I had just assumed this man-woman arrangement was yet another adult quirk, like flossing. —David Levithan
Hopefully these categories, these binaries, these over-simplified boxes will begin to become useless and they’ll begin to fall away. Because really, they describe nothing that we see and no one that we know and nothing that we are.
—iO Tillett Wright
You know who actually needs protection? Trans people.
. . . Seventy percent of trans people have experienced some form of harassment in a public bathroom. —Seth Meyers
Was it a man? A woman? Did it matter? —Madeline L’Engle
The recent spate of bathroom legislation—laws requiring people to use bathrooms that match the sex on their birth certificates—is foolish, invasive, and harmful. Aside from the absurdity of trying to enforce such laws, they discriminate against people who only want to pee and primp in peace. Transmen and transwomen who, for the most part, already blend in with users of their chosen loos and face danger when forced to do otherwise. So why the interference?
Here’s an overview of the basics:
Sex is a biological human trait—usually female or male, sometimes intersex (when chromosomal, reproductive, and/or genital configurations are mixed). Sex determines whether new babies are greeted by cries of “It’s a girl!” or “It’s a boy!” (At which point sex almost immediately gives way to gender—see below.) It can influence whether you stand or sit to pee and is instrumental in reproduction. Sex has nothing to do with the ability to open pickle jars, do math, or change tires.
Some people feel like they were born in the wrong bodies, that their biological sex doesn’t match their inner realities. They might have surgery and/or take hormone supplements to better align their physical sexual attributes (breasts, genitalia, etc.) with their self-concepts. Such transitions aren’t made lightly, but sex realignment surgery can help some people live happier lives.
Gender is a social construction—a shared idea rooted in a culture’s values, traditions, and expectations. Historically, this outer manifestation of identity (i.e., clothes, speech, mannerisms) has been based on your biological sex (see above). For example, female babies were once dressed in skirts and given dolls and taught to bake and sew and be tidy and demure and do other things traditionally associated with women, while male babies wore pants and played with toy trucks and toy guns and learned to explore and fix things and be tough and successful and do other things associated with men.
But plenty of girls like to play in the dirt, and every guy has feelings. So it’s fortunate that centuries of strict, arbitrary gender roles have evolved so much they’re starting to blur. Maybe one day there will be as many genders as there are people and everyone will just be themselves. In the meantime, there are plenty of templates to play with: butch, femme, and androgynous, to name a few. In any case, gender isn’t fixed. While we usually adopt gender unconsciously, we can change our clothes, speech, mannerisms, and other outer qualities to better reflect who we are.
Here, lust is shorthand for who you’re attracted to. Contrary to popular opinion, it has nothing to do with your own sex or gender. Some people—men, women, and others—are attracted to men. Some people—men, women, and others—are attracted to women. Some are attracted to men, women, and others, some to none of the above. The only time your sex and/or gender comes into it is a) when it matters to the person you’re attracted to, and b) when someone tries to label that attraction (homosexual, heterosexual, pansexual, asexual, etc.).
Who you do or don’t lust after has nothing to do with your sex or gender, no bearing on your character, trustworthiness, or intelligence, and no relationship to assault (see below), which is a crime of power, not passion.
Loos (AKA bathrooms, washrooms, johns, toilets, or WCs) are specialized spaces that humans use to expel waste, wash their hands, primp, and otherwise compose themselves. They’re utilitarian rooms with stalls, sinks, and mirrors. In general, loo-users of all kinds tend to go about their business and keep to themselves. Strangers don’t usually chit chat or gawk at each other. Aside from curious little kids, people don’t poke their heads under closed stall doors.
Except for attempts to accommodate different genitalia with urinals and toilets, loos have little to do with sex. And except for the occasional undiscriminating couple, loos have little to do with lust. But beyond those dumbly prosaic stick figures on the door—and the recent interference of woefully misguided lawmakers and their constituents—loos have nothing to do with gender.
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Some proponents of bathroom laws argue that women and children need to be protected from perverts who might assault them. But there’s no record of a predator ever posing as a transperson to access a bathroom; moreover, such behavior is already illegal. Others believe trans people are unnatural or immoral. But the world is full of disagreeable behavior; if you don’t like something, don’t do it.
Reimagining gender may unsettle those who feel safe with well-defined roles and expectations. But people seem to be happiest when their gender (how they look and act) reflects their inner realities. Gender fluidity frees everyone to choose for themselves how they want to live and move through the world. You can make that world a little safer for everyone by respecting those choices.