Rape, Transgender Rights, and Reason

Houston, we have a problem.

Apologies for the obvious line, but my head is spinning a bit as you have simultaneously demonstrated both your intense fear about theoretical rapes in bathrooms and your apparent disinterest in actual rapes in actual bathrooms.

Your recent vote against an anti-discrimination ordinance seems to have been largely driven by ignorance and fear. Please correct me if I’m wrong. But the swelling conservative reaction to transgender rights is based almost entirely on the infamous bathroom argument: that predatory men will use anti-discrimination policies to pretend to be women and attack them in public restrooms.

The argument is absurd on many levels. Why would men go to the trouble of dressing up as women to carry out rapes? The vast majority of rapes are currently committed with impunity due to low reporting, prosecution, and conviction rates. It’s hard to imagine there are rapists out there who are saying to themselves, “If only there were an anti-discrimination policy in this town, THEN I’d be able to put on a dress and wig to commit rape in the luxury and privacy of a public bathroom!”

But let’s just go with it and say there’s a rapist who absolutely will not commit rape unless he gets to pretend to be a woman to do so. How exactly would an anti-discrimination policy protect him? Are there lots of rapists dressing up as women who are foiled because they are kicked out of the bathroom before they can attack? Can anyone name a single instance where gender discrimination in restrooms has served a protective purpose?

Also, denying rights to an entire group of people because of an irrational fear of something that has literally never happened is pretty much the definition of discrimination.

But to make matters worse, Houston, even as your vote places a faulty argument about rape prevention paramount to human rights, one of your police detectives – with a best supporting role from a local TV station – demonstrated just how seriously rape in bathrooms is taken. As reported on Jezebel, a 12-year-old girl (i.e. under the age of consent) was lured into a CVS bathroom by a man in his 20s (who was not, in fact, pretending to be a woman at the time). The detective told the local ABC affiliate that the girl, “was not necessarily all that unwilling” before helpfully adding that her willingness does not matter because she was 12. The news report added to the focus on the victim’s willingness by referring to what happened as “sex” and not “rape.”

Why even bring up the degree of her willingness if, as pointed out, it does not matter from a legal perspective? Was she only kind of unwilling? How unwilling does a 12-year-old have to be, and how does she have to show it, for the police to present it to the media as a straight up crime?

No. You do not get to pretend rape prevention is so important to you that you’ll vote away rights that are on the books, and then turn around and shrug when a 12-year-old is raped. You just don’t.

All this is on the heels of the outrage directed at the Department of Education for asking an Illinois school to accommodate a transgender girl’s request to be allowed to change in the same locker room as other girls on her team. In this case, opposition seems to be focused not so much on the possibility of rape, but on the possibility that a girl might see a penis. (Note that the exposure argument is exclusively applied to integration of transgender girls/women with cisgender girls/women, and not to integration of transgender men. Only girls and women are apparently irredeemably scarred by seeing the genitalia of the opposite sex.) In the New York Times, a Focus on the Family representative was quoted as saying, “girls should not have to risk being exposed to boys in locker rooms, changing rooms, and restrooms.”

Given their comments, I’m really curious about what these people do in locker rooms and restrooms. Personally, I have successfully used public restrooms my entire life without once seeing what’s in the pants of anyone else. And in locker rooms, the norm seems to be eyes front/down and dress quickly. One only needs to listen to transgender people to know that they don’t see access to the appropriate locker room as an opportunity to make others uncomfortable. They see it as a right, much like equal access to public facilities has been guaranteed for others in this country.

So Houston, and everywhere else considering restricting people’s rights, keep the following in mind:

  1. Transgender people are the ones who are most vulnerable in locker rooms and bathrooms. Not cisgender people.
  2. Transgender people, if they have not surgically transitioned, are unlikely to be super excited to flaunt their genitalia, given they don’t identify with these body parts.
  3. “Privacy” does not mean you have a right to never be uncomfortable. Living in a diverse society means sometimes you have to accept that your comfort does not trump other people’s rights.

Above all, no one should vote on these issues until they educate themselves – preferably by listening to the perspectives of transgender people themselves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *