Suppose you were a member of the Tennessee legislature and suppose you were an idiot. But I repeat myself. That’s not exactly what Mark Twain said, but at least I’ve got the spirit of the quote right. The legislature is considering a bill targeting transgender public school students, which it considers a threat and feels compelled to insist that these students be restricted to bathrooms of their birth gender rather than their actual gender. Tennessee is one of about two dozen states considering similar bills at the moment, but this isn’t the first time the issue has come up. A few years ago the legislature considered a bill that would fine anyone using an “incorrect” public restroom or changing room for trying on clothes and state Representative Richard Floyd said that if saw someone he believed was a man using a woman’s dressing room he’d “stomp a mudhole in him and then stomp him dry”. Floyd would later say that was just a figure of speech and that anyone who thought
he was actually making a violent threat was overreacting and if you believe that you might be a member of the Tennessee legislature.
These bills remind me of the first time I met my friend Jerry. We were part of a small group organizing a holiday party at a church. Actually my wife and two other people were organizing while Jerry and I were chatting. Since Jerry was already a friend of my wife I knew he was transgender, and I think he may have even mentioned it to me while we were talking. I think I said, “okay” and went on because, even though I’d never met a transgender person before, I knew it was just the way some people are. And then he asked me, “Would you stand outside the door while I use the bathroom?” Without thinking I said “Sure.” While he was in there I did start thinking. There were five of us in the building and it didn’t seem likely that the other three would barge in on Jerry. And even if they had their reaction would have been the reaction most of us would have. If you walked in on someone in the restroom you’d probably avert your eyes, say “Sorry!” and close the door as quickly as
possible. It’s also unlikely anyone who didn’t know Jerry would have guessed there was anything unusual about him. While most of us at the party were casually dressed Jerry had on a suit and tie. Later that night when the party was in full swing a complete stranger would look at him and say, “Dude, you look like you came straight from work!”
I didn’t mind being asked to stand outside the bathroom while Jerry went in. I just considered it a slightly odd request, but we all have our eccentricities. Except in retrospect I would realize this wasn’t an eccentricity. In retrospect I don’t even think of it as an odd request. It wasn’t exactly a public building but it wasn’t exactly a home either. And while at the time I had no idea that transgender people had been vilified it seems like that’s increased. Or maybe the vilification has been around longer than I realize and it’s just become more public as transgender people have become more visible. And while I’m a little older and a little wiser I still have no idea what it must be like to be the target of such anger. If I’m buying jeans and want to try them on in the store I take it for granted that the worst thing that’s likely to happen to me is that my waistline is larger than it used to be. If I want to use a public restroom the worst thing that’s likely to happen is that I have to wait outside the door because somebody’s in there. Maybe though I should be worried about running into anyone from the Tennessee state legislature.