The author. Would you really expect her to use the men's room? (Photo by Ryan Harding)
There’s a crazy right wing conspiracy against transgender people and it’s just turned ugly.
Conservatives are trying to deny transgender students the right to use the bathroom. Just to put this into context, in Britain trans people use whichever bathroom they feel most comfortable in. As a British gal, it both surprises and depresses me that trans restroom rights is even an issue in the States. It doesn’t have to be a big deal unless you, um, you know, want it to be. There’s a major political battle over California’s School Success and Opportunity Act right now that makes trans rights the focus of a national culture war between the religious right and liberal left. Republicans are using human rights for trans students as pawns to discredit Democrats. Just like gay marriage, restroom rights have become a political football.
It’s an imaginary debate. You’ve probably already been in a public restroom with a transgender person and not even realised. Last time I checked, trans people are included in “everyone". So yeah, we’re in that line in the bathroom, trying to get a line in the bathroom.
There are around 700,000 trans people in America and I’m kinda sure they all piss and poop. (I don’t poop. I defecated once in 2006, it was sparkly and glittery and scented with Chanel and I’ve never done anything like that since.) Let’s assume, though, that trans people dare to carry on existing and also continue to need bathrooms and whatnot. Conservatives say that if we give trans people restroom and locker rights, men will pretend to be trans to sexually harass women.
Number one: Since when are crazy straight guys pretending to be trans a reason to deny trans people rights? Number two: The whole thing, frankly, is bullshit – it’s an argument based on ignorance, fear and zero evidence.
Say hello to the Pacific Justice Institute, a hate group that spreads propaganda about trans people. Sometimes mainstream media outlets repeat these lies. Like ABC’s Michael Chen, who, last October, mentioned the case of a trans girl peering over bathroom stalls to look at other girls. Except she didn’t. When activist site TransAdvocate investigated – using complex methods like picking up a phone – the school informed them that the story was “fabricated". Lies like this hand ammunition to bullies, reactionaries and mean girls alike. But it’s not like schools have a problem with bullying, right?
Here’s something else that didn’t happen. A trans girl in Colorado didn’t harass other students in the girls’ toilets last autumn. However, some girls at the school – some, not all – did feel harassed about her using the girls' restroom. Never mind that she never actually did or said anything apart from go into the stalls, lock the door and pee. Or that she got beaten up when she used the boys' room. No one cares about that. But Fox, the _Examiner _and MailOnline were super concerned about lovely, regular folk feeling uncomfortable over absolutely nothing and global news coverage soon followed. Strangely enough, the trans student reacted badly to international reports that she was a pervert and she’s since left the school. In the aftermath of this incident, she's been put on suicide watch.
The author. With a toilet.
Never mind, though – a stereotype was born. Based on nothing. A couple of weeks ago the Toronto Star published an email from someone who claims she was sexually harassed by a "man posing as a trans woman":
“I am a senior woman. Recently, a ‘man’ claiming to be transgender, who had not yet begun physical treatments, was permitted by our local Y to use the women’s locker room. There are no secure change rooms. The person they allowed in was not courteous and stared at me while I struggled out of a wet bathing suit. He was naked, had an erection and playfully asked, ‘Do you come here often?’ I understand that gender is no longer judged solely by genitalia, but does a brief contact with the duty manager mean that men not yet committed to gender reassignment are free to disrobe anywhere they choose?"
The paper’s “Ethically Speaking” columnist Ken Galligher, also known as Inspector Ken of the Morality Police, replied with three keys points, which I’ll summarise below:
- Trans women have every right to use women’s changing rooms and gender is more complex than external genitalia.
- Just because someone is trans, doesn’t mean they can’t also be jerks – and senior women should report the incident.
- Gender-neutral toilets are a good idea because Starbucks have them.
Truth told, it’s pretty good advice. But the email still stinks of bullshit. Anybody who gets an unwanted dick shoved in their face has a duty to report that to the police. So “senior woman", if she existed, should’ve told the authorities about her cock-shock, not Ken. As badass activist Parker Marie Molloy points out, assault is always illegal, whoever is responsible – allowing trans people into bathrooms doesn’t change that. Weirdos in locker rooms are weirdos in locker rooms. Anyway, TransAdvocate called the YMCA, and guess what? They hadn’t received any reports of sexual harassment.
Deja vu? Of course, maybe "senior woman" does exist, it did happen and I’m majorly wrong. The point is, the Toronto Star didn’t bother to check. Ken and his editor clearly swallowed this story whole, like two greedy old girls going down on a stranger’s boner. And if they didn’t stop to question if the email was genuine, why would their readers? Research conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that two-thirds of the population agrees that trans people "deserve the same human rights as other Americans". But only 30 percent claim to be "well informed about transgender issues". So most people would probably support restroom rights for trans people, but not if they think "transgender" is just another word for "pervert".
As if to illustrate this point for me, the Toronto Star published a letter today from an angry reader called Daniela Caruso. They gave it the handy little title, "Trans rights trump women's rights", thus setting out the rights of trans people and women as two competing forces. Caruso had this to say: "I am concerned that sexually predatory men will take advantage of the new bill by claiming they are transsexual in order to freely access any women’s washroom in the province." Congratulations, Toronto Star. You're doing an excellent job of misinforming your readers and turning them against rights for transgender people based on fear and ignorance. When you recycle the myth that trans people are predators with reports you haven't fact checked, you’re part of the political demonisation of a vulnerable minority. Way to go.
By the way, trans people are totally more likely to be abused than all you regular folks, usually by you regular folks. I once had my top pulled down in a bathroom by a lesbian who wanted to see if my tits were real. They’re real. HD real, bitches. I’ve had guys grab my crotch to see if I still have a dick. I’ve been kicked walking down stairs in a club and chased by gangs. I’ve seen transgender friends get punched in the street, spat on, trash thrown at them. Luckily I blend in kinda well and have never had problems using female bathrooms or changing rooms – apart from that one time I took too much ketamine and passed out in a cubicle for three hours – but I know plenty of trans women who have. I’m one of the lucky ones. Chrissy Polis wasn’t. In 2011, she was dragged out of the bathroom at a McDonald’s in Baltimore and beaten until she passed out and started to convulse while amused staff filmed the attack on their phones. She only went in for Chicken McNuggets, and to pee. You can see why many trans people hold their bladders in public.
Sorry to break it to you, but this ain’t Jerry Springer. It’s a little something I like to call "life". And trans people need to pee in it. And shower. And put clean clothes on. Sometimes publicly. I can’t vouch for every trans person, but on the whole we just want to go about our daily business while having to deal with as little bullshit as possible. We’re not here to trick people into having sex with us, or at least no more than anyone else. Do you know how many recorded incidents there are of trans folk harassing people in public restrooms or locker rooms? Nada. In some states, trans kids have already been using the restrooms they prefer for over ten years with no problem. Take the Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, which has given trans students restroom rights since 2005. The policy has never been abused, nor has it been a problem in Europe or any of the other places that trans people have the right to pee in safety.
So let’s summarise. Transgender folk harassing people is not a thing. Repeat. Not. A. Thing. But telling lies about transgender folk harassing people is a thing. People harassing transgender folks is also a thing. Transgender folk deserve restroom rights. Ya heard?
Follow Paris on Twitter: @ParisLees
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