Do you know any transpeople? Meet Nicole.

NicoleMost of us are cis-gendered, whether we know that term or not. That means that our idea of our own gender is never questioned, by us or by anyone else. These days gender expectations are looser than they were in the past; my son can wear hot pink cleats and only get questions about the Susan G Komen Fund, and I can admit to just loving the brawny decisiveness of an air stapler (come on, “ka-chonk,” you know what I’m talking about). But these expanded limits don’t send much of a wake to rock our sense of whether we are boys or girls. So it can be hard to imagine what a transperson feels; how can you have a similarly solid sense that doesn’t match what the doctor said at our birth? And since the “rules” for gender expression are expanding, can’t transpeople just be tomboyish girls or sensitive guys and leave it at that?

As I think about the North Carolina bathroom law, comments from people like Governor Pat McCrory (“a basic expectation of privacy… in a restroom”) and Ted Cruz hinting of rape and assault dangers from transpeople, I wonder how many Americans have never met one. Or, more correctly, met an out transperson. (I bet you have met more than one and never suspected.) How many of us cis-people have really listened to their stories?  If you have not had a real human-to-human conversation with a transperson, I invite you to meet Nicole Maines. I wish you can one day meet her in real life, but in the meantime you can get to know her via her autobiographical TEDx talk.

She’s pretty famous for having won a civil suit against her elementary school district for forcing her to stop using the girls’ bathroom, and she has been in magazines and on TV, but the real reason you should see her TEDx talk is not her celebrity: it’s that she is a very real, down-to-earth young lady. And once you hear her tell her story, it’s easy to understand what the real “common sense” and “privacy interests” mean. Once you know a person… the differences lose their ability to scare. Meet a transperson, and let him or her pee in peace.

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Persistent, consistent, and insistent: how to tell the difference between gender-expansive and transgender

Many kids who stretch or defy gender norms are doing just that, even if part of the stretching includes changing how they talk about their gender. Some will “settle” into* more typical gender dressing and behaviors, some will forever be “tomboyish” girls or “sensitive” boys, and some will be transgender. How can you tell the difference?  We want do the right parental things: protect kids from preventable harm, prepare them for unavoidable difficulties, support development of noble character, and love them wholly. But how we do those things depends partly on which group we expect the kid to end up in.

Jean Malpas, director of the Ackerman Institute’s Gender and Family Project, offered an elegantly useful explanation in an interview today on NPR’s “Morning Edition,”

Just about all kids explore gender and gender roles, but what’s different, psychologically, for children who come to the conclusion that they’re not comfortable with their biological sex?

Yes, gender fluidity and exploration of gender roles is a normal phase of child development. What’s different for transgender children is that they experience a profound distress about the gender that was assigned to them based on their biological sex. So, we call that gender dysphoria.

And that distress is what we call persistent, consistent and insistent. It’s persistent over time. It’s not something that just shows up for a few weeks and goes away. It’s consistent in different contexts and relationships. And it’s also very insistent. They are very, very passionate about it. It’s not something that they take lightly or that is going to go away again in a few weeks. It is really core to who they are.

* I almost wrote “settle for more typical gender dressing and behaviors.” Surely to some, the settling feels like a choice or need to stop spending the energy required to answer the offensive questions, ignore the hurtful comments and establish credibility in the face of first-impression judgments. This makes me sad to think about. If more of us comfortably cis-gendered people pushed the norm limits once in awhile, would that mean we all had to “settle for” our roles a little less?

“Where Gay Americans Choose to Live and Why:” NY Times analyzes Gallup poll

Same-sex marriage laws sweep across states like a brushfire, sometimes leading and sometimes lagging LGBTQ migration. Or so it seems from this recent New York Times article by Claire Cain Miller and David Leonhardt, which analyzes data from Gallup surveys, compared to a map of same-sex marriage by the Human Rights Campaign. Among the surprises: Salt Lake City ekes past L.A. in rate of LGBT residents; San Jose and Pittsburgh have lower rates than the national Gallup-reported rate of 3.6% of adults identifying as LGBT.  As is so often the case, transgender Americans are lumped in with non-heterosexuals as though all the issues in their decisions about a home community are the same, which of course is not so. But leaving that aside, this survey data has several surprises.

The difference between the “gayest” city (San Francisco, at 6.2% of the population) and the “least gay”, Birmingham at 2.6%, is a wider gulf than I might have expected. Gallup did not include data for rural areas, which might have been even  more dramatically lower than Birmingham.

Interestingly, higher rates of LGBT residents does not perfectly correlate with same-sex marriage laws, or other legal protections. Salt Lake City is in a state with legal same-sex marriage, but also with a new “religious freedom” law that seems to protect some forms of discrimination. Austin TX and New Orleans LA both outrank Miami and New York City, despite being in states with same-sex marriage bans. Birmingham ranks lowest of metro areas surveyed, but Alabama has same-sex marriage (very recently and facing challenges from its Chief Justice).

As a parent, why does this matter to me? Will my kids, or their friends, sub-optimize a career decision because of less-friendly geography? We can’t just assume that they can pursue their dreams anywhere they want to be with an equal playing field of challenges. Yet, anyway.