The story about the group of trans women who supposedly went topless on Rehoboth Beach in Delaware ("supposedly" because no one's talked to them and the only people saying they did are the cops) has now been picked up by several other media sources. When I posted about the story on Monday, only a police-scanner blog and a local rightwing hate radio show had picked up on the story. Now it's been in two state papers, The Advocate, the local NBC affiliate, NBC's national site, on the AP wire, and dozens of other media.
It's interesting for me to be following the news this closely right now and to see how these stories come together (or not). My original complaint was that misgendering the subjects of the story makes it utterly incoherent, and the only media organization that used the appropriate gender indicators here was The Advocate. None of them have noted that only two trans women in the group had breast implants, according to police, and the state paper that published the applicable snippets of local code didn't bother to ask police what would happen if trans men, with or without top surgery, would be allowed to go shirtless on the beach.
That's the media. More people have been talking about this story, and it seems less like anyone's trying to enforce puritanical and sexist laws about who can go topless and who can't at the beach and more like people are working through their own discomfort with people's bodies that are different from their own.
Banks said police only enforce the laws and want to make sure that people who visit the beach are comfortable. Police have not had previous problems with this kind of behavior, and there is no need for a specific law to address it, Banks said.
What about the comfort of the trans women on the beach? Fortunately, the police haven't released their names so the media can't hound them, but if men are more comfortable going topless then there's no reason to believe that some women wouldn't be more comfortable as well.
Moreover, protecting people's comfort - when the source of their discomfort is, here, their own problem - doesn't seem like a great reason to write a law so that some people can be arrested and fined. That won't stop the city council from looking into it:
"We'll see if we need to address it," said Kathy McGuiness, one of Rehoboth's commissioners. McGuiness said this will be a topic at a town hall meeting next week.
"I can't speak for the mayor or anyone else. I can speak for myself because I am a commissioner. I hardly see us reversing the topless law. I don't think we are going to repeal it and allow women to go topless. Now if someone is going to go through the process of having implants, then they probably should think about following the laws of the person they would like to become," McGuiness said.
But they shouldn't be treated under the law as the person they are, I take it. It's interesting that she wants trans women to follow the more restrictive laws women have to follow on the beach, but is she supporting an easier process for transgender people to change gender markers on their legal documents in Delaware? Does she want people to follow the rules, as she says, or is she just concerned about the comfort of people like her and not at all concerned about anything as fancy and abstract as just application of the law?
The police chief told another paper that they could have been arrested for "disorderly conduct," which he blithely says is just sort of a "catch-all" for anything police officers feel like arresting people for. It's the same charge generally used to arrest gay men in parks who hit on other men but don't actually engage in sexual activity (which would be lewd conduct or indecent exposure), and it usually gets dropped. But the point isn't to actually prosecute people, but to use arrests as punishments in and of themselves.
Indeed, there's nothing disorderly about a man taking his shirt off at the beach (just as cops don't see anything disorderly about men who hit on women in parks), so why would it be disorderly for a woman to do it? Oh, right, because the cops say so. These "disorderly conduct" laws should be written so that the police can't make up crimes at the spur of the moment (and then not even have the decency to pretend like there's a standard definition for "disorderly conduct" when talking to the press).
Apparently there's a local LGBT org at Rehoboth, and while I cringe a few times at this quote, he does make a good point about the response from cis/straight people and the local hate radio station:
Steve Elkins, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, a nonprofit based in Rehoboth that aims to promote a positive environment for the gay and lesbian community, essentially agreed.
"Technically it wasn't against the law. However, there are situations where people who -- because of feelings about their birth, because of who they are -- perceive themselves as females. I think we have to respect that, but on the other hand since they chose to identify themselves as females, they have to respect the law."
Elkins said he also thinks that it is horrific that some people who voiced outrage through radio talk shows and the Internet only have a problem because they were transgendered.
"Whoever called and complained [initially] complained about a woman having her top off," he said. "The people now trying to make something about the fact that they were also men, they are trying to have it both ways. You can't have it both ways."
Indeed, they can't. But they don't really want it both ways. They want it only one way, their way, and their goal is just to be more comfortable at the expense of other people's bodies. When you look at it from that perspective, it's entirely consistent.
So this started in local media on Monday, it was run by national media by Friday, so expect Bill-O, Rush, Andrea Lafferty, et al. to be flogging this next week.