Debate Forum: 06/02

Forum Center: When you gotta go…

State legislators weigh sexual identity and bathrooms

By Sarah Sidlow
Because elected officials don’t have enough to worry about these days, a handful of states have taken to arguing over where you are allowed—or not allowed—to go to the bathroom, particularly if you happen to be a transgender person.

Florida’s HB 583, the “Single-Sex Public Facilities” bill (or the “Bathroom Bill”), was a proposal to make it illegal for any trans-citizen to use a single-sex restroom that does not match the gender they were assigned at birth. Such a violation would result in a first-degree misdemeanor charge, punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail. In April, that bill was flushed by the state senate.

In Arizona, Rep. John Kavanagh proposed a bill that would have protected businesses from civil or criminal liability if they banned people from using restrooms that didn’t match their birth sex. As of March, those plans have been stalled.

The Nevada Assembly recently rejected a bill that went a step further—not only requiring students to use bathrooms corresponding to their biological sex, but also requiring schools to provide separate facilities for transgender and intersex students.

But while the voting bodies seem to be protecting a person’s ability to exercise bathroom choice, a look from the other side of the stall indicates people might be uncomfortable with someone of an opposite biological sex using their facilities.

Not long ago, a woman in Michigan had her membership dropped by Planet Fitness for the way she complained about her locker room experience, during which a man walked into the women’s locker room, where she was changing. Startled at seeing a male in the room, she complained to the manager and then to corporate, which explained to her that Planet Fitness would honor a member’s self-described gender identity and would allow them to use whichever locker room best represented that identity. The Michigan woman’s membership was revoked because she violated Planet Fitness’s “no judgment zone” mantra.

So, should transgender people be restricted from using the bathroom that best represents their gender identity, as opposed to their equipment?

Those who oppose legislating bathroom time say trans-people should be allowed to use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex in their brain, regardless of what’s behind the zipper. Moreover, they say, laws that restrict facility use by biological sex would target transgender students, patrons and employees and open the door to lawsuits and possible discrimination. Further, they say, legislation that specifically requires separate bathrooms for trans- and intersex students could lead to more bullying of a minority group that already faces high rates of suicide.

Yet, there are still those who are uncomfortable with the idea of changing next to someone who appears to be of the opposite sex. Many claim that without legislation like the attempts listed here, criminals, perverts and sexual predators would be able to approach potential victims under the cover of law.

Reach DCP Editor Sarah Sidlow at Editor@DaytonCityPaper.com

 

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Should states enact legislation mandating that people use the bathroom facility specific to their biological sex?

Debate Left: The porcelain predicament

Response By Tony Baker

Somebody once told me, “Tony, you don’t have the right not to be uncomfortable.”

The situation that elicited this comment had nothing whatsoever to do with the debate over restroom etiquette currently raging in the halls of … well, at least a few government buildings somewhere out west, one supposes. It certainly had nothing to do with the question of whether such issues should be decided by Congress and subsequently codified by law. (Although, if we’re going to start legislating the sorts of shenanigans folks can and can’t get up to while in a public restroom, I’ve got a few matters that I’d personally like to see addressed, most having to do with aim and the ability, or lack thereof, of many of my fellow citizens to clean up after themselves).

I think the point speaks to the roots of the current controversy just the same, however. Your average Tom, Dick or Harry—especially in the Midwest or southwestern states, and most especially in rural areas, where tolerance of those who are different is all too often in short supply—is going to be at least somewhat discomfited by the sight of someone who doesn’t fit their deep-seated preconceptions about masculinity and femininity strolling into the men’s or ladies’ room of the local watering hole. Hell, young men in the ’60s used to get their butts kicked for having long hair, let alone challenging society’s fundamental assumptions about their sexuality and gender.

But here’s the thing, folks: laws exist to protect people’s rights, not to single out a group of people and deny them a right. And even if the thought of a transgendered person sharing a restroom, or even a locker room at the gym with you makes you uncomfortable, the simple fact remains that you’re not in any danger at all. Your rights are not being infringed upon. Your sensibilities, perhaps, but not your rights.

Now, I could talk about the frighteningly high suicide rates among gay, lesbian and transgendered people at this point, and how, given those numbers, it seems resoundingly likely that we, the heterosexual and cisgender folks of the world, pose a far greater threat to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters than they could ever pose to us. I could compare the current debate over Restroom Sanctity to the “Whites Only” bathrooms and water fountains of decades past. But instead I’m going to take a different tack and talk about something else.

As a liberal, I’m usually the first to jump up in defense of what many on the Right disdainfully call “Political Correctness”… or as more civilized people call it, “Not being a jerk.” But even I can’t help but wonder if our culture’s obsession with “trigger words” and other inflammatory language hasn’t resulted in a climate where people think they have the God-given right not to be offended. We used to criminalize behavior that threatened the very foundations of a civilized society; stuff like murder, rape, theft and so on. Now, it seems, we don’t want anyone to be able to say anything, or do anything, or wear anything, or be anything that challenges our ever-more-delicate sensibilities.

Restaurants make their employees cover up facial piercings with Band Aids or strips of masking tape (as if that looks any less ridiculous). Schools threaten male students with expulsion for wearing beards. You can’t walk into some places of business if you’re wearing a hooded sweatshirt. And now, certain lawmakers would have you threatened with a $1,000 fine and a year in jail for walking into a public restroom, not looking “feminine” enough, and consequently giving some middle-aged schoolmarm from the boonies a fright.

And let’s face it: this has everything to do with how people look. In a world where many women wear their hair short, have petite builds and prefer an Avengers T-shirt and blue jeans to the standard dress and heels ensemble, you can’t base assumptions about gender entirely on a person’s physical endowments, or on how that person is dressed. And if a transgendered person was skilled, surgically enhanced or genetically gifted enough to pass flawlessly for a person of their preferred, rather than socially assigned, gender, there wouldn’t be an issue, as no one sharing a restroom with him (or her) would ever know the difference.

The last time I checked, most ladies’ rooms were stalls-only. (That’s a figure of speech, of course; I haven’t ever actually checked, but you know what I’m getting at.) This means that few women will ever face the indignity of inadvertently catching a glimpse of a transgendered woman’s “equipment.” (Ahem.) And even if the average transgendered woman were inclined—or, if lawmakers in the progressive utopia that is Nevada have their way, compelled—to not only use the men’s room, but the urinals as well, the most offensive thing a man standing next to her might get a glimpse of is the aforementioned equipment she was perhaps erroneously assigned with at birth. Since it most likely wouldn’t be the first time his eyes have been besmirched by such a sight, it must be the dress, rather than the equipment, that is so offensive to him.

Think about that.

Reach DCP freelance writer Tony Baker at TonyBaker@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Debate Right: Diversity gone berserk

Response By Dave Westbrock

The issue of legislative relief to assure male use of men’s restrooms and female use of ladies’ restrooms shows how cockeyed our culture has become. There are really two issues that are distinct in arguing for or against an issue of legislation. First, the question of a policy to allow the contrasex to use the public restroom facility in the first place comes into question. I come from a time when men were men and women were women. Without sounding like a troglodyte, this simply is a matter of common sense.

We have become a culture of not the rights of “others,” but of the hegemony of the rights of others, no matter how small the minority. That is, that every minority population must not just be respected in the commonwealth, but must be endowed with special recognition and rights at the expense of traditional rights and privileges.

Hence the LGBT lobby, whose aim is not just recognition, but to spread the message of alternative lifestyles, is the new civil rights campaign. But unlike the ’60s, I have not seen water hoses directed on gay people, straight-only water fountains or gays being restricted from public schools.

Frankly, I could care less about the sexual orientation of my fellow man. I do not judge or discriminate against an individual’s lifestyle, but I am not required to morally condone it either—at least, not yet. But I do resent that there is a legal and media campaign to relentlessly stick it in my face. What someone does in the privacy of their home or other private areas is their own business, but what they decide to do in the marketplace or the public place can be determined by good manners and proper decorum. And that is based on sexual, not gender, identity that is not only defined in moral code of most religions but based on principles from the founding of civilization. One such area is a public restroom, or in the case of the exercise facility mentioned previously.

As an endocrinologist, I recognize that the good Lord has made possible the presence of biologic and genetic mistakes. One such example is the Testicular Feminization Syndrome, now known as Androgen Insensitivity. This disorder is one in which the communication between the actions of di-hydrotestosterone fail to transmit the correct information to the nucleus of the cell. The result is a male born with an XY genetic makeup will look and act as a female, with all the assets of a normal female except functional ovaries. Several celebrities have been rumored to have this syndrome, and I will not give Internet gossipers the fuel to disseminate the rumors. It is in fact their own business, even if they are celebrities. The incidence of this disorder is 1 in 20,000.

Many with this disorder were never told anything other than they were infertile, while in the modern era, most information is available on the principle of informed consent. In my experience these women live otherwise normal lives. A more common genetic disorder, Klinefelter’s Syndrome (1 in 1,200 males), is generally associated with an extra “X” chromosome in a phenotypic male. These males have atrophic testicles and deficiency of testosterone, which is successfully treated with hormone therapy. I have treated several men with this disorder and they have the same proclivities as any other male, both heterosexual and homosexual. I have never heard of any of them complain about discrimination based on their chromosomal content.

There are other genetic and developmental disorders which may cause sexual ambiguity in early childhood, but generally not so-called gender identity disorder. Many psychologists feel that sexual identity (gender actually refers to a linguistic tool in which nouns are designated masculine, feminine or neuter, as common in other languages) disorder is more psychological than biological and allowing children to identify themselves as opposite sex may be quite dangerous in the long run—leading to high rates of depression and suicide. Far more evidence is necessary before we can call sexual reassignment mainstream. It is not.

The second issue is then legislative relief. It seems to me such legislation merely begs the question and at least on the surface seems to discriminate against a population for which there is really no discrimination at all (see above). The marketplace should indeed instruct what is right and proper in one’s store or exercise facility. The market will in fact decide whether it is appropriate for a man to use a woman’s restroom.

If I were that lady whose bathroom privacy was violated, I would ask for my money back and not wait to have my membership cancelled, and I would tell everyone I know about the behavior of Planet Fitness. Such would have a much greater impact on the behavior of any business and that is to hit where it hurts, in the purse. When we bring ordinary common sense back to our legal system and cultural principles that have underpinned civilization for millennia, we may then be finished with this nonsense.

Dr. Westbrock has been in private medical practice for 35 years. He was the Republican candidate for the U.S House of Representatives in 1994 and 1996. He has written and lectured extensively on the subject of healthcare reform and healthcare policy. He can be reached at Dave.Westbrock@DaytonCityPaper.com

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Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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