Content warning: Discussions about sexual assault.
For those who live under a rock, North Carolina recently passed House Bill 2, which restricts transgender people from using their preferred restroom. According to certain legislators, including North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, allowing biologically male people to enter women’s bathrooms puts predators and victims in closer proximity, and would make it easier for rapists to commit sexual assault.
I don’t even know where to begin.
Like, literally. I wrote that sentence, and then stared at my screen for 10 minutes thinking about where to start because there are so many levels as to why this debate is absolutely ridiculous.
Let’s start with the fact that we’ve been sharing restrooms with trans people for our entire lives, and probably have never realized when it’s happening. The only reason that this is such an outlandish issue for some people is because it’s being discussed so heavily in the media, and it gives people an outlet to express their discriminatory beliefs outside of their living rooms. Odds are, the trans woman using the women’s bathroom doesn’t have the appearance of a man sporting a full beard and a skirt (although this cis woman sports the look beautifully). We’re probably not going to notice if a woman is a cis or trans woman in the minute and a half that we’re in the bathroom with her. Never mind the fact that enforcing the bill itself would be near impossible. Must we bring our drivers licenses to use the bathroom? Are there going to be gender officers that we have to flash in order to gain entry if we don’t have a valid form of identification?
Possibly what is the most infuriating, however, is the conversation around sexual assault. Predators have been sexually assaulting women in bathrooms for as long as there have been bathrooms. I have been taught ever since I was a little girl to go to the bathroom with at least one other female, because men can enter a woman’s bathroom and sexually assault a girl more easily if she’s alone. As a matter of fact, the first time I ever saw a man in the woman’s bathroom, I was thirteen, and he was urinating in the first stall of the movie theater bathroom with the door wide open. I immediately alerted the managers, but the response was underwhelming to say the least. He was simply escorted out of the bathroom, but allowed to stay at the theater and finish his movie. In addition, I remember in middle school hearing my girlfriends tell me about boys peeking under the stalls in the girl’s room during school hours, and I’ve heard personal stories about cis women being attacked in the bathroom by cis men. None of these predators needed to wear lipstick and a wig in order to commit their crimes. Men have never needed a dress or the excuse of gender identity to stop them from entering in a place where they were not invited, in terms of both bathrooms and women’s bodies.
In addition, House Bill 2 is completely misguided. Not only is it penalizing transgender people’s comfort for the sexual violence of cis men, but women are more likely to be attacked by their partners, family members, friends, or someone else she already knows, than they are by a stranger entering the bathroom. Although it does happen, the myth that it is more likely to occur by a stranger just isn’t true. It is harmful to the majority of victims who have been attacked by a familiar person, and who may not believe that their experience can be considered rape because it doesn’t fit the stereotype. In many cases, the predator following the woman into the bathroom is someone she already knows. This does not invalidate women who have been attacked by strangers in any way, shape, or form. However, I am questioning why certain people are so vocally concerned about men posing as women to rape anonymously, and not as concerned about where the majority of assaults are coming from.
In 2012, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned a conviction for an accused rapist with the justification that his victim, who was severely mentally and physically handicapped, “didn’t fight back enough” to constitute nonconsensual sex. In six states, the term “forcible rape” is still used as a legal term for sexual assault; as if there is rape that isn’t forcible. Just yesterday, a court in Oklahoma ruled that having oral sex with someone who is unconscious isn’t sexual assault. Between low conviction rates, high reports of victim blaming by justice systems across the country, and the prevalence of sexual assault given with the repeated 1 in 5 statistic, one thing is clear. These legislators obviously don’t care about sexual assault or its victims. If they did, they would have been getting up on their podiums a long time ago and calling for legislative reform. They would have been calling for sexual assault to be discussed in schools. They would have called for training for police officers to effectively handle sexual assault reports before they become outed, so to speak, in civil lawsuits. They would have been aggressively raising awareness about sexual assault long before transgender people became a media topic to discuss. Instead, they simply saw an opportunity to legally discriminate against people who they do not understand, and in doing so, they are exploiting a real tragedy that happens every day without the assistance of an open bathroom.
I personally find this morally disgusting. If we want to talk about sexual assault, there is a lot to say without accusing transgender people of contributing to the problem. Most importantly, the conversation we should be having about transgender people and sexual assault is being silenced by House Bill 2. The rates of transgender people who have experienced sexual assault are more than double that of their cis counterparts. If anyone is at a higher risk, especially now that this bill is inciting open hate and transphobia (I don’t need a link to support this statement, just log on to your Facebook and scroll through your newsfeed), it’s the people who House Bill 2 is discriminating against. We need to stand with our sisters, brothers, and others. We can’t let discrimination prevail. We have more momentum than ever in fighting for both transgender people’s rights, and the rights of those who have been sexually assaulted. We will repeal this bill, and stop more states from passing similar legislation. But we have to speak up, both to those around us and to those leading us.