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Safety in bathrooms: The gender risk

February 3, 2018

This is part of a series on The Great Bathroom Debate; i.e., whether trans people should be able to use the gendered bathrooms of their choice. This is the second blog exploring the question of safety.

In it, I look at gender perceptions, and how these ideas shape our view of where trans people should be “allowed” to pee. 

Male is male, and male is violent

One of the bigger influencers in this debate is trans-scepticism, whereby people of a certain lean simply do not think transwomen differ enough from men to be safety counted as women. To them, transwomen are to be regarded as men, and regarded as dangerous for being men.

This is odd, because it suggests that we think men are inherently dangerous. Suddenly, we’re no longer talking about an insignificant <1% of the population, but a much more serious ~50%. If it were true that 50% of people were dangerous, protecting against them would at least make good financial sense.

However, most of us agree that men are generally not vicious by default. That being the case, it is inconsistent to argue that transwomen are dangerous because they are male. Instead, you’re looking at an obvious and distinct prejudice against the process of identifying as female, while being physically male. In the vernacular, transphobia.

What about the T?

Insofar as we accept that biological men are more dangerous than biological women, we tend to attribute it to the sex hormone testosterone. It’s important to note that the effect of artificially taken testosterone and oestrogen is confirmed to be identical in all observable ways to naturally produced versions.

In other words, whether transgender or cisgender, a high testosterone person displays stereotypically male characters of temper and expression, and a high oestrogen person displays female. Testosterone is thought to boost aggression and libido, relevant to the perceived risk of sexual violence.

Trans people differ on where they are on that spectrum, depending on their point of transition. Speaking for my part, I have been on T for five or six years. If male hormones make a person dangerous to women, I am more dangerous by far than a transwoman who has been on testosterone blockers and oestrogen for the last ten years.

However, the discussion is usually steered away from transmen like myself, because we do not fit the canon against crazy men-in-dresses, preying on women by pretending to be them.

Don’t male people matter?

Then there is the question of whose risk we are worried about. A transwoman going into a men’s bathroom is at more risk than a woman going into a bathroom with a transwoman.

If you doubt that, think about the numbers: if we are saying that the male of the species is more dangerous, it follows that the place with more men in is more dangerous. We cannot consign transwomen to the male bathroom without effectively telling them that we don’t care about their safety; that it is secondary to the safety of biological women.

 

There’s an indifference to the concept of male-victim violence in all this, as well. We don’t protect men and boys from other males in bathrooms, where one of them might be a gay sexual predator. Segregation, clearly, cannot fix this problem. Arguably then, it cannot fix any problems.

Trans safety and gender neutral spaces

Then there is the issue of how trans people feel; our sense of safety is not taken into account in all this. The problem is always presented as zero-sum: trans people want to break down the doors of gender segregated spaces, and the normal people want to stop us from doing it.

Actually, it’s more complicated than that. Many of us don’t feel safe in the spaces of our acquired gender roles. If we do agree that men are more intimidating, at least, than women – and more inclined to be violent when prejudiced – then transmen have a lot to fear from the male changing rooms and bathrooms.

In the mid stages of transition, there are no places that involve de-robing where trans people feel safe. Many of us stop using gym changing rooms, and eventually stop using the gym completely. We shouldn’t be compelled by circumstance to stop using a fitness facility. In an ideal world, there would be a space for trans people as well as cis.

A small flexible space for people who don’t want strict gendering need not come at the expense of people who do want it. Gendered spaces already exist; people who want them can keep them. Yet, anti-trans people rarely agree to this easy compromise, and have never yet given good reason for this.

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