Jackie Gross | Contributor
*This article discusses transmisogyny.
In March of 2016, North Carolina’s legislature convened at an emergency session to push through in 11 hours and 10 minutes an anti-anti discrimination law blocking Charlotte ‘s law protecting transgender people. The purpose of this bill, the Public Facilities Privacy and Securities Act, also known as HB2 or House Bill 2, was to protect women from a non-existent public emergency—trans people assaulting women in public bathrooms. The law requires people to use public facilities corresponding to the sex designated on their birth certificates, in addition to eliminating anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQIA+ people and a host of other harmful laws.
The premise of HB2 and similar anti-trans legal initiatives and rhetoric espoused by very vocal public figures and organizations is inherently anti-women, and as feminists we should adamantly oppose them. The reasons why can be broken down as such:
- They are based on the idea that women are inherently vulnerable and need protection, and they both ignore and exasperate problems women face, while doing nothing to actually protect them.
- They are based on sexist, and transphobic gender stereotypes, such as trans people as sexual deviants, and the assumption that “women” and “men” present a certain way that is easily recognizable.
- The public figures who support them often oppose policies that actually protect and aid women, including but not limited to: providing greater access to birth control, enacting paid family leave, supporting Planned Parenthood, improving access to abortion, enforcing equal pay for equal work, working to end rape culture, improving access to legal resources/recourse for domestic abuse.
These laws and ideas have overtly sexist undertones. They assume as women we need protection from men, and diminish our value within society to that of a child who needs to be protected by the predominantly male legislators. Rape culture is real, violence against women is real, but instead of doing something to reduce or prevent it, they passed an unsubstantiated law that does nothing to actually protect women.
These laws also make harmful assumptions about gender, and disregard the effects on people who do not conform to the gender binary. The idea is that if women who were not designated female at birth could utilize public facilities, then men disguised as women would be able to harass or assault women with impunity in said facilities. This denies that women who weren’t assigned female at birth are unequivocally women, and these laws now force them into the precarious situation of either breaking the law or exposing themselves to harassment by men in male public facilities. They similarly ignore that men who were assigned female at birth are unequivocally men, and based off of these laws would be required to use female facilities. Neither do these laws take into consideration non-binary or gender-nonconforming people, or the harassment they may face in either public facility, a danger which could be exasperated by this law.
In a recent argument before a federal judge, North Carolina conceded that the law is unenforceable, and that transgender people have used public facilities that correspond to their gender identity and will continue to do so in spite of it. In a sense these public figures are arguing that the real threat isn’t transgender people, even though that’s who these laws target, but people who do not fit into our western idea of masculinity or femininity. Since their law stops short of performing crotch checks or ID verification to use public facilities, the only way to truly enforce it would be for the public to target people who do not fit our cultural expectation of what males or females look like. Beyond that, laws drive behavior, and this could green light people’s negative attitudes towards transgender people. These laws via practical application enforce gender roles, while discouraging different gender expressions by stigmatizing people who do not seem appropriately male or female.
North Carolina isn’t alone – public figures throughout the nation have and continue to fight for the right to discriminate against transgender people. Led by the Attorney General of Texas, ten states recently filed a lawsuit to block the Department of Education’s guidance on providing safe, inclusive environments for transgender students. The DOE’s guidance interprets Title IX of the Education Amendment Act of 1972 as applying to transgender people, and the same guidance shows that the Violence Against Women Act (which explicitly includes gender identity) protects transgender individuals from discrimination. It states that denying transgender students access to facilities, teams, etc. due to their gender identity is sex discrimination, and is therefore illegal.
Governor Pat McCory of North Carolina claims that his law is “common sense.” Yet this same law, which was supposedly designed to protect women, directly disadvantages them. The law also eliminates municipalities’ ability to raise their minimum wages, which disproportionately affects working class women. Senator and recent presidential candidate Ted Cruz expressed concern about “men [going] into a bathroom with [Cruz’s] daughters”, yet he opposes abortion for women even in the case of rape. For someone who is so worried for his daughters, Ted Cruz should be more concerned about how his policy positions restrict their access to healthcare and choice.
Together we must stand to fight these laws and ideas. They are sexist, regressive, and above all, harmful. As feminists it is in our interest to support our fellow people, regardless of their transgender status. If the public figures who support laws like HB2 in North Carolina or other policy positions that repress transgender students’ rights are truly interested in supporting women, then they should focus on the real issues. Policy initiatives based solely on sexist and transphobic concepts serve no one, and hurt everyone.