nobody will make you change your gender against your will. So please don’t you try to do that to anyone by punishing them if they live authentically.

Hints for Allies of “T” People

It’s the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which I wrote about the other day.  I thought I’d share “Joel’s Helpful Hints to Keep From embarrassing Yourself” for non-trans people.

First, a disclaimer.  I’m not trans.  And I didn’t ask any trans person to review this, so it may be full of you know what.  So take this with a grain of salt and defer to actual trans people when they disagree with me!

A lot of people want to do the right thing, they want to show acceptance of others.  But, just like in the autistic community, there’s some things that people do to do that demonstrate a lack of awareness of things important to trans people.  So I’ll give some hints as (hopefully) an ally.  I’m going to assume you’re not a blatant bigot and that you want to be a decent person, so I’m not going to explain why terms like “it”, “shemale”, “tranny”, etc, are offensive.  If you don’t get that, do some Googling and come back when you figure it out.

1. Don’t assume all trans people feel the same way about terms, gender, or anything else.  Gender identity is a key part of all of our identities (including non-trans people), which means there’s deeply held ideas, concepts, and identities that may vary between people.  Some trans people, for instance, hate the word “transgender” used as an umbrella term that includes “transsexual” (they might ask – are they trans-sex or trans-gender, as sex and gender are different, see the next point; defer to an individual before making assumptions).  I use the term “trans” in this post because of this but others use different terms, and it’s ALWAYS the right thing to defer to someone else’s terms when referring to them.

2. Sex and gender aren’t the same.  Gender is not the polite way of referring to a person’s sex, nor is sex a dirty word!  Sex is biology, gender is identity and/or expression.  Some people use the terms male/female to refer to sex, and man/woman to refer to gender.  Others might use different conventions.  There’s a variety of conventions for people that don’t fit the binary in either category.

3. There’s no one set of right pronouns for everyone.  For instance, don’t use ze (or variants) to refer to a trans person unless you know that is that person’s preferred pronoun.  Many trans people believe they do fit the binary system, just not in the way that they were assigned at birth.  It’s insulting to them to put them in a different category (not “he” or “she”, but a third or fourth or fifth category), particularly because of the pain many have experienced of being placed in the wrong category.  Of course I’m talking about people that don’t expressly identify as not either “he” or “she” – if someone doesn’t identify as “he” or “she”, listen to them.

4. If you get someone’s pronouns wrong, or otherwise misgender them, and are corrected, accept the correction and say you are sorry.  Don’t ever try justifying your mistake – things like, “it’s hard to tell” or imply that it’s an easy mistake.  Just apologize and say you are sorry, the move on.  But make sure to use the right pronouns going forward!  If you don’t know what pronouns to use (in other words, aren’t 100% sure), try using the person’s name.  You won’t go wrong there.  And if you want extra points as an ally, correct others when they get it wrong (you’ll lose points and demonstrate you’re not an ally when you don’t speak up).

5. Don’t ever disclose for someone else.  If you’re asked to tell people by the trans person, feel free to do so in the way you were asked.  Otherwise, keep your mouth shut.  This is not a topic to gossip about.  And, no, you don’t come across as “more accepting” or “more progressive” because you talk about your trans friends, outing them in the process.  When you tell someone about your friend, it’s not important to say that he’s trans.

6. No, you really don’t have any business talking about their genitals, asking about their genitals, trying to figure out what genitals they have, expressing curiosity about their surgical status, etc.  This is even true if you think you’re asking it in a disguised way, trying to watch what bathroom or shower they use, talk about how you don’t understand why someone who is a (insert gender here) would want to have sex with someone who had a (insert genital description here).  Yes, people do ask that kind of stuff.  But it’s not your business.  If they feel you are someone who should know, they’ll tell you.  Otherwise you don’t need to know.  If most people asked or talked about my genitals, it would be considered rude and creepy.  That wouldn’t change if I was trans.  Don’t be rude and creepy.

7. Not everyone considers “trans” to be permanent.  Many people that once identified as trans no longer do, feeling that they have transitioned to their new gender.  Once transitioned, they are simply a man or woman.  They aren’t a different category of trans.  Others keep the identity.  Respect people’s choices.

8. Most trans people that identify as a man or woman want to be seen as a man or a woman, not a TRANSman or TRANSwoman.  There are lots of people brave enough, or required because of circumstances, to publicly acknowledge that their birth gender assignment doesn’t match who they are.  But it’s still respectful to treat them like any other man or woman.  And that goes double for someone who doesn’t want to be seen as something other than a man or woman.  So treat them as a man or woman (obviously I’m talking about people who identify in the binary here, not people who don’t).  Likewise, it’s not important to always distinguish yourself from trans people – don’t constantly refer to yourself as a non-trans/cisman/ciswoman/cismale/cisfemale or similar when the situation doesn’t warrant it – all that does is reinforce the difference (certainly there are times to disclose you aren’t trans, such as when you are speaking as an ally and it’s important to let people know that actual trans people’s views are more important – but using this terminology in other settings can make people feel they either have to lie or disclose something about themselves that they don’t want to disclose – that they aren’t cis-whatever).

9. A trans person may be “out” as their true gender in some situations without being out in others.  If the person is using a different name and pronouns in a different setting then when you met them, they may have an important reason to use that name and set of pronouns.  Respect that.  Their livelihood, family, or other things may depend upon it.

10. Trans people are more than gender identities and genitals.  While many are very interested in talking about gender and their own experiences, everyone likes to be seen as a whole person!

11. No, having some masculine or feminine traits that don’t fit your gender does not make you trans!  It’s about identity – nobody is perfectly masculine or feminine.  If you are trans, feel free to relate.  But if you are not trans – even if you have some non-typical traits – that doesn’t mean you have had the same experience.  Your experience is valuable, but it’s not the same and can’t be directly compared.

12. On stereotypes: there’s more to transwomen than beautiful models.  And more to transguys than muscular hunks.  Non-trans women don’t need to wear dresses and extravagant hairdo.  They don’t need to avoid “man” hobbies like restoring cars.  They can be a woman who likes to get her hands dirty.  So can transwomen.  Too often, only ultra-stereotypical trans people are shown on TV and the media.  Not every trans person could pass as a model (for women) or hunk (for men), nor should they have to.  Nor do you have to go out of your way to tell a transwoman she’s beautiful or a transman he’s masculine.  If it would sound funny saying “you’re a beautiful wonderful princess beauty pageant model” to a non-trans person, it still sounds weird when you say it to a trans person, even if you think it makes you look accepting and progressive!  It’s fine to compliment people, certainly.  But you don’t need to overdo it to show you see them as a woman or a man.

13. Being “supportive” by saying “I see you as a woman” or “I see you as a man” might be a bit (or a lot) insulting to some people.  Nobody tells non-trans people these things!  They don’t have to.  They just treat non-trans people according to their gender.  Actions speak much louder than words in this case.  “I see you as a woman” can be rephrased to “I see you as ALMOST a woman.”  Wouldn’t it be better just to treat that person as a woman?

14. Not every non-trans person is straight.  Nor is every trans person straight.  If a transwoman (that is, a woman that wasn’t fortunate enough to have been assigned female at birth) is attracted to women, she’s like any other woman attracted to women: she’s a lesbian.  Likewise for transmen attracted to men – he’s gay.  Insulting follow-up questions to this are anything along the lines of “if you’re attracted to women, why did you feel you needed to transition” or “but a man has better parts for sex with women” or anything similar.  If you wouldn’t tell most lesbians or gay guys that, you shouldn’t tell a lesbian or gay guy that happens to be trans that, either.  Finally, if a transwoman is attracted to men, she’s straight.  And a transman attracted to women is straight.  You don’t have to be gay to be trans (but you can be)!

15. Speaking of sex – unless you are in an intimate relationship with a trans person, generally it’s not considered polite to ask how that person has sex.  Once again, if you wouldn’t ask a non-trans person that question, you shouldn’t ask the trans person that question.  Nor the related questions of “how are you going to have a kid” if the person says they want to have a child – once again, that’s personal and generally invasive (and, frankly, probably doesn’t need to be asked if you actually have a reason to need to know – you’ll already know).

16. If you’re curious about surgeries, gender identity expression, or other general transgender topics, how trans people have sex, or any number of other things, there’s this wonderful thing called the internet.  I assure you it is on the internet somewhere.  You can find out without embarrassing yourself by insulting someone!

17. Once again, actual trans people override any of the above thoughts of mine.  Defer to them.  Always.  Using “correct” language to refer to someone while ignoring what someone tells you is pretty much exactly the opposite of respect.

It’s not a big deal.  If you treat people like they want to be treated, accept that you might be wrong, and leave your need to be seen as a progressive or understanding or accepting person behind, you’ll do fine.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Sometimes, as a member of one minority group (in my case, autistics), it’s easy to forget about others.  It’s easy to think that your own group faces the worst suffering or abuse.  Suffering and abuse isn’t like that – there’s a lot of horror in the world.

I believe in justice for all, not just my people (autistics).  So I want to highlight something that is happening this week.

It is not possible to be in favor of justice for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tuesday, Nov 20th, is Transgender Day of Remembrance.  It’s an annual event where people take a few minutes out of their day and remember that people have been killed for living authentic lives as the gender that they are rather than the gender that some would have them live.

One way you can show support for people is to attend a public remembrance event.  See http://www.transgenderdor.org/ to find one near you.  I’ll warn you that it’s very difficult to listen to the names of the dead without realizing that someone’s brother, sister, dad, mom, son, daughter, friend, wife, or husband is forever gone.  You can help those who know someone who died, and those who have been hurt by others, by showing your support for them.  You don’t need to know a trans person or be a trans person.  Just being there will show love and support.

Trans people don’t just face the threat of death (at a far higher rate than others in the LGBT community), but also face injustice in many other areas.  A heartbreaking read is Injustice at Every Turn, a report on the state of discrimination against trans people in the US.  There are a bunch of horrible statistics there.  For instance, nearly 1 in 5 (19%) of trans people say they were denied medical care because they were transgender.  Imagine for a minute having your doctor say “I can’t treat people like you,” simply because of a medically irrelevant characteristic and a wrongheaded view of morals (hint: medical needs should take priority over your religious hangups; if you can’t do that, the medical field is the wrong field for you).

I’m praying for a day when people are allowed to be who they are without fear of attack or discrimination.  Until then, I’ll speak out when I see injustice.  I hope you will too.  The worst thing we can do as allies, short of actually attacking another person, is to enable that attack by remaining silent.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. also said:

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.