Thursday • 2012.10.04
Bathroom Fearmongering Conservative MP Launches Anti-Trans Petition
Conservative MP Rob Anders (Calgary West) has reached out to his constituents and local church pastor with a petition against C-279, the federal bill that would add human rights protections based on “Gender Identity,” and which passed second reading in June. His petition, unsurprisingly, appeals to the transphobic “bathroom argument.”
For those keeping track, Anders also voted “yea” on Motion 312, an anti-abortion motion recently defeated in Parliament.
In a CBC News article published today covering Anders’s new petition, teacher and trans advocate Jan Buterman criticized Anders’s petition, saying “the suggestion that this is somehow some … conspiracy of trans people to sneak into bathrooms deliberately to harm people it’s ludicrous.”
I agree completely with Mr. Buterman. Any objection people have against trans persons using the restroom appropriate to their gender identity is based upon the unspoken assumption that trans people are more likely to act inappropriately in the restroom. That assumption is patently unfounded, pure transphobia at its very core.
As our wizened elders will remind us, the same arguments were used by social conservatives in the twentieth century against letting people of colour use the same bathrooms as white people.
When federal Conservatives refer to C-279 as a “bathroom bill,” they are playing into that same irrational fear, to manipulate their constituents in order to further their own socially conservative anti-LGBT goals. Furthermore, it demeans and denies the entire issue of Trans Human Rights, because the bill is about so much more than bathrooms.
In fact, the bill has absolutely nothing to do with bathrooms—ironically, Anders’s fears (as irrational as they may be) are also completely unfounded. Trans Canadians are already legally entitled to use whatever restroom is appropriate to their identity; there is no law on the books which regulates who uses what bathroom. Prove me wrong; check the Criminal Code, you will not find one.
This is not to say that police and security staff have never used the law as a tool of oppression to hassle and persecute trans Canadians trying to use the bathroom. But when they have, they rely on more ambiguous elements of the Criminal Code such as “trespassing” or “disturbing the peace.” This is part of why Trans Human Rights protections are necessary, since we can’t possibly amend every single ambiguous piece of the Criminal Code to say “by the way, this crime doesn’t apply to trans people quietly using a toilet for its intended purpose.”
Our shared social reality of gendered washroom facilities exists not due to legislative or regulatory stipulations, as MP Anders would have his constituents believe. Rather, it exists purely as a social construct that emerged culturally in our society; a long-standing traditional construct which is now being challenged, as a new generation of heroic young people come along who don’t always fit clearly into binary definitions of “male” and “female,” but who still need to pee because they are just as human as anyone.
Fortunately, change is coming in small bursts. Yesterday the Toronto District School Board announced a new, clear policy of respecting the dignity of trans youth by allowing them to use whichever bathroom is appropriate to their identity. It remains to be seen if this policy will suddenly lead to a rash of young trans women using it as an excuse to harass other women in the bathroom (I expect not), but it is extremely clear how this policy will protect trans youth from being forced to use a facility where they would likely encounter violence.
As a gay-identified, male-identified high school student in the early 2000’s, I often encountered homophobic violence and harassment when I used the facilities at my school. I will even admit that groups of female friends would sometimes usher me into the womens’ facilities with them. I won’t defend the potential inappropriateness of a “boy” in the “girls'” room (we would certainly never do this when the bathroom was occupied by young women outside our social circle), but I will say that at the time, it felt safest.
I can only imagine the horrific experience I would have had if I had transitioned younger. To have been a female-identified trans youth in that same homophobic and transphobic school environment would have been hard enough, but the thought of being required by law or regulation to use the male facilities while I was expressing a female gender identity? I would very likely have been beaten—or worse. That’s the world Anders is trying to preserve. It’s not about protecting women, it’s about not protecting trans people.
Perhaps if Anders redirected his legislative efforts away from the transgender boogeyman, toward more deliberate protective measures such as stronger penalties against men who rape, or a superior legal infrastructure for reporting and dealing with anyone who acts inappropriately in a washroom (as opposed to assuming they would be trans by default), he might better accomplish his stated goal of keeping women (not to mention men, as well as persons of non-binary identity) safe when they answer the call of nature.
Free access to appropriate public restroom facilities is something most people take for granted, it’s a necessary part of modern civilization. When a trans person uses a public restroom, they are there for the same reason as anyone else. We just want to do our business in peace, wash our hands, and leave. Trust me, we don’t want to stay in there any longer than you do.
On the other hand, if trans women were forced to use mens’ rooms, they would face violence and resistance from the men inside. I know if I entered a mens’ room now, I wouldn’t belong; it would make me uncomfortable and it’s a fair bet the men wouldn’t appreciate it either. Or maybe they would appreciate it, in a way that would be very dangerous for me.
Likewise, if trans men are forced to use womens’ facilities, not only are they possibly put at risk to violence, but their very presence may be disturbing to the women inside. I must admit, I would be on my guard if a burly bearded gentleman walked into the womens’ room while I was washing up. He may be the nicest trans guy in the world, but I have no way of knowing that, and it’s certainly none of my business to confront him and ask. Regulating against trans persons using their preferred facilities only makes everyone uncomfortable and places transgender people at risk.
Of course, the simplest solution would be for society to get over the entire notion that washrooms must be gendered. As we observe the cultural phenomenon of the gradual dissolution of the gender binary, we will inevitably “transition” as a society into a cultural equilibrium where only “gender-neutral” public facilities will exist. It will also be important to have availability of private facilities to those who need them, such as persons with washroom-related religious observances, or survivors of sexual assault.
Eliminating the social imposition of the gender binary from the act of urination would pretty much render this entire problem a relic of a bygone era. To some people, this might seem bizarre, dangerous, revolutionary in a bad way. But if that’s your reaction, I ask only this… when was the last time you saw a “whites only” washroom? Next time you see the signs for “Men” and “Women,” try to imagine how that might feel if you didn’t look like you clearly belonged in either room, especially if you knew your country’s elected leaders were actively arguing with each other about how best to effectively ban you from using either of them.
MP Rob Anders would probably expect me to respect his identity as a Man, regardless what he’s got going on in his pants. It stands to reason that he should learn to show the same courtesy in respecting my identity as a Woman without being overly concerned with access to historical information regarding my genitals; and similarly, to respect the identities of non-binary folks as being, if not man or woman, equally human.