This is the scenario people opposed to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance want me to believe is going to happen: My little girl, all pink eyeglasses, blond curls and a sass level over 9,000, will need to use a public restroom at the park or a restaurant. Once in there, she will be at the mercy of a transwoman, maybe even one with a penis, who will use the rights protected by HERO to…what? Pee within a certain amount of feet from her? Expose herself? Molest her? What diabolical she-penis monstrosity has the city unleashed on our powerless womenfolk?
I’ve got to tell you I know a fair number of trans folks, and the idea of any of them in the bathroom with my daughter scares me way less than the thought of someone who honestly holds these beliefs being in there with her does.
First of all, let’s get something out of the way that shouldn’t need saying: Exposing yourself to people in public, physically molesting or assaulting them, and raping them, will still be illegal with HERO. Whether the perpetrator is another child, a 60-year-old grandmother or a trans person is irrelevant.
Second, I researched HERO extensively last year in a cover story for the Houston Press, and among the many things I found out in my investigation was that lists of trans people caught abusing similar ordinances to expose themselves in public were generally bullshit. Most lists are compiled by the Family Research Council and then spread through the media by regular Fox correspondent Todd Starnes without any apparent fact-checking. Equal rights ordinances that include protection for gender identity do not lead to any verifiable uptick of sex crimes involving women and bathrooms. They just don’t.
Here’s what bothers me the most about this odd obsession with penises in the restroom. My daughter is fairly short. It’s not her fault; I am descended from Arkansas dwarf-people in the Ozarks who consider 5’3” a promising candidate for the high school basketball team. Since most public restrooms simply refuse to consider children in their designs or provide stepstools for their use, I often hear a plaintive “Daddy?” while I wait for her outside and have to dart in so I can turn on the sink or get her soap.
I find doing this incredibly nerve-wracking because I’m terrified someone hyped up on this weird gender binary absolutism is going to cause trouble seeing me in there even if I’m clearly helping her wash her hands. This whole idea that the mere presence of a penis makes a restroom unsafe for girls and women plays merry hell on how jumpy we all get. It doesn’t help that I sort of look just like the exact bogeyman they fear with my long hair and effeminate features offset by men’s clothes and perpetual beard stubble. I’ve honestly just let her come back from the bathroom without washing her hands a few times simply because I saw several women in the restroom and was worried what the reaction would be if I entered to lift her to the sink.
It works the other way, too. If I just take her into the men’s room with me, other men will literally scurry out. That is mental.
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I mentioned this to someone once and that person asked me, “Well, why don’t you let your wife take her?” First of all, fuck that. I’m a parent and I will be a 100 percent parent if I want to be. I’m not going to divvy up child-rearing duties in my household according to a bunch of pearl-clutching transphobes.
Second, and this is the one that bothers me the most, what’s to stop those same absolutists from endangering my wife and daughter? I mean, if someone is dead set on keeping penises out of the female restroom and there’s no inherent legal protection in place for gender identity (note: Cis is also a gender identity), what’s to stop that person from demanding my wife, or even my daughter, prove she doesn’t have a penis? Yes, my wife and daughter are both very girly-girls who fit nicely into the presumed feminine ideal of the American mind-set, but so do lots of transwomen. Since the whole idea behind the fear is that dicks are infiltrating “undercover,” presumably all it would take is some yokel’s reasonable doubt to end up with the women I love searched for their secret perverted attack dongs. Don’t think for a second this doesn’t already happen.
Given the choice between an imaginary wave of trans predators or an empowered lot of bigots using the law to police gender and gender identity at their whim, I know which one I feel safer sending my kid into. She’ll need HERO in her future far more than she’ll need outdated fearmongering. One day she may be pregnant, or a veteran, or disabled, or hopefully old, and HERO looks out for all those people. Who do opponents of HERO look out for? The sort of folk who feel they have a right to judge by your genitals where you can go. As far as I’m concerned, that makes them as trustworthy as witch-hunters stripping women to search for the devil’s mark, and I prefer those people as far from me and mine as possible.