People have–how to put this?–certain sanitary needs. Men, women, young people, old people, all races; we all gotta go number one and number two. Straight people have to; gay people have to, and transgender people have to. We all gotta pee and we all gotta poo. And since America is a civilized society, we have provided sanitary and comfortable public spaces where we can take care of those needs with some measure of privacy. Typically, we have separate men’s and women’s restrooms. And generally, all of it works out just fine.
I suppose, to some extremely limited degree, transgender people might be said to complicate the issue of restrooms. Except that’s not really true. Gender dysphoria is a real thing. Transgender people aren’t confused about themselves. If someone who looks like a woman, and considers herself a woman, goes into the women’s restroom, no one thinks anything of it. It’s not like we can tell if she was born with male genitalia. And it’s not like we have any reason to care. In fact, generally, when we go to a public restroom, we pay as little attention as possible to the other people we’re in there with. What we do, and what we want everyone to do, is to conduct our sanitary business as quickly and anonymously as possible.
(We don’t like to think about it, which is why it can become comical when people do think about it. As, for example, with the several websites out there on the interwebs having to do with urinal etiquette. This one is my favorite. Haven’t found many corresponding comical women’s restroom etiquette sites. Odd, that.)
Except that oh-so-welcome restroom anonymity that we all rely on and are grateful for has disappeared, and the issue of which bathroom to use has suddenly become politicized. Now, suddenly, the fact that trans people have been using their own gender appropriate public restrooms for years has become a whole new thing.
The pattern has gone like this. It tends to start with well-meaning attempts to pass some local ordinance prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people, followed by conservative backlash. That’s what happened in Houston in 2014, and in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2015. In Houston, the local ordinance looked like a winner, until opponents raised the issue of transgender bathroom use. In North Carolina, the local bill passed, alarming the state legislature, which again used issue of trans folks using public restrooms as the wedge to pass a bill overriding the Charlotte bill, denying other LGBT rights. And anti-trans bathroom bills are pending in a number of other states.
We should be clear about this; this really isn’t about where people go potty. In North Carolina, people are required to use the bathroom corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificate. But central to gender dysphoria is the individual’s realization that s/he is, in the profoundest, most personal way, not the gender s/he was born with. Webmd.com covers it nicely. That’s what the North Carolina bill, and other similar bills in other states, denies.
These bills are the equivalent of legislators holding their hands over their ears and shouting ‘la la la la’ whenever anyone mentions transgender people. Which, of course, only has the effect of drawing unwelcome attention to what they’re doing. Next thing you know, Bruce Springsteen is canceling concerts, and businesses are moving out of state, and the federal government is filing lawsuits. Bathrooms are places where something messy is handled as neatly and cleanly as possible. These bills take that neatness and make it all messy again.
It’s important that we recognize this. The issue is not ‘which restroom should folks use.’ It’s ‘are transgender people dealing with a real condition.’ Is the central sexual and gender identity of a person what he or she says it is, or is that an issue that the state should decide for them?
Amazingly enough, though, that’s not how it appears on the right. The North Carolina bill is defended as a measure that protects young women from sexual predators. The idea is that trans women, or unscrupulous men dressing like trans women, could sneak into a women’s bathroom and harass or assault women. And that’s a potent argument, I suppose, because let’s face it, public restrooms are places where we all feel particularly vulnerable.
There is no factual basis for this fear, however. This article summarizes the existing evidence. Certainly, women are occasionally assaulted in public restrooms, but not by men pretending to be trans. Men do awful things sometimes. But assault and harassment are already illegal. A bill banning trans women from using women’s facilities would accomplish nothing. In addition to being almost impossible to enforce.
And yet the paranoia and fear this issue generates has become quite extraordinary. Watch Megyn Kelly’s takedown of Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. He consistently says ‘I don’t want an eight year old girl in a public restroom with a thirty year old man.’ ‘A man,’ asks Kelly, ‘or a transgender woman?’ That’s the key distinction and it’s one Patrick never manages to get his head around. To Patrick, there’s no such thing as a trans woman. Just a man in a dress, in a place where he shouldn’t be.
Here’s another expression of the same fear, from a Facebook post. And I know; it’s just a Facebook post. But it captures a certain level of paranoia so perfectly that I finally decided to use it:
As I recall from Roman/Hebrew history the Romans made it a law that all Hebrew brides had to be raped on their wedding night by a Roman officer to consummate the marriage. Finally the Jews rebelled and it was stopped.
This similar thing happened in Scotland when the King of England made it a law that all Scottish brides had to be raped by an English officer on their wedding night.
Principally I think that this Obama gender coed bathroom thing is similar and will foster a lot of feelings and many problems and I think cases of rape will go way up!
Yes, this person actually cites the imaginary medieval legend of ‘droit du seigneur’ as somehow similar to this bathroom controversy. It’s as though the Obama administration, for siding, quite properly, with the LGBT community, is not just indifferent to the epidemic of rapes that’s sure to follow, but actively encouraging it. ‘Cause, you know, Obama=pro-rape. And, by golly, that’s where we’re going to draw our line in the sand. Over bathrooms.
Obviously, this will eventually all die down. Six months from now, it won’t be an issue. But it’s interesting, isn’t it, that something as mundane as using a public restroom can become a battlefield in the cultural wars?