The Bathroom Dilemma

Once again, I’m speaking out only after several months of avoiding it. But I can’t keep silent anymore, not after seeing family and friends on social media posting hateful things about transgender people.

I initially wasn’t going to say anything about the bathroom dilemma, simply because I felt like it would resolve itself in due time. And it very well may, but it looks like it’s going to escalate to a ridiculous level of fear-induced frenzy first.

So here I am, with another argument addressed specifically to Christians, citing Jesus’ actions and ministry as the ultimate example of how we should treat one another.

So let’s get going.

THE NOT-SO-NEW PROBLEM

To be quite honest, I’m at a loss as to why we feel that now we need to pass legislation prohibiting transgender individuals from using whichever public bathroom they feel most comfortable in. Trans people have been using public bathrooms for a long time now…you just didn’t know it. They’ve been around for a long time. The public is just now noticing it.

The main argument I’ve been hearing from conservatives on the bathroom issue is that allowing trans people to use their restrooms is “unsafe.” That men will be able to use women’s bathrooms and vice versa, and that will lead to molestation, harassment, and rape. To respond, I go back to my original statement:

Trans people have been using public restrooms all along.

And, I will add:

Trans people are NOT the danger in the bathroom. In fact, out of attacks on others in public restrooms, trans people account for 0%.

On the other hand, nearly 70% of trans people have reported “being denied entrance, assaulted, or harassed while trying to use a restroom.”

Trans people are not the ones molesting your children in bathrooms. That would be straight people.

Now, do I think we need to acknowledge the fact that straight individuals will attempt to harm people in public bathrooms? Yes. I take that seriously, and I don’t have a magic solution to that problem. As the statistics above show, forcing trans people into straight-assigned bathrooms may reduce the chances of a straight person getting assaulted in a bathroom, but it would increase violence against trans people. If we’re truly concerned about the safety of all people in public restrooms, we have to acknowledge the complexity of the problem.

But the argument I’m trying to make in this post isn’t about what should be done to make public bathrooms safer. I’ll leave that up to the people who make those decisions. What I am trying to highlight is the sad fact that, once again, conservatives—and Christians in particular—are putting themselves in the spotlight as being the face of a group who are unloving toward the marginalized.

Sigh.

Now, do you have to agree to allow trans people in “your” bathroom to be loving toward them? Some would argue no. I would argue that there’s a pretty good chance you have about zero interactions with trans people outside of this bathroom issue, so your stance and how you act on it is pretty much all these people are going to know you for. Maybe it’s time to think about whether or not this is how we want to come across.

Maybe you don’t care about how you’re coming across to the LGBT community.

But if you’re a Christian, you should.

ON THE MARGINS

We have a God-given responsibility to actively seek out the people on the margins—and that includes, from biblical examples, people with whose lifestyles we do not necessarily agree. So the issue is not whether or not a trans person is living right. The issue, rather, is how we’re going to treat that person as a fearfully and wonderfully made creation of the living God.

So here’s why I have a problem with pictures like this one:

bathroom_dilemma1

The UCLA students holding these signs are attending a Matt Walsh event in Santa Barbara—and so, presumably, they align with his Christian views. I absolutely abhor most of Matt Walsh’s “Christian” messages, simply because they are so utterly non-Christian, completely unloving and making no attempt to connect with the people he so quickly judges. If any of the individuals mentioned here—either Walsh or the students in this photograph—actually have close friendships with LGBT individuals, I would be surprised. Very few of us straight people have trans friends. (Granted, as approximately 0.3% of the population, transgendered individuals are not always around, and many present so convincingly we wouldn’t know it if they were. But if we do not have relationships people, it should not be for a lack of effort to find them and get to know them.)

Because how do we love them if we won’t go to them?

Is diagnosing a trans woman with a “mental disorder” showing her the love of Christ? Far from it. Not only is such a statement, written in bold permanent marker on a poster, scientifically false and incredibly judgmental—especially when paired with the confident smile and smart business suit of a white, straight person of privilege who has never in her life experienced that struggle—but “diagnosing” a trans person you don’t know as having a mental disorder is precisely the same as the American Psychiatric Association’s classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder—which was retracted and taken out of the DSM-II in 1974. Diagnosing someone else’s sexual expression as an illness or disorder is dangerously reminiscent of the horrific tactics of gay aversion therapy and electroshock therapy, used as recently as a couple of decades ago. This is dangerous ground.

More pointedly, the poster is a barrier between the straight students and LGBT people. It—like the signs “male” and “female” on bathroom doors—is a barrier, meant to separate those who are “normal” from those who are not. It will force you to choose a binary, to label and categorize yourself, whether you want to or not. Surely, even if you disagree with the trans lifestyle, you can begin imagine how utterly frustrating and even painful that must be.

imgres-1

TREATING TRANSGENDER

Folks, ultimately, if you don’t agree that trans people should be allowed in “straight” spaces like restrooms, I suppose that’s your prerogative. You can even make the argument of, “If we allow this, where does it end?” though I would argue that this is a reductio ad absurdum logical fallacy and not a legitimate argument.

Christians, I can’t make you be okay with trans people in public bathrooms. I can’t enforce the behavior of people in public restrooms. I don’t have a quick fix or an easy answer. And I’m okay with leaving it up to state legislation to decide all of that stuff.

But here’s what I am going to say to you, regarding how we treat LGBT people. I hope that you ponder these thoughts deeply.

ONE.

Until you know what it’s like to be transgendered, be careful what you say to and about those who are. Realize that it’s not your place to judge, diagnose, or categorize an LGBT person. If they decide they want counsel for a struggle they’re having, that’s their prerogative. It’s not yours to try and make them.

TWO.

Before you say something, ask yourself if it’s helpful, constructive, loving. If it’s not, don’t say it. Even though many people haven’t been aware of this problem before it blew up on social media, this isn’t a new problem. There is nothing new about it. So let’s stop with the imgresfrenzied, fear-mongering speech about how we have to stop the “liberals” and the “gays” and how our country is going down the drain. That kind of reaction may make you feel better for a day or two, but it solves about 0% of our problems.

THREE.

Can we stop with all the labels? Using phrases like “the left” dehumanizes the group of people who may or may not identify as “left.” I don’t identify with that label; I am simply an advocate of human equality and social justice. Let’s stop calling each other “left” and “right” and work toward a better understanding of where each other is coming from.

FOUR.

If you’re a person of privilege—white, male, straight, middle or upper class, or any combination thereof—don’t assume you understand the experiences of those who aren’t. Instead, acknowledge your privilege and actively seek out relationships with those who don’t have it. Be teachable and approachable.

FIVE.

Understand that the trans movement—like women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Gay Rights Movement that have come before—is fundamentally about righting a wrong. It’s about realizing that we built our country upon the principle that “all men were created equal” but we haven’t been treating each other that way. Sure, there are “left” people who go about it the wrong way, looking to cause more of a commotion than a solution to the problem, but there are right-wing people doing the exact same thing. In fact, as far as pushing an agenda goes, I have seen FAR more conservative posts on social media about this issue than I have liberal ones. What is really happening here is that we’re seeing that something is wrong with the way we’ve been treating a marginalized group of people, and we’re trying to move toward inclusion and equality. Even if some activists choose to go about achieving those goals inappropriately, the root of altruistic intent is still present. And that should be encouraging, not frightening.

SIX.

Speaking of the inclusion principle, isn’t that something Jesus based his entire ministry upon? Wasn’t his whole point that a relationship with him was no longer specially designated to the Jews, but instead it was for all people—the Gentiles? Who did he go to, when he wanted to eat a meal? When he wanted water at a well? He went to the people on the outskirts—whores, hookers, the sexually promiscuous, cheaters, liars, people with disabilities. The people no one else wanted to be around. The ones that the “holy” people wouldn’t touch. Jesus’ entire ministry revolves around this inclusion principle, and if we are supposed to follow him as Christians, that means we must follow suit.

But by and large, we don’t. Not when it comes to people who make us uncomfortable, who question the fabric of our sexual identities—our natural reflex is to stay away from those people, because they are causing ripples in our nice, neat, normal society we’ve built for ourselves. But that reaction is not Christian. I challenge you to intentionally seek out someone who makes you feel uncomfortable today, and I’ll challenge myself to do the same. It’s only through fostering friendships, through love and respect, that we will ever come to some semblance of understanding where each other is coming from, and in that understanding lies the only real solution to treating each other better. Not in protests. Not on social media. In real communion with one another.

Because right now, Christians aren’t being very inclusive, so other people are having to step up and do our job. Ironically, we should have quite a lot in common with these people.

SEVEN.

By the way, this isn’t just something that affects transgendered people. Iimagest affects dads who need to take their young daughters to the restroom, women caring for their aging or disabled fathers. It affects single parents and parents with special needs children. Let’s widen our awareness of the daily struggles of others.

If we could learn to care more about the struggles of others, perhaps things like which door a person walks through to use the bathroom wouldn’t be such a big deal.

CONCLUSION

Finally, it’s easy to say, “Get over it” to someone whose situation you cannot understand. It’s easy to say, “Get over it” to the trans woman who is faced with the choice between getting arrested for going in the women’s bathroom and getting raped or harassed for going in the men’s. But “Get over it” isn’t a real solution or a viable option. Let’s just go ahead and throw it off the table. Toss it out.

Now, what’s your next idea?

sarah

They will know we are Christians by our love.

~John 13:35

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