The news has been full of controversy over what constitutes a man or a woman and what public bathroom(s) are to be open to whom. Emotions are strong on each side. From an observer’s point of view, however, the primary message seems to be confusion. Words simply do not mean what they have always meant. Take, for example, the legislation in North Carolina, which states that a person is the gender noted on his or her birth certificate, and must use the bathroom indicated for that gender. Minus the birth certificate, that is what always has been done. However, transgender people, defined as people who are one gender inside (how they feel they are) and another gender outside (what their bodies show) can and do change their physical appearance upon adulthood to reflect with their bodies the gender they feel they are. In North Carolina, then, a man born as a woman would have to use the women’s bathroom – not a comfort for either them or the women who regularly use the bathroom reserved for them. Sound confusing? It is.
Other states dispense with the birth certificate requirement, and say simply that anyone can use whichever bathroom they feel they are. Thus, at any given moment, an apparent man may turn up on the women’s bathroom or an apparent woman may turn up in the men’s bathroom. After all, some men are not really men and some women are not really women. (doublespeak??)
Yet other states throw up their hands in frustration, and say anyone can use any bathroom at any time; all communal bathrooms are now unisex. This is to provide equal rights to women who are men inside or men who are women inside or to those who have undergone change of sex operations. It is to avoid being wrong by discriminating. After all, men and women are no longer distinct, as they are what they claim to be.
I respect the difficulties that transgender people undergo, especially when they are young and unable to make the choice to have a sex-change operation. They do have rights, rights to be respected, rights to not be bullied or disparaged, rights to be employed on the basis of their ability to do a job, rights to the same legal rights we all have, including being able to use public bathrooms. However, those of us who are not transgender also have rights. Some of us have religious restrictions about how much of our bodies we can reveal to the opposite sex. Many – I would even say most – women do not want a man in the bathroom with them, not just when they are using the toilet, but also when they are applying makeup, or just chatting with the girls. I am sure that there are also men who are uncomfortable with women sharing the same bathroom with them. These people also have rights. They have rights to privacy and comfort, rights which are being taken from them in the name of not denying the rights of a minority. Given that transgender adults have the option of having a sex-change operation, what is then wrong by simply saying if a person has the body of a man, s/he uses the men’s bathroom; if s/he has the body of a woman, s/he uses the women’s bathroom? After all, a bathroom is a place where bodily functions are taken care of, not where inner issues are resolved. (A more costly remedy would be to replace all common public bathrooms with a series of private unisex bathrooms, thus providing everyone with the accommodation needed.)
Which leaves the problem of transgender children, who cannot yet undergo sex-change operations. Private bathrooms is the kindest solution for all concerned. Some elementary schools already have these – an attached bathroom for each classroom. Transgender children would prefer to be recognized not as transgender, or “odd”, but as the gender they want to be. From thence comes the desire to use the bathroom of the opposite (body) gender. However, using any particular bathroom will not keep their secret. The classmates generally know what is going on. Forcing traditionally oriented children to accept that there is no longer much meaning to boy or girl, as both sexes are same (instead of equally valued) is not an answer. Instead of doing handstands about bathrooms, why not teach the children to respect those who are different, whether transgender, handicapped, emotionally or academically different, without teasing, bullying and ostracizing? That is where the real problem lies.
It is not necessary to engage in convoluted brouhaha about bathrooms, or to change the definition of words so that they no longer mean exactly what they have meant. It is necessary for people to accept themselves for what they are, problems and all, and for people to accept others who are different as equally valuable people. It is necessary to respect each others’ “rights”, and to realize that no one is entitled. Rights are not seized by force or legislation. They are granted to each other by mutual respect and cooperation, and with the realization that we are all connected, and each of us has value.
All of us have “rights”, those who are transgender, those who are gay or traditional or handicapped or whatever the difference. Let’s drop the conflict, keep intact the definitions of words, which allows for coherent conversation, and begin the conversation without dividing into opposing camps.