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Response to the Largo Commentators

Yesterday, I posted in my diary some of the comments made by readers of the St. Petersburg Times in response to an article about Steve Stanton’s communications plan. Today – my response.

Wow – so many confused thoughts in one place.  Where to start?
Starting at the beginning, the point is made that Stanton is “sick” because the Lord would have made him a woman if the Lord wanted that. 

Think of the implications.  Then, if the Lord makes someone with a birth defect, does the Lord want doctors intervening to change what He created? If the Lord makes someone with cancer, isn’t chemotherapy and radiation going against God’s will?  (Don’t dismiss the “yes” answer out of hand. This could really lower health care costs.) 

And then, of course, there’s the First Amendment, which requires separation of church and state.  Therefore, what the Lord, or Buddha, or Ahura Mazda allegedly wants or doesn’t want is irrelevant to government operations, in the U.S. at least.  It is true that the First Amendment doesn’t prohibit people from holding opinions based on religion.  There’s no law against your simply noting that, as a violator of Deuteronomy 22:5, I will burn eternally in the Lake of Fire, and requesting that I be burned at the stake. However, actually doing it would be illegal, despite the First Amendment. Same with firing me as a public employee.

The commentator also said: “I ALSO THINK THAT HE SHOULD BE FIRED BECAUSE HE IS NOT A LEADER,A LEADER DOES WHATS RIGHT AND THIS IS NOT RIGHT SO HE NEEDS TO BE FIRED!”  What makes it “not right”?  Aside from the Bible, of course.  Does it violate a law?  Obviously not, so the “right” to which this comment refers is not a legal right, but a social norm.  If violation of social norms were grounds for being fired, then we wouldn’t need non-discrimination laws because they could never be applied.  The whole point of non-discrimination laws is that we CANNOT use certain social norms to keep people out of the job market based on identities we don’t like, whether those identities be based on religion, race, or whatever. 

Then there is the similar argument that “this shouldn’t be forced on the citizens and staff of Largo if they don’t think it’s right. Otherwise, you’re holding them hostage to the whims of another employee.” 

Firstly, this isn’t a whim because he’s had this issue since as long as he can remember to the earliest ages, and has had years of psychotherapy to address it, and has reached his decision after serious consideration of the consequences.  But secondly, the “force” argument could be used against African-Americans, Jews, or Mexicans.  Again, it comes down to the fact that social norms do not justify discrimination.  Nor does this argument require that we abandon all social norms, and declare the workplace open to people who wear alumninum foil on their heads or engage in sexual acts with minors.  The former violates the dress code and the latter violates the law. 

The comments also imply that democracy and majority rule require that if a majority of the people don’t like a certain identity, a public employee can be tossed out on their ear.  But the majority must abide by the statutes enact by the majority, so democracy is not violated. 

Other comments note that “gender identity disorder” is a mental illness.  It’s true that the American Psychiatic Association says that people with “gender identity disorder” have a mental illness.  This is about as meaningful as the former classification of homosexuals as mentally ill, until the psychiatrists took a vote in 1972 and took that one off the books.  More significantly, the mentally ill are entitled to protection from job discrimination as much as the physically ill, so long as they can meet the job performance requirements.  In any event, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, which classifies all mental illnesses, specifically makes the point that it’s only “gender identity disorder” if there is a finding of clinically significant distress, and 97% of transsexuals who make the decision to go ahead with treatment relieve their distress.  In fact, making the decision to go ahead with sex reassignment actually takes it out of the “mental illness” category.  Consultation with health professionals to get treatment is a sign of mental health. 

What is the difference between this and someone who believes they’re Godzilla?  Although both are issues involving identity, in mental health terms, the former is an Axis I diagnosis (what they used to call neurosis) and the latter is an Axis II diagnosis (what they used to call psychosis).  While both are unusual, it is only the latter that crosses the line into a serious mental disorder involving hallucinations.

The reference to Norman Bates from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” is significant as a demonstration of the power of the media to communicate negative images.  Remember, in the movie, Norman dresses in his dead mother’s clothes before he kills?  And remember “Silence of the Lambs?”  Another transgender. And there are plenty of other examples.  But although transgenders are shown as crazed maniacs in the movies, it doesn’t mean that it is true in real life.  There are many examples of successful transgender people.

One comment makes reference to the idea that gender transition suggests that “women are little more than men minus a sexual appendage! plus make-up and tah-tahs.”  This argument correctly suggests that “sexual appendage” is not the essence of gender, but then says that if you don’t menstruate, get PMS, or conceive, then you aren’t really female. This argument mixes up sex and gender.

Other comments refer to his deceptiveness in not disclosing earlier.  I’ve never heard this one – it’s not coming out as trans that is the problem, but that it was not done sooner.  This violates his right to privacy.  More significantly, it fails to take into account that most social views of transgender people is they they are sick, disgusting pervs, and most people keep it to themselves unless and until they need to transition. It is not a matter for public consumption until that time. 

Some bewail the effect of the disclosure on his wife and child.  If we lived in a society where it was possible to be youself from the beginning, without fear that people were going to call you a sick freak and toss you out onto the street, then
the situation might have been different.  The effect on them cannot be separated from the social stigma of an intolerant society.  Aside from that, I know many transsexuals (including me) who, after the initial shock, have retained excellent relations with ex-spouses and children, even some who stay together with spouses in a relationship. The comments show assumptions about transgender lives by people who know nothing about it.

Other comments say that he was a bad manager, ignoring the fact that he received good, even excellent reviews over a 14 year period, along with consistent pay raises.  There is no explanation of why the commmissioners didn’t say anything during the 14 years or why they voted pay raises. 

Furthermore, some say that he must be judged strictly because he himself was strict with his employees.  He made staffers go to work, and show up on time, and everything.  I mean, he fired people!  Well, that was his job.  It’s too much to say that it’s a total coincidence that this issue heated up when the Times outed him. 

The most delicious of the comments are those that suggest that it is the liberals who are the bigots.  These comments argue that just because I hate someone and want to see them fired and ridiculed doesn’t mean I’m a bigot.  It just means I’m intolerant of their breaking of the Biblical-social contract, and any objection you make means you’re the bigot.  You’re bigoted against me just because I hate someone.

Well, yes.  This has a certain merit.  “Bigot” refers to “one who is strongly partial to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.”  (American Heritage Dictionary)  But the difference here is the difference between prejudice and discrimination.  Prejudice is a belief or attitude, and discrimination is an action based on that prejudice.  If I hate transgenders, I am prejudiced, but if I fire them from a job because of that hatred, then I engaged in discrimination.  There’s no law against hating whomever you like for whatever reason.  There is, however, a law against taking action against a person based on hatred of their identity category (as long as there’s due notice in the statutes). So I freely admit to bigotry against transgender bigotry, but there’s no law against that.  There is, however, a law (in some places,including Largo) against firing transgender people because of bigotry. 

So I guess I am a bigot, after all. So sue me.

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