A modest proposal for Christian men who are concerned about trans bathroom rights
by Melinda Selmys
Amid all of the talk about laws preventing trans people from using washrooms and change-rooms according to their gender identity (rather than their genitalia) there’s a significant elephant in the room. Generally, the argument is that these laws are necessary to protect women. Nobody ever seems especially concerned about trans men peeing and changing in men’s spaces. Nor, for that matter, are very many people afraid that trans women will victimize cis women in bathrooms and change-rooms.
The fear is that cis men will take advantage of these laws in order to enter women’s spaces and victimize women.
Over and against this fear, trans women argue that they are harassed, bullied and sexually assaulted at an insane rate—often in male-only spaces. They need to be able to use the women’s washroom for exactly the same reason that women need to have a separate washroom in the first place: because male washrooms and gender-neutral facilities are not safe.
Trans women are not the problem here—but they are the ones being called on to suffer. Why? Because these laws really don’t have anything to do with making women safe. What they are really about is using the mantra of “women’s safety” in order to promote a specific political agenda that is to a large degree not especially interested in protecting women. Sorry, but when a party that overwhelmingly does not support paid maternity leave, whose representatives make embarrassing comments about sexual assault being “natural,” and whose voters believe that Donald Trump’s misogynistic comments do not immediately disbar him from holding any kind of public office, suddenly becomes concerned about “protecting women” when they can use this as an excuse to stick it to trans women I become immediately suspicious of their motives.
Now, not all men who argue that women must be protected from male predators in their bathrooms are Republican voters, and there are many Republican voters who are not misogynists. So if you’re one of those, here are some things that you can do that will be much more effective in preventing violence and assault against women than transgender bathroom laws:
1. Don’t laugh off misogyny. I know that this is tough, and it takes moral courage—but courage, and particularly the courage to protect women, is supposed to be what traditional masculinity is all about. So if you hear a friend or a colleague making an inappropriate comment about some girl’s clothing or appearance, remind them that that’s not okay. If someone behaves like sexual assault or violence against women is funny, don’t laugh. Have the guts to act like this is a serious problem when it means being the party-pooper. You don’t have to behave like a social justice warrior. A simple, low key “Not funny, guy, not funny” or “Hey, not cool” is probably going to more effective than a lecture about women’s dignity in any case.
2. Believe women when they say that they feel uncomfortable or unsafe. It’s very common for women who are being subjected to harassment by creeps to have their concerns minimized by others. We have a lot of deeply ingrained social scripts that tell us that women’s emotions are out of control: that women are “hysterical” they “overreact” they get “upset over nothing.” When a woman does report that she’s feeling threatened or that a guy’s behaviour is unacceptable to her, people often act like she’s the problem. She’s uptight. She’s taking it too seriously. Maybe it’s that time of the month. Don’t do this. If a woman tells you that she’s being harassed or that she feels unsafe, there’s a probably a reason why she feels that way. If she asks for help, don’t tell her to calm down. Tell the guy who’s bothering her to leave off.
3. Oppose the culture when it says that women are sex objects. Numerous studies have demonstrated that pornography is correlated to negative attitudes about women. Don’t watch it. Encourage your friends and kids not to watch it. Don’t go to strip clubs. Also, don’t teach your children that a woman’s immodesty “naturally” causes men to see her as a sex object. Behave as though men have an obligation to cultivate interior chastity and self-control regardless of how a woman behaves. Do not blame women for men’s bad behavior.
4. Cock-block. If you’re in a social situation where a guy is pestering a woman who is clearly not interested, intervene. Don’t put on a super-hero cape and confront the dude; ask the woman “You okay with this guy?” Then she has the option to say “Yeah, it’s fine” or “Actually he’s kind of getting on my nerves.” Often women put up with aggressive or entitled behavior from men because we fear that we are overreacting, that we’ll be socially penalized if we tell them to buzz off, or that if we’re too forceful then merely irritating behavior will escalate into more serious forms of aggression. When someone else recognizes that the situation we’re in is not okay, and we know that person has our back, it’s much easier to insist on being treated with dignity.
5. Teach healthy attitudes. If you’re worried about your daughters, teach your sons how to be responsible and to treat women like people. Model respect in your own relationships. Talk about why it’s not okay to rate women’s bodies, or to use women for sex, or to call women “sluts” or “hos” because of the way they dress or because of their sexual behavior. Teach you daughters how to handle guys who are harassing them. Teach them that they have the right to say “No” to men, not because they are princesses, or valuable flowers who will devalued if they are corrupted, but because they are human beings. Teach them to feel entitled to refuse a man’s advances in the same way, and for the same reasons, as you would feel entitled to refuse a gay guy if he started making persistent advances at you.
If you do these things, you will be a significant part of the solution. If you’re not willing to do them, then supporting trans bathroom laws instead is an act of cowardly tokenism: a purely symbolic way of making yourself feel like you’re “protecting women” when actually you’re just making life hellish for trans women. I don’t want that kind of protection, and I certainly don’t want it to be done in my name.
Melinda Selmys is a writer of speculative fiction and Catholic non-fiction. She lives on an idyllic hobby farm in Tweed, Ontario, with 16 chickens, 2 dogs, and a half dozen children. She is the author of several books, including Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism and Sexual Authenticity: More Reflections. This article originally appeared on the author’s Patheos.com “Catholic Authenticity” blog and appears here by kind permission.
Also of interest: “Beauty Policing: The Consequences of Transgender Bathroom Politics” also by Melinda Selmys