North Carolina lawmakers are scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss dropping the state’s “bathroom bill,” a measure that sparked national debate about the intimate rights of the nation's transgender people.
The law, which nine months ago made public restrooms a political battleground, mandates that people must use government building and school bathroom facilities that match their “biological sex.”
LGBTQ advocates called the action discriminatory and promptly sued the state, while the Obama administration made clear that federally funded schools must allow students to use whatever bathroom aligns with their identity. Supporters of the North Carolina law, however, say it was designed, in part, to protect girls and women from “predators.”
But surveys show that those most concerned about transgender people using women’s restrooms aren’t women.
About half of U.S. adults (51 percent) say people should be able to pee where their identity takes them, according to the Pew Research Center. Men appear to skew that number: Fifty-five percent are opposed to that idea, compared with 45 percent of women.
A Reuters survey, meanwhile, found that 44 percent of women were okay with letting a transgender person use the women’s restroom, while 39 percent said they’d rather people use facilities that match their birth gender.
“Most men think they should use the bathroom assigned to the gender they were born as,” a CBS News poll suggested in May, “while women tend to favor letting transgender people use the bathroom of the gender they identify as.”
Although there is no proof that letting trans people use the lavatory of their choice increases crime, bathroom traditionalists, so to speak, often repeat some version of this fear.
“There is no greater evil than predators,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said in April. “If the law says that any man, if he chooses, can enter a women's restroom, a little girl's restroom, and stay there, and he cannot be removed because he simply says at that moment he feels like a woman, you're opening the door for predators.”
The American Family Association, a conservative Christian group, called for a boycott of Target after the retailer announced that its restrooms were open to trans folks, saying in a statement, “a man can simply say he 'feels like a woman today' and enter the women's restroom ... even if young girls or women are already in there.”
Rebecca Stones, a researcher in engineering at Nankai University in China, heard these comments and wondered how bathroom users, particularly female bathroom users, actually felt.
She searched the Australian version of Google News between April 29 and May 16 for articles that contained the words “transgender” and “bathroom.” Then she analyzed 1,025 comments and tried to determine the gender of the people who wrote them.
If a name, photo or Facebook profile indicated that the commenter was a woman, for example, she marked them “female.” (Her data, of course, rely on how the Web users presented themselves and Stones’s ability to discern their gender.)
Stones found that male commenters were about 1.55 times as likely to express worries about safety and privacy, according to her study, published this month in the journal Gender Issues.
Female commenters, she wrote, were four times as likely than their male counterparts to say transgender women in women’s restrooms didn’t register as threats.
“I worked with a trans woman,” one wrote, according to Stones. “There were men who were concerned about her using the women’s bathroom. I told them we didn’t care; we have stalls and don’t watch each other pee.”