There is a lot of hysteria making its way around the news and social media right now regarding "bathroom bills" and which public restrooms transgender men and women can use. I thought I would write this out as a handy guide for people who are not very familiar with the concept of "transgender". Educating ourselves about issues that frighten us is the best way to grow as people, and become more compassionate towards others.
The first, most basic place to begin: What is "transgender"? Trans, a Latin prefix, means "Across, beyond, or through". Gender, at its most basic meaning is "The state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences, rather than biological ones." Basically, a transgender person physically inhabits the body of one gender, but mentally identifies as the other gender. Please note that this has nothing to do with one's sexual orientation.
Some other terms you may have heard lately, but not really know what they mean:
Binary: Is defined as "relating to, composed of, or involving two things." People who are transgender are "Non-binary gender," meaning that their gender identity does not fit into the male/female binary.
Cis: This is a word that simply means the opposite of "trans". It is a Latin prefix meaning "on the side of." Cis-gender people are people who identify as the gender they were born into.
So, now you know the basic vocabulary. Next up is how to handle the concept of transgender people.
There are two steps a person needs to take to help work through the fear of transgender people using restrooms that they feel most comfortable using.
Step One: Accept that transgender men and women truly exist. They are not troublemakers or perverts or just being difficult because they want attention. They are not a concept, they are real.
Step Two: Understand that a transgender man is a man and a transgender woman is a woman, regardless of what body parts they were born with or currently have. Some men have breasts. They are still men. Some women have a penis. They are still women.
Once you master these two steps, this should dispel most of the fear of the unknown you may be feeling towards transgender men and women.
Once you get used to the idea of transgender men and women truly existing, you will be ready for the next level: Compassion. Did you know that the suicide rate of the transgender community in the United States, is 41%? To put that in perspective, imagine a room with 100 people in it. Of that 100 people, 41 will kill themselves. Compare this to the overall national suicide rate, which is 4.1%. That is a disturbingly large number of deaths. As a person who has lost a loved one to suicide, I can tell you exactly the sort of pain this type of death leaves on a person's friends and family. I've made it one of my goals in life to help prevent other people from experiencing this sort of pain. Compassion is as much of a choice as hate.I choose to be compassionate.
And now, for some responses to some of the more frequently asked questions and arguments used in this issue.
1.)Why do we have to make accommodations for such a small group of people?
Why not? The amount of hateful bigots in this nation is hopefully a small percentage of the overall population in this country, and yet they are asking for accommodations for their hate, fear, and ignorance. I would rather accommodate people who are just trying to live their lives without being harassed and physically endangered just for existing. Just remember, when you ask questions like this, what people really hear is this: Why do we have to be nice to people? Why can't I openly hate and discriminate against anybody anymore? Isn't there any group of people it's ok to hate? This is how I feel better about myself as a person, by oppressing others. I need to feel justified in my actions, so I need laws to protect my right to be horrible to others.
2.)Why is this happening so suddenly?
The transgender community has lived in obscurity for hundreds of years in Western society, but they have always been here. Now that we, as a nation, are moving towards being more accepting of others, it is time for us to catch up on groups of oppressed and marginalized people. Basically, it's making up for lost time.
3.)Why can't things just stay the way they've always been?
I know change is scary and hard. It's difficult to adjust our sensibilities to new ways of being or thinking. But life is about change and adapting to that change. We don't have 40 year lifespans anymore, but we're ok with this. We no longer dress like people did in Elizabethan England, and nobody minds that, either. This is just one more really big thing we all need to adjust to. And you know what? We're gonna be ok.
4.) Won't perverts use this opportunity to dress up as women, sneak into women's restrooms and rape and attack women?
Again, once you have mastered step one of the process, you will see the fallibility of this question. Transgender women are not men, and since we don't know what their sexual orientation is, we cannot assume they are all attracted to women. On top of this, it is already illegal to rape people, and since that still happens, a law to force people to use the bathroom of their birth gender won't stop that. When you think about it, what it will really do is force men into women's bathrooms and women into men's, exactly the opposite of what people assume the laws will do. And, if a truly perverted man wants to attack women in restrooms, he will not go to the lengths of dressing as a woman to sneak into the restroom to do so. He will merely barge into the room and attack somebody. I'm sorry to scare you even more, but a sign on a bathroom door doesn't change anything. There is no guarantee of safety in any public place, unfortunately, but we shouldn't put other people in even more danger than they need to be, in order to continue some illusion of safety and security.
In conclusion, I will use a phrase I have used several times before in my writing. It comes from last year's live-action version of Cinderella, and I have adopted it as my own personal mantra: "Have courage, and be kind." I like this phrase because it has a double meaning. In it's entirety, it means to be simultaneously brave and nice to each other. But in each section, it explains how to do it. Sometimes, to be kind, we must first be brave. Sometimes you are asked to take risks in life. Reach out to somebody different from you, and what you gain in return far outweighs any perceived risk. We will all be better off for it.
The article that inspired this