Wrestling with Restrooms

It's been over a week since the Supreme Court declined to take the Gavin Grimm case, which involves a transgender boy fighting to be allowed to resume using the boys' restrooms at his high school in Virginia. Though disappointing to those who had hoped to see the question of transgender bathroom rights settled, the result should come as no surprise considering how the lower court ruled. Rather than directly address the question of whether the school district's newly-enacted prohibition violates the non-discrimination rules of Title IX, or the principle of equal protection under the law in general, the lower court's ruling was basically a cop-out, amounting to, "the DoJ and DoE say it violates Title IX, and we can't prove they're wrong, so we'll defer to their judgment." However, the DoJ and DoE under the new administration have since backed down from that position, so the original ruling doesn't hold up, and the Supreme Court basically sent it back for a do-over. Neither court, it would seem, wants to address the issue directly as long as they can come up with any justification for avoiding it.

In other news, Mack Beggs, a transgender boy in a Texas school, is facing complaints (to put it mildly) after winning a state wresting tournament, in which he competed against girls rather than boys due to league rules. While I haven't been able to find anything regarding restroom usage in this case, I'm curious as to whether it has come up. I'd think any kid who's too much of a boy for wrestling girls to make sense also ought to be boy enough to use the same toilets as the other boys. That aside, the complaints are misdirected. "I'm not wrestling on a girl's team to wrestle girls", Beggs said, "I'm doing it because I'm not allowed to wrestle boys." Critics like to call that "cheating", due in part to testosterone supplements that have been limited to a bare minimum, even though it's league rules that force the situation. There's something disingenuous about criticizing someone for taking the only option permitted. It's not as though the wrestler in question wants to compete as a girl. "Change the laws and then watch me wrestle boys", Beggs insists. And why not?

I've seen the argument that Title IX rules only apply to discrimination based on biological sex, not gender identity. However, for all practical purposes (other than procreation, which shouldn't matter unless a school is running some kind of skeevy breeding program, and certain medical needs, which aren't the school's concern and won't be quite the same as either typical boys or typical girls anyway), Gavin Grimm and Mack Beggs are boys. They look like boys, they act like boys, they dress like boys, they socialize like boys, and they regard themselves as boys. The only difference is their anatomy. Doesn't that make treating them differently from all the other boys discrimination based on biological sex, which by the arguments of the detractors themselves, violates Title IX? In these situations, at least, there's no way to decouple gender-identity discrimination from biological-sex discrimination. They're functionally the same thing.

On a bit of a side note, the write-up of the Grimm case in the local paper, sourced from the Associated Press, refers repeatedly to whether students may use the bathrooms of "their chosen gender". That seems a strange and misleading way to put it. Perhaps there are exceptions, but I've never known anyone, cis or trans, who chose their gender. Sure, there are unsettled questions about how much any of nature and nurture and genetics and hormones in the womb and formative experiences affect gender identity (or for that matter, sexual preference and any of various other related concepts), but "choice" suggests a decision that is conscious and deliberate and, more problematically, readily changeable. That just isn't so for most people. We can choose how we express our gender, or what words we use to describe it, or how open we are about it with other people, or, yes, which bathrooms we decide to use, but gender itself? We don't choose that any more than we choose our height, or whether or not we're lactose intolerant, or how well we can tolerate spicy foods, or how scared we are of heights, or what hair color we find most attractive, or whether we enjoy reading more than watching television. It just is.

"All I want to do is be a normal child and use the restroom in peace, and I have had no problems from students to do that—only from adults", Grimm told the school board before they voted to enact the new policy. That seems to be the usual pattern. The students who are supposedly at the center of the issue, and who supposedly need to be protected from something or other, never seem to care half as much as the impassioned yet ill-informed adults who get to decide how to run things. Grimm had been using the boys' bathrooms for nearly two months without incident before indignant parents stepped in to push for, and eventually get, the rule change. Beggs, if given the option, would be wrestling boys, but the rules committee made wrestling girls his only choice other than quitting wrestling altogether. Beggs even reports later talking to the girls who forfeited in the regionals and being told that they had been pressured into doing so by their parents despite actually wanting to compete. In another instance, at a high school in Florence, Colorado, a transgender girl had been attending without issue until the Pacific Justice Institute decided to launch a smear campaign that drew enough in the way of national attention and death threats to drive her onto suicide watch. It happens again and again. Trouble doesn't arise until someone goes looking for trouble. It's not the transgender kids causing the problems, or even, in most cases, their cisgender classmates, or teachers, or administrators. It's "concerns", most often from people who are at most tangentially involved, blowing up into moral panics and unfounded accusations and slanderous attacks. And so we get stuck with unnecessary, shortsighted, one-size-fits-all, black-and-white rules that end up doing more harm than the good they were ostensibly supposed to—and that's before factoring in that it's questionable whether they do any actual good at all.

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