By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist—
I’d like to talk to you about bathrooms. Well, actually, I’d like to talk to you about bathrooms and locker rooms and libraries and courthouses and restaurants too, but let’s start with bathrooms.
By now, you have probably heard about Florida’s “Bathroom Bill (HB 583).” Given that I usually write these things a few weeks before publication, I can hope that by the time you read these words it’s been tossed out like the garbage it is. I can hope, but I very much doubt it. Even if this particular iteration of this malicious meme has been properly defeated, the same sort of hateful bill is being proposed in a number of other states and municipalities all over the country. But then, if you’re trans, you probably know all this already, which is why I’d like to direct this argument primarily at our (potential) allies.
This is deliberate fear-mongering. Bills like this aren’t meant to address any sort of public safety issue. They aren’t trying to correct a problem called out by the hue and cry of the crowds. They are trying to stir emotions. They are trying to get people not to think, to simply react from their guts.
As evidenced by the rapid passage of same-sex marriage protections all over the country, including in Florida, gay and lesbian people are becoming much more accepted. Straight, cisgender folks know gay people now and have known them long enough and well enough that it’s not even “cool” to have a gay friend anymore. It’s just another friend. [pullquote]It’s a lot more than just bathrooms. We can be kicked off a bus, kept out of a courthouse, and denied service at a restaurant, all from a lack of explicit protections. [/pullquote]
That means that the “conservatives” (in quotes because the people I’m talking about are anything but) and the right-wingers have to find another target for their emotional manipulations, and trans people are just the perfect target to them. We’ve attained a level of visibility that is unprecedented, yet many folks have not yet met an actual flesh-and-blood trans person, at least not knowingly. Additionally, gender is still one of those things that lots of people tend to think is settled and done. They think that if you’re a boy, you’re a boy and if you’re a girl, you’re a girl, and that’s that—except of course it isn’t, and that freaks people out. Even nice, rational, well-meaning people kind of have trouble wrapping their heads around it all.
If they think it through, or if they get the chance to actually meet and get to know a trans or gender-variant person, they can usually get past all that. But if you hit them in the gut first—if you aim for the irrational, fight-or-flight-based, thought-erasing fear part of the brain—they will act like a herd of animals instead of individual human beings. If you make people think their children and women are in danger, even if they’re not, they will stop thinking. They will simply act, and damn the consequences. [pullquote]If you make people think their children and women are in danger, even if they’re not, they will stop thinking. They will simply act, and damn the consequences. [/pullquote]
It’s a favourite tool of power-hungry politicians. It’s also popular with both fundamentalist religious sects and ratings-hungry media-moguls. It’s how Fox News works, and to be fair, though somewhat less blatantly, it’s also how CNN and pretty much all the major network news shows work. And, people eat it up, even good people.
C-SPAN generally avoids it. Do you remember the last time you sat down and watched C-SPAN? Yeah, I thought so.
This fear-impulse is an excellent (excellently horrible) way for those in power to control populations they want to keep in check and to control the people who fear those populations. You may privately think it’s not such a big deal for trans people to have to show ID when they use the restroom. You might think it’s an inconvenience perhaps, but not entirely unreasonable.
What happens when we get used to that? If that becomes the new normal? What if it becomes an easy excuse for arresting any trans person who maybe doesn’t have the right ID or badge, who just couldn’t hold their pee any longer but was afraid to use the restroom that matches their identifying symbol? Then the good, God-fearing, family-loving citizens would no longer have to worry about those scary trans people, because they wouldn’t have to see them or be confronted by any more uncomfortable ideas. Out of sight and out of mind.
“And where did they all go anyway?”
“Best not to ask.”
You can probably guess where I’m going with this, and maybe you think I’m overplaying the situation, but is it really such a stretch? Gay people have only just gained a true measure of mainstream acceptance. Brown people are being rounded up and locked away at our borders, and black people are being killed in the streets—still. All the ground we’ve gained could be lost in a flash. [pullquote]Even without laws that are designed to actively persecute us, even in states where we have some protections like here in Massachusetts where just recently we gained workplace protections and a number of other basic civil rights protections, we can still be denied access to basic public accommodations. It’s a lot more than just bathrooms.[/pullquote]
Trans people are on a razor’s edge. We still have very few actual rights and protections. Even without laws that are designed to actively persecute us, even in states where we have some protections like here in Massachusetts where just recently we gained workplace protections and a number of other basic civil rights protections, we can still be denied access to basic public accommodations. It’s a lot more than just bathrooms. We can be kicked off a bus, kept out of a courthouse, and denied service at a restaurant, all from a lack of explicit protections. Now imagine how bad things can get and how quickly they can devolve to include other minority populations if we allow laws that actively attack those among us who are most vulnerable.
That is why it is so incredibly important that we all stand together on this. We cannot, must not, allow these bathroom bills to gain traction anywhere they are presented. Even if you don’t understand trans people, even if you’d rather not have anything to do with us, I beg you to think this through. Reason it out to where laws like this can lead a society. Don’t let yourself be manipulated by fear. Choose thought and compassion instead.
*Lorelei Erisis is an actor, activist, adventurer, and pageant queen. Send your questions about trans issues, gender and sexuality to her at: [email protected].
NOTE: If you’d like your voice to be heard and to make a difference, you can sign a petition stating that you are against Bill HB 583. The petition can be found here.