Monday, February 1, 2016

Democrats Don't Own My Vote

Confession:  I, as a general rule, hate listening to people talk about elections.  It's not just the disgusting debates and terrible candidates, either.  It's the entire mentality people get into when they talk about voting as praxis, as if the choice to vote and the way a person votes (within reason) is the sole determining factor in how good of an activist or human being a person is.

Before I continue, let me explain a few things.  First, I am a believer in voting as a form of harm reduction rather than an instigator of systemic change.  I don't believe there is anything inherently wrong with strategically voting Democrat--even if you hate the candidates--because you are afraid of Republicans.  I have in the past done the exact same thing.  That said, do not read what I'm saying as an indictment against strategic-Democrat-voters' personal choices (at least as long as you understand what that means).  Second, I am not a Bernie Sanders fan (Sanders being the most left-wing mainstream candidate says very little about him as an overall candidate), although this essay just by the nature of how Democrats are currently behaving leans in defense of Bernie Sanders voters.  I personally will likely vote for neither of them, regardless of who is nominated, and for the record I give zero shits how you personally feel about that.  But what I do give a shit about is deceptive vote-farming tactics, which is what this is about.

So there are a lot of people out there who have stated that if Hillary Clinton gets the Democratic nomination, they will not vote Democrat in the general election.  This is due to a laundry list of terrible positions.  I'm not going to go into details here, because it doesn't really matter (Bernie Sanders has his own terrible positions, after all, as does everyone else who has a chance of winning).  What matters is the response from the people who will be voting Democrat no matter who gets the nomination.

The argument goes something like this:  By voting Democrat, you are electing Republicans by depriving Democrats of votes. Therefore, if a Republican is elected, it's largely the fault of liberal, left-wing, and progressive people who did not vote Democrat.  Usually this is punctuated with something like "I don't like Clinton either, but..." in order to give the impression they are also making some hard sacrifice.

That's a steaming pile of crap thing to believe.  And I have some things to say about it.

First, Democrats do not under any circumstances somehow "own" left-wing, progressive, and liberal peoples' votes.

One of the most obnoxious (without being intentionally insulting) things about talking about politics with my family is their constant urge to use the term "Democrat" as interchangeable with "left wing" or "progressive," using phrases like "very, very Democrat" when they mean "far left" (or at least they think they do).  This is the sort of thing I think of when Democrats pressure me to vote Democrat due to the fact that I am left-wing... it betrays the fact that people think Democrats are further left wing than they are, and that includes Democrats themselves.

But Democrats are barely left wing at all.  On a personal level, there is a comparable gulf of ideological difference between myself and an average Democrat than there is between an average Democrat and average Republican.  Turning the wide diversity of political opinions (both just and unjust) into a half-and-half divvy of Democrats and Republicans obscures the fact that others even exist; it reinforces the ubiquitous training we get from school onward that there's something hard-coded into American peoples' nature that makes us too greedy and self-centered to consider anything other than unbridled corporate capitalism in one of two flavors depending on just how much you hate gays.

In fact, if anything Democrats are the ones stealing votes from Socialist, Green, Communist, and otherwise more left-wing parties by playing over and over again the looming threat of Republican leadership and solidly blaming them whenever one of their sad candidates doesn't get elected.

But this isn't just important because it bullies those further left into signing on to a barely-left-wing party.  It's important because it takes a vote--something personal and decided based on a whole spectrum of philosophical and strategic views--and directly implies that these do not belong to the voters themselves, but to the party.  It is psychological voter suppression.

This is an aside, but for the record, I know that "I don't like ___ either, but..." thing you use to try convincing left-wing non-Democrats with is often total bull.

The last thing I need is for people to wishiwashily go on about how they totally don't actually like Clinton--trying to create some semblance of empathy with left-wingers who have long disliked her--when they've been her #1 Greatest Fan since forever.

I've been watching this game for over fifteen years during my journey further left, and I'm sure it's been going like this much longer.  The 2008 election particularly sticks out because the friends and acquaintances who are now trying to convince me to always vote Dem "even though we all know their positions are terrible" had an obscene level of cheerleading energy for them ten years ago, up to and including rationalizing why their preferred candidate was totally not homophobic despite not even meeting even the most mainstream gay standards of LGBT rights.

Basically, these are people who were "Ready for Hillary" even when she was more of an obstacle to justice than she is now.  That makes this whole issue rudely deceptive.  Not only are you using Republicans as a threatening gesture, you're doing it by misrepresenting your own feelings toward the candidates.  It's disingenuous and it's disgusting.

It Democrats don't get elected due to left-wing non-voters abstaining or voting for other candidates, it's because Democrats don't inspire us to elect them.

Democrats skid by on the "I'm afraid of Republicans" crowd.  Like I already said, I understand being afraid of Republican leadership.  It's gotten me to vote Democrat several times in the past, at times when I genuinely was afraid my state would go red (I'll talk about that next), and especially when it comes to local candidates.

But Democrats are more likely to try courting right-wing favor than they are to try persuading any sort of further left-wing base outside of the aforementioned threats of Republican wins.  Clinton goes on about how corporations should love her.  Kerry went on high profile hunting trips.  And that's not to mention how many of them went on and on about "traditional" marriage, refusing to support mainstream same-sex marriage until long after it would have been politically expedient to do so.  They'll talk about their ideas for reforms associated with the left as "sensible" as if every issue necessitates a huge compromise with the right.  "Sensible" gun control (meaning the same old background checks but with more ableism).  "Sensible" environmental reforms (making sure there are enough resources for us to use for more consumerist whatever).  "Sensible" wage reforms (a marginal increase in minimum wage).  "Sensible" health care reform (forcing people to buy insurance).

What you don't often see is Democratic candidates going out of their way to appeal to those further left, even on a surface level.  They assume that the left will already vote for them, openly demean our most important positions, and then get openly angry and feel betrayed when a good percentage of us vote for somebody else.  They're always so shocked about it, too, although it's probably more accurate to say they feign shock, because it happens every damn election season and very little has changed about the way they behave about it.

One of the reasons people who are passionate about Bernie Sanders is for just this reason:  Despite his flaws, he is the only viable Democratic candidate right now who has broken from this mold even a little by allowing himself to be terrifying to right-wingers to gain more left-wing votes.

Finally, our entire electoral system is rigged and designed to fail individual voters, so maybe worry about that more than people who actually vote on their conscience.

I'm not contesting that in theory a Republican could win if enough people who usually vote Democrat decide not to over the candidate chosen.  But it's also well-documented that somebody can win the presidential race even when more people voted for the other mainstream candidate.

We have the electoral college, which inflates the importance of certain states to the detriment of others and ensures that none of us actually votes for the president to begin with (unless you are an elector, of course).

We have gerrymandering, where people draw absurd-as-fuck jigsaw puzzle borders for electoral districts in order to ensure their own party will win; something both Democrats and Republicans do.  This can even play into who gets selected to be on the electoral college.

We also have voter suppression in the form of things like voter ID, requiring college students to vote in their permanent residence rather than on campus, and campaigns to "prevent voter fraud" that target trans people and people of color.  The United States is also one of the biggest countries for felony disenfranchisement, where people who have been convicted of certain crimes lose their right to vote ever again.  Many of these are explicitly chosen because they are likely to reduce the number of Democratic and left-wing voters.

It's not that Democrats all don't care about these things, but they're an important thing to bring up in an environment where people seem to be more concerned about how people use their choice to vote than they are about overall voter access.

In conclusion, it's arrogant on the part of Democrats to assume they are already entitled the votes of the left-wing.  They need to focus more on getting actual left-wing, inspiring candidates that will support real change rather than complain ad nauseum that the Republicans are worse.  Why should I be obligated to vote for a candidate that does not have my interests in mind?  Why should any of us?

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Liberals Are Gradually Chipping Away My Gun Control Sensibilities

I have been pro-gun-control to some extent for most of my life, despite being raised in a largely pro-gun household.  Technically I still have guns, although I keep them at my parents' house.  This never really did anything to change my opinions on the subject.  Firearms used for hunting tend to be given some social exemption, after all, and every pro-gun-control campaign I've been involved in has explicitly sought the involvement of hunters.  But I'm getting ahead of myself and will talk a bit about that later.

And I'd probably still be hands-down for gun control if it weren't for one little problem: Liberals are fucking bad at not being giant sacks of shit about it.  And the ones who wouldn't necessarily be giant sacks of shit about it are so invested in gun control at all costs that they apparently just go along with the aforementioned sacks of shit's ideas without really hearing what they mean.  For instance, this picture has been floating around on my Facebook, and it's definitely not only giant sacks of shit who are posting it, because on the surface it doesn't look all that shitty:
[Picture of President Obama captioned:
"If your first response to our president
weeping for murdered children is to laugh,
mock, debate, or dismiss...
(Actually, that's all. There's really nothing
to be said about a person like you.)"
I'm all for not laughing or mocking what was a very serious situation, but debate?  You want me to not DEBATE because the president cried about a thing?  There is no goddamn moratorium on debating what the most powerful man in the world is doing insofar as public policy goes.  And Obama's plan here?  I don't care how the fuck much he cries on TV, I'll talk about it all I want.

Mental Illness Stigma

OK, this is the number one thing my friends are talking about.  Basically, somebody's private health information could be divulged, essentially adding them to a blacklist that would prevent them from being able to purchase firearms.  This could be directly reported by a healthcare practitioner or divulged through social security records.

Interestingly it's already illegal for people with certain mental illnesses to own firearms; it has been for decades now.  It wouldn't make it more illegal for a mentally ill person to obtain a firearm, it would make it easier for somebody with a mental illness to be identified in a background check.

But wait... what constitutes "mental illness" here?  According to the Gun Control Act of 1968 (which was reiterated in the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act)
(4) has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution
In this context a "mental defective" is somebody who is considered a danger to themself or others by a legal entity based on mental illness, incompetency, "sub-normal" intelligence, or disease.  Most commonly, though, this restriction is associated with having been involuntarily committed for mental healthcare.  Keep in mind that around this time it still wasn't that uncommon for people to be committed for totally bullshit reasons... and that sort of thing still happens today.  People have been involuntarily sent to mental hospitals (or pressured into signing themselves in) for things like suspecting their roommates have been hiding cameras in their rooms, being "too emotional" around police, whistleblowing police abuses, and being queer or trans.  One woman was sent to a psychiatric hospital recently for vague reasons and then was forced to stay because she claimed Obama followed her on Twitter (even if this hadn't been true--as Obama's account actually was following hers--it's a downright ridiculous reason to be committed).  Things that do not actually pose a threat of harm to anybody, including themselves, but they were stuck in wards anyway because they happened to have encountered a law enforcement officer or healthcare provider who was particularly incompetent, power-hungry, or spiteful.

These false institutionalizations (if you can define any institutionalization as appropriate) have historically disproportionately affected women, people of color, queer people, and trans people, as have all definitions of "mental illness."

Furthermore, these records follow people around as it is and are hard to get corrected when they're bullshit. I've known multiple people who have had mental illness labels applied to them erroneously by incompetent doctors only to have these diagnoses permanently affect the healthcare they receive. They can't get rid of them. 

Finally, this discourages people who need mental healthcare from actually getting it if they own guns, regardless of the reasons they do.

I'm not anti gun control, but the way gun control is pushed is dangerously off-target.  I already mentioned mental illness stigma first because that's the issue most people are talking about, but there's more my disillusionment with gun control than just that.  What follows are some other reasons I have a hard time getting behind liberal gun control reforms anymore.

Gun Control As It Is Promoted Disadvantages Minorities

In addition to the mental illness stuff I already said, the way people go about promoting gun control rests on standards that disadvantage minorities.

The current gun control standard rests on banning people from having a gun if they've been convicted of domestic violence as well as some other very reasonable things... but the very first part of that law dictates that the length of a prison sentence matters in whether or not a person is eligible to have a firearm.  Since racial minorities--especially black people--are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be convicted in court, and more likely to be handed harsher sentences than white people, it means that there's a good chance that upon committing the same crime a person of color could be rendered ineligible for a firearm and a white person not.

This is no shock.  Gun control legislation has always been most effectively passed when leveled against armed black people.  Interestingly, pro gun control advocates have often used the line that the NRA was pro gun control when the Black Panthers were arming themselves as a bargaining chip without bothering to consider why the Black Panthers were so concerned with arming themselves in the first place (something I'll talk about in the next section).  Basically, they've taken the fact that conservative entities once had different beliefs--fully understanding that they held those beliefs for absolutely racist reasons--as if this provides a positive reason for conservatives to support gun control.

Another standard of current gun control laws?  You can't get a firearm if you've been dishonorably discharged from the military, something that affects a sizeable chunk of LGBT veterans (Not all LGBT people discharged from the military were dishonorably discharged for it, it depended on the circumstances and how long ago they were discharged, but again... a sizeable chunk.  There was also a time when being outed as LGBT in the military got you sent to a psychiatric hospital, so there's that again.).

They Ignore The Military and Law Enforcement

Obama cried over some American schoolchildren yesterday.

This is the same president whose military policies have been very adept at blowing up weddings and hospitals in other countries.  And pretty much every other mainstream Democrat would continue this same shit.  Talking about ending violence is easy when you know it'll never impede on your own personal violent actions.  Talking about firearm violence here and then continuing to promote the same violence elsewhere--but in a uniform--is hypocrisy at its finest.

The basic line in mainstream gun control is that we should leave the shooting up to the professionals.  Armed civilians playing John Wayne does more harm than good, after all, so we should just let law enforcement officers do their jobs and keep guns away from civilians altogether.

So I said earlier that when gun control advocates talk about the NRA once having supported gun control they're ignoring the reasons that the Black Panthers wanted to be armed to begin with.  The NRA's involvement with this is actually more complicated than that (they were founded for a very different reason than they exist today), but regardless the original passage of the Gun Control Act very much coincided with the Black Panthers carrying guns.  Why were they carrying guns?  Because they were being actively antagonized by law enforcement.

Carrying firearms in that situation had, then, two main reasons.  On the one hand, they needed to defend themselves from the police.  On the other, they needed them to defend against the civilians the police were not protecting them from.

This sort of thing still happens today.  You don't see a lot of calls to arms among anti-racist activists anymore (for good reason), but those who do choose to arm themselves explicitly are doing so because they cannot trust the police to actually protect them and they can't trust the subsequent legal system to do its job, either.  Take the case of Ky Peterson, a black trans man who is currently imprisoned for killing a man who was actively assaulting and raping him.  Everything about what happened was due to his perfectly reasonable distrust of law enforcement.

There is also the question of the background checks of cops themselves.  I once nearly took a position at a police station in a fit of monetary desperation.  Once I looked at the background check information I was expected to give--the same background check given to officers which would be personally looked over by the police chief himself to reject for any reason he felt like--I got some extreme perspective into the type of standards they were expected to meet.  It asked not only about my own criminal history, but that of my relatives as well.  It asked about every single organization I've been a member of since childhood, every name and nickname I ever used, who my friends were.  It literally asked if I had ever been a member of a communist party.  There was no way to get through this wad of papers without disclosing my gender identity history, sexual orientation, religion, and political beliefs.  And again, with the heavy weight on criminal history of relatives, it's no shock that police departments tend to be disproportionately white.

We see calls to use better background checks on police. This would be a great idea if the standards we're promoting didn't basically self select for the most privileged people.

Furthermore, once a person is a cop, engaging in criminal activities that would make somebody ineligible to own a gun is significantly less likely to result in a conviction or prison time.  We've seen it demonstrated how unlikely a cop who shoots somebody in the line of duty--no matter how unnecessary the shooting was--is to even be charged let alone convicted.  Police are also more likely to be domestic abusers, with their victims more likely to be afraid of reporting them due to the disproportionate power between the officers and their civilian partners and family members.  This means a subset of people that absolutely should not be allowed to carry guns are actively enabled to, even exempted from gun control arguments as the only people who SHOULD have guns.

They Ignore Issues of Rural People

I'm including this almost as sort of a closing aside.  It's not something I would consider the highest priority on this list, especially when you consider how many gun control advocates very explicitly promote being hunter-friendly in order to get more support from the many gun owners who do not own them for any human-killing reasons.

I often see people on Twitter say things like "there is NO reason to have a gun and all your reasons suck," by which they mean to imply that gun owners are merely paranoid privileged people.  This is often the case.  I don't deny that.  I've already talked about some cases in which this is not true and that people arm themselves over legitimate fears, but within those communities today I rarely see the desire to be armed as a form of open empowerment (this is, by the way, something I consider their own damn business and not something I will personally soapbox on).

Did I mention that I actually use firearms?   I was raised into deer hunting just as the rest of my relatives have been.  We were purely hunting for meat and herd-thinning; and especially when my parents' finances started to slide it was nice to be able to have several pounds of frozen meat for the cost of a $20 license, a few bullets, and a firearm that would pretty much last forever with good care.

There are certainly hunters out there who are unethical as fuck, and deer hunting in particular is an industry worth billions of dollars.  But I don't think people really understand how important a tool a firearm can be when you're very rural, especially if you're rural and poor.

My assumption is that people who claim nobody has any good reason to have a gun are picturing people who just want the badass thrill of having a deadly dick replacement.  I'm just pointing out that that's not necessarily the case.

More topically, this attitude is expressed in the insufferable rural stereotypes that encourage people to do things like focus on the apparent backwoods incompetence of the folks in Nevada currently occupying a federal building over cattle grazing fees. The focus on these people as ignorant hicks alienates rural people and southern people in general, who believe it or not have immense diversity in their politics, perspectives, and education just like anybody else. This stigma doesn't help the overall issue of gun violence any more than the mental health stigma, and yet it continues to be a big hit.

A Hopeful Conclusion

As I already stated, I'm pro gun control.  There are plenty of firearms that people just have no business owning, behaviors involving guns that people have no business doing (like open carry "activists" threateningly following people around), and we need to lift restrictions on actually studying gun violence so that we have a better picture of what to do about it.

We can do all of these things and a whole lot more without the ableist assumptions about mental illness or favoring background checks that by design disadvantage oppressed people.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Accessibility Should Be The Default Setting

Picture of my own Teal Pumpkin.
I learned about the Teal Pumpkin Project on the radio last year.  Full disclosure: I hate radio.  I find well over half of radio DJs entirely reprehensible.  This was a pretty good if tame example of why... they'd dedicated an entire segment of their morning decrying the project as being about "oversensitivity" among other vile accusations.

Somebody called in to explain that as somebody who grew up with life-threatening food allergies, Halloween was never fun for her.  And, well, I can imagine.  The Teal Pumpkin Project is simple:  Put a teal-colored pumpkin with a sign out during Trick or Treat, and people with food allergies or parents of kids with food allergies know that there are non-food treats available.

The radio DJs wishiwashily recanted, because a radio DJ's job is basically to say something shitty and then fake apologize when somebody calls in, but since then I've actually been really excited about the possibility.  Accessibility is something extremely important to me, as somebody who has spent a lot of time not being accommodated.  And I don't have any life-threatening food allergies.  I can very easily decide that what symptoms I get are worth it for the time being.  A lot of kids can't do that.  So based on what allergy they have and how severe it is, a Halloween experience may range from a mild inconvenience as parents replace the candy with allergens in it with other ones to a literal life-threatening event if even contact or inhalation will cause that kind of reaction.  I lived in an area with no trick or treaters last year and was very pumped to participate this year.

That's why it's kind of enraging to see the amount of backlash against it.  I mean, this is an optional thing to do.  Nobody is saying you have to accommodate people with allergies.  Furthermore, you have the option to give candy, but have non-food treats as an extra option for kids who have food allergies.  And yet the comments on the articles about this are just astounding with the apparent offense people are taking to this project, including people who have (or claim to have) allergies or children with allergies.

Some of the more common criticisms?  "Oversensitivity" and "taking the fun out of a holiday" were the common ones among those who did not claim any food allergies.  "It's not that hard for me to sort out the candy afterward" and "it makes my kid stick out even more" topped the parents' comments.  Most of the ones from allergic adults echoed the parents.  One total asshole made an argument about natural selection.

Again, over something that is totally optional within a totally optional activity.  You don't need to participate in Halloween at all let alone participate in this project, but apparently it's offensive.

People have some irritatingly idyllic opinions about The Way Things Were, and accessibility tends to bear a lot of ire because of it.  The way people tell this story, there was once a time long long ago when Halloween was fun and people didn't complain about things like allergies and offensive costumes.  This is the reality:  In the past, when people had severe allergies, they were flat out not able to participate.  People didn't accommodate them anyway, so why bother?  It's the same story for all the other accessibility measures we take.  The conferences I've gone to often have no-scent/no-perfume policies, which people always treat as useless and annoying.  When people complain about these, what they're ignoring is that people who did have really bad allergies to scents would show up, have a really bad experience, and then never come again.  Since they stopped coming, there was nobody there to confirm that this was even an important issue, so when the scent policies were popping up people acted like they were frivolous and oversensitive.

Accommodation of kids with serious allergies for trick-or-treating is something that should have always been done, but since it wasn't, they merely didn't go out trick-or-treating, so you wouldn't have even known they existed.

Next, on parental supervision.  Yes, it's important that parents of kids with allergies look through their candy, this is like the most no-shit-Sherlock thing you could possibly say about the subject.  I don't get why this is actually an argument, though... accommodating allergies when you hand out treats means fewer treats the parents will have to remove or replace.  This argument tends to be used by people who have allergies or parents of kids who have allergies... but not all allergies are the same.  There are people out there who can't even be in the vicinity of a peanut without going into anaphylactic shock.  Just sorting out their candy is not an option.

There are kids who were unable to trick-or-treat due to allergies that severe whose parents plan Teal Pumpkin routes for them.  They weren't able to participate.  Now they can.  Doesn't that mean something?

Speaking of which, the next criticism:  It makes allergic kids stand out.  "My kid doesn't want special treatment!" one parent said.

I'm pretty sure that's the parents' opinion more than the kid's, but as kids can be cruel there are certainly those out there who are embarrassed about medical and accessibility needs, whether that accessibility is due to an allergy or due to some other thing, because they don't want to be The Weird Kid.  Here's the problem:  We've turned "special treatment" into this dirty word seeping with the assumption of over-entitlement.  Over things that people should have a right to.  The fact that people shame kids for having needs doesn't erase the fact that they have those needs, and pretending they can get by with nobody ever accommodating their allergies is serious ignorance.  Do the same people get angry that labels identify that there are common allergens in foods, too?  I mean, they could just read the ingredients, memorizing even the more obscure names for them straight from the womb; how very entitled are they to expect accommodation!

But here's the thing that really gets to me.  I've made it clear that, like Halloween itself, the Teal Pumpkin project is voluntary.  Nobody is forcing you to do it, and in fact there aren't even that many cases of pressuring people to do it.

But why aren't we pressuring people?

I'm not saying you need to paint a pumpkin teal.  What I'm saying is that the Teal Pumpkin Project exists because people do not care enough about accessibility as it is.  Accessibility should be a default setting.  We know there are kids with allergies.  One of the critiques I read literally justified her hatred of the Teal Pumpkin Project by citing the fact that her neighbors knew about her allergies and kept a special treat for her.  If people regularly did things like this, we wouldn't need the project!  The fact is, people don't accommodate each other enough, and when they do they complain about it and act like it's a massive impingement on their freedoms.

No wonder kids--and adults--feel alienated by accessibility.  People have trained them to feel like having their needs met, having their differences acknowledged and accommodated, like that's something horrible and burdensome that nobody should be obligated to do.

Finally, just a fun one for closing, here's an article largely about a woman who is angry about the Teal Pumpkin Project........ because people called her out for trying to participate in it while not following the rules by handing out juice boxes instead of non-food treats.  Because "toys are too expensive."  Because juice boxes aren't?
Teal Pumpkin Project Not A Smash Hit For Everyone


Monday, October 19, 2015

Wisconsin Schools Are Clearly Failing Trans Youth

When I came out as queer, I admittedly was super na├»ve about my state.  It made sense as somebody whose experience was limited... I was trained off-the-bat to be proud of the fact that Wisconsin was the first to ban workplace discrimination back in the early 1980s, so when we started fighting against anti-queer bigots in the mid-2000s over same-sex marriage bans it was actually legitimately shocking for me when we lost.  I still reflexively associate legislative harassment of queer and trans people with other states, no matter how many times I am entirely wrong about it.

I worked for a time in Fond du Lac, where somebody tried introducing legislation to protect trans people in housing.  It had nothing to do with public accommodations, and yet cis people throughout the city pitched fucking fits about bathrooms and locker rooms (the day I learned about it I had incidentally used a men's locker room in Fond du Lac).  I contacted the people voting on this legislation, and without fail every single one of them cissplained to me that it was not about public accommodations, even though they had been pandering endlessly to cis fears about that very thing.  That was few weeks shy of two years ago.

Even as an adult, it's really rough for me to be living here right now as Wisconsin is a battleground with regard to trans accommodations, particularly accommodations in high schools.  Recently at Oshkosh West High School (in other words, very close to where I live) a trans male student came out saying that he was given a detention for using a men's restroom.  In addition, Representative Kremer (R, predictably) in Kewaskum (very near where I grew up) is trying to push legislation to standardize which restrooms trans students are allowed to use in Wisconsin schools, requiring them to use either the restroom of their assigned sex or a unisex or faculty restroom.

In both these cases--as in most cases where trans people are antagonized for having bodily functions--the whole story may very well not be being told on either side.  For instance, I didn't know until recently that Kremer's bill requires access to a unisex restroom if a trans student does not want to use the restroom of their assigned sex.  This really hasn't been brought up a lot by trans people I know, and is likely what he was talking about when he pissed and moaned on Twitter that people were judging his bill as "transphobic" without understanding the whole story.

Here's the thing, though: Pretty much every version of these stories leads to Wisconsin failing trans students.  There is no way I can look at either of them and think "Oh, these cis administrators and politicians are clearly trying to do the right thing by trans students, and I'm just reading this wrong."  And quite frankly even as an adult I feel really antagonized by it, and that's in addition to the empathetic disgust I feel for the way my community's youth are treated.

First we need to talk about the very concept of unisex restrooms.  Gender neutral restrooms have long been a part of the fight in the trans community.  When I was at UW-Oshkosh I remember engaging in an action where a friend and I went from building to building signing over restrooms to designate them gender neutral (with a note explaining that there was a policy in place they were supposed to be following but were not).  That action pretty much flopped, but the point is that having space for nonbinary trans people as well as binary trans folk who aren't quite comfortable in public restrooms yet has been an important part of the fight.  But it was never meant to be a replacement for man and woman identified trans folk to use instead of men's and women's restrooms, at least not where they still exist.

I remember like ten years ago having a discussion with Debra Davis, who is somewhat well-known for having come out as transgender while being a public school librarian.  When the subject of unisex restrooms came up, she said "good, a place for people to go if they're uncomfortable with me being in the women's room."   This was an important moment, because for me it solidified a very important fact:  Trans men and trans women are not just fighting for bodily functions, we are fighting for validation.  Yes, it's important to just have a place to piss and shit, and unisex restrooms technically fulfill that purpose, but being told that I am not male enough to use a men's room is invalidating and insulting.  That's what Oshkosh West is doing to its trans students.  That's what Kremer is trying to do to the trans students of Wisconsin.

We also need to understand what a typical men's-women's-unisex restroom layout designed by cis people looks like.  It'll have a men's room with multiple stalls and urinals, a women's restroom with multiple stalls, and a handicap-accessible unisex restroom that is set up with about the same amenities you'd find in a typical household half-bathroom.  This means that in a facility where trans people are banned from using the right bathroom, not only all trans people--nonbinary, binary, all of us--but also people whose accessibility needs require more space or a caregiver or something like that and shy cis people who avoid multi-stall amenities, are all competing over one single-stall restroom (in such a case that there are two single-stall restrooms, they are often bafflingly labeled "men" and "women" even in the presence of multi-stall gendered restrooms).  This creates problems like what happened at Oshkosh West, but I'll talk about that in a couple paragraphs.

That's only one of the options this bill mandates.  The alternative--because forcing trans students to use the restrooms of their assigned sex is entirely transphobic and absolutely off-the-table as far as appropriateness--is to use faculty restrooms.   This has been a solution used by schools for many years now, and you know what?  It fucking sucks.  It casts students as pariahs, that weirdo freak who uses the teacher restroom, and that's if it's even accessible to them.  I've heard stories of trans students who had walked twice as far as other students to get to a faculty restroom only to find it locked if not in use.  Another fun fact?  Teachers usually aren't forced to use faculty restrooms, either.  A female teacher can use a girl's restroom.  A male teacher can use a boy's restroom.  A cis student who uses unisex restrooms for accessibility is not banned from using single-sex restrooms; for instance, a cis female student who uses a wheelchair may require the space and facilities of an accessible unisex bathroom but is not banned from girl's or women's restrooms if she can make it work in a pinch.  Forcing trans students to use unisex and especially faculty restrooms makes zero sense and it is absolutely transphobic.

You know what one of the reasons I stopped using those unisex bathrooms unless absolutely necessary was?  Even before I was on hormones or "passed" all the time?  I suddenly understood that I was often occupying what for a disabled person may be the only restroom they can actually use.  And it's not ten years ago anymore, trans people are coming out younger, so cases like Oshkosh West where there are plural trans people attending are not uncommon.  Trans people in general are not uncommon.  And in fact, the reason the student at Oshkosh West left the unisex restroom and entered the men's was because a teacher with a special needs student needed the restroom.

Which brings me to my second point.  If Oshkosh West's story is accurate and Cody Zitek's is exaggerated, and he was only given a detention for hanging out in the unisex room, Oshkosh West is still failing trans youth.  The only major difference between Cody's version of the story and the school's is that in Cody's a staff member asked an insensitive genital question and he got a detention for being in the men's room, in the school's he got a detention for loitering in the unisex restroom.

My question for Oshkosh West is this:  Why were four trans male students eating in a restroom?!

This part of the story actually punches me in the gut.  I got really bad harassment when I was in high school.  I wasn't out as trans yet--if I was I can only imagine it would have been much, much worse--but I was very badly bullied by both students and in some cases even teachers.  It was not uncommon at all for me to take my lunch tray into a restroom stall and eat there to avoid having to deal with the wide-open, underorganized, harassment-prone atmosphere of the school lunch room.  And I didn't have friends at school to help me deal with the harassment.  This is an entire group of trans students trying to separate themselves from a lunch room, who are admitting it's because they are uncomfortable in the lunch room.  Why?  What is going on in that lunch room for eating in a bathroom to feel like a safer alternative?

Bathrooms are only a part of this story when that sort of thing is happening.

Kremer claims that his bill is intended to make trans students safer as well as cis students, but this goes against pretty much everything else he's said and is pretty much a bald-faced lie.  His explanation is and always has been "all these people are caring about trans students' safety, but nobody is talking about safety for [heterosexual] students" (he means cisgender but as he is a bigot  he is conflating gender identity and sexual orientation).  Even after correcting the language, it still makes no sense:  Forcing trans students into unisex restrooms doesn't protect them--if their harassment everywhere else is being ignored--and trans students are not and never have been a threat to cis students.  Ever.

Everything about this is about vague and petty cis comforts and not trans student safety.  Kremer and every school that utilizes similar policies to the ones he is trying to codify in state law are not protecting trans students, they are antagonizing them and making them out to be potential criminals for needing to use a restroom like everyone else.