The Bathroom Question

Gender is in the air.

Over dinner recently with friends, a question arose: Do women have a right to women-only space?

We happened upon the subject when one friend spoke favorably of efforts by some schools to desegregate bathrooms by gender. Her argument was that gender-specific restrooms were offensive and inconvenient to people whose gender identity contradicts their anatomy. To women or girls who are afraid of having male-bodied people in their restrooms, my friend would say: trans people are not dangerous by virtue of being trans. There’s nothing to be afraid of.

My friend spoke passionately on this subject. As the mother of a female-to-male transsexual, she has been front row and center to the frustrations, misunderstandings and agonies that permeate the day to day life of a person in transition from one gender to another.

As the mother of a daughter who has been emotionally and psychologically damaged by a man, who carries a legacy of trauma into all her dealings with men, and who would be disturbed to find herself sharing a restroom with someone she knew to be male-bodied, my perspective is inevitably different. I found it striking that my friend, a feminist, was unhesitating in saying that women and girls have no right to space that is defined as female-bodied only.

In the week or so since that conversation, I’ve come across no less than three different articles in widely different publications on what I now think of as the bathroom question, though it could by implication affect all spaces, institutions, activities and endeavors whose access or membership is defined by identity – gender identity, ethnic, national or religious identity, and so on.

In the latest of these articles, a lawyer named James Ehrhard, writing in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, discussed the Massachusetts ban of last July on gender identity discrimination, and the state’s recent educational guidelines in response to that ban, directing schools to permit students to use the restrooms (and locker rooms, showers, and so on) of their choice, based upon their internal sense of gender, and also to provide gender neutral restrooms. Ehrhard noted that proponents of the law claim that people with gender identity issues make up approximately half of one percent of the population of Massachusetts. He went on to say that the law specifies that a male-bodied person’s desire to use a girls’ restroom trumps the possible discomfort some girls may feel with this situation.

This discussion emerges at a time when we are daily reminded of the vulnerability of women and girls, when reports of violence and sexual violence against women seem omnipresent, from the rape culture of college campuses to the brutally misogynist online harassment of girls by their male peers. It’s within this context that I struggle to understand how and why the needs of half of one percent of the population trump the needs of fifty percent of the population.

My friend’s point that trans people are not, as a group, dangerous to girls and women, is true. Unfortunately, the same can’t so easily be said of men. Some children go in and out of gender identities as they grow. I’ve known several who passed through periods of identifying as the opposite gender only to settle comfortably into the gender indicated by their bodies in adolescence. Shifting, fluid identities could be more easily accommodated in an ungendered world. But we don’t live in an ungendered world. Many of us don’t believe an ungendered world is possible, whether we wish it or not. In my experience with a transgendered ex-husband, “gender neutral” were dirty words. I was told quite forcibly and repeatedly that gender is in fact the most important, most elemental and immutable aspect of being human.

For women under siege, subject to violence, violation, economic, social and religious oppression based upon our female bodies, gender identity and its consequences indeed appear elemental and immutable.   

7 Comments

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7 responses to “The Bathroom Question

  1. MKIA

    There is an innate problem in all these discussions and that is the language. More than 70 years ago the queen mother of transvestites looked at the social acceptance that transsexuals were receiving, meager as it might have been and as a man, was outraged! He wanted that and as it was his desire then it had to be his right to take it and take it he did… He set out on a systematic campaign to conflate those pitifully few cursed as transsexual with being the same as a transvestite, only more “off” if you will… His tool was the word “transgender.” Right up until his death back in the 2000’s he was out there making the rounds preaching and teaching those men who had a fetish turned addiction how to hide it behind this ruberic… a lesson that was well learned.

    The reason I bring this up is that when it comes to the Bathroom/lockeroom issue. If you remove those terribly few who are transsexual and actively on the road to surgery from the equation (How to tell? Easy… they look, act nd vibe like women and the LAST thing they want to do like most women is be noticed or make a scene or talk about this!) from the hordes of men who want access to womens spaces for the reason it is denied them as men, the answer to this becomes clear…

    Women’s’ spaces belong to women and only to women and no amount of retoric can change man into woman and that the rules are bent with kindness to those few does not change that one iota!

    Now go back to the mother with her child, remove the connections to old wankers in dresses and now it makes sense that the child have access because you are left with a kid with a medical issues. Issues that will be taken care of as quickly as society and her parents will allow… Once that is done this child will go on to become a wife, and as do most, a mother and other than a terrible secret from her youth… indistinguishably from any other woman out there… Something that the legions of panty wacking old fools never want you to know!

  2. Fevrier Honnete

    When I quote the FBI statistics, I point out that while 95% of rape victims are female, 98% of rapists are male. Of the 2% of rapists who are female, a very large percentage of that 2% are emotionally unstable women in their twenties to thirties who committed statutory rape on adolescent boys — e.g. the 24-year-old female substitute teacher having a sexual “relationship” with one of her 15-year-old male students. Is this behavior illegal, immoral and unethical? Yes. Absolutely. Does this woman or other women like her present a dangerous threat to other women in the locker room at the local gym. Almost never.

    Given these facts, here is what intelligent and sensible women can easily comprehend: if you see another woman in the showers at the pool or locker room at your gym or dressing room at the mall, you can with nearly 100% certainty KNOW that she is not going to be a physical threat to you. She might try to steal your cell phone while your locker is open an unattended, but she is NOT going to rape and murder you in the shower.

    No matter how ‘butch’ she looks, no matter how much bigger she is than you are, she does not have that XY-driven, testosterone-driven URGE or male socialization required to tip her over into being one of the people who sexually assault women when we’re in a rest-stop bathroom in the middle of nowhere at night.

    However, if that person in the bathroom, shower, dressing-room, spa, etc. is male — no matter how gussied-up in female garb, no matter how perfect his lipstick, no matter how pretty his Jimmy Choos, no matter how dainty his manicure — if he is male then he is a member of the raping class and NO ONE CAN TELL just by looking if he is as innocent and non-violent as
    a baby bunny, of if he is the reincarnation of Richard Speck, the rapist and murderer of eight student nurses in 1966 who famously went on to cross-dress, take estrogen and live “as a woman” in prison until he was finally put to death by the state in 1991.

    Male is male is male. Women are biologically attuned to recognize male because males are dangerous to us and the women who survived to procreate and pass down more of our genes are the canny women who knew to be very, very cautious and careful around strange males. Allowing SOME males to freely enter formerly female-only spaces will greatly endanger us in three ways:

    1) The “trans woman” in question may very well be a male with a history of sexual violence against women (Google: Paula Witherspoon Dallas Texas.)
    2) The male person in drag in the restroom may not be “trans” at all, but merely a sex offender using cross-dressing as a way to gain intimate access to his preferred prey (Google: Thomas Lee Benson North Clackamas Aquatic Center.)
    3) By forcing society in general to let down our guard on the “there’s a man in the ladies room” issue, we will be GREATLY endangering all women and girls, causing the canny ones tremendous distress whenever they encounter a male-bodied person under these intimate circumstances and lulling the already-naive ones into an even deeper false sense of security when disrobing around male people. A too-large percentage of male people RAPE girls and women. Letting down our guard and lulling ourselves into a false sense of security around them will absolutely result in more rapes. That kind of naiveté has been dangerous for women and girls for many thousands of years. Why should 2013 be any different?!?

    • Thank you very much for your comments. We seem inundated lately with media reports of rape, happening everywhere from US college campuses to Indian buses. I don’t know if this is actually a more dangerous time to be a woman, but it certainly isn’t a safer time – as you say, why should 2013 be any different?

  3. Petre

    I utterly fail to see the relevance of anybody’s “internal sense of gender” in this context. Restrooms are designed to service bodily functions, and are not segregated by “gender” but by sex. And even if “gender identity” were germane here, identity is not the same as identification. The former, though not the latter, depends on the consent of those who currently “own” the identity that is claimed. Can I show up at your synagogue and demand to play a full part in your ritual on the grounds that I “identify as” or “perceive myself to be” Jewish? Even if you were tolerant enough to let me, I would not be so disrespectful as to try.
    Unfortunately, some M2Ts are not merely casually disrespectful, but have set themselves the project of invading every last corner of female space, to shore up their narcissistic delusion and sometimes, as Motherhood’s post indicates, for more sinister purposes. Contrary to your ex-husband’s assertion, gender is not “elemental and immutable”: it is entirely contingent and artificial – though sadly, I agree, none the less powerful for that. What *is* elemental and immutable, unfortunately for transgender aspirations, is our biological sex.

    • Thanks very much for your comments. Your statement about not demanding acceptance at a synagogue gets to the heart, I think, of why so many women feel invaded – not necessarily by the fact of a MTF, but by the hostile and aggressive attitudes of some.

  4. Chris, I am not sure your friends point is true about being a threat.
    Your friend is correct they are not dangerous by virtue of being “trans” they are dangerous by virtue of being male. A “trans man” would be not be a statistical physical threat. I think to be able to understand and see if there is a threat, hold the stat ½ of 1% up against the number of violent acts that percentage has committed against women and children, the number of murders and rapes. Statistically speaking it looks significantly more violent than the population at large. So, from the numbers I am getting I suspect your friend is wrong although they may feel like a much nicer person and that could outweigh being correct or recognizing that women and girls need safe space. I am just in the very initial stage of trying to make a current nationwide list of violent convictions. So far I have done 5 states and there are 12 people in prison listed as “transgender” all M2T. They have collectively killed 5 women, one man and raped 24 females and 2 boys. If these stats hold for all other states I would consider it staggering when compared to the general population of women. The other question is do girls and women have a right to women only spaces? Not even a question yes. Anyone else so inclined can use the gender neutral space. I rather do like the way friends think it okay to impose her standards on others.

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