Monday, February 8, 2016

Beyond school Bathrooms: What's really at stake in the gender-inclusion debates

FEBUARY 8, 2016
Last week, Erin Hinrichs of the MINNPOST published an excellent article (of the same title I used in this post) regarding and issue which should never have been.  Her diligence provides an overview of how the anti-bullying efforts to safeguard a gender non-conforming 5 year old at a public charter school in St. Paul, Minnesota, devolved into the bullying of administrators, teachers and board members.

If you are unfamiliar with this story, I recommend you read Hinrich's at the link below.

This subject is close to me because this happens to be the school with which I have been involved since 2009. [And During the time of this issue, I was a closeted trans woman serving on the Academic Excellence Committee -- I apologize ahead of time for the personal anger I will express in this entire post. ]

What troubled me the most was that at a school which emphasizes Classical Education, This minority of parents who lead the opposition to the positive anti-bullying efforts resorted to non-classical divisive tactics of demagoguery and epithets in their accusation that the administration has not acting in accord with Classical principles and Virtue.

The purpose of Education is not to validate ignorance, but overcome it.
Lawrence Krauss

Through public and private conversations. it has become clear that the view of these antagonists is that our publicly funded charter school is really a battleground in their larger fabricated culture war, rather than as a safe place for all children to learn and grow. (for more on their background refer to these articles when they sued the school over distribution of abortion flyers and their recent involvement with MN House Bill on banning transgender citizens from using gender appropriate bathrooms as well as their invitation of the hate group Minnesota Family Coalition to Nova Classical Academy. Much of this stems from the activities of the recognized global Hate-group Alliance Defending Freedom (read more of my comments on this, and how it triggered my PTSD at the very end of this blog post)

For what began as a simple common sense measure to address and prevent the bullying of a 5 year old (as well as the other trans and gender non-binary students at the school) and a gender inclusive policy (one of the first for any school in the state of Minnesota) that concurred Minnesota State Law, had been usurped into shallow argument on bathroom fear and pedophilia.  It seems that initial bullying situation among peers should have been resolved at the start of the school year.  The adoption of age appropriate texts would have been easily adopted, and that would have been the end of it. Instead it escalated to the point of the family and their daughter being violently threatened.

Nonetheless and irregardless of the safety of this 5 year old girl and her family, these bathroom fear antagonists continued to harass our board, administration and teachers.  This is quite a distraction from their needed duties as educators.   It is no surprise that the parents who are against the bullying prevention have themselves demonstrated their own propensity for bullying. (in reality they were talking and acting no differently than the peers who assaulted me in my past...yet they had the gall to claim moral superiority by dehumanizing me and other trans women again as adults!) 

As an active parent who happens to have a Classical Education (refer to my other posts on the subject), I have been appalled by much of this behavior and the usurpation of my field of Classical Studies  as it has been invoked to support the actions of religious dogmatic demagogues and bullies.

As an educational institution, when the School administration brought in a legitimate Psychologist, experienced with Gender Identity, many parents attended to learn and discover what they did not know. The antagonists however did not attend and rejected the opportunity to inquire from a field expert. Instead, they banded together to counter and brought in a Lawyer from the Minnesota Family Coalition, rather than a field expert in Gender Identity.  They did this not for the sake of education, but to learn how they can fight back against learning about unfamiliar topics by claiming First Amendment Rights.  
While this small group of harassing parents sat in the Gymnasium listening to their lawyer; a much larger number (100s) of Nova parents and faculty banded together under our group Nova Families for Equality, and showed up wearing purple to counter this anti-Education approach. The family with the transgender Kindergartner is not the only trans or gender non-binary family at Nova.  For prior to this event, many of us dedicated hundreds of hours in private and public conversations to enact a positive outcome; The administration and board did in fact adopt a positive policy to conform with Nova's secular obligations to State Law and the student, despite the illogical religious-based objections we've come to know all to well over the past 40 or so years.

And while these antagonists tended to squeak the loudest and stated the most hurtful things, the number of supportive parents were indeed far greater (evidenced by the election of new board members in May 2016-and a devastating defeat to the antagonists who finished dead last-- The May 2017 election further solidified the inclusive majority Nova Classical Academy is fostering and there are openly transgender students walking its halls.  While the family of the kindergartner grew frustrated withdrew and eventually sued the school, ultimately coming away with a $100,000 settlement, there are still many families who continue to work for positive outcomes, for the other transgender, gender non-binary, and LGBTQ students and parents who remain enrolled at Nova.
Below are three of the public contributions I made to the Nova community and Board of Directors - beginning with the most recent, the earlier two address the process of classical education methods with regard to anti-bullying. I must also inform you that at this time I was still living as closeted trans woman.  I was horrified and fearful for my children when I saw that some of the parents of their best friends were falling victim and even spreading blatant lies and negative propaganda of the antagonists.  Apparently, when they spoke with me in their disjointed sound-byte fallacy laden "arguments." that they had no clear desire to engage their brain and move beyond their poisoned guts. To my face they would try to convince me that trans women are delusional. They did not know that the one to whom they were speaking had experienced not only bullying, but physical, emotional abuse, and sexual assaults by peers -- because I was perceived to be different. [On later occasions I have been threatened with a knife at my throat and gun in my face, so...]  It takes a lot to rattle me, but it doesn't mean it hurts any less. In fact during this year, I was have major flashbacks and diagnosed PTSD - Nonetheless I managed to put my experiences into to third person voice and wrote these letters. 

#1 - My Letter to the Board,  January 25, 2016

Dear members of the Nova School Board,
   When there are so many pressing issues our school needs to address, particularly when it comes to growing the upper school, securing adjacent real estate properties for future development, rather than loosing it forever to yet another apartment complex. This GNC backlash, use of disingenuous and dishonest tactics to the common sense anti-bullying proposals must end tonight. 

Nova hired very capable educational and administrative professionals.  They proposed a common sense anti-bullying proposal in October based upon their professional expertise.  So just as I trust my professional auto-mechanic to fix my brakes to safeguard my family, I trust the assessment of our professional educators when it comes to the safety of our children.

Finally, do not let yourself be bamboozled by letters from un-vetted organizations without peer-review.  As a professional academic, there are procedures and rules used by scholars and scientists to ensure our findings are honest to the best degree as humanly possible.  Our curiosity to understand is what drives us in our work.  It is highly insulting to the process of Academic Excellence when our work is flippantly disregarded as mere opinion on equal footing with any lay person. One such organization widely known to misrepresent academia is The American College of Pediatrics. This organization has somewhere between 60-200 members and does no research of its own.  Instead they freely exploit and misrepresent the findings from the American Academy of Pediatrics (which includes about 64,000 engaged professionals).  Regardless of whether or not the ACP is pushing a religious-based agenda, their inability to engage in proper academic scholarship makes them an unfitting source for a school which strives for Academic Excellence.

As a refresher on source study, here is a copy of a handout I provide to my first year college students on how to aid them in finding good sources for their research projects:

Keep strong, put trust in the professional guidance of your administrators and put an end to this insanity now.

K. Christian McGuire, Nova parent of two since 2009  
#2 My letter for Public Comment prior to the adoption of Anti-bullying policy December 16, 2015.

Dear Nova Community,
Our Principles of Classical Education at Nova sets out the aim and methodologies for Classical Education.  It is an inclusive system designed to develop the moral and intellectual virtues in its practitioners.  We have high minded ideals:

"...freedom from ignorance, illogic, false impression, and the inability to learn or analyze or critique or understand or communicate; it is freedom to be able to understand how all knowledge is related, to possess the art of learning, to be able to take up and master any subject or field or interest, and to be a capable and even eloquent communicator...
...It is universal, that is, trans-cultural, in its scope.  Though rooted in the western tradition, classical education is alive to excellence across history and cultures, for we share the universal human condition.  It is also alive to and ever open to the universal pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty in all their diverse and shared articulations.  By its very methodology, it does not presume that there is one particular articulation of the true, the good, the beautiful; it also does not presume that there is not one possible articulation.  The classically trained person does not stop at simply gathering the data on what people and traditions around the world have thought about a given subject.  Rather, the classically trained person is equipped to plunge in and engage the truth claims of any subject.  We will not simply do history of philosophy, we will do philosophy.”
As a parent and college educator with undergraduate degrees in both Philosophy and Classics. This document is GREAT! It describes a healthy environment where parents, students, faculty and staff Get it!  We build each other up. Trust each other to ensure that we all engage in compassion and reason;  guard against the constant messages of superficial bunk which freely exploit our baser instincts: e.g. advertisements, reality and gossip centered TV shows, the bulk of talk radio shows, negative political ads, 140 character tweets and Facebook posts, bathroom graffiti, sound-bites, bumper stickers, flyers, billboards, mass e-mails of spurious content, etc.) 

I find nowhere in the Principles of Classical Education at Nova however which indicates that our inclusive approach favors a “conservative - family values” minded demographic.  This is because Classical Education is not the same as Christian Education. 

Yes indeed there are many Classical Christian Schools in the Twin Cities.  If one only uses a quick Google search to find information on Classical Education, chances are that the only schools and sources that turn up are those which emphasize a literal interpretation of the Bible as the ultimate source for Truth. Yet provides very little detail on primary source scholarship.   -- As a public charter school we cannot abide by this, and despite our personal Faith traditions, this concept is clearly against our own Principles.

So when our community begins speaking of issues such as gender expression as a moral behavior vs. core identity, there are ways we can discuss this without being destructive. 

Lets frame the discussion in context of our own Principles. When we read statements such as “Boys are Boys and Girls are Girls – end of story” or perpetuate fear such as If a trans girl uses the girls restroom, she is doing it not for the sake of simply relieving herself, but instead for some lewd purpose,  we recognize that these are the instinctual emotional fears of our baser inclinations. The purposeful spread of such misinformation and fear mongering is thus contrary to the Moral and Intellectual Virtues our Principles describe.

Classical Education DEMANDS that we cast off these baser inclinations, rather than allow its perpetuation to destroy our character through fear and anger.  To be true, we must take the next proper step.  Here enters the Trivium.  We use the Grammar stage to find the expert sources, the personal experiences, and every account into consideration.  But we do not simply stop there and use our instincts to guide. This however is where most seem to stop - picking and choosing whichever source (no mater how sketchy) matches their instinct.

The Classically Educated individual instead moves to the Logic stage to ascertain which of these sources are reliable and stand up to rigorous application of logic and reason.  In Rhetoric, we weigh the actual probabilities, for instance, the hypothetical situation of an XX girl being spied on by a cross dressing boy --  versus the very real and documented experiences faced by trans girls who are beaten and sexually assaulted in boys bathrooms (as young as grammar stage even) and discuss and arrive at a Just solution.

So let us as parents commit ourselves to do the kind of hard work and diligence we expect from our children – that they will become better citizens than us.  Let us equip ourselves with the knowledge of field experts.  Lets find out everything we truthfully can about it.  Should that not always be our first move when confronted with a new experience? 

Doing Classical education is HARD it is not something which can be accomplished in sound bites and elevator speeches. – I pull teeth just trying to get my college students to write more than 3 meaningful paragraphs for an evening assignment – As a responsible community we are obliged to do better.

I will end with a few sources I’ve uncovered for us all to get started in this next step.

Here are some easy to read basic introductions on one particular aspect of Gender Non-Conformity known as Gender Dysphoria (fka Gender Identity Disorder).

Standards of Care for Health Professionals available at:
The World Professional Association of Transgender Health

On Resiliency of Transgender Youth
Here is an Australian source on Transgender issues - this has more personal stories and packets of information for individuals, families, and communities

Regarding Discrimination against Gender Non-Conforming individuals
Information based upon Title IX and the Minnesota Human Rights Act

Respondent survey of discrimination 

Article on Safe Restrooms

Responses to Common Biblical Objections to Gender Non-Conformity

Please remember, Classical Education does not advocate adversarial contests where doing anything to score points is deemed virtuous.  It is not competitive in the mean spirit of beating others into submission or by cheating the facts to win by any means necessary.  In short, Classically Educated people are not driven to "win." We are driven to excel.

With Sincere Friendship,
K. Christian McGuire

Nova parent of two since 2009, K-5 Fencing Coach, FLL Assistant Coach, parent volunteer
#3 And finally, my initial public comment which appeared in the November 2015 Board meeting packet.
Our school is called a "Classical Academy."   With these words, we communicate our commitment to an educational pedigree inherited from the first Academy founded by Plato in Athens in 387 BCE. 
Since Socrates first challenged the convictions of the Athenian elite, we see in example after example --from antiquity through our modern age -- that our shared purpose as Classical Educators is to build character through the continued Pursuit of Truth. This is quite a different task than teaching students to "know Truth."  For Classical Philosophy as well as our modern common sense demonstrate that "knowing Truth" is available only to the omniscient (All-Knowing). 
The frustrations faced by Socrates, and the inheritors of Classical Education, is embodied by those who claim special privilege in knowing Truth.  While perhaps well meaning, they assert dogma as universal without aid from the  tools of inquiry developed from Classical Philosophy.  They are unable to challenge their own cultural, temporal, and personal biases and become enslaved to their Convictions. 
Convictions are the traditional enemy of Learning for it presumes that Truth is known.  If truth is known, then there is no further need for inquiry and the continued Pursuit of Truth.  Thus there is no need for Education.  Convictions are often rooted in misinformation and fear; sustained by arrogance.  They provide a convenient excuse for willful ignorance. When held fast they provide self-justification for bullying. They are the un-virtuous stain on the character of the Warlord and a detriment to a just and virtuous Democratic citizen. 
It is within this context of Classical Education that we frame the Anti-Bullying policy with regard to Gender Non-Conformity.  Gender Non-Conformity is not some new trendy human experience (Pants on women, "Beatle haircuts" instead of buzz-cuts on men, women in the workplace, playing basketball, girls beating boys in fencing bouts, men at home raising children etc.). What is new is our exercise of Fortitude and Justice to grow awareness into the variety of gender expression. 
This pursuit of human Truth speaks to our respect for the dignity of all humans.  As our inquiries chip away at the fear-based convictions which have so dominated our wider culture with negative images (e.g. salacious "Jerry Springer-esque" stories of promiscuity; maladjusted psychopathic murderers in movies; or the unlikely scenario in which a boy would willingly cross-dress simply to spy on girls in the locker rooms.) we can finally get at the real stories of lived experience which go well beyond the simpler subjects of gender roles and clothing choices.  We can begin to respect and understand our fellow citizens and our children.  Ultimately we come to the mature realization that being GNC is not about sex and no one is looking for some kind of special status or celebration. 
What a GNC student is looking for is simply not to be beat up and humiliated on a day to day basis. They seek some acknowledgement  for their right to exist and learn without fear from staff, faculty and parents of students who might otherwise grow to be their lifelong friends.   The adoption of the book My Princess Boy is very tiny step in the right direction. 
K. Christian McGuire,

Nova Parent, Volunteer and K-5 Fencing

I was just in there powdering my nose. It is totally safe
No guys were in there, just us women. (January 13, 2018)

November 30, 2017
Here is some insight into my emotions at the time of these letters:

The three public letters of mine you read here can all be summed up in one sentence. "This is BS"  The entire invented "controversy" How what should have been a non issue but instead was drawn out  so much that a family in their desire to protect and care for their first born was driven to an embittered response of lawsuit.

In the end, I grew to disdain both primary belligerents in this senseless issue. So wrapped up in their own world that they could not see or did not care about the damage they were doing. I am really pissed about this because as it drew on days to weeks to months, my PTSD-- remembering my abuse,the assaults and lies about transwomen and then my fearing the long time friendships for my own children.  I have experienced a lot in my life, but never encountered PTSD -- and when the cause of this trauma was completely fabricated about bathrooms?!?!? Seriously?!?  The WHOLE point, the Reason why I wanted my kids to get a Classical Educaiton was to avoid this appeal to ignorant bullshit!  So I was up at all hours, trying to help my kids with their grades, then calling friends as I was just bawling on the phone, and my PCP and therapist trying to help me chill out.
Anyway, what I learned through this experience is that neither actually understood Classical Philosophy. They acted, Seemingly unaware that their demonstrated lack of Virtue placed them as the very subjects against whom honest inquirers of Truth: 

They are the prisoners chained to the shadow world of the Cave, unwilling/unable to learn afraid to look behind the shadow of their dogma.
They are the Athenian Elites ready to condemn the honest Inquiry of Socrates
They are the Pharisees -- self-righteous in their Hypocrisy
They are the Accusers in Salem, stoking the fires
They are Ibsen's ignorant townspeople, bent on exiling Dr. Stockmann  

I was a member of the Academic Excellence Committee at the time. For years I had been trying to introduce peer-reviewed scholarship in Education and actual Classical sources, reception histories and scholarly awareness that is expected. There was no willingness, no interest. As a whole, the board and the various committees revealed their inability to discern what counts as a credible source. Instead most of the committee members seemed to think the  anecdotal "Well Trained Mind", works of Vieth & Kern, and the polemics of Dorothy Sayers and CS Lewis counted  as primary sources for founding a legitimate school serving the needs of students [face palm]  The huge turning point for me came when in a meeting I referenced Plato's Allegory of the Cave.  My reference when overhead. I was greeted with blank stares.  So being completely flabbergasted that here at a table of 10 members (parents, administrators, and board reps)  I had to explain to every one this fundamental source of Classical Education.  (For a good sources on Classical Education, check out my tab under the same name.) Please keep in mind, though I might sound arrogant, I merely expect diligence and honest inquiry from my peers and when I don't see it, I get p^$$^d.  Because this is not a game! This is our children's education!

Nevertheless, it became clear that the Antagonists of this "Bathroom Fear BS"  seemed to work under the impression that our publicly funded charter school was intended to be a Free ultra conservative Catholic or Parochial school. They did not seem to care how dishonestly they came about stealing from the Tax Payers of the State of Minnesota.  We were already aware of the Classical immorality of one antagonist. Just a few years earlier while he was finishing his law degree, he acted  in true Agamemnon style. He sacrificed his 6th grade Iphigenia for his cause. She brought an "anti-abortion" flyer to school as part of a larger nationwide push by a political action group.  To anyone of moderate intelligence who values Classical morality, his actions are clearly reprehensible.  He sued the school "on her behalf." And the school ultimately settled with him out of court. 

Two years later, here he was at work again.  As part of a national political strategy -- once again stirring up frenzy, fear, and propaganda.  He demonstrated disrespect for his so-called "Faith" and thus abdicated any credible claim to moral superiority. (hence his finishing dead last in his unsuccessful bid for a board election).  Still, it did amaze me just how many people, including my friends, bought into his fear policy. 

So aside from these letters, I was taking time away from my own family and my son's educational needs. I was wrapped up with the pain of my own experience.  I did not want the same stuff that happened to me happen to this Kindergarten girl and the other trans and gender non-conforming students at Nova. I do remember what it is like to be a 5-year old girl in the body of a boy, and I certainly remember the abuse of not conforming to some fictitious "ideal" back in rural northeastern Iowa in 1975.

From my perspective, just since 2012, society has come incredibly in understanding trans issues  In 1990, I was 20 years old, I was already in the beginning stages of planning my transition. But at that time Most people had no clue there was a distinction between someone who was gay and someone who was trans. We didn't even have the word "transgender" it was either transvestite or transsexual)  In fact the one openly gay person I knew expressed that trans women were freaks.  And much of the gay community tried to drive a wedge between our needs for human rights as theirs.  Many feminists, whom I deem my peers, too rejected my experience. They judged us by our bodies. Never mind our brains (esp in light of what we know now) the dominant prejudice they expressed is that that trans women aren't women.  they are  just men who want to impose a stereotypical male fantasy of what they think "Real Women" are.  Then it never helped that we were always the scapegoat and butt of jokes and ratings booster. So no! there already wasn't much of a safe place in the greater community in this age before the Internet, digital media and the pocket computers we call cell phones! And then to be further dehumanized and ostracized by those in whom you hoped could find allies. It was a very lonely time. (PTSD at work)

Many of us families at Nova invested time and energy 100s of hours each logged to support all trans and gender non binary students at Nova -  pouring our hearts and soul into this. The result was one of the first inclusive Gender policies at any school (public or private) in the State of Minnesota and our election of an inclusive Board that spring currently there is an elected LGBTQ identified board member. 

The Truth. Alliance Defending Freedom is the hate group behind these anti-transgender laws. School boards and citizens would do wise to familiarize themselves with their unfair tactics of propaganda.  So much grief and destruction at Nova and the safety of all Families would have been spared simply by adopting the anti-bullying policy in October and being done with it.  Everything else that happened has been a waste.  It is BS!
To be very clear here:  while I, me and mine and all trans women's true experience was being attacked, I tried very very hard to not let those attacks take the reigns of my emotional reactions -- I will not let attacks on me create hatred in my soul for others. You cannot hope to defeat propaganda with an equally blunt sledgehammer counter attack. As members of an engaged democratic republic, all desiring liberty, we HAVE to live with each other, not continue to wage war and division. So yes, I recognize my anger at those friends who suddenly exposed their ignorance of trans lives. and further spread misinformation - AND you WILL find my anger expressed sometimes inelegantly in my writings especially with regard to this experience. BUT I will never hate them, I would much rather build and strengthen friendships and love -- meeting their bias through living the truth of my own trans experience; continuing to demonstrate Love for all. We cannot hope to bring anyone to clarity if we constantly "hit them over the head" with a angry reactions. 
As trans women we are isolated enough. Lets work to engage our communities through Love

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