Bathroom Choices

My mom doesn’t get all this bathroom law stuff. I don’t either. Her question to me was “Where were these people who identified as women or men going to the bathroom before?” My assumption is they were going into the bathroom that suited the gender they identified with, which was probably also the gender they felt they were presenting to society and, in most cases, that matched the one society perceived them as.

There’s a lot of privacy within a bathroom, anyway. Outside of a bar or two where men line up and pee collectively into a latrine, you have your own urinal and usually a divider between yours and the man next to you. Women’s restrooms, I’m guessing, offer even more privacy. So what’s the fuss? I don’t know but I’ll guess.

Where do laws come from? Laws are formed out of a social consensus. We forget that, but even murder must have started, somewhere in ancient history, as a thing someone did and got a lot of flak from the rest of the community for doing (probably after it was done to someone with some clout or to someone related to someone with some clout), so much that it was decided a punishment ought to be imposed. Eventually imposing punishments for murders became habit. Then law.

The consensus has long been that people use the restroom for the gender they identify with, which is also the gender they feel they’re presenting to society and that matches the one society perceives them as, so the fuss is simply shifting consensus into law. Why should we? Because people deserve to feel safe. The consensus we’ve been operating under for some time is not disruptive. What would be disruptive is if people who identified as a certain gender, the one they felt they were presenting to society and the one that matched the one society perceived them as being, did an about-face and headed into the “wrong” but “legally right” restroom. That would cause an actual disruption. The consensus we’ve been operating under hasn’t been causing disruptions and it will continue not to.

I recently posted a favorite line from David Foster Wallace’s short story, “Forever Overhead”

The rule says one on the ladder at a time but the guard never shouts about it. The guard makes the real rules by shouting or not shouting.

Here the rule is you go to the bathroom that is the gender you are born into under some outdated idea about how binary gender is but the guard has long ago stopped shouting about it because consensus has adjusted to gender being more flexible. But men who might be legally defined as women and women who might be legally defined as men, but all of whom identify with the opposite gender as that and feel they’re presenting that opposite gender to society and are perceived by society as that gender are operating under the consensus we’ve reached and don’t want to be yelled at by the guard, and they deserve not to be.

This feels strikingly similar to a recent law we’ve outgrown, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s already mind boggling that this was an actual law on the books, from 1993-2011, according to Wikipedia. Gay people have been serving in militaries for as long as there have been militaries. What changes is the influence of homophobia on society, i.e. whether or not the guard has been shouting. That ridiculous and embarrassing law existed to placate homophobia. Until 2011, we were too uncomfortable to face the obvious reality that gay people served in the military so we told them not to tell us and we wouldn’t ask and we made that a law. The gender bathroom laws certain states are trying to implement are a similar knee jerk reaction not to any change in how people are going to the bathroom but to a frustration in an official change to the status quo. The consensus is just trying to get officially on the books, as I said, for the understandable reason that people operating under the consensus but officially against a law that’s not really a law anymore don’t want to suddenly get yelled at by some guard who uses the law as an excuse to be a bigot. And yelled at, in this case, actually means being brought up on legal charges for going to the expected, by consensus, bathroom. That’s what we’re changing by putting this officially on the books. Not the consensus we’ve been operating under for some time now but the real legal charges our fellow men and women could potentially face for doing exactly what we expect.

Changing the status quo is always hard. That’s cognitive dissonance at work. Our brains have been trained to the simplistic, binary definitions of gender we’ve been taught since birth. We’re easily threatened by official changes to that long-standing rule, even after that rule has stopped making intuitive sense, even after the guard has long since stopped yelling. It’s the one on a ladder at a time sign coming down well after it’s been established that more than one can be on the ladder at a time. Please join us in making this positive change. If it hurts, that it hurts is an illusion.

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