The late Chicago columnist Mike Royko nicknamed Jerry Brown “Governor Moonbeam” for his flaky politics. Brown’s 1980 campaign slogan was: “protect the earth, serve the people and explore the universe.” But perhaps even Royko didn’t foresee the eccentric politics of 2014 California under Jerry Brown, which could feature, among other oddities, a referendum on whether or not to keep transgender bathrooms in public schools.
Brown signed the transgender-bathroom legislation, authored by the San Francisco radical Tom Ammiano, last fall. The legislation stipulates that students, based on nothing more than their “gender” self-perception, may choose the bathroom, locker facility, and sports team of their choice. (Brown has also signed legislation allowing people to alter birth certificates based on their self-perception.)
“Now, every transgender student in California will be able to get up in the morning knowing that when they go to school as their authentic self they will have the same fair chance at success as their classmates,” Masen Davis, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center, told the press.
Since then, conservative groups have been gathering signatures for a referendum challenge. Even the crippled California GOP, normally skittish about social issues, has signed off on the challenge. Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of San Bernardino County, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, has told the press that he removed his son from a public school over this issue.
State election officials are now counting signatures to see if the threshold of 504,760 signatures has been reached. They are required to announce their conclusion by late February. The San Francisco Chronicle, catering to gay activists, declared hopefully in a headline, “Bid to Repeal Transgender-Student Law Falling Short,” while the Associated Press went with the opposite headline, “Transgender Rights Referendum Reaches Next Step.”
Called Privacy for All Students, the coalition of groups in favor of the referendum say well over 600,000 signatures have been collected. Should the referendum move forward, its chances of passage appear good. The coalition has hired one of the consultants behind Proposition 8 and cite opinion surveys indicating support for repeal.
Meanwhile, the California left, with the help of the teachers’ unions, is pooh-poohing parental concerns, arguing that only the truly transgendered will make use of the law, as if that should induce parental sighs of relief.
Who exactly are the truly transgendered? Having already argued that identity is fluid, transgender proponents find the question difficult to answer. On the one hand, they argue that biological identity isn’t fixed; on the other, they assert the stability of the transgender one. Genders change, they say, but self-perceptions don’t.
This claim doesn’t even hold up to recent changes in their own movement. According to an article in the New York Times last year, which was placed fittingly in its fashion and style section, some students find the transgender classification passé and much too stifling. They say that their self-perception entitles them to be both genders or neither.
As the Times put it: “If the gay-rights movement today seems to revolve around same-sex marriage, this generation is seeking something more radical: an upending of gender roles beyond the binary of male/female. The core question isn’t whom they love, but who they are — that is, identity as distinct from sexual orientation."
These students prefer “bi-gender” to “transgender,” as their self-perception can change from day to day. Said one student to the Times: “Some days I wake up and think, ‘Why am I in this body?’ Most days I wake up and think, ‘What was I thinking yesterday?’” Other students prefer to see themselves not as transgender or bi-gender but as “agender,” eschewing the pronoun he and she for “they.” One student quoted in the article called herself an “amorphous blob.”
So, presumably, Governor Moonbeam will have to find bathrooms and sports teams for amorphous blobs too. Perhaps students in California will be able to play on the boys football team in the fall and the girls softball team in the spring.
Were Royko alive today, he might find the causes around which the “moonbeam vote” rallied in the 1970s almost quaint in comparison to Brown’s today. As the state reels from economic crisis and the exodus of businesses and middle-class families, what is Brown’s California debating? The preservation of transgender bathrooms in failed public schools.