It’s Dangerous To Go Alone

I was riding the T (the subway in Boston) earlier today. I looked down the car and noticed someone playing a Nintendo 3DS. I couldn’t tell what they were playing, or even what the player looked like. As the train came to a stop, the person closed the 3DS and stood up. The player was a middle aged man, wearing a simple t-shirt, cargo shorts, and sneakers. He was slightly balding and had a bit of a paunch. Nothing about his appearance was remarkable or noteworthy.

But then he reached down for his bag. It was a backpack. It was a gold backpack. It was a gold backpack made to look like the Legend of Zelda gold cartridge, an exceedingly rare item that sells for hundreds of dollars on eBay.

My respect for the man immediately increased. If I could talk to him, I would say:

“You know what, gamer dude? Do your thing. I’m sure there are people who would make fun of you for your interests. They would call you a nerd or a loser, just because you’re passionate about video games. But don’t be ashamed about the things that you enjoy.”

Lessons from law school: feminine hygiene products

In the past three years in law school, I have learned a great deal from my classmates. I want to highlight one example in particular.

Last year, Law Students for Reproductive Justice conducted a donation drive for a homeless shelter. Student orgs hold donation drives all the time; the unique thing that LSRJ did was that it collected feminine hygiene products (tampons and pads). Homeless shelters get lots of donations for toothpaste, soap, and other toiletries. But feminine hygiene products go overlooked.

When I heard about the drive, I realized that I had never considered that homeless shelters would have a great need for feminine hygiene products. It’s just something I had never thought of, because I never needed to think of it. But for homeless women, not having access to such products can be a desperate situation.

Another factor is the stigma associated with feminine hygiene products. To be honest, I felt a bit embarrassed about buying pads at CVS. I ended up giving the money to someone else to buy it (plus, I bike to school, and it would be a hassle to carry something else). But why the stigma? If I buy a box of tissues, then that’s no big deal. Why should buying pads be a problem? Menstruation happens. It exists. People need hygiene products for menstruation, just like we need hygiene products for allergies.

Thank you to Kaitlin Beck and the other students with LSRJ who helped bring attention to this important issue.

Here’s a question: Once I move to the Bay Area, I’m thinking of buying a box of spare feminine hygiene products, in case I have female friends over and they need one in a pinch. Any thoughts on what kind I should get? Recommendations on a brand?

Last week of class!

This past week was my last week of law school classes. While I study for finals next week, I have a few reflections:

1) I am honored to have spent three years with incredibly intelligent, hard-working, and compassionate classmates. Through classes, student organizations, and pro bono work, I have seen my classmates shine and grow. We had our graduating students’ dinner this past Thursday, and several students received awards for pro bono work, involvement with the law school clinics, and contributions to the life of the school. Great work.

2) I’ve grown a lot as a person. I’ve discovered work that is meaningful and makes a difference in people’s lives. I’ve learned to be confident, be brave, be strong. I’m grateful for the encouraging response that I have received for the words that I write. I’m also glad for the thoughtful critiques. Thank you for reading!

3) But I am glad to be done. Law school is hard. I left my family and a community of people that I really love. While it’s exciting to be in a new city, I’ve missed the Valley, I’ve missed the Bay Area. Law school has been a lot of work. It’s also been a lonely time in many ways. In fact, the experience of this heavy feeling of loneliness may be the greatest lesson from law school. It’s something that I plan to explore further, and I will keep you all updated.

But emotional reflection will need to wait. First Fed Courts exam, then Admin Law exam, then a paper, then finishing my

Question for educators regarding transgender students

I have a question for my educator friends about the federal government’s letter on transgender students.

Background: On May 13, the Department of Justice and Department of Education issued a joint letter to schools receiving federal funding. Schools that receive federal funding are obligated to comply with Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in schools. Any schools that violate Title IX can have their federal funding withdrawn.

The letter outlines the schools’ Title IX obligations regarding transgender students. The DOJ and ED treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex. Thus, a school must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity.

One controversial part of the letter is the guidance provided on sex-segregated activities and facilities. For example, a school may provide separate locker rooms or restrooms on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity. So a transgender female student must be permitted to use the restrooms for females.

The letter has prompted strong criticism on multiple fronts. Some critics charge the government of executive overreach or social engineering. Others have expressed concern about privacy and safety for students, particularly females. The concern is that young men could enter a female restroom under the pretense of identifying as transgender and harass or assault women in the restroom. This is a valid concern that should be carefully considered.

My question is: How does an individual identify as transgender?

Page Two of the letter:

“The Departments interpret Title IX to require that when a student or the student’s parent or guardian, as appropriate, notifies the school administration that the student will assert a gender identity that differs from previous representations or records, the school will begin treating the student consistent with the student’s gender identity. Under Title IX, there is no medical diagnosis or treatment
requirement that students must meet as a prerequisite to being treated consistent with their gender identity.”

This text indicates that a student who wishes to assert a different gender identity that differs from previous records must take an active step to do so. But how does that work in practice? The letter indicates that no medical diagnosis is necessary, but what other procedures are in place? How long does the process of changing gender identity take?

I’m curious because I wonder how procedural precautions can limit the risks of harassment or assault. To put another way, if changing one’s gender identity must be done ex ante (rather than presented as an ex post justification), how might that reduce risk?

People may have opinions about this letter, but I’m curious to hear from educators in the field.

Pain is On the Mend

After several weeks of physical therapy and occupational therapy, the pain in my neck, shoulders, back, and wrists is improving! Although it’s not 100% gone, I’ve definitely noticed a big difference. If you are in Hyde Park and need a physical therapist, I know a place.

As bad as the pain was, though, I’m sort of glad that it happened. The pain forced me to rest and take care of myself. Pain is my body telling me that something is wrong. I need to listen to my body.

And right now, my body is telling me to go to sleep. Good night!

Thanks for the Birthday Wishes!

Much thanks to everyone for their birthday wishes. Special thanks also to David Malison, Michelle Malison, Gail Faithful, and Dave and Tiffany Borycz for taking me out to lunch.

Also, I reached my fundraising goal for my ODW birthday campaign! Thank you to Milton Wu, Frances Fon Wu, Andrea Forth, Josh Tovar, Dale Kim, Minyoung Kim, Kiju Kim, Ken Wong, Jesse Chui, Andrew A Tai, Vinicius Ramos, Linnet DS, Eileen Prescott, Blair Mgbada, Teresa Schepis, and a couple anonymous donors. Thank you for helping me raise $1290 to Invest in Better Maternal Health!

If you still want to donate, the campaign will be available for the next week. The link is below.

Now, for my next trick, I will submit two papers, take two finals, graduate, and take the bar exam. Here we go!

Birthday Post: 29 Tomorrow

As I turn 29 tomorrow, I suppose it’s time for some reflection. Some things that happened last year:

– I finished 2L year, which included an extremely busy year as Co-Chair of the Chicago Law Foundation Auction.
– I interned over the summer at the National Housing Law Project and LAF‘s Housing Practice Group, and developed a greater interest in housing issues.
– I went to so many weddings. According to my count, I attended seven weddings. Unfortunately, I had to miss a few.
– I attended The Justice Conference and the Christian Community Development Association National Conference, and was challenged on the role of the Church in addressing inequity, injustice, and brokenness in our world.
– After months of applying and waiting, I finally got a job!
– I unexpectedly ended up living on my own. I had never lived in my own place with no roommates before, and it was a good experience, although it felt strange having an entire seven bedroom house to myself.
– I grew quite a bit as a writer. One major lesson that I’m still learning is how to respond to criticism. No matter what I write or how I write, there will still be people who don’t like what I have to say. That’s OK! I’ll take the helpful parts from their critique and throw out the unhelpful.

What I’m looking forward to this year:

– Finishing 3L year and graduating. It’s been a long road, and while I’ve enjoyed it, I’m ready to be done.
– Moving from Chicago back to California. I’ve enjoyed my time here, and I may well come back, but I’m looking forward to going back home.
– Taking the bar exam. I’m not looking forward to it, but it needs to get done.
– Moving up to the Bay Area and reconnecting with community. Fortunately, I found housing that fits just within my nonprofit salary budget.
– Starting my job at a legal nonprofit helping to reduce barriers to housing for people leaving the criminal justice system.
– I need to look for my next job, as my position this fall only lasts for a year. But a year’s experience should help.
– Maybe I’ll actually start dating? It would be easier to make that a priority when I feel more settled in a location. Still, I have enjoyed this single season of my life. It has been a rich and rewarding time.
– I’m going to two weddings this year, so looks like fewer than last year. But maybe that will change.

Well, I’m off to bed. If you have any suggestions on other highlights of my life, let me know.

No Más Bebés

A few days ago, I went to a showing of the documentary “No Más Bebés.” In the ’60s and ’70s, pregnant women in Los Angeles went to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center to give birth. Some of these women (mostly Mexican immigrant women) were sterilized (by having their tubes tied) without their consent. The documentary follows the lawsuit that ten of these women brought against the doctors, the hospital, and the government.

The documentary was heavy, but insightful and provocative. Some reflections:

1) What does consent mean? Many of the women who were sterilized had signed consent forms for the operation. But some of these women signed them right as they were going into labor, and were told that the hospital wouldn’t help them without a signature. Imagine a young woman, in the pain of labor, being told that she needs an emergency C-section but won’t get it without signing this form. Some of them couldn’t read English, but the forms were only in English. Is that really meaningful consent?

2) The value of a lawyer is not just to pursue a legal remedy, but to bring your client’s story into the public eye. The lawyers (who were both fairly young) from the LA Center for Law and Justice, which represented the women, made sure to get heavy media coverage of the story. But it is difficult to get clients to tell their story, especially for a deeply personal and painful matter.

3) Incentives matter. In the ’60s and ’70s, there was great concern about overpopulation. “The Population Bomb” was a best-selling book about the coming catastrophe of overpopulation. The U.S. government provided funding for solutions to slow down population growth. Medical centers had incentives to reduce the population as efficiently as possible.

4) How do you navigate coalitions with stakeholders who hold different values? The documentary included a fascinating exchange regarding the lawsuit’s place in the greater context of feminism. One simple view: Latina feminists wanted mandatory waiting periods for sterilization surgery to prevent women from being pressured into consenting and give them time to talk to their families about the decision. White feminists wanted to abolish these waiting periods and championed the autonomy of women to make the decision on their own. Who should make important medical decisions: the individual alone or the family? Should a woman’s sense of value come primarily from career or from family? Different cultural norms would produce different answers.

5) How much do we blame the individual doctors? Some of the doctors may have been motivated by racial animus. Some may have thought “these people are a drain on our economy and we need to stop their breeding.” The documentary interviewed several of the doctors who were defendants in the suit. They all vehemently denied any animus and insisted that they were providing excellent care for their patients. Maybe they’re lying. It’s easy to demonize them as the villains in this story. But it’s possible that they believed that they were providing excellent care. The doctors in the film were all white, working in an under-resourced hospital. Maybe they were exhausted and burdened and just wanted to get through the day. Maybe they had a strong ethic of service. Maybe they had opportunities to go to more affluent hospitals, but chose to work at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center because they wanted to help low-income patients. But maybe their desire to do good blinded them to their own biases, and when they reflect upon that time they remember their own heroism and forget their errors or misdeeds. As someone who plans to work as a legal service provider with low-income communities, I need to watch out that my own savior complex does not interfere with what is best for my clients.

Much thanks to Kaitlin Beck for publicizing this event.