Discover more from honestly
The Hawkeye State keeps doubling down on discrimination.
Just a quick heads up that there are some swears in this post. But the swears about the state of reality at the moment aren’t nearly as offensive as, y’know, the actual state of reality at the moment.
I used to work as a fundraiser for a social services organization in Mississippi.
Because my job involved traveling all over the country to visit churches and donors, I didn’t have to live in Mississippi. And, because I didn’t have to live in Mississippi, I didn’t live in Mississippi. For the first year or so of my employment with this organization, I lived in Ohio, where my wife served a church. Then, when she accepted a call on the border of Illinois and Iowa, I moved to Iowa.
But I worked for a social services organization in Mississippi. And, because of that, I followed certain aspects of Mississippi politics related to poverty and homelessness. And, because of that, I regularly joked about wanting a bot that would find any online story about Mississippi politics related to poverty and homelessness and just comment with, “God damn it, Mississippi.”
And then a friend turned me on to Nina Simone’s classic song about Jim Crow and civil rights, Mississippi Goddam: “Alabama's gotten me so upset. Tennessee made me lose my rest. And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam.” You can listen to it here.
I’m not a fundraiser for a social services organization in Mississippi anymore. Instead, I’m a pastor in Iowa. And this year’s legislative session has been a sprint to hurt, among others, trans people, kids, and trans kids.
So let’s talk about Iowa. Goddam.
As I write this, two bills have recently passed through the legislature and are on their way to the governor’s desk. One bans gender-affirming care for minors. The other bans instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. In all probability, by the time you read this, they will both have been signed by the governor.
And there are more coming down the line.
I don’t know if I’m in the right headspace to write about this. This is still a little bit in the space of being a wound instead of a scar. But, sometimes, our wounds have to speak. So let me say this as pastorally as I can at the moment:
Very few people in Iowa want anything as badly as trans kids want to be accepted and cherished for who they are. The transition process—as outlined by the medical organizations that design such things—is long and arduous. It involves the kids, their parents, general practitioners, mental health professionals, endocrinologists, and more. There are checks and check-ins and rechecks. There are constant opportunities to reconsider, to slow down, to pause, and to go back.
It starts with conversation.
It continues with social transition: a different name and a different haircut and some different clothes to see how it feels.
If that goes well, and once the minor approaches the starting line of puberty, it might continue with puberty blockers. These are, with some extremely rare exceptions, fully reversible. They are also deeply important, because while puberty blockers are reversible, puberty is not. Puberty—and the results of puberty—is excruciating under the best conditions. It is so much worse when your body and the changes that it is going through are alien to you.
If that goes well, and after the minor is older, it might continue with hormone replacement therapy. This are, again, with some extremely rare exceptions, largely reversible. This is also, again, deeply important. And having to stop it suddenly because you can’t afford to travel out of state to receive it is terrible: imagine being seventeen and going through menopause because you can’t get estrogen.
And at every stage, things are personalized, people are given choices, and kids and their parents are told about the risks of these treatments. And those who want to go ahead make a choice: do they want to continue into a future where they can see themselves? Or do they want the world to continue toward a future where they cannot?
All of that is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to learn more about care for trans kids—and their parents—then I highly recommend Chris Hayes’s conversation with Dr. Izzy Lowell.
And all of that is just a tip of the iceberg in another sense. These bills do more than hurt trans and other genderqueer kids. They hurt gay, lesbian, and other queer kids as well. And they hurt straight cis-gender kids. And they hurt entire families, whole communities, and everyone else besides.
Or, to put it in the blunt terms that I have occasionally used with my congregation: these bills will kill kids. And that hurts everyone.
The thing is, I don’t know what to do about it. Protest? Sure. Preach? Absolutely. Write my legislators? I suppose. Send a letter to the editor? I guess. But none of that will change anything. The government of Iowa has doubled down on screwing-over LGBTQ+ kids. By the time you read this, they will have doubled down again. And in the next session, they will just keep going.
I am feeling hopeless. Worse, perhaps, I am feeling almost paralyzed by hopelessness.
And if I—a straight, cis-gender, childless man—am feeling hopeless, then I cannot even imagine how LGBTQ+ kids, their families, and their communities are feeling.
And what makes this all worse is that I suspect that the people in my congregation who care are also almost paralyzed by hopelessness. And that even those who will show up to the protest, and listen to the sermon, and write the letters will eventually just move past these and onto the next overwhelming piece of daily life.
And there will be silence. Until the next bit of bigoted bullshit that comes down from on high. And then there will be another round of protests and preaching.
I guess the question is whether my congregation—or even the church as a whole—can break out of its timidity to stand with another group of the least of these against an empire of intolerance. And the only answer that I can give is, “I don’t know.”
But Iowa. Man. Goddam.