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Defusing Anti-trans Bathroom Panic

November 5, 2012

One argument that you can expect to see against transgender people having equal employment rights will be what I call bathroom panic. The myth goes that if you allow transgender people, by which they almost always mean trans women, equal employment rights that means they’ll be allowed to use the same restroom/locker room/changing facilities as cis (non-trans) women, which means that cis men pretending to be trans women will start attacking women in the restrooms. The good news is that this bomb is easy to defuse.

1. Bathroom segregation doesn’t necessarily prevent sexual assaults. In some parts of the world, particularly Western Europe, most bathrooms are unisex. It’s actually expected to see women and men in bathrooms together. Interestingly, these same places have much lower rates of sexual assault than the United States, where bathrooms are almost always sex-segregated.

2. To my knowledge, there is no recorded case of this actually happening. It’s a myth intentionally created to provoke strong emotional “ick” reactions. The “examples” that your opposition will provide aren’t actually transgender women. Most of them are purposefully staged, like the Gaithersburg, MD, case.

3. Occam’s razor. This simply doesn’t make sense, and it is a clear indication the people coming up with this stuff don’t understand the daily existence of many trans women. Why would a cis man draw more attention, scrutiny, and harassment to himself by going through the farce of pretending to be trans female? This assumes WAY more civility toward trans women than actually exists, especially when you look at cases like the assault of Chrissy Lee Polis, a trans woman, at a Baltimore McDonald’s when she tried to use the women’s restroom. The theoretical man-in-a-dress attacker would have better luck sneaking in when it isn’t crowded and no one’s looking. Besides, is there actually anything stopping a man who is intent on assaulting someone from coming into the women’s room now and doing this anyway sans farce?

4. These people, including people who, most alarmingly, are elected officials in our state, never account for trans men. By their reasoning that people should only be allowed to use the bathroom for their assigned-at-birth-sex, I would have to use the women’s room. Attempting to force this rule on us creates more problems than it solves. I am sure my presence as a bearded baritone man would be far more upsetting in a women’s room than a trans woman. Don’t think that a trans woman in a men’s room won’t be upsetting either. I have had several friends who have had this very thing happen to them. When they are forced to use the men’s room, frequently threatened with arrest and legal action if they use the women’s room, they find that men are just as hostile toward them and don’t want them in that restroom either. Then what are you supposed to do?

The entire bathroom panic issue ignores that, in fact, we already share bathrooms with cis people. Imagine that! We are part of society too and occasionally have to relieve ourselves. And we don’t rape people when we’re in the bathroom. Who knows, we may even be normal!

5. This assumes that all trans women still have penises (they don’t) and that those penises function like a cis man’s (if they’re on hormone therapy, they don’t). Where does this leave trans women who have had bottom surgery? As for those taking estrogen/progesterone, this makes it either very difficult or impossible to maintain an erection. Furthermore, if we’re basing this entirely on genitals, where are visibly intersex people supposed to go? The truth is that we don’t know the genital status of the person in the stall next to us. By the way, please note that I said “stall.” All this concern about women seeing penises in the restroom is really unfounded. Assuming you’re not in a run-down club somewhere and the place has locking doors, unless you’re the peeping tom, the likelihood of you seeing anybody’s genitals is next to nil. Anyway, how are we going to propose regulating such a thing? Mandatory pants-dropping at the door, just to be sure? That’s a great way to create jobs in a down economy!

6. It is not statistically very likely that this would happen. Stranger assaults are less common than those committed by people known to the victims (10-30% is the most commonly cited range), and most (but not all) of those are committed by white, heterosexual, cis men. Men account for approximately 99 percent of all rapists. While nearly all perpetrators are male, not all males are rapists. Even so, trans women are female by all the same standards that could be applied to cis women. This argument is very similar to ones formerly used to prevent lesbian women from having access to female changing facilities, and yet I am not aware of any recorded case of a lesbian-perpetrated assault in that setting. Bathroom panic was also largely responsible for derailing the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and for the enforcement of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Besides, if we want to outlaw what is most statistically likely, should we not logically start with family bathrooms?

7. This is dismissive of the realities of transgender women, many of whom are themselves survivors of sexual assault. By asking transgender women to use the men’s room, you are necessarily asking them to place themselves in the very real danger you wrongly feel that you are in. You are giving more importance to hypothetical fears than justified ones.

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