A friend of mine recently moved her young family to Asheville, North Carolina. After a decade of struggling alone with two kids in a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, she gave up whatever cultural advantages living there might afford them for a 2200 sq. ft. house in the woods. I don’t blame her. She and her children will undoubtedly have a better quality of life there, provided their SF values don’t collide head-on with their new NC reality.
Their move wasn’t just a leap from urban to rural, but from Democratic into Republican territory. My friend, a secular Jew originally from NYC, took comfort in Asheville’s reputation as a progressive oasis in an otherwise conservative state. Besides, the Supreme Court had already made gay marriage the law of the land, so how bad could North Carolina be? It’s the 21st century, after all.
My poor friend; she has my sympathy. I wish I could visit to offer her some emotional support, but I wouldn’t have anywhere to urinate. North Carolina has just passed a law requiring transgender people to use the public restrooms that correspond to the gender they were assigned at birth, regardless of how they identify. It’s clear that lawmakers weren’t thinking about how transgender people look, because I’d scare the crap out of everyone if I walked into a women’s restroom. And there are (need I tell you?) scores of incredibly gorgeous transwomen whom I’m sure many people don’t want too close to their husbands in the men’s room.
The practical effect of bathroom laws like this one is to divide the trans community into those of us who can and can’t “pass” as members of the gender with which we identify. If nobody can tell I’m trans, then I’m good to go, literally. No one is going to look twice at me. But if I can’t or don’t particularly want to be invisibly transgender, then I’d better start wearing adult diapers when I’m out and about in North Carolina.
What is all the bathroom panic among so-called “straight” people about? What’s wrong with their dirty little minds? I can’t help but wonder if the terrible childhood experience that made them straight in the first place is the same one that made them so afraid of restroom rape? Maybe we should think about getting rid of diaper changing stations in public bathrooms? Is that it? What on earth is the shared trauma of youth that makes these people neurotic to the point of enacting completely unjustified, blatantly discriminatory legislation?
Paranoid heterosexuals claim to be concerned that if transgender folks have legal access to the correct toilet, then straight men will disguise themselves as transwomen in order to get into the ladies room and rape women. This is championship-level convoluted reasoning: Let’s deny transgender women rights in order to keep straight men from raping straight women. Huh?
As for rape in the women’s restroom, outside of lesbian erotica, I’ve never heard of it happening. Committing a crime so publicly invites interruption and capture. Moreover, if it’s a realistic possibility then I have no idea what stops any rapist from dressing up as a woman and hitting the ladies room right now, regardless of the status of transgender rights. I don’t get the connection. The fact is that transwomen who are forced to use the men’s room as a result of misguided laws like this one will be the people who are most at risk of rape — again, by so-called “straight” men.
In refusing to protect the rights of transgender individuals, the North Carolina legislature appears to have taken a stand against something it’s genuinely afraid it can’t control: Themselves.