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.
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.)
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?