Houston Hits ‘Pause’

“Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them.”

Houston voters, being Texan and therefore retrograde, have defeated an ordinance that Mayor Annise Parker, being progressive and therefore enlightened, says should never have been up to them. “No one’s rights,” she explains, “should be subject to a popular vote.”  The ordinance—in pursuit of which Parker tried to subpoena the sermons of opposing pastors—would have prohibited discrimination, which is to say distinctions, in a variety of areas, including public accommodations (bathrooms), for a variety of reasons, including gender identity.

That people with one set of biological organs ought to use facilities that inhibit their exposure to people with the other set used to go by the name “modesty.” But man being the measure, words change, and modesty no longer means what it did, if it means anything at all.

This makes political conversation difficult. One can read media accounts of human beings struggling with these issues and remain unable to discern the relevant fact of their biological sexual identities: relevant, that is, if one believes in modesty.

National newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post have made the editorial decision that gender pronouns will be assigned according to the desires of those bearing them rather than by the objective facts of their biology.

They might consider that journalism is a business of words, as is republicanism, as is, for that matter, moral assertion. If words do not have fixed meanings connected to objective realities, those activities become precarious, including the claim that discrimination is a morally objective wrong. (Or can one who wishes to discriminate simply will the definition of the word away?)

The objectivity of language is also relevant if politics is relevant. Yet the frame of reference in the transgender debate thus far has been all rights and no politics. The individual occupies not merely the center but the sole place in the conversation. The community in which that individual inescapably exists—in which he or she shares spaces with other individuals—is nowhere to be found.

Consequently one can believe a transgender individual ought not to face discrimination without believing that that vitiates the legitimate viewpoints of the members of the other biological sex who will share a locker room with him or her. But the delegitimization of opposing views and therefore the destruction of politics is now the tactic of the day. Witness the Obama administration, which, without a whiff of politics, recently administratively threatened an Illinois school district with the loss of $6 million in federal funding if it does not allow a transgender teen to use the opposite biological sex’s locker room.

Then there was the Post, which, in a rush to defend transgender youth against stigma, subjected rural Americans to stigma. It reported on a controversy over a biologically male transgender youth’s use of the girl’s facilities in a Missouri high school, over which female students staged a walkout:

When Caitlyn Jenner took to television in April to announce she was transgender, messages of support poured in from across the country. She was featured on the cover of Vanity Fair and received an ESPY award for courage. But even as Jenner starred in a reality TV docu-series about her transition, a deeper question remained. If Jenner weren’t already a rich celebrity, would she have received the same support? How would other, less famous transgender Americans be treated?  On Monday morning, a small town in Missouri provided an answer.

Notice that how the girls wished to be treated, which the transgender teen’s conduct certainly affected, is, in this story, invisible except insofar as it proceeds to appear as regressive. (In the small town, according to the Post, the debate is “behind” the national conversation; the teen’s use of the girl’s bathroom and locker room was a “simple act [that] set off a firestorm of controversy.”)

The youth, meanwhile, is excerpted from community. His struggle with gender identity is portrayed as solitary, which it surely and tragically was, but so, importantly, is his solution to it: a lone assertion of rights that refuses to take account of the feelings of others. “I wasn’t hurting anyone,” the teen said.  “I felt like I was being segregated off . . . And I wanted to help blend in with all the other girls.”

Mary Ann Glendon calls this the “lone rights bearer,” the tragedy of which is that it leaves the individual ultimately alone, bearing, as she notes, his or her rights but also little else.

Rights also have a way of forcing compliance on the unwilling, who rarely, of course, actually comply. In the case of transgender people, this attempt at a transformation in society is happening with stunning speed, surely spurred by cultural change but also accelerated by political pressure. If the problem with judicial assertions of rights is their swift and antipolitical character, at least they have the virtue of adversarial proceedings. The administrative state is simply proclaiming them unilaterally.

This speed cannot be healthy, least of all for those whom these new rights would protect. The teen in Missouri is surely worse off as the object of public protests than as the subject of a compromise at which politics—unisex bathrooms were suggested—could have arrived. All this is worth a conversation: one in which transgender people should be treated with respect and their claims taken seriously, with an understanding that the claims of others in society—those girls in the locker room, for starters—will receive the same deference.

The Mayor of Houston should thus welcome this pause in the movement she sought to accelerate antipolitically, via her attempt to isolate the ordinance from voters. In choosing modesty, the fixed meanings of words, and their right to decide issues politically, these Texans have almost certainly laid the groundwork for a more constructive conversation.

Reader Discussion

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on November 04, 2015 at 11:33:28 am

"No one's rights should be subject to a popular vote" states the progressive(socialist) mayor of Houston. This,of course,doesn't include property and firearms rights which have been voted away over and over again. With of course the blessings of the progressive Left. It always comes down to whose ox is being gored. Political hypocrites rule us.

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Image of libertarian jerry
libertarian jerry
on November 04, 2015 at 11:46:01 am


Well said!

It seems to me that in an attempt to transform a civic good (tolerance / fair treatment for TG's) into a Public Good (constitutionally based *right*) we are destroying another civic good - modesty and respect for others sensibilities - while also destroying another Public Good - popular consent and an electoral voice.

Jerry is correct as to which rights may be subjected to "popular sovereignty"

"What a wonderful world" as Louis Armstrong would sing!!!!

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Image of gabe
on November 04, 2015 at 20:38:57 pm

Y'know, the bigger issue here and in many other similar issues is:


I, for one, think there is; because discrimination is an expression of choice.

When those opposed turn to "wrongful" discrimination, they have a case dependent on the instrumentalities or procedures used to implement the expression of choice. Which really boils down to it being the wrongful use of the instrumentality or procedure, rather than the nature of the choice.

Freedom to associate - or not - is a right. There are now many who would "qualify" that right; usually in terms of the "needs" of others to have a particular form of association. The "needs" of some do not create an obligations of others to "accommodate." That individual has the obligation to find or create associations that are compatible to those "needs." Many have to modify "needs" to meet the compatibility available.

We are now getting well into the era of the administration of *people* in addition to the administration of *things.* Therein lies the New Totalitarianism.

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Image of R Richard Schweizter
R Richard Schweizter
on November 04, 2015 at 21:26:16 pm

I oppose the administrative state but beforehand opposed governance under Biblical gods and legislative prayer. I hold Congress, with their DOMA basis—Judeo Christian tradition--for the vulnerability they opened to the administrative state’s Supreme Court in Windsor v US. I make my point below by mimicking an admirable paragraph in this post but recalling the status just two years ago.

. . . the frame of reference in the LGBT debate thus far has been all Bible and no civics. Judeo-Christian tradition occupies the sole place in the conversation. The community in which LGBTs inescapably exist—in which heterosexuals share spaces with other individuals—is nowhere to be found.”

Please note my substitution of “civics” for “politics. A civic people can collaborate for morality.

Morality derived from theistic opinion exists in a class I refer to as opinion-based ethics. After some 800 years dominance, dating from the Magna Carta, opinion-based ethics has proven dependent on force.

Humankind needs to establish physics-based ethics for determining civic morality. “Civic” refers to “the community in which that individual inescapably exists—in which he or she shares spaces with other individuals.” “Physics” is energy, mass and space-time from which everything emerges. Emergences began 13.7 billion years ago. Recently, the aforementioned Western cultural evolution emerged.

Physics informs a person that his or her body determines gender. If the mind overrules the body, civic regeneration efficiency is lessened. For example, same sex partners cannot independently procreate and therefore must seek third-party assistance if procreation is desired. A civic people will collaborate to establish both personal liberty with domestic goodwill and safety with personal well-being. In well-being, each person is privately comfortable with his or her god or none as well as privately comfortable with his or her human relations.

Neither the administrative state nor legislative prayer can accomplish physics-based ethics, but collaboration by a civic people can.

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Image of Phil Beaver
Phil Beaver
on November 05, 2015 at 12:47:26 pm

Your post expands the richness of Professor Weiner's essay, in particular, "The objectivity of language is also relevant if politics is relevant."

I have urged for years for civic accommodation of same-sex monogamy, advocating civil unions instead of civil marriage, because civil marriage codifies obligations to progeny. I rarely use the word "civil" which seems interchangeable with lawful, civic, and social. I substitute "no-harm" when I am describing behavior that should be acceptable to perfected law.

However, by the force of the administrative state, especially its principal villain, Eric Holder, Windsor v US took advantage of the foolhardy Congress's DOMA, to impose on a civic people the slogan "We're in love and want to be married too," as justification to ignore the equality and dignity of each child to be reared by sources of his or her heritage: the man and the woman from whom he or she was conceived. We are informed by these issues by biology, which emerged from physics. No opinion can change physics. However, humankind has the duty to itself to benefit from the emergences from physics, thereby establishing civic morality. Civic morality like physics does not yield to opinion. Phil Beaver does not know the civic morality of this issue, because it has not been collaborated by a civic people.

However, with the short life each person has, limited by the no-harm ethic, he or she should be able to pursue the personal liberty each perceives, not the liberty an external force would impose, as long as domestic goodwill is maintained. Domestic goodwill involves collaboration by a civic people to make best use of the emergences from physics.

With civics that do not teach both 1) human reproduction and 2) how to establish beneficial human relations, a civic people must deal with the consequences: sexual practices limited only by the frontiers of human imagination and diminishing civic regard for fidelity. Children, need a mother and father, but children in the care of single parents are about 70% of the child population. Some children have a father and a father or a mother and a mother. Children are being born to children. Many grandparents are under thirty years of age. Phil Beaver does not know what the preferences of those children will be when they have reached psychological maturity--at age 65 or more if they reach it.

Within the freedom to associate in no-harm groups based on ethnicity, religion, vocation, avocation, etc, there is an overall culture: "The community in which [each] individual inescapably exists—in which he or she shares spaces with other individuals." In that culture, each individual must voluntarily give up some liberty in order to collaborate for civic morality--the assurance of safety with personal well-being.

Neither the administrative state nor Congress nor the judicial branch nor the press has ever sought physics-based ethics because they hold opinion-based ethics in their favor. The outcome is not pretty, and everybody knows. [If you thought of Leonard Cohen poetry, you are in tune.] With physics-based ethics, a civic people can establish how "to modify 'needs' to meet the compatibility available."

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Image of Phil Beaver
Phil Beaver

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