I first met my friend Meri through a mutual friend, at an outdoor screening of Beetlejuice. After the movie our group started walking toward the train station, but decided to stop at the bathroom. Meri, who is trans and had only recently started to publicly transition, excitedly confessed that this was the first time she had gone to the bathroom with a large group of women. I still remember it almost two years later, because I was so happy for her, being able to do something I had taken for granted all my life.
Of course she wasn’t excited about the bathroom itself, but the larger cultural significance attached to it. And rightly so. A women’s bathroom can be a magical place. You can bond and make new friends while waiting in line. A stranger extends you her trust when she asks for an emergency tampon, or you do someone a solid favor and tip her off that her skirt is caught in her underwear. It’s even better in bars. A sincere compliment from a drunk girl in a bar bathroom warms my entire soul. Obviously it’s not always like that, but when it is, it’s beautiful.
And lawmakers and bigots are trying to ruin it.
North Carolina’s HB 2, “a statewide measure that […] bars LGBT people […] from inclusion in municipal nondiscrimination protections and blocks transgender people (including students) from using restrooms in state-related facilities consistent with their gender identity,” is one of many hateful laws currently threatening the dignity and safety of trans people.
There’s also a particularly chilling law in Kansas called the “Student Physical Privacy Act” which, among other things, guarantees “that anyone who saw someone transgender in the bathroom could sue their school for $2,500 for every time that it happened.” It doesn’t quite sound like everyone’s privacy is weighted equally.
In cases like these, it’s clear that cis people, not trans people, are the ones obsessed with what someone is doing in the stall next to them, and what their genitals look like.
Of course these laws are, allegedly, for “our” protection. If we let trans people use the “wrong” bathroom, according to the myth, they’re going to spy on innocent people. Or, the pearl clutching continues, if we set a precedent by letting people choose which bathroom they feel most comfortable using, there’s nothing to stop men from dressing up like women to assault us, or prey on children.
The myth of the trans predator has been thoroughly debunked. Quite frankly, if you persist in believing this fiction after so much evidence to the contrary, you’re not “concerned” so much as “willfully ignorant” or, you know, “bigoted.”
Trans people, or anyone whose gender you don’t immediately know for that matter, go into bathrooms to do the same things cis people do: pee, fix a wedgie, have a moment to themselves, splash some cold water on their faces, or any number of things that are none of your business.
As for the panic about men dressing up to stealthily assault us, there’s not really anything to stop them from doing that anyway. I have enough experience with men doing creepy, questionable things to me over the course of my life to confirm that they don’t need disguises. But even if that does happen, even if a law stating that individuals had the right to use whichever restroom felt most comfortable, and that law suddenly emboldened people to commit all kinds of horrific assaults and acts of voyeurism, guess what: those things are still against the law. It’s not like a restroom is some wasteland of total anarchy beyond all law enforcement jurisdiction, where assaults don’t count.
Arbitrarily dictating which restrooms trans people use because of an imagined threat of assault normalizes the sexual violence already present in our lives and frames it as inevitable and unpreventable by removing blame from actual perpetrators.
That same night I met Meri, after the group bathroom trip, we walked to the train station. They were taking the red line, but it was a gorgeous night and I opted to walk the two miles back to my apartment. Our mutual friend told us both to get home safe, and asked us to text her when did. “Get home safe” is an affectionate goodbye meaning, “I hope nobody rapes or murders you on your way home.” That’s a less fun part of being a woman.
It’s also, unfortunately, something most trans people have dealt with at some point, or are actively facing, especially in such a hostile legal climate.
Because this isn’t just about restrooms. This is about the right of trans individuals to exist in peace. Or to exist at all.
If you want to help, check out #illgowithyou (http://www.illgowithyou.org/) to read about ways you can be an ally to a trans person in a gendered space.
You can also contact your lawmakers to let them know how this legislation makes you feel. I personally would rather pee next to one of my trans friends than next to some nosey busybody trying to peep at everyone’s junk. And of course, you should make sure to vote locally, because a lot of the people enacting these laws are up for re-election soon.
Beyond that, maybe just don’t be a jerk to someone minding their own business in a public restroom.
Photo “Kuala Lumpur Malaysia Public-toilette-near-Perpustakaan-KL-01” by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons