Stop Using Women’s Safety To Justify Transphobia

I care too much about women’s safety to sit silently and allow it to be co-opted and used to hurt vulnerable women. Bills like HB2 don’t help cis women, and make trans women demonstrably less safe.

In March, North Carolina passed the appalling HB2, requiring public venues and government buildings to restrict bathroom access on the basis of birth-assigned sex. Similar legislation is being considered in at least seven other states, a potentially massive setback for the rights of trans and gender non-conforming people nationwide.

There are so many reasons this law is terrible—who could pick just one? It’s basically unenforceable, for one thing, and if it is enforced it will be primarily to the detriment of people (both cis and trans) who don’t present in gender-binary-normative ways. Restricting bathroom access, in practice, restricts gender nonconforming people’s access to full participation in public life, since it makes it impossible to perform the most basic and necessary bodily functions without fearing for your safety.

But there’s another, more personal reason why HB2 and bills like it make me furious: As a cis woman, I am sick and fucking tired of my safety being used as an excuse to persecute trans women.

Proponents of these “bathroom bills” argue that they’re a safety measure to prevent trans women from harassing or assaulting cis women. Here’s why that’s absurd: There are already laws against harassing and assaulting people. And there are no documented cases I can find of a trans woman harassing or assaulting anybody in a public bathroom. Banning trans women from sharing bathrooms with cis women does not do anything for my safety, or the safety of any other cis woman. It does, however, send a message to trans people that they are not welcome—and that’s precisely its purpose. HB2’s supporters acknowledge that it’s unenforceable. They just want it in writing that North Carolina does not honor and affirm its people’s gender identities, and that trans people should not feel supported or protected there.

North Carolina Governer Pat McCrory, who signed this pointlessly cruel bill into law, tweeted that he did so “to stop the breach of basic privacy and etiquette.” (Governor McCrory, who signed into law legislation that forces abortion providers to meet surgical center building standards and prevents public health insurance policies from paying for abortions, has a lot of fucking nerve pretending to care about protecting women’s privacy.)

Other supporters of HB2 have also cited privacy as a reason for passing it. Hi, everyone! Do you know how often women see each other’s genitals in multi-occupancy women’s restrooms? Here’s a hint: never. That never happens. We have stalls, you see, with these fancy mechanisms called “doors.”

As a woman from the demographic this embarrassment of a bill claims to protect, I do not actually need to be protected from peeing in the next stall over from a woman whose genitals look different than mine. I assume this has already happened many times, with both cis and trans women, because none of our junk is identical; we’re all beautiful and unique snowflakes, crotchally speaking. I assume, but I don’t KNOW, because, as I said, women don’t look at each other’s genitals in public bathrooms.

I suppose theoretically a trans woman could look over the top of her stall at you, but a cis woman could do that too, and either way it would be creepy and illegal. So why do we need legislation that targets trans women specifically? You have to laugh at the double standard, because otherwise you’ll scream: Women who don’t trust men because actual men have abused, harassed, assaulted, demeaned, and otherwise fucked with them are considered irrational hysterics; meanwhile, banning ALL trans women from using gender-appropriate bathrooms because there’s a chance that one of them somewhere MIGHT be a creeper is considered wise and appropriate.

I care too much about women’s safety to sit silently and allow it to be co-opted and used to hurt vulnerable women. Bills like HB2 don’t help cis women, and make trans women demonstrably less safe. Unlike the possibility of a trans woman harassing a cis woman in a public bathroom, the violence experienced by trans women, mostly at the hands of men, isn’t hypothetical; it’s real. Forcing trans women to use the men’s bathroom absolutely compromises their safety.

This is all the more infuriating because women’s safety is a real issue, and is genuinely under attack from many sides. I can scarcely fathom the level of misogyny needed to assert that women need bathrooms segregated by birth-assigned sex, but not access to reproductive health services, not better sex education, not racial justice or economic justice.

Trans women in the bathrooms that match their gender do not threaten women’s safety. Lack of access to birth control threatens women’s safety. Abortion restrictions so labyrinthine as to be nearly insurmountable threaten women’s safety. Limited space in shelters threatens women’s safety (including trans women’s). Poverty threatens women’s safety (including trans women’s). Male violence and entitlement threaten women’s safety (including trans women’s). Police brutality threatens women’s safety (especially trans women’s). Lack of workplace protections for LGBTQ people—you know, the exact protections North Caroline just outlawed—threatens women’s safety. If you’re not working to overcome those things, don’t pretend that what motivates you is a deep concern for women. HB2 was born of bigotry, pure and simple, and the desire to codify that bigotry.

I am tired of people who don’t care about what’s best for women pretending they do only when it’s convenient, meaning only when it will allow them to discriminate against an even more oppressed group. I absolutely reject the idea that cis women’s safety and trans women’s privacy and self-determination are at odds. If you claim to care about women, you’d better care about all women, and work to actually keep them safe. Should you happen to live in North Carolina, voting Pat McCrory out of office this November would be a great place to start.

Lindsay King-Miller is a queer writer who lives in Denver with her partner, an ever-growing collection of books, and a very spoiled cat. She is the author of Ask a Queer Chick: A Guide to Sex, Love, and Life for Girls who Dig Girls (Plume 2016).

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