The issue of trans people and restroom use is about as sticky as a public-toilet seat, but the arguments against equality in public accommodations are as flimsy as the toilet paper in those same facilities.
Below are five points that I think are important for non-trans people to understand about the tissue … I mean, issue.
1. Trans people are in the bathroom for the same reason that you are – to use the facilities and be on our way. The use of public restrooms is often far more uncomfortable for trans people than it is for non-trans people in the next stall, especially at the beginning of transition. We are not interested in what you’re doing, we would prefer that you take no interest in what we’re doing, and we have far more important things to do than linger there so that either one of us can pay attention to the other.
2. The use of public restrooms is far more of a safety issue for trans people than it is for non-trans people in the next stall. Depending on state laws, we can be arrested in some public restrooms if the gender marker on our identification does not match the gender we are presenting. In other cases, we can be detained and questioned if the sign on the restroom door does not match the gender we are presenting.
Because state laws differ with regard to when and how trans people can change our gender markers, in many cases, we are stuck in a no-win situation. If we are not able to change our gender markers because of a particular state law, do we use the restroom that matches our gender presentation or our ID? Either one can result in trouble. And that’s the last thing we want. We only want to use the facilities like everyone else.
In addition, depending on which restroom we use, or are sometimes forced to use, we also risk physical and sexual assault. This is not a pleasant situation for us, so we don’t plan to hang out there unnecessarily.
3. Regardless of what opponents argue, public accommodations laws and other laws regarding trans restroom use do not allow adult men to enter women’s or girls’ restrooms. We have had a public accommodations law in Colorado, where I live, since 2008, and I have not yet heard of any such incidents. Sexual predators have many ways of preying on victims, and putting on women’s clothing, a wig, makeup, and other such accoutrement is far more complicated and risky than other means of accessing victims. There is no indication that laws allowing trans people to use the restroom that corresponds to our gender identity and expression will result in an increase in sexual perpetration or increased opportunities for such. Trans people are not sexual perpetrators, and, as stated above, are at more risk of victimization ourselves.
4. You really don’t know the genitalia of anyone using the stall next to yours. You might think that you do, but the reality is that, unless you have been intimate with that person, you don’t. So laws that involve genitalia are not sound and are not enforceable. Short of “genital checks,” they are all based on assumptions, and assumptions are often wrong.
5. Unisex bathrooms can be good for a variety of situations, if they are clean and available to all. They are costly to put in, but I predict that, eventually, all workplaces and public spaces will be required to have them, and trans people will not be the primary reason for the requirement. It would behoove non-trans people to actively support the construction of unisex restrooms in public spaces (not for us – for you, if we make you uncomfortable). While no one should be required to use them, they should be available to both trans and non-trans people who want to use them.
The bottom line (no pun intended) is this: Do you really want to know what everyone else in the bathroom is doing? Me either. So if you promise to ignore me, I promise to ignore you. Let’s get out of here and get on with life.