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  • Warning: Some mild adult language follows

    I understand the sense of dread. Some dame with unkempt locks, a slash of purple lipstick, five-o'clock shadow, and a flower-print chemise enters the ladies' room and soon screams erupt. Chalk up one more sexual threat we never used to have to worry about. But does it ever really play out that way?

    Apparently, a lot of people think it will. According to, at the moment dozens of bills have been filed in in US state legislatures that would deny one or more rights to transgendered people, particularly rights to pee, poop, and primp amongst their adopted cohorts. Three are being actively considered and at least one has already been enacted (in North Carolina). Other states, like New Jersey and soon probably Massachusetts, have affirmed the right for TG people to use the facility of their choice with very little fuss and bother.

    Coming up with statutes for regulating TG usage of public facilities isn't easy. It takes creativity to turn a vague sense of foreboding into commandments. Legislators must grapple with all sorts of vagaries to come up with straight-faced legalese such as we find in Minnesota's SF3002, whose glowing prose reads in part:

    Sec. 2. Minnesota Statutes 2014, section 363A.20, is amended by adding a subdivision
    to read:

    Subd. 11. Employer restrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, and similar

    The provisions of section 363A.11 relating to sexual orientation as defined in section 363A.03, subdivision 44, shall not apply to the employment of any individual with regard to facilities such as restrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, or other similar places. No claim of nontraditional identity or "sexual orientation" may override another person's right of privacy based on biological sex in such facilities as restrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, and other similar places, which shall remain reserved for males or females as they are biologically defined.

    Other than single-occupancy facilities, no employer shall permit access to restrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, and other similar places on any basis other than biological sex. Nothing in this section shall be construed to: (1) limit access by a minor accompanied by an adult guardian of the opposite sex into a specified facility appropriate for the adult guardian, where the minor has not reached the age of nine years; (2) prohibit a person with disabilities from using a specified facility appropriate to the biological sex of either the disabled person or of an adult caretaker providing assistance; or (3) prohibit access by bona fide custodial staff or any other person in an actual emergency, where the person knocks and announces as a member of the opposite sex, if practicable.

    But hold on. What's "biological sex" supposed to mean? Do the exemptions cover all the cases? What about guys in kilts? Or old men with big breasts? It's all quite messy. The good news is that legislative committees have tabled the vast majority of these types of bills. The din out there is mostly about North Carolina. Much of the pushback is about how NC preempted local councils from passing ordinances accommodating TG people's needs, not about bathroom etiquette. What isn't so widely appreciated is that NC's infamous HB-2 has no enforcement provisions. It isn't clear what might happen in response to a breach of that law. Or how.
  • Say you're a suitably attired female executive from Goldman Sachs visiting a client in Charlotte, NC. You wrap up your meetings and head back to Manhattan. At the airport, you answer a call of nature. After relieving yourself, you emerge from the stall to find this person with unkempt hair and five-o'clock shadow confronting you with flower-print chemise pulled up and panties pulled down to reveal what you suspect are cojones. What can you do? You're behind security, so whatever firearm you might have carried is stowed away.

    You can, of course, scream and probably should, because somebody might hear and come to your aid. You could whip out your phone, train the camera on the interloper and say "Say cheese!" You could react calmly with withering sarcasm, like "What's up with that, lady? A training penis?" but you never know how it might go down. Or with mock admiration: " I should get one of those. Where did you get it?" But still, you might not to be able to handle it yourself. And you shouldn't have to.

    Hopefully, you'll never be exposed to anything like that, but such future violations may become a thing of the past thanks to our great nation's innovation economy. It wouldn't surprise me to find that venture-funded startups were tackling the problem already. I would throw money at one, say, that's developing an alarm system for restrooms like a panic button, but without an actual button, just a little mic and some speech recognition. The ceiling-mounted unit would be trained to interpret key words and phrases spoken loudly, such as "penis," "schlong," "cross-dressing creep," or perhaps even "woman card," in several languages. When any of these are uttered, the device—possibly marketed under the name The Pubic Button—would take over. A red light would flash, a buzzer would sound, and a Siri-like voice would announce "Pervert alert! Security notified. Videocam activated. Keep calm and wait for assistance." That should do it.

    Back to enforcement. There's a good chance you would never know that you are sharing a public facility with a transgendered person. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it would devolve to your own curiosity to determine what you see isn't what you got. So don't tell and don't ask. Because there's also a ninety-nine percent chance that there won't be any officer around to report them to. MYOFB, as they say, and you'll be fine.

    As lawmakers flail against the tide of TG liberation, I can't help flashing on that icon of strict law enforcement, the archetypal G-Man J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Director from 1924 to his death in 1972. Though probably not the cross-dresser legend alleges, it seems likely he was bi or gay, given various disclosures concerning his longtime close relationship with his deputy, Clyde Tolson. (They're buried side by side in Washington DC.) J Edger surely would have mongered fears about the TG menace given his penchant for collecting salacious information to intimidate politicians, potential rivals and other persons of interest. The recent blossoming of tolerance for LGBT folks and the legalization of gay and lesbian marriage would surely have dismayed him. After all, you can't blackmail homosexuals who out themselves. Sex, lies, and videotapes just aren't as titillating they used to be.

    @image: Clyde Tolson and J. Edgar Hoover relaxing in beach lounge chairs, circa 1939, from Wikimedia, public domain.
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