Reporter's Notebook

A Good-Faith Debate on Transgender Rights
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Readers go back and forth regarding the best ways to address the contentious politics surrounding bathrooms and other areas of transgender rights and identity. To join in, especially if you’re transgender yourself or a conservative critic, please send a note to hello@theatlantic.com.

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Could the Transgender Debate Lead to Pay Toilets?

A few readers made the case earlier that single-person bathrooms or private stalls in locker rooms might be the best way to accommodate transgender Americans and Americans in general. If that happens, who pays for all that new construction? The local, state, or federal government, or the private sector? This next reader’s logic leads her to conclude that pay toilets could be coming:

I see this on both the right and the left: People think they can change something dramatic as to how society is structured and nothing else will change. Sometimes it works out that way, sometimes it doesn’t. Like Kansas thinks it can destroy its tax rolls, suck the money out of the department of transportation, and that will be just fine for the state’s highway system. On the other hand, conservatives predicted dire consequences for allowing gay marriage, and that doesn’t seem to have happened.

Here’s what I see happening on this transgender issue. If conservative states are required to allow trans people to use the bathroom of their choice, that is the same thing as not having sex-segregated bathrooms at all. Will most people use the bathroom that most conforms to their gender identity? Probably. But there will be cisgender male creeps and jerks who will insist on their right to hang out in women’s locker rooms, and it will be un-actionable. Sure, everyone will know they are being a creep. But we can’t/shouldn’t police people’s gender identity. How do you draft a law that allows pre-transition bio-males in women’s spaces, but keeps out completely cisgender creepy men? [A previous reader highlighted Washington State’s approach.]

That’s going to make a lot of people uncomfortable. And I think it’s going to lead to a breakdown in public toilets.

A transgender reader, Diane, has a simple and persuasive reply to the “woman who was exposed to a male using the wrong swimming pool changing room”:

I’m a male-to-female transsexual, post-op for 20+ years. I used women’s facilities during my pre-op days, but I worked hard to hide male genitalia. The goal for most of us is to live and be socially recognized as a member of the opposite sex. To that end, we go to great, very expensive lengths to fit in with social expectations of masculinity or femininity, as appropriate. Exposing our non-blendy selves is not what we intend.

For the record, I’d find a male exposing himself within “women's space,” whether intentional or not, to be worthy of whatever social stigmatization he gets.

Diane quickly follows up:

Dang! My bad for writing before I saw the Germaine Greer video you posted [in which Greer respectfully asserts that transgender women are “not women”]. First off, Germaine Greer rocks! She’s entitled to her opinion and should receive the honorary doctorate she so richly deserves.

I knew by the age of 3 that I’d rather be female. I didn’t understand the desire, and my mother made it very clear that I was a boy, that I’d never be a girl. In the late 1940s and 1950s, my survival depended on accepting the privileges of male childhood that were never extended to my female siblings. So from that perspective I was socialized as male, which means I’m not really the woman Ms. Greer expects. I accept that fact. But at the age of 70, I’m not going to march down Main Street wearing a sandwich board, declaring my trans-status.

Within the transgender community, my experience is similar to the norm. The LGB community needed people who were willing to push the boundaries that started the social conversation about homosexuality that resulted in mostly legal equality (discrimination exists despite SCOTUS rulings), making them mainstream. Transpeople will achieve social equality because of those willing to be public about their identity. [On Thursday] DoD removed the restrictions on military service. The more we’re in the public eye, the closer we get to acceptance.

Chris, thanks for the series on the debate. The anti-science absolutists will be on the wrong side of history.

This next reader, Frank (from the comments section on the DoD post I linked to above), is also on the wrong side of history—when it comes to trans servicemembers:

On Emma’s latest piece on transgender rights—specifically Massachusetts’s relatively slow pace to fully enact them compared to gay rights—the most up-voted comment from a reader is simply, “Why exactly are gay issues mashed together with transgender issues?” Reader Liam’s view:

The T in LGBT has never rested easily with LG because the L & G tend to be gender/sex essentialists. (TERF wars, anyone? [TERF stands for “trans exclusionary radicals feminists,” and their tension with trans people is covered in Notes here and here.] Armistead Maupin memorably satirized this very issue over 30 years ago with his book Babycakes). The T issues don’t map neatly into the L&G issues.

Another reader is on the same page:

LGBT—which of these letters is not like the other?