May 14, 2016

Additional Thoughts on the Transgender Restroom Wars

a transgender symbolIn my recent post about the ongoing transgender restroom wars, I indicated that I was having trouble understanding why some people were so upset over the prospect of allowing transgendered persons to use public restrooms that correspond to their gender identity like the rest of us do. I speculated that the controversy probably had more to do with the prospect of transgender women using women's restrooms than it did with transgender men using men's restrooms. In examining the likely sources of this controversy, I focused primarily on two things: the irrational fear that transgendered persons would be more likely to perpetrate crimes against others while using certain restrooms and the suspicion that some cisgendered men could potentially enter women's restrooms under the guise of being transgendered in order to ogle the women.

While I briefly referred to another potential source of the controversy (i.e., some people simply refuse to acknowledge that there is such a thing as being transgendered), I combined it with the irrational fear of predatory transgendered persons and failed to consider it as a factor in its own right. Since writing that post, I have watched a handful of YouTube videos featuring people ranting about the evils of transgendered persons (in fairness to me, I did not seek this out and had no idea what I was in for until it was too late). At least watching these videos was informative in the sense that I now think there is another source of this controversy: the refusal to accept that some people have a gender identity that is different from their biological sex. Perhaps this is worth considering in its own right.

Based on the angry rants in several YouTube videos (I cannot help being fascinated by how angry many of these people seem to be about the notion of sharing a restroom with others), it seems like there is some serious denial out there about the existence of transgendered persons. What stood out to me the most was that it did not seem to matter who was speaking in any particular YouTube video, because they seemed to all be saying the same things. Here is a brief sampling of what I heard over and over again:
  • "I don't care if you feel like you are a man; if you have a vagina, you are a woman."
  • "A man in a dress is still a man."
  • "I've got news for you: if you were born a man, you are a man."
  • "This is no different from Rachel Dolezal pretending to be Black."
  • "These are just perverts who are trying to fool you."
  • "Sorry, but you don't get to choose your sex. That's not how it works."
These statements showed up in video after video and were almost always associated with angry expressions and flying spittle. The core belief underlying such statements appears to be that there is no such thing as a transgendered person, only confused men and women who need to come to terms with their chromosomes. Gender identity is regarded as irrelevant.

For those with such a belief, the restroom issue is an extremely simple matter. Anyone who was born male should use the men's restroom regardless of gender identity or physical appearance because this person "is really a man." And anyone who was born female should use the women's restroom because this person "is really a woman" no matter what. It seems like some people hold these views without necessarily concluding that transgendered persons are inherently predatory, although I did find that this concern was often mentioned too.

When I think about this sort of denial of transgendered persons or insistence that gender identity does not matter, I cannot help being reminded of the long-running claim that one's sexual orientation is a choice one makes. Remember that? We don't hear this claim nearly as often as we used to, but it is still out there. There are still Christians trying to "pray away the gay" or disowning their children because they "chose" to follow "the gay lifestyle." But I think it is probably safe to say that most reasonable people now understand that sexual orientation is not usually a matter of choice. This is likely due to the fact that most of us feel like we have far more information about gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons than we used to.

For a variety of reasons, this is far less true when it comes to transgendered persons. Most people know fewer of them and are less familiar with their struggles. Confusion, misconceptions, fear, and even denial are still widespread. Attitudes will shift over time. I have little doubt that we will soon look back on these restroom wars with amazement and disgust. Many of us already are. In the meantime, things will continue to be ugly as others struggle to overcome their ignorance and bigotry.

I know, I know. It isn't bigotry. That is the other claim I heard repeatedly in the videos. If someone truly believes that all transgendered persons, including those who have used hormone replacement and surgery to transform themselves, are essentially just faking it, I suppose I'm not sure what else to call it besides bigotry. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but it certainly seems like a false generalization about an entire group (i.e., bigotry). And if the goal really is one of public safety, perhaps there are other solutions to consider.