On the Republican Bathroom Dread

By now, you have probably heard that the Republican National Committee has made restricting trans students’ bathroom use a national party platform. This comes on the heels of 44 state-level anti-trans bills being introduced and proceeding through various layers of legislative processes.

The RNC’s resolution is as confusing as it is terrifying. What’s not immediately clear in any of this process is the problem that these resolutions and bills purport to solve, particularly because it’s aimed at students. Like most actions that come from a place of fear, the drum-beating is about “protecting the children.” But what threat do transgender children actually pose? Multiple states and even more municipalities have protections in place for trans students. No incidents have been reported. Which should be obvious, because what exactly is a trans kid going to do?

These bills, of course, are a proxy for other Republican battles. The fight to attempt to erode Titles VII and IX continues on under some perverse notion of “small government.” What’s unclear is how replacing one government regulation with another oppositional one somehow shrinks government involvement. But this is not new. Transgender people are being used as the latest token in a long battle of trying to restore power to the ol’ boys club. The Republican party sees us as a perfect target: we’re distinctly other; we have a complicated connection with sex work and sexuality; we largely exist in the shadows; our needs can be very concretely targeted as a direct and measurable cost burden to society. This echoes the same tired approach the Republican party has been using with various shades of success in the battles against affirmative action, same-sex marriage, DADT, and more: focus on what seems most “other” and apply it to the point of greatest vulnerability. “College is expensive! Black student scholarships will make you poor!” “If gays get married, then the sanctity of your marriage is violated!” “What if a gay man has to defend against terrorism?“ “What if you were in a bathroom with a woman who had a penis?”

These fears, while visceral, are rarely borne out in reality: gays have been serving and fighting in wars since there have been wars; the cost of college attendance has nothing to do with the number of black students attending; gay marriage hasn’t actually brought hellfire into our world. But bathrooms, oh boy. Bathrooms are a vulnerable place. Maybe it’s some evolutionary aspect of our psychologies, like how a dog surveys its surroundings while it’s doing its business. Or maybe we’re just so sexually-repressed as a culture that we can’t distinguish between exposing our genitals to open air for the sake of waste removal and exposing our genitals to open air for the sake of fun sexy times.

What may be shocking for the RNC to learn is that because trans people are actually just regular people, we feel equally or more vulnerable in bathrooms. The conservative characterization of what happens in the bathroom usually involves some combination of:

  1. you might get peeped on;
  2. you might get assaulted;
  3. sex happens.

Let’s break this down critically. First, the issue of peeping. I’m not sure anyone has ever used a restroom to spy on someone getting rid of yesterday’s Chipotle. And even if they did, we have the internet for that. No one is going to put themselves through second puberty, refresh their entire wardrobe, go through a lenghty and frustrating ID change process (yo, I have fifty-seven organizations and counting that I have to do name changes with), face public humiliation and risk having their family disown them just so they can catch a glimpse of a random person’s genitals through the crack between the stall door and the divider. This doesn’t happen. In fact, bathrooms are so terrifying to me that I generally just stare at my shoes while I’m waiting for a stall, terrified that someone might see my face and clock me for the wrong gender.

Bathrooms are horrifying. I have deliberately chosen what restaurant to eat at based on whether I know if they have single-occupant bathrooms or not. Given the choice, I will always choose the establishment that offers me the choice of being by myself over being in a crowd with other women. This is because, I, trans woman, actually prefer to not be around anybody while doing my business! Incredible, I know.

Second, the issue of assault. It’s true: a trans person might commit an assault, because trans people are just people, and sometimes people are horrible. But there have been no incidents of trans people in the US committing assaults in public bathrooms. There are, however, instances of cisgender people exposing themselves. So tell me, who here is the problem?

Besides, this argument elides two considerations: assault is already illegal and the little stick figure on the bathroom door isn’t actually a deterrent in any way at all, and that assault of trans people is also a thing that happens with shocking regularity. I, a very femme trans woman, am substantially more likely to be spontaneously assaulted by a man in a men’s room than any cisgender person is to be assaulted by a trans person of the same gender. Forcing trans people to use the restrooms of their assumed birth sex will increase assaults, not decrease them.

Finally, let’s look at this issue of trans people using the bathrooms for sex. This probably stems from this idea that trans people are sex workers, which is simply untrue. Some are. Some are by choice, and some are by circumstance. What is certain is that by continuing the social pressure that suppresses a trans person’s ability to operate openly in society, we are more likely to shove more trans people into the shadows where sex work is the only option for survival. But regardless, bathroom sex is a thing cis people tend to engage in regularly. For chrissakes, Deadspin has a stadium-sex tag. Or maybe this fear of bathroom conduct comes because of a history of bathroom misconduct within the Republican party itself, e.g. Bob Allen, Larry Craig, Michael Grimm, etc. If these are the party concerns, perhaps it’s time to look in the mirror, instead of out the window.

Don’t get me wrong, this is all categorically absurd, but it is also terrifying now that trans exclusions have become an official party platform. The Republican party is attempting to legislate transgender people out of existence, and it’s starting by denying the most basic of human needs to the most vulnerable people in our community. This is not a conservative value system speaking. This is cultural warfare. And the Republican party is deliberately trying to foment fear in order to achieve its political objectives. This is a last-ditch effort of a dying movement trying to retain relevancy. What’s most terrifying is that they can still win. And the first sacrifice will be the transgender kids around the country, many of whom are already suffering. Come November, know this: the Republican party has lashed its success to the survival or death of transgender youth.