Our cultural wedge issue of the moment is bathrooms, and which ones transgender people ought to use. North Carolina's recent law and spin-off corporate policies and boycotts thereof have kept this in the headlines.
My biases are fairly straightforward. I don't think there is any sudden surge of transgender people trying to use the bathroom they identify with. I'm skeptical of the notion that transgender people pose an elevated threat of sexual assault and haven't seen any evidence supporting it. I don't believe that transgender people have suddenly grown to a statistically significant percentage of the population. Rather, I believe that North Carolina's laws and those like it are electioneering and wedging: in an era where anti-gay strategies are increasingly unpopular, it's a pander to a remaining sore spot of a culturally conservative base.
However, I'm a little uncomfortable ridiculing the discomfort and fear expressed by advocates of birth-gender-only bathrooms.
I don't find transgender people scary, and I'm not concerned they are out to molest my kids. I do think there's a genuine risk that predators could use a choose-your-bathroom approach as a method of getting access to victims, but I'm not sure whether that makes sexual predators more dangerous than they already are (and both adults and children will remain at vastly higher risk from people they know and associate with voluntarily). But here's the thing: in viewing the situation that way, I'm fighting against what our culture is screaming at me to think.
Our kids are much safer than they've been in generations, but our culture relentlessly demands that we be terrified for their safety — specifically including their safety from "stranger danger." The very media outlets that will spend today suggesting that you're bigoted and ignorant if you worry about "a man in my daughter's bathroom" will tomorrow go back to making money by scaring the living shit out of you about how your daughter is in constant peril from kidnappers and rapists and child molesters and crime, crime, crime. The culture that tells you today that your fear is irrational will tomorrow return to telling you to embrace fear you can't rationalize. This message isn't all law-and-order, either. The leftward-leaning side of the culture telling you today that you're a bigot for fearing rape in a Target bathroom will return tomorrow to telling you you're living in a rape culture and that you ought to be accepting of the stories, insights, and fears of the people who face that culture. In short, having long refused to hold you accountable for your fears, and having stoked them and encouraged you to indulge them, the culture is now abruptly demanding that you justify them logically. That strikes me as unfair.
Uncritical fear is a habit of the mind. You can't cultivate it for generations then turn it off like a light switch. It has consequences. You might not like all of them. Sometimes the habit of uncritical fear is going to exacerbate prejudice and ignorance. Don't like it? Fight it on a global basis, not a case-by-case basis. Question fear.
The worst responses to this situation have demonstrated utter inhumanity and lack of compassion for transgender people. That's unforgivable. But in some cases, people are being denigrated for acting the way they're taught to act. I think we could find better ways to persuade them.