Limits on Understanding

An attempt at a discrimination graphic.

An attempt at a discrimination graphic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

It was 9:30 at the Helena City Council meeting when the mayor slightly rolled his eyes as he tapped his gavel, signaling the close of the public hearing portion on final passage of the LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance.

 

“What’s your pleasure,” he said to the council members.

 

The council took up four amendments proposed by the sponsor in a vain attempt to rescue her two years of campaigning and soulful work on this ordinance to make it as fair and inclusive as possible.  The other members of the commission were simply not having it, as she tried to persuade them to drop the trans phobic “locker room” amendment.

 

“It’s beyond the limits of my understanding,” the mayor proclaimed with exasperation, and a council member said the same a few minutes later.

 

And, then again, “This is beyond the limits of my understanding,” the mayor repeated, seemingly liking the sound of the phrase he had coined even more the second time around.

 

He just as well have said, “I don’t understand, and I don’t want to understand!” for that is what I heard with a sinking feeling that remains with me, now rooted in my psyche just as firmly as the amendment is now part of the ordinance, which to some now codifies the vilification of trans people, and legalizes a certain form of discrimination against them.

 

I had not considered these thoughts prior to the hearing, and I apologize to the trans community for failing you.  I had taken the amendment lightly, as if any self respecting pre-op trans woman would be caught dead showing off the wrong genitalia in the women’s locker room.  (I focus on trans women only because that was the sum and substance of the hysteria at the hearing, though I do not wish to belittle the safety risk to trans men in the men’s locker room.)  I know that I would not have dared reveal my pre-op attachment – I was way too afraid of being read.  I’m thinking a penis would have been a dead give away.  But, more than that, I am far too modest and respecting of the women around me to compromise them in such a way, for I take my solidarity with women as a sacred trust.  For it is to this sisterhood that I belong, and losing that sense of belonging, as a woman among women, would be a fate worse than death.  Indeed, it would be as akin to death or more, while yet breathing, as were the last years of living as a man, drunk, dispirited and demoralized.

 

Could I have made a difference by continuing to urge a more specific understanding, as I had in general terms in my testimony?   Some have suggested that the council member who proposed the amendment relied on his belief that I “was okay with it” in so doing.  Well, I wasn’t okay with it.  In fact, I had posted just last week (and sent the post to the council) a suggested compromise to the  amendment whereby a public accommodation would not be discriminating if they asked a person who displayed socially inconsistent genitalia in the locker room to leave.  Some would have trouble with even this compromise, although, given my statements above about fear, modesty and solidarity, I think it is entirely reasonable.  I stand by it.

 

Nonetheless, I did not talk about bathrooms in my testimony, so, council members evidently did not feel that the trans community objected.  I am just one person who testified, I realize, however, many have looked to me to represent their interest and I did not.  I let you down and I regret that.

 

As I ponder these matters, in the quiet half light of dusk, with a growing philosophical sense, I realize that I am not to blame.  No one is that powerful – to enlighten the minds of those with limits upon their own understanding.