The Battle of the Bathroom

It was a long time ago now that the transgender bathroom debate was being talked about at every dinner table in America, but with the new transgender military ban proposal, we are still feeling its aftershock and the unresolved feeling and emotions are resurfacing anew.  This issue in particular highlights most people’s base reaction to put rules into law that have no place there, and to choose the most trivial conflicts to waste their energy on.  Can you imagine Jefferson and Adams arguing about who gets to use what bathroom? That is really what we’re talking about — bathrooms.  We are primates with a highly developed sense of shame, who seem to have forgotten that the rest of the animal kingdom goes outside in the presence of their peers.  Yet, I can’t seem to help myself from joining the conversation.

Here is my proposal: desexualize bathrooms, and designate them according to genitalia.  Just as the concept of gender identity can change, so too can our rules for bathroom assignments. Of course historically bathrooms have been differentiated between men and women, but why not by penises and vaginas?  Is that not what they are designed for?  Men’s rooms have urinals because they are convenient to those who are able to be upright while urinating, and women’s rooms have more stalls and tampon machines because they are convenient to those who menstruate and need to squat while urinating.  Really this is a language problem, not a social justice one.  If the words male and female are now ambiguous, and so too are their respective restroom assignments, then let’s not officially name them as such.  Those words were simply the most convenient identifiers in a time when either alternative gender identity as a concept was not formalized, or people had more pressing things to worry about.

With this proposal, if you are a transgender person who has undergone sexual reassignment surgery, you should be able to use the bathroom to which your genitalia is most apt.  If you identify with a gender that does not match with your genitalia, then unfortunately you are out of luck (as is a heterosexual man who would like to visit a women’s bathroom whenever he wants).  Just because we want something doesn’t mean we have a right to it; just because some study shows that not getting what we want causes some amount of harm to our psyche, doesn’t mean that the rest of the world needs to conform to our perception of reality.  We have to accept that there will always be some people who are unhappy with the situation, and the unhappiness of transgendered people does not trump the happiness of others — the distress of a transgendered person who cannot use the bathroom they wish, is not more important than the distress of the person who does not want a transgendered person using the same restroom as them.  We’re in a situation where two groups of people are claiming to be distressed by letting the other have what they want.  Unless we’re willing to create as many bathrooms as it takes to satisfy everybody’s wishes, a line has to be drawn somewhere.

One might see the concerns of those wishing to prevent transgendered people from using certain bathrooms as being less valid since they involve preventing another group of people from doing what makes them happy.  I say, however, that this is the definition of identity politics.  Being transgendered does not mean that we ought to be more acquiescent to your wishes — everybody is prevented from doing things that they would like to do.  Why am I not able to walk the streets naked?  Surely this would offend some people, but why are they offended? What if I don’t agree with their reasons for being offended? I’m otherwise causing no harm, and wearing no clothes in public is something that makes me truly happy.  In this case, we don’t let people be naked in public because we have a concern for the distress it may cause others, and mostly because “nudists” have not cultivated any sort of real political identity.  Most would say, I would argue, that we are right to make people wear clothes in public.  Why then, do we feel the need to make this exception for transgendered people?  While I sympathize with any person dealing with mental anguish of any kind, bending rules to meet their conception of reality is not a scalable way of solving the problem.  As long as we agree that some rules need to be applied, we need to actually articulate those rules, and very rarely will they ever be satisfactory to everybody.  In that case, I’d say that we need to be most objective about the decisions we make, and not base them on identity and perceived inequalities.

This proposal could be misconstrued by some as discriminatory, but it need not be.  Given that society has already decided that bathrooms need to be separated between men and women, in what way is it discrimination to say that we need some additional guidelines to assign a bathroom to those that do not see themselves as traditionally male or female? It’s not that we will have a third type of bathroom that all transgender people will be forced to use, that could potentially be less convenient or available; they would simply be forced to use one of two bathroom types, just as everybody else is; just as men are forced to use the men’s bathroom, and women the women’s.  This proposal does not discriminate against transgender any more than our current state of affairs discriminates against both men and women.  Bathroom assignments according to genitalia will have no effect on most people, and if you are a person who transitioned into another gender, you will be free to use the bathroom that is most fitting to your current genitalia.  If you are transgendered but have not yet transitioned, then you will not be able to use the bathroom associated with the genitalia that you wish you had.  Those who have expressed a concern for their safety if transgendered people were allowed to choose their bathroom freely need not worry with this proposal any more than they are worried today about unwanted people in their bathroom: those who are in a particular bathroom are either biologically suited for that bathroom, have undergone surgery to become suited, or are not allowed in the bathroom and should be dealt with similarly to how those people are dealt with today.

Still, there will be some on both sides who are unhappy with this proposal, but let’s all be adults here.  If you are really that concerned about which bathroom you get to use, or who is in the next stall over, then I’d postulate that you have a deeper issue that is not being addressed.  Let’s stop this nonsense, come to a solution, and get on with it.