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Friday, March 17, 2017

To pee, or not to pee...

I used an all-gender multi-user restroom. And I liked it. It was this past January in Jacksonville at the annual ASCA student conduct conference. It seemed odd to me that the schedule even noted when the all-gender restroom would be open. Student Affairs as a profession has a very wide tent and is uber-inclusive. So it makes sense that publicizing pee times is important.

The backdrop for all of this is the North Carolina bathroom bill passed in 2016. Essentially, the law holds people to their gender designation as noted at birth. There are immediate problems for those who were born with ambiguous genitalia (one form of intersex condition) and have to make decisions about where they should go. Nevertheless, the main objections come from those who are transgender. For some trans-persons, their sex assigned at birth as recorded on their birth certificate does not sync with their gender identity -- their internal experience of being a man or woman. For other trans-person, their gender identity is non-binary, neither exclusively woman nor man. A person with a penis, but identifying as female in all other ways has to use the men's room under this bill.So too would trans-persons, who have received one or more gender confirmation surgeries. And so too would non-binary trans-persons.

Many find this bill discriminatory, which is why Texas probably decided to consider its own version. SB6 is now working its way through legislation in Texas, despite much resistance. At issue with these laws is that they work to address something that isn't broken, and they discriminate against transgender individuals. Choosing a bathroom where one is comfortable is important. For example, biological males who identify as female are often more comfortable using the women's room. I think I would be.

In my case, in Jacksonville, the stakes were pretty low. I have bathroom privilege and don't have to face these issues. But I wanted to try. The first time I went in no one was in there. I had the joint to myself. The second time, as I was washing my hands... afterwards... a young African-American woman came out of a stall and did the same. She didn't seem to notice me. Which is not uncommon. And so it went. It was kind of liberating.

Then, this week, I continued my new bathroom obsession, using an all-gender multi-user restroom at the NASPA professional conference in San Antonio. Mostly, it was because it was the closest one. There were many women in this restroom, and again, no one seemed to notice or care that I was there. I was getting the hang of it. 

Now, these are big steps for me. As an aging 57 year-old, things aren't as smooth as they once were. I am generally not comfortable peeing in front of anyone - especially young college men whose flow is... not encumbered by encroaching prostates.

Those who are pushing the Texas bill and the one enacted in North Carolina say it is about safety for women and girls. The fear is that a man will go into a women's room and become violent or act out in a predatory manner. But this argument has many flaws. Most sexual violence occurs between parties who know one another and there is little evidence that men have or will dress as women or transgender people, enter public restrooms, and commit crimes. (In fact, nothing stops men now from dressing as women to go into "women's" bathrooms.) More importantly, the legislation does nothing to protect transgender people from violence in public restrooms, a much more likely outcome, especially in the "men's" room.

And yet, the other side claims to have at least anecdotal evidence that this kind of legislation is important. For many, sex, sexuality, and gender are all connected. Men and boys should be in one set of bathrooms and women and girls in another. But why? Socialization is probably the main reason. There is really no reason that I should only feel comfortable going into a public restroom with President Anderson, my father-in-law (proud stall man), students, or strange men, let's say. What's the difference between that and stalling next to my colleague Melissa Flowers, my wife, or my administrative assistant, Yvonne? Nothing, really. I suspect that most of the people who support this type of legislation are older people who, like me, are simply not completely comfortable with all of this, though I'm getting there. But we all need to get comfortable, because it's not about us.

All of this has risen to the high courts recently when Gavin Grimm pursued his case legally on these same issues. The Supreme Court remanded the case to a District Court and it is pending. The current administration appears to favor the legislation as it rolls back Obama-era guidance on discrimination.

That guidance is primarily aimed at K-12 schools. Private universities like Trinity can set their own non-discrimination policies and gender discrimination is not permitted on campus. Transgender students may use campus restrooms of choice. But some of my forward-thinking colleagues have set out to identify all gender single-user campus restrooms for those seeking privacy. Of course students, employees, and guests aren't required to use these, but new signs will soon designate such spaces in CSI, the library, Northrup Hall, the Chapel, and several places on lower campus.

The Texas and North Carolina laws are facing major resistance as companies and organizations have withdrawn businesses, events, and conferences from those states. San Antonio could lose a Final Four if the Texas law is adopted. Most see these laws for what they are: ways to further marginalize and discriminate against those who are "not like the others." It is about far more than bathrooms.  People like me can pop in and out of various restrooms, and this issue, as we wish to try it on. But others have to grapple with this every single time they are in public places. They have no choice, but to be.

In addition to just generally caring about others and an inclusive world, we should be concerned as a Texas campus as we try to recruit students from out-of-state. As our growing transgender population is increasingly public about their presence and needs, we need to make sure they know they belong here. Even in our restrooms.

Note: Special thanks to my colleague Richard Reams, in Counseling Services, for his assistance in educating me, editing this post, and as is often the case, saving me from myself.


Trinity DAD said...

David, did you really say "bathroom privilege?" I hadn't heard that one yet...

Let's be practical:
-Does anyone really believe that our country should mandate a third set of bathrooms for those that don't want to use the bathroom that corresponds to their biological sex? How many billions of dollars would that cost? Furthermore, does anyone really believe that Sex Chromosome Abnormalities are common enough to warrant this?

Let's call a spade a spade:
-Yes, as you say, it is about far more than bathrooms. This bathroom issue is not about someone with a genetic malfunction. This issue is about some people wanting to promote the idea that choosing your gender is normal & acceptable, regardless of your biology. (..and how hypocritical that the liberal community won't let a woman choose her language, culture and hairstyle as an African American (things that are not biological), but they are willing to let someone deny their biology?)

Let's agree that worldview #1 matters:
-I agree that someone should be able to claim they are the opposite sex, (or another species for that matter), if I also agree that the universe started from nothing, and all life started from non-life. If that's how this all started then there really shouldn't be any prohibition on much of anything. It should all just be a practical decision: People can claim any gender, and do I want to afford three sets of bathrooms, and do I want biological boys & men in the bathroom and shower with my daughters? Very practical.

Let's agree that worldview #2 matters:
-If, one the other hand, someone thinks the universe and all living things were designed by a supernatural being, then I would not want to allow some arbitrary decisions to be made & validated about things that have been designed a certain way. If one hold this worldview then these arbitrary claims of gender identity hold no meaning and sound absurd.

So David, I see this as a fairly simple issue. You either hold the worldview that "anything goes" because we're all electrochemical accidents anyway. Or you hold the worldview that we were designed a certain way and a person can't deny that design.

Our US educators seem to lean toward worldview #1 so I understand the enthusiasm for transgenderism and your post about enjoying your bathroom freedom, but please understand why the rest of us, who believe worldview #2 don't agree.

Thanks again David for the chance to dialogue.

David Tuttle said...

Welcome back Super DAD and thanks for spending some of your time on a Saturday morning perusing my posts. I appreciate it. So here are some responses:

Bathroom privilege: Partly tongue in cheek, but the thing about privilege is those who have it rarely think about it. Because they are in majority they think that is "normal."

Mandating third bathrooms: Not suggesting that, but why not do it voluntarily or do what many places do now, and note most smaller bathrooms for all genders. New buildings could easily be accommodating.

Sex chromosome abnormalities... genetic malfunctions: Language matters and those terms seem insensitive Why not "exceptions"?

Are they common enough to warrant this?: See comment on privilege and look at what has been accomplished for differently-abled people under ADA.

Choosing your gender...: I suspect most people would "choose" the easier path of heterosexuality. But really, for most, it is not about choice or preference. It is about genetics and biology. And even if it is choice, so what?

You lost me re African American women, but for consistency let's just disagree :)

I think showers are a bit different. I don't want anyone - of any gender -- to see me in the shower except for maybe my wife and possibly Rianna.

As to choosing worldview one or two, the choices seem too limiting (like male-female distinctions). I think it is more nuanced. If one doesn't believe in a higher power, or has doubts, or has flagging faith then what? If one doesn't believe in a supernatural power that doesn't mean there aren't proper ethical and moral positions, decisions and actions. And if one subscribes to worldview two it doesn't mean they are moral or ethical. I can think of many contrary examples.

So thank YOU for the dialog and support. And look me up sometime when you come to campus!

Trinity DAD said...

Thanks David for reading and responding to my comments. I'm actually in a time zone that's 13 hours ahead of yours, so it was late Sat night (too late I see, now that I re-read my scattered comments..).

Anyway, in a nutshell, let me say that's it's critically important that we let reality be reality. We can try and "spin" reality (e.g. an 18 week old fetus with unique human DNA and a beating heart is just a mass of tissue, not a human) on many different issues, including sex/gender. Here's another example: As you know, we have philosophy and sociology teachers in this country who are teaching students that they are and behave in a completely pre-determined/hard-wired manner with zero accountability for free choice. This is another spin on reality.

So when I see anything that smacks of "reality spin" I object because as we all get to say now-a-days, bad thinking has bad consequences.

Also, I don't mean to be insensitive about "abnormalities" and maybe "exceptions" is a better word. Regardless, everyone on the earth has genetic abnormalities/exceptions. I do, you do, everyone does. John Sanford's book, "Genetic Entropy" clearly shows that every generation has additional mutations so our human gene pool will only get less perfect over time. My point is that we should expect that more & more people will be born with all types of abnormalities/exceptions; some physical and some mental. Regarding gender dysphoria (clinical term from the Psychiatric manual) we do an injustice to the patient by encouraging their dysphoria instead of trying to correct it. Just as we do an injustice to the person with dyslexia by telling them they are "born that way" and to celebrate their "exception" instead of helping them correct it.

OK, done for now David and we still need to get that cup of joe some day.

Kaitles mcfakename said...


I am one of this university's transgender students, "Trinity DAD," and I felt that I would be doing you and this institution a disservice by not sounding off here.

I'll start with your misunderstandings regarding gender and gender dysphoria. Part of your confusion lies in your failure to recognize that gender and biological sex are different things. To be clear, they are different things. Biological sex is a physical reality, while gender is something we perform through how we behave and how we adorn ourselves.

The concept of a transgender person (anyone who identifies as a gender other than the "male" or "female" correaponding to their genitals) is not new, nor is it specific to the "liberal" elements of western societies. Several native American tribes classified some individuals by a third gender, which is sometimes called "two-spirit," and this tradition existed for centuries before America. The Bugis people of Indonesia recognize five genders- male, female, a neutral gender, one for people assigned male at birth who identify more as females, and vice-versa.

You also present an interesting false dichotomy in your first comment, and I would also like to help you overcome that mental block. You claim that one can only hold one of two world views: 1) that we have been designed by some sort of intelligent designer and must behave in accordance with this design, or 2) that everything is arbitrarily decided by deterministic physical forces and therefore (through some logical leap I am not familiar with anyone seriously taking) this means that morality and ethics are equally arbitrary and can or should be ignored entirely.

I can understand why you would be scared of anything outside of (1) if you believed that the only alternative was the moral nihilism of (2). However, there are far more ways to view the world than these two options. I would like for you to consider the possibility that someone can have moral / ethical values without any belief in an intelligent designer of any sort. I myself am such a person, in fact, and I have to admit that I feel a little insulted that you would believe I (like all transgender people like me and all nonreligious people like me) am automatically amoral because I do not fit into your extremely narrow concept of a moral person.

Finally, as far as I am aware, the best and most effective strategy for dealing with gender dysphoria is, in fact, transitioning. I say "best" here with respect to patient outcomes, and ignoring any pseudoreligious considerations regarding whether or not someone was "designed" to be male or female.

I would also rather stop having to bury friends who kill themselves over such concerns.