What is it about bathrooms? Throughout the Jim Crow South, there were separate restrooms for blacks and whites. When I bring my dad, my uncle and my niece to Puerto Rico every winter, my niece claims the one bedroom with the private bathroom and the guys share the other one. Three hundred years ago, it was a mark of honor to be able to accompany the monarch as he took his toilette. Now, privacy seems most significant, and therefore the most easily endangered, when we discuss bathrooms.
Still, even I have been taken aback by the current “bathroom wars,” fought over the issue of whether or not transgender persons should use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender at the time of their birth or to the gender by which they now identify themselves.
I am surprised, first, that this issue has seemingly become the next frontier in the civilizational struggle for equality. I understand that the issue is of great concern to the sliver of the population that is transgender. A family I know has a child that just changed his gender, and the process, and the result of the process, has certainly not been without anxiety and stress. The fact that the legal struggle seems focused on schools, when all kids are going through puberty, seems especially designed to throw gasoline on the fire. My sense is that this issue has less to do with the people it ostensibly concerns and more with those who are professional culture warriors on both the left and the right.
It baffles me that the Obama White House has latched on to this issue as a key part of its legacy. The fact that his administration has done so does not evidence the breadth of concern for other human beings and their travails. No, it evidences the degree to which some on the left, especially those with power, glom on to whatever issue seems trendy and cool at the moment. As Thomas Frank points out in his new book Listen Liberals, the “creative classes” that dominate the liberal establishment are far more animated by the need to get someone an abortion than they are to get people a job. Furthermore, how is this a federal issue?
It also baffles me that conservative critics of any accommodations being made for transgender people use such false and inflammatory language to describe the situation, warning darkly that the Obama Administration rules would allow men to prey on your daughters in the bathroom. (What is to prevent predators from doing that now?) A transgender person who now identifies as female and desires to use the women’s bathroom is probably going to cause less of a stir in the ladies’ room than in the men’s room. Think of Caitlyn Jenner. The way she looks now, I can’t imagine feeling comfortable if she walked into the men’s room.