Down the toilet

  • by Gwendolyn Ann Smith
  • Wednesday March 23, 2011
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Illustration: Christine Smith
Illustration: Christine Smith

Allowing transgender people to use bathrooms appropriate to their gender of preference will lead to pedophiles and rapists assaulting you, your spouse, or possibly your children.

This argument is used in every transgender rights battle over public accommodations, from early battles in the 1970s to the fight this year in Maryland over HB 235, the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination bill.

Indeed, while this has been around for a while, it is only in the last five years that it has become the single most common argument used by the religious right to torpedo transgender rights bills. Attack ads slam such legislation as "bathroom bills," claiming that such laws open public restrooms to peeping Toms or worse.

This argument has become so pervasive that even in the case of HB 235 – where public accommodation language has been stripped out – its opponents still call it the bathroom bill and evoke the specter of restroom-bound predators.

Of course, the argument that allowing transgender people public accommodations gives access to sexual predators is specious. While one could assume on the surface that there is some meat here, a closer examination shows it to be a fallacy.

First and foremost, no public accommodation bill is going to directly allow predators to use restrooms to commit crimes. Every law on the books against such behavior, obviously, remains just as it is. A pedophile, for example, cannot claim that they were somehow allowed to assault children based on a claim of transgender status. Frankly, I don't even feel I need to point this out – yet I'm sure I do.

The counter argument is that yes, while it does not change the law, it somehow makes it easier for them to gain access to an opposite gender restroom in the first place. After all, they're always busy looking for an opportunity. This also falls apart on examination. If a predator is indeed looking for any opportunity, then transgender accommodations laws won't make a difference for them. If they're acting on such urges, then it really won't matter to them what the sign on the door says, or what rules of use are in place.

Meanwhile, transgender people themselves are no more likely to be a sexual predator than any non-transgender person. Also, of course, public accommodation needs go much further than public toilets.

There's an obvious reason why this argument is used: it works. It is not a logical argument, but an emotional one.

In fighting against such a bill in Gainesville, Florida in 2009, ads showed a blonde Caucasian girl – amid an overdub of obvious playground noises – walking unaccompanied into a restroom. Shortly afterwards a bearded man, wearing a black ball cap and dark sunglasses, follows her in. Again, the argument was that this was exactly what the Gainesville City Commission was allowing by offering public accommodations in the city.

The footage did not show any attempt by the "predator" to claim a transgender identity. The image was obvious, a dark-clothed, sly, shady character that one conjured in their mind when they think of a sexual predator. Really, there was nothing there specific to transgender identity at all – but it was still used to fight against the law.

I suspect this argument is fully based on emotions.

When one goes into a restroom, there is a sense of vulnerability. You are somewhat at a disadvantage. Partially exposed, perhaps sitting with your pants down, and otherwise occupied. One might just be naturally wary in such a situation. For a parent, too, there has to be an extra level of fear at play. Your child may be out of sight of you, on hir own, and also in a vulnerable situation.

With that in mind, I can see how such an argument hits all the fears one might conjure up in such a situation, and cause someone to react without logic or critical thinking. You don't want your kid to be assaulted, do you? Well then, you simply can't let transgender people in the restroom, can you?

I note, of course, that you will not see concerns about women gaining access to the men's room. This does not seem to become part of the argument at all. The presumption is, I assume, that no self-respecting woman would want to do so.

As a transwoman, I can agree with that, though maybe not in quite the same way others might consider it. I know that I would not want to be forced into a men's room where I could indeed be potentially assaulted, simply based on some mistaken assumption that I am somehow also a male. Also, no consideration at all is given for female to male transpeople, who would also likely not be desired in a ladies' room.

Of course, this also sidesteps the very issue of what a transgender person needs a restroom for in the first place. We'd be in them to use the facilities that everyone else is using. We would be urinating and defecating, perhaps changing sanitary napkins or tampons, washing our hands, perhaps even taking a moment to check ourselves in the mirror.

Indeed, just like our non-transgender friends and associates, we simply want a safe place to do our business and get on with our lives. We don't want to see predators in the potty any more than they, and we know that our presence in a bathroom that matches our gender of preference really does not give any pedophile or rapist a green light to assault anyone.

It's simple, isn't it?

Gwen Smith also prefers clean restrooms, when it comes down to it. You can find her online at