What is it about bathrooms? Throughout the Jim Crow South, there were separate restrooms for blacks and whites. When I bring my dad, my uncle and my niece to Puerto Rico every winter, my niece claims the one bedroom with the private bathroom and the guys share the other one. Three hundred years ago, it was a mark of honor to be able to accompany the monarch as he took his toilette. Now, privacy seems most significant, and therefore the most easily endangered, when we discuss bathrooms.
Still, even I have been taken aback by the current “bathroom wars,” fought over the issue of whether or not transgender persons should use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender at the time of their birth or to the gender by which they now identify themselves.
I am surprised, first, that this issue has seemingly become the next frontier in the civilizational struggle for equality. I understand that the issue is of great concern to the sliver of the population that is transgender. A family I know has a child that just changed his gender, and the process, and the result of the process, has certainly not been without anxiety and stress. The fact that the legal struggle seems focused on schools, when all kids are going through puberty, seems especially designed to throw gasoline on the fire. My sense is that this issue has less to do with the people it ostensibly concerns and more with those who are professional culture warriors on both the left and the right.
It baffles me that the Obama White House has latched on to this issue as a key part of its legacy. The fact that his administration has done so does not evidence the breadth of concern for other human beings and their travails. No, it evidences the degree to which some on the left, especially those with power, glom on to whatever issue seems trendy and cool at the moment. As Thomas Frank points out in his new book Listen Liberals, the “creative classes” that dominate the liberal establishment are far more animated by the need to get someone an abortion than they are to get people a job. Furthermore, how is this a federal issue?
It also baffles me that conservative critics of any accommodations being made for transgender people use such false and inflammatory language to describe the situation, warning darkly that the Obama Administration rules would allow men to prey on your daughters in the bathroom. (What is to prevent predators from doing that now?) A transgender person who now identifies as female and desires to use the women’s bathroom is probably going to cause less of a stir in the ladies’ room than in the men’s room. Think of Caitlyn Jenner. The way she looks now, I can’t imagine feeling comfortable if she walked into the men’s room.
Explanations of corporate America’s support for LBGTQ(xyz) are almost as simplistic as laments about falling sky. Rod Dreher quotes this:
This social order of consumer-based options tends to forge a new conception of the human person as a sovereign individual who exercises control over his or her own life circumstances. Again, traditional social structures and arrangements are generally fixed in terms of key identity markers such as gender, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation. But globalized societies, because of the wide array of options, see this fixedness as restrictive. And so traditional morals and customs tend to give way to what we called lifestyle values. Lifestyle values operate according to a plurality of what sociologist Peter Berger defines as “life-worlds,” wherein each individual practices whatever belief system deemed most plausible by him or her. These belief systems include everything from religious identity to gender identity.
Thus, lifestyle values and identities are defined and determined by consumerist tendencies and norms. Commercial advertising is not merely central to economic growth, it is also of central influence to inventing the self through offering variant lifestyle features and choices. In the words of social theorist Anthony Giddens: “Market-governed freedom of individual choice becomes an enveloping framework of individual self-expression.”
I would therefore argue that the corporations promising to boycott states like North Carolina for their traditionalist politics are not so much for LGBT rights as they are against arbitrarily restricting lifestyle options, since such limitations are deemed inconsistent with a society comprised of consumer-based self-expression.
But what about people who work hard, buy stuff, and pay bills on time? Aren’t they better for the economy (global or local) than people who might find that after making a purchase they regard the credit card bill as merely a convention of arbitrarily chosen identities? If you ask me, corporations support gay rights and marriage for its p.r. value, which is to say, they don’t want to appear intolerant. Can’t say that analysis is all that profound either since the numbers show that heteros have more buying units than gays or those who transcend gender. This is nothing new. Remember the NFL penalizing Arizona (as host of the Super Bowl) for not making Martin Luther King Day a holiday.
But Rod buys it hook, line, and sinker:
Cavanaugh says that the free market is based on the definition of freedom as an absence of external constraints. The wider your choice, the freer the market. This is problematic from a Christian point of view, as well as from a virtue ethics point of view, because it is agnostic about the existence of good and evil. The free market, thus conceived, catechizes us into believing that there is no truth, only individual desire. But desires are unavoidably social, so the will to power in society belongs to those who maximize individual choice by tearing down any structure or belief system that denies the primacy of individual choice.
You mean my latest statement from Bank of American isn’t true? Woo hoo!
Another round of travel allowed for more sustained sampling of the news and those matters that afflict our
great pretty good land. A few random thoughts:
Can Bill Cosby ever receive the forgiveness that Dylann Roof has found (at least from the AME church members in Charleston — the government of the United States is a whole lot more demanding)? And why is Cosby’s sexual dalliance and proclivity so despicable when the nation is celebrating a kind of sex that the same nation used to regard as deviant? At least if you want an illustration of God’s righteous standard, just look at the way the United States condemns/ed Bill Cosby and Joe Paterno.
Rachel Dolezal proves that transracial is illegitimate but Caitlyn Jenner proves that transgender is fine. But what about transnational? What if I am a Irish person trapped in an American body? Can I change my nationality? If I can’t, then don’t we have another barrier to be toppled? Or is it that the nation-state is almighty while race and gender are ephemeral?
The Nation’s Greatest Threats
I used to think that a hate crime raised the stakes of criminal activity, though I would have assumed that killing another person was hateful. After all, our Lord said that if you hate another man, you are guilty of murder. But after coverage of the the shootings in Chattanooga, I learned that terrorism is even worse than a hate crime. But the reports were not clear on the order of threats and the Department of Homeland Security has yet to rank them. Here’s an initial stab:
3. The Confederate Flag
4. Hate Crimes
Blame the Victim
I’m with President Obama in trying to overturn many of the pernicious penalties associated with the War on Drugs (see, it wasn’t on the list of the nation’s greatest threats). Pardoning those sent to prison on old drug laws makes sense. But if these convicts are victims of bad legislation, is Greece also a victim of overly strict banking rules? Yet, I heard some commentators explain that Greece is truly responsible for their actions and needs to face the consequences of a bad economy and poor government. So if you can say that about a nation, why not about persons? Or might Greece plead insanity? But that didn’t work for James Holmes, who was found guilty for twelve counts of murder during his shooting spree in a Colorado movie theater.
I can only conclude that Americans are conflicted about blaming people for crimes or misdeeds, except when it comes to Bill Cosby and Joe Paterno.