Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Reflections on Bathrooms, Opinions, and How We Treat Others

Today my main news and social media sources were full of three big headlines. First, the ongoing bathroom battle. Second, Dennis Hastert's admission to sexually assaulting teenage boys. Finally, the BYU sexual assault and honor code dilemma. The details of all three topics are disturbing and tiring, yet I can't turn away.

All three are so intertwined my brain is on overload, and in an effort to keep my resolution of jotting down a few of my thoughts when my brain overloads, I'm going to share some of my concluding thoughts on the first issue. The bathroom dilemma. First, one simple solution that addresses all three: respect other people! Why is this so hard for us as a society? Sigh. Anyway, onto bathrooms.

I start with a confession: with the exception of a three day stint at IHOP, I've had little to no connection with anyone in the trans community. Even after all the digging I've done these past few days, I know little. Here is what I do know.

1. I do not need to agree with someone's life choices before I can appreciate their unique journey. I do not need to share their belief system in order to learn from them. But, I do need to listen to them if I am to nurture sympathy. And nurturing sympathy is a pretty important commandment in my book. Remember, agreeing with someone is not a precursor to understanding them or their personal situation.

2. Before I can form an opinion about something, I have to be knowledgeable about the subject. This often requires I do a little digging (thus the brain overload situation).

2b) As I mentioned above, my knowledge and experience with the trans community is limited. Before I could form an opinion I needed to identify and answer some basic questions of my own. For example, is a trans man a woman who transitioned into a man or a man that transitioned into a woman? I didn't know, so I googled it. Now I do know, but I won't tell you; do your own learning. Other questions I had included: can you legally change your gender and can you surgically change your genitalia? For the first question I really dug in, for the latter I just needed a simple yes or no. But knowing the answer to each of these questions felt crucial before coming to my own conclusion about the bathroom issue. Gain knowledge before you create an opinion!

3. Finally, I cannot control other people (my children hear me say "you cannot control other people" at least once a day, it's a family motto around here). The more society/law tries to control human behavior and interaction, the more complicated things become.

3b) Here comes my opinion with context from our current situation. Read at your own risk.

Until a few months ago people knew men used the men's bathroom and women used the women's bathroom. Recently, governing bodies decided to clarify what that meant for transgender individuals (an estimated .5% of the population). In the process cities have fought with states and states have fought with private businesses.

My conclusion is that the laws that try to tightly define who uses what bathroom are more likely to create the problems they are aiming to avoid. Laws that follow the basic rule of "use the gendered bathroom you identify with" are less likely to create problems -- also, these laws are more in line with the bathroom etiquette society has been following all along.

The standard bathroom policy of men in men's and women in women's restrooms make it easy to identify trespassers. The law that says you must use the bathroom that aligns with the gender on your birth certificate makes it more difficult.* Here's the conversation we'd have if I were to encounter a man going in to the women's room (and I was brave enough to encounter a man going in to the women's room).

Under standard use your identifiable gender approach
"You are in the wrong bathroom."
"I identify as a woman."
"I do not identify you as a woman and neither does my child. No one in the public would either. Please leave or this will get public and I will win."
Since they'd actually be a man in the women's room, they'd leave.

Under the law that makes us use what the Doctor assigned us at birth
"You are in the wrong bathroom"
"If you look at my birth certificate it says I am female."
... Where do I go from there?
"Show me your birth certificate?" No one takes those to the bathroom!
"Oh I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were trans-gendered..." awkward ... fearful ... basically this moment ends when I run away in shame or fear.

As for people who are not gender identifiable, I'd probably just not say anything and try my hardest not to stare. If they did catch me looking, I'd flash a polite (and sincere) smile and hope they know I care deeply about all humans, even if my manners are lacking from time to time.

In conclusion, I'd just like to add one last bit of (motherly) advice (for my posterity): care about the lives of people who are completely different from you. Care deeply. This is not the same thing as #1. This is taking #1 a step further. I may not agree with gender transitions, but I can care about the stress and anxiety non-binary or trans people feel when they have to use the bathroom in public. I can care about the high murder and assault rate of trans women (in fact, we should all care about that). I can respect the choice trans men have made, even if I believe gender is assigned before our birth. Caring about people does not require us to change our morals.  But not caring about them will damage our morals.

*If you don't believe me, google transgender men and then click on images. It's safe; I promise. Now, tell me you want those MEN in the bathroom with you or your daughter/wife/niece/sister/grandma/etc.

PS If you are ready to try number one, I recommend starting with these two links: Charlie Comero  and Kingston Faraday. They are the two stories of trans men that I found most interesting. I also read a heartbreaking story about a trans woman who was sexually assaulted in a men's (the gender she was assigned at birth) bathroom. I cannot find the link at this time. 


Jane Hutton said...

Without a doubt the most intelligent, well thought out evaluation of the issue that I have seen anywhere. Your understanding and empathy are unique and deeply respected. I had a couple of friends who were transgender, in both mind and body. Nobody who saw them in the women's bathroom would ever have known they weren't born female. For those people who truly believe they were born in the wrong body the transition to that body is long, painful and extremely expensive. There is no way that they would ever behave in a manner that would make anyone think they had ever been anyone else. The scare tactics being employed by people who are ignorant to this truth are causing far more harm than any true transgendered person ever would.

Pa said...

I agree with both you and Jane. It is interesting when one notes the states that are trying to pass such legislation. Their legislators are more interested in the "moral high ground" they "think" they are embracing than any admonition I ever heard taught by Christ. Of course they are all of the political ilk that seeks to take rights away from people than champion one's rights. Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing!!

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