"All people are not heterosexual. Heterosexuality is not superior and is not the norm by which all other sexual orientation and gender identities are measured." --Burnaby, B.C. Schools Draft Policy #5.45

Sunday, November 30, 2014

To Those Whom Much is Taught

There is a quote that says, "To those whom much is given, much is expected." 

One could reframe that in terms of the daily hate that's poured onto transgender people and the awful things that many have had to endure, but not hate as something that causes embitterment, but rather as a form of education in the importance of empathy and kindness:

To those whom much is taught, much is expected. 

I like this. I of all people know what it's like, so I'll do my best to be a compassionate person.

Best wishes for a compassionate day to you, whoever you are and wherever you are. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Transsexual

Being not completely male, and having experienced rejection of your personhood by men, you are not beholden or attached to men nor do you assume as a matter of course men's outlook on life, men's ideas, or men's positions in public discussion, to the extent there are such things. Being not completely female, and having experienced rejection of your personhood by women, you are not beholden or attached to women nor do you assume as a matter of course women's outlook on life, women's ideas, or women's positions in public discussion, to the extent there are such things. Having experienced rejection of your personhood and discrimination in your home country, you are not beholden or attached to your home country, nor do you assume as a matter of course your home country's outlook on life, your home country's ideas, or your home country's positions in public discussion. Having experienced rejection of your personhood and discrimination abroad, you are not beholden or attached to other countries, nor do you assume as a matter of course other countries' outlook on life, other countries' ideas, or other countries' positions in public discussion. Having experienced rejection of your personhood by members of your ethnic group, you are not beholden or attached to your ethnic group, nor do you assume as a matter of course your ethnic group's outlook on life, your ethnic group's ideas, or your ethnic group's positions in public discussions, to the extent there are such things. Having experienced rejection of your personhood by members of other ethnic groups, you are not beholden or attached to other ethnic groups, nor do you assume as a matter of course other ethnic groups' outlook on life, other ethnic groups' ideas, or other ethnic groups' positions in public discussion, to the extent there are such things.

You stand outside all categories and affiliations; you understand, having experienced it yourself, how human categories suffer at the hands of one another; you observe the world from a position of empathy and removal; you are able to identify with everyone, without being locked into a single category's point of view; you are completely free from attachment to any kind of biological or human-made group or division--all except one: that of humanity as a whole--and you only have one task in life, which is to have deep compassion toward all humans, regardless of their group affiliation. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Difficulty of Comprehending the Origins and Etiology of Transsexualism

Here's an article from Science Daily which describes a pretty interesting hypothesis: That based on skull shape, testosterone levels dropped 50,000 years ago. The timing corresponds to a blooming of technological innovation and art. 

The hypothesis suggests that the creation of art and technology required increased cooperation, and increased cooperation required lower testosterone in individuals. 

It's just a hypothesis, but through it one can catch a glimpse of the complexity of the human story. Nonscientists in particular are prone to thinking of biology in terms of discrete categories and absolutes. Or, thinking in terms of categories and absolutes where boundaries between things are actually fuzzier and less definite. Who would ever have guessed that there might be a connection between hormone levels and all human culture and technology, and that one could change over time in response to the requirements of the other? What would have been, if any, the byproduct effects of this, if true?

It also points up the smallness of vision of those who would impose simplicity on human biology. I recently read an online thread on a conservative site about transgender people. I saw one mention of biology. The rest was a straw man mischaracterization and responses involving Aristotle. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963)

Facts: A member of the Seventh Day Adventist church in South Carolina ("Claimant") was fired for not being able to work on Saturday, the Sabbath in Seventh Day Adventism. She was unable to find other work, also for being unable to work on Saturday. She filed a claim for unemployment compensation. The South Carolina Unemployment Compensation Act said that claimants must be "able to work" and "available for work" when offered work either by the "employment office" or the "employer". The South Carolina state government body administering unemployment compensation claims found her ineligible for benefits; she could not take the work that was offered. 

Procedural History: The South Carolina state government body administering unemployment compensation claims, in administrative proceedings, found her ineligible; she could not take the work that was offered. Claimant appealed to the South Carolina trial court. The administrative ruling was sustained. Claimant appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court, arguing that the unemployment compensation ruling had abridged her First Amendment right to free exercise of religion, applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. The South Carolina supreme court rejected this argument, and affirmed the lower court rulings. Claimant appeals to the United States Supreme Court.

Outcome: Reversed and remanded. 

Government may not regulate religious beliefs as such. Where it has regulated at all, it has regulated religion-related conduct that poses a threat to safety, public peace, or public order. That's not the case here. Therefore, there's a formula to be applied: Is the incidental burden on the Claimant's right to free exercise justified by a compelling state interest? 

There is a clearly a burden on Claimant's religion. Her ineligibility comes solely from her Saturday Sabbath observance. It's the same as if she had received a fine. Characterizing unemployment benefits as a 'privilege' rather than a right is still an infringement on free exercise. South Carolina doesn't force Sunday Sabbath observers to make the same choice--South Carolina has a statute that permitted textile workers to refuse without penalty to work on Sunday when the South Carolina government had authorized textile mills to operate on Sunday during times of national emergency. Thus a textile worker wouldn't find him or herself unemployed and seeking unemployment benefits for not having worked on a Sunday. 

Compelling state interest doesn't mean a mere rational relationship to a colorable state objective. Only the most serious state objectives qualify as a compelling state interest. Those were not present here. The unemployment agency argues that allowing Saturday sabbath observers will cause others to feign religious observance on Saturday. However, no evidence of that has been produced. Even if there were, the agency would have to have shown that they were unable to find another method to combat malingering without impinging on free exercise rights of sincere claimants. In Braunfield v. Brown, the court found that there was a compelling state interest in providing workers with a uniform day of rest, even though that was costly to merchants who were Orthodox Jewish, whereas here, the court finds no compelling state interest. 

The result here is not a violation of the Establishment Clause because the state remains neutral toward all beliefs. Secular and religious institutions are not being mixed. The beliefs of others are not being abridged. This decision does not extend to all people who are denied unemployment compensation because of belief--only that due to day of rest. 

Justice Douglas's Concurrence: There is a great variety of religious belief that is not in accord with the majority. These could easily be trampled on under the guise of benign laws or regulations. Justice Douglas still disagrees with the result in Braunfield v. Brown. What matters isn't the degree of injury, which may be negligible. What matters is interference with conscience. Here the churchgoer is given second class citizenship. With regard to the Establishment Clause, the payment being made to her is as an unemployed worker, not as a member of the Seventh Day Adventists, so there's no more benefit to her church than there is when she receives a paycheck.

Justice Stewart's Concurrence with the Result: (1) There's a dilemma underneath this that hasn't been resolved. It's this: The court has been positively wooden in its interpretation of the Establishment Clause. Now that's colliding with the court's interpretation of the Free Exercise clause. The court says South Carolina can't classify Claimant as "unavailable for work" because that violates her right to free exercise, yet, under the court's recent Establishment Clause cases, the opposite result would obtain. The court has said that the Establishment Clause forbids the government from financially aiding a religious belief. But that's what's being done here, for if the Claimant had wanted to watch TV on Saturday, no one would deny South Carolina's right to classify her as "unavailable for work". (2) The reasoning of this decision is inconsistent with Braunfield v. Brown. Braunfield involved a state criminal statute, whereas in this case, it's an administrative rule. Also, the financial burden on the plaintiff is less. In Braunfield, the plaintiff stood to lose the capital investment in his business if he couldn't work on Sunday. Here, the Claimant stands to lose only 22 weeks of unemployment.

Justice Harlan and Justice White's Dissent: The purpose of South Carolina's depression-era unemployment compensation law was to store up funds, during economic good times, to stave off hardship, during economic bad times. The purpose wasn't to benefit people who were unavailable for work purely for personal reasons. South Carolina hasn't directed classification of being "unavailable for work" at specific beliefs. It has simply applied it neutrally to everyone. What the court is doing is carving out an exception to the general application of the rule for the benefit of religious believers. This is significant for two reasons: (1) This decision overrules Braunfield v. Brown. A different result in Braunfield would have required judicial inquiry into a plaintiff's beliefs. Here, in the court's result in the present case, that indeed becomes necessary. (2) The majority's decision requires the state to single out of religious conduct for special treatment. If you have a religious motivation for being unavailable for work, you still get unemployment benefits. If you have a secular motivation, no matter how worthy, you don't.

This case is available on Google Scholar here

Friday, August 30, 2013

Transgender Women and Gender Stereotypes

Want to get your nails done? What color do you want? Golden peach? Magic purple? Peacock blue? A neutral cream color for a minimalist look that says "demure"? How about different shades for different seasons? Metallics are nice. A pedicure to go along with your manicure? Mani-pedis are stress relievers, aren't they? How about a polish that changes color in sunlight? Maybe you'd like some nail stickers, too? Purple butterflies? Milky off-pink flowers? Zebra stripes? A hatched pattern of diagonal lines?

Whatever you want! It's up to you! Unless you're a transgender woman, because that's engaging in gender stereotypes, and gender stereotypes are wrong.

How about your hair? Want to get your hair done?  Bangs? Beehive? Bob? Bouffant, braid, or bun? Layered? Feathered? Long and straight? Short and curly? Page boy? Perm? Pigtails? French bob? Pixie? Experiment with the one that's right for you. What face shape do you have? There's an alluring hairstyle that's just right for your face shape. How about hair coloring to go with your cut? What color do you want? Ruby fusion? Chocolate cherry? Light brown? Light blonde? Off brown? Deep black? Cover up the gray?

Whatever you want! It's up to you! Unless you're a transgender woman, because that's engaging in gender stereotypes, and gender stereotypes are wrong.

How about some clothes? Where do you want to shop? Forever 21? Target? Wal -Mart? JC Penny? Urban Outfitters? Go Jane? Old Navy? Nordstrom? Lord & Taylor? Kohls? Macy's? What kind of clothes do you want to buy? Tank top with embroidered roses across the front? Strapless dress? Pinkish maroon sleeveless tee? Tube skirt? Little black dress? Tight jeans with heels and no socks? Pastel skinny jeans? Pullover with a miniskirt? Chiffon blouse?

Whatever you want! It's up to you! Unless you're a transgender woman, because that's engaging in gender stereotypes, and gender stereotypes are wrong.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Skirt Dancing Craze

I came across this news article while randomly searching the New York Times archive.

The article, dated Febuary 19, 1895, purports to describe a female impersonation fad among young men or teen-agers at schools in New York City--first, at Columbia College, then at Adelphi Academy and "the Polytechnic", both private schools. 

According to the article, female impersonation was in "periodic vogue" at Columbia College, until the officials of the college put a stop to it "on the ground that the exhibitions were not manly". The students at Adelphi had organized an acting club and were going to put on a play called "The Proselytes", set in Salt Lake City, with the male actors playing "Mormon damsels". The article even lists the names of the actors and the names of the characters they would play. 

The characters' names are fantastic: Letta Goe, Ida Lovemelittle, Virginia Creeper, etc.

Two features of the article stand out. The first is that military training is thought of as as a solution (along with corporal punishment). The article compares the boys' behavior with those of boys attending public schools, who were going to do some sort of military training. A "well-known citizen", quoted at the end of the article, says he would not object to seeing his son in a soldier's uniform, but would object to his son dressed women's clothing.

I had a slightly similar experience. When I was a tween, I enjoyed reading books with female main characters. When my parents became concerned, I was allowed to read books about military history, but not fiction books with female heroines.  

The second feature that stands out is what the "well-known citizen" says. It's true that he says he'd take a "lath" to his son were he to catch him dressed as a woman and it's also true that he says he wants the wearing of gendered clothing to be strictly enforced. Nevertheless, I sense, in his comments, a less-than-absolute view both on the genderedness of a piece of fabric and on what it means when a male wears clothes traditionally associated with women. It's barely detectable. I could be misunderstanding what he says, or making too much of nineteenth century styles of expression, or giving too much weight to how he prefaces his point, but it's almost like a fleeting glimpse into an innocent pre-fallen world lacking both  gender role enforcement and gay theology's boxes and labels.  See for yourself:

I do not believe in this kind of a show. It may be pretty, it may be popular, it may be artistic, and it is certainly a clever delusion. Nevertheless, it does not put the students in a manly light. There is something distinctly effeminate in the spectacle of a boy in girl's clothing. 
If I caught my boy in short skirts, I'd warn him with a lath. He wouldn't need any rouge on his cheeks for a time, at least, nor would he be able to do any high kicking right away. Skirt dancing was stopped on the part of the students at Columbia College, and I think the City of Churches is a poor place for the craze to be transplanted to. 
Which looks more manly and appropriate on a young man, short skirts or a soldier's uniform? I would not object to seeing my son in a soldier's uniform, but as for short skirts, let their use be strictly confined to the other sex, and I believe most Brooklyn parents feel as I do on this subject. 
Wearing opposite sex clothing? Clothes not being absolutely associated with one or the other gender? The "well-known citizen" has strong feelings about these, but does concede that they're debatable topics. Amazing. 

Notes: The "City of Churches" is a nickname for Brooklyn, according to the Internet.  The dictionary says that "proselyte" means "convert".

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Tragic Death of Bert Savoy

Bert Savoy, a famous female impersonator during the nineteen teens and early 1920s, was killed by a lightning strike while on the beach at Long Beach, Long Island, New York, according to a news article dated June 27, 1923:

The death of Savoy shocked the Rialto. For eight years he had been a member of Savoy and Brennan, one of the best known present day vaudeville teams in the country and had drawn the plaudits of thousands of theater goers from coast to coast for his clever female impersonations. He also had been one of the star attractions of the last "Greenwich Village Follies".

Plaudit: acclaim, enthusiastic approval.

The Rialto: the Broadway theater district of New York(?)