The last time I used a public men's room was years ago. It was on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, visiting some relatives for the last time. They didn't know about my gender issues, and still don't. I was dressed in male clothes, and was trying to pass as male. I was acutely aware of all the looks that I was getting from the men in that restroom. I finally got the point that I didn't belong there, and my presence was causing confusion.
As I exited the men's room, a man entering took one look at me, apologized for using the wrong door and turned to enter the adjacent door to the women's room. Wasn't he in for a surprise!
At this point in my life, if I tried to use the men's room, not only would it cause confusion but also I would be seriously risking my safety. But according to some, people like me should be compelled to use restrooms which conform to their sex at birth. They completely miss the point that I would be in grave danger of bodily harm if I attempted to do that.
For a moment, let's imagine a world where one's sex at birth was the deciding criterion for bathroom admission. We would have to hire squads of bathroom police. Great for unemployment, not so great for the economy. It would lead to higher taxes and runaway inflation. There would be checkpoints set up in public places where we would need to show our identification cards to be allowed to urinate. There would be routine surprise panty checks, and hidden cameras in the stalls and at the urinals. Anyone whose genitals did not match their state-issued bathroom ID would be arrested ... . It would lead to complete breakdown of civilization as we know it.
As ridiculous as it sounds, "da bathroom issue" is becoming a major stumbling block for the transgender rights movement. You may recall the bathroom issue was the only reason that Barney Frank could give me for keeping trans people out of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. And it may become an issue locally as well.
At the core of the bathroom issue is the stereotype of a man in a dress invading the inner sanctum of the women's room. I don't know why the intruder is never a woman in jacket and tie in the men's room. The objection to granting human rights to transgender people is always the presumption of malice ... that we are all just like the evil transvestite that turns out to be the psychopathic killer that you see in the movies.
But what about the thousands of intersex people with ambiguous genitalia? And what about the thousands of people who live their lives as one sex, but for whatever reason, cannot have reassignment surgery? For every post-operative transsexual, there are dozens more who are non-operative for medical, financial, philosophical, or whatever reasons.
Right now, unless I choose to show and tell, no one knows what I have between my legs. It doesn't matter. And, in fact, it is an invasion of my privacy to require me to reveal my genital status while yours still remains hidden behind your clothing.
Jamison Green, a transgender activist, is quoted in Transgender Equality in a discussion with a corporate HR manager ...
"How many men do you meet every day, feel comfortable with, do business with, etc., etc.?" I asked him. "And how many of those men do you know for a fact has a penis?"
He was stunned. "So how important is a man's penis in your employer/employee relationship?" I inquired. He was contrite.
"You assume all the men you meet have penises and started their lives in male bodies. This may not be true; and if that is so, what difference does it make to you?"
"I see," he said, thoughtfully.
So what is different about the current discussion of transgender rights? It is the conviction that the general public has a right to figuratively strip us naked and expose us to public scrutiny. It is the belief that that most basic of our human rights, urinary rights, are fair game for public debate. It is the feeling that it is not an invasion of privacy to discuss our bodies in public forum.
This systematic dehumanization of gender-different people is case-in-point for human rights reform. Just because we have been born a certain way does not mean that our right to privacy is any less than that of any one else.
No major civil-rights movement has been without its bathroom issues. We are in good company. Kate Clinton wrote in Don't Get Me Started, "It all seems to boil down to bathrooms ... . The Disabilities Rights Movement? Bathroom accessibility. The Black Civil Rights Movement? Bathroom sharing. The Equal Rights Movement? Anti-ERA forces said that if the amendment were passed there would be unisex bathrooms."
One of the precipitating factors in the great Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was bathroom segregation. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Congresswoman from Washington, D.C. and nationally recognized civil-rights leader recollects ( in an interview with Bar Report ) , "When I was around 12 year old I remember when Mary Church Terrell picketed Hecht's department store because you could use a charge card but you couldn't go to the bathroom there. That's what I thought the movement was all about. When the civil-rights movement broke out, all I could say was 'What took you so long?'"
Some day people of all genders will have their basic human rights recognized under law. I just hope that history won't have to record that it took so long because of "da bathroom issue."