That Bathroom Law

Photo courtesy of Sara Johnson

The NC “bathroom law” has certainly put our state in the national news. The whole thing baffles me a bit. Truthfully, I opposed the Charlotte law to begin with (though in full disclosure I have not read it and I am sure the must have been some situations I am not aware of that precipitated it.) But I simply don’t think there was a need for bathroom legislation.

I know I have used bathrooms with transgenders in the past and no one else was any the wiser. They did their thing, behind a closed stall door, and I did mine. If you were there too, and you just may have been, you probably didn’t even notice. Nor did you feel unsafe. People used the bathroom they identified with and merrily went on their way. Well, except when there was a line a mile long outside the ladies room because the folks who built the building didn’t plan well and take into account the actual differences needed in the size of men’s and women’s rooms….but that was an age old problem. (Probably due to not enough women or enlightened men in the architecture field, which I think is a better issue to jump on the bandwagon about.) We women had learned we could put a guard at the men’s room and share. No men that I knew of ever were anything but supportive of that practice. Often they were our scout and guard. Even some that could be jerks over almost anything, were not jerks about this.

So what I feel was an unnecessary law was then further escalated by the NC law (which I have read), which struck down a community’s right to pass such a law. It said no, you must only go into the bathroom marked for your birth certificate gender. Then, as our lawmakers are prone to do, they threw extra issues in there that should have been dealt with separately. There is a reason many of us grow to mistrust politicians. The practice of using the empty men’s room when there were 25 people in line for the lady’s room…..now it’s against the law.
I’m not going to speak on the laws specifically because I think they are just another example of political grandstanding…..of folks getting all riled up about nothing, missing the real issues, and simply creating lots and lots of hate. And this hate is coming from people on both sides of the issue….no one seems to be looking at the issue with true compassion. I see fear on both sides. Real fear. Fear we should care about, and talk through without anger, even if we believe some of that fear is unfounded.
Here’s how I see it. I don’t understand the mind of a transgender. In today’s world I don’t get why people don’t feel the freedom to act as whatever gender they want and still be completely themselves. From discussions I have had, my view is quite simplistic, and I accept that I have limited knowledge in this area. I haven’t studied the issue in depth….mostly because it hasn’t impacted me. I don’t have any transgender friends that I know of at the moment, though I am not naive enough to think that I would always know. If I do have them, they haven’t felt the need to discuss it with me and that is their right and prerogative. They could trust me with the knowledge and I would love them where they are. Someone’s gender or private sexuality has never mattered to me in friendships.

The transgenders I have met, or those I have read about or heard speak on TV or radio, have dealt with a lot of inner conflict throughout their lives. From what I do understand, it is not really a sexual issue. Whether they are attracted to the same or opposite sex varies before and after any gender reassignment. It’s a hodgepodge. It’s incidental to the transgender identity. That’s what makes it more complicated.

Those who I have met who are transgender have not been violent people. In fact, they often have an added compassion for others, having felt so beaten down and misunderstood. They have not been people I feel I need to fear, but instead they have been people I often feel the need to protect and whose story I want to better understand. The whole bathroom thing….it’s a dilemma to them to decide which one they should use and has evidently been for a long time. That’s something I’d never even thought about until I recently heard a radio program in the subject. (On Doctor’s Radio….my obsession.) They usually choose the one that makes them feel most safe. Bathroom setups being what they are, I approve.

But let’s talk about the arguments against transgenders using whichever bathroom they choose. The argument I keep hearing the most is people feeling the need to,protect their children. Something we all should be concerned about. But are transgenders whom we should most fear? If I were a parent, that would not be my issue. Instead I’d fear anyone who would want to cause harm to my children. 

I keep hearing of the fear of bathroom rapes. First of all, rape is not about sex or gender. Rape is about violence. It is not just a crime that happens between opposite genders. If someone is inclined to create such an act, will a law like this one protect them? They can be in the “proper” restroom and rape someone of the same sex. And outer bathroom doors are typically not locked….would this law deter a rapist, when they are getting ready to break another law that is even more egregious?

And have you read much about sex trafficking lately? It is becoming rampant. Women and men grab both boys and girls. I’ve seen pictures of those arrested for this. They look like you and me. They can go to the “proper” bathroom and grab your child while you are sitting at your restaurant table, unconcerned for your child because only those people whose gender was the same on their birth certificate as that of your child were able to go in that particular door with them. 

If I were a dad whose 7-year old daughter had to use a public restroom, or a mom with her 7-year old son, I believe I may be a bit more concerned that they were going behind this closed door where anyone could be. I think my fight would be to be wherever my child was at the moment. Having had kids in my care often, I stand outside that bathroom door when I am with young boys and am a bit nervous until I see them come out without incident. I’d actually like to check out who is in there before they step foot in the door. It’s a powerless feeling.

I don’t think we should need bathroom gender laws. I think we need to treat people well, and be courteous, whoever they happen to be. I’m perfectly fine with how things have been in the past, but am also fine with the concept of unisex bathrooms with stalls and no open urinals. I don’t know or care who is in the bathroom stall next to me, unless they invade what for that moment is, and should be, my private space. I’ll stand next to anyone at the sink and wash hands, and just be happy they are doing it. 

As for locker rooms, I am not particularly modest but let’s tell the truth….aren’t many of us a bit weirded out even in the locker rooms of our own gender? I admit to being uncomfortable by the naked stranger engaging me in conversation when my equally naked self has just taken off my bathing suit and I am trying to dry off and get dressed. I can deal with it….I do deal with it….and am even amused by my own reaction to it….but yes, it’s still uncomfortable. I’m in favor of more private changing rooms there, too!

I’ve had some odd experiences traveling….for example being led through a men’s locker room in a spa in Istanbul, Turkey as the men got dressed all around me. At the time I was wrapped in something that was on the level of a small linen tablecloth. Another time, in Japan,  we had to walk through the men’s room (urinals being used in full sight) to get to the ladies room. I felt uncomfortable in both situations, but never unsafe. I have felt unsafe in ladies rooms before, though…..usually because of a creepy guy (in men’s clothing) making inappropriate comments as I walked in the door or a man standing there leering at the women as they walked in. Never due to someone transgender. Well, I say that….how do I know? Maybe they were. But I suspect not and if they were, their being transgender was not the issue. It was just incidental. Creeps are creeps.

We live in a complicated world today where gender and sexuality is a bit more nebulous than it has been in the past. But we can make this all work. Let’s rethink it all and come up with ideas that respect and protect people, wherever they may be in life. Whether we understand them or not. Whether we agree with them or not. We’re smart. We can do this. We don’t need these silly politicians to come up with dumb laws to do it. 

If you’re a dad taking your 7-year old daughter to a public restroom and don’t want her to go into that bathroom without you, I’ll check and see whether the bathroom is free of other women, support you going in and standing outside the stall she is in, and will stand at the bathroom door, and hold the line for the two minutes it takes for you to do so…..no matter what the law says. And I will praise you for really protecting her and for not buying into illusions of safety. And if you are a female transgender and walk into the ladies room with me because you feel safer there, I will not only be OK with it, should you get arrested I will be there to support you. But if you’re some crazy man with criminal intent who dresses in women’s clothes to gain bathroom access, I’ll see that you are arrested. But not because you went into the “wrong” bathroom. That law won’t even matter. There are other laws that will protect us from people like you.

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