Florida, one of the states known for its infamous so-called “stand your ground” law (“justifiable use of force” law), has now proposed standing its patriarchal ground once again, this time in its “Single Sex Facilities” (what I am calling its “Stand Out of My Loo”) law. If passed by the state legislature, CS/HB 583 would impose criminal penalties on persons who knowingly enter restrooms of a sex not designated on their birth certificates.
Sponsors of this clearly discriminatory bill designed it specifically to ban trans* people from using restrooms that most closely align with their gender identities. Legislators see the writing on the bathroom walls signaling the establishment of gender inclusive restroom facilities throughout the nation, which have existed in a number of nations around the world for decades.
Some may refer to these spaces as “gender neutral,” though “gender inclusive” has become the preferred terminology to describe a space — most notably restrooms and floors in college and university dormitories and in many businesses — denoting a cite of inclusion welcoming individuals of all genders and gender identities and expressions. The terminology “gender neutral” overlooks the actual hierarchal power dynamics among genders, and the implications on the lived experiences of virtually everyone in our society.
Some legislators and community members list a number of objections to gender inclusive facilities: people would become uncomfortable, women would be at greater risk for assault, expense would be great to replace urinals with toilet stalls, it would go (no pun intended) against tradition and other reasons.
Well, let’s take these concerns in order. First, change, any change, often taps into people’s anxieties. As a professor, the beginning of each new semester brings up my anxieties about the materials I have chosen and whether my pedagogical methods have kept up with the state of the art of teaching. After a week or two, I generally relax into a comfortable routine. Actors typically assert that some amount of nervousness actually improves their performances. People often feel anxiety while learning new ideas and concepts, but over time, they accommodate or assimilate this new knowledge into their overall mental library.
Secondly, yes, women have suffered assaults by men entering women’s rooms. Most gender inclusive facilities people are advocating, however, include primarily single-user lockable restrooms. These types of facilities substantially increase safety for all users. In addition, in larger multi-user restrooms, though the clearly stereotypical stick figure wearing the tacky stick dress stuck onto the door announces this as a female-only space, it cannot and has not ensured the occupants’ safety.
Also, cost would not increase or be minimal to change current single-occupant spaces into gender inclusive restrooms. Initial expense would most likely increase to create new single-user restrooms, or if institutions want to convert one or a few current larger multi-user restrooms into gender inclusive facilities, this expense would significantly decrease down the line, and would be outweighed by the benefits.
Gender inclusive restrooms, while nothing new in many locations, in others might be seen as non-traditional, contrary to what has existed before. This is the so-called “lack of prior claim” argument: if it was not here at the beginning of our organization, our culture or our country, then it should not exist now.
We heard this theme voiced and written during the fight against the institution of slavery and against “Jim Crow,” when women began to organize for the right to vote, at the start of labor union organizing, calls for direct voting of U.S. Senators rather than leaving it to state legislators, movements to abolish gender-based clothing mandates and other restrictive gender roles, demands for marriage equality and many other progressive social, cultural and political changes.
The current bifurcated restroom designation contradicts the realities of peoples’ sexed bodies, gender identities and gender expressions. Many intersex people define neither as “male” nor as “female.” Which restroom must they choose, or which are they allowed to choose? The “sex” designation typed onto many trans* peoples’ official records assigned to them at birth simply do not accurately and integrally reflect their actual gender identities. They had no power or control at the time of their birth to list the category that most matched their actual gender identities, and many laws today make it extremely difficult and expensive to permit any changes.
Gender must be seen as a continuum rather than as constituting binary oppositions. Doctors assigned me “male” at birth, but I define myself more as gender-fluid. While I do not specifically identity as “trans*,” I never related to the “he, him, his” personal pronouns. I feel uneasy when anyone refers to me as “a guy” or as “a bachelor,” when men want to talk “man to man,” or tell people to “man up!” These terms are simply social artifice and hold no meaning for me. Thanks to the ground breaking work of my colleague, Davey Shlasko, I am employing the pronouns “they,” “their,” “theirs” as singular pronouns more closely aligned with my gender.
Basically, the criticism of maintaining bifurcated restroom facilities rests upon one primary foundation: cisgender male privilege. By permitting only cis-Johns and not Janes into their Johns, even in single-user facilities, cismen will perpetuate their unearned benefits. The ol’ boys club will remain safe and secure, keeping the gender infidels outside the perimeters as the barricades hold firm.
Other states in addition to Florida are considering similar laws. In Texas, for example, a proposed bill, HR 2801, includes a provision that would offer students $ 2,000 for reporting and claiming “mental anguish” for having to share restroom facilities with students of another sex.
The proposed laws will further marginalize and intimidate trans* and intersex people, and will function as supplementary reinforcements to the shields guarding cismen their unearned entitlements. They will use these shields to continue to float, as many have always, unconsciously and uncritically down the mainstream of gender inequality.
Thank you Genny Beemyn for your insightful editorial suggestions.
Gay Voices – The Huffington Post