Public Bathrooms

A few years ago the public bathroom scandal concerned the ignorance of male architects in incorrectly designing toilet capacities for the different requirements of men versus women. Clear evidence could be witnessed during intermission at the Kennedy Center in the form of much longer lines outside the Ladies’ rooms than the Men’s rooms. This was a real problem and thus a real scandal.

Now we have a totally fictitious scandal of transgender men and women using public bathrooms appropriate to their sexual identity rather than their sex recorded in their birth certificate. All these years of transgender women using the Ladies’ Room went unnoticed, but you can believe there would be (will be?) a ruckus if they had used the Men’s Room. This is politics of the worst type pure and simple by religious fanatics and Trump-like exploiters of latent bigotry (though to Trumps credit he also labeled this problem a phony, non issue).

The highly respected economist, Dierdre McCloskey—born Don, shared some of her experiences with me in correspondence:

“Before I “passed” (surgery, working at it) I was frightened to go into a ladies’ room, but I could hardly go into a men’s room in a dress.  You can imagine how dangerous that would be!  I was allowed to put Female on my driver’s license in tolerant Iowa in 1995.  But you are right that it is unwise in such matters if nothing much is going wrong to stir things up.  I’ll bet now that Iowa has rules from the state.  Then it was left to Iowans’ ample common sense.  My passport F was tougher—I wept to the woman at the New Hampshire passport office, and she relented and sent my passport the day before I was boarding a flight to go to Holland to teach for a year, in January 1996.  So the State Department unofficially was cool.  A year later I tried to get Harvard to change my degree from Harvard College class of ’64 to the women’s college, Radcliffe.  The male dean I spoke to thought not.  I whined, “But the State Department had no problem giving me an F passport.”  With a smile in his voice he replies, “But Harvard is older than the State Department!”

“There’s more on all this in my memoir of my transition, Crossing: A Memoir (1999 University of Chicago Press).

“The bathroom “issue” is entirely phony.  It has never been a problem.  Anyway, if men wanted to sneak in (they don’t), they could always have done so, with or without North Carolina’s law.  How is it to be enforced?  DNA testing by the TSA at every bathroom door?  Anyway, your house has a unisex bathroom, I presume, and in Europe they are not entirely uncommon—after all, the stalls have doors.  Etc, etc.  On both sides it is just a club to beat up the other side in the silly Cultural Wars, and to make people hate and disdain each other.  Adam Smith would not have approved.”

In fact my friend’s Washington restaurant, Café Asia, has one large unisex bathroom—a long row of washbasins and mirrors opposite individual, locked toilet stalls. No one seemed upset. “Nobody in this entire debate has produced a single documented instance of a trans person initiating any kind of violence or sexual harassment in a bathroom.” Elishe Wittes, a Washington DC high school student

So the whole issue is phony. But it does raise once again the question of how best to promote the broadening of the civil liberties of all Americans and our history reflects broad, if sometimes uneven, progress. From the abolition of slavery the achievement of full equal protection of the law for all (abolition of: Jim Crow laws, the ban on interracial marriage, separate but equal, ban on same sex marriage) has been a slow process of broadening and deepening public understanding and acceptance to the dignity and rights of all law abiding people. Crucial Supreme Court rulings that have confirmed such rights came only after they were broadly supported by most (but not all) of the public. So the real battlefield for enlightened, (classically) liberal values is one on one, and in the churches, synagogues, Mosques, classrooms, and clubs in which people talk to each other in search for better lives. Once those who wish to deprive such protections to some group (blacks, Jews, gays, transgender, etc.) fall into a discredited minority, they rather quickly fall (relatively) quiet once the Supreme Court has ruled. Man’s insular, self-protective nature, and attachment to the familiar, eventually gives way through education to the higher values and enrichment of modern civilization. This will surely happen again. Though the Trump backlash may slow the process.

Author: Warren Coats

I specialize in advising central banks on monetary policy and the development of the capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy.  I joined the International Monetary Fund in 1975 from which I retired in 2003 as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department. While at the IMF I led or participated in missions to the central banks of over twenty countries (including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Serbia, Turkey, West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Zimbabwe) and was seconded as a visiting economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (1979-80), and to the World Bank's World Development Report team in 1989.  After retirement from the IMF I was a member of the Board of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority from 2003-10 and of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review from 2010-2017.  Prior to joining the IMF I was Assistant Prof of Economics at UVa from 1970-75.  I am currently a fellow of Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise.  In March 2019 Central Banking Journal awarded me for my “Outstanding Contribution for Capacity Building.”  My recent books are One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina; My Travels in the Former Soviet Union; My Travels to Afghanistan; My Travels to Jerusalem; and My Travels to Baghdad. I have a BA in Economics from the UC Berkeley and a PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago. My dissertation committee was chaired by Milton Friedman and included Robert J. Gordon.

15 thoughts on “Public Bathrooms”

  1. I agree with your assessment of the “totally fictitious scandal of transgender men and women using public bathrooms “. Further, I think you logically highlight the source of traditional regional prejudice (“latent bigotry”) that exploits fundamentalism (“religious fanatics”) that carries over into the politics of code words like “law and order”, “family values”, and “religious liberty”.
    However, I have some misgivings on your use of relatively undefined use of “Trump-like exploiters”. And, while I certainly am not unreserved in my support of the apparent presidential nominee of the Republican Party (or of any nominee for that matter), I’ve come to evaluate Donald Trump as a pragmatic and realistic necessity in returning the GOP to its radical roots of human rights (i.e. abolition of slavery; women’s right to vote; and, civil rights) and post-war peace (Eisenhower “go to Korea” end Korean War; and, Nixon “peace with honor” end Vietnam War).
    Donald Trump is not a racist; nor is he a religionist. Realistically speaking however, before moving back toward contemporary national values and the GOP’s radical roots, a Republican has to first win enough delegates to get the nomination of a GOP that over some 40-years has drifted to religious regionalism.
    Unlike the unsuccessful past short sighted tactics of Santorum or Huckabee (true believer wins in Iowa and the Super Tuesday South) and McCain or Romney (give lip service to Iowa, etc. evangelicals, and say little to offend in national campaign); Donald Trump is the only candidate capable of winning in both South Carolina and New York primaries while still being viable for a national election. While the jury is still out on that latter assessment, I think a Pres. Trump’s pragmatism would aid in “broadening and deepening public understanding and acceptance to the dignity and rights of all law abiding people.” You yourself recognize ”to Trumps credit he also labeled this [bathroom segregation] problem a phony, non issue”. If I need a package delivered, rather than relying on a postmaster general (business-as-usual pols), I’m inclined to rely on Fedex or UPS (that is, a successful business leader).

    1. Thanks for your comments. I have not seen in Trump someone who respects human rights and dignity and do not consider his protectionist, nativism the fundamental values of individual liberty I would like to see the country re-embrace. There is no need to repeat all of the terrible things he has said.

  2. Thank you, Warren, for common sense on this topic. Regulations become possible only after economic wealth (capital) has increased enough to cover the added, mandated “investments” for ramps and railings, etc. What next? Private bathrooms? What is wrong with that? The idea of “communal micturation” has always made me seek out the stalls with doors, even if I had to wait and waive other men ahead of me to their urinals.

    Walter Reuther once justified his demands for such “higher” wages as he did by saying, “There ought not to be any jobs done by men that produce less than ‘X’ (cannot use the dollar sign because what it meant in 1960 is irrelevant to 2016).

    So, force-mandate all communal bathrooms out of existence. Make the ladies’ waiting line longer and make the men have one too. They can stand in the same lines.

    1. Of course, I would not “mandate” nor “force” any establishment or school to pay those “regulatory taxes.” But the social drift of culture is getting us there soon enough.

  3. There are so many strawmen here, I hardly know where to start. The fear is not just transgender people attacking anyone. The number of known cases is very small, because 1) the population of transgenders is incredibly small, and 2) it’s not something that police depts keep statistics on. The real fear is ordinary males taking advantage of the policy, which has happened on many occasions, so it’s not a “non issue”.

    Another strawman is that this isn’t just about bathrooms with private individual stalls. It’s about locker rooms and showers, like in our schools. If the Obama administration had it’s way, biological males, with no surgery, hormone treatments, and without necessarily even informing their parents, should be allowed to use the girls locker rooms and showers.

    McCloskey goes on to ask: “How is it to be enforced? DNA testing by the TSA at every bathroom door?” Well, let’s flip that around. If you allow trans people to use their preferred facilities, how is that to be enforced? Asking for proof of hormone medication? A doctor’s note? Then what?

    Trans-activists have been saying for a long time that “sex is not gender”. If your driver’s license or birth certificate denotes sex, it shouldn’t be changed. Your sex at birth is a medical fact, it’s not something that changes on a whim. And it’s beyond ludicrous to whine Harvard, begging them to change the diploma to Radcliffe! The University you graduated from is also a fact. And they say conservatives have a problem with reality??

  4. I agreed with John Rohan. My only quibble would be that I believe the vast majority of people do not care which bathroom a transgender person uses (and that was alluded to in the article.) And I agree with Dr. McCloskey that most men would rather a transgender man in a dress use the women’s room. I don’t understand why so many people in favor of transgender bathrooms are unwilling to argue in good faith about the issue.

    I might not be correct on the issues but when anyone who expresses concern about the safety of women and children is portrayed as being intolerant and full of hate it is hard to have a meaningful discussion.

    1. It is probably quite recent in the US to see non-communal public restrooms (nobody takes a bath in them), but it is coming. Our society is continually transitioning toward an accumulation of capital – I hope – and communal showers and restrooms are relics of poverty and war conditions. Forfend we have that in our future.
      If this petty “civil rights” misunderstanding leads to invoking the Americans With Disabilities Act, I predict a gigantic shift in new capital investment away from jobs people want and toward restroom-reconstruction jobs. Otherwise, the issue will go away as old people die off.

    2. Bob, I would think differently about someone expressing “concern about the safety of women and children” if that concern reflected actual experience of the imagined problem. But when it is a concern dreamt up in someones imagination, I have to wonder about the person doing the worrying.

      1. It’s not transgender people they are concerned about.

        It’s the people allowed in there because the government has decided to force access for anyone who wants it.

  5. This is truly utterly unbelievable bullshit. None of these “bathroom wars” were initiated by the right. Far left municipalities decided to prove how progressive they are by initiating legal requirements to allow anyone to use the restroom of their choice. Now we have the Federal Government mandating the restroom policies of local school districts.

    Transgender people have used the restrooms of the gender they “pass” as forever. The claim that this is about the danger of transgender people is bullshit. The percentage of our population that have the delusion that they belong to the opposite sex is incredibly tiny and has not been a problem.

    The number of sexual predators in our population is not nearly as tiny as the number of transexuals however. I truly don’t care who you sleep with, how you dress or what you chose to call yourself. I do care if the Federal Government tells my school system to allow any teenage boy feels like a girl to shower with my daughter.

    Your statements about the “dangers of transexuals” are utter strawmen. That has NOTHING to do with the issue. I don’t CARE if transexuals use the restroom they identify with. I care a GREAT DEAL that the government has decided that the comfort of this vanishingly small minority trumps the safety and comfort of every woman in the country.

    This is not about civil rights. This is about the far left’s desire to use the power of government to FORCE everyone to bow to their worldview – that gender is a social construct. My worldview is that when people are delusional about reality we should treat them. When an individual goes to his psychiatrist and says “I’m convinced I’m a parrot” we don’t say “call the surgeon, we’ve got to provide you with wings and feathers”. We say “let’s talk about why you feel this way”.

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