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The Transgender Bathroom Debate Revisited: It’s Not Just In Theory Anymore

Last Spring, I reflected on the issues surrounding transgenderism [1]and challenged the notion that changing laws to accommodate those who “self-identify” with the gender opposite from that with which they were born, would be without its own problems.  At the time, there had been no public, concrete consequences to the laws availing transgender individuals of opposite-sex dressing rooms and bathrooms, although I argued that the normalization of the phenomena might be confusing to children or adolescents who would be puzzled, if not frightened, to find an adult of the opposite sex sharing their “private facilities.”   Less than a year later, the consequences are apparently upon us, with both expected, and surprising, outcomes.

No Longer a Theoretical Question

Just a few weeks ago, in Michigan, an adult woman came face-to-face with just this type of situation; and she lost her gym membership [2] in the process, for complaining to management and notifying other women of the risk that they, too, might be sharing their dressing and bathing facility with a man who identifies as a woman.  In response, the Planet Fitness corporate office is quoted as emphasizing its commitment to offering a “non-intimidating, welcoming environment” consistent with its motto as the “Home of the Judgment Free Zone.” [3]  Not explained, however, is why this same “judgment-freeness” was not granted to a woman who was kicked out of the club for exposing her belly, even after she explained that this was occurring because she was pregnant [4]; nor a Muslim woman who desired to cover her head [5]during exercise.  Although the seemingly-obvious double standard with respect to what is considered a “welcoming environment” is an easy target for ridicule, more concerning is that it represents a societal trend whose consequences are dire, particularly to the young whose impressions about what is true and just, right and wrong, are being formed by their experiences of life in the “real world.”

Competing Values, Competing Rights

As these arguments go, a decision point usually arises whereby choices are made (often in courts of law) about whose personal rights “win.”  I argued here some time ago that an individual’s right to express his or her identity might and should yield to the greater good [6]of the community, which, in the case cited, involved a school full of youth facing a teacher’s attempted change of gender.  A similar principle would seem to hold here.  An individual whose sense of self does not match his birth gender may indeed be very uncomfortable in his appropriate dressing room.  Yet, it does not follow that he then should impose his dilemma on the entire remaining gym membership who might similarly be “uncomfortable” sharing the facilities with a member of the opposite sex.  The “transgendered” person’s pain is surely real, but it is folly to think (as these corporate executives seemingly do) that changing the norms in one’s place of business will provide any lasting peace for that person.

A Reminder to Truth

Such decisions serve as a reminder that compromising truth never satisfies.  In these examples, innocent people are harmed because of the insensitivity of the few who have been emboldened by recent societal trends, and some court decisions, to elevate their own personal identity decisions to public entitlements.  What a decade or even a few short years ago might have landed someone in jail, now is being lauded as courageous self-expression.  And vigilance demands that we remain aware that predators may pose as “experiencing themselves as the other gender” on any given day to gain access.  There seems to be no realistic precedent for challenging the claim.

Time (and the membership census trend at Planet Fitness) will tell how disturbing this phenomena is to John Q. Public, yet popular sentiment is not necessarily the best barometer of truth, health and well-being.  A better barometer, it could be argued, is the outrage of parents who will need to explain to their children why they cannot use a public restroom on their own, why Johnny has two mothers, or why Susie’s daddy wears dresses.  Buying into the current politically-correct line of accepting and celebrating the diversity of life that is represented by these anomalies is easy—but it is also confusing and dangerous.  Countering the current “culture” and standing up for the truth is difficult.  Nevertheless, that is exactly what we are called to do—for our good, and for those who have difficulty seeing the good.  Let us take the road less travelled…