Tuesday, March 7, 2017

We Fear What We Don't Understand

Bathrooms.  Who would have thought we would be talking so much about such private, yet shared experiences?

Today, March 7, Senate Bill 6 will be heard in the Senate State Affairs Committee at the State Capitol.  Authored by Sen. Lois Kohlkorst (R-Brenham), the bill aims to restrict access for transgender persons to restrooms and other facilities.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has made bathroom access one of his top priorities this session, and his message sounds an alarm: “Menacing men dressed as women are preparing to assault our children and womenfolk!” 

Mrs. Kohlkorst, ironically channeling former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, wrote an opinion piece that appeared in several Texas newspapers this weekend, in which she wrote, “Women’s rights are human rights.”  She also wrote that opponents of SB 6 seemingly have only one goal in mind—to let boys and men into women’s restrooms to prey on girls and women.  “Young men who are ‘curious,’” she wrote, “or hold more nefarious goals will be free to experiment, while girls and parents are left legally powerless.”

Mr. Patrick and Mrs. Kohlkorst know exactly what they are doing and to whom they are delivering their message.  They know that most people do not understand what it means to be transgender, assume they do not know a transgender person, and do not understand the experience of transgender people in the real world.

And they are keenly aware that what people do not understand, they are likely to fear.  I cannot speak from any personal experience about what it is like to be a transgender person, beyond what I have learned through study and interaction.  Nevertheless, here is some information I have learned that might be helpful to those who do not have knowledge or understanding of this phenomenon.

Transgender persons are people who do not—cannot—identify with the gender assigned them at their birth.  Transgender people report that this issue of identity is not the result of choice, nor is one’s gender identity determined on a whim.  Transgender persons do not wake up one morning and “decide” to change their gender from the prior day, as Mrs. Kohlkorst asserted in her article.

Being transgender is not the same as being gay or any other description of sexual orientation, which refers to physical and emotional attraction.  Being transgender is also not as simple as dressing in clothing customarily associated with the opposite sex.  Finally, a transgender person’s gender identity is not dependent on having surgery.

Despite what one sees on television, being transgender is neither inherently glamorous nor extravagant.  Perhaps the most well-known transgender person in American culture today is Caitlyn Jenner, who lives a very privileged and public life, even starring in a reality television show.  In fact, the vast majority of transgender people in America are disproportionately poor and significantly more at-risk of suicide and violent crime than the population as a whole. 

Finally, transgender persons are not new to American society, though the general public is likely more cognizant of their presence today.  It is possible, perhaps even likely, that many have met or known a transgender person, but were not aware of their gender story.  Yes, it is possible that you have been in a public restroom with a transgender person and didn’t even know it.

The issue of safety is a red herring.  There is not a shred of evidence to support the notion that transgender persons are more prone to be violent, criminal sexual predators. The idea that men are waiting for SB 6 to pass so they can dress up as women, sneak into bathrooms and sexually assault women and girls is not only factually baseless--it is already illegal to do that! To assert, as Mrs. Kohlkorst did, that women (or men, for that matter) are not protected legally from sexual assault is mendacity and fear-mongering.

Senate Bill 6 is a solution in search of a problem.  If it is already illegal to sexually assault a person in a restroom or anywhere else, then what is the real impetus for this legislation?

A lot has been said about the potential economic impact of laws such as this.  That alone, however, should not be the reason for opposing it.

Discriminating against humans out of ignorance and fear, denying them their basic dignity—that is reason enough.

I do not personally understand what it means to be transgender.  I have not walked in those shoes or struggled in that way; however, I require neither the struggle nor the experience to know that treating people as “less than” is wrong.