Because I’m enormously helpful, I thought I’d assist Christian bigots-for-Jesus in understanding why their current “bathroom panic” over transgender people is so ridiculous. Namely, I’m going to let them know what they really should be afraid of. And I’ll give specific examples of what I’m talking about, unlike anything they can do. (I know, I know. I’m such a humanitarian.)
Let’s begin by examining what “Bathroom Panic” is.
“Bathroom Panic” is the term given to a particular type of fearmongering that conservative Christians have long waged against groups they don’t like. It means to deliberately stoke the public’s terror and anger over the idea of people from that group entering the same bathrooms that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ might use in order to attack them.
Almost always, the panic is stoked against LGBTQ people nowadays, but in the past such fearmongering centered on non-white people and immigrants. And almost always, the panic was meant to make TRUE CHRISTIANS™ afraid for their wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters: the luscious, vulnerable flowers of womanhood that these mysterious, evil, criminal Others sought to abuse and harm.
Back in the 1970s, when I was just a kid, I remember a similar panic raised by anti-women’s rights groups who fought against the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment by claiming, falsely, that it would bring about unisex bathrooms, which would in turn open women up to attacks and harassment from abuse-minded men. The fact that such bathrooms existed even at the time and certainly hadn’t caused any problems didn’t matter. Nor did it matter to these fearmongers that their fears were completely and totally imaginary and blown out of proportion, as even a Wall Street Journal editorial declared at the time in a failed attempt to quell the panic.
That writer’s efforts came to nothing. The panic had been raised, and largely because of these efforts to frighten TRUE CHRISTIANS™ about the imaginary dangers of men and women sharing bathrooms, the ERA did not pass. And indeed, it still hasn’t.
In the Christian world, especially in the ultra-right-wing fundagelical end of that world, there is nothing at all more powerful than its adherents’ own fears. No force can stand against it; no amount of rational reasoning or education can withstand its bluster. That kind of fear could easily have taken an army full of iron chariots. A bathroom door bearing a unisex symbol is nothing compared to that sort of ferocity. You’d think that people who genuinely think that a god protects them would be more willing to listen to reason, but you’d be wrong.
So I thought I’d point some things out that they have forgotten in their rush to demonize and vilify, smear and malign trans people. This holy crusade takes the minds of Christian bigots-for-Jesus off of a danger that already exists, the danger that existed long before the 1970s’ versions of Bathroom Panic even began. And unlike the fear they’re trying to instill in Americans, this danger is real.
But first, let’s talk about who isn’t a danger.
Christian Bigots-for-Jesus Are Lying About the Danger Posed by These Laws.
Whenever we seek statistics on exactly how often transgender people have ever attacked or otherwise bothered anybody in a bathroom, we come up with exactly bupkiss.
Various spokespeople for the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Transgender Law Center have said that there’s not one single bit of evidence to suggest that Bathroom Panic is justified or that bills like House Bill 2 are anything but harassment of trans people (trans women particularly). Mic lists some near-dozen statements from states with anti-discrimination laws already on the books regarding the incidence of harassment of women in bathrooms, and unsurprisingly, not one single listed spokesperson had seen any problems or even any changes in the rate of sex crimes in their state.
But again, right-wing Christian fears are very strong, and I doubt a little detail like reality is going to interfere with their love for feeling gibbering panic once they get seriously rolling. Reality, when it contradicts their beliefs, is ignored and discarded.
Other advocate groups agree, with the Advocate going so far as to say unequivocally that there’s never even been any “confirmed reports of male predators ‘pretending’ to be transgender to gain access to women’s spaces and commit crimes against them.” (At least in America – see below.) They also note that there’ve been “hundreds of trans-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances have been in force in cities around the country for several decades,” and in that time there hasn’t been a single verified instance of a single incident of harassment against cisgender people.
So this crusade Christian bigots-for-Jesus are waging isn’t protecting anyone. What, then, are they really trying to do?
What Inclusiveness and Anti-Discrimination Laws Accomplish.
Letting transgender people feel safe about using the bathroom accomplishes one thing: it allows transgender people to use the bathroom they feel is the most suited for themselves without fear of harassment by Christian bigots-for-Jesus. These laws stop Christian bigots-for-Jesus from bothering people they don’t like, persecuting them, harassing them even to death, and at the least shaming them back into the shadows where these TRUE CHRISTIANS™ don’t need to see them anymore and be reminded of their existence.
But that’s kinda the big problem here, isn’t it?
We’re slowly stripping away Christians’ ability to harass anybody they dislike. There really aren’t many groups left for them to safely demonize and smear!
Worse, we don’t really care anymore about how they feel about how people should live, about losing their control over other people’s lives, or about how important they think they are to society.
As one Christian professor quoted an evangelical Christian as saying (in an excerpt from his interestingly-named-and-probably-not-at-all-biased book, The Empty Church: The Suicide of Liberal Christianity):
The once-unthinkable is now almost commonplace, and we feel as though we are riding on a wagon out of control, careening down a hill.
This quote is from 1994, which means that even as far back as the 1990s, when I myself was Christian, fundagelicals knew perfectly well that they were beginning to lose their stranglehold on America’s consciousness and that they were no longer in control of a culture that they’d always felt was under their control until then. (And yes, I thought that way as well. We were convinced that Bill Clinton’s election meant the Rapture was happening soon.) In 20 short years, we’ve gone from Christians feeling that they were rightly in full control of America to them seeing a major political figure laughing off a fundagelical’s wild-eyed, sky-is-falling anti-gay rhetoric:
I’m still totally floored that a House Minority Leader said that. But I shouldn’t be. Right-wing Christians are losing their power–both over people’s lives, and over our political system. The pandering that politicians like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are doing to court this demographic’s vote is the biggest symptom there could be that they’re well aware that their power is fading.
A Symptom of Impending Irrelevance.
The culture wars that they keep starting are similar efforts to regain control of American culture. If they can get people back into line with what they believe is proper and moral behavior, then those people will either magically convert to their brand of Christianity, or at least give them back the control of culture that they desire. Either belief or compliance is fine by them. They will happily endorse any means that gets them what they want–even if it means using deception and outright domestic terrorism, which is why the number of hate groups in the United States skyrocketed after Barack Obama was elected in 2008.
The Southern Poverty Law Center asserts that such groups exploded 54% between 2000 and 2008 and continued to rise after the scary black Kenyan Muslim atheist was elected, with 602 groups recorded in 2000, 888 in 2007, and 926 in 2008. Almost every single one of them is a right-wing Christian group following a patriarchal, Reconstructionist, Dominionist sort of theology. And their focus is on regaining the control they think they had once over America.
That is why the only people seeking to harass trans people (or for that matter LGBTQ people generally, and the people who are at the forefront of the effort to end abortion rights in most countries) are right-wing Christian bigots-for-Jesus. They see acceptance of LGBTQ people (as well as women’s rights) as a symptom and sign of their own decline in power, and they know perfectly well how they treat those who lack power. That’s why a frequent element of their persecution fantasizing is the supposed penalties they’ll face once they lose power. This fantasizing leads them to fear losing power even more. It’s hard not to think that what they’re really afraid of is that the groups they are currently persecuting might, in turn, persecute them if given the same power and opportunity that Christians had in their imaginary heyday–and as I’ll show you next time, I have solid reasons for thinking this.
These right-wing Christians, terrorized by their thought leaders into thinking they will be guillotined by the American government if they keep losing power in this country, and convinced that their culture war against LGBTQ people are a litmus test for how much control they have, are the people who are actively seeking to limit trans people’s freedom, strip away their liberties, and restrict their access to public facilities. Somewhere between 2/3 to 3/4 of trans people have reported being harassed and discriminated against, most while seeking to use a restroom, so these Christians have been very busy indeed. I predicted two years ago that this culture war was going to be the next one for them once they realized that their efforts to stymie gay rights had failed catastrophically, and this is one of those times when I hate being right. They are fighting for nothing less than what they truly believe is both their lives and safety and that of their families.
(I mean hey, their supposed Savior as well as other writings in the Bible might have told them to accept martyrdom with a smile, but it’s been a long time, if ever, since fundagelicals actually cared about what the Bible says about any of that boring “love your neighbor” type stuff.)
So anti-discrimination and inclusivity laws, in effect, are telling these Christians that they will no longer be allowed to do something they really, really want to do–and are a raised middle finger to their onetime dominance of our culture.
Right-wing Christians are used to having all the privilege. They’re used to having their voices heard and their way gotten. They’re used to having cultural and political power, to being looked up to and given deference even when they don’t deserve any–just because of their self-identification as TRUE CHRISTIANS™. And they are used to being civilization’s Designated Adults, the self-appointed caretakers of all those “fools” (to borrow one recent Christian’s appellation for non-believers that I heard the other day) who reject their claims and refuse to comply with their demands. And until recently, society pretty much let them have this role and saw “Christian values” as a good thing for everyone.
That time is fading quickly, and it’s fading largely due to these Christians’ own efforts. Now we’re starting to realize that a society based around human rights doesn’t coincide much with how TRUE CHRISTIANS™ see their ideal hierarchical society. And the faster we reject that vision of fundagelical utopia, the more panicky those Christians get about their loss of power.
When someone in a dominant group is used to such a high level of privilege, any peeling-away of it can feel like persecution, as the saying goes. And such a person is going to fight tooth and nail to keep whatever they can of their dominance. That’s why rights are decided not at the ballot box, by trusting the majority not to tyrannize the minorities around themselves, but in the courts, where the majority’s constant attempts to legislate away other people’s rights get slapped down and denied. And that is why, also, that once the courts rule on those rights, the majority slowly begins accepting them to the point where even fundagelicals start thinking that they’ve always supported those rights–which is why they get so huffy when we remind them that their own arguments against interracial marriage in the 50s and 60s sound exactly like the arguments they’re using now against equal marriage–though some Christians are still racists-for-Jesus, most of them are on board with interracial marriage by now.
(I’m sure it doesn’t make bigots-for-Jesus very happy to think that in 40 or 50 years, most of them will be similarly on board with equal marriage too–that their “timeless, unchanging gospel” actually is very much a product of its time, and that it very much changes with society’s growing understanding of rights and liberties.)
When I survey the damage that these Christians are doing to our society in their grab for power, I am reminded again of my personal label of choice for them: “toxic Christians.” The worst part of their fantasizing, of course, is that they are once again totally wrong about who they should fear and fight against–the real threat to their womenfolk, the real danger to their wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers.
I’m talking about, of course, a group of people whose predations are not imaginary.
A group whose attacks and harassment in public bathrooms are a matter of common knowledge. A group whose constant and unending abuse is well-known.
A group whose members even acknowledge, often and with no hint of self-awareness, the danger they themselves pose to women in bathrooms (as Louie Gohmert himself recently confessed).
The Real Danger to Women Trying to Use Public Bathrooms Seems to Be… Straight, Cisgender Christian Men.
There is, please allow me to stress, not one scintilla of evidence that trans women pose any kind of threat to ciswomen in bathrooms, nor that bathroom bills cause the slightest uptick in harassment of ciswomen by either trans women or cis men.
But there is plenty of evidence that right-wing, straight, cisgender Christians are already a big danger to both transgender people and cisgender people in bathrooms.
Here’s why I think this:
The study discovered that the safer Christians feel in harassing trans people, the more likely they are to do it: poor trans people are abused and harassed far more often than wealthier trans people are, and trans people who are non-white face overwhelmingly larger rates of abuse and harassment than trans people who are white.
Take a look at that study if you get a chance, and think about every single reported instance of mistreatment listed in it. The people perpetrating this injustice upon one of our country’s most vulnerable group sure ain’t going to be atheists or Nones, since–as you probably already suspect–a country’s rate of general gender-equality acceptance rises dramatically as its people reject religion. I know of no groups opposing LGBTQ rights in America who are not right-wing Christian–as even the Christians talking about this post in comments agree.
Moreover, though there is not one single documented incident involving a real trans person harassing or harming anybody in a bathroom, there is plenty of evidence that cis people do harass or harm trans people in bathrooms–such as at the Stonewall Inn last month, when a trans woman was raped by a cis man. One survey revealed that some 70% of trans people had been harassed while trying to use the bathroom, with 10% of the survey’s respondents saying they’d dropped out of school to avoid being harassed or hurt while trying to use the bathroom. Half said they’d stayed home rather than go out and risk having to use the bathroom while away from safety. And half of them said they’d been seriously dehydrated or had kidney infections caused by “holding it in” rather than taking the risk of using a public bathroom.
That’s the human cost of Christian bigotry-for-Jesus. That’s what they are doing to those who most need compassion and kindness. Not only are they not protecting anybody by harassing trans people, but they are hurting actual trans people by treating them like dangers when they are not.
Moreover, Christian Men Themselves Are Dangerous to Cisgender People.
If the examples I’ve seen in the news are any indication, even Christian ministers themselves don’t stop at merely harassing and abusing trans people in bathrooms. They even prey upon cisgender women!
For example, in September, cops were looking for an Oregon priest who waited a solid month to report a hidden camera found in a bathroom at his church. Ysrael Bien, a Catholic priest in Sherwood, Oregon, is charged with personal invasion of privacy, tampering with evidence, and initiating a false report. Alas, before he could be arrested, he fled the country without permission to return to the Philippines, his home country, so all his church did was ask him to return. The camera was installed in a men’s bathroom, where a boy found it. I’ve seen no sign that the priest has returned, nor that he has yet been formally arrested. One parishioner from his Oregon church says he never expects to see the fellow again. Extradition is extremely unlikely, and the Catholic church itself doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to do anything to bring this predator to justice.
Sammy Nuckolls, a traveling evangelist and preacher who spoke at all kinds of fundagelical events–including summer camps sponsored and organized by Lifeway Christian Resources–got caught spying on women in a bathroom in his home. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, which a judge has upheld. (Gosh, it’s just gotta suck to be a Christian organization that has to issue statement after statement about the predators in their ranks who get caught, don’t you think?)
A few years ago, a Baptist pastor in Missouri, Kelvin Lambert, was caught spying on a woman in her own bathroom; he climbed up on a chair outside to get a view of her, and she saw him doing it and called police. He may be involved in similar cases in the area.
Here’s yet another pastor, Robert Lyzenga, who installed a hidden camera in a bathroom, this one in a women’s bathroom in his church. He was eventually sentenced to four years in prison. He’d spied on girls as young as five years old in various states of undress. His church, it’s worth noting, sure sounds like a fundagelical outfit, stressing Biblical inerrancy and claiming an alliance with the famous Christian preacher Charles Spurgeon, who is so well-beloved of the Duggar clan. (Egad, can’t we EVER get away from those asshats? Just for one week?!?)
I can’t really disagree with how The Daily Beast has described these incidents: “a rash of hidden cameras found recording in church bathrooms across the country”.
And that’s just video voyeurism.
More recently, a Christian minister who worked at a religious radio station just got sentenced to probation for assaulting a woman in a women’s bathroom that he was hiding in. (His attorneys claimed that this TRUE CHRISTIAN™, who had in his pocket a screwdriver that he’d clearly intended to use as a weapon when police arrested him right after the assault, was drunk as a skunk, which is its own can of worms: in vino, veritas, after all!)
Getting away from men who are specifically Christians or Christian ministers, cisgender men are doing enough damage to fundagelicals’ claims of transgender women being the real danger here.
A man raped a teenage girl in a church bathroom in Washington State last month. She joins a young woman raped in a Manhattan bar’s bathroom last year and women assaulted in a Toronto homeless shelter by a pedophile rapist pretending to be a woman in order to to gain access to victims.
One could also point to an incident in which a child was raped in a public bathroom at CVS Pharmacy by a cisgender man who lured her into it, and another in which a cisgender man raped a woman in a port-a-potty in February.
Absolutely Astonishing Gall.
It seems quite clear to me that transgender women are not the problem here–and that Christians can’t even keep abuse and invasions out of their very own sanctuaries. Hell, they can’t even assure society that their very own ministers or male adherents are safe for women to be around.
And yet they have the astonishing gall to pretend that men don’t already invade women’s privacy and abuse them in their vulnerable moments–and that such invasions and abuse will magically sprout up out of thin air if they are forbidden from harassing trans women! As if their harassment of trans people is all that is saving nice virtuous cisgender women from abuse already!
As ridiculous as their culture war is, as demonstrably deluded as it is, however, there’s one aspect of it that goes far past “ridiculous” and “deluded” and into genuinely frightening territory.
We’re going to talk next about the forgotten transgender people in this holy war that Christian bigots-for-Jesus are waging. There is one group of trans people that they routinely overlook and ignore, and we’re going to look at some reasons for that oversight. As usual, there’s a reason for it.
See you Tuesday.
This piece was altered slightly to reflect current correct usage of “trans women.” My apologies for using the wrong reference.