Our Newest Dilemma- Deciding What Bathroom to Use

To pee or not to pee. That is the question.

North Carolina recently passed a law about bathrooms. The text of the law is 5 pages long, but it essentially states that when it comes to multiple occupancy bathroom and changing areas (such as locker rooms) in government controlled facilities, people will need to use facilities that correspond to their biological sex. Boys must use male facilities and girls must use girl facilities. It also prohibits law suits against private entities that institute similar policies.

The response to the law has been one of vehement anger by many corporations, individuals, celebrities and politicians. Those who support the law have been labeled as hateful and bigoted. Curt Schilling, a former All-Star baseball pitcher, lost his job with ESPN for tweeting in support of the law. Is it is easy to wonder how our society came to arrive at such a place.

I grew up in an era where the girl’s bathroom was a place of mystery. No male dared enter the girl’s bathroom for fear of eternal punishment. Accidentally walking into the wrong bathroom was one of the most shameful acts imaginable. It could take years for the facial redness to fade.

Shame was not limited to opposite sex facilities. As an adolescent male there was more than enough shame for a boy in the boy’s locker room. Puberty is cruel and it arrives on an inconsistent schedule. In the 7th grade locker room some boys were already men while for others signs of manhood had not even begun to appear. While I have no firsthand knowledge of the girl’s locker room I am certain there was similar variability. Young women at opposite ends of the pubertal spectrum dealt with similar angst. The thought of changing in the presence of someone with the opposite biologic gender would have been terrifying!

Yet a new variable is being introduced into the locker room equation, a transgendered one. Individuals born male (with male genitalia) who identify as female have sued school districts for the right to use girl’s locker rooms. Their belief is that it is unfair for them to not be able to have access to the same facilities as all of the other “girls”. Many of the other girls, who do not have penises, have expressed discomfort with having to change in the presence of someone who does. Remarkably, a federal court sided with the transgender student and against the district.(1)

The battle is not limited to middle and secondary schools. Elementary schools have been met with similar law suits. While there are typically no common circumstances in which fully disrobing occurs in elementary school, there have been arguments regarding bathroom use. Parents are understandably concerned that their young children who have not yet learned about the birds and the bees may not be emotionally equipped to process transgender issues. The problem is compounded by studies that have shown the overwhelming majority of “transgender” school age children ultimately identify as their biological sex. (2)An argument can be made that given the potential harm there is no need to accommodate what is likely to be only a temporary preference.

There are different concerns when it comes to adults. For the overwhelming majority of adults who are transgendered the reality is that if they have taken steps to appear as the gender with which they identify and use a bathroom stall there is very little chance of anyone even knowing their biological identity, much less objecting to it. Even if the law “prohibits” them from a facility the risk of prosecution is miniscule. The risk most often cited by proponents of laws such as North Carolina’s is instead the possibility of sexual predators taking advantage of the opportunity the law affords and preying on innocent women. While the risk of sexual assault is minimized by those who oppose the law, it is nonetheless real. There are documented instances where such assaults have occurred. (3,4)

Lawmakers are left with a difficult decision. Apart from the extremely costly and unrealistic option of mandating that all facilities be single user and non-gendered any policy implemented will favor one side of the debate over the other.

An often overlooked part of problem is the rarity of transgenderism (estimates I have seen range from 1/3000 to 1/12,000 or less). Rarity results in it being very difficult to make any scientific assertions as to the normalcy of the condition. It also makes it less reasonable to demand governmental protections. Even if a biologic cause is ultimately discovered it will not necessarily constitute evidence of normalcy, for there are many genetic conditions that are considered abnormal (sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis and other such diseases). Normalcy for such things is always a matter of value judgments rather than facts.

It is obvious that there is no solution that will be universally acceptable. There is nevertheless a common sense answer available. If a policy or practice has been followed for centuries without significant or widespread negative consequences, and there is not overwhelming evidence that it should be changed, it is best to leave it alone. A law such as the one in North Carolina should not be necessary but it is. The definitions of male and female that have been the foundation of societal relationships since the dawn of humanity need to be defended, as does the innocence of our children.

-          Bart

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1.       http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-transgender-student-locker-room-palatine-met-20151012-story.html

2.       Wallien MS, Cohen-Kettenis PT. Psychosexual outcome of gender-dysphoric children. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 2008; 47:1413.

3.       http://www.crossmap.com/news/sexual-predator-jailed-after-claiming-to-be-transgender-to-assault-women-in-shelter-26962

4.       http://www.dailywire.com/news/330/university-toronto-dumps-transgender-bathrooms-pardes-seleh