Now we have some Democrats calling for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson to resign. I know what you’re probably thinking. Anyone who’s been following American politics at all for the last three years knows that Democrats calling for someone in the Trump administration to resign basically means it’s another day ending in a Y. But this dust-up has at least a bit of a twist to it.
During a HUD staff meeting in San Francisco, Carson was addressing the staff and dropped a comment regarding transgender individuals. He included the phrase “big hairy men” entering women’s shelters or using women’s bathrooms. This set the usual number of heads of hair on fire, leading to more accusations and calls for his resignation. The Secretary isn’t stepping down, however. He instead sent out a message clarifying his comments. (Politico)
“During a recent meeting with local staff in San Francisco, I made reference to the fact that I had heard from many women’s groups about the difficulty they were having with women’s shelters because sometimes men would claim to be women,” Carson wrote.
“This made many of the women feel unsafe, and one of the groups described a situation to me in which ‘big hairy men’ would come in and have to be accepted into the women’s shelter even though it made the women in the facility very uncomfortable,” he added.
“My point was that we have to permit policies that take into consideration the rights of everybody, including those women,” Carson wrote.
The main reason I wanted to bring this story up today is that Carson raised two points that are frequently missing from debates over transgender issues. And he did so in a simple way that people on both sides of this debate should calm down and listen to.
First, there are plenty of places in society, including places of work and publicly accessible spaces, where I’m sure the vast majority of women (and men for that matter) have no problem running into a man “identifying” as a woman or vice versa. I know it doesn’t bother me. It’s a free country. Call yourself whatever you like and dress how you like. But as Carson points out, that doesn’t apply everywhere. Women, in particular, can find themselves in vulnerable situations. It could be anything as simple as using a public restroom or as tragic as finding themselves in a battered women’s shelter.
It’s at times such as those – particularly in a shelter – where vulnerable women don’t want to be exposed to a “woman with a penis.” This is particularly true when it comes to sleeping quarters, showers, changing rooms and restrooms. That is not the time or place for a political debate or a lengthy effort to convince them they need to adapt to this “new reality.”
Carson’s other point came up later in his remarks and he risked invoking the dreaded phrase “common sense.” He wrote, “Our society is in danger when we pick one issue (such as gender identity) and say it does not matter how it impacts others because this one issue should override every other common-sense consideration, We must always be vigilant not to override the common sense of our fellow Americans.”
The fact is that we are being asked, or in some cases told by government authorities, that there is no more room for common sense in this discussion. We can, and should, be ready to acknowledge the rights of everyone equally, and that applies to the transgender community as well. And yet, as with everything else in our society, one person’s right to speak or think as they wish does not extend to mandating that everyone think and speak the same way. This too is simply common sense.
Everyone makes certain concessions in their speech and actions to ensure that the entire society can continue to function. One very small minority demanding that everyone else think, act and speak in an irrational fashion to accommodate their wishes isn’t democracy. It’s tyranny. Carson has a grip on this and yet he’s once again being pilloried for saying what should be common sense.