Those old stodgy white guys in suits are fighting another losing battle: this time over what toilets transgender people may use.
According to the New York Times, ‘Eleven states, including Alabama, Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin, brought a case in a Federal District Court in North Texas and said that the Obama administration had “conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process and running roughshod over common sense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights.”’
The challenge by the states, most of which are led by Republican governors, came 12 days after civil rights lawyers from the Department of Education and the Justice Department issued what they described as “significant guidance” about how schools should accommodate transgender students to remain in compliance with federal law. A school, the Obama administration lawyers wrote, “must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity.”
It’s time to get real about what is really being said and not said in this debate. The Republican Governors say that the issue is about protecting children. The unvoiced subtext is that children are at risk from transgender people. You know, deviants, perverts, pedophiles, they’ re all in the same boat here. You can almost feel the distaste the Governors have for transgenders.
There is, of course, no evidence or any known court case in which a transgender person has harmed or threatened a child in a toilet. The inconvenient truth is that it is those adult straight men and women who feel disgust for people who look and act differently that want to force transgender people to use the toilet that corresponds to their sex at birth.
So, let’s say a transgender woman (once Saul, now Sally) walks into a Ladies room. Sally goes into a stall like any other woman, does her business, washes her hands, perhaps checks her makeup, and leaves. But WAIT, yell the Governors, even if Sally uses a stall and causes no fuss, what’s to stop voyeur Steve from dressing like a woman too and entering the women’s toilet and spying with mirrors or cameras on what women are doing in the stalls?
Well, voyeur Steve can behave this way already. Nothing stops him from snooping in disguise today– except the law. The new federal rules only protect Sally’s right to be the woman she now is. Steve is still a criminal.
So, next we find a transgender man (once Belinda, now Ben) walking into a Mens room. If Ben has not had sex change surgery, he will use a stall and do his business in private. If Ben has had surgery and only needs to pee, he walks up to the urinal and relieves himself. But WAIT, say those uncomfortable white guys, this is still a woman really, even if she has a penis now. He/she might look at my junk! Oh, Jesus!
In many countries of the world women attendants take care of cleaning and maintaining public toilets for a small user fee, maybe 25 cents or 50 cents. They bustle around inside the mens’ toilets, mopping the floors and keeping the sinks clean. Men are using the urinals while this happens. No one thinks anything of it. So, this anxiety some Americans have about transgender men is not just natural embarrassment. It is actually coming from the same kind of prejudice that once showed up as separate toilets and drinking fountains for blacks and whites.
So, these conservatives say, let’s just keep those trannies in the right toilets. OK?
Well… if I understand you, Mr. Governor, Ben with his new penis, should go back into the Ladies toilet, and Sally, now without a penis, should be walking into the Mens’ room in her skirt and heels. Right? Everyone will feel so much more comfortable.
We know, don’t we, what will happen in many parts of Georgia and Alabama when Sally goes into the Gents? She may be leaving in an ambulance. She may be assaulted or raped.
And those fine Southern ladies, how will they feel when Ben, in his suit and tie, wanders into their powder room?
Missing in all of this invective from the Governors and the Righteous Right is any sense of empathy for transgenders. They give no consideration to the pain, the shame, the awkwardness, the radical surgeries, the difficult hormonal changes and all the other difficult steps that transgenders go through to become who they know themselves to be. There is no attempt to include them as human beings going through a fundamental change in identity. Instead, the politicians heed only the moral indignation and the discomfort of straight-laced people faced with the unfamiliar.
This is simply the continuation of the long struggle for gay and lesbian rights. It is the same actors and the same old arguments trying to preserve an imaginary status quo that existed briefly in the 1950s and 1960s. The conservatives lost the battle on gay marriage and now they have focused their wrath on the smallest part of the LGBT movement: the T’s.
What does it take to accept that the transgenders have the same right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as the Governor of Alabama? There is a wonderful children’s book, “Everybody Poops”, that I used to read with my daughter when she was little. Pooping is natural. Pooping is necessary. We all do it. This lawsuit by the Governors is introducing shame back into toileting. Their concern for children is a red herring. If they look into their hearts, they will find moral judgments, disgust perhaps, and probably a lot of anger.
I challenge them to answer the question: What would Jesus do?
A urinal in a restaurant in Paris has the last word.
May 26, 2016