Written By: Michelle Topal, MSW, LCSW – Psychotherapist Raleigh & Durham NC
With the repealing of parts of HB2 this week, and McCrory’s further controversial executive order, the most dangerous part of the law still is firmly in place. McCrory reaffirmed HB2 as “common sense” legislation and for safety in the most “private of places”. I agree that going to the bathroom is a private place that should be safe to all, not only for women and children, as has been the argument, but also for those who are transgender. What is the most concerning of the “misinformation” (to use a term used by McCrory about opponents) supporting the “bathroom” portion of the Bill, is the notion that women and children are most at risk for assault and most unsafe in bathrooms with transgender people. The fact is, that it is our transgender and gender non-conforming community members that are the ones who statistically have been and are most at risk for violence. What this bill accomplishes is open season on discriminating against people we perceive as transgender. I say perceive, because in an attempt label what we don’t understand, we are ignoring the obvious; we really have no way to know.
This reminds me of the early days of AIDS, when people justified their discriminating against gay men by being “afraid of” gay men because they might get AIDS from them. So, people would guess at who they thought might be gay, and justify discriminating against them (this was one of my early experiences in working at a restaurant in Raleigh, where a waiter was asked to be less “gay” by the owner, because “people were afraid of AIDS”. ). The Nazis did the same thing with Jews, people they thought were “homosexual” (this is where pink triangle came from), and anyone they perceived as different or deviant. In fact, the notion that people might have to carry around their birth certificates [to justify which bathroom they use], is also a scary reminder of Nazi tactics. lgbt rights.
On its face, bathroom policing is impossible to enforce and just makes no sense. First of all, unless you are able to see through clothes or are watching someone under a stall, you are not able to see if someone’s genitals are consistent with the bathroom they are using. Second, if they have had reassignment surgery, their external genitals may be consistent with the bathroom they are using, but they are not in the bathroom of the sex they were born to. So, does this mean someone who is a woman (genitally and in gender presentation) should go into the men’s bathroom because that is the sex they were born to? How do we make sense of this and how scary for all. Third, how will anyone, but the person who inhabits that body, life experience and history know who and what they are, and be able to make sense of it? Fourth, who will enforce this? The police? The person in the bathroom? An outside observer? And how will it get determined? Do you ask the person? Are they arrested and forced to be examined? How do you justify this type of invasion with just a hunch? And again, examination may not be sufficient to untangle the complexities of our physical selves, gender, sex and identity.
The fact is, the complexities of who we are does not always distill down so easily into male/female, man/woman. I have been part of the LGBT community since the early 80’s in NY. I have seen the beauty of diversity and people along the spectrum of gender and sexual identity. I have seen the most beautiful women, who were not born that way and beautiful women who made other women in a locker room question whether they should be in the women’s locker room. People are not always what you think they are and some people are not what they always were. Our primitive brain is our survival brain and it may need to know gender and male/female. But our primitive brain is just that, primitive. Our more evolved human brain is capable of comprehending, accepting and effectively evaluating that people don’t fit into boxes, even when they seem to. Someone else’s differences [from me] does not detract from our sameness and connection.
Transgender and gender non-conforming people have already been in the bathroom with women and children. There was no outcry or problem voiced by the community at large, that is, until the LGBT community sought to protect transgender people from the violence they (transgender people) were experiencing. To use McCrory’s words [about Charlotte’s initial ordinance], HB2 has “created a solution to a problem that does not exist” This legislation not only doesn’t protect [anyone], but it makes it legitimate to police and do harm to transgender or gender non-conforming people or people we think are transgender. This puts a target on anyone we think may not belong in the bathroom with us. It does this by not only telling the community at large that we should be watchful and afraid, but by legitimizing taking into our own hands any action we think appropriate. This law legalizes personal perception and fear based discretion. I hope, instead we stand together to protect those who are most at risk for assault; those who are gender non conforming and transgender. We do need to be vigilant. If we see someone who may be [seen as] transgender being targeted or potentially at risk, we need to step in to protect them. We can help to de-escalate, educate and not further isolate, by buddying up with any transgender person who may seem vulnerable to attack. If you want to identify you are a [bathroom] ally, you can order your pins here. Let’s work to end the attack on people who are transgender and gender non conforming, by challenging discriminatory policy, practices and misinformation.
Michelle Topal, LCSW is an LGBT therapist in Raleigh & Durham NC, who specializes in LGBT issues child therapy, family counseling, parenting support & couples therapy Durham & Raleigh NC.
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