Ron and Vanessa Ford are the parents of a 5-year-old transgender child, and they recently wrote for The Washington Post about why they appreciate and support the Obama administration’s directive to schools on accommodating transgender students.
For the Fords, the debate about bathroom access is really a debate about discrimination, and about whether the government will or will not sanction discrimination against their child.
“We are an interracial couple,” they wrote. “Fifty years ago, in many places across the country, it would have been legal to discriminate against us because, many people said, a fundamental part of who we are was somehow offensive and perverse. Our daughter is transgender. In many places across the country, it is legal to discriminate against her because, many people say, a fundamental part of who she is somehow offensive and perverse.”
We asked readers to weigh in on how the bathroom debate compares to earlier civil rights debates. There were many responses, representing the wide range of views and strong feelings that have characterized the discussion about transgender rights in America.
It was good to see mostly support from readers, but it wasn’t just support. I dislike reading the non-supportive contributions, but I think it’s important to keep a current insight into how people are not only viewing certain issues, but how they are viewing people. It seems to me that in such views, beyond all the regular reasons for being anti and upset, there’s a distinct current of “no, not human”. This is othering, but it’s taking on an ugly extremism, with people even citing the violence directed at transgender people as a reason to refuse gender dysphoria being real, and gender affirmation as being absolutely wrong. Then there are those who are not concerned with actual people at all, just upset at what they see as co-opting the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.
“I wish we could change our society”
Instead of changing bodies, I wish we could change our society to one that accepted feminine boys and men and masculine girls and women so that no one felt compelled to expose themselves to the risks of life-long hormone administration or the removal of healthy organs.
— 50 years old, Philadelphia
This points to a problem that came up several times in responses. A lot of people feels this is nothing more than gender expression (Hey, I was a tomboy, so what!), and a typical phase of childhood. There is a great deal of ignorance out there, and it isn’t being corrected often enough. Another one with this theme:
“I’m afraid they’re making a terrible mistake”
A 5-year-old transgender?! At 5, I wanted to be a boy. I’m so glad my mother didn’t indulge that. I’d be so screwed up if she had. I’m now a happy healthy adult heterosexual female who is still a bit of a tomboy. Just do gender neutral activities and buy gender neutral clothes until the kid finds out who s/he is. These parents think they’re doing a good thing, but I’m afraid they’re making a terrible mistake.
— 32 years old, Los Angeles
There’s an insistence, on the part of some people, an “oh, I went through that too” thing, when they did not at all go through what transgender people go through. This also points to a serious lack of understanding when it comes to the deep roots of everyday, systemic sexism. Yes, a lot of girls want to be boys, because it’s boys who are the actual humans. That has nothing at all to do with being transgender. It has everything to do with sexism.
And yet, another variation on the same theme:
“We are becoming too permissive with our children”
As a Catholic, and a Christian, I believe we are becoming too permissive with our children. I remember when my sister and I were growing up, we were allowed to play as we wanted. We hung out with boys and dressed in boyish clothes. We played with toys meant for boys. We never doubted the fact that we were girls. Until we come to terms with the fact that a person’s gender cannot completely be changed, nobody will be happy. As for the bathroom, a lady should never be forced to share a bathroom with a man.
— 44 years old, Lubbock, Tex.
In this one though, you have those chromosomes lurking. “You can’t change those!” As if that was some sort of victorious argument.
johnson catman says
This person really doesn’t get it.
To say the least. The depth of wrong is disheartening.
This is typical cis ignorance. What they don’t realize is that pronouns are part of gender expression. I still insist on she and hers despite being androgynous because I’m a woman; my femininity shouldn’t be contingent on a performance, and that should also be true for young trans girls expressing age-appropriate mini-femme. It’s not just about clothes, but having our identities acknowledged, whether we are cis or trans--and part of that identity is affirmed or attacked with pronoun use.
For the record, I was six the first time I asked when I was going to be a girl.
EVEN IF it’s a phase, it costs neither you nor the child anything to change your word choices at their request. It’s not like trans children undergo HRT or surgery. Even trans teens don’t receive hormone replacements, just blockers. Young trans men don’t start testosterone and young trans women don’t start estrogen until they’re 18.
Gotta love this catch-22. If you’re young, you don’t know what you’re doing. If you oppress it and don’t face it until you’re 40, you’re grilled on what you’ve been doing the entire time.
Transitioning as a teen, getting hormonal intervention before your body screws you over, comes with huge advantages. Expecting all trans kids to wait, without ANY intervention at all, until they’re adults is exactly what produces the stereotypes that get trans women killed. And the best part about blockers? If a questioning teen decides that no, they aren’t trans, they just stop taking the hormone blockers. Fucking magical. No harm done to the questioning young adult, and the trans young adults have their dysphoria hugely mitigated before it gets bad in the first place.
I probably don’t need to explain why I stopped reading there.
Johnny Vector says
Or, she does get it, she just doesn’t realize it.
Exactly, you never doubted that you were girls. Remember how that felt. Now imagine that you felt the same way but everyone around you was always telling you “no, you’re a boy”. Then how would you feel?
Marcus Ranum says
There is a great deal of ignorance out there, and it isn’t being corrected often enough.
I’m constantly forced to confront how ignorant I am about this stuff. But I’ve found a fallback that I think seems to work OK, which is to favor maximizing everyone’s choice wherever possible. (And that includes allowing people that hate to maximize their choices, with the understanding that once your choice to swing your fist gets too close to my face, you’re reducing my choices and that means we need to seek a balance) So I admit I had a little smugshot of joy when the whole bathroom thing came up because my basic principles had predictive effect.
I know transpeople probably don’t want another battlefront in their lives but is there any effort to get some kind of trans education into the sex ed curriculum? I’m guessing that’d make the christians’ heads go all asplodey. Education is so damned oppressive, ya know?
It’s funny because to read the distilled rantings of some of the christian extremists, it’s as if evil liberals are doing exactly that,. Maybe we should. Imagine the shrieking that would ensue if evil liberals started sponsoring legislation tying tax exempt status fior religious education to a common curriculum? Maybe it’d keep them busy enough that they’d get their noses out of the bathrooms. In the culture wars, the liberals have been pursuing a typical fail-oriented counter-insurgency strategy: sit back and allow the insurgents to organize and strategize and make no moves designed against their political purpose. Such is “the noise before defeat” but a few inexpensive spoiler operations run against the christian fascists would be incredibly damaging. It’d just mean we would be the baddies, too. Never mind. Sigh.
Marcus Ranum says
I still insist on she and hers despite being androgynous because I’m a woman; my femininity shouldn’t be contingent on a performance, and that should also be true for young trans girls expressing age-appropriate mini-femme. It’s not just about clothes, but having our identities acknowledged, whether we are cis or trans–and part of that identity is affirmed or attacked with pronoun use.
Thanks for explaining that!
Marcus Ranum says
PS -- aaaaand I just discovered a really funny thing!! Apparently when I was last farting around in photoshop I must have hit ctrl-- on the wrong window a couple times, because I had zoomed FTB back until the font was really tiny. So that’s why I’ve been making so many typing mistakes! I don’t usually look at the screen when I write but I was proof-reading wrong and I only noticed it when I realized my nose was making smudges on my panel. I think the “boil a frog slowly” thing is a myth (I like frogs, I’d never try that! But I could go down to my pond and ask a few…) but it turns out you can slowly make a computer programmer go blind and all they’ll do is reduce their quality to keep their output speed up, and keep moving their face closer and closer to the display.
Marcus Ranum says
As a Catholic, and a Christian, I believe we are becoming too permissive with our children. I remember when my sister and I were growing up, we were allowed to play as we wanted.
It’s weird that as a catholic, and a christian, that person is so concerned about dressing in boyish clothes or girlish clothes, when they’re part of a whole organization run by old dudes who wear some pretty goofy gender-bending gear.
And, uh, I hope “allowed to play as you wanted” means your parents were sensible enough to keep you away from the clergy.
I, personally, don’t give a rat’s ass (though as I have said elsewhere, I find some catholic garb to be shockingly tasteless. I prefer this guy)
To Siobhan (#3):
In Washington state a 16 year old can get cross hormones without parental consent if they have funding (including charities).
Marcus, it appears that the new health education standards in Washington state include discussion of gender expression (starting in kindergarten) gender identity (in 3rd grade), discussion of the social construction of gender roles. So far I only see this reported in right wing sources such as here. They do link to the policies.
Kala Kala! He has a great look.
Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk- says
Good luck with that one
Having been the “gender non-conforming” kid (gods I hate that shit. The term should be “stupid adult expectations about rigid and outdated gender roles non conforming kid) has made me more sensitive and understanding of trans issues. It taught me that my gender identity was something intrinsic, independent of my short hair and bruised knees. I also remember how badly I wanted to have my gender recognised by people and how badly it hurt being misgendered*
*it adds insult to injury that people are generally disappointed when it turns out you aren’t a boy.
Marcus Ranum says
That’s a relief!!!
In these forums we mostly hear about disasters like the Louisiana board of education… It’s heartening to know that there are teachers out there trying to teach people how to think.
Yes. I was never a wanted child, but the expectation was that I’d be a boy, only a boy’s name had been chosen.
Regarding the misconceptions cisgender people tend to have, part of it has to do with how experiences of young transgender kids are reported. Take for instance A transgender child’s journey. The mother reports that her child’s choice of expression did not match the expectations of her assigned gender, the pastor is convinced that Rachel is a girl by her choice of shoes, Rachel stops playing basketball after transitioning because that’s something only boys do, according to her. A naive reader concludes that if it were OK for boys to wear dresses and fancy shoes a kid like Rachel would be happy to be a boy who wears dresses, fancy shoes, and keeps playing basketball (when not wearing fancy shoes). I wish there was more depth reporting that explained the difference between a kid who uses the social norms regarding gender to express who they are (to show people that they are a girl they wear clothes coded ‘for girls’) vs boys who choose some items coded as being ‘for girls’ because they like them for their own sake.
This statement really stood out for me, and I see it’s already been addressed,
Thanks, I’d rather not share the bathroom with anyone.