Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
It seems almost biblically decreed that the great culture wars that define our age have, in the most farcical political year in our history, come down to this farcical conclusion — a public hysteria over female restrooms. It is the burning issue of where a transgender child or adult or any other sexual minority can go for relief when nature calls away from home.
At the risk of adjective surfeit, let it be observed that the most farcical major political candidate in history delivered one of the sanest, kindest verdicts in this searing debate: Let them use the toilet where, following their biological, genetic or emotional drives, they feel most comfortable. That is Donald Trump, the presumptive nominee for president of the United States for a party that finds itself beset by the complexities of sex, reproduction and ethnicity upon which it has built its modern power.
Trump would leave the status quo alone since there is no history of a transgender person harassing anyone in a restroom or locker room, though plenty of history of their being harassed and bullied. The real abuses have come not from transgender youngsters but from priests, coaches and conservative politicians and judges.
The old showboat, who built his business, entertainment and now political career on conspicuous sex, would not, at least yet, go as far as President Obama, whose administration last week let schools and other federally funded institutions know that denying sexual minorities the right to use the bathroom of their perceived gender violated both the Violence Against Women Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. The law really is pretty specific, although Gov. Hutchinson, pushed to respond because other Republican governors and politicians were having to take a stand, said the Justice Department was being nonsensical and overreaching.
The furor followed North Carolina's passage of a law allowing discrimination against sexual minorities — gays, lesbians, transgender people, transsexuals, intersexuals and, one assumes, the whole catalog of discrepancies from the sexual normals of male and female found in the anatomies or mentalities of children. The law makes people use the bathroom designated for the gender on their birth certificates.
It is an absurd, unworkable and cruel law, but politically inevitable. It captured the imagination of those who still cling to the ancient trope that everyone is born either a male or female and never the twain shall meet. Pediatricians and endocrinologists have long known better. The rest of society has been learning on a fast curve since the 1970s, when young people began coming out to their families and friends about their sexual or gender proclivities and feeling healthier for it.
The practical result of the North Carolina law and any others that follow is that a transgender person cannot use a public restroom if they start requiring a birth certificate for admission to the potty. Burly, bearded men who were born female, like the once-daughter of a Republican congresswoman, could not legally use the men's room but would cause some hysteria if they entered the girls' room that they were legally mandated to use.
If there are victims in this ridiculous crisis, it is not the young woman who suspects that the person in the next stall was registered as a male at birth but the millions of youngsters who, as always, hide their shame over their anatomical or mental condition in private or else bear the humiliation that being open still brings.
But times are changing, as even Republicans, like Donald Trump, acknowledge.
Take the case of right-wing Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida. One day she and her husband found a note from their daughter Amanda on their bed. It revealed that she had become a man and was changing her name to Rodrigo. Rodrigo had packed his bags and left, unsure whether his parents would welcome him any longer. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen and her husband accepted him, although they were concerned that the harassment she had experienced as a youngster would only increase.
Ros-Lehtinen is as far right as a Republican can go on just about everything else, but she is an eloquent champion of equal rights for gays, lesbians, transgender people and other sexual or gender minorities. She was the first Republican in Congress to espouse marriage equality.
A study by the Rand Corp. commissioned by the defense secretary, leaked this week, found that some 2,450 of the 1.2 million active-duty members of the military are transgender and that each year about 65 transition to the other gender. Allowing them to serve openly would cost little and have no impact on readiness. It said that if the Pentagon did not accept them and cover medical procedures like hormone therapy and surgery they would seek medical care on their own and suffer higher rates of substance abuse and suicide.
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