In my dozen or so years in the trans community, I have seen many surprising things. One consistent phenomenon is the willingness of people to act out dark fantasies of prejudice, discrimination and violence against trans people. Another consistent phenomenon is what seems to me a disproportionate number of people from the trans community who exaggerate or lie outright about events in order to glorify themselves. I'm no psychiatrist, so I don't know whether the number is larger is or smaller than the general population. Every community has its share. These two phenomena create tremendous difficulty for me and other members of the trans community, as well as for allies and just plain folks trying to figure out what's going on here. Who's telling the truth in any individual case? Many trans people are scrupulously honest. But when the story's in the media, and we don't know the people involved, how can you tell the players without a scorecard?
Bilerico reported on this case involving a woman, Stephanie, who alleged that she was banned for life from a Las Vegas hotel last week for the simple act of using a bathroom consistent with her gender identity. This week, however, Steven Friess of LGBTQNation is reporting suspicions that the event was a hoax. If LGBTQNation is correct, the alleged victim had made extremely similar internet allegations about another hotel, except that it involved SWAT teams and dogs, but denied in an interview having made such previous reports, and then admitting it when confronted, and giving a poor excuse for the denial.
But I wonder.
I was not there when the alleged incident occurred and there appear to be no other witnesses, except for security guards from the hotel, which apparently has a policy not to comment on such incidents. I also do not know whether the similar internet allegations are lies. I saw them at the blog linked by LGBTQNation. It's not at all inconceivable to my mind that someone could have a succession of incidents surrounding bathrooms. Mr. Friess concluded that it could not have happened that way from the alleged victim's description of herself:
I'm 5-7, skinny. It's not like I'm a steelworker in drag, absolutely not. I've got better legs than most women do. I'm not altogether horrible-looking. Most people, unless they look really closely, don't take me as a guy. ... I dress conservatively, I dress appropriately.
From this, Friess appears to conclude that no one would notice her entering a public women's bathroom at 4 am. I'm not sure that conclusion follows, particularly in the 24-hours high-surveillance world of a casino. Stephanie did not say that she is never tagged as a transgender woman, only that she looks presentable.
On the other hand, it's also not inconceivable that some people might exaggerate such incidents to gain some well-deserved sympathy. The previous internet report referred to "On that occasion, upon coming out of the bathroom, she was greeted by an entire SWAT team, with bulletproof vests and dogs..."
That does sound exaggerated, at least a bit. On the other hand, there are many canine teams in Las Vegas casinos, checking for drugs and explosives, and 4AM is about the time when they might do a sweep, so as to minimize inconvenience to casino patrons. Check out this blog War On Terror News from December 27, 2010, shortly before the first incident:
12/27/2010 -by 2nd Lt. Laura Balch NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFNS) -- Military working dog handlers from the 99th Security Forces Squadron here worked with 25 canine teams from Las Vegas during an explosive detection training exercise here recently.
Handlers and dogs from local casinos, including the Las Vegas Convention Center; Hoover Dam; Las Vegas Monorail; University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Transportation Security Administration; Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; and the U.S. Marshals Service participated in the exercise.
"There are so many handlers and dogs in the Las Vegas area, I think it's great for all of us to get together and train," said Jon Minnich, a U.S. Marshals Service explosive detection canine handler.
It's not inconceivable that Stephanie could have been confronted by a canine team coming out of the bathroom at a Las Vegas casino in January. She also didn't say that the incident was related to her being trans -- just that she came out of the bathroom and there they were, asking her what she was doing.
If there is one thing I have learned from years of law practice, it is that everyone shades the truth, at the very least, to try to make their positions sound more credible, even judges. Even reporters. Even trans people who have experienced real discrimination. It sounds like Stephanie was being less than precise in telling Mr. Friess that she has experience problems in bathrooms "dozens" of times. As a lawyer, I know that people inherently and endemically speak in imprecise terms, and all it means is that they're not as good as lawyers in speaking precisely. It doesn't necessarily make them liars. We may never know what, if anything, happened at that bathroom at 4am.
Is this story another example of foolish anti-trans bathroom prejudice, showing how we need to change our troglodytic social attitudes? Is it an example of a trans hoax, damaging the credibility of future allegations of rampant anti-trans prejudice? I don't know.
I do know one thing, however.
There is such a thing as combat fatigue. After being constantly under attack for a period of time, being exposed to stories of deaths, beatings, discrimination, and prejudice, and lies designed to simulate the truth -- whether true or partially true or completely false -- one acquires a certain numbness, a desire simply to go away from the noise and the danger and the fear. There was another story this morning about police officers groping trans people in the UK. There will be more such stories -- prejudice is everywhere around us. But whether Stephanie's story is true or false, one reason for its ostensible credibility is that it mirrors many other true stories of actual occurrences.
We have a long way to go in this country to address our many prejudices against minority groups. We have an obligation to move through our weariness, to continue despite our fatigue, to consistently, fairly and objectively address the issues faced by our community. Sometimes that will mean believing a victim of violence or discrimination; sometimes, it will mean raising doubts.
Both are valuable. Both evidence a commitment to justice for the LGBT community.