Once again I wander uncertainly into territory that might get me in trouble. The topic at hand requires clarity and sensitivity to address, in terms of implications beyond the actual news event and however skillfully one tries to express their views, our community and our present age is always ripe for misunderstanding and accusation. Heedless of these dangers, I persist.
In Red Bluff, CA there’s an evolving situation concerning the reaction of the local middle school to the needs and requests of a currently gender-fluid identifying student. Junior White, 12, was assumed male at birth, and has made some declarations within the last half-year. S/he (Junior is said to use and be comfortable with both male and female pronouns), who’s a star performer on the school’s football team, first came out to his parents as gay last fall, then later professed to be identifying more and more as a female. S/he sought permission to use the girls restrooms and after an initial denial this was granted however the school also declared that s/he would no longer be allowed to participate in boy’s athletics. Junior and the family are upset about this but it is not difficult to understand the difficult position this has put the school administration in.
First, a caveat: if state law and athletic commission policy dictate that girls can play on boys sports teams (about this point I am uncertain – I’ve yet to see any mainstream reporting on this story) then there is no reason for Junior to be excluded and the controversy is unnecessary. The rest of this post operates on the assumption that no such clear path to resolution exists.
It seems to me that one of two things are possible here. There are more than two possibilities but not others that i consider to have any realistic probability. Either Junior actually is gender fluid (or, similarly, is a trans girl ultimately but has not yet firmly reconciled to that identity) or, Junior is in fact trans girl but is so invested in competing on those sports team she is trying to “have it both ways” for now. In short, the described situation is honest, or it is arising from some level of deception. Let’s take the latter first.
It would be willfully blind of me to assume as a given this possibility does not exist. This child is 12, is obviously sincerely dealing with her identity (as opposed to the “boy lying in order to see naked girls” trope from the Culture Warriors on the right, which is something I’ll get back to). I’m not here to suggest any of that is at root dishonest. However, is it really so unrealistic to suggest that the best athlete on the team in multiple sports, a highly popular and praised player and student, wouldn’t be so emotionally invested in that activity and that status that they would be reluctant to surrender that station as a derivative of gender transition? To be logical and fair one has to at least recognize that this newly evolving situation MIGHT be complicated by such an emotional thought process.
In the former case – and this would be a situation that’s bound to happen at some point regardless of whether it’s happening here – Junior is and will continue to be gender fluid, identifying in some part with both sexes and potentially in no consistent pattern. This sort of situation would prove to be a dangerous minefield for school administrators trying to be consistent, in accordance with state law, and fair to the student. At the risk of being at odds with the trans-inclusiveness paradigm, I understand their decision here and am not willing to suggest that the choice was made out of bigotry. Their choices are constrained not only by being fair to Junior but also having to deal with the likely lack of understanding (and by this I do not mean empathy but rather actual lack of knowledge) among other students and the community at large.
The framework for this is that anti-trans bigots have deeply ingrained into the public consciousness the myth that students (or men in general) will profess a female gender identity for the SOLE reason of gaining access to womens’/girls’ private spaces. To those individuals, and those who heed their warnings, this case constitutes a gold plated, served-on-a-silver-platter textbook example of exactly that imagined phenomena. Within the context of their worldview, this event is exactly what they have been predicting – a boy wanting access to girls’ spaces while maintaining the privileges associated with being male. In short, this story is actively dangerous to our political progress. We’ll be hearing about it, and hearing it misrepresented, by our right wing opponents for years to come.
As such, while I’m sympathetic to this child in particular and gender-fluid people in general, I’m not sure there’s a winning play here. Prevail in Junior’s favor and become the poster child for the “taking advantage” mythology, surrender and be vilified for delegitimatizing the equality interest of gender-fluid individuals. Ultimately, the best society would have as few gender barriers as is practically possible, but if you just say “integrate all sports teams” it is not untrue that identified males could and possibly would basically drive female athletes from the field/court in all sports. If you say “just let girls play on boys teams if they can make the cut” you only solve half the problem as some will claim this is unfair to males who, for example, want to play vollyball or softball.
But short of that new age, whatever it looks like, there has to be SOME uniform standard set by the state to deal with gender-fluid and non-binary situations in a way that can be administrate equitably. Unfortunately, that MAY – not necessarily but MAY – involve making a choice between how one identifies for the purposes of sex-segregated situations. I’m not saying that’s fair, but until the public is better educated I’m not sure I see how schools avoid the trap. If in fact Junior is prolonging a choice that’s apparent imply because of sports, that’s harming our overall objectives as a community. But if in fact this is a “pure” gender-fluid” situation, then all parties need to work respectfully to resolve this in a way that does not give fuel to the lies of our enemies.
Photo by jennypenny1388