April 11, 2016

Even a bathroom bill that may not pass needs attention.

On April 6, three of our state senators introduced a bill that would ban transgender people from using the bathroom that they feel most comfortable in.

The dude who sponsored the bill fully understands the potential ramifications of the bill:

Bright supports the North Carolina law, and said he knows his bill could cause a similar backlash, but he's undeterred. "A lot of these big businesses have gotten on the wrong side of the culture war," Bright said. 

And check out the thoughts of one of his co-sponsors:

Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin supports the bill, saying he doesn't want "cross-dressers" going into a bathroom with his granddaughters.

Yup. That's my legislature, folks.

So far, it hasn't stirred up the national attention that North Carolina's HB2 has, and with somewhat good reason--our governor isn't in favor and currently it seems like she'll be unlikely to sign the bill:

When asked about the bill Wednesday, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley seemed to indicate that it was unnecessary, noting the state passed a religious freedom law in 1999. "It has worked just fine," Haley said.  
The governor added that the state is blessed because it doesn't have to mandate respect, kindness, or responsibility. "South Carolina is going to continue to focus on ethics, and on roads, and on jobs, and all those things, because we think we've got that part covered."

As a woman who has run on a job-growth platform, Haley's hesitation is unsurprising. South Carolina has been actively courting manufacturing and technology jobs, and she would not want to risk those.

However, that it seems unlikely to pass doesn't mean that we should turn a blind eye to the legislation. There's a multitude of good reasons to continue to pushback. The first is that until it's vetoed (if it gets that far), there's no guarantee that it won't pass. If public opinion changes to be strongly in favor of the bill, there's always the chance that Haley may cave and sign it into law even though it could harm job creation. I'm not saying it's likely--but there's the chance. The stronger we come out and say, "This is not acceptable," the better the chance that particular unlikely scenario stays unlikely.

The other reason--the most compelling, my opinion--is that this is an opportunity to send a message, both to legislators and to our trans citizens, that we won't tolerate discrimination against transpeople in our communities. It's a message of support to a vulnerable and marginalized community that they are valuable citizens, that we care about their welfare and comfort, and that we have their backs. Full stop.

It's in light of that reason that I'm writing this post today. You see, in comment sections all over local media for the last few days, I've seen tons of comments devoted to defending my honor. It's never a transman using the men's restroom that's brought up--it's always the idea that a "man"--a transwoman--will be in the women's restroom that's the definitive example. "What? You want to use the restroom with a man? What about my daughters?!"

With this post, I'm formally revoking my permission for this discrimination in my name. I don't need it. I don't want it.

Here are some common arguments that I've run across and why I think they're bullshit.

Content Note: These are actual comments or paraphrasing of those comments. The language is not always what I would choose myself, and it's not always progressive, accepting, or kind, honestly.

Dudes will come into the bathroom to be perv-y, and then when you try to complain, you won't be able to.

Really what this argument boils down to is this: straight, cisgendered men are shitty. If I were a straight, cis male, I'd be angered at the implication embedded in these conversations--because the idea isn't that transwomen are there to assault or hurt people. It's that straight men will use this opening to enter the bathroom and be pervy, and that's why we should infringe on transpeople's rights. It's really convoluted.

Over and above the obvious ridiculousness, let's take this to its logical conclusion. If we're banning men from places where they make women uncomfortable, then here's a short list of places I need legislated:

  1. Public sidewalks
  2. Public parks
  3. Classrooms
  4. The candy aisle in Wal-Mart
  5. The rest of Wal-Mart
  6. Internet chatrooms/comment sections
  7. Legislatures
  8. Dental offices
  9. Mechanic shops
  10. Armed Forces
This list is incomplete; please feel free to add your own in the comments.

My point is this: I have experienced men making me exceedingly uncomfortable in all of these places. Why does the bathroom suddenly make it not okay? Why is it okay for men to make me uncomfortable with my clothes on, but clothes off or partially off and it's a no-go?

If you're going to say these laws are for MY protection, I'm going to need you to step up.

Men use the men's room; ladies use the ladies' room. Seems pretty simple to me.

Refuting this argument boils down to this: It's not simple at all. Gender, identity, and biological sex are all increasingly complicated. We're only beginning to understand them, but we already know that there's a complex interplay between social programming and biological and hormonal developments. We know that intersex exists--we've known that for a long time--but we're beginning to realize that the rights of intersex people include not being forced to choose a sex unless they want to. Instead of "correcting" children born differently, we're moving to let them decide their own futures.

Intersex in particular is something South Carolina as a whole should be more familiar with than some other states. We've had a lawsuit against a hospital and our state welfare agency for choosing to "correct" a young boy in their care prior to putting him up for adoption:

Pam and Mark Crawford say surgeons in Charleston and Greenville performed unnecessary sex assignment surgery on their son — named M.C. in court records — when he was 16 months old. M.C. was born with both male and female reproductive organs, but “there was no medical necessity to remove any of his genital tissue,” his adoptive parents said in their lawsuit. 
Doctors should have let M.C. eventually choose a gender for himself, they contend.

I'm not conflating the issues of intersex and transgender people here; I'm making the point that gender and biological sex are both way more complicated than we thought in bygone eras. That's precisely what makes arguments like this so ridiculous.

So you'd be okay with a cross-dresser in the room with your opposite sex child?

The short answer is: Yes, I would.

The longer answer looks like this...

First, there's a misconception that "cross-dresser" and transgender mean the same thing. They don't. One could be either or even both. I know this is preaching to the choir for most of my readers, but it still bears repeating when you run across comments like this.

There's also the idea that transgender citizens are somehow predators, and cis citizens are not, an idea that isn't borne out by reality. Hell, Dennis Hastert, a former House Speaker who called for Bill Clinton's impeachment, was just indicted for cash withdrawals that turned out to be hush money to four boys that he abused as a wrestling coach. Hastert is ostensibly straight, married, and even voted for the Defense of Marriage Act--but he's a predator. It terrifies me to think that my children could be in the same bathroom as someone like him.

It's not that transgender people aren't prone to the same vices as the rest of us. I think that's an important distinction to make, because I never want to force a group onto some pedestal. But that last part of that sentence--the "same vices AS THE REST OF US"--is pretty damned important. No matter where my children go outside of our home, they are at risk. Indeed, many children are at risk no matter what, inside and outside of their homes. Using the very real pain of victims of abuse to justify discrimination and bigotry is just sickening.

I don't want to explain this to my children.

It's hard to resist...

It's so true though. Kids are way more capable of understanding things than we give them credit for, and a simple explanation is usually more than enough.

When I hear someone use this argument, my very first thought is, "That's lazy fuckin' parenting for you," and my second is, "You realize you're depriving people of rights because you don't want to have a conversation with your kid, don't you?"

Just add unisex bathrooms with one stall. That'll solve the whole issue.

You're not wrong, but who's paying for it? Are we going to mandate that ALL businesses make the change?  We already have a working solution; why would we want to add to it? By all means, encourage businesses to make everyone's lives easier in the future, but it doesn't help the problem NOW.


Honestly, I could go on and on, but I won't.

These pieces of legislation are beyond ridiculous. They aren't based on any empirical data, and let's be real, they represent a serious intrusion of one type of morality on our public sphere.

We need to stand together and repudiate that intrusion. Loudly. Repeatedly. Over and over again. Every.single.time one of these bills is proposed, we need to say with one voice, "No, this is unacceptable."

Please don't let our fellow citizens down just because they are different. We're better than this, South Carolina.

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