On The Issue: Transgender Restroom Assignment

The Potty Policing of the Trans Community

Would you be comfortable using this facility? Courtesy of Google Images

Would you be comfortable using this facility? Courtesy of Google Images

Jaylin Paschal, Editor-in-Chief

The United States has a series of classifications which are defended from discrimination and unfair treatment. These protected classes include race, color, religion, and national origin. Sex, sexuality, ancestry, and military status are often added to these lists on the state level. One class that is rarely, if ever, included is gender identity, which would serve to protect and guarantee the rights of America’s transgender (trans) community.

The trans community, often unprotected by law, is vulnerable to many policies and practices that would almost objectively be described as inappropriate and unfair. This differential treatment comes into play in almost every aspect of the trans community’s daily life, including restroom facilities.

The trans community does exactly as you’d expect when going to the restroom: trans women go to the women’s restroom and trans men go to the men’s. They do this not only to feel more like the gender they most identify with, but also to avoid maltreatment. Being trans and choosing a restroom is never easy. A trans woman may have to decide between being yelled at in the women’s restroom, and assaulted in the men’s. This choosing of facilities has stirred up a lot of controversy lately, as people believe restrooms are assigned by sex and should be strictly enforced.

To understand the root of the controversy, one must understand the argument the trans community makes about the distinction between sex and gender. “Sex” is described as male or female. It is determined by body parts. “Gender” is described as a more fluid social construct. It is the argument of the trans community that while you are born male or female, gender is assigned. For example, if one is born with the anatomy of a female but identifies more with the social behaviors typically assigned to men, they may choose to make the physical transition to match their mental and emotional state. One must also understand the claimed difference between gender identity and gender assignment. Although one may be born male and raised as a man (“gender assignment”), their mental and emotional processes may contradict this assignment (“gender identity”).

Unsurprisingly, this claim to feeling “born into the wrong body” is often met with criticism and skepticism. In fact, House Bill 663 defines a student’s gender as “the physical condition of being male or female, which is determined by a person’s anatomy.” The bill completely disregards the LGBTQ’s notion of gender and sex being separate concepts. Perhaps the most aggressive, and therefore controversial, challenge to gender identity has arisen within the past year. Republicans in the state of Virginia have drafted a bill which would require an adult to “check children’s private parts before entering restrooms.” This means that if a transgender student were to use the restroom that matched their gender instead of their sex, violating the restroom ordinance, he or she would be fined $50.

The need for the bill is described as one to keep predators claiming to be transgender from using a restroom where they could sexually harass or assault someone of the opposite sex.

“Let me be clear: I am not saying that transgender people are predators. Not by a long shot. What I am saying is that there are countless deviant men in this world who will pretend to be transgender as a means of gaining access to the people that want to exploit, namely women and children,” said rape survivor Kaeley Triller, in defense of these measures.

This fear is not unreasonable. However, it is also not supported by fact. Media Matters reports no incident from the seventeen largest school districts in the United States which has led to the adoption of policies concerning gender and restroom assignment. Only one case in 35 years of a person abusing the right to use a gender neutral restroom and committing sexual assault has ever been reported, and this instance was in Canada. The FBI reports that over 84,000 rapes were reported in just 2014, but none of these involved the exploitation of gender identity in gender neutral facilities.

Additional information only strengthens the transgender community’s argument for the right to gender neutral restrooms. Crime experts, including U.S. police departments, have stated that the protection of transgender communities does not result in a rise in the number of reported sexual assaults.

Abuse of non-discriminatory ordinances protecting the transgender community is so statistically rare, that I cannot honestly say I am afraid of using them. My feeling would not be fear, but more likely mild discomfort. However, all I have to do to avoid this discomfort is use the women’s restroom instead of the gender neutral facility. If using the women’s room is not an option, I will understand that my brief and temporary discomfort is significantly less important than the rights of another person. The preferred preference the courts use in legal cases states that constitutionally, the rights and protection of one group is more valuable than my own continuous and uninterrupted comfort. In addition, I also know that if a man wants to walk into a woman’s restroom to assault or harass them, he will not need to pretend to be a woman to do that. He could walk in just as easily as I could. I believe gender neutral restrooms should be added in addition to the standard women’s and men’s facilities, and that men and women should not have to prove their chromosomes or hand in birth certificates to be able to relieve themselves.

That’s my stance on the issue. What’s your take? Share your thoughts in the comments below.