Friday, August 14, 2009

Governor Jack Markell breaks new ground with gender identity protections

Passing legislation that fights discrimination against gays and lesbians based on sexual orientation was an excellent start.

Now Governor Jack Markell has taken a major step forward for American citizens with gender identity issues, including pre-, post-, and non-operative transgendered people.

Here is the language from Executive Order Nr. 8:

2. The work atmosphere in Executive Branch Agencies shall be one that fosters mutual respect and understanding among persons of different gender, race, color, religion, national origin, age, marital status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or military or veteran status.

David Anderson is highly of this order, arguing that

The governor for the first time wants to give a mental disorder civil rights.

I suppose this is an advance for David, as he does not, in the same paragraph, argue that protection for sexual orientation is protection for a mental disorder.

Hold that mental disorder thought for a moment.

Let's check in first with the American Psychological Association and determine how many transgendered American citizens there might be:

It is difficult to accurately estimate the prevalence of transgender people in Western countries. As many as 2-3% of biological males engage in cross-dressing, at least occasionally. Current estimates of the prevalence of transsexualism are about 1 in 10,000 for biological males and 1 in 30,000 for biological females. The number of people in other transgender categories is unknown.

If we take those 1/10,000 for biological males and 1/30,000 for biological females, some back of the envelope calculations give us: 300,000,000 people, let's ignore the slight statistical imbalance and break it 50-50, which gives us 15,000 biological males and 5,000 biological females in the United States who are transsexuals. There will also be--statistically--about 42 biological males and 15 biological females [you'd expect 45 males, but only 48.5% of Delaware's population is male] in the First State.

So that's fewer than sixty people: with about 17,400 non-education State employees, that means that--again, statistically--Governor Markell may have 2 biological males and possibly 1 biological female who are transsexuals working for him. Then again: maybe not. Yet the most probable scenario is that Executive Order Nr, 8's inclusion of gender identity or expression will directly protect no more than three State employees.

These employees, David, are people, and not mental disorders.

Even well-informed heterosexuals tend to get a bit queasy around the subject of transgender, and a lot of folks in the lesbian and gay community are willing to leave them out of non-discrimination legislation because they become so controversial.

I'm going to offer three thoughts for your consideration:

1) Gender is far more involved than a mental disorder, regardless of what evangelicals like David would like to believe that the Bible and Jesus have told them. Here's one example: a small percentage of babies are born each year [hundreds] who have developed both male and female sex organs. These are called intersex infants. It used to be the practice that doctors would simply make a split-second decision at birth, designate a gender, and surgically repair the child to be a boy or a girl based on ... shit, your guess is as good as mine. Today, physicians have begun to realize that parents and even geneticists might need a say in this decision:

One of the more common is congenital adrenal hyperplasia. In such cases, genetic girls with XX chromosomes are exposed in the womb to such high levels of androgen — the hormone that triggers male development — that they appear male externally even if they have female reproductive organs. A different condition leaves genetic males less responsive to androgen during development, so they’re born without a penis....

But Vilain’s research suggests there are factors at work that can’t be measured. The scientific dogma used to be that hormones alone could “masculinize” the brain, he said. But he identified 54 genes that work differently in the brains of male and female mouse embryos just 10 days after conception — before sex hormones are ever produced.

Doctors also once thought that how people were raised and their genitalia were enough to determine gender, said Reiner, who as a urologist performed sex-assignment surgeries on babies.

But Reiner began seeing children who had been assigned to one sex as babies and a few years later began identifying themselves as the other. He re-trained as a psychiatrist to study these children.

His latest review of 94 intersex children found over half of the genetic males “transitioned” to become boys despite being raised as girls and undergoing female surgical sex assignment.

How? As early as age 4½, the children would suddenly say, “I’m a boy,” or pick a boy’s name, Reiner said.

In David's world these are not physiological problems, these are mental disorders.

2) Transgendered people are ... people. I know this escapes a lot of folks, who see them a freaks or monsters, but they are people--American citizens. If you have always wondered about transgender issues, but were afraid to ask, I have a book for you. It's called Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein.

It is witty, profane, moving, disturbing, and--above all--illuminating. Kate was born male, became a surgical transsexual, entered into a relationship with a women [in which Kate considers herself a transsexual lesbian], and as of the writing of the book Kate's partner was undergoing a transgender process to become male.

The sound you hear in the background is David vomiting in disgust. You need to read this book, and indeed you can read almost all of it in the link I have provided.

People deserve not to lose their jobs, or their dignity, based on who they are--even if who they are doesn't happen to fit your neat pigeonhole categories.

3) When transgendered people are personified as freaks or mental disorders, they become things rather than people. And they die. This is not some cheesy metaphor: this is the story of Sanesha Stewart, upon which I reported in detail in March 2008. Sanesha was an African-American stabbed to death in the Bronx last year when a sex partner realized that he was sleeping with a transsexual. The coverage of the story by the media was--to say the least--insensitive and exploitive, as one feminist blog noted:

Sanesha Stewart was a woman of color, so naturally the press portrays her as a prostitute (even if her neighbors do not). Naturally the press portrays her as a “man who dressed like a woman” (even though she’s not a man). Naturally, the press focuses on her height and the specific kinds of clothes she chose to wore (because she supposedly didn’t look like a woman, even though she was one, because her appearance is somehow relevant to the fact that she was stabbed to death). Naturally, the press gives her birth name because that’s totally relevant to the fact that she was murdered. And, naturally, the press implies that she was asking for it for daring to be trans and tricking a man into having sex with her - because, of course, no one would choose to have sex with a trans woman voluntarily, right? Because no one in the history of ever has knowingly had sex with a trans woman, killed her, and then used the deception excuse to get a lighter sentence, because people are stupid enough to believe that it’s okay to murder someone for violating gender boundaries?

I don't believe David would condone the murder of anyone, but I do believe that not even this story would shake his conviction that Sanesha Stewart suffered from a mental disorder, even without knowing the circumstances of her life.

But I don't think the victim here is the one displaying the mental disorder. In the weeks after the Sanesha Stewart murder, it was a hot topic on hip-hop blogs in the New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles areas. Here is a culling of the comments that are representational rather than exceptional.

There was this:

There's this one:

Naw ako mane thats not true. they SHOULD have to tell someone who is thinking they are about to fuck a woman that they are not a natural born woman. its not right mane

if im about to lay down with a woman im thinking im laying down with a dang woman and if that woman turns out to be a dang man imma be mad. because if i wanted a man i would have went and got a damn man.

that is a trick. not to say they are the same but if you have hiv do you not need to tell the person you are with that you have it... even if you are going to use protection. if you know there is something you have..or something you are not that other person deserves the right to make a choice. and with you not telling them you are not giving them that choice. its not fair to the other person.

And this one:

aw hell naw they called that faggot a beautiful black woman...don't care what body parts u substitute a man will never be a woman and vice versa...but to answer the reaction was nothin ...any man tryin to mock a woman in order to have sex with straight men deserves the consequences

Or this one:

I'll have to go with chi-town on this one. and to end all confusion, i really don't assign a gender to those things. can't call them a man, because no real man would do that, and can't call them a woman, because that's more or less an insult to the real beautiful women out here. so yea call them "it's" or "things" That way it saves alot of confusion

And my personal favorite:

it's not rape when you agree to do it for a price--your price was to maintain your freedom. If anything it was an act of solicitation of prostitution and not a rape. You madam were a hooker not a rape victim.

Since you asked so nicely I shall, People have been killed for far less than what this nigga got killed for. He's out there playing around with his gender and going after men that are straight. He should be fully aware that society in general is not accepting of homosexuals much less those that are representing themselves as a different gender than what they're born. He should have known the risks that were involved when you play with someone in such a manner and his death isn't tragic, it was a deserved slaying. He can now obtain fame being the transgendered peoples martyr. He's the crossdressing version of Matthew Shephard

At the end of all this my question would be: who had the mental disorder--Sanesha Stewart or these assholes?

I have had, and will continue to have, my differences with Governor Jack Markell. But on this issue he has shown remarkable courage and insight in protecting the rights of a group of American citizens who are--more often than not--swept onto the margins of our society regardless of their talents or the capabilities--when they do not become the targets for discrimination, abuse, violence, and murder.


pandora said...

Great piece, Steve. And I'm becoming extremely tired of David A.'s sanctimonious, judgmental nonsense - not very Jesus-like, imo.

David said...

Cry me a river, Pandora.

How does the Governor's executive order in the workplace affect lowering violence against anyone?

downwithabsolutes said...

Pandora is right, though, David. It's not very Jesus-like.

All you religious folks have to do is treat everyone nicely and treat them equally. That's all you have to do. If they're really the evil, immoral people you purport, then God will take care of them on their judgment day.