Mark Twain said it best.
“Human beings can be awful cruel to one another,” he wrote in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
I’m thinking of that Twain quote as Indiana Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, Melissa Bickel and I talk over the air about the rights of transgender Hoosiers.
Clere authored a bill – “now dead,” he says – that would have protected the rights of intersex children in Indiana. He introduced the measure, he says, to try to elevate the debate over the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens “above the level of the potty police” – a reference to efforts by other legislators and social conservative activists to focus the discussion on access to and use of restrooms.
Bickel is the mother of a transgender teenager. She talks about how her daughter had to leave a drawing for Bickel and her husband depicting her discomfort with not being fully who she really was – a female. She describes the journey of discovery her daughter and their family have made.
Bickel’s story, in the ways that matter, is a typical one. It’s story about a mother who loves her daughter and wants her to be happy. It’s a story about parents who love their children.
In this legislative session, a measure to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the state’s civil rights laws died. Before the bill gasped its last in the Indiana Senate, conservative activists and legislators had waged a determined campaign to isolate transgender Hoosiers for special condemnation.
There were videos suggesting that men transitioning to being women would lurk in the state’s restrooms ready to pounce on our daughters, our sisters, our granddaughters and our wives. Transgender Hoosiers were depicted as little more than sexual predators.
It was fearmongering at its most shameful.
I ask Clere and Bickel why transgender people seem to be singled out for so much animosity – why some people are so frightened of them.
Clere says we need to take a look at the message behind the scare tactics. He says the people who are pushing the fear aren’t worried about women transitioning to men going into men’s restrooms. Their focus is on men transitioning to becoming women.
There is, Clere says, “misogyny at work here.”
Bickel’s comments are just as thoughtful.
She says that too much of this debate has been about “what’s in our pants.”
“Gender,” she says, “is in the mind.”
Gender, she continues, is less about physical characteristics than it is about how one sees one’s self. It’s part of the process of figuring out how a person fits in the world.
As Bickel talks, my heart aches for her daughter and for all the other young people on this earth for whom gender identity is not an immediately resolved question.
One of the reasons adolescence – and adolescents – can be so difficult is that is the time in life when young people begin the work of finding and defining themselves. Teenagers’ bodies become strangers to them as each day seems to bring about a growth spurt, a change in voice or some other awkward physical development.
In addition, most thinking adolescents find themselves preoccupied with fundamental questions.
Who am I?
Who do I want to be?
What role or roles should I play in life?
Where do I belong?
Most of us get to go through this process of discovery and self-discovery, as uncomfortable and sometimes painful as it can be, without having others point fingers at us. We can grow into our mature selves without being told that everyone should be afraid when we have to go to the restroom.
A grim-lipped group of conservative political activists decided this year to demonize some of our citizens, our fellow human beings. They wanted to isolate them from the herd of humanity.
They did it, they said, in the name of religious liberty. They did it, they said, to honor God.
Mark Twain had it right.
Human beings can be awful cruel to one another.