Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Bathroom Bill Conunndrum

There exists in politics, a loss-condition where one party is forced into taking and defending an untenable position because they cannot profess the real issue. We've seen this in the anti-gays-in-the-military position where people cite "Unit Cohesion" as the 'real problem' instead of "gays are icky." When faced with military forces in the real world (Israel, Canada) that have effective and integrated militaries the person is forced to argue some kind of "American exceptionalism" which boils down to "Well, Bob, Americans are more racist than Canadians and Israelis."

We also see this in the Defense-Of-Marriage position where the argument is not that gay-marriage is icky but rather that we should not redefine the word marriage. It turns out that polling supports not-redefining the word over "gays are icky" but it quickly leads to a bizarre series of arguments wherein it is made to appear that the sanctity of the dictionary is what must be defended at all costs.

It's no coincidence that these blind alleys are seen on social conservative issues: Social Conservatives usually have arguments that are either religion-based or tradition-based--wherein the tradition is possibly unsavory.

The problem with using a religious argument is that young people are more and more unchurched (and, to be fair, the various churches have made some serious missteps in dealing with large-scale policies). The problem with tradition is that today most people recognize that the halcyon-days of America's past (the 40s-60s) were, in fact, pretty racist and sexist (see Mad Men)--but then demanding that the cultural artifacts of that time be respected has a paradox problem (The Confederate flag is a symbol of proud southern heritage--a heritage that came from a slave-holding way of life and a rebellion against the United States government and Abraham Lincoln!).

Today? Bathroom politics.

Bathroom Politics

In case you've been under a rock, Bathroom Politics refers to the culture war that has erupted over North Carolina's transgender law. Here's what happened:
  1. Charlotte NC passed a law allowing transgender people to use whichever bathroom they identify with.
  2. This sparked immediate controversy and outrage and the North Carolina government hit back with a counter-law that effectively nullified the Charlotte ordinance and required citizens to use the bathroom of their gender on their birth certificate.
  3. As the battle raged and various celebrities canceled concerts--and businesses threatened pull-outs, Obama issued a statement that said public schools should allow students to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with.
  4. This, predictably, has fanned the flames even higher.
 The conspiracy theory that Obama is acting so as to provoke the right into a battle it can't win is attractive--but it is unlikely. For one thing, bathroom bills were, until a little while ago, a turn-out formula for the right. A good bathroom bill on the ballot was a technique to ensure social conservative voters (and a lot of other people) got to the polls to vote against it.

Secondly, the idea that Obama would only weigh in here out of a wish to increase the temperature is short-sighted. Everything Obama does creates polarization (including giving--or NOT giving--ABM technology to American allies). The idea that he would try to corner the right on this is possibly plausible--but unnecessary.

The right is already cornered on this.

The Bathroom Paradox

The problem with the Bathroom Bill is that (a) the real issue is a problem with acceptance of Transgendered people (either because it is felt they are counter to 'reality' or because they are seen as gross--or both) and (b) the battlefield that has been chosen is the unlikely--but visceral--image of pedophiles using the bill to get into women's bathrooms to molest girls.

In other words, the issue is a social one--but because it isn't (presently) socially acceptable to speak badly of transgendred people in the context of a political forum, the approach has to be that this law is bad for kids in the least likely and creepiest way possible.

Now, to be clear: this isn't the only argument.

The Left Struck First! (Religious Freedom)

In this formula The Left opened fire on churches and religious organizations by explicitly refusing the compromise of allowing them an exemption and they are trying desperately to defend themselves:

The problem with this is that it doesn't appear to have been part of the conversation (i.e. that people would be okay with it had it exempted churches). Franklin Graham called it 'Wicked and filthy' for letting pedophiles into the girl's room.

Acceptance of Transgendered People Erodes Society

The link is to Reaxxion--but make no mistake: this view is far more prevalent in society than you might think. Acceptance of transgendered people is seen by social conservatives as a slide into decadence and a 1984-style rewriting of "reality" to suit ideological biases. Even that link (to a reactionary blog) doesn't advocate violence against people who are transgendered (although that is certainly what happens to them)--but it maintains society must disapprove and disprove them.

The problem with this is that we, as a society, have moved in a direction of "acceptance so long as it isn't hurting anyone." The appeal to the social equivalent of "second hand smoke" is unproven and unconvincing. Trying to sell people on that is either done by tautology (in which case you only make sense to the already converted) or by vague appeals to slippery slopes and pointing to the great decadent Canadian empire as what could possibly befall us if we move an inch further left.

Acceptance of Transgendered People is Acceptance of a Sin

A lot of people hold that as biological gender is assigned by God and the bible isn't kind to cross-dressing, that transgendered people are sinning and society should not support them in this. This is probably more prevalent than a lot of people would like to think. There are a great deal of religious positions that, in more progressive venues (such as the news) usually don't get explicitly stated--but underlie lots of apparently secular policy positions.

The problem here is that all kinds of things we do that have social acceptance are either arguably or definitely sins. Holding that we should have policy and social disapproval of one kind of sin vs. another sin which the majority prefers isn't a winning position. Everyone knows it--so the driver mostly stays hidden.

All of this gets us back to the children.

The Problem With The Children

The good thing about the predators-in-the-girl's-room argument is that parents are, yes, squicked. Some women are squicked. No woman wants a bunch of guys parading around in their bathroom. The bad thing is that these bills seem totally unlikely to produce this kind of scenario. It leads to this:
CHRIS MATTHEWS (HOST): Travis, tell Jenny what bathroom she should use. 
MATTHEWS: Which one should she use? 
WEBER: Yeah, I mean I’m not sure, um -- 
MATTHEWS: Well just answer that question. 
WEBER: I think people should be -- 
MATTHEWS: She said she would not be comfortable or not cause such problem if she walked into a men’s room. Should she walk into a men’s room? 
WEBER: I think we can do things the way we’ve done them for decades, and people could use bathrooms according to biological sex with specific accommodation made for people who have a genuine issue. If we look at the North Carolina law, it made an accommodation. People are not happy with that, however. And now the Obama administration -- 
MATTHEWS: Let’s just talk about transgender people. What should a transgender person who identifies as a woman do? What bathroom should they go to? Just keep it simple. 
WEBER: Yeah well there’s an issue of privacy concerns. 
MATTHEWS: See no, you can’t answer the question, can you? What should they do? 
WEBER: They can use the bathroom of their biological sex, except when there's a genuine issue and an accommodation can be made.
When faced with a transgendered person who clearly presents as female, the anti-trans position has to hold that she should walk into a men's room. The opposite--that some very, erm, manly looking men should, because their birth certificate says W, walk into the women's room is obviously going to create more problems than it solves.

What people can't say is that some people--especially while transitioning--pass for a specific gender better than others--and that people who really care are going to be looking a lot closer than people who don't. This creates specific situations which have nothing (or little) to do with the larger issues.

We don't seem to be able to acknowledge that seeing someone who looks ambiguous (or less than ambiguous) in the "wrong" restroom makes us uncomfortable even if they are just going about their business. The reason we can't acknowledge that is because we now, as a society, know that's the wrong position.

Headscarves make us uncomfortable (for some values of "us"). Hoodies make us uncomfortable (for some values of "us"). Tattoos. Cut off shirts. Motorcycles and leather jackets--all these things are cultural signifiers which can make people who are not familiar with them feel out of place or even threatened.

Just the same, the surgeon who saves your life might have a bunch of tattoos. Even worse, "we" might have adopted some cultural signifiers that we wouldn't want to be judged for. That whole game is dangerous these days.

So we go to the children and the specter of child rapists. If The Omnivore wanted to be concern-trolly, he would speculate that crying wolf about these guys is worse for society than any transgendered person could be--but that's all immaterial. What's key here is that already the battle has moved from the "gets conservative voters to the polls" to "gets politicians cornered."

That's the current state of play and the reliance on doomsday scenarios that are laughable is only illustrating that--not causing it.

1 comment:

  1. Oh holy shit. What a bunch of fucking dick-headed assholes.
    Frankly, as outrageously offensive as this recent bullshit by the NC GOP-controlled legislature is, it pales in comparison (imho) to the codification of discrimination they've managed to slime into the state's constitution back during the 2012 primary-season. Threw the vote to the public during a hot GOP primary contest and a non-existent DEM contest.
    That isn't what I call Democracy. American? yes. Living up the the spirit of Democracy? Hell no. It definitely does NOT a valid representation of state whole population.
    I can only hope that this incessant overreach motivates the all-too-often lazy liberal electorate in the state to get the hell out and vote these bastards out of office. It's such a nice state. Really sucks that these jackasses are causing so much reputation-damage.