Out of the potty mouths of billionaires sometimes comes potty sense. This was the case last week with Donald Trump, who weighed in on which bathrooms transgender people should use.
His answer: the ones they want. He assumed, correctly, that this is what many had been doing all along. He noted, accurately, that it hadn’t ushered in the apocalypse.
I am saying, to my astonishment, that we could all learn from him, and my surprise owes something to his previously incoherent rules of the commode. He balked at Hillary Clinton’s bathroom break during one of the Democratic debates. He said that it was “too disgusting” to discuss.
The pee-peeved plutocrat took a gentler tack when asked Thursday morning where Caitlyn Jenner should find relief in Trump Tower. Up to her, he said. No need for a fuss.
No need indeed. The notion that we should prevent transgender people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity – and that allowing them to do so would imperil children – is a tempest in a toilet, one of the more ludicrous political causes to gain currency in a while.
It has gained currency nonetheless. ESPN commentator Curt Schilling advanced it last week by sharing a Facebook post that showed a burly man in unpersuasive drag and said: “Let him in! to the restroom with your daughter or else you’re a narrow-minded, judgmental, unloving racist bigot who needs to die.” ESPN, which had previously cautioned Schilling about unrelated outbursts, fired him.
Meanwhile, during that Thursday event, Trump was quizzed about legislation in North Carolina that forbids people to use public bathrooms that don’t correspond with the gender on their birth certificates. He said that it was a solution in search of a problem.
Ted Cruz predictably disagreed, pulling the right to pee into the Republican presidential race. “I’m the father of two little girls,” he said. “Here is basic common sense: Grown adult men, strangers, should not be alone in a bathroom with little girls.”
The Cruz campaign released an ad with shadowy footage of bathroom stalls, sinister music and dire warnings, printed in large letters, about how vulnerable “your daughter” and “your wife” would be if Trump’s perspective held sway. “It’s not appropriate,” said words that flashed on the screen. “It’s not safe. It’s PC nonsense that’s destroying America.”
I’m guessing that Cruz hasn’t met or read much about transgender people. “Grown adult men” is precisely how many transgender men appear – with beards, muscles, pants – and exactly how they’d look to little girls in the women’s rooms that the North Carolina law would command them to use.
And such legislation tells someone who may well wear a dress to march into the men’s room if her birth certificate said male. That’s a greater invitation to potty pandemonium than letting people make their own calls when nature calls and turn in the direction consistent with the way they conduct the rest of their lives.
How would these potty prohibitions be enforced, anyway? What species of sentry or manner of inquisition would assess the external and internal anatomy of the bathroom-bound? Shall we divert government spending to this? We skimp on money to repair America’s infrastructure, but let’s find funds to patrol America’s lavatories.
Cruz, Schilling and many others are obsessed with – or cynically exploiting – the hallucinated scenario of male sexual predators suddenly feeling emboldened to stalk little girls in public bathrooms, presumably because they could, if caught, claim that they identify as women and belong there.
Here’s a news flash: They’d still be breaking laws. You know, the ones against lewdness and harassing and molesting kids. The ones that govern a male sexual predator whose targets are boys and who already has access to the same urinals that they do.
Besides which, child molesters aren’t famously expert at impulse control: I doubt that they’re raptly watching CNN and patiently awaiting some legislative green light to hunt for female victims by the toilets in public parks. They’re hunting already, and as everything from “Spotlight” to the Denny Hastert case has shown us, the grounds aren’t always the ones you expect, nor are the hunters.
If parents want to get worked up about threats to their children’s welfare and future, how about a more concerted and constructive look at the failings of schools? Or at the lures of sexting? Or at the injuries in contact sports? Or at the junk in children’s diets? Or at the lead in some cities’ water?
The list is endless, because there’s plenty standing between America’s children and safety. It’s seldom if ever a man in a dress in a stall at the highway rest stop.
And there are plenty of more relevant reasons to avoid such a rest stop: its dubious cleanliness, its unbecoming bouquet, the open question of whether anyone’s bothered to stock it with toilet paper. These rest stops weren’t pristine idylls before this debate about which ones transgender people should use, and transgender people were present all along. No cataclysm occurred. That was Trump’s point.
It won’t be a view that he routinely volunteers or presses with any force. He made that clear on Fox News on Thursday night, in an interview with Sean Hannity, who returned to the issue. Trump said that it wasn’t a federal concern and was best left to states. But he didn’t take back his earlier assertion that in his opinion, the state of North Carolina had erred.
I understand the anxiety that many Americans feel. I get their confusion. I’m not immune to it myself.
Less than a year ago, one of the most celebrated Olympians in the history of men’s sports appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine in a corset, with an altered physical appearance and a new, feminized first name. She pressed the accelerator on a public discussion and education that were stuck in a low gear. Now we’re zooming forward fast.
But the right response to any sense of dislocation isn’t the invention of threats that don’t exist and vilification of people who’ve done nothing to warrant it. Politicians who promote that are opportunists. Politicians who indulge it are cowards.
Let’s navigate these waters calmly. Let’s flush away the nonsense.
Let’s listen to Trump. I write that sentence abashedly, and with no expectation of repeating it much.