Another Election First: Transgender Mayor in Oregon

Silverton, Oregon has elected what may be the first transgender mayor in the United States (although given the history of transgender persons passing, it’s possible others may have so served without people knowing).

Here’s what the article says:

Stu Rasmussen served two terms as the Mayor of Silverton in the 1990s. But he hadn’t admitted to being transgender. He’s not the same man now that he was then. Today he wears a skirt and high heels. He has breast implants, and long red hair. He looks like a woman – but he’s not.

I think philosopher Sally Haslanger might have a problem with the last statement that Rasmussen is not a woman, given her distinction between sex and gender (and so might many others, especially since the writer refuses to use “she” in reference to the mayor-elect). However, in addition to the historic nature of Rasmussen’s election, the article draws attention to another facet of the story–the fluidity of how people understand gender, both as a general term and in application to themselves. Here’s how Rasmussen describes herself:

“I identify mostly as a heterosexual male,” Rasmussen said. “But I just like to look like a female.”

Rasmussen is a man. He even has a girlfriend. He says he’s always been transgender, but he only “came out” a few years ago.

Perhaps using “she” is not accurate, then? There is a lot going on in this short piece. There’s the assumption that Rasmussen having a girlfriend has implications for her/his gender identity (it doesn’t, since many biological females have girlfriends and there are FTMs who transition and identify as homosexual males). There’s the question of what is the dividing line between man/woman–if Rasmussen has breast implants and looks like a female, why say “Rasmussen is a man”? There’s the association between a mid-life crisis and “acquiring cleavage”, and the concluding description of a tear “gently running through his eyeliner, and onto his cheek.”

Regardless of the thorny philosophical (and journalistic?) problems this story raises, I think we can agree that Rasmussen’s election is a signal that gender identity is becoming less central to society’s judgment about people’s competency.

Readers…have at it. Your thoughts?