Both Sides In The Transgender ‘Bathroom Battle’ Are Wrong

David Benkof Contributor
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Brace yourselves for more bathroom battles after last week’s smash 22-point repeal of Houston’s equal rights law. Traditionalists on gay issues, long stymied at the polls and elsewhere, finally see a winning path in the Houston campaign’s near-exclusive focus on the specter of predatory males lurking in women’s facilities. LGBT advocates are undeterred in their demand that the government treat a person’s gender identity as equivalent to biological sex in every way.

The conversation has gotten way out of hand, with no respite in sight. And both sides of the argument are wrong, very wrong.

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) was not a “Bathroom Bill.” It was a broad civil rights ordinance that deserved to be passed or defeated based on its actual content. (I would have voted no for religious-freedom reasons.) In fact, the provision in the bill’s first draft granting individuals the right to choose bathrooms matching their gender identities had already been dropped. So under the city council’s clear legislative intent, HERO did not to apply to bathrooms.

HERO’s threats to privacy may have been false, but real dangers lurk elsewhere. Last week, the federal government threatened to withhold federal funding from a school district in Illinois that allowed a transgender girl to use female bathrooms but not locker rooms. The ruling, based on the ever-expanding Title IX, threatens the privacy not only of students from traditional families but also some of the very transgender students it purports to protect.

The transgender girl who sued her school saw her defiance as a political act, declaring “The Department of Education’s decision makes clear that what my school did was wrong.” But gender identity for many, if not most, transgender kids, is a private struggle. Not every transgender girl wishes to change and shower in a room where she is the only one with a penis. Some would be mortified by such a requirement.

And it is a requirement. Since the Department of Education’s directive does not allow schools to design their own compromises, all transgender students will be assigned to facilities matching their lived gender, with transgender-exclusive changing rooms and tailor-made plans to meet the dignity and privacy needs of all students being strictly forbidden.

The lack of local discretion will increase the suffering of some transgender kids, and lead others to prolong their secrecy and shame lest they be forced to use facilities they’re not ready for.

The LGBT leadership, nonetheless, has rejoiced. Are political victories really more important than the lived experience of trans kids themselves?

The Obama Administration’s new policy shows contempt for the privacy concerns of families with traditional ideas about modesty. Parents once shielded their middle-school daughters from seeing male genitalia as a matter of course; now, doing so makes them bigots. People with different preferences should still be able to respect that some families prioritize their children’s innocence more than others.

Here are four gross misunderstandings repeatedly expressed by Americans worked up about transgender teens:

  • Nobody changes gender casually, spitefully, or for attention. While for many transgender children it really is a phase, all report that their outward bodies don’t match their internal feelings. Transgender people of all ages suffer greatly in today’s society, facing constant misconceptions, ridicule, and the threat of violence.
  • Calling a transgender girl “a boy in a dress” is cruel. Why mock a child who already faces daily grief? Find honest language that is nonetheless respectful. If your beliefs prevent you from calling a transgender girl “she,” call her “Monica” or whatever name she uses. If even that feels inauthentic to your worldview, say “the child who goes by the name Monica.” If you don’t like the term “transgender girl,” use “child who is born male but now identifies as female.”
  • The boys declaring “I think I’ll be a girl today” to access girls’ locker rooms simply don’t exist. Coming out as transgender is prolonged, fraught, and anything but whimsical. Seriously, how many male-identified boys are going to volunteer to be taunted by classmates who see them crossing gender lines?
  • Transgender people are natural allies of conservatives. Unlike feminists, who seek to undermine and even extinguish the gender binary, transgender people embrace it – they just think they were born on the wrong side of it.

The fierce opposition to restroom accommodations can even grow murderous. A poster showed up on my Facebook wall with two photos: President Obama saying, “We’re sending trans boys (sic) into your daughter’s locker rooms; and a Hollywood actor loading a gun: “Nope. Not with my daughter.”

Does that poster threaten violence against the president (a felony), boosters of new bathroom policies, or transgender children themselves? It’s unclear. This issue is new to public debate, and thus people on both sides are still figuring out how to discuss it. Intimidation has no place in this or any civilized conversation.

Alas, threats and acts of violence against transgender women (in particular) are commonplace. Upon seeing males flouting gender norms, too many men have a visceral reaction that fosters anger and hostility.

The Bathroom Battle can be easily resolved if respectful people focus on practicalities rather ideology. Options include communal showers with individual stalls, alternative private bathrooms for gender nonconforming children, and special hours for changing and showering. The idea that such accommodations will draw negative attention to transgender kids is frankly silly. Do we really think kids don’t already know which of their peers is transitioning?

The stunning gains of the LGBT movement in the last decade have real victims. In nine states, adoption agencies cannot give even tie-breaker preference to mother-father families. Public schools increasingly tolerate only LGBT-endorsed views of sexuality, marriage, and family. And, of course, people’s livelihoods are at risk if they decline to help celebrate “marriages” they do not consider to be marriages.

Yet traditionalist conservatives have been largely passive. Why has it taken a bogus, easily solved issue to recalibrate the American conversation about sexuality? And now that the conversation is shifting, will those other concerns get lost in the fury over locker rooms and toilet stalls? I sure hope not.

David Benkof is Senior Political Analyst at the Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or E-mail him at