In which I critique a magazine article about transgender people’s bathroom access

The article I am critiquing is “Stall Wars” by Gene Callahan. I am going to go through it paragraph by paragraph (instead of quoting the full thing, I’ll quote the parts I am responding to on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis. One may refer to the full article for context).

The Trump administration has made headlines, as it seems to do about once every 15 minutes (if my feed from CNN is accurate), by rescinding the Obama administration’s executive order on school bathroom policies … So a policy that was never put in place was “protecting” transgender students, and revoking that policy will leave them defenseless, as apparently merely suggesting the policy was some sort of super-shield against “hate.”

This is obviously merely another excuse for outlets that already despise Trump to despise him some more.

Yes, I do understand that the executive order never took effect because the judge blocked it. However, even though rescinding this specific executive order has little direct effect, it is a signal of how the president intends to handle trans* policy. And that is why I do not think this is “merely another excuse for outlets that already despise Trump to despise him some more.”

… Solutions to social problems should start with the individual and the local community, and should rise to higher levels of organization only when there is strong evidence of malfeasance at the lower level.

Let’s see where the writer is going with this. (Spoiler: the writer contradicts this point later in the article).

The “gender diversity” activists often say that the advocates of bills such as those in North Carolina and Texas are trying to paint all transgendered people as sexual predators, but that is just about the opposite of the truth: orders like de Blasio’s specifically forbid any attempt to differentiate biological males who really do self-identify as women from perverts who realize that the mayor has created a handy way for them to gain access to their victims…

Errr, what is a ‘biological male’? Is it someone with XY chromosomes? It is someone who has a penis? Is it someone whose testosterone levels fall within the 225–900 ng/dL range? The subsets “has XY chromosomes” “has penis” and “has testosterone in the 225–900 ng/dL range” do not entirely overlap, and I honestly do not know which subset the writer is referring to.

Also, I think “biological males who really do self-identify as women” is really wordy. Why not just say “transwomen”? Especially since the writer is trying to present himself as not being bigoted towards trans* people.

The reason to start at the local level is that it’s here where people meet face-to-face … one is too likely to confront [an opponent’s] humanity on a daily basis to easily turn him into a devil.

I don’t disagree, but … what about when the local level is the problem? For example, what about when a critical mass of a trans* person’s face-to-face acquaintances think that being trans* is sinful, and that they believe they need to shun the trans* person to keep in God’s good graces, or something like that?

Also, trans* people have already started at the local level, and they continue to do a lot at the local level. If merely working at the local level had been enough to solve major problems for trans* people such as, say, stop the trans* unemployment rate from being double the overall unemployment rate, I doubt trans* people would have bothered taking it beyond the local level.

…If a biological man wants to dress up like a woman, or a woman wants to dress up like a man, it really does not concern most people. And if someone who “presents” as a woman, despite having a penis, goes quietly into a stall in the women’s bathroom, goes about his/her business, and leaves, most people will be happy to leave that person alone. When there are special situations, like an inter-sexed child who has trouble fitting in with their assigned locker room, the average person is happy to create accommodations to make the child comfortable. And this is especially true, again, at the local level, where the child is a real human being, rather than a symbol in a political struggle…

Again, with the “biological man [who] wants to dress up like a woman” thing, and now “woman [who] wants to dress up like a man”. This makes it clear that the writer believes that transwomen are men pretending to be women, and that transmen are men pretending to be women. I think this is the real reason why this writer chooses lengthy phrases instead of words such as ‘transwoman’ and ‘transman’. Also, I would not claim that “the average person is happy to create accommodations to make the [intersex] child comfortable” without doing research on the real lives of intersex people. Furthermore, I am going to quote this comment:

Have you met us? Few people are “average”. Roughly half are above average and half are below average. So half the time, you’re going to encounter someone who is below average. About 1/6th the time, you’ll encounter someone at least one-sigma below average and 1/40th of the time a 2-sigma ‘low-ender’. There are quite a number of public institutions with bathrooms and quite a number of people in charge of them.

I can see the logic of winning people over to an idea at the grass roots to build consensus but if you believe that the average person would reach a good accommodation for inter-sexed children and if you agree that the choice has great impact on the welfare of those children, then why would you cast their fates to the whims of chance?

Anyway, continuing with the main article.

But it was transgender activists who disrupted the possibility of achieving these local accommodations by bringing down the heavy hand of legislation and executive orders. In New York City, for instance, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared that “Access to bathrooms and other single-sex facilities is a fundamental human right that should not be restricted or denied to anyone.” Which is a fairly obvious self-contradiction, since if no one is denied access to a bathroom or changing area, surely it is no longer “single-sex”!

Actually, that’s not obvious. The vast majority of places which have single-sex facilities have two sets, and a plausible interpretation of that de Blasio quote is that he means that nobody can be denied entry to both sets.

The article then goes on to quote de Blasio’s order:

Executive Order 16 requires all New York City agencies to ensure that City employees and members of the public have access to single-sex facilities, such as bathrooms and locker rooms in City buildings and areas, consistent with their gender identity or expression without being required to show identification, medical documentation, or any other form of proof or verification of gender.

I appreciate that the article did quote de Blasio’s executive order directly. Let’s see what the article has to say about it.

In other words, it is now illegal to prevent anyone at all from using any public “single-sex” facility, just so long as they declare their “gender identity” is the same as the sex designated on the door.

The executive order does nothing to make it illegal to prevent someone who, for example, is wielding a knife in a threatening manner, from entering a public bathroom.

…Contrary to the repeated refrain of those advocating these laws, that “they have never created any problems,” they already have, and we can be certain that as the population of voyeurs, molesters, and rapists figures out the import of these new dictates, we will see more such cases.

Okay, I’m going to look at that link, and report back.

[goes off to look at link]

[comes back]

Here’s my report of that link. The headline is “5 Times ‘Transgender’ Men Abused Women And Children In Bathrooms”. Now, I originally thought that headline meant transmen, and that it would be stories about transmen who went into women’s bathrooms and abused women. Which confused me, because if transmen were abusing women in women’s bathrooms, why would the writer oppose allowing transmen to use men’s bathrooms instead of women’s bathrooms?

Anyway, the first example is the incident in which a (cis) man entered the women’s locker room at Evans Pool in Seattle. Since the man never even claimed he was trans*, I do not know why this is on a list of examples of ‘transgender’ men abusing women and children in bathrooms. I agree with this analysis.

Anyway, example #2 is sexual assault, and examples #3-#5 are people peeping on/filming women and/or children in bathrooms. Hey, that’s all illegal! It was illegal before any ordinance/executive order/law regarding trans* bathroom access was put in place, and it still illegal afterwards. If these people are already willing to break the laws against sexual assault and filming people in bathrooms/showers without consent, then how would a law about who is allowed to use which bathroom stop them? What’s to stop them from saying “My religion requires me to enter women’s bathrooms, and keeping me out of the women’s bathroom is violating my religious freedom” or something like that?

And one person in the comments section says:

This whole controversy strikes me as wildly overblown. There are already plenty of laws against harassment and assault. These should be sufficient for dealing with creepers.

Back to the article itself…

What’s more, these activists never rise to their own challenge and provide evidence of any widespread problem that these laws are addressing.

Okay, this is wrong. Flat-out wrong. Trans activists have been providing evidence of a widespread problem for years. For example, there is this article:

Relieving yourself outside the comfort of your own bathroom will give even the overly confident some understandable anxiety. But for transgender people, it’s more than just nerve-racking, it’s dangerous, according to a survey released this week.

The survey, published in the Journal of Public Management and Social Policy, found that 70 percent of responders have been denied entrance, were harassed or assaulted when attempting to use a public restroom of their identifying gender.

And it’s no surprise that these traumatic experiences affect the daily life of transgender people, the survey points out. More than half of respondents reported having physical problems, including dehydration or kidney infections, because they “held it” to avoid using public bathrooms.

More than half also said they have skipped leaving the house because they didn’t feel safe in public, the study says.

That sure seems to me like an existing problem of serious magnitude.

Additionally, I am going to make a linkspam, and exclude anything from after December 31, 2010, just to make it clear that trans* advocates have been documenting the bathroom access problem for years.

Special Linkspam of Trans* Advocates Providing Evidence of Bathroom Access Problems

Re: “Bathrooms for the transgendered” (December 24, 2007)
Maine Human Rights Commission Rules In Favor Of Transwoman (May 21, 2009)
“Some Transgender Bathroom Background” & “More Transgender Bathroom Background” (October 25, 2006)
There is this old blog which collects stories of trans* people who have been harassed in bathrooms.
“Bathrooms in Arizona, Letter to the Advocate (August 3, 2007)
“Alternative Places to Piss” (October 7, 2007)

I put this linkspam together really fast, so yes, I am sure it could be much improved, but the point is not to make the best linkspam ever, but to point in the general direction of just how much documentation of problems with trans* people having access to bathrooms there is out there.

Note that I was able to put that linkspam together even though I am a cis person with no expertise in trans* issues. In other words, since *I* was able to throw this linkspam together in a short period of time, that means that this is all information which is readily available to anybody who can read English and has an internet connection. And I cannot help but notice that the evidence presented in all of these links “of [a] widespread problem that these laws are addressing” is SO MUCH BETTER THAN THE EVIDENCE THIS WRITER PRESENTS to support the claim that anti-trans-discrimination statues enable sexual harassment/assault in bathrooms that it makes the evidence the writer presents seem pathetic.

Looking at this, it seems that the trans* advocates are indeed trying to solve a existing practical problem of serious magnitude, and that the article writer is the one who is trying to defend some particular notion of how gender is and that his ideas about gender are the “essential nature of humankind”.

And it was in response to a similar law, passed in Charlotte, that the North Carolina “bathroom bill” was passed. (By the way, the North Carolina policy permits people to “re-sex” themselves on their birth certificate so they can quietly go about their business in the restroom they wish to use.)…

Well, I did a quick check, and found that North Carolina will only change the sex on a birth certificate if there is a notarized statement from a physician who has done sex-reassignment surgery on the person, or of a physician who has examined a person’s gentalia and confirmed that sex-reassignment surgery was performed. Some trans* people do not do such surgery, so they would not be able to change the sex on their birth certificates. Also, some trans* people who live in North Carolina were not born in North Carolina. Some were born in states where changing the sex in the birth certificate is even more difficult than in North Carolina, or in the case of a few states (such as Ohio) currently impossible. And then there are the trans* people who were born outside of the United States…

Oh, and here is part of another comment from the article, by LisaMullin

The other points made are almost too ridiculous to comment on, but since misconceptions seem rife:
(1) North Carolina makes it nearly impossible for transgender people to change their birth certificates. It requires full gender confirming surgery, which excludes all trans adolescents since the minimum age for this is at least 18.
(2) Some states are framing legislation based on the original birth certificate, therefore changing it will have no affect.

We see the absurdity of this position with the young trans male being forced to wrestle with girls, because they are classified as one and they cannot change that designation.

Anyway, back to the original article…

So it was the transgender activists who disrupted the status quo, blocking the ability of communities to work out reasonable solutions to these matters on their own. The bills so far passed in North Carolina and contemplated in Texas may be heavy-handed, but have no doubt, it is the activists who are forcing the situation here … In response to this attempt to protect their daughters, [the supporters of HB2] are being told they are “bigots,” and that their state will be economically crushed by “caring” organizations like the NFL and NBA if they persist in trying to protect those girls.

So … the writer who advocates solving these issues at the local level supports a state law which prevents local communities with coming up with their own solutions. The comments section definitely notices this. Here are some quotes…

From Oakinhou:

It’s surprising that, for all the recommendations on subsidiarity as the only way forward, Mr. Callahan is glossing over the fact that North Carolina HB2 started as a way to take away from local communities, like Charlotte, the ability to decide locally on these matters.

If Mr Callahan truly favors subsidiarity, he would reject NC HB2. Let’s see if he follows through on what he preaches.

From peanut:

“Leave it to the localities” is such a tired cliche. The most current clash on bathroom rights started in North Carolina, where the city council passed a non-discrimination ordinance, and the state legislature passed a bill that nullified it. So- at what “local” level should decisions be made? Should states stay out?

From chipcassin:

This whole kerfluffle probably would not have happened as it did had the state legislators in North Carolina not themselves obviated local municiple [sic] control with state mandates. To now claim subsidiarity at this point borders on fart level comedy.

Also, Charlotte is not the first place ever to have an anti-trans-discrimination ordinance. Quite a few states, and hundreds of cities, have also passed ordinances/laws/statues/orders that trans* people be allowed to use bathrooms consistent with their gender, and this writer completely failed to mention all of the drastic increases in sexual predation happening in bathrooms as a result of those ordinances/laws/statues/orders … oh wait a minute, that might be because there was no increase. Given that it has been demonstrated by literally hundreds of real-life experiments that ordinances such as the one Charlotte passed do not increase sexual predation of girls in bathrooms, no, these parents are doing nothing to protect their daughters by supporting bills like HB2 (in fact, they are probably harming their trans* daughters – see all of the links above about how bathroom discrimination hurts trans* people).

(I hope my focus on biological men’s interest in women’s private areas is not deemed “sexist.” I think I am on empirically firm footing when I say the odds of a woman being raped by a man are astronomically higher than the reverse, and that there are far more male voyeurs than female voyeurs…)

Okay, it’s the ‘biological men’ thing again! I could not find any statistics about what percentage of sexual predation is done by cis people, and what percentage is done by trans* people, so I cannot cite them. First of all, that footing might not be as empirically firm as the writer thinks (and, on a more personal note, I have been sexually harassed by women, and in my experience, it is just as bad as being sexual harassed by men, which I have also experienced). However, based on what I have read about sexual predation, social forces seems to have a much stronger effect on whether or not someone will be a sexual predator than biology. Female sexual predation perpetrators have not been studied nearly as well as male perpetrators, but in the case of male perpetrators, sexual predations is associated with certain types of extreme masculinity (I emphasize ‘certain types’ – not all types of masculinity encourage sexual predation). Transwomen explicitly reject masculinity, so to the extent that they engage in sexual predation, they are more likely to do so for the reasons that ciswomen engage in sexual predation … and ciswomen are already in women’s bathrooms! Though I do not have data to back me up, I think the odds that a transwoman would sexual prey upon me are roughly the same that a ciswoman would sexually prey upon me.

The “gender diversity” activists often say that the advocates of bills such as those in North Carolina and Texas are trying to paint all transgendered people as sexual predators, but that is just about the opposite of the truth: orders like de Blasio’s specifically forbid any attempt to differentiate biological males who really do self-identify as women from perverts who realize that the mayor has created a handy way for them to gain access to their victims.

You know what differentiates “biological males who really do self-identify as women from [sexual predators]”? (I did that word switch because some people do consider transwomen to be ‘perverts’ even if they never hurt anybody ever). Whether they actually sexually prey upon people. And nothing in de Blasio’s order forbids distinguishing between “sexually preys upon people” and “does not prey upon people.”

…To convince my many progressive friends that this approach—adopting a respect for local preferences and not trying to economically crush localities that pass laws you don’t like—is their best bet right now, I might suggest that starting a civil war, when the other side owns the vast majority of the guns in the nation and has most of the police and military on its side, is probably not a winning proposition.

Let me flip this around. How about “adopting a respect for local preferences and not trying to threaten with the use of guns, police, and military—is their best bet right now, I might suggest that starting a civil war, when the other side can economically crush you, is probably not a winning proposition.” Okay, I take the issues of wielding economic power and wielding guns/police/military more seriously than that, and there are a lot of implications of one group in this nation having one type of power, and another group having another type of power, but that is not the topic of this post. I’m just trying to make the point that suggesting that it’s wrong to use economic threats, but that using threats based on guns/police/military is alright … is not convincing. And the last time I checked, boycotts are legal, and threatening to hurt people with is not, and futhermore, most people consider those who use boycotts to promote their cuase to have higher moral ground than people who use guns to promote their cause.

Of course, this article is full of stale old arguments against anti-trans discrimination policies which were stale and old ten years ago. However, since they keep getting recycled, and evidently have some effect on policy, they are still worth critiquing. If you are wondering why I did not criticize some particular aspect of this article, the answer is probably because either a) I am not an expert on trans* issues or b) I did not want this post to be even longer than it already is.

Why critique this article? 1) it was linked in the linkspam of a blog I respect and 2) I looked at the comments sections of a mainstream news article I saw about the rescinding that executive order. Out of about 50 comments, I could not find a single trans-friendly comment on that mainstream news article, which surprised me. The combination of those two things convinced me that it was worth writing this critique (which is super-long by the standards of this blog).

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2 thoughts on “In which I critique a magazine article about transgender people’s bathroom access

  1. I was sexually assaulted in a bathroom when I was about 3 or 4. Both me and the perpetrator were cis female. (She was also a foster sibling, and sexually assaulted me in several other contexts as well.) It was also a single user bathroom (in our home), so no one else of either gender was supposed to be in there with me. So yeah, if they want to protect people like me, keeping AMAB people from using the same bathrooms as me does nothing to change the danger I faced in the bathroom.

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