Deliberately Blocking Solutions

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Ohio Lawmaker Says He’s Looking Into The Need For A Bill To Ban Gender Neutral Bathrooms (wvxu.org)
Online petition to boycott Target over bathroom policy tops 900,000 signatures (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

If compromise was ever a virtue in American politics, there’s no denying that it’s taken a beating over the past few years, especially among right-wingers. A lot of factors played a part in the galvanization of the Tea Party movement, but many people point to the role of right-wing media, both new and old, in raising expectations among their conservative base. Even after the country took a fairly sharp turn to the right following the 1994 Republican Revolution, it isn’t like the new GOP majorities in both houses of Congress took their cue directly from the kind of far-right politics that the Rush Limbaughs and Michael Savages of the world were pushing on right-wing radio. Elected Republicans certainly weren’t unfriendly with the media figures who played such a big part in getting them elected, but there was a recognition that the country isn’t 100% conservative, and it was best (if for no other reason than public image) to be seen as striking deals with Democrats.

For conservatives who identified closely with the politics of far-right media, though, compromise was never seen as a virtue, especially in post-09.11 America when Republicans and conservatives held all three branches of the federal government. Karl Rove and his ilk talked about creating a “permanent Republican majority,” and openly spoke about how it didn’t matter what the rest of America wanted as long as you could get “fifty percent plus one” to vote for you, but not only did America not turn into a Glenn Beck wet dream of a theocracy, but by 2009 the GOP had lost control of both the legislative and executive branches. From that anger came the Tea Party, and starting with the 2010 midterms we saw a lot more elected Republicans who weren’t just friendly with far-right media, but took their policy cues and talking points from them as well. This doesn’t even get into the rise of right-wing talking heads even more conservative and rigidly ideological than those who were de rigueur among American conservatives just ten years earlier.

As the notion of compromise has become anathema to more and more of conservative America, I’ve tried to examine my own beliefs and actions, just to be more cognizant of my role in the public arena as well. Although I like the idea of compromise on a broader level, there are specific instances where I find myself inflexible. I suspect that everyone has certain issues where they just can’t compromise, and the broader issue is the frequency of willingness to compromise (and to what extent), but doubtlessly there will be those who label me hypocritical for rallying against conservative inflexibility when I have issues that I feel compelled to stand firm on. So be it.

The current controversy over gender and public bathrooms is a good showcase of how my ability to compromise, or lack thereof, comes into play when issues that directly affect me pop onto my radar. On the one hand, when someone like Ted Cruz essentially asserts that I am a man when talking about the issue, I can’t help but give into the instinct to reply with something along the line of FUCK YOU. It’s bad enough that Cruz and his ilk are denying me the right of self-identification (because gender is a social construct with no authority to say what constitutes it, and even the strictest “biological sex” definition doesn’t result in the tidy binary that so many people want it to), but the way Cruz and others talk about these bills directly fuels the incredibly dangerous stereotype that all non-cisgender people are sexual predators, and rhetoric like that is making it harder and harder for me to feel safe outside of my own house. So fuck Ted Cruz.

On the other hand, I want to be respectful of people’s feelings when it comes to public bathroom use. As I’ve said before, I just find public bathrooms icky in general, and I try to use them as little as possible. I’m lucky enough to be teaching at a community college here in Ohio that has several single-occupancy bathrooms across campus, and I use those whenever I can just because I don’t have to worry about bothering anyone (or anyone bothering me) in there. Five years ago, when I used to travel a lot more, I noticed that several highway rest stops here in Ohio had similar “family” bathrooms set up, and I always did my business in those for the exact same reason. Removing gender designations from public restrooms eliminates the issue of transgender (or other non-cisgender) people using them because there will never be a “wrong” bathroom for anyone if there are bathrooms for everyone.

What John Becker is talking about putting before the Ohio legislature is the exact opposite of solving a problem. Not only would it stop existing public buildings from creating gender-neutral bathrooms, but it would force places like the college I teach at, and existing Ohio highway rest stops, to convert existing gender-neutral bathrooms into single-gender (and impose a strict binary gender) bathrooms. This would actually make it even more difficult and hazardous for non-cisgender people to use public bathrooms than all the other “bathroom bills” being talked about nationwide.

Even if it weren’t for my personal stake in this particular issue, I’d still be galled by it for obvious reasons, including the recurrent Republican hypocrisy when it comes to “small government.” Many conservatives like to trumpet that they believe that private citizens and corporations are better-equipped to handle many problems in society than the government is. Setting aside the issue of whether or not that is true for any particular problem, when Republican politicians then make it harder for those private entities to assist with problems, like when they make it a crime to feed the homeless, they create the impression — and I’d say it’s a damned accurate one — that they want some people to suffer just because it helps them feel better about themselves. By making it harder for the people in charge of public buildings to create a safer and more comfortable environment for everyone inside them, Becker and his supporters are making me feel like they’re more interested in harming non-cisgender people than “protecting” others.

I wish I could say that I feel like I can compromise on what Becker is proposing, but I’m already far beyond my limit of being able to healthily deal with the transphobia that’s already out there in America. Being this election year’s designated “scary other” for conservatives to target with their fearmongering would be bad enough in any year, but it’s even worse in a year like this when right-wing anger is so far past the boiling point that I don’t think it can even be measured. Even before these “bathroom bills” became fashionable among right-wingers, hardly a month passed when I didn’t get a scary look from someone who seemed to think that my mere physical presence was an imminent threat to them (and/or  their children).  Now it happens pretty much every time I leave my house, and if politicians like Becker have their way then I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel safe in public again, and it’s hard not to believe that this is ultimately the point of these “bathroom bills” and other legislation that targets non-cisgender people and enforces all those dangerous stereotypes that we all live under. So fuck John Becker, too.

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