Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Compromise

In a discussion on a "marriage defense" blog, I asked the questions, "Is defending traditional marriage more important than assuring that gay people and their families are not fully accepted into society? Would you trade supporting age-appropriate educational tools (such as the book "Heather Has Two Mommies" and movies like "Southern Comfort") for teaching your children, and prominent, visible support for the passage of ENDA and fully equal civil unions(including federal tax benefits and interstate recognition) on your blogs, for visible support from LGBT people in opposing the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex marriage?" My intent in asking the questions was to clarify what the opine bloggers priorities are in regards to marriage equality for gays, i.e., whether protecting marriage was top priority, or whether protecting society from the "gay menace" was priority and that's merely one aspect of the anti-gay agenda.

OnLawn offered in reply a compromise on gay marriage. ("A compromise means both don't get everything we want, but we work together to find some ground in the middle where they both get what they need. Where there are direct incompatibilities, there each need their own space to afford their own values and ideals.") To summarize:

  • Gay people can become Reciprocal Beneficiaries, which essentially means the states pass a law that grants any two adults who are restricted from marriage by law "access to a limited number of rights and benefits on the state level."
  • No age-appropriate educational materials reflecting LGBT families in schools.
  • No federal protections for LGBT people from employment or housing discrimination.
  • It's not clear whether OnLawn would allow the reciprocal beneficiaries to extend to the federal level.

OnLawn is a Mormon, a member of a group that has survived plenty of persecution, violence, hate, and discrimination, some of which lingers on today, but most of which is in the past (thanks in part to civil rights legislation protecting folks from discrimination based on religion), such as when the Mormons were driven out of Illinois. So I'll assume that OnLawn is familiar with the effects of discrimination in a personal way, and, in that spirit of compromise, I'll offer this:

  • Mormons may no longer marry each other, but they may enter into reciprocal beneficiaries with each other.
  • No educational materials mentioning Mormons will be allowed in schools.
  • Mormons will be exempt from civil rights legislation protecting individuals from discrimination based on their religion.
  • Mormon reciprocal beneficiaries will be recognized at the federal level, granting full rights of tax equality, inheritance, guardianship of children, and so on.

Of course, this is an academic question, as neither of us has the power to enact any of these elements beyond our votes – and, regarding my own suggestions, almost nobody, including me, is interested in effecting any of them. Also, I'm philosophically opposed to compromising on human rights, justice, and equality – not that there isn't room for all to have their needs met, and to have an equal place at the table. However, perhaps this will open a dialogue where we can both really hear what each other needs, and find a way to deal together toward finding that solution that meets all needs. This compromise deals with specific strategies for meeting needs, and I'm totally open to hearing other strategies; I don't insist that the strategies I believe will be effective be implemented, if others can accomplish the same thing in a way that better meets the needs of "marriage defenders" or gay people or preferably everybody. If this leads to a dialogue that clarifies what needs are/aren't met by different strategies, may it be blessed.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

“Love Your Enemies…”

Lately I've been thinking a lot about a certain Bible verse: Matthew 5:44 – "I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." These words were attributed to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, which I believe is one of, if not the, greatest talks on nonviolence or ahimsa in history. (Of course, that's from my western perspective and limited knowledge of non-western texts and teachings.) I got to thinking about it partly because I got into a rather unpleasant debate regarding feminism and gay rights on another blog, because for several months I've been studying the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, and because I want to be the most effective force possible in my activism for LGBT rights, and I believe this is the way to do that. And I've been thinking about it because so often I fail to achieve my goal of doing just that – I want clarity about how to love my enemies – those who oppose equal rights for LGBT people.

So what does it mean, to "love your enemies?" That's a pretty strong statement, and the follow-up is no weaker: bless, do good to, pray for, those who hurt you. Turn the other cheek. How radically different is this from most of what I see in the world.

It's clear that "love," in this case, is a verb. It requires positive and proactive action on our part, a conscious decision, and determined persistence. In an essay titled "Love Your Enemies," Mrs. Eddy said, "We must love our enemies in all the manifestations wherein and whereby we love our friends; must even try not to expose their faults, but to do good to them whenever opportunity occurs." That raises the ante a bit, taking it to a new level. Certainly we must counter lies and misconceptions, and assert our own truth with determination and persistence. How do we do this without exposing the faults of our enemies? Perhaps by keeping our statements as completely impersonal as possible?

This gets really challenging in the heat of, so to speak, battle. How can you do good to and love someone who has just said words about you intended to wound and destroy? How can you not feel anger, and fear, and the hate that rises so easily from them? Once again I found some pretty useful words from Mrs. Eddy: "Love your enemies, or you will not lose them; and if you love them, you will help to reform them;" "The mental arrow shot from another's bow is practically harmless, unless our own thought barbs it. It is our pride that makes another's deed offensive, our egotism that feels hurt by another's self-assertion;" "Who is thine enemy that thou shouldst love him? Is it a creature or a thing outside thine own creation? Can you see an enemy, except you first formulate this enemy and then look upon the object of your own conception? What is it that harms you?" Hannah More said, "If I wished to punish my enemy, I should make him hate somebody."

In this context I want to take my activism to this new level; active love of my enemies, even more than just passively eliminating the anger and fear from my own heart and wishing them well while still opposing them. It means finding ways of doing good to them, while simultaneously holding unconditional love in my heart, completely without rancor or judgment, and while also resisting the injustice. Indeed, it makes my resistance stronger.

I don't expect to be perfect at this; it is a goal to strive for, but I'm still completely human, subject to pride, anger, ego, misjudgment, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, mistake, and all the other foibles humans are subject to. I'll make mistakes. But I am convinced that returning always to this guidepost will lead me to a more effective activism; this seems to be the guidepost that directed Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. And if I'm not successful, at least I'll be happy doing it. After all, "'Love thine enemies' is identical with 'Thou hast no enemies.'" (MBE)

I'm not a Christian Scientist, but I wish that The Christian Science Church would put Mrs. Eddy's essays, "Love Your Enemies" and "Taking Offense" online, and I could direct those of us who fight for equal rights for LGBT people to read them. Regardless of the religious undertones, these are strategies, I believe, for effective action. Our anger, justified as it may be, benefits no one; indeed, it does active harm to our own side.

If there are any activists out there who access my blog, I'd be really interested in hearing your thoughts on this post.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I Smell Roses....

Okay, this may be premature, with the Civil War coming up next Thursday, but this video's pretty cool. And I gotta go with Jeremiah Masoli and the Ducks.



Watch it before UO makes them pull it...! (UO ought to pay those students for making it!)

A Civil War for the ages. Go Ducks!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Danger of a Single Story

This video is rather long - about 20 minutes - but worth every second of it.



It has also inspired an idea for an upcoming project, which I hope to post soon. Stay tuned...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Labels

I'm a member of the Diversity Committee where I work, and to celebrate Transgender Awareness Week (TAW) and International Transgender Day of Awareness (TDOR), we prepared a display that illustrates some of the gender-variant people through history, profiles of individual transpeople and their accomplishments, and a few of the people who've been killed over the last year because of their perceived gender-variance. The display will be put up in my building, and it turns out that, for some of my co-workers, it's controversial. They ask why we need to label people, why we can't just accept people for who they are without the labels.

And which label is it that offends them?

Turns out the display includes the word, "transgender," and a few of my coworkers don't want to be exposed to that word, and they don't want their children exposed to that word.

There's no doubt that labels can be limiting and destructive; that they can make pain and add to prejudice. But I'm not sure how you can have a display celebrating trans people for TAW without including the word "transgender." It would be kind of like celebrating Independence Day, but removing the word, "Independence." What makes that day different? What is it about these people that is different from others?

It's human nature to compartmentalize things, to label them for ease of understanding. There's great danger in that, as mis-labeling is common, and judging solely by label is guaranteed to result in misunderstanding and ignorance. Nevertheless, we cannot escape labels – and labels do have their place. They do differentiate according to individual characteristics. The error is in making assumptions regarding the person that go beyond the label. Assuming that because someone is a woman, she's weak and emotional. Assuming that because someone is a black man, he likes watermelon and fried chicken. Assuming that because someone is a Christian, she's a Republican. The label is accurate and impersonal, but that's all you know about the person; the assumption may or may not be accurate, and accepting it as truth perpetuates ignorance and violence.

In our building, we've also got a poster up called "Women at Work," illustrated with various women performing a variety of jobs, to show that women are capable workers. No one I've ever heard about has objected to it. We regularly put up notices regarding "Asian Celebration," or "Black History Month," or "Women's History Month", or "Hispanic Festival," or "Disability Etiquette." No one objects. If folks make assumptions regarding the people behind the labels, they keep those assumptions to themselves. The labels are accurate and impersonal, and important to place the announcement in context, to give it meaning. If you take that label away, you erase a part of that person's identity; you remove the person or the event from context, and make it meaningless. We are men, women, black, white, Native American, Asian – it's who we are, part of what makes us individuals, an aspect of our personhood that defines who we are in relation to those around us, that gives us our individuality within our common humanity. The label does not represent who we are – but who we are is not complete without it.

I am an American. I am white. I am middle-aged. I am a mother – and a father. I'm a writer. I'm a designer. I am an ex-Marine. I am a carpenter. I am an activist. I'm a feminist. I am free. I am a human. I am a woman. Most important of all, I am spiritual, a child of God. And I am transgendered.

Labels. I claim each one, I wear it with pride. This is who I am. Just as you label yourself, in whatever way you do, with whatever pride or shame you have about that aspect of who you are. Some of those labels I wear by choice – designer, writer, feminist, free. Others have been assigned to me by accident of birth, by fate, or by God – human, American, white, child of God. Transgender.

I don't have any choice about it. I was just as much a transgendered woman when I wore a beard, a man's name, and man's clothing, as I am now. I was just invisible, isolated, and desperately, suicidally miserable.

So when I hear that some of my own colleagues are so offended by who I am that they not only don't want to be confronted with my identity, that they don't even want their children to know of my existence; when I see that they want to bury my identity, erase it, make me invisible – it hurts.

It hurts not only because an important part of my identity is being dismissed. Making that label of such paramount importance that it must be hidden or erased, actually makes it more visible, even as it makes me invisible. The attempt to remove the label isolates it, so that it then becomes the definer of my individuality. It reduces me, and every trans person, to less than fully human, to only transgender. It perpetuates ignorance, prejudice, and fear, and smoothes the way for violence.

This is why we need the display so damned much in the first place.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Marriage: What’s Going On?

Not long ago, a "marriage defender" who calls himself R.K. asked me what I would like the general cultural understanding of marriage to be, whether "marriage is between any two persons"? Or "marriage is between a man and a woman, unless...."? He recommended I answer after reading this article. I didn't answer in that comment thread, but it's a fair question – one I'll answer here.

I recently read that 4 in 10 children – 40% - are born to unmarried mothers. This is a radical cultural shift from what marriage would have been even 50 years ago, when getting pregnant outside of marriage was stigmatized, and women didn't have the economic equality and opportunity to support themselves effectively. 150 years ago, pioneering feminist Mary Baker Eddy wrote: "… the frequency of divorce shows that the sacredness of this relationship is losing its influence and that fatal mistakes are undermining its foundations." At that time, divorce was relatively rare; today, around 50% of marriages end in divorce. The institution of no-fault divorce is at least partly, and perhaps wholly, responsible, and this represents another profound cultural shift in the perception and understanding of marriage. Today, gay people in four states can get married, just the same as straight people and into the same institution, and hate crimes legislation has been passed to protect them from crimes based on their identity. 50 years ago, they were frequently targeted by police for beatings, harassment, and arrest, and very few people in mainstream, straight society seemed to care.

There's a saying in architecture: "Form follows function." In other words, how a building works is more important than its shape, colors, textures, and so on; instead, the function of the building informs what shape it will (ideally) take.

So already, the cultural understanding of marriage – and its function – is profoundly different than it was 100, or even 50 years ago.

I'm not going to argue what's right or wrong here, or what's best. I've seen enough marriages where children were being hurt by the wars between their parents, where no-fault divorce was a better option than allowing the anger to escalate to violence, where the children were benefited, perhaps even their lives saved, by their parents' separation. At the same time, there is a preponderance of evidence that shows that, overall, children of divorce fare worse than the children of intact families. I don't have the wisdom to even suss out all the variables that influence things like that, much less analyze their effects.

The article cites six "goods" of marriage as an other-sex-only institution: it supports a child's birthright to know and be raised by her biological parents; it maximizes the level of private welfare of children; it is the foundation of the "child-rearing mode" that correlates – "in ways not subject to reasonable dispute" – with a child's well being; it is a bridge that unites men and women; it
is "the only institution that can confer the status of husband and wife, that can transform a male into a husband or a female into a wife …, and thus that can transform males into husband/fathers … and females into wife/mothers …; and last, it constitutes "social and official endorsement of that form of adult intimacy that society may rationally value above all other such forms. It cites these as self-evidently, inarguably the ideal. But I can't help but question some of them.

For instance, do kids have a right to know who their biological parents are? No doubt. Do they have the right to be raised by their biological parents? Maybe. But too often they should have the right to not be raised by their biological parents. I imagine Rusty Yates' kids would have welcomed an opportunity to be raised by someone else. What kids do have, is the right to be raised by people who love them unconditionally and have the emotional, spiritual, and physical resources that will enable them to grow into fulfilled, functioning adults. Indisbutably, that is, in most cases, biological parents. But the exceptions are so common, that can we justify codifying that into law? Thousands of children are worse off with their biological parent or parents than with someone else; thousands of adults have love and resources to bestow on children, yet for one reason or another cannot or will not contribute their genes.

I very much question whether a child's private welfare is better with a man-woman parenting couple than with a same-sex parenting couple. Again, too many variables intrude. We have seen that divorce is not the best platform for a child's well-being; but do we even have any significant data on intact same-sex parents? And even if we did, is it so compelling as to codify it? The children of same-sex couples I know are doing just fine. A child's well-being depends more on her individual relationships than on any particular "mode." Men and women are united by far more than marriage, biology and our common humanity perhaps being the strongest bridge. Inclusion of gay marriage transforms a male into a husband (two of them, in fact), and a woman into a wife. And why should society endorse one form of consensual adult intimacy over another? There is great danger in this assumption – our culture currently endorses one-man, one-woman marriage, but other cultures endorse polygamy, and ours has endorsed the concept of the woman as subservient to the man in the not-so-distant past.

Okay, back to the question:

Answer: I don't know. Theoretically, I think I could live with the cultural understanding of marriage being man-woman only, or including only same-sex couples. Objectively, I don't even know what it should be, or which form is best for children or society.

What I do know, is that regardless of what the cultural understanding of marriage should be, when I see my friends "Ken" and "Tom" together – they've been faithful to each other for 19 years now – I see married. I see two people deeply in love, with the comfortable intimacy that marks happy couples who've been through years and trials together. It's the same when I see Ann & Christine (14 years, 1 child), Angela & Cecily (at least 10 yrs.), Lila & Elaine (28+ yrs.), Annie & Michelle (more than 18 yrs, 2 kids). And last year, when Kelly broke up with her domestic partner, and her eyes were red from crying for a month, I saw the deep grief of divorce. (All names are changed to protect their identities.)

In other words, the cultural understanding of marriage I have is that it's between two people, and sometimes more. What I want doesn't seem to play into it that much, except that I would like a shared understanding. I bet you would, too. On the other hand, I want the cultural understanding of intimate relationships to be that same-sex relationships are just as legitimate and valuable as other-sex relationships. I also strongly believe that gay couples should have access to all the rights, responsibilities, privileges, and obligations that straight married couples have. I'm not set on the idea that those rights be defined as "marriage" – if equality can be obtained through "civil union," fine. In fact, some people have suggested that a two-tier system would be better – you get a license for a civil union from the state, and hold a legal ceremony completely separate from religious affiliation at a courthouse or other state building; then, if you want, you can get married in a sacred ceremony in the religious venue of your choice. Our German friend recently went through just such a pair of ceremonies, and it seems to make sense, separating the legal from the sacred. In such a case, both gay and straight couples would enter into the civil union, while the sacred union would be completely regulated by religious authority. If that system could end the animosity and free the energy of both "marriage defenders" and "marriage reformers," may it happen.

In sum, I think what we have is a culture in upheaval, caught in a radical shift between two visions, two understandings of what this particular social institution is and means, linked to the growing cultural understanding and acceptance of gender variance. I'm part of the new culture, along with, judging from recent votes in California and Maine, probably about 45 to 48% of our population. Judging by history and current trends, it's just a matter of time before that cultural shift is complete. The changes in function will bring about a new form, and the "goods" of marriage will have shifted to a new set. Looking back at history, the cycle is clear: the new (fill in the blank) causes great social upheaval, the old resists stiffly, but gradually fades away, and the new becomes accepted as normal and right. Industrial Revolution vs. Luddites. Feminism vs. patriarchy (or women as people vs. women as servants). Transition of European monarchical political systems to parliamentarian systems following the French Revolution and Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. This shift in marriage is intrinsically linked to the cultural shift of recognizing homosexuality and transgenderism as normal variations of the human condition. And in some ways things will be better, in some ways worse.

I just pray that that new set of goods more than compensates for the old, and that our families and our children are blessed by it and grow stronger.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our
Beloved's.
~Hafiz