After Target’s transgender bathroom policy and North Carolina’s bathroom bill, bathrooms are the current battleground where liberals and conservatives alike fight for their values. The liberal side argues that everyone deserves the right to use the bathroom that matches his or her gender identity rather than biological sex, while conservatives counter that this opens doors for predators to access young children of the opposite gender. A solution to both concerns would be the addition of gender-neutral bathrooms and family bathrooms. Unfortunately, most schools and businesses are unable to afford such an expensive solution.
In a nation where a sexual assault occurs every 107 seconds, 44 percent of victims are under the age of 18, and 98 percent of rapists never spend a day in jail, safety in the bathroom is the top priority. According to the University of Michigan, “There are no statistics that support the idea that lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered individuals are more likely to commit sexual assault or be sex offenders than heterosexuals. In fact, sex offenders are disproportionately likely to be heterosexual men.”
The problem is not transgender people, but the fear that predators will masquerade as transgender in order to access the opposite gender’s bathroom. Due to the fact that 80 percent of sexual assault victims know their attackers personally and 72 percent of people murdered as a result of hate crimes are transgender women, LGBT individuals are more at risk in public restrooms than their cisgender counterparts. Also, one in six women experience sexual abuse compared to one in two transgender people. The reality is that anyone can be a victim and anyone can be an attacker, regardless of bathroom accessibility.
One of the most complex facets of enforcing bathroom laws is the clash of binary and androgyny. Facebook user Tamara McDaniel uploaded a video that went viral April of 2016 of a short-haired woman in gender-neutral attire being forced out of a women’s restroom by police. Unable to produce an ID, she could not prove her gender. However, as a cisgender woman, her experience in the male’s restroom would not have been much better. Many members of the LGBT+ community face a similar situation; due to a disconnect between their physical appearance and biological sex, they face legal repercussions in one bathroom or hate crimes in the other.
According to a female-to-male transgender student from Philadelphia, “going into the female bathroom, the biggest risk is ‘passing’ too well. People tell me I’m in the wrong bathroom. The biggest risk in men’s bathroom is if someone knows me by my birth name will tell me to leave. Also, guys can be feminine and women can be masculine. You shouldn’t question whether someone is in the right bathroom because they don’t fit into a stereotypical box. Even people that aren’t trans might not fit into the box of what you think a man or woman should look like.”
How should someone without the power of a politician or CEO respond to the bathroom controversy? Educate yourself. If you don’t know what the terms “MTF/FTM,” “transgender/cisgender,” “trans* umbrella,” or “non-binary” mean, your opinion won’t mean much in the face of an issue you aren’t informed about. Research rape statistics; if you can quantify an issue, you have a better idea of who is at risk, and therefore put yourself in a better position to speak up for those who are silenced. Understanding an issue does not mean silencing your own opinions. You don’t need to agree with someone’s life decisions to share a bathroom with them. You need only to understand the issues at stake and respect those around you. Ignorance is the root of violence, and education is the key to peace.