Monthly Archives: January 2016

Religious Liberty Laws

Published / by rmaddy / Leave a Comment

One would have to be positively comatose to not realize that an election cycle is upon us.  For the moment, personalities are trumping1 the issues, but eventually our national discourse will turn to the latter.  When they do, expect to hear a lot more rhetoric about protecting religious liberty.  My task today is to explain how religious liberty intersects with LGBT interests, and what I, as a trans person, hear when a candidate starts making promises to defend it.

The average queer American is somewhat religious, and probably becoming more so even as the national population moves in the opposite direction.  A Pew Research survey in 2015 found that while fewer LGB Americans aligned themselves with a faith than the general population (60% vs 80%), the percentage of homosexuals identifying as Christians increased from 40% to 48% since 2013 even as the percentage in the general population decreased from 78% to 71%.

It would seem, therefore, that LGBT folk have every reason to be interested in the preservation of religious freedoms.  Even post-religious, reprobate, demon-spawn heathens like me are all for such liberties.  Let people believe what they will.  Why then, do LGBT groups get in a lather when candidates pontificate on religious freedom or legislatures propose laws guaranteeing it?  The answer is that recent calls to “restore religious freedom” have nothing whatsoever to do with protecting religious freedom and everything to do with perpetuating discrimination against sexual and gender minorities.

Up until last year, an ideological struggle over the meaning of marriage raged throughout the nation.  Then, in June, the Supreme Court ruled2 that prohibitions against gay marriage were unconstitutional.  The battle ended overnight.  Or not.  Within months, Republican legislatures in 22 states proposed “religious freedom restoration acts” (RFRA).  Proponents asserted that churches with doctrinal objections to homosexual marriage should not be forced to sanctify such marriages.  Almost nobody would argue this point, but unfortunately the proposals do not stop there.

Broadly speaking, RFRA bills hold that LGBT persons may be denied goods, service and access if the individuals or businesses deny these things based on moral objection to homosexuality/transgender variance.  A baker who sells wedding cakes need not sell one to a lesbian couple.  A hotel which caters receptions need not rent out its space for a gay wedding.  Restaurants need not seat or serve transgender patrons.

Paradoxically, as gay marriage has become legal, discrimination against gays is actually increasing in some states.  It is still perfectly legal to fire someone for their sexual or gender identity in 28 states.  “Married on Saturday; Fired on Monday” is altogether too common.  In several bills, the state specifically nullifies any municipal bill which offers greater discrimination protection within its city limits.  In other words, if Minneapolis enacted a law which prevented housing discrimination against trans people, Minnesota could pass an RFRA law which rendered the city’s protections void.  Fortunately, Minnesota is not a state where such bills enjoy success.  In the Bible Belt, however, it is a different story.

Deliberate deception characterizes the public promotion of these laws.  Proponents opine that religious freedoms are “under attack”.  Churches, they say, will be forced to accept teachings that they cannot accept.  Preaching against homosexuality will become illegal.  Parents will be prevented from teaching their kids to abstain from pre-marital sex.  Such propaganda has worked to get RFRAs passed.  The end result is codification of discrimination such that a janitor can lose his job cleaning school classrooms or a nursing assistant be fired by an assisted living facility which objects to the fact that she has a girlfriend.  Unsurprisingly, RFRA proponents demonstrate little or no sympathy for the idea of laws protecting the practice of any religion but their own.  Donald Trump wants to stop Muslim immigration.  Ted Cruz states we should accept Christian refugees, but send Muslims to other countries.

The moral of the story is “Be careful what you wish for.”  I don’t want to live in a country where the government can tell a preacher what to say, but that is not really what is at stake here.  Instead, cover is being given to businesses that openly discriminate against non-straight clients.3  I choose to believe that we are better than this.

Highly Resolved

Published / by rmaddy / Leave a Comment

Image:  Odawara Sajawagara

Tis the season for resolutions.  I made three this year.  The first two–“turn off the light, close the pantry door” and “use nicer words”–require neither cajoling on my part, nor cooperation on the part of anyone else.  I will either succeed or fail entirely based on my own efforts.  The third is a horse of a different color.  I resolve to be consistently recognized as female in my most meaningful social interactions.

Those of you who have read this blog from the beginning may see this as a shift on my part.  I had, after all, said that my identity was stuck somewhere in the middle (but to the feminine side) of the binary spectrum of gender.  This remains true, of course largely due to factors well beyond my control (physical attributes, how I was socialized, etc).  Further, my conviction that future society must see gender as less “either/or” and tolerate broader ranges of self-expression remains unshaken.  Nevertheless, my sanity here and now requires that I find a way to navigate the awkward landscape of gender variance in a society that has not yet made these adjustments.  I have found, through years of ongoing experience, that staking out a spot near the center of the gender spectrum is uncomfortable and difficult–too difficult–for me.  Besides, the more permission I feel to explore my identity, the more toward the feminine side of the spectrum I seem to gravitate naturally.  Androgyny is a legitimate choice, but it is not mine.

Which brings me back to the resolution.  Despite explicit statements that I identify female and prefer feminine pronouns, I continue to be subjected to an incessant, daily barrage of masculine pronouns, “good sirs” and other increasingly ridiculous displays of insensitivity, poor perception and in some cases, not-so-passive aggression.  To some degree, I initially brought failure on myself by grossly underestimating the time it would take people to adjust and remember.4 Eighteen months after stating my preferences, though, I think it is reasonable to ask for and expect proper address.

Still, some still urge me to be patient.  Other women sometimes mention that they occasionally get called “sir”, as if to reassure me that they know how I feel.  Here’s the difference.  If someone calls another woman sir and the error is pointed out or realized, the person who made the mistake immediately feels foolish.  When someone calls me sir and I explain that this is not correct, I am the one generally taken for a fool.  It is hardly an isolated experience.  The first few on any given day I can generally handle, but the cumulative effect of dozens of incidents every day is like being slowly pecked to death.

I get the need for patience when people cannot see my face or have never met me (or another trans person) before.  The poor soul on the other end of the phone arrives at a gender judgment subconsciously.  The interaction still causes me discomfort, but does not provoke me to assign any blame.  If I would be free of these mis-assignments, I will need to climb the high mountain of vocal change.  I have been thinking long and hard on this decision, and currently lean rather strongly toward starting the effort.

Being mis-pronouned by a stranger, however, is not what this post is fundamentally about.  Nor is it about the person who means well and has made demonstrable effort, but occasionally makes a mistake, often catching it quickly afterwards.  These things I can deal with5.  What wears me to the bone are closer contacts who are no more likely to address me correctly now than they were a year and a half ago, and particularly those who, if corrected, act like I am being unreasonable or pushy.

Well, so be it. I resolve to correct anyway, toward the end of experiencing a daily coherence that 99% of the population takes entirely for granted.

This may prove challenging in my professional life.   Up until now, I have never once corrected a patient or visitor on the way they address me.  I reasoned that they arrived to my workplace with weightier matters on their minds, and that I had no right to impose further upon them.   Positive motives drove this choice, but in making it, I accepted something that I now realize I should not–that my personal dignity is to be regularly sacrificed for some sort of public good.  I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how I will take on the task of informing my clients respectfully that my pronouns are feminine.  It will take some planning and practice on my part, and I am certain I will screw it up until I find a way of communicating my identity that neither offends nor detracts from the business at hand.

As I said, I can not achieve the goal of being properly pronouned through individual effort.  I recognize that by making this resolution I am calling for others to do some heavy lifting.  To be sure, they may decline, and  I can’t force them to get it right.  I can, however, decide to eliminate potentially toxic relationships from my life.  And I will.  Yes, it really is that important to me.

I imagine that many kind hearted souls might be reading this and flogging themselves for having made pronoun mistakes along the way.  Please don’t.  Things like this really do take time.  I am just now drawing a line in the sand and asserting that I have the right to expect more going forward.  Most of you have tried so very hard, and I genuinely thank you from the bottom of my heart.

May I offer you some help though?  Trying to remember to do something that conflicts strongly with what you still think deep down doesn’t work.  The deep stuff always bubbles to the surface.  The primary change needs to happen down below.  Accept me as female, and the pronouns fall in line effortlessly.  To the extent that you mentally file me away as any version of “man posing as woman”, you will forever trip over the words.6  Change that and you will never make a hurtful mistake again.  It’s hard, and I can’t make you do it, but I hope you will.

Happy New Year to you all, and thank you again for taking the time to read.