President Obama and other politicians are taking a wide stance over the nation’s public restrooms. Important bathroom policy will finally be determined at the highest levels.
In early May, public school educators nationwide received a legalistically-worded joint letter from the Departments of Justice and Education explaining how to legally treat transgender students under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act. CNN boiled it down to “Fall in line or face loss of federal funding.”
Friendly federal “guidance” comes after dueling lawsuits between the Feds and North Carolina over that state’s House Bill 2, which establishes statewide restroom regulations. Those regs require that transgender folks use the bathroom appropriate to the sex listed on their birth certificate (whether Kenyan, Canadian or other).
Obama, on the other hand, wants Americans to choose the restroom matching their “gender identity.”
Conservatives seem most worried, not about the bathroom usage of transgender folks, but that the Obama policy is so loosely defined as to allow non-transgender male persons of heterosexual intent to simply claim to be transgender in order to shower with the girls volleyball team or lurk in the powder room.
“Have we gone stark raving nuts?” questioned Sen. Ted Cruz, proclaiming: “Grown adult men, strangers, should not be alone in a bathroom with little girls.”
Oddly, neither approach takes biology seriously. There are many cases where people have had their sex “reassigned” by surgery. That is, they’ve had their genitalia altered so that former men can have female (or female-like) pudenda, and women can sport something that’s in the ballpark of masculine sex organs.
What with the world’s first successful penis transplant having just been performed, future surgeries are likely to create more realistic alternatives to what is available today.
In any case, the North Carolina law would forget what a person looks like, when determining restroom selection, but, instead, corral folks into the restrooms that would have suited them had they kept going with their original equipment. What this means is that in North Carolina, people who look like men would be forced to share restrooms with little girls, and people who look like women would be forced to share restrooms with little boys. How this solves the problem Cruz brought up, I know not.
Since many people who are now called “transgendered” are mainly dressing up, while others are undergoing hormone treatments to nurture the sexual characteristics of the sex opposite to which they were born, but haven’t undergone surgery yet — or never even plan to — there’s a great deal of ambiguity here.
So, little wonder, in California, there’s legislation to force businesses to make “all single-stall public restrooms” gender neutral. “Let’s make a clear statement that, if you want to go pee, by all means help yourself,” argued the proposal’s author.
But how much of a problem was this, ever? Bathroom anarchy, i.e. open public access to restrooms without a genital-monitoring law enforcement presence demanding one’s papers, has been working just fine.
So, why are we talking about this now?
Is this a “reactionary,” “fear-based” right-wing panic? Or was this spurred by “social justice” activists obsessed with the “intersectionality” that we’ve been hearing so much from and about on campuses these past two years?
Which brings up an interesting point: the question seems to be of “safe spaces.”
Typically, we want restrooms to be safe spaces, where we don’t engage with each other, but do what needs to be done and get out with a minimum of fuss (while not touching the door with our hands as we exit).
The theory of “safe spaces,” however, has been advanced courtesy of the social justice warriors, who are somehow expressly concerned that no one ever be discomfited on the grounds of sex, gender, race, etc. And ideas, too. On campuses around England and America, “safe spaces” have been set up, complete with pillows, cookies and cocoa, to protect college students from mere ideas they find disturbing. Ideas that run counter to their social justice causes, that bring up facts that they’d prefer not to consider, and arguments that are foreign to their mindsets.
How they can learn anything with that attitude, I don’t know. Homer, Sophocles, the Bhagavad Gita — all have shocking things to say, considering the left-wing sensibilities of the Safe Space crowd.
But the public toilet issue, as it is now being batted back and forth, seems to be a question of “safe spaces for whom?” Progressives seem much exercised to protect the sensibilities of every possible “gender” difference; conservatives are obviously much exercised to protect the sensibilities of children and . . . the “cis-gendered.”
Restrooms, provided for public use either by governments or businesses, should be safe spaces for everybody. But when disagreements occur about how to accommodate disagreeing people, with radically different needs, we need a proper venue for discussion and conflict resolution.
Where would that place be? Not a safe space itself? No. But it doesn’t have to be the most public places, either.
For my part, it seems the best way to handle the few cases where this matters is as locally and discreetly as possible. Transgender people should be treated with care and respect, as should every person. But we are talking about our private functions here. Even in public bathrooms much of what we do is cordoned off from prying eyes. Must we develop a whole new ideology to accommodate current discord, a “toiletarianism”?
And, more importantly, do we really need a national bathroom policy designed for maximum division in an election year?
Before politicians solve today’s glaring non-problem in public restrooms, they should solve a real problem first.
Paul Jacob, May 22, 2016
This column first appeared at Townhall.com.