Feb. 28, 2013
My parents watch the local TV news almost as religiously as they attend Mass (or at least watch it on TV). That would mean WTNH, Channel 8, the ABC affiliate in New Haven, which airs newscasts from noon to 12:30 and 5 to 6:30.
The station has a comments segment on its dinnertime hour-and-a-half called “Voice of the People.” Generally, it tends to be a slightly less vile version of the comments that follow online news stories — it’s moderated and edited, of course, and the language is tamer.
But it can still be vile, nonetheless, and mainly populated by the people in the foil hats, just as newspaper website commentaries tend to be.
My folks and their transgender firstborn daughter were watching when the anchors mentioned that among the stories commented on was one I hadn’t heard up to that point: that of Coy Mathis, a 6-year-old transgirl in Colorado who, suddenly, after a year and a half in the school system, was told by her school district that she couldn’t use the girls’ room anymore. She’s now being home-schooled as her parents fight it in court. (And she and her parents also appeared on Katie Couric’s show yesterday.)
“Just saw your segment on the 6-year-old child that’s being allowed to live a transgender lifestyle,’ said one Channel 8 viewer, a Diane from New Haven. “I think people have sunken to an all-time low. That is a 6-year-old child! What is wrong with these parents? Have they gone nuts? Has the whole world gone nuts?”
“Yes, Diane — has the whole world gone nuts?” asks Albie and Rita’s firstborn, who heard the bile in the caller’s voice rise to the surface the longer she talked into the station’s voicemail.
Has the world gone so nuts that people still get so twisted out of shape over gender identity? Over a 6-year-old kid needing to go to the bathroom? Over some perceived heinous perversion? Has this world gone so nuts that people are so outraged because a couple chose to be loving and supportive of their child? And what the hell is a “transgender lifestyle,” anyway? (Please tell us, Diane, since you seem to know so much about the subject …)
And — on the day the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to take a big step toward recognizing civil rights and void California’s Proposition 8 — it further stresses the need for federal laws protecting not just gay rights, but trans rights as well.
It always comes down to the bathroom thing, doesn’t it? The bigots, with images of sexual predators and future sexual predators and wide-stance, closet-case, men’s room quickies dancing in their heads, always point to transpeople and rail about the perverts using the wrong restroom. God forbid a girl with a penis needs to go the girls’ room and do her business.
Well, bigots, guess what? Other countries have had unisex bathrooms for ages, most notably Japan, and China and its one-sixth of the world’s population is on its way to that point. Can’t say I’ve heard about that huge wave of Japanese toilet sexual assaults … ever.
And do I need to stress that this is a 6-year-old child here?
The town of Fountain, Colorado, until recently, had gone the path of teaching tolerance by letting Coy — who first let her parents know when she was 18 months old that she was different — use the girls’ room with the genetic girls.
Suddenly, in the middle of first grade, the principal brought her parents in for a meeting to tell them the district had a reversal of policy and that she couldn’t use the girls’ room anymore. (“Policy,” of course, is an Olde English word meaning “a rule that people hide behind when they want to justify screwing over other people.”)
And can I tell you how much I loved Coy’s response? She was given the option of using the staff bathroom or the bathroom in the nurse’s office, but, as told the Associated Press: “That doctor’s bathroom is only for sick people, and I’m not sick.”
Maybe I misread or misviewed, but I don’t recall her parents saying that the school district gave them an explanation for this. The upshot is, though, that suddenly, some bigot or bigots decided to show up with pitchforks and torches, and suddenly, the school district panicked and changed its tune to one of intolerance and divisiveness.
And suddenly, a 6-year-old kid’s safe haven is no longer safe. Kids start being cruel soon enough — third and fourth grade was when I first encountered bullying, and that was 40 years ago and I wasn’t even projecting as femme — without Coy having to start encountering this behavior from the very people entrusted with her welfare.
The school, unwittingly or not, declared “Wabbit Season” on a child for simply being different — for being born the way she was.
Fact is, Colorado already has a law on the books prohibiting the type of discrimination Coy is facing; the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act was expanded to include transgender in 2008. Maybe the Fountain-Fort Carson School District could have saved itself some legal fees and a hell of a lot of embarrassment in the first place had it bothered to read the state’s anti-discrimination laws first before letting irrational fear trump common sense.
I’m sure Coy’s case will shake out in the courts, and that she and her parents will win their case, especially since they have the law on their side. And it will still be a teaching moment — though not in the way the school district had planned. I guess, if anything, it will reinforce to kids at a young age that gender-identity discrimination is a bad thing. Maybe their grown-ups will learn, too.
But the response I heard on local TV — and living in another state where trans rights are protected under the law — makes me think more teaching is in order. And so is a push to protect transgender rights, like LGB rights, as the law of the land.
First off, Diane (and any other bigots in the studio audience), there is no such thing as a “transgender lifestyle.” No more than there’s a non-transgender, heterosexual, prejudiced white female lifestyle.
As someone who speaks from experience, the only lifestyle I have is that of a middle-aged, job-hunting, money-scraping writer and music-lover, doing what she can to just get by for now until this economic nightmare is over. And who just happens to be trans.
To imply that gender identity is a “lifestyle” is to assume I, or Coy, or millions of others around the world chose this path. Most of us know at an early age that we’re different. Coy began telling her parents when she was 18 months old — asking them when they were gonna bring her to the doctor’s office so he could fix her and give her girl parts. That doesn’t sound like a choice to me.
As someone whose case of gender dysphoria wasn’t as severe, I can tell you that the choice I made was to suppress my true self for four decades. After all, I was Coy’s age in the mid-’60s, when there really was no vocabulary about transgender matters (and whatever little vocabulary there was then has changed drastically since), where the only person in my situation that anyone might have heard about was Christine Jorgensen, and living in a Catholic house in a blue-collar suburb where no one would ever have had a clue how to deal with this.
I see Coy on video and she seems happy and quite confident now, where the photos of her as a boy show a sad, troubled, anxious child. I’m 51 now and didn’t experience that level of happiness and confidence and diminished anxiety until I was 48.
Gender identity is not — I repeat, NOT — a choice. Prejudice and ignorance and misdirected rage and hatred are choices.
Since discrimination on the basis of skin color and ethnicity are against federal law, and gender identity is as much a choice as skin color and ethnicity, then logically following, discrimination against people on the basis of gender identity should be illegal as well.
To date, only 16 states (plus D.C.) prohibit gender-identity-based discrimination; the most recent — Massachusetts, Connecticut and Nevada — joined the 21st century in 2011.
To that effect, I did send a letter yesterday — before I knew about the Mathis story — to my congresswoman, Rosa DeLauro (D-3rd District), in the hope that she’ll want to help push the cause of this last frontier of civil rights on the national level. (No answer yet, but I’ll let you know if I get one.)
Yes, we, as a country, are much more enlightened in general than we were about civil rights. But there are still pockets of resistance. (And we’ll see what the Supreme Court does about the Voting Rights Act, too.) There are still Fountain-Fort Carson school districts that discriminate against transpeople, let alone 34 states in the Land of the Free. There are still Dianes from New Havens all over the map who get riled up over transpeople trying to living their lives like everyone else.
And what about the thousands of Coys all over the country who live in these socially backward states and don’t have the support of the law behind them? Places where to be themselves — again, something they didn’t choose — is to risk taunting and even danger?
Does the term “risk of endangerment of a child” mean any less in the case of a transgender child?
It’s just a bathroom! Get over it, already!