Sunday, April 24, 2011

Current Events

For first time readers, please excuse the introductory material containing navel-gazing about the nature of this blog. Trust me, there's meat to this entry beginning in the fifth paragraph)

I've mulled, for some time now, just what direction I need to take this blog in. It was originally intended as a "my journey" sort of journal (original, eh? what maybe 2 of every 3 transitioning people do this?) but I'm a bit cursed by my openness. My wife is fully aware of the blog and reads it, and my comments here have on more than one occasion led to drama which is unnecessary and hurtful all around. so as long as we are under the same roof it's probably best for me to drift away from that motif.

Also, due to considerable emotional distress over home-front tensions over the last month or so, I've had a sort of "writer's block" on all fronts. This hasn't exactly help encourage readership. Looking at the pageview history is depressing, but I've not really given anyone anything TO view. To make matters worse, virtually everyone who reads this regularly that I'm aware of is also a Facebook friend and a note there will be seen by those same people and potentially several others. It makes me question the efficiency of having this blog up and running at all.

Still, call it ego or whatever, but I'm reluctant to let it go, so it makes sense to try to find some useful purpose for it. it's not like the world is going to miss one more blog with breathless updates of how many weeks/days/hours I've been on HRT (I'm not, sadly, but if you read many trans blogs you know what I mean). What I can do, potentially, is try to bring another voice to the discussion of trans-related current events. To be sure, there is a massive raft of political/activist trans blogs too. but not that many have my particular political viewpoint.

As I've discussed previously, I'm a heavily libertarian, and that means mostly conservative (where they parallel) sort of person on most of the political issues of the day except the equality issues. The case I'd like to make is that belief in equality for all people is not antithetical to conservatism (I'd argue libertarians are not the ones who are on the wrong side of this issue). That's not to say that I want to pour every thing I discuss into that mold, but it's the worldview which moves me and it's not all that common in my opinion.

The current issue, of course, is the beating of Chrissy Lee Polis in Rosedale, Maryland on April 18. Over the last couple of days I've been to as many as a dozen different sites where people were discussing this case and I've come away with something of a sense of where my voice potentially is within the community. Before I get to saying anything about the Rosedale Incident, let me elaborate on that.

It seems to me that the activist community - at least those who's voice I'm exposed to - seem to fall into certain habits of thought, if not cliched behavior. It's not unusual that when one precedes from a long held worldview, one begins to frame every subject within the parameters laid out by your habits of thought. Obviously I'm not above this, but I do have the benefit of having made a major shift from one side to the other on one of the most controversial issues of our day. I do therefore have some experience with questioning my own suppositions.

So after I outline the Polis story, for any who might be unaware, I want to say something about that as it is illustrated by the reaction to this story. These are the details which have emerged.

Chrissy Lee Polis is a 22 year old white female in Rosedale, MD (a suburb of Baltimore). On April 18, she entered a McDonald's to, at least, use the restroom. As she made her way from the entrance to the restroom, she was addressed, according to her interview here, by a man whom she brushed off. Near the bathroom, either before entering, or upon exiting (or possible within the restroom itself) she was confronted by two black teenage females, 18 yo Teonna Monae Brown and an unidentified 14 yo. One of them asked Polis "You tryin' to talk to my man?" and apparently an argument ensued which escalated into the two teens attacking Polis.

A now widely circulated video was shot by a McDonald's employee, one Vernon Hackett, who's heard to repeatedly say of Polis "that's a man" and encourage bystanders to stay back at let the beating continue, apparently under the impression that she was being beaten for using the ladies room (Polis is a post-op transsexual woman). The store manager can be seen repeatedly trying to intervene (sometimes with the assistance of one other employee) but it's fair to observe he was less than skillful at this, though in fairness this is not an everyday occurrence.

At about 22 seconds in the attackers are moved away, and are all but out the door, then return and renew the attack. If there's criticism for the manager here it's in that one might argue he should have had them out the door rather than letting them return. But again, he's acting almost alone and one man can't lock two doors. Once the attack is renewed, it's really out of his hands at that point. The vicious beating can be seen here, but be advised many find it disturbing. One elderly lady attempts to intervene at one point and she too was struck for her trouble. At no time during the video do many of the "men" in the place make ANY effort to assist Polis, who's seen going into an apparent seizure at the end of the 3 minute video while Hackett warns the perpetrators to flee before the cops get there. Interestingly, the man who would later insist the victim was a man, or his co-worker, is heard repeatedly saying "She's having a seizure."

Hackett later posted the video to the web, and it now appears in several places. When the story was picked up by The Smoking Gun and other news sites including the Baltimore Sun, Hackett posted messages to his Facebook and Twitter accounts clearly indicating his contention that the victim was a male (even claiming "he still has his man parts") with the obvious underlying logic that the beating was deserved. later he backpedaled claiming he had nothing against anyone, yet the insistence that Polis was a man only makes sense if Hackett assumes that makes a difference in the justness of the attack. Outrage has of course erupted in various quarters. Some expressing outrage over two blacks attacking a white girl, others expressing disgust that the girl was beaten for being trans. No one was aware of the jealousy angle until Polis spoke up on Saturday, in an interview on the Baltimore Sun site, though Polis also voiced the view that her trans history played a big role in the initial attack and in the lack of aid.

McDonald's Corp. has strongly denounced the attack, as has the store owner, and both seem to be working with authorities and trans activists for the best possible resolution. Hackett has already been fired, so there is already a sign of progress. The story of course bears close monitoring. As noted, Hackett is out of work and both attackers have been arrested. In my estimation, calls for the manager's dismissal are unfair. He's doing as much as can reasonable be expected in the situation. Also, one other hourly employee seems to be trying to intervene. the rest stand accused, in my mind.

Another aspect worth noting is that the state of Maine is, even now, considering a bill which would reverse trans-access rights which were recognized in a 2005 action (see a related story here). The state of Maryland ended their legislative session without acting on a hotly contested bill which had been watered down to exclude restroom-access protections for trans people because even gay rights groups were connived the bill couldn't pass with that provision. As it turned out it didn't pass anyway. Texas is considering a bill which would seek to "clarify" legislative intent in a way unfriendly to trans people (which is a big enough story that I'll comment on it in a future column).

Clearly, there is much fodder for uproar and outrage in this story. All too often though, the outrage falls into particular patterns which seem almost a mental crutch. What I've seen, in particular, were example of this sort of thing manifested in three different ways.

First, the basic assumption that the attack on Polis MUST have been an anti-trans event. It was a reasonable assumption when he hadn't heard from Polis given Hackett's voice over encouragement. Surely it is reasonable to assume that the attack could have been made worse by the knowledge of her status. I do not wish to imply for a moment that the attack, the severity, the duration, or the lack of aid was not affected by her trans status. It would be difficult to believe that it was not.
However, by Polis' own testimony, the flash-point was something much more common. Jealousy. Also, while it's a sensitive subject, it's fairly well known that many black women highly resent even the implication that "their" black men have an interest in any white woman. It's reasonable to assume that transphobia is only one factor in the event. Time may reveal the extent to which it increased the severity of the beating, but it seems to not be the only factor in the fact that it occurred.

Secondly, the "let's get McDonald's" riff is in my estimation wildly misguided. All over the trans-blogosphere (and Facebook, Twitter, et al) the cries ring out "Hold McDonald's accountable!!!" This despite the fact that there's no logical sense in which McDonald's Corp. could have prevented this attack and only a limited sense in which the severity could have bee mitigated (and even to that extent, the responsibility is with the local location, not the national corporation). McDonald's as a whole has a solid and deserved reputation as a trans-accepting and supportive business. Antagonizim and confrontation is exactly the wrong approach to such an ally.
It IS true that there have been 3 or 4 previous incidents at McDonald's locations, but no one seems willing to acknowledge that there are other factors which correlate much more directly to anti-trans violence than incidents which occur at McDonald's. Specifically, attacks and oppression are reported much more frequently among lower socio-economic class people than elsewhere. McDonald's has locations in poor neighborhood and from time to time the negatives of the neighborhood (violence, robbery, drug use, etc) cause bad things to happen at McDonald's. And also, at other sorts of businesses in these neighborhoods.
The truth is, McDonald's has 12,804 locations in the U.S. If each one serves, say, 500 customers a day(on average), that's over 6 million served per day. if there is one trans person who's out of the closet in every 3,000 people ( a VERY conservative estimate since I know there's at least that high a rate in this rural MS county) that's 2,000 trans people served daily (assuming an equal distribution of course). 2,000 a day equals 728,000 a year, or over 2 million easy in the last three years. and in that period of time we are aware of something like four incidence of anti-trans events at McDonald's locations. That makes the odds one in a half million that it might happen to, for instance, me. That's an awfully high standard to hold McDonald's to, to significantly reduce that number. I suspect the odds of being a victim of random violence in such neighborhoods, for ANY person, is considerably higher.
That's not to say there were not things which could have been done better, that there are not directives and possibly training that needs to go out. But implying that bad policies allowed this to happen is just silly.

The third thing I've noticed is the knee-jerk effort to expand the targets for vented frustration. An example: I saw a Facebook post which ranted that Fox News was typically taking an opportunity to bash transgender people with their headline and story, and she provided a link. the problem with her complaint was that what she linked was "FoxNation" which is a discussion forum, and the headline and article that offended her was lifted whole and without alteration from as a thread starter. No Fox employee had anything to do with the content she was complaining about. Still, fox is right wing, thus by definition evil, thus a good target for anger.
Likewise many commenters in various places railed against the "Religious Right" as the spook behind this situation. To be clear, the Religious Right and it's influence on conservative politicians IS a HUGE obstacle to trans equality. BUT, anyone who thinks the ideas of a couple of black teenagers in a ghetto neighborhood is being informed by Focus on the Family is on some seriously crazy crack. The fact is that the single most anti-gay (and by extension anti-trans) demographic in this country by a WIDE margin is the black community - you know, the folks who vote Democrat 90% of the time? Those people share, of course, the views of the religious right but they are NOT to any significant extent being informed by them.

My point in all this is that while we are and should be outraged that this event occurred, we do nothing to advance our cause by being overly confrontational (unless the guilty party is stonewalling which isn't the case here), by mis-directing our ire, or by having unrealistic expectations. Rational, logical, and efficient action MUST trump emotionalistic irrationality. This even, grevious though it is, is also a golden opportunity to frame the "bathroom debate" in a new light. Heaven help us if we squander it.