So I suppose I’m one of the “lucky ones.” Not only did I get caught up in the traffic hell of the George Washington Bridge “traffic study” last September, but I also happen to be transgender. At this point you might be asking yourself, “How do these two seemingly unrelated things relate to each other?” Allow me to explain . . .
With respect to “Bridge-gate,” my partner Mari and I live in Cliffside Park, approximately two miles south of the bridge. Since I work in the wilds of Westchester county, north of New York City, my daily commute takes me via local streets underneath the approach ramps to the bridge and then on to the Palisades Parkway. I’ll save you from all of the sordid details, but let’s just say I was going nowhere fast on those four days in early September. I do remember that as I inched closer to the bridge, the lines of cars trying to gain entry through the usual access points were longer than I had ever seen before. “Must be some crazy accident” I thought to myself as I finally made my way around the mess – I was, after all, going in the opposite direction. But to experience a “crazy accident” four days in a row? Hmmmmm . . . that’s odd. Little did I know then what a major crisis it would turn into for our esteemed Governor Christie. I must confess to not losing a minute of sleep worrying about his well-being, but I digress. Enough said about the “Debacle at the George.” It’s the second part, the part about my being transgender, that lies at the heart of this commentary.
If you weren’t paying attention, or more accurately if you do not live in New Jersey, you could have easily missed it. Amongst the never ending media coverage of the bridge lane closure affair, something that directly impacts transgender New Jerseyans took place in Trenton. Governor Christie vetoed legislation on January 13th that would have eased the requirements for transgender individuals seeking to obtain an amended birth certificate - one that would accurately reflect their true and authentic selves. No longer would an amended birth certificate be within the sole reach of those in our community who choose to have gender reassignment surgery or other gender conforming surgeries. In other words, it would expand the availability of an amended birth certificate to a much larger portion of the transgender community – those that either have no plans for surgery, or those that do, but do not have the financial means to pursue it – yet are living their lives, 24x7, in the gender that is consistent with what they know to be true in their heart, in their soul. To quote a portion of the bill’s text, its purpose is to “. . . acknowledge that individuals do not necessarily undergo sex reassignment surgery when changing sex, and to revise the process for obtaining an amended certificate of birth due to a change in sex to reflect current practices.”
Simple enough. Straightforward enough. The General Assembly thought so, and so did the State Senate . . . But not our Governor . . . on the grounds it “. . . may result in significant legal uncertainties and create opportunities for fraud, deception and abuse . . . without maintaining appropriate safeguards.” Really? You’re kidding, right? A shining example of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo at its best.
It has been suggested that perhaps this is just the latest act of political gamesmanship that tends to occur with disturbing regularity in the state that I call home – the state that I was born and raised in. The state that I am proud to tell anyone who asks, that I am from. Call it whatever you want, but the simple fact of the matter is that too many wonderful things have happened to the Garden State’s LGBT community lately – gay marriage, the striking down of gay conversion therapy – for the Christie administration to allow yet another “win.” So who gets the short end of the stick? Why it’s the transgender community, of course! Caught in the cross hairs once again. First it was the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) back in 2007 when we were summarily stripped out of the bill as a protected class in an effort to make it more – you should pardon the expression – passable. And now in my own backyard – this veto. Do people think we somehow like it underneath the proverbial bus that we always seem to get thrown under? Or is it perhaps that we are too easy a target? Need a punching bag? Roll out the trans community, nobody cares about them anyway. They’re just a bunch of wackos on the lunatic fringe.
Well guess what? We are not some secret deviant society that lurks in public restrooms. Quite the contrary. We are real people. Contributing members of society that just want to live their lives in the gender that they innately know is their true, honest and authentic one – and to have it authenticated with an amended birth certificate. Is that too much to ask? For Governor Christie, apparently it is.
I can assure you that to many of us in the trans community, an amended birth certificate is by no means merely a piece of paper. It is so much more than that. It is a panacea for many. I can remember when I received mine in the mail a few months after my surgery. It meant everything to me to see my mother and father’s name, the hospital in Newark where I was born that is no longer there, the date and time of my birth – and most importantly my full female name. It is more than an understatement to say it was completing. I remember thinking to myself through my tears of joy, “this is the way it was always supposed to be – and now it is.” To deny someone of that feeling of completeness because of a perceived lack of “appropriate safeguards” is at best totally lacking in compassion, and at its worst, inhumane.
So I pose this question to our Governor and his staff: Is there no room for compassion for your fellow human beings anymore? Is there no semblance of humanity left in Trenton? Wait, wait – you don’t have to actually answer – your veto tells us all we need to know. A basic tenet of my personal and public activism has always been that education can lay the foundation for understanding, which in turn sows the seeds of acceptance. But what must happen for an educational interaction to exist? One must first establish a meaningful dialogue. A two-way interaction that involves the sending and receiving of messages from the two parties engaged in that dialogue. Has that ever happened with the current administration? Do I even have to ask? The vast majority of the “meaningful dialogue” has occurred in court rooms between lawyers and judges – not with the affected constituents. I often say in my speaking engagements “just give me five minutes” and you’ll come away with a much different perspective about transgender people. To briefly paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, if you must judge at all, than work with me to create a forum whereby I can be judged on the content of my character – the content of my “human-ness.”
But perhaps this veto is merely a beacon bobbing on the top of the water attached to something much larger, much deeper, and more troubling – just below the surface. Jim Beckerman of The Record in a commentary about this year’s crop of movies nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award, points to it very succinctly, “Are we, at the end of the day, a . . . people who care only about success, money, the big score, no matter who gets hurt? Or are we a people who, when the chips are down, care about equality, compassion, justice for all?”
I choose the latter, and this veto – as well as the cavalcade of shenanigans going on in the Governor’s office these days – make it clear to me that the former rules the day for the Chris Christie administration.