A Critical Guide To The Anti-Trans Bathroom Bill Nonsense

In the first of a series, Jen Richards looks at the "compromise" on HB2.

Let’s acknowledge that it’s absurd that I have to write this. By any objective measure I have an unusually capable mind, yet I am spending a remarkable amount of my time and talents defending my right to pee behind a closed door.

That is absurd.

Nonetheless, here I am. Not because I want to be. Not because I see this issue as one that justifies sustained critical analysis, or because I think this will be a rich contribution to our ongoing cultural conversation. And certainly not because there aren’t much more pressing concerns in the trans community, such as the unrelenting epidemic of murders of trans women of color. No, I’m here because this issue simply won’t die. Or rather, Republican legislators refuse to let it die. No matter how many bathroom bills fail to pass, no matter how dire financial consequences of the rare ones that do, they won’t let up. They’re the movie character violently pounding on the chest of a drowned victim in hopes that it will suddenly gasp back to life. And if not, well at least they made a dramatic showing of their effort, reality be damned.

In this series, I’ll go into more details about the origin of these bills, explore their justifications, and walk through the arguments against them. I don’t have much hope of changing the minds of anyone who is determined to legislate trans people out of existence, but I do hope to provide those in the fight with a few more tools, and perhaps sway those who in the innocence of their ignorance haven’t yet made up their minds.

But first I have to be clear and honest: This hurts.

I call North Carolina home. I never actually lived in the state, but my family has been there for more than 20 years, so between holidays and other trips I spent a month or two out of each year in the Tar Heel State. I love North Carolina, genuinely.

Which is exactly why HB2 hurt.

UNITED STATES - MAY 16 - Protestors gather across the street from the North Carolina state legislative building as they voice their concerns over House Bill 2, in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, May 16, 2016. House Bill 2, also known as the Bathroom Bill, which requires transgender people to use the public restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate, has received the attention of national media and the White House. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
Al Drago/CQ Roll Call

States have been trying to pass similar bathroom bills since at least 2014, but HB2 was the first to successfully pass one. To me it was a bit of political theater, a show for the faithful. The bill was not a response to any issue, no one had any idea how it would be enforced, and there would be dire financial consequences. Passing it would be like a dog catching a car. Nonetheless, I was paying close attention because it was NC. My brother, who I don’t believe had ever participated in a political act in his life, showed up at the state house to watch the proceedings. My mood darkened as he texted me updates. The proceedings were a sham, full of misconceptions and outright lies and bigotry, and it was becoming clear they had the votes.

I had been using women’s bathrooms, in private and public facilities, for years, and not once had anyone ever given me a second glance. But with the stroke of a pen, an act that I had repeated countless times without ever causing anyone any harm became a criminal one.

Of course, I didn’t stop using the women’s room. Generally people don’t know I’m trans, and even more importantly, people generally ignore other people in public restrooms. The very men who vote for bills like this are more likely to hit on me than thwart my entrance into a women’s room. So the bill didn’t have any material effect on me. Who it does target is a point to which I will return.

No, the hurt was personal because as has been said again and again, bathroom bills aren’t really about bathrooms. There’s not even really much pretense otherwise. State bathroom bills and the national conversation about them has been about whether or not trans people can be a part of civic society. Not privacy, not common sense. It’s a proxy battle for who is considered fully human.

I associate North Carolina with my family, with snowy Christmases, with hiking in Asheville, seafood and sunsets in Ocean Isle, rest and rejuvenation. But this place I love decided I did not belong. North Carolina wasn’t for my kind. That was written into law. And it hurt.

It’s been one year and despite the disastrous economic fallout, a complete repeal of HB2 failed again. Yesterday a “compromise” bill, HB142, was passed by the House and Senate and signed by the new governor, Roy Cooper. Not a single LGBT group has endorsed it.

“Compromise.” If anything gets to the heart of my hurt, it’s that word. How can I compromise my humanity, my basic dignity?

More importantly, how can you?

Next time, I’ll explore the nefarious origins of the current wave of bathroom bills.

Jen Richards is a Los Angeles-based writer, actor and producer.