Some months back Haley and I watched the popular movie “The Help”. Throughout the movie (which focuses on the role of black women in the southern united states in the 1960′s) There is this ongoing discussion about people of color using the same bathrooms as people with white skin. People talk about being well-to-do enough to build a separate bathroom for the negro help, there is talk of how “black people have diseases” that white people don’t want to contract, and there is even a scene where a black maid locks herself in the bathroom while her white boss screams outside the door in a panic over her bathroom being used by a colored person.
It is stunning how backwards this mentality was. I remember reading the book “Black Like Me” after I was married, shocked by all the assumptions and publications about the sexuality of black people in pre 1960 US. John Howard Griffin explained the wide spread understanding among whites was that black people were exposed to sex at a younger age, had insatiable sexual appetites and were supposedly willing to do “kinky” things with anyone who asked.
I know I am not the first person to see the comparison between racism and homophobia, but I couldn’t help but spot the similarities. I grew up understanding that gay people were just extremely sexual people, who wanted to have sex with anything that moved. I was told that homosexuals had decided to become this way after being exposed to sex early in life through abusive sexual encounters. I was also taught that homosexuals were disease ridden, with diseases that straight people never got. I thought that my sexual attractions to women were perhaps something that every woman had but didn’t talk about. Or maybe they were the signs that I could become an overly sexual disease ridden gay person if I ever opened that door. Whatever the reasons, I knew I didn’t want to be gay, one of “those” people, and I carefully shut down and ignored every question I had about my sexuality.
The bathroom debacle from the movie stood out to me as well. I am married to a transgender woman, and while she passes pretty well and hasn’t had any issues with using the bathroom that matches her gender, many trans people are not so lucky. A transgender woman can live and present as female and still get challenged over simple things like using the bathroom if anyone feels they don’t look female “enough”. There are horrifying cases, such as this one in Maryland where a young trans woman got beaten up in a Mc Donalds after trying to use the ladies room. And there are the every day cases where someone reports someone to management. There have even been lawsuits and legislation to keep transpeople out of public bathrooms.
It doesn’t make sense to me. I think it has to be related to the over-sexualization of LGBTQ people. Like Justin points out in this excellent post “Can You Feel the Sex Tonight?” society continues to push this idea that straight relationships are about love, whereas gay relationships are about sex. I mean, why the automatic assumption that trans people using the bathroom are perverts? Maybe a trans woman appears more masculine than you feel a woman should, but how many guys out there are going to go through the effort to dress as a woman to have the chance to walk into a public restroom for 5 minutes to pee and wash their hands. Even if you are concerned about someone’s appearance, a public restroom is a public well lit place, you are not really in danger. Why not base your worry about a pervert in the bathroom on their actions instead of their appearance. Someone who is hanging out in the bathroom, making rude comments, groping people, peeking under or over the stalls, pervert. Someone who stands in line, uses the bathroom, washes their hands, maybe checks their makeup before leaving, not a pervert.
While racism still exists in the USA, segregation is no longer legal. You will not see lawsuits to try and ban people from using the public restroom based on the color of their skin. I guess that should give me hope that someday the same will be true for the transgender bathroom wars.