Americans worry a lot about where they pee, and who might be peeing with them. This has most recently been in the news regarding transgendered individuals, including the law recently passed in North Carolina. Presidential candidates have weighed in, and even our court system has gotten involved. I’m not advocating for one side of the argument or the other, but I do think that, in this politically charged year, it’s important for citizens to understand how both politicians and the news media play on our taboos and discomfort zones to manipulate us.
American culture is generally pretty sensitive about anything sexual, and because bathrooms are inextricably linked to someone’s naughty bits, bathrooms get caught up in the same social taboos. This can come across as a bit strange to people in some other cultures. The Dutch, for example, don’t seem to care much about who watches them pee.
This is not a new thing. Back in the 1970s, the anti-feminism block managed to kill the Equal Rights Amendment by alleging that it would legally necessitate unisex bathrooms, meaning a lady might find herself peeing in the same room as a man. They went on to conjure up images of bathroom rapes by predatory males, and suggested that these “inevitable” unisex bathrooms would ignite the passions of Southern men who had recently experienced “the historical trauma of racial integration.”
Houston’s more recent anti-discrimination HERO act was killed by being referred to as “the bathroom ordinance.” Anti-HERO advertising depicted pedophiles locking themselves in bathroom stalls with young girls – a kind of ludicrous fear to play up, since it’s not like bathrooms today have some kind of force field to prevent exactly that from happening regardless. “Sure,” goes the argument, “but today is’ against local ordinances for him to be in that bathroom.” Absolutely. It’s also a major crime for him to rape someone, so it would seem like the legal angle was already well-covered.
The “evidence” presented in these arguments can be pretty flimsy, if not outright lies. For example, in the 70s, “evidence” was offered that showed Montana’s existing state-level ERA had forced a mining camp to implement unisex bathrooms, when in fact there weren’t any women working in the camp, and never had been.
In the case against transgendered nondiscrimination laws, the bathroom argument basically goes like this: “if we do this, then any predatory man can simply dress as a woman and go into a woman’s bathroom and rape women.” Thing is, there’s nothing stopping a predatory man from doing that today – women’s bathrooms don’t have gender-detecting force-fields. And I’m not able to find a lot of evidence that the crime is actually occurring. Whether or not you feel the argument is offensive or relevant to transgendered people, the argument itself is ridiculous right at face value.
The problem is – and I’m diving into opinion, here, so feel free to disagree – is that plenty of people in this country feel that transgendered individuals are wrong somehow. Perhaps it’s for religious reasons, but perhaps (and I feel this is most often the case), it’s simply because they personally find it distasteful. Unfortunately, simply disliking something doesn’t get you very far in the eyes of the law – it’s called animus, and laws based on it typically don’t last long. And so instead of having an honest discussion (“It’s disgusting and I don’t want it in my town!”) we have to have a fake discussion about issues that aren’t even issues. Because we can’t be honest, we start coming up with all these ridiculous side arguments, trying to play off people’s deep-rooted fears, discomforts, and taboos.
The ERA’s “potty problem” was a deliberate, coordinated anti-ERA argument created by lawyer Phyllis Schlafly, specifically to achieve the seemingly impossible: getting women to rise up against an amendment that was fundamentally about giving women equal rights. How do you get half of the population to work against themselves? By making them feel afraid in the places they’d considered safe. And we’re seeing the same tactic deployed to great effect throughout the US. In political terms, all’s fair, but the idea is that the electorate is supposed to be able to evaluate these arguments and decide how valid they are.
Again, I’m not trying to persuade you that transgendered bathroom equality is something you should be for or against. I’m suggesting that, before and as you make up your mind, consider whether the arguments for or against are simply ridiculous or not. Review any so-called evidence with skepticism until you’ve verified it independently. And regardless of your own personal stance on these, and similar, issues in both Federal, state, and local level elections, I hope you’ll stick to honest, truthful arguments rather than prevarication and misdirection.