Saturday, April 16, 2016

About These Bathroom Bills

Our country is currently in a heated debate over a slew of legislation that aims to dictate, once again, just who is and isn’t allowed to use the restroom in public. The brawl is brewing around our societal understanding of gender. These laws are primarily being written and supported by a segment of the population for whom gender is firmly binary, and who tend to view any other expressions of gender with extreme distrust and disgust. Some go so far as to call it ‘morally perverted’ to veer from what to them is an obvious and static descriptor about the human race.

These bills are purported to be about insuring the safety of the general population, who are supposedly at risk of sexual attack if forced to share a public bathroom with someone who presents as something ‘other than their birth gender,’ which is based solely on genitalia and not the person as a whole. There is no evidence presently available to support this supposition of bathroom sexual violence, however, and we have been peeing with Transgendered people for a while now, whether we knew it or not. I would go so far as to hypothesize that the actual number of sexually violent offenders amongst a random sample of Trans people would be much lower than the percentage of sexual offenders found in a similar sized sampling of Cisgendered people. My reasoning centers around the fact that Transgendered people are not in the habit of volunteering information about the composition of their genitals, and most actually find it incredibly rude when asked about them. The thought of publicly exposing said genitals in a public space would not be high on any Trans person’s list, much less forcing a sex act on someone with them.

Trans folk are terribly at risk of both sexual and bodily harm in public bathrooms, though, make no mistake about it, and this law, if enforced, would exponentially increase their risk of death or bodily injury by forcing them to out themselves in order to comply.

We are allowed to be deeply frightened or angered or both, but that does not mean that every action we implement in response to our emotion is warranted or inherently justifiable. In the end, what terrifies us may not bother another in the least, and then it becomes a numbers game, as to what is deemed socially appropriate and acceptable. It is all a matter of perspective, and everyone gets to have theirs. I hope we can agree though, that if our response endangers or adversely affects even a single fellow human, or, god-forbid, an entire segment of the population, that we owe it to ourselves and to society to freeze our actions and analyze our situation. Can we put into words why we feel the way we do, why we are afraid? Can we have a conversation about our fear without it devolving into shouting or violence? Have we ever met or spoken with someone whose identity or belief system triggers our fear? If we have, did we let them speak and could we hear them over our own fervently held belief?

Interestingly, this conversation is a non-issue with the majority of the younger generations, due largely I believe, to the fact that they have grown up with the internet and have been exposed to a multitude of diverse and very real stories shared by their peers and complete strangers alike. Story is absolutely magical in its power to unite us through shared experience. It is a very difficult thing to truly listen to the lived experience of a fellow human being and fail to find some place of connection and relatability.

How would you feel, in your fervently held belief, if someone came up to you and said that what you believe is evidence to them of a stunted intellect at best, and a mental illness at worst? You would understandably be angry and defensive, so why is okay to say to a Transgendered person that they are perverting a natural law by ‘messing’ with their gender and are suffering from some dysfunction? In truth, it is a supremely arrogant act to declare to another sentient, free-willed being that the way they are doing their life is wrong. We have the right to share our ideas and to ask questions of people whose ideas differ from our own, but it is never our right to tell another person what is proper for them.Transgendered people are simply PEOPLE with feelings, hopes and dreams, families, jobs, stresses and worries, just like each of us.  

A good rule for genitals might be: if they don’t belong to us, our opinion about them doesn’t matter. 

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