For most Americans, using the bathroom is a right we often take for granted. Those of us who are cisgender (identifying with the gender that corresponds to our physical anatomy) generally don’t have to worry about crazy strangers following us around and scrutinizing our every move whenever we need to take a moment to relieve ourselves.
If you are a transgender person (someone whose gender identity differs from that with which they were born), however…in this society, you’re not so fortunate.
North Carolina’s House Bill 2 – passed in late-March – has caused an uproar that’s rippled across our nation’s political spectrum. Conservatives defend the law as a supposed “safeguard” against pedophiles and sexual predators who purportedly attempt to pass themselves off as a person of the opposite sex in order to prey on victims in sex-segregated restrooms and locker rooms.
Unfortunately, the effects of this hastily-conceived law have been dire. It has led to outright harassment and vigilantism against transgender people – and toward the LGBT community as a whole.
One of the biggest misconceptions about HB2 is that all it does is regulate which gender can use which restroom. The legislation actually goes farther than that. It removes the possibility for local control over cities and townships choosing to set a citywide minimum wage higher than North Carolina’s $7.25 statewide standard. It also strips every city and municipality in North Carolina of the ability to make laws that protect citizens from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It prohibits state employees from filing individual civil lawsuits on the grounds of employment discrimination – be it based on sex, race, nationality, ethnicity, or age.
Essentially, it pisses all over the ideals of limited government and local control that conservatives so fervently claim to espouse. Pun intended.
“Many police officers and law enforcement officials in larger North Carolina cities have actually implied they believe the law is silly, and have no intention of enforcing it.”
The cruel irony of this new law is that many police officers and law enforcement officials in larger North Carolina cities have actually implied that they believe the law is silly – and have no intention of enforcing it.
When you travel to suburbia or out into more rural areas, however, it’s a whole other matter. Sheriffs and deputies “out in the sticks” often have nothing better to do, given the comparable lack of serious crime while they’re out on patrol. Rural police are more likely to harbor bigoted attitudes toward groups that they might not personally understand. And some of them may go patrolling their jurisdictions, intentionally looking for trouble – sort of like how bored cops drive around college towns searching for anything remotely suspicious that students might be up to, in order to meet some artificial quota of citations.
That’s only the start of the problem. When the general public sees police officers anywhere targeting those who get branded as so-called “deviants,” it emboldens civilians to flaunt their own bigotry and hatred toward those who are different. And it’s not just in North Carolina. In many other states across the nation, this stigma has reverberated…“inspiring” ordinary citizens to threaten others with violence.
It’s very dangerous to leave these laws up to “local discretion” if the relevant legal authorities can’t be entrusted to practice common sense. Have we really become so paranoid that we’re going to require everyone to carry their birth certificates with them whenever using a public restroom?
“Have we really become so paranoid that we’re going to require everyone to carry their birth certificates with them whenever using a public restroom?”
When politicians pass these laws targeting transgender people, it creates a domino effect. A social media bubble expands, causing people to feel as though they suddenly have the right to act truly awful toward others. Vowing to follow their wives and children to public restrooms for protection. Threatening to beat up masculine-looking people in the ladies’ room or feminine-looking people in the men’s room. Interpreting this vocal backlash against transgender people as some broad validation of their own ignorance.
Here’s the reality: transgender people are more likely to be the victims of assault or homicide based on their gender identity compared to any other group in society. By attempting to sexually-profile possible trans women and trans men – seeking to preemptively ban them from using public facilities – our society is saying they’re so “worthless” that no one should even attempt to understand their gender identities.
If your concern is to legitimately protect children from pedophiles – or protecting adults from rapists – then create stronger laws against pedophilia or rape. But most trans women in women’s bathrooms or trans men in men’s bathrooms are already extremely uncomfortable or fearful of how they’ll be perceived. The last thing they want is to make cisgender people feel unsafe or uncomfortable. And for anyone to jump to the conclusion that they are “predators” is patently absurd.
Furthermore, if we opine that a transgender person should just “suck it up” and use the restroom corresponding to the anatomy with which they were born – that’s heading down the same slippery slope that conservatives so frequently claim to want to avoid. It would be like telling a homosexual person to “suck it up” and deceive themselves into marrying someone of the opposite sex – even if romantically, sexually, or spiritually incapable of doing so. Or telling a Christian person to “suck it up” and go worship at a synagogue, temple, or mosque – even when that’s not the faith they genuinely believe in. Or telling a person of color to “suck it up” and associate only with others of similar skin pigments – even though we’re supposed to be well past the days of slavery and separate drinking fountains.
I’ll never forget the personal account from a friend of mine with whom I attended college. She happened to be a lesbian – and not specifically transgender – but possessed some rather “masculine” features (i.e. having a deep voice, wearing her hair short). There had been times when she’d gone to use the women’s restroom on our college campus…and some girls, upon seeing her enter the bathroom, would scream out loud in fear, clearly mistaking my friend for a man. It happened to her on more than one occasion, too.
This goes back to how our society embraces gender roles while placing so many antiquated expectations upon women and men: how we’re supposed to sound, look, think, or carry ourselves when around others. And it’s creating even more fear and divisiveness amongst our citizenry. So what’s the solution?
Some leftists say that sex-segregated bathrooms and locker rooms should be eliminated altogether. Why not make all restroom and changing facilities gender-neutral, by default? In an ideal world, this would be very easy to do. But we live in an imperfect world full of discomfort and self-consciousness. A critical mass of men and women only feel comfortable urinating, extricating, or removing clothes in front of those with the same anatomy as them.
Rather than shaming those of us who have these preferences, we could instead be taking practical steps to make gender-neutral options more readily available – albeit not as the only option. New facilities should be designed with gender-neutral restrooms and “unisex” family changing rooms as part of their architecture.
Retrofitting older buildings for this purpose is a little more challenging…but it can be done. All single-occupancy (as opposed to communal) restrooms should be made inherently gender-neutral. For existing buildings with sex-designated bathrooms, some of them – most likely, the ones on lower floors – should be converted into gender-neutral restrooms…while, simultaneously, sex-segregated restrooms can still be available throughout other floors of the same building. Santee Education Complex – a high school in Los Angeles – recently implemented this model as a way of accommodating transgender and cisgender students alike.
Moreover, gender-neutral bathrooms shouldn’t be intended to segregate transgender people away from everyone else. If a specific restroom is gender-neutral, then everyone must be welcome there. That would also benefit parents who are chaperoning young children of the opposite sex…or adults who accompany other adults of the opposite sex in order to provide assistance when their companions have severe cognitive or physical disabilities.
Transgender people are not the problem. In fact, along with the bigots and socially-conservative policy engineers, the people who I find disgusting are those annoying “helicopter moms” who just barge right into men’s bathrooms or male locker rooms because their young sons are “dawdling.” These worried moms are so paranoid about the fear of their boys are being molested in a room full of male strangers (many of whom, by the way, are very likely to be compassionate fathers, themselves!) that they feel entitled to violate the comfort levels of vulnerable men (or other young boys) who are partially or fully exposed in stages of undress.
Of course, if a father chaperoning his young daughter was to similarly barge right into the ladies’ room or a female locker room in order to retrieve his lollygagging little girl – we’d almost instantaneously be pressing charges against him as a “sex offender.” Gotta love those gynocentric double standards, huh?
The goal shouldn’t be to prohibit all restrooms or locker rooms across-the-board from being male-only or female-only. As a male, I understand – and advocate for – sacrosanct areas where males can be ourselves exclusively around each other. Likewise for females to have those such spaces for themselves. Our society’s objective, rather, should be greater inclusiveness of people (and their life circumstances) who don’t fall into neat, cookie-cutter little boxes.
It’s also a pervasive reality that, in most public buildings, women’s bathrooms have longer lines or more excruciating wait times compared to those of men. For this reason, I suspect that many women (cisgender and transgender alike) would be glad to use gender-neutral facilities as a third option alongside the traditional sex-segregated facilities. The same could be said for fathers accompanying their young daughters without any adult female guardians on their excursion.
North Carolina lawmakers should restructure HB2. At the very least, amend it so that it serves a bare minimum function: criminalize the patronage of same-sex bathrooms and locker rooms by people of the opposite sex, while creating exceptions for those who have had gender-reassignment surgery or are in the process of transitioning under medical supervision. Redact and strip away all of the other “pork”-like language within the bill that doesn’t literally protect people.
Of course, the most logical thing to do would be to simply repeal the entire bill and immediately replace it with another bill that outlaws predatory actions in both same-sex and gender-neutral public spaces. This would go a long way toward shifting the social trend of how public facilities are designed and built. It would prompt people to think twice when it comes to making assumptions about what’s underneath other people’s clothing based on someone’s physical features and mannerisms.
But we appear to live in a world where logic is lost on a lot of people. There always seems to be a chunk of the electorate who only want to give respect, compassion, and dignity to those on the same political page as them.