The vicious absurdity of bathroom laws

Last Sunday afternoon was breezy and bright, but I was too lazy to take the dogs for a walk so a friend and I drove into town to grab a cup of coffee. It was just your standard, laid-back, happy, Sunday-afternoonish sort of outing.

On the way to the coffee shop we swung by our local library. There were a couple of men – nice-looking grandfatherly types – standing near the entrance with a trestle table on which they had a couple of three-ring binders and some pamphlets. Attached to the wall behind them was a shiny sheet-sized poster featuring some message about “freedom and privacy for all” and a picture of a cute little blonde girl.

Transgender shocked girl (2).jpeg
Not this kid, but you get the idea. Who wouldn’t want her to be safe and happy?

As I ambled past them one man approached me with a binder, which he flipped open to reveal a sheet of paper about one-third filled with names and signatures. “Would you like to sign?” he asked.

“Sure!” I said – after all, we all like freedom, privacy and pretty little girls, right? I assumed it was a petition relating to the recent demise of internet privacy protections. I hadn’t really thought through what the little girl was there for … maybe protecting our freedom and internet privacy is a way to ensure her a safe and happy future. But to be honest, I didn’t think about it. There was a spring-like song in my head that didn’t leave a lot of room for logical analysis.

The man beamed at me, handed me a pen, and held out the binder for me to sign. “So what’s this about?” I asked, casually, just making conversation, and because even on a sunny spring day with a song in my head I am not a total idiot.

House Bill 1011,” he said, and when I looked blank, pen still poised above his piece of paper, he explained, “We believe people should have the right to vote when their privacy is affected.” I continued to look blank, but the song in my head was beginning to weeble.

I honestly don’t remember what he said next – he was still beaming and I think stretching his lips like that made it difficult for him to speak intelligibly – but you already saw the title of this post so you know what’s coming. For starters, the pen in my hand suddenly turned into a snake and bit me. “Oh my word!” I exclaimed, flinging it away. “You’re talking about restrooms? You’re trying to control how transgender people use public toilets?” He blinked and his beam wavered into bemusement. “Ugh! That’s disgusting! Your bigotry is disgusting!

Now I really don’t do confrontation. I mean, I do, but only under duress, and I need some sort of warning – time to work up a head of steam that will enable me to blast through my tendency to stutter when stressed and sob when angry. Under the circumstances I turned out to be as incapable of intelligible speech as he was, so I stormed into the library and slapped some books around.

When I stormed back outside the pair of them huddled together but stood firm, awaiting my next attack. I felt a bit sorry for them, actually – they were just a couple of gaffers doing their bewildered best to hold back the horrifying onslaught of … whatever it is they find horrifying. So I asked them some questions along the lines of “Have you ever actually heard of a case of a transgender person assaulting a little girl in a bathroom? Or of a predator dressing up as transgender in order to do so?” and they explained that they just wanted people to have the right to vote about something that affected their safety and privacy, so I asked, “And what about the safety and privacy of transgender citizens?” and … really, again, I don’t remember what they said. It didn’t have any logical handles that would enable it to attach to my brain.

So I shouted a bit and used the “bigot” word and waved my arms and didn’t make a lot of sense because another thing that happens when I’m upset and stressed is aphasia takes control of my tongue – sometimes it’s so bad the only word I don’t forget is “aphasia”. But this is what I wanted to say to them. This is what I should have said. This is what I’ll say next time.

First of all, just how does this whole transgender thing work? Well, I’m no expert, but as best I can figure it out from reading what various transgender people have to say on the subject, it seems to me that transgender people are the gender by which they identify. It’s not just a feeling, or a mood, or a phase. A person can have a penis and still be a woman, or a vagina and be a man. What, you don’t understand it? I can’t help you with that, because nor do I. But so what if you can’t? The older I get, the more things I find I don’t understand. Usually, in my experience, if I leave them alone and don’t poke at them with a pointy stick, they leave me alone and nobody gets bitten.

Secondly, this issue of who gets to use which facilities. Transgender women dress like women; I’m willing to bet most of them look way more feminine than I do. (Yes, that’s a low bar, but still.) Transgender men dress, walk, look like men. Republican dudes and duffers, do you really want someone in a dress and high heels standing next to you at the urinal? Or touching up her lipstick at the sink in your public restroom? Quit being dickish about this, and it won’t happen … because transgender people use stalls. Men with vaginas aren’t equipped to use urinals. Women with a penises will choose to wait … and wait … and, holy cow, cross their legs and wait in line for a stall rather than use the urinal in the men’s room.

Mind you … speaking as a woman who has, on more than one occasion, disdained the long line leading to the women’s room at a busy supermarket, preferring to dash straight into the empty men’s room right next door, I don’t really get why separate facilities are necessary. As far as I’m concerned, the sooner we switch to unisex restrooms the better. Although … yeah, they can tuck the urinals off around a corner somewhere … I don’t want to have to see that. (Sorry, guys, I know you’re awful proud of them and all, but they’re just not pretty.)

Transgender bathroom-police.png
I borrowed this cartoon without permission, because it says what needs to be said and it wasn’t clear where permission might be got. Please check out their website so they get some benefit from it.

Getting back to the point, thirdly, there’s the issue of enforcement. Are you going to appoint genital police to peek inside everyone’s underwear before we’re allowed through the door? Because I really don’t see how that will enhance feelings of privacy! Maybe this law will apply only to people whose community knows they have transitioned, like at schools. How’s that for a great way to encourage tolerance and civility – forcing a girl (with-a-penis) to use the same shower and toilet facilities as the tender-hearted fellows on the football team!

Because, of course, fourth point, let’s not forget that this all starts with concerns about safety. Those worried folk who are so anxious to strip transgender people of their peeing rights aren’t naturally mean, they’re scared. They’re scared of big hairy men putting on dresses and claiming to be women in order to invade their little girls’ potty spots and Do Nasty Things to them.

The thing is, rape is already against the law. So are assault, indecent exposure and harassment. Predators don’t care about restroom laws. When they are set on doing their predatory thing, they already disregard far more powerful laws, with harsher penalties than anyone could dream up for using the wrong bathroom.

I wish people like those two old gaffers would stop and think about who is really at risk here – the girls with penises and boys with vaginas who just need to pee, in safety and privacy, same as the rest of us! And then get the heck out of there, because no one actually wants to hang out in a public restroom!

That’s what I wish I’d said, in calm and measured tones, but instead I got loud and emotional, and when I realized I was about to start sniveling I whirled around and stomped off, and nearly slammed into a couple of young people – a tall girl and a short man – who were standing just a little way off.

The young man said, “Um, I just wanted to thank you.” He gestured in the direction of the gaffers. “For what you said there.” I mumbled something awkward and incoherent. He said, “They asked me to sign and I told them I couldn’t because it would mean I’d have to use the women’s bathroom, and they seemed to think that would be okay.”

Completely inappropriately, because I was still all discombobulated and upset, I hugged him. He didn’t seem to mind, but I wish I’d known what to say.

What do you think about legislation requiring people to use the restroom intended for their assigned gender? If you had been involved in this conversation, what would you have said?


Author: Belladonna Took

Well into my second half-century and still trying to figure out what to be when I grow up. Born South African, naturalized American, perpetually at risk of losing my balance and landing ass-first in the Atlantic.

33 thoughts on “The vicious absurdity of bathroom laws”

  1. I’m with you on this. Let people use the bathroom they’re most comfortable using. They’ve likely been doing it that way for years. Most of us just want to do our business and get out of there!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think the hug said it best of all! But I identify with the aphasia response under stress totally! After incidents like these, I usually spend my cool-down time thinking of all the things I wished I had said! Good thing there are blogs for this reason!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And rereading what I wrote I realize how much I forgot to mention, so even blogs have their limitations. But, re aphasia, isn’t it just the most maddening thing NOT to be able to articulate one’s opinion, complete with accurate, up-to-date information, when one needs to? Ugh! I’d be a hopeless politician.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Tsk, tsk, tsk Madam…. I have yet to meet a politician that is in the least bit concerned about the accuracy or up-to-datedness of information that spews forth from his/her/their mouth. For that reason, if no other, you would be a hopeless Politico. Met baie soentjies van jou man…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I would have RAGED at them, as s matter if fact I’m looking forward to encountering some just like them so I can thrash their ignorance. You know I really don’t care as much about their enlightenment as I do the spectacle and though provocation of onlookers


    1. Yes, my friend – I wish you had been there, because you’re blessed with an ability to remember facts under pressure, and I’ve never known you to be at a loss for words… 🙂 I did write to the library, expressing my displeasure, so am hoping they won’t be allowed to use that venue again.


  4. I, too, can never think of the right words to debate when confronted with this kind of horribleness! I have read all the things, and have all the info, and simply cannot get it out. Is it genetic, do you think? Anyway, this is a beautiful post. Beautiful!


  5. I’ve been practicing having these kinds of conversations more, but am often disappointed that I don’t get to, because I’m getting kind of good at it. It was the spluttering I had to get over, so I just slowed myself down.
    When all the conversations about transgender people started happening and the Target thing was going on, I was worried about letting my daughter, who looks an awful lot like a boy at this age, go to the restroom by herself because of all these nutters calling out people and confronting people about their gender. These people are out of their minds.
    The argument I really hate about all this is the “we have to protect the women and girls”. It’s condescending, false and just another form of misogyny dressed up as chivalry.
    You are awesome, by the way.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, keep practicing – and maybe I should follow your example. I’m afraid we’re can expect to have this conversation, and others very like it, many times over the next four (oh please let it be only four!!!) years. And … um … thanks… 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  6. We almost never say exactly the right thing, but what matters is that you said something. It matters. A lot.

    A friend posted a graphic on Facebook the asked What are women really afraid on in the bathroom? The graphic with it was an empty roll of toilet paper.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Wanting — and failing — to find just the right words at just the right moment is always frustrating. At the same time tho? Seems to me that certain situations are quite appropriately handled by waving one’s arms madly in the air, all while shrieking, “AGH! BIGOT! EPHASIA! UGH UGH! BIGOT!”

    I guess what I’m saying is: kudos. Sounds like ya done real good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, ma’am! The thing is, they were really sweet men. They MEANT well. I wanted so much to find the words to show them how to accomplish more good by changing the direction of their benevolent intentions. Instead I came across as demented. But it was worth it if only because it made that young man feel less alone. Something else he told me was that he’d always loved going to the library, but that after encountering that display outside the entrance he’d got to wondering whether he was really welcome. That made me just so sad, because it was just so WRONG.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I doubt you did come across as demented, and I hope running into some opposition will make those guys think twice before they set up their well-meaning table again. Because most of us just hate getting grief for our opinions. Keeping people from thinking they control the entire conversation is massively important.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Having met you and having had a splendid afternoon’s chatting about all and sundry, I doubt you came across demented. Aphasia and all – to which I entirely relate. I, too, only think of the arguments after the fact, and loathe confrontation, so hat’s off to you, and well said – then and in your post.

          Incidentally, the fear of confrontation is why my blog is largely about what is, for most, just fluff. I am, when I have a moment (very few of these right now – even to catch up with my favourite bloggers), and have finished ruminating, hoping to write something about recent books published by two people whom I knew when at university, about the 80’s in South Africa. Whether it’ll see the light of day, I know not, but it’s stewing somewhere inside. We’ll see.

          Awfully long sentence in that paragraph – sorry!


          1. I know that “stewing inside” thing all too well! I have an entire series – of FLUFF, unapologetically – stewing, and the button is threatening to blow off my internal pressure cooker, but dang it’s so hard to get started!

            That visit we had in Joburg was so good. I hope we do it again … only maybe next time in your far more beautiful piece of country… 🙂


  8. Love this. I’m sure they understood you perfectly fine.

    I’m so sick of folks demonizing what they think is different or they don’t understand. And why anyone feels the need to police who uses what bathroom is beyond me.


  9. There’s nothing that puts me in an adversarial (OK…downright hostile) position faster than being accosted with some form of ‘Save the Cheeeeldrin!!!’ It’s emotional blackmail, and if it’s the tactic of choice, I’m instantly against whatever it is the user is trying to ‘sell’ me on that principal alone.

    I’m sick of our politicos using OUR children in THEIR wars. It’s not society’s job to protect the children from all the horrors contained in the big scary world, it’ the parent’s job to teach their children how to properly wind their way safely through these horrors.

    I’d have probably told the guy collecting signatures to teach his little girl how to properly react to a would be rapist, and offered to show him how to correctly knee a guy in the balls…for science, dontchaknow…


  10. I have very little interest in trans/cis/etc stuff, but there is a tangent in here I’m very interested in.

    “and … really, again, I don’t remember what they said. It didn’t have any logical handles that would enable it to attach to my brain.”

    Do you think this is a problem or a good thing? ^


    1. Interesting thought! And yes, it does raise the question of whether my lack of mental handles was the problem – which would be a bad thing, if you believe, as I do, that empathy is a desirable trait – or was it the inherent lack of logic in their argument, which would be a bad thing because arguments should be logical. I’m not talking about machine logic – 1+1=2 – necessarily; I mean logic that incorporates both data and love for one’s fellow man.

      I think I’ve figured out that I think, either way, it’s a bad thing. What do you think? Your lack of interest in the issue isn’t really relevant – we can’t be interested in every facet of social change, or we’d exhaust ourselves – but I’d say this is something of a universal dilemma. Do you agree?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In my experience, people don’t really do anything because they think it’s wrong.

        They might be misinformed, they might not be thinking clearly or they might just be different but I don’t think the ideas of evil/badness add any explanatory power to our analysis.

        I’m actually writing a book right now on the principle of charity, which is the idea you should interpret speech/text in the most favorable possible terms. This is usually pretty easy to do.

        If I told you that “there’s a fork in the road” you are probably not going to call me an idiot when there isn’t any cutlery stuck in the asphalt. You will instead, charitably, assume that I mean the road is going to diverge.

        The only time this gets hard is when emotions are involved. For me personally, I have deep, angry feelings about utopians and dogmatic idealists. They provoke me even by speaking.

        This makes it really hard for me to charitably interpret their speech and/or texts. I should still try, but it’s hard.

        I think you might have been in a similar situation, though your hair trigger is obviously different from mine. (I imagine this wasn’t helped by the pretty manipulative behavior of the petitioners.)

        As for my charitable reading of those petitioners, I think the trans/bathroom/feminism/anti feminism thing is actually a rehash of Puritanism. The petitioners probably feel that male sexuality pollutes females and gets worse when a person embraces alternative sexuality. Feminists largely feel the same, in my experience, but differ in believing the pollution stops once the person embraces alternative sexuality. I think the idea of pollution is kind of goofy, which is why I’m not very invested in this issue either way.


        1. I tend to assume that most people are doing the best they can with what they have, and I agree with you – very few people are intentionally “bad”. I think puritanism is part of what’s driving the anti-LGBT agenda, but it’s also fear. The reason it makes me angry is that real people get hurt when other people (who are also real) try to defend themselves against a perceived (but often non-existent) threat. I get very frustrated by my own inability to discuss these issues calmly and rationally, though … My initial reaction to them was anger – I felt manipulated, I felt their entire stance was deceitful – but when I came out of the library I wanted to talk about facts, and they didn’t really want to know, and then my brain let me down by not being able to remember specific statistics. Gah! I’d be interested to read that book when it’s written!

          Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m a little late to this party, since I just discovered your blog. As the Mom of a transgender teenager, I just wanted to thank you for not only following your own values, but for being an upstander and saying something, I am sure that the power of your indignation and support for all people being able to be their authentic selves, was priceless to the man you hugged.


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