I believe in kindness. I believe that my fellow human beings should be treated with compassion regardless of who they are, or what particular lifestyle choices they have made. I don’t just say that. I make every effort to live it, to teach it to my four daughters, and to share it with all the others under my influence. I have also spent most of my adult life providing help to, and advocating for, women and children in a multitude of ways. Recently, it occurred to me that while I speak privately about the issue of transgender politics and how it affects women, I almost never speak publicly.
Anyone who reads or follows social media threads on such topics knows the kind of angry, hateful rhetoric that inevitably follows those conversations. I am not afraid of it, but I will be honest and say that I have not exactly been drooling over the chance to jump into the mix. However, as I read article after article, story after story, and wonder if the world has collectively lost its mind. I began to think that if voices like mine are silenced, we have a much larger problem than which label goes on a particular public bathroom.
To be clear, those bathroom policies do in fact matter. They matter a lot. As a woman, if I encounter an individual in a restroom whose biological sex is unclear, but who is dressed and behaving as a woman, simply using the facilities and not behaving suspiciously, I leave that person alone. It has happened in real life more than once. That is not the issue. Exact statistics vary, but transgender individuals make up less than one percent of the population as opposed to about 1 in 3 women who have been sexually assaulted or abused. Do those assaults all take place in bathrooms? Of course not. Are the assaults mostly perpetrated by strangers? Definitely not. Do trans individuals pose a greater risk in bathrooms than other people? Doubtful. Prior to changes in laws, they have already been in and out of bathrooms on a regular basis, mostly without incidence and likely without anyone noticing or caring.
That is not the point. The point is that open bathroom policies create a number of serious safety issues for women and girls. To begin with, we have a major uptick in incidents of voyeurism in restrooms, changing rooms and other private areas. Men are directly peeping or planting small cameras and smart phones in order to film naked women and girls. Unisex bathrooms and private areas with open transgender policies absolutely create a higher risk for voyeurism or assault. They make access to half naked girls infinitely easier. But, that is only part of the problem.
Another major problem is more psychological in nature. For decades, groups and agencies which help abuse victims have been educating and advocating for ways to help women be aware of their surroundings, to stand up for themselves, and to speak up if something is off. Yet here we are in 2017, and women are being told that we do not have the right to keep men out of our own private spaces or those of our underage daughters. We are brushed off as silly if we feel uneasy or have safety concerns. And, heaven forbid any of us actually speak up against what is going on. If we do, we are told that we must be ignorant, “transphobic”, or otherwise hate-filled. Women's right to privacy is denied in favor of the rights of men self-identifying as women to enter the bathroom of their choice. Meanwhile, naked pictures are being shared online without the knowledge or consent of the photographed individual. Meanwhile, the fears of women bearing the hidden scars of sexual abuse are summarily dismissed. Meanwhile, women and girls are put at unnecessary risk by granting sexual predators easy access to bathrooms, locker rooms and changing areas. And meanwhile, millions of young girls are being sent the not-so-subtle message that they should not expect to have their privacy guarded and that they are not allowed to speak up if they are in an uncomfortable situation. Is that not the very definition of sexual harassment?
Unfortunately, bathrooms are not the only area in which the transgender political agenda and the rights of women are in direct conflict. This also occurs in the area of sports. I am 47. I have seen the rise of women’s sports in my own lifetime. Title IX opened the door to women's sports programs in 1972 and required gender equality by the 1978-79 school year. I was in 4th grade that year. I have never been an athlete, but I understand and appreciate the hard fought ground that was gained by female athletes in the 70s and 80s. Fast forward to just a few short years ago. The London Olympics in 2012 were the very first Olympic games in which every participating country had female athletes and the first Olympics in which female athletes competed in every available Olympic sport. Let that sink in for a moment. 2012. Women have had to fight hard to have some semblance of respect and equality in athletics. Yet now in 2017, that ground is being chipped away.
This is where the difference in sex and gender must be recognized as a reality that cannot be denied or assuaged. Gender is a social construct, not a scientific or biological one. The construct of gender is the prescribed behavior within any given culture, be it dress, mannerisms, or other actions that are gender specific. Sex is the biological genetic material that defines and separates the physiology of male and female beyond genitalia. It is scientific and ultimately unchangeable.
Yet, biologically male athletes are now competing against biologically female athletes in women’s sports. Whether it is Fallon Fox shattering eye sockets in the MMA, or the more recent news of Laurel Hubbard shattering national women’s weightlifting records in New Zealand, the stories abound. With everything in me, I do not understand why this is allowed. When a person is born male, he is male at a genetic level. No amount of surgery or artificial hormone usage can change that. Men and women have different bone and muscle masses, different lung capacities, different heart sizes and different amounts of blood circulating through their bodies. During organ transplant surgery of hearts and livers, there is a greater risk of rejection with "cross gender" transplantation. Our bodies naturally recognize the fundamental differences between male and female. Those things are not altered during sex reassignment. So, how are girls supposed to fairly compete for titles and scholarships in high school against genetically male students? How are women’s sports records supposed to be taken seriously if they are set by athletes who are genetically and biologically male? How are female athletes supposed to compete against biologically male athletes without risking serious injury?
To complicate matters even further, we also have biologically female athletes, who are in transition and taking male hormones, competing against other female students. Steroid usage is not allowed in competitive sports because of health risks and because it creates an unfair advantage. Can’t the same argument be made against high artificial levels of testosterone?
I don’t claim to have all the answers and the further we go down this road, the more complicated and convoluted the circumstances become. But as a woman, as a mother, and as a girl who grew up during the sexual revolution, my voice and my concerns matter on this issue. An entire new generation of young girls are waiting and watching. Are we going to stand up for them, or will we shrink back and allow our collective voices to be silenced?
by Debi Vandenboom