I know, I know. It’s a rather silly title for a surprisingly serious topic. The act of using the restroom is something that many of us probably never gave a second thought. You’re a boy/man? Great! Use the boy’s/men’s restroom. You’re a girl/woman? Even better! Use the girl’s/women’s restroom. It’s simple, right? If the furor surrounding HB 2, now heralded as “the bathroom bill”, in North Carolina has taught those uninformed anything, it’s that going to potty is anything but.
Where to use the restroom is being shown as a privilege that many take for granted. There are two main terms in this debate that are being wielded as weapons on both sides—gender and sex. They are often used interchangeably but there are, however, differences. One (sex) deals with physical characteristics, and the other (gender) deals within the realms of mental, emotional, cultural, and societal and social contexts.
For many people, gender and sex exist on a binary plane. There are only two sexes—male and female—with two primary differing characteristics—penis and vagina. At birth, we are generally designated male or female based on those characteristics. While that, scientifically, should only determine one’s sex, society takes it a step further and uses biological sex to determine one’s gender. Gender, similar to sex, is the state of being male or female, but unlike sex, there are other factors that contribute to it aside from the physical. As I mentioned before, those factors include, mental, emotional, cultural, societal and social influences. People whose gender identity is opposite or something other than their designated biological sex are labeled transgender.
For those of us whose gender identity agrees with our designated biological sex, there’s a label for us too, and it’s not the word “normal”, like many would want to believe (because lets be honest, no one likes being labeled and made to feel like the “other”). What we are called is “cisgender” or “cis” for short.
This—gender identity—is the very conflict at the heart HB 2. North Carolina’s bathroom bill stipulates that transgender individuals have to, by law, use the restroom that corresponds with their biological sex, and not their gender identity. Thus, it conflates, intentionally or not, gender and biological sex while giving precedence to the latter. To those it affects and their supporters, it outright ignores and invalidates their gender identities.
To be frank, throughout my research, I found many issues with this bill. I thought it’d be helpful to make a list; after all, everyone loves lists:
- It was passed during a special session that at $42,000 a day was so costly the Governor of North Carolina, Pat McCory, actually opposed it. Which is ironic because he was one of the main driving forces behind the bill. He suggested that they opt for regular session instead, but others in HB 2’s corner wanted to enact the bill before the other, anti-discrimination bill that protected transgender individuals, was enforced.
- No protection against discrimination based on sexuality or veteran status is offered.
- It’s not just the LGBTQIA community that’s affected. HB 2 prevents cities and counties in NC from raising the minimum wage.
- It may not even be constitutional! The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against NC under claims that HB 2 is in violation of Title VII (Civil Rights Act of 1964), and thus, illegal. That will have to be proven in court though.
- Money, money, money. Depending on whom you talk to it could potentially cost the state of North Carolina millions or billions of dollars. Celebrity backlash among the more liberal-aligned was fierce with many in the music industry refusing to perform in NC as long as HB 2 stands and other famous attractions refusing come. The NBA is threatening to move its All-Star game elsewhere. The revenue generated from tourism will decrease. Some companies and agencies are refusing to expand in NC, costing money and jobs. That constitutionality issue? It costs to fight a lawsuit and the DOJ isn’t the only entity who filed against NC. Just in case that wasn’t enough, if found in violation of Title IX—which is the Department of Education’s very own anti-discrimination/civil rights law—it could have a severe negative impact on the education budget. The DoED could pull funding. It makes one ask, is HB 2 literally worth it?
This list is not an exhaustive compilation of every issue there is to be had with HB 2, yet the ones listed were enough to make me question the intent and ramifications of enacting the bill.
What was the intent behind the bill, and why is going to the restroom such a big deal to transgender people?
My research showed me that the primary reasoning for HB 2 is the protection of women and children. Many supporters claim that allowing transgender people to use their gender identified restroom would open the door for cis-male predators to take advantage of that and claim to be transgender in order to gain access to the women’s restroom and prey on women and children. Many women bring their children into the restroom, as with gender roles and such, so on the surface, it’s a pretty legitimate concern. Noticed when I used the word “claim”? Well, that’s because there is little statistically significant to no research that supports that fear. I, and probably anyone who watches the news, hear about perverts filming women, children, and even men in restrooms all the time. Many don’t have to step foot inside an occupied restroom to do it. It could seem that the problem to be had isn’t with transgender people; it’s with cis-men. But that’s for another day.
In regards to the pro-transgender position, anti-HB 2, I’ve answered one part of the “why” already—the invalidation and ignoring of the realness of transgender existence implied in HB 2. The other part is the potential threat that comes with using the restrooms based on their sex. A quick Google search on the topic can show that transgender people live with the very real danger of violent and deadly reaction to their presence, especially transgender women. There seems to be special vitriol against a “man dressing/acting like a woman” (not my words or sentiments).
For many, such as ones that can “pass” (to look and behave like a cisgender man or woman without anyone knowing otherwise unless told or without prior knowledge) or those who conditionally pass (able to pass in certain situations or around certain people), HB 2 puts them between a rock and a hard place. If they use the restroom corresponding with their sex while appearing to be the opposite sex, they run the risk of drawing negative reactions. I’ll come out right and say it—if I saw someone who for all intents and purposes presented as a (cis) man using the women’s restroom, I’d be more than uncomfortable. I’d be outright alarmed. Even if I somehow knew the person was trans it would still draw my attention at first glance.
For transgender women, there is a special sort of danger that comes with presenting as a woman, passing, conditionally passing, or not passing at all. They run the risk of extreme violence, including beatings, sexual assault, and even murder. The reasons for that are numerous and are writings for another time; however a common one is the notion that trans women are intentionally “tricking” others for some kind of malicious reason. It’s one aspect of the term “trans panic”, which was at one point an actual legal defense for the attacks and murder of transgender individuals, again, more specifically trans women.
Another argument on this side is of the more logical sense. The women’s restrooms have stalls, as do the men’s. How would one even know if someone with a penis or vagina was using the restroom? What about individuals who were born with both a penis and vagina in varying capacities, who may identify and/or present as a man or woman? Can they use both?
If it seems like I’m taking a side, well, it’s because I kind of am. As a member of a few oppressed groups who has always had liberal leanings, it’s hard for me not to sympathize with possible acts of discrimination. Objectively, though, the more I researched the bill and its potential ramifications while applying my previous and new knowledge of the transgender lives—thinking and rethinking claims and reasoning on both sides—the more I felt that the evidence and reasoning swung on the side of trans individuals. Without a middle ground, I fall on their side.
A good middle ground, I believe, is to have gender-neutral restroom, while not saying that transgender people can’t use the restroom of their gender identity. I think simply having that option could ease some of the tensions and mitigate areas where public opinion and/or prejudice has/will yet to be changed. Like most things, that could also attract conflict, but it would be a better solution than HB 2. And if legislators really care about protecting women and children from male predators, there are other ways to do that without further oppressing an underprivileged group. But that’s just my opinion.
I am by no means an expert on transgender lives, or an expert in matters of civics. My only hope in writing this is that I was able to provide accurate and thoughtful information to help cultivate informed opinions, and/or peak enough interest to want to learn more about these issues.
Are there any thoughts, comments, and/or concerns? Feel free to share!
Article written by UCC intern J.M.