Signs, symbols, signifiers.

Look, I don’t want to write this post. I really fucking don’t. But it’s become harder and harder to fight the impulse to engage people in pointless, ranty conversations online, so it’s probably safer if I just go ahead and lay this all out, get my thoughts straight, get it off my chest. We’ll feel better after. Maybe.

By now you’ve no doubt heard about HB2, the discriminatory bill passed here in North Carolina that’s widely known as “the bathroom bill.” Other states have similar legislation in the works right now, so keep your eyes and ears open for fuckery like this where you live. I suspect after all this backlash, they’re going to want to pass these kinds of things somewhat quietly. Sneaky bastards.

Then, Target said that they’re not going to enforce any sort of gender-policing in their restrooms and that they stand with the transgender community. Good on you, Target. This, however, is not new. This has always been their policy. This is why they were one of the first companies to have family bathrooms at all. But, oh, how the people did raise a ruckus. And now there’s a Target boycott. Oh, well. What a shame that the parking lot won’t be an unholy terror anymore.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, at a rally in support of HB2 (why do you need to rally to support a thing that’s already passed? I don’t know, but that’s what they were doing), Senator Buck Newton said, out loud, in front of people and, more importantly, cameras: “Keep our state straight.” This is the guy running for Attorney General of North Carolina. This kind of arrogant, backward, bigoted stupid is what we’re dealing with.

So now I’m pissed.

Firstly, the big fat thing that I don’t think people understand about HB2 is that it’s not really about bathrooms at all. Its main function is to prevent cities from passing individual ordinances, up to and including anti-discrimination and anti-defamation laws (which is how we got to the bathroom thing, through trying to strike down cities’ having added gender identity to the list of protected groups like race and religion and whatnot – how bathrooms play into that doesn’t quite make sense to me, but whatever). More importantly, and I can’t stress how evil this is, it preemptively blocks any attempt at making a city ordinance for a minimum or living wage. That’s what flew under the radar here. That’s why they’re stirring up hate and outrage as a distraction. I’m not much of a “wake up, sheeple!” kind of person, but seriously. Do.

The bigotry that’s coming to light here seems largely manufactured. Trans people are not dangerous, as a group (and I qualify that because, obviously, any one person can be a fucking psycho). Rapists, pedophiles, peepers, and other sexual predators are extremely dangerous, and I can’t fathom why these groups are being lumped together with trans folks. I don’t know of any other group, save maybe Catholic priests, who are being so misrepresented in the media as sexual deviants. This baffles me. Seems to me that the people who are most vocally against gender-neutral restrooms or letting trans folks use the restroom of their chosen gender probably don’t know anyone who is trans (or don’t know that they do, anyway). They’re conflating gender identity, sexuality, and sexual perversion, because they just don’t know any better. Whatever biases they may have already had, being pointed toward those conclusions and adopting those concomitant prejudices may not be these people’s fault. These are the conclusions that they’ve been led to believe are the only ones that can possibly be drawn. Which is not to say that people who believe the media are dumb, obviously. I’m saying the media is fucked up. And maybe that the people who feed the media its fodder are dumb. That’s always up for debate.

Anyway. Trans women are clearly being targeted in particular here. And look, I get that a lot of people don’t understand being trans in the first place, and the idea of voluntarily shedding one’s manliness seems anathema to our culture, but trans women are women. They’re not men in dresses trying to sneak a peek at your bits in the ladies’ room (which, by the way, is a lot more difficult than people seem to think it is – it’s not just a roomful of naked vaginas lounging around in there, y’all). Those people – yes, even the very few who actually have dressed up as women to perpetrate a sex crime and will be pointed to as shining examples of why we need HB2 – are sexual predators and they don’t give a damn about the law or the sign on the door. They need to be put in a very dark, very horrible place for a very long time. We already have laws for that.

But the nervousness about having a penis in the ladies’ room? That’s not about the undercarriage of the person peacefully peeing next to you. That nervousness is about rape, and it’s ubiquitous. Frankly, we’re used to it. Trans men in the mens’ room doesn’t even seem to be an issue. Why? No penis fear. Further, if we made trans women use the mens’ room, assaults (including, and maybe even especially, sexual assaults) would increase. No one wants that. Not even you bigots. But why are we freaking out about penises in the ladies’ room with your wives and daughters, and not about pedophiles and rapists in the mens’ room with your sons and husbands? Those gentlemen are in more danger, statistically, every day. And why do we keep making this about kids in bathrooms? Hmm? What about the mall? The park? The schools? The backyard? Sexual assault of children is much more likely to be committed by heterosexual, cisgender men, and most often it’s someone the child knows. But again: we’ve already got laws for that.

There are a few other groups who will suffer under this legislation:

  • Parents with small children (dads with daughters and moms with sons, specifically)
  • Any caretaker of someone with a disability who needs help going to the restroom
  • Those assholes at the bar who use the ladies’ room because it’s cleaner (just quit pissing everywhere, guys, and you too can have a lovely bathroom)
  • The androgynous – this has already become a problem: women who don’t “look like women” being forcibly removed from restrooms. It brings up a whole other mess of issues about gender bias and beauty standards that I could write an entire fucking book about. Point is, someone’s going to get hurt or sued or arrested or killed over disagreement on what “woman” or “pretty” or “normal” mean, and it scares the shit out of me.

All of this could be fixed very, very easily. When I lived in California, almost every restroom was single-occupancy and just said “restroom” on the door. That’s how it is in most of Europe, as well. It’s so simple, you guys – single-occupancy, lockable, handicapped-accessible restrooms (which all have changing tables!) would fix everyone’s problems here. We could all be happy and feel safe when we pee and go back to figuring out other things to be cranky about. Problem is, that will require some businesses to remodel their facilities and people don’t like being told what to do or how to spend their money. I can see this being the next “keep the government out of my…” argument, for sure. It’s that goddamned gay wedding cake nonsense all over again. “I don’t want no fuckin’ trannies peeing in my store.” Well, I hate to break it to you there, Cletus, but you’ve probably had plenty of them all around you your whole life – peeing in the stall next to you, making your food in restaurants, flying your airplanes, doing your taxes, fighting your wars, saving your life in the ER, teaching your kids, building your houses, hauling your trash, delivering your mail, cleaning your teeth, ringing up your groceries. You know, all those things that normal fucking Americans do for each other all day every day. Nothing has changed. Except now we’re legitimizing bigotry in the law and making my state look like a bunch of backwoods redneck assholes on the news.

And over what? I’ve noticed that a lot of the folks who are loudly anti-trans quickly bring religion into it. Which is fine. Have your beliefs, I respect that. Think what you want, in your own life, in your own house, in your own heart. Do your thing, whatever. But, like I’ve said a billion times, religion is not adequate grounds for legislation. If I ask you what you think about a law, any law, and you bring up the Bible or our being “a Christian nation,” then I’m afraid you’re going to need a better argument. Laws govern all of us, including us godless heathens who just want to love and help each other and make the world a better place for our fellow humans. It’s that whole meaningless husk of a life thing we keep insisting on doing. Point being, when it comes to gleefully shitting on people’s civil rights just because you don’t understand them, I will always pull the First Amendment card. Every. Time.

See, and that’s why I needed to write this all out. When I get into this shit online I know full well that nobody is leaving with their mind changed, and yet I try to make the other person see my point of view, or at least accept that perhaps they haven’t looked at all sides of the argument. Which I know isn’t going to happen, both of us coming from our own set of experiences and biases, both of us talking about our fundamental beliefs as though they’re objectively absolute (perhaps not even realizing that those underlying assumptions might be causing a simple misunderstanding, sometimes even as small as what a single word means). It’s so stupid. The problem comes when my trying to articulate myself (in type, without inflection, facial expressions, or talking with my hands) turns into them saying I’ve stepped on how they feel or that I don’t respect what they think. I can be abrasive, so when it stops being about facts and gets screamy, I back away slowly with my hands in the air. Why do we always have to talk about feelings? Can’t you just make a cogent point without it being personal? Is there something wrong with me? Some disconnect between the political part of my brain and my emotions? Am I an alien? Am I a Vulcan? That would actually be okay. I would accept that.

The weirdest part of all of this is that, while this discussion about trans peoples’ rights seems new, I’m starting to suspect that I’m repeating myself. Perhaps it’s because lately, as a culture, we’ve been taking two steps forward and one step back over and over and over again. I mean, time marches on, and shit will change whether we want it to or not. These things we call “conservative” or “progressive” and fight so hard about will just be another part of our collective history in a hundred years anyway, pieces in a puzzle. Ha! Remember when people used to drill holes in their skulls to let the demons out? Or when we thought that Earth was flat? Or slavery? Or women not being allowed to vote? Gosh, they were just wacky back then, weren’t they? Those ye olde folks sure did believe some crazy things. Our grandkids and great-grandkids will feel that way about how we’re acting toward LGBTQ people right this very second. Between discussions on “How the hell did grampy and grammy get by without computer chips in their heads?” they’ll boggle at how inhumanely we treated each other over something so silly as genitalia. They’ll wonder how we could possibly live together in the world and not even want to take the time to understand each other. Not even try. I can’t imagine what they’ll think of us, but I hope they think better of each other than we do.