Sunday, March 13, 2011

Now for something completely different

It's easy enough, in this world, for someone like me to feel completely different on a daily basis. Even when you are as thick skinned as I, in terms of not crumbling into tears at every perceived slight, you can't help but notice. You see someone pass in the aisle who's gaze lingers a bit too long and you wonder "Do they know?" and "what must they be thinking?"

You have to go to the ladies room and you wonder "Is this the day someone calls me out for being in here?"
You have people tell you they are not judging you and they believe in "live and let live" and you wonder how they explain you to their kids at home.

But even beyond all that, even when you are not wondering if others are taking you seriously, you tend to beat up on yourself. Women are given to self-criticism and negatively comparing themselves to other women in the best of times, but for us it can become a full time occupation. Everything from whether the beard shadow is showing yet, to whether or not your fake boobs are level, to whether your voice slipped after you coughed. You get jealous of others who are further along transition than you, and frustrated at the difference between you and "real" women. You get depressed when one of your friends describes "I'm doing so and so" (having surgery, reached a year on HRT, whatever) and you realize how very little you've accomplished in comparison. Being happy for her doesn't keep you from saying "When will I ever be there?"

But all that is part and parcel of being what I am. it might not be pleasant but we all have some unpleasant circumstances, such is life. It's part of what you sign on for.

The sort of "being different" on my mind tonight is something else completely. It's that freakishness that comes from not toeing the right wing or left wing party line on every last issue. For background I have to admit that for most of my life, I did just that. I've discussed here before how I accepted the teachings regarding gays and other associated "lifestyles" (lord I hate that word) without giving too much logical thought to them. Combine that with my right-of-center views on abortion and economic issues and I was a pretty stereotypical "right winger."

However, the same sort of reasoning which compelled me to re-examine the (almost entirely religion driven) "social conservatism" also forced me to re-think the rest of my ideology. Was I pro-life because it made sense, or because I'd been condition to think that? Did I believe in smaller government and tax cuts because it was what I was "supposed" to believe or did it have merit? The results of that re-thinking are, frankly, all over the map - and that reality has left me "different" everywhere I go.

I have found, since I've spent more time interacting with other trans people, that most (but not all) of the on-line trans community is vehemently leftist. And they don't have much stomach for exposure to anything they consider a "right wing" sympathy. For the great majority of them, the Democrat/Liberal/leftist position on any issue is the OBVIOUS position to support, apparently for no other reason than that those liberal have it right on matters of equality.

Just the other day, a (former) Facebook friend post an article cheerleading the Union protesters in Wisconsin. No big deal, of course, I had no objection to seeing that. But I offered a comment that was not wholly supportive of their actions, and my friend first de-friended me (lest I be able to publicly reply) then accused me of being "self loathing."

Excuse me? what does my gender issue, and my opinion of it, have at all to do with the events going on in Wisconsin? Nothing of course, but in her world, anyone who deviated from the script on ANY issue was clearly not "trans enough" or something. It's just silly. Over and over if I dare to voice a point of view that's off the liberal script, I catch a lot of grief as if I'm enabling those who would kill me (supposedly).

I've not yet been confronted by a Republican/Right-winger because I favor, for instance, marriage equality (not, by the way, "gay marriage" - more on that in a bit) but I'm sure I fail the purity test. All you have to do is watch the potential presidential contenders step and fetch rather than say anything unconventional. Mitch Daniels, for instance, wisely (in my view) suggested that the GOP pause a bit on the social conservatism to rescue the economy. A perfectly sensible view even if you disagree - and he's been catching grief ever since. What Daniels didn't say, and what no Republican who wants to contend dares to say, is even more unconventional than that.

The 2010 elections were the first elections in my adult memory in which neither war issues, or social conservative issues, played ANY role in the election. Overwhelmingly people were obsessed with the economy - and in THAT election the Republicans won bigger than they ever have before. Why? Because the social issue people didn't need to be told who was on their side, and the middle of the road folks didn't want to endorse the social conservative issues. So on the heels of that, what shall we do? Crucify people who don't toe the "gayz are teh EEvil" party line, of course.
Can we pay SOME attention guys?

The point is - the VAST majority of those who venture an opinion, on either side, are of the opinion that you must agree on ALL the issues to be sincere on any issue. Which is, frankly, intellectually lazy. One CAN, in fact, be pro-choice and for smaller government, one can be pro-life and for gay rights, one can be for tax cuts and against foreign wars, one can be an environmentalist and a hardliner on illegal immigration. but such people are not taken seriously because they can't be easily pigeon-holed.

Another manifestation of this I've seen lately is organizations which work for equal rights trying to mobilize their membership for some other cause, such as for the Unions in Wisconsin. I'm sorry folks, no sale. My opinion on that situation has no relation to my gender identity and I'm not obliged to take a left wing view on one because I do on the other. Or vice-versa.

To be quite honest with you, I've got views on every issue that will piss someone off, sometimes on the right and sometimes on the left and sometimes both. But they are reasoned and considered views - MY views and not those poured into my skull by Rush Limbaugh, or Bill Maher either. That makes me a "freak" ideologically, whether I'm interacting with my conservative and Christian peers, or whether I'm interacting with my trans peers.

I am, or at least am closest to being, a libertarian. Small "L." Though I have points of disagreement with them too. But what does that mean?

I believe in small government, which doesn't do anything that the free market can reasonably be expected to accomplish. The few things that remain they should do, and when there seems to be an obvious need not being met by the market, the government should do the minimum it has to do to provoke the market to act responsibly, or to do the think a free market is not equipped to do (such as make war, for instance).

I believe that our emotional desires often conflict with harsh economic reality. In other words, I very much agree with the idea that society should look after the less fortunate and that where private charity fails there might be a role for government as a last ditch safety net. But at the same time I understand that economics is no respecter of emotion. if we try to legislate what makes us feel better about ourselves, it won't work if the laws of economics don't work that way. That's why, as good as it might feel to tax the mega-wealthy down to a reasonable level of wealth, doing that has a real and quantifiable negative impact on us all which will happen no matter how we feel good about our choices. So economically, I'm conservative not because I like it, or because it makes me feel good - quite the opposite - but because I recognize that economics is not an emotionally driven process. This means that a rational government seeks to do that which will work, not that which makes us feel better about ourselves.

I believe that government should allow the maximum amount of freedom for you to do what you want so long as it cannot demonstrate a real, obvious, unmistakable threat to the whole community that cannot be solved any other way. That means that you can go without your seat belt or your helmet, you can grow and smoke your own pot, whatever - as long as you are not infringing on anyone else. One obvious example is prostitution.

Street prostitution should be illegal, it's a place where the government has a legitimate right to be concerned for the community at large, because of the potential for exploitation, the danger to public health and safety, and so forth. On the other hand, if a given individual man or woman chooses of their own free will to accept some form of payment for a sexual act, that harms no one else in a way that should concern the government. Whether or not one considers it moral is beside the point.

It has been argued, not without some merit, that the law is "the great teacher" which serves not only to preserve the public order, but to "train" people in the proper morals. However, the downside of that is that someone, somewhere, has to decide what morals are the proper ones. it's all well and good for us good Christian folks to be satisfied with our good Christian morals being taught - but what if you are a Christian in Iran - do you still want the government to be the arbiter of what people should think? If the principle is true that it's not right for an Islamic government to force Islamic morals, then the principle is true whatever morals are being enforced. And don't come back with "yes but our Christian morals are right!" because that is exactly what the Ayatollah thinks. The only logical principle is that it's the church's role (or the synagogue or the mosque or whatever) to instruct in morals, not the governments. the governments role is to preserve order. So in my view, a rational government is one that only with great hesitation says "thou shalt not" (or "thou shalt").

I believe that part of that order is equality before the law in all things wherein a person interacts with their government. If the government recognizes ANY social relationship, it cannot pick and chose. In point of fact, it ought not recognize a social relationship at all, for that means that the single individual is not equal before the law. People who wish to have legal entanglements with others, such as survivor-ship or visitation rights, or custody of children - things traditionally associated with marriage - can and should obtain legal contracts which specify the details. If you wish to be "married" - go to your house of worship and get married, that's none of the government's affair. This falls under the smallest government that's practical, as well as the maximum liberty that is practical.

If the government is going to act at all to insure fair employment or housing or whatever, then they should protect any group that might be discriminated against. Picking and choosing what the government protects (race, for instance) and what it doesn't is inequality before the law. I see an argument for the government saying "you can't fire someone because they are black" but in like manner, that should also include gay or trans or whatever. That's not to say that you cannot legitimately consider that which would potentially have a legitimate impact on your business, but you'd have to demonstrate one. If you'd rather the government not extend such protections at all, I could see an argument for that - but in for a penny, in for a pound.

I do, however, take the position that in our current society government SHOULD equalize the status of LGT people before the law. I do think that a given business ought to have a business related reason to not hire me, or to fire me, as a transwoman. I believe that, in fact, the more places which are accepting of gender transitions, the less they will be an issue with customers.

An example - I know that a lot of people around me silently disagree with my transition - fellow customers at Wal-Mart or the supermarket. But these people do not, in fact, refrain from shopping there lest I appear. I contrast to this, I was made aware last week of a business which did not consider my job application because they believed, or had been told, that they would lose business if people had to be checked out by "one of them." I would argue that those who would give up patronizing a business they enjoy shopping at over such a concern would be very very few, and there would be even fewer examples of it if it were not uncommon to find a transperson behind the register (and word to the intolerant, the odds are not zero that you HAVE been checked out by a transwoman and didn't realize it at some point in your life. If i were a checker at Wal-Mart, there's no doubt people might choose another line (and how many of you have chosen another line because a checker seemed unfriendly, or slow?) but not one in 1,000 will stop shopping there.

The point being, I can see a legitimate role for the government in forcing the issue that the market won't readily address, until society grows up enough it's no longer necessary. The tricky thing is, of course, people recognizing when in fact the necessity has passed. Governments pretty much never voluntarily surrender power once acquired.

You can see above that on the former principle, I'd usually align with conservatives, on the latter principle I would stand on the same side with, albeit for different reasons, the liberals, and in both I'm closer to the classic libertarian than either. The major point being, however, that the position is reasoned. that's not to say I can't be wrong. particularly on matters economic. I'm always learning something new. but only that the position I take is my own reasoning applied to the knowledge I have available, not a parroting of what some politician or preacher or speaker told me I should think. Which is why it galls me so when someone accuses me of that sort of thing.

One last example - an issue where I don't fit with either extreme. Well, actually there are two - one is foreign policy which is far too complex for me to use as an example in this space. The other is abortion. This subject is such an emotionally charged issue that even the use of the word "abortion" can almost never be discussed rationally. I recently had a long, frustrating, and ultimately pointless discussion about the reality that another name for "miscarriage" is "spontaneous abortion" - because I should never use that heinous word to refer to an event that cost a woman so much emotionally. Try as I might I couldn't put across that the word "abortion" has a real, specific, meaning that goes not only beyond the surgical procedure but indeed, beyond pregnancy (for instance, a pilot on a military mission might be told to "abort" the mission).

That highly charged emotionality makes it almost impossible for anyone on either side to be rational about the subject. so you end up with armed camps in a standoff in which neither side gives any ground, even though there's a rather obvious answer.

Consider this: The "right wing" (i.e. religious) position is that human life is present from conception. Thus, the only moral position on abortion is that one must never induce the end of a pregnancy or one has taken a human life (laying aside exceptions that are often discussed as not relevant right now). However, scientific studies indicate that as many as 62% of all conceptions end in a miscarriage before 12 weeks of pregnancy, and over 90% of those mothers never even realized they were pregnant.

Have you ever stopped to think about the religious implications of that reality? As Christians we believe that the innocent child who dies in an abortion (or miscarriage) goes to be with God. If the soul is present from conception, and if over 60% of all pregnancies in human history, and you can bet the figure was much higher up until the last couple hundred years, end before the mother even knows she's pregnant then inescapably heaven's population - billions and billions and billions of souls - would be 99.9% the souls of those who never lived to draw their first breath.

Does that make ANY sense to you? I think it's a reasonable conclusion that we're wrong about something. Either we're wrong that the soul of the unborn goes to be with God (and that opens a much bigger kettle of theological fish) or we're wrong about when the soul is present.

And that's before we get to the discussion of whether it's the governments business to answer a theological question. The government's business is to defend LIFE. so how do we define human life? Certainly there's one argument for defining it as beginning at conception - you've heard those arguments enough that I need not repeat them. But we never apply those same reasonings to the end of life. We are all aware that there are people who are beyond "life" but yet still meet all those stipulations.

I suggest that it's rational that we consider applying the same standards to mark the beginning of life as we do the end. In every jurisdiction the law stipulates when a person is no longer "alive" to the satisfaction of the law. Often it has to do with brain activity. Why not apply that same measure to the start of life? In doing so there is a reasonable window for a woman who does not want to be pregnant to see to that before the fetus is legally alive (i.e. has brain activity, which itself would be a very good indication to the religious that a human soul is now present). After that point, you missed your chance (save to protect the life of the mother). The line would probably fall in the 8-10 week neighborhood, and a woman who engaged in some activity (or was raped) who felt she was at risk could take measures to deal with the possibility - even without knowing for sure if she had conceived. This might not have been possible 50 years ago, but what's past is past. such methods are readily available now.

This will, of course, please neither side. Even now my pro-life friends reading this are no doubt convinced I contribute regularly to NARAL and my trans friends probably largely think I'm Bible thumping. But what this is, bluntly, is a rational synthesis of the information available to us. Separated from the emotionality of what we WANT to be true on either end of the spectrum.

But it's also an example of the sort of thinking that leaves me a poor fit for any group. what's the point in all this whining? Well, it forms the backdrop for a more specific personal concern, but this post is far too long already so I'll save that for another post.

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