Bathroom Bills: Dehumanization and Control (Gender Analysis 06)


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Hi, welcome to Gender Analysis. Ever since I transitioned, I’ve noticed something interesting: a lot of cis people really seem to care about where I go to the bathroom. Over the past few months, lawmakers in several states have proposed bills to ban people from using restrooms and other facilities that don’t match their sex assigned at birth. Practically speaking, this would have the effect of forcing trans women to use men’s restrooms and trans men to use women’s restrooms or face fines, jail time, or more.

This is an issue that’s been around forever and it makes life incredibly difficult for us. We’re painted as a threat to a cis population that in reality poses more of a threat to us. This much larger and more institutionally powerful group now seeks to enshrine their bathroom policing into law. And they’ve presented this as if it’s an actual controversy with genuine issues to be debated.

Well, it’s not. 


Safety as a smokescreen

The proponents of these bills have advanced them under the banner of safety and the prevention of assault, battery, and rape, but in reality, safety is the last thing on their minds. Some lawmakers, such as Florida state representative Frank Artiles, claim they aren’t concerned about any supposed threat posed by trans people in bathrooms, but rather the possibility that criminals will falsely claim to be trans in order to use whichever restroom they want. Others, like Texas state representative Debbie Riddle, focus more specifically on trans people, and claim that these bills “will protect women & children from going into a ladies restroom & finding a man who feels like he is a woman that day.”

When I first addressed these arguments in 2013, I pointed out that a majority of trans people have been harassed by cis people in public restrooms, and questioned whether a similar number of cis people have faced harassment in bathrooms by trans people. I now believe that approach was a mistake. These people are not developing policies based on facts. None of their concerns are credible, and none of their proposals have anything to do with safety.

Those who support these bills haven’t presented any data showing that cis people are at an elevated risk in bathrooms due to trans people’s use of them, or due to cis people pretending to be trans. So if they think that cis men will pretend to be trans women to use the women’s restroom, and these new laws will allow trans men but not trans women to use the women’s restroom, how do they know that cis men won’t just pretend to be trans men to accomplish the same thing? They don’t. And if they think trans people are going to assault cis people in the restroom of our gender, how do they know we won’t just start assaulting people in the other restroom? They don’t.

They have no evidence, because they consider evidence to be irrelevant. Representative Artiles dismissed the testimony he’d heard from countless trans people, saying:

“What about my feelings? What about my wife’s feelings? What about the feelings of 99.7 percent of the population that are being endangered just to appease (you)?”

To him, our actual experiences mean nothing. His unfounded speculation means everything. Who needs facts when you’ve got your precious cis feelings?


Why safety is the wrong argument

Amidst this atmosphere of evidence-free argumentation, even some people who support us have taken this as a cue to fight ignorance with more ignorance. Many people have claimed that there are zero cases of trans people ever assaulting anyone in bathrooms, or of cis people pretending to be trans people to use restrooms. This is a terrible argument. There are millions of trans people on the planet, and billions of cis people – how likely is it that in any group that big, none of them have ever committed a particular crime in a restroom?

Putting this much significance on the magic number zero will just make opponents think their concerns have been validated when one of these cases does appear. But would that actually be a reason to bar trans people from the restrooms of their gender? No, it would not. Concerns about safety aren’t just a poorly-formed argument – they’re the wrong argument for any of us to be having here. This line of ill reasoning doesn’t reflect any sort of established decision-making process about restroom safety. When is the last time that policymakers ranked different demographics of cis women by their statistical likelihood of committing crimes in restrooms, and decided that a certain threshold was unacceptable?

In most cases, we understand that allowing any group of people into a given place means that some small fraction of them might commit crimes, and we accept that the benefits of their being able to access that place outweigh the potential risks. Cis women have assaulted cis women in restrooms, yet nobody takes this as a reason to ban all cis women from women’s restrooms. Imposing that kind of inconvenience on all cis women is obviously unacceptable, but imposing it on trans women is totally okay for some reason. (The reason is transphobia.)

If these lawmakers are concerned about the potential for assault when certain people use restrooms, let’s look at an extreme case: registered sex offenders. 100% of these people have previously been convicted of a sex offense, so how is their restroom usage regulated? Out of all the restrictions imposed on sex offenders, this actually isn’t one of them. Male sex offenders who committed crimes against men aren’t banned from the men’s restroom. Female sex offenders who committed crimes against women aren’t banned from the women’s restroom. And the most that anyone ever says about this is, “be careful, there might be sex offenders in restrooms”. It’s taken as a reality of life. But lawmakers want to exile trans people from the proper bathroom on the basis of nothing but hypothesized threats? That’s not good enough, and it’s a mistake for anyone to treat this argument as if it was ever legitimate.


Bathroom bills are meant to dehumanize us

If this movement isn’t about safety, and it isn’t about evidence, what is it about? It’s about treating trans people as less than human. Public restrooms exist because they’re necessary – they’re for dealing with daily, universal bodily functions. Everyone goes to the bathroom. This is a constant of humanity, so what does it mean when these fundamental needs are disregarded for a subset of the population?

Representative Artiles defended his bill, saying:

“People are not forced to go to the restroom. They choose to go to the restroom.”

Cis people’s bodily needs are taken as a given, while trans people are placed outside of one of the most basic aspects of life. Their needs are real and valid; ours are not. Debating our access to bathrooms deprioritizes our own human nature, treating it as something beside the point – something that people just don’t need to care about if they don’t feel like it. It implicitly removes us from the circle of humanity.

The issue of bathroom access may be especially well-suited to dehumanizing people. A 2008 study found that found that people who are highly aware of bodily sensations became more severely morally judgmental after recalling experiences of physical disgust. A later study showed that people who were made to feel disgusted more strongly associated themselves with humans and outsider groups with animals. Disgust helps kick moral judgment into overdrive, and encourages people to dehumanize those who aren’t like them. Why do these lawmakers use bathrooms to attack us? Because it works.


Bathroom bills codify regressive transphobia

Trans people have been using bathrooms for as long as there have been bathrooms. So why has this become such an issue now? Our access to bathrooms has been contested for decades – but these new bills are more far-reaching than ever. They go beyond simply imposing restrictions on trans people, and provide enormous incentives for private citizens to police our bathroom usage.

Some of these bills would allow people to sue school districts, government institutions, private business owners, or even trans people themselves for thousands of dollars in “damages”. Damages for what? For having seen a trans person in a public restroom. A proposed referendum in California even creates a “civil claim for violation of privacy” in the event that someone doesn’t use a restroom because a trans person was there. Such laws would effectively disallow any public institution or private business from deciding to allow trans people to use the proper restroom, and they promise a reward of thousands of dollars for anyone who spots a trans person using a restroom.

At a time when awareness of trans people is more widespread than ever, these bills are designed to stop progress in its tracks. They legally enshrine the idea that cis people are entitled to avoid ever seeing us in the proper restroom. They’re meant to force us to out ourselves every time we go to the bathroom – they’re meant to force trans women to walk into a room labeled “men”. They’re meant to encourage the whole of society to pick us out from a crowd, and they’re meant to make us know that we’re a target. They turn us into prey. All of this is designed to disrupt our integration into society at a basic level, fundamentally negating who we are at a moment of universal human need. The absence of women’s restrooms has historically been used to exclude women from participation in public life. And today, these lawmakers want to roll back history: they want to erase trans people.


Non-issues get non-solutions

Maybe this is the part where you think I’ll offer an elegant answer that obviates this entire problem, like making all bathrooms unisex, or building new gender-neutral bathrooms. But really, this isn’t my job and it isn’t my problem. We’re not the ones who broke things here. Cis people started this, and they can end it – by leaving us alone. Meanwhile, we’re going to keep doing what we’ve always done, which is to use whichever restroom we feel is safest for us. And that tends to rule out drawing attention to ourselves by assaulting people.

I’m Zinnia Jones. Thanks for watching, and tune in next time for more Gender Analysis.

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Bathroom Bills: Dehumanization and Control (Gender Analysis 06)

24 thoughts on “Bathroom Bills: Dehumanization and Control (Gender Analysis 06)

  1. 1

    Worrying about if someone in a restroom is trans is creepy. If anyone really cared about stopping trans people who look like they can pass, that would imply potentially examining EVERYONE’s genitals. That is creepy. How can transphobic people stand to suggest such a procedure, even by implication?
    A lot of the emphasis on gender-based rules seems to me to come from the Old Testament. If such people were consistent, an even higher priority for them should be to inspect the testicles (“stones”) of preachers in church (or anyone?) who approaches “the temple”. So no preachers (or attendees?) with damaged or missing testicles (no veterans with war damage?), and definitely no women. That is a strict reading of the bible.
    So these transphobic people who want to peep at everyone who uses a restroom should start first by going to church and inspecting the testicles of every church leader. Without two good testicles, nobody should approach the temple, it says. So the transphobic people should figure out how to run their inspection scheme at church FIRST, before proposing to extend their creepiness to restrooms.
    It creeps me out to think I might be using a urinal right next to someone who takes the bible seriously. They’re disgusting.

  2. 3

    But what about the rights of the people who own the lavatorial installations? Should they not have the last say? The only time the law should come into it is in the case of publicly owned facilities, such as those in police stations as public property they belong to all citizens, so transgender people should not be discriminated against by them.

    Great point about how sex offenders are not being denied access to such apparatus, it seems to indicate that these laws are mainly being used as a wedge issue to divide the elecotrate in the Land Of The Eagle, rather than a genuine safety concern.

  3. 4

    The phony arguments used sound exactly like bigotry against gay people in the 1970s, and Artiles and Biddle sound exactly like Anita Bryant. Back then, it was the made-up “threat” of gay people molesting or “recruiting” children, as if they were a threat and the only threat.

    Nothing has changed except who the bigots are choosing as a target of hate. And only because it’s no longer acceptable to hate the previous “other”.

  4. 5

    Sounds like the problem in bathrooms is really with predatory cis-men. There is a simple solution to that, ban cis men:

    A Cis-Male Excluding Option to the Trans Bathroom Debate

    Seriously though, I know that some liberal cities have converted their single-stall bathrooms into gender-neutral bathrooms, but it isn’t enough. We should follow the logic of the transphobic politicians to its obvious conclusion and liberate the men’s room.

    1. 5.1

      Are you being satirical? Why should governments be allowed to dictate how patrons of private establishments are permitted to access the facilities?

      1. My blog post may be sarcastic at times, but my proposal for converting all public men’s rooms into all-gender bathrooms is serious.

        Also, governments at the federal, state, and city levels already regulate how bathrooms in private establishments are used. Cities ranging from Philadelphia to Austin, TX have mandated that single-stall bathrooms be labeled as gender-neutral. Meanwhile the state legislature in Texas is trying to do just the opposite and make it illegal for citizens to use any bathroom that doesn’t match their birth sex.

        Society has already decided that public restrooms residing in private establishments are within their scope of interest/regulation. I’m merely providing a more equitable and realistic solution for everyone involved.

        1. Just because a Government has decided that it can do something, it does not mean that it should. In the Land Of The Eagle, President Obama has, without any significant official blow-back, decided that he is allowed to slay his own citizens within the borders of his own nation, without establishing imminent threat to any reasonable standard nor the verdict of an honest jury. You are attempting to use the overreach of the state, to justify the overreach of the state.

          I set three buildings on fire, therefore I should be allowed to set another one on fire.

          Does the freedom and equality of sapient actors mean nothing to you?

  5. 6

    One of the bills introduced here in Texas – I can’t find it again at the moment – wants to put responsibility for letting the “wrong people” use a bathroom on the proprietor of the building it’s in. I don’t think it spelled out precisely who the pee-pee police will be, though….

  6. 7

    This kind of bullshit just introduces another level of confusion into the lives of people. Imagine the possible harassment of woman that has had GRS but appears insufficiently “womanly”, or a cis-woman that appears insufficiently “womanly”. Do they get to sue a fuddy-duddy for a false accusation? Or a transman that uses a stall instead of a urinal to just piss? Or a non-op transwoman that can “pass” only 98% of the time and gets first accosted the 42nd time she uses a particular women’s room?
    To actually think that these dummies actually had some foresight about the problems that they were creating would be much too generous.

  7. 8

    Part of the problem here is trying to address these alleged concerns at face value. Any sort of sexually aggressive conduct in a public restroom is already very illegal no matter who does it.

    Their real objection is to the existence of trans people at all, and the response must be made accordingly.

  8. 9

    What I never understood is the idea that there’s some kind of magic portal at women’s room doors that keeps out cis het males. There’s nothing to keep them out-they don’t have to put on a dress to get in if they want to. Pfft.

  9. 10

    I remeber saying this before, but I have a feling that the women’s toilets forming some kind of safe haven against sexual attackers probably stems from bar and club culture- where a) sexual activity is generally higher up some people’s agenda (our culture from movies to music videos etc promotes clubs as a place to go and ‘pick up women’) and thanks to alcahol people are less inhibited and more likely to do bad things.

    I DO NOT doubt any of the things zinnia says however, and it’s an interesting point by focusing on this particular topic there can be gains by exploiting a visceral response. I never thought about this this way as I am more concerned about going poopy or pee pee as quickly as possible so I can get back to more interesting things. Also as somone who is not a woman I am lucky enough not to worry overly much about sexual assault.

    Interesting thought- is it possible to do a survey of US official who have spoken out against sexual assault in general and those who speak out against civilised bathroom behavior? I have a feeling there might be a demographic mis-match- i.e. male politicians will be statistically more likely to stand up against what they claim would increase sexual assault provided it allows them to shit all over trans people.

    1. 10.1

      Assuming that the politicians in question are acting on personal conviction. American politics are so narrowly partisan that many of them may simply be acting in order to adhere to party ideology, their own ideas be damned.

  10. 13

    I’m not sure exactly why but this website is loading extremely slow for me. Is anyone else having this problem or is it a issue on my end? I’ll check back later and see if the problem still exists.

  11. 15

    On average, transwomen are taller than the average woman (I’m not using “cis”, that’s insulting and inaccurate) with greater strength and longer arm reach *even after going on estrogen*. On average, transmen are the same average height as other women. They may be somewhat stronger from the testosterone but they can’t leverage it as well. The average man would not be able to pass as a transman, he’s just not little enough. As for the ones who are, a woman would have a better chance fighting them off. I would rather chance a small man trying to pass as a transman than a tall man trying to pass as a transwoman. Go back to your own bathroom. It’s not my fault men threaten to beat you up. It’s not your fault either, but you are taking this out on the wrong people.

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