For those of you following this year’s Indiana Bigotry Parade, SB35 – the “bathroom bill” which sought to criminalize transgender and intersex people using the bathroom that is safest for them – has been replaced by another bill: HB1079. This happened with SB100 and SB344 which are religious freedom bills wrapped in the wording of LGB(now absent T) protections. It’s a shell game.
Tens of thousands of Hoosiers are being singled out for this treatment specifically by fanatics who use disinformation and fear-mongering to advance their effort to erase people like me from their reality. They’re playing an overall losing game, but while the decades drag on toward a more just society, the human toll of this culture war mounts. Despite Chicken Little cries of queer recruiting in schools, storms of G-d’s retribution, traditional marriage’s ruination, and the cast of Bosom Buddies’ state-sanctioned raping of girls and women in bathrooms, these things are wholly delusional fictions. However, it does create a social condition that is ever more hostile to LGBT people. Our attempted suicide rates are over 40%, about half of all homeless youth are LGBT, and rampant discrimination in employment and housing make for intolerable conditions for many. This isn’t about bathrooms, it’s about understanding or the lack thereof.
Enshrining special protections for some people to use the guise of “deeply held religious beliefs” to further marginalize, bully, discriminate, and even criminalize people cannot be accepted by a civilized society. And yet, here we are. Everyone still in my life is in agreement, and I’m grateful, but we all have people in our lives who are swayed by the rhetoric of exclusion, and deceived by pious lies. They just don’t know any better.
We have to educate them, and most want to learn.
As an example: I had foot surgery this past week. As distressing as the possible outcomes were, my greatest anxiety came from knowing how people like me have been treated by healthcare professionals and hospital staff. Refusal of treatment and ridicule are not uncommon experiences. Before the Anesthesiologist came in, the intake nurse stood at the foot of my gurney to go over medical history and current condition questions and I waited for it. “Are you, or is there any chance that you could be, pregnant?” she asked. My sex and gender had never come up, but this is the point when benign situations can change. I replied that I was not nor could I be pregnant. “How can you be sure? Have you had a hysterectomy or is there some other condition?”
Let me say now that for a trans woman to be asked these questions can be simultaneously affirming, scary, and sad. The nurse had assumed that I was no different from the next woman, but I was going to have to out myself if I wanted to be honest. So I explained to her confused stare what I am. “Well, what does that mean?” came her honest, curious, and thankfully non-hostile question. She then sat with me, grilling me in the best way about intersex and transgender definitions and issues. She said that she’d been a nurse for 20-some years, and though she had patients who were trans and gender non-conforming and had heard about people “with both parts,” she really didn’t know anything about it.
You might find it hard to believe that a nurse with decades in a hospital setting would have not had any real medically sound knowledge of intersex or trans folks. Unfortunately, it’s still the norm. I’ve had GPs and Endocrinologists who thought that intersex people were only those with chromosomal anomalies and that transgender people just decide to make the change one day like it was switching from Coke to Pepsi, which is no more sophisticated an understanding than that of the average person. If doctors responsible for treating people don’t have a clue, how can we expect our colleagues and neighbors and families to know?
Sure, the universe of information is a Google search from them, but if that really worked as an avenue to enlightenment, we’d all be walking encyclopedias on every issue. There is a thirst for knowledge that we need to quench before someone else delivers the poisoned draught, and they’ve already bought the first couple of rounds. Clearing the fog of ignorance won’t be easy, it’s painful and tedious and requires us to have done our homework. We’re going to have to counter old, discredited, and simply bizarre arguments and face uncomfortable invasions of our privacy that would never happen to anyone else. I’d like to thank all of the allies who do this education work, as it’s possibly even better received from your mouths.
Melanie Davis is a mother and LGBTIQ activist in Bloomington, IN.