BY ED SIKOV | Time magazine sure made a monkey out of me. The very day I asserted in this Media Circus column that the mainstream press doesn’t spend a lot of time on trans folks, Time hit the newsstands with a cover story: “The Transgender Tipping Point: America’s next civil rights frontier.” Gracing the front of the magazine was a full-length portrait of Laverne Cox, who stars in the hit Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.” The glamorous Cox was so commanding a figure that her head blocked half the M of the magazine’s title.
I admit that my first reaction to Time’s cover story was a selfish one, something on the order of, “Couldn’t they have waited a week before making me look like a carping ass?” But as I read the story with a mounting sense of disbelief, I had to acknowledge that I am a carping ass, even while knowing that the shock of Time’s story was precisely its rarity. The article, by Katy Steinmetz, was excellent, with a mix of facts and personal stories, sympathetic voices and a few obligatory creeps. It even ended with a tear-provoking six-year-old expressing hurt at being bullied but being loudly cheered by a supportive trans-community crowd. The child’s gender identity was entirely left out of the narrative.
Among many points Steinmetz makes, the undying issue of bathroom access came across as both vitally important and profoundly silly. Americans have a deep-seated anxiety about bathrooms — what goes on inside them, who belongs in which one — and as far as I can see it all stems from our culture’s criminally negligent pottie training. We simply are a nation obsessed with toilets, and we have been this way for many years. In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock knew that he’d deeply disturb his audience by showing one of the Bates Motel’s toilets in the act of flushing — thereby setting up the shock of Marion Crane’s final shower by unnerving everyone with an open-lidded “commode” spiriting its contents away in a gush of water even before poor Marion turns on the spigot.
Not much has changed. The villains of Steinmetz’s piece include one benighted “political organizer,” Frank Schubert, who is most upset by a recent California law “that lets students use school facilities” — a tasteful euphemism for bathrooms and locker rooms — “in accordance with their gender identities, regardless of the sex listed on their school records.”
“Gender is a known fact,” Schubert confidently declares. “You’re either male or female.” Apparently not, Mr. Schubert. In fact, I bet even you have a feminine side.
Tellingly, school “facilities” are Schubert’s bath-noir. Already perceived as a dirty place, the American bathroom demands strict segregation. Who knows what occurs in the Platonic universal can in Schubert’s perverted mind? Tinkling sounds coming from a lavatorally incorrect organ of elimination? Farts emitted from asses owned by persons who don’t conform to gender expectations? Are these really the issues on which someone stakes a political platform? The answer, astoundingly, is yes.
It’s completely illogical. Women’s rooms don’t have urinals, so a biological male who identifies as female won’t be able to dangle her weenie in front of other fascinated bathroom users. And a biological female who identifies as male can’t use a urinal, so everything must occur behind the closed doors of a stall. Thus, men’s rooms are equally protected from the supposedly horrific presence of transgender students. In any event, men’s rooms long ago stepped up the privacy afforded all users with those little dividers.
Locker rooms may seem to be more problematic, but even there one needn’t create a problem where none exists. In my day — don’t ask! — we were all required to shower after gym class, and while I cannot with a straight face tell you that didn’t create a certain amount of frisson, shall we say, most gay men will agree with me that it was always clear it involved a whole lot more risk than reward.
Today, I’m told, students for the most part don’t shower and merely end up smelling like teen spirit for the rest of the school day. So a trans boy keeps his underwear on while changing into and out of gym clothes; so does a trans girl. And so does everybody else. Only people who are caught in a freakish genital preoccupation care. Normal people — meaning here, those with real lives of their own to engage their attention — don’t.
So thanks and a hat tip to Time’s Katy Steinmetz and her forward-looking editors. Time’s founder, Henry Luce, must be spinning in his grave.