The bathroom use of transgender people has been a topic that’s hard to avoid, especially on social media. Here in Canada, the following video began to circulate after Alberta’s 61 school boards decided to “revise regulations and hash out new policies by March 31 to protect the rights of LGBTQ students and teachers, support gay-straight alliances and create a safe learning environment.”
And in the U.S., the American Family Association recently began a boycott of Target after the organization stated that transgender visitors should be allowed to use the bathroom they feel most comfortable in. Meanwhile, several States have attempted to pass bills that would force “transgender people to use restrooms that don’t match the gender they live every day”.
Along with the debate, a variety of memes have popped up on both sides of the conversation. While it irritates me to see the particularly popular Chuck Norris-themed meme belittle transgender experiences, I thought trans activists were easily holding their own in the meme department by reminding readers of how difficult it can be to spot a transgender person, and therefore how ridiculous it is to police who enters which bathroom.
Unfortunately, there have already been several cases of bathroom policing, where women who aren’t deemed feminine enough are challenged for entering their bathroom (as might be expected, the video below includes some strong language).
While these vigilante bathroom monitors are troubling enough, what I’ve found impossible to ignore has been the consistent suggestion, and often outright accusation that transgender bathroom users must be sex offenders or, at the very least, threatening figures.
This argument makes me furious for a variety of reasons.
First of all, it is incredibly misleading. Allowing transgender people access to their bathroom of choice has not been linked to any increase in sexual assault in any of the States where it has been a policy for some time.
This argument also further embeds the incorrect assumption that rape is committed by strangers, when in reality the majority of sexual attacks take place in private, committed by someone already known to the victim, not in a public place like a restroom.
It also implies that the safety of cis-gender women is innately more important than the safety of trans-women, even though trans-women are statistically more likely to be attacked. Unlike cis-gender women who really haven’t been threatened by transgender women in their restrooms, many trans individuals actually have even been the target of assault and threats when using what those around them consider “the wrong bathroom“.
Appealing to the safety of women and girls makes for a convincing argument. But in a culture where we still blame rape victims and ignore many, many instances of missing and murdered women, we have to ask why politicians suddenly care so much about our safety. Is it because they are actually concerned? Or because appealing to our safety disguises their real reason for opposing transgender equality?
Katherine Franke, director of Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, suggests that proponents of anti-trans bathroom policies aren’t trying to protect the safety of women, instead, they are seeking to protect their ideals of what it means to be a man or a women:
The anxiety isn’t men in women’s bathrooms, it’s about masculinity in the wrong place… It’s portrayed as a threat to women, but on a much deeper level, it’s about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman.”
Personally, I believe that if women’s safety was really the root issue we’d be talking more about the safety of all women, including the women who had to fight for their gender identity. Hopefully, we’d also care about their safety even after they walked out of the bathroom.