It’s good to know that all of Minnesota’s big, pressing problems are under control in St. Paul. That must be why legislative Republicans have seized an opportunity to resume their favorite hobby ― worrying about what happens when other people pull down their pants.
You’d think this short session, loaded with last year’s leftovers, would encourage focus. But no. With so many huge appropriations measures on the 2016 legislative menu ― not to mention two that Moorhead’s been waiting for since last year, our railroad underpass and pressing border-city tax issues ― it seems busybodies in the House of Representatives have elected to devote their time in this brief, busy session to … bathrooms.
Yes, bathrooms. These thoughtful leaders have been cogitating hard over what goes on when public interacts with plumbing. They have pledged themselves to keep Minnesota safe while we do our business by requiring transgendered individuals to use the restrooms that match the sex on their birth certificates, rather than correspond with how they live their lives.
In case Caitlyn Jenner hasn’t already explained this to you, transgender is a variation on our everyday assumption of who is, exactly, who. Some people are born into bodies whose accessories don’t match who they believe themselves to be. The mismatch between body and mind generally emerges very, very early in life. Though it has been documented throughout history, the condition ― baffling to those who’ve only read about it ― is seldom discussed and even less often understood.
Transgendered individuals seek to live their lives as the persons they know themselves to be, sidestepping the switcheroo pulled at birth by Mother Nature. This is not a whim or an option. These are not costumed actors on a stage. They are people who want to pursue outward lives consistent with their hearts and minds and, male or female, their real identities. And that inevitably includes the most basic and universal human need: going to the bathroom.
Humans tend to react in one of two opposite ways when we confront something new and unexpected. Some open their minds and seek to understand. Others run like frightened rabbits.
Last week, a brave band of legislative bunnies shared their biases in a press conference at the Capitol, unveiling this year’s initiative to regulate who goes through those bathroom doors. Their goal, they say, is to protect people’s “God-given right of privacy” when following the call of nature. They want to safeguard Minnesotans in “intimate settings where the right to privacy and safety must not be threatened.” They urge fellow legislators to “honor the wisdom of longstanding policies and traditions that have … kept our girls and women safe.”
How? Apparently, by checking birth certificates before you’re allowed to pee.
Two little problems confound that approach:
― The total number of documented cases of transgendered bathroom attacks from coast to coast ― the dire consequence from which they seek to protect us ― stands at precisely zero.
― Transgendered women ― though their birth certificates still identify them as male ― look, behave and comport themselves exactly like … women.
Though the right wing of the Web abounds with horrific accounts, not one single incident of the sort these legislators fear has ever been documented ― not here, not there and not in any state or city where equal-rights ordinances have cleared the way for transgendered people to use the facilities that correspond with their identities. Not one.
The anecdotes proponents are sharing in speeches from Texas to North Carolina ― and here in Minnesota ― appear to be nothing more than urban myths. They’re the kind of perennial hearsay that makes the rounds to inspire the fright-prone to shiver, taking their place beside tales of the deep-fried mouse in the bucket of chicken, the alligators in the sewers of New York and the warning that if you consume Pop Rocks with soda, the consequent explosion will kill you.
Some of this confusion, I think, should be laid at the high-heeled feet of comedian Flip Wilson. Back in the 1970s, his brassy onstage character Geraldine indelibly marked a generation of Americans with the conviction that a cross-dressing man ― tightly dressed, bewigged and lipsticked ― was the height of hilarity.
Add to that impression Robin Williams’ character in the 1993 comedy “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Remember how he tricked his divorced wife into hiring him as a kindly female nanny so he could spend time with his alienated kids? Though hetero indeed, he dressed in drag to creep under the radar … right up to the heartwarming ending.
But unlike Flip or Robin, transgendered men don’t slip into their female personas as a prank or plot device. They aren’t pretending to be female for a laugh or some nefarious purpose. They are women in every way but one. They’re actually the least likely villains to prey on girls and ladies … and the most likely to be abused themselves if they’re forced to use the men’s room.
Perhaps our champions of pre-pee gender inspections, too, have been inflamed by the perennial mysteries of the ladies room. Just what do females do in there? And why do they go in pairs?
Relax, boys. The sacred privacy of the loo is quite safe. You see, we go into separate stalls. We always shut the doors. To glimpse anything salacious, an interloper would have to get on his knees to peer below … and he’d risk a good kick in the kisser.
Unless you’ve lived your life in the backwoods or simply don’t get out much, chances are good that you’ve already shared a public bathroom with a transgendered person. The Census Bureau estimates at least 100,000 walk among us. Odds are, you’ve flushed side by side a time or two without even noticing, and you both did just fine.
It’s a dead issue, anyway. Even if the bathroom bill somehow squirms through the Republican-controlled House, Democrats in the Senate have vowed to stomp it ― and failing that, the measure has a preordained date with Mark Dayton’s veto pen. That’s what happened last month in South Dakota, where a similar bathroom-policing bill wriggled through both houses before being stopped dead by Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who declared it met “no pressing need.”
But if St. Paul’s self-appointed Bathroom Brigade is really serious about improving the lot of the privy-bound, let me suggest a couple of genuine problems to keep them out of trouble.
Let’s pass a law that makes failing to wash your hands a felony.
And, for good measure, the guys could devote themselves to a bona fide issue that truly matters to Minnesota females. Legislate that public facilities must quadruple the toilet count in every women’s restroom.
Gentlemen, you’ve never known true terror until you’re one of 100 women rushing for the ladies room at intermission … and the other 99 are all in front of you.