On January 15th, 2008, the news came out of Gaithersburg, Maryland that someone had taken it upon themselves to test the controversial law on gender identity:
A man dressed as a woman walked into the women’s locker room at the Rio Sport and Health Club in Gaithersburg Monday, spawning concerns over a new controversial law designed to protect transgendered people.
Around 1 p.m. Monday, a man wearing a dress walked into the women’s locker room surprising Mary Ann Ondray who was drying her hair. “I could see his muscles, I could see his large hands. He was wearing a blue ruffled skirt that came down to above the knee.”
The male left without saying anything, but Ondray says, “I was very upset, I’m still upset. There’s a lot he could’ve seen.”
This comes at a time when the group Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum are at a crucial moment in their drive to acquire signatures to have the new law put to a public referendum, in hopes of repealing it. Naturally, many folks in the transgender community believe that this is a hoax, staged by someone with the religious right organizations or a church, with the intention of putting the fear of some distorted transgender bogeyman into the hearts of everyone.
I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a second and point out that legitimate transfolk who don’t pass as well as others (and sometimes even those who pass perfectly) are often miraculously transformed into “men in dresses” by the media. Truth doesn’t sell as well as sensationalism that panders to fearmongers and their flocks, and in fact I know from experience that there are folks in the community who have trouble passing and who would take the opportunity given by the new law to check out the local gym or spa. As should be their right.
I’m not saying that’s what happened. This does look like a setup. All of the indications point to someone orchestrating the most extreme situation (a blue ruffled skirt worn to the spa?). But chances are, this situation will come up someday somewhere, and be a legitimate person’s story transformed out of recognition by the media.
Either way, the stakes are rising in transfolks’ ongoing quest to pee. Back in October 2007, a protest of a similar policy in Orono Maine saw a grandfather instruct his grandson to use the girls’ washroom at school whenever he saw a transgender student do it. Michael S. Heath, Executive Director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, wrote:
… Should little girls be going to the bathroom next to little boys in elementary school? … We thank God for one courageous grandfather. Thank you, Paul Melanson, for taking a stand for common sense.
What the fearmongers are trying to foster is an overriding sense that children and women are seriously endangered by allowing transgender folk the right to use the washroom pertaining to the gender to which they identify. In right-wing articles, there’s even a considerable amount of the use of the spectre of boys and girls peeing together igniting attempts to protest the implementation of those gender-neutral washrooms which consist of single-stall, locking restrooms. Organized actions such as Notmyshower.net and petition drives are proliferating like stink. Transgender initiatives such as safe2pee.org (which attempts to map out a comprehensive list of “safe” gender-neutral places to empty a bladder) have trouble making up for the hysteria, although they certainly deserve support.
Normally, one should question whether any of the fears have any foundation in reality. Personally, I’ve never much thought of a washroom as a venue for dating. And if I look at a woman in a washroom, it’s to compare clothing. Otherwise, I just want to pee. And last I checked, there haven’t been too many incidents of lesbians preying on other women in washrooms, either. In a place like that, the common-sense default attitude to have is one of respect for others’ privacy — because one wishes to receive that in return. As much as women may sometimes have an “ick” factor about the thought, all a transgender person wants to do in the washroom is coexist and pee in peace.
But unfortunately women and children have been victimized in washrooms on rare occasions for as long as there have been washrooms, by people of a predatory nature. One concern about the debate for moderates, beyond that “ick” factor, is that there can be some legitimate worry that a law protecting gender identity in washrooms might protect or provide an alibi to such a predator (the lack of such a law, on the other hand, will not prevent such a thing from happening, it’s just about whether this law might provide convenient opportunity). But this argument becomes not about transgender people anymore, at least not once the moderates have some idea who transgender people really are, beyond the Jerry Springer-driven stereotypes.
Much of the debate from the right-wing side starts out with a total disregard or disrespect for transsexuals, asserting that they can never really change their gender. This allows them to draw upon an ongoing societal association made in which it is assumed that all crime is perpetrated by men against women. And while the balance quite possibly tips that way, it is by no means exclusively so. And in this way, a transgender debate once again touches upon issues that affect non-transgender people — in this case, cisgender males.
(Much of the potty argument, of course, pertains to the caricature of the male-to-female transsexual circulating out there. This does not mean that female-to-male transsexuals don’t have any difficulties in washrooms — they do. For FTMs, they quickly find out that in male spaces, anything that’s perceived remotely as either “effeminate” or “dykish” can push triggers because of various male insecurities, and lead to conflict on the spot. But the fight doesn’t often spill out into the legal forum, so while this is not exclusively an MTF issue, it can be heavily so.)
Not that the religious right will come out and acknowledge that the only legitimate part of their argument pertains to predominantly non-transgender predators. It’s imperative to their agenda that they stubbornly forge ahead and equate transgender people with sexual deviants and pedophiles. They don’t want the moderates that they are trying to frighten to realize that if sex was a transperson’s motive for transitioning, then their hormone treatment would be totally self-defeating. They don’t want to better-word the law so that transgender people are protected and carefully distinguished from predators: they want the protections completely abolished, and would not be satisfied with anything else. Hence, you can tell the bigots who drive this agenda by their stripes.
Some have suggested using a carry letter from a psychiatrist certifying someone as being transgender as a means to clearly and safely seperate transfolk from predators. While reasonable on the surface, there are serious flaws with this idea. With health care costs not covered in many places and medical services often being expensive and inaccessible, not everyone can go through the hoops of seeing a therapist to get such a carry letter… or wait the two or three cumulatively expensive appointments that a doctor might insist upon before issuing such a thing (if they do at all, considering that some prefer ex-gay “curative” measures over the medical standards of treatment set out in the DSM-IV). And a carry letter is not always respected, as some security and law enforcement folk have taken the attitude that such a thing can be forged or that they are not familiar with it enough to acknowledge it. No, if there is to be some determining factor, it has to be something that is accessible to the least disenfranchised of us (because there are a lot of us disenfranchised), and taken seriously without being used later as a weapon against us.
But even such a concession would not satisfy the people driving the witch-hunt, the people who want our rights to be abolished wherever they might exist. Because they are not truly afraid of the occasional predator. They are afraid of transgender people, and afraid of their rights to discriminate, spew hate and vilify being taken away.
From WorldNetDaily, referring to a press byte that showed Republican nominee Mitt Romney nominally in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (also showing that even though protections of transgender people were stripped from that bill, we’re still being used as the ENDA bogeyman):
Then one day, a male employee comes to work dressed as a female.
This new law, supported by Romney, would forbid you from firing a
transvestite, because he is merely expressing his sexual
Oh boo hoo. They’re taking away my right to act like a bigot.
When the anti-hate-crimes Matthew Shepard Act was dropped from a military spending bill recently, thereby stalling it, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Towers Online trumpeted:
“This is a big win for the cause of religious freedom and freedom of
speech,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics
& Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “For this victory, we owe a
great debt of gratitude to the courageous members of the House who
refused to bow to the pressure of political correctness and stood up
for the constitutional principles of freedom of speech and freedom
Current hate crimes law protects traits such as race, religion and
national origin, but the bill’s opponents say the new legislation is
unnecessary and would grant protection based on lifestyle. They also
warn it would move federal law toward punishing thoughts and
beliefs, since the motivation of a person charged with a hate crime
would have to be evaluated. In addition, some critics warn it could
lead to suppression of speech that describes homosexual behavior as
sinful. Supporters of the bill, however, contend it would only cover
violent criminal conduct.
Dec 21, 2007, from the Christian Civic League Record:
Two things should be private — sex and what happens in the
The League is Maine’s conscience on this matter of
sexual morality. You can count on us not letting you down no matter
what the Bangor Daily News chooses to print.
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Just like in the media, controversy sells. The debate is about bigotry far moreso than predation, and pushing the controversy is good for business. By their stripes, you will know them.