The Imaginary Trans People and Their Very Real Bathrooms
*A brief note on this piece: Written during the summer of 2016 as ACI was just forming, and as material to show the school or potential donors as we sought to get off the ground, this article allows us a window into the recent political past. In the wake of the Trump administration's decision to withdraw federal protections for transgender students, this article on North Carolina's notorious bathroom bill provides us with a chance to see how America's political environment and President Trump's own opinions have evolved.
“If Donald Trump dresses up as Hillary Clinton, he still can’t go to the girls’ bathroom,” proclaimed former presidential candidate Ted Cruz on his campaign trail back in April of 2016. “Lyin’ Ted,” as presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump calls him, would be more aptly named “Transphobic Ted.” Throughout his political career, Cruz has been a strong voice against the implementation of protections for those who do not conform to their assigned gender or reject the stringent gendered structure prevalent in Western culture. Cruz has advocated against everything from the protection of trans students to the service of trans people in the military.
More recently, Cruz and others have taken this fight to the bathroom.
Bathrooms have become a hot-button topic of debate amongst politicians as of late. Restrooms, as we all know, are typically single-sex. Thus, men cannot go into bathrooms meant for women and women are not allowed in bathrooms meant for men. So, you would think that if you identify as a man, you use the men’s room– but this is not the case everywhere.
In March, North Carolina passed House Bill 2, considered to be one of the most anti-LGBTQI laws currently in existence in the United States. According to the bill, state legislature now supersedes any non-discriminatory rules created by individual spaces serving the public (businesses, agencies, etc.). This statewide anti-discrimination act contains no protections for the LGBTQI community, effectively removing any safeguard that they may previously have had.
The section of House Bill 2 that has been focused on the most, however– and has given it its nickname, the “bathroom bill,” –is, conveniently, the first section of the five-part bill, which places stringent rules on the use of single-gender bathrooms in public facilities. The bill unequivocally states that it is one’s biological sex that determines which bathroom he or she can use. Thus, a trans female cannot use the women’s restroom even though she identifies as a woman because she was not born with female genitalia.
We have heard about this “bathroom bill” time and time again over the last few months. Some have dismissed this law, calling it a lot of fuss for such a small issue. Just use the bathroom and get out, they say. It doesn’t matter. Others have twisted the issue into one that pertains to the well-being of their children and the safety of those using public restrooms. “If I had a daughter,” I have heard people remark on multiple occasions, “I wouldn’t want her using the same restroom as a grown man.”
All of a sudden, society has begun to associate transgender people with rapists and child molesters. Anyone who claims to be “transgender”, they believe, must be disguising him or herself as the opposite gender in order to infiltrate bathrooms in which they do not belong. Last June, for example, former Arkansas Governor (and blatantly failed presidential candidate, like Cruz– there might be a trend here) Mike Huckabee joked that, if he was in high school at this time, he would have “found [his] feminine side and said, ‘Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today.’” Former Clueless star turned Fox News contributor, Stacey Dash, said without pause that she would rather trans people “go in the bushes” than endanger her daughter in the bathroom.
Somewhere along the line, a fear of pedophilia and masquerading molesters morphed into an excuse for transphobia. Many hide behind the perceived ever-present threat of child rapists and creeps lurking in every stall to disguise their biases. This unfounded fear and prejudice, in tandem with the belief that trans people should not use the bathroom corresponding to the gender with which they identify, are manifestations of the belief that trans people are not real, that one cannot choose their own gender, that one’s gender is the same as one’s biological sex. To these people, anyone who changes their “God-given” sex is acting against their nature.
And North Carolina agrees. According to the laws of the state of North Carolina, trans people are just pretending. Their problems are imaginary. What proof do you need of this ideology? Gender dysphoria, or distress related to one’s gender identity, is still listed as a disease in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (also known as the DSM). Sure, some progress has been made: according to the DSM-5, being transgender is no longer a “gender identity disorder.” But gender dysphoria is, even though being “distressed” about your gender is not something innate like depression or acute anxiety. No, gender dysphoria is, as psychologist Robin Rosenberg puts it, something rooted in the hostile environment we as a society have created surrounding the trans community. If gender dysphoria was actually a disease, it would be the gross machination of an intolerant humanity.
Too often, this discussion of trans people using the bathroom completely ignores the documented history of violence perpetrated regularly against the trans community. It ignores that this North Carolina law prevents trans people from using the bathroom that best ensures their own safety. Contrary to much of the blindly hateful rhetoric surrounding this issue, transgender people are not often the perpetrators of sexual assault or violence against cisgender people. Rather, it is the opposite: according to the National Coalition of Anti Violence Programs, 72% of homicides stemming from hate crimes in 2013 were committed against trans females, and 67% percent were committed against trans women of color. In 2015, at least 21 trans people were killed; a horrifyingly record-high number. The NCAVP also determined that trans women are almost twice as likely as anyone else to suffer from sexual assault.
Therefore, a trans female in the men’s room in North Carolina is statistically more unsafe than a trans female in the women’s room. Pedophiles are pedophiles, no matter their gender identity. “Transgenders” and “rapists,” on the other hand, are not two synonymous terms. In fact, if you follow the damning numbers presented above, cisgender people are more likely to be rapists than their transgender brethren. But no one would ever make that conclusion, right?
We live in a society that promotes the notion that gender is inherent. We follow strict gender roles, avoiding one thing because it is “too masculine” and another because it “makes me seem too girly.” Despite this widespread perception, gender is not inherent. Gender is a social construct. Why is our society so convinced that one must have a solidified idea of their gender in mind in order to behave appropriately? Gender roles are forced upon us from the moment we are born. Just look at cases of the birth of intersex babies (a baby who is born with both male and female reproductive organs). When doctors are faced with one of these births, they determine whether or not it is a boy by the size of its penis for fear that the child will be ostracized if it is not big enough. One’s genitalia, or lack thereof, should not determine one’s identity.
We find the preservation of gender roles to be so important to us that hate crimes are committed against those who are gender-fluid. Hypermasculinity, which stems from an inherent insecurity that one is not “man enough,” certainly contributes to sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. We’ve associated strength and power with masculinity and timidity with femininity for far too long, leading to a trend of aggression by cisgender males against cis women, trans women, and gay women. Worldwide, one in three women experience physical or sexual violence, usually by a male partner. Lesbians and trans women face the highest risk of gender-based violence, with trans women being 4.3 times more likely to be killed than any other group. If a man or woman, designated at birth to be so, feels more comfortable as the opposite gender, he or she cannot be denied this right. Article I of the Bill of Rights enshrines our freedom of expression. Congress cannot abridge this right; it must fiercely protect it, especially in this instance. If our leaders, our government, fail to do so, many more transgender men and women will die brutally, pointlessly, and prematurely.
As we continue to deny trans people their basic right to use a public bathroom when they need to pee or fix their makeup or simply have a place to hide from a crowded concert, we perpetuate the current, very dangerous trend of robbing them of their fundamental human rights. Should we passively allow this pattern of oppression to unfold, it will escalate into horror: just look at the recent heartbreaking massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, where forty-nine people were murdered by a man who did not believe in their humanity. If we can look beyond the antiquated notion of two genders and universally see trans people as people, then we can finally move past this gratuitous toilet talk and enter into a world where all humans are treated as humans—not as categories.
So, when Ted Cruz says, “If Donald Trump dresses up as Hillary Clinton, he still can’t go to the girls’ bathroom,” he disregards and disrespects the trans community entirely. Just know that even Donald Trump, a man hardly known for his moral rigidity, has come out against House Bill 2, stating that “there has been so little trouble” with trans peoples’ use of the bathrooms of their choice. Of the many, many facts Trump gets wrong, this is not one. If even he– the author of the plan to ban Muslims from the US and the man who called all Mexican immigrants “murderers and rapists”– sees the intolerant stupidity of House Bill 2, then maybe we could all agree on that as well. Let’s just let people use the bathroom.
(Overhead photo: Jonathan Drake/Reuters)