Recently in the US, “bathroom bills” have been introduced that would prevent transgender people using the toilet they need to. Discussion still rolls on in the UK about access to toilets for transgender people, particularly trans women.
We cannot be complacent that similar restrictions would never be considered here in the UK – we live in a world where various minorities are being scapegoated as a threat to “ordinary, decent people”, and toilet access is still a live debate here in the UK. There follows a stark illustration of the extent to which hate and prejudice against transgender people has led to wildly exaggerated safety fears.
The underlying prejudice that leads to such bills is that there is a risk to toilet users from sexual offenders if trans people are freely allowed to choose the appropriate facility for themselves. But a small amount of research will inform you that in neither the UK, nor the US, are there any restrictions on registered sex offenders using public toilets.
This means that even if all transgender women were sex offenders, they would still present statistically less risk than cisgender (non trans) women, if indeed there was a genuinely significant risk of non-consensual sex offences happening in toilets.
Which, of course, there isn’t. If there was, we would not, as a culture, so freely allow our boy and girl children to use most facilities unaccompanied.
In reality, there is no evidence that trans women pose more danger in toilets than cis women, and data from the US demonstrates that inclusive laws present no increased danger to cis women.
Legislators speak of “preventative” measures as if trans people have not been around and using facilities for a long time now, as if trans people appeared yesterday and we don’t have years of experience of all being well to reassure us that this “trans threat” is just not real.
This toilet issue is, of course, the pointy end of a huge debate that has rolled on since the 1970s among right wing and left wing reactionaries alike. But why have we not got past it? Society once held similar fears about the presence of gays and lesbians, but although homophobia is far from a thing of the past, such basic, ill-informed prejudice does not seem to be informing legislation to quite the same extent.
My local (Nottingham) Women’s Centre has been inclusive of trans women for 17 years. Of course trans inclusion kicked up a rumpus at the time, but none of the problems feared by some have arisen. And yet people in my town still talk as if trans inclusion is some untested thing and will unleash all manner of horrors on cis women. Equally, I have worked for a women only domestic violence service that helped trans as well as cis women, and zero problems occurred as a result of this inclusion.
Trans women have been using toilets at least since the 1960s, and everything points to the fact that it is trans women, not cis women, who tend to experience violence and harassment in relation to toilet access. Given that it is trans people who bear the most risk, legislation that is there to protect cis people and not trans makes a clear statement that the discomfort and prejudice of cis people is more important than the genuine safety of trans people.
So are public toilets safe? One older woman told me of a sobering story of a man hiding in a public toilet and attempting to attack her. Surely, she said, this is why this is such an important issue, even if such occurrences are rare.
Was the man dressed as a woman? I inquired.
Well, no, she replied.
Surprisingly to some, men who want to commit crimes against women don’t need to go to extraordinary lengths to pass themselves off as being legitimately allowed into a space – they will simply break one law to commit another crime. And there are, alas, plenty of spaces where men have the opportunity to attack women, which is why men dressing up as women in order to commit such crimes is not actually a significant issue. Meanwhile, there are already plenty of laws in place to protect women and girls from sexual assault, indecent and lewd behaviour.
The panic over toilets is founded in myth and prejudice, in the still-alive although thoroughly debunked idea that being transgender is motivated by sexual inclinations. It is not. Trans women in toilets are there for the same reason everyone else is.
And they are, I assure you, more terrified of you than you are of them.
This frightening level of hyped-up and manufactured hate and prejudice has led some women to be influenced into viewing trans women as more dangerous than known sex offenders. There are no campaigns to stop registered sex offenders from using public toilets – think about that. Think about those c.64,000 female sex offenders that you have never once worried about peeing next to. That, because of the general safety of using a toilet, you do not need to be worried about peeing next to.
This, in a nutshell, is a startling illustration of the daily battle against prejudice experienced by the trans community.