Inclusion Cannot Be Comfortable

Where was the compassion when I had to comfort my sister during her mental breakdowns because she had nowhere else to turn?

Those trying to be inclusive embrace people of different races, ethnicities, religions, creeds, genders, sexualities, abilities, and ages. However, they usually do not include those with different ideas. In other words, diversity is great, except for diversity of thought (or, for that matter, diversity that includes “privileged groups”). Some have even chosen to sacrifice genuine inclusivity on the altar of political correctness to make others feel comfortable. This is not inclusion. This is exclusion.

Only one side can really claim openness.

Take my transgender sister. Although she used to be a self-identified Bernie Sanders supporter just a few years ago, she recently became a staunch libertarian and has warmed up to President Trump and some of his policies. My question to the LGBTQ+ and PRIDE groups out there: would you welcome my sister with open arms to your support groups and activist meetings? I imagine not, because of two main reasons: the hostility that exists between queer individuals and the broader political right, and the polarized nature of today’s politics. 

I find it upsetting that basic principles of inclusion are ignored for the sake of politics; individual traits and characteristics have become so political that people who have commonalities cannot be associated with one another because of political affiliation. Personally, whenever my sister is suffering from mental health problems, I try to help her out as much as I can. Even though I have gotten many recommendations from others to get her to seek help from the LGBTQ+ community, I ignore them because I know from experience how those will go. The last time I went to a transgender group therapy session with my sister, I got tossed out of the meeting and “re-educated” for saying that I could not wrap my head around the idea of there being an “infinite” number of genders.

Inclusivity comes at a price, which is the sacrifice of the comfort that comes from echo chambers.

To whoever claims to be “inclusive,” “accepting of diversity” and “compassionate,” I ask: where was the inclusivity when I was tossed out of that meeting? Where was the diversity of thought when I was hounded and berated for merely questioning the idea of infinite genders? Where was the compassion when I had to comfort my sister during her mental breakdowns because she had nowhere else to turn?

Now, I will accept that there is some argument to be made that inclusivity’s intent is compassion. Some might argue that my words at that support group were harmful to those present, and therefore I cannot claim the mantle of being “inclusive” and “compassionate.” However, it is those critics themselves who I say cannot be inclusive. Even if it is for the sake of keeping some people ‘in,’ it is exclusive to keep certain thoughts and ideas ‘out.’ 

You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Inclusivity comes at a price, which is often the sacrifice of the comfort that comes from echo chambers. Some people try to dismiss certain ideas to make others feel comfortable, but we do not have to set aside the diversity of ideas for the sake of inclusivity. 

Some will still claim that we must fight to include certain marginalized groups. While this is true, the fight for inclusivity is not a zero-sum game. Fighting for one group to have a spot at the table does not inherently mean that another group must lose theirs. Everyone ought to have a voice. Just because one group historically had power over another does not warrant marginalizing either group. Power dynamics do not warrant mistreatment to anyone. Rather, it should be a catalyst to ensure equality among all. 

Where was the compassion when I had to comfort my sister during her mental breakdowns because she had nowhere else to turn?

Do not claim the mantle of inclusion if you actually are exclusive. Do not masquerade as something you are not. Be honest with yourself: what would an inclusive society look like? Would it include everyone at the table, or would it keep some out to make others feel safe? The former is objectively inclusive, the latter objectively exclusive. Opening up to other people of different backgrounds is the way forward. As for my sister, my advice to those who would like to help her is this: keep politics out of the conversation. If it does enter the conversation, be open-minded. Above all, just listen. I guarantee that you will learn something and  be much better off if you do not jump to any conclusions. 

As an aside, I will say that many conservatives and Trump supporters that I have told about my sister’s transition have been nothing but open-minded and receptive about it. Often times, they do not argue with me but just listen to what I have to say. I can name only one or two incidents when someone was genuinely hostile to me because of my sister. On the other hand, every person on the political left whom I have talked to about my sister always talks about how gender is a spectrum or how my sister is another case of the “oppression of transgender people.” Make what you will of that, but it goes without saying that only one side can really claim openness.

Not listening to one another causes an inherent lack of distrust of the “other.” You never know who has an agenda. What we really need nowadays are people who listen and are upfront and honest about what they want. When I talk to someone who might be hostile to the idea of my sister transitioning–conservatives and Trump supporters, for example–I do not take the opportunity to “educate” that person. I just talk about my sister’s story and leave it at that. If they want to talk politics, so be it; I am not the kind of person around whom others have to walk on eggshells. Still, there are times when politics and agendas must enter into the equation and there are times when they need to be left aside. Otherwise, it simply breeds mistrust, and nobody’s the wiser at the end of the day. When I do leave politics aside and just talk frankly about a sensitive subject, I find a receptive audience. The personal does not have to be political.

Our Unequal Separation of Church and State

The American doctrine of religious liberty and separation of church and state began as a good attempt to mark out the boundaries of the secular and the religious and allow each to flourish on its own. Yet it seems to me that this is, at best, an unequal yoking.

Freedom of faith should go beyond personal belief.

We draw a sharp line between the religious and the secular in the modern United States. There may be a complicated relationship between them, but it seems we cannot allow overlap. The two are mutually defining concepts: what is secular is everything in society that is not religious, and what is religious is all that’s not secular. This is usually a useful legal concept. We use it to separate the religious beliefs and practices of the individual as untrespassable, guarded by an inalienable divine right to believe what one will regardless of the laws and whims of the secular state—guarded even by the First Amendment, the writings of the Founding Fathers, and a slew of Supreme Court cases. 

It is also worth reflecting on the origin and interpretation of this right to “free exercise of religion.” In a response to the Dansbury Baptist Association after his election to the presidency, Thomas Jefferson famously interpreted the First Amendment’s religion clause as “a wall of separation between Church & State.” This phrase, alongside similar words from James Madison, has justified a number of Supreme Court decisions—from banning the religious practice of polygamous marriages (Reynolds v. United States) to banning school-sponsored prayer at public institutions (Engel v. Vitale). This separation also codifies into law the secular nature of the government—it is not-religious and it even consciously separates itself from close association with religion.

We have, then, a distinction between the religious and the secular, each taking up where the other left off. The state sits squarely on the side of the secular, behind a “wall of separation.” The Dansbury Baptists encouraged this separation for the sake of their protection from the state, but that same wall of separation has been used to keep prayer out of public schools and otherwise prohibit the state from sponsoring or being sponsored by religion. All of this tells us something of the secular, something of the state. But what does “religious” mean in this context? 

The Dansbury Baptists speak of religion as “at all times and places a matter between God and individuals” and express their concern that any man should ever suffer “on account of his religious opinions.” Jefferson agrees with them in his reply, writing that “religion is a matter that lies solely between Man and his God” and that the “legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions.” This attitude paints an individual, personal picture of religion that might work for the Dansbury Baptists but not many others.

For many, even within Christianity, religion is inherently communal rather than individual. The beliefs of Catholics—including many of their political views—often take root in explicit communal statements. The individuals are only Catholic inasmuch as they adhere to these communal views. It is not a matter between God and individuals, but between God and the Church. Similarly, Judaism rarely takes form as a state of belief between the individual and God. As we see most clearly in stories from Jewish texts, the faith is largely a matter of the actions of a people and the response of their God. Likewise, Islam holds value in language and place–things shared by a people, not just beliefs held by an individual. The image of religion handed down to us by Jefferson appears not so much as a general expression of religion, but of a particular form of American Protestantism. 

Yet this breaks down further when we consider religion in practice. The IRS regulates what sort of organizations are deemed “religious” in the eyes of the state, as well as which actions such organizations can take to keep their tax-exempt status as religious entities. Religious organizations are explicitly prohibited from “directly or indirectly participating in” political action that would favor or oppose one candidate or group of candidates over another. This is political action, and as such, is under the purview of the secular—not the religious. 

But why would any particular religion relinquish political action to the secular? My own church holds strong views on a variety of topics. We must oppose abortion, racism, and a number of other issues, and we must actively support policies that give preferential treatment to the poor, protect the environment, and support the traditional family structure, to name a few. In America we advocate as individual Catholics, yet historically, the Church has played an active role in public institutions and political action. We are a church of action as well as belief. But, as Jefferson helpfully put it, “the legitimate powers of the government reach actions,” and there must be a wall of separation between the government and the church—so there must be a wall of separation between actions and the church. 

In similar fashion we see the Supreme Court rigorously define what counts as religious actions we are entitled to take. From ritual drug use (Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith) to cake baking (Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission), the Supreme Court decides what counts as religious and what begins to encroach on the secular–which is to say the political. Whether or not they rule in favor of individuals to pursue what they take to be specifically religious actions (and so protected by the First Amendment), it is still the state—rather than the church—which ultimately defines what counts as religious. 

The American doctrine of religious liberty and separation of church and state began as a good attempt to mark out the boundaries of the secular and the religious and allow each to flourish on its own. Yet it seems to me that this is, at best, an unequal yoking. Much ground that at other times in history and in other places was under the domain of the religious has since been claimed by the state. There may be a wall of separation between the church and the state, but it is the latter that holds the building permit and wields the power to change its boundaries.

Why Are Liberals Targeting this Gay Bar?

Of all the gay bars on Main Street, only one flies Old Glory above the rainbow flag: the Pegasus.

One congressional candidate has tried, and failed, to quietly escape identity politics.

Of all the gay bars on Main Street, only one flies Old Glory above the rainbow flag: the Pegasus. 

At night, the Pegasus also hangs a canvas banner in their signature black and green that reads: “We respect everyone’s right to protest, but please be kind to our patrons and staff.” Not a chalkboard. A permanent banner that somebody wrote, ordered and bought for indefinite use.

Why is the Pegasus begging for mercy as a standing request? Who would protest a gay bar? Surprisingly, the answer is neither Baptists nor the alt-right, but the San Antonio gay community—at least, part of it.

The Pegasus was founded by Mauro Garza, a local philanthropist, entrepreneur, and former Democrat. His embattled bar lies just south of the 20th Congressional District of Texas, held by Democrat Joaquin Castro. Garza hopes to flip the district and replace Castro as the congressman for San Antonio’s west side.

Protests have taken place in front of the Pegasus ever since a handful of left-leaning gays dug through Garza’s social media. They didn’t have to dig very hard—Garza is openly, unapologetically conservative. 

“My opponents don’t know how to deal with me.”

Mauro Garza, congressional candidate

To say that protests have rocked the Pegasus would be an overstatement. The protest I checked out consisted of a handful of uncomfortable-looking men in tight polo shirts standing on the sidewalk to give out flyers to passersby, urging them to choose a different bar. 

The flyers allege: “Last year the Republican Party in Texas needed money to run Anti-Gay and Anti-Trans ads for the purpose of creating fear and hatred of LGBT people just like you. Mauro Garza came through and gave more than 150,000.00$ of your gay dollars.”

Nuanced. It continues: “Now he’s running for Congress as a hardcore Trump loving, Mexican hating Republican.” 

Meeting Garza gives one the impression that he stumbled into this fray on accident. He’s a soft-spoken guy who wears khakis and adjusts his glasses as a nervous habit. When I asked if he’s the owner of that loud place across from my apartment, he distanced himself. “It’s one of my ventures, yes,” he said.

Garza is undoubtedly an unlikely candidate. Photos on his website put him among antlers, crosses and cowboy hats, typical Republican props. He wears his MAGA hat with pride and shares right-wing memes on social media. The internet, from his denouncers on Twitter to his supporters on his site, paints a unanimous picture of Garza as a staunch Republican disconnected from the gay community.

The irony doesn’t escape him. “My opponents don’t know how to deal with me,” he smiled, touching his glasses frames with one hand. “They call me racist even though I’m Hispanic, and they want to call me homophobic, even though I’m a part of that community.”

The Pegasus protesters had their day during the San Antonio Pride Parade when they unfurled a handmade banner in front of the bar, which read in scrawled spray paint: THE PEGASUS SUPPORTS TRUMP. Drag queens giving bystanders the bird arranged themselves around the poster. Since then, their protests have not been so glamorous. Ill-attended and lackluster, they stand below the spotlighted American flag unfurled before the Pegasus as passersby filter into the oldest undefeated bar on the Main Street Strip, unconcerned.

Compassion, Truth, and Transgenderism

Editor’s Note: The following piece is a half of a point-counterpoint regarding libertarian and traditional conservative perspectives on transgenderism. Find the other half, written by Zach Neeley, here.

All mental illnesses are painful in their spiritual, emotional, and physical manifestations—and in dealing with people who suffer from mental illness, ignoring the problem never leads to a solution. For example, if someone is suffering from the delusion that he is, in fact, a car, it wouldn’t be compassionate to just allow the person to run down the freeway. Rather, it would be compassionate to try to help the suffering person to get therapy or medication so that the incorrect thinking can be fixed.

However, in today’s culture, people are rejecting the fact that it is delusional to think one can change his or her gender. They even frame people who think that gender dysphoria should be treated as a mental illness as evil and unsympathetic to the problem. But this is irrational. If a person thinks changing one’s gender is impossible, then why is it evil of him to try to prevent someone else from delusionally trying to?

In fact, it would be quite the opposite of evil, as if someone thought that another person is suffering from a mental illness, then as I said earlier, one should not ignore the problem. To ignore the problem would be the evil, not to treat the problem for what it is.

That being said, one can clearly observe the pain transgender people experience. To go about life feeling like you are in the wrong body is a terrible tragedy. But one can have this sympathy without giving in to the delusion that the person is, in fact, the opposite gender of what he or she really is.

Just as any reasonable person would not let someone who suffers from the delusion that he is a dog pretend to be a dog, no one should ignore gender dysphoria. It would not be compassionate to them to go along with this delusion and help them to permanently mutilate their bodies. Instead of being fatalistic with the problem, one should try to help them reach out for psychological counseling.

Just because society says something is acceptable doesn’t make it so. For example, slavery was legalized for many years and there were certainly doctors who thought that black people were biologically inferior to white people. Now, just to address what you might be thinking, I am not equating slavery to the transgender problem in a broad way. My precise point is that people have held opinions on a wide scale which were later judged as morally unacceptable.

Similarly, just because there are many doctors who want to deny the reality of the human body and human genetics and the real differences between men and women, and just because it makes some members of society feel good to agree with them, doesn’t mean the biology of gender and the reality of man and woman are mere fantasies. Truth and moral goodness are independent from popular opinion.

Just think for a moment about how illogical the transgender worldview is: people who hold this view say that the real self, one’s gender, is something immaterial, or independent of one’s body. But at the same time, they embrace a reductive-materialist worldview where there are no immaterial realities.

They say that gender is a social construct, but then they say that a person can be stuck from birth in the wrong biological gender. They deny the differences between men and women, but then use gender stereotypes to argue that gender identity is real and the embodiment of the human person is not. The most irritating contradiction about the transgender ideology is that it stems from a radical individualism where truth and gender are relative, but a traditional view of gender is wrong in an absolute sense, not a relative one. This self-referential incoherence shows the bias and double standards of transgender activism. None of it makes any sense, and it only takes a couple of sentences to show this.

The problems with transgender delusion hurt everyone. They hurt individual members of society’s ability and willingness to use the intellect God gave them, and they hurt transgender people’s long-term well-being. I agree with Saint Thomas Aquinas, who states, “We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject, for both have labored in the search for truth, and both have helped us in finding it.”

While we must hear falsity to come to the truth, it is ultimately the decision of every person as to whether they would like to follow their own opinions or come to a real knowledge of the truth once it is sufficiently revealed. Are you going to just believe what some of your friends say or how you feel, or are you going to pursue truth? You must decide.

When My Twin Brother Became My Twin Sister: A Personal, Political, and Religious Perspective

Editor’s Note: The following piece is a half of a point-counterpoint regarding libertarian and traditional conservative perspectives on transgenderism. Find the other half, written by Alex Jacobs, here.

For me, it all started one afternoon after school last May when my then-brother asked me to come meet with him and my mom downstairs in my parents’ bedroom.

“What I’m about to tell you will change the way you see me forever,” he told me. Within ten minutes, he proved himself right.

For my twin, it had started long before.  What he revealed that afternoon was that over the past two years he had slowly begun to realize that he was a transgender female. My brother talked about the private and group therapy sessions that he attended with my mom to help with the gender dysphoria he had been dealing with for the past several years.

To cope with these feelings, he had gotten a separate room in our house not because he wanted his own room (which he told me at the time), but because he wanted to crossdress in private. Additionally, my brother said that he prioritized trans-friendly dormitories on college tours.

Before that day, I had given little thought to transgender issues. It would have been easy for me to say to a transgendered individual, “I’m fine with you identifying as whichever gender you choose.” But it’s quite another thing to say that to your twin.

At first, I was open to it, but as time moved on and as my sister’s transition moved forward, I realized that my adjustment was going to be hitting speed bumps very quickly.

The first time I saw my sister dressed as a female was when we went to her therapist as a family. She was determined to cosmetically resemble a female. She wore her most feminine-looking clothes, put on some makeup, and wore a wig. On the way to the session, my sister kept asking me how she looked and if she “passed” (successfully looking the part of her desired gender).

I was torn, and for the greater part of the car ride and the session, I didn’t want to look at her. I just couldn’t; it was too much to digest at once. I chose to stay silent and look the other direction. I remember thinking, “This is going to be a lot harder than I expected.” That was putting it lightly.

After the session with her counselor and throughout the summer, my sister rarely dressed as a female, which made it more difficult for me to begin to understand and accept her for when she would begin to physically transition to being a female. She still went by her birth name and male pronouns, which made me doubt her commitment to her transition. Perhaps I needed another perspective.

I consider myself a political activist, so it was not enough to simply accept my sister as transgender. In other words, my aspirations to be involved in politics would become more complicated as others might see my twin as a source of controversy. I wanted to be educated to prepare myself for the inevitable debates I would be involved in, so I delved into reading various articles and even attended a transgender family support group. My goal became to know as much about the issue not only from a personal perspective, but to understand transgender political and cultural issues.

I watched debates on YouTube. I started seeing a counselor at my university. I looked at peer-reviewed studies from top scholars. I prayed to God, asking Him for help and guidance on an issue that my church has failed to adequately and extensively address—much less accept. My inability to make headway with reality coupled with my own grief over ‘losing’ my brother translated into more anger. Nothing seemed to satisfy me. I started to resent being a member of the 6% of American adults who have a transgender family member. I realized that turning to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community would not help; after all, I believed in the gender binary (a thought crime in LGBT circles), so that avenue wasn’t an option.

Eventually, I expressed this emotion to my sister; I had to let her know how I was feeling, and I needed somewhere to vent. I was driving us both back from a restaurant when I voiced my anger about my shortcomings in coming to grips with her transition. I will never forget what she said to me in reply: “Original thought is not easy to come up with, and I can only tell you to do more research.”

It was the last thing I wanted to hear; it pissed me off, but she was right. I had to think more. But, not just that: I had to think smarter. I happen to be someone who believes in the “live and let live” mantra, so I worked from that approach.

I tackled the issue from a religious point-of-view. I am a Roman Catholic, so I looked to the Bible for support, and, since it has nothing explicit to say about transgenderism (although Genesis 1:27 says that God created “male and female”), I looked to its teachings about tolerance, of which there were plenty.

One verse stood out to me: Luke 15:2, which reads: “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” There is also a point in the Gospels where Jesus sits down with several people whose lifestyles were considered abhorrent at the time and has dinner with them (Matthew 9:10). What’s striking about these people is that, in society’s view, they were considered the lowest of the low: thieves, prostitutes, tax collectors. I realized that no matter how many genders I believe exist, I had a civic duty and a religious obligation to see my sister as she has always been: a person with the same inalienable rights as every other human being. That’s how Christ viewed the so-called ‘social deviants’.

Over the past several months, I have realized what tolerance is and is not. Tolerance is recognizing another person’s right to exist, regardless of differences of opinion or belief systems. I made it clear to my sister that I would not play an adult version of ‘pretend’. An effort had to be made on her part to look, breathe, act, and talk like a female. If she was to be treated and addressed as a female, she had to look the part.

We mutually agreed that I would address her by her proper pronouns whenever she presented as female and that I would respect her decision to transition, despite my viewing her transition as morally questionable. This, I believe, is tolerance at its best: a compromise that is founded on mutual respect for one another’s opinions and livelihoods.

Furthermore, tolerance is what I believe our country is about—people with mutual respect and acceptance for one another who recognize every other person’s right to live their own lives as they see fit without interference from anyone else.

Nowadays, I would say that my sister and I are much closer in our relationship as siblings than we were before she transitioned, and we get along well. This is what I want to reflect in our society, one that is predicated and built on individualism, human rights, and tolerance. I want to work for a future for my sister, myself, and my country which is more tolerant, more understanding, and more free for all of us.

At the end of the day, we’re all Americans with the same inalienable rights. As St. Paul said to the Ephesians, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3).