CORRECTION: A central assertion of this article, that North Carolina’s law applies to all public restrooms, is incorrect. It applies only to government-managed bathrooms. Businesses are free to make their own policies. For more, see here.
Even though I adamantly disagree with the North Carolina bathroom law, I am sympathetic to the lawmakers who passed it and citizens who support it. As much as it pains me to write it, Donald Trump was right when he voiced his opposition to the law on the “Today” show:
“North Carolina did something that was very strong and they’re paying a big price and there’s a lot of problems,” he said. “There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate, there has been so little trouble.”
We are living in a culture that seems to want to foist the concept of “gender fluidity” onto school children, and this terrifies many parents who, like me, feel woefully unprepared to talk about transgender issues. We know how fast our children adopt popular culture fashions, so many parents, who are not ready to embrace the transgender world, have simply chosen the bunker option. Ignore the issue and try to ensure our children aren’t exposed to these questions that befuddle many of us, even as adults.
The transgender bathroom bill represents this “bunker” impulse. The law, which bars people in North Carolina from using bathrooms that do not match their birth sex, seeks to enforce traditional gender customs. The problem is, of course, that the train has left the station. Gender roles are no longer traditional. The law, despite its best efforts, cannot put the toothpaste back in the tube.
The reasons I oppose the North Carolina bathroom law are twofold: I think it would actually exacerbate the very problems that the law’s drafters were hoping to solve. Second, the law represents an egregious overreach by state government.
The Law Will Compel Trans Men to Use Women’s Bathrooms
Think for a moment about what this law will compel, if transgender people decide to comply. First, do a quick Google Image search of the term “transman” (a person who was born as a woman, but has decided to appear as a man).You will see that many of these transgender people are totally “passable,” meaning you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that they had once been another gender.
Forcing these people—who look like men (many have beards!)—to use the bathroom with my 7-year-old daughter will cause all sorts of confusion. Here’s a scenario:
7-year-old: “Daddy, there is a guy in the bathroom.”
Me: “Umm, are you sure it is a man, honey?”
7-year-old: “Daddy, he has a beard! Of course he’s a man.”
Besides the problem of feeling like I might have to explain to my 7-year-old that the person with the beard might be a “transgender” person—a conversation I will try to delay pretty much as long as I can—I also have the problem of not knowing if the bearded ladies’ room user is actually “trans.” I can’t very well audit the person’s genitalia. I’d be pretty much stuck having to assume all bearded masculine-looking people using the ladies’ bathroom are trans.
That seems to be a recipe for just the type of scenario conservatives are so worried about. Take, for example, the Ted Cruz campaign’s newest attack ad, ominously suggesting predators could use liberal bathroom policies to attack little girls. It seems to me that just the opposite is true.
The North Carolina law, which seeks to require transgender people to use the bathrooms of their birth sex, will result in transwomen and transmen using restrooms that don’t match their appearance. If a bunch of people who look like men are using the ladies’ room, this bathroom policy might actually make it easier for a predators to use bathrooms as a place to commit crime.
After all, if masculine people are already using the ladies’ room, how am I, as a protective father, supposed to know who are the “transmen” and who are the “cis” (natural-born) men? Again, auditing genitalia isn’t an option.
Let Business Owners Make Their Own Policies
I also think that the law is misguided because it is government overreach, plain and simple. Since when did the Republican Party become the party of potty laws? I’m a libertarian-leaning conservative, and I tend to subscribe to the John Stossel philosophy about legislation: For every law that is put in the books, two laws ought to be eliminated.
The principle of subsidiarity ought to apply in this case. Subsidiarity says that the lowest, smallest, most local authority ought to handle pertinent matters and that the only time a higher authority gets involved is when there is a failure at the lower level. So while I prefer state laws to federal ones, I would prefer no laws regarding bathroom usage. In a perfect world, I would hope that the government would simply enforce private property rights and allow local business owners to be authorities. Business owners are perfectly capable of making their own decisions on how and who should use their bathrooms.
To be fair, a portion of the North Carolina bathroom law—the ban on local antidiscrimination laws—may help foster local decision making. It is just as misguided, in my mind, for local municipalities to dictate bathroom usage as it is for state governments to do so. Again, local business owners can make these sorts of decisions. Business owners who serve large LGBT populations will likely choose liberal bathroom policies in accordance with their customers’ preferences.
Unfortunately, even Trump seems to have retreated from his original position in an interview with his favorite fawning journalist, Sean Hannity: “I think that local communities and states should make the decision,” Trump said on Fox News. “And I feel very strongly about that. The federal government should not be involved.”
“In other words, let the state decide,” Hannity said, obviously leading Trump to an answer that he thinks will be more palatable to conservatives. “Kind of like your positions on education, give it back to the states.”
“Yeah, let them decide,” Trump said. “Absolutely.”
Trump’s about-face indicates my position on the bathroom law will be quite unpopular among conservatives. Still, I think anyone who seriously thinks about the effects of this law (and others just like it) would have to come to the same conclusion that I have. There are many things we can and should do as parents and citizens to protect our children from predators. But it is clear to me that a law like the one in North Carolina will actually make bathrooms much more dangerous and confusing.