Sunday, March 4, 2007

Grapefruit, Sunshine, and Intolerance

The fact that some guy wants to be a woman is apparently too much for the delicate sensibilities of certain Floridians.

After a lifetime of agonizing over his gender identity, Steven Stanton decided to become a woman about two years ago. "It wasn't something I wanted to do," says Stanton, 48, the city manager of Largo, Fla. "It was something I had to do." He started hormonal therapy, gradually shedding body hair and losing muscle mass. He began to feel breast pain when he went jogging—a problem he remedied by following a doctor's recommendation to wear a sports bra. On trips away from home, he began venturing out dressed as a woman. Although he confided all this to his wife and a small circle of friends, he knew that one day he'd have to tell the townspeople he served. So he prepared meticulously for that moment—aiming for May, when his 13-year-old son would be away—and created a detailed eight-page plan. "When you tell somebody this, it's devastating," he says. "It is like an element of betrayal."

Stanton's plan foundered two weeks ago when the St. Petersburg Times published an article about his plans for a sex change. In the ensuing upheaval, church leaders condemned him and angry residents demanded his ouster. At a tumultuous meeting last Tuesday, city commissioners voted 5-2 to begin the process of firing Stanton, who has received mostly solid reviews in 14 years as city manager. "I do not feel he has the integrity, nor the trust, nor the respect, nor the confidence to continue," said Commissioner Mary Gray Black. Now on paid administrative leave, Stanton has until Tuesday to decide whether to appeal. Civil rights and transgender groups have rushed to his defense. "It's been a long time since I've seen that degree of just flagrant discrimination," says Karen Doering, senior counsel for the National Center for Lesbian Rights and now Stanton's lawyer.
What I don't understand is why Stanton's decision should be a concern of mine or anyone else who doesn't fall into the friend or family category. If he can do his job as a man, then she can do it as a woman. What's the big deal?

Oh, of course, silly me. I'm ignoring the key phrase: "In the ensuing upheaval, church leaders condemned him and angry residents demanded his ouster." Armies of God, Jesus hates gays, time for a good old-fashioned smiting.

I won't pretend to be the hippest, most open-minded person in the universe. To be honest, I don't really "get" transgender orientation. I've never had that type of yearning. If I had a friend or family member confide something like this to me, it would probably make me a little uncomfortable at first. But hell, I was raised a Midwesterner and we don't much like personal information of any kind. It would make me uncomfortable if a colleague told me she's buying new dining room furniture.

The neat thing about being human, though, is that we can be better than our prejudices. We can be uncomfortable, think about it, realize there's no rational basis for feeling that way, and decide to judge people on important things like character and competence. When a person turns his or her back on rationality, however, he or she can also lose the ability to change. If I believe that "God hates fags," as the lunatics at Westboro Baptist Church would have it, I have no motivation to ever reevaluate my position. It's a closed system. It's right because I believe it and I believe it because it's right.

These "church leaders" can believe whatever they want. So can their congregants. They can believe that Stanton's going to hell, that he's going to be eaten by the dragons who live at the edge of the Earth, or any other stupid thing that strikes their fancy. It's time for this country to stop operating on belief, however. Our democracy is based on reason. When we give up one, we give up both.


Anonymous said...

Well said. Sadly, these G-d loving people are always the first to shun people. I guess everyone is G-d's creature until a Republican says otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Nice post, Snag.

I've known one openly transgender person in my lifetime and that person felt they were indeed living in hell as a man... becoming a woman was their salvation. I did not fully understand, but then I am fortunate that I will never have to. I am lucky in that I want to be the gender in which I came packaged.

I don't need to understand and I am willing to accept.