Saturday, May 14, 2016

Battle of the Bathroom

A couple days ago, President Obama weighed in on the North Carolina bathroom debate and told people to get over it.

North Carolina, of course, is where the state Legislature passed a law specifically to overturn a local ordinance in Charlotte that protected the right of transgender men and women to use the bathroom of the sex they identify with. Raising the morals alarm, the Republican governor and Republican-controlled state Legislature rushed to protect the women and children of North Carolina from hordes of imaginary child molesters disguised as women. The president has sided with the transgender community and issued an executive order to all states that links federal education aid with the protections they have in place for transgender children, particularly the right to use the bathroom that matches their identity.

The shit predictably hit the fan, and I'm sorry to say that I've lost respect for people I've known for 18 years, over the way they've surrendered to moral panic.

Calm down, everyone. It's worth noting that transgender people for years have used bathrooms of the sex they identify with. All the Obama administration has done is to reaffirm the right that they already have. Why are we suddenly worried now? No one is trying to give anyone special rights. The GOP is simply trying to take them away.

There are no documented cases of child molesters and rapists claiming to be transgender so they can enter the women's room and sexually assault girls or women in there. None. On the other hand, there are plenty of cases of transmen and especially transwomen being physically and sexually assaulted, and even killed because people feel threatened or skeeved out by their presence.

We're called as believers to protect the helpless and to defend those who live on the margins of society. That includes the transgender. What we are doing is putting the lives and safety of transgender people at risk because we are afraid of an entirely different group of people. That makes no sense, morally or legally.

There is a real human cost to the fear being whipped up over this manufactured issue. I read a story a few days ago about a ciswoman who was verbally and physically assaulted because people felt she didn't look feminine enough to be in the women's room. Transwomen already are at risk of assault, including sexual assault; sending them into the men's room is only going to increase that risk.

I get the desire to protect my three daughters and other girls from sexual predators. But statistically speaking those sexual predators are far and away most likely to be cisgender straight men than they are gay men, women of any orientation, or people of any other gender. So we handle the risk the way parents always have: Don't send a small child into a public bathroom unaccompanied, even if it means that she's going to head into men's room with her father. Little boys are at a higher risk of being molested by a trusted sports coach than a little girl is by a stranger in the women's room.

We cannot and dare not marginalize one group of people, the transgender, because of a baseless association with another group of people, like sex offenders. There is no justification for it spiritually or morally or legally.

When we listen to fear as we are doing now, we always end up regretting it.

Copyright © 2016 by David Learn. Used with permission.

The Church I Want

Let me tell you about the kind of church I want to belong to.

I want to belong to a church that welcomes people of all gender identities. I don't care if you identify as the sex you were born as, or as a different one. You may be androgynous, genderfluid, transgender, or something else. It makes no difference to me.

I'm a cisgender male. Come, be welcome. Sit next to me, and let's talk about "Captain America: Civil War," and argue the respective merits of the sides Tony Stark and Steve Rogers took. Let's argue whether the Star Wars prequels should count as canon, and see if we can outdo one another in hating Jar Jar Binks. Tell me about your favorite books and the last time you saw live theater.

I want to belong to a church that welcomes people without regard for whom they're attracted to. Gay? That's great! Heterosexual? No problem. Asexual? That's fantastic! Bisexual? Pansexual? None of that matters. Got a fetish? I won't bat an eye. Let's discuss theology, let's talk philosophy. I never studied Søren Kirkegaard or Socrates, although I used to fake it when I was younger. Maybe you can explain them to me so that I'll go read them for myself and understand them for real. I'm all ears. Come sit down and break bread with me. We'll share a bottle of wine as we talk.

I don't care about your past, if you've been a sex worker and you're ashamed about it or you've been a sex worker and you're proud of it. I don't even care if you're still an active sex worker. None of that matters to me. Maybe you've got an idea for how I can get my kids to clean up after themselves, or how I can get more tomatoes from my garden. I'd love to hear it. Let's hang out, swap gardening tips and tell each other our stories.

Are you a refugee fleeing war or famine? I so want my church to welcome you, without asking irrelevant questions like what religion you belong to. Come find sanctuary. All that matters is that you are hungry and weary, and we have the means to give you rest. It's yours for the asking, without condition or reservation.

Actually, I do belong to a church like this. It welcomes all these people and many more, regardless of their racial and cultural backgrounds, their age or their abilities. It's an amazing thing to witness. I see glimpses of it from time to time, as from a far-off country.

And I'll fight with all the strength heaven gives me to see that church touch the earth and be found here, even if it's just once and only for a moment.

Copyright © 2016 by David Learn. Used with permission.