An Experiment in Radical Privacy
One transgender woman’s effort to demystify who uses what bathroom.
On January 5, State Senator Lois Kolkhorst introduced Senate Bill 6, known as the Texas Privacy Act. The bill is a follow through on Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s promise back in November to make the so-called bathroom bill one of his top legislative priorities for Texas’ Eighty-fifth Legislative session. Among concerns such as “property tax reform” and “inappropriate teacher-student relationships” Patrick wrote that a “majority of Texans” think “women and girls should have privacy and safety in their restrooms, showers and locker rooms.”
For Patrick, the way to ensure that privacy and safety is with SB 6, which will require people to use bathrooms and changing rooms in public schools, universities, and government buildings in accordance with their “biological sex” as listed on their birth certificate. Critics of the bill say that it’s discriminatory toward transgender individuals, ignores laws already in place to prevent attacks in bathrooms, and could potentially harm Texas businesses (though the actual economic impact may be much less than stated).
One such critic is Carina Magyar, a 38-year-old writer and stand up comedian living in Austin. Magyar, who is a transgender woman, says the bill is “hypocritical at best and counterproductive” because it could “potentially disrupt the women’s restroom for all women.” When Magyar first read the bill, she was struck by the emphasis on safety and privacy.
“So I thought, why don’t I just shine a light on that fact that women already feel perfectly safe and that there’s enough privacy to use public restrooms, that it’s not an issue that needs legislation,” Magyar said. “And the only way I could do that was by sharing my own experiences.”
When the bill was announced, Magyar wanted a way to protest it in a way that was more personal than attending a rally. She began logging her trips to public restrooms in an online spreadsheet available to the public for viewing.
— Carina Magyar (@mllecarina) January 14, 2017
On the spreadsheet, Magyar catalogues the date, the location of the restroom, the activity (makeup retouches and #1 are examples), and even whether she spoke while there. But for Maygar’s purposes, the most significant category of the spreadsheet is the last column: “Did anyone have a problem with me being in there?” As of publishing, for the entire column—with the exception of one instance where someone knocked on the door because she “was taking too long”—Magyar’s response has been “no.” Since the document is all Magyar’s creation, it’s all based on her perception, but it’s a perception Magyar says she’s honed over the years since she began using the women’s restroom as a transgender woman.
“I had a lot of experience early on in my transition of seeing negative reactions to me being out in public so I can kind of spot those,” Magyar said. “And I’ve resolved to be completely 100 percent transparent and honest and even mark down the slightest anything that I see. Even if it’s just surprise.”
The bill allows Texas businesses to individually decide their own policies on public restroom use without fear of violating local LGBT ordinances. In places where SB 6 bars the use of restrooms or changing facilities that don’t match a person’s “biological sex,” it does allow places such as public schools to make accommodations for students on a case-by-case basis. Accommodations include using a single stall restroom or access to a faculty restroom. Lauren McGaughy at the Dallas Morning News calls the bill’s actual impact “extremely narrow,” raising the question of the point of it:
Patrick has said he intends to protect women and children by “keeping men out of the ladies’ room.” But if the bill passes, the state’s top law enforcement groups question whether it would have any real impact on public safety. That’s because it’s already illegal to assault someone in the bathroom, they said.
“Texas has been governing illegal bathroom behavior for a while now. I’m not sure what the problem is that we’re trying to address,” Charley Wilkison, executive director for the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, the state’s largest police officers’ union, told The Dallas Morning News.
“It’s a government violation of women’s privacy,” Maygar said. “I think your physical gender, your birth gender that is on your birth certificate, is a private piece of information that you can chose to disclose or not disclose and that your private parts are called that for a reason,” Magyar said.
Magyar hopes that her project will get the attention of lawmakers and open the floor for discussion on the implications of the bill. She said that if there’s a public hearing for the bill and an opportunity for public comments, she plans to attend and comment.
“If there isn’t room at the hearing for public comment, I will do anything I can to make a comment anyway whether through signs or protests outside the building, whatever it is,” Magyar said. “And if it does reach the House [of Representatives], that’s when I plan to get very hands-on with house members, anyway I can to get in, sit down one-on-one, talk to my representative, talk to Joe Straus, if he will take a meeting with me, and make an impassioned political appeal as a constituent for why this bill is harmful.”
But Magyar also hopes her spreadsheet will humanize the experiences of transgender people in public restrooms, especially when they see that her “activity” column includes trips to public restrooms to help her daughters. “I think it kind of humanizes, or de-stigmatizes the nature of what it is to be a transwoman, when a parent sees how often I’m in there helping my damn kids,” Magyar said. “And I hope that that would maybe, I don’t know, resonate on some level, especially with the senator who introduced this bill, who I know is very family focused and has kids of her own.”
In the meantime, Magyar admits how awkward and potentially dangerous the spreadsheet is for her, since she’s marking down her locations. She also laughingly said she’s avoided going #2 in public restrooms since starting the document in order to avoid having to include it (on February 8 she recorded her first #2). Magyar said she’ll continue tracking her public restroom use until the bill passes or fails. If the bills fails, it’ll no longer be necessary for her to maintain it. If the bill passes, it could be illegal for her to maintain it and admit her use of bathrooms not matching her “biological sex” under the new law.
“One way or another it’s gotta end, with either this bill’s defeat, which I think is very likely,” Magyar said. “Or with my defeat, essentially, and the defeat of all Texas women and the loss of our privacy in restrooms.”