Sunday, March 11, 2007

Assertion, Meet Reality

In the comments section for yesterday's post, an anonymous commenter leaves us with quite a range of assertions that deserve to be shown the light day.

We start off with our commenter complaining that referring to Julie Nemecek as "Mr." is merely a reflection of "fact":

First, it's not "disrespectful" to refer to Nemecek as "Mr." -- it's simply factual. He was born with a Y chromosome and a penis -- he's male, even if he takes female hormones, grows out his hair and nails, wears a dress, gets silicone implants and has his genitals surgically removed.

Let's start with a few basics here - yes, Julie Nemecek was born male. That is an accepted fact, as is the observation that she is (at least, we presume) chromosomally normal for a male. (I cannot prove the latter, as if such a test were done on Ms. Nemecek, it's in her medical records and appropriately confidential, but I'll accept it as a given)

However, that merely means that Ms. Nemecek started life as a reasonably normal genetic male. However, if you were to meet her on the street today, I doubt very much that you would see someone conducting their life in the social role of a man. Since pronouns like Mr. convey a certain social status, it would seem to me quite reasonable to assert that it is in fact quite disrespectful to refer to someone living their lives as a woman as "Mr." - regardless of their chromosomes or past.

To me, this little more than verbal bullying.

The school kept this professor on the payroll for a period, trying to work with him to bring him back in line with school policy which is based on church/Bible teaching. He refused and was subsequently terminated.

My post wasn't about the particulars of Ms. Nemecek's termination, but since you raise the topic, I'll take a closer look at it here.

Here's the story from - a Michigan based news site that has a lengthy article about Ms. Nemecek's case.

There's a few points here:

1) Ms. Nemecek declared her intention to transition in 2005.

2) The University almost immediately took steps to curtail her transition, both on and off the job:

The meeting seemed to go well. But soon his job responsibilities changed. He was banned from appearing as a woman on campus or in town. He could not teach in classrooms, interview prospective employees or attend graduation ceremonies. His administrative duties were cut.

College officials ordered him not to discuss his circumstances with any SAU staff, which includes a son, a brother and sister-in-law.

We then find that the school started to amend his contract on the fly over last year:

His bosses issued an updated contract in April 2006 meant to subdue his feminine side in public. He tried to follow it to the point of extreme anxiety, he said. But by late October he was informed he had violated his contract and faced firing.

Now, at about this point, I don't exactly think we are talking about an organization that is showing any willingness to "work with" Ms. Nemecek at all. In fact, this has the hallmarks of setting the stage to fire someone on quite arbitrary grounds.

Further, I'll point out that Ms. Nemecek claims to have made efforts to comply with the University's demands about how she present and live, to the point that it began to cause her significant and real anxiety.

I'd almost put money that the definition of "Christian character" that is in the original contracts signed by staff at that University neither mentions nor considers the prospect of gender identity being at odds with someone's body.

The author then goes on to accuse me of the following:

You are arguing for a constitutional right to inflict approval of homosexuality, bisexuality, or "GID" on a church which believes those behaviors to be sinful -- you are advocating a right which does not exist and cannot co-exist with the right to freedom of religion.

No, actually I'm not. I'm arguing that discrimination like this is arbitrary, crude and generally unjust. Nobody has demonstrated that Ms. Nemecek was doing harm to anyone else by her transition. What Methodist theology says about transsexualism is unknown to me, and frankly irrelevant to what I was writing about. I was critiquing the assertions of the column on AFTAH, not making assertions about either the legal implications of acknowledging LGBT rights in the United States. I will argue that the religious right in the United States and Canada both unwisely use "freedom of religion" to justify marginalizing and mistreating otherwise law abiding citizens.

(As an aside, in Canada, the legal framework guarantees both freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination - which extends to topics of gender and sexual identity in the interpretations made by the Canadian court system)

However, in the kind of Irony that only comes from the creation of policy from ignorance:

Ironically, Joanne Nemecek last year completed a master's-level advanced human-sexuality course at SAU's Dearborn campus, which focused partly on the plight of transgender individuals.

On its Academic Affairs Web site, the university pledges: "We will seek ways to invite and welcome diversity into our community."

"The university teaches tolerance for transgender individuals in the classroom. It just doesn't practice it,"...

So, the University teaches courses about transsexuality, in those course calls upon people to be understanding, and then turns around and fires someone from their staff for being transsexual. Oh the irony.

He noted the Free Methodist Book of Discipline lists gender-identity issues, organ transplantation and genetic engineering under the heading "Other Ethical Dilemmas."

I don't happen to own a copy of the book, but if this is true, then it suggests strongly that Free Methodist faith community is far from conclusive in its understanding of things. (A quick browse around the web didn't turn up anything reasonably up to date - if I felt it was more germane to my position, I'd dig further)

The Bible is not "amazingly silent" on the issue of cross-dressing and mutilating one's anatomy with the objective of emulating the opposite sex (Deut 22:5 for starters, but much more). You are simply ignorant of its content and I hope you will remedy that condition by finding a Bible and reading it.

Oh, please. Why is it every time these topics come up, Deuteronomy, Leviticus and other Old Testament books are conveniently dragged out as "absolutes"? Surely in today's world, we've grown beyond that - or do you still insist on seeing a prospective wife's hymen to ensure that she is still a virgin? No, I'm not ignorant of the Bible's content - I just don't happen to interpret it as "absolute truth", nor do I accept as valid prohibitions against cross-dressing when they occur in the midst of a score of other proscriptions that are demonstrably irrelevant and unpracticed today. (Such as insisting on a bride's virginity) To me, this is the "scripture of convenience" approach being executed in order to justify marginalizing people.

Read literally, the scripture implies that surgery of any sort is immoral and sinful. Of course, we recognize today that many surgeries are in fact quite beneficial. Two thousand years ago, opening up the body to monkey with its inner workings tended to result in death. It's not surprising that such a prohibition made its way into the "cultural taboos" of the time. To argue that gender surgery is immoral or wrong based on those same proscriptions is to argue equally that open heart surgery (or any of a thousand other procedures) is similarly wrong - no matter what the benefit to the patient.

However, the Bible does NOT talk about transsexuals - how could it? The notion of a medically assisted gender transition didn't exist 2,000 years ago. Yes, it has proscriptions against cross dressing, but arguably, is a transsexual cross dressing? Not in their minds (or more distressingly, they find themselves forced to cross-dress as they live the social role that society assigned to them at birth). You can bend, fold and twist scripture all you like, but at best you are making a projection of what its authors would have concluded had they encountered such a situation themselves.

(BTW - it should make you happy to know that Ms. Nemecek is not actually planning to pursue gender surgery)

He is mentally ill, deluded, deliberately living against the obvious. (And I'm not sure our culture isn't essentially mentally ill, too, since many fail to recognize his condition as aberrant.)

Oh my. You've never talked to a transsexual, or read any of the clinical literature out there on the subject have you? You are correct that there is a diagnostic category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (302.85 - p. 576-582 of the DSM-IV TR) for Gender Identity Disorder. After that, you completely miss the diagnostic boat. A little study of the subject demonstrates that transsexuals in general are not "deluded", nor are they "mentally ill" in the sense that you imply. In fact, they are typicall quite rational, and clear about both their realities and their gender feelings.

The mistake many people make is that they assume that a diagnostic category in the DSM actually means that someone so diagnosed is "mentally ill". The reality is that for a large number of conditions described in the DSM, the person is not "mentally ill" in the sense that they cannot function in society, but rather the diagnostic category serves primarily as part of a lexicon so that professionals can adequately discuss the particulars of a patient's case with a reasonably common understanding of meaning.

What I have seen of Julie Nemecek's story, and read of the stories of other transsexuals makes it quite clear to me that Ms. Nemecek is not "mentally ill" in the sense that you suggest, but is in fact quite rational and aware of what she is doing and why she is doing it.

As for society being "ill" because it doesn't see Ms. Nemecek as "abnormal" or an "aberration", all I can do is suggest to you that those "aberrations" have occurred repeatedly throughout human history, and present a picture to us of a diversity of humanity that extends well beyond mere physical attributes and into the realm of the mind as well. When we are talking about human emotions and feelings, it is far more complex than "biology is destiny" - as transsexuals so unsettlingly demonstrate.

Isolating and punishing someone for being "different" (but otherwise harmless) is little more than abusive and mean spirited.


drew hinkle (SAU student) said...

Wow, You hit the nail on the head, thanks for getting the facts and setting the record straight. I applicate this post more than I can express.

Julie said...

What Drew said and an "Amen" added.

Julie said...

What Drew said plus an "Amen!"

Anonymous said...

Well said! And I think it's testament to how well thought out and reasoned your comments on this blog are by some of the notables who are commenting on your posts.

It's no small feat to attract international attention, and when you have both SAU students and even Julie (the woman who is under society's microscope of discussion) commenting back... WOW is right!

Keep on blogging Grog! Your thoughts are appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Well put. Ironically, the person whose statements you tore apart shows another odd mental disorder. That of believing in a magical sky-man, who is all powerful & who has managed to convey his wishes through the works of humankind... Frankly, I find when people listen to the voices in their heads, that's the unfortunate result. It's not difficult to see who the REALLY mentally challenged person is.

As for Transsexuals and your info about them... Perfectly put. I AM one, hence KNOW what it's all about.