The Genital Correctness Busybody Blowhard Brigade

(Story via Holly @ feministe 2008-02-17. Video thanks to GLAAD 2008-02-13.)

There are a couple of different points to make about conservative reactions to the recent story of a government elementary school in Douglas County, Colorado making some accommodations for a transgender girl in the second grade. Both are well illustrated by the ridiculous discussion of the story by professional blowhard Neil Cavuto on Fox News.

The first point to make is about the first-order issue — how to run an elementary school and what to do if a kid who has been living and attending school as a boy decides that she wants to live as a girl instead. As far as this goes, Cavuto’s reaction is based on a tissue of nastiness, nonsense, and a few plain lies. As far as I can tell, for example, the claim that any student other than this little girl will be using unisex bathrooms is simply false — the school will have its normal girls’ and boys’ bathrooms; the girl in question just won’t be forced to use them. The claim that it will cost millions of dollars also seems to be something that Cavuto just made up out of thin air; the school already has plenty of bathrooms, doesn’t need to build more, and is just reclassifying a couple of already-existing bathrooms — which from the sound of it are probably single-stall rooms in the teacher’s lounge, or something similar — for this girl’s use. More broadly, the entire discussion is premised on the positively bizarre notion that the school should be ragged on for bending over backwards to suit this girl’s delicate sensibilities, just so long as they don’t follow the Genital Correctness Busybody Blowhard Brigade in deliberately trying to make the kid’s life more unpleasant, e.g. by refusing to call her by her chosen name, or by forcing her to use the boys’ bathroom when she doesn’t want to use it, or by refusing to intervene against bullies as they would with any other child being bullied for any other reason, or by harassing her, punishing her, or throwing her out of school for wearing the wrong set of clothes. Apparently it’s the acme of liberal hypersensitivity and authoritarian political correctness run amok, and indeed it’s robbing children everywhere of their childhood (!), if you should ever fail to go out of your way to be as obnoxious as possible toward an eight-year-old kid, who never did anything to you, all in the name of heteropatriarchal gender-role social engineering.

The second point to make is about a second-order issue — whether or not the local government in Douglas should be taking a role in promoting one way of running a school or interacting with transgender students over others. Cavuto tries to invoke the issue implicitly by repeatedly referring to tax dollars, and although his specific claims about millions of tax dollars are obvious bullshit, there is a legitimate point buried under it. It should not be the local government’s business to promote either a tolerant or a punitive school environment for this kid — because while I think it’s stupid for any school to harass this kid or try to force her into the right gender identity, I also think that it is tyrannical for any government to force local taxpayers to pay for projects that they personally find abhorrent (whether because they are being forced to pay for violations of their own religious beliefs, or for any other reason). Nor should local parents be forced to enroll their kids in a school that allows openly transgender students to participate in classes. Again, I think that’s a stupid policy to make, but is tyrannical for the government to force parents to put their children in environments that they deeply believe that their children shouldn’t be in.

If we had an argument to the effect that local taxpayers should be able to withhold funding from schools that establish policies they consider wrongheaded, or to the effect that anti-trans local parents should be free to withdraw their kids from this school and make other arrangements (homeschooling, parochial schooling, or whatever), without having to jump the government’s normal punitive bureaucratic hurdles, and without being forced to continue paying for a school that they no longer feel to be fit to educate children, then I would be perfectly willing to take their side on that one — I may disagree with everything that they want to teach kids, but I’ll defend to the death their right to teach it. But, of course, principled small-government conservatives that they are, Cavuto and the rest of the GCBBB are constitutionally incapable of making that kind of second-order argument. Instead, we find a lot of phony-concern hand-wringing from letter writers about local government and school authorities promoting gender confusion, deviance, professional help, a lifetime of pain, etc. (As far as I can tell there’s no evidence that the girl is at all confused; she seems to be pretty clear on what she wants. And there’s no reason to believe that her decision to live as a girl promises a lifetime of pain, unless and except to the extent that other people, i.e. these same busybody blowhards, go out of their way to make it painful. There’s no promise here; only a threat.) But it is no more the job of government authorities to promote conformity to traditional gender roles and their assignment based on biological sex, than it is their job to promote the opposite; it would be just as immoral as them to force me to pay for harassing and penalizing transgender children who would otherwise be happy as clams until they fit back into their proper gender, when I consider that abhorrent. Cavuto, meanwhile, shows his principled conservative bona fides by arguing that no matter how many transgender kids there may be in elementary schools, they are far from the majority. We live in a country where majority rules, which apparently, to his mind, means that when 99% of kids follow traditional gender norms for the sex they were assigned at birth, it must be the government’s job to direct school authorities to treat the remaining 1% like shit, so as to spare the 99% from the terrible confusion of possibly learning something. The majority rules, the minority drools, and if you don’t like it they’ll force you to pay for their Right-wing social engineering anyway. And, oh yes, you will pay.

Further reading:

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15 replies to The Genital Correctness Busybody Blowhard Brigade Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Victoria Marinelli

    The (significant) merits of your post aside, that title RULES.

  2. emeraldimp

    Just as an aside, in most school districts in Colorado, students are allowed to attend other (public) schools, sometimes even outside their own district (depending on a number of factors): link

    Not that it negates any argument about whether people should be forced to pay to support a school that has policies they dislike, just that parents don’t HAVE to send their kid there.

  3. Rad Geek

    Victoria,

    Thanks for the kind words. I think the ideal version of the title that I conceived was The Genital Correctness Busybody Blowhard Bully Brigade, but I when I sat down to write, I forgot to put in the penultimate B. until it was already too late. Ah well.

    emeraldimp,

    Thanks for the information. From the details of the story, it sounds like the parents of this girl may in fact have been availing themselves of that option, for whatever reasons; all this hubbub is coming about because of the school’s reaction to her plans to return to her original home school after having been enrolled in other schools for a couple of years.

    Colorado’s leniency in school assignment is one step in the right direction, and I’m glad to hear about it (Las Vegas is about to institute a similar program for schools within the city district, as part of an attempt to deal with the notoriously abysmal quality of government schools around here), but aside from the issue of being forced to pay for schools you no longer want to have anything to do with your children, I’d also be interested to know how easy it is to simply withdraw from the government school system entirely. If parents can’t find any suitable government or officially-approved private schools in their area, withdrawing their children to homeschool or unschool or whatever ought to be a proceeding that parents can go about without artificially punitive costs or hassles imposed by the state education cartel. If that’s true, then good on Colorado, but as far as I know it’s not true anywhere in the country, and that significantly affects the practical possibility for parents to withdraw their children from government schools whose policies they disapprove of.

  4. John T. Kennedy

    Of course the real problem is public schooling, not busybody blowhards.

  5. Rad Geek

    Kennedy,

    Well, as I said, if the busybody blowhards were making a case against compulsory attendance or tax-funded government schooling, I’d get their backs on that issue, as much as I may disagree with them on the first-order issue.

    But, being busybody blowhards, they aren’t making and won’t make that argument, because what they want is to have compulsory institutions that will enforce their own brand of traditionalist social engineering.

  6. John T. Kennedy

    Rad,

    Which is the only remedy?

    1. Get rid of public schooling.

    2. Get rid of busybody blowhard social engineers.

  7. Starchild

    I would encourage all defenders of liberty to use the term “government schools” instead of “public schools.” You can have a public facility — i.e. a facility that is open to the public, be it a school, restaurant, parking lot, or whatever — without it being owned or run by government. So the answer is not to get rid of public schools, the answer is for someone other than the State to run them.

    Just as we believe in separation of church and state because we don’t want governments telling people what to believe, even stronger is the argument for separation of school and state, because we especially don’t want governments telling young and impressionable members of society what to believe.

    But to reply to John Kennedy’s question, why does it need to be an either-or? The ideal society, in my view, would have NEITHER government-run schools, NOR — and here I think it’s perhaps better to dispense with all the alliterative verbiage and focus in on the word Charles Johnson inadvertantly and unfortunately left out — bullying in the schools that did exist.

  8. Rad Geek

    Kennedy,

    The remedy to what? I have two distinct concerns in this post, which is why I made two distinct points.

    Abolishing compulsory attendance and tax-funded schooling solves one of my problems; it’s a necessary but insufficient condition for solving the other one.

    Of course I support the immediate abolition of government schooling in any case, and I criticize conservative types in the second point precisely because they don’t (and most of them won’t ever) get behind this obvious solution to their second-order problem.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think that the overlap between social busybodying and statist authoritarianism on this point is accidental.

  9. John T. Kennedy

    No, I’d say a public library is one that is publicly funded. A private library may certainly be open to the general public.

    But to reply to John Kennedy’s question, why does it need to be an either-or? The ideal society, in my view, would have NEITHER government-run schools, NOR — and here I think it’s perhaps better to dispense with all the alliterative verbiage and focus in on the word Charles Johnson inadvertantly and unfortunately left out — bullying in the schools that did exist.

    I have no reason to thing bullying would disapear with public schools. I’m pretty sure it exists in private schools today. I believe it is even institutionalized in some private schools because faculty, administrators and even parents think it serves a valuable function. I’m sure there are some parents that, if they had a child like the student Rad cites, would want their child pressured to conform. You think Cavuto wouldn’t?

    I don’t expect bullying in schools to ever go away but public funding certainly can. You’ll never abolish sin, but making people pay for it out of their own pockets would ge a real improvement.

  10. John T. Kennedy

    Rad,

    Abolishing compulsory attendance and tax-funded schooling solves one of my problems; it’s a necessary but insufficient condition for solving the other one.

    What is your remedy to the other problem? That everyone be converted to your view?

    What exactly is the other problem? Do you think that in a free society parents should be prevented from pressuring their own children to adopt conventional gender roles?

    Suppose the child’s parents refused to call the child by his chosen name, insisting on calling him by the name they’d give him. Suppose they forbid him to use women’s restrooms in public and insisted that he use the men’s restrooms when he needed to go. Supose they put him in a private shool where the same rules apply. What’s the remedy in a free society? If you feel certain you know better than the parents what’s best for their child does that make you a busybody?

  11. Rad Geek

    Kennedy,

    By publicly funded, do you mean tax-funded? E.g., if I set up a library that’s funded by entirely by voluntary donations from members of the general public, as well as being open to the general public, does that count as a private rather than public library according to your use of the terms? I ask because I don’t think it would be under Starchild’s definitions.

    I don’t ultimately care very much whether one use or the other is used, as long as everyone in the conversation is consistent in their usage of the terms, and clear on how their interlocutors are using them. But I am somewhat sympathetic to the idea that referring to government projects as public projects suggests some undue credit to the government, which is not the same as, and in fact is both parasitic on and often antagonistic towards, the general public.

    As far as bullying goes, my hope is not to abolish all vice. That’d be nice, but my more immediate goal is to rebuke the vicious, and to promote nonviolent methods for making them less able to effectually hurt their intended victims. One part of that is by removing compulsory attendance laws and tax funding. But there are other parts too, which have little or nothing to do with the government.

  12. Rad Geek

    Kennedy,

    The other problem is people’s willingness to be obnoxious to small children in order to try to harass and intimidate them into outward conformity to traditionalist gender roles for the gender the child was assigned at birth.

    I don’t have a one-shot remedy for that like I do for government schools, because the nature of the problem is different. However, one thing to do is to expose how nasty certain people are to kids over these issues, and to try to convince enough people of the underlying nastiness that that kind of treatment becomes socially unacceptable. Or at least to weaken enough people’s commitment to Genital Correctness that they waver and decide that it’s not worth the costs, and so treat kids (whether their own or others’) like human beings instead of gender-role projects. That’s not quite the same project as trying to convert everybody to all my views about gender, and is fortunately much easier, since it involves convincing a smaller number of people of a more limited conclusion.

    In a free society, parents would not be forcibly prevented from trying to harass their kids into conformity with their assigned gender or traditional gender roles. Parents should be free to make all kinds of ignorant, foolish, or vicious decisions. However, in a free society children who don’t like that treatment would also be perfectly free to tell their obnoxious parents to go to hell without the danger of being caged by the law or beaten up by an adult — which currently they are not free to do. And there’s no reason why other adults shouldn’t also feel free to call the parents’ decisions ignorant, foolish, or vicious, if they are so.

    As for busybodying, if, in your imagined scenario, parents are trying to being nasty to their kid over something like this, and the kid resists that treatment, I don’t think it’s busybodying to trust the kid’s considered judgment over the parents’.

  13. Peter Bjørn Perlsø

    JohnTK:

    “Which is the only remedy? 1. Get rid of public schooling. 2. Get rid of busybody blowhard social engineers. “

    I would surmise that enacting #1 would already be a healthy step into #2, at least as far as education goes.

    Besides, I propose a Pullet Surprise nomination for that title.

  14. Jacques St. Charles

    “they are far from the majority. We live in a country where majority rules…”

    So, Neal – by this reasoning, if 51% of the people want to sell you and your family into slavery – that would be OK – right?

    I hate to break it to you, but we don’t live in a democracy of majority rule – we live (or are supposed to live)in a Constitutional Republic.

    A system where if 99% of the people want to deprive an individual of his or her rights – that’s just “tuff darts” for the 99% – they can’t.

    What you’re actually saying is we should live in a society of Mob Rule. Careful for what you wish for – it might just come to pass.

  15. Rad Geek

    Jacques,

    I appreciate the sentiment — you’re certainly right that there are some existing protections against certain kinds of majoritarian coercion, and it’s a good thing that there are.

    But I think that in this society, Constitutional Republic or not, if 99% of the population are really determined to deprive 1% of their rights, they are probably going to find a way to do so. Either by amending the Constitution, or by using their overwhelming supermajority to elect a slate of politicians who will interpret the existing Constitution in favor of their program, or just by bypassing the legislative process entirely in favor of mob violence. There are well documented historical cases in the United States of each of these strategies. If you’ve actually got 99% of the population after you trying to get your rights violated, paper constitutions, representative political officers, and government courts are pretty slender reeds to lean on.

    You might say: Well, I know that they’d probably have the power to violate your rights. But in a Constitutional Republic, they don’t have the right to do it; what they’d be doing is illegitimate even if they manage to pull it off! If so, I’d agree with you–but I’d argue that the majority doesn’t have the right to violate the rights of the rest under any system of politics, whether constitutional or unconstitutional; republican, majoritarian, aristocratic, tyrannical, or anarchistic; limited or totalitarian; centralized or federative; etc. Individual rights are something that individual people have, all by their lonesome, not privileges that they enjoy relative to a particular political constitution, which a different constitution might have expanded or revoked. People living under mobocracy have just as many rights as people living under our presently-existing constitutionally-limited elective oligarchy, as do people living under absolute monarchy, and people living under a traditionally-limited participatory democracy (which is what Athens would have had, if not for a constitution that severely limited participation to an oligarchy based on sex, citizenship, and slavery), and people living without any form of government at all. The only question here is which of these many different kinds of political organization do the best job of recognizing, respecting, and vindicating the rights that people already have. And, looking around at history, and how the United States’ wire-tapping, torturing, occupying, bombing, brutalizing, taxing, spending, arbitrarily-regulating, nonviolent drug user-imprisoning, eminent-domain land-grabbing, etc. government is actually operating in the world today, both at home and abroad, I’d reckon that, at least here, the system of a so-called Constitutional Republic hasn’t done a very good job at that. Either that system has authorized such a government as we have, or it has been powerless to prevent such a government from arising; in either case, it is unfit to exist.

    If you’re interested, I discuss these topics at some more length in my annual International Ignore the Constitution Day posts and Bill of Rights Day festivities.

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