My latest newspaper column:
This is a good week to eschew writing about Donald Trump. Instead, we can watch party leaders fumbling to disavow while still supporting him, as it becomes increasingly undeniable he’s a know-nothing, insecure, vindictive, petulant scammer with no core values beyond self-accretion. (He’ll always have these people, though. Warning: not safe for sleep.) [For some reason, that parenthetical and link weren't in the paper version, but were included online.]
And why address the Orlando mass murder? The gun control debate ended with Sandy Hook, when the reaction to the slaughter of innocent youngsters was to do nothing at the national level; many Republican-led states actually loosened laws. If not dead schoolchildren, why would the massacre of gay Latinos lead to sensible regulation of killing machines? America looked, America decided. Congressional Republicans sent their thoughts and prayers and moments of silence. Democrats filibustered for a vote. Republicans blocked the legislation. Again. Let’s talk about something pleasant.
Nothing better defines the differences between our two parties today than the ginned-up outrage over transgender people and public restrooms. Republican politicians ignore data, legislating out of ignorance, fear, and diversion, because it always works for them. They’d treat people different from themselves as undeserving of civil rights; they’d like their followers to focus on toilets instead of on their relentless march toward plutocracy. Democrats pay attention to what’s known about transgender people, don’t fear them, and feel no need to discriminate against them. To liberals it’d be a non-issue were it not for the discharge dripping from the other side.
It’s increasingly clear that sexual preference and sexual identity are not binary: a growing body of research confirms the impact of genetic, epigenetic, and gestational factors. How else to explain three-year-old children who insist they are of the sex opposite to outward appearance, and grow up to live that way? Religious claims to the contrary, the science is compelling: these are not matters of choice; how nice if people who believe otherwise were to factor evidence into their attitudes. The kindest thing to say about right-wing talkers who insist that transgender people are fakers, or that they change their minds daily, or that they represent a special threat to our children is that they’re badly misinformed. The likely truth is uglier.
Notwithstanding Foxolimbeckian warnings and internet misinformation, there are no examples of an actual transgender person attacking anyone in a restroom. There are, however, numerous instances of transgender people being beaten, sometimes to death, here and abroad. Given the disrespect and violence being fomented against them, the act of undertaking gender reassignment is one of enormous bravery and life-affirming belief in oneself. Their alternative is living a shadow life, hiding the identity they know to be true. Characterizing them as perverted, as molesters looking for cover, comes from the willful ignorance encouraged by right-wing media. It’s dishonest and shameful.
I’ve known transgender people in my professional and in my personal life. Like most of us, they want nothing more than to be who they are, wishing ill on no one. I read the comments of someone the other day, suggesting that transgender men would like to go into girls’ restrooms and urinate in front of them. How, I wonder? Since they have only stalls, where does he envision it happening? Is he indulging a secret fantasy? My guess is that that sort of projection is at the heart of much of the hatred toward LGBTQ people.
“Transsexuals are such a small portion of the population,” some argue. “Why do they deserve consideration?” Only because they’re fellow human beings, and because they represent danger to no one. Their sexual identity is who they are, no more chosen than yours or mine.
Here are two brief videos dissenters should watch, and then ask themselves which restrooms make sense. Who’d question them? Would anyone even notice? Do they make you afraid? Are birth certificate bathroom laws workable, or nothing more than political theater, manipulative and contemptuous of voters?
Decades of deliberate disinformation and propagandizing have created plenty of citizens made to “want their county back;” who, among other implanted misconceptions, see recognizing these people’s simple desire to use a compatible restroom, not bothering anyone, as yet another sign of America’s moral decline. I see it as long-overdue moral awakening.