OK, I think I have an answer for you. But I must say, your email, which I highlighted in this space a few weeks back, had me stumped for awhile. That’s why I asked readers to weigh in on the question you posed:
Namely, how should you, a self-described left-wing progressive and supporter of gay rights, respond if ever you find yourself sharing the locker room at the public pool with a transgender woman who still has male reproductive equipment?
You wrote: “I have no problem with trans people of whatever biology or stage of transition in bathroom stalls, but what about locker rooms, where nudity is normal? I would be very uncomfortable if I was unclothed and someone two feet away from me took off their clothes and a penis appeared.”
Roz, the response from many readers can be summed up as follows: Relax. You have nothing to worry about.
John from Butte wrote, “Please tell Roz that the estimated 700,000 to 2,000,000 transgender people in the USA are using showers and locker rooms very well today just as they have for many years and she doesn’t even know about it. The fact she doesn’t know is proof that transgender people are discreet, sensitive and careful.”
Robyn, a transgender woman from greater Richmond, said that, “Revealing the mysteries that lie beneath the surface is not something I’m even remotely inclined to consider. Until the day arrives that I am comfortable my naked appearance will seamlessly blend in with the other ladies present, you will not find me in a locker room. To do so would undermine every other effort I make to be normal.”
A reader named Lindsey agreed: “As a transgender woman (albeit one beginning her transition to womanhood), I can tell you there is not one pre-op transwoman that will willingly expose herself to others in a locker room or fitting area.”
Reading their emails, Roz, it struck me how obvious the answers seemed in hindsight. But then, when a thing is alien to your experience, it’s often hard to think past the newness of it. And that can leave you vulnerable to demagogic lawmakers who see potential votes in your anxiety and irresolution.
That’s the story of North Carolina and other states where new laws raise the specter of police officers stationed outside every public toilet to look up your dress or down your pants to ensure your sex parts correspond to the gender of the restroom. We are told they’re passing these laws to deter child molesters.
But, Roz, how many children have you heard about being targeted by cross-dressing rapists? Statistically, wouldn’t those kids be in greater danger from priests and, well, demagogic lawmakers? While we’re on the subject, which would be more disruptive: the person who presents as a man in every visible aspect who enters the men’s room, or that same person strolling into the ladies’ restroom?
Again, things have a way of becoming obvious if you just stop and think.
That’s why we are often encouraged not to. After all, thinking people are less likely to let themselves be stampeded into sweeping, vote-getting restrictions based on vague, unfounded fears of what could happen. Not “has happened,” mind you. Not even “will happen.”
What conservative advocates of, ahem, “small government” never seem to appreciate is that, left to their own devices, good people usually find ways to figure this sort of stuff out, to make accommodations that allow locker rooms, restrooms and other public facilities to function smoothly without heavy-handed government guidance.
So, Roz, in the unlikely event you ever encounter that penis you fear, I am confident you and its owner will work something out. And I'll bet you won’t need any lawmaker’s help to do it.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral 33172. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.