Alex Blaze

The bathroom argument wins again

Filed By Alex Blaze | May 01, 2009 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: anti-discrimination, bathroom, bathroom argument, legislation, men, New Hampshire, public bathroom, restroom, transgender, transsexual, vote, women

The Restroom.jpgNew Hampshire Senate voted this week to legalize same-sex marriage. They also voted to unanimously reject a bill to ban discrimination against transgender people. (The Union-Leader article says "sexual identity issues," but I think they meant "on the basis of gender identity.")

House Bill 415 would have protected those with sexual identity issues in areas of housing and employment, much the way the state's laws protects others from discrimination on the basis of color, race, religion or sexual orientation.

Those who fought the bill said it would open women's bathrooms, changing rooms and locker rooms to sexual predators who could raise a defense in court that they were sexually confused.

Once again, the debate goes to the bathroom. It's dumb and a distraction (do these people actually think that that little female stick figure protects women from possible sexual aggressors? Are they seriously that stupid?), but it works. Not a single senator voted for the bill, not even its sponsors, saying that the bill "would only worsen the situation for transsexuals because of the way the bill was portrayed."

The Union-Leader article does explain how this is nothing more than a distraction designed to perpetuate discrimination against trans people:

The 24-0 vote to kill it came after Democrats blasted opponents of the bill for dubbing the measure the "bathroom bill," a move they said created misunderstanding and fear among the general population.

They also criticized the press and media for picking up on the nickname, saying they became an unwitting partner in the effort to continue denying a part of the population its civil rights.

"Shame on you," said Sen. Jacalyn Cilley, D-Barrington, as she accused opponents of "political posturing and gamesmanship."

Bill supporters said discrimination of any kind is wrong, and that state law should protect all citizens equally. They said there have been no bathroom incidents in the 13 states that have similar laws on the books.

I'm not a transgender activist, so I don't have much of an idea about what to do about this. The right's going to use the bathroom argument in every single state and municipality from here on out that wants to pass anti-discrimination legislation. They know the lowest common denominator when they see it, and here they have it.

But, as an outsider, it seems to me like the worst way to deal with this argument would be to answer it head on. The point is to distract people from the real issue, so joining in would only further take people away from the discrimination trans people face. As they say in politics: if you're explaining yourself, you're losing.

It would be like gays and lesbians, back when there were those referendums to ban us from being teachers, responding, "Don't worry, we're really not child molesters!" Something tells me that that wouldn't have been an effective strategy.

I suppose the goal should be to educate people to the point that these distractions will seem so ridiculous that people will just reject them on-face. Like that utterly silly NOM "Gathering Storm" ad that portrays the gays as the biggest threat to America - everyone wanted to parody it because Americans have gotten so over it that they just can't help but laugh at it. But 20 years ago? An ad like that would have rallied the fundies against the gays.

Doing what LGB people did over the last several decades won't work - every movement's strategy will be different because they all work in different contexts. Also, considering the smaller population of transsexual/transgender people compared to LGB people, as well as trans people's different relationship to coming out than gays' and lesbians', a grand strategy based on "outness" probably won't work as effectively.

As I've said before, I'm not an expert, I'm just a queer boy with an opinion. Feel free to tear apart my observations in the comments.

But from what I've read it looks like trans people and their supporters in the senate got blind-sided on this one. And it looks like this is the right's grand strategy, so it's worth discussing how to move people beyond this silliness.


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When I sent a letter to the Maryland Senator in charge of the old boys club about his failure to take leadership on Trans-inclusion I got a reply scolding me for beating up on friends. With friends like him, who needs enemies?

Alex, my instinct is different - I feel that this needs to tackle this head on, while not being defensive about it. The "bathroom issue" is that there are politicians who are denying us the use of bathrooms and that's just plain wrong.

We should emphasize that:

Everyone has a right to pee!
Bathrooms are a basic human right!

One possibility.

I think we're going to have to use it. The problem is, getting permission for photos to be used. You see, many Trans people don't like making themselves targets. We've been killed for less.

That would make for a great response to this argument.

Maybe a TV/video ad with transwomen saying "I'm a woman" or something like that? Like you said, lots won't want to be put out there. But if the strategy is to put a face on this issue, someone's going to have to volunteer.

I'm in.

Use this or this or any of the images on my website or I can get something fresh done.

The acute immediate risk pales next to the chronic problem.

The issue is not post-op women, or really FTMs. I have not seen anyone claiming they want to force post-ops women to use the men's room. And for almost all FTMs who have been on testosterone for a period, it is simply a non-issue. There have been legitimate concerns raised about how vague some of these laws are. Until people are willing to address the concerns, whether some want to claim they are not legitimate or not, this will continue to be an issue where losing is as likely as winning, especially in legislatures.

The bottom line is this...are you willing to sacrfice the legitimate needs of surgery tracked transsexuals to push a radical agenda to deconstruct gender? Or are you willing to take what is winnable, and accept that not ever fight can be won?

Or, as HRC put it, are you willing to risk the employment and housing needs of Gay and Lesbian people to push a radical agenda to protect a few transgender people? We can just keep the gender identity out of ENDA.

Many are willing to let the door shut people out, but only if the door shuts after they get in.

I don't see what you're getting at here. Are you saying that if the non-discrimination laws were more specifically worded so as to exclude non-op/pre-op transsexuals and cross-dressers that they'd be more likely to get through?

Are you saying that if the non-discrimination laws were more specifically worded so as to exclude non-op/pre-op transsexuals and cross-dressers that they'd be more likely to get through?
Absolutely yes it would!

All we'd have to do is sell out our brothers and sisters, who outnumber us greatly.

You think it's not a constant temptation? Of course is! To say
"oh well, the genderqueers and the crossdressers, the ultra-butch lesbians and the ultra-fey gays, they're nothing like us, and they can re-closet if things get tough while we can't".

There's more than a little truth in that, by the way, it would be so easy to justify betrayal on those grounds.

All we'd have to do is sell them down the river, just as we've been sold down the river by so many GLB-only groups.

All we'd have to do is abandon our principles. Any claim to a moral high ground. To make the words "inequality for one is inequality for all" nothing but hypocritical mouthings. We'd sail through, as historically we did, even in the 1950s.

I have my post-operative status. I have my passing privilege. I'd be all right.

All I'd have to do is to not be able to look at myself in the mirror and see a decent human being there.

The HRC and others were willing to pay that price over ENDA. We are not.

We don't bring up the subject though. It is too fucking painful. (I reserve expletives for very, very special occasions. This qualifies.)

Exactly.

Let's see, who gets tossed from the equality bus next:
genderqueer people
crossdressers
poor trans people who want surgery
trans people of color who want surgery
non-operative trans people
butch women
femme men
androgynous men
androgynous women
gender variant children

Oops. Hey, the bodies are piling up. How did that happen? That's OK, though. We'll just spread a little rhetorical lime over the bodies by saying, "We'll come back for your rights later." It cuts through the rank smell of hypocrisy quite nicely.

As far as I'm concerned, we need to protect all forms of gender expression now. If it can't be protected now, then we have to keep on trying until it passes.

"As far as I'm concerned, we need to protect all forms of gender expression now. If it can't be protected now, then we have to keep on trying until it passes."

Woohoo! Someone with both the courage to not throw me under the bus and the intellectual Integrity to recognise that rights and equality are an all-or-nothing deal Either all are Equal or there is no equality! Either everyone gets rights or those who have them while others don't have no valid claim to them (as they come from the assumption of equality folks, no equality then all rights are invalid!).

Go timberwraith! You, by defending me and others, just proved the validity of your claim to your rights and your decency as a human being.

The issue is not post-op women, or really FTMs. I have not seen anyone claiming they want to force post-ops women to use the men's room. And for almost all FTMs who have been on testosterone for a period, it is simply a non-issue.
Suzanne, this is not about truth. It's Propaganda. Perhaps 1 in 5 really do have a problem with post-ops, and for them this is exactly accurate. For the rest, yes, it's a distortion and a mis-characterisation of their views.

But the mis-characterisation is nowhere near as bad as the distortions our opponents are using so very effectively.

Logic, truth, and facts we have on our side. They're not enough. We have to fight irrational hysteria and appeals to emotion, not logic. This is an effective, and not too inaccurate, way of doing that.

I believe the answer lies in long-term image building. Gay and lesbian people have the image of being innocent, fun people, generated by positive media portrayal and their relative prevalence in society. ("Everybody knows a gay person," I often joke.) However, transwomen (and transmen, when the media sees them as shocking) are portrayed as victims, predators, and the butt of jokes.

Outside of "TransAmerica," I can't think of one film or show where a transwoman (or man, but again they simply don't have the same pizzaz as a manly woman) wasn't killed, the reason another person died, or portrayed as a deadbeat, lost soul, or exotic "other" to push the boundaries of good taste. We do not have the same level of touch with the general public, for most of us live in stealth and wouldn't out ourselves anyway.

So we're not out, we're not visible, and we're not that easy to handle. Of _course_ we're going to get blindsided!

We're going to have to do a better job of stating that sexual assault, whether in a bathroom or not, and whether or not it is perped by a man, woman, trans or not, is already against the law in just about every world jurisdiction. I've heard of 1 case where a T used a bathroom for prurient, illegal purposes, and they were tried for it. One case out of how many thousands of daily uses of public restrooms? The entire argument is a canard, of course, but the GOP and Reichers don't care about truth. After all, most restrooms with toilets have stall doors, for crying out loud.

So how do people get that argument across about sexual assault?

Is the better idea to start a big ol' "transgender people are just like you in every way except that one" campaign like the mainstream gay and lesbian movement?

I have many objections to this approach. For instance, given that SRS isn't covered by medical insurance in the US, this kind of law means that poor trans women and trans men who can't afford SRS are simply left behind. So, the law would essentially discriminate against poor people. Given the linkage between ethnicity and poverty in the US, the law would be effectively racist, too.

This is nothing new, as the LGBT movement has tons of issues with racism and classism. If this kind of law is adopted as a "solution," we can add this to a long and growing list of racist, classist actions taken by those who are supposedly fighting for equality.

No thanks, Susan. Even though I've had SRS and stand to benefit from such a law, I can wait for an inclusive law to be passed. I refuse to ignore the needs of poor trans people and trans people of color.

Maybe a better idea is to protect the people who need protection most.

Let us write a law that protects the rights of feminine-looking men and masculine-looking men, of transgender sex workers, of people who crossdress in fantasy outfits, of people whose gender can't be ascertained.

Once we have covered the most vulnerable, we can come back to those of us (like myself) with greater privilege.

I see Sue is back but to say its time to dump the non preop transolks is well shooting your self in the foot.So its include all of us or none of us and if you go that route you just lost a wider range of support in the T than the pre and post opp folks.After all Cross Dressers were convinced we had to be a part of the T to have a real voice after all.Cant have us going on our own etc.So if were the ones who they are so afarid of I can see us getting the boot then being told we will work for your rights to yeah right.

I honestly believe that if the issue had been pushed on its on, we might well have made far more progress.
I think that's self-evidently true.

But you know my feelings on the issue from a previous post.

Sorry, but no, I am not "Sue." So please don't try to use that to dismiss what I say,

NOTE FROM BIL: No, you're "Just Jennifer." Which means what you have to say can be dismissed since you were banned a few months ago for violating the Terms of Service agreement in the comments section. Goodbye. No more comments will be approved and all comments published under this name have been unpublished but this one.

There is more than a trace of the foul odor of the condemnation by the wealthy and priviledged Mattachines of New York of the Stonewall Riots about your position, Suzanne

The most famous "bathroom incidents" in New York have involved Butch Lesbians; without incusive gender identity and expression protections, they will continue to be at risk for heavy handed discrimination.

I am certain that all of you are tired of hearing this, but these issues of respect for gender expression affect Lesbians as well as the Trans community. This infighting between portions of that community harms the cause of amny who in various ways transgress gender.

And we just bury the bloodletting for a bit and pull together for protections that cover everyone?

Amen!

If we divide ourselves, we will be conquered.

THE ISSUE was once again the Right defined the battleground!

They got it called the "Bathroom Bill" in both Mass and New Hampster...it was nothing of the sort!

It is/was an employment and basic civil rights bill. Whenever the bathroom garbage is brought up in the future it needs to be immediately and without any accommodations be re-directed away from the bathrooms and BACK to the actual issues.

TG preoccupation with bathrooms has them playing right into the right's hands, they say man in the bathroom, the TG activists engage them in it. Big mistake.

Trouble is much of our community is filled with Internalised Oppression, Internalised Transphobia. With all the corresponding blaming of subgroups, arbitrary divisions, scapegoating, deffending the injustices rather than oppossing them and other Horisontal Hostility that goes with that territory.

It's all quite textbook stuff, but somehow it goes without much mention or awareness.

In fact lots of folk I've spoken to seem very hostile indeed to even the idea of Internalised Transphobia... but many others are increasingly seeing the truth in it.

And this seems a good resource for those wanting to identify and help heal Internalised Opression of many sorts http://ctb.ku.edu/en/tablecontents/sub_section_main_1172.htm

The lies of the opposition need to be countered by the truth. We cannot just let them spout off about bathrooms without countering their dishonesty. Once that's accomplished, however, we need to remind people that the law is not about bathrooms but protections against egregious discrimination.

We also need to call the media on their blatant use of distorting headlines, e.g. "State House Dome: Debating budget billions, 'bathroom bill." The media's willingness to sacrifice truth for a catchy headline needs to be condemned. http://www.theunionleader.com/article.aspx?headline=State+House+Dome%3A+Debating+budget+billions%2C+%27bathroom+bill%27&articleId=ab35b2bd-6ba3-4f6b-b44a-82848aeba499

All too many newspapers and other media used the "Bathroom Bill" title to catch readers and viewers. They share a large portion of the blame for the defeat of the trans inclusion into the nondiscrimination laws in New Hampshire. I hope the same will not be true for Massachusetts where we see the same media abuses.