Imagine if, every time you had to use the bathroom, you were required to hold it until the available public restroom was completely empty. Now imagine being stuck in a busy restaurant, needing to pee. There is a long line out the restroom door that doesn’t seem to be dwindling. There are no other public restrooms nearby that you’re aware of. Your party is still mid-meal, and you haven’t seen your server in a while. Your options are: use the bathroom and risk getting beat up, raped, and/or arrested, or continue holding it to the point of a bladder infection.
This is the situation that trans people find themselves in on a daily basis in places where “bathroom bills” have passed and become “bathroom laws” – discriminatory laws that require people to use the bathroom that matches their assigned gender, rather than allowing folks to use whatever bathroom they feel safest in, or that comports with their gender identity.
Republican state representative David Hale recently prefiled a bathroom bill targeting transgender students in Kentucky. The bill would require trans and non-binary students to use restrooms that don’t match their gender identity, where they would be perpetually vulnerable to harassment, bullying, and assault.
The main argument given in favor of the bathroom bill—that the bill would prevent men from going into the women’s restroom to assault women—is a bad argument. There are actually two versions of the argument, and both are equally bad.
The first version of the argument suggests that sexual criminals in question are trans women—implying that trans women are really men, dressed up as women. But trans women are women. If anything, trans women are the least likely group to commit acts of sexual violence; in fact, as a group they are at the greatest risk for sexual assault, violence, and murder. This version of the argument employs offensive and transphobic depictions of trans women, and ignores all of the statistics about sexual violence.
The second version of the argument acknowledges that trans women are women, but holds that the bathroom bill is necessary to protect women and girls from the bad cisgender men out there who go into public restrooms to assault women. But there are no known cases of men dressing up as women in order to assault them. Furthermore, if a cisgender man wanted to do this, a bathroom law would not stop him. In committing assault he is already violating one law, so why not violate another? Once again, the argument pretends to concern itself with victims of sexual violence. But if this is truly the Republicans’ concern, why create a law that would require trans woman—a group that is disproportionately affected by hate crimes and sexual violence—to share a restroom with cisgender men, the group most likely to rape, assault, and murder them?
And whence this sudden concern for the safety of cisgender women? After all, the people backing these bathroom bills are the same ones shutting down all of the abortion clinics across the state, and pardoning a man convicted of raping a nine year old girl because “her hymen was intact.” This sudden “concern” with the safety of cis women and girls, a population the republicans have only ever silenced and gaslighted is what makes these arguments especially offensive and heinous.
So if safety and violence prevention aren’t the real reason for the bathroom bill, what is? Clearly, it’s the preservation of two of our most deeply-entrenched social norms: the gender binary (or the idea that there are only two genders: male or female) and the equation of sex and gender: the idea that sex and gender are the same thing, or that one’s gender is determined by one’s chromosomes and body parts.
To be clear: the trans and non-binary kids who this bill targets are absolutely radicals; they are rebels, gender anarchists if you will. The patriarchy, the silencing and policing of women and femmes, the perpetuation of heteronormative values in gay culture, all of our oppressive gender norms, all of our assumptions and biases, gay and straight alike, about the way that gender and sex work—these trans and non-binary kids (and also us adults) are burning it all to the ground. And this is why we are being targeted. Because any time these norms are challenged, the people in power (namely: white cisgender men) can feel their power being threatened.
The bathroom bill attempts to preserve the status quo by stomping out trans people’s existences. But we will never stop existing. And as long as we exist, we will continue to demand the same respect and dignity that is given to cis people.