Monday, November 12, 2007

The County Council Votes Tomorrow

As we have discussed this gender identity nondiscrimination bill and the shenanigans that have surrounded it, one question comes up that has not been well answered. Some people ask the question, Do transgender people in Montgomery County actually suffer discrimination? I guess it's a fair enough question -- it doesn't seem to me to be something there is any doubt about, but somebody might legitimately ask.

Yesterday's Post had a little article on page C-5 that featured a picture of a local woman who has had troubles with discrimination. The caption on the photo said:
Maryanne Arnow of Germantown, a transgender woman, says she's had a hard time finding restaurant work since she started her transition four years ago. Transgender Bill May Be Close to Passing

The article itself is okay, it does look like the bill will pass, despite the clamor of the noise machine. But that caption hardly does justice to the dilemma of Maryanne Arnow, who, it sounds like, is finding it hard to find a job, which is an experience any of us might know.

Ms. Arnow spoke to the County Council a couple of weeks ago, and I was there. I think her statement carries enough information to paint a picture of what the actual issue is here. It's a little long to reproduce here, but let me show you some of it:
... I am a native resident of the State of Maryland, and have lived in Montgomery County for the last 37 years. I consider this State and this County to be my home, and I deeply love my home. I have been working as a professional Chef for more than 15 years. I have had considerable formal and professional training. By my peers, and all of my clients that have ever known me, I am considered to possess much skill, creativity, and genuine passion for my work.

Since beginning change of gender identity almost 4 years ago, things have been much more challenging in the professional world. Even with considerable background, skills, expertise, and superior qualifications, I’ve had a great deal more difficulty in finding work, obtaining new clientele, and staying connected with foodservice industry segments which were previously open to me without question or problem.

I have found it difficult to obtain work in more than a dozen different establishments, some located right here in Montgomery County, that I have applied for various positions within the just the last 2 to 3 years.

I have been told repeatedly by managers, and principals of companies that were obviously in position to hire at times I have been applied, that I had a great resume, and very good qualifications. I have always been pleasant, very professional, well-spoken and well-mannered, and very comfortable with myself.

All that being said as of this time, I’ve been unable to obtain employment from a single one of them that I had spoken with previously. Some wouldn’t take or return my calls or be available upon choosing to follow up. I’ve been told positions were filled, yet told by other staffers that positions were available, and yet I have not been called. I have been turned down by several potential personal Chef clients as well, upon learning that I have changed my gender identity. This is very painful and difficult, especially in light of my talents and my great desire to share those talents with others...

She is somewhat modest about her accomplishments here. Ms. Arnow doesn't just cook, she calls herself a "hardcore classically-trained Professional Chef;" she received a degree with honors from a top-dollar culinary school, even after she had already been considered as a skilled professional chef by the clients she worked for, as well as fellow professionals.

This is a person that any restaurant should be eager to hire. When she was a he, no problem, work was plentiful. The only thing that changed was her expression of gender identity.

Ms. Arnow wrote a follow-up letter to the Council, which has a lot of thoughts that can help understand her life situation. For instance, the CRC types would like to paint transgender people as some kind of moral degenerates. Here's what Ms. Arnow says about herself:
I am not a gay male, nor any other sort of male in womens' clothes seeking any sort of sexual gratification via use of public facilities as such. I never was and never will be. I'm not a drag queen or female impersonator and was neither of those things for a single day in my life. I am not a sexual predator of any kind whatsoever, nor pose any threat to the safety or sanctity of public facilities for any other women or their children, as was recently implied in articles published nationally which claim that such legislation would open the door to fear of anyone that expresses his or herself outside of considered "normal" gender roles.

The CRC and their partners in this would like you to think of people like Maryanne Arnow as drooling perverts, just dying to get into the ladies room so they can leer at the peeing ladies. That picture is so far off the mark it is ridiculous, except for the fact that some people take it seriously.

I'll quote a few more words from her letter to the County Council.
Between the ages of 4 and 5, i became acutely aware of an overwhelming and soul-searing level of real and very conscious mental and emotional anguish due to apparent lack of percieved congruence between my physical self and my mental and emotional self. This would be considered as years before any such "lifestyle choice" or "sexuality" could possibly apply. I had no sisters and was not encouraged in this nor was i ever forced to do anything which would have placed this compulsion so deep within me.

I do not personally believe that this is a mistake or an aberration of nature. I do not believe that God makes mistakes and that this was, at least for me, one of the great blessings of my life, even for all of the pain and hardship involved in dealing with such an issue for all of my life. I was given this unique perspective and the innate ability to deeply understand both sexes, although one - actually being female - is and always was much more naturally predominant for me. I now think of this as one of the potentially great gifts in my life, as i am now able to express my real internal nature as much more female in "gender identity", than i was ever any sort of "real" male at all, in so many ways.

As an adult, i was finally overwhelmed with the weight of what i had carried for so long that it literally broke me down. As a result, I had to decide to risk giving up my marriage, my home, my entire family on both sides of my marriage, professional standing, and almost any social capital that i had gained thus far as a male person. I was entirely willing to give up any sense of "male privilege" in this society altogether. I was never truly happy in my entire life in the male gender. As an open, loving, highly intelligent, and expressive child i suffered severe physical, mental, and emotional abuse for many years growing up, for simply being "different", and never able to fit into any "typical" "male" mold whatsoever.

I essentially learned to repress truthfulness in every form of my natural self-expression, never rewarded for real honesty with nothing but fear and ridicule, harm and humiliation. Every day of my life i consciously and methodically hid all of my natural self-expressions so that no one would ever detect i was actually a girl always, somewhere deep inside where they could never really see me. I managed to become a more functional "male" persona by my twenties, but still deeply struggled my whole life thus far, and barely ever felt a true sense of happiness within or about myself.

It is not obvious to me why the CRC, the Family Leader Network, PFOX, and the Family Blah Blah groups find it so important to discriminate against a person like this. It is a confusing and painful situation, no doubt -- can you imagine being four or five years old and trying to figure out what is wrong with this picture? But why would they lobby so hard, write so many emails, walk around with signs, to preserve the right to discriminate against someone in that situation?

We get asked sometimes by reporters, students, interviewers of various sorts, to comment on the motives of the pro-discrimination groups, and it's a question you just have to laugh at, you can't answer it. I really -- really -- don't know what would make somebody take a Saturday away from their family to stand out by the street holding a sign to protect their right to discriminate against a group of people who have never hurt them, a group of people who have done nothing beyond being dealt an unusual assignment in this world by God and nature. Tomorrow the County Council will vote. We elected them to stand up for good principles, let's hope they are able to do that in the face of the crazy wind that blows through our neighborhoods.

One more time, Maryanne Arnow's comment to the Council:
I do not personally believe that this is a mistake or an aberration of nature. I do not believe that God makes mistakes and that this was, at least for me, one of the great blessings of my life, even for all of the pain and hardship involved in dealing with such an issue for all of my life.

I want to see the noise-makers refute that.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Discrimination laws based on feelings are ill-advised. The next obvious question will be why can't people that feel other strange ways and act on it be able to exclude that from anyone's consideration when deciding whether to hire them? To logically extend this to apply to everyone's idiosyncrasies would be an unreasonable burden on society. Government needs to back off and let private citizens work out their own relationships.

It's not hard to think of situations where an employer might be justified in not hiring a transgender male. How about an organ salesman who goes around to churches? How about as a counselor to male teen juvenile delinquent? How about as a State Dept employee working in Saudi Arabia? Truth is, employers should seek the person best suited to the job without taking into account some illogical government regulation. This is not to say that we should encourage discrimination against these people, just that government can't solve their problems and applying laws with a broad brush can make things worse.

And why would someone want to work in a place where management is hostile to them but has been forced to employ them. The situation doesn't sound good. Wouldn't they prefer to work somewhere where they felt supported and feel they are contributing? Don't any of you TTFers have a contact in the restaurant business that could help this guy out?

For those concerned about the plight of such people, this is the appropriate response. Start a non-profit to help these people find situations that they will be comfortable in. Stop thinking government intervention is the answer to every problem.

November 12, 2007 1:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once the County Council get through with the gender indentity issue, something is going to have to be done about coffee shops:

American economist Caitlin Knowles Myers, with her students as research assistants, staked out eight coffee shops in the Boston area and watched how long it took men and women to be served. Her conclusion: Men get their coffee 20 seconds earlier than do women. (There is also evidence that the young wait longer than the old, and the ugly wait longer than the beautiful.)

Looks like we need help from Uncle Sam's relative, Cousin Monty, again.

November 12, 2007 1:19 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Anon, my opinion differs from yours, but I want to point out something good you've done. You have discussed the actual issue.

There are legitimate questions about the use of laws to regulate discrimination, and there are legitimate questions about the worthiness of variations in gender identity for inclusion under such a law.

I know how I feel, and you know how you feel, and we could have a discussion of this topic and possibly come to a conclusion about what the County Council should do. Maybe it would be closer to what you want, and maybe it would be closer to what I want. Either way, if we have had a fair opportunity to persuade one another, then we will both be reasonably satisfied with the outcome.

The problem, and I think it is a serious problem, is that certain people believe so strongly that it is necessary to discriminate on the basis of gender identity that they have (once again) sabotaged the debate, introducing a vivid but irrelevant topic to distract the public from the actual issue. They don't carry signs that say "Retain the Right to Discriminate," which is what they really want, their signs are about bathrooms and pedophiles, which have absolutely nothing to do with this, but evoke an image that easily upsets people.

Thank you for writing.


November 12, 2007 1:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

America's most beloved and insightful talk show personality, Elisabeth Hasselback announced the name of her newborn:

Taylor Thomas Hasselbeck

November 12, 2007 2:54 PM  

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