Bathroom FAIL

There are so many problems with this comment thread I hardly know where to begin. Why is it that virtually every discussion about trans rights and gender-neutral bathrooms so quickly devolves into ZOMG! Men in the women’s room!? (One theory: even ostensibly progressive people let their true stripes show in these conversations, in that they actually believe trans women = teh menz. Oh, and let’s continue leaving trans men out of the conversation entirely. Cool.)

As Zyfron and catspaw so eloquently put it in the Feministing thread, clusterfuck derails like this are exactly what conservative hand-wringers have in mind when they send out missives like Focus on the Family’s Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think Of The Children? email. They’re hoping that otherwise reasonable people will ignore all those other messy subjects like, oh, non-discrimination legislation, the pathologizing of gender identity, and disproportionate rates of assault and murder of trans people (and particularly trans people of color)–and instead focus on bathroom troubles.

I don’t want to play Hierarchy of Oppressions here, as there’s no single list of priorities for trans communities or activist movements. But bathroom issues certainly do seem to enjoy a disproportionate amount of mainstream attention. When’s the last time you saw a major news outlet–or even a big feminist blog, for that matter–cover an issue like unemployment rates among trans communities?

As I said in the Feministing thread, I absolutely don’t mean to minimize or dismiss the atrocity of rape, the experiences of survivors/victims, or the very real threat of assault women face in public spaces. I may not think about my own safety in quite that way as much as many other women do–I’m usually more worried about gender policing in bathrooms than I am about the threat of a male predator there, since I have so much experience with the former–but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand those fears and concerns.

That said, what is it about the possibility of a man raping a woman in a bathroom that negates the needs of trans (and otherwise gender deviant) folks to have access to safe bathrooms?

While apparently multiple occupancy gender-neutral bathrooms do exist, they’re still very much in the minority–and not at all the goal of legislation that would protect trans rights in public bathrooms. Instead, by and large these are bills seeking either single-stall gender-neutral bathrooms, or mandates that trans folks cannot be denied access to restrooms matching their gender identity.

But I guess it’s just no fun to stick to, oh, I don’t know, reality, or listen at all to what trans folks have to say about their own needs and safety. It’s apparently much more interesting to derail into speculation about what might happen to a six year old alone in a public bathroom, or to declare that trans folks who don’t pass as well should just stick to the bathroom contrary to their own gender identity–you know, so as to avoid confusion.

14 Responses to Bathroom FAIL

  1. annajcook says:

    Thanks for putting this up on twitter :). You’re much more articulate about what’s wrong with that thread than I could be. It’s just amazing to me how freaked out feminist-identified women get about the idea of gender-neutral bathroom spaces in ways that are totally sidelining the rights of trans and gender-nonconforming folks to use public bathrooms without fear of harassment or violence. I had no idea the 1970s-era scare tactic of “unisex bathrooms” had such a strong hold in liberal, feminist circles. Which I guess shows my own cis-privilege.

  2. Sig Fig says:

    I hate reading comment discussions too much to check myself, but has anyone said anything about the frequency of violence/harassment actually experienced in public bathrooms by transfolk and gender noncomformists compared with how often cis-gendered women are harassed in those same spaces? Again, not to do a hierarchy of oppression thing, but pretty much every gender noncomformist I’ve come across has at least one Bathroom Story. Having spent the last 7 or 8 years at various institutions with gender-neutral bathrooms, I haven’t heard about any cis-gendered women who’ve had similarly creepy bathroom encounters.

    If only it was easier to quantify this sort of data. I could write a grant to fund gender neutral bathroom signs and training seminars for *certain institutions* that should really have genderfriendly bathrooms.

  3. wavilyem says:

    I think the reason why so much attention gets directed towards the male predator in a women’s restroom scenario is because it’s much like what Bruce Schneier calls a “Movie Plot Threat”, a very specific attack scenario that’s good for scaring people but that happens too rarely to be worth spending a substantial amount of resources defending against (see In this case, there simply is no cost-effective way to stop a determined male rapist from entering a women’s restroom regardless of whether there’s a gender identity/expression non-discrimination law in place. However, some people are so afraid of this rare scenario occurring that they would do anything to reduce the risk of it happening, even if it means ignoring the big picture and making a certain subset of the population substantially more afraid to use a public restroom.

  4. Sig Fig says:

    I have officially coined the term “genderfriendly.” It’s like “genderfucker” only … friendlier.

  5. pandanose says:

    Thanks for that link, wavilyem. I hope to bring that up with Teh Internets the next time I’m in a similar thread.

    And Sig Fig, good point about the relative instances of sexual violence against women vs. harassment/assault of transfolks. It’s something I’m often hesitant to bring up, because improperly worded it could sound a lot like “Suck it up, rape victims/survivors! The thing that happened to you is totally rare!” But you said that in a totally eloquent way.

  6. Rachel_in_WY says:

    I have to admit I was caught totally off guard by that thread, but it was because I expected the feministing community to be much more sophisticated regarding the rhetoric of FoF. I guess because I’ve been exposed to their crap for so many years I took it for granted that when they claimed that men would be allowed in women’s restrooms they meant MTFs and were just doing their usual shitty trans-hating shtick. So then I started reading all these comments about not wanting men in the women’s bathroom, and I was like WTF?!? Are all these feminists actually claiming that MTFs are “really, actually” men?!? It took me a minute to get that people were drinking the FoF coolaid. So I think a lot of what happened on that thread that went so horribly awry was based on basic miscommunication.

  7. pandanose says:

    I think it’s a little more insidious than simple miscommunication. Yes, there were some folks on that thread who took the bait, and then went, “Oh, so we’re not talking about unisex bathrooms everywhere? Well, now I feel dumb.”

    But other commenters clearly refused to let go of the slippery slope notion. It’s like people who may not have a problem with same-sex-marriage, but buy the rhetoric that it might possibly somehow sorta lead to plural marriage or adult-youth marriage or dudes marrying sheep.

    And then, of course, there were the handful of people who would like to dictate who’s passing well enough to piss in public, and they can pretty much go fuck themselves.

  8. Lucy says:

    I tried not to engage too much there because I didn’t want to get any angrier than I got (I’m catspaw there), but the whole BS on passing really gets to me because I know that I will never pass well and sometimes will fail altogether. I agree that those who want to police trans folk by how well we pass can go fuck themselves as you eloquently put it, pandanose, but at the same time I know these are the type of cis women who are going to be calling the cops/security on my trans self. I don’t have a bathroom horror story yet, but I know it’s only a matter of time.

    It really does bother me how much traction the whole bathroom thing has with liberal feminists even as many of them claimed they weren’t prejudiced against trans people. I’m already used to the trans-hating coming from many radical feminists (especially online) and hoped that liberal feminists would be better. Instead they just fail in a different way. *headdesk* Finally, in a better world Feministing would actually engage trans issues instead of just occasional linking to Questioning Transphobia and the like. Apparently that is too much to ask.

    OK, one more thing, thanks to Rachel in WY for taking up a lot of the slack for the times I really just didn’t have the emotional energy to yell at the stupid there. Have an ally cookie. 😉

  9. pandanose says:

    Word to everything you said, Lucy.

    Check out one of my local news stations covering the New Hampshire vote today. ZOMG! Bathroom hysteria! (Gunner is, of course, awesome. Everyone else involved in that story–particularly whatever bonehead approved the reporter referring to “transgenders”–is, of course, an idiot.)

  10. […] about gender-neutral restrooms and trans rights, I’m including three responses from MK, queenemily, and catspaw pointing out the problems with how that conversation went […]

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