There is a very active debate in the United States about which bathrooms transgender and other gender non-conformist are allowed to use in schools or other public facilities. So lets frame the argument!
either of the two major forms of individuals that occur in many species and that are distinguished respectively as female or male especially on the basis of their reproductive organs and structures (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
I hear these two terms used interchangeably when people discuss the question of gender rights.
Sex is a biological term. It refers to sexual reproduction and the ability for two creatures, human or otherwise, to reproduce by using a subset of DNA from each creature. Currently no technology exists to allow for a creature to switch sex. Gender Reassignment for example makes cosmetic changes and sometimes even biochemical changes to a person to allow the to be perceived and socially live as the opposite sex, but does not convert their XX chromosomes to XY or vice versa.
Gender is a social and psychological term. Regardless of chromosomes, a person can switch genders by adopting the behaviors, appearance, mannerisms, or social habits of the opposite sex. A person can even chose to shun both sets of gender heuristics and be gender agnostic, gender neutral, or otherwise gender non-conforming.
The Question: Should Gender non-conformist be allowed to use facilities that are restricted to a specific group of people by choosing a gender that is inconsistent with their sex?
The answer is simple and lies in the question of why these facilities have restricted access. Are they limited based on sex or gender?
One reason for the restriction in the differing of the items that are in the two chambers. For example, a men’s restroom has urinals and a women’s restroom does not, just as a women’s has a tampon dispenser and men’s does not. Until recently, only women’s restroom contained changing stations because the assumption was that women and not men are charged with handling children. But does this require restriction? Are women unable to relieve themselves if there is a urinal in the room or do men require the use of urinals? Does a tampon dispenser make men unable to do the same? The answer is obviously that this is not the reason for the restriction.
A second reason for the restriction is that there are social consequences of people of differing gender identities witnessing each other during their use of a restroom, seeing their nude body, or otherwise interacting. The belief is that this can result in shame, humiliation, confrontation or bullying, primarily due to insecurity or differing social or religious views.
So as a society, we have to choose whether or not it makes sense to segregate and restrict these social situations. The reason we have just two types of restrooms is that the largest and easiest to categorize groups are “male” and “female”, even though the definitions of those categories can be by sex or by gender. The understanding of the fact that gender conformity is not a given not to mention that even with gender conformity, sexual choices vary. This would mean if we want to embrace restroom restriction, we would need to have *many* restrooms. We should have restrooms for straight men, straight women, gay men, gay women, and every other combination for gender identity that may conflict. To me this does not seem practical.
A third reason that is often sited is emotional and physical safety. People believe, and perhaps correctly so, that normal and abnormal biological urges would cause people to assault other in a restroom setting. This can be as simple as listening in or peering at people who desire privacy or even groping, attacking or raping of others. Whether or not there is data that suggests that having restricted restrooms reduces this behavior is the case is not known to me, but I do know that for me to allow my daughter (or for that reason young son if I had one) to go into a restroom at the same time as a “creepy looking man” does not give me comfort.
The Solution: There is no way to make restricted restrooms work for society since regardless which way the argument goes, someone will be negatively impacted as far as comfort and social acceptance goes. The only remaining solution then is to not have any restroom discrimination. A structure where there a individual stalls, perhaps some with urinals, that all allow for individual, but not group privacy paired with either private or shared wash basins and mirrors allows for maximizing individual privacy and also maximum social fairness and comfort.
Would anyone disagree with this solution? You tell me.