11/17/2011 10:39 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Pardon Andrea Jones

When I'm reading an article that discusses trans issues, I can always tell who the author is by looking for a few key words and constructions. Typically, when an article uses "trans" as a prefix and is good about making sure that the identified sex of the person in question is the only sex that matters for the article, that article is written by a trans person, or by a really good ally. The second kind is one that makes me sigh and acknowledge that it is progress but clearly a quarter loaf. You've read these articles all the time; the words seem to have nervously shuffled inside the door of the argument but clearly aren't comfortable being there. You see the word "transgender" used a lot to refer to a subset much smaller than the word actually applies to. They'll use "biological" when they mean "cis," etc., but they're generally supportive of the right of trans people to live their lives with a reasonable amount of dignity, just as long as they don't demand so much that it offends the other constituency groups that these people depend on for their Liberal Credibility PointsTM. And then there's the third kind.

Usually it comes in over wire service or syndication. The reporter seems under the impression that it's 1952 and the world hasn't heard of Christine Jorgensen. (Or Lily Elbe, for that matter.) And so the entire article is going to be a painfully clumsy primer on the fact that yes, trans people exist. If they're more jaded about that existence, expect to see quotation marks around the gender or name of the subject of the article, and a fixation on medical procedures, including use of the pejorative "sex-change," which is even better with the modifier "partial," should that person be pre- or non-operative. In the spirit of Cisgender News, a fun site someone pointed me to a few months ago, let me give you a quick example:

"Barack," who has lived as a man for the last 50 years, believes that being "cisgendered" doesn't affect in any way "his" ability to be president, despite not having had a complete sex change. The president's employer could not be reached for comment.

And there you have the three most identifiable species of journalism regarding trans people that aren't openly hostile to our existence -- "openly" being the operative word. There are also three identifiable species of governments, when it comes to trans people.

There's the government that believes very strongly that trans people are, just like cis people, the gender they say they are. They understand that they have a duty to correct for historic discrimination against trans people, now more than ever, as the quality of, and ability to gain access to, transition medicine improves and fewer trans people give up hope that they can ever be accepted as their identified sex. (That, if you're wondering, is why the estimated prevalence of transition has increased by at least an order of magnitude since the '70s.) Uruguay does this most explicitly. Their policy regarding trans people and identity is such: You can change your legally recognized gender on demand, as long as you haven't done so in the last five years. This is a particularly neat solution, as it sort of eliminates the theoretical concern that many cis people like to bring up. Below a recent article on high school washroom access for trans children was a comment that I have seen a thousand times and expect to see a thousand more:

Well I choose to identify as a woman at bikini world changing rooms, Im sure your wife and daughters will approve of that right?

ID that is changed on demand and not reversible for a period of years based on identified sex would kind of stop that nonexistent problem in its tracks, but again, that would mean that people would actually have to accept trans identities. And while the president, through his executive actions, including eliminating a requirement for genital surgery to get a passport that matches one's identified sex, believes that that should be the case, end of argument: the putative legislative point-man when it comes to LGBT rights, Barney Frank, won't support that kind of legislation in the House. Why? Well, he's told us so. According to Bay Windows:

I've talked with transgender activists and what they want -- and what we will be forced to defend -- is for people with penises who identify as women to be able to shower with other women," said Frank, citing the activists' handbook which states that a person's declared gender is the one by which he or she should be recognized. "There are no votes for that. And if that is the price for this bill, it is wrong.

Then there's the government that makes noises about being accepting of trans people, but puts in significant hurdles either out of sheer bloody-mindedness or with a view to incentivize conformity, either through non-transition, or unnecessary transition medicine. Again, to quote the Distinguished Gentleman from Massachusetts:

Essentially, there are full protections for people who are transgender with a couple of provisos: One -- the employer can ask for a gender consistent dress code. No mustaches and dresses. Two -- people with one set of genitals do not have a legal right to get naked in front of the other set, is the basic way to put it. Some accommodation has to be made there.

If you insist on the right for unrestricted access to bathrooms -- we lose. And we're making some accommodations here. And we worked it out with the transgender community. We had people very upset when we raised it -- it because clear we couldn't pass the bill without it.

So again, he's willing to risk political capital answering public accommodation segregation when it comes to his constituency, but he's not really willing to expend any muscle doing the right thing by trans people. An ally, but not so much. Sweden is a government like this: sure, they'll pay for your transition as part of state-insured medicine, but they'll also make sterilization a necessary component of that transition. We care just so far as our sensibilities aren't offended. That's where all the difficulty comes in the trans community. Just when are we making the perfect the enemy of the good, and when are we making the mediocre the enemy of the better? It's not quite such a cut-and-dried issue.

But then there's the third kind of government, the government that would really prefer if you just weren't there anymore. Anywhere else is fine. You can go into that comfy closet over there, or you can move to another jurisdiction, or dead works fine, too... whatever you like, really, just so long as we don't have to think about you and don't have to acknowledge your existence in our public life. Tennessee is a government like that. Tennessee is a government that fights your transition at every juncture a government that doesn't fund it can fight it. They won't change your birth certificate. They require surgery just to change the box on your driver's license. That's a $22,000 driver's license, for those of you keeping count.

Uruguay takes your word for it. Sweden sounds supportive just as long as you don't breed. Tennessee would prefer that you quietly move to Virginia.

Andrea Jones, a Tennessean with far more pluck, dignity, and courage than I think I could ever manage, knew the law was an ass on this, and said, quite simply, after getting the requisite dosage of disrespect at the DMV, that if they were to refuse to recognize her as a woman, they should be fine with her walking around shirtless, since those working on behalf of the State of Tennessee were very adamant that Andrea was a man, to the point of referring to her as Mr. Jones. That said, the point remains:

The State of Tennessee has jailed someone they consider to be a man and put them in a male facility for baring their chest. For those expressing shock, surprise, or ambivalence regarding the lawful actions of Ms. Jones in protesting a clearly unjust law, I have only this to say: I'm not surprised that Ms. Jones was finally so galled by the willful cynicism of the State of Tennessee that she removed her shirt and dared the law to treat her as the man they say she is. I'm surprised she lasted so long without an outburst of dangerous logic in a state whose official position is that they will not acknowledge her existence.

So Andrea, after three weeks in jail, and facing indecent exposure charges, has shown that Tennessee's de facto law regarding trans people is to give none of the rights and all of the responsibilities of any other woman.

So I call on Governor Haslam to do the honourable thing: respect the implications of the cissexist laws of the State of Tennessee. Grant Andrea Jones a full pardon. That or you ought to do her the dignity of issuing her identification in accordance with reality.

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