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Transphobic “Bathroom Bills”: Public Hoopla Over Private Parts

Lawmakers have no business following trans people into the bathroom.

As the recent attention lavished on figures like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner attests, trans visibility continues to rise in the United States. But that doesn’t mean life is suddenly easy for us transwomen.

Take something as simple as obeying nature’s call. Trips to public restrooms can be terribly stressful for us – even for folks like me who “pass” as cisgender.

It took me over a year after I first embraced being trans to screw up the courage to enter a women’s room. Even now, two years after I first started presenting as female 24/7, I find myself furtively scanning the faces of the other women when I’m standing in a long bathroom queue.

Why? To confirm that no blowup is brewing.

Being identified as trans by an unfriendly stranger can lead directly to verbal or physical harassment – or even assault. So when we’re out in public, we often avoid behavior that might attract attention. Like making eye contact. Or showing our hands. Or speaking.

Unfortunately, conservative legislators across the country are making this experience more stressful than it already is.

Over the past year, laws have been proposed in several states that would ban transgender citizens from using bathrooms appropriate to their gender identity. These bills call for fines and even jail time for anyone who refuses to comply.

South Dakota, where lawmakers have passed a bathroom bill targeting transgender schoolchildren, may become the first state to enact one.

Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard, in whose hands the decision now lies, initially claimed he’d never even met a trans person – and didn’t intend to before deciding whether to sign it. (He was forced to reverse that position, thankfully, and met with some trans students on February 23.)

Why is the far right making so much public hoopla over our private parts? They say it’s to preserve “privacy rights.” Behind that highfalutin rationale, though, is the specter of (cisgender) women and girls being attacked by male sexual predators “disguised” as female.

To transgender Americans, these “bathroom bills” represent one of the more frustrating – and mystifying – forms of backlash against our emergence into the national spotlight.

Frustrating because the fear-mongering these bills foster is obstructing passage of sorely needed reforms, like protecting trans kids from bullying at school.

Mystifying because, as groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Media Matters, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Transgender Law Center have shown, there’s no credible evidence whatsoever that “the predatory transwoman” exists anywhere outside of right-wing fantasies.

So why all this clamoring to restrict our bathroom access?

The truth is, the right isn’t concerned about our actions (real or imagined). Indeed, as the South Dakota governor’s bizarre initial refusal to meet one of us attests, who we are as people is beside the point.

The menace we pose is instead symbolic: Our very existence threatens their vision of a strictly gendered social order – one rooted in the nuclear family, with Adam and Eve serving as the prototype. To accept gender variance is to question the fundamental distinction between “man” and “woman” that this vision depends on.

But instead of arguing that their vision trumps a more inclusive one that embraces us, they’re demonizing us. Instead of recognizing us as a vulnerable group whose rights need to be protected, they’re trying to make us illegal.

Sadly, this scapegoating resonates with many people. The pivotal role a vicious anti-trans ad campaign played in toppling Houston’s high-profile LGBT rights ordinance last November bears this out all too well.

On the upside, times are changing: Demonizing us is no longer enough to keep us in the closet. The fact that they’re resorting to crass fear-mongering over who pees where suggests how desperate they’re getting.

Education and increased visibility are slowly shifting public opinion in our favor. In the meantime, lawmakers should focus on the many real challenges facing the nation right now – and let us pee in peace.

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