If Leslie Feinberg, author of Transgender Warriors, were alive today, I wonder which bathroom she would be legally required to use: the women’s, because she had a vagina, or the men’s, because she had a masculine face and physique? Feinberg was a lesbian transgender woman who sometimes passed as a man for safety reasons. If she walked into a men’s restroom—which might not have been her preference—no one would have thought a thing of it, as long as she didn’t try to use the urinal. If she walked into a women’s restroom, conservative lawmakers would be crying rape faster than you could say “What was she wearing?” And that, my friends, is because transphobia and rape culture are intersecting in some very disturbing ways.
Of course, it isn’t people with vaginas who present as masculine that are at the unexamined heart of the hysteria surrounding bathroom use. The transphobia—or fear of transgender (people who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) and transsexual (people who have had surgery so that their biological sex matches their gender) people—here is about people with penises who present as feminine, and identify as female. This fear becomes a specific form of hatred known as transmisogyny, a term introduced by Julia Serano in her book Whipping Girl:
Trans women, especially trans women of color, are at a high risk of violence: according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), the majority of the victims of hate violence homicides (72%) in 2013 were transgender women. In addition, transgender people of color were more likely to experience police violence, and trans women were more likely to experience sexual violence.
But according to the twisted and uninformed logic of rape culture—those aspects of our culture that normalize rape and sexual assault—trans women are to be sexually feared. The words of Hampden-Sydney professor General William “Jerry” Boykin encapsulate the belief that trans women are sexual predators:
“The bottom line is that I oppose these so called “#Bathroom” bills that let men go into women’s locker rooms, showers, and toilets and I have been very public about it. When I said in Orlando that “…the first man who goes in the restroom with my daughter will not have to worry about surgery”, the LGBT community once again came after me, claiming that I was calling for violence against #transgender people.”
Boykin may not have been rounding up a physical posse to go after trans women, but his words do incite violence, both emotional and physical. And they rely on both our fears of gender nonconformity and our cultural misunderstandings about rape to do so. These words, shared in a Facebook post by Pamela Lambert, encapsulate the rape culture inherent in Boykin’s statement:
“If you’re telling me that there are high volumes of boys and men out there, in schools or in general, who are just waiting for a ‘loop hole’ to sexually assault girls and women, we have bigger problems on our hands than bathrooms. The first problem would be your apparent lack of knowledge of how often it happens OUTSIDE of bathrooms, with no ‘loop holes’ needed. This isn’t about Transgender bathroom access. This is about you not trusting the boys and men in your communities and/or fearing that they’re all secretly predators. Why do you have this fear? How many fathers have panicked when their daughters started dating because they ‘know how teenaged boys can be because they used to be one’? How many times have girls been warned ‘boys are only after one thing’? A mother can bring her young son into the women’s restroom and that’s fine but a father bringing his young daughter into the men’s restroom is disturbing because men are assumed to be predators and ‘little girls’ shouldn’t be exposed to that.
So instead of picking up your sword and heading to Target or the girls’ locker room to defend our ‘rights’, why don’t you start somewhere that could actually make a difference? Challenge your children’s schools to end sexist dress codes and dress codes that sexualize girls as young as age 5. Advocate for proper (or any) sex education classes in all public schools by a certain grade level. Focus more on teaching your sons not to rape vs teaching your daughters how to avoid being raped.
Lambert touches upon many aspects of rape culture here: the idea that most men are sexually violent predators and that all women need protection from the few “good” men who aren’t, the sexualization of girls and women in our media, the fear of sexual education, and the focus on teaching girls and women to police their own behavior rather than holding perpetrators accountable.
When we put transmisogyny together with rape culture, we give carte blanche to those who wish to tighten the reins of institutionalized discrimination—and state violence—against some of our most vulnerable citizens. We turn the tables on truth, and make it seem as though those vulnerable citizens are in fact violent predators who deserve no dignity, privacy, or self-determination. We get a world in which anything goes: strip searches, humiliating inquisitions about private activities, and culturally sanctioned violence.
And we get this world in the name of “safety.”