I often tell myself to get real and you probably do too. Having lived publicly as a transperson for a couple of decades, I’ve had to face many issues regarding people and my relationship to them. There’s good reason for this. As transpeople we desire to live authentically. It’s why we have taken the identities we sense to be genuine. In this regard I’ve had to come face to face with the Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt not kid thyself.” No doubt you have had to do the same thing.
I’m sure plenty will accuse me of kidding myself because I’m a transperson because by embracing a rigid gender dichotomy, the idea of transition becomes categorically preposterous. But they who judge least of all judge themselves. In a way these critics have unwittingly become a mirror for myself. Even when it comes to the Golden Rule, the rule we live often isn’t golden at all, regardless of what faith (or non-faith) one may represent.
The following are rules of living I’ve been able to observe over the last half century, many of which I wish I haven’t. I’m the last person to claim that I have done a good job. Take a look at these yourselves and think about where you really may be, and consider if you will what you may desire to change.
THE GOLDEN RULE
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
The teachings of Y’shua Ben Adam (New Testament), Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics)
The Golden Rule expresses genuine altruistic, if not divine, love. A lot of religious people, think they operate according to the Golden Rule by going to church, synagogue, temple, or mosque. But in fact, we operate on one of the other alternatives listed below. The Golden Rule isn’t about justification for meddling. It isn’t about manipulation. It’s about finding a balance of gentility in action. Y’shua (whom most people call Jesus and who called himself “Son of Man” or “Ben Adam”) stated the most obvious examples in his sermons, but what made His teaching really golden was His actions, which consistently developed out of self-sacrificing love, even toward those who sought to harm him. Aristotle articulated in detail what the Golden Rule intended in Nicomachean Ethics as a balance between extremes, which must be found through practice in human relations as an art to be studied and practiced, and based upon an unselfish love, one that seeks the best for another.1
THE SILVER RULE
Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you.
The teaching of Hillel, the Pharisaic School, our courts system.
The Silver Rule recognizes a similar relationship to the Golden Rule, however, it lacks the altruism the Golden Rule demands. While actions consistent with the Golden Rule may prevail within the Silver Rule (in fact we remember Hillel for his humility and gentility), this follows a matter of legality that could as easily break down to a lower level as lift to a higher one. The Silver Rule presumes that people will seek to inflict harm. It calls for protection against that propensity as a moral principle. What most of us think is the Golden Rule is in fact the Silver Rule precisely because we lose sight of altruism.
THE BRASS RULE
Do unto others before they can do unto you.
The general practice of law enforcement, military, and parts of government
The Brass Rule presumes upon others the intention to commit harm and that one has full authority to proactively strike to protect according to one’s own discretion. While the Brass Rule works to enable authorities to take action, it also leaves open the possibility of abuses of power, as demonstrated by the officers who beat Rodney King, certain actions by riot police against Occupy3 protesters, and heavy-handedness in marshal law. When we address abuses we use the courts that generally operate according to the Silver Rule. But the decree of this higher legal (and presumably moral) authority has enabled enforcers to continue their business as usual, especially those who can be called “top brass.”
THE BRONZE RULE
Do not do unto others in order they might do unto you if it pleases them.
What arrogant givers demand
When church people give, why do they give? Is it out of the sacrificial love delineated in the Golden Rule? Unfortunately, that’s often not the case. In El Monte I had opportunity to see a Seventh-Day Adventist Community Service Center in action. I had brought an impoverished woman to them for help. What did they do? They set a limit of $10 of groceries provided that the woman was not receiving Welfare in any form because they aren’t allowed to compete with government welfare agencies. Neither of us dared to protest, otherwise she would have been refused outright. I was later told that I needed to bring people to help who could in turn contribute to the church.4 But this kind of giving is often the norm among religionists. Christians, on the most part, don’t want to be confronted with need. They want to give when they’re good and ready. This kind of giving might result in plopping a dollar bill in the hands of a quiet old woman who minds her own business… a dollar that more often states what the giver attributes her lack of worth to be, like a green and worn piece of bronze, instead of representing an act of love. It’s the rule that spurred Nietzsche to write in Thus Spake Zarathustra that God is dead because we have killed the idea of God in our actions and inactions.5
THE COPPER RULE
Do unto others in order so that they will do unto you.
The practice of merchants
Emeryville’s Shaklee Corporation has long claimed to operate according to the Golden Rule. I love Shaklee. I’d prefer Basic H in the shower before any soap. But there’s more money to be made by coaxing people to work their way into supervisorships than it is to simply sell product. Offering opportunity to others sounds like an exercise of the Golden Rule. But in fact, these offers are designed to funnel money to those further up the food chain, a system of giving in order to get.6 It’s similar to the practice of salespeople whose idea of the “Golden Rule” is to sell a bill of goods, justifying themselves by saying they’re “doing the customer a favor.” In other words, if you offer something beneficial as an extra in a sale, it’s written into the entire contract ahead of time as a false-freebie with a hidden cost designed to jack up commissions. This is the Copper Rule, precisely because it’s the rule most effective in squeezing every copper penny one can get.
THE TIN RULE
Do not do unto others in order that they do not do unto you.
What we Americans, on the most part, have come to demonstrate
The Tin Rule has prevailed as a product of enforcement by the Brass Rule. It simply demands of everyone, “Keep quiet. Don’t bother other people. Keep your nose clean. Don’t touch anyone. If you dare to speak you’re asking for trouble. You have in all cases a duty to retreat if threatened. If you fail at this, then you have no right to complain if others lash out at you.” Just like the Brass Rule is a counterfeit of the Golden Rule, the Tin Rule is a counterfeit of the Silver Rule. When applied to its extreme, one could as easily be in trouble for not speaking to another as speaking. But over the long term it has forced us behind our walls in isolation, convincing us it’s too dangerous to be acquainted with our next door neighbor. We become like the Tin Man of The Wizard of Oz: the worker who has come to accept the life of a robot who doesn’t have a heart.7
THE IRON RULE
Do unto others.
The popular practice of corporate managers
We used to speak of the Iron Rule as that which drove the Roman Empire. But today we find this to be the case far more within corporations whose rights as legal persons often take precedence over the rights of natural persons through arbitration. We need not look far to see examples. The former Santa Monica Hospital, when it was under the now defunct Unihealth, consistently lost money year after year. Its managers not only became millionaires, but reputedly had been given hefty bonuses to buy ranches, even while hospital budgets continued to slip. At the same time, administrators sold off the hospital’s dietary and housekeeping employees to the now equally defunct PHR, after which workers lost their benefits while continuing at their former positions at the hospital at minimum wage. During this hotly protested milieu, I recall seeing a silver Lincoln Continental parked every week in front of the palatial Administration building with 2 male nudie figures on the back and a vanity license plate reading, “MSSABRINA.”8 I have seen similar inequities in other institutions as well, in which managers operate like iron-fisted dictators who live it up while imposing unnecessary suffering upon subordinates, even to the point of bragging about what they can do.
THE LEAD RULE
Do unto others only as you are told to do.
What corporate managers often demand of employees
The Lead Rule is akin to the Golden Rule but filtered by managers who may but probably do not follow the Golden Rule themselves. The Lead Rule applies amid the forfeiture of moral agency. Moral agency requires two principles: (1) one must understand the ramifications of moral decisions and (2) one must be free to make those decisions. The Lead Rule, like the Golden Rule, is soft and flexible. It lends itself to be easily molded. But individual love cannot prevail because it must follow whether love prevails from the one who make decisions for subordinates, and like lead can easily render us as dead weight. It was also the deontological ethic imposed by Nazi oppressors.
THE WOOD RULE
Do unto others what pleases the most people.
What democracy too often becomes
The Wood Rule is Utilitarian, espoused by eminent philosophers like Jeremy Bentham and others.9 It makes sense to make people as happy as possible. Comics attempt to make this happen by professional induction of laughter. Politicians claim to do this through the laws they enact. But a Trojan horse lurks in what pleases the masses. It may please a majority to prosecute a person to cover for another, something in itself morally objectionable. Besides, what makes people happy today may not make them happy tomorrow. The Wood Rule has the capacity to sprout and cover many in its foliage of apparent goodness. But it also can splinter, rot, and burn.
THE CLAY RULE
Do not do unto others.
How we are often told to act by authorities in disasters.
This is what the Tin Rule can eventually become. If disaster strikes, law enforcement tapes off an area and orders others not to cross, understandable when isolating an area for a crime scene investigation. But in other cases, people too often hear, “Don’t be a hero. Let the pros do it. Somebody will always be able to report a problem before you do, so don’t clog communication lines.” This has become so ingrained in our lives that if trouble strikes, we find ourselves inwardly incapacitated to help anyone even if we desire. After all, we’re creatures of habit. Trouble like that doesn’t happen every day for most of us. From time to time we read about people attacked and others pass without stopping to help. Every one of these in retrospect must confront the moral implications of their inaction. The Clay Rule easily shatters. Its shards wound. It’s also unstable, possibly leading to one of the remaining rules.
THE MERCURY RULE
What revolutionaries teach and how they act
The Mercury Rule is changeable as liquid, slick and unstable. It lets what’s electric transfer from one to another. The Mercury Rule usually applies where people have had enough. It spurs to popular action. It even sacrifices everything. Alchemists speak of Mercury as essential to the “Medicine of Metals.”10 Change is inevitable when the Mercury Rule is sworn to by enough people. But it’s also toxic. Those who operate by the Mercury Rule must also ask themselves whether the change they bring really benefits or not, for too often revolution brings outcomes worse than before. In our protests in the 1960’s, we sought a better world. But we didn’t achieve the world we sought. Instead, we formed new power structures that often proved worse than those exercised by the previous generation.
THE FERTILIZER RULE
Do not do but only let.
What the walking dead do
The Fertilizer Rule is total passivity. Only the dead do this effectively. At least they provide food for trees and flowers. But for those who adhere to the Fertilizer Rule, only subsistence becomes possible. Real living doesn’t happen. Authenticity becomes laughable amid the fostering of a general milieu of victimization. Its people forfeit all rights. They forfeit their voice. They’re left with nothing and sometimes remain content with that. The Fertilizer Rule is perhaps the most extreme counterfeit of the Golden Rule. While the Golden Rule inspires sacrifice, the Fertilizer Rule equates sacrifice with forfeiture. After all, what’s taken from such a person isn’t because of that person’s love, but because that person is left with the conviction that he is duty bound to be a victim, a perverse version of “ego death” encountered among false-spirited occultists.
When I look upon the various moral rules by which we live, none of us can count our lives golden. We’ve been seduced by our ambitions and our fears. We’ve adopted doctrines far removed from the masters we claim to admire. We think we believe in the Golden Rule. But our practices betray what we really do… a bewildering array of counterfeits. All of us have, whether clergy, civic leader, manager, worker, or even homeless have betrayed ourselves and others.
What do I say for my generation and nation? What do I say for my demographic of transpeople? What do I say for myself? What would it require to repent… religion? Rites awaken, but they don’t change anyone just by doing rites. Go to an assembly? Assemblies don’t help if the practices of those assemblies enforce counterfeits of the highest.
What changes is individual determination to cultivate attributes of the highest we can reach, and engage in a quest to truly know what it means to love our neighbor, a state we haven’t realized, but which remains as much as years ago, a mere potential. But we can explore.
We explore when we engage in acts of service simply to see what good might develop. Most of the time recipients will not graciously accept it. We might even bungle our acts and wind up doing more apparent or actual harm than good. Like it or not, that’s the norm. Service demands skill and that’s not developed overnight, especially in the arena of human relations.
But when engaged carefully and patiently over time, investing greater levels of care, eventually we find the care returned. It’s a principle, not only of sowing and reaping, but of patient investment. Just like none can expect to get rich quick, none can expect to be quickly loved in abundance.
Those of us who transition often say that surgery isn’t the end of the process but the beginning of a journey of transformation. It’s not enough to go through the physical or social transition. Without that foundational moral change, we really haven’t been transformed at all. But one thing spurs us on: our commitment to change. Because we face the hardships of physical and social transition, sooner or later we will be forced to face a moral transformation that made all that hardship worthwhile.
1. Nicomachean Ethics (384-322 BCE) Hacket Publishing Company, Indianapolis, ISBN: 0-95145-66-9 (pbk) Book I, Ch 7, 8, 1098b25-1099a30
2. Linder, Douglas O. LAPD (King Beating) Trial (1992) Web: Famous Trials: http://www.famous-trials.com/lapd . Retrieved April 28, 2017,
3. Friedersdorf, Conor. 14 Specific Allegations of NYPD Brutality During Occupy Wall Street (July 25, 2012) Web: The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/07/14-specific-allegations-of-nypd-brutality-during-occupy-wall-street/260295/ . Retrieved April 28, 2017.
4. Witnessed by the writer.
5. (n.a.) Friedrich Nietzsche: God is Dead (n.d.) Web: Philosophy Index: http://www.philosophy-index.com/nietzsche/god-is-dead/ . Retrieved April 28, 2017.
6. Witnessed by the writer.
7. Keyser_Sushi Biography for The Tin Man (Character) (n.d.) Web: IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0004331/bio . Retrieved April 28. 2017.
8. Witnessed by the writer.
9. Utilitarianism. Website: https://www.utilitarianism.com/bentham.htm . Retrieved April 28, 2017.
10. Metalic Alchemy. Website: https://www.kymiaarts.com/metallic.html . Retrieved April 28, 2017.