During the last few months, public discussions and debates have centered around bathroom policies for transgender individuals. In March, the Governor of North Carolina signed HB 2, a bill requiring individuals to use the bathroom that matches their biological sex, not their gender identity, thus prompting intense debate over this controversial bill. Then in April, Target reiterated their trans-friendly bathroom policy. The intensity of the discussion continued to escalate with more media, blog posts, discussions, rants, and a campaign to boycott Target in order to protect women and children. Then last Friday’s guidance from U.S. Departments of Justice and Education Release Joint Guidance to Help Schools Ensure the Civil Rights of Transgender Students prompted yet another flurry of conversations, debates, and news pieces.
I am personally and professionally interested in the issues being raised in this discussion. As a therapist, I’ve worked with dozens of abuse victims in their healing process. I’ve also worked with a handful of LGBT clients and families and have some idea of the challenges they face. As a social worker, I am an advocate for civil rights and social justice issues. As a parent, I am very concerned about my children’s safety, and I do my best to protect their well-being in every area of their lives.
As the intensity of the discussion continues, I have noticed that I am not alarmed or afraid of trans-friendly bathroom policies. I am no more concerned about my children’s or my own safety than I was last year.
Here are 10 reasons why I’m not afraid to use trans-friendly bathrooms:
1) Transgender individuals have already been using their bathroom of choice. The only thing that has changed is that more people are aware of policies that have already been in place. Target was reiterating its policy, not creating a new policy. Most of the time we simply have no idea that we’re sharing a bathroom or locker room with a transgender man or woman because they appear like the people in the bathroom.
2) Transgender individuals are no more likely to sexually assault someone than cisgender people. Transgender individuals choosing to use a bathroom matching their gender identity doesn’t pose an increased safety risk to the public.
3) Safety concerns are about sexual predators not transgender bathroom use. Collapsing two different issues into the same discussion does a disservice to all of us. It continues to perpetuate false assumption that LGBT individuals are more likely to be sexual predators or abusers. It also prevents us from discussing the actual source of the bathroom safety concerns: how to prevent sexual violence.
4) It is unlikely that boys will now claim to be transgender in order to access girls bathrooms or locker rooms. I have some idea of the social, emotional, and familial challenges that transgender individuals face. I find it hard to believe that a boy would claim to be trans and take on the associated stigma, potentially subjecting themselves to mistreatment. Seventy percent of trans individuals say they’ve been verbally harassed in bathrooms and 10 % reported physical assault (source). If a child or teen does claim to be trans to access a locker room of the opposite sex, this is not a transgender issue. This person is committing the crime of voyeurism.
5) Sexual predators have always and will continue to find ways to access victims. Men have always been able to dress up as women and sneak into restrooms in a variety of other ways, and female abusers often have even easier access to children than male abusers. Whether in bathrooms, dark streets, parking garages, school playgrounds, predators will find a way to access vulnerable populations. This is not a transgender bathroom issue.
6) Sexual assault is rarely perpetrated by a stranger hiding in a bathroom. Most sexual assaults are perpetrated by a family member, neighbor, friend, teacher, coach, or date, etc. In fact, 93% of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attacker (source). So why are we so concerned about a stranger hiding in a bathroom scenario and much less concerned about sending our children to school, church, or to play at a neighbor’s house where they are more likely to be victimized?
7) I’ve already spent 4 decades being cautious when using public bathrooms. My parents taught me to be alert and aware in public restrooms, to go with a buddy, and to report any suspicious activity. I have taught my children basic rules of public restroom safety. I have no fear of using a restroom with a transgender woman; I am fearful of sexual predators.
8) States and private companies with trans-friendly bathroom policies have not seen any increase in assaults. Although there have been anecdotal reports of predators using trans-friendly bathroom policies to gain access to bathroom to commit crimes, there is no evidence of an increase in sexual violence. According to the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women:
“Over 200 municipalities and 18 states have nondiscrimination laws protecting transgender people’s access to facilities consistent with the gender they live every day. None of those jurisdictions have [sic] seen a rise in sexual violence or other public safety issues due to nondiscrimination laws. Assaulting another person in a restroom or changing room remains against the law in every single state.” (source)
9) I am concerned about the safety of boys, too. Many sexual predators are male and are going to the bathroom and showering with our sons everyday. Why are the boys left out of the discussion of bathroom safety? If we’re concerned about sexual assault, we need to include males in the conversation as potential victims. In fact, 1 in 33 American men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime (source). Discussing only female’s bathroom safety continues to perpetuate the belief that boys aren’t vulnerable to sexual assault by men (or women).
10) This is an opportunity for reflection and self-awareness – individually and collectively. In the therapy office, I’ve often told couples that fights and disagreements are rarely about the topic being discussed and almost always about the underlying vulnerable emotions being experienced. Fights about money, for example, aren’t about dollars but what the money means and how we feel about it. Fear, sadness, confusion, longing are examples of emotions that often lurk below the surface of intense arguments between couples. I think this idea applies to the larger conversation we are having about transgender bathroom policies. This discussion is a chance for us to pause and reflect on what is really going on. Is it fear of change? Fear of the unfamiliar? Sadness about letting go of a sense of control? Sadness that the world is changing? I can only answer this question for myself:
I am scared that we are using transgender bathroom policies as a way to avoid discussing the real concerns – sexual assault and all forms of victimization. I am afraid that by framing concerns about transgender bathroom policies, we are further victimizing an already victimized population. I am afraid that we are using this discussion to avoid engaging in more complex discussions about stopping the glorification of violence and our cultural obsession with sex.
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