Last year, I broke ground for myself with my first online publication centered on the absolute ridiculousness that is anti-trans bathroom legislation. You may remember–the laws where people can be fined and humiliated for using the “wrong” restroom? It’s another form of legalized bigotry that would cause erasure and justify continued violence against trans people in a moral guise. We may soon find out if South Dakota has their way. Their state senate voted 20-15 to pass a bill that does exactly that. It’s up the governor to determine whether or not this will become law.
Where does this keep coming from? Why are these laws popping up with similar ideas in different states? There are too many sources of institutionalized anti-trans cultural traditions for it to be the “same old, same old.” When marginalized groups gain recognition, the backlash against them often begins swiftly. After Laverne Cox’s groundbreaking entry into mainstream media as a successful actress and activist and Caitlyn Jenner’s highly publicized transition in 2015. Perhaps not surprisingly, later that same year the Family Research Council released a questionably sourced “paper” on transgender people and how they must be stopped. Fighting for rights and visibility is “an assault on the sexes” which is awful because Reasons and shouldn’t be allowed by anyone because Morals. Although its explanations are flimsy and its citations flawed (except for a few which, unsurprisingly, come from peer-reviewed LGBT journals and are used negatively), its publication does give us somewhere to look to explain this transphobic tomfoolery.
But wait! It gets better, because why wouldn’t it? Because this insistence on the terribleness of all things trans has got cis people responding with our typical level of tact and aplomb–by trolling opposite gender restrooms to “prove” how “wrong” all this legislative fairness is. Where anti-discrimination laws apply, they insist that they are protected under them (because to cisgender people, gender identity is just a hat you can take off and put back on whenever it suits you). There’s an amazing amount to unpack about the absurdity of all this and we have to do so because as much as I’d like to laugh, people will die because of these sentiments.
- It’s incredibly hilarious to consider, in the hypothetical, the implications of all of these anti-trans bills being backed by the “small government” Republican party. Because doing genital checks at public restrooms isn’t “government overreach”? Pick a side, people.
- How on earth is anyone going to enforce this? Is anyone obligated to show you their genitals to establish their belonging in an environment? If we’re going to start seeing Genital Security Guards, I’m going to start flipping over tables. More likely, though, this is an unenforceable law which will mostly just deter trans people from peeing in public. Tax dollars at work.
- Being transgender is a gender identity. It’s not a belief or an opinion and it’s certainly not something to pick up and put down as an “excuse” to sneak into locker rooms, harass cisgender women, or any other nonsense justification legislators can confabulate for such extreme laws. Transitioning is expensive-personally, emotionally, financially, and in hundreds of other ways that cis people can’t begin to fathom. Trans women are women–they see struggles of cis women and extras for their trans status. Ditto for trans men. 1000X for those who identify outside the binary altogether and are systematically erased by the gender binary.
- You know at least one trans person. Yes, you. It doesn’t matter if you live in New York City or a tiny town in the American heartland. It doesn’t matter what country you live in, how much money you make, or what your hobbies are. It’s an assertion that seems bold but statistically, it’s impossible. “But I would know,” I hear you cry. “Sex is immutable!” you insist. Simply impossible. Except, funny story–you wouldn’t know. There are absolutely no 100% reliable secondary sex characteristics or physical attributes that will delineate gender identity for you. I know trans men with arm hair like Robin Williams. A lot of trans women develop breasts through hormone therapy (you know, the same way cis women do) so they don’t have a need for implants. If you aren’t familiar with hormone treatment at all, you would be absolutely amazed at what a difference it can make. Not all trans people make their status public. More importantly…
- Not all transgender people have the opportunity to transition publicly. Most trans people are forced to navigate the world with the #1 priority of personal safety and that means something different than it does for cisgender people. For some people, they have to make a choice between safety, shelter, or the love of family and living in their true identity. For others, they don’t have access to the doctors necessary to approve hormone therapy. If you’re the sort of unapologetic douchecanoe who thinks using the wrong bathroom as a cisgender person is a sign of protest, know that your trans acquaintances have identified you as untrustworthy and potentially violent. And they aren’t wrong.
Trans folks aren’t making up their discrimination rates. They aren’t inventing assault, harassment, or murder statistics. These are things that are really happening–cisgender people are discriminating against trans people at alarming rates. There isn’t any substance, however, to the claims of predatory behavior from trans people–you know, the reason for these bills in the first place.
We have to stop this. Your personal opinion about a trans person’s legitimacy is irrelevant to public policy. To assert and insist otherwise is pure vanity and it comes at a deadly price. This law and others like it are frankly inhuman. We’ve determined public access to restrooms to be so important that most business can’t legally operate without them but in the same breath, we’d deny that access to millions of Americans. Denying rights within the law is an attempt to de-legitimize and erase minority groups. Trans people are not as “confused” about their gender as cis people assert. Gender dysphoria is a legitimate, documented occurrence and without intervention, it will cause cognitive and emotional damage. The only thing that alleviates the pain of dysphoria is public recognition of this transition-being a man, woman, both, or nieghter. It’s not a disorder but a cognitive phenomenon that we should embrace and celebrate.
As a cisgender person, I will never fully understand the experience of dysphoria or transition. But, I already understand where these laws lead. Though they have tried, teh law has never been able to entirely remove people from existing. South Dakota isn’t protecting anyone. They’re motivating suspicion and creating justification for stereotypes where none should exist. We have stop pretending that this is based on morality, religion, biology, or anything but judgment and bigotry. For South Dakota, I hope the governor makes the right decision. For the rest of us, we must absolutely refuse these ordinances anywhere they appear.