Last time we met up, we were talking about something related to North Carolina’s House Bill 2 (HB2), the so-called “Bathroom Bill” that stomped all over the rights and protections needed by the LGBTQ community there. This bill is one that Christians fought hard to get passed, claiming that it is needed to protect women from dangerous predators who would without question invade their privacy if protective laws were ever to definitively stop Christian bigots-for-Jesus from harassing LGBTQ people.
Today I want to look at one group that right-wing Christians routinely ignore when pursuing their agenda of stoking fear and increasing distrust of innocent people. This ignorance reveals much about exactly why they are persecuting trans people. But as we’ll see, their incomplete crusade will still have devastating results if it’s not stopped.
First we talked about the bill itself and the decision of a large porn provider to cut access to North Carolina viewers (a block which appears to be still in effect–also see this incomplete list of other folks/businesses boycotting the state for its bigotry). Then we moved on to a particularly bizarre lie told by Republican politician Louie Gohmert about whether or not he’d have pretended to be a woman in order to gain access to girls’ bathrooms when he was a teenager (answer: c’mon, don’t be silly–of course not). And last time we looked at the biggest danger that exists to both trans and cisgender women regarding bathroom usage: straight cisgender men (whoopsie!).
But now we’re going to talk about the group they routinely ignore.
What About the Trans MEN?
When we hear about “Bathroom Panic” around transgender folks, the focus is always on transgender women. I haven’t once seen a sermon or post or editorial from any Christian source that is trying to stoke panic around transgender men using men’s bathrooms. It’s always transgender women, and fundagelicals are always upset about them using women’s bathrooms. It’s like trans men don’t even exist in their world.
The wide discrepancy between how Christian bigots-for-Jesus see trans men and trans women largely informs their entire current “Bathroom Panic” smear campaign. There’s a reason why their rage and dread centers entirely around trans women, and largely totally ignores trans men.
Christians imagine, mistakenly, that trans women are “really” men who want to be women for nefarious or cowardly reasons. They imagine, again mistakenly, that trans women have some kind of malfunction in their minds or emotions causing this desire, and that once Jesus (or public shaming) fixes whatever’s wrong, then that person will gladly go back to being a good, strong, square-jawed Christian man and get married to a woman (or stay married to one), father babies, and win the family’s daily bread so their wife can do the most important job in the world (haha, I know, right? Like most Christian men really value what they consider to be women’s work).
Remember, the culture war that Christians are waging against transgender people centers around how men and women should behave. Men, especially, have the flavor end of the gender stick in Christianity. They have the all-powerful penises and through those organs, a divinely-granted right of authority. The lowest and most pathetic man in a group of right-wing Christians still outranks the most exalted and accomplished woman in the group, and still believes himself owed that woman’s deference and submission, as I saw with my own eyes repeatedly!
And Christians think that this one-sided and unfair arrangement is what their god wants, like it’s some kind of mysterious coincidence that their favored ideas track so well with their god’s desires, especially given that almost every single one of their leaders are, well, men. I’m reading an apologetics book right now in which the writer specifically (and I might add ponderously) draws parallels between gender and his religion’s conceptualization of deity, and what he’s saying is echoed across millions of other Christians’ minds.
So a man who rejects that power and privilege to become a woman is extremely suspicious in Christians’ eyes. He’s not just rejecting his penis and all the power that goes along with it; he’s rejecting the system his god designed and created and his role within that system. He’s challenging every single privilege that most right-wing Christian men enjoy about their lives, their ideology, and their faith.
Moreover, modern Christians think that their god created them in the womb for their life purposes, ordering every single part of their physical bodies and mental attributes, and that includes the gender someone is assigned at birth. They’re perfectly willing to change any number of things about themselves, but to reject one’s entire assigned gender is a bridge too far for them. It’s like saying that their god made a singular and fundamental mistake somehow. Yes yes, I know, babies are born with some kind of ambiguity about their sex on a regular basis, so really, it’s a little peculiar that their god made something that important to “him” so easy for doctors to mess up; further, not all transgender people are born with such ambiguities anyway. I’m talking about how folks in that subculture see the matter, not how it really is.
You’ll notice similar thinking about non-heterosexual orientations, and this thinking exists for the same reasons: rejecting one’s divinely-given gender and orientation is simultaneously rejecting quite a lot of right-wing Christian ideology. It’s like saying that their entire conceptualization of relationships and society is not universally true for everyone–which is going to rile a lot of fundagelicals who insist that it is–and who have based their entire life missions on forcing that mold on everyone else whether they like it or not.
You’ll notice very quickly when you study that ideology that they are really obsessed with an extremely stereotypical and rigid view of masculinity as a “godly” ideal and attribute–again, not shocking when one considers the ratio of men to women in upper management in the religion. They’re not only obsessed with sex; they’re obsessed with the particular kind of sex that they think men should have. When they focus on women at all, they’re usually interested only in figuring out ways to entice or shame or bully those women into giving them the sex they want in the quantities they’d like, mostly by convincing them that up is down and black is white, a tactic which I not-so-jokingly refer to as “sexism as the BONUS PLAN“.*
Maleness, as the exalted state in right-wing Christian ideology, is the real focus of the culture war against transgender people, just as male heteronormative sexuality, as the exalted orientation in that culture, is the real focus of the culture war against non-hetero people.**
Little wonder most Christians deny that transgender women even truly exist, or that fundagelical pastors openly advise their flocks to refuse to call trans women by their desired pronouns even if it gets them into trouble at work, or that Christian sites parade around the few regretful trans women they can find to earnestly parrot the standard-issue fundagelical party
lies lines about transgender people.
A Case Study: “How Many of These Do You Know?”
Christian bigotry is a sad and grotesque spectacle to be sure, and it’s how Christians justify harassing transgender women especially. One such Christian zealot, Phillip Benham, has actually declared that trans women are really only “men in dresses.” In an interview with The Daily Beast, Mr. Benham was quick to relate, with utter conviction and glee, how awesome he thought he was for harassing a teenage girl trying to use a girl’s bathroom when, as he said, “this girl wasn’t even wearing a dress”!
(GASP!! Not even a dress?!? SOMEONE FETCH THIS POOR BIGOT-FOR-JESUS SOME SMELLING SALTS!)
Of another, older trans woman he harassed, he said that her status as a trans woman “broke [his] heart.” Of course it did. She’d given up the penis and the maleness that he idolized. Right-wing Christians are always heartbroken to hear that someone’s left their religion, I’ve noticed.
And obviously, a cisgender white Christian man’s heart being “broken” is the greatest tragedy that could ever happen, and this Christian man’s poor widdle fee-fees obviously trump his victims’ rights to use the goddamned bathroom without his harassment and abuse. It’s astonishing, isn’t it, how often Christians think their feelings matter to the people they’re abusing? I guess the Bible puts it best: “They shall know you by your rampant hypocrisy.” At least I think that’s what it says, judging by their behavior. It’s definitely how I know them.
A transgender man, by contrast, doesn’t arouse the same ire in someone like Mr. Benham. Bigots can conceptualize that situation as a woman who can no longer bear to be a woman and wants to join the other side. They wouldn’t want to be women either and tend to look down upon femaleness, so it’s something they can grasp. There are no magic penises being disavowed or rejected, but rather desired, so it’s not something they take quite as personally–if they even are aware that such men exist.
Mr. Benham, for example, was asked by the Daily Beast what trans men should do when they need to pee. He just stopped cold.
He had no idea what to say. This question had never once even occurred to him.
And it isn’t hard to imagine why it hadn’t.
He blustered for a little while, but it seems that the Beast’s reporter had completely stymied him. He couldn’t even conceptualize the idea of a trans man–who, to someone like him, is a woman pretending to be a man, remember–walking into a men’s bathroom and using a toilet. He had no idea what to think.
He even tried to deny that trans men even exist; when the Beast’s reporter offered to send the Christian bigot-for-Jesus photographic evidence of such men, Mr. Benham just wanted to know “how many of these” the reporter knew–probably in a bid to play the “How do you know? Were you there?” card that his tribe loves so much.
Interestingly, when Mr. Benham did kinda get on board with the idea of the very existence of trans men, he just wanted to know how one used a urinal without a penis–because that’s what’s really important to him.
He didn’t appear to think that cis men in bathrooms were in any kind of danger from trans men, that’s for sure.
Why I’m Bringing Up This Guy.
Phillip Benham’s bafflement and subsequent blustering is important because he’s not just some average fundagelical schmuck.
This guy is one of the larger fish in the smallish pond that is right-wing Christian domestic terrorism these days. He runs the hate group Operation Save America (which used to be Operation Rescue) and makes his living by harassing LGBTQ people as well as abortion seekers and providers. Ted Cruz even proudly wears this bigot-for-Jesus’ endorsement for President. If you heard about the homophobic twins who lost their house-flipping show on HGTV, those are his sons, and the hate-filled poison apples do not fall far from the hate-filled poison apple tree.
From what I can tell, Mr. Benham is 100% representative of his tribe of extremist fundagelicals seeking to dominate the United States and beyond–who wish to bring about a fundagelical-owned and controlled government, and to end all forward progress by any group that his tribe dislikes. So when he declares that “the homosexual community” wants to “destroy” Christians and that they are “the most violent community there is” and “want [Christians] dead,” he’s not speaking metaphorically. He appears to actually believe his own hate-filled rhetoric, and to be totally unaware of the effects his hatemongering and fearmongering have on vulnerable minds (though I readily concede that might be because he’s one of those vulnerable minds).
And this self-appointed crusader had no earthly idea that trans men actually exist.
His only real response was to try to negate the existence of them entirely.
His crusade is against one situation and one situation only: what he imagines as the great danger that men pose to women if allowed to use the same bathrooms, and to him, trans women are only “men in dresses.” They must be stopped in order to protect cis women.
A Dreadful Repercussion of Ignorance.
His willingness to terrorize trans women while ignoring trans men makes the potential damage he is doing to trans men even worse.
He’s only thinking about this situation from the side of terrorizing trans women trying to get into bathrooms to use the facilities. He sees those women as “men in dresses,” and so therefore fair game for his abuse. He thinks those women are easily detected and cast out, and that if he shames them enough then they’ll shrink away and not bother TRUE CHRISTIANS™ anymore and womankind will be totally safe forever (except not).
But let’s consider, briefly, the many trans men there are who can’t legally qualify in bigoted states as men and who are still legally women in those areas. The “bathroom bill” doesn’t change for them. Bigots-for-Jesus like Mr. Benham would require such men to walk into women’s bathrooms to use those facilities. If he’s got his panties in a bind right now about “men in dresses” walking into ladies’ rooms, imagine what he’d do about a bearded guy in a cowboy hat and sleeve tats walking into one! Because legally, that’s what he’s asking for.
Moreover, trans women who look exactly like cis women but don’t legally qualify as women in those areas are going to be forced to use men’s rooms. They are going to be sent into those bathrooms with no support, no protection, and no help.
They will both be alone.
And they will face crowds of potentially angry bigots-for-Jesus in a small, enclosed, totally cut-off place with no escape.
I wonder how bigots-for-Jesus like Mr. Benham think these two situations are going to go, considering the inflamed rhetoric he’s using and the irresponsible tactics he’s employing to harass, degrade, and shame trans people.
Hm. You know, I don’t actually wonder at all.
Suddenly it all makes perfect sense. This rabbit trail leads to only one horrifying place.
The Only Conclusion I Can Draw.
There’s really only one conclusion I can draw from the demands that transphobic Christians are making.
They want to be able to better and more quickly identify trans people by making their movements in vulnerable places more obvious.
And I can only assume, based upon their behavior and words, that they want to more easily make this identification for the purposes of abusing and harassing people they have decided are their enemies.
That their current culture war centers around trans women rather than both men and women hardly matters; both will suffer, and really, that’s what’s really important to their oppressors and abusers. Right-wing Christians don’t worry about the people they’re hurting; all they care about is control and dominance. They’re picking on trans people because they think this is a culture war they can actually win. If they were to win, then they would capitalize on that gain by trying to hurt others in their bid for total dominance.
That is why we must fight for trans people’s rights and safety, and why we must push back against fundagelicals’ culture wars with our last breaths. It’s not only the right thing to do in and of itself, something that we should do even if it never personally benefited anybody else but the particular groups targeted in those crusades. It’s also to the benefit of all humanity to deny these bigots their evil, cruel, and overreaching desires. We can’t move forward until we have definitively stopped these ignorant, hate-filled zealots from harming innocent people in their quest for power.
* Speaking of bigots-for-Jesus getting their comeuppance, Scott Lively’s trial is still going on. He just got an extension from the court, so the first hearings are now set for September. We here at Roll to Disbelieve hope he enjoys his last few months of freedom and doesn’t do too much more damage to human rights anywhere during this time that he’s still allowed to be in public among decent people!
** “Heteronormative” means the belief that people have distinct, complementary gender roles that fall along stereotypical male and female heterosexual lines, and thinking of “normal” relationships as occurring only within those lines. It can also mean assuming that a given relationship is hetero, or that a person is hetero. Remind me to tell you sometime about the time I embarrassed myself as a newly-deconverted Christian by missing a gay friend’s pronoun games and repeatedly referring to his SO as his “girlfriend.” I reckon we all start our learning somewhere.