Vail Daily column: No simple answers
Ninety percent of Americans say they know someone who is lesbian, gay, or bisexual. At the same time only 16 percent say they personally know someone who is transgender. Considering there isn’t an abundance of scientific study on the matter, unless an individual is doing a lot of private research he or she is likely getting their information about transgender issues from the media.
With that as a starting point, let’s look at the issue. First, we need to understand what transgender is and what it is not. Transgendered does not mean transsexual. A transgendered person might be a man who is attracted to women but who also identifies as a cross-dresser. Or perhaps it’s someone who considers himself or herself gender nonconforming, multi-gendered, androgynous or a two-spirit person. However, we must keep in mind each of those classifications is inexact, nuanced and will likely vary from individual to individual.
The next thing we must understand is gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same; and this is where it gets complicated. Most of us use the binary terms masculine or feminine when describing gender as we do when referring to sex. But many scientists believe gender is more complex and encompasses more than two possibilities.
According to the American Psychological Association, sexual orientation refers to an individual’s enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to another person. Therefore, transgender people may be straight, bisexual, lesbian, gay, or asexual.
On the other hand, transsexuals are people who have transitioned from one sex to another. A person born as a male can become recognizably female through surgical procedures and/or using hormones, and in a similar fashion, a person born female can become recognizably male.
An individual’s sex is assigned at birth and refers to his or her biological status as male or female. This means transsexuals cannot alter or change their genetics and therefore are unable to acquire the reproductive abilities of the sex to which they transitioned.
Contrast the above with transgender; a term for people whose identity, expression, behavior or general sense of self does not conform to what is usually associated with the sex they were born. From that perspective we can consider sex a matter of the body, while gender occurs in the mind, i.e., gender is an internal sense of being male, female or other.
Polling tells us nearly a quarter of all Americans feel transgender people should have access to the restroom of the sex they identify with. However, 60 percent of Americans are uncomfortable with that notion. As a good friend of mine recently said, “I don’t want some 45-year-old guy who’s wearing a dress using the same bathroom as my 9-year-old granddaughter.”
Many people believe allowing transgender people to use the restroom of the gender they identify with violates the straight person’s right to privacy while opening the door to sex offenders, child molesters and perverts. At the same time, supporters feel by relegating transgenders to the restroom of the sex they were assigned at birth is unfair and discriminatory.
With a lack of extensive scientific data to guide us, we face a myriad of unanswered questions. Do transgender restrooms give men license to claim “transgender status” to peep on women? Will people feel threatened by transgenders, which could precipitate hate crimes? And does restroom of choice policy violate the privacy rights of other students in order to make transgender students feel accepted?
United Airlines’ Red Carpet Club at O’Hare International Airport has three restrooms — men, women and transgender. So might that be a solution to the matter, or would a third restroom make transgenders feel segregated?
Is the matter a civil rights or states’ rights issue? And if gender identity is the criteria for restroom use, then shouldn’t a transgender girl (a youngster assigned male at birth) be allowed to play on the girl’s high school soccer team, with her testosterone developed muscles?
So how do we best accommodate today’s transgender activism? What does an all-women’s college do when applicants include transgenders or individuals who’ve had gender-reassignment surgery or are in the process of transitioning from one sex to the other?
And what about the unintended consequences attendant to the issue? As colleges widen the gender range of students they are willing to accept, the potential for offended sensibilities; religious objections and sex-discrimination complaints expand exponentially.
These are all real questions requiring real answers, but due to the dearth of hard scientific data, speculation and conjecture can dominate the discussion.
Both sides of the debate deserve to be heard, but let’s face it, as a nation we face far more critical issues, i.e., jobs, eradicating ISIS, healthcare, immigration and tax reforms, etc. — all of which require prioritization. Yes, the roughly 2 million transgender Americans are important, but so are the other 318 million of us who are not transgender. As with most multi-faceted matters, there are no simple answers.
Quote of the day: “Life is a constant oscillation between the sharp horns of dilemmas.”—H.L. Mencken
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.