If I listen to my children, I can learn a lot. I have one son and three daughters, all successful grown-ups following their passions. My youngest daughter, a happily married heterosexual, is a social worker with the LGBT Center of Los Angeles, working primarily with transgender clients. Her experiences with her clients and our current experiences in N.C. with HB 2 have resulted in yet another stretching and learning experience for me. Here is some of what I’ve learned.
When I was born, the doctor looked at me and announced, “It’s a boy!” I grew up comfortable as a boy, and during all my 68 years have thought of myself as male. In current terms, I’m identified as cisgender, cis for short, meaning I’m comfortable that my gender identity aligns with what I was assigned at birth. I’m also sexually attracted to women, which means I’m heterosexual, and cisgender, a cis straight person.
Just as easily, at my birth the doctor could have said, “It’s a boy!” and I could have grown up comfortable as a man (cisgender) and sexually attracted to other men. Then I would be cisgender and homosexual, cis gay.
You probably can see the variations here. If at my birth, the doctor had said, “It’s a boy!” and as I grew up I was never comfortable as a boy but instead always felt I was a girl, and if as I matured I had made the transition to not only feel and believe I was a woman but also to live as and be a woman, I would be transgender, not a cross-dresser but a person who knows in her heart and soul that, although she was born with male genitalia, it is her nature to be a woman. She would be transgender, trans for short, and by my thinking she should be allowed to relieve herself in the ladies’ bathroom.
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And there’s more, since we humans are complex. If I’m assigned male at birth and feel compelled to make the transition to live and be a woman (transgender), and as a woman I’m sexually attracted to men, then I would be heterosexual, trans and straight. Likewise, if as a transgender woman I’m sexually attracted to other women, then I’m trans and lesbian.
See what I mean about learning by listening to my children? And keep in mind that none of these people – cis/gay, trans/straight, trans/gay and trans/lesbian – none is any more likely to be a sexual predator who preys on women and children in the bathroom than is a straight guy who always has been comfortable being male. To say otherwise, that HB2 is necessary for our safety, is fear mongering and shameful.
Yes, this may not fit with what some of us grew up learning and understanding, that is, we all should fit neatly into one of two categories, male or female. We are now starting to see that the simple gender and sexuality binary models from our past don’t fit the reality of our lives. But it’s only now that our society is beginning to allow the personal freedoms essential to living authentic lives, for each of us to live true to who God created us to be. The societal and personal conflict we’re seeing from HB 2 comes when what’s essential for authenticity for some of us conflicts with how others think everyone should live.
So what do we in N.C. do, now that we find ourselves saddled with HB2, and now that its implications and damage are cascading down on us from all directions? Clearly the Republicans in the House and Senate and Gov. Pat McCrory didn’t understand what they were imposing on us when they so quickly and cavalierly sailed HB 2 into law. If they had realized how far behind the world’s thinking they are, they would have never risked the economic loss and personal pain we are only beginning to suffer from this misguided piece of activist legislation, this deeply harmful attempt at social engineering.
Where’s the way out for them and for us? How do we get out of this mess? How can we cut a door into a wall now that they’ve painted themselves into a corner? Of course, the law should be repealed and for a host of reasons – it’s unjust, it’s unconstitutional, it’s economically corrosive, but most of all it is simply wrong. But the House and Senate Republications who supported this bill apparently are afraid to appear to back away from what they have done because even more they fear being flanked on the right and challenged in their next primary by someone even more extremist, and McCrory stands with them in fear of not being re-elected. Once again the desire for re-election trumps statesmanship.
I know there will come a time when this discriminatory legislation will be repealed and will join the trash heap of past laws discriminating on race, gender, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation, laws like those requiring racial segregation, barring women from voting and preventing marriage equality.
But for now North Carolinians are needlessly hurting. North Carolina is needlessly being held up for national scorn. I wish I had an easy exit strategy to get N.C. out of this disgraceful, wholly unnecessary train wreck. I can only hope and pray that a way out will open, that enough members of the General Assembly will have the strength to step back from what they have done, that wiser, cooler heads will prevail, and that we in N.C. soon will return to living up to the exhortations of our state song, “The Old North State,” “where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great.”
Stephen T. Smith practices law in Raleigh and is a long-time member of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church.