Shakespeare famously wrote, “All the world’s a stage.”
A question North Carolinians are asking is why our state legislature is so focused on the stage that is public bathrooms.
Full disclosure: I’m stealing this opening from a friend, the writer Jenn Bishop. While we were pursuing writing degrees together at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, she wrote a thesis on why bathrooms are prominent in young adult fiction. The paper is fabulous. Jenn made a convincing case that in bathrooms characters can be at their most private or exposed, yet while often still inhabiting a public sphere.
Think about it. In public bathrooms, we fuss with our appearance in front of shared mirrors. We take respite from fraught conversations. We’re sick or elated or freaked out. We talk to – or avoid eye contact with – perfect strangers. In bathrooms, we can consult friends or, in heated moments, curse friends out. There’s sex in bathrooms, sickness, life-changing decisions. In bathrooms, we can be our ugliest or best selves.
It’s not for nothing that North Carolina is having a bathroom freak out with the passage of HB2 (properly known as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act). Passed by our legislature and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory in a single day, the law requires that anyone needing a public restroom use the one corresponding to the gender marked on their birth certificate.
It’s crucial to note that legislators went well beyond the bathroom by explicitly limiting how people can pursue claims of discrimination because of race, religion, color, national origin, biological sex or handicap in state courts. HB2 also nullifies local ordinances that expand protections for the LGBT community and prevents cities and counties for setting a minimum- wage standard for private employers, among other things.
It’s a law that belongs in the business end of a toilet, if you get my meaning.
But let’s linger for a moment in the stalls.
The law was a rebuke to Charlotte, which in February passed an ordinance that protected transgender people who use public restrooms based on their gender identity. That means these fellow citizens identify or look like a gender they weren’t born with. Supporters argue the bill protects women from predators who enter women’s restrooms to do harm. Certainly, the bill reflects deep fears about just the kinds of things my friend Jenn wrote about, when we are in public, yet about intensely private business.
I’ve done a bit of a tour de bathroom lately with HB2 in mind. I may have felt a little ooky now and again, but it was never because a fellow patron was threatening. On a recent Duke potty break, I didn’t spend any time at all contemplating the birth gender of my fellow users. I’m an in and out kind of gal: find a stall, get the job done, wash and leave. As a rule, I’m not locking eyes or examining the crotches of others.
I rarely even look at others while I’m checking my teeth for spinach. I did wonder once what that stickiness was, exactly, on the Motorco floor. I realized: better not to know.
Despite my best efforts, I’m still unclear on what has our elected representatives in such a lather. Was there some rash of transgender attacks I missed? Have I been negligent about following the bathroom-related incidents Twitter feed, if such a thing exists (I checked – it doesn’t). Where are the hordes of be-skirted men clamoring for a potty break in the ladies?
The answer is nowhere. I would venture that in the entire history of our great state, there hasn’t been a single such attack in a state-owned restroom.
I can say for a fact I’ve spent exactly zero seconds in my life worrying about transgender assault. If anything, I’d appreciate a little transgender assistance. The transgender women I know are much better with fashion and makeup than I am. I’d appreciate any advice they can spare.
But the men we elected to run our state apparently spend a lot of taxpayer-funded time musing about other people’s genitalia. It’s the fashion, apparently, at least in the Grand Old Party, where a central plank seems to be “mess about in people’s personal business.”
Here’s a question, though. When did 11 Democrats become so potty-preoccupied?
The Independent called the men (Lord love them, they are all men) who voted for the bill. The reactions went from utter silence to a level of confusion that truly merits the adjective “incredible.” Basically, the specter of things they don’t understand and never really thought about made them run from the stalls in a legislative panic.
It’s crystal clear, in high heels and with just the right accessories, that not a single one bothered to speak to a constituent whom this bill directly harms. Now that the financial fallout is becoming painful, are the people we pay to pass laws having second thoughts?
Not a chance. When PayPal recently announced its decision to cancel plans to open a global operations center in Charlotte, Senator Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore deflected blame to Charlotte’s mayor, Jennifer Roberts. Charlotte, they spewed, started this by passing a law protecting people.
As the Charlotte Observer wrote dryly, “Someone needs to take the wheel back from the teenagers.”
In honor of my friend Jenn, I beg to correct the Queen City’s paper. At least teenagers know what bathrooms are for.
Robin Kirk, a writer and human rights advocate, teaches at Duke University. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org