Sunday, July 31, 2016

Bathroom Boondoggle Part 2: Rape Panic and Violence Against Minorities

Bathroom Boondoggle Part 2: Rape Panic and Violence Against Minorities

Warning: This series contains graphic pictures of genitalia, frank descriptions of genitalia, sexual development, and sexual behavior.

[Opening note: Every time I post something on sexuality, someone jumps in and complains that I am bashing Evangelicals, lumping all Christians together, and so on. There is also the complaint that I am causing non-believers to not want to join Christianity because I “bash” my religion.

I have tried to make clear throughout that not all Evangelicals are like this. But let’s not pretend that the issues I raise are problems just in a few backwards individuals.

“Not All Evangelicals” 

But the leader of the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. (Al Mohler, of the Southern Baptist Convention. Over 16 million members - nearly three times that of the Latter Day Saints. Larger than all except for U.S. states.) 

"Not All Evangelicals"

But every significant Evangelical publication. 

"Not All Evangelicals"

But the legislatures of several states dominated by Evangelicals - the ones who have passed bathroom bills. 

"Not All Evangelicals"
But the Republican party - to which most Evangelicals belong - which is currently pushing a truly dreadful Federal bill on the issue. I’ll discuss that in part three. I would also be willing to bet that a significant majority of Evangelicals belong in the category I have placed them.

And remember this: enough Evangelicals to pass freaking laws.

“Not all Evangelicals.” Just the ones with the political power and religious authority…]


In my previous installment, I discussed Intersexuality, and its implications. I also noted that Intersexuality poses theological challenges, and that rather than face up to those challenges, most Evangelical leaders have chosen to trumpet their ignorance and scientific denialism as if it were a Christian virtue. I also touched on the idea that it is the Evangelical view of sex organs as determining destiny that makes for these theological problems in the first place. You can read that installment here:

In part two, I want to look at two related issues that ask this question:  what are the real threats facing our children? And which are fake?

I also want to briefly (ha!) explore the American history of using fear of rape to justify violence and oppression against minorities.

  1. A fake threat

Given the panic and overheated language, one would have thought that there was a recent epidemic of abuse of children by “men in dresses” in the ladies’ restroom. Surely there has been an uptick in problems?

Turns out, not so much.

Haven’t seen an epidemic in my hometown, and chances are, you haven’t either. Nobody has.

I live in California, “Land of Fruits and Nuts,” as we joke. (Actually, we do grow most of the world’s almonds, so there!) We have had an unofficial “live and let live” policy for decades. I have lived here for most of my 39 years, and have seen my share of transgender and non-gender-conforming people. Haven’t seen or heard of an epidemic of bathroom assaults.

California aside, however, did you know that there have been laws protecting bathroom use by transgender people in place in other places? That some of these laws have been in place a long time? Probably not, because they have been fairly uncontroversial. (Until recently...)

Let’s look at a few:

Colorado: enacted protections in 2008 - that’s 8 years, long enough to have a pretty good sample size.

Hawaii: enacted protections in 2006 - that’s 10 years.

Iowa (hardly a liberal bastion): enacted protections in 2007

Maine: 2005

Cambridge, Massachusetts: 1997 - that’s 19 years, nearly half my lifetime.

Minnesota: 1993 (!) That’s 23 years.

New Mexico: 2003

Oregon: 2007

Rhode Island: 2001

Vermont: 2007

There are sixteen states with protections, and additional municipalities, school districts, and colleges with these laws.

Guess what? None of these places has reported problems.

In fact, the Minneapolis Police Department has said that assaults by men pretending to be women (let alone assaults by true transgender people) has been “not even remotely a problem.”

You will see the same thing echoed everywhere. “Not a problem.” “Can’t even think of a case where that happened.” “Zero cases of sexual assault.” “That sounds silly.” “It’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.”  And on and on.

These are the actual quotes from law enforcement officials.

You can read more, and see the citations to primary sources in this article and this article.
And there are a lot more too, if you choose to actually research the issue.

It’s not just law enforcement and groups that work to stop assault and violence. Even uber-conservative Nikki Haley (governor of South Carolina) said that she saw no need for a law prohibiting transgender people from using the bathroom that matches their identity. She couldn’t find a single instance where it was a problem.(And this from someone conservative enough to defend the Confederate Battle Flag...)

Now I assume that someone will next bring up a certain article on claiming to show why there is an overwhelming danger. Fortunately, Libby Anne of Love Joy Feminism (and many others) did a breakdown of the “cases” cited. Guess what? Most of the incidents involved problems that had nothing to do with the issue. Some involved men - including a security guard - filming men in a men’s bathroom. Several involved employees hiding cameras. One involved a protester dressing as a woman to make a point about the law.

None involved an actual transgender person committing an assault. And only a few involved a true “man in a dress” which could well have happened whether there was a law or not. And let’s not forget that filming people in the bathroom and assaulting them are already illegal.

[Note: since I wrote the bulk of this, there has been, finally, one actual case of a transgender person taking pictures in a bathroom. She was arrested under current laws against voyeurism. I’ll note that this is still two fewer incidents than those involving Republican State Senators, who presumably make up a smaller total population.]

And, with just a quick perusal of recent news, here is one of a man in the men’s restroom. Guess what? There are predators out there. The vast majority are not transgender. We try to catch and arrest them, no matter who they are, because molestation is already a crime.

Hey, here’s one of a person entering a women’s shower room at a gym, taking pictures, and posting them on the internet! But wait, it isn’t a transgender person, it’s a cisfemale Playboy model. The fact that she has not already been arrested and charged is puzzling to me. I tend to think that she is getting away with it because sexual gratification is taboo, but body shaming “fat” people is a national sport. I mean, is it really worse of someone wants to take a picture and masturbate than it is if they want to show it to a few billion people and mock your body?

I feel silly even saying this, but I guess I have to. Even if there were men abusing the law to commit assault, it still would be ludicrous to ban transgender people from the bathroom because other people impersonate them.

Let me do it another way: if we were to allow black people to use white bathrooms, then some white people might dress in blackface so they can sexually assault white people. Thus, we should ban all black people from using bathrooms. (BTW, this isn’t that far from some arguments for Jim Crow. See below.)

And also think of this: Breitbart needs examples to prove their point, and all they can come up with from a nation of over 300 million people are a handful of men in dresses, and a bunch of cases that do not involve transgender or cross dressing at all? This is a pretty good indication that the fear is way overblown.

I am not entirely surprised at this, of course. Human nature tends to overestimate remote risks, and underestimate daily risks. A classic example is that people will fear flying but not driving, despite the fact that their odds per mile or per trip of dying are far higher in the car. People fear sharks, but won’t wear insect repellant or even eliminate mosquito breeding water on their own property. People are terrified of vaccines but not polio or measles. People spend billions on snake oil supplements to “prevent cancer and heart disease” but won’t exercise or wear sunblock. 

So I am not saying that the fear isn’t real. It is indeed a real fear, that people really do feel.

But it isn’t a fear based on fact. Later in this series, I will be showing who is pulling the strings on this and why. (Hint: it is about much, much more than bathrooms and transgender people.)

As I will show in a later part of this post, we are doing the same thing here. We grossly overestimate the risk of assault in a bathroom (which is indistinguishable from zero) and yet are unaware - or in deep denial - as to the real risks for sexual assault.

What is happening here is that a fake threat is being used to stir up fear and panic in people. Why might they be doing this?

2. The History of Rape Panic in the United States

Does the name Emmett Till  ring a bell? I hope it does, but I am pessimistic about the state of education on racial issues in this country - particularly in the South, where “Lost Cause” myths are often found in textbooks.

Emmett Till is the best known lynching victim, which is why I mention him. I’ll detail his case below.

Here in the United States, we have an ugly history of using the fear of rape to justify violence against and oppression of minorities.

This dates back to the abolitionist era, before the Civil War. One of the arguments why slavery should be preserved was that if the slaves were freed, black males would run rampant, raping white women. Does that sound familiar?

There was another argument, by the way, which should sound familiar. It was also argued that if slaves were freed, there would be an era of “negro domination,” where white people were made into slaves. Nice little binary, yes? Either you are slaves, or we will be enslaved. Remember this, because I will mention it again in a different context.

After the Civil War freed the slaves, the cries became even louder: the freed slaves will rape our women! And the KKK was formed as a domestic terrorist organization to murder and pillage African Americans - so they wouldn’t rape white women.

Lynchings were nearly universally “justified” by accusations - often clearly false - of rape.

In 1900, Senator Benjamin Tillman - on the Senate floor! - said, “We of the South have never recognized the right of the Negro to govern white men, and we never will. We have never believed him to be equal to the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him.” Again, the use of the fear of rape to justify the oppression - and murder - of blacks. (Please, read the entire speech. And then find a place to vomit.)

I also recommend you read this article by African American journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett regarding the destruction of her newspaper by whites - again justified by fear of rape.

And don’t think for a moment that this was just a racial thing. It had strong religious overtones. The lynchers considered themselves as doing the work of God. As one wrote after a particularly brutal lynching, with gratuitous violence and abuse of the corpse, “It was nothing but the vengeance of an outraged God, meted out to him, through the instrumentality of the people that caused the cremation.”

Segregation, too, was justified by the risk of black men raping white women. And yes, this was applied to bathrooms. 

Now I want to return to Emmett Till. Till was a 14 year old boy who was lynched in 1955. (That’s a mere 60 years ago, by the way. This was during the lifetime of my parents.)

What crime did Till commit? He allegedly “flirted” with a white woman. It’s worth reading the entire history of the case, including the fact that the murders were acquitted, defended by the local press and political system, and never brought to justice.

Again, this was a 14 year old boy murdered for talking to a white woman. 

Throughout the history of violence against African Americans by White Supremacists, you will see the specter of rape raised again, and again, and again, and again. (Seriously. Search any White Nationalist or Neo Confederate website for rape. You’ll find it.)

Most recently, mass murderer Dylann Roof justified his murder of African American women with “you’re raping our women.” 

(Put Le Toupee's comments about Mexican rapists in this category as well. Fear of rape = violence against minorities...)  

Update 8-1-16: Here is an example of using fear of rape ("they believe rape is acceptable") as justification for exclusion of refugees. 

Now, about segregation. One of the primary arguments against desegregation is that...wait for would result in black men raping white women. Surprise! Or not.

In particular, why couldn’t blacks use the same restrooms as whites? Duh! Rape! Of course!

Why do I detail all of this?

Well, because all of this fear mongering should sound very familiar.

The proponents of the bathroom laws took the playbook of lynching and segregation and applied it to transgender people.

It’s the exact same arguments. And the threat is just as phony and trumped up as the threat of black rapists. But, it was highly effective - so why not use it again?

Now, let’s change the topic slightly.

I grew up in Evangelicalism in the 1980s. So my family was really big into James Dobson and Focus on the Family. As is well known, he was furiously opposed to homosexuality. Guess what he preached?

That gays were all out to rape your children and turn them gay.

Hey, sound familiar? 

“Would you remain passive after knowing that a strange-looking man, dressed like a woman, has been peering over toilet cubicles to watch your wife in a private moment? What should be done to the pervert who was using mirrors to watch women and girls in their stalls? If you are a dad, I pray you will protect your little girls from men who walk in unannounced, unzip their pants and urinate in front of them. If this had happened 100 years ago, someone might have been shot. Where is today’s manhood? God help us!”

Notice how similar it is to the speech by the Senator about why there would be lynchings? It sure looks like the same thing...

How about this one, which I was reminded of in a comment on my previous installment?

If we allow gay marriage, next thing you know, Christians will be persecuted!

Fear! Panic!

And guess what? Doesn’t that sound familiar too? “If we free the slaves, then whites will be enslaved!” Hmm.

It’s the same playbook.

I’m an attorney. I see a lot of scams and scammers. So, when I see someone stirring up fear, I tend to think “watch out for your wallet.” Fear sells.

But in this context, what is being sold isn’t just worthless trash.

Fear is being stirred up to justify violence and oppression of others.

Fear is necessary to overcome the good of human nature: our compassion, our intellect, our desire to bond with our fellow humans. Without that fear, it is harder to get people to willfully hurt others. (Except for sociopaths.) Without fear and hate, we don’t tend to hang a pregnant mother upside down, cut out her infant, and stomp it to death. But we did.

Without fear, most of us would do what we have been doing regarding transgender people: leaving them alone when they need to pee. Most of us probably would ordinarily be moved to compassion and common humanity because we are decent people.

That’s why those stirring up the fear right now need the fear - because otherwise their agenda of violence and oppression toward a certain class of people wouldn’t likely succeed.

I’ll discuss the true targets of the bathroom legislation in the next installment.

Now, I would like to turn to a more legitimate threat to our children. I don’t bring it up to bash Evangelicals, but to point out that there is indeed a pressing issue within the church, and the people who have all kinds of time and energy to spend on bathroom legislation are deathly silent on the problem.

3. The real threat

One thing that has been a constant in American society as long as I can remember is a terror of the “stranger danger.” I remember a TV show on the kidnap and murder of Adam Walsh and I remember all the lectures about staying away from strangers, not taking candy, not getting in cars, and so on. Not that this isn’t decent advice. (Although I talked to far more strangers than I suspect my parents would have approved of. Even as a kid, one can tell “normal” from “creepy” fairly well.) But anyway, this was one of a series of cases nationwide which made huge headlines. (In large part because “kidnap of cute white kid” sells big time.)

However, statistically, stranger kidnapping is quite rare. The vast majority of kidnaps are by the non-custodial parent in a dispute over custody. The “Amber Alert” system has made this even more clear. Follow up when you hear one. It will almost always be a parent taking a child against a court order. Not to diminish the seriousness of this at all - it is a serious problem - but this isn’t a stranger danger issue.

Just as in the case of kidnapping, the facts in the matter of sexual assault point away from a “stranger danger” theory, and toward one much more troubling.

Here are where most cases of rape, molestation, and sexual assault come from:

Social circles

One of the most common is abuse by a stepparent. Siblings and family friends are also high on the list. (A high percentage of abusers are minors themselves - like, say, Josh Duggar. And if treated properly, most juvenile offenders will not re-offend.)

But there is another issue here which bears mention. While some of these (particularly the assaults by juveniles) can be clumsy crimes of opportunity, the actual predators don’t just strike quickly in a bathroom - at great risk of being caught.

They carefully select and groom their victims.

This isn’t a mystery, and it isn’t hard to find if you look. In fact, it is pretty well established through decades of research, millions of cases, and a better understanding of the psychology of sociopaths.

Why do I mention all of this?

It should be obvious to anyone who has been following the ongoing meltdown within Christian Patriarchy and Neo-Calvinism.

Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips: they turn out to have groomed and molested and assaulted young women.

Doug Wilson: pled for leniency for a serial child molester, and married him to a naive young woman he had dated for a few weeks. Unsurprisingly, this blew up badly with another juvenile victim. He has also tried to assassinate the character of another molestation victim after trying to protect the perpetrator.

C. J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries? Well, as one pastor has confessed under oath, they permitted a serial predator to remain in their church and covered up his crimes. Oh, and a couple of those who are accused by multiple victims of molestation continue to be in ministry positions with access to children. (Nate Sparks has the links on this.) Mahaney remains in good standing with all his Neo-Calvinist buddies - and with Al Mohler.  (Remember him? - He's so sure he knows intersexuals don't exist...)

Matt Chandler and The Village Church? Imposed church discipline on a woman for leaving her husband over his child pornography crimes.

Dennis Hastert? (former Speaker of the House and Wheaton alumnus) When he was caught having serially molested boys over decades, faculty from the Evangelical university wrote to the court asking for leniency. Not supporting the victims. Supporting the perps.

There is a huge problem with child molestation and abuse in the church, and many churches completely screwing up the response. More often than not, the victim is defamed, the crimes are covered up, and the perps are protected.  

And these are just the ones that come readily to mind. Boz Tchvidjian of G.R.A.C.E has said that he believes the problem is even worse in Protestant American churches than it was in the Catholic Church.

And this is even before you get into the issues of sexual assault against adult women. See for example Patrick Henry College, Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, and now Baylor University. (Which, it appears, threatened to discipline or expel students if they reported that they were raped.)

There is a clear trend of failure to protect victims, protection of perpetrators instead, and a coverup.

I am not bringing this up just to bash on the Evangelical handling of sexual abuse - although it is atrocious.

I’m bringing it up because your children - and mine - are at FAR more risk of molestation or sexual assault at church than at a public bathroom at the hands of a transgender person.

This is statistically true - and anecdotally true. I can think of several people I have known who were molested and/or assaulted by church workers. I can think of several people who were molested or assaulted at a religious school. I can’t think of anyone who was molested or assaulted by a transgender person.

In fact, I can think of exactly one sexual predator who has shaken my hand. (It’s possible there were more, and I didn’t know it…) That person would be none other than Bill Gothard. Respected religious leader with access to hundreds of young nubile girls. He didn’t need to wear a dress…


Let me bring this home. The public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention held a conference in 2014 entitled “The Gospel and Human Sexuality.” This was soon after Peter Lumpkins challenged the SBC to make changes to their policies on child sex abuse - because for the last 5 years, it had been the number one reason churches were being sued.

At that conference, there were multiple sessions on homosexuality, transgender, and pornography.

Because apparently, that wasn’t considered to be an important issue of sexuality.

Oh, and the conference featured a speaker who had been implicated in a child sex abuse coverup at his church. Hmm…


I’m not trying to fear monger on this. No, don’t panic and pull your kids from church. Don’t call your legislator to demand legislation keeping pastors out of bathrooms. But educate yourself, and be wise.


In the next installment, I will be looking at why I believe this has become an issue now - and who the REAL targets of these laws are. But just for now, let me offer one potential theory on the timing.

Right now, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Evangelicalism - particular Christian Patriarchy and Neo-Calvinism - has a huge problem, and has been protecting perpetrators while throwing victims under the bus. Perhaps it is convenient to have a fake threat to distract attention away from the real threat.


If you want to enact a law, how about changing Georgia law so that it is illegal to take a picture up a woman’s skirt. (Or a man’s kilt, while we are at it…)


A commenter on another of my posts pointed out another truth about this issue:

“I also wish they'd [those pushing bathroom laws] stop pretending that they are protecting ME, a straight white woman, from all the nefarious people who will pretend to be transgender to rape me. First of all, why do they think women go to the bathroom in groups NOW? The stick figure in a dress on the door has never protected us. It's not like bathrooms are havens of safety. It's also not like they care if I get raped in literally any other scenario (then it is a question of what I was wearing and how I was behaving).”

That’s exactly right. It is the same people who are quick to tell women that rape is their fault who are stirring up fear and hate of transgender people now. This is not a coincidence.


If you see a man in a dress, maybe it is one of these guys:

Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert (Texas: where even the asshats are bigger!)

Yup, Mr. Gohmert said that back in 7th grade (!) he would totally have worn a dress to school so he could go into the women’s bathroom to peek and perv on the girls.

Parents, if you wish to protect your children, I would strongly recommend that you keep them away from Gohmert, who has (conveniently for us) outed himself as a pervert and predator.

Members of well known religious hate group the American Family Association.

Yep, if you see a man in a dress going into a restroom at Target, it is probably a member of the AFA. Clearly this is all being done for the good of the children, not because these guys are a bunch of perverts...

Update 10-11-2016: Also, your daughter is at risk for being groped by the Republican candidate for president. Who bragged about sexually assaulting women. "Grab them by the pussy." This isn't news. It has been well known that he gropes women at least since I was a kid in the 1980s. And yet, who has 95% of the Evangelical votes locked up? I'll let you google that one...


I recommend that all parents read up on how sexual predators groom children. This is the real threat, and if you are going to spend time, energy, and emotion on something, spend it on the real risk.

HARO has an excellent guide to the issue with links to other good sources. Of particular interest is that over 90% of predators identify as religious - higher than the general population.

This one from Boz Tchividjian debunks five common myths.

From Roger Canaff (a Catholic) on the difference between myth and reality.

There are many more available if you are willing to use The Google. 


Update September 5, 2016:

More proof that the playbook is being used? How about the way that pro-segregationists claimed that separation of the races was "God's plan for human beings." It sure sounds the same as the "God's plan for marriage" used today... 

Libby Anne of Love Joy Feminism on this interesting history.   

Money quote from Bob Jones:

You talk about a superior race and an inferior race and all that kind of situation. Wait a minute. No race is inferior in the will of God. Get that clear. If a race is in the will of God, it is not inferior. It is a superior race. You cannot be superior to another race if your race is in the will of God and the other race is in the Will of God. But the purposes of these races were established by Almighty God; and when man attempts to run contrary to the directive will of God for this world, there is always trouble. Now, that is the trouble.
. . .
Now, what is the matter? There is an effort today to disturb the established order. Wait a minute. Listen, I am talking straight to you. White folks and colored folks, you listen to me. You cannot run over God’s plan and God’s established order without having trouble. God never meant to have one race. It was not His purpose at all. God has a purpose for each race.


Just one more note: my wife and I recently spent a week in Paris. Underneath the plaza in front of Notre Dame, there is a restroom. Like many public restrooms in Europe, you pay to use it. And like many in Europe, it isn’t gender segregated - although it is delightfully clean. (You get what you pay for.) Unsurprisingly, nobody was freaking out. Because gender-based freakouts tend to go along with other gender-based freakouts. Likewise, those societies that aren’t as obsessed with gender roles and sexual policing as we Americans are don’t seem to be freaking out about bathrooms either.


Comment policy: Please read my comment policy before commenting. For this post, I will not tolerate anonymous comments, hate speech, or bible thumping.