Dear Sen. Kolkhorst, So You Want Me to Use the “Women’s” Bathroom?

Senate Bill 3 requires people to use the bathroom in Texas government buildings and schools according to their gender marker on their birth certificate. My Texas birth certificate still says “Female,” even though I have medically transitioned to male. Senator Lois Kolkhorst, you have said, “Ask a woman how safe she feels when a man appears in a restroom.” Well, that is exactly what you have asked me to do. It is a frequent argument that sexual predators (presumably men) will “dress up” as transgender people and sexually assault women and children in bathrooms. A huge gap in this logic is that predators can already do this and, so far, not a single one has in the history of the United States.

I agree that we need to address the fact that we live in a rape culture, but scapegoating transgender people sidesteps the real issue: the inequality of power between genders. We live in a male dominated society, in which sexual assault and domestic violence are systemic rather than abnormal. Any violent act stems from the desire to establish and maintain power over someone, not from inherent deviance or moral corruption. So let’s begin by addressing the legacy of the disempowerment of women and children and what this really has to do with transgender people.

Recently transgender and gender non-conforming people (from here on referred to as “trans” or “GNC”) have met much resistance advocating for their right to use public facilities that match their gender identity. Just last year alone, at least 44 discriminatory anti-trans bills have been proposed, 29 involving restrooms. The restroom is a battleground perhaps because it is the primary place where gender is segregated. Gender is dominantly defined as female or male identity, a supposed opposition which supports systemic male privilege and dominance. The belief that men are fundamentally different from women is necessary for male privilege to exist. This power difference is perhaps the root of gender segregation. Trans people face so much resistance because their very existence challenges male privilege by rejecting this underlying gender power structure. Ultimately, while anti-discrimination legislation is important for trans and GNC people, real equality for any gender will not be achieved without re-evaluating basic attitudes about gender.

Gender Equality Toilet Training

Gender segregation in the restroom can be attributed to the justifiable fear of male assault and harassment of women and children. The fear of trans people using restrooms with everyone else (which they have been doing as long as there have been restrooms) is based on this fear, but confuses trans women as men and the fact that most rapists simply wouldn’t (and haven’t) gone through the trouble of disguising themselves as transgender before assaulting someone. Statistically, trans women are actually at the highest risk of being targets of assault (especially in public restrooms) and at the lowest risk of perpetrating assault. In fact, there have been no reports of trans people assaulting women or children in public restrooms in the U.S. ever.

Restrooms represent what fountains once represented for racial integration: no more than a symbol for the discomfort society feels sharing public spaces with oppressed groups. Racial desegregation of restrooms was once condemned based on fear that men of color would sexually assault white women. Just as the discourse surrounding racial integration of restrooms and other public areas questioned the humanity of people of color, current rhetoric around restrooms calls into question the very personhood of trans and GNC people. The issue doesn’t necessarily concern the bathroom itself, but rather underlying systems of privilege which result in discrimination.

Authorities and the media have historically portrayed “homosexuals” as child molesters and rapists, despite statistical evidence to the contrary. Conservatives are still using emotional appeals representing trans and GNC people as such, distracting voters from the institutionalized discrimination trans and GNC people face. Statistics show it is not primarily trans, GNC, or people of color who assault and harass women, but rather white, cisgender (people who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth), heterosexual men. As far as cisgender men “dressing up” as transgender women to sexually assault women, this is neither historically accurate nor plausible. Rapists are already breaking the law. Frankly, they aren’t going to be deterred by a bathroom bill.

Where Do You Stand or Sit? – The Arguments

Argument 1: Ban Transgender Use of Preferred Restroom

“I don’t want men who think they are women in my bathrooms and locker rooms,” a Marylander testified. “Males are always males. They cannot change. I’m here to stand up for women, children and their safety.” This position asserts trans people morally should not be allowed to use public facilities matching their gender identity. Gender is viewed as immovable and acquiesces to male dominance. This view seems to necessitate and normalize the fear that men will rape and kill if left alone with women and children, passively confirming rape culture without actually addressing it.

Argument 2: Create All-Gender Single-Use Restrooms

The creation of all-gender single-use restrooms in addition to gender segregated ones, a popular approach among progressives because each group still maintains their own space, supports the gender identity of anyone using such facilities, but still places them outside the societal norm. This system promotes the safety of trans or GNC individuals and, as such, is a commendable step toward equality. However, this view still holds the gender binary as normative and any other gender expression as “other.” 

Argument 3: Allow Trans People to Use Restroom of Choice

A slim majority agrees with simply allowing trans people to use their preferred restroom, perhaps because this promotes tolerance without having to question gender structure. This stance asserts that trans people have the right to express their gender identity, but only within the gender binary. This view does not question the binary structure that supports male privilege and the possible violence trans people face using gendered public facilities.

Argument 4: Make All Restrooms All-Gender

This position affirms that the notion of two sexes is a cultural construction. Many biologists agree that sexual identity is a complex network of chromosomes, hormones, and other factors that develop differently in each person, not just genitalia, rendering biological sex not binary at all. As one Yale graduate proclaims,  “Give it a generation, and the divvying-up of the sexes may seem as bizarre as racial segregation does now.” Sadly, because of the reality of rape culture, this may take quite some time.

Transgender Identity and Being Human

As a trans individual, I have faced situations where my presence challenges presumptions about gender. I present myself how I feel as a human, which often does not match societal expectations. I actually faced more trouble in women’s public restrooms before I transitioned and began using male restrooms, even though I identified as female most of that time. As such, I realize that laws such as North Carolina’s HB 2 and SB 3 are potentially dangerous for the safety of trans and GNC people, but also for anyone who falls outside gender norms. Conversely, I also recognize the debate around bathrooms as a transphobic fixation actually stalling gender equality. 

I believe that all restrooms should be all-gender. This supports not just all gender identities, but families as well. However, because we live in a society that still struggles with male dominance and the consequent normalization of male aggression, we may have to lead up to this revolution with an intermediary step. Supplying single-use all-gender restrooms, in addition to gender segregated restrooms, may be the best policy for protection from male violence that is still prevalent. Conclusively, I believe trans rights are important for all genders because their advocacy necessitates examination of the power structure of male privilege and rape culture. It’s not just about transgender rights, it’s about challenging the normalization of violence against women and children. It may be that if public spaces are gender desegregated,  the rights and equality of anyone not benefitting from male privilege may soon seem transparent.

 

References

Brydum, Sunnivie. “DOJ Sues North Carolina Over Anti-Trans HB 2.” The Advocate, 9 May 2016, http://www.advocate.com/transgender/2016/5/09/doj-files-federal-complaint-against-north-carolinas-hb-2

Fornarola, Isaac.  “Are Feminism and the Transgender Movement At Odds?” The Huffington Post, 8 Jan. 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/isaac-fornarola/are-feminism-and-the-tran_b_8882764.html. Accessed 5 Oct. 2016.

Frank, Gillian. “Stalling Civil Rights: Conservative Sexual Thought has been in the Toilet Since the 1940s.” NOTCHES, 9 Nov. 2015, http://notchesblog.com/2015/11/09/stalling-civil-rights/. Accessed 5 Oct. 2016.

Gerson, Jeannie Suk. “The Transgender Bathroom Debate and the Looming Title IX Crisis.” The New Yorker, 24 May 2016, http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/public-bathroom-regulations-could-create-a-title-ix-crisis. Accessed 5 Oct. 2016.

Grindley, Lucas. “Insightful Poll Reveals Who Opposes LGBT People on Two Big Issues.” The Advocate, 28 Sept. 2016, http://www.advocate.com/politics/2016/9/28/insightful-poll-reveals-who-opposes-lgbt-people-two-big-issues. Accessed 10 Oct. 2016.

Haas, Ann P., and Philip L. Rodgers. “Suicide Attempts Among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults.” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute, Jan. 2014, http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/AFSP-Williams-Suicide-Report-Final.pdf. Accessed 11 Oct. 2016.

Johnson, Allan G. The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. 3rd ed., Temple University Press, 2014.

Pandit, Eesha. “It’s Not Really About Bathrooms: Why the Trans Fight is About Human Rights.” Yes! Magazine, 13 May 2016, http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/gender-justice/its-not-really-about-bathrooms-why-the-trans-fight-is-about-human-rights-20160513.

Schulevitz, Judith. “Is It Time to Desegregate the Sexes?” The New York Times, 15 Oct. 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/16/opinion/sunday/is-it-time-to-desegregate-the-sexes.html?_r=0.

Steinmetz, Katy. “Everything You Need to Know About the Debate Over Transgender People and Bathrooms.” Time Magazine, 28 July 2016, http://time.com/3974186/transgender-bathroom-debate/.

—. “Why LGBT Advocates Say Bathroom ‘Predators’ Argument Is a Red Herring.” Time Magazine, 2 May 2016, http://time.com/4314896/transgender-bathroom-bill-male-predators-argument/?iid=sr-link1.

Tannehill, Brynn. “Debunking Bathroom Myths.” The Huffington Post, 2 Feb. 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brynn-tannehill/debunking-bathroom-myths_b_8670438.html.

Published by b.vonraven

Billy is a writer of songs and words, a painter and a draw-er, and a wanderer of wild places.

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