An Open Letter to Texas Representative Debbie Riddle

Dear Representative Riddle,

Your proposed legislation HB 1748 and HB 1747 will make it illegal for a person “at least seven years of age” to use a bathroom “that is designated for use by persons of a gender that is not the same gender as the individual’s gender.” You define the gender of an individual as whatever is on a government document or established by chromosomes.

It just so happens that my seven year old son has been having bathroom issues at school lately. I don’t know what chromosomes he has, but his birth certificate identifies him as female. Thus the issues. He last wore a dress when he was two. He’s always been into ‘boy’ things – star wars shoes, ninjas, and matching haircuts with dad. For a while, we just said things like “all colors are for everyone” and “there are different ways of being a girl.” That worked fine through kindergarten. But in first grade, he’s taken to more explicitly self-identifying as a male with the use of pronouns like he and him.

The bathroom has been a sticking point because that’s the one place where gender fluidity meets a rigid dualism. “If I use the girl’s room, kids that don’t know me will yell at me for being in the wrong room. But if I use the boy’s room, kids who do know me will yell at me.” Well, it’s not so much yelling as it is questioning, which is uncomfortable. And although everyone at his school has been supportive, the stage is set for bullying. To get tripped up on the most basic axiom of our culture can make one vulnerable as an outsider. Boy or girl. One or the other. How strange can you be if you don’t even belong in the category marked out for you at your birth!

We are hoping we live in more enlightened times than all that, but this is my fear. What if he is known not as the goofball, the basketball player, the thoughtful older brother, the whiz at Minecraft, the aspiring magician, and the candy connoisseur? What if he is reduced to that freak? Worse, what if he internalizes that self-description? All that potential, a thriving human personality, would be crushed on the shoals of intolerance, tattered and ruined by the knives of bigotry and ignorance.

This is where you come in. You propose to march into this already fraught situation, this fragile space, and make criminals out of the people at my son’s school who are doing their best to love him. How will it be when our school principal is marched away in handcuffs for allowing a child to use the bathroom that best fits his burgeoning sense of self? How will it be when the kids see bullying modeled at the highest level, enforced with badges? How are we to overcome prejudice when you are inscribing it into our laws?

Your Facebook post is the only justification I could find for these bills. You say they “will protect women & children from going into a ladies restroom & finding a man who feels like he is a woman that day.” What an offensive remark that simultaneously misunderstands and trivializes the issue. What a cavalier attitude to bring to the business of ostracizing and criminalizing thousands of Texans simply for being who they are.

If your bills become law and the police come to our school, I will stand in the way. How could I in good conscience do otherwise? At least one of us should take this seriously.

You define a person’s gender as whatever is listed on state documents. Since when do tea party types such as yourself want the state to define us? If anything, I would think you’d want to abolish the DMV, not grant it the authority to dictate our identity. I don’t see where personal liberty fits into your plans.

Of course, this is where you are conflicted, because at your core you are not a tea partier. You are a religious conservative and, more to the point, a bioconservative. It’s telling that you use the term ‘rear’ on your website: you were reared in Houston and have reared three (presumably cis-gender) children. It’s the same language I imagine you use in your horse breeding.

With these bills you are saying: “There are two kinds of humans just like there are two kinds of horses. Male and female did he make them. That’s God’s plan.” This is where personal liberty hits a brick wall. “You are free to smoke and shoot guns, but when it comes to your gender identity, there is only one way to express yourself.”

I am sympathetic to talk about respecting the natural order. My first book was a defense of President George W. Bush’s bioethics council. But the problem with your stance here is twofold.

First, gender identity is a complex psychological phenomenon that cannot be reduced to one’s biological sex. You’d have to lobotomize people to eradicate the gender/sex distinction, because gender identity is a product of our higher human capacities to form a sense of self. Maybe that’s the world you would prefer, what with all this talk of rearing. We’d all fit more neatly into boxes if we were less evolved and not so individualized.

Second, even the binaries of biological sex are not as entrenched in the natural order as we once believed. Biologists are now learning that sex is a spectrum rather than a dualism. There are intersex conditions. Many people are a patchwork of cells, some with a sex that doesn’t match the rest of their body. Variations in hormones and genetics blur distinctions. One father of four went into surgery for a hernia and the doctors discovered that he had a uterus.

You are conflating out-dated conventions with the natural order of things. What is most insidious about your bills is the attempt to gussy up rank prejudice in the regal garb of natural law. You’re using your power to shame and pillory people you don’t understand. As a dad working through some pretty complex issues, you’d do me a favor if you got out of our bathroom and went back to Austin.

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13 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Texas Representative Debbie Riddle”

  1. I’m proud to know you and your family! Kudos to all of you for the work you do for all people.

  2. As a transwoman I’m sure she has not thought I may be attracted to men.
    If I had to use the men’s room I would be around all those young teenagers and hot men.
    Same goes for trans men they are usually attracted to wemen.

  3. Great post! I sincerely hope this legislation does not get passed. It’s bad enough that someone would think to impose this on adults, but seven year olds? I wonder what the proposed penalty would be for this for a freaking seven year old. Can’t they potty in peace?

  4. Absolutely brilliantly written. I wish I could say more, but as an intersex, gender non-conforming person, I feel all your above points have more than clearly articulated anything I could possibly say.

  5. Very informative article, i’m regular reader of your site.
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