This piece was co-written by Lee Green and Sheena C. Howard
Many are fully aware of the controversial directive the Obama Administration issued, stating public schools should allow transgender students access to the bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity. Opponents of the directive have created trending memes and anti-transgender slogans stating, "I don't want some MAN in a WIG going to the bathroom with my little girl." This is a simplistic, reductionist counter-argument. Making the main argument against transgender people using restrooms and locker rooms aligned with their gender identity about the safety of girls and women, whilst ignoring the real factors around sexual abuse, physical violence and sexual assault of women and girls is hypocritical.
The safety of all children should be a universal law, however in America 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12, 29% are age 12 - 17 and 44% are under 18 years of age. In addition, according to some studies, about 80 percent of rape victims have been raped before the age of 25.
If we are collectively concerned about the safety of our girls, then transgender people using bathrooms and locker rooms that identify with their gender identity is not the place we should be placing our energy. In fact, a 2012 report by the United States Department of Justice indicates that 69% of the teen sexual assaults reported to law enforcement occurred in the residence of the victim, the offender, or another individual. There is no evidence to support that increases in sexual assault, physical assault, voyeurism, and/or exhibitionism takes place as a result of states or facilities letting trans people use the bathroom of their choice. Thus, the focus on the safety of girls and women being assaulted by "men dressing up as women" to gain access to the woman's room is reflective of a destructive American cultural logic that diverts attention away from the actual safety issues for people of Trans experience, as well as women and girls. This is just another example of America's historically moral hypocrisy around social issues and public policy, when it comes to minority populations.
The cultural resistance (See: North Carolina, HB2) to transgender anti-discrimination bills, mandates and directives across the country are just another example of this hypocrisy. This is evident in the framing and public discourse around the Obama Administration's directive, which opponents primarily focus on the safety and concerns of young girls in the bathroom, to the exclusion of the places where young girls and women are actually the most vulnerable - college campuses, residences and relationships with people (usually cis-gendered men) that they know well.
The Obama Administration views a student's gender identity as the student's sex. That is, gender identity, according to the Obama Administration, is protected under federal law, specifically Title IX. This is a controversial interpretation of the law, yet it still remains that the most widely used, morally bankrupt argument against the Obama Administrations transgender anti-discrimination directive is that men will dress up as women in order to go into public bathrooms with the intention of sexually or physically assaulting them. This argument is morally bankrupt because America already, and has for decades faced an endemic problem with men sexually assaulting and abusing women and girls. These incidences are not prevalent in school facilities that already allow transgender people to use the bathroom and locker room of choice.
Within the context of social discourse and material reality in the United States, where nearly 1 in 5 women in this country say they have been sexually assaulted, this attempt to establish a causal relationship between transgender people using the bathroom and sexual assault, is not only a false cause fallacy but it is also hypocritical. Therefore, we sincerely wish people were collectively as concerned and committed to the safety of women and girls as they are about opposing the Obama Administrations directive, under the guise of concern for women and girls.
One can certainly be complicit in the endemic sexual assault and physical violence of women and girls at the hands of heterosexual, cis-gendered men while also being gravely concerned about their daughter being assaulted in the bathroom, however that doesn't logically follow with a fear of transgender people using the bathroom.
We know that bathrooms are a site of anxiety, safety, health concerns and mortality for transgender people. The major premise of the argument that male predators will use this type of mandate or directive to gain access to women is enmeshed in patriarchal and sexist power dynamics, as well as a hypocritical American cultural logic that allows us to further render trans men invisible, ignore the safety of trans people in general and prevent us from having an actual conversation around the pervasiveness of sexual assault and physical violence currently and historically against women and girls (trans women included) at the hands of men. This type of hypocrisy is what allows rape culture on college campuses to persist, sexual assault victims to be shamed and violence against women and girls to remain a public health concern. Not dealing with sexism and patriarchy leads us to having conversations about transgender anti-discrimination laws and directives that ignore the reality of the safety and health concerns trans people experience, and the perpetuation of myths that in reality cannot be supported by any data.
It is a fact that there are predators in the world with ill intentions, however evidence supports that these predators are not gaining access to people in bathrooms (even in places that allow transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity), they are overwhelmingly (not exclusively) intimate partners, neighbors, family members and/or close relatives, in the home. Continuing to vilify peoples of trans experience, rather than dealing with the actual safety concerns that currently exist for women, girls and trans people moves us further away from solving existing problems.
Due to this pending overblown debate and North Carolinas House Bill 2, people of trans experience may now be subjected to harassment and confrontation in bathrooms on a grander scale, whereas they may fear the very notion of using a public restroom.
Society seems to be neglecting the fact that this directive is in place to mitigate unwarranted deaths, beatings, sexual abuse, harassment, and overall confrontations that transgender individuals may experience when using public facilities. A person's gender may or may not align with their sex.
We need to think of the young trans girl as someone's daughter as well as the young trans boy as someone's son, yet much of the public discourse around Trans experience revolves around the former, trans men and trans boys - even across the debate about bathrooms. Enmeshed in the new "consciousness" around LGBTQ issues of which our society is making progress, there is the duality of trans men and trans women. When the word "TRANS" is mentioned, there is a missing association with respect to trans men. Even conducting a cursory analysis of public discourse around "Bathroom Bills" and anti-transgender discrimination laws, we forget that female-to-male trans people are a part of the equation.
It is extremely unsafe for a trans man to walk into the women's bathroom or locker room, which makes the Obama Administrations interpretation of gender identity and Title IX so significant. For example, that single father who is waiting outside the bathroom for his daughter to return does not want to see a trans man, whom by all accounts presents as a man, walk into the same bathroom as his daughter. We should be frantic and anxious about sexual assault and crime against women and girls but not because of a directive that allows people to use the bathroom.
Once the dust settles, other states adopt laws and mandates protecting transgender rights and this directive is in place for some time, this country can only hope that as a collective we maintain the same fierce support and ready-to-act mentality around the safety and health of our women and girls that we seem to be concerned with today in response to the Obama Administrations anti-discrimination transgender measures.
Lee Green has been a resident and local artist of the Tri¬state, (Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey) area and LGBTQ community for over a decade. Born in Brooklyn N.Y. raised in North Carolina, Lee attended the University of North Carolina for a brief time, finally settling in Philadelphia in 2006, establishing Motivated People LLC. In 2014, which is an artistic consultants collective. Lee began his transition from female to male in 2011, and has worked to provide safe space and open conversation surrounding the Trans community ever since.
Sheena C. Howard, is an Associate Professor of Communication. Howard is the producer, director and writer of Remixing Colorblind (2016), a documentary about race and higher education. Howard is an award-winning author, including a 2014 Eisner Award winner for her first book, Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation (2013). She is also the author of Black Queer Identity Matrix (2014) and Critical Articulations of Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation (2014).