Monday, May 16, 2016

May 16, 2016--Transgenderness

The things we manage to make ourselves crazy about.

At the moment--transgender toilets.

Last week the Obama administration notified all school districts that they must allow transgender children to use toilets for the gender for which they identify. For example, a physiological boy, if he identifies as female, would be allowed to use the girls' bathroom.

If schools fail to do so, they could expect to see their federal funding curtailed. No Trio money to support tutoring and other services for disadvantaged children, no support for Head Start, and if they have Race to the Top school reform money that too might be terminated.

As could have been predicted, though a few said they supported the new guidelines, for the most part school administrators, parents, and local elected officials went, well, ballistic. Some because of deep belief, others because it is an irresistible Culture War issue to demagogue. Perfect for the likes of Ted Cruz who is now back in the Senate but still fulminating.

Do we really need this hot button controversy? There are identity issues to be sure as well as practical ones. Also, what alternative is available for children who might be made uncomfortable by this edict? If transgender students have rights don't those who do not want to share bathrooms with them also have rights? How many different kinds of designated bathrooms do we need--for boys only, for girls only, for boys who are OK with sharing stalls with transgender girls, for girls who are accommodating to transgender boys who identify female.

I get both sides of this and, as a practical person, propose a simple solution. Far from perfect, here's what I suggest--

Transgender chidden should be allowed to use the toilet set aide for the school nurse. Pretty much every school has one. It's private and little used.

To put this in perspective, it is estimated that there are 700,000 transgender Americans. About 0.3 percent of the population. This includes adults as well as school-age children. This means that there might be up to 200,000 transgender students attending public schools. There are nearly 100,000 public schools in America. This means that in a 2,000-student high school, there might be 2 to 4 transgender students. 470-student elementary schools (the national average) would have disproportionately fewer. In some cases none at all; in other instances typically 1 or 2.

Whatever the number, it would hardly be a burden on the school nurses to share these lockable toilets with a few kids. And since many students do not even use the bathroom during the school day, what are we fighting about?

But then there is the stigmatization issue. It is very complicated being a transgender person. Especially for a young child. To be singled out for bathroom use as I am proposing could contribute to some children feeling exposed. Thus the mainstreaming movement for special-needs kids. To put them in classes with "typical" children rather than, as in the past, have special classes and in some cases separate schools for them.

But these children use "handicap" toilets and by doing so call attention to their differences. In bullying environments, this can be very disturbing. On the other hand, it reflects real life and a world that is often not accepting of any form of difference--color, religion, ethnicity, attractiveness, academic prowess, athletic ability, sexuality. School are not isolated from the rest of society. They reflect it. The good, the bad, the ugly.

Bottom line--people, including young ones, need to figure out how to live in the wider world. Especially when it is unfair. This may be one of those situations.

And isn't it ironic that this smoldering controversy is calling heightened attention to kids struggling with these issues. I am not sure this extra attention is helpful to them.

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