[See also my previous post on this topic, We are all, or none.]
Well, now, short shrift has certainly been given to pollster Ivan Moore’s idea (posted on June 4 at 4:00 PM in comments on the web-posted version of his article in the Anchorage Press) that
I think the religious right would live with the ordinance just on gay-straight orientation.
Guess not. For Lo, verily! yesterday morning, suddenly beheld upon the front page of Jerry Prevo’s how-to-raise-money-for-your-church-by-telling-lies website SOS Anchorage dot com (won’t raise its profile by giving it a direct link, though I’ll gladly link to its debunking alter ego SOSanchorage.net), was the following announcement:
NEW!!! A revised version of the sexual orientation ordinance has been released by the acting Mayor. Supposedly, it is to prevent some of the problems we have raised. However, the term “sexual orientation” is not acceptable in any discrimination ordinance. The first ordinance shows what the homosexual movement really wants. We must say NO to the inclusion of homosexuality in any discrimination ordinance. Please encourage the Assembly to vote NO on this ordinance and do not amend Anchorage’s discrimination ordinance to include homosexuality as an acceptable alternative lifestyle. This will eventually lead to homosexuals wanting to make homosexual marriages legal in Alaska.
Well, that makes it crystal clear. We wouldn’t be able to buy tolerance for lesbians and gays from Prevo even if we were to throw our trans brothers and sisters under the bus in the name of political expediency.
… Are you really surprised?
Not that we would be willing to do so even if betraying our friends would soften Prevo’s heart against us. Might do his heart good if he could convince us to make such a devil’s bargain — wouldn’t do our hearts good at all. As I wrote to Anchorage Press associate editor Brendan Joel Kelley yesterday,
Although Ivan Moore clearly knows politics, & may be using his best political judgment in advocating going for a sexual-orientation-only ordinance right now, he doesn’t understand the politics of the LGBT community enough to know that for us now, as far as we’ve come, that’s not politically possible. 17 years ago, sure. Not now. We as a community (& I as an individual) have evolved a lot in our understanding of trans issues, in pretty personal & inextricably emotional ways. We’d be selling our souls to follow his advice.
Since I wrote that, I’ve seen my sense confirmed doubly and triply that not only us LGB’s (lesbians/gays/bisexuals), but also our nongay/and nontrans Allies, are solid in our intent to stand as one with transfolk.
How widespread this feeling is was most powerfully demonstrated for me at the Town Hall meeting last night at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on the topic of “Would Jesus Discriminate?” sponsored by MCC Anchorage and the local chapter of Integrity, the organization of LGBT Episcopalians and their friends. The people gathered there were members of at least three different Christian faith communities in Anchorage — MCC Anchorage, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, and Immanuel Presbyterian Church — if not more, as well as people from no particular faith community, like me. They included gay men, lesbians, straight folks, and at least three transwomen — that is, women who had been identified at birth (incorrectly, as it turns out) as male.
After a prayer service and potluck meal, Rev. Norman Van Manen of MCC gave his keynote address on the topic at hand, which was followed by remarks by Sara Gavit of St. Mary’s and Integrity of Anchorage. And then the Town Hall opened for discussion by people attending.
Close to the beginning of the conversation, a transwoman sitting in front of me asked all of us if the LGB portion of the community was going to renege during this ordinance fight on its loyalty to the T part of the community, as she had seen happen in other places she’d lived.
That’s when it happened. The very next person to speak, a woman — heterosexual I think, though I’m not sure — told us she’d arrived late because she’d wanted to watch the Channel 2 News about the work session the Anchorage Assembly had held earlier in the day (at which I was present), in which changes to the draft of the proposed ordinance were discussed. Then she’d downloaded and printed out a copy of the revised draft, and brought it to us at St. Mary’s. And with outrage she pointed out new language that had been inserted:
The prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation imposed by this chapter does not apply to discrimination because one’s biological gender in matters such as access to restrooms, nor does it change the rights of employers and operators of public accommodations to impose reasonable dress codes, work rules or other rules of general application.
People were very upset by the new language — everybody. Not only that, but no one had to explain to anyone present why the bathroom language was problematic. Out of perhaps 40 or 50 people in the room, of whom only three that I’m aware of were trans, everyone knew that the language as written lacked any recognition whatsoever of the need for safe, appropriate restroom facilities for transgender/transsexual persons. If forced to use only those bathrooms dictated by “one’s biological gender” (whatever that is — but more on that later), rather than according to their gender identity, transfolk are at incredible risk of being victimized by harassment and violence when all they simply want to do is to have a safe place to pee.
Looks like Pastor Prevo’s beardos-in-the-bathroom meme has borne fruit after all.
And everyone last night was upset about it. No more discussion of “Would Jesus Discriminate?” — we all knew he wouldn’t, whether we considered ourselves Christians or not. Now to act on our knowledge? It was all: what do we do about this? how do we fight it? how do we convey to the Assembly that we want this bad and poorly constructed language out of the ordinance? As the good people at SOSAnchorage (the truth-telling version that ends in .net, that is), both of whom were present at the Town Hall, wrote in their post about the ordinance changes last night,
What? Did the transgendered just get thrown under the bus? Will there be someone hired to stand at the entrance to all the bathrooms in Anchorage, in order to check the genitalia of anyone who tries to walk in, just to make sure they really should use those facilities? Can women use the ladies’ room if they’re wearing pants? Where will the line be drawn?
Good question. One I’ve asked before, given that I myself, a woman with a “mannish” gender expression, have at times been given the once-over when I’ve gone into the women’s room. More than once I’ve wondered if some self-appointed member of the gender police was eventually going to demand that I drop my pants or expose my breasts to prove I belonged in there.
Here’s something to think about: biological sex — or, as the “poddy language” in the revision to the proposed ordinance would have it, biological gender — is not quite so cut and dried as as the proposed language would have it. Check out all these typical features of sex:
- Genetic/chromosomal sex: XY in male; XX in females
- Gonadal sex (reproductive glands): testes in male; ovaries in females
- External morphological sex: penis and scrotum in males; clitoris and labia in females
- Internal morphological sex: seminal vesicles and prostate in males; vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes in females
- Hormonal sex: primarily androgens in males; primarily estrogens in females
- Phenotypic sex: facial and chest hairs in males; breasts in females
- Assigned sex/gender of rearing: male or female
- Self-defined sex: male or female [Ref. 1]
But, as explained by Julie A. Greenberg,
Two circumstances may lead to an intersex condition: (1) one or more features may differ from the typical criteria for that factor; or (2) one or more factors may be incongruent with the other factors. [Ref. 1]
For example, there are a whole bunch of atypical chromosomal arrangements that doctors have found besides XX or XY: XXX, XXY, XXXY, XYY, XYYY, XYYYY, XO. Some people, instead of typical ovaries or testes, have “streak” gonads that don’t work as either ovaries or testes, or have ovatestes which are a combination of both, or have one ovary and one testis. Some have external genitalia that aren’t clearly that of one sex or the other… and so on, down through every characteristic of sex listed above. [Ref. 1] I myself have a condition, found in about five to ten percent of women, called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) which gives me atypically high amounts of male hormones in my body which causes me to have more facial hair than is typical for women: unless I want to be a bearded woman, I actually have to shave my chinny-chin-chin. Check out the accompanying picture to see what I look like if I don’t.
So: what’s the definition of biological sex, then? How far down are the gender police going to strip people down to in order to determine if they’re in the right bathroom?
Here’s another thing to think about: maybe we’re going to have to think a little bit more deeply about how we can keep everybody safe in the bathroom, trans and nontrans alike. It’s pretty apparent that Rev. Prevo’s scare tactics have pushed some major buttons of fear for some Anchorage residents. But the fact is that transgender/transsexual people are the people most likely to be victimized in bathrooms, whether by harassment or violent assault. A 2001 survey by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission found that 41 percent of transgender respondents to its “Gender Neutral Bathroom Survey” reported being harassed or assaulted in single-sex public bathrooms. Many nontrans respondents also reported problems, especially butchy-looking women like me, and “feminine”-seeming men. [Ref 2]
All of us, male and female, straight and gay, trans and nontrans, young and old, deserve safe bathrooms. It’s absolutely the case that if we intend, as the proposed ordinance intends, to protect people from arbitrary discrimination on the basis of gender identity, that more than lip service needs to be paid to the issue of bathroom safety. We can do better than the unsatisfactory language in the revision to the proposed ordinance, which appears to be geared only towards calming the paranoia of Prevo’s listeners, while not at all addressing the total issue of safety. We might start with taking a look at something I discovered along the way of writing this post: a resource from the Transgender Law Center, based in California, designed specifically to help communities find ways to make bathrooms safe places for transfolk. Peeing in Peace: Resource Guide For Transgender Activists And Allies goes according to California law, so it might not be adaptable to Anchorage down the line — but it’s a beginning. [Ref. 3]
Think I’ll read it myself.
- Greenberg, Julie A. (2006). “The Roads Less Traveled: The Problems with Binary Sex Categories.” In Paisley Currah, Richard M. Juang, and Shannon Price Minter, eds., Transgender Rights. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Pp. 51-73.
- San Francisco Human Rights Commission. (2001). “Gender Neutral Bathroom Survey.” San Francisco: Transgender Law Center.
- Transgender Law Center. (2005). Peeing in Peace: Resource Guide For Transgender Activists And Allies. San Francisco: Transgender Law Center.