Friday, April 15, 2016

Pardon Me, But Is This Seat Taken? A Few Words About Restrooms and Sexual Identity

As readers of Another Opinion should know by now, there are simply some stories I can't resist commenting on and this is one of them. Recently, the topic of who is allowed in what restroom has come to "head" (military humor intended) when several states having either passed legislation or has legislation pending that would prohibit transgendered individuals and those who identify opposite of their given birth gender from using a public restroom of the gender they identify as. The laws require individuals to use the public restrooms of their gender at birth. As a result, some companies such as PayPal and Deutsche Bank and entertainment types (most notably, Bruce "The Boss" Springsteen and Ringo Starr cancelled concerts in North Carolina, while producer Michael Moore has requested that none of his films be released in North Carolina, so I guess this may be more about symbolism than actual relevance) have decided not to do business there. Could this be, at its heart, an example of political correctness taken to its extreme or is this a legitimate concern or is there something else going on here?

Well, imagine that you're out in public, perhaps at the mall shopping, and you have to go to restroom. No big deal right? You simply find the nearest appropriate restroom. However, what if you're a transgendered individual---a guy or gal who psychologically considers him or herself the opposite gender and may (and most likely) even dresses the part. What do you do? If you're a transgendered female, someone who considers themselves an ordinary male, they would simply go into the men's restroom and do your business. Odds are they would use a stall; shut the door as any considerate individual would do and no one would be any wiser. Now, what if you're a transgendered male who thinks of themselves as a woman? They would most likely be dressed as a woman, and so naturally they would head to the ladies' restroom---or would they?

First off, women's restroom don't have urinals (don't worry, I "Googled" it to be sure), but that doesn't matter since they would likely head to the nearest available stall, shut the door, and get on with the business at hand. Now unless someone happens to catch a glimpse, no one would likely ever know, except perhaps by a close examination of a stubble while washing hands or the absence of an "Adam's Apple" by an extra observant woman, which might give it away. However, some individuals take hormone shots to reduce any male features, but those are usually expense and may be more than some are willing to pay for. So, thus far, it seems like there's little chance of anyone taking much note, so what's the hubbub?

I think the issue lies primarily with the women who fear either being accosted by a gender bending male in drag, or worse---a pedophile dressed as a woman entering a ladies' restroom. As most people know, little children---boys and girls---tend to go in the women's restroom with an accompanying female. Sometimes, if they're old enough, they may go alone. Of course, some young boys go to the men's room unaccompanied as well. This could set up the possibility of either child molestation, voyeurism, or worse...perhaps much worse. Of course, most restrooms---men's and women's---have changing tables for infants in them, but that still doesn't lessen the concern for any parent. While the odds of something happening are probably quite low, all it would take is just one instance of something happening to spark a serious backlash. So, the question is what to do, as a parent with children, a woman, or as a transgendered individual?

First, women tend to be more vulnerable to attack since men usually have stronger upper body strength. Secondly, women with children are obviously more vulnerable, while young children alone are the most vulnerable of all (I should point out that while this is something of a concern to men, it's much less likely to be viewed as a "threat" and more of simply an uncomfortable one). True, cameras , more security staff and/or more vigilant employees would help cut down on the threat, but what about the simply removing the threat altogether as these recent laws are attempting to do? Simply by banning any anatomically male or female from the restroom of the opposite sex would eliminate much of the threat, but what about the rights of the transgendered individuals to freely use the restroom? Tell them to "hold it" until they get home? We both know that's not going to work, and as local laws practically everywhere dictates, there has to be equal access to public restrooms, anyone attempting to institute a ban for one segment of the population is opening themselves up to a lawsuit (there are, of course, certain exceptions to restroom availability to the public---but not employees---which has to be uniformly enforced).

Well, one possible solution would be to mandate a certain number of single occupant/gender neutral restrooms like you might find in a office or medical building which either gender may use. This would allow anyone regardless of gender or gender preference to use the restroom in privacy. This has proved to be successful over the years and is employed pretty much everywhere. What if this idea was expanded? Perhaps multiple stall restrooms could be employed, such as having a certain percentage of restrooms designated for women, men, and all genders. The obvious downside to this could be that it indirectly discriminates as "Separate by Equal" , which the Supreme Court struck down back in the 1960's as unconstitutional since it would keep them from using the restroom of their gender choice. It could also be argued that by, even unofficially, designating a restroom for anybody, the fact that transgendered individuals are limited to only one restroom, could be viewed as sexual discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, plus I would imagine they could also plead some form of "psychological trauma" by feeling "singled out" and "put on view" by a restroom restriction.

While this might be an problem for employers, who may have to consider single occupant/ gender neutral restrooms, how would it work in public facilities like malls? Again, single occupant/ gender neutral restrooms could be used in any small business location such as a restaurant or clothing store, whereas in a place such as a mall, sporting venue, or other large facility, few, if any, would pay any attention where you were going into or out of a men's or women's restroom as opposed to a either/or one (of course, these absolutely must be clearly marked), but this obviously doesn't eliminate the possibility of someone simply ignoring the signs on the door or wall, and walking into the restroom of their choice. Then again, existing laws anywhere in the US doesn't preclude someone from doing the same thing.

So, what does this all boil down to and is there any solution all side can be happy with? If you look at where most of the new laws or pending legislation are, places like North Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Georgia, they are in the deep South, which is traditionally very conservative----politically, socially, and religiously. That's not going change no matter how many transplants move to the South. This then would be make the issue more of a cultural one; one where people's actions are governed more by a defined sense of right and wrong with not a lot of gray in between; you're a male or female. You don't get to choose. Period. They are perfectly willing for the most part to accept national reticule and economic boycotts if they believe what they're doing is right. This mentality has, and will continue to result in butting heads with the federal government. Nothing new there. There is also the nature uneasiness, primarily among women, of knowingly being in the restroom with stranger of the opposite sex. There is the fear of an invasion of privacy, of rape, molestation, voyeurism, and of potential pedophilia. No amount of judicial rulings or legislative decisions will ever change that. It's hardwired into us. In fact, there's an almost automatic revulsion at the mere thought of it, and even among harden criminals, it's considered the lowest of the low.

Federal, state, and local laws already make sexual discrimination illegal, and that includes sexual orientation. There's no getting around that. At the same time, judicial rulings dating from the 1960's have struck down most "separate but equal" laws, though these have usually pertained to matters of race but some enterprising attorney could...and will likely...try to apply the same legal theory to sexual orientation and the use of public restrooms. There is also the fact that the LGBTQ community is large and very politically active, especially in the media and entertainment industries. This can bring a lot of pressure down on not just the states or legislators in question through lobbyists and lawsuits, but by creating a negative public image and promoting some form of economic impact, such as jobs or tourism.

Lastly, there is the human element. Everyone of us is born a male or female. As we grow and mature, and that includes emotionally, physically, intellectually, and chemically, we begin to establish our own individual identity, which includes our sexual identity. Some, and there are many, who would argue that anything other than heterosexuality is simply "not natural" and those who "deviate" have somehow made a conscientious "choice" ; that by the same token, they can be "cured" if only they'd make a different "choice". I don't think it's, for the most part, a matter of "choice". I think for most, it's a bio-chemical. Something in the brain says one thing while biology says another. Perhaps it's a matter of acting on what your brain is telling you. I don't know. I'm strictly a hetero kind of guy, but I can say that I have never met someone who was gay---or bi, lesbian, or transgendered---that said it was simply a choice they made one day. The only "choice" they made was in not fighting who they were. As an aside, homosexuality has been around since the beginning of civilization in one form or another and with varying degrees of acceptance.

Yet, none of this changes the central question at hand---should someone not biologically male or female be allowed to use the same restroom or other facilities of the opposite gender? If so, how do we adapt as a society? How do we adjust to our natural instincts to protect ourselves, our children, and our loved ones who we perceived---rightly or wrongly---to potentially be threatened? I think the only answer to adopt some form gender neutral/single occupant restroom for small businesses, offices, and/or medical buildings as well as designate certain, multi-occupant, restrooms gender neutral for transgendered individuals and those simply not bothered by who is standing (or sitting) next to them. It's not a perfect solution. Perhaps there never will be. There have been and will always be those individuals who will dress and act according to a certain gender for the wrong reasons just as there has and will always be those who have done so because that's who they see themselves as. Nevertheless, we should be cautious about trying to force our prejudices or beliefs---whatever they are ---on others just because we agree or disagree.

For the last 20 or so years now, we've been dealing with an enemy who has no tolerance for other religious beliefs or social attitudes outside of their narrow parameters and has no qualms about murdering to enforce their own moral guidelines. Unfortunately, this same mentality reared its head a mere 83 years---within the lifetime of our parents or grandparents or great grandparents as it has down through Man's history. Perhaps this is some inherent indication that such deviations are not "natural" or "normal" within our species and it's our hardwired instincts which cause us to lash out periodically at any social or biological deviance, even under the guise of a divine mandate. Naturally, that's not to imply that individuals with strong religious or moral convictions are plotting to throw people off roofs or roast anyone, but neither should they be forced to abandon their beliefs either. As long as we value the individual, free choice and all the baggage that carries, we have to seek a middle ground that everyone can accept. That's the compromise that civilization must make if it's to survive.

North Carolina governor says he wants bathroom law partially changed....

Corporations push for LGBT legislation in North Carolina

Sex Discrimination, Gender Identity, and Title VII

New Title VII and EEOC Rulings Protect Transgendered Employees

Parents Outraged Over Transgendered Bathroom Law

Florida Law Would Make It A Crime For Transgender People To Use Public Bathrooms

Georgia, North Carolina bills are about LGBT discrimination. Period.

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