Civilities: NC vs. the DOJ. Plus: What does it mean to be 'genderqueer'? We'll talk with 3 experts and take your questions

May 10, 2016

Every other Tuesday, Steven Petrow (the author of "Steven Petrow's Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners") addresses questions about LGBT and straight etiquette in his column, Civilities. In between, join Steven for his chat about everything that's on your mind.

Here's more about Steven's "Civilities" column and what makes him the person to dole out advice.

You can also reach Steven on Facebook at and on Twitter @stevenpetrow.

Welcome to today's live chat, which is a very timely one. First off, I'll be talking with Maxine Eichner about the latest legal developments in the smackdown between North Carolina and the Department of Justice regarding HB2. Eichner  is a professor of law at the University of North Carolina School of Law and joins us from Chapel Hill. Send in your questions now for Prof. Eichner.

Then, I'll be talking with Duke senior Ji-Ho Park and Genny Beemyn, the director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst about my controversial column "Don't know what 'genderqueer' means? Meet someone who identifies that way." Both Park and Beemyn identify as genderqueer. They'll be taking your questions about gender identity and much more.


Welcome, Professor Eichner.

Glad to be here, Steven.


Yesterday was a big day with the State of N.C. filing suit against the Justice Department, followed by Justice doing the same to the state and an extraordinary statement from Attorney General Loretta Lynch. What's likely to come next in the courts? When might funds be withheld from the uNC system?


I’d expect a couple of things to happen in courts soon.  First, there is likely to be some consolidation and coordination of the lawsuits.  Yesterday, two suits were filed by N.C. in the Eastern District of N.C.  Another suit was filed by the AG in the Middle District of N.C.  These join the suit already filed by the ACLU and Lambda Legal in the Middle District of N.C.  All the suits will likely be moved to the same court.  Further, the later three suits (or potentially all four suits) are likely to be consolidated into the same action. 


Second I’d expect the AG and/or the plaintiffs in the ACLU case to seek a preliminary injunction in the next weeks requiring NC not to implement HB2’s bathroom provisions. 



Given that the AG has submitted the issue of HB2’s legality to a court, I wouldn’t expect that the US government would try to withdraw funds from the N.C. system until after the court rules.  At that point, if NC refused to comply, the judge could impose that as a remedy. 

North Carolina's Gov. McCrory said several times yesterday that what's happening in the Tar Heel state  "is now a national issue that applies to every state and it needs to be resolved at the federal level.” How is it a national issue? What are the implications if HB2 is upheld by the courts or ruled discriminatory based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

North Carolina's Gov. McCrory said several times yesterday that what's happening in the Tar Heel state  "is now a national issue that applies to every state and it needs to be resolved at the federal level.” How is it a national issue? What are the implications if HB2 is upheld by the courts or ruled discriminatory based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

From Prof. Eichner:


McCrory is right that the AG’s position is potentially far-reaching. Under it, transgender persons could not be barred from the bathroom/locker room that comports with their gender identity. If HB2 is upheld by the courts, states will be able to decide for themselves whether to pass similar provisions regulating their bathrooms. (After the business backlash, though, probably most states will think this is a bad choice politically.) If it is ruled discriminatory, states will not be able to regulate this issue. Note, though, that states in other federal circuits may still try to pass bathroom provisions in the hope that their circuit will rule differently (assuming the Supreme Court has not yet weighed in).

In the discussions concerning public facilities such as bathrooms and changing rooms, I have yet to see any explanation as to why some individuals who are uncomfortable sharing public facilities with certain other individuals are lauded (i.e., transgender people who are uncomfortable sharing facilities with those of the same birth gender) and others are maligned (i.e., cisgender people who are uncomfortable sharing facilities with those of a different birth gender) as bigots akin to those who refused to share public facilities with those of a different skin color. Why is it OK to tell cisgender people to face facts and overcome fears, while telling transgender people to fact facts and overcome fears would be considered unacceptable? Indeed, why are such bullying tactics as calling people bigoted for their discomfort acceptable in one situation, and decried in the other? Moreover, if separate facilities for men and women is as discriminatory as separate facilities under Jim Crow laws, why are separate facilities for men and women still considered acceptable in modern society?

Transgendered persons have real concerns about violence in bathrooms.  This is not the case for cisgendered people, who simply have expectations that are being unsettled.

One of the (many) things that bug me about the NC bathroom law is how the legislators try to justify it by saying they are trying to protect women from being raped/assaulted. Here's the thing. When women (like me) are raped or assaulted, nobody believes us anyway. Rape kits around the country are gathering dust while the perpetrators run free. If anyone gave two craps about "protecting women," I'd invite them to start there. I'm a woman, and I don't need anyone to "protect me" against people who are just trying to live their lives and go to the bathroom like everyone else. I would love to have some help protecting myself against the institutionalized sexism that allows those who assault to go free because women (and men) are too afraid to report their assaults, those in a position of power don't believe the victims, or law enforcement does little or nothing about it.

I think there's no question that experts in sexual assault come down against  HB2.  The Act, they say, helps no one's safety interests and clearly disserves the interests of transgender folks.


My pleasure, Steven.  

Glad to be here!

I'll be spending a few days in North Carolina this July, mostly in Asheville but also in the Research Triangle. While I respect the choice to boycott, I'm choosing to visit as planned and also put my money where my mouth is -- in the pockets of LGBTQ+-owned and/or LGBTQ+-friendly restaurants, shops, and sites. I have the feeling that the vast majority of North Carolinians support extending Southern hospitality to ALL visitors and residents. butI'd appreciate any specific or general tips since you are local. (FWIW, I'm a queer woman who often "passes" for straight.) Thanks!

Let me start with the most recent poll I'm aware of; it's from RABA Research (RABA for Red America, Blue America)and it's a new poll. Here's how the Charlotte Observer reported it:


The poll asked, “Do you approve or disapprove of HB2 — the state’s new anti-transgender law?” Half disapproved, 35 percent approved and 16 percent weren’t sure.

"Forty-nine percent disapproved of the way Republican Gov. Pat McCrory handled HB2, 36 percent approved and 15 percent were not sure.

On a question about repealing HB2, 48 percent supported repeal, 34 percent didn’t, and 18 percent weren’t sure.

The poll had Cooper leading McCrory 41 percent to 36 percent in the governor’s race. Libertarian Lon Cecil had 6 percent support, and 17 percent weren’t sure."

As for what to do, Equality NC has a long list of businesses that support repeal of HB2. Check them out and support them. I'd also say when in doubt, ask the manager what the business's position is on HB2. But it's great that you want to not just talk the talk but walk it, too.

Read more here:

Genny, let me start with you and some definitions because I think the terminology can be confusing and unfamiliar to many. When you say you identify as genderqueer what does that mean? How is that different that being gay or lesbian?

It means different things to different people.  For me, it means identifying as somewhere between female and male.  Closer to female.  Gender identity is who I am, whereas sexuality is who I am attracted to.

Steven, My brother Ty has been in the process of transitioning over the past year and a half. My whole family and I are very supportive and want to life change as easy for him as possible. However, I feel like big parts of my own life are being re-written. For instance, there are funny childhood stories that I'm now reluctant to tell at parties because their telling would necessarily out my brother. I feel strange telling people who ask that I grew up with a brother, because I identify with and relate to other guys who grew up with 2 older sisters. I don't want to be someone who always says, "my brother, who used to be my sister..." but when I don't say that I can't help but get a guilty look on my face that tells people I'm not telling them something. What's the deal?

I would suggest taking your lead from Ty and asking him what he would have you do in such cases.

Ji-Ho: You spoke very openly about your identify for this week's column. What's been the reaction by your friends at Duke and elsewhere? What about your family?

I've had many friends reach out to me about their appreciation for being open and bringing light to an issue that certainly should be part of the mainstream discussion of sex and gender. Elsewhere, response is certainly mixed, as one might expect for an issue that isn't particularly well known, and that people haven't been educated about. As for my family, there hasn't been much talk there yet, but we'll get to that when the time is right. 

Genny, Yesterday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch spoke some very powerful words, including these: “Let me speak now directly to the people of the great state, the beautiful state, my home state of North Carolina. You have been told that this law protects vulnerable populations from harm. That is just not the case. What this law does is inflict further indignity for a population that has already suffered far more than its far share. This law provides no benefit to society, and all it does is harm innocent Americans.”


What impact do you think those words will have? How do words matter?

I was incredibly touched by her comments.  I had grown up feeling that the federal government was opposed to my identity.  To finally be seen and supported by my country (or at least the executive branch) does so much to make me feel that I belong.

How likely is it that at least some of the NC legislatures have shared a restroom with a trans person and not known?

As many others have said, HB2 and similar laws are a solution seeking a problem. Of course, we've all been in mixed gender restrooms before with trans people--and with no problem. That's because it's not our business.


I feel strongly about the importance of data driving policy and there is none to show that trans folks are a threat in restrooms; that in fact, as Prof Eichner said, it's the other way around.

What gives Mr. Park the right to hijack the english language to suit his own purposes?

I'll pass this on to Ji-Ho in a moment but let me respond first. I'm wondering how you are thinking that the English language has been "hijacked." If it's the use of "they, their, and them" as gender neutral pronouns, there's been debate about this for well over 100 years. I've written previously in the Post:


Even the “they” and “them” debate itself has been going on for some time. [Linguist Dennis] Baron referred to an 1878 issue of the Atlantic magazine arguing that tired old “he” and “she” needed replacing: “We need a new pronoun. The need of a personal pronoun of the singular number and common gender is so desperate, urgent, imperative, that according to the established theories it should long have grown in our speech, as the tails grew off monkeys.”


Ji-Ho: Your thoughts?

Language has and always will be evolving, so I don't really see this as me "hijacking" the English language. Dictionaries/lexicographers are recognizing the use of "they" as a gender-neutral pronoun, and it's not as though I've been the one pushing that. It's just as its usage becomes more popular, it becomes part of the vernacular. This is in no way the only time in our use of the English language that this has occurred. 

I'm a lefty-progressive on almost every issue out there. I believe trans folks deserve respect and dignity but I'm also at a loss on this issue. From a science perspective there is XX and XY, you can't change biology. Give them access to a unisex bathroom...there need to be more family style bathrooms anyway.

Actually, from a science perspective there are a lot of chromosome possibilities beyond XX and XY.  About 1 in 100 will have a different pattern.  And how would anyone know someone else's chromosomes anyway?  Plenty of people who look male/female would not be XX or XY--"sex" testing during the Olympics revealed this.  But we definitely need more private bathrooms!

"Transgendered persons have real concerns about violence in bathrooms. This is not the case for cisgendered people, who simply have expectations that are being unsettled." What a load of nonsense. How are trans individuals fears "real" while cisgendered fears are really just "unsettled expectations?" As a woman, I don't want a biological male in the same locker room or shower. I don't care much about bathrooms, except that if someone stands up to pee, then make sure your aim is steady!

The point is that there is no cases where a trans person has assaulted a cisgender person in a restroom or locker room--we are the victims not the victimizers.  We want to be using a bathroom or locker room for the same reasons as other people.  Having private locker room spaces, with curtains and cubicles, would be better for everyone.  I do not know anyone--trans or cis--who likes group showers and public changing areas.

Ji-Ho: It's one thing to self-identify on campus as genderqueer but what about the workplace. I know you're graduating this week and starting a new job soon. Do you have concerns about that? How you will be accepted?

It's certainly a cause of concern, because, as you can see here, deviating from the gender binary isn't exactly the most widely accepted. However, I think that being visible and active are incredibly important parts of having this conversation, so that those who aren't aware or have misconceptions about gender identity are able to learn from others' experiences. So I have plans to be open about my identity if it comes into conversation, and really, I have no idea how I'll be accepted. But I think a big part of this too then is working in states and for organizations that have anti-discrimination policies that include gender-identity and expression. 

Where do crissdressers falls in this spectrum of transgender?

It depends on the person.  Some CDs identify as trans--some of the leading figures in the trans movement have been CDs--but others do not.  I consider those who identify as trans to be part of the trans umbrella--anyone who says they are trans can be trans!!

Maybe I am crazy (likely, lol), but from several things I have seen from the governor, I get the feeling that he does not personally support the law (or at least does not care one way or the other), was bullied into it (and into sticking by it) by various big-wig bigots in his state, is VERY worried about the big-business backlash, and would be thrilled for someone to tell him to strike it down without having to do so himself. Hence the preemptive lawsuit. I think he'd love to have the courts tell him its unconstitutional, so that he can begin the process of rolling it back and winning back the big-businesses - all while saving face with the bigots, to whom he can claim he "fought the good fight." Ultimately, whether my suspicions are true or not are completely irrelevant, but just an interesting thought that keeps popping into my head - curious what other think?

I'll post this and let others respond. But I don't think his intentions matter when its his words and actions  have such an onerous impact on so many individuals.

for as long as there have been women who traveled alone and public rest rooms. Pus, the age at which a boy ceases to be "young" is highly variable. I have seen young men who were clearly in their mid-teens in the women's bathroom with their mothers. Mostly those young men seemed to have some sort of developmental disability, but I just don't get why anyone thinks this is a new thing.

You raise a good point.  Private restrooms not only benefit trans people, but also a parent with a child of a gender different from them, people who have a personal care assistant of a gender different from them, etc.

Ji-Ho: I'm not sure if you've read the comments to the column but many of them have been mean-spirited and nasty (although plenty have been supportive). What do you think that's about? How we all you work toward acceptance with those kinds of attitudes?

I've certainly glanced at them, and again, it's just being open to having these conversations and discussions, and being present. If you're genderqueer/trans, it's about being visible (but this requires a lot of energy that, as individuals, many often need to spend their time self-caring as opposed to being a form of radical resistance, and so is certainly not a requirement of anyone in the community). I think that these issues arise because people don't know anyone personally, or see people who are different, regularly. Getting this acceptance will come from familiarity and when people recognize some personal stake/involvement with the issue. 

Let's be honest--a transgendered person, regardless of how they were born, would use a stall in either bathroom. (No urinals in "womens" room, or they'd lack the ability to use them in the first place.) So this comes down to who do you want to wash your hands next to. And speaking as a straight male and a typical person, I think, I don't spend a lot of time lounging around rest rooms. I get in and get out. Some people just want something to be angry about.

Agreed. Thanks for writing in.

Genny, I want to go back to pronouns for a moment. In your email signature file it reads:


"My gender pronouns: they, them, their"


Why do you do this? What kind of responses do you generally get?

I do it to educate people.  People who just met me will typically use he/him, and people who know me by my name only will use she/her.  It is a way to have them get it right.  I work as the director of an LGBTQ center, so in my world it is not a big deal.

I have to say, I am completely shocked that north Carolina is continuing to stand its ground on this law against the Federal Government. Not only was the speech by Loretta lynch inspiring, it made it pretty clear that NC doesn't have a shot in hell of winning in the end? Is here something we don't know that makes lawmakers in NC think they're going to be victorious?

Well, I doubt that they are thinking about Dr. King's famous remark:


“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Genny, I saw that you just answered with that language. Isn't that the kind of attitude that many worry about. "Predators" will say they are trans to gain access to restrooms that don't match their biological sex?

Cisgender men do not need to say that they are trans to walk into a women's restroom.  It happens now--there was just a case this week of a cis man assaulting a woman in a restroom.  Trans people are going to use the bathroom that most matches their identity.  A female-presenting CD will likely use the women's restroom, but when not cross-dressed, they will use a men's room. 

I also see no evidence whatsoever that he doesn't like the law, considering how strident he's being about how "NC is being bullied" and how trans people "just need to get over themselves."

Reader comment to the McCrory question

So a person who feels they were born into the wrong body from birth "can't change biology"? You are vastly oversimplifying the issue.

The same way that white people are automatically privileged where people of color are automatically not. The same way that you get to walk into a place and be treated matter-of-factly, like you belong there, and they do not. You are touting a totally false equivalency.

Ji-Ho, I know from our conversation that I goofed on my pronouns a couple of times with you. What's your advice to those who make mistakes? How much patience do you have for that kind of thing?

I recognize that it's something different for individuals, and so it takes time to adjust to it. I can tell when someone is trying, and I do appreciate that. I would just suggest, if you realize you've made a mistake, correct yourself, and move on. Don't make a huge deal out of it. If I correct you, same thing. It doesn't have to be this huge ordeal, because then by doing so, you've just made it worse and brought more light on the situation than I feel that needs to be there. I don't really know if there's a limit to the patience I have about the issue, because getting frustrated about this doesn't really help me have a conversation about it. I just don't have much patience for individuals who actively choose to disrespect my identity by waving off my difference in identity and doing whatever is convenient for them. 

Genny, Is it actually different to self-identify as trans or genderqueer in MA or the New England states than some of the more conservative ones? How geographical is this issue of acceptance in your opinion?

There are certainly geographical differences.  Our legislature is voting Thursday on a bill protecting trans people in public accommodations, including bathrooms--the opposite of NC.  But the fact that it took them this long to address the issue (we had a trans rights law without public accommodations pass in 2011) demonstrates that the same fears and ignorance are countrywide.

My Facebook news feed is filled on daily basis with calls to boycott Target and any other company allowing those who are transgendered to use the bathroom of their choice. How successful have these boycotts been?

Target has remained steadfast in its restroom policy and its support of the values of diversity and inclusion. In this most recent debate I've not heard of any corporation succumbing to public pressure when it comes to anti-trans or anti-inclusive policies. That's a change from the recent past and, in my view, a good thing.

I want to thank Maxine Eichner as well Genny Beemyn and Ji-Ho Park for being my guests today. And I also want to thank you all for your questions and comments.


I firmly believe that the more we talk together about these issues, about what we don't fully understand, the more we will understand. That's the roadmap to acceptance. I'll see you again in a few weeks.


In the meantime, I'm going to be moderating a great discussion at the Smithsonian in DC on Tuesday June 7th with two of my esteemed advice-givers: Carolyn Hax from the Post and Lizzie Post of The Emily Post Institute. Our topic: Civility in America" Where Did It Go?


To learn more or buy tickets, click here.

In This Chat
Steven Petrow
Steven Petrow is a respected journalist and the go-to source for modern manners. Petrow writes the "Civilities" column for The Washington Post as well as "Manners Hero" for Parade and "Medical Manners" for Everyday Health.
Genny Beemyn
Genny Beemyn is the director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the Trans Policy Clearinghouse coordinator for Campus Pride. Their many books include "The Lives of Transgender People" and "A Queer Capital: A History of Gay Life in Washington, D.C."
Maxine Eichner
Maxine Eichner is a professor of law at the University of North Carolina School of Law. She writes on issues at the intersection of law and political theory, focusing on family relationships, social welfare law and policy, feminist theory, sexuality and the relationship of the family.
Ji-Ho Park
Ji-Ho Park is a student at Duke University who identifies as gender queer.
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