PETARD HOIST WATCH – ON THE RIGHT

Interesting story from Fox News about a New Jersey court ruling that being a transsexual can be deemed a disability under state law. The case involves a man who became a woman and who was fired, during his/her transition process, for inappropriate attire. My emotional sympathies lie with the transsexual. I’m a strong supporter of the notion that those individuals who feel that they are internally a different gender from their physical self should be able to change genders if they so wish. Firing someone on those grounds strikes me as cruel and wrong (whether it should be illegal is another matter). At the same time, I’m queasy at the thought of gender conflict being regarded as a ‘disability’ because it robs transsexuals of their dignity, and reduces their human identity to an illness. It also adds yet another layer of litigation to an already overlawyered world. What really interests me about this story, however, is why some conservatives are upset about the precedent. The deep internal problem with the religious right’s view of gender conflict and homosexuality is that they want to view homosexuality as a sickness, yet not treat it as a sickness. I’d have far more respect for some on the far right who view homosexuality as a ‘biological error’ or an ‘objective disorder’ if they actually followed the logic of their own argument. If homosexuality is an illness, then it surely should be regarded as blameless and be protected as a disability under American law. Since even fundamentalists concede that it is difficult to cure, those who remain ‘sick’ should therefore be accorded the same social and legal status as others who have incurable diseases. If, for example, it is illegal to discriminate against people with HIV, why should it be legal to discriminate against those afflicted with the ‘illness’ of homosexuality? Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe this for a moment. But shouldn’t the religious right? Their current position is that homosexuality is an illness – and that being sick is good justification for discriminating against people, in public and private life. It doesn’t make any sense. It certainly makes no Christian sense. It’s cruel and incoherent, which is about as good a description of prejudice as any I know.

HOIST PETARD WATCH – ON THE LEFT: The whole contemporary apparatus of anti-discrimination law, on the other hand, is just as incoherent. It started out as a legitimate attempt to protect a genuinely persecuted and marginalized group – African-Americans – after decades of slavery and then segregation. It then metastasized into a general principle that no-one should be discriminated against for any arbitrary reason. My own controversial view is that only blacks should be protected in this fashion, because their history of discrimination – especially at the hands of their own government – is uniquely awful. But if you’re going to extend the principle, I fail to see where you finally draw the line. Steven Landsburg has a terrific piece in Slate looking at evidence for discrimination against the ugly. There’s no question that ugly people have a far rougher time of it than good-looking types – and, in fact, that the discrimination they face is often more severe than many other groups now protected. Now, if you’re going to have an anti-discrimination law that protects those who can hide their identity (e.g. Catholics, Mormons), on what grounds do you not have an anti-discrimination law that protects those who have no option but to turn up at the office looking a fright? Beats me. So far the dividing line has simply been decided by whose political lobby is the strongest. Women are protected; religious groups are protected; gays still, for the most part, are not (another idiotic exception). I guess you could pass a generic law saying no-one should be hired or fired for any irrelevant, involuntary characteristics – but can you imagine the litigious hell that would open up? Still the current state of the law makes no sense – which is why I favor abolishing all protections except for blacks. But on what grounds do liberals defend the status quo? On about as logical a ground as conservatives who want to keep discriminating against people they regard as suffering from an illness.