They say that no press is bad press, and Chaz Bono's making lots of press.
The good news? He's using his fifteen minutes to plant discuss the need for protection and understanding. (He's also pimping his book, but how can I begrudge him that?) I know he's not nailing everybody's wish list with his talking points but he is having the conversation - this is better than the usual "pull out the trannies for sweeps week" media hooks we see once or twice a year.
The bad news? Back at the ranch of sexual repression, the collecitve social conservative blogosphere is waking up to discover that transgender people exist - and having a coronary in the process. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the "make it illegal" offense::
Ironically, Mr. Bono's introspective interviews and books, chronicling his life-long emotional turmoil and angst, belie the fact that there is very little emotional change from the tormented lesbian of yesterday to the now confused transgendered half-male/half-female who adopts the most arcane gender stereotypes while attempting to be a champion of a new gender identity. The confusion here is almost dizzying. After decades of liberals peddling the idea that gender doesn't matter and is just a "social construct" suddenly we are told by these same liberals like Mr. Bono that gender does matter to the point that the gender we are born in may not be satisfactory. Yet, if gender is just a social construct, as has been maintained for decades by feminists, why not change the "paradigm," stay in the body one is born with and be happy?[...]
And we must say no. As a society, it is time to draw a line in the sand. The human body must be protected from those who seek to do it harm. Until the late 1960s, many doctors regarded sex reassignment surgeries as unethical and would not perform them. We need to restore that consensus. Transgender surgeries and transformations ought to be illegal altogether -- much as suicide is illegal in some states. If we do not render transgender operations illegal, how will we address those who insist they are uncomfortable with two arms or two legs and want amputation?
This brings up a tough question: how can we best communicate the needs of the transgender community to willing conservative minds?
I could take the easy way out on this one and point out that Grace ignores Chaz's life experiences while simultaneously talking over his head, attempting to paint a world where strictly enforced gender binaries and gender revolutionaries coexist in a doublespeak world. (Protip for Gracie: this is called "doublespeak.")
I'm speaking to the echo chamber here when I say that Gracie is misinformed and her simplified view of this issue doesn't encompass the whole biological, social, emotional, and mental mess a transgender experience can wreak on a person. The problem, as I see it, is that this "make it illegal" meme will grow in the conservative echo chambers just as easily as the "protect us" meme grows in liberal choruses. The rabbit's out of the hat on trans people and we need to be ready to have this conversation with people.
The side effect of becoming visible is that we have to deal with being seen. For years the transgender community has survived by laying low. This is especially true in fly-over states, where advocacy often focuses on small policy shifts knowing full well that any large-scale political action would attract attention. Education and visibility, yes, politics no.
We have been successful by being a chance occurrence - an exception to the rule that occasionally interacts with the real world. In order to make any further progress we must bang the drum and show just how common transgender experiences are in this world. In doing so, though, we encourage dissidents to rise up in anger and demand we shut up. It's one of those funny paradoxes of political action - sometimes things have to get worse before they get better.
Grace's "make sex changes illegal!" approach is never going to gain traction in mainstream politics. Her position is implicitly enforced by price barriers and lack of medical training related to transition. (Go ahead: ask your GP about transitioning the next time you see them and see what happens. You'll learn a lot about trans healthcare in the process.)
Here's the deal as I see it: trans people are on the cusp of getting their Will and Grace moment. Up until now the trans community has been mostly invisible by din of its small size and history; the standard practice for transitioning folks has always been full stealth, no exceptions, and the quieter one is the fewer chances one has to experience discrimination. (It's still a prevalent attitude today.)
As we become more visibile as a community we become human beings with struggles and desires, and in doing so we enter into the collective media consciousness as a group worthy of more than a couple of oddball bit parts in a sweeps-week crime drama. It's already happening: look at Degrassi's trans character, or Chaz's treatment on Letterman. (Again, not perfect, but did you notice that Letterman fessed up to being a transphobic jerk to Amanda Simpson?) We are more than a curiosity now. We exist.
Problem is that our existence pisses some people off. Now that more people know of our existence the grumblings against trans people is going to become political fodder. This fact alone is going to drag the trans community into politics like never before. The good news is that trans policy and political groups are doing a bang-up job of creating new approaches to activism that seem to be targeted toward a more bipartisan political message.
I want to point out both the Williams Institute's study on the financial costs of transgender discrimination and Injustice at Every Turn for special commendation. I know we've been over the NGLTF's report here with a fine-tooth comb, but the financial costs of discrimination really make an impact. Most "trans people get the short end of the stick" memes don't stick around for long but the money angle has got legs. I keep seeing it pop up in my feed and in articles about transgender bills.
Conservative folks often respond to sad stories of discrimination and emotional appeals with a "bootstrap" speech: "Well, just because that guy beat you up/denied you a job/raped you doesn't mean everybody wants to do that! Buck up and find someone who is willing to work with you! It's the free market, baby!" Having the facts laid bare - especially when it comes to cold, hard cash - gives a framework for discussing trans experiences and discrimination outside of the traditional liberal appeal to human decency.
We're going to have to show that trans people exist, trans people are measurably happier and more stable after transition, and that trans people contribute to the fabric of society just like everybody else. In other words, we have to keep doing what we've been doing for years, only now with a slowly crescendoing chorus of dissidents trying to take our rights away.
Frankly, we're going to have to get good at justifying our existence real fast. With "It Gets Better," the media focus on gay teen suicide, and the increasing acceptance of sexual orientation as a normal human variance we are seeing a changing of the guard at the social conservative whipping post. Gay people are coming off the stage as valid scapegoats for society's ills and we're next in line.