She was one of my best friends in the early years of elementary school. Those years were difficult for her though, because she was so different from the rest of us girls. There was nothing about her that looked like a boy, but it was obvious to everyone, including those who called her hurtful names, that she was a boy at heart. She always played with the boys at recess, and they accepted her as one of them; and she was just naturally boyish in ways that no one could have ever taught her.
I remember the day she confided something very personal to me. Her parents, who happened to be very devout Baptists, had talked with a doctor and then with her about the possibility of having sex reassignment surgery. They told her the decision was up to her, and ultimately she chose against it. I remember thinking even at that young age that that was too personal to be sharing with me or anyone else. I shared it with my parents, whose reaction was sympathetic and similar to mine, and I never told anyone else.
An editorial in The New York Times this week labeled NC a “pioneer in bigotry, ” following the actions of our state legislature this week. Indeed it seems we have reached a new low, not only for NC, but for the entire nation. No state has ever passed legislation that discriminates in this way, and not only does it discriminate, but it specifically forbids cities and towns within the state to make their own non-discriminatory laws.
Now the fallout has already begun, with large corporations and institutions speaking out against the action and announcing publicly that they will continue their own non-discriminatory policies, and outside agencies, including the NBA and film makers, threatening to exclude NC from future tournaments, movies, etc. I predict also a lawsuit is not far away, along with further embarrassing press about our divided state. I’m pretty sure this week’s ruling is not the final chapter of this story.
Still, we, the people of NC (and those across the nation who are watching us), need to talk. According to a still active poll by Charlotte’s WSOC-TV, asking only whether one agrees with the legislation or thinks it went too far, with over 3000 responders, the results are close to 50/50, likely divided along political lines, which is what keeps us disagreeing so adamantly about almost any issue that comes up. I think we are better than this, and smarter if we had legitimate information not meant to manipulate and use us.
If you miss everything else I’m saying here, please hear this: this legislation is not about bathrooms. The bathroom issue is real, but there are some fairly easy answers that could satisfy everyone, if that were what they were seeking. (See my previous blog.) This week’s actions are just another episode in a political game that’s feeding on the ignorance and fears of us, the voting public. These politicians have learned there are several tricks to keeping their constituents where they want them, and these two are among are the most dependable: 1. pretend it’s somehow related to Christianity, and/or 2. convince the people they need to be afraid of something. Most often it seems they combine the two.
Transgender people have existed forever, but, like in the case of my childhood friend, it’s a very personal issue, not one that’s often announced to those outside one’s most inner circle. Some have surgery as children and go into puberty and adulthood with the physical bodies that will become the only gender their adult acquaintances will ever know, with no question. Others choose that difficult transition in adulthood. Still others choose to live their lives as the opposite of their physical anatomy without ever having the surgery. Surely they will have to have that conversation with a potential future life partner, but not with co-workers or casual friends. History tells us of many women who lived their lives as men so they could fight in wars, or attend college, or publish a book . . . Others might dress as the opposite gender, either regularly or occasionally, but continue to identify themselves with their physical gender.
Because the transgender issue is of such a private nature, it is no surprise that most of us, myself included, know so little about it, even to the point of thinking it only exists in one or two celebrity cases like Caitlyn Jenner; and it doesn’t help if the sources from which we get our news are associated with the political machine that wants to leave us frightened.
Because I have in recent years met some transgender people, including a few students who have privately asked me at the beginning of the semester to please refer to them as he, or she, or neither, I have made it one of my many goals to become more informed on the subject. I still do not really get it, but I do get that transgender people are no more predatory or dangerous than the rest of us, and that their lives have been difficult enough without our prejudicial treatment or legislation. I have also come to realize that I likely know several other transgender people, as do you, about whom I am (and should be) clueless.
I tell my students that ignorance simply means we don’t know, and all of us are ignorant about everything until we learn better. There is no shame in not knowing, but there is shame in choosing to remain ignorant while we speak out against something, especially something that discriminates against other human beings.
Here is a good rule of thumb in political and religious controversy: If it singles out a group of people as inferior to you, or less valuable to God, think twice, and ask yourself if your fears are coming from a biased news source or from a friend or relative who listens to such a source, and then seek to balance it with what the other side is saying, or better yet, if you claim Christianity, how does it measure up to Jesus’ example and teachings of unity, inclusiveness, and love for our neighbor? Politics is making us a more and more divided state and nation, but I can’t help but believe that we are better than this.