Houston, you have a problem. You just voted to repeal an ordinance that would have banned discrimination on the basis of age, race, or sex, and I don’t think you know what you have done.
You bought into the propaganda that made you afraid. You were lead to believe that predatory men dressed as women would be able to go into women’s washrooms, even though there is no evidence to back it up. You thought women and girls would be at risk. This is so far-fetched as to be laughable, except that it isn’t funny. You believed a lie, and now lots of Houston’s citizens will have to continue to suffer discrimination and indignities. Well done. You sacrificed real people on the altar of an imaginary foe.
This will have wide-ranging effects, and I don’t think you will like them. My reaction has been to decide that now I really do not want to visit Houston, and no doubt many other people have had similar thoughts. I hope that my transgender son is not required to go there for work; he just would not feel safe. Presumably many people right now are reconsidering work and conference locations for the same reason. It is interesting that an effort is being made to influence the NFL to pull the 2017 Superbowl out of Houston in recognition of this discriminatory vote. For various reasons, there may be a negative economic effect that voters had not taken into account.
More to the point, though, I really feel concerned for transgender people of Houston who will now find it even more difficult to use public washrooms. There are a lot of people there who were hoping they might get some relief from threats and discrimination, but who now realize that they will have more problems than they had before. This is what matters most to me in all this.
Those of us who are part of the majority are usually unaware of the difficulties faced by people in minority groups, or the many overt and subtle ways in which their lives are made miserable. This lack of awareness was recently brought home to me very poignantly by my transgender son when we were talking about the ways in which he is frequently misgendered.
Despite having gone through a long and sometimes difficult period of transition, he is still sometimes perceived as female. Even I, who know better, sometimes use the wrong pronouns. Both complete strangers and close relatives are equally guilty of getting the gender wrong sometimes, and that hurts him. When we were discussing this I asked why it matters, and that made him cry. This is how he told me how much it diminishes his sense of self to be misperceived:
“Imagine if everywhere you went all the time, everyone assumed you were male, everyone called you sir, everyone expected you to use the men’s washroom, wouldn’t let you use the women’s change room, looked at you weird if you bought women’s clothes, and everyone automatically assumed you were male, and you would have to correct them if you wanted them to know your correct gender. It would be very damaging to your self-esteem and your sense of identity. It hurts, and it’s hard to keep reassuring yourself that you’re right about who you are when you’re the only one who seems to know.”
It was heartbreaking. I’ve already apologized in person, so this is my public apology. It’s a declaration of my regret and shame at being so insensitive and unkind. I’m sorry, Jamie. I’m really, really sorry.
I don’t have to go through any of the hurt that he experiences. I use public washrooms without fear of being excluded or even looked at with suspicion. It’s easy for me, and it ought to be easy for everyone. Instead of making it easier, Houston, you just made it harder for people like Jamie. I can apologize to my son for my shortcomings, but how are you going to apologize to the citizens you have hurt?
I hope you will reach out to your transgender neighbours and learn a little more about them. You will find that you have a lot less to fear than they do.
Image source: Big Kid Small City