photo: askaleftist

A Question for Leftists and Progressives: Is This What You Mean by ‘Equality’?

The link above leads to an article written by Michael Brown on regarding trans-youth participating in sports. You know, a very important political issue.

In one way, it very much is an important political issue, because it helps us broaden our understanding of who makes up society in ways that aren't immediately obvious. Michael Brown's article struggles to ascertain how gender defies physical appearance.

Now, hold on. If we were writing for an LGBTQI+ audience, we would move on because that audience would get what we're saying. But we're writing for non-Leftists who have questions for Leftists. So, let's play to that audience, but briefly.

Your gender doesn't defy appearance, your appearance is your gender. The simplest take on this matter is often summed up in binary - female/male. End of story. Girls are girls and boys are boys. You can't look like one and be the other. Chromosomes.

But that dismisses some 1.3-million adults who don't live that binary. That's a lot of people saying they were assigned a sex that isn't who they are. Let's play with that for a second. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about being male. It's who I am. I don't intentionally do manly things to be a man. I am not a man because I saw my grandfather be a man and I decided that's who I was, or who I wanted to be. I didn't get inspiration for all of this. Your gender is the same way. Or. Your lack of gender. Or. Your combination of genders. Or. Your assigned gender vs. your gender expression, or how you present to the world.

It's very easy to be born male with a male body, or a female with a female body. Transgender individuals don't have it that easy. If I were born exactly this way - he/him - but was dressed in a way that didn't feel right, was told to act a way that didn't feel right, if when I looked in the mirror I didn't feel like I was looking at who I really was, that gets very complicated. It gets very emotional. It gets very heavy. Until, at last, I stop being what someone says I am and express my true self.

If I - he/him - was raised as a girl, I might go along with it for a while. I might like dresses and stuff. I don't know. They seem nice. But at some point I'm going to realize that this whole thing is wrong. The way I'm being raised isn't really who I am. I'm not a girl. I'm a boy.

But what if I don't come to that exact conclusion? What if I think I'm supposed to be a boy but everyone clearly thinks I'm a girl so I better just act like it? I can maybe pull that off for a while, but then there's this whole thing about how boys and girls are supposed to go together but I'm not attracted to boys. Then is something else, something bigger, wrong with me? We can go down this whole narrow rabbit hole, but I think you know where it goes: plain and simple, I can't live my life as a girl because, as Maury Povich puts it, that's a lie.

That's the life of a trans-person for a while. Some know at a very young age that their assigned sex does not match who they really are. Some people live for years into adulthood thinking something else is the matter or, worse, denying that gender is the issue because that seems to be such a simple, fundamental answer that shouldn't be questioned. It seems like it should be binary. Some people feel shame.

And shame is where we were heading with this question. Because the question of equality - are trans-people equal to their expressed gender (and therefore, are they equal to the rest of the population?) - places a conditional burden on assigned and expressed genders - should the difference between assigned and expressed genders be determined by the individual or by others?

If we say that in certain instances other people get to determine the validity of one's gender, that distinctly removes ownership of, or oneness with, the individual's expressed gender. It ignores an individual's identity for the sake of conformity.

In other words: should that kid we identify as a boy be allowed to compete in sports against those kids we identify as girls?

You can't wrestle girls because you are a boy.

I am not a boy, I am a girl.

As far as binary goes, this is pretty cut and dry. An assumption (you are a boy) met with a correction (I am a girl).

Now, as crucial as queer theory is to deeper social understanding, we don't need to get into all that. Because we have the identity of the individual (I am a girl), we should theoretically be able to self-correct (literally and figuratively) both in terms of saying "I'm sorry I assumed" and internally making an adjustment to how we'll identify her in the future.

Gender, when asserted by the individual, is not a discussion. Arguing against an individual's expressed gender will not convince her that she is not she/her. You won't rationalize your way into changing her entire all of this. And because people get frustrated with this, efforts are made to limit her options in the world, to make the world treat her as if she is really what we say she is, which (to us) is he.

So, onward to Michael Brown's question. Is this what we mean by equality - a girl wrestling girls? Yes, that is equality. Now, we could really go off the deep-end with this particular example - muscle mass, testosterone, all of that, but then we're missing a very important point: why is your wrestling program binary in the first place? The argument against including a trans-girl on a wrestling team is also a direct reinforcement of what a "real" girl is, or, a normative social influence.

Well what are we supposed to do with all of this!?

I mean, I guess let's talk about sports and weight class and gender barriers. But only real quick because sports are boring. We are typically inspired by stories of high school girls joining the football team and then kicking ass in a male-only sport. Hell, this is simply not news. I mean, seriously.

But this seems to be an acceptable non-normative social influence - girls who are not boys playing sports with boys. So how do teams practically accommodate for this? To be honest, I don't really know, because Googling something like "female football player high school locker room" seems like a very wrong thing to be Googling. I also don't do sports and don't know anything about locker rooms in the first place.

But this still only speaks to the binary - how do we accommodate females in male sports? - rather than to the fluidity of gender overall. Do we need trans-sports or simply trans-accommodations? Or do we stick with the binary, she is a girl, she uses the girls' locker room? Or, have we been doing bathrooms and lockers wrong the whole time? The concept of male/female bathrooms arose relatively recently - some believe it was 1739 -

"On August 30, 1739, King Louis XV hosted a ball to celebrate the marriage of his daughter, Marie‐Louise‐Élisabeth, to the infant Philip De Bourbon of Spain. It was in the Hôtel de Ville which was decorated as a great banquet hall [...] they had even taken the precaution of allotting cabinets with inscriptions over the doors, Garderobes pour les femmes and Garderobes pour les hommes, with chambermaids in former and valets in the latter. "

But there is some debate about this. Though, the debate falls flat. In all of recorded history, written and artistic, we simply don't have a reliable record on people being separated by the genders when it comes to bathrooms. Now, baths are a different story. We know Greeks and Romans had gender-specific baths. But, you know, they wouldn't have had toilets in them. We know - locker rooms are more like baths than toilets - we know, we're getting to that. But first. Just keep in mind that having a toilet in the same room as your bath is very new and, frankly, disgusting.

Because we don't live in the 18th Century, or in the 8th Century BCE, we're pretty far removed from how humans used to do stuff. But the gender separation of bathrooms - as we have them today - is very much a today thing. We have building codes, state laws, guidelines, and aesthetics that build rigidity into the way we do things in public that we're used to doing in private: getting naked and/or using the toilet. Our gender binary is written into law - often quite literally.

So, when we speak of sport, obviously we have to address the physical effort and competition, but underlying that is the unspoken question: what bathroom or locker room do trans-people use?

And the answer, if you haven't guessed, is: whichever gender is expressed.

How do you ensure women's safety in public restrooms if trans-women are using them?

This is a whole thing we could go into, but let's shorten it to this: trans-women also need the protection offered by the restroom of their expressed gender: privacy, freedom from harassment and judgment by men thinking: look at this dude in a dress. We'll leave it up to the internet to provide very specific anecdotal evidence of public restroom safety.

But on the subject of sport, how do you ensure equality in competition?

Well, on this we're a little confused by gender separation again. If we allow girls to play football, which by all means suggests that football is not boys-only, then why are we so certain that other sports are male/female? In the specific context of Michael Brown's op-ed, he poses the question of wrestling, a sport typically sorted by weight classes. Why a 110-pound boy can't wrestle a 110-pound girl, I don't know. But this seems to be more an issue of the adults-in-charge being stuck in something quite unnecessary, and also ascending from in-charge to out-of-control. If youth want to wrestle, who imposes the rules about how matches are lined up? The sport itself would not change if instead of male/female it was made co-ed and then bracketed - you know, not that I understand sports but I do know that if you use a bracket system you'll wind up with different brackets in different weight classes that best represents the skills of the individual wrestlers better than if you were to simply separate it by gender. Maybe you don't like brackets. I'm just spit-balling here.

But when you get down to it, it's not the student's responsibility, nor is it mine, to figure out how your school or your team makes sport work for your school's student population. The fact that a trans-girl wants to do anything in public, let alone compete in sport, is pretty incredible. If you're the adult in charge of adulting the sport, then act like it. You have someone who wants to participate, and you supposedly have the capacity to determine fairness in sport (right? like, you know, adults are referees and coaches in youth sport, they're supposed to understand equity in competition) so why in this specific instance are the adults suddenly incapable of grasping the inherent inequity and, instead of actually making inclusive and non-punitive changes, focusing their condemnation on the parents and children?

Listen, sometimes when adults get into these situations, their inability to cope simply blows our minds. Do I want my kid participating in any activity where the adults in charge view her existence as inconvenient or, worse, invalid? If you care more about the sport itself than those participating, then go out and join a recreational league and play on Wednesday nights at the rec center then go out for beers afterward. But I don't want that toxicity around my kid.

But what about their unfair advantage? What about the millions of young athletes working as hard as they can just to be sand-bagged by a guy who says he's a girl?

Again, we refer you to the way sports are segregated in the binary. Does it make sense to instead add third and fourth categories for trans-men and trans-women? No, for two reasons:

1) Trans-people make up an estimated 0.06% of the US population and an even smaller population of youth athletes when you factor in how many trans-children won't come to express their genders until adulthood when it may be socially and mentally safer to do so. A little over half of America's youth participate in extracurricular sport, and the numbers dwindle as age and competition increase. Most high school athletes do not compete in the Olympics or become professionals. Most don't even go on to play in college. So, this idea that trans-students are somehow ruining the chances of other students' careers in sport is a non-starter. And separating them based on being transgender...have you met kids? We're trying to make childhood inclusive, not excessively cruel.

2) We're not looking for separate but equal here, we're talking together and equal. A trans-woman is - wait for it - a woman, and a trans-girl is, you guessed it, a girl.

Our perception of elite athletes competing in binary is somewhat skewed from the start. When we watch the Olympics, we are watching human beings in peak physical condition push themselves to their personal limits, limits that already place them in an entirely different category of athlete from the average athlete. In some sports there is literally zero reason for gender to play a role in competition, yet we segregate anyway.

What about cheating?

When cheaters get caught, it's humiliating for them and they lose their place in sports history, unless their place is specifically as a megalomaniacal grifter. But to assume a student is cheating from the start because we struggle with the concept of gender and identity offers us a loophole for our inclination to discriminate. We refuse to allow cheating in sports, because sports are a pure expression of physical accomplishment, therefore our discrimination is not only justifiable, but morally so.

And that leads us back to shame. That a trans-person is guilty of cheating precisely because they express their true gender adds to the stigma of being a trans-person - if you out yourself as trans, you can expect to be seen as a cheater. We are allowed to make assumptions about your character because we disagree with you about your whole identity.

Discrimination takes this form over and over and over. It is the assertion that one group is the superior group, and that other groups are required to follow their normative standards. Once again, it takes individual ownership of identity and subjugates it to a dominant group. The dominant group has a collective identity - that of winners, superiors, and leaders - that is distinctly threatened with the inclusion of different identities.

Ultimately, the individual's expressed gender is their true gender, and equality means they have the right to compete as they identify. Sometimes rules change to level the playing field, because sometimes players change the game. Rather than being shamed out of competition, we should be ensuring equitable competition and discussing trans-athletes' contributions to sport as a whole. Discussing an athlete's physical traits is about as intrusive and asinine as you can get, considering the sheer variation in physical size among athletes in general. If athletes are willing to compete with and against one another, then why are we having external conversations about it? It seems like this is a conversation to be had within sports, among athletes, and with deference to the quality of competition rather than personal opinions on gender identity.

This is a great philosophical topic and everything, but we encourage you to actually meet people who are open to discussing their personal experiences transitioning and living their expressed gender. There are tactful ways of doing this, and it involves becoming friends first, building trust, respecting the person, and then engaging in meaningful conversation - though by the time you do that, you probably won't be questioning their gender.

What percentage of mammograms done in America are done by Planned Parenthood?

Are you pro-choice or pro-abortion? If it’s pro-choice, do you feel people should be able to choose to have an assault weapon, what kind of light bulb they use in their house or whether they’d like to put their Social Security funds into a private retirement account?

Ohhh, I see. We’re not going to dignify this one. Pro-choice is a women’s rights issue. You know that. Don't equivocate.

If we change God’s definition of marriage to make gay marriage legal, then what’s the logical argument against polygamy or even adult siblings supposed to be?

Well. Let's get into it.

Genesis 19:1-11

Ezekiel 16:49

Leviticus 18:22

Leviticus 20:13

Romans 1:26-27

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

1 Timothy 1:9-11

Now, it should be noted that these links lead to passages from the New International Version (NIV) Bible, which is arguably more conservative, and modern, in its translation (it specifically calls out homosexuality). And that's important. Let's look at 1 Timothy...

From the NIV:

9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

And from the King James:

9 Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,

10 For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;

11 According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.

But there are at least 26 interpretations of this same passage among different version of the Bible, using any host of meanings, as can be found here.

The word being translated as either "them that defile themselves with mankind" or "homosexuality" is the Greek arsenokoites, which has its own issues you can read about here.

We're going into detail here not because we're trying to squirm our way out of this interpretation, but because, regardless of historical context, over time the accepted definition has come to be homosexuality. Also, we are indeed more than willing to do our fair bit of Bible scholarship when these issues come up, because we can't just discount the religious beliefs of some 65% of American adults, though this number has been shrinking.

Modern interpretation and the modern Christian population are intertwined. Those who remain in the church, steadfast in their beliefs, are more likely to modernize the interpretation of the Bible to understand the contemporary world. And that makes sense. But this is as much a fault as it is a testament to faith. We often interpret faith as the pursuit of purity, to withhold our impulses and to avoid sin. And when we see others sinning, that opposition to sin should come from a good place: a Christian belief that in spite of sin, the world is worth saving, but to be saved one must renounce sin. When modern scripture explicitly calls out the sin of homosexuality, we are thus compelled to renounce it.

But that is the individual's responsibility. Galatians 6 offers some insight to this burden on the individual, and the interpretation from The Voice Bible, we think, clearly lays out some ground rules:

6 My spiritual brothers and sisters, if one of our faithful has fallen into a trap and is snared by sin, don’t stand idle and watch his demise. Gently restore him, being careful not to step into your own snare. 2 Shoulder each other’s burdens, and then you will live as the law of the Anointed teaches us. 3 Don’t take this opportunity to think you are better than those who slip because you aren’t; then you become the fool and deceive even yourself. 4 Examine your own works so that if you are proud, it will be because of your own accomplishments and not someone else’s. 5 Each person has his or her own burden to bear and story to write.

This passage is important because of its warning, telling us "not to step into your own snare." And that is where we find ourselves when religion and sexuality intertwine - stepping into the personal sins that prevent us from gentle restoration. Are we mad at homosexuality? Are we wrathful? Disgusted? Are we judgmental? Do we purposely tighten our own snares as a matter of politics - thinking we are better, or that we know better, and that we should cement our superiority in law by restricting the actions of others? How can we at once shoulder each other's burdens while at the same time acknowledging that each person has his or her own burden to bear? Because regardless of your disapproval of homosexuality, it is no greater a sin than gluttony, avarice, or pride. Those burdens are distributed evenly, but you carry your own, just like I carry my own. Only I can account for my sins, and only you for yours.

There is no law written by humans that can absolve a person of their sins. Banning same-sex marriage has no effect on homosexuality as a whole, but in that pride, in thinking that you are better than those who slip, you have trespassed against another, attempting to judge rather than restore. And in that trespass is a host of consequences, intended or not, for the other party. Discrimination is not a holy nor a sacred act.

And that leads us to the examples of polygamy and incest - two things that are at once happening right now in the world. We can't stop it. And, because of our rather broad interpretation of individual rights, we don't really have any logical, nonreligious arguments against two or more consenting adults, well, consenting. This isn't some cutesy "look at these Bible verses I found so you're wrong" post. I was raised in the church. I have never read anything in the Bible that suggests either I or you have any right to judge the actions of others, nor do we share any obligation to obstruct the paths of others. We are meant to live in the world in spite of the world, not to halt its progress or hold others to account.

Lastly - the wording of this question is important - if we change God's law - because it implies that the State's law is God's law, which simply is not the case. The State has no religion, and the two are meant to be distinctly separate. Gay marriage is not a reinterpretation of God's law, it is an expansion of the laws of the State. The State cannot force your church to perform ceremonies that violate your beliefs, but the State can, and should, recognize those unions as valid and legal. Now, when you get into the case of gay cakes and contraception, we've taken the argument of Church and State into the abstract, invoking the rights of the Church into the actions of the Corporation in an attempt to shield it from the State. We argue that this is dangerous ground for the Church, as the Corporation has no god but profits. We ask you to consider how strongly a Corporation can hold their religious convictions when weighed against the promise of more profits. Should contraception be incentivized - tax breaks, subsidies - what is the likelihood that we would see an ideological shift in how the Corporation views its role? Should the economy tank, how likely are we to see a principled baker reject a sale based on religious belief? On the flip-side - what does the State expect of the Church in exchange for its recognition?

This is all to say, again, we grew up in the Church, and then we abandoned it. We felt that, after a lifetime of church services, people heard what they wanted to hear. We stopped judging people a long time ago - like, probably the first time we learned that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. How could Christian adults be disgusted by the people Jesus hung out with? We never understood it. The conservatism of Christianity literally makes no sense to us - Jesus was definitely a socialist. That's what we got from church.