Houston, You Have a Problem

Am I the only person in America who walks into a public restroom without giving a thought to whoever else might be in there?

No, really:  When I enter the men’s room, I have exactly one item on my agenda.  And once that mission has been accomplished, I wash my hands, make my way to the exit and return to my regularly-scheduled life.

Seems like pretty basic etiquette to me:  Get in, get out, move on.  Public bathrooms may forever be an inherently awkward social phenomenon—particularly at halftime or intermission, when the whole town is there at once—but the weirdness can very easily be alleviated by, shall we say, minding your own damn business.  I’ve tried it for nearly three decades now.  Works like a charm.

In fact, I’m guessing that most people take this minimalist approach to bathroom behavior.  Indeed, we might agree that the matter of regulating multi-person lavatories is one of those issues that wouldn’t even exist if everyone would just act like a normal, decent human being.  After all, if each of us were capable of navigating a bathroom without eying our fellow patrons and making moral judgments, it wouldn’t even occur to us to draft legislation specifying who can (and cannot) use them.

Unfortunately, we aren’t all capable of going to the john without making a big, dumb stink about it.  As a result, we had that massive pile of nonsense last week in Houston, where voters resoundingly rejected an anti-discrimination ordinance out of fear that it would engender a predatory atmosphere in certain Texas restrooms.

Specifically, the Houston proposal would have banned discrimination in various public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity (among other things).  While such a proposal might seem fairly uncontroversial today—19 states and Houston’s own city council have passed bills along the same lines—city residents voted it down following a scare campaign by opponents who argued that the ordinance, if enacted, would enable male sexual predators to enter women’s restrooms and commit unthinkable crimes.

After all—the logic went—if the city of Houston allowed men who identify as women to use the ladies’ room instead of the men’s, what’s to stop actual men from claiming to identify as women in order to sneak into the ladies’ room and do something appalling?

It makes perfect sense—until you think about it for more than, say, 10 or 15 seconds.

Certainly, we can accept the premise that there are a handful of men in every city and town who are totally sexually depraved and would barge into a women’s bathroom if they could—say, the moment invisibility cloaks finally hit the shelves.  Indeed, we could even assume that some of these specimens would take advantage of a transgender rights law by intruding into a women-only setting and, upon getting caught, raise their arms and say, “Not to worry, I’m a woman, too!”

That’s apparently what Mike Huckabee had in mind when he joked earlier this year, “I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE.  I’m pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, ‘Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today.’”  If a two-term governor and presidential candidate can speak about sexual predation in such a lighthearted manner, just imagine what’s in the minds of the people voting for him.

What is much harder to fathom, however, is that the realization of these sick fantasies is such an imminent threat that it outweighs any consideration for the rights and safety of America’s transgender community.

So far as I know, sexual harassment is still illegal in the city of Houston.  If Mike Huckabee or anyone else totters into the wrong locker room and starts peeping around, it won’t be long before the authorities get involved.

Meanwhile, there are roughly 700,000 people in the United States who genuinely identify as the opposite gender from the one they were born as, and when they step into a bathroom they have exactly one objective in mind, and it’s the least-sexy activity you could imagine.

That’s the real fallacy in this whole kerfuffle:  The idea that restrooms are ground zero for satisfying your deepest, darkest sexual desires.  Internet porn, but for real.

Except for those in the violent throes of puberty, are there any mentally and emotionally-balanced people who actually think this way?

I mentioned how my own bathroom visits tend to be as quick and uneventful as possible.  I didn’t mention that I’m a guy who’s attracted to other guys.  For me—in theory, anyway—to be in a men’s locker room is precisely the fantasy that straight men can only dream of.  I beat the system simply by existing.

But you know what?  At no point in those situations have I ever thought, “Lucky me.”  Never has the act of entering a public restroom caused my spine to shiver or my heart to race.

Quite the opposite, in fact.  When you’re in the closet, the high school locker room is the most terrifying place on planet Earth, as you realize that one wrong look could result in you being unceremoniously outed and, as a consequence, teased, bullied or killed.  (I managed to avoid all of that, but not everyone does.)

Post-coming-out, this feeling of cautiousness never completely leaves you.  For all the recent breakthroughs in gay rights, homophobia has not yet been completely killed off, and the men’s room is the absolute last place to test it.

So you act natural, keep your head down, do your thing and get the hell out.

While I don’t know for sure, I suspect that the transgender experience is fairly similar on this front, albeit much worse.  When—through no fault of your own—you find yourself in an intimate social setting at the mercy of other people’s prejudices, your only concern is getting out of there alive and in one piece.

As far as politics go, you can always depend upon loud idiots to be unintentionally hilarious, and opponents of the Houston bill did not disappoint.  The signature placard at the anti-ordinance protests read, “No men in women’s bathrooms.”  Of course, that’s exactly what the transgender community wants:  For everyone to be able to use the restroom that corresponds with his or her true gender.

A person who was born female but identifies as male is a man, period.  Had it passed, Houston’s law would have ensured that that person would be entitled to use the men’s room, thereby averting the spectacle of a man in a women’s bathroom.  By rejecting the ordinance, Houstonians have guaranteed the presence of men in women’s bathrooms (and vice versa), thereby prolonging the confusion and discomfort on all sides of the case.

Sooner or later, this will have to be fixed.

America’s sexual outliers don’t choose to be the way they are—why would they?— but they do insist upon having their existence acknowledged by society and being treated as equal under the law.  Letting them go to the bathroom in peace is literally the least we can do.

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One thought on “Houston, You Have a Problem

  1. Ugh. The HERO bill being voted down made me ashamed of my city. You’re right about “sooner or later, this will have to be fixed.” It will happen.

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