Thanks to Loretta Lynch, We're About to Be Normal

Loretta Lynch

There will be a lot written about the new fight between the Department of Justice and state of North Carolina over transgender bathroom access. My own response, besides briefly tearing up, was to ask my 9-year-old daughter to put down her iPhone long enough to watch the nationwide press conference from the Justice Department.

I explained the attorney general to her as the top lawyer and policewoman in the country. I explained what she was saying by telling her, "Remember this moment: Mommy's about to be normal." I then called all the people who helped me start GenderPAC back in 1994.

It was 1995 when the Justice Department hate-crimes staff agreed to a first meeting on trans issues. I was so sick, I said nothing and was literally falling off my chair at times. But I knew it was the start of something and I had to be there.

So yes, it took 21 years. But yes, we are all about to finally be normal.

There is a lot of nuance here that will go largely unmentioned in all the commentary to come. So let me hold a few things up to the light.

First of all, we are about to be normal. I mean that in two ways.

To begin with, this was as big a line in the sand as any of us could have wished for. The federal government just announced that it is putting its full weight and authority behind the proposition that transgender people are legitimate and transgender rights must be respected.

The second way is in what was not said. The Justice Department did not justify this on the grounds we have a mental diagnosis (i.e., gender identity disorder) that must be respected. In fact, even Ted Cruz, who ran truly vile ads in the Indiana Republican primary attacking Donald Trump for his tolerance of transgender bathroom access, did not attack us as being deranged or otherwise suffering from a psychiatric condition (which in any case should not be stigmatized).

The right wing in general and Mr. Cruz specifically have also pretty much avoided attacking us as immoral. In fact, few of the right-wing bigots transfixed by trans issues have even availed themselves of their favorite new argument to hold back the tide on LGBT rights: to wit, that religious conviction grants them the right not to serve us, marry us, bake wedding cakes for us, or photograph us, because doing so would violate their moral beliefs.

On the contrary, both Mr. Cruz and his ilk (and of course the Justice Department) have addressed this strictly as a matter of rights (the right to privacy versus trans civil rights). I realize this is a small thing and truly cold comfort, but that's what normal looks like when it starts to break out.

This brings me to the biggest thing about the press conference. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the head of her Civil Rights Division, Vanita Gupta, just denounced anti-transgender discrimination by putting it on a par with Jim Crow, that pernicious system of discrimination that for decades consigned African-Americans (mainly in the South) to separate and inferior bathrooms, drinking fountains, classrooms, buses, train seats, etc., thereby condemning many of them to no public accommodations whatsoever when separate ones were unavailable. 

LGBT advocates have often mined the historical parallels between gay rights and the black civil rights movement — sometimes facile and some thoughtful — and it has often proven a contentious issue.

But to see this argument being made by an African-American woman, indeed by two women of color, about discrimination against transgender people is profound. It is the sound of a door closing on a particular era and a particular kind of bigotry that perhaps not my children, but certainly their children will never be burdened with knowing.

Which brings me back to normal and the underlying arguments, the silent aspects of the position they're taking.

The Achilles' heel of transgender rights has always been that our bodies are employed to testify against us. Like pain or religious experience, my gender identity is something only I can know with certainty. But my birth sex and genitals can and always have been read against me to undermine my political pursuit of my rights.

So to take a position radically in favor of transgender rights, like the Justice Department did this week, is to say: Whether we can see it or not, even if what we see tells us otherwise, we as a society will respect what this person tells us about their identity and experience. And we are willing to put the full weight and credit of proper society behind your right to live in dignity and respect with those feelings, wherever they take you and as long as you harm no one else in their pursuit.

This is, in its own quiet way, an extraordinary leap of faith in the human soul.

This is what happened at today's new conference. There will be intersex and nonbinary and other rights to come. And there will be more legal thrashing from the right wing as it fights a losing rear-guard battle.

But genderqueers became legitimate Monday. Mark your calendars. And because of it, tomorrow's gender-nonconforming children will grow up in a different world. Because as Dr Martin Luther King (almost) said, the moral arc of the universe may be long, but it bends toward men in dresses.

Riki Wilchins
RIKI WILCHINS is an author and advocate.

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