You get to be the sex you think you are (and everybody else has to acknowledge it).
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A PGP can change as often as one likes. If the pronouns in the dictionary don’t suffice, there are numerous made-up ones now in use, including “ze,” “hir,” and “hirs,” words that connote both genders because, as Katy explained, “Maybe one day you wake up and feel more like a boy.”
Butler is lucky enough to live in the anything-goes enclave of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Out in the hinterlands the idea that a newly chosen “gender identity and expression” must be tolerated at all times does not always go down so well. Men who have recently decided they are women, for example, and show up at work wearing a dress have been fired or been harassed until they quit. There have been a number of savage attacks on trans people who attempted to use the public restroom corresponding to their gender identity.
Enter what the New Republic last year called “America’s Next Great Civil Rights Struggle,” the struggle to end discrimination against transsexuals in housing, the workplace—and eventually any other place a trial lawyer can discover it. Sixteen states (plus D.C.) and 143 cities or counties have added “gender identity or expression” to their protected categories lists—alongside the usual race, religion, gender (the other kind of gender), age, and disability. A more subtle but telling sign that more states will probably add the new category is the news that 207 major corporations (places like Coca-Cola, Apple, Chevron, Kellogg, and Best Buy) now offer insurance covering the cost of full-scale “transitions.” According to 2011 numbers collected by the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Corporate Equity Index, this is an increase “from just 85 a year earlier.” When HRC began following the issue a decade ago, no corporations covered the surgery.
A number of recent gender identity discrimination cases have been settled in the plaintiffs’ favor. If Johnny is hired as a paper pusher, and then starts to come to work as Jane, and then is fired, his lawsuit for workplace discrimination and wrongful termination is relatively straightforward, because the defendants cannot usually prove the sex change affected the job of paper pusher.
Things get murkier when a workplace has established a “Bona Fide Occupational Qualification” to justify hiring only males or only females. Yes, there are jobs where one can still discriminate. Take “urine monitors”—the people who would watch you pee into a cup if you went for a drug test.
El’Jai Devoureau is currently embroiled in a gender discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, Urban Treatment Centers of Camden, New Jersey. Devoureau, a fortysomething who claims to have been dressing as a man for years, to have had years of hormone therapy and some kind of surgery which she/he has so far been very opaque about, and who even has a “male” driver’s license, applied for the male-only job but was fired after two days because Devoureau’s supervisor said rumors were going around that she/he was not a man. Devoureau, who wears long corn rows, sports a wispy beard, and looks a bit like the ’80s singer Terence Trent D’Arby, said, “But I am a man.” The supervisor said something to the effect of, “Um, we don’t think so.” And the standoff began. The case has thus begun its crawl through the New Jersey court system. More evidence to support Devoureau’s claim may have to be…er, unveiled to support Devoureau’s claim—but maybe not. As the New York Times says, the outcome could turn on “the question of what is a man.” It could certainly be precedent-setting.
WHAT I FIND REALLY ODD about this “new Civil Rights movement” is that it’s happening now—after decades of struggle over the boundaries of sex roles and a great expansion of norms. As one of the online commenters to the New Republic’s “Great New Civil Rights Struggle” article put it, “Isn’t the trans-sexual phenomenon at heart conservative? Instead of enlarging the range of human behavior, it narrows the options down to ‘girls act one way and boys another so if you act one way, you have to be trapped in the wrong gender’s body.’ ”
But exactly. As a sign of how far we have come, there is a film, Alfred Nobbs, currently in theaters. It’s about a 19th century woman “living as a man” apparently because she seeks the love of women. But in 2012 no woman has to dress as a man in order to openly partner with another woman. (Well, in most parts of the country!) No woman has to attempt to “pass” as a man to take a job on a highway crew, or to enter a training program for fighter jet pilots.
Another curiously retrograde part: Once they “transition” many transgenders become the most devout standard-bearers for sex stereotypes. “When you discuss what the patient means by ‘feeling like a woman’ you often get a sex stereotype in return—something that woman physicians note immediately is a male caricature of women’s attitudes and interests,” Paul McHugh wrote. “One of our patients, for example, said that, as a woman, he would be more ‘invested with being than with doing.’”
“Ever since I became a woman, I just can’t do math anymore,” trills the main source in the New Republic’s “Civil Rights” article.
Chaz Bono is now infamous for having become a walking sexist-comment-machine. (“I can be a a-hole; I can be insensitive.…There is something in testosterone that makes talking and gossiping really grating.…I’ve stopped talking as much. I’ve noticed that [my girlfriend] can talk endlessly.…I got way more gadget-oriented.…Definitely since transitioning I’ve wanted to be up on the latest, coolest toy.”)
Accordingly, Warren Beatty’s oldest child (who started life as Kathlyn but is known, after hormone treatments, as “Stephen Ira Beatty”) has taken to excoriating Bono from her blog, with flamers like: “I don’t want any rich white trans guy…telling the media that testosterone made him a misogynist…he has some deep-seated misogyny to work through.”
If your head is spinning with all this gender-bending, join the club. But keep in mind that there is one reference point that will hold steady like the North Star: With this new category of victim slouching toward Bethlehem to be born, the trial lawyers are girding happily. I await the day a male-to-female trans applies for a job at Hooters.