The recent spate of laws barring trans bathroom access has hit home hard. I know the numbers, the percentages of trans people who attempt suicide or are harassed in the bathrooms, but I also have several trans and nonbinary friends I consider myself close to, and watching them walk through these past few months has been gut-wrenching. As the anti-trans panic has ratcheted up, I’ve become increasingly worried for my friends, and for other trans people like them. What few people seem to realize is that it’s not the trans bathroom access bills that are changing the status quo, but rather those blocking this access.
Trans people have been using the public restrooms that match their gender identity for as long as there have been public restrooms. In fact, while the law may vary from place to place, laws prohibiting people from entering opposite-gender restrooms are by and large a new phenomenon. Store owners may set their own policies for their bathrooms, but when male predators are arrested for being in the women’s bathrooms they’re charged for specific crimes like filming or for voyeurism, not for being in the wrong bathroom. The point of trans bathroom access ordinances like that in Charlotte is not to change the status quo in terms of who uses what bathroom but rather to decrease the amount of harassment and violence trans people receive for using the bathrooms they already use.
It has been encouraging to see a growing number of people, Christian and not, standing up for trans people on their Facebook pages. But there is also still so much pushback. Ted Cruz’s anti-trans ad from last week was a serious low—I’d honestly thought we’d reached a point where these things had to be disingenuously hinted at rather than stated so outrightly. And then there’s pieces like this Breitbart article by Warner Todd Huston that I recently came upon—Top Twenty-Five Stories Proving Target’s Pro-Transgender Bathroom Policy Is Dangerous to Women and Children. I clicked through, and the results were predictable.
First up are five incidents in which predatory men were discovered committing criminal actions in public restrooms. Some of these men were arrested while dressed as women; others claimed to be transgender women.
Let’s look at what happened in each instance, shall we?
Seattle Parks and Recreation is facing a first-of-a-kind challenge to gender bathroom rules. A man undressed in a women’s locker room, citing a new state rule that allows people to choose a bathroom based on gender identity.
In this case, the man never claimed to be transgender, and was in fact protesting the state’s new law granting trans people access to the bathrooms that match their gender identity by, interestingly, breaking the law by entering a changing room that did not match his gender identity.
A man dressed as a woman was arrested in Virginia on Monday after police say he was caught peeping into restroom stalls three times in the past year.
Richard Rodriguez, 30, filmed a woman in a bathroom stall at the Potomac Mills Mall, Prince William County Police said on Tuesday. A 35-year-old woman was in the stall when she saw a bag moved toward her under the stall divider. Rodriguez apparently had been filming her, police said.
Richard Rodriguez was not a transgender woman. He was a man donning women’s clothing to go into the women’s bathroom and film women using the toilets. Barring transgender women from the appropriate bathrooms would not stop men from doing this. In this case, a woman saw that she was being filmed and reported that, which is exactly what she should have done, and the man was arrested.
PALMDALE – A 33-year-old Palmdale man who allegedly dressed as a woman while secretly videotaping females using a department store bathroom was charged with several misdemeanor counts Tuesday, authorities said.
Jason Pomare was charged with six counts of unlawful use of a concealed camera for the purposes of sexual gratification, according to Sergeant Brian Hudson of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s Special Victims Bureau.
This case is the same as the above case—Jason Pomare was not a transgender woman, he was a man who dressed in women’s clothing in order to enter the women’s bathroom and film women there, and again, he was apprehended after a woman noticed his filming apparatus.
A biological man claiming to be ‘transgender’ so as to gain access to and prey on women at two Toronto shelters was jailed “indefinitely” last week after being declared by a judge a “dangerous offender.”
Pro-family leaders are pointing out that this is exactly the type of incident they warned of as the Ontario government passed its “gender identity” bill, dubbed the “bathroom bill,” in 2012.
This is the only story I have actually seen of a predatory man claiming to be a trans woman to gain access to women’s spaces and assault women. There are several points to be made here, however. First, we know that trans people across the country currently face violence in public restrooms. It would be wrong to deny this vulnerable population the greater safety bathroom access laws bring them based on rare isolated cases like this one. Second, it’s fairly clear that there was a deeper failure at play here:
Shortly after his mother died in Montreal in February 2002, Hambrook committed the first of his sex crimes by sexually assaulted a family friend’s five-year-old daughter. While on bail waiting for courts to deal with charges laid for that crime, he targeted a 27-year-old mentally challenged woman, by sexually assaulting her in his home and forcing her to smoke a joint.
Hambrook received two years in jail for each of those crimes, for a total of four years.
“He had no empathy, no remorse or understanding of his victims of his offences,” Toronto psychiatrist Dr. Treena Wilkie said in her assessment.
Perhaps rather than scapegoating a vulnerable population we should ask why a man who had shown himself willing and able to sexually assault children and the disabled and showed no remorse whatsoever and was judged by his psychiatrist to be at high risk of reoffending was set at liberty after spending only four years in jail.
Perhaps if we as a society took women and children’s safety seriously across the board, and not only when doing so provides cover for bigotry, Hambrook would not have been allowed to offend again.
And finally, here’s the last of the five:
The administration at the University of Toronto was recently enlightened on why two separate washrooms are generally established for men and women sharing co-ed residencies.
I looked this one up, and guess what? This case had literally nothing to do with trans bathroom access, or with male sexual predators pretending to be women. If you’ve ever been in a college residence hall, you know that old-style dorms have communal bathrooms on each floor, including rows of toilets, sinks, and showers. Well it turns out that the University of Toronto made a number of these bathrooms in various residence halls gender neutral, making them open to all comers, and this was followed by two cases where male students used their phones to film female students showering.Why this story is even on this list I do not know, as it has nothing whatsoever to do with trans bathroom access. Trans bathroom access is about allowing trans people to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity, not about making communal bathrooms gender neutral.
Is it is possible that a male college student might pretend to be a trans woman and use that pretense to gain access to communal women’s bathrooms in dormitories? Sure, but it is highly unlikely, because trans women are trans women outside of bathrooms as well as inside them, and that sort of impersonation would involve far more than bathroom access. Do you see the young men who filmed the women in the above story transforming themselves into trans women in order to continue such filming? No. If they wanted to do such a thing, simply disguising themselves as a woman would be easier—and is something they could do regardless of the law. And you know what? Surreptitiously filming people showering is against the law regardless of your gender identity.
If you are a man and you want to film or spy on women in the women’s restrooms, there are a variety of ways to do this that are far easier than impersonating a trans woman. For instance, sneaking in during low traffic times and planting a camera, or simply dressing as a woman, or (depending on the bathroom) finding a way to make a peephole. And actually, Huston illustrates this reality perfectly by following these five stories with a variety of bathroom predator stories that don’t involve anyone dressing up as anything. Huston introduces these stories like this:
Here are nineteen more stories of predators using public bathrooms to criminally victimize women and children:
And then there’s the list, which you can read if you click through. This list is the most nonsensical thing I have ever seen. Most of the stories involve cases where men planted video recorders (including cell phones or tablets) in women’s bathrooms, but some involve things like a teacher directing children in explicit films in the school bathroom or a male security guard filming adolescent males using the bathroom in the men’s restroom or a man videotaping other men in a men’s locker room. Several of the stories involve men videotaping friends or family members using the bathroom or the shower in their private residence. A few involve men hiding in women’s restrooms, and others involve employees planting recording devices while cleaning women’s restrooms.
Frankly, this list makes it crystal clear that bathroom predation has nothing whatsoever to do with trans women, and “impersonating a trans woman” is not anywhere on the bathroom predator m.o. list.
But perhaps you’ve noticed a common theme—we have a problem with predatory men finding ways to film or otherwise watch women in public restrooms. When there is disguising going on—which is, according to Huston’s own list, rare—bathroom predators disguise themselves as women, not as trans women. The common theme in these cases is not a disguise but rather breaking the law through secretly filming or photographing women in public restrooms. As stated above, before the passage of trans bathroom access and the ensuing swift backlash, most states did not have laws banning men from using women’s bathrooms. When predators are arrested, they are charged for filming, or for voyeurism, not for being in the wrong bathroom.
Remember that Huston started his piece with this:
. . . there are dozens of such stories over the last 16 months or so highlighting the problem with setting policies that would make access to public restrooms easier for predators.
Given that predators rarely rely on a disguise to enter women’s restrooms, and when they do they go straight for disguising themselves as women and are generally caught because someone spies their filming apparatus or notices their strange behavior, I’m going with no, trans bathroom access laws would not make things easier for predators. You know what would, though? Convincing people that trans women are the threat, rather than hidden cameras. No one has been assaulted by a trans woman in a bathroom, but lots of women have been filmed by secret cameras planted by store employees.
None of the stories Huston tells has anything to do with trans women assaulting women or children in women’s restrooms. In fact, no stories of this happening exist. Instead, the stories Huston tells are all about cisgender men finding ways to spy on or film women or children in both men’s and women’s restrooms. At the risk of being repetitive, allowing trans people to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity is not a new thing. Before the backlash against the trans bathroom access bills (a) it was generally legal for trans people to use the bathrooms they felt appropriate and (b) trans women generally did use the bathrooms they felt appropriate. Yes, they risked getting harassed, yelled at, or facing violence, but trying to end that harassment is literally the only change trans bathroom bills make to the status quo.
Yes. You read that right. Trans access bathroom bills are about trying to cut down on the harassment trans people face when accessing public restrooms. That’s literally it. Trans people have been legally accessing the public restrooms that match their gender identity for, well, probably since there have been public restrooms. It is bills like North Carolina’s HB2 that are changing the status quo, not ordinances like the short-lived one Charlotte put in place. Filming, photographing, and otherwise spying on people in public restrooms was and is illegal—that’s not changing.
As I understand it, there are concerns that laws underscoring trans people’s right to access the bathrooms that match their gender identity may be abused by cis male predators. Let me consolidate what I’ve said into a few concise points.
First, trans people are at increased risk of harassment, violence, and murder simply for being trans. It would be ludicrous to use the existence of completely unrelated predators to oppose measures designed to protect a vulnerable group. When do we actually ever do that? It would be like opposing integration because white kids will suffer if their parents inevitably pull them out of integrated schools.
Second, bathroom predators are more likely to plant hidden cameras than to disguise themselves as women, and when they do don such disguises, it is their recording devices (rather than their disguises) that are generally reported. Trans bathroom alter does not change this status quo, especially given that trans people have already been using the bathrooms that match their gender identity.
Third, given conservatives’ overall unwillingness to protect women and children in their own communities, the timing of this concern is rather suspect. It almost seems like opponents to trans bathroom access realized that demonizing trans people as perverts and abominations wasn’t going to fly in a post-Obergefell world. Oh wait, it’s not almost like that, it’s exactly like that.
Fourth, if we actually wanted to promote bathroom safety, we would do so through public information campaigns. Let’s educate people about what to watch out for—how to recognize a hidden camera, other actual warning signs to watch for, etc. Let’s start a PSA campaign. What’s that? It’s not actually about bathroom safety? It’s just about hating on trans people? I’m gathering that.
Fifth, I just found a list of 25 pastors who sexually molested and raped children or vulnerable adults in May of 2014, and a list of fifty more who did so in May 2015. You’re welcome. This beats Hudson’s list of 25 male bathroom predators in the past 16 months by an awful lot. Perhaps we should ban churches. Or at least church bathrooms. Or pastoral offices, maybe. (Yes, this is sarcasm.)