I’m going to assume that anyone reading this knows the general thrust of the “trans bathroom bill” laws showing up around the country, and the issues people in the GLBTQ and allied communities have with them. (If you don’t, please look up the details.) There is, unfortunately, a lot of misunderstanding on both sides of this issue.
While the people driving the “trans bathroom bills” are doing so out of malice — rile up the base, shore up support, bring in donations, etc., all in the name of gathering more power — the people on the ground generally aren’t evil.
They just aren’t educated.
I don’t mean that they are stupid. I mean that they don’t know what the issues and implications are. Just like with the various gay right issues of the past 20+ years, where we found that the more gay and lesbian people they knew, the more favorable they were to gay rights, these people don’t have any real experience with trans people.
For most of us who are GLBTQ or allied, no matter where we currently fall on the trans acceptance and awareness scale, it has been a progression to get there. None of us sprang from Zeus’ head with a fully formed knowledge of and process for dealing with trans issues. We discovered, we learned, we grew… we evolved. And we still are evolving — I know I am.
For most of these people, their awareness of “trans” is Ru Paul’s Drag Race and Caitlyn Jenner. They have no mental separation of sex from gender from orientation — to these people, those are pretty much all one and the same. They can’t (yet) grasp the reasons why someone would not be comfortable in their assigned gender, why someone would want to transition (much less what that means). They still believe that being gay is a choice, so they certainly can’t grasp gender subtleties.
A lot of people have pushed up the idea of “Do they want Buck Angel in the women’s room?” No, they don’t, but that’s because he passes. Completely. They don’t see him as female at all, and thus it would not be an issue. In fact, they have almost no concept of FTM because they don’t see such people as anything but “male".
(Let’s be clear on the idea of genital checks: that has come from our side of the fence. They say it will be enforced, but it’s us that have suggested that mechanism. They don’t know how to enforce it other than the silent threat imposed by making it a law.)
Their concern — the one that has been pushed at them by those driving the issue — is MTF trans people. And back to Ru Paul’s Drag Race, their main image of transwomen is over-the-top drag queens. (Again, when they don’t know any better, drag and trans are the same thing.) If they look beyond the glammed up big drag, or a “rich enough to afford what it takes to look good” transwoman like Jenner, they see less refined drag. They see men in women’s clothes who don’t pass well as women, who wouldn’t convince many people that they are female. (And those drag queens don’t intend to do that, but these people don’t understand that, of course.) Or they see butch-appearing women who, to their view are about the same — unable to pass with standard gender norms, ans thus suspect.
So now we have image the undereducated masses have for the trans bathroom issue: men badly dressed as women, saying they are female and using the women’s restroom. And since these people are obviously not actually women, then their reason for using the women’s room would be… what? Nothing good, to be sure! And that’s where things go directly into the toilet (so to speak): such men must be wanting to be there to peek at, scare, molest, or even rape innocent real women or girls. And that’s not acceptable, obviously.
So how do we fight back about this? Same way as with the gay rights issues — we challenge them in court, forcing them to come up with increasingly stupid sounding rationalizations for their fears, and we come at it from the other side with gradual, continual education and awareness. And we need to realize that this is going to take time — years, even. It will be faster than the gay rights fights (that road has at least been traveled before), but it’s still not going to be solved immediately.