In response to North Carolina’s vote yesterday to define marriage as between “one man and one woman,” Lyla Cicero sends a message of support to all the queer kids of the state and the rest of the country, comparing the decision to a form of bullying.
This letter is to all the queer kids, the gay, lesbian, and bi kids, to the young adults who identify as transgender, genderqueer, pansexual, and/or androgynous, to the questioning kids, to the kids who were born intersex, to the high school and college kids in North Carolina and around the country. This is to the elementary and junior high kids who are gender variant. This is to all the kids who don’t fall neatly into the categories of “man” or “woman” or whose sexual and/or affectional orientations aren’t exclusively toward someone who falls into the opposite neatly-defined category.
Yesterday, a group of grown-ups voted overwhelmingly to use constitutional powers in the state of North Carolina to define marriage as between “one man and one woman.” These were no doubt many of the same grown-ups who for much of last year were all riled up about bullying in schools and teen suicide. As you probably know, the state had already used its constitution to ban “same-sex marriage.” Apparently it was not enough to stop gay folks from marrying, the voters of North Carolina felt the need to be absolutely sure there would be no way you would share equal rights, through civil unions, or any other measure. Instead of democracy being utilized to protect minorities against hostile majorities, in this case, it is being used to legalize discrimination. If this was really about marriage and its meaning, why not stop at a marriage ban? This is bullying pure and simple.
When I was in high school, there was a rule that in order for a same-sex couple to attend the prom, they had to appear before the principal, “explain the nature of their relationship,” and get permission. According to Wikipedia, bullying is a form of “aggressive behavior” involving “intimidation or coercion” that is often characterized by an “imbalance of power.” Our school administration had more power than students, and was coercing same-sex couples not to attend the prom by setting up an intimidating situation. What high school couple, gay or straight, would feel comfortable having to explain “the nature of their relationship” to the high school principal? Grown-ups can bully kids as well as other kids.
That was 16 years ago. I would like to think that if your school principal made rules at your school blatantly intended to bestow certain privileges on straight kids, and outright deny them the queer kids, grown-ups would be up in arms, civil rights lawyers would be on call, Change.org petitions would be circulating, and YouTube videos would be going viral. What if the football coach decided to require you to be straight to be on the team? What if the criteria for being on the honor roll necessitated being cis-gender? What if the graduation requirements included “gender normative behavior,” clearly identifying you as “male” or “female?” Adults would never stand for other adults bullying you in this way and stomping on your rights. And yet…haven’t they? Denying crucial rights of being able to protect yourself and your future family sets up a series of intimidating situations. These scenarios, like not being able to come to your partners aide at the hospital, facing loss of rights to your own children, and financial discrimination, are meant to coerce you into gender and hetero-normative behavior.
Amendment one is bullying, pure and simple. It may not send a kid to the brink of severe depression, or worse, the way daily threats and slurs by other kids could, partly because, as young people, your peer group is so critically important. However, amending the constitution of a state to make sure you will not have rights that straight people have adds to an atmosphere of coercion and intimidation. Any grown-up who doesn’t see that is kidding themselves. Perhaps when they cast their ballots yesterday, North Carolina’s adults weren’t thinking about gay kids sitting in their rooms contemplating whether it’s preferable to live in this world queer or not live in this world. Perhaps they were picturing other adults who those voters imagined could weather that emotional burden. Perhaps they were not thinking of human beings at all. Perhaps they think that by passing this law they will somehow prevent or contain your queerness, but we know that’s as absurd as thinking keeping you ignorant about sex is going to stop you from having it. Eventually it is going to occur to you that our society is bullying you. The emotional toll of living in a society that would amend constitutions to deny you rights and the inevitable outcome that will have for some of you will be blood on the hands of those grown-ups in North Carolina.
I know what you’re thinking, queer kids. How are they even going to figure out which relationships will count as “one man and one woman”? Will transmen count as men? Where will the line be drawn? Will full gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy be necessary to be considered solidly within one or the other gender? Or will natal biological gender stand no matter the steps one has taken to change one’s biological sex? How will a natal woman who identifies as male but doesn’t have a penis determine who he is legally permitted to marry? Thus, does this law actually also require one must be cis-gender to marry? What about the almost 2% of North Carolina’s population who were born intersex and thus don’t fit biologically into male/female categories? Will they be allowed to marry anyone? No one? What about the folks who identify as genderqueer, androgynous, neither male nor female, or both male and female? Will these folks be able to marry?
I don’t need to tell you the answers to these questions, because you already know. The answer is they don’t know. The answer is many of those grown-ups who are so enraged about kids being bullied don’t even know these identity categories exist. Perhaps they’ve never sat and talked with someone who is suffering the torment of feeling her gender identity does not fit with her biological body? Perhaps they’ve never considered that male and female might not be neatly defined, discrete categories for everyone in society? Perhaps some of them are themselves transgender, gender variant, or were born intersex, but feel you should live your lives in silence and conform to gender norms as they did. Perhaps they believe by stopping you from marrying, they can force Pandora’s box closed and never have to wrestle with any of these questions. But they can’t, because of you.
This is not one of those letters apologizing for the bigotry and ignorance in the world you are about to inherit. It is a call to action and a recognition of your tremendous power. The balance of power may lie with the bullies now, but that is going to change. Many of you voted and advocated against this amendment yesterday, and many more of you will be voting soon. You young people are overwhelmingly more likely than your parents and their peers to support equal rights. You are thinking outside the gender binary and questioning traditional notions of identity with language and ways of being that are not even on the voting public’s radar yet. As more parents demand rights and respect for their gay and gender non-conforming kids, and as you all become increasingly empowered, your voices will become louder. Through natural demographic shifts your numbers and the numbers of your allies will increase. As you continue to use the Internet and social media, tools you utilize better than any of us, that power imbalance will start to shift, as you become more and more visible. So if you are feeling bullied today, I want to validate that feeling and say that yes, you are being bullied, but it is not forever. It gets better. You are going to fix this.
Lyla Cicero has a doctorate in clinical psychology, and focuses on relationships, sexual minorities, and sex therapy. Lyla is a feminist, LGBTQIAPK-affirmative, sex-positive blogger at UnderCoverintheSuburbs.com, where she writes about expanding cultural notions of identity, especially those surrounding gender, sexual orientation, motherhood, and sexuality. Follow her on Twitter @UndrCvrNSuburbs.