Wes: Feeling a little perplexed about the sudden mandate from Washington that transgender students be allowed to use the bathroom of their gender identity? Me too.
I pride myself on being ahead of the curve on these issues and I think we have, in Double Take, had a pretty high hit rate in predicting what’s coming next. But this one stunned me. I’m not unfamiliar with the issue. I often see trans kids now. It’s one of the reasons I pursued a sex therapy certificate at the University of Michigan. I know this topic of bathrooms looms large for trans kids. I’ve had more than one jumped (beaten up) in a bathroom at KU.
I just wasn’t expecting such an edict from the Feds on something so likely to enflame a topic that we are, as a society, barely beginning to grasp. So, I’m going to say something that’s guaranteed to upset everyone: Let’s give people on each side of the argument a break here.
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I’ve been in this area of practice for a decade now, working with teens for 24 years, and a member of American society since the Cuban Missile Crisis. In February 2012 I wrote: “There’s a growing movement among teens and young adults that leans away from labels of ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ and towards attraction to a given person, regardless of gender…. It is my well-honed gut instinct that this is the shape of things to come, as this generation rises from young adulthood and takes control of the world.” Less than two years later, I restated this point adding, “I guess I won’t have to live that long.”
I believe that, on the whole, our society is learning to embrace different sexual identities. Numerous adults my age have come out of the closet for the first time because young people have unlocked the door or perhaps kicked it in. Gabe’s vociferous defense of the mandate is a good example of how youth are leading this cultural shift. We now face our next challenge in finding out what it means to be transgender and coming to grips with why it scares us or excites us or repulses us. That’s the “U” of our PLUS model for dealing with teen sexuality — “understanding” both the teen’s experience and our own.
We’re going to have to apply that model broadly now that there’s so much more to understand. Unfortunately, the more mandates the federal government offers in this peculiar time of political insurrection, the slower we may become in facing and accepting transgender identity as valid and important. Yes, if asked to stand, I’m going to stand on the side of the trans kids. But I’m going to ask them, just as I have many times in my office, to have patience for everyone who hasn’t caught up yet and may not want to.
There. Now that I’ve written it, I think recommending mutual patience is definitely guaranteed to upset everyone, especially in today’s political environment.
Gabe: This mandate would be unnecessary if not for the recent and yet archaic ordinances proposed by various state legislatures, most famously North Carolina. Before these transphobic laws were put into action, trans people often used the bathroom that corresponded with their gender identity.
No one was getting hurt by this practice, except the fragile sensibilities of some hardcore religious fanatics. They offer a common straw man argument that sex offenders would use the mandate to get into restrooms, yet there are no recorded occurrences of such abuse by transgender people in restrooms. In fact, more lawmakers have been caught doing illegal acts in restrooms than transgender people.
Since these state laws actively encourage discrimination, the mandate from the Justice Department is necessary to protect the rights of a group that already goes through enormous societal pressure. Transgender folk are more likely to commit suicide (41 percent of them attempt it) than the average person, due in part to the stigma others place upon them. When you’re disadvantaged in this way, your day is made easier by having the same rights as others, such as relieving yourself in peace.
I wish the Justice Department didn’t have to step into every public bathroom with this mandate, but that wouldn’t be the case if not for the bigots in state legislatures. Hopefully this action will eventually lead to the identification of sexual and gender identity as a protected class. The acceptance of transgender people into mainstream society hasn’t been easy for them. Anything to prevent further discrimination is welcome.
— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not: Successful Living with ADD & ADHD.” Learn about his writing and practice at dr-wes.com. Gabe Magee is a Bishop Seabury Academy senior. Send your confidential 200-word question to firstname.lastname@example.org. Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.