Transphobia and public restrooms
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|Spectra and binaries|
“”It is our position that the intrusion of a biological male into a restroom for teenage girls is inherently intimidating and harassing.
|—Pacific Justice Institute, after being caught lying about a trans girl supposedly harassing fellow students in her school's restroom. Emphasis added.|
A common argument against extending rights to transgender people is that if trans women are allowed to enter women's spaces, this will inevitably put girls and women in danger. This argument typically focuses on the use of public restrooms. Whether the danger is actually from trans people, or merely from your run-of-the-mill rapist who takes up the label "transgender" when it suits him, is typically not explained; it is possible that transphobes do not think anyone is really trans, so the distinction is meaningless.
The argument also assumes that a potential rapist who is prepared to commit an abhorrent violent crime would not dare to commit the social offence of passing through a door with a sign which says they shouldn't.
No evidence exists to support this argument (infact, people who support it generally respond angrily when asked for evidence), so they instead create memes.
This argument is typically seen as an odorous pile of bovine fecal material by LGBT rights groups because as the Trans advocate website Tranifesto writes that "the use of public restrooms is far more of a safety issue for trans people than it is for non-trans people in the next stall." Transgender people are far more likely than cisgender people to be victims of violent crime.
In the specific case of people arguing "protect the children," the association of trans people with pedophilia is likewise unfounded. Furthermore, the idea that someone might claim to be trans just to get into the restroom of the opposite sex is beyond ludicrous. The stigma against trans people is extreme; nobody would willingly take that stigma on just to exploit a legal loophole. In short: your children are no more in danger when trans people are allowed to use the restroom than when they aren't.
It's also worth noting that many trans people would prefer another solution altogether: additional, unisex toilets, which would allow trans people to freely relieve themselves and panicked people the safety of knowing that there's no
penis Y chromosome anywhere within a fifty-foot radius. This proposal usually goes nowhere, ostensibly for financial reasons (though the more conspiratorially-minded activist may wonder whether the need to perpetuate a culture of fear might also be a factor). However, some Canadian universities have de-gendered their existing single-toilet washrooms with little controversy, which requires no infrastructure changes beyond a door lock and has the side benefit that two cisgender users of the same sex can relieve themselves in a pair of such washrooms at the same time.
And yet, set against the backdrop of widespread transphobia, it might not be mere cynicism to note that loud calls for the elimination of gendered washrooms followed immediately on the defeat of "bathroom bills", and trans people's securement of a reliable legal right to use gendered washrooms -- or that transphobic feminists eagerly and loudly promoted such calls. Rendering a major and long-fought victory for trans people meaningless -- even if only as an unintended consequence -- certainly could be seen as having a vindictively transphobic impact, whatever the intent might be (or be claimed to be): Oh, so you won legal access to gendered washrooms? Well, we'll get rid of gendered washrooms -- take THAT! What some people might see as a reasonable compromise, others might see as a scorched-earth reaction.
Who's saying this?
More people than you'd think. Aside from the usual anti-LGBT suspects and Bible thumpers such as Greg Locke, there are some otherwise liberal voices who let their ignorance color their views on trans people, such as Graham Linehan and JK Rowling.
Roseanne Barr also argued over Twitter that "women do not want your penises forced in their faces or in our private bathrooms." Presumably Barr would have genital inspection teams posted outside of public restrooms to ensure cisgender women aren't threatened by trans women's toxic penises.
Examples of Discrimination
Very, very unsurprisingly, this kind of panic has led to discrimination against transgender people. Transgender author Kate Bornstein recounts her experience in her book Gender Outlaw:
“”When I first went through my gender change, I was working for an IBM subsidiary in Philadelphia. The biggest quandary there was "which bathroom is it going to use?" To their credit, most of the people in my office didn't really care; it was the building manager who was tearing his hair out over this one... Finally, a solution was reached: even though I worked on the 11th floor of a large office building, I would use a bathroom on the seventh floor. The seventh floor had been under construction, but for lack of funds they simply stopped construction; no one worked on that floor. Piles of plaster and wiring littered the floor, and pools of water lay everywhere. But there was a working bathroom in the very back of that floor, and that's where they sent me. No one ever cleaned it, no one kept it stocked. It was poorly lit and it was scary... Most gender outlaws have some similar bathroom horror story. It's all part of what Marjorie Garber calls "urinary segregation."
A 2013 study found that while attempting to use bathrooms that match their gender identity, 70% of transgender Americans have been attacked (physically and/or verbally) or denied access, for being transgender. The same study found that 54% of transgender Americans have experienced physical health problems from avoiding public restrooms. In May 2018, California Republican Congressional candidate Jazmina Saavedra recorded and posted a now deleted video to Facebook, in which she harassed a trans woman in a bathroom at a Denny's before chasing the trans woman out of the restaurant. She also said in the video that she was willing to use pepper spray and a stun-gun.
In August 2018, a 12-year-old trans girl in Achille, Oklahoma (a town of about 500 people) was violently threatened on Facebook after using the girls bathroom at her middle school. She had previously been forced to use the staff bathroom in elementary school. The threats were so severe that the school system was shut down and the family was forced to flee.
On February 23, 2020, a transgender woman, Alexa Negrón Luciano, also known as Neulisa Luciano Ruiz, had a police report filed against her after entering a woman's bathroom in a restaurant in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. A video of her encountered of the police was uploaded to social media. Later that day, she was shot to death.