Forget the transphobic myths. It is Republicans who want men to use women’s bathrooms.
In fact, the Republican National Committee (RNC) approved an official resolution in February that encourages state legislatures to force men to use the ladies’ room.
And on Wednesday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law a slapdash but sweeping anti-LGBT measure that will, among other things, require women in the state to share public restrooms with bearded and muscled transgender men.
Of course, the sponsors of anti-transgender “bathroom bills” don’t perceive transgender men as men. In their minds—if they have even thought through the consequences of these measures, and it’s not clear that they have—they believe that they are sending women back to the women’s room based on the RNC’s shaky definition of “biological sex.”
But as LGBT advocates were quick to remind Gov. McCrory on Twitter, many women in North Carolina would be none too pleased to see transgender men enter the restroom.
This is the very outcome that these laws are supposed to prohibit. But it’s exactly the outcome that Republican legislators in Kansas, Tennessee, and many other states are actively working to bring about, whether they realize it or not.
“My guess is that the lawmakers did not consider trans men at all,” Rev. Jakob Hero, a transgender man and senior pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Tampa, told The Daily Beast. “Perhaps they have no idea that trans men exist and that often we have beards and muscles and many other indicators that we are, in fact, men.”
The North Carolina law does not take self-presentation or appearance into account. According to the text, public bathroom use in the state is now determined exclusively by “the physical condition of being male or female, which is stated on a person’s birth certificate.”
No matter what it says on someone’s birth certificate, transgender men are, in fact, men as major medical associations and health care professionals can affirm. They are men whether or not they have beards, like the men pictured above, and whether or not they have had surgery.
But the spotty laws around birth certificates and government identification for transgender people will create ridiculous scenarios in which many men fail to meet North Carolina’s new standard for male bathroom use, even if they have surgically transitioned.
A majority of states require expensive sex reassignment surgery (SRS) to change the gender marker on a birth certificate. A handful of states, including Tennessee, will never change the gender marker on a birth certificate, even with proof of surgery.
In fact, Tennessee’s proposed law, which would ban transgender students from using the proper restroom, goes so far as to specify that sex is defined by someone’s “original birth certificate,” making it unclear whether or not they would even accept a document that has been revised in another state after SRS.
This means, bluntly speaking, that the new North Carolina law will technically require some testosterone-laden men with penises to walk through the door with the dress on it because, if they haven’t been able to change their birth certificate in their home state, the Tar Heel State still sees them as women.
To be clear, a transgender man born in Tennessee, Idaho, or Kansas cannot legally use a public restroom in North Carolina, no matter how much medical treatment he receives, how long he lives as his true gender, or how masculine he self-presents.
None of this is meant to imply that transgender men are likely to be violent if forced to use the women’s room. There are no verifiable instances of a transgender person harassing a cisgender person in a restroom.
In fact, if anyone faces heightened danger in a public restroom, it is transgender people themselves. A Williams Institute survey found that 68 percent of transgender respondents had experienced verbal harassment and 9 percent had experienced physical assault in a public restroom (PDF).
As Rev. Hero told The Daily Beast, “My need to use the restroom is in no way a threat to anyone. I am not a predator. I am not a danger. I am just a man who needs to pee.”
Forcing transgender men to use the wrong restroom will only increase the specific forms of violence that they already encounter in public facilities. Most anti-transgender violence is targeted at women but transgender men are by no means immune to it.
Scott Turner Schofield, a transgender man who grew up in Charlotte and went on to play a major role on The Bold and the Beautiful, told The Daily Beast that before he even transitioned, he was physically assaulted for using the women’s restroom at a North Carolina movie theater based on his masculine gender presentation.
“I got out [of the bathroom] and there was a woman in her early fifties who freaked out and began hitting me with her purse,” he said. “And that sounds kind of funny except that it was a really big purse with metal edges and it cut me.”
Schofield, then a teenager, had to lift up his shirt in public to expose his bra in order to stop the attack. It’s exactly the sort of incident that could happen with increasing frequency in the wake of North Carolina’s law, which has no written mechanism for enforcement. In essence, Schofield says, it will deputize every transphobic resident as a member of the “bathroom police.”
“Anybody who has been politicized by these bully politicians now has a license to commit the very kinds of assault that these bills try to prevent,” he said.
That is the ultimate, gut-wrenchingly cruel irony of anti-transgender bathroom bills: They are likely to create the problem they are purportedly meant to solve.
Far from protecting residents’ privacy, they will encourage invasions of privacy in public restrooms. A proposed law in Kansas, for example, would allow students to sue their schools for $2,500 if they see someone in their bathroom who should not be allowed to enter based on their “chromosomes” and their “anatomy” at birth. That is a direct financial incentive to scrutinize someone’s physical appearance in a bathroom. What could possibly go wrong?
And instead of keeping men out of women’s bathrooms, they will require men to use them. But transphobic lawmakers are too busy demonizing transgender women to think this requirement through.
After Gov. McCrory signed the anti-LGBT law, for example, he wrote in a statement that the Charlotte non-discrimination ordinance that it was intended to target “defie[d] common sense and basic community norms by allowing, for example, a man to use a woman’s bathroom, shower or locker room.”
That is always the example, never the inverse. When Houston was voting to overturn its own non-discrimination ordinance last fall, former Astro Lance Berkman said that it would “allow troubled men who claim to be women to enter women’s bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms.” It is the mantra and the lie, as Jay Michaelson wrote for The Daily Beast, that now fuels the passage of anti-LGBT legislation after the legalization same-sex marriage.
But this legislative attack is not about protecting women and girls from predatory men. It’s about lawmakers exerting so much energy to keep a certain group of women out of women’s bathrooms that they are also explicitly ordering a certain group of men into women’s bathrooms.
Whether or not those men obey the law is another story. Schofield says that he, like many transgender men, will continue using men’s restrooms when in North Carolina.
“We’re just going to break the law a few times a day and use the same bathrooms that we’ve been using,” he said.
But others, especially young transgender students, may not be willing to test that limit depending on how—or if—the law is enforced in the public facilities they use.
“I fear for the safety of all trans and gender nonconforming people,” said Rev. Hero. “Using the restroom is one of the most basic rights a person should have.”
The full effects of the terrifying legislation remain to be seen. One thing is clear: If North Carolina lawmakers truly want to keep men out of women’s restrooms, they have failed spectacularly. And it is transgender people who will pay the price for their mistake.