JFB testimony to the Maine Judiciary Committee: “The ‘Wacky’ Professor”

Yesterday, I spoke to the Maine legislature’s Judiciary committee. A bill has been proposed to “exempt” transgender people from protections under the Maine Human Rights Act, which went into effect six years ago. Currently, Maine protects GLBT people from discrimination, and this includes a so called “public accommodations” provision of the very sort that was, in part, the deal breaker in the Maryland law that was shelved last week. (Although I should make it clear that the Maine law has been on the books for six years without problem, and the proposed legislation is to REMOVE the protection for trans people; Maryland currently has no such provisions and the shelved legislation would have put these protections into place.)

There’s a lot to say about my day at the State House, but the thing I was really left with was how much the bill–and the overall acceptance of trans people is about passing.

A supporter of the bill (remember that “supporting” means being against trans rights; “opposing” means being for them) said as much. One of the Senators asked, “If a trans person has had surgery, and appears to be female in every sense, how would you be able to know they were in violation of the law?” And the supporter of the bill–another Republican legislator–said, “Well, if I have no way of telling, the person wouldn’t be in violation.” He then looked around and said, “I mean, if you can’t tell, what’s the difference?”

Cindy Redmond, another supporter of the bill, said more bluntly, “I’m not saying that all transgenders are wacky because they’re not, there’s lots of very nice transgenders,” Redmond said. “But there are a few, and what happens if one of those has used this law to be able to go into a female bathroom for the purpose of perpetration?”

Holding aside the insulting assumption that trans people are somehow more likely to “perpetrate” than straight people, Redmond’s comment here really gets to the heart of the matter. “Wacky” here appears to be a synonym for “not-passable.” Among other things.

I have seen this prejudice against “not-passable” people both within and without the trans community. The fact, of course, is that “passability,” like all forms of “beauty,” is more or less a genetic roll of the dice–it has nothing to do with what is in a person’s heart.

Anyway, EQME did a fine job of assembling its witnesses; while the proponents for the bill seemed limited, largely, to a few right-wing religious nuts–and the governor–the opponents included a Sheriff, a school principal, the father of a 13 year trans girl, and a well-regarded endocrinologist from Boston. I think I was the fifth witness, and the first trans person to come to the podium. The legislators treated me with respect and dignity.

Here’s a copy of my own remarks to the committee. You’ll be struck, perhaps, by their brevity, but we were given a very clear three minute time limit, and my reading of this testimony came out almost exactly at that length.

The committee now goes to ‘working session’, and we’ll see whether the bill makes it out of committee and onto the floor.

Testimony of Jennifer Finney Boylan, Belgrade, Kennebec County

Speaking in Opposition to LD 1046, 
”An Act to Amend the Application of the Maine Human Rights Act Regarding Public Accommodations”
 before the Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary.

April 12, 2011

Senator Hastings, Representative Nass, and distinguished members of the judiciary committee:

My name is Jennifer Finney Boylan. I live in the town of Belgrade Lakes, in Kennebec County. I have been married since 1988, and am the mother of two teenage sons, both of them on the honor roll at Kents Hill School. I am the author of twelve books and have been Professor of English at Colby College for twenty-three years.

I’m also transgender. In the year 2000, in consultation with a therapist, a social worker, an endocrinologist, and my minister, I carefully went through the complex process of going from male to female. It was a terribly difficult journey, but in the end, I was able to complete that transition and at last live my life with honesty and authenticity.

I know that the lives of transgender people can be hard to understand. A report issued last week by the University of California suggests that less than .3 percent of the population of the United States is transgender. With numbers that small, it’s understandable that the issues that trans people struggle with are not easily grasped. But it’s worth noting that transgender Mainers are citizens too. We pay taxes, we do our jobs, and yes, like other people, we occasionally need to use the restroom.

Gender, as it turns out, is complicated. I honestly wish that this were not the case, and that the world were simpler, but it is the case, as scientists and neurologists have made abundantly clear. And the consequence of this fact is that some of us– who already lead difficult and complex lives– need to rely on the rest of you—good-hearted, intelligent Maine citizens—to look out for us, to protect our dignity and our safety.

Fortunately, you can do just that by rejecting this cruel and vague bill, which would make businesses responsible for checking the sex of people using their facilities. By saying no to a law that would marginalize people already at risk for discrimination and prejudice.

In short: Transgender Mainers should not be exempted from the protections of the Maine Human Rights Law, for the very simple reason that we too are human.

Thank you.

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3 Comments

  1. Anne
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Thank you for your work.

  2. Kara Connor
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Nicely summed up within the very brief time you were allotted to explain such a complex subject. This bill really is bigotry and transphobia, with more than a sprinkling of ignorance, posing as a judicial document. Is removing human rights really the top priority for the sponsors of this hateful bill?

  3. Margie
    Posted April 24, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    Jenny, job well done and the community is well served with your involvement. I watched all the video and there was extensive input but I wish the audio were better. I hope the bill doesn’t go beyond the committee but it’s hard to tell with the current government in Augusta right now.
    I never realized the hearings were recorded for the public.

    Margie, Maine

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  • The Boylan Family, summer 2010

    DSC_0063 "You hang around our family, you learn all kinds of stuff."
  • Will Forte as Jennifer Finney Boylan on “Saturday Night Live”

    WiFo-Jennifer Finney Boylan-1
  • Jenny with Barbara Walters, December, 2008

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  • Jenny atop Maine’s Mount Katahdin

    2036947979_34bfbec240 August, 2002.
  • Surrounded

    boylanWith President Clinton and Maine's Governor John Baldacci, fall 2006.
  • JFB and Edward Albee

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    Edward had been my teacher at Johns Hopkins in the winter of 1986. He visited Colby in fall, 2007. As we took our leave of each other, he kissed me on both cheeks and said, "We have done well. You and I."

  • Jenny and her teacher, the great John Barth

    Boylan_Barth

    Jack was my professor at JHU when I did my thesis, back in the day. After many years, I can now confidently say I finally understand his definition of plot. Which is, of course, "the perturbation of an unstable homeostatic system and its catastrophic restoration to a new and complexified equilibrium."