I don’t usually like to blog about controversial subjects, but I’ll give this one a crack: bathroomgate. Hold my beer … oh wait, I don’t like beer.
In the last couple of years, there has been a lot of heave-ho on the subject of gender, with one statistic claiming to have identified 71 different gender identities. (I scoffed at first, but there is in fact some science behind this.) There has been further argument that in most public places, only two of these gender identities are provided with bathroom facilities, leaving those outside the traditional definitions faced with awkward options or none. Discussions got even more volatile as battle lines were drawn up: you were either okay with your cage being rattled, or you were a cretin. One side argued, fairly enough, that a person who felt and dressed female, despite their male anatomy, would not feel safe in the men’s room; women argued back that they (with female anatomy) then wouldn’t feel safe in the women’s room. It got heated. I suspect the whole issue became even more wretched and miserable for the poor trans people caught in the middle of the argument. The key issue is, how to we cater for all, so that nobody feels either unsafe or marginalised?
I’ll get there, but let me frame things up a bit first.
The trouble with feelings and fears is that you can’t shout them out of existence. You can quote statistics at women, saying that trans ladies do not attack women in the women’s room, and that real predators don’t usually go to the trouble of masquerading as a trans lady in order to do such a thing; but you won’t necessarily allay a person’s fears, because fears are feelings, and feelings aren’t always rational. They can be generated from misconceptions and still be experienced just as powerfully as logical thought, perhaps more so. Its immediacy is what gives a feeling its validity – not its veracity. Feelings carry a bias that leaks over into (or from) a person’s biology. A fear is not a sin, however irrational it may be. It must be overcome with patience and understanding, quiet logic expressed kindly, taking baby steps. Berating someone because their feelings aren’t politically correct is not going to give the desired result. It’s certainly not going to make the person less isolationist. And while we’re talking about feelings, I must emphasise that feelings are important, but not paramount. Just because I have a particular feeling, doesn’t mean you all have to get down on your knees and worship it. It does mean that you have to take my word for it that that is what’s going on inside me. And you are allowed to address that feeling, which, handled respectfully, will take you much further than either denying or decrying it.
Speaking as a woman who is just 156cm tall (5’1½”), I have to always keep a look out of the corner of my eye for scary people who outweigh me, and until I plumped out in my 40s, that was everyone. So here’s what women are talking about: there is always, always a lingering fear in the back of your head, that someone, sometime, will overpower you and do bad things to you. And it’s because, of all the humans, you have the least muscle mass, second only to children – at the bottom of the food chain, so to speak. Any slightly-built man knows he doesn’t want to face down a strapping big hulk of a guy. But to most women, both the slightly-built man and the strapping big hulk of a guy represent Someone Who Outweighs And Outguns Me. And to small women, we’re even a little nervous about strapping big women – not that they’ll sexually assault us, but they might rob or hit us if they’re an aggressive type of person. But knowing that women, on the whole, aren’t all that interested in being physically aggressive, we feel reasonably confident that when we walk into a women’s room, there’s a very low chance that someone will be in there who intends to harm us for fun. Personally I wouldn’t expect a trans woman to be physically aggressive either, because it doesn’t seem to line up with that self-view. But she is still going to outweigh and outgun me. So no matter who is in there, I hold on tight to my handbag, and feel much less nervous if there are a couple of other “potential witnesses” in there. It’s very tiring, being vigilant at the bottom of the food chain. We have to think about it every time we go out. Stick to well-lit and well-frequented places, and don’t stick your neck out. At least, that’s my experience.
So, we may end up with only unisex bathrooms, where not one single person feels completely comfortable or safe, at least not initially; or we may end up with three or more designated gender stalls. We may reach an utterly ludicrous place where we look at the “outweighing” factor, and designate the stalls simply Featherweight, Middleweight and Heavyweight. It would solve the mental “I could defend myself in this room” issue, but it would bring a whole slew of other dramas. Who wants to face a row of stalls and admit their weight, either to themselves or to others? How demoralising. Damaging, even, to have to go there. And, obviously, a 150kg young male boxing champion is not evenly matched with a 150kg white haired lady who watches Oprah all day. So bulk designations aren’t the answer to safety either.
I submit to you that we are going about this all backwards.
We shouldn’t be attacking the bathrooms. We should be attacking the stereotypes.
Who decides what it is to be a man? Who decides what it is to be a woman? Where do we get the concepts “this is masculine” and “this is feminine”? Why oh why do we stick with them? Why do we push them onto other people?
Christians may well bring up, at this point, a couple of key Bible verses. The first is, obviously, “and He made them male and female”. You may be surprised to learn that in some interpretations, the verse goes on to say, “male and female He created him [not them].” Since the world tsela, “rib”, can also mean “side”, either in the sense of a boat, a house wall, or a coin, some scholars believe Adam literally may have had two faces before being separated out into two people, Adam and Eve. Adam could have literally had his feminine side removed! If you think about it in terms of cell mitosis, or twins, it could even have happened at an embryonic stage. But however it was done, there is no proof whatsoever that Eve liked pink frilly things and Adam liked a few beers on a Saturday night. In fact, Eve sounds reasonably independent, and Adam a little petulant … just sayin’.
The next thing would be tackling the prohibition against cross-dressing in Deuteronomy 22. It says that the Lord detests anyone who does this. But what are we talking about? Are we talking about a squick, or are we possibly talking about fraud? I don’t have enough scholarly background on this to know for sure. But I do know that God hates fraud and lies. So I submit to you that it’s just possible that what He detests is someone masquerading as something they’re not. If there are privileges, leniencies or opportunities up for grabs and you have to cheat to get them – that could be what He’s talking about. If you are intentionally humiliating someone else by leading them a merry chase – that could be what He’s talking about. I can’t be sure. I just want to present the idea that it may not, after all, be about squick. And while we’re talking about masquerading as something you’re not … that is exactly what trans people are trying to avoid. They feel, if I’m understanding them correctly, like actors when obeying the role rules of their biological genders.
Can’t we just have a penis stall and a vagina stall, and leave the expectations of dress and demeanour out of it? In this scenario – imagine there’s no role rules – if you have a penis, it shouldn’t matter if you are thin, muscled, short, tall, wearing jeans, wearing a dress, have additional genital components, like fishing, like embroidery, or how many syllables your favourite drinks have – you pee in the urinal. And if you have a vagina, it shouldn’t matter if you have a prickle cut, a perm, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, additional genital parts, a motorbike, or a Barbie collection – you get the cubicle with the sanitary disposal box. Because no matter who you feel like you are, if you have a willy, you have the privilege of peeing standing up. And if you have a vagigi, you may at some point need the box. Your dress sense doesn’t come into it.
Can’t we translate that to life, to culture? Can’t we be who we are without being told we must seem a certain way because of our apparatus?
If we can all learn to accept each other without assigning attributes to our pink bits, maybe that would be better than ripping up the English language and the plumbing. 2c.