Culture War: Bathroom Edition

Besides the bedroom, a bathroom is considered the most private of places. This is where someone can go to freshen up, change clothing, or relieve bodily needs. Recently some southern U.S. states have taken up legislation in concern for the privacy of restrooms. Some conservatives in those states have voiced fear that privacy in bathrooms may be compromised by allowing for people of any sex to use any gender’s restroom. This policy, of course, permits Americans who identify as transgender to use the bathroom of their preference. However, opponents of this allowance argue that this policy opens the door for some people to impersonate the opposite gender in order to enter bathrooms and abuse people. In order to determine the best laws for bathrooms and upholding privacy, we must analyze past evidence and also the implication of laws that prohibit or allow people to use the any sex’s restroom.

Before we can analyze the potential policies concerning restrooms, it is important to define the terms involved in this debate.

  • Sex – A person’s identity defined by the reproductive parts they have. Ex: male; female; intersex (reproductive parts unclassifiable as male or female).
  • Gender – A person’s identity defined by the gender they feel they truly are. Ex: man; woman; gender-fluid (do not identify as either man or woman).

The current debate over bathroom laws deals with these two definitions–should bathrooms be segregated based on birth sex, current sex, gender, or nothing at all? The following are possible options:

  • Force all people who have penises to use the same restroom and all people who have vaginas be forced to do the same? This would be a current-sex-segregated policy.
  • Force all people who were born with a penis to use the same restroom and all people who were born with a vagina to use the same restroom–regardless of whether such people have had sex reassignment surgery. This would be a birth-sex-segregated policy.
  • Allow all people who identify as male to use the same restroom and allow the same for all people who identify as female–this would be a gender-segregated policy.
  • Allow gender-neutral restrooms where all people of any gender or sex can use the same restroom.

So the debate that rests over where transgender people should go to the bathroom. If they have not had sex reassignment surgery, should they be forced to go to the bathroom of their birth sex? Should there possibly be a “third” bathroom–besides typical male and female restrooms–which is a single-occupancy gender-neutral room, which transgender people or anyone else could use?

The fear over where to allow transgender people to go to the bathroom stems from anxiety that allowing people to simply go to the restroom of their gender preference rather than their sex will promote potential sexual abuse and assault. The people who hold this fear argue that some men may impersonate women in order to enter women’s restrooms to sexually abuse them. These people argue that instead bathrooms should be sexually segregated, and specifically the recent law in North Carolina mandates that people must go to the public bathroom that matches their birth sex; this does not allow for transgender people who have had sex assignment surgery to use the bathroom that matches their new sex. So which is the correct direction to go? Let’s follow the evidence.

First of all, there exists no apparent evidence of someone pretending to be transgender in order to abuse other people in the bathroom. Even if people were to start doing such terrible things, laws should focus on the actual crimes being committed. People who want to abuse women or men will do so regardless of what a bathroom sign says. Also, are such laws that are not based on evidence worth impinging on other Americans’ identities?

Well, data show that transgender people are indeed often harassed when they are forced to use the bathroom of their birth sex. TIME reports, “In a studyfrom UCLA’s Williams Institute, nearly 70% of transgender people said they had experienced verbal harassment in a situation involving gender-segregated bathrooms, while nearly 10% reported physical assault.” Additionally, when transgender people are forced to use their birth sex’s bathroom, this situation often draws attention to them and increases the likelihood of violence and discrimination being done against them. This even can occur in restrooms of their preferred gender since some people may point them out. This reality leads to the need for a third single-stall gender-neutral restroom, which allows any person–especially one who is transgender–to use the restroom in peace.

Now, some may argue that if we do offer the single-stall gender-neutral option, then transgender people should use only that one so that everyone feels comfortable. However, all transgender people want is to feel accepted in society, and they may not feel most comfortable using a separate bathroom just for them. This may make them feel like they are receiving a “separate but equal” accommodation since they feel they truly are the gender opposite of their birth sex but are not allowed to use the restroom that matches such. Therefore, they should also be able to use the bathroom they prefer. As long as everyone has the ability to use a private stall, privacy is maintained.

Some reports are even showing that this bathroom debate has caused cisgender women to be harassed in bathrooms by other women for allegedly appearing male. This is the problem with codifying gender norms and stereotypes. These types of laws require this kind of interpersonal gender surveillance or even more severely guards at bathroom doors to check licenses or birth certificates.

Now, it is important to note that many transgender people are not gay in respect to their gender. Therefore, a transgender woman (a man who has become a woman) may be attracted to men; thus, she may be gay in respect to her birth sex but not in respect to her gender. This being so, her presence in a female restroom should not make others uneasy as she is not attracted to the people in that restroom. However, even if she were, this would be the same situation as what almost all people have encountered before in their lives–being in the same restroom as a non-transgender gay person. Gay people nor trans people are inherently attracted to everyone of their sexual preference. Most of us have never worried about sharing a bathroom with a gay person, so it should make even less of a difference sharing a bathroom with a transgender person. Additionally, most of us have been sharing bathrooms with transgender people all our lives and have never noticed since they have probably not caused any trouble.

The genuine concern here should be two-fold. For one, all bathrooms regardless of their gender structure should ensure privacy for all people. Stalls should be available to all people so that private parts never have to be displayed to other people.

The other and most important concern is not to prevent transgender people from sharing bathrooms with non-transgender people or people of a different birth sex; the genuine concern must be with preventing sexual abuse. If society did everything it could to prevent sexual abuse, it would create sexually segregated elevators, offices, and all other closed-in spaces. However, this does not work as some sexual abuse occurs between people of the same sex and gender. Separating the sexes or the genders does not prevent sexual abuse. Prosecuting sexual abusers prevents further crime.

When someone drives erratically, society does not prevent all people from driving; it merely strips that driver of their license. When someone uses a weapon for violence, society does not strip away all weapons from even law-abiding citizens. It merely locks up the perpetrator and prevents him or her from ever owning a weapon again. Thus, the same logic should be followed for bathroom policy. When someone commits sexual abuse in a bathroom, society does not prevent all people from using public restrooms. It merely prosecutes the single sexual abuser and ensures that the public is aware of the person’s actions. Even if someone were to pretend to be transgender and commit a sexual assault, just that person should be prosecuted. Even if a transgender person himself or herself were to commit that crime, that does not speak at all about the actions of the rest of the transgender community. Just that single person should be prosecuted.

If society were to try to legislate away all risk, there would no longer be freedom for anyone. All identities and liberties would be infringed upon. Thus, the correct direction is to prosecute the actual criminals and invest in programs that prevent future crimes like education, community building, and law enforcement. Transgender people do not deserve to be attacked in this debate. Criminals do, and transgender people are committing no crimes for being who they are. cropped-new-logo.jpeg

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