Two Visions of the Gender Police State to Come If Bathroom Panic Continues

Gender suspicion everywhere.

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock

Back in March, I responded to the passage of North Carolina’s now-embattled HB2—the measure, which, among other things, prohibited LGBT nondiscrimination protections in the state and barred transgender folks from using the restrooms in public buildings consistent with their gender identity—with a warning about the gender police state such surveillance-based policies must necessarily bring about. How can a state enforce bathroom use based on birth certificate or “biological sex”? Will we all be required to carry vital documents at all times? Will a state employee be posted at every public restroom door to check for forgeries? Or, perhaps more efficient, will a new front of job creation open up for bureaucrats tasked with examining all of our genitals prior to facility use?

While such pee policing is not impossible, the complex logistics involved make it doubtful. Far more practical is citizen-level gender monitoring, in which empowered busybodies take it upon themselves to judge who is male or female based on appearance and alert the authorities to difference-danger when it arises. This might explain why, for the past week, a satirical “news story” has fooled folks around the Web with reports of a 24-hour “HB2 Offender Hotline” dedicated to this sort of report—sadly, it sounds perfectly plausible.

In the version of the fake story I encountered on an “ABC News” spoof site, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is “quoted” as saying: “If you see a woman, who doesn’t look like a woman, using the woman’s restroom, be vigilant, call the hotline, and report that individual.” And then a fictitious spokesman, Tom Downey, piles on: “Beginning today, individuals that notice any kind of gender-suspicious activity in the men’s or women’s restrooms are encouraged to call the new HB2 Offender Hotline. … We are sending a clear message to all the transsexuals out there; their illegal actions and deviant behavior will no longer be tolerated in the state of North Carolina.”

The phrase “gender-suspicious activity” might have been made up by a rather brilliant satirist, but it’s actually a useful distillation of the fetid drain clump of sexist assumptions, judgmental entitlement, and curdled hostility to diversity that lies at the core of this kind of legislation. Like the laws it is mocking, the phrase immediately sets up a world in which “normal” gender activities are known and agreed upon, and any deviance is automatically suspicious—to the point of police involvement.

While the fake article imagines this neighborly surveillance targeting “transsexuals,” rest assured that plenty of cisgender folks will also find themselves caught in the real-life “gender-suspicious” dragnet. Because just as there are some trans individuals who easily “pass” and some who do not, there are plenty of cis people who do and do not “look like” standard conceptions of their gender—particularly, in my experience, among certain working-class, mullet-sporting women in the South. Of course, I’m enacting a kind of gender surveillance by even noting that group, but the difference is, I’m not the least bit interested in telling those women—or anyone else—where they can urinate. In any case, the point is that state-mandated gender policing is a road none of us, cis or trans, should want to go down.

But if you need further convincing, just take a look at this video—which shows a cis butch lesbian being accosted and called “sir” by police—which has gone viral in the last few days. While the provenance of the clip is unclear, and it appears to have been recorded in 2015, the general scenario is one that’s going to become a lot more common if this bathroom panic continues unchecked. This is not a cis or trans issue—it’s a matter of human decency for everyone.

In a certain way, it’s a shame the HB2 hotline isn’t real. If it was, we could all call and share how little we care for the looks of the nanny-state bigots behind this almost authoritarian legislation—because whatever their gender may be, they’re ugly as sin.