Gender Ethics in Fort Worth, Texas

By: John D. Ferrer (11 May 2016)

As many of you know, the race is on for public school districts to clarify their policies for transgender students. Just last week, the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) passed their Transgender Student Guidelines (TSG) which broadly affirm transgenderism and mandate (by law) an accommodating environment for those students. While most everyone in this conversation wants to make sure that all students get a good education and have reasonable access to school facilities, clubs, sports, and so on, there are some pressing problems with the proposed district-wide policy which threaten the student’s reasonable expectations of privacy, modesty, and fairness.

It’s Not All Bad

Before launching into the critique it should be noted that not everything in the new guidelines is bad. A few things make sense, most notably the affirmation of Title IX (a general non-discrimination law that’s been on the books for ages now).

There’s also a helpful list of terms and definitions at the beginning, to assist in precise communication. I myself have often said “woman” when I meant “female,” or “gender” when I meant “biological sex.” These distinctions make a big difference in the litigious society we have today. The TSG also acknowledges, without direct condemnation, that some students may not approve of using the restroom, changing clothes, or taking a shower beside a student of the opposite sex. Those students are allowed to request for special accommodations (pg. 6).

Furthermore, this document acknowledges the fact of bullying. No student should be bullied, but in the real world there will be bullies. We can’t prevent all of it.  We can however open up lines of reporting so that bullies can be punished accordingly.

It’s Still Pretty Bad

Unfortunately, the good parts aren’t enough to make this agenda-laden document a good piece of policy. Overall, the TSG clearly represents the talking points of modern LGBTQ agenda, as opposed to a neutral and even-handed method of accommodating students.

What’s In a Name?
According to the Transgender Student Guidelines. Students can choose any name they want to reflect their preferred gender regardless of their birth name, their family name, and the name denoting them historically (pg. 4). Teachers can get fired for calling Charlene by her birth name of Charles (which accords with her biological sex, male).

This sort of nominalism concedes radical individualism to the detriment of family identity, communal identity, and parental investment in their child. Yet all of these domains lend to one’s individual identity, and often these different features are part of one’s name. Family, communal, and historic identity are all part of what makes us who we are. And while we are also individuals, it seems like a foolhardy social experiment to allow individuals to dictate entirely their terms of reference as if terms of reference (names) only indicate one’s preferences apart their family history, their parent’s invested love and upbringing, their racio-ethnic community, etc.

To be fair, the school doesn’t allow official school records to be changed without the proof of a birth certificate or comparable legally binding document. But teachers can still be reprimanded or fired if they don’t accommodate the preferred name of the student.

This is also a bad precedent in cases where the teacher is legally obligated to call a child by that child’s preferred name when the parents, for example, would say, “Joey is known for exaggerated role play. He’ll be a rock star tomorrow, or an dinosaur the next day. Please don’t call him Jolene. He’s 7 years for pete’s sake! He shouldn’t have the world calling him Jolene, or Joeysaurus Rex. He has a vivid imagination.

This also creates absurd legal binding for trivial name games. “Hey teacher, my name is J-dog. If you keep calling me Joshua I’ll sue for speciesism!”

Indecent Exposure
On page 5 we find a section on privacy and confidentiality. The language about “privacy” seems to treat gender deceptively. Now, I affirm people’s general right to privacy. Never should a student have to drop their drawers for the sake of gym teachers or school nurses. Indeed the central objection to transgender accommodations is over privacy concerns. I take the issue of privacy as a given, part of our inborn human rights.

But there seems to be a note of dishonesty when people pretend that they are not male or female by donning, instead, a non-conforming gender. It’s been a joke in the past (see, “Lola” by the Kinks). But deceptive gender has become a serious issue. It is dishonest to present oneself as female, allowing hetero boys to flirt and take interest, but not let them know the truth, that this persons’s gender does not trace back to biological sex. This clash of paradigms can do great damage when we’re talking about first love and teen crushes.

I don’t want to overplay this point, but it seems unnecessary and duplicitous for faculty and staff to have to play along with the secret, hiding a students biological sex as if the LGBTQ perspective on gender is the only responsible academic option, and the only viable choice for school policy.

Now to be clear, I don’t think teachers should be terribly intrusive anyway, but they shouldn’t have to keep secrets under threat of  lawsuit. It would be far better to leave these matters up to the discretion of local school authorities. Teachers are more than compliant when they understand a students health and well-being is involved. But teachers also need legal protection too. They have a hard job too. And if a teacher were to accidentally call Charlene by her birth name of “Charles,” that teacher shouldn’t have to worry about being fired or sued for breach of trust. At most a low grade reprimand should suffice.

Students do not have an absolute right of privacy in public school, they have only a limited, though reasonable, expectation of privacy. It is reasonable to expect that teachers may not realize that Charles now goes by Charlene, or may call her by that name for a while. It is reasonable for teachers to make differing judgment calls about the students well being, and disagree over how best to address this child in class. Believe it or not, teenagers don’t always know what’s best for themselves. So a teacher’s input can really help a student through a troubling time (and the adolescent years can be pretty troubling for most every child). It is not a reasonable expectation of privacy or modesty, however, to pressure young female students to accommodate nude heterosexual males who happen to identify as females.

Also, it looks like, from the language on pg. 5, that not even parents are allowed to inquire into school records if the child is trying to hide his or her gender identity from the parents. In this way, that schools would be dividing parents from their children.

A Disproportionate Voice
The language on page 6 seems to overstep common sense because the trans student has a voice regarding bathroom usage where other students don’t have a proportionate voice. The language allows a single trans student full use of the locker room, but all the other students who aren’t comfortable with that would be relegated to a single stall restroom. By trying to accommodate the individual, the rest of the student body is pressured to surrender their modesty and privacy expectations to keep from being labeled a bigot, homophobe, transphobe, etc.

But lets be clear, a male isn’t sexist against females/women if he considers it imprudent to share a locker room with biological females. That’s not necessarily bigotry or phobia. Likewise, a student could object to the policy without having any irrational fear (phobia), bigotry, or hatred. He or she may simply consider it unwise in light of teenage hormone-driven locker room behavior.

I do admit, however, that it’s a good thing that for the TSG to acknowledge the value of other options, like single-stall bathrooms, and other private facilities. These seem to be the sanest, and safest alternatives. Unfortunately, the TSG disproportionately favors the transgender student. A transgender female (male by birth, but identifies as a woman) can pressure a whole locker room of girls into accommodating them, even if it violates the faith, ethics, or rational objections of those students. He can force the teacher to send the rest of the class into a one-stall bathroom to change for PE. More likely, what would happen is students surrender that part of their belief system, compromising on their ethics and outlook, and like so many other compromised girls, they let that boy see them naked so they can “go along to get along.”

Unfair Play
Perhaps the most blatantly unfair part of this policy is on the sports field. The physical education and athletics section is foolhardy and unfair to women’s sports. Women’s sports should be restricted to the female sex. Were the sport readily amenable to mixed genders, such as dodgeball, kickball, then we wouldn’t have a problem. But once puberty hits, and girls and boys start to diverge widely in athletic ability, hormone levels, and physical speed and strength, it’s just foolhardy to expect that males can enter the women’s playing field without a serious threat to the fairness of the game.

We war against reality if we expect a fair game after boundaries for biological sex are replaced with one’s preferred gender identity.

Sexualized Bathrooms
Often LGBTQ advocates point out how bathrooms can be terrifying to genderqueer, lesbian, gay, and bisexual young people. I fully agree. But school bathrooms, in elementary and middle school especially, can be pretty scary anyway.

Bathrooms are the one place that students can go to avoid teacher supervision. It’s a place of “locker-room talk,” foul language, dirty deeds, bullying, and various sorts of rule-breaking. Generally speaking, however, school bathrooms are not yet common places for sexual assault, or for invasions of privacy by the opposite sex. Letting boys into the girls bathroom does not bode well in this regard, even if they have to claim transgender status first.

The TSG rightly acknowledges the difficulty of accommodating trans students, and allows any and all students to request special accommodations. But there’s a latent problem here. If a transgender students is a heterosexual male, who prefers to be identified as female, but he happens to derive sexual pleasure from getting naked in front of females and watching other females get naked, the TSG protects this practice as his “right.” Never mind if he’s a clinically paraphillic voyeur, if he claims to be female the school would have to protect his right to get naked in the girls locker room and watch them get naked too. Similarly, if a female identifies as a male, but is anatomically female–breasts, vagina, feminine hips, etc.–she can still change in the boys bathroom even if that practice gets teenage boys more “riled up” than they can be reasonably expected to handle.

Lets not forget, that it’s difficult to be a young person. Those years can be horribly insecure, experimental, and very precarious. Young people grow up fast enough already, we risk damaging them if we try to grow them up even faster, through mandated social policies. We are the fools if we expect adolescents to have mature levels of impulse control, consequential thinking, social and emotional security, autonomous identity, and the strength of mind that just aren’t part of normal adolescent psychology. Some boys just need to weather the hormone storm a little longer before they settle down into productive members of society. Putting them in situations besides live naked females is a recipe for disaster. And I’m not even talking about criminal behavior here, but just social and emotional health. Sure, there is a threat of sex crimes, but we can set that aside for now and just consider the social and emotional well being of adolescents.

Are the Transgender Student Guidelines a Good Idea?

It bears repeating that no one in this country-wide conversation is really advocating for active hostility or oppression of transgender people. There is however a threat of conflicting values. How do we balance the privacy and modesty of most students with the safety and well-being of transgender students? I suggest we don’t need to import politically laden LGBTQ talking points, or intrude on the privacy and modesty rights of the student body, just to make accomodations for Trans students. Nor is it clear that a district wide policy is the best way to address transgenderism, given that there is a wide range of psychological voices feuding over its nature and relation to known pathologies and clinical deviancis (gender dysphoria, transvestism, etc.). Meanwhile, there already exist plenty of rules against bullying, which don’t need to be repeated in a new policy. And there are other options that allow accommodations for transgender students without forcing the girls basketball team to change in the faculty bathroom; and without letting transgender females (biological males) compete in the women’s weightlifting division.

Perhaps the most foreboding problem with the TSG is that it does not factor in sexual orientation. By focusing only on gender identity, this policy still allows straight males, who identify as females, to get naked in front of girls and watch them get naked in front of him every day in the school locker room. I guess I’m too much of a social conservative to appreciate the enlightenment of that fact.

The last page of the guidelines, page 8, doubles down on the politically partisan position of this proposal. Not only must faculty and staff comply with this policy, but they must actively seek out ways to model their agreement with it. The policy leaves no room to seriously entertain the question: “what if transgenderism is overwhelmingly mistaken, unhealthy, or otherwise a bad idea?” This policy demands faculty and staff actively assist students in their nonconforming gender even if that violates their own moral or religious principles.

This policy does not represent equality, sensibility, and responsibility for all the students but rather intrudes on the student’s reasonable expectations of modesty, privacy, and fairness. Where these guidelines are right, they are redundant (affirming Title IX, and prohibiting bullying). That leaves only their wrongs remaining. As such, the Transgender Student Guidelines are a bad idea for Fort Worth.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.