by Daniel A. Kaufman
The clusterfuck that is the Indiana “bathroom bill” (and every other similar piece of legislation) has drawn a lot of negative attention to some pretty terrible people, which, I guess, is a good thing, but it also has brought to light a number of confusions that seem to surround issues of sex, gender, and segregated environments; things that we are going to have to figure out, regardless of what happens with these stupid bills. I have no particular investment in how they are sorted out, and I am inclined to let those for whom these issues have the greatest import – meaning those who are transgendered — lead the way, but the issues will have to be dealt with or this kind of horrible legislation is just going to keep on coming.
First, let’s put to rest the nonsense about “predators.” There is zero evidence that transgendered people are more likely to prey on people in bathrooms than anyone else. (Intuitively, I would think them less likely to do so.) “But it’s not them, we’re worried about!” the members of the potty patrol cry. “It’s the non-transgendered predators, who figure out that if they just put on a dress and go into a ladies room, they can molest little girls!” The wildness of this suggestion boggles the mind – some fat, hairy, molester in a dress trying to walk into a ladies room – but regardless, the notion that such people will be deterred by a law like this seems rather absurd, which makes me suspect that this move is disingenuous and that the real target is the transgendered themselves.
So enough with the dumb, mean-spirited legislation. What about the issue itself?
I must admit that I always was under the impression that bathrooms were sex-segregated, not gender-segregated, so the issue surprised me a bit, when it first hit the newspapers. If we’ve been told anything about sex and gender over the last thirty years or so, it’s that they are not the same and that the first is a matter of nature and the second is a matter of social construction. The presence of urinals in men’s rooms and their absence in ladies’ rooms would seem to suggest that the relevant segregation with regard to toilets is with regard to sex, not gender – certain body parts going with certain kinds of bathroom fixtures. One might be a man, in every observable, behavioral, and psychological way, but no dick, no urinal.
There’s another thing that seems like it might not quite line up. If we are to accept the idea that bathrooms should be gender- rather than sex-segregated, then I don’t see how there can just be two types of bathrooms. For we also have been told that there are more than two genders and in some quarters, the alleged number is in the dozens. (Facebook, famously, has fifty-six or so gender categories, with which one can identify.) Are we seriously supposed to contemplate having three, four, six … twenty different kinds of bathrooms? Such a proposal seems not just impractical but weird and yet, it follows directly from the multiplicity of genders and the proposal that we segregate bathrooms by gender, rather than sex. How, after all, would one explain to those whose gender is other than male or female that they will have to make use of one of two gendered-bathrooms, neither of which they identify with?
This might sound like I am suggesting that we return to the notion of sex-segregation, which, of course, is the potty patrol’s aim, but such a move is obviously undesirable and in any event, unworkable. The problem is this:
This gorgeous girl has male genitalia.
And this handsome guy has female genitalia.
Can anyone seriously suggest that it would be anything other than tremendously disruptive for the first person to walk into a men’s room or for the second to walk into a women’s restroom? And can anyone seriously suggest that the sorts of folks pushing for this crazy legislation would be happier if this happened? Of course not. They would be the first ones to scream bloody murder if it did, despite the fact that it is precisely what is entailed by what they are proposing.
This started me wondering why we segregate bathrooms at all, and I’m starting to think that there really aren’t any good reasons. I know that in my own case, there’s something vaguely humiliating about the thought of pooping right next to someone whom, in principle at least, I might desire sexually, and I suspect that this is true of many if not most people who care at all about bathroom segregation. Of course, this is an infantile, primitive sort of consideration, one that doesn’t reflect anything serious or deep and which can’t sustain any sort of rational scrutiny. Notice also that it is based entirely on superficial appearances – on what people look like at first glance – which is all that one is ever going to get, passing by another person on the way to the toilet stall. I mean, it’s not as if we expose our genitals to each other, before going in to do our business. Still, we are not entirely rational beings and this stuff does bother a lot of people, so it will have to be dealt with, which means having some sort of rule that addresses peoples’ irrational discomfort in this area. (Ideally, we would just eliminate segregated bathrooms altogether and make them all unisex, but I just don’t see this happening across the US, anytime soon.)
A rule that would serve all of the relevant interests – both the substantial, rational concerns of the transgendered and the not-very-substantial, somewhat irrational concerns of the rest — could go something like this: Male bathrooms are for people who superficially look like typical men and Female bathrooms are for people who superficially look like women. Yes, there is the matter of the urinals, but this is simply an accidental result of the fact that when this system got established, no one was making the sorts of distinctions that we do now. In any event, as a matter of practical effect, it is irrelevant. The girl pictured above will simply go into the stall in the women’s room to urinate, and no one will know the difference, and the guy will use the stall in the men’s room to do the same, with similar non-effect.
Of course, this does not solve the problem with the other-gendered, in which the appearances are less obvious or clear, but I don’t see how any law or formal rule will ever be able to address that. It will have to remain a matter of family resemblances. Look sufficiently enough like a guy? Use the men’s room. Look sufficiently like a woman? Use the ladies room. Look sufficiently like either one? Use either one.
The non-transgendered are just going to have to get over it. We’ll all survive. Even the assholes pushing for the legislation in Indiana.