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The mythical transgender bathroom stalkers

The most disturbing aspect of the negative reactions to the recent settlement between the MTA about the use of bathrooms by transgender people is the coalescence of a new “talking point” about transgender bathrooms: the fear that they will allow peeping toms, rapists and child molestors to enter the women’s rooms unhindered. People seem particularly disturbed at the idea that the judgment as to which bathroom to use is left entirely up to the pisser. Here’s a quote from the New York Daily News article:

One rider feared predators might dress as women and lurk in the women’s room.

Jerry Fuhrman, “From On High“:

If I choose to go to New York, have a few shots and beers, decide to “consider” myself a woman for the night, and camp out in the women’s restroom at the Ritz-Carlton to see what I can see, am I now protected by the law?

I know where I’m going on vacation …

Here’s a taste of the venom and hysteria in the FreeRepublic discussion thread, but then again, what do you expect from Freepers?

Now, will any provision made for safety for “real” women who don’t want to be preyed upon by rapists and thugs dressing in drag to gain access to, literally, sitting ducks? Or do they have to just suck it up in order to appease the freaks?

Actually, I was pleasantly surprised at the thoughtful and reasonable attempts to clarify the issue by poster Dukat. I wonder how long Dukat will last on FreeRepublic; they have a reputation for purging posters who don’t toe the party line.

The tricky thing about the safety argument is that, like all lies and hysteria, it’s based on a kernel of truth. The sad fact is that women are disproportionately victims of violence and are less safe than men anywhere they go. Everyone is more vulnerable when they’re half-dressed and peeing, shitting or grooming themselves. Combine these two, and a public bathroom can be a very scary place for a woman. Gossip isn’t the only reason women go to the bathroom in groups.

Given this, it’s understandable for women like the anonymous Daily News respondant to feel threatened by the idea of anyone with anything male about them in the women’s room. Add to this the fact that there are regular news items about “crazy trannies” who murder, rape and stalk people, and people get the impression that the transpeople in the women’s room won’t act like normal women.

The issue of “security concerns” was even thrown in to a New York Post column last year on the economic effects of trans bathroom rights (oh the poor suffering corporations!) by the otherwise intelligent, trans-friendly and sophisticated (if short-sighted) Nicole Gelinas. I emailed Gelinas to discuss the issue with her, and she shared these concerns with me in more detail. I was moved to investigate the issue.

I did a Nexis search for peeping toms in bathrooms and found over two hundred articles relating to the issue between 1995 and 2005. Many used innovative surveillance technology, some drilled holes in walls or hid in the ceiling crawlspaces, some just marched right in or snuck in and laid in wait. No cross-dressing. Zero. Zilch. Nothing. Two hundred articles. Every major newspaper in the country. Ten years. Nothing.

I then searched for child molestation in bathrooms, and, well, there’s some pretty horrible, sick stuff that goes on out there. I could only take fifty articles and I had to stop. However, all I found was private bathrooms, men molesting boys, or men just walking right into women’s bathrooms and molesting girls.

In those fifty articles, covering ten years, I found one article relating to cross-dressing. A cross-dresser walked into a women’s room and startled a girl, who screamed. The police arrived, and the “victim” explained that she didn’t actually feel threatened, just startled, and when she actually thought about it, she didn’t mind the cross-dresser in the women’s room. Both the girl and the and police agreed it was a simple misunderstanding, and no charges were filed.

That’s it. That’s all I found. Two hundred forty-nine articles spanning ten years, covering all kinds of nasty crimes perpetrated by “normal,” non-transgender people, and the one case involving cross-dressing was a misunderstanding. If you don’t believe me, go down to your library and do your own Nexis search.

You could argue that these ten years covered a period where there was no law protecting transgender people, and that now that this law is on the books, all the peeping toms and pedophiles will take advantage of it. Except that this law has already covered New York City for several years, and nothing like that has happened. The settlement just confirms the MTA’s understanding of the law. Of course, there have been enough high-profile bathroom-rights cases in the past that an enterprising voyeur wouldn’t need to wait for the law in order to claim transgender status. But they haven’t. My guess is that peeping toms and pedophiles just don’t do cross-dressing. If they want to go into a women’s room, they’ll just go.

I’ll write another post about how this affects me directly, but for now I’ll close with an excerpt from a post by Dean Spade:

Anyway, what I wanted to tell you today was about how I was having this conversation on Friday with 2 of my co-workers about how I want to create safe non-gendered bathroom options here, and of course the safety issue came up. They told me that the bathrooms used to not have locks, but after there was an incident where a male client went into the women’s room and exposed himself to an employee, the locks were put on the bathroom doors. They said they thought that the memory of this incident might be an obstacle to my mission. They were telling me a story in which, clearly, the “w” on the bathroom door had not kept anyone safe, just as writing “womens” on a key that anyone can take to go into the bathroom won’t keep a potential perpetrator from accessing that space. Yet, the story was supposed to illustrate the idea that the gendered classifications of toilets somehow protects women from male sexual violence.


  1. Thanks, Helen! Coming from you that means a lot. I can’t promise a ten-part series, but I think I’ve got a couple more parts of this story in me.

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