As an almost sixty-year-old heterosexual man with a wife and three kids, I am really not in a very good position to pontificate on the North Carolina transgender bathroom controversy. I play with dolls and stuffed animals (though in my defense, it is more of a collector and wannabe toy-maker style of thing). A couple of my children may actually decide to consider themselves bisexuals (though in their defense, almost all teenagers go through this sexual-identity angst and it is fluid, not carved in stone). The religion I professed for most of last twenty years says that we should hate gender problems and treat them as a wicked lifestyle choice, not a genetically determined spot on the flexible continuum between male and female.
But I have known transgender people as a school teacher who was always approachable and who students often trusted with their deepest, darkest secrets. And teachers, by the very definition of the profession, care about students. The insensitivity of this stupid controversy breaks my old teacher-heart.
The truth is, transgender people in this country inhabit a bear pit full of angry bears that wish to rend them with claw-like condemnations and bullying treatment all because their preachers and opinion leaders tell them that they should be angry about this. But whose business is it really? And all the transgender people I have ever known, all two of them, were incredibly damaged people. Suicide is the most likely result of the depression and self-loathing that most transgender teens experience. I pray that such a thing doesn’t happen to children whom I have taught and tried to love for who they are. But it happens.
(I need to warn you… the next part is not funny at all… nor is it intended to be.)
My example story does not have any names attached. I will not tell you what happened in the end because transgender people are entitled to privacy. But I am using a concrete example because I want to share with you things I know to be true. The boy I am telling you about was really born a girl. He was a boy on his birth certificate because an accident caused by hormonal imbalances during gestation gave him a penis on the outside even though he had internal girl parts, including ovaries. He was not a hermaphrodite, though he was closer to being that than he was to being normal. His culture forced him to be raised as a boy, even though his thoughts and actions revealed him to be a girl. The people around him had decided he was gay by the time he was old enough to be in my classes. He was bullied, insulted, and abused in very Catholic and homophobic community. Things got even worse as he began to develop breasts. It was no wonder he acted out in school. The image burned into my memory was the day he threw a fit in the school hallway and had to be restrained so he would not continue to smash his forehead against the doorpost. He was screaming and crying and ended up having to be hospitalized on a protracted suicide watch. I never found out what set off the meltdown, but I can imagine based on the things I saw people do and say to him. I believe he eventually had a sex-change operation in his twenties. I pray that was a true rumor and not just wishful thinking on the part of some of his former friends. That would’ve solved much of his problem, if only it had been an option before so much damage was done. It might’ve been better if he had been allowed to dress and act like a girl from early childhood on… like the other one I know about but can’t say any more about. They deserve to keep whatever dignity and respect they still have. We don’t have the right to take it from them.
This has been a very difficult thing to write about. I hope, if you read this far, that I haven’t made you cry as much I as I did myself. But crying is good, because it means there is caring in a place where more caring and understanding are desperately needed. There are places to gain more knowledge about this issue, and I hope that you can see that more knowledge is what is most critical to resolving it. Let me offer a link from a right-hearted clergyman to help you know a little bit more.
A Baptist Pastor Tells You What He’s Learned About Transgender People.
Filed under angry rant, compassion, Depression, education, empathy, insight, medical issues, mental health, politics, red States, teaching
It has taken me some time to put ideas together to tackle this terrible thing. Jon Stewart did a segment at the beginning of his show that was not funny. It was somber, thoughtful, and full of real outrage that cast lightning bolts at the heart of the dragon. And I admire Stewart for what he is… someone who truly cares about things, and fights the good fight using the best weapon he has. Humor. Mark Twain said that against it, nothing could stand. But some things are so terrible that not even a joke can put it right. Why? Because there are places in this human world where ideas are like a festering sore, spreading at an alarming rate, and daily becoming more and more poisonous. Texas is like that. It is a Red State. That means it is a hotbed of conservative ideas and nurtures Republican values… like being distrustful and fearful of them… And who are they? They are not us. They have a different religion. They have a different skin color. They are not opposed to raising taxes on the rich, even if they are rich themselves. They are not capitalists… Or not freedom-loving… They think it can be left up to women to decide what to do with their own bodies. They don’t see abortion as murder. They don’t think teaching evolution in schools is evil. We must fear them… and, yes, even hate them.
As a school teacher, I learned early on that if you only look for the bad in other people, then that is what you will be left with, a world in which there are only bad people. I don’t know about you, but I can’t live in a world like that. I learned to look at the world as being full of imperfect people who all have good in them, lots of good. I grew up in Iowa where the people were so white in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s that when the winter snow fell heavy enough, we all had the super power of invisibility. I remember only one black face from my childhood that wasn’t on television. There was a little girl from Chicago who came to stay with a volunteer family so she could get out of the inner city for a while. The adults warned us that she might be prone to stealing things, so don’t do anything to tempt her. And we didn’t. And she didn’t. And damn it, I don’t know whether we did a good job of not tempting her, or that warning was just an empty prejudice. She was just like us. She laughed at things. She loved kittens. She played our games. She was just like us… but she had a better tan.
I started teaching in South Texas. I quickly learned how to deal with Hispanic kids who were mostly poor and mostly Spanish-speaking. I learned that they didn’t laugh at the same things as I did. When they called me Batman for a while, it wasn’t a compliment. I learned to laugh at the things they found funny and learned to joke the way they joked. I played their games. I learned to love pit-bulls and other dogs the way they loved dogs. I was just like them… but they couldn’t hide in the snow as easily as me.
I learned to teach black kids like they complain about on Fox News, the ones they throw to the ground and sit on at pool parties in McKinney, Texas, when I moved to the Dallas area and the town of Carrollton. I quickly learned why some teachers are so stressed out by them. They are louder than the white kids. Their nerves can be more raw and their tempers hotter than the other kids. Not all of them… just about 51 %. But you have to look close enough to see that… they laugh at most of the same things as us. Some of the brightest, widest smiles I have ever seen are on the faces of black kids when you laugh at their jokes. They play the same games as I do. They love puppies just like I do. They sometimes even have more faith in God than I do. Some of my favorite students of all time had very dark faces. I still think of them often… and i will never stop loving them… all of them. And when something happens like it happened in South Carolina… Forgive me, I have to cry again for a bit.
And how do we solve the problem of places where love is so badly needed, but is not present in large doses? How do we overcome this passion some people have to exclude illegal immigrants, and the need some people feel to move their children out of schools where there are too many of the wrong colored faces? I do not know the answer.
But you do not create love by passing laws and building walls. You have to spend time with them. You have to laugh at the same jokes. You have to play the same games. You have to love puppies and kittens. Don’t you?