One of the things I set out to do with this blog is to talk about why it is that trans* issues create a complex interplay of conflicts between groups.
The bathroom/locker room issue is one where I feel both sides are talking past each other, rather than to each other. So let’s talk about it. This is what I’ve seen, by reading things from both sides and trying to get past the intense personal rages that tend to frame these discussions on both sides.
Trans people, by and large, aren’t rapists and have no interest in sexually assaulting or causing any type of physical or emotional harm. Many trans women, in particular, believe (often rightfully so) that their physical safety and mental health could be endangered by men in men’s locker rooms or bathrooms.
I accept all of this, completely. However, what I don’t accept is the idea that no men will take advantage of there being a legitimated way to gain access to women’s spaces. Let’s talk about some numbers.
It’s hard to estimate the actual number of men who are or will become rapists in the United States. While very large percentages of women and smaller percentages of men are rape victims, studies suggest that a large majority of rapes are committed by rapists who rape several different individuals, resulting in there being a smaller percentage of rapists than rape victims. However, the prevalence of rapists in the male population is still estimated at somewhere in the vicinity of 10 percent.
Let’s take a high school as our setting for a bathroom conflict of interests, so I can show you why it’s complicated to allow transwomen access to women’s spaces at some times, and why that doesn’t mean in any way that someone believes all trans women, most trans women, or even ANY trans women are rapists.
Let’s say this high school is about the size of the high school I attended back in the age of the dinosaurs–so about 1500 students.
That’s 750 males, 750 females.
Based on the prevalence of trans* people in the population (around three-tenths of a percent), if all trans* kids came out, there would be about 4-5 trans students in the school, 2-3 of whom would be trans girls.
Now, let’s say you have a locker room–it could be a locker room like the one I had to change in every day, the girls’ swimming locker room, in which full nudity was necessary for changing into and out of your bathing suit. It’s my contention that the issue isn’t with the 2-3 trans girls, who are just trying to escape male violence that they could be exposed to in the men’s locker room.
Let’s consider, for a moment, the 75 rapists.
Out of 750 boys in the school, 75 of them are already or will become rapists at some point in their lifetime. A number of the ones who do not become actual rapists will still be creeps of some variety, including your garden-variety flashers, subway masturbators, and abusers.
Do you sincerely believe that out of 75 men sociopathic enough to believe rape is something they’re entitled to, not one of those men would see a naked-girls-changing-clothing space as so worth invading that it’s also worth jumping through some gender hoops for?
Think of the most psychotic assholes who went to your high school. If they were anything like the people who went to mine, they were males who’d have done basically anything to be creepy perverted assholes. They knew how to suck up to people in power to make it all look unintentional, so they never got in trouble.
And all it takes is one. When women’s locker rooms aren’t penis-free zones, the first rape that occurs makes women less likely to go to the gym, to participate in sports, to gain all of the benefits of physical activity that those locker rooms once gave them access to. Women’s locker rooms, especially for pools and other spaces involving full nudity, were never comfortable places for me as a young woman–but neither were they places where I felt like I had to fear rape.
Now, this means–painfully clearly!–that there should be some place for trans* people to change and use the bathroom where they are not subject to that kind of risk, because those 75 rapists are still around in the men’s locker room. Please know that I’m not saying that trans women should just use men’s facilities, risking harm.
The solution that seems most obvious to me would be to have a third locker room that involved exclusively individual-sized lockable stalls with good privacy, rather than a large open space for changing–which could be used by any person of any gender identity or sex to change in. I suspect that some women who currently use women’s facilities might switch to such individual compartment changing rooms, since I have seen large numbers of girls and women who change in the bathroom, risking terrible accidents involving bikinis and toilet water, just so they won’t be seen naked, even by other women. Not having had the ability to observe men in their native locker room habitats, I don’t know if the same thing goes for them.
If it turns out everyone prefers individual compartment rooms, great, let’s convert locker rooms into that–it wouldn’t be the first time that society had changed how we do rooms in order to create additional privacy. Anyone who’s traveled abroad for some time, or who has studied history and how houses and castles used to look, has probably seen a row of toilet holes, with no dividers. At some point, folks here decided that we’d really rather not watch our neighbors take a dump, regardless of their sex or how well acquainted we were. It may be that it’s come time to do the same with locker rooms.
I think a lot of trans* people, and a lot of women (and, hell, probably some men, too, though I don’t know enough about their overall locker room shyness levels, as I said), would be able to use these facilities. When trans* women say that this kind of situation isn’t enough (I’m thinking here of the Evergreen State situation, in which a transgender woman was first told she could use a separate auxiliary women’s changing room, but not the changing room where other women were), it sets off red flags in a lot of women’s heads. Why? Because it suddenly looks like you’re not just trying to get away from an unsafe situation, but instead are creating a situation that others may perceive as potentially dangerous.
Sure, I understand the problems inherent to “separate but equal.” There needs to be understanding on the trans* side, though, that women aren’t just making up these concerns about rapists and their inability to feel safe in a space that previously was free from possible invasion by men who’d like to rape them.
Even if we make an assumption that zero trans women with penises will use that penis for rape (a bad assumption, as I’d think there are some rapists in any group of that size), it doesn’t mean that a fear of rape by men who are manipulating their way into a locker room is irrational. People born male are more than 30 times more likely to become a rapist than they are to transition into a feminine gender role, and that matters when it comes time for women to evaluate the risks of letting people with penises into spaces that had, heretofore, been penis-free.
There is no perfect solution, because we do not live in a perfect world. We live in a world with rapists, manipulators, liars. If there were no rape, we could easily have fully integrated communal bathrooms and changing rooms with no objections. That’s not the world we live in.
If you want to understand the bathroom problem from another perspective, let’s consider the perspectives of four groups of people–non-transgender males, non-transgender females, MtF trans* people, and FtM trans* people–as locker rooms open from being sex-segregated to being segregated by man/woman gender identity and/or expression.
For non-transgender males, this change is either neutral (if you’re not a creep) or, if you’re a really incredibly gross dude, it could be positive to you, because you might be able to gain entry into a women’s space to gawk or rape.
For MtF transgender people, this change is significantly positive, removing them from a large majority of potential rapists and into a space where they feel more comfortable, happy, and at ease.
For non-transgender females, the change is neutral to negative. Rape risks are real, and fears of manipulative men invading women’s spaces, sometimes even at great personal cost, are also real.
For FtM people, the change is unlikely to be positive and could be significantly negative. If an FtM person is forced to go to the men’s locker room, they risk rape for their gender-nonconformity. Their alternative is to stay in the women’s locker room, where they feel they do not belong.
So here’s the problem radical feminists have with that: do you notice the groups that are getting positive effects, and the groups that are getting negative ones? People born with penises, regardless of the gender they identify as, are at worst looking at a policy change that is neutral to them. People born with vaginas, on the other hand, regardless of their gender identity, are being hurt by this policy at worst and will find it neutral at best.
Now, let’s look at the three-bathroom idea, and how it affects those same groups of people:
Non-transgender men: this policy is neutral to positive for non-transgender men. Men who are embarrassed to change in the company of other men may prefer the third room, resulting in a positive experience versus the current configuration.
Transgender MtF people: this policy is positive, with caveats, for MtF people. It definitely decreases the risk of rape or harassment that could befall an MtF person in a men’s locker room. However, the positives of this may be tempered for some MtF people by the fact that going to a separate locker room would seem like it was invalidating some aspect of their gender identity.
Non-transgender females: This policy would be neutral to positive for non-transgender females. Some of these women would choose to use a third bathroom.
FtM people: This policy would be positive–few FtM people were able to use men’s locker rooms without fear of harassment or rape. The policy allows FtM people to go into a safe space locker room that isn’t designated as being for the gender they do not identify with.
So, that’s the bathroom/locker room problem. It’s complicated, and like I said, no solution is perfect because we don’t live in a perfect world. But could we maybe take a few minutes for everyone to acknowledge that yes, both sides in this intense disagreement have very real fears about assault, rape, and identity, and that any good solution for these issues will, in fact, work by taking those fears into account rather than dismissing them out of hand?