Lately we’ve been talking about North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which demands that people use the public bathrooms corresponding to the sex marked on their birth certificates. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about this bill and what it means for both toxic Christians and LGBTQ folks.
Today I want to look at some new developments in the bill’s future–and explain why it’s important to understand fundagelicals’ sudden obsession with transgender people.
A “National Embarrassment.”
It’s not all bad news, lately.
We’re seeing a little sanity coming out of North Carolina of late regarding their lamentable House Bill 2 (HB2), the so-called “Bathroom Bill.”
The Department of Justice has demanded that North Carolina abandon this law and also filed a lawsuit against the state. The New York Times rightly called the law “malicious” and revealed that the state’s Attorney General, Roy Cooper (Democrat), isn’t planning to defend what he called a “national embarrassment” of a law in court.
Meanwhile, the city of Charlotte and the NFL’s commissioner have spoken against HB2. Over 200 mental-health practitioners have presented the governor of the state with a letter noting that calls to the state’s suicide hotlines have doubled, showing part of the human cost to the state of this grotesque law.
At this point it seems certain that eventually–and probably sooner than later–the law will be struck down, but North Carolina’s fundagelical-dominated state government is still trying its best to keep the law alive by flat-out denying any debate or vote on the matter. A Democratic statesman, Darren Johnson, sounds like he’s been working hard to get the law repealed. I hope they do it soon, for everyone’s sake; a new estimate has put the cost of North Carolina’s bigotry-for-Jesus at USD$5BILLION A YEAR between impending losses of federal funds, lawsuits, and business/consumer revulsion.
But it won’t matter to furious toxic Christians either way.
The Real Targets.
This law was, like all the rest like it, a baldfaced attempt to stoke up rage and terror in right-wing Christians in a bid to gain back some of the power the law’s backers sense that they have lost.
Like these same Christians’ constant attempts to nullify women’s rights, it doesn’t even matter if their attempts to destroy the liberties of LGBTQ people succeed or fail; what those attempts will accomplish either way is worth the effort to them of constantly trying to pass such poorly-considered, blatantly unconstitutional and dehumanizing laws. What they really want to do is regain adherents’ attention, time, money, and resources. If the laws fail but more people gather under their banner as a result of the grandstanding and publicity, then ultimately they’ll win their crusades.
Our mistake would be to think that they particularly care what cause it is that regains them their former position in our culture. That’s why they keep attacking one group after another–each attack as cutthroat and vicious as the one before it, each attack even using the same vile rhetoric, the same smears, the same lies, and the same degrading, dehumanizing language, as if each group being attacked is completely interchangeable with all the others past and future.
That’s because they are. Christians will keep sniffing out and leaping upon new victims until one of their attacks finally succeeds.
All they’re trying to do is start a fight they think they can win in the end. Culture wars, to Christianity are simply an opportunistic, self-serving bid for power.
They know they’ve lost on equal marriage, but decades of “bathroom panic” fearmongering by fundagelical leaders and increasingly desperate Republican politicians (who’d dearly like to be leaders) likely led fundagelicals to believe that this newest smear campaign at least has the potential of re-enshrining their religion into power.
Having utterly and completely failed to persuade those outside their group to follow their rules by use of reason, emotional manipulation, dishonesty, and hinted threats of future destruction, they are now trying to force compliance by legislating their culture into power. What they could not achieve with persuasion or “Jesus,” they are trying to achieve instead through raw, naked political overreach.
Years ago they discovered that their attempts to push themselves to power succeed much better if done at the expense of a targeted group that is demonized and turned into an enemy.
Their leaders and pandering hucksters flat-out lie if they must to make their victims look like threats. They need their gullible sheep to believe, at all times, that their very lives are in danger if that dread enemy is not defeated: that their nice proper virtuous pretty (white) Christian wives and daughters’ safety are at risk if their menfolk don’t grab pitchforks and step up into the fray; that their children’s innocence will be forever tarnished if that enemy is not completely trampled; that their way of life, their rights, and their religious customs will be wiped away without a single glance if other groups are given the same exact power that Christians wish to enjoy right now.
Christian leaders need their adherents to believe heart and soul that human rights are a zero sum game: that if one person who previously lacked rights gains the same basic rights they have, then they themselves will be diminished immeasurably. They want their adherents to think that if other groups gain anywhere close to the power Christians think they have, then those former victims of “Christian love” will treat Christians exactly the way that Christians would treat them if given half a chance–and did, if they could get away with it.
These Christians know what it means to have no power. Being powerless in their society means being open to victimization. It means being rejected. It means pain. Their worldview only has room for them to be the victors in whatever squabble they care to start or enter. Their culture only has room for them to be masters, and never anything but masters, because the opposite of being the uncontested master is being an abject slave.
When their grabby little hands get slapped down, they see a rejection of their culture, their religion, their ideology, and their entire worldview. Their leaders have taught them to panic over any rejection and loss of power–and to see demands to share the playground with the other children as oppression and discrimination. They’ve long ago forgotten how to peacefully coexist with other groups. All they know is power; all they care about is having every single bit of it and denying any of it to anybody else.
Their reaction to losing any of their power is, therefore, totally predictable.
The Most Dangerous Time.
Studies show us that the most dangerous time for an abuse victim by far is when he or she is leaving the abuser’s control once and for all. Abusers will pull out the stops to regain their control. They’ll try sweet-talking the victim into returning; they’ll try gaslighting to make the victim question whether or not any abuse even occurred. When all else fails, they’ll turn to aggression and even violence to get their victim back under their control.
So it is with fundagelicals’ control of our culture. We have been consistently drifting further and further away from their tight control over the years. Their solution to that loss of power has been to crack down harder on trying to force everyone to abide by their cultural rules and to up the ante on their already-unreasonable demands for control of people’s private lives. Those selfsame tactics had worked in fundagelicalism’s past, and they surely had no reason to suspect that anything would be different this time. They charged ahead with their new culture war with all the enthusiasm and zealotry of paladins embarking on a holy war (in imagination if not historical reality!).
Their understanding that they had lost power came to a head with last year’s reveal of the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study, which showed not only shocking losses of influence and credibility in Christianity, but projected even more shocking losses of power and membership over the next few decades. Then right around the time of that study’s unveiling, various court cases that fundagelicals had been expecting to win delivered more shattering losses in the arenas of Creationism pseudoscience and LGBTQ rights.
Hilariously enough, I even remember reading that Christians were itching and eager for some of those court cases, convinced that they’d finally put paid to the evil Evilutionists (read: “people who accept the vast scientific consensus about the Theory of Evolution”) and gay agenda (read: “people who want to live their lives free of fundagelical meddling”). It must have been quite a shock to realize, as James Dobson did a few years ago when his prayers to get Mitt Romney elected failed, that “the Lord said no” to all of those prayers.
Until that report and those humiliating courtroom losses, Christians could kinda pretend that any perceived losses in their power and membership numbers was just that: perceived but not real.
But not anymore.
What is a toxic tribe* to do when its onetime power appears to be going the way of the evolutionarily-challenged dodo?
The Best Defense.
It seems like fundagelical leaders have decided that the best defense is a good offense.
The Ku Klux Klan is using the future repeal of HB2 as a marketing tactic to lure in Christians who are disgruntled over their loss of dominance. I won’t repeat the disgusting language used by these TRUE CHRISTIAN™ bigots-for-Jesus, but I am not surprised to see how they’re marketing this newest fundagelical culture-war loss. They are using terror and disgust to stoke the fires of their future members. (Pro-tip to fundagelicals: If the KKK is totes on board with your plans, then your plans suck and you should feel ashamed of yourselves.)
Meanwhile, North Carolina’s governor is doing everything he can to act like everyone’s just bein’ all meeeeeeean to him for lying his ass off about a completely fabricated threat to people’s safety, passing a law under very suspicious circumstances in a way that suggests he knew damned well that nobody’d like it in the first place, smearing a whole group of people for his own political gain, and then drilling down on that dishonesty and maliciousness when called out for it.
And there’s a dizzying array of whining and belligerence coming out of the cesspool that is right-wing Christian media. It’s like they just figured out that trans people exist when Caitlyn Jenner transitioned (because if there’s one thing that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ love, it’s super-trashy reality TV).
All of this brutal, vicious “Christian love,” remember, directed at trans women who’d just like to pee in peace without fear of TRUE CHRISTIANS™ attacking them.
A Ray of Hope.
Little wonder this culture war is backfiring magnificently against Christians. As The Daily Beast has noted in one of the most hilarious sub-headlines I’ve seen this week, “The Christian right can no longer directly demonize gays and transgender people, so it has to lie and even the lies are backfiring.” Not only are Republican lawmakers and fundagelicals generally in North Carolina getting a lot of ridicule and criticism over their ridiculous law, but that same exact law has provided a platform for transgender people to take their case directly to people who might otherwise never have interacted with them:
Thanks to North Carolina’s odious, ignorant law, these folks are now able to tell their stories to wider audiences. And when they connect, on a human level, with reasonable people willing to listen, they are their own best advocates.
A lot of Christians’ culture wars depends on their enemies being seen as the dread Others, the unguessable, unknowable aliens walking in their midst. Fear can’t coexist very easily with love, after all, but it blooms into a truly sickly-sweet flower in the soil of ignorance.
As soon as American straight people figured out that gay people aren’t actually different from themselves, and that there isn’t actually a “gay agenda,” fundagelical bullies’ efforts were doomed. When more and more and more gay people began coming out to their families and loved ones, yes, a lot of them were ostracized and shunned for it–but many weren’t, and it’s fewer all the time who are.
Every single one of those brave pioneers is one more connection made, one more thread woven in a great tapestry that eventually defied Christians’ efforts to bully and victimize gay people.
The same exact thing is happening now with transgender people. Right now, many cisgender people don’t actually know anyone personally who is trans. Until last week, I’d have been in that boat. I know a lot of online folks who are trans, obviously! But nobody in my personal life that I knew of was trans. That just changed this past week. (Edit: It wasn’t Biff.) I’m still a little surprised, sure, but totally happy that my ex has found herself and is moving toward what will make her happy. If I were a right-wing Christian, I’d have to struggle with what to think, knowing that this lovely and gracious, quick-witted and kindhearted woman is absolutely nothing like the sexual predator and deviant that fundagelicals want their adherents to believe trans women are.
Cisgender** folks like me, learning one loved one at a time that why yes, they do actually know and care about a trans person, are going to hear the Christian Right’s various lies and smears, know them for the desperately pandering ploys that they are, and reject them.
I’ve no doubt they’ll find another group to victimize; controllers and abusers only speak one language, and that’s the language of power. We’re going to talk about that language next: how people learn it, and why they speak it. See you then!
And until then…. take hope, friends. Things are changing, one relationship at a time. We’re getting there.
Christians are losing this culture war, one person at a time, and largely they’re losing it thanks to their own dishonesty and greed.
* Not all tribes are bad, of course–as we discussed last time!
** This looks like a good working definition of terms: transgender folks’ “identity, expression, behavior, or general sense of self does not conform to what is usually associated with the sex they were born in the place they were born.” A cisgender person, meanwhile, is someone whose identity conforms to how they were designated at birth. I am a cisgender woman because my gender identity matches my birth designation as female; Caitlyn Jenner is a transgender woman because her gender identity differs from how she was designated at birth. It’s also okay to shorten the term to “trans” or “cis,” though it’s not okay to say “transwoman/transman” or to refer to “the transgender” or “transgendered.” This addendum has been updated since the original post. My thanks go out to readers for pointing out that my original definition wasn’t as good as it could have been. I’m still learning and appreciate the feedback.