Bathroom Bill Blues: Three Strangers

Note: This post originally appeared on my blog.

The North Carolina bathroom bill is back in the news. HB186, a "compromise bill" meant to repeal parts of the highly controversial HB2, was introduced in the North Carolina legislature last week. HB2 requires transgender people to use public restrooms that corresponded to their biological sex as stated on their birth certificates, not their chosen gender identity. HB186 not only keeps most of the provisions of HB2 in place but doubles down on transphobic discrimination. HB 186 would allow citizens to overturn local non-discrimination ordinances through referendums and would require any local non-discrimination ordinance to provide sweeping exemptions for religious organizations.

Republicans who pushed through HB2 last year did so in response to a Charlotte ordinance that allowed transgender people to use restrooms of their choice. These Republicans claimed that allowing transwomen to use women's restrooms would result in an increase in sexual assaults on women and girls despite all evidence to the contrary.

While critics rightly point out that the safety of cisgender women in public restrooms isn't at risk, the one thing that critics of the bathroom bill have consistently overlooked is the fact that the bathroom bill is virtually unenforceable. While a public school may have a copy of someone's birth certificate on file, restaurants, public libraries, and 501(c) organizations would not. How would a waitress, a librarian, or a charity worker be able to tell what someone's assigned gender is without seeing a birth certificate? And it's not as if these people are authorized to ask strangers to submit to an impromptu genital inspection.

The truth of the matter is that the waitress, librarian, or charity worker in those scenarios will most likely make assumptions about the gender of the strangers they encounter--just like every other time they've encountered strangers.

And let's be real here. We all have made assumptions about the gender of strangers at some point.

Think about it. Let's just say that you are at a party and you encounter a stranger who wore women's clothes, make-up, and women's jewelry. Let's also say that this stranger introduced herself with a name like "Kellyanne", "Tiffany", "Karen", "Betsy" or any other name that is traditionally given to biological females. What assumptions would you make about this stranger?

Another scenario: You are at the same party when a broad shouldered stranger with a deep voice, prominent Adam's apple, and five o'clock shadow strikes up a conversation. The stranger is wearing men's clothes, men's jewelry, and a heavy men's cologne like Old Spice. The stranger introduces himself with a name that is traditionally given to biological males--a name like "Donald" or "Mike" or "Paul" or "Jeff." What assumptions would you make about this stranger?

Yet another scenario: You meet another stranger--tall, slender, and flat-chested. Unlike Strangers #1 and #2, Stranger #3 is decidedly androgynous, sporting an outfit (a t-shirt and jeans, perhaps?) that men and women are equally likely to wear. Stranger #3 has a trendy haircut, one of those half-shaved numbers that are equally popular with men and women right now. Stranger "#3 has manicured, but unpolished, nails and doesn't wear jewelry. Stranger #3 introduces himself/herself with a unisex name like "Ariel", "Blake", or "Jamie". What assumptions would you make about this stranger?

If you are anything like me you would assume that stranger #1 was a woman and that stranger #2 was a man. And, if you are anything like me, you would tell yourself that Stranger #3 could either be a "mannish" woman or a "pretty" man and that Stranger #3's gender identity is none of your damn business regardless.

And those assumptions would be correct...regardless of the biological sex of the strangers. While your biological sex is a matter of chromosomes and sex organs, gender is (partly) who you think you are and how you present yourself to others. If the Stranger #1 genuinely feels that she is a woman and presents herself that way to others, then Stranger #1 is a woman. If Stranger #2 genuinely feels that he is a man and presents himself that way to others, then Stranger #2 is a man. If Stranger #3 chooses to adopt a more ambiguous persona then that is their right; they aren't causing harm to others by not being easily labelled.

Another scenario: Let's just say that you have doubts about the strangers' gender identity. Let's also say that you voice those suspicions to them. Stranger #1 insists that she is a woman. Stranger #2 insists that he is a man. Stranger #3 scornfully laughs and dares you to guess. How do you get to bottom of things?

You can't. Because most people don't carry copies of their original birth certificates on their person and because you can't insist that a stranger allow you to inspect their genitals, you really would have to take the Strangers at their word.

That's what those bigoted loonies who are pushing this bathroom bill really fear. They fear the "passable" transgender folks who can easily "fool" unsuspecting people. They fear they'll find out that Stranger #1 isn't a "real" woman--after they've been aroused by her bounce and wiggle. They're afraid that Stranger #2 will beat them in a dick measuring contest before they find out that Stranger #2 wasn't born with a dick. Stranger #3 frightens transphobic types because they defy categorization. Closeminded people hate nuance.

But don't think for a second that these people fear that cisgender women will be sexually assaulted in the ladies' room by transwomen. They don't care enough about the real hazards of living while female for that.




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Ebony Edwards-Ellis

Ebony Edwards-Ellis

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