The school was far more regimented than either of the previous grade schools I had attended. There were rules and assigned times for everything. We were sent to the restroom at three specific times each day, for instance. And my new bullies singled me out for taunting and humiliation every single restroom break.
I didn’t want to explain what was happening. Previous incidents of being bullied by other kids had always resulted in my dad yelling at and beating me for being a pushover. When I attempted to stand up for myself as he’d said, I got in trouble at school, which resulted in more yelling and beating. So I couldn’t let my parents know what was happening in the bathroom. And I knew I couldn’t let the teachers know, because eventually they would inform my parents.
So I stopped going to the bathroom.
I convinced my mom to let me walk home for lunch instead of eating at the school cafeteria. I don’t remember how I convinced my parents, but I did. I used the restroom at home in the middle of the day. At school, when we were marched off at our appointed times midmorning and midafternoon, I would loiter outside the restroom until we were collected and taken out to recess. Since I was eating at home, I skipped the midday restroom trip. I changed my drinking habits. I stopped using the drinking fountain at school, because if I didn’t drink water I wouldn’t need to pee as often. And so on.
I managed to avoid going into the restroom at that school almost entirely for the rest of the time we lived in that town. I still got bullied on the playground, in the classroom, and so forth. But because teachers were always nearby, the kind of bullying that happened was slightly less horrible that what could happen when a bunch of the mean boys had you trapped in a room that the adults seemed to never enter.
When we moved to a tiny town in Wyoming next, I wasn’t able to avoid the restrooms. The town we moved to didn’t have a school, so we rode a bus to a town almost an hour’s drive away. I can still remember how scared I was at what would happen the first time I went into that school’s bathroom. That school was less regimented, so I as usually able to get by with only one trip per day, and I could time it so I wasn’t using the restroom when a lot of the other boys were. Similarly with the town back in Colorado but near the Kansas border that we moved to for the last part of my third grade. And the next town, and the next.
Even when I was in high school, I learned to avoid certain bathrooms and certain times of the day. Because yes, even in my teen years, there were guys ready and eager to demonstrate to the class faggots just how despised we were, and the boy’s restroom was a place that they could do so with impunity.
I’m not trans. I don’t pretend to speak on behalf of the trans community. But I am very familiar with that cold fear that strikes like a fist in the gut when walking into a public restroom and someone looks at you in a less than friendly way. I’m a grown ass man in my mid-fifties, and there are still moments of anxiety any time I am in a public restroom and there are other people in there with me. There are little checklists that part of my brain runs through. Am I behaving the way I’m supposed to? Is this person going to interpret something I do in the wrong way?
Heck, part of me still freaks out if a straight co-worker strikes up a conversation in the restroom at the office! Making eye contact or saying anything to the wrong guys was the surest way to get bullied when I was a kid, and it doesn’t matter how many years ago that was, the conditioned reflexes are still there—the surge of stress hormones and keying up of fight or flight response happens every time.
So these bills and court fights about where or whether trans people can use restrooms at school and other public accommodations strike close to home. I get really upset that people think keep portraying the queer people as the dangerous ones in public restrooms.
Everyone needs to eat, drink, breathe, and yes, people also need to pee from time to time. We have public restrooms for that. A number of places in our country have had laws and policies that explicitly allow people to use the restroom of the gender they identify with for many years, and there has never, not once, been an incident of a trans or otherwise queer person using those policies to assault anyone in a restroom. The only incidents of people going into a restroom to harass women have been straight anti-gay people doing it to try to make headlines in order to justify these bathroom bills or to yell at a woman who doesn’t want to sign their anti-trans petition.
This isn’t about privacy. It isn’t about protecting women or girls. It is about making it impossible for trans people to exist in public spaces at all. It is about punishing trans and gender non-conforming people. It is about giving bigots an excuse to harass queer people or anyone who seems maybe a little queer.
Let’s start with the first one: why should disagreements keep us from being friends? It depends entirely on the disagreement. My husband and I have been together for 18 years, and we love each other very much. We are also both very geeky nerds who are both fairly well informed on a variety of topics ranging from astrophysics to the old Donald Duck comic books. You can bet there are things we disagree about, and sometimes our discussions get very spirited. In 2008 you should have heard us debating whether to support Obama or Clinton in our upcoming caucus meeting, for instance.
If you think that I don’t deserve equal rights before the law, if you vote for measures to take my civil rights away, if you vote for candidates who have prayed openly that gays deserve death (almost the entire Republican Congressional Caucus just months ago), if you insist in the face of overwhelming medical evidence that being non-heterosexual is a matter of choice or mental illness, you aren’t my friend. And it isn’t even a matter of me not wanting to be your friend: you aren’t being a friend to any queer people by doing those things.
There are some medical studies that ultra-conservatives frequently misquote that draw a causal link between the discrimination and pervasive prejudice against queer people and negative health outcomes. We’ve known since George H.W. Bush’s surgeon general released the first of many other studies that there is a causal link between societal prejudice against queer people and teen suicide (about 1500 queer and non-gendering conforming children and teen-agers commit suicide every year because they are bullied, told that being queer is a sin, et cetera). Discrimination kills.
It’s not just the actual gay bashers who harm us, it’s the anti-gay attitudes and misinformation. Also, nice conservatives who claim that they don’t hate anyone, but also say that queer people don’t deserve legal rights, that our identities are sins, et cetera, create an atmosphere that encourages and excuses the violence.
So, no, when what we disagree about is our right to exist and live our lives as we wish, we can’t be friends. No one should feel obligated to cozy up to people who are actually hurting you. You can be civil to one another, but we’re not going to be friends.
I confess that I find it very hard to keep a straight face when religious conservatives claim that society is no longer a safe place merely because they’re no longer allowed to discriminate against other people, or to spout off their bigotry without someone disagreeing with them. For literally centuries society hasn’t been a safe place for queer people, or for people who don’t subscribe to the dominant religion, or for people who are the wrong ethnicity, et cetera. People were bashed, and lynched, and denied a place to live, denied health care, and so forth—often with the blessings of laws passed by conservative religious people. And you don’t feel safe because people disagree with you?
If people are actually threatening you, that’s bad. I am very sorry, and when I hear that kind of talk I do speak up. But the simple fact is that no one on my side is proposing laws to take away your rights. No one on my side is calling for laws to criminalize your sexuality. And some of the people who are currently asking for compromise and middle ground are the same people (literally in two very specific cases that I could name) who were actively trying to prevent hate crime laws being enacted, or trying to prevent civil union laws being enacting (a decade ago), or voting for candidates who literally were calling for gay men to be put into so-called quarantine camps (in the ’90s).
They are the same people who this year are trying to enact the anti-trans bathroom bills.
Me saying that you’re being a bigot when you call my sexual orientation a sin is not the equivalent of you supporting laws making it illegal for some people to go into public restrooms. Nor is it the equivalent of making it a crime for my husband and I to have sex even in the privacy of our own home. So the middle ground isn’t where you get to actually discriminate against me, and I have to listen respectfully when you express opinions that those laws and their rationales are right.
If you want to end the war between queer people and religious people, here’s what you do: stop attacking queer people, stop rationalizing discrimination, and stop defending the people who attack us. Because we aren’t actively attacking you. What you are perceiving as attack is a little thing called self-defense. We’re just trying to ward off the constant and pervasive and insidious grind of anti-gay rhetoric disguised as pro-family or traditional values.
If you don’t want to be called a bigot, stop being one. There are millions of religious people—people in your religion, whichever it is—who don’t believe that queers are evil demonic beings.
I am friends with religious people. I am friends with conservative people. We don’t agree on everything. We can get into very spirited debates about some of the things we disagree about. But they don’t tell me that I don’t have the right to live my life as an openly queer man. They don’t tell me that it should be illegal for me to live my life as an openly queer man. They don’t tell me that it should be legal for me to be fired, or denied housing, or denied services, or denied medical care, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. They aren’t sending queer children off to conversion therapy to be tortured. They aren’t demanding that books and movies should have warning labels merely for including any queer characters at all. They aren’t telling me that children should be protected from even knowing of the existence of queer people. They don’t tell me that “I don’t hate gay people—it isn’t your fault that you’re mentally diseased.”
To be friends, there has to be mutual respect. If you think that god is going to destroy this country for treating me equally under the law, you don’t respect me, and you’re not my friend. And yes, there is something wrong with that situation, but it isn’t me.
Re-posting this link from a recent Friday Links post, because it’s very relevant: On Peace Between Christians and GBLT People.
I’ve got lots of errands to do today and a Camp NaNoWriMo project to get back to, but one story that made it into yesterday’s Friday Links definitely needs a follow up: Attorney General: People ‘duped’ by religious freedom law. So, late Thursday night a federal judge struck down Mississippi’s so-called religious freedom law. He ruled that the law actually establishes a state religion, by very specifically protected some religious beliefs and overriding the beliefs of those who feel differently.
Mississippi has only one state-wide Democratic politician, the Attorney General, and he issued a press release explains why his office isn’t sure it will appeal. The Attorney General’s office did defend the law against the challenge, but as he points out, appealing the law can cost a lot of money over a period of years:
“I will have to think long and hard about spending taxpayer money to appeal the case… An appeal could cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example, North Carolina has set aside $500,000 for defense of its bathroom law. Even if we won and the injunction were set aside on appeal, the case would be remanded and proceed to trial over about two years. Because of the huge tax breaks handed out to big corporations by these same leaders, the state is throwing mentally ill patients out on the street. This is hardly protecting the least among us as Jesus directed.”
But he also essentially says that the judge ruled properly, because the law doesn’t actually protect religious freedom:
“The fact is that the churchgoing public was duped into believing that HB1523 protected religious freedoms. Our state leaders attempted to mislead pastors into believing that if this bill were not passed, they would have to preside over gay wedding ceremonies. No court case has ever said a pastor did not have discretion to refuse to marry any couple for any reason. I hate to see politicians continue to prey on people who pray, go to church, follow the law and help their fellow man.”
Because it’s Mississippi, you know that the only reason a Democrat got elected Attorney General is because he leans further to the right the most Democrats (I need to write a post about the fact that we don’t have a liberal party in this country; the Democrats are slightly right of center being more conservative that most the the population, and the Republicans are super-super-far-rightwing being more conservative that a substantial number of their loyal voters), and the only way he can talk about this law and have any hope of future electoral success is to emphasize his own Christian beliefs.
But that’s the point that needs to be hammered home: the laws and the issues that people are wailing and gnashing their teeth about under the label of religious freedom aren’t even consistent with the teachings of the religion they’re trying to defend. Not only do the laws not preserve freedom, but they’re contrary to the teachings of Christ:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
Jesus didn’t say, “If a same-sex couple asks you to do your job and issue them a marriage license, declare them unclean and turn them away,” he said “Give to the one who asks you.” And these folks who are proclaiming their belief in Jesus as the reason they refuse to sell cakes, or give out licenses, or allow a trans kid to use the bathroom, might want to review Matthew chapter 6, where Jesus says not to make a big show of your religion, and that the people who do that aren’t going to be going to heaven, but somewhere else…
ETA: As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, speaking as a former evangelical, btw: ‘Fessing up, part 2.
I get so tired of reading the melodramatic laments for the good old days. You know what? It was only peaceful and happy if you lived in the right neighborhoods, had the right skin color, went to socially approved churches, hid away your true self for fear of being beaten to death for being gay (for instance). And also, if you weren’t a man, it was only peaceful and happy so long as you had the protection of a man who wasn’t a wife-beater, et cetera.
The funny thing is, despite what these people have been led to believe, crime rates of all kinds in the U.S. are lower than they have been for more than 150 years. So, maybe these folks need to stop watching Fox News and reading and believing every email from their friends about the latest outrage against “real americans.”
Also, if god didn’t “withdraw his protection” from the U.S. over incidents like intentionally infecting Native American women and children with small pox (which was not the most horrible thing we did to Native Americans), then he sure as heck isn’t going to do so now simply because we’re going to give a few more people equal rights.
I love my country. I literally get tears in my eyes when I play songs such as the old Kate Smith recording of “God Bless America.” I will go on and on about why Thomas Jefferson is my favorite Founding Father (with very specific examples), or why James Madison is my second favorite. I support liberal politicians because I am patriotic and I want my country to live up to the ideals expressed in those founding documents about liberty and justice. We aren’t there yet, by a long shot. But we keep getting closer. We keep getting better.
And at every step along the way, we have gotten better over the objections of people who claimed that the Bible forbids women to have equal rights; or the bible says slaves should be happy to be owned, used, and abused like cattle; or the bible says that the races should be kept separate; or the bible says that gay people are abominations. The bible doesn’t quite say most of those things, but it most definitely says that left-handed people are abominations (mentioned 25 separate times, as opposed to the 3 mentions of same sex activities, and the 4 other mentions of things we aren’t quite sure what the original writer meant but in very modern translations have been twisted to be about homosexuality). Funny, no one is calling for us to pray for god’s forgiveness that we don’t criminalize the left-handed.
I’m not saying you don’t have a right to your beliefs. I am also well aware that there are many christians who don’t feel that invoking the bible should give them a free pass to oppress, discriminate against, and vilify whole swaths of the population.
I am saying that, if you feel the need to constantly decry and lament the fact that I now have the legal right to marry my husband, or campaign against my legal right not to get fired just for being gay, or my legal right to buy things at stores open to the public without being refused just because I’m gay, then you are not my friend. This isn’t about me rejecting you, it is a statement of fact. You are actively engaged in trying to take away my rights. You are actively engaged in trying to hurt me.
Friends don’t do that.
And if you feel the need to consistently insist that god is going to punish this land for no other reason than the civil laws have finally started to recognize gay people as actual people who have the same rights as everyone else, you are also not my friend. Again, this isn’t about me rejecting you. You are saying that me living my life as a productive member of society—not hurting anyone else, just refusing to hide who I love—is somehow so terrible that it justifies the creator of the entire universe ignoring everything else happening on trillions of planets circling billions of stars in the millions and millions of galaxies in the known universe and wipe out a country? My existence is so awful, that the creator of the entire universe is going to punish everyone (including babies and animals and other living things that have done nothing wrong) by wiping us out? If you think my existence is that terrible, that is neither love or respect. And again, friends don’t think that way about people they actually love and respect.
Keep posting those hurtful, hateful things. I’m not going to stop you or call you names. But I’m also not going to sit here and keep reading rants that say these horrible things about me and people like me. I’m not going to silently let you salve your conscience with the occasional assurance that you still love me, sandwiched between your posts about what an abomination I am. Or what heroes people who discriminate against people like me are.
That isn’t love.
And you don’t get to say those kinds of things and still call yourself my friend.