4:19 PMToilets Still a Battleground Somehow
It all started when a friend on Facebook shared an image macro with some unsettling implications. Well, no, it all started long before that, but the image is what eventually led directly to this blog post. "I don't care what your son 'identifies as'," it said, "he doesn't belong in the bathroom with my daughter." On first glance, to the average person, it may seem innocuous enough. Wanting to keep your daughter safe? That much is understandable... even admirable. However... the post rubbed me the wrong way as soon as I saw it, though it took longer to articulate exactly why.
What's the Big Deal?
Let's consider what kinds of messages that statement sends.
I'm not the only one to take issue with it. While the original post got more than its fair share of "right on"s and people swearing to assault this hypothetical "your son" if they should ever happen to meet, it also got quite a few pointed objections. One commenter wonders, "I want to know who all you weirdos are who go into the bathrooms to do anything but take a pee? Seriously... You're really obsessed about this to the point it makes me wonder if you are the ones with the issues. I go to the bathroom to pee and wash my hands. I'm not looking at you. I'm not looking at your vagina. I'm not looking at your penis. I'm not looking at your kid of either gender that you bring in with you even when you leave the stall door open." Another questions whether there has "been some huge uptick in people waving their genitals around in public bathrooms? I mean when was the last time you knew what the person crapping in the stall next to you's private parts looked like?" The first likewise notes that, "You've probably been in the bathroom with countless transgendered people and you didn't even know because they were just in the bathroom to take a leak just like you."
But what about predators? As a third commenter points out, "sexual predation is already illegal. It doesn't need this law"—meaning any of several proposed laws and one enacted law that restrict bathroom access specifically by biological sex—"to stop it. No sexual predator will be stopped by this law. Do you really think one would be saying to himself, 'Gee, I really wanted to molest that child, but she went in the Ladies Room and I'm not allowed in there, so I think I'll go home and make some tea'?" Similarly, the first finds the idea of someone trying to abuse bathroom access laughable. "And you really think some pervert is going to dress up in a dress and pretend to be a transgendered female to twiddle your daughter while she's peeing? What is wrong with you people? You have some crazy ass hang ups."
I can't recall where I saw it, but a similar comment elsewhere went into a more detailed scenario that went something like this: Pretend, distasteful as this may be, that you're a man who wants to rape someone, and you get the idea of pretending to be transgender so you can launch your attack in a public bathroom. Now you have to go through the trouble, time, expense, and quite possibly embarrassment of securing feminine clothing that fits, not to mention figuring out how to wear it properly. You'd probably also want a wig and some makeup, which would cause similar problems to the clothing but likely more so, and maybe high heels, which you would then need to learn to walk in without tripping over your own feet. You'd want to do all of this in secret, unless you're exceptionally committed to the ruse. Once you've done all that and feel ready to put your plans into action, you then have to go out in public dressed up that way—past your neighbors, perhaps friends and family, and anyone else who may be watching. If you're not particularly convincing—and since you're just doing this as an excuse to get into the ladies' room, you're almost certainly not—you're going to draw attention everywhere you go, and quite likely face harassment and perhaps even assault. Assuming you make it that far, you then have to find your mark and wait for her to go pee, while trying not to look like you're watching her, and also continuing to have people gawking at how you look. Finally, the time comes to strike! She goes in, you follow presumably after a long enough pause to not seem to be following her, you make your move, and the next thing you know... screaming, mace, security, police, and then you wind up in prison because, wouldn't you know it, assault is still illegal, and no court in its right mind is going buy "I'm allowed to be in there" as an excuse, even if you somehow manage to convince them that you really are transgender. If anything, given how law enforcement has often treated transgender people, you may very well be worse off if they do believe you. Even ignoring that more than four out of five sexual assaults come from people the victims already know, that seems like an awful lot of trouble to go to, with far too much risk. Frankly, public bathrooms are a terrible place to attempt an assault.
And what's the practical difference between a man pretending to be transgender to get into the women's room and a man pretending to be just plain female to get into the women's room? Re-read the previous paragraph, but replace "transgender" with "female". The scenario goes the same either way, so what difference do any rules that either help or hinder transgender people make to our hypothetical would-be rapist? Even the most stringent of proposed laws would still allow chromosomal XX females into the women's room. I can't imagine that someone would be willing to pretend to be transgender just to walk through a door, yet would not be willing to simply claim to have been born female.
People have also raised concerns about cameras being planted, but again, the amount of trouble and risk someone would have to go through to claim being transgender as an excuse, even ignoring that being trans doesn't make filming or photographing people in bathrooms and so forth without their consent any less illegal, makes the idea seem frankly absurd. Why bother, when it would be so much easier to impersonate a janitor, or a plumber, or just a generic maintenance worker? Far from drawing unwanted attention, many people regard such menial workers as beneath their notice, and on top of that, it would provide a convenient justification for everything from performing otherwise suspicious activities to emptying out the room. But why take even that risk? Surely someone so inclined would be able to find a female accomplice for the right price, removing any need to enter the room at all. And all that's assuming that the voyeur isn't a woman in the first place, as well as ignoring anyone trying to spy on the men's room. Exhibitionists have similarly been raised as a concern, but since they can do their thing anywhere, and bathrooms have stalls for a reason, it's hard to see the relevance.
(On a side note, if you happen to be one of the commenters referenced above and would like me to include your name or other identifier, just let me know. I'd just rather not name names without permission, especially when it involves what has turned into a divisive issue.)
The line in the image may mention "my daughter" as a justification for its message, but it isn't really about her. It's not even really about "your son". It's about a nebulously defined, poorly understood, often ignored amalgamation of various vaguely related categories of people. "Transgender", "non-conforming", "genderqueer", "trans*", "intersex", "cross-dressing", "androgynous", "transsexual", "genderfluid", "transvestite", "shemale", "fairy", "hermaphrodite", "tranny", "sissy", "butch", "tomboy", "nancy-girl", "pervert", "freak", "deviant", "queer", "godless heathen", and the ever-popular yet not particularly meaningful "fag"... whatever words you use, however accurate or inaccurate they may be, and however much or little you mean them as insults, these are the people who not only believe that there's more to a person than what's between their legs, but live it. These are the people that this is really about. And these are the people that it paints as worthy of your fear and deserving of your scorn.
But how much sense does it make to think that way? It's not as though there aren't already cities, school districts, and even entire states that have passed laws to prohibit discrimination by gender identity in public accommodations, thus officially permitting trans people to use whichever bathroom they feel is appropriate. These include state laws to this effect in Maryland since 2014; Delaware since 2013; Nevada, Connecticut, and Massachusetts since 2011; Colorado since 2008; Iowa, Oregon, and Vermont since 2007; New Jersey, Hawaii, and Washington since 2006; Illinois and Maine since 2005; and New Mexico and California since 2003. Rhode Island's state law on the issue dates all the way back to 2001, and while it may not be a very large state, that still gives us a period of fifteen years, with a population of more than a million people, to consider. If that's still not enough of a sample size, Minnesota, with a population of over five million, has also had a state law to this effect, since 1993. Even disregarding local ordinances (which cover a number of large cities, including New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Austin), that's quite a few states and quite a few years. You'd think if this were a disaster waiting to happen, there would be some sign of it by now. Yet there hasn't been. Law enforcement officials, government employees, and advocates for victims of sexual assault alike have declared it a non-issue. The predicted increase in sexual assault and rape hasn't happened, the predicted abuse of these laws hasn't occurred, and these laws have provided zero defense to anyone committing an actual crime. It could happen. And the ceiling could collapse on top of you while you're sitting on the toilet. But it simply isn't a realistic concern. Even victim advocacy groups call it an "unsubstantiated fear" and dismiss the supposed threat as "beyond specious". And, of course, even should an incident occur, nothing in any existing or proposed law would excuse perpetrators from punishment, any more than being allowed into a bank excuses robbing it.
Meanwhile, consider the choice not having a non-discrimination policy (or worse, having an explicitly exclusionary law) leaves transgender people who find themselves with a full bladder, or bowels, in a public area. They could use the "wrong" bathroom and hope no one notices they're not "supposed" to be there, or at least that it doesn't upset anyone and that they don't end up being harassed, assaulted, arrested, or worse. They could use the "right" bathroom and hope not to encounter anyone, or at least that it doesn't upset anyone and that they don't end up being harassed, assaulted, beaten, or worse. They could use the family restroom—assuming there is one at all, and that it isn't already in use—and hope no one uses that as an excuse to single them out for harassment, assault, stalking, or worse. Failing that, they could hold it in, endure the discomfort or agony, and hope that nothing starts leaking and that it doesn't lead to any problematic medical conditions like urinary tract infections (if that doesn't sound so bad, just try going through a whole work or school day without any bathroom visits, then imagine doing that on a regular basis). Even without getting into the inevitable psychological effects, are any of these acceptable choices? And what happens when people single out someone who has nothing to do with any of this for "looking" transgender—whatever they decide that means to them?
Excerpts from a Conversation
In trying to give the image in question the sort of rebuttal it deserves, I wound up in a conversation with the person who had shared it. Whether it had any meaningful impact remains to be seen, but the most anyone can do is try.
At this point, I need to introduce two very different laws currently in place that came up during the discussion. One of them, North Carolina's HB2, just recently went into effect, at the beginning of April 2016, and has already drawn a significant amount of, mostly negative, attention. In short, it bans people from using public bathrooms that do not correspond to their biological sex as specified on their birth certificates (on a side note, that also means that a biological female trying to avoid lines in an overcrowded women's room can be arrested for trying to use the men's room), regardless of their gender identity or expression (not, of course, that it acknowledges these as existing). It specifically overrides all local ordinances to the contrary, and perhaps more insidiously, also nullifies all local ordinances against discrimination of any other kind based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The other, California's AB 1266, passed in August 2013, expressly (many districts had already been following a similar policy even prior to the bill's passage) permits students to use facilities that correspond to their gender identity, regardless of their biological sex or what appears on their school records (though note that California already had a general non-discrimination law on the books since 2003).
So, here's part of that conversation, slightly edited to work properly without the original context. The arguments I was specifically addressing here were (1) if the law says that they can legally be in that bathroom, it makes it easier for the perverts to perpetrate their crime (never mind that I've never heard of a bill about giving "the perverts" access to anything), and (2) it's enough for the transgender folks to have a separate bathroom.
Does it actually make it easier for the perverts? There have been some infrequent cases of men masquerading as women (typically not, and possibly never, as transgender) to creep on people in women's bathrooms, but these have generally happened in times and places that didn't make any provisions for transgender people anyway. The perpetrators were undoubtedly prosecuted for their actions, which is as it should be, but the law didn't do a thing to keep them out. HB2 wouldn't have stopped them, AB 1266 wouldn't have excused them, and it's unlikely that either would have made any difference to their actions. If you do set up a law like HB2, though, that means requiring trans men to use the women's room just as much as it means requiring trans women to use the men's room—unless, of course, they've been able to get their birth certificate changed, which generally isn't an easy process, where it's allowed at all. Regardless, now you have not just people with breasts and other feminine features that the law expects to use the men's room, but also people with full beards and other masculine features that the law expects to use the women's room. Isn't that the scenario that's more likely to make it easier for the perverts? They wouldn't even have to dress up to claim they belong wherever they want! And don't forget that women can be predators, too, or that predatory men don't necessarily target women exclusively (isn't that what a lot of the fuss over "the gays" has been about?). And if anything happens to the trans people who are so out of place in their law-approved bathroom, well, they just brought it on themselves, as far as all too many people, police included, are concerned. As for separate family and unisex bathrooms, while they can help, they aren't available everywhere, and I can't say that I agree relegating all the "others" there is the right move anyway (especially since just using one automatically marks you as "different"), unless mixed bathrooms become the default for everyone, with gendered bathrooms available merely as supplements for those people who don't feel comfortable otherwise. Maybe it would be easier to just lock up public bathrooms entirely and be done with it. Or, we could hold people accountable for the actions they do take, not those they have the opportunity to take, otherwise everyone would need to be arrested.
You can read more about some of these incidents on Snopes. "The man did not identify himself as transgender; the man did not engage in activity protected under non-discrimination ordinances; and the man's alleged actions were not deemed acceptable by people who support non-discrimination ordinances," reads one entry, adding, "The incident had nothing to do with bathroom ordinances, it involved unquestionably illegal actions, and the individual identified was arrested and charged ... a charge that would also be applicable in any jurisdiction that permitted transgender individuals to use bathrooms aligned with their gender." Similarly, another entry notes, "The case wasn't in any way related to transgender bathroom controversies; no provision of any bill or policy allowed men to enter women's restrooms; photographing anyone in bathrooms or restrooms without their knowledge or consent is illegal," and concludes, "Claims that such behavior was a result of transgender individuals using bathrooms were easily disproved." Even if they were relevant, though—which they plainly aren't, considering that neither man tried claiming to be transgender or attempted to use any non-discrimination rules as a defense, and that no laws in any way excused their actions—a few isolated incidents would hardly amount to the epidemic that detractors keep insisting is sure to come.
On that note, the Charlotte Observer did some digging and found only three verifiable instances of crimes committed by biological males in women's restrooms or locker rooms in the United States over the past 17 years. None involved sexual assault or rape, none had any evidence of involving transgender people, none occurred in jurisdictions where transgender people had legal permission to enter in the first place, and none of the perpetrators would have been excused of what they did even if they had been transgender and had been allowed entry. To help put that in perspective, more people have been arrested in just the past two years for climbing the Brooklyn Bridge suspension cables to take selfies. Similarly, we think of being struck dead by lightning as extremely rare—largely because it is—yet dozens of people in the United States die that way each year, making it hundreds of times more common an occurrence.
Another more recent case, involving a Seattle man in a women's locker room, has similarly generated a lot of chatter online, much of it misleading and inflammatory. The limited information available indicates that he slipped into the room during a busy time, took off his shirt, claimed, "The law has changed and I have a right to be here," and left with little fuss when asked to. The commotion about it tends to ignore that the man never claimed (either explicitly by saying so or implicitly by appearance or behavior) to be transgender or identify as female, that there's no evidence he actually did anything beyond standing there with his shirt off, and that he left before there was any reason for the authorities to get involved. His statement also rarely gets any meaningful analysis. Superficially, it relates to the current debate, but Washington state law has banned discrimination based on gender identity since 2006. The Washington State Human Rights Commission did clarify late in 2015 that existing law allows transgender people to use bathrooms and locker facilities consistent with their gender identity, but the only recent change to any related law in Seattle involves an ordinance that requires all single-occupancy facilities to be non-gendered. There's nothing new that relates to multiple-occupancy facilities, and certainly nothing that would give someone who is in every discernible way male the right to stroll into a women's locker room. So, either he's clueless, or this was some kind of stunt, most likely political in nature. The timing of the event points toward a political stunt, given that it happened only days before the State Senate voted on a bill that, had it gone into law, would have revoked protections for transgender people. It's always possible that's just a coincidence, but given how rarely incidents like this happen at all, I'm inclined to view the whole thing skeptically, especially since he made a point of trying to connect his presence to the topic.
As for expecting all the trans people to use separate bathrooms, let's not forget that "trans" isn't a uniform, or even a clearly-defined, category. Let's also not forget how recently public facilities read "Ladies", "Gentlemen", and "Colored". Tellingly, no one seemed to care about those little girls having to share bathrooms with men, as long as the lot of them all kept their distance. No, the hysterical rhetoric then was about the supposed dire consequences of letting the "colored" people share the same bathrooms as white people. Most of us have gotten over it. Unfortunately, some of that attitude still lingers, though, and if you happen to be transgender and a racial minority, those biases just feed off each other and make it that much more hazardous to be you. Beyond that, what information I've been able to find on bathroom history also suggests that much of the reason we have sex-segregated bathrooms at all dates back to a combination of centuries-old notions that women are necessarily physically and mentally frail, and efforts to discourage women from leaving the home by designating existing bathrooms as male only. It seems this was around the same time women had to use separate entrances to such places as stores and workplaces, lest they be overwhelmed by too much exposure to masculinity. If that has any connection to the safety of the ladyfolk, it's in an insultingly condescending manner.
In any case, how would trying to enforce that kind of law work? Either everyone minds their own business and no one knows the difference (as is already the case pretty much anywhere that doesn't have any explicit rules one way or the other, and undoubtedly also in many places that do), or anyone who doesn't quite look "normal" is practically guaranteed to face harassment or worse no matter how much the law or common sense or both say they belong there, or someone has to be stationed by the bathrooms to check IDs (which aren't directly relevant under HB2) or birth certificates (which people don't normally carry around with them), or maybe just grope everyone who walks by (which again doesn't match the way that HB2 defines biological sex, not to mention that I can't imagine a worse way to protect people from sexual assault than subjecting them to it).
Unsurprisingly, North Carolina seems to have no idea how to enforce it, either. The law, which was rushed through the legislature and signed into law in a single day over the objections of the third of the Senate that walked out in protest, didn't bother to include any specifics on that note. Additionally, it puts schools in particular in an awkward position, since they're also expected to follow federal Title IX rules, especially since the Departments of Education and Justice have, in response to inquiries from schools and parents seeking guidance, reiterated their stance that schools receiving federal funds may not discriminate against transgender students.
Meanwhile, the governor who signed the bill is trying to lay the blame for HB2 on the Charlotte city council for forcing the issue (by renewing and being more specific about existing protections), and manages to simultaneously acknowledge that it's "a very complex issue" while also characterizing the whole mess as a conspiracy designed to hurt his re-election bid. He apparently fails to see the irony inherent in complaining about the backlash not allowing for any dialogue when the law was introduced, passed, and signed at a pace that seems to have been specifically intended to prevent discussion. It does sound like he's done some good things for the state's economy—before HB2 provoked boycotts, anyway—but I get the impression he's completely out of his depth here. Meanwhile, even as he complains about how much the situation is hurting him, the call volume to Trans Lifeline, a crisis hotline for transgender people, has spiked to unprecedented levels since the law's passage. Transgender and gender non-conforming people already have unusually high rates, not only of suicide attempts—not to mention being raped and murdered—but also of being bullied at school, facing discrimination at work, becoming homeless, being refused treatment by healthcare providers, suffering rejection by family members, and experiencing physical and sexual violence at school and at work and even from the law enforcement officers who ought to be arresting predators instead of imitating them. A law that effectively codifies the message "we don't want you around" doesn't exactly help.
This governor also seems to have a very curious definition of "government overreach". His objection to it was one of his stated reasons for opposing the Charlotte ordinance. Evidently, though, he doesn't feel that it's overreach to sign a statewide law on the issue instead of letting cities decide how to run themselves. Yet now that the federal Department of Justice has announced plans to cut federal funding to the state, he's calling that overreach and has filed a lawsuit. So to summarize, apparently a city government making a rule that only affects itself is overreach, but the state government making a law to cancel the rule and affect the rest of the state in the process is not overreach, but the federal government giving the state less money that has had strings attached all along is overreach. While I'm leery of what amounts to the federal government using taxpayer money to bribe states into doing what it can't or won't require them to do, it's hard to imagine how the DoJ's response to North Carolina's law is any more overreaching than North Carolina's response to Charlotte's ordinance. The governor's idea of "government overreach" apparently involves either "something a body of government that isn't mine does" or "something a government does that I don't like." Neither one of those inspires much confidence.
Anyway, back to that conversation.
Coming at it from a different angle, how's this? If the law says people can legally have public gatherings, that makes it easier for riots to break out. And if the law says people can legally expect some degree of privacy in bathrooms, that makes it easier for shoplifters to hide stolen merchandise, not to mention all the things "those creepy trannies" are supposedly doing in there, never mind that more politicians have been arrested for improper behavior in bathrooms even in the past few years than people so much as claiming to be transgender have ever been. And if the law says people can legally own guns, that makes it easier for maniacs to go on shooting sprees. And if the law says bars can legally operate and serve alcohol, that makes it easier for the unscrupulous to spike drinks, or to just take advantage of those who have had too much. And just think of how many traffic accidents we could prevent simply by not letting people drive cars! But we wouldn't ban public gatherings, few of us would tolerate cameras in every bathroom stall, we're not likely to outlaw guns, we haven't closed down the bars, and cars aren't going away any time soon despite the flaws inherent in the system.
Meanwhile, no matter what the law says, if the prevailing attitude is that transgender people are to be feared, that makes it easier for a nominally Christian supposed legal advocacy group, after finding to its frustration that AB 1266 meets with "nothing but positive results", thus thwarting its efforts to find a plaintiff for a lawsuit and forcing it to expand into other states its desperate search for someone—anyone—victimized by trans-friendly bathroom policy to use as a sign of dire things to come, to then, still unable to find any actual complaints, simply pick a transgender "predator" as the focus of a sensational "nightmare scenario" involving hounding girls in the bathrooms and regularly making "sexually harassing comments" with the full support of a school that responds to anyone trying to make a complaint with "penalties ranging from charges of hate crimes to dismissal from school sports"... and despite this completely fabricated story being quickly debunked (the only bits of truth to it were that a transgender student did exist and was sharing facilities with everyone else, and that some parents had voiced concerns), and both the administration and the supposedly victimized students at the Colorado school in question standing up for the alleged "predator", it still ends up receiving enough media attention, and drawing enough violent threats, to put the falsely accused teenager on suicide watch. I wish this were only hypothetical.
That legal advocacy group, incidentally, is the ironically-named Pacific Justice Institute, which would later see its attempt at having AB 1266 removed by petition fall flat, despite extensive use of more inflammatory lies in its campaign to get signatures. One signature gatherer claiming to work for the Oakland school district specifically alleged that "we've had a couple of rapes, we've had molestations" (when asked, the district responded, "We have not received reports of sexual assault or sexual harassment perpetrated by transgender students") and demonstrated an utter lack of comprehension by mentioning "teenage boys ... going into girls' bathrooms saying they're gay" (emphasis added). The PJI has since been designated as a hate group for its indefensible and utterly unjust tactics. Not that it seems to care about that part, any more than it seems to care about the harm it's done to innocent people. The latest news I've been able to find on the subject involved the group and its allies trying to cry foul play after the state was unable to verify enough of the signatures on their petition to qualify it for a ballot referendum. Sadly, the group is acting far more concerned with being "right" than with being in the right.
It's curious how often people with similar attitudes come from religious backgrounds that tell of a spirit distinct from, and if anything more important and central to the self than, the body. Yet these same people insist on judging people only in terms of their body parts, and deny the possibility or reject the significance of a psychological gender not strictly defined by physiological sex. It boggles the mind.
Bigotry By Any Other Name Still Smells as Foul
That conversation and its background information were originally going to be the whole post, but no sooner, it seemed, had I started editing it than a more verbose narrow-minded editorial appeared in the local newspaper (by Chris Freind, published 2016-04-17). This is only an issue at all, he claims, "because a small but vocal minority refuses to see"—as if there were nothing to discuss and no real concerns, just a not-truly-significant number of stubborn fools—"that the law is rooted in common sense and safety, not bigotry." Isn't it pretty much the essence of bigotry to dismiss offhand the viewpoints of people you disagree with, to make blanket judgments without justification on people you don't understand, and to assume, as he goes on to do, that they must be dangerous? As for common sense and safety, I've already noted how well documented the case against that is. He then asserts that "many extremists are deliberately employing hateful rhetoric in the hopes of igniting a flashpoint," which I can actually agree with him on, just not in the way he means it. Consider how this very editorialist characterizes the people he disagrees with as blind extremists who just want to cause trouble, yet fails to provide a single example of this supposed hateful rhetoric (people being people, it's probably out there, but doesn't seem at all prevalent from what I can find). Consider how the PJI treated an innocent teenager who never did anything to them and had only a tangential connection to their crusade. Consider how many anti-trans arguments boil down to equating "transgender person" with "man in a dress" (perhaps tellingly, they always seem to overlook trans men, not that a "woman in pants" would generate much outrage anyway) and "pedophile" or "predator", or at best "delusional head case", and assuming without evidence (or, more accurately, against evidence) that it would cause nothing but trouble to let transgender people use appropriate bathrooms—even though many of the people this would apply to have already been doing so for quite some time. Oddly enough, the editorialist inadvertently makes this very point: "It's always worked before, so why the big controversy now?" Why indeed. If it's always worked before, why was there such urgency to pass HB2? Why have so many other bills been introduced across the country that would specifically tie bathroom access to genitalia, birth certificates, or even DNA? Most likely because society as a whole is only beginning to recognize the existence of "transgender" at all—it's hard to feel apprehensive about, or villainize, what's beneath your notice.
And the emotionally-charged hypotheticals! "What parents in their right minds would feel comfortable sending their young daughter into the ladies' bathroom where a man, acting on 'feelings' alone"—note the offhand dismissal of being transgender as nothing more than insubstantial whimsy—"might be using the same facility?" The same parents that would send their young daughter into any public facility full of strangers, I'd assume. Yet even the manliest of men is no danger to her if all he's doing is using the facilities, and if they're that worried about her safety, why aren't they accompanying her? "A father out with his 5-year old daughter can take her into the men's room"—how is taking a little girl into a bathroom full of men not a concern if keeping men away from little girls is so critical?—"but when she is 8 or 9, that doesn't cut it. So what then?" We're apparently expected to assume that she has nothing to fear from female strangers as long as no one in the ladies' room is trans, and that the mother out with a son of 8 or 9 should have no qualms about sending him into a room full of unfamiliar men. Either way, that sounds more like an argument for more family or unisex bathrooms than like anything that supports the point the writer is trying to make. "And what about locker rooms?" What about them? I thought bathrooms were the topic at hand. There is some connection, though, so I'll humor the digression. "While high school boys would love nothing more than legally accessing the girls' locker room"—the overly libidinous heterosexual ones without a care for other people's feelings, perhaps; everyone with a different sexual preference or any shred of self-control always seems to be conveniently absent in these hypotheticals, along with any mention of how rare any relevant trouble has been—"it would create an environment of fear and anxiety in a place that should be private and secure." Has the editorialist ever been to high school? I've never known a school locker room to be particularly private or secure, and splitting up boys and girls just seems to make bad behavior worse. Fewer witnesses, less accountability, more pressure to fit in or face the consequences... if anything, an environment of fear and anxiety is already more the norm than not. In any case, school districts have already been dealing this question for years. Pleading "trans" doesn't excuse anyone of anything, and there are guidelines in place to prevent abuse. In particular, no one is going to believe a boy who only tries to claim that he identifies as female when it's time for gym class. "And while an assault or rape there would still be illegal"—yes, it most certainly would, reluctant as some seem to concede even that point—"the liability that now exists—" You know what, never mind. Trying to frame this in terms of "safety and security, especially for women", then detouring to liability, of all things, just doesn't work. If safety and security are what you care about, whether you can sue the school should barely be an afterthought, if that, and certainly not part of the case you're trying to make.
"No one is saying you can't be transgender." Except that mocking the very idea of it does just that. You can't be something that doesn't really exist, after all! "No one is saying you can't be transgender in public." As long as you never need to pee, I suppose, and don't mind living with a law that treats you like a dangerous threat just for being who you are. "No bigotry." Unless judging the entirety of a varied demographic on the basis of assumptions and unsubstantiated fears counts. "No hatred." Perhaps not as such, but it's no better to dismiss legitimate concerns offhand and counter with scare tactics. "No nonsense." Really? A more appropriate list of "no"s might have been "no understanding, no respect, no sympathy".
Paying Too Much Mind to Other People's Business
Another editorialist with a similar message followed not long after, and almost had me laughing, since she practically proves the point she's arguing against with her opening statements (Christine Flowers, published 2016-04-23). "The other day, I was sitting in a public bathroom stall, and it occurred to me that since this wasn't North Carolina I might be within tinkling distance of someone doing their business standing up"—never mind that trans women generally prefer to sit regardless, even without the risk of hostile reactions from people—because "there are no explicit prohibitions against individuals with penises carrying them into the ladies facilities." To begin with, being in North Carolina wouldn't really change that. I have no doubt that a significant number of people will continue to use bathrooms based on where they feel less likely to face a confrontation, regardless of what's on their birth certificates. Whether you're in North Carolina, California, or Target, there's rarely anything more than a door, social pressure, and the nebulous threat of retaliation if caught to keep anyone out of any given bathroom. It's not like public bathrooms normally have security guards or body scanners or DNA analyzers or magical barriers of some sort at the entrance. Still, that's little more than a side note.
She's quite right that you don't know whether someone in another stall has a penis. But you shouldn't be able to tell, unless you're going out of your way to be voyeuristic. That's the whole point of privacy, and an important part of safety. By the same token, you don't know whether they're short or tall, or rich or poor, or conservative or liberal or statist or libertarian, or Protestant or Catholic or Mormon or Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist or atheist or none of the above, or gay or straight or bisexual or asexual or pansexual or something else, or what their skin color is, or what they're wearing, or where they live, or where their family came from, or what foods they prefer or have allergies to, or what their hobbies are, or what medications they're taking, or, unless they decide to tell you, anything else except that they're disposing of bodily wastes in a sanitary manner. And as long as they're minding their own business, you have no justifiable reason to care. On the other hand, as soon as someone starts causing problems... it still doesn't matter who they are. Improper behavior is improper behavior, no matter who it's coming from, and a miscreant without a penis is just as much a miscreant as one with a penis. Banning transgender people from a bathroom doesn't do anything to stop already illegal activities, and neither does sanctioning bathroom use by transgender people make illegal activities any less illegal.
The editorialist predictably continues with many of the usual inflammatory yet hollow attacks. Mocking the concept of gender identity as "against all objective evidence" regardless of all the evidence that would beg to differ, complaining about being "slapped in the face" with all this gender stuff as if it were a personal insult designed specifically to upset her instead of a legitimate issue with serious implications that she's nonetheless perfectly free to ignore if she wants, claiming that the idea of extending some basic human dignity to people who don't fit society's idea of normal really means "there is no longer any normal" and assuming that this would necessarily be a bad thing, calling non-discrimination in public facilities "a recipe for disaster" even though reality has thoroughly debunked that... and, of course, the predictable nonsense claim that "a man who is in all respects a man can assume the façade of being 'transgender' to then abuse children in the bathroom," as if letting people pee without being harassed were the same as eradicating all the morals and laws against sexual assault that have ever existed, and as if the potential for someone to misuse the rules automatically outweighed every other possible concern. The other thing that really got me, though, was her claim that "the LGBT pushback against a very reasonable law... stinks of totalitarianism." Come again? I can't imagine how it could be more totalitarian for individuals and private businesses to freely decide to protest an innately problematic and unreasonable law than for an intrusive government to insist on checking birth certificates as a prerequisite for letting people use a toilet.
Hypocrisy is Stranger than Fiction
And I keep finding more to add. Some months ago, Target, the major discount retail chain, made the decision to organize toys by type instead of labelling them by gender. In other words, they've discontinued a practice that has only been common for the past few decades anyway. This decision turned out to be inexplicably controversial. Some people seem to be missing that Target isn't changing what toys they're stocking, or trying to tell anyone what to buy. Just the opposite—they're trying not to tell people what not to buy. Similarly, anyone worried that they won't know what to get their kids now should consider that if they can't tell the difference without the labels, there never was a meaningful difference in the first place. But I digress. Target has more recently addressed the bathroom controversy by making an official statement to denounce discrimination and welcome transgender people "to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity" (though, at least in every store in my region, everyone shares a bank of private non-gender-specific fitting rooms to begin with, making that part a non-issue already). Since Target does not now and did not previously police bathroom access, which is typical of publicly accessible bathrooms everywhere I'm familiar with, this makes very little difference in practice. At most, it means that transgender people who are just trying to use the facilities will have one less thing to worry about, and that everyone else should now know better than to expect the store to back them up if they try to make trouble for someone who isn't causing any. However, after the amount of hostility over the toy decision, it should come as no surprise that this isn't going over well with some people, either.
The American Family Association, possibly the most outspoken critic, has bluntly stated, "Target's policy is exactly how sexual predators get access to their victims," though naturally without providing any evidence to support this claim. But it sounds plausible enough if you don't look into the facts, and it provokes a visceral reaction, so that's evidently good enough for them. More recently, the group claims to have started "testing" the policy by sending men into women's rooms. I'm not sure I follow the reasoning behind putting men in the ladies' room because there might be men in the ladies' room. If there are men there because the AFA put them there, that doesn't really prove anything. So what are they hoping to accomplish? If any trouble does occur, it would stem directly from them going out of their way to deliberately defy Target's policy, since, while I admit to being curious about whether they make any effort to appear feminine, I somehow doubt that any of these test subjects identify as anything other than male. And if they take things a step further and decide to cause trouble, then I think it would be fair to say the AFA poses more danger to the general public than transgender people ever have. On the other hand, if nothing happens—if everyone does their business without incident, with no hysteria, no assault, no abuse, no rape, nothing—wouldn't that just demonstrate that they're overreacting? I think their goal is to show how easily men can enter the women's room under Target's policy. That's not what it shows, though. It just shows how easy it has always been for men to enter the women's room. And since, as already noted, Target's policy does not allow for what they're doing, it also shows how easily someone who so wishes can ignore whatever rules are in place. That just illustrates how irrelevant transgender bathroom policy is to keeping women safe, and negates safety as an argument against accommodating trans people. I simply can't come up with any possible outcome to this that actually supports their point.
Maybe they should try putting men in dresses and sending them into men's rooms. I have a feeling that would do more to demonstrate who really has to fear for their safety in public bathrooms. On the other hand, I've also heard reports of apprehensive women carrying guns into bathrooms. If any of the AFA's "scouts" should happen to find themselves staring down the barrel of a gun just for walking through the door, perhaps it would give them an inkling of why trans people often find public bathrooms so terrifying. Not that I'd wish it on them, especially since I'm skeptical that they'd actually learn anything meaningful from the experience regardless.
It would be better for everyone to focus some of these efforts where they would have a chance to do some good. If bathrooms don't have enough privacy for you, pressure designers and policy makers to build better bathrooms with more privacy. If you don't like the idea of parents having to send young children of the opposite sex into public bathrooms alone, or similar scenarios involving elderly or disabled people with opposite sex caretakers, consider the advantages of unisex bathrooms, or at least push for more family restrooms. If you're worried about victims of sexual assault, do something help to care for those victims—disproportionately many of whom are transgender themselves—instead of acting as though chasing a phantom threat will help anyone. But don't place a false sense of security over the actual safety of real people. Don't try to claim protecting people as your motivation even as you demonize people who have done you no harm. And don't pretend that there's nothing to discuss until you've at least made an effort to understand why so many people are so adamant that there most certainly is.
Reference sources not specifically linked to above and other sites with more details, most of which include more links to more sources, include:
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