Potty Politics: Four things bathroom bill proponents get wrong

CN: Transphobia

At the risk of making this the Grounded Bathrooms page for a little while here, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Target for doubling down on its corporate policy of inclusiveness by announcing that its customers are free to use whatever restroom and dressing room fits their gender identity, thus bringing us ever so much closer to the gender neutral bathroom utopia I envisioned when they decided to inch away from the gender absolutism of some of their marketing. #yayTarget

Possibly more importantly, I would like to take this opportunity to call bullshit on attempts to justify “potty purity” with just a little more nuance than the  “go near my women-folk and I’ll break your face” dreck that Lou so brilliantly took down the other day. I’ve seen a few examples giving it the old college try, as they say, whether it’s from the perspective of a rape victim or just a woman who wants to be able to do biologically female things like putting on makeup. And while these at least reflect an attempt to kinda sorta view non-cis folks as maybe human, which is more than I can say for folks like Ted Cruz, they still reflect gross misconceptions and privileged biases. To whit:

1. I have yet to see any attempt at a justification for bathroom bills that doesn’t reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be trans. It really really really is not a penis issue, despite what the incendiary rhetoric tells us. It just isn’t. Even if we think about a restroom as more than a set of porcelain objects where humans expel waste and (hopefully) wash their hands, no one will ever know what genitalia someone has unless they do decide to disrobe in the middle of the restroom. Which I can promise with almost 100% certainty, no non-cis person is EVER going to do in these situations unless they are completely comfortable with everyone in the room or with friends who they know will have their back. Why? Because any stranger is Schrodinger’s Bigot – will the seemingly nice lady at the sink smile kindly if a trans woman needs to adjust her bra or will they freak the fuck out and scream if they think they see an Adam’s apple? And if some random cis woman is dealing with period blood or a bra adjustment or changing her clothes in the semi-public space of a public restroom, then random cis-woman needs to check her privilege if she thinks she gets to control which women are allowed in there with her. More on that in a bit.

2. All of these conversations assume a strict gender binary and privilege those trans folk who are binary and who pass well. You will never know that many of my binary trans friends are trans unless they tell you because they have transitioned in whatever way they are most comfortable (which may or may not involve surgical or other medical intervention and OMG THAT IS SO NOT OUR BUSINESS) and pass very well the vast majority of the time. It is the folks who are intentionally androgynous, or who are in the early stages of transition, or who are (presumably) cis but who don’t fit gender norms,  who are going to be screamed at and forcibly removed in these situations. I am horrified at the idea that just because someone doesn’t “look female” enough (or male enough, but lets face it, these people don’t really realize trans and non-gender conforming men/primarily male identified but not binary folk exist, which I’ll get to in a minute) they don’t have the right to use the restroom for all of the same things as those of us who do conform enough to our preferred gender norms.

3. HOLY HETERONORMATIVITY Batman. I absolutely promise every single person reading this that you have been in a public restroom, maybe even changed clothes in a locker room or a non-divided changing room, in front of someone who hypothetically could be sexually attracted to you. We all have. Get over it. There are hetero trans folk. There are gay and lesbian trans folk. There are bi and pan trans folk.

4. Where exactly are trans men supposed to pee? If someone with a butch haircut and ambiguous features sends these people into panic mode, where are men who were called female on their birth certificate supposed to go? If anyone with a penis or who looks like they might have one can’t be in the women’s room, and if anyone who looks too ambiguous can’t be in the women’s room, but if anyone with XX chromosomes can’t be in the men’s room, are trans men supposed to just pee in the alleyway? At home? In a potted plant?

All of which brings me back to cis privilege and the need for all of us gender conforming folks to check the hell out of it. Short of things like medical conditions and refraining from assault, the burden of not being uncomfortable in public doesn’t rest on the shoulders of random strangers – it rests on the shoulders of those who find themselves feeling uncomfortable around people who are different from them. If Person A has issues with being in gender ambiguous situations to the point where putting on mascara next to someone who might not share their anatomy and chromosomal sex makes Person A so uncomfortable as to want someone physically removed from their presence, then Person A is free to move themselves right on out of there, do not pass go. It is not anyone else’s responsibility to make sure Person A isn’t uncomfortable in a Target bathroom. No one owes anyone else anything in public space other than some basic politeness and refraining from actual harassing and threatening behavior and the latter is only coming from one group and it isn’t trans folks.

Featured image courtesy of Flickr user bowserj.

Emily Sexton

Writer of incomplete novels, entertainment lawyer, mom of two with a wide age spread, blogger here and elsewhere, wannabe vocalist and v/o actress, atheist, weirdo. That last bit went without saying. Find Em on twitter @emandink and maybe she'll use it more.

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