On Wednesday the NC State Legislature held a special session in which they passed sweeping legislation that eliminated anti-discrimination protections for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals and barred transgender people from bathroom that correspond to their gender identity. While governors typically call special sessions the fact that Pat McCrory had refused to call this one didn’t affect his willingness to sign the law hours after it had been passed.
The special session was called in response to the recent progressive move by the city of Charlotte that allows transgender people to use public bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, rather than their assigned gender at birth.
For many in Charlotte and other cities across the country, legislation about transgender people and bathroom use has been an opportunity for correcting mis-information about transgender people and for helping educate the broader public about rapidly shifting cultural norms associated with gender and gender identity more broadly.
For many people, all they know about transgenderism is what they learned during Caitlyn Jenner’s transition from male to female and her personal story about identifying as a woman for much of her life.
The idea that gender identity is fluid and that a lot of people do not identify with a strict binary understanding of gender is difficult for many people to understand. Particularly people over a certain age and people whose life experience may not have exposed them to others whose experiences is very different from their own.
Transgenderism is not new. Gender fluidity is not new. The idea that gender binaries are restrictive products of misogynistic and patriarchal cultures that seek to control the behavior of men and women is not new. Feminists and LGBTQIA activists have been beating this drum for years. It is only now that public policy is beginning to catch up with the progressive insights of some traditionally oppressed groups in this country.
It is this threat to the power structure and the patriarchal control of public behavior that undergirds opposition to gay marriage, transgender bathroom rights, and women’s access to birth control and abortion services. Its all about control, people. Control by a certain segment of the population over others.
The NC legislature’s actions were a power play by any stretch of the imagination. Invoking a little used power to call a special session, they did it in the midst of Christian Holy Week when fewer people are paying attention; they kept drafts of the legislation secret from everyone but select Republican members of the legislature until hours before it was to be voted on; and then rail-roaded this legislation through in a matter of hours without proper public debate and discussion. This is how patriarchy works.
Fear-mongering won the day as supporters of the bill claimed that allowing transgender women to use women’s restroom would endanger the safety of women and children. Evidence from jurisdictions that have similar laws demonstrates that there have been zero reported cases of any breeches of safety in their localities. This tactic of spreading fear and mis-information is common across the country as opponents of transgender bathroom laws trot out the idea that sexual predators are going to masquerade as women in order to enter women’s bathrooms and attack unsuspecting women and girls.
This would be horrible, expect for the fact that this doesn’t happen. Or the fact that sexual predators could masquerade as women right now and enter women’s bathrooms – AND THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN EITHER!
The really crazy part is the opponents of these laws really don’t seem to understand them. Transgender men, who are the ones these legislators want to use women’s bathrooms (their assigned gender at birth), often physically present to the world as masculine. That’s the point. Transgender people’s physical presentation doesn’t correspond to the gender they were assigned at birth. Although transgender men were labeled as female at birth, they identify as male and often self present as stereotypically male. They often take the hormone Testosterone which causes the development of facial hair and may undergo surgery to remove their breasts. In short, they identify, dress, and look like men. When most transgender men walk into the women’s bathroom, they look like men walking into women’s bathrooms. And yet, these legislators think they should have to use women’s bathrooms.
This makes it even more obvious that the issue is not the comfort and safety of the cisgender women (cisgender refers to people who identify with their birth gender) using the restroom. Most of these women wouldn’t recognize transgender women using the bathroom, because they look like women. However, they might feel uncomfortable with a bearded, transgender man strolling in and using the bathroom because he was told he must use the bathroom that matches his birth certificate.
And imagine what happens to transgender women (people who were assigned male at birth but who identify, dress, and present physically as women) when they are forced to use men’s bathrooms? Well, as you might expect – this is where most of the bathroom violence actually occurs. Men’s restrooms are one of the most dangerous places for transgender women on the planet. Seventy percent of transgender people have reported being denied entrance, assaulted or harassed while trying to use the restroom. This why we need these laws.
What happened Wednesday in North Carolina is about patriarchy and the authoritarian control of a legislature that feels the power to control social behavior slipping out of its hands. Let’s hope this is a last gasp of the patriarchal power machine that has governed our country since its inception.
Its time to take back the legislature. And I don’t just mean the NC legislature.
Republican legislatures across the country are attempting to control women’s lives by eliminating their access to their legal right to an abortion. The Republican led legislature in Alabama recently revoked Birmingham’s (and all Alabama cities) right to set a higher minimum wage than the federal minimum wage (a measure that the NC legislature threw into this hideous bill to try to placate businesses in the state!). And Republican legislatures are increasingly attacking worker rights and unions.
These issues are connected. Its time for marginalized people across the country to stand together and fight back. For LGBTQIA people. For workers. For women. To support freedom, to protect people’s rights, and to act in the best interest of our citizenry.