Editor’s Note: The following editorial was written in response to Bill 3-12 introduced by Baltimore County Councilman Tom Quirk on January 17. Also known as “An Act Concerning Human Relations” this bill aims to protect people from discrimination in the areas of Public Accommodations, Employment, Housing, Education, and Finance on the basis of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression.”
All of us have an identity and most of us do not question where it came from. It’s just something we grew into. My bedroom was painted blue when I came home from the hospital. Yours may have been pink. I don’t know for sure, but this was pretty standard in the 1950s when I was born. It still is for most of us. Some of us might have had a yellow or green bedroom because our parents, or most likely our mothers, had learned something of stereotypes. What does this have to do with identity you ask? My point is that we have different kinds of experiences. You know this because you read and you have had some life experiences of your own. You have met boys who turned out as if they grew up in a pink bedroom.
My three sisters and brother grew up in the standard identity that matched their bodies and their sexual orientation matched the expectations that society, school, church, family, and peers placed on them. As I grew up I realized that my sexual orientation was different than my siblings’. My identity formed in a different way than the others in my family. I had a perspective that they could not comprehend.
When I was old enough to learn that some girls wore boys’ clothes and that some boys wore girls’ clothes, I learned that there was a kind of identity that I didn’t understand. Many folks have attempted to convince me or those like me that my orientation was actually a preference that I chose. It turned out they were wrong.
But even though I had my own personal experience with “being other,” it was difficult for me to understand completely the need for someone to transition their gender. I was, after all, “normalized” in a heterosexual-body-gender-matching society. Later, when I actually listened to the first transman I heard talk about his female-to-male journey, I still wasn’t sure I understood the scope of his experience—completely. I’m still not sure I do now. But if we are going to live in a multicultural society we are going to have to receive multiple perspectives as well as transmit our single perspective.
My attempt to understand transgender people was clouded by the existence of men who wore costumes on stage while lip-synching. And then there were other men who were married to women, but seemed to enjoy wearing feminine clothing to enhance their erotic experience during sex. I met other boyish-men who got off on wearing a skirt for the shock value. To me it seemed similar to the performance Syd Vicious perpetrated on our static western culture of the late 1970s. At that time I was not aware that people of one gender really wanted to physically change their bodies to match their gender, until John Money famously was performing “sex change” surgeries at a local East Baltimore hospital in the early 1980’s. The journey those patients were on was not about clothing, costumes, or performances. It was about aligning their physical being with their spiritual gender.
Of course there is controversy and confusion when it comes to people who transition. Some believe it’s about the clothing. Some even believe one gender wears the clothing of the other in order to pass in the bathroom of the other gender—a ludicrous argument that implies that all men are predators. But centering your whole being on clothing sounds more like a costume queen (male or female) than is does about becoming who your psyche and spirit tell you who you ought to be.
So now we fight over whether we want to be possessive of our “private space” or share it. Who knows what the outcome will be. Some will fight tooth and nail to divide the community over “what we can get” vs. “we want all of it NOW!” And still others will focus the argument on what the majority will lose instead of what the minority will gain. Whether this is fair doesn’t matter, its politics. We live in a political world.
If gender were not defined in a binary fashion this would be less of an issue. We understand that orientation exists on a continuum. Why is it so difficult to understand this about gender?
We as a community need to accept that men (and this goes for women transitioning the other way too) who find it necessary to transition are not men, they are women and as such should have the right to use the women’s restroom, and it should be codified in law. ■
Mark Patro is the president of the Baltimore County chapter of PFLAG.