July 2, 2008

Thoughts on public restrooms

Posted in Civil rights, Conservatives, Gender issues, GLBT issues, Musings, Trans issues at 4:17 pm by The Lizard Queen

What the hell is with the obsession those who insist on gender conformity and/or those who oppose gender identity and expression inclusive legislation seem to have with bathrooms? It seems to apply to conservatives in general (“the ERA will lead to unisex bathrooms!!”), but I continue to be kind of amazed that the biggest pushback against equal rights for trans people tends to focus on public restrooms. Autumn Sandeen posted last week (emphasis in the original):

Bathrooms are the opposition issue with gender identity and expression inclusive, federal employment legislation. I expected that to be an issue, but it’s really clear from the two opposition witnesses it’s going to be the main opposition point regarding any employment legislation that addresses gender identity and expression. Basically, I’m anticipating that there is going to come some standard response messaging to be generated by the non-profits addressing the issue, and/or changing the subject back to addressing the real issue of blatent discrimination against LGB & T people.

Personally, I’m not squicked out by the idea of unisex bathrooms, so these sorts of arguments tend to lose me immediately. I’ve never been shy about ducking into the men’s room if the line for the ladies’ is ridiculous and things are getting urgent, and I’m absentminded enough that I’ve come thisclose to walking into the men’s room (perhaps even to the point of opening the door, seeing urinals, going “oops” and turning around), so, unisex bathrooms? Wev.

It seems like the most compelling aspect of the bathroom argument is the idea that allowing people to go into the bathroom that fits their gender identity could lead to predators having easier access to their potential victims. However, that doesn’t really fly for me. Is the idea that only women who were born with women’s genitals belong in the ladies’ room really the only thing keeping predators out of the ladies’ room in most places?

Furthermore, as Autumn points out in this post, trans women are potential victims just as much as other women – if not more so, given the fact that they’re trans people.

Also, it seems to me that unisex bathrooms would actually benefit a good number of people, such as parents with kids of the opposite sex (when is the official cut off date for when a woman ought to stop bringing her son into the ladies’ room with her?) or people with disabilities who have caregivers of the opposite sex. And goodness knows that if I broke both my arms (dog forbid!), I’d rather have Evil Bender helping me out in a public bathroom than a stranger.

Much of what this boils down to is the fact that I believe trans people are real, complete human beings who are deserving of the same rights as anyone else, along with protections because they’re a frequently-abused minority. I’d wager a guess that the people who are doing the pearl-clutching over the issue of bathrooms believe that trans people are sick people with crazy ideas that they need to be talked or medicated out of (and if that doesn’t work, maybe the ideas can be beaten out of them…). And I’m willing to bet that at least part of our respective viewpoints have been shaped by whether or not we’ve actually met and gotten to know any trans people. So it seems like in spite of the fact that bathrooms are the opposition issue, it’s really just a red herring (though I suppose that was perhaps a given, hmm?).



  1. DavidD said,

    What you write makes sense to me, except I don’t think it’s a red herring. This bathroom image, not knowing who might be in the next stall – could it be Larry Craig, even worse? – has been stated so emotionally even when I heard it in the ERA days. It hasn’t changed at all in tone over the years, even though the exact threat to the sanctity of restrooms has evolved. I don’t think it’s trumped up. Somehow it is capturing something essential to the fear some have of GLBT people having the right to carry on the GLBT “lifestyle” wherever they choose. What is that something?

    I’m not sure, but some of it is about the proper order of things, if one happens to be a conservative control freak. Some of it is concern for voyeurism. It’s been over 30 years since I stumbled into some restroom where lots of guys were acting like Larry Craig, even a lot more aggressive than he was being. I had to go about as badly as when you use that men’s room, and I am both large and reasonably fearless, so I went ahead and did what I needed to do, not what some of the guys wanted to use me for. Me, oh I’m flattered, that’s nice of you to show me how aroused you are, but NO!

    I would have a very different view of gay men if that restroom was all I knew of them.

    I’m sure such a view of gay men as sexual predators has percolated far beyond anyone who has observed it firsthand. As strange as it would be for lesbians or transgendered people to act that way, I bet some just lump them in together. It is such an extreme view that equates gay men with pedophiles, yet some rhetoric does just that, saying gay men shouldn’t be teachers and such.

    The “I want to be safe in my appropriately marked restroom” argument is about such an extreme image. Now, is it just a matter of not knowing GLBT people as the normal people they usually are or is it deliberate, to label GLBT people as perverts that we pure, good people want to marginalize, and seeing them as bathroom predators does that? I don’t know. I suppose it varies from one anti-GLBT citizen to another. Some of it’s ignorance. Some of it’s hatred for people who “choose” to be different from some conservative conformity. Well, they better conform to use “our” restrooms. “They better not show themselves to be different around me.”

    Of course, not many of us want to be seen as different wherever we go, whoever and whatever we are. I reserve my most different attributes to places even more private than public restrooms, as I’m sure most people do. So it’s about as silly an argument, more fantasy than real, as any conservative politics or conservative religion comes up with, but they really don’t want to encounter GLBT people in public restrooms. Why do you think they had separate facilities for blacks and whites in the south? It’s not that there’s something of more substance behind either of these attempts to control “our” purity.

  2. The comparison to racially segregated bathrooms made it click a bit better for me: sharing a bathroom sends the message that the people in said bathroom are equal, and more than that, the same. (Which, again, hearkens back to the ERA-will-lead-to-unisex-bathrooms concern.) So shared bathrooms are a big deal to anti-trans people because it’s an indicator of equality, of sameness. That makes sense. Thanks for the clarification! 🙂

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