Pretend you're a bathroom traffic cop in a busy mall. It's your job to direct each person who approaches you to the bathroom most appropriate for them to use. Let's test your skills right now.
To which bathroom would you direct this person?
How about this sweet kid?
And this guy?
How'd you do? Did you direct the first two people to the ladies' room and the third person to the mens' room? If so, your score is 0%.
The first person is Laverne Cox, American actor and Emmy nominee. Born male.
The second person is 15 year old Jazz Jennings, reality TV star on TLC. Born male.
The third person is Ben Melzer, German spokesmodel. Born female.
The dividing line between the genders isn't as clear if you judge only by outward appearances, is it? But I've been hearing something a lot lately from conservatives, even public figures I usually agree with, like Matt Walsh who blogs over at The Blaze. They're proposing that the public bathroom gender issue is a simple one. There's the normally gendered and accordingly dressed people, and then there's the mentally ill and confused people who are forcing us all to accept them in OUR bathrooms. Either/or. If you were born with male genitalia, use the men's room. If you were born with female genitalia, use the women's room. Simple, right? This will prevent dangerous predators from exposing women and children to danger.
This logic has several problems, however.
1. The most basic problem is the fact that transgender people have been using public bathrooms all along. Gasp! They are already among us!! This issue is centuries old; it's just getting attention now. Just because you've had the illusion that you've only been sharing public bathrooms with people of your own gender (give or take a few babies and toddlers) doesn't mean it's the case. This means that the need to educate ourselves and our kids about personal safety and common courtesy has always been there. You don't need to suddenly boycott Target, as if that will fix it. Chances are, you and your kids have already used a bathroom with a transgender person and haven't been the wiser.
2. Another problem is the fact that it's not actually transgender people who pose a threat. It's sexual predators. It's the rape culture that we live in, where people's bodies are seen as objects to be sized up for their possible usefulness rather than vessels carrying tender human souls. Being transgendered doesn't equate to being a predator. Some would argue that all males, regardless of how they "identify," pose a threat to females, even if it's only in the form of voyeurism, and therefore shouldn't be in their bathrooms. But there's no possible way to substantiate that. Being born male and having a male brain doesn't always mean sexual attraction to females. And being female doesn't necessarily mean attraction to males. If the discomfort comes from using the restroom in close proximity to someone who finds you sexually attractive, then by that logic, lesbians shouldn't be in women's bathrooms either! Again, this issue is far beyond simple. How should we respond?
Relax your scrolling finger for a sec, OK?
Let's not start formulating rebuttal comments in our heads quite yet. I'm going to lovingly encourage you, especially if you're a conservative Christian, to pause for a moment and try to see this issue from an opposing viewpoint. You can show compassion and try to understand someone without having to agree with them.
To be clear, I am NOT saying that I agree with what gay and transgender people stand for. I'm not even saying that transgenderism is a good thing. I don't believe it solves anything. I do believe that each person is fearfully and wonderfully made, and that each person's gender is part of who God made them from birth. I don't believe males and females are interchangeable. I believe they are different for important and beautiful reasons. I'm not here to debate that. My concern is for how we treat people who identify themselves as gay and transgendered, how we speak about them around others, and how we encourage others to treat them. Do we treat them with compassion and humility, or do we label them as inferior and speak about them with mockery and disdain?
We live in a twisted, messed up world where gender wires get crossed for a myriad of reasons.
I'm not saying it's always the cause, but there are literally millions of people out there who were exposed to drugs like this. A good number of them might be feeling that they were born the wrong gender, simply because of a drug induced birth defect that is disrupting their hormones. Having such a physical issue is emotionally no different from being forcibly castrated, as people in many cultures throughout the world have been for centuries, and still are. This isn't a new issue. Jesus himself had great conversations with a eunuch (probably more than one). He didn't shun him; he treated him like any other person. Yet today, transgender people are being raised in a society that tells them, "Hey, if that's how you honestly feel, then you belong in this lifestyle over here." That's confusing!
And that's only one possibility among many, as to why some people spend their lives feeling like their body is a costume that doesn't fit.
Without the grace of a loving God to help them sort through that, they must either live what they see as a lie, or change something. A relatively small number of brave ones attempt to live honestly by transitioning to the other gender. It's long, painful, expensive, complicated, and confusing. On top of that, it draws a ton of ridicule and labels like "deviant" and "pervert."
With that in your mind, now imagine being a 15 year old transgendered child who looks like Jazz Jenner, and being forced to go into a restroom among grown men. Imagine the stares and whispers that might draw. Is Jazz a predator trying to leer at young girls? It sure doesn't seem that way. Imagine being Ben Melzer and being told that you are compelled by law to use the ladies' room. I guarantee it wouldn't go well 99% of the time, and there might even be vocal protests. Would you enjoy being glared at and told to leave? Neither would Ben, I imagine. Yet I've seen conservatives who vow to stand outside the women's bathrooms that their wives and kids are using, and chase away anyone who looks like Ben. Because only women should be in that bathroom. Wait, Ben IS a woman. Or... WAS. So you got what you wanted, but did you really want it? Is chasing Ben off the right and heroic thing to do, or did you just traumatize a woman? Gah. See what I mean?
Maybe you're even wondering at this point, why would God let someone be born gay or gender confused, even though he made us male and female, and forbids homosexual activity? I don't know. He lets people be born with rebellious hearts, too, even though he forbids sin. We're all desperately in need of his grace, no matter what our personal brand of temptation happens to be. And he says the world will know us by our love. I do know that!
"But these laws allow predators into our bathrooms," you might say.
I hate to burst your bubble, but if you think that the stricter rules we used to have about gender assigned bathrooms were keeping out predators before, you're dreaming. If your only method of predator avoidance is reliance on posted signs, might I suggest you reconsider how you handle your personal safety anyway? A determined rapist or peeping tom will find an opportunity. Allowing transgendered people in doesn't make that any more or less likely. Yes, it is true that you're less likely to have a manager on your side nowadays if you take the time to complain that there's someone in the wrong bathroom. That is a sad side effect. But as I said above, a person wanting to use a different bathroom than the one assigned to them at birth doesn't automatically mean that their sole aim in life is to do things that make you uncomfortable. My goal isn't to write a commentary on the rightness or wrongness of the policy, but rather to challenge you to consider what your response will be.
"Well, some people choose this lifestyle...
...and they shouldn't be allowed the same rights as me," you say. How are you going to know who qualifies? Who chose to be transgendered and who didn't? Interview each one? Just be mean to all of them?
Let's let our response to all this mayhem be gentleness and respect.
If this dreaded scenario should happen while I'm out, and a perverted, predatory person exposes himself to me, it changes nothing. I would still have the same opinion as I do now. You know why? He's only one person, not every person; and he certainly doesn't represent transgender people. Not only that, but by choosing to make me his victim, he has set himself up as my enemy. As such, that automatically qualifies him for a special brand of prayers and blessing. Jesus said this, not me.
To wrap up... Are transgender people confused? Are they mentally ill? Did they choose their lifestyle? Were they born that way? I don't know; and honestly, as always, it's none of my business what they believe or why they make the choices they do. I am free to agree or disagree. What I am NOT free to do is spread fearful, hateful rhetoric that makes transgender people feel ganged up on, or blankets them in an inferior light. They aren't inferior, and we don't need to be afraid of them.
So I'm going to go on educating my kids about common sense bathroom safety, and using family restrooms where possible. I'll keep teaching them how to lovingly give the right of way to others, even if that means waiting until a male-looking person exits the restroom before we go in. I'm going to go on assuming that people are much more complicated than they appear, and that I can't pretend to understand what it's like to be them. I'm going to remember that they are human beings, made in God's image. He treasures them SO much, and I'm supposed to treat them as I would want to be treated. As I. would want. to be treated. So if I meet one, I'm going to smile and say hello.
For my part, I don't think this bathroom thing is healthy or right for our society. But beyond that, I think transgendered people are PEOPLE. My message to them would be that they are SO cherished by God. I'd put my arm around them and say I don't know how or why their minds and bodies decided their gender didn't fit them, but the truth is they are fearfully and wonderfully made. The blood of Christ gives grace for all of this, and being in his family is a strong enough identity to help them work through all that. No it's not physically possible to change your DNA, but it is physically possible to have your hormones out of whack and then have society tell you to celebrate it and create an identity from it, and then have conservatives yell at you for it. I'm not going to be a yeller. I'm going to be a truth teller, but in a way that leads to HOPE.
I'm off to Target. I'll probably have to pee while I'm there. I'm good with that.