jareksteele

April 11, 2016

Scorched Earth – Bathroom Bills and Boycott in North Carolina


maxresdefaultWell, I’m in a fix. Last month, North Carolina passed a law that requires transgender people to use public bathrooms according to the gender they were assigned at birth. This isn’t a shocker, and North Carolina isn’t by itself.  Nearly 200 anti-lgbt laws have been introduced in many states since January including in my own state of Missouri. North Carolina  isn’t even the first to introduce a “bathroom bill” nor are the citizens of North Carolina more bigoted than citizens of any other state – but they are the first in this current volley of activism against lgbt rights to be boycotted by Bruce Springsteen.

mainsignI’m not gonna lie. When I read that, I felt vindicated for spending my adolescence idolizing The Boss and learning all the lyrics to every song on the Born in the USA cassette tape my best friend had in her basement, my ear close to the jam box speaker. I wanted to be Bruce. After I transitioned from female to male I realized I couldn’t pull off his look, hard as I tried, but damn I felt validated.  I felt SEEN, actually seen by Bruce!
And I’m no stranger to protest. I’m no stranger to activism. I’m all about boycott when it targets obscene abuse of power.  There are few things more satisfying in a David v Goliath battle than the support of the masses – a revolution built by the common man and the miracle of social change by the will of the people. It’s intoxicating.

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And just so we’re clear – bathroom bills such as this would require me to use the women’s restroom.

For this wave of revolution to be in support of me and my transgender brothers and sisters – well, that just brings tears to my eyes.  I’ve been denied healthcare, neglected in hospitals, insulted and verbally assaulted, laughed at, ignored, and yes – chased out of bathrooms (then followed to my car afterward).  People in my own queer community have mocked my identity right in front of me. Out loud. Being transgender isn’t a fad or a phase or a fashion statement. It’s dangerous.  People act like bathroom bills are about protecting innocent young women from predators, but what they’re really about is isolating the “other” and publicly shaming and shunning them. The violence that happens in a public restroom with a trans person in it happens to the trans person.

The other part of my identity is my role as an independent bookseller, and therein lies the struggle. When I saw this open letter from 269 children’s book authors and illustrators I thought, “Oh my god – my industry -MY PEOPLE support me.” They in no uncertain terms condemned this hateful legislation and stated they would boycott NC too.

And then my spirits crashed.

Here’s an excerpt. “…But you have our word that we will never abandon our thousands and thousands of readers in North Carolina. We stand with those who share our guiding principles and fundamental beliefs of equality, inclusion,and fair treatment. Thus, we will continue to visit your schools and libraries. ” (bold and italics mine)

What this means in reality is that they’re boycotting independent bookstores located in North Carolina. According to Malaprop’s Bookstore in North Carolina, Sherman Alexie was the first to cancel an event with them.  I love Sherman Alexie almost as much as I love Bruce, but I have to speak truth – cancelling appearances with independent bookstore because of the bathroom bill while keeping appearances at schools and libraries is wrong.

 

While I wholeheartedly support pretty much any tactic to fight these regressive, hateful laws that target trans people, Malaprop’s are the good guys. They’re a lot like Left Bank Books in that they’re a progressive independent bookstore in a conservative state. Sometimes it’s necessary when protesting to be sure you’re not throwing away the good with the bad. Scorched earth just leaves ash.

When I made this point on Facebook I got pushback. “Boycott all or nothing.” “Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the common good.” “Entire forests can grow from the ash.”

Like I said, revolution is intoxicating.

But if I may, let me suggest this – I get sacrifice for greater good, but why sacrifice an ally who actively works toward the same goal? What other allies would we sacrifice? And then, once allies are sacrificed, what is the greater good?

concertBruce Springsteen cancelled a show at the Greensboro Coliseum, which is “one of the most actively booked facilities in the country hosting more than 1,100 events on an annual basis” according to their website – that’s 22,000 seats filled 1100 times a year – which means over 20 million tickets and untold ticket revenue that has not paid for gender neutral bathrooms, hasn’t hosted talks about the issue and hasn’t used that considerable clout to persuade their home state to treat trans people fairly.

malaprops_bookstore_cafe_logo_040716Malaprop’s, by contrast, uses a yearly revenue of at most .2% of that venue’s revenue to do all of those things and more – and the authors who are cancelling are still going to North Carolina – they’re just skipping the bookstores in favor of libraries and schools.

One boycott makes a statement by interrupting an obscene flow of cash and making a point to thousands of people by interrupting their plans. The other destroys an ally that is making every good faith effort to be the change the state seeks. It would be like boycotting MoKaBe’s Coffeehouse, the coffeehouse at the epicenter of the Black Lives Matter movement in St. Louis, because of racism in Missouri courts.

None of our states are innocent of bigotry against transgender people. In 2015, more transgender people were murdered than in any other year on record. In fact, I can’t think of a single place where I can, even 12 years into my transition, relax in my body. Protest is necessary. Revolution is necessary.  But we must support the allies who support us.  We cannot allow them to be swept up as collateral damage in our quest for social justice – especially when the goal we seek is a more humane world for the underdog.

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