The Bathroom-Culture War
It’s important to dive a little deeper into this debate to see a lot of the detail that is being passed over in the furor. The question is what is required to constitute one’s public sexual identity.
Most states by the mid 2000s allowed “transgender persons” to change their sex on their birth certificate. As is true with most state law details varied, but it usually involved some medical testimony or procedure. Once that was processed the birth certificate was changed and then the rest of the legal machinery followed. It would change on your driver’s licence. You’d be considered that sex by the military or prison system. Since up until now there was no real “checking” at bathrooms except in response to complaint one assumes that if there was legal cause to investigate an incident the sex on the birth certificate would determine the legal outcome.
A lot of the current hubbub then impacts two groups.
1. People who are trying to change their sex “off the books” or “on the fly” or are what we might called “undocumented trangenders”. These are people who may or may not be seeking medical treatment for reassignment but who wish to live within the legal, social or cultural framework of the other sex.
2. Minors. Minors are not full legal agents like adult citizens. They may be under a doctor’s care but any legal change in their sex status would have to be made be a parent or guardian.
Notice I’ve been avoiding the term “gender”. We’ll get to that. The best that I can see the “sex” of the person is what the state tracks and what has legal repercussions.
- If you have an M on your birth certificate and you are in a woman’s locker room and you are staring at a woman in a state of undress you will likely be arrested and charged.
- If you have an F on your birth certificate and you are in a woman’s locker room staring at a woman changing you might be considered rude, strange, or threatening but the police will not be called and you will not be charged, probably.
- If you have an F on a birth certificate and you are in a men’s locker room staring at a man you might get asked for a date.
Sex vs. Gender Identity
Now the conversation changes. “Sex” is the legal category that has governed law.” “Gender identity” is the new term. Where does it rest legally? We’ll see what the courts and legislators go with. The question will be what is the public standard.
If you look at the anticipated Obama statement (DoJ and DoE document)it stipulates that a minor’s “gender” can be designated by a note from the parent. “Bobby is now called Jennifer and should be treated like a girl. Signed Mom or Dad.”
If you look at the Fort Worth School District policy it seems the student can choose their own name, gender identity within the confines of the school, that the school must honor and the school cannot report this even to the parent without the student’s permission.
This is really wild. I could imagine demanding that my school address me is “King Paul, Lord of All I Survey” and then show the school their own policy and enjoy all of the teachers addressing me in such a lordly manner!
If you’ve been following you’re already waking up to the idea that “gender identity” is going to be where the interesting legal action happens. What legal process is required to establish a “gender identity”? It seems that the movement is that there be little or no legal process apart from the stated testimony which of course can change at any given time.
Over the last two days a big hubbub has revolved around a rumor that Caitlyn Jenner is considering going back to “male”. The Daily Beast asks (knowingly) “Why is everyone willing to jump in this story?
Well suspicion is of course that haters are going to hate. The mockers will want to say “see it’s all been a reality TV gag” or “she’s really unstable anyway”, etc. People want to see Caitlyn’s downfall.
Follow the Narratives
This gets interesting of course because the narratives are what we are watching. Since we’ve lumped LGBT all in one string, and we talk about “the community” and “identity” and “voices” we imagine that we’re talking about some union between them all. So how has the narrative gone.
1. LG: traditional view of sexual orientation. People choose these perversions and they deserve treatment or punishment
2. LG: Revision from the 70s. People are born “this way”. The Gay Gene. Don’t punish people for what they can’t help.
3. B: Well some people are born “this way”, but maybe we’re all a little bi. Love is love. Let consenting adults do as they please. Underneath men and women are really the same. Only shallow surface people will pick a partner based on their external attributes. The person deep inside is what counts. The sex of the person is a secondary attribute. Look deeper inside and love the true self, not the sexual self.
4. T: these are men born in a woman’s body or visa versa.
Once you get to 4 you’ve already got narrative issues. On 3 all of these external features were secondary to the “true self” deep inside so love the person, not the genitals, clothing, cultural gender constructions. With 4, however, these attributes become very important. They become the identity itself. Caitlyn is a woman because she’s got boobs, great hair and nice clothing. She looks good for the Vanity Fair photo shoot as long as the junk is tucked.
Where this will end up is Woody Allen. “The heart wants what it wants.”
Now rumors are that Caitlyn might want to go back. She still likes women. She’s always had a string of beautiful wives and lovers and she’s probably dramatically narrowed her potential partner pool by her transformation to a woman. Bruce was probably way more successful at attracting the kind of woman she likes by being a male Olympic athlete than being a famous transgender. (See this piece on some history of Transgender and the kind of transgenders who were very successful men who loved beautiful women and work hard to try to become exactly what Caitlyn has become.)
So what is she to do? If she wants to go back now there is all of this pressure to fly the transgender flag. She was brave, got an award for bravery (“Ladies and Gentlemen the courageous, the stunning, Caitlyn Jenner”), everyone called her brave for defying social pressure to express her “true self” as a woman trapped inside patriarchal norms and stereotypes. Will now the transgender narrative imprison her too? You can’t keep a good person down!
Now again all of this about Caitlyn is just rumor, but let’s imagine it is true. Let’s imagine now that she’s had her dressing up period as a woman, Caitlyn has decided that “Bruce”, or an athlete to be named later, can get more and better sex as a man what will she do?
Gender Fluid, Sex Irrelevant, the Body Transcended
Gender fluidity is the next flag to fly. This is Enjoli on steroids or the hormones that will give you the outcome you prefer!
Caitlyn was brave in coming out a woman trapped in a man’s body. This athlete to be named later will be braver still by destroying all gender stereotypes. Let’s give Bruce..Caitlyn a new name “Mystique”
Now Mystique can transcend gender. She’ll shame most women at 60 with her Vanity Fair photoshoot. He’d one-upped most men in the 80s with the house in Malibu, the hot wife, the sons, the fame, the wealth, the toys… . Now Mystique will be whatever it needs to be at the moment.
One way to think about it is power. What power did Bruce have? Strength, wealth, power, good looks. these are “male” “gender’ attributes.
What about women? Beauty has always been power that women have. Samson, the strongest man who ever lived, who could not be bested by the strength of many men, was conquered by Delilah. Beauty regularly Trumps power. A man may have to work for his power and influence but a woman can with her looks and charm can have it by legal union. Mystique can have it all, which was where the Bruce to Caitlyn to Mystique story has been going all along.
From Bathrooms to Body Transcendence
But what is to happen to the legal issues? The movement will be to erase M and F from legal documentation.
Now for most of us, we’ll go on living as M and F just out of habit, tradition, and a lack of a legal team. The ideal of Mystique however will permeate, as do the lives of celebrities in our imaginary.
What pulls society into its future? It’s dreams of what is good. It’s vision for the good life. Right now that vision is beyond gender complementarity and bi-gendered normality. Being left as male OR female is too limiting for one life. We want to be Mystique.
This is really a new version of the old, cruel lie “you can be whatever you want to be”. Anything? Really?
We love a Rudy story. We love that Rudy is loyal, determined, faithful, hardworking.
How would the story work if we met him at age 60, with joints failing from overwork, his body wasted by hormone treatments to try to bulk up his meager frame, broke because he never got a real job, alone after a string of marriages broken by his dream of being a Notre Dame football star, etc.?
This is a story of idolatry. This is a story of imagining we can be something that we are not. This is a story of a crippled worldview that can’t imagine better than what technology and politics can make of us in the age of decay.