In a bizarre case that, depending on your point of view, either highlights the complete lack of common sense in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, or demonstrates how truly radical certain segments of the gay rights movement are, Arkansas University has been sued over its refusal to allow an almost 40 year old, still biologically male student to use women's bathrooms.
A little background on the issue before we plunge into the specifics of the case: Most college campuses make some sort of provision for transgendered students - IE students who believe they were born the wrong gender and are in the process of transitioning to physically resemble the other (presumptively correct) gender using surgery and/or hormone therapy.
These provisions typically include the creation of spaces such as "gender neutral bathrooms" (IE bathrooms that can be used by both sexes), or even in some cases the allowance of completely gender neutral housing which would permit men and women to live in the same dorms. In some cases, students are even taught to use substitute pronouns for gender-nonconforming individuals such as "ze" or "hir," and often this includes being told that there are more than just two genders. In extreme cases, students are told that there is no such thing as gender at all.
Full disclosure: The author of this article actually went through such an orientation, and has written a firsthand description of the process:
For evidence of this, one has only to look at what is actually argued in these sessions. Among the more interesting facts I gleaned from my session of BiLeGaTa were the following:
1. Gender is a social construct.
2. There are at least five genders (what the other three are is not explained), not two, and that’s a conservative estimate.
3. The proper pronoun to use to describe transgendered people is not “he” or “she” but rather “ze.” The possessive form of this word is “hir.” The word to use in formal address (as in “Sir” or “Madame”) is “Ziram.”
4. Anyone who disagrees with any of this, or even questions it, is automatically “heteronormative” or worse, “heterosexist.”
Why bring all of this up? Because many of these measures (for instance, the creation of gender neutral bathrooms) were implemented by the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS), which is the school being sued. Unfortunately for them, that was apparently not enough for our tormented would-be woman, who wanted the right to use not just gender neutral bathrooms, but any and all bathrooms intended for women, despite the presence of decidedly non-female reproductive organs. Meet Jennifer Braly, the plaintiff in this case:
For the sake of simplicitly, we'll be referring to Ms. Braly by her preferred pronoun throughout this article, if only because we don't know what her original male name was, and hearing someone named Jennifer referred to as "he" is headache inducing. Campus Reform brings us further details on the story:
A letter from the Department of Justice (DOJ) caused the University of Arkansas at Ft. Smith (UAFS) early this month to reverse policy and allow a 38-year old anatomically male-student permant use of women's bathrooms on campus despite opposition from female students.
The university made the reversal on "advice of counsel" after receiving a letter the DOJ sent in response to a complaint that a single, self proclaimed "transgender" student filed with the DOJ's Civil Rights Division.
"Because of the stance we took, the individual filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Justice," Mark Horn who is the vice president of university relations explained in an interview with Campus Reform on Tuesday.
Jennifer Braly, the student who filed the complaint, calls [herself] "transgender" with a "gender identity disorder." Braly, however, remains anatomically a man and is currently raising money online for Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS).
Braly filed the complaint with the DOJ after the university initially told [her] to use the campus's several gender-neutral bathrooms instead of the women's restrooms.
Got that? The university tried to settle this problem by telling Ms. Braly to just use the gender neutral bathrooms in order to avoid making female students who wanted privacy in female bathrooms uncomfortable. She claims on her website that this was inconvenient because gender neutral bathrooms did not exist in all buildings on-campus:
So the University called me into a meeting and told me I had to use unisex bathrooms and that was it. I can't use any male or female public bathrooms. One problem to this is there are not unisex bathrooms in every building. Especially the two main buildings where most of my classes are, so I have to go to a completely different building to use the restroom.
Inconvenient? Sure. But the reasonability (or not) of Braly's complaint suffers rather a lot when you realize that this "woman" considered having to walk five minutes to go to a bathroom she could use to be an infringement worthy of asking the Federal Department of Justice to sue the school. It's also ruined by the fact that, according to Campus Reform:
The university offered to convert more current bathrooms into gender-neutral restrooms, but still Braly was unsatisfied and decided to sue.
"We tried to make reasonable accommodation and to find a common ground, converting the number of bathrooms on campus to gender-neutral," Horn from UA said on Tuesday.
Finally, however, it was the letter from DOJ that convinced the legal department and administrators at UA to yield to Braly's demands.
So the school not only set up gender neutral bathrooms rather than expecting Braly to use the men's room and possibly risk feeling really uncomfortable, but they also offered to convert existing bathrooms to being unisex. But no, apparently Ms. Braly believes that being able to walk through a door with this sign on it is a civil right as sacrosanct as the right to vote:
Now, to be fair, it's not clear what the letter from the Justice Department said (they've refused to release it to the press), so for all we know, there could be an airtight legal case in the letter. Certainly something spooked the university.
To be doubly fair, some might argue that so long as Braly acts like a woman, doesn't behave in a meaningfully threatening way towards women and shows no signs of being attracted to women (and thus has no ulterior motives for wanting to enter a women's bathroom), then this really is a rather silly, old-fashioned move on the university's part.
Fair enough. Except it's not true. Despite her supposedly false gender, Braly evidently is attracted to women - so much so that she's been married to other women twice and even got one of them pregnant with a daughter. From Braly's website (emphasis added):
I have lived with this condition for the first 36 years of my life and I am now 38. During the first 36 years of my life I tried everything to conform to the male standard but nothing ever seemed to work. I had two marriages and both ended in divorce. My second marriage ended with my ex wife being pregnant with my daughter. A three year visitation battle ensued because of my decsion to transition into the woman I am today, and it drained all my funds. In the end for lack of representation in court I ended up having to sign my rights away.
Now, say what you like about "conforming to the male standard," but getting someone pregnant takes more than just being a good actor. Either the attraction is there or it isn't. If Braly is capable of knocking girls up, then those girls have every reason to want her away from them in the bathroom so long as she retains the organ that would permit her to do so. This is just basic common sense.
And not that you needed another reason to think this all sounds like a bad joke gone wrong, but it turns out that Braly actually was able to use women's bathrooms for a good portion of her time at UAFS. So why isn't she allowed to use them anymore? Because apparently she thought it was a good idea to do a campus lecture tour talking all about how she's secretly a man and accusing anyone uncomfortable with that fact of being transphobes. Again, from her website:
When I started living full-time as female at the University I was fine. I was living in stealth mode, quiet, and kept to myself. It just semed safe. I would use womens public bathrooms with out any complaints. Then I took General Psychology and had asked the professor if I could give a lecture on Gender Identity Disorders for some extra credit. She not only allowed me to speak to my class but her other 2 classes as well. She also referred me to another professor and I spoke in his class too. I was excited I was educating people about being a transsexual and the other types of Gender Identity Disorders. Those lectures would be the beginning of all my problems. As I did get many great responses from students how my lectures greatly changed their perspective of what transsexuals are, some students were not so accepting. Some saw me using the womens public restrooms and complained to the University that they didn't think I should be using the restroom with them.
Shocking. And the truly ironic thing? Braly's been banned from giving these lectures because apparently she's not a qualified expert on the disorder, except by virtue of having it. This is not considered a credential. For instance, medical schools don't invite amputees to lecture on the finer points of when to cut off limbs, even though they themselves might have had their limbs removed. Similarly, while Braly might suffer from the disorder she's lecturing about, that doesn't mean she knows how it ought to be treated, or its neuroscientific origins, or the history of its inclusion in the DSM-IV. Her opinion is only slightly more informed than a layman because of her experience. This doesn't merit a status as a guest lecturer.
However, psychologists may still want to take note of this case for a very specific reason: given the response of the Justice Department, not being in your right mind may be contagious.