The first thing is that everyone seems to be confusing sex and gender. Sex is genetic: If you have XX chromosomes you are female; if you have XY chromosomes you are male. This is a matter of biology, and in all but a few rare instances, everyone is genetically one or the other.
Gender, however, is a matter of how sex is expressed. This can vary between cultures; it can be made up of how you dress, what activities you’re allowed to participate in, what society expects of you. These things can be much more fluid and can change over time.
I understand that some people do not wish to conform to gender stereotypes and may feel that they do not fit discreetly into one category or another. Anyone is free to express a gender, or no gender, in any way they like. But this doesn’t change the fact that you have a set of chromosomes that determines which bathroom you need to go in.
(To me, it’s kind of like voting in the primaries. I have to choose Republican or Democrat; Libertarian or Green Party or None Of The Above isn’t an option if I want to vote in May. Come November, I can do what I want, but in the spring I have to choose.)
I may or may not like how you choose to express yourself. But it’s not really my place to tell you, a complete stranger, whether I approve or disapprove. That is what is called tolerance. It’s also what has become a forgotten trait, that of minding your own business.
But when it becomes my issue is when I’m in a public restroom and have to worry about who is in the stall next to me. If someone is biologically male, then I am going to be extremely wary, as I do not want to be in a vulnerable situation with a male stranger who could easily overpower me.
In developing countries women are often attacked due to lack of toilet facilities. They must go out into fields in early morning when it is still dark so that they can do their business and still retain their modesty. This is one of the prime situations for sexual assault for women and girls.
We cannot let that happen here. I understand that a man living as a woman may not be the potential rapist I’ve just described. But what is to keep those who are sexual predators out of the women’s restroom when they could just say they identify as a woman and have an opportunity to do harm?
What we need are practical solutions that can keep everyone safe — not only women and children, but also those with various gender identities who are often subjected to harassment. And how about so many parents who may find themselves at a loss in public when their opposite-sex child needs to go?
The best option is for more single-person restrooms. Whether you want to call them gender-neutral or family-friendly, the point is that this would solve all of these problems. (It would also cut down on long lines for women’s restrooms — a beneficial side effect.)
In smaller establishments a few of these one-person washrooms would suffice. Obviously for larger places this wouldn’t be entirely practical; we still need separate women’s and men’s rooms, but then several of the single bathrooms could be added.
It doesn’t have to be a difficult solution; it seems the most practical and straightforward one is what would take care of the various issues we are facing.
Stephanie Haines is a writer from Greenfield who now lives in Bloomington. She can be contacted through her website, stephaniehaines.com.