Simple solutions rarely are simple or solutions

One of the fallacies of politics these days is the notion of simple solutions. Regardless of whether the problem is immigration, the homeless, gun ownership or transgender people, too many leaders or would-be leaders want us believe government can take simple actions to make a complex problem go away.

Rarely do those simple solutions address the underlying problem. Often, those solutions are not simple, nor are they really solving anything.

Often, these simple solutions are little more than gussied-up wedge issues designed to drive people into camps of ”us” versus “them.”

We have seen this with the issue of private ownership of guns. Statistics show there are 393 million guns in private hands in the United States. With two-thirds of American adults not owning a gun, that means the typical gun owner has almost four guns.

So the simple solution of banning sales of semi-automatic firearms really does not solve the problem of mass killings. The problem is more complicated than can be addressed with one “solution.”

It is that way with many other problems, too. This year, Iowans have seen bills introduced in the Legislature that are offered as supposed solutions to issues involving people who identify as transgender.

One proposal would prohibit these people from using public restrooms that do not match their sex at birth. Another bill, one Gov. Kim Reynolds introduced last week, would require transgender people to list both their sex at birth and their current gender on their birth certificates and their driver licenses.

“Women and men are not identical. They possess unique biological differences. That’s not controversial,” Reynolds said in a statement.

Actually, what these proposed laws would mean in real life is controversial, and Reynolds knows that.

Consider these Iowans:

In 2019, I met a 17-year-old Ames High School student and her proud parents at a luncheon hosted by the ACLU of Iowa. The student and I were there to receive awards. She was poised, personable and impressively articulate. She also is transgender, meaning she was born with male genitals.

Last year, a 7-year-old transgender girl from Ankeny testified before a legislative subcommittee considering a bill that requires transgender people to use K-12 school restrooms that match their sex at birth.

I have a friend who was born with boys’ genitals but has transitioned in recent years through medications and surgery and now lives as a woman.

The legislation being considered by Iowa lawmakers would dramatically affect the lives of these people. Their gender identity is not some switch they flipped on a whim. Their changes were the result of internal struggles, self-debate and discussions with health professionals.

As Senator Herman Quirmbach, an Ames Democrat, said last year, it is “utterly irrational” that males in Iowa would transition to female solely to get a spot on a girls’ sports team or to be able to use girls’ restrooms or locker rooms.

While I understand the concerns of people who don’t want someone who is different from them sharing a bathroom or locker room, think about the real-life implications of these legislative proposals. And do not forget that 75 years ago, there were people who feared what might happen if we allowed black people to use the same restrooms as white people.

Has the governor considered how Lily, the 7-year-old from Ankeny, or Malika, the former Ames High School student, or my middle-aged friend would be greeted or treated in a men’s bathroom?

If we are to respect the anxieties of women who are concerned about a transgender person coming into their restroom, shouldn’t our governor understand the concerns of transgender females who would be required to use a men’s restroom because they were born with male genitals?

Young Lily wisely told lawmakers last year, “I think you are confused about what happens in second-grade bathrooms. No one is hurting each other in there. We just go to the bathroom and wash our hands.”

But if Reynolds’ legislation becomes law, the transgendered person who had been living as a female would be required to obtain a new driver license and a new birth certificate show both their sex at birth and their current gender.

That means the ACLU honoree and my middle-aged friend would need to let people know their deep, personal medical history whenever they had to show their driver licenses — when cashing a check, renting a car, boarding an airplane, voting or being stopped by a police officer.

Much irony surrounds this. Politicians who support the governor’s proposal were apoplectic about any requirement during the pandemic that people must disclose whether they had received Covid vaccinations — even though transgenderism is not contagious, whereas Covid can be.

Pete McRoberts, the policy director for the ACLU of Iowa, told Iowa Capital Dispatch the driver license proposal is “horrifying,” because every time a driver license needs to be shown is an opportunity for the transgender person to be discriminated against or humiliated.

History can inform our current debates and discussions — but only if we are open-minded.

Donald McCloskey was a nationally respected economist at the University of Iowa in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1995, McCloskey, then 53, decided after many years of reflection to cross the gender line and begin transitioning to Deirdre McCloskey.

The reaction to McCloskey’s change was what she later described as “Iowa calm.” There was no hand-wringing about which restroom she would use. There was no debate in the Legislature about changing laws to deal with her announcement. No one expressed anxiety about her leading students astray.

Back then, Gov. Terry Branstad was asked about McCloskey’s transition. The governor’s response was refreshing when contrasted with positions our political leaders take today:

“Can she still teach? Does she still have the same academic standing? Well, then, what’s the problem?”

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Randy Evans can be reached at

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