The Bathroom Debate

Are you kidding me?

Let me start with a story.

About four years ago, I met a fellow helicopter pilot who had just finished up her training. I’ll call her Alice. Alice was slender, kind of pretty, and friendly, with an upbeat personality and a positive outlook — the kind of person I like to help when I can. Like most new pilots, she needed to build flight time. When it came time for me to fly my helicopter from my old home in Wickenburg, AZ to my new home in the Wenatchee area of Washington, I invited her to come along for the 8-10 hour flight. Although she wanted to come, a logistical misunderstanding prevented it and I made the flight alone.

Not long afterwards, Alice and I became friends on Facebook. That’s when I noticed that she shared a lot of links to LGBT-related articles. I assumed she was a lesbian — I know quite a few! — and was very surprised when I realized from her Facebook posts that she had been born male.

We had a conversation going in Facebook Messaging and even though that was back in 2013, it’s still there for me to consult. Here’s a pared down part of that conversation:

Me: Honestly, I didn’t even know you were transgender until you started mentioning it on Facebook. While I know it’s important to you that everyone accept transgender people as just regular people, I had already accepted you as a regular person — a woman.

Alice: First let me say thank you! You have just given me an amazing compliment (probably without realizing it). To be recognized and accepted as a woman is really a huge compliment to me and means so much that it’s really hard to explain. I have worked incredibly hard towards the goal of being accepted as a woman and the journey has been the most difficult and challenged thing I’ve ever encountered.

There’s more to the conversation, including me urging her to just be a woman and not identify as transgender and her concerns about bathroom use. I guess I was displaying my naivety when I said:

Me: In your public persona, be the woman you are. I can’t imagine anyone challenging you if you use a ladies restroom. Why worry about it?

Her response was chilling:

Alice: It’s been a problem for me in the past, and being arrested as a sex offender for using a restroom is very high on my list of nightmares. Especially in Maricopa County where Sheriff Joe’s reputation for treating Trans* people in his jails is abysmal. I’ve been told by an employer that I have to leave their property to find a unisex bathroom. I’ve been asked to leave the bathroom in a restaurant. I’ve been physically blocked from using a bathroom in a restaurant with the owner threatening to call the police on me if I entered the women’s room. To this day, even though I feel that I generally ‘pass’ as a woman, I’m still scared to use a public restroom without first having a friend ‘check it out’ to see if it’s empty. The ‘bathroom’ issue is actually one of the most prominent in my everyday life. Statistically speaking, it’s also one of the most dangerous activities a trans* person does in any given day. Again, I ‘pass’ pretty well so it’s not that much of a safety concern for me, but the anxiety from when I didn’t ‘pass’ is still very much present in my mind.

I have the entire conversation saved and if I thought it wouldn’t be violating her privacy, I’d share it here to help people understand more about what transgender people are dealing with. But I’ll stick to the issue at hand: bathrooms.

First let me sum this up. Here’s a person who looks like a woman, talks like a woman, acts like a woman, and is thrilled when she’s recognized as a woman. (I honestly had no idea she wasn’t born a woman.) Clearly, she identifies as a woman. Why on earth wouldn’t she use a woman’s bathroom?

I can’t even imagine her using a men’s room.

The Conservative Sex Problem

The problem is this: Conservatives in America have a problem with sex.

They’re completely hung up on it. They think they’re supposed to believe that sex is for one purpose: making babies. They think they’re supposed to believe that sex for enjoyment or to feel closer to their mate or because it’s a natural part of being alive is bad and dirty.

So it follows that any kind of sex that isn’t to make a baby is bad.

Premarital sex? Can’t have a baby without being married. Bad! (This also explains why they rely so heavily on abstinence sex education rather than teaching kids about condoms and safe sex. Shouldn’t be doing it at all because it’s bad!)

Gays or lesbians having sex with someone of the same gender? No way to make a baby there so it’s bad!

Boy feeling more like a girl than a boy? How can he make babies if he turns into a girl? Bad!

Girl feeling more like a boy than a girl? How can she make babies he she turns into a boy? Bad!

So rather than try to understand these things and recognize the fact that there are all kinds of natural differences in sexuality, conservatives fall back on what they think they’re supposed to believe and they act (or react) accordingly.

It’s ironic to me that the political party that whines the most about government interference in our lives is the same party that unceasingly tries to enact laws governing sex and gender related issues. But I digress.

Not Everyone is as Creepy as Mike Huckabee

Back in February 2015, then presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, in a speech to fellow conservatives, made the following comment:

Now I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE,” Huckabee continued. “I’m pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, ‘Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today.’

Apparently, he made a similar comment back in 2013.

You see, in the small, closed minds of conservatives, the only reason a male might want to go into a woman’s bathroom or locker room is to peep at (or do worse to) a woman. They can’t imagine a person who honestly identifies as a member of the opposite gender just wanting to do what’s natural: use the restroom for the gender he or she identifies with.

Conservatives hung up on this issue seem to think that gender identity is something that a person can switch on or off based on convenience or motives. Teenage Mike Huckabee wants to peep at girls so he finds his feminine side for the day. (I guess looking at porn isn’t enough.)

To them, it’s all about sex and ulterior motives and creepy guys wanting to do something nasty in a ladies room.

Funny how they’re never worried about women who identify as men wanting to use the men’s room, huh?

I don’t profess to know all the answers, but I do know this: I’m a woman who identifies as a woman and can use a women’s restroom. If Alice walked in, I probably wouldn’t look twice at her. If someone who was not quite as feminine looking as Alice but who clearly identified as a woman walked in, I would try not to stare and would certainly not challenge her. She has enough crap to deal with; why add more?

But if Mike Huckabee walked in, I’d scream “Rape!” at the top of my lungs. You have to keep creeps like that out of the ladies room.

What’s the Solution?

The solution is to do away with gender-specific restrooms.

Ladies

I heard a great story on an NPR program, PRI’s The World, yesterday that explains how gender-specific bathrooms came into being in the United States. Called “Why a 1920s legal move is responsible for the gender-segregated bathrooms we have today,” it discussed the cultural ideology of women’s place in the home and, later, in the workforce.

Terry S. Kogan, a University of Utah law professor explains it this way:

“American regulators began figuring out ways of trying to, in effect, protect women in the public, since they could not be forced back into the home,” Kogan says. “So you find a range of architectural solutions, all of which was, in a way, an attempt to create a private haven and protective space for women in the public realm.”

But the idea of protecting women has often been used as an excuse to advance other agendas. For example, many lawmakers argue that strict abortion laws will help keep women safe, but advocates point out that putting barriers in front of reproductive services actually make things more dangerous for women. Additionally, those that favored bathroom segregation laws that discriminated against black Americans during the Jim Crow era also claimed such laws were designed to protect white women and children.

Nevertheless, gender-segregated bathrooms were written into the fabric of American society in the 1920s with the rise the uniform building code.

“It was a movement aimed at various building officials — engineers, architects, contractors, building material dealers,” Kogan says. “[They were] coming together, trying to adopt a code that could be enacted hook, line, and sinker by cities around the country and ensure adequate public safety, health, and welfare in new construction. Hidden in the midsts of the first uniform building code from 1927 is a provision that says, ‘Where there are public restrooms in buildings, they shall be separated by sex.’”

With those words, Kogan says, the “Separate Spheres Ideology” was written into law and carried into the 20th century. Today, many advocates of HB2 argue that women and children must be “protected” from transgender people in public bathrooms.

Listen to the story. There’s a lot more.

Another thing I heard on NPR yesterday — although I can’t seem to track down a link to it — is a discussion of possible alternatives. For example, why not have a urinal room that would obviously be used by people capable of using a urinal? And then have a restroom for every other bathroom use by either gender? If privacy is a concern, make the bathroom stalls fully enclosed with lockable doors — like they already are in many high-end hotels and conference centers. (And apparently in the U.K., according to one friend who was appalled by the metal bathroom stalls to be found in U.S. restrooms.)

It seems to me that multi-person restrooms have two parts: the toilet part where you do the business you likely came in for and probably want privacy for and the sink/mirror part where you’re hopefully washing your hands and possibly fixing your face or hair or maybe adjusting your slip (do people still wear those?) or bra strap. I’ve never seen a woman expose herself in the sink/mirror part of a ladies room. So who cares if there are men in there?

Oh, that’s right. Conservatives. So worried about creepy men.

I’ve got news for conservatives: I’ve seen more creepy men out in the open — including a guy in a business suit masturbating on 40th Street near the corner of 6th Avenue in Manhattan at 4:30 in the afternoon — than I ever will in a ladies room. And I’m not even counting the last time I saw Mike Huckabee on television.

But I guess this problem won’t be resolved until the close-minded sex-obsessed conservatives lose this battle, too. Like the one for gay marriage.

If only they’d learn to mind their own fucking business. (No pun intended.)

16 thoughts on “The Bathroom Debate

  1. Well written, Maria.

    Have you watched any of Caitlyn Jenner’s reality show? I’m not at all a fan of reality shows, but the show really gives a lot of insight and learning and eye-opening truths. I’ve been learning a LOT about how transgenders, gays and lesbians, and the LGBT community gets treated, what they really face, and more.

    I had no idea about the bathroom issue until it was mentioned on her show and then came the North Carolina garbage after that …

    This is all such ridiculous nonsense. I will continue to speak up. Hopefully enough of us “straight” people will, too.

    Thanks for writing this. :-)

    • No, I haven’t paid much attention to Caitlyn Jenner. I don’t like reality shows and I think she’s become a bit of a media whore. I guess in the long run it’s good for the transgender community to have their issues discussed opening in public, but at the same time, I have my doubts about Caitlyn’s motives and think that she’s more interested in the publicity for herself than the issues of other transgender people.

      Oddly, many of my messages to “Alice” urged her to identify as a woman and NOT as a transgender woman. The way I see it, if you want to be a woman, you should be one and leave your male identity behind. Move forward, be what you want to be. In catching up on her Facebook updates recently — I had to stop following her because everything she posted for a while was about transgender issues and I was getting tired of it — I think she’s done that.

      Obviously Caitlyn is in a different position; having so much fame when she was a man makes it impossible to leave that identity behind. But I think her Vanity Fair photo shoot was so completely over the top that she may have done more harm that good. That’s just my opinion; what do I know? Who really knows?

      I’m just tired of Conservatives trying to pass laws that control our sex lives.

      • I understand, and it was for those reasons that I didn’t plan to watch the show either. HOWEVER, her transgender friends are what is so eye-opening. They are really trying to show the rest of us what it’s like, all the discrimination out there, what they have to go through to just be themselves, and so much more.

        It really is eye-opening.

        And yeah, Caitlyn Jenner did go way over the top with that photo shoot and cover, and I’m bugged about some things, but those transgender friends of hers also tell her like it is, too.

        At any rate, it’s up to you. I thought I’d mention that. It wasn’t until I actually watched it that I changed my opinion … I felt just like you until I watched the show.

        I’m also disgusted and fed up with the far right and their “righteousness” and garbage about bathrooms, sex, abortions, all of it … ridiculousness, discrimination, and then some.

        • I don’t think I get whatever channel Caitlyn is on anyway. I don’t subscribe to cable.

          The righteousness of the right wingers is appalling, especially when one after another are being found guilty of something like child molestation or soliciting gay men in a restroom or one of so many other things they claim we shouldn’t do. It makes me absolutely sick.

  2. Obama supposedly is trying to put an end to the dispute. Probably not over but Obama’s support for transgender community’s use of bathrooms should prevent any transgender people from being charged with sex crimes. What ever happened to live and let live?

  3. Well said. Especially that conservatives want government out of our lives except when they want to govern what happens in our bedrooms. I never realized until all this bathroom stuff how much transgender people are harassed. WHAT is the problem? Families have both genders and all use the same bathroom. I know men who prefer to use the stall rather than urinals for privacy. Men CAN pee into a regular toilet or even pee sitting down. And if a man who is not transgender wants to enter a women’s room to do anything creepy, dressed as a man or a woman, such laws would not stop him. And most women have probably had the experience, when there’s a line at the women’s room and none at the men’s room, of commandeering the men’s room. And men who show up are told women are using it and usually wait sympathetically. Common sense rules. This SHOULD be such a non-issue. And, yes, if she’s a woman, just be a woman. And now that I understand that there are some people who want to be trans and use Mx. instead of Mr. or Ms., that’s fine too. Free to be You and Me. Pee and let pee!

    • You’re right on all counts here. I have to admit to using a onesie men’s room when the ladies room was occupied in a restaurant. More than once. Common sense SHOULD rule.

  4. Lots of issues there! Gender theory, ‘biology as destiny’, gender dysphoria, bathroom design and etiquette.

    Firstly, a question? Has ‘Alice’ had an operation to support her notion of feminine identity? Put more bluntly, has she removed the penis and scrotum she started with as a boy and had a vagina created? “Complete sex-change surgery”, it used to be called.
    If so, then of course she should be able to use the same restroom as other women, as standing at a urinal will no longer be an option. If she still has a penis and wishes to stand to urinate, then that might be slightly unsettling to other women who notice this from nearby cubicles. Might some not consider that an essentially private space has been rendered less comfortable?

    I have no problem with gender-neutral ‘lavatories’, as we call them in the UK but, having just discussed this with my wife, she points out some practical issues. ( By the way, we agree that US ‘restrooms’ are generally dire, the absurdly short doors offer no privacy for the unfortunate person who needs a ‘dump’)
    In general, most restrooms favour men by offering two specific points for either urination or defecation. The latter function demands cubicles, (India is an exception where public defecation is still common), if rather rudimentary structures. Women have only cubicles.

    At the interval in a UK theatre the men are in and out quickly, as most just wish to pee and a minority will need a cubicle. Women seem to have to queue for much longer as any function will require a cubicle. They can waste the whole interval at places such as the Royal Albert Hall because of this imbalance in the facilities available.
    But my wife has just made an explicit and (to me) valid point against both genders sharing the same lavatories.
    When a male has a dump the smell is far stronger and more pervasive than when a woman carries out the same function. After some army training in cramped accommodation, I have to agree.
    There are perfectly sound scientific reasons for this, the male anal glands are larger in territorial mammalian species. The evolutionary ancestors of both men and dogs claim territory by scent marking. Anatomy still shows these rarely discussed structures (see Grays Anatomy, 39th edition, pages 1109-1204)

    So, if men are inherently smellier than women, perhaps there is a case to be made for separate facilities, for defecation, at least?

    Sorry if this sounds coarse and direct, I’m just trying to be frank. I agree with most of your other points.

    • I don’t think whether a person who identifies as the opposite sex has had surgery yet really matters. I think that if someone born male really identifies as a woman, she isn’t likely to use a urinal or stand to urinate even if she did still have her male parts. But then again, I don’t really know for sure.

      Smellier doesn’t bother me, as long as the user flushes thoroughly. I’m also wondering if hormone therapy resolves some of the stinky man issues.

      What we need to understand is that we’re talking about PUBLIC restrooms. How much privacy can we expect? I’m all for improving stall/cubicle design to make them more enclosed.

  5. The issue for me is safety. I was attacked by a male in a small closet, not a restroom. Since that experience, I am very distrusting of being alone any strange man in a small, confined space. I am not alone. Listen to the stories of these women: http://blackcommunitynews.com/what-these-sexually-abused-women-say-about-transgender-restrooms/ I am a conservative. My issue is not with the transgendered, it’s with the Pandora’s box we are opening when we tell girls and women that they must share their privacy with any man who decides to join them, be it to use the restroom, to undress in their presence or to watch them as they undress and shower. Why do the rights of such a small portion of our population trump the safety of the majority, many of whom are defenseless against an aggressive male?

    • I’m sorry about your experience, but the truth of the matter is this: No law is going to stop a pervert from going into a ladies room if he wants to. What the law does do is turn an individual like my friend Alice into a criminal for using the restroom she feels most comfortable in.

      Do you think a woman like my friend Alice would sexually assault you? Do you think she runs the risk of getting assaulted if she goes into a men’s room?

      And honestly, maybe we should be looking at the safety of all the spaces we go into? Women get assaulted in mall parking lots. They get assaulted in school dorms. They get assaulted everywhere. We have laws against assault. Are they helping?

      The bathroom laws are discriminatory. I really can’t see it any other way. Sorry!

  6. Just today “The Diane Rehm Show” had an hour-long discussion on these subjects. See the “Debate Over Transgender Bathroom Access At Public Schools”.

    MP3 download at http://downloads.wamu.org/mp3/dr/16/05/r1160516.mp3

    If that doesn’t work, try http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2016-05-16/debate-over-transgender-bathroom-access-at-public-schools where there is a “Listen” option.

    One panel member was “legal counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom”, and as you might guess, he went out of his way to obfuscate and confuse the issues, repeatedly speaking in the standard “conservative” (actually radical rightist, not conservative) mode on the side of hatred, fear, and greed, and for keeping toilets and locker rooms as they have been “for hundreds of years”. Check. Hundreds.

    The rest of the panelists were intelligent.

    You could also check Tom Ashbrook’s “On Point” program today. (I didn’t listen to this one). Another hour. “The Transgender Rights Debate In Public Schools” At http://onpoint.wbur.org/2016/05/16/transgender-bathrooms

    Note that this program also featured yet another “legal counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom”. They seem to be crawling out from under every bush lately.

    Mom told me to treat other people like I’d want them to treat me. So far that’s worked. I do not want to see your pee-pee. And don’t ask to see mine, ‘K?

    • Thanks for sharing these references. Since I wrote the post, I’ve heard a lot more on NPR and have seen a lot more on reputable websites.

      I’m with you and your mom. Live and let live, right?

  7. To me, the sex of a person is not the sex you were born with, but the sex you are now, (full operational change not needed.). Recently, I went to a lunch with the company I work for, and a very high up official of the company was asked what would happen if the transgender bathroom laws were passed in Florida. His response was, “We have to follow the law. We have no choice. Lucky for us, we already have 3 types of bathrooms, men, Ladies, and Family(unisex) in all are locations. So as far as I’m concerned, we’re covered. And no, we will not have employees monitoring who goes in and out of the bathrooms.

    In addition, I have a friend who is born again. She posted a video on facebook of what transgender people do in the bathroom. It was very fun to watch. It showed that transgenders: Go to the bathroom, brush their hair, fix make- up, wash their hands and a few other things we all do. Her comment with the video she posted was. “So what’s the problem?” Yes folks, Born Again’s even disagree with this law.

    What really gets me, is that here in the south, politician keep defending the law by saying, this is what American’s want. Who? Bubba and his family? Well Dang!!!

What do you think?