There seems to be a wave of transphobic legislation sweeping across America. Multiple states are considering bills that would criminalize trans bathroom usage. Last month, North Carolina became the first state to pass such legislation. This new law basically legalizes LGBTQ discrimination and specifically prohibits trans people from using the bathroom of their choice. The justification that North Carolina Governor Pat McCory gave was that it was necessary to protect women from "men" (trans women), who apparently would prey on women in the bathroom.
This bill and others like it are obviously repugnant. And anyone who supports such transphobic nonsense is repugnant as well. But I don't want to focus on why this legislation is problematic, as many others have done that. Instead, I want to discuss how the trans community is responding to it.
Binary-identified, white trans men who blend as cis, have begun to take selfies of themselves in the woman's room. Their goal is to show how transphobic legislation would force trans men to use the women's room.
Quite a few people have praised this campaign for fighting back against the wave of transphobia sweeping America. But honestly, this campaign makes me feel very uncomfortable. I think the actions of these trans men are certainly well intended but what they are doing is actually incredibly harmful.
First, the selfie tactic reinforces cisnormativity. The implication of those selfies is that trans people should be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice because they look cis. The issue with this is that it leaves behind non-binary folks and pretty much all trans people who aren’t able to look cis or who don’t want to look cis. These people need a space to pee too.
In fact, they are the most vulnerable trans people. Trans people who “pass” as cis are generally not going to be affected by this kind of legislation. "Passing" trans people are read as cis, so generally no one is going to give them a problem when they try to use the restroom. That is not the case for trans people who do not blend as cis. Thus, employing the selfie strategy to fight bathroom bills only helps a few privileged trans people and leaves behind the people who really need bathroom protections.
Second, the selfie tactic reinforces rape culture. A central assumption of rape culture is that the desire to rape women is a natural and normal desire for men. This is often used as a justification for rape of women. For example, women are often blamed for their own rape because of how they were dressed. The reasoning is that if a woman was dressed provocatively, how could we blame a man for acting on his natural desires? It's also why male rape victims have so much trouble getting support. Men are thought of as desiring sex at all times, so our society thinks that it is impossible for a man to get raped.
Transphobic legislation in states like North Carolina reinforces the notion that men are naturally rapists. The underlying logic of the bill is if "men" are allowed in the women's bathroom, they will go crazy and rape everyone. The selfie tactic employed by trans men buys into that assumption as it reinforces the notion that men and women need to be kept in separate bathrooms.
Third, the selfie tactic undermines the movement for gender neutral bathrooms. Again, the assumption behind many of these selfies is that men should not be in the same bathroom as women. The issue is so many trans people, such as non-binary people, don't feel comfortable in either bathroom.
In fact, gendered bathrooms can be incredibly dangerous for trans people. This is because gendered bathrooms are spaces that see a lot of gender policing. One study showed that 70 percent of trans people have experienced discrimination in a gendered restroom. Gender neutral bathrooms are quite simply an absolute necessity.
Taking selfies with the caption that you don't "belong in women's facilities," accepts the logic that is used to argue against gender-neutral bathrooms. Taking such a selfie ultimately hurts trans people that don't look cis.
Fighting the wave of transphobic legislation sweeping America is absolutely essential. This is legislation that criminalizes trans people's very existence. But the selfie tactic that is being employed is incredibly problematic and we need to recognize that. We do need to fight back, but we can do so without reinforcing oppressive power structures.