I read an article by an ethicist who answered a question in the New York Times about the morality of gender transition pitted against the harm it may cause a family. It is a Hobson’s choice, really, as there is no good answer in the end. But, I guess that’s why ethicists get paid the big bucks.
Gender transition is selfish. No doubt about it. But, so is just about any medical treatment, alcohol recovery for instance. Gender dysphoria might just as surely kill you as alcoholism in my experience. Yes, I had both, and after several years of living in the proper gender and in recovery with all of the attendant hardship, heartbreak and happiness, I am perhaps uniquely qualified to say that both are a means of survival. I had to do both, or neither would have saved me from myself, so bad was my sense of demoralization and hopelessness.
Yet, behind me lies a trail of loss, separation and broken relationships. My decision to transition hurt other people whether or not their reaction may be perceived as just or warranted. Thus, I might be rightly asked whether it was the right thing to do. Was it just? Was it ethical? Or was it merely necessary irrespective of the consequences?
In reverse order, my need to transition was more than manifest at the time, so frail was my grasp upon a life not hell bent on personal destruction. Some may rightly conclude that my transition should not matter to others if I was going to be dead anyway, even if by my own hand. At the time, and for all the years since I have believed that I would not have made it, but for transition and recovery. But what if . . . ?
What if I had found recovery and reserved transition for later in life, if at all? Of course, I was already 48 when I began. But, might I have learned a way through recovery to live a sober life as a man, and still kept my job, my friends, my family and my marriage? Is that possible? Of course it is? But is it likely? That is a much more germane question, given the level of dysfunction following nearly half a century of gender confusion, fear, guilt, shame, ambiguity, etc., which was merely masked and drown out through alcohol dependancy.
The answer, then, is that it is much more likely that as the masks of dependency were stripped away, the difficulty maintaining the duality of self would have only grown worse, not better, and continually threatened the chances of recovery taking hold. But, even If I could have made it through reliance on God, a sponsor and a recovery group, what difference would it have made.
Would I have kept the relationships and people I lost in my transition – my children, friends, colleagues and acquaintances who have all turned away? Probably, but I must believe that those relationships would be strained as ever, particularly because recovery involves rigorous honesty. It is our secrets which often make us so sick. At some point, I would have had to tell my truth to the people in my life. I could not have continued to live vicariously through cross-dressing in private, for it would seem ever more the lie. And what then? What purpose does it serve to tell the truth and not live it – to be honest, but not authentic? Forgive me for waxing apologetically.
I never meant to hurt the people in my life, but, I still believe to my core that I did the right thing. Moreover, I could not foretell a person’s reaction, and, though I knew them well, predictions and expectations of how a person will take the news of gender dysphoria are pure and painful folly.
Therefore, I had to step out in faith, reveal the dysphoria and prescribed treatment and then deal with the reaction. It does not work the other way around, as there is no way to sort of test the waters before jumping in. People have no frame of reference, no experience to fall back on when a trans person reveals themself, and they can no more control their reaction than I can. It is a gut level, sometimes gut rendering response that typically involves either rejection or openness, if not confusion. If a person can be open and willing to accept the trans person, there is a chance at a continued relationship. However, if the knee jerk reaction is rejection the door may be firmly closed. And I have second guessed myself enough times to know that the process of revelation makes very little difference in the long run. Either a person gets it, or they don’t. And there is simply no way to know ahead of time which it shall be.
Thus, the trans person can take only one of two paths. They can remain forever inside their secret gender box with all the dueling emotions and resulting pain and dysfunction that hiding brings for the sake of their family and friends and to avoid the risk of emotional harm to others. Or, they can stumble blindly and uncertainly along the path to authenticity, assuming the risk that not all will choose to go along.
Gender transition is not a question of right or wrong, per ‘se, but rather it is one of possibility, necessity and risk. Can the trans person live without transition, and are they willing to assume the risks inherent in either choice – a life forever locked in dysfunction and incongruence, or one without the ones they love who also lose someone dear.
Earlier, Bobbie posted an update about the Helena Non-Discrimination Ordinance. And, in my first post on this blog, I’m going to strongly disagree with her on the preferred outcome related to the locker room amendment.
Bobbie believes that through compromise, this amendment could be modified to an acceptable level. I think this amendment is a dealbreaker and if it remains, is reason enough to oppose the ordinance as a whole.
Now, I want to throw a caveat into this assertion, and a little bit of wiggle room for me to admit that I might be wrong on this: I’m not a transgendered person; I will never assert that I know all of the experiences that a person goes through when dealing with the societal bias and stigma that transgendered people deal with on a daily basis.
That being said, I have a difficult time accepting an ordinance that could put any trans people in a more difficult position. Under her compromise position, Bobbie suggested,:
“the “locker room amendment” should be revised to preclude only those with socially inconsistent genitalia from revealing as much, from exposing such inconsistent genitalia. To be clear, a pre-op transwoman could be excluded from the female locker room if she exposes her penis, and similarly a transman if he reveals the lack thereof in the male locker room.”
While I understand the sentiment that Bobbie is expressing, I don’t think this gets to the fundamental issue at hand. Currently, trans men and women often face a dilemma when deciding which locker room or restroom to use. This ordinance was introduced in order to make these sensitive situations more safe for all Helenans. I worry that this compromise amendment could leave some of our trans brothers and sisters behind.
Furthermore, there currently is no prohibition on trans people using their self-identified restroom or locker room. I worry that this amendment would codify a law which would leave some trans people in a worse position than when this debate started more than a year ago.
I want to restate though, I am not a trans person, so I’m not going to claim to understand the experiences they’ve been through. But, as a cisgendered homosexual person, I can’t handle the thought of knowing that my rights are being advanced, while the rights of others are being restricted in city code. That’s why, this amendment is a deal-breaker no matter your gender identity.
I hope that Commissioner Haque-Hausrath and Mayor Smith continue to oppose this amendment, and Commission Thweat changes his opinion on this measure.
- The State Of The Ordinance (dgsmith.org)
- Trans Women Using College Locker Room Causes Uproar (lezgetreal.com)
- American Psychiatric Association to stop classifying transgender people as having a mental illness (sott.net)
- Don’t donate to anti-transgender Salvation Army this holiday season (jessielansdel.wordpress.com)
I’m delighted to welcome some new and shining voices to From Eternity To Here: Jim Bruce, Bobbie Zenker and Timber Venard!
They have each agreed to share their amazing and unique voices here, and I couldn’t be more delighted.
Please give them each a warm welcome and see the all new “Contributors” page under the masthead for more info about these amazing writers.
And there are more to come!
If you are interested in being a contributor, please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Contributor” in the subject line.
- Writers Wanted! (dgsmith.org)
- Let Me Introduce Myself and Our Democratic Republic (dgsmith.org)
“With liberty and justice for all,” the people said, with their hands upon their hearts. They shuffled as they took their seats or remained standing in the crowded council chambers at city hall in Helena. I wondered how many in attendance actually believed in those concepts they had just pledged their allegiance to. Many seemed to believe that liberty and justice should be applied only to those they alone deemed worthy.
The opponents had arrived early and assured that their ranks would take all the seats, leaving standing room only for the gays and lesbians, the Bi-s and transgender, and all their allies (friends, family and supporters). Though seemingly greater in number they were mostly relegated to the hallway outside the chambers, or an overflow room set up for viewing the proceedings on a large screen. It was filled to overflowing as well.
I had arrived early enough to take one of the last places for standing inside the chambers – in the aisle next to the last row of high-backed seats. I thought of the pews in the Catholic church of my youth as I stood firmly, almost defiantly, and prayed for grace and tolerance. Though transgender, I remain just old fashioned enough to have wondered if any of the good seated gentlemen would offer me their seat. None did.
At that very moment I wondered if I had not begun to understand just a glimpse of what Rosa Parks felt as she resolved to take her seat at the front of the bus. While the opponents wore stickers which implied that LGBT rights are “special rights,” they graphically displayed exactly why they are necessary. The inequality of the seating arrangement was readily apparent and not lost on many of those standing outside, craning their necks to hear and see the proceedings inside. Were they not marginalized by the very people who proclaim it is not so?
As the council progressed through its agenda the tension mounted to a palpable level no matter which side of the LGBT rights issue you stood on. It could be felt collectively. The mayor came to the matter he correctly surmised we had all come to hear. The council made and discussed amendments to the pending LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance that proposed to protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation.
The first was the “locker room” amendment proposed with ambivalence and stated with reluctance by one commissioner due to an email he received about a pre-op transwoman in Evergreen, CO who had apparently, yet inadvertently, dropped the towel which covered her genital area while in the sauna, offending another woman. The amendment would not extend protections to such transwomen in bathrooms, locker rooms or public facilities in which people customarily are nude.
The second amendment was of greater consequence, though not immediately apparent. It provided that persons who felt they were discriminated against due to their LGBT status would have to first file their claim with the state Human Rights Bureau, and could only file with the city if the state rejected their claim.
Both amendments were adopted, and now came the time for public comment. As a proponent, I got to speak first. Here is some of what I said:
I am a civil rights attorney here in Helena. I am also Transgender, as many of you know. I am anatomically consistent with my appearance in all respects for whatever that is worth to others – I know and am very grateful for what it is worth to me.
I support the ordinance without the “swimming pool”amendment because I have experienced discrimination here in Helena on more than one occasion, although never in the locker room, or bathroom, or anywhere else of that nature – even during the year prior to surgery when I presented full time as a woman, though anatomically still male.
The irony of the position that I find myself in is not lost on me. Other than undergoing a procedure to correct something that was wrong my entire life,- a procedure that some think is a bit radical, I am a pretty conservative woman – in presentation, dress, style and activities. I go to church, work here in Helena, shop here, and pay taxes. I do not drink, smoke or gamble and don’t go with the boys who do. In fact, I don’t go with boys, but that is another matter.
I am also rather modest & find it difficult in public to talk about, of all places, the bath room, and I wonder what kind of mind conceives of the threat a person such as myself presents in the rest room. What kind of mind conceives of prurient activities in bath room stalls? The thought repulses me. Nonetheless, I can assure you that I (and others I know in this area) have only one interest in the rest room or locker room – relieving myself or changing my clothes
Now I wonder if there is anyone in this room whom I offended when I went to the woman’s rest room or locker room. No one has ever said a single word about it, nor even cast a cross glance at me. In fact, in the beginning, I was more afraid of everyone else than they could ever be of me. For a trans person, the greatest single fear we live with our entire life is being found out – getting “read” in trans parlance. That fear is so strong, that some people kill themselves or hide in a self constructed box for decades because they are afraid that if people knew they were transsexuals they would be reviled, rejected, scorned and perhaps worse. Trans people are assaulted every day, and in some cases murdered for trying to overcome their fears and be true to themselves. That fear is based on actual events – it is real, it is rational and it is pervasive.
On the other hand, when was the last time you saw a man expose himself in a woman’s rest room? When was the last time you saw an anatomically incorrect person in the locker room in all their glory? I have not had that experience in the five+ years I have lived and worked in Helena. I wonder if the sheriff and police chief could enlighten us with the number of calls they have fielded of this nature in the last ten years?
So, I ask you. Is the fear of males in the woman’s locker room real? Is it rational? The reality is that trans people are so afraid of being read, that they are not “passing” in the gender of identity, that they would not dream of exposing themselves until they are anatomically consistent, and would sooner forfeit their life than take that chance. There may be some men who would do that, but, I assure that their issues are not gender identification dysphoria and the laws are already in place to prosecute them.
I say it again – trans people have by far more to fear from society than any part of society has to fear from them. It is a public safety issue – and it is the trans people would need protecting.People in Helena are already using the bathrooms and locker rooms where they feel safest and most comfortable. If a transman or transwoman were to expose him or herself for some prurient interest, the circumstances are amenable to prosecution under the criminal code. This ordinance does not change any criminal codes (like sexual assault or indecent exposure, i.e. exposure for sexual gratification). If a crime were to take place, it should be investigated the same way that crimes are investigated currently, and similarly prosecuted. We can work together as a community to prevent and address crimes, make our city safer, and more just. We can do the education necessary to make sure that all members of our community feel safe and are able to fully participate. This ordinance is one step in making our community safer and stronger, and reflecting our values of liberty and justice for all.
I believe that still. However, the amendments now threaten to swallow the rule and dissolve any gains we might have made in the effort to end discrimination. The “locker room” question is a tough issue, and as a former elected official, I have great empathy for the council. No one should be forced into a position not of their own choosing where they are threatened and afraid; and this cuts both ways. Imagine the shock a genetic woman might feel as she turns a corner, naked, only to see a pre-op transwoman in all her beautiful glory. On the other hand, imagine the ridicule and risk to safety for a naked transman in the woman’s locker room, or the risk to safety for the transwoman, both pre and post op in the men’s locker room. Thus, we have a dilemma.
It seems to me that when faced with such a dilemma that compromise is the only solution. The compromise I propose is that the “locker room” amendment should be revised to preclude only those with socially inconsistent genitalia from revealing as much, from exposing such inconsistent genitalia. To be clear, a pre-op transwoman cold be excluded from the female locker room if she exposes her penis, and similarly a transman if he reveals the lack thereof in the male locker room. I make this suggestion knowing that many trans people will feel deprived from full participation in activities like showering at the gym, or sitting naked in the sauna in their true gender. While true, I cannot see that it can be helped. It is a comprise after all, and like any settlement, no one is completely happy.
The second amendment, which I refer to as the HRB amendment, is in fact of greater consequence and should be stricken. First, the HRB operates under the auspices of the Montana Human Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. The MHRA affords no LGBT protection and could not be relied upon in pursuing an HRB claim. The Civil Rights Act provides only speculative relief for the LGBT folks, and a merely persuasive argument for trans folk in employment only in accord with Macy v. Holder, an administrative law opinion rendered by the EEOC which recognized, as a number of federal courts have, a “gender stereotyping” claim under Title VII of the act as a means of sex discrimination for trans people. Moreover, if the HRB, the defacto discrimination expert accepts an LGBT claim under Title VII, than the city claim will not be necessary. On the other hand, if the HRB rejects a claim it will not likely be possible because good lawyers would use it as evidence in a motion to dismiss the city claim. When the HRB says that it could not find reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, it is both compelling and persuasive. I believe it would be dispositive in this circumstance, rendering the city ordinance a nullity. Thus, this amendment must be defeated.
If Helena, as a community can iron out these difficulties and pass this ordinance than we will take one step closer to liberty and justice for all. And I hope that we do because Everybody Matters.
- Nondiscrimination ordinance on Helena City Commission’s agenda for Monday (billingsgazette.com)
- Helena council supports anti-discrimination rule (sfgate.com)
- Boise Approves Transgender-inclusive Non-Discrimination Ordinance (dgsmith.org)
Annual TAP 365 event features Montana’s first openly transgender attorney and author
The new grassroots advocacy group TAP 365 will partner with the YMCA Writer’s Voice for SIP 4 PRIDE: A Meet & Greet with Montana author Bobbie Zenker. The free event will held from 6 – 8 PM, Thursday, December 6, at the Yellowstone Cellars Winery, 1335 Holiday Circle, in Billings.
Bobbie Zenker is the author of the new book, TransMontana: a Memoir of Transformation of Body, Mind & Spirit. TransMontana is the story of Montana hunter and former county attorney Robert Zenker’s transition from a male, popularly elected official to modern, professional woman. She will read from and discuss her book, and sign copies available for purchase.
Robert Zenker was a married man and father of two, boxed in the psychologically complicated, emotionally taut web of secrecy, shame, fear, doubt and ambiguity of self of a transsexual deeply in denial. Roberta inhabited that body and all the accoutrement of the life of a man in Montana for nearly 50 years before her transition from man to woman in 2007.
The remarkable story charts a complex, courageous and sometimes dangerous journey involving not only physical transition, but also alcohol recovery and the result of both – a spiritual transformation. Bobbie is now a beloved daughter, LGBTQ activist, and a supportive friend to many women.
Tap 365 is a grassroots, non-profit organization, campaigning to unite the diverse communities of Montana, creating strong social ties that oppose discrimination and promote acceptance. The mission is to create a sense of place and connection, fusing together all people, regardless of their differences. TAP 365’s “4 PRIDE” Event Series engage the greater Yellowstone region in issues of critical to their mission. Join TAP 365 and learn about their work in the Billings area on LGBT issues.
Founded in 1985, Pride Foundation inspires a culture of generosity to connect and strengthen leaders, students and organizations creating LGBTQ equality in the Northwest.
- Transgender Day Of Remembrance (dgsmith.org)
Today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
The Transgender Day Of Remembrance (TDOR) was created to bring awareness to the many transgendered persons who have been killed for being faithful to their inner selves.
And if you really want to delve into what it’s like to be transgender, read Bobbie Zenker’s book, TransMontana.
- Transgender Day of Remembrance November 20th: honoring victims (gloriabrame.typepad.com)
- Tomorrow Is Transgender Day of Remembrance (slog.thestranger.com)