Do the Arguments Against Bathroom Equality Hold Water?

Let the backlash begin. The arguments against President Obama’s historic directive that public schools allow trans students to use the bathroom of their choice has met with the expected opposition, with the arguments against running the gamut from libertarian to the predictably socially conservative to the truly unhinged.

In the New York Times, emeritus Yale law professor and noted libertarian Peter Schuck calls “[p]rotecting the dignity of transgender Americans” a “noble cause,” but argues that by skipping the usual notice-and-comment process, the Obama administration “aborted a much-needed public debate over whether identity-based bathroom use can and should be regulated as a legal right, or merely left as an option.”

But despite the fact that Schuck professes to believe transgender equality is a noble cause, he unnecessarily belittles and trivializes the position transgender kids are in, saying the “only value in play here is transgender people’s desire to affirm their gender identity during their few minutes of bathroom use,” while playing up what a sanctuary the bathroom is for everyone else:

All other concerns—about privacy and modesty in a setting that most people consider almost as safe and intimate as their bedrooms—are beside the point.

Schuck makes an argument similar to Ross Douthat’s, that the rule change unnecessarily labels those who have genuine concerns about an open-gender bathroom policy “yahoos and bigots.” As Douthat puts it:

Because bigots bully transgender teenagers, liberalism has decided that everyone who differs with transgender activists must be complicit in that bigotry. But we don’t have anywhere near enough data or experience to confirm the activist perspective — and by embracing it as the only alternative to “transphobia,” we risk sweeping a broad range of childhood fantasy and teenage confusion onto a set path of hormonal and surgical transformation.

The difference between Schuck and Douthat is that at least Schuck doesn’t display Douthat’s moral revulsion towards trans people or fundamental doubt about the reality of trangenderism.

Like Douthat, the Catholic bishops are skeptical about the legitimacy of transgenderism and say that trans individuals should tough it out in the bodies God gave them. Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone (chair of the U.S. bishops’ conference’s Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth) and Omaha Archbishop George Lucas (chair of the Committee on Catholic Education) called the directive “deeply disturbing” and said it “contradicts a basic understanding of human formation so well expressed by Pope Francis: that ‘the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created’.”

But the award for the most creative dissent goes to moral theologian Pia de Solenni, who argues that the trans movement is “patriarchy in disguise.” According to de Solenni:

…today’s “trans movement” (particularly the transwoman sector) inadvertently takes us back to a time when women were valued based on their appearance, and whether they fit someone else’s preconceived notion of femininity. … As a culture, we are telling women that the feelings and sentiments of a particular group of men – in this case, men who regard themselves as women – matter more than they do. That’s patriarchy by definition, even if women happen to agree to it.

No, that’s not patriarchy by definition, not by a long shot. Patriarchy by definition would be a hetronormative culture telling trans people that their need to have fixed, binary gender distinctions overrides their rights and realities.

And it’s more than a little suspicious when someone who has already hijacked the word “feminism” to create a “feminism of complementarity or an integral feminism” based on the teachings of John Paul II starts defining patriarchy. After all, the essence of patriarchy is the belief that there are immutable characteristics of all women that make them fundamentally subordinate to men and that the structures of society should reinforce these distinctions… which sounds an awful lot like John Paul’s “complementarianism.”

All the agreements against Obama’s directive end up in the same place however—that the federal government should stay out of the bathroom and let conservatives decide who does and doesn’t qualify for civil rights protections.