So now let’s come back to HB2. That law stripped localities from the ability to provide more anti-discrimination protections than offered by the state, but it’s mostly known as the bathroom bill. It stated that people using public bathrooms had to use the facility matching the gender stated on their birth certifications. Our then governor – Pat McCrory – said it was no big deal because trans people could just have that document changed. Either he was mistaken or intentionally lying, because it’s not that simple. Across the full range of gender difference – from intersex conditions to transgender identity – birth certificates don’t always match the person’s expressed gender. Simply changing the birth certificate isn’t an option for everyone, though, as NC law only permits such a change if sex reassignment surgery has been completed.
Gender identity isn’t based in anatomy, though. Consider, for example, how you know you’re a boy or a girl. When I asked my own children that question, they – ages 5 to 10 – each spoke first about how they felt and not what they see in their underwear or what combination of chromosomes appear in their 23rd pair. That’s exactly how my transgender friends describe their identity, based in the brain and not the rest of their body. As such, surgery – while chosen by some – isn’t necessary. When I was in middle school, my mom endured health issues leading to a hysterectomy and hormone supplementation. It would be an understatement to say that process was hard on her body. Likewise, even those who would prefer a surgical approach might choose not to do so, preferring to accept their present bodies rather than enduring the procedures involved to change them. Furthermore, the hormones and procedures involved can be costly, so economic reasons often influence the decision not to pursue medical interventions. Finally, for youth who identify as transgender or experience gender dysphoria, medical interventions might not be appropriate developmentally.
Under HB2, many of our neighbors who identify as a different gender than indicated on their birth certificates can’t use the bathroom matching their identity. They have to decide to abide by this law and face the social repercussions for doing so (for example, when a transgender man – living in full appearance as a man but whose birth certificate still says female – enters the women’s bathroom, do you expect him to be welcome there?) or break the law and use the bathrooms they’ve been using all along. And if they break the law? This measure has no means for enforcement or policing.
This bill was introduced, passed, and signed in less than a day, spending $42,000 in taxpayer money on the unnecessary special session. The extraordinarily short time span from introduction to signing meant that few voices spoke into the issues present in the bill. That led to some changes being made in June, but the reality is that everything about HB2 was rushed and reactionary. The Charlotte ordinance was, even as it was passed, expected to be overturned by the state, but no immediate danger required the cost and haste of HB2.
(And most of the negative information shared about what happened in Charlotte proved to be inaccurate once I dug into the bill itself. Here’s a bit of background. When the narrative presented fits the story a little too easily, then it’s helpful to look into it all more deeply.)
This week, news outlets are reporting about the HB2 repeal. You might assume I’m happy about that, given my HB2 concerns. I’m not. This “repeal” – called HB 142 – was similarly hasty, offers no new protections for the LGBTQ+ community, and bans municipalities from creating their own protections until after the next presidential election. Can our trans neighbors use the bathroom of their choosing under HB 142? No one can answer that. It’s murky. We’re back to maybe, maybe not, which is the realm in which we existed before. Given the egregious power grabs by our GOP majority general assembly here in North Carolina, I expect to see less dignity extended from here on, so this seems like the high point under the current legislators.
Looking at HB142, I can’t imagine that businesses who pulled out of the state will be coming back. People might not like decisions like those made thus far by the NCAA, but the precedent is there. They refused to hold pre-selected championship games in South Carolina for 15 years because of the Confederate flag flying over their statehouse. They lifted that ban in 2015 after the state changed course. I hope it doesn’t take 15 years for our state to change, but I have no problem with the NCAA making decisions based on the perceived impact of HB2 and now HB142 on the fans and players drawn to their sites.
On concerns about bathroom assaults
What about the risk of bathroom assaults by those who aren’t transgender, though, and who enter the opposite gender bathroom? First, the population at risk in public bathrooms are transgender men and women. According to a paper out of the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, 70% of transgender people report being denied access, verbally harassed, or physically assaulted in public restrooms. If you search for bathroom assaults involving transgender individuals, you’ll find they’re the victims, not the perpetrators.
Second, when people offer stories of bathroom assaults against women and children, read them carefully. More often than not, the incidents occur in the absence of any transgender-friendly legislation and without any attempt by the offender to be considered transgender. No one in this debate is denying that bathrooms should be safe places. But pointing at laws allowing transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their choice in certain locations and then pointing to unrelated bathroom incidents (often in other locations where no such laws exist) doesn’t make for a sound argument. That doesn’t even show correlation, much less causation.
Third, if we’re concerned about men entering the bathroom to assault women and girls, then shouldn’t we be concerned about those men assaulting boys in their own bathrooms? The crimes that are real are definitely worth preventing. But as I said on Kristen Howerton’s blog, “Let’s hold accountable those who commit crimes when and if they commit them, instead of asking trans people to sacrifice bathroom safety to pay for crimes that non-trans people might possibly commit someday.
Here’s the reality: Only 10% of child sex assaults are committed by strangers. Meanwhile, 30% are family members and 60% are otherwise known to the child, including neighbors, childcare providers, or church volunteers. So boycotting Target doesn’t add up to me, which is why I wrote the piece quoted above – albeit anonymously because I wasn’t public about my rapes at that time – back in May. I shop at Target without pause. I live with PTSD from sexual assault, yet I’m comfortable using Target’s bathroom and letting my kids do so. Boycotting the store just doesn’t add up to me.
On changing rooms and school locker rooms
What about changing rooms in gyms or school locker rooms? I don’t understand the lack of common sense in most of our rhetoric about this. Why create false dichotomies? Are we really so lacking in creativity that we can only imagine two possibilities: either that every child, regardless of gender identity, needs to change in the locker room matching their biological sex or anatomy or that accommodating gender identity has to involve the exposure of opposite sex genitalia to all kids? Why can’t we figure out a third way?
I agree that I don’t want my girls to see a penis in their middle school locker rooms, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want a transgender girl to be accommodated so she doesn’t have to use the boys’ locker room. (Same goes in reverse for not wanting my boys seeing vaginas but still wanting transgender boys to have a safe place among boys.) The transgender kids I know don’t want to be exposed to their classmates either, so I think this is much ado about nothing. I’ve observed situations in which transgender kids are accommodated in dignifying ways while the needs of other students are considered too. Sure, creativity is sometimes needed – especially in facilities that don’t offer much privacy in the first place – but our Creator made us in his image, which means we can be creative too. It’s not impossible, y’all.
And sometimes new facilities will be needed. I see this as a win/win. It’s a win for transgender students to preserve their privacy and allow for their full inclusion in school settings. The pushback here is often that the population served is so statistically small that their needs don’t warrant sweeping changes. But? My daughter Zoe uses a wheelchair, along with 2.2 million other people in the US. In a country of 320 million, wheelchair users account for only 0.68% of our population. In the school aged population, the percentage is even smaller. Yet we still deem her and others in her situation as worthy of the accommodations necessary to use public facilities. Back before laws were passed in favor of such accommodations, some argued that they were too hard and too much for such a small group. We’ve made progress with those attitudes, thankfully, and that gives me hope that we can make progress here too. If she can be accommodated in public restrooms, why can't trans people?