I don’t give a great deal of thought to which bathroom I’m going to use when I’m out in public. I look for the word “men” or a male symbol on the door and head on in to do my business. Like everyone else, I’ve got plenty in my life that I could better spend my time thinking about than bathroom selection. And I don’t need to think about it, because I fit neatly into the binary system our society has created to describe gender; I was born anatomically male, and that’s my gender identity, too.
But many transgender people spend a lot of time thinking about bathrooms and give serious consideration to which set of toilets they are going to use each time they need one. It’s a game of bathroom calculus: Should they go in the room designated for the gender they know themselves to be, or should they go in the one designated for the gender that other people say they are? Either decision risks harassment and violence.
Transgender bathroom selection has been a big part of our national consciousness in recent years. In March 2016, North Carolina passed the first state law in the U.S. explicitly limiting transgender bathroom access. The law required that people use the public bathroom corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificate. The law was finally repealed a year later, a small piece of progress in the shadow of a larger setback ― the Trump administration’s rescindment of federal rules allowing transgender people to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. More recently, a transgender girl named Maddie Rose in Oklahoma was the target of threats from parents and adults on Facebook after using a girl’s bathroom on the first day of school. She and her family are now planning to move with the help of a GoFundMe campaign that has already raised more than $50,000.
Several states continue to consider bills restricting bathroom access based on biological sex, though none have yet passed. In the meantime, transgender people are still having to waste time and lose sleep over which bathroom they’ll spend at most a couple of minutes in. The impact this worry has on their lives is profound. A survey of nearly 28,000 transgender participants revealed 59 percent avoided using a public restroom at least once in the previous year due to confrontation concerns.
Undisguised cisgender men are by far the primary perpetrators of bathroom sex crimes in the U.S.
Ignorance and fear of the transgender community repeatedly interfere with people’s ability to simply choose and use the bathroom that best suits their needs. And those in opposition are quick to defend their ignorance by arguing that transgender individuals are at high risk of committing sex crimes ― or that opportunistic men will take advantage of any expansion of transgender bathroom access by claiming to be transgender and sneaking into women’s bathrooms to commit sex crimes.
I’m a fellow in forensic psychiatry, so I spend a good deal of time navigating the spots where our legal system meets our cultural beliefs. I began to wonder if there were any data to actually support or refute these societal concerns. CNN and Media Matters have previously asked law enforcement agencies in states with anti-discrimination policies regarding gender identity whether they’ve observed increased rates of sex crimes in bathrooms, and none have. Other than that, there wasn’t much else out there in terms of empirical data.