Transgender Bathroom Panic

Unless you’ve been hiding under your bed clothes for the last couple of months – and I don’t blame you a bit if you have, we’re a fair way beyond “crazy” at this point – you know that we’re in the middle of a Bathroom War in the US just now.

It’s been framed as a conflict between the “common sense” rule of keeping men out of women’s private spaces, and the “dangerous” practice of allowing them free access.

I have a few things to say about that.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I’m cis-gendered, which means the doctor happened to be right when he assigned the gender on my birth certificate. I also have a lot of trans friends. And no, I’m not going to tell you who, because all but one are deeply closeted. That one is Gwendolyn Ann Smith. I will tell you that I count 3 trans women, including Gwen, among my closest friends and I know dozens of others.


This whole thing, from where I stand, is actually about two separate issues.

One is safety in public restrooms. Let’s get that out of the way.

It’s a real problem, and it should have been addressed years and years ago. Women, girls, and little boys are at risk of assault when they use public facilities. It doesn’t happen a lot, but it does happen, and it happens because bathrooms are tucked away for privacy. There’s little chance an attacker will be caught. That’s the real reason that women go to the restroom in clumps; there is safety in numbers. The only thing this has to do with trans people is that they are at far higher risk than non-trans people. There are zero cases of trans people being the aggressor.

You want some links? Have 3, chosen totally at random. A 16 year old girl died in Delaware after being beaten in a bathroom. A 15 year old girl was raped in a bathroom. A 23 year old woman was raped in a Manhattan bar.

  • Note that none of these cases involved anyone who was trans.
  • Note that in none of the cases did the man don a wig and dress to commit his crime.
  • Note that laws that do, or do not, allow trans people to use a bathroom where they are comfortable – or at least, less uncomfortable – have no bearing at all here.

It’s not about trans people.

It’s easy to fix.

We need to put public bathrooms in high traffic areas. The toilets need to be in actual little rooms with lockable doors (not stalls that people can peep over, crawl under, or peer through the cracks of.) There should be a “panic button” on the wall for people who need help, because that happens; especially with senior citizens or people with disabilities. The sinks should be out in the open, where they can be seen by everyone.

If we did that, then it would be safe for everyone to take care of bodily functions.

Since the toilets would be completely private, there wouldn’t be any need to have any kind of gender anything. No one would be able to loiter unseen, because they would be clearly visible to everyone.

But all of this isn’t about any of that, is it? If it was, there wouldn’t be so many untested rape kits in North Carolina.

This is about the right of transgender and gender-non conforming people to exist at all.

The people screaming about the sanctity of their bathrooms are really fighting for a binary world. For a world in which things are black and white, male or female, yes or no. They are fighting for absolutes.

People like binaries. It makes choices clear and easy. It’s the lazy way to deal with differences. You are either one or the other. Us or them. Liberal or Conservative. Girl or Boy.

The problem is that nature doesn’t do binary at all. Not in anything. Between day and night, there’s always twilight. We only know when Winter becomes Spring because of the artificial conceit of a calendar; there’s no clear demarcation in the weather. Heck, we can’t even really draw a line between animal and vegetable!

In real life, all the lines blur. There are always liminal spaces that aren’t exactly one or the other, but have some characteristics of both.

This is true of everything, including human biological sex.

Trans people, far from being “unnatural” are proof positive that humans are part of the natural world.

I’m not going to go into all the stuff that happens, between chromosomes, hormones in utero, and embryonic development that causes a baby to be born with enough differentiation for the attending doctor to assign a gender. Suffice it to say it’s not nearly as clear cut as you learned in biology class. Sex chromosomes don’t always come in pairs. Things like Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome cause people who are genetically male (46XY) to have female sexual characteristics at birth. Women with XY genes have even give birth.

So it’s not surprising that people can have outward sexual characteristics from one gender, while knowing that they really belong to the opposite one. Or people who are uncomfortable being assigned to either box.

We don’t really know what causes internal gender identity, although we might be learning.

We do know, however, that Gender Dysphoria is a real thing. It doesn’t go away. It feels horrible. It can kill, if it’s not treated.

So what it comes down to is this; do we accept people’s own reports of their lived experiences, or not?

If we do, then we have to agree that someone who knows to the bottom of her soul that she’s female is female, whether or not she has a penis. Someone who identifies as male, is male, even if he happens to have a vagina.

If not, of course, then you insist that you are omnipotent; you know what other people are feeling and thinking better than they do themselves. How that assumption of god-like powers can not be considered blasphemy is beyond me, but I digress.

Because here’s the thing.

Trans people are people.

Like everyone else, they should be treated with respect, kindness, and honor. Everyone should be, no matter what.

At the beginning of this post, I said I know a bunch of trans people. The most important thing about them?

Being trans isn’t the most important thing about them.

They are artists, writers, computer programmers, health workers, teachers. They have rich or complex relationships with their parents, siblings, children, and friends. They have different things they like or dislike. They are all avid science fiction readers, like nearly everyone else I know. They are all the things that everyone else is, and it’s those things that make us friends.

The only reason to care about someone’s gender is so you know how to treat them.

If you are treating people differently based on their gender, that’s a problem I think you should address.

In other words, let’s go for true gender equality, and stop worrying about the gender of other people.

Picture Attribution; the transgender flag: harvey milk plaza, castro, san francisco (2012) by torbakhopper Used under a Creative Commons 2Generic License. Slightly cropped and resized.