For weeks, conservative state lawmakers have been making an ignorant and dangerous argument that allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms aligned with their gender identities would encourage straight, cisgender, male creeps to abuse the rule.
Today, KING 5 reports that two days before a critical vote on the issue, Seattle pool employees said a man who did not verbally or physically identify (note: it's unclear what this means) as a woman walked into the women's Evans Pool locker room.
It was a busy time at Evans Pool around 5:30pm Monday February 8. The pool was open for lap swim. According to Seattle Parks and Recreation, a man wearing board shorts entered the women's locker room and took off his shirt. Women alerted staff, who told the man to leave, but he said "the law has changed and I have a right to be here."
KING 5 also reported that the man—again, we're relying on their estimation of what that is—returned a second time while young girls were changing. Seattle Parks and Recreation told KING 5 that "there's no specific protocol for how someone should demonstrate their gender in order to access a bathroom."
"This didn’t seem like a transgender issue to staff – someone who was 'identifying” as a woman,' [Seattle Parks spokesman David] Takami wrote in a statement to KING 5. "We have guidelines that allow transgender individuals to use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity. We want everyone to feel comfortable in our facilities."
A few notes here. First, I find it curious timing. Last week, while Republican legislators were announcing that male creeps would almost certainly be using women locker rooms, Sen. Pramila Jayapal (D-Seattle) said that "there have been no sex offenders posing as transgender people to get into bathrooms." Same week, this happens.
Second thing, as far as we know, that's still true. This person wearing board shorts could very well be a right-wing troll, and again, as far as we know, this person didn't ogle or harass anyone.
Nevertheless, this incident will almost certainly fuel the conservative fantasia that discriminating against trans people somehow benefits society, keeps women and children safe, etc.
The underlying issues, of course, have nothing to do with transgender people. If lawmakers are so afraid of cis male violence against women, they should be policing cis males, not transgender people. The other foundational issue is sex-segregated bathrooms and locker rooms, which didn't even exist until the Victorian era. One of the primary reasons sex-segregated bathrooms came into vogue had to do with the idea that women needed to be protected from the predatory nature of men. Sex-segregated bathrooms reinforce rape culture norms that insist men are inherently predatory and women are inherently vulnerable and need protection.
But aside from the cultural work we need to do on dismantling toxic masculinity and rape culture, how do we legally deal with bathrooms in the meantime? Should lawmakers come up with a legal definition for gender identity? Should judges (who are overwhelmingly cisgender) or a jury (also overwhelmingly cisgender) decide who is authentically transgender and who is not?
That's a slippery slope. The reality may be that cisgender women—and trans women who already operate in traditionally cisgender spaces—might just have to deal with some right-wing trolls trying to make a point (and then watch those right-wing trolls get kicked out of locker rooms, which is what happened here). In order to make the world safer for trans people, who happen to experience astronomical rates of violence, cisgender women might just have to deal with cis men creeps attempting to invade spaces that have traditionally been designated as "safe" for women.
But the sad truth of the matter is that no space is really safe for women. Not streets, not schools, not churches, and no—not even locker rooms. Not in a world where rapists still operate with relative impunity and their victims still face significant societal stigma against reporting it. Creepy men can harass and assault women wherever, whenever, and the symbol of a stick figure in a dress on a door isn't going to stop them.
If we want to start addressing the issue of violence against women, let's start there, with men.
UPDATE: Danni Askini, executive director of the Gender Justice League, makes a very important point: In the case described above, the Human Rights Commission policy worked.
"The person was asked to leave and did leave," Askini said. "Our opposition has repeatedly called for people to make protests like this—which is incredibly disappointing of them—to prove a point. This person did not assert that they were transgender, which I think [shows] that this person did not have a sincerely held gender identity."
As for the question of how gyms and other businesses determine what a "sincerely held" gender identity is, Askini pointed out that people are free to ask the person in question what their gender identity is.
She also noted that the standards in case law for other protected classes—like religious belief—show that the identity has to be sincerely held and consistently asserted.
"A lot of the protected classes that we have are quite subjective, and they're about deeply held personal belief systems, and not about physical manifestations," Askini said. "Ethnicity is another one; there might be some physical characteristics, but it is actually a deeply held belief. It's really about: Are people targeted because of that? The reality is it's about the targeting, and that's why we have protected classes."
Askini thinks this particular incident reeks of a stunt. "I think that it is tricky for us how to delineate how to decide [what's a sincere gender identity], but I think that in this case this person did not have a gender identity that was consistent with the locker room," Askini said.
This post has been updated.