A feminist in the bathroom (and everywhere else)

doyourthing

This is the bathroom I want to use.   Gender Neutral Restroom Sign – Baby Wale Restaurant DC – Freely downloadable from http://babywaledc.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/restroomdoor.pdf

A few days ago a Facebook friend of mine stated, in regards to the current discussion over trans people and bathrooms, he is baffled “that any true feminist who rightly opposes rape culture could in good conscience agree to such a gaping loophole.” I spun this round and round in my head and knew that I would take up a whole lot of space on his feed if I answered there, so I will answer here.

To begin, feminism is the idea that all people are equal and, as such, the main commitment of feminism is to destroy patriarchy. Patriarchy dictates that there are roles for men and roles for women and whoever steps out of those boxes does not fit. Moreover, patriarchy is a system in which men hold the power. And not just any men, but men who fit into the box of how patriarchy has traditionally defined manhood. Patriarchy has no space for men who cry, who have more “feminine” physical traits, for men who sew, who stay at home with their kids, who are quiet or afraid. Patriarchy does not allow for the full spectrum of what it means to be a man, only for a narrow definition of manhood. Patriarchy also does not allow for women to exhibit more “masculine” traits. Women are not allowed (under patriarchy) to show anger (when we do we are bitches or much be on our periods), to be in charge and be directive (lest we be called “bossy”). Conversely, when we do traditionally “feminine” things like cry or show fear or any perceived weakness, we are told that we cannot handle being in the workplace (or whatever situation we are in that has made us cry). The system of patriarchy is bad for everyone. It denies all of us — men, women and those who do not fit into the binary system of male and female — our full humanity. As a feminist, I object just as much to commercials that purport that men can’t talk about anything but sports (looking at you, terrible fantasy football commercials) or do anything around the home with some level of competence as I do to commercials that show women as pieces of meat (looking at you, seeming 90% of commercials ever). Feminists want all people to be able to just be themselves in their own unique way and to have power allowed to all people to do just that.

One of the problems with patriarchy as it relates to transgender folk is that it contributes heavily to the idea that there is one way to do gender and that sex is binary. In patriarchy, men are men and women are women. In reality, sex and gender are much more complex. There are at least 6 genetic sexes that people can be born with, and people can be born with female sex organs and a male brain and vice-versa. There are also people with body dysmorphia, gender dysmorphia, and people who just feel like they were born in the wrong body. But in patriarchy, there is no space for these people. Humans are one or the other, and if you don’t fit in either of those boxes, there is no space for you. This is incredibly harmful to those who don’t fit in our boxes of sex and gender, leading to an astronomically high suicide attempt rate (41%) for members of the trans community as well as ridiculously high rates of violence perpetrated against members of the trans community — trans women (especially trans women of color) being the most statistically endangered people in our society.

There is sexism in our national outrage over transgender people. The anger that arises when someone who has always seemed to be a man starts dressing as a woman and stating that he is, in fact, a she, is rooted in sexism. It is rooted in the belief that men should be a certain way and women should be a certain way. And few things seem to get a segment of the cisgender, hetero population heated more quickly than a (perceived) man “acting” like a woman. It is seen as somehow beneath a man to “want” to be a woman. This is sexism. This is patriarchy. This is what feminists fight against.

As a woman and as a feminist, I see it as my job to stand up for my sisters and brothers who are being taken down by patriarchy and to work with those who wish to dismantle it. Feminists are called to work with and for those who struggle just to live their lives free from abuse and fear because they don’t fit into a box or as they struggle to be someone they are not so they fit in the box and are safe (until they are discovered or can’t do it anymore and harm themselves).

Forcing a person who identifies as female (and may even have had reassignment surgery but has not been able to get a change on her birth certificate) to go into a men’s bathroom is declaring open season on our sisters. There is no safety in that. Forcing a person who identifies as male to do the same opens not only trans men but more “masculine” women to harassment (as we have seen many times in recent weeks as more masculine looking/acting women have been harassed in restrooms in the name of safety). I can think of few things that make me feel less safe than having people bursting in to the bathroom to make sure I have a vagina).

There is absolutely no evidence that allowing trans people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender precipitates an increase in violence. This is an instance of perceived danger vs. actual danger, and the actual danger simply does not exist. As far as the perceived dangers of allowing everyone to use the bathroom corresponding with their gender, how, does forcing trans men to go into the women’s restroom make women safer? A cisgender man always could dress like a woman and use the womans bathroom. Now a cisgender man can either come in and say he is biologically a woman or he is just checking to make sure no trans people are there, like a white knight of bigotry.  Either way, if a creeper wants to come into the women’s restroom, said creeper can do so. In reality, a creeper has always had access to women’s bathrooms and never needed an excuse around gender to gain access. 

Moreover, if a person wants to rape someone, they will. If not in the bathroom, in the parking garage, in the alleyway or in the park. Or, more likely, in the apartment, dorm room, or home, as stranger rape is a small percentage of the rapes that take place in these United States. Most people who are sexually assaulted are assaulted by someone they know — so the perpetrator is more likely a friend, family member or coach than a transperson or random person in the bathroom you have never met. Maybe we should keep all of those people out of the bathroom? Private bathrooms for everyone!!!

I do not believe this is remotely about my safety or the safety of women and children, just as the fear of black mean raping white women in the civil rights era (and before and since) is not about protecting women. If those vociferously objecting to trans bathroom access actually cared about sexual assault, they would be funding sexual assault prevention (and just plain sex ed, but that’s another issue). They would be raising their voices loudly when a man is found not guilty of rape even though he had sex with a young woman who was unconscious. They would be objecting every time a victim is asked what he or she wore, if he or she was drunk, or if he or she led the assailant on. If people were actually concerned about rape, they would be pressing to have all of the rape kits backlogged in police stations all across the US to be run so that predators could be caught. They would be teaching their children about consent and autonomy, that only yes means yes and that no one ever owes anyone sex. Rape is not about sex, it is about power. It is about wanting something that isn’t yours and taking it, making someone feel small and humiliated and powerless. If the people out there who are so concerned about who is peeing where were actually concerned about rape, they would be working to empower those who have little power, not to continue to concentrate power in the hands of cisgender, straight, white men. They would want to destroy the patriarchy, just like I do. But all I see are people who want to reinforce gender roles, to force people into a gender binary that doesn’t exist, and to perpetuate patriarchy  so that they can keep the power that they have held for thousands of years, all in the name of safety.

And that, as far as I am concerned, is bullshit.

So far as it concerns me as a Christian and a pastor, I will simply say that we are all created in God’s image, we are all immeasurably loved, and God calls on us to stand up for the oppressed and marginalized. The end.

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About Elizabeth Rawlings

Lutheran. Feminist. Child of God. Thinking about how to be a leader in a church that is trying to rediscover itself and what it means to live simply so that others may simply live in tandem with what exactly is the fast God asks of us. Chronic alliterator. Generally silly person. View all posts by Elizabeth Rawlings

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