Not Even Sam Houston Would be Safe from Discrimination in Houston

What to say about Houston, eh? Citizens there voted two-to-one this week to kill an anti-discrimination proposition that would have broadly banned discrimination in housing, employment, city contracting and business services.

Opponents won by vowing that a ban on discrimination would allow men dressed as women to sneak into women’s bathrooms. Their placards said “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms,” with the words “No Men” in red ink.

The part I never got: Why would the men have to dress as women? Come back to that in a minute maybe.

But Houston, Houston, Houston. I have kind of an illicit love affair with Houston. Mainly I like the Houston area for three reasons. 1) Some of Houston is fairly close to the ocean. 2) Some of it is real close to the ocean. 3) Some areas are right on the ocean.

I know, I know. Snobs and dilettantes will tell me, “That’s not the ocean. That’s just the gulf.” They’ve never been far out in a small boat. Believe me. Far enough out, the ocean is the damn ocean. Just hope that discount fishing guide you hired knows how to get you home.

Coming from the upper Midwest as I do, I just flat completely never got the nose-in-the-air dismissive things Dallas people say about the Houston climate. “Oh, I would hate to have to live with that humidity.”

You mean as opposed to stepping out the front door and having the sun burn your face off your skull? Did you ever notice how many patio restaurants in Dallas spend tens of thousands of dollars installing fancy misting systems that reproduce the soothing climate of Houston for badly singed clientele?

Plus, people toughen up to their surroundings. Same way the weather person here says “Sunny and clear” when she means “Brutal Saharan heat,” people in Houston have their own scale for humidity.

Nor did I ever buy into Dallas’ belief that Dallas is somehow more sophisticated. Dallas is maybe more fancy. I don’t think that’s the same. The energy business has made Houston exactly what Dallas always wanted to be but couldn’t — a truly international and internationally diverse city.

Plus, Houston has heavy industry. I always trust a place better if it has heavy industry — like a person with visible means of support. Less likely to try to sell me a raffle ticket.

But Houston has also always been two places, sort of a split personality. The core city is urban, cool and sophisticated as hell, but then it’s surrounded by this vast suburban midriff that is also part of the city.

So Houston, Houston. What have you done to yourself, Houston? This wasn’t something you could afford. You’ve been the nation’s fourth largest city for such a long time, behind New York, LA and Chicago, and not all that far behind Chicago. Did you ever think about the difference?

The first three have brands. Big Apple. La-La. Windy City. And what about you? You never did have a brand. Now you do.

Houston, Insecure Bathroom of America. the Cranky Convenience, the Troubled Toilet, the Paranoid Pissoir, the Laughable Lavatory. Houston, Where Apparently Men Want to Sneak Into the Ladies'. Dressed as women.

I seriously don’t get why they have to dress as women in order to sneak into the ladies'. In fact, why do they even have to sneak? If that’s what the men of Houston have been waiting for all these years and the new law would have made it legal, why wouldn’t they just have stomped on in there in their Stetsons and their cowboy hats? Maybe we’ll come back to that.

So now, Houston, you do have a brand. Way to go. You have branded yourself nationally and internationally as a city of really dumb bigots who believe that non-heterosexual people dream of and live for predation on heterosexuals — a belief unsupported by any objective fact, rooted in ugly, medieval superstition, a tool for fear-mongering and oppression.

And yet, Houston, I still can’t give up on you. May I share with you my pet theory, which is worth 25 cents? You know what your big mistake was? You annexed your Collin County.

We have all those same people in our region, the Onward Bathroom Soldiers, but because we stopped annexing at a distance that was still fairly close to the core city, those people are not voters in our city. Thank goodness!

We’re blue. Those people aren’t even in our county. Our county commissioners just voted to endorse and support Planned Parenthood. Yo, Planned Parenthood! Dallas loves you! Dallas is not even faintly worried that you will sneak into our homes at night and ritually cannibalize our children, because, you know what? That would be kuraaazy! Super wild, off the charts crazy, and those people do not live with us. Not too many.

We’re a city. We think like a city. We’re an urban place, and urban people really don’t think like you just did, Houston. I live in an especially urban part of my city, and sometimes I would be happy if more men around here would use any kind of bathroom at all. Women, too. And any kind of dressing up.

I choose to believe that the heart of a wonderful, sophisticated, cool Houston still beats inside all that suburban hair and make-up and that this recent vote does not speak for that innermost city. But you do know what the solution is, do you not, Houston? If they want discrimination, you have to vote for dis-annexation.

Here it is, at last. It has come to me finally, the bathroom bit. You can’t be a city and then dress up like a suburb and go sneaking into their bathrooms. Nor do you want them sneaking into yours. It’s time for the big bathroom divorce, Houston. Get a lawyer.
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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze