The bathroom bill issue is sweeping across the United States, with conservatives heatedly arguing that allowing people to use the bathrooms most consistent with their gender will destroy the fabric of society, while reasonable people point out that everyone should have the right to pee in safety. The issue has become one of ferocious legislative and legal battles, and one of the organisations at the forefront of the issue is the American Civil Liberties Union, which is joining forces with other legal organisations to protect the rights of transgender people in the United States.
Yet, even within the ACLU, some people apparently have differences of opinion, as evidenced by Maya Dillard Smith, former interim director of the organisation’s Georgia chapter. This bigoted transphobe just resigned over the ACLU’s stance on bathroom bills, claiming that the ACLU is a ‘a special interest organization that promotes not all, but certain progressive rights. In that way, it is a special interest organization not unlike the conservative right, which creates a hierarchy of rights based on who is funding the organization’s lobbying activities.’
She insists that equality of bathroom access ‘conflicts’ with issues like women’s rights, and has provided the media with a sob story that’s catnip to conservatives, saying that she took ‘[her] elementary school age daughters into a women’s restroom when shortly after three transgender young adults over six feet with deep voices entered. [Her] children were visibly frightened, concerned about their safety and left asking lots of questions for which [she], like many parents, was ill-prepared to answer.’
Here’s an idea, Ms. Smith: Tell your kids that those ladies were in there to use the bathroom, just like they were.
The ACLU is certainly better off without her, but her comments highlight the deeply-entrenched and bitter nature of this fight. When the director of a state chapter of a leading civil rights organisation is convinced that some people do not actually deserve civil rights, it’s a chilling reminder that transphobia is deeply woven into the society of the United States, and that trans advocates are forced to defend themselves not just from obvious attackers, but sometimes their own ‘allies.’ She, like other transphobes, even has the gall to appropriate the language of communities talking about trans rights, twisting conversations about the need for safe spaces into propaganda about how children will be vulnerable to predators if transgender people are allowed to use the appropriate bathroom.
Her comments evoked the usual line of conservative blather designed to scaremonger about transgender people in restrooms. By their line of reasoning, transgender people only transition for the express purpose of entering women’s restrooms and harassing or assaulting women and children, while the magical ‘cis women only’ sign on the door acts as an impenetrable barrier to rapists and assailants who would otherwise freely enter public bathrooms.
This logic defies understanding and is completely boggling. People with an intent to harass, molest, physically assault, or rape people are going to do so regardless as to the law or the signs on the doors. They’re already acting with malicious intent. No would-be rapist is going to pause at the door of a bathroom and say ‘oh, it looks like I’m not allowed in here, never mind.’ This attitude completely mischaracterises the reality of rape, and creates very real dangers. 82 percent of rapes are committed by people known to the victim, not complete strangers (of any gender) charging into bathrooms.
The myth that rape is committed by total strangers in random, violent attacks has serious implications for law enforcement, rape victims/survivors, and advocates. People may not identify an act of sexual violence as rape if it doesn’t fit the media narrative of what ‘rape’ looks like, while fearmongering about bathroom sexual assault puts people on high alert for a threat that does not actually exist. If we’re concerned about rape and sexual assault, we should be focusing on areas where it’s a serious problem, like the college and university system, where sexual harassment and rape are both rampant.
To date, the number of instances of rape and harassment committed by transgender people of any gender in restrooms is zero.
Zero. Women and children in a public restroom run a zero percent chance of being assaulted by a transgender person. The claim that cis people will pretend to be trans to assault people is also not supported. At all.
Meanwhile, 70 percent of transgender people report being harassed in public restrooms on the basis of their gender, and this harassment includes physical assault as well as rape. For transgender people, particularly trans women, using a bathroom is extremely dangerous — and inclusive laws that explicitly protect their right to use the restroom in piece will help mitigate that risk, although they won’t resolve it entirely. For that, we need a sea change in society and a turn away from transphobic attitudes that position people as dangerous and scary simply for being who they are.
The discussion about bathroom bills has been hashed out repeatedly in the media, but there’s one facet that isn’t getting enough press. This isn’t just about trans people in bathrooms, about transphobic conservatives, about a resistance to social change. It is also very explicitly about a reinforcement of transmisogyny and the repetition of the ‘men in dresses’ myth and the claim that transgender women are not real women, that they are ‘men in women’s restrooms,’ that they are sexual predators.
We aren’t seeing many complaints about transgender men in men’s restrooms. We’re seeing, specifically, conversations about transgender women, and these conversations are calculated to dehumanise. Transgender women are actually at an extremely heightened risk of rape, physical assault, and hate crimes. They’re the ones who are in danger both in women’s restrooms and outside the bathroom door — and forcing them to go into men’s restrooms will radically increase their risks, putting them in an environment crackling with the potential for hate crimes.
Yet, people like Maya Dillard Smith would like to force them to use inappropriate restrooms or run the risk of urinary tract infections by holding it until they get home. It’s important to note that bathroom bills are really just a fig leaf for a deeper form of hatred: They endanger trans people to a tremendous degree, but really they’re about enforcing transphobic attitudes about trans women. Smith’s insistence on perpetuating myths about public bathrooms in the United States is compounding a larger system of injustice, because this is about a lot more than bathrooms.
Image: Mike Gifford/Creative Commons