The Gay Agenda* #2: Let’s talk about bathrooms
I’m back with the next installment of The Gay Agenda. What outrageous desire am I sharing with you this time? Well, it turns out that non-gender-conforming people would like to be able to use the bathroom in peace without being accosted, abused, or attacked. Recently Offspring, who identifies as genderqueer, was approached by a woman in an airport bathroom. The woman was unhappy that someone she “read” as a teenage boy was in the women’s loo. Fortunately, after inspecting Offspring’s face, she decided that xe was a girl, and apologized. But what if she hadn’t? What would she have expected Offspring to do to prove which bathroom xe belonged in?
It happens that one group in California thinks they’ve found an answer to that question. The Pacific Justice Institute has filed paperwork with the California Attorney General’s office for a statewide ballot initiative that would require the owners and managers of government buildings to demand proof of gender from individuals before allowing them to use the bathroom.* You may be forgiven for suspecting that such a law would actually create more problems than it would solve. California is, apparently, not alone in introducing such measures. Florida’s House Bill 583 seeks to criminalize the use of the “wrong” restroom, including holding businesses, schools and public accommodations liable for not policing their bathrooms. Texas lawmakers have put forth four bills along the same lines. This is not something that is unique to the US. Other nations, including Canada and the UK are also embroiled, to some degree, in The Great Bathroom / Washroom / Toilet Debate. (Just a heads up that some of those links are friendly and some not so much. I didn’t link to any of the truly hater stuff, but even “neutral” articles can be distressing at times.)
* If you are not familiar with the initiative system, check out the CA SOS (Secretary of State) Initiative Guide.
I know that many of the people who present these initiatives and bills cannot be reasoned with, but I also know that the woman in the airport restroom was genuinely upset. Real fear is something that unreasoning haters can capitalize on, so I wanted to try to understand that fear. Offspring wasn’t doing anything aggressive or threatening. Xe wasn’t climbing up to peer into stalls. In fact, xe was tired, jet-lagged and washing xyr hands. At 17, 5’6” and barely tipping the scales at three digits, the closest xe comes to looking menacing is when sending out a do-not-approach glare at boys who foolishly consider hitting on xyr. The real threat xe poses is not to anyone’s actual well-being, but to the investment that most people have made (often without being aware of it) in the validity of a strict gender binary. The power of the binary affects nearly everyone’s subconscious assumptions, and it’s not easy to root out something that we aren’t even aware, at first, is there. Unfortunately, convincing people that they don’t need to fear the overthrow of the gender binary, and that there are other ways of structuring the world, is a pretty hard sell right out of the gate, so I thought that I would take on some of the more common arguments people use when they oppose allowing gender non-conforming individuals to attend to the calls of nature unmolested.
1) “It’s an invasion of my privacy” – We put up with a certain lack of privacy in the name of our own security when we travel on planes, and for the security of businesses when we use dressing rooms or hotels. Although the TSA comes in for a fair amount of criticism, there is not a big push to make all security procedures illegal. Likewise, we may be uncomfortable disrobing for a medical exam, so we ritualize putting on a hospital gown, and rely on the professionalism of our doctor. The actual heart of the privacy concern is the fear of voyeurism. Going into the toilet and looking at non-consenting individuals for sexual gratification (i.e. voyeurism) is already illegal. Beyond this, there is absolutely nothing to suggest that people who do not conform to culturally defined gender presentations are more likely to be voyeurs than anyone else. I have been accosted in toilets on two occasions, once as a child and once as an adult. Both times the individuals involved were straight cis-gender males. The danger did not come from non-gender-segregated bathrooms, but from a version of masculinity that was abusive in a gender specific way. This goes naturally to the next objection outlined below in #2. In the meantime:
– A better place to put your energy: Fighting actual voyeurism, such as up-skirt photos and revenge porn.
2) “Straight men will pretend to identify as women in order to go into the women’s toilet and assault women.” Raping women in the toilet is already illegal. Men who are unscrupulous enough to pretend to be women in order to have access to women to attack will already find ways. See above. The issue here is sexual assault, not the gender of people who need to pee. Municipalities which already have transgender non-discrimination laws (dubbed “bathroom bills” by opponents) have not seen a rise in sexual assaults associated with gender inclusive washrooms.
– A better place to put your energy: Supporting efforts to make all forms of sexual violence unacceptable including, for example, calling out friends if they make jokes that rely on rape, sexual preference, or gender for the punchline.
3) “It will be dangerous to children.” There are actually multiple dimensions to this one. The most obvious are extensions of numbers 1 and 2, above, and the same objections apply. When it comes to children, however, parents also fear that their children will see genitals that do not look like their own. I read site after site that said that this “was already happening!!!” but only one account that wasn’t of the vague “I’ve heard lots of stories” kind. The one story that showed up over and over was the Evergreen State College incident. To be honest, I couldn’t sort out the truth about that one from what I could source up on the internet. But, in this case, even if all of the most lurid accounts were correct, it is an issue of indecent exposure. Which is already illegal. Now it also happens that nudity is uncomfortable for many, many people in English-speaking cultures. Not for everyone, so if you are perfectly comfortable stripping down in a locker room, that’s great. But it’s possible to make more people, including many cis-gender people, more comfortable by putting individual changing stalls in locker rooms. Such changing rooms are also much more family-friendly.
– A better place to put your energy: Raising money for schools, pools, gyms, etc so that they can build private, family-friendly stalls in changing rooms.
4) “People in the toilet will check out my junk at the urinal.” I’m not a man, and I don’t use the men’s restroom. My basic opinion here is that no one should have to pee in semi-public any more than they should have to disrobe in semi-public if they are uncomfortable with it, never mind the surrounding gender(s). Give people genuinely private spaces to do the things that our society tells us are private, and there won’t be an issue.
– A better place to put your energy: Starting a non-profit to raise money to help businesses install more private gender-neutral toilets.
5) “My children won’t want what I wanted. They’ll have different lives and make different choices.” This is reality, and all manner of hiding the world from them and forcibly indoctrinating them is not going to change this. Our children are separate individuals, just as we are. It’s ok to feel a little wistful if there is something that you really enjoy that they do not, but you cannot make them love it. It’s so much more important that you love them, really love them, than that they want a bride doll or a football. If you teach them not to hate for the sake of hating, or fear because they cannot understand anything but their own experience, you will help to create a safer world for them, and for everyone else’s children.
– A better place to put your energy: Getting to know your child, and enjoying them for who they are.
eta: *“The Gay Agenda” is a series of posts reflecting my response to a broad range of issues relating to gender, sex, and sexuality. While these are distinct aspects of each person’s identity, socially and culturally they are intertwined strands of misunderstanding and institutionalized power differentials. The title “Gay Agenda” is meant to draw awareness to the fact that members of a culture are sometimes inclined to view anyone who does not abide by social expectations as having a hidden agenda, rather than as simply existing in the world as they are. Because the term “gay agenda” is used in all seriousness by some groups, I have used it as the series title. It is not meant to imply that topics will be limited to “the gay!”
images: (once again, there are no credits for images from hater sites)
get yelled at, get beat up from The Advocate.
Everyone from The simple things xo.
Multi-stall gender inclusive washroom sign from Tia Low.
University of Bristol’s UBU LGBT+ Society gender inclusive sign from The Advocate.
Gender Neutral Restroom – Why? from Wet Toast and Cereal. (It’s worth clicking on this one to enlarge it and read the fine print!)