s.e.e smith triumphs in California’s progress, but admits there is a substantial amount of work needed for LGBTQ students.
It figures. Of course California would wait until the minute I’ve left the state for the opposite side of the country to pass a record breaking law and get it officially signed by the Governor. My nemesis Jerry Brown is usually doing things like cutting social services and trying to unionbust, but I have to give him full props on this one: he signed some very important, groundbreaking, and, of course, controversial legislation on Monday.
Here’s the scoop: AB1266 allows students to go out for sports based on their actual gender, not whatever is on their school records, and that includes sharing locker rooms with their teams. This also permits them to use bathrooms appropriate to their gender, rather than being forced into the wrong bathroom or obliged to make special arrangements with the school to accommodate their pretty basic need to use the toilets at school.
This seems like pretty basic stuff, and it should be, but of course it’s causing all kinds of controversy to explode. Predictably, within hours of the final signing, conservatives were already trying to recruit people for a lawsuit to try to get the bill struck down, barely giving activists time to rest on their laurels. Instead, they’re having to gear up for a potentially heated court battle over AB1266 that may take years to drag out as people war back and forth over whether K-12 trans students should be treated like human beings or freak shows.
All kinds of really noxious arguments came up in the floor debate over the bill, and some of them were really bizarre. There were, of course, the usual “bathroom panic” defenses for voting against the bill, arguing that obviously if you allowed MEN (by which the legislators involved meant ladies who have penises) in the women’s room, all hell would break loose. Right, because trans women feel ultrasafe in women’s rooms and really only go in there to rape people anyway.
And of course some legislators claimed that this would lead to a situation where trans students would “steal” spots rightfully belonging to cis students. It does not escape notice that this is a frequent countertactic to civil rights advocacy: scare people by suggesting that their positions of social dominance will be threatened unless they fight back.
Furthermore, people like Senator Jim Neilson had weirdo comments like this one: “a student has no burden but to declare that ‘I want to be in the boys shower or the girls shower’ that day.”
So here is thing that this comment betrays when it comes to the lack of knowledge of trans identities. One is that trans people don’t just decide to be one gender or another. They just are. Sometimes they discover that at a young age, especially when they are in an environment where they are supported and encouraged to express their gender in a safe space. In other cases, they may wait for years before working through their gender and transitioning.
Students are not just going to be randomly faking it when it comes to which shower they want to use. Many trans people are actually quite shy about our bodies when in transition, because our bodies may not align with our genders and how we see ourselves. Thus we’re not really eager to be sharing showers at all, let alone ogling other students in the process. Just as lesbians and gay men manage to handle same-gender showers without popping boners (literal and metaphorical), heterosexual trans folks can handle showering people of the same gender they are attracted to.
The dreaded “San Francisco values” were brought up as further evidence that all those Queers in the Capital of Queertown USA were corrupting the state with their parody of social interactions and human relations; if only those pesky San Francisco activists weren’t involved in politics! It’s telling and rather gross that the idea of treating people with human dignity and respect is regarded as so deeply offensive that it merits mocking commentary. Ugh, those San Francisco values.
And let’s talk about something really important here that’s getting missed in the debate over whether this bill goes “too far” (Thanks, “Los Angeles Times”) and the celebrations over how now trans people don’t face discrimination: you cannot legislate discrimination away.
You can fight it, you can create a legal framework for identifying, prosecuting, and attempting to prevent it, you can highlight how discrimination works and mandate action, but you cannot make it go away. There are lots of trans students in California who won’t be any safer once this law goes into effect that they were before because they lack family and social support, because their schools are ultra-conservative and not trans-friendly in the least, because they live in parts of California where being trans is very, very dangerous.
For those students, a law like this makes a symbolic difference, but it doesn’t make one on the ground. Even if they have the ability to file a civil suit, it could take years, and would involve an ugly public battle. Along with legislation needs to come education and direction action to address the causes of discrimination. California is still a state where ignorant conservative lawmakers make transphobic comments while the legislature is in session and people pay attention to them. It is still a state in which trans students are regarded as deeply suspect for wanting to play sports and participate in their school communities.
It is still a state in which trans women are driven to criminal activity to support themselves through transition, even as cities like San Francisco help cover transition costs for uninsured residents. It is a state where trans people, especially women, particularly women of color and nonwhite women, face very real physical dangers and risks just for being who they are. It is a state where, as in the rest of the country, LGBQT youth are wildly overrepresented in the homeless population. And the prison system.
So yes, this legislation is great and I am excited about it, because strong civil rights legislation is a good thing and it’s an important part of social and political reform. But it is not by any means the end of the line, and it’s important to be aware that the fight is far from over here.
Let’s celebrate, but let’s bring the leftover cake to the organizing party tomorrow, okay?
This article originally appeared on xoJane.
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S.E. smith is a writer, agitator, and commentator based in Northern California. She focuses on social issues, particularly gender, prison reform, disability rights, environmental justice, queerness, class, and the intersections thereof, and has a special interest in rural subjects. smith delights in amplifying the voices of those who are often silenced and challenging dominant ideas about justice, equality, and liberation. smith’s international publication credits include work for the Sydney Sun-Herald, The Guardian, and AlterNet, among many other progressive news outlets and magazines.
Image Credit: Michael Gray