Don’t Let Transphobic “Activists” Force You To Play Their Game

Don’t Let Transphobic “Activists” Force You To Play Their Game May 3, 2016

Image licensed under Creative Commons by Florent Abel.
Image licensed under Creative Commons by Florent Abel.

In a seemingly bizarre move, members of the Christian group American Family Association are sending men into women’s restrooms at Target to “test” their policy of trans-inclusive bathroom use (report here). We need to be very, very careful in how we respond, because if we play their game, we lose.

As Michael at Progressive Secular Humanist writes on the issue:

Ostensibly, Rios and her Christian hate group claims to protect “women and children,” but in reality they are a thinly veiled expression of Christian bigotry and hatred towards the transgender community…Sending Christian men into women’s restrooms to harass and intimidate Target customers is despicable, and reflects the ultimate immorality of Rios and the American Family Association.

The thing that bugs me is that while this is obviously hypocritical, and participating in the very problem they purport to protest, this is also contributing to creating a culture of fear and surveillance. As I wrote in Gender Is Not A Crime:

It is senseless to make every citizen into the gender police. Trust me, I study gender professionally, and gender is complicated enough merely on the level of how you perceive yourself, express your gender identity, and struggle with conforming to gender norms! Trying to gauge how someone else perceives you on top of all of that is endlessly complicated, and whether one person successfully passes or presents as a given gender should not be dependent on someone else’s snap evaluation of them.

If we play by their rules, and get upset at people in bathrooms who “shouldn’t” be there, they’ve won. If we call the police or notify store employees regarding someone’s mere presence, they’ve just succeeded in setting the tone of the debate. They’ve forced us into a position where we’re acting as arbiters of appropriate gender in a given restroom. We’ve become the monsters they already are.

To combat their policy, I suggest a different strategy: shifting the terms of the game. These suggestions are offered in a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek spirit. Clearly if you sense there to be imminent danger, you should contact the authorities, call out, get help ASAP. I mean, it IS illegal to harass or assault people in bathrooms, after all. But if someone’s obviously there to troll, you might as well troll them back.

I suggest the following activities, rather than notifying an authority figure, if you encounter a person in a bathroom who’s probably just there to be an asshat and make a point about how it’s “wrong” to have gender-inclusive bathroom policies:

  • Ask the person which pronouns they prefer and why. Engage them on why it’s important to ask for someone’s pronouns rather than make assumption about (external) gender expression vs. (internal) gender identity.
  • If the person looks like they’re loitering in the bathroom, maybe they need help. Offer to give them a pad or tampon. Show them how a Diva cup works. Perhaps they would like to hear a detailed explanation of the hormonal phases of the menstrual cycle or human reproduction in general (I really like Scarleteen’s down-to-earth breakdown).
  • Ask their thoughts on the gender binary (again, Scarleteen’s done some great work here you can refer to for conversational fodder). Do they think gender should be a binary? Are they aware that it’s not a binary in every culture? Gosh, why do we assign gender to places where people pee after all?
  • Take the opportunity to do a little education and activism around trans issues and rights. Do they know what autogynephilia is? If not, use my handy blog post to explain it to them. Surely they’d hate having a bullshit diagnosis used to invalidate their life experiences, too. Maybe you can hit them with the horrifying trans murder stats from 2015 and see what they think about that.
  • Enlist their help in anything you might normally do while chatting with someone in the bathroom: do you have lipstick on your teeth? Do they have a pad you could use? Maybe they could help tighten your bra strap? Or hold your pursue or backpack while you tie your shoe? Helping a fellow bathroom-user is so much nicer than just standing around doing nothing, right?
  • Better yet, get them to pose for a bathroom selfie with you! Create a fun new hashtag celebrating just how cool it is that people are so willing to think outside the box when it comes to gender. Surely a cisgender man in a woman’s bathroom wouldn’t object to his face being plastered all over the internet with a message of love and acceptance for all people, including trans people, right?

In short, be playful! Deconstruct gender! Troll the trolls right back! But don’t fall for the fear-laced bait they’ve set out, because then you’ll be playing their game on their terms. They’ll have thus succeeded in creating more fear in the world, which is exactly what they want.

Edited: I just keep thinking of fun suggestions to add! If people comment here with suggestions that are feasible, safe, and won’t hurt individuals or movements, I’ll create a list below with the crowd-sourced ideas.

  • One of mine: since I spend a lot of time in bathrooms before/during/after dance  gigs, I could always offer to share some of my stage makeup with folks who look like they’re loitering and possibly a little confused. Everyone always wants to wear glitter, right?
  • This one’s from a friend who wrote:TL;DR — Don’t freak out, help a sister out!Show them how to do their eyebrows. You’ve got your tweezers, right? It’s so painful, I know honey, but beauty is pain, we’ll get through it.

    Oh my god, girl, are you even tucking? Okay, come here, I’m gonna show you how. Now, this is gonna hurt a _lot_ the first five or six times, but you’ll get used to it.

  • Start a friendly conversation (this one’s from a comment on the blog post by Berzebub): “Do your bathrooms at home have the symbols for male and female, so you know which to use?”Perhaps they could argue that’s their property, so there’s privacy, but then you can see if they’ve ever had guests over for a party, or new people in their home for the first time that used the facilities.

    You can even troll them, and point out that gender-neutral bathrooms would mean there’s a greater possibility of a BSM (Big-Strong-Man) available to protect the MDW (Meek-Defenseless-Woman) from any RUP (Restroom-Using-Pervert).

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