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The Maryland State Transgender Bathroom Debate: What Is Missing From The Discussion

Opposition [1] has arisen to state legislation in Maryland that, among other things, allows a person to choose which public accommodation (e.g., bathroom or changing facility) he or she will use based upon the gender with which he or she is identifying that day.  Those opposed to the bill claim: “The expectation of women and men is to see people of the same gender in places like bathrooms and changing rooms.”  On the other hand, proponents [2] of the legislation parody those concerned, stating: “Opponents of equality need to get their minds out of the bathroom and recognize the very real discrimination, violence and alienation transgender people suffer.”

Particulars Of The Debate

Although I am neither a lawyer nor a legislator, it seems fair to argue that the law could have been written more clearly if the goal was solely to end violence against, and alienation of, people who do not identify with the sex in which they were born.  Even those attempting to block the law allow that they would not be pursuing a public referendum if the law had stopped short of following California’s lead into a broad anti-discrimination law that goes past protecting one group of people’s rights and begins to infringe upon the rights of others.  In this case, the people of concern are women and girls who may find a man in their bathroom or locker facility. 

I recently took up that issue in these pages [3] and believe the dismissal of concerns by the bill sponsor and by the Baltimore Sun editorial board ignores the very real message that the law sends to the people of Maryland about the state’s priorities.  One can easily imagine the confusion and fear of a 5-, 10- or 15-year-old girl who becomes aware that a man is sharing her restroom or changing facility at a pool.  Perhaps—no, hopefully—the man is not aggressive, but how is the girl to know?  Yes, a young girl could indeed find a man in her restroom or changing facility without this law.  It has happened before.  But, before the legislation, it was not normal.  With the legislation it is still not normal, but it has been normalized.  In truth, the legislation normalizes what any young girl knows not to be true.
 
The editorial board suggests that sharing facilities rarely contributes to molestations and rapes.  Those mounting the petition fear this not to be the case.  I am unaware of any definitive data on the topic.  Such data would be hard to collect.  But what I do know is that the potential psychological damage and distress among many, our youth in particular, would not be rare and would not be inconsequential. 

What’s Missing?

If the goal of the legislation is to treat suffering individuals more compassionately, one needs to ask how that is best done.  What does true compassion (one goal of eradicating discrimination) for a person entail?  Is it helping them “feel more comfortable,” or is it helping them move towards a responsible, truthful understanding of themselves?  Undoubtedly, the former is a far more simple goal to achieve—at least short-term, but easy isn’t necessarily better, and people experiencing alienation and violence deserve the best.

Notwithstanding the recent removal of transgenderism [4] from the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association, the reality remains that for most of human history, people who did not identify with the gender indicated by their sexual organs at birth, have long been known to suffer emotionally, psychologically and socially.  When this suffering comes at the hands of those who viciously attack them because of their struggle, action can and must be taken to protect their inherent dignity.  Thankfully, laws doing just that have long existed in the United States.  However, extending legislation in this manner, with the notion that it will somehow alleviate “the very real discrimination, violence and alienation transgender people suffer” is misguided compassion.

The person who cannot easily identify with his genetic sexual identity is no better off psychologically for being able to legally use the bathroom of his choice.  Whatever transient relief or satisfaction might come in the moment, he is still profoundly conflicted about the essence of who he is, and no amount of accommodation from others, acceptance of “him” as “her,” or even surgical interventions or pharmaceutical modifications, change that painful reality.

Genuine compassion demands solutions that address the real concerns.

So yes, let’s continue to forbid unjust discrimination and prosecute violence everywhere, in all places against any person. But let’s not pretend that we can legislate the end to the alienation felt by people who are confused and distressed about their own sense of self.  These are real problems, and deserve real solutions.

Sadly, existing counseling processes are costly and lengthy for persons with these types of issues, and little effort is being focused by professional organizations on improvement, given that they have taken the path of “defining away” the problem.  Yet, part of the solution has been, and always will be, the love of family and friends, who see the dignity of the man despite his struggles, while stopping short of accepting the disorder as somehow inevitable or normal.  While such true compassion cannot be legislated, community leaders, and each of us, can play a helpful role by standing up for the dignity of human persons, and not catering to special interests groups and agendas. 
 

Human Sexuality
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Recent legislation in Maryland allows a person to choose which public restroom he or she will use based upon the gender with which he or she is identifying that day. It is true that men have been found in women’s restrooms before. But that was not normal. This legislation tries to make it so.
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