Behind-the-scenes reports have suggested the Trump Administration is agonizing whether to repeal an Obama-era order requiring schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice. Despite traditionalist suspicions of transgenderism, conservative values actually favor a permissive policy. The problem with the Obama order, though, is that it militantly nationalized a complex problem and privileged dignity for transgender students over the equally legitimate value of privacy for everyone else.
It may sound strange, but transgender people are natural allies of conservatives. Liberal feminists wish to demolish the gender binary and argue that men and women are the same – if gender even exists. By contrast, most transgender people accept and even embrace gender. They just think theirs is not reflected in their bodies.
The proper response to a person who believes she was born in the wrong body is compassion and respect, even when disagreeing politically. People who grow up with a sense of corporeal disjointedness suffer greatly – even before discrimination and hate crimes threaten them further.
Yet far too often conservatives speak of (and to) transgender people as if their emotions and identity are nothing but strident play-acting. The low point in this phenomenon was Ben Shapiro calling a(n admittedly obnoxious) transgender woman “Sir” on the Dr. Drew show. It was completely davka (a Hebrew word meaning, essentially, spiteful).
If they try, traditionalists can nearly always maintain their gender Weltanschauung while treating others with respect. If you can’t bring yourself to call Caitlyn Jenner “she,” call her “Caitlyn.” If you can’t bring yourself to call her Caitlyn, call her “the former Olympic athlete.” You can stay true to your own values without being davka.
Other conservatives, probably disingenuously, harp on transgender people as “mentally ill.” If critics really believe transfolk are mentally ill, why are they attacking them? I thought they were ill. Surely any decent person who sees people suffering from mental maladies would respond only in a discreet way to succor their mental health. Good people don’t mock and assail people with known mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, Tourette’s, and PTSD.
Laws like North Carolina’s that require transgender people to use the bathroom matching their chromosomes are punitive and counterproductive. Think about it: if you want to protect innocent youth from being confused about gender, laws like North Carolina’s will not help you. When followed, people dressed as women, with women’s names, and who present themselves as women use men’s toilets, sinks and mirrors in front of boys whose parents don’t consider transgenderism age-appropriate. If transgender women use women’s rooms, virtually nobody will notice (as is already true the vast majority of times transgender people pee).
Besides, conservatives value freedom. Giving Americans unnecessary rules about their most intimate functions should offend conservative consciences. And I wish any time I discuss this issue I could focus on showing traditionalists why transgender people deserve respect and dignity in deciding which facilities to use.
But I can’t do that. Because as is their wont, liberals have taken respect for transgender people way too far. They have chosen to nationalize an issue that – like most educational policies – should be worked out at a state and district level. They have turned an issue of freedom into an issue of “rights” with the requisite comparisons to the African-American freedom struggle – and once you do that, no compromise is possible. And they have conflated bathrooms with locker rooms.
Normally, the only time in a typical bathroom when a person’s genitals are exposed is when a man uses a urinal. And the only time transgender women could use a urinal, and thus expose their genitals, is when laws like North Carolina’s force them to use men’s rooms. Women’s rooms don’t have urinals.
Locker rooms, with open nudity, are different. Parents and students have legitimate concerns about privacy, for example wishing one’s daughters to see no penises until they’re married. Those might not be everyone’s values, but, well, free country.
The Obama policy outlaws creative solutions by districts. For example, schools can’t ask transgender students to use separate facilities, lest transgender students feel stigmatized – as if the other students aren’t going to be aware that someone who changed her name and her clothing style and still has some characteristics of the other sex is transgender.
Adults can avoid open bathroom policies of offices and shopping malls by not working or shopping there. But America’s public school regime practically forces many Americans to send their children to schools where the bathroom policy may or may not reflect their values. Each school should consider local conditions in designing an approach to the clash of values with mutual respect, compromise and dignity. The Obama Administration’s nationalized order, by contrast, chose stridency, extremism, and disrespect. No wonder so many conservatives reacted to it with more hostility to transgender people.
The Trump Administration should drop the federal policy, instead providing resources and guidance to schools trying to find local solutions to a complex topic.
Compared to other things the LGBT community is demanding like restrictions on religious freedom, letting trans people use bathrooms of their choice should be a no-brainer – and perhaps could have been had liberals acted more reasonably. Now that we’re in charge, we can craft policies that maintain dignity and respect for everybody.
David Benkof is a columnist for The Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.