You keep up with the news, right? Have you heard about this gender bathroom thing? I’m kidding, of course. I know that you have, and maybe you’re tired of having to read and hear all about it every day of your life. But when high courts and leading politicians are pitched in open public debate about it, and when the effects are sure to be so far-reaching, the issue has to be considered with some care.
The Obama team has been using their federal might to threaten states that would dare prevent persons from entering public restrooms of the opposite biological sex. Their justification for the expenditure of so much energy in the fight is that it is a vital civil rights issue. Speaking for the administration against what has been termed the North Carolina “bathroom bill,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch made the direct analogy between not allowing people to use the bathroom of their choice and the Jim Crow laws that segregated and severely restricted black citizens from numerous basic privileges across several states for decades.
Bathroom Laws and Jim Crow Laws
Is a analogous to b? In this case, is the bathroom restriction that prevents a biological male from entering a Ladies’ Room similar enough in relevant ways to be a fit analogue to the body of laws that certain states once passed relegating black citizens to a denigrated second-class status? The White House team thinks so. A chorus of critics answer emphatically in the negative. Former presidential candidate Ben Carson’s response to Lynch’s analogy was fairly straightforward: “What a bunch of crap.” As frequent as these comparisons are from the speeches of those on the political left, Carson said, “thinking people know better.”
Why do Carson and so many others see the comparison as faulty? What makes the Jim Crow analogy a poor one? The argument, remember, is that the gender bathroom restriction is similar enough to Jim Crow laws to make both equally immoral and unconstitutional. I see two problems. The first has to do with the comparison of sex and race generally, and the second with the comparison of the recent bathroom restriction to the old Jim Crow laws specifically.
Sex and Race are not Analogous
Distinctions between sex and race are too significant to gloss over. Sex is biologically fundamental for all living creatures above the microscopic level. Race is uniquely human. I am using the word “sex” to denote the biological configuration of a creature – human or otherwise – as male or female (the word “gender” having become in recent years affiliated with psychological states as much as biological ones).
Sex, then, is more fundamental than race. Sex includes just two categories but is a feature of millions of species ranging from insects to birds to reptiles to fish and beyond. Race has numerous categories but is a feature only of humanity. Neither can be altered by will. I can no more choose to be a woman than I can choose to be 8 years old or to be Zulu. When Lady Macbeth said to the spirits, “Unsex me here,” she was not being literal. To become “Dude Macbeth” was never an option for her, and there is no tertium quid, as the next paragraph elaborates.
The categories of biological sex are strict: male and female. But race constitutes a very large spectrum with almost innumerable combinations and mixtures. How many people do you meet who say they are 10% Irish with a little Polish and about 1/36 Choctaw? The majority of people in the cities of the world have various racial compositions in their ancestries and genes. Few tribes are still so isolated as to be exceptions. So whereas the president can claim to be of mixed race (half Kenyan, half Kansan) and that makes perfect sense, Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner’s claim to be a middle aged woman is purely non-biological. Obama did not become what he is racially in the way that Bruce became Caitlyn late in life (perhaps after having been overwhelmed by inane levels of Kardashian estrogen such that he decided ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em).
So race is a large spectrum while sex is a simple binary situation, to use the favorite parlance. There are not multiple ratios of male and female, as in “Jim here is 60% male and 40% female, whereas Jenny is 60/40 the other way.” And the “gender fluidity” that some people today speak of in their minds not their genes, (nor their exterior anatomy). Only the very rarest people are born with anything like a combination of male and female, and the condition is considered a problematic birth defect.
Sex differences are at a deeper biological level (hormones, reproductive function, etc.), whereas racial differences are by comparison shallow (skin tone, hair type, other superficial features). A woman of any race can give birth to a specific man’s child, but no man on earth can give birth to any child. This was one obvious problem for the comparison of interracial marriage with same-sex marriage. The first is age-old and quite natural, becoming controversial only in certain specific times and places for cultural reasons. The second is practically unheard of until very recent times, and rightly seen as somewhat odd and forced from the point of view of raw nature, not to mention the traditional moral codes of mankind.
The sexes have always been seen to have important and distinct roles. Christians have always taught this for sure, as it is clearly reinforced biblically. But almost every society has had such roles as well, granting that in some cases the roles were not defined in ways I would find agreeable (e.g., women being unduly subjugated or dominated). By contrast, there is nothing natural or historic about specific roles that fit specific races of people. Christians certainly have no revelation or tradition along these lines. Only in specific times and places were people of a particular race assigned expected roles in society, as with certain caste systems. There is nothing intrinsic or universal about such roles.
The Recent Bathroom Restriction is Not Remotely Comparable to Jim Crow Laws
While the first point was more philosophical, this one is historical. II will put my cards on the table right up front: I think this is a ridiculous and despicable analogy. It is inaccurate in so many ways, but worse still, it is demeaning to untold victims of genuinely terrible abuse. That body of laws and customs that characterized the depraved level of mistreatment of dark-skinned people across many states for so many decades has no parallel in the U.S. today, thank God. We could no doubt find similarly dismal circumstances today in other parts of the world.
Here are some of the lowlights that characterized the complete social subjugation of black citizens under those ignominious laws during those years: If you were a black man, every part of public life singled you out and separated you. You could not drink from the same fountains, enter through the same public doorways, be served at the front counters, use the best restrooms, ride in the good bus seats, use the same barbers, be treated in the main front areas of hospitals, initiate handshakes with whites, make any comment at all on a white female’s appearance, use the same libraries (or any libraries in some cities), be buried in the main parts of cemeteries, and so on. Humiliating public signs abounded reminding black citizens of their place and of the multitude of everyday conveniences and privileges that were denied them. All of this was an ever-present reminder to them that they were considered officially inferior by their local leaders.
So, then, when people today respectfully suggest that lifting the protective restriction barring males from entering women’s restrooms is a bad idea, should that be considered analogous to the circumstances that I described in the previous paragraph? If you answer yes, how can you expect any reasonable person to regard you as intellectually honest?
To point out the painfully obvious, people with gender dysphoria are not maligned as second-class citizens in our culture. There are no laws subjugating them. They freely enjoy all of the same privileges they would were they not dealing with the issue of their gender. Some people may be rude to them, but others will be sympathetic and supportive, while others still will champion their gender identification and celebrate their cause. The specific restriction regarding bathrooms is one that has always applied to all citizens equally. This restriction is no more analogous to Jim Crow laws than jailing a convicted criminal who happens to be Jewish is analogous to his being deported to Auschwitz by SS guards.
The Role and Function of Government
The state exists, among other reasons, to protect people’s basic rights, assuming a sane understanding of what constitutes those rights. The chief interest is the overall welfare of the citizens. Once the government gets into the business of attempted social transformation by systematic re-education, darkness descends. Even if the state has wonderful things to teach, its tactics have to be kept in check. As Russell Moore rightly said about the recent government pressure on public schools toward the transgender movement, “Children, then, become pawns for the state for the state to teach what is ultimately a theological lesson, not a scientific one.”
Our government was constructed and founded on a few very basic principles, most significantly the idea that people possess fundamental rights that should be guarded and protected. When the civil authority outlines the rights of citizens, those are “civil rights.” One of the many confusions today regards what is and what is not among those rights.
It is plain enough that I have the right not to be physically accosted by other citizens or have my goods taken from me by them, for example. But on a more subtle note, is my personal comfort a civil right? Was the constitution designed to protect me from being made to feel awkward, out of place, confused, uneasy, etc.? A lot of things are wrong (like gossiping about someone) but not illegal. For while people should not gossip about other people, no civil right exists protecting citizens from gossip.
As I once explained in a previous blog, discrimination is necessary and inevitable. Sometimes it is right and sometimes it is wrong. When a man is prevented from entering the female changing room or dressing room, is discrimination taking place? Of course. We discriminate a man from a woman in that case, and allow only the latter access to that area. That is a correct discrimination. It would be wrong to fail to discriminate along those lines in that case. On the other hand, if I run a large business and refuse to hire any employees except white males similar to my age, I am discriminating wrongfully. And laws exist to prevent me from doing so.
So when we prevent a male from entering the girls’ locker room or restroom, are we discriminating? Indeed we are. Is it wrongful? THAT is the crux of the disagreement. Self-styled progressives proclaim with righteous indignation that it is wrong to discriminate in this way due to those specific males who feel or believe that they are females and therefore belong in female restroom or locker room. But I reply that sanity should prevent us from saying so. The motive for maintaining this most basic of discriminations is not an immoral one. It is not mean-spirited or intended to bring harm to someone. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is a proper discrimination for the protection of female privacy. A society willing to jeopardize that is a society moving toward barbarism and depravity.
Compassion and Consideration for People’s Feelings
Much of this debate centers on a sense that those who suffer the condition of gender confusion or dysphoria, whether they have taken steps to transition themselves in some outward way or not, ought to garner our sympathy and ought not in any way be victimized. With that sentiment we should all agree. Dealing with that issue cannot be easy, and no justification can exist for furthering their difficulties with any sort of mean-spirited ill treatment of any kind.
That said, the realm of feelings is notoriously difficult to navigate, and feelings comprise a weak foundation for law-making. For example, what about when two groups’ personal feelings are at odds? Who gets to feel comfortable and who is forced to feel uncomfortable? These new laws essentially tell millions of girls and women that they no longer get the peace of mind heretofore afforded females in nearly every society, which is the assurance that they will be protected from male presence in the vulnerable and private setting of their bathroom use. And the reason they have to forfeit that protection is so that a tiny number of men suffering from an unfortunate psychological condition can have their wishes granted for what they deem personally comfortable for them.
But what moral case can be made for favoring the personal comfort of a very small statistical minority of people suffering from a psychological disorder over against the vast female population? Couldn’t someone stand up and make the same speech as was made for transgender bathroom freedom, only this time about the violation of civil rights on behalf of the female citizenry of the nation? Does not right exist for women to have assurance of safety from male presence during the vulnerable situation of changing clothes or using the restroom?
Is it Alarmist to Worry about Abuse by Predators?
Everything I’ve argued so far is aside from the risk of abuse that comes with giving this green light to men of less than stable conditions. For every man with gender dysphoria, there are probably 30 men with a different strain of sexual deviance, and this larger latter category contains a number of serious threats. For those who suggest that laws letting men into women’s restrooms will not pose a risk to women since, after all, only genuinely transgender men (identifying as women) will make use of the freedom to enter those restrooms, I have to ask this academically astute question: Are you kidding me?
Do you know nothing at all about human nature? Have you not naively underestimate the number of predatory males lurking throughout every zip code in America? Need I remind you of the old “To Catch a Predator” shows in which all manner of men turned up to take advantage of what they thought was a potentially easy underage victim? They filmed those shows in various cities across the nation and the result was disappointingly consistent: a perv-parade of opportunistic creeps of all ages and ethnicities.
And that was a small sample-size. For every guy that was gang-tackled by the teams of cops waiting for them in the backyards of the suburban homes where they filmed those shows, how many others are prowling for opportunities? That was just one sting operation conducted a few times. It represented a tiny cross-section of men whose weak minds and wills have allowed the hypersexual culture and dark underbelly of the internet to contort them into potentially dangerous deviants.
I bring this up not to depress us but to make sure we are wide awake to the possible dangers of removing an important age-old barrier that protects females in a circumstance in which some basic functions of nature require a certain vulnerability that the worst elements in society would not be above exploiting, as the predictable headlines have already shown us.
Are We Really Helping Transgender People?
How should we then regard people genuinely suffering from gender dysphoria? How should they be treated? I reiterate that nothing I have said implies any sort of mistreatment of that unfortunate segment of people dealing with gender issues. Those individuals are human beings, which is sufficient by itself to obligate us to treat them with basic respect, humanity, civility, etc. When we see fellow human beings debilitated by an internal struggle, we should naturally desire to help them in some way. Having those feelings does not make them sinners or criminals.
Consider the parallel condition of those with a similar but perhaps more bizarre form of dysphoria. People with what some psychologists call Body Integrity Identity Disorder have a deep sense that they should not possess one or more of their limbs, as though the limbs are foreign or belong to someone else. Many of them attempt to amputate perfectly healthy arms or legs. More familiar still is the phenomenon of eating disorders in which extremely thin girls maintain a psychologically deluded certainty that they appear fat. All such persons fighting a distorted self-perception deserve our help and support in the hopes that they can overcome the malady.
But to help such people requires something of which our current age is in ever shorter supply, which is the boldness and bravery to confront someone with the truth. The truth can (at least begin to) set them free. Our problem is that we prefer an easier road, so we become enablers and then praise ourselves for our openness and acceptance of others. As long as we’re discussing delusions, how about the delusion of grandeur on the part of someone who sees himself standing with the civil rights champions of old simply because he voices support for this bathroom legislation.
Our idiocy and cowardice are not helping people with this very real problem. We are sponsoring their illness while simultaneously making shipwreck of our society and hastening the internal rot already well at work at the roots of our culture. Genuine concern and compassion for the psychologically confused and body dysmorphic needs to involve the “tough love” of requiring them to seek the help they really need and to stick to the treatment that can help to heal them, instead of taking the lazy, easy road of accommodation. Otherwise we leave them to wallow in their dysphoria, while forcing girls and women into fundamentally uncomfortable situations of vulnerability, all the while patting ourselves on the back as if we’ve done some great humanitarian act and advanced some kind of modern civil rights agenda.
Clint Roberts has taught Philosophy, Religion, Ethics, Critical Thinking, Apologetics, and a few less interesting subjects over the last decade plus. He long ago attended a fine theological institution. Later his doctorate focused on famous arguments by Clive Staples Lewis. He and Wanda lived in Texas, Idaho, & Utah before coming to Oklahoma. They have six kids & several species of animal. You can find him ascending weekly unto the Free Methodist pulpit on Sundays & continuing to teach at local universities.