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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

I’ve Finally Figured It Out

I was mystified by this recent outbreak of hostility about transgender folks and public restrooms. They are such a tiny minority of a minority, who could possibly think that their differences greatly affect our societal whole? In all of my long life, I’ve seen perhaps a half-dozen people whose gender I couldn’t determine – not that it was any of my business.

The most memorable was when I was speaking at a convention of the Organization of American Historians in Minneapolis. My attention was drawn to an older person in the audience who was dressed as a woman, but with an obvious gray wig and a sitting style that was that of a man, with legs spread wide apart. Reminded of the “Church Lady” on Saturday Night Live, it was hard to keep myself from grinning stupidly. Then there was once maybe thirty years ago when I was in a women’s room and saw shoes in the next stall that were pointed in the wrong direction. I just waited until the person left and assumed the shoes belonged to a man who had one too many.

This is hardly a raging problem, yet some states are risking their reputations and tourist business to pass laws that I’m not sure their legislators could truly explain – except that it’s got something to do with telling other people how to live their lives, even in the most intimate areas of life. As I said, I was mystified. I finally figured it out when I saw a couple of internet items that clarified the issue: these complainers don’t know what transgender means.

The most pertinent one was a guy whose post threatened to knock the block off of anyone with a beard who followed his wife or daughter into a restroom. He clearly has no concept of the definition of transgender, and a hundred years after Margaret Sanger and other feminists proposed it, we still need sex education. Someone needs to explain the basics of biology to creeps who apparently are taking to guarding women’s restrooms -- and that we don’t need them leering nearby!

A Better Word Usage

It would be more precise if we called it “transgendering,” as the word refers to the relatively short period of time during which a man or woman is undergoing hormonal treatment and surgery to match anatomy with mindset. That is very costly and very painful, both physically and emotionally, and no one does it for fun -- much less for the opportunity to go into the women’s room.

By the way, guys, you won’t see anything there, anyway, except for sinks and mirrors. Women do all their business behind the doors of stalls – and if you are afraid of the extremely rare chance that some woman on her way to becoming a man might see you at a urinal, then please emulate us and use a stall. It will have a toilet just like the one at home.

But the legislators who are passing these laws have no interest in the facts. Instead, such topics make a good distraction from the serious jobs of governance: taxes, transportation, sewage systems, and other stuff that lacks sex appeal. Such lawmakers love to create a problem so that they can play Don Quixote, becoming warriors on white horses who wield their swords against imaginary windmills. A surprising number of voters fall for that act.

They are people who cannot think abstractly. They lack empathy and imagination and cannot understand – or even try to understand -- how different other people’s lives can be. Everything is about themselves, and if a problem has not occurred in their lives, they often deny its validity. Over and over again I’ve seen such legislators vote against funds for cancer research or for special education or other such appropriations that they deem “discretionary” – until someone in their own family dies of cancer or faces a lifetime of caring for a child who never will become an adult. Then suddenly, there’s an epiphany, and it dawns on them what the do-gooders have been talking about. Or at least we can hope so.

A Rare Case of Courage

This is what happened to Ileana Ros and Dexter Lehtinen of Miami. I remember when both served in the Florida House, and especially his (heterosexual) sex life drew headlines. They nonetheless married, and as Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, she was elected as America’s first Hispanic congresswoman. That was in 1988, and she was only the second woman that Floridians sent to the House of so-called Representatives. The first was Ruth Bryan Owen, also from Miami, in 1928. Yes, a sixty-year gap. And Owen’s bill to add a Cabinet-level Department of Home and Child never gained any ground. No need for such, right?

So for almost three decades, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has hewed to the Republican lines. As the party moved from honest conservatism to pandering to the most prejudiced, however, she and her husband, a former prosecutor, have taken a giant step. They granted an interview to the New York Times, joining their child to talk about transgendering. He was born a girl, and they named their baby Amanda. She realized that she did not want to be a girl in high school -- when football, proms, and so many things demand behavior by gender – but it wasn’t until she was 21 that Amanda developed the courage to declare herself a man. Renamed Rodrigo, he is 30 now, and his photo appears entirely masculine, complete with facial hair.

They went public with their family situation in response to the current nonsense about bathrooms. “I worried about his safety,” the congresswoman said of Rodrigo’s younger days. “I didn’t want him to be depressed.” The family is affluent, which made his transition easier than that of most people who discover that their bodies and their minds do not match. Their personal experience now allows these Republican parents to advocate for a political position that they would have deemed outrageously liberal fifteen years ago.

Ros-Lehtinen is admirably honest about the party’s hypocrisy in calling for limited government while trying to regulate the most personal of decisions. She continued: “Allowing students to use the bathroom of their authentic selves is a step forward in stopping the stigma around transgender individuals. Unnecessary laws only make transgender youth feel unaccepted, and can lead to depression, or even worse, suicide.

Watch Out: Danger Coming

But some people, mostly male Republicans, would prefer to see the suicide of a confused and frightened young person rather than give up this handy new wedge that will continue to drive the ignorant and prejudiced to vote against liberals -- and almost coincidentally, for them. They run campaigns that are against, not for. It’s also notable that they have not put forth a single student whose school life has been plagued by a transgendering teen. The younger generation is smarter. The old elephants are headed to their graveyard, but they want their privileged place as long as possible.

And if you think this “issue” arose spontaneously out of genuine need for lawmaking, please think again. If you look, you’ll find the fingerprints of billionaires such as the Koch Brothers and Rupert Murdoch all over such legislative bills. These men are the nation’s wannabe mind-controllers, and the legislators they buy with their PAC money generally aren’t smart enough to write legislation on their own. Instead, they push a model bill that came from a rightwing “think tank” such as the deceptively named American Legislative Exchange Council.

Bill sponsors think that being able to sling around language like “transgender” and “LGBT” makes them appear well informed, but they are simply the well paid puppets of billionaires eager to keep people focused on the latest non-issue instead of on the nation’s real needs. The big boys also own the TV stations – especially Fox – and they use this opportunity to convince hard-working, decent people to be outraged by something that never affected them. With their customers and minimum-wage workers thus distracted, the big boys laugh all the way to the bank.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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