29 Oct 2015

Of Bullied Boys and Bathroom Bills

A ‘bathroom bill’ is a piece of legislation allowing both sexes to enter into those public spaces which society and law previously had deemed sex-specific - spaces such as showers, changing rooms and prisons. The problem with most arguments against bathroom bills is that they are mere opinion. One of the most popular arguments is that allowing men to use the women’s showers will cause an increase in sexual assaults. And the most popular retort to that argument is “No, it won’t”. “I am in favour of the bill because nobody will be sexually assaulted”. That is a poor reason to be in favour of something, but it is a poor retort to a poor argument.

Rather than appeal to opinion, we can instead rely on the existence of sexual difference to explain both why we should be against bathroom bills and why they are coming into existence. This approach will be broken down into three steps, with the scenario used throughout being that of the Boys and Girls school bathrooms. Straight away we encounter a problem named Language: if the word Boy is uses to refer both to a type of body and to a sign on a bathroom door, its two meanings will cause confusion. To avoid this, boys’ and girls’ bodies will be referred to as ‘sexually immature males’ and ‘sexually immature females’ respectively. Wherever the names Boys and Girls are used, they refer only to signs on the doors of bathrooms.

The Same Bathroom

Step one is to realize that a bathroom bill makes the two bathrooms the same bathroom. If Jonny (sexually immature male) starts using the Girls bathroom, it ceases to be for sexually immature females only and can instead be used by both sexes. And if Jonny is using the Girls bathroom, sexually immature females have to be allowed to use the Boys bathroom, meaning the Boys bathroom too can be used by both sexes. With both sexes now able to use both bathrooms, the two bathrooms are the same bathroom. The only difference between them is their name.

A tempting objection to this insight can be both illustrated and refuted by imagining that Jonny is the only pupil in the school using the bathroom of the other sex. Jonny’s choice obviously affects all sexually immature females because they no longer have a sex-specific space, but it looks as though his choice leaves all other sexually immature males unaffected - they can still use the same bathroom as before; it is still called the Boys bathroom; and no sexually immature female is using it. But Jonny’s decision does affect them. It affects everybody, because the possibility of a sexually immature female entering the Boys bathroom now exists, even if nobody takes advantage of it - it is no longer necessary to be a sexually immature male in order to use that bathroom. So, if Jonny changes his mind and reverts to using the Boys bathroom, he will no longer be using it because of being a sexually immature male and instead has to use it despite being a sexually immature male. The Boys bathroom no longer ‘fits’ his body.

Losing the Language

To illustrate step two, let us restore the Boys and Girls bathrooms to their sex-specific status, and add a third bathroom which can be used by both sexes. This is the ‘gender-neutral’ bathroom. Jonny now has a choice: he can use either the ‘gender-neutral’ bathroom (which can be used by everybody) or the Boys bathroom (which cannot be used by everybody). If we give him this choice within a legal atmosphere which insists that Boys and Girls are interchangeable, and if he chooses to use the Boys bathroom, what kind of person should we think he is? We have to think he is a bigot: if there is a perfectly good bathroom which can be used by everybody, and if Jonny chooses to not use it, the reason for his choice must be that he believes Boys and Girls to be different - a belief which contradicts the ideology.

The ideology named Gender is compelled to strip away the language of sexual difference because the only reason the language exists is to signify the difference: if the names Boys and Girls no longer signify sexual difference, why use them? Why not name the bathrooms Left and Right, or Circle and Square? When the ‘gender-neutral’ bathroom is introduced, the sex-specific bathrooms become unsustainable.

What we have, then, is a two-stage vanishing act: initially, legal recognition of sexual difference is erased (with the language retained); later, the redundant language too is erased. It is when words begin to vanish from law that people start to scratch their heads and ask “why?” This is a hard question to answer if we have not recognized step one, namely that the two bathrooms are the same bathroom. This brings us to step three: when exactly do the bathrooms become the same bathroom?

Already the Same Bathroom

We saw earlier that the Girls bathroom ceased to be a bathroom for sexually immature females when Jonny started using it. This is not quite true. To show why not, let us again restore the bathrooms to their sex-specific status and imagine the school allows its pupils to choose to wear either a pink jumper or a blue one. Every sexually immature female chooses pink, and every sexually immature male chooses blue - except Jonny. Now suppose other sexually immature males then prevent pink-jumpered Jonny from entering the Boys bathroom. He is being bullied on grounds of not conforming to ‘gender stereotypes’. This bullying has an obvious solution - all we need do is to teach the pupils that a sexually immature male is who he is by virtue of being, not by virtue of wearing. The State, though, employs a different solution.

Solely on the grounds that he is wearing a pink jumper, the State allows Jonny to use the Girls bathroom. But this converts that bathroom from ‘a bathroom for sexually immature females’ into ‘a bathroom for any pupil wearing a pink jumper’ - in the name of overcoming stereotypes, the State has instead reinforced them. This contradictory outcome is a result of the fact that the State’s solution did not match the problem. The State’s solution can be said to match the problem only if the problem is that sexually immature females are preventing Jonny from entering the Girls bathroom. But if the State believes that to be the problem, it also believes the Girls bathroom to be ‘a bathroom for any pupil wearing a pink jumper’. According to the State, there is no bathroom for sexually immature female bodies.

The problem, then, is not that the Girl’s bathroom ceases to be for sexually immature females when Jonny starts to use it, or when Jonny gains legal permission to use it (even if he then changes his mind). No, the problem is that the bathroom ceases specifically to be for sexually immature females when the names Male and Female are redefined in law so as to no longer signify (physical) sexual identities and to instead signify (emotional) ‘gender identities’. The right reason to be against bathroom bills is the same as the reason to be against the ideology named Gender, namely the ejection from law of all recognition of sexual difference.

It is worth reminding ourselves that sex-specific spaces came into existence only because of the pre-existence of sexual difference - male and female bodies existed before, say, male and female shower cubicles. Sexual difference still exists, yet there is no longer any legal space for it. It ‘feels’ as though there still is, but this feeling is a mere illusion caused by the fact that some sex-specific language still lingers on in law, waiting to be erased.