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, a right-wing organization claiming to defend "religious freedom", 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 cis women's spaces, this will inevitably put cis 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 them, 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 (in fact, people who support it generally respond angrily when asked for evidence), so they instead create memes.
A big mountain of nothing
There is no evidence at a statistical level that suggests that this is a problem whatsoever. The most people can do is point to incidents or a compilation of those incidents. Here's a few resources to consider:
- A study in Massachusetts compared the rates of voyeurism, sex crimes, etc. between areas with gender non-discrimination rules and areas that didn't have these rules. Not only did the study find that the sex crime rate has no relation to these rules, it also found that these crimes rarely happened in the first place (though numbers could be suppressed because these sorts of crimes go under-reported already).
- A large number of people with experience in a variety of areas, including law enforcement, sex abuse, etc. have said that non-discrimination doesn't lead to an increase in sex crimes in the bathroom.
- In an hours-long analysis going through dozens of claims of people committing sex crimes in the bathroom, the Charlotte Observer was only able to verify 3 incidents as having actually happened over a timespan of 17 years.
Hoaxes and misleading stories
There have been a number of misleading or straight-up hoax incidents involving trans people committing sex crimes in bathrooms, and they're able to spread around quickly because of the partisan, hot-button nature of the topic. Here's a few examples which have gotten a lot of circulation:
- A story circulated in 2013 about a transgender teen harassing students at Florence High School in Colorado, reaching CBN and The Daily Mail. It was originally publicized by the Pacific Justice Institute. An interview with the school superintendent showed that the original incident never happened, sending the Pacific Justice Institute into damage control for the situation.
- A 2016 story from Dallas, Texas circulated about a transgender woman taking pictures of underage girls in a Target restroom. The story is a complete hoax — the website's 'about' page quite literally says "This should go without saying, but everything on this website is purely for entertainment purposes. We are in no way affiliated, or trying to look like we are affiliated with any local news station." Yes, this is something that people have unironically cited to substantiate their worldview.
- A 2017 story from Casper, Wyoming circulated about a trans woman raping an underage girl in a private restroom. It was originally published by a local newspaper and was then picked up by partisan news outlets like Fox News and the Daily Wire. Unlike the others, this incident actually did happen, but transgender bathroom bills wouldn't have had an impact on this incident regardless because it was done in a private restroom, not a public one.
- A compilation of 25 transgender bathroom incidents was put together by the Family Research Council. However, the vast majority of incidents listed are of cis men committing sex crimes against cis women, rather than trans women committing the crimes. The FRC argues that the real issue is about cis men exploiting loopholes in non-discrimination law rather than trans women being sexual predators, but this doesn't make a lot of sense either because even if said loopholes exist in those laws (they don't), activities such as non-consensual voyeurism are still illegal. On top of this, even if all 25 stories involved a trans person, this does barely anything to prove there's a broader problem at play — these incidents took place over the course of 18 years (1999-2017), meaning that on average it would take around three-quarters of a year for just one of these incidents to occur.
- A compilation of a few hundred incidents has circulated around the web, originating from a TERF wordpress blog. Ignoring the preamble, the post is very obviously a gish gallop which has lot of dead links and an awful lot of links unrelated to the transgender bathroom stuff. The compilation also includes way more than just transgender people, extending its focus to cross-dressers (that is, anyone who is wearing literally any clothing which we associate with the opposite gender, such as a naked man who is wearing nothing but women's heels). Many of these incidents don't even give us evidence that cross-dressing is something the people involved do on a regular basis, e.g. an incident where a man impersonated a female police officer. We don't know if that person regularly cross-dresses or if the person was impersonating a police officer who just happens to be a woman or any of that, but it gets included in the blog's list anyway. The blog even includes incidents where no crime was committed, e.g. a man who drowned because the skirt he was wearing was too tight to let him swim. Using this list to dunk on trans people at large is extremely stupid.
It's worth noting that even if an individual story is accurate, this doesn't necessarily mean that the problem is something that exists at a statistical level (nor that we should make any policy in response to it).
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, one's children are no more in danger when trans people are allowed to use the restroom than when they aren't.
Ignoring the ethics and morality, the laws aren't even practical. How would society even begin to enforce such laws; if someone tries to enter the bathroom, could anyone demand to see their genitals before letting them in? Could random women be stopped and frisked by
gropey suspicious police officers with only the flimsiest of excuses? Would using the bathroom now require a government ID?
Furthermore, what never seems to be considered are trans men, i.e., female to male. An ultra-macho burly buff manly man isn't necessarily cisgender, and under these laws would be forced into the ladies' room (though trans men may need to rely on ladies' rooms to get and dispose hygienic products including tampons and pads until people call attention for the need of these in men's restrooms). In terms of "protecting our precious womens", this actually creates the possibility for the very problem the laws are allegedly there to prevent; hypothetically, after everyone gets used to seeing the occasional trans man in the woman's room, actual cisgender rapists could enter the opposite gender's bathroom without raising suspicion.
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 securing 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 single-topic bigotry 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.
Discrimination against trans people
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 encounter with the police was uploaded to social media. Later that day, she was shot to death.
- https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system see "The Majority of Sexual Assaults Are Not Reported to the Police" onward
- The whole exchange on Queerty.
- Though if she does actually say that she sadly won't be the first.
- Gender Outlaw, pp 84-85.