Note: This essay was originally a special extra-large MY TURN column in the 5 Feb 2001 issue of Newsweek Magazine. It is reprinted here by permission of the copyright holder.

by Quentin G. Long

In which a member of the Transformation Stories Archive mailing list sets forth a modest proposal for improving his situation.

  It's been less than a fortnight since the peculiar events of January 23, and already some folks are making noise about how those freaks (you know who they are) just ain't people. Speaking on behalf of all of us freaks, the first thing I'd like to say is that we prefer the term Changeling. Many of us are Changeling-Americans; there are also Changeling-Canadians, Changeling-Englishmen, and so forth. Second, and more importantly, I want to support the movement to have our legal rights, both as citizens of America (or wherever) and as human beings, sharply curtailed or even just plain revoked.
  That's right -- I said I support this movement. Because I've been thinking about it, and it seems to me that the benefits of not being legally human are just too juicy to pass up.
  What's that? You don't see how there could be any such benefits? In that case, I got one word for you: Taxes.
  Really, it's the ultimate tax shelter: If you're not a legal person, you don't have to pay! You say corporations aren't people, and they have to pay taxes? Sorry, but corporations are people, or at least that's what the Law considers them to be. So it's just as I said; no person, no tax.
  Frankly, I intend to rake in obscene quantities of cash now that I'm a Changeling. And the less of it I have to fork over to my greedy Uncle Sam, the better I like it. Sure, I could pay a trained professional to reduce my tax burden, but why bother shelling out to the likes of H & R Block if I can get that burden reduced to zero without having to pay anything? Even better, it's not just income taxes -- as best I can tell, I don't have to pay sales taxes unless I'm a person, because sales taxes are only levied on transactions between people!
  And the good news doesn't stop there! If I'm not a person, not only do I get to keep all my money, but I also become totally free. Consider that the United States Criminal Code consists of God knows how many thousand (million?) individual laws, and every one of those laws restricts your behavior in some way... but only if you're a person. So if I'm not a legal person, why, I can bithely ignore all of those behavioral restrictions in the Criminal Code. I can drive without a license, I can shoplift, I can commit sexual harrassment on a scale never before dreamed possible, I can do any damn thing I please, and the Law can't touch me! As an un-person, I can't be taken to court -- you might as well try to sue a rock or tree or Great Dane.
  What this means in practical terms: If I'm an un-person, I can literally get away with murder. Be honest: Don't you know of any people that you'd love to inflict massive bodily harm on, except that a long jail term would ruin all your plans? Of course you know of such people -- after all, you're only human! And whatever my legal status may be, I'm only human myself. So if I lose the perks of being legally human, well, I guess I'll just have to content myself with the knowledge that I can finally do something about the twits and idiots that infest the modern world, and (o frabjous day!) that I can do it without suffering any legal consequences.
  Unfortunately, it may not be as easy as I'd like to be declared a legal un-person. All of us Changelings were human before the 23rd, and humanity isn't like citizenship -- there just doesn't seem to be any procedure in the books for revoking someone's human status. Well, not in American books, at least; perhaps our German cousins might be able to shed some light on this subject.
  But I digress.
  To those who share my feeling that the law should divest us Changelings of our humanity: I would like to caution you against turning vigilante. Quite apart from the fact that violent mob action will reduce or eliminate any mainstream support you might otherwise have had, a lot of us Changelings can be dangerous when we're under physical attack. Does the name Mike Brotzman ring any silver bells? So whatever you do, please, please stay within the limits of the Law!
  Under American law, living creatures fall into one of three categories --[a] human being, [b] domesticated animal, or [c] wild animal -- and a cursory review of the literature reveals no method for getting a critter in category [a] reassigned to either of categories [b] or [c]. On the plus side, the legal definition of "human being" isn't all that specific; it's open to interpretation on many points.
  That being the case, perhaps the simplest course might be to get a judicial ruling that lists all 600-odd of us Changelings, and explicitly declares every one of us to be un-persons. The trouble is, judges are a fussy lot who insist on having what they consider good and sufficient reason to impose penalties on people, and given the current judicial climate, it would be inordinately difficult to find a jurist who believes that being the victim of an Act of God is good and sufficient reason to revoke one's legal status as a human being. And if you look over our police records, I fear that you'll only find the sort of boring, mundane offenses that merit boring, mundane punishments; a speeding ticket here, unpaid taxes there, maybe a little pornography over yonder; certainly nothing that would persuade a judge to implement the extreme measure of revoking our humanity. As well, don't forget that some of us haven't committed any offenses whatsoever; all in all, writing us off in this manner simply will not work.
  The next possibility is a judicial ruling that not only draws a bright line between Human and Not Human, but also makes damned sure that all us Changelings are lodged firmly on the Not Human side of that line. Unfortunately, humans are variable enough to make this a difficult task, especially if you're concerned about making sure that this ruling only affects us Changelings. For example, let's say you want to establish language use as the dividing line. In that case, you either have to distinguish languageless Changelings from humans who are mute or aphasic or whatever... or you bite the bullet and accept that some real humans will be wrongly declared un-persons. How about a furry face? Sure, if you can distinguish furry Changelings from hypertrichosis sufferers. Scaly skin? Nope, not as long as there are skin conditions which can put scales on real humans.
  You see the difficulty, I'm sure. But there's an even worse problem, from my viewpoint: As a shapeshifter, I'm only a part-time furry or scaley or whatever. Can I be 100% confident that any such judicial ruling will make me an un-person? No, I can't.
  Very well; if the judicial branch won't do what I want, perhaps the legislative branch will. Next possibility: Lobby Congress to enact a new law that declares all us Changelings to be un-persons. Sadly, becoming an un-person by legislation is even more unlikely than becoming such by judicial fiat. Distinguishing Human from Not Human will be a devilishly delicate problem, regardless of which branch of Government tackles it. And even if that problem can be solved, there's a little matter of a Constitutional amendment about "equal protection of the laws". My views on this matter, I regret to say, are not widely shared among us Changelings; there are also a number of true humans (the ACLU leaps, unbidden, to mind) who would reflexively oppose any such legislation. Thus, it's far from clear that the law I desire would ever pass Congress; it's a dead certainty that if it did pass, it would instantly be challenged in court, on Constitutional grounds if for no other reason; and the odds of its surviving such a challenge would be tragically low. Then again, perhaps I am unduly pessimistic; the Constitution's prohibition against debtor's prison has never stopped the Government from jailing people who fail to pay their taxes, and the military draft has never been legally determined to violate the Constitutional prohibition on involuntary servitude. So maybe the courts will throw the Constitution to the wind -- but all in all, I must say I don't care for the odds.
  The other legislative option, a new Constitutional amendment, neatly sidesteps all issues of Constitutionality by making a change in that document itself. I mention this option solely for the sake of completeness. This new amendment would be infinitely more controversial than the ERA ever was, because it would constitute a true legal answer to the question "what is Human, anyway?" As such, a snowball would have a better chance in Hell than this amendment would have of passing.
  That leaves the executive branch. The obvious first choice would be the President; he has the power to create Executive Orders which have the force of law, and none of the usual "checks and balances" nonsense need apply! For my purposes, this would be practically ideal. The only problem I can see (and it's a big one) is that President Bush really hasn't much of a mandate. As a result, he's hardly likely to involve himself in a controversy of this magnitude if he can possibly avoid doing so. Therefore, an Executive Order of the kind I want is about as likely as a black diamond run in Hell.
  Fortunately, the executive branch encompasses more than just the President. There's also a number of regulatory agencies whose unelected office-holders can issue diktats which have the force of law. The bad news here is that each of these agencies has a defined area of concern, and declaring me to be an un-person just doesn't seem to fall within any of those areas of concern. Then again, maybe we can redefine the relevant terms until it does fall within some agency's purview! In this context, I think the Federal Trade Commission could be my best bet. The FTC has power over commerce between the several States, and I, for one, intend to do all sorts of business in every State I can manage to; it's a perfect fit. Sure, some folks may claim the logic is a bit weak, but it's right in line with some things the FTC's interstate commerce power has already been invoked to justify, so I'm not too worried here. What does worry me is the court system; it's far too likely that some-damn-body or other will file suit against the FTC... and win.
  All in all, things look very unsatisfactory for me; I just don't see any way of being declared an un-person that has a halfway decent chance of succeeding. But then, I'm neither a lawyer nor a politician -- maybe someone else can succeed where I failed, find some option I overlooked. And if any people tell you that it would be stupid to try looking for a legal procedure to revoke someone's humanity, because someday you might be on the short end of that stick? Don't listen to those people. They don't know what they're talking about.
  Trust me: You'll be fine.
  Would this face lie to you?

  Quentin G. Long is one of the leading lights of the TSA-talk mailing list. His tales are favorably received by zealously faithful readers all over the world, and when he elects to provide editorial commentary on other authors' works, those works are invariably much improved by his cogent, incisive advice.
  Mr. Long writes his own biographical sketches.